Anti-Russian sanctions backlash on Belarus
The fact that Russian and, consequently, Belarusian roubles have depreciated following the information about the approval of anti-Russian sanctions by the US president, has reaffirmed the strong dependence of the Belarusian financial system and economy as a whole on the Russian economy. Belarus continued attempts to counter-balance strong Russian influence by stepping up cooperation with China. In addition, she has prepared to argue about the entire spectre of cooperation issues within bilateral relations with Russia and within the EEU framework.
The Belarusian authorities have not interfered to neutralize the impact from the Russian rouble depreciation on the Belarusian rouble. The financial market is in short supply, and the national debt has already reached a dangerous 40% of GDP without tangible prospects for changing this ratio for the better. The authorities attempt to balance out Russia’s influence on the Belarusian economy by not only developing a dialogue with the West, but also developing relations with China, offering special conditions to Chinese corporations. In addition, Belarus is attempting to balance Russia's influence by searching for common ground with Kazakhstan within the EEU framework (although, until now, such attempts have been inconsistent and ineffective).
Last week, bilateral relations with Russia remained within the usual framework of mutual ad hoc bans on imports of some produces and symbolic gestures of loyalty. The Rosselkhoznadzor decided to restrict imports of Belarusian ice cream, and Belarus – imports of pork from the Moscow region. The states continued to work on a compromise regarding the Russian border control of flights from Belarus. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry announced an open accreditation for journalists to monitor the West-2017 military drill.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.