Since EU lifted sanctions, reformists bolstered their positions in Belarusian government
President Lukashenka was prompted to "reassure" the population and conservative-minded part of the Belarusian elite of the immutability of state policies. Meanwhile, reformists in the Belarusian government had boosted their positions when the EU lifted sanctions against Belarus. The EU’s ‘soft’ power and pressure from external creditors could encourage the Belarusian authorities to carry out some economic reforms.
At the final board meeting with the participation of Prime Minister Kobyakov, Economy Minister Vladimir Zinovsky said that the Belarusian economy had to change and combine the achievements of the existing model and the world’s best practices. It is worth noting that, "the government has insisted that the head of state should consider the action plan for the near future”. Probably, the policymakers want to enlist the president’s support for unpopular measures aimed at balancing public spending.
In addition, the Economy Minister questioned attempts of senior officials to preserve the existing socio-economic model with an eye to the recovery of the Russian economy and noted that the strategy of "wait and trust that everything will settle naturally is a hopeless one”.
President Lukashenka, however, at the following governmental meeting has confirmed his commitment to a conservative economic policy, which does not envisage socio-economic reforms, "And I do not need your reforms, ones that you have to offer! We need to create a normal life for the people, for the operations of the state and our society - that’s what is needed. Or else instead of bread you want to give people some kind of reform!" Most likely, Lukashenka said that in order to ‘calm down’ the conservative part in the ruling elite and the population, especially after the wave of discontent with increased housing and communal services tariffs in early 2016.
Meanwhile, immediately after the lifting of sanctions by the European Union, the Italian delegation, headed by State Secretary of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Senator Benedetto Della Vedova visited Minsk. It should be noted that an agreement on Belarusian-Italian economic cooperation was reached seven years ago. For instance, the decision to establish an intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation was made in 2009, during Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s visit to Minks amid the previous thaw in Belarusian-European relations.
The Belarusian authorities count on improving economic cooperation with some European countries and on Western investment. That said, Belarus is unlikely to neglect Russia’s interests, which has difficulties with substituting a number of goods form the counter-sanctions list with domestic produces.
At a governmental meeting after the EU sanctions have been lifted, President Lukashenka said it was important to bolster negotiations with the IMF over a new loan.
Overall, the Belarusian government is likely to start some reforms in the economic policy depending on the "persistence" of external creditors. However, reformists in the government are likely to be under constant pressure from the conservative-minded part of the Belarusian elite, especially the security forces and micromanagers.
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.