Authorities continue showing “guts” to the West
Last week, the number of Belarusian citizens, who have been denied permission to travel abroad increased. On March 17 Mr. Kovalev, one of the convicts in the case of the terrorist attack in the Minsk metro was executed.
The increased number of individuals, who are banned from leaving Belarus, is a continuation of the Belarusian authorities’ response to the EU visa “black list” and a confirmation of their unwillingness to make concessions. The Belarusian “ban” list has not yet been disclosed and no governmental agency has yet assumed responsibility for it, on the contrary, officials deny its existence.
To date, empirically collected data suggests that this list includes leaders of opposition parties (United Civic Party, “Fair World” party) and non-governmental organizations and campaigns (Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, “For Fair Elections” campaign), as well as journalists of the independent media.
It is likely that president Lukashenko and his surrounding circles thereby challenge the EU and simultaneously take a preemptive measure against potential extension of visa ban list or introduction of economic sanctions on the eve of a meeting of EU Council on 22-23 March. Such a response is quite traditional of the Belarusian authorities, who perceive foreign policy through a narrow agonal optics of “attack – counter-attack”.
At the same time the authorities broadcast signals of their readiness to release political prisoners. In particular, Mr. Statkevich for the first time in the past seven months of imprisonment was allowed to phone home. There are reports the consideration of Mr. Sannikov’s appeal is delayed.
The death sentence could not be unambiguously interpreted as a proof that Minsk is not interested in a dialogue with the Council of Europe on the issue of a moratorium on the death penalty. On the contrary, after rejecting a pardon within a fundamentally important for the authorities case and the execution that followed, Minsk could get back to a discussion of a moratorium on the death penalty. The paradoxical logic of the regime suggests, after drawing a line under the terrorist attack case it has been “liberated” to continue a dialogue on the issue of the death penalty.
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.