Belarus attempts to sell parliamentary elections to the West
Makey’s appointment as Foreign Minister means that Belarus will try to ’sell’ a liberalization illusion to the West in exchange for loans from international financial institutions. Makey and Prokopovich will be selling this illusion until there is a new beneficial framework for cooperation with Russia.
Staff reshuffle on August 20th, should, first of all, be interpreted as a measure to improve the search for foreign funding in the context of pre- and post-elections pressure on the Belarusian economy in general and on Belarusian ruble in particular. The Belarusian authorities have clearly lost their hope for the restoration of an adequate foreign currency income from Russia (about USD 2.5 billion in six months).
This implies, Belarus needs to consider either a large sale of state property (which is fairly complicated), or get new loans, or agree on refinancing of previous loans from international organizations (the IMF in particular). The recent staff reshuffle fits the bureaucratic system’s logic, i.e. that the local internal rearrangement should result in the anticipated external changes.
It is noteworthy that Makey’s dismissal as Presidential Administration Head has been long awaited. In fact, Makey failed as Head of Administration and after the December 19th events had lost President’s confidence significantly and, therefore, his weight in the administration. His resignation was deliberately coincided with the start of the active part of the election campaign - to indicate the possibility of changes in the Western policy, and to send a signal to the nomenclature about minor adjustments in the game’s rules.
In a wider perspective, the replacement of Sergei Tkachev as Presidential Aide on economy with Peter Prokopovich, as well as shifting Makey from the Presidential Administration to the Foreign Ministry aimed to update the authorities’ symbolic façade in order to facilitate negotiations with the IMF.
All this is meant as a fast and effective solution: to ‘sell’ the parliamentary elections with a view to resume negotiations with the IMF. At the same time, the authorities do not anticipate the recognition of the legitimacy of the Belarusian Parliament, for them the recognition of “progress” and “some democratization” in the electoral process in Belarus would be enough.
President Lukashenko had seriously restricted the room for maneuver in the upcoming negotiations. While introducing Makey and tasking him with normalizing the relations with the EU, he said, “We are ready to study hard and to learn everything new and advanced, and not only from them, but we want to do it without urges, threats or blackmail. Our people’s psychology is that you cannot make them jump through several development stages and turn out in “a happy democratic future”. These words need no further comments.
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.