Belarus attempts to stave off the EU sanctions’ extension
Foreign Minister Martynov’s European visits meant to stave off the potential extension of the EU sanctions before the Parliamentary elections. Simultaneously, Belarus is nevertheless not intending to fulfill the EU’s political demands and is ready to freeze the conflict as is.
On July 23-27, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov visited Brussels and Rome. On July 23rd he attended an Eastern Partnership ministerial meeting in Brussels. On July 25th – 27th Mr. Martynov met with OSCE PA President R. Migliori in Rome.
The main purpose of Martynov’s visit to Brussels was to prevent another extension of sanctions against the Belarusian government and business. Previously, a number of senior European officials (Wiegand, Fule) talked about such a possibility if Belarus failed to fulfill the demands to release and rehabilitate political prisoners. However, Minsk has not made any significant moves in this regard.
Most likely, Martynov’s visit meant to lower the degree of the conflict. Foreign Minister’s presence at that meeting was a minimally acceptable response for Belarus and an indication that Minsk was concerned about the likely extension of sanctions. At the same time, last week Belarusian media disseminated comments by Slovenian and Belarusian businessmen Mr. Shkrabets and Mr. Moshensky about the sanctions policy’s hopelessness.
During the meeting Martynov made it clear that Belarus was not going to fulfill the conditions put forward for the resumption of a political dialogue and, in response to criticism, accused the EU of democracy deficit. Martynov noted that Belarus was ready to participate in regional energy and transport projects within the Eastern Partnership, but only if they were bilaterally approved.
Belarusian authorities were not happy about the format of the European Dialogue for modernization with Belarus programme, namely, its development and launch without consultations with the Belarusian side. In early July this was stated by a representative of Belarus in the EU, Mr. Yeudachenka. Moreover, the government is certainly unhappy about a broad representation of the opposition forces in the programme.
Belarus’ European policy in the coming months will be determined by the election campaign and the actual parliamentary elections to be held in September. Even if these elections once again are not recognized by the West, Minsk is not genuinely interested in holding them in confrontational environment. Mr. Martynov met personally with the Chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Mr. Migliori, who had previously agreed to send a full-fledged election observation mission to Belarus.
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.