Belarus counts on Austria and the OSCE
On 26 August the president appointed Valery Voronetsky as Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Belarus to the Republic of Austria, Permanent Representative of Belarus to International Organizations in Vienna
and Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Belarus to the Republic of Croatia in combination.
President Lukashenko seeks to restore and strengthen old ties with Austrians, who could provide a new platform for restoration of a dialogue with the EU. He also removes the closest subordinates of the Foreign Minister Martynov, who have lost confidence by the head of state after the presidential campaign of 2010. Resignation of Martynov himself is also possible in the medium term.
Following the scandal concerning the provision of financial information about human rights activist A. Bialiatski to Belarus and arrest of the latter, the restoration of a political dialogue between Belarus and the EU, solicited by the authorities of Lithuania and Poland, is questionable in the short term. Belarusian authorities are forced to seek for the new platforms to resume a dialogue, or at least to maintain the current level of cooperation with the EU.
Appointment of an experienced and respected Foreign Ministry official Valery Voronetsky, who had previously served as Ambassador to Belgium (1997-2000) and to the Slovak Republic (2002 - 2006), as Ambassador to Austria implies that Minsk hopes to strengthen cooperation with Austrian businesses (primarily in the banking and telecommunications fields), and to improve cooperation with other EU countries, in particular, with the business community of Germany, who often expressed interest in the Belarusian market.
Moreover, Vienna hosts the OSCE Secretariat and Belarus is interested in maintaining relations with this international organization. Earlier this year the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that regardless of the closure of the OSCE Office in Minsk in March 2011, Belarus intended to continue cooperation with this organization without “mediators”, directly with the Secretariat in Vienna.
Transfer of Valery Voronetsky from the position of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Embassy service implies weakening of the position of Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. The latter was one of the organizers of talks between President Lukashenko and the foreign ministers of Poland and Germany on the eve of the presidential elections in Belarus in 2010, however, elections were held according to a different scenario, and the efforts of Minister Martynov were in vain, resulting in the increased distrust of him by the president.
Finally, recently Martynov’s name appeared in connection with a scandal about the likely involvement of Belarus in the arms trade schemes with Pakistani terrorists: a fragment of correspondence between the Minister and his Syrian counterparts has been published by the hacker group Anonymous. Even if these documents are proved to be fakes, the reputation of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has already been damaged and needs to be improved. The best way to do it is to make new appointments.
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.