Belarus - EU – Russia trichotomy
The results of the presidential elections in Russia ruled out the small chance the authorities were reckoning on to get Russia involved into the conflict between Belarus and the EU. Not without the pain, the transfer of power took place in Russia and the central government has the legitimacy to adhere to a relatively moderate political policy. Accordingly, the value of Belarus in Russia’s foreign and security policy remains relatively low.
Statement by the Heads of Governments of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia is quite formal, and does not envisage any retaliatory actions on part of Russia and Kazakhstan if the calls for a good will do not have any effect. It is worth to mention that this statement, similar to the joint statement of Lukashenko and Medvedev, focuses exclusively on the threat of economic sanctions, without mentioning the visa issues. Regardless of any declarations, Russia will not get involved in the conflict between Belarus and the EU.
In the meanwhile, the costs of Russian business in Belarus due to the increased threat of economic sanctions against a number of Belarusian enterprises are not necessarily greater than the likely benefits, at least in the short term. Sanctions will trigger a large scale shift of the Belarusian business to Russian jurisdiction. The infrastructure for such transition has been prepared during the currency crisis in the summer of 2011 and the Belarusian authorities had to apply considerable efforts to return foreign currency revenues to Belarus. At the same time, reputational risks increased, as well as problems with settlements with Russian partners of Belarusian business.
All in all, if Russia is not interested in the introduction of European sanctions against Belarus, it has enough leverage on Lukashenko to resolve the conflict. The fact that Russia refrained from action in the Belarusian-European conflict implies that the ratio between costs and gains in a given situation, depending on further development has not yet been assessed unambiguously.
In turn, Belarusian authorities base their policy on “mobilization”, maintaining the status quo in the country. The lack of financial resources, limited ability to buy the loyalty of the ruling class, loss of instruments to protect the interests of the Belarusian population and private business – all that is pushing Minsk towards the escalation of the conflict and increases the tension inside the country. Reserved attitude towards Lukashenko, along with declared by a number of European analysts readiness of Belarus to “return” to the “zone of responsibility” of Russia may induce the ruling group to reconnect with “European lobby”.
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.