Belarus reacts positively to potential Ukraine Association Treaty with EU
Border demarcation will help strengthen friendly relations between Belarus and Ukraine, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said at the ceremony to unveil the first border marker on the Belarus-Ukraine border in Dobrush District on November 13th.
Ukraine’s integration with the European Union is a sensitive issue in Russo-Belarusian relations. Although political relations between Belarus and Ukraine lag behind the two countries’ economic cooperation, Belarusian leaders have made some statements and steps which show support for the Ukraine-EU integration. And if Ukraine signs the Association Agreement, president Lukashenko anticipates gaining greater importance in relations with the Kremlin.
Belarus’ relations with Ukraine often depend on its own relations with Russia or Europe. Political relations between Belarus and Ukraine intensify when Belarus-EU relations improve, e.g. in 2008-2010. However, deterioration of Belarus-EU relations results in political cooperation being suspended between Belarus and Ukraine.
Ukraine’s intention to sign the Association Agreement with the EU caused a sharp reaction from the Kremlin. However, this has not complicated political cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine. Quite the opposite, Belarus has made some moves which indicate its support for Ukraine-EU integration. Lukashenko said: “frankly speaking, I see no problems in this step towards cooperation with the EU”. In addition, Prime Minister Myasnikovich also supported the Ukrainian leadership during a meeting with Ukrainian Government Head Azarov: “In this situation, Belarus by no means should lose its trade with Ukraine, and perhaps even find some advantages. That is a very large market”.
In addition, Belarus has made concessions to Ukraine on problematic issues which existed for over a decade. For a long time, Belarus delayed the ratification of the Treaty on the State Border between Ukraine and Belarus (signed in 1997), finally ratifying it in 2010. However, Lukashenko expected some favours from Ukraine: “We have ratified the border issue therefore we should take measures that will show the true intentions of Ukraine and Belarus”. But when Belarus-EU relations deteriorated after the 2010 presidential campaign, Belarus-Ukrainian relations stalled for a long time. In 2013, amid worsened Russo-Ukrainian relations, Belarus finally decided to exchange ratification instruments of the Treaty on the State Border with Ukraine.
Belarus regards Ukraine-EU integration as an additional opportunity to enhance its importance vis-à-vis the Kremlin. Belarus believes that it stands fewer chances of greater benefits from Russia if the EU treaty with Ukraine is not signed.
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.