Belarus is trying to capitalize on her transit status in the West

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April 22, 2016 18:28

On March 28th, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey met with Lithuania’s Deputy Foreign Minister Krivas. Belarusian-Lithuanian ministerial consultations resulted in a number of agreements, inter alia, in transportation field.

An important economic incentive stimulating Minsk-Vilnius interactions is the Belarus’ potential participation in the NATO cargo troops withdrawal project in Afghanistan. There is nt public information about the agreements’ content, which could mean that bargaining is still in progress.

Transit cargo shipping was one of the topics discussed during the Belarusian-Lithuanian consultations, and most likely it related to the most topical regional logistics project for 2013-2014 – NATO cargo transportation from Afghanistan within the Northern Distribution Network.

In Eastern Europe the NDN logistics network uses three Baltic ports: Riga, Tallinn and Klaipeda. Among them, only Klaipeda port is ice-free. Therefore, in Lithuania’s views Belarusian railway network looks very profitable, especially if unofficial information about NATO’s refusal to use Uliyanovsk airport as a transit point is confirmed.

Belarus is also interested in participating in the profitable logistics projects. In January President Lukashenko met with American Institute Jamestown Foundation experts, who are known for their efforts in promoting NDN project in Eastern Europe. Belarusian-Lithuanian ministerial consultations’ agenda also covered preparations for the 9th Lithuanian-Belarusian economic forum to be held in Klaipeda.

Nevertheless, there is no official information about the outcomes of these consultations, implying that the parties have not reached agreements and will continue negotiations. In particular, it is likely that Belarus has included in its political negotiations package a demand to lift visa and economic sanctions against Belarusian citizens. It is known that Lithuania reiterated the condition for the normalization of relations with Belarus, i.e. the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.

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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.

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