Belarusian authorities aspire that Minsk becomes negotiating platform on security issues
Minsk has put geopolitical differences in the region in the spotlight and is attempting to renew and учеутв its image as a ‘security donor’ in the eyes of Western capitals. The Belarusian leadership consistently promotes Minsk as an international negotiating platform between East and West. Very likely, Belarusian diplomats are considering the possibility of Minsk’s more active involvement in the settlement of the Syrian crisis.
Last week, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Kravchenko was on a working visit to the US, where he met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bridget Brink, as well as with the leadership of the Bureau for Human Rights, Democracy and Labour.
The visit of the Deputy Head of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to Washington aimed to remove the possible tension in bilateral relations in connection with West-2017, a large-scale Russo-Belarusian military exercise. During his visit to the US, Deputy Foreign Minister Kravchenko participated in the discussion "Between East and West: Belarus at the Crossroads" organized by the Atlantic Council analytical centre. Public presentation by Belarusian diplomats along with American media and experts was an unusual move and was used by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry as an additional communication channel in order to step up trust levels between the states. The Belarusian authorities have attempted to use the event to mitigate criticism against Belarus with regard to democracy and demonstrate readiness for a dialogue on human rights issues.
Belarusian diplomacy has exhausted the negotiating capacity to resolve the conflict in the east of Ukraine and started searching for new opportunities to update and extend its international image as a security donor. Apparently, Minsk counts on the fatigue of Western capitals and the Kremlin from mutual confrontation, as well as on their readiness to contacts amid renewed corps of officials in the US and the EU.
The Belarusian authorities have tested the possibility of Minsk’s involvement in the settlement of the conflict in Syria in the Belarusian public space. Over the past month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has twice appeared in Belarusian state media with an address to the Belarusian people. Perhaps, Minsk anticipates a gradual de-escalation of the armed conflict in Syria in the short or medium term. In addition, the Belarusian leadership is likely to be considering the possibility of assisting the Kremlin in organising the "Minsk process" on Syria in the hope for mutually beneficial strengthening of positions on the international level.
Overall, the Belarusian authorities hope to shift the EU and US focus from the democratisation and human rights issues to Belarus’ greater involvement in the international dialogue on armed conflicts resolution and combating international terrorism, cooperation and assistance on security issues.
Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.
The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.
According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.
Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.
Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.