Belarusian authorities interested in limited cooperation with Poland

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April 22, 2016 18:54

Belarus’ authorities have somewhat intensified diplomatic relations with Poland aspiring to "neutralize" Warsaw’s harsh stance on the Belarus-EU settlement, i.e. without changes in Belarus’ policies. Further development in the Belarusian-Polish relations will be determined by the general state of affairs between Minsk and Brussels, as well as by the political situation ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign.

After a long break, the Belarusian-Polish intergovernmental commission for cross-border cooperation held a meeting in Minsk.

The meeting has not resulted in any progress regarding the implementation of the agreement on small border traffic, however it fits into Belarus’ recent policy aiming to adjust the Belarusian-European relations. 

After a meeting in Warsaw on July 10th – the parties discussed Polish minority issues among other things and signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in education – the Polish Foreign Ministry made an optimistic statement about the future of bilateral relations.

Meanwhile, Belarus’ Constitutional Court has ruled that the amendments to the law prohibiting rescuers and military men receiving and using the “Pole’s Card” was in line with the Belarusian Constitution. This decision could be an echo of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and authorities’ fears of power structures becoming less loyal to the authorities. The Belarus’ authorities know very well that many Ukrainian military servicemen sided with the Kremlin during the Crimean crisis this year; in addition, in recent years, Russia actively issued Russian passports to residents of Crimea.

Today the Belarusian authorities not to politicise the small border traffic issue, which was the case during the escalation in the Belarusian-Polish relations in 2011-2012. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Guryanov underscored that the agreement was not implemented due to some technical difficulties: “Belarus and Poland have large scale cross-border traffic in goods and passengers. Enabling small cross-border traffic should not create a collapse”.

Meanwhile, the small border traffic agreement has not yet been signed mainly due to economic reasons. The Belarusian authorities are not willing to increase imports of consumer products by the population amid languishing foreign reserves (Belarus managed to replenish the international reserves only in late June - exclusively thanks to a Russian loan).

In addition, due to Belarus’ increased dependence on Russia, the Belarusian authorities cannot move in the wake of the Kremlin’s foreign policy, which negatively affects the Polish-Belarusian bilateral relations. For example, in March this year, Belarusian embassy’s Military Attache was expelled from Poland following accusations of espionage in favour of Russia.

The Belarusian authorities have not changed their domestic policies (the level of repressions against the opposition remains “stable”), however they have suspended pressure on the members of the unregistered Poles’ Union, as well as other actions, which could be perceived in Poland as the repression against the Polish minority.

Belarus is not interested in deteriorating the Polish-Belarusian relations in the near future, given their role in unconditional settlement of the Belarus-EU relations. However, anticipating a breakthrough in bilateral relations would be premature, because the ongoing state of cooperation with Warsaw is the most appropriate for Belarus.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.

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