Belarusian authorities interested in limited cooperation with Poland
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.
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.