Change of power in Uzbekistan may create problems for Minsk
Russia seeks to preserve her political dominance in Central Asia. The death of Karimov will prompt the Kremlin to step up its game in Uzbekistan, including engaging this country in Moscow-initiated integration projects (EEU and CSTO). The struggle for influence in Uzbekistan will require substantial resources from Moscow. That said, Russia might cut financial support for Minsk.
The deceased Uzbek leader sought to be equidistant from the main external players in the region and consistently opposed to Moscow’s great-power ambitions. The change of power in Uzbekistan is likely to trigger the struggle among external actors for influence on the new Uzbek leader. Yet fears of possible political destabilization in Uzbekistan seem premature. For years, Karimov exercised brutal repression against the secular and religious opposition. As a result, one is completely destroyed, while the other one is extremely weak and deep in the underground.
Meanwhile, Karimov has left the country in a dire economic state. The new Uzbek leadership’s foreign policy will be largely predefined by where external financial assistance comes from.
The threat of destabilization in Uzbekistan is speculative for Belarus due to the geographical distance between the two states. However, Tashkent may become Minsk’s rival for obtaining financial support from Russia. Belarus is already a member in the CSTO and the EEU; she does not want to be drawn into the Kremlin's confrontation with the West and seeks to reduce her dependence on Russia. Unlike the Uzbek leadership, the Belarusian authorities have virtually nothing to "sell" to Moscow in the political, ideological, or symbolic terms. That said, the economic situation in Belarus is unstable and Russia is still a major financial donor for Minsk.
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.