The EU is one step away from imposing sanctions
Following the pronounced sentence to A. Sannikov on 14 May the "Belarusian issue" re-entered the international agenda. In the course of the past week the issue of human rights violations in Belarus and the issue of sanctions against its leaders were regularly discussed at the highest international level.
The verdicts against the Belarusian opposition were denounced by Ashton (on 15 May), Clinton (on 17 May), as well as by the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France, Poland, the Czech Republic and Russia (at joint meetings on 20 and 21 May). However, to the merit of Belarus, the views about sanctions are divided.
The lack of international consensus regarding the introduction of economic sanctions gives Belarus grounds to expect that the EU economic sanctions will not be imposed and it continues a tough line in sentencing the post-elections protesters.
Firstly, the re-opened discussions about the sanctions speak about the exhaustion of means to influence the situation in the country by the international community. Joint condemning statements by the USA, the EU and Russia issued in January and February had zero effect: individuals recognized as political prisoners remain behind the bars and courts continue issuing tough sentences to ex-Presidential candidates and demonstrators.
Secondly, such behavior by the Belarusian authorities puts the international community into an awkward position and pushes for a fro-active response. Hillary Clinton and Radoslaw Sikorski talked about it the most openly, calling for targeted economic sanctions against the Belarusian leadership, including a number of state enterprises-exporters. In particular, the media reported the "blacklist" of enterprises included state-owned companies Belneftekhim, "Triple", Beltechexport and Belaruskali.
However, the responsibility for the consequences of the economic sanctions has become a restricting factor. The positions of Russia and the Czech Republic, as well as the previous position of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry about the futility of sanctions have a softening effect. The Foreign Ministers of these countries condemned the Belarusian government however opposed to the introduction of the economic sanctions, which could affect the population. Besides, Belarus managed to persuade the Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications E. Masiulis to defend its interests: on 19 May he talked about the dangers of introduction of such sanctions to the Lithuanian interests. Further, on 19 May it was announced that Belarus will not receive a loan from Russia as expected, which could be regarded as a kind of sanction. Additional economic sanctions are now able to put the EU in the position of the catalyst of the Belarusian crisis.
Thirdly, Belarus prepares a response and the Foreign Minister already warned about a possible travel ban for a number of Belarusian politicians. Also the delay in sentencing of N. Statkevich and D. Uss suggests that the Belarusian government reserves the option of pronouncing more or less severe sentences to the ex-Presidential candidates, depending on the outcome of consideration of the issue of sanctions.
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.