The Foreign Ministry of Belarus increased its activity in the West
Last week, officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs held a number of public events in Belarus and the EU, namely, in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Serbia and Latvia.
Minsk is actively attempting to resume dialogue with the West. The character of Belarusian statements and suggestions is becoming more constructive; however, nothing is said about the fulfillment of two major conditions: the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.
The rise in diplomatic activity in the West is most likely explained by the fact that IMF mission started work in Belarus on October, 18. Belarus is highly interested in resuming cooperation with the Fund (at least on the issue of debt restructuring), which is a ground for diplomatic activities, although mostly of economic character.
Therefore, it is predictable that activities of officials from the Foreign Ministry are limited to economic cooperation. In the period from October 15-19, a representative from Belarus, Mr. Voronetsky, took part in a conference of member states of United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. He also participated in the annual meeting to review the fulfillment of economic and environmental commitments of the OSCE member states in Vienna on 16-17 October. On October 18 – 20, 2012 Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Elena Kupchina, went on a working trip to Germany. On October 17, a Belarusian Economy Day was held in the German city of Friedrichshafen. On October 18, in the Dutch city of Tilburg the ambassador of Belarus, Mrs. Elena Gritsenko, had a meeting with law students of Tilburg University. Finally, on October 15-19, the Latvian town of Jelgava played host to a Week of Belarusian culture.
These events should be viewed as domestic activities of the Belarusian Interior Ministry. In particular, on October 15, Press Secretary of the MFA demonstrated a mild reaction to the decision of the EU Foreign Affairs Council to extend sanctions against Belarusian authorities and business. He summoned the EU “to abandon its sanctions-based mentality and make an effort, in turn, to restore the atmosphere of mutual trust”.
On October 19 in Minsk, Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Guryanov, and Director of the National Agency of Investment and Privatization, Dmitry Klevzhits, had a meeting with directors and representatives of trade and commercial departments of twenty foreign embassies accredited in Belarus. However, as anticipated, officials from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry ignored political questions, which is the main claim of the EU and USA against official Minsk. Thus, at a press conference on October 19, MFA Press Secretary Andrei Savinykh reproached the West for having a policy of double standards in regard to Belarus and insisted that Belarus should have the right to transition to democracy gradually and independently. In other words, this implies that President Lukashenko is still not ready to make the main concession, namely to release (and rehabilitate) political prisoners.
It should be expected that Belarusian diplomatic service will continue its activity to establish economic relations with the West. Meanwhile, the solution of the main political issue is under the authority of Presidential Administration and Alexander Lukashenko personally.
The Belarusian authorities could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.