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 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.