Foreign Ministry risks being trapped in own initiative
On January 18, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey met with the heads of the EU diplomatic missions, the Vatican, the U.S. and Switzerland.
Frequent meetings of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry leadership with diplomatic representatives of Western countries should be considered within the rigid and unchanging frameworks set by Alexander Lukashenko. The latter is still not ready to fulfill the main requirement - the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.
Following the appointment of Vladimir Makey as Foreign Minister in August 2012, the Ministry has significantly increased its publicity, especially where it concerns Western policies of Belarus. Numerous press releases of the Foreign Ministry can really create the impression of a careful preparation for a diplomatic breakthrough in the relations between Belarus and the European Union and the United States.
In particular, over the last 4 months the Belarusian Foreign Ministry leadership met with the US Charge d’Affaires in Belarus Mr. Goldrich at least three times. A month ago, Mr. Mackay met with Director of the department for Russia, Eastern Partnership, Central Asia, regional cooperation and the OSCE of the European Union External Action Service Mr. Wiegand in Minsk. On January 18, Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Kupchina held ministerial consultations with the Lithuanian delegation, during which the preparations for the Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Vilnius in November 2013 were discussed.
However, this active and impressive PR-campaign by Belarusian MFA should be regarded within the existing rigid political framework defined by President Lukashenko. In particular, the Foreign Ministry and personally Minister Makey are incapable of solving the main political conflict between Belarus and the West over the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners. In turn, a number of policy statements made by Western diplomatic representatives in December 2012 (Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg, US Charge d’Affaires Goldrich) demonstrated that Minister Makey failed to soften the EU and US positions in this conflict.
Thus, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, in a sense, is in a deadlock situation: the appointment of Makey as Foreign Minister simply increased Ministry’s international and public activity and visibility, but on principle incapable to achieve the desired political effect - as the issue of the release of political prisoners is not within the MFA competence
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.