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
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.