Immediate future of Belarus-EU “dialogue”
Alexander Lukashenko sees no immediate need in a dialogue with the West however he is planning to release all political prisoners and to negotiate the approval of the IMF loan with the US and EU to survive until the New Year.
He has no further plans therefore as soon as he receives the loan (at least USD 1.5 billion), his “geopolitical” and “liberal/repressive" moods will swing in the opposite direction.
Last week’s public appearances of Alexander Lukashenko spotlighted his vision of the situation and his plans and expectations vis-?-vis the West. Lukashenko hopes that:
- references to threats from Russia,
- release of political prisoners,
- a round table between representatives of quangos and the opposition,
- introduction of a supplementary session on the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange
would be sufficient for the approval of the IMF loan for Belarus by the EU and the USA.
The Head of state, nevertheless, is not interested in a dialogue with the West as he has no idea (except for cancellation of visa restrictions) what to expect from it. However he would like to mitigate the political climate in the relations with the West, in the first place, to continue bargaining with Moscow for fringe benefits, and secondly, in order to expand opportunities for international lending to the Belarusian economy.
He unequivocally declared that he was not interested in political and real economic transformations. His advisors believe that transformations would further undermine his authority, which is not in the best shape at the moment. Lukashenko also sees no reason for real transformations, as it would weaken his position domestically, while benefits are hypothetical by nature.
Therefore he is not even trying to imitate transformations, he relies purely on the imagination of European politicians and the opposition, hoping that sacred words “dialogue”, “round table”, “rapprochement”, “privatization”, etc will trigger a chain of associations and will be perceived as a starter pistol. If there are no counter-proposals, he will send a behind the scenes hint inviting for couloirs negotiations via his security forces and ideology workers.
According to estimates of the ruling group, about USD 1-1.5 billion is needed in order to keep going before the sale of Beltransgaz to Gazprom and a new round of negotiations with Russia. The authorities have high expectations regarding these talks and their success is conditioned inter alia by the “European” stake however the main goal is to move to the next phase of the Customs Union. That is why there is “time pressure”, the money is needed now otherwise the National Bank will not be able to intervene at the supplementary session.
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.