Lukashenko addressed his major foreign counterparts
On April 19th, President Lukashenko made his Annual address to the Parliament and the people of Belarus.
President’s two major messages were requests to preserve the state property and to normalize the relations with the European Union. Carrying out these requests would guarantee stability in Belarus, i.e. preservation of power by Lukashenko.
President’s address was rather conventional – he had already made major policy statements in March, during the Council of Ministers meeting. In addition, in the Belarusian political system, the Parliament is de facto an authority which coordinates president’s policies, so Lukashenko sees no need in making policy statements or reporting about his work to the Parliament.
In this respect, Lukashenko’s statements, addressed to international guests – diplomatic corps of Russia, EU and the US – should be regarded as the most significant. For instance, Lukashenko has repeatedly appealed to Russian Ambassador Alexander Surikov and made a frank statement about the European Union and the United States.
Message, addressed to Russia, implied that the President would not support “structural reforms”, i.e. sales of strategic state-owned enterprises to foreign investors. Instead, Lukashenko offered cooperation in terms of investment with the preservation of different ownership forms. Namely, Lukashenko straight forward called the ongoing negotiations with Russian partners about MAZ and Wheel Tractor Plant meaningless ‘small talks’.
In President’s logic, the best example of cooperation between the state and foreign investor was a Swiss-Belarusian joint venture producing electric trains. The authorized fund of the venture was made of 60% cash deposit by the Stadtler and 40% in kind contribution by JSC Belkommunmash, the production is organized in the leased Belkommunmash spaces, and the entire project, including tax benefits, is regulated by a special Presidential Decree No 322 of July 20th, 2012.
Referring to the EU and the U.S., the President was restrained and constructive, which implies, the resumption of a dialogue trend will be preserved. In particular, Lukashenko said that Belarus wants to have “normal and good relations” with the West and called upon the EU and the U.S. to abandon the sanctions. Lukashenko regards regional security issues as a platform for a new dialogue (transit of energy resources, fighting cross-border crimes and illegal migration).
Simultaneously, Lukashenko emphasized that the Eurasian integration project remained a priority for Belarus, and that he would not abandon this foreign policy line. Such Lukashenko’s approach is known as a ‘pendulum’ policy, which is often used by the President as the most suitable and proven tool to help keeping him at power. The upcoming presidential elections in 2015 force Lukashenko to resort to this tool once again.
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.