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Lukashenko Attempts to Depoliticize the Conflict with the EU

April 22, 2016 18:09

Minsk is signalling Brussels its willingness to reduce political tension. However, after several European ambassadors have returned to Belarus, Minsk is not ready to make further  mutual concessions and has transferred the dialogue into the  area of migration policy.

EU foreign ministers did not introduce any new sanctions against Belarus at a meeting on April 23, and Minsk has interpreted  this as an indication to continue trade with the West. Belarus does not seem willing to meet the EU requirements. President Lukashenko said that he may authorize a large-scale amnesty of prisoners in early July, and made it clear that some of them may be citizens recognized as political prisoners.

At the same time, the Belarusian authorities continue a policy of selective liberalization and repression against political opponents. Two full scale opposition rallies were authorized in Minsk, however, the rally on April 26 ended with the brutal detention of youth activists. Detentions and trials of the protesters coincided with the return of the European ambassadors to Minsk.

Thus, the Belarusian side demonstrates the West their understanding of the sovereignty, and at the same time compensates for their \"weakness\" after the release of Sannikov and Bondarenko in mid-April. In the case of negotiations being resumed with the EU, the Belarusian side will revert to the traditional liberal-repression policy of balancing. Minsk city authorities have already rejected a petition from the opposition to stage a rally on May 1.

Lukashenko expressed his willingness to resume a dialogue with the EU. He publically stated that the EU sanctions could have been much more severe if the EU had intended to harm Belarus. His statement only proves earlier theories that Lukashenko had agreed to resume relations with the EU.

Lukashenko’s readiness to relax control over the Belarusian-Ukrainian  border (in the time of the World Football Championship) can be viewed as a typical Minsk negotiation technique. It is an attempt to create a problem or threat and then \"trade\" this problem or a threat in exchange for particular concessions. If this stake does not work, the authority will continue their attempts to acquire another bargaining chip.

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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.