Lukashenko enlisted Medvedev’s support
On 24 February Presidents of Belarus and Russia, Lukashenka and Medvedev issued a joint statement condemning the economic sanctions implemented by the U.S. and the EU against Belarus.
First of all, this statement should be regarded as Lukashenko’s personal statement. Thereby the President, who is perceived by the Belarusian business environment as the one to be blamed for the sanctions, demonstrates his indispensability in relations with the Kremlin. At the same time, the CES’ promise of support with Lukashenko’s mediation becomes an insurance policy for those businesses and oligarchs, who could be affected by the new economic sanctions.
It is worth to mention that the statement came out not as a result of the efforts undertaken by Lukashenko and his Administration, but rather of lobby by the First Vice-Prime Minister of Belarus Mr. Rumas, who addressed a letter to the leadership of the Eurasian Economic Commission on 15 February requesting for such support. Therefore the reciprocal gesture of the Administration of the Russian President should be considered as a support to the team of the Prime Minister Myasnikovich. Predictably the government’s role in the joint statement has not been mentioned so far.
If Presidential candidate Vladimir Putin signed the statement, it would have been more impressive. However in that case on behalf of Belarus it should have been signed by the Prime Minister Myasnikovich, becoming a dangerous challenge to the domestic influence of President Lukashenko.
Nevertheless, with the efforts of government officials, journalists and experts, the joint statement of Lukashenko and Medvedev was communicated to the Belarusian population as a sign of close friendship between the two presidents and as an evidence of support of President Lukashenko by a strong political and economic partner.
However, the mere appearance of the joint statement at the last moment, at 16:00 on Friday, 24 February, i.e. at the end of the last working day before Monday, 27 February, when a meeting of the Council of the EU is to take place, implies that Belarus assesses the probability of new sanctions as high and is afraid of such outcome.
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.