Lukashenko made a number of foreign visits
On March 18th – 21st, President Lukashenko made official visits to Indonesia and Singapore. On March 22nd he visited the United Arab Emirates.
Lukashenko’s extended tour around South-East Asia and the Middle East is a forced reaction to the unfavorable outcome in the Russo-Belarusian negotiations. Belarus seeks to strengthen its foreign policy “alibi” by demonstrating to Russia other buyers’ interest in Belarusian assets.
The logic behind Lukashenko’s visit to Indonesia and Singapore coincides with the logic of the Serbian President Nikolic’s “spontaneous” visit to Minsk on March 12th – 13th. The Belarusian president aims at expanding the narrowed range of his international contacts. The unfavourable outcome of the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 15th in St. Petersburg, forced Lukashenko to continue strengthening his foreign policy “alibi” in negotiations with the Kremlin.
Lukashenko decided to visit remote countries, rather than to use the opportunity to benefit from the Foreign Ministry’s efforts regarding the resumption of a dialogue with the Belarus’ nearest neighbor - the EU. This behavior should be regarded as a demonstration of the apparent sovereignity of Belarus’ foreign policy.
Belarus’ trade with Indonesia (and Serbia) is low - USD 200 million, and with Singapore is even less - about USD 27 million. Lukashenko’s proposal to Indonesian President Yudhoyono to use Belarus as a trading "gateway" to the Customs Union should also be regarded as a rhetorical move, a fairly typical PR-campaign by the Belarusian authorities. Due to Russia’s tough stance, such offers as a rule do not develop successfully.
Finally, the visit’s main purpose was to demonstrate to Russia that Belarus could potentially find alternative buyers for its assets. Russo-Belarusian negotiations are entering their decisive phase (privatization lists have been agreed at the government level, annual oil supplies volumes have not been signed off and Belarus’ oil supplies have been monopolized by a number of Russian companies), therefore Lukashenko had to counteract and show his independence. While in Singapore, he openly stated that he “is ready to consider any proposals vis-à-vis shares in the largest Belarusian companies”.
Objectively speaking, Belarus’ foreign policy enhancement would have a positive effect on trade and the country’s economic capacity, because Belarus’ political system suggests that active operations in foreign markets are only possible with the president’s approval. Unofficial reports say, that in Indonesia some promising contracts worth USD 400 million were signed off (mostly relating to fertilizers’ trade and agriculture).
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.