Lukashenko sets framework for Makey’s negotiations in Brussels
On July 19th, Irina Khalip, the wife of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, has been released from punishment by a court decision. On July 25th, former presidential candidate Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu’s trial will take place.
Emigration from Belarus of most activists from Sannikov’s team pre-determined the court’s soft decision in Khalip case. If Uladzimir Nyaklyaeu is also released from punishment, it will imply that the ruling group is ready to bridge positions with the West in preparation for the next round of the dialogue.
The ruling group does not consider former candidate Sannikov’s team as serious opponents in Belarus’ political arena. Forced emigration of the team leaders and majority ‘European Belarus’ campaign activists is assessed by the authorities as weakening of Sannikov’s positions. Therefore the government had no reasons to extend Irina Khalip’s punishment (house arrest and supervisory regime), or the more so, to sentence her to a prison term.
In addition, if Khalip was locked up that would unavoidably create a new wave of international criticism against the authorities, since she would be recognized as yet another political prisoner in Belarus. Conversely, Khalip’s release creates a favorable background for Foreign Minister Makey’s visit to Brussels on July 22nd.
It is noteworthy, that Khalip (on July 19th) and Nyaklyaeu’s (on July 25th) trials were synchronized with Makey’s visit to Brussels (on July 22nd). Presumably, such synchronization was used by the authorities to ensure situational decision-making - depending on the outcome of Makey’s negotiations in Brussels. It also implies that the principled decision on the resumption of the dialogue with the West and the corresponding release of political prisoners in Belarus is still pending. The ruling group is treating the upcoming negotiations as a bargain and demonstrates its reluctance to comply with the requirement to rehabilitate political prisoners (Khalip’s conviction has not been expunged).
In turn, the decision in the Nyaklyaeu case on July 25th will indicate how much influence Minister Makey has inside the country, since he apparently was making lots of efforts to resume dialogue with the EU and the U.S.. If Nyaklyaeu is released from punishment, it might be a sign of Lukashenko’s confidence in Makey and a positive assessment of Foreign Ministry’s achievements under his leadership.
Alternatively, any sentence against Nyaklyaeu will result in further deterioration of the relations with the West, and will diminish the Foreign Ministry’s achievements in the western policy made over 2012, as well, will be a sign of President’s retentive mistrust to the Foreign Minister.
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.