Lukashenko in the spotlight of a diplomatic row
While talking to journalists on 26 April, the President Lukashenko impartially spoke about the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich, and also named the Chairman of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso with an insulting Russian word with extremely negative connotations.
The emotional reaction of the Belarusian President to an informal request to withdraw participation in an international donor conference in Kiev on April 19, attended by Mr. Barroso, had several implications for the regional policy projects involving Belarus.
Firstly, an attack on the first person in Ukraine, which along with Belarus is involved in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Eastern Partnership, will apparently freeze the expected support of the Ukrainian Delegations to their Belarusian colleagues for an indefinite period of time. Previously Belarus managed to create the inner lobby in the EURONEST of the delegations of Armenia and Azerbaijan, which were calling for the equal participation of the Belarusian MPs in the EURONEST. Then Ukraine expressed a mild desire to side with Belarus, and now the political climate for such support has seriously deteriorated.
Secondly, the statement of Lukashenko is a marker of the bilateral relations between Belarus and Ukraine. In particular, Belarusian and Ukrainian experts believe, the dramatic deterioration of the diplomatic relations may impede the state border demarcation process, important for Ukraine, successful completion of which is impossible without the support from Belarus. This process needs to be completed for the Ukraine could fully participate in a number of integration projects with the EU.
Finally, thirdly, the Belarusian president made his statement on the day a meeting between presidents Medvedev and Yanukovich was held in the city of Chernobyl, dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl tragedy. President Lukashenko planned to participate in the aforementioned events, but then stayed in Belarus. The Belarusian president’s ignoring of the high-level meetings speaks about a serious crisis of his international legitimacy. During his 4th presidential term as of 26 April, he had not paid any international visits. Indeed, the cutback on legitimacy was one of the reasons for the unexpected departure of Lukashenko to Turkmenistan on 27 April.
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.