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.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.