Lukashenko’s participation in Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga depends on Kremlin
At a meeting with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, President Lukashenko said that Belarus counted on Latvia’s assistance in promoting cooperation between Belarus and other EU member states. The Belarusian government expects to unblock relations with European capitals and receive an invitation to participate in the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit in May this year at the highest level - for President Lukashenko. However, official Minsk is not ready to fulfil the basic requirements of the EU to initiate the normalisation process in Belarusian-European relations, i.e. to release the remaining political prisoners. In addition, amid the Kremlin’s sharply negative attitude to the EU’s Eastern Partnership Programme, when deciding on participation in the Riga Summit, Belarus would have to take into account potentially negative reaction from Moscow, which seriously reduces the likelihood of Lukashenko’s participation.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.