Minsk aims to boost economic cooperation with Kyiv
Minsk aspires to give momentum to trade, economic and military-technical cooperation with Kyiv and boost bilateral trade through political contacts. The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to count on direct assistance from Kyiv in settling relations with Washington and European capitals, however aspire for its support in promoting peacekeeping initiatives. Apparently, in his non-public meetings on the first day of the visit, President Lukashenka assured his counterpart of the Belarusian-Ukrainian border security during the “West-2017” Russo-Belarusian military exercise.
Last week, President Lukashenka held official talks in Kiev with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Previously, Minsk was not particularly eager to develop political relations with Kiev, although trade and economic cooperation was quite high: almost USD 8 billion trade turnover with a significant positive balance for Belarus in 2012. Minsk started to develop high-level political contacts when it became a negotiating platform for resolving the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine. In last three months, presidents Lukashenka and Poroshenko have met twice.
The president has attempted to relax tension in Ukraine due to the “West-2017” Russo-Belarusian military exercise. The Belarusian-Ukrainian summit coincided with the aggravation of the confrontation in the east of Ukraine, which undoubtedly enhanced concerns in Ukrainian society about a possible Russian aggression. In addition to the desire to relax tension in the region, Minsk aspires to raise its international status through peacekeeping initiatives.
In addition, Minsk is attempting to insure against future oil and gas disputes with Russia, in particular, after the presidential elections in 2018. Earlier, amid aggravation with the Kremlin over gas and oil, Belarus imported insignificant volumes of Azerbaijani and Iranian oil through Ukraine. Hence, Minsk is interested in developing trade and economic relations with Kiev and regaining access to the Ukrainian market (trade turnover halved in 20112-2015). In return, the Belarusian authorities offer Kyiv access for Ukrainian producers to the Eurasian market.
Minsk aspires to remove concerns in Ukrainian society over the Belarusian-Russian military exercise, while remaining a partner for both, the Kremlin and Kyiv. As a bonus, the Belarusian leadership counts on the growth in bilateral trade turnover due to friendly high-level contacts.
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.