Minsk aims to develop relations with Western capitals by sidestepping human rights and democracy issues
Minsk envisages to use regional European organizations to boost Belarus’ normalisation with western capitals and remove democracy and human rights issues from the agenda. Most likely, the Belarusian leadership anticipates that the Kremlin would not respond harshly to their attempts to form an ‘anti-sanctions’ European coalition as regards Russia. In addition, Minsk is likely to use the thaw in relations with the West to give momentum to relations with China in order to gain a foothold in the Silk Road initiative and ensure Chinese investment.
Belarus views its participation in the Central European Initiative as an opportunity to intensify her participation in the European integration processes with a focus on economic cooperation.
Previously, Minsk was rather cautious about participating in such regional or European organisations, however, now the Belarusian leadership is taking initiative to step up contacts with Western capitals. Apparently, the Belarusian leadership is aiming to improve relations with Brussels through various mechanisms, however, without changing the domestic policy. This is likely to be due to the reduced benefits from cooperation with the Kremlin and the need to find new funding opportunities.
In addition, the Kremlin is likely to be interested in Minsk’s success in the Central European Initiative, so as some of its members openly sympathise with Russia and advocate to abandon the EU's sanctions policy against the Russian leadership. That said, the Belarusian leadership continues to promote the idea of integration between the EU and the EEU, which certainly corresponds to the interests of Moscow and finds a response from some EU member state’s representatives.
Apparently, Minsk is likely to attempt to use its capacity and role in sub-regional European organisations as an additional argument for prompting closer cooperation with China. Minsk has repeatedly emphasised that it was ready to become a springboard for China in Europe, however previously, amidst EU sanctions against the Belarusian authorities such statements looked bizarre.
Overall, Minsk is likely to continue to use regional and sub-regional European platforms to boost relations with Western capitals bypassing democracy and human rights issues.
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.