Minsk aspires to compensate for economic failures with foreign policy successes
Last week, President Lukashenka met with Pope Francis at the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. In addition, the president held talks with President Sergio Mattarella during a two-day visit to Italy. The Belarusian authorities aspire that the president’s official visit to Rome and the Vatican will open opportunities for expanding top-level political contacts with some EU countries, which are interested in cooperation with Belarus. Thanks to the Holy See, Minsk hopes to consolidate its image of a peacemaker and take the focus of the human rights issues in the Belarusian-European relations. In addition, the Belarusian authorities are hoping to organize the Pope’s visit to Minsk. The Belarusian delegation to Rome included representatives of all Christian confessions in Belarus. The Orthodox Church was represented by Archpriest Feodor Povny, known as Lukashenka’s personal confessor. There is no unity among analysts regarding whether the Belarusian Orthodox Church has coordinated its activities with the Russian Orthodox Church.
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.