Minsk is attempting to play down human rights issues in relations with EU
The Belarusian authorities aim to raise the profile of the geopolitical aspect in the Belarusian-European relations to enhance economic cooperation. That said, Minsk shows discontent with Europe’s persistence regarding Belarus’ compliance with her human rights commitments and attempts to slow down the dialogue on human rights and democratisation. The Belarusian authorities aspire to preserve the current political liberalisation without harsh persecution of the opposition, but with the use of financial mechanisms to curb protest activity.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has sharply reacted to the critical resolution of the European Parliament, which, however, is unlikely to affect Minsk’s commitment to the Belarusian-European normalisation. The Belarusian authorities hope that the document adopted by European MPs will not slow down the steady positive cooperation between Minsk and European capitals. According to the Belarusian authorities, geopolitical conflict with Russia is a crucial factor for developing Belarusian-European relations, and Minsk’s attempts to become the "regional stability donor" compensate for the lack of democracy and violations of human rights in the country.
The Belarusian authorities seek to give an additional impetus to relations with the European capitals, to update Minsk image as a stability donor in the region and put forward additional peace initiatives. For instance, the president suggested that Belarus could participate in the peacekeeping mission in Donbass, and Minsk could host the settlement process for Western capitals and the Kremlin. The Belarusian leadership hopes that such initiatives would drive away the West’s attention from the critical assessments of the human rights situation in the country.
Minsk is attempting to link financial assistance with strengthening of the Belarusian independence in order to pay down the value aspect in the dialogue with European capitals. From pragmatic cooperation with the EU, Belarus expects assistance in obtaining credit support from international institutions, assistance in joining the WTO, restoring trade preferences for Belarusian goods on the EU market, and signing a basic agreement between Belarus and the EU. Visa liberalisation issue seems to be less important for the officials in Minsk.
The Belarusian authorities do not see the need to continue political liberalisation with regard to political opposition and human rights in the country in the near future.
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.