Minsk attempts to improve Belarus’ reputation in the West
Last week, Belarus’ foreign policy efforts included attempts to relax tension with her neighbours over the “West-2017” Belarusian-Russian military drill amid deterioration in Russo-American relations; updates to the format of the peacekeeping platform for the settlement of the conflict in Ukraine; the Foreign Ministry started a systemic work with the Diaspora and civil society in anticipation of stepped up economic cooperation and people’s diplomacy in relation with Western capitals.
Minsk aspires to continue the settlement with the West, especially amid the deterioration in Russo-American relations. To this end, the authorities are attempting to demonstrate the maximum possible openness of the Belarusian-Russian military drill while taking into account Russia’s wishes. For instance, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry has received an invitation from its Belarusian colleagues to monitor the “West-2017” exercise, as well as all military attaches of foreign states accredited in Minsk.
The Belarusian leadership has changed its attitude towards the current format of the conflict resolution in the east of Ukraine. The Foreign Ministry is likely to be looking into the possibility to extend the format and engage Washington more actively in overcoming the crisis in the Ukrainian east. For example, during the visit to Slovenia, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey emphasised that as is, the conflict had no prospects to be resolved and stated the need to for a meeting beyond the Normandy format. The Belarusian leadership has persistently attempted to reformat the Minsk negotiation platform over Ukraine to step up its status due to peacekeeping initiatives aimed to relax tension between the Kremlin and Washington.
The Belarusian authorities are beginning to use informal communication channels and public diplomacy more frequently to improve the public opinion in Western countries about Belarus. The Foreign Ministry is increasingly using nationally-oriented rhetoric, appealing to the most active part of the Belarusian emigration. For example, the Foreign Ministry organized a commemorative event dedicated to an emigrant scientist in Chile of Belarusian origin, Ignacy Domeyko. In addition, Foreign Minister Makey attempted to start a process of overcoming the differences between emigration and official Minsk at the Seventh Congress of Belarusians of the world.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account has shared an article by 34mag.net, which provided ten ironic advice to Western journalists on how to write "cool and unique" texts about Belarus. In addition, Minsk has demonstrated openness to international criticism and discussions about the human rights and democracy issues in the country. Apparently, the authorities are attempting a systemic change in approach in improving Belarus’ reputation in the West and use not only official contacts, but also the diaspora, to enhance Belarus’ presence in the Western media and her appeal to foreigners.
Amid growing tension between the Kremlin and Washington, Minsk strives to remain the most acceptable negotiation platform on Ukraine. The Foreign Ministry is testing the possibilities for Minsk to become a peacekeeping platform to lessen tension between Moscow and Western capitals. To this end, the Belarusian authorities have demonstrated readiness for a dialogue with Western capitals on democracy and human rights issues, which undoubtedly implies some relaxation of the domestic political environment.
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.