Minsk attempts to mitigate sanctions confrontation between Kremlin and West
Official Minsk is increasing contacts with European capitals in order to neutralise pressure from the Kremlin which seeks to involve Belarus in the sanctions standoff with the West. Amid the food war between Russia and Belarus, the latter hopes to unlock the Belarusian-European relations on her terms, i.e. establish politically unconditioned pragmatic cooperation. In addition, official Minsk is trying to mitigate the sanctions confrontation between Russia and the West.
The Belarusian authorities are trying to engage Brussels in resolving the Russo-Belarusian economic contradictions. Last week, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry held a meeting with EU ambassadors represented in Minsk. After the meeting the Foreign Ministry underscored that: “During the meeting, the parties exchanged their views on problematic issues in Russo-Belarusian relations, as well as about the Eurasian integration development. In this context, a point was made about the importance of a dialogue and cooperation between Belarus and the EU.”
Interestingly, Russian restrictions on food imports from Belarus are similar in nature to the sanctions enacted by Russia against the foodstuffs from the EU. According to CIS Economic Council Chairman and a Council of Ministers member, Sergei Rumas, the Russian authorities are deliberately delaying the decision to lift all restrictions on supplies from Belarus to Russia. Currently, Russia has lifted restrictions only with regard to six Belarusian enterprises out of twenty. Meanwhile, on December 13th, the Russian consumer protection agency said that salt produced by Belarusian Mozyrsol and Belkali failed to comply with Russia’s dietary requirements.
Amid its isolation from the international community, the Kremlin needs to demonstrate that it has a loyal neighbour, Belarus. Regarding Belarus’ role in the confrontation between Russia and the West, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "Nevertheless, to date, this issue [sanctions against the EU] has not been on the Custom’s Union agenda…. However, we do not rule out that such a need may arise in the future”.
Belarus however is not comfortable with the Kremlin’s desire to drag Belarus into its confrontation with the West. President Lukashenko highlighted Belarus’ desires to relieve tension in the region: "Belarus fully supports equal cooperation between the countries, devoid of pressure and coercion. We advocate for the abolition of any sanctions. So as they directly affect people’s living standards." Most likely, Minsk is trying to act as a negotiator to mitigate the sanctions standoff between Russia and the EU. At the meeting with EU Ambassadors, the president has once again reiterated his viewpoint on the relations with the EU, which suggests a pragmatic approach without political conditions.
Official Minsk is confident that it will soon be able to impose its agenda in the Belarusian-EU relations, mainly due to increased role of geopolitical factors in the EU and US foreign policies. While meeting with EU Ambassadors, President Lukashenko underscored his balanced approach and hinted about the unacceptability of the eastern neighbour’s actions: "Some states seek to influence not only the regional processes, but are also trying to change the global balance of power”. Interestingly, similar rhetoric could be used by the president during the meetings with the Russian representatives and refer to the EU and US actions in the region.
Growing contradictions in Russo-Belarusian relations are prompting the latter to improve her relations with the EU, including economic cooperation and an increase in contacts with Western capitals to neutralise the pressure from the Kremlin. However, Belarus has no plans to develop political relations with the EU, which reduces the likelihood of political prisoners being released , or the political regime softening ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign.
Growing contradictions in the Russo-Belarusian relations are prompting the latter to improve the economic relations with the EU, but not political.
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.