Minsk authorities watch out for alternative negotiators of Russo-Belarusian agenda
The Belarusian authorities have assessed the ‘BeloRussian Dialogue’ conference with the participation of opposition politicians as a message from the Kremlin that it seeks a new strategy for Belarus and partners to implement it. In turn, some Belarusian opposition forces are attempting to break the authorities’ monopoly on communication with the Kremlin, and to formulate a new mutually acceptable format for Russo-Belarusian relations. The authorities are likely to take action in order to exclude alternative political forces’ influence on the Russo-Belarusian agenda.
Participants in the international conference "BeloRussian Dialogue" have discussed future Russo-Belarusian relations. The conference was facilitated by Russian political scientist and expert on Belarusian-Russian relations Suzdaltsev, who is a persona non grata in Belarus.
Despite the fact that the Belarusian authorities were invited to take part in the conference, Belarusian Embassy representatives ignored the event. Minsk officials aspire to be the only communication channel with the Kremlin and have an exclusive right to determine the Belarusian-Russian agenda. Meanwhile, the event was attended by representatives of diplomatic missions of the EU and NATO. In addition, the organisers announced that three more such conferences would be held throughout 2016. This was the first event of the kind in Moscow, in which Belarusian opposition leaders participated.
Meanwhile, the very organization of the conference on Belarus in Moscow and the participation of independent Belarusian experts and opposition politicians have caused controversy in the Belarusian public space. Amid the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy and the growth of revanchist sentiments in Russian society, some independent media analysts reacted with caution to Moscow’s increased interest in the ongoing processes in Belarus.
Assessments by independent analysts of the participation in the event of the most popular opposition politician Tatsiana Karatkevich have divided. Critics noted that the format of the conference did not match the status of the ex-presidential candidate, and that Karatkevich’s talking points about the state and prospects for the Russo-Belarusian relations were unlikely to help boosting her popular ratings among Belarusian voters.
Others analysts were less critical of the Belarusian opposition politicians with presidential and parliamentary ambitions participating in such a conference. However, they noted that the opponents of the Belarusian leadership lacked an alternative strategy for developing Russo-Belarusian relations.
Karatkevich’s talking points could be supported by the Belarusian population, which is influenced by the Russian media propaganda and is critical of the ‘pro-Western’ opposition. That said, pro-European part of the opposition lacks a unified position and vision of how relations with Russia could develop.
In turn, both Belarusian and Russian analysts who spoke at the conference, witnessed a crisis in the existing model of Russo-Belarusian relations. Moreover, many participants in the discussion were unanimous about the lack of future prospects for economic and political rapprochement between Belarus and Russia within the ongoing integration framework. First of all, analysts acknowledged that the ‘Union State of Belarus and Russia’ project, which was in its active phase in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, had run out of steam.
Yet the Belarusian propaganda machine has not reacted to the conference and participation of opposition politicians in it. However, the next day after the event, President Lukashenka initiated a conversation with President Putin and proposed to organize a meeting in Minsk in closed and open formats.
In the near future, Minsk officials are likely to step up their contacts with the Kremlin in order to ensure that alternative negotiators do not interfere with the formation of the Russo-Belarusian agenda.
Photo by Zmicier Lukashuk
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.