Minsk avoids irritating Kremlin with contacts with Western capitals as West-2017 drill approaches
As the West-2017 Russo-Belarusian military drill approaches, Minsk has somewhat lowered public contacts with Western capitals in order to avoid possible criticism from both, Western observers and pro-Kremlin publicists. In addition, the Belarusian authorities are likely to dodge Brussels's pressure on changes to the electoral code before the autumn-winter election campaign. Nevertheless, Minsk appears willing to cooperate with the EU on non-political issues, such as liberalising the visa regime and implementing joint projects within the Eastern Partnership framework.
Foreign Ministers of the Visegrad Group (Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia) have expressed hope for the resumption and conclusion of negotiations on simplifying the visa regime between Belarus and the European Union.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry continues to promote greater openness of Belarus to foreigners. The authorities plan to further liberalise the visa regime, increase the visa-free stay from five to ten days and temporary residence permits from one to two years for investors. In addition, the visa-free zone could be expanded to the Brest railway station and the Grodno airport. Local authorities are likely to be interested in the tourist flow amid visa-free travel from neighbouring Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The power block is becoming more loyal to the visa liberalisation thanks to the positive experience after the visa-free entry was introduced in February 2017.
Nevertheless, the authorities are rather cautious about facilitating travel to the EU for Belarusian citizens. They are not rushing to accelerate negotiations on visa liberalisation. Minsk is attempting to de-politicise the EU requirements in order to avoid the return of democracy and human rights issues on the agenda. In addition, there is no serious pressure from the population on the Belarusian authorities regarding visa liberalisation. Belarusians are the leaders in obtaining Schengen visas.
Minsk is attempting to downplay criticism from the Kremlin regarding contacts with Western countries, including the participation in the Eastern Partnership and the expansion of the Belarusian-European agenda with issues of synchronisation of European and Eurasian integration. That said, should the Kremlin’s relations with Western capitals deteriorate, Minsk could aspire to become a mediator.
Minsk is likely to resume active contacts with Western capitals after the West-2017 Belarusian-Russian military drill.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.