Minsk deflected harsh criticism over NPP and agreed to discuss human rights in Belarus
Minsk has gained reputational bonuses on the international arena with a focus on international security issues and promoting a dialogue between East and West. The Belarusian authorities managed to prevent harsh criticism regarding the NPP construction in Belarus during the OSCE PA session. Meanwhile, they have allowed a heated discussion about democracy and human rights violations in the country. Nevertheless, the OSCE PA Human Rights Committee adopted a resolution in Minsk severely criticising domestic policy in Belarus (as well as in Russia and Azerbaijan)
President Lukashenka has proposed to the OSCE to start a new Helsinki Process with a launch pad in Belarus.
The Belarusian authorities have found a compromise and allowed Miklos Haraszti, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation with human rights in Belarus, to visit Minsk, albeit not in his official capacity, but as an OSCE invited expert. Apparently, Belarusian diplomats have used Haraszti’s visit to prevent a Lithuania-sponsored resolution on Belarus, which, inter alia, envisaged criticism of the NPP construction in Ostrovets near the Lithuanian border.
Initially, two draft resolutions targeting Belarus were prepared for the OSCE PA session in Minsk. Belarusian diplomats made efforts to prevent the adoption of the Lithuanian draft, which focused on Belarus and the NPP construction and somewhat overlooked the Swedish draft resolution on the situation in Eastern Europe, featuring some critical remarks as regards Belarus. Apparently, criticism by Western parliamentarians of the Belarusian NPP was a more sensitive issue for Minsk than tough statements about democracy and human rights in the country. In addition, the president attempted to relax tension over the NNP construction in Ostrovets near the border with Lithuania by demonstrating to Western capitals his readiness for a dialogue with Vilnius.
Minsk attempted to shift the focus of the OSCE PA session towards security issues and overcoming of geopolitical tension between the West and the East. Diplomatic successes and positive dynamics in the Belarusian-European settlement, as well as an alleged assistance from the Kremlin, have convinced the Belarusian leadership that a new Helsinki Process could start with a launch pad in Minsk. In addition, Minsk, as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, has significantly lost its relevance. Belarus has stopped gaining foreign policy benefits from the Minsk process and is prompted to give a momentum to new peacekeeping initiatives.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to continue to promote a dialogue between Western capitals and Moscow with the involvement of Beijing on the international arena. Apparently, Belarus’ attempt to initiate the new Helsinki Process could also help to relax the domestic political climate.
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.