Minsk demonstrates commitment to dialogue with Brussels, but without major concessions
Last week, in the course of his working visit to Brussels, Foreign Minister Makey discussed issues of cooperation between Belarus and the EU and NATO. Makey met with foreign ministers of the EU member states and held talks with EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Negotiations on EU Enlargement Johannes Hahn, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow. Recently, contacts between Minsk and Western capitals at the highest level have become quite frequent. The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to expect a major breakthrough in Belarus-EU relations, due to the limited opportunities for mutual concessions. The EU is unlikely to abandon its value-based approach in relations with Minsk and completely forget about the requirement for democratic reforms. In turn, the Belarusian authorities would not agree for systemic democratic changes and further easing-off of the domestic political climate. However, the process of normalization of diplomatic relations between Minsk and Brussels will continue, perhaps with some minor concessions from both sides, eg, facilitation of the visa regime.
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.