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Minsk escalates tension with the Kremlin

February 13, 2017 10:17
Президент России Владимир Путин и президент Беларуси Александр Лукашенко во время церемонии подписания документов по итогам российско-белорусских переговоров в Кремле, 2015. (c) Сергей Гунеев / РИА Новости. Все права защищены.

In response to Russia’s pressure and stoking tension in relations with the EEU member states, Minsk refuses to demonstrate loyalty to the Kremlin as an ally. The Belarusian authorities have factored out the lingering conflict with Moscow from bilateral relations and taken a toll on the reputation of the Eurasian integration. Minsk has in sight that the Kremlin is unlikely to building-up the crisis and prompt disintegration of the EEU by lowering expectations of the participants in the Kremlin-led initiatives.

Following the Kremlin’s attempts to lower Minsk’s status in the alliance, the Belarusian authorities engage new parties in the conflict among their EEU partners. Minsk reckons that Moscow would mitigate the conflict in order not to frustrate other EEU member states. Meanwhile, Yerevan harshly criticized the Belarusian authorities for extraditing a Russian national to Azerbaijan and appealed to the Kremlin as the guarantor of the compliance with the CIS, EEU and CSTO commitments to put pressure on the ‘ally’.

That said, Russia keeps pressuring Minsk by introducing further restrictions on Belarusian exports to Russia. For instance, the Agriculture Ministry and the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance failed to discuss the increase in agricultural products supply to Russia from Belarus due to the postponement of the visit of Russian inspectors to Belarus amid the threat of provocations by the Belarusian security forces.

Minsk also decided to wait-and-see and toughened its rhetoric vis-a-vis the Kremlin by accusing the latter of waiving the transparency of the internal borders within the Union State. According to media reports, President Lukashenka postponed a meeting with President Putin within the Summit of the Union State. Apparently, Lukashenka no longer regards the Union State as a mechanism enabling to resolve tension in bilateral relations and is no more interested in the post-Soviet integration associations.

Overall, Minsk reckons that the Kremlin is unlikely to factor out tension from bilateral relations and destabilise the Eurasian integration.

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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.