Minsk-Kiev: love is gone, but mutual interest remains
Statements by Ukrainian politicians about a possible closure of the Minsk process and potential military threats from Belarus, are not least because of the internal political process in Ukraine. Although a crisis matures in the Belarusian-Ukrainian political relations, the pragmatic bilateral interest outweighs politics.
Being at war, Ukraine is very sensitive to Belarusian moves contrary to the position of Kyiv. Belarus, due to complex relations with Russia, cannot take a clear pro-Ukrainian position. Hence, growing political distrust between the two states is only natural.
While not denying the validity of Kyiv’s claims to Minsk, the following should be marked.
Amid socio-economic crisis in Ukraine, external threat has united Ukrainian society and distracted it from domestic issues. This could explain recurrent untrue statements by Ukrainian high-level politicians about the concentration of the Russian troops on the Belarusian territory to invade Ukraine. Minsk agreements and the Minsk process were imposed on Ukraine. Both, the Ukrainian society and political elite are not satisfied with the results of Minsk talks. There is a political demand for a de facto waiver of Minsk agreements by Ukraine, hence, doubts about Belarus' equidistance from the parties to the conflict is only part of a complex mosaic.
That said, Kyiv rejected several proposals from Minsk, aimed at creating a system of trust in the security field between the two states, referring to undue close relations between Belarus and Russia. Kyiv believes there is a threat that sensitive information may leak to Moscow, i.e. there is lack of trust to Belarus.
Minsk is ready to give some guarantees to Kyiv in the security sphere within its capacities and interests. Obviously, Ukraine anticipated something more. Meanwhile, de facto bilateral cooperation in various fields is so important for both states, that neither Belarus nor Ukraine is ready to give up the benefits it brings. In this situation, Kyiv is unlikely to take any action, which could damage the existing cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine. Meanwhile, Ukrainian politicians are likely to tighten their rhetoric vis-a-vis Belarus. Albeit the trust between the leaders of the two countries fell sharply, pragmatic interests would guarantee conflict-free Belarusian-Ukrainian relations.
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.