Minsk loses interest in developing contacts with distant countries
Amid improvements in Belarusian-European relations, Minsk has reduced the intensity of contacts with Asian and Latin American states and focused on domestic agenda. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s strategy aiming to develop relations with the ‘far arc’ countries has lost its relevance in the context of intense liaisons with Western capitals and a lull in relations with the Kremlin. In addition, relations with China require a revision of the ‘long arc’ concept to identify a special place for Sino-Belarusian relations.
At a meeting with the head of the executive power of Afghanistan Abdullah Abdullah President Lukashenka said that Belarus and Afghanistan should move from talks to building concrete cooperation.
The Belarusian leadership has managed to break through its international isolation, including through holding the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk, which has reduced the need to demonstrate foreign policy successes to the population by establishing relations with the leaders of the ‘far arc’ states. In addition, Minsk is attempting to take maximum advantage of the CEI chairmanship, which prompts to focus foreign policy efforts on the West and reduce contacts with the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Some economic recovery in H1 2017 has allowed President Lukashenka to relax efforts in searching for economic partners in the ‘far arc’ states. Unlike in previous years, the president has focused on the domestic political agenda and the participation in propaganda activities inside the country, rather than making foreign trips and meeting with the leaders of the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry is likely to revise the ‘far arc’ concept and enhance China's role in Belarus' foreign policy. Minsk is likely to balance out human rights claims from Western capitals and political and economic pressure from the Kremlin by developing relations with Beijing, rather than other ‘far arc’ states.
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.