Minsk requires new "commodity" for bargaining with West
It becomes increasingly difficult for Minsk to use regional security issues as a trade-off in negotiations with both, the West and Moscow. Circumstances are prompting the Belarusian authorities to change the main subject in the dialogue with the EU and the US.
Over the past three years, Minsk has successfully used its detachment from the Moscow's aggressive policy in political negotiations with the West. However, the situation is changing and the EU, the US and Ukraine want concrete steps from the Belarusian authorities, rather than assurances.
Harsh statements by the Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus regarding the West-2017 Russo-Belarusian military exercise and the Slavic Brotherhood Russo-Serbian-Belarusian exercise represent not only the Kyiv’s stance but also the EU and the US expectations. They want concrete steps from Minsk, which would demonstrate its openness and bona fides in respect of regional security matters, as soon as possible. For instance, European states have warned the Belarusian authorities against the participation of the Russian units, which took part in events in Ukraine or were deployed in the occupied territories, in the July 3rd parade in Minsk. NATO (and Ukraine) expect full transparency of the West-2017 exercise. Certainly, it is up to the Belarusian authorities to decide, however a poor decision would unequivocally lead to political consequences.
That said, by making advances to the West, Minsk could prompt a tough response in Moscow, relations with which have tangled over the past three years. Simultaneously, regional security issues have been Belarus’ bargaining chip in negotiations with both, the Kremlin and the West. The difference is that security issues are among the most important for the West, while for the Kremlin they have the outmost importance.
‘Security trading’ is coming to an end for Minsk. The West and Ukraine expect Belarus to take action, which could provoke a new crisis in Russo-Belarusian relations. In the given circumstances, the Belarusian authorities require a new "commodity" for bargaining with the West. For instance, an equivalent replacement could be the limited liberalisation of the political regime in Belarus, improvement of the environment for the independent media, NGOs and political opposition. The scope of such liberalization would be very limited, only to permit Minsk to continue the dialogue with the West for some time.
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.