Minsk Retains its Internal Policy
On 8 September, the Chairman of Belarus’ Central Election Commission, Yarmoshina, said that reforming the election legislation was undesirable. Last week, a number of high-ranking officials stated that it was unacceptable to sell Belarus’ national assets.
The current task for the Belarusian authorities is to maintain the status quo. It is not expected that they will fulfill the political demands both of the West (such as the release of political prisoners and democratic reforms) and of Russia (the privatization of enterprises under the loan program of the EurAsEC).
Last week, Yarmoshina said that there were no plans to transform the standing majority electoral system into a proportional one. Later on, two of the three First Deputy Prime Ministers, Vladimir Semashko and Sergei Rumas, stated that privatizing major Belarusian companies (Belaruskali and BelAZ) would be a crime against the Belarusian people and was not acceptable.
Such “tough rhetoric” is explained by Minsk’s unwillingness to fulfill the demands of the Kremlin and the West to carry out reforms. At the same time, such demands increase the unanimity within the governmental bodies on the most worrying issue: the privatization of the Belarusian enterprises within the frameworks of agreement on cooperation with the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund. The issue will be discussed during Putin’s visit to Minsk on 31 May.
As it has already been indicated, the Belarusian authorities have no long-term strategy.
However, there was significant growth in Belarusian foreign trade in the first quarter of 2012 due to favourable terms for trade in oil and oil products with Russia. Minsk wants to derive a maximum short-term benefit from this situation as well as to put off making economic and political concessions. It increasingly uses extremely adventurous but highly lucrative smuggling schemes to re-export Russian oil products without paying export taxes to Russia.
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.