Minsk sends a reciprocal goodwill gesture to the West
Belarusian authorities have used a relatively mild assessment of the parliamentary campaign by the OSCE observers to demonstrate their willingness to continue exchanging reciprocal concessions. But the major political prisoners remain in prison.
On September 26th and 27th political prisoners Sergei Kovalenko and Paul Syromolotov were released.
The release of two political prisoners is definitely a reaction to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission’s assessment of the parliamentary elections. This assessment was less harsh than the previous, and the authorities made a reciprocal good will gesture. Most likely, the new Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey coordinated this initiative - he personally met on September 24th with the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission Mr. Milososki.
Clearly the authorities were waiting for the West’s reaction to the elections, as both Kovalenko and Syromolotov had written pardon requests in June 2012 and as a rule such requests are considered within one month. Both former prisoners were not involved in the most resonant political case, i.e. the mass demonstrations on December 19th, 2010. Major political prisoners, including former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich, remain in prison.
As noted earlier, Minsk is not going to fulfill the conditions set by the West for the release (and rehabilitation) of political prisoners, but the authorities are considering the opportunities for a thaw in relations. The Belarusian authorities are pleased with the positive signal sent through the OSCE observation mission and they are prepared to respond, but they will continue fulfilling the conditions only in return for further concessions.
Most likely, the authorities’ next move will be an attempt to resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, in particular, against the backdrop of the deteriorating financial situation in the country. Previously the National Bank Chairman Mrs. Ermakova talked about it. Further releases of political prisoners will imply that the authorities have received a positive signal in terms of cooperation with the IMF.
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.