Minsk to step up lobbying of its interests in Moscow
At the EEU Summit in Astana, Alexander Lukashenka has sharply criticisedthe Union for putting barriers in mutual trade and the lack of innovations. Overall, currently Belarus has fewer benefits from the EEU membership than her weight in the organisation. The Belarusian authorities are likely to attempt to use this lever for lobbying their economic interests and the interests of Belarusian producers.
Lukashenka’s speech at the Summit was out of tune with speeches by other heads of state. The Summit was celebrating the 2nd anniversary of the EEU and implied demonstration of successes achieved. Besides, due to domestic problems, Nazarbayev and Sargsian were in dire need of support by other heads of state and of demonstrating EEU’s bright prospects.
Meanwhile, Lukashenka not only outlined the obvious failures of the economic union: falling turnover, barriers in mutual trade, and additional obstacles due to the unilateral protective measures introduced by Russia against the West, Ukraine and Turkey; but also questioned the basic agreement of the Union - the EEU founding agreement. Only Kyrgyz President Atambaev supported Lukashenka’s speech. President Putin was forced to make excuses in response to Lukashenka’s allegations.
Lukashenka’s criticism was rather reasonable: none of the EEU member states had gained benefits from the Union to which it was entitled. The EEU has united unreformed economies in recession, which help keeping geriatric political systems afloat. In addition to internal reasons for economic slowdown in the EEU member states, by the time the EEU Summit started, two more important factors have emerged: the confrontation, especially in trade and finance, between Moscow and the west; and the slump in oil prices. As a result, in the past two years, Russia’s economy has fallen into a severe recession, respectively, mutual trade within the EEU has fallen sharply as compared with the period before its creation.
As for Belarus, not only it was unable to benefit from multiple bans on imports to Russia from the EU, Ukraine and Turkey, it has also lost its traditional positions on the Russian market to Chinese and other producers. In addition, the decline in the world prices on raw materials has offset the benefits from Russian oil and gas exports at special prices for allies.
Overall, Belarus is still gaining benefits from the EEU, however fewer than she should due to her weight in the organisation. Belarus is one the EEU’s three co-founders, and, in fact, is the western showcase for the Russian integration. Without Belarus, the EEU would lose the point for Moscow. Until Moscow has interest in this integration mechanism, Belarus has a strong lever to prompt the Kremlin to respect its interests.
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.