Minsk strengthens negotiation capacity in talks with the Kremlin
Belarus has gained additional opportunities to defend her interests in relations with the Kremlin, which means she may resume her ‘pendulum’ policy vis-a-vis the EU and Russia. Amid confrontation with the West and dwindling resources for buying the loyalty of the allies, the Kremlin has started appreciating the Union State project. However, in exchange for the aid to Belarus, the Kremlin is becoming more demanding when it comes to coordinating Belarus’ foreign and defence policies.
Last week, Minsk hosted a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State. Official reports said, during the State Council, presidents, prime ministers and high-ranking officials of Belarus and Russia planned to discuss the Union State budget for 2016 and the Foreign Policy Action Programme for 2016-2017.
Apparently, the Kremlin has started to attach more importance to the Union State, an integration project with Belarus. Previously, only Belarus emphasised the importance of this integration union between Belarus and Russia. The Union State was mostly considered as an interstate platform beneficial for Belarus, which she used to maintain a relationship with the Russian leadership and promote her interests by the formula “oil in exchange for kisses”.
Since the mid-2000s, the Kremlin has been gradually losing interest in this intergovernmental initiative, especially in the view of other integration projects in the post-Soviet space with more participants. However, the sanctions pressure by Western capitals and falling oil prices have prompted the Kremlin to concentrate its increasingly scarce resources on priority areas. Amid dwindling state resources, the Kremlin is nevertheless prepared to support its strategic allies, including Belarus, which has the closes integration ties with the Kremlin.
The Belarusian president emphasised, that coordination of foreign and defence policies was the priority issue on the State Council’s agenda (eg most important for the Kremlin). “The ongoing military and political crises, the return to the bloc mentality by a number of states, the widespread use of sanctions as an instrument of political pressure have forced us to keep our gun powder dry. Therefore, today, special attention will be paid to defence building”, he said.
The visit of a large delegation, headed by President Putin and Prime Minister Medvedev, to Belarus has removed possible speculations by the Russian media about relations between Minsk and Brussels in the view of the lifted sanctions against the Belarusian leadership. Amid the confrontation with Western capitals and the neighbouring states, the Kremlin has demonstrated to the Russian population that it has preserved its influence in the ‘near abroad’ with the key allies. Nevertheless, amid Minsk’s success in relations with the West, the Kremlin has to apply additional effort to keep the Belarusian foreign policy in the wake of Russia.
Belarus and Russia are likely to continue negotiations about mutually acceptable concessions in the defence and foreign policy in exchange for financial aid. That said, the Belarusian leadership is likely to agree to closer coordination of foreign policy if Russia provides credit support.
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.