Minsk strives to become economic and political "bridge" between Russia and EU

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April 22, 2016 19:36

Belarusian officials would like to use their negotiating potential to coordinate Russia’s economic and political interests with the European Union. Amid potential tension between Russian and the EU in the next couple of years, the Belarusian authorities hope to strengthen their position as a mediator in the talks between the Kremlin and Western capitals. As Minsk’s role in the region increases, Belarus aspires to receive economic benefits and financial support for the Belarusian economy from Eurasian and international financial institutions.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey met with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin last week. During the meeting, the ministers discussed Belarus’ prospects within the Eurasian integration process among other issues.

In the past five years, the Belarusian authorities have been promoting the idea of "integration of integrations" or economic convergence between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union. In recent months, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has stepped up its efforts and regularly promotes this idea during bilateral meetings with its Western counterparts, as well as on various international fora.

It is worth noting that after the presidential campaign in Belarus, while meeting in Moscow at the joint board meeting of Foreign Ministries of Russia and Belarus, Foreign Ministers Makey and Lavrov have agreed on a common action programme on the international arena for the two countries. One of the main topics for discussion between the foreign ministries was interaction between the two major integration associations – the EEU and the EU.

Given the confrontation between the Kremlin and the West, Minsk has assumed a task to represent common interests of the EEU countries vis-a-vis the European Union on the international arena (very likely with Russia’s consent). In addition, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry is attempting to be the Russia’s advocate in mitigating the sanctions pressure, restoring her international position and relieving tension in Russo-European relations.

For example, Belarus, who presides in the EEU, has submitted a draft resolution to provide the EEU with observer status at the UN General Assembly. In addition, Belarus is actively promoting the idea of economic convergence between the EEU and the EU. While doing so, Belarus emphasises the EEU market attractiveness with a population of over 183 million and says she could be the entry point to this market. That said, Chairman of the German-Belarusian Economic Club, Hovsep Voskanyan, has already expressed interest of some German companies to enter the Eurasian market through Belarus.

Belarus believes that thanks to her role of a mediator between the Kremlin and the West, her chances to receive financial assistance from the IMF and from the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund have increased. The Belarusian authorities really hope to receive loans with total worth circa USD 3 billion before the year-end or in early 2016.

The Minsk officials have repeatedly used their exclusive alliance with Moscow in order to boost their status in the region and promote their own economic interests, provided, that relations with the Kremlin and other capitals in the former Soviet Union could deteriorate. For instance, amid the Russo-Georgian conflict in 2008, diplomatic and economic relations between Minsk and Tbilisi have improved; as well, after the Russian annexation of Crimea and crisis in Russo-Ukrainian relations in 2014, contacts between Minsk and Kiev have increased. In both cases, Belarus has acted as a contact point and preserved good relations with both conflicting parties. In addition, all conflicting parties were also interested in preserving interpersonal and economic relations and using Minsk’s transit capacities and mediation services.

In the coming months, the Belarusian authorities will continue their pro-active foreign policy in order to consolidate their enhanced status in the region and to strengthen their negotiating capacity in all possible foreign policy dimensions and international fora.

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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.

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