Minsk’s foreign policy: between the East and the Far East
The shift towards new geopolitical partner had no impact on the nature of Belarusian politics. At its core is short-term and adventurous benefit maximization from contracts concluded with Russia and Kazakhstan, even if the risks of failure increase. For instance, on June 7, President Lukashenko signed a Decree to establish a Sino-Belarusian Industrial Park, which de facto creates a tax offshore for Chinese producers in Belarus for 50 years.
In general, these Belarusian initiatives are contrary to the spirit of the signed integration agreements and have already provoked Kremlin’s backlash. For example, the potential opening of a Chinese cars assembly line in Belarus could threaten Russian automobile industry interests, said Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov on June 6. It should be noted that Kremlins’ negative assessment is associated with Belarus’ attempt to act against the integration agreements, rather than choosing China as a partner: Russian reaction would remain unchanged if the issue was about opening of a Belarusian-Polish or a Belarusian-American industrial park.
The Belarusian authorities made no visible attempts to restore the relations with the EU and the U.S. It could be explained by a factor we have marked before: after the EU ambassadors returned to Minsk the Belarusian authorities consider the current state of affairs as acceptable and have no intention to improve it. Therefore, one should anticipate that at least during the summer period Belarus will refrain from implementing any political demands of the West and will focus its foreign policy eastwards.
Indirectly, frozen western policy is confirmed by the participation of the Presidential Administration Head Mr. Makey in an official visit to China on June 8, during which a protocol on cooperation between Belarus’ Presidential Administration and Central Committee’s International Department of the Communist Party of China was signed. In turn, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov is scheduled to pay an official visit to Indonesia and Laos on June 11-13.
As a rule, members of the Government, including former Belarusian Ambassador to China and Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Tozik and Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich were responsible for relations with East Asia. In turn, Mr. Mackey and Minister Martynov were recognized experts and lobbyists of the Western policy of Belarus. Therefore, active participation of both officials in the Eastern projects indicates that today’s Belarusian ruling elite is not seriously considering resuming relations with the EU and the U.S.
Nevertheless, the lack of a long-term foreign policy strategy in Belarus puts restrictions on actions of the authorities and suggests that the “Far East” policy project can also stumble rapidly, similar to the way the Western liberalization policy collapsed in 2011. The main feature of the Belarusian foreign policy is its situational and therefore random nature.
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.