Official Minsk ready for cooperation with EU
Official Minsk has engaged in the ‘interim stage’ of a dialogue proposed by Brussels in February this year. The Belarusian authorities could step up cooperation with the EU due to a combination of favourable external factors: lower EU requirements vis-à-vis the Belarusian government amid the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, the growing regional significance of Belarus, and generational change in the EU’s foreign policy – new EU officials do not have negative experience of cooperation with the Belarusian leadership. According to the Belarusian authorities, they were able to impose their conditions on cooperation with European partners and reduce the negotiations with Brussels to economic issues only.
Having depoliticised cooperation with the EU, the Belarusian authorities released one of the political prisoners – human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, whose detention was not directly related to the December 19th, 2010 events. Depending on Brussels’ response to Bialiatski’s release, the authorities might be prepared to release the remaining political prisoners. Belarus’ authorities are extremely interested in balancing out the growing lopsided dependence on the Kremlin, as well as receiving financial support from international institutions. However, the Belarusian authorities’ cooperation with Brussels will continue only if the latter does not endanger the political regime’s stability.
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.