Russo-Ukrainian exacerbation poses threats to Belarus
A radical deterioration in the Russo-Ukrainian relations has devalued Minsk as a negotiation platform, which was one of the few foreign policy achievements for the Belarusian authorities. In addition, destabilisation in Ukraine may deepen the socio-economic crisis in Belarus, and enhance Minsk’s dependence on the Kremlin.
The diplomatic break between Moscow and Kiev over Crimea and the waiver of the visa-free regime between the two states is likely to prompt million Ukrainian migrant workers to return to Ukraine. Belarus may be exposed to an influx of Ukrainian migrant workers, which is likely to deepen the crisis on the Belarusian labour market. However, the majority of migrant workers may remain in Ukraine. Amid dim outlook for a visa-free regime with the EU, if these workers do not find jobs on the domestic market, Ukraine is likely to face massive social protests. The latter may very quickly translate into political demands to restore relations with Russia. Even at the cost of giving up Crimea. Political instability in Ukraine, which is one of the major export markets for Belarusian goods, is likely to exacerbate financial and economic crisis in Belarus and increase Belarus’ dependence on the Russian market and the Russian financial support.
The break in political communication between Kiev and Moscow cancels Minsk as a negotiating platform, which is the main asset in the Belarusian foreign policy. Hence, the West may somewhat lose its interest in normalisation with Belarus. That said, the Belarusian authorities would be prompted to deepen the military-political cooperation with Russia.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to use all possible channels to contribute to the Russo-Ukrainian stabilisation. However, Minsk has lesser opportunities than in 2014: the Belarusian authorities have lost Moscow’s trust and have not formed a strategic partnership with Kyiv. In case of political instability in Ukraine, Belarus is likely to enhance border security at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. In addition, there is a slim chance that Minsk may become more sensitive to meeting the EU requirements as to the Belarusian domestic policy in order to preserve a dialogue with the West.
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.