By all appearances, President Lukashenka visited Moscow to no avail
As anticipated, the meeting between presidents Putin and Lukashenka was a formal exercise held in a friendly environment, which implies that the Kremlin has accepted Belarus’ foreign policy manoeuvres. Russia is unlikely to provide Belarus with additional bonuses in the coming year (for example, to apply ‘domestic’ status to Belarusian products).
Official reports said that Moscow talks between presidents Lukashenka and Putin had resulted in an agreement to bolster bilateral cooperation.
Agreements signed by the presidents of Belarus and Russia are formal and do not contain any commitments on key issues of the Russo-Belarusian agenda. Referring to the last week’s issue of ‘Belarus in Focus’, the presidents have not even raised the EEU loan issue, so as this has already been decided on the presidential level. As for oil and gas supplies to Belarus, Russia still has to solve this issue on the domestic level and until then, there is no point in discussing the details.
Keeping in mind statements by government officials, there should be no major changes in Russo-Belarusian cooperation in oil and gas sphere. That said, Belarus is likely to keep the energy prices margin (although amid a general fall in oil and gas prices, Belarus’ benefits from the special price are too small to become a serious argument in bilateral relations). Simultaneously, plans of Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Semashko to prompt Moscow to lower prices on gas for Belarus are not feasible.
According to Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, the presidents have not discussed the Russian air base issue. In addition, official reports said nothing about whether they had discussed the tension between Moscow and Ankara. President Putin only mentioned that both countries had "close positions" in international relations.
During the final press conference, President Lukashenka raised the issue of granting Belarusian products with a ‘domestic’ status, Putin, however, did not support him. As soon as President Lukashenka returned from Moscow, he held a meeting with security officials. At the meeting, the president requested bolster activities of power authorities, and focused on the need to strengthen the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, "we should not neglect the situation with Ukraine”.
When speaking about relations with Ukraine, President Lukashenka sounded more like the Kremlin. Unlike his previous neutral statements about Ukraine’s European integration, Lukashenka expressed concern about the effects from the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, which would take effect as of January 1st, 2016. “At the meeting, Russian President drew attention to the entry into force of this Agreement, which will lead to certain risks for Russia, and for us, including Kazakhstan”, he said. Most likely, that in response to Lukashenka’s requests to grant a ‘domestic’ status to Belarusian products on the Russian market, Putin recommended ensuring that the common market was properly protected from goods from third countries, especially coming through Ukraine.
Overall, as anticipated, Russia has once accepted Lukashenka’s foreign policy manoeuvres without changing the terms of bilateral cooperation. Yet she is not ready to grant additional bonuses to Belarus (e.g. granting Belarusian products with a ‘domestic’ status).
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.