Assisted by Kremlin, Minsk upholds its role in ensuring regional security
Official Minsk continues to strengthen its international position in ensuring regional security by providing a platform for negotiations. The Kremlin has de facto supported Belarus by insisting on holding the Normandy Four talks in Belarus’ capital whereas the Belarusian leadership was still subject to Western sanctions. Official Minsk is likely to increase pressure on the West to lift the sanctions against the Belarusian authorities and to obtain assistance from international financial institutions.
On February 11th – 12th, Minsk hosted 16-hour talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. The Normandy Four talks resulted in a declaration in support of a package of measures to implement the Minsk agreements. On the same day the declaration was signed by the participants of the Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine (Ukraine – Russia – OSCE) and Donbas separatists. The parties have agreed on ceasefire as of 12 am (Kyiv time) on February15th, withdrawal of foreign troops from the Ukrainian territory, withdrawal of heavy weapons within 14 days and release of hostages in five days, as well as unconditional access by Ukraine and her international partners to the affected areas in order to provide humanitarian assistance. Neither these talks, nor the previous ones had led to a peace agreement over eastern Ukraine albeit had somewhat relieved tension for a while.
Analysts have differently assessed the results of the Normandy Four talks in Minsk. Most however agreed that official Minsk, which provided a platform for negotiations, was the ultimate beneficiary of the meeting. The meeting of such a level with the participation of EU leaders was held in Minsk for the first time in Belarus’ modern history. In addition, amid the conflict in Ukraine, the Belarusian leadership has de facto managed to get around the European sanctions. The initiative to hold talks in Minsk belonged to President Putin, who asked his Belarusian counterpart to provide a platform for the high-level peace talks.
In addition, the Russian media and Russian audiences have praised the President Lukashenko’s peacekeeping role. The leading Russian TV channels underscored the positive role of President Lukashenko in the conflict resolution in Eastern Ukraine in their reports.
The president also gave a 15-minute interview to the Russian channels NTV and Russia 1. In the interview, the Belarusian leader reaffirmed his commitment to the Eurasian integration, and commented on his ‘rapprochement’ with the EU: “I would not say that we have somehow improved the relations with them. I do not cherish any hopes there. Frankly and honestly speaking, I would like to say that I am no longer in the age when people rush or make sharp turns and so on. I have seen enough of this. So that, you know, one feels dizzy ... In fact, why should I feel dizzy? Is it because I was asked to organise this event? Get real! I do not overestimate Belarus’ role or my own role in this, as usual. I am not exaggerating. So if you think that I would use this as an excuse to turn toward somewhere else, forget about it".
Prior to the Normandy Four talks, leaders of the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donbass People’s Republics issued a statement in which they proposed to send CSTO peacekeeping forces in the region. Previously, President Lukashenko talked about the Belarusian peacekeeping troops’ participation in stabilising the situation in Eastern Ukraine. However, official Minsk is unlikely to go as far as putting this idea into action due to its extreme unpopularity among the population and a deep divide in Belarusian society over the conflict in Ukraine.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry is likely to step up its activity in order to lift Western sanctions against the Belarusian leadership completely.
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.