Belarus aspires to break deadlock in Belarusian-Polish relations with minimal costs
Amid threats to regional stability due to military conflict in south-eastern Ukraine, official Minsk is anticipating Warsaw to review its attitude towards the Belarusian leadership. The Belarusian authorities hope that the Belarusian opposition’s influence on the Polish authorities will weaken, and with it, Warsaw’s support for Belarus’ democratic forces ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign. The Belarusian government hopes to break the deadlock in Belarusian-Polish relations with minimal costs.
Belarus’ Foreign Minister Makei and Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski met in Warsaw last week.
Until recently, Belarus believed that Poland was the main obstacle in normalising relations with Brussels. Before the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine, President Lukashenko had repeatedly aggravated relations with Warsaw and portrayed it as an enemy, who wanted to “chop off Western Belarus”, thus shaping negative public opinion vis-à-vis Poland. In addition, the Belarusian state media has accused the Polish government of financing the Belarusian opposition and the "militants" who undermine the Belarusian stability. Despite repeated accusations against Warsaw for “attempts to overthrow the government”, official Minsk has never broken the bilateral relations.
Recently, however, the state media has not been attacking the Polish minority organisations in Belarus. The Belarusian authorities are not taking discriminatory actions against ethnic Poles, which could be badly perceived in Warsaw.
Since the mid-2000s, Warsaw’s harsh policy towards Minsk spurred the latter to step up pressure on Polish minority organisations in Belarus. The Belarusian authorities facilitated the split in the largest Polish minority organisation in the country – the Union of Poles. Before the split, the Union of Poles was the largest NGO in Belarus with a good resource base, including real estate assets.
In addition, the Polish-Belarusian agreement on small border traffic has also undergone a change. Amid deterioration in the Belarus-EU relations following mass protests in Minsk in December 2010, President Alexander Lukashenko spoke about political factors which hampered the implementation of the small border traffic agreement: “It’s not up to us. We have many questions for our Polish and Lithuanian counterparts – maybe they also have questions for us – first, political. As soon as we receive certain assurances from them and see their friendly policy, we will take decisions”. Meanwhile, Belarusian officials refer to technical problems with the implementation of the agreement on visa-free movement for those residing in bordering regions. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Guryanov said that, “in order to launch free movement, an appropriate environment, including infrastructure is needed”.
Some representatives of the Belarusian opposition have criticised the Polish Foreign Minister’s invitation to his Belarusian counterpart to visit Warsaw, as they fear that the West might reduce support for the Belarusian opposition in the 2015 presidential campaign.
Official Minsk aspires to reduce external support for the Belarusian opposition ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign. The authorities also hope for Warsaw’s assistance in the unconditional settlement of Belarusian-European relations.
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.