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Belarus attempts breakthrough in western policy

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April 22, 2016 18:52

Belarus seeks to use the opportunity arising from the Russo-Ukrainian confrontation to mitigate the EU’s policy towards the Belarusian leadership and to start a new period in normalising Belarusian-European relations. The Belarusian government counts on its increased role in the region and aspires to strengthen its international positions and dictate the agenda to Brussels without releasing political prisoners, i.e. the main condition for normalising relations with the EU.

During his official visit to Serbia, President Lukashenko held talks with President Tomislav Nikolic.

With his visit to Serbia, President Lukashenko attempted a breakthrough in the EU’s sanctions policy against the Belarusian leadership. This was Lukashenko’s first visit to a European capital outside the former Soviet Union since 2009. The Belarusian government seeks to strengthen its position in the international arena in order to reduce unilateral dependence on the Kremlin’s foreign policy. The Belarusian government is increasing its level of international contacts and connections to neutralise possible threats from Russia to Belarus’ sovereignty.

Currently, economic cooperation between Belarus and Serbia is low: total turnover is USD 200 million. However, Minsk and Belgrade have had stable political relations ever since Milosevic’s era. As Lukashenko underscored, “we have always been with Serbia in difficult times. So it has been before, so it will always be”.

During the visit, Serbian Patriarch Irenaeus decorated Lukashenko with the highest award of the Serbian Orthodox Church - the 1st Class Order of St. Sava. Despite the fact that Serbia joined other EU countries in 2012 in extending visa and economic sanctions against certain Belarusian officials, in 2013 President Lukashenko was awarded with the Order of the Republic of Serbia, the highest state award in Serbia.

Lukashenko attempts to prove his importance to Moscow as a partner who promotes the Kremlin’s foreign policy interests. He said “it will not be bad if you build a normal relationship with them without harming us, Russia, Ukraine and other states. Because there is nothing wrong with that. There is no need to paint life in black and white, it is necessary to behave normally in order not to disappoint either East, or West”.

It is worth noting that official Minsk has interpreted signals from European capitals as an opportunity to unlock the EU’s sanctions policy towards the Belarusian leadership. For example, the Polish minority organisation in Belarus has not faced any recent pressure from the authorities, although in the past they repeatedly used the Union of Poles to put pressure on Warsaw. Moreover, the Belarusian authorities have welcomed the fact that this issue has been removed from the agenda of Belarusian-Polish relations and that references to the issue have disappeared from the Polish media.

The Belarusian authorities will continue to build their contacts in western policy and will attempt to unfreeze Belarusian-European relations before the 2015 presidential campaign. However, the Belarusian leadership is not ready to take reciprocal steps and make concessions such as easing the domestic political situation.

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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.

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