Belarus attempts to limit West’s role in Ukraine peace negotiations
The Belarusian authorities are taking a pro-active role in resolving the crisis in eastern Ukraine in order to limit ‘western’ participation in the negotiation process and to increase the Customs Union ‘Troika’s’ role. President Lukashenko’s actions imply that he wishes to reach a new international level: not only as a negotiations platform, but as an active participant in the de-escalation process. Whether his ‘peace-making’ mission is a success or not, Lukashenko hopes for Belarus-EU relations to be normalised without any conditions.
President Lukashenko said the presidents of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and possibly Ukraine were expected to have talks soon.
Throughout the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, the Belarusian leadership has repeatedly stated its unwillingness to participate in it as a mediator. Recently, however, President Lukashenko has publicly stepped up his activity in the negotiations on the Russo-Ukrainian settlement. “In the near future we - Presidents of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine (if Ukraine agrees, has not rejected so far) – shall hold a series of meetings to have a principled discussion about what is happening here with us”.
President Lukashenko seeks to engage official Kiev to negotiate settlement of the situation in the east of Ukraine and he is limiting participants in the negotiation process to the Kremlin and its allies - Belarus and Kazakhstan. Moscow is happy with such a solution and is ready to support Minsk’s initiative.
While Belarus did not mediate the Trilateral Group’s negotiations (Ukraine-OSCE-Russia), her role as a state-peacemaker had increased – not only because she provided the meeting place, but also due to her constructive position regarding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
In addition, despite the fact that the Trilateral Group managed to achieve some agreements – a cease-fire in the area of the MH17 crash and the release of hostages by the parties – de facto they were not fulfilled. Moreover, relations between Western capitals and the Kremlin have deteriorated (Russia has imposed restrictions on imports of some agricultural products from the EU, USA, Australia, Canada and Norway).
Previously Lukashenko had phone talks with the presidents of Serbia and Kazakhstan about ways to normalise the situation in Ukraine. Last week, he held telephone conversations with President Putin (inter alia, they discussed the Ukrainian issue), and with Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, who “expressed hope that the consultations could continue and yield concrete results”.
Lukashenko also met with the leaders of Russian and Ukrainian Communist Parties – Gennady Zyuganov and Petro Symonenko. The Russian Communist Party leader underscored during the meeting: “We are looking forward to your mediation efforts, we know how much authority you have, including in many circles in Ukraine, and we will strongly facilitate the peace-making and solution-oriented efforts”. In addition, President Lukashenko said that he had offered a viable option to resolve the situation in Ukraine to the West, so far to no avail: “Once I proposed a solution, and the West agreed with me – those who I had talked to – that it was a sound option".
In response to his “peace-making” mission regarding the situation in Ukraine, President Lukashenko hopes that Belarus-EU relations will normalise ‘unconditionally’: “They have put pressure on us for many years already – westerners, Americans and Europeans – with sanctions, and so on. I always tell [them], for Belarus’ heroic deeds in that horrible war, you have to kneel down and thank Belarusians”.
Belarus wishes to impose her own agenda on the negotiation process to settle the situation in south-eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin will support Belarus’ initiative to restrict the circle of those negotiating with the authorities in Kiev (to the Kremlin and its allies). Meanwhile, Russia is unlikely to facilitate the work of the Trilateral Contact Group with representatives from Western countries.
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.