Belarus at EaP Riga Summit: created more opportunities for engagement with EU and reaffirmed loyalty towards Russia
Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga has enabled it to create more opportunities for cooperation with the European Union; to streamline Belarus-EU relations towards pragmatic cooperation; to anchor as a regional peacemaker; and to promote Russia’s interests on the international fora, where the latter was not present. The EaP Summit has created conditions for strengthening Belarusian statehood, expanding its foreign policy and enhancing economic independence without unnecessary irritating her main ally, Russia.
During the Summit, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Makey has outlined the main points of Belarusian interest in participating in the Eastern Partnership. These include individual approach of the EU to its partner countries; strengthening regional security; economic and infrastructure cooperation without political conditions. In the final declaration of the EaP Summit, all these issues have been reflected, so it appears logical that Makey praised the Summit’s results as “rather constructive”. He also added: “Vilnius Summit was incomparable with this one, for instance, regarding assessment of Belarus’ actions”.
Indeed, the Summit participants have positively assessed Belarus’ role in the peace process in Ukraine; Belarus accession to the Bologna process; its progress in developing relations with the EU; the fact, that Belarus is the only Eastern Partnership country, which has no territorial disputes with her neighbours or frozen armed conflicts; Belarus’ participation in harmonisation of digital markets in the Eastern Partnership countries; and some progress in visa facilitation talks with the EU. In addition, in June 2015 Minsk will host an informal meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Eastern Partnership countries. In other words, Minsk has fully engaged in the Eastern Partnership without the slightest change in the political system and the release of political prisoners.
The Summit’s final declaration also has taken a note of other issues important for Belarus. Such as, the opportunity for Belarus’ integration into the EU economic space; establishment of commissions and government groups for cooperation; possibility for joint infrastructure and energy projects; joint border controls; and facilitation of obtaining loans from European financial institutions.
Interestingly, the Russian media, including Regnum news agency - Russian post-imperial mouthpiece – have positively assessed Belarus’ participation in the Summit, and negatively the Summit per se. They focused on Belarus’ reservation when signing the final declaration, saying that she was reluctant to condemn Russia over Crimea. Apparently, Belarus has managed to dispel anxiety in Moscow – temporarily – and once again has advocated for Russia’s interest.
Belarus has every reason to believe its participation in the Summit was a success.
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.