Belarus wants to improve Belarus-EU dialogue

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April 22, 2016 18:41

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey said on November 19th that Belarus “is interested in its involvement in the Eastern Partnership because we believe that this will help normalize our relations with the European Union. The decision on the level of our participation is currently being discussed and will be announced in the coming days”.

As economic benefits offered by Russia to Belarus shrink, Western policy gains importance for Belarus. The Belarusian government wants more attention to be paid to Belarus at the Eastern Partnership Summit and to enhance the dialogue between Belarus and EU. Meanwhile, Belarus has no plans to increase its participation at the Summit, which, in its view, will not bring short-term economic benefits.

Unlike during the thaw in Belarusian-European relations in 2008-2010, Belarus today has much less interest in the EU Eastern Partnership Programme. Foreign Minister Makey said on November 19th, that the results of the Summit would hardly be very significant for Belarus.

The Belarusian government is not ready to accept EU support for economic and political modernization. The way President Lukashenko sees modernization is completely at odds with the mechanisms proposed by the EU. For instance, he said, “What is modernization? Production lines need to be repaired and new equipment installed”. Alternatively, the EU offers its assistance in carrying out structural economic reforms, which could jeopardize the system built on Lukashenko’s personal authority.

Belarus shapes its foreign policy depending on short-term economic benefits and incentives which it receives from international cooperation. Funds available within the Eastern Partnership Programme for implementing joint projects are not appealing for the Belarusian authorities. In addition, EU assistance is conditioned and requires significant concessions from Belarus. And Belarus believes that losses will outweigh the potential benefits. Until now, Belarus’ participation in various Kremlin-led integration projects has guaranteed many more short-term benefits at a lower cost.

In addition, the lack of cooperation at the highest political level affects the development of economic relations between Belarus and the EU. It also hinders the implementation of some joint projects, such as cooperation on border management and environmental issues.

In late 2010 Belarus signed a package of agreements on Eurasian integration which had a crucial impact on the development of Belarus-EU relations, including Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership Programme. President Lukashenko has never ‘appreciated’ Western values, and has never regarded integration with the EU as a real option. However, flirting with the West has allowed him to strengthen his positions vis-à-vis Russia. He has managed to receive the Kremlin’s support in the short-term, but in the long-term, signing the agreement with Russia to create the Eurasian Union has considerably weakened Lukashenko’s geopolitical maneuverability. Previously President Lukashenko used the “geopolitical pendulum” tactic quite successfully (he threatened the Kremlin with shifting ‘Westwards’ and vice-versa to enhance his positions). But this tactic’s potential has been exhausted.

Belarus’ authorities will attempt to use the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius to facilitate Belarus-EU relations being restored. They will make a last-minute decision about the level of representation during the Summit, which will depend on Ukraine-Russia-EU relations. The Belarusian government will be more willing to seek ‘Western’ support if the Kremlin redistributes its support in Ukraine’s favour. However, in Lukashenko’s mind, Belarus-EU relations will always play a secondary role, which help him to build his relations with Russia.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.