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Belarusian authorities and party opposition count on positive dynamics in Belarus-US relations

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April 22, 2016 19:35

Minsk officials are demonstrating willingness to engage in a dialogue on normalization of Belarus-US relations and have mitigated their rhetoric regarding the US requirements on human rights and democracy. Party opposition hopes that the ongoing process of settlement in the Belarusian-American relations would at very least allow to preserve the political atmosphere in the country as is in order to prepare for the parliamentary elections in 2016. In addition, the Belarusian authorities are counting on the development of Belarus-US relations in order to soften the Kremlin’s pressure regarding the deployment of Russian military air base.

Last week, US Deputy Assistant Secretary Bridget Brink and Robert Bershinski met with Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey and a presidential administration representative.

The official visit of high guests from the US to Minsk took place after the suspension of sanctions against some Belarusian companies. According to the official statement of the US State Department, the sanctions were temporarily lifted in response to the release of six political prisoners before the presidential elections in Belarus.

It is worth noting that shortly after the US State Department visit, the IMF will be on a mission to Belarus on November 9th – 19th, 2015. It goes without saying that the Belarusian authorities are counting on a new loan from the IMF.

In his inauguration speech in Minsk, President Lukashenka emphasised the positive trend in relations with Western capitals: "There are no obstacles to turning the page and starting a new story of our relationship from scratch. We are ready for this and looking forward to similar willingness of our Western partners. Fortunately, recently there have been good prospects for this”.

That said, before meeting the Belarusian officials, US diplomats met with leaders of the Belarusian opposition parties, who had tried to influence the Belarusian-American talks’ agenda. The opposition is trying hard not to fall out from the process of normalization in relations between Minsk and Washington, including using the United States as a bargaining tool on the Belarusian authorities in order to mitigate the political environment in the country.

Opposition leaders continue to insist on that economic cooperation between Minsk and Western countries should be tied to the requirements to change the electoral legislation and the registration of political parties. Most opposition parties hope that there will be no harsh repressions during the preparation for the 2016 parliamentary elections.

The Belarusian authorities attempted to create a trusting atmosphere during the talks with the State Department representatives despite the fact that the agenda included "complex issues and ways to solve them”. According to the US delegation, the meeting was "positive, constructive and fruitful”.

The Belarusian authorities recognise that the issue of the Russian military air base deployment is a stumbling point in relations with Washington. Before the US delegation visit, while speaking at the operational meeting of the Armed Forces commanders, the president once again emphasised that there was no need for a new Russian military facility in the country.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities are trying to avoid tensions with the Kremlin. After the joint session of the Foreign Ministries of Belarus and Russia in Moscow, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey expressed Belarus’ support for the Kremlin and its actions in the Middle East: "We support Russia’s actions in Syria provided they are in compliance with the international law”.

Minsk is ready for a dialogue with Washington on problems of democracy and respect for human rights, however, without systemic changes and concessions, as well without deterioration of repressions against the opposition.

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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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