Belarusian authorities get a summer break
On June 7th, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov held a press conference in Minsk.
Ambassador Surikov’s statement will be used as an excuse by the Belarusian authorities to delay the implementation of a new bilateral agreement on privatization. The probability that the oil supply agreement for Q3 will be signed is high, although Belarus is unlikely to get a loan from Russia, because it would be tied to implementation of joint projects.
Ambassador Surikov’s appearance is linked to the activation of the Russo-Belarusian relations and integration processes in the post-Soviet space in the frameworks of the CIS, Collective Security Treaty Organization and the CES in late May - early June. Ambassador’s press conference meant to draw attention to the Kremlin’s priorities in bilateral projects on industrial, financial, and military cooperation with Belarus, as well as to re-define Russia’s requirements.
In particular, Surikov said that in the autumn Belarus and Russia were anticipated to sign agreements to establish a joint holding company, merging MAZ and KamAZ motor works. In addition, Ambassador said that Russia was ready to give a loan to Belarus for enterprises’ modernization only if joint projects were launched. Finally, Surikov reiterated Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu statement about the imminent establishment of Russian military compound in Belarus.
Regarding oil supply to Belarus, Ambassador said that Russia will take Belarus’ wishes into account. This implies that Belarus may count on a quarterly or semi-annual agreement for 23 million tons per year. The agreement should be signed by mid-June 2013. Previous agreements in 2013 were signed quarterly.
Thus, highly likely, the oil supply agreement with Belarus will be signed, and Belarus will be granted a delay at least until autumn regarding its commitment to privatize state property. Surikov’s statements will be used by Belarusian negotiators as additional arguments to justify their position.
Noteworthy, Ambassador Surikov’s views are not always in agreement with the Kremlin. Nevertheless, the moderate nature of Ambassador’s statements, as well as the context of recent integration-related events suggests that Belarus has managed to drag the Kremlin in another negotiation round. Most likely, Belarus is using the deployment of Russian military air base and the customs tariffs’ harmonization terms within the CES as negotiations arguments.
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.