Dialogue between Minsk and Brussels: mutual stand-by mode
Relations between the EU and Belarus are at the minimally acceptable level for both. The reduced interest of Minsk to the European External Action Service representatives visit meant to demonstrate that the Belarusian government had no intent to meet the EU’s political demands and re-start a dialogue in the near future.
On June 11, Head of Directorate for Europe, Mr. Romanovsky met with representatives of the European External Action Service. One of the EU delegates was Head of the Eastern Partnership Department of the European Commission Mr. Kjaer.
European officials also met with the EU ambassadors present in Belarus, Belarusian opposition politicians and civil society representatives.
The visit did not attract significant attention from the Belarusian authorities, which signals that they are generally pleased with the “truce” and do not intend to strengthen political cooperation. This trend occurred in April 2012, when the EU ambassadors returned to Belarus, overcoming the most acute phase of the diplomatic crisis.
Both sides, Minsk and Brussels, maintain their relations in a standby mode, without increasing the level of cooperation. In contrast with the February visit of Director for Eastern Europe, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia of the External Relations Directorate General of the European Commission Mr. Wiegand, who was received by Foreign Minister Martynov, representatives of EU delegation visiting Belarus on June 11-13 met with lower level Belarusian officials.
An appropriate meeting level would be at least a Deputy Foreign Minister, for instance, Mr. Kupchina, who took part in an informal Eastern Partnership Summit on June 5 in Chisinau. However Mr. Kjaer met with a Foreign Ministry directorate head. The low involvement and coverage level for the visit demonstrates that today Belarus regards Eurasian foreign policy cooperation as more important.
The most relevant factors for Eurasian cooperation are two loan programmes between Belarus and Russia. In particular, firstly, the third tranche of the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund loan (USD 440 million), which, following long negotiations, was disbursed on June 15. Secondly, a more important factor is the upcoming consultations between Belarus and Russia regarding the nuclear power plant construction. It is anticipated that a general contract will be signed and a credit line will be opened by the end of June. Moreover, Belarus is expected to start negotiations with Russia about compensation to the Belarusian economy for Russia’s accession to the WTO.
Since the EU had no proposals regarding economic cooperation on a comparable scale, the Belarusian authorities continue waiting, hoping the EU will make the first step (eg, reducing or lifting sanctions).
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.