The Kremlin may accept partial normalisation of Belarus-EU relations
Official Minsk is attempting to defuse a potential conflict with the Kremlin over normalisation of relations with the West. Meanwhile, Moscow is ready to accept the improved relations between Belarus and the EU and the US in order to reduce financial aid to Belarus. However, in order to preserve Belarus in its orbit, the Kremlin may launch media attacks on Belarusian officials.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey told Kommersant newspaper that Minsk did not have a ‘dim view on that tomorrow the EU will open all doors and embrace Belarus in its arms’, but that there was a trend towards normalization of relations.
The Belarusian officials are attempting to pre-empt / neutralise potential criticism from the Russian media. Foreign Minister Makey emphasised that Belarus sought to mediate rather than to defend interests of one partner: "We have never tried to play along with one side to the detriment of the other side. We are sincerely interested in that our region was peaceful and stable, but not at the expense of our relations with Russia. As corny as it may sound, the three brotherly nations have been living together for centuries”.
The Belarusian authorities are attempting to minimize the consequences of the Kremlin’s reaction to Belarus’ attempt to restore relations with Western capitals.
The main reason why Belarus is seeking normalisation is the poor financial health of the Belarusian economy. The Belarusian authorities are seeking funds to pull the economy out of recession. Since the Kremlin’s resources are languishing, the Belarusian authorities are counting on the normalization of relations with Western capitals to receive financial bonuses.
This involves Belarusian officials playing on Brussels’ fears that Belarus is heavily dependent on the Kremlin. Foreign Minister Makey noted the complexity of the economic situation in Belarus and emphasised one of the main objectives for improving dialogue and relations with the West: “Belarus may appeal to international financial institutions for a loan, because the economic situation is really difficult”.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities are raising the issues, which concern Western capitals. Foreign Minister Makey confirmed Lukashenka’s previous statements regarding the deployment of the Russian airbase in Belarus: "The airbase will raise ire towards Minsk and Moscow. Moreover, there are so many air bases in Belarus, that hundreds of aircrafts could be accommodated in a few hours. It is, therefore, more important for us to talk about how to be prepared to give a prompt response in case of rising tension in the region or threats to Russia and Belarus’ security”.
Presumably, this issue is on the agenda for talks between the Kremlin and Minsk, but the agreement has not been reached yet. At least, there were no official reports, as both sides had been evasive about the negotiations results.
According to official Minsk, the Kremlin is likely to agree to postpone the consideration of the deployment of a Russian airbase in Belarus. Allegedly, the Belarusian authorities have played on the Kremlin being involved in the conflict in Syria.
Minsk officials will continue to use a dual strategy towards the Kremlin and Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are interested in pursuing the normalisation process with Brussels and in receiving financial assistance.
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.