Lukashenko attempts to anchor Minsk as international negotiation platform
The Belarusian government seeks to solidify Minsk as a regional negotiation platform in order to formally break through their international isolation without making concessions to Western capitals. Belarusian society is supportive of President Lukashenko’s ‘peacemaker’ efforts in resolving the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine. However, the Belarusian leadership is unlikely to propose solutions to the conflict which would be acceptable to all parties. Therefore, they concentrate on improving their domestic and international positions by holding international meetings in Minsk, hoping that would be enough.
While visiting the Bereza Power Plant, President Lukashenko said that the heads of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia were ready to hold a meeting with Ukraine’s President Poroshenko in Minsk to discuss topical issues.
Last week, President Lukashenko spoke more about a possible meeting between the three heads of the Customs Union and the President of Ukraine. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev supported Lukashenko’s initiative to hold talks in Minsk. According to the Kazakh president’s press service, the meeting may take place in the third week of August 2014, “following a proposal by Belarus’ President Lukashenko”.
Yet neither the meeting’s agenda, nor the participation of President Poroshenko in the meeting, have been confirmed. Yury Lutsenko, an advisor to the Ukrainian president, said that Ukraine had interest in the meeting in Minsk, however the final decision had not been made – “we have not been advised about the discussion topics for the heads of state. Although good talks are better than war, we should still understand what would come out of the Minsk meeting. Currently we are clarifying the discussion topics and, I believe, that is absolutely crucial for a meaningful state visit”.
President Lukashenko is proposing to discuss the implications of the Association Agreement with the European Union signed by Ukraine and to reduce tensions between the Kremlin and Kiev, above all in economic relations: "They are crucial for Ukraine, because Russia is gradually cutting exports from Ukraine. Previously this concerned meat and dairy products, now they are talking about alcohol”. Meanwhile, the EU Observer reported that these discussion topics were selected for joint consultations between the Russian and Ukrainian presidents and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
Interestingly, the Belarusian authorities do not object to including EU and USA representatives in the talks in Minsk, or to adding the issue of normalisation in south-eastern Ukraine to the agenda. “We have even supported the idea that some other party, let’s say the European Union and the United States – if they are interested in normalising the situation in economy, military and politics - could join the talks in Minsk”.
The Belarusian authorities are interested in holding the international meeting in Minsk regardless of their status or their role in it. Lukashenko’s ‘peacemaking’ role in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and his proposals to hold negotiations between the heads of post-Soviet states are perceived positively in Belarusian society, including by some opposition-minded citizens.
State-run media have interpreted official Minsk’s activities and efforts in the international arena as recognition of Lukashenko’s international importance. This demonstration of recognition ought to facilitate Lukashenko’s task during the 2015 presidential campaign and will limit room for manoeuvre for the opposition, which questions the president’s legitimacy vis-a-vis the international community.
All in all, the Belarusian leadership is counting on the media success of President Lukashenko’s initiatives in resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine as strengthening Minsk’s international positions and raising the president’s approval rating ahead of the 2015 presidential election.
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.