Minsk counts on financial aid from West to reduce dependence on Kremlin
The Belarusian government aspires to expand cooperation with the EU and the United States in terms of receiving technical assistance to some economic sectors and increased international lending, in particular, obtaining a new IMF credit line. Belarus’ authorities seek aid from international financial institutions in order to reduce the growing financial dependence on the Kremlin, which may become critical in 2015. However, the Belarusian government counts on pragmatic cooperation with the West, which would not require changing the political situation in the country.
At a press conference in Minsk, Deputy Foreign Minister Guryanov said that Belarus was ready to discuss political and economic issues with the EU and the United States.
The Belarusian authorities believe they have successfully imposed their conditions in settling Belarusian-European relations and managed to reduce the political component in the dialogue to the minimum. After the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in November 2013, Belarus’ officials managed to improve their relations with Brussels without making any significant concessions.
The authorities aspire to deepen cooperation with the West on technical and economic issues. As for human rights, democratisation and civil society issues, the Belarusian government plans to confine these issues to vague discussions with Brussels and Washington and make no real steps to change the domestic political climate in the country. Deputy Foreign Minister Guryanov underscored the authorities’ intention to impose pragmatic cooperation with the West: “Fortunately, today there is a certain understanding of what [issues] Belarus is ready to discuss, including political issues our Western counterparts are interested in, and simultaneously develop economic projects which interest business”.
The Belarusian government has already taken several steps towards creating favourable conditions for cooperation with international financial institutions. For example, preparations for negotiations with the IMF about a new loan are underway - in June 2014 National Bank Chairperson Ermakova made a working visit to Vienna, where she met with the head of the Austria’s Central Bank Ewald Nowotny and IMF Executive Director Johan Pradera. Following those meetings, President Lukashenko held a meeting on economic issues with the Security Council and released one of the most significant political prisoners, human rights activist Ales Bialiatski.
In August 2014, the government approved additional structural reforms in the economy "The Plan for Balanced Economic Development in 2014-2015” and in September submitted it to the World Bank for review and recommendations. Economy Minister Snapkou underscored that structural economic reforms had already begun, but they would take some time to come to life: “They will not happen suddenly, i.e. tomorrow, these changes will require some time. Our task is to introduce them neatly, consistently, calmly, without causing any imbalances in the economy or in society."
In addition, President Lukashenko met with the World Bank’s Vice-President for Europe and Central Asia Laura Tuck and requested to expand funding to road construction projects in Belarus. He underscored that “the World Bank is the least politicised financial and economic structure, our cooperation projects and programmes speak in support of this fact”.
Amid the growing geopolitical ambitions of the Kremlin, Minsk hopes that the West will be interested in strengthening Belarus’ economic security through diversification of her public debt. Interestingly, after Belarus repays her debt to the IMF in 2015, the Kremlin will become Belarus’ main creditor. For instance, in 2014 the Russian government approved a USD 1.55 billion loan to Belarus and earlier the USD 10 billion loan for the construction of a nuclear power plant in Astravets.
The Belarusian authorities might increase their contacts with international financial institutions, including the IMF, in order to expand lending to the Belarusian economy in 2015. They might also place additional issues of governmental bonds on foreign markets. However, the authorities are not likely to hold structural economic reforms before the presidential election in 2015.
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.