Minsk has become a negotiations platform for Ukraine, Russia, and EU

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April 22, 2016 18:56

Minsk has become a fully fledged participant in high-level multilateral negotiations over Ukraine. The Belarusian government aspires for Belarus to gain weight in regional security and stabilisation in Europe. Belarus anticipates that the EU will review its policy towards the Belarusian authorities and agree to an unconditional, gradual settlement of Belarusian-European relations before the 2015 presidential campaign.

Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said that participants in the Minsk talks (Customs Union – Ukraine – European Union) had had a frank discussion.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the talks had been successful and that Minsk had been chosen as a permanent place for the Trilateral Contact Group’s meetings (OSCE – Ukraine – Russia). The EU High Representative’s visit to Minsk is regarded as a step towards the EU reviewing its sanctions policy against the Belarusian leadership. President Lukashenko acknowledged the lack of progress in resolving the armed conflict in south-eastern Ukraine: “There was a serious discussion on the full range of issues related to the crisis in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the situation has gone so far that principled decisions at the highest level, either individual steps, or technical arrangements would not lead to normalisation”.

Initially, the main issues on the agenda were ending hostilities in Ukraine and discussing the economic effects from the EU-Ukraine association agreement. However, the presidents of Ukraine and Russia focused on other matters. While the Ukrainian president urged those present to support his peace plan, the Russian president mainly focused on economic issues, inter alia, Belarus’ re-exports of products from the sanctions list to the Russian market.

The parties at the Minsk Summit failed to reach an agreement, nevertheless, they emphasised the need to de-escalate the conflict, to release hostages, to solve the refugee problem and other humanitarian issues. In addition, during a bilateral meeting, the Ukrainian and Russian Presidents agreed to initiate consultations between the border agencies and general staff of the armed forces in order to strengthen the Russo-Ukrainian border.

But immediately after the Minsk talks, the situation in eastern Ukraine deteriorated. Kiev accused the Kremlin of Russian troops crossing the Russo-Ukrainian border, a claim refuted by Moscow. It seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to raise the participation level of representatives from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics in the Contact Group’s meetings (OSCE – Ukraine – Russia), perhaps to promote the idea of establishing enclaves in south-eastern Ukraine (like Transnistria in Moldova), which would be loyal to the Kremlin.

Press Secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, Vladimir Zainetdinov, said that the CSTO would not send its peacekeeping forces to Ukraine to remedy the escalation in the Southeast. CSTO members include Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is worth noting that even the Kremlin’s closest allies, including Belarus, do not share its position with regard to Kiev, and wish for a peaceful settlement.

Belarus has become a high-level negotiations platform and official Minsk hopes to change Brussels’ attitudes and policies towards the Belarusian leadership. In addition, the Belarusian government aspires to enhance non-political cooperation with the EU.

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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.