Minsk prods EU and US to speed up settling relations with Belarusian authorities
Belarus is unlikely to send her own peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. Firstly, Minsk is highly dependent on the Kremlin in terms of military cooperation; secondly, the sheer idea of Belarusians fighting in foreign conflicts is extremely unpopular among society. However, by showing their support for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities hope to strengthen their international position as key players in Europe’s regional security.
In an interview with Euronews, President Lukashenko said he was ready to send Belarusian peacekeepers to Ukraine.
Amid the conflict, the Belarusian authorities have raised their international visibility and have broken the country’s international isolation. In addition, President Lukashenko’s approval ratings hit new highs inside Belarus.
Earlier, President Lukashenko had repeatedly refused to mediate in the Ukrainian crisis. However, after relatively successful negotiations about a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, President Lukashenko has become more vocal in advocating for peace. In an interview with Euronews, he proposed to send Belarus’ peacekeeping forces to Donbass, “it is a very dangerous and scary thing for me, but if needed, since there is mistrust between Russia and the West, the West and Russia, US and Russia and Russia and US and there is no trust between the parties in the conflict, I would be prepared to use my military forces in order to separate the conflicting parties”.
Despite Belarus’ relatively independent stance regarding the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the parties in the conflict do not regard the Belarusian Army as a neutral peacekeeping force. Belarus’ potential participation in the peacekeeping mission is regarded as strengthening Russia’s position. For instance, separatists in eastern Ukraine have supported President Lukashenko’s proposal to send the peacekeeping force, but Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has rejected Belarus’ proposal.
Regardless of Belarus’ attempts to adhere to a policy that is somewhat independent from the Kremlin’s, military cooperation – both on a technical level, and between armies - is the area where integration of the two countries is the most advanced. Belarus has signed several military cooperation agreements with Russia and both countries are members of the CSTO, an intergovernmental military alliance.
Interestingly, after Lukashenko voiced his proposal to send Belarus’ peacekeepers to Ukraine, Vakulchik, head of the Belarusian KGB, warned Belarusians about criminal prosecution for fighting in Ukraine. There is evidence that Belarusians are fighting in the conflict in Ukraine on both sides, however IISEPS polls suggest that the majority of Belarusians are not ready to take part in military actions in Ukraine. In addition, the president’s approval rating has grown in 2014 mainly due to peoples’ expectations that Belarus will not become involved in military conflicts.
The Belarusian authorities seek to speed up the settlement process with the EU and US in the near future so as to receive economic and financial aid before the presidential campaign 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.