Minsk raises participation status in negotiations over conflict in Ukraine
Belarus has been drawn into negotiations to resolve the situation in Ukraine. However, she has no solutions on how to bring the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine to an end, or how to relieve tension between the Kremlin and the West. Belarus has managed to depoliticise the Belarusian-European settlement process and raise Minsk’s regional importance without making concessions to Western capitals. The country’s leadership sees Minsk as a future international negotiation platform, and Lukashenko as a "moderator" in the Kremlin’s negotiations with the West.
On August 26th, the EU – Ukraine – Eurasian ‘Troika’ (Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia) Summit will be held in Minsk.
Belarus will host international negotiations on such a high level for the first time in her modern history. The Minsk meeting will be attended by the Customs Union heads of states – Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko and Nursultan Nazarbayev – Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, European Commission Vice-President Guenther Oettinger, and Commissioner for Trade Karel De Gucht.
It is unlikely that Belarus aspires to settle the armed conflict in south-eastern Ukraine during the Summit. However, the Belarusian authorities are convinced that their role, in the eyes of the West, will be enhanced by the very fact that such a meeting will be held in Belarus’ capital, hot on the heels of the successful Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine – Russia – OSCE) meeting in late July 2014.
The Belarusian government considers the upcoming Summit to be a triumph of Belarusian diplomacy. Official Minsk is raising its status from being a technical organiser in the negotiation process to becoming a full-fledged high-level participant, and – what is more – the initiator of the process (at least among the former Soviet Union countries) in its current format.
Belarus’ and Kazakhstan’s participation in the upcoming negotiations somewhat strengthens the Kremlin’s position. It also enhances the international legal capacity for Eurasian integration. Political and economic relations in the region are at the top of the Summit’s agenda. However, amid growing tension between Russia and Ukraine over the Russian humanitarian convoy, which crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border unauthorised, the Kremlin might push to negotiate the military conflict in south-eastern Ukraine.
In addition, Russia is deliberately escalating the situation ahead of the high-level meeting in Minsk. The unauthorised entry of the Russian humanitarian convoy, accompanied by armed separatists to Ukraine creates preconditions for strengthening the Kremlin’s bargaining position before the Minsk Summit. The Kremlin’s actions might be indicative of its desire to freeze the conflict in south-eastern Ukraine so as to hamper Ukraine’s future European integration.
The Belarusian government attempts to solidify Minsk as an international negotiations platform, thus strengthening its positions in foreign policy by reinforcing the loyalty of the Kremlin and winning the support of Western capitals. The Belarusian population will interpret the high-level visits of EU Commissioners to Minsk as marking the end of Minsk’s lengthy international isolation and as international recognition of the Belarusian authorities. This is particularly important for the government ahead of the 2015 presidential campaign.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.