Minsk is trying to monetise its participation in conflict resolution over Ukraine
Official Minsk is trying to become an active participant in the settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, whose role would go beyond the ‘technical’ assistance in organising talks. The Belarusian authorities hope to obtain short-term diplomatic and financial benefits, due to the greater attention of the international community to negotiations in Minsk. In addition, the Belarusian government expects to take all political issues off the Belarusian-European agenda thanks to the President Lukashenko’s special role in the de-escalation process.
On February 18th, at a meeting with EBRD President Sir Sumomo Chakrabarti, President Lukashenko said that Belarus could play an important role in resolving the Ukrainian conflict, in particular, in Debaltsevo. The president said: “We are ready not only to mediate, but to put a stop to the conflict in the Debaltsevo region with good grace and withdraw all troops from Ukraine with our guarantees that they will never fight again”. Interestingly, previously official Minsk has repeatedly denied its role as a mediator in the conflict.
This proposal seems to be a private initiative of President Lukashenko, which was not coordinated with Russia. In particular, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “I have not heard about Lukashenko’s proposal to assist in the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from this ‘mousetrap’. I think that any proposal that will help this deserves support, of course, if the Ukrainian authorities agree”.
In October 2014, in an interview with Euronews, President Lukashenko declared his readiness to send peacekeeping forces in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry then rejected his proposal. Meanwhile, there are technical grounds for implementing such initiatives. Belarus has been cooperating with NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme for a long time and has trained a special troop to participate in the UN peacekeeping operations. The Belarusian legislation also envisages the possibility for the Belarusian Armed Forces’ participation in combat and peacekeeping operations outside Belarus: within the CSTO and the UN, as well as other international organizations, including NATO. In addition, Belarusian specialists have already taken part in UN peacekeeping operations, for example, in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Kyiv is not regarding Belarus as a neutral party, since she is the Kremlin’ closest ally, including on military cooperation. In addition, Belarus lacks mechanisms to implement the president’s peacekeeping initiative in Debaltsevo promptly.
Certainly, being in the focus of international attention after the organisation of the Normandy Four talks in Minsk, the Belarusian authorities seek to gain some financial and diplomatic benefits.
At the meeting with the EBRD President, the president requested to step up cooperation with Belarus: “After studying the situation in our country, the bank should remove all restrictions on cooperation with Belarus, especially with regard to state-owned enterprises”. Despite the fact that the EBRD pays attention to the state of political freedoms and human rights in the partner country, the EBRD President offered hope to the Belarusian leader that approaches to Belarus could be revised: “Efforts, undertaken by Belarus should be encouraged. The extent to which this role is welcomed by the shareholders of our bank cannot be overstated”.
In addition, at a meeting with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, President Lukashenko reiterated his interest in settling Belarus’ relations with the EU: “If Latvia helps us to get closer to the EU during her presidency (and not only), we shall be very grateful”.
After a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei also underscored the increased role of Belarus in Eastern Europe after the Normandy Four Summit in Minsk.
The Belarusian authorities believe that Belarus’ peace initiatives will give her the opportunity to depoliticise the final agenda of the Belarusian-European relations. For example, Head of the Belarusian delegation to the OSCE Mr Senko excluded cooperation with the OSCE PA Working Group on Belarus by saying that there were no human rights issues in Belarus: “We do not see any sense in having this group. In particular, if it is headed by an extremist, talking to whom makes no sense. And we will not talk”.
The Belarusian leadership is attempting to keep Minsk in the focus of international community by sizing up the role of a mediator and a full participant in the negotiation process to resolve the conflict in Ukraine.
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.