Minsk is trying to take advantage of Russo-Ukrainian conflict

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April 22, 2016 18:48

The Belarusian government is attempting to benefit from the Russo-Ukrainian conflict in the political, economic and military spheres by acting as a mediator between the Kremlin and Kiev. As mediator, President Lukashenko is gaining political weight in the region. Using their balanced position regarding Ukraine, the authorities aspire to unblock their relations with the EU and the U.S. and to alleviate pressure from Moscow.

While visiting the Baranovichi Aircraft Repair Plant, President Lukashenko said that he considered the necessity to expand Belarus’ cooperation with Ukraine in the technical and military sphere.

The Belarusian authorities are interested in the region developing sustainably and in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict de-escalation. The Belarusian economy is highly vulnerable and depends on the trade relations with the neighbouring countries. In 2013, Belarus’ trade turnover with Ukraine was the second largest after Russia, and exports to these countries were double the size of imports.

Also, Belarus’ officials fear of the Kremlin changing its approaches in relations with its allies, i.e. that the pressure, rather than the economic preferences and financial subsidies, will become the dominating way of buying loyalty. So far, Minsk has failed to finalize the abolishment of oil export duties’ return to Moscow. Meanwhile, the Belarusian leadership was prompted to cede to the Kremlin’s severe pressure regarding several important issues, inter alia, the UN vote on the Crimean resolution.

With the Kremlin’s approval, Minsk is attempting to play a mediating role in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. President Lukashenko said, “I have not made a single step without the Russian leadership’s consent, when issues concerned Russia”. Minsk is scheduled to host talks between Russia and Ukraine (Deputy Foreign Ministers’ level), and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has emphasised that “[we] will do everything to ensure the conditions for such a meeting.”

Meanwhile, tensions between Moscow and Kiev have opened new opportunities for Belarus, for instance, re-exporting Ukrainian military-industrial production goods to the Russian market if Russo-Ukrainian military-industrial cooperation stops. Kiev has already announced plans to halt cooperation with Russia on military production, while the latter is highly dependent on supplies from the Ukrainian defence industry. For example, the Ukrainian company “Motor Sich” is a monopolist in supplying engines for Russian military and civil aviation.

Furthermore, despite Belarus’ increased dependence on the Kremlin since the Russo-Georgian conflict in 2008, the authorities hope to return to the pendulum policy by increasing their importance in the region and mitigating the EU and the USA positions vis-à-vis the Belarusian leadership.

People in Kiev are sympathetic of President Lukashenko’s restrained position regarding the events in Ukraine. Eventually, he hopes that the new Ukrainian leadership will help him to advance his interests in Brussels, if rapprochement between Ukraine and the EU continues. It is worth noting that President Lukashenko managed to form much better relationships with Ukrainian President Yushchenko, who came to power on the wave of the “orange revolution”, than with “pro-Russian” President Yanukovych.

Belarus’ officials will contribute to de-escalation in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict by mediating and taking a balanced position in assessing the conflict. If the Kremlin introduces a commercial blockade on Ukrainian goods, Minsk will benefit from not having borders with Russia and playing the role of an intermediary for Ukrainian companies to penetrate the Russian market.

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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.

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