Official Minsk does not wish to side with Kremlin over Ukrainian conflict
The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin discussed the aggravation of the socio-political situation in Ukraine in his telephone conversations with President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
President Lukashenko as well as the President of Kazakhstan Nazarbayev have so far not given in to pressure from the Kremlin as regards support for Russia’s aggression in Crimea. The Belarusian authorities are trying to keep public opinion in Belarus informed in on the situation in Ukraine without compromising its territorial integrity. Official Minsk has undertaken several measures to strengthen national security.
The Kremlin, caught in international isolation due to the conflict in Ukraine, has stepped up pressure on its strategic allies in an attempt to win their support. First, on the initiative of President Putin, telephone conversations with the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan were held, their main topic was ‘the critical development of the situation in Ukraine’. Then, the head of Russia used the opportunity to personally convince the heads of the Belarusian and Kazakh states of the need for his actions with regard to Ukraine during the meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council. It is noteworthy that the meeting of the heads of states had been moved to an earlier date and was conducted in the midst of the escalating tensions in Russian-Ukrainian relations.
However, neither the president of Belarus nor Kazakhstan have offered their support for the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine. Besides, President Lukashenko is trying to avoid making official statements on the crisis in Russian-Ukrainian relations. At that, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry continues to insist in its statements on the importance of preserving Ukraine as a ‘stable, territorially integral, independent state’.
Moreover, the Belarusian authorities are carefully trying to inform public opinion while downgrading the divide among the citizens on how they perceive Ukrainian events. The Belarusian state media coverage of what is happening in Ukraine is relatively balanced and differs significantly from the Russian propaganda. For example, the Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus,Mikhnevich outlined one of the key aspects of the official position on Ukraine during his meeting with students in Gomel: ‘there is a call not to apply external pressure... let the Ukrainian people sort it out themselves’. It is worth noting that the meeting of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative with young people was organised in the south-eastern region, on the of Belarus-Russia-Ukraine border with traditionally strong pro-Russian sentiments.
One can observe consolidation of the standpoints of the Belarusian authorities and the opposition with respect to actions of the Russian leadership in Crimea. Most opposition parties and movements assess Russia’s aggression against Ukraine in extremely negative terms. At the same time, as usual, the Belarusian authorities are nervously reacting to any manifestation of solidarity of opposition activists with the Ukrainian people.
Official Minsk reacted to the escalating crisis in Crimea also by bolstering measures to ensure national security by making additional amendments to the draft law ‘On defence emergency’. It is noteworthy that he authors of the document consider possible threats on the part of the US and EU as well as Russia, i.e. their strategic ally. The member of the National Security Committee of the Belarusian parliament, Valevach, commented on the relationship between the draft law and events in Ukraine: ‘As soon as the conflict started, geopolitical interests in Russia, the US, the European Union immediately appeared. The state should always be ready to repel the external threats’.
Thus, President Lukashenko will not yield to the Kremlin’s pressure and will refrain from supporting the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Official Minsk will seek to limit the Russian presence in the country in all areas. Regardless of further developments in Crimea, the Belarusian leadership will strengthen measures to ensure national security.
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.