Official Minsk expects to normalise Belarus-EU relations after presidential elections
Official Minsk managed to set its own agenda in relations with the European Union and remove political preconditions for the development of Belarus-EU relations. The Belarusian authorities plan to increase contacts with the West and expect financial support from the EU in the coming months, aiming for the final normalization of Belarus-EU relations after the 2015 presidential elections. The Belarusian authorities will try to avoid repeating the harsh scenario of the 2010 presidential elections.
Early 2015 was marked with increased contacts between the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and the EU member states. On January 23rd, Foreign Minister Makei met with his Latvian counterpart Pildegovichs and on January 28th, with Estonian Vice-Chancellor for Foreign Affairs Kaljurand, who visited Belarus for inter-ministerial consultations.
According to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, one of the main issues on the meetings’ agenda was to discuss “the possibility of developing a political dialogue, stirring up trade and economic cooperation, the state and perspectives for Belarus-EU relations”. Latvian Foreign Minister (Latvia is currently presiding in the EU Council) stated there was the desire to see Belarus represented at the highest level at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga in May 2015.
The Belarusian authorities have managed to take the political preconditions for the development of Belarus-EU relations off the agenda. Latvian Foreign Minister underscored, “We need to set fewer politically ambitious goals; instead we need be realistic and work on a broad agenda”. It is worth mentioning that the statements of representatives of Belarusian ministry of foreign affairs and Latvian ministry of foreign affairs on the format of relations within a framework of Eastern Partnership are de-facto the identical.
The Belarusian authorities do not expect Belarus-EU relations to normalise before the end of the presidential elections in Belarus, which will take places no later than November 20th, 2015. During his press conference President Lukashenko reiterated that he would not release the remaining political prisoners before their term ended. However, he said he understood the EU’s demand to demonstrate progress in the 2015 presidential elections in comparison with 2010, “I am pragmatic; I understand that there will be no more shifts in the positions of Europe and America in relation to Belarus before the presidential elections take place”.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Makei attempts to use his previous experience from the 2008-2010 ‘thaw’ in Belarus-EU relations, when he led the Presidential Administration. Back then he set up an Advisory Council with the participation of businessmen and civil society members. During the second week of January Makei met Belarusian independent international relations experts. Both sides expressed hope of holding such meetings regularly in future.
While attempting to improve its relations with the West, official Minsk increased pressure on Warsaw and tried to attract Vatican’s attention. In the authorities’ viewpoint, Poland is one of the ‘tough’ EU members, which may block the process of normalization of Belarus-EU relations unconditionally. During his most recent press conference, the president disapproved activities of some Polish Catholic priests, “As to some catholic priests from Poland, I am not happy with some of their activities in Belarus. They are concerned about wrong issues.” Earlier, High Commissioner for Religion and Nationality Leonid Huliako explained the reasons behind such discontent with Polish Catholic priests by the authorities, “Some Catholic priests from Poland try to engage in politics. They do not like our country, our laws, and our authorities. In such cases we would not extend their stay in our country.”
The day after the president’s press conference, the Belarusian Foreign Minister initiated a meeting with Apostolic Nuncio Claudio Gugerotti in order to mitigate the effects of the president’s speech. According to the statement issued by the Belarusian press service, Minister Makei underscored that the position and activities of Vatican in relation to Belarus were “very practical and balanced”.
It is worth mentioning that during the previous ‘thaw’ in the Belarus-EU relations, blacklisted president Lukashenko visited Vatican, which became his first EU visit. However, currently the capital of the Catholic world is not interested in mediating the Belarus-EU relations, partly, due to the recent statements by official Minsk.
The Belarusian authorities expect to further normalise their relations with the EU in order to weaken their dependency on the Kremlin and receive financial help.
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.