Official Minsk gains regional importance as state-peacemaker
While Belarus did not mediate the Trilateral Group’s negotiations (Ukraine-OSCE-Russia), her role in regional and European security increased – not only because she provided the meeting place, but also due to her constructive position regarding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. President Lukashenko is making careful attempts to use the ‘peace-maker’ image in the Russo-Ukrainian settlement in order to secure Minsk’s role as one of the region’s leaders. Belarus aspires to unlock relations with the EU and the U.S. and to reduce pressure from the Kremlin by participating in the process of de-escalating the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
On July 31st, Minsk hosted a face-to-face meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine-Russia-OSCE) on the situation in south eastern Ukraine. Representatives of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk were also present.
On July 29th, Lukashenko’s press service reported on a telephone conversation between Presidents Lukashenko and Poroshenko, “upon Ukraine’s initiative”, during which the Ukrainian President requested Belarus to become a platform for discussions with all stakeholders to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. A few hours later, President Lukashenko agreed to this request.
The Kremlin is pleased that Belarus – Russia’s main military and political ally – was chosen to host the Trilateral Contact Group’s meeting, as it allows the Russian leadership to save face amid tensions in Russo-Ukrainian relations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked Minsk for its willingness to become a platform for negotiations, and Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov proposed to continue using Belarus as a platform for negotiations: “If negotiations continue, it probably makes sense to use this platform. It is neutral”.
Despite the fact that President Lukashenko did not act as a mediator in the trilateral negotiations, he met with former President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and promised to assist in resolving the conflict in southeast Ukraine: “We will work with you to do everything necessary for our Ukraine to somehow reduce the intensity of the confrontation in eastern Ukraine. This is in our interest”. In addition, President Lukashenko had a telephone conversation with Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic. The presidents “exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine”.
In recent months, Belarus has stepped up her contacts with EU and USA representatives. The authorities aspire to ‘normalise’ Belarusian-European relations by participating in the process of de-escalating the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. President Lukashenko said that “creating additional tension with the European Union” was unnecessary.
Minsk managed to impose its own agenda on Brussels and resume negotiations on non-political issues, such as visa liberalisation and socio-economic modernisation. Official Minsk seeks to continue the Belarus-EU dialogue, without fulfilling the main condition (the release of political prisoners). Belarus’ Foreign Minister Makei underscored that “the topic of political prisoners has already made our mouth sore”.
If Belarus continues to act as a negotiation platform, the Belarusian authorities will strengthen their position on the regional and international arena. This will help revitalise Belarus-EU relations without fulfilling the main condition. Moreover, the Kremlin will stop pressuring Minsk to take Russia’s side in Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
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.