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Official Minsk uses conflict in Ukraine to strengthen its positions internationally

April 22, 2016 18:45

The Belarusian authorities have reacted discreetly to the events in Ukraine. They count on Belarus strengthening her positions in the Kremlin’s foreign policy, and that Brussels will reduce its requirements. Simultaneously, the Belarusian authorities have taken some measures to prevent the ‘revolutionary’ scenario in Belarus.

After a meeting with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics in Riga, Vladimir Mackey said “there are no Yanukovich’s supporters in our territory”. 

Belarus’ official media reports about the events in Ukraine are less biased than those in Russia, even though ‘anti-Maidan’ rhetoric is used. President Lukashenko has refrained from any statements in support of the Ukrainian authorities since the conflict occurred. Following the tragic events in Kiev on  January 19th – 21st and President Yanukovich’s escape, President Lukashenko made an ambiguous statement about his Ukrainian colleague, “a beautiful country with wonderful people, and now this mess with so-called market economy, where clans have divided the country, - that’s where it leads to. Once president’s children start doing business, expect trouble. Once the wives and mistresses put crowns on their heads, expect trouble”.

In addition, official Minsk has been reluctant in granting asylum to disgraced Ukrainian security officials and politicians. For example, the Belarusian authorities have made several statements about the absence of former Ukrainian Interior Minister Viktor Zakharchenko and other Ukrainian officials in Belarus. Unlike ex-Kyrgyz President Bekiyev, overthrown in 2010, President Yanukovych had to seek asylum in Russia.

Official Minsk does not share the Kremlin’s views on further developments in Ukraine, inter alia, on the recognition of the new Ukrainian leadership. Belarus’ Foreign Ministry Press Officer Mironchik said “Belarus will be establishing relationship with Ukraine’s new leadership while the government is being formed. As far as we know, this process has not yet completed”. Belarusian officials emphasized that Ukraine needed to “remain a sovereign, independent, territorially integral state”. It is noteworthy that Belarus has not yet recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, despite pressure from the Kremlin.

After the Russian-Georgian war, the EU’s policy towards the Belarusian leadership was relaxed. This time, Belarus also hopes that the increased aggressive rhetoric and / or the Kremlin’s actions in respect to Ukraine will make Brussels revise its attitude to the Belarusian leadership. 

Meanwhile, events in Ukraine have exposed a deep rift in Belarusian society. The Belarusian opposition has applauded the president Yanukovych’s dismissal. Some opposition leaders have visited ‘revolutionary’ Kiev, and activists have organized several actions in Belarus in support for the Maidan. However, the brutal events in Kiev on February 19th-21st have provoked negative reactions to anti-government protests by the majority of Belarusians. Simultaneously, the authorities have expressed support for the violent clamp down on the protests. Amendments to the Law on the ‘Military Situation’ have been submitted to the Parliament, which suggest some repressive measures, for instance, the ban on disseminating unauthorized information during military situations.

Belarus’ authorities are attempting to use the crisis in Ukraine to strengthen their positions in relations with the Kremlin. Simultaneously, the Belarusian government is intensifying communication with the EU in an attempt to resume the Belarus-EU dialogue. The closer the presidential elections in Belarus, the harsher repressions the Belarusian authorities will use against those who protest against the power.

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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.