Protracting negotiations is Lukahsenko’s primary tactics
On March 15th, President Lukashenko took part in the meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
Putin and Lukashenko did not agree about the most important economic issues for Belarus, which means that Belarus will be forced to resume negotiations in early summer. Objectively, this pause increases chances for the Western requirements to be fulfilled by the Belarusian authorities.
During the meeting Presidents Lukashenko and Putin did not agree about the most important matters for Belarus: the new USD 2-billion Russian loans for Belarus and the 2013 oil supply volumes to Belarus. Official reports said the presidents focused on the Union State related issues. The Union state budget is only about USD 160 million.
However, the bilateral talks’ real agenda was known from indirect sources: mergers of Belarusian machine-building, chemical, electronic, technical, and other industries (MAZ, Gomselmash, Grodno Azot, Integral and others). After his meeting with Putin, Lukashenko said that they had discussed the fate of the Belarusian Belaruskali, but had not reached any decision, putting off the issue for later.
The current situation is quite characteristic of both Belarus and Russia in recent years. On the eve of the meeting Q2 2013 oil supplies to Belarus have been signed off (based on Belarus’ request of 23 million tons pa). Thus, Belarus has once again managed to postpone the fulfillment of the requirements set by Russia at least until early summer. However, shorter negotiation periods, synchronized with the signing of the quarterly oil supplies, correspond to the Russian interests. Russia hopes for the partner’s better compliancy in a situation of uncertainty.
Therefore, it is anticipated, that Belarus’ foreign debt payments in 2013 -2014 will force the country’s leadership either to fulfill the Kremlin’s privatization conditions, or to seek for international credit support. The situation is favourable for the Foreign Ministry to continue its active policies regarding Minsk-Brussels-Washington relations, and perhaps, to partially fulfill the EU and the U.S. political demands.
The ‘pending negotiations’ situation makes it possible for President Lukashenko to carry out his usual pendulum policy. Indirect signs of this include the closure of the libel case against Belarusian journalist of the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza Andrej Poczobut on March 15th, and the granted permission to hold opposition demonstration on 24th March by the Minsk City authorities.
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.