Shortened blacklist of Belarusian officials perceived as step forwards
Belarus is considering the shortened black list of officials banned from entering the EU as a symbolic gesture in improving cooperation and normalizing EU-Belarus relations. Meanwhile, her expectations from the dialogue with the EU remain low. On the one hand, the authorities anticipate that because of the dialogue the ruling group and Lukashenko personally will strengthen their positions. On the other hand, the opposition and civil society believe that the dialogue between the EU and the authorities might soften Lukashenko’s regime only in the long-term, while in the short-term it will not help to expand the frameworks for a political alternative.
As of July 9th, eight Belarusian officials were removed from the EU entry ban list and one was added.
The EU’s review of sanctions has not sparked a huge response inside Belarus and was regarded as a reciprocal gesture to Bialiatski’s release, i.e. a small step towards the normalization of relations between Belarus and the EU. As regards lifted sanctions, a Foreign Ministry representative said that there was no need to comment, as the Ministry’s stance about the sanctions’ unproductiveness had not changed. Meanwhile, cooperation between Belarus and the EU has continued in a measured and friendly manner: visa and investment issues were discussed in Brussels last week.
The expert community has assessed the progress in the Belarusian-European dialogue as moderately positive – they do not hang great hopes either on the dialogue or on its impact on Belarus’ democratisation. Experts have noted the cyclical nature of the Belarusian-European cooperation, notable for intensifying and warming ahead of presidential elections and for sharp cooling right after - due to the repressions against political opposition. The opposition is traditionally divided over the current EU-Belarus relations into radical and moderate. The radical opposition condemns the EU actions towards the Lukashenko regime.
Overall, Belarus and the EU are continuing a careful dialogue and strengthening mutual cooperation, however neither party is willing to make steps to accommodate one another which could affect their basic values and goals.
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.