Why Vladimir Makey cancelled his New York visit
On May 13th -14th, Belarus’ Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Rybakov took part in a high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier it had been reported that this meeting would be attended by Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey.
Belarus’ reduced representation at the UN meeting was due to a sharp deterioration in Belarusian-Russian relations and on a larger scale, because of the Russo-American conflict over the expulsion of a U.S. diplomat. No explanations were provided publicly, which implies there is little coordination between Belarus’ Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Administration.
The decision to replace Minister Makey with his Deputy Rubakov ran contrary to previous agreements. On May 3rd, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry Press Service reported a meeting between Makey and the UN Resident-representative in Minsk Samarasinghe. During the meeting the parties discussed the meeting agenda between Makey and the UN Secretary General in New York. Makey could visit New York within the UN framework, regardless of the US visa sanctions against him.
Makey’s decision not to go to New York is most likely associated with the deterioration in Russo-Belarusian relations, namely the deployment of the Russian air base. This conflict has manifested itself acutely after the scandalous informal meeting failure between Presidents Lukashenko and Putin in Sochi on May 10th. In addition, following U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s visit to Moscow, Russo-American relations have sharply deteriorated in connection with the expulsion of a U.S. diplomat accused of spying.
This negative political context does not create favourable conditions for Belarus’ pro-active position in the West and the more so, in the United States, since Makey’s visit to the UN would have had broader agenda in couloirs meetings with U.S. representatives to talk about potential dialogue resumption, as well as the most important issue – cooperation with the IMF.
Potentially, Belarus’ leaders considered previous provocation (denial of the arrangements for the Russian air base deployment) was enough. They decided not to worsen their relations with the Kremlin and reduced Belarus’ representation level at the UN meeting. The acute phase of political relations between Minsk and Moscow was implied by the visit of Rosneft Head Igor Sechin to Minsk on May 16th, who passed ‘greetings from Putin’ to Lukashenko. Oil supplies in 2013 were discussed during the meeting.
So far it is difficult to say whether Minsk was successful in selling its strategy to Moscow. Indirectly, the success might be confirmed by a statement by the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund Manager on May 15th that the allocation of the sixth tranche to Belarus would not depend on Belarus’ fulfillment of its privatization obligation (which Belarus had not fulfilled anyway). The Fund’s representative also did not rule out that Belarus could embark on a new credit programme.
In addition, on May 15th the Belarusian Foreign Ministry did not accept the invitation for Makey to take part in the Ministerial Meeting of the Eastern Partnership held in Krakow on May 17th. Belarus was represented at the meeting by Deputy Foreign Minister Kupchina. This decision could have been explained by EU visa sanctions against Makey which have not been dropped : Belarus considered that it was not appropriate for the Belarusian Foreign Minister to participate in the meeting, ‘ as a matter of exception’.
In any case, Makey’s failed visit to New York and to Krakow at the invitation of the Polish authorities are damaging the reputations of both Belarus and Minister Makey. Belarusian state media said nothing about the reasons behind these decisions, which firstly implies their urgent nature and secondly demonstrates the low level of coordination between the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Administration on foreign policy issues.
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.