Lukashenko attempts to create counterbalance to Kremlin’s policy in post-Soviet region
Belarus is trying hard to strengthen her positions in the post-Soviet space and to counterbalance the Kremlin’s policy in the region. Belarus’ authorities have increased contacts with other CIS member states. The Belarusian government seeks to demonstrate its foreign policy and economic cooperation alternatives in case that the benefits from the Eurasian integration reduce.
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov visited Belarus at the invitation of President Lukashenko.
The Turkmen president’s visit took place before the CIS Summit meeting in Minsk. The presidents of Belarus and Turkmenistan signed a bilateral agreement on trade and economic cooperation relating to supplies of agriculture, automobile, road construction, communal and passenger vehicles from Belarus.
The Turkmen leaders conduct an independent foreign policy and, unlike their neighbours - Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan – have no interest in participating in the Putin’s integration project – the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). In addition, in 2005, Turkmenistan stopped being a CIS member, remaining only as an observer and an associate member.
Belarus’ trade with Turkmenistan is insignificant - only 0.4% of total trade. However, in the past four years, it has more than tripled, reaching USD 318.9 million in 2013 with a significant surplus for Belarus.
The most significant joint Belarusian-Turkmen projects include the construction of Garlyk mining and processing plant for the potash production and education of more than 8,500 Turkmens in Belarusian higher and secondary specialised educational institutions. Turkmen citizens make up about 50% of the foreign students in Belarus.
The Garlyk mining plant will be commissioned in 2016 and the Belarusian authorities have already offered their services to sell Turkmen potassium through the Belarusian Potash Company (BPC). Since 2013, after the "potash war" between Belarus and Russia, the BPC is the sole exporter of Belaruskali products. Most likely, the Belarusian government hopes to increase the pressure on Uralkali by taking over the exports of Turkmen potassium.
Amid cutting its supplies to the Russian market, Belarus is increasing cooperation with Turkmenistan in the mining and chemical industries, and by exporting Belarusian harvesters, buses, trucks and cars. Turkmenistan has also confirmed its readiness to diversify its supplies to Belarus by enhancing cooperation in the energy sector.
In addition, the leaders of Belarus and Turkmenistan share concerns about the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy. President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov underscored that “our countries have a common belief that all international and internal conflicts should be solved by peaceful means of negotiation, drawing on the international law and the United Nations Charter”.
Belarus’ authorities are strengthening their contacts with the leaders of other post-Soviet states in order to put joint pressure on the Kremlin and influence its policies in the region. And the image of Belarus as a country-peacemaker in resolving the conflict in Ukraine is helping the authorities to step up their role in the post-Soviet space.
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.