Presidents Lukashenko and Nikolić played on the public
On March 12th – 13th Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić was on the official visit to Minsk
Belarus’ main goal was to demonstrate the image-making breakthrough in the Belarus’ political isolation on the eve of talks with Russian President Putin. However, there will be no real strengthening of the political cooperation between Belarus and Serbia and with the European Union using Serbia’s mediation.
Tomislav Nikolić’s surprise visit to Minsk played into the Belarusian authorities hands for several political reasons. First, the Serbian President arrived in Belarus right after talks with Ashton in Brussels about the disputed status of the Serbian community in Kosovo and about the Serbia’s accession to the EU. Belarus is known for her tough stance on condemning the war in Serbia and Kosovo’s sovereignty, and the visit gave President Lukashenko the occasion to demonstrate his position to the European Union, the US and Russia once again.
Second, on the eve of the Supreme Council of the Union State of Belarus and Russia meeting in St. Petersburg on March 15th, Belarusian leadership was interested in demonstrating to the Kremlin the demand for Belarus not only in Russia but also in other countries, especially in Europe. Since 2010, the Belarusian president’s international contacts have been consistently and compulsively narrowed, primarily looping on Minsk-Moscow relations.
Nevertheless, the talks between Nikolić and Lukashenko and the set of signed documents do not suggest the political cooperation between Minsk and Belgrade will be strengthened significantly. Currently, Belarus and Serbia hold complex negotiations with their by far more powerful partners (the EU and Russia respectively) therefore they are interested in demonstrating, at least, “political alibi” to their counterparts. At the same time, both countries are seriously limited in their political maneuvers.
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.