Belarus attempts to limit West’s role in Ukraine peace negotiations

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April 22, 2016 18:55

The Belarusian authorities are taking a pro-active role in resolving the crisis in eastern Ukraine in order to limit ‘western’ participation in the negotiation process and to increase the Customs Union ‘Troika’s’ role. President Lukashenko’s actions imply that he wishes to reach a new international level: not only as a negotiations platform, but as an active participant in the de-escalation process. Whether his ‘peace-making’ mission is a success or not, Lukashenko hopes for Belarus-EU relations to be normalised without any conditions.

President Lukashenko said the presidents of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan and possibly Ukraine were expected to have talks soon.

Throughout the Russo-Ukrainian crisis, the Belarusian leadership has repeatedly stated its unwillingness to participate in it as a mediator. Recently, however, President Lukashenko has publicly stepped up his activity in the negotiations on the Russo-Ukrainian settlement. “In the near future we - Presidents of Belarus, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine (if Ukraine agrees, has not rejected so far) – shall hold a series of meetings to have a principled discussion about what is happening here with us”.

President Lukashenko seeks to engage official Kiev to negotiate settlement of the situation in the east of Ukraine and he is limiting participants in the negotiation process to the Kremlin and its allies - Belarus and Kazakhstan. Moscow is happy with such a solution and is ready to support Minsk’s initiative.

While Belarus did not mediate the Trilateral Group’s negotiations (Ukraine-OSCE-Russia), her role as a state-peacemaker had increased – not only because she provided the meeting place, but also due to her constructive position regarding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. 

In addition, despite the fact that the Trilateral Group managed to achieve some agreements – a cease-fire in the area of the MH17 crash and the release of hostages by the parties – de facto they were not fulfilled. Moreover, relations between Western capitals and the Kremlin have deteriorated (Russia has imposed restrictions on imports of some agricultural products from the EU, USA, Australia, Canada and Norway).

Previously Lukashenko had phone talks with the presidents of Serbia and Kazakhstan about ways to normalise the situation in Ukraine. Last week, he held telephone conversations with President Putin (inter alia, they discussed the Ukrainian issue), and with Ukraine’s President Poroshenko, who “expressed hope that the consultations could continue and yield concrete results”.

Lukashenko also met with the leaders of Russian and Ukrainian Communist Parties – Gennady Zyuganov and Petro Symonenko. The Russian Communist Party leader underscored during the meeting: “We are looking forward to your mediation efforts, we know how much authority you have, including in many circles in Ukraine, and we will strongly facilitate the peace-making and solution-oriented efforts”. In addition, President Lukashenko said that he had offered a viable option to resolve the situation in Ukraine to the West, so far to no avail: “Once I proposed a solution, and the West agreed with me – those who I had talked to – that it was a sound option".

In response to his “peace-making” mission regarding the situation in Ukraine, President Lukashenko hopes that Belarus-EU relations will normalise ‘unconditionally’: “They have put pressure on us for many years already – westerners, Americans and Europeans – with sanctions, and so on. I always tell [them], for Belarus’ heroic deeds in that horrible war, you have to kneel down and thank Belarusians”.

Belarus wishes to impose her own agenda on the negotiation process to settle the situation in south-eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin will support Belarus’ initiative to restrict the circle of those negotiating with the authorities in Kiev (to the Kremlin and its allies). Meanwhile, Russia is unlikely to facilitate the work of the Trilateral Contact Group with representatives from Western countries.

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President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.

President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.

The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.

The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.

The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.