Minsk has become a negotiations platform for Ukraine, Russia, and EU
Minsk has become a fully fledged participant in high-level multilateral negotiations over Ukraine. The Belarusian government aspires for Belarus to gain weight in regional security and stabilisation in Europe. Belarus anticipates that the EU will review its policy towards the Belarusian authorities and agree to an unconditional, gradual settlement of Belarusian-European relations before the 2015 presidential campaign.
Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said that participants in the Minsk talks (Customs Union – Ukraine – European Union) had had a frank discussion.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the talks had been successful and that Minsk had been chosen as a permanent place for the Trilateral Contact Group’s meetings (OSCE – Ukraine – Russia). The EU High Representative’s visit to Minsk is regarded as a step towards the EU reviewing its sanctions policy against the Belarusian leadership. President Lukashenko acknowledged the lack of progress in resolving the armed conflict in south-eastern Ukraine: “There was a serious discussion on the full range of issues related to the crisis in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the situation has gone so far that principled decisions at the highest level, either individual steps, or technical arrangements would not lead to normalisation”.
Initially, the main issues on the agenda were ending hostilities in Ukraine and discussing the economic effects from the EU-Ukraine association agreement. However, the presidents of Ukraine and Russia focused on other matters. While the Ukrainian president urged those present to support his peace plan, the Russian president mainly focused on economic issues, inter alia, Belarus’ re-exports of products from the sanctions list to the Russian market.
The parties at the Minsk Summit failed to reach an agreement, nevertheless, they emphasised the need to de-escalate the conflict, to release hostages, to solve the refugee problem and other humanitarian issues. In addition, during a bilateral meeting, the Ukrainian and Russian Presidents agreed to initiate consultations between the border agencies and general staff of the armed forces in order to strengthen the Russo-Ukrainian border.
But immediately after the Minsk talks, the situation in eastern Ukraine deteriorated. Kiev accused the Kremlin of Russian troops crossing the Russo-Ukrainian border, a claim refuted by Moscow. It seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to raise the participation level of representatives from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics in the Contact Group’s meetings (OSCE – Ukraine – Russia), perhaps to promote the idea of establishing enclaves in south-eastern Ukraine (like Transnistria in Moldova), which would be loyal to the Kremlin.
Press Secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, Vladimir Zainetdinov, said that the CSTO would not send its peacekeeping forces to Ukraine to remedy the escalation in the Southeast. CSTO members include Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is worth noting that even the Kremlin’s closest allies, including Belarus, do not share its position with regard to Kiev, and wish for a peaceful settlement.
Belarus has become a high-level negotiations platform and official Minsk hopes to change Brussels’ attitudes and policies towards the Belarusian leadership. In addition, the Belarusian government aspires to enhance non-political cooperation with the EU.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.