Lukashenko is Incapable of Coherent Western Policy
On January 28th – 29th, US State Department delegation visited Minsk.
The main reason behind more frequent contacts between Belarus and the United States representatives is to seek for guarantees of the implementation of conditions put forward by the parties in the conflict. However, even if Minsk receives solid guarantees, high dependence of Belarus on Russia will not allow the ruling group to abandon its conventional pendulum geopolitics. This, in turn, sooner or later will result in a new conflict with the West.
A number of developments in the Belarus’ foreign policy during the last two weeks allow for assumptions, that Alexander Lukashenko is prepared to resolve the political conflict with the EU and the U.S. In particular, the January 21st meeting of the President with a group of American political scientists and the subsequent visit to Minsk of the State Department officials could be interpreted by analogy with the developments in August 2008, when Minsk entered talks with the U.S., released three political prisoners, and eventually received the IMF loan.
However, the level of bilateral relations is not yet indicative of sufficiently trustful relations between the Belarusian authorities and the West to resolve the current political crisis. Firstly, the disclosed information about the delegation’s composition proves this. The President’s meeting with four American political scientists did not match his status. The head of the State Department’s delegation visiting on January 28th – 29th, was Programme Coordinator of U.S. Humanitarian Assistance to Europe and Eurasia Mr. Rosenblum (in August 2008 Deputy Assistant Secretary of State J. Merkel visited Minsk).
It is very likely that the Belarusian authorities do not consider this level of negotiations as acceptable. Political prisoners are still in prison, implying that the Lukashenko regime has not yet received sufficient guarantees to compensate for such a step. We have repeatedly noted that Minsk considers the release of political prisoners a step forward in dealing with the West, and not a condition for starting negotiations and expects certain bonuses, such as the IMF loan, which is currently the most important item on the agenda.
It should be borne in mind that the level of integration in the Eurasian Economic projects has increased since 2008, which further limits the possibility of the Belarusian authorities to carry out a coherent Western policy. Belarus’ increased dependence on Russia forces the authorities to consider the Western policy only as an auxiliary tool to put pressure on the Kremlin within its “geopolitical pendulum” concept. Therefore, even if Belarus manages to mitigate or resolve the current political crisis in relations with the EU and the U.S., the next crisis is already pre-determined by the nature of the Belarusian-Russian relations.
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.