Minsk has to play on the contradictions between the U.S. and Russia
Belarusian Foreign Ministry and Makey himself have raised the stakes in political bargaining between Belarus and the West. However, chances of Belarus revising its position about the (non) recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are very low, so this issue is unlikely to be included in an existing set of requirements by the EU and U.S. to Belarus.
On October 30th, at joint news conference in Minsk, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Makey said that Belarus’ position regarding the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could change.
Belarus’ main goal during the Russo-Belarusian negotiations was to play on the existing contradictions between Russia and the U.S. That is why Makey’s reply to the question about Belarus’ position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia sounded extremely evasive: “Life is not standing still. Everything flows, everything changes”. The statements’ primary target group was Western observers.
Minsk is forced to act in this way due to the Kremlin’s consistent position regarding the political conflict between Belarus and the West. Minister Lavrov has once again made it clear that Russia considers the conflict Belarus’ internal affair and will not interfere to back up Minsk. At the same time, Lavrov expressed readiness to oppose unilateral sanctions by the UN (which is hardly relevant to Belarus, and is unlikely to become relevant).
We have to admit, that Makey’s maneuver succeeded. The very next day, U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Belarus Mr. Goldrich met with Makey’s Deputy Mr. Guryanov, against very favourable information background to discuss prospects for expanded cooperation with Belarus and implementation of “mutually beneficial projects in trade, economic and investment spheres”.
It is noteworthy that this autumn there was some synchronicity in meetings between Charge d’Affaires Goldrich and senior Belarusian Foreign Ministry amid meetings with Minister Lavrov. Prior to his visit to Moscow on September 19th, Minister Makey met with Goldrich and discussed the “key issues in the Belarusian-American relations”.
Such ‘balancing’ tactics is rather traditional for Belarus’ foreign policy and allows playing on the contradictions between Moscow and Washington. However, it should be noted that this tactic fails to have an impact on Kremlin’s position: Kremlin neither provides greater support in foreign policy, nor mitigates requirements in trade and economy. On the contrary, conflicts happen more often, in particular in the energy sector.
Makey’s reservation about potential shift in Belarus’ attitude about the (non) recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be treated as pure rhetoric. Such a step is highly unlikely, since previously, after Georgian Parliamentary elections, President Lukashenko said that “Belarus should not lose Georgia”. Finally, today, this issue has essentially lost its relevance even in Russia.
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.