Europe’s transformation and integrity
The horrifying terror attacks on Brussels on March 22nd were a shock
As a matter of fact, the unity of EU has anything to do with Minsk’s vital interests. The Brussels attacks took place on the first days of high-level Belarus-Poland negotiations. For the first time in many years, the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Witold Waszczykowski, visited Minsk to meet with Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko, as well as Belarusian MFA Head Vladimir Makei, and other officials and politicians (including opposition). Warsaw has decided to approach Poland-Belarus relations without preconditions, while Minsk is eager to build friendly relations with its closest EU neighbour.
Both the Belarusian President and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have underlined the significance of bilateral relations in the broader context of Belarus-EU relations. Mr. Lukashenko has expressed his belief that, together, Belarus and Poland can profoundly influence regional dynamics, to promote their own interests, but not at the expense of other regional stakeholders. To do so, the Belarusian leader argued, Minsk, Warsaw and Brussels need to abandon the ‘zero-sum’ approach to Belarus’ relations with Russia and the EU, and see these from a win-win perspective.
This thesis was refrained by Vladimir Makei who underlined the task of developing and modernising Belarus-EU relations, but not at the expense of other countries’ interests, including Russia. The Head of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry also expressed his desire to see the Belarus-Poland border become ‘a border of friendship’ rather than ‘a dividing line’. He implicitly referred to Minsk’s ‘integration of integrations’ doctrine of compatibility of European and Eurasian integration projects.
Against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis and tensions between Russia and the West, this doctrine may seem outdated. Opposing European integration and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union has become the dominant mindset in Europe, the USA and Russia itself. However, the Belarusian leadership has no other formula for regional co-operation, or for the country’s role within the global community. Avoiding polarisation and a new ‘cold war’ in Eastern Europe is a top priority for Minsk. Escalating tensions could halve Belarus’ prospects of international economic co-operation and undermine its national security.
However, in trying to do so Minsk has repeatedly faced negative consequences of ambivalence of EU’s external policy resulting from interaction of supranational and national level international agendas. The Ukraine crisis has changed the regional context drastically. Stability and containment in Eastern Europe is now of vital interest for the EU as well as member states. In light of Belarus’ positive role in securing this stability, it is now a good time for the well-grounded trust-building initiatives in Belarus-EU relations.
Meanwhile, the European Union is facing a number of other challenges. Migration and security crises, the prospect of Brexit, confrontation with Russia, and problems in the Middle East and North Africa require a more committed and more active EU leadership. These issues also suggest some uneasy and contradictory responses. It is therefore vital that a reinvigorated EU leadership in the region doesn’t undermine the original values of European integration.
Yuri Tsarik, Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Studies