Reinforcing the "Remote Arc", Working Hard at the UN - Belarus Foreign Policy Digest
In April, Belarus and Europe continued re-establishing contact at different levels. Belarus welcomed the Bulgarian foreign minister and senior diplomats from Sweden and Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the institutional level, Minsk and Brussels inaugurated their new dialogue format, the Coordination Group.
Belarus’ economic interests prompted the government to call for stronger relations with the “Remote Arc” countries, in particular, Nigeria and Ghana. In New York, foreign minister Vladimir Makei focused on social issues and development agenda.
Belarus – Europe: the bilateral dimension
On 10-12 April, Bulgarian foreign minister Daniel Mitov paid a working visit to Minsk and met his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei. Mitov stressed Bulgaria’s willingness to contribute to improving Belarus-EU relations but emphasised the need for respect of human rights in Belarus.
Mitov came to Belarus not only in his national capacity but also as the current chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Minsk is interested in greater involvement of Belarusian parliamentarians in the work of this organisation. In this context, Mitov met Vladimir Andreichenko, the chairman of the lower house of the Belarusian parliament.
Belarus and Sweden continued to strengthen their bilateral ties, which are now close to full normalisation after the teddy bear airdrop incident in 2012. On 31 March-1 April, state secretary for foreign affairs Annika Söder met Vladimir Makei and his deputy Alena Kupchyna in Minsk. It was the first visit of a Swedish official to Belarus at such a level for 25 years. Söder also met Belarusian opposition leaders.
On 22 April, Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina held their first political consultations at the deputy foreign minister level since 2007.
In Minsk, Alena Kupchyna and Josip Brkić focused on further development of the two countries’ trade relations. Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina have so far been unable to establish the bilateral trade commission provided for in their trade agreement of 2004.
The parties also discussed regional cooperation, as Bosnia and Herzegovina holds the presidency of the Central European Initiative (CEI) in 2015. Belarus recently downgraded the level of its participation in this regional forum despite the fact that most of the Belarusian government’s sympathisers in Europe (such as Austria, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia etc.) also participate in the CEI.
Belarus – Europe: the institutional dimension
In Brussels on 6-7 April, Belarus and the European Union launched a new format of bilateral dialogue, the EU-Belarus Coordination Group. This informal negotiation platform emerged as a follow-up to the Interim Phase on modernisation issues. Alena Kupchyna and Deputy Secretary General for the External Action Service Helga Schmid headed the respective delegations.
Belarus and the EU identified eleven priorities for the dialogue, with trade, investment, environment and infrastructure dominating the agenda. However, the parties have also been discussing the establishment of a national institute for human rights in Belarus. The EU will sponsor a workshop on this issue in Minsk later this year.
Representatives of Belarusian civil society participated in one session of the coordination group and were able to comment on the dialogue’s priorities. Belarus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs validated each candidature.
The Konrad Adenauer Foundation financed a trip of a team of Belarusian officials and experts to Brussels on 18-21 April. They discussed security and defence issues with officials from NATO, the European Parliament and the European External Action Service as well as think tanks.
Makei works hard in New York
On 20-22 April, Makei was in New York on an extremely tight schedule. There, he signed the Paris Climate Agreement on behalf of Belarus and spoke at the United Nations' special high-level events on sustainable development goals and drug trafficking.
The minister opened a photo exhibition at the UN headquarters dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. He also met his counterparts from Argentina, Costa Rica, Singapore and Tajikistan as well as high UN officials.
Finally, Makei participated in the first-ever high-level meeting of the Eastern European Group (EEG). Belarus chairs the group in April. The uniqueness of the EEG is that it assembles the countries which belong to competing economic and military blocs in Europe.
Normally, the EEG’s role has been limited to deciding on the distribution of seats at various UN bodies and performing other procedural functions at the organisation. Lately, Belarus has been working on uniting the EEG’s members behind the common agenda of UN reform and strengthening the group’s role and visibility at the UN.
In recent years, Belarusian diplomats have successfully moved from a reactive response to the UN agenda set by others to identifying and pursuing the country’s priorities in multilateral diplomacy.
Reinforcing the “Remote Arc”
Deputy foreign minister Valentin Rybakov made a tour in Western Africa, visiting Nigeria on 4-5 April and Ghana on 6-7 April.
The political consultations between the foreign ministries were held both in Abudja and Accra. However, trade relations and academic training of African students in Belarus remain at the top of Belarus’ agenda in its relations with Nigeria and Ghana.
Rybakov came to Africa accompanied by Belarusian manufacturers of agricultural and transport machinery. Minsk is seeking to develop local assembly of its tractors in Nigeria and trucks in Ghana.
On 14 April, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka, on the sidelines of the summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, met the leaders of Afghanistan, Indonesia, Qatar and Pakistan, with trade and manufacturing cooperation the focus of the discussions.
Belarus has rather a limited diplomatic presence in Africa. Cooperation with the African Union may help to enter the African markets and participate in pan-African economic and technical cooperation programmes.
In late April, Belarusian officials also discussed the development of trade relations with Sudan in Minsk and Qatar in Doha in the format of the bilateral cooperation commissions.
Lukashenka recently instructed his government and Belarusian diplomats on the need to achieve a new balance in Belarusian exports. They should be equally distributed – one third each - among the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), the EU and other countries, including the so called “Remote Arc” countries (Africa, Asia and Latin America).
Currently, the share of the EEU in Belarusian exports stands at over 42 per cent, with the EU at 32 per cent. This means that the share of the “Remote Arc” will have to grow significantly at the expense of Russia and other EEU members.