Black day for Uladzimir Makey. What can reduction of embassies lead to?

Belarusian embassies are being… optimised. Why do we need diplomatic platforms in unfriendly countries? Such a question was discussed at a Lukashenka’s recent meeting with the officials, dedicated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ work. And it looks like it is not an empty threat. The head of the domestic diplomacy Uladzimir Makey promised that Belarus would close its diplomatic missions in at least several countries of the world. Why is this probably the darkest news in Belarusian politics since last August?

What can the meeting, which should determine the fate of domestic foreign policy, look like? Who are these serious diplomats who are going to talk about foreign policy challenges? Here they are: Major General and head of Lukashenka’s administration Ihar Syarheyenka, Prosecutor General Andrey Shved, head of the Security Council Alyaksandr Valfovich, head of the KGB Ivan Tsertsel. The Foreign Minister was also invited.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, known for his diplomatic ‘achievements’, evaluated the work of Uladzimir Makey:

“Our many years of experience show that the prospects of the Belarusian diplomatic presence are not seen there. So why keep our embassies there, why spend money on their maintenance?”

After the meeting Uladzimir Makey tried to explain that they were talking about Vietnam or India. Allegedly, Belarusian embassies there are far from local industrial centres. This whole situation must have been utterly unpleasant for a person who has been working to improve the country’s international image since 2012.

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Valeryia Kastsyuhova, political scientist, editor of the expert community Nashe Mnenie (Our Opinion) site:

“He worked very successfully for the interests of Belarus when we had them, and what can I say, he did well. And what can he do in the current situation?”

European leaders will not pay a friendly visit to Minsk any time soon. Even the neighbours. Ukraine does not see an opportunity to continue negotiations on the Donbas war in Minsk. All the achievements of the Foreign Ministry over the past eight years have been thrown away. Only friendly states were recognised as worthy of the diplomatic presence of Belarus. The participants of the meeting also gave a new explanation to the friendship: these are the countries where the buyer votes in rubles for Belarusian goods. In a sense, this sentence finally closes the issue of domestic diplomacy.

“All we can offer the West in economic terms comes down mostly to petroleum products and potash fertilisers. And these products have been sold and are being sold to the West regardless of the state of political relations. So, what is the point of supporting them?” political scientist Syarhei Nikalyuk commented on the situation.

But if the regime tries to save on diplomatic relations with some countries, with others, especially Poland, Lukashenka is ready for more decisive steps. In such cases, Minsk, following the Moscow model, pulls out ‘a large caliber’: the Great Patriotic War.

“Participation of a destructive group of ethnic Poles led by some figures of the so-called Polish emigration in Hrodna. Brest and Hrodna – the well-known events. I draw your attention to the fact that this whole turmoil is taking place in the 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War,” Alyaksandr Lukashenka said.

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We are talking about an event in Brest Polish school in honour of the so-called Cursed Soldiers (the Hrodna events are still known only to Lukashenka himself). It is known from the vague accusation that the Belarusian authorities are trying to accuse the activists of the Union of Poles of glorifying Romuald ‘Bury’ Rajs. An anti-communist guerrilla in Poland itself is considered responsible for crimes with signs of genocide. According to the Polish Foreign Ministry, his figure could not have been mentioned at the Brest event. And in Warsaw, when talking about Belarus, the official Minsk is mentioned less and less.

Lukasz Jasina, Polish Institute of International Affairs, Warsaw:

“This may be the effect of pressure from Russia, which for many years has only dreamed that Belarus would not even have a nominal diplomatic service and that Russian diplomacy would take on this role. No CIS country has agreed to this yet, and Belarus may well be the first.”

Belarusian experts also notice fewer and fewer signs of our country’s independence. The so-called optimisation, at least selective and partial, of the diplomatic service is in fact a waiver of the representative function of power. And if we are looking for enemies among the neighbours…

“Lukashenka constantly complains to Russia that he is being attacked by Poland, that Poland poses a military threat. These are very dangerous words, because Russia has a natural reaction to them. Like, then let’s send troops and support you,” Valeryia Kastsyuhova believes.

History says that Russian troops do not leave their places quickly and not always voluntarily. If Lukashenka wants to make a 180-degree turn again and start playing multi-vector, it will be much harder to do it with a Russian base at hand. But is such a turn possible? Will there be another trade in political prisoners?

Syarhei Nikalyuk, political scientist:

“The Belarusian system is pupated, and in general the chance for some changes, for some warming, including the release of political prisoners, is very small. Belarus already fully concentrated its foreign politics on Russia, and the question of how long Belarus will exist in this form is a question of how long Russia will exist in this form.”

And this is followed by all Russian problems. Warsaw has already announced the preparation of restrictions on Belarusian goods in response to the detention of members of the Union of Poles. When can they be introduced?

“Such sanctions will be imposed no later than the verdict on any of the activists of the Union of Poles or even after another wave of repressions against other Belarusian citizens. Belarus knows about such a threat, but they believe it is a bluff. But Poland, together with other Baltic states, is lobbying strongly for these sanctions to be pan-European,” Lukasz Jasina said.

International isolation, gradual voluntary loss of sovereignty… Many have been wondering in recent months: when will this self-destructive policy end?

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Valeryia Kastsyuhova comments:

“The regime cannot stop repression until it sees that it has won. There are no criteria that would convince it that it is all over and it can already feel at ease. Plus, it does absolutely nothing to make something like this happen. It is doing everything to prevent the situation from stabilising.”

In our country, in Slutsk, a real concentration camp for protesters was built. Today [April 15 –] we have 354 people recognised as prisoners of conscience, the number of political trials has exceeded a thousand, and since August the regime has not given a step. Indeed, why would a country with a concentration camp need embassies?

Usevalad Shlykau for the program PraSviet (World and Us) from 08.04.2021

Photos used in collage: Pyotr Sivkov / TASS / Forum; Nikolai Petrov / TASS / Forum; Russian Foreign Ministry / TASS / Forum