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Foreign policy of New Belarus. From transition period to sustainable democracy

We present the text version of the online discussion “Foreign Policy of New Belarus. From a transition period to sustainable democracy" about the geopolitical choice for Belarus

Former employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus took part in the fourth online discussion: Vladzimir Astapenka, Pavel Latushka, Valery Tsepkalo, Valery Kavaleuski, Pavel Slyunkin, as well as a special guest from our Lithuanian partners of 'Educatio' - ex-Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Albinas Januska

Main topics of the fourth discussion:

  • The optimal structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its role among the actors shaping foreign policy

  • Foreign policy of Belarus in the transition period

  • Relations with the EU

  • Relations with Russia

Vladzimir Astapenka
Vladzimir Astapenka Source: NAM-media

Vladzimir Astapenka:

In 1944, the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs was created in the BSSR, then transformed into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was done during the creation of the UN - there was an idea that all 15 republics would be part of it, but in the end the BSSR and the Ukrainian SSR were invited to be the founders of the UN. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs appeared in the structure of the republican governing bodies - in Soviet times, 90 percent of the work of its apparatus was devoted to the work of international organizations - mainly the UN and its specialized agencies. Belarusian diplomats dealt with multilateral issues and were practically not involved in bilateral relations. And when Belarus became independent in 1991, the problem of specialists who would deal with bilateral relations objectively arose. It is clear that the structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gravitated towards international organizations, gave them priority, people sought to do what they knew and understood. This necessary balance there is no established connection between multilateral diplomacy and bilateral relations. Against this background, there was and continues to be a hunger in the departments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with country specialists who know the specifics of the regions. The new Ministry must solve this problem. Previous attempts did not bring this situation to an ideal state. There is no foreign policy anymore. All efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to build a multi-vector system failed. This is due to the position of one person whom we call the illegitimate president

Pavel Latushka:

The main problem of why we have come to this state of Belarus’s foreign policy is the creation of a presidential republic in the ugliest form, when everything is subordinated to the will and whims of one person. When there is no parliamentary control, such problems arise. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has always been known as an opposition ministry; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is potentially a source of personnel for the opposition, although in fact this was not the case. We understand that the entire state apparatus lived on the principle of conciliation. Somewhere inside we harbored hope that the regime was being re-educated. But it was self-deception. We must admit this.

Valery Tsepkalo:

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, like any government body, is an instrument for implementing state policy. The structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will always be built taking into account the priorities of the country’s internal political course. If today there is no opportunity to conduct a dialogue with the West, then departments will be opened in various city and regional centers of the Russian Federation, that is, where they talk to you.

In general, the role of the diplomatic service in the age of information technology is becoming completely different. If we remember, for example, the 19th century, then ambassadors in the capitals were the people who made really serious decisions, because it was not possible to quickly consult with the emperor or king. Even in the USSR, the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was very large: it was the embassies that accumulated information and were channels for searching for potential trade and economic partners and communicating their position. Nowadays, a huge number of alternative sources of information have emerged, so no diplomat, no matter what he says, will be able to have a monopoly on convincing partners of the real policy priorities of his country.

The role of the diplomatic service in economic matters and providing information about the host country will obviously decline.

What is the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs among other actors?

Pavel Latushka
Pavel Latushka Source: NAM-media

Pavel Latushka:

It is necessary to emphasize that the image of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the external arena is completely torn apart due to the policies of the leader. It justifies human rights violations, etc.

Makei was practically left alone at the station. The image of the current leadership of Belarus cannot be restored.

Under a presidential republic, the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is minimized (humiliated / belittled), since it is highly dependent on the Presidential Administration. In a parliamentary republic, the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is very high. In the current coordinate system, the Minister is not capable of becoming a leading figure in foreign policy.

Valery Kavaleuski:

The role of parliament will be very important, and the foreign minister should be a frequent guest in parliament so that foreign policy is more understandable and transparent.

One of the systemic problems in the structure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the lack of a position of political director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This is the person who sets the tone for foreign policy. There has never been such a position in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. But at the same time, in personnel matters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there have been successful personnel decisions throughout its history; the personnel composition is quite good, but it needs to be strengthened to interact with the external and internal environment.

This is support for specialists in their promotion in international organizations, and this is very important for strengthening human resources.

Valery Tsepkalo:

The leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be in the government - these are positions that are received by politicians from among the winning parties, they report accordingly to their voters.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs in the coordinate system of a parliamentary republic is one of the five most influential persons in the state.

Foreign policy of Belarus in the transition period

Pavel Slyunkin
Pavel Slyunkin Source: NAM-media

Pavel Slyunkin:

It is important to understand that we do not quite know what society wants, since in democratic systems the wishes of society are taken into account through democratic processes - elections, before elections there are usually discussions, parliamentary discussions about what people really want, but it doesn’t exist inside Belarus right now.

This is important to accept. What we see now as the results of social surveys may differ significantly from the conclusions drawn after establishing a real dialogue in society, when all citizens will be able to speak openly.

I would note that previously there was a discussion about the geopolitical choice of Belarus. Since 2006, opposition candidates have formulated their agenda for the European choice, in 2010 it was approximately the same, but with more accurate formulations; candidates appeared who spoke about a neutral choice for Belarus in the style of Eastern European Switzerland. In 2020, all candidates did not voice clear pro-European priorities. This suggests that social dynamics follow the decisions of the authorities that they make on the external track, the deepening of the Russian vector. Unfortunately, if the current state of affairs drags on, we will have to discuss not the geopolitical choice - Belarus with Europe or Belarus with Russia, but the need to preserve Belarus as a sovereign state. The trends are such that the state does not pay attention to the wishes of the people. They do not ask whether we want to see nuclear weapons on the territory of Belarus, whether we want to enter into alliance agreements with Moscow, whether we want to join the EU. However, this affects the format of our discussions. As long as there is no opportunity to convey one’s point of view to society, the content of the discussion will degrade.

Valery Tsepkalo
Valery Tsepkalo Source: NAM-media

Valery Tsepkalo:

In a totalitarian society there is not and cannot be normal sociology, and all polls are nothing more than a political order. People will not express their real thoughts to someone unknown. Foreign policy priorities will appear when there is a normal competitive field, when various political forces advocate for certain vectors of development. Then we will understand the mood of the Belarusians.

Vladzimir Astapenka:

The Belarusian people will have to determine foreign policy priorities, but in this context it is important to discuss the third option - the neutrality of Belarus. This thesis was hard-won and enshrined in the Declaration of Independence of Belarus, then it was transferred to the text of the 1994 Constitution. Today we can completely lose this thesis, since it simply disappeared from the latest draft of the regime, as if it had never existed. No public discussion, no weighing of pros and cons. The potential for neutrality based on the example of Austria, Sweden, Finland and Switzerland may be of interest to Belarus at least at a certain stage of historical development, and I would not take this option off the scale.

Pavel Latushka:

We must clearly position ourselves: independence is a value that is not discussed.

All public opinion polls have a huge degree of error, but at the same time they show certain trends. We must do everything to counter the threat to independence. Only external factors can affect our sovereignty.

I could describe three possible scenarios for the actions of the eastern neighbor for the so-called. transit period.

First scenario. Putin removes Lukashenko, the Belarusian people applaud the Kremlin and elect a new conditional democratic president. In gratitude, it is hardly possible to imagine an anti-Russian approach from citizens. Society will be more likely to be grateful. This is a hypothetical scenario, but today this is the last carriage for Russia. To realize this scenario, the Kremlin needs to jump into it.

Second scenario.

Russia continues to impose a dictator on us and forcefully imposes domination and the Union State. This is unacceptable for Belarusian society and undermines its trust. This is a strategic mistake by the Kremlin. The design is short-lived and has a short-term perspective.

The third scenario, the most positive - if Russia became a country of attraction, investing money in their country, developing it, then Belarusians themselves would want to be closer to Russia. All neighbors would strive for normal relations with the Russian Federation.

In the short term, we see that a cover operation is taking place before our eyes - when, under the theme of Ukraine, a quiet incorporation of Belarus can occur. If the Belarusian people become a subject, then they must decide what our geopolitical choice will be. But in general, our choice is to have normal relations with both the East and the West. This would be in the interests of Belarus. If Russia continues this policy, then pro-Western tendencies will intensify.

Albinas Yanushko:

If the presence of foreign military forces remains in Belarus, then even without Lukashenko there will be no democratic choice in the country. A frozen situation may be created where the people will have no choice.

If Belarus is “forgotten,” this could lead to serious geopolitical consequences in our region.

In the New Belarus in the parliament, some forces will be pro-Russian, some will be neutral, and some will be pro-European. But now in Belarus there are no clear-cut political forces that will clearly state that we want to join the EU.

At the same time, pro-Europeanism does not mean anti-Russianism.

The example of Lithuania showed this before the occupation of part of Ukraine.

Regarding the term “neutrality”, you probably shouldn’t use it. You need to decide - East or West.

The EU is not a geopolitical project - it is more of a market, it is a softer power. The EU will not impose a geopolitical choice, so without a clear pro-European movement it is difficult to expect much attention on its part.

Valery Kavaleuski
Valery Kavaleuski Source: NAM-media

Valery Kavaleuski:

Belarus needs to develop relations not only with the West and East, but also with the North and South. Develop bilateral relations in order to avoid imbalance in external relations with Russia. But the choice must be made based on the opinion of the people, the choice is responsible and informed. We are guided by the mandate that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya received in the elections.

Relations with the EU and the Eastern Partnership are a broad platform that can be developed. At the initial stage, this will be an effective tool.

Dependence on Russia and how to build relations with Russia:

Pavel Latushka:

Is the Kremlin ready for any dialogue regarding the future of Belarus? I have pessimistic assessments: the Kremlin made a strategic decision for itself that Belarus should not exist as an independent state. If the Kremlin does not think so, then let it show it through appropriate actions. Then he should support Belarusian society, not the usurper.

In general, my formula for diplomacy is that you must always seek compromises, but in the interests of your country and your people. And today we face the threat of losing independence. This needs to be understood.

Albinas Yanushko
Albinas Yanushko Source: NAM-media

Albinas Yanushko:

When we talked about choosing a third way, we saw examples of Lithuania and the former Soviet republics. 30 years of convulsions without a choice - and what is the result? Everything is in trouble. And if Belarus has not made up its mind and does not see prospects in a pro-European direction, then it will not be able to escape from the situation that has developed in the Union State. But not dreaming means not achieving anything.


Pavel Latushka:

In order to be a subject of foreign policy as a state, it is necessary to return subjectivity to the Belarusian people.

Vladzimir Astapenka:

All thoughts regarding the foreign policy of Belarus should be built on the basic principle of respect for the sovereignty and independence of our country.

Valery Kavaleuski:

Our external palette will be based on the concerns of the sovereignty and interests of Belarus. We need good minds so that the people can tell their true views. Belarusians are for shmatvektarnasts, we are committed to such magchymasts, we don’t give a damn about ourselves. The foreign country of New Belarus has issued patents, we have a range of specialized materials, for which you can create magic materials for the benefit of Belarus.


The final conference of the platform will take place on February 16 #Expert Wednesday “New Belarus on the geopolitical map of the world” : good neighborliness and national interests.

Participants in the discussion will be both experts who took part in past discussions and new participants, as well as politicians, analysts and foreign guests.

Online access to the discussion will be open only to registered viewers. We will post a link to the registration form in the next publication.


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