Updated at 11:50,16-10-2017

Media tend to overestimate importance of Minsk talks for Belarus

By Andrey Fyodaraw, BelaPAN

Some observers anticipate a big change in the European Union's policy regarding Belarus following the forthcoming talks on the Ukraine crisis scheduled to take place in Minsk on August 26, while others are skeptical. The importance of the Customs Union-Ukraine-EU summit should not be overestimated.

The August 26 meeting is expected to be attended by the president of Ukraine, the presidents of the Customs Union member countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia) and the EUs foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

European Commission Vice President Gunther Oettinger and Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht are also to attend the event.

Minsk made an all-out effort to have the meeting take place on the Belarusian soil, said Gazeta.ru, noting that Alyaksandr Lukashenka made many phone calls to his Ukrainian, Kazakh and Russian counterparts.

If the meeting is more or less a success, Lukashenka will be perceived as a peacemaker and will be able to considerably improve his relations with Europe and dispel the image of a European outcast. And Minsk would receive the unique status of a negotiation platform for discussions involving Russia, EU and Ukraine, the site said.

The high hopes are clearly exaggerated because of many obstacles on the way to the expected result.


War in Ukraine not conducive to talks

The talks may fail because the leaders have different views on the agenda.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on August 21 he intended to negotiate peace and urge Russia to take back its militants. The Kremlin denies its involvement in the insurgency in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to give up his effort to retain Ukraine on the Russian orbit.

The Belarusian leader said that it was necessary to discuss the consequences of Ukraines move to sign an association agreement with the European Union, BelTA reported on August 14.

Were very alarmed by this and are fearful that duty-free goods from the European Union may go through Ukraine to Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan and strangle their economies, he said.

Secondly, Russias embargo on Western goods has created a different situation in the region, Lukashenka added.

The items appear to be secondary and are unlikely to be discussed if Moscow does not pledge to stop its aid to separatists. The negotiations may be postponed indefinitely.


Minsk to perform a balancing act between Moscow, Brussels

Even if the meeting takes place, it will not lead to a considerable improvement in the relationship between Belarus and the EU.

It is true that Ashton will be the highest-ranking EU official to visit Belarus in almost the last four years.

However, bilateral talks between Minsk and the EU are not on the agenda, although a courtesy meeting is quite possible.

As a member of the Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Russia, Minsk is likely to back Moscow on trade issues or else Russias Rosselkhoznadzor can impose an import ban on Belarus. If Minsk fully backs Moscow, it would not make any sense for Brussels to make any concessions to Lukashenka.

Despite the Belarusian state medias optimism, a thaw between Belarus and the EU should not be expected simply because Minsk hosts the meeting. Still, it can open up opportunities for Minsk, but it would need to make more meaningful steps to meet the EU demands.