What are the strategic goals of Pompeo's visit to Belarus?
Seymur Mammadov

Editor's Note: Seymur Mammadov is the director of the international expert club EurAsiaAz and editor-in-chief of Azerbaijan's news agency Vzglyad.az. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The tour of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began in the post-Soviet countries.  

As part of his visit, the U.S. Secretary of State plans to visit Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. The visit to the region will end with participation in a forum, where Pompeo will meet with foreign ministers of all five Central Asian republics to discuss peace and security in Afghanistan.  

Pompeo's tour is interesting and intriguing in the context of the existing disagreements between Belarus and Russia, as well as the initiation of a new U.S. strategy for Central Asia. 

It is worth noting that the working visit of the U.S. Secretary of State to Belarus was planned for January 4 this year, but was postponed due to the situation around the U.S. Embassy in Iraq and the ensuing events - the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. 

Protesters and militia fighters attack a reception room of the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad, Iraq, December 31, 2019. /Reuters Photo

Protesters and militia fighters attack a reception room of the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad, Iraq, December 31, 2019. /Reuters Photo

What are the main points of discussion? First of all, the traditional part – this includes the normalization of diplomatic relations, the exchange of ambassadors, the issue of sanctions, as well as human rights and democracy in Belarus. It is possible that the issue of regional security, the position and possible contribution of the Belarusian side to the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis will be discussed.  

An interesting fact is that the United States has been conducting direct consultations with Belarus on the situation in the Eastern European region for the past two years. Previously, this took place without any contacts with Minsk, but today we see that the practice of direct contacts has developed between the two countries.  

The most important question that the Russian expert community is concerned about is, in the context of the aggravation of relations between Russia and Belarus, can Minsk take some steps to enter into alliances with the West, which it had not planned to go to very recently? It is possible that Pompeo initiates the discussion of Belarusian-Russian relations, and it is possible for Minsk to offer U.S. assistance on energy. But it's too early to talk about any alliance with the Americans.  

But it is likely that the two sides might improve their relations for Belarus to achieve some diplomatic balance between the U.S. and Russia.  

However, despite some disagreements  in relations between Belarus and Russia, Minsk is not going to somehow distance itself from Russia. The question is that the Belarusian security system, including the Belarusian army, is closely integrated into the Russian security system. So in the process of building the Union State, the Regional Group of Forces of Belarus and Russia, the United Air Defense System, etc. were created. In addition, the pro-Russian sentiments in the Belarusian army are quite strong and a number of military leaders are a fan of not only Russia, but also the USSR. 

After the events in Ukraine, the situation changed and Belarus began to be considered by the West as a space for possible opposition from Russia, as a country that should be removed from dependence on Moscow.  

However, there are big doubts that the development of bilateral relations will grow into wider geopolitical cooperation. Nevertheless, the Belarusian side expects only positive results from this visit. Firstly, President Lukashenko will try to persuade Pompeo to lift all economic sanctions, and secondly, this visit will serve Belarus as one of the levers of influence on Moscow, especially in the light of recent disagreements on oil supplies.  

President Lukashenko will not take radical steps that would contribute to distance Belarus from Russia. And for the looks of it the U.S. has not made a collective decision on a clear strategy with Belarus. But given Pompeo's "Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?" remarks, it is certain that Pompeo is aiming to show a gesture that the U.S. is not seeking to disconnect itself from this region. 

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)