Armenia launches anti-Belarusian campaign
Taking into account the nature of Belarusian-Azeri relations, the extradition of Lapshin was predetermined. Provided, that Lapshin was a Russian citizen, only Russia could interfere to prevent it. Armenian politicians are attempting to use the situation to solve domestic political issues and to take Minsk’s place as the Kremlin’s main ally.
The extradition of Russian national Alexander Lapshin from Belarus to Azerbaijan for an illegal visit to Nagorno-Karabakh caused uproar in Armenia. Armenia’s rumble was anticipated, given the sensitivity of the Karabakh issue. However, statements made by Yerevan fell outside reasonable and necessary, in particular, the request to exclude Belarus from the CSTO.
In early April, Armenia will hold the parliamentary elections. It is hard to say, whether dramatic statements of Armenian politicians were a righteous anger or a patriotic election agitation. In addition, Armenia’s verbal response could be due to the desire to use the crisis in Russo-Belarusian relations to intercept Minsk’s status of Russia's closest ally. This could explain appeals by Armenian politicians to Russia.
CSTO leaders did not respond to appeals by Armenian MPs to exclude Belarus from the block. In addition, Moscow has been silent about Lapshin’s extradition to Azerbaijan and about excluding Belarus from the CSTO.
After detaining Lapshin, the Belarusian authorities had only two options: to extradite him either to Azerbaijan, or to Russia upon the request from the latter. Due to the nature of the Belarusian-Azeri relations, there was simply no other option to avoid his extradition to Baku. Although the proposal to exclude Belarus from the Collective Security Treaty Organization was a reaction to a local event, in the future, it could translate into an instrument of political pressure. Moscow may use the Armenian initiative to add a multilateral vector to the Russo-Belarusian political conflict. In addition, it may prompt pressure on Belarus for mala fides by other member states of the CIS, the CSTO, and the EEU. For instance, Kyrgyzstan could again raise the issue of concealing Kurmanbek Bakiyev by the Belarusian authorities from prosecution in Kyrgyzstan.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.