Azerbaijan and Belarus may help each other to survive
Due to mutual interests, in the near future, Belarus and Azerbaijan may confirm being in the de facto union, including in the military and political area.
Lukashenka's visit to Baku on November 28th-29th, 2016, confirmed the strategic partnership between Belarus and Azerbaijan based on the personal relationship between the leaders of the two states.
Baku is aiming to respond adequately to the deployment of the Iskander, Russian tactical missile complex, in Armenia. As an option, the Azerbaijani army may adopt heavy MLRS, such as the Belarusian Polonaise.
Minsk’s interest is to sign a long-term agreement on Azeri oil supply to Belarus. Amid the fight between oil producers for preserving their market share, penetration on the Belarusian (and later European) market could be of considerable interest to Azerbaijan. In addition, Minsk will gain an additional argument in negotiations with the EU, only this time not as a peacekeeper, but as an oil hub.
Azerbaijan is Turkey’s closest military and political ally and has a lobbying potential in Ankara. The Belarusian authorities regard Turkish foreign policy ambitions as a potential mechanism for balancing Russia in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus. In addition, Belarus is interested in a comprehensive cooperation with Ankara and Baku’s assistance may prove to be very handy.
In the near future, Belarus-Azeri cooperation may gain momentum. The ruling regimes in both countries are concerned about external security threats and because of distrust of the West, are interested to engage new external players in the regional context. However, the question remains, what would be Russia's response to such a game by Minsk and Baku? As regards Azerbaijan, the Kremlin has a free hand: Azerbaijan is not a member in the Russia-led integration associations, it is de facto in a state of war with Russia’s ally, Armenia, it is a rival on the oil market, and has no clear external security guarantees. Overall, potential cooperation between Minsk and Baku could only materialise if Russia turns the blind eye to it.
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.