Belarus and NATO: still far from cooperation, but dialogue starts
The agreement between the Defence Ministries of Latvia and Belarus is a standard one, covering cooperation on international security and defence policy. Belarus needs a dialogue with NATO countries in the defence field, but regards it as having secondary importance for the overall Belarusian-western normalisation strategy.
During his visit to Riga on December 5th and 6th, 2016, Belarusian Defence Minister Andrei Raukou signed the cooperation agreement between the Defence Ministries of Latvia and Belarus in the defence field.
Despite political and economic disputes between Belarus and Russia, the Belarusian authorities still regard Russia as the main partner in the security field. Inter alia, due to technical reasons: the need to maintain combat readiness of the armament inherited from the Soviet Union. The Belarusian-western normalisation suggests political normalisation too, which includes cooperation in the security filed and defence field in particular, as a crucial component.
It should be noted, that the Belarusian-Latvian ‘cooperation’ agreement, in fact, aims to create conditions for a bilateral military dialogue, so that the parties become more predictable and transparent in the international security and defence policy, airspace control, arms control, military medicine, environmental protection, and in holding cultural and sports events in the Armed Forces of the two states. Prospects for cooperation between the Belarusian and western defence agencies (including Latvia) depend entirely and directly on the political dialogue between the parties.
The Belarusian Defence Minister Ravkov’s visit to Latvia is a part of the general trend aimed at improving relations with the West. That said, there are no reasons to talk about Minsk’s geopolitical U-turn. The Belarusian authorities are attempting to find a balance between cooperating with the West with minimal Western influence on Belarus, and retaining amicable relations with Russia.
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.