Belarus’ chair in CSTO unlikely to lead to breakthrough
At the CSTO summit in Yerevan, Belarus was inaugurated as the CSTO chair. Before the summit, Alexander Lukashenka talked about the intention to develop the organisation and to propel it to the next level. Apparently, the Belarusian president has inflated expectations. The Belarusian chairmanship in the CSTO is unlikely to produce significant results and is unlikely to differ from chairs in other post-soviet organisations due to the iconic nature of such chairmanship.
The CSTO, similar to other post-Soviet integration projects, is basing on the Russian patronage. Conventionally, Russia’s ‘junior partners’ aim to achieve maximum benefits from participation in Russia-led associations without actually committing.
It is worth noting that Russia bears 95-96% of the defence costs of the CSTO member-states. Since military potential of the CSTO member states is incomparable, Russia is the main driver of the organisation. However, whether her leadership is effective is a good question. Over the past five years, Russia has repeatedly attempted to initiate control over military capacity of other participating states and to re-equip the CSTO Rapid Reaction Collective Forces to counteract NATO. However, her initiatives were never implemented. Moreover, Russia did not even receive the moral support when a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber during the Syrian campaign. In addition, Armenia was left alone during the recent deterioration in Nagorno-Karabakh.
That said, Belarus is unlikely to give an impetus to the CSTO development, provided, that even Russian is unable to ensure solidarity among the CSTO members. Moreover, the CSTO per se is of no interest for the Belarusian authorities. Belarus’ membership in the Organization is primarily a demonstration of the political loyalty to the Kremlin in exchange for economic benefits. Theoretically, Russia and Belarus could resolve all issues of mutual interest within the framework of bilateral cooperation in the defence field. The Belarusian chairmanship in the CSTO is iconic and has a mere propaganda value. Minsk is likely to put forward ambitious initiatives within the CSTO, it being understood that they have a negligible chance to be implemented.
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.