Belarus is incapable of conducting peacekeeping operation in Donbas
Minsk is concerned about the decline in its importance as the negotiation platform for those engaged in the conflict in Ukraine. Due to the limited own resources and capacities, Minsk is only able to keep up interest with bold statements.
On November 17th, 2016, during the press conference for the Russian media, Lukashenka said that Belarus was ready to take control of the 400-kilometer stretch of the Russian-Ukrainian border in Donbas.
Minsk negotiation process around Ukraine has played a significant role in the Belarusian-Western normalisation. Providing a platform for negotiations allowed Minsk to keep a distance from the parties to the conflict, from Moscow in the first place. However, in recent months, attempts to achieve a political settlement in Donbas reached an impasse. Minsk as a negotiations platform has been devalued, which could prompt the Kremlin to apply pressure on the Belarusian government in order to force it to take a pro-Russian position not only in the confrontation with Ukraine, but also with the West altogether.
Taking control of the 400-kilometer Russo-Ukrainian border stretch in Donbas will require a large-scale military and police operation in order to establish effective control not only at the border, but also in the border area of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. That said, only the protection of the border will require at least 4,000 troops; and with the rear structures and the need to monitor the Donbass border areas, it would be closer to 10,000 troops. Based on the international experience, maintenance costs for one soldier would total circa USD 30,000 per year. In addition, due to the highly volatile situation in the Donets Basin, casualties among hypothetical Belarusian troops are virtually inevitable.
Belarus has neither the military, nor the financial capacity for the operation in Donbas. Inevitable losses among the Belarusian troops in a foreign war are fraught with a wave of discontent in Belarus and a political crisis to follow. Lukashenka’s statement about Belarus’ readiness to carry out an operation in the Donbass region is a pure propaganda having no practical implications.
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.