Belarusian-Lithuanian relations on verge of crisis
Minsk regards the behaviour of the Lithuanian authorities as unfriendly and aimed at blocking Belarus’ dialogue with the EU and NATO. Statements by Lithuanian politicians, which questioned Belarus’ sovereignty in security issues have irritated the Belarusian authorities. Minsk may react not only with harsh statements but also with concrete actions.
The latest statements by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius are unlikely to please Minsk. Belarusian-Lithuanian relations, which are hardly splendid, risk cooling even further.
Belarusian-Lithuanian relations are rather thorny. On the one hand, both states have scaly humanitarian, economic and infrastructure ties. Being neighbours, they cooperate on many issues, including in the security field. On the other hand, public statements by Lithuanian politicians which question Belarus’ sovereignty and their non-public activities aimed at complicating relations between Minsk and NATO, the EU and Ukraine cause an increasingly poorly hidden irritation in Minsk. Lithuania’s statements about the huge number of Russian troops, which would arrive in Belarus to participate in the West-2017 exercise, or about the full integration of the Belarusian and Russian special services have been perceived in Minsk as attempts to manipulate the opinion of Western elites in order to present the Belarusian authorities as dependent ones.
Yet another irritating factor is the Nuclear Power plant construction in Ostrovets. Lukashenka regards this project not only as having economic sense, but also as an image-making project. Its implementation has gone too far and cannot be stopped. Meanwhile, Vilnius de facto demands to stop the construction.
In the past year, the Belarusian leadership was extremely tense. Lukashenka undertook initiatives and made public statements which conflicted with the interests of the ruling regime and the state. The possibility exists that the Belarusian leadership may respond too harshly to yet another attack from Vilnius, which could lead to an acute crisis in Belarusian-Lithuanian relations. In turn, this could deteriorate already difficult relations among Belarus and the EU, NATO and the US. Perhaps, this could please some Lithuanian politicians, but the greatest joy from such developments would be in the Kremlin.
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.