Diplomatic row with Sweden distracts from the Belarusian border security issue
The diplomatic row with Sweden distracts attention from the problems with the national border control and acts for the benefit of the most radical group of security forces around President Lukashenko. The row will result in greater international isolation of Belarus, as well as in the deterioration of the political situation.
On July 3rd Belarusian Foreign Ministry press service announced that the Swedish Ambassador to Belarus, Stefan Eriksson’s accreditation was not renewed. On the same day two major national TV channels showed clips that in 2012 Mr. Eriksson and the Swedish Embassy funded Belarusian extremist groups and that he could be involved in the incident with the violation of the Belarusian border by a light airplane on July 4th.
Foreign Ministry and the First national channel’s positions are internally consistent and represent a coordinated response of Minsk to the July 4th incident. Swedish advertising agency Studio Total staff assumed responsibility for this action.
Belarusian authorities have neither detained the plane, nor questioned the pilots therefore they have no evidence of Swedish citizens’ involvement in the incident. Consequently, the connection between non-renewal of accreditation of Ambassador Eriksson and the incident with the plane has not been formally confirmed.
Also, unofficial sources say, that a few months ago, Belarusian authorities issued a tourist visa to Ambassador Eriksson with 3-month validity period. It is likely that it has expired. However, synchronicity of the MFA decision and the information attack on the Swedish Embassy implies it was not a coincidence: de facto, this could be regarded as an intentional banishment of Ambassador.
Belarusian authorities are trying to translate the ‘airplane’ scandal into the international plane, presenting it as a planned provocation against Belarus, which has already resulted in anticipated negative assessment of the situation by the Swedish foreign office (Carl Bildt) and the EU (K. Ashton).
With their actions the authorities attempted to divert the attention from the internal causes of the scandalous incident with the aircraft and from the security forces involved. The incident revealed a serious gap in the air defense system at the Belarusian border, which - in principle – could be used to organize illegal cargo transportation by light aircrafts or drones.
It is likely, that a certain group of security officials, responsible for this systemic error in the border control, tried to secure its positions and attempted to interpret the incident as a provocation by foreign states and their Belarusian counterparts. The fact that President backed up this group implies that the group has greater influence on Lukashenka than the State Border Committee and the KGB, which conventionally referred to as a group of the President’s eldest son Victor Lukashenko.
This first group of law enforcement officials, most likely affiliated with the former Security Council Secretary and a President’s proxy Major General Sheiman is also interested in the deterioration of the political situation. Therefore chances are high that the arrested journalist Suryapin and real estate agent Bashamirov will be charged with aiding illegal border crossing, and the state media will continue a propaganda campaign disclosing international conspiracies against Belarus, as it was after the presidential elections in 2010.
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.