End of transparency at Russo-Belarusian border
Russia is using the economic crisis in Belarus in order to prompt the Belarusian authorities to maximum concessions. The latter, however, are not inclined to make any concessions to Russia. The Kremlin, in turn, is willing to deepen bilateral contradictions, including over the border policy.
The Belarusian-Russian row over the border-crossing regime between the two states for citizens of third countries is indirectly related to Minsk’s reluctance to introduce a common visa space with Russia.
As of August 2016, Russia virtually withdrew from the freedom of movement agreement with Belarus. She did so unilaterally, without prior approval by Belarus. Moreover, Russia is gradually tightening border control at the Russo-Belarusian border. For instance, most recently, without a prior notice, she restricted the movement across the border for holders of diplomatic passports.
Such actions are a part of a broader Belarusian-Russian conflict. The border issue can only be resolved within the framework of the overall normalisation between Belarus and Russia. Equally, this applies to political, economic and security issues. It is obvious that the Kremlin expects concessions (read surrender) from Minsk, as the weaker party, which is at least premature. The harsh position of the Belarusian authorities is likely to encourage Russia to further aggravation of bilateral relations. As a result, one of the most important ideological symbols of the Russo-Belarusian integration since the 1990s, i.e. open order between the two states, could be dismantled. Moreover, it would be led by Russia.
The Belarusian-Russian conflict may lead to the restoration of full border controls between the two states. Should Russia resume the border control over the green border, the Belarusian authorities will have no other choice but to deploy border infrastructure on the eastern border. Which, in turn, will give Moscow an excuse to accuse Minsk of undermining the foundations of bilateral integration; and is likely to lead to new conflicts between Belarus and 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.