Kremlin attempts to devalue Minsk efforts in demonstrating military sovereignty to NATO
Amid enhanced contacts between Minsk and western capitals, the visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Minsk has demonstrated the inevitably close military cooperation between Belarus and Russia in response to the increased NATO presence in the Baltic States and Poland. Shoigu’s statements have devalued the Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s attempts in promoting Minsk’s neutrality and autonomy in the foreign and military policy, its non-hostile attitude towards NATO and the desire to step up cooperation with NATO. Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities will continue attempts to disassociate themselves from the aggressive anti-NATO rhetoric, the confrontation with Western capitals, and will attempt to avoid being involved in the Russian containment policy targeting the North Atlantic alliance.
Last week, Minsk hosted a meeting of the joint board of the Russian and Belarusian Defence Ministries with the participation of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Strengthening of the Belarusian defence potential is against the Kremlin’s interests, it would rather expand the Russian military presence in Belarus. President Lukashenka has repeatedly appealed to the Russian authorities with a request to provide new military equipment for the Belarusian air force, the Kremlin, however, supplied only obsolete weapons, albeit on preferential terms (for example, S-300SP). The Kremlin's reluctance to arm Minsk with modern technology has prompted the Belarusian government to creating the MLRS Polonaise in cooperation with China.
The Belarusian authorities are resisting the Kremlin’s pressure to place Russian military bases in Belarus, albeit they preserve close military cooperation with Russia. The Belarusian authorities are likely to include the MLRS Polonaise in the Union State common defence system, which the Kremlin is aiming to use in the deterrence policy against the North Atlantic alliance. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has strengthened the military presence at the Belarusian border and aims to create additional divisions in the Russian Western Military District, which could imply the mutual distrust between the allies.
Unlike the Kremlin, Minsk aims to tone down the NATO rhetoric and has emphasised that the modernisation of the Belarusian air defence was not in response to NATO’s progress towards Belarusian borders. The Belarusian authorities seek to consolidate the normalisation trend in relations with the United States and the European Union established after the 2015 presidential election.
On the one hand, Minsk would like to disassociate from the military standout between the Kremlin and NATO, but on the other hand, the Belarusian authorities would be promoted to step up military coordination with Moscow.
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.