Kremlin bars Minsk from using public opinion in Russia to protect its interests
According to the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre opinion poll, most Russians perceive Belarus as a friendly state, however, they believe Russia should not sell gas to Belarus at a price below the market price. The Kremlin is attempting to use public opinion as an additional argument in the gas and oil dispute and migration restrictions with Belarus. It is worth mentioning that the attitude of Russians to Belarusians has not changed over recent years, but the Kremlin started differently interpreting public moods in Russia in order to support the hard line vis-a-vis Belarus. On some aspects of the Russo-Belarusian relations, public sentiments reflect Moscow’s official position, not in Minsk’s favour. Previously, President Lukashenka used his popularity in Russia and positive public opinion towards Belarus (especially in the Russian ‘red belt’ regions) to prompt his interests in the Kremlin. The Belarusian authorities are likely to revise their approaches to the Russian media and seek new approaches to influence public opinion in the Russian regions.
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.