Lukashenka concerned about his image in Europe

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August 17, 2016 10:21
Voice of America

Alexander Lukashenka is very sensitive about shortcomings in border guards’ activities. On the one hand, this is due to the fact, that he briefly served in the Soviet KGB’s Border Troops. Both his eldest sons served in the border troops, too. On the other, border security is a very important issue for the Belarusian-European dialogue. As well, it is one of the few Minsk’s potential trump cards.

Following the audit at the State Border Committee held by the Security Council, Lukashenka organised a debriefing. Officials did not report exactly what shortcomings in the work of the border agency had caused the president’s discontent. However, during the debriefing they emphasised that Belarus was a transit country. That said, ensuring economic security is border guards’ one of the most important tasks.

This suggests that at least one of the discussion issues at the debriefing was smuggling from Belarus to the EU. Previously, European countries accused Belarus of being a major source (or a transit country) of contraband cigarettes. Apparently, there were discrepancies between the smuggling volumes to the EU unravelled by the Belarusian border guards, and those identified by their EU colleagues on the other side of the border, which put efficiency of the Belarusian border guards in question.

Minsk is very interested in normalising relations with the EU. Amid immutability of the economic and political system in Belarus and the lack of reforms, security issues, (including border security) are virtually the only "commodity", which the Belarusian authorities may attempt "selling" to Europe in exchange for political and financial support. That said, Lukashenka regards the shortcomings in the work of the Belarusian border guards, which come to Europe’s notice, as a potential obstacle in improving relations between Belarus and the EU. The Belarusian authorities are likely to step up measures to improve border control and enhance control over the border agency by the security services. If necessary, Lukashenka may reshuffle the State Border Control Committee’s staff.

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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.

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