Minsk aims to replace political issues with security issues
Minsk seeks to avoid sensitive issues in a dialogue with the West. The Belarusian authorities aim to shield domestic political problems with security issues, which they find more acceptable and simultaneously, which the West regards as more important at this stage.
On September 14th, the command and staff exercises of the army and other security agencies started in Belarus. According to the action plan, the security forces should demonstrate their ability to respond to different crisis situations without the support from the Post-soviet collective security mechanisms: bilateral with Russia and multilateral within the CSTO framework.
These command-and-staff exercises are remarkable due to how they were organised. While there were no dramatic changes in the coverage for domestic audiences, changes were essential for external audiences. For instance, the Defence Ministry organised a briefing for the military and diplomatic corps represented in Belarus, which was held by the NATO standards for the first time. The Briefing was led by Major General Oleg Voinov, head of the Department for International Military Cooperation of the Defence Ministry and Assistant Defence Minister on International Military Cooperation. He provided comprehensive information about the purpose, geography and the costs of the command-and-staff exercise, and about the forces involved in it.
The briefing was meant to demonstrate how important it was for Minsk to establish confidence-building measures in the security field with the countries of the region. Previously, the Defence Ministry provided rather scarce information about the exercises to the diplomatic corps, eg issued press releases compiled based on reports from news agencies. In addition, briefings were held by officers, whose position and rank did not correspond to the significance of the event. NATO regarded such behaviour as hostile.
Presumably, Minsk will continue to avoid raising domestic political issues in the dialogue with the West, including by focusing on security issues (military, border, preventing illegal migration, etc.). The Belarusian leadership is likely to attempt to take advantage of the regional security system crisis in order to continue improving relations with the West. In addition, Belarus will continue to work on her image vis-à-vis external partners of a predictable and independent partner in the security field, in order to bust a common ‘myth’ in the west that Belarus is fully dependent on the Kremlin in this regard.
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.