Minsk and Moscow have different views on West-2017 military exercise
Belarus and Russia have different views on the development of their relations with the West. While Minsk seeks to use the West-2017 exercise to demonstrate its integrity and openness, Moscow regards the exercise within the overall confrontation with the West, which is unlikely to end anytime soon.
“West-2017”, the Russo-Belarusian military exercise, is fraught with additional political complications between Belarus and Russia. This is due to a difference in approaches to the political dimension of the event.
The “West-2017” military exercise, is a traditional and routine event. The problem is that the parties have different views on its political significance. Minsk, due to open and transparent conduct of the exercise would like to demonstrate its good will and readiness to continue a political dialogue with the EU, USA and Ukraine. The Belarusian authorities understand that the political agenda in relations with the West is extremely short. Accordingly, Western capitals have only limited interest in Belarus. In addition, Belarus has to demonstrate that she is a responsible and, most importantly, an independent player in European politics, rather than Russia’s appendage as many western states believe, including, recently, Ukraine.
Russia, in turn, regards the "West-2017" exercise within the framework of the confrontational strategy as a pressure instrument on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine. In addition, it aims to demonstrate that Belarus is, as they say in Moscow, "a zone of privileged Russian interests”. That said, the Kremlin appears irritated about the differences in the Belarusian and Russian positions.
During the “West-2017” exercise, Minsk would aspire to gain maximum control over Russian military activity in Belarus. The transparency of the exercise for Western and Ukrainian observers would be a kind of insurance for the Belarusian authorities should Russia decide to use provocations against the neighbouring states. Meanwhile, Moscow is likely to stick to the hard line and would attempt to impose it on Minsk, albeit unlikely to succeed. Hence, until the “West-2017” exercise ends, Russo-Belarusian relations would be exposed to additional risks.
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.