Minsk to ’compensate’ for political rapprochement with West by defence cooperation with Moscow
Despite their desire to stay away from the Kremlin’s confrontation with the West, the Belarusian authorities cannot afford to break off relations with Moscow in the security field. That said, the allied action might reduce the prospects for the Belarusian-European normalisation. Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities hope that by providing allied services to Russia in the security field (on non-principled matters), they may secure a broader room for manoeuvre in political and economic spheres.
Last week has revealed some new developments in Russo-Belarusian cooperation in defence sphere. Earlier this month, Ukrainian military intelligence reported about Russian military intelligence activities carried out from Belarusian airspace. It also turned out that the Russian reconnaissance aircraft used Belarusian airfield infrastructure. In mid-June, a joint command and staff exercise of the Belarusian and Russian Air Forces was carried out, with the participation of Russian fighter-bombers Su-34. The latter are shock machines designed to break the air defence system and destroy ground targets. Russia is also talking about the possibility of ambitious bilateral land exercises in Belarus in August-September this year.
These events depart from the Minsk’s course on restoring relations with the West. Moreover, the very nature of the exercises, and an attempt to hide the fact that they were held have led to growth of distrust in the neighbouring countries. Meanwhile, there is nothing new in Belarus’ actions. The history of Russo-Belarusian relations shows that contradictions in political and economic spheres between the two countries did not affect their cooperation in the defence field. Moreover, often the military cooperation has helped Minsk to squeeze favourable decisions from the Kremlin. Military circles in Russia, traditionally wary of the West, approved Minsk’s anti-Western rhetoric and, in fact, lobbied Lukashenka’s interests in the Kremlin.
Now the situation has changed radically. Minsk cannot afford a confrontation with the West, even at the level of rhetoric. Minsk’s efforts to normalize relations with Brussels and Washington are badly perceived in Moscow, mildly speaking: some talk about the betrayal of Russia by the Belarusian authorities. In order to guarantee a space for manoeuvre in foreign policy and economy, Minsk has to demonstrate ‘allied’ sentiments to the Kremlin in defence matters.
Despite the threat to the prospects of Belarusian-Western normalization because of the interaction with Russia in the security field, Minsk could eventually win some benefits. Belarus could refer to the forced nature of such interaction (the pressure from Moscow) and attempt to provoke a "bargain" between Russia and the West over Belarus.
The Belarusian authorities will continue to improve relations with the West, while maintaining a high level of cooperation with Russia in the defence field. They regard the latter as a prerequisite for obtaining preferences from Moscow and a warranty from its pressure. Each step towards the West in the political field will be accompanied by a gesture of loyalty towards Russia in the security sphere. However, the red line for such a tactics is preserving the integrity of the existing political regime. Minsk aims in respect to both, Moscow and the West, at getting / maintaining economic benefits and guarantees of non-interference in Belarus’ internal affairs.
Image: Naša Niva
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.