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Minsk to continue ‘trade in security’ for sake of financial support

April 10, 2017 12:34
Photo Credit: Viktor Drachev/AFP via Getty Images

For many years, Minsk has been exploiting security issues to obtain Russian financial, economic and political support. After the Russian-Ukrainian war started, Minsk successfully used the same old tactics to restore relations with Western capitals.

On March 4th, 2017, Lukashenka met with Russian President Putin. According to the Belarusian leader, the talks focused on security issues related to maintaining internal stability in both states.

For more than 20 years, the Belarusian authorities have successfully exploited Moscow's fears about a possible confrontation with NATO. In exchange for a large-scale financial and economic assistance and political support, Minsk pledged allegiance to Russia.

However, as bilateral political relations worsened over the last 10 years and economic conflicts built up, the Belarusian authorities became more aware of the growing need to normalize relations with the West. The war in Ukraine has allowed Minsk to act as a regional ‘security donor’, guaranteeing that it would not threaten the EU neighbouring states and Ukraine. Such a position has led to further complications in Belarus’ relations with Moscow on the one hand. On the other hand, it did not bring the political, financial and economic results the Belarusian leadership aspired for.

In addition, the authorities of both states regarded the protest activity of the last two months in Belarus and Russia as an outside attempt to provoke domestic political instability.

Lukashenka is attempting to restore political relations with Putin based on the need to confront common threats. Meanwhile, Minsk’s sharp turns make regional players doubt about its consistency and reliability as a partner, especially on such a sensitive issue as security. In addition, Russia and the West have radically different views on the approach to regional security. If Russia seeks to dominate in the Eastern Europe, the EU seeks to eliminate threats to sovereignty of its member states. In this case, siding with one would imply confronting the other, which Belarus cannot afford. Minsk will strive to retain equidistance from both sides in the confrontation and would attempt to use security issues to obtain financial support here and there, without committing to either party.

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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.