Minsk seeks to demonstrate to NATO its independence
Minsk continues manoeuvring between the West and Russia in anticipation to cooperate with each party to the conflict. Minsk aims to establish multi-level communication channels with the West, while it offers further cooperation in the security field to Russia, and promises to the West to facilitate stability in the region. That said, the Belarusian authorities are not ready to commit to the West in the security field.
Belarus is the only Eastern Partnership country, which was not invited to the Warsaw NATO Summit. The Alliance leadership invited even the most consistent Russian ally, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan. The fact that Belarus was not invited was a clear message to Minsk that it could sit on two chairs in political matters, but security issues required taking a clear side.
On July 6th-7th, 2016, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei paid a working visit to Latvia. Among other things, during the meeting with his Latvian counterpart Edgars Rinkevich, he emphasised the development of inter-institutional contacts, including in the field of defence. That said, Latvia is currently representing NATO states in Belarus.
Developing a dialogue and cooperation between different ministries and departments of the two countries requires trust and understanding between the parties. In the near future, Belarusian and Latvian state bodies are planning to conclude agreements on cooperation. Since both parties raised defence matters during negotiations, such an agreement might also be concluded between the Defence Ministries of Belarus and Latvia.
In addition, Minsk intends to develop relations with NATO and facilitate Russia’s dialogue with the Alliance. While the latter could be regarded as an attempt to preserve Minsk’s image as a ‘peacekeeping platform’, Minsk-NATO relations is a complex phenomenon.
Belarus is concerned about potential escalation between Russia and NATO. If current crisis translates into an armed conflict, Belarus is unlikely to stay away from it. Russia would perceive such an attempt as a betrayal, or a hostile move with all the consequences. The West does not trust the Belarusian authorities. Despite Minsk’s political manoeuvres, from a military standpoint, NATO assumes that in the case of a military conflict, Belarus will be committed to Russia. Hence, there would be no other alternatives for NATO than military pressure on Belarus.
Belarusian National Security and Defence sector is extremely closed. Establishing direct contacts between the relevant agencies of Belarus and Latvia will not only contribute to mutual trust, but would make Belarus more clear and "transparent" for the EU and NATO. Belarus and Latvia have no historical contradictions and Belarus has a traditionally strong lobby in Riga. This means, for Minsk, Latvia is clear and predictable partner.
Hiding behind the rhetoric of facilitating confidence-building between NATO and Russia, Minsk will seek to establish multi-level communication channels with the West. If successful, such a policy would have a long-term importance for Belarus’ national security. NATO would stop perceiving Belarus together with Russia as a threat, albeit hypothetical. And the Kremlin would have fewer possibilities to drag Belarus into a potential conflict with NATO: it is better to have a relatively friendly neutral state than push Belarus into the arms of the West. That said, Belarusian defence capacity against the background of many NATO countries looks quite impressive, albeit obsolete.
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.