Minsk was unable to prove its independence in security matters
Over the past three years, Minsk has been using regional security issues to gain a foothold as an independent actor beyond Russia’s control. This was facilitated by demonstrations of a special, different from Moscow, position. However, the Belarusian authorities have failed in achieving the desired effect, and the Kremlin has effectively used the insufficient information support for Belarus' foreign policy.
Minsk hoped that its openness and transparency during the preparations and the conduct of the West-2017 joint Russo-Belarusian strategic military drill could take it out of the Moscow’s shadow and prompt the West to recognise Belarus as an independent actor in the regional security policy, rather than an appendage to the Russian military machine. Belarus has embarked on an unprecedented openness in defence matters. For instance, the General Staff of the Belarusian army has held briefings during the OSCE Security Forum and in Minsk. In addition, circa 250 journalists have been accredited to cover the exercise.
Unexpectedly, despite the confrontation with the West, Russia has provided more extensive information about the joint exercise ‘West-2017’. For instance, Russia’s briefing for NATO was concise, informative and was positively received by the Alliance. The Russian Defence Ministry’s briefing on August 29th, 2017 was more detailed than the briefing of the Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian army, held on the same day. Russia is maintaining high level contacts with NATO to inform about the forthcoming Belarusian-Russian exercise.
The West has noted greater transparency of Russia as compared with Belarus in terms of providing information about the West-2017 military drill. Hence, Russia has demonstrated the leadership in the Russo-Belarusian tandem. Nevertheless, not all concerns related to the West-2017 military exercise have been removed. For instance, issues related to combat training of the Russian army, which would be held in parallel with the West-2017 make an additional matter of concern beyond Belarus’ sphere of influence.
Yet another attack (carefully planned) on Minsk’s reputation was the abduction of Ukrainian citizen Pavel Grib from Belarus by the Russian special services. The lack of a coherent response to the case from the Belarusian authorities is regarded as a sign of Belarus’ strong dependence, bordering subject nation, on Russia in security matters.
The Belarusian authorities have failed in providing information and diplomatic support for their foreign security policy. In the near future Belarus is likely to focus on improving the state of affairs in this matter. However, she requires to implement new approaches in public relations, which could only be used effectively by new staff.
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.