Minsk will react sharply to its airspace violation
Albeit violations of the Belarusian-Lithuanian airspace are frequent, they could lead to irreversible consequences for the violator of the Belarusian airspace and cause a crisis in political relations between Lithuania and Belarus.
The April violation of the Belarusian airspace by a light aircraft flying from Lithuania caused a sharply negative reaction in Minsk. When Belarus finishes the construction of the Nuclear Power Plant in Astravets, her responses to similar incidents would become more rigid.
The border between Belarus and Lithuania has a complex configuration, which often leads to unintentional and short-term violations of the Belarusian airspace by light-engine aircrafts from Lithuania. Previously, such incidents had had no significant impact on bilateral relations. However, when Belarus commissions the NPP in Astravets, security rules for the area around the plant would be toughened, including the airspace. That is a common international practice. That said, statements by Belarusian generals about the potential use of weapons against violators of the airspace in the Astravets area are a warning, rather than a threat or a political demarche.
It should be noted that the Belarusian authorities would have a very narrow choice of response measures to violations of airspace near the NPP. Meanwhile, the use of weapons against offenders would lead to a crisis in Belarusian-Lithuanian relations, which are far from rosy with the Belarusian NPP being one of the tension points. In addition, unpunished violations of the Belarusian airspace near the NPP could prompt accusations from Russia of ‘leaks’ in the Belarusian air defence system. This, in turn, could bring back the issue of deploying a Russian airbase in Belarus and overcomplicate Minsk’ relations with the West and Ukraine.
The Belarusian authorities would react harsher (on the political, information and diplomatic level) to future violations of Belarus’ airspace from Lithuania. Harsh statements would aim to discipline Lithuania and to prevent situations when Belarus would have to use weapons against an offender.
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.