No strategic relations between Belarus and United States in near future
The US has security concerns about the so-called NATO’s Eastern Flank. Belarus’ stance in this regard has crucial importance. US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence Dr. Michael Carpenter visited Belarus to talk about security of American allies in the region, rather than support Lukashenka. There is no breakthrough in Belarusian-American relations, yet. Washington, however, assesses Belarus’ place and options in the regional security system.
After the Ukrainian crisis broke out, marking the collapse of the regional security system, the Baltic states and Poland have felt particularly vulnerable amid potential threat from Moscow. In particular, given Old Europe’s hesitancy to take a harsh action against expansionist efforts of the Kremlin. In this regard, Washington’s responsibility vis-a-vis its allies in the east of the EU has increased significantly. During Lukashenka’s rule, many westerners have mistakenly treated Belarus as Russian estate, and Lukashenka as a Russian puppet. However, Minsk’s position in the Russo-Ukrainian war has demonstrated relative independence of the Belarusian authorities in the area of international relations and regional security.
During his visit to Minsk, Dr. Carpenter met with the Belarusian Foreign and Defence Ministers, as well as with the president himself. The status of the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence corresponds to the status of Deputy Minister in Belarus. A personal meeting with Lukashenka therefore has confirmed the importance the Belarusian authorities have attached to the US delegation visit.
Interestingly, the US visit was widely covered by the local media, while it remained unnoticed within the Pentagon. At least, there were no official reports about it. Presumably, the visit was a routine one.
According to scarce media reports, the American delegation was interested in safety of its NATO allies and in assessing threats from the expansion of the Russian military presence in Belarus (which is currently rather limited).
On his part, the Belarusian president promoted a broad agenda of American-Belarusian dialogue, which went beyond NATO’s Eastern Flank and aimed to:
- advocate for the US direct involvement in resolving the Ukrainian crisis, and consequently, align a new regional security system with the participation of the USA;
- restrict NATO activity in the region, which provokes Russian pressure on the Belarusian authorities in terms of the deployment of Russian troops in Belarus;
- begin a political dialogue between Minsk and Washington in order to restore full relations between the two countries.
In this view, Lukashenka’s statement about the CSTO, i.e. that Belarus would not send her troops anywhere, should be regarded as a signal by the US. This statement essentially disavowed the CSTO as a military alliance.
During the visit, the American delegation proposed to exchange military attachés, which should not be regarded as a sign of US special interest in normalizing relations with Belarus. The United States are interested in stability in the region. And Belarus is only a part of this wider interest. A necessary precondition for regional security is communication with local governments and monitoring of the overall situation in the region and in Belarus in particular. Communication is done inter alia by delegations and monitoring by diplomats and military attachés.
Minsk should not be deceitful: Washington is only interested in relations with Belarus as far as they help ensuring their interests in the region and the Belarusian regime interests Americans exactly until it behaves consistently with the current needs of the United States. While the US delegation visit was important, and the exchange of military attachés would certainly bring positive effects, it would be premature to talk about a breakthrough in relations with the United States, due to the lack of a strategy for Belarus in Washington.
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.