Russia risks scaring away remaining formal allies
By transforming CSTO international exercises into a propaganda anti-NATO demonstration without informing other Member States, Russia risks to deepen the existing mistrust between the Member States. In addition, formal allies may strengthen their doubts of Russia’s bona fides and negotiability.
The exercises of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the Organization of Collective Security Treaty, ‘Vzaimodeysvtie-2016’ have sparked a controversy. During the exercises, the loudspeakers broadcasted a call for NATO soldiers to surrender with threats of retribution and anger of the people, "who have not suffered defeat in any war" (apparently, Russian people).
The "Vzaimodeysvtie-2016" exercises had a standard scenario: isolating a border armed conflict and eliminating illegal armed groups. Permanent representative of Russia to NATO Aleksandr Grushko observed the exercise for the first time, which was unusual. The link between the presence of the high-ranking Russian official known for his harsh statements against NATO and the calls to alleged NATO soldiers to surrender, seems obvious. That said, of six CSTO Members States, only Russia regards NATO as a potential enemy. Evidently, the CSTO was not involved in the provocation: from 6000 troops involved in the exercise only 1300 were representing the CSTO CRRF, while the rest - the Western Military District of the Russian army. The latter were responsible for the anti-NATO demonstration.
It is unlikely that Russia aimed to put the CSTO as an anti-Western alliance or complicate relations between NATO and other CSTO Member States. The point is that Moscow neglected opinions of its formal allies. Russia regards CSTO as means to monitor military potential of her allies, rather than an international organisation based on the principles of equality and respect for the interests of all members. NATO’s public response to CSTO provocation is unlikely to follow. However, Russia’s arrogance and self-confidence calls into question the viability of the CSTO.
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.