Russo-Belarusian political conflict manifested itself in amateur sport
On May 6th, the Sports and Disciplinary Commission of the 2nd All-Russian Amateur Ice Hockey Festival, held in Sochi, started checks on Belarusian President’s team regarding its compliance with the Festival’s regulations. On May 7th, President’s team was forfeited, and the number of players disqualified.
Belarusian-Russian political conflict, unfolding during negotiations on defense cooperation, manifested itself amateur sport. The scandalous proceedings in respect of the Belarusian President’s hockey team at the tournament in Sochi have eventually thwarted an informal meeting between Presidents Lukashenko and Putin. Apparently, these proceedings demonstrate the Kremlin’s intransigent negotiating position.
For reference, a hockey team, led by a big hockey fan Alexander Lukashenko, received the invitation to take part in the Festival from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during his visit to Minsk on April 23rd. On the same day, Shoigu made a statement about the alleged Russian regiment deployment in Belarus in the near future. Further developments demonstrated that Belarus decided to “slow down” with such defense agreements and perhaps, put forward additional requirements to Russia.
Potentially, these requirements could be discussed at the end of the Hockey Festival in Sochi, where Lukashenko intended to come to participate in the final game, and where Russian President Putin was at that time. Bearing these circumstances in mind, it is possible that the Festival’s Disciplinary Committee’s decision had political implications associated with an unexpected for Russia u-turn in the Belarusian-Russian talks on defense matters.
The peculiarity of the situation is that the President’s team has been admitted to the “WORLD CUP 40 +” League and won 4 games and advanced to the finals.
The team’s technical defeat in the semifinals was made post-factum - under the pretext of non-compliance with the Festival’s qualification requirements by a number of players (in fact, both Lukashenko’s sons, team members, are also under 40 years old). Lukashenko decided not to take part in a game for the third place and canceled his visit to Sochi.
Meanwhile, President Putin took part in the Tournament’s finals and in the gala performance on May 10th. If Lukashenko’s team were to take place in the finals, his victory could be very likely, given the professional past qualifications of many his team players. Thus, the fact of the controversial exclusion of Lukashenko from the hockey finals seems to be a clear demonstration of the Kremlin’s intransigent negotiating position in the defense and economic fields.
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.