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"West-2017": Minsk will show a lot but not everything

July 24, 2017 12:14
Image: AFP

Minsk is eager to make the “West 2017” Russo-Belarusian military exercise transparent as a manifestation of its ability to pursue an independent security policy in the region, which often goes unnoticed by the West and Ukraine, who expect from the Belarusian authorities more than they can afford.

The visit of Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics to Belarus was a remarkable event. For the first time, an EU and NATO member state said it was satisfied with the level of openness of the Belarusian authorities regarding the “West-2017” Belarusian-Russian military exercise, which would be held in September. Previously, Minsk heard only reproaches and demands.

The Belarusian authorities understand that the maximum transparency of the “West-2017” exercise is in their best interest. On the one hand, this would demonstrate a responsible regional security policy and Minsk’s independence. On the other hand, this would insure Belarus from unforeseen situations during the exercise, which could not be ruled out.

Nevertheless, demands of the neighbouring NATO countries and Ukraine regarding transparency during the “West-2017” exercise beyond the requirements stipulated by international agreements, have irritated Minsk. The Belarusian authorities treat it as an attempt on national sovereignty and fear that by meeting the demands of their neighbours, they would show their weakness and provoke new demands vis-à-vis Minsk. In addition, when putting requirements for Belarus, the West and Ukraine should understand that the interethnic nature of the “West-2017” exercise implies Belarus’ close coordination with Russia, including the transparency level for international observers.

For political reasons, Minsk is unlikely to be able to ensure full transparency of the “West-2017” Russo-Belarusian military exercise and international monitoring during the whole period of the Russian contingent's presence in Belarus. Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities are likely to demonstrate the most possible openness during the exercise. That said, Russia could regard such openness as superfluous, while the West and Ukraine as insufficient. That said, a solution which could please all parties is unlikely to exist.

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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.