Belarusian authorities have a back out plan for ‘Case of Patriots’
The Belarusian authorities are likely to attempt to maintain an appearance after demonstrating their readiness to tough measures in order to preserve control over the situation in Belarus. That said, they would attempt to doge the recognition of the defendants in the ‘case of patriots’ as political prisoners.
The Belarusian authorities are aware of the foreign policy consequences in the case political prisoners appear in the country. For this reason, some defendants previously arrested within the ‘case of patriots’ have been released. Moreover, they brought additional charges (yet officially not confirmed) in the mass riot case - creating an illegal armed group. The latter is characteristic of extremist activities and creates difficulties for recognising the defendants as political prisoners. Moreover, the guilty verdict on these charges also envisages non-custodial punishment. That said, only non-public figures, who were not involved in public political activity have been left in custody, and all political activists have been released. Apparently, the authorities reckon this would lower the outside interest to the matter.
The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to stop criminal prosecution in the ‘case of patriots’ or render acquittal verdicts, so as they regard both as a manifestation of weakness.
The absence of high-profile public statements from Brussels and Washington following the March wave of repression does not mean that relevant conclusions regarding reliability and negotiability of Minsk have not been made. These conclusions would have far-reaching consequences for both, political cooperation between Belarus and the West, and financial and economic cooperation. The Belarusian authorities are facing the need to relax new tension in relations with the West, while simultaneously, not to allow doubts in their strength and determination.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to attempt to resolve the existing political crisis by punishing the defendants in the ‘case of patriots’ either with suspended or conditional sentences. This would prevent new political prisoners from appearing in Belarus, would help avoiding unfavourable consequences for Belarusian-Western relations, would demonstrate the authorities’ humanism and would ‘save their face’. This perhaps is the best of all bad solutions for the ‘case of patriots’, and the most realistic one, too.
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.