Belarusian authorities wary about external reactions to persecution of Belarusian combatants in Donbas
President Lukashenka has spoken strongly against the presence in Belarus of militants who fought in Ukraine on one side or the other, and requested the security forces to immediately investigate the situation. The Chief Directorate for Combating Organized Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs has initiated a check against 16 Belarusian citizens on suspicion of involvement in the fighting in Ukraine. Earlier, KGB representatives reported about 52 Belarusians fighting in the neighbouring country. According to the Belarusian secret services, the long-lasting conflict in the east of Ukraine and participation in hostilities of Belarusian citizens has led to an increase in illicit arms trafficking in the Belarusian regions. The Belarusian authorities particularly worry about this due to the open border with Russia, which could be used by the conflicting parties to transport weapons both ways. So far, the Belarusian authorities have only used threats and tightened the legislation with regard to militants as a preventive measure and have not started criminal investigation. Most likely, they fear of sharply negative assessment of their actions in Russia and Ukraine.
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.