Belarusian-Russian relations remain tense
On June 20th, President Lukashenko spoke at the 15th World Congress of the Russian press plenary session, held in Minsk.
Sharp criticism by Lukashenko of the Russian authorities implies that tensions between Minsk and Moscow continue. Simultaneously, Belarus is playing fairly successfully in the Russian information-ideological field.
Lukashenko’s the most significant political statement was open criticism of the liberal market system, enacted in Russia in the 90s, which was still in place. In particular, Lukashenko said that unlike in Russia, “property was not stolen from the people” in Belarus and that “an economic system based on fraud is not sustainable”. Such statements are typical for the Belarusian president, but in this particular case, they were uttered in the presence of the leading Russian media managers and Russian politicians (eg, First Deputy Chairman of the Russia’s State Duma Alexander Zhukov).
Firstly, Lukashenko’s rhetoric suggests that the presidents of Belarus and Russia are still busy bargaining about economic issues (oil supply volumes to Belarus, privatization, trade preferences within the Customs Union, military and technical cooperation) without reaching a compromise. Allegedly, Lukashenko’s harsh statement was his reaction to a telephone conversation with Putin on June 19th
Secondly, Lukashenko’s statement should be regarded in a broader ideological contest. Belarusian authorities regularly invite Russian journalists to Belarus to demonstrate “the Belarusian Social-oriented economic model benefits” and actively criticize Russia’s liberal market system. Often Russian regional media journalists are invited to take part in such ‘press-tours’ however this time the authorities reached out to a new level and participated in the World Congress of Russian Press.
It should be noted that Vladimir Putin’s election campaign in 2012 was based on populist rhetoric. However he has not yet managed to fulfill his promises and attempts to force the government to follow his orders face an open opposition by the Russian elite. The situation creates favourable environment for the Belarusian authorities in the Russian information field to advertise Belarusian experience in economic policies management and strict control over political elites.
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.