Lukashenko's response to teddybear stunt: delayed and disproportionate
The punishment of heads of key law enforcement agencies was not an adequate response to the border protection problems recently found. Justification of the President’s decision is questionable, as it lowers the loyalty of the security forces and increases the risks to national security.
On July 31st, President Lukashenko sacked the head of the State Border Committee, Air Force and Air Defense Forces Commander for improper performance of his official duties regarding national security of Belarus. The Minister of Defense and Chief of General Staff received public warnings. State Secretary of the Security Council and the Chairman of the KGB were reprimanded.
Inspection of the July 4th incident, when a light airplane freely flew over the Lithuanian-Belarusian border to Minsk and back revealed serious vulnerability of the Belarusian state border. Two main conclusions could be drawn from the available official information.
Firstly, violation of Belarusian airspace is co-defined by the defense troops and by the border guards on duty. Secondly, there is a weak link in coordination between the border guards and the military, i.e. the way information about the airspace border violation is passed on from the state Border Committee to the Air Defense Forces.
Official statements by representatives of both the Ministry of Defense and the State Border Committee say that on July 4th a light airplane was successfully detected by both agencies. However, for some reason it has not been identified as a perpetrator of the Belarusian airspace. Therefore, appropriate actions to arrest the plane were not carried out.
We assume that actions of the leadership of the State Border Committee and of the Air Defense Forces in this situation were absolutely correct. However, factual careful ‘silencing’ of the existence of a ‘weak link’ in state’s border protection by the government, as well as harsh decisions about resignation and punishment of the security forces management confirm our previous assessments.
Namely, that perhaps the weak link in coordination between Belarusian Air Defense and the State Border Committee persists intentionally and could be used to organize secure aircraft raids across the border. It should be noted that there is no direct evidence of this.
In this light, the personnel decision is unfair, or at least rather questionable. It has already caused a surge of discontent among the Ministry of Defense and the State Border Committee officers, to which the President had to respond publicly. Today the crucial issue is whether the President will pay off this discontent.
In the best case scenario, the decision will be mitigated by shifting the attention to the international side of the incident. In the worst case, border guards and the military may resort to the tactics of an ‘Italian strike’, which will increase risks to national security at the Belarus’ Western border.
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.