Minsk revealed its repressive arsenal
The wave of repression in the last two weeks, especially after March 20th, 2017, has demonstrated the Belarusian authorities’ "arsenal" designed to ensure the state security. In the past two weeks, the Belarusian authorities largely improvised and actively used previously developed action plans and strategies.
After President Lukashenka suddenly discovered a "conspiracy", the Belarusian repressive machine has made a sharp come-back. Judging by some blunders made by the Belarusian authorities, many decisions about the ‘plotters’ were made in a zeitnot. Hence, the Belarusian authorities have demonstrated some strategies designed to be used in the case of real complications. Inter alia, these include:
First, intimidating the opponents in order to demoralize them. Simultaneously, the authorities have started information hysteria over non-existent threats in order to consolidate their supporters. They have demonised real or imaginary opponents, attributed opportunities and intentions to them, which frighten and prompt ordinary people to support the authorities. Otherwise, people would not provide such support for the leadership.
Third, blocking electronic channels for individual users, including hacking of cell phones.
Fourth, publicly demonstrating readiness for tough actions (armed policemen in public places, demonstration of special equipment and troops transfer).
Fifth, reducing the activity of alleged opponents by ‘tying’ them down to other places (work, study, children, etc).
Sixth, fragmenting the protest due to the ban on one large-scale rally and authorising several peripheral events.
Seventh, attempting to intercept opponents’ ideological symbols. The Belarusian authorities, who root in the Soviet ideological heritage, suddenly became preoccupied with the state of the people's memorial to the victims of the communist genocide in Kurapaty.
Eighth, isolating potential leaders and organisers of the rally, undermining their credibility or discrediting them ("Why are all arrested except Statkevich?").
Ninth, isolating those who, although not directly relate to the opposition, are regarded as unreliable and possessing special knowledge and skills which could be dangerous for the authorities.
Finally, seizing opponents’ electronic information resources or blocking them.
The Belarusian authorities have demonstrated a significant part of the internal security arsenal. These strategies could also be used to counteract the external threat in the hybrid war. Very likely, the observed wave of repression could be due not only to the protests of March and February, but also could be regarded as training for implementing measures to ensure internal security. This could imply that the Belarusian authorities are preparing for a much worse scenario than the protests against Decree No 3.
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.