Official Minsk gives in its influence to Moscow in the Belarusian Orthodox Church
Official Minsk has to yield to the pressure of Moscow and accept the Russian appointee to the post of the Patriarchal Exarch of Belarus in exchange for short-term economic benefits. Tendencies to develop the Belarusian Exarchate independently of the Russian Patriarchate are coming to a halt. Following short-term benefits, the Belarusian authorities keep on losing their influence in religious, military, economic and other areas of life in favour of Russia in the long run.
On December 25, the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) appointed Pavel (Georgy Ponomarev), the Metropolitan of Ryazan and Mikhailov, the Patriarchal Exarch of all Belarus.
Metropolitan Filaret headed the Belarusian Orthodox Church (BOC) since 1978 and the Belarusian Exarchate as of today was practically established by him. Under Filaret, the Belarusian Exarchate opened 10 dioceses, the number of parishes increased significantly, new monasteries and theological schools were established. Despite limited autonomy within the Moscow Patriarchate, the Belarusian Orthodox Church reached considerable independence in terms of internal development in the days of Filaret.
The formal plea for resignation ‘in connection with the 75th birthday’, as required by the statutes of the ROC, was filed by Metropolitan Filaret back in 2010. Practically unable to lead the BOC for health reasons, Filaret did not repeat his plea for resignation, which would have indicated the seriousness of his intentions. Still, almost four years later the Synod of the ROC suddenly complied with the request of Filaret and appointed its protégé as the head of the Belarusian Exarchate.
This being said, in his rhetoric, president A. Lukashenko tries to emphasize his independence in decision-making as regards the development of the Orthodox Church in Belarus. And he wanted to see his protégé at this post. The head of the state strongly patronized Archpriest Feodor Povny who was considered to be the most likely candidate for the post of the leader of the BOC.
It is noteworthy that president A. Lukashenko has repeatedly made statements about the need to reform the BOC thus increasing the threat of
distancing from the Moscow Patriarchate. In 2013 president A. Lukashenko refused to travel
to Kiev to celebrate the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Kievan Rus. During the first visit of Patriarch Kirill to Minsk in 2009 the head of the state ostentatiously did not come to hear the speech of the head of the ROC in the Palace of the Republic.
It is noteworthy that the appointment of Metropolitan Pavel as the head of the BOC took place on the same day when Russian President V. Putin decided to provide Belarus with a loan of USD 2 bn. Concurrently, the new metropolitan Pavel is notorious for his harsh anti-Western statements, as he is the supporter of the unity of ‘the Russian world’. Patriarch Kirill, while bidding farewell to the new head of the BOC, defined the primary mission of the newly elected metropolitan of the BOC as that of ‘keeping the unity of historical Russia’.
The decision to appoint a non-Belarusian citizen as the metropolitan of the BOC induced an extremely negative reaction on behalf of Belarusian citizens. One can note certain consolidation of opinion among the Belarusian society - regardless of political views - that would like to see a native of Belarus as the head of the BOC.
Thus, alongside the weakening of the Belarusian state, the Russian influence is going to aggravate in all areas of life of the Belarusian society. The growing dependence on external financing augments pressure from Moscow, while resources and capabilities of official Minsk to counter it are nearly fully depleted.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.