Opposition supports authorities in Russian air base deployment issue
On July 15th, the Belarusian Popular Front party has applied to the Minsk City Executive Committee to hold a picket against the Russian air base deployment in Belarus.
The opposition’s protest against Russian air base is in line with the country leadership’s position, - the latter needs a lever to put pressure on the Kremlin. The chosen protest form is safe for both, the opposition and the authorities.
The situation around the Russian air base deployment is characterized by the fact that Russia is the only news-maker about the issue and seems to act autonomously. In particular, the latest information - about choosing Lida airport as the most desired location for the air base – was disseminated by Russian Air Force Commander Viktor Bondarev.
Simultaneously, Belarus officials remain silent: the most recent official statement was made by Lukashenko, who said back in April 2013 that the talks were about aircraft supplies for the Belarusian Army needs, not about the air base deployment.
Chances are high that bilateral negotiations about the issue will be dragged on, while the ruling group seeks support from the outside. Therefore, the authorities’ and the Belarusian opposition nationalist wing’s positions objectively coincide. In particular, the BPF is known for its anti-Russian platform.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that the BPF proposes to hold a picket in the front of the Russian Embassy and not in the front of a Belarusian governmental building (eg, Presidential Administration or Defense Ministry). It is also essential that the BPF waited for nearly three-month to break out with its picket initiative (the ‘plans’ were announced in April).
Very likely, the government will reject BPF’s picket initiative, since it is not interested in the street protests’ revitalization in the capital and even more so – in front of the Russian Embassy. In turn, the three-month pause sustained by the opposition implies that they are not ready to initiate protest actions independently with a few exceptions.
For instance, on July 4th, a new member of the United Civil Party Nikolai Gladyshev held a single-person 1.5-hour picket in Mogilev against the Russian air base deployment, which resulted in his detention by the police. The UCP Mogilev Branch Office head said, that the picket was Gladyshev’s ‘own initiative’ and was not coordinated with the party HQs.
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.