Oppositions reaction to the news about possible deployment of Russian air base in Belarus
On April 23rd, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in Minsk that by 2015 Russian airbase will be deployed to Belarus.
Nationalists, conservatives and a number of Belarus’ social movements have strongly opposed the idea, referring to the Belarus’ sovereignty. Liberal and left-wing parties take restrained and constructive stand. At the same time, the opposition has generally refrained from making collective statements in this regard.
The statement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu received a strong response from the Belarus’ political opposition. In particular, the Organizing Committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party leader, Vital Rymashevski, said that such plans were in violation of the neutrality principle declared in the Belarus’ Constitution. “European Belarus” campaign leader, Andrei Sannikov, said that such plans would strengthen the dictatorship and called upon the EU not to resume cooperation with the Belarusian authorities.
The opposition “trio” members were almost in unison. BPF leadership announced that the party would protest against the deployment using all available non-violent means. “For Freedom” movement also strongly opposed the plans, referring to the constitutional principle of neutrality. “Tell the Truth” movement stated that it was Russia that needed the airbase, not Belarus and that such project could have economic benefits for the Belarusian budget.
Liberal and left-wing parties’ reactions to the Shoigu statement were less explicit. United Civil Party member and former Belarus’ Defense Minister Kozlovski praised Lukashenko’s statement on April 26th about the potential supply of Russian fighter jets and S-300 missiles for the Belarusian army as strengthening Belarus’ defense capacities.
In turn, the Liberal Democratic Party leadership urged to have a constructive approach and to hold parliamentary hearings. Representatives of the newly formed Leftist Platform refrained from comment.
Thus, the majority of political actors took advantage of the situation to outline their positions clearly. Regardless of the existence of semi-formal opposition coalitions (‘Trio’, Leftist Platform) there were no joint statements made. The individual character of the statements made by the opposition leaders are the effects of the centrifugal trends in the Belarusian opposition, which have intensified during the parliamentary election campaign in 2012.
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.