President Putin’s visit to Minsk boosts pro-Russian sentiments in Belarusian society
President Putin’s visit to Minsk bolstered pro-Russian sentiments in Belarus and added loyalty to the Kremlin’s integration project – the Eurasian Economic Union. Officials in Minsk have been prompted to adjust their rhetoric regarding the Kremlin’s foreign policy, thus sending confusing signals to Belarusian society. The Belarusian government seeks to balance out Russian influence in Belarus by stepping up the rhetoric about the need to develop an independent and sovereign state.
President Vladimir Putin visited Minsk, where alongside President Lukashenko he took part in the Independence Day celebrations – the 70th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazis.
President Vladimir Putin flew to Minsk to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation from the Nazis, but he did not stay for the celebrations and the parade. Official Minsk was prompted to reaffirm its loyalty to the Kremlin, since the latter sought to show off its allies amid tensions in relations with Ukraine and the West.
The Independence Day parade in Belarus was co-organised with the Russians, which made many Belarusians upset in the view of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and fears of Russia’s greater influence inside Belarus. According to the most recent poll by IISEPS, the majority of Belarusians support the Kremlin’s foreign policy and reproduce Russian propaganda myths against Ukraine. The Belarusian government cannot but be concerned about the pro-Russian sentiments therefore it puts more emphasis on the value of Belarus’ independence and sovereignty in public statements.
Ahead of President Putin’s visit, President Lukashenko said: “we are intimidated with hordes coming from the East and now we are intimidated by the East with hordes coming from the West to dismember, crush and tear us to pieces. As President, I shall keep this in mind and shall not shake off of the options, even the most absurd ones”. The president also underscored that “today Belarus is free and independent”.
Meanwhile, President Lukashenko’s dress code during the celebrations was a tie with orange-and-black stripes, reminiscent of the St. George’s Ribbon, which was used by the Russian propaganda as a symbol of the "Russian world" and Russian revival. Most likely, the president was prompted to prettify his rigid statements about the potential threat from the East with such a visual demonstration. It is worth noting that during previous Victory Day celebrations, the Belarusian authorities imposed a de facto ban on the use of St. George’s Ribbons.
At the meeting with his Russian counterpart, President Lukashenko as always assured him that "Belarus and Russia will always be together”. However, after Putin’s departure Lukashenko once again expressed concerns about the threat to national security: “Today we see the decline in the efficiency of the international security system, established after the war. New threats have occurred. The post-war borders are revised and redrawn. A tendency of global instability is present”.
Official Minsk is strengthening rhetoric about the value of Belarus’ independence and sovereignty. However, while adopting some theses of the Belarusian opposition, the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to reconsider relations with their opponents.
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.