President sided with Defence Ministry in the air defence system scandal
President Lukashenko chose the least costly way to respond to the penetration by a foreign aircraft in the Belarusian airspace. Rewarding the guilty and silencing the incident is the least threatening reaction for the governments’ authority.
On July 16th, President Lukashenko awarded a number of commanders of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defense with “For Distinguished Service” medals.
As anticipated, the Belarusian leadership has chosen the least costly way to respond to a July 4th incident, when Belarusian airspace was penetrated by a sport aircraft from Lithuania scattering teddy bears over two Belarusian cities, beating Belarusian air defense radars.
A harsh ‘traditional’ response to this provocation (acknowledgement and punishment) is as costly for the authorities as a ‘modernization’ one (re-equip air defense system with more modern equipment or launching a counter-PR-campaign in the international information space).
Therefore, the authorities selected the least costly for the budget and the image response (in their understanding): the incident was completely ignored by the state media and government agencies. At the same time, independent journalists received an unambiguous signal that coverage of this topic could entail tough sanctions (Mr. Suriapin, a photographer, who posted a photo on his website of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane, was arrested by the KGB).
The Belarusian authorities believe that rewarding the guilty above all would strengthen their internal power (top ranking officials over lower ranking) and shift the blame for what happened from the Belarusian military to “external forces”. This behavior is traditional for President Lukashenko and is a variation on his well-known populism.
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.