Violation of Belarusian airspace strengthens suspicions against the authorities
The way the Belarusian authorities chose to respond to the incident with violation Belarusian airspace only reinforces suspicions against them. Explanations given by the authorities, in the worst case scenario, allow for assumptions there are shadow cargo transportation schemes at the Belarusian border.
On July 26th, at a meeting with representatives of the State Border Committee and the Ministry of Defense, President Lukashenko admitted that on July 4th the Belarusian airspace has been violated by a light-plane and demanded to punish the perpetrators.
President’s reference to the incident after three weeks implies its high importance. Despite the careful concealment by the government agencies, the incident couldn’t longer be ignored. It is likely that this issue was raised in one way or another during the Minsk visit of a Russian delegation headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on July 18th.
Statements made by President imply that in certain cases, a foreign aircraft can cross the Belarusian border without being detected by the air defense system, but by other means (eg, visually). Therefore the absence of the official response regarding the incident during 3 weeks could be attributed to the reluctance to recognize this fact, and not to the air defense system vulnerability.
In particular, on July 11th, Air Force and Air Defense Commander Mr. Pahmelkin said that the Belarusian air defense system has not confirmed a violation of the airspace by an unidentified aircraft. In turn, on July 26th, President Lukashenko said that the plane was timely detected, but those responsible have not stopped it.
Thus, putting two and two together, one may assume that sometimes there are ‘ad hoc’ or ‘manual’ border crossings, without the involvement of the air defense system, which is formally part of the joint Russo-Belarusian air defense system. Consequently, this conclusion leads to other, more serious questions: how often this ‘mode’ is used and what for?
Despite the lack of evidence of Belarusian authorities’ participation in shadow turnover schemes, the way they chose to respond to July 4th provocation only strengthens such suspicions. Moreover, the likely involvement of Belarus in gray re-exports of Russian oil masked as solvents in order to avoid customs duties make the situation even more complicated and damages authorities’ image.
For instance, on July 26th, an anonymous source in the Russian Energy said that Russia may introduce duties on solvents exports outside the Customs Union, or even restrict oil deliveries to Belarus. This could be a hoax, but the absence of a coherent response by Belarus to the smuggling accusations is an indirect indication of their validity.
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.