West-2017 Russo-Belarussian military drill causes controversy in Belarusian society
The Russo-Belarusian military drill and its scenario, which envisaged a separatist area in Belarus have prompted a heated discussion in civil society about national unity. The Belarusian leadership has failed in imposing its vision on the development of Belarusian society and lost the monopoly in the media sphere, while alternative political projects have gained in popularity. The fact that the Belarusian authorities keep alternative political views exclusively outside the political system, has increased the risks of external influences or interference in domestic political processes with possible destabilisation.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry has condemned Russophobia and "pseudo-imperial ambitions" of radicals from Russia.
Politically engaged part of Belarusian society has expressed concerns about the scenario of the West-2017 military drill, which envisaged a separatist area in the north-west of Belarus with ethno-confessional diversity and protest potential. Separatist moods and the separation of hypothetical "Weishnoria" from Belarus, presented in a humorous form on the Internet, point to a serious latent split in the power/opposition (in a broad sense), and lower the threshold of perception and fears of possible conflicts in Belarusian society.
That said, Belarusian publicists with a pro-Kremlin stance have attempted to shift the focus of public discussion from foreign (Russian) troops presence in Belarus to the domestic ideological split in Belarusian society.
Political emigration has attempted to step up its role in determining the domestic agenda, regain its influence in Western capitals and international organisations (NATO, the UN Security Council, etc) and draw additional attention to the joint Russo-Belarusian exercise. The diaspora actions have been at odds with the Foreign Ministry’s attempts to form a new peacekeeping image for Minsk to disassociate it from the Kremlin's aggressive foreign policy.
Overall, the Belarusian authorities seem to have lost the lead in the information support of the West-2017 Belarusian-Russian military exercise, which has enhanced tension in Belarusian society.
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.