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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.