Minsk’s attempt to benefit from the conflict between Moscow and Washington failed
On 21 November an anonymous source in the military and diplomatic circles of Russia told the news agency “Interfax” that Russia could place “Iskander” missiles in Belarus.
Sudden deterioration of the relations between Russia and the USA over placement of missiles in Eastern Europe, culminating with the statement of Russian President Medvedev on 23 November about a potential withdrawal of Russia from the treaty on the reduction of offensive weapons, created a certain political effect in Minsk, i.e. it resulted in a harsh sentence to human rights defender Bialiatski.
The most logical explanation of such a harsh sentence would be the desire of Belarus to demonstrate loyalty to Russia in its conflict with the United States. On the following day, 25 November, President Alexander Lukashenko and Russian leaders discussed a number of issues in Moscow inter alia, military cooperation within the Union State of Belarus and Russia.
While pronouncing harsh verdict to Bialiatski the Belarusian authorities tried to earn benefits from the deteriorating relations between Russia and U.S. However the result of the Belarusian-Russian negotiations on November 25 in Moscow shows that the attempt was rather a failure than a gain for Belarus.
However, the lack of explicit details and results of these talks on military co-operation makes us doubt that Belarus managed to “sell” well its demonstrative break of the relations with the West (which have been complicated anyway). Belarus acted at its own risk, bearing in mind that on 23 November a Russian envoy to NATO Dmitry Rogozin called the plans to deploy missiles “Iskander” in Belarus a “fiction”.
Therefore, the harsh sentence to Bialiatski has not yet opened any new political or economic opportunities for Belarus – rather the other way around – it has significantly narrowed the space for political maneuver.
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.