To be a military ally of Russia and simultaneously improve relations with NATO is not an easy task, participants of the conference NATO-Belarus: Better Awareness for Confidence and Stability believe.
But still, Belarus is trying to kill the two birds. Military tension is growing in the region, and Minsk is building up a dialogue with the West in order to avoid an armed conflict.
“After Russia’s aggression upon Ukraine, the security situation in Europe changed. When confrontation arose between Russia and NATO, Belarus found itself in the geographical centre of the conflict. In this context, it is vital we created as many communication channels among politicians, military, experts and civil society as possible, ” Joerg Forbrig, a representative of the Marshall Fund (USA), said.
Over the past three years, the Belarusian Defense Ministry has established contacts with NATO headquarters, as well as with military departments of the Baltic States and Turkey. Minsk is more actively cooperating with the Alliance than Moscow, the experts stressed. It is easy to compare, because the relationship between Moscow and NATO is now frozen.
“A NATO delegation visited Minsk in the run-up to the Zapad-2017 military exercise. There is an exchange of visits at the level of defense ministers – first of all, I mean Latvia’s minister. Earlier Moscow could boast of a higher level of relations with NATO. In particular, NATO had its information centre in Moscow. But after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the Crimean ‘blitzkrieg’ these relations deteriorated,” Belarusian political observer Raman Yakauleuski said.
The Belarusian leadership is trying not to trumpet the warming of its relations with NATO. Moscow is definitely aware of the contacts between Minsk and Brussels. However, any mention of its closest ally cooperation with the West discredits the Kremlin in the eyes of Russians.
“Russia and Belarus have many fields of cooperation – economy, energy, foreign policy, there is theUnion State. But military sector is the most prestigious and sensitive issue for Moscow. Russia will not forgive the lack of loyalty in this field, ” Kamil Kłysiński from the Polish Centre for Eastern Studies warns.
According to the experts, the exchange of information between Belarus and NATO will improve in the coming years, there will be more visits of journalists and high-ranking officers, and the Belarusian military will more often take part in NATO training programs. However, neither Minsk nor NATO count on anything more.
If a NATO information centre opened in Minsk, it would become the most significant success in Alliance- Belarus relations. However, even in this case, Belarus will go as far as the Kremlin will allow it.
The conference was held on February, 15 in Warsaw.
Alyaksandr Papko, belsat.eu