Minsk seeks to avoid sensitive issues in a dialogue with the West. The Belarusian authorities aim to shield domestic political problems with security issues, which they find more acceptable and simultaneously, which the West regards as more important at this stage.
On September 14th, the command and staff exercises of the army and other security agencies started in Belarus. According to the action plan, the security forces should demonstrate their ability to respond to different crisis situations without the support from the Post-soviet collective security mechanisms: bilateral with Russia and multilateral within the CSTO framework.
These command-and-staff exercises are remarkable due to how they were organised. While there were no dramatic changes in the coverage for domestic audiences, changes were essential for external audiences. For instance, the Defence Ministry organised a briefing for the military and diplomatic corps represented in Belarus, which was held by the NATO standards for the first time. The Briefing was led by Major General Oleg Voinov, head of the Department for International Military Cooperation of the Defence Ministry and Assistant Defence Minister on International Military Cooperation. He provided comprehensive information about the purpose, geography and the costs of the command-and-staff exercise, and about the forces involved in it.
The briefing was meant to demonstrate how important it was for Minsk to establish confidence-building measures in the security field with the countries of the region. Previously, the Defence Ministry provided rather scarce information about the exercises to the diplomatic corps, eg issued press releases compiled based on reports from news agencies. In addition, briefings were held by officers, whose position and rank did not correspond to the significance of the event. NATO regarded such behaviour as hostile.
Presumably, Minsk will continue to avoid raising domestic political issues in the dialogue with the West, including by focusing on security issues (military, border, preventing illegal migration, etc.). The Belarusian leadership is likely to attempt to take advantage of the regional security system crisis in order to continue improving relations with the West. In addition, Belarus will continue to work on her image vis-à-vis external partners of a predictable and independent partner in the security field, in order to bust a common ‘myth’ in the west that Belarus is fully dependent on the Kremlin in this regard.