Authorities continue showing “guts” to the West
Last week, the number of Belarusian citizens, who have been denied permission to travel abroad increased. On March 17 Mr. Kovalev, one of the convicts in the case of the terrorist attack in the Minsk metro was executed.
The increased number of individuals, who are banned from leaving Belarus, is a continuation of the Belarusian authorities’ response to the EU visa “black list” and a confirmation of their unwillingness to make concessions. The Belarusian “ban” list has not yet been disclosed and no governmental agency has yet assumed responsibility for it, on the contrary, officials deny its existence.
To date, empirically collected data suggests that this list includes leaders of opposition parties (United Civic Party, “Fair World” party) and non-governmental organizations and campaigns (Belarusian Association of Journalists, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, “For Fair Elections” campaign), as well as journalists of the independent media.
It is likely that president Lukashenko and his surrounding circles thereby challenge the EU and simultaneously take a preemptive measure against potential extension of visa ban list or introduction of economic sanctions on the eve of a meeting of EU Council on 22-23 March. Such a response is quite traditional of the Belarusian authorities, who perceive foreign policy through a narrow agonal optics of “attack – counter-attack”.
At the same time the authorities broadcast signals of their readiness to release political prisoners. In particular, Mr. Statkevich for the first time in the past seven months of imprisonment was allowed to phone home. There are reports the consideration of Mr. Sannikov’s appeal is delayed.
The death sentence could not be unambiguously interpreted as a proof that Minsk is not interested in a dialogue with the Council of Europe on the issue of a moratorium on the death penalty. On the contrary, after rejecting a pardon within a fundamentally important for the authorities case and the execution that followed, Minsk could get back to a discussion of a moratorium on the death penalty. The paradoxical logic of the regime suggests, after drawing a line under the terrorist attack case it has been “liberated” to continue a dialogue on the issue of the death penalty.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.