Authorities did not fall for information provocation
On February 4th, Russia’s Media Group RBC Ukrainian Branch Office, referring to a source in the Belarusian Presidential Administration, reported that Belarus-born Russian businessman Dmitry Mazepin could be appointed Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus in charge of the Belarusian-Russian relations.
Misinformation about Russian businessman Mazepin plans to become Belarus’ Vice Premier imply, that talks about conditions for a new Russian loan for Belarus are ongoing. The disinformation meant to disrupt the talks, but the Belarusian authorities showed restraint and did not fall for the provocation.
This news does not correspond to the reality. The news piece was published on “RBC-Ukraine” website and was removed within a few hours, a disclaimer by Mazepin’s company URALCHIM followed. Presidential Administration refused to comment the news. Notably, the provocation - intentionally or not – coincided with the personnel shifts in the President Lukashenko’s press service: on February 5th PA former spokesman Legki was departing for his new job in the Belarus’ Embassy in Russia.
Nevertheless, the nature of the misinformation implies that Russo-Belarusian negotiations about circa USD 3 billion loan are ongoing. According to RBC journalists, Belarus needs a concessional loan to pay for Russian energy. This could be true, in December 2012 Lukashenko publicly said that he appealed to the Russian leadership for a USD 2 billion loan.
The information provocation indicates that certain elite group in Russia (and possibly in Belarus) is not interested in additional lending to Belarus on the discussed terms and requests their revision. In particular, reports about alleged granting of Belarusian citizenship to Mazepin and his appointment as Deputy Prime Minister for Belarusian-Russian relations look absurd and exaggerate Russia’s abilities to influence the situation in Belarus.
Belarus’ restrained public reaction to this news demonstrates that Belarus intends to continue negotiations with Russian partners. If so, in the near future the political conflict with the EU and the U.S. will remain frozen, unless Minsk receives tangible guarantees of commensurate support from the IMF.
It is also possible that the misinformation about the exaggerated ‘Russian threat’ meant to push foreign counterparts to speed up negotiation processes and to name their price.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.