Azerbaijan and Belarus may help each other to survive

December 05, 2016 8:58

Due to mutual interests, in the near future, Belarus and Azerbaijan may confirm being in the de facto union, including in the military and political area.

Lukashenka's visit to Baku on November 28th-29th, 2016, confirmed the strategic partnership between Belarus and Azerbaijan based on the personal relationship between the leaders of the two states.

Baku is aiming to respond adequately to the deployment of the Iskander, Russian tactical missile complex, in Armenia. As an option, the Azerbaijani army may adopt heavy MLRS, such as the Belarusian Polonaise.

Minsk’s interest is to sign a long-term agreement on Azeri oil supply to Belarus. Amid the fight between oil producers for preserving their market share, penetration on the Belarusian (and later European) market could be of considerable interest to Azerbaijan. In addition, Minsk will gain an additional argument in negotiations with the EU, only this time not as a peacekeeper, but as an oil hub.

Azerbaijan is Turkey’s closest military and political ally and has a lobbying potential in Ankara. The Belarusian authorities regard Turkish foreign policy ambitions as a potential mechanism for balancing Russia in Eastern Europe and South Caucasus. In addition, Belarus is interested in a comprehensive cooperation with Ankara and Baku’s assistance may prove to be very handy.

In the near future, Belarus-Azeri cooperation may gain momentum. The ruling regimes in both countries are concerned about external security threats and because of distrust of the West, are interested to engage new external players in the regional context. However, the question remains, what would be Russia's response to such a game by Minsk and Baku? As regards Azerbaijan, the Kremlin has a free hand: Azerbaijan is not a member in the Russia-led integration associations, it is de facto in a state of war with Russia’s ally, Armenia, it is a rival on the oil market, and has no clear external security guarantees. Overall, potential cooperation between Minsk and Baku could only materialise if Russia turns the blind eye to it.

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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.