Belarus’ chair in CSTO unlikely to lead to breakthrough
At the CSTO summit in Yerevan, Belarus was inaugurated as the CSTO chair. Before the summit, Alexander Lukashenka talked about the intention to develop the organisation and to propel it to the next level. Apparently, the Belarusian president has inflated expectations. The Belarusian chairmanship in the CSTO is unlikely to produce significant results and is unlikely to differ from chairs in other post-soviet organisations due to the iconic nature of such chairmanship.
The CSTO, similar to other post-Soviet integration projects, is basing on the Russian patronage. Conventionally, Russia’s ‘junior partners’ aim to achieve maximum benefits from participation in Russia-led associations without actually committing.
It is worth noting that Russia bears 95-96% of the defence costs of the CSTO member-states. Since military potential of the CSTO member states is incomparable, Russia is the main driver of the organisation. However, whether her leadership is effective is a good question. Over the past five years, Russia has repeatedly attempted to initiate control over military capacity of other participating states and to re-equip the CSTO Rapid Reaction Collective Forces to counteract NATO. However, her initiatives were never implemented. Moreover, Russia did not even receive the moral support when a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Russian bomber during the Syrian campaign. In addition, Armenia was left alone during the recent deterioration in Nagorno-Karabakh.
That said, Belarus is unlikely to give an impetus to the CSTO development, provided, that even Russian is unable to ensure solidarity among the CSTO members. Moreover, the CSTO per se is of no interest for the Belarusian authorities. Belarus’ membership in the Organization is primarily a demonstration of the political loyalty to the Kremlin in exchange for economic benefits. Theoretically, Russia and Belarus could resolve all issues of mutual interest within the framework of bilateral cooperation in the defence field. The Belarusian chairmanship in the CSTO is iconic and has a mere propaganda value. Minsk is likely to put forward ambitious initiatives within the CSTO, it being understood that they have a negligible chance to be implemented.
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.