Belarus reacts positively to potential Ukraine Association Treaty with EU

April 22, 2016 18:40

Border demarcation will help strengthen friendly relations between Belarus and Ukraine, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said at the ceremony to unveil the first border marker on the Belarus-Ukraine border in Dobrush District on November 13th.

Ukraine’s integration with the European Union is a sensitive issue in Russo-Belarusian relations. Although political relations between Belarus and Ukraine lag behind the two countries’ economic cooperation, Belarusian leaders have made some statements and steps which show support for the Ukraine-EU integration. And if Ukraine signs the Association Agreement, president Lukashenko anticipates gaining greater importance in relations with the Kremlin.

Belarus’ relations with Ukraine often depend on its own relations with Russia or Europe. Political relations between Belarus and Ukraine intensify when Belarus-EU relations improve, e.g. in 2008-2010. However, deterioration of Belarus-EU relations results in political cooperation being suspended between Belarus and Ukraine.

Ukraine’s intention to sign the Association Agreement with the EU caused a sharp reaction from the Kremlin. However, this has not complicated political cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine. Quite the opposite, Belarus has made some moves which indicate its support for Ukraine-EU integration. Lukashenko said: “frankly speaking, I see no problems in this step towards cooperation with the EU”. In addition, Prime Minister Myasnikovich also supported the Ukrainian leadership during a meeting with Ukrainian Government Head Azarov: “In this situation, Belarus by no means should lose its trade with Ukraine, and perhaps even find some advantages. That is a very large market”.

In addition, Belarus has made concessions to Ukraine on problematic issues which existed for over a decade. For a long time, Belarus delayed the ratification of the Treaty on the State Border between Ukraine and Belarus (signed in 1997), finally ratifying it in 2010. However, Lukashenko expected some favours from Ukraine: “We have ratified the border issue therefore we should take measures that will show the true intentions of Ukraine and Belarus”. But when Belarus-EU relations deteriorated after the 2010 presidential campaign, Belarus-Ukrainian relations stalled for a long time. In 2013, amid worsened Russo-Ukrainian relations, Belarus finally decided to exchange ratification instruments of the Treaty on the State Border with Ukraine.

Belarus regards Ukraine-EU integration as an additional opportunity to enhance its importance vis-à-vis the Kremlin. Belarus believes that it stands fewer chances of greater benefits from Russia if the EU treaty with Ukraine is not signed.

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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.