Belarus is trying to capitalize on her transit status in the West
On March 28th, Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey met with Lithuania’s Deputy Foreign Minister Krivas. Belarusian-Lithuanian ministerial consultations resulted in a number of agreements, inter alia, in transportation field.
An important economic incentive stimulating Minsk-Vilnius interactions is the Belarus’ potential participation in the NATO cargo troops withdrawal project in Afghanistan. There is nt public information about the agreements’ content, which could mean that bargaining is still in progress.
Transit cargo shipping was one of the topics discussed during the Belarusian-Lithuanian consultations, and most likely it related to the most topical regional logistics project for 2013-2014 – NATO cargo transportation from Afghanistan within the Northern Distribution Network.
In Eastern Europe the NDN logistics network uses three Baltic ports: Riga, Tallinn and Klaipeda. Among them, only Klaipeda port is ice-free. Therefore, in Lithuania’s views Belarusian railway network looks very profitable, especially if unofficial information about NATO’s refusal to use Uliyanovsk airport as a transit point is confirmed.
Belarus is also interested in participating in the profitable logistics projects. In January President Lukashenko met with American Institute Jamestown Foundation experts, who are known for their efforts in promoting NDN project in Eastern Europe. Belarusian-Lithuanian ministerial consultations’ agenda also covered preparations for the 9th Lithuanian-Belarusian economic forum to be held in Klaipeda.
Nevertheless, there is no official information about the outcomes of these consultations, implying that the parties have not reached agreements and will continue negotiations. In particular, it is likely that Belarus has included in its political negotiations package a demand to lift visa and economic sanctions against Belarusian citizens. It is known that Lithuania reiterated the condition for the normalization of relations with Belarus, i.e. the release and rehabilitation of political prisoners.
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.