Belarusian authorities aspire that Minsk becomes negotiating platform on security issues
Minsk has put geopolitical differences in the region in the spotlight and is attempting to renew and учеутв its image as a ‘security donor’ in the eyes of Western capitals. The Belarusian leadership consistently promotes Minsk as an international negotiating platform between East and West. Very likely, Belarusian diplomats are considering the possibility of Minsk’s more active involvement in the settlement of the Syrian crisis.
Last week, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Kravchenko was on a working visit to the US, where he met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bridget Brink, as well as with the leadership of the Bureau for Human Rights, Democracy and Labour.
The visit of the Deputy Head of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to Washington aimed to remove the possible tension in bilateral relations in connection with West-2017, a large-scale Russo-Belarusian military exercise. During his visit to the US, Deputy Foreign Minister Kravchenko participated in the discussion "Between East and West: Belarus at the Crossroads" organized by the Atlantic Council analytical centre. Public presentation by Belarusian diplomats along with American media and experts was an unusual move and was used by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry as an additional communication channel in order to step up trust levels between the states. The Belarusian authorities have attempted to use the event to mitigate criticism against Belarus with regard to democracy and demonstrate readiness for a dialogue on human rights issues.
Belarusian diplomacy has exhausted the negotiating capacity to resolve the conflict in the east of Ukraine and started searching for new opportunities to update and extend its international image as a security donor. Apparently, Minsk counts on the fatigue of Western capitals and the Kremlin from mutual confrontation, as well as on their readiness to contacts amid renewed corps of officials in the US and the EU.
The Belarusian authorities have tested the possibility of Minsk’s involvement in the settlement of the conflict in Syria in the Belarusian public space. Over the past month, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has twice appeared in Belarusian state media with an address to the Belarusian people. Perhaps, Minsk anticipates a gradual de-escalation of the armed conflict in Syria in the short or medium term. In addition, the Belarusian leadership is likely to be considering the possibility of assisting the Kremlin in organising the "Minsk process" on Syria in the hope for mutually beneficial strengthening of positions on the international level.
Overall, the Belarusian authorities hope to shift the EU and US focus from the democratisation and human rights issues to Belarus’ greater involvement in the international dialogue on armed conflicts resolution and combating international terrorism, cooperation and assistance on security issues.
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.