Kremlin attempts to devalue Minsk efforts in demonstrating military sovereignty to NATO
Amid enhanced contacts between Minsk and western capitals, the visit of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to Minsk has demonstrated the inevitably close military cooperation between Belarus and Russia in response to the increased NATO presence in the Baltic States and Poland. Shoigu’s statements have devalued the Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s attempts in promoting Minsk’s neutrality and autonomy in the foreign and military policy, its non-hostile attitude towards NATO and the desire to step up cooperation with NATO. Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities will continue attempts to disassociate themselves from the aggressive anti-NATO rhetoric, the confrontation with Western capitals, and will attempt to avoid being involved in the Russian containment policy targeting the North Atlantic alliance.
Last week, Minsk hosted a meeting of the joint board of the Russian and Belarusian Defence Ministries with the participation of Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
Strengthening of the Belarusian defence potential is against the Kremlin’s interests, it would rather expand the Russian military presence in Belarus. President Lukashenka has repeatedly appealed to the Russian authorities with a request to provide new military equipment for the Belarusian air force, the Kremlin, however, supplied only obsolete weapons, albeit on preferential terms (for example, S-300SP). The Kremlin's reluctance to arm Minsk with modern technology has prompted the Belarusian government to creating the MLRS Polonaise in cooperation with China.
The Belarusian authorities are resisting the Kremlin’s pressure to place Russian military bases in Belarus, albeit they preserve close military cooperation with Russia. The Belarusian authorities are likely to include the MLRS Polonaise in the Union State common defence system, which the Kremlin is aiming to use in the deterrence policy against the North Atlantic alliance. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has strengthened the military presence at the Belarusian border and aims to create additional divisions in the Russian Western Military District, which could imply the mutual distrust between the allies.
Unlike the Kremlin, Minsk aims to tone down the NATO rhetoric and has emphasised that the modernisation of the Belarusian air defence was not in response to NATO’s progress towards Belarusian borders. The Belarusian authorities seek to consolidate the normalisation trend in relations with the United States and the European Union established after the 2015 presidential election.
On the one hand, Minsk would like to disassociate from the military standout between the Kremlin and NATO, but on the other hand, the Belarusian authorities would be promoted to step up military coordination with Moscow.
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.