Lukashenka concerned about his image in Europe

August 17, 2016 10:21
Voice of America

Alexander Lukashenka is very sensitive about shortcomings in border guards’ activities. On the one hand, this is due to the fact, that he briefly served in the Soviet KGB’s Border Troops. Both his eldest sons served in the border troops, too. On the other, border security is a very important issue for the Belarusian-European dialogue. As well, it is one of the few Minsk’s potential trump cards.

Following the audit at the State Border Committee held by the Security Council, Lukashenka organised a debriefing. Officials did not report exactly what shortcomings in the work of the border agency had caused the president’s discontent. However, during the debriefing they emphasised that Belarus was a transit country. That said, ensuring economic security is border guards’ one of the most important tasks.

This suggests that at least one of the discussion issues at the debriefing was smuggling from Belarus to the EU. Previously, European countries accused Belarus of being a major source (or a transit country) of contraband cigarettes. Apparently, there were discrepancies between the smuggling volumes to the EU unravelled by the Belarusian border guards, and those identified by their EU colleagues on the other side of the border, which put efficiency of the Belarusian border guards in question.

Minsk is very interested in normalising relations with the EU. Amid immutability of the economic and political system in Belarus and the lack of reforms, security issues, (including border security) are virtually the only "commodity", which the Belarusian authorities may attempt "selling" to Europe in exchange for political and financial support. That said, Lukashenka regards the shortcomings in the work of the Belarusian border guards, which come to Europe’s notice, as a potential obstacle in improving relations between Belarus and the EU. The Belarusian authorities are likely to step up measures to improve border control and enhance control over the border agency by the security services. If necessary, Lukashenka may reshuffle the State Border Control Committee’s staff.

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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.