Lukashenko made a number of foreign visits

April 22, 2016 18:27

On March 18th – 21st, President Lukashenko made official visits to Indonesia and Singapore. On March 22nd he visited the United Arab Emirates.

Lukashenko’s extended tour around South-East Asia and the Middle East is a forced reaction to the unfavorable outcome in the Russo-Belarusian negotiations. Belarus seeks to strengthen its foreign policy “alibi” by demonstrating to Russia other buyers’ interest in Belarusian assets.

The logic behind Lukashenko’s visit to Indonesia and Singapore coincides with the logic of the Serbian President Nikolic’s “spontaneous” visit to Minsk on March 12th – 13th. The Belarusian president aims at expanding the narrowed range of his international contacts. The unfavourable outcome of the talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 15th in St. Petersburg, forced Lukashenko to continue strengthening his foreign policy “alibi” in negotiations with the Kremlin.

Lukashenko decided to visit remote countries, rather than to use the opportunity to benefit from the Foreign Ministry’s efforts regarding the resumption of a dialogue with the Belarus’ nearest neighbor - the EU. This behavior should be regarded as a demonstration of the apparent sovereignity of Belarus’ foreign policy.

Belarus’ trade with Indonesia (and Serbia) is low - USD 200 million, and with Singapore is even less - about USD 27 million. Lukashenko’s proposal to Indonesian President Yudhoyono to use Belarus as a trading "gateway" to the Customs Union should also be regarded as a rhetorical move, a fairly typical PR-campaign by the Belarusian authorities. Due to Russia’s tough stance, such offers as a rule do not develop successfully.

Finally, the visit’s main purpose was to demonstrate to Russia that Belarus could potentially find alternative buyers for its assets. Russo-Belarusian negotiations are entering their decisive phase (privatization lists have been agreed at the government level, annual oil supplies volumes have not been signed off and Belarus’ oil supplies have been monopolized by a number of Russian companies), therefore Lukashenko had to counteract and show his independence. While in Singapore, he openly stated that he “is ready to consider any proposals vis-à-vis shares in the largest Belarusian companies”.

Objectively speaking, Belarus’ foreign policy enhancement would have a positive effect on trade and the country’s economic capacity, because Belarus’ political system suggests that active operations in foreign markets are only possible with the president’s approval. Unofficial reports say, that in Indonesia some promising contracts worth USD 400 million were signed off (mostly relating to fertilizers’ trade and agriculture).

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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.