Lukashenko tires to be a mediator in the Russo-Ukrainian dispute
On April 29th, BelaPAN News Agency published an interview with Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov.
Russia is highly interested in Ukraine’s integration with the Eurasian Economic Union. President Lukashenko hopes to play a mediating role in this process and to improve his status in negotiations with the Kremlin.
In terms of regional policies, Ambassador Surikov’s the most important statement was his concern about the security of gas transit through the Ukrainian gas transportation system, as well as certain recognition of the hopelessness of the Moscow-Kiev situation.
In particular, the Ambassador said that “both, the trilateral relations (Europe-Ukraine-Russia), and bilateral (Russia-Ukraine) failed to solve the issue of renovation and putting in order the Ukrainian gas transportation system”. According to Surikov, it was one of the main reasons behind the construction of the Yamal-Europe-2 gas pipeline project.
Regardless of the genuine reasons for the Kremlin’s interest in the Yamal-Europe – 2 project, Surikov’s justification creates environment for the Belarusian leadership to intervene in Russo-Ukrainian negotiations and try to persuade President Yanukovych to participate in the Eurasian integration project.
If Lukashenko’s adventurous mission fails, he can still try to keep up appearances and present it as an attempt to partially restore the USSR’s lost integrity and to complement the author of the CES project, Vladimir Putin. In addition, the noble ‘integration’ mission will enable Lukashenko to gloss over (and ideally, to benefit from) the existing conflicts between him and President Yanukovych.
Potentially, Lukashenko’s mission might be successful. On April 15th, in a telephone conversation Presidents Lukashenko and Viktor Yanukovych discussed the possibility of the creation of a Belarusian-Ukrainian-Russian public movement and agreed to raise this issue at the upcoming bilateral meeting in May. On April 25th, in Kiev, close to Lukashenko Chairman of the Communist Party of Belarus Karpenko took part in the 20th Anniversary Celebrations of the Union of Communist Parties of the former Soviet countries.
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.