Lukashenko’s participation in Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga depends on Kremlin
At a meeting with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics, President Lukashenko said that Belarus counted on Latvia’s assistance in promoting cooperation between Belarus and other EU member states. The Belarusian government expects to unblock relations with European capitals and receive an invitation to participate in the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit in May this year at the highest level - for President Lukashenko. However, official Minsk is not ready to fulfil the basic requirements of the EU to initiate the normalisation process in Belarusian-European relations, i.e. to release the remaining political prisoners. In addition, amid the Kremlin’s sharply negative attitude to the EU’s Eastern Partnership Programme, when deciding on participation in the Riga Summit, Belarus would have to take into account potentially negative reaction from Moscow, which seriously reduces the likelihood of Lukashenko’s participation.
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.