Minsk aggravates relations with Kremlin to resolve oil and gas dispute

September 26, 2016 10:34
Image: BelTA

Minsk has intentionally aggravated the Belarusian-Russian relations in order to resolve the protracted dispute over oil and gas supplies. Previously, Minsk has applied efforts to create a positive information background and to promote amicable attitude towards Belarus among the Russian population. Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities are not interested in reducing their participation in the Kremlin’s integration projects.

At a meeting with the State Secretary of the Union State Grigory Rapota last week, President Lukashenka urged Russia to decide on the future of joint integration projects.

The Union State remains a symbol of a special and close relationship between Belarus and Russia, and amid enhanced international isolation, its importance for the Kremlin’s domestic politics has increased. Belarus treats the Union State as an additional mechanism for preserving the exclusive relationship with Moscow and for promoting her interests. Apparently, despite the expectations of the Belarusian leadership, Union State officials attempted to avoid becoming involved in the energy dispute between Minsk and Moscow.

The Belarusian president has used the right timing in order to escalate tension over oil and gas issues with Russia. Russian society is extremely supportive of Minsk after the Belarusian delegation carried the Russian flag in the opening parade at the Paralympic Games 2016. In addition, the Russo-Belarusian escalation is taking place amid the IMF mission in Minsk. According to the Belarusian leadership, after it has demonstrated progress in the parliamentary elections, the window of opportunity to improve relations with western capitals has once again reopened, thus providing the Belarusian president with additional inspiration.

Despite multiple integration agreements between Belarus and Russia, Belarusian producers continue experiencing problems with supplies to the Russian market. For instance, most recently, there were several reports about Rosselkhoznadzor blocking supplies of Belarusian agricultural products to Russia.

Nevertheless, despite the escalation over energy supplies to Belarus, Minsk has not questioned its participation in the Kremlin’s integration projects.

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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.