Minsk authorities watch out for alternative negotiators of Russo-Belarusian agenda

April 22, 2016 19:40

The Belarusian authorities have assessed the ‘BeloRussian Dialogue’ conference with the participation of opposition politicians as a message from the Kremlin that it seeks a new strategy for Belarus and partners to implement it. In turn, some Belarusian opposition forces are attempting to break the authorities’ monopoly on communication with the Kremlin, and to formulate a new mutually acceptable format for Russo-Belarusian relations. The authorities are likely to take action in order to exclude alternative political forces’ influence on the Russo-Belarusian agenda.

Participants in the international conference "BeloRussian Dialogue" have discussed future Russo-Belarusian relations. The conference was facilitated by Russian political scientist and expert on Belarusian-Russian relations Suzdaltsev, who is a persona non grata in Belarus.

Despite the fact that the Belarusian authorities were invited to take part in the conference, Belarusian Embassy representatives ignored the event. Minsk officials aspire to be the only communication channel with the Kremlin and have an exclusive right to determine the Belarusian-Russian agenda. Meanwhile, the event was attended by representatives of diplomatic missions of the EU and NATO. In addition, the organisers announced that three more such conferences would be held throughout 2016. This was the first event of the kind in Moscow, in which Belarusian opposition leaders participated.

Meanwhile, the very organization of the conference on Belarus in Moscow and the participation of independent Belarusian experts and opposition politicians have caused controversy in the Belarusian public space. Amid the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy and the growth of revanchist sentiments in Russian society, some independent media analysts reacted with caution to Moscow’s increased interest in the ongoing processes in Belarus.

Assessments by independent analysts of the participation in the event of the most popular opposition politician Tatsiana Karatkevich have divided. Critics noted that the format of the conference did not match the status of the ex-presidential candidate, and that Karatkevich’s talking points about the state and prospects for the Russo-Belarusian relations were unlikely to help boosting her popular ratings among Belarusian voters.

Others analysts were less critical of the Belarusian opposition politicians with presidential and parliamentary ambitions participating in such a conference. However, they noted that the opponents of the Belarusian leadership lacked an alternative strategy for developing Russo-Belarusian relations.

Karatkevich’s talking points could be supported by the Belarusian population, which is influenced by the Russian media propaganda and is critical of the ‘pro-Western’ opposition. That said, pro-European part of the opposition lacks a unified position and vision of how relations with Russia could develop.

In turn, both Belarusian and Russian analysts who spoke at the conference, witnessed a crisis in the existing model of Russo-Belarusian relations. Moreover, many participants in the discussion were unanimous about the lack of future prospects for economic and political rapprochement between Belarus and Russia within the ongoing integration framework. First of all, analysts acknowledged that the ‘Union State of Belarus and Russia’ project, which was in its active phase in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, had run out of steam.

Yet the Belarusian propaganda machine has not reacted to the conference and participation of opposition politicians in it. However, the next day after the event, President Lukashenka initiated a conversation with President Putin and proposed to organize a meeting in Minsk in closed and open formats.

In the near future, Minsk officials are likely to step up their contacts with the Kremlin in order to ensure that alternative negotiators do not interfere with the formation of the Russo-Belarusian agenda.

Photo by Zmicier Lukashuk

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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.