Minsk enhances negotiating position in dialogue with European Union
Minsk has deliberately aggravated relations with the EU believing that it strengthened its bargaining position in the Belarusian-European dialogue. By refocusing on the death penalty, Minsk aims to defuse Europe’s criticism over human rights violations and deficit of democracy in the country. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities attempt to translate enhanced contacts with European capitals into economic benefits, especially given the oil and gas dispute with the Kremlin.
Since early 2016, Belarus executed four convicts. Despite the desire to normalize relations with the European capitals, in 2016, the Belarusian authorities resumed executions after a long break since November 2014. The Belarusian authorities were ready to harsh criticism by the EU and the international community, because they knew how important the death penalty issue was for the Belarusian-European dialogue. The decision to execute three convicts was made during an active phase of the dialogue with the EU and increased contacts and official visits from Western capitals to Minsk.
The Belarusian authorities are convinced that the EU will not resume the sanctions policy and will retain the established dynamics in Belarusian-European normalisation. However, the Belarusian authorities have sent a signal to Western capitals that the current format of relations has reached its limits and that they would like to receive economic benefits from cooperation, rather than a boost in contacts.
In addition, by putting the death penalty issue at the top of the European-Belarusian agenda, the Belarusian authorities have diverted the focus of the EU from the criticism of the 2016 parliamentary campaign, the NPP construction near the border with Lithuania and other requirements put forward by Western capitals in human rights and democratisation spheres.
Overall, the Belarusian authorities anticipate reducing a broad list of problem issues on the Belarusian-European agenda to discussions about the abolition of the death penalty.
During searches of social and "green" activists and anarchists, law enforcement has seized computers, mobile phones and publications. The authorities have also exerted additional pressure on supporters of unauthorized street protests and independent lawyers, who represented defendants in the White Legion case. The security services have stepped up the persecution of opponents before the street protests announced by the opposition. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities aspire that participants in street protests would reduce in number and that the low interest of the population to socio-political agenda before the local election campaign would retain.