Minsk has to play on the contradictions between the U.S. and Russia

April 22, 2016 18:21

Belarusian Foreign Ministry and Makey himself have raised the stakes in political bargaining between Belarus and the West. However, chances of Belarus revising its position about the (non) recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are very low, so this issue is unlikely to be included in an existing set of requirements by the EU and U.S. to Belarus.

On October 30th, at joint news conference in Minsk, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs Makey said that Belarus’ position regarding the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could change.

Belarus’ main goal during the Russo-Belarusian negotiations was to play on the existing contradictions between Russia and the U.S. That is why Makey’s reply to the question about Belarus’ position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia sounded extremely evasive: “Life is not standing still. Everything flows, everything changes”. The statements’ primary target group was Western observers.

Minsk is forced to act in this way due to the Kremlin’s consistent position regarding the political conflict between Belarus and the West. Minister Lavrov has once again made it clear that Russia considers the conflict Belarus’ internal affair and will not interfere to back up Minsk. At the same time, Lavrov expressed readiness to oppose unilateral sanctions by the UN (which is hardly relevant to Belarus, and is unlikely to become relevant).

We have to admit, that Makey’s maneuver succeeded. The very next day, U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Belarus Mr. Goldrich met with Makey’s Deputy Mr. Guryanov, against very favourable information background to discuss prospects for expanded cooperation with Belarus and implementation of “mutually beneficial projects in trade, economic and investment spheres”.

It is noteworthy that this autumn there was some synchronicity in meetings between Charge d’Affaires Goldrich and senior Belarusian Foreign Ministry amid meetings with Minister Lavrov. Prior to his visit to Moscow on September 19th, Minister Makey met with Goldrich and discussed the “key issues in the Belarusian-American relations”.

Such ‘balancing’ tactics is rather traditional for Belarus’ foreign policy and allows playing on the contradictions between Moscow and Washington. However, it should be noted that this tactic fails to have an impact on Kremlin’s position: Kremlin neither provides greater support in foreign policy, nor mitigates requirements in trade and economy. On the contrary, conflicts happen more often, in particular in the energy sector.

Makey’s reservation about potential shift in Belarus’ attitude about the (non) recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be treated as pure rhetoric. Such a step is highly unlikely, since previously, after Georgian Parliamentary elections, President Lukashenko said that “Belarus should not lose Georgia”. Finally, today, this issue has essentially lost its relevance even in Russia.

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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.