Minsk less interested in signing Eurasian Economic Community Agreements

April 22, 2016 18:48

Official Minsk is losing interest in the Eurasian Economic Community project. For Belarus, the cost of further integration with Russia is rising, as there is no progress in removing restrictions on oil, and Belarus’ sovereignty is threatened in view of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Belarus’ government is likely to sign the agreements to establish the EEC; however, it may sabotage the commitments it will assume within the Eurasian integration project.

President Vladimir Putin phoned President Alexander Lukashenko to discuss the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council’s meeting agenda. 

The main topic during the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council’s meeting in late April will be the harmonisation of the draft agreement to establish the Eurasian Economic Community. Previously, presidents of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan had agreed to sign the EEC founding treaty in May this year. However, so far, the ‘troika’ has not elaborated a common vision of how the Eurasian integration project should develop.

To date, the parties have not reached a compromise about several conflicting issues, mainly about trade exemptions. It is worth noting that the draft of the EEC founding treaty has not changed since October 2013, and, that the draft is 70-80% ready, according to Lukashenko. Belarus’ Prime Minister Myasnikovich emphasised that there was a lack of progress regarding the most sensitive issues for Belarus: “Belarus expresses great concern about the agreement [again] turning out to have a lot of exceptions and limitations”.

The document has not yet been finalised, also because the parties had additional conflicting requirements while negotiating specific issues. For example, Kazakhstan has refused to negotiate the provision related to scientific and technological cooperation with Belarus and Russia. 

Meanwhile, Belarus has participated in all the Kremlin-led integration projects, drawing short-term benefits from such cooperation in the form of Russian subsidies to Belarus’ economy. Today, however, Moscow is not ready to give Belarus additional bonuses for joining the Eurasian Union.

Belarusian leadership insists on abolishing oil exemptions, which should bring an additional USD 3-4 bln to the Belarusian budget. Given the presidential elections in Belarus in 2015, the decision about abolishing oil exemptions will soon become a crucial one for President Lukashenko. Meanwhile, even if Russia abolishes oil exemptions, she has envisaged additional ‘compensatory’ measures, which will not allow Belarus to get the desired budgetary proceeds at the expense of Russian oil.

Belarus is beginning to demonstrate her ‘cooling off’ as regards the Kremlin’s Eurasian integration project. According to the Belarusian president’s press service, the conversation between Putin and Lukashenko “was initiated by the Russian side”, not by Belarus, despite her great interest in lifting oil restrictions.

In addition, the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine have demonstrated to the authorities in Minsk the high risks that come with the Eurasian integration. Belarusian leadership is concerned about the Kremlin increasing the pressure to finalise the Eurasian integration, if the international community introduces serious economic sanctions against Russia. 

Belarus will sign the EEC founding treaty as she has promised; however, this will not necessarily imply that she will comply with her commitments in this regard.

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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.