Minsk to step up lobbying of its interests in Moscow

July 25, 2016 23:03

At the EEU Summit in Astana, Alexander Lukashenka has sharply criticisedthe Union for putting barriers in mutual trade and the lack of innovations. Overall, currently Belarus has fewer benefits from the EEU membership than her weight in the organisation. The Belarusian authorities are likely to attempt to use this lever for lobbying their economic interests and the interests of Belarusian producers. 

Lukashenka’s speech at the Summit was out of tune with speeches by other heads of state. The Summit was celebrating the 2nd anniversary of the EEU and implied demonstration of successes achieved. Besides, due to domestic problems, Nazarbayev and Sargsian were in dire need of support by other heads of state and of demonstrating EEU’s bright prospects.

Meanwhile, Lukashenka not only outlined the obvious failures of the economic union: falling turnover, barriers in mutual trade, and additional obstacles due to the unilateral protective measures introduced by Russia against the West, Ukraine and Turkey; but also questioned the basic agreement of the Union - the EEU founding agreement. Only Kyrgyz President Atambaev supported Lukashenka’s speech. President Putin was forced to make excuses in response to Lukashenka’s allegations.

Lukashenka’s criticism was rather reasonable: none of the EEU member states had gained benefits from the Union to which it was entitled. The EEU has united unreformed economies in recession, which help keeping geriatric political systems afloat. In addition to internal reasons for economic slowdown in the EEU member states, by the time the EEU Summit started, two more important factors have emerged: the confrontation, especially in trade and finance, between Moscow and the west; and the slump in oil prices. As a result, in the past two years, Russia’s economy has fallen into a severe recession, respectively, mutual trade within the EEU has fallen sharply as compared with the period before its creation.

As for Belarus, not only it was unable to benefit from multiple bans on imports to Russia from the EU, Ukraine and Turkey, it has also lost its traditional positions on the Russian market to Chinese and other producers. In addition, the decline in the world prices on raw materials has offset the benefits from Russian oil and gas exports at special prices for allies.

Overall, Belarus is still gaining benefits from the EEU, however fewer than she should due to her weight in the organisation. Belarus is one the EEU’s three co-founders, and, in fact, is the western showcase for the Russian integration. Without Belarus, the EEU would lose the point for Moscow. Until Moscow has interest in this integration mechanism, Belarus has a strong lever to prompt the Kremlin to respect its interests.

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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.