Minsk strives to become economic and political "bridge" between Russia and EU

April 22, 2016 19:36

Belarusian officials would like to use their negotiating potential to coordinate Russia’s economic and political interests with the European Union. Amid potential tension between Russian and the EU in the next couple of years, the Belarusian authorities hope to strengthen their position as a mediator in the talks between the Kremlin and Western capitals. As Minsk’s role in the region increases, Belarus aspires to receive economic benefits and financial support for the Belarusian economy from Eurasian and international financial institutions.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey met with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin last week. During the meeting, the ministers discussed Belarus’ prospects within the Eurasian integration process among other issues.

In the past five years, the Belarusian authorities have been promoting the idea of "integration of integrations" or economic convergence between the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union. In recent months, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has stepped up its efforts and regularly promotes this idea during bilateral meetings with its Western counterparts, as well as on various international fora.

It is worth noting that after the presidential campaign in Belarus, while meeting in Moscow at the joint board meeting of Foreign Ministries of Russia and Belarus, Foreign Ministers Makey and Lavrov have agreed on a common action programme on the international arena for the two countries. One of the main topics for discussion between the foreign ministries was interaction between the two major integration associations – the EEU and the EU.

Given the confrontation between the Kremlin and the West, Minsk has assumed a task to represent common interests of the EEU countries vis-a-vis the European Union on the international arena (very likely with Russia’s consent). In addition, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry is attempting to be the Russia’s advocate in mitigating the sanctions pressure, restoring her international position and relieving tension in Russo-European relations.

For example, Belarus, who presides in the EEU, has submitted a draft resolution to provide the EEU with observer status at the UN General Assembly. In addition, Belarus is actively promoting the idea of economic convergence between the EEU and the EU. While doing so, Belarus emphasises the EEU market attractiveness with a population of over 183 million and says she could be the entry point to this market. That said, Chairman of the German-Belarusian Economic Club, Hovsep Voskanyan, has already expressed interest of some German companies to enter the Eurasian market through Belarus.

Belarus believes that thanks to her role of a mediator between the Kremlin and the West, her chances to receive financial assistance from the IMF and from the EurAsEC Anti-Crisis Fund have increased. The Belarusian authorities really hope to receive loans with total worth circa USD 3 billion before the year-end or in early 2016.

The Minsk officials have repeatedly used their exclusive alliance with Moscow in order to boost their status in the region and promote their own economic interests, provided, that relations with the Kremlin and other capitals in the former Soviet Union could deteriorate. For instance, amid the Russo-Georgian conflict in 2008, diplomatic and economic relations between Minsk and Tbilisi have improved; as well, after the Russian annexation of Crimea and crisis in Russo-Ukrainian relations in 2014, contacts between Minsk and Kiev have increased. In both cases, Belarus has acted as a contact point and preserved good relations with both conflicting parties. In addition, all conflicting parties were also interested in preserving interpersonal and economic relations and using Minsk’s transit capacities and mediation services.

In the coming months, the Belarusian authorities will continue their pro-active foreign policy in order to consolidate their enhanced status in the region and to strengthen their negotiating capacity in all possible foreign policy dimensions and international fora.

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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.