Minsk to suck advantage out of Russo-Ukrainian crisis

April 22, 2016 18:54

The Belarusian authorities aspire to suck advantage out of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, acting as a mediator in the Russo-Ukrainian cooperation in the military-industrial sphere. The Kremlin has not left attempts to persuade Belarus to start "trade wars" with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia within the Customs Union framework, in response to their rapprochement with the EU. However, Moscow is unlikely to succeed.

Russia’s Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov said that Russia could increase imports of components for military products from Belarus within the recently launched large-scale programme.

The protracted Russo-Ukrainian conflict has provided the officials in Minsk with an exceptional opportunity to increase their importance on the arms market – to act as a mediator in military-industrial collaboration between the three countries: Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Previously, Kiev announced that cooperation with Russia on military production would be suspended. However, military industries of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus are tightly integrated and co-dependent yet since the Soviet era, each one of them specialising on different production types. The main market for Ukrainian military producers is Russia and without this market, Ukraine will hardly preserve her defence industry. Interestingly, the Kremlin also has no replacement for the Ukraine-made military products either in the short or in the mid-term.

Belarus’ balanced stance in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis makes the military-industrial cooperation between the three countries possible. Russia’s Ambassador Surikov underscored, that “Russia has invited Belarus’ military industry to consider producing several thousand names of components that Russia needs." Before that, President Lukashenko also talked about potential cooperation between Belarusian and Ukrainian military production industries.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has not left attempts to prompt Belarus (and Kazakhstan) to joint actions within the Customs Union, aiming to put pressure on Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, in response to signing the Association Agreement with the EU. Nevertheless, Belarus insists on making independent decisions and is not willing to delegate the issue of import restrictions to the Eurasian Commission. Belarus digs in heels because reciprocal restrictions on imports from Belarus, which these countries could introduce, would imply heavy losses for Belarus’ economy.

For example, Belarus unilaterally lifted restrictions on beer and chocolate imports from Ukraine, which she had introduced in April – May 2014, i.e. as soon as Ukraine threatened to introduce reciprocal restrictions on imports of some Belarusian products (tyres, refrigerators, dairy products, nitrogen fertilizers, etc.). In addition, unlike Russia, Belarus has not closed her market for products from Moldova. Moreover, Moldova’s Prime Minister Leancă said, that Moldova was looking forward to President Lukashenko’s visit in late September.

It seems, that the ‘moderate’ stance of the Belarusian authorities in the Russo-Ukrainian crisis is playing into the hands of all parties, enabling them to preserve communication channel for the most "vulnerable" issues in Russo-Ukrainian cooperation, such as military-industrial production. 

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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.