Minsk was unable to prove its independence in security matters
Over the past three years, Minsk has been using regional security issues to gain a foothold as an independent actor beyond Russia’s control. This was facilitated by demonstrations of a special, different from Moscow, position. However, the Belarusian authorities have failed in achieving the desired effect, and the Kremlin has effectively used the insufficient information support for Belarus' foreign policy.
Minsk hoped that its openness and transparency during the preparations and the conduct of the West-2017 joint Russo-Belarusian strategic military drill could take it out of the Moscow’s shadow and prompt the West to recognise Belarus as an independent actor in the regional security policy, rather than an appendage to the Russian military machine. Belarus has embarked on an unprecedented openness in defence matters. For instance, the General Staff of the Belarusian army has held briefings during the OSCE Security Forum and in Minsk. In addition, circa 250 journalists have been accredited to cover the exercise.
Unexpectedly, despite the confrontation with the West, Russia has provided more extensive information about the joint exercise ‘West-2017’. For instance, Russia’s briefing for NATO was concise, informative and was positively received by the Alliance. The Russian Defence Ministry’s briefing on August 29th, 2017 was more detailed than the briefing of the Chief of the General Staff of the Belarusian army, held on the same day. Russia is maintaining high level contacts with NATO to inform about the forthcoming Belarusian-Russian exercise.
The West has noted greater transparency of Russia as compared with Belarus in terms of providing information about the West-2017 military drill. Hence, Russia has demonstrated the leadership in the Russo-Belarusian tandem. Nevertheless, not all concerns related to the West-2017 military exercise have been removed. For instance, issues related to combat training of the Russian army, which would be held in parallel with the West-2017 make an additional matter of concern beyond Belarus’ sphere of influence.
Yet another attack (carefully planned) on Minsk’s reputation was the abduction of Ukrainian citizen Pavel Grib from Belarus by the Russian special services. The lack of a coherent response to the case from the Belarusian authorities is regarded as a sign of Belarus’ strong dependence, bordering subject nation, on Russia in security matters.
The Belarusian authorities have failed in providing information and diplomatic support for their foreign security policy. In the near future Belarus is likely to focus on improving the state of affairs in this matter. However, she requires to implement new approaches in public relations, which could only be used effectively by new staff.
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.