With MLRS Polonaise Minsk has more room for manoeuvre
Initially, MLRS Polonaise has been developed in order to replace Soviet missile legacy. As a result, Belarus has a missile system, which is technically completely independent from co-operation with post-Soviet countries. This explains its political and symbolic significance and expands foreign manoeuvre opportunities for Belarus.
Last week, the state media informed that Belarus introduced into service the heavy multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) Polonaise and supplied the first batch to the army. The weapon was designed for precision striking against ground targets at ranges from 50 to 200 km.
In the mid-2000s, at the peak of their financial capacity the Belarusian authorities decided about weapon upgrades. By then, the storage deadline for the tactical missile complex Tochka-U, inherited from the Soviet Union, had almost expired. Russia then refused to supply new tactical missile to Belarus, which prompted her to seek technical assistance in China. Polonaise came as a result of Sino-Belarusian cooperation.
It is worth noting that Polonaise is not something revolutionary: with China’s technical assistance, Turkey and Thailand have launched the production of heavy MLRS. Yet Polonaise is one of the most modern MRLs in the class and has some characteristic close to the tactical ballistic missile.
It has been an ongoing trend for many Belarusian neighbours to supply their armies with ballistic missiles for ground strikes. For example, Russia has 9K720 Iskander, Ukraine is at an advanced stage of developing the ballistic missile Grim, Poland purchased the Norwegian NSM and the American AGM-158 JASSM air-land cruise missiles. All of the above weapons have / will have a range greater than 200 km.
Minsk has weapons of strategic deterrence at its disposal, which to some extent widens the field for political manoeuvring, as it increases Belarus’ ability to sustain possible external pressure. Highly mobile heavy MLRS may be used in any direction, depending on where the threat comes from. The MLRS Polonaise is one of the few weapons in the Belarusian army, which do not require Russian maintenance. However, they require Chinese services in terms of missiles supply (or their main parts). Due to the need to achieve a strategic parity with the neighbours, the Belarusian army requires ballistic missile systems capable to strike at distances over 200 km.
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.