Russia risks scaring away remaining formal allies
By transforming CSTO international exercises into a propaganda anti-NATO demonstration without informing other Member States, Russia risks to deepen the existing mistrust between the Member States. In addition, formal allies may strengthen their doubts of Russia’s bona fides and negotiability.
The exercises of the Collective Rapid Reaction Forces of the Organization of Collective Security Treaty, ‘Vzaimodeysvtie-2016’ have sparked a controversy. During the exercises, the loudspeakers broadcasted a call for NATO soldiers to surrender with threats of retribution and anger of the people, "who have not suffered defeat in any war" (apparently, Russian people).
The "Vzaimodeysvtie-2016" exercises had a standard scenario: isolating a border armed conflict and eliminating illegal armed groups. Permanent representative of Russia to NATO Aleksandr Grushko observed the exercise for the first time, which was unusual. The link between the presence of the high-ranking Russian official known for his harsh statements against NATO and the calls to alleged NATO soldiers to surrender, seems obvious. That said, of six CSTO Members States, only Russia regards NATO as a potential enemy. Evidently, the CSTO was not involved in the provocation: from 6000 troops involved in the exercise only 1300 were representing the CSTO CRRF, while the rest - the Western Military District of the Russian army. The latter were responsible for the anti-NATO demonstration.
It is unlikely that Russia aimed to put the CSTO as an anti-Western alliance or complicate relations between NATO and other CSTO Member States. The point is that Moscow neglected opinions of its formal allies. Russia regards CSTO as means to monitor military potential of her allies, rather than an international organisation based on the principles of equality and respect for the interests of all members. NATO’s public response to CSTO provocation is unlikely to follow. However, Russia’s arrogance and self-confidence calls into question the viability of the CSTO.
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.