Russo-Belarusian political conflict manifested itself in amateur sport

April 22, 2016 18:30

On May 6th, the Sports and Disciplinary Commission of the 2nd All-Russian Amateur Ice Hockey Festival, held in Sochi, started checks on Belarusian President’s team regarding its compliance with the Festival’s regulations. On May 7th, President’s team was forfeited, and the number of players disqualified.

Belarusian-Russian political conflict, unfolding during negotiations on defense cooperation, manifested itself amateur sport. The scandalous proceedings in respect of the Belarusian President’s hockey team at the tournament in Sochi have eventually thwarted an informal meeting between Presidents Lukashenko and Putin. Apparently, these proceedings demonstrate the Kremlin’s intransigent negotiating position.

For reference, a hockey team, led by a big hockey fan Alexander Lukashenko, received the invitation to take part in the Festival from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during his visit to Minsk on April 23rd. On the same day, Shoigu made a statement about the alleged Russian regiment deployment in Belarus in the near future. Further developments demonstrated that Belarus decided to “slow down” with such defense agreements and perhaps, put forward additional requirements to Russia.

Potentially, these requirements could be discussed at the end of the Hockey Festival in Sochi, where Lukashenko intended to come to participate in the final game, and where Russian President Putin was at that time. Bearing these circumstances in mind, it is possible that the Festival’s Disciplinary Committee’s decision had political implications associated with an unexpected for Russia u-turn in the Belarusian-Russian talks on defense matters.

The peculiarity of the situation is that the President’s team has been admitted to the “WORLD CUP 40 +” League and won 4 games and advanced to the finals.

The team’s technical defeat in the semifinals was made post-factum - under the pretext of non-compliance with the Festival’s qualification requirements by a number of players (in fact, both Lukashenko’s sons, team members, are also under 40 years old). Lukashenko decided not to take part in a game for the third place and canceled his visit to Sochi.

Meanwhile, President Putin took part in the Tournament’s finals and in the gala performance on May 10th. If Lukashenko’s team were to take place in the finals, his victory could be very likely, given the professional past qualifications of many his team players. Thus, the fact of the controversial exclusion of Lukashenko from the hockey finals seems to be a clear demonstration of the Kremlin’s intransigent negotiating position in the defense and economic fields.

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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.