Russo-Ukrainian exacerbation poses threats to Belarus

August 17, 2016 10:34

A radical deterioration in the Russo-Ukrainian relations has devalued Minsk as a negotiation platform, which was one of the few foreign policy achievements for the Belarusian authorities. In addition, destabilisation in Ukraine may deepen the socio-economic crisis in Belarus, and enhance Minsk’s dependence on the Kremlin.

The diplomatic break between Moscow and Kiev over Crimea and the waiver of the visa-free regime between the two states is likely to prompt million Ukrainian migrant workers to return to Ukraine. Belarus may be exposed to an influx of Ukrainian migrant workers, which is likely to deepen the crisis on the Belarusian labour market. However, the majority of migrant workers may remain in Ukraine. Amid dim outlook for a visa-free regime with the EU, if these workers do not find jobs on the domestic market, Ukraine is likely to face massive social protests. The latter may very quickly translate into political demands to restore relations with Russia. Even at the cost of giving up Crimea. Political instability in Ukraine, which is one of the major export markets for Belarusian goods, is likely to exacerbate financial and economic crisis in Belarus and increase Belarus’ dependence on the Russian market and the Russian financial support.

The break in political communication between Kiev and Moscow cancels Minsk as a negotiating platform, which is the main asset in the Belarusian foreign policy. Hence, the West may somewhat lose its interest in normalisation with Belarus. That said, the Belarusian authorities would be prompted to deepen the military-political cooperation with Russia.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to use all possible channels to contribute to the Russo-Ukrainian stabilisation. However, Minsk has lesser opportunities than in 2014: the Belarusian authorities have lost Moscow’s trust and have not formed a strategic partnership with Kyiv. In case of political instability in Ukraine, Belarus is likely to enhance border security at the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. In addition, there is a slim chance that Minsk may become more sensitive to meeting the EU requirements as to the Belarusian domestic policy in order to preserve a dialogue with the West.

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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.