By all appearances, President Lukashenka visited Moscow to no avail

April 22, 2016 19:38

As anticipated, the meeting between presidents Putin and Lukashenka was a formal exercise held in a friendly environment, which implies that the Kremlin has accepted Belarus’ foreign policy manoeuvres. Russia is unlikely to provide Belarus with additional bonuses in the coming year (for example, to apply ‘domestic’ status to Belarusian products).

Official reports said that Moscow talks between presidents Lukashenka and Putin had resulted in an agreement to bolster bilateral cooperation.

Agreements signed by the presidents of Belarus and Russia are formal and do not contain any commitments on key issues of the Russo-Belarusian agenda. Referring to the last week’s issue of ‘Belarus in Focus’, the presidents have not even raised the EEU loan issue, so as this has already been decided on the presidential level. As for oil and gas supplies to Belarus, Russia still has to solve this issue on the domestic level and until then, there is no point in discussing the details.

Keeping in mind statements by government officials, there should be no major changes in Russo-Belarusian cooperation in oil and gas sphere. That said, Belarus is likely to keep the energy prices margin (although amid a general fall in oil and gas prices, Belarus’ benefits from the special price are too small to become a serious argument in bilateral relations). Simultaneously, plans of Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Semashko to prompt Moscow to lower prices on gas for Belarus are not feasible.

According to Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, the presidents have not discussed the Russian air base issue. In addition, official reports said nothing about whether they had discussed the tension between Moscow and Ankara. President Putin only mentioned that both countries had "close positions" in international relations.

During the final press conference, President Lukashenka raised the issue of granting Belarusian products with a ‘domestic’ status, Putin, however, did not support him. As soon as President Lukashenka returned from Moscow, he held a meeting with security officials. At the meeting, the president requested bolster activities of power authorities, and focused on the need to strengthen the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, "we should not neglect the situation with Ukraine”.

When speaking about relations with Ukraine, President Lukashenka sounded more like the Kremlin. Unlike his previous neutral statements about Ukraine’s European integration, Lukashenka expressed concern about the effects from the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, which would take effect as of January 1st, 2016. “At the meeting, Russian President drew attention to the entry into force of this Agreement, which will lead to certain risks for Russia, and for us, including Kazakhstan”, he said. Most likely, that in response to Lukashenka’s requests to grant a ‘domestic’ status to Belarusian products on the Russian market, Putin recommended ensuring that the common market was properly protected from goods from third countries, especially coming through Ukraine.

Overall, as anticipated, Russia has once accepted Lukashenka’s foreign policy manoeuvres without changing the terms of bilateral cooperation. Yet she is not ready to grant additional bonuses to Belarus (e.g. granting Belarusian products with a ‘domestic’ status).

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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.