Authorities attempt to restrict access to information about military and political processes in Belarus

April 22, 2016 19:03

The Belarusian authorities are fearful of the rising interest from other states, including Russia, in Belarus’ military-industrial complex development and military policy. Amid the conflict in Ukraine and the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy, a crisis of trust is building up in the post-Soviet space. The protracted confrontation between Russia and the West might lead to an increase in "spy scandals" in the region and to Belarus attempting to restrict information about military and political processes in the country.

Last week, the media reported that the Belarusian KGB detained a well-known military commentator, Alexander Alesin.

According to unofficial information, Alesin was accused of spying for another state. The KGB neither confirmed nor denied this information. Alesin, who writes for Belarusy i Rynok ,is a popular commentator on military issues, the Belarusian army, and the Ministry of Defence in the independent Belarusian media. He has also been quoted by publications outside Belarus, including from Russia.

Russian media has has noted probable changes in its ally’s military doctrine, paying special attention to how experts interpreted the recent appointment of the Defence Minister in Belarus Russian journalists have quoted some military experts as saying that Lukashenko feared a repetition of the Crimean scenario in Belarus, and that the Belarusian army was preparing to repel possible Russian aggression in the "hybrid war".

In addition, the Russian media have referred to some internal sources in the Belarusian Defence Ministry which confirmed the authorities’ concerns about Russia’s aggression vis-a-vis Ukraine. However, it is doubtful that they really had a source in the Belarusian Defence agency, as all the commentaries from the “Belarusian sources” in the Russian media contained publicly available information which had already been voiced by various Belarusian independent analysts, including Alesin.

For example, Alesin’s most recent comments concerned the Belarusian army’s combat capability; changes in the modernisation policy due to the leadership change at the Defence Ministry; potential cooperation between the Ukrainian "Motor Sich" and the Belarusian Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant to supply military products to Russia; and about the Kremlin strengthening its military presence in Belarus.

It seems that mutual mistrust is growing between Minsk and Moscow, aggravated by the military conflicts in the region and sanctions confrontation between Russia and the West. Belarus is extremely wary of the rising interest from the Kremlin (and other neighbouring states) in her military-political processes . In addition, Belarus is starting to feel the negative effects of the EU-Russia confrontation due to the increasingly tense relations with her neighbours who have chosen the Euro-Atlantic integration path.

In addition, last week, the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s Office announced the arrest of a Lithuanian army paramedic on suspicion of spying for Belarus. He is suspected of spying for the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Belarus. In November, the Prosecutor General of Lithuania reported that the Vilnius Regional Court would hear a criminal case against another Lithuanian citizen on charges of spying for Belarus. According to the Lithuanian Prosecutor’s Office, he was secretly sending documents from the state enterprise Oro navigacija to the MID General Staff of Belarus. Head of Lithuanian Security Department Gediminas Grin suggested that the Russian secret services may also have been interested in this information.

Belarus has recently been reviewing security on all her borders, including Russia. In September, President Lukashenko signed a decree to establish a border area with Russia – until then there was no border, customs control, or border zone regime.

Amid growing mistrust among states in the post-Soviet region, Belarus is bolstering the role of the security agencies and special services in the state’s policy.

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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.