Belarus loses military independence to retain independent foreign policy

April 22, 2016 18:46

Belarus remains neutral as regards events in Ukraine and makes some concessions to the Kremlin. President Lukashenko gives way to pressure from Moscow and assumes increased Russian military presence in Belarus. At the same time, the authorities do not doubt the need to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity so as not to spoil relations with the West and the new Ukrainian leadership.

On March 13th, six Russian Su-27s and three military transport planes, including technical support staff from Russia’s Western Military district, landed in Bobruisk airfield in Belarus.

While taking part in the Security Council meeting on March 12th, which reported about the Armed Forces’ combat readiness, President Lukashenko offered Russia to deploy additional fighter jets to Belarus. He explained it by the NATO increasing its military presence at the Belarusian borders. The day before, President Lukashenko had a telephone conversation with President Putin. The next day, six Su-27 fighters and three military transport aircrafts landed in Bobruisk.

The pace at which Russian aircrafts were deployed to Bobruisk near the border with Ukraine (not Poland or Lithuania), implies there has been a preliminary agreement on the matter between Minsk and Moscow. Despite concessions to the Kremlin in the military sphere, President Lukashenko attempts to retain his positions in the public domain. Overly dependent on the Kremlin, Minsk cannot take an official stance on the crisis in Ukraine which would differ from Moscow’s.

Meanwhile, Belarus’ Foreign Ministry has repeatedly issued statements about the events in Ukraine which could irritate Moscow. Belarusian diplomats have reiterated Belarus’ commitment to preserving Ukraine’s territorial integrity. President Lukashenko confirmed that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s position had been coordinated, “this position has been consolidated, and this is a single stance. Moreover, the Foreign Minister had been instructed to convey our position to the international community and leaders of other states, which has been done. Today our position remains unchanged”. It is noteworthy that the state news agency BelTA has published an article ‘Whether Russians want war’, expressing strong opposition to Russia’s actions in Crimea.

In recent years, military cooperation between Belarus and Russia has increased considerably. Taking advantage of the weakening state and defence capabilities of Belarus, the Kremlin has increased its military presence there. Currently, Belarus hosts four Russian military facilities: military radar and missile detection systems in Gantsevichi, Russian Navy’s communication post in Vileika, and Russian fighter jets in Baranovichi and Bobruisk. Moreover, Minsk’s military dependence on the Kremlin has increased sharply. In late 2013, four Russian Su-27s were deployed in Baranovichi and in March 2014 – six Russian Su-27s and three military transport aircrafts in Bobruisk.

Belarus is gradually losing her sovereignty in the military sphere to Russia, despite President Lukashenko’s attempts to keep up his appearances as an independent figure. Nevertheless, Belarus will remain neutral over the crisis in Ukraine.

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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.