Belarus seeks counterbalance to Kremlin and Brussels

April 22, 2016 19:17

Belarus has enhanced interest in international fora and organisations in order to boost contacts with the major Asian countries, China in particular. In addition, the Belarusian government seeks to bolster trade and economic relations with the ‘third’ countries to market Belarusian products. By becoming more active within the SCO and BRICS, Belarus hopes to diminish political and economic dependence on the Kremlin, as well as fulfil requirements of the West concerning economic liberalization and human rights. 

At a meeting with BRICS leaders, President Lukashenka noted that Belarus welcomed the open nature of BRICS and was ready to become involved in cooperation on various issues. 

During the SCO Summit in Ufa, Belarus was granted observer status in this organisation. Belarus applied for observer status in 2005, and since 2010 was a dialogue partner with the SCO. Until recently, Uzbekistan was against upgrading Belarus’ status in the SCO, however last week all disagreements were removed. 

By joining the SCO, Belarus anticipates to improve her image on the international arena. Among the main tasks of the Belarusian diplomacy is to build new contacts with foreign countries and step up participation in international organisations. For a long time, Belarus has been in an international isolation by the West, which has led to her critical dependence on the Kremlin. 

By becoming an observer at the SCO, Belarus has increased her opportunities to participate in greater number of events at a higher level. In an interview with Russia-24 TV channel, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey emphasised the pragmatic component of Belarus’ participation in the SCO, "We want to contribute to the development of this organization and participate in the development and implementation of mutually beneficial projects...”. 

The Belarusian authorities have used the SCO and BRICS Summits in Ufa in order to boost their contacts with Asian and South American countries. For instance, the Belarusian delegation discussed the prospects of bilateral trade and economic cooperation with the representatives of Mongolia, Iran and Brazil. 

Belarus is aiming to build up her image as a ‘western corridor for the SCO’, especially if she manages to normalise relations with Western capitals. President Lukashenka outlined Belarus’ mission as a mediator between the West and the SCO, based on her experience in settling the conflict in Ukraine: “We have long and consistently been promoting the idea of ‘integrating integrations’ in the modern world. Belarus is BRICS’ natural ally in building mutually beneficial and equal relations between East and West, North and South, without the dividing lines”. 

The upgraded status in the SCO has opened new opportunities for Belarus’ potential cooperation with China. Belarus is doing all it can to become Beijing’s partner in the Economic Belt of the Silk Road project and thanks to the Sino-Belarusian industrial park, estimates her chances as quite high.

In addition, Lukashenka’s participation in the SCO and BRICS Summits has an important significance for domestic politics in the view of the election campaign kick-off in Belarus. Amid poor socio-economic performance, the president focuses on foreign policy successes and political stability in the country against the backdrop of the conflict in Ukraine. 

Once again, Belarus is in the quest for foreign partners among major Asian countries, who could balance the growing military-political and economic dependence on the Kremlin and lower the human rights requirements by Western capitals.

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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.