Belarusian authorities attempt to achieve the most benefits from the potential clemency of the political prisoners
The pardoning of Bondarenko and Sannikau would allow the opposition to take part in the parliamentary elections and would also legitimize the whole election campaign. The delay in releasing the two political prisoners is connected with President Lukashenko’s absence in Belarus and is most likely explained by his personal hostility.
On February 1, Bondarenko, an election agent to presidential candidate Sannikau in the 2010 elections, wrote an appeal for clemency.
The release of Bondarenko is very probable, as is the release of former presidential candidate Andrei Sannikau, who earlier wrote an appeal. If this takes place, the oppositional forces will receive an additional stimulus against the boycott, and in favour of participating in the parliamentary campaign in September 2012.
The probability of Bondarenko and Sannikau’s release is strengthened by the lowering of the opposition’s demands. On January 31, the opposition forces signed a ‘Declaration for a Public Discussion’ in which they demand only the swift release of political prisoners, but not their additional rehabilitation (which is a demand of the international community).
The lowering of demands is of benefit to the authorities as it allows them to neutralize the political prisoners who have been released in the capacity of political opponents. Along with this, the likely release of Bondarenko and Sannikau will weaken the position of those in favour of an active boycott of the elections among the opposition and will lead to the majority of the opposition forces to take part in the election campaign in some form or other.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.