Belarusian authorities get a summer break
On June 7th, Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov held a press conference in Minsk.
Ambassador Surikov’s statement will be used as an excuse by the Belarusian authorities to delay the implementation of a new bilateral agreement on privatization. The probability that the oil supply agreement for Q3 will be signed is high, although Belarus is unlikely to get a loan from Russia, because it would be tied to implementation of joint projects.
Ambassador Surikov’s appearance is linked to the activation of the Russo-Belarusian relations and integration processes in the post-Soviet space in the frameworks of the CIS, Collective Security Treaty Organization and the CES in late May - early June. Ambassador’s press conference meant to draw attention to the Kremlin’s priorities in bilateral projects on industrial, financial, and military cooperation with Belarus, as well as to re-define Russia’s requirements.
In particular, Surikov said that in the autumn Belarus and Russia were anticipated to sign agreements to establish a joint holding company, merging MAZ and KamAZ motor works. In addition, Ambassador said that Russia was ready to give a loan to Belarus for enterprises’ modernization only if joint projects were launched. Finally, Surikov reiterated Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu statement about the imminent establishment of Russian military compound in Belarus.
Regarding oil supply to Belarus, Ambassador said that Russia will take Belarus’ wishes into account. This implies that Belarus may count on a quarterly or semi-annual agreement for 23 million tons per year. The agreement should be signed by mid-June 2013. Previous agreements in 2013 were signed quarterly.
Thus, highly likely, the oil supply agreement with Belarus will be signed, and Belarus will be granted a delay at least until autumn regarding its commitment to privatize state property. Surikov’s statements will be used by Belarusian negotiators as additional arguments to justify their position.
Noteworthy, Ambassador Surikov’s views are not always in agreement with the Kremlin. Nevertheless, the moderate nature of Ambassador’s statements, as well as the context of recent integration-related events suggests that Belarus has managed to drag the Kremlin in another negotiation round. Most likely, Belarus is using the deployment of Russian military air base and the customs tariffs’ harmonization terms within the CES as negotiations arguments.
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.