Belarusian-Russian relations remain tense

April 22, 2016 18:33

On June 20th, President Lukashenko spoke at the 15th World Congress of the Russian press plenary session, held in Minsk.

Sharp criticism by Lukashenko of the Russian authorities implies that tensions between Minsk and Moscow continue. Simultaneously, Belarus is playing fairly successfully in the Russian information-ideological field.

Lukashenko’s the most significant political statement was open criticism of the liberal market system, enacted in Russia in the 90s, which was still in place. In particular, Lukashenko said that unlike in Russia, “property was not stolen from the people” in Belarus and that “an economic system based on fraud is not sustainable”. Such statements are typical for the Belarusian president, but in this particular case, they were uttered in the presence of the leading Russian media managers and Russian politicians (eg, First Deputy Chairman of the Russia’s State Duma Alexander Zhukov).

Firstly, Lukashenko’s rhetoric suggests that the presidents of Belarus and Russia are still busy bargaining about economic issues (oil supply volumes to Belarus, privatization, trade preferences within the Customs Union, military and technical cooperation) without reaching a compromise. Allegedly, Lukashenko’s harsh statement was his reaction to a telephone conversation with Putin on June 19th

Secondly, Lukashenko’s statement should be regarded in a broader ideological contest. Belarusian authorities regularly invite Russian journalists to Belarus to demonstrate “the Belarusian Social-oriented economic model benefits” and actively criticize Russia’s liberal market system. Often Russian regional media journalists are invited to take part in such ‘press-tours’ however this time the authorities reached out to a new level and participated in the World Congress of Russian Press.

It should be noted that Vladimir Putin’s election campaign in 2012 was based on populist rhetoric. However he has not yet managed to fulfill his promises and attempts to force the government to follow his orders face an open opposition by the Russian elite. The situation creates favourable environment for the Belarusian authorities in the Russian information field to advertise Belarusian experience in economic policies management and strict control over political elites.

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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.