Belarusian security services increase visibility ahead of presidential campaign

April 22, 2016 19:15

Belarusian security services are increasing their visibility in the media in order to set an appropriate background for the presidential elections. They seek to demonstrate socio-political stability to the voters by showing they are in control of corruption, economic crimes and Belarusian participation in the armed conflict in Ukraine. As elections draw closer, the security forces are likely to step-up their visibility in the media. 

Last week, KGB Chairman Vladimir Vakulchik held a press-conference, where he spoke about arresting spies and charging top management at Motovelo with illegal capital and equipment export. 

As a rule, the Belarusian security services enhance their visibility in the media a few months before the election date and before the start of the presidential campaign. At this stage, they have not yet increased their attention to the opponents of the Belarusian leadership. 

By increasing the visibility, the security services are attempting to demonstrate their importance vis-a-vis senior management and high efficiency in the fight against corruption in public institutions. For instance, the media reported about the KGB arresting the head of department for avia-equipment repairs of “Aviation”, the state institution of Emergencies Ministry, on corruption and abuse of authority charges. 

President Lukashenka announced the following round of the anti-corruption campaign after the events in Ukraine in late 2013 – early 2014, which led to Yanukovych’s resignation. Back then, President Lukashenka named corruption among the two major culprits for the revolutionary change of power in Ukraine: “the collapse of the state, which occurred in Ukraine, was due to the collapse of economy and terrible corruption. These are the two reasons why the state was ruined”

The Belarusian security services have received two tasks – to counteract revolutionary developments in Belarusian society and to step-up the fight against economic crimes. And the KGB is demonstrating its efficiency in this fight. Last week, the KGB detained the owner of "Motovelo" as well as other managers of the company and charged them with illegal capital withdrawal and illegal export of equipment. In addition, Vakulchik said that other government officials might be ‘brought to justice’. This statement ahead of the presidential campaign aims to mobilize bureaucratic apparatus and to intimidate business. 

In addition, the KGB head reiterated that Belarusian citizens, who participated in the armed conflict in Ukraine as mercenaries would face criminal charges. Despite frequent threats, so far, there were no cases when such mercenaries would have been prosecuted in Belarus. Nevertheless, the Belarusian secret services are closely watching Belarusian activists, who are suspected of being ‘mercenaries’. As Vakulchik said, “People kill people. How can you treat this? Then they come here having the experience of killing people. We must think about this problem and solve it”. 

Most likely, by such statements, the Belarusian authorities seek to confirm their ‘balanced’ position over the armed conflict in the Donbass region and to prevent negative reactions from both, the Kremlin and Kyiv. 

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed the amendments to the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Code of Belarus in the first reading, which extended the application of article "High Treason" of the Criminal Code. 

Ahead of the 2015 presidential election, the authorities regard economic situation and corruption as the main threats. Depending on the behaviour of the opposition candidates and the level of popular discontent the security services might step up their attention to the political opposition.

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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.