The Kremlin may accept partial normalisation of Belarus-EU relations

April 22, 2016 19:35

Official Minsk is attempting to defuse a potential conflict with the Kremlin over normalisation of relations with the West. Meanwhile, Moscow is ready to accept the improved relations between Belarus and the EU and the US in order to reduce financial aid to Belarus. However, in order to preserve Belarus in its orbit, the Kremlin may launch media attacks on Belarusian officials.

Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey told Kommersant newspaper that Minsk did not have a ‘dim view on that tomorrow the EU will open all doors and embrace Belarus in its arms’, but that there was a trend towards normalization of relations.

The Belarusian officials are attempting to pre-empt / neutralise potential criticism from the Russian media. Foreign Minister Makey emphasised that Belarus sought to mediate rather than to defend interests of one partner: "We have never tried to play along with one side to the detriment of the other side. We are sincerely interested in that our region was peaceful and stable, but not at the expense of our relations with Russia. As corny as it may sound, the three brotherly nations have been living together for centuries”.

The Belarusian authorities are attempting to minimize the consequences of the Kremlin’s reaction to Belarus’ attempt to restore relations with Western capitals.

The main reason why Belarus is seeking normalisation is the poor financial health of the Belarusian economy. The Belarusian authorities are seeking funds to pull the economy out of recession. Since the Kremlin’s resources are languishing, the Belarusian authorities are counting on the normalization of relations with Western capitals to receive financial bonuses.

This involves Belarusian officials playing on Brussels’ fears that Belarus is heavily dependent on the Kremlin. Foreign Minister Makey noted the complexity of the economic situation in Belarus and emphasised one of the main objectives for improving dialogue and relations with the West: “Belarus may appeal to international financial institutions for a loan, because the economic situation is really difficult”.

 In addition, the Belarusian authorities are raising the issues, which concern Western capitals. Foreign Minister Makey confirmed Lukashenka’s previous statements regarding the deployment of the Russian airbase in Belarus: "The airbase will raise ire towards Minsk and Moscow. Moreover, there are so many air bases in Belarus, that hundreds of aircrafts could be accommodated in a few hours. It is, therefore, more important for us to talk about how to be prepared to give a prompt response in case of rising tension in the region or threats to Russia and Belarus’ security”.

Presumably, this issue is on the agenda for talks between the Kremlin and Minsk, but the agreement has not been reached yet. At least, there were no official reports, as both sides had been evasive about the negotiations results.

According to official Minsk, the Kremlin is likely to agree to postpone the consideration of the deployment of a Russian airbase in Belarus. Allegedly, the Belarusian authorities have played on the Kremlin being involved in the conflict in Syria.

Minsk officials will continue to use a dual strategy towards the Kremlin and Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are interested in pursuing the normalisation process with Brussels and in receiving financial assistance.

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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.