Lukashenko recognised Crimea ‘de facto’ part of Russia
By supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Lukashenko attempts to preserve good relations with the Ukrainian authorities and delays recognising the legality of Russian actions and offers himself as a mediator in talks between Russia and Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Belarusian authorities are taking some steps, albeit inconsistent, to consolidate Belarusian society.
On March 23rd, Alexander Lukashenko assured Russia of his support and recognised Crimea ‘de facto’ part of Russia with the reservation that no one asked Belarus to recognise it ‘de jure’ and that the situation would not change regardless of the recognition or non-recognition.
Before March 23rd, the day of local elections, official Minsk limited itself to ambiguous statements regarding the referendum in Crimea, on which Russia based its annexation decision.
When speaking on March 23rd, Lukashenko said he neither approved the Russia’s actions vis-a-vis Crimea, nor endorsed the ‘unconstitutional’ change of power in Ukraine. He laid the blame for the situation on the transitional authorities in Kiev, which ‘were set up’ and gave Russia a reason to ‘chop off’ Crimea. He also accused ‘the West’ of being unable to fulfil its obligations under the Budapest Treaty or its threats to restrain world order violators.
In the given situation, when Crimea is already part of Russia, Ukraine has failed to defend its integrity, and the West has not really ‘punished’ Russia (he pointed out that punishment of Russia was ten times weaker than that of Belarus, as it fears Russia), Lukashenko sees no option but to support Russia. Meanwhile, Lukashenko believes that the accession of Crimea is a very dangerous precedent, which could contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons around the world.
Supporting Russia in such a peculiar way, Lukashenko also expressed his views about Russia’s agenda vis-a-vis Ukraine. He said he was against Ukraine as a federation, because it would destabilise Belarus’ neighbour for a long time and would eventually result in its disintegration. Lukashenko said he was for the presidential elections in Ukraine and was ready to cooperate with any Kiev government. Otherwise, Lukashenko supported Russian requirements: Ukraine’s non-aligned status, elections to the Vekhovna Rada in the near future, Ukraine’s membership in the CIS, and the political forces disarmament.
With his speech, Lukashenko laid out the guidelines for Belarusian propaganda, which had been floundering since early March, unable to oppose to aggressive Russian propaganda in Russian and Belarusian media space. Events in Ukraine, their coverage by Russian media, and the influx of Russian commentators in Belarusian media resources have split Belarusian society and radicalised positions of both Lukshenko supporters and opponents.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian leadership is aware of the threats that such dependence in the information space creates. The Belarusian authorities, using state-run media and other channels are trying to balance out public opinion in the country. For example, the state television has started showing films about anti-Russian uprising heroes of 1863-1864.
Official Minsk will delay the official recognition of the Crimea annexation until Russia prompts Belarus to make a clear-cut choice. The Belarusian government will increase efforts to reduce tension and division in Belarusian society in order to minimise the possibility of political destabilisation following the Ukrainian scenario.
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.