Minsk aims to replace political issues with security issues
Minsk seeks to avoid sensitive issues in a dialogue with the West. The Belarusian authorities aim to shield domestic political problems with security issues, which they find more acceptable and simultaneously, which the West regards as more important at this stage.
On September 14th, the command and staff exercises of the army and other security agencies started in Belarus. According to the action plan, the security forces should demonstrate their ability to respond to different crisis situations without the support from the Post-soviet collective security mechanisms: bilateral with Russia and multilateral within the CSTO framework.
These command-and-staff exercises are remarkable due to how they were organised. While there were no dramatic changes in the coverage for domestic audiences, changes were essential for external audiences. For instance, the Defence Ministry organised a briefing for the military and diplomatic corps represented in Belarus, which was held by the NATO standards for the first time. The Briefing was led by Major General Oleg Voinov, head of the Department for International Military Cooperation of the Defence Ministry and Assistant Defence Minister on International Military Cooperation. He provided comprehensive information about the purpose, geography and the costs of the command-and-staff exercise, and about the forces involved in it.
The briefing was meant to demonstrate how important it was for Minsk to establish confidence-building measures in the security field with the countries of the region. Previously, the Defence Ministry provided rather scarce information about the exercises to the diplomatic corps, eg issued press releases compiled based on reports from news agencies. In addition, briefings were held by officers, whose position and rank did not correspond to the significance of the event. NATO regarded such behaviour as hostile.
Presumably, Minsk will continue to avoid raising domestic political issues in the dialogue with the West, including by focusing on security issues (military, border, preventing illegal migration, etc.). The Belarusian leadership is likely to attempt to take advantage of the regional security system crisis in order to continue improving relations with the West. In addition, Belarus will continue to work on her image vis-à-vis external partners of a predictable and independent partner in the security field, in order to bust a common ‘myth’ in the west that Belarus is fully dependent on the Kremlin in this regard.
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.