Minsk aspires to deepen political and economic cooperation with Kyiv

April 22, 2016 19:20

Official Minsk seeks closer political and economic cooperation with Kyiv, in particular, to promote Belarusian goods on the Ukrainian market and in the future on the European Union market. In exchange, Belarus offers Kyiv facilitation of access of Ukrainian products from the sanctions list on the Russian market. In addition, the Belarusian authorities plan to consolidate bilateral cooperation between Belarus and Ukraine in the military-industrial sphere. Finally, the Belarusian government hopes for Kyiv’s assistance in settling the Belarusian-European relations.

Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makey was on official visit to Ukraine, which was the longest in recent years and with a broad agenda. His visit was preceded by a meeting of the intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation.

During the meeting with Ukrainian President Poroshenko, Belarusian Foreign Minister confirmed Belarus’ commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity within her internationally recognised borders. Belarusian diplomat assured Kyiv of Minsk’s readiness to assist in finding a peaceful solution to the situation in the Donbass region and of the absence of threats to Ukraine from Belarus. With this aim in view, Belarus would support the establishment of a technical OSCE office to facilitate the work of the Tripartite Liaison Group on the settlement of the situation in the Donbass.

In response, Belarus is counting on Kyiv’s support in improving relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities believe that currently there are several ‘friendly’ politicians in the region, who could assist in developing Belarus’ relations with foreign partners. For instance, Foreign Minister Makey has met not only with Petro Poroshenko, but also with Head of Odessa Regional State Administration Mikhail Saakashvili, who is on good terms with President Lukashenka since his presidency in Georgia. Moreover, Minsk is counting on favourable attitude of President Dalia Grybauskaitė and President Andrzej Duda, who spoke about deeper integration within the Baltic-Black Sea region.

The Belarusian authorities are interested in Ukraine’s European integration. Official Minsk anticipates expanding bilateral economic cooperation in order to promote Belarusian products on the EU markets through joint ventures with Ukraine. In return, the Belarusian authorities are ready to facilitate penetration of Ukrainian goods from the Russian sanctions list to the Russian market. The two countries envisage to use the Hryvnia and Belarusian rouble for settlements and while forming authorized capital in joint ventures in Ukraine and Belarus.

In addition, Belarus helps to re-equip Ukrainian army with products of the Belarusian military-industrial complex (MZKT chassis and engines), repairs Ukrainian aircrafts (at plants in Orsha and Baranovichi), and looks forward to a long-term cooperation with the Ukrainian defence industry.

Since 2014, Belarusian specialists have conducted extensive consultations with their colleagues from the Ukrainian defence industry, firstly as agents for supplies to Russia, and later through the establishment of joint ventures. Amid Kremlin’s desire to have full control over cooperation with the Belarusian defence industry, Belarus seeks closer cooperation with Kyiv in order to have own armoured, missile and aircraft equipment. In addition, Belarusian defence enterprises in the field of optics have significantly increased their sales to Ukraine and aim to strengthen their positions on the global market through cooperation with Ukrainian companies.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian authorities are rather cautious about Belarusians’ participation in volunteer corps on the Kyiv side, which may be due to their reluctance to overcomplicate relations with official Minsk. For instance, despite the fact that in late 2014 President Poroshenko granted Ukrainian citizenship to a Belarusian who participated in the ATO, currently, a conflict with Belarusians who have requested Ukrainian citizenship is brewing. The Ukrainian authorities demonstrate unwillingness to grant citizenship to Belarusians participating in the Ukrainian volunteer battalions.

Overall, while Belarus formally remains the Kremlin’s ally, she continues strengthening trade, economic, political and military cooperation with Kiev and often makes contradictory statements about the conflict in Ukraine in order to reduce the pressure from the Russian government.

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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.