Minsk has become a negotiations platform for Ukraine, Russia, and EU

April 22, 2016 18:56

Minsk has become a fully fledged participant in high-level multilateral negotiations over Ukraine. The Belarusian government aspires for Belarus to gain weight in regional security and stabilisation in Europe. Belarus anticipates that the EU will review its policy towards the Belarusian authorities and agree to an unconditional, gradual settlement of Belarusian-European relations before the 2015 presidential campaign.

Belarus’ Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said that participants in the Minsk talks (Customs Union – Ukraine – European Union) had had a frank discussion.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the talks had been successful and that Minsk had been chosen as a permanent place for the Trilateral Contact Group’s meetings (OSCE – Ukraine – Russia). The EU High Representative’s visit to Minsk is regarded as a step towards the EU reviewing its sanctions policy against the Belarusian leadership. President Lukashenko acknowledged the lack of progress in resolving the armed conflict in south-eastern Ukraine: “There was a serious discussion on the full range of issues related to the crisis in Ukraine. Unfortunately, the situation has gone so far that principled decisions at the highest level, either individual steps, or technical arrangements would not lead to normalisation”.

Initially, the main issues on the agenda were ending hostilities in Ukraine and discussing the economic effects from the EU-Ukraine association agreement. However, the presidents of Ukraine and Russia focused on other matters. While the Ukrainian president urged those present to support his peace plan, the Russian president mainly focused on economic issues, inter alia, Belarus’ re-exports of products from the sanctions list to the Russian market.

The parties at the Minsk Summit failed to reach an agreement, nevertheless, they emphasised the need to de-escalate the conflict, to release hostages, to solve the refugee problem and other humanitarian issues. In addition, during a bilateral meeting, the Ukrainian and Russian Presidents agreed to initiate consultations between the border agencies and general staff of the armed forces in order to strengthen the Russo-Ukrainian border.

But immediately after the Minsk talks, the situation in eastern Ukraine deteriorated. Kiev accused the Kremlin of Russian troops crossing the Russo-Ukrainian border, a claim refuted by Moscow. It seems that Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to raise the participation level of representatives from the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics in the Contact Group’s meetings (OSCE – Ukraine – Russia), perhaps to promote the idea of establishing enclaves in south-eastern Ukraine (like Transnistria in Moldova), which would be loyal to the Kremlin.

Press Secretary of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, Vladimir Zainetdinov, said that the CSTO would not send its peacekeeping forces to Ukraine to remedy the escalation in the Southeast. CSTO members include Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. It is worth noting that even the Kremlin’s closest allies, including Belarus, do not share its position with regard to Kiev, and wish for a peaceful settlement.

Belarus has become a high-level negotiations platform and official Minsk hopes to change Brussels’ attitudes and policies towards the Belarusian leadership. In addition, the Belarusian government aspires to enhance non-political cooperation with the EU.

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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.