Minsk is not interested in complicating political relations with Kyiv
Official Minsk is not interested in complicating political relations with Kyiv because of the growing tension in the Belarusian-Ukrainian trade and economic relations. The introduction of food embargo on Ukrainian products by the Kremlin has created additional opportunities for Belarus as an access point to the Eurasian markets for Ukrainian goods. Trade incidents between Minsk and Kyiv will reach a compromise without any effect on political cooperation between the two countries.
Ukrainian experts say a new mechanism to block access of competitive products to the Belarusian market has been introduced. By introducing special sanitary certificates for importers, Minsk has actually blocked the supply of Ukrainian food products to Belarus. For instance, the president of Ukrkondprom association Alexander Baldynyuk has accused the Belarusian authorities of violating the agreement on free trade zone within the CIS countries, to which Belarus and Ukraine are parties.
In response, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has denied the fact of discrimination against Ukrainian goods and said there was no need to withdraw sanitary examination of Ukrainian goods. Belarusian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mironchik has referred to the need to protect the Eurasian market and show potential benefits of the Eurasian integration to Ukraine: "This regulation applies to producers from all countries, which are not members of the Eurasian Economic Union. Imported products are under control due to the objective need to protect the health of our citizens”.
According to experts, Belarus may lose tens of millions of dollars after Ukraine introduces special duties on some Belarusian goods. If introduced, the special duty’s size (39.2%) will make Belarusian goods non-competitive on the Ukrainian market.
Yet in 2014, the Belarusian authorities introduced licensing for importers of beer and confectionery from outside the Customs Union, including Ukraine and obliged them to coordinate prices for these products on the Belarusian market. However, after the reciprocal restrictions on some Belarusian goods by Kyiv, Minsk had revoked its decision. This time, the Ukrainian authorities are also planning to introduce export duties on sensitive exports from Belarus in response to the new rules for importers to Belarus (Regulation No 666 of August 2015). Now each batch of imported products requires mandatory sanitary and hygienic registration, which has led to an increase in delivery terms and additional costs for the examination. As a result, the supply of confectionery and beer from Ukraine to Belarus has encountered difficulties.
Ukraine has announced that it will introduce special duties in two months in order to prompt Belarus to conduct negotiations and reach a reasonable compromise on restrictions. Some sensitive Belarusian produces are listed among goods to be subjected to the special duty. If Belarus insists on restrictions against Ukrainian goods, she may reduce the supply of tyres and tractors to Ukraine after January 20th, 2016 or stop them at all. Overall, restrictions are likely to be mutually abolished before 2016.
Amid increased tension in the trade and economic relations between Minsk and Kyiv, the Belarusian special services have enhanced a campaign against Belarusian citizens fighting in Ukraine. Last week, Interior Minister Ivan Shunevich said a criminal investigation could be launched against Belarusian nationals-combatants in the south-east of Ukraine. Shortly after, the Investigative Committee reported the detention of a Belarusian citizen at the Minsk railway station, who allegedly was taking part in the anti-terrorist operation in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Information Policy Minister Bidenko emphasised the lack of disputes concerning the launch of Ukrainian TV channel in Belarus and promised that after testing UATV the negotiations with the Belarusian authorities on the broadcast would resume.
The Belarusian authorities may continue introducing import restrictions on competitive products from Ukraine. However, these measures are likely to be only temporary to avoid Belarusian-Ukrainian trade wars and complications in political relations. In addition, Minsk may be interested in improving the Belarusian-Ukrainian trade and economic relations in the view of the food embargo on Ukraine to be introduced by the Kremlin as of January 1st, 2016. As Moscow bans Ukrainian and European products, Belarus receives the opportunity to increase supplies of Belarusian produces and re-export Ukrainian products to Russia via Belarusian intermediaries.
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.