Minsk prods EU and US to speed up settling relations with Belarusian authorities

April 22, 2016 18:58

Belarus is unlikely to send her own peacekeeping mission to Ukraine. Firstly, Minsk is highly dependent on the Kremlin in terms of military cooperation; secondly, the sheer idea of Belarusians fighting in foreign conflicts is extremely unpopular among society. However, by showing their support for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities hope to strengthen their international position as key players in Europe’s regional security.

In an interview with Euronews, President Lukashenko said he was ready to send Belarusian peacekeepers to Ukraine.

Amid the conflict, the Belarusian authorities have raised their international visibility and have broken the country’s international isolation. In addition, President Lukashenko’s approval ratings hit new highs inside Belarus.

Earlier, President Lukashenko had repeatedly refused to mediate in the Ukrainian crisis. However, after relatively successful negotiations about a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, President Lukashenko has become more vocal in advocating for peace. In an interview with Euronews, he proposed to send Belarus’ peacekeeping forces to Donbass, “it is a very dangerous and scary thing for me, but if needed, since there is mistrust between Russia and the West, the West and Russia, US and Russia and Russia and US and there is no trust between the parties in the conflict, I would be prepared to use my military forces in order to separate the conflicting parties”.

Despite Belarus’ relatively independent stance regarding the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the parties in the conflict do not regard the Belarusian Army as a neutral peacekeeping force. Belarus’ potential participation in the peacekeeping mission is regarded as strengthening Russia’s position. For instance, separatists in eastern Ukraine have supported President Lukashenko’s proposal to send the peacekeeping force, but Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has rejected Belarus’ proposal.

Regardless of Belarus’ attempts to adhere to a policy that is somewhat independent from the Kremlin’s, military cooperation – both on a technical level, and between armies - is the area where integration of the two countries is the most advanced. Belarus has signed several military cooperation agreements with Russia and both countries are members of the CSTO, an intergovernmental military alliance.

Interestingly, after Lukashenko voiced his proposal to send Belarus’ peacekeepers to Ukraine, Vakulchik, head of the Belarusian KGB, warned Belarusians about criminal prosecution for fighting in Ukraine. There is evidence that Belarusians are fighting in the conflict in Ukraine on both sides, however IISEPS polls suggest that the majority of Belarusians are not ready to take part in military actions in Ukraine. In addition, the president’s approval rating has grown in 2014 mainly due to peoples’ expectations that Belarus will not become involved in military conflicts.

The Belarusian authorities seek to speed up the settlement process with the EU and US in the near future so as to receive economic and financial aid before the presidential campaign in 2015.

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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.