Official Minsk gains regional importance as state-peacemaker
While Belarus did not mediate the Trilateral Group’s negotiations (Ukraine-OSCE-Russia), her role in regional and European security increased – not only because she provided the meeting place, but also due to her constructive position regarding the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. President Lukashenko is making careful attempts to use the ‘peace-maker’ image in the Russo-Ukrainian settlement in order to secure Minsk’s role as one of the region’s leaders. Belarus aspires to unlock relations with the EU and the U.S. and to reduce pressure from the Kremlin by participating in the process of de-escalating the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
On July 31st, Minsk hosted a face-to-face meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine-Russia-OSCE) on the situation in south eastern Ukraine. Representatives of the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk were also present.
On July 29th, Lukashenko’s press service reported on a telephone conversation between Presidents Lukashenko and Poroshenko, “upon Ukraine’s initiative”, during which the Ukrainian President requested Belarus to become a platform for discussions with all stakeholders to resolve the Ukrainian crisis. A few hours later, President Lukashenko agreed to this request.
The Kremlin is pleased that Belarus – Russia’s main military and political ally – was chosen to host the Trilateral Contact Group’s meeting, as it allows the Russian leadership to save face amid tensions in Russo-Ukrainian relations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov thanked Minsk for its willingness to become a platform for negotiations, and Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov proposed to continue using Belarus as a platform for negotiations: “If negotiations continue, it probably makes sense to use this platform. It is neutral”.
Despite the fact that President Lukashenko did not act as a mediator in the trilateral negotiations, he met with former President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma and promised to assist in resolving the conflict in southeast Ukraine: “We will work with you to do everything necessary for our Ukraine to somehow reduce the intensity of the confrontation in eastern Ukraine. This is in our interest”. In addition, President Lukashenko had a telephone conversation with Serbia’s President Tomislav Nikolic. The presidents “exchanged views on the situation in Ukraine”.
In recent months, Belarus has stepped up her contacts with EU and USA representatives. The authorities aspire to ‘normalise’ Belarusian-European relations by participating in the process of de-escalating the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. President Lukashenko said that “creating additional tension with the European Union” was unnecessary.
Minsk managed to impose its own agenda on Brussels and resume negotiations on non-political issues, such as visa liberalisation and socio-economic modernisation. Official Minsk seeks to continue the Belarus-EU dialogue, without fulfilling the main condition (the release of political prisoners). Belarus’ Foreign Minister Makei underscored that “the topic of political prisoners has already made our mouth sore”.
If Belarus continues to act as a negotiation platform, the Belarusian authorities will strengthen their position on the regional and international arena. This will help revitalise Belarus-EU relations without fulfilling the main condition. Moreover, the Kremlin will stop pressuring Minsk to take Russia’s side in Russo-Ukrainian conflict.
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.