Oppositions reaction to the news about possible deployment of Russian air base in Belarus

April 22, 2016 18:29

On April 23rd, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in Minsk that by 2015 Russian airbase will be deployed to Belarus.

Nationalists, conservatives and a number of Belarus’ social movements have strongly opposed the idea, referring to the Belarus’ sovereignty. Liberal and left-wing parties take restrained and constructive stand. At the same time, the opposition has generally refrained from making collective statements in this regard.

The statement by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu received a strong response from the Belarus’ political opposition. In particular, the Organizing Committee of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party leader, Vital Rymashevski, said that such plans were in violation of the neutrality principle declared in the Belarus’ Constitution. “European Belarus” campaign leader, Andrei Sannikov, said that such plans would strengthen the dictatorship and called upon the EU not to resume cooperation with the Belarusian authorities.

The opposition “trio” members were almost in unison. BPF leadership announced that the party would protest against the deployment using all available non-violent means. “For Freedom” movement also strongly opposed the plans, referring to the constitutional principle of neutrality. “Tell the Truth” movement stated that it was Russia that needed the airbase, not Belarus and that such project could have economic benefits for the Belarusian budget.

Liberal and left-wing parties’ reactions to the Shoigu statement were less explicit. United Civil Party member and former Belarus’ Defense Minister Kozlovski praised Lukashenko’s statement on April 26th about the potential supply of Russian fighter jets and S-300 missiles for the Belarusian army as strengthening Belarus’ defense capacities.

In turn, the Liberal Democratic Party leadership urged to have a constructive approach and to hold parliamentary hearings. Representatives of the newly formed Leftist Platform refrained from comment.

Thus, the majority of political actors took advantage of the situation to outline their positions clearly. Regardless of the existence of semi-formal opposition coalitions (‘Trio’, Leftist Platform) there were no joint statements made. The individual character of the statements made by the opposition leaders are the effects of the centrifugal trends in the Belarusian opposition, which have intensified during the parliamentary election campaign in 2012.

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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.