Russia has nothing to offer to Belarus for military airbase
On October 6th and 11th, President Lukashenka made statements that he had not agreed to Russia’s plan to deploy a military airbase in Belarus, which means that Lukashenka did not succumb to the information pressure by the Russian authorities. His terms have not changed: Russian weapons should be under the command of the Belarusian authorities and Belarusian specialists should service the military units. Russia’s attempts to put pressure on the Belarusian authorities (i.e. delay of financial aid, information attacks) are likely to fail after the elections – since they have not worked before the elections.
Russia has not offered any benefits to Belarus for her plans to deploy a military airbase in Belarus, namely, the draft agreement between Belarus and Russia on the Russian airbase envisages benefits from the deployment for Russia only. The Russian authorities have counted either on Lukashenka’s vulnerability before the elections or on the sufficiency of the Russian propaganda regarding the deployment of the Russian airbase in Belarus, without the actual need to deploy it.
Politicians and analysts widely believe that Russia has sufficient leverage on the Belarusian leadership to achieve her critical goals. With regard to the airbase issue, it has become obvious that some of these levers have been lost. First, it concerns the gas and oil lever: gas and oil wars between Belarus and Russia have shown that the relationship goes both ways on this issue. In addition, the persistently low world prices for Russian energy have significantly reduced the Belarusian ‘delta’ from the usage of Russian oil and lowered her interest in preserving the price privileges. Moreover, the lower the price of Russian energy, the more Russia is interested in ensuring smooth operations of the Belarusian transit to Europe. Second, the information lever: while the influence of the Russian media on the public opinion in Belarus over general political matters is great, direct information attacks on the Belarusian authorities in 2010 have not brought the expected results.
Russian financial support for the Belarusian economic model plays an important role, albeit only when it is timely. By having held on to a loan until the election day, Russia has prompted Lukashenka to ensure his re-election without the usual promises to Belarusian voters, such as pay rises, social benefits and employment. Clearly, after the elections, Lukashenka’s need for carrots for the electorate will significantly reduce. Moreover, Lukashenka has had the opportunity to probe the loyalty of the power agencies without the promises of wage growth. Overall, if in the future Russia changes her position and offers financial aid to Belarus, which would be far better than the mere loan to pay out previous loans, Lukashenka would make sense of it only in two-three years.
Lukashenka’s stance on the airbase matter, which he outlined in detail at the polling station No1 on October 11th, is very consistent. Belarus is capable of ensuring protection of the Russian military interests in peacetime and therefore does not need a Russian airbase; and in case of a military attack on Russia, Belarus would enforce the agreement on the Russo-Belarusian group of troops.
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.