‘West 2013’ military exercise: nuclear threat myth plays into hands of few
The joint strategic military exercise ‘West 2013’ was held in Belarus and Russia on September 20th – 26th, 2013. According to media reports, during a training exercise near the Polish border, Belarus and Russia worked on the scenario of a preventive nuclear attack on Warsaw.
Rumours about ‘a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Warsaw’ training, are advantageous for those who are interested in strengthening NATO presence in Central and Eastern Europe and the Baltic. For Belarus, increased NATO presence in the region might mean that Lukashenko’s importance grows in the eyes of Russia.
Initially, information about Russo-Belarusian military exercises and ‘a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Warsaw’ training was published in Polska, a Polish newspaper, in April 2013 with reference to unofficial sources. Later on, it was reprinted by other Western media. The Belarusian government sources refuted the message immediately.
In February 2013 The Washington Times published an article about nuclear military exercises in Russia, citing officials from the Pentagon and the European Command of U.S. forces. The sources said Russia held large-scale exercises on the transportation of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons closer to Europe.
Simultaneously, in February 2013, President Lukashenko approved a plan for the Russo-Belarusian military exercise ‘West 2013’. He emphasized the need to include territorial defence forces in the training. The incumbent president has a priority to maintain domestic political stability in the country, rather than to strengthen its defence potential. Belarus does not regard the threat of military conflict with NATO countries as likely.
Polish media have raised the issue of a nuclear attack on Warsaw by Russia several times. In 2009, Wprost, a Polish weekly, reported about the joint Russo-Belarusian military exercises ‘West 2009’ and training on the attack on Poland and training on the use of nuclear weapons. In 2009 Russian strategic bombers Tu -160 and Tu- 95MS took part in the military exercises, which led to such conclusions.
In 2008 Poland and USA signed a military cooperation agreement on anti-missile defence systems. Back then, Russian military official Nogovitsyn said ‘the USA cares for its own anti-missile defence, not Poland’s. Poland, by placing anti-missile defence systems, jeopardizes herself. Such targets are always a priority for destruction’,
Simultaneously, the increasing (apparent or real) threat from the East helps to attract the attention of the NATO leadership to Eastern Europe and Baltic states. In November 2013 Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will carry out Steadfast Jazz 2013 NATO military exercise in the Baltic Sea – for the first time since 1993. NATO started planning the exercise in 2009.
Thus, the joint Russo-Belarusian military exercises and, more importantly, the rumours about ‘a nuclear attack on Warsaw’ training have become the basis for stronger presence of NATO in the region. It is a good chance for the Belarusian president to strengthen his position in the Kremlin by using anti-Western rhetoric.
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.