Since EU lifted sanctions, reformists bolstered their positions in Belarusian government
President Lukashenka was prompted to "reassure" the population and conservative-minded part of the Belarusian elite of the immutability of state policies. Meanwhile, reformists in the Belarusian government had boosted their positions when the EU lifted sanctions against Belarus. The EU’s ‘soft’ power and pressure from external creditors could encourage the Belarusian authorities to carry out some economic reforms.
At the final board meeting with the participation of Prime Minister Kobyakov, Economy Minister Vladimir Zinovsky said that the Belarusian economy had to change and combine the achievements of the existing model and the world’s best practices. It is worth noting that, "the government has insisted that the head of state should consider the action plan for the near future”. Probably, the policymakers want to enlist the president’s support for unpopular measures aimed at balancing public spending.
In addition, the Economy Minister questioned attempts of senior officials to preserve the existing socio-economic model with an eye to the recovery of the Russian economy and noted that the strategy of "wait and trust that everything will settle naturally is a hopeless one”.
President Lukashenka, however, at the following governmental meeting has confirmed his commitment to a conservative economic policy, which does not envisage socio-economic reforms, "And I do not need your reforms, ones that you have to offer! We need to create a normal life for the people, for the operations of the state and our society - that’s what is needed. Or else instead of bread you want to give people some kind of reform!" Most likely, Lukashenka said that in order to ‘calm down’ the conservative part in the ruling elite and the population, especially after the wave of discontent with increased housing and communal services tariffs in early 2016.
Meanwhile, immediately after the lifting of sanctions by the European Union, the Italian delegation, headed by State Secretary of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Senator Benedetto Della Vedova visited Minsk. It should be noted that an agreement on Belarusian-Italian economic cooperation was reached seven years ago. For instance, the decision to establish an intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation was made in 2009, during Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s visit to Minks amid the previous thaw in Belarusian-European relations.
The Belarusian authorities count on improving economic cooperation with some European countries and on Western investment. That said, Belarus is unlikely to neglect Russia’s interests, which has difficulties with substituting a number of goods form the counter-sanctions list with domestic produces.
At a governmental meeting after the EU sanctions have been lifted, President Lukashenka said it was important to bolster negotiations with the IMF over a new loan.
Overall, the Belarusian government is likely to start some reforms in the economic policy depending on the "persistence" of external creditors. However, reformists in the government are likely to be under constant pressure from the conservative-minded part of the Belarusian elite, especially the security forces and micromanagers.
During searches of social and "green" activists and anarchists, law enforcement has seized computers, mobile phones and publications. The authorities have also exerted additional pressure on supporters of unauthorized street protests and independent lawyers, who represented defendants in the White Legion case. The security services have stepped up the persecution of opponents before the street protests announced by the opposition. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities aspire that participants in street protests would reduce in number and that the low interest of the population to socio-political agenda before the local election campaign would retain.