Lukashenka seeks compromise between supporters of market reforms and conservatives
The president is attempting to find a compromise solution to economic problems between reforms and conservation. Apparently, the government is increasingly split over future economic development policy - either liberal, or conservative. Disagreement among state managers and the lack of decisive majority prevents the authorities from committing to a particular economic policy, which leads to half-measures and inconsistent decisions relating to economic reforms.
On the sidelines of the Belarusian People’s Assembly former National Bank Head Piotr Prokopovich said that economic growth required available credit resources.
President Lukashenka risks being caught between two fires due to indecision about the final choice of economic policy in the next five years. On the one hand, the Belarusian authorities have not taken an irrevocable decision regarding the implementation of full-scale structural and market reforms. Despite some liberal elements in Lukashenka’s speech at the Assembly, the President noted that the adopted five-year plan could be revised: "Because life is very diverse, plenty of other issues may emerge. We will have to make many decisions outside of this programme, based on its provisions, of course”.
On the other hand, the president is a supporter of administrative micro-management in the economy dominated by state ownership. After the presidential campaign, President Lukashenka repeatedly emphasised his commitment to the current socio-economic model and his reluctance to reform it. However, he said he was ready for market reforms, but noted the lack of consensus in the ruling elite: "I am ready for any reform, for any plans, for any action. The question is not about me: are you, society, ready for such a radical change? Silence".
In the Belarusian society and among state managers, supporters of conservative approach and administrative management have strong positions. Despite the inconsistency of the government policy and some provisions of the adopted five-year economic development programme, some conservative managers see in it some unacceptable "neoliberal reforms based on market fundamentalism”.
That said, some half-measures and often forced decisions to reform some socio-economic spheres, do not allow the economy to recover. However, the tight monetary policy has prompted the growth of dissatisfaction in the public sector, which is nostalgic about the emission stimulation of the economy and larger state support.
In turn, amid lasting economic recession, positions of liberal-minded managers in government, the National Bank and the Administration have been increasingly criticised. For instance, former National Bank head Prokopovich criticized the approach of his former colleagues to curbing inflation and supported advocates for greater credit support for the public sector: "Today, loans should costs 15%-16%. Then it will be understood by the real economy and there will be no claims to the National Bank [from businesses, industrialists]. The faster we introduce such a system, the sooner there will be prerequisites for economic growth”.
Before the Assembly, a public discussion broke in Belarusian expert community among liberals and their opponents. For instance, in SB, the newspaper of the presidential administration, ex-presidential aide on economy Tkachev published an article sharply criticising the government’s new five-year programme. Independent analysts, supporters of market reforms, have criticized the same document for the lack of effective mechanisms to implement its objectives.
Amid the lack of a clear majority between liberals and conservatives, the president is prompted to accept a compromise solution on economic transformation.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.