Belarus suffers from the “last dictatorship in Europe” image
The external and domestic information policy of the authorities is highly vulnerable – that was demonstrated by the reaction of the media to the recently entered into legal force amendments to the Administrative Code. It implies that the Belarusian authorities failed to shake off the negative image of the “last dictatorship in Europe”.
On 6 January amendments to a number of Belarusian laws envisaging penalties for violation of the use of national segment of the Internet entered into legal force. On 5 January Deputy Director of the Park of High Technologies (PHT) Mr. Martinkevich noted that due to the recent resonance in the media concerning this issue a number of foreign customers have questioned the capabilities of the PHT to provide services to its foreign partners.
Moreover, the authorities have not learned to control this image, which could jeopardize long-term business relationships (for instance, with the PHT). The PHT specializes in software development and is a subject to lighter taxation for Belarusian companies operation under its umbrella. It is marketed abroad as a role model for implementing projects in Belarus in the sphere of export of hi-tech solutions (the PHT was created with support and personal supervision of President Lukashenko).
Authorities failed to withstand the strong negative wave of publications in domestic and foreign media about the amendments to come into legal force, regardless of the fact that most of the publications were untrue and were mistaking the fears of online media for the facts.
In the meanwhile the facts are as follows.
1. Amendments to the Administrative Code have already been published half a year ago with the entry into legal force of the Decree No 60 on the regulation of the national segment of the Internet.
2. The amendments do not involve the prohibitions and penalties for ordinary citizens, and in particular, they not aim for blocking of unwanted foreign sites throughout Belarus.
3. The liability rests not on the Internet users, but on the Internet providers and businesses.
Nevertheless, the number of publications and, in particular, by the online media, as well as the high-speed of their dissemination have puzzled the authorities and threatened the PHT business ties and forced the PHT leadership and other state agencies to take a weak apologetic position.
As a consequence, the Belarusian authorities would have to retaliate for losses in the information opposition and will continue tightening screws for internet business, online media and users. Therefore the probability that the fears of the online media will eventually become a reality has increased. Moreover, data published last week implies that Belarus overcame 50% threshold of penetration of the Internet, which could become an important incentive to increase control over the Internet for the authorities.
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.