Belarusian Foreign Ministry has temporarily surrendered initiative to law enforcement but has not abandoned dialogue with EU
Amid somewhat reduced interest of the EU in Belarus and growing geopolitical confrontation in the region, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has passed the initiative to the power block. However, Minsk is unlikely to neither curtail the settlement process with Western capitals, nor provoke a tough response to new political prisoners from Brussels and Washington. The authorities could also attempt to undermine the reputation of Vilnius in the eyes Belarusian civil society and international community due to the case of the trade union leaders and thereby neutralize its attempts to draw attention to the Belarusian NPP on the international arena.
Amid the extension of the EU sanctions against Russia and growing tension between Moscow and Washington, Minsk aspires to reduce the attention of the Western capitals to the trade union leaders case. In addition, the authorities have presented the case of trade union as prosecution purely for economic reasons, based the information about the trade union accounts in Vilnius disclosed by the Lithuanian banks in 2011. The Belarusian authorities are unlikely to jeopardize the Belarusian-European relations with new political prisoners. Minsk hopes for a mild response from international trade union associations to the prosecution of Belarusian trade union leaders. That said, independent trade unions in Belarus do not have a common position and law enforcement has taken advantage of tension among trade union leaders regarding cooperation with foreign partners.
In addition, Minsk could aim to discredit Lithuania in the eyes of Belarusian civil society and international community, and, most likely, to play down Lithuanian efforts in prompting a harsh response to the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant construction. Vilnius often hosts events of the Belarusian civil society and the opposition, who oppose the NPP construction in Belarus and support Lithuania’s efforts in blocking the construction in Ostrovets.
Minsk is not interested in worsening relations with Kyiv, especially in the Belarusian-European context. Following several reports in the independent media about the supplies of Belarusian produces to eastern parts of Ukraine not controlled by the Kyiv authorities and Crimea, Ukrainian Ambassador Igor Kizim threatened with possible sanctions against Belarusian enterprises, including by the EU, should the facts of direct supplies confirm. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry ignored his statement and downplayed the issue. Minsk is confident of the Kyiv's reluctance to aggravate relations with its northern neighbour, especially before the Russo-Belarusian military drill.
Overall, as regards the trade union case, Minsk is ready for critical statements from western capitals and has prepared an economic justification for the pressure on independent trade unions. Law enforcement is likely to relax its grip in the trade union case as the Foreign Ministry steps back on the stage following anticipated harsh statements, especially if social and political stability inside the country retains.
The country's leadership has instructed the local authorities to raise minimum wages at enterprises by the end of 2019 to BYN 1,000, which would lead to an increase in the average wage in the economy as a whole to BYN 1 500. The pace of wage growth in 2017 is insufficient to ensure payroll at BYN 1000 by late 2017 without manipulating statistical indicators. In order to fulfil the president’s order, the government would have to increase budgetary expenditures on wages in healthcare and education, enterprises – to carry out further layoffs and expand the practice of taking loans to pay wages and restrict investment in modernisation of fixed assets. In 2010, the artificial increase in wages led to a threefold devaluation in 2011, an increase in the average salary to BYN 1500 will not match the capabilities of the economy and would lead to yet another devaluation.