The Kremlin sends yet another warning signal to Minsk
Before the elections, the Kremlin mildly reminded the Belarusian authorities about their yet not fulfilled commitments concerning the state property privatization. Simultaneously, Moscow has indicated that it has not welcomed the aggravation in EU-Belarus relations provoked by the latter and that it will not take tough measures in response to the European sanctions.
On September 6th, Belarusian office of Russian news agency “Interfax” published an interview with a senior adviser at the Russian Embassy in Minsk Valeri Bondarenko.
The most important statement made by Embassy’s Senior Adviser was a reminder about the terms of credit and economic cooperation between Russia and Belarus. Mr. Bondarenko recalled a number of last summer visits to Minsk by senior Russian officials: from President Putin to State Duma heads. It is known that the main subject of talks during these visits was the privatization of Belarusian enterprises (MAZ, Belaruskali) and it is also known that Minsk is delaying the fulfillment of its obligations.
Simultaneously, the Adviser assessed the volume of economic support from Russia to Belarus – mutual duty-free trade in oil and oil products, and other factors – more than USD 6 billion – and emphasized that the European Union was not able to provide comparable support to Belarus.
Finally, Mr. Bondarenko send a strong signal that Russia was not interested in another loop of crisis in the relations between Belarus and the EU. In particular, he reiterated the August statement by Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who said that Russia would not take strong measures in response to the European sanctions against their Belarusian partner and suggested the following foreign policy formula: “any positive developments in the Belarus – EU relations will automatically have a positive impact on relations with Russia”.
The mentioned above nuances in the interview with Mr. Bondarenko should be regarded as yet another diplomatic reminder to the Belarus’ authorities about unfulfilled commitments. Mr. Bondarenko’s statements imply that Russia will continue to ignore the deterioration of the Belarus-EU crisis and will not make allowances. In the meanwhile, naphtha supply from Russia to Belarus is still suspended, which has a negative impact on the Belarusian foreign trade balance.
Amid budgetary cuts on social protection, the Belarusian public sector is experiencing a management crisis and a balance shift in the state resource redistribution system. The authorities are forced to revise their most unpopular decisions during the implementation due to the pressure from affected social groups. The state is unlikely to oppose to some civil society and opposition organisations in strengthening their role in society in order to retain touch with the population and to be able to respond to the most harsh criticism of state initiatives.
The Architecture and Construction Ministry has acknowledged that the decree No 585 on assistance to large and young families in building and buying housing was prematurely rescinded.
The authorities are often forced to revise their decisions on curtailing social assistance to different social groups during their implementation, without preliminary impact assessment and feedback from the population, so as they lead to the growth in social tension. Due to the centralised decision making, languishing state resources and the lack of public debate as a balancing instrument in issues related to social protection, the state administration is losing control of the population.
Perhaps, the compensatory mechanisms of the state apparatus lack the time to adjust to dwindling state resources for supporting the existing social model, even in a reduced form. The authorities have completely or partially paralysed operations of independent public institutions and representative bodies, through which they could monitor public moods and receive feedback from the population, such as local councils, the parliament, political parties and NGOs. Last year, under the pressure of the authorities, the last independent institute for measuring public sentiment, IISEPS, suspended operations.
President Lukashenka’s self-removal from the decision-making on current socio-economic issues, also could have affected the state apparatus’ operations. The president has always been very sensitive about adopting unpopular decisions which could lower his popular support, hence demanded a careful preliminary assessment of such decisions. However, recently, especially after the introduction of the tax on social dependants, the president has mainly focused on the foreign policy agenda.
Hence, a lacuna has formed in the state decision-making after the president reduced participation in the current socio-economic policy formation, which leads to an increase in manifestations of dysfunction in the public administration.