Minsk and Moscow have different views on West-2017 military exercise
Belarus and Russia have different views on the development of their relations with the West. While Minsk seeks to use the West-2017 exercise to demonstrate its integrity and openness, Moscow regards the exercise within the overall confrontation with the West, which is unlikely to end anytime soon.
“West-2017”, the Russo-Belarusian military exercise, is fraught with additional political complications between Belarus and Russia. This is due to a difference in approaches to the political dimension of the event.
The “West-2017” military exercise, is a traditional and routine event. The problem is that the parties have different views on its political significance. Minsk, due to open and transparent conduct of the exercise would like to demonstrate its good will and readiness to continue a political dialogue with the EU, USA and Ukraine. The Belarusian authorities understand that the political agenda in relations with the West is extremely short. Accordingly, Western capitals have only limited interest in Belarus. In addition, Belarus has to demonstrate that she is a responsible and, most importantly, an independent player in European politics, rather than Russia’s appendage as many western states believe, including, recently, Ukraine.
Russia, in turn, regards the "West-2017" exercise within the framework of the confrontational strategy as a pressure instrument on the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine. In addition, it aims to demonstrate that Belarus is, as they say in Moscow, "a zone of privileged Russian interests”. That said, the Kremlin appears irritated about the differences in the Belarusian and Russian positions.
During the “West-2017” exercise, Minsk would aspire to gain maximum control over Russian military activity in Belarus. The transparency of the exercise for Western and Ukrainian observers would be a kind of insurance for the Belarusian authorities should Russia decide to use provocations against the neighbouring states. Meanwhile, Moscow is likely to stick to the hard line and would attempt to impose it on Minsk, albeit unlikely to succeed. Hence, until the “West-2017” exercise ends, Russo-Belarusian relations would be exposed to additional risks.
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.