From 2014 into 2015: an attempt to avoid the regional crisis via administrative measures
Development of the political and economic situation in Belarus in 2014 and a forecast for 2015
Socio-economic processes in Belarus in 2014 were shaped by a serious regional crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as well as the Belarusian authorities’ preparations for the re-election of Aleksandr Lukashenko. These events strengthened Lukashenko’s position in the eyes of the Belarusian population, but led to further disbalances in the Belarusian economy. As a result, Belarus is entering 2015 with a major currency crisis and a significant turnover in government members. The change in government was partially due to the ageing state apparatus, however, the more youthful staff will not be able to change the principles of government, at least until the presidential election is over.
Most important trends in 2014:
- Lukashenko’s popularity continued to rise despite the fall in real incomes;
- The Belarusian government maintained a careful balancing act between Russian, Ukraine, and the EU;
- Economic potential was lost in an attempt to wait out the crisis;
- The Belarusian government attempted to distance Belarus from the regional economic crisis, mainly via administrative and managerial decisions;
- High level of demand for change in Belarusian society persisted.
Main threats in 2015:
- Tensions and protest moods in society will rise due to falling living standards and a lack of adequate solutions to the currency-financial crisis, which is likely to worsen;
- Trade conflicts with Russia and informational aggression from the Kremlin against the Belarusian leadership will be more likely.
Most likely trends for 2015:
- The economic recession will continue;
- Real incomes and social benefits will continue to fall;
- Attempts to curb the economic crisis using administrative measures will continue, but the most important economic decisions will be taken in 2015 (devaluation is expected at the start of the year)
- Conditions for political activity will remain repressive;
- Relations with the Kremlin will bear a conflicting character, particularly in the media sphere, but this will not prevent Belarus from participating in Russia’s integration projects, nor receiving financial aid from Russia;
- Relations with the West will improve to some extent.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.