Amid growing public criticism of Interior Ministry, Belarusian authorities attempt to boost loyalty of security forces
Amid growth in controversial media reports involving power officials, the Belarusian leadership is publicly demonstrating its support for the power bloc to boost the loyalty of law enforcement. Meanwhile, the supremacy of the power bloc in the Belarusian politics has dysbalanced the power system and requires the president’s intervention. It is possible that a loyal, but odious and currently gaining political weight Interior Minister Shunevich may soon be removed from the office and assigned to a less influential post.
Last week, Speaker of the House of Representatives Vladimir Andreichenko awarded Interior Minister Igor Shunevich with the diploma for "activities aiming to ensure the rights and freedoms of citizens and a significant contribution to strengthening law and order".
On social networks and independent media, a deterioration in discipline in the law enforcement, impunity and lawlessness of the Interior Ministry have caused a major debate. Apparently, such a behaviour of the law enforcement was due to the significantly increased role of the power bloc in Belarus’ power system. Amid economic failures and falling popular ratings of state institutions, the power block was the force to contain the protest movement in Belarus.
President Lukashenka was prompted to criticise power officials in Orsha, when he learned that security officials broke into the house of the local executive head without informing him about it. In Orsha, actions of law enforcement officers have interfered with the established balance of powers in Belarus, whereas the presidential hierarchy headed by Lukashenka is the main power centre, immune from prosecution by the law enforcers. It is unlikely that the Interior Minister was unaware of the actions of his subordinates in Orsha, however, he did not disclose their intentions to the president and allowed the policemen to cross the implicit red line.
Meanwhile, the current role of the power bloc in maintaining social and political stability in society and its weight among other state institutions restricts the president from a more decisive action. President Lukashenka is forced to public demonstrations of support for the power bloc in order to retain its loyalty and readiness to mobilise to protect the Belarusian leadership in the case of social unrest.
The president is likely to attempt to relax the growing tension within the power bloc, to mitigate criticism from the population and to balance out the institutional weight of Minister Shunevich with the usual staff reshuffles.
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.