Authorities test the economy’s mobilization
On November 30th, during a visit to Borisovdrev woodworks President Lukashenko urged to develop a regulation banning layoffs at the enterprise before the modernization was completed. Mr. Prokopovich was nominated Presidential Aide responsible for woodworking industry modernization.
The authorities’ desire to tighten labour discipline and rules is due to a significant workers’ outflow from the industry and jeopardized modernization programme. In addition, by taking strict measures, the president tests the social response for if the financial crisis of 2011 repeats.
Lukashenko’s statement prohibiting layoffs had a wide response the independent Belarusian media and was negatively assessed - as a “return to slavery”. In the meanwhile, the issue is about a draft decree, which probably will establish special labor terms at woodworking enterprises undergoing modernization. The state’s logic is that if an enterprise receives public money for modernization, it must achieve the projected output results, which is impossible with fewer employees.
These initiatives are explained by personnel and economic problems faced by the Belarusian government. It should be reiterated that during the currency crisis in 2011, Lukashenko was threatening to use harsh measures against Belarusian migrant workers in a very emotional manner (for instance, to make them pay 100% for utilities), but had not actualized his threats.
However, the government’s concerns about downsizing in the industry are well-founded. According to official data, the number of employed in the economy in January-October 2012 decreased by 2% compared with January-October 2011, and the highest rates of dismissals were registered in construction and industry. The difference in wages forces Belarusian workers to leave for jobs in Russia, or to change their main activity, for instance, to become “shuttle traders”, which is a particularly popular activity among the residents in the border areas. Therefore Lukashenko demands from the government officials to increase control over industries in the regions, threatening with dismissals.
In addition, the President started his field trips without Prime Minister Myasnikovich. He seems to keep PM away from the key economic policy issue – an industrial modernization programme – which implies that PM team’s influence continued weakening. The most likely successors of Myasnikovich in the short term are: former Lukashenko assistant for Economic Affairs Mr. Tkachev (who works for Amkodor machine-building holding), the recently appointed PA head Alexander Kobyakov or Mr. Prokopovich, who recently headed the National Council for Enterprise Development.
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.