Belarus government is defensive of its information security
On June 26th, the House of Representatives adopted amendments to the Administrative Offences Code, which envisage penalties for illegal organization of opinion polls to survey socio-political situation in the country.
Due to tight electoral calendar and president’s low electoral rating the ruling group has to increase self-defense mechanisms against potential domestic and international political rivals. At the same time, these restrictive measures protect some players in the domestic public polls market from unwanted economic competition.
Adoption of these amendments implies that the authorities are concerned about the socio-political situation in the country, but do not have sufficient resources to shift the situation in their favor, namely, President Lukashenko’s electoral rating (33.4% according to March survey by IISEPS). Unlike before, Lukashenko’s rating stopped responding to real incomes’ growth. In addition, independent researchers also note low level of trust in the state institutions.
The adopted amendments envisage penalties for carrying out public opinion polls on issues related to social and political situation in the country, as well as national referenda and presidential and parliamentary elections without proper accreditation. Fines are envisaged for the interviewers (up to circa 200 Euro) and for the polling institution (up to 1000 Euro). The fine increases if violation repeats (up to 500 Euro and 2000 Euro accordingly).
The said amendments were drafted yet in June 2012. Potentially, the government hoped that the increase in the living standards and economic stabilization would increase the trust levels vis-à-vis the state after the 2011 crisis. However this is not the case.
During the 2014 – 2016 election period, social and political situation in the county is of the authorities’ great concern – three election campaigns will be held (local, parliamentary and presidential elections). As mentioned before, Eurasian integration creates challenges, inter alia, for Belarus’ information security, enabling international companies carrying out public polls about important political issues (eg “Integration” Foundation), including exit polls on voting days (eg ‘Inside’ Agency organized exit-polls in December 2010 in Minsk).
The adopted amendments will certainly play into the hands of state and quasi independent research institutes, for instance, the Information-Analytical Center of the Presidential Administration, quasi independent center Ecoom, and the Sociology Institute at the National Science Academy and the Center for Sociological and Political Studies at the Belarus’ State University.
Introduced penalties enable these organizations to lobby accreditations for organizing opinion polls and may eventually make them inevitable partners for foreign research companies when they hold surveys in Belarus (counseling, providing network of accredited interviewers and other organizational services).
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.