Belarusian authorities aim to tighten control over IT and boost its role in economy

March 20, 2017 10:10
Image: kp.by

The president has demonstrated a loyal attitude to the IT sector, and simultaneously stepped up control over the industry. By appointing a compromise candidate, Vsevolod Yanchevsky, to lead the High Tech Park, the Belarusian authorities aspire to relax tension between the IT sector and the state, which occurred following Tsepkalo’s dismissal. Apparently, the Belarusian leadership envisages applying private business practices in traditional industries to the IT sector, i.e. allowing large businesses to develop in exchange for the loyalty to the current authorities and their financial needs.

The president has appointed his aide, Chair of the Supervisory Board of the HTP and long time supervisor of the IT industry, Vsevolod Yanchevsky, as he Head of the HTP Administration.

Amid distress in traditional industries, the state has stepped up its interest in the IT development in an attempt to boost economic growth. The president counts on prompt economic effects thanks to large investment in the economy. For instance, last week he visited Belarusian IT companies together with Russian billionaire and IT investor Mikhail Gutseriev. Meanwhile, apparently not all senior officials from the president’s inner circle share his views, so they speak about the long-term IT development in order to prevent criticism in his regard in the future.

IT sector leaders have reacted positively to the appointment of former chief ideologist from the presidential administration Yanchevsky to lead the HTP. Yanchevsky is probably the only official in the top echelon of the state administration, who is closely familiar with the IT and communication technologies, and suits both, the authorities and IT entrepreneurs.

It is worth noting that, along with his appointment as the HTP Head, Yanchevsky is attempting to strengthen his lobbying potential by creating an additional bureaucratic structure - the Public Council for IT Development, which would include officials and business representatives.

The Belarusian leadership seems ready for gradual structural transformations in the economy in Belarus and takes measures to ensure it retains control over new promising sectors.

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Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.

The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.

According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.

The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.

Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.

Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.