Belarusian security services increase visibility ahead of presidential campaign
Belarusian security services are increasing their visibility in the media in order to set an appropriate background for the presidential elections. They seek to demonstrate socio-political stability to the voters by showing they are in control of corruption, economic crimes and Belarusian participation in the armed conflict in Ukraine. As elections draw closer, the security forces are likely to step-up their visibility in the media.
As a rule, the Belarusian security services enhance their visibility in the media a few months before the election date and before the start of the presidential campaign. At this stage, they have not yet increased their attention to the opponents of the Belarusian leadership.
By increasing the visibility, the security services are attempting to demonstrate their importance vis-a-vis senior management and high efficiency in the fight against corruption in public institutions. For instance, the media reported about the KGB arresting the head of department for avia-equipment repairs of “Aviation”, the state institution of Emergencies Ministry, on corruption and abuse of authority charges.
President Lukashenka announced the following round of the anti-corruption campaign after the events in Ukraine in late 2013 – early 2014, which led to Yanukovych’s resignation. Back then, President Lukashenka named corruption among the two major culprits for the revolutionary change of power in Ukraine: “the collapse of the state, which occurred in Ukraine, was due to the collapse of economy and terrible corruption. These are the two reasons why the state was ruined”.
The Belarusian security services have received two tasks – to counteract revolutionary developments in Belarusian society and to step-up the fight against economic crimes. And the KGB is demonstrating its efficiency in this fight. Last week, the KGB detained the owner of "Motovelo" as well as other managers of the company and charged them with illegal capital withdrawal and illegal export of equipment. In addition, Vakulchik said that other government officials might be ‘brought to justice’. This statement ahead of the presidential campaign aims to mobilize bureaucratic apparatus and to intimidate business.
In addition, the KGB head reiterated that Belarusian citizens, who participated in the armed conflict in Ukraine as mercenaries would face criminal charges. Despite frequent threats, so far, there were no cases when such mercenaries would have been prosecuted in Belarus. Nevertheless, the Belarusian secret services are closely watching Belarusian activists, who are suspected of being ‘mercenaries’. As Vakulchik said, “People kill people. How can you treat this? Then they come here having the experience of killing people. We must think about this problem and solve it”.
Most likely, by such statements, the Belarusian authorities seek to confirm their ‘balanced’ position over the armed conflict in the Donbass region and to prevent negative reactions from both, the Kremlin and Kyiv.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has passed the amendments to the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Code of Belarus in the first reading, which extended the application of article "High Treason" of the Criminal Code.
Ahead of the 2015 presidential election, the authorities regard economic situation and corruption as the main threats. Depending on the behaviour of the opposition candidates and the level of popular discontent the security services might step up their attention to the political opposition.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.