Domestic politics: the most likely trends in 2016
In anticipation of the Russian market recovery, the government will attempt to obtain external financing from the IMF and the Eurasia Foundation for Stabilization and Development in order to maintain current social and economic policies. To this end, the authorities are ready to undertake a series of targeted and unpopular measures to curtail social protection for the population, for example, in the housing sector and the pension system.
The Belarusian authorities will tell foreign creditors that such measures are intended as elements of economic reforms, and to the population they will tell that foreign lending terms are harsh.
Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities will not dare to make significant changes to the current socio-economic model without serious pressure from the population.
Public officials are likely to step-up the struggle for the redistribution of increasingly scarce public resources, which may result in several acute anti-corruption campaigns by the authorities, dismissal and prosecution of regional nomenklatura clans and businesses close to them.
In domestic policy, the Belarusian government is unlikely to decide to empower the opposition and enable it into the parliament and other representative bodies as a result of the elections.
The opposition environment is likely to continue reformatting and creating situational alliances before the parliamentary elections. Practically all political parties with regional structures plan to participate in the upcoming parliamentary campaign. Some leaders in exhale and opposition leaders with few human resources are likely to adhere to the boycott strategy.
Attempts of the democratic forces to unite within the frameworks of the Congress are likely to be futile. Even if the opposition manages to hold the Congress, it is unlikely to be attended by many opposition leaders and is likely to exclude many prominent opposition organizations.
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.