During recession, authorities are more open to dialogue with independent expert community
The Belarusian authorities have bolstered consultations with the expert community and civil society during the recession. The Belarusian government uses such consultations with NGOs and independent experts, primarily in order to relieve tension in Belarusian society. Whenever such a “dialogue with society” occurs, the expert community has the opportunity carry out some cooperation projects in non-political spheres, which do not put the regime’s stability at threat.
While speaking at the German Association for Foreign Policy in Berlin, Foreign Minister Makey underscored Belarus’ stabilising role in the region and outlined Belarus’ approaches to the regional security issues.
Interestingly, the earlier meeting between Foreign Minister Makey and Belarus’ expert community has alarmed some pro-Russian media, such as REGNUM and Imperia Information Agencies – they referred to it as "the seed of a parallel government”. Pro-Kremlin analysts have attempted to provoke the Belarusian president’s backlash by marking the ‘unprecedented’ nature of the meeting between the authorities and society, "Have any of such meetings between the expert community and ministers, vice prime minister or deputy chief of staff, not to mention two higher ranking officials, been held before?"
In particular, the article Khrushchev after Stalin: Mackey behaves as next president of Belarus was written by political scientist Yuri Baranchik, who leads Imperia pro-Russian News Agency and the Institute of Information War in Moscow. Until 2007, Baranchik occupied senior positions in various structures of the Belarus’ Presidential Administration. Pro-Russian analysts, who previously played a significant role in the presidential administration, are making an apparent bid to disrupt the recent improvements in Belarusian-European relations. They have started a campaign to discredit Minister Makey in the eyes of President Lukashenko, which, in their viewpoint, could lead to his dismissal.
Meanwhile, the practice of creating public advisory councils at various governmental levels is quite common in Belarus. The first advisory bodies appeared in the early 2000s and since then quite of few of them had been created – most, however, had been dissolved. A lion’s share of such advisory councils is quasi-‘pubic’, as their members mainly include officials from various government agencies, while the councils are used for inter-agency coordination in the decision-making. In some spheres, in particular, in ecological and entrepreneurial, such public advisory councils do include civil society representatives. However, public councils’ provisions, as well as information about their activities are often impossible to find in the public space.
In addition, during the 2011 recession, numerous public (expert) advisory councils were created – for example, in the Justice, Information, Economy, Communication and Informatisation Ministries. The most influential is the Council for Enterprise Development, which operates continuously since 1999; the president approves its Board members. Currently the Council is headed by Piotr Prokopovich. The Council members include representatives of business organisations and large businesses, among them Chiz, Shakutin, Moshensky and other businessmen close to President Lukashenko.
Small and medium-sized business also has the ability to influence the authorities’ decisions through the advisory bodies in the ministries. In addition, in early 2015, amid rising tension in the business environment entrepreneurs proposed to create a public advisory council for entrepreneurial development, investment and innovation at the Economy Ministry, in order to relieve this tension.
All in all, as recession builds up, the Belarusian authorities will be more willing to enter into a ‘dialogue’ with independent experts.
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.