Gap between top managers and executives widens
Lukashenko’s top managers remain loyal to him. However, the gap between top and mid-level managers widens. Ministerial and National Bank specialists realize that the existing Belarusian socio- economic model has been exhausted, but are not yet ready to promote an alternative.
A small group of senior managers has formed in Belarus. It mainly includes officials of retirement or nearing retirement age who started their careers in the Soviet times. They lack ambition and desire to change the existing socio- economic model.
From time to time, president Lukashenko reshuffles senior officials horizontally in order to prevent the formation of close relations/clans among the top nomenclature. For example, the transfer of Shapiro to the position of the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee chairman could be linked to his activities as the former governor of Grodno region. He attempted to nominate his own staff to key positions in the Grodno region. Namely, in 2013, Sergey Lozhechnik (born in 1981), Shapiro’s protégé, was nominated as Shchuchyn Region Executive Committee Chairman and became the youngest chairman in Belarus.
Security forces are fully controlled by president Lukashenko. Various secret services are in constant competition for resources and influence on the head of state. The president often reshuffles heads of security agencies horizontally.
In addition, the president uses harsh but populist rhetoric against officials to keep up his approval rating. As a rule, threats “to ‘cut off’ manager’s heads” do not result in concrete actions. Very often the dismissed officials are returned to high managerial positions. Lukashenko has a serious shortage of trusted top management staff. For example, former National Bank Chairman Prokopovich was sent for retirement during the 2011 currency crisis. However in 2013 the president returned 70 - year-old Prokopovich to the civil service, appointing him as his assistant and then Deputy Prime Minister.
Lukashenko understands the importance of nomenclature’s integrity and loyalty for the stability of their power. According to the National Statistics Committee in summer 2013 wages in the public administration increased by 43.1 %. Moreover, the income gap between civil servants at different levels has significantly increased, while the ‘administrative reform’ has affected only average executives.
Simultaneously, National Bank and ministerial specialists have prepared an effective economic policy strategy. However, these documents are used by the authorities only to declare the reform intentions while seeking external funding, without finding support at the highest political level.
Thus, there are currently no reasons to believe that Lukashenko and his top managers have conflicting interests. Mid-level executives, without the support from the ‘top’ and without pressure from the ‘bottom’ are not ready to promote socio-economic reforms.
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.