Government freezes pay rises until after presidential campaign kicks off
Gas, electricity and thermal energy for heating and hot water have gone up in Belarus.
The government has no resources to maintain the growth in social well-being. The Belarusian authorities have made some unpopular decisions, aspiring to balance out the economy before the 2015 election campaign. The Belarusian government accumulates resources to resume its populist politics when presidential campaign starts.
In 2013, gas, electricity and thermal energy tariffs increased 7 times. Retail prices on some cigarettes and some ‘socially important goods’ went up too. Some items were excluded from lists of ‘socially important goods’. Railway tariffs also increased substantially.
In 2013, President Alexander Lukashenko managed to bump up his approval rating to 42.6%, mainly due to pay rises in January -August 2013 by 18.8 %. Such a popular rating growth would be good during the presidential campaign. However the authorities are unable to keep up with such pace of welfare growth in the coming year and a half. Back in summer 2013 Minsk City Executive Committee Chairman Ladutko said, that “we have already reached the maximum average level in Minsk”. And Finance Minister Yermolovich said that economic imbalances in 2013 increased due to unjustified wage growth.
Meanwhile, the government cannot allow a repeat of the devaluation and currency crisis of 2011, which caused the president’s approval rating to fall to a historic low of 20.5%. However, Economy Minister Nikolai Snapkou has virtually confirmed the World Bank’s assessment that the 2011 economic crisis might repeat itself: “Their assessment is natural, based on the figures that they see. But the probability of a crisis is excluded”.
The authorities are trying to choose the lesser of two evils and pick citizens’ pockets using less painful means, i.e. by raising prices by 2-3 % each quarter, not by 30% at once. The government also searches for other the least conflicting options to replenish the budget. For example, the government daily Sovetskaya Belorussia recently published a proposal by some state experts to introduce a vehicle tax in Belarus, which would include ‘an environmental tax and a parking tax’.
In the near future the government will limit the growth in the population’s well-being in order to balance out the economy. Citizens’ pockets will be picked using means that will not stir up open outrage. Meanwhile, the authorities will propose scandalous initiatives to divert public attention from what is really happening.
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.