Interior Ministry is interested in independent criticism of the police during the reforms period
On March 25th, former Deputy Interior Minister, Public Safety Chief Poluden was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and property confiscation for abuse of power.
Police reform creates environment for indirect cooperation between police and Belarusian human rights activists and independent journalists. Ministry of Internal Affairs is temporarily interested in disclosure of shortcomings in police work and to have additional leverage over employees.
The decision about staff cuts and restructuring in the Belarusian Interior Ministry was extremely painful for the police. Some reports say, it has been proposed to cut officers by 20-25%, which could imply lay-offs for over 15,000 employees. In addition, after the Ministry has been stripped off its investigative functions the Ministry’s influence had reduced. De facto, the Ministry has become exclusively the public safety authority.
Bearing in mind the still significant MIA status as the most numerous law enforcement agency in the country, the new Ministry heads are interested in strengthening not only the internal, but also the external – public – pressure on the police. These two motives explain the tough disciplinary and criminal sanctions against senior MIA staff (retirement of Deputy Minister Pekarsky, arrest and conviction of Deputy Minister Poluden, arrest of Internal Security Chief Krotov) and many scandalous and embarrassing materials about grass-roots police officers, “leaking” to human rights organizations and the media.
In particular, information leaks from within the Interior Ministry, such as CCTV footage from a police station or Interior Ministry protected areas (unauthorized access to the metro). On the other hand, it is important to note that the criticism of the MIA is sometimes quite reasonable. For example, on March 5th, Lida Investigative Committee opened a criminal case against five police officers on suspicion of detainees’ abuse.
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.