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.
President Lukashenka has met with the head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov, who visited Minsk and the Minsk Automobile Plant. Minsk has always sought to have independent links with Russian regional elites, partially, to compensate for the Kremlin's diminishing interest in Belarus. In recent years, Belarus’ contacts with the Russian regions have been extremely intense. However, with some leaders of Russian regions, primarily heads of large republics, communication was more difficult to build. As many analysts in Minsk suggested, Minsk could regard contacts between President Lukashenka and the head of Chechnya as an additional communication channel for relieving tension in relations with the Kremlin. However, most likely, a trusting relationship with Kadyrov is a value for Minsk as such, provided Kadyrov’s broad business and political interests, and a high degree of autonomy for the Chechen leader from the Kremlin.