Law Enforcement Officers Continue to Extend their Influence on Belarus’ Political Scene
Belarusian law enforcement bodies continue to strengthen their position in the system of governing as well as within the Belarusian elite. Several factors, both direct and direct, indicate the growing influence of law enforcement and intelligence officers. They are officially granted authority and social benefits. Belarusian society feels a rise in the formal and informal influence of the Belarusian law enforcement bodies and responds by a passive refusal to trust the authorities. However, there are still no grounds for active political protests in Belarus.
During the first year and a half of President Lukashenko’s fourth term, Belarus’ law enforcement agencies consistently increase their influence in the system of governance and society, as well as actively create security guarantees for themselves. The reform on the preliminary investigation, carried out in 2011, confirms this statement. Under the reform, two agencies: the Investigation Committee and the KGB now have the monopoly to conduct investigations into corruption cases and economic crimes. In addition, in late June 2012 the KGB managed to make amendments to the Law, greatly expanding its authority to carry out investigations. On 4 July, President Lukashenko issued a special decree which grants the KGB authority to put citizens on a preventive list and ban them from foreign travel (previously, this was the right of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Justice).
As previously noted in our overview, Belarusian law enforcers have not stopped at expanding their professional authority and continue to strengthen their status as top elite. In particular, they are lobbying for changes in the education and training system for prosecutors and investigators (under the reform, investigators will be trained by the Management Academy under the auspices of the President) and for the judiciary reform (a proposal to transfer cases against security forces staff under the military courts’ jurisdiction). Earlier, in the course of the housing loans reform, the law enforcement agencies staff were the only bureaucratic group which retained the right to build houses with the help of loans at a reduced interest rate of 5% (for all other categories of population the loan interest is significantly higher; loans with 1% interest rate can only be allocated to families with several children).
Indirect indicators of the increased influence of the law enforcement elites are none the less interesting. One of them is Lukashenko’s lack of response to the violation of Belarus’ airspace by a small single-engine Swedish airplane which took place on July 4, a day after the military parade on Independence Day in Minsk. Although the incident seriously damages the reputation of the Belarusian Defense Ministry and State Border Committee, the lack of official response has another meaning. It seems that Belarus’ border guard service and military officers have enough influence and power to deny an obvious fact without fearing grave consequences.
The trend of strengthening the positions of law enforcement officers did not go unnoticed by the Belarusian population.
According to a survey carried out in June, 56.5% of respondents believe that President Lukashenko’s power is supported by the forces of the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry and the KGB (as compared to 48.6% in 2006). At the same time, the number of Belarusians who believe that the President’s power is rooted among common people declined from 34.2% to 18.1% in the period from 2006 until present. Such attitudes in society lead to the domination of an escapist mood: 63.3% of the interviewees say that they are living, relying only on themselves, and avoid any contact with authorities. At the same time, there is no growth in a protest mood among the population.
If these trends continue, they will lead to a further split within Belarusian society. There will be elites close to the management of the country and the rest of the population who are deprived access to substantial benefits and do not have impact on the governmental decision-making process.
Since a specific feature of power elites is their lack of responsibility towards society (they are not elected and traditionally avoid public appearances), the strengthening of the security forces in the system of governance can be accompanied by an increase in social, economic and political risks.
Belarusian law enforcement bodies are interested in escalating such broadly interpreted risks, since the elimination of threats increases their own importance. As previously mentioned, we can observe a growth of various risks since 2012, starting from financial risks, to people’s household deposits, to the questionable cases of Islamic terrorist attacks prevented by the KGB in the Gomel and Brest regions.
President Lukashenko is still a deterrent in strengthening the positions of the security forces as new elite. He is traditionally very suspicious of rivals, especially if they are a group. At present, there are no signs of response from the president. However, the next steps to create counter-elites are likely to be taken in autumn after the parliamentary elections. Earlier President Lukashenko talked about the possibility of political reform in Belarus, but its character is still unclear.
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.