Lukashenka in full control of power agencies in Belarus
The national security leadership in Belarus has no political personality and no aspirations to gain one. The Belarusian security forces have no corporate solidarity what so ever. However, there is a noticeable interdepartmental competition for Lukashenka’s attention, which manifests in the desire to fulfil his orders as promptly as possible and identify shortcomings in activity of other law enforcement agencies.
The harsh clampdown by the Belarusian law enforcement on the most recent protests has promoted talks about Lukashenka partially losing control over the security forces. Some analysts believe that the national security leaders have deliberately distorted information for the president in order to disrupt the Belarusian-European dialogue and prompt a political crisis to meet their own or Russia’s interests.
Since coming to power, Lukashenka has applied significant efforts to destroy alternative or potential centres of power within the state apparatus. In order to preclude a threat to his sole rule, he is constantly ensuring that the national security leaders remain loyal. For instance, he has fragmented the law enforcement and created two special services empowered, inter alia, to exercise control over the state administration. In addition, ensuring the internal security in the state is an often-duplicated function.
Currently, there are 16 government agencies in Belarus fully or partially involved in ensuring national security, law and order. By posting senior and middle security officers to unfamiliar regions, the president complicates the formation of influence groups at the regional and national levels.
The rivalry between the law enforcement agencies for Lukashenka’s attention (i.e. budgetary funding and personal career prospects for officers) is manifested, inter alia, through revealing the shortcomings in the activity of other security agencies. That said, the cases when security agencies were providing false information to the president were always associated with concealing own failures and never with political goals.
There is no question of manipulations or a conspiracy against the Belarusian president: there are neither conditions for it, nor officials, who would be ready to assume such a responsibility. Lukashenka has access to quality information about the state of affairs in Belarus. Lukashenka’s decisions are likely to base on his own opinion about a particular issue (except, perhaps, some foreign policy decisions). Power officials in Belarus tend to avoid political issues and choose to implement the president’s orders as is.
Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.
The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.
According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.
Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.
Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.