MIA reform designed to protect the President’s entourage
Our previous assumptions have been confirmed: the Interior Ministry’s main purpose of reform, hidden from the public, is to distance itself from curbing organized crime and corruption. This will ensure greater safety for the Belarusian management and business elites and will increase their dependence on President Lukashenko.
On September 14th, “Platforma”, a Belarusian human rights NGO, reported that the ongoing MIA reform will reorganize the Ministry’s Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption.
Human rights defenders reported that Interior Minister Shunevich signed an order to downsize the Ministry’s Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption staff and to delegate the ordinary units of the criminal police the authority to combat organized crime. This information has not yet been officially confirmed.
However, this step was anticipated and fits into the logic of the reform of the law enforcement agencies, a process that started in 2011. There are two major trends in the President’s inner circle: concentrating anti-corruption investigative work under Lukashenko’s auspices and weakening the MIA combat units management.
Firstly, this is meant to strengthen the President’s role as the center for harmonizing the Belarusian elite’s interests. Secondly, it reduces the risks for the country’s leadership, because mobile and disciplined combat units of the Interior Ministry could become a threat to the regime, in particular, if there was not enough funding from the government.
The Ministry’s Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption traced and detained suspects in the Minsk metro terrorist attack on April 11th, 2011. In spite of this, by the end of 2011, the curator of this operation, Deputy Minister of Interior and former head of the Main Department for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption Colonel Pekarsky was fired under the humiliating pretext of “discrediting the title”. Another former Deputy Minister Mr. Poluden, who commanded the public security police forces during meetings’ dispersal, was also arrested in December 2011 on corruption charges. Regardless of their guilt, the authorities are interested in reducing these officials’ influence in the Interior Ministry, and subordinated military police units (their role increased after the mass arrests in December 2010).
The fact that this information leaked from a human rights NGO demonstrates that MIA officials are trying to ‘protest’ against the ongoing reform, but their protest is poorly organized and does not have enough influence to provoke a commensurate reaction. Otherwise, the information would have appeared in other media, in the best case in Russia. In any case, the fact that security forces went public implies that the Interior Ministry has exhausted all non-public instruments to influence the situation and most likely will not be able to withstand the “reformers” from the President’s entourage.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.