Minsk ponders early presidential elections
Belarus’ crumbling socio-economic situation means that a call for an early presidential election is among the likely scenarios. The decision about the election date will depend on whether Minsk manages to lobby its interests in the Kremlin. Any time soon, President Lukashenko anticipates receiving Moscow’s guarantees of support for the Belarusian economy before the 2015 presidential campaign.
Amid spiralling problems in the Belarusian economy, political analysts have started talking about early presidential elections.
The next presidential election in Belarus should be held by November 20th, 2015, at the latest. As Belarusian legislation does not regulate early elections, the Belarusian authorities may call for an early presidential campaign. In 2006, for example, the presidential elections could have taken place in June, but were held in March – three months before the deadline.
The Belarusian authorities have full control over all the mechanisms necessary to ensure the election results. During the 2014 local elections, electoral commissions demonstrated complete loyalty and ensured the turnout requested by the authorities.
Usually during a presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities seek to increase presidential approval ratings by raising wages. Despite some recovery in Q1 2014, economic imbalances are growing, and require adjustments, which imply lower incomes. The authorities aspire for additional external financing in order to avoid a major crisis. Today, such assistance may only come from Russia.
However, the Kremlin is not yet ready to pay for Belarus’ entry into the EEC on her own terms. During the Minsk Summit, President Lukashenko failed to reap major concessions from Russia as regards oil duty exemptions, which would imply an additional income of USD 3-4 bln per year. Nevertheless, the Kremlin made some concessions to Minsk, for example, it agreed to supply 2 mln tons of oil to Belarusian refineries in 2014 and to issue a USD 2 bn loan.
External factors seem to favour Belarus’ government. Belarus expects that events in Ukraine will prompt the EU and the USA to revise their attitude towards Belarusian leadership. If President Lukashenko manages to preserve a balanced position in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, he may increase his role in the region as a mediator and induce the EU to soften its stance.
Events in Ukraine have also contributed to strengthening Lukashenko’s rating at home. More and more, Belarusian society favours a strong state which is capable of ensuring political stability in the country. In addition, Belarusian propaganda can always provide updates on the Euromaidan’s negative aspects.
As the Kremlin is focused on promoting its interests in Ukraine, the Belarusian authorities expect less attention from Moscow to internal political processes in Belarus. For example, during the last presidential election campaign in 2010 President Lukashenko’s relations with the Kremlin deteriorated sharply. And being under strong pressure from Moscow, President Alexander Lukashenko was forced to sign documents to establish the Common Economic Space. In the long-term, Belarus’ total dependence on the Kremlin will mean that the costs of post-Soviet integration for Belarus will only rise. .
Therefore, holding early elections in Belarus does not appear to be the main scenario for the Belarusian authorities. President Lukashenko counts on the Kremlin to provide some kind of support for the Belarusian economy for the election period.
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.