Modernization of state media will have opposite effect
Most likely, merger of five Belarusian major state print media will have the opposite effect than intended and will increase the bureaucracy in a new media holding. It will reduce the state’s means for supporting government’s information policies in the eyes of the population and the international community.
The authorities’ plans to merge five state newspapers into a single media holding under the Presidential Administration, announced early January, are intended to cut down public spending. Exactly the same logic is behind the government’s personnel reform: costs cutting via staff lay-offs and functions’ reconfiguration.
In particular, based on Sovetskaya Belorussiya newspaper, it is proposed to establish a single holding company, which will include newspapers, published by various governmental bodies: Respublika, Narodnaya Gazeta, Belorusskaya Niva and Znamia Yunosti. As a result, all the print media will be controlled by the President’s Administration, which issues Sovetskaya Belorussia newspaper with the largest circulation.
In reality, this approach will result in the expansion of state bureaucracy in the new media holding (personnel department, marketing, logistics, etc.) at the expense of actual editorial teams. As a consequence, the number of ‘technical’ staff, who is not responsible for the implementation of the national information policy will increase.
The problem is that despite the impressive number of staff responsible for ideological work in the government and in the state media, the Belarusian authorities failed to elaborate proper state ideology, which would become an additional factor ensuring the civil servants’ loyalty. Even President Lukashenko acknowledged this problem during a meeting with students from the Presidential Administration Management Academy in September 2010.
The lack of “soft power” within the government during the last few years (it could be the state ideology) has resulted in the brain-drain of younger journalists from the state media to private information start-ups or international media (a group of journalists left Sovetskaya Belorussia, as well as popular hosts from BT TV, STV, ONT, and other TV Channels.)
Most likely, the priority budget cuts at the state-run media will become an additional factor impairing state’s functions, along with the declared reduction of the state apparatus by one-quarter. As a result, the state’s ability to control political elite and public opinion in Belarus will reduce in the next two years.
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.