Power block in Belarus to redistribute resources in 2017
Downsizing in one law enforcement agency in Belarus could be due to the need to allocate additional resources to another agency. The external environment and uncertain prospects for preserving socio-political stability in the country require capacity building to counter potential threats to national security.
The financial and economic crisis in Belarus has limited the authorities’ capacities to mobilise additional resources to respond to the new security challenges. Without additional resources, the Belarusian authorities may start redistributing available funds within the power block.
On January 24th, 2017, at the debriefing with Interior Minister Igor Shunevich, Lukashenka talked about the prospects of downsizing the Interior Ministry. He also said that the saved resources would remain in the Ministry. The day before, Interior Troops Commander, Major-General Yuri Garayev noted that staff reductions would affect managers who were not directly engaged in the law enforcement activity.
In 2016, mass layoffs were carried out in the Ministry of Emergency Situations. According to unofficial reports, the Ministry’s personnel was downsized by 10%, while the Ministry’s budget was cut by 12%. The Interior Ministry is very unlikely to retain funds freed up due to layoffs.
The unfavourable internal and external environment does not allow asserting unequivocally that the above measures are aimed at cost savings in times of a crisis. Amid budget deficit, Minsk is facing new challenges, which require an adequate response. For instance, Russia could introduce full border control at the Belarusian-Russian border, which would require reciprocal steps from the Belarusian authorities.
Layoffs in the Interior Ministry could become a part of the overall redistribution of funds within the national defence and security sector in 2017. The most likely beneficiaries include the Defence Ministry, the Interior Ministry Troops and the State Border Committee - in order to increase the combat potential of the Belarusian army, to build capacity for armed riot control in urban areas, and enforce (if necessary) border controls at the border with Russia.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.