President Lukashenka steers clear of publicly discussing socio-economic agenda
President Lukashenka has taken a back seat and has not made any important socio-economic and political decisions for a while. In addition, due to the absence of clear guidance from the president, the state apparatus lacks a common vision of the country’s development. The Belarusian bureaucracy is unlikely to take the initiative to develop and implement important decisions; the latter could lead to the accumulation of problem issues in the case the president continues to hold aloof.
During a working meeting with Presidential Administration Head Natalia Kochanova, President Lukashenka has announced several major events.
Despite the plans to revise the decree on social dependants by April 1st and ensure 100% employment by May 1st, the Belarusian leadership avoids raising these issues in public due to their controversial nature and unpopularity of the proposed solutions. Decisions on privatisation of state property and economic development are either pending or disregarded. In addition, despite the initial readiness to amend the election legislation after the 2016 parliamentary elections, and recommendations elaborated by the Central Election Commission by February 1st this year, the president has not resumed the discussion on this matter.
The last time when the president held a meeting with the participation of 250 representatives of the power vertical was in late 2013. Regardless of periodic announcements, the president has held aloof from holding such large-scale meetings on current affairs, which is most likely to be due to the lack of new effective responses to the economic and social policy challenges.
President Lukashenka has suspended from making strategic decisions and adjusting the state policy, which could be due to the lingering economic recession and the authorities’ inability to find a way out of the crisis. The top management is more often proposing and implementing scathing initiatives, such as the ‘decree on social dependants’ or adjustments in the secondary school hours.
Overall, the lack of a clear guidance from the top leadership has hampered the state apparatus. In addition, if the president continues to hold aloof from making important political decisions, the probability of imbalances in the power vertical will increase.
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.