President Lukashenko is compelled to provoke a crisis
Public administration crisis is deteriorating in Belarus, undermining the main promises and basic principles announced by the leadership: to raise the average salary up to USD 500 by the year-end, to achieve 5% GDP growth, to prevent national security destabilization and ensure law enforcement agencies’ loyalty.
President Lukashenko’s promise to increase an average salary up to USD 500 by the end of the year is hampered. The suspension of naphtha supplies to Belarus in mid-July undermined a very profitable scheme for export earnings from the production and sale of solvents by Belarusian companies, which were produced from naphtha using “innovative” technology and exported duty free, without making due payments to the Russian budget.
Even if naphtha supply is resumed, its current termination for indefinite period of time implies tensions are growing between Minsk and the Kremlin. For sure, Belarusian leadership will have to make concessions, as refusal to cooperate will increase risks of failure to fulfill political promises, i.e. to raise wages and comply with projected GDP growth.
Presidential Administration’s staffing policy demonstrates that the immediate surroundings of Lukashenko will insist on conservative economic policies and abandon market reforms, demanded by Belarus’ foreign creditors. This trend is reflected in the targeted weakening of the “liberal” team of Prime Minister Myasnikovich in the government, i.e. resignations of two deputy prime ministers.
Moreover, risk of a crisis in the government is enhanced by the dismissal and disciplinary actions against key power forces officials. President’s decision to punish security forces officials guilty of omission in the case of violation of Belarusian airspace is highly controversial and has caused a wave of discontent. As President Lukashenko cannot undo his decision, he will have to apply serious efforts to retain loyalty of a wide range of security forces, whose interests have been infringed.
Finally, deterioration of international situation around Belarus as a result of non-renewal of Swedish Ambassador’s accreditation is likely to resume the debate on sanctions against Belarusian authorities and businesses. If sanctions are extended, nomenclature and businesses’ discontent of the President’s actions will increase and the issue of resumption of cooperation with the IMF will be postponed once again.
Objectively, all these factors create very unfavorable conditions for public administration’s stability and compel President Lukashenko to concessions to Russian partners. Most likely, concessions will concern privatization deals. President will postpone privatization decision as long as he can. Some additional opportunities may open if crisis is triggered by the President himself.
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.