President Lukashenko specified the MIA reform
Belarusian senior management and the surrounding business community are interested in restricting the Interior Ministry’s control over economic activities of the elite. Therefore, it is proposed to downsize the Interior Ministry, as well as to make it “closer to the people”, which in reality means distancing the police from the high-risk and highly profitable ‘gray’ and illegal transit schemes through Belarus.
On June 15, President Lukashenko made a series of appointments in the Ministry of Interior’s leadership. The President also made it clear that as a result of the reform, the Ministry should downsize its staff and deliver from non-core functions.
President’s statement about downsizing of the Ministry was anticipated. It corresponds with goals voiced by Russian authorities, who already had reformed their police in 2009-2011. It is likely that Belarusian reform initiators will refer to the achievements and authority of their Russian counterparts while justifying the need for painful changes. Moreover, the proposal for MIA downsizing is an obvious downside of a more substantial issue: the reduction of public spending on police. In 2012, the MIA budget will be about USD 710 million and the number of employees, including civilian personnel, is about 90 000 people.
However the most interesting part of the proposed reforms is the desire of the country’s leadership to deliver MIA from “non-relevant functions”. Analysis of the Russian reform progress, as well as the Belarusian domestic political context suggest that President Lukashenko and his surrounding would like to achieve at least two goals: firstly, to reduce the influence of the former Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov (2000 - 2009) inside the Ministry; and secondly, to alienate the police from control over economic crimes and “gray” foreign trade.
President Lukashenko and his surrounding would like to achieve at least two goals: firstly, to reduce the influence of the former Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov (2000 - 2009) inside the Ministry; and secondly, to alienate the police from control over economic crimes and “gray” foreign trade.
The first goal is achieved via (sometimes very harsh) staff rotations. On June 15 the President appointed a Deputy Minister and a Head of Vitebsk region police department, thereby continuing with the ongoing personnel shuffling in the Ministry. Earlier the Interior Minister Kuleshov (successor of Minister Naumov) was dismissed and Minister Shunevich appointed (he has the KGB background and is not associated with Naumov). In winter, two Deputy Ministers from Naumov’s team were dismissed: Mr. Poluden (arrested on corruption charges) and Mr. Pekarsky (dismissed for title discredit).
Informal means are used to achieve the second goal, for instance, with consent or with direct involvement of the newly appointed Interior Ministry officials, investigation of cases that threaten Belarusian managers and business elite are transferred to security services close to the President (State Control Committee and the KGB). For example, in March the KGB intercepted a case at the Main Directorate for Combating Economic Crimes at MIA concerning potash smuggling from Belarus to Russia and Latvia. Obviously, it has only become possible with the appointment of the new Deputy Interior Minister and former KGB official Mr. Shunevich in January 2012.
Strict control over various smuggling schemes is vital for the Belarusian authorities, in particular in light of the currently used scheme for Russian oil re-exports without paying duties to the Russian budget. Last week, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Dvorkovich voiced such suspicions and initiated an inspection at the Energy Ministry level (unofficial sources refer to the inspection being initiated by Russian Prime Minister Medvedev).
The use of such gray and illegal trade schemes is quite typical for the Belarusian authorities, yet since the mid-1990s. Perhaps, increased economic risks after the currency crisis in 2011 force the Belarusian authorities to implement safety measures, namely, to narrow the range of law enforcement agencies, authorized to control “gray” schemes and illegal trade. Therefore, it is anticipated that the Interior Ministry department responsible for combating economic crimes and corruption will continue divorcing from informal control over these areas.
The Belarusian authorities could to step up the opposition representation in local councils, should party members demonstrate potency. The Belarusian leadership is unlikely to have the resources to ensure 100 percent pro-government candidates in the local elections. The authorities have exhausted the grassroot support and have no funds to pay for the loyalty.
The Belarusian Central Election Commission has proposed to hold the elections to the local Councils of Deputies on February 18th, 2018.
The president has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the local councils in the power system and the state machine always tried to ensure the necessary local election results. Candidates have been decreasing in number with each elections and the authorities dealt with that by reducing the deputy corps. That said, during the rule of President Lukashenka, his electoral base has changed substantially. Over the past decade, most Belarusians have moved to cities and lost their local roots. The rural population is ready to support the president, but rural residents are constantly decreasing in number.
The Belarusian leadership is likely to permit broad participation in the election campaign and an increase in alternative representatives in the local councils. However, the opposition would have to boost its activity, so as so far it has been passive in defending its interests. In addition, the authorities, while determining the date for the local elections, have taken into account the fact that the opposition is usually the least active in the winter time.
Overall, both, the opposition and the local authorities have exhausted their grassroot support, however new local leaders may still come on political stage, although the party opposition has not yet shown sufficient aspirations.