President sided with Defence Ministry in the air defence system scandal
President Lukashenko chose the least costly way to respond to the penetration by a foreign aircraft in the Belarusian airspace. Rewarding the guilty and silencing the incident is the least threatening reaction for the governments’ authority.
On July 16th, President Lukashenko awarded a number of commanders of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defense with “For Distinguished Service” medals.
As anticipated, the Belarusian leadership has chosen the least costly way to respond to a July 4th incident, when Belarusian airspace was penetrated by a sport aircraft from Lithuania scattering teddy bears over two Belarusian cities, beating Belarusian air defense radars.
A harsh ‘traditional’ response to this provocation (acknowledgement and punishment) is as costly for the authorities as a ‘modernization’ one (re-equip air defense system with more modern equipment or launching a counter-PR-campaign in the international information space).
Therefore, the authorities selected the least costly for the budget and the image response (in their understanding): the incident was completely ignored by the state media and government agencies. At the same time, independent journalists received an unambiguous signal that coverage of this topic could entail tough sanctions (Mr. Suriapin, a photographer, who posted a photo on his website of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane, was arrested by the KGB).
The Belarusian authorities believe that rewarding the guilty above all would strengthen their internal power (top ranking officials over lower ranking) and shift the blame for what happened from the Belarusian military to “external forces”. This behavior is traditional for President Lukashenko and is a variation on his well-known populism.
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.