The regime stakes on populations and power elites support
On May 3rd, President Lukashenko ordered to arrest a number of employees of a private clinic Ecomedservice who were responsible for the death of a patient. The president also instructed the Ministry of Health to take over control and management of the clinic.
Belarusian President still regards popular support as a basis for his legitimacy. The upcoming presidential elections force Lukahsenko to sacrifice the interests of the nomenclature and private business in favor of the mass electorate and the law enforcement agencies.
The disproportionate reaction of the president, and especially the state media, to a tragic accident in the Ecomedservice clinic demonstrates that the country’s leadership decided to use it as an excuse for creating a precedent. As a result, the private medical care institution was subordinated to the Health Ministry, while the shortcomings of private healthcare were publicly demonstrated to the population.
Background of the case: on March 26, a 23-year-old Grodno resident was undergoing rhinoplasty in the clinic and died a month later without regaining consciousness. Reports say the reason why the patient fell into a coma could have been malfunctioning medical ventilation apparatus, used during the surgery, and alleged staff negligence. Criminal proceedings were initiated and five staff members of the clinic were detained.
The state media reacted to the case with harsh criticism of commercial healthcare. Sovetskaya Belorussiya, the Presidential Administration newspaper on April 26th published a very emotional article with the main conclusion, that “posh medical centres are OK to take the money without ensuring vitally important equipment functions”. The largest national state TV channels also actively covered the case in accusatory manner.
Finally, President Lukashenko’s open intervention in the case implies that he wants to have the maximum political benefit from the case. Firstly, he hopes to improve his popularity and secondly, to revise the current rules of interaction between government and business in Belarus.
Traditionally, President Lukashenko regards people’s support as the main source of his legitimacy so he is particularly concerned about increasing his popularity before the 2015 elections (according to independent polls, in March 2013 his electoral rating was 33.4%). It seems the Belarusian authorities consider strengthening of the state authority as the main source for improving Lukashenko’s authority in the country - even at the cost of Belarusian private business.
This is the main ‘nationalization’ style for a number of enterprises – in confectionery, leather and now in private healthcare. Using all these cases, the president wants to demonstrate that a strong state is a more efficient owner than a private business. At the same time the president sends unambiguous signals to business and nomenclature, that he is ready to sacrifice their interests for the sake of his own. The criminal case, initiated recently against some officials regarding illegal hunting confirms this theses (Lukashenko mentioned it twice during interviews).
President Lukashenko’s main supporters in his policies are the law enforcement agencies. That’s why since 2012 their number was growing (Investigative Committee, Unified Forensic Examination Service). There is a reason to believe that the observed strengthening of the state, as well as the merger of interests of President Lukashenko and the power elites has reached sufficient inertia for these processes to continue at least until the elections in 2015
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.