The ruling group is strengthening control over assets which it considers important
Financial instability increases political risks and forces Lukashenko’s entourage to strengthen control over the property in the country. In practice this means the abandonment of the project ‘liberalization’, which was carried out in Belarus in 2008 – 2010.
On October 25th, President Lukashenko demanded to improve management efficiency at enterprises with sate shares.
A meeting at Presidential Administration concerning measures to improve the public shares management aimed to strengthen and foster the “success” from the partial re-privatization of Kommunarka and Spartak confectioneries. In particular, Lukashenko criticized the supervisory boards’ actions at enterprises with mixed ownership, which give “away all of the major decisions at Director’s mercy”, rather than securing public interests.
During the meeting it was proposed that the chairman of the supervisory board in a company with state shares (where the number of employees is 15 000 and higher) should be appointed by the President, i.e. he/she should not be subordinated to the investor. Earlier Lukashenko issued Decree № 8, allowing the Presidential Administration to issue additional shares at so-called strategic enterprises.
If these measures are implemented, the government will retain control over the most important public companies, even without the controlling shares. In a way it means that a so called ‘golden share’ rule, abolished in March 2008, is being resurrected. Instead, a ‘Golden Chairman of the Board’ rule could be introduced.
Simultaneously with the adoption of these unpopular among Belarusian nomenclature and business measures, the President reinforces populist patriotic rhetoric. On October 26th, took place a scathing meeting to discuss the Belarusian Olympic team performance in London, where the head of state suggested the Minister of Sport and Tourism, the Presidential Aide for Sport and the two Vice-Chairman of the National Olympic Committee to resign.
In populist terms, these measures look advantageously: both, the seizure of confectioneries from ‘oligarch bloodsuckers’ and returning them back to children, as well as restoring order among the gray mass of corrupt officials. However, for the successful mobilization of the state apparatus President Lukashenko needs to have the mass support of the population. Recent opinion polls show that today the President’s popularity is very low (30%), and that pure populist rhetoric fails to improve it.
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.