"Social parasites" decree will be reviewed
Following social discontent with the decree on ‘social parasites’, President Lukashenka said the regulation would be reviewed. The government is not ready to implement rigid policies and, de facto, it has decided to test-drive decisions first. Nevertheless, despite the government back out, the overall trend of tightening social framework and reducing the State’s obligations vis-à-vis citizens will remain.
The decree on ‘social parasites’ has been extensively criticized in the independent media. Many noted that the decree was inconsistent with other laws in Belarus, including the Constitution. Independent analysts said that the decree would not achieve any of its goals: if the main goal was to replenish the state budget, the implementation costs would be too high to achieve this; if the goal was to keep workers at work amid falling wages, labour mobility would still increase. In addition, it would not help restoring social justice, whatever was meant by that. Moreover, the new regulation would entail increased workload for the Tax Ministry and the labour market.
Interestingly, while the decree has been criticised only by the independent media, experts and opposition, the population has not shown any real discontent. Nevertheless, referring to the independent media, the president has found it necessary to explain the motivation behind the decree and promised to correct the shortcomings.
However, not only the criticism in the independent media has encouraged the authorities to back out with the decree. Regardless of the fact that the decree has been on the table for quite a while, interests and competencies of agencies designated to implement it have not been properly coordinated. In the last two years, the government has been making weak decisions more frequently. For instance, the Health Ministry’s clumsy attempts to lobby interests of Belarusian pharmaceuticals, by introducing exit fees for Belarusians traveling abroad, bizarre regulations by the Finance Ministry in late 2014, attempts to tighten screws for individual entrepreneurs and many other ill-considered initiatives.
The executive branch does not seem to be able to cope with the growing legislative burden (laws and decrees are drafted by the Presidential Administration department), as well as with overseeing implementation of the laws. Nevertheless, the executive is not willing to delegate some of its powers to the Parliament or other agencies.
In the given circumstances, the state is likely to reduce its social protection to the population and transfer social security burden on citizens, rather than proportionally diminish the state apparatus. Inevitably, this will lead to ill-considered decision-making that the state would be unable to implement and, consequently, would back out and review its decisions.
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.