Social protests could prompt changes in domestic security policy in Belarus
Social tension in Belarus will grow inevitably and may affect the plans to downsize the Interior Ministry. In an effort to prevent the expansion of the social base for public protests, the Belarusian authorities are likely to resume ad hoc repressions against potential organisers and leaders of such protests. The Belarusian authorities are hardly ready to make any concessions.
The ‘March of Angry Belarusians’ held on February 17th, 2017, against the state’s socio-economic policy was the largest protest action in Belarus in the past five years. Amid deepening economic recession, Belarusians are likely to become more discontent with the authorities, which could influence the state’s security policy.
The Belarusian authorities are unable to find a way out of the economic crisis and the crisis of the Belarusian socio-economic model in principle. This leads to the growth in protest moods in Belarusian society. The political crisis in relations with Russia only exacerbates the situation. The Russo-Belarusian "Cold Peace" may become a "Cold War." In Minsk, people fear that external actors, notably Russia, could use the growing social instability in Belarus to provoke the political crisis to put pressure on the Belarusian authorities.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to take measures to pre-empt massive public protests, with that avoiding brutal and concentrated use of force. The authorities are likely to overestimate the risks of offering concessions to the protesters as it could create a precedent when open pressure on the authorities would have achieved its goals (whether social or political). This, in turn, on the wave of success, could lead to new protests and new demands. Meanwhile, it appears that these risks are actually negligible, and the decision to abolish the decree would be a simpler solution making economical sense.
Amid the threat of growth in protest mood in society, the authorities could revise the decision to downsize the Interior Ministry. The redistribution of funds within the agency in favour of the Interior Ministry troops is very likely. In addition, the authorities are likely to resume pointed repressions against persons and organisations, which are willing to organise and lead social protests in Belarus. Informal movements and their leaders are likely to become the most vulnerable social group (anarchists, autonomous nationalists, etc).
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.