States social responsibility shrinks
On June 5th, former presidential candidate and a political emigrant Andrei Sannikov was interviewed by Deutsche Welle.
In Belarus, the state’s social responsibility is consistently shrinking, while social and economic security risks are increasing. In the meanwhile, the increasing labour migration opportunities for Belarusians compensate the rising costs of the ruling group’s social policies.
In his interview, Sannikov reiterated his opposition to concessions by the EU and the U.S. in favor of the Belarusian regime (regarding recent lift of sanctions against some Belarusian companies) and talked against maintaining political contacts with Belarusian authorities within the Eastern Partnership Programme. He also urged the West to develop a long-term, consistent and joint policy towards Belarus.
To sum up, it seems that Sannikov’s team tactics is to convince the West to block all political and economic contacts with Belarus’ officials, which should result in a social explosion in Belarus, consequently enabling the united opposition to gain the power in the country. Currently Sannikov plays a consultant and expert role vis-à-vis Western politicians and coordinates ‘European Belarus’ campaign, which mainly runs Charter97.org website.
In particular, Sannikov said, that “Lukashenko is no longer the guarantor of security for the population and professionals, with the exception of a handful elite and businessmen”, which is justified. After 2011, economic risks have been consistently increasing in Belarus (currency devaluation), as well as security (the threat of terrorist attacks) and social risks (concessional housing construction and lease rules were revised).
Until now, social tensions in the country were manageable primarily due to migration opportunities within the Common Economic Space. Official statistics confirms the growth of labor migration from Belarus: employment in the economy is shrinking, alcohol and petrol sales are dropping, indicating men’s migration. Accordingly, currency cash inflow to the country from private persons is growing (USD 913 million in 2013).
However, the ongoing shrinking of the state’s social responsibility (administrative personnel reform, cancellation of benefits, opportunities for shadow incomes) will sooner or later reach its limits, creating a critical mass in the population whose standard of living has deteriorated and who cannot compensate it through labour migration. When it happens, the risks of mass unrest will rise dramatically, and the government will have to increase wages.
If so, Sannikov’s forecast – that when it happens the opposition will be able to unite and seize power from the ruling group – is highly questionable. Following 2010 Presidential elections, centrifugal trends developed in the Belarusian opposition and existing coalitions are only nominal, since they do not imply common programmes and structures for their members.
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.