Violation of Belarusian airspace strengthens suspicions against the authorities
The way the Belarusian authorities chose to respond to the incident with violation Belarusian airspace only reinforces suspicions against them. Explanations given by the authorities, in the worst case scenario, allow for assumptions there are shadow cargo transportation schemes at the Belarusian border.
On July 26th, at a meeting with representatives of the State Border Committee and the Ministry of Defense, President Lukashenko admitted that on July 4th the Belarusian airspace has been violated by a light-plane and demanded to punish the perpetrators.
President’s reference to the incident after three weeks implies its high importance. Despite the careful concealment by the government agencies, the incident couldn’t longer be ignored. It is likely that this issue was raised in one way or another during the Minsk visit of a Russian delegation headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on July 18th.
Statements made by President imply that in certain cases, a foreign aircraft can cross the Belarusian border without being detected by the air defense system, but by other means (eg, visually). Therefore the absence of the official response regarding the incident during 3 weeks could be attributed to the reluctance to recognize this fact, and not to the air defense system vulnerability.
In particular, on July 11th, Air Force and Air Defense Commander Mr. Pahmelkin said that the Belarusian air defense system has not confirmed a violation of the airspace by an unidentified aircraft. In turn, on July 26th, President Lukashenko said that the plane was timely detected, but those responsible have not stopped it.
Thus, putting two and two together, one may assume that sometimes there are ‘ad hoc’ or ‘manual’ border crossings, without the involvement of the air defense system, which is formally part of the joint Russo-Belarusian air defense system. Consequently, this conclusion leads to other, more serious questions: how often this ‘mode’ is used and what for?
Despite the lack of evidence of Belarusian authorities’ participation in shadow turnover schemes, the way they chose to respond to July 4th provocation only strengthens such suspicions. Moreover, the likely involvement of Belarus in gray re-exports of Russian oil masked as solvents in order to avoid customs duties make the situation even more complicated and damages authorities’ image.
For instance, on July 26th, an anonymous source in the Russian Energy said that Russia may introduce duties on solvents exports outside the Customs Union, or even restrict oil deliveries to Belarus. This could be a hoax, but the absence of a coherent response by Belarus to the smuggling accusations is an indirect indication of their validity.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.