Law enforcement agencies reform: MIA shrinking competencies
On August 18th, Presidential Decree No 360 took effect, which envisages increased powers for the Financial Investigations Department of Belarus’ State Control Committee.
Growing economic and political risks force the ruling group to concentrate the state’s power management in the most loyal and controlled agencies. Newly created security agencies which are close to the President have been empowered with greater authority, while the country’s oldest law enforcement agency, the Interior Ministry, is gradually losing its powers.
The Decree No 360 has empowered the SCC FID (Belarus’ Financial Police) with the right to stop or suspend the operations of enterprises if their activities (products, services) pose a threat to national security, or the life and health of the population and the environment (‘national security’ criteria added).
Thus, the FID has received a powerful tool to control Belarusian and foreign businesses operating in Belarus. “National security” provision allows maximizing the use of sanctions.
Empowering the FDI (established in 2001) is a logical development in the law enforcement agencies reform, the most visible outcome of which is consistently stripping the Interior Ministry of its powers. During the past two years the MIA functions have consistently narrowed, while the authority of new agencies under President Lukashenko’s control has increased, in particular, in the area of economic crimes.
In 2011, the Investigative Committee was founded (monopolized anti-corruption investigation), and in 2013, the State Committee for Forensic Examinations was set up (monopolized forensic expertise). In addition, President Lukashenko has repeatedly spoken about the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the Interior Ministry reform. As a result, the MIA is gradually being converted into an agency that mainly protects public order and is losing jurisdiction over the fight against corruption and economic crimes.
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.