Control over economy could be relaxed but arbitrary rule would retain in Belarus
By weakening control over the economic activity, expanding self-employment opportunities and attempting to focus on prevention rather than punishment for economic violations, the state is likely to create opportunities for arbitrary behaviour of officials vis-à-vis economic entities.
To boost employment, the Belarusian authorities have expanded the list of activities which could be carried out without the formal registration and subjected only to a single tax paid once a year. Amid the state’s reduced capacity to provide employment, weaker control over economic activity is a rational choice. The presidential decree simplifying business rules in rural areas and small settlements has a similar goal. However, the single tax size varies greatly depending on the activity type, there are no unambiguous criteria regarding applicability of the new rules, or the clarity about the liability of the state bodies for arbitrary decisions, which could nip in the bud the growth in the economic activity in rural areas.
The state is even more inconsistent in reducing the pressure on business. For instance, the newly established institute of tax consultancy has raised concerns in the business community that it would become an obligatory service, same as e-declarations and subscription to the Tax Ministry publications, and is unlikely to protect business from arbitrariness of the tax authorities. The president’s instructions given to State Control Committee Head Anfimov during the recent discussion on restricting powers of controllers, have been contradictory, too. The president has requested to focus on prevention of economic violations, rather than the punishment, to introduce responsibility for arbitrary inspections and violations during their conduct, and in the meanwhile expressed fears of losing control over the economy and encouraged to boost already high influence of the power block on business.
Yet, so far, the state has been unsuccessful in relaxing the administrative pressure on the economy. Moreover, state bodies are not in a position to curb each other on this issue. A reduction in administrative procedures often leads to the invention of new ones.
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.