Personnel appointments of the last 8 months should be viewed through the prism of the upcoming presidential election. These people are called upon to help Aliaksandr Lukashenka to keep the situation in the country under control in the new adverse conditions.
New military leadership
On January 20, 2020 it became known that the Minister of Defence of Belarus Andrei Raukou was appointed Secretary of State Security Council of Belarus. Announcing the appointment, Lukashenka stated that he had made the decision the day before, on January 19, i.e. on Sunday.
After the former chief of General Staff of the Army Aleh Belakoneu retired and moved to the Belarusian “parliament”, the position was taken by General Aliaksandr Valfovich, who had acted as chief of General Staff for the past few months and was considered an obvious option for the appointment.
Viktar Khrenin became the new Minister of Defence.
Rearrangements in the top military leadership as a whole aren’t a sensation. Lukashenka, making personnel decisions, acted in a previously defined paradigm. So, since 2008, the post of Secretary of State of Security Council has been informally assigned to representatives of the army. The appointment of Andrei Raukou means that no fundamental changes are foreseen in the role of the Security Council – the body remains oriented towards ensuring the military component of national security. Actually, the first statements of Mr. Raukou precisely testify to this. Given the fact that he comes to the post from a ministerial post, his appointment can be seen as a slight increase in the status of the Secretary of State of Security Council: the two previous leaders were senior military officials, but not ministers.
The Security Council performs certain control functions with respect to the army. Which can result into a conflict of interests: how will Mr. Raukou identify negative aspects in the Army, which he could not cope with being the head of the MoD?
The appointment of Viktar Khrenin and Aliaksandr Valfovich is also in the previously defined scheme for the nomination of generals “from the ground” who have no “team” and obligations inside the central military apparatus. In theory, this could facilitate the adoption of necessary personnel decisions within the MoD. But in practice, we can see the situation like one with with Andrei Raukou, who, having occupied the ministerial chair, was not able to orient himself correctly in the top bureaucracy intrigues and fell under the influence of a group of not very good people.
In this regard, Viktar Khrenin faces the crucial task for his career prospects — to choose the right staff, whom he can rely on as the head of the department.
The need to build effective communication with the public will definitely become a problem for the new Minister of Defence. The point is that within the framework of the existing system of power in Belarus, the leaders of the military and law enforcement agencies are technical executors. But there is a public request for political ministers who are able to clearly explain complex issues, take responsibility for decisions and not to refer to the instructions and orders of Lukashenka, who personally causes more and more irritation among citizens.
Note that both Aliaksandr Valfovich and Viktar Khrenin, speaking about the priorities of their leadership, underlined the work with personnel in the broad sense of the word. In this regard, we can expect more attention to improving living conditions and easing restrictions for military servicemen. For a long time already there is the need for the bureaucratization of the work of officers who are forced to devote a significant part of their time to drafting various documents (which are not always necessary). The work to improve the troop training system will continue as well. But it will be largely determined by the financial security of the MoD. While the “rain of money” over the Ministry of Defence is not planned in the next 10 years.
The appointment of Aliaksandr Valfovich and Viktar Khrenin caused a certain negative informational wave due to the Russian period in their biographies. On the one hand, among a significant and active part of society, there is a request for the generals’ publicly demonstrating loyalty not only to the ruler, but also to the country. On the other hand, the generals are unlikely to recognize the existence of such a request. This means that periodic outbursts of information on the topic of “Russian agents entrenched in the army’s leadership” will take place in the future. There is reason to believe that at least partially such sentiments are provoked and warmed up from outside Belarus. Although the situation is irrational, it will have political consequences regarding the perception of the Belarusian army as really Belarusian, and not the appendage of the Russian military machine. Including from the foreign actors: one of the first questions in the military-diplomatic circles after the appointment of Mr. Valfovich as acting Chief of General Staff was the level of his knowledge of Belarusian language.
Another important point is the time the posts of Secretary of State of the Security Council and Chief of the General Staff of the Army were vacant. The fact that the previous head of the Security Council Stanislau Zas and the ex-chief of the General Staff Aleh Belakoneu will leave their posts was known long before this happened. Obviously, the work on the selection and approval of new managers was carried out and completed by the time of the legal release of these positions. The fact that the replacement did not take place on a routine basis is a sign of Lukashenka’s exceptional business with the issues of Belarusian-Russian relations.
Not only army epaulets
It seems that the rearrangement of the military leadership is the final part of a kind of “personnel cycle”. Which took place against the background of the upcoming presidential elections in 2020 and the contradictions in the Belarusian-Russian relations.
The beginning of the cycle can be seen in the resignation of the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Ihar Shunevich on June 10, 2019. It was known that he had previously approached Lukashenka with a request to relieve him of his post for personal reasons. Yury Karaeu, ex-Commander of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Internal Troops (hereinafter referred to as the MIA IT), who was appointed the Minister of Internal Affairs, among the first steps cancelled a number of decisions of his predecessor, which caused irritation inside among the MIA ordinary employees. He also showed great flexibility in terms of responding to claims against the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It was stated that the agency wants to change the system for evaluating the work of its employees, as well as get rid of the image of the punitive institution.
It is worth recalling that previously the ex-commanders of the MIA IT moved to the ministerial chair in the 90s, when the country was in a difficult socio-economic, domestic and foreign political situation. Then Lukashenka considered the threat to his own power as a real one.
Further, on December 5, 2019, rearrangements took place in the “political headquarters” of the country — the Presidential Administration. The First Deputy Chairman of the State Security Committee (SSC) of Belarus, General Ihar Siarheyenka was appointed the head of the Presidential Administration, and doctor of legal sciences Volha Chuprys – his deputy.
In office, the SSC First Deputy Chairman oversees counterintelligence, defence of the constitutional order (read “political investigation”), the fight against extremism and terrorism, counterintelligence support of government bodies and law enforcement agencies (i.e. ensuring their loyalty). Simply put, in the SSC General Siarheyenka was responsible for the issues of the state internal security (not counting outright crime, the fight against which is coordinated by another deputy chairman of the department). Actually, Lukashenka openly stated that Siarheyenka would have to deal with these issues in his new position. Obviously, only using different tools.
Ihar Siarheyenka is a historian by specialization in the university, he was drafted into the USSR KGB in 1988. The fact that he was exactly called up, and did not enter the service, may mean that between receiving the diploma of a historian and epaulettes of the KGB officer Ihar Siarheyenka worked in the Komsomol. In those years, there were so-called Komsomol calls, when Komsomol activists devoted to the “native communist party” were sent to serve in the KGB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The party has long been gone, but people from its ranks are still in service. One can only hope that they will defend the independence of Belarus with greater return than the ideals of Marxism-Leninism.
Note that in the Belarusian SSC Ihar Siarheyenka oversaw issues related to the assessment of Stalinist repressions in Belarus. His public statements on this part can be assessed as balanced and adequate.
Professor Volha Chuprys is an academic scientist. Judging by the available list of her scientific works, she specializes in administrative and constitutional law, as well as in public service issues. Appointing her, Lukashenka stated that Volha Chuprys would have to oversee the constitutional amendments, because the society has a request for a new Basic Law.
After that there were no news on the activity of Professor Chuprys in the field of constitutional reforms. But there is serious work to amend the law on administrative offenses in the direction of reducing the list of punishable misconduct. Over the past three years, the number of administrative violations is around the mark of 4 million (!). Almost every second adult Belarus was brought to this or that type of administrative responsibility every year. Besides Volha Chuprys, the Commission on the Reform of Administrative Legislation includes Generals Siarheyenka and Karaeu. Which means there will be some result.
The plans to decriminalize some criminal offenses, “lowering” them to the level of an administrative offense were also announced.
There is one more direction where Volha Chuprys’ scientific achievements can be demanded — public service reform. Certain activities in this area are already underway and the proposed innovations will not cause enthusiasm among public servants.
Unnoticed but important appointments
On October 15, 2019 Colonel Yury Nazaranka was appointed MIA IT Commander. Although he came from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, he served for six years in senior positions in the Presidential Security Service (PSS) and returned to the post of Commander from the post of PSS chief of staff. Taking into consideration the role of MIA IT in maintaining internal stability and countering the so-called “hybrid threats”, the Commander of the troops — this is exactly the place for a very reliable and loyal person. Obviously, Mr. Nazaranka has really good career prospects.
Further, on December 30, 2019, Senior Advisor to Justice (Colonel) Dzmitry Hara was appointed the Deputy Prosecutor General of Belarus. He served and made a career in the SSC investigative apparatus, where since 2009 he served as head of the investigative department. Therefore, it is highly likely that Mr. Hara will oversee the activities of the Investigative Committee of Belarus.
But there is one more important point: Dzmitry Hara is the only Deputy Prosecutor General of Belarus without the experience of prosecutorial/supervisory work, a person not from the judicial prosecutorial system. It is quite possible that he will gain this experience in the position of Deputy Prosecutor General: control over the entire prosecutorial system and, to a large extent, over the judicial system. There is a well-known opinion that there are no former intelligence officers.
The subject of constitutional amendments has been disappearing recently. Lukashenka has no practical need to change it. The very prospect of “constitutional reform” is a false goal, which should distract internal and external actors with a political mirage and prevent the mobilization of the protest electorate due to the expectation of some positive changes that the authorities themselves are about to initiate. Aliaksandr Lukashenka periodically addresses the issue of redistribution of powers. But the things do not move beyond the conversations and informational noise in the media. There is no reason to believe that it will be different now. Lukashenka’s political thinking has long been known: the political and socio-economic system he created is good, all problems are from negligent performers and the ungrateful “people”. Now, however, the Russian rulers are added to the list of perpetrators.
The personnel decisions described above are in line with Lukashenka’s previously outlined views on security issues in the broad sense (military defence, protection of the political regime, effectiveness of the law enforcement system):
— there are currently no immediate military threats to the country, therefore, there is no need to change the strategy for managing the military sphere;
— military threats will arise in the event of a destabilization of the internal situation in the country (for political or socio-economic reasons), which can be inspired or supported from outside in conditions of weakening (decreasing efficiency) of state power.
The upcoming presidential campaign will take place in uncomfortable external (confrontation with the Kremlin) and internal (economic stagnation) conditions for Lukashenka. Moreover, in contrast to 2010, official Minsk does not have leverage over the Kremlin or influential lobbyists in Moscow: after 2014, there is not even an understanding of Moscow’s plans. Therefore, there is no opportunity to conduct a proactive policy to prevent the emergence of problems on the eastern track.
New circumstances require:
— to ensure the effectiveness of the state apparatus in the new conditions for the functioning of the political and socio-economic system, to increase the discipline of officials, finally to force them to put state interests above personal ones;
— in the absence of the possibility of «buying» the loyalty of the electorate, to remove/reduce the irritants for large groups of the population. This explains the ideas of reforming administrative legislation, changing the forms of police work as the closest force to civilians, improving work with military servicemen in the army, etc.;
— to appoint to key positions in the political regime either the people, whose work Lukashenka could observe and evaluate personally (not indirectly through the results of inspections and characteristics) or the persons from institutions that enjoy the special confidence of the Belarusian ruler.
Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s planning horizon (political and managerial) is limited to the upcoming presidential election. They will be the alpha and omega of all the authorities’ activity for the foreseeable period. By the presidential election, the task is to bring down any anti-government public activity as much as possible. Simply eliminating irritants for society may not be enough, the likelihood of a return to repressive practices against political opponents of the regime is seriously increasing. Not because of the strength of the opposition. The point is, that the level of stability of the Belarusian regime without Russian support is an unknown value even for Lukashenka himself.