The reshuffle in the security services elite of Belarus

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On September 3, 2020 Aliaksandr Lukashenka carried out a reshuffle in the security services elite of the country: State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Andrei Raukou was dismissed from his post, Chairman of the State Security Committee (SSC) of Belarus Valery Vakulchyk is taking over. The SSC, in turn, will be headed by ex-head of the State Control Committee (SCC) Ivan Tsertsel.

As expected, there are opinions that the reshuffle was the result of fret within the law enforcement agencies up to the possibility of some conspiracies.

In fact, the logic in these changes is completely different.

About Raukou. Prior to his appointment as the Secretary of State of the Security Council, Andrei Raukou served as the Minister of Defense. His command of the military department was remembered only by scandals due to the state of law in the troops and strange “suicides” of conscripts.

Raukou’s transfer to the Security Council was his clear demotion. Even then it became clear that for him the Security Council was an intermediate position before the final retirement from the top bureaucracy of the state. The minister is too important figure to be simply displaced to nowhere: this would be evidence of extremely serious problems in the army and Raukou’s inability to solve them. Moreover, Raukou’s resignation from the post of Minister of Defense in the fall of 2017 was demanded by the people, indignant at the “suicide” of Aliaksandr Korzhych. Due to personal ideas of Lukashenka, the authorities cannot look weak, i.e. admit their own mistakes and meet the demands of society.

Actually, Lukashenka has already announced the need to find Raukou a new position according to his abilities, since he coped neither with the ministerial work, nor with the State Secretariat of the Security Council. The Belarusian ruler designated an external contour (post-Soviet integration structures or a diplomatic position, for example, an attaché in Moscow or Beijing, or an ambassador’s position in a non-problematic country) as a new destination for Raukou.

About Tsertsel. For over 11 years, he served as Deputy Chairman of the SSC, where he oversaw the country’s economic security and the fight against corruption. In our realities this results in a situation where operational materials become the basis for initiating criminal cases against officials. This also provides for accumulation of compromising evidence to ensure the loyalty of bureaucrats at various levels.

On June 4, 2020 Ivan Tsertsel was appointed head of the State Control Committee. This assignment can be viewed as his “test in the field”. In the new position, Tsertsel had the opportunity to show both his managerial abilities in terms of his readiness to independently manage a branched structure, and his service zeal (the Belgazprombank case). Judging by his return to the SSC as the head of the secret service, the fulfilled the tasks successfully.

But there is one more thing. It is obvious that the punitive actions of the regime on August 9-12 against the protesters and civilians were planned ahead of time and continuously controlled. Only one person could give the order to hold them. But this order could have been issued by the decision of the Security Council of Belarus. The Council includes the State Control Committee Chairman, but doesn’t include the deputy State Security Committee chairman. In this regard, the date of the relevant decision is of interest: it can be assumed that the short-term appointment of Ivan Tsertsel as the head of the SCC was intended, among other things, to bind the future head of the country’s main special service to legal responsibility for the crimes against humanity that happened in Belarus. This, in turn, means that the described personnel changes were planned even before the elections and are not directly related to the current political crisis.

Due to the professional experience of the new SSC head, one can expect both intensification of work on filling the state budget, including through the “racket” of the captains of Belarusian business according to the previously approved scheme: “initiation of a criminal case — payoff to the state — termination of a criminal case”. We can also see more vigorous activity to consolidate the state apparatus and ensure its complete loyalty to Lukashenka at this difficult time. During this year’s presidential campaign, Lukashenka repeatedly raised issues of loyalty of the state apparatus, suggesting that the dissatisfied should leave the system and not interrupt his “saving” the country.

But this does not mean that work in other areas will be weakened. Especially in terms of political investigation and the so-called “protection of the constitutional order”.

About Vakulchyk. Valery Vakulchyk is one of the most experienced and capable leaders of the Belarusian security services. He led two of the three independent special services (the SSC and the Operational and Analytical Centre — OAC), was at the origins of the creation of the OAC and the Investigative Committee. He has the image of a capable organizer and anti-crisis manager in the security services. Vakulchyk will become the first non-army Secretary of State of the Security Council in 12 years. It is also worth noting that in recent years Lukashenka regularly cites the activities of the SSC as an example of effective work in the law enforcement sphere.

Formally, the transfer of Vakulchyk to the post of State Secretary of the Security Council looks like a downgrade. But given the experience of previous leadership work, it is quite possible that his appointment is a sign of the forthcoming transformation of the Security Council State Secretariat.

Until recently, the State Secretariat of the Security Council was a non-public working body under the head of state and did not have any subjectivity in the sphere of the country’s security policy. In contrast to related structures in neighboring countries, which are public-political, and not technical bodies of state administration. The arrival of Andei Raukou as State Secretary of the Security Council was marked by his public activity, including even the presence of a Facebook page.

Giving the State Secretariat of the Security Council of Belarus the role of an independent centre of influence on the country’s security policy will require its reorganization and redistribution of functions within the system of central bodies of state power and administration. And here Vakulchyk’s experience can be very useful.

Another innovation could be greater involvement of the State Secretariat in internal security issues, despite the fact that it traditionally “specializes” in external security. Lukashenka has already stated that one of the important tasks of Vakulchyk will be the coordination of the activities of special services and law enforcement agencies. So, we are talking about new functions for which the structure may need to be reorganized.

Conclusions. Taking into account the fact that the Presidential Administration of Belarus is headed by Ihar Siarheenka, the former First Deputy of Vakulchik during his service in the SSC, the appointments we review actually mean the transfer of personnel policy in relation to senior positions in the state apparatus into the hands of the heads of the special services. Thus, it can be argued that the peak of Natallia Kachanava’s apparatus influence has been passed.

The reshuffle reviewed was most likely planned prior to the presidential elections and will have the effect of making the State Secretariat of the Security Council of Belarus an independent centre for developing security policies.

The appointments do not indicate a crisis of control over the country’s security services.

The issue of ensuring the loyalty of the bureaucracy is seen as urgent.

Being a rich man in Belarus is again fraught with an offer from the state to “share” the gains in excess of the established taxation levels.

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