Diplomatic row with Sweden distracts from the Belarusian border security issue
The diplomatic row with Sweden distracts attention from the problems with the national border control and acts for the benefit of the most radical group of security forces around President Lukashenko. The row will result in greater international isolation of Belarus, as well as in the deterioration of the political situation.
On July 3rd Belarusian Foreign Ministry press service announced that the Swedish Ambassador to Belarus, Stefan Eriksson’s accreditation was not renewed. On the same day two major national TV channels showed clips that in 2012 Mr. Eriksson and the Swedish Embassy funded Belarusian extremist groups and that he could be involved in the incident with the violation of the Belarusian border by a light airplane on July 4th.
Foreign Ministry and the First national channel’s positions are internally consistent and represent a coordinated response of Minsk to the July 4th incident. Swedish advertising agency Studio Total staff assumed responsibility for this action.
Belarusian authorities have neither detained the plane, nor questioned the pilots therefore they have no evidence of Swedish citizens’ involvement in the incident. Consequently, the connection between non-renewal of accreditation of Ambassador Eriksson and the incident with the plane has not been formally confirmed.
Also, unofficial sources say, that a few months ago, Belarusian authorities issued a tourist visa to Ambassador Eriksson with 3-month validity period. It is likely that it has expired. However, synchronicity of the MFA decision and the information attack on the Swedish Embassy implies it was not a coincidence: de facto, this could be regarded as an intentional banishment of Ambassador.
Belarusian authorities are trying to translate the ‘airplane’ scandal into the international plane, presenting it as a planned provocation against Belarus, which has already resulted in anticipated negative assessment of the situation by the Swedish foreign office (Carl Bildt) and the EU (K. Ashton).
With their actions the authorities attempted to divert the attention from the internal causes of the scandalous incident with the aircraft and from the security forces involved. The incident revealed a serious gap in the air defense system at the Belarusian border, which - in principle – could be used to organize illegal cargo transportation by light aircrafts or drones.
It is likely, that a certain group of security officials, responsible for this systemic error in the border control, tried to secure its positions and attempted to interpret the incident as a provocation by foreign states and their Belarusian counterparts. The fact that President backed up this group implies that the group has greater influence on Lukashenka than the State Border Committee and the KGB, which conventionally referred to as a group of the President’s eldest son Victor Lukashenko.
This first group of law enforcement officials, most likely affiliated with the former Security Council Secretary and a President’s proxy Major General Sheiman is also interested in the deterioration of the political situation. Therefore chances are high that the arrested journalist Suryapin and real estate agent Bashamirov will be charged with aiding illegal border crossing, and the state media will continue a propaganda campaign disclosing international conspiracies against Belarus, as it was after the presidential elections in 2010.
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.