Personnel shifts follow traditional patterns
Lukahsenko’s personnel policy is based on the permanent rotation principle. The increasing threat of the financial crisis recurrence forces the President to ease ties with local officials. Yet there is no reason to talk about a new round of a ‘dialogue with the West’, on the contrary, relations between Minsk and the EU and the U.S. are maintained in the same frozen state.
On November 16th, the President made a number of appointments. In particular, he appointed former Minister of Culture Mr. Latushko Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to France, Mr. Khainovsky - Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus in Hungary and in Slovenia. In addition, the President approved the appointments of 16 heads in local and regional authorities. Staff changes were also made in the security agencies and the Defense Ministry.
Anticipating popular interpretations that Latushko’s appointment carries a certain “signal to the West”, we should note that his appointment, in the first place, is a downgrade, which indicates Latushko’s administrative weight loss. In Belarus’ governmental system the most important decisions are made by either the President or his immediate environment. On the contrary, the further away an official is from Minsk and from the President, the less influence he or she has on the Belarusian foreign policy (this does not apply to President’s assistants or his special envoys).
Thus, Latushko’s transfer back to the Foreign Ministry as Ambassador in France does not imply the resumption of the “dialogue with the West”. On the contrary, the intention is to maintain the relations in the conflict-ridden state, which is confirmed by a sequential dissolution of the officials involved in the project. Thus, earlier President Lukashenko removed Vladimir Makey from the Presidential Administration and Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. Both were known as the main drivers for negotiations with Western countries in 2008-2010. Recently Mr. Latushko, former Culture Minister, who previously served as Belarusian Ambassador to Poland, was transferred back to foreign office with a ‘special’ task from the President: to study carefully the activities of the French Socialist Party.
As for other appointments in regional and local executive committees, it is most likely that they are the result of the curbing privatization programme in Belarus, and in particular, the recall of the pre-approved lists of companies put up for sale. In political terms, the national privatization programme reform reduces the local authorities’ importance as assets are located in their territories and potentially, they could have already started coordinating future sales with potential buyers. Therefore, these officials should be replaced with others, who do not have such commitments, which is what we observe.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.