Authorities gear up for election campaign
Lukashenko released Colonel-General Leonid Maltsev (he was the State Secretary of the Security Council) from office and appointed him as State Border Committee Chairman.
Lukashenko is gearing up for the 2015 presidential campaign with a staff reshuffle. Whoever occupies the position of the Security Council State Secretary will determine the scenario for the upcoming presidential election. Maltsev’s appointment as the Border Committee Chairman should improve Lukashenko’s control over this body.
Former Secretary of the Security Council Leonid Maltsev was appointed to his position one year before the presidential election - in December 2009. He was in charge of organizing and conducting Lukashenko’s election campaign.
The conditions in which the next presidential election will be held may be much less favourable for Lukashenko. The growing economic crisis might seriously undermine the president’s approval rating. In addition, the agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union is scheduled for signature on the eve of elections. Further integration with Russia threatens Lukashenko’s position and might once again complicate Russo-Belarusian relations. In 2010, Russia carried out a media-attack on president Lukashenko and forced him to sign a package of integration treaties in exchange for the Kremlin’s support.
Lukashenko’s circle of loyal officials to whom he could entrust the State Security Council has dwindled. The Secretary of State will be responsible for organizing the presidential elections, including guarantees of the loyalty of the army and the law enforcement.
Viktor Sheiman and Viktor Lukashenko are considered the most likely candidates to fill this position. In October 2010 Lukashenko brought Sheiman back from exile. Sheiman, Lukashenko’s former ‘eminence grise’ has his own loyal team from many years ago. As the role of the law enforcement bodies strengthens in Belarusian politics, and the Kremlin’s pressure increases, Lukashenko might need to expand Sheiman’s powers as ‘security forces’ supervisor’. Another highly suitable candidate to fill this position is Lukashenko’s eldest son, Viktor Lukashenko.
In turn, Maltsev’s appointment as Border Committee Chairman could be linked with Lukashenko’s need to have greater control over this body in connection with the World Hockey Championship in 2014. Recently, the Border Committee has regularly featured in the news for unpleasant reasons. In 2012 the Lithuanian border guards reported a 60% increase in trespassers compared with 2011 – most of them from Belarus. After Igor Rachkovsky’s dismissal following the ‘teddy bear drop’ in 2012, the Border Committee experienced increased problems with management.
President Lukashenko started staff reshuffles in the security forces in connection with the upcoming election campaign in 2015. Staff reshuffles in other security agencies should also be anticipated.
Depending on the circumstances, the presidential elections might be held ahead of schedule.
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.