Belarusian president reshuffles staff to strengthen weak links in regional bureaucracy

May 15, 2017 12:19
Image: upl.uz

Last Friday, President Lukashenka appointed new officials and made several statements. The president uses staff reshuffles to ease tension in the most troubled regions and government agencies. For instance, following several controversies involving regional branches of the law enforcement agencies, the president replaced two regional heads of the Interior Ministry departments in Vitebsk and Brest, which could also be an attempt to strengthen local security forces in the fight against unauthorised protest activity. In addition, the president replaced leaders in eight districts, six of which in the Vitebsk region, in order to relax tension in society and reduce people’s complaints about failed regional economic and social policies. Lukashenka also appointed the new executive head in the biggest transport hub, Orsha, where social protests against the decree on social dependants held in February-March 2017 gathered most participants. The president is using staff reshuffle in order to reset the executive’s failures in socio-economic development in the regions, where people were the most discontent with the authorities.

Similar articles

Belarusian authorities manoeuvre between repression and liberalization to retain dialogue with Western capitals
May 22, 2017 13:36
Фота: Еўрарадыё

Yet Minsk has not decided on the "patriots' case" and is attempting to break new grounds in relations with the West. Meanwhile, Brussels is ready to lower cooperation levels with the Belarusian authorities in anticipation of new political prisoners to appear after the trial against former White Legion activists, irrelevant of the charges, either preparation for riots, or creation of illegal armed groups, or any other. Minsk is unlikely to cross the red line in bilateral relations with the West and new political prisoners are unlikely to appear in Belarus.

The harsh clampdown on protests and arrests this spring in Belarus are unlikely to lead to new moves by the European Union, however, the EU would closely monitor ‘some investigations’, including the ‘patriot’s case’ aka the ‘White Legion’ case.

According to human rights defenders, 17 people remain in custody, of which 16 are former members of the White Legion and one supporter of Statkevich-led the Belarusian National Committee, Sergei Kuntsevich. The law enforcement has been releasing former activists of the White Legion and members of the Patriot Club, most likely in order to mitigate criticism from Western capitals. Amid Minsk Dialogue expert conference with the participation of Belarusian and EU officials, the authorities released from custody head of the Bobruisk "Patriot" Club Nikolai Mikhalkov. In addition, the Belarusian leadership expects to ease some tension by demonstrating greater openness to a dialogue with civil society on human rights issues. For instance, for the first time the Belarusian authorities and human rights defenders held consultations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report to the UN Human Rights Committee.

The Belarusian leadership has attempted to mitigate the West’s attitude towards the criminal prosecution against former activists of the "White Legion" by adding charges of creating an ‘illegal armed formation’ to ‘preparing for mass riots’ charges.

Apparently, Minsk also gains from speculations about possible disagreements among the executives - supporters of stronger ties with Russia, and "pro-Western" reformists lead by Foreign Minister Makei. That said, the Presidential Administration and President Lukashenka have full control over the foreign policy agenda and the law enforcement.

Overall, Minsk is determined to develop relations with Western capitals. The Belarusian authorities are likely to take controversial actions, i.e. to demonstrate the desire for liberalization in some areas and occasionally tighten repressions against the opponents, however without creating new political prisoners.