Harsh personnel policies will not result in nomenclature coup
On February 8th, new President Property Management Department Head Vladimir Sheyman reported to President Lukashenko that the Investigation Committee was examining three criminal cases against Departments’ officials suspected of public funds embezzlement.
Recently launched Belarus’ state apparatus reform is inevitably accompanied with restructuring in top managerial elite. High-profile cases against officials close to President Lukashenko remain a conventional, effective and yet safe personnel policy tool for the ruling group.
Anti-corruption purging is the most effective personnel policy tool in Belarus. In his report, V. Sheyman, appointed to lead President’s Property Management Department on January 21st, listed numerous violations in the Department and said that he would re-staff the Department with younger and better competent workers. Unofficial reports say that former Head Nikolai Korbut was placed under house arrest, and one of his Deputies had attempted suicide right at his workplace.
These developments, especially if suicide attempt reports are true, confirm assessments that Belarusian officials cannot counter the country’s leadership effectively and protect their interests collectively. Mutual trust among public officials is very low, therefore persons involved in corruption cases either compensate damages to the state, or accept their fate with humble.
In political terms, this state of affairs implies that the probability of ‘nomenclature revolution’ in Belarus in low. Firstly, the ruling group has sufficient array of compromising information about their subordinate officials: this personnel management style was founded in the days of the Parliamentary Anti-corruption Commission operations, headed by then Supreme Council Deputy Alexander Lukashenko in 1993-1994. Secondly, Belarus’ harsh personnel policy effectively breaks the longstanding relationships between officials and businesses and prevents from political lobbying which could endanger the Lukahsenko’s regime stability.
President Property Management Department is the largest lessor of non-residential property in Belarus, it manages a number of hotels and restaurants in Minsk, 4 national parks, a company which imports alcohol and tobacco, an enterprise which organizes national lotteries, manages construction for the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014 and others. In fact, President Property Management Department is a state-owned business empire with non-transparent financial management, which creates a favorable environment for corruption.
Regardless of this impressive economic impact, the President Property Management Department has no political influence. In 2004 its former head Zhuravkova, her subordinates and family members were convicted of embezzlement of more than USD 3.5 million from international trade operations (eventually Zhuravkova indemnified damages and was pardoned by the President). This high profile case had no political impact on the regime therefore the new trail against former President Property Management Department managers will have similar effects, not threatening the ruling group.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.