High-profile resignations aimed at improving Lukashenko’s popularity and at greater control over foreign investment
On April 18th, President Lukashenko dismissed Energy Minister Alexander Ozerets “for the failures in management”. Earlier his Deputy Tovpenets was also dismissed.
With high-profile resignations of influential officials President Lukashenko seeks to restore his image as the “people’s” President, as well as breaks up the entrenched interest groups in the strategically important energy sector.
A purge in the Energy Ministry has two implications. Firstly, in President’s view, it fits well with the administrative reform and plays into the hands of Alexander Lukashenko: he manages to preserve his images as the “people’s president” and a fighter against corruption and bureaucracy.
In particular, the KGB is involved in the Energy Ministry’s oversight - it is investigating possible frauds with the public procurements at Berezovskaya GRES and Mozyr CHP reconstruction sites. As well, a State Control Committee representative pointed to the unjustified tariffs growth for the population.
Secondly, Energy Ministry subsidiaries not only control the strategically important sector of the Belarus’ economy, but also engage in the priority investment projects with foreign investors.
In particular, it concerns the construction of a nuclear power plant using Russian loan, as well as Sino-Belarusian projects. Namely, Bereza power plant carries out a joint project with the Chinese engineering machinery corporation concerning steam-gas station construction.
It is likely that the president’s environment is interested in strengthening the control over such investment projects. Therefore, purges at the Energy Ministry take place, getting rid of those officials who have worked in the Ministry’s senior management prior to the Belarus-Russian cooperation about the NPP construction and the active phase of the investment partnership with China. Currently the President prefers putting newcomers to the Energy Ministry senior positions - they would be more susceptible to play by the new rules of the game.
For instance, dismissed Minister Alexander Ozerets was the Minister since 2006, and his First Deputy, 73-year-old E. Tovpenets worked in his post since 2004. Both are “career” energy experts.
Following crackdown and arrests of participants in the spring protests, the authorities resumed arrests as punishment for participating in street protests in addition to fines, which for some time were the only punishment for political activity. On September 22nd, 2017, the riot police detained the Belarusian National Congress leader Nikolai Statkevich, the opposition politician was placed in detention centre on Akrestin street. On the same day, after serving seven days of arrest, another BNC leader, Vladimir Neklyaev, was released. He was sentenced for organising a street protest on September 8th against the West-2017 exercises. Other participants in the protest have been fined too. The authorities are likely to continue to use fines and arrests against political activists to punish for their protest activity.