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.
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.