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.
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.