The KGB crisis demonstrated Viktor Lukashenko’s team weakness
Recent appointments in the power forces imply weakened influence of the so-called ‘Viktor Lukashenko group’ and that the President’s eldest son failed creating his own clan inside the state apparatus. As a result, Aleksandr Lukashenko remains the only player in the power system and he will continue strengthening his positions. It is highly unlikely that President Lukashenko will leave his office of his own free will.
On November 16th, President Lukashenko appointed Valery Vakulchik Chairman of the Committee for State Security (KGB), relieving him from the Investigative Committee Chairman position. Mr. Valentin Shaev replaced Vakulchik in the Investigative Committee.
Vakulchik’s transfer to the KGB is an indicator of his weakened influence. Firstly, today the Investigation Committee is the most powerful body, as it concentrates the most of the investigative authority under the Criminal Code. Secondly, Vakulchik has not yet completed his task of organizing the Investigative Committee, operative since January 1st, 2012. Finally, Vaulchik’s appointment as the KGB head will be a serious challenge for him, as the KGB is suffering from a severe internal crisis. If Vakulchik is unable to resolve this conflict, President Lukashenko will have the excuse to withdraw the KGB from the law enforcement system.
Current staff reshuffle has important implications for the Belarusian elite. Namely, Vakulchik’s transfer to the KGB means that ex-Chairman Zaytsev, who had been suspended from his duties the day before, has lost president’s trust completely. Both officials belong to the so-called by the expert community ‘Viktor Lukashenko group’, i.e. a group of power officials close to the President Lukahsenko’s eldest son. Note, that in the summer 2012 another member of the Viktor Lukashenko clan - Chairman of the State Border Committee Mr. Rachkovski – was dismissed, he was later appointed Vice-President of the National Olympic Committee, a civil body.
Consistent replacements of top security officials close to Viktor Lukashenko, mean that ‘Viktor’s group’ is not a clan with a stable and diversified structure and vertical subordination. Rather, this group should be regarded as a club of top-ranking friends of president’s eldest son, and the latter to some point was providing his protégés career advancements. However, these officials were unable to gain the necessary credibility in the Belarusian government to set up an effective management system, which was confirmed by the President’s resignations and appointments.
In turn, the weakening influence of Victor Lukashenko emphasizes the fact that Alexander Lukashenko remains the decision-making center. Therefore forecasts that Lukahsenko will not take part in the 2015 presidential race and will occupy a post in the Eurasian Economic Union are extremely unlikely to confirm. Similar predictions had been discussed in the media and among the diplomatic community in Minsk two years before the 2010 presidential election, but, naturally were not confirmed.
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.