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 have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.