KGB Head’s resignation points to difficulties with the law enforcement reform
The KGB Head’s resignation following internal oversight weakens the government’s stability in the short-run. The situation is complicated by the fact that the security forces are controlled by President Lukashenko via semi-formal and newly created governmental agencies.
On November 9th, President Lukashenko held a public security meeting and dismissed the KGB Chairman Zaitsev. Acting KGB Chairman will be the Security Council State Secretary Maltsev.
Most likely, it was an emergency meeting at the Presidential Administration. The KGB Chairman’s resignation was unexpected, so as the appointment of Maltsev as Acting KGB head, who continues performing duties of the Security Council State Secretary. It is also evidenced by the fact that it was Maltsev, who publicly announced about the staff reshuffle, not President Lukashenko himself. Maltsev’s appointment indicates that Lukashenko had not enough time to agree to any other candidate.
Very little detail is known about Zaitsev’s resignation. According to Maltsev, the resignation was linked to the death of KGB Lieutenant Colonel Kozak in October and to other issues. Unofficial sources say Kozak, who allegedly controlled economic activity in the KGB, shot himself with a hunting rifle near his home. At the moment internal oversight is ongoing in the KGB to investigate the accident and the surrounding circumstances. The appointment of Malatsev as an “external controller” in the KGB, de facto means that Zaitsev’s deputies do not enjoy the President’s trust and therefore are isolated from the ongoing oversight, carried out by the Prosecutor’s Office and the Investigation Committee.
The incident should also be regarded in the wider political context. President Lukashenko has eventually been forced to respond to the dramatic increase in the KDB activity in Belarus. As we have repeatedly noted, after the establishment in 2012 of the Investigative Committee, the KGB’s influence in the law enforcement has substantially decreased, in the sphere of pretrial investigation in particular, and compensated with increased anti-terrorist and illegal migration activities.
In practical terms, this has resulted, in particular, in a sharp increase in cases of bombings in public places in cities and border areas, which, in turn, increased the public safety risks. The most recent cases were: an explosion near the Belarusian-Polish border on November 5th, ‘Molotov cocktail’ explosion in the Lithuanian embassy in Minsk on November 6th. All these developments point to the fact that the President is unable to carry out ‘soft’ reform in the law enforcement agencies. On the contrary, the ongoing reform exacerbates competition among the power structures, which has very specific negative consequences for ordinary citizens and ultimately undermines the image of the executive authority.
Clearly, Lukashenko himself is aware of this problem. Therefore, during the meeting, he intentionally highlighted the problems with the KGB staff and in particular elaborated on the issue of support from the retired law enforcers and about using their potential in the state security system. This issue is particularly relevant vis-à-vis the ongoing reform in the Interior Ministry, which experiences similar problems (frequent news about suicides among Belarusian policemen stopped shocking the population), and will face substantial staff-cuts.
However, in this difficult situation President Lukashenko is left with an extremely poor set of tools to bring the situation under control. First, it concerns formal tools, i.e. subordinate law enforcement agencies, and the newly established Investigation Committee in particular, which is still in its infancy stage. Second, it concerns a semi-formal deliberative institutions, foremost of which is the so-called “Top bras club”, a negotiation platform for the law enforcement management, established in 2011. On November 9th, Lukashenko said he intended to hold such meetings on security issues quarterly.
Since all of the above management tools have appeared in the past two years and have not been well established, current instability within the KGB objectively reduces the stability of the entire governmental system. On the other hand, the ‘divide et impera’ policy, which has long been carried out by Lukashenko in his subordinate clans, resulted in the situation when there are few political players in Belarus, who could benefit from this temporary instability. Moreover, after the parliamentary elections, Belarus has entered a two-year ‘apolitical’ period.
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.