Lukashenko Brings Back His Old Team
On January, 8 President Alexander Lukashenko appointed Viktor Sheiman President Aide for special instructions. Viktor Sheiman was relieved of the post of the President Aide for special instructions in the State Secretariat of the Security Council.
The comeback of Viktor Sheiman under direct supervision of president Lukashenko can be explained by a number of factors, such as a deficit of trusted personnel, termination of an important project on supplies of oil from Venezuela, and also risk of losing control over law enforcement agencies during the period of the reform.
The appointment of Viktor Sheiman, who is Lukashenko’s longtime supporter and one of the creators of the whole Belarusian system of law enforcement bodies, can be viewed as a promotion. Previously, since 2008 Sheiman had been supervising Belarus-Venezuela relationships and was Chairman of the Bilateral Commission on trade. Also, he was the President Aide for special instructions in the State Secretariat of the Security Council.
The higher status of the President Aide for special instructions “legalizes” his existing high informal status in the system of state governance in Belarus.
The major reason for this appointment is a deficit of trust within the ruling group that has become even sharper after Minsk maneuver to improve relations with the West failed in 2010. Since then, the president’s employment policy has been characterized by attempts to distance the officials involved in that unsuccessful maneuver.
In contrast, the managerial positions which are the most important and closest to the president are occupied by those who are most loyal to Lukashenko (Deputy Prime Ministers Tozik and Kalinin, aides Prokopovich and Sheiman). An unresolved political conflict with the West suggests that the process of personnel rotation in Lukashenko’s surrounding will continue in 2013.
Another reason for bringing Sheiman closer to the President is the end of the project on oil supplies from Venezuela to Belarus. As a curator of this project, Sheiman has successfully performed his task and provided Lukashenko with a foreign trade “alibi” necessary for negotiations with Russia. Therefore, in the President’s view, he well deserves to be promoted.
Finally, Viktor Sheiman, as a creator of the modern Belarusian system of law enforcement agencies, is needed by the President to control the implementation of law enforcement bodies reform.
The scandalous case of the “teddy bears bombing” in summer 2012 and the tragic suicide of a KGB officer demonstrated that president Lukashenko’s eldest son Viktor cannot control law enforcers. On the contrary, his badly planned actions, as well as the actions of his subordinates, threaten the stability of Lukashenko’s regime. It is highly likely that Sheiman has been given an informal task to “restore order” in law enforcement agencies.
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.