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 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.