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.
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.