Lukashenko gives a chance to his eldest son
On May 27th, President Lukashenko appointed KGB Chairman Valery Vakulchik and his Assistant for National Security Viktor Lukashenko to supervise the Belarusian-Russian Commission on Potash Exports from Belarus’ side.
The deficit of trusted assistants forces President Lukashenko to make appointments in the international trade based on family relation principle. Simultaneously, Lukashenko attempts to legitimize Viktor Lukashenko as supervisor of large Belarusian business and introduces Belarus’ law enforcement bodies to business.
The president’s decision to appoint his eldest son to supervise potash exports is likely explained by his desire to introduce Victor Lukashenko to large international business, which provides important foreign currency inflows to the country. In Q1 2013, potash fertilizers totaled 6.3% of the country’s exports or circa USD 609.6 million.
There are reasons to believe that this was a spontaneous decision, which was taken in the Lukashenko family circle. Previously 37-year-old Viktor Lukashenko was not noticed in the potash business. His interests traditionally related to defense exports and security issues, in particular, he was shaping the personnel policy in the Belarus’ security bodies. According to some reports, in 2008, Viktor Lukashenko advised on the appointments in some structures, for example, in the Operational and Analytical Center (V. Vakulchik) and the State Border Committee (I. Rachkovski).
Moreover, professional career of KGB Chairman Valery Vakulchik shows no evidence of his competence in potash exports. Since 2008 Vakulchik headed three security agencies - Operational and Analytical Center, the Investigative Committee and the KGB - which can be interpreted in two ways: president’s high confidence in him or his professional rootlessness.
Neither Lukashenko, nor Vakulchik have formal responsibilities in the Commission, they have observers’ status. Officially, the Commission is headed by the Development Bank Chairman Rumas. In addition, the president said that the Commission was established by agreement with the Soyzkaly owner Russian oligarch Kerimov, who requested ‘someone very influential’ to supervise the Commission.
Thus, President Lukashenko de facto established Institute of potash business curators, which can be regarded as a ‘lease on life’ for his eldest son. At the same time, Viktor does not have a reputation of a successful businessman, as well, he is a non-public figure, which increases the risks of the project’s possible failure - for example, if the supervisors fail to resolve effectively cooperation disputes between companies Belaruskali and Soyuzkali.
Finally, there are no reasons to consider this appointment a preparation for the presidency succession. The political situation in Belarus objectively forces Alexander Lukashenko to run for the president in 2015 for the fifth time and to ensure his victory. The “successor” option is only possible in case of emergency (incumbent’s illness, etc).
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.