New Lukashenko appointments: change in personnel, no change in direction
Last week, President Lukashenko appointed several people who have made their careers under his rule, suggesting that the authorities will continue with their authoritarian rule, but gradually stop relying on their Soviet past. The new appointments have confirmed the overall trend in how the power is distributed within the ruling Belarusian elite. The state’s relations with the opposition and the civil society will remain hostile.
Last week, Alexander Lukashenko made several appointments in his top brace. Yuri Senko was appointed State Customs Committee Chairman (replacing Aleksander Shpilevsky, who headed the SCC for years). Andrei Shorets is to replace Nikolay Ladutsko as the Minsk City Executive Committee Chairman. Ivan Golovaty was appointed as Belaruskalij CEO (replacing Kiriyenko). In addition, Vladimir Amarin became the new Finance Minister (Anrei Kharkovets resigned in July 2014).
All the appointees have made their careers during Lukashenko’s rule. Recently, for natural reasons, the number of top managers who made their careers after the Soviet Union collapse has increased. Despite the stylistic and structural similarity of administrative practices in Belarus after 1992 and in the Byelorussian SSR, the "new" managers are mostly indifferent to the communist ideology and have a different set of values. Nevertheless, that does not mean they value a less authoritarian governance model.
Those appointed last week will be responsible for managing financial flows. Most often, such appointments in Belarus are the result of the backstage fights among influence groups. The new appointees do not belong to long-established influential groups, which may indicate a compromise or redistribution of power in influence groups.
All the newly appointed officials come from within the system, thus they would be interested in maintaining its basic parameters, including the authoritarian rule and domination of the state in all spheres of life. No changes should be anticipated in this regard.
In addition, the authorities’ actions against civil society representatives mean that the state will continue to exclude civil society and the opposition from public life. The deportation of human rights activist Yelena Tonkacheva and the arrest of a "National Referendum" activist, Vladislav Koshelev, confirm this trend.
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.