New Presidential Administration Head Appointment: crisis in administration
Mr. Kobyakov was recalled from ambassadorial position in Russia to occupy the second highest-ranking position in Belarus, implying that loyalty crisis is deteriorating in the President Lukashenko’s surroundings. This appointment also suggests that decision-making in Belarus is becoming less formal, taking place outside formalized institutions, including the Presidential Administration.
On August 27th, President Lukashenko appointed Andrey Kobyakov as Head of the Presidential Administration.
This personnel decision marks, above all, the growing loyalty shortage in the Alexander Lukashenko’s surroundings. And the chaotic career of Andrey Kobiakov illustrates this deficiency and the subsequent personnel policy: Andrei Kobyakov was transferred from the Deputy Prime Minister post to the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration immediately after the presidential elections in 2010, and in November 2011 he was appointed as Ambassador of Belarus to Russia, and in addition to that in April 2012 he was appointed as Special Representative of Belarus in a number of integration organizations (CES, CIS, CSTO, etc.)
On the one hand, the return of Mr. Kobyakov to head the PA suggests that Alexander Lukashenko considers relations with Russia a priority number one and is not ready to repeat the political game of “rapprochement with the West” carried out in 2008-2010 under the leadership of the former PA head Mr. Makey. On the other hand, the “Russian” background of the new appointee, who was born in Russia, demonstrates a decline in the PA importance in the decision-making. As we have already noted, after 2011, President Lukashenko has been actively forming a new managerial institution, the so-called “Special forces’ Club”, made of loyal heads of security agencies.
Thus, Mr. Kobyakov’s appointment demonstrates that in the near future Belarus will refrain from resuming a political dialogue with the EU and the U.S. and from reforming political and economic systems in compliance with ‘Western’ requirements. However, it is likely that the authorities will try to step up cooperation with international financial funds. Mr. Kobyakov could play a positive role in this, given his professional experience: he was in charge of economic issues in the Government when the IMF Stand-by programme for Belarus started in 2009.
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.