Personnel shifts in the law enforcement
The leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs predictably reinforces its top management with loyal staff from the immediate circles of the Lukashenko’s family. Personnel rotation in the KGB is meant to prevent the formation of stable influential groups there and to reduce the activity of this institution, which increased recently.
On April 10, President Lukashenko approved personnel shifts in the Ministry of Interior and the KGB. In particular, he appointed the new Head of the Security Department in the Interior Ministry. Heads of three main departments and the management of the KGB in the Vitebsk region were replaced as well.
The transfer of Colonel Sinyavsky from the Presidential Security Service to head the Security Department of the Interior Ministry should be regarded as strengthening of the influence of Alexander Lukashenko in this department, the most staffed law enforcement body in Belarus. Sinyavsky made his career in the Interior Ministry, in 2010 he was transferred to serve in the elitist Presidential Security Service, and now he returned back to the Ministry of Interior as Head of Security Department.
Staffing of the Interior Ministry with loyal to Lukashenko’s family and entourage officials follows the pattern of the 2011 law enforcement reform linked to the creation of the Investigation Committee. As a result of the reform, with the elimination of the investigation departments, the main Belarusian law enforcement bodies became significantly weaker therefore it is extremely important for the President to keep the security forces under control.
Thus, the key positions in the Interior Ministry are occupied by officials from the immediate environment of the president’s family, who proved their loyalty to President Lukashenko. Similar to the appointment of Colonel Sinyavsky, the post of Deputy Interior Minister was assigned to Mr. Shunevich, who started his career in the Interior Ministry and worked together with Mr. Sinyavsky. Later he was transferred to the KGB and in January 2012 he was appointed as Chief of the Criminal Police and the Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs.
The probability is high, that the purpose of personnel changes in the KGB was to weaken the agency. The President approved the personnel shifts the most significant departments of the KGB: namely, he replaced the heads of counterintelligence and counter-terrorism services, of management and protection of constitutional order departments, as well as the Head of the Regional Directorate of the KGB in the Vitebsk region.
Reappointment of the leadership of counterintelligence and counterterrorism units of the KGB could be regarded as a desire of the President to restrict their excessive activity. The influence of the KGB has sharply increased in 2011 during the political trials against the ex-presidential candidates and the investigation of the terrorist attack in the Minsk Metro. The KGB and its combat squad continued being active, causing wide public response: recent seizure of the “MMM” premises, seizure of potash smugglers and detention of Chechen fighters.
The appointment of the new head of the KGB in the Vitebsk region was anticipated: the former head, Mr. Gerasimenko, worked in this position for 5 years while traditionally President Lukashenko did not allow his protégés to occupy their positions for too long. Moreover, the replacement of the head in one out of six regional KGB offices will test the reactions in other departments, and probably indicates that rotations soon will take place in other regions.
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.