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.
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.