President sided with Defence Ministry in the air defence system scandal
President Lukashenko chose the least costly way to respond to the penetration by a foreign aircraft in the Belarusian airspace. Rewarding the guilty and silencing the incident is the least threatening reaction for the governments’ authority.
On July 16th, President Lukashenko awarded a number of commanders of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defense with “For Distinguished Service” medals.
As anticipated, the Belarusian leadership has chosen the least costly way to respond to a July 4th incident, when Belarusian airspace was penetrated by a sport aircraft from Lithuania scattering teddy bears over two Belarusian cities, beating Belarusian air defense radars.
A harsh ‘traditional’ response to this provocation (acknowledgement and punishment) is as costly for the authorities as a ‘modernization’ one (re-equip air defense system with more modern equipment or launching a counter-PR-campaign in the international information space).
Therefore, the authorities selected the least costly for the budget and the image response (in their understanding): the incident was completely ignored by the state media and government agencies. At the same time, independent journalists received an unambiguous signal that coverage of this topic could entail tough sanctions (Mr. Suriapin, a photographer, who posted a photo on his website of teddy bears being dropped from an airplane, was arrested by the KGB).
The Belarusian authorities believe that rewarding the guilty above all would strengthen their internal power (top ranking officials over lower ranking) and shift the blame for what happened from the Belarusian military to “external forces”. This behavior is traditional for President Lukashenko and is a variation on his well-known populism.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.