Personnel shifts follow traditional patterns
Lukahsenko’s personnel policy is based on the permanent rotation principle. The increasing threat of the financial crisis recurrence forces the President to ease ties with local officials. Yet there is no reason to talk about a new round of a ‘dialogue with the West’, on the contrary, relations between Minsk and the EU and the U.S. are maintained in the same frozen state.
On November 16th, the President made a number of appointments. In particular, he appointed former Minister of Culture Mr. Latushko Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to France, Mr. Khainovsky - Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus in Hungary and in Slovenia. In addition, the President approved the appointments of 16 heads in local and regional authorities. Staff changes were also made in the security agencies and the Defense Ministry.
Anticipating popular interpretations that Latushko’s appointment carries a certain “signal to the West”, we should note that his appointment, in the first place, is a downgrade, which indicates Latushko’s administrative weight loss. In Belarus’ governmental system the most important decisions are made by either the President or his immediate environment. On the contrary, the further away an official is from Minsk and from the President, the less influence he or she has on the Belarusian foreign policy (this does not apply to President’s assistants or his special envoys).
Thus, Latushko’s transfer back to the Foreign Ministry as Ambassador in France does not imply the resumption of the “dialogue with the West”. On the contrary, the intention is to maintain the relations in the conflict-ridden state, which is confirmed by a sequential dissolution of the officials involved in the project. Thus, earlier President Lukashenko removed Vladimir Makey from the Presidential Administration and Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov. Both were known as the main drivers for negotiations with Western countries in 2008-2010. Recently Mr. Latushko, former Culture Minister, who previously served as Belarusian Ambassador to Poland, was transferred back to foreign office with a ‘special’ task from the President: to study carefully the activities of the French Socialist Party.
As for other appointments in regional and local executive committees, it is most likely that they are the result of the curbing privatization programme in Belarus, and in particular, the recall of the pre-approved lists of companies put up for sale. In political terms, the national privatization programme reform reduces the local authorities’ importance as assets are located in their territories and potentially, they could have already started coordinating future sales with potential buyers. Therefore, these officials should be replaced with others, who do not have such commitments, which is what we observe.
During searches of social and "green" activists and anarchists, law enforcement has seized computers, mobile phones and publications. The authorities have also exerted additional pressure on supporters of unauthorized street protests and independent lawyers, who represented defendants in the White Legion case. The security services have stepped up the persecution of opponents before the street protests announced by the opposition. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities aspire that participants in street protests would reduce in number and that the low interest of the population to socio-political agenda before the local election campaign would retain.