Authorities gear up for election campaign
Lukashenko released Colonel-General Leonid Maltsev (he was the State Secretary of the Security Council) from office and appointed him as State Border Committee Chairman.
Lukashenko is gearing up for the 2015 presidential campaign with a staff reshuffle. Whoever occupies the position of the Security Council State Secretary will determine the scenario for the upcoming presidential election. Maltsev’s appointment as the Border Committee Chairman should improve Lukashenko’s control over this body.
Former Secretary of the Security Council Leonid Maltsev was appointed to his position one year before the presidential election - in December 2009. He was in charge of organizing and conducting Lukashenko’s election campaign.
The conditions in which the next presidential election will be held may be much less favourable for Lukashenko. The growing economic crisis might seriously undermine the president’s approval rating. In addition, the agreement on the establishment of the Eurasian Economic Union is scheduled for signature on the eve of elections. Further integration with Russia threatens Lukashenko’s position and might once again complicate Russo-Belarusian relations. In 2010, Russia carried out a media-attack on president Lukashenko and forced him to sign a package of integration treaties in exchange for the Kremlin’s support.
Lukashenko’s circle of loyal officials to whom he could entrust the State Security Council has dwindled. The Secretary of State will be responsible for organizing the presidential elections, including guarantees of the loyalty of the army and the law enforcement.
Viktor Sheiman and Viktor Lukashenko are considered the most likely candidates to fill this position. In October 2010 Lukashenko brought Sheiman back from exile. Sheiman, Lukashenko’s former ‘eminence grise’ has his own loyal team from many years ago. As the role of the law enforcement bodies strengthens in Belarusian politics, and the Kremlin’s pressure increases, Lukashenko might need to expand Sheiman’s powers as ‘security forces’ supervisor’. Another highly suitable candidate to fill this position is Lukashenko’s eldest son, Viktor Lukashenko.
In turn, Maltsev’s appointment as Border Committee Chairman could be linked with Lukashenko’s need to have greater control over this body in connection with the World Hockey Championship in 2014. Recently, the Border Committee has regularly featured in the news for unpleasant reasons. In 2012 the Lithuanian border guards reported a 60% increase in trespassers compared with 2011 – most of them from Belarus. After Igor Rachkovsky’s dismissal following the ‘teddy bear drop’ in 2012, the Border Committee experienced increased problems with management.
President Lukashenko started staff reshuffles in the security forces in connection with the upcoming election campaign in 2015. Staff reshuffles in other security agencies should also be anticipated.
Depending on the circumstances, the presidential elections might be held ahead of schedule.
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.