The KGB crisis demonstrated Viktor Lukashenko’s team weakness
Recent appointments in the power forces imply weakened influence of the so-called ‘Viktor Lukashenko group’ and that the President’s eldest son failed creating his own clan inside the state apparatus. As a result, Aleksandr Lukashenko remains the only player in the power system and he will continue strengthening his positions. It is highly unlikely that President Lukashenko will leave his office of his own free will.
On November 16th, President Lukashenko appointed Valery Vakulchik Chairman of the Committee for State Security (KGB), relieving him from the Investigative Committee Chairman position. Mr. Valentin Shaev replaced Vakulchik in the Investigative Committee.
Vakulchik’s transfer to the KGB is an indicator of his weakened influence. Firstly, today the Investigation Committee is the most powerful body, as it concentrates the most of the investigative authority under the Criminal Code. Secondly, Vakulchik has not yet completed his task of organizing the Investigative Committee, operative since January 1st, 2012. Finally, Vaulchik’s appointment as the KGB head will be a serious challenge for him, as the KGB is suffering from a severe internal crisis. If Vakulchik is unable to resolve this conflict, President Lukashenko will have the excuse to withdraw the KGB from the law enforcement system.
Current staff reshuffle has important implications for the Belarusian elite. Namely, Vakulchik’s transfer to the KGB means that ex-Chairman Zaytsev, who had been suspended from his duties the day before, has lost president’s trust completely. Both officials belong to the so-called by the expert community ‘Viktor Lukashenko group’, i.e. a group of power officials close to the President Lukahsenko’s eldest son. Note, that in the summer 2012 another member of the Viktor Lukashenko clan - Chairman of the State Border Committee Mr. Rachkovski – was dismissed, he was later appointed Vice-President of the National Olympic Committee, a civil body.
Consistent replacements of top security officials close to Viktor Lukashenko, mean that ‘Viktor’s group’ is not a clan with a stable and diversified structure and vertical subordination. Rather, this group should be regarded as a club of top-ranking friends of president’s eldest son, and the latter to some point was providing his protégés career advancements. However, these officials were unable to gain the necessary credibility in the Belarusian government to set up an effective management system, which was confirmed by the President’s resignations and appointments.
In turn, the weakening influence of Victor Lukashenko emphasizes the fact that Alexander Lukashenko remains the decision-making center. Therefore forecasts that Lukahsenko will not take part in the 2015 presidential race and will occupy a post in the Eurasian Economic Union are extremely unlikely to confirm. Similar predictions had been discussed in the media and among the diplomatic community in Minsk two years before the 2010 presidential election, but, naturally were not confirmed.
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.