Staff shifts in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry
Government’s Regulation No 142 of March 4th, 2013 changed the leadership in several bilateral commissions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Belarus’ staffing policy in the Foreign Ministry aims at alienating those responsible for negotiations with the West in 2008 - 2010. New personas will be in the focus of the new round of negotiations: Deputy Foreign Ministers Sergei Guryanov and Elena Kupchina.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry’s increased activity, marked earlier, is complemented by the changes in the negotiating groups. Government Regulation No 142 appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Guryanov in charge of the American and Latino-American policy (in particular through the Belarusian-American Committee for Business Development and similar committees for Argentina, Ecuador and Cuba).
Formally, Mr. Guryanov did not participate in the ‘liberalization’ project in 2008-2010. Since early 2006 to October 2010 he worked as Belarusian Ambassador in Korea and was appointed Deputy Minister in February 2011, shortly after the December 19th, 2010 events. However, Guryanov is not an alien official to the Belarus’ European foreign policy. In the mid 90’s, he was a stagier at the UNDP and the World Bank’s Economics Institute in Warsaw, as well as at the Joint Vienna Institute.
Simultaneously, Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Rybakov, who in 2003-2005 worked as Belarus’ Minister-Counsellor in the United States, and in 2006 – 2013 was President’s Aide for International Affairs, as of March 2013 was appointed in charge of the Middle East and South-East Asia, which should be regarded as ebbing of his influence.
Finally, new Deputy Foreign Minister Elena Kupchina on March 6th held regular meetings with foreign partners: the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and the French Ambassador to Belarus M. Raineri. In 2006 – 2012 Mrs. Kupchina worked as Belarus’ Ambassador in Hungary and Slovenia (from 2008), and in May 2012 she was appointed Deputy Foreign Minister.
Current staff shifts in the Foreign Ministry confirm our previous hypothesis about President Lukashenko’s sinking confidence of the “Vladimir Makey’s group”, which led the rapprochement between Belarus and the EU and the U.S. in 2008-2010. However, the resumption of a dialogue between Minsk and the West persists, and the Foreign Ministry’s high activity in the European arena proves it. And the existence of the political prisoners remains the major constraining factor, holding back the dialogue.
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.