Alyaksandr Myazhuyeu - Fresh Faces Come to the Government?

On 5th December, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka appointed Alyaksandr Myazhuyeu the State Secretary of the Security Council.

Prior to that Myazhuyeu served as Chairman of the parliamentary Permanent Commission on National Security. This position in the Security Council previously always belonged to somebody from Lukashenka's old guard like Sheiman or battle-proven officials like Maltsau. The new secretary, however, definitely does not fit into either of these categories.

 

As the Belarusian leadership taps into new cadre reserves, it increasingly relies on people with pragmatic views and ideological flexibility like Myazhuyeu and Makey. It proves once more that the Belarusian regime long ago has become anything but radical. 

Lukashenka's new general is associated with a recovery after a hurricane and receptions for foreign delegations. In stark contrast to such close associates of Belarusian leader as veteran Viktar Sheiman, Myazhuyeu made it to the top of power by hard, yet peaceful work.

Romantic Start and Philistine Continuation

Alyaksandr Myazhuyeu was born in 1959 in Lyakhavichy of Brest province. He got out of this backwater South Belarusian town and went on to become a Soviet officer. His path to the top began when Myazhuyeu entered one of the oldest Soviet military schools – the Kyiv High Joint Commander School. This educational institution has trained tactical intelligence specialists since the late 1960s.

After such a romantic start, Myazhuyeu managed to have astonishingly calm career. Although he joined the army in early 1980s, he did not participate in the Afghanistan war. Doubtless, this military campaign was a crucial life experience for tens of thousands of Belarusians who took part in it and gave rise to veterans' solidarity beyond the battlefield, but also in business and politics. This point is important as it demonstrates the fact that Myazhuyeu failed to share this experience with his military brethren, which characterises him as a more pragmatic rather than an ideology-driven person.

According to his official biography, he simply rose through the ranks starting as a platoon commander in the Soviet army and finishing as head of Western operative command in Belarusian army. During the first years of the country's independence, Myazhuyeu graduated from the Russian General Staff's Academy – an ordinary experience for high-ranking Belarusian military officers.

In independent Belarus, a state servant has many more opportunities to ascend to the top of state power serving in the presidential security service or at least state security organs. Still more remarkable is the fact that Major General Myazhuyeu managed to do it through a career in the military.

The decisive role apparently which would elevate him further was his appointment in 2010 as the director of the Chief Military Inspectorate of the Armed Forces. In 2012, Myazhuyeu was elected to the Belarusian parliament from several rural districts near Hrodna – a sinecure granted in Belarus as a temporary reward or honorary retirement. In parliament he predictably specialised on national security matters.

Last autumn, Myazhuyeu became chairman of the Belarusian Officers' Union which unites more than 24 thousand active and retired officers. That is one of very few public associations which have any role in the Belarusian political system. The Union members collect signatures in support of Lukashenka's policies, working as members of territorial election commissions.

He Makes No War

Major General Myazhuyeu is decorated with two dozen medals. He comments on them as a “result of hard work.” He especially likes to tell journalists about the medal for a recovery operation after the 1997 hurricane in Brest region, and an Orthodox Sergii Radonezhskii order medal for helping to restore a church.

The new Security Council secretary avoids fierce militant rhetoric. He openly expressed scepticism concerning the military threats to the country in his interview with the state-owned Narodnaya Hazeta. “Of course, there is now no military menace as such, though NATO's activity in neighbouring states causes some concern.”

Myazhuyeu sees danger elsewhere. “Without the destabilisation of political and social situation within the country, to launch an armed conflict in it is all but impossible.” According to him, among the main tasks of the Belarusian parliament members is to, “resolve together with local authorities the social problems in the constituencies which elected them,” especially housing and amenities issues, housing construction and employment generation.

On the other hand, Myazhuyeu criticised the idea to reduce military service from 18 to 12 months as in Russia. For him, the army shall apparently function more as a social cohesion institution, a “must-do” life experience for every citizen rather than the iron fist of the government. Meanwhile, he became famous for praising women, “I would say so – a woman is the best soldier. She does not violate military discipline, carefully executes her service duties, you do not need to repeat anything to her twice.”

No Zealots For Lukashenka Anymore

A prominent oppositional politician Major General Valery Fralou very positively characterises his former subordinate, the new Security Council secretary in professional terms. But when recounting Myazhuyeu's merits, Fralou chose to tell Nasha Niva weekly about Myazhuyeu's warm reception of a American delegation, not about any heroic battle deeds of his.

Naviny.by, a web-site of the Belapan news agency, commented on the new appointment by pointing out that Lukashenka apparently still has fresh cadres to renew the state bureaucracy. It also called it remarkable that the sixth secretary of Security Council did not only not come from among Lukashenka's close associates, but not even from among the friends of his associates.

Indeed, all predecessors of Myazhuyeu's either belonged to the initial “old fighters” retinue of Lukashenka from 1994 (Viktar Sheiman and Ural Latypau), or served in the presidential security service (Henadz' Nyavyhlas and Yury Zhadobin) or served previously at very senior positions (like Defence Minister Leanid Maltsau).

Myazhuyeu is a new face, but definitely no outsider to the ruling elites. Firstly, he belongs to the generation of provincial mavericks which came to power with and through Lukashenka. Secondly, he worked hand-in-hand with the former head of the Hrodna province Syamyon Shapira, and they became friends. They came to Minsk together, as well. Myazhuyeu got elected to Parliament, Shapira – appointed to run the Minsk province.

Lukashenka's newest appointee demonstrates the evolution of the Belarusian regime. In its beginnings, it was populated with people like Afghan war veteran Sheiman or youth radical Usievalad Yancheuski who did not hide his inspiration from French extremist urban guerrilla group Action Directe. Other Lukashenka zealots, like Viktar Kuchynski, swore to defend their leader “even with an RPG in [his] hands” and tinkered with the Pan-Slavic and Soviet restoration plans.

The president's new man, Myazhuyeu, is talking about housing and boasts of achievements like retaining a provincial military hospital or opening a military branch in a university in Hrodna. The radicalism and missionary visions of Belarusian regime passed away silently years ago. Belarusian officials display little ideological affiliations but the aspiration to continue business as usual or as they once learned.

Siarhei Bohdan is an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.

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