Belarus Ex-Officials in Russian Business: Effective Managers or Kremlin Agents?

Over the last decade, Russian companies became the most desired place of employment for many Belarusian top ex-officials. They offer huge salaries compared to those in Belarusian public service. While some Belarusians settle in Moscow, others become local representatives of Russian interests.

Belarusian officials can offer extensive contacts within the Belarusian establishment and effective lobbying of business interests. This growing group, closely affiliated with Russian elites may become an important factor in Belarusian politics. Potentially, Russia can use them to press its interests and even change the current Belarusian regime.

New Times – Old Friends

On October 15, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Siarhei Martynau was appointed a special representative of the Russian oil company “Russneft” in Belarus. Martynau has recently resigned from Belarusian diplomatic service, where he held a minister position since 2003.

As company press-release says, “Siarhei Martynau has a considerable authority among political and business groups of Belarus and other countries. His appointment proves to be of strategic interest to“Russneft” in developing external trade relations and extending the geography of business…”

Martynau presents just one case of pathway which became quite popular for Belarus officials in recent decade. Often, senior bureaucrats take this path after Lukashenka loses confidence in them or fires then for some sort of misdeed, like corruption or a policy failure. Big Russian business becomes an attractive place to continue their careers for several reasons. 

First, Belarus officials have close ties with their Russian colleagues, often since Soviet times. They graduated from the same Communist Party or KGB schools, worked in bilateral projects and bodies of government, share a common language and post-Soviet culture.  Second, big Russian corporations offer salaries which are indeed huge compared to salaries in Belarusian public service which amount to only a few hundred dollars a month. Last but not least, western careers of Belarusian officials are considerably restricted by various factors such as absence of ties, lack of understanding of the western world, or merely a language barrier.

Belarusian Siloviki in Petrostate Management

Here are most notable cases of Belarusians who work in Russian companies.

 

Person

Current Employment in Russia

Last Position in Belarusian Government

1

Paval Kallaur

Vnesheconombank

Deputy Head of National Bank

2

Uladzimir Yarmoshyn

Vnesheconombank

Prime-Minister

3

Vasil Dauhaliou

Gazprom

Ambassador of Belarus to Russia

4

Faryd Cancerau

Gazprom

Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, KGB general

5

Valer Kez

Gazprom

Deputy Chair of Security Council, KGB general

6

Viktar Rakhmanka

Gazprom

Head of Belarusian Railways

7

Uladzimir Navumau

Rostekhnologii

Minister of Internal Affairs

8

Leanid Yeryn

Russian Railways

Head of KGB of Belarus

11

Vasil Maciusheuski

BPS-Sberbank

Deputy Head of National Bank

12

Uladzimir Matskevich

Sovkomflot

Head of KGB

13

Valer Kokarau

Lukoil

Deputy Prime-minister

14

Uladzimir Muliak

Lukoil

Head of “Belarusneft”

15

Ural Latypau

 MTZ Rubin

Head of President Administartion

As this small list shows, “siloviki”, or representatives of security agencies, make the largest group of high-ranking labour migrants. It is a widely known fact that most people that occupy high positions in the Belarusian security services were born and educated outside of Belarus.

They belong to a “post-Soviet” rather than national security class. Having no national sentiments and devotions, they can easily change their sphere of interest from Belarusian security to Russian natural gas. No surprise that of the whole Belarusian elite, these people are probably the closest friends of Putin’s clan which rules Russia.

The rest of Belarusian top migrants come from economic and financial management. They mostly descend from Belarus, but equally have connections in the Russian establishment and receive high-income positions in corporations.

Most popular among Belarus officials are state owned companies (so called “state corporations”) and companies where the state is a major shareholder (like Gazprom). Of course, it is easier for Belarusians to occupy a position in a state company than in private company due to their contacts and management experience. Managing a half-socialist economy is not a big skill in a highly competitive market environment.

Business Managers or People of Kremlin?

Thus, hospitable Russians offer generous rewards for people disregarded or dismissed by Lukashenka. For Russian companies which work in Belarus employing a representative of local establishment is an important part of business strategy. In non-democratic regimes where informal rules and connections play a crucial role in politics and economy, intra-elite links play a major role. But does business only matter here? The fact that most Belarusian ex-officials work in Russian state corporations proves this may not be true.

Over the last decade, Russia considerably expanded its economic presence in Belarus. It bought “Beltransgaz” (Belarusian gas transportation system) and two big state banks. Belarus is negotiating selling its major oil assets – Navapolatsk and Mazyr refineries, and the creation of the truck holding Belarusian MAZ with Russian Kamaz, to mention only the biggest deals. Also, Russians are buying a lot of property in Belarusian cities and in the countryside.

Growing economic influence means growing leverage on Belarusian politics. Russia is known for the use of economic tools, especially in energy sector, to achieve its political goals in its neighborhood and beyond. Having half of the Belarusian economy in their pockets, Russians will be able to set the agenda inside Belarus.

Ex-officials and other Belarusian bureaucrats connected to Russian business serve as potential allies in taking over the Belarusian economy. Later they can even form a political group with a Russian orientation to balance some pro-western groups that are likely to emerge after Lukashenka. In any case, Belarusian politicians should take these high-flying migrants seriously.

Lukashenka himself probably feels that his control over bureaucracy decreases as they switch to Russian salaries. A recent initiative to cut the number of bureaucrats and thus to increase wages in public sector may slightly improve the problem. However, it cannot fully resolve the problem in the current political regime.

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