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.
The Russian Lobby in Belarus
Earlier this month, the newly appointed Orthodox Metropolitan Pavel arrived in Minsk. The Metropolitan has no Belarusian passport or roots, does not speak Belarusian and visited Belarus only twice in his life before appointment.
The new Metropolitan owes his position to the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow, rather than to Belarusians, majority of whom consider themself Orthodox Christians.
Russia has been building up it its long-term lobby in Belarus for some time. Many people from the bureaucracy have close ties with their Russian counterparts. After leaving government service, senior officials often find new jobs in Russian companies.
The Kremlin seems reluctant to build its representation amongst the opposition, as Russia`s authorities find them to be inane. However, rumours that Russian businessmen can finance democrats in Belarus remain frequent.
The Kremlin already clear economic and energy leverage over Belarus. Today's Russian lobby is an embryo that can become an influential political force in Belarus, which will serve the Kremlin.
The Russian Orthodox Church
Metropolitan Pavel, who arrived in Belarus at the beginning of 2014, seems to be the person least controlled by Lukashenka`s regime in the Belarusian public arena. The Belarusian Orthodox Church is part of the Russian church and lacks autonomy. The Moscow Patriarchate appoints the Belarusian Metropolitan without consulting with Belarusian believers of the faith or even its priests.
Moreover, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) has appointed a non-Belarusian priest to this post for the second time in a row. At the same time other divisions of the ROC in other countries select their Metropolitans from the local clergy. For example, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which belongs to the ROC itself, identifies its head on its own. Thus, the new Metropolitan of Belarus, Pavel, remains primarily loyal to Patriarch Kirill, not to Belarusian believers.
Pavel`s assignment, however, has sparked outrage within the Church and in the Belarusian public. Many priests and parishioners were unhappy with the new appointee from the Russian city Ryazan. The new Metropolitan’s disgust towards democratic values, stemming from his interviews, shocked civil society. Lukashenka remains unexcited about the new Metropolitan as well. His official silence to Pavel`s appointment for a few days in and of itself is proof.
Though Belarus remains a largely atheistic country, the Belarusian Orthodox Church enjoys great credibility among its people. According to the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies, the Belarusian Orthodox Church remains the most trusted institution in the country, with 63 % of Belarusians stating they can rely on it.
It remains unknown if the new Metropolitan will try to raise the level of trust and turn it into political capital or not. However if he does take a chance, it will become Russia's political capital for sure, not Lukashenka's.
Bureaucracy as a Lukashenka`s Fortress
Belarusian-Russian integration has brought about rather ambivalent results for the rising Russian lobby in Belarus. On the one hand, Belarusian officials have close ties with their Russian counterparts, which contributes to their pro-Russian orientation. Many of today's political elites have studied and worked in Russia. For example, Aliaksandr Miazhueu, the Secretaty of the Security Council, graduated from the Russian General Staff Academy
On the other hand, Belarusian officials understand Russia's imperialist intentions much better than Westerners. After all, it was the Belarusian authorities who went through the oil, gas, milk, potash wars with Russia.
During its years of independence the bureaucratic Russian lobby has decreased in its size and reach rather significantly. Most communist leaders with sentiments towards Moscow were sent into retirement. Today’s bureaucracy remains loyal to Lukashenka, not to anyone in Russia.
In the political environment of Belarus there appears to be a rumour that before the Presidential election-2010, one of Belarus' top officials in Moscow was offered a chance to discuss a future of Belarus without Lukashenka. After hearing these opening remarks, the Belarusian official apparently ran out of the room.
However, many Belarusians have good relations with Russian business. After leaving government service they often find jobs in big Russian companies. For example, Siarhei Martynau, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, works as a special representative of the Russian oil company “Rosneft” in Belarus.
The high salaries in corporations attract many Belarusian officials, especially representatives of the law enforcement and security bodies. Indeed it is these people that represent the Russian economic lobby in Belarus.
Because of prolonged and deep cooperation, the Belarusian army has very close ties with its Russian counterpart, so Russia's influence here also remains rather substantial. Many Belarusian servicemen and special service people were educated in Russia. For example, Chairman of the State Border Committee Leanid Maltsau.
However, Lukashenka's regime closely traces its cooperation with Russia not to shift their loyalty to Kremlin. Major General Ihar Azaronak, former head of the Air Forces of Belarus, received nine years in prison for lobbying the interests of the Russian military companies.
Minimum Attention to the Opposition
While Russia tries to have influence in the nomenclature circles, it shows complete disinterest in creating a lobby among the Belarusian opposition. On the one hand, Lukashenka would take it as a personal affront.
On the other hand, the Russian authorities do not know with whom they could work in Belarus. For example, the Belarusian communist Siarhei Kaliakin stands for deep integration with Russia, but the Kremlin remains reluctant to take such talk seriously.
Before each presidential campaign rumours appear that Russian businessmen or even the Kremlin are financing some of the opposition politicians. The rumours were particularly strong with Aliaksandr Kazulin in 2006 and Uladzimir Niakliajeu in 2010. However, no evidence confirm these rumours.
Although the Kremlin remains reluctant to conduct an active policy of engagement with the opposition, the creation of a Russian political force in Belarus looks like an easy task. For this, the Kremlin has constructed a network of former and current officials. Moreover, the Kremlin can always invest much more money than the West and purchase some opposition groups, real or fake. This is politics a-la russe.
Who Serves Russian Interests in Belarus?
The Kremlin lobby in Belarus, however, is still not nearly as powerful as it might seem. Lukashenka controls senior officials and ensures that they will not become loyal to Putin. The opposition remains largely pro-Western, and the Orthodox Church seems reluctant to challenge the regime..
However, this lobby can become an embryo to influence political forces in Belarus. The Kremlin potentially have a large impact on the church, the bureaucracy and the opposition. Belarus remains too energetically and economically dependent on Russia.
The Russian mass media also has a strong influence on Belarus and its public. Belarusians watch Russian television more than Belarusian television. They read Russian newspapers more often than Belarusian periodicals, and according to Gemius, an online research agency, the biggest Belarusian website tut.by is less popular in Belarus than Russian site mail.ru.
Russia has plenty of potential to create a political power which will serve the Kremlin directly.