Young Officials Get Positions, Old Crowd Waits for New Appointments – Belarus Profile Digest
Belarus Digest with its sister project Belarus Profile is launching a new series of publications primarily devoted to changes in the Belarusian nomenclature. Every two months, Belarus Profile Digest will cover the most important recent appointments and dismissals and examine emerging trends in Belarus.
In November, Lukashenka made a number of appointments which show a new trend is developing. Many of the new appointees are young and all of them were born in Belarus. Another noticeable trend can be seen in the appointment of the first vice-ministers as ministers, as happened with the ministers of finance and housing and communal services as well as the previous appointment of the Minister of Information.
The former Minsk mayor, the Chairman of the Customs Committee and the Minister of Defence belong to an older generation of officials and are likely to get new appointments soon. The Belarusian bureaucratic system usually keeps even failed officials. This is due to the isolation of the nomenclature and the reluctance of young people to join it.
Andrej Raŭkoŭ became the new Minister of Defence after the dismissal of Juryj Žadobin earlier this month. He lacks work experience in the ministry – according to Lukashenka “that can be an advantage”. Previously he commanded the troops of the North-Western Operational Command. Raŭkoŭ comes from Belarus. This is a break from the typical pattern in the country where people born outside of Belarus and educated in Russia have traditionally dominated the leadership of the military, police and the KGB.
Andrej Šorac replaced the previous head of the Minsk City Executive Committee Mikalaj Ladućka. Šorac is 41 so he is younger than a majority of senior officials. Over the past three years he served as minister of housing and communal services and prepared reforms in this arena. The civil society group 'Group on Housing Reforms', which included Šorac, exposed a lot of weaknesses in the housing and communal services of Minsk and his recent appointment may be tied to their work.
Aliaksandr Cierachaŭ became the Minister of housing and communal services and the youngest minister in Belarus. Cierachaŭ is 36, he worked in the Homel Region Executive Committee and served as the first deputy of Šorac in the Ministry of Housing and Communal Services for the last three years.
Uladzimir Amaryn became the new Finance Minister. He is an insider in the ministry: Amaryn has been working in the financial system in Belarus since 1983, and from 2008 till 2014 he played the role of the First Deputy Minister of Finance. During the appointment Lukashenka advised Amaryn to follow the law and be careful: "Under no circumstance should you do what you must not do, under the order of a prime minister or deputy prime ministers as that destabilises the relationships in the ruling hierarchy."
Jury Siańko replaces Aliaksandr Špilieŭski now leads the State Customs Committee. Starting as an inspector in the Hrodna Region Customs, he rose to become the boss there, and over the last three years, led the Minsk Region Customs. According to Lukashenka, "Belarus has become the only transit corridor from east to west, so be ready to work in a new environment." Lukashenka also spoke about the need to increase customs revenues.
Natallia Ejsmant became press secretary of Alexander Lukashenka. Ejsmant worked as a journalist for the state broadcasting company and recently turned 30. For several years the post of press secretary has remained vacant. It should be noted that Natallia Piatkievič, an influential assistant to the president, launched her own career through this very post.
Although officially Alexander Lukashenka cannot elect the head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, of course, he makes final decision.
Michail Orda became the head of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus in October. Orda led the Belarusian Republican Youth Union, a pro-Lukashenka youth organisation – under his leadership the BRYU conducted protests at the Western embassies. He served as a member of the House of Representatives and got under the EU visa restrictions. Following the appointment of the head of the Federation of Trade Unions, the EU removed Orda from the "black list".
As a result of new appointments a number of former top officials remain in the "reserves".
Juryj Žadobin headed the Ministry of Defence since 2009 and has long had a reputation of being an old-timer in the Belarusian political system. Previously he led the Presidential Security Service, the Committee for State Security and the State Secretary of the Security Council. In 2009 Lukashenka said to Žadobin that was worse than all of the previous State Secretaries and appointed him instead to become the Minister of Defence.
Mikalaj Ladućka officially supervised Minsk City Executive Committee for four years, although he actually performed this duty even more due to the illness of the previous mayor. People will remember him for increasing housing density and demolition of historic buildings. Lukashenka also repeatedly criticised Ladutska for excessive bureaucracy in relations with investors.
Aliaksandr Špilieŭski headed the State Customs Committee for 13 years. However, in recent years, the income from the collection of duties saw basically no growth, a phenomenon that can be linked with Špilieŭski’s resignation. Špilieŭski is known for his conflicts with the Belarusian media and his Russian counterpart, with whom he had a running dispute concerning the Customs Union. When the head of the Russian customs service asked Shpileuski why Russia should 'feed' (subsidise) Belarus, the Belarusian head of the Customs Service advised him to be accurate in his assessments.
Circulation of the Bureaucrats
The future of Špilieŭski, Ladućka and Žadobin remain unknown, but it appears that they will remain in the ruling elite. Moreover, even a disgraceful dismissal does not preclude someone from getting a governmental post in the future. Many stories confirm this thesis.
Piotr Prakapovič remains the best example. During his reign at the National Bank the financial crisis of 2011 unfolded. However, soon after his dismissal Prakapovič became an assistant to the president, and now holds the post of deputy prime minister. In 2003, Lukashenka dismissed Michail Rusy, Minister of Agriculture, for the falsification of accounting data and according to Lukashenka a "mockery of the peasants". But now Rusy holds the post of deputy prime minister in charge of agriculture.
The isolation of the nomenclature remains one of the reasons for the recycling of bureaucrats. People in the nomenclature should be loyal to the president, so many professional and democratic people left the bureaucracy in the 90s. Opposition politicians Aliaksandr Milinkievič and Andrej Sannikaŭ serve as examples. The truth is, Lukashenka simply lacks new people to replace incompetent bureaucrats.
Bureaucratic work in Belarus enjoys little popularity among people in their 30s and 40s. As economic analyst Siarhiej Čaly said "nobody wanted to be a minister." Moreover, the salary is low, and on average ministerial employees in Minsk earn about $1,000.
The recent appointments of at least a few young people to ministerial positions became a sign that the Belarusian elite may be capable of regeneration.
Belarusian Espionage: Abroad and at Home
On 10 November the General Prosecutor’s Office of Lithuania reported that a Vilnius court will try a Lithuanian citizen on espionage charges. The Lithuanian authorities claim that he cooperated with Belarusian security services.
As other cases from recent years prove, Belarusian intelligence is quite interested in its immediate neighbours – Poland and Lithuania. Belarusians usually seek military intelligence and generally probe opportunities to advance Belarusian economic interest in these countries.
Belarus's EU neighbours regard Belarusian intelligence as being, more or less, on par with its Russian counterpart. However, despite close ties since Soviet times and cooperation agreements, Belarusians may have a separate agenda, as Lukashenka's attempts to pursue a more independent foreign policy.
Inside Belarus, recent public spying cases have involved only local citizens. As either Andrej Hajdukoŭ's or priest Uladzislaŭ Lazar's cases show, the authorities can use espionage charges to intimidate the opposition or independent institutions.
A Spy with Belarusian Roots
A former worker of Oro Navigacija, a Lithuanian air traffic control agency, is suspected of committing espionage against Lithuania for Belarus's security services. He may receive up to 15 years in prison as a result. A Vilnius circuit court will hold his trial in January. At the moment the suspect's name remains unknown.
The investigators claims that the suspect secretly photographed documents in his office, including various objects tied to Lithuania's military and civilian infrastructure, and then proceeded to hand them to the General Staff of the Belarusian armed forces. “He gathered and passed on to Belarus information on the Lithuanian armed forces, its state enterprises, objects of strategic importance for national security in Lithuania”, stated a press release from the General Prosecutor's Office.
The Chief of Lithuania's Security Department Gediminas Grina noted that Russia could also use this information, because Belarus and Russia have a military alliance and share intelligence data.
Having Belarusian roots, the suspect visited Belarus a couple of times a year to see his relatives and friends. His two sons have business partners in Russia, and regularly go there on to tend to their affairs. These facts could easily become rounds for Lithuania's own security services to become interested in him.
However, espionage scandals more often than not arise Belarus's other neighbour – Poland. In recent years several incidents have occurred with Belarus citizens being charged with spying.
Belarus Intelligence: Poland in its Sights
The Polish Agency of Internal Security in its annual 2013 report noted that Russian and Belarusian spies have shown the highest level of activity in Poland. Russians are interested mostly in the energy sector, such as liquid gas and nuclear power, as well as EU and NATO's eastern policy.
For Belarus, the report says, Poland is a priority country for intelligence gathering. Belarusian spies search for markets to sell Belarusian goods, firms that can invest in Belarus, possibilities of becoming beneficiaries for EU assistance programmes and assess the nation's military capacity.
In March 2014 the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported that the Polish Internal Security Agency detained two Belarus citizens with charges of spying for Russia. One of them, a Military Attache of Belarus in Poland Dzmitry Žukaŭ, took pictures of a NATO training centre in Bydgoszcz. Another Polish newspaper, Gazeta Prawna, added that he sought contacts with veteran societies, retired soldiers, and youth scout groups and often visited their gatherings and events.
A few month before this episode, Polish counter-intelligence detained a Hrodna resident named Jury, who also took pictures of military-related objects.
Another Belarus citizen, known as Aliaksandr, remains in Polish custody for already two years now. He apparently cooperated with officers from the shuttered Polish Military Information Service.
They regarded him as a source in the Belarus security services and paid him $300,000 for his assistance. But a subsequent investigation proved that he was misinforming the Poles and carrying out the orders of his bosses in Minsk.
Spies inside Belarus
In 2011 the Belarusian KGB reported that it had terminated the activity of 23 agents of its foreign security service. However, there was never ever any concrete cases data that appeared in the media. The people whom the authorities publicly charged with espionage or treason were all Belarusian citizens.
In 2012, the Belarusian KGB published information on two Belarus citizens, Aliaksandr Fenzeliaŭ and Jaŭhien Kačura, who were allegedly spying for Lithuania. The KGB detained a Lithuanian intelligence officer and two Belarusians who passed to him secret information about something related to the military. The agency was able to prove their case by gathering information and, later on, the suspects confirmed their guilt during trial. The court found them guilty and imposed a 10 and 8 year sentence on them, respectively.
Another case to surface was that of Andrej Hajdukoŭ, one that appears to be politically motivated. Opposition activist and leader of the youth organisation “Union of Young Intellectuals”, he was detained in Viciebsk by the KGB in November 2012 and faced charges of treason.
When taking a look at the KGB's official position on Hajdukoŭ, his tactics look rather ridiculous in an era of digital technology. For one, he allegedly hid secret information for foreign agents in a mail drop box. Nevertheless, he was tried and sentenced to 1.5 years in prison on a less serious charge – an attempt to establish contacts with a foreign agency, or in his case, with the US embassy.
In July of this year Lukashenka revealed information that one of the officers serving in Belarusian security agency, “was connected to foreign states via a Catholic Church representative. He not only passed information on to them, but alo caused trouble for our people who were working abroad”.
Soon, information appeared that the KGB had arrested the catholic priest Uladzislaŭ Lazar on charges of state treason. After spending half a year under investigation, he was released due to the prosecutor’s inability to prove his case.
As these cases show, the charges mounted against individuals by the Belarusian authorities sometimes appear to be more an issue of exerting political pressure on the opposition or independent institutions (like Catholic Church). Real instances of the apprehension of foreign spies remain unknown to the public, although the KGB continues to boast about its achievements in this arena.
According to the words of Polish and Lithuanian officials, these countries (and perhaps the whole west) regard Belarusian intelligence as being one and the same as Russian intelligence. They continue to work in close cooperation and are committed to sharing any and all needed information. Indeed, such agreements have legally existed since the early 1990s, and these close ties have continued to exist since soviet times, when they were originally established..
However, as the retired KGB lieutenant-colonel Valer Kostka said in an interview to Charter97.org web site, "if there is a common goal, the special services make a deal over it, no matter if it is CIA, Russian FSB or Belarusian KGB. It is a complicated hidden mechanism. If a certain interest exists, Lukashenka will make an agreement with Putin, so Belarusian intelligence will cooperate with Russians, and vice versa".
This means that Belarusian intelligence and special services may have their own agenda separate from Russia's, with which Lukashenka can attempt to pursue a more independent foreign policy.