Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 24

In late November and early December, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka carried out a comprehensive reshuffle at the top of the Belarusan KGB (still so named), the Security Council, and the Internal and Foreign Affairs Ministries. Lukashenka ensured ample publicity for the changes, except for one detail: most of the officials involved are natives of Russia with a background in the Soviet Union’s and the Russian Federation’s intelligence agencies. For the most part, these officials from Russia gained promotions in the Minsk reshuffle. The native Belarusans were, however, in most cases demoted.

Uladzimir Matskevich, the native chief of the Belarusan KGB, lost his post. His replacement is Russian Major-General Leonid Yerin, with Valentin Nikitin as his deputy. Yerin, a career officer of the Soviet KGB, went on to head the Moscow Regional Directorate of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) until transferred to Belarus in 1995. He became first deputy to Matskevich and also took over as chief of Lukashenka’s bodyguards earlier this year.

The new head of the Security Council of Belarus, with the rank of state secretary, is Ural Latypov, with Mikhail Udovikov as his deputy. Latypov is a native of Russia’s republic of Bashkiria and also a career officer of the Soviet KGB. Latypov reemerged in post-Soviet Belarus as an adviser to Lukashenka and took over the post of foreign affairs minister two years ago. Mikhail Khvostov, until now the foreign policy adviser to Lukashenka, is the new foreign affairs minister. The Belarusan-born Viktar Sheyman has been shifted from the post of security council secretary to that of general prosecutor.

Lukashenka has cited two rationales for the reshuffle. The first relates to the long-running investigation into “disappearances” of prominent opposition politicians and, more recently, that of Russian ORT Television’s Minsk cameraman, Dzmitry Zavadski. With a presidential election due in mid-2001, Lukashenka now deems those disappearances to be a political liability and has tasked the intelligence agencies with resolving the cases ahead of the election. His other stated rationale is of a more permanent nature, involving as it does the “need to create a tough counterintelligence environment for foreign diplomats in Belarus” and to “obtain advance information on the intentions and plans of foreign centers.” According to Lukashenka, those “centers” are targeting Belarus because of its close ties with Russia and opposition to NATO’s enlargement in Central Europe.

These personnel changes round off an incremental takeover of top Belarusan posts by Russians from Russia. This group now also includes Prime Minister Vladimir Yermoshin and Defense Minister Colonel-General Aleksandr Chumakov (Belarusan spellings: Uladzimir Yarmoshin, Alyaksandr Chumakau). This method of top-level infiltration holds the mercurial Lukashenka in check, guarantees his loyalty to Moscow, and prevents the formation of a high-level native officialdom that could defend independent Belarusan statehood against absorption by Russia.