Lukashenko appoints new PM, reshuffles cabinet

Belarus, Minsk: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko gestures as he gives a press conference in Minsk. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)
Newly re-elected Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko has appointed Mikhail Myasnikovich as the new prime minister, sparking questions as to whether or not the government is ready to start reforms.

­The former government, headed by Sergey Sidorsky, has resigned in line with the constitution, laying down its powers to the president, who was re-elected in the Sunday poll. Lukashenko, who became the head of state for the fourth time, accepted the resignation. He used the standard procedure of the government’s resignation to appoint the new prime minister and reshuffle the cabinet.

Mikhail Myasnikovich, a long-time ally of Lukashenko and the head of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences, has replaced Sidorsky as the Belarusian prime minister. Myasnikovich, who was born in 1950, occupied the post of a deputy prime minister from 1994 to 1995. From 1995-2001, he headed the presidential administration.    

Lukashenko also appointed four new deputy prime ministers on Tuesday. Anatoly Kalinin previously served as a presidential aide in charge of Minsk. Sergey Rumas headed Belagroprombank. Valery Ivanov was first deputy chairman of Minsk Region’s executive committee. Anatoly Tozik served as Belarusian ambassador to China. Vladimir Semashko has retained the post of first deputy prime minister.

Myasnikovich is considered a good manager. At the same time, observers believe he is unlikely to push liberal economic reforms. Belarusian political Scientist Olga Abramova described Myasnikovich as “a very experienced manager.” He will not, however, “defend the need for liberalization” before the president, she told Interfax. Many said Belarus would have to start reforms as the country’s economy is still largely dependent on Russia. Lukashenko in recent months has been trying to find new sources of oil and gas supplies.

Former Prime Minister Sergey Sidorsky closely co-operated with the Russian leadership and, in particular, negotiated oil and gas contracts with his counterpart Vladimir Putin. This co-operation with, or what some even describe as “loyalty” to, Putin could have prompted Lukashenko not to reappoint him, analysts believe.   

Abramova said, however, it was not clear whether Sidorsky himself wanted to continue as prime minister. He had occupied this post for a long time, she said, adding that he may yet receive another high-ranking position.  

No deal with opposition

Prior to the presidential election some prominent figures of the Belarusian opposition, including Yaroslav Romanchuk, said they had been offered high-ranking positions in the government. Lukashenko said at a news conference after the poll that he was ready to listen to proposals from different people and could even assign them particular tasks.

But no opposition figures have been nominated to the government’s positions so far. In fact, many opposition leaders, including five presidential candidates, and hundreds of activists found themselves behind bars following a mass protest rally after what they called “the flawed election.”

On Tuesday evening, special services searched the office of the Belarusian PEN Center and the private weekly Nasha Niva in Minsk. The officers were looking for photo and video evidence of state symbols being dishonored during the December 19 post-election rally, Andrey Skurko, deputy chairman of the Belarusian PEN Center and editor in chief of Nasha Niva, told the media.

Opposition leader and poet Vladimir Neklyaev, who was beaten during the rally and then arrested, is the honorary chairman of the Belarusian PEN Center. Russia’s Krasnoyarsk-based Viktor Astafyev Foundation on Monday awarded him its Civil Courage Prize. Neklyaev was a candidate in a recent presidential election. “This award is a sort of support for the prominent Belarusian poet and public figure,” Krasnoyarsk poet Anton Nechaev said.

Mending ties, special way

Minsk has so far refused to release Russian citizens detained during the protest rally. The Russian embassy has lodged appeals from seven Russian citizens with the Supreme Court. The earlier appeals were denied by the Minsk City Court. Three of 11 Russians detained had been promised their freedom on Wednesday.  

Russian Foreign Ministry has warned the Belarusian leadership over the detainees, saying the delay with the release may affect the bilateral ties. Belarusian Ambassador Vasily Dolgolev was summoned to the Ministry on Tuesday, where he was told of the need for the release of all the Russians in Minsk as soon as possible.

Sergey Prikhodko, a Russian presidential aide, said earlier the embassy in Minsk had been instructed to step up the protection of Russian citizens in Belarus.

Conflict over the detainees is a sign of tension in the bilateral relations, Belarusian political scientist Valery Karbalevich told Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. Another sign is the fact that although Moscow has recognized the election results, Russian federal TV channels did not stop their anti-Lukashenko rhetoric. 

The Belarusian leader may issue a decree to release the detained Russians a couple of hours before the New Year, the daily assumed. Thus, he will “settle a score with Moscow for last year’s gas crisis,” it said. Then the problem was solved exactly as the holiday began.

On Wednesday, the first two Russian citizens were released from custody after serving out a 10-day sentence for participating in the rally. They were released from a detention center in Zhodino in the Minsk Region. The Russian consul in the republic met with them, said Vadim Gusev, a counselor at the Russian Embassy in Minsk.

Both Russian nationals permanently reside in Belarus and are expected to head home. Another Russian citizen was reported to be released on Wednesday night.

­Sergey Borisov, RT