Friday, August 3, 2018

Moscow Raises the Ante on Appointment of New Ambassador to Minsk

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 3 – The Russian government is increasing the pressure on Minsk to accept its already Duma-confirmed ambassadorial appointment to Belarus by reportedly deciding to appoint Mikhail Babich to be at the same time the special representative of the Russian President.

            There has been no formal announcement about this from Moscow; but Natalya Galimova and Polina Khimshiashvili of the RBC news agency cite an unnamed Kremlin source and confirmation by another unnamed source at the Russian foreign ministry in their report (

            According to this report, the Russian foreign ministry says that such a combination of roles would help improve relations between Moscow and Minsk by giving the new ambassador-special representative additional clout at home and in organizing meetings with various officials and business interests in Belarus as well.
            Such a combined appointment is rare but not unprecedented: two earlier Russian ambassadors to Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Mikhail Zurabov, had it as well. What is unusual is that Moscow went ahead with the confirmation of its ambassadorial choice even without gaining agrément from Belarus.

            Given the tensions in Russian-Belarusian relations in recent months, that delay has even led to speculation that Alyaksandr Lukashenka might refuse to accept Moscow’s candidate, something that would put relations between the two countries at their lowest point ever (

            By floating the suggestion it might make Babich a special representative of Vladimir Putin, Moscow has put additional pressure on Lukashenka to fall in line and agree to his appointment. It is now about Putin personally. But at the same time, this carefully timed leak could backfire because it calls attention to why Minsk has problems with Babich.

            Not only did Kyiv refuse to give agrément for Babich as ambassador to Kyiv given his security service background, something people in Minsk are well aware of; but many in the Belarusian capital are concerned that the Kremlin’s choice could play a very different and more threatening role in Belarus than even Russian ambassadors typically do. 

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