Staunton, July 21 – Yesterday, the Duma committee on CIS affairs approved the candidacy of Mikhail Babich, the presidential plenipotentiary in the Volga Federal District, to be Russian ambassador to Belarus; but now Minsk must give its assent or agrément. And there may be a problem, Moscow’s Kommersant says today.
In an article entitled “The Extraordinary and Plenipotentary Political Representative,” the paper’s Viktor Khamrayev and Marina Tsareva point out that in August 2016, the Ukrainian government refused to accept Mikhail Babich because of the KGB and FSB past and that the Belarusian authorities could do the same (kommersant.ru/doc/3693848).
Because of his past connections, Mikhail Vinogradov of the Petersburg Politics Foundation says, Babich “is much more influential than a regular diplomat, has access to the top people, and knows how everything is done in the corridors of Russian power.” Belarus should thus welcome him, he suggests.
However, others are less certain not only because of the reasons Kyiv had for rejecting him and the possibility that he will conduct himself less as an ambassador than a pro-consul but also because for Babich who is known to have wanted to become a deputy Russian prime minister overseeing the defense industry this may be a demotion and act accordingly.
In Soviet times,” Kirill Koktysh of MGIMO tells Kommersant, shifts from party work to diplomatic service frequently represented a form of exile. But he adds that Babich is “a practical politician and a tough negotiator,” something that will mean the joint Russian-Belarusian business projects will increase.” If that happens, it could boost Babich back in Moscow.
According to Moscow political analyst Yevgeny Minchenko, Babich “will be not simply an ambassador in Belarus but someone responsible for the CIS as a whole,” while Vladimir Zharikhin of the Moscow Institute for CIS Countries says that “relations between Russia and Belarus are set not at the ambassadorial level but at the presidential one.”
“Therefore,” Zharikhin says, “the political ‘role of ambassador Babich will be minimal. His primary work will be cooperation with business circles, links with society, and the establishment of a circle of sympathizers around the embassy.” Whether Minsk will view this as all he is likely to be involved with remains to be seen.
(For more background and a broader discussion of this case, see the current writer’s “Putin Names FSB Officer to be New Ambassador to Belarus,” Jamestown Commentaries, July 20, 2018 at jamestown.org/putin-names-fsb-officer-to-be-new-ambassador-to-belarus/.)
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