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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Death Of Belarus' Foreign Minister Makei Tightens Kremlin Grip On Lukashenko

Whether or not the 64-year-old died of natural causes, the Kremlin is reinforced now in Minsk — leaving even less wiggle room for Belarus strongman Alexander Lukashenko.

Photo of Makei and Lukashenko

Belarus' Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei and Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko

Oleksandr Demchenko

-Analysis-

KYIVUkraine is closely following the events in Belarus, where the sudden death of Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei has sparked much discussion and speculation. Some are convinced that the 64-year-old was poisoned, perhaps targeted by the Kremlin to send a message to Belarus' strongman leader Alexander Lukashenko that he must increase his support for Moscow, including his readiness to enter the war against Ukraine.

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Ukrainian politician and military observer,Alexei Arestovich doesn't back such a theory, taking at face value that Makei died of natural causes: If the Kremlin wanted to remove the president of Belarus, he says, they would have done it long ago. "I do not think that in such a country as Belarus, the death of even a significant politician will change anything if it is not the death of Lukashenko himself," said Arestovich.

Ukrainian newspaper Livy Bereg was focused on trying to understand what comes next after Makei's sudden death.

What was Makei's cause of death?

We probably won't know the cause of death in the near future, although Moscow and Minsk are trying to convince us that the Belarusian Foreign Minister died of natural causes. We will not speculate, but the experience that the special services of Russia and Belarus have in eliminating unfriendly diplomats cannot be ignored.

The death of Makei is an essential signal for Ukraine. His departure means that President Alexander Lukashenko has little to no opportunity to communicate with the West, a link to which the late Makei provided.

Some may say that Makei was an important figure in the system that Lukashenko built, some may even recall that the late Belarusian Foreign Minister was once seen as a successor to the Belarusian president. All this does not matter. Makei, like any Belarusian official, was essentially a nobody: he responded to the whims of Lukashenko, who always depended to some extent on Moscow. Now this dependence has arrived at virtually 100%.

Lukashenko's voice

Makei was the one who for many years was the main channel of external communication for Lukashenko: with Europe, Russia, or the domestic opposition.This changed to some degree after the 2020 protests when the West imposed sanctions against Makei.

Let's remember that Lukashenko has long been adept at making the system work for himself, not for Moscow. He created the means to be able to maneuver, which meant packing the law enforcement agencies of Belarus with those loyal to him, and that included Makei. This would wind up helping the regime survive during the protests nearly three years ago.

Makei was the one who for many years was the main channel of external communication for Lukashenko

For some time, Makei was able to communicate with the Belarusian opposition, which, it should be said, was permeated with KGB agents. He was able to negotiate with Europe to ease sanctions against the regime, which always allowed Lukashenko to blackmail Moscow. Recently, Makei was the one who negotiated with the West to reduce penalties on Belarusian potash production in exchange for the release of some members of the opposition from Belarusian prisons.

It was Makei who recently held 10 separate meetings with foreign officials at the UN General Assembly, offering the terms of this "barter" in particular to the United States. Lukashenko sent signals to the West about his readiness to communicate through Makei. In reality, it was just another deception: the self-proclaimed head of Belarus wanted to mitigate the pressure from Europe and the United States to increase his price in negotiations with Moscow.

Photo of Makei and Lavrov

Belarus' Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei meets with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry Press O/TASS

Is Lukashenko independent of Putin?

The Kremlin recently allocated 105 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) to Lukashenko for the so-called import substitution programs (in fact, for the war) and probably got tired of this game.

Like most of the Belarusian officials put in power by Lukashenko, the late Belarusian Foreign Minister defended the interests not of Belarus but of the regime. It allowed its leaders to enrich themselves and protect their wealth from Moscow oligarchs, which have been gradually taking everything away from them over the past two years.

After the failed attempt to overthrow Lukashenko's regime, Russian officials in Belarus, who were already numerous, gained new powerful positions. Now such Kremlin-friendly figures as the Secretary of State of the Security Council of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Volfovich will be in charge of some of the most critical processes in the country.

It is not simply Makei's death, or how he died, that is important, but the transition of Belarusian power into the hands of the Kremlin. The former Foreign Minister of Belarus was just an executor. And now Lukashenko has almost no room for maneuver.

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Roberto Tuero / SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire
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