Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko on Saturday sacked his prime minister and several other top officials as the ex-Soviet state reels from the effects of Russia’s economic crisis.
Lukashenko, who has ruled the country of 10 million with an iron fist for the past 20 years, linked the reshuffle to a presidential vote scheduled for next year and indicated he would seek re-election.
“Presidential elections will be a test for us all,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying on his Web site.
“If all goes well, I am ready to work with this Cabinet and these officials after elections, too,” he said.
His administration, quoting the president, said the reshuffle was “nothing out of the ordinary.”
The president dismissed Mikhail Myasnikovich, who had been Belarussian prime minister since December 2010, and appointed his chief of staff Andrei Kobyakov as his new head of government.
He also replaced the head of the central bank and several other top officials, including the ministers of economy and industry.
The nation’s economic ills present a key challenge to Lukashenko’s grip on power.
The president said he would hold the nation’s new economic team, including the new prime minister and the central bank chief, personally responsible for the country’s well-being.
He said the economy represented “the greatest danger” and therefore called “for the greatest responsibility.”
Although the Belarussian ruble is not officially pegged to the Russian currency, the country is highly dependent on Moscow and is very sensitive to its economic woes. The collapse of the Russian ruble this month sparked panic, with Belarussians rushing to convert their savings into US dollars.
Since the beginning of the year the Belarussian ruble has lost about half of its value.
The run on the currency forced the Belarussian central bank to announce a “temporary” tax of 30 percent on all purchases of foreign currency and raise interest rates to 50 percent.
Lukashenko has admitted that his country’s economy has been hit hard, as about 40 percent of its exports go to Russia.
Earlier this month, the Belarussian leader tasked the government with conducting transactions with Russia in US dollars or euros only.
“Fluctuations on the Russian currency market are unfathomable,” he said at the time.
Under pressure from falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine, Russia is sliding into a full-blown economic crisis complete with the collapse of the ruble and growing inflation.
Independent political analyst Alexei Korol said the government reshuffle was a band-aid solution that would not help address the root causes of its economic troubles.
“The country needs deep economic reforms. Instead he is reshuffling an old pack of cards,” Korol told reporters, referring to Lukashenko.
“He won’t embark on reforms, because at the end of the day they would lead to the collapse of his authoritarian regime,” he added. “It’s important for Lukashenko to pass the buck on to his team.”
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