Belarus’s long-standing foreign minister has died suddenly, the state news agency Belta reported on Saturday, just days before he was due in Poland to meet key Western officials.
‘Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei has passed away suddenly,’ Belta reported today without giving further detail.
Makei, 64, had held his post since 2012 and wasn’t known to suffer from any chronic illness.
He was seen in seemingly good health at a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Yerevan just days ago.
His shock death came just one day prior to a scheduled meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, amid Russian suspicions over his back channel liaising with Western interlocutors, it is believed.
On Tuesday, Makei was set to travel to the Polish city of Lodz, where he was invited to attend a Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) council meeting with Western officials.
His invitation came as a surprise given Belarus’ complicity in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – Lavrov was not invited.
Belarus’ longstanding foreign minister Vladimir Makei has died, Belarusian state media reported today
Makei, 64 (L), had held his post since 2012 and wasn’t known to suffer from any chronic illness. He was due to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (R) on Monday
Makei is pictured alongside Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Vladimir Makei is pictured with former British PM Boris Johnson
Russian opposition politician and human rights activist, Lev Shlosberg, said: ‘It is very difficult, almost impossible, to believe in the natural nature of the causes of the death of Vladimir Makei.’
Aleksy Dzikawicki, vice-director of Belsat TV channel, said: ‘Few people know, but soon Makei was supposed to be at the OSCE meeting in Lodz – in early December.
‘He was invited, but Lavrov was not.’
Before the presidential elections and mass anti-government protests in Belarus in 2020, Makei had been one of the initiators of efforts to improve Belarus’ relations with the West and had criticised Russia.
However, he abruptly changed his stance after the protests were brutally quelled, saying they were inspired by agents of the West.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Makei doubled down on the pro-Kremlin stance, claiming the West had provoked the war and that the Ukrainian authorities should agree to the Russian terms of peace.
A few days before the start of the war, Makei promised that there would be no attack on Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. A few days later, Russian troops proved that he was wrong.
‘We are shocked by the reports of the death of the Head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei,’ Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova posted in her Telegram channel.
‘Official condolences will be published soon.’
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who retained power despite the protests of 2020, also expressed his condolences.
Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, commenting on the minister’s death called Makei a traitor to the Belarusian people.
‘In 2020, Makei betrayed the Belarusian people and supported tyranny. This is how the Belarusian people will remember him,’ Tsikhanouskaya said.
Russian opposition politician and human rights activist, Lev Shlosberg, said: ‘It is very difficult, almost impossible, to believe in the natural nature of the causes of the death of Vladimir Makei’
Before the presidential elections and mass anti-government protests in Belarus in 2020, Makei had been one of the initiators of efforts to improve Belarus’ relations with the West and had criticised Russia
Pavel Latushka (L) and Leonid Nevzlin (R) opposition critics of both Belarusian and Russian governments, claimed there was likely foul play involved in Makei’s death
A statement given by Makei to the United Nations Security Council in September encapsulated the strange position occupied by Belarus in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
‘Belarus is referred to as an ”accomplice of the aggressor” or even a party to the conflict. We have said and continue to say: Belarus has never advocated the war. But we are not traitors either,’ he said in a reference to Belarus’ close alliance with Russia.
‘We have allied commitments, and we are strictly following and will follow the spirit and letter of international treaties to which we are party.’
Pavel Latushka, 49, former Belarus Ambassador to Poland, Spain and France, and Culture Minister, said Belarusian security services under pressure from Moscow may have been involved in Makei’s death.
‘This is the fourth case in the history of the Belarus Foreign Ministry when similar events happen,’ he said in reference to prior dismissals of foreign ministers ahead of OSCE summits
‘Vladimir Makei planned to go to Poland to take part in the foreign ministers’ summit. He didn’t live to that date by just three days – strange circumstances.’
Makei’s passing sparked several theories of foul play, one prominent one being that Putin wanted to remove Makei to make Belarusian leader Lukashenko more vulnerable.
Russian-Israeli oligarch and Putin critic Leonid Nevzlin claimed the Russian president wants oust Lukashenko and install a puppet leader so Moscow can assume command of the Belarusian army.
‘This is what my sources in the Kremlin say,’ he posted.
‘The [Robert Lansing Institute] wrote that Putin wants to eliminate Lukashenko in order to control the army of Belarus.
‘Telegram channels close to the Kremlin have hinted that Russia is seeking to unite the two armies under its command, but this will deprive Lukashenko of the ability to control the country – and he is resisting.
‘Makei’s death plays into the hands of Putin. The loss weakens Lukashenko, whose health has also deteriorated greatly.
‘It will be easier to remove him from the presidency.’