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  BELARUS

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,350,194

Principal ethnic groups
Belarusians 77.9%
Russians 13.2%
Poles 4%

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka

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Background:
After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration but, to date, neither side has actively sought to implement the accord.

Update No: 257 - (30/05/02)

The last dictatorship in Europe
The Belarussians are the most unlucky of the former Soviet states to the west of Russia. They are in Europe geographically, but not politically or economically. They are having to endure the one indubitable dictatorship on the continent. President Kuchma of Ukraine may resemble a dictator in many respects, but he has so far accepted that he will have to stand down at the end of his second term in 2004. 
President Alexander Lukashenka is made of sterner stuff. He has shown not the slightest sign of standing down. He is still a fit and healthy man in his early fifties. He was re-elected last September on three-quarters of the vote, as counted by his functionaries.
There is little sign that he will be toppled soon. The Russian leadership find him convenient as a buffer between themselves and Central Europe. This is less for military reasons; they scarcely fear another invasion from the West. They rather welcome the cautionary example of a basket-case economy and dictatorship, dependent on their subsidised energy, on their doorstep, as a contrast to western dynamism and democracy. It makes them feel that they are going somewhere for all the tribulations along the way.

Russia-Belarus Union
Lukashenka has his genuine admirers among the Duma and the military all the same, who love his idea of the Russia-Belarus Union, a sort of mini-USSR. It is convenient to have Minsk as the capital of the CIS and of the proposed union, a loyal satellite.
The Belarussians are ethnically close to the Russians and can bask in their glory as the White Russians. Certainly, there is no distinctive Belarussian culture to speak of. As the favoured cousins of Russia they can count; whereas on their own they would be as obscure as a Central European people could truly be. Russia buys 11% of its imports from Belarus, shoddy Soviet-style consumer goods and food-stuffs they would find difficult to find a market elsewhere. In exchange it receives cheaper oil and gas than is available on world markets.
Hence a certain popularity that Lukashenka and his pro-Russian policies enjoy. His dictatorship might well have a lot of mileage in it yet, given that Belarus is such a backwater.

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DEFENCE INDUSTRY

Russia, Belarus integrate air-defence production


On 24th April, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an edict "On the Almaz-Antey air-defence concern." The document provides for the integration of 40 enterprises engaged in the development and manufacturing of air-defence and anti-missile systems for all armed services. The integration will be based on the industrial company Antey, Belapan News Agency has reported.
A number of Belarusian companies currently affiliated with the international [Belarusian-Russian] financial and production group, Defence Systems, could become de-facto participants in the new corporation, which is being set up in Russia.
Under the edict, all major Russian factories under Defence Systems are being handed over to the new concern.
In an interview with Belapan, an aide to the president of Defence Systems, Ihar Myashchan, described the establishment process as "normal" and said that the creation of the new concern was a "long-awaited event."
Russian military experts predict that the new concern will substantially expand the list of air-defence hardware manufactured in Russia with Belarus's participation and may increase exports of this equipment. (Over the last seven years, US$2.5bn worth of such equipment has been sold on the world market).

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FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS

Estonian-Belarusian trade treaty comes into force

The Belarusian consulate general in Tallinn told the Estonian Foreign Ministry that Belarus had completed all procedures necessary for the Estonian-Belarusian trade and economic relations agreement to come into force. The agreement came into force on 30th April, ETA News agency has reported 
Estonia and Belarus signed an agreement on economic and trade cooperation, which includes applying the most favoured nations status to Estonian goods in the Belarusian market, on 31st July last year. According to the Statistical Department, trade between Estonia and Belarus amounted to 917m kroons last year, of which exports comprised 93m and imports 824m kroons.

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FOREIGN LOANS & AID

China provides Belarusian Defence Ministry with humanitarian aid

The Chinese Ministry of National Defence will provide 6m yuan (about US$750,000) in humanitarian aid to the Belarusian Defence Ministry, Belapan News Agency has learnt from the deputy head of the international military cooperation directorate of the Belarusian Defence Ministry, Alyaksandr Yatskevich.
In what form and when the aid will be provided "is currently being negotiated," Yatskevich said. Yatskevich expressed the opinion that the aid would most likely be provided as medical equipment for the Belarusian Defence Ministry's main military clinic.
The Chinese leadership took the decision to provide the humanitarian aid during a visit to China by a Belarusian military delegation led by Defence Minister Leanid Maltsaw on 22nd-25th April.

EU to allot 20m euros to upgrade border with Belarus

The European Union plans to allot about 20m euros to TACIS programme projects in Belarus, the head of the European Commission's office in Belarus, Raul de Luzenberger, has said.
The projects to be funded include demarcation of the borders between Belarus and the Baltic states. In addition, the EU is financing the upgrading of border check points on the Belarusian-Polish border: Kazlovichy, Varshawski Most and Kamenny Loh. In addition, a check point between Terespol [Poland] and Kazlovichy [Belarus] is to be built.
Luzenberger said that these projects would strengthen the new eastern border of the expanding European Union.

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FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Belarus adopts programme for attracting foreign investments

On 7th May, the Belarusian government approved a programme to attract foreign investments in the country's economy from 2002 through to 2010, Interfax News Agency has reported.
While presenting the programme to the government presidium, Economics Minister Uladzimir Shymaw said that the country's need for foreign investments during 2002-2010 is estimated at US$37- 41bn. Investments must increase from the current 19 per cent of GDP to 26-28 per cent of GDP, which will help replenish fixed assets.
He also said that in the first quarter of 2002, Belarus drew US$21m in foreign investments. That amount is expected to reach US$400m by the end of 2002. In 2003, Belarus plans to draw US$1bn in foreign investments.

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