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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: 261 - (26/09/02)

Union with Russia
The Belarus option continues to tantalise Russian strategists. In Alexander Lukasheka, the president of Belarus, they have the one FSU leader who is keen to get as close to Russia as possible. He envisages a merger of the two in the Union of Russia and Belarus, already an established entity.
At the moment it does not amount to very much. Still, it has a formal existence, with a council and a regular meeting of parliamentary heads. Putin likes it doubtless to placate the nostalgic-for-Soviet-times members of the Duma, whose number extends beyond the ranks of the communists and nationalists. After all it was himself who said; "No-one with a heart can fail to regret the passing of the Soviet Union. No-one with a head can think it can come back." Exactly so.
Negotiations over the Union are indefinitely extended. They comprise a political football of immense value to all sides. The basic point is to keep them going, giving everybody something to look forward to.

Putin and Lukashenka confer
Putin met with Lukashenka in mid-August in Moscow, on August 14th to be exact. He said of the prospective union, it is difficult to establish because "nothing of the kind has been implemented before." Indeed.
But Russia is making steps to set up common boundaries for business and finance. It has advanced the date for the Russian rouble to become the common currency, replacing the Belurus rubel in Belarus from January 1st 2005 to January 1st 2004. The initial date was January 1st 2008, so a very considerable progress is envisaged. It is not yet clear that technocrats in Moscow will approve of this programme, aware of quite what a basket-case the Belarus economy has become.

The Kremlin and vestigial power
There are many in the Kremlin wary of the complications that could ensure from becoming embroiled with the Belarussians. An idea, obviously of a provocative kind, was launched in August to the effect that Belarus should unify with Russia forthwith, becoming its ninetieth entity, that is a component of the Russian Federation of 89, (69) regions and (20) republics.
Doubtless the Belarus dictator would remain president under such an arrangement, but of an 'autonomous' republic of Russia, not of the world. He reacted predictably, rejecting the ideas as an insult to his country. He is suddenly a Belarussian patriot once again. The Moscow technocrats must be pleased.

The burden of Belarus
Belarus has been a big burden for the Russians. They have been supplying it with energy at subsidised prices in exchange for the shoddiest goods imaginable. Calling the bluff of the Belarus president may well have been the point of the showdown in August.
Putin knows that the Belarussians are small beer in the international stakes he is playing for. Nobody seriously believes that the West, or any power within it, will ever attack Russia again. 1812 and 1941-45 were lessons enough. Belarus for the sophisticated elite in Moscow is a frightful bore. They want to be rid of it. Hence the fracas in August.

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FINANCIAL NEWS

Belarus posts rise in trade outside CIS

Foreign trade by the Republic of Belarus in January-July 2002 amounted to US$9.15bn in real prices, 3.2 per cent up on the same period in 2001, the Foreign Ministry has said, Belapan News Agency has reported.
Trade turnover with the CIS amounted to US$5.66bn, or 61.9 per cent of the country's total trade turnover, and with other countries - US$3.5bn (38.1 per cent of total trade turnover). The volume of trade with the CIS shrank by 2.4 per cent, while that with non-CIS countries increased by 13.8 per cent. 
Belarus exported US$4.45bn in goods, including US$2.4bn to the CIS of which US$2.21bn worth went to Russia, and US$ 2.04bn to countries outside the CIS. Exports to the CIS were 7.4 per cent down, and exports to Russia 2 per cent down [on the previous year]. Exports to non-CIS states increased by 16.6 per cent. 
The total volume of imports was US$4.5bn, including US$3.25bn in imports from the CIS, of which US$3.04bn worth was imported from Russia, and US$1.45bn worth in imports from non-CIS countries. The total volume of imports rose by 4.1 per cent, including a 1.6 per cent rise in imports from the CIS, with a 1.5 per cent increase in Russian imports. Import from non-CIS states rose by 10 per cent. 
The foreign trade balance was negative, totalling US$258.2m. The balance in trade with the CIS was negative, US$841m, including a US$834.8m gap in trade with the Russian Federation. The trade balance with non-CIS countries was positive and totalled US$582.8m.

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FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION

Belarusian, Chinese officials discuss economic cooperation

Belarusian First Deputy Foreign Minister, Vasil Puhachow, met Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation, Long Yongtu, on 10th September at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Belapan News Agency has reported.
According to the Foreign Ministry's press service, the two sides noted positive results of the fifth session of the Belarusian-Chinese commission on trade and economic cooperation held on 9th September. They discussed further development of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries and talked about stepping up investment activity. They exchanged thoughts on further development of the legislative basis of the Belarusian-Chinese relations. Vasil Puhachow and Long Yongtu also discussed other issues of mutual interest.

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