Principal ethnic groups
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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: 260 - (29/08/02)
The Belarussians are faring less well than anyone in the European FSU except for the Moldovans. The problem is largely accounted for by its
political orientation, 'orientation' which literally means 'being directed or turning to the east' being the right word.
Belarus is certainly not turning to the West, which its government distrusts, but to Russia. The West in turn is critical of Belarus and Bush, for instance,
did not return the compliment after its president, Alexander Lukashenka, congratulated him on his electoral victory. The Belarussian was re-elected on 75%
of the vote in September and turned the tables on the US criticism that the election was rigged by saying that "we all know how Bush won his election."
The KGB recidivus
Lukashenka runs the last full dictatorship in Europe. The regime survives on Soviet-style nostalgia and a 150,000 force of KGB troops (the KGB still exists in
Belarus). Force and fraud, the two weapons of power in a state for Machiavelli, the Italian philosopher, are to the fore in Belarus.
The force is there with the KGB. The fraud is that Belarus can rejoin with Russia, Lukashenka's pet idea.
Frittering away its lead
In 1992 Belarus had the highest living standards in the Soviet Union, providing Russia with 25% of its meat and other foodstuffs. A comparatively successful
state farm system accounted for this, founded on cheap fuel from Russia and plenty of farm machinery from the rest of the Union.
One of its farm bosses at the time was Alexander Lukashenka, now president. He voted against independence in 1991, the only MP to do so. He has long been
now trying to drum up a nostalgic union with Russia, the Belarus-Russia Union, that already formally exists, but has little to show for itself.
The economy stagnated under Soviet-style economics amid hyper-inflation in the 1990s. Official statistics posted growth even in double figures in some
years. But most of the population knew better as shortages multiplied.
Russia to the rescue!
The economy is still being propped up by Russia. Belarus is only just behind Germany in its trade with Russia, its leading trading partner. It still obtains
what amounts to subsidised fuel, while selling the Russians consumer goods and machinery to the tune of 11% of their imports, goods most of which no-one else
would want to buy. Naturally, the reform-minded technocrats in charge of the Kremlin and Moscow ministries do not fancy having to carry on picking up the
bills for Belarus.
It is the veteran Russian communists in the Duma and members of the Russian security forces that have a soft spot for the regime in Belarus and cultivate the
fantasy of a Union with it. Little is likely to come it while Belarus continues to languish in its post-Soviet hangover, a neglected little backwater of a
Russian oil company threatens to build pipeline bypassing Belarus
Sergey Maslov, president of Russia's Zapad-Transnefteprodukt, said that his company may decide to build a pipeline bypassing Belarus and redirect all export
flows to the Primorsk seaport near St Petersburg, Russia's Vesti.ru reported.
Zapad-Transnefteprodukt is the operator of a pipeline system in Belarus that delivers oil products to terminals in Latvia and Ukraine. Mr Maslov's statement
followed the Belarusian Supreme Economic Court's 17th July annulment of the company's registration on the initiative of the country's Economics Ministry,
which the Russian Foreign Ministry described as evidence of the Belarusian authorities' "purposeful work towards the nationalization of Russian oil-product
"Belarus will lose more if it attempts to seize the Russian property," Mr Maslov commented.
IMF mission to reappraise Belarus economy
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) plans to send a mission to Belarus in September for two weeks to discuss the possibility of another review of Belarus's
economic performance, ITAR-TASS News Agency quoted a source with the IMF press service as saying on 5th August.
The IMF carried out the first review in April-September 2001 and found that the Belarusian government had not met the conditions necessary to consider
issuing loans to Belarus.
However, the Belarusian side regarded the conclusions made by the IMF as "politically engaged," saying that economic terms set by the IMF were "almost
"The IMF will be ready to discuss with the Belarusian government and national bank a new programme of the review if the Belarusian side shows a willingness
to consider adjusting some of its economic parameters for 2002-03," the source said.
Belarus insists on equality with Russia on single currency emission
Belarus's position regarding the plan to have a single centre for printing the future Belarusian-Russian currency remains unchanged, said Pyotr Prakapovich,
chairman of the National Bank of Belarus, at a press conference in Minsk on 7th August, Belapan News Agency has reported.
"Our fundamental position has not and cannot change. Our position is that we must strictly adhere to the union treaty, which requires equal conditions,"
stressed Mr Prakapovich, who heads the Belarusian half of a Belarusian-Russian working group charged with working out suggestions on how to translate the
plan into action.
By 1st November, the group is supposed to submit its suggestions to the governing bodies of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Its Belarusian members,
will insist on the principle of equality, Mr Prakapovich said.
"We cannot have the single issuing centre solely in Russia, nor solely in Belarus," he went on. "We can only have a single issuing centre of the union state.
That is what the union treaty says. How and when is a different question."
According to Mr Prakapovich, neither Belarus nor Russia has submitted any official proposals on the matter. "We have had discussions with our Russian
colleagues, and we saw that our approaches differed a lot," he said.
The Interbank Monetary Council of Belarus and Russia, which unites the chiefs of the Central Bank of Russia and the National Bank of Belarus, will meet in
Belarus in October to try to work out a common approach to the problem for submission to the union bodies, Mr Prakapovich said.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Belarusian, Ukrainian governments sign cooperation agreements
The eighth session of the intergovernmental Belarusian-Ukrainian commission on trade and economic cooperation, chaired by Belarusian First Deputy Prime
Minister, Syarhey Sidorski, and Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister, Leonid Kozachenko, resulted in the signing of several bilateral documents in Mazyr [Homel
Region] on 2nd August, Belarusian Radio has reported.
Agreements have been signed on cooperation in the areas of small business and veterinary medicine and on cooperation between the Belarusian Ministry of
Economics and the Ukrainian Ministry of Economics and European Integration.
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