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BELARUS


  

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 17,493 14,304 12,200 76
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,590 1,360 1,290 122
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Belarus

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,310,520

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

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel 
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka


Update No: 307 - (27/07/06)

People like to say that the Cold War is over. This is not quite true in the small matter of Western-Belarus relations.

US Extends Sanctions on Belarus' Lukashenka, Assets Frozen
The US has extended sanctions in July on Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenka, following an election many Western governments, as well as the OSCE, say was rigged. Lukashenka is, indeed, as Sir Lewis Namier, the British historian, said of Ribbentrop, 'a sinister clown.'
President Bush gave reformers in Belarus his support, describing them as "seeking to erase the stain of dictatorship from Europe." In the March election Lukashenka was returned to office for a third term with a resounding majority, but the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Europe's main election monitoring body, said the elections were "severely flawed." The result sparked demonstrations in the capital, Minsk, and hundreds of opposition supporters were arrested.
Lukashenka, who has been in power since 1994, is often branded by Western countries as "Europe's last dictator." He won a third term in the March 19th elections that were deemed fraudulent by Western governments. The count of 75% for the incumbent was highly implausible.
After the election, the White House said it would enact targeted travel restrictions and financial sanctions against Lukashenka. US officials said Lukashenka's victory resulted from election fraud and human rights abuses. 
In February, the Bush administration linked Lukashenka's government to the murders of an opposition businessman and an independent journalist. 
All of Lukashenka's assets in the United States have been frozen and Americans are now forbidden from doing business with him. The sanctions, which are part of a response coordinated with the EU, also apply to nine other Belarus officials. 
The US imposed a travel ban on Lukashenka in June, following his controversial re-election in March. President George W. Bush issued an executive order on July 17th detailing the sanctions, which came into effect immediately. 
White House spokesman Tony Snow cited the "fraudulent presidential election in March 2006, repression of post-election demonstrations and continued detention of activists and opposition supporters." The EU had already frozen assets held in the EU by Lukashenka and 35 of his top aides and imposed a visa ban on the president and 30 officials. 
The US sanctions extend to the minister of justice, the national security adviser, the minister of internal affairs, the chief of the Belarusian KGB, the chief of the central commission for elections and national referendums, and the head of the Belarusian state media company. In addition, Washington is concerned that some opposition leaders have been detained since the poll. 

The Westerners on the Belarussian black list
Lukashenka has retaliated, as is his wont. He has put scores of Western officials on a black list - they are barred from Minsk and its environs for life.
This is an affliction that they will doubtless endure with fortitude.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Andrei Popov said the move was a "symmetric response" following decisions by the European Union and the United States to ban entry to Belarus state officials. 
"This [the ban] applies to officials from the EU, the U.S. and other countries that officially supported restrictions on the entry of Belarus officials into ... the EU and the US," Popov is quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying. 
Popov said the names on the black list would not be revealed, but it included political figures who showed a biased approach toward Belarus and painted a distorted picture of political and economic developments in the country.
There are certain foreigners, nevertheless, who are still highly welcome in the domain of the Belarus dictator.

Venezuelan leader Chavez stops in Russia, Belarus during tour
The maverick Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, anathema to Washington, visited Russia and Belarus during a two-week overseas tour that started on July 19th. 
The Venezuelan leader was in Russia on July 25th-27th. Chavez, an outspoken leader who will be seeking re-election for another term in December, focused on military cooperation, including possible sales of Sukhoi aircraft to Venezuela. 
During his tour, Chavez also made an official visit to Belarus on July 22-24 at the invitation of President Alexander Lukashenka, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry reports. 
It was the first meeting between the two countries' presidents. Last October, Venezuela's foreign minister visited Belarus, also meeting with the Belarusian leader. In 2005, Belarus' trade with Venezuela was worth US$15.6 million. 
Other legs of Chavez's world tour included Brazil, Argentina, Iran and Vietnam. 

Expulsion from the GSP of the EU on the cards
It is not only Washington that is hardening its position on Belarus. So is Brussels.
Belarus is on the way to joining Burma as the second country in history to get kicked out of the EU's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) on trade, with the European Commission dropping hints it will recommend the move to member states in June or July, EU Observer reports. 
"We can expect in the weeks to come that the commission will convey a recommendation to the council," a commission official told EU Observer on 13th June, adding "We are lacking at this stage satisfactory evidence that Belarus is in compliance with ILO [International Labour Organization] commitments."
The decision hinges on Belarus violating ILO rules on workers' rights such as freedom of association, with an ILO report on 12th June and an International Confederation of Trade Unions' report in May stating things "changed for the worse" in the past year despite an ongoing EU probe. 
Any commission recommendation would have very strong chances of approval in the EU council - the member states' decision-making body - with the clarity of GSP and ILO rules making it hard for EU governments to block the suspension without looking weak on the Lukashenka regime. 
Under the GSP process, the suspension would enter into force six months later and could only be reversed by a fresh council decision. 
The suspension would see higher EU import tariffs on Belarusian minerals, textiles, clothes and wood products worth 390 million euros a year. But it would not cover EU imports of petrol and gas worth almost 1.9 billion euros a year. 
The EU was Belarus' second largest export destination after Russia last year, buying 3.3 billion euros a year of goods and providing 37 per cent of Minsk's foreign income. It is set to become the largest destination this year. 
Being put on a par with Burma, which lost its GSP privileges in 1997, could also deal a fresh psychological blow to president Lukashenka's authority. Belarus NGOs say the EU's recent visa ban and asset freeze on 37 Belarus officials is already helping undermine the government's credibility in ordinary people's eyes. 
The US-funded NGO Freedom House also attacked Belarus in its latest review of democratic standards in the post-Soviet area. The study ranked Belarus as the third worst country in the region, coming ahead only of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan on standards such as free press and fair elections.
"The [Belarus] government has fully resorted to totalitarian methods of repression and has openly declared its commitment to defending the status quo by all means necessary," the report - Nations in Transit - said.
Belarus' economy officially grew by a robust 9.2 per cent last year, with financial stability and lavish projects, such as the new golf ball-shaped library outside Minsk, forming the crux of president Lukashenka's political image. 
But Belarus analysts such as Jaroslav Romanchuk and western diplomats based in Minsk say the country's outdated factories only generate money due to sweetheart deals with Russian buyers, while cheap Russian oil and gas keeps the economy afloat. 
The 390 million euro GSP blow is threatening to hit Minsk at a time when Russian supplier Gazprom is calling to quadruple gas prices from US$47 per thousand cubic metres to US$200 from January 2007 onward. 
The move would "tear a hole of around US$2 billion [1.6 billion euros] in the Belarusian budget," Russian agency Ria Novosti reports.

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ENERGY

Beltransgaz, Gazprom to set up JV by year-end 

Belarus is ready to set up a joint gas transport company with Gazprom on the basis of Beltransgaz by the end of 2006, the country's government office told Interfax News Agency, citing First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko. 
"We are ready to establish a gas transport joint venture before the end of the year. But first, the real market value of Beltransgaz needs to be evaluated," Semashko was cited as saying. "Belarus will acknowledge the conclusion of experts. Further talks will be held based on this," he said. A special working group will begin talks on evaluating the market value of Beltransgaz, Semashko said. "A three-sided group with representatives from Belarus, Gazprom and ABN Amro, will begin talks that have already entered a practical stage," the first deputy prime minister said. Belarus will insist on the terms of an agreement signed in 2002 "which clearly says that if Beltransgaz sets up a joint venture with Gazprom, Russia will guarantee our country gas supplies at Russia's fifth price zone - Smolensk region level," Semashko said. The price of US$200 per 1,000 cubic metres, which Gazprom has announced, does not have any economic or political grounds for Belarus, he said. "Gazprom leadership is predisposed to the fact that if the Beltransgaz valuation is approved and a joint venture set up, Smolensk region prices will be set for Belarus," he said.

Gazprom to sell gas at US$200 per 1,000 cubic metres 

Gazprom has confirmed it plans to sell natural gas to Belarus at a price of US$200 per 1,000 cubic metres in 2007, the Russian gas giant's Deputy CEO, Alexander Ryazanov, told the tenth Renaissance Capital investor conference in Moscow recently, New Europe reported. 
"We have already forwarded to Belarus a contract containing a starting price of US$200. A formula that is used to calculate prices for Russian gas sold to Europe will be applied later," he said. Gazprom hopes to complete gas price talks with Belarus in summer. Belarus currently pays US$46.68 per 1,000 cubic metres of Russian gas. Gazprom announced plans to begin selling gas in 2007 at a price calculated based on a formula tied to global prices for liquid hydrocarbons. Meanwhile, the Belarussian government's macroeconomic forecasts for 2007 envision only a 10-15 percent rise in gas prices.

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PETROCHEMICALS

Belneftekhim to open trade house in Beijing 

Belarusian petrochemical concern, Belneftekhim, will open a trade house in Beijing in August-September 2006, a source said recently, Interfax News Agency reported, referring to negotiations with a Chinese business delegation that visited Minsk on June 11-15. 
The trade house, a 100 per cent subsidiary of Belneftekhim, derives from the dynamic growth of the petrochemical trade, the source said. Belneftekhim exported almost nothing but potassium fertilisers to China before 2003. Nowadays it delivers caprolactam, acrylic fibre, braid, polyamide and polyethylene, while China supplies polypropylene, tyre vulcanisation accelerators and low-pressure polyethylene. The concern hopes to build up cooperation through the trade house Belneftekhim's exports to China which in 2005 grew by 68 percent to US$390 million, while imports increased 230 per cent to US$6.3 million last year. In early 2005 the concern opened an office in Beijing. The concern accounts for over 30 per cent of total Belarusian exports.

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