Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 311 - (29/11/06)
The world is watching
President Alexander Lukashenka has ruled the ex-Soviet republic of 10 million
with an iron fist since 1994. He is a pariah in the West for crushing dissent
and prolonging his rule through votes widely seen as fraudulent. In the latest
in March he got 83% of the vote and his opponent 6%, not exactly credible. OSCE,
the arbiter of these elections, said that it has a bogus result
The regime in Belarus is known to be a vile tyranny, the last such one in
Europe. Its neighbours, but also people from further afield, are considering
ways of ending it from outside. This is not, however, an easy proposition.
There was a world-wide series of demonstrations in October last year. But these
only made the Ogre of Minsk tighten the screws further, as did domestic
demonstrations in July. So long as he has 150, 000 KGB thugs to protect him and
his regime he is safe.
The Russians turn nasty
There is only one power that has any leverage over Belarus, of course Russia.
There are some signs that Moscow is getting fed up with the tyrant. Putin was
wont to say of him what he has said of other post-Soviet despots: "He may
be a scoundrel; but he is our scoundrel."
But what benefit accrues to the Russians from having their own scoundrel in
Minsk. Belarus has nothing but shoddy goods to offer in exchange for subsidized
energy. Moscow is rethinking this.
Belarus faces a fourfold rise in gas prices, although Gazprom is believed to be
willing to compromise if the country hands over 50 percent of the state pipeline
through which Russian gas transits to Western Europe.
Germany 'very worried' about health of Belarus opposition leader Kozulin
The German government said on November 17th that it is "very
worried" about the health of jailed Belarusian opposition leader Alexander
Kozulin and renewed a call to Minsk to release him and other political
Kozulin was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison in July after being convicted of
organizing an unauthorized rally against the disputed March re-election of
authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenka. A former cellmate said that his
health has declined badly since he started a hunger strike nearly a month ago.
The German government "is very worried about his state of health,"
Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said, adding that the German Embassy in
Belarus has been in touch with Kozulin's wife. "He is not doing well and he
is being harassed by prison authorities - for example, he can shower only once a
week," Jaeger said.
Kozulin ran against Lukashenka in a campaign marred by widespread arrests and
harassment of the opposition. Jaeger said his conviction was of an "openly
"The German government once again calls on the Belarusian government to
release without delay Mr. Kozulin and all other political prisoners," he
Minsk summit to focus on CIS reform - Lukashenka
Despite being a pariah in the West, Minsk is still the capital of the CIS,
the successor to the USSR.
The CIS reform was to be the main item on the agenda of the organization's Minsk
summit at the end of November, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenka said.
"We want the reform not to break the fragile organization," he said.
Belarus will support any CIS reforms that imply "de-bureaucratization and
fulfilment of agreements," he said.
"However, we are against reforms that will ruin the CIS," Lukashenka
In his words, Belarus was ready to host the summit and "give a worthy
welcome to the chiefs of state."
The summit was to have over 30 items on the agenda. "The agenda will be
updated before the summit," Lukashenka said.
All this ceremony gives him legitimacy, at least in his own eyes.
The CIS summit in Minsk coincides with the NATO summit in Riga, capital of
Latvia, next door. This is Moscow's way of saying what it thinks of the
expansion of NATO to the Baltic states. Having a loyal lapdog in Lukashenka is
not much of a compensation for that devastating setback to its self-esteem. But
it is better than nothing and why his rule is secure.
National Bank of Belarus to agree sale of 2 banks by year-end
The National Bank of Belarus plans to reach a general agreement with investors
by the end of the year on the sale of its stake in two Belarus banks -
Belvnesheconombank and Mezhtorgbank. "A general decision on the sale of the
stake in Belvnesheconombank is expected by year-end," National Bank
Chairman, Pyotr Prokopovich, said at a press conference in Minsk on October
19th, New Europe reported.
Talks on Mezhtorgbank are also close to conclusion, he said. The National Bank
is considering proposals from several investors, he said. "The situation
has changed in terms of Paritetbank - the sale of the controlling stake is not
planned," he said. A micro-financing bank will be established on the basis
of Paritetbank, he explained. Russia's Vneshtorgbank will at the end of the year
become the main shareholder of Belarus bank Slavneftebank, Prokopovich said.
"The usual bureaucratic work is being implemented, including switching (Slavneftebank)
from a closed joint stock company to an open joint stock company. Work is
continuing as planned and it will be concluded soon," he said.
Lukashenka visits Iran for talks with Ahmadinejad
Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenka, flew to Iran on a three-day
official visit on November 12th, New Europe reported.
Lukashenka was expected to meet with the Iranian commerce minister, presidential
envoy and chairman of the mixed Belarussian-Iranian commission on economic
cooperation Masud Mir-Kazemi. On November 13th the Belarussian president held
talks with Iranian President, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and with Supreme Leader of the
Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The programme of Lukashenka's visit
also included talks with First Vice President, Parviz Davudi. On November 14th,
Lukashenka visited the Imam Khomeini Mausoleum. Also on November 14th Lukashenka
met with President Ahmadinejad again. Belarus and Iran established diplomatic
relations back in 1993, the Belarussian presidential press service said.
In December 1997 a Belarussian embassy was opened in Iran, and in 2001 an
Iranian embassy was opened in Minsk. Lukashenka visited Iran in March 1998.
Former Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, paid a return visit to Belarus in
September 2004. The summit visit was in line with agreements reached by the two
countries at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Havana in September 2006.
National Bank of Belarus forecasts foreign trade surplus
National Bank of Belarus Chairman, Pyotr Prokopovich, expects a foreign trade
surplus in 2006 that will enable an increase in gold and foreign currency
reserves by year-end. "The trend of the last two months indicates that a
foreign trade surplus can be achieved for the year and that gold and foreign
currency reserves will be up," Prokopovich said at a press conference in
Minsk on October 19th, New Europe reported.
The foreign trade balance will stabilise due to an increase in potash fertilizer
exports, he said. "We are currently increasing fertilizer exports
considerably and they alone will give a rise in exports of US$300 million,"
he said. Belarus had posted a foreign trade deficit of US$308 million on
September 1, compared with a deficit of US$350 million on July 1, 2006.
"Taking into account the rise in exports, we plan to bring the deficit to
zero by year-end or to have a small surplus," Prokopovich said. The
National Bank chairman also predicts a current account balance of payments
surplus in 2006.
Foreign trade deficit will be US$200m in 2006
The Belarussian Economics Ministry is forecasting that the country's foreign
trade deficit, including foreign trade services, will be approximately US$200
million in 2006. "The foreign trade deficit in 2006 will be US$200 million.
Even including services, we won't see a surplus or even a zero balance," a
ministry official said, Interfax News Agency reported.
Belarus' foreign trade deficit was US$308.6 million in January-August. The
Belarussian government had planned a foreign trade surplus of US$500 million in
2006. Belarus' foreign trade surplus was US$164.6 million in 2005, compared with
a deficit of US$1.85 billion in 2004.
Belarus gold, forex reserves all 1.3% in 10 months
Belarus's international reserves, as calculated by International Monetary Fund
methodology, fell 1.3 per cent year-on-year in January-October 2006 and amounted
to US$1.279 billion, the National Bank of Belarus said in a statistical report,
New Europe reported.
The reserves grew 10.7 per cent in October after growing 1.3 per cent during
September. Foreign currency assets dropped 3 per cent to US$1.073 billion on
November 1, after growing 12.8 per cent in October, and monetary gold grew 7.8
per cent to US$204.9 million, after growing 0.9 per cent in October. The other
reserves stood at US$1.5 million. Gold and foreign reserves grew 5.4 per cent to
US$1.685 billion in the ten months. They rose seven per cent in October after
increasing 1.3 per cent in September