Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 300 - (01/01/06)
Lukashenka on the skids?
There is no doubt but that Belarus is at a critical moment in its history. The
Orange Revolution in Ukraine, coming after the Rose Revolution in Georgia, has
changed everything. There is a new electricity in the air.
The key is that a massive question mark has been put over the fate of the
lugubrious thug of a president, Alexander Lukashenka. People are beginning to
feel that his days might just be numbered. Many are ardently hoping that they
are, which he knows full well. He is a pariah on the world stage, against whom a
global campaign is now under way to remove him.
He is standing for re-election this year, which he confidently predicts he will
win. He almost certainly will; but by the most dubious methods, which may not be
so easy to get away with as in the past. People's patience is wearing out and
their honour is at stake. If the Georgians and Ukrainians can rid themselves of
their Soviet-style left-overs, why not the Belarussians too?
Back to Russia?
Actually, there are several reasons why not. Lukashenka has a security apparatus
of 150,000 KGB operatives, ready to smash any opposition. He was the only member
of parliament in 1991 to vote against independence, which he would have liked to
reverse. He has supporters still in the countryside, where he was once the head
of a collective farm as was his father - electively the communist aristocracy, a
collective farm perhaps being as big as a county elesewhere.
He would not go quietly like Shevardnadze in Georgia or Akayev in Kyrgyzstan,
while there is no obvious opposition leader, unlike in both of them. Lukashenka
is a far nastier bit of work than either of them, a true tyrant. He would mount
a bloodbath rather than yield
Meanwhile, the Kremlin has a very strong vested interest in keeping Lukashenka
in place. He may be a scoundrel, but he is their scoundrel, ardently committed
to joining Belarus to Russia. Belarus is the last ex-Soviet republic that
retains close connections to Moscow. Russia accounts for over 68 per cent of its
imports and 50 per cent of exports. Two of the most important gas pipelines from
Russia to Germany, whose capacity of 42 billion cubic metres per year accounts
for most of Germany's gas imports, run through Belarus: the Jamal and the
Northern Lights pipelines.
If Belarus were to distance itself from Moscow and seek closer ties to the West,
this would have consequences for Russia's economy and leadership of the CIS.
Russia's economic and political weight in Europe as a whole would be
dramatically reduced. At the same time, trade possibilities for "new
Europe," that is, those Eastern European countries that stand closest to
the US, would increase outside of Russia. Both are considered important aims of
American foreign policy.
US backs the opposition
It is therefore no surprise that the United States has supported the
pro-West opposition for years, both financially and logistically. In the 2001
presidential election in Belarus, private and government organisations and
foundations from the US and other Western countries handed out, according to the
German daily Junge Welt, US$40 million to the election campaign of opposition
candidate Vladimir Gontscharik, a figure to be taken 'advisedly' which might err
for purposes of propaganda.
According to official figures from Belarus, which again might just be
propaganda, US$24 million has already flowed from US coffers into the pockets of
the opposition for the 2006 election. Although difficult to confirm, the Russian
newspaper Rian Novosti reported that most of the opposition groups and media are
financed from the US.
One can find numerous web sites of organisations that have connections to the
Otpor group and its partners, including those who support the opposition in
Belarus. Many of these groups, such as the "Students for Global
Democracy" (SfGD), have connections to semi-government organisations in the
US. The SfGD is currently collecting donations for its "Bell Campaign"
to fund the Belarus opposition.
The oppressed Belarus offshoot of Otpor, Zubr, whose motto is "Honour,
Motherland, Freedom," also has the support of the US. In April of this
year, Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, met personally with representatives
of the group in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius. Rice explained that the meeting
served to help the organisation achieve more freedom. She said the president of
Belarus should understand that his behaviour was being monitored very closely.
Representatives of the opposition then declared that, according to their
assessment, irregularities would occur in the 2006's election and that they are
already planning demonstrations.
US President Bush has made it clear on many occasions that he would welcome a
change in government in Belarus.
Belarus to receive Russian air defence systems in March
The first batch of S-300 air defence systems will be delivered from Russia to
Belarus in March 2006, the secretary of the Belarusian Security Council said
recently, Ria Novosti reported.
Gennady Nevyglas said he had discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart,
Igor Ivanov. According to Nevyglas, deliveries will be made throughout next year
and Belarus planned to form two S-300 divisions, which, according to previous
media reports, means Belarus will have 24 complexes by the end of the year. The
Belarusian official said the complexes would cover the country's western
regions, doubling the army's capability to destroy targets
Gazprom to supply 21 bcm of gas to Belarus in 2006
Belarussian Prime Minister, Sergei Sidorsky, reported to Belarussian President
Alexander Lukashenka, on the completion of negotiations with Russian gas giant
OAO Gazprom, which has agreed to supply the republic with 21 billion cubic
metres of gas in 2006 at US$46.69 per 1,000 cubic metres, sources in the
presidential press service said recently, Interfax News Agency reported.
The sources said that "this contract with Beltransgaz details the rules for
transporting Russian gas outside our country." "Belarus will meet its
obligations in full and the planned joint program with Gazprom will be
successfully implemented this year," the press service said. In particular,
the service said that major infrastructure has been launched - two compressor
stations, that will make it possible to transport additional volume through
Belarus via the Yamal-Europe pipeline, and through the Beltransgaz domestic
Ministry gets permission to raise US$34m loan
The Belarussian Finance Ministry has received permission from the president
to raise its first syndicated loan from Western commercial banks, the finance
ministry said, Interfax News Agency reported, citing a presidential decree of
According to the decree, the ministry has been instructed to hold talks on a
draft credit agreement and has been given the authority to sign it. Austria's
Raiffeisen Zentralbank Oesterreich AG, Russia's Vneshtorgbank (VTB) and
Belarussia's Priorbank will be the lead organisers of the US$34 million
syndicated loan. The loan will be extended for one year with the possibility of
extending it for another year. It is expected that 12 Western banks will join
Fradkov OKs draft deal on extending loan to Belarus
Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Fradkov, has approved a draft intergovernmental
agreement on extending a US$146 million loan to Belarus, the Russian government
press service said recently, Interfax News Agency reported.
Fradkov instructed the Finance Ministry "to hold negotiations with Belarus
and, upon reaching an agreement, sign a deal on behalf of the Russian
government, with the authority to make amendments of a non- radical
nature," the instruction said.