Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
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
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
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
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]
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.