Books on Belarus
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 306 - (29/06/06)
In a whole series of recent moves it is clear that the West
and Belarus are falling out in no uncertain terms.
Washington hardens its stance
The United States has moved to clamp down financially on Belarus's authoritarian
president and other government officials. The Treasury Department added
President Alexander Lukashenka to its list of specially designated nationals,
meaning that any assets belonging to Lukashenka found in the United States must
be blocked and Americans are forbidden from doing business with him.
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 19 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. U.S. 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.
Other Belarus government officials also added to the United States' blocking
list include the minister of justice; the national security adviser; the
minister of internal affairs, chief of the Belarusian KGB; chief of the central
commission for elections and national referendums; and the head of Belarussian
State Television and Radio.
In May Lukashenka said his government would appeal to international courts
against travel bans imposed against him and other officials by the United States
and the European Union.
Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative
think tank, hailed the decision but said it came three years too late. "We
knew who Lukashenka was, we knew he murdered his political opponents," he
said. "These measures needed to be taken before the election."
Opposition activist jailed
The persecution of the opposition continues. An opposition activist who was
critical of Lukashenka during his most recent presidential campaign was
sentenced to three years in jail by a Belarus court.
Nikolai Razumov was arrested on March 14 after making comments that Lukashenka
is connected to the disappearances of opposition leaders Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor
Gonchar and Anatoly Krasovsky. He was sentenced on June 19.
Human rights activists have voiced concerns that Razumov's health issues,
including the fact that he has only one lung and one-third of a stomach, will
pose a problem during his jail term.
Lukashenka ran against and defeated opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich
in March for the presidential seat amidst allegations of rampant voting fraud.
Hundreds of activists have since been arrested for protesting against
Lukashenka's win, including Milinkevich.
Belarus Prepares Black List of Unwanted Officials from EU, US
Lukashenka is not to be so easily outfaced by the West. Belarus has prepared
a black list of foreign officials who will be denied entry to the country, the
Belarusian foreign ministry said June 15.
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 U.S," RIA Novosti news agency quoted
Popov as saying.
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. They
will now have to carry the heavy burden of never going to Minsk - at least as
long as Lukashenka lasts.
In May Belarus also threatened to bar flights over its territory by U.S. and
Lukashenka threatens to ban overflights
Lukashenka suggested on June 20 that he might ban Western overflights of
Belarus in response to sanctions against his former Soviet state in connection
with his disputed re-election.
"Let them fly over the Baltic states or Ukraine. We ought to close the main
route through," Lukashenka told parliament in his annual state of the
nation address. "Perhaps we will lose something here. But we must show them
that we are proud people."
Lukashenka's latest comment was almost certainly in response to the refusal by
Canada and the United States in May to refuel a plane carrying Belarus's prime
minister to and from Cuba.
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
13 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 12 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 percent 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 percent 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.
Baltika wants to set up JV with Belarus
Baltika, a major Russian brewery, is ready to look at proposals from the Belarus
authorities and private companies about setting up a joint venture, Baltika
President, Anton Artemyev, said in a phone interview, Interfax News Agency
"It is too early to talk about this (setting up a joint venture), the
company is in discussions about the issue. But, we are, nevertheless, ready to
look at proposals from authorities and private companies," Artemyev said.
The Baltika president is taking part in the Days of the North-West Federal
District event in Belarus. "One of the aims of the trip is to look more
closely at the Belarus brewery market," he said. "I can already say
that companies in Belarus and the entire market have good potential in my
opinion. Better quality equipment can be observed and as a result a better
quality product," Artemyev said. Baltika considers the Krinitsa debt
problem fully settled, he said. The Belarusian brewery received a US$10 million
loan from Baltika in the summer of 2001 to upgrade equipment with the aim of
later establishing a joint venture.