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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: 305 - (30/05/06)

The last of the KGB
The dictator of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka, is an extraordinary man. He is a brutalist in politics, he admires brutal methods for themselves.
There is no organisation that he admires more than the KGB.
Most people think that this was a creation of Stalin, his creature. It was in a way. But it only came about after his death in 1954.
Before then it always had another name, the Cheka, the NKVD, the OGPU, etc. It is of small consolation to the descendants of its victims that there is no more infamous name in human history.
This is not the view, however, of the present leader of Belarus.

Belarus unveils monument to secret police
A monument to Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky was unveiled on May 26th in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, provoking protests from human rights defenders and opposition politicians.
Dzerzhinsky, reviled by critics of the Soviet era, helped establish the first Soviet secret service, called the Cheka, in 1917 under Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. The Cheka, a forerunner of the KGB, was responsible for mass arrests and executions.
The towering 10-foot bronze figure, a copy of the statue of Dzerzhinsky that pro-democracy crowds tore down in front of KGB headquarters in Moscow in 1991, occupies a spot inside the grounds of the Military Academy. Dzerzhinksky was known as 'Iron Felix." He was born in modern-day Belarus.
Belarusian President Lukashenka, an open admirer of the Soviet Union and a pariah to the West because of his government's crackdown on dissent and the media, has kept the Soviet-era acronym KGB for Belarus' security service.
Stepan Sukhorenko, head of the Belarus' KGB, attended the ceremony unveiling the statue.
Oleg Gulak of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee rights group condemned the move as "an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the repressive machine founded by Iron Felix."
The leader of the Social-Democratic Party, Nikolai Statkevich, insisted that Dzerzhinsky was not "a figure of Belarusian history we should be proud of."
The head of the Belarusian border guard service, Gen. Alexander Pavlosvsky, defended the decision to erect a statue of Dzerzhinsky next to the faculty for frontier guard officers. "We shouldn't be afraid of our history and people who gave birth to a new state, fought for it and were heroes," he said. "Dzerzhinsky was not an odious figure, he is someone who merits respect."

The battle of the vices
US Vice-President Dick Cheney is a formidable personality whom you either like or detest. It is unlikely that anyone aware of his existence would simply be indifferent to him. 
Exactly the same, curiously enough, can be said of the president of Belarus, himself very much a number two to the ruler in the Kremlin, once Yeltsin, now Putin. A pair of outsize egos, both brandishing their respective, but quite discrepant, indeed totally opposed, super-egos (it is after all the 150th anniversary of the birth of Freud).
It is difficult to imagine two people less likely to agree on anything, let alone get on. One espouses Democracy Western-style, the other 'People's Democracy' Soviet-style. Each regards the other as a public menace of the first order. There will be plenty of people around the world who will be of the view that both are right!
Cheney issued a stinging denunciation of the Belarus populist or demagogue (whichever you prefer) on May 5th, saying there was no place in Europe for what he and others in Washington describe as "Europe's last dictatorship." Cheney told leaders of post-communist nations meeting in the Baltic state of Lithuania that President Lukashenka presided over an administration that routinely resorted to vote-rigging, beatings and detentions.
"All of us are committed to democratic progress in Belarus. That nation has suffered in major wars and experienced terrible losses and now its people are denied basic freedoms by the last dictatorship in Europe," Cheney told the conference. "The world knows what is happening in Belarus. Peaceful demonstrators have been beaten, dissidents have vanished and a climate of fear prevails under a government that subverts free elections. There is no place in a Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind."
Both the United States and European Union have denounced Lukashenka's landslide re-election in March as blatantly rigged and accuse his administration of routinely cracking down on opponents and closing down independent media.
According to his own official tallies, Lukashenka won 83 per cent of the vote in Belarus, an ex-Soviet state wedged between Russia and three new EU members which suffered huge losses in World War Two and it was the country most affected by the Chernobyl disaster. Main opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich was credited with six percent of the vote.

Protests abound but are banned
Up to 10,000 protesters - unprecedented numbers in tightly-controlled Belarus - staged rallies in Minsk for several days before they were dispersed by police. More than 600 people were jailed for up to 15 days on public order offences.
Milinkevich himself was sentenced to 15 days in jail in late April for leading a protest against Lukashenka at which he pledged to turf the president out of office within two years using civil disobedience. Several other leaders were jailed with him.
Cheney said he had met opposition activists at the Vilnius meeting, but was disappointed not to find Milinkevich among them. He said Washington was closely monitoring events in Belarus.
The United States has long denounced Lukashenka, in office since 1994, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the first government figure to describe his administration as the "last dictatorship in Europe."
The EU responded to the fraudulent election outcome by slapping a visa ban on Lukashenka and 30 top officials. EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana told the conference that Brussels viewed developments in Belarus as unacceptable. "The European Union will continue to support the aspirations of the people of Belarus," Solana said. "One day, I'm sure, they will see a democratic breakthrough in their country."
Solana said that he "emphatically" repeated his earlier demands that the opposition leaders be released in Belarus.

The odd man out
A strange paradox is that while Belarus is being ostracized by Western governments, with President Alexander Lukashenka and over thirty senior officials being banned from the EU and the US in the wake of his dubious electoral victory in March, it is being courted by international financial institutions.
One reason is that - so far - its economy has been performing rather well, at least on official statistics. There is reason to suppose, however, that the good times could soon be over, and official statistics in such a regime are hardly trustworthy.

Economic recovery 
Like other former Soviet republics, Belarus suffered a massive collapse after 1991, with output dropping by more than half thanks to "shock therapy" reforms. But in 12 years of power Lukashenka has righted that, as the following statistics show (all taken from the IMF's country report on Belarus in June 2005). 
He has presided over a continual increase in real wages for several years, culminating in a 24% rise over the past 12 months. He has also cut VAT, brought down inflation, halved the number of people in poverty in the past seven years, and avoided social tensions by maintaining the fairest distribution of incomes of any country in the region. 
Residents, as well as Western visitors, report that many people are satisfied with their living standards. Many have family or other ties to Russia, their giant neighbour, and feel grateful for the stability, moderation and absence of an oligarch-dominated economy that Belarus enjoys. Of course politically it is a different story - one of intimidation, and abuse of civil and human rights. 

Denim Revolution?
In the circumstance what chance is there of a 'Denim Revolution' in Belarus ever happening, the name being suggested for an equivalent to the 'Orange Revolution' in Ukraine, the 'Rose Revolution' in Georgia or the 'Tulip Revolution' in Kyrgyzstan?
It is highly suggestive that the latter three were named after natural phenomena, while the former is after all a human product, denim, that happens to be a staple product of the Belarussian economy.
There's the rub. Nobody is prepared to take Belarussian denim in bulk except the Russians, as is true of virtually all that they sell them. It has always been that way because of the soviet-style lack of quality in manufactured products. This has contributed to Belarussian exports hitherto being virtually unsaleable in free world markets. 
The Belarussian economy is totally dependent on Moscow remaining benign in its policy towards its former subjects, as it sees them. Russia previously sold Belarus oil and gas at one fifth, or less, of world prices, much of which, after it has satisfied its domestic needs, it then refines or whatever into another form and sells on to world markets. That is unlikely to continue.

Moscow to pull the rug?
There is one severe problem for Lukashenka that is emerging in full clarity after his election victory. The Kremlin was prepared to see him win, indeed helped him by leaving Belarus out of the reckoning that other former satellite states faced in energy prices. While gas to Ukraine and Georgia is only going to be sold at near world market prices soon, it appeared that an exception was to be made for Belarus, for a while longer at any rate. 
Not so. Gazprom is demanding world price levels from Belarus too, unless it hands over ownership of its transit firm for gas exports to Europe, Transneftgas, to the Russian giant lock stock and barrel. If Minsk surrenders it meekly to Moscow, it would lose its last leverage over its energy policy. It would forego any chance of doing what the Ukrainians did in January when Gazprom shut off supplies, namely to take over supplies meant for Western Europe. 
Lukashenka was always at risk of Moscow turning against him. That is what seems to have happened. Time will soon tell.

Belarus threatens Europe and USA with "adequate measures in return" 
The Belarussian Foreign Ministry has stated that official Minsk may reply with adequate measures to the EU, which banned entry into its territory for three dozens of Belarussian officials, including the country's President Alexander Lukashenka. 
"The Foreign Ministry states once again: to reply to people's choice with bans means to reject the right of Belarussian citizens to live in their own country in their own way, and not in a foreign one. Republic Belarus is compelled to take adequate measures against the EU and the USA. In accordance with international practice, they will concern analogous categories of persons," official Minsk is quoted by Lenta.ru as stating. 
The following have been put onto the black-list of the European Parliament: Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenka, leadership of presidential administration - Gennady Nevyglas, Anatoly Rubinov, Natalya Petkevich, Oleg Proleskovsky, Educational Minister Alexander Radkov, Information Minister Vladimir Rusakevich, Justice Minister Viktor Golovanov, Belarussian MPs Vladimir Konoplyov, Nikolai Cherginets, Sergey Kostyan, BRSM Secretary Mikhail Orda, Belarussian CEC Secretary Nikolai Lozovik, General Prosecutor Pyotr Miklashevich, KGB Chief Stepan Sukhorenko, court representatives, etc.
It is notable who is not on the list - the premier, vice-premiers and his chief economic ministers. That is why the following visit could take place.

Belarus and EBRD discuss new country's strategy for 2006-2008
A Belarussian delegation headed by acting First Vice-Premier Vladimir Semashko visited London in April to take part in a joint consultation session of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Business as usual.
As a correspondent was informed at the Belarussian Foreign Ministry, the rising effectiveness of International Development Banks in countries with middle level of incomes was planned to be discussed. "The Belarussian delegation will conduct talks with the leadership of the EBRD and World Bank, discuss the development of the project of the new country's strategy of the EBRD for Belarus in 2006-2008," the Foreign Ministry stressed. 
Also, the Belarussian delegation were to inform representatives of international financial structures about plans and perspectives of social economic development of Belarus in 2006-2008. Open views exchange concerning Belarussian assessment of state and perspectives of cooperation with Western stockholders of the EBRD and the World Bank will take place. 

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AVIATION

Russia delivers S-300 air defence systems to Belarus
 

Russia delivered the first batch of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Belarus recently, Belarussian Defence Minister, Leonid Maltsev, said , New Europe reported.
Maltsev told a news conference that S-300 missiles systems were defensive weapons, and the deployment of the systems was an internal affairs deal between Belarus and Russia. The minister also denied western media claims that Belarus planned to re-export the systems to Iran. "The report was nonsense. Under the framework of the Joint Air Defence Group of the Union State, Belarus has no rights to transfer the systems to others." he said. Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, during a working visit to Minsk, said defence ministries of the two nations should coordinate their activities more closely and their cooperation was an important factor safeguarding the regional security. Russia and Belarus signed an agreement last year on the delivery of the anti-aircraft missile systems.

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ENERGY

Gazprom to switch to market principles in 2007 

Gazprom is to adopt a market-oriented approach to its relations with Belarus starting from 2007, Alexei Miller, CEO of the Russian gas giant, told Channel One television's Voskresnoye Vremya news programme, Interfax News Agency reported.
"Today Gazprom is switching to understandable and transparent market principles in its dealings with all former Soviet republics. They are governed by trends in world prices for hydrocarbons. What we are speaking about is that a price-setting mechanism for Russian gas sold on the Belarussian market will be guided by market principles and the experience of the world's gas business," Miller said. "We started negotiations in due time to avoid any unpleasant New Year surprises. Our talks will continue at the end of April," he said. Asked whether the gas deal with Ukraine could be reviewed, a possibility voiced by a number of Ukrainian politicians, Gazprom's CE said: "You know, such shortsighted statements can be explained during the election campaign, for instance by speculation in the interests of various political forces. But they are totally inexplicable in an actual economic situation and could destabilise relations," he said. "I am sure that nobody in Ukraine wants a repeat of (this year's) situation, where gas deliveries to Ukrainian consumers were halted due to the absence of contracts and agreements. The rise in the price Ukraine has to pay for Russian gas to Europe's level of US$230 per 1,000 cubic metres has already taken place," Miller said.

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