Books on Belarus
Update No: 318 - (28/06/07)
Belarus has the last undoubted dictatorship in Europe. It is
an exceedingly unpleasant regime, run by a reptile, whose nastiness and
stupidity are legendary.
It has become an outcast state, which is giving it some unusual bedfellows. Even
Russia is distancing itself nowadays, charging it market prices for its oil and
gas. Iran is stepping into the breach, as is Venezuala.
Belarus joins Burma as EU trade outcast
Belarus at midnight on 21st June became the second ever country to be kicked off
the EU's 36-year old "GSP" trade scheme, but some EU states believe
the move is ill-judged. The suspension of Belarus from the 1971 Generalized
System of Preferences (GSP) on trade will see extra tariffs of up to 3
percentage points imposed on imports to the EU of products such as forestry and
textile goods. The move comes after the Geneva-based International Labour
Organisation (ILO) said Minsk had fulfilled just four of 12 necessary pro-trade
union reforms, with the extra tariffs set to cost the country around 400 million
Euro a year.
The Asian dictatorship of Burma in 1997 was the only other state ever to have
faced GSP sanctions, despite the fact that other GSP beneficiaries - such as
Uzbekistan - have worse workers' rights records than Belarus.
The GSP suspension is reversible, but it is much harder to get back into the
system than to stay in: the months-long process would involve a new ILO report,
a new European Commission recommendation and a new EU state decision.
Minsk in a statement said the "short-sighted step taken by the EU towards
its immediate neighbour affects in the first place the interests of ordinary
Belarusian citizens" and called for the EU to "reverse it
immediately." Belarus has also queried Brussels' claim the decision was a
purely "technical" process based on ILO compliance. "It was a
political decision - the ILO said we made progress, but this was not taken into
account," a diplomat said.
The position has been echoed by Belarus' EU neighbours, Latvia, Poland and
Lithuania, who had fought the move at EU-level, saying the Belarusian
nomenklatura's income comes from arms and energy sales - not covered by GSP.
An EU official said that close personal ties between senior ILO and EU officials
have helped Brussels get the kind of ILO reports it wants, with other issues
such as political prisoners also impacting the reading of ILO texts. "It's
well known that if they had released all the political prisoners, things would
have been different," the EU contact said.
Ordinary Belarusians live on US$170 a month. But Polish daily Dziennik
reports the country's tax authorities saw an unnamed Belarus citizen post an
income of US$9 million - the first official millionaire in the country's
The US state department believes that president Aleksander Lukashenka has
skimmed off a personal fortune of over US$1 billion, part of which had been
stashed in Serbia, but is now kept in unknown locations.
Another Polish paper, Rzeczpospolita, writes that senior Belarus official Viktor
Sheiman could be posted to Venezuela in order to transfer Lukashenka's fortune
to Caracas, should the Belarusian president one day seek asylum. "Our
number one interest in Venezuela is in the energy sector," the Belarusian
diplomat said, calling the Rzeczpospolita article "fantastic
Why Ahmadinejad visited Belarus
Becoming a pariah can have its advantages. It makes one an attractive
partner for other pariahs for a start. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad`s
two-day official visit to the Belarus capital of Minsk in May received much less
attention in the West than it really deserves.
Most dispatches were based on Russian and Iranian sources, which gave scant
details on Ahmadinejad`s talks with his authoritarian counterpart from Belarus,
Alexander Lukashenka, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko and Speaker
Vladimir Konoplyov. The reports claimed that the main outcome of the Iranian
leader`s visit to "one of our very best friends" had been an agreement
on energy resources: Belarus will be now supplied with Iranian oil.
The Belarusian and Iranian presidents announced the deal on the first day of
Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to accept Belarus`s proposal for joint
development of the Jufeir oil and gas deposit in Iran.
Belarusneft - a large, state-run oil production enterprise - first made the
offer to Iran in late 2006. Teheran has studied the overall plan carefully, and
approved it. Under the plan, Belarus will be allowed to extract oil in Iran and
use it at its own discretion.
Belarus`s ambassador in Israel, Igor Leshchenya, told The Jerusalem Post that
Ahmadinejad`s trip to Minsk was considered an attempt to break the Western
boycott against Teheran. Leshchenya said the visit was "totally
transparent," as all relations between Minsk and Teheran are. The sides
discussed only "issues of economical cooperation," he said.
Analysts noted that Lukashenka`s so-called "economic miracle" in his
former Soviet republic had mostly been based on cheap oil and gas from Russia.
On the other hand, Belarus has lost 20 percent of its budget due to Russia's
charging higher prices for energy resources. Russian fuel will cost Belarus even
more next year.
As a result, Belarus has been trying to break into the international oil market.
And the Iranians have come to the rescue, helping what they consider a fellow
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her Congressional adoption as
Secretary of State, said that Cuba, Myanmar, Belarus and Zimbabwe as
"outposts of tyranny" require close US attention. "In some cases
Belarus is even worse, as its weaponry is used everywhere, even in Darfur and by
the Chinese and Hizbullah," Rice said.
If everything works out as planned, Belarus and Iran could succeed in breaking
the political blockade imposed by the US and its allies. Minsk provides a
perfect, roundabout way to acquire anything Teheran needs. There are no strict
sanctions imposed on Belarus, and so it is capable of serving as a shipment
point for any goods, and a foreign mouthpiece for any political position of the
And those were the real reasons for Ahmadinejad`s visit to Minsk.
Human rights under siege
Human rights violations in Belarus have been worsening with no sign that the
government will improve its record under international pressure, said a
UN-appointed rights expert. "During 2006 the situation of human rights in
Belarus constantly deteriorated," Adrian Severin told the U.N. Human Rights
Council, citing abuses such as imprisonment of political opponents, torture,
excessive use of police force and severe restrictions on the news media.
Representatives of Belarus and Russia, its big ally, dismissed the report as
"All my efforts to engage in constructive dialogue with the government of
Belarus were fruitless," Severin told U.N.'s top rights watch dog, adding
that the government failed to allow him to visit the country for the third
consecutive year in 2006 and has yet to respond to a new request this year. More
than 150 people were reportedly put on trial without having access to a lawyer
in connection with the presidential elections of March last year, in which
Alexander Lukashenka won another five-year term, he told council members.
The Romanian legislator reports to the 47-nation council, but is independent of
the United Nations. Severin told reporters he had made a number of high-level
visits to Belarus as a legal expert for the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe and for the Council of Europe before he took up his UN
mandate in 2004.
Just as the government has dismissed a barrage of international criticism in
recent years, it has ignored all his previous calls to put an end to abuses,
said Severin. "In fact, the political system of Belarus seems to be
incompatible with the concept of human rights as enshrined in the Charter of the
United Nations" and in the rights treaties which Belarus has ratified, he
said in a 19-page report.
The rights council should either press for democratisation of the country's
government or "admit that Belarus' human rights record cannot be improved
because the human rights violations are consistent with the political nature of
the regime," he said.
Severin - who encouraged Belarusian civil society activists to continue their
work toward democratisation - called on the U.N. to set up a legal expert group
to investigate whether the country's government was responsible for the
disappearance and murders of several politicians and journalists and help to put
an end to impunity.
Although there were a few positive developments, such as the release of some of
the political prisoners and reports that some rights groups and newspapers have
recently been treated better, the improvements were not enough yet to bring real
change, he said.
Support by the international community is of "paramount importance for the
destiny of Belarus and its people," Severin told council-members. Russia
and other neighbouring countries should join in travel sanctions for Belarusian
officials imposed by the EU and the United States, he said in his report. At the
same time, countries should condition trade with Belarus on human rights
criteria, he said. "Russia could exercise a very important role in
supporting any international strategy meant to improve the situation of human
rights in the country," Severin said.
The report contained false allegations and "absurd conclusions," said
Belarus ambassador Sergei Aleinik, calling Severin an "incompetent and
politically engaged expert" who wanted to create a negative image of the
country. "The special rapporteur is misusing the human rights mandate...to
put forward a political model for interference in the internal affairs of a
sovereign state," he told the council.
Oleg Malginov, who heads the human rights division of the Russian Foreign
Ministry, told the council that the report was politically biased and said it
demonstrated why the mandates of U.N. rights experts on specific countries
should be abolished.
Mandelson's last throw
EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson is not likely to survive the hand-over
of power from Blair to Brown. He was once a friend of the latter, but they are
now bitter enemies - ever since Mandelsom came out for Blair to lead the Labour
Party. He made his last important decision in mid-June.
He said the European Union will cancel preferential trade tariffs for Belarus
due to its failure to ensure the rights of workers. Mandelson made the
announcement on June 15th.
The move, which went into effect on June 21st, will increase the cost of some
Belarusian goods to Europe, mostly farm machinery and chemicals. It will not
affect oil and gas exports from Russia that pass through Belarus to Europe.
The Geneva-based International Labour Organization had announced earlier on June
15 that Belarus had failed to make progress on giving workers the right to join
unions. The European Commission said the trade preferences will be restored as
soon as Belarus complies with International Labour Organization standards.
Iranian bank may be established in 2007
A bank, 100 per cent owned by major Iranian banks, may be set up in Belarus
before the end of 2007, a spokesman for the Belarusian National Bank said,
Interfax News Agency reported.
Some of Iran's major banks are expected to co-found the bank. Bank Refah
Kargaran has already announced plans to set up a subsidiary in Belarus, Interfax
quoted him as saying. "The Belarusian side is ready to do everything
possible to help the Iranian bank open as soon as possible. Preparations of all
the necessary documents will be accelerated," the spokesman said. The main
objective of the new credit organisation will be to service trade operations
between the two countries through direct settlements. Today payments made during
such operations have to pass through Belarusian accounts in Europe.
BPS-2 to redirect oil volumes from Druzhba pipeline
The Russian government on May 21st approved the construction of the Baltic
Pipeline System-2 (BPS-2) bypassing Belarus and therefore reducing Russia's
reliance on the transit state. The Russian leadership has pushed for the
Unecha-Primorsk pipeline project since the oil dispute over oil tariffs between
Moscow and Minsk at the beginning of January 2007 that led to a disruption of
oil supplies to Europe from January 8th to 11th, New Europe reported.
Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Fradkov, has signed the corresponding
resolution, the government press service said. The Russian Industry and Energy
Ministry and Transneft have been directed to prepare the necessary documentation
for the construction of the BPS-2. If the project is implemented, the annual
throughput capacity of the Primorsk port may increase to 150 million from 75
million tonnes. The project has been estimated at US$ two billion.
Nadia Kazakova, an oil and gas analyst at MDM Bank in Moscow, told New Europe on
May 24th that "there is too much dependence on Druzhba crude oil from the
European refineries." The Russian government plans to redirect into the
BPS-2, to Primorsk and then to the Baltic Sea a part of the oil flow from the
Druzhba pipeline that runs from Russia via Belarus and Ukraine to European
Moscow wants to reduce its reliance on overland export routes through third
countries. "After the conflicts with Ukraine and Belarus that happened over
the last couple of years, Russia wants to distance itself from these countries
and obviously and very understandably try to invest in new pipelines,"
Anisa Redman, an oil and gas analyst with HSBC Bank in London, told New Europe
on May 22.
"The question is the cost of the new pipelines because the pipelines that
go through Russia and Ukraine are already in place, have been built and are
ready to use, but the new pipelines that Russia is planning to build will
require new assets so there is a trade off; you have to pay for having that
extra new pipeline."
The Russian government plans to build BPS-2 has worried Belarus that counts on
the transit fees that Druzhba oil supplies may be reduced to a mere trickle.
"Belarus' position is threatened because the country earns a lot of hard
currency revenues from that oil and gas transit from Russia and Belarus is
obviously very worried about it," Redman said. She noted, however, that
Russia does not plan to replace Druzhba altogether. "You can't replace it
altogether because it is not going to be large enough of a pipeline, but they
can start to do it and divert some of that crude flow that goes through Belarus
onto other pipelines.
Kazakova said there will be extra capacity for the new pipeline. "I view it
as extra capacity rather than replacement capacity because you still have to use
the current infrastructure (Druzhba) and I can't see why except for political
reasons the current system won't be used," she said.
Russia will not give up on the Druzhba pipeline, but redirect some oil crude
deliveries as well as new oil supplies through BPS-2. State-run oil pipeline
operator Transneft has said that the oil flow through Druzhba would be divided
into two streams, one continuing westward and another heading northward to
MINERALS & METALS
Mogilev Metallurgical Plant ups steel pipe output 15%
Mogilev Metallurgical Plant increased production of steel pipes by 15.2 per cent
year-on-year in January-May, to 52,887 tonnes, a source in the plant's economic
planning department told Interfax News Agency reported.
The plant increased commercial production by 11.6 per cent year-on-year to 95.9
billion Belarussian roubles in January-May. Production of consumer goods
increased by 9.1 per cent to 1.65 billion roubles. The plant decreased
production of cast iron by seven per cent, to 6,138 tonnes. Production of cast
iron shot and split shot dropped 24.4 per cent to 2,375 tonnes and 40.8 per cent
to 1,524 tonnes, respectively. The decline in cast iron output was due to both a
drop in orders and reduction in supplies of raw material on a tolling basis, the
source said. However, the drop in production of these products did not affect
overall results, he said. The plant intends to increase commercial production by
eight-nine per cent in 2007, with consumer goods output growing five percent and
exports rising 10 per cent.