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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
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

Update No: 314 - (22/02/07)

Lukashenka does a U-turn?
There is a remarkable turn of events in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenka was the only MP to oppose the secession of the country from the Soviet Union in 1991. He has long been Homo Sovieticus incarnate, bent on incorporating his country in a replay of the USSR, the Union of Belarus and Russia. This has apparently all changed.
The Russians could not have been more frank. They expect the Belarussians to pay market prices for gas as an independent country. They regard the Union as nonsense, the daydream of a crank. 
Lukashenka has now denounced Russia, and praised the West. "We are in the centre of Europe and we must be on normal terms with the East and the West," he said last week. The previous policy, aiming for a union state with Russia, was all wrong, he continued: "we have been flying on just one wing." 
Never mind that the old one-winged foreign policy was his own creation. Never mind that his regime has murdered, bullied, beaten and blustered its way to international isolation for more than a decade. Now he is citing Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, even Poland as commendable economic models.

A miracle in prospect? 
The prospect that Belarus may be emerging from its black hole is a tantalising one. There is a precedent, of sorts. President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova came to power as a Communist leader determined to make his divided, dirt-poor country into another Cuba, perhaps even joining Russia and Belarus in their union state. But he soon turned into a moderate social democrat, suspicious of the Kremlin, and determined to push Moldova to the West (a course for which the West has given him shamefully little support).
Will the same happen with Mr Lukashenka? As Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation points out: "Lukashenka's overtures are marred by his difficulty finding an idiom understandable to a Western audience." 

That is the rub
The Belarusian leader is a wild-eyed veteran of the collective farms, a museum-quality leftover communist whose pro-Kremlin sentimentality and do-it-yourself authoritarianism are matched only by a volatile temper and crudity of manner. Anyone who has grown used to Mr Lukashenka's cynical rule will find it hard to nurture any hopes of a change. 
The comparison with Moldova is only partial, moreover. Whatever his views on foreign policy, Mr Voronin was no authoritarian. Moldova, for all its problems, is a model of Athenian democracy compared to Belarus. Mr Lukashenka's Damascene conversion to the joys of the Western model have not brought any change in his repressive domestic policies. The recent local elections were a farce, with most opposition candidates and their supporters intimidated into withdrawing. 
Previous tiffs with the east and flirtations with the West on the part of Belarus have always ended in business (with Russia) as usual. But this time the rhetoric is certainly stronger. 
Bruised by his recent brawls with Russia over oil and gas supplies, Mr Lukashenka's denunciations of Russian energy imperialism would not sound out of place coming from a Pole. The Belarusian boss says he wants Western companies to buy stakes in his country's energy infrastructure. 

The moment has come?
A deep opening to the West may be wishful thinking, but nothing should be ruled out. The fundamentals are changing. Russia's swaggering, clumsy, regional policy is alienating all its loyal ex-Soviet allies-Armenia, the Central Asian states, now even Belarus. 
That creates a huge, unexpected and undeserved opening for the West. Handled wrongly, this could be disastrous. Trying to prop up Mr Lukashenka against Russian pressure would make the West look appallingly cynical. 
But it should be possible for the West to talk to the Belarusian nomenklature-the senior officials and businessmen who administer the country. Neither pariahdom nor incorporation into Russia offers them an attractive future.

Let Lukashenka go to his luxurious limbo 
In an ideal world, the fractured, weak opposition would unite and sweep Mr Lukashenka and his cronies out of power and into prison. 
But in the real world, if providing him (and them) with luxurious villas in Montenegro or Cyprus was the price of freeing Belarus from both dictatorship and Russian hegemony, it would look a pretty good outcome. 

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Belarus to set up state company to sell oil products

Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenka, has instructed the government to draw up documents setting up a state company to purchase oil and sell oil products, the presidential press service said in a statement following a government session on January 23rd, New Europe reported.
"Such a company should be in Belarus. Relevant documents should be drawn up in the near future," the press service quoted Lukashenka as saying. The company should be set up in the first half of 2007, following the example of the Belarusian Potassium Company, the document says. "The chiefs of enterprises operating in the oil sector will be engaged in working on the project," it says.

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Belarus debt grows 29.6% in 2006

Belarussian state debt grew 29.6 per cent in 2006 to 6.958 trillion Belarussian roubles, the Belarussian Finance Ministry said, Interfax News Agency reported. 
The debt grew 6.5 per cent in December after rising 1.6 per cent in November. In the year, domestic debt rose 40.2 per cent to 5.165 trillion Belarussian roubles, grew 5.6 per cent in December 2006 after rising 1.3 per cent in November. The domestic debt includes loans issued by the National Bank of Belarus to finance the central budget deficit (around 25 per cent), government securities (60 per cent), funds frozen at Vnesheconombank USSR as of January 1st, 1992 and due to be repaid to enterprises (10 per cent) and other liabilities (five per cent). The foreign debt grew 6.8 per cent to US$837.9 million in 2006, and rose 8.9 per cent in December after increasing 2.7 per cent in November. The direct state debt stood at US$574.5 million on January 1st 2007, up 1.2 per cent in the year. Foreign loans provided to businesses guaranteed by the government stood at US$263.4 million on January 1st 2007, up 16.3 per cent from the same date in the previous year. The budget set a cap on the foreign debt at US$ two billion. Belarus' main creditors are Russia, Germany, the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development and Kuwait. Belarus' state debt grew 20.6 per cent to 5.37 trillion roubles in 2005.

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Revenues at telecom companies up 77% in 2006

Revenues at Belarussian telecom companies rose 77.1 per cent to 1.88 trillion Belarusian roubles in 2006, economy and finance department head at the communications and information technology ministry, Larisa Lobkovich, said at a meeting of the ministerial board, reported Interfax News Agency.
As of January 1st 2007, Belarus had 3.4 million fixed lines, which was 83,700 more than in early 2006. The number of fixed lines grew by 52,200 in urban areas and by 31,500 in rural areas. City residents had 296 fixed lines by 1,000 (3 per cent growth), while the rate was 226 per 1,000 in the countryside (7.3 per cent). About 1,300 Belarusian villages with less than ten homesteads still do not have fixed lines, Lobkovich said. The number of fixed lines will grow by 65,000 this year, of which 42,000 will be in urban areas and 23,000 in rural areas, this year, she said. The telecom market in Belarus will grow by 9.0-11 per cent in 2007.

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