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
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
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.
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
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.
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.