On 30-31 March, talks were held in Ashgabat between Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenka.
The launch of the $1bn Garlyk potash fertiliser plant which Belarus built in the country differentiated this encounter from other such annual meetings between Turkmenistan and Belaurs.
The economic cooperation and training of Turkmen students in Belarus remains the only thing keeping the two countries' relationship afloat. Will it survive the end of a huge construction project and the continuing fall in trade turnover?
In Soviet times, extramural education was extremely popular in Belarus – the Soviet Union took pride in having created a system for obtaining almost all educational degrees remotely. It was the first in the world to do so.
Extramural education still remains popular, although its utilisation is less wide-spread than in neighbouring countries. Promoting distance education in Belarus would make education more accessible to broader circles of society, including those who are constrained by physical or economic factors.
In 2015 Belarus joined the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and committed to putting a Roadmap for higher education reform into effect by 2018.
The implementation of the Roadmap is running behind schedule, which poses a threat to fulfilment of Belarus' obligations by the due date.
This paper released by the Ostrogorski Centre today analyses the main challenges to implementation of the Roadmap in Belarus; it also provides recommendation which could help to do it on time and benefit a wider range of stakeholders.
The Belarusian authorities have recently shown interest in developing business education; evidence of this can be found in the Concept adopted by the Belarusian government in 2015. However, the Ministry of Education has not yet done much to adjust state regulations to match the situation on the ground.
Three key problems exist today. Representatives of the government, the international community, and business educators would do well to focus on them: state regulations, poor integration into the international educational space and lack of affordable business education in the regions of Belarus.
Ostrogorski Centre releases the first major publication on neutrality in Belarusian foreign and national security policy authored by Siarhei Bohdan and Gumer Isaev.
This trend towards a real neutrality of Belarus increased in the past decade. For a long time it was misinterpreted as Minsk opportunistically moving back and forth between Moscow and the West. Yet by the mid-2010s, these elements of neutrality became a reliable part of Belarusian foreign and national security policy.
This naturally leads one to question whether neutrality is a viable option for the Belarusian state. So far, Moscow accepted although other countries refused to take it serious. However, that may be the only way for Belarus to survive as a state in current circumstances.
Since the Russian-Ukrainian conflict began, the Kremlin has persistently tried to expand its control over Belarus, a process that has had quite the opposite effect as Belarusian government policy became more independent in 2014-2015.
There has always existed a paradox in the simultaneous contingence and estrangement in Belarusian-Russian relations.
Estrangement looks the stronger of the two today, evidenced by the decrease in Belarus’ military dependence on Russia and its refusal to allow the establishment of a Russian military base on its territory; the reduction in the Russian economy’s role in Belarus; discrepancies in the foreign policy and media spheres; and conflicts between the political elites of both countries.
This month Freedom House published Nations in Transitions report on Belarus authored by the Editor-in-Chief of Belarus Digest Yaraslau Kryvoi.
According to methodology, country experts prepare reports while Freedom House has a final say on the ratings. Most of Belarus' ratings remained the same except for Civil Society and Election Process which have slightly improved.
The Electoral Process rating improved because of a reduction in political violence and persecution of opposition figures, and the relative openness of criticism of the government in the October presidential election. The Civil Society rating improved due to the release of civic activists from prison and an increase in political space for advocacy campaigns and fund-raising during the year.
The organisers of the Minsk Dialogue conference in Minsk (Liberal Club and the Ostrogorski Centre) released the non-paper timed for the Riga Eastern Partnership Summit which will take place in Riga on 21-22 May 2015.
The non-paper results from intensive discussions between experts from European Union, Russia and Eastern Partnership countries in Minsk and subsequent due diligence efforts.
The non-paper starts by analysing the reasons for the regional divide in the European Union and Russian shared neighbourhood, discusses the reasons why communication between major regional actors failed and the need for new channels of communication in the region bases, including increased communication on micro-level and within the expert community.
Belarus is returning to the international spotlight, but for once, not just as the “last dictatorship in Europe”. The two summits that Minsk hosted in the past year on the conflict in east Ukraine indicate a tentative shift in Belarus’s political alignment.
Yaraslau Kryvoi and Andrew Wilson analyze what the West should do in relation to Belarus in a paper produced jointly by the European Council on Foreign Relations and the Ostrogorski Centre.
Although Belarus was more of a broker than a genuine neutral party at the negotiations that produced the two “Minsk Agreements”, the government has profound doubts about Russia’s assault on its neighbour’s sovereignty.
Without any loud political rhetoric to bolster the Belarusian army, it has nonetheless gradually developed from an appendage cut off of the huge Soviet military into an army more adapted to the needs and capacities of a 9.5-million nation.
Belarus has been spending little on its armed forces yet has consistently used them to promote better and closer relations with Russia. Despite their close ties, Russia has not shown interest in taking over Belarus' armed forces or integrating them into their own.
These are some of the conclusions found in a new analytical paper Belarusian Army: Its Capacities and Role in the Region released by the Ostrogorski Centre today.