Belarusian Satellite, Multiple Rocket Launchers, Nuclear Plant – State Press Digest

Belarus leaders develop closer defence industry cooperation with China and do not want a Russian airbase on their territory.

Although Belarus has no alternative to integration with Russia in the foresee​able future, the two countries different economic models and the ideas vacuum in Eurasian integration make integration with Russia a challenging undertaking. In 2017 Belarus will launch a satellite and in 2018 the first block of a nuclear power plant will start operating near the Lithuanian border.

Refugees from Syria, Ukraine and other countries seek shelter in Belarus. The disabled have difficulties with accessing the entertainment places. All of this and more in this edition of State Press Digest.

Lukashenka inspects the production of multiple rocket launchers. Belarus Segodnia highlights the visit of Lukashenka to the defence industry plant in Dziaržynsk to check the development of the Palanez launcher. Belarusian specialists claim this is one of the most modern and powerful rocket systems in the world. Moreover, Belarus soon hopes to start the autonomous production of rocket engines. Belarus has been developing Palanez with Chinese assistance after Russia refused to transfer to Belarus a similar defence system.

Now, as Russia is pushing for an airbase in Belarus, Lukashenka tries to find more arguments to impede this initiative: “We have an exclusive defensive strategy, and it means that it should be able to cause unacceptable losses to the enemy. What is an airbase today? The jets will be shot down at the very beginning of the conflict. But this (Palanez) is a supermodern machine”, Lukashenka said during the visit.

Union of Belarus and Russia has no alternative. Soyuz newspaper gives an interview with Moscow-based political scientist of Belarusian origin Kiryl Koktyš on the future of Belarusian and Russia integration. Although the post-Soviet states have developed a number of integration projects like the CIS and the Eurasian Economic Union, the Union State of Belarus and Russia remains the most successful project in the social sphere. It gives both state's citizens equal rights in property, education and healthcare.

However, the expert notes that the economic models of Belarus and Russia, state capitalism and liberal capitalism respectively, are barely compatible for deeper integration. The EEU, initially a liberal economic model, cannot currently be implemented because of Western sanctions. It needs state protection and will likely be based on Belarusian experience of economic management in future. Yet at the moment a union economic ideology is absent.

Speaking of the removal of sanctions from Belarus​'s political leadership, Kiryl Koktyš opined that it will not bring a close association between Belarus and the EU. Europe and the West in general are not ready to pay for loss of values, as the Ukrainian case demonstrated perfectly. So Belarus will remain in Russian orbit without any major shifts.

Nuclear power plant to start in 2018. Belarus Magazine publishes a report from the construction site of the nuclear power plant near Astraviec town on the border with Lithuania. Currently around 4000 workers are involved in the construction and next year 8000 will be working there. The first power block of the plant will be launched in 2018. The project proposes a threefold growth of the town's population to 35,000 until 2020.

Thanks to the nuclear plant Belarus will reduce its gas consumption by 5 bn cubic metres annually, and thus will strengthen energy independence. However, state journalists always forget to mention that the plant is built using Russian technologies and will generate energy from Russian uranium, so dependence will continue.

Belarus will launch its spacecraft in 2017. Soyuz newspaper writes on the meeting of CIS representatives on space cooperation which took place in Minsk. Currently, Belarusian academics in cooperation with Russian corporation Roskosmos are developing a satellite. It will become the first model of the Belarus-Russia space group. It is designed to pick up the sounds of earth from a distance and is expected to be launched in 2017. Roskosmos head Igor Komarov emphasised that the Belarusian hitech plants Integral and Peleng remain strategic suppliers of Russian space industry.

Disabled people cannot enter nightclubs in Belarus. Belarus Segodnya writes about the problems of disabled people who have restricted access to places of entertainment. The newspaper provides a number of life stories of people who could not get into night clubs. The security teams of the clubs blamed suggest strange reasons for not admitting the potential disabled clients, saying that they are “unable to provide sufficient safety to the disabled” or “ they look unwell”. Human rights activist Siarhei Drazdoŭski says that ethics of treating the disabled is unknown among most public and private actors in Belarus.

Homiel centre of adaptation and rehabilitation accepts refugees. Belarus Magazine tells the stories of families from various countries who chose Belarus as a refuge to escape conflicts in their homelands. Homiel region bordering Ukraine is usually the first destination for Ukrainians from the Donbas. The Belarusian authorities usually offer them work in agriculture where Belarus has a drastic shortage of workers. Meanwhile, Belarus also accepted 14 Syrians and around 100 more applied for refuge. According to the joint project with the United Nations, the government provides them with new flats, monthly financial help and adaptation services.

Top businessman and senator from Hrodna arrested. Vecherniy Grodno newspaper writes about the arrest of one of the biggest businessmen from Hrodna​, Andrej Paŭloŭski. According to the KGB he evaded taxes of up to $8,2m in recent years. With companies from 8 other countries he organised a grey scheme of import and selling agricultural products. Andrej Paŭloŭski was the second most influential businessman in Hrodna region and also a member of the Council of Republic, the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament, since 2012. During the last year and a half he became the third senator to be deprived of parliamentary privilege on the grounds of criminal persecution.

The State Digest Digest is based on review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.

Vadzim Smok is the Ostrogorski Centre coordinator in Belarus and researcher at the Institute of Political Studies 'Political Sphere' based in Minsk and Vilnius.

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