Drawing in the West, One-woman Protest, Ukrainian Refugees - Western Press Digest

The western press took note of refugees from Ukraine arriving in Belarus, who has in turn provided them with housing and offered them work. The story of two families demonstrates Belarus' attraction as the situation in Ukraine continues to be dangerous and chaotic.

Meanwhile, the press also took interest in the United States' renewed calls to have the investigation of 'disappeared' opposition figures re-opened.

Belarus' economic situation appears to be improving, despite regional instability. It has become one of the main importers of Moldovan apples and EU foodstuffs, likely to be used for re-export to Russia. It will also receive a new loan from Russia that will help it strengthen its foreign currency reserves and service its debts.

Belarusians will soon be able to travel to Israel without a visa according to a recent announcement made by Israel's Ambassador to Belarus. Meanwhile, the authorities in Minsk rejected a request to hold a one-person protest citing potential harm to the environment and a possibly dangerous distraction to the public at large. All of this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.

Human Rights

Ukrainians Heading for Belarus - Bloomberg reports that even Ukrainians who are not near the conflict zone have decided to move to Belarus where there is peace and stability. A family, who held well-paid jobs in the Chernobyl exclusion zone decided to move to Belarus after sensing the situation in Ukraine was hopeless and nothing would be changing in the near future. Belarusian officials say that over 3,000 Ukrainians have relocated to Belarus due to the crisis in the eastern region of their neighbour to the south.

Another family, who lived in rebel-held Shakhtarsk, left their homes because of the violence. The father of the family says that while he supports the beliefs of the rebels, he is not willing to kill or die for them. He was also afraid of being drafted into the Ukrainian army. Both families have been resettled in a small village where they will be offered work upon completing the registration process.

U.S. Calls on Minsk to Investigate "Disappeared" Opposition Figures - The U.S. State Department is calling on the Belarusian government to extend the statute of limitations and re-open four cases of three 'disappeared' political figures and one prominent businessmen according to RFE/RL.

The disappearances, which happened in 1999 and 2000, have never been solved, though their relatives apparently believe that Belarus' security services killed them. According to the coverage, Washington's recent statement is no coincidence, as a widow of one of the victims wrote a letter to the Secretary of State reminding them that the 15 year statue of limitations is set to expire soon. A small protest in support of the disappeared took place on 16 September.

Minsk Authorities Shoot Down One-Woman Protest - In an official decision that seems to be a piece of satire, the BBC is reporting that Minsk's deputy mayor has rejected a request by activist Tatstsyana Hrachanikava to protest in front of the Russian Embassy. The official reason for rejecting the request states, "[the] mass event that might harm the environment and green spaces, obstruct pedestrians and traffic, and distract drivers from the road".

Hrachanikava, who is an activist with the Movement for Freedom group, is part of a larger effort by activists to hold a simple protest against Russia's aggression in Ukraine. The movement's leader, Artsyom Lyava, points out the absurdity of the authorities' decision and says that, if it were the case that one person could cause such a disruption, "we won't be able to walk around or even stand still next".

Economics

Belarus is Reselling Moldova's Sanctioned Apples - Sales for Moldovan apples have found a new market in Belarus following Russian sanctions banned them from being sold in Russia according to an AP report on Business Insider. Russia, which is Moldova's largest apple market, has been included in an embargo against the EU's agricultural and food products for its signing of a trade pact with the EU.

Belarusian Head of State Lukashenka made an official visit to Moldova with a trade delegation where both sides signed a trade deal valued at $50m. According to the EU mission for Border Assistance to Moldova and Ukraine since the Russian sanctions against the EU were introduced, Belarus has seen a significant increase in food and agricultural good imports.

Belarus Approval for Another Russian Loan - Sharing a story published by Russian news sources, RFE/RL reports that Russia has approved a new loan to Belarus. The loan, which is to be distributed in Russian rubles, is said to be valued at $1.55bn. The funds will be transferred before the end of 2014. Belarus is receiving this latest loan from Russia in order to help it replenish its gold and foreign currency reserves and also service its state debts.

International Politics

Belarus and Israel Sign off on Visa Waiver - At a recent Limmud educational conference for the states of the former Soviet Union, the Israeli Ambassador to Belarus, Yosef Shagal, said that Israel will soon introduce a visa-free regime with Belarus. The move, which the Israel Times says defies the West, was made to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Shagal said that recently introduced visa-free regimes with Russia and Ukraine have brought more business and tourism to Israel and also strengthened Jewish culture in both countries. While the report does not specify when the corresponding legal act will be signed, it says that the visa waiver will be in effect before the end of 2014.

Belarus and the West Growing Closer - A recent blog by analyst Richard Youngs on the Carnegie Endowment in Moscow's website says that Belarus, despite outward appearances, has successfully improved its standing in the West. In addition to having Minsk serve as the centre of negotiations for calming tensions between parties involved in the war in Ukraine, a move which the West greatly appreciated, Belarus has also indicated that it is ready to come back into the fold.

Belarus recently stated its interest in potentially discussing human rights issues with the Council of Europe and the United Nations. Youngs states that while this rapprochement will not lead to large scale changes and reforms, Minsk is nonetheless looking for a quiet means of cooperating with the West.

Devin Ackles

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