Fuel Prices Rise, Gazprom's Social Projects - Belarus State TV Digest

Fuel became more expensive in Belarus, but is still cheaper than in neighbouring countries. Channel BT1 extensively covered a meeting of Lukashenka with the head of Russia's largest bank Sberbank and the head of Gazprom and Gazprom's support for social projects in Belarus. 

State TV also reported that the European Union expressed its interest in rapprochement with the countries of the Eastern Partnership. Recently thousands of Belarusian pupils have shown interest in learning Belarusian language rather than Russian. 

Domestic Affairs

The voice of Belarus on Syria. State TV reported on a round table of Belarusian experts, a Syrian diplomat, a Syrian businessman and unnamed international experts that took place in Minsk. The participants thanked Lukashenka for his “attention and contribution to a global settlement of the crisis”. A Syrian businessman based in Belarus commented on the Russian proposal to the crisis, saying “we can barely trust the American politicians”. The Belarusian TV channel noted that in the aftermath of the “confrontation between the authorities and armed insurgents, every third citizen of Syria has lost his house”, which amounts to about 7 million people in total.  

Gazprom sells energy to Belarus and supports its financially. The state channel widely covered the meeting of the head of Gazprom, Alexei Miller, with Lukashenka. Journalists commented that regardless of the bad press it has received, this week proved that the Russian business still had a vital interest in Belarus. Lukashenka also met with the head of the Sberbank of Russia, Herman Gref. The head of the state confirmed that gas supplies would increase in the next year and discussed with Miller the future development of the gas transportation system.  

At the meeting “special attention was paid to the social projects of Gazprom in Belarus”. Lukashenka thanked Miller for years of support and strong co-operation. In Miller’s words, financial support to social projects in Belarus would increase by 5 times as much”. These social projects relate to sport and cultural events for children, but also support for hospitals. The state TV journalists recalled that the Russian company Gazprom planned to donate 1m USD to purchase expensive modern equipment for Belarusian hospitals. This equipment would help with an early diagnosis of hearing loss in babies.

Gazprom was aslo involved in the raising of a new Orthodox Church in the town of Polack. It also supported financially the construction of a house for families with multiple children. It continues to support children's cultural and sport events. According to the journalist, the Belarus-Gazprom is a “good partnership in both the social and economic spheres”.

A new energy supplier to Belarus?  The head of the Rosnieft met with the head of Belarusian company Belnieft, Igor Zhylin. They discussed the supply of Rosnieft gas to the “Hrodna Azot”, but also potential supplies to Belarus by the end of 2013 and in 2014.

The state supports talented youth. Lukashenka visited the Minsk City Olympic Tennis Centre. The state television reported that the number of Belarusian interested in playing tennis is increasing. The journalist emphasised that Lukashenka had ordered the establishment of a proper system for the selection and training of young talented athletes.

Lukashenka wants more Belarusians to be trained and then successfully represent Belarus in international sport events. He stated that the proper conditions should be created for both athletes and trainers. He said, “I cannot understand how we could not train around 50 players”. 

Green economy in Belarus and Kazakhstan. A forum of Belarusian and Kazakh scholars, diplomats and experts took place in Minsk. The participants of the event discussed alternative energy, bio-resources and the development of more efficient technology. According to experts, transition to a new ecological model would allow not only to increase the GDP of the state, but also to create new workplaces and a completely new branch of production.

Lukashenka is concerned about the construction of new houses in Minsk. The head of the state met with the Minsk mayor, Mikalai Ladutka, to discuss the construction of new houses in Minsk. Lukashenka expressed his concern over the long term of construction of the houses. The mayor confirmed that in the next year nearly 1 million new houses would show up in Minsk.  

More expensive fuel, but in other countries it is worse. Prices for fuel increased in Belarus. According to experts, “this increase is related to an increased excise rate of the petrol”. At the same time, experts stated that after the increase, prices in Belarus still would be lower than in other countries of the Customs Union. In Ukraine a litre of fuel costs $1.34. In Poland and Lithuania pay over $1.80. The fuel in Belarus costs slightly over $1 per litre.

The European Union rapprochement? Belarusian state television reported that the plenary session of the European Parliament encouraged the countries of the Eastern Partnership for rapprochement. It said the EU would "be searching for a way for a normative rapprochement also with the members of the Customs Union".

Stephen Fule, a commissioner responsible for the enlargement of the union and European neighbourhood, said that “EU is interested in traditionally strong relations with its Eastern neighbours and with Moscow”. The state TV added that Brussels would help the Customs Union to adjust the standards and norms to meet European and worldwide law regulations”.

EU supports Belarusian border service. State television informed that the EU supported Belarus with new equipment to operate its border service on the Belarus-Ukraine border. The journalists pointed out that the EU helped within a project of international technological assistance. It added that a vector for Belarus-Ukraine interests the Europeans for a good reason.

The border is difficult to control and became recently popular way for illegal migrants and "uninvited guests” on their way to the EU. The border service guards say that the new equipment is not just a luxury, but a necessity to decrease border crimes. In total, the EU budget for the international technological assistance for Belarus-Ukraine is estimated to be around 1.3m EUR.

Education in Belarusian is getting more popularState TV reported that a thousand pupils have begun their education in the Belarusian language. Already 14 schools in Minsk, and in 200 other places across the country, are offering education exclusively in Belarusian. The TV channel added that it was "possible also to study in Belarusian abroad. Today Belarusian schools exist in neighbouring Lithuania, Latvia and Poland”.

Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). 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.

Paula Borowska is an analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre. Originally from Bialystok, she studied at the University of Gdansk and the University of Bologna.

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