Motovelo Dissapoints Lukashenka - Belarus State TV Digest

Over the last week Belarusian state TV widely covered the international community discussing the situation in Syria and joint military drills with Russia.

It also reported on the visit of the head of state to a bicycle company, that had been partially sold to an Austrian investor. Journalists pointed out his disappointment regarding the company’s still insufficient level of production.

Lukashenka met with Uladzimir Makei, the Belarusian Minister of Foreign Affairs on state television which signalled that Minsk was ready for dialogue with the West.

Economy

Motovelo disappointed LukashenkaThe head of state visited Motovelo - a Minsk factory that produces bicycles. Journalists reported that six years ago an Austrian investor bought the state's shares in the company, but there were terms set that certain obligations needed to be fulfilled. The investor had to pay off the company’s debts, but has not yet fulfilled all his obligations.

Lukashenka visited the factory to check the current production ratio and also to discuss the strengthening of the Belarusian brand in the world. State television also recalled Lukashenka saying that “our economy is oriented for exports”.  Belarusian journalist pointed out that in Soviet times the factory produced nearly a million bicycles annually. These days, it is supposed to produce 500,000 of them per year until 2017.

The head of the state was rather disappointed with the ongoing situation and asked the managers: “when will you fulfil our agreement?”, referring to higher production. The managers showed remorse and then promised to improve the situation. Lukashenka gave them time until 1 January to fulfill all the obligations, otherwise they could lose their positions. The head of the Austrian group, Alexander Muravev, was defending the company and proudly presented Lukashenka a new bicycle model.

During his visit Lukashenka raised the issue of the devaluation of Belarusian ruble. In his words, the state would neither weaken nor strengthen it artificially. It will all depend upon the market mechanisms of supply and demand.

The head of state spoke also about the nation's additional reserves. According to him, those who travel abroad should be required to pay around 100 USD. “We have our own fridges... They criticise us: it’s a poor country, but they [Belarusians] spend 3bn in the EU annually, and then they bring back the junk they bought from abroad”, he concluded.

Scandal with Uralkali to be continued. Belarusian journalists reported that the debts of Uralkali reach over $2bn. They described the excessive spending of Suleyman Kerimov, the owner of the most crucial proportion of shares in the Russian company Uralkali. The state channel fully portrayed in details Kerimov’s luxurious lifestyle: expensive lovers, the number of estates in various countries he has, his ownership of a football club. To make it more vivid, the television cited the commentaries of their colleagues from Russian media, who also remained very critical and ironic towards Kerimov and his current financial troubles.   

A draft budget for 2014. Belarusian journalists reported on the Council of Ministers discussions regarding a forecast of socio-economic development of Belarus next year. The politicians also discussed how to improve the economic situation, for example through diversification of exports and attracting more investment to Belarus. Journalists noted that the politicians also identified the additional sources of inflow of foreign currency. They, however, did not elaborate the topic further. “It will help to strengthen the economic and energy security of the state”, the state TV channel concluded.

International Affairs

Preparations for strategic military drillsTelevision widely reported on the period of preparations for the joint Belarusian-Russian military exercises West-2013. The media noted that this year the whole programme would take part in all areas known as polygons in Belarus and in two stages. It added that the soldiers would use new types of weapons. This year strategic manoeuvres were characterised by self-defence tactics and will prepare the forces to better secure the safety of the Union State of Belarus and Russia. Journalists reported on how the Belarusian side welcomed the Russian soldiers in a traditional way, with bread and salt. They also made mention of the fact that Alexander Lukashenka approved the programme of the exercises.

Belarus-China keen on tightening co-operation. The state television covered a meeting of Lukashenka with a leader of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Yonshan. Belarusian journalists noted that “today both countries have many joint projects”. One of them is the Belarusian-Chinese Industrial Park. Belarus also remains interested in more direct investment from China, state TV added. State television commented that Lukashenka proposed to establish in Belarus a Chinese media holding “and in such a way people in Europe and post-Soviet sphere will better know our joint projects and initiatives”.

International position of Belarus. Minsk ready for a dialogue with the EU? Lukashenka met with Uladzimir Makei, minister for foreign affairs. They discussed the current international affairs, among them the establishment of the Eurasian economic union, the situation in the EU, Russia, but also the crisis in Syria. Belarusian state television noted that Makei also raised the issue of relations with the EU and USA. In his words, “Belarus is ready for moving forward. The relations should be based upon equality, and be good neighbourly”.

G-20 Summit: Economy and Syria. Belarusian journalists reported on the Summit of twenty the biggest economies in the world that recently closed in Saint Petersburg, Russia. They emphasised the critical position of Beijing against any potential military intervention.  State television pointed out that behind the scenes the Chinese vice-minister of finance expressed his concern over oil prices if the intervention would take place. Herman Van Rompuy, representing the European Council, spoke about European expectations to regulate the conflict in Syria through the UN, as shown by the broadcast. As Belarusian journalists pointed out, Washington was ready for military intervention regardless of anyone else's concerns, “with or without the international community”.

Belarusian TV also drew attention to the financial aspect of the potential intervention, estimated to cost as much as $200m USD. It noted the statement of John Kerry who said that the Arab countries were keen on contributing to the intervention expenses. Journalists commented saying “if that is true, he still did not reveal the name of these countries. It is also unclear how to judge the fact that the Arab states would sponsor the American war”. The state channel concluded that “in any event a decision on military operation against a sovereign state appears to be a serious violation of international law”.

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.

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