Normalisation of Relations with the EU, Oil Negotiations with Russia - Belarus State TV Digest

Housing remains among a top priorities for ordinary Belarusians, as Belarusian state television noted. This topic became unquestionably the number one issue over the last week. The issue of housing attracted lots of attention from the state media after Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s public sharp criticism of the authorities and demand for firmer control over the construction business.

Is Minsk sending a positive message to Brussels? At a meeting with foreign diplomats, the head of state stressed several times his desire to normalise relations with the European Union.

Belarusian state television reported the current events unfolding in Kiev, but without a deeper analysis. In its coverage, journalists rather critically assessed the protesters and portray them as causing a mass disturbance.

International Affairs

The Ukrainian (dis)orderThe Ukrainian police tried to dismantle barriers raised in the centre of Kiev. Journalist commented that in the aftermath of a visit of European politicians to the so-called Euromaidan, the protesters felt as they feel they would not be punished. State TV mentioned data from the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs showing that the protesters from Kiev sprayed tear gas on the police and threw smoke bombs at them. So far 11 persons were detained due to their activity in the demonstration.

Lukashenka: “We are ready to stabilise relations with the European Union”.   Belarusian state television widely covered an official presentation of credentials awarded to ten new diplomats to Belarus. Lukashenka a few times stated that Minsk was ready to discuss potential projects with other countries. In his words, Belarus is pursuing a peaceful foreign policy and is refraining from starting or joining any conflicts. He also emphasised how significantly the country has contributed to global and regional security and stability.

One of the priorities in the nation's foreign policy is, in the words of the head of state, the development of good-neighbourly relations with the EU, political dialogue with the Latin America and co-operation with Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries.

Referring to the EU, Lukashenka said, "We cannot escape one another. It is predestination [he indicated the above] coming from God, to live together, as neighbours. [...] we will take any steps to normalise our relations”.

Economy

A new state budget – socially oriented. Recently the Belarusian Parliament adopted a new budget for 2014 already during its second reading. Journalists reported that it would be a socially oriented budget. Half of the budget will go to the social sphere. Of equal importance, the Belarusian authorities will not be holding back on salaries or pensions. Education and medicine remain on the list of priorities of the state and thus, spending in these areas will continue to increase.

Belarus-Russia negotiations. State TV reported a recent meeting of the Belarusian Prime Minister, Mikhail Miasnikovich, with Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow. Both sides discussed a number of issues, including an agreement on how much Russian oil will be supplied to Belarus. Minsk proposed 23 million tonnes in 2014 against Moscow’s proposed 21 tonnes. Both parties, it is expected, will come to a compromise by the end of 2013.

State TV noted that Belarus remained number one for Russia in terms of its mutual trade turnover among the Commonwealth of Independent States. Interestingly, Minsk is higher than the former leader of the ranking, Ukraine, who know is in second place. 

The Astraviec nuclear power plant openly discussed in Vilnius. Belarusian journalists proudly covered a meeting which gathered prominent Lithuanian officials, scientists and environmentalists. All learned about the results of the recent monitoring of the impact of Astraviec plant construction on the environment. Reporters underscored the fact that the Belarusian side provided exhaustive answers to all questions raised by the Lithuanians. It proves that in terms of safety, the power plant meets all the necessary criteria. However, Minsk proposed to Vilnius to carry out its own monitoring and system of control over the construction project, because “Belarus has nothing to hide”.

Domestic Affairs

“Republican” meeting with the head of state. Belarusian television took note of the meeting chaired by Lukashenka with over 250 representatives of regional authorities from the whole country. Beginning 1 January a new era in the construction sector will begin, state TV optimistically commented. This comment was made in reference to new principles and legislation that will regulate the sector soon. Their goal is to make the construction business more transparent. One state TV journalist emphasised that Lukashenka will personally control the situation in the sector. Curiously, at the end of the report she asks, "Could it be any other way?"

Reporter mentioned that housing remains one of the most consistent spheres of interest for ordinary Belarusians. Thus the head of state decided to pay special attention to this issue. In Lukashenka’s words, the local authorities should deal with the housing problems more efficiently, because they have all  the tools to do so.

The new changes include the former state control over the construction organisations and companies, but also an adequate punishment for breaching the norms and law. A state tv reporter concluded that the economic input of the construction sector to the GDP of Belarus has remained around 10 per cent.

Minsk is vitally interested in co-operation with Ecuador. The head of state met with the Vice President of Ecuador, Jorge Glas Espinel. The station noted that this visit was a continuation of the strategy of rapprochement between Minsk and Quito, in many different areas, from agriculture to technology.

Lukashenka mentioned that the economies of both countries are quite complimentary. “You need what we have, we need what you have”, he was convincing and declared they would start conducting joint projects soon.

Belaya Rus wants to exchange experience with the Tajikistani political party. The civil society organisation “Belaya Rus” signed an agreement with the People’s Democratic Party of Tajikistan. Both sides aim at tightening ties and exchange experience in spheres such as energy, agriculture, but also the economy and protection of human rights and freedoms. Aliaksandr Radzkou, a leader of the Belaya Rus, stated that together they could address a number of issues on the level of the civil society organisations and also as political parties. Importantly, both countries share a common history, “We come from the same state”, he said.

The agreement with the Tajik political party is not the first form of co-operation the Belaya Rus with foreign political organisations. Journalist noted that in February the organisation signed an agreement with a Polish party, “Samoobrona of the Republic of Poland” (“Self-defence of the Republic of Poland”) and in March with a Latvian social-democratic party “Sogliasie” (“Agreement”).

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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