Ostrogorski Forum, Limits of Belarus-EU Relations, Nuclear Plant – Ostrogorski Centre Digest

Over the last few weeks analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre have focused on the Belarusian-Lithuanian dispute over the Astraviec nuclear power plant, the limits of Belarus-EU rapprochement, and why some regions in Belarus lag behind others.

Igar Gubarevich analyses Belarusian-Lithuanian tensions surrounding the nuclear power plant that Belarus is building near its border with Lithuania. Vilnius is worried about environmental and safety issues. However, Minsk sees economic and political motives behind Lithuania's claims. Although domestic policy considerations in Lithuania also play a role, the Lithuanian authorities are hardly willing to jeopardise the numerous benefits of a wide web of trade ties between the two countries.

Ryhor Astapenia explains why Viciebsk region lags behind other Belarusian regions in economic development. Currently, a quarter of enterprises are loss-making and some are even bankrupt. The region is experiencing depopulation, and property prices there have dropped further than elsewhere. Given the outflow of human capital and the lack of effort to improve public administration and the economic system, the region has no future but further degradation, the expert concludes.

Artyom Shraibman argues that the intensity of Belarus-EU cooperation seems to have reached its limits. The lack of progress in the human rights arena and Belarusians officials' dubious plans for electoral reform have harmed the relationship. Some visible progress – such as more inclusive composition of electoral commissions, transparent ballot counting or letting the opposition into parliament – might give the rapprochement with the West a second wind.

Ostrogorski Forum

On 29 June in Drazdy Club the Ostrogorski Centre will hold the first Ostrogorski Forum - a conference on Belarusian foreign policy and security. The theme of this year's conference is 'Inertia, increased neutrality or foreign policy re-orientation? Foreign policy in Belarus at the present stage'.

The conference will feature five studies conducted in spring 2016 with grant support from the Mott Foundation and Pontis Foundation and implemented jointly with Ostrogorski Centre. The researchers will represent the Ostrogorski Centre, the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies, the "Political Sphere" institute, the Centre for European Studies and the Belarusian analytical workroom.

Speakers will discuss issues including Belarusian soft power in the region, Belarusian-Russian relations after the conflict in Ukraine, foreign policy of Belarus in the context of the CIS, the potential of Belarusian neutrality and the geopolitical orientation of Belarusians.

The conference is expected to become an annual event and promote the development of professional and respectful dialogue between experts with different political views (pro-government, opposition, pro-Russian, pro-Western, etc.), including government officials, journalists, academics, representatives of think tanks and state universities. See more details and programme of the conference here.

Seminar ‘Directions of development of higher and complementary education in Belarus’

On 30 June the Ostrogorski Centre in cooperation with the Institute of Business and Technology Management of Belarusian State University will hold a seminar on the development prospects of higher and complementary education in Belarus.

The seminar will present the results of three studies conducted by the Ostrogorski Centre, the Centre for European Studies and the the Institute of Business and Technology Management at BSU in spring 2016. The programme of the event is available here.

Address – Maskoŭskaja str. 5, room 213. The event is open to the public. Please register in the form to take part.

Comments in the media

Artyom Shraibman claimed on Radio Racyja that despite the lifting of EU sanctions, numerous visits of officials from Brussels to Minsk and vice versa, the relations of Belarus and the EU have reached a certain limit.

Ryhor Astapenia on Radio Racyja explains why Viciebsk region is experiencing the largest decline. Ryhor sees a sharp decline of revenues at Naftan, the core enterprise of the region, as one of the key factors of its economic problems. However, the expert points out that these problems are common to all regions of Belarus.

Artyom Shraibman speaks at ‘Belarus: Quo Vadis?’ discussion, organised by the Chatham House Russia and Eurasia Programme in London. Artyom discusses the Belarusian government's approach towards managing relations with the EU, US and Russia, and shares his views of the political scene in Belarus.

Igar Gubarevich discusses on Radio Racyja why Belarusian NPP is getting higher on the Lithuanian political agenda. Vilnius is concerned about environmental issues and safety, but Minsk sees economic and political motives behind these concerns.

Siarhei Bohdan comments for Radio Racyja on the increasing weight of Belarus in the international arena caused by growing tension in Eastern Europe. However, major geopolitical players are not interested in the neutrality of Belarus. The placement of new Russian troops on the border with Belarus does not mean preparation of another “Crimean scenario”, but a sign of Russia’s mistrust of the defence capacity of the Belarusian army.

Vadzim Smok on Belsat TV discusses the reasons for the economic crisis in Belarus, ongoing reform of social policies, and the potential implications of the authorities’ neglecting their social contract with the population.

Ryhor Astapenia on Polish Radio discusses the history of the Belarusian People's Assembly, and how the authorities use it to their advantage. According to Ryhor, at this year’s assembly Lukashenka will seek to obscure the economic difficulties with a discourse of independence and peace, and will as usual call upon the people to mobilise under his rule.

Artyom Shraibman explains to Polish Radio why Freedom of Press ratings published by Freedom House are unfair for Belarus. There are countries where the situation with media freedom remains much worse, yet they scored higher in the ranking. According to Artyom, engaging two local experts with varying viewpoints rather than the current one and clarifying methodology could improve the assessment.

In the Polish radio programme "Political mirror" Ostrogorsky Centre analyst Ryhor Astapenia discusses whether meeting with the Pope helped Aliaksandr Lukashenka break out of international isolation, what implications public spending cuts will have in Belarus and why the flagship enterprises of Belarusian machine building have topped the list of loss-making companies for several years in a row.

Belarus Policy

The Ostrogorski Centre continues to update the database of policy papers on BelarusPolicy.com. The papers of partner institutions added this month include:

Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion into the database by completing this form.

The Ostrogorski Centre is a private, non-profit organisation dedicated to analysis and policy advocacy on problems which Belarus faces in its transition to market economy and the rule of law. Its projects include Belarus Digest, the Journal of Belarusian Studies, BelarusPolicy.com,BelarusProfile.com and Ostro.by.

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