Tax Free Shopping, Civilised Divorce with Uralkali, Hockey Championship - Belarus State TV Digest

State TV widely reported on a meeting with Alexandr Lukashenka where he discussed the recent potash-related affair, but also its consequences for Belarus-Russia relations: a civilised divorce or a further co-operation with new management at Uralkali.

Channel BT1 also covered preparations for the World Cup in Hockey. The reportage showed that the successful organisation of the event remained a top priority for Lukashenka. Ukrainian representatives met with Belarusian deputies to discuss intensifying mutual relations. Serbian businessmen seek to increase co-operation with Minsk.

Economy

Lukashenka on the Uralkali affair: civilised divorce or further co-operation? Lukashenka headed a meeting with other Belarusian officials. The ruler commented upon “the most recent resonant issue”, as the journalists put it, referring to the scandal with the Russian company, Uralkali. Russian vice-prosecutor, Alexandr Zvyagincev, also attended the meeting.

Journalists emphasised that in fact Russia had lost much more in the affair than Belarus. It should not impede the relations of both states. They pointed out that Lukashenka principle position as being no one could disrespect the Belarusian nation: “They say: what did Lukashenka want to demonstrate? I will give you an answer: Lukashenka wanted to demonstrate one thing: it will not be allowed to wipe one’s shoes on us. We are a sovereign state. We have never made trouble for our neighbours, our brothers the Russians”.  It continued on to state that the Belarusian nation has chosen the Belarusian president and thus his actions and decisions aimed at one thing -- the protection of Belarus' national interests.

The state TV noted that the head of the state was actually protecting the interests of both countries, Belarus and allied Russia. It  emphasised that development of relations with its historical ally and strategic partner, Russia, still remained important for Belarus.

Lukashenka also expressed his views on how both the Belarusian and Russian sides should work together to resolve this “dark story”. Either a civilised divorce or continuation of co-operation with a new management of Uralkali is possible. Belarus should also receive some compensation for its losses, as “all what was stolen from us, should be returned”, the head of the state added.  

Tax free shopping to attract more tourists.  State TV journalists reported that Belarus was the first among CIS countries that would introduce tax free shopping for foreign customers. Journalists pointed out that “50 countries worldwide, including our closest neighbours: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, have already set up conditions for a comfortable shopping."

A tax free system should attract more foreigners to come to Belarus. According to journalists, the case of Sweden, which introduced it already in the 80s, proved that. Today 80 per cent of tourist perceives tax free as a serious incentive to purchase and for visiting certain countries. “If the car costs a few thousand dollars, the desire to purchase something tax free is obvious, and the economy will feel it”, journalists explained.

Serbian businesses interested in investing in Minsk. State television noted that many countries knew about the geopolitical advantages of Belarus. European countries have already for some time considered Minsk as a reliable shield from many dangerous phenomena, including extremism.

Officials and entrepreneurs from Serbia started talks in Minsk on the intensification of business co-operation. State TV journalists pointed out that over 3 years, both countries had increased the trade turnover 3 times, now standing at $150m. In regard to trade turnover with Serbia, Belarus has always maintained a positive balance. In 2011, Belarusian exports were estimated to be nearly $60m.

State further mentioned that in 2012, both sides traded for $150m. However, it was still less than what was demanded by Lukashenka --  $500m annually in trade in the near future. The journalist commented that conditions for such a development in trade exchange remained even more promising, because Belarus has maintained with Belgrade a free trade regime. Belgrade and Minsk signed a package of documents of further co-operation.

Domestic Politics

Minsk and Kiev: a need to develop mutual relations. Belarusian television reported on a meeting of the inter-parliamentary commissions of both countries which recently took place in Minsk. Journalists commented that both sides aimed at making progress in their mutual relations in various spheres, from political to humanitarian co-operation. Thus, the national parliaments of Belarus and Ukraine would intensify their joint projects in the near future.

World Cup in Hockey is coming. The state channel noted that 227 days remain until the event starts in Minsk. Thus, a special press conference gathered journalists and experts from Belarus and Russia.

The head of the state is supervising the ongoing preparations for this sporting event. In the words of Lukashenka, this event might be a chance to change the international image of Belarus. “We should prepare our infrastructure, to be not worse than in the other countries. It should be done so that people who would come, could say: 'Yes, it is completely different country than we thought! And so other people would desire to come here”, he said.

Journalists noted that nearly 20 thousand people could come to Belarus to attend the sporting event.

Foreign Affairs

CSTO: a more ambitious mission. The head of the state attended the Collective Security Treaty Organisation session in Sochi. Belarusian state channel emphasised that the members of CSTO stepped up regional security by making a decision on unprecedented aid for the protection the Tajikistan border with Afghanistan.

Lukashenka talked how the importance of the development of these and other joint initiatives, mainly because the problems facing everyone have become transnational these days. The head of the state commented upon the situation in Syria and expressed his support for Russia in regard to settlement of the conflict.

Apart from the assembly, Lukashenka also met with the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan and talked about bilateral relations.The Belarusian ruler confirmed that Minsk would support the Armenian intentions to join the Customs Union.

Society

“Belaya Rus” wants to talk to people. The state TV journalists reported that the head of the most respectable civil society organisation in Belarus, “Belaya Rus” (White Russia), met with representatives of the local branch of the organisation.

The state channel pointed out that over 6 years of its existence it became the main organisation in its sphere in the country. Today over 140 thousand of people belong to it. One third of the members are young people, the journalists specified.

Aleksandr Radzkou, the leader of White Russia, explained on TV the importance of informal ways of talking to people, in particular in the countryside. The organisation would like to spread this type of social dialogue also to enterprise.

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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