West Inspects Belarus' Borders, Lukashenka Adjusts His Stance on Crimea - Western Press Digest

Belarus’ economy is showing its first signs of vulnerability due to its ties with Russia as its dollar bonds began to drop in value.

Lukashenka’s initial critical stance on Russia’s invasion of Crimea develops into an admission that there is nothing the world can do about it, a message that concerns the West.

The head of an opposition party is imprisoned for 15 days after taking place in a demonstration with political prisoner shirts. The opposition says it was campaigning for 23 March local elections when they were arrested. 

Meanwhile, local police stage a fake bicycle accident on the side of a busy road to attract the attention of drivers, but see only modest success.

Belarusian poet Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu receives a prestigious literary award from the Swedish PEN organisation, though only after two years of not being able to leave Belarus and claim it. All of this and more in this edition of the Western Press Digest.

Western Inspectors Fly Over Belarusian and Russian Borders – The International Business Times reports that the United States and Germany are going be making observational flights over the borders of Belarus and Russia. The flights are being made in response to reports that there are Russian military forces gathering there. These inspections will be done in cooperation with both Belarusian and Russian representatives who will also be on the flights. Observational flights are possible as all countries involved are members of the Open Skies international treaty, which they all signed in 1992.

Lukashenka Critical of Crimean Land Grab, Then Endorses It - Belarusian leader Aliaksandr Lukashenka has publicly spoken on the ongoing crisis in Ukrainian, voicing his support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. While critical of the way in which the Yanukovych regime was deposed of, he is now more concerned about the dangerous precedent set by Russia’s invasion of Kyiv. Despite his misgivings, Lukashenka stated that whatever people may wish to believe, Crimea is now de facto a part of the Russian Federation and the question of official recognition of this fact is not at all important.

Belarus Bonds Drop Due to Ties with Russia – The intertwined economies of Belarus and Russia received attention from Western markets, as Belarus experiences rising yields on its dollar bonds. With concerns that Russia might invade eastern Ukraine, Russian markets, investors are weary of buying up Belarus’ dollar bonds as EU and US political, financial and economic pressure is mounting against Russia for its invasion of Crimea.

Opposition Party Head Jailed for 15 days For Campaigning – Anatol Lyabedzka, head of the United Civic Party, and several activists were arrested while attending a rally in a central Minsk marketplace. They gathered there to campaign for open seats in the 23 March local elections. Authorities soon took notice of the gathering, where many of the protestors were donning shirts with pictures about political prisoners, and soon broke up what they would later all an “unlawful gathering”. Anatol Lyabedzka was sentenced to a 15 day jail sentence for his alleged violations.

Belarusian Journalist and ex-Political Critical of West Inaction – In a recent interview with France 24, Natallia Radzina, a journalist, former political prisoner noted that while she was hopeful that Maidan would spread like a virus throughout the region, realistically it was not likely. Such a movement in Belarus would not be possible, given the strict control the authorities exert over any form of public demonstration.  

The journalist, who fled Belarus in 2010 after being persecuted by the authorities, said that while the West has taken action against the Belarusian leadership for its human rights violations, these measures have been half-hearted and ineffective. While introducing sanctions against people in Russia and Ukraine could hit their pocketbooks, the West using financial sanctions against the Belarusian authorities has little effect since they have no Bank accounts in the West.

Uralkali Interested in Renewing Ties with Belaruskali – the Financial Times reports that Russia’s potash giant Uralkali has not lost interest in cooperating with old partner Belaruskali and hopes to work together again in the near future. Two of the shareholders who are pushing for a renewed partnership, Uralchem and Onexim (both Russian companies), each acquired their roughly 20% shares in Uralkali last year after the Russian government ousted former shareholder and billionaire Suleiman Kerimov.

Belarusian officials previously stated that they would only consider a renewed partnership if the reformed joint Belarus-Russian project was headquartered in Belarus, an unattractive prospect for Russian business given Belarus’ previous detention of Uralkali’s CEO. Financial times re-quoted a non-executive Director, who stated that it would be very difficult to bring the two sides back together again.

Belarusian Poet Receives Swedish PEN Award Two Years LaterRFERL reports that after a long wait, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu was able to accept his Swedish PEN organisation’s Kurt Tucholsky Award. The Kurt Tucholsky award is named after a German-Jewish author and journalist who persecuted by the Nazis and saw his work banned in Germany.

Nyaklyaeu, a famous Belarusian poet, declared the winner in November 2011, but could not claim his award due to a ban on his leaving the country set by the Belarusian authorities. Nyaklyaeu received the award not only for his prowess as a poet, but also for his work in advocating freedom of speech.  

Apparent PR Stunt by Police Warns of Dangers of Bicycling – The BBC is reporting that that the Belarusian police placed a dummy beside a downed bicycle on the side of a busy highway to make it appear as if a person had been hit. This PR stunt is part of the larger Don’t Look the Other Way! Campaign in an attempt by the authorities to reduce the number of incidents on roadways. Of the 186 cars reported to have driven by the staged accident, only five stopped.  

Devin Ackles

Devin Ackes is a project coordinator of the Ostrogorski Centre. He is an alumnus of Michigan State University and Columbia University.

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