On 2 June, at a governmental meeting on oil industry problems, Alexander Lukashenka blamed managers and the government for lacking an adequate development strategy for the industry. The Belarusian oil industry showed negative results in 2016. Belarus and Russia decided against the idea of a unified visa in favour of mutual visa recognition. Belarus should fear the informational war between Russia and the West, not a hypothetical occupation during the West 2017 military drills. According to former foreign minister Piotr Kraŭčanka, the national idea of Belarus should include shared values and identity, historical memory, language, consensus on domestic and foreign policy, and a market economy.
In May, Minsk continued its policy of following in Moscow’s footsteps by exploiting World War II for political purposes. On Victory Day, Belarusian diplomats made statements about alleged ‘attempts to falsify history’. Foreign minister Vladimir Makei invited diplomats posted in Minsk to a controversial historical site featuring a monument to Joseph Stalin. The United Nations supported a Belarusian initiative to honour professional translators and interpreters. This move may also have practical benefits for the country, which has a strong academic tradition in training professional translators.
Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka recently announced that full-cycle car production is to start in Belarus this month; this will be a first for the country. So far, only Chinese-designed cars have been assembled in Belarus. Meanwhile, the holding Amkodor presented its first tractor at the Belagro exhibition on 6-10 June in Minsk. This means that the Belarusian government has made another concession to the privately-owned holding, allowing it to challenge the national industrial giant MTZ, which has manufactured tractors for many decades.
According to a report on May 22 by TUT.by, 31.3% of Belarusians would consider moving permanently to another country. The study, conducted by Belarusian Analytical Workroom, surveyed 1,063 people and demonstrates that more and more Belarusians are willing to leave the country. According to official statistics, Belarus is among the few countries in the Post-Soviet region with more people coming to the country than leaving. Nevertheless, sociologists point to a discrepancy between official statistics and reality.
On 17 May 2017, Belstat, Belarus's official statistical body, announced that Belarus's economy is growing for the second straight month. Thus, on 24 May, Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashka declared new investment plans for the industrial sector assuming further economic recovery. Nevertheless, the economic environment remains complex and the debt burden of enterprises is high, threatening the stability of the banking system.
On 26 May, Archbishop Tadevuš Kandrusievič, the head of the Belarusian Catholic Church, announced that the Episcopate is working on an alternative to concordat. Concordat is a formal agreement regulating the relationship between the church and a secular state, with the Belarusian government. If he succeeds, this would probably be the first such agreement between the local Catholic Church (not Vatican) and the government. Leaders of religious organisations based in Belarus understand that strengthening their position vis-à-vis the government bolsters their image, allowing them to exert greater influence on society. In light of a recent study on religiosity in Central and Eastern Europe by the Pew Research Centre, there is a lot to fight for in Belarus.
On 24 May, Usievalad Jančeŭski, the Head of Belarus’s High Technologies Park (HTP), and Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Head of the EMEA region at Uber, agreed to an R&D centre for Uber in HTP for driverless vehicles. Uber’s decision to cooperate with HTP does not come as a surprise, given Belarus’s reputation on the East European IT market. Belarus hosts more than 1,000 IT companies with over 30,000 employees. Boasting many well-educated and relatively inexpensive specialists, the country provides excellent hi-tech outsourcing services for foreign enterprises.
In May 2017, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed why the authorities continue to arrest Belarus's top businessmen, who benefits from the alcoholisation of Belarus, and how Belarus can maintain security cooperation with both Russia and the West. The Centre is preparing a conference entitled 'Belarus in the new environment: challenges to foreign policy, security, and identity after 2014', to be held on 19 June. The conference will promote the development of professional and respectful dialogue between experts with different political views.
On 20-22 May, Milex-2017, an exhibition of defence equipment, took place in Minsk. It featured the first Belarusian ballistic missile. This recent success was one of many for the Belarusian defence industry. On 18 May, the Chairman of the State Military Industrial Committee of Belarus, Siarhei Hurulyou, announced that from 2011 to 2016 the defence enterprises supervised by his committee had almost doubled their export volume, earning about $1bn last year.
On 11 May, the Union of Poles in Belarus sent around 6,000 signatures to Alexander Lukashenka demanding an end to the Russification of Polish schools in Hrodna Region. In July, The Belarusian Ministry of Education plans to decrease the number of subjects taught in Polish in Polish schools of Hrodna and Vaukavysk. Over the past several years, Belarusian Poles have fallen victim to the state's attempts to restrict minority rights in education and religion. Hrodna Region, where most Belarusian Poles reside, has become the epicentre for the struggle for minority rights in Belarus.
On 14 May, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif met at the One Belt, One Road Forum in Beijing. This became the two leaders’ fourth encounter since May 2015. Indeed, as Sharif said at the meeting, relations between Pakistan and Belarus have been strengthening ‘with every passing day’ over the past two years. ‘The Minsk-Beijing-Islamabad triangle could become a promising formula for cooperation’, Lukashenka stated hopefully in 2015. After many years spent on developing relations with New Delhi, Belarus seems to be placing its bets on India’s geopolitical rivals, China and Pakistan. But will this bet pay off economically, as the Belarusian leader anticipates?
On 20-22 May, Minsk hosted Milex 2017, its eighth exhibition of arms and military equipment. This year, the exhibition hosted more than 140 official guests from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, China, and Kazakhstan. Military officials from more than 27 countries were in attendance. However, the exhibition's results remain somewhat mysterious. Manufacturers have repeatedly stated that they do not want to disclose their partners or the amount of weapons they sell. Therefore, most contracts happen behind closed doors and do not appear in the press.
On 16 May 2017, Alexander Lukashenka concluded a three day visit to the People’s Republic of China, where he met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and took part in the One belt, One Road International Forum. Earlier, from 24 to 26 April, head of the Belarusian Security Council Stanislaŭ Zaś visited China to discuss several issues with important Chinese defence officials. This is yet more evidence of the Belarusian authorities’ strong interest in building a strategic partnership with China.
Only 5% of Belarusians want Belarus to become a part of Russia according to the fresh polling data by the Belarusian Analytical Workshop. Chris Miller sees Moscow’s plans to make Belarus a cornerstone of its Eurasian integration project as unsuccessful. Grigory Ioffe argues that realists winning the tug of war with idealists, both in the Belarusian government and in the opposition. The opposition is split on street protests tactics. Belarusization has not ended and even increased, argues Alieh Trusaŭ.