Belarus-Ukraine trade, talks with IMF, upgraded Palanez, Hrodna visa-free zone – Belarus state press digest
Belarus and Ukraine want to achieve an $8bn trade turnover and have “no political problems at all.” Foreign Minister Makiej: Belarus does not want to depend on anyone else—whether it be Washington, Brussels, or Moscow. Belarus tests the upgraded version of the Palanez multiple rocket launcher.
The government admits it negotiates with the IMF to improve its reputation, not to get loans. The external public debt of Belarus reaches 30 per cent of GDP. The Hrodna visa-free zone earns $10m during its first year of operation, yet many problems remain.
This and more in the new edition of the Belarus state press digest.
Belarus and Ukraine want to achieve an $8bn trade turnover. The presidents of Belarus and Ukraine held a meeting in the United Arab Emirates during their working visits to the country, writes Belarus Segodnia. As Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka stated, trade turnover between the countries already amounts to over $3bn, in spite of all kinds of problems and obstacles. There are hopes that further cooperation among the two countries’ regions can more than double this figure.
In July of this year, during an official visit of the president of Belarus to Ukraine, leaders set a goal to restore the highest level of mutual trade from past years and bring it up to $8bn. Strengthening inter-regional ties was defined as the main tool to achieve the goal. “As for political interaction, we have no problems at all. We absolutely follow the course on which we agreed earlier,” Lukashenka said.
Belarusian Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makiej gave an interview to Financial Times. According to the quotes from the interview published by Zviazda, Belarus does not want to depend on anyone else—whether it be Washington, Brussels, or Moscow. The country just wants to pursue a truly independent policy. Belarus seeks to diversify trade and economic relations, and the EU plays an important role in these aspirations.
Today, not only states, but also unions of states in different regions of the world need to establish cooperation, said the foreign minister. In Europe, it is the European Union on one side and the Eurasian Economic Union on the other. The minister also told the interviewer that the government plans to increase the length of the visa-free stay period in Belarus to up to 30 days, yet this decision will be implemented gradually.
Belarus tests the upgraded Palanez. The Belarusian military have successfully conducted a test launch of the upgraded version of the Palanez multiple rocket launcher in the Homiel region. The missiles struck assigned targets and confirmed declared tactical and technical characteristics in terms of range and accuracy. With the latest modifications, the missile system allows attacking of targets within a radius of up to 300 km, writes Belarus Segodnia.
The long-range Palanez multiple-launch rocket system was created by the Belarusian defence industry and corresponds to the world’s best analogous missile systems. In the future, the upgraded Palanez missile system will equip the rocket and artillery units of the Belarusian Armed Forces, which will significantly enhance their capabilities.
What’s on Belarus’s black list? The Information Ministry of Belarus updated the list of extremist materials prohibited from dissemination according to the Law on Combatting Extremism, reports Zviazda. The new list contains a few types of written and online materials. Radical Orthodox and Russian nationalist materials, radical Muslim, Nazi, and anarchist themes occupy roughly a 25 per cent of each type. Opposition-related materials occupy only a few places on the list and most of them date to before 2010.
The external public debt of Belarus reaches $16,3bn, or 30 per cent of GDP. In January–September 2017, the country borrowed $3.4bn, of which $1,4bn came from issuing Eurobonds, $1.1bn from the Russian government and banks, and $600m from the Eurasian Stabilisation and Development Fund. Belarus’s recent creditors also include Chinese banks, the IBRD, the EBRD, and the Nordic Investment Bank. For a few years already, Belarus has had to allocate more than $3bn annually to repay existing debts. In 2018, the country will repay a record-breaking $3.7bn in debt.
A large part of this debt arose when the government borrowed for the modernisation of state companies hoping that later they would become profitable. But that did not happen. The state must now repay their loans. Moreover, it continues to help inefficient enterprises at the expense of the state budget. Another major problem is the need for foreign currency to service the debt. Additional new loans remain the main source for debt repayments.
Belarus negotiates with the IMF for reputation, not loans. First Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Vasiĺ Maciušeŭski during the annual October Economic Forum in Minsk stressed that cooperation with the IMF is necessary for Belarus not so much to obtain loans, as to improve the reputation of the country in the eyes of potential investors, reports Belarus Segodnia. “Market participants traditionally view the IMF as a global auditor. We just need a dialogue with the IMF, so that they confirm that we are moving in the right direction, that there are no threats for investors,” Maciušeŭski explained.
The vice-premier also said that in the course of the last discussion of a program with the IMF, the sides appeared to have different visions of the speed of implementation of certain policies. “And we explained why: reform for the sake of reform is probably wrong. Reforms are conducted in order to increase the effectiveness of something and get some result, which the society will understand and support. When society does not support reforms, it is better not to conduct them. There is a good thesis: the discrediting of a programs is worse than not implementing it,” he stated.
Hrodna visa-free zone summarises its first year of operation. In 2017, 43,000 tourists from 65 countries visited the Hrodna visa-free zone, reports Respublika. The city of Hrodna earned $10m from this policy. The new visa regime has led to the growth of new tourist infrastructure: the number of travel agencies engaged in inbound tourism has increased nine-fold; nine new cafés have opened and 30 outlets have began to provide duty-free services; and a few new hotels and hostels have appeared.
An average tourist spends 60–70 euros each trip and mainly buys sweets, alcohol, textiles and knitwear, shoes, medicines, and handmade souvenirs. However, the infrastructure of the region remains insufficient, as parking spaces, hotels, cafes and restaurants still cannot satisfy demand.
The state press digest is based on the review of state-controlled publications in Belarus. 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.
Strengthening independence, deals with Azerbaijan, a new UK approach – Ostrogorski Centre digest
In October, analysts at the Ostrogorski Centre discussed Belarus’s involvement in supplying arms to Syrian war parties, the UK’s new approach towards Belarus, and how President Alexander Lukashenka’s recent appointments strengthen Belarusian independence and identity.
Commentary from the Ostrogorski Centre also appeared in the media. The topics under analysis ranged from the new edition of the law on mass rallies, to the Belarusian anarchist movement and state reactions against it, and to Belarus-Azerbaijan deals on weapons and oil.
Last but not least, the centre published five new policy papers in the areas of economics, education and public administration, and uploaded them to the BelarusPolicy research database—a joint project between the Ostrogorski Centre and the Belarusian Research Council.
Siarhei Bohdan examines on whose side Belarus is in the Syrian civil war. Belarus thus is accused of supplying all sides in the Syrian civil war. If the allegations are proven, unscrupulous deals in such a conflict amount to a gross violation of international security regulations.
The responses by more influential states or a global power like the US or Russia to such a violation would likely be much harsher than their reactions to human rights violations committed by Minsk. But available evidence proves that Minsk is only an indirect participant. Its involvement in the Syrian conflict as a supplier of weapons is limited to working with intermediaries acting on behalf of Western countries and their allies.
Igar Gubarevich investigates whether the United Kingdom is finally interested in Belarus. The UK has virtually overlooked Belarus since the latter regained its independence over twenty five years ago. London has, by and large, been a strong proponent of a hard-line approach towards Lukashenka’s regime. The UK has avoided talking to the authorities in Minsk.
The UK’s post-Brexit needs and Belarus’s increased role in stabilising security in the region made the junior minister’s visit to Minsk finally possible. However, a major increase in bilateral cooperation or the UK’s substantial departure from today’s common EU policy towards Belarus remains unlikely under current circumstances.
Vadzim Smok claims that Lukashenka’s recent appointments strengthen Belarusian independence and identity. Over the last few months, the Belarusian president has made a number of high-level appointments that demonstrate a clear trend of “Belarusianisation” of the government. A number of new military chiefs never studied in Russian military schools as did most of their peers.
Certain job candidates known to speak Belarusian on a daily basis received positions as rector of Lukashenka’s alma mater – Mahilioŭ State University, Minister of Information and Deputy Foreign Minister. This policy is apparently supposed to strengthen the country’s independence and national identity. What differs “Belarusianisation” from Lukashenka’s previous policy methods is to emphasise not a purely statist, but also a cultural approach to nation-building.
Comments in the media
On Radio Poland’s “Political mirror” programme, Ryhor Astapenia discussed the entrance of private companies to the utility sector, whether the authorities will allow Belarusians to rally freely, and why only a few hundred people gathered at the socio-economic protest in Minsk.
Igar Gubarevich, also on Radio Poland, analysed the first visit of a high-level British official to Belarus in the country’s independent history. According to the expert, the visit of Sir Alan Duncan has two obvious reasons. First, the UK is interested in Belarus’s position on the annexation of the Crimea remaining unchanged. The second reason is Whitehall has begun to negotiate Brexit and it is looking to shape its own foreign policy independent from the EU. Therefore, the official explored how to build Britain’s own policy towards Belarus.
The third Ostrogorski Centre analyst to speak on Radio Poland, Alesia Rudnik, discussed today’s anarchist movement in Belarus and its persecution by the authorities.
The Times of Israel newspaper quoted Siarhei Bohdan in an article on Belarus’s possible military assistance to the Syrian Assad regime. According to Siarhei, Belarus’s ties to the Assad regime are not as deep as they appear. The country is still looking to maintain its business ties with the Gulf states—which have deeper pockets than Syria—and that Belarus would not risk those relationships for a quick buck from Assad or Iran.
Siarhei Bohdan in an interview to Azerbaijani news agency Vzglyad.az discussed the meeting of Belarusian Security Council State Secretary Stanislaŭ Zaś with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. According to Siarhei, Zaś was likely to have negotiated on Azeri oil supplies to Belarus, as well as defence industry projects, in particular, involvement in Belarus’s missile programme.
Aliaksandr Filipaŭ. Mechanisms of motivation of civil servants in Belarus: how to reconcile the irreconcilable? BIPART, 2017.
Aliaksandr Čubryk. Reforms in Belarus after the cancelled IMF program: totem and taboo. IPM Research Centre, 2017.
Kaciaryna Barnukova. Fiscal redistribution in Belarus: what works and what doesn’t? BEROC, 2017.
Final monitoring of the implementation of the Roadmap for Higher Education Reform in Belarus. Belarusian Independent Bologna Committee, 2017.
Belarusian Economic Review, Q2 2017. BEROC, 2017.
Think tanks in Belarus are encouraged to submit their research for inclusion in the database by emailing us.
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.