Belarus’s neighbours: patronising and obliging – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest
From January to early February 2016, Belarus and Lithuania drifted further apart as their diplomats exchanged tart-tongued statements over the safety of the Astraviec NPP and Belarus’s sovereignty. Alexander Lukashenka, who remains unwelcome in the EU, travelled to more sympathetic Egypt and Sudan.
The Belarusian authorities continued with their efforts to restore the international legitimacy of the national parliament in both bilateral relations (with Poland’s willing accommodation), and international organisations.
Belarus and Lithuania wrangle over nuclear safety and regional security
Tensions between Belarus and Lithuania over the completion of the Astraviec NPP near their joint border have continued to escalate.
On 4 January, Lithuania’s MFA appointed Darius Degutis as ambassador-at-large for coordination of institutional actions over the NPP. Degutis is seeking the support of other European nations for Lithuania’s ‘logical, healthy call for the construction of the Astraviec NPP to be stopped’.
So far, Lithuania has not been very successful in forming an international coalition to proscribe exports of ‘unsafe energy’ from Belarus. Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkevics recently stressed that his country was not considering any laws to restrict electricity imports from the Belarusian plant.
On 16-20 January, Belarus hosted the SEED mission from the IAEA, which assessed the sustainability of the Astraviec site and the plant's systems. The mission’s report will be ready within a few months.
Nevertheless, the mission’s format and mandate failed to satisfy Lithuania. On 19 January, the country’s foreign minister Linas Linkevičius accused Belarus of selectively applying nuclear safety standards. Two weeks later, in an interview to a Belarusian online news source, the minister characterised the activities of the Belarusian government in regard to the NPP as a ‘propaganda game’, and resolutely excluded any possibility of compromise on the matter.
The conflict over the Astraviec NPP has also spilled over to other issues. Speaking to Deutsche Welle about the forthcoming Russian-Belarusian joint military exercise Zapad 2017, Linkevičius called Belarus’s sovereignty, or 'what is left of it', into doubt.
This provoked an immediate rebuke from Minsk. A spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Dmitry Mironchik, called the tone of the statement ‘patronising and scornful’ and accused Vilnius of ‘insults and preaching’.
No more obstacles to cooperation with Serbia
The two countries’ bilateral trade had plummeted by nearly 60% last year, marginally exceeding $100m in January – November 2016. Despite the negative trend, Vucic claimed that Belarus and Serbia would still strive to attain a $500m turnover by 2019 – the goal they had set in 2013.
Belarus and Serbia signed bilateral agreements in the fields of economy, health care, tourism, culture, sport, and military-technical cooperation.
If in previous years Serbia had remained formally constrained by EU sanctions against Belarus, which Belgrade had voluntarily agreed to undertake, now the two countries are feeling increasingly free to expand their cooperation in all areas.
The Serbian media widely reported on a military donation from Belarus unveiled by Zoran Djordjevic, Serbia’s defence minister. In 2018, Minsk will give eight MiG-29s fighter aircraft as well as two Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile systems free of cost to Belgrade. Serbia will pay for their overhaul and modernisation in Belarus.
According to Vucic, Lukashenka reassured him that Belarus fully accepts Serbia’s aspiration to become an EU member without seeking to join NATO.
Serbia appreciates Belarus’s unwavering support for its territorial integrity. Indeed, unlike Russia, another friend of Serbia, Belarus has no record of recognising and supporting any breakaway entities.
Belarus’s delegation to PACE showcases pluralism
The Belarusian parliament sent two of its members to the hearings on Belarus held by the Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 24 January.
Andrei Navumovich was chosen due to his status as the head of the parliament’s working group on the death penalty – a priority topic for the Council of Europe. Hanna Kanapackaja, one of the two opposition-inclined MPs, served as a token of Belarusian democracy and political pluralism.
PACE had stripped Belarus of its special guest status in January 1997 after an undemocratic referendum held by Lukashenka. Since then, PACE has been inviting Belarusian officials to attend its meeting on an ad hoc basis.
Kanapackaja stated in an interview that the Belarusian authorities had no intention of joining the Council of Europe as a member. ‘Their priority is to obtain the status of special guest’, she emphasised.
In Strasbourg, Kanapackaja spoke about the need to hold free and fair elections in Belarus; she also voiced her support for the country's full-fledged membership to the Council of Europe and the abolition of capital punishment.
However, her colleague Navumovich raised doubts about the parliament's readiness to abolish the death penalty, stating that he would like to organise hearings on the issue only in 2018. Without doubt, the Belarusian authorities do not think the time is ripe to play this card in their diplomatic match with Europe.
Poland presses ahead with legitimising Belarus’s parliament
On 30 January – 1 February, the lower house of the Belarusian parliament dispatched a high-level delegation to Warsaw.
The team, which included deputy speaker Balieslau Pishtuk and former ambassador Valery Varanietski, held talks with deputy speaker of the Sejm Ryszard Terlecki and speaker of the senate Stanisław Karczewski. They also met with deputy foreign minister Marek Ziolkowski and other Polish officials.
Belarusian MPs expect a return visit of their Polish colleagues in April to discuss a roadmap for future cooperation.
Poland has de facto recognised the appointed rubber-stamp Belarusian legislature as their peers, i.e. a legitimate and viable parliament. Warsaw leads the process among European nations. According to Varanietski, the parliaments of Slovakia and the Czech Republic will soon follow suit.
No convincing attempt to explain the sudden need to ‘normalise’ this irrelevant entity has been made so far. Ziolkowski, who wrote an extensive article for Rzeczpospolita explaining in detail Poland’s ‘change of heart’ towards the Lukashenka regime, failed to utter a single word on the topic.
Curiously, the press services of both the Polish Sejm and the Senate have not reported on the encounters of their leaders with the Belarusian delegation. It is unclear whether they still feel embarrassed about this partnership or if they do not attach any particular significance to it.
In the near future, Belarus looks set to further improve and intensify ties with most of its partners from Central and Southern Europe. However, the relationship with Lithuania is likely to develop in the opposite direction.
Belarus-Russia conflict, prospect for 2019 elections, end of recession – digest of Belarus analytics
BISS: relations with Russia have deteriorated to a minimum from early 2011. Arciom Šrajbman in his article notes that even if Minsk and Moscow are able to resolve their current dispute, the standoff will go down in history.
Reformation project presents a “dream government of reforms” for Belarus. Zautra.by explains why Belarusian public officials are unable to implement reforms. Poll: only 15% of Belarusian students feel positive effects of the Bologna process.
EBRD: Belarus will come out of recession in 2017. Belarus in Focus forecasts that economic recovery may be postponed till 2018. Belarus government reportedly adopts a series of progressive steps by 2020.
This and more in the new edition of digest of Belarus analytics.
The Far-Reaching Consequences of Belarus’s Conflict with Russia – Arciom Šrajbman in his article for Carnegie Moscow Centre, notes that even if Minsk and Moscow are able to resolve their current dispute, the standoff will go down in history, at least in Belarus. After Belarus’s declaration of independence and the creation of its state infrastructure this conflict will be one of the most important stages in the country’s movement away from Russia.
Russia Introduces a Border Zone With Belarus – Jaŭhien Prejherman in his article for Jamestown Foundation, analyses the media reaction to the establishment of the border between Russia and Belarus. The expert recommends that particularly important for observers to prevent their analysis from being driven by hot media headlines and unprofessional and poorly sourced blogging, which tries to sell such headlines as serious research.
Are Moscow and the West Swapping Positions on Belarus? – Paul Goble, The Jamestown Foundation, notes that now there are intriguing indications that Russia and the West are progressively swapping their positions on Belarus, with Moscow viewing its Western neighbour as a threat and the West increasingly considering Belarus a possible ally against Russia.
Stanislav Belkovsky: In Free Elections in Russia, Lukashenka Would Win Putin – In his interview with TUT.by, Stanislav Belkovsky, Russian political scientist, discusses the Russian president's attitude to Lukashenka and Belarus, why Russia needs conflict in Ukraine and the operation in Syria. Belkovsky visits Belarus at the invitation of Nobel laureate, Svetlana Aleksievich for the 2nd meeting of her Intellectual Club.
Belarus Foreign Policy Index #35. November-December 2016 – BISS presents its regular monitoring, in which Belarus’s foreign policy is explored in five dimensions. Namely, at the end of 2016 relations with Russia have deteriorated to an absolute minimum since the entire period of analysis (from early 2011). At the same time, a long-term trend to expand the agenda in relations with the EU has continued.
Belarus-2019: Return to Repression Or Partnership of Government and Opposition? – Thinktanks.by analyses the recent debate organised by Belarus Security Blog, where experts tried to predict the development of domestic and foreign policy situation for Belarus. One of the findings is that Russia will not return to the same level of support for the Belarusian authorities, so they will come weakened to the next presidential election.
Reformation website presents “dream government” for reforms in Belarus. Among the criteria are professionalism, representation of the current government and the opposition and, gender balance. So, the Prime Minister is Kyril Rudy, former Assistant to the president; Minister of Economy is Aliaksandr Čubryk, IPM Research Institute, Minister of Labour is Tacciana Karatkievič, Havary Praŭdu campaign, Ombudsman is human rights activist Aliena Tankačova.
Why officials cannot conduct reforms. Zautra.by website believes that one of the Belarusian problems’ reasons is the inefficiency of the leading elite. In particular, almost all political Belarusian elite got higher education and academic degrees in Belarus or Russia, which leads to a shortage of fresh ideas, misunderstanding of modern trends, and preservation in a narrow professional world.
Investments fell below the threshold of economic security. Reducing the share of investment in relation to GDP for three consecutive years is observed in Belarus. Their volume dropped to its lowest level since 2003. The Government is preparing a special meeting on this topic and the related report to the president.
The anatomy of Belarusian joint stock companies. This work is an attempt to find answers to a number of undiscovered issues of joint stock companies activity in Belarus. Read more
How To Treat The Arrests of Businessmen – Vitali Volyanyuk, Probusiness.by, given the recent arrests of 11 Belarusian businessmen and the criminal case of investor Aliaksandr Muraŭjoŭ, analyses, how to treat this situation. The author believes that in the current paradigm, a normal psychological climate for the business in the country can be created only from scratch.
In 2017, Belarus will come out of recession. According to the EBRD Chief Economist Sergei Guriev, Belarus will come out of recession with GDP growth by 1% in 2017. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) considers that Belarus should conduct structural reforms to accelerate economic growth, in particular, reforms in the public sector, pension system, etc.
Belarus in Focus: Economic growth in Belarus may be delayed until 2018. The Belarusian economy has been in recession for two consecutive years. Amid anticipated decline in retail trade, construction and unresolved dispute over energy supplies from Russia, economic recession is likely to persist in 2017 and the economic recovery may be postponed until 2018, forecast Belarus in Focus experts.
Government announces a series of progressive innovations until 2020. The Government of Belarus has approved a package of measures to implement the Program of socio-economic development of Belarus for 2016-2020. Among 380 events there are quite revolutionary, in particular, the improvement of the monetary and foreign exchange policy, the decriminalisation of economic risks, etc.
Education and civil society
Poll: Only 15% of Belarusian Students "Feel" the Bologna Process – Only 11% of the students are familiar with the contents of the Roadmap of the Belarusian higher education reform by 2018; 48% say that their students' rights were violated. These data were obtained in a survey on the assessment of the Education Ministry from the viewpoint of the students held in December 2016 – January 2017 by Baltic Internet Policy Initiative and commissioned by the Public Bologna Committee.
Belarus Grows Up. Civil Rise Above Itself – Vadzim Mažejka, Belarusian Journal, examines the latest trends in the Belarusian civil society. Thus, Belarusians start realising that no one but themselves can finance social benefit initiatives, comprehend the Belarusian society and discuss upcoming reforms. It's called growing up. 2017 for the Belarusian society is the year to rise above itself.
Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area. The paper analyses the main challenges to implementation of the Roadmap in Belarus and provides recommendation which could help to do it on time. Read more
Challenges to Belarus joining the European Higher Education Area. In 2015 Belarus joined the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) and committed to putting a Roadmap for higher education reform into effect by 2018. The implementation of the Roadmap is running behind schedule, which poses a threat to fulfilment of Belarus' obligations by the due date. The paper ‘Challenges To Belarus Joining The European Higher Education Area’ released by the Ostrogorski Centre analyses the main challenges to implementation of the Roadmap in Belarus; it also provides recommendation which could help to do it on time and benefit a wider range of stakeholders.
The anatomy of Belarusian joint stock companies. We do not know how effective the Belarusian enterprises are, what share of the economy belongs to the state, how state-owned enterprises differ from private ones, how labour, capital and materials are distributed between the companies, and how emergence, evolution and exit of enterprises from the market impacts the economy. This work is an attempt to find answers to these questions by analysing the activities of Belarusian joint stock companies.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.