Cooperation with China, attracting tourists, involving the church – state press digest
Belarus and China sign contracts totaling $20 million. The authorities build a large solar power station on land contaminated by the Chernobyl catastrophe. Aliaksandr Lukashenka participates in the CIS Summit for the first time since 2011.
A delegation of the European Commission visit the Belarusian NPP. The Belarusian President hopes that the Belarusian Orthodox Church will play a more active role in society.
This and more in the new edition of the state press digest.
A delegation of the European Commission visit the Belarusian nuclear power plant. Experts from the European Commission and Belarus met last week. The two sides exchanged plans and proposals to improve the situation at the Belarusian nuclear power plant. The Belarusian side confirmed that stress tests can held in December of next year. Deputy Director-General of the European Commission Gerassimos Thomas said that the European Union is looking for new opportunities to establish relations with Belarus in various spheres. The Astraviec NPP can become not only a competitive and profitable energy resource but also "an important geopolitical element", writes Belarus Segodnya.
Lukashenka attends the 25th Summit of the CIS in Bishkek. Representatives of various former Soviet Union countries gathered in the capital of Kyrgyzstan in order to discuss the future of the CIS.The President of Belarus attended the CIS Summit for the first time since 2011, writes Narodnaya Gazeta.
Despite having similar views on the importance of the CIS as a geopolitical platform, many heads of state, including the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan, emphasised the low efficiency of the CIS in several areas. Nevertheless, all parties agreed that the CIS has a future. Almazbek Atambayev expressed his hope that the CIS will remain a project that unites friendly nations.
Ministers of Foreign Affairs conducted a panel session during the summit. Uladzimir Makiej expressed his opinion that the CIS is still the most important platform for the discussion of new challenges in the post-Soviet space. The Foreign Ministers of Belarus and Russia weighed in on issues of counter-terrorism and humanitarian cooperation. In addition, parties came to the decision that 2017 will be declared the Year of the Family in the CIS.
Belarus and China sign contracts worth $20 million. The Fifth China-Eurasia Expo took place in Xinjiang from 20 to 25 September, where 40 organisations and enterprises represented Belarus. According to the director of the unitary enterprise "Belinterexpo", Jauhien Uviadzienski, the Belarusian exhibition was highly popular from the very beginning, reports Zviazda. Mikalaj Snapkoŭ, Deputy Chief of The Presidential Administration, presented Belarus at a meeting entitled "China and Belarus – strategic partnership and trust".
During the briefing, participants discussed the potential for investment and tourism in the framework of Belarus-China cooperation. Both countries signed contracts on the development of cooperation and new supplies, totaling $20 million, in the fields of engineering, petrochemistry and food industries. As such, the confectionery factory Spartak settled a three year agreement with a Chinese sailing company. During the Expo representatives of Minsk Automobile Plant discussed co-production of electrobuses with JI WINWAY INVESTMENT CORP. OF CHINA and HARRY GAO Chairman enterprises.
Belarus builds its biggest solar power station near Brahin. The solar power station, with a 18.48MW capacity, is capable of saving up to 7,000 cubic metres of natural gas per hour. The total cost of the solar battery comes to €24 million. Velcom, the mobile operator responsible for its construction, announced that the plant is ready four months earlier than planned, writes The Minsk Times.
Located near Brahin, the station presents an example of an effective use of the lands contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster. Currently, the solar power station is the largest solar battery in Belarus with a total area of sixty football fields.
LLK-Naftan begins to cooperate more closely with Iran. The Navapolack based oil company has sent the first batch of lubricating oil additives to Iran, writes Vitebskie Vesti. Until the beginning of 2016, economic sanctions were a significant obstacle for Iranian enterprises. However, following the sanctions' removal, Iran organised an oil conference in Tehran, in which LLK-Naftan participated.
As a result, the two sides have signed a contract of cooperation, according to which the Belarusian enterprise will supply 50 tonnes of lubricating oil additives to Tehran. Currently LLK-Naftan is the largest producer of lubricating oil additives in the Post-Soviet space and has more than 25 international partners. Meanwhile, General Director of LLK-Naftan Michail Babuškin maintains that cooperation with Iran is taking place in an environment of strong competition.
Hrodna region attracts more and more foreign tourists. From January to July 2016 the region brought in $4.2 million, accounting for 128.8% of last year's income from tourism. The introduction of a visa-free regime in the region explains the increasing amount of tourists, writes Hrodzenskaya Prauda. The most popular reason to visit the region remains health services. Deputy Minister of Sport and Tourism Michail Partnoj says that Belarus has recently been ranked among the top 10 countries for expected level of investment in the tourism sector.
Alexander Lukashenka expects more active participation of the Church in society. The President of Belarus believes that the Orthodox Church should help citizens in forming their cultural, civilizational and geopolitical orientation, writes Narodnaja Hazieta.
During a conversation with the Metropolitan of Minsk, Lukashenka noted that the Church can help not only in the socialisation and formation of moral values but also in other spheres. For example, the president proposed that the Belarusian Orthodox Church participate in the revival of historical and cultural monuments.
The Metropolitan of Minsk opined that the Belarusian Orthodox Church should serve as a partner and supporter of the state. At the end of the meeting, Lukashenka also noted that priests working in churches ought to be native Belarusians.
The state press digest is based on 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.
Will anti-western rethoric help Belarus at the United Nations?
At the UN General Assembly session in New York in late September, foreign minister Vladimir Makei and his deputy Valentin Rybakov worked to promote Belarus’s geopolitical philosophy alongside a few more concrete priorities.
The priorities included broader access to UN development assistance, protection of traditional family values, nuclear disarmament and development of trade relations.
While seeking to improve Belarus's bilateral relations with the democratic world, Belarusian diplomats continue to use anti-Western rhetoric profusely in their public statements at the United Nations.
A diverse UN agenda
Vladimir Makei spent five very busy days in New York. His working schedule on 19-23 September stood in stark contrast to his predecessors’ similar trips to General Assembly sessions.
The minister's speech at the general debate, traditionally the central element of such visits, has rarely been complimented by anything more than a few ritual meetings with foreign counterparts. This time, however, Vladimir Makei delegated the privilege of delivering the main speech to his deputy, Valentin Rybakov.
Meanwhile, on 19 September, Belarus’s chief diplomat gave a statement at a high-level meeting of the General Assembly on refugees and migrants.
The statement primarily blamed those countries “behind the fuelling of conflicts on the territory of sovereign states" for the refugee crisis.
Makei’s list of culprits might include Belarus’s closest ally, Russia. In an interview on UN Radio later that week, the minister spoke at length about his country’s achievements in accommodating refugees from Ukraine, where Moscow has been fomenting separatist movements.
On 21 September, the foreign minister handed Belarus's letter of acceptance of the Paris Climate Agreement to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General. Belarus emphasised the fact that it is among the first thirty countries (only five of them European), to have ratified the agreement.
On the same day, the Belarusian minister spoke at a ministerial meeting in support of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. On 23 September, Makei and his Costa-Rican counterpart co-chaired the first ministerial meeting of a group of like-minded middle-income countries.
The group, which seeks to promote the interests of about 130 middle-development nations, now consists of thirteen countries, mostly from Latin America, but also includes Armenia and the Philippines.
In the early years of its independence, Belarus received UN development assistance as a part of a group of countries with economies in transition. Now, Minsk is seeking access to such resources by promoting the adoption of a UN system-wide and long-term strategy for development cooperation with middle-income nations. However, this group remains too large and diverse to become a target of a meaningful uniform strategy.
On 23 September, Makei also spoke at a high-level meeting on the implementation of water related Sustainable Development Goals. The main purpose of his statement seems to have been to do a favour to Tajikistan by supporting its president’s initiative to proclaim an international decade of “Water for Sustainable Development”.
Important events on the sidelines
On 22 September, the Belarusian minister took part in several multilateral events held on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Two of them were informal meetings of member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and the Central European Initiative; Belarus will incidentally be chairing both organisations in 2017.
At the high-level OSCE event on civilian crisis management, Makei underscored Belarus’s willingness to fully support the organisation’s efforts at crisis management in Ukraine.
Unlike in 2015, this year the foreign minister's bilateral meetings in New York included a geographically diverse group of countries – he met with his counterparts from Azerbaijan, Angola, Croatia, Ecuador, Eritrea, Germany, Latvia, Mozambique, Oman, South Korea, Syria, and Turkey.
Importantly, Makei was quick to take advantage of his visit to discuss the development of Belarus – US relations with American officials after the recent elections in Belarus. The minister met with Victoria Nuland, the US assistant secretary of state, and Michael Carpenter, the US deputy assistant secretary of defence.
Belarus and the United States are now focusing their dialogue on regional security issues, mostly in the context of the conflict in Ukraine. However, one can hardly expect a breakthrough in political or economic relations between the two countries in the near future.
In New York, Makei signed an agreement with the US on the protection and preservation of certain cultural properties. The document became the first intergovernmental agreement concluded between Belarus and the US in the last two decades.
Despite the agreement’s generic title, the document, signed at the World Jewish Congress headquarters, focuses mostly on the protection of Jewish heritage in Belarus. Makei admitted at the signing ceremony that “the agreement [would] allow American donors to contribute to preserving historic and cultural heritage in Belarus that bears significance, first of all, for the American Jewish community”.
Blaming the Western world
In his interview on UN Radio, Vladimir Makei criticised his colleagues for bringing up domestic problems in their statements, emphasising that one should only talk about “conceptual matters” at the UN.
Deputy foreign minister Valentin Rybakov obeyed his boss’s instructions. His speech at the general debate on 26 September was a conceptual statement based on a strong anti-Western and anti-capitalist philosophy.
Rybakov blamed the world's current woes on the chaos, in his opinion, “resulting from the interplay of three factors – political, economic and social”.
First, the victors in the Cold War (i.e. the West) failed in their attempt “to impose their will on their opponents”. Second, the balance between the state and the market was destroyed as “the market gained precedence”. And third, the West has been forcing other nations to embrace changes in public opinion with regard to such “key life categories as morality, ethical values, and family”.
Belarus promotes its idea of a “new world order”, which should be “state-driven, inclusive and cultivated”.
Advocating the idea of “a strong state, above all, in the economy”, Rybakov referred to “the will of the people of Belarus unequivocally expressed at the Fifth All-Belarus People’s Congress last summer”. Anyone at least vaguely familiar with Belarusian politics knows that the authorities have always hand-picked the "delegates" of such congresses to rubber-stamp the regime’s plans.
Most challenges that Belarus now faces stem from the regime’s outdated economic policy, its ill-judged and unreserved affiliation with Russia, and long-time neglect of issues of national identity.
However, Belarusian diplomats prefer to play global politics and use the UN rostrum to pin blame for their country's economic, social and security failures on West-induced "global chaos". This may please Russia and help to secure sympathies of some third-world nations but is unlikely to strengthen Belarus's positions at the UN.