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NATO praises Minsk, the KGB’s 100th Birthday, ‘Belarusian Certificates’ – Belarus state press digest

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka shows his support for Russian foreign policy at CIS members meeting. NATO praises Belarus’s unprecedented transparency provided during the Zapad-2017 army exercises. Belarus marks the 100th anniversary of the KGB, with the agency’s current head, Valier...

CIS summit in Moscow. Photo: Belta

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka shows his support for Russian foreign policy at CIS members meeting. NATO praises Belarus’s unprecedented transparency provided during the Zapad-2017 army exercises. Belarus marks the 100th anniversary of the KGB, with the agency’s current head, Valier Vakulčyk, revealing a number of interesting facts about its recent operations.

Belarus’s visa-free territory has grown even larger as of 1 January 2018. Belarusian lawmakers consider issuing a ‘Belarusian Certificate’ for foreign compatriots. From 2018 on, Belarus is pulling the plug on electricity imports from Russia.

All this in the latest Belarus state press digest.

Foreign policy and security

President Lukashenka showed his support for Russian foreign policy at a meeting of CIS member countries. According to the newspaper Belarus Segodnia, an informal meeting of CIS heads of state took place in Moscow on 26 December, where Alexander Lukashenka shared his position on some fundamental issues. CIS member countries include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. He expressed solidarity with Russia’s position on Syria; if not for Russia’s intervention, Syria would cease to exist at all.

As for the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Lukashenka called it ‘a bit strange.’ He said America should not destroy peace, which was established through so many hardships, and must adhere to the decisions of the UN. The President of Belarus also expressed concern that terrorists displaced from the Middle East would move to Afghanistan, where combatting them will become more difficult than in Syria.

Assessing the economic results for the year among CIS countries, Lukashenka said they were positive. However, Belarus will keep on advocating the timely creation of common markets for electricity, gas, oil and oil products, reports Belarus Segodnia.

NATO praised Belarus’s unprecedented transparency provided during Zapad-2017 army exercises. At a briefing for Belarusian journalists and experts at NATO headquarters, the organisation’s representatives said, “NATO praises Belarus’s unprecedented transparency provided during Zapad-2017 army exercises,” reports newspaper The Minsk Times. Belarus issued the necessary notifications about the forthcoming exercise and the number of its participants in advance and did not misinform anyone. Indeed, authorities listed that 13,000 participants would take part when, in fact, the actual number was even smaller.

Belarus was not obliged to invite international observers, but it did so voluntarily. Moreover, the authorities arranged a five-day tour for the foreign observers, including a flight over the exercise area. “We see that the country is interested in expanding cooperation with the European Union and NATO in security matters. In our opinion, there are no serious hindrances to it,” the NATO officer said.

Domestic politics and economy

Belarus marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the KGB. On 20 December, the Belarusian state celebrated the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the various incarnations of its security bodies. The present head of the KGB, Valier Vakulčyk, in an interview to Belarus Segodnya, among other things, revealed a few interesting facts about the agency’s recent activities. From 2014–2017, Belarusian security services identified 59 foreign terrorist fighters on Belarusian territory, 23 of whom were on the international wanted list.

Head of the KGB Valier Vakulčyk. Photo: sb.by

The agency head said the KGB did not consider the neighbouring Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine as a ‘threat.’ Indeed, he said the concept of ‘enemy’ has completely disappeared from everyday KGB vocabulary. However, he also defined “the aggressive methods of the Lithuanian special services, which include targeted provocations,” as “uncivilised.” For the last five years, the KGB detected and disrupted the intelligence activities of 36 officers and agents of special services from foreign states. 13 of these officers and agents faced criminal charges.

Vakulčyk also praised the national security training academy, which prepares specialists on behalf of many foreign countries and has developed its own communication systems and equipment for the Belarusian government.

Belarus’s visa-free territory has grown again. Since 1 January 2018, foreigners have been able to stay visa-free in six districts located in Belrus’s Hrodna and Brest regions for up to 10 days, reports Belarus Segodnia. Earlier, the visa-free regime only applied to the Hrodna region and only for 5 days. The new visa-free zone in Brest includes Brest City as well as the Žabinka, Kamianiec, Pružany and Svislač districts.

Картинки по запросу брест безвизовая зона

The expanded visa-free zone in Hrodna and Brest regions. Picture: tut.by

Another pleasant change relates to vehicles permitted for travel. While earlier tourists could only come by car or bus, now they will also be able to take trains and planes. However, to use the visa-free opportunity, one will need to buy a tour package for a group or individual. The changes apply to citizens of 77 countries around the world. The tourist companies in Minsk are awaiting the same rules to spread to their territory soon. At present, tourists can come to Minsk without a visa by plane only and for just 5 days.

Belarus is thinking about issuing a ‘Belarusian Certificate’ for foreign compatriots. Belarusian MPs have proposed the creation of a ‘Belarusian Certificate,’ which will be issued to ethnic Belarusians living abroad, as well as to their descendants, writes newspaper Respublika. The document aims to ‘strengthen the spiritual connection of Belarusian diaspora with their historical homeland.’ They will be more likely to come to Belarus and thus will improve its economy and image, said Foreign Affairs Standing Committee Chairman Valiery Varaniecki. For others, the certificates would remain merely a symbolic, spiritual tie.

Aliaksandr Chuk, the head of Heritage, a Belarusian cultural foundation based in Kazakhstan, calls the initiative very necessary, but notes it should not be seen as an ordinary piece of paper. The document should provide real privileges, for example an opportunity to study or work in Belarus. Today, some 3.5 million Belarusians are living abroad.

2018 is the year Belarus stops electricity imports from Russia. Belarus’s Energy Minister, Uladzimir Patupčyk, assures there is no political background to the decision. Belarus has been long preparing for it. Operators have been gradually reducing supplies from abroad and working modernising Belarus’s energy system.

Almost every year, the country introduces new energy capacities, modernises existing power plants, and encourages the consumption of local fuels—which includes the use of renewable energy. For example, the two largest hydropower stations in the country, Polack (21,7 MW) and Viciebsk (40 MW), were launched in 2017. In addition, Belarus finished full-scale reconstruction of one of the oldest power plants in Homiel. In 2019, the country plans to launch the first bloc of its nuclear power plant, writes newspaper Soyuznoe Veche.

The state press digest is based on a 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.

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