Oil in the Eurasian Economic Union, Poroshenko, the Language – Digest of Belarusian Analytics
Belarusian and foreign analysts examine Belarus' peace efforts, the role of oil in the Eurasian Economic Union, challenges of post-Soviet education and other topics.
Belarus and the Eurasian Economic Union: Only about Oil? – The German Economic Team Belarus (GET Belarus) analyses the benefits of Belarus' participation in the Eurasian Economic Union in its first English-language newsletter.
The experts believe that the main benefit for Belarus is related to the oil trade with Russia, which is of high importance to the country. In 2015, Belarus will be able to keep half of the export duties on oil products in the country (USD 1.5 bn, or 2% of GDP). In the past, Russia received the entire amount.
Belarus’ Peace Effort and a Likely Response of the West – Grigori Ioffe breaks down positive and negative implications of the August 26th Minsk summit devoted to the crisis in Ukraine. The summit signifies Minsk's slow but steady progress in its relations with Europe, according to the author. He argues that current geopolitical situation will allow Belarus to achieve a true breakthrough.
Lukashenko and Poroshenko: Friends of Convenience? The BELL No. 3(45) – Authors of the latest issue of The BELL analyse the implications of the new developments in Belarus-Ukraine relationship. In the first article, Yauhen Krasulin argues that these relations are based on self-interest and were to be expected, countering the popular notion that the rapport between Lukashenko and Maidan-promoted leaders signals a change of course by Minsk. In the second article, Aliaksandr Aleshka reviews the benefits of Belarus-Ukraine strategic cooperation.
Belarusians and Solidarity: Potential is There, but That's Nothing to Do with Me – Belarusian Journal examines whether Belarusians are a cohesive nation; how to raise the level of solidarity in the Belarusian society; whether international solidarity is important for civil society in Belarus. The article was written to support the civil society and political prisoners in Belarus.
Belarusians try out a new language: their own. – Christian Science Monitor analyses signs of revival of the Belarusian language. After the years of being overshadowed by Russia and the Russian language, Belarusians are keen on learning their native language to assert their country's identity and culture apart from neighbouring Russia. For many young people speaking Belarusian became cool. Lukashenko himself raised eyebrows when he gave a rare speech in Belarusian in July, close to the date of Belarus’ Independence Day, which some analysts felt was a political signal.
If you want to be a millionaire, go to Belarus. Opendemocracy.org offers a grim overview of life in Belarus. According to the article, if you want to return to the Soviet Union – just go to Belarus. Service is terrible, living standards low, internet access restricted, civil society non-existent – but there is an incomparable feeling of safety and serene calm; and lots of excellent vodka and good tasty food to go with it. What more could anyone want?
Twenty Years in the Making. Understanding the Difficulty for Change in Belarus. The article of Tatsiana Kulakevich in East European Politics & Societies analyzes the dynamic of pro-democracy protests in Belarus through the prism of social movements literature and such concepts as framing, political opportunity, and mobilising structures. It argues that weakness of the mobilising structures and framing processes at times when political opportunities presented themselves in Belarus resulted in an absence of large-scale protests and a failure to sustain the development of social movements in the country. At the same time, Belarus cannot be considered as being in a static or retrogressive state since transnational flows characteristic of a globalising world have exposed people to wider flows of information, providing them with counterframes and resulting in a modest growth in the numbers of protesters and a change in the preferences of the Belarusian population.
The modern university as an imagined community: European dreams and Belarusian realities. The article of Mark Johnson and Pavel Tereshkovich explores various aspects of modern Belarusian national identity through an analysis of two connected case studies, the development of the flagship national university, Belarusian State University (BSU) in Minsk and of the European Humanities University (EHU), a private institution founded in Minsk in 1992 with international funding. EHU was then forced into exile by the Belarusian regime in 2004, and has operated since that time in nearby Vilnius, Lithuania. It highlights various dimensions of Belarusian national identity, from a neo-Soviet and authoritarian populism, to a more primordial or organic conception of nationalism, to a more European and cosmopolitan ethos of liberal education.
Freedom of associations and status of non-commercial organisations in Belarus for the second quarter of 2014 is released by the NGO Assembly and Lawtrend. Authors argue that legislative changes pertaining to registration of NGOs could have become the main factor of positive trends. They conclude, however, that the actual conditions for new organisations' registration did not change substantially. Monitoring includes the list of new registered organisations, among which sports non-profits are still the majority.
80% of Belarusians Do not Know How the State Budget is Made and Spent – BIPART project concluded based on the results of the latest IISEPS poll conducted in June 2014. Regionally, the highest awareness is represented by the residents of Mogilev (27%) and Gomel (31.2%). Only 10.2% of Minsk residents said they knew how the Belarusian budget is used. According to the poll, this information is either unavailable, unclear, or just uninteresting for Belarusian citizens.
Tanks and Tractors: Belarus’ New Deals in the Developing World
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Uladzimir Makei headed to South Africa and Nigeria for a round of meetings.
After losing its partners in the Middle East and at the time when relations with Latin America are stagnating, Belarus is seeking new trade partners.
This year, Minsk opened four embassies – in Ecuador, Mongolia, Australia and Pakistan. Another one – in Qatar – is on the way. Belarus has also started to use financial incentives to promote its exports.
While it has no problem selling potash, its top export commodity, Belarus struggles to promote its machinery and defence equipment. Finding markets for these exports is key for keeping large state firms afloat and bringing in more foreign currency. It is precisely these vital economic needs and not Belarus' ideological or geopolitical dreams that drive its foreign policy.
Middle Eastern Setbacks
In the 2000s, Belarus had to alter several aspects of its policy towards the Middle East. In 2003, Minsk lost Iraq as a trading partner due to US invasion. Then, Belarus's economic ties with Libya, Syria and Egypt suffered due to the instability produced by the Arab Spring.
Belarus also had to limit contacts with Iran due to growing international pressure. In March of 2014, Lukashenka told Iranian politician Ali Larijani that, "due to external pressure, primarily on Iran (but also on Belarus) the trade volume between our nations has decreased. We started to lose some channels of cooperation.”
Belarus's current ties to Gulf monarchies have failed to compensate for the loss of its old partners in the Middle East.
In 2011, after visiting the Persian Gulf monarchies, Lukashenka predicted an emergence of a “Qatari Island in Europe,” a conglomerate of Gulf Arab investment projects for billions of dollars, in Brest region. The project, however, ended in the construction of a hunting estate in a Minsk forest.
The relations with Latin America have suffered a similar decline after Hugo Chavez's death in March 2013. The former president of Venezuela actively traded with Minsk in oil and gave Belarusian service providers a shot at modernising Venezuela (building trucks assembly plants, bringing gas into houses, exploring mineral deposits and even constructing national air defence system). At one point, bilateral trade between Venezuela and Belarus reached $1.5bn.
Chavez also included Belarus in his political and economic designs in the Latin America, and Minsk capitalised on these opportunities. Addressing Belarusian diplomats in August, Lukashenka extolled the cooperation with Venezuela and urged his subordinates to find “new Venezuelas” for cooperation.
In 2013, trade with Venezuela fell manyfold. It should be noted, however, that Belarusian exports, worth $83m, made up virtually all of the trade between the two countries.
Venezuelan Ambassador Américo Díaz Núñez argued that the change of government in his country was the main reason for the decline in the two nations' ties. It is likely that the cessation of oil deliveries explains most of the decrease in trade. Trade between Belarus and Venezuela is not expected to resume any time in the near future.
Under these circumstances, the government is reorienting its policies in the Third World towards developing relations with regional powers that were earlier neglected by Minsk, such as Nigeria, Indonesia, and Pakistan. It is also reviving links with former Soviet allies, including Mongolia, Bangladesh, and Mozambique. Summer contacts with Pakistan and Mozambique provide illustrative cases of Belarus' latest efforts.
In July, Belarusian media briefly noted that Pakistani Minister for Defence Production Rana Tanveer Hussain had attended the Exhibition of Arms and Military Machinery MILEX-2014, and met Foreign Minister Makei.
Pakistani media reported that Minister Hussain and two Pakistani generals had also met Yury Zhadobin, Minister of Defence, Siarhei Huruliou, Chairman of the State Military and Industrial Committee, and representatives of several defence industry-related firms.
The Pakistani government stated, “both sides agreed to develop a plan of action for establishing military & technical cooperation”. Minister Hussain was interested in electronic warfare technology, optical and optical-electronic devices, spare parts for tanks and armoured personnel carriers. He also discussed the possibility of establishing joint ventures, as well as service and maintenance centres.
Islamabad has for years worked with Kyiv on the modernisation of Pakistani mechanised armour. Now, looking at the hopeless situation in Ukraine, it is trying to secure the necessary parts and expertise for the post-Soviet equipment and arms of Pakistani army from Belarus.
Belarus-Pakistani talks are particularly remarkable because, as recently as February, a delegation of the State Military and Industrial Committee of Belarus visited India. They attended an arms exhibition and participated in a meeting of the Belarusian-Indian Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation.
The parties discussed, inter alia, the modernisation of Indian army's armoured vehicles and air defences, the establishment of a service centre for military optical goods, technology transfers involving optical, optical-electronic and laser devices, and cooperation on manufacturing drones.
… and Tractors
In its relations with the developing world, the Belarusian government is also promoting Belarusian machine-building products. In July, the Prime Minister of Mozambique Alberto Vaquina visited Minsk. So far, relations with Mozambique are rather limited – bilateral trade in 2013 totaled only $9.1m, a figure that includes Belarusian exports valued at $8.7m.
When speaking about possible areas of cooperation, Vaquina emphasised agriculture and agricultural equipment. He spoke about increasing Belarusian tractor exports and creating assembly production facilities in Mozambique.
Earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Siamashka offered Mozambicans cooperation "of the Venezuelan variety" that would include the establishment of assembly plants. "We mean to construct the assembly lines not only to meet the needs of Mozambique, but also to establish a platform for future sales to other countries in South and Central Africa.”
Minsk is very eager to have its MTZs sold in Africa and Prime Minister Myasnikovich has offered his Mozambican counterpart new financial instruments to promote the economic and trade cooperation. Belarus also intends to provide scholarships to Mozambican students – a new step towards promoting better relations with developing countries.
Will Belaruskali Start a Gas Business?
Needless to say, Belarusian policy in the developing world has many weaknesses. Its unstable relations with these countries partly result from the larger international developments unrelated to Belarus. But the problem also lies in the lack of marketing and trade promotion skills among Belarusian producers and in the inability of Belarusian officials to work in a more challenging environment.
It all begins with the basics. Belarusian government and business have for years discussed the problem of the English language skills. Nevertheless, Lukashenka, speaking at a recent seminar of Belarusian diplomats exclaimed again, “Should we finally introduce a list of offices staffed only by people who can speak to foreign customers without a dictionary?!”
Untrained Belarusian officials have been known to undermine Belarus' trade prospects in the past. For example, ambassador to France Pavel Latushka derided the quality of Belarusian goods in an interview. Belarusian officials also show remarkable ignorance about industry-related matters. For example, the vice chairman of the Belarusian Chamber of Trade proposed to use Belaruskali, the national potash company, for extracting natural gas together with Mozambique. He was clearly unaware of the differnece between the technologies used for potash and gas extraction.
As Belarus strives to become a viable state, it can profit from links to the developing world. In recent years Belarusian approach to international trade has become more balanced and detached from any loud political rhetoric. There are no reasons to demonise Minsk's contacts with developing countries, even those that stand in opposition to the US.