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14 Jan

Michal Potocki, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, December 21, 2011 (Poland)

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The West Rescues Lukashenka

A year after the presidential elections in Belarus, during which Alaksandar Lukashenka pacified the opposition, the EU sanctions against Minsk remain fiction. The regime has serious economic problems, but the West helps it to endure, widely opening its markets for Belarusian goods. This year, the value of export from Belarus to the EU member countries grew 122%. The value of goods exported to Germany rose 300%. European sanctions against Belarus are a myth.

The economic crisis in Belarus started when the Russians raised the gas rates on average from USD 187 for 1000 cubic metres in 2010 to USD 270 in 2011. This was overlapped with an increase in public spending on the eve of the elections (e.g. increase of the average pay over USD 500). The authorities were forced to devalue the rouble and to search desperately for loans. Grassroots-organised protests arose. However, society’s dissatisfaction has been pacified. But it was the increase in export to the West that played the decisive role here, and not Russian credits.

The EU is helping…

At the same time when the export grew, the Western politicians went all the way in condemning Minsk e.g. for putting seven out of nine presidential candidates in prison. ‘In the face of Lukashenka’s continuing repression against his own people, we have no choice but to argue for a strengthening of EU policy towards Belarus (…) in terms of the sanctions regime…’ – states the letter signed by foreign ministers of Germany, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, which had been published i.a. in Polish ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ newspaper.

The sanctions remain symbolic, however. An EU entry ban for 208 Belarusian officials, bank accounts of three companies with governmental ties frozen – and a weapons trade embargo, although the firms from this sector haven’t been cooperating with each other for many years.

‘Lukashenka raises hard currency mostly for selling refined Russian oil to the West. An embargo for the oil-related products would be enough for the regime to fall’ – says Uladzimier Kobiec, the coordinator of the European Belarus campaign (head of which is the imprisoned presidential candidate Andrej Sannikau).

…there will be no reforms

The EU is not, however, considering a real embargo. This year, the value of goods exported from Belarus to EU countries rose 122%. The West benefited from the depreciation of the Belarusian rouble. Since January 1st the euro has gone up from 3973 to 10,970 roubles.

Belarus’ most important  partner, except Russia, are the Netherlands, well known for strong rhetorical support of the opposition. In 2011 the Dutch helped Belarus with the amount of USD 4.8m. It’s almost twice more than what Minsk earned by selling Beltransgaz to the Russian Gazprom, although it is the latter transaction that is given as an example of Kremlin’s support of the regime.

The active trade balance with the EU is the effect of an abrupt increase in export to many Western countries. The Germans, who also bandy anti-regime slogans about, bought from Minsk four times more goods than in the same period of the previous year. The export to Italy increased twice, to Portugal – 12 times, to Greece – as many as 36 times. Compared to this, the 25% growth in export to Poland is one of worse results. Risen has the value of goods sold to 22 EU countries (except Austria, Denmark, Ireland and the UK; Minsk does not trade with Malta).

Because of that Mr. Lukashenka could postpone economic reforms. The politicians told to be liberal – as the deputy prime minister Uladzimier Siamashka or chef of the president’s administration Uladzimier Makiej – had been downgraded. On the other hand the KGB, informally controlled by the president’s son, is constantly strengthened. The secret police was granted almost unlimited powers and freed from control of the prosecutor’s office. At the same time frictions between high ranked officials continue. In autumn a pro-regime businessman Viktar Shaucou and deputy interior minister Jauhien Poludzien’, the author of the KGB law reform, ended up behind bars.

Article originally published:

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