Policy briefs

Tue, 2013-10-29 12:21

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Minsk that despite budgetary losses, Russia was ready to fully eliminate the exemptions and limitations on petroleum products within the Customs Union if other CU partners did the same. All participants in the Summit were interested in demonstrating progress in bilateral relations on issues that concern them the most. Lukashenka’s appearance in the media was successful. President Putin made a statement about concessions to Belarus on oil products if certain conditions were met. Belarus would have to engage more in Eurasian integration and allow Russia’s greater presence in the Belarusian economy. All summit participants were making positive statements which their EurAsEC partners would like to hear. President Putin has assured Lukashenka of certain subsidies to the Belarus’ economy, “we understand that our partners would like us to eliminate these exemptions associated with petroleum and oil and so on. We are ready [to do it]”.

Mon, 2013-10-28 11:11

The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies presents the ninth issue of monthly monitoring of social, economical, political and cultural spheres. BISS-Timeline analyzes information about main events occurred in September 2013. The Belarusian opposition has finally formed into two major blocs: the first coalition— conventionally named “People’s Referendum” after the campaign that the bloc pursues—appeared back in May; the second one was officially established on 22 September at a national conference under the name “Civil Alliance for Free and Fair Elections for a Better Life Talaka” (short name “Talaka”). Both “People’s Referendum” and “Talaka” are ready to nominate their candidates, election commission members and observers at the upcoming local elections. Therefore, as of today, most of the opposition forces belong to either of the two coalitions, which are united based on the tactics followed in their campaign, rather than political ideology or values.

Wed, 2013-10-23 10:44

By Tony Rinna

The Republic of Belarus is currently the only state in east-central Europe which is a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), allowing the organisation to border three members of the European Union and NATO. As military ties between Belarus and Russia continue to grow against a backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions with NATO, it is increasingly important to understand the role that Belarus plays in Russia’s military thrust into Europe. Belarus plays an important role as the CSTO’s flank against Europe and NATO in particular, which has broad security implications as the CSTO is primarily a defensive and military alliance designed to act as a counterbalance to NATO. Belarus-Russia military relations date back to the signing of the agreement in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 1993 which established the CSTO, and in 1997 the two countries signed a bilateral agreement on mutual defence and security with the aim of strengthening the legal, strategic and technical ties in the two countries’ defence sectors. In 1995 Belarus and Russia began working towards a common air defence system, which they finalised in 2009. Today, key areas of Belarusian-Russian military cooperation include increasing troop interoperability, increasing mutual border defence measures, and developing military technology exchange. A large amount of Russian military hardware and equipment is positioned on Belarusian soil, although Russian nuclear weapons were removed from Belarus.

Tue, 2013-10-22 12:03

By Alexander Martynau

On 16 October, the High Command of the Belarusian military conducted a detailed analysis of West-2013 exercise, which played out in Belarus in late September. The event became the largest show of force by the Union State of Russia and Belarus in four years.

Second in scope only to the controversial West-2009 exercise, West-2013 has become another milestone in the Russia-driven military integration in the post-Soviet space. Whether the exercise helped the Belarusian leader to strike non-military bargains with Kremlin remains to be seen.

Thu, 2013-10-17 11:27

By Ryhor Astapenia

On 8 October, Prime Minister of Ukraine Mykola Azarov finished his visit to Belarus. Ukrainian top-official flew to Belarus to find common ground with Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a possible advocate for Kyiv in its relations with the Kremlin.

Aliaksandr Lukashenka, surprisingly, favorably reacted to the European aspirations of Ukraine and did not join in in Moscow's economic war against Kyiv. Economic relations between Belarus and Ukraine are developing rapidly, trade over the last four years has grown by 2.5 times. The two countries, however, do still have economic claims against each other.

With Kyiv's support, Lukashenka wants to show its significance to the Kremlin and get from the Russian leadership even more concessions.

However, Minsk and Kyiv will not continuously play against Moscow. The countries are developing in opposite directions, so their mutual interests are not often aligned.

Wed, 2013-10-16 19:05

Ahead of the third Eastern Partnership Summit to be held on 28-29 November 2013 in Vilnius, there are many undergoing discussions about what it will bring along for the Eastern partners, having among other aspirations visa-free travel.

However, it may seem that with a very debating recent amendment to the EU visa rules (Regulation 539/2001) adopted by the European Parliament on 12 September 2013, which introduces a visa waiver suspension mechanism, future of the visa liberalization process between the EU and the EaP might seem cloudier.

At the same time, during the recent Parliamentary Hearing on Migration and Mobility with the Eastern Partnership, there were no doubts to whether liberalise or not the visa regime with the EaP countries. The will is there, admits Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the EP. The question is rather how to reach a win-win scenario unfolding visa facilitation and liberalisation processes in the Eastern Neighbourhood. In this regard, Balkan experience is deemed as very relevant.

Tue, 2013-10-15 17:00

By Emma Kaminskaya

Although Belarusians have enjoyed the same rights in hiring, pay and social benefits as Russian citizens since 1996, migration from Belarus to Russia more than tripled since 2010. According to the traditional view on high-skilled migration or brain drain, the home country bears only negative costs as, after investing in their education, the best workers leave to contribute to the economy of more developed countries. However, it is often the case that highly qualified workers can better fulfill their potential working abroad, increasing their salary, while sending generous remittances and signaling the home government to create more favourable conditions for people to stay. In the case of Belarus, the increased outflow of high-skilled workers puts at risk the country’s future economic and human development, if no adequate mechanism for cross-country collaboration is introduced.

Tue, 2013-10-15 16:51

By Siarhei Bohdan

On Thursday, Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka sent out a warning - if Russia would keep export duties on its petroleum products, Belarus would not be able to stay in the Russia-dominated Customs Union anymore. Belarus would see economic sense in the union only if Putin would deliver on his promise on duties which some years earlier seriously undermined the profitability of Belarusian trading of petroleum products. This threat is just one in a series of Lukashenka's recent unfriendly moves against the Kremlin. Earlier last week, the Ukrainian Prime Minister visited Belarus - exactly at a moment when Russia is running amok after Ukraine's decision to sign the Association Agreement with the EU instead of joining the Customs Union. Lukashenka  assured Ukraine that Belarus has no complaints towards Ukraine.

Wed, 2013-10-09 11:38

By Artyom Shraibman

A conflict between Belarusian authorities and Russian potash giant Uralkali, by all assessments, comes to its conclusion. Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgartner left his KGB-prison cell for house arrest in a hidden apartment. At the same time, a major owner and shareholder of Uralkali, the latter-day foe of Alexander Lukahenka, Suleiman Kerimov, negotiates the sale of his shares to, apparently, pro-Kremlin oligarchs.
All in all, it looks like the Belarusian side has overall been victorious. However, an unprejudiced analysis of the middle-term and long-term outcomes of this conflict indicates that Belarus as an independent state and Alexander Lukahenka personally are more likely to suffer from the consequences of the potash war.

Mon, 2013-09-23 19:17

By Siarhei Bohdan

On Friday, a joint Belarusian-Russian military exercise started in Belarus and in the Kaliningrad Province of Russia. For months Polish media discussed whether the exercise is potentially aimed at mounting aggression and even a nuclear arms deployment against Poland and NATO.

Neighbouring Baltic states remained more reserved. Only the deputy chief of staff of Estonian army told «Eesti Päevaleht», a major Estonian daily, that he is concerned about the scale of the military exercise, as Russia's military power has significantly rose in a western direction. Apparently, he meant not the Belarusian forces but rather the Russian part of the exercises. Regardless, Belarus has at its disposal no serious offensive capabilities and the joint current military exercises can be counted as a real demonstration of its humble military might.