Policy briefs

Fri, 2013-09-20 10:43

The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) presents the fifteenth issue of Belarus' Foreign Policy Index, which analyses the evolution of the five foreign policy priorities of the country in July and August 2013. The most significant shift during those two months is the narrowing of the Russian vector , caused primarily by the “potash crisis”. Experts suggest, that official Minsk will be trying to minimize the political aftermath of the conflict. However, the harshness of the Belarusian authorities will likely prompt Russia to take measures beyond the political field. Nevertheless, the military and technical cooperation between the two countries remains stable.

Fri, 2013-09-13 15:42

By Ryhor Astapenia

On 10 September, the world celebrated suicide prevention day. Belarus ranks sixth in the world with regard to the number of total suicides that occur annually. Last year, about two thousand Belarusians committed suicide -  higher than the number of road accident victims. Belarusian men, like elsewhere in the world, tend to commit suicide more than women, though the large number of suicides in rural areas sets Belarus apart from other countries. Studies indicate that increases in alcohol consumption in Belarus correlates with an increase in the number of suicides. The overall social withdrawal and tendency towards depression that Belarusians face, rather than poverty, constitute the main reasons for the current situation. Although the Ministry of Health Care has taken certain steps to prevent suicides, Belarusians should first and foremost decrease their own alcohol consumption in order to reach this goal.

Mon, 2013-09-09 09:51

On 20 August, Alyaksandr Lukashenka held a conference on the future priorities for Belarus' armed forces. He proclaimed that “while analysing recent conflicts and wars, we understood that the most important thing for us today is air defence and an air force. Hence, if that is the key component of our armed forces, priority attention should be paid to them.” It sounded odd against the backdrop of a Belarusian military that for years has been decommissioning aircrafts and acquiring minimal amounts of armaments. Furthermore, Minsk is no longer able to get military equipment from Moscow on favourable terms. Last week, Belarusian Defence Minister Yury Zhadobin effectively admitted that Belarus did not have enough of its own aircrafts and hence hosts a Russian air base. The first Russian flight would come to Belarus at the end of this year, said Zhadobin. Russian Defence Minister announced their plans to establish an air base in Belarus when meeting with the Belarusian leader in April. The rapid pace of the implementation of these agreements has no precedents in Belarusian-Russian relations. This time, Moscow imposed on Lukashenka its will.

Wed, 2013-09-04 13:41

Amid conflicts with the United States over Syria and with several former Soviet republics over their increasingly close relations with the European Union, perhaps the last thing Russian President Vladimir Putin expected was to be blindsided by his usually loyal ally, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.

But that is exactly what happened on August 25 when authorities in Minsk arrested Vladislav Baumgertner, general director of Uralkali, the leading Russian producer of potash, a potassium-based fertilizer ingredient.

Tue, 2013-09-03 10:10

By Ludmila Yanenka

For the first time since the 2010 presidential election Belarusian independent journalists can catch their breath. In March the criminal case against Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist accused of libel against the president, was dropped. ARCHE magazinewhich was close to being shut down was finally re-registered by the Ministry of Information in May. OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic was allowed to enter the country in June, and authorities even met with her. Following her visit charges against Anton Suriapin for posting pictures of the famous Teddy Bear pictures, were dropped. Award-winning journalist Iryna Khalip has reached the end of her two-year sentence.

Mon, 2013-09-02 15:17

Since 22 August 2013 all foreigners can get Belarusian visas through the Minsk National Airport just after their arrival. However, these and other relaxations in the visa regime on the eve of the 2014 Ice Hockey World Cup still remain incomplete. They leave a number of obstacles on the path to simplifying travel to Belarus and from Belarus which includes low number of no visa treaties with other countries and high visa costs. Moreover, the government does not want to address the painful issue of the simplification of the visa regime with the EU for purely political reasons. Visa liberalisation will lead to potentially unpleasant consequences for Belarusian authorities such as brain drain and the impossibility to prohibit undesirable Western politicians and activists from entering Belarus.

Thu, 2013-08-29 16:41

In May the British organisation “Save the Children” published a ranking of the most and the least favourable countries for mothers. It ranked Belarus rather highly, placing it at 26th out of 176 countries, well ahead all other CIS countries, as well as some EU member states such as Poland, Hungary and Malta. It seems that despite acute economic situation, Minsk maintains its social guarantees for parents. Unlike in Western countries, Belarusian women can go for a long maternity leave and they receive financial support from the authorities. Paternal leave is also technically possible, but it has not yet achieved widespread popularity among Belarusian fathers.

Thu, 2013-08-29 10:35

By Siarhei Bohdan

Last Tuesday, Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius demanded that Belarus to not construct a nuclear power plant (NPP) in the vicinity of Lithuanian territory. He referred to the alleged breaking of the Espoo Convention by Belarus. Lithuania claims that Minsk is building potentially dangerous facility in a risky place without properly consulting and informing an exposed Lithuania. The Belarusian opposition and NGOs raise environmental issues and criticised that the power plant is being built by Russians and on a Russian loan. Belarus does not need more energy, and the whole project would bring Minsk closer to Moscow, they claim. Yet Belarus already imports its energy and there are no better options to provide the country with energy. The only reasonable alternative - modernised thermal power plants - make the nation more dependent on Russian oil and gas with their ever increasing prices.

Tue, 2013-08-27 11:15

By Volha Charnysh

Chief Executive of OAO Uralkali Vladislav Baumgertner, a Russian national, was detained in Belarus today on an abuse of office charge as chairman of Belarusian Potash Co (BPC). The charge may lead to up to ten years in prison with the confiscation of all his property. Belarus also asked Interpol to help with the arrest of four other BPC employees and board members. Arrested in the airport following negotiations with Belarus prime minister Mikhail Miasnikovich, Baumgertner fell victim to the economic conflict between Minsk and Moscow that started earlier this summer with Russian Uralkali suspending exports through the Belarusian Potash Co.

Wed, 2013-08-21 10:45

By Ryhor Astapenia

On 19 August, CEO of Belaruskali, the valuable Belarusian company, Valery Kiryjenka held a press conference on the situation in the global potash market. Kiryjenka criticised Uralkali and hinted that Uralkali keeps trying to make a raider seizure of Belaruskali. Last month, Russian potash producer Uralkali announced that it would suspend exports through the Belarusian Potash Company. Many have perceived this step as the beginning of a new Russian-Belarusian economic war. Economic wars remain an important part of relations between Russia and Belarus. By the means of economic wars, Kremlin points the proper place to its younger brother and restricts the independence of Belarus. However, the current conflict differs from the previous ones. For the first time a Russian private company, not a public entity, creates a big challenge for Belarus. The consequences affect not only mutual relations, but the whole world.