Archive for December, 2011


On 19 December 2010 Alexander Lukashenka claimed victory in a presidential election that, according to domestic and international monitors, was marred by irregularities and falsifications. This re-election saw the largest protests in Belarus in a decade and was followed by an unprecedented wave of repressions again political opponents and civil society, as well as a complete freeze in relations with the West, and by the deepest economic crisis since Belarusian independence. Speed and scale of these developments came to the surprise of even the most astute experts of Belarus.

79.6 percent was the official count of votes supporting Lukashenka. By contrast, independent polls saw him score merely 51.1 percent. According to them, 20.5 percent is the share of Belarusian citizens that would cast their vote for him today.

And here are some more figures:

189 percent is the rate, at which the Belarusian rouble devalued this year.

113.6 is the current figure for base inflation. Food prices have risen by 127.4 percent, those of services by 72.4 percent.

45 percent is the current refinancing rate, the highest in the world. This rate compares to 10.5 at the beginning of the year.

70 percent of GDP is the estimated size of Belarus’ external debt by the end of 2011. And it is not supposed to exceed 55 percent of GDP under the country’s national security strategy.

$177 is the difference between wages in December 2010 and October 2011, as average incomes dropped from $530 to $353.

Tens of thousands of Belarusians have migrated to Russia and Ukraine for work; the worst-case scenario expects 1 million people to leave for work.

11 price rises have driven up the costs of gasoline in 2011, provoking several mass protests by automobilists.

$270 per one thousand cubic meters has been the price Belarus paid this year for Russian gas. In 2012, the price will drop to $165.50, while Ukraine is ready to pay $416.

100 percent is the ownership by Gazprom of Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz. Having just purchased the remaining 50 percent for $2.5 billion, Russia now for the first time owns a pipeline outside its territory. Gazprom promised a threefold wage growth to its new employees.

$7.3 billion is the total of Russian subsidies to Belarus, as per Moscow’s calculations, in 2011 and 2012. Besides reductions in gas prices and the purchase of Beltransgaz, Sberbank has provided a $1 billion loan to potash giant Belaruskali.

A single currency is to be introduced in 2012, according to the hopes of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

…a year has never been that long for the Belarusians.

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EU or EU

Twenty years ago the Soviet empire broke into independent pieces. It’s a very good moment for Putin – who considered the break-up “a geopolitical catastrophe” – to launch his Eurasian Union to relieve its phantom pains of the new post-Soviet states.

The Eurasian Union is presented as a purely economic integration project to unite the markets of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, to begin with.

But there is nothing as political as an economic integration project with Russia. As Putin once put it: wars for land are pointless today, as you can just buy it.

The Union can look to its predecessors. The pilot version – the Union State of Belarus and Russia – got stuck somewhere between oblivion and non-existence. There is also the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the Eurasian Economic Community, Eurasian Economic Community of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia and – last but not least – the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.

The Kremlin’s neo-imperial ambitions start and end with the immediate neighbourhood and have a strongly nostalgic flavour. The Eurasian Union looks like a set of crutches for three authoritarian regimes with different (and to some extent incompatible) economies to cling together for survival.

Russia’s main export is gas and oil. Its import is everything else. The most significant part of the Belarusian budget is exports of processed Russian oil. Russia is an important market for Belarusian products, but no Russian oil means no state budget. But considering popular protests around Belarus and Russia, economic stability is more than ever a necessity in these countries.

Twenty years have gone by and Belarus’ choice between the EU and the EU (the Eurasian Union) is not political but purely geographical as it still borders on three EU member states and Russia.

Brussels expects Belarus to embrace democracy before any integration can go ahead. The regime in Minsk has ignored Brussels’ unilateral offer to liberalise visas. Politically, the offer from Moscow looks unbeatable as it contains no uncomfortable conditions on structural reforms, liberalisation and respect of democratic values.

But the latest-model union means for Belarus an even tighter hug by the Russian bear. The common market excludes access to Russian gas and oil. And the formula for gas prices is always open to re-calculation and re-negotiation, depending heavily on the good political will of Moscow.

So the Eurasian Union, another integration project with Russia: It’s like a bad dream, not even a nightmare, because it’s all too familiar.

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