Belarusian authorities bring in strict restrictions for supporters of union with Russia
The arrest of three Regnum authors, a Russian news agency, is a clear signal to the nomenclature to readjust their loyalty. The strategic alliance with Russia has been marked with a red line: the unconditional recognition of Belarus’ cultural and political self-determination and sovereignty. Belarusian power bodies remain the main instrument of domestic policy.
On December 8th-10th, the law enforcement conducted searches and detained three authors of Regnum, a Russian news agency, Yuri Pavlovets, Dmitry Alimkin and Sergei Shiptenko (who wrote for Regnum.ru under pseudonyms Nikolai Radov, Alla Bron and Artur Grigoriev) on charges envisaged by part 1 Article 130 of the Criminal Code - incitement of ethnic hatred and enmity. All state TV channels broadly covered the arrests and the reasons behind them.
Belarusian Information Minister Liliya Ananich explained to the media that the ministry launched a compliance assessment of Regnum publications for incitement of ethnic hatred in early November and that numerous components of a crime were discovered. The commission transferred its conclusions to the law enforcement. The Ministry also appealed to the Russian authorities with a request to explain how Regnum’s editorial policy corresponded with the Kremlin policy towards Belarus.
That said, the Belarusian state media emphasised that cases of Regnum and Eduard Palchis, who was recently found guilty under Article 130 of the Criminal Code, were regarded as related - as inciting enmity between the Russian and Belarusian peoples. Apparently, the authorities adhere to the following logic: the state should take harsh measures against anyone who interferes with a common information space with Russia on either side.
Most likely, the Belarusian authorities have long warned supporters of Slavic trinity, Western Russia and other pro-Russian movements denying Belarusian sovereignty, who occupied high positions in the government and voiced discontent with strengthening of the state sovereignty. For instance, the case of former MP and leader of the Belarusian Slavic Committee S. Kostyan, who directly referred to the previous state policy in this regard. Now the rules have changed and the authorities have undertaken a more decisive action.
It should also be noted that the Belarusian authorities often use preventive detentions to ensure the loyalty. The Belarusian authorities are likely to use ad hoc detentions, rather than, for example, closing down broadcasting or media outlets - similar to what they did with independent media. Belarusian power bodies remain the main instrument of domestic policy.
The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row, in 2016, by 2.6%. Before 2015, the Belarusian economy was growing for 18 consecutive years. In order to stop the economic slump, Belarus needs a favourable international market situation and to settle all trade disputes with Russia. The Belarusian economy is unlikely to recover before 2018.
According to the preliminary reports, in 2016, Belarus had a 2.6% GDP decline. The Belarusian economy was shrinking for the second year in a row – a 3.8% decline in 2015. Most economic indicators in 2016, except in agriculture, had negative values. Wholesale trade had the most negative impact on GDP due to falling exports of potash fertilizers and petrochemicals, as well as construction, due to reduced investment in fixed assets by enterprises and decreased housing construction volumes.
In 1996-2011, the Belarusian economy was growing most rapidly, average GDP growth rate was 6.9% per year. In 2011, amid emission injections in the economy, disproportionate growth of wages against the background of low productivity and significant financial aid for loss-making agricultural, construction and industrial enterprises, the Belarusian rouble depreciated by three times. The absence of economic reforms and significant relative weight of state in the economy amid deteriorating external economic environment led to a sharp economic slowdown – circa 1% per year in 2012-2014; the slowdown was followed by the recession, caused by a slump in the prices for basic exports from Belarus and cuts in soft loans issued to maintain production volumes.
Belarus’ budget for 2017 is based on anticipated 0.2% growth. The expected decrease in the construction volume is circa 17% in 2017, which is unlikely to allow industrial growth with the renewal of fixed assets by legal entities. Even if wages grow, they will be offset by the 15% increase in utility tariffs by late 2017. Wholesale trade is largely dependent on the potash market situation and the oil processing volume at the Belarusian refineries. In view of the planned reduction in Russian oil supply in Q1 2017 to 4 million tons, wholesale growth is only possible provided the potash market situation improves. In late 2016, engineering output increased significantly, but amid the trade conflict with Russia, she may prioritise purchases from domestic manufacturers. In the given circumstances, Belarus’ GDP would only grow in 2017, provided the Russo-Belarusian dispute over energy supplies was fully resolved, Russia removed barriers for Belarusian exports and the potash market situation improved. That said, Belarus’ GDP in 2017 is likely to decrease by 0.5% - 1% and is likely to be followed by an attempt to overcome the recession in 2018.
The Belarusian economy has been in recession for two consecutive years. Amid anticipated decline in retail trade, construction and unresolved dispute over energy supplies from Russia, economic recession is likely to persist in 2017 and the economic recovery may be postponed until 2018.