Belarusian banking sector shakes off disrepute
U.S. government has imposed sanctions against a number of Belarusian banks, which hampered their operations. The new requirements for banks’ regulatory capital triggered the ownership change process for small and medium-sized banks. As a result, the Belarusian banking sector will get rid of banks with dubious reputation, improving the Belarusian financial system’s image.
On January 22nd, 100% of Onerbank shares were sold to the BCSE for EUR 5.1 million.
The new edition of the Banking Code, which took effect on January 22nd, 2013, set the schedule for banks’ regulatory capital requirements. According to the NB Board’s decision No 522 from October 30th, 2012, as of January 1st, 2014, the minimum regulatory capital for an operating bank has been set at EUR 15 million, and as of January 1st, 2015 - at least EUR 25 million. A number of banks in Belarus do not meet the new requirements and need additional resources to continue operations.
U.S. government sanctions were introduced against two Belarusian banks with Iranian capital - Onerbank and Trade Capital Bank for supporting Iran’s nuclear programme. Sanctions against Credexbank were introduced in connection with allegations of money laundering in favour of fictitious companies. Sanctions hampered operations of these banks. Onerbank and Credexbank needed to capitalize on emerging regulatory capital requirements and as a result they were sold to new owners.
In early 2013 the Credexbank’s ownership structure has changed. The bank’s new owner is Russian Starbank. The bank has been renamed into InterPayBank and it will focus on the development of payment systems and terminals in Belarus.
On January 22nd, Onerbank was bought by two entities, not related to the banking sector of Belarus or the EU. Inter alia, the banks’ ownership has changed partially because of the sanctions against the bank.
Thus, two of the three banks, just like Info Bank, have changed owners and following renaming and rebranding will no longer raise U.S. government’s concerns. Moreover, they will meet the new National Bank’s requirements on the regulatory capital and will continue operations in Belarus. The Bank Torgovyj Kapital meets the regulatory capital requirements, but it is possible that it will be pushed for ownership changes. As a result, the U.S. government will have no more claims to any of the banks in Belarus.
Over the past year, military-political relations between Minsk and Kyiv have become complicated. Due to their high inertia and peculiarities, this downward trend would be extremely difficult to overcome.
The root cause of the crisis is the absence of a common political agenda in the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations. Minsk is looking for a market for Belarusian exports in Ukraine and offers its services as a negotiation platform for the settlement of the Russo-Ukrainian war, thereby hoping to avoid political issues in the dialogue with Kiev. Meanwhile, Ukraine is hoping for political support from Minsk in the confrontation with Moscow. In addition, Ukraine’s integration with NATO presupposes her common position with the Alliance in relation to Belarus. The NATO leadership regards the Belarusian Armed Forces as an integral part of the Russian military machine in the western strategic front (the Baltic states and Poland). In addition, the ongoing military reform in Ukraine envisages a reduction in the number of generals and the domestic political struggle makes some Ukrainian top military leaders targets in politically motivated attacks.
Hence, the criticism of Belarus coming from Ukrainian military leadership is dictated primarily by internal and external political considerations, as well as by the need to protect the interests of generals, and only then by facts.
For instance, initially, the Ukrainian military leadership made statements about 100,000 Russian servicemen allegedly taking part in the Russo-Belarusian military drill West-2017. Then the exercises were labelled quazi-open and military observers from Ukraine refused to provide their assessment, which caused a negative reaction in Minsk. Further, without citing specific facts, it was stated that Russia was building up its military presence in Belarus.
Apparently, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Defence Ministries have entangled in a confrontational spiral (on the level of rhetoric). Moreover, only a small part of the overly hidden process has been disclosed. That said, third states are very likely to take advantage of the situation (or have already done so). This is not only about Russia.
The Belarusian Defence Ministry officials are restrained in assessing their Ukrainian counterparts. However, such a restraint is not enough. Current military-political relations between Belarus and Ukraine are unlikely to stabilise without the intervention of both presidents.