Looking for USD 2 billion for modernization
On March 15th, 2013, Russian Finance Minister confirmed the Belarus’ request for a USD 2 billion loan.
Belarus’s economy balanced development is impossible without external support. Modernization is considered a way out of a devaluation loop. Belarus plans to gain funds via new concessional loans and ad hoc assets’ sales.
On March 15th, 2012 balance of payments data was published. In Q4 international trade in goods and services was negative. In Q4 2012 the current account deficit was USD 1.775 billion. Russia’s support - reduced natural gas supply prices somewhat improved the situation, but in order to maintain the current consumption level, Belarus needs international loans in pecuniary or commodity form.
Production modernization could help to solve the problem. Additional investment imports for the modernization in 2013 are estimated at USD 1.6 billion. The National Bank is skeptical about the feasibility for a new IMF loan, which could provide the necessary funds at a preferential interest rate (IMF loans interest rates range around 4% pa).
Bearing this in mind, Belarus requested a new loan from Russia. It is assumed that by the end of the modernization Belarus will reduce the imports volumes in woodworking, engineering, petrochemical industries and will improve export opportunities, which will result in improved international trade balance and will generate the foreign exchange inflow sufficient to service the public debt. Russia’s international reserves as of March 1st, 2013 were USD 526 billion and USD 2 billion is insignificant amount. However, if Russia decided to open a new credit line for Belarus, it would furnish it with additional terms related to privatization. Some Belarusian assets, put up for privatization, oil refinery in particular, have a limited number of buyers. The sale of other assets is complicated by excessive demands by Belarus, both in financial terms and in terms of guaranteeing certain social benefits to enterprises’ employees.
Thus, Belarus resumed to searching for international loans to sustain current operations. Deeper involvement in the integration processes, both in financial and economic terms, has narrowed the number of potential donors to a single country, which weakened Belarus’ negotiating position and forced to start negotiations about the sales terms for some enterprises. Belarusian authorities do not have any trump cards left for the forthcoming negotiations, other than continued membership in the Customs Union.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.