Privatization: first deals
On 14 June private Belarusian companies “Laguna” and “Ostamebel” bought state shares of the three furniture factories at an auction within the frameworks of the first auction of state-owned shares that were included in the privatization plan for 2011-2013.
There were nine companies at the auction however investors showed no interest in “Belkofe”, “Zhitkovichles”, “Factory of catering “Borisovles”, “Kostiukovichi LPH”, “Pleschenitsles”, “Polotskles”.
Privatization is the most painful issue for the Belarusian President. Open tenders offer businesses unattractive to investors, often at inflated prices (their book value, which ignores the real value of an enterprise). As a result, some companies are bought by Belarusian investors who can use the new facilities for their business. However, this kind of privatization brings neither foreign currency to the country, nor does it create a feeling of implementation of a full-scale transparent privatization of interesting assets in the country.
With regard to strategic assets, the Belarusian authorities have decided to procrastinate and to bargain until the end. Belarus did not agree to sell state-owned shares of the mobile operator MTS at a price proposed by investor (the difference between the desired and the offered price was 200-300 million). Negotiations concerning the sale of 50% of “Beltransgaz” are delaying and the authorities have decided to link the sale conditions of the company at initially inflated price of USD 2.5 billion to favourable domestic gas prices in 2012-2014. That means getting additional subsidies from Russia amounting to USD 5 billion.
On the one hand, the authorities are trying to play hard, hiding their weakness. On the other hand, their actions confirm the image of the country as of a partner difficult to negotiate with.
Information about negotiations concerning “Belaruskaliy” is quite controversial: it is unclear who, how, through what companies and for how much is ready to buy these assets.
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.