Belarusian negotiations with Russia on strategic assets become tougher
On 18 July President Lukashenko met with the leadership of the Boulle Mining Group. During the meeting they talked about the possible involvement of the Group in the exploration and development of potash deposits in Belarus.
Belarusian President raises the stakes while bargaining for the main privatization asset, “Belaruskaliy”, as well as for other assets to be sold to Russia. As a consequence, there might be a med-term decrease in the selling price of Belarusian assets, and a short-term increase of political pressure on Belarus by Russia.
Following the meeting with businessmen from the Boulle Mining Group, President Alexander Lukashenko made it clear that he considers the Belarusian mineral wealth as a separate asset, which could be privatized, regardless of the sale of the shares of “Belaruskaly”. Thereby the President has demonstrated that he was ready to play on the contradictions between the interests of Russian and Western business.
However the economic crisis that Belarus faces today affects prices of strategic assets. For instance, the launch of the Russian gas pipeline “Nord Stream” will allow “Gazprom” to ignore proposals of the President of Belarus to link the sale of the remaining package of “Beltransgaz” with preferential gas prices in 2012.
The actions of the Belarusian President provoked an immediate backlash by Russia. On 19 July Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin expressed regret about rising tensions between Russia and Belarus, as well as about human rights violations. On the next day, Russian Ambassador Alexander Surikov in an interview with an independent news agency “BelaPAN” emphasized that the sale of assets should not be linked to energy prices.
Vladimir Putin consolidated with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who earlier expressed sharp criticism of Alexander Lunaksenko and his inability to negotiate. As a consequence of the unified position of the top management of the Russian Federation on the Belarusian issue, Russia will take a tougher position during the negotiations on the price of Belarusian assets with energy prices as an adjunct.
The Belarusian authorities are attempting to strengthen some elements of the ‘Soviet’ education to ensure the ideological loyalty of new generations to the state. Most likely, one of the major tasks of the educational reform is to prevent growing discontent with the existing education system among the population. The educational reform aims to strengthen centralisation and adjust the system to the needs of the public sector.
In Belarus, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection and the Ministry of Economy would determine the university enrolment figures.
The Belarusian authorities do not seem to have a long-term vision of the educational reform. The education system changes depending on who leads the Education Ministry and has access to President Lukashenka. For instance, former head of pro-government communist party and Education Minister Igor Karpenko reintroduced some "Soviet" elements to the school and strengthened ideological components along with the de-politicisation of the curricula. Current generation of students and youth have not spoken against the authorities, unlike previous generations raised during the Gorbachev thaw and socio-political transformations of the 1990s.
In addition, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to adopt measures aiming to prevent discontent among the population with the Belarusian education system. The authorities are mobilizing those nostalgic for the USSR and propose to return to 5-marks grading system, school uniforms and reduced curriculum. The Belarusian leadership also aims to blur the growing social stratification in society and to relax social tension due to the growing income gap between the richest and poorest.
Should the authorities adopt plans to reduce university enrolment, they would re-certify universities in order to close some of them and would reduce competition from private educational institutions. The Belarusian leadership is attempting to adjust the education system to the needs of the real economy, to reduce pressure on the labour market and to cut government spending on higher education for specialists low in demand by replacing them with graduates of secondary vocational schools requiring less time to train.