Minsk sends a reciprocal goodwill gesture to the West
Belarusian authorities have used a relatively mild assessment of the parliamentary campaign by the OSCE observers to demonstrate their willingness to continue exchanging reciprocal concessions. But the major political prisoners remain in prison.
On September 26th and 27th political prisoners Sergei Kovalenko and Paul Syromolotov were released.
The release of two political prisoners is definitely a reaction to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission’s assessment of the parliamentary elections. This assessment was less harsh than the previous, and the authorities made a reciprocal good will gesture. Most likely, the new Foreign Minister Vladimir Makey coordinated this initiative - he personally met on September 24th with the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission Mr. Milososki.
Clearly the authorities were waiting for the West’s reaction to the elections, as both Kovalenko and Syromolotov had written pardon requests in June 2012 and as a rule such requests are considered within one month. Both former prisoners were not involved in the most resonant political case, i.e. the mass demonstrations on December 19th, 2010. Major political prisoners, including former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich, remain in prison.
As noted earlier, Minsk is not going to fulfill the conditions set by the West for the release (and rehabilitation) of political prisoners, but the authorities are considering the opportunities for a thaw in relations. The Belarusian authorities are pleased with the positive signal sent through the OSCE observation mission and they are prepared to respond, but they will continue fulfilling the conditions only in return for further concessions.
Most likely, the authorities’ next move will be an attempt to resume negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, in particular, against the backdrop of the deteriorating financial situation in the country. Previously the National Bank Chairman Mrs. Ermakova talked about it. Further releases of political prisoners will imply that the authorities have received a positive signal in terms of cooperation with the IMF.
According to Decree No. 221 of June 23rd, 2017, deadlines for the completion of foreign trade operations have been extended from 90 to 180 days for exports and from 60 to 90 days for imports. Delayed payments entailed a fine up to 2% of the transaction cost for each day of the delay, but could not exceed the total cost of the transaction. Most companies, when working with new counterparties, require a deferred payment for a period of three to six months. Due to the new regulation, violations are likely to reduce in number, so as the fines. Trade enterprises are likely to expand the assortment list due to the supply of new products in small lots, and the assortment list of exported Belarusian goods could expand, too. The new terms for completing foreign trade transactions would enable medium and small companies on the foreign trade market, exporters and importers are likely to grow in number and the geography of export-import operations could expand.