Pros and cons of integration with Russia
In 2012 Belarus will receive maximum benefits from the integration with Russia. However, their positive effects will be short lived and by the end of 2012 the negative effects will show.
On 19-20 December Moscow will host a meeting of the Eurasian Higher Economic Council, during the meeting participants will decide on the entry into force of a package of 17 framework agreements which form the legal base of the Common Economic Space (CES) as well as on the staffing policy of the Eurasian Economic Commission. Also various events within the EurAsEC, Customs Union and CSTO will take place.
Major Russian oil producers and Belarusian customers on December 15 signed a protocol on the terms for the supply of crude oil to the Belarusian refineries in the next four years. The document was signed by the heads of Russia’s Gazprom neft, Lukoil, Rosneft, Surgutneftegaz and TNK-BP, and Belnaftakhim and the Mazyr and Navapolatsk refineries. Russian companies in 2012 will supply 21.5 million tons of crude oil to Belarus (3.5 million tons more than in 2011).
The agreement abolishes awards for Russian companies. Instead, Belarus abolished a requirement for oil suppliers to ensure supply for the Belarusian domestic market and agreed to return the processed oil back to Russia (5.8 million tons).
The most important consequence of the Russo-Belarusian agreements on oil supply and refining is that Belarus will refuse the alternative oil supplies. This in turn means that Belarus is missing a chance to plan risks and to ensure its energy security.
Both gas and oil agreements’ terms are clearly defined for 2012 only and in 2013 pricing or other conditions could be amended. In 2013 the negative effects of the agreements could hit Belarus as by then, with the launch of alternative transit routes, Russian transit of energy resources will become less dependent on Belarus.
On December 16, the WTO Ministerial Conference approved the WTO accession of Russia. This, among other things, implies that as of January 1, 2012 Russian tariff policy will have to meet the WTO commitments. Given that the Customs Union import tariffs policy is common for all members, Belarus will be affected by these changes.
In particular, these changes will affect a very sensitive trading position for Belarus as heavy engineering industry. As well, all the deferments Belarus fought for within the Customs Union will become meaningless. Since the main market for Belarusian machinery is Russia, a sharp decrease of import tariffs (eg for trucks),will make it hard for Belarusian manufacturers to stay on Russian markets.
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.