Introduction of Russian ruble: authorities test reactions of society and power elite

April 22, 2016 18:05

On February 29 and March 2 Chairperson of the Council of the Republic of the House of Representatives Mr. Rubinov, published an article in a newspaper “SB-Belarus Segodnia”, calling for the introduction of the single currency (Russian ruble) in the Union State of Belarus and Russia.

The fact that the issue of introduction of the Russian ruble, raised by Mr. Rubinov coincided with the exacerbation of the political relations between Minsk and Brussels allows us to regard these events as linked to one another and as a continuation of the anti-European campaign by the state media. It is likely that such campaign is aimed to provoke the EU to impose economic sanctions against Belarusian enterprises.

In case of the introduction of economic sanctions against the Belarusian authorities, the latter will receive an additional argument about the origin of the economic problems in the country, simultaneously, positions of the pro-Western elite in the presidential administration will become weaker (i.e. the group centered around the Head of the Administration Mr. Makey, who was the chief architect of the Belarus-EU dialogue in 2008-2010.).

Therefore, the statement of Mr. Rubinov on the key issue for economic development could be perceived as an attempt to pre-empt further development of the Belarusian-Russian integration, while integration with Europe is at a deadlock. Mr. Rubinov draws a direct link between the imposition of economic sanctions and the weakening of the Belarusian ruble, rising import prices and inflation.

As an insurance policy against the economic crisis in Belarus in the future, Mr. Rubinov suggests to introduce the Russian ruble, firstly, within the Union State of Belarus and Russia. He believes this will solve the problem of dangerous fluctuations of the national currency.

The statement of a 72-year-old Academic Rubinov should be reckoned primarily as his personal point of view, and partly as the position of the former team of the Presidential Administration (Mr. Rubinov headed the PA before 2008, when his First Deputy Vladimir Makey took over).

It should not be disregarded that Mr. Rubinov and some of his former colleagues could seek for revenge to the team of Mr. Makey, whose position today is very weak.

However, the age and the reputation of Mr. Rubinov as “a man who sticks to his word” implies that the statement was not a direct broadcast of the views of the top leadership concerning the Russian ruble. For instance, in August 2011 Mr. Rubinov spoke up in favor of the transformation of the “Belaya Rus” quango into a political party, but a few months later he easily took his words back and said he saw no grounds for serious reform of the political system of Belarus.

Most likely, the purpose of this publication was to probe the views and opinions of the elite and the population on this issue. For instance, the article of Mr. Rubinov published on the online version of the newspaper “SB” has already gathered a number of negative comments about the introduction of the common currency.

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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.