Introduction of Russian ruble: authorities test reactions of society and power elite
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.
Last week, Belarusian Foreign Minister Makei participated in the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Eastern Partnership and Visegrad Group initiative hosted by Warsaw. The Belarusian FM emphasized Belarus' interest in cooperation in the transport sector, which could be due to Belarus’ desire to export electricity surplus after Belarus finished construction of the nuclear power plant in Ostrovets. Minsk expressed concerns about Warsaw’s stance on the Belarusian NPP, as it refused to buy electricity from Belarus and supported Vilnius’ protest on this issue. Following accusations by the Belarusian leadership and the state media against western states, including Poland, of training "nationalist militants", Minsk did not agree on the visit of the European Parliament deputies from Lithuania and Germany to Belarus and to the NPP construction site near Ostrovets in particular. In addition, the Belarusian authorities have stepped up efforts to enforce education in Russian in Polish-language schools in Grodno and Vaukavysk. Should a rift in Belarusian-Polish relations persist, the Belarusian authorities are likely to step up the pressure on the Polish-speaking minority in Belarus.