Minsk expects new loans from Belarus-Russia Union State
The Belarusian authorities count on Russia’s financial assistance within the Belarus-Russia Union State, which will cover the costs of servicing the public debt and maintaining economic stability during the presidential campaign in Belarus. In addition, the Belarusian authorities will attempt to negotiate special conditions for unrestrained access of Belarusian goods to the Russian market and to obtain the Kremlin’s guarantees to refrain from trade wars in 2015.
On March 2nd-3rd, President Lukashenko will visit Russia to participate in a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State. According to the presidential press service, the Supreme State Council was scheduled to consider the key issues of the Union State’s operations. President Lukashenko underscored that important issues of political and economic cooperation would be discussed.
Yet back in late January 2015, Presidents of Russia and Belarus have agreed over the telephone to hold the meeting. In particular, they “agreed on joint actions to overcome the economic problems”. In early February at a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Belarusian Prime Minister Kobyakov said, that the Belarusian government was developing a bilateral Russo-Belarusian anti-crisis programme. President Lukashenko promised to present the programme at the Supreme State Council’s meeting in March. The programme envisages, inter alia, restoration of the Belarusian exports to Russia.
It is worth noting, that in 2014 Belarus’ export to Russia dropped by USD 1.5 billion. Belarusian stocks were overloaded and some large state enterprises suspended operations, due to the cutbacks in exports to the Russian market. As a result, unemployment has mounted, working hours have been reduced for 146 100 workers and 89 800 workers have been offered unpaid leave. In early 2015, exports to Russia continued to reduce – in January 2015 they were 60% of those in January 2014.
The independent media reported that in early February 2015 Belarus requested a USD 2.5 billion loan from the Russian government, officially, however, these reports have not been confirmed. Meanwhile, President Lukahsenko remained confident of the Kremlin’s support: “If we suffer, Russia will lend her shoulder to us”. Russian Finance Minister Siluanov confirmed Russia’s readiness to provide financial support for Belarus. In 2015 Belarus is due USD 4 billion to repay and service her public debt, while her foreign exchange reserves totalled USD 4.7 billion in January 2015.
In addition, official Minsk is worried about yet another spiral of Russo-Belarusian trade wars amid growing recession in Russia and measures she has introduced to protect domestic market and domestic producers. The joint Russo-Belarusian anti-crisis programme should provide guarantees of free access to the Russian market for Belarusian products.
Meanwhile, experts believe, that ‘petrol’ war between Russia and Belarus is highly likely. It does not pay Belarusian refineries to export petrol to Russia due to the Russian rouble devaluation and low oil prices. However, Belarus has committed to supply 1.8 million tons of petrol to the Russian market in 2015 in exchange for 23 million tons of Russian oil and 1.5 billion worth of oil export duties. If Belarus reduces petrol supplies to Russia, the latter might review her commitments.
Official Minsk is confident that the Kremlin will provide financial and other support in order to maintain social and economic stability in Belarus in the election year. However, the Belarusian authorities are unlikely to make any significant concessions to the Kremlin regarding political and economic issues, including the privatization of state assets.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.