Sunday

25th Aug 2019

Opinion

Time to save Belarus from Russia, again?

The economic situation in Belarus in the near future will probably force the regime to sell plenty of its most profitable enterprises to Russia.

As a consequence, Belarus will become more dependent on its eastern neighbour – not only politically but also economically.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Lukashenko's foreign policy has for years consisted of playing Russia against the EU and vice versa (Photo: Amnesty International)

In a few years this process may be irreversible due to the current ties between the two countries (the State Union, close military co-operation, a Common Economic Space, and the increasing debt that Belarus has to pay Russia).

Representatives of the Belarusian regime will want to avoid such a scenario because for them Russian hegemony could mean the end of their power.

Paradoxically, if Russia tightens the screws it may contribute to Belarus’ dialogue with the European Union.

Therefore, the next few months are a good time for the EU to undertake negotiations with the regime and demand the release of political prisoners, especially as Belarusians want to be present at November's Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.

Salami-slice strategy

In recent weeks, more and more often we hear that Belarus is ready to sell its most profitable industrial enterprises.

The list is topped by the Navapolatsk Naftan refinery and Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant (MZKT). But there are others in the queue – the Minsk Automobile Plant, Grodno Azoty (a fertilizer factory) and Integral (a plant producing electronic components).

It is also well known that the Russian side is interested in buying Belaruskali (another plant that produces fertilizers) and the Mozyr petrol refinery.

Probably, Naftan will be committed in return for increased oil supplies to Belarus.

Russian companies Surgutneftegaz or Transneft are also interested in buying a recently-upgraded refinery with which they are co-operating, especially since they do not have enough of their own refineries capable of producing fuel corresponding to EU standards.

The sale of the Naftan refinery may be the easiest way to ensure Belarus will have oil supplies at low prices, but the game is also about obtaining another Russian loan.

In March this year Belarus asked for about $2 billion in credit, but its request was rejected by the Russian authorities. The Belarusians did not give up and still promise that this amount will be allocated entirely to the modernisation of its enterprises.

If Russia buys President Alexander Lukashenko's enterprises piecemeal it will mean that Belarus will deepen its dependency on its eastern neighbour.

The sales will mean the Belarusian authorities will continue to operate without plans to improve the economic situation of the country or to develop other sectors of the economy to ensure its normal operation even after the sale of its most profitable businesses.

These actions may also have social consequences. If subsidies for electricity, water and houses worsen, many Belarusians may be unable to sustain their families.

Can the West help?

The question thus arises whether the European Union and other Western countries could or should help Belarus?

The options (not just theoretical) are: another International Monetary Fund loan, this time more strongly fortified by the necessity to carry out specific modernisation reforms, or modernisation support as part of both the EU's Dialogue for Modernisation and its Eastern Partnership policy.

However, the question the EU must ask is, is it worth it?

On the one hand, it may become just another supporter of the regime, which will only prolong its duration.

On the other hand, there is still hope of initiating changes in Belarus, not only economically but also politically.

In the end, the question of how important Belarus is from a strategic point of view for the European Union must be answered.

Does the EU want a sovereign Belarus whose citizens will be able to decide their future, or is it interested in just having a stable and peaceful neighbour and border, no matter who is in power?

If the first, then the EU should develop a plan of action towards Belarus and consistently implement it.

If the second, then it is high time to revise the EU’s eastern policy.

The writer is an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Relations (Pism) in Warsaw

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Belarus tightens grip on political prisoners

As the Nobel peace prize nominee and human rights defender Ales Bialiatski continues to languish away in a penal colony in Belarus, his compatriots in Brussels attempt to secure his freedom and those of 10 other political prisoners.

EU-Belarus trade: hands in the cookie jar

EU-Belarus oil trade has helped Lukashenko to cling on to power with billions in foreign currency. So is Brussels ready to put its money where its mouth is?

Belarus plays cat and mouse with EU

Belarus released a political prisoner Wednesday and another on Thursday. Another 11 remain behind bars as the EU prepares to review sanctions in October.

Letter

Letter from the EESC on per diem article

The European Economic and Social Committee defends the system of "per diem" payment to its members for the work they do, as they recieve no attendance fees or salaries.

News in Brief

  1. Ocean Viking to disembark in Malta after ordeal
  2. Germany joins France in world outcry on Brazil fires
  3. British people lose faith in Brexit deal
  4. Brexit hardliners want further changes to EU deal
  5. German manufacturers confirm fear of recession
  6. Belgian socialists and liberals scrap over EU post
  7. Fall in EU migration leading to UK skills shortages
  8. Switzerland makes post-Brexit flight preparations

Facebook has to answer some tough questions about Libra

German MEP and member of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, Markus Ferber, warns of four separate threats from Facebook's Libra. A good moment to kick off the debate would be this week's G20 summit.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Spain heading for yet another general election
  2. EU to discuss Brazil beef ban over Amazon fires
  3. 'Our house is burning,' Macron says on Amazon fires
  4. What happens when trafficking survivors get home
  5. EU states and Russia clash on truth of WW2 pact
  6. EU considers new rules on facial recognition
  7. EU to pledge Africa security funds at G7 summit
  8. Letter from the EESC on per diem article

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us