Belarus was cut off from a single Eurasian gas market but won American oil. The election campaign started with detentions, arrests, and fines.
Society Does Not Approve of Street Parade, Authorities Do Not Approve of Protests
Despite World Health Organization’s warnings, a military parade was held in Minsk on May 9. 3,000 military men and 185 units of equipment took part in it, with more than 15,000 spectators, including veterans and the country’s top leaders headed by Alexander Lukashenko. They ignored social distance requirements, and almost no one had masks and gloves on. This is despite the fact that according to a SATIO study, banning all public events is the most popular measure supported by 74% of Belarusians.
As of May 10, in terms of the number of new coronavirus infections per capita Belarus had the top position in Europe.
On May 8, at an ad-hoc meeting of the parliament, it was announced that the date of the presidential elections is set for August 9. Amidst the epidemic, the Belarusian society showed an unprecedented degree of politicization: a record 55 applications were submitted for initiative groups registration (with only 15 registered). For the first time ever, some new people with wide business experience are taking part in the campaign, among them are the former head of Belgazprombank Viktor Babariko, and the former head of the High-Tech Park Valery Tsepkalo.
The authorities started the campaign rather toughly: they detained a popular video blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky to prevent him from applying for registration of the initiative group, and suppressed street protests of his supporters in several cities. 120 people were detained, 50 of them got various terms of administrative arrests (479 days in total), and 20 were fined (for $6,500 in total). However, Tikhanovsky’s wife managed to register the initiative group, thanks to which the released video blogger is holding legal mass pickets with thousands of participants across the country.
“The authorities started the campaign rather toughly: they detained a popular video blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky to prevent him from applying for registration of the initiative group, and suppressed street protests of his supporters in several cities”
The First Batch of American Oil for Belarus
The private business is unhappy with the package of anti-crisis measures that the authorities introduced in the time of the epidemic. The main budget support came to the state-owned companies, while the private sector must be grateful for some rent reduction and recommendations for lowering local tax rates. However, the head of the National Bank promises to provide unprofitable enterprises with loans under the government’s guarantee.
Belarus proceeds with the negotiations on $3 billion foreign loans with almost all international financial institutions: the IMF, the World Bank, EBRD, EIB, AIIB, as well as with China. No results have been reported yet.
The U. S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the shipment of the first batch of American oil (80 thousand tons) for Belarus. According to Pompeo, this deal “strengthens Belarusian sovereignty and independence, demonstrates that the United States is ready to deliver trade opportunities for American companies interested in entering the Belarusian market.”
EU – without Expensive Visas, EAEU – without a Single Gas Market
On May 13, the European Parliament approved agreements between the European Union and Belarus on visa facilitation and readmission. Now that the borders are open, the Belarusians will be able to get Schengen visas for €35 instead of €80. For many years, Belarus has been taking the first place in the world in the number of issued Schengen visas per capita.
At the same time to get €60 million from the EU for the fight against the coronavirus, Belarus has to follow WHO recommendations first.
On May 19, the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council had a video conference meeting, at which they preliminarily approved the EAEU Development Strategy until 2025. However, the single gas market was excluded from the plans; according to Vladimir Putin, this requires a “unified budget, and unified tax system”.
Since such a deep level of integration is unacceptable for Belarus, in essence, this means that Belarus should not expect to win a single gas market entry permission from the EAEU, as it was with the common electric energy market, with its launch announced for 2019 and then canceled.
Protests in Minsk after the arrest of blogger Tikhanovsky.
Photo credits: Franak Vyachorka