News / Europe

    Belarus Goes Bankrupt Without Any Savior in Sight

    Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks at Victory Square in Minsk to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the World War II victory over Nazi Germany, May 9, 2011
    Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks at Victory Square in Minsk to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the World War II victory over Nazi Germany, May 9, 2011
    James Brooke

    Belarus is emerging as the Greece of the Slavic world. Flirting with bankruptcy, Belarus has seen the value of its ruble plummet - from 3,000 to the dollar a few weeks ago to 6,500 today.

    But in a big difference with Greece, no one - not the West, not Russia, not the International Monetary Fund - is running to help. Neighboring leaders cite the eccentric and often harsh leadership of the country's president of 17 years, Alexander Lukashenko.

    In a typical move, Lukashenko told his Cabinet on Tuesday that Russia is preparing to loan Belarus $6 billion.

    Within one hour, Russia’s Interfax news agency ran a story citing Kremlin sources saying that Russia is not going to loan any money to Belarus. In reality, these sources say, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit Minsk on Thursday and offer to pay $1 billion to win total control of Belarus’ gas pipeline system.

    Jana Kobzova is Belarus analyst for the European Council on Foreign Relations. On a visit to Moscow this week, she finds Russians highly wary of Belarus.

    “Everybody is fed up with Belarus," said Kobzova. "They just think they have been sucking up resources far too long.”

    Putin estimates that Russia has been subsidizing Belarus to the tune of $5 billion a year. Last year, that was 10 percent of the gross domestic product [GDP] of this Central European nation of 9 million people.

    By turning off subsidies this year, Moscow is pushing Minsk into the kind of traumatic shift from a state economy that Russia went through after the collapse of communism.  

    Anton Struchenevsky, economist for Russian investment house Troika Dialog, sees clear similarities.

    "What is happening currently in Belarus is very close to the process which was observed in Russia before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991," said Struchenevsky. "The economy is at the beginning of very dramatic changes.”

    Imported goods are disappearing from store shelves. Shortages of imported parts are stopping assembly lines, forcing factories to lay off hundreds of thousands of workers. And thousands of Belarussians stand in lines outside exchange kiosks trying to unload their local rubles before they become even more worthless.

    Struchenevsky calculates that, in nominal terms, Belarus incomes are going to drop by half this year, hitting $3,000 a year - the level of Ukraine.

    “GDP in nominal terms should shrink by two times,” he said.

    With the economy collapsing, the rating agency Standard and Poors last week placed Belarus on the same level of creditworthiness as Greece.

    In a big difference, though, European Union finance ministers recently agreed to a $147-billion bailout for Greece, a democracy with a population only slightly larger than Belarus.

    But Lukashenko can expect little from the West. He is one of the few leaders in the world today to openly mock democracy.

    In recent days, Belarus prosecutors have put on trial five former presidential candidates. On Saturday, a Minsk judge imposed a five-year sentence on Andrei Sannikov, the leading opposition candidate in last December’s presidential elections. A sixth candidate escaped to the Czech Republic, where he charged that he was tortured in jail in Minsk.

    So far 30 dissidents have been tried and convicted this year, with 22 receiving jail terms. Last week, the United States blasted the trials, calling for the release of all political prisoners.

    EU foreign ministers also have condemned the trials.

    Symptomatic of the hardening of attitudes is the reaction of Guido Westerwelle, foreign minister of Germany. Last fall, Westerwelle met with Lukashenko in Minsk and offered billions of dollars in financial aid, if Belarus held free and fair elections.

    On Monday, the German foreign minister condemned the trial and conviction of Sannikov, saying, "In this trial, justice has not been served.  It is the political will of Lukashenko that was executed."

    He demanded the freedom of all of Belarus’ political prisoners.

    Next week, EU foreign ministers are to meet to debate tightening sanctions against leaders of the repression in Belarus.

    Even without sanctions, the markets already are isolating Belarus.

    On Monday, Jan Kulczyk, a Polish billionaire, suspended a plan to build a $2-billion coal-fired power plant in Belarus. He said he could not do the project without bank financing, but no bank would offer money for a major project in Belarus today.

    You May Like

    US Lawmakers Vow to Continue Immigrant Program for Afghan Interpreters

    Congressional inaction threatens funding for effort which began in 2008 and has allowed more than 20,000 interpreters, their family members to immigrate to US

    Brexit's Impact on Russia Stirs Concern

    Some analysts see Brexit aiding Putin's plans to destabilize European politics; others note that an economically unstable Europe is not in Moscow's interests

    US to Train Cambodian Government on Combating Cybercrime

    Concerns raised over drafting of law, as critics fear cybercrime regulations could be used to restrict freedom of expression and stifle political dissent

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roari
    X
    June 28, 2016 10:33 AM
    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora