The Belarusian government’s crackdown on peaceful protests in early spring failed to markedly affect its contacts with the West.
In June-July, the intensity of Belarus’s diplomatic dialogue with Europe was probably at its highest point in the last several years. However, Western leaders are still in no hurry to negotiate directly with President Lukashenka.
The authorities took advantage of the high-level meetings of the CEI and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Minsk to promote their vision of Belarus as a responsible international player and regional mediator. It remains to be seen whether this strategy will discourage the West from focusing on issues of democracy.
Alexievich’s third try, think tanks' life, the Central European Initiative - digest of Belarusian analytics
CET releases analysis of the sector of Belarusian human rights organisations. Arseni Sivitsky dissects reasons for Belarus’ heavy rearmament with Russian help. Grigory Ioffe analyzes Svetlana Aleksievich’s public speaking. Economist Irina Tochitskaya: Belarus falls in a slow growth trap. Belarus in Focus: Minsk steps back to international and public pressure over the White Legion case.
Natalia Ryabova sums up key trends for Belarusian independent think tanks. Liberal Club presents a study on how to stimulate the development of philanthropy and CSR in Belarus. Economist Dmitri Kruk believes that Belarus is ten years behind without reforms.
Every year on 3 July in Minsk, Belarus traditionally conducts a military parade devoted to the official Independence Day. This year, however, the military parade triggered widespread discussions in the media.
Just before the most recent parade, more than 9,000 Belarusians signed a petition against military parades in the capital. However, many Belarusians still view the tradition in a positive light.
These massive military parades are inconvenient for citizens and require serious financial expenditures. Instead of putting on a costly show, Belarus could invest the money in the development of its army or infrastructure.
Belarus's neighbours regularly voice their concerns about Minsk's role in a potential Russian invasion of the Baltic states or Ukraine. However, on 15 June, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka insisted that although Belarusian and Russian troops were operating in the region 'as one,' they had no aggressive intentions.
Just a cursory glance at the Belarusian army raises doubts about its ability to engage in any large offensive operations. To make up for its diminishing national army capacities, the Belarusian government went as far as to bring the emergency ministry's aviation to the 3 July Independence Day parade, along with equipment from the DOSAAF, a paramilitary sport association. In addition, the government invited a large number of Russian military aircraft and helicopters to airshows in Minsk and Mashulishchy, a town nearby.
On 19 June, the Russian information agency Regnum published a widely discussed interview with Sviatlana Alieksijevič, the 2015 Nobel Prize Winner from Belarus. Despite the fact that Alieksijevič forbade Regnum to publish the interview, the news outlet went ahead and released the article.
In a conversation with journalist Sergei Gurkin, Alieksijevič touched upon the issues of Russification in Belarus, the war in Ukraine, and the status of the Belarusian and Ukrainian languages. The interview led to widespread discussion of Alieksijevič in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine.
Anti-corruption party, ECLAB enrolment, White Legion released, Social Business Forum - Belarus civil society digest
SYMPA/BIPART invite to an anti-corruption party. ECLAB opens student enrolment for the 2017-2018 academic year. First Social Business Forum takes place in Belarus.
Civil Society Parallel Forum is held in Minsk ahead of the 26 annual OSCE PA session. Human rights defender becomes member of the government’s penitentiary system monitoring commission.
New gender project helps Belarusian women tell their stories. All defendants in the White Legion case are released. Ministry of Economy agrees with Perspektyva’s proposals.
This and more in the new edition of the Belarus civil society digest.
On 20 June, during the 2017 Le Bourget international air show which took place near Paris, France, Belarus signed a contract for a batch of 12 Su-30SM fighters from Russia. The contract supposedly amounts to around $600m.
The Su-30SM is a modernised version of the Su-30MKI model of fighter aircraft, which was specially designed for the Russian Air Force and is the most modern in the Su-30 series. Russia also sold six Su-30SMs to the Kazakh Air Force.
The fighter is able to use modern high-precision air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. The Su-30SM can not only hit air and surface targets with its own missile weapons, but also direct fighters and bombers with a smaller target detection range.
Belarus's international presence, official ideology, Eurobonds, and Geely cars – Belarus state press digest
Belarus hopes to expand its international presence when it presides over the Central European Initiative and hosts the summer session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly this summer.
In an Independence Day speech on 3 July, Lukashenka alluded to prominent cultural figures and mediaeval Belarusian polities as important elements of Belarusian statehood. This marks a shift from the usual Soviet-inspired nation-building discourse.
The government is issuing Eurobonds for $1bn and plans to launch assembling production of Chinese Geely cars in the second half of 2017.
This and more in the new edition of Belarus state press digest.
On 20 June, Belarus signed a contract with the Russian Irkut corporation to purchase 12 Su-30SM fighter jets for $600m. This would be the largest ever arms deal between Minsk and Moscow. Earlier in June, Minsk also received its first batch of T-72 tanks, which were modernised in Russia.
At first glance, Russia seems to be arming Minsk. This fits with conjectures that the Kremlin is becoming increasingly hawkish and Minsk and Moscow are colluding to put their regional and Western opponents under pressure.
However, a more scrupulous analysis of such arms deals, as well as the armaments the Belarusian army possesses, paints a different picture. Moscow refuses to bolster the steadily declining Belarusian military's capacity to conduct offensive operations, including joint large-scale operations with Russia.
On 1 June 2017, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka announced that the oil refining industry was experiencing substantial problems.
Meanwhile, the economy is still showing signs of recovery, growing three months in a row. This will encourage the government to make even better economic projections for next year.
However, according to Belstat, Belarus's official statistical body, the real price of this economic miracle continues to come at the cost of simple people – every month, half of all Belarusians bring home less than half the average monthly wage.
Kupallie (Midsummer) is an ancient pagan festival which marks the summer solstice – the longest day and shortest night. This holiday is one of the four most important in the pagan calendar.
When the Slavs were converted to Christianity, the Church designated the day as the feast of John the Baptist in order to destroy the holiday’s pagan roots. However, nearly 1,000 years of pressure from the Church were not able to completely wipe out the celebration's pagan connotations.
When Belarus switched to the Gregorian calendar, the Church began to celebrate the holiday on 6 July, which distorted the holy day’s compliance with astronomical phenomena.
This June the Ostrogorski Centre launched the Ostrogorski Academy – a nonprofit educational project dedicated to disseminating knowledge of the humanities. The academy is the first Belarusian entirely online 'university’, based on a series of lectures, tests, podcasts on important and engaging topics.
Ostrogorski Centre analysts discussed how Belarus's neighbours doubt its sovereignty, brain drain, and religiosity in the country.
The Centre also held in Minsk the Ostrogorski Forum 2017, which focused on foreign policy, security, and identity.
According to recent QS World University Rankings, two Belarusian universities appeared on the list of the best 959 universities in the world. The Belarusian State University received a higher rating than all universities in Poland and Lithuania.
Nevertheless, despite the high position of two Belarusian universities, higher education in the country still faces serious issues, including restriction of academic freedom, dependence on the state, and plagiarism. According to QS, Belarusian universities score highly in student teacher ratio. However, this criteria appears unimportant when deeper flaws in Belarusian higher education are taken into account.
Belarus-Russia-EU triangle, Belarusian Yearbook 2016, Population 50+, corruption survey - digest of Belarusian analytics
Eugene Rumor, Carnegie Endowment, argues that post-2014 Belarus is a less reliable satellite for Russia and the West should calibrate its policy accordingly. Grigory Ioffe breaks down recent harsh statements by Dalia Grybauskaitė and Svetlana Aleksievich.
OSW: energy dispute between Minsk and Moscow is not completely resolved. Yauheni Preiherman believes that Belarus’ foreign policy cannot be grasped by the classic bandwagoning-balancing dichotomy.
IPM fresh survey: one third of Belarusian private businesses consider corruption widespread. CET presents an analytical overview that summarises data of sociological and sectoral studies of 2014-2017 related to the Belarusian CSOs.
On 7 June 2017, the Microsoft Corporation held a Government Industry Day at Belarus’s Hi-Tech Park with the participation of both Belarusian ministers and Microsoft experts. The seminar addressed issues surrounding the digital transformation of the economy and aimed to present technologies that could work for the finance, transport, health, education, and other economic sectors to the Belarusian authorities.
IT has become the fastest-growing sector in the Belarusian economy, increasing by over 20% annually. However, the nature of the industry in Belarus, which focuses on outsourcing, primarily targets foreign customers. This is partially due to the reluctance of the Belarusian state to embrace tech achievements at home.
Numbeo, the world's largest database of user-confirmed data about cities and countries worldwide, ranked Belarus the safest country in the region in 2017. Other global metrics also indicate that Belarus is a relatively safe part of the world.
Domestic trends demonstrate that all kinds of crime have decreased over the past decade, with the exception of drug crime. However, political repression tarnishes the generally positive picture, as world media and local journalists report on these cases extensively.
The authorities should stop targeting the regime's opponents if they want to further develop relations with the civilised world and strengthen the rule of law at home.
Greenmap Belarus wins a UN competition. 3rd Urban Picnic in Mahilioŭ gathers over 6,000 citizens. A new initiative makes Minsk as green as possible.
EESC organises 10th annual United Students of Belarus Rally. BEROC opens enrolment to the 7th Student School in Economics.
KGB drops criminal charges in the preparation for mass riots case against Young Front activists. UN Special Rapporteur presents a new report on Belarus.
Despite all of Minsk's efforts to present itself as a neutral country, some of its neighbours doubt not only its neutrality but even its sovereignty and commitment to peace. On 5 June, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaitė described Belarus as a threat to the region; meanwhile, her foreign minister repeatedly alludes to the 'remnants of Belarusian sovereignty.'
Speaking on 19 June at the Ostrogorski Forum, Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus Ihor Kizima criticised Minsk for refusing to allow foreign observers to monitor a Belarus-Russian-Serbian military exercise in Belarus near the Ukrainian border earlier this month. Kyiv put its army on higher alert because of the exercise.
Live: Ostrogorski Forum 2017. Belarus in the new environment: challenges to foreign policy, security, and identity after 2014
On 19 June 2017 the Ostrogorski Centre is holding a conference on the challenges to the Belarusian political and economic model in the new international environment, possible ways to prevent further deterioration and find solutions to major problems. The issue will be considered in the three aspects: foreign policy, security and identity.
Many in Belarus took the recent discovery of new oil fields in the country as a joke: president Alexander Lukashenka had demanded earlier that the government start searching for its own black gold. According to experts, however, these deposits were already known.
It was only the complexity of extraction that had prevented the mining of these deposits before. However, officials now claim that Belarusian oil costs five times less than Russian oil, and extraction will be profitable even with world oil prices at $20 per barrel.