Gazeta Wyborcza: Lukashenka tells fairy tales to West
13:26, — Politics
The Belarusian ruler deceives the EU while the economic situation in the country remains poor.
Lukashenka is being haunted by a ghost of unrests, similar to the Ukrainian ones. “If you want to live, for example, like the West, we'll give you these conditions. If you want to live like Maidan, it's not for Belarus. We won't allow a Maidan in our country,” he sad last week at a meeting to discuss the rules of merchandise sales by sole traders. Earlier in late January, Lukashenka said the events in Ukraine were a “nightmare and catastrophe” and looked for a Polish trace in Ukrainian protests, Gazeta Wyborcza writes.
The problem is that Lukashenka will scarcely give Belarusians living conditions like in the West. Belarus's economic situation is not better than in Ukraine. The economic growth in 2013 was only 0.9% in comparison with 1.7% in 2012. The results may get even worse this year. Belarus's GDP fell 1.4% and the industrial output declined 7.1% in January year-on-year.
The foreign trades results are even more disappointing. The trade deficit in 2013 was 5.8 billion dollars, which is 17 times worse than in 2012. It means Minsk's reserves of hard currency to pay the growing external debts are melting.
“We have to pay 2.6 billion dollars of the state's external debts in 2014. We'd like to get the same amount of foreign loans,” Belarusian deputy PM Piotr Prokopovich said last week.
Representatives of Minsk held talks on a new loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the sidelines of the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius in late November last year. The Fund gave Belarus $3.6bn of a saving loan on favourable terms five years ago. But Lukashenka brutally dispersed a rally of his opponents after the 2010 presidential elections, and Belarus's relations with the West deteriorated. So, nobody speaks about new IMF loans so far.
In this situation Minsk can seek help only from Moscow. Russia gave Belarus a new $2bn loan at the end of last year, but even Moscow has doubts about Minsk's financial capabilities.
Belarus tries to find money for paying debts from privatisation. The Belarusian authorities said on Monday they wanted to sell shares of 88 companies. State's stakes of 38 strategic companies, including a 51% stake in MTS mobile operator and a 42% stake in the Mozyr oil refinery, the most advanced in the ex-USSR, will be offered for sale. The problem is that Russians want to get the “pearls of Belarus's economy” for a song. Minsk set a price of $1bn for a stake in MTS, but the company's Russian partner offered only $450m. So, it's likely that Minsk won't receive the money it needs to pay the debts.
Belarus may again ask for “fraternal help”, for example, Russia's refusal to collect duties from Belarus on selling products of Russian oil, the sum of about $3bn a year. After the crisis in Ukraine, Lukashenka can hope it will be easier for him to receive the aid as “Russia's faithful ally”. When the Ukrainian government chose not to sign the association agreement with the EU and decided to get closer to Russia, Lukashenka didn't hide his fears that Minsk may be replaced by Kyiv as Moscow's favourite.