Belarus Watch Briefing. Issue #17

December 17, 2021
Read a new issue of a bi-weekly newsletter with monitoring of Russian activities and influence in Belarus to know more.
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RECENT POLICY DEVELOPMENTS

Maria Zakharova comments on the migrant situation on the Belarus-EU border

On December 9, 2021, Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman of the Russian Ministry of International Affairs,commented on the ECHR decision on the migrant crisis on the Poland-Belarus border, published on December 6 on the European Court of Human Rights website. The Court concluded that there had been a violation of the human rights norm from Poland and had forbidden to deport back to Belarus those migrants who had entered the territory of Poland. Based on this decision, Maria Zakharova has blamed Poland for the humanitarian crisis and double standards.

At the same time, for over a month the media has widely discussed evidence that shows that the Belarusian regime, with the support of Russia, has intentionally incited the crisis on the Belarus-EU border in retaliation to the sanctions and to advance political objectives.

At the end of 2021, Belarus actively straightens cooperation with the Russian regions

In Minsk and Mogilev, official representatives of Belarus and the Altai Krai Region in Russia agreed on December 8, 2021, on plans for cooperation until 2023 in trade, transport engineering, agriculture and tourism. On the same day, the online meeting of the working group on cooperation between Belarus and Rostov Region was held. Another similar meeting took place in Minsk on December 7 between Belarus and Bashkortostan Republic business representatives, who discussed mutual trade cooperation.

ACADEMIC COOPERATION

Belarusian universities broaden cooperation with Russian universities

Belarusian and Altai Krai Russian region officials signed an agreement of cooperation between Belarusian State Agricultural Academy and Altai State Agricultural University on December 8 in Mogilev.

Also at the beginning of December, the official delegation of Belarusian State University (BSU) visited Russia and signed several cooperation agreements with Russian universities, in particular with the Russian Technological University (RTU MIREA), which is considered to be one of the leaders in the field of training of highly qualified specialists in information technology. The agreement underscored closer cooperation in academic exchange, joint research projects, events and scientific publications. RTU MIREA collaborates with Russian businesses and enterprises with the purpose of graduates' employment. This opportunity will probably now be open for BSU graduates as well.

Currently, Russian universities are the main cooperation partner for BSU, the main university in Belarus. Out of 572 ongoing agreements with universities from 59 countries, 140 treaties are with Russian universities,the BSU official site says.

ECONOMY AND ENERGY

Belarus plans to refinance part of its public debt from Russia in 2022,stated Yuri Seliverstov, Minister of Finances of Belarus, on December 10. 'We are planning to work with our colleagues from Russia to refinance some of the public debt of Belarus. We're working with the Eurasian Fund for Stabilization and Development", Yuri Seliverstov said. According to Seliverstov, the available Belarusian foreign currency balance may be used for redemption of the state debt if necessary. He said that Belarus would have to make public debt payments that will amount to about 10 billion Belarusian rubles — currently the equivalent of $4 billion — in 2022. Seliverstov stated that the payments will increase by about 2 billion Belarusian rubles compared to the current year, when they were about $0.8 billion.

After talks with Alexander Lukashenko, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated in September that he will provide Belarus with a $630-640 million credit sometime during the period of September 2021 — end of 2022. In late November, the Ministry of Finance of Belarusreported that Belarus' foreign debt had increased by 5.8% ($1 billion) since the beginning of 2021. Domestic public debt has risen by 16.2% ($1.4 billion) since the beginning of the year and now amounts to to $10.2 billion. In September the international rating agency S&P changed its outlook on the credit rating of Belarus from "stable" to "negative".

Finance

All Belarusian banks are alreadyconnected to the Russian financial messaging system (Financial Messaging Transfer System SPFS). This statement was made by Denis Baryshkov, Head of Division for Development and regulation of the National Payment System, of the Russia Central Bank.

"Within the framework of the Union State, joint steps are being discussed to migrate to the ISO 20022 standard and to make the transition to a single channel for information exchange of financial information when making settlements on mutual correspondent accounts. And today all Belarusian banks are connected to the financial messaging system"— claims a representative of the Russian Central Bank as quoted by TASS.

In total, 38 foreign bans from nine countries are connected to the SPFS. Denis Baryshkov also added that making cards of the internal Russian payment system "Mir" accepted in Belarus, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan is already done today. Work is underway in this direction with Kazakhstan.

Integration of the Belarusian and Russian systems for transferring financial information is provided for by one of the 28 union programs for deep integration. Last year, the National Bank of Belarus, commenting on the possibility of disconnecting our country from SWIFT, noted that the integration of the Belarusian and Russian SPFI and SPFS systems would allow payments between the two countries without using SWIFT. At that time, six Belarusian banks were connected to the integrated entry point, and work was underway with ten more.

Energy

There have been no oil exports from Belarus to Germany since early December 2021, according to Russian statistics

According to statistical data, the export schedule for oil supplies to non-CIS countries via the Druzhba pipeline provided for delivery of 151,000 tons of Belarusian oil to Germany in December. As of December 7, nothing was supplied, according to the statistical data. The supply plan for the IV quarter provided for the export of 450,000 tons of crude oil from Belarus to Germany. The actual volume of supply amounted to 289,000 tons, or 87% of those scheduled.

HEALTHCARE

The production of the Sputnik V vaccine will be fully localized in Belarus in 2022. Negotiations are also underway with manufacturers of other Russian vaccines to organize their production at Belarusian companies, Belarusian Minister of Health Dmitry Pinevichstated to journalists on December 13 in Moscow during a meeting of the joint board of the Ministries of Health of Belarus and Russia.

"We are bottling the Sputnik V vaccine with Russian companies, and we will localize Sputnik V in its entirety next year," Dmitry Pinevich stated. "We conducted a number of negotiations with developers of other vaccines who would be willing to localize or jointly develop certain vaccine products". He specified that he was referring to Russian vaccines.

Additionally, the issue of mutual recognition of vaccination certificates with Belarus is already at a technical stage, Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashkostated.

According to the Federal Customs Service of the Russian Federation, Belaruspaid $42.1 million dollars for vaccines for 10 months of 2021.

PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION

System of payments for "Public inspectors"

The regulation on the procedure for the payment of monetary remuneration to "public inspectors" entered into force on December 15, 2021. According to the document, "public inspectors" who provide active assistance to the State Control Committee and its territorial bodies can be encouraged by paying them a monetary reward. The payments will be made based on the results of the work of the State Control Committee bodies for the calendar year in an amount of up to 20 basic units (currently, around 200 euros - ed.). "For special merits, performance of tasks of special importance and complexity", an additional payment of up to 10 basic units (currently, around 100 euros - ed.) can be made.

As a reminder, on September 10, Lukashenka signed the decree "On public inspectors" which established in the country a system of public inspectors.

Any citizen of the Republic of Belarus over 25 years of age with higher, tertiary or vocational education, capable due to their personal, moral and business qualities of performing the tasks and functions imposed on the State Control Committee bodies can become a "public inspector".

The inspectors are expected to assist the regulatory authorities on a voluntary basis during their spare time and studies. Public inspectors, among other things, are expected to assist the State Control Committee in the prevention or suppression of offences, and will also be obliged to inform the SCC about offenses known to them, including the ones that are being prepared. We can say that we are witnessing some kind of reincarnation of Soviet "people's control", which in 2021 looks strange to say the least.

New head of Belarus' Central Election Commission

On December 13, Alyaksandr Lukashenka appointed Ihar Karpenka, former Education Minister, as Chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of the Republic of Belarus.

Karpenka, who is also the leader of the pro-Lukashenka Communist Party of Belarus,  replaced Lidzia Yarmoshyna, 68, who ran the CEC for 25 years and who has been accused by the Belarusian opposition of being behind many cases of election fraud. The appointment took place ahead of an expected referendum on constitutional amendments.

MILITARY AND LAW-ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

Delivery of the new Russia-made armoured personnel carriers to the Belarusian Army

On December 9, the 6^th^ Mechanised Brigade of the Belarusian Army (stationed in Grodno) received a number of new RussianBTR-82A armoured personnel carriers together with the command carriers BTR-80K and armoured medical machines BMM. These new BTRs are supposed to replace outdated Soviet-made BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles. The firstdelivery of the new Russian BTR-82A vehicles to the Belarusian Army was realized in September 2021 — the BTRs were delivered to the 120^th^ Brigade stationed in Minsk.

Before 2020, Russian authorities were hesitant to provide Lukashenka with new Russia-made weapons because of regular political conflicts between the two countries. However, after the August 2020 Presidential elections in Belarus, the Russian leadership began to respond to the appeals of Lukashenka to modernize the Belarusian Army with the new Russian military equipment.

Meeting of the Military Cooperation Committee of the CSTO countries

On December 8, the Heads of the General Staff of the CSTO member states, including Belarus and Russia, took part in the onlinemeeting of the Military Cooperation Committee. The main topic of the meeting was the discussion about the current military threats for the CSTO in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. The Generals discussed the development of the CSTO Collective Aviation Forces, coordination of the air-defence troops and improvement of military infrastructure in Tajikistan.

Belarus Watch Team

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