Belarus

In a dreadful week for the rouble, Alexander Lukashenka, the president of Belarus, has gone out of his way to make matters worse, threatening to suspend the use of the Russian currency in bilateral trading deals.

“If they are buying our products in Russia they can pay in dollars,” Lukashenka told a government meeting in Minsk on Thursday. If Belarus has to deal in the world’s worst performing currency “then it has to be at the exchange rate on the very day, on the very hour. ” Read more

Alexander Lukashenko is living up to his reputation as Europe’s last remaining dictator. The president of Belarus has decided to bring back serfdom on farms in a bid to stop urban migration.

Lukashenko has announced plans to introduce legislation prohibiting farm labourers from quitting their jobs and moving to the cities. “Yesterday, a decree was put on my table concerning – we are speaking bluntly – serfdom,” the Belarus leader told a meeting on Tuesday to discuss improvements to livestock farming, gazeta.ru reported. Read more

When billionaire Suleiman Kerimov and his business partners sold their stakes in Uralkali, the Russian potash miner, at the end of 2013, analysts expected a prompt restoration of Uralkali’s export cartel with its former Belarusian partner, state-owned Belaruskali.

Yet both parties seem happy with things as they are. Any revival of the cartel looks more likely to be driven by political than commercial considerations. Read more

Russia continues its ‘funding-for-loyalty’ initiatives aimed at former Soviet states. Just after Ukraine agreed a $20bn support package, the cash-strapped authorities of neighbouring Belarus have received a Christmas gift they could only dream of – a new bail-out loan, this time worth up to $2bn. Read more

It looks like the Belarusian authorities are becoming serious about re-starting their state property privatisation programme, announced in October. On Friday, the government revealed that it has offered a stake in Mozyr refinery, one of the country’s most profitable enterprises, to Russia’s oil giant Rosneft. A few days earlier, the government said it has plans to sell a stake in state-controlled MZKT, known globally as a producer of military vehicles as well as chassis for Russian strategic missiles. Read more

Russian financial aid often comes with strings attached, and pumping Russian money into a dysfunctional economy only helps in the short term, a lesson that Belarus is learning and that Ukraine should keep in mind as it mulls the $15bn aid package recently signed in Moscow. Read more

By Anna Maria Dyner and Ievgen Vorobiov of PISM

The deal announced by presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine on Tuesday could have unintended consequences elsewhere in the region. Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, flew to the Winter Olympic resort of Sochi on Wednesday and will visit Moscow next week. He may want some of Russia’s largesse, too – or he may be more susceptible to rapprochement with the European Union. Read more

As pressure grows on public finances, the government of Belarus is mulling a return to the international debt market with a new eurobond issue. But what are its chances of success, given that the country’s credit ratings have been downgraded and concern is increasingly widespread over the stability of the Belarusian economy? Read more

It’s official: billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, formerly the main shareholder of Uralkali, the Russian potash miner, has sold his stake in the company. The buyer is Onexim Group, controlled by Mikhail Prokhorov, another Russian billionaire best known internationally for his ownership of the US basketball team the Brooklyn Nets.

The main question now is, will the sale lead to a conclusion of the long-lasting dispute between Uralkali and the Belarusian authorities? Read more

Sechin: he seems friendly

The cash-strapped government of Belarus is preparing to re-start its privatisation programme, stalled since last year. It plans to sell stakes in a few dozen state-owned companies and Mozyr refinery, one of two in the country, is the jewel in the crown.

It seems that Russia’s Rosneft, which already partly controls Mozyr with Gazpromneft, the oil arm of Russian state gas giant Gazprom, is among the biggest potential bidders. Read more

The great potash saga rumbles on. With Uralkali’s chief executive in a Belarusian KGB cell, the global potash market paralysed by uncertainty and Belarus’s state coffers in jeopardy, China has jumped into the mix with a surprise decision by CIC, a Chinese sovereign wealth fund, to take a 12.5 per cent stake in the Russian miner.

On the face of it, the deal should bring the saga closer to conclusion. But don’t expect the paralysis to be lifted any time soon. Read more

Belaruskali, Belarus’s state-owned potash miner, has been badly hit by its nearly two-month-long dispute with Uralkali, its former Russian business partner. Its exports are paralysed, it has been forced to cut back its mining operations and, as a result, it is in pressing need of financial support. Read more

Lukashenko speaks

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’s president, has broken his unusual reticence about the ongoing potash fight with neighbouring Russia, telling the local press that arrested Uralkali executive Vladislav Baumgertner could be extradited back to Russia as long as the Russians continue to investigate the case. Read more

By Ben Aris of bne

Armenia’s announcement this week that it will join the Russia-led Customs Union trade club is yet another jolt in a tug of war over the loyalties of nations in central and eastern Europe. It is a boost to Russian President Vladimir Putin – whose relations with his near neighbours have chilled in recent weeks – and has wrong-footed officials in Brussels, who had hoped to bring Armenia closer to the European Union. Read more

The behaviour of Belarus’s authorities is looking increasingly chaotic. On the one hand, law-enforcement agencies risk infuriating Moscow by arresting the chief executive of Uralkali, the Russian potash miner. On the other, the government’s financial team says it plans to appeal to Moscow for more funding. Read more