Monday, July 16, 2007

About that isolation business…

The Beatroot: Lukashenko really has no friends left at all
Spoke with Pete Beatroot over the internet yesterday. Pete manages the Beatroot blog, one of the better blogs on the net in general, but it is even better for taking a jaundiced look at Poland, a country greatly deserving of some yellow press. Pete wrote me in response to my query over Lukashenka's telling America that he would close down any opposition NGO who got caught receiving American money.

Pete's response was direct and to the point that Belarus was an unwanted pariah country with no friends- basically, the popular European line on the subject:

    Lukashenko appears to be trying to get Moscow back on side after they put the price of oil up. He knows that without Putin the Belarusian economy is in ruins. So the missile shield is one way he can show that he is with Putin against the US. The row over the shield in Poland is one way he can show he is loyal and hopes Putin will reward him with better oil deals. Lukashenko really has no friends left at all except Chavez.
I don't know that I agreed with the comment and this last sentence about how many friends Belarus has got me thinking.

I knew that I have seen quite a few names go by of countries which are doing business with Belarus and the number, though not everyone out of the 185 we have, seemed to be at least more than 20 or 30. Off the top of my head, Iran really likes Belarus and they like Chavez as well. This is not hard to figure though because of that 'second axis of power' thing and that Chavez has more money than G-d right now.

But I don't think there is a better oil/gaz deal to be had. If anything, to my eyes it saeems as though Belarus is slowly preparing for an absorption by Russia. They can call it a union and leave Belarus on the map, but the day they start using the Russian Ruble, we are Russia. I think that for all his talk of sovereignty, Lukashenko might really have it in his head that this is really the only way. And that he might be able to be president there in a decade or so. And why not? A friend told me that people in his family were receiving $1500 and 2000 a month in Russia already and a guy on my blog told me a cup of coffee in Moscow was $6.75. If anything, this quote telling Bush to piss off and the sister quote saying Belarus wants normal relations with Europe without having to be told what to do (having them dictate policy) it just echoing Russian policy. Belarus is not a dog; they are just a poor cousin waiting patiently to be invited into the family business.

Pete wrote back asking why Russia would even want to be stuck with Belarus. They have Kaliningrad, he said, they simply don't need Luka. As for Iran - they are having trouble selling the oil they have because of the all the trade bans. So an alternative market would do them fine. I told him that it would not be a matter of being stuck. Rather, Belarus would simply go back to being a manufacturing arm, just as they have always been.

But this business about whether Belarus has any friends was still on my mind so what I did was to go went through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs site from this year and found 28 trade partners specifically listed for Belarus:

Russia, Latvia, China, Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, Slovakia, India, Bulgaria, South Korea, Georgia, Kyrgystan, Austria, United Arab Emirates, Lithuenia, Estonia, Quatar, Venezuela, South Africa, Turkey, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Bangladesh, Hungary, Iran

Russia is the largest trade partner at over $20 Billion.

In addition to these, a bit later I remember also that there had been serious meetings with Oman, North Korea, Mongolia, Armenia and Israel, which off the top of my head I remember from specific articles. And also, of course the UK, all of it as well as Australia and New Zealand which I remembered because I advertised for Belarusian champagne sold in UK and printed articles about Belarus tractors down under. Also, the big news on the new BHTimes was the big meeting with the French and the president being interviewed by La Monde. !

I also found several foreign trade blurbs, the first one speaking of 2006 stated that Belarus traded with 174 countries, exporting its products to 139 countries and buying products from 159 countries. It also specifically mentioned the US and the Netherlands as major trade partners.

So with roughly forty countries willing to do business and another hundred buying and selling either way, I would not say that Belarus is all that isolated.

Those trade statistics also showed how the Russian oil deal has screwed the country because that huge debt alone changed Belarus from showing a trade profit to a major and growing deficit. As of the moment, if I remember correctly, Belarus is now down about $1.5 Billion just since new years.

Yes, Europe and America are trying to make life hard on Belarus, but in no way does their price fixing cause the end of the world for Belarus. Russia and Gazprom was the end of the world, European and American sanctions were not.

So the truth is that Belarus is not alone despite what may be said in the European and American press, it is just they are simply not doing so good at the moment. However, what is also true is that Belarus is not taking their current situation lying down. Manufacturing and productivity are up, the GDP is up and though prices are also up, inflation seems to be more the fault of the falling American dollar than any mishandling of the economy locally. Yes, paying double (and soon triple and more) for the gas is bad and not receiving oil at a price that allows for profitability has turned the entire enterprise sour, but nevertheless Belarus still goes to work in the morning. There have not been general strikes or any sort of havoc; life has pretty much just gone on so far.

Maybe this has also been for Russia's benefit and certainly the idea of calling this whole deal a "hostile takeover" was well covered in the Russian press around New Years.

Anyway, when I sent all of this over to Pete, this is what he had to say:

    Well, indeed....but the reason they are not 'doing so well at the moment' is that they have a complete shithead for a president. I know he is popular with many Belaruskis....but so were many historical authoritarian figures....the way he has treated oppositional figures is just the insecurity of a proto-dictator...
So there you go. All I can say to this is: That's Europe for you. Or better, as we are speaking Poland, That's an insecure proto-Europe for you, every time.

More soon…