Belarus. In February, the EU decided to permanently lift most of its sanctions against Belarus, after being temporarily lifted for a few months. However, the arms embargo remained intact, as did sanctions against four people. The sanctions were introduced when the regime turned down protests after the 2010 presidential election. Peaceful presidential elections in 2015, the release of political prisoners and President Aljaksandr Lukashenka’s role in peace talks between the Russian Federation and Ukraine had improved relations between Brussels and Minsk.
In March, the Belarusian security police arrested the KGB one of the country’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Yuri Chizh, suspected of extensive tax fraud. For many years, Chizh was close associate of President Lukashenka, but reportedly lost his favor. Chizj was threatened by a long prison sentence, but in September he was released after agreeing to pay large sums for losses he was said to have incurred to the state.
According to countryaah, the current population of Belarus is 9,449,334. Former President and now Lukashenka critic Stanislau Shushchevich was sentenced during the year to a fine for being in attendance at an opposition meeting that did not have permission. Shushevich was president from 1991-94.
When Poland’s foreign minister visited Minsk in March, President Lukashenka said that Belarus does not want to be forced to choose between the EU and the Russian Federation. Reductions in the sanctions were necessary for Belarus’s plan to increase trade with the EU and reduce dependence on the crisis-hit Russian market, to which around 40% of Belarus exports went.
At the same time, Belarus is dependent on Russian loans and subsidies on energy. The Belarussian economy was estimated to decline by about 4% in 2016, as much as the year before. The currency ruble had lost close to half its value against the dollar in one year, mainly due to the deep weakening of the Russian economy. Minsk held talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on loans of $ 3 billion to strengthen the foreign exchange reserve. As a condition of the loans, the IMF demanded economic reform.
The economic crisis led, among other things, to the regime’s decision to raise the retirement age, which has remained at the same level for more than eight decades, 55 years for women and 60 years for men. In April, a plan was announced for a three-year increase in retirement age, incrementally by six months a year from 2017.
The regime claimed to have met the IMF’s requirements and reckoned with loan repayment to Belarus after a six-year break. Among other things, the government had gradually raised energy prices and announced its pension increase. But the IMF demanded more, including tougher budget cuts and financial sector reforms. Minsk also hoped for loans from the Russian-controlled Eurasia Fund and received about one billion dollars from it during the year.
An exchange rate reform was implemented in July as an attempt to attack high inflation. Four zeros were cleared from the Belarusian ruble banknotes.
In August, the public demanded the regime order replacement of a damaged casing on a nuclear reactor under construction. The Russian company Rosatom was responsible for the construction of Belarus’s first nuclear power plant, and after an accident with a lifting crane, the reactor casing was damaged. The public accused the authorities of darkening the accident and caused President Lukashenka to demand that the damaged casing be replaced.
In September, parliamentary elections were held, which, despite some improvements, did not meet the requirements for free and fair elections, according to OSCE and EU observers. The UN representative talked about threats, manipulation, fraud and lack of transparency. Independent Belarusian observers reported several cases of election fraud.
However, it was easier for opposition candidates to register, and for the first time in 20 years, at least one of them was elected to Parliament. The United Citizens Party got one of its candidates together with an independent politician, both women. Critics said that the regime determines who enters Parliament and that the improvements were only cosmetics to please the EU and the US. According to official data, close to 75% of voters participated in the election.
In October, it was announced that the conflict over gas prices with Moscow had been resolved and that Russian gas prices had been significantly lowered for Belarus according to thereligionfaqs.
Russian-critic blogger Edward Paltjis was tried in October in a court in Minsk charged with inciting hatred and distributing pornography, a politically motivated charge according to his sympathizers. Paltjis had been arrested in January in the Russian Federation but extradited to Belarus. According to human rights activists, his criticism of the Russian annexation of Crimea and the involvement in eastern Ukraine was behind his arrest. Paltjis was sentenced to one year and nine months in custody, but since he was incarcerated for ten months, he would be placed under house arrest and released shortly, it was called. The verdict followed the pattern of the financially pressured Lukashenko regime trying to improve relations with the West by releasing political prisoners and thereby increasing the prospects for loans from the IMF and investment from the EU.