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Posts Tagged ‘belarus

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • On St. Patrick’s Day, blogTO offers a guide to Irish Toronto.
  • Centauri Dreams notes the existence of chaotically-orbiting Earths.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper suggesting that the Yucatán peninsula was hit by a tsunami a millennium ago.
  • Joe. My. God. notes an anti-gay American who claims that Obama orchestrated the Ukrainian crisis at the behest of gays who wanted to punish Russia.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the interest of Chinese in California real estate.
  • Peter Rukavina reports on Prince Edward Island’s latest snowfall.
  • Spacing Toronto looks at the prospects for subways in Scarborough.
  • Torontoist notes that Build Toronto has failed to provide affordable housing on nearly the scale promised.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the dismissal of a civil case brought by a man who had sex with a minor he met through Grindr brought against Grindr.
  • Window on Eurasia observes a Russian nationalist’s call to partition Belarus, suggests that Russia has been trying to split Ukraine for a while, and wonders if the families of Russian gastarbeitar from Central Asia could fall into support for Islamist terrorism.

[LINK] “The Putin Effect on Post-Soviet Economies”

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Bloomberg View’s Leonid Bershidsky observes that the collapse of multiple currencies in the former Soviet Union can be traced substantially to instability from the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and from Russia’s conflicts more broadly. The costs of integration seem high.

The Moldovan leu lost more against the U.S. dollar last week than in all of 2014. The tiny nation, squeezed between Ukraine and Romania, could no longer handle a deep structural imbalance in its economy. It buys about 70 percent of all its consumer goods from abroad, so its imports are about twice as high as its exports. The shortfall was partly covered by remittances from migrant workers, which reached $1.61 billion last year. In the fourth quarter, however, the remittances fell by 20 percent, because many of the Moldovan migrants work in Russia, and as the ruble lost value, they weren’t able to send as many dollars and euros home. Moldova’s exports to Russia almost halved last year, both because of the latter’s economic problems and because Moscow was trying to pressure Moldova to stay within its economic orbit rather than integrate with the European Union.

Adding to these problems, the previous Moldovan government spent part of its meager foreign reserves to bail out three large banks, a move the country’s leftist parliamentary opposition described as a money-laundering scam. Moldova’s international reserves now stand at less than $2 billion, their lowest level since 2011. The leu devaluation is likely to continue because there’s no plausible way to stop it.

The core of Azerbaijan’s problem is that it’s an oil exporter. Since 2011, it had pegged its currency, the manat, to the U.S. dollar, but as the oil price fell, the peg became expensive to maintain. On Jan. 31, the country’s foreign reserves stood 11 percent lower than a year before. The devaluation would not have needed to be as sharp as it was, however, if Russia hadn’t been the country’s biggest export market. Those exports fell sharply last year — by 30 percent in the third quarter, the last one for which data are available.

As for Georgia, its exports to Russia actually increased last year, at least in the period for which the IMF has data. Yet exports to Ukraine, which had become a major trading partner when Georgia’s relations with Russia were particularly strained last decade, have fallen by about half over the past year. In total, Georgia’s exports in January were 20 percent lower than the year before. For this tiny economy with less than $2.5 billion in foreign reserves, that drop made devaluation inevitable.

Belarus, Russia’s closest ally, is completely dependent on Moscow for extra-cheap energy imports. So it predictably suffered more than others — except Ukraine — when Russia effectively started a price war with its neighbors by devaluing its currency.blockquote>

Written by Randy McDonald

March 3, 2015 at 11:17 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • The Big Picture looks at the uses of oil barrels around the world.
  • blogTO wonders if the Annex is ready for a condo boom.
  • Centauri Dreams features a guest post from Andrew Lepage noting how odd spectra on Mars were misidentified as proof of life.
  • Crooked Timber notes a student occupation of the University of Amsterdam’s headquarters.
  • Discover‘s The Crux makes a poor argument that space probe visits to Pluto and Ceres will lead to the redefinition of these worlds as planets.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze looks at an odd pulsating hot subdwarf B star with a brown dwarf.
  • The Dragon’s Tales suggests chemical mechanisms for life on Titan, and explains the differences in water plumes between Europa and Enceladus.
  • A Fistful of Euros notes political conflict in Germany.
  • Discover‘s Inkfist notes that birds from harsher climates are smarters.
  • Joe. My. God. shares Madonna’s critique of ageism.
  • Languages of the World examines the genesis of the English language.
  • Marginal Revolution notes Japanese funerals for robots, suggests Facebook usage makes people less happy, and notes family formation in Europe.
  • John Moyer examines punctuation.
  • Steve Munro maps out routes for a Scarborough subway.
  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at science on Pluto.
  • pollotenchegg maps the distribution of ethnically mixed households in Ukraine.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at how Panama successfully made use of price controls, and why.
  • Progressive Download’s John Farrell wonders what is the rush for three-parent IVF therapy.
  • Transit Toronto explains how old TTC tickets can be exchanged.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the importance of Belarus for the Baltic States, notes the newly-debatable borders of the former Soviet Union, suggests Tatarstan is unhappy with Russian federalism, and looks at the small grounds for Russian-Ukrainian hostilities.

[LINK] Three articles on the shift of Belarus away from Russia

First comes a report from The Moscow Times‘ Anna Dolgov reporting on new Belarusian legislation responding specifically to the threat of paramilitary infiltration, such as has occurred in eastern Ukraine.

Belarus has adopted a new law that states the appearance of any foreign fighters on its territory will be viewed as an act of aggression, even if they cannot be identified as regular troops.

The legislation, which takes effect on Feb. 1, seems to be Minsk’s response to Russia’s actions in neighboring Ukraine, where unmarked Russian troops overran Crimea prior to its annexation last spring and where Russian fighters have led pro-Moscow-separatists in the east.

According to a copy of the law published online, Minsk will view the deployment of another nation’s armed groups, irregular forces, mercenaries or regular military units in the country as a military attack, regardless of whether or not it was accompanied by a declaration of war.

The package of amendments to Belarus’ law on the state of war come after repeated warnings from President Alexander Lukashenko that Russia should not meddle in his country.

Next comes an article from The Guardian‘s Katerina Barushka noting the apparent new interest of the Belarusian government in promoting the intentionally-neglected Belarusian language. Given the language dynamics of the country, now overwhelmingly Russian-speaking on the ground, I suspect this is more important symbolically than otherwise.

Belarusian and Russian are both considered official languages of Belarus, but only 23% of the 9.67m population speaks the former, whereas more than 70.2% per cent speaks the latter. No more than 10% of Belarusians say they communicate in Belarusian in their day-to-day lives.

[. . .]

Valery Bulhakau, an editor-in-chief of a magazine Arche and a PhD in nationalism studies believes there is “a distinct growing interest in the Belarusian culture” and even goes as far as calling it a “national revival”. The language courses ““are not particularly educating, they rather represent a community, and that’s what important,” he says.

Analysts say the Ukraine crisis acted as a wake-up call for Lukashenko, who has long been a key Kremlin ally. For years, this relationship has not only been vital for Lukashenko’s grip on power, it is crucial for Belarus’s economy – around 10-15% of which relies on Russian subsidies. With such close ties between the two nations, when Moscow annexed Crimea, and Russian president Vladimir Putin justified the move by saying he would protect Russians or Russian-speakers across the world, Lukashenko was said to be rattled.

For the first time in his long rule, Lukashenko delivered part of a political speech in Belarusian in July, the day before Putin came to Minsk to commemorate the 70th anniversary of freeing Belarus from Nazi occupation. The symbolism was not lost on proponents of Belarusian language and culture.

Then, in November, he held a momentous meeting with both pro-government and independent intellectuals and writers to encourage them to promote national cultural and historical values.

Public support for Belarusian language has also shown signs of growing, as the language begins to shed its stigma. An on-going state social campaign ‘The taste of the Belarusian language’ posts billboards around Belarus with interesting words in Belarusian. And a month after an attempt to switch to using Russian-language signs on the Minsk metro, citizens convinced management to switch back to Belarusian.

Authorities have allowed such campaigns to exist and promote Belarusian, but in the sensitive political climate, the organisers of language classes and other initiatives have had to tread carefully. Though it is early days, some Belarusian nationalists believe real change is in the air.

Finally, Forbes analyst Paul Coyer notes the warming of Belarus’ relations with the European Union and its western neighbours.

Last March Belarus refused Moscow’s request that it send observers to the Crimea referendum, unwilling to help Putin create any type of legal precedent that would support his claim that Russia has the right to intervene in neighboring states with Russian minorities. Lukashenko quickly recognized the election to the Ukrainian Presidency of Petro Poroshenko and received the new Ukrainian ambassador, making sure that Belarusian media gave much attention to the meeting. While criticizing Western sanctions against Russia, he refused to support Russia’s counter-sanctions against the EU, and has even done interviews on Russian opposition television in order to express support for Ukrainian territorial integrity. He has hosted Poroshenko several times since he took office last June, most recently just prior to Christmas, when he went so far as to publicly promise Poroshenko “any support” needed “within 24 hours”.

Lukashenko has gone out of his way to assert Belarusian sovereignty in the past year, indicating that he is more concerned about his neighbor to the east than those neighbors to his west. While criticizing NATO’s increased military presence in neighboring countries in order to placate Moscow, last spring the Belarusian military and troops of the Interior Ministry undertook drills aimed at countering a potential repeat in Belarus of what has occurred in eastern Ukraine. And after the meeting last month of the Security Council of Belarus, in which Lukashenko made the obligatory recitation opposing the strengthening of NATO’s forces in Poland and the Baltics, he followed that with a statement that “today’s behavior by our eastern brother cannot but cause alarm”. Several months ago, feeling the need to warn Putin against an attempt to do to Belarus what he was doing to Ukraine, Lukashenko pointedly said that he would fight any aggressor “who would arrive on Belarusian soil . . . . . even if it is Putin.” Minsk has also, for the first time, moved toward creation of full scale control of its border with Russia, and has refused a Russian suggestion that the two states establish a unified visa regime.

In the realm of church governance, the new Patriarch of the Belarusian Orthodox Church has recently formally requested that the Russian Orthodox Church grant the Belarusian Church greater autonomy in decision-making – it now has very little, being considered an “exarchate” of the Russian Orthodox Church. Putin is certain to view the request, correctly, as being not so much motivated by theological as by political concerns and a desire on the part of Lukashenko to reduce Moscow’s influence within Belarus.

Lukashenko’s hosting of multilateral talks aimed at reaching a negotiated settlement of the crisis in Ukraine has helped both to emphasize his continued usefulness to Putin, as well as to make Minsk useful to the West and to help bring Belarus out of its self-imposed isolation. The visit of three EU commissioners in relation to the talks broke the de facto boycott of high level EU officials’ visits to Belarus, in place since Lukashenko’s crackdown on dissidents following his 2010 election.

Minsk has strongly engaged its Baltic neighbors, all members of NATO, who share, together with Belarus, sizable Russian minorities as well as a palpable concern about Putin’s intentions towards them. In addition to the Baltics, Lukashenko has used the Ukraine crisis to draw closer to neighboring Poland and much of Central Europe, using warming relations with Central Europe as another means to more actively engage the EU. He has also sought to engage the United States, which remains untrusted but the support of which Minsk views as necessary for the success of its policy of warming relations with Brussels. Poland has been willing to allow relations with Belarus to warm as it sees Minsk as an important source of information on Russia’s intentions towards Ukraine and appreciates the balanced position which Minsk has taken in relation to the ongoing crisis. With the EU, Belarus has begun a series of conversations with Brussels on modernization. While the talks thus far have been modest in scope and Lukashenko seems intent on focusing on economic development and trade issues and ignoring the issues of human rights and democratic reform, they are an important start. For its part, Washington has sent three official delegations to Belarus in the past year, including one in September which consisted of high level State Department, USAID, and Pentagon officials. As with the EU, the warming of ties between Belarus and the US are thus far very modest, but the important issue is the trend in this direction.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross speculates about the consequences of SYRIZA’s eleciton victory.
  • Bad Astronomy discusses the Rosetta probe’s pictures of Comet 67P.
  • blogTO notes that Uniqlo is coming to Toronto.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a comparative study of binary stars with exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a study of the atmosphere of Pluto.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Alexis Tsipras has foresworn a religious oath of office.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that fast food restaurants could pay their employee living wages.
  • Otto Pohl links to a study of his on German exiles in central Asia.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that the Nicaragua Canal still makes no sense.
  • Transit Toronto observes the spread of Presto cards on the TTC.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes an English court’s distinction between female genital mutilation and male circumcision.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the decline of Christianity in the North Caucasus, high inflation in Kaliningrad, official Belarus’ measures to deal with a Ukraine-style invasion, and suggests Ukraine could still win the conflict.
  • The Financial Times‘ World blog considers the question of Greek debt.

[LINK] “Russia’s Crisis Was Big Fun in Belarus Until the Economic Strife Spread”

Bloomberg BusinessWeek‘s Leonid Ragozin reports on the consequences of the Russian economic crisis for neighbouring and allied Belarus.

As the Russian ruble plunged 45 percent against the dollar last month, Andrey Kabanov made two forays from Belarus into Moscow. The entertainment entrepreneur is now the owner of two secondhand BMWs bought for about two-thirds the market price in his native Minsk. Not that he needed the cars for everyday use. “A friend is now driving one of them, and the other is just sitting in the garage,” Kabanov says. “But it is an asset that I can always sell at a profit.” Thousands of Belarusians such as Kabanov flocked into Russian cities before the New Year, taking advantage of the cheap ruble and the absence of border control between two countries united in a trade association known as the Eurasian Union.

For Belarusians, at least at first, their neighbor’s economic crisis and worsening relations with the West brought a variety of benefits. When Moscow retaliated for EU sanctions by banning imports of cheese, apples, and salmon, some Belarusian businesses took to repackaging European products so they appear to have been made in Belarus. Two entrepreneurs involved in the repackaging business explained how the scheme works: EU-produced fruit and vegetables are swapped for their Belarusian-produced equivalents of inferior quality. The latter would be sold in the guise of EU produce in Belarus, while EU-made products would proceed to the much more lucrative Russian market. (Neither person involved in the repackaging would agree to be identified.)

Another scheme involved sending trucks full of EU produce from Belarus to Kazakhstan, also a member of the Eurasian Union. The cargo would never reach its destination, vanishing somewhere along the long route that cuts through Russia. Alterations to products exported from Europe also allowed a change in their nationality. Norwegian salmon salted in Belarus would become Belarusian, for instance, even if the entire process amounted to sprinkling a heap of fish with a handful of salt.

Many people are now opting out of the repackaging business, in part as a reflection of increasing legal risks and the waning appeal of the Russian market. The cross-border shopping bonanza has also ended now that the Belarusian ruble has fallen 30 percent against Western currencies this month, reflecting the country’s overwhelming economic dependence on Russia.

When it comes to order, security, and relatively low corruption, Belarus looks something like a post-Soviet Singapore. But its economic policies are decidedly backward, smacking of the late USSR. “While the devaluation in Russia was conducted in a transparent way without imposing any restrictions on the circulation of hard currency, the Belarusian government opted for the most confusing and convoluted way possible,” says economist Yaroslav Romanchuk. The explanation is simple: President Alexander Lukashenko had publicly pledged there would be no devaluation and no price hike, Romanchuk says, so when that outcome became inevitable, the devaluation was conducted in a way that allowed officials to avoid ever using the dreaded word.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 22, 2015 at 11:39 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO notes that crowd-funded transit might be coming to Toronto’s Beaches.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly describes her favourite shopping experiences in Paris.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the question of how to name planets.
  • Crooked Timber discusses predictions for the coming year which descend into Bitcoin debates.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that giant stars tend not to have giant close-in planets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper noting the complicated entry of maize from Mexico into the United States.
  • Livejournaler jsburbidge notes the serious costs associated with a public housing problem for the homeless of Toronto.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that many Poles hold mortgages denominated in Swiss francs, and have thus been hit by the recent currency fluctuations.
  • Otto Pohl describes his writing project on the 1966 coup in Ghana.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes the problems with inexpensive manned spaceflight.
  • Torontoist and (again) blogTO and their commenters react to the end of Target Canada.
  • Towleroad notes that anti-gay American Roman Catholic cardinal Raymond Burke is also a misogynist.
  • Window on Eurasia argues that a Belarusian revolution would lead to a Russian invasion of that country, and wonders about European Union policy towards Crimea.

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