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.
countryaah, 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
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.
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.