Belarusan debts to Russian and Lithuanian oil, gas and electricity suppliers remain unpaid, causing potential difficulties as world energy prices soar. At the beginning of 2000, Belarus owed an estimated US$62 million to Russian oil companies, while as of July arrears for natural gas to Gazprom totaled US$273 million, and Moscow has periodically withheld supplies. Meanwhile, debts to Russian and Lithuanian electric power suppliers reached 102 billion rubles in June, and domestic power generation has been erratic throughout the year with unreliable fuel inputs. More power cuts could be in the offing if Belarus’ arrears are not settled. While energy suppliers in Russia are raising prices and cutting off nonpaying users, Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka continues to scoff at market reforms in the energy sector. According to Lukashenka, the widespread protests in Europe against energy price increases show that reforms are not necessary. “It is… rich and fat Europe, not Belarus, which has been mostly shattered by the crisis,” Lukashenka said recently (Inside Belarus, September 25). While recognizing the need for investment into Belarusian refineries, Lukashenka announced in June that asset sales to private, and particularly international, investors will proceed with extreme caution. Lukashenka announced in June that “I am not going to sell out everything for nothing. An absurd, brainless privatization in the interests of a certain group of people is unacceptable in Belarus” (Belarusan TV, June 9). Such protectionism and resistance to reform, in the face of an inability to clear accounts and insure adequate supplies, bodes ill for the Belarusan populace. If debts are not repaid and supplies are in fact cut back, then Belarus faces a potentially long, cold winter.
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