Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 193

Reports from the Moscow session of the Russia-Belarus Union’s Executive Committee, as well as follow-up statements by Russian officials, indicate that Belarus has obtained economic concessions which had previously been withheld by Russian governments. These concessions include: agreement that Belarus repay its arrears for Russian gas, currently US$250 million, in kind rather than in cash; Russian government consent to deduct the value of those Belarusan goods from Gazprom’s cash debts to the Russian tax authorities; a Russian state credit to Belarus for purchases of Yaroslavl engines, to be installed on Belarusan trucks (the pride of Soviet-era Belarusan industry, which Minsk is desperate to rescue); resumption of Russian natural diamonds export to Belarus for polishing there, in amounts guaranteed through the year 2000; and creation of a Russian-Belarus joint venture, to be financed from the “Union budget” (in practice by Russia) to rescue Belarus’ agricultural machinery sector, another moribund glory of the Soviet era.

Russia’s new Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov had personally favored these concessions while he was foreign minister, but was usually unable to see them through. His promotion considerably simplifies life for Belarusan President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who had attacked pro-market and budget-conscious Russian ministers for their resistance to such projects. Their fruition not only reflects Primakov’s rise and his policy, but also begins rewarding Belarus for its growing role as Russia’s military ally in Central Europe against NATO’s enlargement (Itar-Tass, October 17-19).