Belarus PM talks trade with Thein Sein

Belarusian Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich arrived in the Burmese capital today on the invitation of President Thein Sein. The three-day “good will” visit is expected to focus on boosting bilateral trade, and in contrast to the yesterday’s arrival of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Myasnikovich was reportedly greeted at the airport with a huge welcome sign and notable pomp.

It follows a visit to Belarus in January by then deputy foreign minister, U Maung Myint, during which he met with Alexander Ivanov, the head of the country’s state-owned arms exporter, BSVT.

Myasnikovich, who was appointed prime minister by President Alexander Lukashenko in December 2010, will take part in a “Belarus-Myanmar business forum,” during the visit, which follows a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi on 29 November. While little further information on the trip is available, previous talks have centred on cooperation in agriculture and technical cooperation on armaments.

Europe’s last autocracy has in the past supplied the Burmese army with MiG 29 fighter jets before Russia delivered a large consignment earlier this year. Burmese officials claimed the Belarusian planes showed high “attrition rates”.

During a high-level military delegation to Burma in April last year, a Belarusian government spokesperson told the state-owned Belapan newspaper that the country had “established military and technical ties [with Burma] in recent years.

“And although foreign currency revenues from contracts with this state remain insignificant, there are certain prospects for the development of cooperation in the military and technical sphere.”

Belarus is a popular source of Russian military equipment, and formerIvory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo is believed to have sourced much of his equipment from Belarus. A US diplomatic cable states that Belarusian military technology is “custom-designed to complement Russian hardware”.

Ties between the countries are close, with Russian gas giant Gazprom recently purchasing Belarus’s entire gas transmission network, Beltransgaz, for $US2.5 billion. Russia is helping to develop two nuclear power reactors at Ostrovet that a nuclear official says is to substitute for high-cost gas.

Burma has a close relationship with Russia over weapons’ procurement. In 2006, visiting Burmese Vice Senior General Maung Aye requested help to build a 10 MW nuclear reactor he claimed was for the health and education sectors. He is also believed to have bought an air defence system.

The shared Russian technology makes Belarus a convenient trading partner for Burma’s military, which has control over at least a quarter of the government’s spending.

Myaskanovich was said in a 2006 leaked US cable to be worth nearly $US300 million. Like his host, Thein Sein, he could be soon be subject to EU sanctions because of his “direct involvement in Lukashenko’s private money-making schemes,” according to the EUObserver.

Belarus under Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, has an economic system of patronage similar to that of Burma, whereby prominent crony businessmen, including allegedly Myasnikovich, pay dividends to the president in return for licenses to operate businesses in the country.

Like Burma, Belarus recently implemented a law requiring peaceful assembly to gain the prior consent of government authorities.

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