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Article posted Sep 02 2011, 5:07 AM Category: Geopolitics Source: Bloomberg Print

Belarus Struggles With Meat Shortage as Russians Exploit Currency Plunge

By Aliaksandr Kudrytski

Belarus’s supermarkets are running out of meat as Russians take advantage of a currency crisis that a devaluation and the world’s highest borrowing costs have failed to stem.

“All meat has gone to Russia,” Alexander Andreyevich, an 82-year-old former tractor-plant worker, said Aug. 25 in Minsk, the capital. “My relatives near the Russian border called me a few days ago and said the shops are empty.”

Belarus is grappling with a balance-of-payments crisis that forced a 36 percent devaluation of its ruble in May. It may need to raise $12 billion by 2013 through state-asset sales and international bailout loans to stave off economic collapse, Moody’s Investors Service said Aug. 23.

The crisis has sparked protests as Belarusians vent their anger at President Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed Europe’s last dictator by the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush. While the authorities have sought to control food costs to quell public discontent, buyers from neighboring Russia have pushed meat prices higher.

“Private stall owners simply go and buy meat from state- owned vendors and sell it a couple of steps away for a hefty profit,” Deputy Agriculture and Food Minister Vasily Pavlovsky told reporters in Minsk Aug. 24.

The government banned individuals in June from taking basic consumer goods such as home appliances, food and gasoline out of the country. Russians, buoyed by the removal of border checkpoints July 1 as part of a customs union, have circumvented the restrictions.

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