23 February 2020, Sunday, 8:15
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Economist Reports on the BelNPP: This Project Resembles the Fable About Donkey Theology Training

Economist Reports on the BelNPP: This Project Resembles the Fable About Donkey Theology Training

The Belarusian authorities follow the principle "let the line die down".

Lithuanian special services - State Security Department and Military Intelligence - have recently published an annual report on threats to the national security of Lithuania. Belarus has traditionally taken a stable position in this list of threats along with Russia and China.

When assessing threats to national security, Lithuanian intelligence pointed out the issue of the Astravets NPP construction.

In addition to the security problems voiced by the Lithuanians, the Belarusian authorities have once again confirmed that the NPP construction had become an intolerable financial burden for the country. During the talks in Sochi, the Belarusian side asked Moscow to postpone the start of payments and reduce the loan rate for the construction of the NPP.

Charter97.org asked Belarusian economist Leu Marholin for comments.

- Today it became known that Russia denied a discount on the loan. How would you comment on this?

- The thing is that it's just a game of the Belarusian authorities - to bargain something out of the Belarusian-Russian case or a Russian project. It's the same with the loan. When it was taken, all the conditions, terms and interest were agreed upon. The launch of the power plant was delayed. Accordingly, the term of the loan repayment was delayed. Therefore, I see no reason to ask for discounts or interest on the loan. But they try to, what if this affair succeeds.

- Why does Russia have fixed ideas about this issue?

- There are market relations. There are agreements signed by both parties. There are no special reasons, no natural disasters, nothing that can justify such requests. Some "fraternal" relations, friendship or the fact that "we fought together" cannot be a good excuse. It is time to get accustomed to market relations. It is painful, unpleasant. One day it should start for us to stop begging.

- Lukashenka said the BelNPP project was not integrated into our economy. The Baltic States say they will not buy energy from the Astravets NPP, Ukraine is also questionable. Where will we put this energy?

- We may open a plant to produce electric cars (laughs). The Baltic States announced their approach to nuclear power 10 years ago. Should Lithuania close down the Ignalina NPP built by Russia to get someone else's energy instead of its own?

Our authorities do not solve the issues when they face them. They follow the principle "let the line die down". I am sure that even now Lukashenka believes that in a year or two the Baltic States will surrender. Unfortunately, our Western partners convinced him of that.

Once in the mid-'90s, he forced embassies out of Drazdy. It would seem the friendship was forever lost. However, a couple of years passed and ambassadors returned, found new residences and nothing terrible happened. Since then, Lukashenka adheres to this principle.

It resembles the position of Hoji Nasreddin, who took up teaching donkey theology. He was asked if he was serious about it, and he answered that either a donkey or a shah would die during that time.

- If we compare it with other Rosatom projects, it turns out that Hungary, Bangladesh, Armenia have lower interest rates, up to 3%. Why did Belarus get involved in such a project? May the authorities just need another "construction of the century"?

- When such "construction of the century" is initiated in Russia, it is usually a way to part the budget money. It is typical for Belarus as well, but the scale is not so large. Our people are more modest. If they steal 90% there, our limit it 10%.

In my opinion, this NPP was such a toy. Besides, we managed to wave goodbye to nuclear weapons before the era of Lukashenka. He was dissatisfied with it and repeatedly spoke about it. At least there will be a nuclear power plant. It's like "the satellite is launched and now we are a space power".

As for Hungary and other countries, they have such loan rates. If Russia offers Hungary a 10% loan, Hungary will say: "Excuse me, we do not need this". I am generally surprised that they took a Russian loan for construction.

I suspect that Western banks simply refused to lend this project simply because it is Russian. They do not like Russian projects, especially in such vital areas. Hungary behaves like a bad boy who breaks the rules. Maybe even from a political point of view. Anyway, Belarus could not find a loan for the NPP construction at any other rates.

- Reports of the Lithuanian intelligence state that there have been various incidents at the NPP which are veiled. Rosatom is interested in it. How would you assess such an investor as Rosatom, its transparency and reliability?

- You know, Russians have never been careful in the construction business. We constantly hear about explosions, collapses. In St. Petersburg, when dismantling the sports complex, they began to cut the cables the roof was fixed on. They ate the seed corn.

The quality of Russian business has significantly deteriorated because there is no competitive environment. If in the West, Hungary, this is compensated by the careful control of a customer, Belarus is afraid to say “boo” to a goose. Why do we always say that this project is dangerous? Not because it is bad, it has already been inspected by our and Western experts. The problem mainly lies in performing discipline: who works there and what materials are used.