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The Buzz in Belarus: Interview with Darya Zhuk of Cobalt

The Buzz in Belarus: Interview with Darya Zhuk of Cobalt

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The political situation in Belarus at the moment is “quite challenging,” says Darya Zhuk, the Managing Partner of Cobalt’s Minsk office, referring to the fallout from the August 9 presidential election. “People have been protesting in the streets since the election,” she says, and discontent about the results of that election are being felt “deep inside every sphere of society.”

In fact, Zhuk says, the unrest has spilled over into other areas, including lawmaking and the overall economy. “Prior to the elections, we had huge projects in the financial, industrial, and M&A sectors, and there was a lot of optimism in the market,” she reports. Now, she says, the general outlook has become pessimistic, due to the uncertainty which riddles the post-election Belarusian economy. “There are still no formal international sanctions against Belarus, other than individual ones against certain politicians,” she notes, but “a number of grants, potential FDIs, and support programs are no longer available in the country.” Unsurprisingly, she explains, the financial sector is experiencing liquidity problems and the exchange rates are in disarray. “People do not trust the banking system right now, and many have chosen to withdraw their deposits.” 

Nonetheless, Zhuk insists that not all is bleak, and she says that, despite the troubles in the market, some deals are still going on. “None of the projects we are working on were cancelled, and some of them are supposed to be completed soon,” she says. “Probably the reason why our business environment did not suffer as much as elsewhere in Europe was because Belarus was among the few countries which did not impose lockdowns,” she opines. “Some of the industries are doing well, such as IT, e-commerce, and pharmaceuticals,” she reports, concluding that, “the EBRD is still active in Belarus, and has partnered with certain local private equity funds on start-up funding deals.”