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Transportation and Telecommunications


Figure 9. Transportation System of Belarus, 1995

In the former Soviet Union, the central government owned and operated the transportation system of the Belorussian SSR and used it primarily to serve the economic needs of the entire country as determined by the CPSU. Because of the Belorussian SSR's generally flat landscape and its location, building a transportation system there did not entail the difficulties of building on rugged terrain, over permafrost, or in remote areas far from industrial centers.

Railroads were the premier mode of transportation in the Belorussian SSR. Minsk is a major railroad junction, located on the lines connecting the Baltic states with Ukraine to the south and the line connecting Moscow with Warsaw to the west (see fig. 9). In 1993 Belarus had a total of 5,488 kilometers of 1,520- millimeter-gauge railroads; of these, 873 kilometers were electrified. Minsk also has an underground Metro that has eighteen stations on two lines (totaling seventeen kilometers).

Belarus's railroads accelerated industrial development and, in wartime, played a significant military role. Well developed compared with those in the other former Soviet republics, the country's railroads continued to play a major role in the early years of independent Belarus. They moved raw materials, manufactured goods, and passengers over long hauls, transporting 30 percent of the country's bulk cargo and 10 percent of its passengers in 1992 (see table 5, Appendix A).

Railroad freight transport in 1994 declined 19 percent (to 50.1 million tons) from its 1993 levels; this drop approximated the decline in gross industrial output over the same period (unlike previous years, when it had been greater). As a result, experts believed that gross inefficiencies of the past had been eliminated and that railroad transportation would not be a bottleneck in the future when industrial output rose.

Because automotive transport is not generally used for long hauls, many roads outside urban areas have gravel or dirt surfaces, especially in the more remote rural areas. The lack of paved roads in these rural areas seriously hampers the movement of agricultural products and supplies. Privately owned automobiles are relatively few per capita, and so have been of limited importance in transportation, although this began to change slowly with the demise of communism. At the beginning of 1994, the country had 92,200 kilometers of roads, two-thirds of which were paved, and many of which were deteriorating. There were no expressways or major national highways. Truck transport of freight declined in 1994 by 41 percent to 122.8 million tons.

In 1994 Belarus received funds and promises of funds from the European Union (EU), Russia, Germany, and Poland to upgrade road and railroad links between Moscow and Berlin. A project funded jointly by Belarus and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will upgrade segments of the highway linking Poland to Russia through Belarus.

Belarus has extensive and widely used canal and river systems, especially the Dnyapro River and its tributaries, and the Dnyaprowska-Buhski Canal, which connects the Buh (Bug, in Russian) and Prypyats' rivers. Homyel', Babruysk (Bobruysk, in Russian), Barysaw (Borisov, in Russian), and Pinsk are major river ports. In 1991 some 800,000 passengers and 18.6 million tons of freight were carried on the country's inland waterways. Although Belarus has no direct access to the sea, it is relatively close to Baltic Sea ports and has an agreement with Poland to transport Belarusian goods to the port of Gdynia and to use the port itself. In 1995 Lithuanian officials spoke of giving Belarus access to the Lithuanian port of Klaipéda.

Of Belarus's 124 airports, only fifty-five were usable in 1993, and only thirty-one had permanent-surface runways. Minsk has one airport, Minsk International Airport. In 1994 Belavia, the Belarusian state airline, planed to use US$80 million of a US$220 million credit from Switzerland to build an aircraft service center at the airport.

At the beginning of 1992, Belarus had 1.9 million telephone lines, or about eighteen lines per 100 persons; more than 700,000 applications for household telephones were still pending. Only about 15 percent of the telephone lines were switched automatically. Connections to other former Soviet republics are by landline or microwave, and connections to other countries are by means of a leased connection through the Moscow international gateway switch. An NMT-450 analog cellular telecommunications network was under construction in Minsk in the early 1990s, and approximately 300 kilometers of fiber-optic cable were being added to the city network. Progress in establishing an International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat) earth station was slow.

In 1993 four television channels were available in Belarus: Belarus's single state-run television station (Byelaruskaye telebachannye) and three Russian television stations-- Televideniye Ostankino (Ostankino Television, Channel 1), Rossiyskoye televideniye (Russian Television), and SanktPeterburg TV (St. Petersburg TV). By 1994 there was one private television station; its license was suspended during the parliamentary elections of 1994. No cable television service was available. In 1992 an estimated 3.5 million televisions were in use in Belarus.

In 1994 Belarus's state-run radio (Byelaruskaye Radyyo) broadcast two national programs, four Russian programs and various regional programs over thirty-five AM radio stations in seventeen cities and over eighteen FM radio stations in eighteen cities. There was also a shared relay with Voice of Russia. International shortwave radio service broadcasts were in Belarusian, English, German and Polish. In 1992 an estimated 3.1 million radios were in use in Belarus.

In 1995 the government continued to control both television and radio in Belarus. In April 1995, when opposition deputies to the Supreme Soviet clashed with President Lukashyenka over questions on the upcoming referendum, Lukashyenka cordoned off the national television and radio building (because of an alleged bomb threat). Before voting began both on the referendum and on parliamentary elections, discussion of the issues simply disappeared from the media.

Data as of June 1995

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