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IMF starts virtual mission to Belarus to collect economic data

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko will take part in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Saint Petersburg on July 13, 2021. Sputnik / Alexei Nikolskyi / Kremlin via REUTERS / File Photo

WASHINGTON, Sep 10 (Reuters) – The International Monetary Fund announced on Friday that it would begin a virtual mission to Belarus amid concerns about the global lender’s disbursement of new emergency reserves to President Alexander Lukashenko’s government.

The staff mission is part of the IMF’s economic oversight and surveillance mandate and aims to gather more information on Belarus’ economic development and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an IMF spokesman said.

The mission will begin on Monday, said a source familiar with the plans who was not authorized to speak publicly.

It comes days after the leaders of Russia and Belarus agreed to create a unified oil and gas market and deepen economic integration in the face of what they consider unjustified Western sanctions against their two economies.

Western governments have imposed sanctions to increase pressure on Lukashenko, who is accused of rigging elections in August 2020 and cracking down on the opposition in order to extend his 27-year term in office. Lukashenko denies manipulating the vote.

Russia is also under Western sanctions for its treatment of Ukraine.

The IMF said last month it was keeping a close eye on Belarus, but granted Lukashenko’s hardline government as part of a broader allocation of 650 billion IMF members.

Some US lawmakers had asked the IMF to restrict the government’s access to the funds.

The online interviewing mission will lay the groundwork for a full Article IV economic surveillance mission in December. Such reviews are carried out regularly by the global lender.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Arrangement by Edwina Gibbs

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