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Belarus slaps 30 percent fee at currency exchanges

December 19, 2014

MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Belarus has imposed a 30 percent fee on currency exchange transactions in an effort to contain panic that has spilled over from neighboring Russia.

The Belarusian National Bank announced Friday that it was mandating the fee for both businesses and individuals using Belarusian rubles to buy foreign currency.

While Belarus’s currency has remained relatively stable in recent months, people in the capital of Minsk have flooded currency exchanges amid worries that the economic crisis in Russia could spill over. The Russian ruble has lost almost half its value this year.

“This is my own Black Friday,” said 45-year-old librarian Nadezhda Gorbyleva, who said she had waited in line for a day but still wasn’t able to buy foreign currency. “We have become hostages of Russia, it’s taking us with it to the bottom... We are preparing for the worst.”

In a televised address on Thursday, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the country would not allow its currency to depreciate in the wake of the ruble crash.

“We have no intention of running after Russia, we absolutely forbid that because it is unclear what is happening in the Russian markets,” Lukashenko said.

Those words were meant to invoke calm in Belarus, where the currency collapsed by 65 percent in 2011. But the new 30 percent fee has only compounded concerns in a country heavily dependent on Russia, where it sells over 50 percent of its exports.

Lukashenko also said Thursday that Belarus would demand payment from Russian importers in foreign currency. It was unclear how he planned to enforce that measure, as 92 percent of business transactions between Russian and Belarusian producers are conducted in Russian rubles.

Update hourly