News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Monday, January 15, 2007

Lukashenka on dealing with Russia, Balanced oil agreement reached, Local elections, Business, Global warming, Opinion, Opposition and Blogs

  • From the Top...
  • #165

    Alexander Lukashenko: crisis period of Belarusian-Russian energy relations over

    From: Belta
    Belarus and Russia have different vision of the Union State. The head of state highlighted that the Belarusian government had never spoken about a possibility of making Belarus part of the Russian Federation. At the same time, Alexander Lukashenko said that the Russian party insisted on that. The president stressed once again that he would not allow Belarus to lose its sovereignty and independence.
    Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko is confident, the crisis period of Belarusian-Russian energy industry relations has ended.

    “It was short, but intensive and very dangerous”, underlined the head of state while answering reporters’ questions at a polling station.

    "At present Belarus has no problems with hydrocarbon raw stock supplies. Belarus has absolutely nothing to do with the tensions growing around the oil pipeline."

    "Belarus and Russia have managed to agree a normal routine the two countries will follow working in absolute market conditions, guided by global prices. It will be much better for us than last year”, explained the Belarusian leader, commenting on the resolution of the problem of Russian oil supplies to Belarus.

    “I think at this stage we don’t have problems with hydrocarbon raw stock supplies”, he added.

    Alexander Lukashenko also stated, Belarus “encouraged no one to shut off the pipeline”. “We performed our functions in a most bona fide manner. Therefore, we are not the ones that should be questioned. We have nothing to do with the tensions growing around the oil pipeline”, stated the president.

    Alexander Lukashenko explained that Belarus had agreed to extremely unprofitable natural gas supplies contracts in exchange for a promise to ensure normal oil supplies from the Russian Federation to Belarus.

    Belarus and Russia have different vision of the Union State. The head of state highlighted that the Belarusian government had never spoken about a possibility of making Belarus part of the Russian Federation. At the same time, Alexander Lukashenko said that the Russian party insisted on that. The president stressed once again that he would not allow Belarus to lose its sovereignty and independence.

    Belarus is also ready for any cooperation with Europe to ensure the national energy security in the field of hydrocarbon raw stock supplies. “I should say in this situation both Europe and the USA acted decently. They offered aid and support in case the Belarusian state and the nation needed them. We will never forget it. If Europeans are ready to cooperate with Belarus in this field, we will accept any cooperation with Europe for the sake of ensuring our national energy security in the field of hydrocarbon raw stock supplies”, emphasised Alexander Lukashenko.

    The president is convinced, “Europe has understood a lot” after the Belarusian-Russian dispute over energy supplies.

    “In Europe there were people rubbing hands, pleased with the conflict. I can tell them they should thank Belarus for what happened. They understood a lot after the conflict. Those, who smile and rub hands today, should know it’s us today, but tomorrow it may be their turn”, added the head of state.

    Belarus is ready to cooperate with the Russian Federation and move forward in the Union State formation. The president stressed that the Union State treaty signed by the two sides has become a law and needs to be implemented.

    Speaking about the relations with Russia in the energy sphere Alexander Lukashenko said that Russia “acts from the position of strength” being well aware that it can get away with it. “If the Russian Federation is going to build relations with other countries in the same way this will have no prospects”, the Belarusian leader believes.

    “We are open for the closest cooperation with the Russian Federation. We need to get to the point we were before and to abolish restrictions for the movement of people and goods”, the Belarusian leader added.

    Belarus is ready to cooperate with everyone for the sake of ensuring its national energy security and continues working on the diversification of energy imports.

    “It is a most important task our government continues working on. If Europeans are ready to cooperate with Belarus in this direction, we will accept any cooperation for the sake of ensuring our national energy security in the field of hydrocarbon raw stock supplies”, stated Alexander Lukashenko.”

    I should say in this situation both Europe and the USA acted decently. They offered aid and support in case the Belarusian state and the nation needed them. We will never forget it”, said the president.
    “It is all the same who we will cooperate with if our nation lives peacefully and faces no more such crises”, underlined the head of state meaning the energy dispute with Russia.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out, Belarus had managed to avoid excitement about petrol and other petroleum products. In his words, the country’s leadership tried to secure the Belarusian society and keep the negotiation process in check.

    “Our people stood dignified. I can’t even say people rushed to buy petrol at refuelling stations. I said and they believed that we will have oil. If the conflict had continued, we would have unloaded oil tankers in Black Sea and Baltic Sea ports already. We were quick to work out these variants. I should say in this situation both Europe and the USA acted decently. They offered aid and support in case the Belarusian state and the nation needed them. We will never forget it”, said the president.

    Other countries, including Azerbaijan, “met us halfway, even were ready to give us what they needed more”, informed Alexander Lukashenko. “That is why I made it clear: our people will not be left without oil”, the president added.

    Russia earns $10 billion in services in Belarus, president of the country Alexander Lukashenko told reporters today.

    According to him, when the Russian Federation was in difficult conditions, Belarus “built the Yamal-Europe line duty free and thus lost about $1 billion”. “We acted like brothers and did not look for benefits”, the head of state stressed.

    He informed that Russia pays about $4,5-5 billion for gas transit to Poland while to Belarus - as little as $120 million. “Pay us $5 billion and we will not fight over gas prices”, the Belarusian leader said.

    He also added that the transit of 1 ton of oil via Belarus is 2 or 3 times cheaper for Russia than via other countries. Alexander Lukashenko reminded that Belarus “observes” Russia’s interests near Brest, Grodno, maintains the anti-aircraft facilities, and took part in the settlement of the Kaliningrad problem.

    The president of Belarus called the Russian project on constructing the oil pipeline in the Baltic Sea as unpromising and dangerous especially since the construction of the second line of the Yamal-Europe line has been completed.

    Alexander Lukashenko stated that Belarus does not want the energy conflict with Russia to escalate. He hopes that this will not happen in the relations of the two countries and that the sides can return to the level of cooperation which was there before the energy dispute started.

    If the Russian pressure continues, Belarus will charge for the use of land under the pipeline. In his words, Belarusian experts had analyzed legislations of other foreign states and came to the conclusion that the step will not contradict the international law.

    The head of state highlighted that Belarus has always backed Russia in the most difficult situations. “Today the oil and gas prices are growing thus giving an opportunity to earn some money and the Russian party decided to trample on the Union,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    According to the president, by imposing the export duty on oil exported to Belarus, Russia has destroyed customs union agreements.

    Belarus and Russia have agreed concrete contracts and prices for oil for January and February.

    In his words, Belarus will enjoy more than acceptable oil terms.

    “The government presented a normal formula we will keep to working in absolute market relations in view of global prices. It will be much better for us than last year”, the president underlined when answering reporters’ questions at a polling station.

    "It was not Belarus’ fault that the energy conflict escalated. Foreign countries understood it quicker than Russia. Western news agencies were giving true accounts of the situation. Russian mass media went the other way around. I understand – you serve the interests of some particular forces who pay you. Then do not conceal it”, the president said.
    “I would like to point out it wasn’t us who provoked the oil crisis. We accepted extremely unprofitable gas supplies conditions, counting on the Russian government’s promise to resolve the oil problems in a way most profitable for Belarus so that we would be able to alleviate the unlucky and unprofitable contract on natural gas supplies. When it didn’t happen and we had some strange duty imposed, of course, we couldn’t agree to it. To compare, the price stood at $180 and ‘rolled down’ to $53. Perhaps, the fact proves we were right”, explained the president.

    Alexander Lukashenko noted, Belarus “encouraged no one to shut off the pipeline”. “We performed our functions in a most bona fide manner. We are not the ones that should be questioned. We have absolutely nothing to do with the tensions growing around the oil pipeline. I’d like emphasise one more time: we were promised normal oil supplies conditions in exchange for the extremely unprofitable contracts on natural gas supplies”, stated the president.

    According to the head of state, the recent oil negotiations were complicated. “We were offered oil at prices higher than the global one. Can you tell me: is it normal?” wondered the Belarusian leader. Yet he expressed confidence at present there will be no problems with supplies of hydrocarbon raw stock.

    The policy followed by Russian mass media in respect of Belarus does not contribute to the Union State formation. According to the head of state “it is just several countries that can behave like that in cold war time”. “If we are honest before our peoples if we want people to know the truth it should be stated open”, Alexander Lukashenko is convinced.

    He stressed that it was not Belarus’ fault that the energy conflict escalated. Foreign countries understood it quicker than Russia. “Western news agencies were giving true accounts of the situation. Russian mass media went the other way around. I understand – you serve the interests of some particular forces who pay you. Then do not conceal it”, the president said.

    Speaking about reports in Russian mass media during the energy crisis Alexander Lukashenko said that there is no behaving like that in the Union State. “Insulting the head of state no matter in what magazines and newspapers, humiliating the Belarusian people who did nothing wrong to the Russian people – I think this does not help to build trust in our relations”, the Belarusian leader said.

    The future of the Union State does not depend on Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko told journalists.

    “Since we have initiated the Union State formation and had a referendum on this topic we cannot give up this policy,” the head of state highlighted.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, he has been following the same policy for the last 10 years. “But when they start insulting me, when they try to bring my people to the knees blocking the economic ways of cooperation how am I supposed to react? I have never avoided thorny issues. I had the conflict situation under control,” the president said. I have devoted all my time to settle the conflict, which has finally happened, the Belarusian leader added.

    Russia, Belarus reach 'balanced' energy agreement - opinion

    From: Ria Novosti
    Belarus will pay $53 per tonne for oil it imports against $180 that Russia had earlier demanded
    Russia made concessions to Belarus at their oil talks this week, but the agreement they reached is beneficial for both ex-Soviet states, a Russian official close to the negotiations said Saturday.

    After two days of negotiations, Russia and Belarus initialed Friday an agreement settling their dispute over oil supplies, with Russia reducing the oil export duty for its neighbor from $180.7 to $53 per metric ton, effective from January 1, 2007.

    The new oil export duty ends horse-trading between the two former allies, which disrupted Russian crude supplies to Europe and tarnished Russia's reputation as a reliable energy supplier.

    Russia made some concessions as it "was not after putting Belarus on its knees," he said, adding the two countries had reached "a balanced agreement." He said the agreement, which also lifts other trade barriers, was to be signed in the next two weeks.

    Russia ended duty-free oil supplies to Belarus delivering a major blow on the economy of a country that has relied heavily on receipts from refining and re-exporting Russian oil.

    Oil product exports account for 50% of Belarus's export revenues totaling $15 billion a year.

    Starting from 2007, Russia also canceled a preferential price for natural gas supplies to Belarus, with which it is building a union state, doubling it to $100 per 1,000 cu m, in line with its drive to gradually bring gas prices for former Soviet satellites closer to European levels.

    "We did not drive our [Belarusian] partners into a corner, but gave them an opportunity to increase payments [oil duties] gradually," the official said.

    The two countries agreed that Russia would receive 70% compensation from Belarus's exports of refined Russian oil in 2007, 80% in 2008 and 85% in 2009, Russia's Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said Friday.

    The official praised the deal saying it ensured uninterrupted supplies to Europe in the short term, but added other export routes needed to be explored.

    The three-day stoppage of supplies over Belarus's tapping of Europe-bound oil pumped along Russia's main export pipeline Druzhba (Friendship) affected Poland, Germany and other European countries and fueled accusations of bullying policies and blackmail against Russia.

    Belarus started siphoning off oil when Russia refused to pay a transit fee the republic imposed in retaliation for the Russian export duty. But Minsk later lifted the tax, opening the way to the resumption of supplies and the start of talks with Moscow.

    The Russian official said a Belarusian delegation would come to Moscow again next week for talks on sugar supplies to Russia, the issue that was not mentioned at the talks this week.

    The Russians threatened duties on Belarusian goods, when Minsk imposed the oil transit fee.

    Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov was quoted Friday by Russian news agencies as making the announcement after some 10 hours of tense talks in Moscow with his Belarusian counterpart, Sergei Sidorsky.

    Belarus's PM says satisfied with Moscow oil talks

    From: Ria Novosti
    Andrei Kobyakov
    Belarus is satisfied with the results of two-day oil talks in Moscow this week, Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov said Saturday.

    The two countries settled their dispute over oil supplies Friday. Russia reduced the oil export duty for its neighbor after Belarus lifted its transit tax on Russian crude supplies to Europe earlier this week opening the way for the resumption of Europe-bound exports and the start of the talks.

    "Those were not concessions from Belarus, but a civilized way of settling disputes with proper calculations and an economic analysis," said Kobyakov, who led the Belarusian delegation at the talks.

    The oil dispute between the ex-Soviet states at the start of 2007 affected Russia's European consumers. Moscow briefly cut off crude supplies as Belarus started siphoning off oil as payment in kind for its transit services. Russia refused to pay the transit fee Minsk imposed in revenge for the Russian export duty.

    Russia agreed to cut the export duty from $180.7 to $53 per metric ton, effective from January 1, 2007. The two countries initialed an agreement to this end Friday, while also pledging to remove other trade barriers.

    The end of duty-free oil supplies to Belarus is seen as a major blow on the economy of a country that has relied heavily on receipts from refining and re-exporting Russian oil. Oil product exports account for 50% of Belarus's export revenues totaling $15 billion a year.

    Starting from 2007, Russia also canceled a preferential price for natural gas supplies to Belarus, with which it is building a union state, doubling it to $100 per 1,000 cu m, in line with its drive to gradually bring gas prices for former Soviet satellites closer to European levels.

    Kobyakov said six billion metric tons of oil Belarus was to receive from Russia for domestic consumption would be duty-free, whereas the other 14 billion metric tons to be refined and re-exported would be subject to the duty.

    He also said Belarus would revise its export duty for oil products shortly to bring it in conformity with Russian figures.

    Russia complained about huge losses inflicted on its budget from crude supplies to its western neighbor. Belarus refined oil and re-exported it to third countries, paying no taxes to the Russian budget.

    Kobyakov also said Russia's demand to speed up the transfer to WTO principles in bilateral trade was fair enough given both countries' bids to join the global trade body. He said they had outlined ways at the talks to streamline access to the Russian market for Belarusian goods.

    “At negotiations on January 12 German Gref assured in 2011 the prices for gas in Belarus and Russia will be equal”, noted Andrei Kobyakov.
    In additional news from the conference (From: Belta) in 2011 Belarus and Russia will have equal gas prices, Belarus deputy prime minister Andrei Kobyakov told the press on January 13.

    He explained, he had discussed the issue with German Gref, head of the Russian Economic Development and Trade Ministry. “At negotiations on January 12 German Gref assured in 2011 the prices for gas in Belarus and Russia will be equal”, noted Andrei Kobyakov.

    Let us remind you that Russia had declared its intention to reach European equal income gas prices. To make it come true, Russia will have to cover a major gap increasing domestic gas prices up to the Belarusian level. The Belarusian side believes it is a positive move. “We hope it will be accomplished”, stressed Andrei Kobyakov.

    There will be no unexpected price hike in Belarus following the changed Russian oil export terms.
    In his words, this year’s national major social and economic development guidelines set the annual inflation at 6-8%. “We should fit into the range. Nobody has lifted our responsibility for that”, underscored Andrei Kobyakov.

    An intergovernmental treaty regulating Belarusian sugar supplies to Russia may be signed within the next few days. He noted, during the negotiations the sides agreed the treaty was to be signed by February 15, 2007. “But we expect it to happen sooner, as the document has been quite well polished by the agriculture ministries of Belarus and Russia. I believe the treaty may be signed within the next few days”, noted Andrei Kobyakov. However, he did not explain the essence of the agreement the sides had initialled the day before.

    Belarus should implement energy-saving programmes faster. Asked what Belarus should do to minimise consequences of the Russian gas price hike, Andrei Kobyakov said, “We should just work on and understand there will not be other gas prices. They will not be lower. It is a global tendency. Therefore, there is only one way out — getting energy-saving projects done faster, finding new ways to save heat and electricity”.

    Belarus to hold elections to local Councils

    From: Itar-Tass
    Leader of the United Civil Party Anatoly Lebedko
    Elections of deputies to local Councils will be held in Belarus on Sunday. A total of 6,525 polling stations will be opened in the republic. The citizens are to elect over 22,500 deputies and 1,581 local Councils will be formed on the voting results.

    To monitor the elections are accredited 16,000 foreign observers.

    As many as 23,791 hopefuls have been registered as candidates. “Women account for 44 percent of the registered candidates, 7.3 percent - young people under 30, 48.3 percent - deputies of local Councils of the current convocation; 17 Russian citizens permanently residing in the republic’s territory have also been registered as candidates,” secretary of the Belarussian Central Election Committee Nikolai Lozovik told Itar-Tass.

    A candidate that wins the majority of votes will be considered elected. There are representatives of Belarussian opposition among the candidates. Meanwhile, two days before the elections, leader of the United Civil Party Anatoly Lebedko announced the withdrawal of his candidature, because he is certain that the elections will be falsified.

    Almost 19 percent of the electorate have taken part in early voting. There are a total of seven million citizens that are eligible voters in the country. For the first time the local elections will be held in one round, which, in the view of specialists will allow Belarus to save over six billion roubles (about three million US dollars) and to form the authorised local Councils as soon as possible.

    Belarusians vote in local elections seen as test for isolated regime

    From: IHT
    Some 7 million voters were eligible to take part in the election of 1,581 local councils. Turnout at 1600 GMT, two hours before polls closed, stood at around 70 percent, the electoral commission said.
    Belarusians voted Sunday in local elections seen as a test for the ex-Soviet nation's isolated regime after a bitter oil dispute with neighboring Russia that could have economically painful effects.

    Leaders of the embattled opposition, one of whom withdrew from the race on the grounds that they could not compete fairly, said the elections took place under tight official control and predicted widespread falsification.

    But the polls still represented a rare opportunity for the opposition to communicate directly with the electorate.

    Some 7 million voters were eligible to take part in the election of 1,581 local councils. Turnout at 1600 GMT, two hours before polls closed, stood at around 70 percent, the electoral commission said.

    Lukashenko on Sunday hit out at Russia, which has become a target on state-controlled television networks, in what appeared to be an effort to bolster his image among Belarusians.

    "They thought that they could put a noose around Lukashenko's neck and get everything they wanted. It didn't work out," he said as he voted at a polling station in the capital Minsk.

    The Belarusian president reiterated his refusal of a Kremlin offer to incorporate Belarus into Russia, saying: "I don't want to give up our sovereignty and independence."

    The main opposition leader, Alexander Milinkevich, suggested the local elections would not accurately reflect public opinion, contending that they were being held "under colossal pressure from the authorities" and would be falsified.

    But he said the opposition would use the elections to tell voters about "the dangerous situation in which Lukashenko has placed Belarus."

    Russia has just lifted a 72-hour oil blockade that cut off Belarus and also disrupted supplies to Europe.

    Belarus' Soviet-style, state-controlled economy has long relied on cheap Russian energy, which Lukashenko has used to buttress his popularity during his almost 13-year rule.

    Now, the country stands to lose billions of dollars a year from the combined squeeze of a doubling of Russian natural gas prices imposed just before the New Year and the ending of a duty-free regime for Russian oil imports that had enabled it to resell refined products abroad at a hefty profit.

    "I have lost trust in Lukashenko and his policies, but there is no one from the opposition among the candidates and I crossed out all the names from the list," said Andrei Turovsky, a 48-year-old engineer who was voting in Minsk.

    Only 200 opposition candidates were able to register for the election of 22,500 members of local councils. Most seats were being sought by a single person, unopposed.

    Belarus is already facing European Union and U.S. sanctions imposed over democracy concerns, and Belarusian analysts say the loss in revenue from re-exported oil products and the cost from higher natural gas costs could total up to 8 percent of the country's GDP.

    But Lukashenko, who won re-election to a third term last year with more than 82 percent of the vote in a ballot that international observers said was illegitimate, has cracked down hard on the opposition before these elections, human rights activists say.

    Security forces have detained or briefly held hundreds of opposition activists during the electoral campaign, including its leaders, according to the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.

    "Lukashenko today is in a dangerous situation and is using force to try to quash any signs of discontent," said Oleg Gulak, acting head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee.

    One opposition leader, the United Civil Party' Anatoly Lebedko, withdrew his candidacy on the eve of the ballot in protest at what he described as an electoral process "designed to appoint and not elect lawmakers."

    Russia, Belarus to sign agreement

    From: Itar-Tass
    Russia and Belarus will soon sign an agreement abolishing several tens of restrictions for Russian business in Belarus, a source close to the talks told Itar-Tass.

    During the talks on Friday, the agreement was initialed on abolishing restrictions in Belarus and bringing customs conditions into conformity with the WTO norms and rules, the source said.

    According to the source, the resolutions of the governments of the two countries will be signed soon and the agreement will be signed.

    Thus, about 40 decrees of the Belarussian president and about 20 government resolutions will be revoked, the source noted.

    Bush Signs Sanction Legislation On Belarus

    From: RFE/RL
    U.S. President George W. Bush has signed into law a measure that tightens U.S. sanctions against Belarus and approves money for independent Belarusian media and democratic groups opposed to the country's authoritarian government.

    The legislation, passed earlier by the U.S. Congress, renews the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004. It directs the Bush administration to deny U.S. loans to Belarus and prohibits most U.S. exports to the country.

    It also includes a statement demanding release of political prisoners in Belarus, and rejects the results of authoritarian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's reelection last March.

    Belarus: fruit and vegetable processing companies to be reconstructed by 2010

    From: Fresh Plaza
    The production of canned green peas is expected to double: from 24 million cans in 2005 to 45,5 million in 2010. It will completely satisfy the Belarus demand for these products
    In the next five years, about 15 fruit and vegetable processing companies will be re-equipped and reconstructed in this Belarus. The modernization will allow the companies to expand their product range, increase the number of import-substituting products, enhance the quality and competitive power of national fruit and vegetable cans. The production capacity of these companies will increase to 409 million cans in 2010 and up to 71% of the goods will be produced in modern packagings.

    The production of canned green peas is expected to double: from 24 million cans in 2005 to 45,5 million in 2010. It will completely satisfy the Belarus demand for these products (20-22 million cans). The production of canned and pickled tomatoes will grow more than 1,5 times, canned mushrooms, beans, tomato sauce and ketchup – two times.

    Due to the reconstruction, the national companies will increase their sales volumes of canned fruits and vegetables on the external market. For example, in 2010 around 77 million cans of these products are expected to be exported.

    Milinkevich Detained After Meeting with Voters

    Alyaksandr Milinkevich: Arrested again?
    Yesterday a meeting of the leader of the united democratic forces Alyaksandr Milinkevich with voters was held in Byaroza (Brest region). After the meeting Alyaksandr Milinkevich was detained by policemen. He hadn’t been charged with anything. Policemen demanded to write down identification details of people who were travelling with Milinkevich in his car. Policemen justified their request by an order from their commanders.

    Later Milinkevich’s car without any explanations was stopped by traffic policemen when he was driving into Brest. After Milinkevich asked for explanation, policemen said that he was arrested. The car of the united democratic forces leader was convoyed to one of the police department of Brest. Milinkevich’s wife was in the car as well. in an hour without presenting any charges Brest policemen released Milinkevich.

    Belarus Plans To Simplify Border Crossing For Chornobyl NPP Workers And Transport

    From: Ukraine News
    Belarus has plans to simplify the border-crossing procedure for workers and technical vehicles of the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant (NPP).

    The Chornobyl NPP's press service reported this with references to Ambassador of Belarus Valentin Velichko.

    During his visit to the Chornobyl NPP, Velichko met with technical director and chief engineer of the plant Andrii Bilyk.

    They discussed questions linked with signing of the inter-government agreement on simplifying the procedure of crossing the Belarusian section of the Slavutych-Chornobyl NPP automobile road by the plant's personnel and technical transport.

    Velichko noted he knew about the problems in crossing that road section, and visited the Komarin border-crossing point.

    "This road leading from Ukraine to Ukraine runs 17 kilometers on our republic's territory. This demands execution of a number of customs and border control requirements, which slows down the border-crossing process. I'm confident that the inter-government agreement will be signed and will cover all nuances in movement of the station's transport and workers," he said.

    Velichko and Bilyk also talked over supplies of Ukrainian electricity to Belarus.

    Particularly, at present Belarus exports electricity from Ukraine and export volumes will be growing (electricity from Ukraine is delivered via the Chornobyl NPP's distribution devices).

    Velichko also visited the viewing pavilion of the Shelter facility and examined the Stabilization project.

    As Ukrainian News earlier reported, heads of the Chornobyl NPP forecast that the winner in the tender for completing the Shelter facility will be named by March 2007.

    The explosion at the Chornobyl NPP's fourth reactor in 1986 caused the biggest technological disaster in the world history.

    Global Warming: Russia's Gain, World's Pain?

    From: Moscow News
    "It is hardly possible to imagine Russia without a white winter. But we may be heading in that direction"
    While climate change is a perilous prospect for the entire planet, Russia may feel the immediate consequences the least.

    The Russian people enjoy bragging rights as the inhabitants of one of the coldest places on earth. But instead of complaining about their geographical fate, Russians from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok do battle against the elements with everything at their disposal. Indeed, the brutal weather conditions have spawned an entire cottage industry dedicated to tea, banyas, fur coats, and of course the national drink and pastime, vodka.

    Given these cultural and geographic propensities, it is hardly possible to imagine Russia without a white winter. But we may be heading in that direction.

    Some economists are arguing that the planet's net economic growth since the advent of the Industrial Revolution could eventually be naught if global warming is a fact. That would mean that all of our technological progress has been the equivalent of spinning our tires on ice without moving forward an inch. Indeed, we may be even sliding backwards. This pretty much summarizes the conclusions of at least one recent study - the "Stern Review" - that examines the economics of climate change due to mankind's tinkering.

    Sir Nicholas Stern, using data collected from top economists all over the world, concluded that mankind will suffer dearly if global warming is not confronted.

    "Climate change will affect the basic elements of life for people around the world - access to water, food production, health, and the environment. Hundreds of millions of people could suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the world warms," Stern warned.

    That seems to be a heavy price to pay for maintaining our present standard of living - complete with gas-guzzling cars, factories and mass everything - the very problems that are throwing a monkey wrench into the weather system.

    But if the economic gurus cannot appreciate real-life apocalyptic scenarios, perhaps the idea of a shrinking gross domestic product (GDP) will slap them into action.

    Stern continues: "Using the results from formal economic models, the Review estimates that if we don't act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more."

    At those rates of loss, the entire globalization project would collapse by the next decade.

    Should Russia Worry?

    Since planet Earth is finite - as opposed to infinite - no place is truly safe from the ultimate consequences of climate change, although some countries may feel the immediate impact to lesser degrees. Russia is one such place.

    Blessed with a vast landmass, which has partially explained its military successes against various adversaries over the centuries, it may also serve as a defense against the moodiness of Mother Nature.

    Russia's unique geographical position protects it from hurricanes, tropical storms, and other severe weather patterns that threaten to worsen in other parts of the world due to increasing global temperatures.

    In 2005, for example, the United States suffered 27 severe storms (13 of the storms were hurricanes, while the average number per year is three), including Hurricane Katrina, which left 1,300 people dead, and thousands displaced. Reconstruction costs will probably swell beyond $200 billion, making Katrina the costliest storm in history. What will happen to the global economy should more than one Katrina visit the U.S. mainland in a single year?

    Strangely, although the U.S. possibly stands to suffer the most from severe climate change, U.S. President George W. Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol [a U.N.-backed treaty that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from signatory members], arguing that it would damage the American economy. The prospects for Europe are not much better. In August 2003, a record heat wave scorched Europe, claiming an estimated 35,000 lives. In France alone, where the mercury was stuck around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius) for weeks, approximately 15,000 people died from the brutal heat. In the same period, London broke the 100-degree mark for the first time in its history.

    Presently, much to the dismay of ski enthusiasts, Europe's Alpine region is going through its warmest period in 1,300 years, a phenomenon that began in the 1980s.

    Meanwhile, back in Russia, where Moscow is now smashing records for its toastiest December ever, there is little anxiety over global warming.

    It should be no surprise that the reason has a lot to do with economics. As the Arctic Ocean above Russia begins to lose its glacial covering, new opportunities for gas and oil exploration are opening up.

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about one-fourth of the world's untapped energy reserves may be in the Arctic, and this fact has not gone unnoticed by the world's developed countries.

    "Earlier this year Russia announced a project to exploit the world's biggest offshore gas field, Shtokman, 300 miles off its northern coast," the Economist reported. "...[I]t let Gazprom, its energy giant, go it alone."

    So while Russia basks in oil reserves, the world basks in rising temperatures. Where the cycle will end is anybody's guess.
  • Note:The city of Pinsk, which is located in southern Belarus has not had a single snowfall this year since an early, unseasonable front in October. Also, the temperature has barely ever dropped below freezing. No one locally can ever remember a Belarusian winter in which there was never any snow or ice.

  • From the blogs...

    Why It Didn’t End In Tears: Does Russia Need A Pipeline Through Belarus?

    From: The Copydude
    Carnival float depicting Germany's conservative opposition leader, Angela Merkel, protruding from the buttocks of Uncle Sam
    The great Belarus energy shut down is over and . . . guess what. The lights did not ‘go out all over Europe’ and ‘thousands of Germans’ did not ‘freeze in their homes’. The chance of that happening was, and is, zero.

    While the scaremongering, Russophobic reporting was expected, bad-mouthing Angela Merkel should surely have been better informed.

    Russia anticipated problems with Belarus and made contingency plans. As noted in the previous article, Russia’s Kaliningrad is in Europe too, and just as vulnerable to problems with Belarus as Germany.

    A few months prior to the negotiations, Russia pumped extra gas into underground reservoirs in Germany, for use by Germany, Poland and the Baltic Countries.

    When it comes to oil, Russia would have to supply Europe come what may, partly by reconfiguring routes, partly by tankers from one of its vast new oil terminals like at Primorsk. As CNN noted, if Russia isn’t pumping oil to Europe, it would simply run out of places to put it in a very short space of time. Meanwhile, EU countries carry 120 days of energy reserves by EU law.

    But at the end of the day, isn’t it wonderfully hypocritical of Angela Merkel to speak of Europe? Germany has made its own bilateral deal with Russia for energy, with a pipeline circumventing Poland and the Baltic Countries. Germany’s former Chancellor Schroeder sits on the board of the exclusively Russian-German project. Screw the neighbours, is what Angela really says.

    What the Russian press has to say about the oil deal

    From: Belarus News and Facts
    Russian newspapers comment on Belarus' decision to abolish its controversial transit duty on Russian oil pumped through its territory and further talks between the two countries.

    The Vedomosti warns that the dispute is far from being resolved, as Belarus and Russia continue talks on the distribution of revenues from export duties on petroleum products.

    The publication notes with reference to an official with the Russian Ministry of Economic Development and Trade that Russia may scrap its export duty on oil supplied to Belarusian refineries only if Belarus agreed to give 85 percent of revenues from export duties on petroleum products to Russia. "Even this proportion is not advantageous for us as Russia in fact donates $600 million to the neighbors," the unnamed official is quoted as saying.

    "We have won. Belarus back-pedaled right after a phone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Aleksandr Lukashenko," the Izvestiya writes. "Belarus agreed to fulfill Russia's demand and scrapped the transit duty that became the 'bone of contention.' Belarus's concession looks very logical, especially if one imagines the consequences of a possible trade blockade against Belarus that the Russian government seemed to be preparing. However, the talks are still underway."

    The paper notes that Thursday's talks between Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky and his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, will be essential to future relations between the two countries. "Belarus hopes that we will scrap our export duty on oil, because of which the Belarusian budget will lose $3.5-4 billion. However, this is likely to happen only if a new interstate agreement is signed. Belarus had violated the old one for many years until Russia finally lost its patience."

    The Noviye Izvestiya suggests that Belarus and Russia appear to have reached certain agreement on the matter. "No one had any doubts that Aleksandr Lukashenko will abolish the duty, but whether he will manage to keep the Belarusian assets that Russia wants to obtain is a question yet to be answered. Russia has stronger trump cards in this 'pipe play'," the publication notes.

    “MAZAL TOV" to Berel and Chana

    From: Karlin Gazette
    Berel and Chana: Choson and Kallah again after 50 yeras

    Berel and Chana: Choson and Kallah again after 50 yeras
    Next week there will be an exceptional event here in the Pinsk Kehillah. Berel and Chana, an elderly couple (around 80 years old) have undertaken to have a Chasunah al pi Torah, Chupa and Kiddushin. Due to the harsh oppression during the war years the large, vibrant Yiddishe kehillah of Pinsk was literally wiped off the map. Because of this episode there are many Jewish men who although fortunate enough still to be close to Jewish women, are lacking the essential procedures for a marriage in the true Torah procedure. The story started like most with the thought of Mattisyahu Gilbert of Yeshivas Pe’er Yisroel to initiate the complicated task of marrying the couple al pi Torah. Berel was a first option since he is known for his kind and sincere nature.

    After R' Moshe Fhima had spoken to Berel and Rebbintzen Fhima to Chana the couple agreed and are now anticipating the big day. This Shabbos Parshas Shemos saw the Oif-Ruf with the Chasan, Berel, being called up to the Sefer Torah amongst a shower of sweets and joyous singing. The Chupa will take place at the Beis Aharon Synagogue. Im Yiratz Hashem this display will both encourage other couples to undergo the Mitzvah and also make a big Kiddush Hashem showing the beauty of Torah true Yiddiskeit. Hopefully this won’t be a one time occurrence. The ceremony will be followed by a sumptuous seudah for the Kehillah hosted by Yeshivas Pe’er Yisroel. Everyone is invited!

  • Opinion...

    Stanislau Bahdankevich: «Anyway, Belarus will pay for the oil»

    From: Charter '97
    The negotiations on oil deliveries and transit between the government delegations of Russia and Belarus are to be continued at the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade of Russia on Friday. The first day of negotiations was over and the negotiators did not announce the results. Stanislau Bahdankevich, the former head of the National Bank of Belarus, is sure that the attempts of the Belarusian officials to make the public believe that they won at the start of the negotiations actually has nothing to do with the real victory in that primarily political confrontation. “Anyway, Belarus is doomed to failure. It is morally obliged to cancel hastily introduced export duties .Definitely, it is a negative point. What concerns the material aspect of the problem, they will agree on sharing the duties. But if previously we paid nothing, now, anyway, we shall pay at least 2 billion dollars, and it’s only for the oil, declared Bahdankevich in his interview to the Russian service of Radio Svoboda.

    On 11th January , all day long, in the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade the Russian and Belarusian officials were talking over the carbon raw materials deliveries and transit .The tune to the negotiations was played by Vitaliy Saveliev, the Russian Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade, and Andrei Kabyakou, the Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister . German Gref, the head of the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade, and Syarhei Sidorski, the Belarusian Prime-Minister, joined negotiators in the afternoon. Literally, almost at night time, Syarhei Sidorski was received by the Prime-Minister Mikhail Fradkov in the White House. The observers do not exclude that Alexander Lukashenko might appear in Moscow. In their telephone conversation on 10th January both presidents discussed that opportunity in case the concrete results in negotiations were achieved.

    The beginning of negotiations was preceded by the resolution of the Belarusian government canceling its own resolution of the 31st December 2006 on introduction the customs’ duty of 45 dollars per ton on the Russian oil transit. It was the cancellation of the duty by Belarus that was announced to be the only condition for the beginning of the bilateral negotiations.

    After failing to gain from imposing the duty, Belarus insists on the counter step of Russia, meaning cancellation of the Russian duty on the Russian oil exported to Belarus which was introduced on 8th December 2006.Before leaving for Moscow Syarhei Sidorski openly revealed why the duty had been imposed: ”We introduced the countermeasure to introduction of the duty by the Government of the Russian Federation. That was done just to show that such measure is not a step forward in economic development.”

    However Andrei Suzdaltsau, the political scientist, is sure that the last events have, first of all, changed Russia itself. According to the analyst, consolidation of the Russian elite has occurred. And in such situations ultimatums of Belarus will be simply ignored: ”For the last 10 days Alexander Lukashenko twice publicly gave up to Moscow. The first time it was when he declared his readiness to sell the Beltransgaz, the second time when he refused to employ the introduced duty on oil transit to the West. Thus, Minsk failed to enter the negotiations by force. Counting on the possible exchange of the Belarusian duty for the Russian one was useless. I believe, that Belarus will also fail to agree with Russia on canceling the duty on Russian oil export to Belarus.”

    No More Mr. Nice Guy:
    Vladimir Putin slaps down hapless Belarus. But eventually the hard-fisted Russian president will find that the name of this game is blowback

    From: Owen Mathews for Newsweek
    Vladimir Putin
    From the way Aleksandr Lukashenka was talking, you'd think war had just broken out. "We will not surrender our country to anyone who wants to tear it to pieces!" railed Belarus's president after Russia stopped oil exports to Belarus—and European customers farther down the line—in a row over tariffs and energy prices. "We may have to go down into the bunkers, but we will not surrender!"

    Actually, he waved the white flag just a couple of days later. What choice did he have? No one knows exactly what was said in a tense phone conversation between Vladimir Putin and Lukashenka, but it was clear that Putin was playing for keeps. The Kremlin's key threat: to slap tariffs on Belarussian goods exported to Russia. Since well above half of Belarus's trade is with its larger neighbor—and onetime best geopolitical friend—that would have destroyed the country's economy.

    The terms of surrender were no less brutal. They included a twofold increase in the price of gas, the sell-off of Belarus's gas-pipeline network to Russia's Gazprom and a scrapping of transit tariffs for Russian oil passing through the Druzhba pipeline en route to Europe. For cash-strapped Belarus, isolated politically and economically from the rest of Europe, supplies of cheap Russian energy were an economic lifeline; their loss is a body blow to the nation's already precarious health. The lesson wasn't lost on other neighbors of Russia. If this is how Russia treats its closest friends, what can its enemies expect?

    The Belarus crisis may be resolved, for now, but the fallout will be enduring. Europe could scarcely be more alarmed by Putin's behavior. Only a year ago, the Russian president ordered gas supplies cut off to Ukraine in a very similar dispute—and with similar disregard for European customers affected by the decision. Moscow devoted much of the past year to diplomatic fence-mending, spending billions on expensive PR consultants and a lavish G8 summit in St. Petersburg, pushing the message that Russia was, in Putin's words, a "reliable energy partner." But then, precisely a year later, Moscow did it again. "Once, we can maybe forgive," says a Western diplomat in Moscow not authorized to speak on the record. "Twice, no." The bottom line: Europe has little alternative but to not trust anything Russia or its president says.

    Across the periphery of its old empire, from the Baltic to the Caspian, Putin's energy diplomacy has, in an astonishingly short time, made enemies of a fast-growing list of former friends. That catastrophic collapse of "soft power"—the ability to lead, influence and persuade others to do your bidding without having to force them—will have dire consequences for Russia's standing in the region for years to come. More, Moscow thought it had Europe firmly by the pipelines. Instead, Europe is scrambling to figure out how to lessen its dependence on Russia as quickly as possible. As it turns out, there are many ways to punch back, some of which can strike very soon.

    A sweeping new European energy policy, unveiled last week, sets out to do just that by seeking alternative suppliers. The plan lays out targets for the EU to derive 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, as well as to dramatically improve energy efficiency. Electricity grids are to be integrated in Germany, Poland and Lithuania, as well as France and Spain, in order to help neighbors better weather oil and gas crunches. Chancellor Angela Merkel cited the Russian threat last week in suggesting that Germany rethink its retreat from nuclear power. There's a major push to build facilities for shipping Liquid Natural Gas, or LNG, from points across the globe. Yes, it's more expensive—but it's independent of pipeline politics. Meanwhile, Brussels is promoting a trans-Balkan gas pipeline bypassing Russia, dubbed Nabucco, which would link central Europe to gas producers in the Caspian. The EU should "speak with one voice" when negotiating with suppliers such as Russia, said European Commission president José Manuel Barroso. Read: it's time for customers to club together and assert their rights.

    For Putin, this is a foreign-policy debacle. He came to power seven years ago with grand hopes for restoring Russia's imperial might—reasserting its influence in its historical "near abroad" and, no less ambitiously, becoming a player in the councils of western Europe and beyond. Fortune seemed to smile upon him. Rising oil prices filled Kremlin coffers with billions in windfall profits. What's more, control of oil and gas supplies in an energy-hungry world has given Moscow almost as much raw power as the Soviet Union ever had. "The geopolitical wind has been in our sails," says Kremlin-connected analyst Sergei Karaganov.

    But for how much longer? Dislike of Russia by its neighbors, and distrust among its former allies, is fast rising to almost cold-war levels. Putin had successfully befriended Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schröder—even employing him once the former chancellor left office. But his efforts to woo Merkel had not succeeded even before last week. Now her wariness has increased exponentially. The latest crisis, she said last week, "destroyed confidence." Apart from growing distrust in Europe and all-out confrontation with Belarus and Ukraine, Russia has also locked horns with Poland over agricultural trade. Last year it abruptly cut off oil supplies to Lithuania's Mazeikiu refinery, on seemingly bogus technical grounds, and it remains engaged in a bitter trade war with the renegade former Soviet republic of Georgia. Last week Azerbaijan also joined the swelling ranks of Putin's perceived enemies. After being told by the Russian natural-gas giant Gazprom that its prices would be raised, Baku turned to Iran for supplies instead. Then the Azerbaijanis raised the ante by directing the national oil company, Socar, to stop shipping their own oil to Russian ports. As if that weren't enough, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev dubbed the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia's instrument of soft power in the former Soviet Union, a "useless organization."

    Rather than resurrecting Russia's former empire, Kremlin diplomacy has thus been a case study in blowback. Putin could not have done more damage to his larger geostrategic goals had he deliberately set out to do so. The question is, why? Perhaps the simplest reason, analysts suggest, is that Putin feels so confident of his nation's newfound oil might that he doesn't need to play Mr. Nice Guy. When settling scores with uppity allies like Lukashenka, it seems, showing who's boss is more important than weighing the consequences for Russia's reputation. "We succumbed to the temptation to grow giddy with success and sometimes acted arrogantly," admits Karaganov. "People do not like those who are big and strong."

    But the brutality of Putin's slapdown of Lukashenka may come back to haunt the Kremlin. Tiny, landlocked Belarus is at Russia's mercy. Lukashenka has no friends, except perhaps his buddy Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He's an easy patsy, in other words. But what of stronger neighbors such as Turkmenistan, the gas-rich former Soviet republic? It provides nearly half the 150 billion cubic meters of gas that Russia exports each year, which Gazprom buys from the Turkmen at $100 per thousand cubic meters and then resells to Europe at a huge markup of $230. Since the death last month of its megalomaniacal ruler Saparmurat Niyazov, Turkmenistan's political future is in play. Energy-hungry neighbors are eyeing Turkmen reserves; one pipeline already runs to Iran, and the Chinese signed a deal on oil and gas cooperation in 2005. Most crucially, Western oil majors have long been pushing for a gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea, linking Turkmenistan direct to Western markets (and bypassing Russia) via a recently completed pipeline from Baku in Azerbaijan to Turkey.

    In the short term, Russia will fight hard to preserve its near-monopoly on Turkmen gas exports and the attendant profits. "Gazprom will support any [Turkmen presidential] candidate who supports its interests, and undercut anyone who tries to suggest another export route," says energy analyst Jerome Guillet, who worked for Gazprom in the 1990s. But what will happen if Turkmenistan follows Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine and opts to advance its national interest rather than give in to Russian bullying?

    Without cheap Central Asian gas, Gazprom's energy dominance—and Russia's swagger—would quickly vanish. Add to this some other facts: that Russia's own gas fields are past their peak, that new reserves remain untapped for lack of investment, that alternative supplies will eventually be coming online to Europe and that Western consumers, freaked by Russia's behavior, will leap to embrace them almost regardless of cost. The picture, long term, is of a goliath that doesn't quite recognize its days of dominance cannot last.

    To be sure, that day of comeuppance may be far in the future. In the shorter term, Europe—along with Russia's former friends—has little choice but to endure the Kremlin's highhandedness, and pay Gazprom's prices. But ultimately, Putin will discover that there's more to being a great power than bullying.

  • Sport...

    Knights rough up Otters: Sergei Kostitsyn enjoys a five-point night as tempers get the best of both teams.

    From: London Free Press
    Sergei Kostitsyn
    Forward Sergei Kostitsyn returned with a renewed sense of purpose and a razor-sharp scoring touch.

    The 19-year-old Belarus native and Montreal draft pick has had a hand in all nine of the Knights' goals since jetting back from Sweden -- including a two-goal, five-point effort last night -- as London topped Erie 5-3 in a fight-filled game at the John Labatt Centre.

    "A lot of NHL guys have been asking me about him and I think when he puts it all together, he can be (the most prolific player in the league)," Kane said. "You look at what's he done since he came back. He's quiet in the room but that's because he's (Belarussian), the language thing. Just joking around with him, I think he's the funniest guy on the team."

    Gagner and Kane -- two big reasons why the Knights will bid again to play host to Memorial Cup in 2008 -- continue to light up Erie, combining for eight goals and 22 points in three games against the basement-dwelling Otters.

    Kane scored a spinnerama goal in the third period that conjured memories of Gagner's fancy stickhandling effort against Sudbury early in the season (Erie goalie Kevin Beech, traded from Sudbury recently, was the unfortunate victim of both markers).

    "No, not at all -- Sam's still our highlight goal of the season," Kane said, downplaying his 28th of this season. "Mine wasn't even close -- it wasn't that hard. His tied the game and mine made it 5-1, but it's always nice to get one."

    Erie, rebuilding around a young group of forwards including London's Jordan Skellett and former Stratford Cullitons standout Zack Torquato, lost its sixth game in a row and is in danger of missing the playoffs a second straight season.

    Defenceman Todd Perry knocked Torquato loopy with a big hit midway through the second period. The Otters took exception to it with Anthony Peluso trading blows with Perry after the ensuing faceoff and connecting on a shot that sent Perry to the dressing room for the rest of the game.

    "That started it when Peluso hit Todd," said London's fiesty forward Jordan Shine, who ended up fighting three times in the game. "It was a clean fight but you can't let that kind of stuff stand. Emotions were running high and you have to go right back out there and change the momentum.

    "I've never been so physically exhausted in my life."

  • The last word......

    North European gas pipeline inexpedient – Lukashenko

    From: Itar-Tass
    It would be inexpedient to lay the North European gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea bottom, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said during Sunday municipal elections.

    “This is the most stupid project in the entire history of Russia and it may go down into the Guinness Book of Records. It is unknown what may happen to the project, as the pipeline will go across a pile of ammunition dumped into the Baltic Sea,” he said.

    The second line of the Yamal-Europe pipeline is almost ready, Lukashenko said. “They laid the foundation of the second line, but then abandoned it and switched [to the Baltic project],” he said.

    “These words are another confirmation to the necessity of the construction” of the North European gas pipeline, a Kremlin source said in comments on Lukashenko’s statement.

    The pipeline will be a totally new way of Russian gas deliveries to Europe, as it will bypass transit countries. The pipe will go across the Baltic Sea and have extensions to the Kaliningrad region, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

    The pipeline will be about 3,000 kilometers long, including the 897 kilometers long land segment on the Russian territory and the coast of the Gulf of Finland. The pipe will start from the coastal compressor station in the Portovaya Bay near Vyborg in the Leningrad region. It will go through the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea to the German city of Greifswald. The Baltic segment of the pipeline will be 1,189 kilometers long, it will go for 651 kilometers on the territories of Germany and the Netherlands, and 263 kilometers to the UK.

    It is planned to commission the pipeline in 2010. The construction started in the Leningrad region on December 9, 2005.