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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Belarus and Ukraine to discuss energy, Tighter controls on imports, Payments up, Business, Trials, Scandal, Opinion, Sports and Blogs

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  • #179

    Lukashenka Heading to Ukraine

    From: NLIPRB
    Alexander Lukashenko met this week with the Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of the Sudan, Ahmed Ibrahim El-Tahir
    Energy cooperation to be central to agenda of forthcoming visit of Belarus president to Ukraine

    A range of issues on cooperation and bilateral agreements will be on the agenda of the forthcoming visit of the Belarusian head of state to Ukraine, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to Ukraine Valentin Velichko told BelTA.

    Among them is the consular convention, agreements on simplified border crossing rules across the crossing point Slavutich-Komarin, on the order of readmission of convicts, protocol on flora protection.

    However, the main document which is expected to be signed during the visit to Kiev is the memorandum on cooperation between the government of Ukraine and the government of the Republic of Belarus in energy sphere. It has been agreed, initialed and is currently undergoing national procedures related to its signing. This is an important document which will reflect the issues of energy security of the two countries, the diplomat noted.

    In particular, the issue on construction of a new electric power line “Rovno nuclear plant- Mikashevichi is in the works. The new line will help increase the deliveries of Ukrainian electrical power to Belarus and ensure its transit through Belarus to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.

    Belarus is a major consumer of Ukrainian electric power. In 2006 alone, the country imported more than 2,5 billion kW-h at the total cost of $50 million. In 2007 the supplies will be increased to 3,5 billion kW-h. To make it possible, the power transmission lines from Chernigov to Gomel and from the Chernobyl nuclear plant to Mozyr, which stood idle for 13 years, will be restored.

    Cooperation in the gas sphere is also of crucial importance, Valentin Velichko said. This pertains to joint use of equipment, pipelines and Ukrainian gas repositories. Belarus also plans to reconstruct the gas pipeline from Ivatsevichi to Dolina.

    The parties are also interested in transportation of Caspian oil via Odessa-Brody oil-pipe line which pumps more than 20 million tons of oil. A part of oil transported from Mozyr to Brody goes to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Southern Germany, and another part is reversed to Odessa harbor “Yuzhny”.

    Moreover, the heads of state are expected to discuss issues concerning international initiatives and the good neighborly relations between Belarus and Ukraine, Valentin Velichko said.

    He has informed that the Belarusian delegation will be composed of heads of the foreign, interior, finance and industry ministries as well as the ministry of agriculture and foodstuffs, the emergencies ministry and several other departments.

    The sides have been thoroughly preparing for the visit, Valentin Velichko said. Not long ago the Ukrainian capital hosted working meetings of first deputy prime minister of this country Vladimir Semashko, heads of the ministries and departments with their Ukrainian counterparts as well as a meeting between head of the presidential administration of Belarus Gennadiy Nevyglas and top officials of the secretariat of the Ukrainian president, who met in Kiev to settle all issues in regard to the visit.

    On February 22, deputy head of the secretariat of the Ukrainian president Alexander Chalogo, who is in charge of international cooperation issues, is scheduled to visit Minsk.

    The Ukrainian side is deeply interested in the forthcoming visit of the Belarusian leader to Ukraine, Valentin Velichko underlined.

    Ukraine to sign 5 agreements with Belarus

    From: UNIAN
    Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko is expected to sign five agreements with Ukraine during his upcoming visit to Kyiv, Deputy Secretariat Chief of Staff Oleksandr Chalyy told at a media briefing on Wednesday, according to the President`s press-office.

    The two countries will sign memorandums on energy and agricultural cooperation, an extradition agreement, a consular convention and a Chornobyl border crossing agreement.

    Mr. Chalyy said Ukraine was interested in developing closer economic ties with Belarus, particularly exporting electricity there. He said the two states were partners.

    “Belarus is one of Ukraine’s biggest neighbors. We must maintain this dialogue at the highest level.”

    Belarus needs over $500mln to switch to differentiated electricity consumption billing

    From: NLIPRB
    Over $500 million is needed for the transit to a differentiated electricity consumption billing system, Belarus first vice premier Vladimir Semashko said at today’s on-site session of the commission for improving the competitive ability of the national economy in Vitebsk. The session tables the introduction of Belarus-made automated systems designed to control and meter the consumption of electricity by households.

    According to Vladimir Semashko, the introduction of the multi-tariff electricity consumption billing will allow evenly distributing the electricity consumption. With the load optimised, power units will not have to be halted overnight, which will decrease economic losses and the equipment deterioration. End consumers will definitely favour the differentiated electricity consumption billing, which allows them to save money. With the new system up and running, electrical companies will be able to decrease the number of inspectors, keep a precise record of electricity consumption, and timely detect potential debtors and technical malfunctions.

    Belarus got down to implementing the idea three years ago. Then facilities were chosen to install the automated electricity meters for households. Simultaneously domestic producers started working on manufacturing multi-tariff energy monitors. An experiment was launched to test the utilisation of differentiated electricity consumption tariffs by households in September 2006. As of January 1, 2007, the experiment involved 1,415 people, including 1,347 people living in multifamily residential buildings.

    The experience of applying the differentiated electricity consumption billing has proved the effectiveness of the multi-tariff electricity meters and unearthed several drawbacks, primarily, ones connected with the reliability of the meters. Vladimir Semashko stressed the need for major manufacturers of the electricity meters to set up their service centres in cities and large towns. Following a Vladimir Semashko’s instruction a programme has to be worked out by March 15 to guide the deployment of the service centres. The first vice premier has also given an instruction to revise the industry-recommended list of electricity meters for their utilisation by households and charged Belarusian producers with perfecting the technology used to manufacture multi-tariff electricity meters in order to get them rid of unnecessary functions and to decrease the prime cost.

    Tighter import laws set to cause Belarus perfume price hike

    From: Monsters and critics
    Tighter import laws will increase the price of most perfumes used by Belarusian women by fifty per cent or more, the Belapan news agency reported Thursday.

    New laws announced by the country's authoritarian leader President Aleksander Lukashenko make illegal the sale of foreign perfumes within the former Soviet republic, unless the retailer holds an import licence for the goods.

    The decrees, set to go into effect next week, will practically ban all trade of perfume in the country, except by a few state-owned stores.

    Belarusian women in recent years have overwhelmingly preferred French and Italian perfumes to scents manufactured in Belarus. Most often they have purchased their perfumes from private traders at open air markets.

    'We are going to see an increase of the price of top market perfumes by at least fifty per cent, and the economy brands may disappear entirely,' said Anatoliy Shumchenko, a spokesman for the Perspektivi consumer rights group.

    Knock-off perfumes manufactured in India or China copying major brand names are available in Belarus, but most Belarusian perfume users are willing to pay a premium price for the real article.

    Lukashenko's government in recent months has embarked on a campaign to reduce domestic consumer spending on imported luxury goods, to improve national balance of payments.

    Communal payments raised more than Lukashenka had promised

    From: Chater '97
    The cost of gas has actually gone up over 25% since the first of the year
    Ministry of statistics and analysis of Belarus confirmed that tariffs for communal-general services to the population had increased in January once again. Quantitative analysis of the payments shows that the increase was much higher than that promised by the government and head of the Belarusian state. Alyaksadr Lukashenka promised in public that the communal payments raise in the course of 2007 would not exceed 5 dollars. But in the first month this indicator was surpassed.

    A week ago the Belarusians received a so- called monthly gyros (bills) for January. In comparison with the previous month the totals increased by not less than 10 %. Ivan Antashkevich, former head of the city communal service, reports:

    “The difference in my communal payments, as compared to the previous month, comprised 27 thousand, that is more that 10 dollars. It is absolutely clear that the authorities won’t keep their promises especially if the general financial situation in the country, which has worsened by USD 5 billion in comparison with 2006, is taken into account. And as far as the communal payments are concerned, their monthly increase has exceeded the promised annual one”.

    The average communal payments increase in January comprised 12%, as compared with December. Electric power costs grew by 20%, gas-by 20% and central heating by 14.5%. The situation has been estimated by economist Leanid Zlotnikau:

    “I guess, that wasn’t the last price raise this year. If head of the state had promised the annual 5-dollar increase and in January this figure was surpassed, it means that the limit has been already exhausted. Their tariffs may not be increased any more this year. The annual limit has been already exhausted. And each month we are to pay as in January. But I don’t believe that. This year both the government and the budget will live the hard life”.
  • Note: As a personal confirmation of the validity of this article, about three hours ago, when ordering a new tank of gas for the stove, we were told that he cost had gone up from about 20,000 rubles to 26,090, about a 30% rise over what it had been only six weeks ago.

    Belarusian President to Visit Sudan Soon

    From: Sudanese Media Center
    Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir
    Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is going to pay an official visit to Sudan in the near future, reported the Belarusian news agency Belapan. Alyaksandr Lukashenka Official sources quoted the Belarusian president as saying this at a meeting with the speaker of the National Assembly of Sudan, Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, on 20 February.Lukashenka said at the meeting that the visit by the Sudanese delegation to Belarus will contribute to boosting relations between the two countries. "Sudan occupies a certain place" in Belarus’s foreign political and economic strategy, the Belarusian president stressed.

    Lukashenka also said that Belarus is closely watching the situation in Sudan and processes taking place in there.

    On the other hand, Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw and the visiting speaker of the National Assembly of Sudan discussed prospects for boosting bilateral cooperation today.

    The contractual basis of bilateral Belarusian-Sudanese relations is at the stage of formation at present.

    An intergovernmental agreement on military and technical cooperation, a protocol on cooperation in energy, industry and trade, an interstate agreement on trade, investment and scientific and technical cooperation and a memorandum of understanding between the foreign ministries have been signed so far.

    The delegation of Sudan will have meetings with Belarusian officials and will visit several companies during its visit.

    vegetable juice extraction factory to be built in Minsk

    From: Fresh Plaza
    According to the Belarus Farming Industry Portal, a new factory to produce 100 million MT of vegetable juice a year will be built in a Minsk suburb. The construction project will be started this year near Heat Power Plant Nr.4. The first stage of the project should be completed in 2008. The factory will be using the PAT bottling technology, which is not widespread in Belarus. There will also be a Tetra-Pac line in the factory, which will be used for both home-made apple juice and imported concentrated juice. The value of the project is estimated at 10 million €. At the moment, agencies concerned are exploring the European market of juice extraction equipment producers. They are also considering the possibility of drawing a reduced interest rate loan from the Government of China.

    In other, more repulsive business news, Kommersant tells us that Beginning from April 1, Belarusian market might be opened for unlimited import of cigarettes produced in Russia. Canceling the quotas on cigarette import to Belarus is one of the conditions of Moscow-Minsk bilateral agreement which might be signed already on March 1. However, import quotas is just one of the barriers preventing the sales of Russian cigarettes in Belarus from rising.

    Belarus has had quotas on cigarette import since 1997. Since 2001, it has been allowed to import only cigarettes costing over $0.26 per pack. In 2002, 4.103 billion cigarettes were imported to Belarus, in 2003 – 3 billion, in 2004 – 3.6 billion, in 2005 – 3.07 billion. Setting the quota for 2006, Belarusian government said it will be 1.5 billion cigarettes, with the total amount of market being 18 billion.

    Beginning from April 1, import quotas might be canceled within the implementation of the agreement between Russian and Belarusian prime ministers Mikhail Fradkov and Sergei Sidorsky. If the agreement is signed on March 1 as planned, then the cigarette quotas will be cancelled already by April 1.

    Tobacco companies say the lifting of quotas will be good for the business. However, it does not guarantee the free import of cigarettes to Belarus, since there exist other restrictions. For instance, every importer of cigarettes has to obtain a license in the country’s trade ministry. Yet, Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development and Trade said that it “regards such licenses as administrative obstacles for trade” and promised to “insist that they are cancelled”.

    Trial Of Accused Killer Cop Begins In Belarus

    From: RFE/RL
    The murder trial of a senior Belarusian police lieutenant has begun in the city of Hrodna, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

    Police Lieutenant Alyaksandr Syarheychyk is accused of committing 12 murders between 2000 and 2005, including 11 young girls.

    Police officer Ryshard Daminyuk, who worked with Syarheychyk, told RFE/RL that there were few signs anything was wrong.

    "I can't say that he behaved badly, but of course there was some antipathy toward him," Daminyuk said. "The others got along well. He kept to himself. To be honest, I didn't develop any relationship with him."

    Syarheychyk was arrested earlier this year in Hrodna, in western Belarus near the Polish border. He was initially suspected in just one murder.

    Psychologists have declared him competent to stand trial.

    Prosecutors plan to call more than 100 witnesses.

    The trial is closed to the press and public.

    Pope blesses archbishop tarnished by communist spy allegations

    From: Axis Globe
    Pope Benedict XVI has given a 'special apostolic blessing' to Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus, who had been accused of collaborating with communist-era intelligence services. 'Regarding the past, I am fully aware of the extraordinary circumstances in which his Excellency carried out his service, when the Marxist regime in Poland was using all means to suppress citizen's rights, especially those of the clergy,' Pope Benedict wrote in a letter to Wielgus, published yesterday by the Polish PAP news agency. The pope also encouraged 67-year-old Wielgus to return to his religious duties.

    Wielgus made headlines around the globe on January 7 when, instead of being inducted as the new Archbishop of Warsaw, he shocked the faithful gathered for the ceremony at Warsaw Cathedral by reading aloud his resignation, prompted by allegations he had collaborated with the secret police in communist Poland.

    Pope Benedict accepted the resignation, but it was never clear whether he had demanded it in the first place.

    The controversy erupted amid an unprecedented wave of soul searching in the Roman Catholic Church regarding priests who led double lives under communism as secret police spies.

    Virtually the only independent institution within the entire Soviet bloc, the Roman Catholic Church was thought to have been free from infiltration by communist spy agencies, but recent revelations have brought to light embarrassing allegations of collaboration by well-known and respected clerics.

    Senior church officials have also grappled with how to address the difficult issue of vetting priests for alleged spy activity, a process whose potentially embarrassing findings threaten to undermine the authority of the Roman Catholic Church in traditionally devout Poland.

    Poland Suspects Ambassador to Vienna of Spying for Russia

    From: Kommersant
    Poland investigators have questioned the country’s Ambassador to Austria Marek Jedrys, who is said to be spying for Russia.

    A few days ago, Polish intelligence released a report saying that a few hundreds of senior bureaucrats were allegedly spying for Russia. The agents, who had been trained in the former Soviet Union and maintained close links with Russia’s authorities, worked in Poland’s military intelligence, WSI, that was wound up only in 2006.

    Marek Jedrys has been summoned to Warsaw for consultations, said Pawel Zalewski, chief of the foreign committee of Moscow parliament. The government of Poland has provided no data to make clear whether Jedrys ever worked for WSI or had any ties with it.

    The recent spying scandal with Russia involved ran high in Canada late past year. There, Paul William Hampel was detained on suspected spying in November of 2006 and deported to Russia.

  • Opinion...

    Lukashenka is looking for someone to make friends with against Russia

    From: Charter '97
    Viktar Yuschanka and Alyaksandr Lukashenka
    The date of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s visit to Ukraine has not been finally approved, yet. Though Russian and Belarusian mass media several times mentioned 26 February, the date was not confirmed to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta correspondent neither at the Belarusian embassy in Ukraine, or at the Ukrainian Ministry for Foreign Affairs, nor at the president’s secretariat. Head of the Belarusian president’s administration called this day as preliminary. Official sources refuse to specify any details of the forthcoming visit till the end of the Belarusian- Ukrainian working groups’ functioning.

    Such hesitations can be explained by the absence of a common viewpoint of the Ukrainian authorities on the issue of cooperation with Belarus in the sphere of energy, especially, as far as a possible Ukrainian-Lithuanian-Belarusian project of alternative oil deliveries, which has been recently declared by the Lithuanian president Valdas Adamkus, is concerned.

    As is known, it is the issue of cooperation in the sphere of energy that is to become a key one within the frame of the Ukrainian and Belarusian leaders’ meetings. According to information of the head of the Ukrainian president’s press-service, it is planned that Viktar Yuschanka and Alyaksandr Lukashenka will sign the memorandum on cooperation in the sphere of energy, the consular convention and a number of other agreements. According to prime minister of Belarus Syargei Sidorsky, provisions of the memorandum on cooperation of the countries in the sphere of energy will touch upon the issues of the Ukraine –Central Asia cooperation, construction of power supply line between the Rovno electric power plant and Mikashevitchi and other perspective projects.

    However, it is to be mentioned, that Viktar Yuschanka spoke in support of creation of joint projects between Lithuania and Belarus on diversification of Russian power sources but Prime Minister Viktar Yanukovich, as well as the “fuel” block of the government, keep silent on the issue.

    It seems that they have seen the point in Minsk either. Local experts are extremely cautious when dwelling on the possible outcomes of the Belarusian- Ukrainian talks -success in the sphere of energy may be expected only on the issues of electric power and gas deliveries.

    The political aspect can’t be neglected either. The domestic experts pay attention to the fact that Kiev has not rejected its European direction and pursues its policy looking back at the European Union. A. Lukashenka has not expressed any intentions to accept the European Union’s conditions, yet, particularly, on democratization of the country which is to begin with release of the political prisoners. The experts have also mentioned that Kiev is most unlikely to “make friends” against Russia.

    Belarus: Why Can't The Opposition Just Get Along?

    From: RFE/RL
    The Belarusian opposition is planning a nationwide congress for March 17-18, one year after a flawed presidential election gave President Alyaksandr Lukashenka an unprecedented third term. But Lukashenka's main opposition challenger, Alyaksandr Milinkevich, says the congress will be nothing more than "internal squabbling" over leadership -- and that he doesn't intend to go.

    Milinkevich was picked as the unified opposition's presidential candidate at a similar congress in October 2005. Some 800 delegates from all over Belarus were involved in the ballot that gave Milinkevich a narrow edge over United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka.

    Following the March 19, 2006 presidential election -- in which he officially obtained 6 percent of the vote -- Milinkevich became the primary voice of the Belarusian opposition in the West.

    Milinkevich has been regularly received by high-ranking European politicians. In October 2006, he was honored with the European Parliament's prestigious Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.

    Envious Allies

    Milinkevich's high exposure in the West may have aroused envy among fellow opposition leaders like Lyabedzka or Belarusian Party of Communists head Syarhey Kalyakin, who also unsuccessfully competed with him for the role of the unified opposition's presidential candidate.

    In January of this year, the Political Council of Pro-Democratic Forces -- the coordinating body of the unified opposition, which is formally chaired by Milinkevich -- proposed that the chairmanship become a rotating post open to all party leaders.

    This rotational principle is expected to be approved during the March congress. Milinkevich, however, vigorously contested the idea.

    "I am not afraid of competition, and am ready to enter the struggle for leadership [of the opposition] once again," he told RFE/RL's Belarus Service. "But when the coalition decided that there would be a rotation, I immediately said that I'm not interested. Because rotation means that there is no leader, and that all are leaders, at the same time. Everyone becomes a leader for a few months and is subsequently replaced. You can be a leader once every three years. [But] you cannot beat the dictatorship with such an unclenched fist."

    Milinkevich also suggested that the procedure for selecting delegates to attend the congress was far from transparent, and subject to "manipulation" by other aspirants to the role of unified opposition head.

    Splinter Groups

    Independent trade unionist Alyaksandr Bukhvostau, the organizer of the March congress, said Milinkevich's refusal to participate represented a "split" in the opposition ranks.

    Communist Party head Kalyakin -- who managed Milinkevich's election headquarters in the run-up to the 2006 presidential vote -- has accused Milinkevich of skipping the congress out of fear of losing the leadership post.

    "In my opinion, the man is simply not sure he can get support at this congress," Kalyakin said. "Therefore, he's given up without even trying to compete in this matter. Anyone giving up is not right."

    Lyabedzka, who clearly has leadership ambitions of his own, sees Milinkevich's refusal to participate in the opposition congress as his formal withdrawal from politics.

    "It is apparent that from this moment on, the united democratic forces have neither a de jure nor a de facto leader," Lyabedzka told RFE/RL. "Milinkevich has probably decided to return to the place from which he entered politics -- the civic sector."

    But not everyone in the opposition seems certain that Milinkevich's departure is the best way to resolve the leadership controversy. One such politician is Vintsuk Vyachorka, head of the Belarusian Popular Front Party, which strongly backed Milinkevich as the single presidential challenger during the 2005 opposition congress.

    Vyachorka believes the widening animosity between Milinkevich and the remainder of the Political Council of Pro-Democratic Forces may end up harming both sides.

    "We understand that a congress without Milinkevich cannot be a congress of united democratic forces," Vyachorka said. "But Milinkevich without the united democratic forces is not a nationwide leader either."

    Meeting Halfway?

    To avoid such a situation, Vyachorka has proposed a compromise "for the sake of unity," whereby Milinkevich would remain chairman of the

    Political Council of Pro-Democratic Forces and continue to serve as the

    opposition's key representative in the West. This position could be confirmed by the opposition congress, which Vyachorka has proposed be postponed until May.

    At the same time, Vyachorka has suggested the creation of a post of chairman of a presidium to the Political Council of Pro-Democratic Forces, which could be held by other party leaders on a rotational basis. According to Vyachorka, the presidium chairman could keep an eye on the council chairman, and vice versa.

    It remains to be seen whether Vyachorka's proposal is viable. The council held a meeting on February 19 to discuss the idea, but ended without a conclusive decision.

    The controversy comes at a time when the Belarusian opposition could be playing an important role in shaping the country's future.

    Belarus's energy-price row with Russia has prompted Lukashenka to make rare overtures toward the West. A confident opposition -- one that was able to speak with one voice both at home and abroad -- could help forge those ties.

    As it stands, however, the opposition is weak and unable to significantly influence the political situation. If the rift over its leadership continues to fester, the opposition may fail at a time that could otherwise prove its greatest political hour.

    Alexander Lukashenko allies himself with Boris Yeltsin

    From: Ria Novosti
    A change in the Russian government eclipsed all the other events of last week. There was even no time to pay attention to interviews of foreign presidents with the Russian media.

    Few noticed what Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said in a conversation with writer Alexander Prokhanov at Echo of Moscow Radio, which was reproduced by the newspaper Zavtra. This is a real pity.

    This interview dispels the myth that Lukashenko is an emotional and charismatic leader who prefers improvisation. He displayed enough charisma, though, in replying to a question prepared by Prokhanov in advance, and did not fall into the trap. Clearly, a good team of analysts and speech writers was working on this interview.

    The exchange was aphoristic, very well structured, and based on the repetition of the main idea. Lukashenko devoted this interview primarily to Russia and how Belarus is going to build relations with it.

    Let's start with Russia's image. Here are some excerpts from it:

    "Gazprom is not to blame for this conflict, Mr. Prokhanov. We would have settled it with the corporation on easier terms. They understand that the future of their empire depends on Belarus. As you said, Belarus is a direct corridor to Europe, to paying markets. It is not Gazprom, but the Russian leaders that created the problem. The increase in prices was the result of the Russian president's direct order."

    "The media have convinced your people that the Russian authorities are pursuing the 'right policy.' But you keep afloat only because you have loads of greenbacks, although the same amount of money is leaving Russia as well. You can still pay pensions, wages and salaries. What are these 'national projects' all about? Maybe you need them before the elections as PR?"

    "Today, Russia does not have any effective policies except those that pursue someone's personal interests. It is a myth that you have major state-owned corporations, where 30% belongs to the government. This is a cover-up. The spoils have been divvied up here time and again, and everyone has his or her own personal interests. And they are fighting for their piece of the pie with fingers that are blue with greed. They are taking the money to the West and concealing it there."

    "Russia will never be an empire again. It does not have the required resources. You have lost everything in bits and pieces. You are being driven out of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia. You are being driven out of Ukraine, and it is all your fault."

    In this context, Belarus is planning to act as follows:

    "We will now use every opportunity to promote relations with the West. Why should we squabble? At first, we supplied you with 85% of our goods, and our exports to the West were many times smaller. Now we are giving you 36% of our products and sending 45% to the West. If they push us on oil, we will upgrade our super-refineries and will achieve even deeper conversion, although ours is already 50% deeper than in Russia. We will sell the products of conversion to the West in order to overcome the shortages which you are creating for us."

    To tone down this harsh criticism, Lukashenko made a curtsy at the end by inviting Vladimir Putin to follow his own example and hold a referendum on his participation in the 2008 elections. But on one occasion, he compared "early Putin" to "late Putin." On many occasions he recalled Yeltsin to prove that in his time it was better, that Yeltsin was more sensible.

    The reader may get the impression that it would not be bad to return to the good old days. There is an analogous incident from Russian history, when the successor to the throne, Alexander I, promised at the funeral of his father that everything would be like it was during the reign of his grandmother, Catherine the Great. Needless to say, he did not keep his promise, but life was very different from how it had been during the reign of his assassinated father.

    Yesterday, nobody would have expected Lukashenko to refer to Yeltsin as a wise ruler. His whole ideology rested on the premise that Yeltsin, Kravchyuk, and Shushkevich committed a crime by burying the Soviet Union. For years the Belarusian regime suppressed all manifestations of nationalism, campaigning for a special Belarusian identity - in alliance with the Russians.

    In Russia, the current regime has been repudiating the legacy of the 1990s. The official pledge of continuity with Yeltsin is accompanied by an unofficial rejection of his era.

    Now Lukashenko has made an about face by praising Yeltsin. The Belarusian leader is very popular in Russia, but not among democrats and intellectuals, so his conduct is therefore all the more stunning.

    Apparently, he felt more comfortable when Yeltsin's Russia was developing partnerships with its neighbors. Now he is not so sure about the aspirations of Russian politicians. Like many others, he can explain why Moscow is at loggerheads with Ukraine and Georgia, but why is he being treated like that? He said that he could come to terms with Gazprom, but not with the Russian authorities.

    The problem is that the Russian political elite could not care less whether the new national identities in former Soviet republics rest on the desire to integrate into Europe or ally themselves with Russia. It perceives as a threat the very fact that this sense of national self-identity exists, that it has created an entity claiming the right to partnership and cooperation. In this sense, the conflict with Belarus is in no way different from clashes with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova.

    Many domestic political actions taken by the Russian authorities are reminiscent of the reign of Paul I. Likewise, in their resistance to the new national identities in the former-Soviet space, the Russian political elite are acting like Nicholas I. He did everything he could, and even risked a military invasion of Hungary in 1848, to prevent the development of national identities in Europe, but he eventually brought Russia into a confrontation with the major European powers. The whole ideology of his reign was expressed by Dubelt, the head of the Third Department (the Political Police), who wrote in his diary shortly after the start of the Crimean War: "What rogues these foreigners are!"

    But by that time, the Russian troops paled into insignificance when compared with the army that won the 1812 war against Napoleon...

    The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

  • From the blogs...

    Belarus hopes for loans, investment

    From: Belarus News and Facts
    Belarus has launched an unlikely drive to woo foreign investors, hoping for $1.5 billion of loans to offset falling Russian subsidies. Some experts say, however, that the country can get by without it.

    Finance Minister Mikalay Korbut told Reuters that the country plans to borrow $1 billion this year. The minister said the government would manage to repay the loans as it did in the past noting that Belarus had no outstanding external debts.

    Korbut insisted that Belarus would survive the reductions in Russian energy subsidies without abandoning its centrally-planned economic management. He said the government would have to adjust the economy, cut spending and revise its investment policies.

    Belarus' foreign debt amounts to less than $850 million at present with GDP totaling $37 billion, according to the official statistical data. (Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka said GDP totals $50 billion in an interview with Reuters).

    By international standards, a foreign debt is manageable if is does not exceed 2.6 percent of GDP.

    Stanislaw Bahdankevich, former head of the National Bank of Belarus, estimates Belarus' foreign debt at as much as $6.3 billion. He explains that he includes the debts of commercial banks and companies stressing that his estimates are based on official data of the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis as of January 1, 2007.

    "These are direct debts that must be taken into account by international standards. To pay external debts it is necessary to convert the national currency into foreign ones, this is why the country needs to know exactly the total foreign currency debt," Bahdankevich notes.

    The government's debt is not very large and it can borrow abroad, but it does not need to do so, he says. "With a budget surplus of $1 billion reported last year the country does not need foreign loans, it has enough money. In addition, $600 million has been accumulated in the National Development Fund."

    The fund was established to accumulate tax on profits of effective enterprises in order to finance the modernization of barely profitable ones, Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski said at the February 7 meeting of the finance ministry's board.

    He urged the finance ministry to attract at least $500 million of loans, and added the government could borrow up to $1.5 billion from foreign banks.

    Belarus does not plan to take loans from foreign governments but it is in talks with banks in Russia, Britain, the United State, Switzerland and some other countries on syndicated loans, according to the finance minister.

    Bahdankevich says the government makes too much fuss about the energy price rise. "Russia has signed agreements that the Belarusian economy can handle easily. This is especially true for the oil supply contract. Why does it make so much fuss? On gas, [Belarus] has been given a four-year transition period and $2.5 billion for a stake in Beltranshaz [gas pipeline system]," he stresses. "The scandal is more about politics than about the economy."

    According to him, the government can put a cap on people's income, which has been rising at twice the rate of GDP and productivity growth threatening to weaken the national currency.

    He says the National Bank is responsible for monitoring the foreign debt because this is a matter of stability of the banking system. "The commercial banks have a deficit of net foreign assets of almost $1 billion. The National Bank has a surplus of $1.4 billion, while the commercial banks have a deficit of $1 billion. The aggregate reserve is very small."

    The Belarusian government also is set to develop the securities market.

    The prime minister described the securities market as a "lucrative business" but said that its opportunities "are not used in full." "Moreover, they have been given to foreign companies," official information sources quoted him as saying at the meeting of the finance ministry's board.

    The government plans to obtain a sovereign credit rating in the first half of this year and float up to 10 billion rubles worth of bonds in the Russian market in 2007, according to Finance Minister Korbut.

    Bahdankevich comments, "The issue of eurobonds is quite possible, but I do not understand why the government needs to do it. If there were a budget deficit, I would understand it. The economy needs reform so that economic entities will be able to sell shares to the public. Households should not keep their savings on bank deposits only, but they should have an opportunity to invest in companies directly."

    Bahdankevich welcomes the government's intention to attract foreign investment, but says this would be difficult without economic reform. "Capital always flows to a specific facility or a specific program provided that conditions are attractive. For this purpose, the government should adopt a market approach."

    Foreign to Russian Domestic Economic Policy: What’s Good for the Goose

    From: Robert Amsterdam
    From constructive criticism to cause for concern, Russia has created a curtain left slightly ajar. The curtain represents greater political swagger within the international economy and even in U.S. / Russia relations as seen in the former giving the latter ever increasing leeway. Mr. Putin has publicly lambasted the United States in speech, with as little disregard as seen in the past seven years, criticizing Washington's role on the world stage and in global security. " The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way," was stated at a recent conference over international security. Nobody feels secure anymore, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law." With such nonchalance comes greater questions, perhaps pertaining to whether Putin believes Russia is a candidate for a role model to the world. Such an idea raises even more questions.

    How can Mr.Putin categorically denounce the furthering of an institution such as NATO, when from opening to closing "bell", Russia's own power conglomeration is near transparent? As documented through its purchase and amalgamation with SUEK (the Siberian Coal Energy Company), to recent manipulation of the electricity exchange to further wunderchild-like Gazprom, Russian economic reform dons a visage of immaturity and a "me first " mentality. This ever expanding Gazprom is paramount to a notion of Russian immaturity, responding, for example, to Belarusian taxation by cuts to the Friendship Pipeline to Belarus leaving European Union resolutions narrowly averted. Such a normative response served as a catalyst for the Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus to seek out and incorporate "alternatives to Russian Oil Supplies" and has been met with disapproval from the European Union. To critique the expansion of NATO and to bombast the United States as an insecurity instigator seems ironic from a nation willingly shutting oil pipelines to dependent nations whilst simultaneously “dragging its feet” at the UN Security Council on slowing Iran’s nuclear weapons grade capability.

    This “Arc of Stability “ has not yet been completed and will continue, through its obvious promotion and the tactics therein of Gazprom to produce an aura of instability on an international scale behind a new curtain of political and economic ordinance.

  • Sport...


    From: Hornets Sports
    Katrina Zheltova
    Sacramento State freshman Katrina Zheltova and senior Gabriel Loredo were named the Big Sky Conference Women’s and Men’s Tennis Players of the Week, respectively.

    It marked the third consecutive week that Zheltova has earned the women’s weekly honor, while Loredo became the first Hornet men’s player to achieve the award this season. Loredo shared this week’s honor with Northern Arizona’s Chris Arena.

    Zheltova, a native of Minsk, Belarus, led the Hornet women’s team to 7-0 sweeps of both Montana State and UC Davis last Saturday. Playing at the No. 1 singles spot for the Hornets, Zheltova won easily in straight sets against both competitors, losing a combined one game in the process.

    On Saturday morning, Zheltova dismantled Montana State’s Nuria Hernandez, 6-0, 6-0. Later that day, she defeated UC Davis’ Desiree Stone, 6-1, 6-0. In doubles play, Zheltova combined with teammate Cecilia Helland at No. 2 to defeat both teams from Montana State and UC Davis by scores of 8-2.

    Since opening the season with a narrow three-set loss to the defending NCAA singles national champion (Cal’s Susie Babos), Zheltova has won six consecutive matches at the No. 1 spot in the Hornets’ lineup. During the six-match winning streak, she has won each contest in straight sets, dropping just 11 games over that span.

  • Sport briefs...

  • Sergei Dolidovich of Belarus has been denied competing in the opening events of the Nordic ski world championships due to excessive haemoglobin values, the governing body FIS said Thursday. The FIS imposed a so-called start prohibition for health reasons on the six athletes for five days. None of them was considered a medal contender in Sapporo. The athletes will be eligible to compete again if they pass another blood test after the five-day period expires. An excessive haemoglobin value, or the amount of red blood cells, is no doping offence but can hint at a possible use of blood-doping substances.

  • Endnote...

    Sivakou has apologized to Svyatskaya for quoting Hitler

    From: Charter '97
    No matter how much you may agree with him, you just can't quote Hittler
    The Frunzensky district court of Minsk appointed 20 March the date of hearing of the lawsuit on the claim of Valyantsina Svyatskaya, Radio Svaboda reports. Claim of the BNF activist is directed to the Belarusian association of veterans of “Honor” departments of special designation of the ministry for internal affairs and to former minister for internal affairs, former deputy head of the president’s administration Yuri Sivakou.

    Today Judge Svyatlana Misuna asked Valyantsina Svyatskaya and representative of the law defendant Albert Taipau for a preliminary talk. Ms Svyatskaya calls the court for defending her honor and dignity and rebating her moral damage by making the defendant pay her 60 million rubles

    The claim was caused by Yuri Sivakou’s article in the “Honor”-“Journal of Special Designation”. The General quotes a large paragraph from ”Code of officer’s honor written by Adolf Hitler”. Mr. Sivakoy wrote that the Code would be of interest for many people and its statements would make many people think over them.

    There are such lines in the article: ”Love for furer , people and fatherland is above all. That is why the officer must radically split himself from those who are on the side of the German road of struggle.”

    According to Ms Svyatskaya such quotations from Hitler inflicted moral damage to her as a citizen of the partisan country. She stresses in the claim that the mentioned code of honor was compiled by Hitler when the nazi troops attacked the territory of Belarus and other republics of the Soviet Union. The text had been prepared for officers who were killing citizens of Belarus.

    As it is reported in the claim, “ by introducing Code of Honor ”of a fascist officer to officers of the ministry for internal affairs of Belarus General Sivakou suggests to be guided by it in their activities.

    According to Ms Svyatskaya, during today’s talk the representative of the law defendant passed the apologies of General Sivakou to her but Ms Svyatskaya insists on the lawsuit being heard in the court.

    “Today a public apology was given to me on behalf of General Sivakou. He apologized for offending me. And thanks God that Mr. General Sivakou realized that”, Ms Svyatskaya reported.

    Representative of the law defendant also emphasized that Ms Svyatskaya had launched a broad campaign in the mass media, supposedly, many people had not read the article but started addressing offensive words to Mr. Sivakou.

    “ Sivakou intends to lay a counterclaim to me for defending his honor and dignity if I do not apologize to him… I have nowhere personally offended him by demanding the court to finalize the case”, the woman says.

    It is to be mentioned, that Yuri Sivakou after Lukashenka’s victory in election 1994 occupied posts of minister for internal affairs, deputy head of the president’s administration, minister of sport in different years. In September 2004 the European Union made a decision on banning entry visas to certain Belarusian upper officials, Yuri Sivakou being among them, presumably associated with disappearance of the oppositional politicians.