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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Lukashenko talks to Reuters, Belarus adds 30% to oil $, KGB bags opposition, Holocaust news, Milinkevich, Opinion, Blogs

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  • #173

    Alexander Lukashenko gives an interview to the Reuters News Agency

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    The specifics of the Belarusian economy lies in the fact that it had been created wholly by the finished products. To manufacture the goods competitive in the world markets, the country as a whole and its production capacity had to meet the highest standards. That is why our country was an intellectual centre of the USSR.

    Nonetheless, as life was moving on we lagged behind Europe and America. The present-day Belarus has had to modernize its production facilities. The reforming of our economy was also connected with privatization. Our privatization, however, in contrast to Russia, was of targeted nature. There was no sweeping privatization of enterprises. The state refused to manage only those enterprises with which it could not cope. We treated every enterprise we wanted to sell as an individual entity. The main condition for would-be investors was to preserve the work collective and the social privileges that were available when the enterprise was a private-owned one. We did not throw our economy into the whirlpool of privatization and thus made it safe from criminalization. This is where the specifics of our reforms and privatization lies.

    After the West refused to support us and refused to grant loans to us, we modernized our economy at our own expense. This is yet another specifics – relying on our own strength. A decision was taken to deal with every single enterprise, because there were people working there. So we managed to give a lift to nearly all the enterprises.

    If one bears in mind a highest degree of social protection of our population, this economy, this policy can be regarded as socialist, to some extent. A proof of what has been said can also be found in the level of forecasting and planning inherent in our economy. The state gradually abandons the tough management of economy, but it still continues to play an important role in the economy. However, this is another reason behind our success.

    Belarus intends to make up for the losses in equivalent of $5 billion caused by the increase in Russian gas and oil prices, the president of Belarus said in an interview with a Reuters correspondent February 6.

    “President Putin has recently said that Russia wants to build market relations with all countries including with Belarus. Following this principle, we will also ask Russia to pay for all the services that Belarus has been providing it free of charge so far. These are transit, military cooperation, Kaliningrad, one and a half thousand of kilometers of the customs border, protection of our borders. All this comes at quite a price,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    He said, “Russia pays Poland $4,5 billion for the transit of gas and it pays Belarus only $300 million. Transit of gas alone may make up for all our losses if to use the Polish variant.”

    “What upsets us most about the position of our ally is the psychological thing. It’s a shame that such actions should have been taken by a country which is our ally, by our closest neighbor which people is most close to us. But, maybe, this is for the better,” the president said.

    “We are preparing draft agreements which we will send to Russia soon. We will do it in a calm manner, as it should be done under market relations,” the Belarusian leader added.

    Belarus has always wanted to improve relations with the West. Alexander Lukashenko said that he admitted that Belarus had one-way Russia-oriented foreign policy. “We were standing on one foot but we should stand on both feet. We are situated in between the West and Russia. We are a bridge between Russia and the West,” the president added.

    According to him, after the recent energy crisis “Europe has understood that it is difficult to ensure energy security without Belarus and that Belarus, as it has turned out, wants to preserve its sovereignty”. “That has turned out to be a surprise for the European Union,” he added.

    Belarus has long proposed the Europeans spheres and avenues of cooperation that could bring the sides “to the level of good neighbors”, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “But when we were telling the Europeans ‘let’s negotiate and discuss our relations’, Europe, tied to the chariot of the opposition, banned entry for our policy-makers, and decided to exclude us from the generalized system of preferences on far-fetched reasons. How could one improve relations with the European Union? That resembles the policy of Russia. They made a loop on our neck and said: let’s build a union state. With a loop on the neck. But it is impossible to break us and no one will put us down on our knees,” Alexander Lukashenko added.

    Belarus is in the center of the civilized world, the president said. “The Europeans, being civilized people as they are, have to admit that the Belarusians also have their national interests like the Germans, British, French, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians. We say: let’s negotiate and you would see that Belarus is the best partner one would wish to have. But do not put unrealizable terms for us at the same time,” the president said.

    “Ultimately, requirements to Belarus were that, first, we had to destroy our political system and, second, it was implied that the current president of Belarus was illegitimate and he had to resign. What right does the West have to demand it?” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Alexander Lukashenko said he intended to preserve the basic feature of the Belarusian economy which is a high level of social security of citizens. At the same time Belarus will not be at the periphery of world development processes.

    Speaking about the Belarus’ economic model, Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus is characterized by a high level of social security. “If consider the highest degree of social security of the population, the money we invest in education, science and health care, than this economy, this policy can be called socialist to some extent. Here we can also mention the high level of forecasting and planning which is typical of our economy,” the head of state said.

    Alexander Lukashenko added that people in Belarus fully enjoy all the privileges of private property. Belarus has developed free market relations at home what is typical of a capitalist economy. “This means that we know very well in what direction the world is developing and we do not intend to be at the periphery of that development. We will certainly keep this kind of economy which has proved efficient throughout the world. But at the same time we will keep the peculiarity of our economy – the highest level of social security of people,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The president added, the role of government in economy is still significant in spite of gradual moving away from rigid management schemes. “If the government had allowed large-scale privatization once, today we would have had more or less the same mess as some countries of the former socialist camp have. Why should we privatize or destroy a state-run company if it produces competitive goods? The government should closely monitor processes at companies and if it becomes impossible to manage the company further on, it should hand it over to a private businessman if it is found necessary,” the Belarusian leader said.

    Involving own resources to modernize the economy was among the vehicles behind the economic growth in Belarus. According to the president, while conducting reforms, Belarus was careful enough “not to plunge into the maelstrom of privatization” heedless of the consequences and in that way saved the economy from criminalization.

    “While conducting the reforms, we, unlike Russia for example, privatized only certain companies. The state did not allow large-scale privatization of state-owned property. The state refused from the ownership and management of only those companies which it could not handle on its won. At the same time we laid down about a dozen and a half conditions for future investors. The main of them was that a company to be privatized should preserve the personnel and the social benefits and guarantees which existed there before”, the president said. He also stressed that today privately-owned companies generate a prevailing share of GDP – more than a half.

    “The main thing is that we have been guided by current trends. Developing the industry, we have relied on our potential and being guided the needs of people. We have started modernizing the economy involving internal resources, our own means. Therefore today we practically have no debts to the west," the head of state said.

    Belarus suffers pressure from abroad because of its policy which is different from the policy pursued by western and Baltic countries. “This is our choice. Let us live this way. We will undoubtedly set out on the path of development that the entire world moves along. But for this we need time,” the president said.

    “The situation we have is absolutely different from the situation in Germany or Great Britain – a country with centuries-long traditions, which was not destroyed by the war, where everything has been settled. Belarus, on the other hand, found itself in ruins once again in the early 1990s and we still have to work hard to revive from that condition. This is why sometimes we have to take harsh management decisions to get out from that ‘pit’,” the head of state explained.

    Alexander Lukashenko added, there are numerous businessmen working in Belarus who came from the West and started their businesses fearless of the Western propaganda. “I often meet with them. When I ask them what they think can be improved, they only ask to preserve stability and order in the country that there exist. These western businessmen are creating the sprouts of the future Belarusian economy,” the president said.

    The head of state called a myth statements that the Belarusian society is a closed society. “Our people are very well educated. Newspapers reflecting ardent opposition views are freely sold in Belarus. Foreign mass media channels are broadcast in Belarus. The biggest problem of our opposition is that their opposition views are their business. They realize they will never seize power in Belarus. Showing themselves as opposition in the West, they get dozens of millions of dollars, share this money among them and live comfortably. Does not the Belarusian people see it?” he said.

    Russia should drop imperial ambitions and attempts of looking down on Belarus, president says

    From: Reuters
    President Alexander Lukashenko criticized the West on Tuesday for wooing the opposition in Belarus, saying his foes were outcasts who had failed in government and lived off foreign donations.

    The Belarussian leader, now in his 13th year of rule, said Washington and Brussels had failed to understand his country properly.

    "Middle-ranking, well-paid European officials come here, walk around the streets, meet the opposition, collect some data, come up with some criticism of the so-called dictator Lukashenko and go back home," the president said.

    "You are not even co-operating with the opposition, but rather with a group of renegades who were unsuccessful as members of President Lukashenko's team," he added.

    "They were all part of my team. They were all alongside me and promoted exactly the same ideology. But the portfolios they were given were considered too small so they went into opposition. And they make money out of it."

    Some of Belarus's opposition politicians were members of Lukashenko's government although the president's top rival Alexander Milinkevich -- who won the European Parliament's Human Rights Prize last December -- has never served under him.

    Belarus's liberal and nationalist opposition, often divided, dismisses out of hand any suggestion that it is paid from abroad for the purpose of destabilizing Belarus.

    Milinkevich, one of two opposition candidates who challenged Lukashenko's re-election last year, calls for good relations with the West and Russia and development of a market economy. He is careful to avoid any suggestion of subjecting conservative Belarussians to radical changes in policy.

    The European Union last November demanded that Lukashenko accept 12 conditions before dialogue could resume. These included holding free elections, releasing political prisoners and allowing freedom of expression.

    Lukashenko rejected the "unacceptable" pre-conditions, saying Europe should instead learn from Belarus's policies of creating full employment for its people.

    The Belarussian president accepted in the interview that he was "faced with the need to rule in a tough manner" but said this was the only way to achieve results.

    He acknowledged feeling some envy toward Western leaders such as Britain's Queen Elizabeth who did not have to worry about economic problems and were not under constant pressure from abroad.

    "Sometimes I get such 'enjoyment' from my job that it might be better if I were dead," he joked.

    But despite his frustrations at Belarus's economic troubles and political isolation, Lukashenko, 52, expects to stay in office for some time to come.

    Asked if he would run in Belarus's next presidential elections in 2011, the president replied:

    "May God help me to fulfill in these four years everything I promised the people. If I do that and if my health permits and if I remain the same active, businesslike man ... I have no intention of abandoning political activity. Let me be honest about that."

    Belarus wants Russia's money and its friendship

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, stung by big rises in Russian energy prices, vowed on Tuesday to recover $5 billion in losses by making Moscow pay for vital transit traffic and military cooperation.

    But despite disappointment over Moscow's price rises and its foreign policy, Lukashenko said close ties with Russia remained the cornerstone of his isolated administration's policy.

    The two former Soviet neighbors have long enjoyed warm relations and were negotiating a union with a common currency.

    But Russian President Vladimir Putin's sudden doubling of gas prices and cut in oil subsidies at the end of last year threatened a vital prop for the Belarussian economy and prompted Minsk to strike back.

    "Now that the Russian president has mentioned a transition to market relations ... we will in return ask Russia to pay in hard currency for services that Russia used to benefit from free of charge," Lukashenko told Reuters in a rare interview at the presidential offices.

    "These are things like transit (across Belarussian territory), military cooperation and the enclave of Kaliningrad. Belarus practically sponsored day-to-day life in that territory", Lukashenko said.

    "We are preparing draft calculations which we will send to our Russian partners in exactly the same manner as they did to us," the president added.

    Lukashenko sharply criticized Moscow's foreign policy, which he said asserted Russian interests in a growing list of countries around the world but took for granted loyal allies like Belarus and other former Soviet states.

    "Russian policy is more and more like U.S. policy, which they never cease to criticize," he said. "There is some imperial style in their behavior."

    "Russia tries to ignore the former Soviet countries based on the false assumption that they will not go away, they will remain firmly attached but that is a false assumption."

    Despite criticizing Moscow's recent moves, Lukashenko said he hoped relations with Russia would improve and that "good sense will prevail".

    The Belarus leader was also careful to avoid any direct criticism of Putin, describing him as a good friend and comrade who had always been sincere in his dealings with Minsk

    The president was speaking the day after Belarus announced big rises in the amounts it charges Russia for the transit of oil across its territory to supply markets in western Europe.

    Responsibility for the "complete mess" in Russian foreign policy lay with senior officials who issued contradictory statements and did not coordinate decisions, he added.

    It was important to remember that Belarussians and Russians were one people, he said, referring to their common ethnicity.

    "This is the root of our policy and we are prepared to continue in the same way. But we will not tolerate any pressure or lies from the Russian Federation when there are attempts to have the two branches of the same people collide with each other."

    Lukashenko said despite their recent dispute, Belarus still wanted to pursue the idea of a union state with Moscow, provided that it did not mean Belarus becoming part of Russia.

    "Belarus will never opt for the union model proposed by Russia," he said. "Belarus will never become part of another state."

    But that did not mean his country would turn its back on Moscow and woo Europe.

    "My answers are not an attempt to hurt Russia or to please you in the West," Lukashenko retorted.

    Belarus to Annually Lose $5 Billion from Higher Prices for Gas, Oil

    From: Kommersant
    Belarus’ economy will lose $5 billion from the surge in gas and oil prices, Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko told Reuters. Given that our GDP amounts to $50 billion, $5 billion is the 10 percent of the GDP withdrawn by Russia from our economy, Lukashenko said. “As to our plans for economic growth and social protection, they will be secured whatever the cost,” the president vowed.

    ”Economically, we will withstand this situation,” Lukashenko said, promising to propose to Russia to pay for all services rendered by Belarus free of charge. “They are the transit, military cooperation, Kaliningrad. A thousand and a half kilometers of the customs border, protection of our borders.”

    Asked to evaluate such services, Lukashenko gave the amount of at least $5 billion. “Not we offered such relations. The RF pays $4.5 billion to Poland for transit, but only $300 million to us. For gas separately, if the Polish variant is taken, we can compensate for all our losses. Tens of millions of tons of cargo move via Belarus from Europe to Russia and visa versa. It is the enormous money,” Lukashenko pointed out.

    ”Only the people unable to count till ten can use such routes,” Lukashenko commented on Transneft intention to construct an oil pipeline bypassing Belarus. “This route will cost twice as much to Russia. Second, one should take into consideration the standing of Europeans concerning flooding by oil the overloaded Baltic states. After all, it is their business, their right [Russia].”

    “We have set the task,” Lukashenko continued, “diversifying deliveries to Belarus. I think there will be the willing companies to deliver crude to Belarus and with which we will make private our enterprises. There will be the companies to arrive at our enterprises with their crude. But it will be the biggest danger for Russia, as it will result in the loss of Russia’s traditional markets in Europe,” Lukashenko warned.

    On February 5, 2007, Economic Ministry of Belarus promulgated the ruling to hike by 30 percent the rates for crude transit from February 15. The current rates took effect January 1, 1996 and hadn’t been revised until recently, sources with the ministry specified.

    In other news, Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko proposed to Russia to drop mutual claims, Interfax reported, referring to the president’s interview to Reuters that Belarus broadcasted Tuesday.
    Lukashenko said they are ready to drop all claims to the RF – the financial and economic ones – should Russia act accordingly. If Russia rejects this proposal, Belarus is capable of compensating for losses incurred as a result of the surge in prices for Russia’s energy supplies. “We have the price growth reserve, the increase in prices for our product. Sometimes, we used to sell it from two to three fold cheaper than similar goods,” the president explained.

    According to Lukashenko, Russia may lose the advantageous market of Europe if it proceeds to advancing crude deliveries via the Baltic pipelines bypassing Belarus. Instead of Russia’s companies, the companies from the United States, Europe, the Arab states will come to Belarus’ enterprises with their crude, cutting off Russia from the profitable market of Europe, Lukashenko asserted.

    Moreover, delivering crude to Europe via the Baltic pipelines will cost twice as much for Russia, the president emphasized.

    The agitation of Belarus’ president probably roots in the recent statement of Semen Vainshtok, CEO of Russia’s pipeline monopoly Transneft. Vainshtok officially announced the extension of the Baltic pipelines February 5, specifying that they will run bypassing Belarus from Unechi that is on the Belarus’ border to Leningrad Region’s Primorsk. The project budget is estimated at $2 billion to $2.5 billion.

    Belarus confirms 30% hike in Russian oil transit fees to Europe

    From: Platts
    The Belarussian economy ministry has confirmed reports on its decision to raise transportation fees on deliveries of Russian crude via its territory to European markets by over 30% from February 15.

    The ministry has approved a 34.6% increase in transportation fees up to $3.50/mt ($0.48/barrel) for crude deliveries via the Unecha-Adamova Zastava line, Belarus' part of the Druzhba pipeline that runs toward Poland and Germany, the ministry said in a statement posted on its web site late Monday.

    The transportation fee on crude deliveries via Belarus' Unecha-Brody section towards Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Ukraine will be raised to $1.50/mt, up 31.6%.

    The fees were calculated based on the average transportation cost for crude pumped through Transneft's pipeline's across Russia, which is $0.6/mt/100 km, the ministry said.

    The ministry also added that the current transportation fees -- $2.6/mt for Unecha-Adamova Zastava and $1.14/mt for Unecha-Brody section -- had been effective since January 1, 1996 and had not been changed since than.

    "Considering that these tariffs were in force for a long period of time and a significant increase in the cost of oil pumping since than, [the operator of the Belarus section of Druzhba pipeline] Gomeltransneft Druzhba and [a state-owned oil monopoly] Belneftekhim applied for an increase in fees on transportation of the transit oil via Belarus trunk pipelines to compensate the losses," the ministry said in a statement.

    Analysts do not expect the increased tariffs to affect the use of the Belarus section of the Druzhba line by Russia's oil exporters.

    Belarus to start building its first nuclear power plant in 2008

    From: Ria Novosti
    Belarus plans to start building its first nuclear power plant in 2008.

    Belarus's National Academy of Sciences said Monday the NPP's first unit will be commissioned in 2013-2014, and the second unit by 2015. Their total power will be 1,000 megawatts.

    Another two units will be built by 2025.

    Earlier, a deputy chairman of the academy presidium, Vladimir Timoshpolsky, said Russia and France are the likeliest partners of Belarus in the project.

    "Today there's practically no choice - only Germany, Japan and the U.S. provide services on the nuclear power market besides these states," he said.

    In 2007, Belarus is to complete theoretical research and choose a strategic partner for project implementation, and will start talks with the supplier of technology and equipment

    Sergei Sidorskiy: Belarus records 13% economic growth in January

    From: NLIPRB
    Sergei Sidorskiy
    The Belarusian economy grew by13% over 2006, prime minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorskiy has said at a session of the Council of Ministers which summed up the economic performance of Belarus in 2006 and mapped out priority tasks to reach the projected targets of the socio-economic development of the country in 2007.

    According to Sergei Sidorskiy, in 2006 the country met 14 out of 16 most important targets of the socio-economic development forecast. Thus, “quite good foundations have been laid to continue the work in 2007”, the head of government said.

    Speaking about the economic performance in January, the prime minister emphasized “that was a difficult month for the government, the national economy”. However, despite the difficulties the Belarusian economy showed its efficiency past month, he said. Belarus took a range of urgent measures following the increase in the prices for Russian energy carriers. As a result, “the economy worked the way we expected”, Sergei Sidorskiy said.

    According to preliminary estimates, in January 2007 the industrial production will grow by 13%-14% over January 2006.

    In othyer news, according to Decision of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Belarus of 15.01.2007 No. 6, new rules “Appropriate practice for wholesale realization” entered into force on 3 February 2007.

    The rules prescribe that wholesale trading of medicines, both domestic and imported, should be carried out only through pharmaceutical warehouses and establish requirements for the functioning of such warehouses.

    Belarus KGB arrests 30 opposition activists meeting in apartment

    From: Jurnalo
    Officers from the Belarusian KGB arrested more than 30 members of an opposition group participating in an unsanctioned apartment meeting, the Belapan news agency reported Monday.The detentions took place Sunday evening in a residential region of the Belarusian capital Minsk. Most of the arrestees were teenagers or young adults belonging to the Molodoi Front (Youth Front) opposition group.

    Uniformed police, plain-clothes KGB agents, and a military special forces unit conducted the arrests.

    Most of the Youth Front members were released after two to three hours of questioning, most reportedly because they were younger than 18.

    Some group members were interrogated until the early hours of Monday morning, said Vladmir Labkovich, a Youth Front spokesman.

    Two of the group's top leaders, Oleg Korban and Dmitriy Fedoruk, reportedly were still being held in a Minsk KGB-run detention centre by mid-afternoon. Family members were unable to contact either.

    Based on verbal allegations made by police officers during the apartment raid, both are likely to face criminal charges by Wednesday, said Boris Goretsky, a Fedoruk associate.

    The main accusations will be violation of public assembly and legal organization law, Goretsky predicted.

    Belarusian law forbids political organizational work by private individuals not belonging to a registered group, or not operating from a government-sanctioned office. Molodoi Front is banned.

    Belarus Intends to Borrow Billion Dollars Abroad

    From: Charter '97
    Nikolai Korbut
    Much of the economy is state-run and Washington dubs it a dictatorship but Belarus has launched an unlikely drive to woo foreign investors, hoping for $1 billion of loans to offset falling Russian subsidies. “We want to interest foreign investors in our country,” Finance Minister Nikolai Korbut said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.

    Those considering a bet on Belarus should ignore what they hear about the former Soviet state and see for themselves, he added.

    Investors should be prepared for Belarus`s unique brand of centrally-planned economic management, which has defied international prescriptions by growing by 9 to 10 percent a year for the last three years – a phenomenon dubbed “the Belarus puzzle” by some international economists.

    But there is a cloud on the horizon.

    Russia, Belarus`s main paymaster and export market, sent shockwaves through the Minsk government at the start of this year when it doubled gas prices and announced an effective reduction in oil subsidies.

    The move threatened to disrupt Minsk`s “economy for the people.”

    This combines what Korbut terms “the best of the Soviet system” – such as collective farms and state-owned tractor plants – with elements of the market economy, including privately owned restaurants, shops and property.

    Politics is best not discussed – a key opposition leader is in jail and the European Union says the election which returned President Alexander Lukashenko to power for a third time last year was rigged.

    The United States and the EU have slapped entry bans and asset freezes on Lukashenko and other top Belarus officials. Since the row with Russia, Lukashenko has talked repeatedly of turning towards Europe but has not responded to EU calls for change in the way he runs his country.

    The Minsk government is discussing financing needs with eight foreign banks and is even considering getting a sovereign rating, though Korbut did not want to disclose details.

    Privatisation was “always on the agenda” but Belarus wanted good projects for the state so that its people and economy would not suffer, he added.

    Korbut insisted that Belarus would survive the reductions in Russian energy subsidies – long considered by foreign analysts as a vital prop for the Belarussian economy – without abandoning its unique form of economic management.

    “There is no panic or anxiety,” he said. “You will see no queues in the streets here or anything like that. Things have become more complicated, but we are moving forward according to our own plans.”

    The government was confident that the budget deficit would not exceed the planned 1.5 percent of GDP despite the effect of higher gas and oil prices, Korbut said.

    Approaching 10 years in office, Korbut had little time for IMF prescriptions about how to run the economy or European Bank for Reconstruction and Development mantras about structural reform.

    “If you are trying to decide whether or not to invest on the basis of rumors, including the conclusions of the IMF, you are very unlikely to get a real picture,” he said. “Ask people here instead...We have nothing to hide.”

    Holocaust survivors to press Poland for compensation

    From: Ha'aretz
    On October 2, 1940, the Warsaw ghetto was formally established. Six weeks later, on November 15, the ghetto was sealed with walls, as shown in this 1941 photograph.
    Holocaust survivors from around the world will gather in Warsaw this month to urge the Polish government to compensate them for property confiscated by the former communist regime, Jewish organizations said yesterday.

    Poland, the biggest post-communist European Union member, is the only country from eastern Europe, besides Belarus, that has not enacted a program for the restitution of property seized after World War II. Attempts to solve the issue since the collapse of communism in 1989 have failed, mostly on the grounds that it would be too costly for the state budget.

    Representatives of Jewish groups will gather here on February 27, hoping to convince the authorities to speed up legislation allowing the restitution of lost property.

    Poland had Europe's biggest Jewish community until World War II, when the Nazis killed nearly 90 percent of the country's 3.3 million Jews. The post-war communist rulers seized their property as well as that of people who left or fled the country.

    Naphtali Lavie, from the World Jewish Restitution Organisation, told Reuters he expected the government to take immediate action to resolve the issue. "Many of the people who lost their goods are very old today," he said by telephone from Jerusalem. "How long are they supposed to wait?"

    Poland's ruling conservatives promised to resolve the issue and pass relevant legislation in coming months. But the government proposal envisages compensation for only 15 percent of the property lost. Polish officials estimate total claims for pre-war real estate and other property amount to at least $20 billion.

    For many Holocaust survivors, 15 percent is not enough.

    "How can you give someone back only a part of a house he lived in," Lavie said. "I would not call this a compromise ... it is depriving people of their property and parts of their lives," he said.

    Belarus: Railways set to increase freight traffic to Asia, Pacific region in 2007

    From: Railway Market
    Belarusian Railways plans to increase the freight traffic in the direction of Asia, Pacific region, head of the company’s marketing and transport logistics department Alexander Yevsiuk said.

    He said, this year the company plans to use a high-speed container train on the route from the Chinese city of Urumqi to Belarusian Brest via Kazakhstan and Russia. Besides, the coal traffic from Kuznetsk Basin to Latvia will be increased.

    At present cargo traffic via Belarus is handled by some 10 high-speed container trains. The major freight traffic articles are petroleum products, coal, mineral fertilisers, grain, construction cargoes, industrial and consumer goods.

    Alexander Yevsiuk also informed, in 2006 the freight traffic of Belarusian Railways reached 133.7 million tonnes, 6% up on 2005. According to the source, in 2006 Belarus imported 14.2 million tonnes of cargoes (126.9% as against 2005), exported 33.7 million tonnes of cargoes (94.5%). The local traffic amounted to 39.5 million tonnes (113.4%), transit traffic — 46.3 million tonnes (106.6%).

    Alexander Yevsiuk noted, cargoes transported to Belarus from Russia accounted for 65% of the total inflow, from Ukraine — 22%, Lithuania — 2%, Latvia — 1%. Belarus shipped most cargoes to Latvia (44.1%), Lithuania (16%), Russia (14%), and Ukraine (12%).

    Belarusian Railways accounts for around 75% of Belarus cargo transportation and over 50% of passenger transportation. The length of railroads of Belarusian Railways exceeds 5,500 kilometres.

  • Opposition news...


    From: Jamestown
    Ivonka Survilla, president of the People's Republic of Belarus (in exile) with Vaslav Havel
    The recent rift between Belarus and Russia has caused some soul-searching among the Belarusian political opposition, including proposals for a new dialogue with the government. At the same time, the proposed Second Congress of Democratic Forces is scheduled to take place in March, but it seems unlikely that Alyaksandr Milinkevich will remain leader. Already the Belarusian Popular Front has decided to sever its ties with the United Democratic leader over his "For Freedom" policy. The country is facing its biggest crisis since independence, but there is a lack of consensus as to the best way to proceed.

    The issue of a potential dialogue with the authorities emanates from two quarters: the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and a well-known political activist associated with the Charter-97 movement, Dzmitry Bandarenka. PACE President Rene van der Linden visited Belarus on January 18-20, meeting with the chairman of the House of Representatives, Uladzimir Kanaplyou, as well as members of the opposition. Van der Linden called not only for the release of political prisoners, but also for a new dialogue between the government and the opposition in the wake of the energy crisis and conflict with Russia. Ostensibly the Council perceives an opportunity for the development of closer relations between Europe and Belarus. Van der Linden concluded his visit with the words, "I feel that after the disputes with Russia, the Belarusian side is more ready for cooperation with European structures and that is why I appeal for participation in an open dialogue."

    Bandarenka expressed that same sentiment in an interview that appeared on the website of Charter-97. Bandarenka called for a Day of Unity and Reconciliation of all Belarusians on March 25, the traditional commemoration day of the Belarusian National Republic of 1918. Citing the new unity in Ukraine (a dubious example), he stated that this was no time for Belarus to be divided into "friends and foes." He maintained that Russia was seeking to remove Alexander Lukashenka as president and to end Belarusian independence. Bandarenka, who has referred to Lukashenka in the past as a criminal, suggested that the March 25 event should include the country's leadership and opposition, the head of the Belarusian People's Republic in exile, Ivonka Survilla, representatives of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, as well as prominent community figures. The direct association between the removal of Lukashenka and an end to independence was not explained.

    In the face of these changing circumstances, the Belarusian opposition seems disunited. In late January the editorial office of the opposition newspaper Narodnaya Volya asked the United Democratic leaders what concrete steps they had taken toward the new program of the Congress of Democratic Forces and plans for the street protests organized by the For Freedom movement. The editors complained that the opposition leaders avoided giving straightforward responses and wondered how they propose to force the president to adopt more democratic laws and practices.

    In late January, Yuri Khadyka, deputy chairman of the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), announced that the party could no longer comply with the Milinkevich team's "uncontrolled actions," which evidently included "stampeding" BPF activists into the For Freedom movement. In November 2006 the party agreed to form the basis of the movement, but Khadyka and party leader Vintsuk Vyachorka have since concluded it is detrimental to the interests of their party.

    Further problems were generated by the disparate attitudes toward the municipal elections in January, and what has been termed the opposition's "ritualistic" participation in some instances and outright boycott -- the Party of Communists of Belarus, for example -- in others. Whereas Milinkevich, according to one source, feels that Russia is justified in requesting market prices for its oil and gas, Vyachorka considers the larger neighbor to be a threat to Belarus's independence and has appealed for popular support to protect it. In short, there is no point in holding another Congress unless the opposition forces can find a common platform. There is also dissension on the process to gather signatures for the election of delegates, with complaints from the BPF in Hrodna that some of these signatures -- gathered initially for the municipal elections -- were falsified.

    Another analyst, writing in Belarusy i Rynok, comments logically that Milinkevich really needs his own political structures in order to continue as the leader of the united opposition. Unity is essential because the rift with Russia, which for several years has been perceived by many observers as the best means to remove Lukashenka, has in fact served to further consolidate his power and potentially be recognized by European structures.

    Yet little has changed within Belarus. Even at the height of the dispute with Russia, opposition activists were being arrested. Any change of attitude on the part of European structures toward the Lukashenka regime may lead -- as Andrei Sannikau has pointed out -- to more repression. Moreover, a dialogue was tried in the late 1990s at the behest of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk but collapsed after the authorities' violated the agreement signed on July 15, 1999. The key question is surely why the opposition is now being asked once again to cooperate with a regime that has not shown the least signs of mending its ways.

  • Opinion...

    On a Collision Course: Russia, Belarus

    From: Energy Tribune
    Just minutes before the Kremlin’s Spasskaya Tower clock struck midnight on December 31, 2006, Gazprom and Belarus managed to agree on gas pricing. Alas, the agreement’s ink had barely dried when the impulsive Belarusian president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, decided to start charging Russia for the transit of Russian oil through its territory. That oil has traditionally been exempt from any duties.
    The warning that started it all was delivered to Lukashenko in May 2006, right in the middle of a gas price campaign in the former Soviet republics. Belarus was informed that as of January 2007, it would have to pay Gazprom three times more for its gas than it had in 2006. The new price would be about $200 per thousand cubic meters. At the time Belarus nonchalantly reminded its giant neighbor that Russia and Belarus were supposedly building a union, and that Gazprom’s actions were not exactly brotherly.

    But money-hungry Gazprom saw a solution: Belarus would give them a 50 percent ownership stake in Beltransgaz, the local gas transportation and distribution company. In exchange, Gazprom promised a discount on the gas. Negotiations then stalled over the price of the company. According to Austrian evaluating bank ABN-Amro, the asset did not exceed $4 billion, though Lukashenko kept insisting publicly that its true market value was $10 billion. Then Belarus went silent until several days before the New Year, when the two had to resume the dialogue. Gazprom even scheduled a press conference for January 1, to officially shut the valves. Without any alternative gas sources, Belarus agreed to the new prices and signed the agreement only two minutes before midnight. But apparently Lukashenko held a deep grudge.

    Several nights of negotiations resulted in a gas price for Belarus of $105 per thousand cubic meters. In addition, Gazprom got a 50 percent stake in Beltransgaz valued at $5 billion. But tempestuous Lukashenko’s final reaction could never have been predicted. He decided to fight back, introducing a $45 per ton customs duty on the transit of Russian oil, which is pipelined to Europe at the clip of 80 million tons a year. This would mean an unexpected yearly cost of $3.6 billion for Russia.

    According to the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, “Such behavior of Belarus was outrageous and has no analog in the international practice. Traditionally transited products are exempt from customs duties.” In an interview on national television, Lukashenko accused Russia of getting rich on “oil dollars.” He also warned that even though Belarus had agreed to higher gas prices, it would retaliate, and that the new customs duties were just the beginning.

    Following the refusal of the Russian oil transportation monopoly, Transneft, to pay the exorbitant customs duties, Lukashenko ordered a halt to Russian oil transit through Belarus. In response, the Russians threatened to impose duties on all of the goods Belarus sells to Russia – a market worth some $6 billion per year to Belarus. The situation continued escalating until January 11, when Putin phoned Lukashenko and the two apparently agreed to end their feud. The next day, Belarus capitulated and all bans and duties were lifted.

    Russia: Rebranding The Nation

    From: RFE/RL
    Mikhail Prokhorov
    When French police briefly detained Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov last month at a fashionable winter resort in France on suspicion of "illegal trafficking of young girls," public officials in Moscow condemned the action as evidence of an "anti-Russian campaign."

    Aleksei Mitrofanov, a State Duma deputy of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, told NTV shortly after the incident: "They [the West] inherently dislike us. During the Soviet Union, when we were poor and traveled abroad with $25 in our pocket, they were suspicious, seeing us all as KGB agents. Now when we are trotting around the globe with large sums of money, they are still suspicious of us."

    Many Western and Russian observers agree that relations between Russia and the West are getting worse -- but they disagree about why. Westerners blame rising tensions on the Kremlin's more aggressive policies, not only with regard to its CIS neighbors but also Western energy companies and the European Union. Russian observers, on the other hand, accuse the West of failing to consider Russia's legitimate national interests and indulging in unreformed Cold War attitudes, the worst expression of which is "Russophobia."

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he shares Mitrofanov's sentiment. Asked by a journalist in Dresden last year about Russia's negative image in the world press, Putin said, "They dislike us simply because we are big and rich." He elaborated on this thought during his January 24 meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in Moscow.

    "As Russia's economic, political, and military capabilities grow in the world, it is emerging as a competitor -- a competitor that has already been written off. The West wants to put Russia in some pre-defined place, but Russia will find its place in the world all by itself," he said.

    Regardless of who or what is ultimately responsible for the worsening relations, the Kremlin has been concerned enough by Russia's rapidly deteriorating image abroad to launch a series of public relations events designed to enhance not only the image of the Putin regime, but also such key institutions, as Gazprom, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the armed forces.


    The first in a series of such events was a visit by presidential hopeful First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. According to many Russian commentators, the main purpose of Medevedev's trip was to present him to members of the world policymaking elite. Medvedev's 16 percent public approval rating is second only to Putin's, and it is double that of his closest contender, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

    Gazprom is also seeking to buff its international image following damaging publicity around the very public gas spats with Ukraine and Belarus and the company's reputation as a state-controlled monopolist. According to the Russian media on January 16, Gazprom's management has had negotiations with a consortium of Western public relations firms led by the Washington, D.C.-based company PBN about improving Gazprom's image in the United States and EU.

    Inside Russia, Gazprom has a wealth of public relations tools and resources at its disposal, since it owns fully or partially hundreds of media outlets, including Channel One and the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Gazprom is currently conducting negotiations to acquire Putin's own favorite mass circulation newspaper, "Komsomolskaya pravda." Aleksander Prokhanov, the publisher of the national-patriotic weekly "Zavtra," regularly praises Gazprom for its "imperial role."
    Text continues...

    Russia, the West and Energy: A Question of Double Standards?

    From: RIA Novosti
    It is hardly surprising that the main headline in the Western media from President Putin's annual press conference with Russian and international journalists last Thursday was his total rejection of accusations that Russia had used energy as a political weapon in its dispute with Belarus and, last year, with Ukraine and Georgia.

    Let's take a closer look at Western views on Russia's energy, although as usual there was much else of interest in the three-hour question and answer session.

    Writing in the Financial Times' survey of "The World in 2007" on January 24, for example, Quentin Peel, the paper's international affairs editor, asserted that one "worry is the increasingly nationalistic behavior of Moscow, with consequences for energy security," and that America's "weakness and distraction in the Middle East seem to provide opportunities for Russian assertiveness, especially in using its energy wealth."

    This is odd. Oil has always been highly political and it is naive to think it could be otherwise. Why, one wonders, is Russia not allowed to assert itself and defend what it sees as its national interests? After all, the most influential school of international relations is realism, which claims that is precisely what all nations do.

    While the West provides ample evidence to support realist notions in international affairs, its criticism of countries outside the West often rests on idealism and standards which the West itself fails to meet as well as it ought to. The inevitable result is that the West undermines its own influence by leaving itself open to charges of hypocrisy and double standards, charges which the Third World and Western left-leaning intellectuals have been making for decades.

    During the 1990s, many in the West criticized Russia's policy of subsidized energy supplies to the former Soviet republics as being anti-market, non-transparent and designed to maintain its informal empire after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The international financial institutions constantly called for the break-up of Gazprom and its monopoly and an end to subsidies on the domestic market - despite the fact that millions of people would be unable to afford the much higher market prices. Anyone who has experienced a harsh Russian winter knows this is no joke, but literally a matter of life and death.

    Russia's inept tactics in the gas wars have resulted in a PR disaster for the country, but it is par for the course that many in the West have chosen to concentrate on alleged bullying, rather than on Russia's broader strategy of ending these massive subsidies of billions of dollar a year to the inefficient economies of Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia. As Putin has pointed out, Russia has also increased energy prices to Armenia, with which it has particularly good relations.

    Western realism

    It is indeed ironic that the West now criticizes Russia for using the energy weapon. In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration opposed construction of the Trans-Siberian natural gas pipeline for fear it would make Western Europe dependent on the Soviet Union for energy supplies. It therefore prohibited U.S. companies from supplying parts to the pipeline and tried to extend the ban to foreign-based companies that were subsidiaries of U.S. firms or used U.S.-licensed technology. U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Richard Lesher wrote to Reagan in February 1982 that the pipeline policy could be likened to a "strategy of economic warfare." In 1985, the U.S. was more successful with the energy weapon when it prevailed upon King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to flood the market with oil in 1985-86 to weaken the Soviet economy.

    In mid-2001, the U.S. renewed the 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) for five years, which penalized any foreign company dealing with Iran or Libya in amounts of over $20 million, a laughably low hurdle in the oil and gas business.

    Defenders of this approach would doubtless argue that the context of the Cold War and state-sponsored terrorism make such actions acceptable, but this hardly applies to the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which was originally passed in 1975 to punish Communist states by imposing trade sanctions for their refusal to allow Jewish emigration. Now, with Russians enjoying more freedom to travel than at any time since 1914, some circles in America, especially in Congress, want to retain this wholly anachronistic Cold War relic as a lever against Russia.

    The European Union is also very astute in defending its own interests. President Putin complained yet again during his press conference that while Brussels wants European companies to have access to Russia's natural resources, the European Union's single market is largely closed to Russian exports, an impasse which Putin hopes can be resolved through normal negotiations.

    Nor are the individual members of the EU reticent when it comes to defending their national interests. The economic absurdities of the Common Agricultural Policy led the United Kingdom to demand annual rebates from the EU budget, while the French loudly and vigorously defend their inefficient farming sector. The Polish vetoing of closer EU ties with Russia is merely a recent example.

    Examples abound in the real world of countries asserting what they perceive to be their national interests. Indeed, cynics might argue that nation-states do nothing else, even though this often comes at a high price to themselves and sometimes other countries as well, for not all policies are thought through properly, and they often result in unforeseen consequences.

    The EU has frequently been weakened and its decision-making slowed down or even paralyzed for years in some key areas, while decades before the current crisis in the Middle East, American foreign policy was criticized for being against its own national interests.

    Russia's national interests

    Certainly Russia has done considerable long-term damage to its reputation in Europe, more than it realizes.

    But the contretemps on energy is no worse, and certainly far less bitter and extended, than the long-running trade disputes between Japan and the U.S. in the 1980s and the more recent disagreements between Europe and the U.S. which culminated in the "banana wars."

    In fact, despite the saber-rattling and brinkmanship, Russia quickly agreed to lower prices and looser conditions than it originally demanded, with a long transition period which would gradually see prices rise to European levels.

    But of course the entire economy of the developed world is based on hydrocarbons, and there are simply no other viable alternatives at the moment. Russia's actions have inevitably led to a more intensive European debate on energy and energy security, with Angela Merkel rethinking the governing coalition's agreement to scrap nuclear energy.

    Russia can hardly afford any repetition of these gas wars, since the result will be to further undermine the confidence of its main trading partner and close neighbor, and switching supplies to the Far East is a less viable option than appears at first sight.

    Russia feels that the security of energy supplies to its main customers in Western and Central Europe are at risk from transit countries. But one of its proposed solutions, the Nord Stream pipeline running directly from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, unleashed a storm of protest in Poland, which would lose out on the transit fees, and in Germany itself, not least because former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder is closely involved with Gazprom.

    The protests over the Nord Stream pipeline and the gas wars show just how difficult it will be for Russia to appease certain Western circles whatever it does.

    During her January meeting with Putin in Moscow, German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that in the future, Russia must inform Europe in good time about any expected interruptions to oil or gas supplies and suggested setting up a formal mechanism to ensure better communications.

    In contrast to the Soviet Union, however, modern Russia is poor at communications both internationally and domestically, and no longer enjoys a frighteningly powerful propaganda machine. At least a partial awareness of the problem is indicated by reports in mid-January of Gazprom seeking to engage international PR companies to polish up its image.

    Quentin Peel is wrong when he suggests that America's "weakness and distraction in the Middle East seem to provide opportunities for Russian assertiveness, especially in using its energy wealth."

    In the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was weak, with its economy, like those of the other former republics, experiencing probably the biggest economic decline seen in peacetime in the twentieth century.

    Long-term trends

    It was, however, naive to assume that this state of affairs would last forever. Russia is becoming more active not only in the Middle East, but also in Asia and Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America, not to mention Europe and North America.

    These trends will continue irrespective of American strength or weakness for the simple reason that Russia sees itself as a great power. And, like China and India, Russia is embracing much from the West, but is doing so increasingly on its own terms.

    Russia is by no means above criticism, but Western accusations that the country uses its wealth as a political weapon - if indeed this was case - ring hollow and will be rejected by Russians as hypocritical and self-serving.

  • From the blogs...

    Bush’s Diplomatic Triumphs leading America to a Global Catastrophe: Part Two

    From: The Mundi Club
    The New Asiatic Power Bloc?
    W. joseph stroupe has presented the hypothesis that, over the last few years, america’s belligerent, foreign policies have alienated russia and china to such an extent they have been moving toward a closer political and military alliance. He also believes that both iran and india are drifting towards this new asiatic alliance. "Rather, India will lean significantly inward either toward alignment with the US or with Russia-China. The fundamental evidence proves India is aligning with Russia-China, notwithstanding the "face" of its pragmatic policy of concluding certain cooperation agreements with the US for access to crucial advanced technologies to accelerate its rise as an emerging power, agreements India insists must be concluded mostly on its own terms." (W Joseph Stroupe ‘Revamping US Foreign Policy, Part 2: The misnomer of multipolarity’ December 16, 2006).

    The question of global sanctions against iran could be seen as a test case for stroupe’s hypothesis. If russia and china shared enough common interests, and if they had enough interests in common with iran, they would have combined to oppose american demands for un sanctions on iran on the spurious grounds of its non-existent nuclear weapons. But, in the end, they acquiesced with america’s demands. The following sections explore the underlying structural factors which might explain their reasons for doing so.

    China and Iran.
    China exports huge quantities of goods to iran. It has massive investments in the country especially iran’s fossil fuel industry. It imports huge quantities of iranian fossil fuels. These imports are critical to china’s long term economic growth and prosperity. All of these factors seem to suggest that china has substantial vested interests in protecting iran from punitive un sanctions and from an american, or jewish, or jewish/american, attack on iran. China is likely to lose out considerably if america does to iran what it has done to iraq. China could lose not only its exports to iran and its investments in the country, it could also lose its vital fossil fuel contracts. "The most coveted sites in Iraq are the Majnoon and West Qurna fields, both close to Basra in the south of the country. Together, these fields represent nearly a quarter of Iraq's proven reserves. Total and Russia's Lukoil had deals in place with Saddam Hussein's government on the Majnoon and West Qurna fields respectively. It is arguable whether these contracts are still valid, and Exxon is now seen by insiders as the frontrunner to nab the rights to the Majnoon field." (Danny Fortson ‘Iraq poised to end drought for thirsting oil giants’ January 07, 2007). Given that america forced the iraqi government to renege on saddam-era fossil fuel contracts with russia and france why shouldn’t it do the same, if it attacks/invades iran, to iranian contracts with china?

    One commentator believes china has a vested interest in protecting iran – albeit whilst keeping america bogged down in iraq. "With its US$10 billion annual exports to Iran and tens of billions already committed in Iran's oilfields, China's vested interests rank higher than the other veto powers in the Security Council ... There is a catch here, though. China is simultaneously keen on the potential circuit-breaker impact of the UN resolution with respect to any US-Iran cooperation on Iraq, in light of the Iraq Study Group's (ISG's) recommendation for US engagement with Iran (and Syria). Compared with the shrinking Russia, China's star in the geopolitical universe is rising, and Beijing relishes the US quagmire in Iraq that is taxing its hegemonic prowess." (Kaveh L Afrasiabi ‘Russia's grand bargain over Iran’ January 04, 2007).

    Another commentator has no doubts china would do its utmost to defend iran. "Oil is transforming world politics. Iran can afford to face down the wrath of the West and be robust about becoming a nuclear power because it has the cast-iron support of China - secured by oil. In November 2004, Iran gave China the rights to exploit the giant Yadavaran field. Importantly, China plans to bring this oil into China, not across the Indian Ocean and through the Malacca Straits, but by pipeline across central Asia, free from the surveillance of the US fleet. China's attitude to Iran is foretold; it has refused to condemn Sudan over the killings in Darfur since Sudan allowed it to build a 500-mile pipeline to the coast. Ahmadinejad can therefore be 100 per cent certain that China will veto any attempt to win UN approval for military intervention in Iran." (Will Hutton ‘A battle for oil could set the world aflame’,,1764542,00.html April 30, 2006).

    There are a number of reasons why china failed to defend iran from being sanctioned. Firstly, the chinese seem to regard iran as being more dependent on them than they are on iran. "Without a doubt, China will carefully weigh pluses and minuses of its fruitful economic relations with Iran. Trade with Iran was an estimated US$10 billion in 2006. Almost 13% of China's imports of oil come from Iran. Chinese business is steadily expanding into diverse sectors of the Iranian economy. But Beijing would be justified in assessing Iran's greater need of "partnership" with China at this juncture. True, China has initialed long-term energy deals with Iran, but it has made them conditional on a satisfactory resolution of the nuclear issue." (M K Bhadrakumar ‘China's Middle East journey via Jerusalem’ January 13, 2007).

    Secondly, although china is highly dependent on iranian fossil fuels, it has recently developed a close alliance with saudi arabia which will considerably reduce its dependence on supplies from iran. Iran’s value to china will be reduced by china’s new relationship with saudi arabia. "But the most important factor in Chinese thinking will be the strategic considerations of its relationship with Saudi Arabia. The exchange of visits by King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud and Hu to each other's capitals within a four-month period early last year greatly cemented Saudi-Chinese political equations. Translated to the geopolitical plane, simply put, China has to be sensitive about the Saudi stance toward Iran. Riyadh's animus toward Tehran is real. It is born out of the instincts of self-preservation of the Saudi regime." (M K Bhadrakumar ‘China's Middle East journey via Jerusalem’ January 13, 2007).

    Thirdly, china exports far more goods to america than it does to iran. It has vastly greater investments in america than it does in iran. And it has acquired vast reserves of petro-dollars. America is the engine of the world economy to such an extent it is responsible for much of china’s economic growth. "Rather than private consumption, external demand, originating primarily from US consumers, drives economic growth in China. Between 2001 and 2005, China's annual average rate of export growth was 25%. Exports grew by 35% in 2004 and 28% in 2005. The very strong nominal growth of exports accounted for about 2% of real GDP growth in 2004 and about 4% in 2005. In the first half of 2006, net exports accounted for about 2.5% of real GDP growth. Including goods re-exported from other countries and Hong Kong, China's exports to the US account for about 50% of total exports. Thus export growth is largely determined by the growth of US demand. Because almost all of China's exports are consumer goods, personal consumption demand in the US drives China's export growth. In addition to exports, external demand also plays a key role in the growth of investment in China." (Jephraim P Gundzik ‘What a US recession means for China’ September 27, 2006).

    China’s economic dependence on america means it has little option but to support american foreign policies in the middle east. "The heart of the matter is that ideology or no ideology, as China's integration with the world economy grows deeper it is in China's interest to help the Bush administration preserve the stability of the Middle East's political order." (M K Bhadrakumar ‘China's Middle East journey via Jerusalem’ January 13, 2007).

    China and Russia.
    Similar considerations also apply to china’s relationship with russia. Firstly, china seems to believe that russia is more dependent upon it than it is on russia. "Although two of the agreements deal with energy issues of top importance to China, the two countries may not have enough complementary interests to make their much-touted "strategic partnership" of primary importance to either. China's main interest in Russia is as a supplier of arms and commodities, primarily oil and gas to fuel China's rapidly expanding economy. Putin has sought to promote sales of Russian industrial goods, but China is not much interested in anything except commodities and arms. It does not take much looking in the Russian press, moreover, to find articles suggesting that imports of Chinese goods are threatening whole sectors of Russian industry, or that it is unwise to sell weapons to a large and dynamic country that poses a potential strategic and demographic threat to Siberia." (Patrick G Moore ‘China gets its pound of Russian flesh’ March 24, 2006).

    Secondly, china is reliant upon russian fossil fuels. It is destined to become even more dependent after the construction of a russian oil pipeline to china. However, just as the chinese government considerably reduced its dependence on iranian fossil fuels by forging a fossil fuel deal with saudi arabia, so the same also applies to china’s relationship with russia.

    Thirdly, china has vastly greater economic relationships with america than it does with russia. "The volume of Sino-Russian trade is 2% of China's total foreign trade, or one-tenth the amount of China's trade with the United States, one-ninth of that with Japan, one-eighth of that with the European Union, and one-sixth of that with South Korea." (Patrick G Moore ‘China gets its pound of Russian flesh’ March 24, 2006).

    There are, however, two further considerations which undermine the prospects of a russian-chinese alliance. Firstly, russia’s vulnerability over siberia. "Russia's sparse population in that region, the need to monitor the borders, and the existence of high-profile military and R&D assets in Russia's eastern territory necessitate constant surveillance and observation. The recent economic development of the region - oil and natural-gas exploration and the importance Moscow now attaches to such industries - makes it ever more necessary to keep an eye on this expanse. China's recent interests in the Russian Far East and the constant debate about Chinese cross-border immigration to that region add to the importance of constant observation of vast open spaces that hold huge quantities of much-coveted natural resources. If Moscow's ability to observe and monitor even a part of that region were to be degraded to any degree, it would be at a disadvantage in its ability to see what takes place on the ground. Lack of roads and railroads and degraded infrastructure already make any official Russian response to a military or a humanitarian emergency there difficult. If Moscow went "blind" suddenly in huge portions of its eastern territories, there is no sure way to predict its response." (‘A nasty jolt for Russia’ January 23, 2007).

    Secondly, and to an extent, following on from the first consideration, russia is unwilling to provide china with advanced weaponry. "Furthermore, while Russia is happy to sell military hardware to China, there is a clear line that Moscow will not cross with its neighbor. Moscow's military leadership has stated on a number of occasions that Russia will not supply its latest high-tech weapons to China for security reasons, even if the price is right. There is a growing level of discomfort in Moscow with China's rapid ascent. Now, China can potentially threaten one Russian asset that still gives it enormous strength and confidence - its space-based assets. The time when China can overtake Russia militarily is approaching. It has already done so economically, and is steadily gaining on Russia politically with its powerful diplomatic drive buttressed with trade incentives. How Russia will react to China's continued drive for high-tech military dominance will have a powerful and lasting effect on the future of international relations." (‘A nasty jolt for Russia’ January 23, 2007).

    It has been concluded, "Of course, like Russia, China is opposed to US hegemony. But Russia is too weak to be a "partner". At any rate, the relationship with the US is too important for China to seek any alliance against it. A former Soviet diplomat who served in China in the 1980s, Yevgeny Bazhanov, wrote recently that even if China and Russia were to form an anti-American alliance, its fate couldn't be any different from the pact that collapsed in the 1950s with disastrous consequences. He wrote, "Russia and China are too different, and they have too many different interests."" (M K Bhadrakumar ‘China begins to define the rules’ January 20, 2007).
    This very interesting text continues...

    Arrests of Małady Front Activists Witness Losing Sence of Reality

    From: Tol Blogs
    30 activists and leaders of an unregistred youth association “Małady Front” were arrested yesterday, February 4th, on a private flat in one of residential areas in Mensk while holding the leadership meeting. OMON (equivalent to anti-riot police in Bełaruś), masked and armed, have rushed into the flat round 16.30, and arresred all present over there. All mobile phones were immediately confiscated; soldiers had been checking hands of the young men to make sure they do not send anything to journalists or their parents. Still, one of the arrested mananged to hide his phone and send several texts to journalists of “Nasha Niva” telling what was going on.
    20.40: Źmicier Hvedaruk was convoyed into a “Gazel” car with a coat on his face which had taken him presumably to SIZO.

    At 19.30 it had been reported that the young man had not been released, but kept in “autozak”, a special car for transporting of those arrested. KGB had interrogated only one of them, with possibility of filing criminal charges for heading an unregistered association.
    Flats of Nasta Palažanka, Alaksej Januševski and Siarhej Hryščenia, all activists of the organization, had been searched by police.

    Aleh Korban who had not been taking part in the meeting, was arrested by masked OMON in his flat in the presence of all family and taken in the unknown direction.
    Militia had kept young activists for more than 7 hours, interrogating and refusing contact with parents. The latter however had been told that their children had been free to leave any time.
    By the next morning all activists had been released except for Źmicier Hviedaruk and Aleh Korban who is said to be facing criminal charges. His friends and colleagues had been waiting for them near two district court buildings, but he had not been brought there.

    A person had been convoyed to a car with coat on his face…
    Aleh Korban had been arrested by masked man having no arrest order; his parents had not been informed of where his son had been taken…
    Militia rushed into a private flat to arrest people in the middle of the day…

    Holy crap. A coat on a head and masked men in the 21st century in the middle of Europe in the country which is not (at least officially) in the state of war. Does anyone need any other proof that our militia had lost its sense of reality and does definitely require a psych consult? When OMON, specially trained to handle masses of armed man in city streets during riots, men who had undergone appropriate training and preparation, are rushing into a small flat in 10 to arrest 30 youngsters, it is definitely worth of laugh. It does not look that the regime wants to threaten all to death and thus suppress any resistance: March 2006 events had shown that it is impossible. It looks more that KGB is living in the realities of 1970s, hoping that it still has its scary image. Well, it does not any more.

    Amendments to the KGB Act adapted by the “Parliament” in the end of 2005, allowed KGB officials “enter any private flat or accommodation on suspicion that antigovernment elements had been gathering there, without a search warrant”. Later, Lukašenka had decreed that “the anti-riot police are entitled to use its weapons in cases of imminent danger posed by crowd to the squads, and AT SOME OTHER CASES IDENTIFIED BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC”. 1st of January 2007 another Act had been put into practice, that of resisiting extremism. I need to remind that right before elections of March 2006 General Suharanka, chief of KGB, has summoned a press-conference where he informed the journalists that all those to be potentially participating in anti-government protests (which really happened later) might be treated terrorists under the new Anti-Extermism Act.

    What does “Małady Front” arrests witness now? Nothing except that Lukašenka’s tirades about the West “acting honestly” and Russia “acting dishonestly”, receiving van der Linden in Minsk and addresses about alternative transit supplies of oil and gas and “new course” are just rethorics. Because Alagzandar Lukašenka does not clearly understand how he can enter Western alliance without losing his power. Because the participation in Odessa – Brody transit route does require commercial and serious commitments which will not bring anything to his pocket immediately, and that he is not used to. His foreign investment history includes Baltika investments into Krynica Brewery which had been confiscted, confiscations on the Russian – Belarusian border which forced Russian trade transit to be diverted to Letuva, senseless decrees trying to regulate how many people related to the director of an enterprise can be hired by him, and so on.

  • Sport...

    Iran to play Belarus in friendly

    From: AFC
    Iran will clash with Belarus in a friendly here at the Azadi Stadium on Wednesday.

    Coach Amir Ghalenoiee has called up 23 players for the match though stars Ali Karimi and Vahid Hashemian are not on the list due to prior club commitments in the Bundesliga.

    Ghalenoiee hinted that captain Mehdi Mahdavikia could also skip the match to be with Hamburg SV.

    The match is part of Iran’s warm-up for the AFC Asian Cup ™ which runs through July 7-29. Iran have been bracketed with Malaysia, Uzbekistan and China and will be based in Kuala Lumpur.

    Iran are currently 37th in the FIFA World Ranking while Belarus are 70th.

  • Sport briefs...

  • At the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championships over the weekend Tatsiana Uvarova (Minsk, Belarus) was perfect over the weekend in singles play.

  • This weekend, Belarus and seven-times champions Sweden meet in Minsk with the big-hitting 1.96 metre Max Mirnyi leading an underdog team against the experience and finesse of 31-year-old Thomas Johansson and 34-year-old Jonas Bjorkman as well as Robin Soderling, 22. The ties open with two singles matches on Friday, the doubles on Saturday and reverse singles on Sunday.

  • Endnote...

    An Open Letter of Alyaksandr Milinkevich to Alyaksandr Lukashenka

    From: Charter '97
    Alexander Milinkevich writes to the president of Belarus about several undefined or explained key issues of personal dislike
    Dear Alexander Grigorievich,

    It’s not easy for me to address you but I do understand that I have no right not to use all chances for the future of our Belarus. I do agree with your view that the situation in economy may become catastrophic. This must not be allowed.

    You always stress that the main goal of your policy is to ensure the sovereignty of the country and prosperity for the people. For democratic forces it is also the main goal.

    Hope that you were sincere when you spoke about importance of developing good relations with
    Europe. Many Belarusians have noted your words about the necessity to have a second, European wing for a normal development of Belarus. I’m convinced that it can be achieved in the nearest time. The conditions for cooperation with united Europe are well known. They are contained in the proposals of the leadership of the European Union addressed to the government and the people of Belarus.

    I believe that we do the right thing promoting a European choice for Belarus. I also believe that continued confrontation in the country will not serve the Belarusian people. I know that despite the differences we can achieve results if our goal is independence of the country and a better life for the people.

    Today the question of the future of the country is the most important one. The challenges of the modern world – energy, demography, ecology and humanitarian issues – directly affect Belarus. The adequate answer to these challenges can be provided only by a united nation responsible for the future generations. In order to assess the situation correctly and to move towards strengthening of the statehood it is necessary to recognize that reconciliation of the positions of the authorities and the opposition is as necessary for the development of the society as the two vectors –European and Russian ones.

    The Belarusian opposition is in general constructive. It doesn’t have radical groups planning to use force to get rid of the authorities. Despite all the efforts of the secret services to use the threat of so called Belarusian terrorists the latter have never been found. People do not believe in imaginary armed conspiracies of the opposition. On the contrary, all can see that the force is used only by the authorities against peaceful demonstrations, against the youth, women, and the elderly. Such methods could be used to maintain the power but they will never gain the respect of power.

    I’m not an advocate of radical scenario. For me most appropriate would be an evolution of the Belarusian situation towards democratization of political and public life of the country, but this evolution must be a steady and a guaranteed one.

    During last election campaigns I met thousands of voters; hundred thousands put their signatures to support the democratic candidates. I can claim without any doubt that millions of our compatriots support a European choice, offered by the opposition and want democratic changes in Belarus. It will be no exaggeration to say that the whole world watches us. Old methods do not work anymore.

    Belarusians have a traditional way of helping each other – “talaka”. It’s time to have “talaka” for the sake of Belarus.

    The last events around Belarus cause a serious concern for the people. They worry about worsening of economic situation and the threat to the independence of the country. The responsibility to prevent it lies on the elite of the country, both in power and in the opposition.

    You yourself say that Belarus is threatened with economic strangulation and that without investment from the developed countries, first of all European statets, the situation cannot be rescued. During my meetings with the leaders of the European Union and many European countries I discussed the issues of energy security of Belarus. I always spoke against economic sanctions against our country. However it is clear that a broad cooperation could be developed only with a democratic Belarus that observes the European standards. Our country loses billions of euros of assistance and investments for only one reason – its non-democratic political system. An authoritarian state in Europe today cannot develop successfully.

    In different times national elites of such countries as Greece, Spain, Portugal and Slovakia, which were self-isolated, understood the necessity of changes, made their choice in favor of democracy and thus ensured the real prosperity of their people. I can use the international reputation and contacts of democratic forces for a joint solution of urgent problems facing our country.

    However this cannot be done if my colleagues remain in prisons, if force is used against the youth, which we all witnessed in recent days, if the pressure is applied to NGOs and political parties, if the rights of independent trade unions are infringed, if the full-fledged functioning of the independent press is not restored, if human rights are grossly violated despite the international obligations of Belarus.

    It is necessary to overcome the divide in the Belarusian society in the nearest time. The best way for it is a dialogue. Only as a result of a dialogue between the opposition and the authorities and common position we can count on talks with Europe in order to develop an effective cooperation.

    In my view a good opportunity to make steps towards each other could be a celebration of the day of proclamation of the Belarusian People’s Republic. The date of March 25th 1918 is as important for the Belarusian independence as July 3rd 1944. Belarusian public has spoken in favor of a joint celebration of this day and I do believe that such celebration could be a starting point to demonstrate the beginning of unity of Belarusians.

    We can find a common solution to overcome the confrontation in the society for prosperity and development of our beloved Belarus.

    Alexander Milinkevich,
    Minsk, February 7, 2007