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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Belarusian arms race, Economics, Educations, EU issues, Killer executed, New Russians, NPP, Missile shield, Polish corruption and Alexander Hleb...

  • From the Top...
  • #260

    Upgrade of modern-day arms remains priority area in boosting Belarus defence capacity

    From: Office of the president
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visiting the State Military-Industrial Committee of the Republic of Belarus
    The upgrading of currently utilised anti-aircraft defence systems must not only considerably step up their battle efficiency, but help boost the exports of services in the area of modernisation of arms and military equipment, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko while visiting the State Military-Industrial Committee today.

    While visiting the Committee, the Head of State inspected the innovations currently infused in the Belarusian antiaircraft defence systems - like the antiaircraft missile system Buk - so that they could be ready to meet modern-day challenges.

    The strengthening of the national defence capacity is the pre-eminent strategic element of the policy of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko said. “There are two ways for us to keep pace with the times: either to purchase cutting-edge weaponry aboard, or to upgrade the modern-day armaments we have,” the President said. “We have chosen the third way: we purchase what we can, but, in the main, we have embarked on the course of upgrading the systems by our own forces,” he Head of State said.

    The upgrading of antiaircraft missile systems opens good import-substitution prospects for Belarus, allows the national defence industry to work at full blast and makes it possible for Belarus to realise its huge intellectual potential, the President said.

    The prospects of expanding the range of possibilities of antiaircraft missile systems by the example of the antiaircraft missile system Buk were a topic of today’s discussion between Alexander Lukashenko, the Committee’s top management and the senior officials representing the national Security Council. “If we learn to successfully upgrade these antiaircraft missile systems, we will be able to provide services to many world countries which have traditionally used Soviet weapons,” the President explained.

    The Head of State reminded the officials that it had been three years before that that he had given the instructions to substantially upgrade the Buk systems in three antiaircraft missile brigades of the Armed Forces. But the upgrade programme was not completed on time. That was why in May 2007 Alexander Lukashenko gave directions to set up a commission that would include representatives of the Security Council, Presidential Administration, State Control Committee, Ministry of Defence and State Defence Industry Committee to investigate the reasons behind the failure to deliver the Buk project on time and to examine the prospects of upgrading the armaments of this type in the future.

    Summing up the results of the discussion, the President tasked the Committee to complete the upgrading of the antiaircraft missile system Buk MB by the end of 2008.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus to simplify licensing procedures starting next year

    From: BelTA
    As from January 1, 2008 licensing procedures will be simplified in Belarus. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko issued decree No 7 on November 26 to amend licensing regulations.

    The press service of the Belarusian head of state told BelTA, the document is meant to step up the protection of rights of individuals and corporations by removing excessive bureaucratic procedures, suppressing violations and addressing other issues that licensing procedures may involve.

    The decree decreases the number of papers required for licensing and introduces pre-approved application for extending the licence term. Licence applicants will not be required to present documents the licensing body can obtain independently from other organisations. The approach contributes to implementing the one-stop licensing principle.

    The decree also facilitates getting licence copies. As from January 1, 2008 licence copies can be authenticated by the head of the corporation and the seal of the corporation instead of licensing bodies.

    Juridical persons, which are merged with another juridical person or a juridical person is derived, can continue operating with the old licence if the information it contains has not changed. Otherwise, changes are introduced in line with the corresponding regulations.

    The licensing body can suspend or terminate a licence while the court can terminate a licence for one or several independent branches or for some licensed services while keeping the licence in effect for the rest of the company’s businesses.

    To streamline taxation, licence fees are annulled. Instead a state duty is introduced for issuing, amending prolonging a licence or issuing a copy of a licence.

    The decree brings the names of certain licensed activities into compliance with existing legal acts, in particular, crisis management in economic bankruptcy cases, activities involving non-military-grade cold steel, hunting arms, sports arms, gas arms (including sprays), corresponding ammunition, collection and exhibition of arms. The same applies to transportation of passengers and cargoes (excluding corporate technological transportation of passengers and cargoes) by automobile, inland water, and sea transport. Blank sheets for licences issued before January 1, 2008 have to be exchanged for new blank sheets, barring the termination of licensed businesses in 2008, including the termination of licensed businesses in connection with the licence expiry.

    The decree comes into force on January 1, 2008.

    NBRB: no reasons for devaluation risks in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) sees no reasons for a reiteration of the problem situation witnessed on the Belarusian foreign exchange market in late 2006, First Deputy Chairman of the National Bank Pavel Kallaur told the press on November 27.

    “The situation that emerged on the foreign exchange market in late 2006 and manifested itself in higher inflation and devaluation expectations is ruled out this year. Today there are no reasons for such risks,” underlined Pavel Kallaur.

    He explained, this year there are much more resources for resisting negative consequences of the transition to new foreign trade terms and higher prices for imported energy resources. Besides, Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves have been substantially beefed up this year.

    In January-September 2007, Belarus’ international reserve assets grew by 79.7% to $3,151.5 million in national terms or by 55.8% to $2,154.8 million in IMF terms.

    In January-October, national budget surplus totals Br2,2 trillion

    Belarus' budget surplus made up Br2,2 trillion in January-October 2007, BelTA has been told in the Finance Ministry. In January-October 2007, expenditures of the national budget (considering the social security fund and special purpose budgetary funds) amounted to Br29,1 trillion, or 86.7% of the adjusted annual plan. For example, income tax revenues accounted for Br1,7 trillion (91.4% of the adjusted annual plan), VAT revenues – Br4,9 trillion (81.9%). Revenues from foreign economic activities totaled Br4,9 trillion and were at the level of 88.2% of the annual target.

    As of November 1, 2007 the budget arrears totaled Br218.8 billion and fell by Br173,3 , or Br61,2 billion down since the beginning of the year.
    In January-October 2007, expenditures of the national budget exceeded Br26,9 trillion, or 77.3% of the annual target.

    In 2007, inflation may cross threshold level, Economy Minister says

    Over 10 months this year the inflation in Belarus was 7%. Over 20 days in November it was 0.9%. The inflation in Belarus will be a bit higher than the threshold level projected for 2007 (7-8%), Economy Minister of Belarus Nikolai Zaichenko told reporters today.

    NBRB to decrease limitations on sums of transactions recorded by credit bureau next year

    Starting 2008 the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) plans to decrease limitations on sums of transactions recorded by the credit reference bureau. Such limitations may even be removed, First Deputy Chairman of the National Bank Pavel Kallaur said at the IV forum on banking technologies Bank IT ’07 on November 27.

    In his words, the possibility will be considered by the NBRB soon. Pavel Kallaur said, final rules regulating the operation of the credit bureau will be defined by a corresponding law that the parliament will consider soon.

    The credit reference bureau is an automated system launched by the NBRB in May 2007 to collect, process, and distribute credit transaction data. The system is meant to protect interests of creditors, reinforce the payment discipline and raise the interest of credit record subjects in discharging their obligations to banks properly.

    Every month Belarusian banks forward data about every loan transaction worth at least $10,000 to the credit reference bureau. The bureau collects loan transaction data concerning natural persons (resident in Belarus or non-resident), including individual entrepreneurs (resident in Belarus or non-resident), who have signed credit deals with Belarusian banks.

    Belarus drafts national programme of higher education 2008/2010

    From: BelTA
    Belarus drafts national programme of higher innovation education 2008/2010, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Alexander Kosinets reported on November 28 at a joint session of the two houses of the Belarusian parliament.

    In his words, the programme envisages application of the best achievements of the world education in the Belarusian education system, as well as broadening of interdisciplinary ties, more hours dedicated to self-education, construction and reconstruction of student halls of residence. The programme is estimated at Br 2 trillion.

    Alexander Kosinets also noted that in 2007 some 72,000 people graduated from universities, 44,000 and 45,000 people received diplomas of special and vocational training respectively. The issues on university entrance, tuition fees, work placement of postgraduates have been streamlined. Measures were taken to encourage young specialists to stay in Belarus. Some Br 12.3 billion was channeled into the programme Young Talented People of Belarus. Special attention is paid to the material and technical support of educational establishments.

    According to the Vice Premier, 39% of students receive grants from the budget while 61% of students pay tuition fees. Alexander Kosinets also mentioned the problem of student accommodation supply. Some universities can provide just 50% of their students with accommodation.

    Belarus plans to increase material support for students to compensate transport expenses

    Belarus plans to increase material support for students in a bid to compensate their increased transport expenses, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Alexander Kosinets said when speaking at a joint session of the two houses of the Belarusian parliament on November 28.

    According to him, the aggregate scholarship fund of Belarus makes up Br248 billion, with 94.5% of the money allocated for mandatory payments, 4% - for bonuses to encourage academic achievements, 1.5% or Br3.8 billion for material support. The share of material support will be increased up to 4%. “Experts are considering the opportunity of providing monetary compensation for some categories of students to make up for their increased travel expenses,” Alexander Kosinets said.

    The Vice-Premier also said the Head of State gave an instruction to consider an increase in scholarships.

    In 2008 construction of campus for 11,000 students will start in Minsk

    In 2008, construction of a campus for 11,000 students will be launched in Prospekt Derzhinskogo of Minsk, Vice Premier of Belarus Alexander Kosinets reported on November 28 at a joint session of the two houses of the Belarusian parliament.

    “The campus will include residential areas,” Vice Premier specified. According to him, 53 Belarusian universities cannot provide accommodation for their students.

    Alexander Kosinets admitted that it is very expensive to rent accommodation in Minsk. At the same time, students which are not provided places in student halls of residence receive financial assistance at the amount of 25% of base value. “This is quite a scanty sum and this issue needs to be reconsidered,” the Vice Premier noted.

  • From the international press...

    Lukashenka: European Union does not want relations with Belarus to normalize

    From: Naveny
    The European Union does not want its relations with Belarus to normalize, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an interview given to Spain’s largest newspaper EL PAНS on November 26, according to government news sources, BelaPAN reported.

    “This is because Europe has gone too far and doesn’t know today how to get out of this, saving its face,” the Belarusian leader was quoted as saying. “If the European Union has enough determination to do that, we’ll be sitting at one table and holding a dialogue to be closer. We want this, but the EU doesn’t want this and puts forward unacceptable terms.”

    Last week the Kyiv-based Delegation of the European Commission to Belarus and Ukraine issued a statement on the occasion of the one-year anniversary since the European Commission published a document titled, "What the European Union Could Bring to Belarus."

    “This document offers to Belarus a full partnership with the EU provided that the Belarusian authorities take concrete measures to respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” the delegation said, noting the possible full partnership would mean: “easier travel to the EU, work and study in the EU, increased business and trade opportunities in the EU, EU assistance for Belarus to carry out the necessary reforms of the healthcare and education sectors, public administration and local government.”

    “One year after its release, the EU’s offer to Belarus remains valid,” the delegation stressed.

    “Several other neighboring countries like Moldova and Ukraine already benefit from such partnership with the EU, based on shared values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms such as freedom of speech and association and freedom of the press,” the statement read. “The document addressed to Belarus mentions the concrete measures which the authorities should take to allow deeper relationship between the EU and Belarus as well as between their citizens. These measures include, in particular, the release of all political prisoners, respect for freedom of speech and of association, the holding of free and fair elections, the investigation of the cases of missing persons, and respect for the rights of minorities.”

    Negotiations between European Union and Belarus on energy security are only possible if human rights situation in the country improves, commissioner says

    In a related story, negotiations between the European Union and Belarus on energy security are only possible if the human rights situation in the country improves, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union (EU)’s commissioner for external relations, told a group of Belarusian reporters during an informal meeting in Brussels on September 18.

    She noted that EU and Belarusian experts met in June to talk about energy security. Their second meeting was scheduled for October, but the EU decided to postpone it indefinitely.

    Ms. Ferrero-Waldner said that the Belarusian government made some small positive steps in the spring of 2007, including the early release of opposition politicians Mikalay Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets, the agreement to receive Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE's representative on freedom of the media, the permission to open a delegation of the European Commission in Minsk.

    Ms. Waldner noted that the European Commission had decided to reciprocate by making several small steps toward Belarus, including her meeting with Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Varanetski and an invitation to participate in an international conference on promoting the European Neighborhood Policy in Brussels. However, following a spate of politically motivated arrests of opposition activists in August and September, it was decided to put off the meeting indefinitely.

    Ms. Ferrero-Waldner noted that the meeting could take place by the end of 2007 if the political situation in Belarus remains stable. She stressed that although the meeting will focus on some technical matters and despite the great importance of energy security issues, the EU links the discussion with the political situation in Belarus

    Belarus executes former police officer convicted of serial murder

    From: M&C
    Belarus executed on Wednesday a former police officer convicted of serial murder and sentenced to death on May 22 by the country's Supreme Court, news agency Interfax reported from Minsk.

    Alexander Sergeychik, a former guard at a regional Interior Ministry branch, was convicted of six murders of 'particular cruelty,' as well as on further counts including rape, conspiracy to murder and illegal possession of weapons and explosives.

    Belarus is the only European country that still practices capital punishment. Neighbouring Russia imposed a moratorium on the death sentence when it joined the Council of Europe human rights body.

    Executions in Belarus are carried out with a gunshot to the back of the head, relatives are informed after the fact, and the burial site is kept secret.

    Nine people were sentenced to death in Belarus during 2006, according to human rights activists critical of the country with the world's highest rate of incarceration after the United States and Russia.

    Russia Gives Belarus Financial Boost

    From: Kommersant
    Belarus expects to receive a $1.5-billion stabilization credit from Russia with an interest rate of LIBOR +0.75%, Belarusian Finance Minister Nikolay Korbut stated yesterday in London. Korbut said that the Russian Finance Ministry has not yet made a final decision on the loan, but the draft loan agreement has been written. He did not specify the term of the loan. The loan is intended to counteract budget problems in Belarus arising from higher prices paid by that country for Russian natural gas.
    The loan is to be paid in two installments: $1 billion by the end of this year and $500 million in the first half of next year. The Russian Financial Ministry declined to comment on the loan.

    Analysts say that the loan is not at market rate for Belarus, which has a rating of B+. There is also a political element in the loan. While Russian subsidies to the country have been curtailed since 2006, the loan will put off the inevitability of reform there. Belarus may also respond with favors of its own. Korbut mentioned the possibility that, in response to the extension of U.S. sanctions to the Belneftekhim company, it may convert its trading to the Russian ruble. Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken many times about the need to trade Russian oil in Russian rubles.

    Atomstroyexport in talks to build nuclear plant in Belarus

    From: Ria Novosti
    Atomstroyexport, Russia's nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly, has begun talks on building a nuclear power plant in Belarus, the company's first vice president said on Monday.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announced in October that his country would build a nuclear plant to ensure energy security.

    Speaking at an international nuclear conference, Alexander Glukhov said Russian and Belarusian experts are discussing a water-cooled reactor project, and that Atomstroyexport could also build new nuclear plants in other Eastern and Central European countries.

    Glukhov gave a presentation on construction opportunities in a number of countries, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Morocco. "But Central and Eastern European countries, particularly the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovakia, are the most interesting markets," he said, also mentioning Ukraine and Belarus.

    The Belarusian side earlier said the location could be selected in mid-2008 and that a tender would be announced the same year.

    The official said his company is planning to double its order portfolio to $25 billion by 2030, primarily through new Asian and European projects.

    "Atomstroyexport currently accounts for 20% of the global nuclear construction market, and we hope to increase the share by building new power units in China, India and Eastern and Central Europe," he said.

    Russia is building 12 nuclear reactors, including five abroad. Glukhov said 130 new nuclear power plants could be put into operation by 2020 globally, with total investment up to $300 billion.

    Belarus and Russia will together process fruits and vegetables

    From: Agromarket
    Belarusian-Russian program of production and processing of fruits and vegetables was initially planned to end in 2007 - but, it will be extended for one more year till 2008, "Krestyanskiye Vedomosti" informs. Boris Bezlepkin, the Chief of Industrial Politics and Branch Programs Department, Permanent Committee of Union State, presented his decision at the press-conference in Minsk.

    He said that the union program fully named "Efficiency increase of production and processing of fruits and vegetables on the basis of progressive technologies and machinery in 2005-2007" is planned to be extended. Primarily, this decision was predetermined by a good performance in its active period. The program is focused at the solution of the problem of saturation of food market of two countries with quality competitive food products on the basis of fruits and vegetables, the assortment extension and increased production of fresh produce.

    "We plan to extend the program; we need RUR 88.9 mln. to extend it in 2008", the official pointed out.

    He said that only one year extension is limited by the effective regulations which don't let such programs be extended for more than a mentioned period. If more time is required to reach the optimal result, new program is to be developed.

    According to B. Bezlepkin, the proposals to new program development are in the process of agreement in Russia and Belarus. "We expect that these proposals will be agreed and introduced to the consideration of union state by the moment of the reporting about the present program", Boris Bezlepkin said. He hesitates to mention the implementation period for a new program; however, he pointed out that "the maximal term for the program is 5 years according to the regulations; although the optimal period is three years".

    The stage of the development of highly-productive machinery for vegetable production has been over by the present moment. The next stage focuses on the batch production of new modern equipment on the basis of progressive, ecologically safe, resource- and energy-saving technologies of production and processing of fruits and vegetables.

    The implementers intend to equip Belarusian and Russian farms and enterprises of fruits and vegetables industry with this machinery. There are plans to create 13 new technologies and 14 types of module equipment and certain types of machinery. The batch production of dozen types has already been mastered - these are precise drills, fertilizing machines, sorting equipment. The production of machinery and equipment for transportation, post harvest handling, storage and deep complex processing of fruits and vegetables will be adjusted by the end of year.

    Since the beginning of this program implementation the development and adjustment of the production of 35 complexes and separate types of import substituting progressive equipment for production, storage and processing of fruits and vegetables have been developed. In total, the program amounted to the sum worth RUR 749.7 mln.; 65% of this sum was paid by Russian side and 35% - by Belarusian side.

    The program participants have fully used funds allocated during two years (2005, 2006); all planned steps have been implemented. In 2006, 10 new perspective technologies and 26 types of progressive import substituting machinery and equipment were developed in the framework of only one component of the program "Production and storage of fruits and vegetables".

    In particular, the pilot universal digger-windrower, scythe, and container truck for vegetable transportation from fields were introduced. The following pilot machines have been developed: complex soil cultivation and vegetable drills, transplant planting machinery for nurseries of table beet and carrot, universal vegetable tiller, and also pilot equipment for irrigation of orchards and berry beds, for drip irrigation of field vegetables.

    Based on imported analog, Belarusian specialists have developed and produced an experimental root crop digging machine which simultaneously cuts tops.

    The implementation of this program let the farmers increase the volumes of production, processing and, finally, consumption of fresh products of improved quality and extended assortment. In particular, the gross harvest of ecologically safe produce will increase 1.2-1.3 times, the transportation expenses will reduce 1.4-1.6 times, storage expenses will decline 1.3-1.4 times, the losses of nutritive substances in fruits and vegetables during a long-term storage will reduce 2 - 2.5 times.

    The development of new machinery for cultivation and processing of fruits and vegetables needs to be constantly improved, because both Russian and Belarusian specialists lack experience in this sphere, B. Bezlepkin points out. The further training of Belarusian and Russian specialists in this sphere is one of the goals of the extension of the respective program of the union.

  • Cultural News...

    Das Leben der Anderen receive Listapad 2007 Gold

    From: BelTA
    Das Leben der Anderen
    The main prize of the 14th international film festival in Minsk Listapad 2007 went to Das Leben der Anderen by German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, BelTA learnt in the festival’s organizational committee. The film scored 9.45.

    The silver and bronze went to Obsluhoval Jsem Anglickeho Krale by Jiri Menzel (the Czech Republic – Slovakia) and Agitbrigada “Bey vraga!” by Vitaly Melnikov (Russia). The two movies scored 8.59 and 8.48 respectively.

    Belarusian feature films Enemies by Maria Mozhar and Chaklun and Rumba by Andrei Golubev ranked fourth and fifth with the scores 8.47 and 8.46 respectively. A total of 21 films from 18 countries took part in the festival.

    Listapad 2007 was held on November 15-24 in Minsk. The main venue was the Oktober cinema. During the festival over 20,000 cinema lovers visited the cinema, 5,000 more than a year before. The films were also on in the Dom Kino, Tsentralny, Raketa, Salut, Moskva.

    Minsk to host contest of young string instrument performers

    The second international contest of string instrument performers named after Belarusian outstanding violinist, composer, publicist Mikhail Elsky will be held in Minsk on December 1-9. Competing in the contest will be 217 musicians from 11 countries, the chief of the department of educational institutions and personnel of the Culture Ministry of Belarus, Natalia Shmakova, told a press conference.

    The contest will include two rounds for college students and students of institutions of higher learning and mature artists.

    The panel jury in the violin nomination will be headed by Distinguished Artist of Russia, Professor of Moscow State Conservatory named after Piotr Chaikovsky Irina Bochkova. The jury in the Alto, Cello, Contrabass nomination will be led by Distinguished Artist of Russia, winner of international contests, assistant professor of Moscow State Conservatory n.a. Piotr Chaikovsky Kirill Rodin. The jury panels will include famous musicians and professors from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, Poland.

    The contest is organized by the Culture Ministry, special fund of the president for the support of talented youth and Belarusian State Music Academy. The contest is aimed at discovering and supporting the talented musicians, developing performing and teaching traditions of the national violin school, strengthening international creative links.

  • Around the region...

    Russia raps U.S. missile shield proposals

    From: Reuters
    The caption reads:
    This is how the missile shield works, Vlad. That's all, honest. Nothing to worry about.
    Russia's top general said on Wednesday compromise proposals Washington has offered to Moscow on its planned missile defense shield were not constructive, local news agencies reported.

    "What constructive negotiations can you talk about?" the agencies quoted Yuri Baluyevsky, Russian military chief of staff, as saying. "There was nothing new in these proposals."

    "We are being told: 'All the same, we will push ahead with the (shield)'," he said.

    The United States submitted a package of documents to Russia last week setting out compromise proposals which it said were designed to soothe Russian concerns that the shield is a threat to its national security.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier on Wednesday "the U.S. proposals on paper are disappointing" and "are a significant step back" from what was discussed with senior U.S. officials in October.

    "But at the same time, no one is rejecting a dialogue with the Americans," Russian news agencies quoted him as saying.

    Washington wants to station interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic as part of a shield it says is designed to protect Europe from "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea.

    Russia believes the shield is targeted against its missile arsenal and poses a threat to its national security.

    Moscow has offered Washington access to data on missile launches from a Russian radar station and a second radar operated by Russia in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, if Washington drops its missile shield plan.

    But the Pentagon has made clear it sees the Russian radar offer as a supplement to its shield, not a substitute.

    "Russia is being invited to become a 'free supplement' to the third positioning region of the U.S. missile shield (in eastern Europe," Baluyevsky was quoted as saying.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has suggested there could be unspecified retaliatory measures if the shield goes ahead.

    Key facts about Russia parliamentary election

    From: Reuters
    Russia will vote on Sunday in a parliamentary election expected to hand a big majority to President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party and help him keep a hold on power after his presidency ends.

    Here are the key facts about the election to the State Duma, or lower house of parliament:

    -- Polling stations will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time. Since Russia stretches across 11 time zones, the first polling stations on the Pacific coast will open at 2200 GMT on December 1 and the last stations will close at 1800 GMT on December 2 in Kaliningrad, Russia's westernmost outpost.

    -- The precise figure of eligible voters will be announced after the polls. Altogether 108.9 million Russians had the right to vote in the last election in 2003.

    -- More than 95,000 polling stations will operate, including 350 abroad. Despite protests from Tbilisi, polling stations will be opened in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where the majority of the population have Russian passports.

    -- Voters will be asked to place a tick next to their choice on a ballot paper that lists 11 political parties. For the first time, the ballot papers will not include an option to vote "against all".

    -- Voters who will be away from home on the election date, can request permission from their local polling station to cast their ballot elsewhere. In some remote areas, early voting has started two weeks before the election date.

    -- Parties on the ballot paper have the right to send their observers to polling stations.

    -- Russia has also invited 330 foreign observers to monitor the polls, far fewer than in 2003. The organizations which have sent observers include the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Council of Europe. The main election monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will not be there. It pulled out citing obstruction from the Russian authorities. But OSCE's parliamentary assembly will still send observers.

    The West has criticized Russia's decision to cut the number of foreign observers saying this puts a question mark over the transparency of the vote.

    -- The results of exit polls will be announced soon after the last polling station closes.

    -- The first partial election results start arriving in the Central Electoral Commission as polling stations close, but they are made public only after the voting ends nationwide. In past elections, substantial results did appear earlier than midnight.

    Polish football corruption scandal continues

    From: The News
    The corruption scandal in Polish football is far from over. The prosecutor’s office in Wroclaw is investigating how exactly Cracovia, football club from Krakow, got into the first league in the 2003/04 season. As it has recently turned out, at least six results were rigged in the process.

    “Jacek P. set us up with someone in one of Krakow’s restaurant. We were approached by two or three beefy men who informed us they were only interested in Cracovia winning and nothing else”, testified one of the results-rigging referees, quoted by “Dziennik”.

    The chief “rigger” was the international referee from Krakow, Jacek P., who also headed the security company employed at Cracovia’s stadium. Police have arrestd him in March this year, and he was subsequently presented with over 10 charges by the prosecutor’s office, some of which are not related with the Cracovia case, but Jacek P.’s role as an observer.

    Ukraine links gas price with gas transit tariffs

    From: Itar Tass
    Ukraine links the price of gas imports for 2008 with the transit tariff for the Russian gas, exported to Europe, at the talks going on with Russia, Ukrainian Minister of Economy Anatoly Kinakh told journalists on Wednesday. “Those two problems are interconnected, and they were given as a directive for our delegation,” he said.

    In the opinion of Kinakh, it is necessary “to use to the maximum” the argument that Ukraine is “one of the main transit countries for Russian gas” and that 70 per cent of Russian gas exports to the European Union go by the Ukrainian territory. He did not mention the expected gas price for 2008, but said that if the gas price amounted to 180 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres and more, the Ukrainian chemical industry would face serious problems.

    Kinakh stressed that Ukraine should have clear prospects of gas prices for the coming three to four years, in order to ensure a smooth transition of the energy-consuming economy to market prices.

    In his opinion, Ukraine made a mistake several years ago, when it rejected goods deliveries in payment for the Turkmen gas, thus losing a direct gas contract with Turkmenistan. Another mistake was made, when Ukraine broke the link between the gas price and the transit tariffs for Russian gas exports.

    “Ukraine became an observer at the talks on the gas price. It is of principled importance for us to make Ukraine an equal partner in the tackling of the gas price problem,” Kinakh stressed. He is sure that no one will defend Ukraine’s interests better than Ukraine itself.

    Ukrainian Minister of Fuel and Energy Yuri Boiko told journalists on Wednesday: “Our Russian partners put forward new conditions on the gas price. This is why we did not finish the talks in due time. They will be continued.”

    He commented in this way on the report about the growth of the Turkmen gas price by 40 per cent on the average – up to 140 dollars per 1,000 cubic metres.

    Gazprom and the Turkmen leaders reached agreement on Tuesday on the growth of the price of Turkmen gas for Russia. It will amount to 130 dollars in the first half of 2008 and to 150 dollars in the second half.

    Death Toll at Ukraine Mine Reaches 100

    From: AP
    Eleven miners who were missing after an explosion in a coal mine were declared dead Monday, bringing the death toll to 100 in Ukraine's worst mining disaster since the demise of the Soviet Union.

    Fires have continued to burn hundreds of feet underground in the Zasyadko mine in eastern Ukraine, blocking efforts to find the last miners. Experts say preliminary information shows the Nov. 18 explosion was caused by defective electrical equipment.

    "Experts came to a conclusion that no one could survive inside the mine under such temperatures," said Maryna Nikitina, a spokeswoman for the Industry Safety Authority.

    Zasyadko, one of the country's biggest and best-known mines, has been the site of repeated accidents in the past decade. More than three-quarters of the country's roughly 200 coal mines — which are an important element to Ukraine's economy — are classified as dangerous because of high levels of methane that accumulates at deep depths.

    Ukraine's mines typically run more than 3,300 feet deep — often twice as far underground as most European coal beds.

    Since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991, more than 4,700 miners have been killed in Ukraine. On Sunday, two more miners died in an accident at a mine in the Luhansk region after a section of it collapsed, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

  • From the blogs...

    Putin: Mein Plan

    From: The Accidental Russophile
    There is something weirdly insecure about a President who enjoys 60% to 70% approval ratings in his country, pointing the finger at other nation's ghostly support of political fringe candidates in Russia.

    Is he really so out of touch with reality as to suggest that a "color revolution" might be in the works in Russia?

    The Presidentially election isn't until March, but Dr. Case (inside joke) observes that Russians are already suffering election fatigue from Plan Putina.

    Mive averko chimes in on this that another way of looking at it is that he's not keeping his guard down. In Russia, there're others besides him, who are understandably concerned with the kind of foreign intervention that has been evident in post-Soviet Russia and elsewhere. If left unchecked, it can do wonders. There has been a prior history of somewhat successful US government orchestrated efforts to support circumspect political groups in other countries.

    How would many in America respond to opposition (non-democrat/non-Republican) political candidates getting foreign money? This reminds one of a claim made at a recent Russia Profile panel discussion on the current political situation in Georgia. One of the panelists said that Russia was likely fomenting the Georgian opposition, much like how the US NGOs backed the Orange side in 2004 and before. Russia has no NGO activity in Georgia and much of the Georgian anti-Saakashvili opposition isn't so Russia friendly.

    At play is a difference in attitude. Russia preferably takes a comparatively non-interventionist approach in the internal affairs of other countries. Upon seeing non-Russian foreign intervention in the FSU, Russia takes a somewhat offended stance.

    As per the not so distant comments of Al Gore and Pat Buchanan, the development of democracy in Russia is an ongoing process of ups and downs.

    Віртуальная Беларусь

    From: Беларуская палітыка
    Віртуальная Беларусь.
    Чытаю розныя справаздачы ды навукова-сацыялягічныя дасьледваньні і не пакідае мяне адна думка. Няпраўда!!! Няпраўда, што наша Беларусь не зьяўляецца лідарам па ўзроўню разьвіцьця кампутарных тэхналёгіяў. Ну, няпраўда гэта! Мы, бяспрэчна, на Першым мейсцы. Мы - Першыя!

    Чаму? Як тое даказаць? А ўсё тут вельмі проста.

    Усе агулам лічбавыя тэхналёгіі, у тым ліку кампутаныя гульні, Інтэрнэт ды іншыя, спрычыніліся да ўтварэньня віртуальнай прасторы. І калі жыхары іншых краёў жывуць у рэчаіснасьці ды раз-пораз заглядаюць у віртуальны сусьвет, дык мы-беларусы акурат у ім і жыве. Жывем поўнавартасным жыцьцём. Ну, хіба як яшчэ можна патлумачыць чаму Лукашэнка сябе ўзгадвае ў трэцьцяй асобе: "Прэзыдэнт даручыў..., Прэзыдэнт казаў..." Хіба ён не Прэзыдэнт? Ня ўжо сам сябе ня лічыць...? Альбо апанэнт існага рэжыму кажа: "Я супраць Лукашэнкі...апазыцыя дурная, яна ўсё прайграла..." А хіба, ён не апазыцянэр? Ён жа супраць рэжыму, таму ён і ёсьць той самы апазацыянэр. Дык тады трэба казаць: "Я дурань, мы прайгралі". Йдзеш у краму і бачыш пустыя паліцы малочнага аддзелу. Прыходзіш дамоў, заглядаеш у Сеціва альбо тэлівазар і там...некаторыя цябе спрабуюць пераканаць што тое, што ты бачыў на ўласныя вочы не існуе. А наадварот паліцы вось-вось абрынуцца пад цяжарам тавараў. Працоўны на фабрыцы глядзіць тэлівазар і чуе, што ягоны заробак у 350 тысячаў насамрэч ёсьць 500 тысячамі! Во як! Праўда ды цьвярозы розум, на жаль, зрабіліся галоўным дэфіцытам нашага грамадзства. Падаецца, што адзіны бездэфіцытны тавар, якія ў нас яшчэ застаўся - паветра. Ну, нічога "дэпутаты" могуць над гэтым пытаньнем папрацаваць...Выбачаюся, крыху адхіліўся ад тэмы...

    І атрымоўваецца, што мы жывем у нейкім віртуальным сьвеце, таму што не называем рэчы, падзеі ды ўчынкі сваімі найменьнямі. Вось і апазыцянэр не называе сябе апазыцыянэрам, хлусьня ня лічыцца хлусьнёй, праўда не называецца праўдай, белае падаецца чорным, "людзі ў чорным" называюцца простымі грамадзянамі...

    Ня зьменім мы сябе, мае даражэнькія, свой край, сваё жыцьцё і сваю ўладу пакуль не пачнем жыць рэчаіснасьцю. Варта нам памятаць, што нашыя бацькі нам пакінулі лёзунг: "Жыве Беларусь!" Гэта значыць, ЖЫВЕ сваёй рэчаіснасьцю, сапраўдным, а не штучным жыцьцём. Трэба пазбыцца віртуальнага жыцьця ўсім нам. Адкінуць увесь віртуал і вярнуцца да нармальнага жыцьця. І першае, што трэба зрабіць - усім апанэнтам існай улады пачаць сябе называць апазацыянэрамі. І казаць: "Мы прайгралі альбо выйгралі ў залежнасьці ад абставінаў, а не апазыцыя, апазыцыянэры..." Калі ты не апазыцыянэр, тады ты прыхільнік Лукашэнкі. Жадаю посьпехаў кожнаму з нас на гэтым шляху.
    З павагай, змагар-апазыцыянэр

    Confronting Russian Barbarism

    From: Publius
    The Moscow Times reports today that "the European Commission, France and Britain added their voices Monday to criticism from Washington of the police crackdown on weekend opposition rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg" which led the arrest of major opposition political leaders Garry Kasparov and Boris Nemtsov. It would be as if George Bush had arrested Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for attending an anti-Bush rally hosted by

    European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso said: "I was very concerned to see reports of police harassment and arrests of politicians and peaceful demonstrators in Russia. The right to peaceful free speech and assembly are basic, fundamental human rights, and I very much regret that the authorities found it necessary to take such heavy-handed action."

    French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner demanded an "explanation." He said: "I am surprised by this violence. To my knowledge, the world chess champion was not a threat to Russia's security. Russia wants to take its place, a large place, in contemporary history, and for that it has to evolve and not seem menacing." Ouch. "Evolve." That's as rough as it gets in diplomaticspeak.

    And George Bush, God bless him, was not behind the curve. He stated emphatically: "I am deeply concerned about the detention of numerous human rights activists and political leaders who participated in peaceful rallies in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, and Nazran this weekend. I am particularly troubled by the use of force by law enforcement authorities to stop these peaceful activities and to prevent some journalists and human rights activists from covering them. The freedoms of expression, assembly and press, as well as due process, are fundamental to any democratic society. I am hopeful that the government of Russia will honor its international obligations in these areas, investigate allegations of abuses and free those who remain in detention."

    These are encouraging signs that the West understands it is being probed by the Putin government and must respond dynamically if it is to prevent people like Kasparov and Nemtsov from meeting the same fate as Mikhail Khodorkovsky. But words are not enough, stern and clear action is required if the KGB clan that rules the Kremlin is to understand it must back off.

    Russia is on the cusp of becoming a one-party state:

      A survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion says President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party will win more than 55 percent of the vote in an upcoming parliamentary election. According to the survey conducted between November 17 and 18, more than 55 percent of those polled say they will vote for President Putin's party, almost 6 percent say they will vote for the Communist Party, almost 5 percent for Fair Russia, and almost 5 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party. Twelve parties are standing in the polls, but none of the other parties are predicted to get more than 3 percent in the election. That's below the 7 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament's 450-member lower house.
    In other words, it's quite clear that after the parliamentary vote scheduled for early December, Putin's own personal party may be the only one left standing. Even if some rival parties pass the 7% threshold, Putin has barred foreign election observers and the Kremlin's lackeys are boldly and openly speaking of committing fraud if necessary. The Moscow Times reports:

      Election officials have been ordered to make sure that United Russia collects double the number of votes it is expected to win in State Duma elections on Sunday -- even if they have to falsify the results, a senior election official said. The Central Elections Commission strongly denied the allegation. But accounts from other people familiar with the issue -- including opposition politicians and state-paid workers, who spoke of mounting pressure to round up votes for United Russia -- appeared to confirm the election official's remarks. The official, who heads a key regional election committee, said United Russia was gunning for double the number of votes that the latest opinion polls indicate it will win. :This is a quite a hard task," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The official said the only way out would be fraud. The official spoke of being involved in ballot stuffing in previous Duma elections but said an alternative that is less likely to raise suspicions is to change a polling station's protocol -- the record of how many voters show up and how many votes go to each party. "During past Duma elections this was the most common way to falsify the results. We would do it in front of foreign observers because they didn't understand anything on what was going on," the official said.
    I've been calling Russia "neo-Soviet" for years now, and it seems the world is finally starting to catch up with me. That's also encouraging. Writing in the Washington Post, ace columnist Anne Applebaum explains:

      In the photographs of his arrest, Garry Kasparov -- former world chess champion, current Russian opposition leader -- is wearing a nondescript gray jacket and a somewhat retro wool cap. He is gloveless. By contrast, the Russian militiamen doing the arresting are kitted out in full regalia: tall fur hats with metal insignia in the center, camouflage coats, walkie-talkies, black leather gloves. Squint hard, and the pictures -- taken at the "Other Russia" protest rally in Moscow on Saturday -- could come from the 1960s or the 1980s, when Soviet police arrested dissidents with some regularity. The similarity is more than merely visual. In its heyday, the Soviet dissident movement was a sometimes odd, often unworkable amalgam of human rights activists, disappointed insiders, bloody-minded outsiders, fervent religious believers and nationalists of a wide range of Soviet nationalities. Some of them would have been right at home at any generic "no nukes" rally; others would have found themselves on the far right of any political spectrum in the world. But it hardly mattered. In 1983, Peter Reddaway, then the leading academic observer of Soviet dissidents, reckoned that they had made "little or no headway among the mass of ordinary people."
    The Russian people have always been part of the problem in Russia, not part of the solution, and we shouldn't forget that -- as we were led to do under the Clinton administration, which induced us to drop our guard and fail to finish the job when the Berlin wall collapsed of its own weight. Clinton placed far too much trust in the Russian people and in Boris Yeltsin, and allowed the KGB to rise again and seize power. George Bush then allowed himself to be played for a sap by the new KGB regime, and he still refuses to admit his error, not a hopeful sign for his legacy. Even while properly condemning the recent outrage, when asked to repudiate his former statement about "looking into Putin's soul" his spokesperson said "no, the president believes that what he saw in Putin is what is there" and that building a democracy "just takes time, and it's difficult." Pride goeth before a fall! The clock is ticking on Bush's ability to save himself from the bitter judgment of history as having assisted the rise of the neo-Soviet state just like Clinton did.

    And now we all have neo-Soviet egg on our faces. Time to wipe it off and get to work.

    NOTE: The photograph at the top of this page is taken from a New York Times story headlined "The USSR is Back" which regales readers with details of how Soviet is "stylish" in today's Russia and neo-Soviet, such as shirts emblazoned with the image of dictator Putin, are more stylish yet.

    Russian Companies On a Spending Spree in Europe

    From: Robert Amsterdam
    Analysts are saying that we can expect a flurry of major deal making from Russian companies as the Putin era comes to a "close." Stefan Wagstyl at the FT writes about the acquisition plans of Gazprom, Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element, and Alexei Mordashov's Severstal.

    From the FT:

    FT REPORT - CORPORATE FINANCE 2007: Trying to cage The Bear
    By Stefan Wagstyl, Financial Times

    Published: Nov 28, 2007

    Fuelled by soaring commodity exports, Russian companies are increasingly making foreign acquisitions. Most companies concentrate on the countries of the former Soviet Union. But bigger groups are looking further afield, particularly in the European Union.

    In terms of numbers, these acquisitions are few in comparison with foreign and domestic Russian acquisitions. However, the foreign acquisitions are generating considerably more controversy than acquisitions in Russia - particularly the efforts of Russian groups to buy companies in the EU.

    Much of the controversy focuses on state-controlled Russian companies buying assets in strategic sectors, above all in energy, where Russia is the EU's biggest external supplier. Gazprom, the Russian gas giant, raises particular concerns based on its position as the monopoly owner of Russia's export pipelines.

    Even in the UK, which prides itself on running a particularly open economy, there were protests when rumours circulated that Gazprom might bid for Centrica, the country's largest domestic gas distributor.

    Gazprom has made other substantial investments in western Europe, notably in Germany, its biggest customer, without generating hostile headlines. But as its investments are increasing so is the overall level of concern in the EU. The European Commission is now working on plans to restrict investment in the energy sector by state-controlled companies from outside the EU. While Russia is not named in the proposals, Russian officials have complained that the project is directed against Russian companies.

    Companies without significant state ownership generally find fewer political obstacles. Oleg Deripaska, the aluminium billionaire's Basic Element company, this year bought 30 per cent of Strabag, the Austrian construction group, and 10 per cent of Hochtief, Germany's biggest builder.

    Meanwhile, when Alexei Mordashov, controlling shareholder of the Severstal steel group, this month bought 3 per cent of Tui, the German travel and shipping group, he did so with the active encouragement of Michael Frenzel, the Tui chief executive, who is fighting off a challenge to his position from a US shareholder - Guy Weyser-Pratte. However, Mr Mordashov will tread carefully after his bruising defeat last year in his bid to merge Severstal with Arcelor, the EU's biggest steelmaker. Even though the Arcelor board agreed merger terms with Severstal, it later pulled out of the deal and accepted a €26.9bn bid from Mittal Steel, controlled by the UK-based Lakshmi Mittal.

    This year it was Mr Mittal's turn to be disappointed when he was excluded from the bidding process for Elga, a big Russian coal mining company. Two Russian groups tendered offers, with Russia's Mechel steel winning with its $2.3bn bid.

  • Sport...

    Arsenal's Hleb voted Belarus player of the year

    From: Reuters
    Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb has been voted Belarus' top player for the fifth time in the last six years.

    In a nationwide poll of the country's soccer experts, conducted by the sports daily Pressbol, Hleb was picked ahead of FK Moscow goalkeeper Yuri Zhevnov and Gomel striker Roman Vasilyuk.

    Hleb also won the honour in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 and finished second in 2004.

    The 26-year-old Hleb, who is also the skipper of the national side, took first place with 818 points in a survey conducted by the weekly newspaper Pressball.

    Russian Premier League side FC Moscow goalkeeper Yury Zhevnov finished runner-up with 314 points, while FC Gomel striker Roman Vasilyuk was third with 246 points.

    Is any English midfielder better than Belarus star Hleb?

    From: arsenal pies
    When Belarus’ five-times Player of the Year Alexander Hleb arrived from German outfit VfB Stuttgart in June 2005, I must admit to having never heard of the devilish dribbler.

    Although I like to follow the world game as much as is possible and like to believe I have a sound knowledge of most of the top leagues’ best players, as far as I was concerned it was ‘Alexander who?’.

    I hadn’t seen the Belarussian in Champions League action for the German side and didn’t recall seeing him play for his country. But having watched Arsenal’s pre-season opener at Barnet and their subsequent annual tour of Austria, I was left in little doubt Le Boss had unearthed another star-in-the-making.

    Hleb can beat players and change direction better than any player I can think of across the globe. Lionel Messi is an obvious candidate for the ‘King of the Dribble’ accolade but he’s all left-foot and can’t turn quite as tidily as our number 13. That’s not to say Hleb is a better player for Messi really is becoming the modern-day Diego Maradona for both club and country, but our man can turn like nobody else.

  • Endnote...

    Milinkevich: Lukashenka’s Belarus means also-ran for Europe

    From: Charter '97
    Commenting the results of Riga conference “The Baltic States and the EU Neighbourhood Policy” held on November, 23, Alyaksandr Milinkevich said Europe regards Lukashenka’s Belarus as an also-ran, which is hard to have dialog on cooperation with.

    According to him, such countries as Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine, unlike Belarus were often mentioned at the conference.

    “Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine were mentioned in the context of realisation of programmes on cooperation with the EU, but Belarus is something like an also-ran,” the movement “For Freedom” leader said in the interview to AFN.

    Alyaksandr Milinkevich thinks it is blame of the authorities, because society does its best to normalise relation with the EU. “We can recommend, analyse, give advice, build ties, but the authorities should give effect to it,” the movement “For Freedom” leader thinks.

    Former candidate for presidency of Belarus noted that Belarusian authorities should first of all release political prisoners. Only after that a constructive dialog on cooperation between the EU and Belarus is possible.

    “We have been offered a very beneficial cooperation with one condition – democracy in the country. All countries cooperating with the EU fulfil such conditions. It’s not a claim only on our country,” AFN quotes the oppositional politician. He also stressed that it is said about gradual process of democratisation, because “nobody demands democratisation to take one day.”