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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Belarus honors sixty-six, EU and Russia, Economics and Tourism, Brewery deals and Schengen visas, UN, Missiles, Polish corruption, Comment and Sports

  • From the Top...
  • #269

    Sixty-six people honoured with state awards of Republic of Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko at the children's holiday
    On December 28 President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko signed decree No 675 “On presenting state awards of the Republic of Belarus,” BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    Sixty-six people have been honoured with the state awards in recognition of their long-lasting fruitful work, professional excellence, attainment of considerable production results, irreproachable service, exemplary fulfilment of their service duties, achievements in the development of machinery construction, healthcare, science and culture.

    The Order of Fatherland Second Class has been conferred on Valentin Elizariev, the artistic director of the National Academic Bolshoi Ballet Theatre of Belarus. The Order of Fatherland Third Class has been awarded to Vladimir Andreichenko, the chairman of the Vitebsk oblast executive committee.

    The Frantsysk Skorina Order has been presented to chief of the choreography and ballet science chair of Moscow State Academy of Choreography Yuri Grigorovich, Information Minister of Belarus Vladimir Rusakevich and chairman of the Vitebsk Town Council Piotr Drozdov.

    The medal “For courage” has been conferred on officers of the interior bodies Alexander Beisher, Igor Kazarovets and Andrei Shinkorenko.

    The medal “Fro Labour Services” has been awarded to Amkodor deputy general director Vladimir Baranovsky, director of the Belarusian research institute of traumatology and orthopedy Alexander Beletsky, chief doctor of the Mogilev oblast diagnostic centre Tadeuzh Krupnik, deputy chairman of the Vitebsk oblast executive committee Viktor Petrusha, director of the Vitebsk State Medicine College Alexander Tsetsokho. The Frantsysk Skorina medal has been presented to deputy of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly Sergei Maskevich, artists Vladimir Tkachev and Alexander Ksendzov.

    The head of state also signed a resolution to give official letters of thanks to 20 citizens for their considerable contribution in the renovation of the Summer Amphitheatre in Vitebsk, construction of the bridge crossing across the Dnieper River on the motorway Orsha-Shklov-Mogilev (the village of Alexandriya), for many-year work in journalism, for an active part in designing of the indoor skating rink in Minsk.

    All types of state scholarships increased in Belarus

    In a related story, on December 26, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko signed decree No 665 on increasing all types of state scholarships.

    As BelTA learnt in the presidential press service, student scholarships will be upped by Br6.6 thousand – Br10.1 thousand and will total from Br89.4 thousand to Br142.6 thousand.

    Scholarships given to students of the specialised secondary educational establishments will grow by Br5.6 thousand – Br8.9 thousand and will reach from Br75.1 thousand to Br120.1 thousand.

    Students receiving vocational education will monthly get from Br48.3 thousand to Br77.3 thousand, up by Br3.5 thousand – Br5.7 thousand.

    The scholarships will be indexed from November 1, 2007. "The decree is aimed at enhancing social security of students,” the press service noted.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus Foreign Minister: no choosing between European Union and Russia

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ foreign policy priorities do not change, they are not opportunistic, the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov as saying to the news agency Reuters in an interview.

    “Belarus’ foreign policy and its main guidelines are not opportunistic and no weathercock,” said Sergei Martynov. “I would like to stress that the contraposition Russia vs the European Union as vectors of the foreign policy of the Republic of Belarus is false. The choosing between Russia and the European Union is a myth, which doesn’t exist. There is no such choice and should not be.”

    The minister noted, Belarus has two powerful neighbours. “It is not a choice Belarus made, it is a choice, one can say, made by geography, economy and history. Each neighbour is of major importance for us. Russia is definitely the indisputable and key strategic partner and the recent visit of President of Russia Vladimir Putin confirmed it most vividly. Nobody doubts that the policy of Belarus and Russia aimed at the deepest strategic top-priority partnership will continue,” underlined Sergei Martynov.

    Simultaneously, he said, the European Union remains the community that had become the key export partner of the Republic of Belarus. “We have the longest border with the European Union. Belarus and the European Union should deal with several issues both the sides are equally and deeply interested in. The issues include stability of energy transit, safety of the strategic infrastructure (regarding which a special resolution was adopted by a recent meeting of OSCE ministers of foreign affairs following Belarus’ initiative), transit, customs clearance, ecology, migration, and crime. That is we have a lot of common things to discuss and their importance grows on. Which is why Belarus has been adherent to promoting the policy aimed at enhancing the dialogue with the European Union to the degree our partners are ready for,” said the head of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    Sergei Martynov: no backstage deals during meeting of presidents of Belarus, Russia

    Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov has refuted allegations that Belarus would pledge its property for Russian energy resources and its sovereignty for the state credit.

    “Such talks by poorly qualified commentators are a kind of a myth. No payments or concessions were discussed during the Minsk meeting of the two heads of state. Belarus will pay for the credit in line with the terms: on time and in accordance with the letter of the contract,” the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry quoted Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov as saying to the news agency Reuters in an interview.

    Dwelling on the recent December meeting of Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin, the minister underscored, “The negotiations did not table concessions of Belarus or Russia, but primarily confirmed the deep and strategic nature of relations between Belarus and Russia”.

    “The official visit of the head of the Russian Federation and the holding of the Supreme State Council here prior to the presidential election in Russia is nothing but the most serious political confirmation of the gravity of the two states’ intentions concerning each other, the significance of their relations for each partner. It was the key essence of the talks. You will see the essence of the negotiations if you read attentively the joint statement signed in the result of the official visit by the two presidents. There were no plans for backstage diplomacy or deals,” said Sergei Martynov.

    Belarus to inform Russia about its citizens, whose right to leave country is temporarily restricted

    As soon as Belarus finishes creating a database listing citizens, whose right to leave the country is temporarily restricted, it will hand it over to the Russian side, Interior Minister of Belarus Vladimir Naumov told reporters on December 29.

    According to him, Belarus and Russia started using single migration cards about three years ago. The two countries have established efficient cooperation between their law enforcement and border bodies, the minister noted.

    The information from the database, which will be upgraded on a permanent basis, will be immediately transmitted to Russia, Vladimir Naumov stressed.

    Policy of restrictive measures towards Belarus is wrong and ineffective, Sergei Martynov says

    From: BelTA
    The policy of the European Union towards Belarus based on restrictive measures is wrong and ineffective, Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov said in an interview with the Reuters news agency, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Foreign Ministry.

    The Minister called as unacceptable the concept of setting preconditions in negotiations.

    “A dialogue between partners cannot be based on preconditions, otherwise there will be no dialogue at all or, if there will be one, it will be ineffective, this is first thing. Second thing, the areas in which we propose, I would like to stress the word “propose”, to interact with the European Union are the areas of mutual interest. In these relations we are coaxing nothing for us, for Belarus, out of the European Union. We offer cooperation in the areas in which our mutual interests meet and where there are obvious mutual benefits,” Sergei Martynov said.

    According to the Minister, Belarus would like to strengthen relations with the European Union. “We take efforts so that the dialogue would be effective. The dialogue has either already begun or is beginning in several areas: energy, transport, transit, customs clearance, environment, and so on. Therefore the logic of preconditions is the logic that can hardly cohere with the realties and prospects,” Sergei Martynov believes.

    According to him, last year, by joint efforts the EU and Belarus, “laid good groundwork for, let us say, a meaningful dialogue at the level of experts with respect to the aforementioned themes.”

    “It is clear that the dialogue can be successful only if it is not a one-way street, otherwise it’s not a dialogue at all. In this respect, it is apparent that the logic of restrictive measures, may they be visa, economic or other sanctions, is the logic that will not lead to success. The European Union is well aware of this and refrains from the policy of sanctions with relation to some other directions and does not make a secret of it. Therefore, with relation to Belarus, I think, it would be wise of the European Union to take appropriate efforts to change gradually its present policy, which is based on the logic not leading to success, on the logic leading to the dead-end, for more open policy. The previous policy of the European Union is wrong not because we do not like it, but because it is ineffective. We hope that these processes, which are starting within the framework of the difficult dialogue between Belarus and the EU, will finally help change the logic, which, in turn, will bring transformations in political issues,” Sergei Martynov said.

    “As for what we would like to see happening in our reciprocal moves to accommodate each other’s interests are the things which are quite evident too: abolishment of discriminatory restrictive measures, may they be visa issues or preferential regime issues. Naturally, we would like to deepen the cooperation at the level of experts, which we have already started. These matters, I repeatedly stress, are important for all – this and the other side of the border with the European Union. As I said we would like the dialogue to grow stronger in the areas from energy to customs,” the Foreign Minister said.

    Sergei Martynov refrained from making optimistic or pessimistic forecasts for the next year as to the relations with the European Union.

    “I try to avoid any one-sided qualifications. “Pessimistic”, “optimistic” these are all simplistic blueprints which should be avoided in professional approach. I would like to express the hope that the European Union and Belarus will continue this uneasy process and in this process we will be guided by mutual interests,” the Foreign Minister of Belarus said.

    In January-October trade turnover between Belarus, Russia up by 25.5% to $20.6bn

    From: BelTA
    In January-October the trade turnover between Belarus and Russia totalled $20.625 billion and upped by 25.5% as against the same period of 2006, BelTA learnt in the press service of the Economy Ministry of Belarus.

    For the ten months of the current year the Belarusian export to Russian grew by 28.8% to $7.218 billion; the import – by 23.8% to $13.407 billion. Belarus had a trade deficit with the Russian Federation running at $6.189 billion.

    According to the source, for the ten months of the current year supplies of the Belarusian goods to Russia increased by $1.613 billion. Belarus expanded the export of bars made of carbon steel, tractors, trucks, cheese and cottage cheese, reciprocating internal combustion engines, truck and tractor spare parts to Russia.

    The import from Russia rise by $2.574 billion. Belarus imported more natural gas, crude oil, covered wire and cable, bars made of steel alloy, iron-and-steel waste and scrap, copper wire, coke, oil asphalt, etc.

    Belarus increases trade turnover with other CIS countries by 26.1% to $23.9 billion

    In January-October 2007 Belarus increased the trade turnover with other CIS countries by 26.1% compared to the analogous period of 2006 to $23.912 billion. The export grew by 28.7% to $9.034 billion and the import – by 24.6% to $14.878 billion, BelTA was told in the press service of the Economy Ministry of Belarus.

    Over the period in review Belarus had a trade deficit with other CIS countries running at $5.844 billion.

    For the ten months of the current year Russia accounted for 86.3% of Belarus’ aggregate trade, 79.9% of the total exports to the CIS countries and 90.1% of the Belarusian imports.

    In November Belarus’ external debt is 13.3% up; internal debt – 5.2%

    The external debt of the Republic of Belarus upped in November 2007 by 13.3% and totaled Br 2017.8 billion (about $937 million) as of December 1, BelTA learnt in the Ministry of Finance. The approved limit for Belarus is $4 billion.

    As of December 1, the debts under the guarantees of the government stood at Br673 billion or 33% of the total external debts. In November they upped by 5.6%. The debt of the central government totaled Br1344.8 billion or 67% of the total external debts (of them 85.3% is long-term loans). As the Finance Ministry reports, in November this index grew by 17.7%.

    The internal state debt in November 2007 grew by 5.2% to reach Br5878.7 billion as of early December. The internal debts under the guarantees of the government went up by 7% to reach Br1763.1 billion or 30% of the total internal debts. The internal debt of the central government grew by 4.4% to Br4115.6 billion.

    The overall debts grew by 7.2% and totaled Br7896.5 billion in early December.

    Belarus to set up 868 new tourist facilities by 2011

    From: BelTA
    In line with the National Programme on Tourism Development for 2008-2010, 868 new tourist facilities will be set up in Belarus, Minister of Sport and Tourism of Belarus Alexander Grigorov told reporters.

    According to the minister, by 2011, 20 new hotels will be constructed, 51 hotels will be renovated in Belarus.

    The programme pays a special attention to developing the road service. Moreover, 70 hunter’s houses will be set up in the country. Belarus will create agro-tourist centres. In particular, 178 new rural manors will be constructed (18 manors will be set up in the Brest oblast, 36 – in the Vitebsk oblast, 24 – in the Gomel oblast, 30 – in the Grodno oblast, 38 – in the Minsk oblast, 32 – in the Mogilev oblast).

    This country will assign Br697 billion for implementation of the National Programme on Tourism Development. Practically, all the funds will be invested in tourism infrastructure development. On the whole, the programme foresees the development of the tourist business on the territories of 118 regions, small and middle towns with the participation of state-owned and private companies and investors, Alexander Grigorov noted.

    Belarus completing state cadastre of tourist resources

    On developing new tourist routes Belarusian travel agencies will be able to use the information of the state cadastre of tourist resources of Belarus. The creation of the cadastre was launched in 2006 and has been almost completed by now, Minister of Sports and Tourism of Belarus Alexander Grigorov stated.

    The information system, being created in Belarus for the first time, will contain the main information about the tourist objects, their status, scientific, economic, historical, ecological and cultural values, geographical position and boundaries, their protection and nature management.

    The information of the state cadastre of tourist resources of Belarus will help use the historical, cultural and natural potential more efficiently, the Minister added.

    Belarus to introduce new system to count incoming tourists

    There are plans to introduce a new system in Belarus to count incoming tourists according to methods of the World Tourism Organisation (WTO), Belarusian Sports and Tourism Minister Alexander Grigorov told media on December 28.

    In his words, many foreign tourists cross the border and go sightseeing without using services of tourist agencies. Many incoming tourists do it while staying at relatives’ and friends’. On the average, a foreign tourist spends around $100 in Belarus, however, the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis does not take account of such tourists. Due to the reason it is now time to switch over to a new system for counting incoming tourists and to introduce the term “tourist arrival” the WTO widely practises, remarked the minister.

    Unlike the present system, which takes account of the tourists, who arrive in Belarus via travel agencies only, the new one will calculate all incoming foreigners, except for those who come to Belarus to study or to settle down permanently. The Sports and Tourism Ministry is now negotiating this issue with the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis and other agencies, said Alexander Grigorov.

    According to developers of the 2008-2010 National Tourism Promotion Programme, Belarus is expected to welcome around 4.1 million foreign tourists in 2010 according to estimates made in line with WTO methods.

  • From the international press...

    Belarus to pursue improved ties with EU-minister

    From: Guardien
    Belarus will build on a good start to its drive for improved links with the European Union, but this need not hurt its strategic relationship with Russia, the ex-Soviet state's foreign minister said on Thursday.

    Sergei Martynov, interviewed by Reuters, said relations with the EU had improved in the past year despite lingering tension over allegations that Belarus crushed basic rights and that President Alexander Lukashenko rigged his re-election.

    But the 27-nation bloc, he said, was wrong to impose preconditions on a programme to boost relations.

    "In the course of the past year, there has been a rather good start to sensible dialogue," Martynov said.
    But he added: "It is incorrect to view Russia and the EU as contrasting vectors of foreign policy. By virtue of geography and economics, Russia and the EU are our main partners.

    "Russia is our principal strategic partner. The EU is our nearest neighbour. Making a choice between Russia and the EU is a myth that does not exist. Belarus intends to pursue its policy of developing dialogue with the EU. Our foreign policy priorities do not change. They are unaffected by circumstances."

    The EU and the United States criticise Belarus and have barred entry to Lukashenko and dozens of other officials in connection with the president's landslide re-election to a third term last year.

    But the bloc this year praised Belarus for releasing two jailed activists before the end of their terms and welcomed restraint used by police during opposition rallies.

    The EU has also proposed a programme of assistance, but made it contingent on the introduction of democratic change and the release of what Brussels calls political prisoners, including a candidate who challenged the president in last year's race.


    Belarus has consistently denied it violates human rights.

    "We are not asking for anything for Belarus from the EU. We are merely proposing joint action in areas of common interest," Martynov said, citing energy, transit, customs cooperation and the fight against crime and illegal migration.

    He said EU policy was "flawed not because we don't like it, but because it will produce no results. We would like to see in a framework of moves towards each other an end to discriminatory measures both in terms of visas and economic policy".

    Belarus, which has been pursuing the creation of a post-Soviet "union state" with Russia off and on for a decade, called for stronger ties with the EU after it quarrelled with Moscow a year ago over steep energy price increases.

    But Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin's talks in Minsk this month produced a 2008 deal with a relatively small rise of 19 percent in gas prices and the granting of large credits to Belarus.

    Martynov dismissed suggestions that Belarus had made major concessions to clinch the accord, such as sales of large industrial sites or concessions on a future "union" deal.

    "Such comments come from people who are not very qualified to make them. There was not even any discussion of concessions or payback," he said. "Belarus will repay the credits according to the timetable and conditions set down in agreements."

    Heineken buys No 2 Belarus brewer Syabar

    From: IHT
    Dutch brewer Heineken NV on Friday expanded into the fast-growing Belarus beer market by buying the Syabar Brewing Company to help compensate for sluggish growth in more mature western beer markets.

    Heineken, the world's fourth largest brewer after InBev , SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch , did not disclose financial details, but Theodoor Gilissen analyst Jan Meijer said in a note he expected Heineken to pay between 70 million euros and 130 million euros (51.5 million-95.6 million pounds).

    The acquisition of Syabar, which Heineken estimates to have 2007 sales of 600,000 hectolitres, comes after its planned takeovers of Serbia's brewer Rodic Brewery announced earlier this month, and of Czech Krusovice Brewery announced in June.

    The move is part of Heineken's strategy to obtain leading market positions and compensate for low growth rates in Western Europe and the United States, a group spokeswoman said.

    The Amsterdam-based brewer is already a big player in Eastern Europe, being number three in the fast-growing Russian market behind Baltic Beverages Holding, the Scottish & Newcastle and Carlsberg joint venture, and InBev, and is also is number two in Poland behind SABMiller.

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    Heineken said in a statement that it is buying Syabar's Cypriot parent company from a consortium led by Detroit Investments Limited (Cyprus) and from the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank.

    Heineken said the Belarus beer market shows double-digit percentage growth and the deal will give the Dutch group a No 2 market position in the country with a share of about 13 percent out of a total beer market of 4.5 million hectolitres. State-controlled Krinitsa is the nation's biggest brewer.

    The brewery at Bobruyst, 140 km southeast of Minsk, brews mainstream brand Bobrov and premium Syabar, and Heineken says it will use the brewery to sell its namesake brand and its Russian brands such as Botchkarov and Ochota in a market where Heineken currently only imports its beers into the country.

    The Dutch brewer, which wants to buy Britain's biggest brewer Scottish & Newcastle together with Carlsberg, said it will fund the deal from cash resources and the deal will be earnings enhancing in 2008 and value enhancing in 2012.

    Shares in Heineken, which sells about 132 million hectolitres of beer globally, were up 0.3 percent at 44.53 euros by 12:10 p.m. British time, in line with a 0.3 percent rise of the DJ Stoxx European Food and Drinks index .

    No change in denominations of Belarusian rubel is planned for 2008, National Bank says

    From: Naveny
    No change in the denominations of the Belarusian rubel is planned for 2008, the National Bank of Belarus (NBB) notes in a statement, which is said to be in response to “numerous inquiries by citizens to the main banking institution of the country.”

    The Belarusian rubel will be stable as before, the NBB stresses. The 2008 Monetary Policy Guidelines provide that the official exchange rate of the rubel against the US dollar will change within plus or minus 2.5 percent by January 1, 2009, the National Bank says.

    The NBB promises to continue its effort to strengthen the national currency, preserve attractive conditions for bank deposits in the rubel and increase the accessibility of loans for individuals and economic entities.

    The interest rates on rubel deposits will still be higher than both the inflation rate and the profitability rate of foreign currency deposits, the National Bank says.

    Belarus last changed the denominations of the national currency on January 1, 2000, when the National Bank sliced three zeroes off the rubel and put into circulation new 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500, 1,000 and 5,000 notes. The old notes were legal tender until January 1, 2001.

    EU has reneged on declared commitment to freedom of movement, interpersonal contacts by raising Schengen visa fees for Belarusians to €60

    From: Naveny
    The European Union has reneged on its declared commitment to freedom of movement and interpersonal contacts and also the 1975 Helsinki Final Act by raising Schengen visa fees for Belarusians to €60, Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw told Reuters on Thursday, according to the foreign ministry.

    “For its part, Belarus has repeatedly proposed holding talks over this issue, but Brussels has unfortunately been reluctant so far,” he said. The European Union (EU) should “stop citing some formal reasons and make a bold, unbureaucratic commitment to in-depth talks.”

    Unlike the EU, Belarus has even taken some unilateral steps to simplify the visa procedure for the Europeans in the recent years, he noted.

    Mr. Martynaw said that Belarus does not want to use this argument as a casus belli (a Latin expression which means justification for acts of war). The Belarusian government only hopes that the EU is wise enough to spare a thought for the interests of neighboring countries, he added.

    EU representatives have said on numerous occasions that unlike Ukraine, Moldova and Russia, Belarus has not signed an agreement on a simplified visa regime with the European Union, therefore its citizens have to pay €60 instead of €35 to get a Schengen visa. A precondition for signing such an agreement is full participation in the European Neighborhood Policy.

    The European Union “stands ready to develop a close relationship with Belarus and its people as soon as the Belarusian government demonstrates respect for democratic values and for the basic rights of the Belarusian citizens,” the Kyiv-based Delegation of the European Commission to Belarus and Ukraine said in a statement in late November.

    Nine countries joined the Schengen zone on December 21, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

    Six categories restricted to travel abroad

    From: Viasna
    The databank about citizens of Belarus who are temporarily restricted to travel abroad includes 6 categories of persons.

    As we have informed, on December 17 Belarusian president issued a decree No. 643 “On Simplification of exit procedure in the Republic of Belarus”. Under the decree, since January 1, 2008 a temporarily exit of citizens abroad would be made without a permissive stamp in a passport.

    At the same time, “Provision on databank of citizens of Belarus, whose right to depart from Belarus is temporarily restricted” has been adopted. The databank is to be created by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The order of informational interaction of agencies providing information to this databank is defined by the document, BelaPAN informs.

    The databank will include:

    - people, who know state secrets, until the expiry of the term stated in the state secrets’ access permit;

    - suspects or accused in a criminal case, until the termination of prosecution;

    - convicted for crimes, except sentenced to restriction to take certain positions or banned from some profession, until execution of punishment or remission of penalty;

    - people eluding liabilities by the court for the term defined by the court, but not longer than the end of the judicial proceedings;

    - draft evader, or those who failed to take part in inactive duty, until they turned up at military draft events.

    Besides, the order of informing citizens about their right to travel abroad is temporarily suspended, and about lifting this restriction. The database is formed basing on infromation received by the Interior Ministry from Justice Ministry, Defence Ministry and the KGB, and based on the information of the Internal Ministry.

    As we have informed, minister of internal affairs of Belarus General-Lieutenant Uladzimer Navumau supposed that the list of people temporally restricted to travel abroad outside Belarus will include about 100 thousands Belarusian citizens.

  • Cultural scene...

    Exhibition devoted to Yanka Kupala opens in UN headquarters in New York

    From: BelTA
    New Year Tree in the Palace of the Republic
    Exposition Yanka Kupala’s Works in Context of World’s Culture timed to the 125th anniversary of the birth of the Belarusian poet opened in the main building of the UN headquarters in New York, BelTA learnt from the permanent representation of the Republic of Belarus in the United Nations Organization.

    Prepared by the Yanka Kupala’s State Literary Museum the exhibition tells about creative and human ties of the great Belarusian poet with cultures and literatures of the peoples of the world. The display also features the translations of masterpieces of the world literature made by Yanka Kupala.

    It is the third exposition which was organized by Belarus in the UN headquarters in 2007. In March this year, in the course of the UN General Assembly Belarus presented the exhibition Women of Belarus prepared by BelTA. In December this year, Belarus jointly with Russia, Ukraine and UNICEF presented the photo-exhibition Chernobyl in Children’s Eyes during the opening of the UN Special Session on Children.

    Brest to host international festival January Musicales

    The international festival of classic music January Musicals will be held in Brest on January 9-12.

    Taking part in the festival will be around 440 musicians and vocalists from 14 countries, BelTA learnt from the culture department of the Brest Oblast Executive Committee.

    Bands and vocalists from Russia, Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Ukraine, Poland, China and the Czech Republic will arrive in Brest. The Minin’s Moscow State Academic Chamber Choir, famous Russian pianist Ludmila Lyadova, soloist of the Russian Bolshoi Theater Makvala Kasrashvili, Lvov orchestra Academiya under the direction of Artur Mikitka will be among those who will perform in Brest. The first flute of the opera symphonic orchestras of Milan and Rome Antonio Amenduni and his counterpart clarinet player Alexander Travaglini will come to Brest from Italy. Luis Andre Ferreira, the “golden violoncello” of Portugal, will perform at the festival as well. According to the tradition, fellows of the Special Fund of the President of the Republic of Belarus for support of the talented youth will take part in the festival.

    Belarusian documentary movies Maria and 11 Coins to participate in Rotterdam International Film Festival

    Two documentary films produced by the National Film Studio Belarusfilm – “Maria” by Viktor Asljuk and “11 Coins” by Olga Dashuk – will take part in the 37th Rotterdam International Film Festival. The film forum will be running from January 23 to February 3, 2008.

    The Rotterdam festival, which is annually held in the Netherlands in January-February, is the main international festival of documentary movies, specialists noted.

    Young Belarusian paintresses win international contest award

    Works by seven students of the National Centre for Artistic Endeavours of Children and Youth of Belarus have been awarded at the VII international children’s painting contest “Art — Play or Creation?” in the Estonian town of Kohtla-Jarve. The studio Krynichka the young paintresses go to was marked by a special award, Consul General of Belarus in Tallinn Alexander Ostrovsky told BelTA. All in all, the contest featured more than 300 paintings from Belarus, Lithuania, Russia and Estonia.

    The traditional participation of Belarusian painters in this creative competition had been made possible thanks to direct contacts established between the National Centre for Artistic Endeavours of Children and Youth of Belarus and the Ahmes Art School, which hosts the contest, following an initiative of the Consulate General of Belarus in Tallinn.

    Works by Krynichka students are also represented at another international contest in Estonia — “Colours of the earth”. Results of the contest will be summed up in January 2008.

  • Around the region...

    Russia denies claims of missile deal with Iran

    From: JPost
    An aerial view of the Bushehr nuclear facility
    The federal agency overseeing Russia's military exports denied reports that the country planned to deliver S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran.

    Iran's defense minister said this week that Russia was preparing to equip Iran with the missile systems that would dramatically increase the country's ability to repel an air strike.

    But the Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service denied the claim Friday in a brief statement. "The question of deliveries of S-300 systems to Iran, which has now arisen in the mass media, is not currently taking place, is not being considered and is not being discussed at this time with the Iranian side," said the agency, known by its Russian initials, FSVTS.

    The S-300 anti-aircraft missile defense system is capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missile warheads at ranges of over 145 kilometers and at altitudes of about 27,000 meters. Russian military officials boast that its capabilities outstrip the US Patriot missile system.

    The S-300 is an improvement over the Tor-M1 air defense missile system. Russia delivered 29 Tor-M1s to Iran this year under a US$700 million contract signed in December 2005. Iranian media reports have claimed the S-300 missile systems could inflict significant damage on US or Israeli forces, were they to attack Iran.

    Russia has provided Iran with submarines and military planes in recent decades.

    Earlier Friday, the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, reported that a second shipment of nuclear fuel arrived from Russia to the Iranian nuclear facility at Bushehr.

    Russian sources said the facility will operational in just eight months, by August 2008.

    Friday's shipment was received eleven days after the first shipment, made on December 17. In February 2008, the third shipment is scheduled to be made, and this will allow the facility to be operational within six months, the Russian sources said.

    A senior official in Iran's nuclear program said the "shipment was transferred to Iran according to the planned schedule.

    Iran claims the Bushehr plant is intended strictly for peaceful purposes, namely for generating electricity.

    However, Israeli officials on all levels, including President Shimon Peres, expressed doubt as to whether a country counted among the heavyweights of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) has any real reason to search for alternative energy sources.

    Also, Peres said recently, Iran's continuing research and development of long-range ballistic missiles "makes no sense" unless it is planning to arm them with nuclear warheads.

    In related news, IRNA quoted the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki as vehemently condemning the assassination of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Mottaki was speaking in an election rally in Rawalpindi on Thursday.

    Iran's condemnation of the assassination seems at best cynical, as Bhutto, who vowed to combat Muslim extremists in Pakistan and also expressed in the past a will to strengthen ties with Israel, was most likely assassinated by an extremist group; this in view of the fact that Iran itself is considered by Israel, the US and also by several leading European countries as a major exporter of Global Jihad and Muslim extremism.

    Mottaki expressed the great sorrow of the Iranian nation and government about "this tragic event" and sympathized with the bereaved family of the late Pakistani politician and the nation and government of Pakistan.

    Putin content with achievements of Russia in 2007

    From: China View
    The outgoing year is successful and weighty, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the New Year reception in the Kremlin on Friday.

    "We have achieved many objectives in politics, economy, social and demographic programs," Putin was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying. "These results serve Russia and its citizens. In return, people supported us at the recent parliament elections."

    Putin thanked everyone who contributed to the fulfillment of strategic plans and who worked together with him for the past eight years "on the achievement of common goals and carried out the policy of Russia's economic might, authority and influence in the world."

    Russia is steadily promoting its national interests worldwide, the prestige of education is growing, and the native language and literature are developing, he said.

    "The successful bid of Sochi for hosting Winter Olympic Games 2014 was a tangible symbol and recognition of our success," he said. "The whole country celebrated that victory. I must say that we would not have won it if we had not revived the economy, finance and political stability in Russia."

    "The year 2008 will be momentous for the country. Once we provide for the continuation of our policy, we will make big progress together," Putin said.

    Poland sends a private plane a month to get back criminals who have fled to UK

    From: Daily Mail
    Polish police are being forced to fly private planes to Britain each month to pick up hundreds of criminals wanted in their home country.

    The number of extradition requests from Polish authorities for criminals who have fled to the UK has soared 14-fold in the past two years.

    To cope with the surge, Poland is flying a private plane to the UK each month to pick up hundreds of suspects caught by Scotland Yard.

    Those arrested are wanted for crimes including murder, rape, robbery, burglary, drugs and theft.

    Extradition requests from Poland make up more than a quarter of all requests.

    In the last 12 months, officers from the Metropolitan Police's Extradition Unit have been asked to track down 257 Poles across the UK.

    The number is 70 per cent higher than from any other country. The second biggest requesting country is Lithuania with 76.

    Police attribute the alarming rise partly to Poland's effective use of the European Arrest Warrant which came into force in January 2004.

    But the sheer number of Polish nationals wanted by police in their home country raises concerns over how many are committing crimes here and how many may be slipping under the radar of the Polish authorities.

    About 5 per cent of foreign suspects are already in jail for a crime committed in the UK when the Met is issued with an arrest warrant for them.

    At least 600,000 Poles have come to the UK since Poland joined the EU in 2004 though the Government admits it does not have an accurate figure.

    Schoolgirl Katerina Koneva, 12, was strangled at her home in Acton, West London in May 1997 by Andrezej Kunowski who had spent 15 years in jail in his native Poland for a series of sex offences.

    The 51-year-old was awaiting trial for further sex attacks when in June 1996 he was freed on bail for urgent medical treatment and absconded. He came into Britain on a tourist visa.

    He remained at large in the UK for six years after Katerina's murder and only when he was arrested for the rape of a student did police realise he was Katerina's killer. He is serving life in prison in Britain and will never be released.

    Scotland Yard's Extradition and International Assistance Unit won £1million in funds this month for more officers to cope with the huge increase in workload.

    There were 955 extradition requests in 2007, a rise of 78 per cent on the previous year. Other top requesting countries were the Czech Republic with 41, Germany with 40, Albania, 31, and France, 23.

    In 2006, Poland was top again with 87 requests out of a total of 538. In 2005, Poland placed 18 requests, making it seventh in the league. Lithuania was top with 59 requests.

    This summer British and Polish authorities discussed how to deal with the huge numbers being extradited and decided that using a private plane for the sole purpose of extradition was the best option.

    The first flight touched down at a London airport in October and 20 suspects were flown back. In November, 17 were extradited.

    Detective Inspector Paul Fuller, head of Scotland Yard's Extradition Unit, said: "It is a unique idea concerning the Metropolitan police and the Polish authorities.

    "Of course it's been a problem for us to be at the airport to hand these people over 257 times.

    "Now every month the Poles are supplying a private aeroplane that flies to the UK and takes them back en masse.

    "Yes, we have half a day of difficulties with getting a lot of suspects in the same place at the same time but it is only for half a day with a little bit of planning before it.

    "It's a win for everyone because I haven't got people at the airport every day. The Polish don't have to pay for airline tickets for escorts over here and back, along with a prisoner. They can do it all at once."

    He added: "There are some wanted for minor offences but there are also many for serious offences - murder, robbery, rape, GBH - and we are successful in getting them and we will continue to be.

    "If they are in England to hide, we'll find them."

    Football corruption suspects released on bail

    From: The News
    Two directors of Poland’s National Sports Centre, Krzysztof S and Tadeusz M, arrested on charges of corruption within Polish football, were released on bail as far back as 18 December, Rzeczpospolita has just learned.

    The directors were arrested in June after a sting operation by the anti-corruption agency. According to Rzeczpospolita, evidence by officers from the agency led to the arrest of former sport’s minister Tomasz Lipiec.

    On 18 December the prosecution appealed to the court to offer terms of bail and impose restriction of movement on the directors of the national sports centre.

    Minister of Justice Zbigniew Cwiakalski told the daily that he, too, has just learnt of the men’s release, although he added that he does not, in law, have to be informed about each individual case.

    Over 70 officials, managers and players have been arrested in connection with wide spread corruption within Polish football leagues.

    Krauze charged with obstructing justice

    From: The News
    The District Prosecutor of Warsaw has charged Polish businessman Ryszard Krauze with giving false evidence during an investigation into corruption in the agricultural ministry.

    After he was read out the charges, Krauze pleaded not guilty.

    No restrictions of movement were placed on the millionaire businessman.

    Krauze is accused of obstructing an investigation by the Anti-Corruption Agency into land deal kickbacks at the ministry of agriculture August.

    The case became front page news and led to the sacking of ministers involved in the alleged scam, including the then vice-premier Andrzej Lepper

    Krauze has waved the right to keep his surname private during the legal process

  • Plus and Minus...

    Russia-Belarus talks signal renewed cooperation against US

    From: World Socialist Website
    Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Minsk December 13 for two days of talks with the president of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko. Their meeting came just prior to a session of the Russia-Belarus Union, a body established in the 1990s to encourage integration between the two countries.

    International political analysts have speculated that the frosty relationship between Putin and Lukashenko is thawing, opening up the possibility that the two ex-Soviet states are advancing towards a merger.

    Pavel Borodin, secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union executive body, which is responsible for facilitating any unification process, stated that no major constitutional changes would be formally agreed to in Minsk. He insisted that that any future draft of a planned constitution for a new unified state would be considered by representatives from both governments and would be subject to approval by parliamentary votes and national referenda in Russia and Belarus.

    Instead, Putin and Lukashenko were scheduled to discuss technical issues on how to make the existing partnership function more effectively. “They are going to discuss pragmatic issues,” Borodin said, adding that too many differences remained over how to proceed with a union.

    Referring to speculation that there would be discussion of a political union, Lukashenko said to his Russian counterpart during a press conference in Minsk that he was “surprised your visit prompted a stir in the West.”

    Lukashenko added, “There’s no subtext here. We’re friendly allied states and I would be surprised if you [Putin] didn’t visit.”

    The Kremlin had earlier dismissed reports that Putin and Lukashenko would discuss a union. Both presidents were, however, willing to acknowledge that closer military cooperation was on the agenda.

    “Belarus is ready to play its role in the issues of the planned deployment in Europe of US missile defence systems,” Lukashenko said, referring to US plans to establish missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Kremlin has angrily stated its opposition to these bases, which it views as a threat by Washington to Russia’s missile-launching capabilities.

    Though Lukashenko did not give further details of what help his government would give to the Russian military, it is expected that the two countries will develop a joint response to the planned US missile bases. In November, a senior Russian military spokesman indicated that the Kremlin was considering locating missiles in Belarus in a countermove to Washington’s plans. Belarus shares a border with Poland, with which it has very poor diplomatic relations, and is not far from the Czech Republic.

    Lukashenko also said he would work with Russia on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which limits weapons levels of both NATO and Russia. Putin recently formally announced the suspension of Russia’s obligations under the CFE, citing Washington’s disregard for the limitations it imposes.

    Police dispersed small demonstrations held over two days prior to Putin’s arrival in Belarus. Around 300 mainly young protesters in Minsk held placards saying “Putin go home” and “No union with Russia.” Police detained many people and reportedly badly beat a leader of the opposition group Young Front. Lukashenko’s regime has been widely condemned for human rights abuses, holding unfair elections and detaining political prisoners.

    On December 10, Putin said he supported his Kremlin ally, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, to become Russia’s next president. As expected, Medvedev quickly offered Putin the post of prime minister should he win power, as is expected, in next year’s presidential election.

    Putin has claimed to have a “moral right” to retain power and has made little secret of his intention to retain influence after he leaves office.

    The post of prime minister in Russia is a weak one relative to the presidency, a power gap that has only grown wider under Putin’s period in charge at the Kremlin. Political scientists and the media have speculated that the creation of a union of Russia and Belarus would require a new position of president of both republics in the confederation—a post that Putin might fill, giving him a continuing position of real power after he leaves office in March 2008.

    “I don’t think it is a coincidence that Putin’s trip to Minsk follows Medvedev’s nomination,” said Sergei Mikheyev of the Russian Institute of Political Technologies.

    Russia and Belarus signed an agreement in 1996 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties. This was strengthened the following year when an executive of the Russia-Belarus Union was formed and a customs and immigration union was established. However, efforts to integrate the two countries’ economies and political structures have foundered, with heated disputes over oil and gas prices compounding the evident mistrust that Putin and Lukashenko have for each other.

    For the tiny elite of Belarus, mainly drawn from the old Stalinist bureaucracy, such a union is aimed at securing the oil and gas supplies that the country receives from Russia, as well as gaining the backing of the Russian state in the suppression of the working class. For the Russian ruling class, Belarus is a strategically vital country for energy exports and a possible forward base for its nuclear and conventional forces in response to the growing belligerence of Washington in the central and east European region.

    Commenting on Putin’s visit to Belarus, Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if Putin tries to speed up a union with Belarus to become the president of the unified state.”

    Russia’s Ekho Moskvy quoted unnamed members of the Lukashenko administration saying that Moscow and Minsk had struck a deal in which Putin would become president of a Russia-Belarus union, while Lukashenko would be speaker of its parliament.

    Pavel Borodin dismissed claims that the Russia-Belarus Union was being fast-tracked in order to create a role for Putin: “It is not being prepared for the sake of any specific personality,” he told a press conference in Minsk. But official denials in Moscow and Minsk have not quelled growing commentary in both countries that Putin’s visit to Minsk, his first formal visit since 2003, indicates a renewed interest in the merger.

    Many doubt that such a deal can be reached. “The two nations have opposite interests,” Alexander Klaskovsky, a political analyst in Minsk, told the Associated Press. “Moscow wants to expand its presence in Belarus, while Minsk wants to get economic assistance while maintaining full sovereignty,” said Klaskovsky.

    Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Lukashenko was a strong advocate of the formation of a new union between Belarus and Russia, apparently in the hope that Russia’s relative weakness and the political instability in the Yeltsin-era Kremlin would allow him to play a major role in a new unified state.

    However, following the election of Putin in 2000, Lukashenko’s ambitions were put in check. An increasingly assertive Russian diplomatic policy, enabled by the alliance of the state security apparatus with sections of the oligarchs, under conditions of very high prices for Russia’s oil and gas, saw Putin pushing increasingly unacceptable deals onto Minsk.

    “Putin and Lukashenko have sought to outmaneuver and cheat one another over the past few years,” commented Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine.

    In 2002, Lukashenko angrily rejected a proposal from Putin’s administration that Belarus be incorporated into the Russian Federation. Relations between the two regimes reached their nadir in early 2007, when Russia more than doubled the price of highly subsidised energy supplies to Belarus. As a result, the Lukashenko government was forced to accept the sale of half of the national gas pipeline company to Gazprom, Russia’s state gas monopoly.

    Lukashenko then described Russia as a “huge monster,” even going so far as to compare the price hike to the country’s occupation by Germany during the Second World War, when much of the then-Soviet republic was reduced to ashes and millions of its citizens were killed or made prisoners.

    The Kremlin still holds the fate of Belarus’s energy supplies in its hands. In August, Gazprom threatened to halt future natural gas shipments if Belarus failed to pay its debts, and new negotiations between the two countries in 2008 will decide what further price increases, if any, will be introduced.

    During the visit, Putin offered a conciliatory gesture to Lukashenko, promising that the price for Russian gas to Belarus would only rise slightly next year. He also offered a US$1.5 billion loan to Minsk cover recent increases.

    The talks on military cooperation and possible political union between Russia and Belarus are driven by deep national and international tensions.

    Washington’s planned missile defence shield, its backing of various “colour revolutions” in former Soviet states and its military adventurism are pushing Moscow to take countermeasures such as the movement of Russian missiles into Belarus.

    Recent speeches by Putin, such as his vociferous condemnation of American foreign policy at the Munich Security Summit this year, echoed in other statements by leading military and civilian figures in the Kremlin, have expressed the intention of the Russian elite to reassert its interests on the world stage, bankrolled by the flood of oil and gas wealth into the state treasury.

    Putin, and the coalition of oligarchs and leading security figures upon which he relies for support, realise that the US is intent on rolling back the scope of Moscow’s power in the region of the former USSR, possibly threatening the break-up of the Russian Federation.

    They fear that powerful forces opposed to the Kremlin’s ruling cliques could ally themselves with Washington, posing the danger of a “colour revolution” in Russia. The US already tried to instigate one in Belarus in 2001 and again in 2006, without success.

    The ruling cliques in Moscow and Minsk are considering the possibility of a Russia-Belarus Union as insurance against this threat. The fact that so massive an undertaking as the union of two states is being linked to the personal ambitions of presidents Putin and Lukashenko indicates the parlous state of political relations within the ruling elites of Moscow and Minsk, such that these authoritarian figures are required to arbitrate and settle scores between rival factions.

    Such a union, should it come to pass, would be treated with utmost hostility by Washington, which would make every effort to destabilise it. The more likely scenario of a closer military alliance between Russian and Belarus will also be fiercely opposed by the US, opening up a new stage in the conflict between Washington and Moscow for dominance in the region.

    Vines: Refuge from repression

    From: knox news
    Oleg Manaev is teaching at the University of Tennessee this academic year to be free of repressions in his own country, Belarus, for publishing the results of public opinion polling that the government of President Alexander Lukashenka did not like. Term limits for officeholders is one of the issues.

    And while the social scientist is here, he's studying U.S. media and communications as well as providing insight into life abroad, particularly in Eastern Europe, with his students and colleagues.

    "I want to help people here learn more about our countries," he said.

    He wants to make it clear he didn't come to Knoxville and UT just to escape his own country, he said. This is his fifth visit to the United States, which includes teaching at Duke University and the University of Southern California.

    But Peter Gross, director of UT's School of Journalism and Electronic Media, who arranged for Manaev's visit, described his situation in Belarus as "dire." Gross, a native Romanian, specializes in international communication and is well familiar with Manaev's situation.

    Manaev's visit to the United States is supported by the U.S. Embassy in Belarus. His expenses are being paid in part by a Washington, D.C.-based Scholar Rescue Fund and the UT chancellor's office.

    An essay in the November 2006 issue of Political Communication, a journal of scholarly articles and book and film reviews, described the seriousness of the professor's situation, which was a departure for the journal, the editor said. It was titled, "Oleg Manaev: The 'Civil (Society) Constructor' Soldiers on." The reference to the "civil constructor" is what Manaev once called himself - a person dedicated to promoting the emergence of civil society in his own country, the article said.

    It was written by Karol Jakubowicz, chairman of the Steering Committee on the Media and New Communication Services, Councol of Europe, who is in Warsaw, Poland. Jakubowicz said those in the communications field "should be seriously concerned" about Manaev being called into Belarus' general prosecutor's office after publishing the results of a public opinion poll that the government considered "dissemination of unconfirmed information."

    The violation potentially carries a sentence of two years in jail.

    The poll and results were done by Manaev's Independent Institute of Social-Economic and Political Research, considered a "reputable, experienced, and internationally recognized research institute," Jakubowicz wrote. At the time, the institute was at Belarusian State University in Minsk, where Manaev himself was educated in journalism, philosophy and sociology. The institute is now in Lithuania. Manaev contributes by analyzing and commenting on data collected by the Institute, he said.

    Belarus is part of the old Soviet Union bloc and became independent in 1990. Manaev said he was happy when this happened and he has followed the country's experience as a post-communist regime as "a scholar, not a street fighter."

    A new charter called for two terms for the president. An issue Manaev has had with the president is that when he was elected for the second time in 2001, "I believe the day after the election he was trying to figure out how to stay in office," Manaev said.

    "All data shows that most Belarussians did not want to delete (term limits) from the charter," he said.

    Lukashenka was re-elected overwhelmingly in 2006 in an election many did not consider democratic.

    Manaev has a list of the chronology of state repressions against himself and the Institute. The first was in March 2002 when he received a letter from the president's administration evicting him "from the rented space" the Institute had had for seven years. Then he was sent warnings and subpoenas about violating laws. The state Supreme Court shut down the Institute in April 2005. The last item on the repressions list was in April, when he was subpoenaed to the General Prosecutor's Office for organizing a national conference on Belarus and the "wider Europe." The conference prompted articles in the independent press.

    Manaev, 55, is in Knoxville with his wife, Layrsa. They live in an apartment near the UT campus. They have two children who remain in Belarus, Kirill, 32, and Natasha, 20.

    Gross said UT is pleased to have someone with Manaev's expertise in research methodologies and with his independent knowledge of the media's role in transitional societies like those in the former Soviet Union and his perspective on American journalism.

    Manaev is popular with students. Although his classes are for graduate studies, undergraduate students also want to be in them, Gross said.

    Manaev has not been following the turmoil in Knox County government that came about because of term limits, but he is keeping up with the U.S. presidential elections.

    "It's getting more and more that images mean much more than political ideas," he said. The campaigns are depending more and more on technology rather than institutions, such as political parties and associations, he said.

    "Images are more important than money," he said.

    A marriage proposal that may become a demand: Seeking a buffer against NATO, Russia has gained strength in its push for union with Belarus

    From: Gloab and Mail
    When Russian President Vladimir Putin flew to Minsk last week for talks with Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko, the pair shared a friendly steam bath and dinner at a ski resort, then talked until dawn.

    The discussion went into the wee hours because the two leaders were hashing out a plan to merge their countries. But the deal fell through because they couldn't agree on who would be leader. Both men wanted the top job.

    Mr. Putin, whose presidential term expires next spring, went home to Russia and chose instead to become prime minister of his own country.

    Mr. Lukashenko resumed his duties as president of Belarus, a country known in Europe as the "last outpost of tyranny."

    But observers say the plan to merge the two countries is far from dead. In fact, many predict the courtship between Russia and its closest ally will heat up in 2008, with Russia as the main pursuer.

    "During the next year, Russia will continue its expansion to Belarus," said Alexander Fadeev, a Belarus expert with Moscow's Institute of Commonwealth of Integrated States.

    For now, Belarus is playing coy, but observers say Russia has the upper hand. Its goal is to weaken its neighbour financially, leaving it with no options but to one day align itself with its oil-rich neighbour.

    "Russia wants a union with Belarus," said Yaroslav Romanchuk, president of the Scientific Research Mises Center, an independent think tank in Minsk. The snag in last week's summit occurred when Mr. Lukashenko, an increasingly isolated dictator, would not consent to a union unless he was the leader.

    "Lukashenko is not on board," Mr. Romanchuk said. "He wants his own power base." Mr. Putin, who is said to dislike and distrust Mr. Lukashenko, refused his ally's request and went home.

    The notion of reuniting Russia and Belarus, which is a former Soviet republic, has been bandied about for a decade. On paper, at least, the two countries have much in common. Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1996 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties. During the Yelstin era in Russia, Mr. Lukashenko nearly persuaded the former president to let him lead the union, but that deal fell through, too.

    For Russia, the attraction of Belarus is obvious. It uses Belarus pipelines to ship its oil and gas to European customers, but far more important, it views the small country as a buffer against NATO advances into Eastern Europe.

    In the past decade, Russia has watched with dismay as two former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Georgia, rejected pro-Russian leaders and installed Western-backed presidents in the so-called coloured revolutions.

    There was no flowering of democracy in Belarus. Instead, Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for 13 years, jailed many political opponents - others simply vanished - and extended his power by eliminating a law that required leaders to step down after two terms.

    Today, the country of 10 million people is increasingly estranged from its European neighbours. Its economy is controlled by the state and Belarus depends heavily on Russia for its energy needs. Living standards are far lower than most of Europe or Russia, with the average monthly salary the equivalent of about $330.

    Rather than turning to the West for political inspiration, Belarus has leaned on Russia and supported it in its foreign-policy spats with the United States and Europe. Mr. Lukashenko has joined Russia's opposition to U.S. plans to install missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic, and he supported Russia's decision to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty in mid-December.

    But the partnership foundered when Russia raised gas prices. Belarus's weak economy relies on inexpensive energy supplies from Russia, but last year Russia threatened to double the price.

    In Belarus, the notion of joining its large, powerful neighbour hasn't gained much traction outside the President's sphere. Most ordinary Belarussians have been schooled by the state-run media and believe they are living in a state-run paradise, Mr. Romanchuk said.

    "The national motto used to be: A glass of vodka and a piece of lard is the standard of stability," he said. These low expectations haven't fuelled calls for change. Most believe "we have peace and stability."

    While last week's summit failed to produce a union agreement, the meeting resolved the countries' energy-price dispute. Russia agreed to a modest gas-price hike and gave its neighbour a $1.5-billion (U.S.) loan to pay for it.

    In return, Belarus agreed to assist Russia in its opposition to the U.S. missile-defence shield, although Mr. Lukashenko did not say what form his country's assistance on the defence shield might take.

    "Belarus is ready to play its role in the issues of planned deployment in Europe of U.S. missile-defence systems," Mr. Lukashenko said.

    For its part, Russia left the meeting with its goals intact; Belarus is more financially beholden than ever to Russia. And there will come a day when it can't afford to spurn Russia's unification requests.

    "Russia wants to keep Belarus weakened," Mr. Romanchuk said. "Russia wants a union with Belarus, but knows the electorate and Lukashenko don't want it. The only way to tighten the grip over Belarus is to increase its dependency. That's why it gave the $1.5-billion loan."

    Merry Catholic Christmas

    From: An American in Belarus
    I wish you a Merry Catholic Christmas, I wish you a Merry Catholic Christmas, I wish you a Merry Catholic Christmas, and a Happy New Year! As most Belarusians are Orthodox, December 25th isn't that big a deal. All but one of my friends are Orthodox so they don't do anything special for Catholic Christmas. However, there is a large Catholic population here, as Belarus used to belong to Poland, so everyone gets December 24-25 off work. My supervisor, Lyudmila Milhailovna, was kind enough to invite me to her flat and she prepared a wonderful dinner just for me. I spent Christmas Eve with Cbeta and Nadia and we had a great time playing with two Santa hats, sparkles, and some other decorations. We also visited the New Year's Trees that are located in Lenin Square and Soviet Square.

    By far, New Year's Eve is the biggest holiday here. Father Frost comes and brings gifts with the help of his granddaughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden). I'm very excited because I will spend December 31st with Cbeta and her family, so I'll get to experience a real Belarusian-style holiday! I'll tell you more about the traditions next week...

    Orthodox Christmas is on January 7. But like Catholic Christmas, this day is only a big deal for the religious folks and many people simply enjoy having a day off. I finally learned why the dates are different, 13 days to be exact. The Orthodox church still follows the Julian calendar for its holidays and the Catholic church uses the Gregorian calendar. This difference also means that the Old New Year falls on January 13, so they leave all the decorations up until mid-January when the holiday season is finally over. Overall it's kinda cool, they have two Christmases and two New Years. December 24-25, January 1-2, and January 7 are vacation days too. So basically the holidays are just getting started here!

    Going Right to Gallows

    From: TOL
    Why the Russian side decided to grant that 1.5 billion USD loan to Belarus is getting clear only now. It looks like the Russian side decided to DO something with Belarus: when it does not go about political Anschluss, the economic one is on its way. And the longer it gets, the less chances remain to break those “brotherly hugs”.

    20th December had been marked by signing the above-mentioned loan agreement. 2 bln USD more are coming next year. Belarusians will pay just 119 USD / 1000 cubic meters of gas in the first quarter of the year 2008 whatever the official contract terms had been. Loans can be deposited in the Russian banks, and gas can be re-exported to the third countries like it was done before.

    Kremlin understands this tricky situation but decided to go the same way. But the banquette won’t be free for Minsk any longer. Officials in Minsk formally dismiss any suggestions that Belarus will have to pay the credit with its national enterprises, but the way they do dismissals just supports the suggestion. “We won’t sell all our enterprises to Moscow”, deputy economics minister Aleh Melnikau mentioned in a press conference. Ok, not all, but some enterprises will be sold, but that does not change the thing: it is just the question of interpretation.

    Aleh Melnikau: “The government YET has no plans to sell our oil-processing facility Naftan to the Russian side. We have no exact privatization plan YET and and therefore no decision can be taken.”

    What does this mean: YAT? How long will official Minsk be able to avoid this problem? Or may be, everything is already taken care of, and officials just resist the truth like they did when selling Velcom?

    By the way, the Belarusian background of Mr.Lukashenka’s Moscow “affair” was characterized by addressing the strikes of private entrepreneurs with legal acts easing their situation, not brainless AMAP soldiers like in 90% cases before. May be someone finally understood that should the regime push thousands of entrepreneurs out of business, there will be no force to resist economic annexion, as there simply will be no national capital any longer.

    There should be no hope for changing the course after Russian presidential elections in March. Elite remains the same - the front page comes now with a younger face which might improve Russia’s image a bit. The essence of the Empire won’t change.

  • Sport...

    Ivan Tikhon and Nadezhda Ostaphuk - Belarus’ best athletes 2007

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Athletics Federation announced the list of best performances in 2007.

    The rating was compiled on the basis of the results at international tournaments, BelTA was told in the federation. Hammer thrower Ivan Tikhon is the best male athlete of Belarus (a gold winner at the world athletics championships in Osaka and world athletics finals in Stuttgart). Andrei Mikhnevich (shot putting) and Vadim Devyatovsky (hammer throwing) made it to the top three.

    Nadezhda Ostapchuk (shot putting) tops the list of female athlete. She claimed a silver medal in Osaka and gold medal in Stuttgart. Svetlana and Ilona Usovich (running) are ranked second and third.

    Belarusian athletes are not getting prepared for the tournaments in 2008. The world indoor athletics championships will take place on March 7-8. As of today the Belarusian athletes have earned 69 licenses for the athletics competitions at the Olympic Games 2008 in Beijing.

    Sergei Gulyakevich from Belarus takes European Boxing Union super featherweight title

    Belarusian Sergey Gulyakevich beat Leva Kirakosyan from Armenia in Milan to win the European Boxing Union super featherweight title. Sergey Gulyakevich dominated the fight and soundly outpointed the opponent 118-110, 120-108 and 115-113, BelTA was told in the Belarusian professional boxing federation.

    For the 26-year-old Belarusian this is the 25th win in his career in professional boxing. Sergei is the second Belarusian following Yuri Romanov who has taken the champion title among professional boxers.

    Belarus placed third at international handball tournament in Riga

    The 11th international Christmas handball tournament in Riga finished on December 29. On the final day of the tournament the national team of Belarus lost to Ukraine 23:30, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian handball association. On December 28 Belarus scored a convincing victory over Latvia 36-27 and lost to Lithuanian 31-32. As a result Belarus placed third ahead of Latvia and behind Ukraine. Lithuania finished in second.

    Several leading players skipped the tournament. These were Vitaly Feschenko, Andrei Kurchev, Sergei Gorbok, Ivan Brovko and Alexei Usik who play for the clubs in Germany and Switzerland. They will gather for a training session in Staiki on January 2.

    Before the European championships the national team of Belarus will play two away matches in Poland who is a silver medalist of the 2007 world championships. Then the team will go to Norway. Belarus shares Group C with Germany (a match on January 17), Spain (January 19) and Hungary (January 20).

  • Endnote...

    Russian loan can become a mousetrap

    From: Charter '97
    Experts form Russia and Belarus haven’t reach a common opinion on a reason of warming the relation between Moscow and Minsk.

    Only at the end of 2007 Belarus received a stabilisation loan of USD 1.5 billion from Russia, which was promised yet at the end of the last year. The money was brought by Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to his Belarusian colleague. It was the first visit of Putin to Minsk, and apparently the last one in his present status, “Nezavisimaya Gazeta” writes.

    The decision on giving a credit to Belarus was unanimously appraised by experts as rapprochement between Russia and Belarus. It should be reminded the relations tightened at the end of the last year, when Russia announced the transition to market relation with Belarus. In particular, increasing of energy price for the country. Such acts of Russian allowed Alyaksandr Lukashenka to say many unflattering remarks addressing the Russian leadership. Among other subjects of emotional comments of the Belarusian ruler was also the requested credit.

    But the experts of the two countries haven’t reached a common opinion on a reason of the rapprochement between Moscow and Russia. Versions concerning the subjects of 7-hour talks between Putin and Lukashenka continue to appear two weeks after the meeting. There is an opinion that Belarus received the loan and low gas price (USD 119 per 1.000 cu m) in return for a promise to allow Russian capital to Belarusian privatisation. A three-month lag (low gas price was established only for the first quarter of the year) was given for realisation the pledges, as Lukashenka had given promises before, but hadn’t fulfil them.

    There are suggestions that Moscow has paid with a loan for silence on the western direction before the presidential election in Russia. Lukashenka, satisfied with the loan and low gas price, won’t make unflattering remarks in the address of the Kremlin, and threaten Europe to cut gas.

    There is also an opinion that the 1.5 billion credit is payment for political support and military protection “on the Western Front”. It’s not an occasion that Lukashenka declared that “Belarus stands ready to play its part in the issue of probable deployment elements of the US anti-missile system in Europe and coordinate its actions with Russia in the frames of Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe.”

    Moreover, Russia could change its tactics towards Belarus. The dependence can be not only energy, but also financial one. The local observers suppose the money received can save the situation in the Belarusian economy only in the short-run. They will only worsen its state in the long-term perspective, and it means the received credit can become some kind of mousetrap.