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Belarus, Russia Presidents sign joint statement after talks in Minsk
|Ceremonial welcome for President of Russia Vladimir Putin, 14 December 2007|
The document states the importance of strengthening Belarus-Russia cooperation in trade and economic and energy areas based on the principles of sovereign equality, market economy, mutual benefits and interests.
Belarus and Russia have urged the prompt creation of the customs union, highly efficient joint manufactures and deepening of industrial cooperation.
The statement underlines the necessity to implement the documents that determine the freedom of movement, the choice of the place of residence and living for the Belarusians and Russians on the territory of the two countries.
After the session of the Union State Supreme State Council, the two sides signed a Belarusian-Russian intergovernmental agreement on equal conditions in the railway pricing policy.
In the presence of the two presidents, the Belarusian and Russian Prime Ministers signed an agreement on cooperation in production and deliveries of medicaments.
Alexander Lukashenko praises Belarus-Russia integration collaboration
Belarus and Russia have reached a high level of integration collaboration, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in Minsk on December 14 as he opened a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State.
“Relations between the two countries have reached the highest level of integration collaboration enabling the parties to take joint actions, consciously handing over some national authority for the sake of resolution of common tasks,” he said.
It is the goal that efforts of the Supreme State Council and other bodies of the Union State are aimed at, stressed Alexander Lukashenko.
In his words, Union State agencies always pay attention to issues concerning securing rights of citizens, their social guarantees, pensions, healthcare and education. “We push for creating ideal conditions for market participants of the two sides,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
The President of Belarus noted, the existing pace of development of the trade and economic cooperation between the two countries testifies to the growing real manufacturing collaboration in industrial, scientific, technical, trade and economic, and regional cooperation.
Vladimir Putin: no increase in energy prices for Belarus above contract prices
Russia is not going to raise energy prices for Belarus above those fixed in the contracts signed between the two countries, President of Russia Vladimir Putin told journalists in Minsk on December 14.
“Prices for energy resources will not be increased for Belarusian partners. Gazprom will remain committed to the contracts signed last year,” Vladimir Putin underlined. Thus, an increase in energy prices will stay within the limits of the contracts signed last year.
Vladimir Putin noted that Russia understands the difficulties facing Europe, including Belarus, and assured that the Russian side would do its best to minimize consequences of the increase in gas prices.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin believes that more vigorous efforts should be exercised to form the common economic space of Belarus and Russia and remove the remaining trade barriers between the two countries.
“I hope today as issues on the agenda of the Union’s Supreme State Council (SSC) session are discussed, we will be united by an urge towards taking more energetic steps with a view to forming the common economic space, creating a full-fledged Customs Union, removing the remaining trade barriers,” Vladimir Putin stressed during the session of the Supreme State Council.
In his words, the issues were discussed in quite a detail during the narrow-format meeting of the two presidents the same day. Utilising the accumulated experience and Union State policies adapted to the modern reality of the global economy is important for advancing in this area. The approach could allow essentially building up economic ties between Belarus and Russia, creating additional possibilities for reaching social and economic development goals, said the Russian head of state.
He also added, the SSC session would have to table the development of foreign policy cooperation between Belarus and Russia. Vladimir Putin remarked, cooperation in this area successfully advances on the basis of the programme for coordinated foreign-policy actions of the member-states of the Union State Treaty. The Presidents intend to issue instructions to develop a draft similar programme for 2008-2009.
Among other issues on the agenda Vladimir Putin mentioned filling the positions of the Chairman and Co-Chairman of the Union State Border Committee, awarding of Union State prizes for literature and arts for 2007-2008.
Belarus, Russia sign economic cooperation achievement memorandum
Belarus and Russia have signed a memorandum on the present stage of the bilateral economic cooperation development. The document underscores the importance of fulfilling bilateral obligations by Belarus and Russia, in particular, obligations outlined by the Belarusian-Russian intergovernmental agreement on measures for promoting trade and economic cooperation and the Belarusian-Russian intergovernmental agreement on measures for regulating the trade and economic cooperation in the sphere of oil and petroleum products. The sides confirm their adherence to the Union State Foundation Treaty of December 8, 1999.
The memorandum also expresses satisfaction with positive changes and consistent development of relations between Belarus and Russia, points out the further enhancement of the Belarusian-Russian integration collaboration in the economic sphere.
The document also underscores the importance of fulfilling the contract OAO Gazprom and OAO Beltransgaz signed on December 31, 2006 to stipulate gas supplies to and transit via Belarus in 2007-2011.
Belarus prepared for talks with Russia on all issues
Belarus is prepared for talks with Russia on all issues, Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko said during a face-to-face meeting with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.
According to yesterday’s agreement with Vladimir Putin, first there will be a one-to-one meeting, and then a session of the Union State Supreme State Council which will consider 12 issues. “We will do this work in a prompt manner and settle all the issues,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The Belarusian Head of State said he was surprised at the stir which Vladimir Putin’s official visit to Belarus caused in the West. In this connection, he said there was no hidden agenda behind the visit: “We meet here in Minsk as friendly allied countries. It would have been surprising if the President of Russia had not paid an official visit to Belarus.”
“While in Dushanbe, we noted the fact that we always met in a working format and you had never been to Minsk on an official visit,” Alexander Lukashenko said to Vladimir Putin.
The President of Belarus stressed that a lot of issues ranging from defence, security of the Union State to economic and social issues will be discussed today. “We are not hiding these issues from anyone. Our agreements will be announced today at a news conference,” the President said.
Session of Union State Supreme State Council opens in Minsk
Preceding a session of the Union State Supreme State Council was a one-to-one meeting between Presidents of Belarus and Russian Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin which lasted for more than four hours.
The agenda of the session includes 12 issues, BelTA has been told in the press service of the Belarusian president. They include the 2008 draft budget of the Union State, trade and economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia in 2006 and in H1 2007, implementation of the plan of 2006-2007 joint action in foreign policy of the states-parties to the Union State Treaty.
State Secretary of the Union State Pavel Borodin is expected to inform the participants of the session about the nominees for the Union State prizes in literature and arts in 2007-2008.
The agenda also include the issues related to the chairman and co-chairman of the Union State Border Committee.
The 2008 Union State budget is projected at RUB 4 billion, up 10% over 2007. The priority will be given to financing joint projects in industry, energy, construction, military and technical cooperation, social policy, law-enforcement activities and security of the Union State. A total of 38 programmes, sub-programmes will be financed from the budget in 2008.
Belarus-Russia trade to hit $23bn in 2007
According to the projections, the trade between Belarus and Russia will exceed $23 billion in 2007, Vasily Khrol, a Deputy State Secretary of the Union State, told a press conference in Moscow on December 12.
Since the founding of the Union State the trade between Belarus and Russia has quadrupled from $5,2 billion in 1995 to $19,9 billion in 2006. In January-September this year, the Belarusian–Russian trade reached $18,1 billion, up 22.8% over the same period last year.
Belarus maintains trade and economic operations with 80 regions of the Russian Federation. Moscow and Moscow region, St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, Tiumen, Smolensk, Nizhny Novgorod, Sverdlovsk, Vologda and Yarslavl regions account for 74.7% of the Belarus-Russia trade.
According to Vasily Khrol, the integration between Belarus and Russia have been growign stronger. “Despite some difficulties the two countries have been making progress in the formation of the Union State which will become the basis for further socio-economic development of the two countries,” Vasily Khrol said.
Foreign Ministry: Belarus’ economic sector continues posting upward trends
Within the period Belarus’ GDP has been annually increasing by more than 7% on average. This year GDP is projected to grow by 8.5% or more, Valery Voronetsky said.
The Belarusian economy is rather open. Export supplies account for about 60% of GDP.
Valery Voronetsky took note of the increasing share of the European countries in the Belarusian export structure: over the past ten years it has increased more than 18 times. The trade turnover with the European Union has risen over seven times. Besides, in 1994 Belarus had a trade deficit with the EU countries to the tune of $1 billion and in 2006 – a $4 billion trade surplus.
According to the Deputy Foreign Minister, “Belarus considers the European Union as its main partners, which leaves behind the Russian Federation in terms of the export of goods and services.”
Russia to give $1.5bn loan to Belarus
Russia will give a $1.5 billion loan to Belarus, President of Russia Vladimir Putin said after a session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State in Minsk on December 14.
“To ensure smooth transition of the bilateral cooperation to market principles, taking into account the mandatory fulfilment of agreements and contracts both the parties signed earlier, Russia decided to give a state credit as large as $1.5 billion to Belarus,” said Vladimir Putin.
According to the available information the loan will be provided for 15 years at Libor plus 0.75%, with the payment postponed by five years.
Belarusian bonds can be floated in Russian market in H1 2008
Belarusian bonds can be floated in the Russian market in H1 2008, Russia’s VTB chairman and CEO Andrei Kostin told reporters in Minsk.
The parameters of the bonds are not known yet; much will depend on the state of the market, Andrei Kostin said.
According to him, a big work has been done already. “The solution of this issue is in the final stage. We will proceed from the needs of the Belarusian side and the situation
Assets of Belarus’ banks to triple over next three years, Piotr Prokopovich says
Assets of the Belarusian banking system will triple in the next three years, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus Piotr Prokopovich told reporters on December 14.
“We would like foreign investors to take part in this process. Therefore we will encourage their inflow into the banking system,” he said.
The head of the National Bank is sure that not only Russian capital but also the capital from Arab countries, Iran and China will come to the Belarusian banking sector in the near future. He also noted an active work on attracting capital of western banks.
“The demand for banking services has growing and will keep on growing. Therefore foreign banks are interested in working in Belarus,” Piotr Prokopovich.
Belarus elected to Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme
BelTA learnt from Alexander Rachevsky, Head of the International Department of the Belarusian Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry, Belarus’ election testifies to the active participation of the country in various international environmental actions. The Republic of Belarus has signed over 20 conventions aimed at decreasing pollutant exhausts. Belarus has acceded to the Kyoto Protocol, Stockholm Convention, Antarctic Treaty and other documents and fulfils its obligations, he said. Besides, the country constantly provides information about results of its environmental efforts to international organisations, takes part in implementing global ecological projects.
Alexander Rachevsky said, Belarus’ membership in the UNEP Governing Council will allow taking part in important decision-making, in consideration and approval of programmes involving resources of the Council’s ecological fund, in shaping national and international environmental policies, coordinating UN ecological programmes.
The Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme was founded in line with a resolution of the UN General Assembly on December 15, 1972. The body includes 58 countries. The Council puts efforts into protecting important natural objects, fights against various kinds of harmful environmental impact, promotes rational use of natural resources and the foundation of a global reference service for monitoring the environment as well as the development of an international legal base for environmental protection.
Russia, Belarus Downplay Merger Talk
|Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin seen during their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Friday, Dec. 14, 2007. Belarus' president on Friday dismissed speculation that his two days of meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin were aimed at unifying the two countries.|
Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Belarus stoked speculation that he could press for the creation of a unified state and maintain power by taking a job that would place him above the two nations' presidents after he leaves Russia's presidency next year.
A more obvious alternative is to become Russia's prime minister — a job proposed by Dmitry Medvedev, the official just anointed as Putin's favored successor.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's office said last week that a draft constitution for a unified country's government would be part of the agenda. But the Kremlin denied Thursday that the talks would touch upon a draft constitution, and Lukashenko dampened expectations Friday by saying that the talks weren't going to produce any extraordinary results.
"I was surprised that this visit has caused all this uproar in the West. There is no wider meaning here," he said.
Former Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich said he believes Putin and Lukashenko "disagreed on the price" for a merger.
"Putin apparently didn't want it that much, and Lukashenko's price was too high," Shushkevich told The Associated Press.
After meeting together for more than four hours, Putin and Lukashenko chaired a broader session of top officials from the two nations, who discussed ways to strengthen political, economic and military ties.
Lukashenko said Russia and Belarus must cooperate on foreign policy issues and plan a coordinated response to the planned U.S. missile defense system in Europe that both oppose.
"The issue of strengthening cooperation on foreign policy is particularly important," Putin said.
A senior Russian general said last month that Moscow could provide Belarus with short-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads as part of the Kremlin's response to U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russia and Belarus signed a union agreement in 1996 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties, but efforts to achieve a full merger have foundered.
In the 1990s, Lukashenko pushed for the creation of a single state, apparently hoping to take the reins from Russia's ailing President Boris Yeltsin. Putin's election in 2000 demolished Lukashenko's hopes to rule both countries.
Two years later the Belarusian leader angrily rejected a Kremlin proposal for incorporating his nation into Russia. In a blow to Belarus' Soviet-style economy, Russia this year doubled natural gas prices for Belarus — though the price still is lower than for other foreign customers.
The two nations have been locked in tense talks over the price for gas for next year, and they are expected to reach a deal on a Russian loan that would help Belarus cope with a higher price.
Belarus offers Russia help over U.S. missile shield
In a related story, Belarus offered to help Russian President Vladimir Putin resist U.S. plans for a missile defence shield in Eastern Europe on Friday, boosting the Kremlin's campaign against what it sees as Western military expansion.
The two neighbours also patched up a row over gas supplies that had soured relations, with Russia saying the price for the gas it sells to Belarus would rise only modestly next year and offering a $1.5 billion loan to cover the increase.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko did not say what form his country's help on the defence shield might take, but a Russian general last month suggested deploying missiles in Belarus in retaliation for the proposed U.S. missile shield.
"Belarus is ready to play its role in the issues of planned deployment in Europe of U.S. missile defence systems," Lukashenko said at a summit with Putin.
Lukashenko, barred entry to most Western countries because of his record on democracy, has joined Russia in criticising the missile shield plan. His country is strategically attractive to the Russian military because it borders several NATO states.
The Belarus leader also said he would work with Russia on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, which limits weapons levels on either side of the old Iron Curtain.
Moscow this week froze its obligations under the treaty, and policymakers say they cannot rule out boosting weapons levels on Russia's western borders if NATO countries do not heed its concerns about the treaty.
Gazprom sets price limit at 119 dollars for Belarus: spokesman
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kuprianov made the announcement on Echo of Moscow radio, saying it met with the conditions of the contract signed in December 31, 2006.
In comparision, gas prices in the first quarter of this year were at 100 dollars per 1,000 cubic meters.
In late 2006 relations between Moscow and Minsk soured over an sudden increase in gas prices.
Until then the former Soviet state had benefitted from a special price, which had been a key way for Moscow to show support for Belarus's authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Belarus is again on Moscow's good side after Lukashenko, a political pariah in the European Union and the United States, told Putin at a summit Friday that Minsk backed Russia's opposition to US plans to install part of a missile defence shield in eastern Europe.
Putin reassured Lukashenko that Russia would not raise prices for natural gas, also promising there would be no obstacles to delivery of Russian supplies this winter through Belarus to the European Union.
Belarusian Activist Says Beating Linked To U.S. Trip
Following the incident, the United States has warned Belarus that it may extend sanctions against Belarus due to lack of progress in allowing democratic freedoms.
Zmitser Fedaruk, fresh from the U.S. trip last week, was beaten by police on December 12 while participating in a peaceful protest ahead of a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Witnesses have said the acting head of the Malady (Youth) Front was knocked unconscious by police and taken away from the rally in an ambulance.
Fedaruk, speaking to RFE/RL's Belarus Service by telephone on December 13, said he believes he was singled out because of his recent meetings with the U.S. president and lawmakers.
"I think my beating was linked to my trip to America. There were many indications of that," Fedaruk said.
"I was deliberately pushed behind the OMON [special police] cordon and there, separated from the demonstrators, knocked down and beaten. And then they threw me back, saying something like, 'Take your man back, he made a nice trip to America.'"
Fedaruk and about 200 others had assembled on the eve of a visit by President Putin to protest a possible merger between Belarus and Russia. There have been reports that such a merger might be on the agenda of the talks in Minsk between Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
During a press briefing in Minsk on December 13, U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart condemned the Belarusian authorities' actions against Fedaruk and participants of other recent protests.(Watch her statement.)
"These brutal actions reverse what little progress had been made by the authorities in allowing peaceful protests. The Department of State in Washington has expressed my government's deep concern for all of these individuals, and we call on the Belarusian officials to ensure that all necessary medical care is given to those in need," Stewart said.
She said that in the continued absence of progress on the part of Belarusian authorities, "the United States prepares to take further steps against other state enterprises."
Following the Belarusian authorities' targeting of opposition supporters following the 2006 presidential election in which Lukashenka was elected to a third term in office, the United States and the European Union placed travel bans on Lukashenka and other government officials.
Fedaruk said from his hospital bed during his telephone interview with RFE/RL that he appreciates the support he has received.
"I'm very grateful to my friends in the United States who have spoken in my defense and condemned [these] actions of the regime. I was not the only victim; another young man, Zmitser, had one leg broken, and a girl, Palina, had a finger broken," Fedaruk said. "Many returned home from [the December 12] rally with bumps. I was taken to the hospital and was able to speak again normally only today."
Earlier on December 14, the U.S. State Department condemned the use of "brutal force" against protesters and accused Belarusian police of "specifically targeting" Fedaruk when they dispersed the rally, leading to his hospitalization "with serious injuries." "This incident is another in a long series of repressive acts by the Belarusian authorities against their own citizens," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The violent suppression of the demonstration also prompted an angry response from Congressman Alcee Hastings, the chairman of the U.S. government Helsinki Commission (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe) before which Fedaruk testified as part of a Belarusian opposition delegation visiting Washington last week.
"Unfortunately, the intimidation and abuse by [President] Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime does not seem to be coming to an end anytime soon," Hastings said in a statement. "My colleagues and I on the Helsinki Commission are determined to stand by young Mr. Fedaruk and all those in Belarus -- young and old -- struggling for freedom, democracy, and respect for human rights."
U.S. may extend sanctions on Belarus firms: ambassador
Last month Washington barred Americans from doing business with oil producer Belneftekhim, and, like the European Union, it has denied entry to President Alexander Lukashenko and dozens of officials on the grounds he rigged his re-election last year.
"As we have observed no progress from Belarussian authorities, the United States is ready to undertake further moves against state enterprises...," ambassador Karen Stewart told a news conference.
"This will concern state enterprises controlled by people who are responsible for infringements of democracy in Belarus."
Washington says Belarus holds political prisoners and denies civic rights.
Stewart gave no time frame for further punitive measures and did not identify companies which might be targeted. But she suggested the measures could be directed against companies controlled by Belneftekhim.
Belneftekhim controls two oil refineries in Belarus, the Belaruskaliy potash plant and a number of chemical plants which bring in much of the country's foreign exchange earnings.
Belarussian exports to the United States totaled $255 million in the first eight months of the year, with 90 percent of that figure attributable to chemical and oil products.
Stewart discounted any idea of applying sanctions against a joint venture being launched with Venezuela intended to extract 900,000 metric tons of oil annually. Belarussian authorities control 40 percent of the venture that intends to sell the Venezuelan-produced oil on the U.S. market.
Belarus has a long-standing plan to form a post-Soviet merged state with Russia, but Lukashenko quarreled with the Kremlin this year over steep price increases for imports of Russian energy and called for better ties with the EU.
The 27-nation EU has made warmer relations contingent on improvements in Belarus's human rights record including a free press, freedom of assembly and the freeing of what it says are political prisoners.
"The United States, like the European Union, continues to hope that Belarussian authorities will free political prisoners," Stewart said.
Ambassador: US sanctions against Belarusian petrochemical conglomerate had «psychological effect»
In a related story, US Ambassador Karen Stewart said that Washington’s sanctions targeting the Belarusian State Petrochemical Industry Concern (Belnaftakhim) had “at least a psychological effect.”
The US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control imposed the financial sanctions on November 13 by freezing any assets under US jurisdiction belonging to Belnaftakhim. The sanctions also bar US citizens from doing business with the concern, and apply to its offices in Germany, Latvia, Ukraine, Russia, China, and its wholly owned US subsidiary, Belnaftakhim USA.
The move to introduce the sanctions is evidence of “how seriously we take the development of democracy” in Belarus and shows “what is lost and what could be gained in our relationship,” the ambassador told reporters in Minsk on December 13.
She stressed that the sanctions had not affected trade between Belarus and the United States in general.
Ms. Stewart noted that Washington’s economic sanctions were not meant to “generally hurt people of Belarus” but rather targeted certain officials.
In particular, she said, 30 top executives with Belarusian state-run companies have been denied entry to the United States since this past August.
Ms. Stewart said that economic sanctions against a Belarusian-Venezuelan company producing crude oil in the Latin American country were unlikely.
Swiss citizen has quick rethink on political asylum in Belarus
From: Ria Novosti
The Russian Noviye Izvestiya paper reported on Friday that the young man, whose name has not been released, arrived at the Belarus' border with Poland in a Lada, the Soviet and Russian economy car, almost two weeks ago.
The former Soviet republic of Belarus has been ruled by self-styled "man of the people" Alexander Lukashenko since 1994. The authoritarian leader has maintained a Soviet-style economy and encouraged nostalgia for the U.S.S.R., with Lenin statues a common sight throughout the country.
When questioned by border guards as to his lack of a visa, the Swiss dissident said that he wanted to apply for political asylum. To further prove his devotion to socialist ideology, he opened the boot of his car to reveal the complete works of Lenin, the father of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Shocked border guards directed him to an immigration center in Brest, where, after a few days of serious consideration, migration officials began drawing up documents to grant the Swiss citizen political asylum.
However, before the documents were ready, the would-be political refugee had a change of mind, and asked to be sent home.
"He simply asked us to let him leave," a source at the immigration center said. The man then left in his Lada.
There has been no explanation as to why he decided to rethink his application, or, come to that, why he decided to lodge it in the first place.
Switzerland was ranked the third richest country in the world in 2006, with a GNP per capita of around $50,000. Belarus was in 82nd place, with less than $4,000.
Youth Symphonic Orchestra to give great concert during Day of Unity of Belarus and Russia in 2008
|The international figure skating tournament “Golden Lynx-2007” in Gomel concluded with a gala exhibition|
The names of the participants of the 1st Youth Symphonic Orchestra of the Union State have been already known. The laureates of the 2nd International Mikhail Elsky’s Contest of String Instruments’ Players that has held in Minsk recently will be among the musicians of the orchestra.
The development of the regional cooperation is one of the priority trends of the cooperation of Belarus and Russia, Vladimir Rylatko noted. The programmes of the Days of Culture contribute to it. In 2008, the Belarusian culture will be presented in Karelia, Krasnoyarsk and Kaliningrad. Russian regions will be also presented in Belarus.
Minsk to host exhibition of Chinese silk
For the first time Minsk will host an exhibition of the Chinese silk. It will feature more than 100 products made of silk. As BelTA learnt from the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Belarus, the exposition will be opened from December 12 till January 13 in the National History and Culture Museum of Belarus.
Since ancient times China has been producing silk goods. Today it uses state-of-the-art machines and equipment instead of manual labour for this purpose. However, the skill level of manufacturers and embroidery masters remains extremely high.
Minsk to hold Venezuela Day in 2008
Minsk will host the Day of Venezuela in 2008. The event will be held during the Venezuelan participation in the Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk.
The Venezuelan dancing ensemble will perform in Vitebsk and the major art presentation will be held in Minsk on the Day of Venezuela, First Deputy Culture Minister Vladimir Rylatko told BelTA while commenting on the Belarusian-Venezuelan agreement on cooperation in the cultural sphere. The document was signed during the official visit of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to Caracas.
According to Vladimir Rylatko, the agreement embraces a wide spectrum of Belarus-Venezuela interaction including an exchange of experience in education. Belarusian specialists are going to help Venezuela in constructing the first university of culture. “Special attention is turned to the cooperation in music, fine arts, librarianship and folklore,” the First Deputy Minister noted.
The concert of Belarusian artists held during the National Expo in Caracas contributed greatly to the cultural relations of the two countries. Belarusians performed in one of the best Latin American concert halls - Teatr? Teresa Carreno. Venezuelan people were extremely pleased with the performance of Dmitry Kacharovsky, Irina Dorofeeva, soloist of the National Academic Opera Theatre Elena Shvedova, accordionist Alexander Shuvalov, a young singer Andrei Kunets, the ensembles Khoroshki, Beseda, Verasy, Chistyi Golos.
Foreign commentators welcome Medvedev nomination
From: Ria Novosti
The Times newspaper said President Vladimir Putin's decision to publicly express his support for 42-year-old Medvedev as a candidate for the March 2 presidential elections was a wise decision.
"Vladimir Putin has made a wise choice by endorsing Dmitry Medvedev as his successor to become President of Russia in elections to be held in early March next year," Richard Beeston, diplomatic editor of The Times, wrote on Monday.
He added, however, that Medvedev's soft-spoken character would allow Putin to remain the power behind the throne.
"Of importance to Mr Putin, a Medvedev presidency would allow his present boss to continue to play a strong role in Russia's leadership, either as Prime Minister or at the head of the United Russia party, the country's dominant political force," he said.
The Financial Times quoted Russian officials as saying Medvedev was a popular figure among Russian liberals and the West.
"Despite chairing Gazprom, the natural gas group often seen as a symbol of Putinist state-dominated capitalism, he is seen as an economic liberal. One senior Kremlin liberal this year told the Financial Times: 'The liberal wing supports him. He has the right kind of views on democracy, on freedom of the press, on the market."
The daily also referred to Alexander Voloshin, who Medvedev succeeded as chief of the Kremlin administration in 2003, as saying once, "Mr Voloshin - who remained an adviser to the young Mr Medvedev - is understood to have told U.S. officials last year that Mr Medvedev would be a palatable choice for the west."
Another U.K. daily, The Guardian, commented on Medvedev's lack of links to Russian security services, "Unlike Putin, Medvedev has no links with the security services. The president, who has to step down in May, has made it clear he intends to 'influence' his successor, and has not ruled out returning to the Kremlin at some point."
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, said Medvedev had co-chaired the committee for organizing the Year of Russia in China and the Year of China in Russia, and that he had made a substantial contribution to bilateral relations.
"We see First Deputy Prime Minister Medvedev as a good friend of the Chinese people who seriously promoted Chinese-Russian relations," Qin Gang said.
Japanese experts said Putin's declared support for Medvedev in the upcoming presidential race had the goal of putting a controllable man at the helm of the country.
Kenro Nagoshi, the director of the Foreign News section at newswire service Jiji Press, said "on the one hand, Medvedev is a yes-man who would do anything Putin wants him to, but on the other, he is the same young technocrat as Putin was once."
Nagoshi said Medvedev was softer and more democratic than other potential candidates, and therefore Russia's relations with the West, above all the United States, could significantly improve with him as president. But the expert warned Medvedev might clash with the so called siloviki, an influential grouping of secret service officials within the Kremlin.
Shigeki Hakamada, professor of the Aoyama Gakuin University, concurred with his colleagues that Medvedev lacked Putin's firmness and is unlikely to put up any resistance to the current president. Yet, his selection clearly signally to the West that Russia is looking to intensify bilateral economic ties.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Medvedev stood apart from other members of the Russian government because he had managed to keep away from "the increasing confrontation between various political groupings." His work, until now, has been described in the press as "safe" and "calm," which has prevented him from winning too many enemies.
The New York Times said that Medvedev's lack of links to the Russian security services indicates that he will be a "weak figure," and cited Nikolai Zlobin from Washington's World Security Institute as saying: "Everything that Medvedev has is owed to Putin. There is no Medvedev without Putin."
This suggestion was rejected by Russian political analyst Gleb Pavlovsky, who said that Putin would not appoint a "puppet" calling the idea "absurd."
Pavlovsky said: "Putin looks at the presidential post with great respect. He thinks that a weak person should not take this post. I can tell you definitely that if he had suspected that Medvedev was a weak person, he would have never considered him as a candidate."
Medvedevka could rival Putinka in vodka sales
From: Ria Novosti
First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was nominated on Monday by the ruling United Russia party as a presidential candidate, and his candidacy was later backed by President Vladimir Putin. Given Putin's popularity and support of most of the legislature, his endorsement of his longtime ally is likely to guarantee Medvedev the presidency.
The Kauffman distillery applied - two days after his nomination - to register the vodka 'Volodya I Medvedi,' or 'Volodya and the Bears', an apparent reference to the diminutive version of Putin's first name and Medvedev's surname, which comes from the Russian world 'medved' meaning 'bear,' the respected business paper Vedomosti said.
The paper also said that Kauffman was not the first distillery to apply to launch vodka brands featuring the politician's surname, adding that another company had requested permission to register the brands 'Tsar Medved', or 'Tsar Bear', and 'Medvedevka.'
Vedomosti said some far-sighted beverage distributors had already staked their bets on Medvedev two years ago when he was appointed first deputy prime minister. The Medvedevka name, it reported, was initially registered by Marisa-torg, and subsequently sold on several times to other distributors. It is currently owned by a leading Russian distillery, Kristall.
A Kristall top official refused to say whether or not the company would produce vodka under the name.
Yevgeny Boichenko, head of the MBA marketing program at the Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS, told the newspaper that any reference to well-known politicians promises greater revenues for a range of products, but especially alcohol.
'Putinka' vodka was launched in late 2003, three years after Putin came to power, and gained 2.7% of the market within a year. In 2006, the product accounted for 4.4% of the Russian alcohol market, which was estimated at $15 billion, Vedomosti reported.
"As long as Russia toys with the idea of a good tsar, using presidents' names [for product names] will be an advantage," BrandLab managing director, Alexander Yeryomenko, told the paper.
However, the analyst said Putin would remain a strong political figure after he steps down as president, and that 'Putinka' could sell better than 'Medvedevka'.
Medvedev's press secretary, Zhanna Odintsova, could not comment on the first deputy premier's attitude to the use of his name on vodka bottles.
Polish police detain 29 suspected of spreading child pornography
Officers searched 32 homes and offices nationwide, seizing 34 computers, 24 hard drives, more than 5,000 CDs and DVDs, along with floppy discs and video cassettes containing pictures of naked children, Poland's national police said in a statement.
Eleven people have been charged with possessing and distributing child pornography, police spokeswoman Agnieszka Hamelusz said. The rest are still being questioned.
In a similar operation carried out two months ago, Polish police arrested 55 people suspected of distributing child pornography.
Suspects face up to five years in prison for the possession of child pornography, and up to nine years in jail for distributing such material, if convicted.
Soccer corruption trial begins in Poland
From: canadian press
The defendants are linked to the Arka Gdynia second division club and face charges of offering and accepting bribes and membership of an organized criminal group.
The alleged ringleader, identified only as Ryszard F. under Polish privacy laws, faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted by a provincial court in the southwestern city of Wroclaw.
He was detained last year on charges of fixing first and second-league matches from 2000-06 and accepting an equivalent of 100,000 euros (C$146,746). He has confessed to accepting a bribe once and witnessing one other such case.
The other suspects face up to five years imprisonment.
Many of them are also suspects in investigations of match-rigging by other soccer clubs.
Prosecutors, who have been investigating the allegations since 2005, said over 400 domestic matches were fixed.
Last week, the Wroclaw court handed verdicts of suspended prison terms ranging from three to seven years in a deal with 17 other soccer officials, who pleaded guilty without trial. They were also ordered to pay back the accepted bribes.
Poland and Ukraine will jointly host the 2012 European Championship.
ANALYSIS-Tymoshenko's past haunts bid for Ukraine PM post
Her passionate speeches during the 2004 "Orange" revolution fuelled protests for weeks and helped to sweep President Viktor Yushchenko to power after a re-run of a fraudulent election.
But the same fiery rhetoric caused mayhem among her allies, made relations with Russia difficult and spooked investors with calls for a review of state sell-offs and interference in markets. Yushchenko sacked her after just seven months.
A possible second stab at the job worries investors, unsure whether she and her allies, who hold a tiny majority in parliament, could push through urgent reforms to underpin an economy powered by high global steel prices.
"There is trepidation within the business community," a senior business source said. "Will she interfere in markets as she had a tendency to do in the past or will she be able to get people to coalesce around her and get something done?"
The former Soviet state's economy has absorbed big yearly gas price rises from Russia and grown by about 7 percent in recent years. Some service sectors, such as banking, have developed and Ukrainians are spending their rising wages.
But the heavy industry on which the economy depends needs modernisation and corruption persists at all levels.
And it is still difficult to separate business and politics. All major parties have oligarch backers and any businessman worth his salt sits in parliament, including Ukraine's richest man Rinat Akhmetov, or has interests represented in it.
Parliament is to vote again on Tymoshenko's candidacy after she fell one vote short on Tuesday, despite a reconciled coalition of her bloc and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party holding a two-seat majority in the chamber.
Some analysts say Tymoshenko, a former gas magnate turned social crusader, has learnt her lesson.
"There is no reason to expect any emotional moves from her... There are no grounds to expect new calls for mass reprivatisation as in 2005," said Yuri Yakimenko, analyst at the Razumkov Centre think-tank.
"Her government will stress increasing budget revenues from sources like customs and privatisation so she can fulfil promises in the social sphere."
Her immediate priority would be to redraft the 2008 budget after Kiev agreed to a higher than expected gas price rise from Gazprom to $179.50 per 1,000 cubic metres from $130.
Most think Tymoshenko, who accused Moscow of politicising gas talks and denounced a supply intermediary, would not renegotiate prices but wonder about possible future outbursts. "There are slightly higher political risks here ... She did say she'd have to review the situation. But really, the Ukrainian government would have very little scope to change the pricing," ING analyst Igor Kurinnyy said.
Europe is careful to limit damage from energy rows between Russia and Ukraine, transit route for most of Russia's gas to Europe, as Moscow weans ex-Soviet states off subsidised prices.
Analysts say a new government must improve the business climate, by clarifying land ownership and tax laws, overhauling the judicial system and eliminating corruption. But even if she gets through, many wonder if her majority will be solid enough.
"This dooms her government, making it unstable," said Vitaly Nebozhenko, head of the Barometer think-tank.
Some said were it not for power games, especially among affluent members of parliament, deputies from Tymoshenko's coalition and outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich's Regions party could agree on business issues.
"At the end of the day, they are going to ask themselves "Are my pockets full enough?," the business source said.
"If their pockets are full enough, they can start looking out for the country, but until there is that concept, we will be in the same cycle of personal gain we have seen for 16 years."
Russia, an Uncivilized Nation, must be OUT of the G-7
From: publius pundit
Last Sunday, a blog in Finland began circulating an appeal for financial support for a 22-year-old Russian named Yuri Chervochkin, a member of the "Other Russia" opposition group run by Garry Kasparov who had been brutally beaten by Ministry of Interior goons on November 22nd in the town of Serpukhov, about 100 kilometers south of Moscow, in the course of his efforts to support opposition groups in the coming Duma elections. Specifically, he was promoting a protest march that was to occur on November 24th.
But word did not get out soon enough. On December 12th, the Moscow Times reported that Chervochkin had succumbed to his injuries on Monday, December 10th and passed from the Earth. He had never regained consciousness. Other Russia reported that Chervochkin had been repeatedly threatened by Interior Ministry "police" to stop his organizing activities, a common occurrence among opposition party members, and that the authorities were impeding the family's efforts to bury their son, saying they intended to hold the body in the morgue indefinitely.
And then came the final outrage. Today, the Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin's police forces intervened to interrupt a bus full of Other Russia's leadership en route to Chervochkin's funeral, and then besmeared the event itself with their presence: "Half a dozen riot policemen wielding submachine guns stopped the buses, carrying members of the Other Russia opposition movement, at a checkpoint just outside Moscow. Denis Bilunov, an activist with the United Civil Front, which is part of The Other Russia, said the wake was very tense, as riot police stood by, smirking and talking, while people mourned Chervochkin. 'It was absolutely a disgrace the way they acted,' Bilunov said." Shown above is the funeral procession for this young Russian patriot.
The Times of London reported yesterday that Vladimir Putin has ordered the UK cultural institution The British Council to close its doors in Russia -- an act so far taken by only two other nations in the world, Burma and Iran. It's an act of cold war, retaliating for Britain's aggressive inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, which the Kremlin is obstructing. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, justifiably outraged, called the Kremlin's action "totally unacceptable."
On top of that, the Associated Press is now reporting that yet another opposition activist has been seized by the authorities and chucked into an insane asylum, an event that will come as little surprise to Publius Pundit readers.
What more proof could anyone possibly ask for than this sordid tale of barbarity as evidence that U.S. Senator John McCain is right when he says Russia must be evicted from the G-7 group of civilized Western democracies?
From: The Accidental Russophile
Dmitry Medvedev is the man.
So what does this mean? I very much doubt it will affect any change in the direction of Russia, Inc. In fact, Medvedev's strong business experience and persona lend itself to Russia as the emerging corporate state, a nation that is run like a business. Most analysts tend to cast Medvedev as a liberal - I think this is a mistake. He simply isn't the sort of Russian man who shoots his mouth off to show what a real man he truly is. He's another sort. I also disagree with analysts such as Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation, who says
"The choice of Medvedev...reflects Putin's desire to have the most obedient figure. Putin views Medvedev as a subordinate on whose loyalty he can count."
Putin has no need for a trained dog. Subordinate seems like an inappropriate word here. Trust in politics is a fleeting thing. It seems unlikely that Medvedev will conduct his business any differently now than he has in the past. And business would seem to be the most appropriate word - this will be business as usual for Russia, Inc.
But, alas, I am afraid the days of juicy quotes like they should keep their booger-noses out of our business or You must obey the law, always, not only when they grab you by your special place or He raped 10 women. I never expected it from him. He surprised all of us. We envy him or We’ll follow terrorists everywhere. We will corner the bandits in the toilet and wipe them out. Medvedev won't lend himself to the easy, knee-jerk, "He's a fascist" kind of blogging. He doesn't appear to be so vain as to appear shirtless for photos while fishing with some prince. He is unlikely to kiss children on the belly.
In short, the man is a professional.
Poland slips down the index
The real shock is the FDI index – Poland has slipped from 5th to 22nd in just 12 months. India and China are the sexiest for the investor.
The consultancy that produces the report says emerging economies are the most attractive. Of ‘Eastern Europe’ it says:
- While executives see opportunity in Eastern Europe's lower labor costs and proximity to Western Europe, they remain concerned about corruption and the lack of reform in the region.
Now, the above sounds, of course, like a description of how critics see the performance of the previous PiS government.
From Poland with love
Another index, this time the Migration Integration Policy Index, produced by a Very Big Brussels Think Tank, doesn’t rank Poland too highly, either. Out of 28 European countries measured, Poland struggled in at number 21.
Ranked on anti-discrimination initiatives, access to the labour market, etc, Poland falls down on its …migration, integration, policy.
The above are both examples of how the previous government alienated the rest of...well, Planet Earth, quite frankly. It was a bit of, what they call in the trade, A Big PR Balls Up.
Will the next government improve Poland’s battered image? Well, if the body language between Tusk and Frau Merkel was anything to go by when they met in Berlin yesterday, then things could get steamy!
But one cold shower for Tusk could be a sign of things to come. Coal miners are getting restless.
Another Case of Punitive Psychiatry in Russia
From the report: "A local psychiatric board agreed with police, who alleged that Basyrov had assaulted a girl, and concluded he was suffering from some mental illness. Basyrov was finally transferred from an isolation ward and allowed to have visitors on Thursday, said Mikhail Klyuzhev, a National Bolshevik member from the city of Yoshkar-Ola."
An op/ed on the subject by the Morning Journal frames the problem in exceptionally simple and clear language: "Freedom is every person's right, and no government should be able to deny that right because people speak freely in dissent. Putin's heavy-handed regime is violating the human rights of those who are being killed or being imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals. It is a terrible, tragic and dangerous step backward in history for Russians."
Let's keep our eyes on The Other Russia's vastly improved blog for more information.
Zmitser Khvedaruk: ‘They Hit Me in the Head with Knuckledusters’
According to Zmitser, everything happened very quickly. We were pushed out to Kupala alley. They pressed everybody further, to the stairs. I was torn out of the crowd and thrown behind the police cordon. After several hard blows in the head I fell on the ground. Then they started hitting me in the head with knuckledusters - they hit me about fifteen times and then walked over me. I lost consciousness and then don’t remember almost anything. I have come to my senses only today, but my head aches terribly.’
Today Zmitser was given a new diagnosis: numerous bruises and scratches, a light cranial trauma and brain concussion. He will spend in the hospital at least 10 days. It is quite surprising that yesterday the diagnosis also mentioned an injury of the abdominal tissues and a middle cranial trauma. ‘We will try to get an independent medical examination, may be with the assistance of our American friends’, said the co-chairman of the Belarusian Christian Democracy and a coordinator of the For Freedom movement Vital Rymasheuski, ‘because the diagnosis is evidently changed to hide the real circumstances and consequences of the beating’.
Today a complaint to the prosecutor’s office was composed. Zmitser signed it. He also said that at 5 a.m. a policeman came to his ward and ordered to write a complaint, but Zmitser refused referring to his bad health.
Answering the questions why it was him who was grabbed by the riot police, Khvedaruk answered that after his beating, the police told to other action participants something like: ‘Take away your comrade, it was a good trip to America for him’. ‘I think that my beating is connected to my trip to the US, the more that the police also beat Anatol Liabedzka, who was there together with us.’
Activists of the Young Front keep a twenty-four hour watch near Zmitser Khvedaruk. No wonder, because today the Belarusian state TV has tried to burst into his ward, but did not manage to do it because of the vigilant guards.
At present Zmitser is kept in clinical hospital #9 of Minsk, in the traumatic department, ward 314. Visits are allowed at 5-7p.m. Today he has been visited by other Young Front activists, the US ambassador Karen Stuart, the ambassador of Slovakia Lubomir Rehak, a former political prisoner Siarhei Skrabets, the co-chairmen of the Belarusian Christian Democracy Pavel Seviarynets and Aliaksei Shein, Dzianis Sadouski, Liudmila Hraznova and Ela Haretskaya.
Belarus scores first victory at IIHF U20 World Championship in Riga
The Belarusians were dominating the game with 63-65 shots on goal. However the Hungarian goaltender Zoltan Hetenyi showed a very solid performance with 60 saves. Yury Eliseenko and Mikhail Stefanovich of Belarus both scored in the first period. Hungary equalized early in the third period. The game winner by Andrei Kolosov came late in the third period.
Belarus shares Group B with, Latvia, Great Britain, France, Slovenia and Hungary. The winner will move up to the 2009 IIHF World U20 Championship in Canada. The team ending in last place will be relegated to Division II.
Slovenia defeated Great Britain 4:3; while Latvia beat France 3:9.
Lukashenka going into bondage
From: Charter '97
The President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said Russia will fulfil previous contracts in gas sphere, signed with Belarus.
“In spite of the fact that Russia itself will pay increased prices for gas, we will implement the previous contracts,” V. Putin declared on the press conference in Minsk.
“The gas prices will increase, but in accordance with previous contracts,” the Russian president emphasised.
V. Putin also said Russia understands the difficulties Belarusian economy will have in view of rise in price, “and will do its best to minimise the consequences for Belarusian economy.”
Lukashenka declared in his turn that Belarus will provide steady transit of petroleum from Russia to Europe. He expects Europe to make adequate steps in response to steady delivery of energy from Russian to the European market via Belarus.
“The European Union, rich Europe will feel quiet,” A. Lukashenka noted, adding that Belarus will provide steady transit of Russian energy to the European market.
“Belarus and Russia are making a huge contribution to economic, social and political stability of the European continent. In this connection we are expecting the adequate steps from Europe,” the Belarusian ruler said on the session of the Supreme State Council of Russia-Belarus “union.”
Comment of www.charter97.org: by estimate of experts, credit of USD 1.5 billion for Belarus is the same as USD 1 billion for Russia, in proportion to GDP of the two countries.
“In my view, private and parastatal Russian banks will join the process of crediting. As a result Minsk will found itself in double reliance – on gas and finance. Lukashenka will have crediting and debt nooses around his neck,” Yaraslau Ramanchuk, famous Belarusian economist thinks.
By the way, if judge by b-rolls, Lukashenka looks 30 years older after the so called successful negotiations with Putin...