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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Years greetings, Entrepreneurs, New Business, US Embassy threatened, The Gas Deal and News from both sides of the Republic of Belarus

  • From the Top...
  • #270

    New Year Greetings by President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko

    From: The office of the president
    Dear friends,

    New Years is a family holiday, meaning not only a family of relatives, but all of us, members of one big family – the people of Belarus.

    It is in these very minutes that we especially feel our unity: a worker and the President, a farmer and a businessman, a factory director and a teacher, a doctor and a military man.

    We are a nation. A nation that is not torn apart by political strife and property redistribution, but rather a nation united by one goal of promoting the development of our Fatherland. People who allow discord to settle in their home are doomed to extinction.

    Every year brings its successes and problems. Before the clock chimes we recollect both.

    Frankly speaking, this year has been perhaps the most difficult year in the history of our young state. Strong political and economic pressure, imposition of various sanctions, packs of lies and disinformation.

    Leaders of some countries, in order to divert attention from their domestic problems, have suddenly become ‘concerned’ with the situation in Belarus. In doing so they are missing the fact that the matter concerns a sovereign European nation rather than some state in their own country.

    What this sort of ‘democracy’ leads to has become clearly visible in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan as well as in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Endless political intrigues, corruption, economic recession, overall decline. But the most important thing is that these countries have become wholly dependent on their ‘teachers’.

    They can’t forgive us that Belarus, whose independence is hard won, does not consent to become their puppet.

    The increase in prices for energy resources has become a severe test for our economy. Now it’s possible to state openly: judging by its consequences, that blow was so hard that it could throw any economy into collapse.

    But they didn’t manage to make us kneel. Hardships only make the strong stronger. We have not just held out. We have ensured development of our country.

    The diligence, courage and wisdom of the Belarusian people deserve the deepest appreciation!

    Those who wished for us to have and invited us to the unavoidable crash have not learned the most important lesson: We had had become unified, built under fire, young, energetic and with a strong spirit.

    In the years since the formation of sovereignty, with having faced unthinkable difficulties, the Belorusian people are mature enough and ready by all means to defend their own way of development.

    After weighing on the scales all the pluses and minuses of this previous year, you understand that Belarus' even with even more problems, It has become a clear and proven historical fact that Belarus has taken its place as an independent and self-sufficient state.

    My fellow countrymen,

    Difficulties have taught us to live by our own means, carefully, wit thrift and with a love of our connection to our fatherland.

    The period of survival has already past. Today we have solved the basic problem and are now in an accelerated and innovation state of economic development.

    24 new productions plants are opened in this most difficult year. Among them are items as unique as the release of newsprint, the production of seamless pipes, railroad cars, household equipment, fourth generation Diesel engines, biofuels and a number of other things we never even dreamt of during Soviet times.

    Watch, as our agricultural endeavors grow. We no longer fight for the harvest as in the times that were. We work quietly and systemically, using domestic equipment and our own new technologies, achieving consistently high results on the fields and in the farms.

    2007 will go down in history that for the first time Belarusian oil was obtained from the American continent. We have created productions not only in our own country, but also beyond its borders. Already our investments have gone into Venezuela, China, Iran, other regions of our world. Belarusian trade has been marked world wide.

    Our multifaceted foreign policy has found new respect and weight. We are true to both our traditional allies and have opened doors for new partners.

    Dear countrymen!

    Perhaps the gladdest news was that 2007, which had been named the year of the child, has brought to us many new small citizens of the country.

    And I want to thank from the bottom of my heart our excellent women, our mothers for this priceless gift. You give life not only to the children, but also to your country. To you, I deeply bow.

    It is very noticeable that it has become respected and prestigious to have families of three or even more children. Already today we reached the birth rate level which was forecasted for the end of the present five-year plan.

    This means that parents believe in the future of their children and the future of Belarus.

    Certainly the state is not a Santa Clause who can bring gifts and give out promises.

    It is understandable also that in the following year there will be numerous problems and difficulties.

    But the country will continue to move forward.

    We will substantially increase the number of homes being built.

    We will properly revive small cities and villages and will do everything so that the people who live there will not feel worse off that the people who live in the capital.

    In the new economic reality there will be favorable conditions for the free development of individual business will be created.

    In the following year we must finally bring to an end over bureaucratization. This will be under scrutiny for all organs of the state.

    State will ensure an increase in the wages, pensions and allowances. Let us give special attention to the socially unprotected and to those of moderate means. There should not be even one who is need of state aid remaining.

    But the main thing is the health of our people.

    Therefore 2008 will be declared by Belarus' to be the year of good health. I mean this in the broadest sense of this word: the health of man, family, society and country, this is what is important. Efforts must be directed toward the development of medicine, fitness, sport, the development of a healthy way of life and culture which also protects our ecology and moral values.

    Together, our entire country must create a peace worthy our children, comfortable for each inhabitant of Belarus' and comfortable for our guests.

    Dear friends!

    The Lord presented to us an excellent corner of the world filled with sincere beauty. please. let's take care of our holy land with the tender name of Belarus.

    Let the new year bring to your homes the warmth of a family's heart, may they be revived like a child's toy with a fresh coat of paint.

    Let's leave in the past our solitude, adversities and grief.

    Open your hearts to love, to good, to compassion and to mutual understanding.


    From my soul I wish for each of you happiness, success, new victories and accomplishments and peace and prosperity.

    Happy New Year!

  • Note: Translation of the second half of the speach by beinghad

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Period for transition from status of individual entrepreneur to status of private unitary company prolonged till 1 March 2008

    From: BelTA
    On 29 December, President Alexander Lukashenko signed Decree No. 685 “On Additional Opportunities for Performing Entrepreneurship Activity”.

    “To create additional opportunities for individual entrepreneurs to change their legal status for a corporate entity, the Decree prolongs the period available for transition from the status of individual entrepreneur to the status of a private unitary company till 1 March 2008. This step will allow the individual entrepreneurs who have not managed to set up such companies yet to start them through a simplified registration procedure”, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The Decree reduces, until 31 December 2007, fines for violations of administrative law committed by private unitary companies.

    The Decree comes as another step in the work aimed at creating a civilised business environment for individual entrepreneurs and providing them with additional opportunities for changing their legal status and becoming corporate entities.

    The following measures have already been taken to create an enabling environment for individual entrepreneurs to change their legal status. The registration procedure for setting up private unitary companies has been simplified. The procedure of applying the simplified taxation and accounting schemes has been streamlined; the issue of adequate tax burden with respect to taxes on income gained in retail trade and public catering business has been settled.

    CIS Executive Secretary praises activities of Commonwealth bodies

    From: BelTA
    When meeting with President of Russia Vladimir Putin, Sergei Lebedev, Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, praised the activities of the CIS bodies.

    Among the most important actions held within the Commonwealth framework Sergei Lebedev marked out the session of the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly and the CIS Council of Heads of Government, the CIS Forum on Humanitarian and Scientific Cooperation in Astana and the meeting of the CIS Economic Council in Moscow.

    At the same time he called as not simple the situation in the CIS. Sergei Lebedev informed Vladimir Putin about his meetings with the heads of other six countries, each of whom expressed criticism about and dissatisfaction with the results of cooperation within the CIS framework. According to the CIS Executive Secretary, all the remarks made by the leaders were rather significant.

    “All of them deem it necessary to promote the integration and to focus on most urgent areas of cooperation: economy, migration, security, humanitarian activities as they see the necessity not only to preserve but also to improve the common cultural and information environment on the post-Soviet area,” Sergei Lebedev stressed.

    Sergei Lebedev was named Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States on October 5, 2007 at the Dushanbe session of the CIS Council of Heads of States. Earlier the office was held by Vladimir Rushailo.

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

    In a related story, 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.

  • Business...

    Belarusian Cement Plant commissions new cement production line

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian Cement Plant /BCP/sent into service a new clinker burning furnace. The facility will help BCP step up the cement production by 200 thousand tonnes, BelTA learnt from director general of the company Vladimir Kiselev.

    The new line is expected to reach the planned production capacity in April-May 2008. Next year BCP plans to produce at least 1.1 million tonnes of cement. This year the company will manufacture about 930 thousand.

    BCP injected Br20 billion in the new facility. Now the plant has two clinker burning furnaces.

    In January-November 2007 Belarusian Cement Plant manufactured 850.5 thousand tonnes of cement, up by 6.2 on the same period of 2006.

    Founded in 1996, BCP is proud of about 1.3 thousand specialists.

    Two Belarusian pharmaceutical companies get GMP certificates

    On December 29, Healthcare Minister of Belarus Vasily Zharko presented GMP certificates (Good Manufacturing Practice) to two companies of the Belbiopharm concern - Borisov Pharmaceutical ?company and Minskintercaps company.

    Vasily Zharko said that for the national pharmaceutical industry it is of crucial importance to promote GMP principles. In this way a company guarantees high quality of medicines and gets an opportunity to sell their products abroad.

    In Belarus six GMP certificates have been awarded to the companies of the Belbiopharm concern and one certificate to Lekpharm plant. The productions which meet the GMP standards include two production sections of Borisov Pharmaceutical Company, the production of medicines in ampoules and bottles of Belmedpreparaty company; production of solid gelatin capsules of Minskintercaps company. They produce 34 descriptions of medicines.

    In 2008, the plans on the table are to certify the production sections manufacturing more than 70 descriptions of medicines. “The Belbiopharm concern and Healthcare Ministry do their best to provide the domestic market with high-quality medicines. The companies constantly extend the product lines to reduce the imports of foreign similar products,” Vasily Zharko said.

    The Belbiopharm concern includes 13 organisations including 9 pharmaceutical and two scientific support companies. They account for more than 90% of the domestic output of medicines. The product line features more than 500 descriptions.

  • From the international press...

    Belarus threatens to kick U.S. ambassador out over broader sanctions

    From: IHT
    The Bush administration, which has dubbed Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe," has imposed a series of punitive measures against Belarus.

    The Belarus government will expel the U.S. ambassador and ban trade in U.S. dollars if Washington broadens sanctions against the country, the country's president, Alexander Lukashenko, said Sunday.

    The Bush administration, which has dubbed Belarus "the last dictatorship in Europe," has imposed a series of punitive measures against Belarus, including a ban on Lukashenko's visiting the United States. Washington has also prohibited Americans from doing business with the Belarussian oil refiner Belneftekhim and froze the assets the company has under U.S. jurisdiction.

    In mid-December, the U.S. ambassador, Karen Stewart, said Washington might extend sanctions against state companies in Belarus that she said were controlled by people responsible for infringements of democracy. Lukashenko said Sunday that if new sanctions were broad, she would be expelled.

    "As soon as substantial sanctions against our economy are imposed, we will retaliate in a toughest possible way on all fronts," the Belarussian state media quoted Lukashenko as saying. "The U.S. ambassador will be thrown out first."

    Lukashenko also said Belarus might eliminate the use of U.S. dollars and switch to other currencies: "We can survive without the dollar," he said. "We are building up reserves in yen and yuan. We can switch to euros."

    The U.S. Embassy had no immediate comment. Belarus depends almost solely on Russia for the crude oil that it refines. Beleneftekhim controls two refineries and a potash plant and provides one-fifth of all foreign currency earnings. The United States and European Union accuse Lukashenko of harassing and jailing opponents, muzzling the media and rigging polls.

    Belarus to buy Russian gas at $119 per 1,000 cu m in 1Q08

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russia's natural gas will be supplied to Belarus in the first quarter of 2008 at the price of $119 per 1,000 cubic meters, a spokesman for Russian energy giant Gazprom said on Tuesday.

    Sergei Kupriyanov said that despite earlier agreements on the price of Turkmenistan's natural gas at $100 [per 1,000 cu m], Gazprom will purchase it at $130 in the first half of 2008, while Russian natural gas will be supplied to Belarus at $119 pursuant to a long-term contract.

    On January 1, 2007 Russia raised the price of its gas supplies to Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters from $46.7 in 2006, which sparked an energy dispute between the two countries and triggered more accusations in Europe that Russia is using oil and gas as a political weapon.

    Kupriyanov also said that Belarus had confirmed its readiness to honor all commitments on Russian natural gas transits to Europe.

    Belarus won't pay with state property for Russian loan - Lukashenko

    In a related story, Belarus's president said Sunday he did not promise to pay for the Russian $1.5 billion loan with state property.

    Russia and Belarus signed December 20 an intergovernmental agreement to grant Minsk a $1.5 billion stabilization loan. The agreement was reached at bilateral talks in Minsk a week earlier. The loan has been granted for 15 years at an interest rate of libor +0.75% and with a grace period of five years.

    "There can be no talk with Lukhashenko about renouncing sovereignty or becoming part of another country... No property will be given away," the controversial leader, dubbed by the U.S. "Europe's last dictator", told journalists.

    "Lukashenko was not on his knees when asking for a loan," he added. "We will sell shares and privatize our enterprises honestly and openly."

    Lukashenko said the loan is beneficial for Belarus. "We were given a loan for 15 years with a grace period of five years and at a normal interest rate. It is beneficial for Belarus," he said.

    The Belarusian president said China and Venezuela are ready to grant Belarus $2 billion loans each.

    Belarus requested the $1.5 bln loan from Russia in February to pay for energy supplies.

    On January 1, 2007, Russia raised the price of its gas supplies to Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters from $46.7 in 2006. The increase sparked an energy dispute between the two countries and triggered more accusations in Europe that Russia was using oil and gas as a political weapon.

    Russia and Belarus, the ex-Soviet neighbors, have been in talks since 1997 over building a Union State, but the negotiations have been complicated by a host of issues, including energy and financial disputes, as well as division of power.

    Slovakia Wants Belarus to Begin Meeting Criteria for Joining CE

    From: TASR
    Slovakia intends to contribute during its six-month chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers to make changes in Belarus's attitude towards meeting the criteria for membership in this pan-European organisation.

    According to Slovak Ambassador to the Council of Europe (CE) Emil Kuchar on Tuesday, under the leadership of its President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994, Belarus remains the only European country outside the 47-strong CE, the goals of which include protection of human rights and strengthening of pluralistic democracy.

    "Nowadays, Belarus is far from fulfilling the CE's standards, however, the issue of Belarus has to remain on the table. It's unacceptable that an essentially European country should stay completely outside this value-based system," said Kuchar.

    "The Committee of Ministers contends that Belarus simply has to start complying with conditions for its entry into the CE. We're cognisant that de facto this means to changing Belarus's ways, otherwise this goal is impossible," warned Kuchar.

    The Ambassador also said that after lengthy debate Slovakia has managed to achieve approval from the CE's executive body for a programme on co-operation with Belarus. "We start from two premises - the current regime in Belarus is undemocratic, tramples human rights and doesn't guarantee positive development. On the other hand, there is a society - opposition and ordinary citizens – that we don't want to isolate," said Kuchar.

    Slovakia's goal is to enable wide-ranging discussion between CE- member states and representatives of the Belarus Government as well as the non-governmental (3rd) sector. "(Even if) this may take place in Bratislava, what matters is the confirmation of the CE's values and sending a message to Minsk and the opposition about the door to the CE being open, as long as Belarus meets respective conditions," Slovak diplomat said.

    Slovakia assumed its six-month presidency of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers in mid-November 2007.

    Russian retiree gives Belarus' Lushenko 1,000 dollars, gets fridge

    From: Earth Times
    A Russian pensioner donated 1,000 dollars of her personal savings to Belarus' authoritarian President Aleksander Lukashenko and received a refrigerator in return, the Belapan news agency reported Monday. Galina Makeeva, a resident of the Russian northern port city St Petersburg, made the end-of-the-year gift "as support to the Belarusian people," Korrespondent magazine reported Makeeva as explaining.

    The Belarusian leader "is an honest person and will be able to direct the funds correctly," she said.

    Lukashenko, a former collective farm boss, returned the gesture by ordering Makeeva be awarded Belarusian household appliances, specifically an Atlant refrigerator and a Gorizont television.

    Atlant and Gorizont are factories owned and operated by the Belarusian state. Their products when sold abroad compete at the low end of the market due to low price and simplicity.

    The two items to be received by Makeeva exceeded the value of her contribution to Lukashenko. "The president is not in debt," according to a statement on his website.

    Lukashenko has maintained widespread popularity since taking over Belarus in a 1996 constitutional coup, in large part by retaining substantial benefits for retirees, who constitute one-third of Belarus' aging population.

    Pensions in Belarus' state-run economy average between 200 and 300 dollars a month, and retirees in the former Soviet republic enjoy price breaks on everything from public transport to staple foods.

    The benefits package for retired persons in neighbouring Russia is less generous, with pensioners often struggling to make ends meet due to high prices for food and medicine.

    Makeeva's 1,000-dollar gift represents several years of savings, by the standards of a low-income Russian retiree.

    Belarus did not fall on its knees and beg Russia for $1.5-billion loan, says Lukashenka

    From: Naveny
    Belarus did not fall on its knees and beg Russia for this loan, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said while visiting the SOS Children's Village in Barawlyany near Minsk on December 30.

    The Belarusian leader was commenting on a $1.5-billion loan recently given by the Russian government for 15 years at an interest rate of libor plus 0.75 percent and with five years’ deferment of repayment.

    “This 1.5 billion, even two billion, was promised to us at the end of last year in connection with an increase in the price of hydrocarbon resources this year,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “We thank them for their help and we won’t be in debt to them.”

    According to Mr. Lukashenka, some allege that he will repay this money with Belarus’ sovereignty. “Listen attentively my New Year’s address and you’ll understand what all is about,” he said. “Any surrender of sovereignty and any incorporation of our state into another state is out of the question. This did not happen and cannot happen at least while Lukashenka is president. I’ve been saying this every year for 12 years now. I’m the most interested man in our state being sovereign and independent.”

    Mr. Lukashenka also denied that Belarus would have to repay the loan with its most liquid assets. “This is a very beneficial loan to us and we’ll repay it,” he said. “One million and a half dollars is not much for our state. And the Russian side, even at the level of experts, never suggested that we should pay with some property, plants, factories, and so on. This will never happen. We’ll honestly, openly and transparently move to sell and privatize our enterprises as was the case before.”

    Established in 1995, the SOS Children's Village in Barawlyany was the first to appear in Belarus. It currently accommodates 72 parentless children (35 boys and 37 girls) living in 13 SOS families.

    Lukashenka defends policy toward sole entrepreneurs

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka on Sunday defended the government’s restrictive policy toward sole entrepreneurs.

    Small business owners holding the status of sole entrepreneur will be banned from having workers other than three family members after January 1, 2008.

    While talking to reporters outside Minsk, the Belarusian leader said that the government sought to create equal business conditions for sole entrepreneurs and legal entities.

    “We will create absolutely equal taxation conditions,” official information sources quoted him as saying. “Everyone will pay the same amount in taxes.”

    Commenting on the employee restriction, Mr. Lukashenka said, “What have we done? If you work alone, import, sell [goods] and enjoy preferences. We have even allowed them to hire close relatives. What is so bad about this? Nothing, I guess.”

    Mr. Lukashenka claimed that sole entrepreneurs were involved in tax evasion schemes. “Many have started to import goods for themselves through these sole entrepreneurs who enjoy preferences. A criminal environment has appeared. But nevertheless, we have offered them a reprieve. Ok, continue as sole entrepreneurs for a while, hire relatives and enjoy preferences. You don’t like this? You will have the same conditions [that companies have] in a year,” he was quoted as saying.

    Leader of small business association plays down Lukashenka’s new edict

    In a related story, The leader of a small business association has downplayed Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s December 29 edict that allowed sole entrepreneurs to register their businesses as legal entities on easy terms until March 1, 2008.

    In an interview with BelaPAN, Perspektyva leader Anatol Shumchanka accused the government of “doing its utmost to ruin sole entrepreneurs as a class, to clear the way for legal entities controlled by the state.”

    “The edict is evidence that the government has made its choice. This choice favors not sole entrepreneurs but those who are already planning to run wholesale companies that will sell products to sole entrepreneurs,” Mr. Shumchanka said.

    The small business activist noted that the government sought to force market vendors to buy their goods from large wholesalers in Belarus rather than import them.

    “Such wholesale companies that will be established under the trade ministry or the Presidential Administration face competition from sole entrepreneurs. But, unfortunately, it turns out that rivals are removed through administrative rather than economic tools in Belarus,” Mr. Shumchanka concluded.

    The Perspektyva leader said that market vendors were “shocked and disappointed” at the new presidential edict as it offered no solution to their woes.

    Small business owners holding the status of sole entrepreneur will be banned from having workers other than three family members after January 1, 2008.

    Small business associations have already announced that many sole entrepreneurs will go on a “forced two-week vacation” on January 1 and pay no taxes, unless the restriction is abolished.

  • Around the region...

    UK defies Russia on British Council ban

    From: Reuters
    Britain on Tuesday defied a Russian order to close the regional offices of its cultural arm from New Year's day, but there was no evidence of Russian attempts to forcibly close British Council centres.

    Russia on December 12 ordered the British government's cultural arm to halt work from January 1 at all its regional offices, saying Britain had broken a host of international and domestic rules.

    The move was part of the fall out from a bitter row over the murder of former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of the Kremlin who was poisoned by radiation in London in November 2006.

    Relations between Britain and Russia are at their worst since the Cold War, soured by the Litvinenko murder, mutual espionage allegations and the political asylum given by Britain to prominent Russian enemies of President Vladimir Putin.

    "It is our firm point of view that the British Council operates with a fully legal status and in accordance with international law and agreements with the Russian government," a spokesman for the British embassy in Moscow said by telephone.

    "We hope their operations in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg will continue when these offices open after the New Year break," the spokesman said. The Russian New Year holiday normally lasts for the first two weeks of January.

    The Council's offices in the northern city of St Petersburg and the Urals city of Yekaterinburg were closed on Tuesday for the break.

    A Reuters reporter said the business centre which houses the St Petersburg office was closed with no signs of any police presence. An answer machine said it would reopen on January 14.

    "We have every plan to continue," Clare Sears, a British Council spokeswoman, said by telephone from London. "We are in constant discussion with the Russian authorities and we are very much hoping this can be resolved over the next two weeks."

    When asked if the British Council would open its offices after the New Year holiday, Sears said: "We will do everything in our power to do so."

    Britain reacted angrily to Moscow's demands to halt the British Council's work. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last month that the ban was totally unacceptable and called on Moscow to reverse its decision.

    The British Foreign Office said the Council had nothing to do with the dispute over Litvinenko's murder, which sparked a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats in July.

    Russia said Britain had broken rules while registering 15 regional offices of the British Council, a claim London denies.

    The Council had earlier closed regional Russian offices everywhere in Russia except Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

    Britain and Russia are linked by tens of billions of dollars in trade and investments, including a major stake in Russian oil producer held by BP and the gilded flow of Russian money and investment through the City of London.

    But anger over the Litvinenko killing has damaged relations.

    Britain in July expelled four diplomats in response to Russia's refusal to extradite another former state security agent, Andrei Lugovoy, to stand trial for Litvinenko's murder. Russia followed that by expelling four British diplomats. Lugovoy denies any part in the murder.

    Moscow gets legal guarantee from Britain to protect Van Gogh, Gaugin paintings

    From: Ottawa Citizen
    Paul Gaugin's "Her Name was Vairaumati," 1892, is pictured in this undated handout photo from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow. Russia banned a landmark exhibition of Russian and French art from travelling to Britain on Thursday as deteriorating relations between Moscow and London over the murder of a former Russian official hit cultural ties.
    Britain said on Sunday it hoped a landmark exhibition of Russian art would go ahead in London after the government provided a legal guarantee, demanded by Moscow, that the works would not be confiscated.

    Russia said this month it was scrapping plans to loan artworks by Van Gogh and Matisse to Britain for the exhibition at London's Royal Academy of Arts, adding a new irritant in fraught diplomatic relations between Moscow and London.

    Roskultura, the state culture agency, said it was concerned the artworks could be seized by courts acting for descendants of people who owned the paintings before they were confiscated after the 1917 Russian revolution.

    British Culture Secretary James Purnell has made an order bringing new "immunity from seizure" legislation into force from Monday, the government said. Britain had originally said existing legislation provided sufficient safeguards.

    "I hope that bringing forward this further legislation will see the great works in the 'From Russia' exhibition open at the Royal Academy this January," Purnell said in a statement.

    However, a spokesman for Britain's Culture Department said he could not say "with 100 percent certainty" that the exhibition would go ahead.

    The new legislation, passed last year and originally due to be implemented in late February or March 2008, provides immunity from seizure for cultural objects lent from abroad for exhibitions in Britain.

    Charles Saumarez Smith, the Royal Academy's chief executive, said he expected the Russian culture agency to approve the loans when it reopens on January 8, in time for the works to be shipped to London from Duesseldorf in Germany where they are now displayed.

    Russian officials were not immediately available for comment.

    Relations between London and Moscow have deteriorated sharply since the poisoning murder in London last year of Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko and some diplomats have said privately the problems with the exhibition could be linked to this dispute.

    Russia is due to send 120 artworks to London for the 'From Russia: French and Russian Art Masterpieces of 1870-1925' exhibition scheduled to open on Jan. 26.

    It is the second row over cultural relations between London and Moscow this month.

    Russia on Dec. 12 ordered the British government's cultural arm, the British Council, to halt its work in two Russian cities, citing problems with their legal status. Britain reacted angrily and refused to close the offices.

    Billionaire Krauze returns to Poland to face prosecutors questions

    From: Forbes
    Billionaire Ryszard Krauze, who controls several Warsaw-listed companies, returned to Poland last week to face questions in an investigation related to a political corruption row that led to the collapse of the last government.

    'In the time set by the Warsaw court Ryszard Krauze arrived last Friday for questioning,' Prokom Investments spokesman Krzysztof Krol said.

    Krazue, Poland's fifth richest man, stands accused of giving false testimony to investigators. He denies the charges.

    Since August Krauze, who controls oil venture Petrolinvest as well as the blue-chip biotech company Bioton and builder Polnord, has remained abroad. Shares in his companies rose earlier this month on news that he would be returning to Poland before Christmas.

    Call to murder Jews distributed in Ukraine churches

    From: JTA
    A unknown group is using Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine to spread a call to murder Jews.

    The group, which calls itself the “Orthodox public organization of Odessa,” distributed anti-Semitic pamphlets last week at some Russian Orthodox churches in Odessa calling for pogroms and the murder Jews and expressing regret at the collapse of the Russian Empire.

    Berl Kapulkin, a spokesperson for Odessa's Jewish community, told JTA that, according to preliminary information, the pamphlets were distributed by representatives of United Fatherland and the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine, both pro-Russian groups.

    Rabbi Avraham Wolf, chief rabbi of Odessa and Southern Ukraine, called on Ukraine's authorities to end the incitement in the Orthodox churches against Jews. Wolf said he hopes Ukrainian President Victor Yuschenko will keep his promise to combat interethnic hatred in the country.

    At its session last week, the assembly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate declared activities of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine as "anti-church.”

    Lithuania's banks dominated by foreign players, stable outlook

    From: Financial Mirror
    While foreign ownership has played a major role in the development of the Lithuanian banking system, rapid loan growth and economic overheating are raising concerns, Moody's Investors Service said in its new Banking System Outlook for Lithuania.

    There were nine commercial banks and four foreign bank branches operating in Lithuania as of October, Moody's noted, with concentration in the Lithuanian banking system having risen substantially over the past few years. Three Nordic-owned banks now dominate the market: at end-June 2007, SEB Vilniaus Bankas, AB Bankas Hansabankas and DnB NORD Bankas controlled almost 70% of the market as measured by total assets.

    "We view the increasing presence of foreign banks and their subsidiaries in the Lithuanian banking system positively since they benefit from the more advanced risk management practices, easier access to wholesale funding and technology of their parent banks," said Virginie Merlin, a Moody's Vice President/Senior Analyst and author of the report.

    "Thus foreign ownership has played a major role in the evolution of the Lithuanian banking system towards international standards. In contrast, many of the smaller standalone players are at a structural disadvantage, with potentially negative repercussions in terms of operating efficiencies," Merlin added.

    Private-sector lending has been expanding rapidly, the Moody's report noted. While managing the credit growth does not seem problematic for the time being for foreign-owned banks, since liquidity is available from parent institutions and they intend to reduce the pace of lending growth. In contrast, smaller banks, mainly funded by their deposit base, are not expected to significantly reduce lending and could even try to further increase their market shares.

    "Our primary concern is that rapid loan growth is putting negative pressure on the banks' liquidity since the growth of deposits is slower than that of loans. The banks will therefore become increasingly dependent on wholesale funding access, which is expected to be more difficult as well as more expensive -- taking into consideration the current global deterioration of funding conditions and repricing of risks," Ms Merlin warned.

    Moreover, the Lithuanian economy is constrained by its small size, significant current account deficit and increasing inflation, according to Moody's. Similar, albeit to a lesser extent, to other countries in the Baltic region, the rapid growth of prices, wages, credit, asset prices and the current account deficit are indicative of an overheating economy. The current account deficit continues to expand and is likely to exceed 14% of GDP in 2007, more than double its level two years ago.

    "Although the size of the current account deficit obviously raises concerns and is not expected to decrease in the short term, we consider the risk of a major crisis to be limited -- first, because the most important source of inflows is from the parent banks of the largest banks and second, because Lithuania should also benefit from a higher inflow of EU funds."

  • From the blogs...

    Well, maybe they are not so great...

    From: Belarus Politika
    The President of Belarus Aleksandr lukashenko threatened the ambassador OF THE USA carene Stewart with expulsion from the country, if Washington introduces any new sanctions with respect to the republic.

    "She ( the ambassador) will be flung out by the first. She goes to oppositional get-togethers and talks about the possibility of the introduction of economic sanctions with respect to Belarus, this is an egregious situation. Let the American ambassador deal with her own problems, or she might b out of the country before the appointed time.", he said in Sunday to journalists.

    Furthermore, the Belarusian side promised to react strongly in response to the economic plan of unpegging the ruble to dollars.

    "we will survive without the American dollar. We have not so many of them so it is nothing much to us. We have currency reserves both in the yen and in the yuan. We can pass on the Euro-. If it does not please the Americans that we work with our own currency, we will leave the dollar behind. But to constantly play "spinach" with us and to make fools of us in the world will not work out for us", he said.

    In the opinion Lukashenko, the reason for sanctions from the American side with respect to "Belneftekhim" consists of the fact that the Belorussian side began to work in Venezuela. During December we opened a joint Belorussian- Venezuelan enterprise for oil production from the Guara Este's in Ansoategi.

    A Polish NASA?

    From: The Beatroot
    Surly some mistake? But no: a cross party group has decided to set up a Polish rival to NASA. Well, not really a rival to it, but at least have one that rivals...Italy’s space agency [I didn't know they had one, either]. So will we see a Polish Space Shuttle powering off the launch pad at Warsaw airport anytime soon?

    No. The project is a little more modest than that. But let’s hope it’s not a Polish version of Galileo – not the EU’s finest hour.

    But while Brussels’ has a Galileo complex, Warsaw must have a Copernicus complex. At present Poland spends just 7 million euro on space research – a little less than NASA’s budget of 16 billion dollars. But this hasn’t stopped parliamentarians from having sky high ambitions. takes up the story:

      According to "Polska" daily newspaper, Polish deputies gathered in the Outer Space Team are planning to set up a national space agency, similar to the American NASA.

      Poland participates in the PECS (Plan for European Cooperating State Charter) programme carried out by the European Space Agency, yet in this way Poland spends only a small fraction of all EU funds allocated for space research […]

      The idea of a Polish space agency is supported by deputies from different political parties. Yet, the route to such an agency is very long, taking into account the fact that Poland does not even have its own satellite in space.
    Well…quite. ‘Could take time’ as it ‘doesn’t even have a satellite...’

    And I love the idea of there being a Polish parliamentary ‘Outer Space Team’!

    Team? I thought the whole parliament was from out of this world.

    Basically, this is Polish MPs trying to think of ways to get more money out of the EU. The whole of Poland is doing it. I am going to be working on a project this year to try and get some single currency out of Brussels. But it is a good idea, with a ‘social’ I’m entitled.

    But what have the Poles been doing in 2007 with their 7 million euros? Fortunately, the same provides us with a summary of the year:

      A discovery of an extrasolar planet, participation in astronomical projects, as well as numerous successes of Polish students within international educational projects make up only a part of a summary of the year 2007 as regards Polish astronomy.
    But that’s good. Discovering planets is one of the Poles’ greatest talents. They are at the forefront of planet discovery, in fact. Maybe they just have good eyesight?

    But I wonder if Polish astronomers this New Year did the same as those wacky guys last year.

      In mid-January, on the occasion of the Grand Finale of the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, the radiotelescope situated in Piwnice near Torun sent a radio signal to nearby stars with greetings to any extraterrestrial civilisations.
    Wacky! Maybe the legacy of Copernicus has left stars in those Polish eyes.

    Free Oleg Kozlovsky

    From: Publius Pundit
    Oborona reports (our translation):

    On December 29th the Moscow headquarters hosted a meeting with noted economist and journalist Andrei N. Illarionov (shown above trying on an Oborona t-shirt for size), Director of the Institute for Economic Analysis (at the Cato Institute). The activists discussed various matters with Mr. Illarionov over the course of three hours and he described the political system of modern Russia and explained why at the end of 2005 he resigned from the post of economic advisor to President Putin.

    Illarionov particularly noted that opposition activists should not underestimate their opponents of the current government. He advised them to avoid formulaic solutions and to be creative in devising ways to respond to the Kremlin's initiatives. He noted that agents of the regime also carefully read Gina Sharp and prepare their own creative responses to a wide variety of options for our actions. The political situation in Russia is very difficult for opponents of the status quo. But our task no more difficult than it was for those who led the democratic movements in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, and we can see that, judged in historical perspective, the regime is doomed. According to Illarionov, to hasten the moment of its downfall it is necessary to create a broad forum, a round table, or "proto-parliament," with the participation of political movements representing all different points of view in Russian society. Opposition should focus on the organization of parallel elections to this representative body, rather than participate sham elections put forth by the forces of the Kremlin.

    Illarionov added his signature to the Joint Petition of the opposition leaders calling for the immediate release of Oleg Kozlovsky. In doing so, he called on all opposition groups to be more highly attentive to legal formalities so that they might not be used against them by the regime as a weapon of repression. Opposition must be done in deadly earnest, Illarionov stressed.

    Дорогие, милые и любимые друзья! С наступающим Новым Годом!

    From: Sammi
    Завтра я уезжаю... уезжаю отдохнуть, уезжаю.. чтобы найти себя.... чтобы насладиться праздником...
    Поэтому сегодня не могу не поздравить ВАС с Наступающим праздником!

    Немного о себе и об уходящем годе...

    2007 год стал поворотным в моей жизни. Вообще все началось с Радиус ФМ... Казалось это невозможно, чтобы Радио, ка таковое вот так изменило жизнь человека...

    Но именно, благодаря Радиусу я появилась и здесь... Благодаря Радиусу я сейчас живу в самом дорогом моему сердцу городе, в самом любимом моем городе, где я выросла, где прошло мое замечательное и счастливое детство, в городе, который я покинула в возрасте 14 лет и поклялась себе вернуться... Я вернулась... Я здесь! У меня замечательная работа, отличные коллеги, о которых можно только мечтать, у меня замечательные друзья, знакомые.. Я наконец-то разорвала отношения с человеком, которого не любила, а только причиняла боль...

    именно тем, что так и не смогла пересилить себя и полюбить...

    Пусть он простит меня...

    А сейчас я счастлива! Не смотря ни на что!... Я живу, я дышу, а рядом со мной - самый дорогой человечек - моя замечательная доченька! Разве я имею право говорить о том, что я не счастлива?!....

    He likes Uncle Frost more than Santa Clause...

    From: The Stroy

    The Pinski Vesnik, a local Newspaper came out today with an interview with yours truly as a sidebar on Page three. Svetlana Petrovna, the lady who wrote the piece came out to the Dome Tvorchstva last week and asked questions about how I came to arrive in Pinsk, what I had been doing, my opinion of the town and other such topics of interest. As you can see by the headline she chose and interesting and seasonal angle for the story. Here is the translation:

    Coming the first time to the Polesse ten years ago to find the home of his ancestors, American Adam Goodman had no idea that within a short time would leave New York for Pinsk. The home of his people had for him at that time something that touched his soul.

    "After the September 11th catastrophe in Manhattan I found I had to close my bicycle business. Everything changed for me and I thought of Pinsk."

    Adam came back to try, not even knowing any Russian. Thinking he at least needed an English/Russian dictionary, he went to the "Polemia" book store. He tried to explain what he needed to one salesperson and when they couldn't understand him, they called on another to help.

    "Tatyana was working there. She was interesting and I took her to dinner."

    Tatyana was not bad at English and this was how our American with roots in Pinsk found his future partner. Now Adam has his residence permit (green card), speaks Russian very well, has a growing daughter named Anya and seems perfectly content. How is this possible?

    "I feel comfortable in this town. This is my homeland. My grandmother and grandfather were exactly from this place.

    "I very much like teaching English. I am very happy to help anyone who asks and wants to learn. I also like working on the dacha. In America, if you want to have land like this you need to be a millionaire. Here, you only have to want to do it."

    "My husband also writes plays for theatre. (He is an artist by profession). One of them was translated into Russian" Explains with pleasure Tatyana Victorovna.

    Now the American from New York is leading an English Language group which, in the words of the teacher has students from 9 to 58. And he tries to help each of them.

    When asked how he was going to greet the New Year my interview said with full seriousness:

    "I'm going to Lenin Square to dance under the New Years Tree."

    And so this is how our New Yorker traded in Santa Clause for Uncle Frost

  • Endnote...

    Video: Lukashenka visits foster home near Minsk

    From: Belapan
    To play video, click HERE
    T install flash player, click HERE
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka visited the SOS Children`s Village in Barawlyany, Minsk district, on December 30.

    Presented with a bunch of flowers, Mr. Lukashenka took part in a New Year party, joining children for a dance around the New Year tree.

    After talking to children who live in the foster home, Mr. Lukashenka spoke to reporters on a wide spectrum of subjects, including small business. He promised that sole entrepreneurs and legal entities would face the same business conditions in the future.

    “We will create absolutely equal taxation conditions,” he said. “Everyone will pay the same taxes.”
  • Note: Will try to get the full text of the film translated shortly...