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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Nuclear power plant, Nato, Taxes, Refinancing, Gas, Elections, Human rights, Polish scandal, News, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #321

    Any company can offer its services relating to the construction of the nuclear power plant

    From: The office of the president
    “Within the next month any company can offer Belarus its services related to the construction of the nuclear power plant,” said President Alexander Lukashenko on 30 June at the meeting on the nuclear power plant construction in Belarus. “We are doing so in order to avoid any speculation that we have supposedly, behind the scenes, concluded a construction agreement with someone,” the President added.

    Alexander Lukashenko said there was a need once again to make an official offer to the French and German company, to Japanese, Americans and Russians to participate in the construction of the plant if they were interested. “We are making the offer to them openly, and in a month we will openly publish their decision in newspapers. No one will make a profit on this issue. No way,” the Head of State warned.

    Choosing partners for this project, Belarus proceeds from the fact that today most popular reactors are water-cooled reactors and pressurised water reactors. 78 per cent of nuclear power units today are water-cooled reactors of the third generation. There are only three companies in the world – a US company, a French and German company and a Russian company – that produce the reactors of this type.

    The President stressed that Belarus would build the safest nuclear power plant. “We have given this promise to our people, and we will keep this promise: we will have the safest state of the art nuclear power plant, built to the latest technology,” said the Head of State. The President said he was not happy at all with the way in which the authorities were carrying out explanatory work with the population in the districts were the power plant could possibly stand. According to Alexander Lukashenko, the explanatory work with the people should be carried out in a proper way, one should explain to them what nuclear energy is, including by citing examples of other countries. The President cited Russia as an example, which had enough energy production facilities and resources, but which planned to build 20 nuclear power plants more in the near future. He also pointed to Europe where several dozens of these facilities would spring up.

    President urges against delay in development works on nuclear power plant

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko noted that it is inadmissible to postpone the development works on the nuclear power plant construction from 2008 to 2009.

    “I am concerned that the preparation for the construction of the nuclear power plant is too slow,” the President said. “It looks like that the completion of the development works can be postponed from 2008 to 2009,” Alexander Lukashenko noted. “This situation does not suit us,” the President highlighted.

    The Head of State reminded that the political decision on the nuclear power plant construction in Belarus was passed on January 15, 2008. Specialists identified the concrete terms of launching the first power unit (2016) and the second one (2018). “We have a tight schedule. So we need to organize hard work to settle in time the issues during the preparatory period,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President also expressed his dissatisfaction with the lack of clarity in respect of the site for the nuclear power plant. The Government and the National Academy of Sciences were to have identified the construction site by May 1, this year. “It is time we took necessary decisions in all areas,” he said.

    President urges Government to conduct additional research into nuclear plant site

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko urged the Government to conduct additional exploring work of the three sites for probable location of the nuclear power plant within three or four months, First Vice-Premier of Belarus Vladimir Semashko told reporters after the session.

    The President was reported about the results of the research of the three sites. “The in-depth and thoroughness of the research was praised by the IAEA,” Vladimir Semashko said. Though the degree of research of the three sites varies. The Krasnopolyanskaya site has been studied most thoroughly. Then goes the Kukshinovskaya site. The Ostrovetskaya site has been researched least of all, Vladimir Semashko said,

    According to the research, there are no banning factors. Yet there are some restrictive factors which will be finally analyzed after additional research,” Vladimir Semashko said. According to him, the final decision on the location of the plant will be made by the end of 2008.

    Vladimir Semashko added that in line with the IAEA requirements, a country should have two sites for the construction of a nuclear plant – the main and reserve (auxiliary) sites.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Strong Union State will be appropriate response to Nato actions, Dmitry Rogozin says

    From: BelTA
    The strengthening of the Union State will be an appropriate response to Nato actions. Accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would contradict the will of the people of the two countries, Russia’s ambassador to Nato Dmitry Rogozin said during the video conference dedicated to the Union State security that was held in Minsk on July 1.

    “Nato as it is now cannot be called an efficient international organization,” Dmitry Rogozin noted. According to him, despite the Nato-declared open-door policy, this organization does not pursue it. “There will always be somebody within the Alliance that will get frightened by the scope of what Russia and Belarus can do and will realize that Nato will not “digest” such a big “piece”. For this reason alone, we cannot join Nato,” Dmitry Rogozin said.

    The Nato expansion eastwards is a threat to the Union State security. Nato tries to get involved in everything it wants, even if their actions are not sanctioned by the UN, Russia’s permanent representative in Nato underlined. He is convinced that “citizens of Western Europe do not want destabilization of the situation in this region; they do not need any conflicts, this is why the United States will try to achieve their goals in a non-conflict way”.

    “We should not forget that a void is filled by the one who is stronger. This is why Russia and Belarus should realize the necessity to become stronger. We will be disregarded if we do not possess modern military forces,” Dmitry Rogozin said. This is why “it is pointless trying to persuade Washington through talks.” It is necessary that the Union State should be consolidated.

    “Any aggressor should know that it will be defeated if it questions our right to exist and be independent,” the politician said.

    However there are many sober minded people in the west who do not want to run afoul of Russia and Belarus, Dmitry Rogozin underlined.

    Nikolai Cherginets considers Nato dissolution beneficial for confidence-building between states

    Chairman of the International Affairs and National Security Commission of the Council of Republic Nikolai Cherginets considers the dissolution of Nato the most efficient way to build confidence between countries. The Belarusian parliamentarian was taking part in the videoconference on the Union State security that was held in Minsk on July 1.

    Participating in the conference were Russia’s representative in Nato Dmitry Rogozin, deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union State of Belarus and Russia.

    “The dissolution of Nato that was supposed to happen after the revocation of the Warsaw Pact would have been the most efficient step to take. The military facilities of Europe are sufficient to combat modern-day challenges, terrorism, organized crime, etc.,” Nikolai Cherginets said.

    He added that neither Russia nor Belarus considers any country their possible enemy, it also pertains to the US and Europe. However, “the map of the world is currently being reshaped.” Unfortunately, it brings some negative consequences, in particular, the breach of obligations related to CFE Treaty. “We are worried about the unpredictability of certain states. For example, unwarranted US involvement in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. At present, the calls are heard to launch a new war in Iran under the pretext of destroying WMD. Apart from that, the United States of America is trying to turn European states into their missile base,” Nikolai Cherginets underlined.

    Nato advanced more than a thousand kilometers eastward. According to Nikolai Cherginets, the Alliance “will not content themselves with the deployment of anti-missile weapons there – I am talking about a full-scale base with offensive armaments.”
    The Belarusian parliamentarian is convinced that the relevant talks are being conducted with Georgia, Lithuania and Turkey. The Union State of Belarus and Russia is being encircled by military bases designed not only to avert terrorist attacks.

    Another participant of the videoconference, Russia’s Duma deputy Franz Klintsevich added that the Nato expansion is part of power politics against Russia and Belarus and represents a major threat to the Union State security.

    According to him, it is meant “to bring to a stop the sustainable development of our countries, to impede the integration process.”

    Tax burden on low-income people will not increase after flat income tax is imposed

    From: BelTA
    According to the 2009 budget bill, a flat 12% income tax will be introduced in Belarus next year. Tax burden on low-income people will not increase, Deputy Minister for Taxes and Duties Alexander Doroshenko told a press conference on July 1.

    According to the draft document, the tax administration will be simplified, tax burden on several groups of tax-payers will be reduced, Alexander Doroshenko said. “Low-income population will pay a 12% income tax as against today’s 9% income tax. Logically, tax burden will increase. But in this case low-income people will be entitled to tax rebates,” the deputy minister stated.

    Alexander Doroshenko informed that it will be low-income people who will be entitled to tax rebates. Yet, it is unclear what income threshold will be recognized eligible for a tax rebate. “Several variants are under consideration – Br1million, Br1.5 million and Br2 million,” he said. High-income citizens will not be eligible for tax rebates. The deputy minister said that a flat income tax will also contribute to the legalization of incomes.

    A five-level scale (9%, 15%, 20%, 25%, 30%) is effective in Belarus today.

    National Bank of Belarus increases refinancing rate 0.25% on July 1

    From: BelTA
    On July 1 the National Bank of Belarus increased the refinancing rate 0.25% to 10.25% p.a. Relevant resolution No 77 of June 23, 2008 was adopted by the Board of Directors of the National Bank, BelTA was told in the information department of the Bank.

    The move is aimed at increasing the profitability of savings in the national currency and encouraging the growth of bank deposits.

    In 2007, short-term deposits in Belarusian rubles were up by Br1.1 trillion, or 26.3%. In January-May 2008, they were up by Br0.9 trillion, or 17.3%. The Belarusian ruble strengthened 1.2% against the USD.

    Increasing the rate of refinancing and respectively the loan interest rate is an additional measure to stimulate the growth of bank deposits what will bear positively on banks’ resource base and opportunities to satisfy the demand of people and companies for banking services. In 2008 the National Bank will continue supporting the level of interest rate to promote the growth of deposits and the financial market balance considering exterior and domestic economic trends.

    A reminder, the previous 10% refinancing rate was announced on October 1, 2007. In 2008 the National Bank was going to reduce it to 7-9% p.a.

    According to the draft monetary policy guidelines 2009, the refinancing rate by the end of the next year can be 10-12% p.a. with the inflation being at the rate of 9-11%.

    In January-June, Belarusian ruble strengthens 1.2% against US dollar

    From: BelTA
    In January-June this year, the Belarusian ruble strengthened 1.2% to make up Br2,125 per 1 US dollar as of July 1, BelTA was told in the National Bank of Belarus.

    Over the period under review, the Belarusian ruble weakened 3.6% against Russian ruble to make up Br90,79 per 1 Russian ruble as of July 1.

    Over the six months the Belarusian ruble weakened 6.1% against Euro to make up Br3359,62 per 1 Euro as of July 1.

    The monetary policy of the National Bank of Belarus is aimed at ensuring the stable exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble in order to reduce the intensity of inflation processes.

    In line with the 2008 monetary policy guidelines of the Republic of Belarus, the Belarusian ruble is projected to fluctuate 2.5% against US dollar or to make up Br2,100-2,200 per 1 US dollar at the end of the year. The chairman of the Board of the National Bank Piotr Prokopovich said that the Bank will be working on strengthening the national currency and ensuring the exchange rate of Br2,100 per US dollar.

    In 2009 the National Bank is going to peg the Belarusian ruble to the foreign currency system to increase the flexibility of the national currency against US dollar. The Belarusian ruble is estimated to fluctuate 5% against US dollar. The move is envisaged in the draft monetary policy guidelines of Belarus for 2009. Increasing the share of Euro and Russian ruble in foreign economic settlements enhances the importance of the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against these currencies for the economy.

  • From the International Press...

    Russia's NATO envoy calls for closer ties with Belarus

    From: RIA Novosti
    Russia's envoy to NATO said on Tuesday that Russia-Belarus ties should be strengthened, and that the two countries could never join the Western military alliance.

    Speaking at a Moscow-Minsk-Brussels video conference hosted by RIA Novosti, Dmitry Rogozin said that with the increasing global influence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia and Belarus "must act."

    "It is time for us to have our own plans, clear timeframes, and responsible people, and to do what is necessary in the interests of building a union state."

    The two post-Soviet countries have strongly criticized NATO's ongoing expansion, the alliance's refusal to ratify a new version of the Conventional Forces in Europe arms reduction pact, and plans of NATO-member the United States to deploy missile defense elements in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    When asked whether Russia and Belarus could ever join NATO, Rogozin said that even if there were a sudden reversal of public opinion, and the countries' citizens wanted to be led by Washington, membership would still be impossible.

    "This is simply because some NATO member, an independent Baltic state or a 'big power' like Poland, will be scared of us. They would never be able to swallow this," Rogozin said.

    Russia and Belarus have been in talks since 1997 over creation of the union state, but the negotiations have been complicated by a host of issues, including energy and financial disputes.

    Minsk Wants Long-Term Transit Supplement Before Paying Higher Gas Price

    From: Red Orbit
    Belarus will purchase natural gas from Russia at the first quarter price - $119 per 1,000 cubic meters - pending conclusion of a long-term supplementary agreement on gas transit with Gazprom (RTS: GAZP), which would revise the basic agreement on gas deliveries and transit, a source in the Belarusian state apparatus told Interfax.

    "We are currently paying at the first-quarter price, $119 per 1,000 cubic meters, because no long-term agreement on gas transit has been signed. We link all these issues to revisions in the pricing formula," the source said.

    As for the price of $128 per 1,000 cubic meters Russia announced effective April 1, the source said: "Before posing the issue of a gas price increase, a transit agreement must be signed."

    "We will pay for gas in the second quarter at the first-quarter price of $119 per 1,000 cubic meters," First Deputy Energy Minister Eduard Tovpenets told Interfax earlier, adding that the decision came at a meeting of the supervisory board at Beltransgaz.

    Beltransgaz's debt to Gazprom for imported gas amounted to $211 million as of June 1, 2008, including $184 million for the gas and $27.9 million in penalties and interest. The Belarusian concern paid $184 million by June 23, in accordance with the terms of the contract.

    Belarus is initiating revision of the pricing formula for 2007- 2010 that was approved in 2006, due to the steep rises in oil prices and Russia's decision to hold off switching to netback parity pricing for domestic consumers, which was to have begun from 2011.

    Beltransgaz and Gazprom signed a four-year agreement on December 31, 2006 on deliveries and transit of Russian gas in 2007-2010. The price for Belarus in 2008, 2009 and 2010 is to be 67%, 80% and 90% respectively of the European price less transportation and export duties.

    The agreement also covered tariffs on transit of Russian gas through Beltransgaz pipelines ($1.45 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers in 2007) and payment for services for managing the Yamal- Europe gas pipeline (determined by a formula). The transit tariff is to rise depending on increases in the gas price.

    Since January 1, 2008 the charge for Russian gas transit through Belarus has increased by an average of 10.2%, while the price of gas has increased 19%. The charge for transit on Beltransgaz's network has risen 9.7% to $1.59 per 1,000 cu m per 100 km, while transit on Yamal-Europe has rising 10.7% to $1.66 per 1,000 cu m per 100 km.

    The Belarusian Energy Ministry forecasts that natural gas transit through Belarus will decline 1.2% to 48.9 billion cubic meters (bcm) in 2008. Transit on the Beltransgaz network is expected to decline 12.5% to 16.1 bcm in 2008, but will increase 5.5% to 32.8 bcm on Yamal-Europe.

    Transit in 2007 increased 11.9% to 49.5 bcm compared to forecast of 45.8 bcm.

    Belarus imported 21.6 bcm of gas in 2008. Gazprom's stake in Beltransgaz, currently 25%, is slated to rise to 50% in 2010.

    Cardinal Bertone Notes Satisfaction With Belarus Trip

    From: Zenit
    Belarus is characterized by a healthy dialogue between faith and reason, says Benedict XVI's secretary of state.

    Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone mentioned this aspect of the former Soviet nation in an interview with Vatican Radio, L'Osservatore Romano and the Vatican Television Center about his June trip there.

    There is a lot of thirst for this dialogue, the cardinal said, "a lot of thirst for God and for God's reasons in respect of man's."

    The faith-reason dialogue, "suffocated during the Communist dictatorship, is re-emerging," he explained. "At the state university of Minsk there is a wonderful theology faculty frequented by Orthodox and Catholics," as well as by "non-believers who want to find the reasons of faith."

    The cardinal also mentioned the meetings he had with the country's president, Aleksandr Lukasenko, the foreign minister, and president of the Religious Affairs and Ethnic Minorities Committee of the Council of Ministers.

    "The meetings were very positive and we arrived at concrete results," the Vatican official said. "Above all, there is a prospect that is opening up, to stipulate a real agreement with Belarus." He further lauded the "climate of collaboration at the diplomatic level."

    "I believe that in Belarus, as in other countries of the Eastern European area, we have opened new avenues that until recently were unthinkable," he said. "This reflects the opportuneness of personal meetings, of face to face meetings with leaders of civil life and of the governments of the various nations."

    Ecumenical concord

    Cardinal Bertone also highlighted the positive ecumenical and interreligious situation in the country.

    In Belarus today, "not only is there a climate of tolerance but also of concord, of true concord between the different confessions, especially between the Christian confessions," he said.

    The cardinal affirmed he was especially impressed by "the climate of virtually idyllic concord, respect and reciprocal promotion of the initiatives of the different Churches."

    The Vatican official noted the participation of the Orthodox hierarchy in the solemn events over which he presided.

    And he noted the agreement with Metropolitan Filaret over the need to encourage a religious presence in society. "There is a healthy imitation and collaboration in the construction of churches. He showed me the gallery of all the new churches built while he has been metropolitan; he also appreciates the Catholic Church's building of these signs of the presence of God in the midst of men."

    Moreover, the relationship between the Latins and Greek-Catholics is "very fraternal," the cardinal affirmed.

    Cardinal Bertone also mentioned the representatives of the Lutheran Church and of the World Biblical Alliance, as well as the representatives of the Muslim community, at the trip's closing celebration in Minsk.

    Bobruisk Jews mark 500 years

    From: JTA
    A Jewish cemetery in Bobruisk
    Belarusian Jews celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Bobruisk Jewish community.

    The head of the Bobruisk community, Leonid Rubinstein, marked the celebration by writing a musical about its history that was perforned by local children and adults.

    "Jews have lived in Belarus for a long time, and three other towns' Jewish communities have celebrated their 500th anniversaries in recent years," the head of the Belarusian Jewish community, Leonid Levin, told JTA .

    Bobruisk, a city of 227,700 located 81 miles southeast of Minsk, now has a Jewish population of approximately 1,350. Some 20,000 Bobruisk Jews were shot by the Nazis during World War II and buried in mass graves. Most of the remaining Jews were killed in ghetto and labor camps established in the town.

    Levin said historical documents note the 500-year presence of Jews in Bobruisk. He added that the Mogilev community would celebrate the same anniversary in 2020.

  • From the Opposition...

    Authorities increase pressure on human rights activists before parliamentary elections

    From: Viasna
    The day when the human rights activists declared their intention to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections, June 12th, the First Channel of the Belarusian TV advertised a news item which insults the honor and dignity of the human rights defenders. Later the video was demonstrated by the Panarama news program on Sunday.

    While state-controlled media are trying to discredit the human rights activity, the authorities started detailed examination of tax history of the human rights defenders. During the recent 10 days the Ministry of Taxes and Duties demanded declarations about income and property from BHC chair Aleh Hulak, the former chair of BHC Tatsiana Protska, vice-President of FIDH Ales Bialiatski, BHC member Zmitser Markusheuski, human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovic, and their family members.

    We believe the actions of the authorities are related to the intention of the human rights activists to monitor the election process.

    Meanwhile, yesterday Aliaksandar Lukashenka signed Edict 344 “about Elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the 4th convocations”. According to the edict, the parliamentary elections will be held on September 28th, 2008.

    Political parties will withdraw their candidates if not allowed to join constituency commissions

    From: Charter '97
    The democratic parties reserve the right to withdraw their candidates in case the authorities refuse to include representatives of the parties to constituency electoral commissions for election of “chamber of representatives” deputies. It has been stated by leaders of oppositional political parties at the press-conference in Minsk today.

    “Yesterday I returned from Strasbourg, where I addressed the PACE session, and we agreed that the single list of potential candidates for deputies, and the list of those offered to become members of constituency electoral commissions are to be given to the Political Committee and to the Subcommittee on Belarus, so that they could serve as a test paper. We were asked all the time, what are criterions of election’s evaluation. It is very simple. Here are 110 names of potential candidates. How many of them are registered? Here is the list of people we offer for electoral commissions. How many of them have become members of constituency commissions? And then it is very easy to make a monitoring of the events. Decisions are not discussed, they are adopted. And we have adopted a decision about a limited participation in the electoral campaign. If there will be no our people among members of constituency electoral commissions, we reserve the right to withdraw the single list candidates from the campaign,” the chairman of the United civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka said.

    The politician called the electoral campaign without opposition’s participation in electoral commissions “a lottery scam”.

    “At the last presidential election 120,000 people were members of constituency and district electoral commissions, and only 1 of them was a representative of an oppositional party. It means that 119,999 persons represented interests of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and only one represented interests of the two democratic candidates – Alyaksandr Milinkevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin. It is impossible to take part in the election in such a situation; it is a trick for fools, a lottery scam, obviously. If it will be a repetition of the presidential campaign or something close to it, we certainly have a political and moral right to withdraw candidates,” the politician noted.

    The leader of the party of Communists of Belarus Syarhei Kalyakin believes that to solve the issue of the further participation in the election, the candidates of political parties should consider among other things “background of the electoral campaign”.

    “Besides the question of including opposition figures into commissions, it is also important whether potential candidates will be pressed at work, whether people, who will gather signatures for them, will be pressed. It will be a general background, which we should watch carefully and take decisions,” the leader of the Party of Communist of Belarus said.

    In view of Viktar Ivashkevich, deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front party, democratic candidates should hold electoral campaign in the way, it should be carried out in democratic countries, in spite of all restrictions of the Belarusian Central Election Commission.

    “The latest Lukashenka’s interview to “Komsomolskaya Pravda” newspaper shows that the authorities are interested that UDF candidates run in the elections, but would be restricted by various CEC instructions concerning forms and methods of propaganda campaign and would have to carry out a calm and restricted campaign. After that some people, announced “constructive opposition” by the authorities, will be sent to Europe to persuade the European institutions the elections have been democratic and it is necessary to establish relations with the existing authorities in Belarus. In this situation our candidates shouldn’t pay attention to CEC restrictions. We should carry out the campaign in the way we demand it from the authorities. We will spread as much information materials as we can, not as the CEC will allow us. We will have rallies and meet with the electorate where we want, not in outskirts, where the executive committees will send us to. The regime will face a choice: whether it withdraws our candidates, boycotts the elections itself and buries hopes for recognition of the parliament on the West, or it permits us to carry on agitation freely,” Viktar Ivashkevich noted.

    “it is absolutely unacceptable for us that some representatives of international organisations and political elites of various countries have backdoor talks that presence of 3 or 4 persons form the united list of the opposition can be exchanged to partial or full recognition of the electoral campaign. We say no. We do not need any quotas from Lukashenka. We need just one thing, namely open, free, fair elections,” UCP leader Anatol Lyabedzka added.

  • Around the region...

    Russian label Irfe rises from its ashes in Paris

    From: AP
    Olga Sorokina
    The history of Russian fashion label Irfe reads like a rollicking bestseller, but for designer Olga Sorokina, it's a fairytale come true.

    Almost eight decades after the original house of Irfe shuttered its doors, Sorokina presented her first collection for the label during couture week in Paris, with the hope of restoring it to its former glory.

    Models paraded on the steps of the Palais de Tokyo contemporary art museum in bias-cut silk gowns and rich astrakhan fur jackets inspired by the sleek fashions of the 1920s and 1930s.

    "The story of this house is a part of Russia's history and heritage," Sorokina, speaking through an interpreter, told reporters at the presentation late on Monday.

    Founded in Paris in 1924 by Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife Irina, the niece of the last Russian Czar Nicholas II, Irfe rapidly conquered a following amid chic European and American customers who were dazzled by its aristocratic founders.

    The fact that Yusupov had played a part in the murder of the self-declared holy man Rasputin at his family palace in St. Petersburg added a frisson of excitement.

    But the prince had little business sense, and two years after the 1929 Wall Street crash ruined his most prosperous clients, Yusupov was forced to shutter Irfe.

    Only two of the house's original creations survive, as many American clients used to clip the labels out of the dresses they bought in Paris in the hope of evading customs duties.

    Sorokina said she was drawn to the label after reading "Beauty in Exile," fashion historian's Alexandre Vassiliev's account of the artists, models and nobility who fled the Russian revolution and influenced the world of fashion.

    She contacted Xenia Sphiris, the granddaughter of the founders, who agreed to relaunch the brand.

    "We thought about it and we talked about it and the idea was fantastic, and I know that my grandparents loved that house," Sphiris, who was born Sheremeteva, told The Associated Press.

    She said the label was financially backed by Russian businessman Andrei Strukov, but Strukov declined to comment on his involvement or to detail the shareholder structure of the new firm.

    The relaunch of Irfe is testament to the growing purchasing power of Russia's new rich, who have joined the exclusive coterie of haute couture clients in recent years.

    Sorokina, a 23-year-old former model from Belarus, is riding on the coattails of this meteoric rise.

    She confessed she was nervous presenting her creations in Paris, where prestigious houses like Chanel and Christian Dior are unveiling their latest made-to-measure creations to wealthy clients this week. Nonetheless, she was confident of making her mark.

    "Paris is definitely still the capital of fashion, but in a few years Russian designers will break out in the international market," predicted Sorokina, who was dressed in a close-fitting cream silk trouser suit of her own design.

    Irfe has bold plans for a fledgling firm. It expects to open its first store on Moscow's exclusive Stoleshnikov Lane this winter, with further shops planned in Paris, Milan and New York.

    Irfe also plans to introduce a perfume range and a line of jewelry based on the legendary jewels of the Yusupov, Sheremetev and Romanov families.

    Polish conservatives warn against Russian military influence

    From: RIA Novosti
    Poland's ex-premier and leader of the conservative Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Tuesday that without a U.S. missile base on its territory the country may fall back under Moscow's military domination.

    "This would mean we are back in the sphere of influence where the Russians have the final say," Kaczynski, who is staunchly pro-American and deeply suspicious of Russia, told a news conference in Warsaw.

    Poland and the United States have been engaged in protracted talks over a U.S. request to place 10 interceptor missiles in northern Poland as part of a U.S. missile shield for Europe and North America against possible attacks from "rogue states," including Iran.

    Poland continues to insist on the modernization of its armed forces, primarily its air force and air defense, with financing to be provided by Washington, in exchange for agreeing to the placement of the U.S. base on its territory.

    Warsaw is particularly interested in U.S. short- and medium-range missile systems, such as Patriot PAC-3, THAAD and ground-based AMRAAM.

    Prime Minister Donald Tusk earlier told reporters: "We approach this issue from the assumption that the missile defense base, on its own, does not strengthen Poland's security. A decision on this must be accompanied by a number of other decisions that will objectively, and materially, improve Poland's security."

    The U.S. already gives Poland $27 million per year in military funding, the highest to any European ally, and the Bush administration earlier this year offered an extra $20 million per year. However, Poles say the funding level is still not enough.

    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to arrive in Warsaw on July 10. Experts believe that the formal talks on the U.S. missile base in Poland may be finalized just before or during her visit.

    Taxpayers May Finance Baltic Pipeline II

    From: Kommersant
    Transneft head Nikolay Tokarev is proposing that the construction of the second line of the Baltic Pipeline System be paid for from the federal budget. The company (in which 88 percent of the shares, and 100 percent of the voting shares, belong to the state) is asking the Finance Ministry for 118-120 billion rubles to be paid into its authorized capital. The Ministry of Energy says that state financing for the pipeline is not currently under consideration.

    All previous Transneft projects, including the East Siberia pipeline and the first line of the Baltic Pipeline, were financed by Transneft through changes in the fee for the transportation of oil. Zarubezhneft and Surgutneftegaz are the most interested in the construction of the pipeline. Gunvor, the trader for Surgutneftegaz, is building a terminal at the Port of Ust-Luga.

    Surgutneftegaz plans to increase the capacity of its Kirishsky oil refinery and pump up to 12 million tons per year through the second Baltic line.

    Zarubezhneft is building a terminal there with a capacity of 10 million tons per year, with the possibility of increasing that capacity to 18 million tons.

    On June 18, a draft government resolution on the construction of the pipeline was submitted to the Energy Ministry. It proposes a construction date of September 2008 to the end of 2011. Now the government will discuss the route of the pipeline and sources of its financing. Tokarev said that another financing option under consideration involves Vneshekonombank, either as a direct lender or as the organizer of a syndicated loan. The pipeline will stretch from Unecha, Bryansk Region, to Leningrad Region. Its construction was proposed after Russia and Belarus came into conflict over oil transit fees on the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline last year.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Expert institute to be set up to help tackle Polish economic crime

    From: WBJ
    The Justice Ministry is failing to catch and punish economic crimes, as the investigations take a long time and courts find it difficult to understand the evidence
    The Justice Ministry is failing to catch and punish economic crimes, as the investigations take a long time and courts find it difficult to understand the evidence.

    The Ministry is planning to change the situation by establishing an Institute of Economic-Financial Expertise (IEE-F), which should employ the best experts for finances, the bourse and the economy. The Institute would give analytical and expert support for prosecutors and courts from all over the country.

    "The intentions of the minister are noble, but I do not know whether such an institute, which will be run by the Justice Ministry, will turn out to be impartial. Especially as, so far, the functions of the general prosecutor and the justice minister have not yet been separated," said Jacek Socha, the former chairman of the Financial Supervision Commission (KNF) and a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

    Robert Gwiazdowski, an expert at Adam Smith Center, added, "I do not think this is the best idea. I do not believe that the salaries at the Institute would be attractive enough to tempt market specialists. Moreover, I do not believe that an employee of the Institute who would be a subordinate of the general prosecutor can remain independent."

    Poland most aided new EU state

    From: Polskie Radio
    Poland received two billion Euros from Brussels more in 2007 than in the previous year.

    Poland's total aid was 5 billion euros net from the EU budget last year, more than any other EU new member state.

    However, Poland pales in comparison with other EU countries, when it comes to funds management, ranking third from bottom, together with the Czech Republic, and leaving only Cyprus and Holland behind.

    Dalia Grybauskaite, EU commissioner for budget issues, admitted that Poland has speeded up the spending recently but it still had a major backlog to deal with. Poland has spent just 63 percent of the funds allocated to it since its accession in 2004.

    However, she praised Poland for the current progress, adding that Brussels publishes data on how member states spend money from the EU budget, to promote effectiveness in spending.

    Tribunal rules WSI report a violation of human rights

    From: WBJ
    The Constitutional Tribunal ruled on Friday night that the publication of the report on verification of the Military Intelligence Services (WSI) prepared by Antoni Macierewicz in 2007 violated the standards of a democratic state and fundamental human rights
    The Tribunal declared that people who were mentioned in the report as perpetrators or people who helped in the criminal activities of WSI had no chance of explaining themselves before the publication.

    There was no court control over the publication that declared numerous people as guilty who were not even able to check the sources of such accusations. The verdict will have an impact on the annex to the report, which was also prepared by Macierewicz and delivered to President Lech Kaczynski several months ago.

    The Tribunal ruled that the annex cannot be published until the bill on the report contains relevant guarantees concerning human rights.

  • Sport...

    Brazil, Belarus Win in Minsk

    From: International Gymnastics
    The Brazilian women and Belarusian men won the team and all-around titles at the Vitaly Scherbo International Gymnastics Cup, held Saturday and Sunday in Minsk.

    Jade Barbosa led Brazil (235.350) to victory over Ukraine (233.700) and Belarus (224.000) in the women's team competition.

    In the individual all-around, Barbosa earned 60.250 to top Ukraine's Alina Kozich (60.050) and Poland's Marta Pihan (58.200).

    In the men's competition, the host nation scored 360.700 to defeat France (356.400) and Ukraine (339.700).

    Belarus' Dmitry Savitsky (90.650) won the men's all-around over France's Benoit Caranobe (89.450) and Alexander Shatilov (88.050).

    In Sunday's event finals, four nations won women's titles: Ukraine's Olga Scherbatykh on vault, Brazil's Lais Souza on uneven bars, Uzbekistan's Luisa Galiulina on balance beam and Belarus' Anastasia Zaitseva on floor exercise.

    In the men's competition, Brazilian world champion Diego Hypolito won the gold on floor exercise and Belarusians Alexander Tsarevich and Alexei Ignatovich went 1-2 on pommel horse. France won three golds: Danny Rodrigues on still rings and Yann Cucherat on both parallel bars and high bar.

    The competition is named in honor of legendary Belarusian gymnast Vitaly Scherbo, the most decorated gymnast of all time. Scherbo, who now operates the Vitaly Scherbo School of Gymnastics in Las Vegas, was on hand in Minsk.

    Montreal Canadiens re-sign Belarussian forward Andrei Kostitsyn to 3-year deal

    The Montreal Canadiens agreed to terms Tuesday with Belarussian forward Andrei Kostitsyn on a three-year, US$9.75 million (€6.2 million) deal.

    The restricted free agent forward will receive US$3.25 million (€2.06 million) per season.

    Kostitsyn, a 23-year-old winger, had 53 points (26-27) in 78 games last season.

    He was selected by Montreal with the 10th overall pick in the National Hockey League's 2003 entry draft.

    At Wimbledon

    In the third round of the mixed doubles, Daniel Nestor, Canada, and Chuang Chia-jung (2), Taiwan, def. Max Mirnyi and Olga Govortsova, Belarus, 6-3, 7-6 (4).

  • Endnote...

    Identity for What?

    From: Kommersant
    Belarus is the only CIS country whose geopolitical preferences haven’t been defined yet.
    This proposition may seem absurd, because formally everything is clear-cut: Minsk has been in alliance with Moscow. But in reality everyone has learned that you can hardly find a better advocate of national independence than the Belarusian president.

    Alexander Lukashenko’s commitment to the concept of sovereignty can be easily explained. Only 100% sovereignty can secure him the scope of personal power he needs. And Belarus is now at the crossroads: It deliberately styles itself as the desired “prize” in a big competition. At the same time Mr Lukashenko appears to reckon that he can play the game for ever.

    Model “geopolitical loyalty in exchange for economic preferences” – something the integration of Russia and Belarus used to be based upon – won’t work any longer. Pragmatically, Moscow needs concrete economic dividends from Minsk, rather than the rhetoric about the “last stronghold” saving you from NATO’s expansion.

    Lukashenko is aware of it, that’s why he has repeatedly tried to establish good relations with the EU. Energy security is Europe’s heel of Achilles, which the Belarusian leader wants to stress. “Let’s jointly sap the expansion ambitions of Russia,” he’d say. It’s obvious that the inner-political situation in Belarus is not to be discussed.

    Europeans are quite cynical, but you can’t repeat the story of Muammar al-Gaddafi, who turned out a respectable head of state. Belarus is a European country; so, a basic set of criteria is applied to it.

    The United States is able to demonstrate a more flexible approach. Say, Uzbekistan, compared to which Belarus looks like an oasis of democracy, used to be an important partner of the USA, and it seems the country can regain this role. But Lukashenko has really fallen out with Washington. The harsh pressing of the U.S. embassy borders with personal insult. That’s why American representatives say that the matter is not only in the Belarusian democracy any more. The hint is clear: No compromise is possible with this regime.

    The paradox is in that if there is a state on the territory of the former USSR that ideally suits for being integrated in western organizations, the EU first of all, it is Belarus. It’s a compact monoethnic country of European size and culture with educated population and without oligarchs and privatization consequences. Just like in a textbook.

    The role of Alexander Lukashenko is unique. On the one hand, he has virtually created independent Belarus’ national identity – an odd, but its own one. On the other hand, he has blocked any opportunity of moving in either direction. But one day the striving for geopolitical acquisitions can have the upper hand, which will bode ill for Mr Lukashenko.