News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Russia and Belarus, US missiles, Tourism, Business, Banking, Putin, Chavez, G20, Opposition, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #359

    Russia to share practices used to set up information centre for nuclear power plant construction with Belarus

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    Meeting with Governor Pavel Ipatov of the Saratov Region of the Russian Federation
    Russian specialists are ready to share practices used to set up an information centre meant to provide comprehensive and detailed information about the future nuclear power plant to the nation with Belarus. The proposal was voiced by governor of the Saratov oblast of the Russian Federation Pavel Ipatov during a meeting with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on November 11.

    According to the press service of the head of state, Pavel Ipatov confirmed the Saratov oblast is ready to help Belarus with personnel training and to send its subspecialty specialists required for building the nuclear power plant.

    The Saratov oblast governor noted, he had received most favourable impressions from seeing new models of Belarus-made trams and trolley buses. “We are ready to consider the possibility of assembling trams in the Saratov oblast. Negotiations about agricultural machinery are underway. I think we will make a deal,” he said.

    “We have already reached agreements concerning specific Belarusian enterprises. In addition we see good prospects with regard to some other enterprises. We are interested in high-tech, municipal transport, automobile and mechanical engineering. Belarus hasn’t wasted time and has managed to create new high-quality agricultural machines. Belarusian products boast an optimal correlation of the price and quality,” added the governor.

    “In Belarus people earn their living by working instead of selling natural riches, which is very important,” said Pavel Ipatov. “Alexander Grigoryevich, thank you for the great attention to cooperation with regions of Russia. I am convinced partners from the Saratov oblast and Belarus should work directly, bypassing mediators. We have already outlined primary actions for every area. Specialists will work out further steps”.

    Important documents will be signed at next session of Supreme State Council, President says

    Important documents aimed at developing the strategic cooperation between Belarus and Russia in urgent issues will be signed at the forthcoming session of the Supreme State Council of the Union State.

    The head of state said that the preparations for the session of the Supreme State Council are underway. The session will sum up the results and set out the goals for the foreseeable future. “As the chairman of the supreme body of the Union State I say that this is going to be a special meeting,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    According to the President of Belarus, regional cooperation plays a big role in strengthening the friendship between the two fraternal peoples. This is the basis of bilateral relations. The issues of practical integration will head the meeting on November 11. According to Alexander Lukashenko, the Saratov oblast is a rapidly developing region of Russia which buys various goods from Belarus. On its part Belarus has got something to offer to the Russians. The Saratov oblast supplies Belarus with such resources as oil, inorganic chemistry products, mineral fertilisers. According to the head of state, Belarus and this Russian region have established strong economic relations. A proof to it is the trade which reached $162 million over the nine months 2008 and surpassed last year’s level. A Belarusian governmental delegation has recently visited the Saratov oblast. During the visit the sides signed the agreements to develop and strengthen bilateral links.

    According to the head of state, there is another important area of cooperation with the Saratov oblast which is the studying of the Russian experience in the construction of nuclear power plants. “We would like to learn this new activity from you. We will appreciate your assistance in training and exchanging the personnel for the nuclear power plant that is to be built in Belarus,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    In his words, there are many areas for efficient cooperation between Belarus and the Saratov oblast. Belarus is ready to take part in the programmes that are being implemented in the Saratov oblast and invite Saratov colleagues to partake in the Belarusian projects.

    “We are ready to cooperate in all areas with this powerful industrial and agricultural region. I think these contacts will be advantageous for you too. If you are interested in military, technical and other areas we are ready to provide assistance,” the President said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus backs Russia’s response to deployment of US missile defences in Czechia, Poland

    From: BelTA
    Belarus absolutely supports Russia in adequate actions in response to the deployment of US missile defences in Czechia and Poland, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on November 11.

    Speaking about Russia’s possible deployment of short-range missiles Iskander in the Kaliningrad oblast, Alexander Lukashenko remarked, “I think if the Russians have planned it, they will do it”.

    The interview also touched upon elected President of the United States of America Barack Obama. According to the Belarusian head of state, “He is a new, young, educated man, faster and more energetic, who will be able to take a more pragmatic look on the world reality”.

    Alexander Lukashenko underscored Barack Obama should be a man of his word and deed and advised him to fulfil his promises. “If he departs from his promises in something, it means he is a political bankrupt. If you promise, do it. If something hasn’t worked today, go and explain why it failed and when you will do it tomorrow,” said the Belarusian leader.

    Belarus and the USA should return to the initial stage and quality of relations, which existed before the crisis, and should start a dialogue.

    “Everything depends on America. If America is interested in developing relations with us without building some additional barriers and preconditions, we will seriously advance in this regard and Americans will be pleased with cooperation with Belarus,” stressed the head of state.

    “I think the Americans have understood that Belarus is a key country in Europe and that they should cooperate with it,” he added.

    10 million tourists expected to visit Belarus in 2010

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is taking part in one of the major international tourist exhibitions World Travel Market that is being held in London on November 10-13. The Belarusian delegation is composed of representatives of Belarusian hotels and travel agencies, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian National Tourism Agency.

    The representatives of Belarus have prepared a joint national pavilion. “Our participation in this exhibition became traditional. Every year, the area under our pavilion is expanding and the number of its representatives is growing. Thus Belarus is becoming increasingly recognized as a popular tourism destination,” leading expert of the marketing department of the National Tourism Agency Vladimir Yankovenko said.

    The tourist opportunities of Belarus will be presented at the exhibition. The conference will feature the advantages of investing in the Belarusian tourism industry, in particular in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Reserve which will celebrate the 600th anniversary of its status as a forest reserve in 2009.

    Ten million tourists are expected to come to Belarus in 2010, director of the tourism department of the Ministry of Sports and Tourism of Belarus Viktor Yankovenko said. According to him, favourable conditions have been created for the further growth: modern hotels have been built; a good transportation network with other capital cities has been established, including direct flights to Europe and the Middle East. Apart from that, over the past year Belarus has introduced a series of economic reforms designed to create an attractive investment climate in the country.

    World Travel Market is one of the most prestigious tourist exhibitions in the world. In 2008, it is held in London for the 29th time. The exhibition whose exposition area is about 50,000 square meters presents almost 200 countries and regions.

    Olga Khizhenkova to represent Belarus at Miss World 2008 in South Africa

    From: BelTA
    Winner of the national pageant Olga Khizhenkova will represent Belarus at the 58th Miss World Final that will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa on December 13, 2008, BelTA learnt from director of the National School of Beauty Olga Serezhnikova. On November 15, the Belarusian contestant will leave for Johannesburg.

    According to Olga Serezhnikova, the Miss World competition is the most difficult pageant from the psychological point of view. Normally, such competitions are not tiresome: rehearsals are interspersed with balls and receptions. But the Miss World pageant is more challenging: during the first two weeks the contestants tour the host country, and then a serious of everyday rehearsals begins. The number of participants in the Miss World 2008 is record high – 120 countries, the final show therefore is going to be very impressive.

    Olga Khizhenkova has taken intensive English courses and prepared the homework for the competition – the national folk dance. Apart from that, she is supposed to bring a souvenir from her home country and sell it for the biggest price at the auctions.

  • Economics...

    Shares of Belarus key enterprises not to be sold on preferential terms

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has signed Decree No 605 on the privatization of the national unitary enterprises on November 10. This decree introduced a list of unitary enterprises the state shares of which are not be sold on preferential terms or exchanged for Imushchestvo property vouchers when these enterprises are transformed into open joint stock companies, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The list is composed of the key enterprises of the Industry Ministry, Energy Ministry, State Military-Industrial Committee, Belarusian State Concern for Oil and Chemistry that belong to the state and are included in the privatization plan for 2008-2010.

    The economic activity promotion measures of the unitary enterprises included in the list remain in effect after they are transformed into open joint stock companies.

    According to the presidential press service, the decree is aimed at attracting major investment in the open joint stock companies.

    The document comes into force on the day of its official publication.

    Belarus’ industrial output hit Br109.3 trillion in January-October

    Over the ten months of 2008 the industrial output in Belarus reached Br109.345 trillion or 12.8% up from the same period of 2007, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee. The industrial output surplus is projected to be 8-9% in 2008.

    According to the National Statistics Committee, over the ten months of 2008, the country produced consumer goods Br20.498 trillion worth which is 12.7% up from the same period of 2007 (the annual projection 9-10%). In January-October, the food products output hit Br10.266 trillion or 13.3% up from the same period of 2007 (the annual projection 8-9%). The non-foods production was Br8.928 trillion worth (12.4% up, the annual projection 10-11%). The production of alcoholic beverages was Br1.303 trillion worth or 10.5% up from the same period of 2007.

    According to the National Statistics Committee, the energy intensity of the gross domestic product fell 7.8% being projected at 7-8%. In January-September, the level of profitability of the industrial products was 18.1% with the annual projection at 12-13%.

    Belarus’ GDP up 10.7% in January- October

    In January-October 2008, Belarus’ GDP increased by 10.7% in comparable prices over the same period last year, BelTA was told in the National Statistics Committee.

    In accordance with the social and economic development forecast of Belarus, GDP is projected to increase by 8-9% in 2008.

    Over the nine months 2008, the industrial output was up 12.8% (the annual target – 8-9%), the production of consumer goods increased by 12.7% (the annual target – 9-10%). The production of non-foods upped by 12.4% (the annual target – 10-11%).

    Inflation in Belarus at 1% in October

    Inflation in Belarus was running at 1% in October, BelTA was told in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    In January-October the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 10.5% from December 2007, or 1% per month since the beginning of the year.

    Economy Minister of Belarus Nikolai Zaichenko said earlier that the country may have inflation of 14% by the end of 2008.

    The inflation is fueled, first of all, by outside factors such as growing prices for energy, raw materials, food. “In these conditions the artificial restriction of prices would turn the production unprofitable, make the producers reduce the output which would lead to panic buying,” the Minister said earlier.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus leader praises Obama, seeks better ties

    From: Reuters
    The leader of Belarus has praised U.S. president-elect Barack Obama as "young, educated and unblinkered" and said he hoped he would improve strained relations between the two countries.

    President Alexander Lukashenko was long accused of crushing basic rights but has sought better ties with the West for more than a year after quarrelling with Russia over energy prices.

    "(Obama) is a new, young, educated and unblinkered man, a faster-acting and more energetic man who will be able to look at the world situation in a more realistic way," Lukashenko told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, excerpts of which were released to local media Tuesday.

    "If it is in America's interests to develop relations with us without new barriers or pre-conditions, we will move toward that in a serious way.

    "And Americans will be pleased with their cooperation with Belarus. I believe Americans have understood that Belarus is a key country in Europe and cooperation is necessary."

    Belarus's ties with Washington plunged to unprecedented lows after sanctions imposed on oil producer Belneftekhim last year prompted authorities to ask the U.S. ambassador to leave Minsk in March.

    But tension subsided with the West after Belarussian courts ordered the release in August of the last detainees considered political prisoners. Washington eased some punitive measures.

    The 27-nation European Union later suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko after Western monitors judged a September parliamentary election to be an improvement over earlier contests, while still saying it fell short of proper standards.

    Lukashenko says he still views Russia as his country's strategic partner and in the interview praised Moscow's "appropriate actions" in opposing the proposed deployment of a U.S. missile shield in eastern Europe.

    But parliament in the former Soviet republic has failed to move on Russian requests to recognize the separatist Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

    Russia launched a counter-attack deep into Georgia in August in response to an attempt by that country's pro-Western leadership to recapture South Ossetia. Moscow later recognized the independence of both regions despite Western condemnation.

    Belarus to relax rule on banks' interest rate setting

    From: Guardian
    Belarus's central bank will scrap a recommendation limiting commercial banks' interest rates to no more than three percentage points above its key refinancing rate as of next year, the bank said on Tuesday.

    "This decision was taken so that banks could react to the changing situation faster ... The situation on financial markets is changing very quickly at the moment," Anatoly Drozdov, the central bank's chief spokesman, told Reuters.

    Although this had been only a recommendation, commercial banks never set interest rates above the limit. On Monday, the central bank raised its refinancing rate to 11 percent from 10.75 percent.

    Ex-Soviet Belarus is currently seeking an International Monetary Fund loan of about $2 billion as a "precautionary measure" against the impact of the global financial crisis.

    For years, Belarus retained its Soviet-style command economy, but has in the past year tried to move closer to the West diplomatically and through opening up its markets.

    At the end of last month, veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko told his government it should not be afraid of liberalising the economy in the face of the crisis.

    In the past year, Belarus has received its maiden sovereign credit ratings, though it has been unable to issue a Eurobond, and has sold two large telecom operators for a total of $1.5 billion to an Austrian and a Turkish firm.

    Statistics ministry data showed on Tuesday the economy grew 10.7 percent in January-October against 8.3 percent in the same period last year. The government is targeting year-end growth of 11 percent against 8.2 percent in 2007.

    Data also showed month-on-month inflation was 1 percent in October, the same as in September, and accumulated price rises reached 10.5 percent. The government raised its inflation forecast several months ago to 14 percent by year-end.

    Venezuela will keep buying weapons from Russia, China, Belarus, general says

    From: Naveny
    Venezuela will keep buying weapons from Russia, China and Belarus in the next five years to build up “a sufficient force” to defend its oil reserves from countries like the United States, Operations Command chief Jesus Gonzalez said in an interview last week.

    “The enemies of Venezuela are all those who want to set up here. I don't doubt that the United States wants to come to look for oil. We have to be prepared: 'If you want peace, prepare for war,’'' said General Gonzalez, who oversees weapon procurement for the Venezuelan armed forces.

    Even with new president-elect Barack Obama, "the end goal and purpose of the United States will be the same: To dominate the world," he said.

    “One of the strategies of the United States was to weaken us militarily,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “We knocked on several doors and arrived at Russia and China. Russia is a friend which held out a hand to us.”

    Between 2005 and 2007 Russia signed 12 contracts worth more than $4.4 billion to supply arms to Venezuela, including fighter aircraft, helicopters and Kalashnikov assault rifles.

    In September, Russia agreed to provide Venezuela with a $1 billion loan so that Caracas could buy TOR-M1 air defense systems, Igla-S portable SAM systems, Il-78 aerial tankers and Il-76 military cargo aircraft.

    “We want to be very strong, but in a highly dissuasive direction. So that any country in the world thinks not once but 10 times before coming here,” Mr. Gonzalez said.

    Belarus and Venezuela have signed an agreement on cooperation for the establishment of the South American country’s national air defense and electronic warfare systems, as well as an agreement governing the stay of Belarusian military advisors and experts in Venezuela.

    Under the former agreement, signed during Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s visit to Venezuela in December 2007, Belarus is to assist Venezuela in creating an integrated national air defense system and a national electronic warfare system on the basis of a conceptual plan to be devised by a Belarusian-Venezuelan commission.

    The agreement provides that Venezuela’s organizations shall sign contracts with organizations of Belarus and other states to purchase goods and services necessary for the creation of the systems.
    The agreement is for five years and shall be automatically extended unless either party provides at least 12 months’ prior notice of its intent not to renew the agreement. However, the agreement can be terminated at any time by mutual consent.

    Pyotr Tsikhanowski, first deputy chief of the Belarusian Armed Forces’ General Staff, said in March 2008 that the integrated national air defense system would be created within six years, and that it would be beneficial to Belarus and “vitally important” for Venezuela. The creation of the system would give an impetus to the development of Belarusian technologies and produce a good economic effect, he said.

  • From the Opposition...

    Siarhei Skrabets is denied employment at Minsk Automobile Plant for political reasons

    From: Viasna
    Skrabets: Can’t find a job
    The former member of the house of representatives and opposition politician Siarhei Skrabets can’t find a job. Another attempt to apply for a job of a foreman in a foundry shop of the Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ) was unsuccessful. Though there is a vacancy here, Skrabets was denied the job.

    ‘A shop manager asked why I didn’t have any service records in my work book since the term of MP had expired’, the former MP said to RFE/RL. ‘I answered I had been in prison. He asked why. I explained. Then he asked if I didn’t agree with the policy of the president. I said I didn’t. Then he told they had had an interview with another applicant and he was more suitable. That was the end. The manager was probably afraid I will lead workers to presidential residence in Drazdy,’ Siarhei Skrabets summed up the results of his attempt to become a MAZ worker.

    In the beginning of November Skrabets returned from Saint Petersburg, where he worked in a commercial building firm for a month. The firm had to reduce staff due to the global crisis, and the former “MP” had to come back to Belarus.

    Siarhei Skrabets, an organizer of Respublika parliamentary group in the House of Representatives of the 2nd convocation, was arrested in May 2005 and sentenced to 2.5 years of imprisonment for loan extortion. The former MP didn’t take the blame. In his view, he was unlawfully convicted for his opposition activity. Mr. Skrabets was released from jail about 1.5 years ago.

    Belarus close to full absence of foreign financing

    From: Charter '97
    Western banks almost shut down limits of open financing of Belarusian banks after the Belarusian authorities applied the International Monetary Fund for a loan.

    Interfax reports it with a reference to a source in a Belarusian bank.

    “After western banks, which continued cooperating with Belarus, learnt Belarus had applied the International Monetary Fund for a loan, that they took an immediate decision on cutting unsecured limits of the Belarusian banks,” the source said.

    He added that western banks shut their unsecured limits on most Belarusian banks in September current year due to the liquidity crisis. A number of foreign banks continued work in September–October on unsecured ground only with two biggest Belarusian state-owned banks – Belarusbank and Belagroprombank, the AFN notes.

    After Belarus asked the IMF for aid, the western banks shut down unsecured limits of these Belarusian banks, the source said. He thinks that the western partners adopted this decision in fear of increased risks of their business. The risks have increased due to Belarus’s request for an IMF’s loan, demonstrating instability in financial sphere, the expert explained actions of the western banks.

    “90 per cent of banks that continued to work with us on unsecured basis closed limits after Belarus’s application for a loan. It means that after the current projects are financed, and facilities, issued in the frames of limits, are returned, the banks, closed limits, will suspend their business with Belarusian banks,” he said.

    In his view, in the current situation Belarus is “close to full absence of foreign financing”.

    “Conditions of attracting any foreign financing have complicated, and western banks are ready to give only pledged resources that are secured by facilities of clients or own capital,” the banker said. “As a rule, big banks don’t carry out pledge transactions. So, it is senseless for us to attract facilities on a secured basis.”

    The representative of the bank said the Belarusian banks had the only source of crediting resources in this situation - local clients attracting funds.

    Speaking about prospects of renewal of unsecured crediting, the source noted that “western banks links this possibility with a decision of the IMF: if the Fund open financing, banks will renew limits, but if the IMF doesn’t give a loan, western banks will find risks have increased, and so, we can’t expect recovery of unsecured limits.”

  • Around the region...

    Russia and Ukraine:
    Facing Up to the Global Credit Crisis

    From: Russia Blog
    According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Russian stocks on average are trading at slightly more than four times earnings on the MICEX and RTS stock exchanges. This level is down from thirteen times earnings at the market's peak. Overall, compared to fellow BRIC economies, Russia's stock market is down 72 percent off its 2007 peak, compared to 59 percent for Brazil, and 62 percent for India and China, according to statistics compiled by The Asia Times.

    Lower commodities prices and the global credit crisis are hitting the Russian economy hard in the last half of 2008. However, unlike in 1998, when Russia's banking system and the savings of middle class Russians were wiped out, Russia has a huge stockpile of hard currency reserves to leverage as collateral in maintaining financial stability. The ruble has lost ground versus the dollar since hitting its peak in the early summer of 2008. However, the ruble has not collapsed into hyperinflation, as it did 10 years ago, and the Russian government is allowing it to depreciate against other world currencies. There are some signs that Russia can ride out the crisis -- if Western credit markets remain open to lending to Russian firms, and the West remains attractive to Russian and other sovereign wealth fund investments.

    The Fallout from the Global Credit Crisis in Russia

    Whether Moscow and Washington like it or not, Russia is now thoroughly integrated into the global economic system. Regardless of where the financial crisis began (and most analysts agree that it originated with a worldwide glut of money issued by central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve), Russia's problems cannot be separated from those of the West. The Russian government has attempted to address the crisis by cutting interest rates, and injecting cash from Russia's $500 billion in hard currency reserves into loans for major companies, including one of the largest banks in the country, Vneshtorbank (VTB). Russia's major electric utilities and automakers, just like American carmakers in Detroit, are also publically declaring that they may need government assistance. Time magazine is reporting that assembly line workers are being laid off or having their wages slashed in Nizhny Novgorod and other regional economic hubs. Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has warned that not all Russian banks and corporations should count on loans from the state and that they ought to prepare for slower growth in 2009.

    Ukraine and the Energy Price Crunch

    Russia still seems to have more natural resources and currency reserves to withstand the economic shocks than some of the smaller, richer European economies, like Iceland and Hungary (both members of NATO, and the latter a member of the European Union), and nations in the former Soviet Union, such as Ukraine. The collapse in prices for steel and coal, Ukraine's two most lucrative exports, have made an already shaky political situation in Kyev even more acrimonious.

    If Gazprom finds itself short on Western capital for drilling and modernization, the state-owned monopoly will always find it more politically acceptable to boost the artificially low gas prices it charges Ukraine and Belarus than to squeeze domestic utilities and consumers in Russia. Western governments may dislike these actions and once again accuse the Kremlin of bullying Kyev, but they should follow the money. The harsh reality is that natural gas (and the steel made with it, whether in Russia or Ukraine) must at some point reflect the true costs of getting the raw material out of the ground in Siberia and Central Asia and shipping it to points east and west.

    The former Soviet republics, as well as the Russians themselves, cannot continue to pay half or less of what Western Europeans pay for the same natural gas indefinitely. Free market economists ought to be applauding such a reckoning rather than dismissing it as "Russia using energy as a weapon". While Russia will continue to subsidize natural gas prices for its own people for some time, unlike other major energy producers such as Saudi Arabia, it does not subsidize dirt cheap gasoline at the pump. In fact, even as gasoline prices have fallen in the U.S. since reaching their peak in July 2008, Russians continue to pay more at the pump than Americans.

    Can the West Keep its Own Commitment to the Ideals it Demands of Russia?

    For long-term investors who remain cash-rich and liquid, the global financial crisis may present an unprecedented buying opportunity. Many smaller Russian and Ukrainian companies may end up selling for a fraction of their pre-crisis value.

    Russia has not yet undergone the wholesale nationalization of its banking or financial sector, as has already occurred in many Western economies. But the question remains: can Russia and Ukraine maintain their commitment to free trade and market economics, even as these concepts are being maligned and blamed for economic failure in the West? Time will tell.

    Investors see asset grab in Russia potash mine probe

    From: Reuters
    A renewed probe of a two-year-old accident at potash miner Uralkali (URKA.MM: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) has landed a fresh blow on fragile confidence in Russian stocks and raised fears of a state asset grab, analysts and fund managers said on Tuesday.

    London-listed shares in Uralkali, beloved of investors since an IPO last year, have fallen more than 70 percent since Friday when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's influential deputy, Igor Sechin, ordered Russia's mining safety watchdog to re-open the probe.

    Uralkali lost 22.9 percent at $5.06 in London trade (URKAq.L: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) on Tuesday, hitting its lowest since the October 2007 share float, while the Moscow-traded share closed down 34.8 percent at 45.89 roubles. Uralkali, controlled by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, said on Monday its future could be in doubt if the government forces it to pay full damages for a 2006 mine flood for which it had earlier been cleared of blame. [ID:nLA727764]

    "This is an opportunistic move to gain a foothold in that industry or take some assets," Uralsib strategist Chris Weafer said of the renewed investigation.

    Uralkali, through its Belarus-based export agent, accounts for about one-third of global potash exports and more than tripled first-half profits this year as prices for the soil nutrient rocketed to all-time highs.

    Investors fear that influential figures near the top of the government, widely suspected of expansionist ambitions in the natural resources sector, have also noticed the fat profit margins that have made Uralkali a darling of fund managers.

    Senior figures in the Kremlin and the government have been silent on Uralkali since Friday's news.

    Analysts point to a joint venture between state conglomerate Russian Technologies, led by Sergei Chemezov, another Putin ally, with Uralkali rival Silvinit SILV.RTS as evidence of state interest in the fertiliser business.

    The Kama Mining joint venture won the largest of three potash deposits in the Ural mountains up for auction in March, outbidding Uralkali for a portion of the largest deposit of the mineral fertiliser oustide Canada's Saskatchewan province.

    Silvinit's potash deliveries were disrupted by the sinkhole that opened up as a result of the flood at Uralkali's Mine-1, threatening a rail line and the nearby town of Berezniki.

    Some investors see a parallel between the multi-billion dollar back-tax claims that destroyed the once mighty YUKOS oil company. They say Uralkali could face not only the cost of resettling some Berezniki residents and rebuilding a bypass rail line, but could also be penalised for lost potash supplies.

    "Costs could potentially spiral if the government were to find Uralkali guilty of destroying potash ore," Citigroup said in a note downgrading the share from 'buy' to 'speculative hold' and halving its price target on increased equity risk.

    The company declined to comment on Tuesday. A day earlier, it said it could face an "enormous financial burden" if forced to pay damages and that it believed there were no legal or moral grounds to make it responsible for the flood.

    Investor sentiment had yet to fully recover from the YUKOS fiasco of 2004, much less Putin's July lashing of another market darling, coking coal miner Mechel (MTL.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), when news broke on Friday that the flood investigation would resume.

    A steep sell-off of Russian equity began in July, long before the global financial crisis sent investors fleeing from emerging markets, when Putin slammed Mechel's coking coal pricing policy on live television.

    "The big problem is that Mechel and Uralkali were very widely owned by high-profile folks and recommended globally by many, many houses. This is another disaster," said a Moscow-based hedge fund manager, who declined to be named.

    Weafer said the Uralkali investigation would pit a group of politicians keen to see more state control of natural resources against Kremlin liberals, and that investors wanted to see President Dmitry Medvedev take sides.

    "We are at an important point, not just for Uralkali, but for the investment climate overall," Weafer said. "If this asset grab is successful, it will be seen as a victory for the statists and a defeat for the liberal agenda."

    Ukraine's rich buy lenders

    Dmytro Firtash
    Cash-rich Ukrainian investors have agreed to purchase two of the country's most troubled banks in moves that could help stabilise the country's financial sector.

    Yesterday, a state administrator of Prominvestbank, the sixth largest bank, announced that a 68 per cent stake had been sold to a consortium of strategic investors led by brothers Andriy and Serhiy Kluyev, two wealthy businessmen-MPs.

    The shares were sold by Volodymyr Matvienko, the bank chairman, along with relatives and employees. They claim a smear campaign triggered a run on deposits at Prominvestbank.

    Earlier, billionaire Dmytro Firtash, Gazprom's partner in the supply of natural gas to Ukraine, said he had purchased a controlling stake of 90 per cent in another troubled Ukrainian bank, Nadra Bank. Nadra officials declined comment.

    Mr Firtash told the Financial Times that each country was developing its own way out of the crisis. "The president has said Ukraine will not bail out its banks with taxpayers' money so it is clear that in Ukraine it will be private business people who can do this and I, as a Ukrainian, am buying this bank."

    Mr Firtash added that Nadra was a "good bank" with good management that had run into difficulties in the crisis raising funds.

    The developments follow last week's decision by the International Monetary Fund to grant Ukraine a $16.4bn standby loan. Ukrainian officials said yesterday that the IMF loan and new bank investors would shore up confidence in Ukraine's shaky financial system and sliding currency.

    In October, the central bank injected more than $600m through a rescue package into Prominvestbank, froze the bank's deposits and introduced state management. Nadra was not put under emergency measures but was also causing concern to authorities.

    Similar-sized Ukrainian banks sold in previous years for $700m to $2bn. While the price tags in the latest deals were not disclosed, it was expected to be much smaller due to the global crisis.

    Alexander Valchyshen, head of research at Investment Capital Ukraine, a Kiev-based investment bank, said: "These investors paid less - something like $100m-$125m for a controlling stake in Nadra and $240m-$270m for Prominvestbank. But, in my perception, these investors may invest the same amount of funds, or even more, to keep these banks afloat."

    Ukraine's stock market rose 31 per cent to 291.43 points from a year-low of 222.26 on October 27.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    As if they have nothing better to do:
    Sikorski's remains to be exhumed

    From: WBJ
    The remains of General Wladyslaw Sikorski will be exhumed on November 25, as part of a probe to determine the cause of his death

    The remains of Poland's prime minister as well as commander of its armed forces, General Wladyslaw Sikorski will be exhumed on November 25, as part of a probe into whether he died accidentally in 1943 or was assassinated.

    The head of the National Remembrance Institute (IPN) Janusz Kurtyka told TVN24 on Monday that investigators will open Sikorski's tomb on November 25, which is resting in the WawelCastle in Krakow among Polish kings, and return the body on November 26.

    Sikorski died on July 4, 1943 moments after his plane took off and crashed. His death has generated theories whether he was murdered or died accidentally.

    "Duck" moniker not fowl play

    From: WBJ
    Political satirists and caricaturists in Poland can rest a little easier this week, following a decision by the Regional Court in Warsaw

    The court ruled that using the term "kaczory" (literally "drakes," but often translated as "ducks") in reference to President Lech Kaczynski and his brother Jaroslaw, a former PM and current head of the Law and Justice party, does not constitute defamation.

    Kaczynski is one of several surnames in Polish derived from the word "kaczka" ("duck"). Judge Alina Rychlinska ruled that use of the word was not defamatory on the grounds that comparisons of people to animals were not always negative.

    Polish Foreign Minister swindled in internet auction by fellow Pole

    From: The News
    The Foreign Ministry purchased a fake Order of the White Eagle medal off of the internet for 6,000 USD.

    According to Dziennik, what is thought to be an original medallion from the 1800’s, is actually a twentieth century copy. Specialists claim it was a medal awarded to Ignacy Jan Paderewski for services in the U.S. between 1905 and 1929, not an older medal from the 1800’s as originally claimed by the Foreign Ministry.

    Dziennik reports that collectors think the Ministry got swindled. Historians claim it is impossible to be certain without any sort of original certification from Paderweski accompanying the medallion. The paper claims that it is certainly not worth $6,000, but rather only a maximum sum of $4,000.

    Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski approved the purchase, bought in an internet auction from a Pole living in North America.

    On the eve of Independence Day celebrations, the conservative daily Nasz Dziennik is appealing on behalf of war veterans who have fought for Poland’s independence to take into consideration their issues as parliament reviews the retirement laws. According to the paper, a large amount of soldiers who refused to participate in the communist People’s Army of Poland have not received any sort of documentation of their services.

    Nasz Dziennik asked the Ministry of National Defense if they will push for any changes in benefits regarding the soldiers who refused to serve under the communists. The Ministry replied in such a way that the paper accuses them of skirting the issue. The daily adds that not only are sldiers affected, but also their families. There is an apparent lack of political will to recognize and address the issue.

    Trybuna - a descendant of the communist party daily Trybuna Ludu - writes about the memory of Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the last Communist-era party chairman and prime minister, who died on Saturday at 82-years-old. Former president Aleksander Kwasniewski commented for the paper that “his esteem, personally, as a human, as a journalist, an intellectual and a politician is without any doubt.” Kwasniewski added that Rakowski was able to carry out relations with the Germans despite the fact that the Nazis killed his father.

    The paper writes that Rakowski became head of the communist party too late to change the hopeless situation it faced. Despite that, he was successful as head of the party. Kwasniewski recalled his visit to the Ronald Reagan library in 1994, which, according to Trybuna presented Rakowski as a really successful head of state despite only being in position from July 1989 until 31 January 1990, the very end of the communist system in Poland.

  • Sport...

    Minsk Dynamo beats BETA 2-1

    From: Naveny
    9 ноября в чемпионате Беларуси по футболу состоялись матчи предпоследнего, 29-го тура. Действующие чемпионы страны футболисты борисовского БАТЭ играли в гостях у главного претендента на серебряные медали столичного «Динамо».

    Минчане лучше настроились на эту встречу и одержали победу со счетом 2:1. Отметим, что для борисовской дружины это первое поражение в матчах 18-го первенства страны. Единственный гол в составе борисовчан забил форвард Виталий Родионов, сообщает БЕЛТА.

    «Конечно, проигрывать не хочется никогда. Но сложно удержать команду на одном уровне на протяжении такого длинного насыщенного сезона, — отметил на пресс-конференции после игры главный тренер БАТЭ Виктор Гончаренко. — Возможно, сегодня стоило сделать больше изменений в стартовом составе, однако у нас нет равноценной замены на некоторые позиции. Поэтому в отдельных моментах на команду было больно смотреть — оттого, что откровенно устали, и в таких играх тяжело находить мотивацию. Хотя мы мотивировали ребят тем, что «Динамо» для нас — один из самых принципиальных соперников».

    Главный тренер «Динамо» Славолюб Муслин сказал, что он «очень доволен тем, что выиграли, тем более — у БАТЭ, не имевшего поражений в чемпионате. Победа очень важная — в преломлении на борьбу за второе место. Надеюсь, мы завоюем серебряные медали».

    Еще один претендент на второе место столичный МТЗ-РИПО у себя дома без особых проблем взял верх над земляками из «Локомотива», потерявшего шансы на сохранение места в высшей лиге, со счетом 3:1.

    «Я уже пережил время, когда мы расстались с возможностью бороться за первое место, но продолжаю считать, что команда была достойна этой борьбы, но где-то мы чуть-чуть сломались, недоработали, — ометил после игры главный тренер МТЗ-РИПО Юрий Пунтус. — Но сегодня я рад завоеванию медалей, поблагодарил ребят за проделанную работу, за достигнутый результат. Будем в последнем туре надеяться и на себя, и на товарища в лице «Савита», который, верим, в следующем матче сможет дать бой «Динамо». Думаю, что сезон — весьма тяжелый — прожит не зря. Перед руководством мы чисты — этот результат руководство одобрило. Но, учитывая наши максимальные амбиции — мои и команды, мы немного расстроены. Но это дела давно минувших дней. Поэтому мы радуемся сегодня победе над «Локомотивом», командой, которая мне понравилась. Будем работать дальше».

    Любопытно, что на этот матч игроки «Локомотива» добирались на метро…

    Принципиальный поединок «Витебска» и гостями из солигорского «Шахтера» завершился убедительной победой хозяев — 3:0. Благодаря этому успеху, подопечные Александра Хацкевича потеснили горняков с четвертого места в турнирной таблице розыгрыша.

    Футболисты могилевского «Савита», которые в этом сезоне дебютировали в компании сильнейших команд страны, проиграли в гостях брестским динамовцев 1:4 и в следующем сезоне вновь выступят в 1-й лиге.

    Результаты остальных встреч: «Неман» (Гродно) — «Гомель» — 1:0, «Торпедо» (Жодино) — «Сморгонь» — 1:3, «Дарида» (Минский район) — «Нафтан» (Новополоцк) — 0:3, «Днепр» (Могилев) — «Гранит» (Микашевичи) — 0:1.

    Перед заключительным туром, который состоится 16 ноября, у БАТЭ 63 очка, минское «Динамо» имеет 59 баллов, а столичный МТЗ-РИПО отстает от динамовцев на 2 очка. Таким образом, неясным остается лишь один вопрос, какая из двух минских команд станет обладателем серебра, а какая бронзы. В последнем матче «Динамо» сыграет в гостях у «Савита», а их конкуренты также в гостях проведут матч против «Гомеля».

  • Cultural scene...

    …После. Театр Inzhest.

    Дата: 13 ноября
    Начало: 20.00

    Автор и режиссер: Вячеслав Иноземцев
    Музыка: Виталий Артист (группа “beZ bileta”)
    Видео: Матвей Сабуров

    Вячеслав ИноземцевСцена: ДК Железнодорожников, ул. Чкалова, 7, г. Минск

    * касса ДКЖ (тел. 224-89-95)
    * распространители - GSM (029)366-61-56(Velcom) и (029)503-35-75(МТС)
    * магазин “Подземка”,тел. 288-20-36

    Цена: 16 тысяч бумаг

    Спектакль для взрослых! NO KULTPOHOD!

    Есл Вы по какой-либо причине сомневаетесь, идти или не идти…

    После”… Как-то в свободное от важных дел время я поразмышлял относительно типологической характеристики театра “Инжест”. Эпитетам, которыми наделяют этот коллектив журналисты - вроде “экспериментальный”, “нетрадиционный” и, тем более, “авангардный”, - очевидно, доверять не стоит. Подумалось, что по аналогии с авторским кино можно было б актуализировать и понятие “авторский театр”. Обозначив им культурное явление, характер которого каждый раз
    по-волюнтаристски зависит от его создателя - ведь исключительно он на свой страх и риск решает, что и как надо делать…” (Илья Свирин «Культура»)

    “… Жэст — гэта скарэньне прасторы, падпарадкаваньне яе, уладжваньне ў адзіны зь целам відавочны вобраз. Бо “калі ў тваё цела ўваходзіць вобраз, ён пачынае дыктаваць целу, як яму быць”. Плястычны тэатар асвойвае прастору як ніякі іншы. Менавіта таму “ІнЖэст” гэтак вольна пачуваецца на прасторах плошчы, таму ім гэтак лёгка аднавіць атмасфэру карнавалу. Сінтэзуючы тэхніку японскага танцу бута з тэатральнымі элемэнтамі, буфанадай, музыкай і гратэскам, група Славы Іназемцава зьдзяйсьняе тэатар у нетэатральнай краіне”. (Миша Панин, Маша Звягина, «Беларускі Партызан»)

  • Endnote...

    Don't Expect Miracles From the G20 Summit

    From: Moscow Times
    Those expecting a bold initiative to come from the meeting of the Group of 20 in Washington that President Dmitry Medvedev will attend Saturday will be disappointed. Even the International Monetary Fund's managing director warned in a recent Financial Times article that comparisons between the G20 summit and the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 are overblown.

    This is not to suggest that urgent and consistent policy actions are not needed as the world faces the gravest threat to economic stability in more than a half a century.

    What began as a limited problem in the U.S. subprime mortgage market has spread through all classes of assets, creating a flight from risk to the perceived safety of a few types of U.S. and Japanese securities. In the process, historic banks have failed, countries as diverse as Iceland, Belarus, Hungary, Pakistan and Ukraine have turned to the IMF for support, and many Western economies are plunging into recession. The downside of globalization is that markets and investors are wired in real time. The contagion cannot be contained.

    In these circumstances, it is understandable that some European leaders have suggested that this weekend's meeting be called a Bretton Woods II -- evoking the meeting in July 1944 in the town of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, where 44 countries, initially including a Soviet delegation, agreed to a new international monetary architecture designed to prevent a reoccurrence of the vicious protectionist and mercantilist policies pursued by most countries in the aftermath of the Great Depression.

    This will not be a Bretton Woods. Although the economic challenges are significant, few would contend that we face a 1930s-style depression or the dangers of a 21st-century equivalent of World War II. Moreover, the meeting in 1944 was meticulously prepared well in advance. Instead, the G20 meeting smacks of expediency and is likely to result in little more than a photo opportunity.

    Nevertheless, even if just another mundane summit, Medvedev's presence is important because he has suggested some interesting and pragmatic initiatives stemming from his conviction that the multipolar world of the 21st century requires a more balanced, less dollar-centered financial system. One aspect of his concept of the future is that the ruble could become, along with others, an international reserve currency. Medvedev has also stressed the importance of developing strong capital markets, including in Russia. Had the Russian market been bigger and deeper, perhaps the country's banks and other companies would not have felt compelled to borrow offshore in dollars for medium-term finance in the run-up to the current financial crisis.

    And unlike most of the other G20 members, Russia is a large creditor country. With the third-largest foreign exchange reserves in the world, the country has a natural role in any discussion of the reform of the global monetary system. Since those claims on the rest of the world could be at risk, Medvedev is right to stress the importance of legitimacy and effectiveness of the international financial institutions as the repositories of international cooperation in finding a path out of the current crisis.

    Meanwhile, European Union leaders on Friday called for the summit to agree on a swift timetable for decisions to cope with the financial meltdown. The Europeans hope that there will be an agreement to consider concrete measures to strengthen the financial system at a second international meeting. Reform of the IMF emerged as a central preoccupation among European leaders, even though there was not yet a consensus about how far the remodeling of the fund should go.

    But their debate about the IMF is too narrow. They argue about whether it should be the central bank of central banks, tantamount to a large stabilization fund, or an agency that would warn nations if their approach was threatening international stability. They seem to agree that the fund should become the "pivot of a renewed international system," but the critical details are contentious and do not even attempt to take into account the other members.

    The Washington meeting would be an appropriate forum to start putting things in place for a monetary order more consistent with the needs of the 21st century rather than the relic that preserves the priorities of last century's creditors, which have now become the world's largest debtor countries. Medvedev should play a key role in insisting on a reordering.

    And it would be appropriate to focus on reform of the IMF as a key step. But there are three deficiencies that concern Russia and others -- the lack of experienced staff, money and legitimacy.

    In recent years, the appropriate analogy for the IMF was a fire station with almost no fires anymore. Its income model, dependent on the number and size of the fires, was at risk. Taking its own medicine, the IMF went through a wrenching downsizing. The departures were high among those senior and midlevel staff with experience in "program" countries -- the very people that the global fund desperately needs now.

    The IMF also has a very limited pot of money -- about $250 billion -- relative to the size of the problems faced by its members. Short of a major increase in quotas or shares, the fund will need to turn to creditor countries such as China, Japan, Russia and Saudi Arabia to obtain parallel financing for countries in need. But that leads to the problem of legitimacy.

    The core of the problem is the political issue of who controls the IMF. The G7 has about 45 percent of the voting rights and Western countries almost 60 percent, yet the seven largest creditor countries in the world, except Japan, are not in that group. The anomalies are striking. Russia has a quota less than Italy, China and France, and the United States retains veto power.

    Even after long debate, voting rights were raised for just four countries in 2006 by small margins -- China, South Korea, Turkey and Mexico. But the steps did nothing to alter the imbalance of power in decision making at the IMF. The quotas are far from representative of the current sizes of the economies, of their ability to contribute resources to the fund or of their importance in world trade and financial markets.

    It will be up to the creditors to push for a deal that brings China, Russia and the other creditors into the heart of the multilateral system. Even if united, these new creditors would face considerable opposition from the highly indebted but politically dominant Western countries. Perhaps the time is not yet ripe, but Washington would be a good place to start.