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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sberbank coming to By, Prices for oil down 10%, EU relations, Cellular technologies, World Bank, News, Sport, Culture and Drunken Polish bicyclists...

  • From the Top...
  • #365

    No Obstacles to Work of Sberbank of Russia in Belarus

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    On 2 December President Alexander Lukashenko met with Chairman of the Board of Sberbank of Russia German Gref.

    Alexander Lukashenko has expressed Belarus’ interest in cooperation with Russia’s Sberbank. “We are interested in attracting resources from the Russian Federation, from the Central Bank of Russia, so long as you have a direct connection with them, especially during this period of the world financial crisis when we are searching for additional resources to sustain the national currency and finance our economy,” the Head of State said to Mr German Gref. According to the Belarusian President, the financial crisis has not had a huge impact on the Belarusian stock and foreign currency markets. However, Belarusian exporters do face certain difficulties caused by a decline in demand for goods on international markets.

    German Gref for his part said that Russia’s Sberbank was intent on coming to Belarus as a strategic partner. “In terms of its size today, Sberbank is too big for the market of any one country,” he said. According to him, the Sberbank Supervisory Board has approved the Bank’s development concept for the next five years, which implies Sberbank’s going ahead with proactive cooperation initiatives in the international arena. Three CIS countries have been chosen as priority directions in international contacts. These are Ukraine , Belarus and Kazakhstan.

    “We have sent an official request to consider the possibilities for the Bank to enter the Belarusian market,” German Gref noted. The Russian Sberbank intends to arrive in Belarus as a strategic partner, he added.

    He noted that the forthcoming year will be rather difficult. There is a need “to coordinate efforts to prevent the negative impact of the global financial crisis”.

    “We have received polticial approval of our work in the CIS countries including in Belarus. We hope that our cooperation will be long-term and efficient,” the Chairman of the Board of the Russian Sberbank said. He underscored that the economies of Belarus and Russia should be “interconnected by a great many threads which will produce a positive effect in various areas of the cooperation”.

    Sberbank is now considering the prospects of purchasing an active bank in Belarus, or opening a new one. In the near future Sberbank will team up with the National Bank of Belarus to identify the ways of entering the Belarusian market. Mr German Gref expressed conviction that the sides would manage to reach points of agreement on this issue and find mutually beneficial terms. Sberbank’s strategy for Belarus spans for a minimum period of 10 to 20 years.

    The President approved Sberbank’s plans regarding its presence in the Belarusian market. “There are absolutely no obstacles to the work of your bank in Belarus,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    Belarus’ market is one of most interesting among CIS

    Today the Belarusian market is one of the most interesting and high-priority among the CIS countries, Chairman of the Board of Sberbank of Russia German Gref told reporters on December 2.

    According to him, in the near future Russia’s Sberbank will start working together with the National Bank of Belarus in order to define the ways of entering the market. German Gref expressed confidence that the two sides would be able to coordinate on the issue. Sberbank is considering an opportunity to acquire or open a new bank in Belarus.

    When speaking about his meeting with Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko, the Chairman of the Board of Sberbank of Russia said: “The President of Belarus showed interest in our presence on the Belarusian market. Our future possible presence here has been approved”.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belneftekhim reduces retail prices for oil products by 10%

    From: BelTA
    On December 1 the Belneftekhim concern reduced retail prices for oil products on the domestic market by 10%, BelTA learnt form the concern.

    On December 1 the prices for oil products sold by Belneftekhim through filling stations are now as follows: petrol 76 to 80 octain costs Br1760 per one litre (minus Br190), petrol 92 - Br2,220 (minus Br250), petrol 95 - Br2,530 (minus Br280), diesel fuel - Br2,020 (minus Br220) biodiesel fuel - Br1,760.

    The concern also reduced the wholesale prices for oil products on December 1. “The reduction is due to teh falling oil prices in the global market,” Belneftekhim says.

    A reminder, the last time the prices for oil products were revised on the domestic market in July 2008. On July 23, the prices went up 5%. Before then there were two increases in prices: on June 10, retail prices for petrol were increased by 5% on average, for diesel fuel by 14.8%; on July 6 they were up 5% and 9.8% respectively as oil prices were increasing.

    Belarus reduces oil export duty Dec. 1

    In a related story, On December 1, 2008, Belarus reduces the crude oil export duty from $287.3 per tonne to $192.1 per tonne. The Council of Ministers issued relevant resolution No 1816, BelTA was told in the Council of Ministers Office.

    The oil export duty has been revised downward following a similar reduction in the export oil duty in the Russian Federation effective from December 1. The export duty on oil products will be reduced to the level of the duties valid in Russia. For example, duties on light oil products (light and middle distillates, liquefied gas, benzol, toluene and xylol) will be reduced from $205.9 per tonne to $141.8. Duties on heavy petroleum products (engine oil, processed oil products, mineral wax, oil coke, oil asphalt) will be cut from $110.9 per tonne to $76.4 per tonne.

    In line with the intergovernmental Belarusian-Russian agreement, export duties on oil and oil products in Belarus are equal to the duties applied in Russia and are introduced on the same date.

    In conformance with the Belarusian-Russian agreement, in 2008 the coefficient of 0,335 will be used for calculating the duty on oil supplied to Belarus from Russia. From December 1 the duty for Belarus makes up $64.4 per tonne.

    Belarus-EU relations to be discussed in Stockholm

    From: BelTA
    A wide range of issues related to the cooperation between Belarus and Sweden were discussed at the Belarusian-Swedish foreign ministry conference in Stockholm on December 2, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    The conference featured the development of political dialogue, the expansion of trade, economic and investment cooperation, the improvement of legal-treaty basis, the development of interaction in the humanitarian area. Apart from that, the sides considered acute issues of the relations between Belarus and the European Union, and their interaction in the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

    The Belarusian delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky, the Swedish delegation by State Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Frank Belfrage.

    Over 9 months in 2008, the Belarusian-Swedish trade soared 33% from the same period of 2007 to amount to $188.2 million. The Belarusian exports rose 29.3% up to $74.9 million.

    Belarus’ major exports to Sweden are tyres, potash fertiliser, peat, timber, textiles, and furniture.

    12 enterprises with Swedish capital have been registered in Belarus. In 2007, Sweden invested $45.9 million in the Belarusian economy, including $18.5 million of direct investment. In H1 2008, $27.7 million of Swedish investment was attracted; including $3.4 million of direct investment.

    Visa issues

    Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky and State Secretary at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Frank Belfrage considered the simplification of procedures to get visas and the reduction of their cost.

    The sides voiced their support for the development of political dialogue, the expansion of trade, economic and investment cooperation, the improvement of legal-treaty basis, the development of interaction in the humanitarian area. Apart from that, they considered the relations between Belarus and the European Union, their interaction in the Council of the Baltic Sea States and Belarus’ participation in the Swedish-Polish Eastern Partnership project.

    Valery Voronetsky met with Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Swedish Parliament, former OSCE PA President Goran Lennmarker to discuss the further development of the dialogue between Belarus and Sweden, first and foremost, the interparliamentary cooperation and the relations between Belarus and key European organizations.

  • Society...

    Cellular technologies in telemedicine introduced in Minsk region

    From: BelTA
    The Minsk region was the first region of Belarus to introduce cellular technologies in telemedicine, Boris Androsyuk, Head of the Board of Medical Statistics, Information Technologies and Office Work of the Belarusian Health Ministry told a press conference on December 2. Taking part in the conference were representatives of the UN/UNDP Office in Belarus, the Kardian company and MTS communication operator.

    According to Boris Androsyuk, it is cardiology where timely consultation is a matter of life and death. This is why MTS proposed to use cellular communications to transmit cardiograms for the expert analysis from remote areas of Belarus which do not have highly qualified heart professionals. The MTS company financed the purchase of the mobile telemedical complex Kardian-PM for Minsk regional central hospital. This mobile wireless electrocardiograph the size of a hand is very convenient.

    Kardian-PM complex has been installed in a Ratomka hospital that does not have an attending physician yet. This device transmits information to Minsk regional central hospital. “If this complex can save at least one life, the project can be considered successful,” UN Representative in Belarus Antonius Broek said.

    The partnership project involving business, government and the UN to introduce and develop telemedicine was launched in Belarus in March 2008. A session of a task group composed of representatives of the Health Ministry, Belarusian Centre for Medical Technologies, Oncology Institute, the National Academy of Sciences, MTS, WHO and UNDP was held. The participants of the session adopted a plan of actions to provide high quality medical services to the Belarusian citizens taking advantage of cellular technologies.

    Belarus partaking in UN Climate Change Conference

    A Belarusian delegation is taking part in the United Nations Climate Change Conference that opened in Poznan (Western Poland) on December 1, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Embassy in Poland.

    The delegation is composed of representatives of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Foreign Ministry, the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Poland. The delegation is led by First Deputy Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Minister of Belarus Alexander Apatsky. All in all, the conference gathered 11,000 participants from 186 states and international organizations.

    A series of important events is being held within the framework of the conference, including the 14th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The participants of the forum will consider the climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gases emission.

    The conference runs through December 12.

    Belarus becomes IAJ member

    Belarus became a member of the International Association of Judges (IAJ), BelTA learnt from the press service of the Justice Ministry. Russia and the USA joined the association as well.

    The International Association of Judges (IAJ) is a very powerful international law organisation. The association has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, the Council of Europe, partakes in the procedure of validating treaties, directives and resolutions of the European Union and is involved in the work of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

    Today the organisation encompasses over 70 members from different continents. Its major bodies are the International Congress, the Central Council and Committee.

    Belarus’ membership in this international organisation will help set up a legal basis for mutually beneficial cooperation between the organisation and the Justice Ministry of Belarus.

  • Economics...

    World Bank to evaluate macroeconomic situation in Belarus on December 2-17

    From: BelTA
    A group of World Bank experts is supposed to start their official visit to Belarus on December 2, 2008, BelTA learnt from the World Bank representative office in the Republic of Belarus.

    The mission is expected to evaluate the macroeconomic situation and strengthen the dialogue with the Belarusian government in the economic issues including the consideration of the issues of macroeconomic reformations, state budget structures, reforms in the energy sector, financial discipline and deregulation, development of the private sector and the social security system.

    A group of experts will work under the auspices of Lawrence Button and Marina Bakanova, senior economists of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Department in the Europe and Central Asia region. The World Bank experts are planning to complete their mission in Minsk on December 17.

    Belarus’ internal debt increases by 0.5%, foreign debt – reduces by 1.4% in October

    In October 2008, Belarus’ internal debt increased by 0.5% to Br6391.9 billion, BelTA was told in the Finance Ministry.

    The debts under the guarantees of the government of Belarus increased by 7.5% to Br2279.3 billion (35.7% of the total internal debt). The debts of the central government made up Br4112.6 billion, or 3% up.

    According to the Finance Ministry of Belarus, in October 2008, Belarus’ foreign debt was down 1.4% to around $2.23 billion. The approved limit is $6 billion.

    The debts under the guarantees of the government of Belarus made up Br272.6 billion (5.8% of the total foreign debt). In October 2008, this figure was down 10.1%. The debt of the central government reached Br4467.6 billion (94.2%). According to the Finance Ministry, in the period under review, the debt of the central government was down 0.8%.

    In October 2008, the total debt was down 0.4% to Br11.13 trillion.

  • From the International Press...

    Soviet-Style Belarus Takes First Free-Market Steps

    From: Ali Baba
    The Minsk Automobile Factory, a former World War II tank assembly plant that employs 28,000 people in one of Europe's most closed economies, might seem an unlikely venue for free-market reform.

    But even in these cavernous unheated workshops in the Belarusian capital, change is afoot.

    "It's a gradual process," said factory director Nikolai Kosten, as he showed a reporter production lines with hundreds of workers churning out trucks and buses ahead of the plant's partial privatization next year.

    "It hasn't happened yet. It's being talked about in the workers' collectives but it's too early to worry about anything," said Kosten, a ruddy former car factory worker used to obtaining his orders from the government.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has outlined plans to privatize hundreds of companies like The Minsk Automobile Factory and attract foreign investors to his authoritarian former Soviet republic on the European Union's eastern frontier.

    But Lukashenko has also emphasized there will be no overnight shift from the country's Soviet-style economy to private ownership as happened in Russia, saying his country will follow the Chinese model instead.

    "If you come with money, if you're interested in a company, if you agree to our conditions, then we'll privatize...If we don't like you, we won't do business with you," Lukashenko said in an interview.

    "We will never have a massive, immediate privatization like in Russia...We are not going to lose control over anything. If we lose control, you know that will lead to. The financial crisis has shown what happens," he added.

    Referring to the current economic crisis, Lukashenko said: "We didn't have any major foreign loans...But our country is export-oriented so we're not getting as much revenue from exports now. That's the biggest danger for us.

    Many foreign investors are worried about the government's desire for control in the economy and independent economists are skeptical about Lukashenko's promises. The state controls some 75% of the economy in Belarus.

    "We have a lot of words, talk about the favorable conditions for foreign investors. Unfortunately, the reality is far from being that rosy," Yaroslav Romanchuk, an economist from the Mises Research Center in Minsk, said.

    "In a situation where the government controls's very difficult to talk about improving the business climate," Romanchuk said.

    "In reality, we have a stifling business climate," Romanchuk said.

    That view was echoed by Sam Patrick Foos, head of German engineering company Enmarcon, as he strolled among the Soviet buildings in snowy central Minsk at the end of a business trip to the Belarusian capital.

    "The government regulations are very strict and they are making a lot of difficulties for the investors," said Foos, adding that there was no way he would be doing business in Belarus any time soon.

    At the Minsk Automobile Factory, Gnia Yang from French paint company Sames Technologies, which has a contract with the factory, said: "The problem here is the legislation...You need to get stamps on everything.

    "They're trained in the old way here. It's very difficult to make people understand that what they could do before with very big machinery they can now do with something much smaller," Yang said.

    Foreign investors complain about strict price controls, multiple taxes and a heavy bureaucracy but many acknowledge things are beginning to change. Taxes have been reduced and property rights have been improved.

    In a report published in September, the World Bank said Belarus was "a global leader in regulatory reforms" and pushed the country's ranking as a good place to do business up from 115th last year to 85th, higher than Russia.

    "There's less and less of the Soviet economy, there's a lot of private capital in Belarus," said Sergei Novitsky, director of a building materials factory near Minsk controlled by German company Henkel AG & Co.

    Russia's Sberbank eyes Belarus, Minsk welcomes it

    From: Guardien
    Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, is considering entering the Belarussian market, a move that would be welcomed by the authorities, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

    "There are absolutely no obstacles today for your bank's work in Belarus," Lukashenko was cited by Belarussian state news agencies as saying at a meeting with Sberbank Chief Executive German Gref.
    "At a time of a financial crisis, we are trying to look for additional resources to support our domestic currency and to support our economy ... It is important for us to receive resources from the Russian Federation, from the central bank of Russia, to which you are directly linked," he said.

    Gref said any move into Belarus by Sberbank -- a giant state savings bank during the Soviet era -- would be as "a strategic partner" and that under current conditions entering any new country is a "significant event".

    "We are starting work with the central bank to find a way of entering the Belarussian market. This will be either through opening a new bank or acquiring an existing bank," he said.

    Belarus sold stakes in some small- and medium-sized banks to Russian banks last year. This year it registered some foreign banks in Belarus and wanted to sell a controlling stake in the country's largest bank to Commerzbank.

    Belarus last week said it would almost double the capital of a large bank, Belagroprombank, by $1 billion and is ready to spend $500 million on raising the capital of other banks.

    Meanwhile, Belarus, which is seeking a $2 billion loan from the IMF, has not yet been hit by the global financial crisis as its economy is still largely controlled by the state.
    The central bank has been selling dollars, sapping 11 percent in September and 4 percent October from its reserves, to prop up the currency.

    The Belarussian rouble has been pegged to the dollar in a range of between 2,100 and 2,200. On Tuesday, its rate was 2,168, weaker than a recommended floor of 2,150. Next year the central bank aims to manage the rouble within a small basket of currencies.

    Russia Builds Pipeline around Belarus

    From: Kommersant
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed Decree No. 1754-r on December 1 on the design and construction of the second line of the Baltic Pipeline System from Unecha, Bryansk Region, to Ust-Luga, Leningrad Region, according to the official press release published on the Russian government website. It had been previously repeatedly stated that the second line would connect Unecha with Primorsk.
    The second line of the Baltic Pipeline System will be an alternate to the Druzhba (Friendship) line for transport of oil to the European Union. It will have a capacity of 50 million tons of oil per year and will stretch 1300 km. The line will be financed by an issue of long-term Transneft bonds in rubles. A closed subscription among financial organizations is planned for the bond issue with predominant state participation.

    Transneft proposed the construction of a second line of the Baltic Pipeline System in January 2007, after Russia and Belarus experienced a disagreement over oil deliveries. Belarus imposed transit duties on crude oil, and Russia closed the Druzhba pipeline in response, only to reopen it later. The Russian government approved the second line in May 2007. Transneft transports 93 percent of the oil produced in Russia. The state owns 78.1 percent of the company.

    House of Representatives to re-ratify agreement on establishment of European Commission’s delegation in Minsk

    From: Naveny
    The House of Representatives’ International Affairs Committee on December 2 decided to recommend the House to pass once again the ratification bill for an agreement on the establishment of the European Commission’s delegation in Minsk.

    The lower chamber of the Belarusian National Assembly passed the bill on June 17, but the upper chamber, the Council of the Republic, rejected the bill at a closed-door meeting on October 9.

    “It was inexpedient for the Council to approve the bill at that time,” Valyantsina Leanenka, a member of the International Affairs Committee, explained to BelaPAN. According to her, it is most likely that the House of Representative will take a vote on the bill on December 12. The text of the agreement has not undergone change, she said.

    The accord was signed at the Commission’s office in Brussels on March 7 by Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union’s commissioner for external relations and European neighborhood policy, and Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Varanetski.

    Under the agreement, the delegation, its head and members, and their family members living together with them shall enjoy the rights, privileges and immunities provided for by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

    The European Commission applied to the Belarusian government for permission to open its delegation in the country as far back as 2005. The draft agreement was sent to Minsk at the same time. In April 2007, the Belarusian authorities gave their consent to opening the delegation, and the European Commission responded with sending the draft agreement once again. Afterward, there was no visible progress toward giving the consent a practical implementation. The foreign ministry linked that to the need to complete what was called all necessary internal procedures.

    On October 19, 2007, Alyaksandr Lukashenka authorized the draft agreement to be the basis for negotiations about the “institution, privileges and immunities” of the delegation. He empowered Mr. Varanetski to hold the negotiations on behalf of Belarus.

    The European Commission has about 120 delegations in third countries and five delegations to international organizations such as the OSCE and the United Nations. Their role is to explain and implement the EU’s policies; analyze and report on the policies and developments of the countries/institutions to which they are accredited; and conduct negotiations in accordance with a given mandate.

  • From the Opposition...

    Kazulin can go abroad for work

    From: Charter '97
    After release the former candidate for presidency of Belarus Alyaksandr Kazulin cannot find work in the country, that is why he considers variants of employment abroad.

    According to the politician, he would like to work in the specialty, as a professor. It is not still clear where. Kazulin says: “I have to live somehow in any case”.

    “Nasha Niva” asked Kazulin to give an interview, but at this stage he limits his contracts with journalists.

    “I have expressed my opinion about a possibility of going away, and after that numerous rumours and insinuations started. I have decided not to speak about that now. It’s too early to set the record straight, as I have other priority issues now,” A. Kazulin said.

    According to our knowledge there is almost no one from his former team now. Even those who where true to the former candidate for presidency after he was removed from the position of the chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party.

    After the parliamentary elections Kazulin disappeared from the political scene. There were no reports in the press, he stopped to come to the sessions of the Political Council of the United Democratic Forces. Kazulin wasn’t attending Dzyady memorial rally. The politician cannot run in the next presidential election because of the criminal record.

    In any case, even if the political prisoner will leave Belarus, it is unlikely that he will leave forever.

    Belarusian crisis in figures

    From: Charter '97
    Only in October retail turnover volume in Belarus went down by 3.8%. Belarusians become thriftier in their expenses.

    October has become a black month for Belarus’ iron and steel industry. Slump in production of this industry which has become most sensitive to the world financial crisis was 23.7% as compared to September. By the end of the year decline of production and services accomplishment can affect other sectors of the Belarusian economy too, ”Belorusskiye novosti” informs.

    The situation with individual types of production is even worse. For instance, in October 66.7% less streetcars and cognac have been produced, by 51.7% less of vacuum cleaners, by 46.9% less electric hot plates, ferrous metals production has go down by 35.9%, macaroni products by 23.1%, motorcycles by 19.5%, mineral fertilizers by 12.3%, vegetable oil by 11.2%, TV sets by 8.7%, tractors by 7.1%, car petrol by 6.4%, diesel fuel by 3.8%, cement by 2.5%.

    These branches are mostly dependant on external markets where considerably slump of demand and costs is observed at the moment. And buyers of the Belarusian producst are often asking for 3-6 months of delay in payment.

    In October in general volume of industrial production has lowered by 2.9% as compared with September. Among the regions Hrodna region was the one which volume of industrial production has decreased most, minus 10%. Vitsebsk region has decreased industrial production by 5.9%, and Homel region by 2%.

    Another fact which is unpleasant for the government is that currency earnings are decreasing for the third month in a row. Form August till October almost 25% less currency have been received from products sold abroad. In September decrease was 12.9% as compared to August.

    As long as most Belarusian plants and factories are attached to Russia, which had been affected by the crisis directly, no wonder that lest money have been received from this county. In October currency earnings decreased by 16.1%, to 839.377 mln dollars. It is the lowest figure since December 2008.

    Meanwhile, though production of plants has become smaller, the greatest part of their goods is sent directly to the storehouse. Over 10 months finished-goods inventories have grown by 43.2%. On November 1, 2008 goods for a sum of more than 2 billion dollars have accumulated in storehouses of factories. And these means are in fact frozen.

    Watches are the item which quantity in storehouses is the largest. Their finished-goods inventories are 29.1 times as much as average monthly production. Situation with other goods is no better. There are 7.1 times as much of linen fabrics, 3.6 times as much preserved fruits, 3.3 times as much of sand sugar, 2.8 times as much motorcycles, 2.55 times as much washing machines, 2.14 times as much bicycles, 1.71 times as much bottles of wines, 1.7 times as much buses, 1.5 times as much metal-cutting machines, 1.45 times as much bearings, and by 133.4% more wallpaper, by 118.3% more of TV sets.

    The increase of finished-goods inventories only confirm deterioration of the situation in external trade. Most likely that this tendency is to continue in the near future, experts believe.

    Besides, analysts of PRIME-TASS turn attention to the fact that in October 5 times less occupancy permits have been issued for housing provided by all sources of financing as compared to September, which is about 168.8 thousand square metres less.

  • Around the region...

    Sberbank On a Buying Spree

    From: Kommersant
    The Savings Bank of Russia (Sberbank), the largest financial organization bank in Eastern Europe, has held preliminary negotiations on the acquisition of Raiffeisen Bank of Austria and the Hungarian OTP bank, according to an Interfax source. The source said Sberbank wants to buy one of those banks to expand its business beyond Russia. No final decision has been made yet, the source added, saying that Sberbank would be prepared to create a strategic alliance or trade assets with those banks as well.

    Neither the value of the possible transactions nor other conditions on them are known at present. But it is clear that Sberbank would significantly expand it business in Eastern Europe if it acquired either of those banks.

    The Russian press reported at the end of last month that Sberbank had refused to trade shares with a large European bank. The name of the bank was not reported, but the press suggested that it was the British Barclays. Raiffeisen and OTP are well-known on the Russian market, where their subsidiaries occupy a significant share. Russian Raiffeisenbank is one of the ten largest banks in the country and OTP is among the 50 largest.

    OTP Bank is the largest bank in Hungary and has subsidiaries in Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Montenegro. Raiffeisen is a leading bank in Austria and operates in a number of Central and Eastern European countries as well.

    Litvinenko Died by Accident, Lugovoy Said

    From: Kommersant
    The cause of the death of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was probably casual handling of radioactive polonium; it is one of the primary leads, said the RF State Duma member Andrei Lugovoy, who is wanted by Britain in connection with Litvinenko’s death in November of 2006.
    Former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko fled to Britain in 2000. He met with Andrei Lugovoy at a London hotel November 1, complained of feeling ill later that day and died from polonium poisoning November 23, 2006.

    British experts said they found traces of polonium 210 in Litvinenko’s body but provided no official conclusion on the death cause.

    “One of the primary leads could be that Litvinenko was carelessly handling polonium, which he probably had,” Lugovoy said during the Internet conference held at Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments & Facts) Weekly headquarters.

    “Litvinenko was the adventurer, always trying to live on a razor’s edge. You should take into account his real hatred for the authorities that were in Russia at that time, for secret services, for all Russian,” Lugovoy said.

    Earlier, Lugovoy claimed that London had a lot to conceal, as “the state machine of Great Britain directly relates to Litvinenko’s murder.”

    The British Court sanctioned the arrest of Lugovoy, but Russia has refused to extradite him, saying the Constitution bans handing the citizens. Lugovoy has always denied any involvement in the murder.

    Ukraine '08 inflation to hit 23% - President Viktor Yushchenko

    From: Trend

    Inflation in Ukraine should hit 23 percent in 2008, President Viktor Yushchenko said, up from 16.6 percent last year, Reuters reported.

    ""In analytic terms, inflation of 23 percent is expected,"" Yushchenko said in an interview broadcast late on Sunday. ""Rises in producer prices will be somewhat higher, in the area of 27-30 percent.""

    The president acknowledged that price rises had slowed in recent months, but not enough to meet the governmenta?™s initial inflation forecast of 15.9 percent for the year.

    This figure has already been exceeded, with cumulative price rises standing at 18 percent after 10 months.

    The deputy head of the central bank, Oleksander Savchenko, last week predicted an inflation rate of 20 percent for 2008, declining to 10 to 17 percent next year.

    Ukraine's memorandum with the International Monetary Fund to secure a $16.4 billion loan, signed last month, calls for inflation of 17.0 percent in 2009 with a rate of 25.5 percent forecast for 2008.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Greenpeace targets Poland

    From: WBJ
    In the run up to the UN Climate Change Conference taking place this week and next in Poznan, the issue of climate change was brought into the public eye by Greenpeace, which publicly demonstrated against coal use. The protesters wanted to highlight the issue of Poland's over-reliance - as they see it - on coal to power its power stations.
    An estimated 93 percent of Polish power stations run on coal.

    Early last week Greenpeace activists demonstrated at mining firm KWB Konin's Jozwin 2B opencast lignite mine in Konin. They oppose the expansion of the mine, which they say will cause nearby LakeGoplo to dry up.

    Having entered the mine's premises, they proceeded to try to paint a large "STOP" sign next to a giant excavator. An incident involving security officers and the protesters followed, and a group of 23 Greenpeace demonstrators and journalists was taken to police headquarters in Konin.

    KWB Konin has said that it will take legal action against the protesters, who in turn are considering legal proceedings because of the rough treatment they claim to have received from the security guards.

    Later in the week the environmental group dumped four tonnes of coal in front of the Sheraton hotel in Warsaw, where the Economy Ministry's climate-change-oriented Summit on Sectoral Cooperation was taking place. A banner bearing the text "Get serious, quit coal" was also erected.

    Greenpeace has accused the Polish government of "actively sabotaging" the EU's climate change and energy package with its expansion of coal-mining.

    Karolina Jankowska of Poland's Green Party, Zieloni 2004, while clearly sympathetic to Greenpeace's cause, said that their action was directed against the wrong adversary.

    "I would suggest that this type of environmental organization should focus its efforts on criticizing the government, and not companies which are operating in the framework defined by the politicians who make the laws," said Jankowska.

    Poland's gender problem: As the case of Olsztyn's former mayor proves, sexual harassment is alive and well in Poland

    From: WBJ
    He is such a good man, such a good mayor. He did so much for the city. And if he smacked a few bottoms? So what?

    Poland has a lot to learn about sexual equality.

    The mayor's fall

    It took a referendum to remove Czeslaw Malkowski, the mayor of Olsztyn, from office. Despite his complicated communist past, despite the largely unfavorable opinions of his co-workers and a slew of enemies on the city council, Malkowski did very well for himself for many years. A sex scandal proved his eventual downfall though, a situation that just couldn't be overlooked.

    Looking broadly at this case, it's easy to see that civilized norms in male-female workplace relations are beginning to appear in Poland. But they are obviously nascent - a large group of Olsztynians remains convinced that Malkowski did nothing wrong. In popular Polish consciousness, especially among older people and the less educated, "sexual harassment in the workplace" does not exist. Instead, the sexual predations of an employer are simply a standard work hazard for female employees.

    Blessed and defended

    The public prosecutor levelled serious charges against Malkowski - three counts of sexual harassment and one of rape of a pregnant employee. A recording was aired on television that showed the mayor of Olsztyn trying to persuade, in an incredibly vulgar way, a female employee to have sex with him and "telephone sex" with one of his employees.

    What would have been severely and unequivocally criticized in most other EU countries was justified in Poland. First of all, the media showed the citizenry defending their mayor and then the Roman Catholic Church interceded on his behalf. After the affair became public, prayers were offered on the mayor's behalf in churches.

    Next, the members of veterans' organizations charged into the battle. One person condoned about the mayor's sexual excesses thusly: "But nothing bad happened, he didn't kill anyone and he did a lot of good for the city." Another elderly citizen, quoting an archaic Polish proverb, put the blame on the victims: "The dog doesn't take what the bitch doesn't offer" ("Suka nie da, pies nie wezmie").

    The fact that Malkowski was removed from office is a good sign, but the actual numbers involved should not leave any illusions - just 32 percent of Olsztyn's inhabitants took part in the referendum, and 57 percent voted to remove the mayor. Sociologists investigated this and found that Malkowski's active critics were overwhelmingly representatives of the intelligentsia.

    In fact, the Malkowski affair might not have happened had it not been for his great predecessor - former Deputy Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper, of the Self-defense party. Lepper too was damaged by a sex scandal and high-ranking Self-defense officials allegedly based the advancement and salary levels of female staff on their performance of sexual services.

    Only without exaggeration…

    Poland is on the right track. The problem of sexual harassment in the workplace has at last been recognized and - more or less - condemned. Women know that they do not have to agree to such propositions and that an abusive employer can be permanently removed from a position of authority through due process.

    It would be good if more Polish women became aware of this. However, it would be bad if the role of gender in the workplace became overemphasized. I hope that Poland will not cross the line into the absurd, where a sincere "you look nice today" will result in the speaker being dragged off and hung from the scaffold of political correctness. It would be silly if every compliment linked to physiognomy led to a dismissal.

    I remember when, 10 or so years ago, my employer at the time entered our office. "You look fantastic," he said - I had just come back from holiday, felt relaxed and had a suntan. However, my colleague, an ardent feminist, immediately gave me a lecture on what had really occurred. I learned from her that this was a form of harassment, almost a sexual proposition, which I should have firmly and unambiguously rejected instead of acting like he had given me pleasure!

    I felt stupid, but after a while I decided that perhaps my colleague was objective because she was looking at the problem from the outside. She had the face and figure of a troll, and spent little on clothes or make-up. But not every little comment amounts to harassment.

  • And finally...

    Drunken Polish "i want to ride my bicycle"

    From: You Tube

  • Sport...

    Artistic gymnastics tournament in Vitebsk gathers athletes from five countries

    From: BelTA
    The international artistic gymnastics tournament in honour of Olympic champion Tamara Lazakovich was opened in Vitebsk on December 2, BelTA learnt from the physical culture, sport and tourism department of the Vitebsk Oblast Executive Committee.

    Participating in the tournament will be sportsmen from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia and Uzbekistan. The age of the participants is 12 and older. The tournament will include combined events and also balance beam , uneven bars, vault and floor exercises.

    The international artistic gymnastics tournament will be running through December 4.

    Tamara Lazakovich was born in Vitebsk in 1954. She is a champion of the USSR, a winner of the Olympic Games, European and World championships. Tamara Lazakovich was awarded the Order of Badge of Honour in recognition of her sports achievements.

    Belarus’ military win 8 medals at World Boxing Championship among servicemen

    Belarusian military men have collected 8 medals at the 52nd World Boxing Championship among servicemen that was held in the capital of Azerbaijan, Baku, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Sports Committee of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus.

    The Belarusian team was represented in 10 out of 11 weight categories. All in all, 148 athletes from 16 countries took part in the championship.

    Three Belarusians reached the finals, but failed to win gold medals. Sergei Nekrasov (64 kg), Vitaly Kuzmiryuk (69 kg), and Mikhail Dolgolevets (75 kg) received silver.

    Five Belarusian sportsmen won bronze: Anton Bekish (51 kg), Ilya Grib (48 kg), Alexei Galetich (60 kg), Sergei Kuzmin (81 kg) and Pavel Yaruk (91 kg).

  • Cultural scene...

    Алексей Федоров “3”

    3 декабря, 18:30 // галерея “Подземка”

    3 декабря // 3 января // 3 февраля

    Три экспозиции по три дня третьего числа три месяца подряд по три работы на каждой.

    Взгляд важнейшая основа искусства. Он определяет композицию, ракурс, позицию автора и зрителя. Демонстрируя свой взгляд, художник обнажает себя перед наблюдателем. Однако автор тоже в состоянии раздеть публику правдивостью своих глаз.

    Заглянуть в глаза известному беларускому художнику, а также ответить на три трижды заданных вопроса можно на арт-проекте Алексея Федорова “3”.

    Гипертрофированные рентгеновские изображения библейских сюжетов и сакральных фигур древней и современной мифологии поражают воображение открытым доступом на поля запретного, скрытого от самого проницательного взгляда. Очередная стадия разоблачения – это уже не избавление от одежды или демонстрация гениталий, это совершенно новое отношение к телу, которому больше нечего скрывать, духу, одновременно с этим, обретающему плоть.
    Снятие таинственности, очищение от ареола загадочности заставляет увидить то, во что меньше всего верится, что не может быть правдой, не может быть чудом, поскольку растояние до него не может быть таким маленьким, таким ощутимым, таким явным. Отпечаток на рентгеновском снимке и след в историии выглядят одинакого тускло… для нас, неустанно раскрашивающих жизнь яркими образами героев и подвигов, желанных и эфемерных.

  • Endnote...

    INTERVIEW: Belarus - Europe's last dictatorship or last untapped mkt?

    From: Business News Europe
    The weather over Westminster was as gloomy as the mood in the City a few miles away. So it was a bit of a surprise to arrive at Church House next to the abbey in central London at the end of November and find a long queue snaking through the building's corridors of investment bankers and businessmen who were registering for Belarus' first every investment forum.

    Investors have just lost a lot of money by investing in assets that turned out to be riskier than they first seemed. Now they were turning out in droves to consider investing in a country that's quite clearly the riskiest place in Europe to invest. Yet they listened attentively as Belarus Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky and other top officials reeled off the various attractions of their small republic in the north of Europe.

    And they appeared seriously tempted by what they heard. Several foreign companies have already tested the water and found it to be warm. Others are looking at Belarus as the last place in Europe where the same spectacular quadruple-digit gains can be made from simple transformation – if you get it right.

    "I came to see what they had to say," said one CEE investor, who preferred not to give his name. "Clearly, the country has a lot of problems to resolve. Clearly, the government is still pretty backward as far as understanding the needs of business. But just as clearly, the returns from a successful investment can be huge."

    Belarus is opening up fast, but that process will go "step by step," insists Andrei Kobyakov, the deputy prime minister, who spent over an hour talking to bne and a handful of other journalists. "Don't push us. We are an independent-minded people and we don't like pressure. We have a tradition of resistance, but we are a regular European people. We understand what needs to be done – just we will do it step by step," says Kobyakov batting away the inevitable question about politics.

    The conference will almost certainly be a historic landmark for the country, reminiscent of the first Russian Investment Forums that used to be held across the road at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, where Russia's great and powerful showcased their country to the City in the 1990s.

    This was the first time Belarus' elite has ventured out of Minsk (indeed, until a few months ago it wasn't clear whether all the officials would get visas a few months ago due to a EU travel ban). Kobyakov played point man to the money with a professional PowerPoint presentation that was stuffed with the sort of statistics that are the bread and butter of investment banking. Obviously the Minskovites have put a lot of thought into their pitch and are serious about bringing home some deals.

    Stepping out

    But the Belarusians have their work cut out to undo 10 years of pariah status. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice's label of the country as the "last dictatorship in Europe" has stuck and it will take a great deal of scrapping to sell investors the alternative strap line of the "last untapped market in Europe."

    Surrounded by booming economies and sitting right on the EU's eastern border, reforms have been trickling down through the country for about two years. Some 60% of GDP for the small republic of just over 5m people comes from trade and simply dealing with western counterparties (even if they are Latvians or Lithuanians). This was enough to force things like recognisable book keeping on many Belarusian companies.

    A row with Russia over the transit of oil and gas through Belarusian territory was the catalyst for the sudden pick-up in the pace of reform at the start of this year – but not the only reason. Minsk has also suddenly embraced the nettle of reform because after several years of double-digit economic growth, it can't continue growing at the same pace unless it starts to loosen the government's grip on the economy. "The time has come to lift the level of development of the economy. We need foreign investment as we can continue to develop without it, but we can go faster with foreign investment. Five years ago the problem was how to use what we had. Now all that potential left over from the Soviet Union has already been used up. Now we need to upgrade," says Kobyakov.

    Minsk may be stepping out, but it's still walking with pigeon steps. The government is still on a steep learning curve and years of acrimony mean it is going to take time (years, perhaps) for the two sides to learn to trust each other. Nowhere is this more visible than in the slow pace of the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $2bn standby loan requested by Minsk in October. "The negotiations are not easy," says Kobyakov. "We don't need the money at any price… In fact we don't need the money at all. It is more of a cushion that we can use depending on how long this crisis goes on for."

    The deal with Russia for another $2bn signed about the same time went much more smoothly and Minsk had already received the first $1bn tranche by the end of November, with a second one due in April. The government is now wondering what to do with the cash: either use it to support the currency or pre-pay for gas supplies.

    Untouched banks

    The economy may be small, but that has been Belarus' advantage in the current crisis. Almost completely cut off from the rest of Europe's finance system – the country has issued only one bond in the international capital markets - the local bank sector has been all but untouched by the global meltdown.

    When asked whether the government had been forced to support the bank sector with cash, Kobyakov, bemused by the question, replied: "The government has decided not to directly support the bank system, but we are in the process of realising projects and the government participates in these as an investor… Our bank system is not the same as in the rest of the CIS. The main idea of the banks is to serve and support industry, so the banks are mediators that help the government realise its goals."

    "Unlike our colleagues we don't throw money into banks that don't know what to do with it," says Kobyakov. "When we give money to a bank we know exactly where this money will go and what it will be used for."

    In other words, the government uses the country's banks first and foremost as a giant treasury system, which offer traditional banking services as a side business. However, privately owned foreign banks have entered the country in a wave of acquisitions over the last year and even the local banks have been actively offering products like consumer loans and express credits. However, as the state owns the biggest banks in the country – state-owned Belarusbank is the 21st biggest bank in the CIS and towers over the other local banks – none of the banks had a chance to build up the liabilities that could have got them into trouble during the recent financial fracas.

    Russian state-owned giant VTB Bank got the ball rolling with an acquisition in 2007 and several others, like Russia's Alfa Bank and Bank of Georgia, have bought banks, while Raiffeisen Bank has increased its stake in Priorbank. The share of foreign capital in the banking sector reached 22.5% of total assets in November and the government has already lifted its cap on foreign bank assets from 25% to 50%. "We want our banks to be more powerful, as the existing system doesn't have enough resources to meet the needs of the economy," says Kobyakov. "Some of the large enterprises here are not satisfied with working with just one bank. They need several. We need international partners who are big and strong and can bring their expertise."

    Privatising brand names

    The government's strategy for the time being is to promote exports and here Belarus has real comparative advantages. The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin broke up industries on purpose so one region would make the tyres, another car doors and a third bumpers. Directors of Soviet factories were told to load their production on trains, but had little idea where they were sent. Many of these trains actually ended up in Minsk, which was where the Soviet Union's best workers were found and so were responsible for the final assembly of many products. To this day, Minsk remains a world-beater in some industrial sectors. Its giant MAZ trucks are used in mines around the world and the Minsk fridge brand is as well known in the CIS as the Dutch maker of white goods Philips is in the west. "Our main goal is to support exporters, but not to subsidise them, as this is against the rules of the [World Trade Organisation]," says Kobyakov.

    The export sector is the one place where the current crisis has touched the relatively closed republic. Trade financing deals used to be done with two months of prepayments. Now Minsk is being made to wait for up to two months after delivery of goods to get paid. Most of the money the state has poured into the banking sector – several trillion Belarusian rubles – has gone to cover trade financing deals for the country's main exporters and several leading western banks have cut their credit lines to Belarus companies. "We are currently reorganizing our trade financing to bring the business into the [western] banks we know, but we need money to cover the shortfall as it has caused us cash flow problems," says Kobyakov.

    Exports are all well and good, but the state will keep the choicest sector for itself in the meantime. But what has got the investors most excited is the privatisation programme that will free most of the other sectors for private ownership. Several exciting industries like telecoms will go under gavel and transform some 500 companies into joint stock companies over the next three years. Foreign investors have been invited to participate – with out restriction – in the process. Given the international financial crisis is the plan still realistic?

    "We adopted the programme this summer. Lets see how the crisis goes," says Kobyakov. The point of the programme is not just to earn money for the budget. It is important what price we sell these enterprises, but more important is who is going to buy these companies and if they can increase the productivity of the enterprise. We need investment and we need new technology. That's the goal."