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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

January 7th is Christmas in Belarus; Ruble declines, Gas rises, Inflation soars, Russia, Ukraine, Polish scandal, News, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #375

    Christmas teaches us to live in unity, peace and concord, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    The Christmas holiday brings great happiness to millions of Christians, teaches them to live in unity, peace and concord, follow the moral canons and act according to the rules of the truth and humanism, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said in a message of congratulations to the Orthodox Christians on the occasion of the Christmas holiday which is celebrated on January 7, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    “We celebrate this wonderful holiday with our hearts imbued with great love, hope and confidence that we will be able to overcome any difficulties and ordeals. Christmas is the time for peace of mind, deep thoughts and good deeds. Therefore, attending the church or meeting with our family members at home, let us forget all the quarrels, beg our relatives and friends’ pardon for anything wrongly done, open our hearts for the purity, kindness and beauty,” the message said.

    Christmas tournament promotes kind and friendly relations between countries, Alexander Lukashenko says

    Opening the 5th Christmas International Ice Hockey Tournament at the Minsk Palace of Sports on January 4, Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko stressed that despite its historical youth the tournament has already become popular and achieved recognition in the country as well as abroad, BelTA informed.

    “The major goal of the tournament is the popularization and development of the ice hockey and involvement of a greater number of people in it. Such amateur matches, of course, promote and strengthen kind and friendly relations between the participating countries,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    According to the President, this year the teams have included a lot of former professional ice hockey players who have showed great results at the high-level competitions. Some of them have been the world’s ice hockey stars.

    The Head of State said that the foreign guests would have an opportunity to get familiar with the modern Belarus, feel the hospitality of the Belarusian people and see the love of the Belarusians to the sports. The President underscored that in many sports Belarus makes the list of the leading sports countries. Ice hockey is the most appreciated kind of sports in Belarus. Numerous fans support their teams at the country’s open championships. The number of people who are eager to go in for ice hockey increases year-on-year.

    Alexander Lukashenko congratulated spectators and participants of the tournament on the New Year and Christmas holidays. The Belarusian Head of State wished positive emotions and good mood to the fans and good luck and a fair game to the teams.

    The first matches took place on January 4: Finland beat Germany 12:1, Russia defeated Austria 11:3.

    Belarus is presented at the tournament by the President’s team. At the first match Belarus met Switzerland at the Palace of Sports.

    At the preliminary stage the tournament is traditionally divided into two groups. The first group, Quartet A, includes Belarus, Germany, Switzerland and Finland. The second group, Quartet B, consists of Russia, Austria, Canada and Slovakia.

    Belarus is due to meet Germany on January 5 and Finland on January 6. Belarus was the winner of the Christmas tournament in 2005, 2006 and 2008.

    Since 2006 the tournament has been held under the auspices of the national state and public association President’s Sports Club. The competitions have been organized by the Ministry of Sports and Tourism of Belarus, the Ice Hockey Federation of the Republic of Belarus, the Minsk Urban Executive Committee.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Sergei Sidorsky: Belarusian industry should fill growing market of consumer goods

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian industry should secure the growing market of consumer goods, said Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky during a visit to Belarusian Autoworks in Zhodino on January 5.

    He remarked, Belarus-made consumer goods should be available on the home market. “We should restore the production of the maximum line-up of industrial goods ranging from simple to complicated ones for the consumer market,” said the Prime Minister. In his words, during the global financial crisis while dozens of thousands of enterprises are shut down across the globe, it is necessary to use the opportunity and fill the market with Belarus-made goods.

    The head of government also remarked, at present hypermarkets of Lithuania and Russia are ready to sell Belarusian consumer industrial goods. “Shop shelves should not be empty. We should grab the opportunity and act as fast as possible,” stressed Sergei Sidorsky.

    Growth of stockpiles of finished products at industrial enterprises averages monthly production rate

    The growth of stockpiles of finished products at the enterprises of the Industry Ministry has been preserved on the level of average monthly production volume, Industry Minister of Belarus Anatoly Rusetsky told reporters in Zhodino on January 5, BelTA has learnt.

    The Minister reported an insignificant growth in stockpiles at the warehouses of industrial enterprises. “We could not always sell the products without advance payment, hence the stockpiles,” he explained. The shipment of goods without advance payment can disrupt the balance on the market. The ministry is undertaking efforts to stabilize the situation and prevent excessive stockpiles of finished goods.

    We understand the current situation and are taking measures to resume the payments to the enterprises in full, Anatoly Rusetsky said. He admitted, though, that today’s conditions are less favourable for enterprises than those in September 2008. Nevertheless, BelAZ pays salary to its employees without attracting credit resources.

    Anatoly Rusetsky pointed out significant changes that took place in the Industry Ministry in the conditions of the global financial crisis. The enterprises of the ministry export 70% of the manufactured goods, of them 40% to Russia, 17% to the non-CIS member states. The financial crisis, therefore, could not but have an impact on them, the Minister said. But this situation has an advantage: the prices for raw materials are falling. For the same reason, however, the demand for the products of the Belarusian machine building industry is dropping, too. This is why, anticrisis measures have been developed by each enterprise – both large and small ones.

    These measures include minimization of all expenses, rational expenditure of profits. All in all, energy resources account for 10% of the Industry Ministry expenditures, electric energy accounts for 85% of the production cost.

    The Ministry should develop new approaches to the sale of goods. It is important to diversify the export including the export to the countries with closed economies.

    According to Anatoly Rusetsky, “we would like to avoid cashless payment for the products”; this problem is being discussed now. There are some issues concerning the settlements with Ukraine which exports metal to Belarus, the Minister said.

    The implementation of internal programmes is another important avenue of the work of the machine-building industry. These programmes cannot be reduced and should bring hard currency, Anatoly Rusetsky underscored. In 2009, the Government is expected to increase the state-guaranteed orders for the machine-building companies which are participants of the rural revival and development programme. “We intend to win the tenders for supplies of agricultural products to domestic customers. It will allow us to settle many problems including the work load of our companies,” the Minister said.

    Some Belarusian companies were proposed to develop import substitution programmes to produce component parts for big industrial companies, Anatoly Rusetsky noted. What matters most in this situation is to load our companies with work, pay salaries, preserve production potential, the Minister highlighted.

    Belarus’ MPs to pass amnesty bill at spring session

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian parliamentarians are set to pass a draft law “On amnesty in connection with the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazis” at a spring session, BelTA learnt from Chairman of Permanent National Security Commission of the House of Representatives Viktor Guminsky.

    The bill will be considered in two readings. The deputy added that “the amnesty is actively discussed in the Belarusian society”. The amnesty laws act as an instrument of public assistance to the convicts who have taken the correct path.

    In line with the amnesty some 4,344 people can be released from correctional facilities. Those committed minor crimes will be freed from the criminal responsibility, Viktor Guminsky said.

    Belarusian Communications Ministry to hold 3G licence tender by September 1

    From: BelTA
    By September 1, 2009 the Belarusian Information Technologies and Communications Ministry will hold a tender for the right to provide third-generation communication services. The decision was made at a session of the State Commission for Radio Frequencies under the Security Council of Belarus, First Deputy Information Technologies and Communications Minister Ivan Rak told BelTA.

    The Communications Ministry has been commissioned with holding a tender for the right to use 1,920-1,980/2,110-2,170 MHz radio frequencies by third-generation radio electronic mobile communication means in Belarus taking into account conversion measures. The tender is also supposed to take into account the right to use additional channels of the GSM 1800 radio grid.

    Within one month after the tender the commission is supposed to get the name of the winner. At present efforts are channelled into the development of the necessary legal instruments, which are supposed to determine the holding of the tender and the payment of the fee after the tender as well as utilisation of the money paid by operators. Once the legal documents are in effect, the 3G tender will be announced, said the official.

    The ministry has already worked out and agreed the tender documents with interested parties. The documents regulate the time and terms for getting frequencies for commercial 3G networks. Along with the three existing GSM mobile companies (MTS, life:), and Velcom) other companies may partake in the tender.

    Earlier the Information Technologies and Communications Ministry was commissioned with holding the tender for using 1,920-1,980/2,110-2,170 MHz frequencies for third-generation cellular communication solutions in Belarus by December 1, 2008 taking into account the conversion accomplishment.

    BelTA reported earlier, initially 3G communication frequencies will be made available in Minsk and the region. In summer 2006 Velcom and Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) successfully held a pilot run of 3G networks in Minsk. Both the companies and third GSM operator life:) are ready to start building commercial 3G cellular networks.

    3G networks are supposed to bring about new data transfer capabilities for UMTS and HDSPA standards. 3G communication users will be able to enjoy high-speed data transfer, which will make streaming video, video calls, mobile television and high-speed Internet browsing possible.

  • Economics...

    New exchange rate will make Belarusian exports competitive, NBRB vows

    From: BelTA
    The landlord says the rent is late; he might have to litigate-
    Don't worry. Be happy.
    The new exchange rate of the national currency to foreign ones secures quite a substantial competitive ability of Belarusian exports, BelTA learnt from the Information Office of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus.

    “The existing exchange rate will also increase the demand for Belarusian products and is a reliable guarantee against consequent corrections,” said the source.

    In view of the incoming questions about the exchange rate policy the National Bank would like to explain that on January 2, 2009 the NBRB switched to pegging the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble to a basket of foreign currencies.

    The new mechanism is designed to secure the general stability of the Belarusian ruble regarding the basket of foreign currencies, which are the US dollar, the euro and the Russian ruble. These foreign currencies, which are important for the economy and the nation, make equal shares in the currency basket. The National Bank will keep the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble stable as a geometric average of the bilateral exchange rates of the national currency to the US dollar, the euro and the Russian ruble.

    At the launch of the new mechanism the ruble value of the currency basket (the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble to the basket) stands at Br960, which is the geometric average of the bilateral exchange rates: Br2,650 per $1, Br3,703 per ?1, and Br90.16 per RUB1. Today the Belarusian ruble can depreciate to one of the currencies in the basket when the currency grows stronger on the international market. It will be compensated by the growth of the national currency with regard to other foreign currencies in the basket. The value of the currency basket will remain virtually unchanged. In 2009 it can vary by 5% depending on the demand and supply of the foreign currency on the home market and other factors.

    The bilateral exchange rates were corrected once before the Belarusian ruble was pegged to the basket of currencies. On January 2, 2009 the initial exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble to the US dollar was set at Br2,650 per $1. The exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble to other currencies has been changed as well. In view of the essential depreciation of national currencies and the acute economic situation in the countries Belarus trades with the correction was inevitable. In particular, between early August 2008 and early 2009 the depreciation of the Russian ruble to the US dollar amounted to roughly 25.5%, to the Ukrainian hryvnia — around 59%.

    The major depreciation of the currencies to the US dollar and that of the Belarusian ruble, which was pegged to the US dollar in 2008, coupled with other consequences of the global financial crisis has negatively affected the competitive ability of Belarusian products and respectively the pace of the economic growth and incomes of individuals. The need to promptly respond to the situation and the advisability of preventing an increased demand for foreign currencies, which can be triggered by slow and obvious depreciation of the national currency, necessitated the one-time correction of the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble to foreign currencies, stressed the NBRB.

    In addition, taking into account the regular increase in the refinancing rate to 14% per annum as from January 8, 2009 and the consequent increase in interest rates for ruble deposits in banks the purchase of foreign currencies is unadvisable in comparison with Belarusian ruble deposits.

    The steadiness of the new exchange rate mechanism will be ensured using government gold and foreign exchange reserves, which are supposed to increase. A loan of the International Monetary Fund will increase them among other means, concluded the source.

  • From the International Press...

    Gazprom Boosts Belarus Gas Supplies as Ukraine Dispute Deepens

    From: Bloomburg
    OAO Gazprom boosted gas supplies to Europe through Belarus as Russia’s dispute with Ukraine over pricing deepened and no new talks were scheduled.

    The Ukrainian negotiating team remained in Kiev and hasn’t said when it plans to return to Moscow, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told reporters yesterday. Talks between the two sides on the price of gas deliveries to Ukraine for 2009 and transit fees for Russian gas to Europe through the country broke down on Dec. 31 and Gazprom cut supplies of the fuel to Ukraine Jan. 1.

    Russia, which supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas, 80 percent through Ukraine, is seeking to avoid further damage to its reputation after its August war with U.S.-allied Georgia. This week’s cutoff echoed a similar dispute in 2006 which disrupted supplies to Europe, calling into question Russia’s reliability as an energy supplier.

    “The long-term implication is that it will encourage Europe to diversify its supply,” Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, said yesterday. “Supply in Europe isn’t being threatened, at least not for the coming days. But give it a week and that may change.”

    Officials from Gazprom, Russia’s state gas exporter, are ready to travel to Brussels and European Union countries to explain Russia’s stance, the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday. A Ukrainian delegation led by Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan was already on a tour of EU capitals, visiting Prague and Bratislava to hold talks on the gas price and debt conflict.

    Offer Withdrawn

    “It’s a game of nerves like it was three years ago,” Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Moscow Carnegie Center research group, said in a phone interview.

    Gazprom on Jan. 1 withdrew an offer to sell Ukraine gas at $250 per 1,000 cubic meters as the Ukrainian side pushed for a cheaper rate, saying the country must now pay a European market price of $418. Kupriyanov said Gazprom has increased shipments of gas through an alternative route via Belarus, and has capacity to send further supplies using that network.

    “The Belarus option is certainly viable and they could put some of the gas through Belarus,” Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at Oxford Energy, said. “But it certainly is not the solution. There is some spare capacity within the Belarus corridor but it is probably within the order of 10 percent from Ukraine capacity.”

    Ukraine, which relies on Russian gas for 70 percent of its needs, is in the midst of a financial crisis that has forced it to secure a two-year, $16.4 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. It is asking Russia to pay higher transit fees if it wants to raise gas prices.

    European Market

    The European Union urged Russia and Ukraine to “rapidly” resolve their dispute and said it counted on assurances gas supplies would continue uninterrupted. The U.S. said the two sides should resolve their differences “through good-faith negotiations, without supply cutoffs.”

    The main consumers of Russian gas transported through Ukraine said they were so far seeing little effect and were prepared for any drop. Slovakia and the Czech Republic yesterday said their supplies have so far been normal. Italy said it can meet any short-term demand from storage and could, if necessary, increase supplies from Algeria.

    Polskie Gornictwo Naftowe I Gazownictwo SA, Poland’s largest gas distributor, said Russian gas supplies via Ukraine were down and that deliveries via Belarus had risen to cover them.

    In Hungary, which saw deliveries fall as much as 35 percent in the 2006 dispute, there was a drop of pressure detected at the border, but no decline in the amount delivered so far, Edina Lakatos, a spokeswoman for Mol Nyrt. unit FGSZ Zrt., which operates the country’s gas transmission network, said by phone.

    Ukraine Debt

    Gazprom on Jan. 1 increased its deliveries to Europe through Ukrainian territory by 20 million cubic meters a day. It accused Ukraine yesterday of siphoning off that amount and blocking access to the transit facilities by independent experts. Ukrainian state energy company NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy said it is using the Russian gas to keep the pipeline network operational.

    Kupriyanov said yesterday that Ukraine would still owe Russia $614 million after paying $1.5 billion out of debts of $2.1 billion for gas received in November and December plus fines.

    Naftogaz doesn’t recognize any debt on Russian gas and has “paid for everything,” Valentyn Zemlyanskyi, a spokesman for the Ukrainian utility, said by phone in Kiev. Zemlyanskyi said any penalties must be discussed in court.

    The threat to European energy supplies is less severe than during the 2006 dispute, because liquefied natural gas shipments have diversified supplies and utilities say they have sufficient inventories. Ukraine says it has gas in storage equivalent to about 35 percent of annual consumption.

    ‘Holding Pattern’

    “Talks are in a holding pattern, as there are no looming deadlines,” Alfa Bank Chief Strategist Ron Smith said by telephone from London yesterday. “Ukraine has gas in storage, reportedly, and gas is flowing into Europe.”

    Naftogaz Chief Executive Officer Oleh Dubina said Ukraine offered on Dec. 31 to pay Russia $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, compared with the 2008 rate of $179.50.

    Russia said its $250 offer already marked a concession to Ukraine, pointing out that Gazprom will pay an average of $340 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas from three Central Asian nations in the first quarter.

    Naftogaz on Dec. 31 also asked for a transit rate for Russian gas of $1.80 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers (62 miles). That compares with the agreed 2008 rate of $1.70. Russia is refusing to renegotiate the transit tariff, saying its agreement runs until the end of 2010.

    U.K. February gas fell 3.95 pence, or 6.7 percent, to 54.75 pence a therm yesterday, according to data from broker Spectron Group Ltd. That’s equal to $7.95 a million British thermal units.

    Belaruson track to receive $2.5bn IMF loan

    From: WorlBank
    The Inflationary Money Fund
    “Belarus, …is set to secure a $2.5bn (?1.7bn, ?1.8bn) International Monetary Fund emergency loan to help it weather the global economic crisis.

    The country would be the fifth former communist state to obtain IMF support in recent months, following Georgia, Hungary, Ukraine and Latvia. Unlike those countries, which were hit by the international credit crunch largely because of their reliance on foreign loans, Belarus has been driven into the IMF’s arms because of a sharp decline in Russian economic aid and exports to Russia. [Financial Times]

    Belarus' central bank sharply devalued the Belarusian ruble Friday, allowing the currency to plunge 20 percent to help stop the hemorrhaging of its reserves…

    The National Bank said the devaluation was aimed at raising the competitiveness of the Belarusian economy, which has been battered by the global financial crisis. It also was a condition of a $2.5 billion loan from the IMF announced Wednesday. [Associated Press]

    …The devaluation was a condition for a $2.5 billion IMF loan that was approved last Wednesday…

    Belarus has been badly hit by the global financial crisis and the National Bank set its dollar/Belarusian ruble exchange at 2,650 Belarusian rubles as of January 2, compared with 2,200 previously. The euro was up to 3,703 against 3,077 before the devaluation. [RIA Novosti]

    Amid fears of further devaluation, Belarusians have been using their weakened rubles to buy U.S. dollars and euros, as well as household appliances imported from the West. Mall officials told RFE/RL that appliance prices are likely to rise.

    US dollar rises to 2,655 at Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange

    From: Navany
    The US dollar rose from 2,650 to 2,655 rubels as a result of Monday’s trading at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange (BCSE).

    The demand totaled $57.159 million, whereas the supply was $37.954 million, with all deals totaling $48.182 million.

    On January 5, the euro’s rate at the BCSE fell from 3,703 to 3,636 rubels.

    The demand totaled ?41.253 million and the supply amounted to ?39.288 million, with all deals totaling ?39.288 million.

    There was no trading in the Russian ruble at the BCSE on Monday.

    That was the first trading day of the new year. On January 1, the National Bank devalued the Belarusian rubel against the dollar by 20.45 percent from 2,200 to 2,650. The value of the euro increased by 20.34 percent from 3,077.14 to 3,703 rubels. The Russian ruble rose by 17.26 percent from 76.89 to 90.16 rubels, and the Ukrainian hryvnia by 20.45 percent from 273.29 to 329.19 rubels.

    In 2010 Belarus to produce 10 mln tonnes of grains

    From: Arimarket
    In 2010 Belarus plans to harvest nearly 9.5-10 mln tonnes of grains, declared Semen Shapiro the Minister of Agriculture and Food.

    According to him, the agro industrial complex of Belarus completed all assigned tasks in 2008. The production increase in plant growing totaled 20.2% compared to 2007 index. Grain crop totaled 9.5 mln tonnes, rapeseed harvest - 630.000 tonnes. The general yield of grains and legumes totaled 39 c/ha.

    Also Belarus provides reconstruction and technical reequipment of processing enterprises. In 2009 the country plans to build 88 new grain cleaning and drying complexes.

  • From the Opposition...

    Dollar’s exchange rate reached 3,000 Belarusian rubles at Minsk markets

    From: Charter '97
    On January 6, sellers asked 3,000 rubles per 1 dollar at some markets of Minsk.

    BelaPAN information agency reports the dollar continues to grow at the Belarusian over-the-counter market. Most of sellers use equivalent 2,750-2,800 rubles per one dollar.

    At the same time, exchange offices of Minsk bought the dollar at 2,695 Belarusian rubles, and sell the dollar at 2,708 Belarusian rubles in the morning January 6.

    At the end of trading at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange the dollar’s rate hasn’t changed and 1 dollar costs 2,655 Belarusian rubles.

    The demand for the American dollar exceeded the supply by $24.5 mln. The size of transactions amounted to $31.701 mln (demand – 31.701 mln, supply – 7.201 mln dollars).

    The Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange didn’t conduct the euro and the Russian ruble trading on January 6.

    Lukashenka “turned” 2009 budget into a deficit-free

    From: Charter '97
    By his decree Alyaksandr Lukashenka set a limit to the deficit of the country budget in 2009 at 0.0 thousand Belarusian rubles.

    Thus, the country’s budget’s income and expenses sums are set as equal.

    As we have informed, the draft budget of 2009 approved by the “council of republic” on October 22, 2008 set the budget deficit at 2.8 trillion rubles.

    The republican budget could have been altered due cut in expenditures on bureaucrats, army and power agencies, stated the former head of the National Bank Professor Stanislau Bahdankevich in an interview to the Charter’97 press-centre.

    As said by Stanislau Bahdankevich, with deficit-free budget the money supply should stabilize. But I do not understand in which way he has dome that, as the deficit of the country budget in 2009 had been already set as 2.8 trillion rubles. According to the Constitution, the budget is adopted by the parliament, and the president cannot change it by his decree. We have a “surprising” country: Constitution does not work!” Stanislau Bahdankevich said with surprise.

    Besides, as said by the professor, it is not clear at all, at what expense this Lukashenka’s decree would be implemented.

    “If he would cut expenses for the army and defence and law enforcement agencies, for instance, it would be simply wonderful. If Alyaksandr Lukashenka many times stated that “we have the strongest army in Europe” and if we are not going to attack anybody, expenses for it could be cut,” he explained.

    Stanislau Bahdankevich also noted that Alyaksandr Lukashenka can change the budget by decreasing his salary for instance.

    “If he is going to decrease his salary, salary of prime minister, government, cut down expenses for maintenance of the KGB, I would welcome that,” the former head of the National Bank underlined.

  • Around the region...

    Russia halts natural gas to Ukraine for third day

    From: LATimes
    Fuel delivery to four European countries fell below normal Saturday as Russia's state gas monopoly withheld natural gas from neighboring Ukraine for the third consecutive day.

    Ukraine warned that its gas pipeline system could experience "serious disruptions" if a worsening price dispute isn't settled in 10 to 15 days, threatening shortfalls across Europe in the heart of winter. Gas flows to Poland, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria,all of which depend on pipelines that cross Ukraine, slumped on Saturday, officials said.

    Ukraine said it had enough natural gas stored to last for months. But experts had warned that the abrupt stoppage of gas to Ukraine could cause pressure to dwindle in the pipeline system, creating delivery problems for the rest of Europe. Russia's Gazprom said it had increased gas flows bound for other European customers through Belarus and Turkey to counter any troubles.

    The Russian-Ukrainian standoff appeared to be worsening as Gazprom and Ukraine bitterly blamed each other for the stalled negotiations and European fuel delivery woes.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday approved Gazprom's plan to sue Ukraine for failing to keep proper levels of gas moving through its pipelines to the rest of Europe, the company announced.

    Ukraine says Russia is at fault for failing to provide enough gas to keep the pipeline system running smoothly.

    The European Union called an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the gas troubles. The bloc has enough reserves on hand to withstand the shortfalls for now.

    About a fifth of the gas delivered to European Union countries arrives via pipelines cutting through Ukraine.

    Talks between Ukraine and Russia have been stalled since negotiations collapsed on New Year's Eve. The two countries remain at odds over the price Ukraine should pay for natural gas in 2009 and the amount of transit fees Gazprom will pay the country for allowing its gas to pass through to other European customers.

    In recent years, feuds over natural gas have become a steady and acrimonious fixture of Russian-Ukrainian relations. In 2006, a similar dispute drove Russia to cut off gas to Ukraine for the first time, causing fuel interruptions in other parts of Europe and raising sharp concerns about Moscow's reliability as a provider of energy. Still, Europe remains heavily dependent upon Russian fuel.

    On Saturday, Gazprom accused Ukraine of siphoning off 35 million cubic meters of gas a day bound for other European countries.

    "It's not us but Ukraine that uses blackmail toward Russia and Europe," the vice chairman of Gazprom's board of directors, Alexander Medvedev, told reporters in the Czech Republic, Interfax reported. "The impression is that instead of thinking about their own country, they are just playing political games, using the gas crisis for political purposes."

    Another Gazprom official suggested that European countries suffering from natural gas delivery interruptions should file lawsuits against Ukraine.

    In recent days, the two sides have hardened their stances. During negotiations on New Year's Eve, Russia had offered to set a natural gas price of $250 per 1,000 cubic meters for Ukraine in 2009. Ukraine balked at the offer, which, though significantly lower than the $418 average in Europe, represented a large increase from the $179.50 it paid last year.

    An angry Gazprom is now demanding a price of $418 from Ukraine, where a struggling economy has been ravaged by the world's financial crisis. Ukraine's oil and gas company called the higher price "unprecedented economic pressure."

    Russia has taken pains to describe the standoff as a purely commercial quarrel, but it plays out against badly strained relations between the two former Soviet republics.

    Ukraine's pro-Western president has enraged Moscow, where officials still regard Ukraine as part of Russia's sphere of influence, by pushing for NATO membership. Relations were also tarnished by Russia's war last year with Georgia, which cranked up tensions between Moscow and Washington -- and, by extension, Western-leaning governments among the former Soviet states.

    Gas from Russia is down 90 percent in Austria

    From: AP
    OMV AG, Central Europe's largest oil and gas company, says Austria's natural gas supplies from Russia are down 90 percent.

    Austria's Economics Ministry has called an emergency meeting to review the situation. But OMV says it has a three-month reserve which it says is enough to get businesses and homes that heat with gas through the coldest part of winter.

    OMV said by early afternoon Tuesday, the gas it imports from Russia was just 10 percent of its normal volume.

    Austria gets about 51 percent of its natural gas from Russia. Of the rest, officials say about 31 percent comes from Norway and other countries, and about 18 percent comes from Austria itself.

    Ukraine, the Real Crisis on Russia's Doorstep

    From: News Week
    Last month NATO allies met in Bucharest and talked about the membership applications from Ukraine and Georgia. It was the latest episode in an 11-year-old courtship between the Western military alliance and the two former Soviet republics that Russia still sees as part of its orbit.

    But NATO would have done more for Ukraine's - and Europe's - security if it had insisted that Ukraine reform its energy sector. Just one month after the Bucharest meeting, Ukraine is mired in its third annual natural gas contract dispute with Russia's state gas company, Gazprom, and the dispute is threatening supplies for much of western Europe because Russia's main pipeline to Europe transits Ukraine.

    Reports from Europe today say that gas deliveries to Europe may have come to a complete halt; Russia and Ukraine are blaming each other for the disruption. This will undoubtedly bring a wry smile to the faces of conservatives who in the 1980s warned Europe against relying too heavily on Russia for natural gas supplies. President Reagan tried to stop the pipeline project back then. Back in 1982, an American Enterprise Institute report warned that the Soviet pipeline would be a "steel noose" that would create the potential for "economic blackmail."

    Whether the current showdown is a contract dispute or economic blackmail isn't clear. It might be the former.

    Nonetheless, if ever there were an example of how security cannot depend on military might alone, this is it. Ukraine's economy has been closed to outside investors eager to get into the natural gas supply and distribution business. Its dealings with Gazprom have been complicated by the role of RosUkrEnergo, a middleman company which appears to have little purpose other than siphoning off some of the money paid for natural gas.
    Ukraine's energy-inefficient industries increase the need for supplies from abroad. And the country has done nothing to diversify supplies, preferring to rely on purchases from Russia at prices that remain below world market levels.

    A December report by the International Monetary Fund said, "Consumers in Ukraine now pay only 10-40 percent of the international price of gas. This subsidization encourages overuse (Ukraine is among the world's least energy-efficient countries), expands the need for very costly imports, and through the required budget subsidy (or unpaid taxes) distorts spending and taxation." Ukraine uses more energy per unit of GDP than almost any other nation in the world and more than two and a half times as much as the average of the OECD nations. Now Ukraine has promised to bring domestic energy prices in line with international costs, but that will fuel inflation and will only be phased in over three years or so.

    This energy mess couldn't come at a worse time for Ukraine's economy or the economies of Eastern Europe. In November, with the international financial crisis hammering Ukraine, the IMF extended a $16.4 billion line of credit to help restore stability. But a recent note by Erik Berglof, Chief Economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, warns that the IMF package might not be enough. "Ukraine is heading toward a twin currency and banking sector crisis that could well bring down most of the economies of Eastern Europe," he writes. Rapid currency depreciation is threatening the banking system because many firms borrowed in dollars. A few Western banks, mostly from the European Union, have major exposure in Ukraine, he notes, and that could spread the ill effects around the region.

    Moreover, Ukraine faces massive debt rollover perils in 2009. As much as $41.5 billion (roughly 35 percent of GDP) external amortization payments are falling due,and refinancing in the current financial climate will be difficult, or at least costly.

    Finally, Ukraine's GDP is expected to drop between 3 percent and 10 percent in 2009, Berglof says in the memo. And that could roil Ukraine's domestic politics in ways that might not be favorable to democracy and rapprochement with the West. "Securing a stable and democratic Ukraine, a country of 46 million people in the heart of Europe, is squarely in the interests of the United States and Ukraine's European neighbors," he wrote. "The progress in political and economic transition since the Orange Revolution in 2004 is being put at risk."

    So this week's spat with Russia over natural gas supplies and prices may simply be the opening act in a year of pain and drama in Ukraine. And NATO membership would be no cure.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish diplomat charged with impaired driving returns to Europe

    From: Globe and Mail
    Poland's consul in Vancouver has returned home to Europe, raising questions about whether he will be present for a court hearing next week on impaired-driving charges.

    Tomasz Lis is supposed to appear in court on Jan. 13 to face a charge of impaired driving and having a blood alcohol level over .08 while operating a motor vehicle.

    But Sylwia Domisiewicz, spokeswoman for the Polish embassy in Ottawa, wrote in an e-mail yesterday that Mr. Lis has left Canada for Poland and, as of Dec. 31, is no longer Poland's consul general in Vancouver.

    She did not reply to e-mails and phone calls requesting clarification on whether Mr. Lis would attend the court hearing next week.

    Piotr Ogrodzinski, Poland's ambassador in Canada, has suggested Mr. Lis would face Canadian justice, but was not available for comment yesterday.

    Vancouver police said last month that the driver of a car with consular licence plates was arrested for being over the legal limit after a 2009 Volvo rear-ended a municipal fire truck in downtown Vancouver.

    Mr. Lis, 49, later conceded that he was the individual in the spotlight in the case, but denied he had blown over the limit. A career diplomat since 1990, Mr. Lis had been in B.C. only a month. Among his responsibilities was being a point person for concerns over the fate of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in October, 2007, after being tasered by Mounties during a confrontation at Vancouver International Airport.

    Crown spokesman Stan Lowe said Mr. Lis was required to attend next week's court hearing or he could face the prospect of a warrant being issued for his arrest.

    Mr. Lowe noted, however, that any such warrant would not be valid outside of Canada.

    "This warrant remains in the system so that if the person comes back to Canada and comes into contact with police, that person can be arrested," Mr. Lowe said.

    He would not comment on how the Crown would proceed if Mr. Lis does not show up, suggesting the Crown would wait for the court hearing. "Depending what happens will determine our course of action," he said.

    Polish Murder accused released on bail

    From: Wiltshire Times
    Police at the scene of the alleged murder
    A MAN arrested in connection with a suspected murder in Trowbridge this week has been released on police bail.

    The 25-year-old, a Polish national from the local area, had been in police custody since Monday morning after a body was discovered at the foot of a flight of stairs at 66 Newtown.

    Officers had been granted an extension to question him for a further 12 hours but he was released shortly before the extension expired at 6.30pm yesterday.

    A post-mortem examination has been carried out on the body, believed to be that of a Polish man in his mid 40s, but his identity is not being released until his relatives have been traced.

    Residents living in the five bedsits at 66 Newtown have been unable to return to their homes for a second night and are either staying with friends or in bed and breakfast accommodation.

    Police are continuing their investigation into the death and have renewed their appeal for anyone who was in the area at the time or may have any information in connection with the death to contact them on 0845 408 7000 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

    Most-wanted Pole arrested in Krakow

    From: Polskie radio
    The border patrol has arrested Poland’s most wanted man at Krakow-Balice airport.

    He is being sought after by 45 lawyers in the country on charges connected with multiple theft and is now in police custody.

    The man, Piotr Cirocki., is a serial thief, with a long list of convictions, mainly for auto-theft. The twenty-six-year-old specializes in importing cars, selling them, then making the cars seemingly disappear – the client neither recuperating what they paid and certainly never seeing the vehicle.

    The thief was arrested entering the country on a flight from Liverpool, U.K.

    “While checking his identification card, his name quickly came up in the computer system as one to arrest immediately,” claims the Carpathian Regional Border Guard spokesman.

    Piotr Cirocki has been arrested several times and convicted a total of twelve times. This most recent charge of fleeing arrest will cost him at least eight years in prison alone.

    Poland apologizes for yet another reacial remark

    From: Talk Zimbabwe
    Barack Obama: "a black crypto-communist" according to Poland
    Poland on Monday issued an apology to President-elect Barack Obama, after a controversial right-wing politician called the Illinois Democrat "a black crypto-communist" whose election marks "the end of the white man's civilization" and must "delight" al Qaeda terrorists

  • Sport...

    Victoria Azarenka scores two victories in one day at Brisbane International

    From: BelTA
    Victoria Azarenka
    Second-seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat Slovakia’s Jarmila Gajdosova 7-6, 7-5 in a third-round match at the Brisbane International. In the quarterfinals the Belarusian will play the winner of the match between Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic and Samantha Stosur of Australia. On the same day Victoria Azarenka and her doubles partner Francesca Schiavone defeated Belarusian-Russian duo of Tatiana Poutchek and Anastasia Rodionova 6-3, 6-2.

    Belarusian Olga Govortsova and Severine Bremond of France lost to Cara Black from Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of the USA in their first doubles match 3-6, 3-6. In the singles Olga Govortsova will play Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria.

    Belarus' Max Mirnyi and Andy Ram of Israel seeded No 1 in the men’s doubles downed Czech Tomas Berdykh and Radek Stepanek on January 6 to book a spot in the quarterfinals.

    Olga Govortsova of Belarus moves into next round of Brisbane International

    Belarus' Max Mirnyi and Andy Ram of Israel are seeded No 1 in the men’s doubles at the Brisbane International tournament. They will play their first match against Czech Tomas Berdykh and Radek Stepanek on January 6, BelTA has learnt.

    Belarusian ladies, Olga Govortsova and Victoria Azarenka, got off to a good start in the women’s singles in Brisbane. Olga Govortsova defeated Francesca Schiavone of Italy 7-5, 6-2 to set up a match with Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria. Olga Govortsova and Severine Bremond of France drew No 1 duo of Cara Black from Zimbabwe and Liezel Huber of the USA for their first doubles match.

    Victoria Azarenka seeded No 2 beat Kateryna Bondarenko from Ukraine 6-0, 6-2 in the opener. Victoria will have her next match against Jarmila Gajdosova from Slovakia on January 6. On the same day Victoria Azarenka and hew doubles partner Francesca Schiavone will meet with Belarusian Tatiana Poutchek and Russia’s Anastasia Rodionova in the doubles.

    Belarus progresses into second qualifying round of world volleyball championship

    The men’s volleyball team of Belarus performed well in the first qualifying round of the world volleyball championship 2010, BelTA has learnt.

    Belarus defeated Israel 3:2 (24:26, 25:19, 18:25, 25:22, 15:11) and Great Britain 3:1 (25:23, 13:25, 25:22, 25:17) in the first qualifying round in Sheffield and placed first in Group A.

    Belarus will play Germany, Slovakia and Croatia in the second qualifying round in May 2009. Two best-placed teams will advance into the next qualifying round of the world championships, the finals of which will take place in Italy next year.

  • Cultural scene...

    Стеклянные фантазии и разрушение стереотипов

    Выставка «Мир Стекла» в НХМ

    В Национальном художественном музее проходит выставка «Мир Стекла», посвященная 125-летию со дня основания стеклозавода «Неман». Ни название, ни недавняя рекламная акция завода, ни ассортимент завода, представленный на рынке, не располагают к возникновению заинтересованности к выставке как к явлению беларусского современного искусства. Но вопреки всем стереотипам, эта экспозиция - неожиданный прорыв в беларусской выставочной деятельности, в кураторской организации и в умении сочетать презентацию разных исторических эпох, стилей, жанров искусства, истории и искусства как таковых.

    Выставка расположилась в четырех залах музея на первом этаже. Лаконичная, понятная, простая и интересная экспозиция рассказывает историю завода, историю хрустальных изделий, художественные исследования в области цвета, формы, рисунка и декора. Благодаря выставке можно проследить все этапы развития стекольного мастерства и увидеть большую разницу между знакомыми с детства графинами, фужерами и вазами и современным стеклянными объектами, которые и превращают выставку не просто в историческую, юбилейную, но и художественную и ретроспективную.

    Очень хорошо видна работа куратора Натальи Николаевны Калашник в подготовке и оформлении экспозиции, что случается крайне редко в беларусском искусстве, здесь же перед нами грамотный и лаконичный рассказ. Дополнительно акцентируют и подчеркивают изысканность и оригинальность стеклянных скульптур тумбы с зеркальной поверхностью: отражения объектов и игра света создают разнообразные, неожиданные световые эффекты. И хотя основной акцент в концепции выставки сделан на искусстве, на личности художника и на процесс создания произведения, не упущена и история становления завода как такового. Нужно отметить, что стеклянные объекты экспонированы вместе с фотографиями. Каждый зал выступал логическим продолжением предыдущего и новой главой в рассказе о заводе.

    Первый зал составлен из изделий, который завод выпускал после войны, на новом этапе своего развития. Вазы, бокалы, графины простой формы с выдержанным декором и интересными цветовыми решениями, но все же являющиеся частью массового производства – это первая страничка в истории завода. Художественный стиль изделий четко определен историческим периодом в искусстве и продиктован, прежде всего, их использованием в быту. Визуальную страничку истории завода открывает серия старых черно-белых снимков, на которых изображены рабочие, вывеска «Неман» на входе, внешний вид самого завода в г. Березовка, Лидского района Гродненской области. Завод был основан в 1883 году, но выставка начинает рассказ с 1920х годов, когда «Неман» возобновил производство после первой мировой войны. Фотографии показывают сложный период становления завода, нелегкий труд рабочих и передают атмосферу того, послевоенного времени.

    Из первого зала зрители попадают в следующий, где строгость стиля потребительских изделий разбавляется художественными экспериментами – стеклянные фигурки, статуэтки, бокалы и блюда, вазы и кубки необычной формы, на стекле появляется текстура, узоры, цвет. Изменения происходят в 1960е гг. В привычные бокалы и фужеры добавляются графические рисунки, детали в виде фигурок птичек, листиков, цветов и другой флоры и фауны. Так же можно отметить высокую функциональность всего произведенного на заводе – это все те же вазы, в которые можно поставить цветы, но они стали или массивными, или рельефными, или украшенными необычными элементами. Видно, что художники стали более свободными в своих экспериментах с формой и материалом. Они начали сочетать обычные предметы со своими необычными идеями. Фотографии в этом зале показывают завод как целостный организм. Внимательно рассмотрев каждый снимок, можно увидеть весь процесс производства стекла, а так же окунуться в удивительную атмосферу завода – стекло, огонь и огромное число чутких рук творящих удивительные вещи.

    Четвертый зал включает работы 80-90х годов 20-го века. Здесь уже трудно разобрать, ваза это или стакан. Функциональность стеклянных изделий остается далеко позади, здесь все большую роль начинает играть творчество художника-стеклодува, его художественный поиск и воплощение его идей в стеклянных объектах. Массивные бутылки сочетаются с тонким узором на них, тяжелое массивное дно постепенно переходит в тонкое горлышко, закрытое изящной стеклянной пробкой. Все большее значение приобретают эксперименты не только с формой, но и с цветом – разноцветное стекло, плавные переходы серого в красный, желтого в синий, словно водяные разводы разных красок, застывших на стеклянных изделиях. Так же начинают появляться эксперименты в сочетании хрупкого стекла с тяжелым и холодным металлом. На стенах портреты мастеров завода: гутники, художники, рабочие обработки – с одной стороны фото, с другой графика. Личность художника становиться центром притяжения. Это портреты людей работающих на заводе, типичных представителей разных профессий. Здесь можно выделить таких художников как Жохов В.П., Сазыкина О.Ю., Ткачева Е.В., Мягкова Л.М., Малышева Т.И., Мурахвер И.С.

    Последний зал раскрывает исключительно творческий потенциал мастеров. Здесь представлены современные эксперименты беларусских художников со стеклом, формой, цветом, деталями и различными темами. Стеклянные объекты становятся не просто украшениями интерьера, или предметами повседневного обихода, но полноценными объектами современного искусства. Тарелка с яичницей, тарелка с гранатами, стеклянные льдинки, синие вазы, повторяющие органичную форму диковинных растений. О смелом эксперименте свидетельствуют «недоделанные» или «расплавленные» сосуды из цветного стекла и разорванные ветром голубые и белые стеклянные вазы. Расплывшиеся по стенду лужи стекла производят необычный эффект сюрреалистических скульптур. И снова фотографии. Здесь фотограф уделил особое внимание самому стеклянному объекту, его текстуре, необычным стерео и макро-эффектам.

    Выставка получилась яркой, динамичной и очень интересной. Ее не хотелось покидать, а хотелось все больше и глубже всматриваться в самые мелкие детали изумительных стеклянных объектов, больших и маленьких, простых и необыкновенных. Глядя на удивительные стеклянные изделия, охватывает чувство гордости за умение беларусских художников и кураторов создавать произведения искусства, а также сделать грамотную экспозицию и интересную выставку. Настоятельно рекомендую посмотреть всем, кто еще не видел. Выставка продлиться до 10 января 2009 года.

  • Endnote...

    Who bought dollars ahead of ruble downfall?

    From: Charter '97
    The National Bank sharply devaluated the Belarusian ruble on January 2. At the same time, a paradoxical situation could be seen at the stock exchange at the end of December.

    For example, a mysterious cataclysm was noticed at foreign trades of the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange on December 23 - proposal for sale of US dollars was USD17.338 million, exceeding the demand 5.8-fold, AFN reports. At the same time information was spread at internet-forums about mass buyup of dollars at foreign stock exchange.

    Taking into account collapse of the Belarusian ruble and sharp growth of the dollar’s rate in Belarus, someone got huge money by this operation. The Charter’97 press center asked famous experts to comment on this information:

    Observer of “Belorusy i Rynok” newspaper Kanstantin Skuratovich noted it was “very possible” those who had known about the coming devaluation were buying the foreign currency. According to him, such operations are conducted by “informed” people even in democratic countries, and it is a common practice in Russia.

    “I can just suppose the people who knew the information about the oncoming devaluation could do this. I won’t be surprised if loud disclosers will be made after the holidays, when people will come round. We may hear there were some frauds and some people may be arrested,” Kanstantin Skuratovich told in an interview to the Charter’97 press center.

    Former chairman of the National Bank of Belarus Stanislau Bahdankevich thinks if information about mass buyup of the dollar is true, such operations may have been carried out by the people, who had known about the devaluation.

    “If such a sum was bought, it looks like information about devaluation leaked from somewhere. Otherwise, I doubt this sum could have been bought. Those who were preparing the devaluation could have known this information. But I can just suppose. When I was head of the National Bank, there was a single rate and any frauds were impossible. I established the single rate to avoid any speculations. When the government established some currency rates – one for medicines, another one for oil, another one for gas (it was established by the authorities, not by the bank) and handed round letters to sell a product to someone for some purposes, it was always accompanied by corruption.

    One can always gain on rate increase or decrease if he or she has such an aim, but when I ruled the bank, there were no such rate changes, because we have introduced currency only at the end of 1994, and single and stable rate was established in the country in 1995. So, speculations were impossible.

    Speculations are always possible if someone knows the rate will grow tomorrow and fall later.

    I have already told journalists I was deluded, because Alyaksandr Lukashenka who said there wouldn’t be collapse next year and was so convincing. I supposed if the International Monetary Fund has given a loan, and Russia grants a billon-loan, a small smooth devaluation is possible. I was shocked by the downfall as other people. I didn’t go to an exchange office. We should learn the situation, it may be just rumours. Of course, those who prepared the devaluation, knew what to do,” the former chairman of the National Bank said in an interview to the Charter’97 press center.