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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Belarus: No crisis, No collapse, No Russian rubles, No EU; ABMs, Gas credit, Privatization, Opposition; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #385

    No collapse of Belarusian ruble, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    On 10 February, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visited the Lidselmash joint-stock company. The Head of State became familiar with the company’s economic standing, its production line-up, its efforts to upgrade production and implement cutting-edge technologies.
    The Lidselmash joint-stock company is one of the oldest manufacturers in the Grodno Region. It was founded in 1901 as an iron casting works producing agricultural implements. In 1994 it was transformed into a joint-stock company, with the state’s share amounting to 71.7 per cent. Today Lidselmash produces land processing equipment, seeders and reapers; has been specialising on manufacturing grain-drying and grain-storage facilities lately.
    Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko assured that the Belarusian ruble will not collapse. The President made such a statement as he paid a visit to the Lidselmash company in the Grodno oblast on February 10, BelTA informs.

    “Manufacturers would like the ruble to devalue by another 20%. But we have promised the people not to devalue the currency and we will keep the promise. Let them seek additional opportunities to reduce the prime cost of products. Manufacturers insist on the collapse during any crisis. But there are ten millions of Belarusians. We have devalued the ruble by 20% and explained why we did so. Russians have already devalued their ruble by 40%,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

    Alexander Lukashenko noted that natural gas, energy and metal have become cheaper. Therefore, the President believes, it is necessary to seek ways to reduce expenditures, cut the prime cost of products.

    “There will be no collapse, no one-off devaluation,” the President assured. The National Bank is on firm ground, the gold and foreign currency reserves are sufficient. We used around 15-17% of them during the most difficult period in order not to collapse. We have restored them back. Plus a $1 billion loan from Russia. Why do we have to devalue the national currency? We need to work in these conditions. Therefore, there will be no one-off devaluation. There is no need for that,” the President said.

    The President added that Belarus is now suffering losses because Russia is devaluing its currency much faster. “But we will compensate for that from other sources. We have reserves and we will use them,” the President said.

    Belarus does not give up its ruble,

    Belarus is not going to give up its ruble, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters as he visited Lidselmash on February 10, BelTA has learnt.

    “There are rumours that Lukashenko is allegedly introducing the Russian ruble. We did have our ruble, we do have it and we will have it,” the

    The Belarusian leader said that a possibility of using the Russian ruble as the reserve regional currency was discussed during the recent summits in Moscow. “For Russia the time is right to make its ruble a regional currency,” Alexander Lukashenko said. According to him, “we need Russian rubles to pay for Russian energy deliveries in Russian rubles rather than in US dollars and euros”. “Why cannot we convert another $7-8 billion into Russian rubles to use them in our settlements. Give us a loan so that we could start paying for energy, steel in Russian rubles rather than US dollars. It is beneficial for us,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Speaking about the Russian $2bn loan Alexander Lukashenko said: “What present did we get from Russia? We got the loan at Libor+3% while the IMF gave us the loan at Libor+0.75%. The loan from the West is three times cheaper than the Russian one. What is more, if Belarus collapses it will be much worse a loss for Russia than a $2bn loan. Supporting Belarus, Russia supports itself,” the President said.

    Belarus President denies conspiracy with Moscow

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has denied any conspiracy with Moscow. The head of state made the statement in Lida on February 10. Alexander Lukashenko also underscored that he had not held any secret negotiations during the recent session of the Supreme State Council in Moscow.

    “I have never held any secret negotiations during my presidency. Certainly, some negotiations between heads of state may not be disclosed to public, but it is totally not in my nature to secretly hold negotiations about the most important issues concerning the life of the country. I have always been plain-speaking and sincere. It is the principle of my politics,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    The President remarked that, as a rule, negotiating parties make advances for each other when they develop relations.

    The head of state remarked that today Belarus buys Russian natural gas at prices lower than those Ukraine or Germany pay. After mentioning tight links between Belarus and Russia in economy and other areas, Alexander Lukashenko said: “If we paid for natural gas as much as Ukraine and Germany do, it would be totally absurd”.

    “If you like to enjoy some privileges, you have to pay for it. At present nobody is eager to do anything for you for nothing. A contribution should be made. At least, an air defence system should cover the territory you are getting cheaper gas from,” remarked the President of Belarus.

    Alexander Lukashenko underscored, nothing has drastically changed after the signing of the Belarus-Russia united air defence agreement in Moscow. “Nothing has happened. The process has been formalised with the signed agreement. Without the agreement we already did the same things, sharing all air defence data with Russians, although the agreement did not exist yet,” explained the head of state.

    “If you want someone to make advances for you, to sell something cheaper, you have to make advances, too, making something cheaper for those people,” added the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko also spoke about the recently established Public Advisory Council of the Belarus President Administration. “Attend sessions of the Council, speak up your mind. But if someone thinks the Council will be a 'speaker’s corner', where filthy ideas can be pushed through with shouts, it won’t happen. Only businesslike talks and advice. Then it will be heard,” said the head of state.

    Belarus President: government’s work in new conditions will be assessed after Q1

    The assessment of the work of the government in the new conditions will be given after Q1 2009, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in Lida on February 10, BelTA has learnt.

    In late 2008, the head of state commissioned the Council of Ministers and CEOs of Belarusian companies with an objective to preserve the markets and jobs, maintain the economic growth. In this connection, the reporters were interested in the President’s assessment of the work of the government and the heads of enterprises in the new conditions.

    “The priority goal I have set was to preserve the production during the time when the financial and economic crisis is raging in the world. In a year or two there will be demand for these products and it might be even higher than it is now. We could give out all the money we have, withdraw operating assets, share them and distribute in the form of salaries; but tomorrow nothing will be left. Therefore an objective was set to preserve the production and in order to do that the products should be manufactured and sold, not stockpiled. The successful marketing is the most crucial factor,” the President underlined.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out that it is too early yet to draw final conclusions assessing the work of the country and moreover the efforts of the government. “I have not arrived at a final conclusion yet. This conclusion probably cannot be made at all, as January and February are not typical months, in particular in the conditions of the financial and economic crisis around us. I would like to underline once again that there is no crisis here but we have to work in the conditions of what is going on around us. We did not work half of January because nobody around us did. There are some positive aspects, but I ignore them so far,” the head of state said.

    Alexander Lukashenko informed that in February and March he is going to travel across the country, visit enterprises and “see everything with my own eyes, get information from experts, my aides, hear a report of the government.”

    “After Q1 I will be able to make conclusions regarding the fulfillment of the goals I set. So far I can say nothing about the work of the government. It looks like everyone is doing something. We will see what it will result in after Q1,” the Belarusian leader added.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus will not seek EU membership in foreseeable future, Sergei Martynov says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will not seek the EU membership in the foreseeable future, Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov told the First TV Channel.

    The Foreign Minister stressed that during the recent EU Troika meeting Belarus confirmed its favourable attitude to the idea of the Eastern Partnership. “Our principled position is that this partnership should be equal for all mechanisms. It is clear that some countries will have deeper and wider relations with Brussels than Belarus will. For instance, Ukraine and Moldova have long been working on this and, in general, would like to join the EU while Belarus will not seek the EU membership in the foreseeable future and is not even thinking over this now”. All components of the multilateral cooperation of the region should be carried out on an equal basis. It is Belarus’ principled position, and it is shared by the European Union. “In case the partnership is approved in the form we have discussed, Belarus is likely to take a constructive part in it,” Sergei Martynov said.

    According to him, nowadays there is parallel work on finalization of the fundamental document of the Eastern Partnership. At this stage, future potential partners are already being involved in the finalization of the document. The states of the region have starting thinking on what projects and themes can become the essence of the partnership, because the partnership itself is just the framework.

    During their recent meeting, the Presidents of Belarus and Ukraine discussed infrastructure projects of such kind, Sergei Martynov noted. For example, one of them is a highway from Kaliningrad through Klaipeda, Vilnius, Minsk, Kyiv to the Black Sea port. Some part of this route is the international transport corridor, but probably it should be lengthened on both ends. This will be the major international project if all our partners agree to it. The Minister thinks that the project will interest not only Belarus, but also Lithuania, Ukraine and, obviously, Russia and others.

    Besides, many states of the region have had some problems with electricity supplies that need to be solved. “By cooperating we can tackle these issues,” Sergei Martynov believes.

    Belarus-Russia United Regional Air Defence System not linked to US ABM deployment in Europe

    From: BelTA
    The establishment of the United Regional Air Defence System of Belarus and Russia stipulated in the agreement signed by the Supreme State Council in Moscow is not a response to the deployment of the US ABM in Europe, Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov told Belarusian TV Channel One in an interview, BelTA has learnt.

    “It is not like that at all. ABM stands for Anti Ballistic Missiles. The air defence system of Belarus is not designed for anti ballistic missiles. It is an absolutely different thing. Military experts understand it very well,” he said.

    According to the Foreign Minister, the interaction between air defence systems of Belarus and Russia was established several years ago and is actively working, the information is exchanged. “The agreement signed in Moscow adds nothing new, neither from the military nor the political stand point, to the situation that had been established long before the Americans decided to deploy their ABM on the territory of our neighbours. This is why our air defence system is not a response to the US decisions,” Sergei Martynov underlined.

    There is no ground for speculations that Russia forced Belarus into any decisions and that Belarus gave up some part of its sovereignty. It is not true. The agreement to set up the United Regional Air Defence System of Belarus and Russia is just the formalization of what has existed for years, the Foreign Minister concluded.

    Belarus-Russia United Air Defence System may include 21 units

    The Russian Federation and Belarus will finalize the issues regarding the combat strength of the United Regional Air Defence System by the end of April this year, BelTA learnt from head of the press service of the Belarusian Defence Ministry Vyacheslav Remenchik.

    The United Regional Air Defence System of Belarus and Russia is expected to be composed of 21 military units. “The defence ministers of both the countries should approve the final list of the military units within three months since the agreement comes into force. Preliminary, the United Regional Air Defence System of Belarus and Russia will include ten air defence missile units, five radio-technical units and a radioelectronic combat unit,” Vyacheslav Remenchik noted.

    The United Regional Air Defence System of Belarus and Russia will be made up of the military units of the two countries which are based on the territory of the Eastern-European collective security region (Belarus, Kaliningrad region and frontier regions of the Russian Federation).

    Belarus interested in foreign workforce

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is interested in the inflow of foreign workforce, it is the keynote of Belarus’ position regarding the formation of the CIS common labour market, head of the employment and population department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection Nikolai Kokhonov told reporters on February 10 in the run-up to the session of an expert group to introduce amendments and addenda to the concept of the gradual formation of the common labour market and migration control of the CIS member states of December 15, 2000, BelTA has learnt.

    “In terms of migration, Belarus is a source, destination and transit country, therefore Belarus is interested in the attraction of workforce potential. After all, we have very ambitious plans ahead: the construction of the nuclear power plant, housing construction programme and other projects. This is why the demand for qualified construction workers will grow,” Nikolai Kokhonov said. “On the other hand, the measures that are to be taken should focus on the economic development of each country to avoid brain drain.”

    According to Nikolai Kokhonov, the existing concept of the CIS common labour market formation is efficient; it spells out all the stages of the market formation. At present the experts are considering the proposals of Armenia to introduce amendments to the document.

    “We consider it necessary to start discussing more specific issues as every country has decided on its labour market priorities and requirements,” Nikolai Kokhonov said. The Belarusian side advocates a wider utilization of the potential of national employment services. “What do we have now? People find jobs on their own, surfing the Internet or getting information from some other source. As a result, there are cases of non-payments and other breaches,” the official said.

    According to him, Belarus supports the idea of ensuring the unified information space within the CIS and the development of the common vacancy databank.

    While in Minsk the experts are set to analyze the concept, the level of the compliance with the present-day realities and, if needed, introduce necessary amendments and addenda. The session will also focus on the proposals of the CIS countries regarding the draft plan of top-priority measures in the formation of the common labour market and workforce migration regulation in the CIS.

    Belarus Premier urges faster privatisation

    From: BelTA
    Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky has urged to accelerate privatisation and corporization of Belarusian enterprises and organisations. The Premier made the relevant statement at a session of the Council of Ministers Presidium on February 10, BelTA has learnt.

    The head of government also instructed to use a systematic approach to the handling of shares of existing joint-stock companies. “We reform enterprises not for the sake of corporization. You might have already started attracting investors,” said Sergei Sidorsky. He also believes the State Property Committee should seek potential investors, including Belarusian ones, and suggest them to enterprises. It is necessary to arrange a precise system for the transfer of enterprises, holding tenders, and attracting foreign investors.

    According to the Prime Minister, the committee should not wait for the privatisation law to be amended. The committee and ministries should work together in cooperation with Belarusian and foreign investors, suggesting enterprises for auctions and tenders.

    Chairman of the State Property Committee Georgy Kuznetsov said, in 2008 159 enterprises were reformed, with 107 joint-stock companies set up. There were plans for privatising 176 enterprises, but the government removed seven enterprises from the list (five enterprises of the Architecture and Construction Ministry and two enterprises of the Industry Ministry). Draft resolutions concerning eight enterprises were prepared and sent for consideration of the government. Due to various reasons the work was not completed or was not started at five enterprises. Apart from that, the sale of Gomel and Rechitsa shipyards was arranged. They will be reformed following a decree of the President.

    In addition, a list of joint-stock companies, which shares are supposed to be sold, has been included into a three-year privatisation plan. There are 738 such joint-stock companies now taking into account those established in 2008. It is up to national state administration bodies to determine methods and conditions of selling the shares. Proposals for selling packages of shares of 54 joint-stock companies have been prepared. The State Property Committee has sent relevant draft resolutions on the sale of shares to the government. So far the head of state has made decisions on selling shares of only two joint-stock companies. The remaining draft resolutions have been returned due to the insufficient reasoning of the sale.

    Georgy Kuznetsov remarked that the size, methods and terms of selling packages of shares are not agreed with needs of joint-stock companies. There are no preliminary negotiations with potential investors. According to the Chairman, privatisation efforts are poorly organised. “We are in the last phase of preparing all reformation materials. Ministries and agencies together with enterprises have worked out sale conditions and determined what requirements investors are supposed to meet. These proposals are supposed to be sent to the State Property Committee,” said the Chairman.

    In 2009 213 enterprises are supposed to be converted into joint-stock companies. Schedules for each company have been approved. Stock-taking of objects is in progress.

    According to the Prime Minister, the State Property Committee should go beyond tracking the paperwork, it should work with enterprises. “Our potential investors should know what we want to privatise and sell,” stressed the head of government.

  • Economics...

    Sergei Martynov: Russian ruble as single currency to crown economy harmonisation

    From: BelTA
    The introduction of the Russian ruble as the single currency of the Union State of Russia and Belarus should crown the process of harmonisation and collaboration of the two economies, Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov told Belarusian TV Channel One in an interview.

    “The issue of introducing the Russian ruble as the Union State currency has not been raised either at the Supreme State Council session or during its preparation. Frankly speaking, it has not been raised as a serious discussion in the last 2-3 years. Because our country view has become obvious to everyone: yes, it is important, yes, it is a necessary goal, but it should be done to crown the process of harmonisation and interaction of our economies,” he said.

    Sergei Martynov said, Russian government agencies have gradually come to accept this point of view and at present there is full understanding that it is the goal to strive for, but a lot of other urgent business has to be dealt with first. “This is why there have been no discussions about it and those claiming otherwise are trying to start speculations without facts,” underscored the Minister.

    The discussions went about the role of the Russian ruble, the most popular and most reinforced currency in the ex-USSR, as the so-called regional reserve currency, which would be primarily used for payments. Ways to create better conditions for the sake of encouraging wider use of the Russian ruble in day-to-day payments between the two economies and business entities of Belarus and Russia were discussed. “There was no determination and no instructions were given to the governments to ensure 100% use of the Russian ruble before a specific date,” noted Sergei Martynov.

    The thing is that the Russian ruble is primarily used to pay for Belarusian commodity exports to Russia while the US dollar is used to pay for imports from Russia, which are mainly energy resources, oil and gas. Roughly 60% of the trade turnover.

    “For those even with the slightest insight into economics it is obvious that any dollar payments are transferred via American financial centres, not between Moscow and Minsk directly. As many billions of dollars are involved, along with servicing the turnover between our countries, we pay and feed someone else. Is it wise on our part? Probably not,” explained the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

    This is why ways to use the Russian ruble in the trade turnover were discussed.

    Inflation at 4.1% in January in Belarus

    In January 2009, inflation in Belarus ran at 4.1%, the National Statistics Committee told BelTA. In January 2008, it was 2.5%.

    In January 2009 the Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased by 15.1% from January 2008.

    In 2008 inflation reached 13.3%.

    In January 2009, the Belarusian gross domestic product was up 4.2% in comparable prices against the same period in 2008, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee.

    In line with the projections of Belarus’ socio-economic development, the GDP is to grow 10-12% in 2009.

    The industrial growth stood at 1.2% (the annual projection of 10-12%), the production of consumer goods was up 3.5% (the annual projection of 12-13%). The production of foods was up 11.2% (12-13%), of non-foods down 5.4% (the annual projection of growth stands at 11.5-12.5%).

  • From the International Press...

    Russian-Belarusian network to be part of CIS air defenses

    From: Ria Novosti
    The integrated Russian-Belarusian regional air defense network will be part of the integrated air defense network of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia's Air Force chief said on Tuesday.

    Moscow and Minsk signed on February 3 an agreement on the joint protection of the Russia-Belarus Union State's airspace and the creation of an integrated regional air defense network.

    The network will comprise five Air Force units, 10 anti-aircraft units, five technical service and support units and one electronic warfare unit, and will be placed under the command of a Russian or Belarusian Air Force or Air Defense Force senior commander.

    The CIS integrated air defense network was set up by 10 CIS member countries on February 10, 1995. Georgia has recently withdrawn from the network following a brief military conflict with Russia over South Ossetia in August.

    The main purpose of the network is to ensure the protection of the member-countries' airspace, early warning of missile attacks and coordination of joint efforts to neutralize potential air threats.

    "The CIS integrated air defense network is intended to accomplish a variety of tasks, including missile early warning and countering attacks of a potential enemy. We [Russia] will certainly participate in the defense of any of the member-states, if their airspace is violated," Zelin said.

    The CIS network currently comprises seven air defense brigades, 46 units equipped with S-200 and S-300 air defense missile systems, 23 fighter units equipped with MiG-29, MiG-31 and Su-27 aircraft, 22 electronic support units and two detachments of electronic warfare.

    Russia's Air Force commander said CIS members would conduct this year large-scale air defense exercises as part of the integrated air defense network at the Ashuluk training ground, in Russia's Astrakhan Region near the Caspian Sea.

    "During the Combat Commonwealth 2009 exercise, which involves live-firing drills, we are planning to practice joint deployment of CIS integrated air defense network's units on a theater- operational scale in simulated conditions of a military-political crisis in one of the regions included in the collective security zone," Zelin said.

    Russia should give Belarus cheap loans:Lukashenko

    From: Reuters
    Russia should help Belarus by extending it more loans at attractive rates if it wants to benefit from an air defence system linking the two neighbours, President Alexander Lukashenko was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

    Belarus, Russia and other ex-Soviet states announced plans last week to create an air defence system running from Belarus's border with three NATO states through Russia to the Chinese border.

    Russia, Belarus's main supplier of energy, has already pledged $2 billion in credits to Minsk and disbursed half that sum. Belarus has also clinched a $2.5 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund.

    "If Belarus collapses, it will be a loss to Russia that is far greater than support worth $2 billion," state news agencies quoted Lukashenko as saying.

    He said his country of 10 million people was making concessions to Russia as it had limited choices in securing energy and was unlikely to withstand any transition to market prices -- as will be the case with neighbouring Ukraine from next year.

    Belarus is hoping to secure a further credit of 100 billion Russian roubles (about $2.7 billion) as well as $10 billion from a stabilisation fund overseen mainly by Russia to offset the effects of the world financial crisis.

    Moscow has openly suggested to Belarus that it wants its western neighbour to recognise the separatist Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- the focal points of Russia's brief war last August with Georgia.

    Only Nicaragua has extended such recognition. Belarus, allied with Russia under a largely unimplemented "union treaty" launched in the mid-1990s to create a post-Soviet merger, has so far declined to do so.

    Lukashenko said the IMF had for the moment done more for Belarus than had Russia.

    "The West is giving us credits three times more advantageous than Russia," he was quoted as saying. Russia, he said, should also remove trade restrictions.

    "While we have already moved towards close unity and agreed on air defence and similar issues and gone shoulder to shoulder with Russia, why do you keep blocking our shipments to the Russian market?" he said.

    Belarusian foreign minister denies Minsk’s plans to introduce Russian ruble

    From: Navany
    The possible introduction of the Russian ruble as the sole legal tender in Belarus has not been discussed at a “serious lelvel” in the last couple of years, Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw said in an interview with the country’s First Channel.

    “The issue of introducing the Russian ruble as the Union State’s single currency was not on the agenda at a serious level either at the most recent meeting of the Supreme State Council [of the Belarusian-Russian Union State], or during its preparations, or, to say honestly, in the last two or three years altogether,” the foreign minister was quoted as saying.

    “The fairness of our position that it is indeed important and the purpose is viable but it should crown progress on the harmonization of the economies and cooperation between them has become absolutely obvious for all,” Mr. Martynaw said.

    “As our president has often said, it is the roof a house,” he went on to say. “One should not start with the house's roof. Our colleagues in Russia’s governmental agencies also understood this gradually, not immediately. There is a full understanding that this is a purpose which we should move forward to, but a number of other matters should first be settled.”

    Mr. Martynaw stressed that the replacement of the Belarusian rubel with the Russian national currency was nothing but a “speculation.” The Supreme State Council of the Belarusian-Russian Union State discussed at its most recent meeting the possibility of making the ruble a “regional reserve currency” that could be used in mutual payments, he said.

    Will Lukashenka Be Welcomed in Prague?

    From: Jamestown
    Since last October, the European Union, through an Eastern Partnership Program originally initiated last summer by Poland and Sweden, has taken several steps to normalize relations with Belarus. For some members of the opposition, the maneuvers appear to abandon the EU's former insistence on democratization prior to the renewal of relations and the end of Belarus's isolation.

    The EU thus appears to be establishing a buffer zone of friendly countries on its eastern border while ignoring some of the more unsavory aspects of the Belarusian state. A particular source of interest to many observers is whether Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will be invited to the forthcoming EU summit in Prague in April (the Czech Republic holds the chairmanship of the EU until June), in what is called the 27+6 format, that is, the full members of the EU, plus Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova, and, possibly, Belarus.

    Speaking in Minsk on January 26, Lukashenka linked the closer political relations with the development of business, welcoming the opening of a European Commission office in Minsk and the invitation to his country to participate in the Eastern Partnership Initiative [EPI] (Interfax, January 26). He had declared a few days earlier that "Belarus is a predictable, honest, and consistent partner in the international arena and makes a serious contribution to security and stability on the European continent" (Zvyazda, January 20).

    To facilitate and hasten the improvement of relations, on October 13, 2008, the EU issued a six-month suspension of the travel ban on Lukashenka and 35 leading officials (Reuters, October 13, 2008). It has now reduced its original 12 requirements for improving relations with Minsk to five: an end to the detention of political prisoners; changing the electoral code; resolving the issue of restrictions on independent newspapers and the law on the mass media; improving working conditions for NGOs; and freedom of assembly and political associations (Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belorussii, January 23).

    Several steps have been taken to date by Minsk, including the release of political prisoners (so designated by the United States), signing the Framework Agreement and Protocol of the EPI, consulting with the OSCE about changes to the electoral code, and the registration on December 17, 2008, at its fourth attempt, of the "For Freedom" movement led by former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich (, December 18, 2008). Two leading opposition newspapers, Nasha Niva and Narodnaya Volya, are now sold in kiosks, although they are still difficult to find even in central Minsk, minimal copies are available, and the prices have been raised substantially by state agencies.

    The EU has chosen to drop or shelve seven other requirements for Belarus, including investigations of the disappearance of several prominent figures in 1999 and 2000, the abolition of the death penalty, ending arbitrary arrest and detention, and guaranteeing the rights of national minorities. Several opposition figures have expressed their anger at such apparent largesse, including Stanislav Shushkevich, a former parliamentary chairman; Lyavon Barcheuski, the leader of the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front; and Andrei Sannikau, the international coordinator of Charter 97 (for example,, Jan 26).

    In an interview with the Ukrainian newspaper Zerkalo Nedeli, Shushkevich commented that "Some politicians in the West are indifferent to whether we have democracy" and stressed that Lukashenka should not be invited to Prague (Zerkalo Nedeli, January 24-30). Likewise, Volha Kazulina, daughter of former political prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin, maintains that the regime's measures have thus far been merely for the sake of appearances and do not represent any fundamental change (, Jan 29).

    Other opposition figures are prepared to give the new relationship a chance to succeed, including Anatol Lyabedzka, the leader of the United Civic Party, and Milinkevich, who has already announced his candidacy for president in the elections scheduled for 2011 (, January 14). Ending the isolation of Belarus within Europe could open up potential opportunities for opposition politicians. It could, however, also serve to maintain the authoritarian regime in power indefinitely without addressing most of the issues that led to European and international concern abut the political environment within Belarus.

    Despite pressure from the EU for improvements, the parliamentary elections of 2008, like all elections since 2001, were seriously flawed according to monitors from the OSCE (RIA Novosti, September 29, 2008); but the EU has decided to reassess the suspended Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Belarus that has been shelved since 1996, when Lukashenka amended the constitution to enhance presidential powers.

    Moreover, the talks and discussions between Minsk and Brussels may founder on the issue of Belarus's tightening economic and military-security links to Russia. Numerous questions arise. Will Belarus abandon its commitments to the Eurasian Economic Community with its free trade zone, the CIS, the generally dormant but not yet defunct Russia-Belarus Union, dismantle the two Russian military bases on its territory, and cease to purchase Russian weapon systems? Will the struggling Belarusian ruble be devalued further, or will Lukashenka finally succumb to using the Russian ruble in Belarus? Although Belarus trades as much with the EU as with Russia, the latter is the chief buyer of Belarusian manufactured goods and sugar as well as the country's chief creditor and supplier of energy resources.

    In short, can the EU really extract Belarus from the Russian orbit into which it is increasingly drawn despite official rhetoric from the president and Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski? Partnership, after all, is an alternative to, rather than a form of preparation for membership, which has never been on the table. Finally, if Lukashenka is invited to Prague, will this "erase" his past misdeeds?

  • From the Opposition...

    Uladzimir Labkovich: ‘Political parties have no access to the state mass media’

    From: Viasna
    The state press refuses to publish any articles by oppositional parties despite the fact that the law guarantees to them the access to mass media.

    Uladzimir Labkovich, the responsible secretary of the central office of the Belarusian Popular Front Party, stated it in the interview with the press-service of Charter’97 while commenting on the refusal of the state-run newspaper Narodnaya Hazeta to publish the article of the BPF Party On crisis situation in the Belarusian economy.

    ‘There are many talks that in our country everybody allegedly has equal opportunities for applying to mass media, including representatives of the opposition. However, the statement of the vice-head of Lukashenka’s administration Natalli Piatkevich is not true. The law on political parties guarantees them access to mass media, first of all to the state ones. We have been denied in publication of our article in Narodnaya Hazeta, and last week we received a similar denial in one of the state newspapers issued in Vitsebsk,’ Mr. Labkovich said.

    ‘It again confirms that there are no changes in the sphere of free access to information, though the European Union demands such changes. No changes are taking place,’ states Uladzimir Labkovich.

    Bear in mind that on 23 January the BPF Party addressed the Belarusian authorities with the request to publish the official position of the BPF, adopted at its latest assembly (Soim) On crisis situation in the Belarusian economy.

    On 9 February the party received an answer from the chief editor of Narodnaya Hazeta V. Andryievich, who refused to publish the article, referring to Article 35 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus On press and other mass media, according to which ‘the editorial offices choose and publish the letters addressed to them on their own decision. No one can oblige an editorial office to publish the materials it has declined.’

    Last week the Vitsebsk-based newspaper Vitsbichy promised to publish the Position of the BPF Party On crisis situation in the Belarusian economy.

    “Gazeta Wyborcza” journalist detained at Belarusian border

    From: Charter '97
    A reporter of Polish newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” in Belarus Andrzej Poczobut when he was on his way back from a business trip to Lithuania was stopped at Kamenny Loh border checkpoint on Belarusian-Lithuanian border for about an hour.

    Back on February 5, when Andrzej Poczobut went to Lithuania from Belarus, he noticed that Belarusian border guards treated him suspiciously, Radio Racyja informs.

    “My appearance on the border caused abnormal reaction immediately. A border guard checked my name in the computer and called her commander. They showed the customs officer that my things should be checked up…,” he said.

    When the journalist was travelling in a bus from Lithuania through Kammeny Loh checkpoint, he was detained for personal search.

    “I was guarded to an office and said that a decision of the head of Kamenny Loh customs station is expected that a careful personal search should be carried out…”, he confirmed.

    Andrzej Poczobut wasn’t explained under which grounds he had been detained for personal search, but the journalist connects this incident with the events which are intensively unfolding around preparation to the congress of the officially unrecognized Union of Poles in Belarus headed by Andzelika Borys.

    Door in apartment of well-known Belarusian journalist Andrzej Poczobut cut

    In a related story, The outer door of the apartment in Hrodna, belonging to Andrzej Poczobut, a journalist of Polish newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” was cut by unknown.

    Besides, as said by Andrzej Poczobut, an unknown man was calling to his 8-year-old daughter several times. The journalist said he would make an application to police, and switched off the phone. On the next day it turned out that there were three more calls from the same phoe number in the night.

    Besides, Andrzej Poczobut receives calls on the landline. “When I pick up the phone, nobody answers, there is silence,” the journalist said. Thanks to a telephone answering machine he knows from which phone numbers calls were received. But when he called there himself, nobody answered, and the mobile phone which number had been registered too, was immediately switched off.

    Andrzej Poczobut says the atmosphere in his family is nervous, his daughter is frightened. He believes that the pressure on his family could be connected to his journalistic activities and to his active participation in the work of the Union of Poles headed by Anzelika Borys, which is not recognized by the Belarusian authorities as before.

  • Around the region...

    Russia Preparing to Buy Allies Through Anti-Crisis Assistance

    From: Jamestown
    While facing a financial and economic crisis of its own, Russia has launched an ambitious program of anti-crisis subsidies to several loyalist governments. The program seeks to consolidate a sphere of Russian economic and political influence in selected countries. Moscow plans to disburse those subsidies both through bilateral channels and through the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEc). The summit held in Moscow on February 4 advertised this intention and reactivated the EurAsEc from its long lethargy.

    EurAsEc was established in 2000 at then-president Vladimir Putin's initiative, as one of many abortive attempts to create a CIS Customs Union -conceived as an economic bloc- around Russia. An Interstate Committee, comprised of the participant countries' Presidents, is EurAsEc's top decision-making body. Decisions at all levels in EurAsEc are made through weighted voting, based on each country's contributions to the common budget. Thus, Russia is entitled to cast 40 percent of all votes, Kazakhstan 20 percent, and the other countries are sharing the rest of the votes. This voting system remained merely notional, however, as the EurAsEc failed to become operational in any real sense.

    In October 2007 Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed agreements on creating a tripartite Customs Union, which would be open to accession by other interested countries. Those agreements envisaged forming a Commission, a customs territory, and rules of membership for countries of the would-be customs union.

    The EDB was founded by Russia and Kazakhstan in January 2006 with an authorized capital of $1.5 billion, including $1 billion contributed by Russia and $0.5 billion by Kazakhstan. Ostensibly aiming to support "market economies" of EurAsEc countries, the EDB is specifically geared to financing the growth of mutual trade within this would-be economic bloc. EurAsEc and EDB are open to accession by other interested countries. Moscow has devolved to Kazakhstan the role of a frontrunner in EurAsEc's institutionalization during the last few years.

    All of those agreements and intentions have remained on paper even for the founding countries, let alone other CIS countries. Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus themselves deemed Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan too backward and poor to join a customs union. Moscow failed in its attempts to pull Ukraine into EurAsEc and a customs union. No other CIS countries showed any interest thus far. Only Armenia, its economy heavily mortgaged to Russia, is now joining EurAsEc's anti-crisis program in the expectation of Russian subsidies.

    The Kremlin had prepared the February 4 Moscow summit in advance, at an informal meeting of presidents of EurAsEc countries plus Armenia, hosted by Kazakhstan last December. That gathering initiated the decision to create a $10 billion anti-crisis fund. Kazakhstan currently holds the group's rotating chairmanship. During the Moscow summit Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev assured his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, that Kazakhstan would redouble efforts to create a Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, as a higher stage of EurAsEc, already in 2009 (Interfax, RIA Novosti, February 4; Kazinform, February 6).

    Moscow's anti-crisis subsidies are targeted selectively and geared for sphere-of-influence building. Russia is rewarding allied Armenia; it has precipitated Kyrgyzstan's threat to remove the U.S.-led military presence from that country; and it induced a reluctant Belarus to accept Russia's demand to turn the joint air defense system into a unified system.

    Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin has acted as a key figure in allocating external financial assistance since the crisis struck. Sechin personally handled the financial packages for Kyrgyzstan and Cuba.

    Whether Russia will actually be able to disburse those sums seems, however, far from certain, as its financial crisis evolves into an economic crisis. Russia's budget faces diminishing revenues with growing anti-crisis expenditures internally; and falling currency reserves in parallel with a declining rouble relative to the dollar. All of this should greatly complicate the promised disbursement of dollar-denominated loans to buy loyalties in EurAsEc and beyond.

    Unless they are pure bluff, Moscow's pledges may reflect an expectation that the downward cycle of oil and gas prices would soon rebound in Russia's favor. Its ambitions seem undaunted at the moment and it hopes to induce crisis-hit EurAsEc countries to start using the Russian rouble as a "regional currency." Kremlin political consultant Vyacheslav Nikonov openly describes the current crisis as an opportunity to switch to using rouble payments in intra-EurAsEc trade, and Russia's anti-crisis assistance to these countries as a means to that end. He describes this offer in terms of economic bloc-building as a "Russian [version of a] Marshall Plan, a Medvedev plan if you will"

    We're raising GM goats to make human breast milk, say Russians

    From: Daily Mail
    Scientists are genetically engineering goats to produce the same milk as a human mother.
    They claim the breakthrough will allow babies whose mothers can't feed them to receive all the goodness of breast milk.

    Researchers behind the experiments reject fears of Dr Frankenstein-style tinkering with nature.

    They say their work will also lead to the development of medicines exploiting the antibiotic qualities of lactoferrin, a protein found in women's milk.

    The revelations follow research by scientists in Russia and Belarus in which male mice were implanted with human genes.

    'This led to surprising amounts of lactoferrin being produced in their female offspring - 160grams per litre of milk,' said the project's chief, Dr Elena Sadchikova.

    Researchers then switched to goats to obtain much larger quantities of lactoferrin.
    Now 90 females sired by GM male goats are being raised on a secret farm outside Moscow.

    They believe that from later this year when the goats mature they will obtain larger amounts of lactoferrin than found naturally in human breast milk.

    'The new programme will be aimed at producing milk with the human protein, as well as making medicines from it,' said Dr Pyotr Vitsyaz, of the Belarussian National Academy of Sciences.

    Yushchenko: Possible taking of $ 5 billion credit from Russia leading to privatization of Ukrainian gas transmission system

    From: Kiev Post
    When speaking at a session of the National Security and Defense Council, President Viktor Yushchenko has said that the possible taking of USD 5 billion credit from Russia may lead to privatization of the Ukrainian gas transmission system and strategic enterprisesby the Russian side.

    "All I've said and about gas - a single chain... this is a single package, packed into these five billion dollars," he said.

    Hereto the president stressed, if Ukraine manages to avert default of the Naftohaz Ukrainy national joint-stock company and sale of the gas transmission system, this would be a great victory.

    "If we withstand the Odesa portside factory, if we withstand Ukrtelecom, if we manage to preserve the gas transmission system, not repaying Naftohaz's debts with, this would be a great victory," he said.

    Yushchenko marked, Naftohaz lacks over UAH 40 billion of funds in 2009.

    "Now I want to say you that the national oil and gas company disbalance is not 14 billion, 20 billion, not 30 billion and even 40 billion. These figures are higher and higher," the president told.

    He noted, the only possible way to recover forecasted debts of the national oil and gas company is sale of the gas pipeline system.

    The head of state drew examples of Belarus, Moldova and Armenia for whom Russia dramatically levelled up gas prices and after debts accumulated it acquired their gas transmission systems as payment against their indebtedness.

    As Ukrainian News earlier reported, President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko rule out the privatization of the Ukrainian gas transmission system.

    On February 9, the Russian Finance Ministry said that the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine has asked the Russian side to estimate a possibility of granting Ukraine a USD 5 billion loan to cover deficit of the national budget.

    The Presidential Secretariat thinks that Russia may pretend to control the Ukrainian gas pipeline system and preferential privatization of strategic enterprises, so it called on Tymoshenko to divulge details of the talks with Russia on taking a credit to cover deficit of the national budget.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Top coach detained in football corruption

    From: Polskie Radio
    Andrzej B., former coach of first division Wisla Krakow, has been detained in connection with the ongoing investigation into widespread corruption in Polish football.

    Central Anticorruption Bureau officials detained, Andrzej B. in Warsaw, Tuesday morning.

    The man will be transported to Wroclaw, where he will hear as many as 89 charges leveled against him by the National Prosecutor’s Office.

    Andrzej B. was already detained in March 2008, when charges of fixing matches against Korona Kielce in the season 2003/2004 were leveled against him. This was followed by the coach’s resignation in April 2008.

    The investigation into the affair was launched in May 2005. Since then, over 400 charges have been leveled against over 180 coaches, referees and players.

    Soldiers drunk on duty abroad

    From: The News
    Polish soldiers are consuming alcohol while on international missions despite a ban, says the latest report by the Poland’s Military Prosecutor’s Office.

    2008 saw 58 Polish soldiers reported to be under the influence of alcohol while on duty. Eight of them, included in the report, were caught either on duty or while driving a vehicle.

    Military officers admit that they happen to use alcohol from time to time despite this being strictly forbidden. However, they complain about being the only nation with such heavy restrictions put on them, saying that soldiers from other countries have special canteens where they can drink on their time off.

    For using alcohol on duty soldiers may be forced to pay up to 20,000 zlotys in fines or a possible suspension.

    19 year old Pole murders aunt?

    From: The News
    A 19-year old man from Radom, central Poland, is being detained on susoicion of murdering his aunt.

    He has been arrested and is going to be detained for three months, as reported by the press representative of the Masovian police, Rafal Sulecki.

    Last week police officers from Ciepielowo (Masovian region) were informed that a 51-year old lady from Kaweczyn had gone missing.

    Initially, they assumed the woman had got lost in the nearby forest. Both the police and firemen unsuccessfully searched the area. A corpse was later found, however,in a utility room at the block of flats where the woman lived.

    "The victim sustained head injuries which were the direct cause of her death,” said the police spokesperson.

    The police gathered and secured evidence which clearly indicated that the murder was committed in the victim's own home. Later on the murderer moved the body in order to conceal traces of crime," said Sulecki.

    The police detained the 19-year old suspect, who confessed to the crime, but was not clear as to the motives for his behaviour. They also found some things the man had stolen from his aunt. The investigation is going to be carried out by the District Public Prosecutor's Office in Lipsk.

    The man may be sentenced to life imprisonment.

    72-year-old gyno faces 3 years jail for abortion

    From: Polskie radio
    A 72-year-old gynecologist was arrested by Western Pomernia police in his private surgery in the middle of a consultation regarding the performance of an illegal abortion.

    Spokesperson for the police, Marek Karczynski, while refusing to give details of the arrest, stated that it occurred Friday afternoon in Police, near Szczecin.

    A spokesperson for the Regional Prosecutor of Szczecin’s office, Malgorzata Wojciechowicz, stated that police entered the doctor’s surgery to find him in consultation with a pregnant woman and an anesthesiologist “likely just moments before the abortion.”

    Wojciechowicz claims that the woman sought out the abortion.

    The 72-year-old doctor faces 8,000 zloty (1,700 euro) bail from jail, police supervision to ensure that he does not flee the country and up to three year in prison if convicted. The anesthesiologist and woman have been subpoenaed for testimony.

  • Sport...

    Belarus Tops Cross-Country as Paralympic Winter World Cup Ends

    After five days of strong competition, the 2009 Paralympic Winter World Cup has come to a close in Solleftea, Sweden. The final two days, athletes from Belarus proved the power of their training as they took many of the top positions in Cross-Country Skiing.

    On Saturday, 7 February, Aliaksandr Davidovich from Belarus took the first position in the Cross-Country Skiing 15 km race (Sitting category) with a time of 55:26.4. Closely following Davidovich was compatriot Dzmitry Loban just 12 seconds behind, and Chris Klebl (USA) in third. In the Men’s Standing competition, Japan’s Yoshihiro finished in first at 1:02:25.3, followed by Norway’s Svein Lilleberg and Vegard Dahle.

    The Women’s Cross-Country Skiing 15 km race (Standing category) had Larisa Varona from Belarus in first with a result time of 57:45.9. Poland’s Katarzyna Rogowiec finished in second and Canada’s Jody Barber finished in third.

    Belarusian athletes Vasili Shaptsiabol with guide M. Shablovski and Yadviha Skorabahataya with guide Vasili Haurukovich took the top places in the Visually Impaired competition in the Men and Women’s races respectively.

    The Final Ice Sledge Hockey competition on Saturday was a heated battle between teams from Korea and Poland. Korea eventually took the game, winning 2:1 against Poland.

    Friday’s Men's Cross-Country Sprint race (Sitting category) saw Trygve Larson from Norway in first, followed by Georges Bettega (FRA) and Aliaksandr Davidovich (BLR). The Women’s Sprint Standing competition had Stina Sellin (SWE) in first, followed by Shoko Ota (JPN) and Katarzyna Rogowiec (POL).

    In the Alpine Skiing Giant Slalom race on 6 February, Cedri Amafroi-Broisat (FRA) took first in the Men’s Standing competition, followed by Romain Riboud (FRA) and Kevin Wermeester (GER). In the Men’s Sitting competition, Christoph Kunz from Switzerland took first, followed by compatriot Hans Pleisch and Austria’s Andreas Kapfinger.

    Slovakian athletes Norbert Holik with guide Lubos Bosela and Michal Beladic with guide Martin Pavlak took the first and second positions in the Men’s Visually Impaired competition.

    The Women’s Sitting competition in the Giant Slalom saw Linnea Ranudd from Sweden in first, followed by Jane Sowerby (GBR) and Delphine Le Sausse (FRA). Alyda Norbruis (NED) was first in the Women’s Standing competition.


    From: Hornet Sports
    Sacramento State freshman Maria Meliuk earned Big Sky Women’s Tennis Player of the Week honors for matches played the week of Feb. 3-9.

    Meliuk, a freshman from Minsk, Belarus, went 2-0 in singles and 2-0 in doubles as the No. 45 ranked Hornets defeated No. 59 Washington State and Eastern Washington last week.

    Against the Cougars, she defeated Ioana Oprea 6-2, 6-1 at No. 3 singles. Meliuk teamed up with Aileen Tsan to knock off Aleksandra Cekic and Marina Nicolas 8-2 at No. 2 doubles.

    In the conference win over the Eagles, she downed Amanda Mankovits 6-0, 6-0 at the No. 2 singles. Meliuk and Tsan also beat Judy Liening and Rachel Berger 8-4 at No. 2 doubles.

    On the season, Meliuk is 3-0 in single matches, and 2-0 in doubles play. The award marked the first career honor for Meliuk and the second this season won by the Hornets.

    Sacramento State opens up the home portion of their schedule this weekend as they host Nevada on Feb. 14 and Northern Arizona on Feb. 15. First serve will be 1 p.m. for both matches, which will each take place at Rio Del Oro Racquet Club.

  • Cultural scene...

    “ДК Данс” (хроника падшего Карнавала в стиле Буто)

    Пластический театр “ИНЖЕСТ”
    на сцене Дворца культуры железнодорожников
    (ул. Чкалова, 7)

    20 февраля (пятница)
    “ДК Данс” (хроника падшего Карнавала в стиле Буто).

    Автор и режиссер - Вячеслав Иноземцев
    Музыка - Матвей Сабуров и группа “ПЛАТО”(live)

    Начало спектакля в 20.00

    Билеты по 16 000 рублей можно приобрести
    в кассе ДКЖ (тел. 224-89-95, 207-88-29),
    у распространителей - GSM (029)366 61 56(Velcom)и (029)503 35 75(МТС),
    в магазине-галерее “Подземка” (пр-т Независимости 43, тел. 288-20-36)

    Спектакли для взрослых ! NO KULTPOHOD !

    “… И страшновато-прекрасная пляска несет по сцене нагого человека, который учится подчинять себе обновленное, освобожденное от обрубков тело. Чувствуешь себя болельщиком на стадионе, потому что здесь ситуации не разыгрываются, а проживаются актерами, и так же всерьез воспринимаются большинством в зрительном зале. Ну а вкладывать ли в «ДК Данс» какой-то философский или более приземленный смысл, или вообще воспринимать как отвлеченное зрелище, каждый решает сам. Главное – увидеть…” Газета «День»

  • Endnote...

    Migrant workers in Russia 'abused'

    Migrant workers in Russia are regularly faced with violence and exploitation, a Human Rights Watch report has found, warning that the economic crisis could worsen their predicament.

    The report, which was based on interviews with 146 former or current construction workers, found migrants are routinely denied wages, threatened with violence, trafficked into forced labour and abused by the police.

    The organisation said about 40 per cent of the four to nine million migrants living in Russia, many of whom are from some of the poorest former Soviet states, work in the construction industry.

    Half a million people lost their jobs in Russia in December, and construction has been one of the sectors hardest hit in the global economic downturn.


    Human Rights Watch, which is based in the United States, said the Russian government had failed to protect workers from abusive employers, employment agencies and the police.

    "Without urgent action by the Russian government, migrant construction workers will be doubly vulnerable to abuse, both by employers and by others looking to scapegoat migrants for the country's economic problems," Jane Buchanan, the report's author said.

    The report found employers were not providing contracts, or safe working conditions for workers.

    In some cases, workers said employers had confiscated their passports, forced them to work without pay, made them sleep on the floors of dirty trailers and endure beatings.

    "Sadly, violence seems to be a fact of life for many migrant workers in Russia," Buchanan said.

    "Whether it's employers trying to intimidate their workers, police roughing them up during a shake-down, or hate-motivated attacks by regular citizens, Russia's migrant workers are vulnerable at almost every turn."

    Housing criticised

    Employers were also accused of not taking enough care with safety.

    A 27-year-old welder from Kyrgyzstan told Human Rights Watch his employer had refused to call a doctor when he fell on a nail from 2 metres, which pierced his abdomen.

    A foreman from Belarus said he fell from the 17th floor of a building after his safety belt broke and had to save himself by catching hold of scaffolding on the eighth floor.

    Housing for workers was also criticised, with workers in Russia's southern Rostov region complaining that they slept in a filthy cargo container and were forced to drink rain water from puddles and a nearby swamp.

    Russian officials have not yet commented on the report.

    The government has said migrant workers are important for its economy, but it says many of them fall foul of the authorities because they do not have proper residency or work permits.

    They also accuse some migrants of being involved in crime.