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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Russia or the EU?-CSTO, Israel, Debt, Veitnam, Chidren's vacations, Budget, Business, Opposition, Wall Mart, Polish scandal and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #416

    Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils should help strengthen CSTO potential

    From: BelTA
    The CSTO Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils should play a major part in strengthening the potential of the organization, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with heads of the delegations that took part in the session of the CSTO Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils on June 5.

    According to the President, the session is held during a very turbulent period, when the global economic crisis that hit all the states, is exerting a negative impact on the security of states. The major security issues include an upsurge in financial crimes that in fact caused the crisis, an increase in illegal migration, human and illegal drug trafficking. “The recent events in Uzbekistan emphasized the urgency for anti-terrorism efforts. The political environment remains tense, too. The last year’s events in the Caucasus revealed the fragility of peace and stability,” Alexander Lukashenko underlined.

    The situation in Afghanistan is another matter of global concern. The Nato forces failed to put an end to terrorism, illegal drug production and improve the social and economic situation there, the President said.

    Alexander Lukashenko underlined that Russia’s initiative to conclude a legally binding agreement on security in Europe did not find due understanding in the West. “We should not forget that all these tensions are being aggravated in the close vicinity of the CSTO borders. This is why the participants of the CSTO session in Moscow in February 2009 took a number of decisions aimed at strengthening the CSTO potential to respond to present day challenges and threats; the CSTO Committee of Secretaries of Security Councils should play an important coordinating role in the implementation of these decisions. It pertains to the CSTO Collective Rapid Response Forces first and foremost,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Information security was named one of the priority tasks of the Committee. “A programme of joint effort to establish an information security system of the member states was adopted at the session of the Collective Security Council last year. The Committee should devote more attention to practical steps to implement this programme. The US, for example, is going to spend tens of billons of dollars to overcome this global issue,” the President underlined.

    Alexander Lukashenko thinks it important to combine the efforts of all the interested states and agencies to overcome most serious security challenges of today.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Israel is not an alien country for Belarus

    Israel for Belarus is not an alien country, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Avigdor Lieberman, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister of Israel, on June 4.

    “Thank you for visiting the native land after your election and appointment. Israel is not an alien country for Belarus because dozens of thousands of Belarusians live there. We are not indifferent to their destiny,” the President told Avigdor Lieberman.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, emigrants from Belarus, who live in Israel, are the basis of the relations between the two countries to a large extent. “We rooted for you and your party very much [Avigdor Lieberman has been leading the Israel is Our Home Party since 1999 – BelTA], watched the elections in Israel attentively and I am very glad that everything has turned out the way you wanted,” he said.

    In view of the victory of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party (Israel is Our Home Party) the President of Belarus remarked that the time should be used to improve the relations between the two countries even more. “Israel will only benefit from it and Belarus will benefit even more. I’d be glad that your personal contribution and respect for you in Israel will serve the normalisation of relations of Belarus not only with Europe but also America,” added Alexander Lukashenko.

    In turn, Avigdor Lieberman underlined that he appreciates the rise in Belarus-Israel relations. He thanked the Belarusian side for restoring the Minsk ghetto memorial. “It is very important for us to preserve the historical truth about World War Two. It is impossible to constantly re-write the history and deny Holocaust facts,” remarked the Israeli Foreign Minister.

    Avigdor Lieberman also believes that it is time to enhance the economic component in relations of the two countries.

    BelTA reported earlier, Israeli Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman is in Belarus on a working visit on June 3-5.

    In 2008 Belarus-Israel trade totalled $68.2 million, with export as high as $5.7 million, import — $62.5 million. In January-April 2009 the trade amounted to $18.5 million (export — $1.9 million, import — $16.6 million). Belarus exports diamonds, petroleum products, food and light industry goods to Israel. The main imports from Israel are insecticides and herbicides, medications, fruit and vegetable juices, fruits, colouring agents, medical equipment, food, plastic and polymer sheets and films, metal ceramics.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus’ external public debt remains low

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ external public debt remains low, Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told a session of the Budget, Finance, and Tax Policy Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus on June 3.

    At present the external public debt is close to $5 billion. In long-term estimates it covers 11 years, with the price as high as 4.5% per annum. “These are tiny figures for servicing the debt,” noted the Minister.

    In his words, Belarus meets all economic security requirements. In particular, Belarus’ ratio of the external public debt to the GDP is under 10% while the international practice allows it to climb to 50%. According to estimates of the Finance Minister, by the end of the year Belarus’ external public debt can reach 14% at most. The external debt service accounts for 2% of Belarus’ export earnings while the international practice allows it to reach 25%. The external debt service is under 4% of the national budget revenues while it can reach 7% in accordance with Belarusian standards.

    In addition, Andrei Kharkovets said that the rating agency Standard & Poor’s believes that Belarus can further increase the external public debt to $9 billion.

    While instant refinancing of the external debt may cause certain problems, every country uses standard procedures to neutralize possible negative consequences of servicing the external debt. In particular, Belarus takes IMF loans for up to four years and can extend the recovery term up to seven years. Apart from that, it is possible to reserve IMF money in Washington. The money will be owned by Belarus but deposited on accounts overseas. Andrei Kharkovets also said that Belarus can also sell property and reach into external borrowing markets. In his words, there are those willing to lend money to Belarus.

    Belarus Prime Minister urges stable frugal operation of national economy in winter

    In winter the national economy of Belarus should work steadily with minimum expenses, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told a session of the Council of Ministers Presidium on June 2. The session was held to discuss measures meant to prepare the national economy for the oncoming autumn and winter period.

    During the oncoming cold season the economy will have to work in conditions of the world financial crisis “this is why we have to always think how to save money especially at the local level,” remarked the head of government. The adopted measures will allow the economy and the manufacturing sector to operate steadily in the autumn and winter period, stressed Sergei Sidorsky. He urged minimum expenditure of resources at the local level.

    In the present conditions organisational and technical measures designed to accumulate the necessary amount of fuel will have to be worked out and fulfilled along with repairs of heating, electrical energy, and gas sources, power grids. Special attention should be paid to the programme of energy-saving measures. The programme outlines planned measures for every year, specified Sergei Sidorsky. For the period in question the programme will receive Br200 billion in funding, 150% more than last year. The funding allocated for energy-saving measures is scrutinised article by article. “The amount of money is sufficient. The money just has to be used effectively during the cold season,” underlined the Premier. He pointed out several issues which need to be addressed, in particular, the replacement of heating pipes. The topic should be specified for the Energy Ministry, he said. The investment programme has to be fulfilled, with new technologies assimilated and installations commissioned. Now minimum funding will be apportioned for supporting the power grids, which have already received the money for their preparation to the cold season.

    Belarus, Vietnam have potential for boosting economic relations, Boris Batura says

    From: BelTA
    –Belarus-Vietnam relations in the economic area can be intensified, there is a potential for it, Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus Boris Batura said in a meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Vietnam to Belarus Dang Huy Tran.

    According to the Speaker, in 2008 the growth was registered in the economic cooperation between Belarus and Vietnam; this year has seen a slight decline.

    “Belarus and Vietnam have good mutual relations, extensive cooperation between the parliamentarians. The agreement signed during the recent visit of the Chairman of the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam testifies to the fact,” Boris Batura said. At the same time he added that Vietnam is an important partner of Belarus and Southeastern Asia, and Belarus hopes to reach the markets of other states via this country. The Speaker expressed hope the Ambassador would assist advancement of the Belarusian MTZ, MAZ and BelAZ to Southeastern Asia. Belarus also hopes for a constructive cooperation in the foreign policy with Vietnam.

    Boris Batura believes it is necessary to intensify the implementation of agreements reached in a session of the intergovernmental commission for trade, economic and sci-tech cooperation. “We have agreed that parliamentarians would join the implementation of the agreements reached in April 2009,” he said.

    Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Vietnam to Belarus Dang Huy Tran has noted that Belarus and Vietnam have well-developed relations. “Our goal is to assist development of trade and economic, sci-tech relations as well as relations in education,” he said. The Ambassador has stressed that the main thing is to implement agreements reached during the visit of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko to Vietnam.

    Vietnam is Belarus’ traditional trading partner the Asian region. In 2008, the trade between Vietnam and Belarus totaled nearly $125 million. The leaders of the two countries have determined a strategic goal for the future – to develop trade and economic cooperation taking into account a big potential in bilateral relations and complementary economies.

    Belarus considering signing children recuperation agreements with six countries

    From: BelTA
    These days Belarus is discussing the possibility of signing international children recuperation agreements with six countries. Consultations with Canada, France, Bulgaria, Japan, Switzerland, and Sweden are in progress, said Alexander Kolyada, Director of the Humanitarian Activities Department of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate, at a session of the International Affairs and CIS Relations Commission of the House of Representatives on June 4.

    “The host country should give guarantees that the child will return and that his safety during the recuperation trip will be fully secured,” stressed Alexander Kolyada.

    He remarked that in line with existing agreements 36,000 children have enjoyed recreation abroad in 2008. Belarus has signed such agreements with Italy, Belgium, Germany, and the UK. According to Alexander Kolyada, around 10,000 orphans travel for recreation abroad per annum. A large number of children come from the Gomel and Mogilev oblasts, the regions most affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe.

    Alexander Kolyada underscored that Belarus has a system designed to control the recreation of children abroad and the country’s legislation is quite strict in this regard. The system involves the Education Ministry, the Labour and Social Protection Ministry, the Humanitarian Activities Department of the Belarus President Property Management Directorate. Belarus embassies abroad are also engaged in the system. There is a database of all foreign public organisations, which welcome Belarusian children for recuperation.

    Parliamentary commission approves Belarus-Ireland agreement on recuperation of children

    The deputies of the Belarusian parliament are to ratify an intergovernmental agreement which stipulates recreation conditions of underage Belarusians in Ireland. This document was upheld by the session of the permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS of the House of Representatives on June 4.

    Director of the Humanitarian Affairs Department of the Belarus Presidential Property Management Directorate Alexander Kolyada said that under the agreement Belarusian children aged 7-18 can take multiple recuperation trips to Ireland. All the expenses, including visa fees, tickets, insurance and treatment, are to be paid by Irish organizations and families.

    According to Alexander Kolyada, Belarus is actively cooperating with Ireland in the humanitarian area. Over the last five years Ireland has provided around $22 million to Belarus in gratuitous aid.

    The Irish side is to carry out the background check of all the families and organizations involved in recuperation programmes. Alexander Kolyada underlined that the Irish side is responsible for the timely return of the Belarusian children. Apart from that, children will be provided with emergency medical assistance, good living conditions and meals.

    Parliament passes 2008 Belarus budget execution bill

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian MPs have passed the bill “Adoption of the report on the execution of the 2008 national budget”, BelTA has learnt.

    Presenting the bill on June 5, Belarusian Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets said that initially revenues of the 2008 national budget stood at Br38.1 trillion, expenses — Br40.3 trillion, with the deficit limited to Br2.2 trillion, or 1.9% of the GDP. The budget figures were corrected in December, with the revenues up to Br46.4 trillion, expenses — Br49.8 trillion and the planned deficit as large as Br3.4 trillion.

    The fulfilment of the 2008 budget resulted in a surplus as large as Br921.5 billion. Last year revenues of the national budget totalled Br49 trillion, or 105.7% as against the annual target. The expenses amounted to Br48.1 trillion, or 96.4% as against the annual target.

    According to the Finance Minister, last year the tax and expenditure policy contributed to the economic growth in the country, macroeconomic stability and facilitation of the tax system. The reduced tax burden left around Br1 trillion in hands of companies. In 2008 the tax burden on the economy amounted to 32.6% of the GDP (without the Population Social Protection Fund). In 2009 the tax burden is expected to make 32.1% of the GDP.

    Andrei Kharkovets also said, in 2008 over 1,100 companies received Br2.2 trillion in state support. The largest sums were transferred to enterprises operated by the Industry Ministry, the Transport and Communication Ministry, the Architecture and Construction Ministry. The support was provided as tax respites, financial aid, budget loans, and tax credits.

    In 2008 the state budget spent over Br3 trillion to increase authorised funds of state banks and enterprises. Last year economic security guidelines were fully observed. As of January 1, 2009 Belarus’ external public debt amounted to Br16.8 trillion, Br5.6 trillion up in 2008. In 2008 Belarus took $1.5 billion in external loans.

    Last year revenues of the national development fund grew by Br636.1 billion to total Br4.3 trillion in early 2009. The revenues mainly came as part of the profits transferred by companies.

    As in Q4 2008 the global financial crisis reduced revenues of the state budget, the Finance Ministry took measures to ensure additional saving of budget resources and increase financial reserves. As a result, around Br1.6 trillion was saved. The money helped smooth external shocks in early 2009 a lot.

    Deputy Chair of the State Control Committee Raisa Savritskaya said that audits had confirmed the reliability of the budget execution information. Yet the Committee has detected several violations and poor performance regarding the budget revenues and expenses. Raisa Savritskaya pointed out the lack of the Finance Ministry’s proper control over the transfer of non-tax revenues to the budget, underutilisation of budget funding allocated for state programmes. The Committee has suggested setting up a single database of state programmes in Belarus. The Committee has also initiated perfection of legislation concerning the management of state property.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarusian movie Cadet wins Best Actor Team award at Kyiv festival

    From: BelTA
    The movie Cadet shot by the Belarusian cinema studio Belarusfilm has won the Best Actor Team award at the First Kiev International Cinema Festival, BelTA has learnt.

    After the festival closing ceremony production director Vitaly Dudin told BelTA, because the actors starring in the movie are rather young, winning the award was twice as pleasant.

    All the actors are Belarusians. Starring were Ruslan Chernetsky, Andrei Senkin, Polina Syrkina, Galina Kukhalskaya, Oleg Tkachev, Tatiana Garkusha, Alexander Sutskover, Svetlana Kozhemyakina, and Gennady Garbuk. The action takes place in Western Belarus the first summer after World War Two. A cadet of the Suvorov Military School is the lead character. The production was finished in late 2008.

    The First Kiev International Cinema Festival, which took place in the Ukrainian capital on May 29 – June 3, gathered moviemakers from 25 countries. The professional jury board headed by prominent Polish movie director Krzysztof Zanussi reviewed 37 pictures shot by eminent moviemakers from Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Poland, Latvia, Serbia, Argentina, the UK and other countries.

  • Economics...

    Belarus ready to construct one million sq. m. of housing in Russia

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian construction companies are ready to build one million square meters of housing in Russia within the framework of special programmes of the Russian government, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told reporters in Gomel on June 5.

    “These are good national programmes that are meant for the military. They are implemented by our construction companies using our materials,” the Premier said. It means that the cost of a square meter of such social housing will be cheaper. The construction of one million square meters of housing means $1 billion that Belarus can earn, including through participation in projects in Russia. Sergei Sidorsky said that this topic was discussed at the session of the Union State Council of Ministers in Minsk on May 28. It is being studied by experts, and a final decision is expected to be taken.

    Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves 9.2% down in May

    In January-May 2008 Belarus’ gold and foreign exchange reserves calculated using IMF methods increased by $176.2 million (5.8%) to a total of $3,237.3 million. The reserves shrank by 9.2% in May alone, BelTA learnt from the Information Office of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB).

    In line with the methods used by the International Monetary Fund, Belarus’ international reserves are defined as marketable foreign assets, which consist of monetary gold, special drawing rights, the country’s reserve position in the IMF and foreign currency reserves. The reserve assets can be quickly used for money market interventions in order to stabilize the exchange rate of the national currency, to finance the import of goods and services by the government, for paying and servicing the foreign national debt and for other purposes.

    In January-May 2008 Belarus’ international reserve assets calculated using national methods increased by $5.9 million (0.2%) to $3,668.1 million. In May the figure shrank by 7.1%, or $280.6 million.

    As of June 1, hard currency accounted for the larger part of the international reserve assets of Belarus ($2,649.3 million, or 72.2%) along with precious metals and gems ($937.1 million, or 25.5%). In January-May the hard currency shrank by 4.7%, the precious metals and gems — 16.9%. Other assets amounted to $81.7 million, or 2.3%.

    The NBRB expects the country’s gold and foreign currency reserves to reach $5,870-7,750 million in 2009.

    Belarus may get second tranche of IMF loan in June-July

    Belarus may get the second tranche of the IMF loan in June-July 2009, Belarusian Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told media on June 5.

    “When we will get the loan is a technical issues connected with procedures inside the Fund itself. It is difficult to say when we will get the money. We may get it in June or July. At least we have done our part successfully,” remarked the Minister. In his words, the consultations are over and IMF experts have no questions to ask. “I think the next discussion about our documents and parameters will benefit Belarus,” said the Finance Minister.

    Asked whether Belarus asked the IMF to allocate twice as much in the second tranche of the loan, Andrei Kharkovets underscored: “This is subject to negotiations. Taking into account that parameters are being rather successfully met, we feel that we can choose the enhanced way of the programme. We discuss financial issues concerning changes of financing things with the IMF. These are usual negotiations”.

    BelTA reported earlier, Belarus can get as much as $425 million in the second tranche of the IMF loan. The total financing for the standby programme for Belarus stands at $2.46 billion. Asked whether increasing the financing has been discussed, Andrei Kharkovets said that the figure depends on the adequacy of the economic situation in Belarus and on how much external competition corresponds to the figures specified when the standby programme was worked out.

    He said that at present the IMF does not introduce any additional conditions that Belarus has to meet as part of the standby programme, at least, conditions the Finance Ministry is responsible for.

    The Finance Minister reminded that a World Bank mission will start working in Belarus on June 7. It is supposed to assess the advisability of providing $200 million to Belarus for development purposes.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Broke Belarus Slaps Lender Russia in the Face

    From: Moscow Times
    "Ah, to hell with you! We will search for happiness in another part of the galaxy"
    The Belarussian Central Bank's web site is not exactly what you call an exciting read, but surfing its statistics section these days is harrowing, to say the least.

    The numbers make it quite clear that Belarus, one of Russia's staunchest allies, is on the verge of bankruptcy.

    Foreign currency reserves stood at $3.75 billion on May 1, yet foreign currency debt at the beginning of the year had reached $14.8 billion, $7.9 billion of which is short term.

    A government budget of $25 billion and a massive trade deficit complete this bleak picture.

    "The financial situation is incredibly serious, and it is worsening every month," a senior Western diplomat said by telephone from Minsk, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

    Yet help is at hand, with billions of dollars pouring into the small, landlocked country of 10 million people wedged between the European Union's eastern rim and Russia. The money is coming from Russia, which has promised a $2 billion loan, and the International Monetary Fund, which is to extend a credit line of up to $2.4 billion.

    But paradoxically, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, a former collective farm director who has kept an iron grip on the country since 1994, has bluntly slapped Moscow in the face.

    Last week, Lukashenko lashed out at Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who had questioned Belarus' worthiness of getting the last $500 million tranche of the Russian loan and speculated that the country might be insolvent by the end of the year.

    "[Kudrin] joined ranks with our hoodlums who bark for Western money and teach us how to work," an angry Lukashenko said.

    He said Belarus would not "whine and weep" if things did not work out with Russia but "look for better luck in other parts of the world."

    President Dmitry Medvedev retorted Wednesday that the outburst was unacceptable. "We have never tolerated and we will we never tolerate giving personal characteristics to other countries' leaders," he said at an economics meeting, Interfax reported.

    The clashes throw into doubt long-standing efforts to form a "union state" of both countries.

    Despite the fact that he has been labeled Europe's last dictator, Lukashenko has recently embarked on a carefully staged rapprochement with EU countries, culminating with a visit to Rome in April and Belarus' accession into the European Union's Eastern Partnership program in May.

    Yet Russia kept its cool amid Lukashenko's outbursts, with officials effectively saying relations are fine and the money should keep flowing.

    Kudrin said Monday, several days after his initial assessment, that the $500 million loan was still being discussed and that Moscow would even consider raising the credit line for Minsk from $2 billion to $3.2 billion.

    Analysts said that despite Belarus' dire financial situation, Lukashenko was in a comfortable position because both Russia and the EU could not afford to let the country's economy collapse.

    The Europeans fear a domino effect that could send shockwaves across the continent, said Tomas Valasek, a director with the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank. In addition, a lot of Western investment in Belarus would be at risk, he said.

    Belarus has seen a surge in foreign direct investment since opening up its economy in 2007, following a gas dispute with Russia that increased the amount it paid for gas by more than 170 percent.

    Russia, on the other hand, is ready to go to great lengths to tolerate Lukashenko in order to maintain its influence in the so-called near abroad, said Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

    "Lukashenko is still much closer to Moscow than to Europe, and the Kremlin is extremely sensitive to Western influence encroaching on Belarus," she said.

    Lipman added that despite Lukashenko's recent maverick behavior, he will not cross any red lines to alienate Moscow. "After all, his well-being depends on relations with Russia."

    Valasek said the main difference between the Russian and Western approach to bail out Lukashenko was that Moscow would like to control Minsk's foreign policy, while the IMF and Western donors just wanted their money back.

    He noted that the EU had not offered any special aid and preferred to work through the IMF.

    Yet the EU's Eastern Partnership — which offers six former Soviet states free trade, economic integration and economic aid — obliges participants to commit to democracy, rule of law and sound economic and human rights policies. The program has been criticized by Moscow as an intrusion into its traditional sphere of influence.

    Elmar Brok, a former chairman of the European Parliament and prominent lawmaker for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said that the European policy goal must be to safeguard Belarus' independence.

    "There is a lingering threat that the country will be swallowed by Moscow," he said by telephone from Hamm, Germany.

    He said Minsk's refusal to recognize the independence of Georgia's rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia provided evidence that Belarus still controlled its own destiny.

    The EU has made it clear that recognition of the two regions would unravel any progress being made with Belarus.

    But Brok warned that Europeans should not be drawn into a conflict with Moscow in their talks with the Belarussian government. "We have to be wary because the government had been crafty toward both sides in the past," he said.

    Brok also said that when talking about aid, Europeans should stick to stringent conditions. "We must watch out that Lukashenko does not just go panhandling," he said.

    Belarus, meanwhile, is demanding another $9 billion from Moscow on Tuesday. Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky sent a letter to Putin on Tuesday seeking the loan to build a nuclear power plant and related infrastructure.

    Russia bans Belarusian milk amid growing rift

    From: Forbes
    Russia banned Belarus' milk and dairy products Saturday, the top Russian public health and consumer protection official said, amid a widening rift between the two ex-Soviet neighbors.

    Gennady Onishchenko told NTV Television that he banned Belarusian dairy imports and sales because Belarus had failed to observe the latest Russian regulations on such products.

    While Onishchenko cited technical reasons, his move followed an angry statement by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko accusing Russia of trying to wrest control over his nation's milk factories.

    Lukashenko's comments, released by his office Friday, indicated relations between the neighbors had plunged to a new low.

    The Belarusian president he had been told by Russian officials that they would not allow Belarus to sell its milk to Russia if it refused to hand over control of its milk factories.

    "I told them: 'Good bye, we won't allow you to talk to us like that,'" Lukashenko said. "We will rather die and spill this milk on the ground."

    Russia has been accused in the past of using sanitary controls as a political weapon against other ex-Soviet nations, including Georgia and Moldova.

    Belarus' chief sanitary official Valentina Kachan insisted her country had done everything to comply with new Russian regulations, which contain detailed requirements for production, storage and packing of milk and dairy products.

    Russia and Belarus have an accord envisaging close political, economic and military ties, and they declared a joint goal of building a single state.

    But Lukashenko has resisted Russian attempts to take control of key Belarusian industrial assets, and has criticized Russia for shutting its market to Belarusian goods and for failing to reward Belarus for its role as Moscow's main military and political ally.

    Lukashenko also said in remarks released Friday that Moscow had attempted to blackmail his country into recognizing the independence of Georgia's separatist provinces, saying the move was a condition for Belarus to receive the last $500 million of a $2 billion loan. Russian officials dismissed the claim.

    Belarus leader rejects conditions on Russian loan

    From: Reuters
    Russia has made a $500 million loan to Belarus contingent on its recognition of two separatist Georgian regions as independent states, President Alexander Lukashenko was quoted as saying on Friday.

    But Lukashenko, interviewed by Russian media, said Belarus's support was not for sale.

    Relations between the two former Soviet republics and traditional allies have deteriorated in recent months.

    Russian officials last week said they would not provide the loan on grounds that Belarus could be insolvent by the end of the year.

    Moscow is alarmed by Belarus's rapprochement with Europe after years of isolation and accusations of human rights abuses.

    "It has come to this -- they came and said: if there's South Ossetia and Abkhazia, there will also be $500 million," Lukashenko said in the interview, reprinted by the official BelTA news agency.

    "You know, we don't want to sell issues and positions ... We will decide on this issue by ourselves."

    Russian forces expelled the Georgian army after it tried to retake the rebel region of South Ossetia last August.

    Russia subsequently recognised both South Ossetia and a second separatist region, Abkhazia, as independent states, though so far only Nicaragua has extended similar recognition.

    Moscow has been unofficially putting pressure on Belarus, its longstanding ally, to recognise the two regions. But Lukashenko has resisted the pressure, saying this is a matter for the Belarussian parliament to decide.

    "Maybe we'll recognise, maybe we won't recognise. Today, tomorrow, the day after. In comparison to what is happening around Belarus, this is not the most important issue. But we understand that yes, for Russia, recognition would be useful."

    The European Union has made it clear to Lukashenko that recognition of the regions would jeopardise the improvements Belarus has made in its ties with the 27-member bloc in the past year.

    The West had long accused Lukashenko, in power since 1994, of jailing opponents, muzzling the media and rigging his re-election to a third term in 2006.

    But he has made steps towards the EU after a row over gas supplies with Russia in 2007. Last August, authorities released the last of what the West called political prisoners and allowed the sale of independent newspapers.

    The EU suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko, who travelled to Italy in April and met Pope Benedict, his first visit to Western Europe in years.

    Russia's Kudrin: Belarus Fincl Woes Due To 'Strategic Error'

    From: WSJ
    Belarus made a "strategic error" in not accepting the ruble as its currency, a move that could have spared the country its current financial troubles, Russia's Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Saturday.

    "If Belarus had accepted the ruble, it would not have to be taking credits right now," Kudrin told journalists during a briefing at the sidelines of Russia's main economic event, the St. Petersburg Forum.

    Russia offered to let Belarus switch to ruble in 2005, Kudrin said, and the issue has been raised frequently since, but Belarus has refused. The former Soviet Republic has been promised some $3.7 billion in various loans, including a $2 billion stabilization loan from Russia and an $800 million facility from the International Monetary Fund to aid its ailing economy and currency.

    The two neighbors and staunch allies have been in an emotionally charged spat recently after a dispute broke out over the issuing of the next $500 million tranche of a Russian loan to Minsk.

    On a recent trip to Belarus, Kudrin said Belarus must take considerable efforts to stabilize its economic situation in order to receive the promised money. Kudrin also said that Belarus refused to accept the tranche in rubles.

    Kudrin also warned during the visit that the Belarussian government and the economy as a whole could default even by the end of this year.

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko retaliated, saying his country doesn't need help from Russia. "We don't need to bow down. We don't need to whine and cry," according to a statement provided by Lukashenko's press service.

    Kudrin said Saturday that Belarus needs Russia as it receives enormous subsidies for gas and gas transfers from Moscow, as well as investment from Russian companies. The country is also burdened by a virtual lack of gold and foreign-currency reserves that could serve as a safety cushion if the crisis prolongs, Kudrin said. It is also lacking exports with the potential to secure its own currency. "Belarus could not have another partner who would have supported it more than we have," Kudrin said.

    Belarus says IMF issues solved, sees July tranche

    From: Guardian
    Belarus has resolved all issues raised by the International Monetary Fund and expects the second tranche of a $2.4 billion standby programme possibly in July, Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets said on Friday.

    An IMF mission last month assessed Belarus's progress and the Fund was expected to release $400 million in June, but the mission left without announcing any concrete details.

    "We have finished our consultations with experts and agreed on some technical documents ... there are no more issues that would raise experts' doubts," Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovyets told journalists.

    "We think further discussion (with the) IMF board will be positive for Belarus ... (The tranche) could come in July," he said.

    The IMF's office in Minsk declined to comment.
    Kharkovets also indicated that Minsk could ask either for a larger overall loan or an increase in the size of the next tranche. He gave no further details.

    "Given we fulfilled the parameters, we will talk with the IMF about the issue of changing parts of financing," he said.
    Russia last week said it had abandoned plans to provide its traditional ally with a $500 million loan, the last tranche of a $2 billion deal, over worries about the state of the Belarussian economy.

    The economy has suffered from a steep decline in exports as Russia and the European Union -- the chief buyers of Belarussian goods -- experience a slowdown.
    Falling exports have also put pressure on the Belarussian rouble, supported by central bank interventions. Data issued by the bank on Friday showed reserves fell to $3.69 billion in May from $3.95 billion in April and a record $5.7 billion last July.

    The central bank devalued the rouble 20 percent to the dollar at the beginning of January. The IMF then released the first tranche of the loan worth $788 million.

  • From the Opposition...

    Cartoons competition: “Lukashenka chooses between Russia and West”

    From: Charter '97
    A scandal around the meeting of Putin and Lukashenka has become not only one of the leading topics of the week, but a topic of a competition announced by a Russian radio station “Echo Moskvy” (Echo of Moscow).

    At its website Echo of Moscow announced an outstanding contest of cartoons dedicated to the topic “Lukashenka chooses between Russia and the West”.

    Judging by the number of the works received, Lukashenka’s statements have made many Russians wonder which way the Belarusian leader is taking.
  • Note: To see more photos from this contest, please see the original article

    “Brest Viasna” human rights organization denied registration

    From: Charter '97
    Human rights activists think the grounds on which the Brest region executive committee refused to register “Brest Viasna” are farfetched.

    Euroradio has learnt this from Uladzimir Vyalichkin, the head of the initiative group on creating the organization.

    This time the official reason for non-registration is the cancellation of the rent guarantee by the owner of the premises. A day before, the owner didn’t say he had any claims, the human rights activist told.

    It should be reminded that “Brest Viasna” has been trying to register since January. The two previous refusals were motivated by inaccuracies in the charter and absence of the receipt for placement of the registration ad in a newspaper among the documents that were submitted for registration.

  • Around the Region...

    Wal-Mart May Acquire or Build Stores in Russia, McMillon Says

    From: Bloomburg
    Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, may expand into Russia with an acquisition or by building its own stores, the company’s international chief said in an interview.

    Doug McMillon said he visited more than 30 stores in Moscow and St. Petersburg operated by six to eight retailers two weeks ago. Some outlets had run out of some items or offered aging produce, validating Wal-Mart’s belief it can win customers in Russia, he said today in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

    “There’s an opportunity there to help us serve customers more effectively and, over time, help create a supply chain that’s more effective in keeping goods in stock and keeping them fresher,” McMillon, 42, said during a break in Wal-Mart’s annual shareholders meeting.

    Russian newspaper Kommersant reported in April that the company had renewed talks on acquiring a 51 percent stake in OOO Lenta, a St. Petersburg-based supermarket operator. Both retailers declined to comment at the time, according to the newspaper.

    McMillon said today he wouldn’t comment on Lenta or any other potential targets.

    A team of Wal-Mart executives in Russia is “continuing to assess the market to try to determine the best way to enter the market,” he said. “In today’s economic situation, there may be more of an opportunity to make an acquisition than there might have been even a year ago if you look at the valuations.”

    Russia: Poland responsible for WW II

    From: Polskie Radio
    Russian Defence Ministry has accessed Poland of being responsible for World War II in an article published on its official web site.

    The article was written by Colonel Sergey Kovalov from the Institute of War History at the Russian Defence Ministry and published in a War Encyclopedia under the title “History – against lies and falsification”.

    “Everyone who studies the history of WW II without prejudice knows that the war started because Poland refused to satisfy German claims. However, not everyone knows what exactly Adolf Hitler wanted from Poland. His claims were rather moderate: to incorporate the Free City of Danzig (currently Gdansk) into the Third Reich and to let Germans build exterritorial motorway and a railway [through Poland] which would join East Prussia with the rest of German territory,” writes the Russian historian. In his opinion, “it is hard to regard these claims as unjustified”.

    “Poland aimed at becoming a regional super power and by no means wanted to play the role of a younger partner to Germany. That is why on 26 March 1939 it finally rejected German demands,” argues Kovalov.

    Russia knows better

    The Russian historian also justifies the attack of the USSR on Poland on 17 September 1939. He claims that Josef Stalin had no choice but to sign a non-aggression pact with Hitler in order to postpone, at least in the short term, war with Germany.

    The Russian daily Wriemia Nowostiej has criticized the article published by the Defence Ministry, saying that “the war against falsification of history ‘to the detriment of Russia’, proclaimed by the highest state authorities, is grotesque.”

    The daily ironically predicts that “soon Adolf Hitler will turn out to be an effective manager and East European countries, smashed by Soviet and Nazi ‘effective management’, will be found guilty for getting in their way,” writes Wriemia Nowostiej.

    In May, the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, created the Committee for the Counteraction against Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia. The committee consists of Russian politicians, historians, officials and secret service agents and its goal is to investigate ‘distortions of the historical record’ caused by Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian and Estonian historians.

    The Russian Defence Ministry’s deputy spokesman Aleksandr Petrunin refused to give a commentary on Kovalov’s article.

    Proposed defence pact with Ukraine irks Moscow

    From: Tribune
    The country’s oldest defence partner, Russia, is ‘seeing red’ over moves by India and Ukraine to forge a defence agreement. A formal draft of the pact has been exchanged with Ukraine, part of the erstwhile Soviet Union. “The matter is ‘red hot’ at the moment, a top defence ministry official confirmed while requesting anonymity.

    In response Moscow has raised objections to India’s keenness to have a formal defence tieup with Ukraine, which is seeking a “deeper military relationship” with the South Asian nation. It probably sees a competitor in Ukraine that can potentially cut into its almost assured defence market in India, said a source.

    Also the strategic partnership between Russia and Ukraine has not been very fruitful with the latter beginning to tilt towards NATO countries, much to Russia’s chagrin.

    At present, Ukraine is among the world’s top ten arms exporters. After the breakup of the Soviet Union it inherited a defence industry producing tanks, planes, anti-aircraft and radar systems as well as technological backup. It also retained the capacities to build seaborne aircraft carriers as the manufacturing facilities were based in Kiev.

    Also, the AN-12 and AN-32 series of transport planes used by the Indian Air Force are still serviced by Ukraine. The country also has the capacity to build the Mi series of helicopters as well as T-80 and T-90 tanks, both of which it has supplied to Pakistan during the past decade. At one stage, Ukraine, possibly under Indian pressure, even stopped supplying the equipment to Pakistan.

    For Ukraine its growing might as an arms and equipment manufacturer is somehow linked to Russia. If it is successful in its aim of joining NATO, Moscow is likely to withhold the components Ukraine still needs to assemble its weapons. This a legacy from Soviet times, with the production process for weapons systems split between factories in both countries.

    Manufacturing a missile, for example, would require sourcing components from Russia.

    Last year in June Moscow said it would severe all defence industry ties with Ukraine should the latter join NATO. Russia is paranoid over NATO extending its reach in countries geographically closer to it like Georgia, Turkey or any of the erstwhile Soviet ‘republics’ like Ukraine.

    The Russians have been warning India about the “pitfalls” of entering such a defence agreement with Ukraine. The sources said India has tried to assuage Moscow’s sentiments but there is little scope of a breakthrough.

    Meanwhile, there has been no movement on the proposed defence pacts by India with Spain and Sweden. In Europe India already has such agreements with Britain, France, Italy and Germany.

    Ukrainian Intelligence Promotes Lustration in Ukraine

    From: Jamestown
    On May 11 in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, outlined how previously secret documents from 1917-1991 were being released that will reveal details about the "crimes of communism." Nalyvaychenko described the opening of formerly secret documents and plans to proceed with prosecutions as "the launch of a Ukrainian version of lustration." The documents reveal Soviet crimes against Ukrainians fighting for independence from 1917-1920, the 1933 artificial famine and the nationalist partisan struggle from 1942 to the early 1950's.

    Nalyvaychenko also revealed that the secret documents exposed crimes committed against other nationals, including Poles living in Ukraine. These began in 1937-38 and those whom the NKVD did not then murder were later murdered in the Kharkiv prisons (and Katyn forest) in 1940.

    The director of the SBU's archives Volodymyr Vyatovych revealed that the SBU had already compiled 136 names of individuals involved in committing crimes against humanity during the famine. These included NKVD officers, senior members of the communist party and those who had signed documents. The manner in which the crimes were organized was the basis for the allegation that the famine was a pre-planned "genocide" against Ukraine (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 28).

    Russia has counter-attacked the claims of "genocide" by using the argument that the famine was felt throughout the USSR and was an outcome of collectivization and severe weather. This view has long been prevalent within left-wing and pro-Soviet political and academic circles in the West. Nalyvaychenko replied to these Russian counter-claims by asserting that they had not studied the formerly secret documents made publicly available by the SBU. The SBU had requested its Russian counterparts to open secret Russian documents on Soviet repression, but this had been rebutted.

    "At first the Tsulag was established in Ukraine and then later the Gulag that we all know about," Nalyvaychenko said. The Tsulag was established in 1919 in Ukraine and included 18 locations. On May 21, the official Day of Memory of Victims of Political Repressions, Yushchenko attended a commemoration at one the most infamous of these in the Bykivnia forest outside Kyiv. The area was established as a State Historical and Memorial Preserve by a resolution adopted by the 2001 Yushchenko government. The SBU had identified 14,000 names of the estimated 100,000 victims buried in Bykivnia.

    Nalyvaychenko described how repressive Soviet agencies surrounded Ukrainian oblasts to prevent food entering them. These same units were also stationed on the Crimean border with Ukraine (then within the Russian SFSR). Nalyvychenko's assurances that the SBU's work on Soviet crimes was not directed against Russia will fall on deaf ears in Moscow, especially following President Dmitry Medvedev's establishment of a special commission to "counteract attempts to falsify history." Nalyvaychenko revealed that a 226-page collection of materials showed how in addition to the deaths caused by the famine many others were shot, and these included "Russians, Germans, Jews and Ukrainians" (, May 28). The SBU has also investigated the 1944 deportation of 300,000 Crimean Tatars and criminal cases against the Tatar nationalist Milly Firqa organization in the 1920's (Channel 5, May 18).

    The SBU chief believed that it would only require a short period of time to collect eye-witness accounts and launch criminal proceedings. These would investigate the repeated "actions of criminal groups and the crimes of repressive agencies in the first place against the civilian population" (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 28). Soviet repression included mass murder of the civilian population, mass deportations and placing the children of those sentenced or murdered into orphanages.

    Launching criminal charges and lustration within Ukraine might be more difficult than placing this in the hands of the international courts. Ukraine's judiciary and prosecutor's office are highly corrupt and have not demonstrated sufficient competence in pursuing high profile cases, such as investigating the organizers of journalist Georgi Gongadze's murder or Yushchenko's poisoning. Parliament might also prove unsupportive. Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych described the SBU's lustration plans for launching criminal charges in relation to the famine as "provocative and irresponsible" (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 27). Yanukovych condemned attempts by Yushchenko to play the nationalist card by using the famine to stay in power, potentially further dividing the country and worsening relations with Russia.

    President Yushchenko replied to such domestic critics as individuals whose "dream is a gubernia where they would be uncontrolled lords," a place "without Ukrainian culture and without the Ukrainian language" (, May 17). Nalyvaychenko replied to Yanukovych that Soviet repression and the famine had been most severe in the Donbas and Zaporizhzhia oblast, three regional strongholds. He pointed out that since 2006, Ukrainian legislation asserts that the famine was an "act of genocide against the Ukrainian people," prosecution for which falls within the criminal code. The Ukrainian Institute of National Memory had compiled nearly 900,000 names of Ukrainians who died in the famine. The SBU and the institute continued to work on the documents, collect eye-witness statements and locate mass burial grounds. "In this criminal case there is a serious possibility of success in court," Nalyvaychenko said (Ukrayinska Pravda, June 3).

    The lustration of former communist officials has not been the norm in the majority of the 27 post-communist states. Different degrees of lustration were undertaken in Germany and within ten Central Eastern and Baltic states. The toughest lustration legislation was adopted in the Czech Republic and Germany. It is noticeable, however, from this list of countries that no CIS state including Georgia has undertaken lustration. This could now change with Ukraine following Central-Eastern Europe in launching the lustration of communist crimes against humanity.

    The issues of nation building and historical memory have become a personal crusade for President Yushchenko. At his Bykivnia speech, Yushchenko called for the removal of all the communist "symbols of murder" (, May 17). Following the disintegration of the USSR, Ukrainian democratization could never be divorced from nation and state building. Yushchenko's crusade against Soviet crimes is intimately bound up with its democratization and integration into Europe. This explains Moscow's hostility as it is in the throes of covering up Soviet crimes, and building an autocracy grounded in a synthesis of nationalism and Soviet rule.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poles on 100 most wanted criminals list

    There are 5 Poles on a list of 100 criminals in Europe and USA . Unfortunately they are not afraid of being recognized on streets or reported to the Police by their neighbor. According to "Dziennik" a mess in legislation is to be blamed for this situation.

    Most wanted Polish criminals do not have to flee abroad to feel safe. Police is afraid to publish their photos in Internet without court or states prosecutor's order.

    Five Polish criminals listed in this top 100 are extremely dangerous. They are accused of murders, rapes and brutal robberies. All those criminal acts were committed in Poland, but then offenders fled abroad. The list of 100 most wanted men was published by "Crimestoppers"- a British non profit organization that publishes details of most dangerous criminals in cooperation with the Police. Apart from their photos and names information such as committed crime details and even descriptions of tattoos are given. All that is done to help catching them.

    Palikot sues for libel

    From: The News
    Maverick MP Janusz Palikot has brought a libel action against the Dziennik daily for claiming that he received several million euro loans from anonymous companies.

    Dziennik alleged that Janusz Palikot of the ruling Civic Platform concealed information about having received two million zloty loans from several off-shore companies, among them New Age Private Foundation from Curacao. Dziennik speculated that either Palikot is supported financially by a generous donor or he lends money to himself in a complicated process of giving-and-receiving loans.

    Palikot is demanding a written apology from Axel Springer, Dziennik’s publisher, and 10 million zlotys (2,2 million euros) compensation, which he wants to donate to a hospice in the eastern city of Lublin.

    The compensation is very high, as to date far no Polish court has ever ruled this amount of damages for infringement of personal interests.

    Earlier this week Janusz Palikot brought a bill of indictment to the Warsaw-Mokotow District Court against the Dziennik journalists. If found guilty of libel, they may face up to two years in jail.

    Government cannot cope with corruption?

    From: The News
    The financial crisis has lead to a decline in trust in business and half of the world’s population thinks that the private sector is riddled with corruption, according to a report published by Transparency International.

    Fifty-three percent of those polled by TI consider the private sector to be corrupt, a ten percent increase to 2004. The organization consider this to be a result of the global financial crisis.

    “We only see a difference when residents actively support honest businesses,” adds head of the organization, Huguette Labelle.

    Half of the 73,000 respondents worldwide claimed that they are ready and willing to pay a bit more for services (medical, public, utility, police and education) in order to rid the private sector of corruption. Poland, however, places amongst the bottom ten percent in this category, with less than thirty percent of the country’s respondents expressing a willingness to pay more money for less corruption.

    The sector most affected by corruption worldwide is public service, especially amongst political parties. Thirty-one percent of Poles consider public and civil servants to be corrupt while 23 percent of respondents consider political parties to be riddled with corruption.

    Only six percent of Poles admit to having offered a bribe in hopes for more expedient or better service.

    In the European Union, the percentage of people who think that their governments are wholly ineffective at fighting corruption. Forty three percent of Poles claim the government is unable to curtail bribery and other forms of corruption.

  • Sport...

    Belarus keep hopes alive for first finals with 5-1 rout

    From: Guardian
    Belarus thrashed lowly Andorra 5-1 in a World Cup qualifier on Saturday to keep alive their hopes of reaching their first major finals.

    In the first official international played in this western Belarus town, Gennady Blizhyuk and Sergei Kornilenko each scored twice while Timofei Kalachyov added another to take the home team to their third win in five qualifying matches.

    Ildefons Lima scored a consolation goal from the penalty spot in the final minute for the visitors, who remained rooted to the bottom of group six with zero points from six matches.

    Belarus, who also crushed Kazakhstan 5-1 in their last qualifier in April, moved into third place with nine points, two ahead of Ukraine and a point behind second-placed Croatia, who were facing each other in Zagreb later on Saturday.
    England lead the group after recording their sixth consecutive victory, a 4-0 hammering of Kazakhstan, earlier on Saturday.

  • Endnote...

    Lukashenka to Russians: "There will be another Chechnya for you here”

    From: Charter '97
    The Belarusian dictator has given an interview to “Izvestiya” and “Zavtra” newspapers, and “Rossiyskaya Federatsiya segodnya” and “Soyuznoe gosudarstvo” magazines. However, this interview hasn’t been published in Russia yet.

    Today the official organ of Lukashenka’s administration, “Sovetskaya Belorussiya”, has published from this interview. We would like to present most interesting quotes.

    “Allies” have deceived

    “We have been building our relations with the Russian Federation seriously. Very seriously. Russia looks simply pale against this background... I would like to mention one fact. We held a referendum, a nation-wide referendum on the “union” of Belarus and Russia. It was not easy for us then. All that “nationalistic” hysteria, all this frenzy was still alive then, kind of “we can live here, by ourselves, and everything would be fine”. Certainly, by my nature and capabilities under the constitution I could define how to build relations with the Russian Federation even without a referendum. But I wanted to show the whole world, Russians and our people, what the real state of the Belarusian society is. And I asked people to come to the referendum. And then I was asked everywhere, what was my position. I wasn’t concealing it at all. My position is unshakable. But Russia had to yield in some aspects. In which aspects? You have gas, oil, nuclear weapons and other things. Russia is a huge country, it’s it resources, and it has certain gainings from that. Now they have imposed such tariffs that Belarusians selling their tractor to Kazakhstan have to pay one more cost of the tractor,” the Belarusian leader stated.

    He has also noted that “as soon as Putin took office of the president for the first time, his first act was exchange of ratification instruments”.

    “It means that Mr Putin took for granted that Agreement prepared by us with the previous president of Russia, and undertook to adhere to it… take this agreement and look through it, read it, there is almost everything in it that should be in a constitution. Everything is defined: spheres under the jurisdiction of the “union state”, and spheres of the parts of this “union state” Russia and Belarus, and so on, and so forth. And it was written in the end that we should hold referenda in Belarus and Russia simultaneously, and to approve the Constitution of our future “union state” at a referendum. What’s bad in that? There is nothing bad in it. And that Constitution would define everything: spheres of jurisdiction were to be allocated, and it is allocated in the Agreement now too, and so secret international agreements have priority over internal legislation… It was to include the single currency, government organs, and spheres of authority, that is, everything that should be in a constitution. We were to hold that in the beginning of the century. Why haven’t we done that? You think that Belarus didn’t want it, or Lukashenka was the worst enemy of integration? No, Russia didn’t want that…” the dictator reproached.

    Speaking about the present, Lukashenka noted that actions of the Russian side are inconsistent with the idea of the “union state, common market, uniform business climate”. “Today’s Russia has in fact closed the market for Belarusian goods,” A. Lukashenka stated. – “Why have you closed your market for our tractors, cars, when a farmer says: give me a Belarusian MTZ tractor, we have been working at them all our life, and it suits us? Give it to us! And banks say to them: no, you won’t be granted a credit to buy Belarusian goods. The question suggests itself: why have you done that? Who needs such a “union state”?

    The Belarusian ruler disclosed some details of the recent talks in Minsk: “Our Premier referred to facts when speaking to Putin. When we started to ask questions to him, I was sitting just like an arbiter. And two prime-ministers, the three of us there, were sitting and debating. And Sidorski asked [Putin]: “Why have you closed the market? Why have you disrupted goods exchanges between Belarus and Russia? Why have you banned deliveries of our goods?” and Putin answers: that’s not true. And Sidorski gives his information: “So-and-so governor said: “Putin said that if we would buy anything Belarusian, I’ll eat your head off”. The governor certainly has fear. He says: “We would take this with pleasure, but we want some approval signal, at least orally”. So two orders of the Ministry of Economic Development [of the Russian Federation] appeared, a decision of the government and through banks it was said in fact that if you want to buy something in our country, you won’t be given a loan in Russia. That’s all. They seem not to prohibit anything: okay, bring and sell. But the scheme “I take a loan, buy and then reimburse” has been violated.

    The Belarusian side is also puzzled by the present situation with supply of provisions. “They also want to limit deliveries of cheap food agricultural production, and they have found motivation, that we are supporting the agriculture in Belarus, so our prices are lower,” Lukashenka noted. “Well, you could support agriculture in Russia too. We are not hiding”.

    Lukashenka stated that protectionism in Russian market exists: “Your prices for sugar went up by almost 40% recently. When I read that, I was shocked. Guys, it’s a crime against your own nation. Why have you closed your market for our sugar? Why? If there was enough sugar in the market, the price would be different… Today we have lost half of the market of the Russian Federation. If it were not for the dictatorship in Belarus, we would have to close tow plants in Belarus. Recently I had to take truly administrative measures: I invited the government and said: “If you won’t sell sugar, you will lose your job”. We have found other markets. We have sold this sugar… What for have I given this example? For you to understand that the same happens in all positions vitally important for our country. In this way we have been pushed out from the Russian market and made to sell in other markets… Well, it wouldn’t be so hurtful if you had your own surplus of goods. But you didn’t have ones!”

    About “Eastern Partnership”

    Representatives of Russian media asked Lukashenka to explain Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership Program of the European Union and to comment on concerns of some Russian politicians and political analysts that Belarus allegedly has chosen the Western direction.

    “Somebody has said that Eastern Partnership is bad, it’s anti-Russian “Eastern Partnership”. I do not know. Maybe there are some intentions there. But I ask a question: today we trade with the European Union. 47% with you, I think, and45% or 43% with them… And we have external surplus there, can you imagine? We have minus with Russia, as energy resources imported by us, component parts, raw materials from Russia are very expensive for us. That is why we have negative trade balance with the Russian Federation. Russia does not want to balance it, even forcing us out from the market of the goods we export there. And you understand that we need not only selling the goods, but we are to earn Russian rubles. Then we are to convert them into dollars and buy oil and gas from you. If you would push us away from there, we won’t be able to pay. And once again the pipe could be shut off. You should understand, that’s the threat… to stop, freeze life here”.

    At the same time Lukashenka underlined that Minsk does not view the Eastern Partnership as a substitution to the “union state” project. “When the question came up, Solana was here, we had discussions with him… and when I was asked about Russia and such, we argued and argued, and then I said: “Will you replace Russia for us?” – “No, no, no”. – “So why do you confront us with such a question?!” I asked a pragmatic question… “You won’t substitute for them. Moreover, I said, you should bear in mind that we are one nation. We think in the way Russians think. We live the way they live. We have the same values…” He understood that.”

    About recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia

    To the question when recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Minsk could take place, Lukashenka said: “You say that it is a painful story and a sensitive question. But all leaders of Russia are saying to me: “It is unrelated. It would be good if you recognize them, and well and good if you won’t.” Firstly, it is not a question for Russia. We may recognize, or we may not recognize now, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. Comparing with the situation around Belarus it is not the main thing. But we understand that this recognition wouldn’t be superfluous for Russia. However, I often say that we have our own history of relations with these republics, primarily with Abkhazia. We have had almost no such relations with Ossetia, though we met with their people and so on. That’s my position… By the way, when we all gathered in the framework of the CIS, everybody said to Medvedev: “No, we have our own problems”. I was the last to deliver a speech, and I said: “If you do not want to recognize them, do not look for motivation under the table. You simply do not want, you fear and so on.” Ask Medvedev, ask him about my position. I told the Russian leadership in which way we are to solve this problem. They didn’t have more questions. However… It has come to a point where they arrived as said: if you recognize Abkhazia and Ossetia, $500 millions are yours. You know, we do not want to “sell” any questions and any positions. Moreover, we have agreed with the leader of Abkhazia Bagapsh, we met with Kokojty after that. They do not have to us. They understand our position”.

    Grievance over non-granted loans

    “They have given us… first a billion. You know, they did that grudgingly, and now in your mass media one can read: “These paupers go begging, we have a difficult situation here, and they are soliciting for money”. After reading that one does not want to live. I think: well, what do we need this billion for? We have devaluated the national currency by 20%, and we could have devaluated it by 21%, and thus we could find a way out,” Alyaksandr Lukashenka comments the problematic questions related to issuing Russian credits to Russia. “They offered 2 billions, and gave a billion. Then… one has to go to the Duma, we need to go there, but it’s so hard… I say: “Alright, ok”. I say that to Putin. Medvedev says: “No problem. We will help you again”. When the turn of the government comes, Putin says: “No, it’s too difficult”. “All right, Mr Putin, you shouldn’t give it if it’s hard”… We addressed the Duma, and they approved and gave $500 million. Now they promise to give the rest $500 in April. So mush time has passed… We have entered that in the budget, we hoped and asked nobody else for this money. «No, we won’t give”… We went to Chinese – [and the result is] $3 billion”.

    Belarusians are to defend independence in arms

    As said by Lukashenka, the idea which is popular in Russia that Belarus should become a part of the Russian Federation is supported by politicians who do not want to see possible dramatic consequences of such a decision.

    “We, leaders, should figure out in advance consequences of that. Even me, for instance, adopt a decision, and what will happen tomorrow? Are there few conflicts in the Caucasus? Now Russia is “bombarded” for having suppressed, subdued in an imperial way, with arms… And what’s here? The Russian president says from this point of view: “Yes, you are absolutely right… It is absolutely detrimental for Russia.” On the other hand, our “frostbitten heads”, though there may be not many of them, 2, or say, 3%, but they are the most active and ambitious, far most crazy in any society. They are ready to launch “a war of national liberation”. They need a pretext. Now everybody is laughing at it. And you think they do not have with what to fight, don’t you? The next day they would be delivered that from Ukraine, the Baltic States, they mostly get everything from there, and they have channels from Poland. Arms and blasts will appear immediately, they will destabilize the situation, and many people in the society would think: “it’s our land, we won’t give it away to anyone,” and they would go, “it's win all, or lose all”. They are the spitting image of Russians. Do you want one more Chechnya here? I do not want it”.

    “10 millions of people who are standing like a shield in front of Moscow, - should it be for free?..”

    “Speaking about defence: don’t you think this vector is not important for you? With the present position of Ukraine, the Baltic States and so on?” Lukashenka asked. “You have this as the only “window”, “balcony”… The balcony of “Bagration” operation has remained. Thousands of kilometres. It’s not little. Anyway you have to control this space. Even not for the sake of a war, but for knowing what’s going on. And look what they are doing near our borders… You say: “Near Russian borders”. It happens near our, Belarusian borders. But you are saying it correctly, that it’s a Russian interest. Planes are standing near the border. You should be taken there, and our border guards and intelligence would show you: all objects are pictured, including watch towers and the most modern systems of reconnaissance. They see everything up to the Kremlin. So don’t you need Belarus? Is it indifferent to you? It is important for you. Who is performing this function, an important function now? Belarus, its air defence, army and so on. Do you think they should do that for free? Do you believe that 10 millions of people who are forming a shield in front of Moscow now should be for free? It is beyond price… And I am said: “you know, we have calculated… 2 billions of loan [would be given to you]… Dear friends, over a year and a half you have pumped out 10 billion dollars from Belarus by having advanced gas prices thrice. And you have granted me 2 billions at crazy interest, while the IMF gave a credit which terms are three times more beneficial!”

    Discussing the topic of defence, journalists asked Lukashenka how the creation of the Russian-Belarusian air defence is proceeding. Are there problems in this sphere?

    “Yes, we have signed this agreement, and Russia was “crying blue murder”… We were warned by the US citizens and Europeans: air defence is the issue number one in our relations with Belarus. And then I said to Russian leaders, I must reveal a secret to you: “Well, why should we excite people? In fact, air defence is working in the interests of Russia now. All information… is received by Moscow in real time. Why should we need an Agreement or something like this? For a media hype or what? Let’s wait a little, while we are here.” “No, no!” But I promised, once I promised: “Okay, if you need it so much, we’ll sign it”. We have signed it. However, Europeans and Americans were distressed over that. And even after that the IMF granted us 2 billion dollars loan. Do you think it has happened without Americans’ participation? Americans are there. They “abstained” during the vote. They didn’t vote in favour. But they approved it and said: “The loan to Belarus should be granted. The situation there is difficult. We should grant it”.

    About personal life: “In these 15 years I had 75 or 80 years of life”

    And finally editors-in-chief asked the Belarusian dictator a few questions about his personal life. They asked whether he is a happy man.

    “Extremely. I am a very happy man,” Alyaksandr Lukashenka said. “A great happiness fell to us to live in this time. And in this situation one can say the time has chosen us. On the other hand, I have experienced so many things over these 15 years, I have never had easy times in life. But I have experienced so many things over these 15 years, I can say one shouldn’t feel sorry for to me if I died. Over these 15 years I have lived all my 75, 80 or 90 years, I do not know how many I am destined to. I and my family wouldn’t have to feel upset… so on the one hand I am happy. And certainly if the country won’t collapse, I would be able to say that I have done something for these people and this country. I am saying that earnestly. And my happiness is in that”. After a while he added: “On the other hand, I have not seen anything good all this time. Absolutely nothing. I have nothing to say…”