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Sunday, August 02, 2009

CSTO informal summit in Kyrgyzstan, EU relations, Oil and Russia, Georgia, Harvest, Opposition, Economics, Currency issues and Polish scandals...

  • From the Top...
  • #432

    Belarus President attending CSTO informal summit in Kyrgyzstan

    From: BelTA
    The president visiting the Republic of Kyrgyzstan this week
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko is taking part in an informal summit of the heads of CSTO member-states, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The informal summit is takng place in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, on Issyk-Kul Lake.

    The summit is to consider a wide range of issues related to the CSTO activities, including the information policy and the setting up of a youth training center of the military-sports organizations of the CSTO member-states.

    Belarus sees the CSTO as one of the key elements of ensuring the national security. The Belarusian side believes it is necessary to expand the CSTO cooperation with other international organisations – the UN, the OSCE, the CIS, EurAsEC. Belarus also favours boosting cooperation between the Organisation and the European Union in such areas as combating drugs trafficking and illegal migration.

    Opening the summit, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev noted that the situation in CSTO’s responsibility zone is not simple. He noted the problems with international terrorism, the situation in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

    The summit is to discuss the coordination of foreign policy within the CSTO. The Russian side proposed to discuss the issues related to the regional security.

    In his welcoming speech Kurmanbek Bakiyev noted that the summit is held in one of the most beautiful places not only of Kyrgyzstan but whole the world – the Issyk Kul Lake.

    The enhancement of cooperation between the CSTO member states will dominate the agenda of an informal summit of the CSTO heads of state

    Ambassador: Kyrgyzstan chooses stability and development

    The people voted for stability and development at the presidential elections that were held in Kyrgyzstan on 23 July, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan to the Republic of Belarus Ishenkul Boldzhurova told reporters on 28 July.

    “In Kyrgyzstan Kurmanber Bakiyev is seen as a guarantor of the country's social, economic and political growth, increasing prestige of the country in the international arena, the diplomat said.

    Ishenkul Boldzhurova also informed that Kurmanbek Bakiev attaches special attention to cooperation with Belarus. Since his first election to the post of the president, the political and especially economic relations with Belarus have raised to a brand new level. Minsk will soon play host to the fifth session of the Belarusian-Kyrgyz intergovernmental commission, the Ambassador reminded.

    Kyrgyzstan welcomes direct business contacts between the two countries. “I hope that the cooperation between our economies will open up big prospects for the goods, especially the goods made by joint companies, in the markets of China, Central Asia, Middle East and other regions,” said the Ambassadress. Kyrgyzstan is a WTO member, she reminded.

    She also pointed to the rapid development of cultural cooperation. In October 2008 Belarus held its Days of Culture in Kyrgyzstan. This year the Days of Culture of Kyrgyzstan will be organized in Belarus.

    Kyrgyzstan, as Belarus, will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Great Victory on a big scale. Around 200,000 Kyrgyz citizens died during the Great Patriotic War. The population of the republic was around 1 million then, she reminded.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Easing EU visa requirements is one of Belarus’ priorities, Foreign Minister says

    From: BelTA
    Relaxing the Belarus-EU visa requirements is a priority of the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union, Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov said in a meeting with the EU Troika in Brussels.

    “The visa barrier hampers free travel to Europe. Therefore the visa-related difficulties should be removed,” Sergei Martynov said.

    According to the minister, Belarus has every reason to hope that the visa issues will be settled in its favor. “Our citizens have to pay for the Schengen visa twice as much as citizens of the neighboring countries. For Belarusians, visa procedures are extremely long and complicated,” Sergei Martynov added.

    The second important issue on the Brussels-Minsk agenda is trade. “Belarus would like to see better terms for cooperation with the EU in this area,” Sergei Martynov said.

    Potential of Belarus-EU relations might be further untapped in 2009

    The potential of the relations between Belarus and the European Union will be fulfilled in full, if the country adopts drastic and irreversible reforms and the European side sees significant progress as early as November 2009, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

    According to the European commissioner, it is high time a new impetus were given to the Belarus-EU relations. In September the European Union will start studying the progress Minsk will have achieved in complying with the EU five major requirements. The complete abolition of visa sanctions will be considered by the EU foreign ministers in November. According to Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Belarus which is now an active participant of the Eastern Partnership initiative will be able to cooperate with the EU in the bilateral format.

    The European commissioner noted that Brussels doubled the amount of aid it gives to Belarus – from EUR5 million to EUR10 million. At present the European Commission is considering a possibility to grant Belarus microeconomic aid and an opportunity to apply for loans to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank. She stated that the EU has a lot to offer to Belarus in many areas, including macroeconomy, energy, trade and visa regulations.

    Carl Bildt, the Foreign Minister of Sweden which holds the current EU Presidency, noted that “the Belarusian authorities can do more to strengthen relations with the European Union.” In his words, the EU “appreciates the determination of Belarus to develop close cooperation with the EU.”

    Martynov stresses importance of joint efforts in normalizing Belarus-EU dialogue

    The Belarusian minister also stressed it is essential to develop the treaty-legal cooperation base and remove barriers in trade, intensify collaboration in the areas of mutual interest, facilitate the visa issuance for the Belarusian people.

    Partaking in the meeting from the European side were Carl Bildt, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy.

    The session highlighted the issues related to the EU possible assistance to Belarus in overcoming the consequences of the global financial and economic crisis as well as providing Belarus with a full-fledged access to the loan and investment resources of the international financial institutions including the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank.

    In Brussels Sergei Martynov also met with Vygaudas Usackas, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus, Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and Laslo Kovacs, EU Commissioner for Taxation and Customs Union.

    Participation in Eastern Partnership Programme is a natural priority for Belarus’ foreign policy

    “As you would know, two major partners that Belarus has is Russia and the European Union. The Eastern Partnership is so far the major part of our relationship with the European Union,” Sergei Martynov said. He also noted that Belarus participates actively in all the platforms of the Eastern Partnership Initiative. “I believe we have created a structural effort within our Government to follow up all the necessary points. We have offered a number of specific projects to our neighbors and also to the European Commission,” the Minister added.

    According to Sergei Martynov, Belarus works to improve the bilateral relations between Belarus and the European Union. The sides have done a lot since October 2008 after the first meeting of the Belarusian Minister with the EU Troika. “We see a lot of practical perspective in this particular arrangement,” the Belarusian Foreign Minister said. “We have certain mutual expectation of more pace on each side in meeting the expectation of the other side. And we discussed how that could be achieved,” the official said.

    “We believe that both Belarus and the European Union have an important stake in our relationship because of the geographic and economic and human potential of Belarus,” Sergei Martynov underscored.

    Belarus will not choose between friendship with Russia or European Union, Sergei Martynov says

    “For a country located between two large power centres, the only meaningful course of action is to be on good terms with both”, Sergei Martynov said. “We are not making friends with one at the expense of the other. Our position is that we do not have to choose between friendship with Russia and the European Union,” the Minister underscored.

    In this connection, Sergei Martynov excluded an antagonism between the integration of Belarus with Russia and the integration within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Programme. “Moreover, we are of the view that, as a country sitting in between, Belarus is very pragmatically interested in more consolidation of Europe, I mean the western part of Europe, the EU, and Russia and the CIS European member countries,” the Minister stated.

    According to the Belarusian Foreign Minister, Russia will gain from Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership Programme as well. “For example we offered, as a project, an extension of the international transport corridor 9B to Kaliningrad and southwards to the Black Sea, which will link Kaliningrad, through Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, with the Black Sea and also link the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea. So it would be a strategic link in itself and it seems that Russia would and could be interested in this project,” the Belarusian Foreign Minister added.

    65% of defects of Unecha-Ventspils pipeline to be fixed by 5 August

    From: BelTA
    The Russian company Transnefteproduct is to fix 65% of the most urgent defects at the Belarusian section of the Zapadtransnefteprodukt-owned oil product pipeline Unecha-Ventspils, Viktor Borovsky, Head of the Safe Industry Operations Department of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry, told BelTA.

    The department and the owner of the pipeline worked out a joint schedule for fixing the defects. The work is to be complete by 6 August. On 28-30 July, 35% of the defects is to be fixed at the seven sections of the pipeline. By 5 August 65% of the defects is to be fixed.

    The schedule for fixing other defects is to be drawn in mid August.

    “The work that we have jointly planned is being carried out by Zapadtransnefteprodukt as scheduled,” Viktor Borovsky said.

    BelTA reported earlier that on 17 July the operation of the Belarusian section of the Unecha-Ventspils oil product pipeline was suspended due to the poor technical state of the pipeline. The latest inspection performed by a German company revealed 1,082 top-priority defects, which were supposed to be fixed in 2008-2009. Within the allocated time only 254 defects (23.5%) have been fixed.

    Belarus harvests one million tonne of grain

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian agricultural companies have harvested the first million tonne of grain, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food.

    As of today, the agricultural companies have collected 1.188,000 tonnes of grain including 286,000 tonnes of grain gathered on 30 July.

    The Brest oblast leads the harvesting campaign in the country with 424,000 tonnes of grain. It is followed by the Gomel oblast (282,000 tonnes), the Grodno oblast (234,000 tonnes), the Minsk oblast (192,000 tonnes), the Mogilev oblast (30,000 tonnes) and the Vitebsk oblast (23,000 tonnes).

    As of today, around 306,000 hectares under grain and leguminous crops apart for maize (or 13% of the total area) have been already cropped. Companies of the Brest oblast have already harvested 29.9% of the areas under crops. The Gomel oblast has harvested 23%, the Grodno oblast – 14%, The Minsk oblast – 7.9%, the Mogilev oblast – 2%, the Vitebsk oblast – 1.9%.

    The grain yield makes up 38.89 centners per hectare, which is 3.49 centners more than in July last year. Companies of the Grodno oblast are the leaders of the harvesting campaign in terms of crop yield. On average, they harvest almost 47 centners per hectare.

  • Economics...

    Piotr Prokopovich denies devaluation speculations

    From: BelTA
    The National Bank of Belarus has no plans to impose restrictions on the currency deposit market, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich told a press conference in Minsk on 29 July.

    “No restrictions will be imposed on the withdrawal of foreign currency deposits. This issue is not even on the agenda,” Piotr Prokopovich said. Any such measures restrict the monetary and currency policy. Banks and the state are interested in attracting more deposits. Hence no one is interested in such restrictions.

    According to him, everything has been done to improve the terms for attracting financial resources into banks. “A few countries have undertaken 100% bank deposit guarantees. We fully guarantee the safety of bank deposits of not only Belarusian citizens but also residents of other countries,” Piotr Prokopovich said.

    Since the beginning of the year the foreign currency deposits have been increasing while the growth in national currency deposits slowed down. In July, however, there showed a positive tendency in the growth of deposits in Belarusian rubles. The growth remains in place in terms of foreign currency deposits. The growth in ruble deposits has accelerated. “We are confident that in H2 the rate of growth in retail deposits will be even faster. There are all prerequisites for that,” Piotr Prokopovich said. “Our goal is to make sure that no bank in Belarus goes bankrupt. The fact that today, at a time of the crisis, we have no problem banks, says that we are on the right track,” Piotr Prokopovich is confident.

    A ban on foreign currency lending might be extended in 2011. Piotr Prokopovich underlined that the country has adopted a de-dollarization policy. This move is based on the analysis of the global financial situation and the refusal of the country to depend on dollar. “In the coming two or three years we are going to eliminate the need to carry out calculations in foreign currency, after all, traveling was the only case when the Belarusians needed foreign currency,” Piotr Prokopovich said. There is no need to use foreign currency to buy housing in Belarus, he added.

    “The extension of the ban on foreign currency lending till 2011 is an interim step, after that we will see what we should do,” he said. The implementation of this measure will prove its efficiency and it will be adopted “for good”. This move will help reduce risks for banks and households and boost the Belarusian ruble.

    “We should use our own currency to negate the affect of future global crises on our economy,” the head of the National Bank said. He expressed confidence that time will come when the Belarusian ruble will become a fully convertible currency.

    A reminder, the National Bank of Belarus adopted a resolution suspending foreign currency lending to physical persons except for individual entrepreneurs.

    In 2009, fluctuations of the Belarusian ruble exchange rate against the basket of foreign currencies will remain within the 10% band. “In 2009 the Belarusian ruble exchange rate against the basket of foreign currencies will remain within plus/minus 10% band. Moreover, the ceiling limit of 10% will not be reached this year,” Piotr Prokopovich said.

    Piotr Prokopovich denied information reported by some media about the possible devaluation in August.

    Piotr Prokopovich noted that the Belarusian currency exchange policy is stable. The fluctuations of the Belarusian ruble exchange rate are insignificant. In H1 2009, the fluctuations of the Belarusian ruble exchange rate were within the 5% band.

    The share of bad assets in the Belarusian banks is two times lower than the safe limit. "Bad assets now account for 2.6%. Their share has increased since the beginning of the year. Yet the amount is insignificant to threaten the stability of the banking system. The limit for Belarus is 5%," Piotr Prokopovich said, “We expect that bad assets will not exceed 5% by the end of the year. The stability of the banking sector will be ensured,” he added. The percentage of bad assets of the country’s four major banks is the same as throughout the banking system, ‘or a bit less’, Piotr Prokopovich said.

    According to him, it is necessary to set up a special financial agency of development in order to make sure that today’s minor problems do not grow big tomorrow. Measures should be timely. “Not like it was in the USA when 53 banks went bankrupt simultaneously. It should be done today when bad assets are as little as 2.6%. Therefore we suggest creating such an agency,” Piotr Prokopovich said. At the first stage the agency will undertake the problem loans of the state-run banks, which will make these banks ‘very attractive for investors’. At the second stage the agency will be made responsible for the implementation of government problems which is the function of the banking system rather than the budget. Piotr Prokopovich, however, has not specified the time framework when this agency might be created.

    Belarus expects to receive another IMF loan at the amount of $1.35 billion in 2009. “We have agreed on two tranches of the IMF loan to the tune of $1.35 billion,” Piotr Prokopovich said. He added that all the official decisions regarding the Russian loan ($500 million) have been taken. “The question is when it will be granted.”

    Piotr Prokopovich noted that Belarus is holding negotiations over loans with the world’s leading banks. “If some of our efforts fail, we can make up for it somewhere else. We should ensure safety of the banking system one way or another,” the head of the National Bank is convinced.

    He projected a better economic performance in Belarus in H2 2009. “This forecast is supported by figures.” In particular, more foreign currency will come with export. “In July positive trends emerged: we significantly increased the export of potassium fertilizers,” Piotr Prokopovich explained.

    A reminder, in January Belarus received the first tranche of the IMF loan - around $800 million. The second tranche — around $680 million – came in July. Thus, the total volume of the loan provided by the IMF now stands at $1.48 billion.

    As of 1 July 1 Belarus fulfilled all criteria under the Stand-By Arrangement. “All criteria have been coordinated with the International Monetary Fund, and were met in full as of July 1,” Piotr Prokopovich said. If there were some issues as of the net international reserves, now all issues have been settled,” he said.

    According to Piotr Prokopovich, now the work is underway to meet the criteria by October 1, 2009 in order to get another disbursement of the IMF loan.

    By the end of 2009 the gold and foreign currency reserves in national terms should make up $5.87 billion as against $3.88 billion of 10 July or $3.662 billion as of 1 January this year.

    The refinancing rate of the National Bank of Belarus will be reduced to 12% by the end of the year, which is in sync with the annual projections. According to Piotr Prokopovich, “much has to be done to have the rate reduced. “This is the criterion which we are not fulfilling so far. But I think we still have some time. I believe that the rate of refinancing will be gradually reduced to the projected level of 12%,” he said.

    Piotr Prokopovich denied the information reported by some media outlets that the interest rates on the ruble-denominated credits will be increased following the suspension in the issue of loans in foreign currency. “No increase on ruble loans is planned. On the contrary the rates will be gradually reduced,” he emphasized.

    The rate of refinancing is currently 14%. In line with the monetary policy guidelines I 2009, the National Bank is expected to reduce the refinancing rate to 10-12% p.a. in case the inflation and exchange rate remain within the projected levels.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Lukashenka heads back for Belarus after security summit in Kyrgyzstan

    From: Navany
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka on Saturday headed back for Belarus after an informal summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Kyrgyzstan.

    Held at a lakeside resort of Cholpon-Ata, the July 31 summit brought together the leaders of the bloc’s six member states, including Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

    The two-hour meeting focused on security issues and fight against international terrorism and religious extremism in the CSTO region and across the world, the Belarusian leader’s press office said.

    The presidents agreed to pursue a coordinated information policy and establish a center of information technologies in Russia for training IT experts. They also backed Kyrgyzstan’s proposal for a youth center for "military and sports organizations" of CSTO countries to be opened near Lake Issyk Kul.

    The terse press statements said nothing about whether Mr. Lukashenka had signed the CSTO’s agreement on the establishment of a collective rapid response force.

    All CSTO member states except Belarus and Uzbekistan signed the agreement at a summit held in Moscow on June 14. The Belarusian leader boycotted the meeting in protest against Russia’s decision to ban the import of nearly all dairy products from Belarus earlier that month.

    Minsk called the accord invalid because it said that the Organization’s fundamental rule, the rule of consensus decision-making, had been ignored. According to the Belarusian foreign ministry, from a legal viewpoint, the decisions adopted in Moscow were decisions by a group of states and would not be decisions by the Collective Security Treaty Organization until approved by Belarus. Russia insists that all the decisions made at the summit have legal force.

    The Russian president’s aide, Sergei Prikhodko, told reporters on July 29 that Moscow hoped that Mr. Lukashenka would attend Friday`s summit and that Belarus would finally put its signature to the documents providing for the establishment of the CSTO’s Collective Rapid Response Force.

    Belarus is a sovereign country and will decide for itself what CSTO documents it will sign and when, Mr. Lukashenka`s aide, Valyantsin Rybakow, commented on Mr. Prikhodko`s remarks later in the day.

    The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Russia and four Central Asian nations: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

    The Collective Rapid Response Force (CRRF) is expected to be stationed in Russia and be under a single command. Personnel of Russia’s 98th Airborne Division and 31st Assault Landing Brigade may form the core of the Force.

    The CRRF would be used for repelling “military aggression,” conducting operations to combat international terrorism and extremism, transnational organized crime and drug trafficking, dealing with the aftermath of natural and man-made disasters, and ensuring the CSTO’s efficient participation in the maintenance of international peace and security.

    EU May Offer Assistance to Belarus, Condemns Lack of Reform

    From: Bloomburg
    The European Union said it may offer economic assistance to Belarus along the lines of loans provided by the International Monetary Fund, while stressing the country hasn’t done enough to reform itself and protect human rights.

    Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov met with EU officials today in Brussels to tackle differences on the country’s request for assistance, political reforms and record on human rights. EU financial assistance would be based on conditions set by the IMF, which last month said it may increase its loan to the former Soviet republic by about $1 billion.

    “Then we can also consider macro-economic financial assistance,” EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero- Waldner told reporters today in Brussels. “But of course it’s far too early to say how much that would be.”

    Belarus is seeking new sources of foreign currency to buoy its economy, which has been battered by the global recession, and has borrowed $2.5 billion from the IMF and $2 billion from Russia. The EU has linked its assistance with criticism of the human-rights record of President Alexander Lukashenko.

    “The political situation in Belarus does not meet the expectations that we have,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said after the meeting. “We believe that the Belarusian authorities can and indeed should do more.”

    Belarus, a country of 10 million that borders Russia and three EU states, has given signals it wants to open up after Lukashenko was dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” in 2005 by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ferrero-Waldner said progress on reform will be assessed by the EU from September.

    Belarus’s Martynov said his country demands less cumbersome visa requirements for its citizens to enter EU countries, adding that there was scope for agreement later this year.

    “The relationship between Belarus and the European Union if a two-way road,” Martynov said at today’s press briefing. “We reasonably expect that we will be in a position to provide the necessary grants for the European Union to take a decision.”

    Hillary Clinton insists on democratic reforms in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    The US State Secretary Hillary Clinton has discussed the situation in Belarus with Slovenia’s Foreign Minister, chairman of the Committee of ministers the Council of Europe’s Samuel Zbogar.

    It has been stated by Slovenian mass media in the reports about the visit of the Slovenian foreign minister to the US.

    According to the STA agency, during the yesterday’s meeting of Samuel Zbogar with the US State Secretary Hillary Clinton, they mostly discussed problems of the Western Balkans and also touched on the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute that led to a stalemate in Croatia's EU accession talks. However, the sides also discussed other topics of international policy, including the Belarusian situation, Radio Svaboda informs.

    As Mr Zbogar told to journalists, “the State Secretary agreed with the position of Ljubljana concerning the necessity to support the democratic processes in Belarus”.

    In his latest public speeches Samuel Zbogar many times spoke in favour of returning the Special Guest status in the PACE to Belarus however after fulfillment of basic standards in the sphere of human rights by Minsk.

    During the visit in Belarus on June 8 the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia stated that one of the conditions of the Special Guest status return to Belarus is “release of the new political prisoners”.

    At a press-conference in Minsk, answering the question whether the situation concerning release of political prisoners Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka had been discussed, Zbogar expressed hope that in the near future this problem would be solved, and “the new political prisoners would be released”.

    The Foreign Minister of Slovenia has also noted that one of the conditions of Belarus’ return to the PACE is participation of the Belarusian opposition in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly.

    Belarus Says Retail Loans Must Be in Rubles

    From: Moscow Times
    Belarus banned issuing retail loans denominated in foreign currencies to shore up the ruble and curb risks to bank assets as the economic slump erodes borrowers’ ability to repay debt, the central bank said Sunday in a statement on its web site.

    The new law, which won’t apply to small businesses, will be in effect until Jan. 1, 2011, the bank said. It will be in place “until the country’s economy stabilizes,” it added.

    The country, whose pipelines handle a fifth of Russia’s gas shipments to Europe, devalued its ruble in January, pegging it to a basket of dollars, euros and Russian rubles. The central bank last month widened its exchange rate band for the ruble to 10 percent of its target basket to make the currency more flexible.

    The new measure will “contribute to defending and assuring the stability of the Belarussian ruble, including its purchasing power compared to foreign currencies, and will also increase confidence in the national currency,” the central bank said.

    Ukraine’s parliament voted in June to ban foreign-currency loans to households and the early repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies to nonresidents. Last week, Hungarian lenders rejected a proposal from the Magyar Nemzeti Bank aimed at reducing the risks of foreign-currency credits.

    Belarus’ short-term debt was 290 percent of its reserves, the World Bank said June 23, predicting that its economy will contract 3.3 percent this year and the current-account deficit will reach 7.8 percent of gross domestic product.

    “The worsening economic conditions in Belarus are likely to translate into a deterioration in banks’ financial fundamentals,” Moody’s said July 14.

  • From the Opposition...

    Kremlin charges Belarusian Foreign Ministry with “indiscretion”

    From: Charter '97
    Moscow finds that recommendations of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry to its citizens to observe Georgian laws in Abkhazia and South Ossetia inappropriate.

    It has been stated on Wednesday by a source in the Kremlin, RIA Novosti informs.

    Belarusian Foreign Ministry official Alyaksandr Lukashevich earlier advised Belarusian nationals to abide by Georgian laws when visiting South Ossetia and Abkhazia, comments that were welcomed by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

    “These recommendations are, to say the least, simply inappropriate,” the source stated.

    The source has also added that Belarus unlike a number of Western countries, Belarus has yet to take a definite stance on the issue of non-recognition of the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    As we have informed, Tbilisi announced Abkhazia and South Ossetia occupied territories and broke diplomatic relations with Russia.

    Once Belarus supported Russia’s armed hostilities in South Ossetia and Georgia, though with noticeable delay. Later Alyaksandr Lukashenka and officials of the Foreign Ministry of the country many times hinted that Sukhumi and Tskhinvali are to receive recognition from Minsk in near future.

    However, the process was obviously dragged out. Lukashenka referred to the “parliament”, and the “parliament” referred to Lukashenka, noting that to decide such issues lie out of its cognizance.

    Experts express an opinion that the Belarusian ruler will continue to play on contradictions between Russia and the EU, delaying recognition of the republics as long as possible, trying to get preferences from the both sides in the meantime.

    80-90% of salaries in Belarus paid at the expense of credits

    From: Charter '97
    At the session of the Council of Ministers Lukashenka’s aide Syarhei Tkachou entered into controversy with the first prime minister.

    “In H1 the volume of manufacturing output dropped by 3.6%, and in the end of the year we expect manufacturing output at the level of 99-100% as compared to the level of the last year,” the first prime minister of Belarus Uladzimir Syamashka said.

    He noted that by the end of the year warehouse inventory is expected to fall to 75% to the average monthly volume of production from 94.6% as of July 1, 2009, AFN reports with a reference to Interfax.

    “So what is the basis for your optimism? Enterprises pay 80-90% of wages at the expense of credits.” Tkachou asked.

    However Lukashenka’s aide hasn’t received a clear answer to his question.

    “It’s true, enterprises use credits to pay wages, but they are revolving credits, and with rare exceptions, this mechanism is followed, and I general loan indebtedness is not accumulated,” Syamashka explained his forecasts on manufacturing output, noting that “in the beginning of the year 25% of production stayed in depots”.

    However, statistics is a stubborn thing. And commenting on the situation with industrial production by ministries and agencies, Syamashka in fact explained the doubts of Tkachou.

    As said by him, the main reason for decrease of industrial production in H1 of this year by 21.4% was unsatisfactory work of enterprises who provide gross output, which is manifested in a dramatic decrease of sales in Russia.

    In 2008 MAZ sold 12,000 trucks to Russia, and in H1 only 786 items. MTZ sold 25,900 tractors to Russia last year, while in H1 of this year only 6,000.

    As said by Syamashka, at year end Belneftekhim concern is to make industrial production grow by 9.5%, while in H1 the growth was 7.9%. It is expected that warehouse inventory at the enterprises of the concern are to drop from 37.8% to 26% of monthly output. Though Naftan has increased the manufacturing output by 17.2%, Mozyr oil refinery by 26.9%, in September-October Belarusian oil refineries are to decrease volume of work because of a scheduled renovation works.

    In this connection the government expects that by August-September the Belarusian Potassium company is to reach the traditional monthly volume of fertilizers export of 400-600,000 tons. However, it should be noted that this would happen in case the contract with China would be signed.

    However, as said by Syamashka, for increase of manufacturing output a number of system-level measures are to be adopted: to abandon turnover taxes in the nearest future, to take new administrative measures for defense of the home consumer market, to offer enterprises working for export favourable conditions for bank loans, to set up a state leasing company.

    The official underlined the necessity to create favourable conditions for small and medium business enterprises with the aim to involve them into the process of export of Belarusian goods at least to the CIS Countries.

    “They are to act like ants, who would dole out away our goods,” Syamashka said.

    At the same time, the fact that it was Tkachou who started the debate with Syamashka, though Tkachou is not known among the members of the administration as a proponent of market reforms, is a sign that everybody is fed up with the attempts of the government to paint the situation in the Belarusian economy in rosy colours, and soon there would be the last drop which would make the cup run over.

  • Russia...

    Russia signs deal to open 2nd base in Kyrgyzstan

    From: AP
    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, and Kyrgyzstan President Kurmanbek Bakiyev
    Russia clinched a tentative deal Saturday allowing it to establish a second military base in Kyrgyzstan, where the United States also has an important air base.

    Under the terms of a joint memorandum, Russia could significantly boost the number of troops it has deployed in the Central Asian nation for a period of up to 49 years. Russian forces will be charged with "protecting Kyrgyz sovereignty" and repelling attacks by international terrorist groups, it said.

    A definitive agreement detailing the status of the proposed base and Russia's existing Kant base will be signed by November.

    No specifics on the location of the base or the amount of troops were given, but the document signed Saturday by the leaders of the two countries indicated that Russia may be allowed to deploy the equivalent of a battalion.

    Media reports have suggested a base could be set up in Batken province, near the border with Uzbekistan. That is on the fringe of the Ferghana Valley region that spreads across Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, an area that has been an incubator of Islamic militancy over the past decade.

    The memorandum also stipulated that Russian troops stationed at the two bases in Kyrgyzstan may be granted diplomatic status, giving them immunity from local laws.

    Leaders of Collective Security Treaty Organization member states — which also include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — have gathered at a lakeside town in eastern Kyrgyzstan for a summit that was supposed to also consider the creation of a NATO-style rapid-reaction force.

    No announcement on the force was made, however, suggesting possible resistance from Belarus and Uzbekistan. The two countries have so far refused to sign onto the deal to create the force, undermining a Kremlin bid to bolster its power and prestige amid a struggle with the West for regional clout.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko snubbed a CSTO summit in June amid a politically charged trade dispute with longtime ally Russia. Central Asian power Uzbekistan attended the summit but balked at signing a deal that could increase Moscow's influence over its affairs.

    But Kyrgyz officials indicated that troops at Russia's new base will go toward making up the ranks of the rapid-reaction force.

    An increase in Russian troops in Kyrgyzstan would supplement personnel already posted at Russia's Kant air base, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) east of the capital, Bishkek.

    About 400 Russian military personnel are deployed at Kant, which has been operating since 2003.

    The U.S. established an air base at the Manas international airport near Bishkek in late 2001 to support military operations in Afghanistan. The base has become an important transit point for coalition troops and supplies, and it is home to tanker aircraft that refuel warplanes over Afghanistan.

    Russia watched in dismay as the United States boosted its military profile in former Soviet Central Asia.

    This year, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the Manas base would be closed. He made the announcement shortly after Russia granted the country more than $2 billion in aid and loans, and U.S. officials suggested the eviction decision hinged on the Russian aid.

    But under an agreement reached in June, the U.S. will continue to use the base, paying significantly higher rent.

    The base's importance to coalition operations in Afghanistan was highlighted this year as militant attacks increased on coalition supply routes.

    America Hears a Gaffe, Russia Sees a Plot

    From: NYTimes
    AFTER Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. gave an interview to The Wall Street Journal portraying Russia as a limping and humbled nation, many in Washington responded last week with a helpless shrug: There’s crazy Joe, they said, the guy who once told a wheelchair-bound state senator to stand up for a round of applause.

    But in Russia, they weren’t shrugging. Within hours, a top Kremlin aide had released a barbed statement comparing Mr. Biden to Dick Cheney. Commentators announced Mr. Biden’s emergence as Washington’s new “gray cardinal” — the figure who, from the shadows, makes all the decisions that matter. Others said Washington’s mask had been torn off, revealing Mr. Obama’s “reset” as at best insubstantial and at worst duplicitous.

    American officials spent several days trying to convince their Russian counterparts that Mr. Biden’s words were, for lack of a better label, a gaffe. Russia’s highest officials have kept silent on the matter, but their initial responses were skeptical.

    “Biden has said this in such a way that the whole world heard it,” said Alexei K. Pushkov, who is the anchor of the current events show “Post-Scriptum.” “And then there are secret, furtive calls in the night, dragging Russian officials from their supper. They want to say this is not true. But somehow everybody still thinks it is.”

    Among the reasons for their skepticism: In today’s Russia, politicians just don’t run off at the mouth. Not so long ago, Russian public life was a symphony of embarrassing episodes. Remember when Boris Yeltsin confused Norway with Sweden, suggested that Germany and Japan had nuclear arsenals, and toppled over while saluting an honor guard in Uzbekistan?

    That all ended with the presidency of Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Putin, now Russia’s prime minister, occasionally departs from statesmanlike language, as when he threatened to hang the Georgian president by his testicles or offered a French reporter an especially thorough circumcision. But coming from Mr. Putin, these statements are expressions of Russian might, something like a political philosophy — never, ever mistakes.

    For anyone subordinate to the president to allow themselves that freedom is inconceivable, said Vladimir V. Pozner, the host of a talk show on state television.

    “If it’s not the No. 1 man or woman, clearly that person has been instructed to say what he or she said,” Mr. Pozner said. “It’s psychologically very difficult for a Russian to believe otherwise. If you write in The New York Times whatever you write, I’m sure Mr. Putin will say, ‘Of course. It was ordered.’ ”

    It will also be hard to convince the Kremlin that the comments don’t indicate a deeper drama. Russians have spent months searching for clues to Mr. Obama’s true intentions; when Mr. Obama killed a fly during a television interview shortly before traveling to Moscow, for example, several analysts here interpreted it as a message to Russia.

    Mr. Biden has now supplied evidence for two plotlines — a deep rift within the administration, or a “sophisticated game,” said Andrei V. Ryabov, a political analyst at Moscow’s Carnegie Center. This ambiguity, he said, plays into the conviction of Mr. Putin and his team that real events take place far from view, among a handful of powerful individuals, and that public politics are “no more than puppetry, decoration in the theater.”

    “Nothing accidental can happen in this system,” Mr. Ryabov said. “Everything has a hidden meaning.” Even accidental words from officials are likely to be read closely; as a Russian proverb has it, “What a sober man has on his mind, a drunk puts on his tongue.”

    Mr. Pushkov was among those who put little credence in Mr. Obama’s overtures, and to him, Mr. Biden’s words offer a far more honest assessment of American policy. He says he reads in them a split in Washington between cold war heavyweights and a president too weak to bring them to heel.

    “It’s not just a question of schools of thought,” he said, dryly, but something far more serious. Schools of thought, he added, are something to be “exercised on a veranda with a cup of coffee on a summer evening.”

    Of course, every warming of the relationship between Moscow and Washington has been a tenuous process, punctuated by false starts and furious backpedaling.

    In 1974, after signing on to the idea of “peaceful coexistence,” Leonid Brezhnev seems to have been called on the carpet by a Central Committee concerned about ceding ground to the United States; he went on to repudiate two key agreements with the Americans. Jimmy Carter, under a drumbeat of criticism for caving in to Russia, halted ratification of the second strategic arms limitation treaty after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979; he explained that the invasion had changed his view of Moscow’s intentions.

    This thaw seemed tentative, too, even before Mr. Biden’s words. The coming months could bring renewed fighting in Georgia, or another gas crisis with Ukraine, or a deadlock on the renegotiation of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

    “At this point these were just words — unfortunate words, reckless words, but still, it was just words, not of the president but of the vice president,” said Dimitri K. Simes, the president of the Nixon Center. “The question is what is going to happen next.”

    Russia Says Georgia Fired on South Ossetia, Threatens Force

    From: Bloomburg
    Russia accused Georgia of firing at South Ossetia and warned that its troops may fight back, as the countries prepare for the first anniversary of the war over the separatist region. Georgia denied the claims.

    Georgia launched mortars and grenades at observation posts near Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital, over the past four days, Russia’s Defense Ministry said on its Web site today.

    “The August 2008 event developed along similar lines,” the ministry said. If civilians or troops are threatened, “the Russian Defense Ministry reserves the right to use all forces and means at its disposal.”

    Russia sent tanks, troops and jets into the former Soviet republic last year after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili attempted to reassert control over the breakaway region by force. Russia later recognized the sovereignty of South Ossetia and another separatist republic, Abkhazia, in a move opposed by the U.S. and Europe.

    “Russia has once again showed an open threat towards Georgia and is trying once again to aggravate the situation,” Georgia’s Foreign Ministry said on its Web site.

    President Barack Obama called for Georgia’s territorial integrity to be respected during a visit Moscow in July. The Black Sea country, a conduit for Caspian Sea energy to European markets that circumvents Russia, has been a recipient of U.S. aid and military training.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Two (more) officials detained in Polish soccer corruption probe

    From: AP
    Polish police detained a top-level referee and an assistant Tuesday as part of an ongoing investigation into corruption in domestic soccer.

    The two were detained in the northeastern city of Suwalki. They were identified only as Cezary S. and Krzysztof G., in line with Poland's privacy law.

    They were being driven to prosecutors in Wroclaw, where they would be questioned and charges could be filed, said Temistokles Brodowski, spokesman for the Central Anti-Corruption Office.

    Wroclaw prosecutors began investigating soccer corruption in 2005. So far they have charged over 230 people suspected of fixing games. Among them are members of the Polish Football Federation, coaches, referees and players.

    Earlier this year, a Wroclaw court handed prison terms of up to four years to 17 people, including club officials and referees in the largest corruption trial in Polish soccer history.

    Footballers and referees interrogated on corruption charges

    In a related story, Polskie Radio tells us that Rafal D., former football at the small RKS Radomsko football club has been detained by police in Lodz in connection with the on-going investigation into corruption in Polish football.

    Rafal D. and two other football players from the same football club in south-central Poland, Bogdan J. and Radoslaw K., as well as the First Division referee Cezary S. and referee’s assistant Krzysztof G. will be interrogated later today.

    Over 230 people – players, referees, officials and members of the Football Federation (PZPN) – have been charged so far for being involved in match fixing schemes since the investigation was launched four years ago.

    Eighteen people injured in bus crash in Poland

    From: RIA Novosti
    Eighteen people were injured on Sunday when a bus collided with a minivan in southern Poland, local police said.

    According to preliminary information, the minivan swerved into the oncoming lane and collided with the bus, police spokesman Rafal Biczysko said.

    The bus was traveling from Tarnowskie Gory in the Silesia Voevodship province to Gliwice, a city near Katowice. Seven people are in a serious condition, the spokesman said.

    An investigation into the incident is underway.

    111 Polish hooligans arrested in Copenhagen

    From: The News
    One hundred and eleven Polish football hooligans have been arrested in the capital of Denmark following aggression and near-rioting before Thursday night’s Europa Legue match.

    Poland’s Legia Warszawa team faced off against Denmark’s Broendby Copenhagen Thursday in the first leg of a third-round qualifier. The match took place in Warsaw and ended in a 1:1 draw.

    Before the match, stimulated fans’ energy became aggressive and near-rioting broke out. One hundred eleven Poles were detained. Five amongst them were arrested and will stand in court today for sentencing. The rest were freed.

    Police were forced to use tear gas to break up the violence.

    Nasza Klasa loses lawsuit, to pay fine

    From: Polskie Radio
    The popular Polish social networking website has lost a lawsuit and will be required to pay 5,000 zloty (1,200 euro) damages for allowing a fictional profile of a Polish man to exist.

    Joanna Gajewska, press spokesperson from the website, claims that the company does not agree with the decision of the Wroclaw District courts but will not release an official statement until receives the written decision.

    According to the court order, the company will be required to pay the fine, court fees and provide an official apology to the man who found his false profile on the networking site in March 2008. The person who impersonated the man and set up a profile used the site to send hurtful emails to other users of the portal. The information found on the profile was accurate, including name, surname, age, telephone number and photographs.

    The man took to court when, after several attempts for a few months to contact the company, site administrators did not remove the false profile. According to the court, the man’s public image and character were damaged. The 5,000 zloty fine mandated by the court is only ten percent of the sum demanded by the man. This is the first success in such a case in Poland.

  • Sport...

    New hotels to open in Minsk ahead of 2014 IIHF World Championship

    From: BelTA
    Hotels for more than 15,000 rooms will be constructed in Minsk by the beginning of 2014 IIHF World Championship, Minister of Sports and Tourist of Belarus Oleg Kachan told during BelTA’s online conference on 29 July.

    “Minsk needs more hotels, approximately 15,000-25,000 rooms, to house a presumably great amount of tourists. The authorities, otherwise, will have to find place in hostels and tourist centres in Minsk or some 30 kilometres away from the capital,” he said.

    Nearly 30,000-40,000 foreigners are believed to arrive in Belarus for the 2014 IIHF World Championship. The participants and officials of the event will be housed in 728 rooms while mass media in 500 rooms. On the whole the country will welcome several hundreds of thousands of guests.

    According to the National Statistics Committee, as of June 2009 Minsk hotels offered their services to 5,446 people.

    Belarus midfielder Alexander Hleb goes to Stuttgart on loan

    According to AP Belarus midfielder Alexander Hleb is returning to Stuttgart on a one-year loan from Spanish champion Barcelona.

    The 28-year-old Belarus captain said Thursday that he chose Stuttgart because "the team has great potential and I am convinced that we can achieve a lot together."

    Hleb played for the German club from 2000 to 2005.

    Hleb has struggled for playing time with Barcelona, which last season won the Spanish league and cup and the Champions League. He did not join the club's pre-season tour of the United States.

    Ireland 2-1 Belarus

    According to Ireland opened their EuroHockey Nations Trophy campaign this morning taking on eighth seeds Belarus at the North Wales Stadium.

    Belarus opened the match looking the stronger side for the first twenty minutes as a nervy Ireland tried to settle. Belarus won the first set piece of the day but their drag attempt was deflected over the bar by the Irish defence. The Belarussian persistence eventually paid off in the 18th minute when they opened their account with thanks to Ivan Kisialevich's drag flick, which he fired home for the 1-0 lead.

    Going one down gave Ireland a much needed wake up call to come back into the game and from the restart McCabe secured a penalty corner, but John Jermyn's attempt was denied by a good save from the Belarussian keeper. Just two minutes later John Jermyn got a second crack of the whip as he fired his drag right down the centre of the goal to draw the sides level at one all.

    Ireland gained momentum and started to dominate and took the lead for the first time just three minutes later when some good work by Sothern secured Ireland their third penalty corner of the day which he duly stepped up to slot home for the 2-1 lead with his trademark drag.

  • Endnote...

    Surviving Chernobyl

    From: Ha'arets
    For 1,200 people living in Israel, the concept of a nuclear threat is not an abstract idea. They were there - inside the Chernobyl nuclear reactor - immediately after the April 1986 explosion. They can confirm that while you can't smell radiation, you can taste it. Even today, after having made a new life in Israel, the metallic taste remains in their mouths, which, in many cases, are toothless.

    Their teeth fell out in Chernobyl, while other serious problems began developing during the months they spent trying to "neutralize" the nuclear power plant, although they were unprepared and defenseless. They were called liquidators, a term embracing a variety of professionals - engineers, electricians, physicians and nurses - sent to neutralize the seething nuclear reactor.

    The Soviet authorities assured them that everything would be fine and that they had nothing to worry about. Today, 23 years after Chernobyl, when asked how they are, they reply, "Surviving, so far." Alexander Kalantirsky, 68, chairman of Israel's union of Chernobyl liquidators, estimates that 150 to 200 of them have died, all below age 75.

    But what really worries them is not lifespan, but quality of life. They suffer from various ailments - damaged thyroid glands, eaten-away livers, twisted bones - and they are all afraid. Some of them decided not to have children after taking into consideration the genetic implications of what they had undergone.

    "My wife is scared," Michael Studman says sadly. A soldier in the Soviet army, he was sent to handle electricity problems after the blast and remained at the reactor for six months.

    A construction engineer, Kalantirsky spent months at Chernobyl building the sarcophagus - a reinforced concrete structure intended to seal the reactor after the explosion. Kalantirsky recently appeared at a conference organized by the United Nations, where he told his personal story and listened to reports on the long-range ramifications of radiation by physicians and scientists, some of whom were Russian.

    Although he had already amassed considerable information on Chernobyl, he was still shocked by the data on morbidity and mortality rates. Last year, diplomats from countries directly affected - Russia, Ukraine and Belarus - took part in a similar gathering. Although it has the fourth largest concentration of liquidators, Israel sent no representative. This year's conference was attended by Israeli diplomats.

    This is what happens when the Iranian nuclear issue becomes key in formulating Israeli policy and when the Israeli liquidators have been transformed from a burden to an asset. "I oppose nuclear armament and war with Iran," Kalantirsky says angrily. "All those who underwent the Chernobyl experience think like me."

    From his modest Bat Yam apartment, Kalantirsky and his colleagues are waging a battle to restore rights they were once granted for setting off to neutralize the reactor. Although initially abandoned, the liquidators were later pampered by the Soviet Union, which lauded them as national heroes, granting them generous allowances, treatment sessions and holiday packages.

    That ended when they moved to Israel. Over the years, they have pushed through Israel's parliament two laws guaranteeing them, as Israelis, a NIS 5,000 annual grant. Now they are stubbornly waging a war to restore rights conferred on them before they emigrated.

    The explosion occurred not long after midnight on April 26, 1986. Five days later, Soviet citizens marked the May Day workers' holiday. Massive crowds celebrated in the streets - in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Nobody told them they should stay indoors. They had no idea that they were breathing radiation-soaked air or eating meat and drinking milk from animals that grazed in radiation-contaminated pastures.

    According to data compiled by the SPECTR center of preventive medicine and Chernobyl-related services, which closely collaborates with Haifa's Carmel Medical Center, 350,000 people immigrated to Israel from regions contaminated by radioactive radiation. Thus, a quarter of recently arrived new immigrants, constituting 5 percent of Israel's population, were exposed to varying levels of radiation. The data is disputed by some experts and it varies depending on the method used to measure the distance from the stricken area. In any event, the reality is grim.

    The database of an organization known as the Chernobyl Project contains the names of 103,000 immigrants from the contaminated areas. Since 1993, the Chernobyl Project has operated a hotline providing callers with information and support on medical, psychological and legal issues. Some 100,000 people have called the hotline; many of them phone in to report a dead relative or ask when their turn is due.

    The number of callers increased dramatically during the Second Lebanon War, which stirred old fears. The project operates in cooperation with the World Health Organization, the health ministries of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, and the Chernobyl Project.

    Dr. Semion Shapiro, SPECTR's chairman, directly experienced the Chernobyl event. The day after the blast, he was summoned from the hospital he was running and was sent, wearing only a light shirt, to head a mission of doctors tasked with evacuating the villages near the nuclear plant. "Something has happened" was the most precise piece of information Shapiro received when he set out for Chernobyl. This was more than what the authorities told the people living nearby, who had no desire to leave.

    In 1991, Shapiro moved to Israel. Although the data in SPECTR's presentation is chilling, he sounds optimistic and relaxed. Some 65 percent of the families who have come to Israel from the stricken areas are still concerned about their health and the health of their young children. These people are 1.5 times more likely to suffer from depression than typical members of the immigrant population. The difference is even greater when considering rates of diseases such as breast cancer, colon cancer, thyroid cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

    Around 19,000 people exposed to radiation in childhood are registered in SPECTR's database, and another 6,000 have been born to parents from radiation-contaminated areas. "There are problems in this group," notes Shapiro, "but not exceptional ones." Today he is mainly worried about the third generation: the children of those exposed to radiation as children. "Although we do not have figures yet, we are still concerned," he says. "The genetic results appear only in the third generation."

    According to research conducted by SPECTR, the morbidity rate for hereditary diseases will continue to grow. The more disturbing news, Shapiro says, is that radiation-induced cancer will peak 50 years after Chernobyl. Although he describes himself as someone who does not panic, he admits he is worried.