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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Back to rapid economic growth, Belarus-Russia trade, Dialogue with EU, Iran, 3G, Belarusfilm; Economics, Culture, Sport and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #458

    Belarus President: back to rapid economic growth in 2010

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko: “The year 2010 is a special one because it ends the five-year term. Our performance in this period will determine whether we will reach the outlined goals and improve living standards of the people – all the things that we have promised to the Belarusian nation,”
    2010 should be the year to recover the rapid economic growth. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made the statement at a cabinet session held on 30 October to review the country’s social and economic development in January-September 2009 as well as the draft social and economic development forecast, the budget bill and major monetary management guidelines for 2010.

    “The year 2010 is a special one because it ends the five-year term. Our performance in this period will determine whether we will reach the outlined goals and improve living standards of the people – all the things that we have promised to the Belarusian nation,” said the head of state. According to Alexander Lukashenko, the present government session is important because it has to work out the most important instruments needed to pursue the government policy in 2010.

    The President said that the state of the Belarusian economy is complicated. Statistics demonstrate that the overall economic growth is slowing down. Corporate warehouses are overstocked with ready-made goods. Commodity export is shrinking, with the trade deficit on the rise. The financial state of Belarusian companies and organizations is worsening. The number of troubled loans is on the rise. There is a lack of positive tendencies on the country’s consumer market either. “Virtually no forecast goals are being met so far,” he said. “One must admit that the instruments we used in good times cannot produce a proper effect during the global crisis”.

    Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky informed the head of state about the state of the national economy and forecasts for the end of the year. In his words, the industry state is slowly getting better. Over the last three months the finished goods inventory of Belarusian companies has been reduced by Br1.2 trillion. The finished goods inventory stood at Br6.2 trillion as of 1 October. In January-September the budget expenses on financing social programs were executed in full. Support has been provided to the real economy sector (a total of Br2.6 trillion) and to housing construction. At least 6 million square meters of new homes is supposed to be commissioned this year.

    The government estimates that this year’s GDP will not be lower than last year’s. The inflation will make 11% at most. The unemployment rate will stay within the forecasted range. There have been no employment layoffs and none are expected in the future.

    January-September 2009

    In January-September 2009 the GDP index stood at 99.7% as against the same period in 2008 (projected at 110 -112%). The fiscal revenues made up Br33.2 trillion or 71.2% of the projections for 2009. Budget expenditures made up Br32 trillion. The targets set for January-September 2009 were met except for the contributions to innovation funds. Salaries, pensions, welfare benefits, educational maintenance allowances and other money payments to the population were paid in full.

    In January-September all national debt obligations were fulfilled in full. As of 1 October the external public debt was posted at $6.191 billion (the limit approved by the law on budget is $8 billion); it grew by $2.472 billion over the nine months 2009. As of 1 October, the internal debt made up Br23.5 trillion (17.5% of the GDP); up Br4.2 trillion since January 2009.

    Over this period the industrial output increased only in the chemical, petrochemical, fuel and food industries. The projections for 2009 related to the manufacturing production growth in January-September 2009 were generally not fulfilled (except for the Belneftekhim concern).

    The profitability of the sold products (works and services) made up 10.4%. In January-September this year, the investments in fixed assets grew by 14.5%, while the target was 23-25%.

    The foreign trade in goods and services made up $34.1 billion including $15.3 billion of export. In the period under review, Belarus had a deficit in foreign trade at the amount of almost $3.6 billion. It was attributed to the market slump, business decline, a fall in the demand for Belarus’ major exports. All these problems have caused a decrease in exports and a drop in average prices for the Belarusian goods.

    Two variants of the national social and economic development

    At present the foreign trade deficit of $3.6 billion is the biggest problem in the Belarusian economy
    The government has put together two variants of the national social and economic development for 2010. The basic one provides for a 2-3% GDP growth while the targeted one envisages an 11-12% GDP growth.

    At present the foreign trade deficit of $3.6 billion is the biggest problem in the Belarusian economy. The government is working to increase export, in particular, by means of export diversification, by searching for new buyers of Belarusian products and setting up assembly facilities abroad.

    According to Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich, the reasons behind the foreign trade deficit are the poor competitive ability of the Belarusian industry on foreign markets, slow assimilation of new manufacturing technologies and the import of many things that could be produced domestically.

    The NBRB head is convinced that the Belarusian economy can operate according to the most optimistic variant in 2010.

    In order to work effectively, Belarusian industrial giants should become modern market-based companies, which utilize flexible technologies to make the products that enjoy demand. Piotr Prokopovich mentioned Chinese enterprises as a good example to follow. In his opinion, attracting investors and selling the enterprises cannot be the panacea. Lack of effective management is the problem today, he said. “We should create conditions to make our companies competitive in management, salaries, decision-making, the way things are done on international markets”.

    Yet Piotr Prokopovich believes that it is impossible to fix the foreign trade deficit fast. From three to four years is required for complex modernization and system-based work. System efforts should be put into making the GDP components follow the best foreign examples, he said.

    “The crisis has given us a wakeup call. If we change nothing, the situation will be much more complicated in 3-4 years because we will be ages behind and it will be too late to catch up,” stressed the NBRB head.

    As an example he cited Belarusian import statistics. Last year Belarus imported $40 billion worth of commodities, with the critical import as large as $20 billion. Piotr Prokopovich believes if Belarus learned to substitute at least $10 billion, the profits would be obvious. The country could even export some products inside the CIS. In his opinion, Belarus has enough resources to manufacture import-substituting products.

    The President backed the NBRB head on this: “Next year you cannot buy more than you sell. We cannot add $5 billion to the deficit every year”.

    “We should think about not only the next year. We should have started working out programs to develop economy branches yesterday,” said Piotr Prokopovich.

    In his opinion, current external factors favor Belarus. The economy is on the rise in leading world powers, this is why foreign trade opportunities of Belarus are much better than last year. He also underlined that Belarus is capable of reaching five-year term goals and believes that the present documents are more relaxed than those in 2008.

    Piotr Prokopovich said that as from 14 November the National Bank will start reducing interest rates and the refinancing rate a bit later. There are also plans to get interest rates down to 15% per annum in 2010.

    “We can raise salaries this year and the next year several times,” he said. “There is every opportunity to ensure a high growth. Working hard is the key”.

    Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Leonid Anfimov criticized the government for lazy operation and red-tape practices. He believes that decision-making on investment projects often takes too long. The Belarus President Administration also has several claims against the government, including the replenishment of state budget revenues and the plans to raise the VAT rate up to 20%. According to Leonid Anfimov, raising the VAT by 2% is not as harmless as it looks. It will require companies to use major turnover assets that they lack. He stressed that it is inadvisable to stage economic experiments in a crisis.

    Alexander Lukashenko remarked that the government still has time to mend the situation and catch up on performance. It is now important to concentrate efforts and money on addressing the key problems and to turn the situation around, to do one’s best to avoid failing to hit the five-year plan targets.

    According to the head of state, attention should be focused on working out optimal ways to overcome crisis phenomena and discussing fundamental things regarding the draft regulations that will be in effect next year, namely the draft social and economic development forecast, the budget bill, major monetary management guidelines, and tax legislation changes. “They should be perfectly tuned to match peculiarities of the present complicated time,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko. “This is why it is necessary to stop mindlessly using cliches and to be more active at introducing more effective practices that should produce positive results now and in the long run”.

    “Determining goals for 2010 one has, first of all, to remember what we will tell the people regarding the fulfillment of resolutions of the third All-Belarusian People’s Congress and how the targeted economic growth can be achieved. The most important thing is how to reach the five-year plan’s major social development goals, which determine the nation’s well-being: employment, salaries, pensions, benefits, targeted aid,” specified the President.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Sergei Sidorsky: Belarus-Russia trade should increase by year-end

    From: BelTA
    Sergei Sidorsky met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 28 October
    Belarus and Russia should increase the mutual trade by the end of the year, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky said as he met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 28 October.

    According to him, the Belarusian-Russian trade fell 42% over last year. The Belarusian Premier is convinced, however, that the two sides have every chance of expanding the trade bearing in mind the fact that the previous three months have seen an uptrend in both the economies.

    As for the agenda of the forthcoming session of the Union State Council of Ministers, Sergei Sidorsky has noted that his agenda meets that level of the relations that Belarus and Russia have. The session will discuss nearly 25 issues covering the most important cooperation areas.

    Size of next year’s Union State budget unchanged

    Vladimir Putin said the sides have agreed to preserve the Union State budget size despite the economic difficulties brought about by the global financial crisis.

    The Russian Prime Minister also said that Union State budget funds should be used effectively, in particular, with regard to high-tech programs.

    He said the session had discussed the implementation of the joint anticrisis program in detail. Yet the Russian Premier believes that new steps should be taken to expand Belarusian-Russian manufacturing cooperation and new projects able to pull the two economies and contribute to increasing the mutual trade should be adopted.

    Apart from that, Vladimir Putin dwelled on the oncoming tenth anniversary of the signing of the Union State treaty. “We intend to properly get ready for celebrating the date,” he said.

    On the whole the Russian head of government was positive about results of the session of the Union State Cabinet.

    Belarus’ dialogue with EU meant to redress balance

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ closer engagement with the European Union does not manifest a shift in its foreign policy. It is just the redressing of balance in foreign political contacts, head of the chief department for Europe of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus, Aleksei Skripko, told a scientific conference, Belarus in the Present-Day World, on 30 October.

    “We have been working hard to develop full-fledged contacts with all partners, to shorten the distance in the relations with the West which Russia has already covered,” the diplomat said. “Therefore the main goal of the Belarusian diplomacy is to create a good neighborliness belt,” he added.

    Belarus intends to take part in the Eastern Partnership believing that the initiative should not create new dividing lines. It is designed to serve the interests of all European states never forcing them to choose between the West or Russia.

    “We make it clear to our European colleagues that, firstly, Belarus is not seeking the EU membership at the present moment. Secondly the country is not going to choose between its two partners, the European Union and Russia. We would like to have close and balanced relations with both our neighbors,” Aleksei Skripko said.

    In his words, Belarus is the CIS only net donor of security in the European region. According to The Economist, Belarus achievements in enhancing security are higher than in Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia.

    Absence of Belarus-EU framework agreement mutually disadvantageous

    The absence of an agreement on partnership and cooperation between the European Union and Belarus threatens the interests of the both sides, Aleksei Skripko said.

    He reminded that the 1994 agreement on partnership and cooperation never came into force. “This is why we have to cooperate with the EU within the framework of the agreement signed between the Soviet Union and the European Economic Community in 1989,” he said. This affects trade and economic relations, the work of the customs services, intellectual property protection, scientific, technical, innovation, educational and investment cooperation and other forms of collaboration.

    The discrimination of Belarusians over the Schengen visa cost is another sensitive issue of Belarus-EU relations. The European Union realizes that this situation does not make any sense. Even more so, on numerous occasions the European Parliament called for liberalizing the EU-Belarus visa regulations. However such governing bodies as the Council of the European Union and the European Commission ignore these calls referring to the need of a formal permission to resume a full-fledged political dialogue with Belarus, Aleksei Skripko said.

    According to him, the financial aid the European Commission grants to Belarus within the framework of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument is unreasonably small compared to the aid granted to other countries of Eastern Europe. In 2007-2010, the European Commission is to grant Belarus €21 million. “At the same time Ukraine is to receive €494 million, Moldova €209 million, Georgia €120 million, Armenia and Azerbaijan €100 million each,” the diplomat informed. He added that the European Commission restricts its support for the projects targeted completed at state sector of Belarus which is also unjustified.

    Foreign Ministry: Belarus seeks to end economic discrimination from EU

    Belarus seeks to put an end to the discriminative restrictive measures applied by the European Union against Belarusian goods. The country seeks to restore the level of cooperation that the two sides had before September 1997 (when Brussels imposed a series of sanctions against Belarus).

    Belarus was excluded from a general system of preferences used by almost all countries, Aleksei Skripko stated. According to him, such EU sanctions against Belarus as quoting of the import of certain types of goods, especially, in the textile and light industries, are unfair. “Such quotas contradict the WTO requirements,” underlined Aleksei Skripko and added that many European politicians acknowledge that such discriminative measures are pointless, but nothing has changed so far.

    Prohibitive tariffs on the Belarusian high-technology goods and agricultural products are another infringement of Belarus’ interests in terms of export to the EU. The duty on several types of products of the Belarusian engineering industry (including haulers, tractors, others) exceeds 30% of the cost, the duty on oil makes up 82% and on beef – 90% of the cost. “In fact it is economic sanctions,” Aleksei Skripko noted.

    He stressed that Belarus is interested in the EU support in the ratification of Belarus-initiated amendment to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol, which would allow the country to trade the unused carbon dioxide quotas. “Unfortunately, we have had no agreement on this issue with our western partners either,” he added.

    Today the European Union is Belarus’ main export destination. In 2008 the EU accounted for 44% ($14.4 billion) of the total Belarusian export. Belarus had a trade surplus of $6 billion. The trade slightly reduced in 2009. It is likely to increase by the year-end as against the beginning of 2009, Aleksei Skripko added.

    Iran wants to construct Persian-style tourist village near Minsk

    From: BelTA
    This tourist village inspired by the architecture of Ancient Persia is to be located on the bank of the Minsk Sea
    Iranian investors expressed their intention to construct a Persian-style tourist village near Minsk, BelTA learnt from Chief of the Physical Culture, Sports and Tourism Department of the Minsk Oblast Executive Committee Sergei Nered.

    This tourist village inspired by the architecture of Ancient Persia is to be located on the bank of the Minsk Sea. However, it is too early to talk about any concrete plans to implement this project, Sergei Nered said.

    According to him, a Belarusian Disneyland is to be constructed in the Minsk oblast. It will include facilities for action sports, children’s recreation and family vacation, a variety of amusement rides and a water park. Iranian companies are among the investors of this project.

    Earlier Belarusian Sports and Tourism Minister Oleg Kachan and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Iran to Belarus Seyyed Abdollah Hosseini held a meeting to discuss cooperation in the tourism industry. The sides came to the conclusion that it is necessary to launch a direct flight between Minsk and Tehran.

    Belarus’ first 3G net online as from 2 November

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ first 3G network of the mobile operator life:) will come on stream on 2 November 2009, BelTA learned from BeST spokeswoman Taisia Pastukhova.

    The third generation mobile telecommunication will provide Belarusian customers with such services as high-speed Internet access and mobile television. Some 15,000 Belarusians have already registered at the mobile operator’s site in order to get their 3G modems.

    “3G network is a very important technology for us. If a mobile operator is not going to develop it, this operator will fall behind”, Ozcan Ermis, BeST Director General, told BelTA earlier in an interview.

    The 3G communication is based on transmitting packets. Such networks use decimeter frequencies and allow implementing new services including videoconferencing, mobile television and broadband Internet access.

    The closed joint-stock company Belarusian Telecommunications Network was registered on 5 November 2004. After signing the contract on 29 July 2008 the company became part of the international group of companies Turkcell. Now major stockholders in BeST are the mobile company life:) (80%) and the Belarusian Information Technologies and Communications Ministry (20%). On 26 August 2008 the Turkcell company made the first payment of $300 million for 80% of BeST shares. Additional $100 million payments will be made on 31 December 2009 and 31 December 2010. One more 100$ million payment will be made after BeST has started earning profits.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarusfilm urged to produce moneymaking movies

    From: BelTA
    “Nowadays the cinema studio can make good movies about the real life in the country, about modern life, Belarusian public, people of Belarus and can make the movies neither Belarusfilm nor the country will be ashamed of,” -Vladimir Zametalin
    The status and development of the Belarusian cinematography were discussed as President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with Director General of the National Cinema Studio Belarusfilm Vladimir Zametalin on 29 October.

    The press service of the head of state quoted Alexander Lukashenko as saying that the government will always pay close attention to cinematography development because this kind of art is important for the society.

    The meeting touched upon state budget investments into film making. The President underlined his key requirement that movies should make money.

    Appointing Vladimir Zametalin head of Belarusfilm over two years ago, the head of state set the goal of advancing the industry to a new level. Vladimir Zametalin said that since then a lot has been done at the cinema studio as far as finance and technologies are concerned, a sufficient number of movies is produced.

    The President outlined his views on what movies the cinema studio should produce and how many.

    “Nowadays the cinema studio can make good movies about the real life in the country, about modern life, Belarusian public, people of Belarus and can make the movies neither Belarusfilm nor the country will be ashamed of,” said Vladimir Zametalin after the meeting.

    Belarus President congratulates State Dance Company on jubilee

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has congratulated the staff of the State Dance Company of the Republic of Belarus on its 50th anniversary, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    “You are a real cultural wealth of the country, a holder and promoter of the best national and world choreography. Several generations of outstanding dancers and choreographers have been nurtured by it,” the message of congratulations says.

    Alexander Lukashenko wished the ensemble every success, new achievements, sheer inspiration, health, happiness and good mood.

    Days of Belarusian Culture to be held in Hungary in 2010

    The Days of Belarusian Culture are planned to be held in Hungary in 2010. Major joint events in various fields, including political, trade and economic cooperation, were discussed at the meeting between Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Hungary Yelena Kupchina and State Secretary of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry Jeno Faller. He supervises bilateral relations with European countries, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Embassy in Budapest.

    The sides underlined the necessity to complete the development of the investment protection agreement and undertake further steps to bring the bilateral trade and economic cooperation to a brand new level, the representatives of the diplomatic mission said.

    The participants of the meeting outlined a number of major events to be held in 2010. These events constitute the basis of the new joint action plan. As Hungary presides over the Visegrad Group, it could promote the cooperation between this organization and the countries participating in the Eastern Partnership initiative.

    Yelena Kupchina and Jeno Faller discussed the progress in the Belarusian-Hungarian relations in 2009. “The sides agreed that the cooperation between the two countries was very fruitful this year and were glad to state that most of the targets of the joint action plan were fulfilled,” the Embassy representatives said.

  • Economics...

    NBRB: no rollercoaster for Belarusian ruble

    From: BelTA
    Piotr Prokopovich
    There will be no drastic changes of the exchange rate of the national currency and no drastic devaluation in Belarus, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich told media on 29 October.

    IMF experts believe that the NBRB’s current policy is fit for the present day reality and there is no sense in changing it. “Therefore no drastic moves, no sudden devaluation is going to happen,” Piotr Prokopovich made it clear.

    Speaking about the exchange rate policy in Belarus in 2010, the NBRB head remarked that the draft Major Monetary Management Guidelines for 2010 expect the value of the basket of foreign currencies to vary by plus/minus 5% at most. If necessary, the NBRB can raise the limit to 10%. In June 2009 the National Bank expanded the allowed range of fluctuations of the Belarusian ruble exchange rate against the basket of foreign currencies from plus/minus 5% to plus/minus 10%.

    Piotr Prokopovich added that the Major Monetary Management Guidelines are still being discussed. Once the document is adopted, it will be possible to talk about the next year’s exchange rate policy in more detail.

    Belarus to present over 90 projects at investment forum in November

    More than 90 investment projects will be presented at the Belarusian investment and economic forum in Minsk on 12-13 November, First Deputy Economy Minister of Belarus Piotr Zhabko told a press conference, BelTA has learnt.

    He underlined that they are only those projects that will be showcased during the forum; the overall number of projects is much larger. As of today, about 400 representatives of various companies, including 210 foreign enterprises, have applied to take part in the Belarusian investment and economic forum. Piotr Zhabko noted that at least 250 representatives of foreign companies are expected to take part in the forum. A series of draft memoranda and agreements is to be signed during the forum.

    This year the forum will be held simultaneously with the sixth plenary session of the Advisory Council for Foreign Investments of the Council of Ministers of Belarus. According to Piotr Zhabko, the investment and cooperation forum is held under the auspices of the Belarusian government. The forum is aimed to demonstrate the investment potential of Belarus, promote the image of Belarus as a reliable partner, and establish direct contacts between Belarusian enterprises and investors. The participants of the forum will have an opportunity to meet with governmental officials to discuss Belarus’ economic development and its prospects to get into the list of top thirty countries with best business climate.

    The forum will be structured into five sections: power engineering and petrochemical industry, agricultural industry, infrastructure, innovation technologies, regional development and promotion of free economic zones.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus eyes Nov deal to sell BPS Bank to Sberbank

    From: Reuters
    The period of talks over the sale of BPS-Bank is coming to an end. Yesterday we held talks with Sberbank chief (German) Gref, the discussions finished successfully.Itar-Tass -Pyotr Prokopovich
    Belarus is concluding talks on the sale of state-controlled BPS Bank to Russia's biggest lender, Sberbank (SBER03.MM), and a deal could be signed next month, the head of the Belarussian central bank said on Thursday. Belarus has to cede control of state banks to meet the conditions of the International Monetary Fund, which has agreed to lend $3.5 billion to the impoverished former Soviet country.

    Sberbank said in March it was interesting in buying 100 percent in BPS, which has around $210 million in capital and has been valued at roughly $500 million by a Belarussian valuer.

    Earlier this month, Belarus said it considered the price offered by the Russian state-controlled lender too low, without disclosing the sums involved. "The period of talks over the sale of BPS-Bank is coming to an end. Yesterday we held talks with Sberbank chief (German) Gref, the discussions finished successfully," Pyotr Prokopovich told a news conference.

    "I hope that ... in November (the deal) can be signed."

    Sberbank's spokesman said the bank has reached an "agreement in principle" for the acquisition and is now preparing all the necessary documents.

    Prokopovich also said that another major Belarussian bank, Belinvestbank, is in talks with a Western lender after negotiations with Germany's Commerzbank (CBKG.DE) led nowhere.

    "Because the crisis ... touched German banks, Commerzbank is now not participating in this. Talks are going on with one of the Western European banks," he said, giving no further details.

    Number of swine flu cases in Belarus rises to 59

    From: RIA Novosti
    Laboratory tests have confirmed that 59 people have been infected with A/H1N1
    The number of people infected with A/H1N1 virus in Belarus has risen to 59, the Health Ministry said on Sunday.

    "Laboratory tests have confirmed that 59 people have been infected with A/H1N1," ministry spokeswoman Olga Shulpina said, adding that the ex-Soviet republic was not hit by a swine flu epidemic so far.

    The Belarusian Health Ministry reported just 39 swine flu cases on Friday.

    Meanwhile, a swine flu epidemic was declared in neighboring Ukraine where 39 people have died of the virus, the country's Health Ministry said on Sunday. It put the number of infections at more than 150,000.

    The Ukrainian government has already ordered to shut down schools and cinemas in the country in an effort to stop the spread of the epidemic and has channeled $12.5 million into the purchase of anti-swine flu medicines and medial equipment.

    The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday that Slovakia, Hungary and Romania were providing humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine deal with the H1N1 virus, the UNIAN news agency reported.

    Slovakia and Romania will send medical masks, while Hungary will contribute 10,000 doses of vaccine for the virus.

    Russia and Poland have already offered to help Ukraine's efforts to prevent the spread of swine flu.

    Foreign ministries of Belarus, France hold consultations in Minsk

    From: Navany
    According to official statisticians, trade between Belarus and France dropped by 32.2 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2009 to $322.8 million, with Belarus' exports falling by 23.3 percent to $49.5 million and imports by 33.6 percent to $273.3 million
    The foreign ministries of Belarus and France held a new round of consultations in Minsk on Friday.

    Deputy Minister Valery Varanetski led the Belarusian delegation to the meeting, while the French delegation was headed by Roland Galharague, director of the continental Europe department.

    Under discussion were issues relating to the political dialogue between the two countries, their trade and economic cooperation and the legal basis for bilateral relations, said the press office of the Belarusian foreign ministry.

    Participants also discussed the development of the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union within the EU's Eastern Partnership and other programs, cooperation between Belarus and France in the framework of international organizations and some aspects of international politics and security, the press office said.

    The foreign ministries agreed to continue "constructive cooperation" in areas of mutual interest, such as further rapprochement between Belarus and the EU, the press office said.

    According to official statisticians, trade between Belarus and France dropped by 32.2 percent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2009 to $322.8 million, with Belarus' exports falling by 23.3 percent to $49.5 million and imports by 33.6 percent to $273.3 million.

    In the first six months of 2009, French investment in Belarus reportedly totaled $10.8 million, a 2.5-fold year-on-year decrease. French direct investment dropped 15 times to $58,500.

    In Belarus, there are 41 companies involving French capital, including 18 French-owned ones. French contributions to their registered capital total $4.8 million.

    Practice makes perfect: Russia and Belarus 'simulate' nuclear attack on Poland

    From: Telegraph
    Russia has provoked outrage in Poland by simulating an air and sea attack on the country during military exercises.
    The armed forces are said to have carried out "war games" in which nuclear missiles were fired and troops practised an amphibious landing on the country's coast.

    Documents obtained by Wprost, one of Poland's leading news magazines, said the exercise was carried out in conjunction with soldiers from Belarus.

    The manoeuvres are thought to have been held in September and involved about 13,000 Russian and Belarusian troops.

    Poland, which has strained relations with both countries, was cast as the "potential aggressor".

    The documents state the exercises, code-named "West", were officially classified as "defensive" but many of the operations appeared to have an offensive nature.

    The Russian air force practised using weapons from its nuclear arsenal, while in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, which neighbours Poland, Red Army forces stormed a "Polish" beach and attacked a gas pipeline.

    The operation also involved the simulated suppression of an uprising by a national minority in Belarus – the country has a significant Polish population which has a strained relationship with authoritarian government of Belarus.

    Accidental shots fired on US ship in Polish port

    According to the AP, a U.S. official says an American sailor fired three accidental shots from a machine gun aboard a Navy ship moored in a Polish port. No one was injured.

    U.S. Embassy spokesman Andrew Paul says a sailor from the USS Ramage accidentally discharged three shots during routine maintenance on a M240 machine gun while the ship was in the port of Gdynia on Wednesday morning.

    Paul says the incident did not result in any injuries or damage. He said Thursday that U.S. officials and the Polish military police were investigating.

    The USS Ramage is a guided missile destroyer whose home base is in Norfolk, Virginia.

    Polish Protests

    Karol Karski, an MP from Poland's Law and Justice, is to table parliamentary questions on Russia's war games and has protested to the European Commission.

    His colleague, Marek Opiola MP, said: "It's an attempt to put us in our place. Don't forget all this happened on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland."

    Ordinary Poles were outraged by news of the exercise and demanded a firm response from the government.

    One man, identified only as Ted, told Polskie Radio: "Russia has laid bare its real intentions with respect to Poland. Every Pole most now get of the off the fence and be counted as a patriot or a traitor."

    Donald Tusk, Poland's prime minister, has tried to build a pragmatic relationship with the Kremlin despite widespread and vocal calls in Poland for him to cool ties with Moscow.

    After spending 40 years under Soviet domination few in Poland trust Russia, and many Poles have become increasingly wary of a country they consider as possessing a neo-imperialistic agenda.

    Bogdan Klich, Poland’s defence minister, said: “It is a demonstration of strength. We are monitoring the exercises to see what has been planned.

    Wladyslaw Stasiak, chief of President Lech Kaczynski’s office, and a former head of Poland’s National Security Council, added: “We didn’t like the appearance of the exercises and the name harked back to the days of the Warsaw Pact.”

    The Russian troop exercises will come as an unwelcome sight to the states nestling on Russia’s western border who have deep-rooted anxieties over any Russian show of strength.

    With a resurgent Moscow now more willing to flex its muscles, Central and Eastern Europeans have warned of Russia adopting a neo-imperialistic attitude to an area of the world it still regards as its sphere of influence.

    In July, the region’s most famed and influential political figures, including Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel, wrote an open letter Barack Obama warning him that Russia “is back as a revisionist power pursuing a 19th-century agenda with 21st-century tactics and methods.”

    Moscow and Minsk have insisted that Operation West was to help "ensure the strategic stability in the East European region".

  • From the Opposition...

    Kommersant: H-hour for Lukashenka is coming

    From: Charter '97
    As Andrei Kolesnikov writes in Kommersant, another visit of Syarhei Sidorski failed, as it was planned
    Prime ministers of Russia and Belarus Vladimir Putin and Syarhei Sidorski had a meeting in Moscow yesterday. According to Kommersant daily, the enlarged negotiations showed no breakthrough.

    As Andrei Kolesnikov writes in Kommersant, another visit of Syarhei Sidorski failed, as it was planned, thus making the H-hour for the Belarusian budget and Alyaksandr Lukashenka personally closer.

    The joint session of the Russian and Belarusian government was held yesterday in Moscow President Hotel, as the previous one.

    Belarusian press tried to detract from the importance of the visit and Sidorski himself ahead of the visit. AFN news agency gave the next heading: “Sidorski’s new raid to Moscow in search for answers to perennial questions”. “Even doing its best, the Ministry of Finance of Belarus will hardly be able to made up a proper budget 2010, which wouldn’t need urgent amendments in the first weeks of the year, if it doesn’t have answers to these questions – about gas, oil, access to the Russian market, the nuclear power plant.” what to the might-have-been meeting between minister of energy of Belarus Alyaksandr Azyarets and Gazprom head Aleksey Miller, Belarusian journalists wrote: “The Russian monopolist could have found some time for a meeting, if the Belarusian party would have been able to suggest anything more than usual bleating.”

    However, the Belarusian press expected transferring to European prices of Russian gas to be postponed from 2011 till 2015 and hoped for a key role of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, the Belarusians specially rely upon: they would like to buy Russian energy at Russian domestic prices.

    The Russian party didn’t feel uncomfortable in this connection. Fro example, deputy minister of energy of Russia Anatoly Yanovsky said before the talks all problems could be solved.

    In general, it’s clear in what way. A Gazprom press release, spread ahead of the meeting, says “the Management Committee was entrusted to continue cooperating with federal executive authorities on transition to market-based pricing principles in the domestic gas sector from 2011.”

    What to a credit tranche, Belarus would like to get from Russia, this issue was clarified as well. Speaking with journalists over this matter, Aleksey Kudrin noted “the Belarusians didn’t withdraw their request”, but reminded the money could be allocated only from EurAsEC anti-crisis fund and stated with pleasure there were no documents on the fund formation.

    Vladimir Putin was more friendly than usual at the beginning of the meeting with Syarhei Sidorski (since Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Russian journalists his attitude towards the Russian prime minister Putin a near a month ago, Syarhei Sidorski is the only person for the Russian premier to discuss Belarus’s hard fate on international and inner arena).

    The Russian PM stated with delight that the total turnout between Russia and Belarus had dropped by 42% in 2010.

    According to Kommersant, the enlarged negotiations showed no breakthrough. Another Syarhei Sidorski’s raid to Moscow failed, thus making the H-hour closer for the Belarusian budget and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who can’t carry the economy of Belarus on his delicate shoulders without the budget.

    Presenting the final address in November, Vladimir Putin was satisfied to find the coming of “an important milestone in the history of our nations – the tenth anniversary of formation of the union state”.

    “We must adequately prepare for the celebrations of this memorial date!” the Russian PM said.

    Gazprom and the Ministry of Finance will apparently get appropriate instructions in the nearest time.

    Or to be more precise, they got them long ago and now put them into life.

    Viasna issues statement on death sentences to Vasil Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk

    From: Viasna
    The Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus has considered the appeals by Vasil Yuzepchuk (against the verdict by Brest Regional Court of 29 June 2009) and Andrei Zhuk (against the verdict by Minsk Regional Court of 29 June 2009) and resolved to uphold the decisions, thereby legalizing both the sentences.

    Belarusian human rights activists have expressed their deep concern over the possible execution of the death penalties.

    According to the convicts’ legal advisors, the verdict by Brest Regional Court was based on conjectures, resulting from evidence by the police, with no direct proofs at all. Mr. Yuzepchuk was reportedly beaten while in pre-trial prison and the traumas were registered. Apart from that, according to a report by a board of experts, the convict has a light mental deficiency. Therefore, the human rights activists have a strong doubt that the death penalty is too severe and groundless punishment.

    There are several extenuating circumstances: Andrei Zhuk admitted his guilt, cooperated with the investigators and repented of the offence.
    The experts think that delivering death sentences as a result of trials, which failed to comply with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right to a fair trial, is an arbitrary deprivation of a human life.

    Vasil Yuzepchuk has submitted an individual complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee, claiming that his rights were violated, including the right to a fair trial and the right to life. On 12 October the Committee registered Mr. Yuzepchuk’s complaint under #1906/2009 and ordered the Belarusian authorities to suspend executing the death sentence before consideration of the case on the merits.

    Belarusian human rights activists call upon the Belarusian authorities not to execute the death sentences to Vasil Yuzepchuk and Andrei Zhuk, and demand to take prompt measures to abolish the death penalty in Belarus.

  • Russia...

    Russia-U.S. weapons talks on track: Kremlin adviser

    From: Reuters
    President Barack Obama greets Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (L) at the Phipps Conservatory for an opening reception and working dinner for heads of delegation at the Pittsburgh G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania September 24, 2009.
    Russia and the United States are on track to sign a new deal to reduce their arsenals of nuclear weapons by the time a previous agreement expires next month, a Kremlin aide said at a policy conference in Morocco.

    The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty known as START-1 runs out on December 5 and negotiators have been working to prepare a new detailed treaty to be signed by the two nations' leaders.

    President Barack Obama and Kremlin chief Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July on the outlines of a preliminary deal to replace the landmark 1991 treaty but negotiators are still working through several technical issues.

    "We are still optimistic about ... signing a new agreement this year which will imply huge progress for the world in this matter," Arkady Dvorkovich, a top adviser to Medvedev, said at a World Policy Conference in Marrakesh.

    "We have a very good and constructive dialogue right now on this matter. I think the obstacles are mostly technical and we can complete in time," he said late on Saturday.

    Talks on the pact may have been facilitated by President Barack Obama's decision to roll back the plans of his predecessor George W. Bush for a missile shield in Eastern Europe by deploying a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland.

    Cargo plane crashes in eastern Russia, 11 dead

    From: Reuters
    The plane, an IL-76 belonging to the interior ministry, crashed about 1 km from Mirny at the start of a flight to Irkutsk
    A cargo aircraft crashed soon after taking off from the eastern Russian city of Mirny in Yakutia region, killing all 11 people on board, Russian prosecutors said on Sunday.

    The plane, an IL-76 belonging to the interior ministry, crashed about 1 km from Mirny at the start of a flight to Irkutsk, the investigative committee of the Prosecutor General's Office said in a statement.

    Russia has one of the world's worst air safety records, with elderly Soviet-era planes, dated airport facilities, poor plane maintenance and lax standards contributing to a grim crash toll.

    Last year, all 88 passengers and crew aboard an Aeroflot Boeing aircraft died when the plane crashed in a ball of fire near the Ural mountains. In 2006, 170 people were killed when a TU-154 plane crashed in Ukraine on a flight to St Petersburg.

    An interior ministry press service official told the Russian television channel Vesti the plane rolled to the right immediately after take-off.

    "The plane flew no more than 2 km at an altitude of 20-30 metres before crashing near an old mine," he said.

    Russia hopes nuclear ship will fly humans to Mars

    From: AP
    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, center, visits a space communications facility in Medvezhye Ozera, outside Moscow, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2009, with Minister of Telecommunications Igor Shchyogolev at left. Medvedev urged his government to find resources for building a prospective nuclear-powered spaceship.
    Russia should build a new nuclear-powered spaceship for prospective manned missions to Mars and other planets, the nation's space chief said Thursday.

    Anatoly Perminov first proposed building the ship at a government meeting Wednesday but didn't explain its purpose. President Dmitry Medvedev backed the project and urged the government to find the money.

    In remarks posted Thursday on his agency's Web site, Perminov said the nuclear spaceship should be used for human flights to Mars and other planets. He said the project is challenging technologically, but could capitalize on the Soviet and Russian experience in the field.

    Perminov said the preliminary design could be ready by 2012, and then it would take nine more years and cost 17 billion rubles (about $600 million, or euro400 million) to build the ship.

    "The project is aimed at implementing large-scale space exploration programs, including a manned mission to Mars, interplanetary travel, the creation and operation of planetary outposts," Perminov's Web statement said.

    The ambitious plans contrast with Russia's slow progress on building a replacement to its mainstay spacecraft — the Soyuz.

    Russia is using Soyuz booster rockets and capsules, developed 40 years ago, to send crews to the International Space Station. The development of a replacement rocket and a prospective spaceship with a conventional propellant has dragged on with no end in sight.

    Despite its continuing reliance on the old technology, Russia stands to take a greater role in space exploration in the coming years. NASA's plan to retire its shuttle fleet next year will force the United States and other nations to rely on the Russian spacecraft to ferry their astronauts to and from the International Space Station until NASA's new manned ship becomes available.

    Perminov said the new nuclear-powered ship should have a megawatt-class nuclear reactor, as opposed to small nuclear reactors that powered some Soviet military satellites. The Cold War-era Soviet spy satellites had reactors that produced just a few kilowatts of power and had a life span of about a year.

    Igor Lisov, a Moscow-based expert on Russian space program, said the prospective ship would use a nuclear reactor to run an electric rocket engine.

    "It will be quite efficient for flight to Mars," he told The Associated Press on Thursday.

    Lisov said Soviet work on a nuclear-powered electric rocket engine dates back to the 1960s when Soviet engineers began developing plans for a manned flight to Mars.

    He said Russia's experience in building nuclear-powered satellites would also help develop the new spaceship. "It will require a significantly more powerful nuclear reactor, but the task is quite realistic," Lisov said.

    Stanley Borowski, a senior engineer at NASA specializing in nuclear rocket engines, said they have many advantages for deep space missions, such as to take astronauts and gear to Mars. In deep space, nuclear rockets are twice as fuel-efficient as conventional rockets, he said.

    NASA has used small amounts of plutonium in deep space probes, including those to Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto and heading out of the solar system.

    The only planetary mission currently considered by Russia is a plan to send a probe to one of Mars' twin moons, Phobos. It was set to launch this year, but was delayed.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Why are we paying child benefit in Poland?

    From: Telegraph
    Here's a puzzle for you: what are we doing paying benefits for children who do not live in Britain, and may have never visited our shores? The Treasury says it cannot put a figure on the amount, but the best guess is that about £20 million in child benefit was coughed up by British taxpayers last year to support almost 38,000 children living in Poland.

    It's hard to blame people who come to work in Britain for claiming benefits for children they have left behind. In Poland, for example, the government pays only a quarter of the amount offered by the Treasury. But we do criticise our Government. Children living elsewhere in the European Union qualify for benefits from those governments, just as children living in Britain get benefits at British levels. It makes no sense to hand our taxpayers' money to Poles living in Poland.

    The Treasury blames the European Union, whose rules derive from a patently false belief that all member economies are at the same level. They are not; all the regulations do is encourage people from poorer EU countries to go and work in richer ones, such as the UK, which will pay more generous benefits to their children back home. The result is irrational and unjust – and yet another issue on which the Government should stand up to the EU, and refuse to abide by its ridiculous diktats.

    Three Polish border guards killed in chopper crash

    From: Reuters
    The wreckage of a border-guard helicopter that disappeared last night with three officers on board was discovered on Sunday morning in Belarus some 200 metres from the Polish border
    Three Polish border guards were killed when their helicopter crashed on the Belarussian side of the border, fire-brigade rescuers said on Sunday.

    "The wreckage of a border-guard helicopter that disappeared last night with three officers on board was discovered on Sunday morning in Belarus some 200 metres (yards) from the (Polish) border," PAP news agency reported regional fire-brigade spokesman Marcin Janowski as saying.

    PAP said the cause of the accident, which occurred during a routine patrol of the border in the north-eastern corner of Poland, was not immediately known.

    Man Tries to Rob Bank With a Spoon, Gets Laughed At

    From: short News
    Everyone in the bank dived for cover as the would-be robber charged in bellowing that this was a stickup
    Police are hunting for a ginger-haired man who attempted to hold up a Lublin bank armed with a spoon.

    Everyone in the bank dived for cover as the would-be robber charged in bellowing that this was a stickup. It was quickly realised that his weapon was a spoon, not a gun, and he was laughed out of the bank.

    "It's a weird one but he broke the law and we want to find him," said Renata Laszczka-Rusek, a spokesperson for police.

  • Sport...

    Azarenka loses to Wozniacki at WTA Championships in Doha

    From: BelTA
    Victoria Azarenka
    Belarusian Victoria Azarenka (World No.6) lost to Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark (4) 6-1, 4-6, 5-7 at the WTA Year End Championships in Doha. The match lasted for 2 hours and 58 minutes.

    The Belarusian had a matchball in the third set, but did not manage to win it, and lost the two succeeding games and the match on the whole.

    It is the first time that both players take part in the WTA Year End Championships in Doha.

    Eight best tennis players of the year participate the WTA Year End Championships. Azarenka has been drawn in the group together with Safina, Wozniacki and Jankovic. The Williams sisters, Kuznetsova, and Dementieva play in the other group.

    Viktoria Chaika clinches silver at ISSF World Cup Final in China

    Belarusian Viktoria Chaika won silver in women’s 10m air pistol event at the ISSF World Cup Final in China on 28 October.

    The Belarusian lost only 0.3 points to Hu Jun of China, who scored 486.9 points. The bronze went to another Chinese Guo Wenjun (485.3).

  • Endnote...

    The EU's Learning Curve Heralds Beginning Of End Of Sanctions

    From: RFE/RL
    The European Union's curious history of applying punitive sanctions on non-member states is likely to prove short-lived. After EU foreign ministers decided on October 27 to remove all remaining restrictions on Uzbekistan, which has one of the world's most repressive regimes, the end of the whole idea of sanctions cannot be far away.

    Sanctions are a relative recent addition to the armory of what was, until the 1990s, essentially a trading bloc. The end of the Cold War brought about a quickening of the EU's political pulse. The waves of enlargement which followed added a sense of mission.

    The EU's own ideologues began speaking of the bloc as a harbinger of a more just and better-ordered future, in which selfish "modern" nation states would pool sovereignty to create a value-based "postmodern" world. A sense of moral superiority developed, requiring a practical outlet. The idea of sanctions was born.

    Over the past 10 years or so, the EU has developed a complex array of punitive measures, ranging from asset freezes for individuals and organizations believed to be involved in terrorism and denying technical assistance to governments whose actions are not in line with EU principles, to wholesale cutting of links to regimes which kill or imprison their citizens for political motives. Uzbekistan, Belarus, Burma, and Zimbabwe are the most prominent examples of the latter.

    But the ultimate test of whether the EU indeed has the courage of its convictions is its readiness to pass judgment on sovereign states. In this respect, the bloc's record is discouraging. A point seems to have been reached where interests take precedence over principles.

    Rehabilitated Dictatorships

    Uzbekistan and Belarus present two instructive cases in point. Those post-Soviet dictatorships have followed an identical trajectory which has taken them in the course of a few years from the depths of EU contempt to a restitution of their status as valued partners in dialogue.

    Uzbekistan had a year's head start on Belarus, when in 2005 the EU froze all contacts with Tashkent in the wake of the massacre of civilian protesters in Andijon in May that year. Visa bans were imposed on top officials and an arms embargo enforced against the country.

    Belarus followed in Uzbekistan's footsteps when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka rigged the parliamentary elections in 2006 and clamped down on opposition protests. The EU imposed visa bans and asset freezes on top Belarusian officials.

    Barely two years after the sanctions were put in place, however, the EU was already looking for a way out. In exchange for minor and largely meaningless concessions, which could be grouped under the heading "increased dialogue," the burden of sanctions was progressively lightened.

    As of today, Uzbekistan is completely free of EU sanctions, and Belarus is well on its way to full rehabilitation.

    There is no single or simple explanation. But some similarities stand out. First, the EU's aspiration to be recognized as a moral avant-garde of world powers has been quietly laid to rest.

    The reasons for this are manifold. They may go as far back as the bloc's powerlessness in the Balkans in the 1990s. But more tellingly, most of the damage has been done by the EU's self-professed "multilateral" persuasion.

    The "multilateralism" preached by EU leaders since the start of the war in Iraq in 2003 has been partly inspired by the desire to undermine the global hegemony of the United States, and partly reflects the fact that the rise of Russia, China, India, and other new powers has reshaped the international arena.

    Shifting Alliances

    As the EU tries to position itself in what it hopes and believes is an emerging multipolar world, it has come to realize that in that world, allies equal power. When sanctions were slapped on Uzbekistan and Belarus, both were seen by the EU as tin-pot dictatorships of little consequence.

    Then the EU -- or, more precisely, shifting alliances of key member states -- began to see both countries, for different reasons, as key players in complex regional struggles involving Russia. Securing Tashkent's goodwill became essential if the EU was to make any headway in its relations with energy-rich Central Asia, where Uzbekistan is the most populous state, with its own significant gas reserves.

    The EU's vision of Belarus underwent a similar evolution, as its tug-of-war with Russia for influence in the former Soviet space intensified.

    It quickly dawned on the leading national capitals -- and a little later on Brussels -- that not only do sanctions close down vitals channels of communication, but they can also be perceived as calculated insults.

    Visa bans proved particularly irksome. For Lukashenka and his cohorts, finding ways of dodging the ban to visit other European countries must have been humiliating.

    But national pride is also at stake. Both Belarusian and Uzbek officials never let slip an opportunity to remind the EU that they should be treated as "equals," meaning that they should not be lectured or otherwise treated as junior partners on account of their values, politics, or anything else.

    Weighing Its Interests

    The EU's sanctions policy has also become increasingly size-conscious. Uzbekistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Burma are of little global consequence. But Russia and China, whose rights records are in some ways scarcely better, are a different matter.

    The EU has in the past frozen assistance money meant for Russia and engaged in tit-for-tat trade wars, but these measures have always been calibrated not to cause political affront. Its ambition to act as one of the "poles" in a multilateral world means the EU cannot afford to makes enemies of permanent members of the UN Security Council.

    Commercial interests often play a role. Countries whose companies are involved in places like Burma or Belarus have traditionally been more skeptical than others when it comes to cutting contacts. But at the end of the day, the most important lesson the EU has learned is that in a multipolar world, its own internal coherence and unity come under growing pressure.

    In some cases that pressure is great enough to excite powerful national interests; consequently, EU unity has already become collateral damage. All roads no longer lead to Brussels. Russia is a prominent example of an outside force that exerts a powerful -- and fragmenting -- pull on policy choices made in Berlin, Paris, and London.

    For that reason, member states with vested interests have increasingly become prime movers in decisions regarding sanctions. Germany, which aspires to a leading role in shaping EU policy in the former Soviet space, forced the rehabilitation of Uzbekistan to get the EU Central Asia Strategy it sponsored off the ground.

    Similarly, Poland and Lithuania have pursued a pragmatic approach with regard to their immediate neighbor Belarus. Contacts are deemed vital. Views of Russia also tend to color policy choices in much of Eastern Europe, where Minsk's cooperation is now valued a long way above its readiness to respect EU values.

    All this is not to say that the EU does not have a foreign policy. But it is turning out to be a foreign policy very different from what was imagined only a few years ago.