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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oil deals, Gas rows, EU optimism,, Radio Sweden, WTO, Opposition, NATO, Polish Corruption and more...

  • From the Top...
  • #422

    Belarus President urges more profitable oil deals

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko urges to look for ways to make the delivery of oil and the selling of oil products more cost-effective
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko believes that in order to enhance the efficiency of the petrochemical industry and increase the revenues to the budget and the consumer market it is necessary to look for more efficient ways to supply oil to Belarus and sell oil products abroad. The Belarusian leader made this statement at a meeting dedicated to oil refinery issues on June 23.

    The President noted that this industry is demonstrating a stable and predictable performance. Two Belarusian oil refinery enterprises are working at full capacity, the petrochemical industry is provided with the necessary raw materials. The demand for oil products by households, agriculture and industries is fulfilled. “The major challenge is to provide oil refining and petrochemical enterprises with raw materials and to cut financial, material and labour costs, to prevent the shortage or rise in prices for petroleum-based fuels on the domestic market,” the head of state said.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus is expanding oil extraction in other countries, including Venezuela and Iran. However, the bulk of oil comes to Belarus from Russia in line with the Union State coordinated balance of raw materials for 2009 at the amount of 21.5 million tonnes. In general, this amount is sufficient to load the production capacities of Belarusian enterprises. According to the President, there is still some room to raise the efficiency of oil supplies. This can be achieved through the increase in oil supplies via oil pipelines and by railways, through the reduction of transportation costs.

    The President underlined that over the recent years a special importance was attached to the modernization of oil refineries; a number of financially-intensive projects was implemented; hundreds of millions of dollars were invested. According to the Belarusian head of state, this investment is paying back. The modernization efforts helped increase the processing depth which means that more useful products are extracted from crude oil. Now the processing depth indices meet high international standards, a mutually beneficial oil price formula was devised. The Belarusian Oil Company was set up to boost the sales of Belarusian oil products abroad. Nevertheless, there is still some potential to save money, from the supplies of raw materials to the sales of ready products. The ongoing meeting will give an opportunity to discuss means to enhance the quality of the imported raw materials and cut their transportation costs and a number of other issues.

    Russia remains Belarus’ major strategic ally

    From: BelTA
    President Alexander Lukashenko has met with Governor Vladimir Chub of Rostov Region of the Russian Federation
    The Russian Federation is and has always been Belarus’ major strategic ally, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub on June 25, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The cooperation with Russian regions is an important area of Belarus-Russia relations. In 2008, the trade between Belarus and the Rostov oblast of Russia made up $376.4 million, up 28.4% from 2007 (17th place among regions of the Russian Federation). The export reached $222.5 million or up 24.1%. Belarus posted a surplus in trade at the amount of $68.6 million.

    The negotiations featured the expansion of the bilateral cooperation, the development of industrial cooperation, supplies of Belarusian agricultural machinery to the Rostov oblast. Alexander Lukashenko shared his view of the most topical issues of the bilateral relations.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko,
    Belarus has no unresolved problems with Russia. “Despite all the gas, oil, milk and other scandals we always remain open to Russia, to Russian people”, the Belarusian leader said.

    The President remarked that the bilateral trade is negatively affected by multiple limitations and restrictions introduced by the Russian side. “They run contrary to our agreements and actually worsen consequences of the world crisis both for the Belarusian and Russian economies,” he said.

    Belarus never pledges dairies to Russia

    Belarus never made any announcements that it would give its dairy plants to Russia in exchange for loans or on other conditions, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub on June 25.

    According to the Belarusian head of state, it would be stupid to link the Russian loans with the privatization of Belarusian enterprises by the Russian capital. “If you do not want to grant us $500 million, we will do without it. Though you have promised to. The Belarusian side, for example, honours its commitments,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “I have never promised to give 17 milk processing plants in return for something. I even asked Dmitry Medvedev with reproach: how can you set such conditions? They said if you supply your products to our market, then give us your plants. But these enterprises were modernized by the Belarusians and they were reincorporated as joint stock ventures and belong in fact to private owners.”

    “Those were no strings loans. The Russian loans are more expensive for us than the IMF’s ones. They pledged $2 billion, but refused to give us $500 million. Then why did they make such a pledge?” the President of Belarus asked.

    Alexander Lukashenko reminded that he had recently held a meeting with representatives of the Russian and Belarusian business working in the Belarusian oil refining industry. He suggested then that the rules of the game should be made not by government officials, but by representatives of the companies that would sit at the same table with the government. This suggestion was accepted by the business circles, but after that the Russian media announced that Alexander Lukashenko allegedly is compiling a list of suppliers and it will be another blow on Russia. “Apart from that I said that I am ready to discuss this topic with those who have been working in this industry for a long time. I promised to let them run oil refineries as if they were their property for three years. If everything is ok and they are absolutely happy, then in three years we will privatize this or that plant. But let us work together for this period so that we will see how it is going to be. After all, this issue is very sensitive for Belarus,” Alexander Lukashenko said. “Everyone agreed. But then officials say that it will not be in Russia’s interests. Why so?” the head of state said.

    Russia remains Belarus’ major strategic ally

    The Russian Federation is and has always been Belarus’ major strategic ally, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub on June 25, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The cooperation with Russian regions is an important area of Belarus-Russia relations. In 2008, the trade between Belarus and the Rostov oblast of Russia made up $376.4 million, up 28.4% from 2007 (17th place among regions of the Russian Federation). The export reached $222.5 million or up 24.1%. Belarus posted a surplus in trade at the amount of $68.6 million.

    The negotiations featured the expansion of the bilateral cooperation, the development of industrial cooperation, supplies of Belarusian agricultural machinery to the Rostov oblast. Alexander Lukashenko shared his view of the most topical issues of the bilateral relations.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko,
    Belarus has no unresolved problems with Russia. “Despite all the gas, oil, milk and other scandals we always remain open to Russia, to Russian people”, the Belarusian leader said.

    The President remarked that the bilateral trade is negatively affected by multiple limitations and restrictions introduced by the Russian side. “They run contrary to our agreements and actually worsen consequences of the world crisis both for the Belarusian and Russian economies,” he said.

    Belarus has no unresolved problems with Russia

    Belarus has no unresolved problems with Russia, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub on June 25.

    “Russia has been and is the main strategic ally for our country,” stressed the head of state. “Despite all the gas, oil, milk and other scandals we always remain open to Russia, to Russian people”.

    The President remarked that the bilateral trade is negatively affected by multiple limitations and restrictions introduced by the Russian side. “They run contrary to our agreements and actually worsen consequences of the world crisis both for the Belarusian and Russian economies,” he said.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, the restricted access of MTZ products to the Russian market actually threatens around 170 companies that supply components for the MTZ from Russia. “Over 10 million Russians are employed by the companies that we work with using manufacturing cooperation schemes,” noted the President. “If the final enterprise is trashed, it means the suppliers will be down, too, with another 10 million people out of jobs”.

    The head of state pointed out the signed international agreements and the fact that they must be fulfilled. “We have signed agreements with Russia. We make future plans on their basis and determine tactical efforts. We believe that everything will be the way we agreed but then everything suddenly breaks loose. In these complicated global conditions we are forced to find new markets,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    “Today I learnt from mass media that Rosselmash Director General said that all kinds of joint assembly ventures in Russia must be shut down. He claimed they do nothing but localise their products and so on. But if it is so, they should not have been created at all,” said the head of state. “However, it was a request of the president and the government of Russia,” he added.

    “What is wrong with us assembling machines and getting some components from Russia? Do we subsidize prices that much? We have equal prices for agricultural machines both on the home and foreign markets. We should stop all this fuss. Belarus has no grudge against Russian products that the Russian government supports and subsidizes. If Russia profits from supporting someone, we have no problem with it,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    According to the President, support for agricultural producers is a complex issue that includes many things such as customs issues, fuel prices, production of agricultural machines, lending and many others. “If we compare everything, there is no difference between Russia and Belarus or the difference does not make Russia look good,” stated the President of Belarus.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarusian justice system ready for death penalty moratorium

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian justice system is ready for introducing a moratorium on capital punishment, Presiding Judge of the Supreme Court of Belarus Valentin Sukalo told media on June 25.

    “If the Constitution determines this kind of punishment as extraordinary, the punishment will be abolished,” said Valentin Sukalo. “As far as the moratorium is concerned, it is an intermediate decision on the way to abolishing death penalty. I think it is quite real and valid, because we have another punishment — life imprisonment for particularly grave crimes. It differs little from capital punishment”.

    At present the legislation of 49 countries preserves capital punishment, with the measure applied in 25 countries. In essence, Valentin Sukalo remarked, 24 countries have introduced a death penalty moratorium. “I don’t see hindrances preventing Belarus from doing the same,” he said.

    According to Valentin Sukalo, introducing a death penalty moratorium may invoke a controversial response in the Belarusian society, especially the citizens who have been affected by grave crimes. “Obviously they will have a different opinion. But if such a decision is adopted, it will be mandatory for the judicial system. In principle victims disagree with a punishment other than death penalty,” he said.

    Valentin Sukalo also said that 2008 saw seven convicts sentenced to life imprisonment and one convict sentenced to death penalty. According to the data of the Supreme Court, in 2008 1,300 people were sentenced to death penalty across the globe.

    In recent years the number of death sentences has been reduced largely. Valentin Sukalo attributed the reduction to the court system getting ready for introducing the moratorium. The introduction of life imprisonment in 1999 gave courts a real capability to impose a punishment on felony offenders.

    The Presiding Judge of the Supreme Cour also remarked that even the most perfect court system cannot rule out failures of justice. Asked whether people sentenced to life imprisonment have ever had their punishment alleviated, he remarked that some people with life sentence have been granted better terms. One person accused of attempted murder has had its sentence replaced with general custodial restraint.

    Belarus to establish free trade with EU in 3-4 years

    Belarus plans to set up a free trade zone with the European Union in 3-4 years, First Vice Premier of Belarus Vladimir Semashko told the House of Representatives of the National Assembly on June 26.

    Creation of a customs union is not the idea, explained Vladimir Semashko. Belarusian products will be exported to the European Union with the least hindrances.

    He also remarked that at present Belarus bears considerable financial losses due to its exclusion out of the generalized system of preferences in 2006. Starting 2010 Belarus will be able to regain its position in the system, said Vladimir Semashko.

    Belarus pushes for tighter UN-WTO cooperation for fighting protectionism

    From: BelTA
    A conference dedicated to the world financial and economic crisis and its consequences for the development process is taking place at the UN HQ in New York on June 24-26, BelTA learnt from representatives of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. The Belarusian delegation is led by Belarus’ Representative to the UN Andrei Dapkiunas.

    On June 26 the Belarusian delegation is supposed to make a speech mainly focused on the need to enhance the UN’s cooperation with the World Trade Organisation for the sake of fighting protectionism measures and other non-market competition methods, which deliver a particular bad impact on small and medium export-oriented countries during the crisis.

    As one of the promising ways to overcome the crisis the Republic of Belarus suggests a decisive transition of the international community towards healthier and more sustainable development, introduction of innovation-based manufacturing and energy-saving technologies, using new and renewable energy sources.

    The present UN-sponsored forum is meant to work out a set of measures, primarily meant to protect interests of developing countries and transition economy countries during the crisis. Held as part of the conference, discussions about practical renovation of the international monetary and financial systems, perfection of the operation of the multilateral trade system will also contribute to achieving the goal, stressed the source.

    Russia and Ukraine’s protectionist measures hamper Belarus’ foreign trade

    The protectionist policies applied by Russia and Ukraine hamper the development of Belarus’ foreign trade, First Vice-Premier of Belarus Vladimir Semashko said when speaking in the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.

    The problem is in the solvency of a customer, the First Vice-Premier said. The price factor has always played a certain role in trade. “The protectionist policies that have been introduced in the two neighboring countries, Russia and Ukraine, on the priority of purchasing indigenous equipment, play a crucial role here,” Vladimir Semashko.

    The export of Belarusian petrochemical industry has fallen amidst lower demand in the international market. This has affected the sale of chemical fibres. The demand for potassium chloride has decreased. As a result, in January-May the production of potash fertilizers made up only 40% as against the same period last year.

    Updated website to present Belarus via internet

    From: BelTA
    he updated version of the website will introduce Belarus via the internet, First Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Natalia Petkevich said at the presentation of the internet project on June 26.

    “It may sound odd, but the international community is not very familiar with Belarus and the Belarusians. After analyzing the internet resources, we realized that it was probably our fault. We should show the world who we really are, how beautiful our country is, what we do and how we do. This was the idea that underpinned the work on the updated version of the site,” Natalia Petkevich said.

    In the present day conditions all state agencies and organizations are aware of the need to run their own websites. A country needs such a website even more so. This project is not about politics, it is rather about the country in general, and it shows and tells visitors about Belarus.

    “May be the problem is that the image of our country is rather distorted due to individual domestic media outlets and internet resources which do not give a complete image of the country, but show some individual events paired with their biased comments. When we entered the word “Belarus” in the search area, we got an impression that Belarus is only associated with rallies, demonstrations and nothing good ever happens here,” Natalia Petkevich said.

    Mass media and the Web should act responsibly, after all they present their homeland, the country where they and their parents live, Natalia Petkevich said. Patriotism is not an ideological notion; it is a moral aspect of each person.

    According to her, the website will tell the international community about our country and will show the real Belarus. The project will be interesting for businesses and just anyone who would like to learn more about Belarus.

    Visitors flock to new website

    4,000 visitors of the renewed website have been registered within one day. The statistics was revealed at a presentation of the website by Igor Lutsky, Deputy Director General of Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA), on June 26. The data was gathered the previous day. The average number of visitors used to be 1,000 per day.

    According to Igor Lutsky, the website’s feedback solution works effectively. Proposals for adding links to websites and services have been made. Developers of the website say that website links can be placed on the official website of the country provided the linked website has a good English version.

  • Economics...

    BelOil to double diesel fuel export to Poland in 2009

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian Oil Company (BelOil) intends to double the export of diesel fuel to Poland in 2009, BelOil Deputy Director General Nikolai Vasilevich said as he presented the company at the National Exhibition of the Republic of Belarus in Warsaw on June 25.

    He noted that Euro-5 diesel fuel produced in Belarus is in great demand in Poland. Belarusian Oil Company also exports gas fuel to the Polish market. In 2008, the amount of diesel fuel supplied to Poland made up 111,000 tonnes. “In 2009 we plan to export over 200,000 tonnes,” Nikolai Vasilevich said.

    In his words, BelOil set up an office in Warsaw to facilitate the sales of the company’s products and establish direct contacts with Polish consumers.

    As the transportation cost of diesel fuel is rather high, a transshipment complex Bernady-Priluki is being constructed. From the Belarusian side the project is run by Belorusneft which has already completed preparation works. “I hope that this project will help pull down Euro-5 diesel fuel transportation cost to Poland,” Nikolai Vasilevich said. He added that the company consolidated the export of Belarusian oil products to increase it incrementally. In 2009, BelOil intends to export about 6.5 million tonnes of oil products.

    The Belarusian Oil Company was registered in the Republic of Belarus on May 17, 2007. The shareholders are Belorusneft, OAO Naftan, Mozyr Oil Refinery, and the Belarusian Oil Trading House. The Belarusian Oil Company was founded following the President’s instruction to optimise oil purchases and the export of petroleum products. The Belarusian Oil Company is supposed to specialise in bulk purchases of oil, oil processing at Belarusian oil refineries and exporting petroleum products. The Belarusian Oil Company held the first trading session in petroleum products using Belneftekhim’s e-trade system on June 29.

    Belarusbank continues IPO preparations

    Belarusbank continues IPO /Initial Public Offering/ preparations, Vladimir Novik, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Belarusbank, told a seminar during the Belarus National Exhibition in Warsaw.

    “We continue IPO preparations. We have become partners of the Warsaw Stock Exchange. I believe that the Warsaw Stock Exchange is a platform not only for our bank but for our big corporative clients,” Vladimir Novik noted.

    According to Vladimir Novik, Belarusbank jointly with the Warsaw Stock Exchange will be working with Belarusian companies for IPO to attract resources to the banking system and the national economy.

    The Warsaw Stock Exchange was founded in April 1991. At present it quotes 372 companies (347 Polish and 25 foreign ones). The foreign ones include companies from the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Ukraine, Slovakia, Czechia, the USA, Spain, and Estonia. The capitalisation of these companies now stands at PLN385 billion or roughly $110 billion.

    The stock exchange pursues an active policy of cooperation with European states, including the Republic of Belarus. In particular, on February 23, 2009 the Warsaw Stock Exchange signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange. The document is aimed at building a favourable investment climate and developing cooperation between financial markets of the two countries.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Gazprom says could cut gas supplies to Belarus over unpaid debts

    From: Ria Novosti
    Gazprom has sent Belarus a letter demanding it pay $244 million in gas debts, and warning that supplies could be cut if the sum is not cleared, the Russian energy giant's CEO said on Friday.

    "Belarus' debt totals $244 million, and we have sent a letter demanding that the debt be paid," Alexei Miller said.

    Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said Friday in parliament that his country would keep paying for Russian gas at the average annual price, and will start to repay the debt to Gazprom.

    The debt has arisen due to differences between contract and average prices, in the first quarter Belarus paid $210 per 1,000 cubic meters, but by the end of the year this figure should have dropped to under $100. In line with verbal agreements the price should average out at $150 per 1,000 cubic meters.

    "From August we will start repaying the debt and by November we should be paying in full the actual price," he said.

    Semashko said Belarusian gas company Beltransgaz on March 20 handed Gazprom an addendum to the contract stipulating that Belarus pay the average annual price. "But the addendum has not been signed yet," he said.

    He also said the Belarusian government expects Russian gas prices to reach $166 per 1,000 cubic meters on January 1, 2010 if oil prices remain around the $70 per barrel mark this year.

    Semashko said Belarus has failed to pump 2 billion cu m of gas into storage facilities in the first half of this year, but added that Gazprom is not expected to take any action against Belarus for this.

    "Incomplete gas samples are not a specific problem for Belarus. In the first quarter of this year the European Union failed to receive about 30% of the expected volume of Russian gas, and Ukraine 40%," he said.

    Belarus requests financial help from EU

    From: Guardian
    Ex-Soviet Belarus, which has been seeking improved relations with the West, has requested financial assistance from the European Union, its finance minister said on Wednesday.

    "We have made a request on this matter to EU structures and are waiting for a reaction," Andrei Kharkovets told reporters.

    "We believe that over the next 10 days we will have the first results of an examination of our request and a first reaction."
    Kharkovets did not say what sum authorities had requested from the 27-nation bloc but said the volume would be linked to credits provided by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

    In Brussels, Christiane Hohmann, spokeswoman for EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said: "I can confirm they sent a request for financial assistance to the EU yesterday and of course we will look at it very carefully and reply in due time."

    Hohmann declined to give details of the amount or of the purpose of the requested assistance.

    Ferrero-Waldner said during a visit to Minsk this week that the EU had reached a "milestone" in ties with Belarus and was ready to provide funds and other help if authorities pressed forward with moves to entrench democracy.

    Belarus has made several concessions to the West to shed its image there of a country infringing fundamental rights, last year releasing the last detainees deemed political prisoners.

    It undertook the process as ties became more tense with its longstanding ally Russia despite a nebulous treaty from the 1990s linking the two ex-Soviet states in a new "union state".

    Belarus's economy has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and its effects on the country's export markets.

    The IMF has agreed a $2.4 billion credit programme with Belarus and this month said it was ready to recommend increasing that sum by $1 billion to $3.4 billion. Belarussian officials hope the IMF board will endorse the increase at the end of June.

    The Fund this week endorsed a move by Belarus's central bank to broaden the corridor for the rate of the Belarussian rouble to a basket of currencies.
    Belarus has also received a credit of $1.5 billion from Russia.

    Radio Sweden To End Broadcasting In Belarusian

    From: RFE/RL
    Radio Sweden plans to stop broadcasting in Belarusian as of September 1, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

    According to a statement by Swedish National Radio's international channel, the decision to drop broadcasting in Belarusian was made because Russian remains the major language in Belarus and, therefore, broadcasting in Russian to that country is considered sufficient.

    Also, company representatives told RFE/RL that shortwave broadcasting is not effective.

    Dzmitry Plaks, the producer of Radio Sweden's Belarusian programming, said that the decision might have been prompted by the current thaw in relations between the European Union and Belarus.

    Plaks said the times have changed and other programs are needed for Belarus. Radio Sweden has been broadcasting in Belarusian since 2004.

  • From the Opposition...

    Syamashka: “Russians began to press on us”

    From: Charter '97
    Russia doesn’t agree to back purchases of Belarusian equipment and demands to pay for gas in full.

    Deputy prime minister of Belarus Uladzimir Syamashka told this today to the “house of representatives”.

    As concerns to the fact that Russia doesn’t agree to back purchases of Belarusian equipment on a parity basis, the official said:

    “Russia doesn’t agree with this; we can state now that there’s a ban on purchasing Belarusian equipment. Though Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, whom I respect, said all issues were solved and we could work at the Russian market,” Syamashka said.

    The first vice premier explained “a 15% preferential markup in favour of Russian manufacturers was lifted.” “It doesn’t cover Belarusian goods today, while it is applied for goods of other countries,” Syamashka said. “Restrictions seem to have been lifted, but it concerns purchases on a common basis,” he noted.

    Syamashka added that “according to the data of the last year and this year, 85–90% of automobile, tractor, and agricultural equipment are bought by Russians who use grants of the federal budget given by Rosselkhozbank. “This is 2/3 of the bank rate. That’s why they try to buy Russian equipment first,” the first vice premier said.

    “We want to work on a parity basis. You back the Russian and Belarusian equipment in Russia, we back the Russian and Belarusian equipment here,” the first vice premier noted. He added: “Our proposals haven’t been heard yet.”

    A hike in gas price was very painful for the Belarusian economy

    First vice premier Uladzimir Syamashka said Belarus would pay the $234.1-million debt to Gazprom, caused by a difference between the contracted and annual average prices since August to November 2009.

    “They are trying to press on us, a debt to Gazprom was $234.1 million on June 1. We’ll begin to pay it from August and we’ll pay the full price in November,” Syamashka told. He emphasized Belarus would pay the annual average price for the whole period.

    Syamashka stated a supplement to the contract with Gazprom, allowing Belarus to pay the annual average price, wasn’t signed. He said “on March 20, Beltransgaz handed in the appropriate contract supplement to Gazprom’s deputy chairman Valery Golubev.” According to Syamashka, the suppelemt was proposed by Belarus after a verbal arrangement between the presidents of Belarus and Russia had been reached on March 19. The sides arranged that Belarus would pay the annual average price in 2009.

    “On March 19, the presidents of Russia and Belarus agreed on this in Zavidovo. The number of participants of the talks was small – three experts from the each side were present besides the presidents. Our position was that the hike in price from 127 dollars to 210 dollars in the first quarter of 2009 was very painful for us. We had a little dispute, we said the annual average price was 148 dollars, the Russian side insisted it was 150 dollars, but than we came to terms,” Syamashka said.

    He reminded that Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin on May 28 in Minsk confirmed that Russia agreed that Belarus would pay the annual average price.

    Commenting on the expected terms of paying the debt to Gazprom taking into account paying the annual average price by Belarus, Syamashka told that they are defined on a basis that the contracted Russian gas price for Belarus was $210.32 per 100 cubic meters in the first quarter of the year, since April 1 the price was $157.74 per 1000 cubic meter, the price is expected to amount to $115 per 1000 cubic meters on July 1. Syamashka noted that the decrease in the contracted price can be explained by pricing formula, pegged to the oil market prices. As oil costs have become to decrease since the middle of 2008, gas price for Belarus is dropping this year due to a time lag in pricing.

    Ales Bialiatski: PACE’s requirements are an additional stimulus for Viasna’s members to continue their activities

    From: Viasna
    In its recent resolution on the situation in Belarus, PACE called upon the Belarusian authorities to allow registration to the Nasha Viasna human rights organization, which is one of the essential conditions for the country to meet the Council of Europe standards.

    According to Ales Bialiatski, the requirement is an additional stimulus for Viana’s members to continue their activities.

    ‘PACE’s concern over the situation regarding freedom of association in Belarus is a crucial point. It is another evidence of the high human rights standards in the Council of Europe.

    If the Belarusian authorities are thinking about restoring and improving Belarus’ status in the CE, they have to fundamentally reform the situation regarding the registration of NGOs, since the situation in this field is far from being perfect.

    Any other CIS country, e.g. Armenia, has 10 times more registered NGOs per capita than Belarus. I think that these figures speak for themselves,’ said Mr.Bialiatski.

  • Around the Region...

    Mediator says Russian WTO bid likely slowed by new strategy to join with Belarus, Kazakhstan

    From: LA Times
    Russia's troubled bid to join the World Trade Organization could be set back further by its decision to file a common application with neighbors Kazakhstan and Belarus, a key mediator said Thursday.

    Icelandic diplomat Stefan Johannesson said Moscow's new strategy may be deemed illegal by WTO member states, since the proposed customs union would need to be able to act on behalf of all three nations. Russia has tried on its own for the last 15 years to end its isolation as the largest nation outside the global commerce body.

    "It's the member states that have the final say if they consider this feasible under WTO rules or not," Johannesson said in a telephone interview from Brussels, where he serves as Iceland's ambassador to the EU. He also has steered Russia's WTO accession talks.

    "There are a lot of questions," he said, adding that none of the three ex-Soviet republics have officially proposed the idea to the trade body.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the strategy earlier this month, but offered little explanation for why the Kremlin wanted the three nations to join as a single economic bloc. Some analysts saw it as a signal Russia was sacrificing its frustratingly slow WTO bid to boost relations with its closest neighbors.

    The move is unprecedented in the history of the WTO, or its predecessor, the 1948 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. The European Union is a WTO member alongside all its 27 member states. Non-countries such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau have joined, but no group of sovereign nations has sought to break in together.

    Johannesson said the three countries were peppered with questions from members such as the EU at an informal meeting in Geneva last week. They were asked if their painstakingly negotiated bilateral agreements with dozens of countries would now have to be reworked, and if years of multilateral talks on final accession treaties would now need to be restarted from scratch.

    "This could delay the process," said Johannesson, without giving any firm timeline for Russia's current or previous path. "This is obviously a complex legal issue. We still need to see what this means. The members will have to approve a new working group. They have to appoint a new chairman. This obviously takes time."

    Even under its previous path, Russia was believed to be years away from satisfying the demands of each of the trade body's 153 members as is required to join. A number of trade and political issues stand in its way, including disagreements over state monopolies such as OAO Gazprom and tense relations with neighbor and WTO member Georgia.

    Georgia has been demanding for years that Russia stop trading with its two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and that all goods pass through checkpoints run by the central government. Last year's war and Moscow's subsequent recognition of the two regions as independent nations soured relations further, and Georgia has vetoed any formal negotiations at the WTO to spur Russia's entry.

    Washington and Brussels had been trying to persuade Russia to agree on subsidy restrictions for plane maker Tupolev. The U.S. and the EU are already embroiled in their own dispute over payments to rival airplane manufacturers Boeing Co. and Airbus.

    U.S. legislation demands that WTO members make their companies operate in a commercial manner. That would force Gazprom to reform its pricing policies for fuel, which is sold far below global prices in Russia but at much higher rates in Europe.

    Other old sticking points that have never been fully resolved concern Russian farm subsidies and enforcement of intellectual property rights.

    Analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev said Russia's new strategy was a grab for union members who have little to gain from the WTO. Putin has "linked up with two countries whose economies are even more centralized than Russia's," he wrote in a commentary published in the Moscow Times.

    In another editorial, the business daily Vedomosti said the Kremlin's slowing of acceptance into the WTO was "a blow to the Russian government" and "a powerful signal that the word of the Russian government means nothing."

    Johannesson said he would join his counterparts steering the old talks on Belarus' and Kazakhstan's bids in a meeting with the three countries soon.

    "If they decide to go back to the individual approaches, we can pick up where we left off," Johannesson said. "That process is suspended — not terminated."

    Nato resumes Russia military ties

    From: BBC
    Russia and Nato have agreed to resume co-operation on security issues, after nearly a year of difficult relations.

    The deal came at a meeting in Greece of foreign ministers from the two sides.

    Ties deteriorated sharply in 2008 after Russia's brief conflict with Georgia. Nato chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said differences over the issue remained.

    But he said Nato and Russia would nonetheless resume co-operation on issues such as Afghanistan, drug trafficking and piracy.

    "We have restarted our relations at a political level, we also agreed to restart the military-to-military contacts which had been frozen since last August," the Nato secretary-general told a news conference in Corfu.

    Fundamental differences still remained on Georgia, he said, but the two sides agreed "not to let disagreements bring the whole train to a halt".

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the agreement "to a certain extent a positive development".

    But he said Nato had to accept Russia's recognition of the independence of Georgia's separatist regions.

    "All have to accept the new realities and [that] the decisions taken by Russia after the conflict are irreversible," he said.

    Russia and Georgia fought a short war in August 2008. Georgia tried to retake its breakaway region of South Ossetia by force after a series of lower-level clashes with Russian-backed rebels.

    Russia launched a counter-attack and the Georgian troops were ejected from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second breakaway region, days later.

    Moscow has backed both regions' declarations of independence.

    World Bank cuts Russia GDP forecast to -7.9 pct in 2009

    From: Reuters
    The Russian economy will shrink by 7.9 percent in 2009 despite a recent rise in commodity prices, the World Bank said on Wednesday, a much sharper contraction than the 4.5 percent it forecast earlier.

    Russia's economy contracted by 10.2 percent in January-May 2009, according to Economy Ministry estimates, and First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov told Reuters on Tuesday the annual contraction may reach 9 percent. [ID:LN305314]

    "Given a much larger gross domestic product contraction in the first quarter of 2009 than anticipated, Russia's economy is likely to contract by 7.9 percent in 2009, despite higher oil prices assumed in the current forecast," the World Bank said in its quarterly country report.

    Russia, the world's largest energy producer, has been hit hard by the plunge in global demand for commodities, while its banks and many businesses that had borrowed heavily abroad have been squeezed by the global credit crunch.

    The World Bank's lead economist for Russia Zeljko Bogetic told a news conference there was a "natural lag" before the recent upturn in commodity prices would have an impact on Russian growth, "provided that it holds, of course, which is not entirely clear."

    The World Bank forecast Russia's jobless rate to rise to 13 percent by the end of this year, from its 9.9 percent May level, and said single factory towns will be the hardest hit by rising unemployment and wage arrears.

    "Some stabilisation (in the jobless rate) is related to seasonal factors and job shedding is not over," Bogetic said.

    The World Bank projected Russia would return to moderate growth of 2.5 percent in 2010 and 3.5 percent in both 2011 and 2012 in a "gradual and prolonged" recovery.

    "The speed of the subsequent recovery in Russia will to a great extent depend on the revival of global demand and the global financial system," the report said, adding that Russia will reach pre-crisis growth rates only at the end of the third quarter of 2012.

    High oil prices may keep Russia's fiscal deficit lower than initially forecast but the report noted spending risks linked to recapitalising the banking sector and extra social costs.

    The report saw the fiscal deficit at 7.2 percent this year, and at 6.0 percent in 2010. The World Bank based its forecasts on average Russian Urals crude prices URL-E URL-NWE-E of between $56 per barrel this year and $63 per barrel in 2010.

    Bogetic said Russia needed to reduce the amount of aid going to people who do not really need it, and boost the budget's revenue base through raising liquor and tobacco excise duties.

    The World Bank said a delay in Russia's accession to the World Trade Organisation caused by a decision to form a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan could undermine benefits from a rules based trading regime.

    The report said lower inflation has created room for more official interest rate cuts, which should help investment in the second half of 2009. But it also warned that overvaluation of the rouble could hurt the recovery.

    It expects inflation to reach 11-13 percent this year. The nation's current account surplus is forecast at $32 billion in 2009 and $36 billion in 2010.

    The World Bank said capital outflows will total $60 billion this year and decline to $30 billion in 2010.

    Non-performing loans could reach 10 percent of the total in banks' portfolios, the report said, adding that consolidation in the sector should be accelerated.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland losing war on drugs

    From: Polskie Radio
    June 26 is International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, writes Gazeta Wyborcza.

    In Poland the war with drugs is in fact a battle with people. In the fight against addiction, Poland is some 30 years behind the west, with this country’s restrictive regulations and moral condemnation of addicts. The daily quotes experts who say that there is lack of adequate attitudes, help centers, information and education.

    An addict only makes the headlines when his or her children die after swallowing ecstasy pills, writes Gazeta. Prisons are full of more or less addicted people whilst there are no dealers there and substitute treatment is still considered evil, while data shows that this kind of therapy has helped many addicted people.

    Gazeta Wyborcza publishes an appeal to start treating addicts as sick people and not debased, immoral criminals. Addiction does not only mean drugs, it embraces alcohol, cigarettes, painkillers or tranquilizers. These people need help not condemnation writes the daily.

    One in four Polish Master’s thesis plagiarised

    From: The New.PL
    The number of students who buy ready-made Master’s, Bachelor’s and Doctoral theses in Poland is growing.

    “At least 25 percent of Master’s theses in Poland are plagiarized,” estimates Sebastian Kawczynski from, a company that produces anti-plagiarism software.

    The growing number of internet shops which sell ready-made degree theses proves that the demand for them is high. A Bachelor’s thesis, 50-60 pages long, can be completed in three weeks, a Master’s thesis, 80-100 pages long, in a month and a Doctoral thesis, 500 pages long, in half a year.

    The price varies from 19 to 30 zlotys (4-7 euros) per page, depending on how difficult the subject is. Therefore, an average Bachelor’s thesis costs about 1,000 zlotys (220 euros), Master’s thesis – 1,500 zlotys (330 euros) and Doctoral thesis – 10-15,000 zlotys (2-3,000 euros). However, cheaper degree theses can also be found via internet.

    Internet shops which sell degree theses in order to look credible make a reservation that dissertations they offer are not ready products but samples. Some of the shops, apart from selling dissertations, also buy them. The average prize for a Master’s thesis 60-80 pages long is 300 zlotys (66 euros).

    Degree theses on demand are usually written by students who studied at two or more faculties, have a lot of interests but no job. Also free-lance professionals, such as journalists, or retired people who want to earn extra money become authors of degree theses.

    For some people writing dissertations on demand is the only source of income and they earn up to 3,000 zlotys (660 euros) a month. Internet shops which specialize in writing Master’s, Bachelor’s and Doctoral theses, and employ the whole teams of “experts” are also thriving.

    Kiosk clerk fined for not issuing a receipt for photocopy

    From: WBJ
    A kiosk clerk has been fined for not providing an invoice for a photocopy she made.

    Ewa Stokowska told TVN24 that a man asked her to photocopy a student card. She took the money, but her boss had asked her not to issue a receipt since they had only had the machine a short time and did not know what code such a transaction should be filed under. They planned to issue a receipt for the copies at the end of the day.

    The man returned a few minutes later and announced he was from the tax office and fined the woman zl.120. Stokowska refused to pay and was fined zl.500 by a ?ód? court.

    The 22 percent VAT on the service would have amounted to zl.0.05.

  • Sport...

    Belarusian rider Stagurskaya dies in road accident

    From: AP
    Former road race world champion Zinaida Stagurskaya has been killed after being hit by a car while training in her native Belarus.

    Police say the 38-year-old cyclist was killed when an oncoming car crossed the center line on the Vitebsk-Gomel highway in eastern Belarus on Thursday.

    The driver of the car was hospitalized.

    Police say Stagurskaya was riding behind the car of her trainer, who was able to avoid the oncoming car.

    Sports Minister Alexander Grigorov described Stagurskaya on Friday as "one of the brightest stars of Belarusian cycling and the country's best representative in road races."

    Stagurskaya was world champion in 2000. She had recently lived in Italy and only arrived in Belarus last week.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus President: restrictions imposed by Russia make Belarus diversify into West

    From: BelTA
    The restrictions which Russia imposes on its market for Belarus makes us look for the ways to diversify into the Western countries, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with Governor of the Rostov oblast Vladimir Chub on June 25.

    “Every new year we put effort to diversify our trade. We gradually move away from Russia. Why does it happen? Because Russia has been building pressure upon us, trying to force out from its market,” the President said.

    “Our trade with the European Union today is similar to that with Russia. How can I disregard tens of billions of dollars when it is our trade, our life? Why should we look at the Europeans over the fence?” Alexander Lukashenko said. According to the Belarusian leader, Russian relations with the Western organisations are vibrant. Alexander Lukashenko has reminded that there are Russia-EU and Russia-NATO councils. “We consider it as normal; we do not tell Russia that it acts not for the benefit of Belarus. Why cannot we have similar relations with the West?” the Belarusian leader asked.

    “We are the one nation, we have nothing to share. Belarus in no way can harm the economy of Russia. It is obvious,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President said that the Russian ill-conceived economic policy has been forcing Belarus to find other markets. “We will destroy our Union State relations if we lose the trade and economic foundation we have,” the head of state concluded.