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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lukashenko Alone at the Top, Pripyat Polesie development, Oil talks, EU export, Customs Union; Opposition, News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #479

    Belarus President to hold session on Pripyat Polesie development

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko will hold a session to discuss the draft state program for the social and economic development and integrated natural resources management of Pripyat Polesie in 2009-2015, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The major developers of the program are the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB), the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, the Economy Ministry and other bodies.

    The document is aimed to maintain the sustained social and economic development of Pripyat Polesie through the integrated natural resources management, increase in exports and investments, sustainable reproduction of natural resources and creating good living conditions.

    Belarus’ 2009-2015 Polesie development program wanted soon

    The draft document was discussed at the President-chaired government session on 15 January. The session involved members of the cabinet, representatives of the Belarus President Administration, governors of the Brest and Gomel oblasts, and bank executives.

    According to the head of state, the huge untapped potential of Polesie should be used in full. The instruction to put together the program for integrated use of the area’s resources was given back in September 2008. The measures the document outlines involve seven regions of the Brest and Gomel oblasts, which are adjacent to the Pripyat River.

    The Pripyat Polesie is as large as 1,825,300 hectares. It is home to 568,400 people.

    The territory is rich in mineral resources like brown coal, slate coal, peat and bottom ooze, sodium chloride and potassium salts, mineral and thermal water, and various types of construction materials. The area represents a huge potential that has not been properly used so far.

    According to the President, these and other natural resources must be used for the country’s benefit, satisfying demands of domestic and foreign markets, substituting more and more imported raw materials. They should be used as the basis for reducing the prime cost of Belarus-made goods, thus raising their competitive ability.

    The unique ecological system with Europe’s largest forest and swamp complex and the bottomland of the Pripyat River provides outstanding opportunities for promoting various kinds of tourism and recreation. The Belarusian head of state believes the profits can no longer be “lost due to our sluggishness”.

    Alexander Lukashenko also pointed out that local residents should be given jobs. They should be better and more effectively occupied across the region.

    The President pointed out that the development of the government program is somewhat delayed because it outlines measures to be used between 2009 and 2015 while the 2010 budget has been adopted.

    The President, however, criticized the general idea of the program development. “It seems that the project team was heavily bent on making as many costly projects as possible part of the program, sometimes borrowing them from the programs already in place,” said the President. The President urged the developers to include projects directly concerning the Polesie area, projects other programs have not touched upon.

    The President also criticized the exceedingly expensive funding the program suggests. He advised a down-to-earth approach to appropriating the funds as local authorities will be the ones to allocate the bulk of the needed financing. “Start planning with what every resident, every company, every industrial enterprise, every town should do. And the government will chip in. The program should be plain and understandable,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    According to the head of state, at present Polesie fails to provide benefits for the country. The situation should be turned round to make these vast areas earn money.

    As 2010 has been declared the National Year of Quality, quality cannot go amiss. “If we build something, it should be head and shoulders above what we have now quality-wise,” said the head of state.

    Presenting the draft program, Belarus Vice Premier Ivan Bambiza said that it lays down measures to develop three priority areas – agriculture, industry, and tourism.

    The program will give a boost to Polesie development through more effective use of its natural resources and through the latest technologies. In addition, by 2015 the flood land area will be increased as well as the number of cattle, the gross yield of cereals and leguminous crops, peat extraction (over 50% up), output of bottom ooze products (over 200% up).

    A lot will be done to make tourists flock to the area. There are plans to build rural tourism estates, folk crafts centers, folk lore centers, ethnographic attractions. The volume of for-fee tourism services will be increased, new hiking tours will be offered.

    By 2015 the tourism development measures will increase Polesie’s cash flow up to Br8.5 billion through increasing the number of tourists it welcomes up to 120,000 people.

    According to Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus (NBRB) Piotr Prokopovich, the Polesie population is dwindling. New jobs and proper living standards are needed to reverse the tendency.

    The NBRB CEO believes the government may not cover all the expenses. Creating the proper conditions to attract investments into the area is the key. The NBRB pledged to offer preferential interest rates for Polesie development projects.

    According to Piotr Prokopovich, the government will still have to finance amelioration and the social sphere and the state budget will be able to come up with the money.

    According to Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky, exploring Polesie’s natural resources is the most complicated part of the program. Although Belarus expects investors to participate in mining projects, the country will have to accomplish the projects on its own if no investors turn up.

    At the government session Gomel Oblast Governor Alexander Yakobson suggested building a railroad from Stolin to Mozyr in Polesie’s lower part along the Belarusian-Ukrainian border. The railroad would be useful for delivering Polesie’s natural resources and would liven up the area.

    The Governor assured Alexander Lukashenko that the Gomel Oblast is on top of land amelioration projects and will get down to using bottomlands this year. Alexander Yakobson is convinced the program has economic, ecological and historical value.

    Alexander Lukashenko backed the railroad construction project and instructed the Prime Minister to prepare the necessary design studies. The railroad should hug the deposits of natural resources and should be well-linked with automobile roads.

    Ending the cabinet session, Alexander Lukashenko stressed that the 2009-2015 Polesie development program must be drafted as soon as possible. “Polish the program. It should contain no superfluities,” said the President. Alexander Lukashenko insisted that every rouble must be assigned to a specific project to avoid wasting state funds.

    Alexander Lukashenko stressed that apart from the social and economic value the project has image value that will enable Belarus to make a statement before the international community. He added that Polesie is Europe’s pearl of a place when one can enjoy recreation and improve one’s health.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Information on Belarus’ new position at oil talks not true

    From: BelTA
    Reports in some mass media outlets that Belarus has changed its position at the talks with Russia over oil supply terms are not true, spokesman for the Belarusian Prime Minister Alexander Timoshenko told BelTA.

    “The information that ‘Belarus will not insist on inter-budget distribution of export duties if Russia increases the oil supply quotas for Belarus’ domestic use from the 6 million tonnes it currently proposes to 8-9 million tonnes’ is not true,” Alexander Timoshenko said.

    The Belarusian position was stated in a letter from Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko to President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, and has nothing to do with the position voiced by some source in the government bodies, he added.

    BelTA informed earlier, Alexander Lukashenko sent a letter to his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev stating the Belarusian position on oil supply. Late last year Belarus and Russia started negotiations on oil supply terms but failed to come to any compromise solution. Yet, on 10 December 2009, in the course of a session of the Supreme Sate Council of the Belarus-Russia Union State, the presidents of the two countries reached an agreement that Belarus would receive oil deliveries duty free during the first two to three months of 2010, giving the two countries enough time to negotiate the terms of future oil deliveries for 2010. But the Russian Federation virtually scrapped the agreement later on and put forward the terms Belarus cannot accept.

    Belarus, Russia make progress in negotiations over transit of electricity

    Belarus and Russia have made progress in the talks over Russian electricity supply to Belarus and its transit through the Belarusian territory to the Kaliningrad oblast and Baltic states, BelTA learnt from spokeswoman for the Energy Ministry of Belarus Liudmila Zenkovich.

    The Belarusian side is satisfied with the talks that took place in Moscow on 14-15 January between Belenergo and Inter RAO UES. “The negotiating positions of the two sides have been brought closer. The negotiating process will continue,” the spokeswoman noted.

    As BelTA informed earlier, a round of the talks with the Belarusian side is scheduled for 19 January.

    Inter RAO UES and Belenergo have long-term interdependent contracts on supply and transit of electrical energy via the networks of Belarus’ energy system. In accordance with these contracts, in 2010 Inter RAO UES intends to deliver 3 billion kWh of electrical energy to Belarus in compliance with the Union State balance and up to 2.5 billion kWh of electrical energy on the principles of commercial advisability.

    This year the Russian side plans to transit electrical energy through Belarus to Kaliningrad and Baltic states. In 2009 the Baltic states were supplied with 1.1 billion kWh of electrical energy.

    Belarus hopes for better EU export terms

    From: BelTA
    Belarus hopes the terms of export to the European Union will improve, said Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky as he met with Poland Vice Premier, Economy Minister Waldemar Pawlak on 14 January.

    “We hope that the European Union will make a move towards Belarusian export in 2010,” said the Premier.

    While the European Union’s overall customs tariffs average close to 5%, for Belarusian export they are as large as 17-80%, remarked Sergei Sidorsky. These tariffs are imposed on trucks, special vehicles and high-tech products. According to the Belarusian head of government, these aspects were discussed in a private meeting with Waldemar Pawlak on 14 January.

    The Prime Minister reminded that in 2008-2009 Belarus and Poland had to regulate the operation of Polish farmers on the Belarusian market and the export of Belarusian agricultural products to Europe. Thus, the duty on Belarusian meat exports stands at 90%. Apart from that, Belarus is the only country on which textile exports the European Union puts quotas.

    “I see it not only as a certain barrier in the way of free exports but also as a barrier for attracting investments to Belarus,” said Sergei Sidorsky. All the things necessitate regular meetings for discussing business promotion of the two countries.

    UN Under-Secretary-General to visit Belarus

    From: BelTA
    UN Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Management Muhammad Shaaban is expected to visit Minsk on 17-19 January, the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told BelTA.

    While in Minsk Muhammad Shaaban is expected to sign a memorandum on cooperation between the Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU) and the UN Secretariat. Muhammad Shaaban is also supposed to meet with MSLU administrators and professors, get familiar with the curriculum and technical capabilities of the university.

    Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov is expected to meet with Muhammad Shaaban. The parties will analyze prospects of the UN Secretariat employing Belarusian specialists. The two sides will also talk over further expansion of Belarus’ cooperation with the UN in the areas Muhammad Shaaban is in charge of.

    Belarus’ Customs works hard on transition to Customs Union rules

    From: BelTA
    To become an authorized economic operator in the Customs Union, a market participant has to pledge €1 million as a guarantee of the payment of customs duties and taxes. The information was released by Chairman of the State Customs Committee of Belarus (SCC) Alexander Shpilevsky at a session of the community board that involved representatives of the Committee, heads of industrial and transport enterprises, public associations of businessmen.

    The norm is laid down by the Customs Code of the Customs Union. Alexander Shpilevsky remarked that the approach had been approved after Russia and Kazakhstan insisted on it. Belarus will get a transition period for the relevant parts of the Code to come into force.

    The official reminded that the Customs Union is formed step by step. As from 1 January 2010 the sides introduced unified customs duties and a unified list of commodities which are subject to restrictions and bans. The Customs Union’s Customs Code will come into force on 1 July 2010, with the customs control shifted to the external border of the Customs Union. In view of it Belarus’ Customs is making preparations, including measures to enhance the law enforcement unit of the State Customs Committee.

    In the Year of Quality Belarus’ Customs intends to step up collaboration with the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in order to promote digital declarations. In addition, the number of inspection units at border checkpoints will be increased and the customs infrastructure will be developed.

    Belarus’ Customs also focuses efforts on preparations for introducing mandatory preliminary electronic declaration of exports to the European Union as from 1 January 2011. In 2009 the customs services of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Ukraine and Russia backed up Belarus’ initiative on the sharing of preliminary information about exports and imports that cross the European Union border.

    At the session of the community board it was noted that if now the information contained in statistical declarations can be requested from tax bodies, in the future statistical declarations may be scrapped from Belarus-Russia trade.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarus State Dance Company to tour in Turkey

    From: BelTA
    The Belarus State Dance Company under the direction of Valentin Dudkevich will be on tour in Turkey for the first time. The dance company will present its performances in Turkey on 15-17 January, BelTA learnt from Snezhana Timchik, the art director assistant of the State Dance Company.

    The Belarusian dance company will present programme “From Belarus with Love” on the stage of the TIM Maslak Show Center of Istanbul. The TIM Maslak Show Center was opened in November 2005. It includes two theater rooms, five cinema rooms, five conference rooms, a restaurant and several stores.

    The Belarus State Dance Company will give three concerts on the stage of the Great Hall of the TIM Maslak Show Center. The concert programmes includes not only traditional Belarusian folk dance performances but modern shows as well.

    It is the first time the Belarus State Dance Company will be on tour in Turkey. Company’s show will not only get familiar the Turkish audience with the Belarusian culture but strengthen the international artistic ties between the two countries.

    Belarus’ first digital cinema opens in Minsk 12 January

    Belarus’ first digital cinema Kiev opened in Minsk on 12 January, BelTA learned from Vasily Koktysh, Director General of the movie distribution company Kinovideoprokat.

    James Cameron’s Avatar was on on the first night at the cinema. James Cameron has been working on it for 14 years waiting for the technology to become able to materialize his ideas.

    The company spent around Br900 million on buying the equipment. The digital cinema project was supplied by the German company Kinoton. The three-dimensional projecting technology Dolby 3D was implemented using USA equipment. The digital cinema solution was integrated by the Belarusian company Art Ramos Studio.

    Apart from getting the new equipment the cinema has been largely renovated.

    The assimilation of the latest technologies in Minsk cinemas is part of the program designed to develop the Minsk cinema network in 2008-2012. The Minsk cinema distribution industry has plans to modernize and overhaul about a dozen cinemas by 2012. Worth almost Br70 billion, the program will improve the operation of Minsk cinemas and will make them no longer reliant on state budget funding.

  • Economics...

    Belarus aims for WB Top 30 with high customs performance index

    From: BelTA
    Belarus aims to join the top thirty countries with high customs performance index according to the World Bank Logistics Development Index report, Chairman of the State Customs Committee (SCC) of Belarus Alexander Shpilevsky told media on 14 January.

    Belarus is currently ranked 50th. Just to compare: Ukraine is the 96th, Poland - 38th, Latvia – 58th, Lithuania – 52nd and Russia – 136th.

    Alexander Shpilevsky took note of the efficient work of the customs service in 2009. “Some important events took place which influenced the country’s further development. This is, first of all, the signing of the agreements on the Customs Union formation and on the introduction on the Customs Code of the Customs Union and adoption of the unified customs tariffs,” he said.

    According to the SCC Chairman, the year of 2009 was a breakthrough in electronic technologies for the Belarusian Customs, in particular, the introduction of e-declaring. The level of e-declaring in the foreign trade of Belarus has reached 85%. New e-declaration regimes are to be introduced in 2010.

    Belarus’ broad money supply 25.9% up in 2009

    In 2009 Belarus’ broad money supply went up by 25.9% to total Br39 trillion, BelTA learnt from the Information Office of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus. The broad money supply grew by 8.2% in December 2009 alone.

    Last year the cash in circulation shrank by 4.9% to Br3647 billion. The cash in circulation accounted for 9.4% of the broad money supply.

    As of 1 January 2010, transferable deposits of corporations and individuals amounted to Br8574.1 billion, 24.6% up. Other Belarusian ruble deposits of individuals and corporations shrank by 2.9% to a total of Br8849.5 billion.

    Belarusian ruble investments in bank securities reduced by 22.7% to make up Br545.5 billion.

    By 1 January 2010 the volume of foreign currency deposits reached Br16214.1 billion, 58.9% up since early 2009.

    The volume of foreign currency bank securities expanded by 5.4% to a total of Br1149 billion.

    Retail sales in Belarus up 3% in 2009

    Retail sales in Belarus rose 3% over 2008 to Br55.9 trillion, Artur Karpovich, chief of the trade and services department of the Trade Ministry of Belarus, told a press conference.
    In December sales advanced 4.7%. Regionally, the biggest contributors to the increase were the Minsk oblast (6.3%) and Grodno oblast (3.1%).

    In 2010 retail sales are projected to increase by 14-15%, added Artur Karpovich.

    Projections for new jobs for 2010 revised upward

    Considering the importance of the employment growth target, the government has revised upward the job growth projections from 165,000 to 175,300. The national government bodies are expected to create 7,215 working places, Minister of Labor and Social Security Marianna Shchetkina said at a session of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers which focused on the draft action plan for 2010 to implement the state employment assistance program of the Republic of Belarus for 2009-2010.

    In accordance with the services industry development programme for 2006-2010, some 21,100 new jobs will be created in 2006-2010. The target for the Trade Ministry has been revised upward by almost 50%, for the Belcoopsoyuz by 1,5 times.

    The new jobs projections in small towns have been increased to 25,500. Some 17,500 new jobs are expected to be set up in rural areas, up 45% from 2009. The targets for new jobs are very ambitious, Marianna Shchetkina stressed.

    In her words, by 1 February 2010 the town and regional executive committees are to report on the progress in implementing the targets set before them this year. A part of indicators including new jobs and manufactures is set by the local executive committees.

    The Labor and Social Security Minister added that the new jobs projections are in keeping with the innovation and investment, rural and small towns development programs.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Lukoil: Oil Flowing To Belarus As Normal

    From: WSJ
    Oil shipments from Russian producer OAO Lukoil Holdings (LKOH.RS) to Belarus are flowing as normal despite a disagreement over pricing between the two countries, the company said Thursday.

    "Until now, we are shipping oil to Belarus as usual," a Lukoil spokesman said, adding the company has seen no disruptions of either supplies to Belarussian refineries or transit through the country's pipeline system to European refineries.

    He said Lukoil is awaiting the outcome of official negotiations between Moscow and Minsk.

    "What will happen tomorrow, I don't know," the spokesman said.

    Russia began curbing supplies through the pipeline to Belarus' domestic market after a pricing deal between the two countries expired Dec. 31.

    Transneft Warns of Belarus Oil Cuts

    From: Moscow Times
    State-owned Transneft said Wednesday that it might cut some oil supplies to Belarus as early as the weekend, amid stalled negotiations on tariffs and fears that Minsk may cut electricity to the Kaliningrad region.

    “There are practically no more confirmed orders from the Mozyr refinery. Therefore, if the situation doesn’t change today and there are no more orders, then there will be nothing to pump by the end of the week,” Igor Demin, a spokesman for Transneft, told Interfax.

    The Naftan refinery, however, has enough confirmed orders to continue supplies until the end of next week.

    Moscow and Minsk are fighting over duties on imported oil that Belarus re-exports to Europe — a key source of revenue for the country’s economy. Minsk is at risk of losing $3 billion to $4 billion if Russia prevails, according to estimates by Yaroslav Romanchuk, head of the Belarussian Scientific Research Mises Center, a think tank.

    Russia wants to charge Belarus the full export duty after providing a 36 percent discount last year. Under a proposal made by Moscow, the duty would affect crude that Belarussian refineries handle for re-export, while Moscow would drop the duty for 6.3 million metric tons of crude that Belarus needs for domestic consumption — a $1.8 billion windfall at the current rate.

    Belarus, however, is demanding that all of the crude it imports be duty-free, citing a customs union that the two countries, along with Kazakhstan, entered into Jan. 1. Russia has said the union will only regulate the energy trade starting July 1.

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko sent a letter Wednesday to President Dmitry Medvedev detailing his position, his press service said, Interfax reported.

    A source close to Belarussian oil refineries told the news agency that they are now refraining from signing new purchase contracts because they are waiting for an official agreement to be signed on the government level.

    Bilateral talks held in Moscow came to a close Saturday without any agreement, and no further high-profile talks have been announced so far.

    A total of 4.5 million metric tons of oil were scheduled to be supplied to Belarus in the first quarter of 2010, and Transneft did not say whether the schedule would be met or how much oil had been pumped so far. Last year, Moscow allowed Minsk to import 20 million metric tons of oil, of which 14.5 million metric tons Minsk re-exported to Europe.

    “This is a bilateral dispute between Russia and Belarus. The European Commission expects all sides to honor the commitments both in terms of transit and oil supplies to European citizens,” said Mark Gray, a spokesman for the European Commission.

    The European Union receives about 10 percent of its oil via the Druzhba pipeline, which crosses Belarus.

    Germany relies on Russian crude for 15 percent of its needs, while Poland buys from Russia to fill 75 percent of its market, Andrew Neff, an analyst at IHS Global Insight in Washington, said in a note last week.

    Belarus has threatened to limit electricity supplies to the Kaliningrad region, but regional Infrastructure Minister Alexander Rolbinov said Wednesday that the country would not go as far as limiting electricity supplies.

    “The electricity system is not a water tap or some kind of a tube that can be cut or plugged,” he said. “If somebody tries to reduce the supplies, they will have to limit themselves, too. It is unlikely to be done.”

    State electricity trade Inter RAO has been in talks with Minsk on new electricity transit rates since Tuesday, and the negotiations are due to conclude over the weekend.

    Georgia's President thanks Belarus deputy PM for firmness in non-recognition of separatists

    From: Trend
    Mikheil Saakashvili
    Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili expressed gratitude to Belarus for firmness in non-recognition of Georgia's separatist regions, he said today during a meeting with Belarus deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov.

    "We highly appreciate Belarus's policy towards Georgia and that most part of your country's deputation support Georgia's territorial integrity. Belarus does not recognize separatist regions despite pressure," Saakashvili said.

    He stressed that Georgia respects Minsk's position and highly appreciates it. "Your country's position deserves respect of Georgia's population. We want to strengthen our relations in future," the President said.

    Belarus to increase agricultural products output by 10-11%

    From: Agrimarket
    In 2010, Belarus plans to increase agricultural products output in agricultural economies of all varieties by 10-11% compared to 2009, declared the Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Production volumes of plant growing commodities will increase by 11%.

    According to estimations of the Ministry, in 2010, grain production volumes will total 9.6 mln tonnes in clean weight, an increase of 18.7% compared to 2009. The growth of rapeseed production is forecasted at the level of 1 mln tonnes (up 63.2%).

    Polls & Research: Belarusian Lukashenko Alone at the Top

    From: Angus Reid
    Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko has no clear contender in the country’s political field, according to a poll by IISEPS. 42.5 per cent of respondents would vote for the incumbent in the next presidential election.

    Aleksandr Milinkevich of the United Democratic Opposition is far behind with an insignificant 4.3 per cent, followed by Aleksandr Kozulin of the Social Democratic Party with 2.4 per cent.

    Belarus seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994, independent candidate Lukashenko won the presidential election, boosted by his popularity after acting as chairman of an anti-corruption parliamentary committee. Lukashenko remains the country’s president to this day.

    In March 2006, Lukashenko won the presidential election with 82.6 per cent of the vote. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the ballot "did not meet the required international standards for free and fair elections" and was "severely flawed due to arbitrary use of state power and restrictions to basic rights."

    In late 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $2.5 billion U.S. loan for Belarus. As part of the conditions to receive the funds, the Belarusian government was expected to devalue the national currency by 20 per cent. The devaluation came into force in January 2009.

    On Jan. 11, Lukashenko warned that Belarus is facing increasing challenges to its integrity as a nation and urged Russian officials to work harder at finding common ground for a security strategy, adding, "I think the need has arisen to draft a fundamental agreement that should regulate the provision of security for the Belarusian state."

    Polling Data

    If a presidential election took place tomorrow in Belarus, who would you vote for?
    Aleksandr Lukashenko

    Aleksandr Milinkevich

    Aleksandr Kozulin

    Other / Not sure

  • From the Opposition...

    Harry Pahanyajla: “In Belarus everything is serving to retaining power”

    From: Charter '97
    Human rights activists believe that turning the Operating Analytical Centre (OAC) into a special service was needed as Lukashenka distrust any secret services.

    The OAC under the president of Belarus has a right to carry out operational-investigative activities at the territory of Belarus. On January 4, 2010 he signed the law “On amending some laws of Belarus to clamp down on criminal activity”. By the law No. 107-3 of January 4, 2010 amendments have been made to the Law “On Operational Investigative Activities” of July 9, 1999.

    Who needs one more special service? And what stands behind that? Harry Pahanyajla, a human rights watchdog, has shared his opinion with “Belarusian partisan”.

    - This Operating and Analytical centre is a part of the structure of the Presidential administration and is subjected directly to the president. The OAC is supervised by the Security Council.

    The OAC’s turning into a secret service was needed as Lukashenka does not trust any secret services. That is why he needs his own special service. Once Sheiman was doing that surreptitiously, after he created an operating structure inside the OAC. And now Lukashenka has decided to legalize the existing structure.

    - What can the OAC do in a capacity of a secret service?

    - The same work all the secret services do, but the difference is tat this secret service is in a greater degree to provide security of the president. All the security agencies are subject to the leader of the state, but he wants to have his own operational structure for intelligence and counterintelligence activities, as he does not trust any secret service completely.

    - They say that the OAC is to turn serious attention to the Internet…

    - It is not excluded. As the OAC has been legalized as a special service by the law “On Operational Investigative Activities”, it means that it will have all the rights, all the operational investigative authorities. That is, the rights of all other special services. But it is to be financed much better and receive better technical equipment: Lukashenka has infinite possibilities in this area.

    - From now on the OAC can be figuratively characterized as “supervisor over supervisors”?

    - I think so. Operational services have a rich experience of planting its people in other structures, on carrying out secret work, including political surveillance.

    - Mr Pahanyajla, is this decision connected with the upcoming presidential elections?

    - Certainly, without doubt. In this state everything serves to one aim, to keeping power.

    Ivan Mikhailau to be tried on 29 January

    From: Viasna
    According to information of Mikhail Pashkevich, leader of the campaign For alternative civil service, the trial on the case brought against Ivan Mikhailau, believer of Jewish-messianic community, will take place on 29 January at the Minsk district court.

    Ivan Mikhailau has already spent three weeks in Zhodzina pre-trial prison awaiting a trial for evasion from military service. On 31 December his case was passed to court. Ivan hoped for service in the military reserve and stated that his religious views didn’t allow him serving in the army. Now he faces up to 6 months of arrest under Article 435 of the Criminal Code. Mikhailau does not agree to being labeled as deviator from military service and says he is ready to alternative service.

    Meanwhile, the civil right to alternative service ensues from Article 57 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. This article provides that the defense of the Republic of Belarus is a sacred duty of a Belarusian citizen. The order of the military service, the reasons and the conditions of its replacement with alternative service are determined by the law.

    Thus, the Constitution does not consider military service as the only possible and unconditional variant, as the possibility of freeing from the military service or its replacement with alternative service are stated in it.

    Correspondingly, the Constitution provides the right of citizens to execute their obligation and sacred duty to defend the Fatherland in the forms that are provided by the Constitution, i.e. also by means alternative service.

    According to Article 4 of the law of the Republic of Belarus of 15 March 1994 On the order of entry into force of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus that laws that are mentioned in the Constitution, were to have been adopted within two years after its coming into effect, i.e. by 30 March 1996.

    However, neither the Supreme Soviet of the 12th Convocation, nor the Supreme Soviet of the 13th Convocation implemented this requirement and didn’t solve the question of the grounds and conditions for replacement of military service with alternative service and the conditions of the latter, by adopting a special law.

    Bear in mind that Article 57 was left in this edition even after the amendments of the Constitution after the referenda of 1996 and 2004. There are norms that allow the Parliament to postpone the implementation of Article 57 on the legislative level. Despite this, the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus still hasn’t adopted a law aimed at the implementation of this article of the Constitution.

    Refusal from military service for moral reasons (including religious and other convictions) also concerns other personal rights enshrined in the Constitution and other international treaties in the sphere of human rights that were ratified by the country.

    In particular, according to Article 31 of the Constitution, every person has the right to independently determine the attitude to religion, confess any religion individually or in association with others or not confess any religion, express or distribute the views concerning the attitude to religion, participate in the administration of the cults, rites and rituals that are not banned by the law.

    These rights are also guaranteed by norms of the international legislation, the priority of which is officially acknowledged by the Republic of Belarus, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    The right of every individual to refuse from the military service was also recognized by the UN Human Rights Council.

    Such right of citizens of the Republic of Belarus was also recognized in Belarus. In the Ruling of the Consitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus of 26 May 2000 On certain issues of realization of Article 57 of the Republic of Belarus it is stated:

    1. to point that citizens of the Republic of Belarus, according to the Constitution, have the right, in particular, for replacement of the military service because of their religious views. In connection with this, to consider as urgent the adoption of the law on alternative service or amendment of the Law On universal military service with the aim of establishing a mechanism for exercising the right to alternative service. To agree, for the period of decision of the questions of the conditions and reasons for replacement of the military service, with the practice of creating (in conformity with Articles 31, 57 and 59 and other articles of the Constitution) of the conditions for implementation by citizens of the Republic of Belarus their duties on the defense of the Republic of Belarus in the forms that don’t violate their religious views.

    Therefore, the Human Rights Center Viasna demands an immediate release of Ivan Mikhailau from jail and cessation of the criminal persecution towards him.

    The Human Rights Center Viasna demands from the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus to urgently adopt the law on alternative service as a practical mechanism for realization of the provisions of Article 57 of the Constitution.

  • Russia...

    Ukrainians vote in presidential election

    From: LA Times
    Amid economic woes, many have lost faith in the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, and the two leading candidates are expected to strengthen ties with Russia.

    Ukrainians trooped to the polls today to elect a new president, summoning the stamina for another round of political intrigue after months of disillusionment and economic distress.

    The choice of a new leader marks a milestone in Ukraine's post-Soviet evolution, and many voters appeared hungry for a change -- if wary of fresh rounds of infighting and scrapping for power among the elite.

    With no candidate likely to collect more than half the vote, the election is expected to lead to a second round of voting next month. Viktor Yanukovich, widely seen as being the most pro-Russian of the candidates, and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are expected to face off in the runoff.

    Analysts warned that the prize of the presidency would be bitterly fought, with the candidates accusing one another of fraud and using the courts to press for victory. The battle could drag on for months.

    With the exit of incumbent Viktor Yushchenko, whose approval ratings wallowed in the single digits in recent months, Ukraine loses a president who strove to shake off the grip of Moscow and reorient Ukraine as a Westernized land with strong allies in Brussels and Washington.

    But in a country where many people grow up speaking Russian and feel nostalgically, culturally and religiously intertwined with Russia, Yushchenko's approach chafed nerves -- and eventually backfired as his opponents blamed him for the dangerous deterioration of relations with Moscow.

    The Kremlin now appears poised to restore some of its lost influence on Ukraine, since both leading candidates have friendly relations with Russian leaders.

    Polls show that Yanukovich is the most popular of the candidates -- a reversal of fortune that hints of the changes that have rattled Ukraine in past years.

    The last time Ukrainians voted for a president, in 2004, Yanukovich won courtesy of vote-rigging. Enraged crowds stormed into the streets to demand his ouster, and the Orange Revolution was born.

    The ensuing seasons have been tumultuous and often painful for the country. The politicians who marched boldly through the frigid streets calling for a reinvented Ukraine assumed office -- and promptly lost themselves in byzantine power plays, internecine wars and flashy shows of murkily acquired wealth.

    "People are feeling that they've been lied to," said Larisa Kuchuba, a 60-year-old engineer who braved snow showers and thick blankets of black ice to vote in south Kiev.

    Kuchuba cast her vote for one of the lesser known opposition candidates. She didn't believe he stood the slightest chance of winning; her vote was cast in protest, she said.

    "The politicians did everything to keep one another from succeeding. They didn't do anything for the success of the country," she said. "All they did was fight."

    In the years since the Orange Revoluton, the very word "orange" lost its linguistic role as proud shorthand for the leaders who presented themselves as pro-Western reformers and became an adjective generally uttered with a grimace or a roll of the eyes.

    Historically split in its affections between Russia and Europe, the country became a coveted battleground for influence between Russia and the United States, which heartily backed Ukraine's drift away from Moscow.

    But even that status was lost: Ukraine found its foreign policy importance downgraded as President Obama set out to ease inflamed tensions with the Kremlin.

    Medvedev says US arms talks making progress

    From: Washington Post
    Talks between the U.S. and Russia on a new arms control treaty have been difficult but the two sides have made great progress toward a deal on limiting their nuclear arsenals, President Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday.

    The new treaty is to succeed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expired on Dec. 5. Washington and Moscow had hoped to reach a deal before the end of the year, but were unable to resolve outstanding problems.

    "The negotiations will continue," Medvedev said. "They are not going easily, but in general we have reached agreement with the Americans on many points."

    Another round of negotiations is scheduled for Jan. 25 in Geneva.

    Medvedev spoke during a televised meeting with the leaders of the four parties in Russia's parliament, which would have to ratify any new arms control agreement before it could take effect.

    The party leaders argued that procedures for the two countries to keep an eye on each other's nuclear arsenals should not be too intrusive, Russian state news agencies reported.

    The 1991 treaty required each country to cut its nuclear warheads by at least one-fourth, to about 6,000, and to implement procedures for verifying that each side was sticking to the agreement.

    Medvedev and President Barack Obama agreed in July to reduce the number of nuclear warheads that each country possesses to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years as part of a broad new treaty.

    Russia Ends Opposition to Rights Court

    From: New York Times
    The Russian Parliament on Friday reversed its longstanding opposition to reforms in the European Court of Human Rights, as part of a new push to smooth over differences with the country’s European partners.

    Legislators in the lower house voted 392 to 56 to ratify the reforms, news agencies reported.

    The international human rights court, based in Strasbourg, France, has been clogged in recent years with a backlog of complaints, nearly one-third of them filed against Russia. The reform plan, Protocol 14, aims to speed up the court’s work, in part by reducing the number of judges necessary to make major decisions.

    Since 2006, Russia has been the only one of 47 participating states to refuse to ratify Protocol 14. Moscow’s opposition seemed colored by its overall suspicion of the court, which has found Russian officials guilty of corruption, torture and other misconduct.

    But Dmitri F. Vyatkin, who serves on Parliament’s legislative committee, said European ministers had finally addressed Russian complaints about the proposals, in part by guaranteeing that Russian judges would be involved in reviewing complaints against Russia. He said the decision showed that Russia and the other European states were seeking common ground.

    “It’s not such a big step,” said Mr. Vyatkin, a member of the governing United Russia party, “but it’s a step toward one another, and that’s the main thing.” He added, “Though we are very singular, we are part of European culture, for the most part.”

    Strasbourg has provided an international platform for hundreds of cases damaging to the government. One of the most damaging had been expected to grab attention on Thursday, the day of the first hearing in a $100 billion lawsuit filed by the former managers of Yukos, the oil company once run by the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky.

    The court said Tuesday that the hearing would be delayed for a third time, until March 4, because two Russian representatives would not be available. One became ill, and the other was needed to address the Parliament before the ratification vote, said Karinna Moskalenko, one of Mr. Khodorkovsky’s lawyers.

    Leaders of the Council of Europe, which established the human rights court, worked hard to convince Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and President Dmitri A. Medvedev that the reforms “had become a key link in the relationship,” said Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner at the council. Russia will be held to the same rules that apply to other members, and no changes were made to the protocol during negotiations.

    “What they probably feel is that they have been listened to — their concerns have been heard,” Mr. Hammarberg said. “I think it has been more of a political process than a juridical process.”

    But Mr. Vyatkin said the council had provided written commitments on the Russians’ main fears. He said he was reassured that Russian judges would be included in reviews of potential cases against Russia, that the court would not begin investigating complaints before cases were formally accepted and that the court would not have new powers to force rulings to be carried out.

    He said his European colleagues had ignored Russians’ complaints for years. “The main thing is, we explained to our colleagues that ultimatums will not solve anyone’s problems,” he said. “Let’s talk. It is already clear that without Russian participation, the Council of Europe will be of no use to anyone.”

    Aleksei V. Makarkin, a leading analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow policy research group, said such compromises could have been reached at any time in the last four years. What has changed, he said, is the atmosphere in Moscow. “We have begun to change our relationship to the West,” Mr. Makarkin said. “We no longer have the feeling that Europe wants to build revolutions here.”

    In terms of domestic politics, he added, “I would put it in the context of very careful, very gradual steps toward liberalization.”

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland's stolen Monet found, suspect arrested

    From: AFP
    Polish police said Wednesday they had recovered a painting by French Impressionist master Claude Monet stolen over nine years ago and had arrested the suspected thief.

    Police spokesman Andrzej Borowiak told AFP that the man, whom he identified only as Robert Z., 41, had been arrested Tuesday in Olkusz, southern Poland.

    "We're convinced that this is the individual who stole the painting," Borowiak said.

    He declined to say where the artwork itself -- Monet's 1882 oil painting "Plage de Pourville" -- had been found.

    "It had been kept in a good condition. It hasn't suffered any visible damage," he said.

    The study of a beach in northern France was the only Monet on public display in Poland and was exhibited in a state museum in the western city of Poznan.

    The theft was discovered on September 19, 2000.

    Investigators had long been trying to trace an individual who was seen making sketches of paintings in the museum two days earlier, Borowiak explained.

    "In December we obtained new evidence that helped us identify that individual, as well as the place where the painting was," he said.

    Police believe that Robert Z. was the mysterious artist, he added.

    The thief had cut the painting from its frame and replaced it with a copy.

    Shortly before the theft, insurers had valued it at million dollars (690,000 euros).

    Cops nab 15 year-old driver

    From: The News
    A fifteen year-old and his two passengers are detained by police at the wheel of a car he bought for peanuts.

    Police in the northern city of Slupsk are looking for the former owner of a 32-year-old Volkswagen after they stopped the car when being driven by a 15-year-old with two 10-year-old passengers.

    The under-age driver said he had bought the car for 50 zl (around 12 euro).

    He told police that after he’d bought the vehicle he took his small brother and his friend for a ride. According to observers, he had driven the car, “in a strange way but not dangerously,” and parked it correctly in a supermarket lot.

    Police are now looking for the car’s original owner, who could face legal consequences for selling it to a minor.

    Former Warsaw Metro boss detained on corruption charges

    From: The News
    Former head of the Warsaw Metro has been detained by the Central Anticorruption Bureau on corruption charges.

    Bohdan Z. is accused of fixing the results of a tender on metro rail carriages in 1998 worth 500 million zloty (123 million euro). The investigation was opened by the Prosecutor’s Office in the western city of Wroclaw after the sensational testimony of Peter V., a convicted Polish murderer known as “the accountant of the Left”.

    Seventy seven year-old Bohdan Z. was detained in Warsaw and transported to Wroclaw, where he is being interrogated. He worked at the Warsaw Metro since its beginning and in 1991 became its head. In 2003, Bohdan Z. was dismissed by the then Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczynski.

  • Sport...

    Steelers lose to Minsk

    From: The Star
    Sheffield Steelers were beaten 4-1 by Minsk today, in the Continental Cup in Grenoble, France.
    Minsk right shot Maksim Slysh scored after seven minutes for the skilled team from Belarus, a set-back for Sheffield who had been seeking silver medal position in the tournament.

    Matt Hubbauer had a half chance, as did Joey Talbot, but Sergei Shabanov looked impressive in the Minsk goal, other than one shot that hit his post.

    Minsk burst out of their half to fashion a second goal from
    defenceman Alexei Baranov in the middle session. Shortly afterwards it was 3-0 to Minsk, courtesy of Oleksandr Materukhin.

    Baranov added his second soon afterwards.

    Steelers' partisan travelling fans got what they deserved in the last session; a one-time goal from Matt Hubbauer.

  • Endnote...

    Halina Lukashenka was granted merit certificate for prominent services to the State

    From: Charter '97
    The official wife of the Belarusian president has been granted a Certificate of merit of the Council of Ministers.

    A resolution about that was signed on January 8, 2010, “Narodnaya Volya” informs.

    As noted in the document, Halina Lukashenka was awarded for “long productive service, wide-ranging community work, considerable personal contribution to organizing health improvement and resort treatment of the population in Shklou district”.

    The wide public knows almost nothing what mother of Dzmitry and Viktar Lukashenka does. Halina Lukashenka makes a public appearance extremely rarely.

    The wife of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who was a schoolmate of the last dictator of Europe once, has never taken part in official events, in trips of her husband and has never been abroad. As said by her, she not so keen on such activities. However from time to time she holydays in “Belarus” spa resort in Sochi. It is known from mass media that she lives in a village of Ryzhkavichy and her lifestyle is very simple. In British press once there were pictures of Halina Lukashenka milking a cow. The woman has two sons and four grandchildren, however her marriage is a mere formality. The public was finally convinced of that after last year Alyaksandr Lukashenka presented to the world his five-year old son Kolya (Mikalay), born out of wedlock.

    It should be noted that the Certificate of merit of the Council of Ministers is given for achievements in state, economic, social and cultural construction and strengthening the defense potential of Belarus.