Lukashenka delivers State of the Union address, Boris Yeltsin dead, Chernobyl remembrance, US retains hard stance, Corrupt Polish MP shoots self
President Gives State of the Nation Address
|President of Belarus delivering the State of the Nation Address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly|
The address was made at a joint session of the Chamber of Representatives and the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. Attending the session were senior officials, members of the government, heads of state administration bodies, major companies, banks, public associations, universities as well as diplomats and mass media.
The live broadcast of the event started at 12.00 on three major Belarusian TV channels and the First National Belarusian Radio Channel.
Here are most of the main points.
“Before delivering the Address, I cannot but express great sorrow in connection with the demise of the first President of the Russian Federation, Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin. This is a great loss not just for the brotherly Russia, but also for our country,” the Belarusian leader said. “Boris Yeltsin was a true friend of the Belarusian people and my friend,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
An eminent statesman and policy-maker who exerted significant influence on world-scale historical processes died, the President said. “His name is closely associated with the formation of a sovereign Russia. He became the head of the enormous country in a very difficult watershed period of its development. He laid down basic principles of state formation, new socio-economic relations, good-neighbourliness and cooperation policy,” the President said. “During his presidency and after his term in office had come to an end he never seized to take interest in life in Belarus, of the Belarusian people, how the Union State was being formed. He was actively participating in strengthening integration in the post-Soviet area. He always addressed difficult issues in a courageous and business-like manner for the benefit of our peoples and for strengthening cooperation between Belarus and Russia based on equal rights,” the head of state said.
Paying tribute to the first President of Russia, Alexander Lukashenko reaffirmed the loyalty to the strategic course toward a union with the brotherly Russia, the course that had been developed together, by joint efforts.
Alexander Lukashenko and the participants of the joint session of both chambers of the Belarusian parliament observed a minute of silence in the memory of Boris Yeltsin.
The head of state believes that it is necessary to break negative stereotypes of Belarus. Common sense should prevail in relations between the country and the EU, USA. Belarus is open for the broadest cooperation in all the areas, the President declared.
“We need neither inspectors nor supervisors or teachers. We beg nothing of either Europe or the USA,” the President said. Belarus is a key state in terms of transit of resources, cargo and passengers from Europe to Russia and Asian countries. Our country has erected a reliable barrier to drug trafficking, illegal migration, trafficking in people. This is the most important factor of the common stability and safety in Europe,” the Belarusian leader said.
“In general, we have something to say to each other in economics, politics, and social sphere. We are ready to discuss any topics even the most controversial ones,” Alexander Lukashenko stressed. However, both the parties have to be ready for the dialogue.
Today ‘many-sided mechanism is not quite effective,’ he said. However, this is not the reason why we should refuse from the integration processes. ‘Integration is beneficial in any of its form and degree. We will continue giving all-round support to the work in this direction’, the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko believes that one of the main areas of cooperation within integration organizations is integration in defence and fight against crime. ‘Today when other states and alliance create military bases near our borders, the response to the challenge should be only joint’, he added.
According to the head of state ‘the desire to make friends with the West does not make the interaction in the SES, CIS, EurAsEC, CSTO any less important’.
Alexander Lukashenko also said that Belarus is interested in developing normal mutually beneficial relations with the EU countries and the USA.
“Belarus will forever be allegiant to the union of the brotherly nations. The Russian are not strangers to us and will never be”, underscored the head of state.
In his words, the situation around the Belarusian-Russian relations has gone beyond the oil and gas issue and has definitely damaged the cause of the union. “The unwarranted high increase in prices for Russian energy resources in combination with openly unfriendly actions and remarks of certain Russian politicians have hurt our relations, disseminating doubts and fears among supporters of the rapprochement of the fraternal nations”, the President noted. “But those expecting Belarus to waver and change its policies because of the emerging hardships are vastly mistaken”, he added.
Alexander Lukashenko also noted, there are no alternatives to normal Belarusian-Russian relations. “One shouldn’t plot and wind up pressure in view of this winter events. Yes, there were acute conflict moments. Yes, the sides sometimes lacked wisdom, moderation and patience. But I deeply believe it is in interests of our peoples to overcome the emerging hindrances and go ahead, choosing a union form taking into account obvious needs of the two states”, the President said.
The Belarusian leader underscored, the union of the two nations should only be mutually equal, profitable, understandable, fair and transparent. “A partnership is not a one-way road. It is important to understand and respect interests of the other side”, emphasised Alexander Lukashenko. “It is the key perception of the Union State by the Republic of Belarus. I am convinced that our people will support this approach to cooperation with Russia”, he noted.
‘It is clear today that in order to preserve the independence and promote sustainable development, the country needs to pursue dynamic many-sided foreign policy, the head of state said. – Belarus is actively engaged in the international trade and all-round interstate relations. This directly affects our domestic market and socio-economic sphere’.
‘We have always stated that Belarus pursues multi-vector foreign policy, the head of state said. – It cannot be any other way round as we are an open country situated in the center of Europe. We cannot, even if for no other reason than our geographical and historical peculiarities, befriend some countries and be closed to others’.
At the same time Alexander Lukashenko said that these words do not mean any strategic changes in the priorities. The main of latter is still the Russian direction which is of fundamental importance for Belarus. ‘We must by no means lose the gained momentum in the Belarus-Russia interaction,' the Belarusian leader said.
‘The energy price hike is an unpleasant factor but let us view it as a stimulus to advance the economy,’ he said.
The President said: ‘Belarus will not do without the world market. It means that in any case we should apply latest technologies to reduce the energy consumption’. The President also urged to focus on the domestic problems in the new environment rather than blame Russia. First of all, Belarus should implement effective measures to ensure energy security of the country.
‘Every citizen should know – we will not allow any economy collapse. The Q1 results attest to this. Houses will have light and heating, enterprises will continue working in a routine regime, tariffs on utilities will remain within the projected parameters. This can be achieved by means of utilizing the internal reserves - effective production and thrift,’ the President said.
In his words, Belarus’ prospects of cooperation with Ukraine and Azerbaijan hold much promise. The President noted, the new content of the Belarusian-Ukrainian relations will result in a major contribution to ensuring the sovereignty of the two states, raising the geopolitical importance of Eastern Europe. “As transit countries, we should join efforts to secure reliable energy supplies to Western Europe. The mutual trade potential is far from being exhausted”, he stressed.
Alexander Lukashenko believes, the cooperation with Azerbaijan should be implemented through participation in joint projects of mutual interest, first of all, energy projects. Cooperation in industrial production, agribusiness, services and high technologies is also promising.
According to the head of state, cooperation with Kazakhstan — a country richest in natural resources — is another prospective area of cooperation. “We have to do our best to promote the mutually beneficial cooperation as far as possible. Every condition has been met to make it feasible”, Alexander Lukashenko thinks.
In this connection, Belarus sees China as promising direction. China is our top ally in the international scene. The development of the bilateral trade-economic relations proves that Belarus has managed to hold positions in the promising market of China. In 2006, the mutual turnover reached $950 million. This is not a limit, the head of state believes.
Today the Chinese party considers a set of investment offers of Belarus to the total tune of $2 billion, Alexander Lukashenko said.
According to him, work within the Non-Aligned Movement deserves special attention. “Just think about this: the richest in natural resources and influential countries like India, Venezuela, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Oman are ready to work and already work with us in the format of strategic partnership,” the head of state noted. The agreements reached with the leaders of these countries are now turning into concrete projects. “Fruitful, solid work has been done and hundreds of millions of dollar contracts have been signed,” the president said.
The president stressed: “We seek not to depend on one country”. Today the European Union is the top economic partner of Belarus, and then goes Russia, the President said.
He noted, so far the government cannot fully handle the assigned task. “The profitability of our major economic branches — industry and agriculture — has dropped since early this year. The profitability is under 20% in around 80% of Belarusian economies”, the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko named financial turnaround of the real economy the most important task at hand. “But we will handle it with economic methods instead of endless state subsidies the President is begged for”, Alexander Lukashenko said. “Every executive says he is a market-thinking businessman. In practice they are unable to use any economic instrument but preferences”.
“It is clear that in the Belarusian people, who suffered the Chernobyl tragedy, this issue arouses psychological anxiety,” the President said. “But, anyway, we are surrounded with atomic power plants. Belarus will choose the safest variant of a nuclear power plant featuring leading edge technologies and latest scientific achievements,” he added.
Taking into account the insufficiency of energy resources of its own and, as a result, burden-some dependence on other countries, development of a nuclear power industry becomes for Belarus a guarantee of national security and that of having a steady energy supply. “We will build our own atomic power plant. The course of events has prompted us to this,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
“I would recommend the opposition not playing on this issue. One ought not to use this issue to score political points. Such attempts will fail,” the President said.
By 2010, the GDP energy consumption should be 31% down, by 2015 – 50%, by 2020 – 60% as against 2005. “I believe that we will beat the expectations,” the President said.
According to him, it is necessary to speed up the process of introduction of new technologies in manufacture, to broadly use relevant market mechanisms. Thus, energy servicing companies should be set up in Belarus. “Such companies could render services on monitoring of energy consumption in industrial companies, premises, buildings, heat supply systems and other municipal facilities. They could develop comprehensive energy saving programs for specific facilities. The system has been successfully applied not only in the West, but also in Russia and Ukraine”.
Energy efficiency should become the main criterion of evaluating performance of all the economic branches, companies and managerial staff, the President believes.
“This is the issue of national security. Therefore I instructed to prepare Directive 3 which will contain a set of measures to tackle this problem. The Prime Minister will be answerable for its implementation.’ the President said.
According to the Head of State ‘the course of events shows that we need to learn to live within our means and use rationally every ruble.’ ‘Western Europe is wealthy as it knows what thrift is. It has something we can learn from,’ the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko said: ‘We ought to approach developed countries in terms of the level of the GDP energy intensity. This index is 2,5-3 times higher in Belarus.’
“There is a lot of political matters around the issue, but it won’t be lobbied. It will be an open contest”, the President noted.
Alexander Lukashenko stressed, “We depend on Russia in energy supplies, but would like not to”.
“We may like another country to build the nuclear plant, but only price and quality considerations will prevail. If Russia wins the contest, if it is a safe plant project (and Russia also offers a loan to build the plant), however much we may dislike it, we will build together with Russia”, said the Belarusian head of state.
Separate parts and special equipment from other countries can be acquired through various ways.
According to him, the problem of the rational use of resources can be partially solved by installation of heat and water meters in flats and houses. Due to the meters, the heat and water consumption can be halved. “This is a simple and verified solution,” the president said.
Speaking about the municipal economy, the president said that “some problems are literary lying on the surface”. This concerns heating systems which often warm up the environment instead of houses, kindergartens and clinics.
“It is necessary to minimize losses of heat, by replacing the old outdated pipes with modern energy saving ones. As a result we will not only save the fuel but also cut the capital expenses on construction, maintenance and repair of pipelines,” the president believes.
“Prospects of the country’s socio-economic development will depend to a great degree on energy saving,” the President summed up.
The new oil company should be modelled on the Belarusian Potash Company (BPC). Alexander Lukashenko reminded those present about the fuss that there had been when the BPC had been in the process of formation. Today this company brings profit to the country. If earlier this money went to mediators who sold potash fertilisers, today it remains in Belarus, the head of sate said. In 2006, for the first time in its history, Belaruskali reported profit equal to nearly $1.1 billion. In the previous years the figures had not gone beyond $700 million. “Where did this money go before?” the President asked.
“Today the same should be done with regard to selling of oil products and other goods. We are not that rich as to squander such means,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
He set a task to strengthen the positions of oil refineries in the oil products market by making competitive goods which quality would meet European standards. To fulfil it, it is imperative to improve the crude oil upgrading index and production of light oil. It is also necessary to optimise the technological processes that are used now. While doing this, one should seek to minimise energy spending. The country will embark on the course toward complete overhaul of its petrochemical industry.
“Look around and you will see a lot of fundamental bad management. Huge administration structures, networks of subsidiary bodies and daughter enterprises. And they all need feeding”, said Alexander Lukashenko. He noted, it is necessary “to stop the red-tape and false pride attitudes officials practise and similar things”.
As an example the President cited the Internal Monitoring Service under the Architecture and Construction Ministry. “Every enterprise run by the Ministry gets preferences. Tax-exempt and fed by government subsidies they have no intention of cutting down their expenses. Do you know how much is the salary of the enterprise’s director? A handsome Br3,365,000 per month. Meanwhile, the average salary of the enterprise’s personnel has exceeded the industry’s average by almost three times. These salaries are accumulated by charges paid by companies, which operate in the red and are fed and supported by the government. Where from should effective business solutions come if such approaches are practised?” the President wondered.
Speaking about long-term unprofitable state companies, Alexander Lukashenko said, “If there are no chances of turning them around or if it costs too much, why does the government seek the President’s subsidies? Why do we need to artificially keep them afloat with tax preferences, government loans? This is just wasting money!”
If the state cannot turn an enterprise around or if the step is unprofitable, then the enterprise should be put to auction, with the business profile predefined if necessary. Let private businessmen buy the enterprise, said the President. First of all, the measure is applicable to ineffective small and medium enterprises. The same applies to unfinished construction projects, specified the head of state.
The head of state admitted, the Belarusian budget receives some of the export duties on oil products set at the Russian level. “But it doesn’t mean our oil refiners should wait for the president and the government to return them the money from the state budget”, the President said. In his words, if there is a compensation, it will be small. “The state will share the burden of the oil refiners in this hard time, but they should also cut down their costs”, added Alexander Lukashenko.
The President noted, nobody had been counting petty cash in this industry, it is rich. “Popular talks about the President’s directing $500 million collected in Q1 2007 to the industry should be stopped. Find the money yourselves”, stressed the President. He reminded, money of the state budget need to be spent on social needs.
According to the President, the past year vividly showed the unsystematic and irresponsible approach the Government took to overseeing the compliance by companies with the terms of state support. ‘In 2006 some 36% of recipients of state support failed to meet the state support terms,' the Belarusian leader said. 'The preferences were granted to more than 3 thousand organisations to the tune of more than $1 billion,’ he added.
‘This year subsidies will be given to several companies,' the Head of State said. 'Next year, please, make your business-plans and work on your own. We will support only science-intensive, latest technologies which will come to the country,’ he continued.
Those were mainly the organisations subordinate to the oblast executive committees who failed to meet the state support terms. Some 34-60% of the organisations in all six oblasts failed to hit the targets, Alexander Lukashenko said.
The President charged the State Control Committee to submit proposals on bringing the officials guilty of inefficient use of state subsidies to responsibility. ‘It is time we put an end to this dependency,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.
“I believe that today we can raise a question on abolishing the principle of licensing and apply a declarative principle. Such an approach will raise the level of confidence between the state and businessmen,” Alexander Lukashenko believes.
The President said: “I was surprised to discover that issuing of various licenses and permits had not been streamlined. I was informed that the list of activities subject for licensing has been maximally optimized. Clear rules of granting licenses have been established, the procedures – debureaucratized”.
“However, officials have found loopholes to preserve their power over businessmen. They demand various permits which in fact are covert licenses. For instance, to open a roadside cafe 42 permits should be received. Not everyone can overcome that!”
The head of state instructed the government to “deal with the permits”. “No agency, no official can introduce permissive procedures ad libitum. Everything should be systemized in the single standard act of countrywide significance,” Alexander Lukashenko added.
“Such support should not be seen one-sidedly as only preferences and subsidies. Yes, it is necessary in some cases. But it is often more important to remove artificial administrative barriers”, he said.
The President noted, “Facilitating the business launch is the primary goal”. The de-bureaucratisation of administrative procedures business entities undergo is one of the strategic targets. It is necessary to readjust both the laws and officials’ thinking.
The head of state encouraged no-quarter fight against false pride and haughtiness private entrepreneurs face. “It should be at last understood that small and medium businesses stably earn tax money for the budget and increase the number of jobs. People should not be afraid of doing business”, he said.
He said, one-stop registration should come true for entrepreneurs, while fight against one-day companies and false business bodies should not be overdone. “Certainly, it does not mean the government will no longer regulate the sphere. But we need a balanced well-thought-out approach without seeing it overdone locally”, the head of state believes.
He noted, in 2006 Belarus’ exports to the European Union exceeded 45% of the total volume, 28% up on 2005. Belarus’ export to the USA increased by almost 80%.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, there are three major problems with the Belarusian overseas trade policy today. The first one is low diversification of Belarusian exports and dependence on the competition situation on the international market. “Recent events in the Belarusian-Russian trade demonstrated the danger of relying on one market”, the President noted.
Foreign trade deficit is the second problem. Belarusian producers are lax in working on foreign markets, weak in looking for more attractive markets for their products, fail to use more effective forms and methods for promoting them.
Need for a more pragmatic pricing policy aimed at maximum profits is the third problem.
“It is necessary to continue working hard expanding the distribution network abroad”, added Alexander Lukashenko.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus has established solid friendly relations with Venezuela and Iran, which have significant energy deposits.
“The leadership of these countries is ready for all-round economic cooperation with Belarus and we shouldn’t lose this opportunity”, the President underscored. The cooperation will, first of all, include joint extraction and processing of raw stock. Belarus will be able to get oil for domestic needs and for selling it on the international market.
“Many have been stirring lately whether Lukashenko will really import oil from Azerbaijan, Venezuela and Iran to Belarus while getting Russian oil is more profitable. Of course, he won’t and he needs not”, the President said. “Today Russia sells oil and natural gas. Russia is interested in selling more of these products as much as we are interested in buying them cheaper. It is important for us to earn additional funds to buy the goods we need from whatever supplier. Therefore, today we are not going to import oil from Venezuela, Iran and the Persian Gulf to Belarus”.
“We are not insured against such crises the winter brought. We had no oil supplies alternatives, even expensive ones. We needed ten days to find suppliers”, said Alexander Lukashenko.
“Which is why it is important for us to have oil extraction facilities of our own in these countries. If not our own, then we need thought-out, real ways to deliver oil to our refineries, though it may cost $30-40 more”, the President noted.
The head of state underlined, today Belarus “has an alternative to use in order to secure the normal functioning of the economy in case of a crisis”. “I am convinced, if we work hard with these countries, we’ll be able to get oil from Azerbaijan, Iran and Venezuela”, he said.
“We do not backstab Russia. We do not abandon the Russian vector. It is a normal market practice. We should choose what’s best for us. If Russia offers more profitable terms, certainly, we will buy oil there”, explained the President.
The head of state noted, the future development of the transit infrastructure should help resolve the problem of supplies diversification. The need for increasing the number of possibilities for transporting raw stock from the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea regions is getting special importance.
On the whole, according to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus needs large-scale structural changes of the power engineering industry. The changes should bring about long-term reserves of natural gas and oil to secure the normal functioning of the national economy if need be.
“The development of the corresponding infrastructure in Belarus should meet no delays. The government should get down to the task right away”, stressed the head of state.
“Paradoxically enough, the drawbacks of implementation of the village revival program are rooted in human factor. The state program should not be reduced to painting fences and bringing order in villages,” the president noted. In his words, “the revival of villages means, first of all, highly efficient agricultural production, introduction of new technologies, actual not ostentatious improvement of living standards in villages”.
The Belarusian leader noted that slow profitability growth, low wages, credit indebtedness, lack of up-to-date equipment remain urgent problems in rural economies. “Many farms still rely on the state support. This is inadmissible. It is necessary to learn to earn money not to beg,” the head of state highlighted.
“If construction of agro-towns is not aimed at comprehensive development of rural territories, strengthening of the economy and compatibility of companies, there is no sense to build them up on account of the state,” Alexander Lukashenko believes.
The President noted that in the future, conditions will be toughened. “This year we will cardinally change the approach to evaluation of agricultural companies’ performance. The main thing is effectiveness of sold products which should be profitable without state subsidies”.
“I said to governors: if it is not profitable to sow something, sow something else which yields benefits. If Russia does not want to buy our milk, make dry milk and export it to the West, where it is in great demand,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The president placed stress on the necessity to apply global experience and new efficient technologies in Belarus.
“Both these phenomena corrode the state and destabilise the society,” he added.
In the near future, the President went on, members of the parliament are to consider a bill which would toughen accountability for corruption-related crimes. “I ask you to give this document serious consideration. The campaign against this evil must be merciless. This document should be clear and transparent so that everyone could understand what corruption is and what deeds will be defined as related to corruption,” he said.
The President said effective measures needed to be taken in Belarus to fight bureaucracy.
Administrative bodies should be structured in such a way so that a minimal number of officials could provide the maximum results, he said. Decisions taken by state administration bodies should be systematic and consistent and the instructions should clear. “And, certainly, it is vitally important to be responsive to people,” he added.
The President believes state administration bodies should shift emphasis from ‘manual’ management to economic regulation.
“Today one needs not just executors, but pushing and creative workers. State service should be up-to-date and efficient, open for public control; it should be geared to achieve specific results,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The head of state was pleased with the rising number of marriages as well as newborns in Minsk and in provinces. Last year saw natality increase and mortality decrease for the first time in last decade.
According to the President, concerted efforts of the government aimed at preserving traditional family values are needed to secure a cardinal improvement of the demographic situation. “We should revive primordial traditions of esteeming attitudes to parents, family, native home”, Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
The year 2007 has been declared a Year of Child in Belarus. The president programme 2006-2010 Belarus Children provides for higher childbirth and childcare benefits, preferential home-building subsidies and loans taking into account the number of children in a family.
The government takes additional measures to protect rights and legal interests of children, first of all, orphans, disabled children, children with special needs and children brought up in troubled families. Family-type upbringing of orphans will be given top priority. The system of social-pedagogical and psychological aid to families is improving. Measures meant to raise parents’ responsibility for raising their children are watched closely.
“We do our best for Belarus to become a warm and hospitable home for every kid born here”, said Alexander Lukashenko.
“Belarus is far from using up all available reserves for creating an effective and reliable transport system that would fully satisfy transportation needs of domestic and foreign entities”.
The President has charged the government with working out precise approaches to using the favourable geographical position of the country. First of all, measures need to be taken to develop the infrastructure of transport corridors crossing Belarus, to pursue a measured policy concerning export of transport services.
Besides, the Council of Ministers needs to provide a comprehensive solution to attracting additional transit traffic via Belarus.
According to Alexander Lukashenko, in order to build up the position of domestic international haulers on the European market of transport services the government will need to further develop the legal base, renew the rolling fleet with modern vehicles.
Speaking about the development of roadside services, the President addressed the government and governors, “You have this year and next one to make Belarusian roads civilised. Invite non-governmental economic entities”.
The Head of State dwelled on some urgent problems: ‘The Government has been repeatedly instructed: this is not administration or directive pressurizing but economic methods that should become the main instrument in the work with this dynamic sector of the national economy,’ the President said. In line with the Constitution, all economic entities in Belarus have equal right to existence and development. The state is not interested in converting all sole traders into ‘big’ legal entities. It is small business that makes a big part of the economy of any country. ‘Yet we should seek to make sure that civilized business forms are applied in our country. The name ‘sole trader’ means that an entrepreneur works solely on his own,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.
According to the President, considering the peculiarities of this sector the state has developed various kinds of support: simplified procedures of registration, taxation, accounting, tax and other payment preferences. Yet, these all resulted in mass abuse. ‘Can a sole trader with three emmer staff have a restaurant for 150 seats, a plant or trade in all shopping centers of Minsk all at the same time? Of course not. This is unfair use of preferences which he is not entitled to,’ the Head of State said.
According to the President, legal entities have a good reason for being angry because, with economic conditions being in fact equal, sole traders are still in a more privileged situation. ‘It would do, at least, if sole traders offered goods and services at lower prices for our citizens [than other economic entities]. But the prices are not lower while there are more preferences,’ the head of state said. Therefore sole traders have been defined as those who work on their own or with their families. ‘All others should be converted into other forms of small entrepreneurship,’ Alexander Lukashenko said. At the same time he added that the state will support all of them as they will not be able to compete with big legal entities. A relevant decree has been signed into action to simplify the taxation system for such forms of business. On the instruction of the President the Government is developing some other measures to create more favourable conditions for sole traders, small and micro-businesses.
“We are ready to live in equal competition with the Russians and compete on equal terms. Belarusian meat and dairy products will do without the Russian market. But it is not the point. It is not about the Russians having more advanced companies, but the question is rather whose blow will be more painful,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko added he did not understand such actions. “Why do this now when both the Presidents have reached the point that it is necessary to clear the hurdles that have appeared and a lot is being done in this sphere. But the situation is such that one minister does something good here while another one ‘ruins’ it,” the Belarusian leader said.
Speaking about problematic points in trade with Russia and about those in customs clearance of vehicles at the Belarusian-Russian border, Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus had much less to be rebuked for in that situation than Russia. “We removed border posts long ago, but the Russians have installed some sort of booth at the border, put a post there. I repeatedly told Boris Yeltsin, then to Vladimir Putin that that was inadmissible, that was one of the facts of violation of agreements reached not just between Belarus and Russia, but also within the EurAsEC. I raise these issues all the time but, apparently, there is some inertia,” the President said.
Alexander Lukashenko also noted that because of the openness of the Belarusian-Russian border, vehicles with Turkish and Chinese goods, which were not fully sold in Russia, came to Belarus. “This is bad; agreements are violated; but this poses no threat to our economy. The same as Belarusian sugar poses no threat to Russian economy. Why block supplies of 300 thousand tonnes of sugar, which we were selling in Russia, if Russia was not fully meeting its domestic demand and was buying sugar abroad? Buy it from Belarus, from your neighbours, from people who would defend Russia’s interests in the West,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The Head of State said he meant to give absolutely no reproach for absence of positive changes in Belarusian-Russia situation. “Both Vladimir Putin and I do understand what we should do. In the near future, a range of issues will be mapped out for Belarusian-Russian talks. But there is a need not just to hold talks demonstrating we have good relations, but also to solve specific issues. All this must be a law for the government. There will be fewer rebukes then,” the President said.
“Let us keep privileges where it is necessary to keep them. But these will be individual cases. We have deprived all top managers, all officials of privileges but we stopped at that because I saw that people needed support,” the head of state said.
Belarusian people will support the process of streamlining of privileges in the country, he said. “People will say: by this means we'd rather make good hospitals and ensure affordable medical aid,” the President said. In this five-year period the country is to solve all major healthcare problems, he added.
Given the toughest competition our country lives in there is a need to make a leap to the innovative science-intensive resource-saving economy competitive on the world market. The state program of innovative development of the Republic of Belarus for 2007-2010 has been adopted to fulfill this task. The Government and the National Academy of Sciences need to start implementing it without any delay, the President said.
The President warned against the scholastic approach in this sphere. Science is the main resource of the Belarusian economy. It should keep pace with the modernization of the economy, accumulate and strengthen competitive advantages on the domestic and foreign markets. There is a need to ensure real interaction of science, industry and education. The President believes that so far the issue is much talked about, but so far these have been declarations only. He required that the process of setting up 400 new manufactures which would strengthen the Belarusian economy be accelerated.
The national science should make its contribution to addressing the challenges of rational use of resources, developing energy-saving technologies. Innovation funds will continue playing a special role in further improvement of scientific activity. In 2006, the funds were equal to almost Br1,5 trillion.
The President also noted that a positive tendency has been showing in recent years when more young people get involved into research. They have interesting innovative ideas some of them have already been applied. ‘We have managed to reduce the outflow of scientists by offering real opportunities to improve the well-being and make a career in the native country. This tendency should be strengthened,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.
The main investment task is to boost capital investment in most important modernization projects. Among the latter is the complete overhaul of the petrochemical, microelectronic, timber, woodworking and pulp and paper industries. Efforts will be put into creation of manufactures of new motor vehicles, farm machines, medicines and into development of transport communications, tourism, housing construction.
Alexander Lukashenko bids farewell to first President of Russia
Attending during the ceremony at Moscow’s Christ the Saviour Cathedral were the world’s elite: heads of state and government, public figures, diplomats.
On arriving at the temple Alexander Lukashenko spoke words of condolence to Naina Yeltsina, relatives of the first President of Russia. The Belarusian President arrived at the temple practically simultaneously with Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbaev.
In his time, Boris Yeltsin together with Alexander Lukashenko pioneered the Belarusian-Russian Union development. On the eve the head of state noted, the name of Boris Yeltsin is connected with the most significant and memorable parts of the history of union relations between the Belarusian and Russian nations.
Boris Yeltsin will be buried at Novodevichy cemetery today.
Boris Yeltsin died of heart failure at the Central Clinical Hospital of Moscow on April 23.
Venezuela to open new opportunities for Belarus to realize scientific potential in Latin America
According to him, this year Belarus will present its scientific-technological potential at the exhibition-presentation in Caracas. Attending the exhibition will be scientists from various countries of Latin America. Belarus will be able to establish new business ties, to find new partners in the scientific-technical area. “In the future we will be able to apply our scientific technologies not only in the countries of Europe, Asia and Africa but in Latin America as well”, Vladimir Nedilko noted. Today Belarus cooperates with three countries of the continent – Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.
According to the first deputy chairman of the state committee for science and technology, today a delegation of representatives of Venezuela is in Belarus on a visit. “Scientists of the two countries have already coordinated about 30 joint projects which can be implemented”, he said. Space technologies, developments in the agricultural sphere, immune biology, information technologies, laser equipment and nano-technologies are promising trends of the cooperation. “Today specialists of the two countries are preparing for the first meeting of the joint scientific commission which should decide what projects will be implemented”, he added.
Duma ratifies protocol to RF-Belarus dual tax avoidance agreement
From: Itar Tass
|Your taxes have been reduced, but we have added a 10% paperwork processing surcharge|
Russia and Belarus signed the protocol in St. Petersburg on January 24, 2006.
“It is aimed at ensuring equal conditions for income taxation of individuals – Russian and Belarussian citizens – who work either in Russia or in Belarus,” Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Shatalov said on Wednesday.
Under the document, Belarus’ citizens become Russia’s tax residents after a labour contract comes into force for a period of no less than 183 days. Their incomes will be taxed at a 13-percent rate. If they are not tax residents, they will be taxed at a 30-percent rate.
Income taxation of Russian citizens working in Belarus does not depend on whether they have a tax resident status or not.
Israel interested in development of high-tech cooperation with Belarus
The diplomat said that in the near future the leadership of Belarusian State University, which is one of the major high-tech centers in Belarus, will visit Israel. The joint Belarusian-Israeli projects can either be used for the needs of the two countries or can be exported to third countries, Zeev Ben-Arie believes. He hopes that the coming visit will give a new impetus for the development of high-tech relations between Belarus and Israel.
The ambassador says that the Israeli party has lots of offers which may be of interest for Belarus. However, the Belarusian party should be more active, it should organize more presentations in Israel. “Israeli businessmen have plenty of opportunities in various countries and Belarus needs to be rediscovered for them,” Zeev Ben-Arie said.
He noted that the chamber of commerce and industry Israel-Belarus has been successfully operating in Israel. It is responsible for setting up joint ventures, implementing investment projects, promoting of Israeli goods in Belarus. The diplomat believes that creation of such chambers in Israel and Belarus will help businessmen find new partners and give a new impetus for the development of the bilateral trade-economic ties.
The trade turnover between Belarus and Israel in 2005 totaled $23.3 million. In H1 2006 it was $18.4 million. Belarus exports mainly goods of the food and light industries, metal products to Israel. The main imports are pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, fruits, juices, insecticides and herbicides. Belarus has 23 joint Belarusian-Israeli ventures and 17 companies with 100% participation of Israeli capital in the statutory fund.
U.S. Warns of More Sanctions on Belarus
From: Washington Post
|David Kramer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State|
David Kramer, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, told reporters the Belarusian government must take concrete steps to avoid a further deterioration in U.S.-Belarusian relations.
After talks with diplomats, government officials and opposition leaders, Kramer called for the "releasing of all political prisoners, and I mean all political prisoners, and dropping charges against others."
"In absence of those steps I fear that relations could deteriorate," he told reporters. "We have additional steps we can take to increase the pressure upon the government. I hope they won't be necessary."
Last year, the United States and the European Union slapped travel sanctions on President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron fist for more than a decade, and other top government officials.
The Belarusian leader has quashed dissent and opposition groups and built a Soviet-style, centrally controlled economy that has been heavily reliant on cheap Russian energy supplies.
In recent months, Belarus has lost some of Moscow's support as Russia has forced a series of loss-inducing energy contracts on Minsk. Lukashenko has since made conflicting signals about wanting to ease ties with the West.
Kramer did not give specific names of political activists he said were being held, but opposition groups say at least 10 have been detained by Belarusian authorities, among them Alexander Kozulin, who ran in last year's flawed presidential election.
The country's beleaguered opposition has vowed to hold a rally in Minsk on Thursday marking the 21st anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster. Much of southern and eastern Belarus was irradiated from the fallout that ensued from the plant's fire and explosion.
There is no specific evidence of Minsk's interest in improving relations with West, US government official says
"We have been hearing a rhetoric about an interest in improving relations with the West for several months now. But we have not seen much evidence to suggest that there are some specific steps that could back up this rhetoric," he said.
Mr. Kramer arrived in Minsk on Monday. He met with opposition politicians, relatives of political prisoners, students, as well as with Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw and Natallya Pyatkevich, deputy head of the Presidential Administration.
He said that he had used the meetings to lay out the "minimum steps" that Washington expected Minsk to take toward better bilateral relations. He said that the steps included releasing all political prisoners, dropping charges against other opposition activists, allowing the coming Charnobylski Slyakh demonstration to take place peacefully and allowing the Second Congress of Pro-democratic Forces to take place in Belarus without any problems.
He said that he also had raised the freedom of press during his trip to Minsk. He recalled that the freedom of press was a key principle of the EU 12-step strategy toward Belarus, which he noted Washington supported.
Mr. Kramer added that his meeting with Ms. Pyatkevich had been held at the initiative of the Presidential Administration, suggesting that it had wanted to get an opportunity to hear directly the position of the US government.
2 Belarussians seized on suspicion of radioactive contraband
From: Itar Tass
|Uranium238- Caution: Cutting, grinding, filing, or machining in any way may produce small particles that ignite on contact with air producing dangerous radioactive smoke.|
Finely divided Uranium particles can ignite spontaneously
A metal container with a caption “Uranium 238. 1991” was found on their car.
The detention was made in a joint operation of the Belarussian Interior Ministry’s Main Department on Organized Crime and Corruption and the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau assisted by the two border services. The operation was planned for several months.
The detainees are staying in Lithuania, Belarussian Interior Ministry spokesman Yekaterina Samusenkova-Shelegova said. The Vilnius district prosecutor’s office is holding pre-trial investigation, and the seized cargo is being studied at the Lithuanian Radiation Safety Center.
Contaminated farmland used by over 600 agricultural enterprises in Belarus
According to the official, crops are grown and farm animals graze on a one-million-hectare area contaminated by cesium-137. An area of 200,000 hectares that was contaminated by strontium-90 also is used as farmland, BelaPAN reported.
Farms apply extra amounts of phosphorous and potash fertilizers to grow cleaner produce on the Chernobyl-hit farmland, he said.
Milk with excessive cesium levels is produced by some households, not farms, and does not end up in stores but is turned into radiation-free foodstuffs at dairy plants, Mr. Tsybulka stressed.
The official acknowledged that farms in the worst-hit Brahin, Khoyniki and Narowlya districts had problem growing grain with low strontium levels. To solve the problem, the government has ordered the construction of a distillery in the Brahin district. All grain grown in the area will be used for alcohol production, he stressed.
Twenty-one percent of Belarus' territory is contaminated by the Chernobyl fallout at present.
President unveils Chornobyl monument
|The "White Church" of Bila Tserkva|
In a speech during the ceremony, he said it was incumbent on the government to “adequately react” to the aftereffects of the world’s worst nuclear catastrophe and added that Ukraine had spent more money on the issue in the past three years than in the decade before.
“However, this response is not full,for we need much more [ money ],” he said, urging the cabinet of ministers to introduce Chornobyl programs.
Yushchenko said the Chornobyl issue affected the whole country and insisted that the polluted zone should be developed, calling it “not only the area of tragedy but also of prospects.” He said it could be used to produce biological fuel, generate energy, open wildlife preserves and process wood.
“This territory must not be forgotten. We want to see this land alive and revived,” he said, adding that the Shelter project was an integral part of Chornobyl’s renewal.
The Ukrainian leader expressed gratitude to those who had sponsored the creation of the monument. Bila Tserkva Mayor thanked him for his Chornobyl policies.
They observed one minute of silence to pay tribute to the victims of the disaster.
U.S., NATO to press Russia on missile shield at Oslo talks
From: Ria Novosti
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is attending a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council's foreign ministers, which is expected to focus on the proposed U.S. missile defense initiative.
In January, the U.S. announced plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland to counter possible attacks from Iran or North Korea, whose nuclear programs have provoked serious international concerns. Russia, which has been anxious about NATO bases that have appeared in former Communist-bloc countries and ex-Soviet republics, considers the plans to deploy anti-missile systems in Central Europe as a national security threat and a destabilizing factor for Europe.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who met with President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov during his recent visit to Moscow, apparently failed to convince the Russian leadership that the U.S. missile shield does not pose any threat to Russia, and suggested that Moscow could cooperate with Washington on a whole range of issues related to the missile defense system.
Russia's top brass reacted swiftly and categorically to the U.S. proposal by blasting Washington's position at a news conference at RIA Novosti Tuesday.
"The real goal [of the deployment] is to protect [the U.S.] from the Russian and Chinese nuclear missile potential and to create exclusive conditions for the invulnerability of the United States," said Army General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian General Staff.
The general warned Washington that Russia would monitor the U.S. missile defense installations in Europe if they were ultimately deployed, and would develop an adequate response to U.S. actions.
At a Tuesday news conference in Luxembourg, Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow had no interest in joining the U.S. initiative and is still awaiting a clear explanation from the United States over its proposed missile shield plans.
Lavrov reiterated that any cooperation must involve the principle of equal partnership from the very beginning and respect for individual interests.
"This [missile defense initiative] assumes cooperation from the start, and, as a first step, must include a joint assessment of existing threats and coordination of measures to be taken," he said, adding that the U.S. proposal lacks such an assessment.
"We are against any proposal that turns Europe into a playground for someone," the Russian minister said. "We do not want to play these games."
Commenting on Russia's reaction, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she was surprised with Russia's resistance to accept the U.S. offer on missile defense cooperation.
"We have offered them defense cooperation," she said at a news conference in Oslo. "I don't know why you would not want to engage in missile defense cooperation that gives you the possibility of protecting your people and your territory against missile threats from states that may not be deterrable."
She expressed hope that future talks with the Russian leadership on the issue would help allay Moscow's concerns and eliminate suspicions left from the period of the Cold War.
"We will continue to talk to the Russians about it," Rice said. "To the degree that they have concerns, we'll continue to try to address them and we've been doing this now for several months."
U.S. State Secretary said she will meet with the Russian foreign minister in Oslo and will continue discussions during her upcoming visit to Moscow in May.
"I am expecting that I will go to Moscow pretty soon and I -- when I go to Moscow, we'll have more extended time to talk about all of these issues," Rice said, also referring to issues of the Kosovo settlement and Iran's controversial nuclear program
Former Polish minister commits suicide
as police search her house in connection with corruption allegations
From: Houston Chon
Officers from Poland's Internal Security Agency staged an early-morning search of Barbara Blida's home in the southern town of Siemianowice, agency spokesman Magdalena Stanczyk said.
Blida, a lawmaker for the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance from 1989-2005 and construction minister from 1993-1996, "was suspected of taking and receiving material gains," Stanczyk said.
Blida, 57, asked agents if she could use the toilet while they conducted their search.
The officers agreed, and a female agent accompanied Blida to the bathroom, the agency said later Wednesday in a statement.
Once in the bathroom, "Blida suddenly and unexpectedly pulled a loaded gun from an unestablished location and shot herself in the chest," the agency said.
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his conservative Law and Justice party are making a broad push to root out corruption and shady ties between business and politics that they say thrived under previous governments led by ex-communists.
Wednesday's raid was part of an investigation into corruption allegations against 14 people, including Blida, said Tomasz Tadla, a spokesman for prosecutors in Katowice.
Tadla said police had planned to arrest Blida and 13 others in the region early Wednesday, and press charges including corruption, money laundering and possession of false documents.
Prosecutors were on the scene to determine whether Internal Security Agency officers followed the proper procedures.
Kaczynski called for an investigation.
"Why she couldn't be stopped before this tragic, desperate action still needs to be clarified," he said.
Ukraine’s prized chemical businesses could be sold off due to gas price hikes
From: Kyiv Post
The State Property Fund, the country’s privatization body, recently put forward a plan to privatize the Odessa Portside Plant, one of the country’s largest producers of ammonia and nitrogen fertilizers, by the third quarter of this year.
Three other privately owned chemical plants, each valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars – DniproAzot, RivneAzot and CherkasyAzot – also look destined for the auction bloc.
Ukraine’s chemical business, ranked as one of the world’s top 15 chemical-producing countries, has long been controlled by domestic business groups. If sold to Russian chemical or energy suppliers, Ukraine’s industry would fall further into the grips of its northern neighbor. However, sales could also offer an opportunity for Western chemical groups to sneak onto the market.
The Odessa plant, which includes strategically located ammonia storage and transportation facilities, is estimated to be worth at least $300-400 million, but some officials have argued that the state’s stake could sell at an open tender for as much as $1 billion.
State privatization officials had originally scheduled its privatization for 2004, then again in 2006, but questions arose whether the storage and transportation facilities, highly coveted by Russian chemical producers, should be included in a tender as well.
Ukraine’s otherwise profitable chemical industry has experienced a financial downturn following abrupt increases in the price of natural gas imported from Russia and Central Asia in 2006 (by 50 percent) and 2007 (by around a third).
First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov confirmed on April 2 that a 100 percent stake in Odessa Portside Plant would be sold, but a firm date has not been set.
The State Property Fund had wanted to sell only a 36.6 percent stake on international exchanges, and 10 percent on the domestic securities market.
The plant exports around 88 percent of its products, while commanding around 24 percent of Ukraine’s fertilizer and carbamide markets.
Russian investors are particularly interested in purchasing it as a vital terminal link in an ammonium pipeline that runs from the Russian city Tolyatti to the Ukrainian seaport of Yuzhniy. From there, Russian chemicals head off into the Black sea.
Oleksandr Ryabchenko, director of the Kyiv International Institute for Privatization, Asset Management and Investments, said that the price and the terms of the sale depend on whether the new owner will gain control over the plant’s transfer and storage complex.
“With the transfer complex, the new owners of the plant will be able to regulate the volumes of chemical shipments exported through the Yuzhniy Port in Odessa,” he said.
Russia’s TolyattiAzot currently supplies 15 percent of the global ammonium market.
Without the transfer complex, the price of Odessa Portside would drop by around $100 million.
The gas-hike squeeze
Tamara Levchenko, an analyst at Kyiv-based investment bank Dragon Capital, said that major Ukrainian chemical plants have seen their profits almost halved due to the hikes in gas prices.
“For example, the net margin of Stirol dropped to 9.1 percent in 2006 compared to 21.5 percent in 2005. The Odessa Portside Plant’s net margin fell to 12.6 percent in 2006, while in 2005 it was 23 percent,” she said.
“This means that despite higher sales, the plants’ profits have fallen because operating costs have grown at much higher rates,” she added.
Similar losses were recorded by other top-six Ukrainian chemical plants, including DniproAzot and RivneAzot.
Levchenko said that the drop in profitability will continue, “because gas prices will continue to rise. Only large-scale costly modernizations aimed at diversifying products toward organics and implementing energy-saving technologies can help eliminate the negative effect that rising gas prices will have on producers’ profitability.”
“Many owners of chemical assets would prefer to sell them to strategic buyers as soon as possible,” she said.
One example is a recent decision passed by DniproAzot shareholders on March 19. They approved the sale of company assets at open auctions, hoping to acquire almost $600 million. The Dnipropetrovsk-based Privat business group controls 86 percent of DniproAzot, while another 10 percent is in free-float on the Ukrainian stock market.
Recently, Russia’s Acron chemical holding has expressed intensions to acquire DniproAzot if parties agree on a price and terms of the deal.
According to Levchenko, RivneAzot and CherkasyAzot may also soon be offered up for sale. RivneAzot falls into the sphere of influential businessman Dmytro Firtash, a 45 percent beneficiary owner of RosUkrEnergo, the exclusive supplier of natural gas from Central Asia and Russia to Ukraine.
According to media reports, a subsidiary of Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg’s Renova Group, is in talks with Ukraine’s UkrSibbank for the purchase of a 60 percent stake in CherkasyAzot. Market insiders say the deal will depend on whether Ukraine’s nitrogen fertilizer producers receive subsides for natural gas from the government.
“It is important to sell at the right moment. The market value of Ukraine’s major nitrogen fertilizer producers could decline in the mid-term based on poor profitability forecasts. Moreover, there are interested buyers right now,” said Levchenko.
Sources said the supervisory board of Ukrnafta, a state-owned open joint stock company that extracts and trades 75 percent of all domestic oil and gas, is studying the possibility of purchasing shares in RivneAzot, Dniproazot and Odessa Portside Plant because Ukrnafta could provide cheaper gas that is extracted in Ukraine.
According to Ryabchenko, the sale of Odessa Portside, as well as other planned privatizations, could nevertheless be put off due to Ukraine’s ongoing political standoff between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
The ongoing political crisis might also make it easier for officials to push through a less-than-transparent auction.
“Since the sale will likely happen after the crisis, it is difficult to predict whether or not Ukraine will have a good and transparent deal,” Ryabchenko said.
But crisis or no crisis, it is in Ukraine’s interest to privatize the plant before Russia delivers another gas hike ultimatum.
The price of gas constitutes 80-90 percent of the cost of ammonium, the plant’s primary product.
Yeltsin, the man who failed Russia
From: Turkish Daily News
He was always a heavy drinker, but until his health problems got bad in the mid-1990s he could usually hold his liquor. The real problem was that he was a man of action who didn't have an idea in his head. A lot of people kept trying to put ideas in there, but they just fell out the other side. So he freed Russia (and a lot of other countries) from Communism, but he didn't give it much else to work with instead.Boris Yeltsin, who died at 76 on Monday, was brought to Moscow in 1985 to clean up the corruption in the capital by the man he eventually removed from power, the Communist reformer Mikhail Gorbachev. But the times were right for ambitious men to aim a lot higher, and Yeltsin was nothing if not ambitious, so by 1988 he had quit his position on the Communist Party's ruling body, the Politburo. He ran for the all-Moscow seat against the official Communist candidate in the first free election in Soviet history, and won in a landslide.
Leader without ideas:
I first met Yeltsin soon after that in the basement cafeteria of the Supreme Soviet, just inside the Kremlin walls, which was the easiest place for foreign journalists to find and interview deputies to this new-fangled beast, the Congress of People's Deputies. It was one of the stars of the nascent Russian democratic movement, Galina Strarovoitova, who introduced us, and the contrast between the two of them was quite stunning. Starovoitova (who was murdered some years ago in a contract killing) was a genuine democratic hero, an intellectual who dedicated her life to the ideal of a free society. Yeltsin was a charming bruiser who ran mostly on instinct and was all too aware of his considerable charisma. Yet he was in practice the leader of her little band of democrats, the Inter-Regional Deputies Group.
The IRDG flourished for less than a year, and it had less than a tenth of the deputies to the Congress, most of whom were still Communist Party hacks. Its leaders, including famous dissident figures like scientist Andrei Sakharov and historian Yuri Afanasiev, were using their unprecedented access to the media to spread democratic ideas to the furthest corners of a country where such notions had been condemned and suppressed for seventy years, but they knew those ideas alone would not produce a democratic majority in any Soviet election in the near future.Yeltsin, on the other hand, could win the election, but he had no ideas at all. So they made him their leader, and during that year you rarely saw him without some leading light of the IRDG at his side, earnestly trying to fill this empty vessel with democratic ideals. Everybody meant well, I think, but the transplant didn't take, and by 1990 Yeltsin had moved on.In the following two years he did two things that should have earned him the gratitude of both Russia and the whole world. Standing on a tank outside the White House in Moscow in August, 1991, he turned back the hardline Communist coup attempt that almost reversed the flow of history. And he did it practically single-handedly, by the force of his own personality.The coup was amazingly incompetent, but it could have succeeded nevertheless, in which case we would still be dealing with a ramshackle Communist-ruled Soviet Union, sinking ever deeper into poverty and corruption and fighting insurgencies all around its perimeter: Upper Volta with rockets, indeed. What we have is much better than that.
Freeing the 'republic's:
Yeltsin's other great accomplishment, at the end of 1991, was to wind up the Soviet Union and set all of its constituent "republics" free. He did it for purely tactical reasons, but it was the last great act of decolonisation, and it spared us a generation of bloody struggles as the old Russian empire gradually fell apart. Despite tyranny in the 'Stans and war in Chechnya, what we have is much better than that, too. But then Yeltsin should have died or at least retired, because he was a disaster and an embarrassment as the president of Russia.
There was the "shock therapy" prescribed by Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs that ended all subsidies overnight, drove inflation to 2,000 percent, and wiped out the life savings of tens of millions of families. There were the corrupt privatisation deals that created the "oligarchs" and the gangster culture. There was the armed assault on parliament in 1993 and the needless, futile, bloody attempt to subjugate Chechnya by force. Russia in the 1990s could have done a lot better than that.Yeltsin's retirement on New Year's Eve, 1999 was of a piece with all that: a cynical deal handing power to the former KGB chief, Vladimir Putin, in return for a guarantee that no legal inquiries would be made after he left office into the wealth accumulated by his family and his political associates during their time in power. There is not much genuine mourning in Russia for Yeltsin today, and you can see why. But he did get the two big things right, and that counts for a lot. History may take a kinder view of him than Russians do today.
Vladimir Simonov: A Russia we recognized
From: The Spokesman
Prime Minister Tony Blair recalls the Russian leader as an outstanding statesman who realized how much Russia needed democratic and economic reforms.
Javier Solana, a European Union official and former secretary-general of NATO, thinks that Yeltsin displayed incredible foresight and courage when he decided to sign a hitherto unthinkable agreement on Russian cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance in the early 1990s.
These statements could be summed up in the following words, which the West could write on a wreath to lay at the grave of Russia's first elected president: "We are grateful to you for creating a Russia that no longer scares us." In other words, Yeltsin made Russia look normal in the eyes of the civilized world.
He gave his people three simple, fundamental rights that citizens of civilized countries have enjoyed for a long time. Under Yeltsin, Russians received the opportunity to say what they thought, elect who they liked to major posts, and own private property, be it a house in the Moscow suburbs or a villa in Nice, although the majority could buy the latter only in theory.
Having embarked on the path of democracy and the market economy, no matter how awful it seemed to some initially, the mysterious and dangerous communist-controlled Russia turned into a sensible and understandable country. Russians became more like Westerners. Perhaps at that moment, when differences were swept away, the Cold War came to an end. Credit for this historic accomplishment largely goes to Yeltsin as well.
By the end of his eight-year-long rule, Boris Yeltsin had lost the admiration of his compatriots. His popularity in Russia, but not in the West, had gone down. Well-to-do analysts watching events in Russia from afar thought that nothing tragic was happening. To be more precise, they believed that Russia had to go through its ordeals like any country undergoing a great change.
The West shares our grief because it also understands the greatness of the late Russian president. After all, it was Yeltsin who buried communism and made Russia part of the free world. In history textbooks he will always be remembered as a giant Russian standing on a tank, the man who prevented his country's return to the gloomy era of totalitarianism.
Frank Sinatra once sang "I did it my way." The same words can be applied to Yeltsin. He did it his way, and both Russia and the West are grateful to him for choosing freedom.
Opposition rallies in Russia and Belarus: going in different directions
On March 25th, however, when the latest major opposition rally took place in Belarus, the picture was different. Something has changed inside the country so that Belarus almost appeared like a haven of democracy against the darker background of the new Russian regime. Imagine, the Belarusian militsia was not nearly as violent usual, the special internal army units stayed away from the protesters most of the time, and - most strikingly - the authorities organized their own fest “For Independent Belarus”. Not only did they choose to appropriate the opposition’s slogan, but they (illogically) celebrated the unofficial, yet historical holiday. Reconciliation? PR stunt? Who knows. We decided to translate an account of the rally in Minsk, written by Ales Kaichuk on our Belarusian sister blog, and let our readers decide for themselves.
Follow the original story (lots of photos) here...
Boris the Great?
From: The Beatroot
Yes, he was the man who stood on that tank, during the failed coup of 1991, when a few desperate communists tried to re-take power.
Yes, he disbanded the old Soviet state and gave Russians freedom they had never enjoyed in their lifetimes, or their parents’ lifetimes.
Yes, he ushered in a ‘shock therapy’ market economy, and opened up Russia to investment. A lot of people got very rich.
But lots and lots more got poor and poorer. The economy collapsed. Growth went into reverse for many years; inflation went crazy; people’s savings became worthless; inequalities ballooned; corruption became endemic.
The then there was the war in Chechnya, where thousands lost their lives – it was like Afghanistan all over again.
Yeltsin, the first ever elected president, retired on New Year’s Eve, 1999, without any support at all. The average Russian hated and despised him.
Internationally, he was seen as a joke – staggering, drunkenly around the globe, failing to turn up often for meetings with heads of state, because he had drank just one too many (bottles of) vodkas.
Talk to Poles, though, and most look back with nostalgia to the Yeltsin years. He ended communism, after all. And they probably quite liked the fact that Russia became weaker and weaker, and so less of a threat to the new ex-communist Poland.
If they could choose between Putin’s (who was virtually hand picked by Boris, remember) strong, authoritarian Russia, or Yeltsin’s drunken oligarchy, bandit capitalism, they’ll take Boris’s, anytime.
Russians would beg to differ.
Remembering Yeltsin III: pundit Yevegeny Kiselyov gives his take on Yeltsin:
No doubt a grandiose monument to Russia's first president will be erected in Moscow. But if it were up to me, I would erect another -- a life-size bronze of Yeltsin in his younger days, waiting for a trolleybus at the stop near the Sheraton Hotel on 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Ulitsa.
The stop is across the street from the building where Boris Yeltsin lived when he became the head of the Moscow City Committee of the Communist Party at the end of 1985. Rumors soon began circulating that the new city chief was doing some surprising things. Capitalizing on the fact that nobody yet knew his face, Yeltsin would study life in Moscow by riding the trolleybuses and visiting the stores, cleaners and repair shops to talk to people about their daily lives.
This is not just some populist legend. Years later, while working on the documentary film "The President of All Russia," I found archival footage from a Western television company that actually showed Yeltsin on a trolleybus speaking with the passengers, walking the streets without bodyguards, entering an ordinary medical clinic, and examining the goods on a store's display counter.
Many of today's jaded politicians might, indeed, dismiss this as primitive populism. They would probably be right. But in the context of a Soviet Union that had yet to begin extricating itself from the stagnation of Leonid Brezhnev's times, it was such an unexpected and fresh approach that it rapidly made Yeltsin popular among Muscovites.
His popularity reached such heights that when, in 1987, Yeltsin fell out with Mikhail Gorbachev, who forced him to resign saying, "I will not let you into politics again," it was only a matter of time before the future president would stage a triumphant return.
Yeltsin was a true political animal in the most positive sense of the word. He had an amazing instinct for what people expected from him in critical situations.
Finding himself in disgrace after the clash with Gorbachev, Yeltsin understood that people were tired of endless talk about perestroika and the return to true socialism. It wasn't enough. The people wanted to go further, to a chance for freedom and the end of communism, and Yeltsin understood it.
In his now-famous last address as president, on New Year's Eve 1999, Yeltsin asked Russians to forgive him for everything he had not managed to accomplish. Those were exactly the words the people had wanted to hear. I am certain that not a single one of his advisers, assistants or speechwriters, all of whom loved him and trembled before him, would have ever dared to pen the words. The words were Yeltsin's.
Being in the limelight did not come easily for him, but he gave it his all while trying to be different from the verbose and endlessly vacillating Gorbachev. I later saw some amazing documentary footage shot by director Alexander Sokrov during Yeltsin's late-1980s period of disgrace. The camera showed him sitting alone on the steps of a dacha, clasping his head in his hands, with his heavy thoughts bringing forth a physical reaction of suffering. It is hard to believe the same person would one day throw back his shoulders, march assuredly across the hall during what turned out to be the last congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, mount the dais and drive home the words of his resignation from the Party like so many nails in its coffin.
In contrast to his successor, President Vladimir Putin, whose ability to remain poised before television cameras might be his greatest strength, Yeltsin was uncomfortable in front of the cameras. His former assistants say that his prep time before broadcasts was long and tortured, and that he nevertheless often felt so unsure of himself that taping would sometimes have to be halted and started again from the beginning. Indeed, when I taped my first one-on-one interview with Yeltsin in 1993, I was surprised at how nervous he was before the interview begun. Once the cameras started rolling, Yeltsin suddenly radiated strength and self-confidence.
His ability to pull himself together and gather his strength in times when resolution was needed was one of his defining qualities. In August 1991, already having been elected the president of the Russian Soviet Republic, it was clear to everyone that this would be the leader of the new country when Yeltsin climbed up on a tank outside the White House to tell the organizers of the putsch that their actions were illegal.
Another occasion on which Yeltsin impressed me was that unforgettable moment on the eve of the second decisive round of the 1996 presidential elections, when he stepped out of the Kremlin and told journalists he was firing his chief of security and one of his closest and most dedicated colleagues, General Alexander Korzhakov. In the conflict between his chief bodyguard, who advocated canceling the election, which would have violated the Constitution, and his election committee members, who maintained he could win without breaking the law, Yeltsin sided with those who had helped him finish on top in the first round.
While he spoke, Yeltsin's face remained inscrutable -- something that happens when people are grieving deeply. His wife, Naina, later said in an interview, "When Boris Nikolayevich parted ways with [Korzhakov], he felt as if he were losing a family member." After making his announcement, Yeltsin's face quite unexpectedly broke into a smile, and he said, "Why are you standing around? Run quickly and convey the news! I have given you a hot story!"
Today, there is much debate whether Yeltsin was ever really committed to democracy. Winston Churchill used to liken dictatorship to an ocean liner sailing smoothly across the horizon and appearing invulnerable. He would point out, however, that one well-placed torpedo could send it to the bottom without a trace. Democracy, on the other hand, was like a dingy pitching and rolling with every wave. Because it reflected the will of the people, Churchill said, the dingy was damn near unsinkable. You stay afloat in a democracy, but your feet are always in the water.
I don't know if Yeltsin was familiar with the analogy, but I am certain his commitment to democratic principles was nourished by the instincts of a born politician. He felt and understood well what Churchill was talking about: There is no more reliable way to govern than by a democratic system. There is no better way to be treated well by history than to stand on the side of democracy.
Will Yeltsin's death snap the last rope still anchoring Putin's boat to the shore of democracy? Or will the opposite occur? Standing over his predecessor' coffin, will the president of Russia be compelled to confirm his fidelity to democratic principles and to halting the country's prolonged drift in the opposite direction? We may get an idea as early as Thursday, when Putin delivers his annual state-of-the-nation address.
Charnobylski Shliakh to Take Place in Minsk Today
From: Charter '97
Belarusian authorities are criminally hushing up the problem of radiation contamination. Over the period of Lukashenka’s rule the number of territories with periodic radiological monitoring. Today 140,000 people live in the heavily contaminated territories, though in Russia and Ukraine people were relocated from such areas long ago. The Belarusian authorities state that these territories have “turned clean” and call upon people to return to the areas dangerous for their life.
Over the recent years dwellers of the contaminated areas and liquidators of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster have been deprived of their allowances. Sick people were deprived of free medicines and treatment in sanatoriums. Because of lack of funds in 1999 regular screening of the affected population was stopped. Humanitarian aid from abroad for victims of Chernobyl has been limited. Food is grown on contaminated land, and these foodstuffs are sold on the territory of Belarus everywhere. University graduates get compulsory job assignment for work in Chernobyl zone.