Principal ethnic groups
After seven decades as a constituent republic of the USSR, Belarus attained its independence in 1991. It has retained closer political and economic ties to Russia than any of the other former Soviet republics. Belarus and Russia signed a treaty on a two-state union on 8 December 1999 envisioning greater political and economic integration but, to date, neither side has actively sought to implement the accord.
Update No: 275 - (01/12/03)
The Belarussians are in a cleft stick. Their leader, President Alexander Lukashenka, wants his country to join in a union with Russia, just like the old days. By no means all of them welcome the prospect.
Minsk is the capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). On September 29th the CIS had a meeting in Yalta, where a new departure was made. Putin persuaded the presidents of three key FSU states, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakstan, the very three which had agreed to the death warrant of the Soviet Union back in November 1991, to enter into a far-reaching economic treaty, envisaging a 'common economic space.' That this is not just moonshine is shown by the agreement of Belarus to adopt the Russian rouble.
Belarus has been given a target date of January 2005 to introduce the Russian rouble as its currency. This is part of a Putin-sponsored plan to reincorporate the country into a new union with Russia, ruled from the Kremlin. The union already exists in embryo as the Russo-Belarussian Union, whose state secretary is none other than Pavel Borodin, the eminence grise of the Kremlin in the Yeltsin years. Putin was once his deputy and has returned favours by protecting Borodin from extradition demands from the Swiss, who have charged him with money-laundering on an extensive scale.
The prehensile character of Borodin is revealed in the following anecdote, cited by certain ironists to demonstrate his honesty. He chaired the Yakutsk Executive Committee when it gave a lucrative contract to a German construction company, which, on completion of the deal, flew a Mercedes out to Yakutia to give him as a present. He refused it on the grounds that he could be prosecuted under the Soviet Industrial Code for bribery. But he added, "you could sell it to me." His interlocutors readily agreed and asked how much he was prepared to pay. He replied: "Twenty kopecks. And I will buy two of them." That is the sort of honest broker Putin likes around himself, a scoundrel, yes, but 'one of our scoundrels.' Just like Lukashenka in fact.
Borodin has a plethora of unusual ideas. He has proposed that St Petersburg should eventually become the capital of the new union. That would make a familiar backdrop for Putin if he avails himself of the opportunity to become its president after 2008. This is the future destiny Borodin is preparing for Putin, with the added inducement that he could then lead its expansion into other countries and consolidate 'a post-Soviet space.' It is by no means sure that this vista would appeal to the present master of the Kremlin, who must view the prospect with profound scepticism. He has his uses for Borodin, but does not have to accept his wilder fantasies.
Belarus to export 20,000 tonnes of rye flour to Ukraine
Belarus plans to export 20,000 tonnes of rye flour to Kiev in Ukraine by the end of 2003, Belapan News Agency learnt from the chief of the department for resources and trade under the Belarusian Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Zoya Sharko.
According to the department, owing to this year's poor harvest, rye flour is in short supply in Ukraine. At the same time, Belarusian farms sold 311,000 tonnes of rye to the government this year, with the state having planned 254,000 tonnes, which makes it possible to export rye, the official noted.
Belarus busy negotiating joint oil production with Russian companies
Belarus is currently conducting intensive talks and consultations with Russian companies about the prospects of joint oil production in Russia and further refinement of crude oil in Belarus, Interfax News Agency learnt from the State Oil and Chemicals Industries Concern of Belarus (Belneftekhim).
In particular, they have prepared drafts of statutory documents to start a joint venture on the premises of RussNeft OJSC to extract oil and an oil-refining joint venture on the premises of Mozyr Oil Refinery.
The agreements will be reinforced by a treaty to be signed by the Government of Belarus and RussNeft Oil Company. The aforementioned treaty proposes making the Belarusian government into a company- manager of block of shares in RussNeft. In turn, the Russian company becomes a company-manager of a package of shares in Mozyr Oil Refinery.
After receiving the approval of the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Finance and the Foreign Ministry of Belarus, the drafts will be submitted to the government, which will take a final decision on Belneftekhim's initiative.
In the meantime, Belneftekhim is holding similar negotiations with Lukoil OJSC, experts informed. At the moment, the parties are busy developing proposals about joint oil prospecting activities in Russia.
The joint venture can be set up on the premises of Naftan OJSC, Polimir OJSC and oil producing facilities of Lukoil after the market value of each party's contributions has been assessed. incapacity
It is hoped that Belneftekhim's initiative will increase Russian oil supplies to Belarusian oil refining enterprises and draw investments into the petrochemical industry.
Under the Union State's 2003 energy balance, Belarusian oil refineries are supposed to process 15 million tons of Russian oil. Besides, another 1.8 million tons will be delivered to Belorusneft PA.
Gazprom not interested in Beltransgaz as asset
Gazprom is not interested in the Belarussian gas transportation company, Beltransgaz, as a market asset, Interfax News Agency has reported, quoting a source in the Russian gas giant, Gazprom.
In comments on Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's remark on Belarus's willingness to transfer a controlling stake in Beltransgaz to Russia in exchange for the opportunity for Belarussian specialists to extract gas in Russia, the Gazprom source told Interfax that Russian companies are not experiencing problems with gas extraction.
"If we are talking about the creation of a union between Russia and Belarus, Beltransgaz should become part of a unified gas supply system as well. This is impossible without obtaining a controlling stake," the source said.
Beltransgaz is not of interest to Gazprom as a market asset even if it is estimated at US$1bn, the source reiterated. "Gazprom has other more appealing investment targets," he said.
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