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BELARUS


  

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
207,595

Population
10,350,194

Principal ethnic groups
Belarusians 77.9%
Russians 13.2%
Poles 4%

Capital
Minsk

Currency
Rubel 
(Belarusian Rouble)

President
Alexander Lukashenka

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Background:
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: 268 - (25/04/03)

The president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka, is the last true dictator in Europe. Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine would be called a dictator by many of his countrymen, as was Meciar of Slovakia and Milosevic of Serbia. But the latter two allowed themselves to be voted out of office and power, while the former is stepping down next year.
It is difficult to see Lukashenka allowing himself to be voted out of office and even more so to him stepping down. He is going to be a barnacle on his rock, his very own sticking-place in Minsk. He likes to spite the West, but also grinds down his fellow citizens. He knows he can do that by just staying put.

No refuge for Saddam in Minsk
One idea going the rounds recently was that Saddam might find a refuge in Belarus, indeed Minsk. The Belarussian government has firmly denied it, saying that there was no truth in the rumour at all.
It is, indeed hard to envisage Saddam holing up in Minsk. The culture clash would be too great. Anyway, Lukashenka likes to call himself a democrat, winning 75% of the vote in September 2001, an event rather overshadowed by current developments in New York and in Washington at the time.

Pariah of the West
Lukashenka is in fact still smarting from being cold-shouldered by the US Administration which sent no congratulations to him on his victory, despite him having congratulated Bush on his in 2000. Lukashenka qualified his stance subsequently by commiserating with the 'Florida angle' casting doubt over Bush's triumph. Bush is seeking another sort of legitimacy and will of course stand for re-election next year. Lukashenka has no plans for re-election for there is likely to be an indefinite extension of his term, just as his 1994 mandate was extended by several years.
The West delivered him another rebuff last year when he was refused admittance, along with 50 of his top staff, to the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Meeting of 49 members coincident with the November meeting of NATO in Prague. Indeed he and his entourage have been banned from the EU. He has been in effect declared a pariah.
But compared with al-Qaeda and the Saddam regime, Lukashenka is merely an off-stage clown.

Grim times for the people
For his own people, however he is a genuine pestilence, an incubus of whom they cannot easily get rid themselves. On February 15th a march took place in which placards of Saddam were held high by those protesting against the Iraq war
Then on March 12th, the day after Lukashenka ordered law enforcement agencies to tighten monitoring of opposition activists, the really important march took place, the March march as it is deserves to be remembered. Thousands of Belarussians turned out in Minsk to protest against Lukashenka himself. This was a truly, brave thing to do, with the regime's KGB minders scanning and recording every face.
"He must go" was the rallying cry, and everyone knew who 'he' was. "We have two choices," said Dimitry Bondarenko. "Either we all leave the country or one man goes. That man is Lukashenka."

Dictatorship - table d'hote belarusse
Lukashenka has his own version of dictatorship, which can be called the Soviet Union in one country. The only MP in 1991 to vote against independence, he craves the stable, secure world of the Soviet Union. Belarus has many, if not all, the features of that promised land that scarcely delivered on its promises and so vanished.
There is a KGB of 150,000 still called by the same name; its operatives enjoy a special dispensation, indeed form a collectivity of new Old Believers, the latterday secular equivalent of the Russian Orthodox faithful, whom Peter the Great forced to shave their beards. In Lukashenka's case, as in Saddam's, it is rather a matter of sporting a moustache as a sign of machismo. Given its ideological roots, one can call it Marxismo.
The rest of the population are not so enthusiastically nostalgic for the good old days. They do not have the perks and privileges of the KGB elite. But in general they have been obliged to shut up, except when let out on a leash to march for Saddam. The March 12th demo may change all that, although so long as Lukashenka retains the support of the security apparatus, it is difficult to see what people can do.
The economy is in a poor shape, with rampant double figure inflation and sluggish output. It is kept going by the support of Moscow, which is growing increasingly restive, however, at the regime's embarrassingly outmoded ways. Russia is the only country likely to take the shoddy Belarussian goods and is the prime supplier of energy at cheap rates. But it is never a good thing for a state to be wholly dependent on another for its survival. Putin tolerates Lukashenka as "a scoundrel, yes - but our scoundrel." Another Russian leader might not be so forbearing.

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AVIATION & SPACE

Belarus begins satellite project


Belarus is to start the development of its own satellite. A decision to this effect was adopted at a meeting chaired by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka on 8th April, Belarussian TV has reported. A concept of a distant land surface probing system designed by Belarusian scientists was presented for the president's consideration. 
The concept envisages the creation of a satellite that would allow Belarusian researchers to observe processes taking place on the Earth's surface. An appropriate infrastructure to receive and process data will be created on the ground. 
Taking into account the complexity of the project, experts from Russia's Aviation and Space Agency were invited to take part in the meeting. Not only did they support the ideas put forward by Belarusian scientists, but also expressed readiness to get involved in their implementation. Having listened to all viewpoints, Lukashenka decided to support the first Belarusian space project. The president instructed the government and the National Academy of Sciences to immediately start working on the technical and economic basis of the project. 
Lukashenka pointed out that the implementation of the Belarusian space programme would boost national prestige and produce economic benefits.

Russia, Belarus to cooperate in space research

Russia and Belarus have agreed on cooperation in space research for the period until 2006. The council of ministers of the union state at its meeting on 2nd April decided to work out a concept of such joint work in the coming three years, Rosaviakosmos [Russian Aerospace Agency] chief Yuriy Koptev told ITAR-TASS News Agency.
Koptev recalled that Russia and Belarus had already implemented a number of joint programmes in this respect. Belarus has a number of enterprises that turn out products for the space rocket industry, he said. Russia intends to carry on cooperation with the Belarusian side to develop "a variety of spacecraft facilities."
The development of a concept of cooperation is to begin soon. Resources to finance it will be allocated as early as in the third quarter of the current year, Koptev said.

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ENERGY

Belarus starts privatisation of gas transit compan
y

Beltranshaz [Belarusian gas transit network] has been turned into an open joint stock company, according to information released by the Economics Ministry. An edict to this effect was signed on 31st March, Belapan News Agency has reported. Beltranshaz is Belarus's primary gas supplier and distributor. 
Beltranshaz was turned into a joint stock company in accordance with an agreement on expanded gas cooperation signed by the governments of Russia and Belarus on 12th April 2002 as well as an edict by the Cabinet of Ministers (N 127), dated 3rd February 2003 "On corporatisation of the unitary enterprise Beltranshaz."
The charter capital of the new open joint stock company stands at US$575m. As Beltranshaz is strategically important for Belarus, the state will hold 50 per cent and one share. Corporatization of Beltranshaz is only the first stage of its privatization. A Belarusian-Russian joint gas transportation company should be established on its basis by 1st July this year.

Surgutneftegaz, SIBUR LUKoil may bid for Belarus companies

Russia's Surgutneftegaz, SIBUR and LUKoil do not rule out the possibility of participating in tenders for the sale of shares in Belarussian petrochemical companies Naftan, Polimir, Grondo Azot and Grondo Khimvolokno, if the conditions are right. Interfax News Agency reported that the company's management is very interested in the assets of the Belarussian petrochemical companies. 
However, the Surgutneftegaz position as regards possible investment in the Belarussian petrochemical industry involves receiving controlling shares in these companies. Moreover, the company does not like the proposed transfer of shares in stages, suggested by the Belarussian side. Interfax noted that for Surgutneftegaz it is not unacceptable "to come to a board meeting with your opinion and not have the possibility of influencing the decision reached." The SIBUR press service expressed the same opinion and noted that the company does not see how it would be possible to effectively manage investments without controlling shares. 
At the same time, company representatives noted the company's long-term mutually profitable cooperation with Polimir, Mogilyev Khimvolokno and Belshina, and expressed interest in acquiring these assets. The LUKoil press service said that at the moment company experts are carefully studying the conditions of the investment tender and have not yet reached a final conclusion.

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FOOD & DRINK

Belarus brewing reformation has not yet impacted Ochakovo


The Belarussian government's planned reformation of the country's brewing sector, which calls for rejecting foreign investment and entrusting the state's stock in breweries to Priorbank, has not yet had an effect on the plans of brewing company Ochakovo plans in the city of Brest, company president, Nikolai Kutlunin said, New Europe reports.
At the start of the year Ochakovo had announced its intentions to buy 85% of the stock in the Brest brewery and invest US$20-25m in it. "Our position has not changed, and our Belarussian colleagues have expressed hope for continued cooperation," Kutlunin said, nothing that a new concept for the development of the Belarussian brewing sector has been worked out by Belgospischeprom without taking stock of already existing agreements with Russian partners. "These agreements remain in force, we are not backing off the Brest project and are getting ready to carry it out," he said.
Almost half (49.99%) of Priorbank belongs to Raiffeisen International Beteiligungs AG. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) owns another 13.5%. Attracting those bank assets is really raising foreign investment, is the view at Ochakovo.
Detroit Investment Executive Director, Nicholas Henderson-Stuart (co-owner of the company Ivan Taranov Brewery), announced that the prospects for working in Belarus would be determined after March 20th. On that day, the Minsk brewery Krinista plans to host a countrywide conference on issues facing the sector, with Belarussian President, Alexander Lukashenka, in attendance. Detroit Investment was looking to invest US$30m in Dednovo.

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