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: 276 - (01/01/04)
The Belarussians have a curmudgeon of a leader. Their president, 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, not just of Belarus, but also 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.
AVIATION & SPACE
Russian premier okays space cooperation with Belarus
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has signed a resolution to approve the launch of a draft programme on the development and use of promising space equipment and technology in the interests of the [Belarus-Russia] union state's economic, scientific and technical development, Belarusian Radio has reported.
The document is to be considered at the next meeting of the union state's Council of Ministers on 2nd December. Russia and Belarus have already carried out several joint programmes in this field. For example, in Belarus a number of companies manufacture products for the space and rocket industry, and Russia intends to continue collaboration with Belarus in this area.
Belarusian, Lithuanian central bank chiefs discuss cooperation
Pyotr Prakapovich, chairman of the National Bank of Belarus (NBB), met with his Lithuanian counterpart, Reinoldijus Sarkinas, in Hrodna on 1st December. The two officials reportedly noted that the NBB and the Bank of Lithuania have maintained a mutually beneficial partnership in recent years. The meeting yielded an agreement on payment procedures, a memorandum of understanding in banking supervision and a protocol to the agreement on cooperation in personnel training, said the NBB information office, Belapan News Agency has reported.
The NBB has contracted the Bank of Lithuania five times since 2001 to produce memorial coins. The latest of these coins were dedicated to the Belarusian ballet.
Lithuanian banks have invested in two banks in Belarus - the Atom-Bank and the Northern Investment Bank. Lithuania's Snoras has an office in Belarus. Belarusian banks, however, have not invested in the Lithuanian banking system or opened offices in that country.
The central bank chiefs agreed to continue exchanging visits and consultations. Under discussion was also a concept adopted by the European Commission earlier this year. The document allows the nations that are scheduled to join the European Union in 2004 to develop relations with the EU members, receive assistance in economic and institutional reform, attract foreign investment and financial aid and guarantee access to their markets.
Belarusian deputy premier says gas price ceiling agreed with Russia
Members of the government have been answering questions from members of parliament. People's deputies questioned Deputy Prime Minister, Anatol Tsyutsyunow, at the parliamentary rostrum for about an hour and a half. At first he familiarized parliament with the state of affairs in the national economy, Belarusian television has reported.
Then he went on to address a number of issues raised by MPs. In particular, he assured them that the 2003 investment programme would be fulfilled. Answering a question about relations between Belarus and Russia regarding the supply of gas, Anatol Tsyutsyunow remarked that positive change had already occurred. In particular, the price at which Russia will supply gas to Belarus next year has already been agreed.
Tsyutsyunow said: "It will not exceed US$50 per 1,000 cu.m. This is virtually the same price that one finds in Russia's fifth price belt - that of Smolensk Region. What matters is that it has been declared unequivocally that Russia's gas giant, Gazprom, has accepted our estimates of our country's demand for gas next year, that is, the total is 20.5bn cu.m. - naturally, on condition that we meet all running payment deadlines."
Russia's Gazprom considers rescheduling Belarusian gas debt
Russia's gas giant, Gazprom, plans to sign an agreement with Belarus by the end of 2003, on restructuring its principal debt totalling US$78.49m for gas deliveries in 1999-2002, Prime-TASS News Agency reported, quoting Igor Volobuyev, the head of Gazprom's media department, at a news conference in Minsk on 27th November.
According to him, the debt issue was discussed on 26th November during the talks between the Gazprom board chairman, Aleksey Miller and the Belarusian leadership. "We have entered the home stretch in the matter of repaying the principal," Volobuyev said.
However Volobuyev said that it was too early to speak about terms of the gas debts repayment before signing the agreement.
Volobuyev also said that talks on Belarus repaying the remaining part of the debt, which is US$1m in penalties for delayed payments for gas deliveries, are still under way.
Belarus to increase Russian oil transit by 7.7 per cent in 2004
Belarus is expecting to see a 7.7 per cent increase in Russian oil transit through its territory (to 89.4m tonnes) next year, the president of the Belarusian state-owned petrochemical concern, Belnaftakhim, Ivan Bambiza, told a news conference on 27th November, Interfax News Agency has reported.
Belarus will pump 83m tonnes of Russian oil by the end of this year, he added.
Belarusian refineries are expected to receive 17m tonnes of oil next year, compared to 15.8m tonnes expected to be supplied this year.
Belarus plans to slightly raise tariffs for transiting Russian oil in 2004 to raise funds for pipeline upgrades, Bambiza said. Currently, Russia pays Belarus US$0.41-0.6 for the transit of one tonne of oil per 100 km.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Belarusian speaker discusses cooperation with Iranian foreign minister
Iranian Foreign Minister, Kamal Kharrazi, and the chairman of the Belarusian parliament's House of Representatives [lower house], Vadzim Papow, discussed ways to strengthen relations between Tehran and Minsk during their talks. Papow arrived on a two-day visit and lead a high-ranking delegation, ITAR-TASS News Agency has reported.
Vadzim Papow expressed his country's readiness to develop cooperation with Iran in the areas of economy, industry, agriculture and education. Papow called on Tehran to hold joint consultations on the international problems affecting the two states' interests.
The Iranian foreign minister said the trends in the development of bilateral relations pursued by the two peoples were positive. Kamal Kharrazi also called for a closer cooperation at the level of private and state companies of Iran and Belarus and for a broader use of the potential possessed by the two states.
FOREIGN LOANS & AID
UN allocates US$17m to fight AIDS in Belarus
The UN Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] intends to provide Belarus with a grant of US$17m to fight HIV and AIDS, the deputy Belarusian health minister and chief state sanitary doctor of the Belarusian Health Ministry, Valeryy Kluchenovich, told journalists on 26th November, ITAR-TASS News Agency has reported. He also said that the Belarusian government annually allocates about US$10m to combat HIV and AIDS.
To be eligible for the grant, Belarus should expand its network of HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment facilities and laboratories as well as establish NGOs, which will deal with this problem. A total of 5,277 HIV sufferers has officially been registered in Belarus. However, experts believe that the real figure is eight times that size.
Most HIV-infected people are drug addicts and their average age is 23. Homel Region leads the way in terms of AIDS suffers, followed by Minsk Region and Minsk.
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