Cablegate: Embassy Minsk Weekly Pol/Econ Report - February 29, 2008
DE RUEHSK #0150/01 0601346
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 291346Z FEB 08
FM AMEMBASSY MINSK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6965
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 0051
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE 1855
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
UNCLAS MINSK 000150
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ECON ENRG IR BO CU
SUBJECT: EMBASSY MINSK WEEKLY POL/ECON REPORT - February 29, 2008
1. The following are brief items of interest compiled by Embassy
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Opposition Leader Undertakes Brief Speaking Tour (para. 2)
- Opposition Youth Cleared of Criminal Charges (para. 3)
- Business Activists Barred From Kozulina Funeral (para. 4)
- Small Business Activists Heavily Fined (para. 5)
- Population Down, Divorce Up (para. 6)
- Output from Free Economic Zones Increases (para. 7)
- Belarus, Russia Agree on 2008 Energy Export Levels (para. 8)
- Automotive Exports up 42.6 percent (para. 9)
- Iranian Ambassador Notes Progress in Relations (para. 10)
- Cuban Delegation Visits Belarus (para. 11)
Quote of the Week (para. 12)
2. Opposition Leader Undertakes Brief Speaking Tour
"For Freedom" (FF) movement leader Aleksandr Milinkevich held an
open-air meeting with 60 supporters in Vitebsk February 22 after
authorities denied his request to hold the meeting in a movie
theater there. Over 150 people attended another meeting with him in
eastern Minsk February 27. Milinkevich also visited the towns of
Gorodok and Novopolotsk the same day. People expressed their
concerns to the activist over hikes in food and utility prices,
newly enacted small business regulations, and nuclear power plant
construction, and talked about upcoming parliamentary elections.
Brest-based FF activists appealed the denial of a meeting to be held
there February 26. Milinkevich commented on the denial saying it
was the "authorities' problem, not mine."
3. Opposition Youth Cleared of Criminal Charges
Malady Front (MF) opposition youth Andrey Tenyuta learned February
24 that the Gomel BKGB office closed its criminal case against him.
Tenyuta was charged in September 2007 with acting on behalf of an
unregistered organization, but investigators found it "impossible"
to finish the investigation. Tenyuta presumed there was not "enough
evidence of his destructive activities."
4. Business Activists Barred From Kozulina Funeral
On February 27, Svetlogorsk small business activist Anatoly
Zmitrovich and his two colleagues were stopped on their way to the
funeral of Irina Kozulina by road police 20 miles outside Minsk.
Police alleged that the driver of the vehicle had been driving
drunk. The driver was ordered to appear at a district police
department, but was later released without charges.
5. Small Business Activists Heavily Fined
A Minsk district court sentenced small business activists Aleksandr
Tsetsuro and Viktor Krival each to BYR 1,750,000 fines (USD 820)
February 27 for alleged disobedience of police orders. Tsetsuro's
wife and son were also each fined BYR 1,050,000 (USD 490) on the
same charges. Krival, sentenced to 15 days in jail for distributing
leaflets on February 19, could not attend the trial. The police
detained the four activists January 10 on their way to an
entrepreneur picket in Slutsk.
6. Population Down, Divorce Up
The Ministry of Statistics and Analysis reported February 26 that
the population of Belarus declined 0.3 percent during 2007, leaving
Belarus with a total of 9,689,700 inhabitants as of January 1. In
2007, 52.8 percent of all deaths resulted from circulatory diseases,
13.7 percent from tumors and 10.8 percent from causes not related to
illness. Divorces increased by 13.6 percent, with 403 of every
1,000 marriages ending in divorce.
7. Output from Free Economic Zones Increases
Belarus' Statistics Ministry announced February 25 that the 260
businesses registered in the country's six free economic zones
increased output by USD 1.7 billion or 21.1 percent in 2007.
Exports -- primarily furniture, food products, plastics, packaging,
and aluminum materials -- rose 19.5 percent and totaled USD 998.7
million, including USD 776.9 million in exports to Russia.
8. Belarus, Russia Agree on 2008 Energy Export Levels
The Council of Ministers of the Union State announced an agreement
February 22 on oil product exports for 2008 as part of the Union
State fuel balance. Belarus will export 2.018 million tons of
gasoline, 3.887 million tons of diesel fuel, 4.164 million tons of
heating oil and 249,000 tons of fuel for jet engines. In 2008,
Russian gas exports to Belarus will increase by 400 million cubic
meters from the 2007 level to 21.6 billion cubic meters. Russia
will also deliver 140,000 tons of black coal and 21.5 million tons
of crude oil to Belarus this year. Discussions on electric power
supplies are still underway.
9. Automotive Exports up 42.6 percent
According to the State Customs Committee, Belarus experienced a
significant increase in automotive exports last year. The Committee
announced February 25 that Belarusian automotive exports rose to USD
2.1 billion, an increase of 42.6 percent. Tractor exports rose 51.8
percent to USD 900 million, hauler exports increased 45.8 percent to
USD 334 million, and truck exports went up 34 percent to USD 955.626
million. Exports of parts/components and combustion engines rose 27
percent and 54 percent respectively.
10. Iranian Ambassador Notes Progress in Relations
At a news conference February 27, Iranian Ambassador to Belarus
Abdulhamid Fekri noted "significant" progress in relations between
the two countries over the last four years, noting the exchange of
head of state level visits in 2006 and 2007. He cited the beginning
of joint operations in oil fields in Iran, noting that the
Belarusneft oil production enterprise opened an office in Teheran
and was developing projects. He expressed conviction that
cooperation in oil exploration, development and production was "very
beneficial," and that the two countries could also establish
cooperation in the natural gas and petrochemical spheres.
Ambassador Fekri also announced that Iran Khodro Industrial Group
was ready to invest between "USD 30 million and USD 40 million" in
the Belarus-based plant that started assembling Iran's Samand cars
in the summer of 2006, and that work was under way to open a bank
with Iranian capital in Belarus.
11. Cuban Delegation Visits Belarus
A delegation from Cuba led by Minister of Government Ricardo
Cabrisas visited Belarus February 26 to 28 to discuss ways to
strengthen ties between the two countries. In a meeting with
Belarusian Prime Minister Sergey Sidorskiy, Cabrisas expressed
interest in "boosting three-party cooperation" among Cuba,
Venezuela, and Belarus. During the visit, the Cuban representative
signed an agreement to purchase 100 buses manufactured by the Minsk
Automobile Factory (MAZ) and discussed possible purchases of
Belarusian farm machinery and trucks.
12. Quote of the Week
Justice Minister Viktor Golovanov discussed the need to review laws
governing psychics, presumably to protect the reputations of
legitimate practitioners of the profession:
"We are not seeking to ban their activity. But I would like to say
that among this category of individuals, there are simply plenty of
fraudsters who cheat people."