Lukashenka Is Seeking More Subsidies from Putin
The release of Belarusian political prisoners Siarhiej Kavalienka and Paval Syramalotau in late September does not mean that everyone should expect a quick release of all other prisoners of conscience.
The authorities stepped up pressure on Ales Bialiacki, Zmicier Dashkievich and Mikalaj Statkievich in order to force them into making a symbolic gesture – signing a petition for clemency. According to the latest information received from Zmicier Dashkievich, he was put into a disciplinary cell where he is being held during 6 days already. He started a hunger strike on September 21.
Fulfilment by the authorities of the main condition of unfreezing relations with the West – release of the political prisoners – depends on the situation in relations between Belarus and Russia.
The authorities hope that reduction in supply of crude oil from Russia will happen only in the last quarter of this year. The prognosis of social and economic development of Belarus in 2013 was drafted proceeding from the understanding that Russia would supply cheap gas and crude oil on advantageous terms.
On September 28, it became known that Ales Bialiacki was put into a disciplinary cell on the eve of this 50th anniversary.
Meeting in Sochi
On September 15 Lukashenka met with Putin in Sochi. State mass media informed that they had talked in a most friendly atmosphere during more than five hours.
On September 21 Lukashenka, answering journalists’ questions, commented on the meeting with the Russian president in the most optimistic manner: “It was a very effective meeting in an absolutely friendly tone. I left in a mood with the understanding that it would be hard for us to find friends in this world. And we must keep together, the two, so to say, Russian, on a large scale, peoples, or else we will be beaten when apart.”
According to Lukashenko, the next meeting with Putin will take place on December 18-19, just after a meeting of the Belarusian and the Russian Prime-Ministers. The meetings will bring “solutions to urgent questions in Belarusian-Russian relations”.
That is, one can expect for decisions on terms of oil and gas supplies to Belarus for 2013. The meeting of the Supreme Council of the Union State.
Lukashenka remarked that the meeting in Sochi had mainly dealt with “the whole range of military and political issues”, including the issue of military and technical cooperation of Belarus and Russia. In particular, Lukashenko claimed: “I asked for support and I’ve got it. In the near future we will get modern airplanes for to carry out duty services on the border.”
Lukashenka has several times claimed that military cooperation is inseparably linked with economic cooperation. Russia must pay for its western shield with cheap energy supplies.
Although Lukashenko did not mention the topic, however it is very much probable that he had discussed the most burning issue with Putin – terms of oil supplies from Russia in the fourth quarter of 2012.
On the eve of the meeting there was much information that Russia intended to cut down on oil supplies to Belarus in the fourth quarter – as a penalty for the "solvents business". With all the negative consequences for Belarus: trade deficit, pressure on currency rates, restrictions on social expenditures.
Lukashenka was trying to convince his Russian counterpart to meet his needs. He kept repeating that Belarusians are also Russians. Lukashenka left with the feeling that Putin had at last realised that Russia had no other allies. Probably, as a result of the meeting Lukashenko now has grounds to assume that Russia would not cut down on oil supplies.
Will Putin Support Lukashenka Once Again?
However on September 24 an official document appeared in the media on essential reduction of oil supplies to Belarus in the last quarter of 2012. According to the document, Russia is going to export to Belarus 1.3 – 1.4 million tons of oil less than it had been envisaged by the agreement signed by the parties in December 2011.
Putin is not impressed by Lukashenka’s words that the Belarusians are Russians. The Russian president considers that the Belarusian ally can be paid less than he demands for. The Kremlin made a decision to punish Lukashenka for the solvents business, on which Lukashenko had gained, and Russia had lost, a sum of around two billion US dollars.
On September 26 Belarus blocked the Russian proposal to the Council of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) that would allow excluding non-taxable export of solvents, lubricants and bio-diesel fuel.
According to the procedure, decisions in the EEC are made by consensus. Now it is Russia’s turn to respond. There is a probability that in December 2012 Russian offers on oil supplies in 2013 will not make the Lukashenka team happy. This may prompt the regime to release all political prisoners to build relations with the West.
When Will The Madness with Registration of Application Forms in the Polish Embassy End?
"Tell me, what is the system of getting registered at the [Polish] consulate? I went there on 10 September, it said "closed until 30/09". I think, okay, they'll open closer to the end of October, and I'll get registered… I go there – jeez! It's now closed until 31/10! I don't want to miss the next wave… What is their system of work?”, a gullible and naive individual who has been trying for some time now to register his application form at the website of the Polish embassy writes on one of Belarusian internet forums. Do you think he will be able to?
The system does not change, and the number of traffickers in the queue keeps growing
The individual is likely to miss the wave again. These waves have long been controlled by skilled "surfers" who want to get increasingly more for their services including registration of online application forms on the website of the Polish embassy: if as recently as in May those who were willing to assist with registration of the application form online were ready to do it for €20 or €25, now the financial appetites of such "assistants" have clearly grown and sometimes reaches €500.
"The price of registration of the application to the embassy for the Polish visas starts at 100 c.u. [dollars – translator's note]. When will this outrage end?! Why tdoesn't the tax inspector take on these "entrepreneurs"?!", Martha, a Minsk dweller, wrote to TUT.BY recently. According to the reader, an overwhelming number of ad stickers began appearing on lamp posts and entrances to buildings. Although, literally a day later, when Martha went out to take photo snaps of these advertisements at TUT.BY's request, "somebody tore them off".
This kind of dissatisfaction and questions come repeatedly already, but now people are more and more preoccupied by the price. In order to understand how much something costs, one can simply enter a query into Google or the search engine of Vkontakte where the number of traffickers is astounding. Now the embassy's web site says that there are no free dates for the Polish Schengen till 31 October. While at the same time somebody else has them. But who are they, these catchers of somebody's happiness and misery at the same time?
Here are some examples of advertisements:
"We will assist with procurement of any type of visa: we will tell you what type of Schengen visa is the most appropriate in your case, we will help you to prepare the set of documents required by the embassy, we will fill in the application form, we will put you in the queue in the consulate, we will explain the application process to you and advise you on what questions you may be asked at the embassy and how you should respond to them in a correct way".
"Our visa guru's only preoccupation is to help nice folks to apply for and get single- and multiple-entry visas to the Eurozone. Our goal is extremely simple: "To help others as we help our moms and dads".
"Assistance in procurement of Schengen visas (single- and multiple-entry). Minimum set of documents. Full support and assistance during the entire period of the visa application process. Assistance in registration of visa application forms at the Polish consulate".
"I provide services of registration for national and Schengen visas in the Polish consulates in Hrodna, Brest and Minsk. I also advise on all matters regarding the visa procurement process".
"Schengen visas from 150 Euro, Polish one-year visas from 250 Euro".
"Single-entry (visas) 150 Euro, three-month (visas) 260 Euro, six-month (visas) 360 Euro, one-year (visas) 480 Euro.
In some groups, i.e. in the social network Vkontakte, the cost of such services is not shown at all. It is understood that the details can be sent to the interested person by a private message. I left messages that I needed the one-year Polish Schengen in a dozen of such groups. In fact, only one person responded: "100 c.u. – registration at the web site and 20 c.u. an invitation from a store".
However, many people are not afraid to give out their phone numbers. Having called the first number I found, I asked a young man (as I could deduct from his voice): "Are you a private person?" Yes, he says. Having called two other numbers, I heard similar answers that the responders were not individual entrepreneurs or travel agencies, "we just help".
Ministry of Taxes and Duties: attacks on the embassy's website make up a small share in the total number of online offences
Mikhail Makhtaduj, head of the office of Internet oversight of the Ministry of Taxes and Duties, told TUT.BY that advertisements regarding assistance to people in procurement of visas and registration of application forms are published mostly online and not on lampposts.
"As for analysis of such information, the tax authorities are keeping it under their constant control. We carry out evidentiary purchases, and if a violation is found – and most often it is unregistered business activity – we draw up a report which is then transferred to the court", he says.
The court, when taking decision on such matters, takes into account disposition of a person to such activities.
According to the expert, most often students are involved in such business activities, deciding to earn some money this way. However, it is important to understand that the tax authorities are only concerned with identification of such offenders who make revenue and do not pay any taxes from it. "We do not concern ourselves with hackers for sure", the expert says.
However, the ministry is also unable to say how many offenders were identified specifically for not paying taxes from their entrepreneurial activities. They refer to the fact that there are many different activities online to be able to isolate attacks at the website of one of the embassies for separate statistics. "We monitor various freelancers, electronic cash payments, and operations in participatory construction. In any case, it is impossible to send an inspector to each and every offender", the representative of the tax ministry says.
At the same time, they point out in the ministry, experience has shown that the attacks at embassies' web sites represent a small part in the total number of online offenses.
It is notable that activities in providing assistance in visa procurement are not always illegal. If you do not count the travel agencies, services in this sphere can be provided by individual entrepreneurs. However, there is a problem with statistics here as well. As tax experts told TUT.BY, services in the visa sector are registered by tax authorities as "miscellaneous". And "miscellaneous" services may include hairdressing, auto repair and funeral services, etc. The tax authorities do not have separate statistics for visa services.
"Today, for example, two individual entrepreneurs are registered as providing services in visa procurement in Minsk. But there students are queuing for you in a real queue. This is their services. Both entrepreneurs are in the Leninski district of Minsk", we were told by the agency.
But they are unable to say how many such individual entrepreneurs there are in the entire country – again, because there is no special reporting for this. Altogether, according to experts, there are few such registered entrepreneurs.
If a person knows that someone "trades" in such activities, "there is a hotline for these purposes, and any citizen can call it".
As for services indicated in the statutes of such entrepreneurs, "they describe the list of their services in their internal documents. This list, as well as their pricing, is an internal matter of the company. The tax authorities are not concerned with it, their only preoccupation is that they pay taxes", we were also told in the ministry.
By the way, we also came by online advertisements from entrepreneurs. For example:
"An individual entrepreneur provides the following services:
– invitation to get Schengen culture, sport and business visas;
– registration of application forms at the web site of the consulate;
– invitation to get Polish and Lithuanian employment visas;
– invitation from a Polish store to get the shopping visa;
– assistance in drafting documents;
– answers to your questions;
Legal "hacking". Is it possible in Belarus?
Authority of tax inspectors is limited, and we understand that they are hardly supposed to track hackers. Besides, "we have so many activities – there are individual entrepreneurs, there are business entities, there are people who are engaged in business activities without being registered. The tax authorities have so many fields of activity that it is impossible to embrace everything", the agency acknowledges.
So, if a businessman is going, in addition to other services, to help someone register application forms at a web site, won't anybody ask him how he intends to do it? When we reported difficulties with registration in May, addressing the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Foreign Ministry, the Investigation Committee and the embassy itself, we did not get a clear answer to the question about who was supposed to solve this issue.
Pawel Marczuk, first counsellor at the embassy of Poland in Belarus told us then that notwithstanding the existing frenzy, Poland still had only three consulates in Belarus. At the same time, the number of applicants for visa grew by 44% in 2011 comparing to 2010. After introduction of separate "shopping" visas in summer of 2011 the number of those wanting to visit the neighbouring country grew even further.
Altogether, during last year about 300,000 visas were issued to Belarusians, and the queues, Marczuk thinks, "could be shortened by increasing the consular staff because the only problem is the number of applicants". According to him, the large number of aspirants would always entail appearance of criminals or people who will speculate on it. "We understand that it may work against the Polish embassy, and we are aware that there is a possibility of trafficking in the queue positions during online registration. However, we cannot catch criminals in Belarus", he says.
The Interior Ministry then told us that police had studied the issue of the online registration process of the Polish embassy but they did not find any corpus delicti. At the same time, if the embassy is aware of any facts of trafficking in the queue positions during the online registration, it should track what IP addresses it comes from. And the Investigation Committee, in their turn, told us that "first of all, police should get a complaint from the person who became victim of this kind of activities". So, the task of field services is to identify a specific crime substantiated by proof and then pass it to the Committee where they will decide whether criminal proceedings should be instigated.
The mechanism is clear: nobody complains to police, and accordingly, the Investigation Committee does not receive any materials, and the embassy believes that it is outside of their competence to catch the offenders who hack the web site. But if the price is steadily increasing, it is logical to admit that someone gets good money from their "hacking". However, anyone would hardly complain to the hotline or police – everybody wants to get to Europe, especially for shopping.
This text originally appeared in Russian on TUT.BY.