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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Joint TV-Making Project Fizzles

A program to unite the efforts of several Russian and Belarussian television and television-part manufacturers looks to be crumbling over a dispute between the partners.

Anatoly Lashkevich, the general director of the Rubin television factory in Moscow, said Tuesday that a holding company had pressured Rubin to buy poor-quality television tubes from VELT, a Voronezh-based plant that is a branch of Electronniye Tekhnologii.

Electronniye Tekhnologii has been coordinating a project called Soyuzny Televizor, or Union Television. The program was set up and funded by the Joint Assembly of the Belarus-Russian Union, a cross-parliamentary body with its own budget and bureaucracy. (See accompanying story.)

Lashkevich said: "The management of the central company Electronniye Tekhnologii is the sole authority deciding who gets money f and who does not." He accused Electronniye Tekhnologii of serving VELT's interests.

But Viktor Stepanov, the chief administrator of the union, the highest ranking executive officer of the union, said that "no commercial company is dispatching funds."

"De facto the keeper and the disburser of the budget money is the chief administrator [of the union], namely me," he said.

Stepanov confirmed that some of the 14.5 million rubles ($580,000) allocated for research at VELT had been spent on replenishing the factory's working capital.

Like many other large Russian firms, Rubin also needs working capital. Similar to VELT f whose debts reached about 47 million rubles last year f the Rubin plant was mothballed for two years until it managed to get out of its financial black hole and pay off most of its debt of 190 million rubles.

But, unlike VELT, Rubin is not a member of Electronniye Tekhnologii.

"Electronniye Tekhnologii is not funding us because we refuse to buy television tubes from their VELT," Lashkevich said. "But we cannot afford to buy low-quality tubes to compromise our brand."

Rubin earlier this year launched a range of televisions made with imported tubes that aim to compete directly with Western brands.

"Actually, there are no television tubes from VELT as such," Lashkevich said. "They take tubes from Panevezis in Lithuania, fix them a little and offer them to us.

"We would like to buy Voronezh tubes, which used to be the best in Russia, but only after they reach high standards. At the moment, we would rather stick to foreign tubes."

Formerly Russia's biggest television tube producer, VELT was taken over by Philips in 1993. But instead of modernizing and boosting production, the factory stopped and Philips left it last summer, having sold its 90 percent stake for 1 ruble to the Voronezh administration, media reports said.

Stepanov read The Moscow Times a letter that had just arrived from Electronniye Tekhnologii. The letter asks the union's executive committee to throw Rubin out of the project if it does not buy television tubes from VELT.

"Rubin, while a member of the program, is de facto avoiding participating in the early stages of cooperation between Russian and Belarussian enterprises, including from using parts, such as television tubes, produced by the program members."

Stepanov seems in complete agreement with Electronniye Tekhnologii that Rubin must buy VELT's tubes.

"Why should I [otherwise] support a private company from the budget?" he said.

Electronniye Tekhnologii said in their letter that maximum financial support must be given for national producers while Rubin is buying spare parts abroad and its share in its final product does not exceed 10 percent.

But the letter did not say that the tubes from the Panevezis factory in Lithuania that VELT is offering now, instead of its own product, are almost 100 percent a Lithuanian product.

Vladimir Verbitsky, first deputy general director of Electronniye Tekhnologii, said in an interview that while Rubin refused to buy VELT tubes, Belarussian Gorizont buys and uses them.

Yury Predko, deputy general director of Gorizont, agreed in a telephone interview from Minsk that the quality of the VELT tubes was "unsatisfactory" and that the factory had had to return some reject tubes.

But, he said, "what could be acceptable for Gorizont, which is making about 30,000 televisions a month may not work for Rubin." Rubin resumed production in April and, increasing production by about 1,500 televisions a month, plans to make about 7,000 in August.