Day of Unification, Opposition fades, Cold war looms, Belarus at odds with Poland, Liakhovich world heavyweight champion
From the top
Belarus marks Day of Unification of Belarussian and Russian peoples
Flags wave all over the country. All newspapers’ articles, TV and radio programs are devoted to stepping up Russian-Belarussian union state building.
Official events will be held on April 3, the head of the Minsk department of the Permanent Committee for the Union State, Vasily Sholodov, said. Russian and Belarussian popular singers will make performances in Minsk and across the country.
The day of all schoolchildren will begin from an information lesson devoted to the issue of the day.
President’s congratulation on Day of Unity of Belarus and Russia
Dear Belarusians and Russians,
The day of April 2 has become special for Belarus and Russia. Some 10 years ago, following the will of the peoples, our countries made their only right choice – a key to revive their economic and political power.
A lot has been achieved. The bilateral trade grew more than threefold over the decade. Cooperation in the military sphere has been strengthened. Our countries have common approaches to most urgent international issues. The implementation of agreements signed in 2006 will enhance social security of the Belarusian and Russian peoples.
The Belarus-Russia Union State is a locomotive of integration processes. We can keep this role only moving forward, creating a single economic, information and science-technological space and boosting well-being of the people.
I am confident that being guided by the principles of partnership with equal rights, we will set up a new model of an effective interstate formation comfortable for many peoples to live in.
Dear friends, the progress in the formation of the Union State would be impossible without the support to give to this process.
Today it may be stated with confidence that the Belarus-Russia Union State is a reality. It vital power is in our unity, in a guarantee of a happy future for our descendents.
Accept the warmest congratulations on the holiday – the Day of Unity of the Peoples of Belarus and Russia. Let our common house be a well of good and wisdom.
Chairman of the Union State Supreme Council,
President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.
Boris Gryzlov: Day of Unity is among most important holidays in Belarus and Russia
Giving an interview to Belarusian reporters on his arrival in Minsk, Boris Gryzlov said that a lot had been done over 10 years of existence of the Union State to integrate the two Slavonic peoples. This year, he said, will not make an exception. “Once the Constitutional Act is signed, we will have all the necessary documents verifying that the Union State is a reality”, he stressed. The recent month signified a very important stage in the political life of Belarus. The Belarusian people made “the right choice and virtually unanimously” voted for their successful future, Boris Gryzlov said.
During today’s visit to Minsk Boris Gryzlov plans to meet with chairman of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Vladimir Konoplev to discuss issues of inter-parliamentary cooperation and activity of the Union State Parliamentary Assembly. Today’s night Boris Gryzlov is expected to attend the grand meeting and gala concert at the Palace of the Republic in Minsk dedicated to the Day of Unity of the peoples of Belarus and Russia.
Spring session of Belarussian parliament opened
The session will discuss draft laws dealing with the consolidation of security of the state and the population, social security and the foreign policy of Belarus. The draft versions of the Land Code, the Code on Courts and the Status of Judges, the budget and Housing Codes will need an especially long discussion. Amendments to the criminal legislation have been drafted. They introduce more severe punishment for crimes connected with corruption.
Special parliamentary hearings will be devoted to the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident.
“The fourth session is also going to be strenuous in the sphere of international activities,” Konoplyov continued. He reminded that celebrations on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the unification of the Belarussian and Russian nations were going on in Moscow and Minsk these days. The 30th session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union will be held in Polotsk next June. It will be devoted to the tenth anniversary of the creation of that interparliamentary organisation. Konoplyov pointed to special importance of the holding in Minsk of the activities within the framework of the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Eurasian Economic Community, in which Belarus is holding a rotating presidency.
According to Konopolyov, the current session “is going on in the atmosphere of enthusiasm in society, connected with the results of the recent presidential elections. “The impressive victory of Alexander Lukashenko became a vivid manifestation of the unity of our nation, of the maturity of our society and the determination of the people to stick to the chosen course,” he stressed.
ALEXANDER KAZULIN CHARGED WITH TWO CRIMES
Let us remind the readers that on February 17 Alexander Kazulin was going to hold a press conference in the building of the National Press Center. However, he and colleagues were not let in the building. There was a clash with the security guards in the lobby.
On March 2 the candidate to the post of the President tried to register as a participant of the All-Belarusian Conference. However, in the building of Chyhunachny Palace he was attacked, beaten and taken to Kastrychnitski police department. There Alexander Kazulin broke a portrait of president Lukashenka.
On March 25 after the rally in Kupala Park the ex-candidate headed the column of the protestors who went to Akrestsina jail. According to the police, Kazulin was detained when the column tried to break through the police cordons. Kazulin claims he was attacked by policemen from behind when he tried to persuade the protestors to return to the Church on Niamiha Street to pray for the people in jail.
According to Attorney Rynkevich Alexander Kazulin claims not guilty on all three episodes. He believes it is the Belarusian authorities who are responsible for the clashes with the law-enforcing bodies.
The attorney visited Kazulin for the first time 3 days ago. Then we found out that the politician had been severely beaten during the detention. He has an injured spine and leg. Attorney Ihar Rynkevich says the defense has prepared several petitions. They ask to carry out a medical expert examination of Kazulin’s injuries and medical expert examinations of the other people who suffered during the events of March 25.
Kazulin’s case is still investigated by the group of Minsk city police headed by Alexander Kuntsevich. The investigators avoid any contacts with the press, reports RFE/RL.
Members of Navapolatsak Kazulin’s HQ launched a signature collection campaign under the petition to Belarus Prosecutor General.
The appeal demands to “immediately release the illegally detained Alexander Kazulin, as well as the other political prisoners and to punish those who has beaten and arrested the defenseless people”.
According to Valer Shauchenka, one of the campaign initiators, several dozen Navapolatsak residents have already signed the petition. The activists plan to collect signatures near the entry gates of large Navapolatsak factories.
Relations between Poland and Belarus Authorities Aggravated Again: Belarusian Ambassador to Poland Recalled to Minsk
Alexander Milinkevich has his own opinion about the present relations between Belarus and Poland: “I just came back from Warsaw. I spend there the whole day, meeting the President, the head of the Senate, and the prime minister. Really a great tension can be felt. Firstly, because former Ambassador of Poland to Belarus Mariusz Maszkiewicz had been beaten and jailed. Secondly, because another Polish diplomat had been beaten in Hrodna. Now he is in very bad condition, there is even a life threat. That has exhausted the patience of the Poles. That’s why really there has never been such a great tension in the relations between Poland and Belarus”.
Mr. Milinkevich does not think that the diplomatic relations between Minsk and Warsaw will be broken. That would harm everybody. In his opinion, the relations will normalize only if the official Minsk demonstrates the desire to improve them. However, now there are no signals of that.
Polish journalist freed from Belarus prison
A Polish journalist detained by Belarussian police during a demonstration in Minsk against the Lukashenko regime on March 24 has been released from prison. Weronika Samolinska, who writes for the mass circulation Gazeta Wyborcza daily, was sentenced to 10 days behind bars on March 27. She was detained alongside several hundred Belarussian opposition supporters when the police cracked down on protesters in Minsk. Among them was also a former Polish ambassador to Minsk Mariusz Maszkiewicz, who is now in hospital due to problems with his heart.
Samolinska described the conditions in the prison as appalling but said that the spirit of solidarity prevailed among the detainees.
Putin hails constructive cooperation with Belarus
He said Russia and Belarus, which are currently marking the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Union State, had strengthened cooperation and were successfully working on the formation of a common economic space.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the two countries' union had become "a locomotive of integration processes."
"We will build a new model of an effective interstate union on the basis of principles of equal partnership," he said.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov read aloud the two leaders' messages at a concert dedicated to the anniversary.
Russia to raise gas price for Belarus upon WTO membership
Vyacheslav Kovalchuk, head of the foreign ministry's second CIS department, told a news conference that once Russia had joined the WTO, it would raise domestic gas prices.
"If Russia joins the WTO, the gas price will also be raised for Belarus," the diplomat said.
The global trade body has pressured Russia to increase domestic prices for gas and other fuels, whereas Russia has insisted on its right to what it calls natural advantage.
Kovalchuk added, however, that it would be logical for Russia and Belarus, who have been working since 1999 on establishing a union state, to have common prices for natural gas.
The two former Soviet nations signed an agreement in December 1999 to restore a common political, economic, legal, defense, and humanitarian space while retaining their sovereignty. The plan, however, has largely gathered dust, although occasional steps forward have been made.
Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom said in late March that it would raise gas prices for Belarus, which transits Russian gas into Europe, to European levels starting in 2007.
Under a contract between Gazprom and Belarus' Beltransgaz signed in December, Gazprom will deliver 21 billion cubic meters of gas this year at $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters, the same as last year.
Gazprom said the price of gas and transit took into account the future Russia-Belarus Union State, which implies single standards for financial and economic indicators.
The Russian energy giant first raised the gas price for Belarus in 2005
Russia begins supplies of air defense systems to Belarus
"Belarussians are literary fine fellows, doing everything on time and even slightly pacing ahead, in order to receive the modern air defense missile systems," Mikhailov said.
Belarusisan specialists have been working in Russia for five months, "controlling the quality of repairs and shipments and other issues related to the purchase of new S-300 units," he went on to say.
Answering a question about a possible deployment of Russian air bases in Belarus, the General said "we have the intention to strengthen our military-technical cooperation, and the deployment of our air bases is envisioned as contingency case."
"But this will not happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. It's a perspective," Mikhailov underlined.
He noted that all the air bases in the Republic of Belarus are "in good conditions, and are ready to receive us anytime."
"We, too, are ready to fly over and begin duty at a specific command," the Russian Air Force chief said.
Russians Sense the Heat of Cold War
Intensifying U.S. Criticism of Government and Its Role in Region Provokes Resentment
The specter of a U.S. nuclear first strike even resurfaced this month. An article in Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that the United States could hit Russia and China without serious risk of retaliation. That sent heads spinning here with visions of Dr. Strangelove.
"The publication of these ideas in a respectable American journal has had an explosive effect," former Russian prime minister Yegor Gaidar wrote in an article in London's Financial Times newspaper. "Even those Russian journalists and analysts who are not prone to hysteria or anti-Americanism took it as an outline of the official position of the U.S. Administration."
"Today, it's accepted by most of the establishment that we are under pressure, that we are being surrounded, and it's leading to a defensive nationalist vision," said Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute of the United States and Canada in Moscow.
Intensifying U.S. criticism -- that Russia is rolling back democratic institutions, interfering in the countries of the former Soviet Union and using its vast energy resources to further its interests -- is leading to widespread resentment here and seen as little more than self-serving rhetoric. Russians widely believe that U.S. programs to promote democracy in Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus are a Trojan horse intended to sideline Russia and expand NATO.
Academics point to reports such as one released recently by the Council on Foreign Relations: "To ease Russian pressure on neighboring states," it said, "the United States should work to accelerate those states' integration into the West."
"We are gradually being pushed to the northeast of the Eurasian continent away from the seas . . . to the place where the depths of freezing is more than two meters," said Natalia Narochnitskaya, vice chairman of the international affairs committee in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, and a member of the nationalist Rodina Party.
She rues the loss of the three Baltic states to European Union and NATO membership and the possible loss of Russia's naval presence on the Black Sea.
"The messianism of American foreign policy is a remarkable thing," she said. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks, Narochnitskaya said, "it seems like Khrushchev reporting to the party congress: 'The whole world is marching triumphantly toward democracy but some rogue states prefer to stay aside from that road, etc. etc.' "
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks appeared to put U.S.-Russian relations on a new and remarkable footing. President Vladimir Putin facilitated the stationing of American troops in Central Asia to support military operations in Afghanistan. In 2002, Putin, still regarded as a reformer, was offered a year-long chairmanship of the Group of Eight leading industrial democracies.
Today, some public figures in the United States, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), have suggested that President Bush boycott the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg this summer to register dismay at Russia's foreign policy and its internal direction.
Many U.S. officials hold up the administration of President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s as imperfect but headed in the right direction; people here say those years were simply chaotic.
"For a person of democratic and liberal persuasions, I can say that Russia has never been freer or more affluent," said Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. "Putin inherited a non-state, so he first wants to build a state and create the conditions for modernization and democracy. Do I worry about some domestic developments? Of course. I could be more critical than most Americans. But it's like blaming winter for following autumn."
In Moscow, strains in the relationship are viewed more as a result of the United States' inability to accept the fact that Russia is no longer the servile entity of the 1990s -- when it blustered but, in the end, always caved because it was weak.
"We have safeguarded and will safeguard our national interests," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told reporters last week. "If someone dislikes this, this is not our problem."
On certain issues, such as the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, Russian officials say they will work with the West, but on their own terms. There is, for instance, broad agreement with the United States that Iran should not acquire nuclear weapons, but little consensus on what steps to take to prevent that from happening. Russia is opposed to imposing sanctions on Iran, with which it has strong economic ties.
But in the area known as Russia's "near-abroad," the former Soviet republics at its periphery, Russia and the West often take diametrically opposed views of the same situation.
In Belarus, Western governments condemned the recent reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko as a farce. Russia declared the contest free and fair, as it has in contested ballots across the former Soviet Union.
Even if Russians recognize electoral fraud, they are not going to concede the point, said Rogov. "My suspicion is that since we see no better alternative, we prefer the status quo -- no matter how bad it is."
Narochnitskaya said the underlying issue is not democracy but influence. "The hysteria around Belarus and the demonization of President Lukashenko has more to do with his anti-NATO, anti-Western stand than his lack of democracy," she said. "Belarus is a missing piece of the puzzle assembled from the Baltics to the Black Sea. There are points on the map where we can yield, but there are some where it's important not to do so."
The point that appears to animate Russians most is Ukraine. Since that country's Orange Revolution, the popular protests that swept President Viktor Yushchenko into power 16 months ago, relations between the two countries have soured. At the beginning of this year, the Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom briefly cut off natural gas supplies, which are critical to Ukraine's heavy industry and households. In parliamentary elections last month, Yushchenko's party suffered a humiliating setback to a Moscow-backed candidate.
In Washington and European Union capitals, the cutoff was seen as punishment for Yushchenko's Western orientation, particularly his desire to bring Ukraine into NATO.
For Russia, such a move would be anathema. The defense and civilian industries of the two countries remain closely intertwined, and Russia's Black Sea fleet is based in the Crimea on Ukrainian territory.
"The idea of admitting Ukraine into NATO is hammering the final nail into the coffin of Russia as an independent great power," Rogov said. "We go out, you go in. Unfortunately, it's almost a consensus in Russia that the West is trying to isolate Russia."
North Atlantic Council statement on NATO-Belarus relations
The North Atlantic Council condemns and deplores the use of force by the Belarusian authorities against civilian demonstrators peacefully protesting against the violation of their right to a democratic election process, as well as the arbitrary detentions of Belarusian citizens and foreign nationals before and after the 19th March election for expressing their political views.
The OSCE/ODIHR-coordinated International Election Observation Mission testified that international electoral standards were not met. The Secretary General issued a statement on behalf of NATO condemning the way in which the election was conducted.
NATO expects its Partners to respect their commitments to democratic standards made within the OSCE framework and the values and principles of the Partnership for Peace. All states who subscribed to the Partnership for Peace Framework Document of 1994 committed themselves to the preservation of democratic societies, their freedom from coercion and intimidation, and the maintenance of the principles of international law. Disregard for the rights of citizens to peaceful assembly and free expression and the misuse of the security forces by a Partner country are cause for grave concern.
As part of a broader diplomatic response, NATO has begun a careful review of its relationship with Belarus to determine how the Alliance can best add value to supporting and strengthening democratic practices and the rule of law in that nation. NATO will pursue a policy focused on encouraging reform. It will not deal with those that have been involved in the repression of the Belarusian people.
In pursuing this policy, NATO will enhance its efforts to contribute to the promotion of democracy, to foster defence reform, and to explain its principles and purposes to the Belarusian public.
NATO will work closely with its international partners to ensure that its policy and actions complement and strengthen the range of measures undertaken by the international community, with which all Allies align themselves.
Belarus leader lost in the blue
But on the eve of his planned visit to Moscow, no one could answer. And in the absence of official information, rumours swirled that "Europe's last dictator" was in hiding, suffering from depression.
Mr Lukashenko has been seen just once since the day after he won a third term in an election condemned as a farce.
His inauguration ceremony, it was announced last night, will be held on Saturday, but there is still no explanation for why it was postponed.
There is also uncertainty over whether he will attend a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin overnight to mark the 10th anniversary of the loose union between Russia and Belarus.
The Kremlin could not confirm if he was coming. The Russian Foreign Ministry referred all questions to the Kremlin. There was no comment from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry and Presidential Administration, or from Belarusian embassies in Moscow and London. One senior Western diplomat said he believed Mr Lukashenko was suffering from depression brought on by the stress of the election and subsequent protests.
"I think he's unable to console himself and so he's not being allowed out," the diplomat said. "His advisers don't know what to do."
Mr Lukashenko says he has protected Belarus's 10million people from the chaos that followed the collapse of communism by resurrecting Soviet-style economic and political controls.
But critics say he is a paranoid megalomaniac with a violent temper who has prevented vital economic reforms and brutally silenced all critics.
The main opposition leader, Aleksandr Milinkevich, said he believed Mr Lukashenko was shocked at the scale of the protests after the election.
Western governments have refused visas for Mr Lukashenko and are supporting the opposition leaders.
Mr Milinkevich is in Vienna for discussions with the Austrian Government, which holds the rotating European Union presidency.
He then goes to Strasbourg to visit the European Parliament, before meeting EU foreign ministers for talks in Luxembourg next week.
Belarusian state television showed Mr Lukashenko chairing a meeting on March 28, at which he ordered officials to take down his portrait from their office walls.
"The political battles are over," he said. "The country has peace and order like it had before, despite some disturbances the police settled quickly and efficiently."
But he looked strained, and the meeting appeared to have taken place at his country residence, not in Minsk.
Belarus fighter wins title bout to remember
Both fighters dominated at points, and both twice got in serious trouble. Liakhovich (23-1) worked behind a long left jab and wide rights to the body to win the early and late rounds, and he nearly finished Brewster with flurries that began with staggering shots in the sixth and ninth rounds. Brewster (33-3) came on strong in Round 5 and scored the fight's only knockdown in Round 7, forcing Liakhovich to kneel to the canvas under a barrage of body and head shots.
The judges scored it 115-113, 115-112, and 117-110 for the new champion.
"He hit me hard and I feel it right now, but today's my day," said Liakhovich, who had been ranked No. 13 by the WBO.
"It's people like him and myself that deserve to be on top, because we show a lot of skill and heart," Brewster said.
Now, two of the four world heavyweight champions are Eastern European: Russian Nicolai Valuev won the World Boxing Association belt from John Ruiz in December. Wladimir Klitschko, born in Kazakstan, challenges International Boxing Federation champ Chris Byrd on April 22.
Sergei Liakhovich won the WBO heavyweight championship in his first fight in 18 months.
The 32-year-old Brewster, considered the more powerful puncher, instead absorbed a pounding at the hands of the taller fighter from Belarus in the 12-round bout.
"Lamon hit very hard, like a mule," said Liakhovich, who was knocked to his knees at the end of the seventh round. "Then he felt my power."
Liakhovich (23-1, 14 KOs) did serious damage in the sixth, ninth and 11th rounds, but Brewster (33-3, 29 KOs) lived up to his "Relentless" nickname by withstanding the pounding that left welts across his face.
Brewster had successfully defended his title three times after winning it in April 2004 with a fifth-round knockout of Wladimir Klitschko, the younger brother of former WBC titleholder Vitali Klitschko. This time, the 6-foot-1, 228-pounder had trouble with his bigger foe.
"You earned it, baby," Brewster said to the new champion. "We both deserve to be at the top, but you won."
The pace took its toll on both fighters, who appeared tired in the eighth and most of the ninth -- until the 6-4, 240-pound Liakhovich landed a left that sent Brewster staggering. Despite cornering the champion, who tried to cover up, Liakhovich didn't have enough left to put Brewster away.
Liakhovich carried the action in the sixth round, too, as they went toe-to-toe in the center for the ring. After Brewster missed with a left, Liakhovich cornered Brewster and landed several combinations. He ran Brewster against the ropes as many in the crowd began screaming for the fight to be stopped.
Brewster's handlers worked on a cut in the champ's nose between rounds. The right-hander took more abuse early in the seventh before knocking the challenger to his knees seconds before the bell.
Liakhovich said he would "gladly" have a rematch with Brewster, but said he would really like to fight the younger Klitschko.
"He said I'm scared of him, but I am scared of nobody," Liakhovich said.
The Head of State Alexander Lukashenko has sent a congratulatory message to the Belarusian boxer Sergei Lyakhovich over his winning the WBO match for the world heavyweight boxing champion title among professionals.
Australians wonder as Belarus is slow to show up for D-Cup match
While anchor Max Mirnyi has been delayed until this morning by doubles commitments in Miami, where he defended his Masters Series title with Jonas Bjorkman, his teammates did not touch down until yesterday morning, stepping on to the Rebound Ace centre court for the first time mid-afternoon.
Barring injury or illness, the only member of the advance party who matters is Vladimir Voltchkov, the world No. 457 and former Wimbledon semi-finalist, who will share singles and doubles duty with Mirnyi. But the fact remains Voltchkov was playing a humble Futures event in South Korea while his opponents were in Melbourne adjusting to the surface and balls for a tie starting on Friday.
Asked whether he considered the timing a surprise, Fitzgerald said: "Yeah, in a way. It is reasonably late to get here, but that's their choice. I like to get (our) guys there early — halfway through the week before, at least.
"So I can't really comment on their preparation, but I know that both their players are high quality, and Davis Cup brings the best out of Voltchkov, no question, so maybe he's a bit similar to our guys in that respect."
Perhaps he is, but Australia's best, Lleyton Hewitt, has been bringing his usual intensity to the practice court since last Thursday, several days after Chris Guccione and Wayne Arthurs began their preparations. Doubles specialist Paul Hanley arrived from Miami yesterday, and had an afternoon hit at Melbourne Park.
Voltchkov, for his part, was either joking, foxing or oddly ill-informed when approached by The Age before yesterday's practice session. Asked about the prospect of facing Hewitt, Voltchkov replied: "Does he play (in the tie)?" Told that he will, Voltchkov said: "Oh, it's going to be tough."
He was more optimistic when asked about Rebound Ace, the surface that appears to suit both teams — and also about his prospects of acclimatising by Friday. "We fly in from Korea, so it's pretty much the same time," said Voltchkov, adding that "for sure" Australia deserved its favouritism for the tie, but vowing that "we will fight".
Australia has been able to complete most of its preparation in fine weather, hitting most days, for long hours — most recently with the knowledge that there are showers forecast for the rest of the week. There has been little comment among the squad members about the court, which Chris Guccione yesterday confirmed was playing slightly more quickly than its sibling at Melbourne Park.
There was a prediction from Fitzgerald, though, that Hewitt, whose ranking rose two places to No. 12 yesterday, was on the verge of something special. "When he transfers this level of practice into his match situations, he's going to be tough to beat this year," said Fitzgerald, who is expected to name Guccione as his second singles player, with Arthurs and Hanley to contest the doubles.
Where is Lukashenka?
From:Tobias Ljungvall on Belarus
There are rumours that he is ill. Or that he is once again stalling the sell-out of the gas transit company Beltransgaz to the Kremlin. Perhaps he is suffering a stress disorder because of the election? I do no know. But even though there must be a fairly serious reason, because the inauguration ceremony which was supposed to have taken place the day before yesterday has been postponed, I think he will soon show up again. Reportedly he is supposed to travel to Moscow tomorrow.
The past election really was something. Well over a thousand opposition activists have at various points been arrested, and many of them sentenced to short-term administrative arrests of up to 15 days. Some are facing criminal charges, and possibly longer prison terms.
One of the latter is Kozulin, the mysterious Russian card in this election. His party issued an appeal to the people asking them to raise their voices for the liberation of Kozulin and a number of other political prisoners. The name of the party's previous chairman Nikolay Statkevich, whom internal intrigue-makers manoeuvred out of its ranks so that they could hand over the leadership to Kozulin and who has been serving a correctional labour sentence since last summer, was not among those mentioned. I find this fact repulsive.
Meanwhile, the main opposition candidate Aleksandr Milinkevich visited Poland this week. The Polish government has promised to offer university places for at least three hundred students excluded from their own institutes due to political activities. Milinkevich now seems to be making a serious and organised effort to help such young people, and also those who are losing their jobs or are otherwise suffering from political repression. I hope there will be enough financial and other resources to make these efforts sustainable in the long run. If so, this should mean a lot for the readiness of those wishing for freedom to join future political struggles.
This week I also learned of an incident that has probably not yet been reported anywhere, and perhaps it will not be. It happened on 19 March late at night in a territorial election commission, i.e. the mid-level vote tabulation instance. A woman from another country, serving as an official election observer for the OSCE, saw some election fraud much more clearly than was intended for her. She was told that if she wanted to return safely to her home country she should not report this. And she did not.
Without real progress, revolution loses colour
The two election results once again demonstrate that the "colour revolution," which at one point swept into some Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) members, is now fading in light of setbacks in Uzbekistan, Azerbaijian and Kazakhstan.
Together with Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are both Slavic nations that co-initiated the establishment of the Soviet Union in the wake of the October Revolution in 1917. Also, they were both designers of the CIS, a relatively loose union of nations based on sovereign equality following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
In the past decade, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have taken along different political and economic development paths.
It has become one of the US strategic priorities to realize a change in the political system of Ukraine and Belarus towards more Western styles in order to further squeeze Russia.
There are several factors underlying Lukashenko's successful sweep for a third term as Belorussian president.
Well known for having a strong character and being resolute in action, Lukashenko has seldom succumbed to outside pressure. He always insists on a development path with Belorussian characteristics.
In the eyes of the United States and other Western countries, he is the "last dictator" in Europe.
However, after 12 years of struggling with the West, Lukashenko has laid for himself a solid foundation among the people.
It is known that the "colour revolution" started in November 2003 successively resulted in regime change in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
However, the political windstorm has not brought the expected economic prosperity and social harmony to these nations. Instead, it has plunged them into new power struggles and economic recession.
However, different from Ukraine, Belarus has kept a nearly 10 per cent economic growth and lower-than-2 per cent unemployment rate. Thus, people's living conditions have continuously improved. In particular, a series of people-oriented measures by the government, such as free medical services and education, have benefited the masses in a tangible manner.
This contributed a lot to Lukashenko's winning of 82.6 per cent of the votes in the presidential elections, despite facing internal and external pressures.
The support from Russia served as another important factor in Lukashenko's re-election.
Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia lost East European and Baltic countries as its protective shield in the west.
At the same time, the "colour revolution" made another dent in its strategic front.
To help its "strategic buffer zone" remain stable, Russia has extended plenty of support to its ex-Soviet ally. Belarus is now the only country that can enjoy the preferential US$47 per thousand cubic metre gas price provided by Russia.
The European Union (EU) and the US Government are now plotting more sanction measures against Belarus.
To help its ally fend off challenges from outside, Russia fully affirmed the "legitimacy and fairness" of the presidential election in Belarus.
A supervisory delegation dispatched by CIS members also condemned the West's attempt to interfere with the country's presidential elections and asserted that the election results are indisputably legitimate.
Lukashenko also rebutted the accusations from Western nations, saying the election was for the Belorussians and had proceeded in line with the country's laws.
All these internal and external factors determine that the international struggles involving Belarus will continue to be fierce.
The result of Ukraine's parliamentary election also demonstrated that the "colour revolution" is now losing momentum.
As the first parliamentary election signalling Ukrainian transition from the presidential system to parliamentarism, the political party or party coalition which won more than half of the 450-member parliament seats forms the Cabinet, including appointing the prime minister and most of the cabinet ministers.
According to the released information, five parties and blocs have secured seats in the parliament, which set a 3 per cent barrier for entry, with the Party of Regions winning 180 seats, Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc 130 seats, pro-Viktor Yushchenko Our Ukraine bloc 85 seats, the Socialist Party 34 seats and the Communist Party 21 seats.
What people care about is why the Our Ukraine bloc, led by the incumbent prime minister Yuri Yekhanurov and in favour of Yushchenko, suffered such a big defeat, and how the coalition government will be formed. Also, how the pro-Russia Party of Regions, as the largest seat holder, will act is another concern.
The election results reflect the numerous problems involving politics, economy, religion and culture between eastern and western regions.
On March 28, President Yushchenko held talks with heads of the parties about the organization of a coalition majority in the parliament.
The three Orange Revolution factions expressed willingness for alliances. But Tymoshenko insisted that she should act as the prime minister while the Our Ukraine bloc argued the candidate should come from its party.
If no agreement can be reached on the prime minister candidate, the possibility cannot be ruled out that the Our Ukraine bloc will build a coalition government with the Party of Regions.
Facing strong opposition parties, it is still expected that the Orange Revolution factions will encounter many difficulties even if an alliance is forged among them.
Differing on many issues, there is a big risk of another disintegration if the different political factions cannot co-ordinate relations with each other.
Lessons can be drawn from both elections.
Every country is entitled to the right to choose a development road in accordance with its national conditions. No person or nation can monopolize the definition of democracy.
For ex-Soviet members, developing relations with Russia should conform with its national interests.
Ukraine and Belarus are closely related with Russia in geo-politics and geo-economics. Developing relations with the country on the basis of independence and self-reliance is beneficial to both.
Economic globalization also calls for their development of relations with the EU.
A revolution is the result of accumulated internal contradictions. The so-called "colour revolution" will fade if it only brings regime change, and not development of economy and living standards.