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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Belarus Celebrates February 23rd, Russia to loan money, foreign trade, rabies outbreak, Polish jokes, Ukraine, Biathlon win, and Blogs

  • From the Top...
  • #180

    February 23 is The Day of Fatherland Defenders and the Armed Forces

    From: BelTA
    The President at the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Victory Monument in Minsk
    Today, on the Day of the Defender of the Motherland and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko laid a wreath at the Victory Monument in Minsk.

    Attending the wreath-laying ceremony were prime minister Sergei Sidorskiy, chairmen of the two chambers of the parliament Gennadiy Novitskiy and Vladimir Konoplev, head of the presidential administration Gennadiy Nevyglas, other seniour officials and also defence minister Leonid Maltsev, chairman of the Minsk oblast executive committee Nikolai Domashkevich, first deputy chairman of the Minsk city council Anatoliy Kuntsevich, chairman of the republican council of the Belarusian public association of veterans Anatoliy Novikov.

    On this day the wreaths at the Victory Monument were laid by senators and members of the parliament, veterans, law enforcement agencies, Minsk city council and Minsk oblast executive committee, representatives of the CIS, European Union, Orthodox and Roman-Catholic churches, diplomatic corps. Members of youth and trade union organizations also laid flowers.

    The president observed a minute of silence to honor the memory of the fallen defenders of the Fatherland. After the state anthem was played, the guards of honour and the orchestra of the main Armed Forces commandant's office marched past the square.

    "February 23 stands for the unbreakable bond connecting all generations of defenders of the Fatherland and the continuity of the best military traditions. The holiday belongs to those, who single-heartedly and devotedly serve the Motherland, those, who dedicate all strength and knowledge, energy and talent, patience and will to the service for their nation. It is also a sacred day for those, who stood up to protect the Motherland in a dire time”, said the head of state.

    In his words, our country has had a lot of suffering and ordeals. “But the army and the nation have always been on the line, fighting for their land, staying united and steadfast, valiant and courageous”, noted Alexander Lukashenko.

    The president heartily thanked war veterans. “They defended the freedom and independence of the Motherland. Now their example teaches true patriotism, allegiance to the duty and the military oath, optimism and confidence in the future to the youth. I bow low to our veterans”, the Belarusian leader rounded off.

    Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko has promoted military and officers of law enforcement agencies to the general’s rank.

    "February 23 stands for the unbreakable bond connecting all generations of defenders of the Fatherland and the continuity of the best military traditions. The holiday belongs to those, who single-heartedly and devotedly serve the Motherland, those, who dedicate all strength and knowledge, energy and talent, patience and will to the service for their nation. It is also a sacred day for those, who stood up to protect the Motherland in a dire time”
    In line with the president’s decree Colonel Alexander Boligatov, Colonel Ivan Gordeichik, Colonel Valeriy Maslakov have been promoted to the rank of Major-General. Police Colonel Sergei Gureyev and Police Colonel Viktor Zhiburtovich have been promoted to a special rank of Police Major-General.

    The head of state expressed confidence, professional skills, officer’s honour and responsibility for the fate of the Fatherland, for which personnel of the Armed Forces and other power-wielding agencies are known, will help settle the most complicated problems, preserve the sovereignty and ensure the future development of our country.

    The president congratulated the Belarusian military and personnel of law enforcement agencies on the Fatherland Defenders Day and the promotion to the high ranks, thanked for the stainless and irreproachable service, and wished them success in the service for the Fatherland’s weal.

    Belarus makes an indisputable contribution to maintaining peace and stability in Europe. According to the head of state, modern Belarusian army is a powerful and stabilizing regional security factor. “It enables Belarus to pursue a coherent and independent foreign policy”, the Belarusian leader underlined.

    He has noted that Belarus’ state border has become a reliable barrier for transnational crime. “However, we have never considered our border a dividing line between East and West”, the president said.

    Belarus can sustain its successful development and can respond to threats and challenges, president of this country.

    According to the head of state, “the situation on the planet is still not stable”. Terrorism and local wars destabilize countries and entire regions. The desire to dominate in the world by means of using force, political extremism and information wars undermine regional and international stability, Alexander Lukashenko underlined.

    Belarus will not let anyone interfere with its domestic affairs. “By the will of fate Belarus is located on the crossing of European roads. We are open to everything good and useful whatever part of the world it comes from. However we will not allow anyone to interfere with our domestic affairs. Our main goal is to protect Belarusians from being imposed someone else’s will and from violence,” the president stressed.

    Belarus and Russia are unlikely to sign trade-economic agreement before March 1

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian government says that the probability of singing an intergovernmental agreement on measures to develop Belarusian-Russian trade-economic relations by March 1 is quite low as the final formulation of the document has not been coordinated yet, BelTA learnt from a source in the Belarusian government.

    The intergovernmental Belarusian-Russian agreement on measures to develop the trade-economic relations was initialed on January 12, 2007 in Moscow and is now being considered by both the parties.

    The Belarusian party has no formulation of the agreement approved by the Russian party to conduct negotiations. The Russian party also failed so far to provide an answer whether it accepts or not the Belarusian amendments. Therefore it is too optimistic to say that the two countries will complete necessary procedures to sign the document by March 1.

    It is also noteworthy that since the draft agreement was initialed it has been changed several times. Many paragraphs became outdated as many other legal acts came into force.

    In addition, several agreements stipulated by the draft have not been fulfilled. This pertains to the failure to settle the issue on Belarusian sugar supplies to Russia by February 15. The two sides are unlikely to solve the problems which were scheduled to be solved by March 1.

    Now apart from preparation of the final formulation of the agreement, new terms of settling unsolved problems should be fixed.

    Belarus mulls importing crude from Venezuela, Iran via Baltic

    From: Platts
    Belarus is planning to use ports on the Baltic Sea coast to import crude from Venezuela and Iran, Belarus deputy prime minister Vladimir Semashko said
    late Wednesday.

    Since an ugly stand-off at the start of 2007 over oil transit conditions for Russian crude, Belarus has started studying its options to reduce its near-total reliance on its giant eastern neighbor for oil supplies.

    "There are plans to use Baltic port terminals to import oil from Venezuela and Iran to Belarus," Semashko said, according to a government statement, adding that the plans would only be firmed up once sources of oil are guaranteed.

    Semashko said Belarus was currently exploring for oil in both Venezuela and Iran, and production is expected to begin in three to four years in the two countries.

    "Then Belarus will need to use the Baltic port terminals and the restoration of the transport infrastructure, for example, the Ventspils-Novopolotsk oil pipeline, will start," he said.

    At present, it is not economical to use the Baltic terminals to import crude as buying Russian oil, even with an export duty of $53/tonne, is cheaper than buying oil on the international market, Semashko said.

    In November, Belarus and Iran signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the oil industry following a visit by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko to Tehran to discuss the development of relations between the two countries.

    Although no further details were given on the scope of the oil sector cooperation, the "economic effect" of all the agreements reached on the issues of trade and economic cooperation were expected to total almost $350 million, a statement from the president's office said.

    In July last year, Belarus signed a similar cooperation agreement with Venezuela. Venezuelan energy minister Rafael Ramirez said the countries were considering forming a joint venture to produce and refine crude in both countries.

    Belarus to sell more than 100 tractors to Iran

    From: Word Press
    Belarus will sell more than 100 tractors to an Iranian company as an initial step in an ambitious investment programme in the Middle Eastern nation’s agriculture, a Belarusian official said Wednesday.

    The Iranian company Gonabad will take delivery of 110 tractors produced by the Minsk Tractor Factory (MTZ) later this year, said Nikolai Dubovets, an MTZ spokesman.

    The terms of the deal were not made public. The price new of a single MTZ tractor averages between ten and twenty thousand dollars, making the deal probably worth between one and two million dollars, industry experts said.

    Delivery will take place this year after talks between MTZ and Gonabad technicians, Dubovets said.

    The sale is one of the largest orders received by the MTZ in recent years. Once the Soviet Union’s flagship tractor factory, the MTZ after Belarusian independence in 1991 has been chronically cash- strapped and short of orders.

    International isolation of Belarus due to the authoritarian regime of Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko has exacerbated the problem by depriving MTZ and similar firms of foreign customers.

    Iran in recent months has intensified talks on cooperation with Belarus on a wide range of trade areas such as agricultural equipment and military supplies and services.

    The tractor order would allow Belarus to participate in a tender later this year to supply Iran up to four thousand more tractors, as well as harvesting machines and other farm vehicles, Dubovets said.

    Belarus-Japan humanitarian cooperation can also advance relations in other fields

    From: NLIPRB
    The more intensive humanitarian and cultural cooperation of Belarus and Japan will boost the development of relations in other fields. Japan Charge d’Affairs ad Interim Takayuki Koike made the statement, as he took part in the traditional Japanese doll festival Hinamatsuri at the Friendship House in Minsk on February 22.

    According to the diplomat, the humanitarian and cultural cooperation between the two countries is rapidly developing. Last year Japan accomplished two projects in Gomel oblast fitting district hospitals with modern medical equipment, this year — four such projects in Gomel and Mogilev oblasts. “We sympathise with the Belarusian nation over the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe. The Japanese side has been aiding Belarus for 20 years already and we will continue doing so”, said Takayuki Koike.

    He noted, this year marks 15 years of the established diplomatic relations between Belarus and Japan. For the date the Japanese embassy has scheduled several cultural events. “The humanitarian and cultural cooperation is the first step which will advance relations in other fields, too”, the diplomat is convinced.

    In related news, India is interested in promotion of exports of handicrafts to Belarus, Rakesh Kumar, Executive Director of the Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts of India, told BelTA. The council is the organizer of the Indian Handicrafts and Gifts Fair which has opened in New-Delhi. The exposition will stay open by February 26.

    Mr. Rakesh Kumar noted that the council has only one representative in Belarus. Exports of Indian handicrafts to this country are minuscule. He believes that the two countries have an untapped potential to expand bilateral cooperation. Mr. Rakesh Kumar also stressed that India attaches special importance to the development of trade and economic links with Belarus.

    Such exhibitions of Indian handicrafts are biennial events designed to expand cooperation of Indian producers with businessmen from other countries.

    Putin pledges to strengthen Russia's defense potential

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that although Russia does not pose a threat to any other country, it will continue to build its defense potential to guarantee its own security.

    Putin addressed the participants of a meeting in the Kremlin on the eve of Defenders of the Fatherland Day, and praised the latest achievements in the development of the Russian Armed forces while pledging strong state support for the military.

    "Russia is a peaceful country that respects its partners," Putin said. "We are not threatening anyone and we are not making any aggressive plans."

    But he said the potential for conflict in today's world remains high, which demands the Russian leadership's attention to the issues of national security.

    "That is why we can guarantee the security of Russia and its citizens only by strengthening the country's defense capability and building a modern army able to counter all potential threats," the Russian president said.

    He said the modernization of the Russian Armed Forces is a top priority for the state and Russia will continue to supply its army with advanced weaponry and innovative technologies.

    Russia's Defense Ministry said in January that this year's spending on the procurement of new military hardware is estimated at over 300 billion rubles ($11.3 billion), 20% higher than in 2006.

    Putin said Russia will continue expanding its military-technical cooperation with foreign countries and seek new partners on the international arena.

    "Russia's defense potential remains an important element of the global security system and we will broaden the horizons of cooperation with foreign countries in the military and military-technical spheres, and not only with our traditional partners, but also with new partners," the president said.

    Russian arms exports reached $6.4 billion in 2006, but are expected to total $7.5 billion in 2007, first deputy prime minister, Sergei Ivanov, said on February 20.

    India and China remain leading importers of Russian armaments, accounting for some 80% of the country's total weapons exports. However, Russia has been looking to expand its presence on arms markets in Latin America and the Middle East, and currently supplies weapons to more than 60 countries.

    Putin also called for serious work to be conducted on raising the prestige of the army and providing appropriate social conditions for military personnel, including housing.

    "Overall, there is still a lot to be done in the army and for the army, and those should not be temporary measures but solid and effective reforms planned decades ahead," the president said. "However, it is the only way to raise the prestige of the army and the status of military personnel."

    Belarus asks for $1.5 bln stabilization loan from Russia

    From: Ria Novosti and Interfax
    Belarus's government has requested a $1.5 stabilization loan from Russia, the Finance Ministry said.

    The two countries were embroiled in an energy dispute earlier this year after Russia doubled the price of gas to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters. In response, Minsk introduced a transit levy of $45 per metric ton for Russian crude oil pumped to Europe via Belarus.

    "The decision was made as a result of additional budget expenses in the wake of dramatic price hikes for Russian energy supplies," the Belarusian ministry said but declined to set any possible deadline for the loan.

    Belarus will spend the money to improve the balance of payments and finance bilateral trade, in particular fuel purchases. The loan could also be used to finance budget spending that is increasing due to higher prices for Russian fuel or to refinance the remaining part of the unpaid government debts to Russia, which last extended a government loan of $147 million at the end of 2005.

    A ministry spokesman said Belarus does not insist on the urgent disbursement of the loan given that the request was not foreseen in the 2007 Russian budget.

    "The final sum of the loan and its timeframe will depend on Russia," the ministry said.

    Milinkevich: Stabilization loan will only put Belarus into bondage to Russia

    From: Navany
    The $1.5-billion stabilization loan that the Belarusian government wants to receive from Russia will not save the situation but only put the nation into bondage to the eastern neighbor, commented opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich in a statement posted on his Web site on Saturday.

    "Without reforming the economy and the political system, diversifying energy supplies and opening ways to new technologies, we will remain among outsiders of the civilized world," the former presidential candidate said.

    "The rhetoric of Lukashenka with regard to Moscow and ministers' big statements about only a slight increase in utility bills were just a political game and a deception of people," he said. "The authorities realize that Moscow has economic levers of pressure on Belarus in its hands, which, if used in a certain way, can lead to the destabilization of the socio-political situation in the country."

    Mr. Milinkevich notd that the West's offers of assistance in solving Belarus' problems "so far have not met with a response from the leadership of the country." "In this situation they can do only one thing - going cap in hand to Moscow," he said

    Belarusian Language Society calls on Lukashenka to reintroduce Belarusian language as compulsory subject at higher schools

    From: Naviny
    Francysk Skaryna: a Belarusian famous for being the printer of the first book in an Eastern Slavic language
    The Francisak Skaryna Belarusian Language Society (BLS) has called on Alyaksandr Lukashenka to reintroduce the Belarusian language as a compulsory subject at the country's institutions of higher learning.

    The appeal has been sent to the head of state by the BLS secretariat.

    As chairman Aleh Trusaw told BelaPAN, the BLS leadership believes that each educated person should know well his/her native language and, above all, the professional vocabulary that they use during their entire life.

    According to Mr. Trusaw, formerly, a Belarusian-language professional vocabulary course was part of the curriculum at all Belarusian institutions of higher learning and was studied for 90 academic hours.

    "At the beginning of the century, it was eliminated from the curriculum of institutions of higher learning," he said. "Several years ago, the BLS managed to achieve its reintroduction, but the course was reduced by 30 hours. However, this past fall many subjects, including the course of the Belarusian-language professional vocabulary, were eliminated from the curriculum of the country's institutions of higher learning in connection with transition to a four-year higher education system."

    The appeal will be sent to the Presidential Administration within the next few days.
  • Note: As far as we know, Belarusian has been a part of the curriculum at the Pinsk schools. Our boy studies BelaMova, English and Russian. He's, ehem, doing rather well a English.

    Rules for foreigners’ staying in Belarus to be reinforced from 1 March

    From: Charter '97
    Since 1 March punishment for violation of migration law by foreigners will have become harder, it was reported to Interfax in the ministry for internal affairs of Belarus. “In compliance with the new administrative law countermeasures for violation of migration law of Belarus by foreigners will have become harder since 1 March”, the ministry for internal affairs, reported.

    It was also pointed out that “since 1 March the immigrant may be deported from Belarus in case he has not registered himself at the internal affairs bodies or has not provided himself with the migration card or committed any other violation of the corresponding law on decision made by head of the internal affairs department, the enforced deportation being also stipulated’. ”Furthermore the same official can make a decision on temporal 10 years’ prohibition of a deported person’s entering Belarus”, the ministry for internal affairs reported.

    They also mentioned that since 1 March the new Code on Administrative Offence is coming into force.

    In 2006 over 20 thousand administrative reports on violation of migration law were made by law enforcement bodies ‘staff, 1800 people were deported from the country, 700 among them being deported under guard, the ministry for internal affairs reported.

    In 2006 over 1000 criminal lawsuits were brought against foreigners staying both legally and illegally in Belarus, among these 20 for murder, 40 for robbery, 60 for disorderly conduct, 50 for drug trafficking, 4 for rape, 3 for arms trafficking, the ministry for internal affairs reported.

    Increase in rabies cases in animals in Belarus

    There has been an increase in the number of rabies cases in animals in Belarus, starting from 1996 with 27 cases, with peaks in 2003 (1077 cases) and 2006 (1628 cases) [1,2]. In comparison, a decade earlier (1988-1995) only sporadic cases of rabies in animals were registered.

    Although most cases of rabies in Belarus are found in foxes, raccoon dogs are increasingly affected, with steeply increasing numbers of cases in this species, in line with data from the World Health Organization indicating the increased role of this animal in the rabies epizootic in the European territory. In 1999, in Belarus, there were 65 cases of rabies reported in foxes and five in raccoon dogs, whereas in 2003, 666 foxes and 133 raccoon dogs were found to be infected (a 10- and 27-fold increase respectively). An increase of rabies incidence in other animal species has also been observed, albeit to a lesser extent (grey wolves – seven-fold increase, domestic dogs – eight-fold, domestic cats – four-fold, farm animals – five-fold) [1].

    In 2001, a three-year programme was implemented to combat the growing spread of rabies among animals. It consisted of three elements: immunisation of wild animals with oral vaccine in bait, immunisation of domestic animals, and capturing of stray dogs and cats. As a result of these measures, the number of registered rabies cases in animals dropped to 224 in 2004, according to the official data provided by the Belarusian authorities [1].

    However, in the following two years, the number of cases peaked again, and the most recent data for January 2007 do not indicate any change in this trend. In 2005, Belarus registered 632 cases of rabies in animals; in 2006 this number increased sharply, reaching 1628, even more than the previous peak noted in 2003 [2]. This year, 91 cases of rabies in animals were reported in January, almost the same number as in the same period last year (92 cases in January 2006) [3].

    Data gathered by the WHO Rabies Information System shows lower numbers of cases reported in 2005 and 2006 – 591 and 849 respectively. However, the information on 2006 is not complete and covers only the first half of the year [4].

    Rabies cases in humans
    The incidence of rabies among animals does not seem to have affected the number of people seeking post-exposure rabies treatment in Belarus. During times when only sporadic cases of rabies in animals were reported, as well as when these numbers peaked, the frequency of requests for post-exposure rabies treatment remained rather high but stable (around 200-250 per million population since the 1990s) [1]. On average, more than 70% of people needing post-exposure rabies treatment had been bitten by dogs, approximately 14% by cats, more than 2% by farm animals and 4.5% by wild animals [1]. For vaccinating humans, cell-culture inactivated rabies vaccine is used routinely.

    Between 1951 and 2003, 135 people were reported to have died from rabies [1]. There were no cases of rabies in humans registered in 2004 and 2005. In 2006, however, two people died of this illness: a 43-year-old woman bitten by a cat and a young man bitten by a racoon dog. Neither of them sought medical help before the onset of symptoms [5]*.

    At present, the epizootic and epidemiologic situation in Belarus is of concern. Due to changes in lifestyle (tourism, summer houses), the number of people, including inhabitants of big cities and tourists who are in contact with potentially rabid wild or domestic animals, is growing. An additional challenge is posed by the neighbouring countries – the highest numbers of rabies cases in animals have been in the north-western region of Belarus, bordering with Latvia and Lithuania. In 2003, in Belarus, about 5 cases of rabies were registered per 1 000 km2, while in Latvia and Lithuania the corresponding figures were 15 and 17 respectively [1]. In 2004, all three countries observed a decrease in the number of reported cases, but this downward trend continued in 2005 and 2006 only in Latvia, In Belarus and Lithuania, the numbers of rabies cases in animals rose again during this time [4].

    Did the New Yorker Publish a Racist Joke?

    From: Brooklyn Record
    The caption reads: "My parents named me Zbigniew because they were drunk."
    The above cartoon by Rober Weber was published in the February 19th issue of the New Yorker. In Greenpoint, some Polish-born residents are offended by it because it rips on a traditional Polish name. "I'm assuming the person who drew this hates Polish people," said Anna Doda, a music store owner who has been in the U.S. for 20 years. When readers complained about the cartoon via email, they were sent an apologetic form letter claiming, "the tacit assumption ... is that the child is not of Polish origin."

    New Yorker editor David Remnick told the Daily News, "The heart of the joke is the difficulty in saying the name; there's no ethnic slur." he said. But when they asked him if the cartoon would have been published with the use of an Asian or African name, Remnick responded, "I don't know." In our humble opinion, it's not especially funny, but the big question is — is it racist?
  • Note: Not only is it racist, it is also rather acurate!

    Travel firm offers trips to CIA prison that Polish authorities deny exists

    A Polish travel firm said Thursday it was giving tourists a chance to follow in the footsteps of CIA agents and terror suspects near an alleged US detention centre in Poland's lakeland -- which the authorities deny exists.

    Visitors will be able to cycle and canoe near the Polish intelligence service's training centre at Stare Kiejkuty in the northern Mazuria region, and the nearby Szymany airport, Joanna Sobieska of Szarpie Travel was quoted as saying by the PAP news agency.

    Stare Kiejjuty and Szymany have been in the spotlight since allegations surfaced that the United States had flown terror suspects to Poland for interrogation.

    Washington acknowledged last September that it had held suspects in secret outside US territory, but refused to say where.

    A report approved last week by the European Parliament alleged that a host of European Union member states and several other countries had turned a blind eye to or even facilitated covert US flights.

    The investigating lawmakers had suggested that Poland and Romania may have hosted CIA detention centres -- something both countries have fiercely denied -- but an amendment to the study said there was insufficient proof.

    Poland was singled out for its "flagrant" lack of cooperation with the parliamentary investigation, which began in 2005.

  • Opinion...

    Why Doesn’t Europe Understand Us?

    From: Ukrayinskaya Pravda
    Author Vitali Klitschko
    My mobile phone is an indicator of people’s interest to Ukraine.

    From fall 2004 to January 2005 it was practically impossible to reach me over the phone. For half a year I was besieged with questions from my friends and thousands of people I barely knew.

    Later on the number of calls was gradually decreasing. Now, my mobile phone rings only in case another scandal involving Ukrainian politicians breaks out, and only in case this scandal gets on the world news.

    The voices are deprived of former optimism. My phone has been dead for the past months. The world takes no interest in Ukraine any more.

    The reason is disappointment that followed numerous domestic problems we have so unexpectedly puzzled trustful Europeans with.

    If foreigners ask me questions about Ukraine, they normally ask it in a ‘when-will-this-chaos-end?’ context.

    At the forum in Davos people kept asking me the same questions in the same manner.

    Describing the political situation I replied: In 15 years Ukraine has gone through reforms and processes Europeans used to spend decades for.

    Indeed, from philosophical point of view, apart from personalities and political intrigues, our country distinguishes by the political system.

    Sooner or later every country has to go through this.

    Some countries had to go through such processes several times. In the post-war France presidential authority was enlarged and then limited, depending on the situation in the country.

    Now Ukraine faces the heat of the fight for authority between the President, the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers.

    At that, according to the new Constitution and Darwin’s theory, the latter are natural allies. The political evolution suggests that this process is going to end someday. There are no voids in the politics.

    These hollows will be filled either with the President, the Verkhovna Rada or the Cabinet. But the bottom line is what price the society needs to pay for this?

    The world remembers not only Charles de Gaulle but also mass protests of the students in France. On the other hand any digression to philosophy in no way justifies mistakes made by Ukrainian politicians.

    What makes these wise experienced people step on the same rake all over again?

    Why does any smallest challenge turn into a crisis in this country?

    Why do Ukrainian officials sacrifice Ukraine’s international image for the sake of their own ambitions. Is it OK when foreign ministers of other countries nearly poke finger at their Ukrainian colleague?

    So, who is to blame? And what to do?

    I think this collision of interests is the result of absence of any strategy for the development of Ukraine. In fact, it is misunderstanding of what this strategy should look like. We all grew up in the USSR.

    We have all read about Yaroslav Mudryi, Princess Olha, Peter I and Yekateryna II.

    As a rule, their subordinates did not understand the nature of reforms which could cause even riots and bloodshed. However, all of them had the gift of strategic thinking.

    Wars for access to seas, erection of new cities, resettlement of millions of people, development of metallurgy and investments into education were all stages of one single Plan.

    They had no need in cheap popularity and building up a happy future sacrificing lives of thousands. That is why they were leaders. That is why they became part of history.

    There are modern examples as well. Whatever you may say about ‘bolsheviks’ they had the gift of strategic vision. That is why they were the winners in the revolutionary chaos of 1917.

    Military Communism did not bring any expected breakthroughs. On the other hand it saved the dying economy of the country. NEP, collectivization, electrification and industrialization were fully implemented by the Soviet government.

    Maybe this policy helped Soviet economy survive even when most of the European territory was occupied by fascist Germany.

    Marshall Plan, Margaret Thatcher’s reforms, Polish ‘shock therapy’ were also publicly declared and gradually implemented strategies.

    And what are we doing now?

    Talking to Europeans we utter some words which are absolutely meaningless for us. Why say ‘eurointergation’ if we do not have any idea what it is in fact?

    The problem is that politicians do not offer and voters do not demand any plan of Ukraine’s strategic development. The society lives in a vicious circle of ‘promises-paltry dole-votes’

    Any Ukrainian politician can just say the following words about Ukraine: “We will have a better life.”

    The society also bears as much responsibility for the country as the politicians. People are ready to vote for trifling UAH 50.

    When have never bothered asking politicians what strategy they offer. In what way are they going to carry it out?

    That is why European politicians are not interested in talking to their Ukrainian colleagues.

    We still dream of eternal virtual promises: improvement of your lives, triumphal spring, ‘non-betrayal of Maidan’, building up Europe in Ukraine (pre-election slogans of different Ukrainian parties; translator’s remark), election fraud and bribes.

    We are not from the other planet for Europeans. We are from another Galaxy.

    In fact, Ukraine has something to offer Europe. EU needs to expand in the eastern direction since such an expansion will approach Europe to the foundation of a modern economy – oil and gas.

    Now, the stability in energy market is rather shaky.

    However, just like in domino effect, any accident, any ill-considered step may turn this stability into chaos. Ukraine as a transit country is very influential in this sense.

    That is why both Russia and Europe are interested in Ukraine’s stability.

    We can offer Europe a wide range of energy supplies to Ukraine, building up new transit pipelines, oriented to Asia. An energy-independent Ukraine will become the most reliable transit partner.

    At that, Europeans do not need to directly invest in Ukraine. Engineering solutions and political support would be enough. Lots of people understand the situation in Ukraine but are reluctant to undertake anything.

    At best politicians are trying to get away with declarations. As a result both Russia and Europe are giving up on us. They intend to build a pipeline through Baltic Sea.

    However, an energy sector is only part of the strategy.

    The society is still not aware what kind of economy we are developing? What are Ukraine’s advantages to other countries? Are we joining EU and what for? Do we want a union with Russia?

    Top brains of the country are constantly stating the absence of a national idea that can unite the society. Maybe there is no need to invent anything? Maybe it is enough to put in words and implement the strategy of the national development and to persuade and encourage people with new values?

    Yet, we have nothing of this. Ukrainian politicians are too fond of arguing to think of the more important strategic things.

    Referring to metaphors, foreign policy may be compared with boxing where a more skilled, well-prepared and smart puncher wins.

    It is the one who has a different strategy for different fights. Ukrainian politics resembles a fight of street gangs where young punks want to knock out a tooth, humiliate and squelch but in no way to find out the strongest one.

    What should we hope for in such a situation? Fist of all it is a new generation of young politicians with different values. I believe in people for whom noble ideas are more important than offices.

    This generation has been born already. It is knocking on the door of Ukrainian politics.

    People who achieved everything themselves will succeed in life just because they do not owe anything to anybody.

    I believe in Ukraine. Sooner or later it will manage to rise from knees. We are able to make happen sooner.

  • From the blogs...

    Annals of State-Controlled Media in Russia: The "Rebranding" Outrage

    From: LaRussophobe
    Radio Liberty exposes the shockingly brazen efforts of the Kremlin not merely to control the news within Russia itself but to conduct a massive propaganda campaign in English in the West. Have you ever seen a more perfect example of malignant neo-Soviet smugness than the smirk on this young lady's face, she a so-called "reporter" for a state-sponsored media outlet no different than in Soviet times. She'd better be careful, a complexion that dark could get her into plenty of trouble on her beloved Russia's mass transit system.

    When French police briefly detained Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov last month at a fashionable winter resort in France on suspicion of "illegal trafficking of young girls," public officials in Moscow condemned the action as evidence of an "anti-Russian campaign."

    Aleksei Mitrofanov, a State Duma deputy of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, told NTV shortly after the incident: "They [the West] inherently dislike us. During the Soviet Union, when we were poor and traveled abroad with $25 in our pocket, they were suspicious, seeing us all as KGB agents. Now when we are trotting around the globe with large sums of money, they are still suspicious of us."

    Many Western and Russian observers agree that relations between Russia and the West are getting worse -- but they disagree about why. Westerners blame rising tensions on the Kremlin's more aggressive policies, not only with regard to its CIS neighbors but also Western energy companies and the European Union. Russian observers, on the other hand, accuse the West of failing to consider Russia's legitimate national interests and indulging in unreformed Cold War attitudes, the worst expression of which is "Russophobia."

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated that he shares Mitrofanov's sentiment. Asked by a journalist in Dresden last year about Russia's negative image in the world press, Putin said, "They dislike us simply because we are big and rich." He elaborated on this thought during his January 24 meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in Moscow. "As Russia's economic, political, and military capabilities grow in the world, it is emerging as a competitor -- a competitor that has already been written off. The West wants to put Russia in some pre-defined place, but Russia will find its place in the world all by itself," he said.

    Regardless of who or what is ultimately responsible for the worsening relations, the Kremlin has been concerned enough by Russia's rapidly deteriorating image abroad to launch a series of public relations events designed to enhance not only the image of the Putin regime, but also such key institutions, as Gazprom, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the armed forces.


    The first in a series of such events was a visit by presidential hopeful First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the World Economic Forum in Davos last month. According to many Russian commentators, the main purpose of Medevedev's trip was to present him to members of the world policymaking elite. Medvedev's 16 percent public approval rating is second only to Putin's, and it is double that of his closest contender, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

    Gazprom is also seeking to buff its international image following damaging publicity around the very public gas spats with Ukraine and Belarus and the company's reputation as a state-controlled monopolist. According to the Russian media on January 16, Gazprom's management has had negotiations with a consortium of Western public relations firms led by the Washington, D.C.-based company PBN about improving Gazprom's image in the United States and EU.

    Inside Russia, Gazprom has a wealth of public relations tools and resources at its disposal, since it owns fully or partially hundreds of media outlets, including Channel One and the Ekho Moskvy radio station. Gazprom is currently conducting negotiations to acquire Putin's own favorite mass circulation newspaper, "Komsomolskaya pravda." Aleksander Prokhanov, the publisher of the national-patriotic weekly "Zavtra," regularly praises Gazprom for its "imperial role."

    Trip To The South Pole

    Following the killings of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former security services officer Aleksandr Litvinenko, the FSB has also been in dire need of an image makeover. And, like the Kremlin and Gazprom, it too has initiated a public-relations campaign, although its effort has a more unorthodox flavor. At the center of its campaign has been an expedition to Antarctica, the declared purpose of which was to reinforce Russia's claim to that frozen wasteland, undermining the United States' "monopoly" over the South Pole.

    The purpose was twofold. To show that the FSB is at the frontline of Russia's national interests and revive the Soviet-era "heroic" image of the KGB. In 2003, FSB head Nikolai Patrushev made similar efforts and erected, with a group of FSB officers, a Russian flag at the North Pole, and, in 2004, an elite FSB force led by Patrushev put a Russian flag at the peak of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.

    So on January 3, two FSB MI-8 helicopters flew from Punta Arena in Chile with Patrushev, First Deputy Director and Federal Boarder Guard Service head Vladimir Pronichev, and other assorted FSB officers on board. The expedition landed at the South Pole on January 7, where Patrushev telephoned Putin to extend his best wishes for the Russian Orthodox Christmas.

    Russian television channels covered the FSB expedition extensively, noting that the trip was wholly supported by private sponsors and that the Russian flag planted at the South Pole symbolizes the restoration of Russia's superpower status.

    Russian television broadcasts, however, failed to inform viewers that Patrushev was calling from the permanent U.S. Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, staffed by almost 100 U.S. citizens. Patrushev's team was bivouacked there waiting for suitable flight weather. And the phone he used to call Putin? That was actually borrowed from a U.S. explorer, according to NTV.
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    Most Belarusian unemployed are in small towns

    From: Belarus News and Facts
    One in five unemployed Belarusians is a resident of a small town, Mikalay Kokhanaw, a departmental head with the labor ministry, told reporters.

    "Unemployment figures seem not that bad," he said. "In 2006, the unemployment rate in Belarus was 1.2 percent. However, employment and unemployment depend on a specific area," Mr. Kokhanaw noted.

    According to him, 736,000 people are economically inactive, with 360,000 of them "wanting to get job."

    The unemployment problem is serious in 42 small towns, with the acutest one being in Hantsavichy, Ivanava, Mikashevichy, Pastavy, Navalukoml, Aktsyabrski, Vasilevichy, Urecha and Krasnapolle, said the official.

    "Most of the unemployed in these towns are women," he noted. "They account for 94 percent of the unemployed in Urecha and in Kastrychnitski for 81 percent in Aktsyabrski."

    The 2007-2010 State Comprehensive Program of the Development of Regions, Small and Medium-sized Urban Settlements is aimed at solving employment problems in these towns, where the standard of living should be brought to that in the capital city, said Mr. Kokhanaw.

    The first task to be fulfilled is to create of new jobs, he said, adding that a total of 140,000 jobs are to be created in the country in 2007, including 21,000 in small towns. Mr. Kokhanaw noted that this task could not be accomplished without supporting and developing small businesses.

    Fifty-two 52 percent of the social protection fund's money is to be spent for creating new jobs, with two-thirds to be spent in small towns, the official said, adding that money would also be provided out of local budgets, the innovation fund and other sources. "This is money allocated for this particular purpose; no one has the right to use it for other purposes," he stressed.

  • Sport...

    Kudrashova Wins Biathlon European Championships Pursuit

    From: Euro Sport
    Olga Kudrashova added to Belarus' medal tally with sprint victory at the European championships at Bansko, Bulgaria on Saturday.

    Kudrashova missed just one shot on her first range, but recovered with a perfect final three shoots to claim victory in a time of 28 minutes and 18.8 seconds.

    The sprint bronze medallist put on another impressive ski performance to match her much improved shooting after missing seven shots in the sprint earlier in the week.

    German Ute Niziak took silver a full one minute and 17.6 seconds off pace after three misses.

    Irina Nikoultchina made up for four misses to claim the bronze medal for the host nation finishing a further 12 seconds behind Niziak.

    Kudrashova's compatriot and the newly crowned sprint champion Darya Domracheva did not take the start in the first position, leaving silver medallist Vita Semerenko to start in bib number one.

    The Ukrainian, however, immediately collapsed on her first shoot with three early misses, allowing Kudrashova to take the early lead, which she never relinquished.

    In the fight for the bronze medal position, Nikoultchina beat out compatriot Pavlina Filipova by 28.3 seconds after both women missed shots in their final effort at the range.

  • Sport briefs...

  • Tatsiana Uvarova (Minsk, Belarus) improved to 7-0 in singles play with victories against Pennsylvania and Maryland over the weekend.

  • Endnote...

    Leave all modesty at home: Etiquette of a Belarusian banya

    From: International Living
    The Belarusians have the same passion for the banya (steam bath) as the English do for making tea. Convinced of its special healing powers, most people visit once a week to nurse their bodies while catching up on gossip with friends. Its original purpose was far more basic, of course—the banya enabled people to have a good wash when private bathrooms were rare.

    If you are willing to fling modesty to the wind, donning only a felt cap to protect your head from the heat, you are in for a treat. After getting completely naked with your fellow banya-goers, you work up a sweat in the ferociously hot interior, then jump into the snow or an icy lake to give your metabolism the shock of its life. There is method to the madness. The idea is to purify the body of toxins, aid circulation, and, mysteriously, to both relax and invigorate at the same time.

    Bewitching water

    Every Belarusian village has its own banya surrounded by much folklore. On the night before her wedding, a bride is supposed to bathe in the banya then give her fiancé the “dirty” water to drink; this casts a spell to keep him forever in love

    Beating each other with damp birch twigs

    I tested the theory at Minsk’s Banya Number One (built just after World War II), a public affair where Belarusian baboushkas (grannies) battle for space on the benches. After 10 minutes in the steam room, my friend Sveta and I retired to the warm outer room to jump screaming into a barrel of cold water (the urban solution for towns without a lake nearby). On emerging, we applied a variety of mudpacks and scrubs to our glowing bodies and sat drinking a flask of green tea. Sitting in the buff, covered in gloop, and having nothing to do but relax is heavenly. Other women nonchalantly shaved their legs, washed their hair, and set about beating each other with damp birch twigs. This latter activity is supposed to further aid circulation and is strangely pleasant as long as you’re careful. After three hours of blissful washing, sweating, scrubbing, beating, and tea drinking, I floated out of the banya house feeling about 10 pounds lighter and without a care in the world.

    An excuse for high jinx

    Wealthier households and smart gyms all have their own banyas. If you’re invited to a business meeting after working hours, the chances are that you’ll end up in a banya together; bear this in mind when accepting invitations on a Friday night. Likewise, beware banya parties in country dachas (cottages), as these are often excuses for high jinx: Furtive groping under cover of steam is followed by frolics in the snow and thrashing of derrières with those birch twigs.