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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Belarus to establish space program, Belarusians abroad do well: Berdovsky, Hazau, Pahodzin; Putin Int, Oil, Opinion and Blogs

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    Belarus to develop national space program

    From: Belta
    Belarus is going to develop a national space program, president Alexander Lukashenko said at a sitting on the creation of an earth remote sensing system of Belarus.

    The head of state stressed that the program should be based on the needs of the country in space research to ensure reliable defense capacity of the state and to stimulate cutting-edge science-intensive technologies in industry and other sectors of the national economy.

    The state of the Belarus’ economy and present-day relations with Russia may require adjusting the plans concerning the development of the space industry in Belarus. It is necessity to thoroughly consider real opportunities for this, the Belarus’ leader said, and to choose optimal actions in this sphere. He underlined the necessity of an objective analysis of the current situation and gave an instruction to provide assessment of various variants of development of the space industry.

    To this end, it is in the interests of Belarus to have its own ground satellite control center.

    “If Belarus makes and launches its own satellite or several satellites, to have a control center will be in the interests of Belarus. Today the existing control center includes a Belarus’ segment and a large segment of Russia. The point today is to decide whether we continue working in the previous mode or create our own center”, the head of state said.

    Alexander Lukashenko also stated the need to modernize Belarusian companies and organizations who can manufacture of space equipment fulfilling national and foreign orders.

    “It is necessary to decide whether we will continue working on the project of an analogue of our first satellite BelKA or we will start creating a more sophisticated spacecraft with the resolution of up to 1 meter. There are only a few such analogues in the world. Will we confine ourselves to one project or will we start a larger-scale program to create several spacecrafts?” the head of state said.

    Special attention should be paid to ensuring guarantees of a safe and trouble-free launch, the president said. “Who with and on what terms will we carry out our projects – will it be Russia, China, Ukraine or others? How thoroughly are the existing variants calculated, substantiated and, which is equally important, how promising are they?” the president said.

    “If we had not insured the first satellite we would have suffered some financial losses, the head of state said. – Since the satellite was fully insured, our losses have been compensated for. We have lost nothing. Therefore, further on we should follow the same path”.

    It is obvious that space equipment should be insured against failures and accidents that may happen during tests, launch and exploitation, the head of state said.

    There is a need to involve extrabudgetary resources and make use of foreign investments, the head of state said. “We should consider all proposals regardless of the country they come from. This is a real high-tech niche which the country should hold. But it should be highly profitable, it should generate hard currency earnings,” he said. Alexander Lukashenko has said it is possible and it is worthwhile going to expenses today but to have a guaranteed payback tomorrow.

    The president has pointed to the importance of paying special attention to the financial side and efficiency of investments while generating proposals. “There should be utter clearance as to the volume of expenses, to resources of financing and to the payback periods of the projects,” the head of state said.

    In terms of its specifications, the new satellite will be similar to BelKA but still much more sophisticated since in the process of construction specialists will be making use of the latest scientific achievements. A new Belarusian satellite with the resolution of 2,1 meters must be built in no more than 2,5 years.

    The new spacecraft will roughly cost $18 million (the BelKA project cost $16 million, including the launch fees). The contract will stipulate the final sum.

    Russia is also building an analogous satellite. Thus the new Belarusian spacecraft will be included in an orbital group what will make the satellite more attractive from the commercial point of view, the presidential press-service said.

    Belarus will design a satellite with the resolution capacity of its purpose designed equipment as small as 1 metre (twice as better than the BelKA satellite’s). Besides, Belarus plans to deploy a full-scale ground control as a fully independent national uplink to the satellite.

    It will take around 4-4.5 years to manufacture a satellite with the resolution capacity of its purpose designed equipment as small as 1 metre.

    According to chairman of the board of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich, foreign nations have shown much interest in Belarus’ space project. “Several companies have already received orders to produce components similar to those the BelKA satellite had”. Specialised companies are very much interested in the purpose designed equipment as well as the system to be used for processing and distributing the satellite data. Belarus is receiving proposals from both Earth-bound states and state powers. It is important to move with the times. Many Belarusian design solutions are rather unique, underlined Mikhail Myasnikovich.

    Putin Meets with Russian and Foreign Journalists

    From: Russia Blog
    President Vladimir Putin met with 1,200 journalists and gave a speech summing up events of the last year. For the first time ever, video cameras presented a view from above the interview table where the president usually sits, to prove that he doesn’t use any notes or listening devices to help him answer questions. As usual, Mr. Putin was relaxed in his language and used slang, producing few amazing interactions with journalists (read the full transcript in the extended post). Russians usually don’t learn any new information from such meetings; however, everyone loves to watch the event, because it comes out as fairly entertaining.

    ELENA GULSHAKOVA (RIA Novosti): May I ask about some more serious things? In your opinion, what have been the past year’s main foreign policy results? Several experts believe that Russia has created a ring of unfriendly neighbours around itself. Do you agree with this opinion? And which of our neighbours would you refer to as Russia’s partners? Thank you.

    VLADIMIR PUTIN: We are building partner relations with all countries and of course we have closer relations with several countries – for example with the CIS as a whole – though there are some problems there. We admit that in the last little while we have in no way been able to regulate our relations with Georgia. But we have the Eurasian Economic Community where integration processes are developing intensively and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.

    As to our relations with other countries, as a whole we are satisfied with their development. And you know that praising or taking pleasure from the fact that you are being praised as you betray national interests is very simple, but to construct pragmatic, business-based relations while defending your national interests is not always possible without a certain amount of tension and problems. But in those cases I always remember a well-known old saying: “If you become angry then it means that you are not right”. We do not want complications with anyone. When I hear, as you said, that we are surrounding ourselves with a ring of malevolence, then it is not so.

    Last year, at the beginning of the year, Russia had tense relations with our Ukrainian friends and partners because of energy, because of energy transport. One – well, I actually remember who, but I am not going to say so now – of my European partners said: “Look, there will be political changes in Ukraine. Yanukovich will come to power, you shouldn’t then change your energy policy”. I said: “we are not going to do this. We made an economic decision, not a political one”. Last year Ukraine received energy and gas for 95 USD and this year for 135 USD despite the fact that well-known, significant political changes took place in Ukraine. But our relations with Ukraine did not deteriorate because of this – they became better, stronger and more reliable both for us and for Ukraine. We are always ready to help the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian President if they ask for our help and, in this case, in the energy sector. They know this. We said that we are always ready to help if necessary, even if it is not compatible with market principles. But the most important thing we did was agree that our relations today and in the future would be market-based. We signed documents on a soft transition to market-relations with all countries that transport our energy. This is what we are referring to. This does not depend on our political relations with these countries. For example, we have very stable and not simply trusting, but also strategic relations with Armenia. Yet Armenia pays market prices.

    This year we had well-known difficulties with Belarus but we nevertheless signed an agreement on transport and on energy changing prices in the future to have entirely market-based relations. And in the end this is the most important thing. It is not even important how much Belarus pays today, rather it is important that we have determined the stages of a transition to market relations in documents. But we did this softly – over four years – and in absolutely friendly way. Of course one might hope for everything that they had before in the future, but to have the same is not possible. This is not possible if we are different states. Do you understand? Belarus and Russia intend to nevertheless continue to build a Union State – we are very happy with and welcome the changes that the Belarusian leadership has made to work out common tariffs on crude oil and oil products. This is a real step towards creating a fully operational customs union. We consider that all is not lost with respect to having one currency. I am confident that our Belarusian partners are in a position to analyse reality, able to understand the reliability of the Russian economy and the Russian currency, and perhaps introduce a common currency. Not the Russian ruble or the Belarusian ruble but perhaps, as we had initially planned – because we planned to do this – to first of all use the Russian ruble. This is all possible.

    We have very close relations with Kazakhstan, and they are developing successfully in practically all directions. And with respect to Europe, then of course we will defend our interests. Look at what is happening in agriculture: the subsidizing of agriculture is a billion-dollar process in the European Union. As an example, look at how much Hungary received in subsidies from the EU this year. One billion and some euros, even more. When compared in percentage terms to our agriculture, these are huge sums. And they try to dump everything in Russia. They don’t allow us onto these markets. And how did this happen? It started when we were exclusively consumers of imported food stuffs, in practice we did not have our own agriculture – it was practically non-existent. And now we have export potential. Last year I think we sold 12 to 14 million tonnes of grain and this year the numbers are the same – we have already sold 6,5. Here you calculate a year from July to July, is that right? And this year it will be 14 million. We are not very welcome on traditional markets, no one is happy about this. But we are going to patiently reach agreements. We never operate in a confrontational way. Last year we hosted the G8 in St Petersburg and for that reason saying that our international relations have seriously deteriorated seems wrong. On the contrary, it seems to me that they are becoming more pragmatic, steady and reliable.

    In Europe there are new forces that call for diversifying energy. What do you think, will these calls be implemented or are they first and foremost calls? And in general, is Russia doing everything possible for energy security or are there any latent reserves?

    VLADIMIR PUTIN: As to straining our relations with our neighbours, the countries that transport our energy resources, at the beginning of this year then I shall be extremely frank and say that last year we really did have problems with our Ukrainian partners. Yet despite all the difficulties, we managed to resolve these problems to our mutual satisfaction since both Ukrainian and Russian parties have acknowledged that we have an optimal solution to the situation that existed for the past 15 years. 15 years! You should understand that Russia not only gave these republics their independence, but providing for 15 years huge subsidies to these countries’ economies Russia helped them strengthen their independence and sovereignty. 15 years is enough and this cannot go on forever. In just Ukraine’s case this was billions, three to five billion each year. And Russia has its own problems – our pensioners, our servicemen, doctors, teachers and so on. There are a huge number of Russians living below the poverty line. And I shall repeat that we are doing this softly, quietly, absolutely as partners or even as allies. But we were not able to do this all at once. Both in Ukraine and in Belarus we could not engage in, so to speak, combat on all fronts. That is the first thing. And the second, I will also tell you frankly, is that we did not want to damage the regime of the current President of Belarus last year in light of the forthcoming political events and, first and foremost, the elections. We did not want to create any problems or tensions. And moreover, I personally spoke about this in due time.

    In case of Belarus we informed our Belarusian colleagues that we would change to market relations about three years ago. And at the beginning of last year, in March, we made written proposals. Incidentally, there were no objections at that time. It is true that we were not able to enter into full dialogue until November 2006. But we already have seen this, and it happens this way with everybody because, in general, everybody is reluctant to change the current situation. But I shall repeat that we are going to make changes very carefully.

    For that reason I expect that the negativity we receive in connection with the transition to market relations is, more or less, already in the past. We agreed on everything with the fundamental transit countries and signed the necessary documents. I hope that both the Russian party – I am referring to the cabinet and the companies concerned – and our interested partners will respect these agreements. I would like to emphasise this. I draw your attention to the fact that our oil and gas companies should not turn up their noses, rather they should work as partners and according to the signed documents.

    But do you know what I would like to say in connection with this? This is a good occasion to say another couple of words on this theme. Why did these problems never arise earlier? We are all well aware of where the transport routes for oil and gas were. They went either through the territory of our united state, the Soviet Union, or through the territory of the so-called Eastern Block. Of course there were no problems. And now they have arisen because the transit countries have realized their importance and want to receive the corresponding financial means for transport. But we already pay 4,2 billion dollars to transit countries. And for that reason if that figure increases even more – and in our opinion it has already increased too much – then of course we are going to search for ways to carry out direct deliveries. It is for this reason that we are building a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea. For this reason we will expand our possibilities to ship, shall we say, oil in the northwest. I already gave an order to the government of the Russian Federation and Transneft has, in practice, already started working on expanding terminals in the Primorye region for an additional 50 million tones of oil. And I would like to emphasise that this will significantly lower our dependence on transport countries.

    We are going to accelerate the construction of pipeline systems to the Pacific Ocean with a view to directly entering the developing markets in Asia. And I see nothing bad in the fact that our main consumers in Europe talk about or engage in diversifying their energy policy. This does not frighten us, because in turn we are also diversifying our delivery routes to various consumers and to various markets. Of course they try to scare us a little bit with this. Because when we hear that they are going to diversify their sources then this implies that we must think about where we are going to market our goods. That is why I say that we are constructing in the Far East, we intend to construct in China, and we are going to do that independently of what happens. And in the Far East and in the Altai region; and as you know, we continued the Blue Stream gas pipeline under the Black Sea. We are now thinking of constructing a second one that would possibly go to southern Europe or to central Europe – perhaps to Hungary, or another central European country such as Austria, or to Italy or Israel. For that reason we have no worries with regards to the plans of our European partners. But if we consider that we are already developing cooperation with Europeans by joining assets then we have such examples – BASF and Gazprom, Gazprom and ENI – and we are doing this in a long-term perspective, until 2030, 2035. Our cooperation is taking on an increasingly steady character.

    O.TARASEVICH (Obozrevatel Weekly, Minsk): Vladimir Vladimirovich, what can be done to save the [Russia-Belarus] Union State?

    VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why save it? All we need to do is work calmly and without getting emotional on resolving the issues before us through friendly and constructive dialogue. Our understanding of what the Union State should be is changing all the time, as you yourself probably know. We have heard on many occasions from the Belarusian leadership that they would like a union based on the Soviet model. But if this is the case, let’s be honest about what this model entails. The Soviet Union was a super-centralised country. The republics had rights on paper, but in reality they had nothing at all. The Soviet Union was a centralised unitary state. So, when we heard these words, we said, ‘well, in that case, why not become a part of the Russian Federation?’ But then we heard another position, namely, the need to protect Belarus’ sovereignty. We agree with this and we are ready to follow a road that would give the constituent parts of the future Union State full or partial sovereignty.

    Taking the example of the European Union, I proposed using the EU as a model, but I was told that this is insufficient and that the union should be deeper. We need to decide what kind of union would suit us and our Belarusian friends and colleagues. It is no secret that ethnically and historically, we are almost one and the same people and though the Belarusian people has its own unique culture, of course, we do have many things in common, and I think we can all agree on this point.

    But if the Belarusian leadership and the overwhelming majority of the people value their sovereignty higher, than let us look for forms of union that can accommodate this. But any kind of union, even the most liberal kind of union, such as the EU, inevitably entails the creation of supranational bodies of some kind or other, and inevitably leads to at least partial loss of sovereignty to these supranational bodies. We need to find the optimum form of cooperation and follow that road. We are ready to discuss any acceptable proposals for the formation of a union state - proposals acceptable to the Belarusian side. It is important only that these proposals not lead to any kind of chaos within our countries.

    I remember the period of confrontation between the union parliament and the Russian parliament at the end of the 1980s or beginning of the 1990s. Neither we nor our Belarusian friends need that kind of chaos in our political lives. A serious and responsible approach is required.

    Take a common currency, for example. It is an important factor for unity, in the economy at least, and if there is cause for concern, than let’s not make hasty decisions. Let’s think about the situation. But we would be willing to move forward in this area. We support it.
    Complete text is HERE

    Belarus expects to get $5 mln a year from pipeline land rent

    From: RIA Novosti
    A decree is pending in Belarus setting the rent for land beneath the natural gas and oil pipelines crossing its territory at $5 million a year, a government official said Friday.

    State Property Management Committee Chairman Georgy Kuznetsov said the rent will only be charged on land plots that are otherwise unused, including forest land.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said earlier Minsk would demand that Moscow pay rent for the Belarusian land under pipelines it uses to pump oil and gas to Europe.

    Russia suspended crude supplies via a major pipeline running through Belarus to Europe in early January after Belarus imposed a transit fee on Russia's Europe-bound crude in retaliation for Moscow's move to hike the gas price for its Western neighbor and impose an oil export duty.

    Lukashenko accused Russia, whose Urals crude blend is currently trading at around $51 a barrel on world markets, of seeking to charge Belarus oil prices above international levels.

    "That is unacceptable," he said. "I have given direct instructions to a delegation conducting negotiations that companies offering such prices will have to pay additional duties when pumping oil to Europe."

    "We must compensate our losses. We are not going to argue with them because it is their oil, but we will pump our oil without losses," he said.

    The energy row between the two nations was resolved after Belarus relented and lifted its transit duty, and Russia later cut its export duty from $180.7 to $53 per metric ton, avoiding potentially crippling economic consequences for its neighbor, which relies heavily on receipts from refining and re-exporting Russian oil.

    The standoff, which drew parallels with an energy row with Ukraine involving natural gas this time last year, triggered further accusations in Europe that Russia is using hydrocarbons as a political tool, and discussions on the need to diversify energy sources.

    Brussels mistrusts Belarus' pro-EU talk

    From: EU Observer
    Belarus leader Aleksander Lukashenko's recent pro-EU statements are unlikely to translate into real perestroika in Europe's "last dictatorship" analysts say, but Minsk's energy rift with Moscow is posing one of the biggest threats in recent years to Lukashenko's grip on power.

    "It is very important for us to mend relations with the west...Europe has taken a new view of Belarus and a new situation has resulted," the president told state-run news agency BELTA on 30 January, alluding to a November 2006 paper from Brussels on how Belarus could benefit from EU aid if it frees political prisoners and holds normal elections.

    Earlier this week Lukashenko urged the EU to end a travel ban on his officials and even suggested that he wants to join the European Union and adopt the euro, while talking about Russia's 1 January gas and oil price hikes in terms of "stinking carrion" and a "massive attack on Belarus."

    The rhetoric was accompanied by a stunt involving NGO the Belarus Helsinki Committee which saw Belarus tax authorities evict the pro-democracy group from its Minsk premises on 30 January, Brussels issue a ritual condemnation the same day and Belarus change its mind on the eviction one day later.

    The EU has responded to the new developments with a poker face - diplomats say EU sanctions will stay in place until Belarus takes "concrete" action on the 12-step democratisation plan outlined in the November paper. "It's up to him, he knows very well what to do," one contact said.

    In the background, EU officials are trying to leverage the situation to open a new European Commission office in Minsk and ease flows of aid to opposition groups. They have also agreed to meet Belarus officials later this month to talk about potential energy projects.

    But it is hard to find anybody in the west who believes that Lukashenko will change his spots. "Lukashenko is a criminal - he's not a partner for discussion," one senior EU diplomat told EUobserver. "If he really made these changes, this would lead to the end of his career and he would probably end up in jail [the international court in The Hague]."

    Meanwhile, the new Russian energy prices are hurting the regime. Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza says a knock-on 20 percent rise in domestic gas and electricity prices in Belarus - where people live on €60 to €140 a month - has seen people rush to exchange Belarusian roubles for dollars or euros fearing an economic crisis.

    Last March, 15,000 protestors defied government death threats to complain against Lukashenko's re-election in the largest opposition rally in his 13-year rule. A protest slated for 17 or 18 March is expected to attract fewer people, but in the long-term the end of the "Belarus economic miracle" myth could see opposition numbers swell.

    Russia puzzles all
    Meanwhile, Russia's shift has puzzled the most seasoned of analysts. EU diplomats in Minsk do not buy the theory that Russia is bullying Lukashenko into state union, arguing that a sovereign Belarus is tactically more attractive: it is a buffer against EU and NATO expansion and backs Russian foreign policy lines at the UN and in Russian media.

    "It's impossible to say what Russia's plan is," Igor Blazevic, the head of Czech NGO People in Need, said. "You should never rule out the element of irrationality in Russian foreign policy. Perhaps they are just testing out their power. Trying to show Lukashenko and the west who's boss in Belarus. Testing out a scenario."

    For his part, Lukashenko keeps firing back. Belarus decision to siphon EU-bound oil from the Druzhba pipeline in January - which led to the closure of the pipe - did more damage to Russia's reputation as a reliable energy supplier than Belarus. Minsk's January news bulletins are peppered with threats to charge Russia new oil rents this month.

    Some observers say the scenario of a Russian-backed coup in Belarus is far-fetched. But large chunks of Belarus' KGB and civil service keep close ties with the Kremlin, while the pro-Russian wing of the Belarusian opposition, linked to Aleksander Kozulin, has reportedly seen increased funding from Russia in recent months.

    If Russian-backed regime change is unrealistic for now, it is still more realistic than democratic reform or a popular revolution, however. "Lukashenko has been betrayed by the Kremlin and has nowhere to turn," another EU diplomat said. "If he keeps up this energy policy with Russia, he could find himself falling down the stairs or being buried in the woods."

    Suspected Tax Felons Huzau and Pahodzin Still at Large

    From: Transnational crime blog
    Federal authorities are searching for a pair of eastern Europeans who cheated Wisconsin and the federal government out of tens of thousands of dollars by filing tax returns as dead people. Dzmitry Huzau, and Aliaksei Pahodzin, both from Belarus, found the names and Social Security numbers of dozens of deceased people online, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.

    Huzau and Pahodzin filed more than 150 false income tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service and more than 130 false returns with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue during the spring and summer of 2004, according to the indictment. They were pulling the names off a list in alphabetical order and filing them in alphabetical order.

    Most of the returns reported the same information, with wages totaling $19,140, federal withholding of $2,080 and a $731 refund due. The two men asked that the fund be deposited into their bank accounts or into an account they controlled. A computer program designed to detect tax fraud by flagging accounts that appear similar picked up the returns, but not before the men had obtained about $11,000 from the IRS and more than $50,000 from the state.

    The men were indicted by a grand jury in July, and the indictment was unsealed Wednesday. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil said indictments are typically opened upon a suspect's arrest, but since Huzau and Pahodzin remain at large unsealing the indictment may generate public interest to help investigators capture them.

    Both men face 31 counts of conspiring to file electronic federal income tax forms claiming false refunds and four counts of wire fraud.

    Wire Fraud makes it a crime for a person to devise an artifice or scheme to defraud, and then use the telecommunications technology of the United States to carry out that fraud. The punishment for a violation of section 1343 is a fine, imprisonment for up to 20 years or both.

    Claiming false refunds makes it a crime to willfully make and subscribe any return, statement, or other document, which contains or is verified by a written declaration that it is made under the penalties of perjury, and which he does not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter.

    Hoax packages cause alarm in Boston

    From: CNN
    Five suspicious packages planted throughout Boston Wednesday forced the shutdown of major roads, a bridge and a stretch of the Charles River.

    Authorities concluded the objects were not bombs.

    "It's a hoax -- and it's not funny," said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

    Police said four calls, all around 1 p.m., reported suspicious devices at the Boston University Bridge and the Longfellow Bridge, which both span the Charles River, at a Boston street corner and at the Tufts-New England Medical Center.

    the officials in Boston hate Peter Berdovsky (a/k/a Zebbler) and want to throw him in the slammer.
    The package near the Boston University bridge was found attached to a structure beneath the span, where it crosses the Massachusetts Turnpike, authorities said.

    Subway service across the Longfellow Bridge between Boston and Cambridge was briefly suspended, and Storrow Drive was closed as well.

    Another device was found earlier in the day at a subway station, forcing a temporary shutdown of Interstate 93.
  • Note: The reason for the preceding article was because the fellow responsible for the "bombs" in Boston, was Peter Berdovski, a Belarusian living in Boston. Berdovsky was arrested as a suspect in a guerilla marketing campaign for a Cartoon Network To read a bit more about Berdovski, see THIS ARTICLE from the Arlington advocate.

    Russian woman killed, 3 Russians injured in bus crash in Belarus

    From: ITAR TASS
    Russian citizen Maria Zubkova, who lived permanently in Germany, died in the crash of a bus, which overturned on the highway 30 kilometers of Minsk, a source in the Russian Embassy to Belarus told Itar-Tass.

    A Belarussian woman was also killed, and another four people, including three Russians, were injured in the road accident.

    The wounded passengers were hospitalized, one of them was brought to the intensive therapy ward in severe condition. However, according to doctors, his life is out of danger.

    According to the Russian embassy, a bus was assigned for the rest of passengers so that they could continue their trip.

    Belarus wants to boost strategic partnership with Vietnam

    Victor Gaisenok
    Belarus attaches importance to consolidating and developing strategic partnership relations with Vietnam, especially in trade and economy.
    Belorussian Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Gaisenok made the affirmation on January 24 at a reception held by the Vietnamese Embassy in Minsk to celebrate the 15th Vietnam-Belarus diplomatic ties anniversary.

    The Deputy Foreign Minister also highlighted co-operation achievements since the two countries established diplomatic relations.

    Ambassador Vu Xuan Ninh expressed his thanks to the Belorusian people for their great support assistance during Vietnam's struggles for independence as well as their co-operation in the country's reconstruction.

    The Vietnamese State will continue to strengthen the traditional friendship and boost multifaceted co-operation with Belarus, Ninh said.

    Ukrainian Girls Transformed into Sex-Slaves in Russia

    From: Mignews
    Criminals had been tracking girls down and sold them as sex-slaves to Russia.

    Officials at the Department on struggle against organized crime at the Chief Administration of the Interior Ministry of Ukraine in the Kharkov oblast disclosed a criminal group. They had been selling Ukrainian girls as sex-slaves to Russia.

    As PR centre at oblast militia informed, information about it appeared in the middle of 2006. Group pf people in the Kharkov oblast had been crimping girls at the age from 16 to 20 in order to exploit them as sex-slaves on the territory of Russia.

    Officials at the Department on struggle against organized crime ascertained plotters had been acquainting with girls from poor families and offered them job of waitresses in bars and restaurants of Moscow. Thye promised them to earn a great deal of money. Other members of group welcomed girls in Russia. They had been taking documents away, closed them in the apartments and then made them to work as prostitutes intimidating and threatening them.

    Law enforcement at the Department on struggle against organized crime managed to find location of criminals at the beginning of August 2006 after 20-year-old resident from the Valkovskiy district disappeared. Girl was found in the cellar of owner-occupied dwelling. Militia officials stated during interrogation of owner of the building, 33-year-old who was already convicted in Valka city that he arrived to Kharkov in March 2006. Girl had been studying in the university. He tracked her down and abducted. Plotter tried to hold her to ransom and then to make her sex-slave in Moscow.

    Investigative department at the Chief Administration of the Interior Ministry of Ukraine in the Kharkov oblast initiated a criminal case according to 189 article the third clause of the Criminal code of Ukraine.

    As officials at the PR centre informed, militia officials found other members of criminal group during investigation. They are nearly 10 people, older than 30, citizens of Ukraine and Russia. Criminals had been occupied in this activity for 2 years. They managed to sell over 10 girls to Russia. Now 8 girls have returned home.

    Now militiamen at the Department on struggle against organized crime together with their colleagues from Russia have been holding investigation and try to find and detain all members of group in order to make them answerable for it, PR centre officials noted.

    In related news, the Turkish policy detained 24 Ukrainian females on suspicion of prostitution. Press-service of Foreign Ministry informed about it.

    According to the release, as a result of operation held by officials from the department on struggle against human traffic at Antalya province on January, 26 24 Ukrainian females had been detained at the hotels and entertaining offices. They were brought into the foreigners proceedings department.

    Police preferred a charge against apprehended of prostitution and illegal acquisition of incomes. Turkish side is preparing for their deportation.

    Citizens of Ukraine have not appealed to the Ukrainian embassy to Turkey on violation their laws. This case is controlled by consular service department at the Foreign Ministry and Ukrainian embassy to Turkey.

    Belarus declares 2007 Year of Child

    From: Belta
    Belarus has declared 2007 the Year of the Child. The president of Belarus signed a corresponding decree on February 1.

    The country will continue the work on strengthening family social support which was launched in 2006 in connection with the conduct of the Year of Mother last year, the president’s press service told BelTA.

    A range of measures was taken last year to protect the rights and legal interests of children, strengthen social and economic support of the family, enhance the responsibility of parents for upbringing children, create the system of social-pedagogical and psychological help to a family. In particular, the enabling environment was created to enact the presidential program “Children of Belarus” and the state program “Young Talents of Belarus” for 2006-2010, the national action plan on improving the state of children and protecting their rights in 2004-2010. The Belarusian president’s decree #18 introduced additional measures to ensure state protection of children in disadvantaged families. A new composition of the national commission for children’s rights was approved.

    Declaring 2007 the Year of Child will promote favourable social and economic conditions to stimulate the birthrate in the country and strengthen the family, raise highly intelligent and physically developed young Belarusians, the press service noted.

    Belarus, Russia delay introduction of single currency

    From: Itar Tass
    The introduction of a single currency in Belarus and Russia has been delayed indefinitely, National Bank head Pyotr Prokopovich said on Wednesday.

    “The introduction of a single currency will be unrealistic and impossible until a single economic and customs space is built and until equal conditions for the population and economic entities of the two countries are created,” he said.

    In his words, the introduction of a single currency should be a result of long work of both sides, “the final stage of our economic integration”.

    According to estimates made three years ago, the introduction of a single currency, with equal economic conditions in Belarus and Russia, could have increased the growth of Belarusian GDP by an additional 7-9 percent a year.

    At the same time, the introduction of a single currency for the sake of introduction may cause an economic recession in Belarus, Prokopenko said.

  • Opinion...

    What is Mr Lukashenka's price to quit Belarus?

    AT ANY time in the past 12 years it would have been not merely an implausible turn of events, but a sensational one. Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus has denounced Russia, and praised the West.

    “We are in the centre of Europe and we must be on normal terms with the East and the West”, he said last week. The previous policy, aiming for a union state with Russia, was all wrong, he continued: “we have been flying on just one wing.”

    Never mind that the old one-winged foreign policy was his own creation. Never mind that his regime has murdered, bullied, beaten and blustered its way to international isolation for more than a decade. Now he is citing Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, even Poland as commendable economic models.

    The prospect that Belarus may be emerging from its black hole is a tantalising one. There is a precedent, of sorts. President Vladimir Voronin of Moldova came to power as a Communist leader determined to make his divided, dirt-poor country into another Cuba, perhaps even joining Russia and Belarus in their union state. But he soon turned into a moderate social democrat, suspicious of the Kremlin, and determined to push Moldova to the West (a course for which the West has given him shamefully little support).

    Will the same happen with Mr Lukashenka (shown above, left, with President Vladimir Putin of Russia)? As Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation points out: “Lukashenka’s overtures are marred by his difficulty finding an idiom understandable to a Western audience”.


    That’s putting it mildly. The Belarusian leader is a wild-eyed veteran of the collective farms, a museum-quality homo sovieticus whose pro-Kremlin sentimentality and do-it-yourself authoritarianism are matched only by a volatile temper and crudity of manner. Anyone who has grown used to Mr Lukashenka's cynical rule will find it hard to nurture any hopes of a change.

    The comparison with Moldova is only partial, moreover. Whatever his views on foreign policy, Mr Voronin was no authoritarian. Moldova, for all its problems, is a model of Athenian democracy compared to Belarus. Mr Lukashenka’s Damascene conversion to the joys of the Western model have not brought any change in his repressive domestic policies. The recent local elections were a farce, with most opposition candidates and their supporters intimidated into withdrawing.

    Previous tiffs with the east and flirtations with the West on the part of Belarus have always ended in business (with Russia) as usual. But this time the rhetoric is certainly stronger.

    Bruised by his recent brawls with Russia over oil and gas supplies, Mr Lukashenka’s denunciations of Russian energy imperialism would not sound out of place coming from a Pole. The Belarusian boss says he wants Western companies to buy stakes in his country’s energy infrastructure.

    A deep opening to the West may be wishful thinking, but nothing should be ruled out. The fundamentals are changing. Russia’s swaggering, clumsy, regional policy is alienating all its loyal ex-Soviet allies—Armenia, the Central Asian states, now even Belarus.

    That creates a huge, unexpected and undeserved opening for the West. Handled wrongly, this could be disastrous. Trying to prop up Mr Lukashenka against Russian pressure would make the West look appallingly cynical.

    But it should be possible for the West to talk to the Belarusian nomenklatura—the senior officials and businessmen who administer the country. Neither pariahdom nor incorporation into Russia offers an them an attractive future.

    In an ideal world, the fractured, weak opposition would unite and sweep Mr Lukashenka and his cronies out of power and into prison. But in the real world, if providing him (and them) with luxurious villas in Montenegro or Cyprus was the price of freeing Belarus from both dictatorship and Russian hegemony, it would look a pretty good outcome.


    From: Eurasian Home
    The text is based on Stanislav Belkovsky’s address “Russia in the post-Soviet space"
    Summing up the Russian foreign policy in the post-Soviet space in 2006, we should acknowledge that Russia has ceased to be a regional power.

    Before 2006 the post-Soviet space had been fragmented and segmented for about 2 years, i.e. it ceased to exist as an informal formation with the capital in Moscow. Since 2006, Russia has not been a source of legitimacy of the post-Soviet regimes. In the near future the post-Soviet space will be structured by the new subregional powers, such as Kazakhstan and Ukraine.

    Apart from that, in 2006 the myth that the New Independent States crucially depended on Russia in energy supplies was destroyed. Now it is clear that Ukraine and Belarus as energy transit countries can exert influence upon Russia, because the latter is interested in guaranteeing security of energy supplies to Europe.

    Also it became clear that dependence of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan as energy suppliers on Russia was not critical. Many events that took place last year indicate that.

    Putting the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Oil Pipeline into operation means the appearance of a new route from Central Asia to Europe. As oil from the Central Asian countries flows along the pipeline, the route through the Russian port of Novorossiysk will become less attractive.

    In 2006 the construction of Nabukko pipeline was more intense. It will be built through the Caspian Sea bottom, Turkey, Hungary, Romania to Western Europe with a branch line to Ukraine. Thus, Ukraine will have an opportunity to get the Central Asian gas that will be supplied to it without going through Russia. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych back this project.

    The death of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006 and the changes followed in the government of Turkmenistan livened up the discussion of the construction of the Transafghan gas pipeline. After this gas pipeline is put into operation, Turkmenistan will reduce its dependence on the Russian company Gazprom. The country will need not sell its gas to Gazprom at a price that is lower than the market one. As a result, in 2012 Russia may not fill its gas pipelines with the cheap Turkmen gas.

    In the heat of the Russian-Ukrainian gas dispute at the beginning of 2006 the world came to know that Gazprom had no capacity for limiting its gas exports, because it couldn’t stop supplies to the EU countries through Ukraine for more than 4 or 5 days.

    In 2006 the Belarus-Russia Union project actually ceased to exist. The project was of importance to the Kremlin, because it allowed Russia to keep Belarus as a strategic partner. In many respects the legitimacy of Aliaksandr Lukashenka’s regime was based on the idea of reviving the “USSR in miniature”.

    In 2007 Lukashenka will have to carry out an alternative national project that implies building of a full-format national state.

    As early as in 2006 we saw Belarus’ rapprochement with the other New Independent States that have recently been regarded as opponents of the Belarus-Russia Union (Ukraine, Azerbaijan etc.).

    In January 2007 contacts between Belarus and the EU have become much more intense. On January 16, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development announced that it would implement a new strategy towards Belarus that would imply the increase of the level of cooperation with the Belarusian private capital.

    On January 18, during his official visit to Minsk PACE President René van der Linden firstly stated that Belarus getting out of the political isolation would guarantee its democratization and successful development. He did not criticize Lukashenka severely. In return, the Belarusian President allowed René van der Linden to meet with some key figures of the Belarusian opposition.

    As we expect, Belarus will intensify cooperation with Ukraine in 2007.

    In 2007-2011 Lukashenka will most likely make an attempt to democratize his regime. It is possible that the new Constitution will be adopted. The EU will give up the efforts to change Lukashenka’s regime and it will help Belarus to integrate into the European economic and political projects. Ukraine will act as a mediator of the Belarus-EU relations and a new subregional power.

    In 2006 Russia ceased to be a geopolitical force in the South Caucasus. Moscow’s efforts to establish a blockade on Georgia seem to be unsuccessful. The country is able to do without the Russian energy resources.

    The blockade, imposed on Georgia, led to the economic losses – 1.5 % of Georgia’s GDP. But it is not critical. Before 2006 Gazprom was the exclusive Georgia’s gas supplier, in 2007 it will supply only 35% of the Russian gas to Georgia. Azerbaijan and Turkey have become alternative energy suppliers of Georgia. If the USA gave its consent, Iran could cover Gazprom’s share.

    In 2006 the relations between Russia and Azerbaijan worsened. Azerbaijan refused to purchase the Russian gas and didn’t back up the blockade, set up over Georgia.

    Deterioration of relations with Georgia and Azerbaijan endangers the interests of Armenia, the last Russia’s ally in the region. Armenia has become dependent not only on the Azerbaijani but also on the Georgian transport corridors.

    The replacement of the Kazakh Prime Minister at the beginning of 2007 means that focus of Kazakhstan’s foreign policy will be shifted. The key posts in the Cabinet, which were occupied by the representatives of the old Russia-oriented elite, now are occupied by the officials who intend to develop deep economic and political ties with the USA and China, which indicates that Kazakhstan should not be considered to be a strategic ally or an outpost of Russia either.

    Thus, after 2006 Russia remained all alone in the post-Soviet space. Its only allies are the unrecognized republics that also have a number of disagreements with their “elder brother”.

    In particular, Russia did not recognize the 2006 referendum in Transnistria that took place on 17 September 2006 (on that date, Transnistria voted to continue its de facto independence and seek closer ties with Russia), although Moscow had forced the Transnistrian authorities to hold the referendum.

    Thus, Russia has ceased to be a moderator in the post-Soviet space. And this is a policy followed by the Russian ruling political class for all the recent years.

    Such an unreasoned policy makes Russia develop a new positioning strategy in the post-Soviet space in the near future. But there are doubts that this strategy will be developed, while the current political elite remains in power.

    The strategy will most likely be proposed after the presidential election in Russia that is scheduled for 2008.

  • From the blogs...

    Is Belarus Really Making Changes?

    From: vital signs blog
    Just one day after being thrown out of its offices, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, one of the last human rights organizations permitted in Belarus by its totalitarian President, Alexander Lukashenka, has learned it can return...for awhile anyway.

    How come?

    Well, perhaps it's because Lukashenka is finally realizing that he needs to develop at least some rapprochement with the West, especially the European Union. After all, the recent problems Belarus had with Russia over the supply (and transport) of natural gas has revealed that their historic partnership (Lukashenka has desperately wanted it to be an official "union") is increasingly weak. In fact, the fiery rhetoric of the Belarusian president flamed up two days ago against the Kremlin, saying that Russia was out "to choke and crush Belarus." Hmm. Lukashenka flared on, "We are simply being abused. You can see what is going on now in the media. But they are doing this under instructions from the Kremlin. This I can tell you for certain."

    But without Russia, where can Belarus go for friends? Cuba, Red China and Venezuela are too far away.

    Thus, Lukashenka's newest sop to Europe. "We recognize that our policy of developing in multiple directions has been turned into a single direction. It is very important for us to sort out our relations with the West.... Europe has seen that it, too, depends on Belarus in terms of energy supplies. Europe now views Belarus in a new way. A new situation has emerged."

    But, of course, Lukashenka talks like this every once in awhile anyway. And no new situation has emerged at all -- save Belarus' lengthening list of severe problems caused by the government's inefficiency, corruption, and discredited Communism. Thus, perhaps, the change of heart over the BHC's presence is to suggest some kind of sacrifice.

    But Europe is going to require a lot more than one "stage act" event to be convinced that Lukashenka is really looking for honesty, fairness, openness and a move towards democracy. A lot more.

    Dear, dear eXile!

    From: LaRusophobe
    La Russophobe is proudly awaiting the day, several weeks hence, when she records the 100,000th page view at this blog (we're now at 90,000). A "page view" is not the same as a visit, one visit can generate more than one page view depending on the interest level of the visitor, so it's a more general indication of how the blog is being received by its audience. But it's still a really big number for a little specialist blog like this, and it's going to come before we're even one year old. Readers should be just as pleased as LR, since they are responsible for the number as much as LR is. When this day arrives, it'll be the biggest milestone in the history of this blog to date, so naturally we are on pins and needles. Perhaps it's because any hopeful sign where Russia is concerned, in the midst of so very much darkness, is so valuable.

    Thankfully, the charming fellows over at the eXile tabloid have stepped in to fill the void, providing us with yet another milestone to tide us over whilst we patiently wait for the big one to arrive, like little kids waiting for Santa Claus (it's as if there were a National Enquirer in America written in Russian by Russians; here's how the earthshaking lead item in the most recent issue begins: "For years Moscow has been known as the cultural Cheese Capital of Eastern Europe, a hotbed of sh**ty disco pop music and style so shamelessly lame that it made Milan or the Castro District seem like grimy punk zones by comparison." Heavy stuff there, heavy.) . They've said they don't like us! In fact, they've devoted a whole article to a typically scatalogical personal attack on us! There really couldn't be any more convincing proof of what we've achieved in the short amount of time we've existed so far than the eXile's disapproval, so we humbly thank them for it. We're very proud to be now keeping company with other vile villains hated by the eXile, such as the Moscow Times and Yevgenia Albats. And the free publicity can't hurt either (yup, we can hardly believe that all nine of the eXile's readers have now been clued in to our existence! is that cool or what? we're looking to see a major surge in visitation over the next few days).

    To thank the (very little) boys over at the eXile for their charming and most welcome recognition, we've consulted a journalism professor and are pleased to offer them a series of free lessons in the finer points of their craft, which will hopefully lead to even more brilliant success for them in the future, maybe even Russia's version of the Pulitzer Prize (if such there be).

    To wit:

    1. Interviews

    We know it probably sounds like a bizarre notion to the boys, but when you want to know about somebody (David Johnson and Kim Zigfeld are mentioned in the eXile's screed by name), our professor says one of the first things an actual journalist will do is speak to them. If, for instance, the eXile had interviewed David Johnson before going to print, they'd have found out that, far from being the recipient of "crazed" letters from Ms. Zigfeld, he recently wrote to her and asked permission to run our translation of the Novaya Gazeta piece "Spare Organs," which she was happy to grant. Ms. Zigfeld herself has never received any inquiry from the eXile about, well, anything. Maybe they'll try this technique one day, a whole new world might open up for them! For instance, instead of asking readers "Who is this freakish ghoul who haunts the blog world with her Russophobia, and what is his/her/their purpose?" they could have asked us, and then they could have printed the answer. Journalism at this sophisticated level is really amazing, isn't it?

    2. Sources

    Often times, the professor says, it's considered a good idea to check out one's sources of information before going to press. The mention by the eXile of the name "Oliver Bronsen" is a sure tipoff that information has been fed by them by the wacko Russophile pair of Kiril Pankratov and Mike Averko. Relying on these keystone cops for information is like relying on Vladimir Putin for the milk of human kindness. Perhaps not such a good idea, especially not when making statements about "one of those psychos who writes obsessive letters to their local newspaper complaining about 'big government.'" Those who have read LR's post about Mr. Averko will understand why (that's quite a large number, as you will see if you Google Mr. Averko's name). Little wonder the eXile chose not to name their sources, but the professor says that conscientious journalists frown on the use of anonymity in such cases. It's the sure tipoff of quackery.

    3. Consistency

    According to the professor, one of the most important features of journalism, and the single most important feature of editing, is consistency. If, for instance, you at one point say "La Russophobe is an NGO project run by an angry, fat-assed Anglo/American chick who hates Sharapova" and you then post the picture at left, well, people are bound to be confused. Even by anorexic standards, that ass isn't fat. And if you then go on to say that Ms. Zigfeld is actually a guy named Oliver Bronsen, your readers are bound to drift away to . . . oh . . . let's just say the Moscow Times. Also, you might then notice that it's just a bit odd to refer to the source of your story about LR anonymously as "a reader" and to publish the story itself without a byline whilst simultaneously screeching about how odd it is that LR might be anonymous. You might notice that if you say you're about to list "two theories" and then list (a) and (b) and (c), that's not actually two. Likewise, it might have occurred to somebody that expressing hatred of all things La Russophobe (to say nothing of all things George Bush and, indeed, all things America) while attacking LR for expressing hatred of all things Russian is bound to be a bit confusing for many. And lastly, you might realize that if you pontificate about LR being obsessed with attention and then give her some, you're kind of undermining your own theory (or at least showing a pretty childish lack of self control -- then again, maybe that's a point of pride over at the eXile).

    4. Conflict of interest

    Granted, journalistic ethics is an advanced topic, and it's probably way too early to mention it. But we can dream, can't we? If you're going to write a critique of somebody (let's say something thoughtful and reasonable like: "La Russophobe is a compulsively unironic, humorless hate blog, with said hatred directed at All Things Russian. Sort of like one of those psychos who writes obsessive letters to their local newspaper complaining about 'big government.'"), the professor says, it's considered standard operating procedure to disclose the fact that the person has previously written such things about you. You know, as La Russophobe did five months ago about eXile editor Mark Ames. The same thing holds true for the rather sharp attacks LR has launched against the eXile's sources, Averko and Pankratov. What's more, in the blogosphere it's considered basic to post a link to those comments, so readers can see them for themselves. This not only follows good ethics, but it avoids the appearance that you're scared of what was said about you and don't want anybody to read it. LR must say she was a bit disappointed, but not surprised, that the eXile didn't do so.

    5. Research

    Last, but certainly not least, the professor points out the many benefits of actually doing research, instead of just blowing smoke out of your butt, which is amusing for a while but gets old pretty fast. If, for instance, the eXile had done any research about this blog they would have learned. just for instance, that:

    Far from being "obsessed" with Maria Sharapova as they claim, only 25 posts out of 1,250 that have been published so far over the course of ten months had Maria as a topic. In other words, 98% of our posts are not about Sharapova, only 2% are. Given that she's the most famous Russian in the world (and the wealthiest female athlete of any nation), we hardly think that's overkill. Now, we understand that the little horny boys over at the eXile are annoyed that we've dared to mess with their wet dreams (they refer to Maria as "tennis-babe" in the article), but come on guys. There's lots of fish in the sea! And anyway, Russia is full of cheap prostitutes and vodka to ply them with.

    Maybe it's not such a good idea to say "just about every non-cash-earning blog is totally f**ked up." They might have found out, you see, that La Russophobe has more links from blogs and more traffic than any "cash-earning" Russia blog of its kind in existence. A little more research might have revealed that a "non-cash-earning" educational/political blog can make freer use of source material than can one which operates for revenue. Still more research might have led to the realization of how many people feel using profanity isn't really very impressive. In fact, often, quite the opposite. Especially when you follow it up with childish and incomprehensible analogies like "a Scooby Doo situation." Plus which, no matter how jaded and cynical you might be, is it really such a good idea to trash volunteerism, particularly in a country like Russia where 1 million people are lost from the population every year? Is even the eXile capable of being THAT evil? Maybe. Maybe they revile Gandhi because he didn't keep on being a tax lawyer and raking in the big bucks. Perhaps they're just that sick. But if so, it's rather odd that they spend so much time screeching about the establishment and the Bush adminstration, isn't it?

    Probably could have done better than to say that LR "hates all things Russian." After all, everybody within earshot knows how much LR loves Anna Politkovskaya, Yulia Yusupova, Yevgenia Albats, Marina Litvinovich and Svetlana Gannushkina -- to say nothing of Stanislav Dmitreivsky. They're about as Russian as you can get! The tribute in our sidebar and our special piece on Publius Pundit clearly show our awestruck admiration for them, and many other Russians who struggle to stop the rise of the neo-Soviet Union in Russia. This blog was created for one purpose: to support them!

    We hope this little lesson has been valuable to our friends over at the eXile and look forward to lots more free publicity from them in the future.

    And here's a little personal advice, just because we're feeling so good.

    Dear eXile,

    Guys, if you really wanted to "get" us, you would have praised us to the sky. Had you done so, we would have (a) felt a bit guilty about trashing you as incompetent loons who crashed and burned in America and then went to the one place in the world where you could actually feel superior and started pimping Russian women to foreigners for profit as mail-order brides under the guise of "journalism" and we would have (b) had to reevaluate our whole existence, since your approval would be the same as getting a letter from a hero like Yulia Latynina saying we suck. So, as far as can be seen, you accomplished the exact opposite of your purpose. That is unless you actually do like us, and know how we think, and wanted to throw us a bone. But since we don't want you to like us, we prefer to think you're not remotely close to being that clever.

    Love and Kisses,

    La Russophobe

  • Sport...

    Belarusian biathletes hold last training session ahead of world championships

    From: Belta
    Today the Belarusian athletes held the last training session ahead of the world biathlon championships that start on February 3 in Italy’s Antholz, chief coach of the national team Alexander Popov told BelTA.

    Competing in the worlds will almost 40 countries, top-ranked among them are Russia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France.

    Belarus fields Alexander Syman, Sergei Novikov, Rustam Valiullin and Vladimir Miklashevskiy for men’s sprint which opens up the championships. Natalia Sokolova, Daria Domracheva, Olga Kudriashova and Liudmila Kalinchik will compete in the same ladies’ event.

    The program of the world also includes pursuits and individual races, a mixed relay, men’s and women’s relays, two mass start competitions.

  • Endnote...

    From (White) Russia with love at Lula Kebab House

    From: IFGT
    Owner Sofia Shifrin proffers a tomato stuffed with beef tongue salad.
    A burgeoning Russian community has sprung up along Collins Avenue in the Sunny Isles Beach area. Signs in Cyrillic dot strip malls where nightclubs, video shops, cafes and grocery stores cater to Russian customers.

    Open since June, Lula Kebab House serves up mouth-watering kebabs, dumplings, meat pies, blini and more in the RK Plaza at 182nd Street. Owner Sofia Shifrin is an excellent cook herself but hired two Russians and an Armenian to execute her menu. Husband David helps out, greeting customers at the front door.

    The Shifrins are from Minsk (now the Republic of Belarus) but lived for 10 years in Kirghizia (now Kyrgyzstan) in Central Asia. They came to Brooklyn 30 years ago and resettled in South Florida eight years ago, joining about 150,000 other former Soviet citizens.

    The name of their restaurant refers to kazakh-style kebabs called lula or lulya, made from ground lamb, chicken or beef, grilled on a skewer, dusted in tart sumac powder and served with thinly sliced red onions (the sumac removes the onion's pungency).

    All the kebabs here -- succulent beef, chicken, lamb or salmon -- are served off the skewer with a spicy tomato and pepper dip and a choice of buttery mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes or basmati rice. The salmon comes pooled in tangy-sweet pomegranate molasses.

    Hearty kharcho is a Georgian lamb and rice stew with tomatoes, fresh herbs and a spice blend that includes fenugreek, coriander and caraway. It can make a meal with the complimentary rolls and sun-dried tomato spread. Soups include pel'meni (Siberian dumplings) stuffed with meat in chicken broth and cold beet, cucumber and sour cream soup with dill.

    If you have a big appetite, launch into a meal here with Crimean chebureki, deep-fried half-moon pies stuffed with juicy ground beef, good with a platter of pickled cukes, red cabbage, hot peppers and green tomatoes.

    The best starter is the Georgian rolls, fried slices of eggplant rolled in a ground walnut, garlic and cilantro paste, served sprinkled with ground walnuts. There's also pickled herring served with hot potato slices, spicy carrot salad and beef-tongue salad in creamy horseradish dressing.

    Chef's specials to try are large manti dumplings stuffed with lamb and onions; cabbage rolls stuffed with chicken cutlets and baked in V-8 juice with cream; kavab (lamb and potato stew); chicken tabaka (whole, crispy, butterflied Cornish hen) and blini baked with cheese served in a clay bowl with salmon caviar (ikura).

    Somehow, save room for the sweet blini, stuffed with apple jam or a blend of farmer's cheese, cream cheese and cherries.