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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Belarus to levy tariffs on oil, Russia says they'll go around, Religion, Cop numbers reduced, La Russophobe, Sharpova, Opposition, Opinion, Blogs

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  • #176

    Gomeltransneft Druzhba to levy new oil transit tariffs starting February 15

    Alexander Lukashenko receiving the credentials from Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Lithuania in Belarus Edminas Bagdonas
    Starting from February 15 the republican unitary enterprise Gomeltransneft Druzhba will levy new tariffs on oil shipped via Belarus, BelTA learnt from company’s deputy director Pavel Karpovich.

    He noted that Gomeltransneft Druzhba and Transneft singed an agreement on new oil transit tariffs in addition to the effective agreement between the two companies. Earlier, the economy ministry of Belarus notified the Russian company about the decision to raise the oil transit tariffs. Transneft agreed to pay the new tariffs. “Starting from February 15 we will levy new tariffs,” Pavel Karpovich said.

    A reminder, in line with the resolution of the economy ministry of Belarus, the oil transit tariffs were increased by 31.6% -34.6% depending on the destination. The average tariff went up from $0.41 to $0.6 per one ton of oil pumped per 100 km, hence reaching the level of Russian domestic tariffs.

    According to the economy ministry, tariffs on pumping oil from Russia via Belarus have not been changed since 1996. New tariffs were introduced due to the increase in energy carriers’ prices.

    In addition, it is noted that the State Duma of Russia wants to see the process of the Union State construction continue, speaker of the lower chamber of the Russian parliament Boris Gryzlov has told reporters today when answering a question on the preparation of parliamentary recommendations on trade-economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia.

    Boris Gryzlov informed that the document is likely to be ready next week. “So far we are not ready, some of the provisions in the draft recommendations will be changed”, he said.

    The deputies of the lower chamber of the Russian parliament have been working on the document for about a month

    Russia sees Belarus oil bypass by mid-2008

    From: Reuters
    Russia may take less than 18 months to build an oil pipeline that would bypass Belarus and expand reliable shipments direct to Europe from Russia's Baltic coast, the head of pipeline monopoly Transneft said on Tuesday.

    "Eighteen months is way too long," Transneft's head Semyon Vainshtok told a conference in London, in answer to a question about the time needed to build the new pipeline, which could eventually pump one million barrels per day.

    "If a government decision is taken, the timeframe of the construction will be very tight, even by Transneft's standards," said Vainshtok, referring to the speedy implementation of some of Transneft's (TRNF_p.RTS: Quote, Profile , Research) previous projects.

    The idea for the project emerged one month ago after an oil pricing dispute between Russia and Belarus briefly halted supplies of over one million bpd of Russian crude to Germany, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic via Belarus.

    The oil dispute with Minsk was the latest in a serious of pricing oil and gas disputes between Russia and its neighbours, which were severely criticised in the West and prompted European leaders to urge supply diversification.

    After resuming supplies through Belarus, Transneft suggested building a pipeline spur to Russia's Baltic port of Primorsk, which is already exporting some 1.5 million bpd of Russian crude.

    The project was cleared by Russia's energy ministry and is awaiting government approval.

    "If the decision is made it will only be taken to protect our European partners, the end-users of oil. Russia is demonstrating that it is a reliable supplier of oil to the Western markets," Vainshtok said.

    Transneft has yet to value the project's costs and some analysts have said the financial burden might be very heavy for the company, which also has to spend some $11 billion on Russia's first pipeline to Asia before 2009.

    But the state, which is awash with cash from record oil, gas and metals prices, may support the project as it has so far supported all plans to cut dependence on transit states.

    Vainshtok said his company would be able to fund both projects by increasing foreign borrowing. Transneft is currently planning a benchmark 7-year Eurobond in U.S. dollars.

    During his six years as the head of Transneft, Vainshtok has built bypasses around Ukraine and the troubled Russian region of Chechnya and a pipeline to the port of Primorsk, allowing Russia to cut oil transit via Latvia and Estonia.

    Many analysts have said the Russian pipeline to Germany, Poland and other European states, known as the Druzhba ("Friendship") pipeline, will stay idle after the spur to Primorsk is built.

    But Vainshtok said some volumes would be left for shipment via Druzhba. He did not elaborate.

    Opinion: Russia treats Belarus unfriendly and unfairly

    From: Regnum
    Russia is treating Belarus unfriendly and unfairly, first deputy head of the Belarusian presidential administration Anatoly Rubinov said at a session of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences on February 7. According to him, the Russian side is successor of the Soviet Union and is responsible for development of the Belarusian industry. “The decision to construct major industrial plants in the republic was made in Moscow,” Rubinov said. “And what now: one has the best, the other one the worst? Belarus should have received access to Russian hydrocarbons proportionally to the share of the Belarusian SSR in the USSR economy.”

    At the same time, Rubinov stressed that switching to market relations of Russia and Belarus should have taken place with equal rise of energy prices. As a result of the Belarusian-Russian energy conflict, prices for the Belarusian side increased twice, and for the Russian side – only by 15%. “It is not a market, but an administrative approach to force Belarusian goods from the Russian market,” he said. “Belarusian goods will become more expensive and will not be able to compete with Russian ones.” However, as Rubinov, everything is done for the better. Belarus will make some steps towards the West, will develop its economy via market ways and increase its effort in energy saving, business development and attraction of foreign investments.

    However, from the Ruussian side, Regnum also reports This: “From the economic point of view, the project of Unecha-Primorsk oil pipeline construction bypassing Belarus might be not well-grounded, but the conflict with Belarus cast a false color upon us in front of Europe, and we cannot afford to continue depending on Belarus in oil transit,” Head of the Russian State Duma Energy Committee Valery Yazev said at a news conference in Moscow on February 14, a REGNUM correspondent informs.

    “The project might result in raising oil price by $3 per barrel, which will affect its competitiveness, but I don’t think it would empty the Belarusian pipeline,” Yazev said.

    “Anyway, strategically the decision is clear, we need to secure our exports,” Valery Yazev concluded.

    Lithuania Steps In between Belarus and EU

    From: Kommersant
    Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's appeals to the West to protect him against Russia have met with a response from within the European Union. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus stated yesterday that his country is developing an oil transportation system with Belarus and Ukraine as an alternative to Russian pipelines. The new Lithuanian ambassador in Minsk, Edminas Bagdonas, handed authorities in Minsk a proposal from Vilnius that it become an intermediary in relations between Minsk and the European Union.
    “We could become your advocate in Brussels and in a dialog with the EU,” Bagdonas said in a cautiously-worded statement, adding that “Lithuania, as a member of the EU, supports EU policy and is waiting for specific proposals from the Belarusian side. We, as neighbors, would like to hear those proposals first.”

    While political relations are not expected to improve between Belarus and the EU, cooperation on energy resources may be radically transformed. Adamkus announced yesterday that an oil transportation system was being developed to bring oil from the Rotterdam exchange to his country, Ukraine and Belarus and assure independence from Russia oil supplies. He said that the terminal at the Port of Klaipeda would be reconstructed for that purpose and that Belarus and Ukraine intend to build the necessary bases and rail lines to receive the oil. “Belarus, like Ukraine, has been subjected to manipulation by Mr. Putin,” Adamkus said. “The creation of a system like this guarantees against an oil blockade by Russia.”

    Adamkus told journalists during his earlier official visit to Washington that he discussed the construction of a system such as he described yesterday with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman.

    Washington biased in its assessment of religious freedom in Belarus - Byelorussian Foreign Ministry

    From: Interfax
    Students of the Beis Aharon School of Pinsk
    The US State Department’s report on religious freedom in the world in 2006 is ‘mostly biased and contradictory’ as far as it concerns Belarus, Andrey Popov, press secretary of the Byelorussian Foreign Ministry, has stated.

    ‘The report cites facts which are either out of date or little significant for a description of the religious life in the republic, while hushing up positive tendencies in the area of freedom of religion in Belarus’, Popov told Interfax.

    He also said that in using the official data given by Byelorussian governmental bodies the State Department continues ‘to be selective, which does not contribute to an objective analysis of religious freedom in the country’.

    ‘The biased nature of the assessments given to religious life in our country and rejection of the information unfit for the authors point to disdain for the historical traditions of the Byelorussian people as well as attempts to impose their own vision of religious freedom’, Popov said.

    At the same time, he added, unlike the previous reports, which ascertained an aggravation in the situation concerning religious freedom in Belarus, the 2006 report recognized an improvement in this area including in the attitude to the Roman Catholic Church.

    The Byelorussian Foreign Ministry expressed hope that in drafting similar reports in the future the US State Department would refrain from ‘ungrounded assessments and conclusions, relying rather on official information and considering obvious positive tendencies in the religious freedom including the state’s efforts to establish constructive cooperation with religious organizations in Belarus’.

    Personnel of interior bodies of Belarus may be reduced by two thousand officers

    From: NLPRB
    On February 13, president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with interior minister of this country Vladimir Naumov to receive his regular report.

    As BelTA was told in the presidential press service, the head of state was informed about the main results of the work of the interior bodies in 2006.

    The minister has noted than last year the number of serious and grave crimes considerably fell. The number of crimes committed by the under age declined as well. At the same time there are still several urgent issues, which have to be settled.

    According to the president, the interior bodies of Belarus should pay closer attention to road safety in line with the requirements of Directive #1.

    On March 1, a new Code of Administrative Offenses will come into force. Till the beginning of March the interior bodies of the country and other bodies of authority should raise public awareness of the necessity to follow road regulations. The new Code of Administrative Offenses should improve the situation in this field.

    Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Naumov also considered issues on optimizing the personnel and on streamlining the structure of the interior bodies. The personnel may be reduced by two thousand officers. The funds saved will be spent on providing the bodies with necessary technical means.

    Alexander Lukashenko authorized the interior minister to analyze an issue on amnestying citizens, who committed minor crimes and embarked on a self-improvement path.

    The head of state tasked the minister to step up the fight against hard drinking and the production of counterfeit alcoholic drinks and home-made vodka.

    The president commissioned Vladimir Naumov to intensify the work on enhancing the economic security of the country in the context of Directive #2.

    Belarus, Egypt eager to continue promoting mutually beneficial cooperation

    From: NLIPRB
    Belarus pursues a multi-vector foreign policy focusing on the development of friendly relations with states of Asia and Africa. The close cooperation with these countries is based on common views on major international issues, the similarity of social and economic tasks and reforms meant to achieve the tasks. The points were mentioned by Natalia Andreichik, chairwoman of the legislation and state development commission of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus, head of the Belarusian parliament’s workgroup for cooperation with the Egyptian parliament, during today’s meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Egypt to the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus Ezzad Saad el Sayed.

    She noted, February 1 marked the 15th anniversary of the initiation of diplomatic relations between Belarus and Egypt. Since then Egypt has become a major political and trade partner of Belarus in the Middle East. June 1998 saw an official visit of the Belarusian government delegation led by president Alexander Lukashenko to Egypt. Top-level long-term agreements reached by the sides essentially promoted the relations between the two countries.

    The senator underlined, Belarus believes Egypt to be a most important partner in the Middle East and is interested in the further expansion of the bilateral relations. “Egypt is the first Arab country Belarus has opened an embassy in. We are satisfied with the performance of the Egyptian embassy in Belarus on concurrent, but would like an independent diplomatic mission opened in the country”, said Natalia Andreichik. She believes, the step would contribute to the further promotion of the relations and would be a prerequisite for establishing close contacts between economic agents and individuals of the two states. “If such an embassy was opened, Belarus would do its best to provide favourable conditions for the embassy’s work”, she added.

    According to Natalia Andreichik, top-level visits would give an essential boost to the relations between the countries. Belarus is awaiting a visit of the Egyptian president and would welcome visits of the prime minister and other officials of the country.

    Belarus is interested in expanding the export of domestic products to Egypt with machine tools, woodworking products, electronics and household appliances and is ready to consider reciprocal proposals of the Egyptian side.

    Cultural ties between the two countries are also expanding. The Egypt Culture Days held in Belarus in September 2005 were a prominent event in the country’s cultural life. “We hope the Belarus Culture Days scheduled to take place in Egypt in April 2007 would be a similar prominent event”, said Natalia Andreichik.

    Speaking about the legal base of the bilateral relations, the senator informed, at present the sides are adjusting a draft additional protocol for the 1998 intergovernmental trade treaty. The initiative was put forward by the Belarusian side. The final version of the document was sent to Egypt in April 2006. On the whole, Belarus is ready to take the legal base of the cooperation with Egypt further. “Belarusian parliamentarians are ready to ratify all future bilateral agreements on the top priority basis”, stressed Natalia Andreichik.

    She also noted, Belarus MPs would be glad if a parliamentary workgroup for the cooperation with the Belarusian parliament was set up in Egypt.

    In turn, Ezzad Saad el Sayed noted, this day he had presented his credentials to the president of the Republic of Belarus. The ambassador assured the Belarusian side he would do his best for the sake of the future development of the mutually beneficial cooperation with Belarus. On February 14 he plans to meet with the trade minister of Belarus to discuss future trade and economic cooperation.

    Swiss investments in Belarus securities to be discussed in Bern

    From: NLIPRB
    Investments of Swiss financial institutions in Belarus’ state papers and securities will be discussed in Bern. These and other issues will be tabled by the 6th session of the Belarusian-Swiss committee on trade and economic cooperation in Bern (Switzerland) on February 22-23. The committee was set up in 1993, with sessions held in Belarus and Switzerland by turn.

    Press secretary of the Belarusian foreign ministry Andrei Popov told media, the Belarusian side will be chaired by deputy foreign minister Andrei Yevdochenko, the Swiss side — member of the board of directors of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs Monika Burzi.

    The session is expected to analyse the status of the bilateral trade, ways of the future development of investment contacts. The sides intend to talk over the attraction of investments of Swiss financial institutions in Belarus’ state papers and securities and the expansion of the banking cooperation. Attention will be paid to possibilities of providing technical aid for the establishment and introduction of a system for ensuring export risks in Belarus. Besides, prospects of cooperation within the framework of the Swiss programme for providing humanitarian aid to Belarus for alleviating the Chernobyl catastrophe consequences will be considered.

    Demonstrators Detained in Belarus Rally

    From: Herald Sun
    Seems romantic, but they are asking for trouble...
    Plainclothes agents broke up a Valentine's Day march by opposition activists expressing pro-European views, detaining about 10 people in the capital of the tightly controlled ex-Soviet republic of Belarus.

    About 200 members of the opposition Young Front marched through Minsk, carrying EU and EU national flags, handing out souvenirs reading, "I love Europe, I love Belarus," and calling for the release of opponents of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.

    After the demonstrators visited the French Embassy, where they presented a statement condemning government "repression" and advocating closer ties with Europe, agents in civilian clothes grabbed people at the head of the column of marchers, twisting their arms behind their backs and leading them away.

    Officials at a police precinct house where the activists were taken declined to comment.

    "I overcame my fear in order to say that Belarus' place is in Europe, and not in a dictatorship," said Katerina Galkhitskaya, a student who participated in the march wearing a white angel costume with silver wings.

    Authorities had not granted permission for the annual Valentine's Day march, and unauthorized demonstrations in Belarus are almost invariably broken up by police or security agents.

    Belarus govt approves tougher control over Internet use

    From: Itar-Tass
    The Belarussian government has approved a provision on computer clubs and Internet cafes under which all links with web sites should be identified and registered.

    Internet cafes owners or their authorized agents must keep an electronic registry of the domen names of the sites accessed by users. The electronic log should contain at least at 12-month history of all connections.

    State Security agents, police or state control inspectors are authorized to review the log in the cases as listed by legislation.

    The computer clubs and Internet cafes are not allowed to use programs propagating the cult of violence, cruelty and pornography, or disseminate banned information.

    The unsanctioned access to information systems of the national power grid has been outlawed as well.

    Belarus police detain and fine US volunteers for teaching English

    From: Monsters and Critics
    Belarusian police detained and fined a group of 10 US religious workers for teaching English in the former Soviet republic, the Belapan news agency reported on Thursday.

    The 10 all are retirees from the US state Missouri, who had travelled to the Belarusian city Mogilev as part of a humanitarian aid programme partially financed by their church, and partially from their own funds.

    They had been teaching English for free to Mogilev citizens as workers for a Belarusian branch of Stefanus, an international social assistance organization.

    The Emmanuil church, an evangelical Baptist group in Mogilev, had been the site of the classes, and a Belarusian partner with the Stefanus group.

    The church among other aid activities ran a training programme called 'English for Every One,' aimed at giving a basic understanding of English to students.

    Promotion of religion by foreigners is banned by Belarusian law. International evangelical Christian groups sometimes bypass the rule by setting up churches, and then asserting the church is run by Belarusians not foreigners.

    Belarus' authoritarian government frowns on almost all forms of group training not specifically sanctioned by the state.

    Mogilev police cited each American for teaching without a license, and obliged each to pay a fine equivalent to fourteen US dollars.

    Law enforcers confiscated the Americans' passports, pending a deportation hearing, according to the report.

    A camera team from a state-controlled investigative news programme was on the scene during the police raid.

    The citation and fine amounted to state harassment of foreign religious volunteers, said Dmitriy Kontsevenko, a Stefanus spokesman.

    The Americans only taught English in the form of a 'Club of the Lovers of English', and did not promote their religion to students, Kontsevenko claimed.

    Sharapova named UN ambassador; gives $100,000 to Chernobyl Fund

    From: Reuters
    United Nations - Maria Sharapova, the world's top-ranked female tennis player, on Wednesday became a goodwill ambassador for the UN Development Fund and donated $100 000 (about R718 000) to help victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

    At a crowded press conference, Sharapova, 19, said she gave the money to eight UN development projects in rural communities in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine for youths still suffering from the April 1986 Chernobyl power plant explosion.

    The world's worst nuclear accident in the Ukraine spewed clouds of radioactive dust into parts of Europe, Russia and especially Belarus, making large areas uninhabitable.

    "My first step is to focus on the Chernobyl-affected region, where my family has roots," Sharapova said. "Today, it is poverty and lack of opportunities that pose the greatest threat for young people in the Chernobyl region."

    Sharapova's family left Gomel in Belarus after the Chernobyl accident. She was born in Nyagan in Siberia a year later but left Russia for the United States at age 9 to study tennis. She won Wimbledon in 2004 and the US Open in 2006.

    Sharapova is one of the highest paid female athletes, earning nearly $19m last year in advertising endorsement and prize money and endorsements, according to Forbes magazine.

    Individual UN agencies have used numerous goodwill ambassadors, beginning with Unicef, the UN Children's Fund, in the 1950s. Other envoys, like retired boxer Muhammad Ali, and actor Michael Douglas serve as peace envoys for the UN secretary-general.

    Goodwill ambassadors for UNDP include soccer stars Ronaldo of Brazil, Zinedine Zidane of France and now also Didier Drogba of Ivory Coast as well as Crown Prince Haakon Magnus of Norway, Japanese actress Misako Konno and U. basketball star Dikembe Mutombo, a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

  • Opinion...

    Russian Bear Growls At U.S. Hypocrisy

    " The war in Iraq is a historic strategic and moral calamity undertaken under false assumptions-- undermining America's global legitimacy --collateral civilian casualties, -- abuses, -- tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability." Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to US President Jimmy Carter

    At the 43rd annual International Security Conference held in Munich on 10 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the importance of the role of United Nations , U.S. missile defense, NATO expansion, Iran's nuclear program and the Energy Charter. He accused Washington of provoking a new nuclear arms race by developing ballistic missile defenses, undermining international institutions, trying to divide modern Europe and making the Middle East more unstable through its clumsy handling of the Iraq war.

    Ever since Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ended the cold war in 1989 , more out of naiveté than misplaced goodwill which after USSR's collapse the US ruling elite claimed as the victory of the capitalist West over Socialist Russia ,this is the first blunt criticism of US unleashed rampant forces trying to coerce the whole world to its will for total domination while using brazen lies and illegal , brutal and inhuman means .

    While calling a spade a spade Russian leader Putin was only articulating what a majority of peoples in the world think of US policies .A BBC poll covering more than 26,000 people in 25 countries, including the U.S., held in November - January, found that 49 % believe U.S. playing "mainly negative" role in the world, compared to 32% who said it was "mainly positive." In 18 countries asked the same question earlier , which had called U.S. influence positive, it fell from 40 % in 2005, to 36 % last year, to 29 % in 2007. In Germany and Indonesia, nearly 3 out of 4 respondents had a mainly negative opinion of U.S. influence while it was 69 % in France and Turkey.

    Nearly 73 % disapproved of Washington's role in the Iraq war. In Egypt, France, and Lebanon where more than 3 out of 4 respondents "strongly disapproved" , while more than 68 % said the U.S. military presence in the Middle East provokes more conflict than it prevents."

    Even in US , 57 % disapprove of their government's handling of the Iraq war and of the Israeli-Hezbollah war; while 60 % disapproved of its handling of Guantanamo detainees; and 53 % believed the U.S. military presence provokes more conflict than it prevents. A plurality of 50 % in U.S. disapprove of the government's handling of Iran's nuclear program,

    "These days the U.S. government hardly seems to be able to do anything right," said Steven Kull, director of the University of Maryland who co-ordinated the poll.

    In last November elections US electorate trashed Bush's policies by trouncing his Republican party in the Senate and the House and disapprove of Bush's policies by 2 to one .But instead of course correction , also recommended by Baker –Hamilton Iraqi Study Group, there is now the so called policy of "surge" in Iraq , with only a massive surge in deaths and destruction in Iraq , specially Baghdad , where the new policy would be implemented .

    Then there are multifarious accusations against Tehran without proof and threats to use force , even nuclear weapons .Such an irrational and immoral attack if carried out, most experts and people believe would plunge the world into hell like turmoil for decades. You just have to look at the quagmire in Iraq with daily massacres and almost total destruction of the Iraqi state with a burgeoning civil war triggered by Washington .

    Putin's speech marks a new era in Russia's new found confidence after 7 years of his rule which has brought stability and economic strength .He is now visiting Saudi Arabia ,Qatar and Jordan , first ever visits by a Russian head of state. With Middle East in a state of flux and USA bogged down in Iraq with no clear cut exit policy , Saudi Arabia and others in the region are looking elsewhere to counter irrational US policies.

    "I see in -- Putin a statesman and a man of peace and fairness," Saudi King Abdullah

    Unlike 1991 , when Gorbachev's peace initiative to help resolve the problem of Iraqi occupation of Kuwait , was brushed aside by Washington ,Moscow is now better positioned to play a vital and constructive role in the region. Exchange of Presidential visits with Syria two years ago , writing off of old Syrian debts of almost $10 billion and supply of missiles to deter arrogant Israeli jets buzzing the Presidential Palace in Damascus have almost restored the old relationship . Historical enemies Russia and Turkey have made up and have booming economic exchanges

    Moscow is now ready to play a role of reliable and honest broker in Arab Israeli dispute with its excellent relations with Tel Aviv and PLO and even Hamas which was received in Moscow , soon after it was elected to power. Moscow's strengthened relations with Tehran with its support at the UN , supply of missiles and arms and building of nuclear power plants and possibly create an informal gas OPEC give Russia an important role .And Putin has worked towards it assiduously.

    "I see in ... Putin a statesman and a man of peace and fairness," said Saudi King Abdullah according to official Saudi Press Agency. "That's why the kingdom of Saudi Arabia extends a hand of friendship to Russia." Qatar has the world's third-largest natural gas reserves after Russia and Iran while Russia is second largest exporter of oil after Saudi Arabia. They could consult each other on oil and gas prices.

    Putin's warm reception in Riyadh ,Qatar and Amman is harbinger of Russia's growing influence in the region and desire of the unnerved states in the region for a bulwark against USA's destructive policies , which could unleash a terrible Shia-Sunni conflagration in the region and beyond .The Arabs and Muslims have seen through US policies!

    Middle East and the Muslim world is learning to trust Putin's Russia It was granted observer status in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference in 2005, and in 2006 the Russia-Muslim World Strategic Vision Group was established.

    Before embarking on his tour of the Middle East , in an interview with Al-Jazeera TV , extremely popular in Arab and Islamic world , Putin said that the new U.S. strategy in Iraq will work only if a date for withdrawal of foreign military forces was agreed upon .The U.S. has officially declared that it plans to hand over full authority, primarily in the law enforcement and security areas, to Iraqi agencies.

    Putin said, "But I think this won't work if we don't decide beforehand when the foreign contingent should be withdrawn. Because, as it happens in any conflict and in any country, people should know that they have to be prepared to take on full responsibility inside the country by a certain date. When they do not have a definite date and when it is unclear when the maturity of relevant organizations in this country should reach a certain appropriate level, then everything is shifted off to the foreign contingent."

    Putin's Munich Discourse;

    Putin's audience in Munich comprised of dozens of Western ministers and policy makers , including the new US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, and the hawkish Republican Presidential contender, Senator John McCain.

    Putin stated ; "Today we are observing unrestrained, hypertrophied use of force in international affairs, a force that plunges the world into an abyss of recurring conflicts." "I am convinced that the UN Charter is the only legitimate decision-making mechanism for the use of military force as a last resort," he said.

    "The UN must not be replaced either by NATO or the European Union," declared Putin.

    On NATO's eastward expansion , Putin said that it has nothing to do with its modernization and would affect Moscow's relations with the Alliance.{Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Baltic states - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - joined NATO in 2004. Georgia and Ukraine , which saw US franchised street gangs, financed , trained and supported by Washington and its so called democracy promoting institutions and NGOs , install US puppets in power ( both are in trouble now ) are being encouraged to join NATO .Russia strongly objects to the deployment of NATO bases on the territory of newly admitted member nations. Reports suggest that Romanian and Bulgarian bases could be used if Iran was attacked. }

    "It is evident that the process of NATO expansion has nothing to do with modernizing the alliance or with ensuring security in Europe. On the contrary, it is seriously eroding mutual trust," the Russian leader said. "Why do they have to move their military infrastructure closer to our borders?" Putin wondered, "Is this connected with overcoming global threats today?"

    Putin added that the main threat facing Russia, the U.S. and Europe derives from international terrorism, which can only be fought jointly.

    "What is a uni-polar world? No matter how we beautify this term it means one single centre of power, one single centre of force and one single master," clarified Putin .

    He stated that deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe could trigger a new spiral of the arms race. US reasons for deploying a missile defense system in Europe are not convincing enough, since launching of North Korean ballistic missiles against the U.S. across western Europe would be in conflict with the laws of ballistics. " Or, as we say in Russia, it's the like trying to reach your left ear with your right hand," he clarified.

    Putin pledged to amend Russia's military strategy. "All our responses will be asymmetric, but highly effective," he said.

    This riposte was in response to US plans to install a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile interception system in Poland,' to protect itself against a potential threat from Iran.' Recently Washington has also shifted its largest sea-based missile defense radar in the Pacific from Hawaii to the Aleutian Islands, not far from Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.

    Putin affirmed that Moscow is committed to its obligations on the reduction of nuclear warheads by 2012. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, signed on May 24, 2002 by Putin and Bush in Moscow, and expiring December 31, 2012, limited both countries' nuclear arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each. The treaty has been criticized for a lack of verification provisions and the possibility of re-deploying stored warheads.

    Putin hoped that "our partners will also act in a transparent manner and will not try to stash away an extra couple hundred nuclear warheads against a rainy day."

    Moscow has prepared a draft treaty on preventing the deployment of weapons in outer space. Putin said , "It will be submitted to our partners as an official proposal in the very near future."

    He also called on the international community to resume dialogue on nuclear non-proliferation. "Russia speaks for the resumption of dialogue on this most important issue. It's necessary to preserve stability of the international legal disarmament base, and ensure the continuity of the nuclear arms reduction process," he said.

    "We are seeing increasing disregard for the fundamental principles of international law," said Putin. The United States had repeatedly overstepped its national borders on questions of international security, a policy he said had made the world less, not more, safe.

    "Unilateral, illegitimate actions have not solved a single problem; they have become a hotbed of further conflicts,"

    "One state, the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way ," asserted Putin.

    Putin added that force should only be used when the option is backed by the United Nations Security Council. "This is very dangerous. Nobody feels secure any more because nobody can hide behind international law," he said.

    Putin also said the increased use of force was "causing an arms race with the desire of countries to get nuclear weapons." He did not name the countries but quite obviously these are north Korea, even Iran and many Arab states to counter Israel's arsenal of hundreds of nuclear bombs and means to deliver them . [While sanctions were passed against India and Pakistan in May, 1998 , after they went nuclear ,any enquiry forget any action against Israel is regularly vetoed by USA in New York and Vienna.]
    Read further...

    The Startling Reason Europe Is Expanding East

    From: The Trumpet
    Dick Clark: An icon of Europe's creeping imperialism
    A colossal, historic empire is about ready to stand on its own two feet.

    “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve 2007” had nothing on the parties in Bulgaria and Romania during the wee hours of January 1. It was a “heavenly moment,” Bulgaria’s president said, when his country became a member of the European Union.

    An EU flag ascended a pole near Romania’s capital building to the strains of the European anthem: Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”—the same piece Leonard Bernstein conducted in Berlin 17 years ago to celebrate the Wall’s fall, when he changed the German word for joy (“Freude”) to freedom (“Freiheit”).

    Within 24 hours of accession, 9,000 Romanians experienced their own “ode to freedom” when they crossed into Hungary. Most simply went for a cup of coffee and came right back home.

    With the addition of Bulgaria and Romania, the 27-nation EU now borders the resource-rich Black Sea and governs half a billion people.

    Romania and Bulgaria are the latest of a slew of former Communist, Soviet-dominated states to join the Union. Eight others joined in 2004. In 2010, Croatia hopes to be the second nation, after Slovenia, that once comprised Yugoslavia to join the EU since the republic crumbled in the early 1990s.

    Meanwhile, also on January 1, Slovenia joined the eurozone—the group of EU nations using the Union’s monetary unit. In the first two weeks of the year, its 2 million citizens gave up their tolars for euros, making Slovenia the first Eastern European nation to join the EU’s common currency.

    So why is the EU so intent on absorbing Eastern Europe?

    The answer has to do with the most dramatic news event occurring on Earth right now. It’s not the war in Iraq or the nukes in Iran. It’s not the ongoing hunt for Osama or the U.S. presidential campaign of Obama.

    What has been building in Europe—now for the past 50 years—is going to be the greatest single event to impact your life to this point.

    Why Eastern Europe?

    How the eastern half of Europe is being incorporated into a united Europe is a huge element in this developing story. It is something the Trumpet has been watching for years. The Plain Truth magazine before us, until the death of its founder in 1986, was also monitoring these developments—amazingly, as far back as the 1950s, when Eastern European nations were mere pawns of the Soviet Union.

    Again, let us ask: Why is the European Union so intent on absorbing Eastern Europe? What benefit does it gain from uniting with poor, underdeveloped, corruption-ridden countries still reeling from years of Soviet oppression and Communist dictatorships?

    In the case of the recent two entrants, the living conditions in some slums in Romania are notoriously worse than those in Third World countries, while Bulgarian cities host packs of often-dangerous stray dogs.

    Romania’s parliament is arguably now one of the most unreformed institutions in the Union. reports, “Former secret police officers, apparatchiks and pillars of the Communist Party are still doing and undoing party alliances, hindering reforms and mutilating laws beyond recognition” (Dec. 22, 2006).

    Bulgaria is now the only EU state where Muslims, 12 percent of its population, are not recent immigrants but a centuries-old local community—remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

    In addition to political and social risks, there is also simple economics.

    Absorbing poorer countries into the Union is expensive. Back in 2004, nine of the 10 new members all had per capita incomes lower than the average among the 15 existing EU members. Forty billion euros in aid has been earmarked for the two newest members, in addition to all the aid they have already received to help them prepare for accession.

    Europe is also expecting—and placing temporary legislative measures to guard against—mass migration from the newer members into the developed west part of the Continent. When Poland joined the EU, for example, tens of thousands of its citizens registered for work in nations like Ireland and the United Kingdom. Net migration to the UK nearly doubled between 2004 and 2005; 400,000 came from the East. Britain is expecting 50,000 to 60,000 new workers in 2007 from the EU’s newest members. This trend raises all sorts of concerns for Europe’s more developed nations, some of which have record unemployment and a history of xenophobia toward the Slavic East. In addition, with the Eastern nations having lower labor costs, fears abound that companies may relocate to these countries once they become EU members, taking jobs from the higher-cost Western states.

    Add to this the fact that Europe seems to be suffering from “enlargement fatigue”: It’s just tired of getting bigger. About half of Europeans don’t want the EU to grow any more—the percentage being higher in larger, wealthier nations. Many officials argue that the EU is getting too big and is headed for disaster. Its meetings are too long and boring, they say, and usually produce nothing but resolutions to hold more meetings. Bureaucracy weighs down the decision-making process so much that many experts wonder if this European experiment is doomed.

    So why take on two more members? Why promise to take on still more, even if that won’t be until 2010? Are Eurocrats simply signing their own death warrant—sure to choke on the gluttony of federal expansionism?

    Considering these apparent risks, it is fascinating that EU leaders continue to press forward with the absorption of these Eastern nations. Let’s examine some of their reasons for doing so.
    Read Further...

  • From the blogs...

    National Bank sold more gold

    From: Belarus News and Facts
    The National Bank of Belarus (NBB) sold 5,110 gold bars weighing 84.1 kilograms in January 2007.

    Last month the population and legal entities reportedly purchased 1,585 5-gram, 1,385 10-gram, 958 20-gram, 741 one-gram, 248 50-gram, 153 100-gram, 33 250-gram, one 500-gram and six one-kilogram bars.

    A total of 5.9 kilograms of ingot gold was bought by the NBB back from the population in the same period.

    The NBB has been offering gold ingots to the population since August 2001. More than 1.9 tons of gold has been sold and 127.5 kilograms has been bought back.

    As the price of gold has been on the rise in the world, Belarusians have increasingly often opted to invest in gold.

    On April 14, 2005, the National Bank started selling silver and platinum bars. In January 2007, 46.6 kilograms of ingot 862 silver bars, including 324 10-grams, 308 20-grams and 155 50-grams.

    As much as 1.05 kilograms of ingot platinum bars were bought by the population, including 21 10-grams, 16 5-grams and 13 20-grams.

    Lukashenko considering amnesties in Belarus

    From: German Marshal Fund
    Among a number of interesting developments in Belarus in recent days, the Minsk based news agency BelaPAN reported Wednesday that the authorities were considering granting amnesties to certain categories of prisoners. It was not clear whether this would include political prisoners. But given Lukashenko’s new found enthusiasm for better relations with the West we should be watching to see what transpires here. He may be considering a high profile gesture. On the other hand, of course, he may be considering no such thing. The security forces were up to their old tricks yesterday, detaining at least 10 opposition activists after a 200 strong Valentine’s Day demonstration led by the Young Front grouping. Separately, Alexander Milinkevich, the leading figure in the Belarusian opposition, told BelaPAN that he had received several positive responses to his open letter (sent on February 7) to President Lukashenko from government officials, though nothing so far from Lukashenko himself. The fact that Milinkevich has received any response at all from high ranking officials (unnamed in the report) may be significant because it could indicate a lack of confidence inside the regime about the regime’s long term viability. We must be careful not to raise false hopes. But we also need to be following such developments to see where, if anywhere, they might lead. In a clever, though high risk, ploy to take advantage of Lukashenko’s current difficulties Milinkevich called in the letter on government and opposition forces to come together at a rally marking Belarusian independence on March 25. His aim was to sew division and uncertainty iniside the regime and to present the opposition as a legitimate part of Belarusian society.

    Annals of Weaponizing Energy: Where Things Stand

    From: La Russophobe
    Russia has a new weapon with which to bully the West: its vast energy reserves. As the world’s biggest supplier of oil and gas, the Kremlin is determined that industrial muscle will succeed where Marxism failed

    When a 32-year-old KGB agent called Vladimir Putin was invited to attend the Red Banner Institute in Moscow, one of the Soviet Union’s elite spy colleges, he couldn’t believe his luck. It was 1984 and the young but deeply ambitious Putin was soon being groomed as a specialist in economic and technological espionage. His teachers were still revelling in a now long-forgotten victory over America: gas was flowing from a brand new Russian pipeline to Western Germany, earning much needed hard cash, despite a lengthy campaign by President Ronald Reagan to block its construction with sanctions.

    The pipeline came too late for the Soviets but Putin never forgot what he was taught in Moscow: Russia’s massive energy resources are a powerful weapon in the global power stakes. He reheated the idea in 1997 when he wrote an influential article for a Russian journal recommending that Russia regain control of its energy industry; now, at the height of his powers as President of Russia, he is busily putting his old plans into practice. In doing so this veteran Cold War warrior is waging a new Cold War, as was all too apparent from a disastrous meeting with European ministers last week, though this time Russian power – and the threat that goes with it – is dependent not on Marxism or missiles but on oil and gas.

    Since the end of communism a decade and a half ago, Russia’s exports of oil and gas to the West have risen exponentially. New, Moscow-sponsored energy giants have risen while the world’s largest energy multinationals have all made huge investments in the country, turning Russia into the world’s biggest supplier of oil and gas. Combined exports are equivalent to nearly 19% of consumer countries’ demand, compared with just over 18% for Saudi Arabia.

    In the early post-communist days, this seemed to be the answer to Europe’s energy problems (and some of America’s too). Now it is clear Putin’s plan all along was to ensure the West got hooked on Russian supplies – then use the dependency to exercise leverage and even control.

    The plan has been some time in the making. Three years ago this week Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the founder of oil giant Yukos, was arrested on a bleak Siberian airstrip, marking the first step of the Kremlin’s plan to wrest control of energy production from private individuals and companies. Since then, oil and gas has been used as a tool of foreign policy, much like a weapon, rather than as a standard commodity bought and sold by profit-making corporations.

    Oil and gas prices have more than doubled since Khodorkovsky’s arrest, delivering the Kremlin a financial windfall which it badly needed. Russia’s hard currency reserves have risen from a mere $9bn (£4.8bn, €7.2bn) before the 1998 financial crisis to more than $250bn today. Its economy has powered ahead, growing by 6.8% this year, on the back of rising energy prices. Average wages have surged from $50 a month when Putin came to power to $400; needless to say, this has made the Russian president a popular man.

    But for politicians in Europe and America, the manner in which Putin and his comrades at state energy giants Gazprom and Rosneft have wielded their new power and wealth has taken tensions with the West to levels not seen in more than 20 years. Alexei Miller, Gazprom’s new chairman, bluntly laid out the new status quo at the World Gas Conference in June: "There are only three countries capable of being a long-term supplier of gas: Russia, Iran and Qatar. When it comes to gas for the development of the European economy, there is no realistic alternative to Russia."

    Last week, President Putin sounded just as confident – and aggressive. He warned European leaders to give up any hope of gaining access to Gazprom’s jealously protected gas reserves and network. Western politicians, he said, should not stand in the way of Gazprom’s efforts to push its ownership of gas networks deeper and deeper into Western Europe. As for daring to criticise his human rights record or heavy-handed bullying of Georgia and Ukraine (never mind his actions in Chechnya), this, he declared, was out of the question. Russia’s re-emergence as a superpower, this time on the back of energy, has made the President supremely indifferent to Western criticism on most issues, including the murder of investigative journalist Anna Poliykovskaya.

    The first time Western Europe was attacked directly by Russia using energy as a weapon was when Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Ukraine in the new year, as punishment for turning its back on Kiev’s pro-Moscow political parties. The action also hit supplies to France, Germany and Italy – and thrust the now obvious problem of Europe’s growing energy dependence on Russia to the top of the political agenda. Not that greater prominence for this issue resolved anything: Europe failed to secure any kind of energy deal with Putin at July’s G8 summit in St Petersburg.

    The list of Russian snubs and heavy-handed action keeps growing. Earlier this month plans to ship liquefied Russian gas to America from the giant Shtokman field in the Arctic were abruptly cancelled after more than five years of negotiations, destroying the hopes of US oil firms ConocoPhillips and Chevron to get a share of the project.

    Now the oil majors tread warily in Moscow. They have every reason to: the regulatory and legislative powers abused in the destruction of Yukos are being applied to Royal Dutch Shell and, to a lesser extent, BP, Total and Exxon Mobil. Appeasement is the order of the day: BP’s decision, for example, to take a $1bn stake in Rosneft when it floated on the London Stock Exchange in July was widely seen as a way of assuaging the Russian government.

    Russia’s neighbours, especially those in the Baltic, Poland, Belarus and Moldova, know only too well how mercilessly their former master can use its resources. In 2003 Russian state pipeline company Transneft arbitrarily decided to cease oil supplies to the Latvia’s Ventspils Nafta oil terminal, ending the port’s existence, in apparent revenge for Latvia’s ind- ependence. This year it did the same to Lithuania. When Polish oil company PKN Orlen beat Russia’s Lukoil and TNK-BP to buy Yukos’s share in Lithuania’s Mazeikiu Nafta refinery, Transneft again shut down pipeline supplies to the refinery, blaming an accident (the refinery was later damaged by fire).

    In 2004, Gazprom shut off gas supplies to Belarus in a transparent attempt to bully it into giving Gazprom back ownership of its gas transmission pipeline. Poland is desperately looking to diversify its supplies, seeking to pipe in gas from Norway and even considering a liquefied natural gas terminal at Gdansk. Even Austria’s OMV, one of the first European customers of Russia’s gas, is pushing its neighbours to agree on the Nabucco pipeline to bring gas from Iran, suggesting Vienna regards the anti-Semitic, nuclear-obsessed Mullhas of Tehran a safer bet than Russia.

    Last year Royal Dutch Shell admitted the construction costs of the Sakhalin gas project had doubled to $20bn. A few days earlier, it had agreed to sell Gazprom a 25% stake in the project in exchange for 50% of one of its Siberian gas fields, apparently without warning it of the impending bad news. This was a mistake: since then, regulatory pressure on Shell has increased massively and it could be forced to accept punishing new terms to keep control. Total and Exxon also face an endless run of obstacles to their projects.

    Europe as a whole is likely to experience the rough end of Russia’s bargaining when it begins thrashing out a new bilateral agreement next month to replace the 10-year "Partnership and Cooperation Agreement" signed in 1997. This time, with energy prices high and Europe anxious for security of supply, Russia has genuine bargaining power, especially with Gazprom this year scheduled to complete negotiations with China’s CNPC on gas supplies.

    Europe wants to strike a deal that allows solid contractual guarantees in energy deals between the two blocks. But it is understandably wary of giving Gazprom what it wants in return: control of the "downstream" – in other words gas pipelines, storage, pumping stations and even customer accounts. Part of the reason it cut gas supplies to Belarus in 2004 and to Ukraine at the start of 2005 was to pressure these countries to return control of transit pipelines. Gazprom has this year been pressuring European utilities such as Eon, RWE, GdF, Eni and Centrica to sell or swap stakes in their pipelines for shares in its Siberian gas fields.

    Much of Europe’s gas infrastructure is, in theory, open to be acquired. But European politicians, in Brussels and in member- state capitals, have made it clear that it would block any large acquisitions on the grounds that Gazprom’s control of a quarter of Europe’s gas supplies would threaten competition. The European Competition Commission is expected also to outlaw the long-term bilateral gas contracts with which Gazprom has historically supplied clients.

    Gazprom, of course, should not have such a strong hand to play. Europe may import a quarter of its gas from Russia but until Russia builds a pipeline to China or LNG terminals on its coasts, Gazprom can only supply one major customer: Europe. Russia’s importance as an American energy supplier is growing but remains minor (in August 2005 America imported 72,000 barrels of Russian crude per day (bpd): by this August imports had reached 167,000 bpd).

    If Western utilities and governments negotiated as one, they would be in a stronger position. But Gazprom will almost certainly succeed in its efforts to frustrate a united front. The company has already developed a closer relationship with Germany, its largest customer, than with any other European country. In the New Energy Cold War, Germany is on Russia’s side. German energy giant Eon holds a small but significant stake in Gazprom, and Burckhard Bergmann, the chairman of its gas subsidiary, Eon Ruhrgas, is the only Western European to sit on Gazprom’s board.

    In July Eon offered to swap a 25% stake in the Yuzhno Russkoye gas field in Siberia for large stakes in two of Eon’s Hungarian subsidiaries, much to the Hungarian government’s frustration. BASF’s Wintershall in April swapped a 35% stake in the same field for a further 15% in trading joint venture Wingas, bringing Gazprom’s share to 50%.

    In July Eon offered to swap a 25% stake in the Yuzhno Russkoye gas field in Siberia for large stakes in two of Eon’s Hungarian subsidiaries, much to the Hungarian government’s frustration. BASF’s Wintershall in April swapped a 35% stake in the same field for a further 15% in trading joint venture Wingas, bringing Gazprom’s share to 50%.

    Scandalously, former German Chancellor Gerhard Shröder was even appointed to the board of Nord Stream, the Gazprom-led consortium building a $5bn pipeline under the Barents Sea to North Germany after he was replaced by Angela Merkel as German Chancellor; he had been instrumental in signing the deal in the first place. Politicians in Poland have pointed out that the pipeline allows the Russians to cut off its gas supplies without affecting the rest of Western Europe.
    Read further...

  • Sport...

    Coach Slava Konikov of belarus hopes to lead his team to another Big Sky Conference championship

    From: State Hornet
    Slava Konikov
    The Sacramento State men's tennis team said its serving could improve. A serve is inevitably valuable since it kicks off each point in tennis. While it won't ever be perfect, it can be adjusted accordingly with the aid of a coach who has tons of experience.

    Vyacheslav "Slava" Konikov is in his second year with the men's tennis team.

    Konikov began at Sac State coaching the women's tennis team for two years before becoming the coach of the men's team on Sept. 1, 2005.

    Konikov has an extensive tennis resume as a coach in Belarus and Poland. Most notable of the players he coached is Max Mirnyi, who has become a household name in the Association Tennis Professional circuit and was No. 1 with Jonas Bjorkman in doubles in the world.

    Freshmen Anton Stryhas, from Konikov's home country of Belarus, said, "Konikov is like our friend. He works us hard."

    Like many successful coaches during his playing days, Konikov was one of the top singles players in the Soviet Union when he was 18 years old. He graduated from Moscow Sports University where he gained high recognition as a tennis player.

    Hague Van Dillen, from San Francisco, said he loves the coaches. "Slava is a coach to love, and Kevin brings a good atmosphere. Everyone wants to play hard and work longer for them."

    Assistant coach Kevin Kurtz coached 10 years of high school tennis and also coached at American River College.

    In his first season with the men's tennis team, Konikov coached the team to a share of the Big Sky Conference regular-season championship with a 5-1 conference record.

    Last year, two Hornets, Junaid Hossain and Gabriel Loredo were named first team all-Big Sky under Konikov's coaching. The team's 2006-07 recruiting class was ranked the 18th best class among all Division I schools by the Tennis Recruiting Network.

    With four players returning, including Loredo, the Sac State men's team was picked to finish first in the Big Sky Conference preseason polls. Loredo, a transfer student from Wichita State, is one of five players from other countries.

  • Sport briefs...

  • Vladimir Tyamczik of Belarus (2:11:38) will run in The Tokyo International Marathon, The 28th running of the event, scheduled for Sunday, February 18, will only have male elite athletes.

  • In the first round of the Women's USTA-Boston Scientific Olga Govortsova, Belarus, def. Vilmarie Castellvi, Puerto Rico, 6-2, 6-4. IN first round doubles, Christina Fusano and Aleke Tsoubanos (1), United States, def. Vasilia Davydova, Russia, and Olga Govortsova, Belarus, 6-2, 7-6 (2).

  • Endnote...

    If They Do Grant Amnesty, Who Gets to Go Free?

    From: Charter '97
    Human rights activist Valyantsin Stefanovich says chances are high for release of all politician prisoners except Alyaksandr Kazulin
    Internal Ministry has started to get ready for an amnesty. As the press-service of Alyaksandr Lukashenka confirmed, on February 13 the president ordered Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumau to start groundwork for an amnesty of persons who had committed less serious crimes. Radio Svaboda has been told in the ministry that the work is underway.

    A former judge Harry Pahanyajla reminds that an amnesty in Belarus is usually timed to state holidays. In 2005 it took place in the run-up to Victory Day, a year earlier – before October revolution day. But a law can be adopted in any moment the regime needs, Harry Pahanyajla believes. The human rights activist does not exclude that most political prisoners would be included in the amnesty.

    “Naturally the enacting clause of the law would not state that we release this or that person because of demands of the society. The regime certainly wouldn’t do that. But in fact it could be a fulfilment of certain demands of Europe fulfilled under a guise of amnesty to criminals,” the human rights activist said.

    Harry Pahanyajla is convinced that the Belarusian authorities would never allow independent experts to visit prisons and define whether political prisoners exist in the country. As we have informed, it was one of the conditions for Europe’s dialogue with Minsk declared by the PACE chairman Rene van der Linden.

    Who among political prisoners has chances to be released thanks to amnesty? A lawyer Alyaksandr Halieu who defended the Young Front leader Zmitser Dashkevich imprisoned for a year and a half said:

    “If his term would be shortened for a year under the amnesty, while he had served half a year already, after the law of amnesty Dashkevich is to be released,” Alyaksandr Halieu believes. He reminds that the administration of the colony is to take into account conduct of the prisoner. Zmitser Dashkevich has been reprimanded twice already.

    A human rights activist Valyantsin Stefanovich says chances are high for release of all politician prisoners except Alyaksandr Kazulin.

    “In case there would be an amnesty, Finkevich, Sevyarynets, Statkevich are to be released. In fact they have served their terms already, and amnesty would cover these terms almost fully. The same with Sadouskaya, and besides she is in a special group of prisoners, elderly women. And there would be a problem with Kazulin. No amnesty could eliminate 5.5 years of imprisonment, unless he would be pardoned by Lukashenka personally,” the human rights activist said.

    As Kazulin’s lawyer Ihar Rynkevich says, his client does not plead guilty and demands not an amnesty or early conditional release, but reversal of the verdict.