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Friday, March 02, 2007

Lukashenka interview, Missile crisis continues, Nukes, US and EU Sanctions, Milinkevich, Drugs, Gas, Money and Crime; Opinion, Blogs and Sports

  • From the Top...
  • #182

    West and Belarus should stop looking at each other “over the fence”, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    Interview to the Qatar-Based Satellite TV Channel Al-Jazeera
    The West and Belarus should stop looking at each other “over the fence”, Alexander Lukashenko has said in an interview with the Qatar satellite TV channel Al Jazeera.

    The president of Belarus has noted he has never said no to the contacts with western countries. “We welcome economic cooperation with Europe and are ready to carry out a political dialogue to expand this cooperation”, the Belarusian leader underlined. “Belarus plays an important role in ensuring Europe’s energy security. Europe will not feel any better without Belarus. Europe has realized if the situation in Belarus is unstable, it is unstable in Europe," Alexander Lukashenko added.

    Howevr, the deployment of elements of the US ABM system in the vicinity of the Belarusian border “is just the beginning” of the build-up of the NATO military potential eastwards.

    As for contacts with the USA, the president said Belarus is ready for a dialogue: “If the Americans deem it appropriate to establish normal relations with Belarus, we are ready for this. We are ready for any initiatives, for any conditions but they should be acceptable and they should allow for Belarusian interests. No absurd conditions should be set out; certainly we will not satisfy such”.

    Belarus president believes the Iraq scenario of the American aggression will not be repeated in Iran.

    Speaking about the present situation around Iran, the Belarusian head of state underlined, an attempt to use force to resolve the crisis would be a grave mistake.

    During the interview, which lasted an hour and a half, the president was asked over 20 questions concerning Belarus’ foreign policy, the country’s relations with the neighbouring states, the Middle East, the USA, the European Union, the domestic political situation, relations between the authorities and the opposition. In particular, the president voiced his attitude to the execution of Saddam Hussein, the present situation in Iraq, the problem of air defence systems being deployed near the Belarusian border. The Belarusian head of state also answered several personal questions.

    Russia, Belarus take steps towards joint aerospace defense

    From: NLIPRB
    Russia and Belarus take steps to ensure joint defense of the Union State aerospace, Boris Gryzlov, the Chairman of the State Duma of Russia, said today at the 5th session of the permanent workshop of the of the Belarus-Russia Union State Parliamentary Assembly in Pskov.

    This is a promising avenue of the Russian-Belarusian military-technical cooperation, he said. Belarus and Russia should strengthen their regional anti-aircraft defense system and pursue a single border policy, he said when highlighting other crucial interaction areas. Late in 2006 the two countries completed a joint program which cost RUR 3 billion and which saw the sides send into service 20 new border installations equipped with a digital communication network, Boris Gryzlov added. “Belarus and Russia are developing a new joint program on equipping the Union State border with the necessary installations, which is designed to run through 2011,” Boris Gryzlov said.

    The facilities stationed in Belarus, he said, “contribute to ensuring strategic security in the region”. This includes a rocket warning radar located near Baranovichi and the submarine command post of the Russian Navy in Vileika.

    Russian-Belarusian military and military-technical cooperation is a key avenue of integration of the two states, Boris Gryzlov said. It is not only for Belarus and Russia that this cooperation is significant, but it is also important for other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. “The experience gained by Russia and Belarus is essential for the CSTO states,” Boris Gryzlov said.

    In a related story, the defence ministries of Belarus and Russia have suspended the unification of military legislation. BelTA learnt from Valentin Simirskiy, deputy chairman of the international affairs and CIS relations commission of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly.

    “Unfortunately, the unification of military legislation bills can be passed only after the Constitution Act of the Union State has been adopted. Therefore, on April 21, 2006, the joint board of the Belarusian and Russian defence ministries suspended activities of the working party till the adoption of the Constitution Act of the Union State, as the working party had accomplished all its tasks”, informed Valentin Simirskiy.

    He believes, the future analysis of Belarusian and Russian military laws can be continued by special scientific research groups. “In 2008 the efforts will be continued within the framework of the joint comprehensive scientific research group Law together with scientific organisations of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”, said the MP.

    V. Semashko: Belarus formulates new energy security concept

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has designed a new energy security concept, first vice-premier of this country Vladimir Semashko has said today at a meeting of the board of the energy efficiency department of the State Standard Committee of Belarus.

    The concept aims to adapt the economy to the new energy prices. The energy sector of the country consumes the biggest share of energy resources. Gas accounts for 95% of the total energy resources consumed. According to Vladimir Semashko, “the government should bring order to its energy industry and enhance efficiency of the work of CHP plants”. Implementation of large-scale investment projects at Minsk CHP plants #3 and #5 as well as several other projects will help considerably reduce the volumes of fuel consumed to generate energy, he is convinced.

    The new concept proposes to implement projects on upgrading the energy system in the shortest possible time. For this purpose Belarus may need 1,5 times more investments than it was planned earlier (the program by 2010 provides for attracting investments worth of $2,6 billion).

    To diversify its energy resources Belarus will build a nuclear power station and several coal-fired power stations. The share of local fuels, first of all wood and peat, in the energy balance will be increased.

    The level of fuel consumption in Belarus makes 410 kilos in oil equivalent per $1 thousand of the GDP, while in Poland this index makes 210 kilos, in several other European states – 140-150 kilos. By 2010 Belarus plans to reach the level of 280-290 kilos per $1 thousand of the GDP.

    Treasury Targets Destabilizing Belarusian Officials

    From: US Government
    Petr Miklashevich, the first of the six names named by the US Government
    Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated six Belarusian Government officials who have played important roles in the oppressive regime of Alexander Lukashenka. Several of these designees were active in the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition to the March 2006 Presidential elections in Belarus, which violated international electoral standards.

    "Those who commit human rights abuses and political repression have no place in civil society," said Adam J. Szubin, Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). "We will continue to target Belarusian officials who abuse their positions to steal from their people and to suppress democracy and freedom."

    This action was taken pursuant to Executive Order 13405, which targets individuals and entities either undermining the democratic processes or institutions or are responsible for human rights violations related to political repression in Belarus. The designation freezes any assets the individuals may have that are in the possession of U.S. persons and prohibits U.S. persons from transacting or doing business with them.

    The actions and policies of these individuals undermine Belarus' democratic processes and institutions, manifested most recently in the fundamentally undemocratic March 2006 elections.

  • Petr Petrovich Miklashevich, Prosecutor General
  • Yuri Nikolaevich Podobed, Lieutenant Colonel of the Special Riot Police in Minsk
  • Aleksandr Mikhailovich Radkov, Minister of Education
  • Vladimir Vasilyevich Rusakevich, Minister of Information
  • Yury Sivakov, former Minister of the Interior; former Minister of Sport and Tourism
  • Oleg Leonidovich Slizhevsky, Head of the Public Associations Department

    The Europen Union has also taken measures against these individuals, imposing a travel ban and assets freeze against them for "play[ing] a role in the violations of international electoral standards and the crackdown on civil society and democratic opposition in the context of the 19 March 2006 Presidential elections."

    With today's action, Treasury has now taken action against sixteen senior Belarusian officials pursuant to E.O. 13405.
  • Note: in response to this particular item, the BHTimes refer's you to Jason Miller's Thomas Paine's Corner (Civil Libertarian) Blog

    Belarus Dismisses New U.S. Sanctions

    From: Washington Post
    Belarus on Thursday dismissed new financial sanctions imposed by the United States as politically senseless, and President Alexander Lukashenko said his country was ready to normalize relations with Washington.

    In the latest effort by Washington to force change in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic, the Treasury Department said Tuesday it would freeze the assets of and prohibit Americans from doing business with Prosecutor General Pyotr Miklashevich, Education Minister Aleksandr Radkov and Information Vladimir Rusakevich. Three other top government officials were also targeted.

    "Those who commit human rights abuses and political repression have no place in civil society," Treasury Department official Adam J. Szubin said. "We will continue to target Belarusian officials who abuse their positions to steal from their people and to suppress democracy and freedom."

    Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov called the sanctions "an old song."

    "They won't add anything new to the system of our relations today," he said.

    Sixteen Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, have been hit with financial sanctions and travel bans by the United States and the European Union in response to last year's widely criticized election. Lukashenko claimed victory in the election but Belarusian opposition groups and many Western government said the vote was deeply flawed.

    Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than a decade, quashing dissent and opposition groups and building a Soviet-style, centrally controlled economy that has been heavily reliant on cheap Russian energy supplies.

    In recent months, however, Minsk and Moscow have sparred over oil and natural gas supplies, and Moscow has sharply raised prices for energy exports to Belarus, markedly pinching its economy. Lukashenko and other officials have since toned down their often stridently bellicose rhetoric.

    State-run news agency Belta quoted Lukashenko as saying Thursday that he was ready to improve relations with Washington.

    "The sword is to the side. If the American deem it necessary to build normal relations with Belarus, then we are ready for this," he was quoted as saying. "We are ready to discuss any initiative, any condition, as long as they are acceptable and they take Belarusian interests into account. And in no cases should they ever put forward any absurd conditions, that we would of course not agree to."

    He also emphasized Belarus' position as a key transit point for Russian energy supplies heading to Europe.

    "Without Belarus, it won't be calm in Europe. Europe understands that if it isn't stable in Belarus then it won't be stable in Europe," he was quoted as saying.

    EU to uphold Belarus sanctions

    From: EU Observer
    The EU has also decided to extend for 12 months a visa ban and asset freeze on 34 Belarusian officials and president Aleksander Lukashenko. The Belarus sanctions were imposed after rigged presidential elections and mass arrests in March 2006.

    The US on Tuesday also took a tough line on Minsk, with Washington adding six new names to its now 16-strong visa ban list and saying the register could be further widened in future.

    President Lukashenko last month called on the EU to lift sanctions and start talks instead of "shouting at each other over the fence." But he has continued to make arrests of young opposition activists and is keeping high-profile dissident Aleksander Kozulin in jail.

    "It would be a very important step to release Kozulin," an EU diplomat said, amid concern in some EU circles that Russia is trying to use recent gas and oil price hikes to bully Belarus into an unwanted state union.

    The EU is also planning to impose trade sanctions worth €400 million a year against Minsk in June for violating trade union rights. International Labour Organisation staff who recently visited Belarus will in March brief the European Commission on the latest situation on the ground.

    Lukashenka Promoted As Russian Presidential Candidate

    From: RFE/RL
    A Russian ultra-right movement has launched a campaign to propose Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a candidate for Russia's 2008 presidential election.

    Aleksei Kanurin, an activist from Russia's Movement Against Illegal Immigration, has recently inaugurated a campaign called "Lukashenka-2008" and has launched a website to promote the idea.

    Kanurin said in an interview published on the website that Lukashenka has not been consulted about the campaign.

    "We do not need [such a consultation], our task is to create the situation in which people, including Alyaksandr Ryhoravich [Lukashenka], will have a choice," Kanurin added.

    Presidential Ambitions

    Asked how Lukashenka, who does not have Russian citizenship, could be allowed to run in the 2008 presidential election in Russia, Kanurin said it is a "technical issue."

    "Representatives of this movement have not yet contacted the president's press office to talk about their initiative or their priorities and goals. That is why I personally do not have a firm opinion about this initiative," Lukashenka’s spokesman, Pavel Lohki, told Belapan on February 27.

    In the 1990s, there was speculation in the Belarusian and Russian media that Lukashenka harbored ambitions to be the head of a proposed Russia-Belarus union state.

    Lukashenka, who has been president since 1994, recently told Reuters that, health permitting, he has no intention of abandoning politics.

    That has prompted a new wave of speculation on whether the 53-year-old president will run for a fourth term in Belarus's 2011 presidential election.

    Strained Relations

    Lukashenka is well known in Russia and is admired by some Kremlin opponents for what they see as his success in keeping Belarus's economy stable in the years following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

    'Lukashenka-2008' website
    Relations between Russia and Belarus have deteriorated in recent months after a row over energy payments. The row resulted in an oil pipeline to the EU being shut down for a few days at the beginning of New Year.

    Russia has more than doubled the price Belarus pays for gas and has imposed sizable duty on crude-oil supplies to Belarus in 2007.

    Lukashenka has since made a number of comments in the Western press about increasing ties with Europe. EU officials have insisted that the Belarus needs to engage in political and economic reforms before the union will open a dialogue with Minsk.

    Under the Russian Constitution, President Vladimir Putin is barred from running for a third term in office. He has suggested that he will back a successor as the election draws near.

    The two current frontrunners are seen as Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, both first deputy prime ministers. Some analysts have spoken about the possibility of another candidate, favored by Putin, emerging closer to the vote.

    Whichever candidate gets Putin’s support is likely to win because of the Russian president's widespread popularity and the Kremlin's control over much of the media.

    Belarus takes adequate measures to combat spread of drugs

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian government continues fighting the drugs turnover and drugs abuse and pays more attention to perfecting the legal base in the sphere, UN resident coordinator/UNDP resident representative in Belarus Cihan Sultanoglu told today’s press conference dedicated to the presentation of a report Drug Abuse and Illegal Drug Trafficking as well as an annual report by the International Narcotics Control Board for 2006.

    She said, Belarus had managed to create a powerful law-enforcement system, which effectively counteracts the illegal turnover of synthetic drugs. “Belarus has carried out precisely coordinated actions to detect several illegal labs, which manufactured methadone and amphetamine range stimulators”, Cihan Sultanoglu informed. The official also noted, in 2006 the Belarusian market of illegal drugs drastically changed due to the switchover from heroin to synthetic drugs. Methadone gradually substituted heroine and became the most abused drug.

    Let us remind you, in February 2007, the third phase of the Belarusian-Ukrainian-Moldavian programme on fighting the illegal turnover and trade in drugs was launched.

    Cihan Sultanoglu underlined, the International Narcotics Control Board calls upon the Belarusian government to continue counteracting the organised crime involved in drugs spread, including the spread of drugs through the Russian Federation and other bordering states.

    In related news, issues on cooperation to counteract crime will be high up on the agenda of a meeting between heads of the law enforcement bodies of the CIS and Baltic States, scheduled for March 2-3 in Minsk. The meeting will be held within the framework of the events dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian militia, interior minister of this country Vladimir Naumov has told a press conference in the Belarusian capital today.

    According to him, delegations from Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia Lithuania and representatives of the CIS bodies will arrive in Minsk to hold several bilateral and multilateral meetings including within the CIS framework.

    On March 3, a general meeting will take place. The sides have offered to hold more than 20 various joint actions. In particular, the participants of the meeting will discuss prospects of operations aimed at preventing drugs trafficking, trade in people and other manifestations of the transborder crime.

    According to the interior ministry of this country, Belarus has signed more than 150 bilateral and multilateral interstate, intergovernmental and interdepartmental treaties in the law enforcement field. Belarus has been maintaining contacts in this sphere with more than 40 countries and various international organizations.

    This cooperation is most intensive within the CIS framework. The CIS law enforcement bodies hold different preventive actions aimed at fighting various forms of organized crime including at preventing illegal turnover of arms and drugs, criminal car business, illegal migration and crimes in the field of the turnover of excisable goods.

    Belarus is For Sale (Investors Be Cautious!)

    From: American Chronical
    2007 New Year oil and gas conflict with Russia could cost Aleksandr Lukashenko more than simply a budget deficit. Belarusian Economy Ministry has prepared a vast program of state enterprises privatization. Talks with investors have started on some of enterprises. Belarus is getting ready for considerable foreign loans. So why should foreign investors be cautious?

    2006 was finished with a credit balance deficit of $1.663 billion, or about 4.5% of GDP by Belarus. Gas price hike from $46.7 to $100 per cubic metre and imposing an oil duty for oil to Belarus by Russia ($53 per cubic ton) would cost $2-2.5 billion for the country, Belarusian economists believe. That’s why Belarusian Economy Ministry offers to hold contests on selling large oil refineries and chemical enterprises in 2007, including “Naftan” oil refinery, Mozyr oil refinery “Polimir”, “Belshyna”, Grodno “Azot”, Mogilev “Khimvolokno”.

    Also a possibility of converting enterprises into joint-stock companies with the further aim of selling to strategic investors largest Belarusian unitary enterprises, like Minsk Automobile Plant, Beltelekom (monopolist on communications and Internet market), Belarusian cement plant, Grodno tobacco factory “Nyoman” is offered for consideration. A possibility of selling state parcels of shares of large enterprises of food industry like Minsk Plant of Sparkling wines, Gomel fat-products industrial complex, Skidzel Sugar Industrial Complex, Haradzeja Sugar Industrial Complex, Zhabinka Sugar plant. It is supposed to sell 30-40% of shares of largest breweries, joint stock company Krynitsa and malt joint stock company Belsolad.

    Beltransgaz Risks Becoming Unprofitable

    From: Kommersant
    Gazprom on Thursday expressed concern over plans of Belarusian officials to scrap an extra charge that the country’s gas consumers pay to the Beltransgas gas transit system. If the charge is waived, Beltransgaz will lose up to $390 million and stop turning profit just after Gazprom has secured a 50-percent stake in the pipeline operator. Belarus, in its turn, is anxious to ease the price burden for consumers after Russia has raised gas prices for its neighbor.
    Speaking to the State Duma on Thursday, Gazprom deputy chief executive Valery Golubev said Belarus is set to lift an extra $18 per 1,000 cu. meters of gas that local consumers pay for services of Beltransgaz. The Belarusian gas system risks losing between $360 and $390 million annually and ultimately becoming unprofitable, Valery Golubev underscored.

    The Russian gas monopolist is soon to pay $2.5 billion for 50 percent in Beltransgaz. Gazprom noted that the extra charge was calculated in last year’s evaluation of the Belarusian gas system when the company was said to be worth $5 billion. Gazprom now waits for the Belarusian government to confirm that the charge will not be waived.

    Independent experts point out that Belarus is trying to level off the negative impact of higher gas prices at the expense of Gazprom. Belarusian industrial producers started paying $160 per 1,000 cu. meters of gas after Russia had raised the prices from $47 to $100. As a result, inflation in industrial and technical sector reached a staggering 17 percent in January alone.

    A Kommersant source close to the Belarusian government reports that the extra charge is most likely to be preserved, though a number of key consumers will probably keep enjoying privileged tariffs.

    Belarusian and Russian authorities are to finalize the purchase of Beltransgas in Minsk on Friday, the RIA Novosti news agency reports. The issue of the extra change may also be settled during the talks.

    Moscow may decide on stabilization loan for Belarus within two months, Finance Minister Kudrin says

    From: Naveny
    Moscow may consider issuing a stabilization loan to Belarus within two months, Russia's Prime TASS quoted Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin as telling reporters on February 28.

    According to Mr. Kudrin, if a positive decision is made on the loan, its amount will be under discussion.

    Earlier on, German Gref, Russia's minister of economic development and trade, said that Belarus' request to issue the loan "had the right to exist" and the "amount of the loan and its terms were a subject of negotiations."

    On February 22, the Belarusian government requested Moscow for a $1.5-billion stabilization loan because of the need for additional funds to finance budgetary expenditures in connection with a drastic increase in the prices of Russian energy sources, official information sources said with reference to the Belarusian finance ministry.

    Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski said at the finance ministry's board meeting on February 7 that the government was facing the task of drawing about $1.5 billion in foreign loans in 2007. "Dozens of leading banks currently offer resources to our country," he said. "I think that in March, we should have at least $500 million in untied loans provided for efficient projects."

    Restrictions on Russian beer imports lifted in Belarus

    From: Navany
    All restrictions on the import of beer from Russia were lifted in Belarus on March 1.

    Under a directive issued by the cabinet in 2003, Russian beer importers were required to deliver shipments to Belarus through specially established warehouses and pay in advance and in full for excise stamps for a shipment of 40,000 decaliters of beer irrespective of the volume of total supplies to Belarus. In one of the strictest measures, they were ordered to pay $10,700 for a license to import 10,000 decaliters of beer

    The rules, which were slammed by Russian brewers as causing difficulties and financial losses to them, also required excessive paperwork.

    According to the Belarusian statistics ministry, beer imports from Russia rose by 49.3 percent to 5.3 million decaliters in 2006. In 2005 Russian beer imports jumped by 310 percent to 3.7 million decaliters.

    Belarus levies car tank fuel duty

    From: Itar Tass
    Belarussians leaving the country more than once in three days are obliged to declare the amount of fuel in the tank of their cars at border checkpoints, the State Customs Committee stated on Thursday.

    This measure aims to prevent “illegal commercial activity,” customs officials said.

    Fuel re-sale became a major source of income for citizens of Brest and Grodno regions bordering Poland. They import fuel and diesel oil in canisters and tanks to Poland making up to 50 dollars per day on price differences.

    Such ‘fuel tanker trucks’ also form lengthy queues on the border.

  • From around the Region...

    Poland's Prime Minister Kaczynski target of death threat

    From: M & C
    Kaczynski and Cat. Mother not depicted
    Conservative Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was target of a death threat consisting of a written message and three bullets, Poland's liberal Gazeta Wyborcza reported Wednesday.

    'For the cat, your mother and you,' read the card that was posted in an envelope with the bullets, one for a Russian-made Kalashnikov submachine gun, and two others used in weapons issued to the Polish police and the military.

    A bachelor, Jaroslaw Kaczynski has long-lived in a household with his mother and a cat.

    The Government Protection Bureau (BOR) has beefed-up security for both the prime minister and Jadwiga Kaczynska, mother to both Premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski and identical twin President Lech Kaczynski.

    Police and security services are looking for suspects in the case, which is being regarded as a potential act of political terrorism.

    The letter was addressed to the prime minister's chancellery in

    Holocaust survivors seek compensation

    Holocaust survivors from around the world pressed Poland's government today to compensate them for property confiscated by the former communist regime.

    Poland, the biggest post-communist European Union member, is the only country from eastern Europe, besides Belarus, which has not enacted a programme for the restitution of property seized after World War Two.

    Attempts to solve the issue after the collapse of communism in 1989 have failed, mostly due to concern over the likely cost. "When you've taken something away from someone, you should give it back, period," Israel Singer, President of the Claims Conference, said following meetings with Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Speaker of Parliament Marek Jurek.

    "You don't ask the person's religion, you don't ask the person's race, you don't ask the person's creed, you just give it back. That's what we're here to ask the government to do." Poland had Europe's biggest Jewish community until World War Two, when the Nazis killed nearly 90 percent of the country's 3.3 million Jews.

    The post-war communist rulers seized their property as well as that of people who left or fled the country. Poland's ruling conservatives have promised to resolve the issue and pass relevant legislation in coming months. But the government proposal envisages compensation for only 15 per cent of the property lost.

    Neither Kaczynski nor Jurek commented publicly after the meetings.

    The 10-minute interview: Aliaksandr Milinkevich,

    From: European Parlament
    In March last year Aliaksandr Milinkevich and his followers were jailed after protesting the result of the Belarus Presidential election in which he stood against President Alexander Lukashenko. Amid apparent manipulation of the media and electoral system by the incumbent, the EU and the US condemned the result. Mr Milinkevich later received Parliament's Sakharov prize for freedom of thought for his non-violent opposition.

    1. How did the authorities in Belarus react when you won the Sakharov prize?

    The authorities were irritated. The chief of KGB commented that "we have many people deserving awards, why Milinkievich?" The uneasiness of the authorities is a good sign.

    The award is a sign that Europe is not going to leave Belarus until democracy gains victory there and that it considers it a serious and responsible mission. The European Parliament is immersed in Belarusian affairs so deeply, that sometimes it even seems that we take too much spotlight from other problems. I am very grateful for the support shown, as we are not in a very simple situation. This support charges us with positive energy.

    2. Does the recent row over gas prices indicate the Minsk-Moscow friendship has ended?

    Moscow is offended like a lady that was promised marriage and leaves when it does not happen. Belarus has changed its mind on the marriage. As an owner of the product, Russia is punishing Belarus and has a right to sell it according to the price it wants.

    Mr Lukashenko failed to undertake serious reforms when he had incredibly cheap oil and gas. What was needed was restructuring, privatisation, attracting investment and new technologies. Everything was wasted on empty projects. Economic crisis is imminent, so Mr. Lukashenko must conduct free elections and set the media and people free.

    3. What problems does the Belarus opposition face and are you united? How were recent local elections?

    It is hard to attain unity, which is much easier to achieve during presidential elections when you have a clear objective. During the current period we are having big discussions as to whether a single leader is needed. I would say yes (that we need one leader, headquarters and work programme), but time after time he must go through legitimate elections (in a Congress). Some call me a dictator masked under a pro-democracy flag, but I think we are at war, therefore we need a general, headquarters, officers and soldiers. We must all work for the person we would have elected.

    While going from door to door during the campaign, people kept asking me: "do you yourself believe that something can be changed with these elections?" People are pragmatic. In reality there are no elections in Belarus – representatives are appointed by authorities. We can say this and either lose hope or continue working, and our duty is to go out to people, as there is no independent television and only a few newspapers.

    4. What is your message to our readers in 27 European countries?

    I want Europe not to forget that there is a country living in difficult conditions of dictatorship, a European neighbour with European history, traditions and mentality. Second, I would like to see as many politicians as possible that cherish morals more than economic interests. In the European Parliament I see very many politicians like this, and I am thankful for that. There are discussions on what is more important: security, stability or fight for human rights, and sometimes a choice must be made. I see that in the Parliament morality takes priority, and I am proud of such a European Parliament.

    5. Is there any hope for change before 2011 Belarus Presidential elections?

    Free information and the defeat of fear would mean less dictatorship. Yes, economic crisis can accelerate reforms, but I would not like us to come to power due to the collapse of the economy. I am for evolution. One must think about the lives of people and not the seat of the president.

  • Opinion...

    We were there for America; But how long will America be there for Europe?

    From: Edward Lucas
    WIN some, lose some”, says a top Lithuanian politician of the looming disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We were there for America. America will be there for us”.

    That sort of breezy Atlanticism is almost extinct in western Europe. And even among the east Europeans, it conceals a sinking feeling that they are going to suffer big collateral damage from America's misguided strategies in the ill-named “war on terror”.

    For a start, the crude division of Europe into “old” (anti-American) and “new” (Atlanticist) has hardly helped the still-shaky cause of reuniting the continent.

    The disproportionate presence of largely token ex-communist forces in the “coalition of the willing” has helped confirm the cynical chancelleries of old Europe in their view that the new democracies are gullible American patsies.

    The implication of Romania, Poland and perhaps some other countries in the renditions scandal has blemished what should have been the new democracies’ strongest card: their commitment to human rights. How could those who had suffered in communist prisons collaborate now in the torture of other prisoners? The allegation may be outrageously unfair. But it has stuck in the minds of many.

    The damage goes on. America’s role as guarantor of Europe’s security has been weakened. In western Europe, revulsion at the bloody and incompetent occupation of Iraq, coupled with a mixture of astonishing amnesia and lazy prejudice, has wiped away a shared history that stretches from the Normandy beaches to the end of the Berlin Wall.

    Even in the new democracies, America’s standing has fallen. The cost and hassle of getting an American visa grates maddeningly. Polish and Estonian boys who fight side-by-side with Americans in Iraq are liable to be treated as potential terrorists and illegal immigrants when they want to visit. The administration has moved shamefully slowly on this injustice, and on military assistance to its eager allies.

    Yet, if the Atlantic bonds do weaken, the ex-captive nations will suffer the most. It was America that got them into NATO, and it is America that looks out for them now, much more so than nearer but less friendly countries such as Germany. Any suggestion that the east Europeans can rely on the European Union to stick up for them against Russian bullying is, on current form, laughable.

    New radar gear and rocket interceptors planned for the Czech Republic and (probably) Poland will probably not do much to change this, You do not strengthen an alliance by pressing on your allies weapons that their public does not want. Helmut Schmidt, Germany's chancellor 20 years ago, thought that having Cruise and Pershing missiles in western Europe would make America’s nuclear guarantee more credible. Instead, it cast America as the warmonger in the minds of the muddle-headed, and stoked peacenikery throughout Europe.

    Barring an unlikely success in Afghanistan or Iraq, the strains on the Atlantic alliance will grow in the years ahead. The rivets have long been popping. Now great girders, such as Italy, are twisting and buckling. It was public anti-Americanism that brought down Romano Prodi’s government last week. Old Kremlin hands who remember how hard they once tried to destroy NATO must have trouble believing that the job is being done so well for them now by the alliance’s own leaders.

  • From the blogs...

    Nostalgia for Soviet-era power?

    From: A world to Win
    Alarmed by Russia’s moves, many Western big powers accuse Putin of nostalgia for Soviet-era power and of trying to recoup that power through economic “bullying tactics”.

    This is hypocritical on their part, and an oversimplified understanding as well, because it puts Russian moves into a far too narrow context.

    Long before the collapse of the USSR, socialism come to an end there in 1956, when the dictatorship of the proletariat was overthrown under Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership.

    Although the forms of socialism (state ownership, the leading party, etc.) were maintained for more than three decades after that, they were a hollow shell whose real content was profit in command, a new exploiting bourgeoisie centred in the state and the transformation of the USSR into an imperialist superpower. While the Soviet bloc initially was able to contend with the US for world supremacy, and even pose as an alternative to Western domination in the third world while imposing their own brand of neo-colonialism and exploitation, eventually they could not hold their block together due to a deep political and economic crisis. The economic and political forms of social-imperialism (socialism in words and in form, monopoly capitalism – imperialism – in deeds) had run up against their limits. A period of upheaval and sharp conflicts between different sections of the old and new capitalists followed.

    While an analysis of the background to the collapse of the Eastern bloc is beyond this article, a few of its economic weak points are particularly relevant here. The USSR and its bloc were able to mount enormous military power against the US and its bloc in their rivalry for world domination only by measures that proved to be their undoing in the end. The proportion of investment on the military and arms in the USSR, in comparison to Western Europe and the US, undermined the economy and proved impossible to sustain. Soviet subsidies for goods (including energy) in its bloc, needed to help hold it together, was another feature that ultimately helped bring the Soviet empire down.

    After the Soviet camp fell apart and the Eastern European countries began tilting toward the Western imperialists and the Nato military alliance, those within the Russian ruling imperialist class of who were in favour of a Western style capitalist economy took the upper hand in an attempt to save themselves from complete failure.

    (Meanwhile, the Western imperialists, hoping to subjugate them, were imposing and even enforcing this style on them.)

    During the Yeltsin period the Russian ruling class was more disoriented and seemed to be yielding to the US and Western imperialists. But in recent years the Western powers have become alarmed by the possibility of the reconstruction of a bloc of countries under Russian leadership.

    It would almost undoubtedly be on a far smaller scale than during the days of the USSR, but given the present world situation and depending on what direction that takes, even such a more limited development could represent a problem for the US imperialists and their own plans to consolidate and tighten their grip as the world’s sole superpower.

    Two contextual factors in particular make this possibility especially worrisome to the US. One is the emergence of Europe as an economic giant able to compete economically with the US, while militarily still a dwarf. Europe is far from a homogenous or consolidated force, but possible alliances with a militarily highly developed Russia could pose a threat to the US’s dominant position. Secondly, there is the US’s disastrous war in Iraq, which is undermining its political position and tying up its military forces. That may be a major reason why Russia is speeding up and trying to seize the opportunity to make the most of this situation.
    Click HERE for the complete text...

  • Sport...

    True freshman Nataliya Shatkovskaya of Belarus will look to stay unbeaten this season

    From: OSU
    Oklahoma State’s 40th-ranked women’s tennis team will look to remain perfect in 2007 (4-0, 1-0) when they host instate-rival Oral Roberts (0-5) at the DeBois Tennis Center in Stillwater, Okla., on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

    O-State continues to be led in singles play by Iryna Tkachenko. The junior is 4-0 this season and has yet to lose a set at No. 1 singles. Freshman Nataliya Shatkovskaya is also unbeaten this season, 3-0, at No. 3 singles. In doubles, Shatkovskaya teams with junior Yawna Allen to form OSU’s only undefeated team as the pair sport a 3-0 record splitting time between the No. 1 and No. 2 positions

    The only scholarship newcomer this season is freshman Natalia Shatkovskaya. The talented newcomer hails from Minsk, Belarus. The Cowgirls only had one scholarship available after losing only Zana Masnic from last season’s squad. Masnic exhausted her eligibility in the spring of 2006 and left the program with over 50 career singles victories and 40 doubles wins.

    Foot injury forces Markov to quit

    Australian pole vaulter Dmitri Markov, whose gold medal clearance of 6.05m at the 2001 world titles was the best-ever at a major championships, has been forced into retirement by a chronic foot injury.

    Markov, 31, will compete for the final time on Friday night at the World Athletics Tour meet in Melbourne. And fittingly, his last competition will be against countrymen Steve Hooker and Paul Burgess, whose rise to the top two spots in the world rankings is due in no small part to the standard set by Markov.

    Hooker and Burgess are also coached by Alex Parnov, who arrived in Australia with Markov, Tatiana Grigorieva and Viktor Chistiakov in 1997 and transformed the sport in this country.

    "It was a difficult decision to retire but my foot has been troubling me for a long time," Markov said today.

    "I will try to do my best on Friday but I don't know how it will go."

    Markov's first major competition was the 1996 Olympics where he finished sixth representing his birthplace of Belarus. But his greatest international achievements came in the green and gold.

    Shortly after gaining Australian citizenship in 1999, he finished second at the 1999 world championships. He was also fifth at the Sydney Olympics before producing his career-defining performance at the 2001 world championships in Edmonton, where his gold medal clearance was the best ever in a world or Olympic final.

    Only peerless Ukrainian Sergey Bubka has ever jumped higher.

    "It feels like it was only yesterday and it was the highlight of my career," said Markov.

    Markov also represented Australia at the Athens Olympics in 2004 but failed to progress to the final.

    Hooker recalled watching the 2001 world championships final on TV.

    "He had such magic form leading up the meet, and I heard he'd hurt his foot in an accident in his hotel room or something ridiculous like that which was typical Dim form," said Hooker.

    "And then for him to come out, when no-one knew what he would be able to do, and to jump 6.05 ... with an injured foot after everyone else had finished competing.

    "All I remember was watching at home and being on the phone to my training partner at the time Bridgid Isworth and every 20 minutes going "Oh my God, can you believe how good this is?'

    "I think it's one of the greatest performances by an Australian athlete ever.

    "I hope he gets the recognition he deserves after he retires because he's right up there as one of the best Australian athletes of all time."

    Markov has been troubled by the foot injury for a couple of years, but it did not prevent him from claiming the silver medal behind Hooker at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

    He had cleared 5.55m at a low-key meet in January but the ongoing foot problem meant he was unable to do any serious training for up to 10 days after a competition, prompting the decision to retire.

    After spending several years living in Perth, Markov moved to Adelaide in 2004. He has yet to decide what he will do after hanging up the poles, although he did not rule out a shift into coaching.

    Grigorieva, who won silver at the Sydney Olympics, also retired earlier this year, while her ex-husband Chistiakov has moved back to Russia.

  • Sport briefs...

  • Leanid Karneyenka of Belarus won the silver medal in the men's 15-kilometer cross country free at the Nordic ski world championships in Japan on Wednesday

  • Endnote...

    Gleb Pavlovsky Tells it like it is! (Five stars *****)

    From: Charter '97
    Gleb Pavlovsky
    Gleb Pavlovsky, Effective Politics Foundation head, a Kremlin spin-doctor, and Vladimir Bukovsky, who was presented as a “legendary person”, a dissenter, a writer who has to live abroad, arrived to a conference “Russia – Backslide to Empire?” in Warsaw yesterday, the European radio for Belarus informs.

    Everybody expected an intellectual fight, but it hasn’t taken place. Organizers of the conference have decided not to take the risk and not to create conditions for an emotional spat; that is why guests were invited into the hall one at a time. But it was hot still; listeners filled the hall, steps and corridors to capacity.

    In the hall Gleb Pavlovsky was greeted by people Chechen flags shouting “You are going to listen to a criminal and murderer!” The audience met these words with applause.

    Everybody was interested most what Pavlovsky has to say to the theme “Russia and its imperialistic interests”. And Pavlovsky said:

    “We do not have any ideas for Poland, we have no ideas about ruling Georgia. To be sincere, we do not care how Georgia is governed, we do not care about its economy, and we care not a snap for the US economy.

    I have one more dreadful secret, but I am going to reveal it to you: we not to give a darn about Polish politics. All of us, except those who are paid for analyzing Polish politics, but they must be paid much money, otherwise it would be uneconomic!”

    People in the audience were impatiently exclaiming “It’s not true!” during his speech.

    There were not only journalists, but students in the audience, who tried to talk over Chechnya, clod war, Polish-Russian relations with him. However, the political analyst, a well-known master of demagogy, summed up the results of the debate:

    “It would be senseless to enter into controversy. One of the most uninteresting things is disputes of Atheists with Catholics. They take you nowhere. I have appreciated the atmosphere and your attitude towards Russia”.

    The discussion has touched upon Belarus. Pavlovsky noted that a process of re-privatization is taking place in Russia, and it results in manipulating backward masses.

    Gleb Pavlovsky is an ardent supporter of Russia-Belarus union. There was no answer why re-privatization is bad for Russia, and good for Belarus.

    Pavlovsky simply noted that Lukashenka is doing everything for Belarusians to remain a nation, and even quoted Lukashenka, which drew indignation of the audience again.

    “Do you remember how Belarusians acted during the World War II? They acted differently from Poles, they haven’t been turning over their Jews, they were defending them,” Pavlovsky said.

    The listeners started to hiss, thump the seats and shout: “Scandal!!!”

    And Vladimir Bukovsky, as a real dissident, started with an eloquent funny story which explained his position:

    “A crow is sitting on a tree with a piece of cheese in her beak. A fox asks her: “Are you going to vote for Putin?” The crow keeps silent. “Well, Crow, could you say just yes or no?” The crow says: “Yes”. The cheese fell out of the crow’s beak, and the fox stole it. The crow remained pondering: “What if I said no?”

    The Russians had the same choice, between a Communist and a KGB man. Is it an election?! According to this analogy, it is the same as offering Germans to choose between two candidates for a Chancellor, a SS-man and a Gestapo man”.