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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lukashenka makes business decree, Foreign investors, Real estate, BY lane hit by missile, US, AZ, Bad Vodka, Bribes, Sports and Blogs

  • From the Top...
  • #185

    Light business as President takes a few days off in Sochi

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    On March 8, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, bestowed state awards on the best women of our country. The awarding ceremony was held at the official reception on behalf of the President of the Republic of Belarus on the occasion of Woman’s Day. The reception took place in the Palace of the Republic in Minsk.
    On March 10, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, took part in the official opening of the alpine skiing sports and recreation complex ‘Belarus’ in Krasnaya Polyana (Sochi).

    The complex has been built within the shortest time frame upon the instructions from the Head of the Belarusian State. It is going to be used not only for the recreation of tourists, but also for the training of the Belarusian Olympic team. Presently, the complex provides recuperation for children from the Chernobyl-affected areas.

    Alexander Lukashenko emphasized during the official opening ceremony that “the Belarusians have received an excellent rest resort.”

    The Head of State spoke the words of appreciation to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, for the help in implementing this project. According to Alexander Lukashenko, despite certain discrepancies with the leaders of the Russian Federation, Belarusians and Russians have been and remain akin to each other.

    The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, was in Sochi for the days off.

    On March 9, 2007, the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, signed into action Decree No 119 “On the Simplified Taxation System.”

    The document aims to improve the taxation procedure for legal persons and individual entrepreneurs - small entrepreneurship subjects that had been established by the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On the simplified taxation system for the subjects of small entrepreneurship.”

    Specifically, the number of the subjects of small entrepreneurship who are entitled to apply the simplified taxation system has been enlarged by the increase in the limit number of hired workers from 15 to 100 persons and in the limit average annual gross receipt up to Br 2 billion.

    Mikhail Pavlov: delegation of Minsk City Council to visit Abu Dhabi

    From: NLIPRB
    Abu Dhabi
    In the near future a delegation of the Minsk City Council will visit Abu Dhabi, BelTA was told by chairman of the Minsk City Council Mikhail Pavlov.

    In the course of the visit of the official delegation of this country to the United Arab Emirates the capitals of Belarus and the UAE signed an agreement on establishing twin-town relations. “It is a very important agreement, as the decision to sign it was taken at the highest level – the UAE president is a ruler of the emirate of Abu Dhabi. The UAE top officials show great interest in promoting relations with Belarus, in particular with Minsk”, Mikhail Pavlov underlined.

    In the course of the forthcoming visit the Belarusian delegation will offer Abu Dhabi many projects. In particular, the sides will discuss issues concerning investments and construction. The Belarusian delegation will also study the experience of developing the city infrastructure gained by Abu Dhabi. “The main thing is that the UAE shows interest in promoting cooperation with Belarus”, Mikhail Pavlov underscored.

    First of all Minsk is interested in attracting foreign investments and in implementing joint construction projects, the Minsk mayor said. He expressed confidence that it would be very useful for the Minsk authorities to study new technologies developed by the UAE. One more important thing is that Minsk economic entities and businessmen will cooperate with the Abu Dhabi top officials. “The Minsk leadership will do everything possible to establish such cooperation”, Mikhail Pavlov underscored.

    Minsk to host international specialized exhibition Metal-Working-2007

    From: NLIPRB
    The 8th international specialized exhibition Metal-Working-2007 will be held in Minsk on March 13-16.

    The exhibition will feature the up-to-date achievements in machine-tool-construction and metal-cutting tools production: automated lines and mechanical equipment, modular and mono-block computerized control equipment, software for computerized control machines, 3D – designing of parts and press-forms, electrical-discharge machines, gear treating machines, lathes, drilling machines, milling machines, slotting machines, grinding and other machines. Moreover, the exhibition will showcase components of machines, hydro and pneumatic equipment, servo-motors, abrasive and cutting tools and many others.

    The exhibition will include 14 various sections. Attending the exhibition will be machine-tool companies from eleven countries: Belarus, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Israel, Russia, Slovenia, Turkey, Switzerland, Sweden and Japan.

    The leaders of the Belarusian machine-tool industry – the Orsha-based machine-tool plant “Krasnyi Borets”, the Vitebsk-based machine-tool plant “Vistan”, the Gomel-based machine units making plant, the Baranovichi-based machine-tool plant, the Minsk-based machine-tool plant, the Pinsk-based machine-tool plant “Kuzlitmash” will present various up-to-date machine-tool equipment. The exposition of the Belarusian industry ministry will occupy about 200 square meters.

    By tradition the association of Russian machine-tool equipment producers “Stankoinstrument” will display a large-scale exposition. Some 23 companies from different regions of Russia will take part in the exhibition.

    The Institute Belorgstankinprom will organize the international symposium “Up-to-date world tendencies in developing machine-tool construction, equipment for founding production and metal-working” where specialists from Belarus and Russia will make their reports.

    A huge number of participants and a special business program will allow participants of the exhibition Metal-Working-2007 to have talks, to share experience, to establish new contacts and to conclude agreements.

    The forum will be organized by ZAO Minskexpo under the auspices of the Belarusian industry ministry and the association of machine-tool equipment producers “Stankoinstrument” (the Russian Federation).

    Foreign valuers show interest in real estate in Belarus

    From: Belta
    About 30 experts from the non-CIS member states intend to take part in the international congress of the CIS valuers, scheduled for September 6-7 in Minsk. The forum is expected to be attended by more than 120 specialists from the CIS countries, valuers and investment consultants from Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA, chairman of the Belarusian Society of Valuers Nikolai Trifonov said today at a meeting of the organizational committee of the congress.

    “Foreign valuers show certain interest in Belarus”, Nikolai Trifonov said. “The process of jointstockicizing companies has intensified in this country. In this connection services rendered by valuers are becoming more and more popular”, Nikolai Trifonov noted.

    At present the organizational committee has been drawing up a list of reports, which will be given at the congress. “We will offer those topics, which will be interested for Belarus first of all. Real estate evaluation issues are very important for Belarus and will be high up on the agenda”, Nikolai Trifonov said.

    The Belarusian Society of Valuers will hold the 6th international congress of the CIS valuers with the help of the CIS council of valuers’ associations, the CIS Executive Committee and the Minsk City Council. The organizational committee is composed of representatives of the finance and economy ministries of Belarus and the state property committee.

    Lukashenka unlikely to visit Kyiv this week, Ukrainian president's secretariat says

    From: Navany
    The Ukrainian president's secretariat has denied reports that Alyaksandr Lukashenka was scheduled to arrive in Kyiv on Monday, saying that the Belarusian leader is unlikely to visit Ukraine this week.

    "He will not come today for sure and is unlikely to arrive later this week," the secretariat's officer told BelaPAN.

    Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's schedule for this week includes a trip to the Zhytomyr region on March 13 and a visit to Denmark on March 15.

    Speaking on March 6, Mr. Yushchenko announced that the Belarusian counterpart would visit Kyiv "in a week."

    Anatol Lyabedzka and Yaraslaw Ramanchuk, leaders of the United Civic Party, will hold a news conference in Kyiv on March 13. Apart from this, the Ukrainian capital will host a series of events marking the first anniversary of last March's mass post-election street protests in Minsk, including a screening of Yury Khashchavatski's documentary and a demonstration in front of the Belarusian embassy.

    The events are co-organized by Ukraine's Pora liberal party.

    Prices in Minsk's used housing market reported up 12.9 percent in February

    From: Navany
    Prices in Minsk's used housing market increased by 12.9 percent in February, according to the real estate center.

    In the second month of 2007, the average price of apartments in Minsk rose by $174 to $1,519 per square meter, with the highest rise occurring in the prices of one- and three-room apartments, 14 and 15.4 percent, respectively.

    The average price of two- and four-room apartments increased by 10.5 and 12 percent, respectively, the center said.

    The supply fell from 2,280 apartments and single-family houses in January to 2,261 in February, according to the center.

    The Tsentralny and Savetski districts remained to be the highest priced areas in Minsk, with the average apartment price being $1,854 and $1,707 per square meter there.

    The Zavodski and Leninski districts were the cheapest areas in Minsk to buy an apartment. Their average price amounted to $1,436 and $1,494 per square meter, respectively. The prices of apartments in other districts averaged out at $1,560 per square meter.

    The highest increase in housing prices occurred in the Zavodski and Kastrychnitski districts in February. They rose there by 15.4 and 15.9 percent, respectively.

    The prices of newly built apartments ranged from $1000 to $1,700 per square meter.

    The prices of housing to be built with the money of the future owner averaged out at $1,450 per square meter.

    Belarusian transport plane apparently hit by missile, lands safely in Somalia

    From: Navany
    A Belarusian transport plane was hit by what appeared to be a ground-fired missile but managed to land safely in Somalia on March 9.

    As the press office of the Belarusian transport ministry's Aviation Department told BelaPAN, the Il-76 was flying at an altitude of 150 meters toward a landing strip in the African country's airfield when a projectile fired from a man-portable, shoulder-fired weapon caused major damaged to its fuselage.

    The press office said that all members of the crew were alive after the accident but did not elaborate.

    A team of experts representing the transport ministry's Aviation Department and insurance companies has arrived in Somalia to probe the accident.

    The transport aircraft is operated by Belarus' state-run Transaviaexport cargo airline.

    Lukashenka makes more companies eligible for simplified taxation rules

    From: Navany
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka, by his March 9 presidential edict, has made more enterprises eligible for a simplified taxation procedure, BelaPAN reported.

    The measure is aimed at easing rules for sole entrepreneurs, many of whom will have to register their businesses as a legal entity to comply with a recent presidential edict that bans sole entrepreneurs from hiring workers other than three family members after January 1, 2008.

    In particular, the edict entitles companies with a staff of between 15 and 100 employees and with annual gross proceeds below two billion rubels to pay 10 percent of their proceeds in a single tax instead of a standard set of taxes applicable, the Belarusian leader's press office said.

    The edict lowers the rate of value-added tax for such companies to eight percent.

    The measure makes enterprises with less than 15 employees eligible for a simplified statistics procedure and streamlines accounting rules for certain companies.

    The edict cuts the rate of the single tax for small enterprises registered in "agro-towns" and towns with a population under 50,000 from 10 to five percent and the VAT rate from eight to three percent.

    In a related story, Security guards at the Malinawka car market on the outskirts of Minsk barred an organizer of a March 12 rally from advertising the authorized event on Friday.

    The Minsk City Executive Committee has granted its permission for sole entrepreneurs to stage the rally in Peoples' Friendship Park near Bangalore Square. The organizers expect some 1,000 market vendors to attend the event to protest Alyaksandr Lukashenka's edict No. 760 that will ban sole entrepreneurs from hiring workers other than three family members after January 1, 2008.

    As another organizer, Syarhey Balykin, told BelaPAN, Alyaksandr Makayew was briefly detained by the market administration's order for passing out leaflets among vendors.

    "We regard this as another attempt at obstructing the event and are confident that these actions are being coordinated from a single headquarters," Mr. Balykin said.

    U.S. Report Paints Mixed Picture Of Human Rights Situation

    From: Turkish Weekly
    The U.S. State Department today released its "2006 Country Reports On Human Rights Practices."

    This year's annual report, which is mandated by the U.S. Congress, painted a gloomy picture in many countries for 2006, but noted some hopeful trends.

    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the findings to reporters in Washington and said in many places around the world, human rights are suffering.

    "Too often in the past year, we received painful reminders that human rights, though self-evident, are not self-enforcing," she said. "And that mankind's desire to live in freedom, though universally deserved, is still not universally respected."

    Rice said full respect for human rights can only flourish if a society has several key elements. "Liberty and human rights require state institutions that function transparently and accountably, a vibrant civil society, an independent judiciary and legislature, a free media, and security forces that can uphold the rule of law and protect the population from violence and extremism," she noted.

    Problems In Russia

    Chechnya and other areas of Russia's North Caucasus, the report said, continued to experience "serious human rights violations."

    The State Department cited killings and abuses of civilians by both federal and Chechen security forces, and said rebel fighters carried out terrorist bombings and politically motivated disappearances in the region. In a growing number of cases, the European Court of Human Rights has held Russia responsible for these abuses.

    In Russia, the report said that in 2006 the government continued to centralize presidential power. Taken together with a compliant State Duma, corruption in law enforcement, political pressure on the judiciary, and restrictions on NGOs and the media, the report said, "these trends resulted in the further erosion of government accountability."

    Barry Lowenkron, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights, democracy, and labor, told reporters that the political situation in Russia favors some, and excludes others.

    "The notion that there was a level playing field, in terms of electoral politics in Russia, is increasingly suspect," he said. "I think if you take a look at the media, I think if you take a look at the statements coming out of Russian officials -- [they say] that they have something called 'sovereign democracy' or 'managed democracy.' I am probably dating myself, but from my years in the State Department back in the 1980s, I was never big on adjectives [in front of the word] democracy, like 'people's democracy.' And 'sovereign democracy' and 'managed democracy' is problematic."

    Civil Society 'Still Trying'

    The report also criticized the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus for intensifying its repressive policies. But Lowenkron said that country's civil society is still working for freedom.

    "There is nothing good to say about the regime in Belarus, except the fact that civil society is still trying," he said. "We had a group from Belarus that came to Washington just last week. I had the privilege of meeting with them. I was interested in their plans. They are not going to give up. They are going to continue to press.

    "The citizens of Belarus will find, themselves, that there is an alternative, there is an alternative to Lukashenka, there is an alternative to a regime that suppresses their human rights, and that alternative lies [with] its other neighbors."
    Full text...

    Meeting of Azerbaijan-Belarus intergovernmental commission to be held on March 27-28

    From: Today AZ
    The fifth meeting of Azerbaijan-Belarus intergovernmental commission will be held in Baku on March 27-28, Belarus Ambassador Nikolay Paskevich told.

    First Deputy Prime Minister Yagub Eyyubov chairs the commission from the Azerbaijani side and Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Kobyakov chairs the commission from the Belarus side.

    A number of documents are expected to be signed at the meeting. The ambassador said they are working on 10 agreements at present which cover the issues on agriculture, food, veterinary and quarantine. He said that there is a document on pension provision among them.

    Paskevich said the documents will be signed during Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's visit to Azerbaijan. The most recent meeting of the commission was held in Minsk on May 15, 2006.

    In a related story, The delegation led by the Emergencies Minister of Belarus Anvar Bariyev will today arrive in Azerbaijan, Azerbaijani Emergencies Ministry public relations department told.

    The delegation will tomorrow visit Heydar Aliyev's grave in Honor Alley and Martyrs' Alley. Following this, the delegation will have meetings in the Emergencies Ministry. Anvar Bariyev will have one-on-one meeting with Azerbaijani Emergencies Minister Kamaladdin Heydarov. The Belarus delegation will visit Emergencies Ministry's bodies.

    Azerbaijani and Belarus Emergencies Ministers will sign "Plan of complex measures on cooperation in 2007-2010" and "Regulations on working group on cooperation in warning and removal of results in emergency situations".

    The signing of the regulations was envisaged in the agreement on cooperation signed between Emergencies Ministries of the two countries during the visit of Azerbaijani President to Belarus last year.

    The visit will end March 16, APA reports.

  • From around the region...

    When vodka is your poison

    From: Three Wise Monkeys
    Thousands of Russians may have been poisoned by bootleg alcohol containing medical disinfectant causing drinkers’ skin to turn yellow before they fall dangerously ill or die.

    Pskov is the end of the line. I got off the Moscow overnight express and the earth started to buckle in front of me.

    On the Pskov express I had played chess with a couple of Russians, the vodka bottles had come out, and soon every move of a pawn was celebrated with a toast.

    If you’re interested, I was about to win when the Russian bloke nicked my queen - anyway, I had had enough to drink to kill a small horse.

    There is something about the light - or the lack of it - that eats the soul in Russia, that makes you drink. The dark days in winter, the grimness of ordinary life. They say one in six Russians is an alcoholic.

    That is why President Putin, the former KGB man, is something of a puritan - at least in public.

    He has brought in a series of laws, tripling the price of vodka and threatening dire penalties if people drink black market moonshine, which they call samogon.

    And that is, of course, what everybody who can’t afford shop-bought vodka does.

    Across Russia as a whole, officials have not counted, but some estimate 10,000 poison cases and 1,000 dead.

    They called it the yellow death. It started in the summer when dozens of people turned up in casualty, a vile shade of yellow.

    The dozens turned to hundreds, then a thousand. The better cases recovered, but will die long before their time.

    The worst cases? Natasha is not yet 30, she’s got a seven-year-old boy called Maxim and she has less than a year to live.

    Her whole body has gone yellow - an instantly recognisable feature of toxic hepatitis.

    Something has destroyed her liver and now all the natural toxins in the body are stacking up.

    Her own body is poisoning her and there is nothing medicine - or at least nothing state medicine in Russia - can do about it.

    Natasha and everyone else in the hospital corridors had bought samogon, moonshine, as usual - but something had been added to it.

    Clear liquid

    In Pskov, the authorities have tracked more than 1,000 poisonings with 120 dead.

    Across Russia as a whole, officials have not counted, but some estimate 10,000 poison cases and 1,000 dead.

    So who is responsible for this mass poisoning? I had gone to Pskov to try to get to the bottom of the yellow death.

    We made friends with a gentlemanly Russian, Alexei, who was also an alcoholic, gave him a secret camera bag and sent him off to buy the samogon moonshine.

    The plan was that we would then get it tested and analysed to see what the problem was. He bought the stuff for 20 roubles ($0.80, £0.40), a clear liquid in an old Coke bottle. I had a quick sniff.

    The bouquet - rocket fuel with a touch of boot polish. And a quick gulp.

    In the film Flash Gordon, the heroine is given a slug of bright green alcohol so that she can bear to sleep with Emperor Ming The Merciless. It tasted something like that.

    We filmed the local cops going round busting all the little people, the street traders in samogon.

    The local chief of police in Pskov, Gen Sergei Matveyev - a plump bureaucrat with a fatter gold watch - was not keen to tell me what was the most likely source of the poison.

    Not many in authority give much of a damn about the nameless wretches of the earth: winos, moral degenerates.

    The sense that many of the yellow people were ordinary Russians who had been poisoned through no great fault of their own seemed to be missing.

    Medical disinfectant

    A doctor told me that the most likely cause was something which had been added to the moonshine - polyhexometalinguanadeenohydrochlorate.

    And that stuff had got on the market as a medical disinfectant, Extrasept. It was 95% pure alcohol and tax exempt - making it cheaper than moonshine.

    Dodgy traders had mixed the cheaper Extrasept with the home-made samogon - and made a killing.

    It was only once I had learnt about polyhexo that I got seriously worried about the samogon I had drunk. It might have been contaminated too. Had I poisoned myself? Was I going to turn yellow, too?

    We set off from Pskov to St Petersburg, to the Institute of Toxicology. They had been feeding Extrasept to rats. The results were inconclusive. I brought along a little bottle of the stuff I had drunk. They tested it and they found no polyhexo, so I was clean.

    The Extrasept factory was a vast sprawling mess in Alexandrov - a town associated with Ivan the Terrible.

    The technical director said there was nothing wrong with his product - and he even drank some to prove it. I asked him: “You’re not afraid of turning yellow, are you?”.

    Later, when we got back to London, we had Extrasept tested on human liver cells - and it killed every single one.

    Pole accused of people smuggling

    From: CNews
    The Canadian Embassy in Warsaw
    A senior visa officer at the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw has been charged with 100 counts of fraud for allegedly using her position to smuggle hundreds of people -- including some criminals -- into the country without security checks.

    Warsaw security police seized $175,000, jewelry and about $7,500 Cdn from a bag being carried by a suspect, who's identified in the Polish press as Michalina Hoffman, 61, a Polish citizen employed at the embassy for 30 years.

    Since her arrest last week, hundreds of immigration files in the visa section have been frozen as investigators search for fraud.

    The arrest stemmed from a Toronto Sun article in February last year after Toronto-area Poles complained about having to pay bribes at the embassy to obtain Canadian documents.

    Warsaw police said the woman was arrested with six men, whose alleged roles were to collect payments from Poles with criminal records who wanted to travel to Canada or others in the Toronto-area who wanted to bring relatives here.

  • Opinion...

    Putin on the Throwback;
    Why are all the Russian reporters dying?

    From: National Review
    Vladimir Putin demonstrating how best to deal with an opponent
    The death, under highly suspicious circumstances, of Ivan Safronov, an investigative reporter on defense affairs for the newspaper Kommersant — and someone whose work I had used in my own research — is the latest in a string of high-profile killings of journalists. Russia now vies with Iraq as one of the world’s unsafest locations for reporters. The ongoing targeting of journalists who expose corruption and write pieces that criticize government and business elites is one of those areas where there has not been a marked change since the Yeltsin era — and few of these cases have ever been solved. Russia’s economy may be booming, but, as David Satter, Lawrence Uzzell, and others have noted, a post-Communist moral malaise continues to infect both the Russian state and society.

    It is important, however, to put Safronov’s death into a larger context. Some Western commentators have seized on the theme that this is another example of “Putin’s political opponents dying off.” The problem is that a number of those who have died — people like murdered Forbes editor Paul Klebnikov or Safronov himself — were not political activists nor had they been particularly opposed to many of the policies of the Putin government. Another critic who also died under mysterious circumstances, Yuri Shchekochikin, had, in a conversation with me, been generally supportive of some of the stands taken by Putin, at least in foreign policy.

    If political opposition was the prime motivation, we would expect more politicians, NGO leaders, activists, and their financial sponsors to be targets. Boris Nemtsov, a leading member of the opposition, published a long op-ed in Novaya Gazeta in February 2005 denouncing the “personal dictatorship of the president … with widespread abuses of democratic rights and liberties … [and] flourishing corruption, and citizens having no rights when confronted with the bureaucrats' arbitrary abuse of power.” He ended his long assessment with a call for “regime change” in Russia. As of the time of this writing, he was alive and well. Simply being a political opponent of Putin does not seem to be the prime reason why some people have been singled out.

    Indeed, the trail of suspicious deaths and murders and attacks leads primarily to journalists and intelligence specialists — people who by training and profession gather secrets — people who were uncovering evidence of corruption at both the regional and federal levels; hidden crimes, human-rights abuses, shady deals, or sometimes just what the Russians call “kompromat” — the “compromising material” which can be used to embarrass or blackmail rivals — all the things that entrenched interests in both the government and the business communities never want exposed to the light of day. Safronov is reported to have been working on an article about the sale of advanced weaponry to Iran and Syria as well as the means by which third parties would be used to transship the weapons, giving Moscow “plausible deniability” if pressed by the United States or Israel on this issue. Some have also speculated that Safronov had obtained information on how these sales might also generate profits for specific individuals. The murky circumstances surrounding Safronov’s death cannot help but raise such questions, especially as Igor Yakovenko, secretary general of the Russian Union of Journalists, reiterated earlier this week that suicide is not a plausible explanation for Safronov’s death.

    This then raises the specter of the type of privatization no one wants to see: where the resources of the state are utilized by “the powerful” in the service of their own private interests and agendas.

    Russians themselves are concerned about this question — and are talking and writing about it. In the aftermath of the Litvinenko poisoning, a Russian journalist, Irina Demchenko, wrote:
    A Russian political researcher recently said that Putin’s government has replaced real politics with special operations by secret services, and this certainly seems to be the case. What is even more frightening is that Putin and his team appear unable to control all of these operations, learning the hard way that it is easier to rub the magic lantern than it is to command the genie.

    Another Russian academic, writing not on the Safronov case but on the recent installation of Ramzan Kadyrov as leader of Chechnya — and the fact that, in return for keeping order, he has been granted a relatively free hand in running the region — noted that “the elimination of democratic processes and their replacement by the political elite undermines rather than strengthens state power in the country” and expressed his concern that strengthening the position of the elite was being confused with making the state more effective.

    One of most awesome responsibilities of a state is its monopoly on the use of force and its power to take life. One of the persistent critiques of the Yeltsin government was how it had empowered a new class of oligarchs able to operate above the law. Does Putin want his legacy to be that he merely replaced one group of “the powerful” with another—equally unaccountable for their actions and similarly able to act with impunity?

    Putin Combats "Russiaphobia"

    From: LaRussophobe
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides at the Kremlin say they feel surrounded, and they're not going to take it anymore.

    LR: Dear Mr. Putin -- If you'd like to discuss the matter, my address is posted on this blog. I'll be happy to hear from you! As a beginning, I suggest you stop killing people. Us Westerners are funny about that kind of thing, we tend to overreact to political murder. But when in Rome . . .

    Russian corporations are being foiled abroad; the Russian state is being unfairly blamed for volatility in global energy markets; and suggestions that the state is eliminating its critics are just preposterous. Why all the bad press? Because of "Russophobia" — an unreasoning Western hostility toward Russia — according to the Kremlin. "I see a campaign here," Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said in a TV interview last week. "The stronger we are becoming, the greater, perhaps, is the number of those willing... to prevent us from getting stronger."

    Amid all the allegations that the Kremlin — in a reprise of KGB tactics — is behind the mysterious deaths of two investigative journalists and a former KGB agent turned critic in recent months, President Putin is turning to a page out of the old Soviet playbook. His aides are reviving elements of the Soviet Union's once-massive propaganda machine as well as considering fresh approaches. Novosti, the USSR's "information agency," has been renamed RIA-Novosti and is being bolstered by a flood of Putin-era petrocash. It has started an English-language satellite news network called Russia Today and a monthly feature magazine named Russia Profile, both of which carry offerings on the good job Putin is doing in the world and next to nothing on things like the conflict in Chechnya or the murder of government critics. The organization also brings Moscow's spin to U.S. readers with paid supplements in The Washington Post and other papers.

    "Many forgotten forms of work are being restored," says Pyotr Romanov, a Novosti veteran. "We feel there is a lot of misunderstanding about Russia out there, and that the Russian point of view urgently needs to be expressed in the world media." But recently, that's become a tougher sell.

    Investigative journalists who died

    Ivan Safronov, a reporter for the Kommersant daily who was investigating planned Russian weapons sales to Syria and Iran, fell to his death from a window in his Moscow apartment building last Friday. His paper said he was being pressured by the government to stop his investigations and that he had been questioned multiple times by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the agency that replaced the KGB.

    His death followed the mob-style killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya last October in Moscow, who had written extensively about government torture and murder in Chechnya, and the murder by poisoning of former KGB and FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in London the next month. Litvinenko had accused Putin of mob ties and of ordering Politkovskaya's murder.

    Wednesday, the US Embassy in Moscow confirmed that two Soviet-born American women had been hospitalized for thallium poisoning in Moscow, though both were recovering. How they were poisoned is under investigation.

    Many Russians decry cold war cliches

    Yet many Russian analysts say they wince when they read stories animated by what they consider cold war cliches, especially in British and U.S. newspapers. "Once again it's all black and white, and the image of Russia is that of a potential enemy," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, an independent foreign policy journal. He says that some Western media outlets "rushed to judgment" on the murder of Litvinenko by suggesting Mr. Putin may have ordered the former Russian spy's assassination. An organization of intelligence service veterans, "For Spirit, Honor and Dignity," told the Russian media that it's thinking about suing the London Telegraph over its Litvinenko coverage. "It was absolutely open slander, we have never seen such staged malevolence," said a man who answered the group's Moscow phone this week, but refused to give his name.

    And the Russian establishment say they aren't just being unfairly attacked over politics. When Arcelor, a large European steelmaker, rebuffed a takeover bid by the Russian firm Severstal last year, Moscow officials were quick to point to anti-Russian bias. "The unprecedented propaganda campaign that has been launched... shows that people don't want to let us into global markets," said State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. And after a January energy blockade of Russia's neighbor Belarus led to shortages in Europe, the Kremlin blamed the messenger. "The Western mass media are always suffering from an old disease called Russophobia. Only this time it's energy," Andrei Reus, deputy minister of industry, told a recent oil and gas conference in Houston.

    In addition to the Soviet-style approach, Moscow is also considering Western image boosters. Kommersant reported in January that Russia paid $15 million to the U.S.-based Ketchum Inc. — which has done PR for the U.S. Army and government agencies — to handle publicity for last July's Group of Eight meeting in St. Petersburg. "This kind of action is badly needed, not to deceive, but to explain [and] make Russia look more accessible," says Mikhail Maslov, director of the Moscow-based Maslov PR Agency. Some say a Russia flush with oil money and an assertive leader frightens Westerners into a cold war posture. "Can you explain how it is that life is better in Russia today, but Western coverage... is much more negative than it was six years ago?" asks Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst. "It's because Russia is rising off its knees."

    The heavily state-controlled media has, in turn, adopted a more stridently anti-Western tone. "One reason Putin is so popular... is that he is seen as standing up to Western pressure and strengthening Russia's defenses. Our media merely reflects those feelings," says Mr. Romanov.

    LR: Gee, what a good way to stop "russophobia." Attack the West and prove the russophobes are right! No wonder Russia is such a brilliant success as a nation!

  • From the blogs...

    Another Russian journalist is silenced

    From: Woolly Days
    Ivan Safronov was buried on Wednesday after becoming the latest journalist to die in suspicious circumstances in Russia. On Friday 2 March he fell to his death from the fifth floor window of his Moscow apartment building. Prosecutors have opened an inquest into his death and police are investigating a case of ‘forcible suicide’.

    His neighbours described Safranov as a jovial well-balanced family man but Russian police are saying they suspect his death was a suicide. Two neighbouring students witnessed his death. “My friend and I stepped out onto the balcony to smoke,” recounted Lena, a psychology student at the Sholokhov Pedagogical Institute. “Suddenly we heard a thud, like snow falling off the rooftop. It was almost empty in the courtyard, and we immediately noticed a man lying directly in front of the canopy”. The girls called an ambulance but their call was not accepted, however. “We cannot collect all the drunks in Moscow on Friday night,” they were told, along with the advice to call back in half an hour if he was still there. He did not go away.

    The 51 year old Safranov was the military affairs writer for the daily Kommersant and had written exposes of abuses in the Russian Defence Ministry. The newspaper’s editor Andrei Vasilyev told CBC News in Moscow that the business newspaper is reviewing the circumstances surrounding his death. "There were no police for four hours, so he just lay there dead," Vasilyev said. "What do you think of that? So we decided to look at his cellphone records and text messages, the things the police should be doing."

    According to Kommersant, Safronov was researching a story about Russian plans to sell weapons to Iran and Syria. Safranov had taken a sick day on the Friday and gone to a doctor. Although it was suggested he may have received bad news from the doctor, no suicide note was found in the apartment. Safronov was checking information on possible new deliveries of Russian weapons to the Middle East while at the February IDEX 2007 arms exhibition in the United Arab Emirates.

    Safronov was interested in the sale of Su-30 fighter jets to Syria and S-300V missiles to Iran. He had information that those deals would be concluded through Belarus, in order for Moscow to avoid accusations in the West of selling weapons to pariah states. The US is leading international pressure against Iran’s nuclear program. In January they strongly resisted a Russian contract to sell arms to Iran and Syria and imposed sanctions against Russian jetmaker Sukhoi and arms exporter Rosoboronexport. So it is unlikely the Kremlin would have appreciated Safranov's latest investigation.

    Safranov is the highest profile Russian journalist fatality since last October’s death of Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was slain in her apartment after a long history of vociferous criticism of the corruption in Russian society. The Kremlin strongly denied any involvement in her killing and the case remains unsolved. Her death was one of four killings of media workers in Russia in 2006 that added to at least another 255 killings of journalists and media staff in Russia since 1993.

    Although Russian authorities have once again denied any involvement in the Safranov case, the fact remains that very nasty things happen to people who investigate state corruption, human-rights abuses or shady financial deals. Russia is the second-deadliest country for journalists after Iraq, according to a new study from the International News Safety Institute. In Russia, the FSB (ex-KGB) have gained enormous power under Putin and are notorious for their intimidation and violence against its perceived enemies. The Institute's survey has found that assassination has emerged as one of the most efficient tools for silencing journalists in Russia and elsewhere.

    Since 2000, the worldwide journalist death toll has steadily increased, with 147 fatalities in 2005, followed by a record 168 dead in 2006. The report counted anyone involved in news gathering, from journalists to support employees such as translators. Richard Sambrook, chairman of the special inquiry and global news director for the BBC World said “The figures show that killing a journalist is virtually risk free. Nine out of 10 murderers in the past decade have never been prosecuted.”

    Communists Prepare for Bolshevik Birthday Bash

    From: Trevor Loudon's New Zeal
    Karl Marx
    The preparatory meeting of the Working Group for the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties of 2007 took place in Athens on 24 February 2007, as had been decided at the International Meeting in Lisbon in November 2006.

    As it is well established, the meetings of the Working Group are open to all parties that take part in the International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties. The meeting was attended by the CP of Argentina, WP of Belgium, CP of Bolivia, CP of Brazil, Party of the Bulgarian Communists, CP of Cuba, AKEL-Cyprus, CP of Bohemia-Moravia, Unified CP of Georgia, CP of Greece, Party of the Italian Communists, Lebanese CP, Party of the Communists, Mexico, Portuguese CP, New CP of Yugoslavia, South African CP, CP of Sri Lanka and the Sudanese CP.

    In the preparatory meeting it was decided that the International Meeting of 2007 will be jointly hosted by the Communist Party of Russian Federation and the Communist Party of Belarus and held in Minsk, Belarus on 4-5 of November 2007.

    The meeting noted the importance of the 90th anniversary of the October Socialist Revolution of 1917 and called for the broadest possible participation in the International Meeting as well as in the commemoration events to follow in Moscow on 6-7 of November 2007.

    The Working Group, taking into consideration a broad set of proposals made by both the participating Parties as well as by others who were unable to attend, but who had sent their opinions to the Working Group, agreed that the theme of the International Meeting of 2007 will be: “90th anniversary of the October Revolution: The relevance and validity of its ideals. The communists in the struggle against imperialism, for socialism”.

  • Sport briefs...

    Swap for hat trick

    So when is a world championship silver medal like a Sidney Crosby hockey card?

    How about when you're Dmitri Dashinski of Belarus and you've just finished second in the aerials event and you agree to swap the medal with a rival who just won bronze, but who needs the silver to complete a gold-silver-bronze hat trick.

    That's the deal or no deal that Dashinski and Canada's Steve Omischl agreed to Saturday.

    "Dmitri and I are going to trade medals," said Omischl, who won worlds in 2005 after finishing third in 2003.

    "He thinks I should be second. If I get a silver medal then I complete the set. We're totally trading medals. We're going to get a picture taken and I'm going to put it on my wall. The picture from this event will be of us trading. He believes my jump was better in the final round," Omischl a North Bay, Ont., skier who now lives in Kelowna said with a laugh.

    "Besides, it makes for a better story."

    Adds Dashinski ... "I already have all three and this is my second silver so why not? This way he'll have a set of all three."

  • Also at the freestyle world championships at MADONNA DI CAMPIGLIO in Italy, in the women's part, Assoli Slivets from Belarus second with 186.55.

  • Vladimir Kravets defends his EE-EU junior welterweight title against tough Belarussian Vadzim Astapuk. Also, Andrei Kudryatsev challenges for the vacant EE-EU lightweight title against experienced Yauhen Kruhlik, also from Belarus.

  • Belarus’ Andrei Stepanchuck was the first non-Mexican to cross the finish line in fifth place, with a time of 4:08.30 in the first leg of the 2007 IAAF Race Walking Challenge, along the Gustavo Baz Avenue in Naucalpan, state of Mexico.

  • Olga Borisova (Minsk, Belarus) recorded her 81st-career singles win and is now two away from being in fourth place in the Virginia Commonwealth University record book.

  • Endnote...

    Encounter with a Polish Gandhian

    From: The Hindu
    Lech Walesa: The world is still in need, more than ever, of a man like Mahatma Gandhi
    THE smile is warm and lights up the broad, expansive face; the blue eyes twinkle, his golden moustache firmly in place. He refused to be tempted by a million dollar offer from a global giant to shave it off. The face belongs to a man you do not and cannot forget.

    A man called Lech Walesa. Founder of the Solidarity trade union, Nobel Peace Prize-winner, and former President of Poland is, Lech Walesa is, for me, the original Man of Steel, whose nerve and sinews were strengthened in the Gdansk shipyard where he worked for long years as an electrician. He would shepherd his people to freedom; freeing his beloved Poland (and eventually, all of Eastern Europe) from the iron fist of Communism. "We didn't succeed when we tried to fight with arms, but we won when we adopted non-violence. I am a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi," he said.

    Walesa visited Mumbai after attending a two-day international conference on Mahatma Gandhi's historic Satyagraha movement held in Delhi. "Ask me any question you want; anything you like, no problem at all", says the man who quit the trade union he founded. "I felt I should leave if I could not support the direction in which my fellow-unionists were going." (He has also criticised Solidarity for its support to Poland's conservative Law and Justice Party.)

    Time and again, he reiterated his belief in Gandhian doctrine. "We failed when we tried to combat Communism with weapons, but when we took up Mahatma Gandhi's tactics and strategy, we emerged winners! Truly, the whole world should be a disciple of Gandhi."

    Peaceful resistance...

    I couldn't help responding that the methods Gandhi endorsed were not new. "Yes, but the world is still in need, more than ever, of a man like Mahatma Gandhi. Unfortunately, there are very few of his stature around. India must not keep the Mahatma to herself but share him with the whole world," Walesa said, who firmly believes that only peaceful resistance is a viable tool for conflict resolution, peace and reconciliation. "Only non-violence can lead the world to a new world of lasting peace and enduring friendship."

    He said that many times, endorsing the views of his co-luminaries at the conference like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Bangladeshi economist and Nobel winner Muhammad Yunus. He recalled they discussed the continuing relevance of the Gandhian method. "It was wonderful discussing the possibility of a meaningful dialogue among peoples and cultures and talking about Gandhian philosophy in the world today; a world sadly fractured by violence."

    Asked for his comments on corruption and how a democratic country should deal with corrupt politicians, he said, "Debar five generations of their progeny from contesting elections. They will think twice about cheating the country." European countries occupy 13 of the top 20 slots in Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2007. What about Poland? Well, there's room for improvement for everyone.

    In a democracy...

    Recalling the Polish people's struggle, he said he had assumed the Presidency of the country in the wake of Solidarity's accomplishments and promptly stepped down from office when he lost the vote. "That is how it should be in a working democracy."

    With regard to West Asia, how would he resolve the warfare between the Israelis and the Palestinians? He said, "In a cock-fight, the cocks attack each other till one finishes off the other. But have you seen what happens when their feathers are plucked? No? They don't fight."

    Asked to elaborate, he said, "Stop the flow of arms and the money into the region, and the fighting will stop. I told them two years ago in Geneva, we will intercede, intervene, we would defend. But first, the vested interests, the arms trade and the flow of cash — which keeps the vicious cycle of aggression, fighting and violence going — must stop."

    Then Lech Walesa smiled sadly, "They didn't listen to me. Now, do you see why the world needs a Mahatma Gandhi?"

  • Extras...

  • After the Orange Revolution: The Nature of Post-Soviet Democracy in Ukraine and Russia
    An interesting political article offering a comparison of managed democracy and an autocratic centralized government.

  • Lithuania's President Valdas Adamkus noted that total isolation of Belarus cannot be justified and we should look for other cooperation mechanisms between the EU and Belarus. “The fact that Belarus does not fall into the scope of the EU Neighborhood Policy causes concern. We should not isolate our neighbor from the rest of the world,” said the Lithuanian President.

  • Edward Lukas writes about how Putin's current heavy-handedness is sending us back to the days of the cold war.

  • The IHT tells us that New Polish courts will mete out rulings within a day for hooliganism, drunken driving and other minor offenses started work in Poland on Monday, an attempt to clear the backlog in the nation's cumbersome justice system.

    The so-called 24-hour courts were drawn up by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's government, which came to power in 2005 pledging to fight corruption and crime. The courts are to handle clear-cut cases, backed up by substantial evidence, which can be swiftly processed.

    Poland's courts are currently so heavily backlogged that even relatively simple cases can take up to a year or more to be heard.
  • Question: If it was such an obvious case, why are these people in court?

  • People's Daily tell us that Hugo Chavez is touring South America and preaching Socialism on every stop along the way. His trail mimics that of George Bush and Chavez seems intent on harassing the USD president every chance he gets.