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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Prez talks agro, New Gas deal, Dead pilots returned from Somalia, Venezuela, Russian labor issues, Regional news, Opinion, Blogs and Sport

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  • #192

    Belarus president wants energy usage decreased further

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko visiting Berestye integrated greenhouse enterprise
    Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko demanded that efforts aimed at decreasing energy consumption and the dependence of the national economy on imported energy should be continued.

    “It is the most important requirement today”, the head of state stressed while visiting greenhouse food production company Berestie.

    Alexander Lukashenko praised the company’s practices of growing vegetables using energy-saving technologies. He noted, the economic indicators the company shows are the best ones nationwide. “We will urge others to follow the example”, said the president.

    “The culture of farming was not that high before. But it is still necessary to bring good order to the territories adjacent to engine yards, farms and houses of local residents,” the president said. Chairmen of village and regional executive committees are responsible for this; they wield enough power.

    Alexander Lukashenko has said this year the sowing campaign is going on smoothly and there is no need to bring in any dramatic changes. “Following the tradition, the state has supported the village,” he added.

    “This year the harvest will be good,” the president believes. “Eight million tons of grain – this is exactly what the country needs to stop importing it,” he added. But top-managers with agricultural companies ought to decide for themselves what crop is more profitable for them to cultivate. The most important thing is to get maximum profit at minimum cost. Today it is crucial not only to get cheap products, but also to manage to profitably sell them, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The head of state added, instead of gross product the performance of Belarusian agricultural companies will be judged taking into account “gains, profitability and account money”. Alexander Lukashenko added, loans will be taken out to agricultural companies that have their own money and can return the loans. “Now the country has money. The problem is that companies should return the money when they take it”, said the president.

    "Agricultural producers should achieve profitability without governmental subsidies. Do not even count on subsidies. Today it is not enough just to produce grain, meat or poultry; what is important is to sell products and these products should be profitable without subsidies from the state. Profit means a company is operating in a normal way,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The use of a Belarusian know-how has enabled the hothouse Berestie to cut energy consumption by one third, Nikolai Dolbik, the Berestie director, has informed the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, today as the head of state is making a working trip across the Brest oblast.

    The new energy-saving technologies developed by Belarusian specialists have allowed to outdo European achievements in energy saving. For example, the Berestie needs just 1.1 cubic meters of natural gas to cultivate 1 kilogram of agricultural produce while Germany needs 1.4 cubic meters for this purpose.

    Cultivating cucumbers and tomatoes, specialists use a special hosepipe positioned on the ground, which provides root systems of the plants with nutrients. The company also plans to use the heat of thermal waters taken from 900m-deep wells; the temperature at this depth is around 30C.

    Following an instruction given by the president ealier, the Berestie has arranged hothouses at 6 hectares where energy-saving technologies and import-substituting Belarusian technologies and materials are used.

    Preparations for Gazprom’s purchase of Beltransgaz shares considered in Moscow

    From: NLIPRB and Naveny
    Gas industry cooperation of Belarus and Russia was considered during today’s working meeting of Belarus energy minister Alexander Ozerets and OAO Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller. The negotiations took place at the Gazprom headquarters in Moscow, the Gazprom press service told BelTA.

    In particular, the meeting tabled the progress in preparing the contract for Gazprom to buy 50% of OAO Beltransgaz shares, noted the press service.

    On December 31, 2006, the Belarusian government and Gazprom signed a protocol for the Russian corporation to buy 50% of Beltransgaz shares for $2.5 billion to be paid out in even parts within four years.

    Gazprom is concerned about the Belarusian government's plans to scrap a markup that the Beltranshaz pipeline operator adds to the price of natural gas for domestic consumers, BelaPAN reported.

    Under an agreement signed on December 31, 2006, the Russian gas giant is expected to acquire a 50-percent stake worth $2.5 billion in Beltranshaz by June 1, 2010. It will pay for the stake by equal installments within the next four years.

    Beltranshaz currently buys 1,000 cubic meters of Russian natural gas for $100, a more than double increase in the price compared with the previous year, and sells the amount to the Belarusian State Fuel and Gas Concern for $118.

    While speaking at a round-table conference in Moscow on March 1, Valery Golubev, deputy chairman of the Gazprom board, sounded an alarm over Minsk's plans to require Beltranshaz to sell gas to domestic customers at $100 for 1,000 cubic meters, explaining that the measure would make Beltranshaz operations unprofitable.

    Gazprom insists that the gas price markup should be kept in place by an appropriate edict by Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Russian media outlets reported with reference to Mr. Golubev.

    Beltransgaz posted 56.2 billion rubels ($26.3 million) in net profits last year, a rise of nine percent compared with 2005, and planned to receive roughly as much in 2007.

    Russian, Swedish banks want to operate in Belarusian market, official says

    From: Naveny
    Russian and Swedish banks want to operate in the Belarusian market, Pavel Kalawr, first deputy chairman of the board of National Bank of Belarus (NBB), told reporters in Minsk on Tuesday.

    He said that the Russian bank was AlfaBank but did not specify the Swedish banks, saying only that their representatives had already held talks with executives of Belarusian banks.

    He recalled that one of the Kazakh largest banks, TuranAlem, intended to increase the authorized capital stock of its Belarusian-based subsidiary, Astanaeximbank, from 45 to 99 percent in 2008, while Russia's Vneshtorgbank was soon to acquire a controlling stake in Slavneftebank.

    According to Mr. Kalawr, almost all banks in the country are so far increasing their ownership capital as projected. The NBB official said that it would be clear later whether the increases were due to a rise in the authorized capital stock, revenues or subordinate loans.

    There were 28 banks in Belarus as of March 1, with 15 of them partly owned by foreign capital and nine wholly owned by foreign capital.

    Foreign investments in the authorized capital stock of the 28 banks amounted to 7.59 percent, down from the March 2006 level.

    Hundreds Attend Funeral Of Belarus Air Crew Shot Down In Somalia

    From: Playfuls
    The bodies of the perished Belarusian pilots were brought to the morgue of the emergency hospital in Kizhavaty Street.
    Dozens of top regional officials and hundreds of mourners attended the funeral on Monday of three Belarusian crewmen killed in Somalia after a missile hit their aircraft, the Belapan news agency reported.

    Well-wishers from government, businesses, and military units in the central Belarusian city Vitebsk placed flowers and memorial wreaths as they filed past the closed coffins of the victims of the incident in late March.

    The entire Vitebsk Symphony Orchestra played at the service, while children were given time off from school to attend.

    Flight engineer Aleksander Zernin, 52, navigator Gennadiy Trashkov, 46, and co-pilot Aleksander Gomankov, 41 were all members of a Vitiebsk military air transport unit.

    They were among the 11 people aboard an Iliushin-76 transport jet who lost their lives after a surface-to-air missile fired from the Somali capital Mogadishu struck the aircraft.

    An unknown number of Mogadishu residents also died or were injured when the Iliushin crashed and burned in a north city suburb.

    Belarus' authoritarian government has spun the incident in the state-controlled media as a case of heroic death by Belarusian service personnel.

    Zernin, Trashkov, and Gomankov, all members of an elite "Guards" air transport squadron, were buried at the Vitebsk central cemetary's "Alley of Glory" - a section of the cemetary previously reserved for veterans of World War II or former Soviet Union's Afghanistan war.

    A memorial service for the dead crew took place in Vitebsk's St George cathedral on Sunday, and another service for them was scheduled for Tuesday.

    Two other members of the air crew, engineer Mikhail Baglov and pilot Igor Bashkevich, were due to be buried in the Belarusian capital Minsk later this week.

    Baglov died on his 66th birthday, Nikolai Pikas, a relative, said.

    President of Venezuela prompts Belarus to set up bilateral investment fund

    From: NLIPRB
    The president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has actuated the process of creation of a bilateral investment fund with Belarus and offered the latter to enter the multilateral humanitarian international development bank which is being created jointly by Venezuela, Iran and Malaysia with a view to securing financial independence of the states-members of this bank from international financial organisations. These issues were raised during a meeting between Hugo Chavez and Viktor Sheiman, the State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus, co-chairman of the joint Belarusian-Venezuelan high-level commission, who visited Venezuela this March as the head of a Belarusian governmental delegation.

    “Essential for us is the opportunity to deliver Belarusian equipment and technologies to Venezuela thus covering our share of participation in these financial organisations,” he told BelTA.

    The agreements reached during the visit were put on paper in the form of a memorandum. “Together with the Venezuelan side we will have to take the necessary measures to create these organisations and develop bilateral investment project in economic, social, financial, nature-protection, manufacturing, tourist and other spheres. The money for these projects are to be provided by the bilateral investment fund,” Viktor Sheiman said.

    Lukashenka greets Belarusians, Russians on Unity Day

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued greetings to the citizens of Belarus and Russia on the occasion of Unity Day, which is observed on April 2.

    "We have no right to decelerate the creation of a common economic space, a customs union, a free labor market, and common information, educational and cultural environments," the Belarusian leader says in his message of greetings.

    "Only well-thought-out and agreed mutually beneficial decisions will open new real opportunities for the growth of the national economies, the revival of political might, and the creation of a good future for our offspring," Mr. Lukashenka says.

    According to him, relations between Belarus and Russia have rapidly developed in all areas in recent years. "Efficiency has increased in the implementation of joint programs aimed at fulfilling socio-economic tasks and increasing cooperation in production," he says. "A system has been developed and is being implemented for the mutual protection and promotion of the interests of our countries in the international arena. The common defense space has been preserved and many times strengthened. Cooperation is actively developing in the law-enforcement sphere."

    "The objective need for rapprochement between Belarus and Russia becomes increasingly tangible with every year that passes," Mr. Lukashenka says. "Humanitarian exchanges are expanding and everyday contacts between Belarusian and Russians are becoming more and more cordial."

    Mr. Lukashenka notes that "joint steps to the future" require the leaders of the two countries to make "clear-cut and coordinated moves and persistently search for optimal ways of allowing for national interests on the basis of equality and the preservation of the two states."

    The "Day of the Unity of the Peoples of Belarus and Russia" is observed in Belarus on April 2, as on this date in 1996, Mr. Lukashenka and Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first president, signed an agreement on the formation of a Belarusian-Russian community. After a year, on April 2, 1997, the two leaders signed an accord that transformed the community into a union. On December 8, 1999, Messrs. Lukashenka and Yeltsin signed the Treaty on the Formation of the Belarusian-Russian Union State.

    Belarusian complains about being treated by Russian migration authorities as other foreigners

    From: Naveny
    A citizen of Belarus last week complained to the Permanent Committee of the Belarusian-Russian Union State about being treated by Russian migration authorities as other foreigners, according to Leila Kotiyeva, head of the Committee's legal department.

    According to her, the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS) confirmed in an official letter that the citizens of Belarus should not be regarded as foreigners to whom Russia's migration regulations should be fully applied. "In order to prevent violations of Belarusian citizens' labor rights, appropriate explanations have been sent out to the FMS provincial agencies," the letter read.

    As Ms. Kotiyeva told reporters in Minsk on March 29, the Permanent Committee would file a request with the FMS that it should confirm its stance and notify its provincial agencies that Belarusian citizens do not fall within Russia's temporary residence quotas and foreign labor force limitations.

    Henadz Bubnovich, of the Belarusian foreign ministry's migration department, said that about 4,000 Belarusians were known to have been given employment in Russia in 2006. He added that the actual figure was much larger, as the border between Belarus and Russia is transparent. According to Mr. Bubnovich, 36 companies in Belarus have been licensed to provide Belarusians with employment abroad, with 25 of them entitled to provide employment in the Russian Federation.

    River cleanup continues after diesel fuel spill in northern Belarus

    From: Naveny
    As many as 163 workers and 61 machines on Monday were involved in cleaning up two rivers after a diesel fuel spill on March 23.

    Over 1,000 tons of diesel fuel is estimated to have been leaked from a Russian-owned pipeline to the Western Dvina, which flows to Latvia and into the Baltic Sea, and its tributary, the Ulla, near Beshankovichy, Vitsyebsk region.

    As Vital Navitski, spokesman for the emergency management ministry, told BelaPAN, a ton of oil absorbents was spread out along the polluted section of the river to soak up the spilled fuel on April 1.

    "The Ulla's shore section of 340 square meters was cleaned up on April 1. The cleanup of the Western Dvina's shore and surface section of 800 square meters was carried out. One ton of a mix of absorbents and polluted water was removed," the official said.

    The fuel spill appears to have caused no massive fish kill in the rivers, Mr. Navitski noted.

    Despite the cleanup effort, patches of diesel fuel from the spill floated from the scene of the accident to Latvia more than 150 kilometers downstream last week. Latvian media outlets reported that a nearly 100-kilometer section of the Daugava (Western Dvina) on the Baltic country's territory was covered with the fuel.

    The Latvian government has announced plans to demand compensation from Minsk for damage caused by the spill.

    Denmark shocked by pig transports

    From: Pig Progress
    Danish pig exports were halted for 24 hours this week as allegations about pigs being transported in very bad animal health conditions have shocked the country.

    Peter Gæmelke, chairman of the Danish Farmers' Union and president of the Danish Agricultural Council, called for a 24-hour stop for all transport of live pigs after two revelations on bad animal welfare conditions were made public last week.

    He called the incidents 'completely unacceptable'.

    Last week, Danish media broadcaster DR reported on pigs being transported to Latvia and Belarus without food and water; moreover they were said to have been subject to physical abuse.

    In addition, it was revealed that the company in question had lost its right to export due to previous animal welfare issues. However, it simply obtained a Polish permit to get around this problem.

    These revelations already caused an immediate Danish ban on live pig exports out of the EU.

    Last weekend, another programme reported on pigs having died on their way to Russia as a consequence of a lack of feed, water and straw bedding.

    Reactions were fierce everywhere. The European Commission spoke out against Danish companies that have been flagged up for violating European Union legislation during transports.

    Belarusian researchers return from Antarctica

    From: Naveny
    Two Belarusian pole explorers on Tuesday returned from Antarctica to Minsk.

    Alyaksey Haidashow and Leanid Turyshaw spent five months in Antarctica as part of a Russian expedition.

    Their research is expected to help decide whether Belarus should build its own manned research station in Antarctica or use an abandoned Russian one. The decision is to be taken by the fall. In November, a team of Belarusian explorers is to travel to Antarctica to equip the station.

    Earlier reports had it that it would cost Belarus between $8 and $10 million to build its own station on the frozen continent within the period of up to five years. The Belarusian government also considers using an abandoned Russian station near Vechernyaya Mountain in eastern Antarctica. In both cases, Belarusian researchers will have supplies delivered by Russia's ice-breakers.

  • Around the region...

    Emergency in Latvian district as trucks pile up on Russia border

    From: RIA Novosti
    Authorities of the Ludza district in Latvia, which borders on Russia, have declared a state of emergency as about 1,500 trucks are piled up at the border, a spokesman for the local administration said Tuesday.

    Trucks began stretching for many kilometers at the border in Latvia yesterday after Belarus introduced seasonal limitations on the weight of trucks, which pass through the former Soviet republic. Consequently the freight transportation channel has been rerouted through Latvia.

    The long queue of trucks is affecting local residents' movement and is having a negative impact on the environment.

    The administration of the Ludza district ordered an increase in the number of police patrols along the road and additional garbage bins and toilets.

    Iran close to deal with Russia to end N-delays

    A Russian delegation will visit Tehran this week to resolve problems holding up the completion of Iran's first nuclear power plant, a top Iranian atomic official said, AFP reported.
    The completion of the Bushehr nuclear power plant being built by Russia and the delivery of nuclear fuel, scheduled for this year, have been repeatedly delayed amid mutual accusations of financial problems. "In the next two or three days the Russians will come to Tehran to sign an agreement to solve the financial problems of Atomstroiexport," the Russian firm building the plant, said Gholam Reza Aghazadeh. „The Russians have told us that since their company does not have money 'you need to help us financially'. A framework has been found to solve their financial problems,” added Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's atomic energy organization. Russia's federal atomic energy agency, Rosatom, confirmed that progress had been made on the payments issue but warned Iran not to get into arrears again. „It is a good thing that our Iranian colleagues have overcome their difficulties in payments for the Bushehr plant and we hope that in the future Tehran's payments will come in accordance with the agreed schedule,” Rosatom chief Sergei Kirienko told Russian media.

    Russia had accused Iran of not paying the amounts agreed upon in a deal reached last September on the construction and nuclear fuel supply to the plant, but at the end of March, Moscow acknowledged that Tehran had relaunched its payments. „For the Q1 of 2007, Russia received $15 million (€11 million) from Iran, $10 million of which came at the end of March,” Kirienko said, pointing out that Tehran had previously agreed to pay Russia between $23 and $25 million per month. Under a deal reached between Tehran and Moscow last September, Russia was to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran in March, the power station would begin working in September and it would start producing energy in November. Aghazadeh said that Russia's slowness in delivering nuclear fuel to Iran underlined the importance for Tehran of producing the fuel on its own soil and mastering the controversial process of uranium enrichment. „Not giving us the fuel proves our case that you cannot trust the West to deliver fuel and it also proves we have to seriously pursue uranium enrichment in order to have a level of security,” he said. The West wants the Islamic republic to suspend uranium enrichment, which can be used to make both fuel and nuclear weapons, as proof that it is not seeking an atomic bomb.

    Iran has repeatedly said it has no intention of freezing the activity, despite the UN Security Council sanctions which have been slapped on Tehran. Aghazadeh, speaking to reporters on a government plane heading to the southern city to inaugurate a new electricity installation at the plant, repeated Tehran's accusations that the issue had been politicized. „There is no doubt that the matter of Bushehr has been politicized but the talk of them not delivering is not true. Russia has blamed non-existent Iranian payments for the lack of progress although Iran has hinted that pressure on Moscow from the United States is to blame.

    Washington accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons but the Islamic republic denies the charges, insisting its nuclear program is solely aimed at generating energy. „Our interpretation is the delay on the delivery of the fuel is a political one but all in all they know we to build more nuclear power stations and Iran is a sure market for them,” said Aghazadeh. Iran has repeatedly said it wants to build more nuclear power stations once the reactor in Bushehr goes on line. „This political error will come to an

    Poland ready to unblock Russia-EU partnership agreement talks

    From: Itar Tass
    Poland is ready to lift the veto on talks between the European Union and Russia over a new partnership and cooperation agreement, European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said here on Wednesday.

    Laitenberger said Poland had notified the EU that it agreed to the beginning of partnership agreement talks with Russia. "We welcome this decision," he said.

    He underlined that the European Commission and the EU council would make all efforts towards finding a solution to the problem of cancellation of the Russian embargo on Polish meat imports.

    But nobody can take commitments in these difficult issue that the problem might be resolved within a fixed timeframe.

    Poland blocked the Russia-EU talks over a new partnership agreement last November. It demanded that Russia lift its embargo on imports of Polish meat and ratify the Energy Charter.

    When it turned out that none of the remaining 26 EU countries backed Warsaw's demarche, Poland stopped mentioning the Energy Charter and focused on the main problem instead - the annulment of the embargo on Polish meat imports.

    For its part, the European Commission initiated a series of expert consultations with Russia to examine the problem of quality of Polish meat and began an active political dialogue with Poland, seeking to convince the country’s leadership not to mix bilateral problems with Russia with the interests of the whole European Union.

    The effective partnership agreement expires this autumn. Experts underline that the document envisions automatic prolongation, so if the new treaty is not coordinated by that time, Russia-EU relations will not face the threat of finding themselves without legislative groundwork.

    But EU-Russia relations have long transgressed the bounds of the effective agreement, and both sides are interested in the soonest signing of a much larger treaty.

    The European Union is particularly interested in fixing, in a separate chapter, the new principles of energy dialogue and the guarantees of uninterrupted supplies of energy resources from Russia to the European Union.

    Meanwhile, Moscow welcomed Warsaw's decision to consider the issue of unblocking the Russia-EU talks, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin stated on Wednesday.

    "It's a move in the right direction," Kamynin underlined.

    PM's supporters march on Ukrainian president's office in show of defiance

    From: Kiyev Post
    Thousands of supporters of Ukraine's pro-Russia prime minister marched Wednesday to the office of his rival, West-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko, to protest the president's order to dissolve parliament and hold early elections.

    Premier Viktor Yanukovych refused to recognize the order that Yushchenko issued Monday, and said he would wait for a decision by the Constitutional Court. The standoff between the two bitter rivals bore echoes of the 2004 protests, dubbed the Orange Revolution, that broke out after Yanukovych was declared winner in a fraud-marred presidential election and Yushchenko won the court-ordered rerun.

    The Orange Revolution brought out tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters for around-the-clock protests, but in the current crisis it is Yanukovych's partisans who have seized the initiative on the streets - setting up a tent camp, erecting a stage on the city's main square and marching to the president's office.

    Yushchenko's backers are keeping a comparatively low profile - apparently partly to avoid the possibility of clashes, but perhaps also reflecting widespread disappointment in Yushchenko's failure to work massive reforms in the ex-Soviet state.

    No unrest has been reported in the demonstrations, but tension was being stoked amid allegations of significant pressure being put on the head of the Central Election Commission and the head of the Constitutional Court.

    Yanukovych accused Yushchenko's office of trying to influence the 18-judge court, while Yushchenko's office countered that Yanukovych was trying to force the election chief to resign. Both sides denied the charges. The Constitutional Court said Wednesday that its chief judge had sought to resign, but his resignation was not accepted by the other judges.

    Yushchenko ordered parliament dissolved Monday night, and called new elections for May 27. The president's move created the most serious political crisis since the 2004 Orange Revolution.

    In that case, the Supreme Court played a major role by declaring the election invalid and ordering a rerun. This time, the focus is shifting to the little-known Constitutional Court, which has not rendered any decisions in more than eight months.

    Court spokesman Ivan Avramov said the court has 15 days to render a preliminary decision on whether to accept the case, then a six-judge panel makes a final decision on whether to take the case. That panel faces no time limit. Yanukovych has said that he would only decide whether to abide by Yushchenko's order after the court ruled on its legality.

    Meanwhile, Yanukovych's supporters took over Kyiv's main Independence Square. Elderly people wearing red scarves in support of Yanukovych's coalition partner, the Communists, danced, while younger supporters sat on the edge of fountains and lounged on nearby grass.

    "We will be victorious because the law is on our side," said Halina Gusova, 59, a Communist supporter. "And after we win this, our next goal will be to remove the president."

    Yanukovych's allies also have a tent camp near parliament.

    The United States and Russia have appealed for calm in this nation of 47 million that finds itself caught between its historic ties to Russia and its aspirations to move closer to Europe.

    Although Yushchenko and Yanukovych differ over whether Ukraine should join NATO or more closely tie its fate to Russia, much of the wrangling has been widely viewed as efforts by their financial backers and behind-the-scene power-brokers seeking to protect business interests.

    Several business clans are known to be vying for influence over lucrative enterprises - for example, ventures connected to the country's natural gas transport system.

    The latest dispute arose after 11 lawmakers joined the ruling coalition last month, moving it closer to a 300-seat, super majority in the Verkhovna Rada that would be veto-proof and could allow Yanukovych's allies to change the constitution.

    Yushchenko called the defections "a revision of the voter's will," and illegal, saying the law permits only blocs, not individual lawmakers, to switch sides.

    Polls suggest that if parliamentary elections were held today, the leading parties would be Yanukovych's party and the bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, who was dismissed as Yushchenko's first prime minister in 2005 after a disagreement.

    Yushchenko's party would finish a distant third, polls suggest.

    Russia Reiterates Concerns Over U.S. Missile Shield

    From: RFE/RL
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today reiterated Moscow's concerns over U.S. plans to deploy elements of a missile-defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

    Speaking to students and faculty at Armenia's Yerevan State University, Lavrov said the missile shield would threaten both Russia and Europe.

    "We consider the unilateral decisions on the deployment of elements of the U.S. national missile-defense system in Central and Eastern Europe as creating risks for Russia and the whole of Europe," Lavrov said.

    Washington insists the system is designed to counter missile attacks by "rogue" states like Iran and North Korea.

    Lavrov is in Armenia to mark the 15th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Armenia and Russia. He met with President Robert Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.

    Lavrov is due to travel to Turkmenistan today for a two-day visit.

  • Opinion...

    The land where Humpty Dumpty meets Stalin

    From: Charter '97
    What does this remind you of? “X was charged under Article 339, part 2, with hooliganism, and with the organisation of group activities (Article 342, part 1), and was sentenced to five and a half years imprisonment.” The clue is the combination of the oddly unlegalistic “hooliganism” and the catch-all unmeaning of “group activities” punctiliously proscribed under article-this and article-that. Remember it now? This was the language of Soviet-style justice in the USSR and wherever ran the Kremlin’s writ in Eastern Europe.

    It was where George Orwell met Lewis Carroll (“ ‘When I use a word’, said Humpty Dumpty in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean.’ ”), so that “hooliganism” might mean signing a protest or giving a private seminar on Aristotle. (I’m not being satirical: the Oxford philosopher Anthony Kenny was deported from Czechoslovakia for hooliganism, and a seminar on Aristotle was his group activity.)

    However, the “X” in the paragraph above received his prison sentence only last year, in a Minsk district court in Belarus. His name is Alexander Kazulin, formerly rector of the Belarusian state university and, more pertinently, leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party.

    Seventeen years after the dissolution of the Communist Party of the USSR, democracy’s travails in the new Russia take a different, modern-day form, but one corner of the former Soviet Union is stuck in a time warp. Here you will find the last KGB of the old empire, the last collective farms and the last dictator in Europe, President Alexander Lukashenko.

    Amnesty International called Kazulin’s trial “flagrantly unfair” and has adopted him as a prisoner of conscience, among several others including Zmitser Dashkevich, the leader of a youth opposition movement, who is currently serving 18 months.

    Tomorrow evening at Amnesty’s office in Shoreditch the Belarusian prisoners of conscience will be supported by a public meeting and the screening of a documentary, A Belarusian Lesson, to mark the first anniversary of Lukashenko’s re-election, which received widespread international criticism. The EU at the time condemned the state violence against opposition demonstrators, and last May issued visa bans and froze the assets of Lukashenko and more than 30 of his associates.

    The 50-minute film is centred on a young man, Franak Vyachorka, who will be on the platform. He was just coming up to his 18th birthday at the time of the election. His father was in prison, his crime being the founding and running of an “unofficial” school which taught in the Belarusian language. Lukashenko, President since 1994, had demoted the language in favour of Russian. The President closed the school in 2003. “The fact that we speak Belarusian is a protest,” Vyachorka says in the film. “It is not normal to be a natural-born oppositionist,” he adds. “It is normal to be a normal person in your normal free country.”

    Lukashenko also got rid of the Belarusian flag, or tried to: the white banner with the red stripe can be seen all over the documentary, waved by thousands of mostly young people in the mass protest that followed the rigged election, before phalanxes of police with shields and truncheons cleared October Square in the capital Minsk after four days.

    I had received running reports of these events at the time, e-mailed by some friends I had made — members of a banned theatre group — on a visit to Minsk.

    On March 17, Natasha and Kolia wrote: “We really want to believe that miracle could happen and our country will become free on March 20.”

    On March 22: “We stayed already [in the square] for two nights. It is very cold here, but people are really inspired. It was very difficult to stay the first night. The square is surrounded by special forces. They arrested more than 100 ordinary people who were trying to bring tents, blankets and food. They were arresting people in underground and empty streets. They know that journalists are on the square and nobody will see it . . . The main thing that happens these days, people are overcoming their fear.”

    March 24: “This is absolutely awful. We stayed four nights. We left at two o’clock am to sleep a few hours, and in one hour we received a call that the camp is ruined and all people are arrested. We are absolutely exhausted but there will be an action tomorrow.”

    March 25: “Just to let you know we are okay. The explosion that you see on BBC is the sound grenade. We were right there. Now all of us cannot hear well but it should be better in a few days. One of our [Free Theatre] people was severely beaten up. Now all of us are at home. Don’t worry.”

    A year later — a week ago on Sunday — 10,000 people turned up for an opposition rally in Minsk. Riot police blocked October Square, letting through only people with tickets for Swan Lake at the Republic Palace. George Orwell, meet Monty Python. They split the march into three columns. One was led by the man who stood against Lukashenko a year ago, Alexander Milinkevich. He was among those who were physically assaulted on Sunday.

    Franak’s father, who had earlier completed his prison sentence, was there. He had been rearrested 12 days earlier, held overnight, and was due to be tried on Friday last week. Ominously or coincidentally, the case was postponed until Wednesday, the day after the Amnesty evening. (Though it should be emphasised that Amnesty does not take a political position on Belarus — the interest is only in human rights.)

    Vyachorka Sr, who was arrested for swearing, told Radio Free Europe: “I link both my arrest and my release to confusion in the heads of current officials. They have no single concept of what to do . . . Some of them believe it is necessary to suppress and whack people as usual. The others think that it is necessary to make at least some gestures towards Europe, otherwise it will be quite bad.”

    The EU has made Belarus its business, and is offering entry in exchange for Belarus adopting European standards on a slate of freedoms. Lukashenko, the former manager of a collective farm, who has manipulated the constitution to keep himself in office, shows no sign of being tempted. He has his problems with his other powerful neighbour (President Putin recently doubled the price of the gas supply) but Russia in its present mode has no problem with his Humpty Dumpty way with words, or with his “democratic republic”, which has more policemen per head than anywhere else in the world.

    Ukraine: Where Will the Battle of the Viktors Be Resolved?

    From: by Marissa Payne for World Politics
    There are two men named Viktor vying for control in Ukraine. The first, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, came to power in January 2005, riding high on a wave of orange-clad supporters during the aptly named Orange Revolution. The second, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, drowned in that sea of orange. Or at least many thought he did.

    Today, Yanukovych has consolidated his power and has once again become a relevant challenger to Yushchenko. Ironically, it was Yushchenko who approved Yanukovych as prime minister in August 2006 -- but not without leaving a trail of political landmines that are exploding today.

    At the time of Yanukovych's appointment, Yushchenko had already been dealing with a broken government. On September 8, 2005, Yushchenko dismissed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her cabinet amid accusations of corruption. In response, Tymoshenko, who had formed a solid partnership with Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution, declared that she would no longer support Yushchenko and that she would start her own voting bloc. That decision split the majority, giving Yanukovych's party a second chance, which it seized during the March 2006 parliamentary elections. After Yanukovych's party emerged with a plurality in the general election, Yushchenko and Yanukovych embarked on a four-month impasse. It finally ended in August when Yushchenko approved Yanukovych as prime minister, much to the dismay of supporters of the Orange Revolution.

    Those who had not given up on their ideals when the Tymoshenko-Yushchenko coalition fell apart are finally beginning to doubt the direction of Ukrainian democracy as they watch the resurrection of Yanukovych. Meanwhile, those who originally backed Yanukovych as well as many of those who became jaded by the broken promises of the Orange Revolution welcome Yanukovych's pro-Russian stance.

    A recent poll conducted by the Ukrainian Public Opinion Foundation found that Yanukovych is the only politician to receive more positive than negative comments. Also, the people's trust in him has doubled to 38.2 percent. Meanwhile, trust in Yushchenko has "sharply decreased" to only 29.7 percent. (Tymoshenko brings up the rear with only 16.4 percent.)

    Accompanying that shift in public opinion is a very real political shift. Yanukovych has for all intents and purposes usurped presidential power in the realms of the economy, security services and even foreign policy.

    One of the most telling examples of Yanukovych's seizure of power resulted in the resignation of one of Yushchenko's closest allies in the government, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk. At the request of Yanukovych, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, voted to dismiss Tarasyuk from his post, to which Yushchenko had appointed him. Yushchenko used his presidential power to override the parliament's decision, but Yanukovych maneuvered to ensure that Tarasyuk was barred from attending cabinet sessions and relinquished his responsibilities as foreign minister. In January 2007, Yanukovych achieved his original aim -- Tarasyuk resigned, claiming Yanukovych and his supporters had "blocked the normal work" of the Foreign Ministry and had made it impossible for Tarasyuk to "exercise [his] functions" as foreign minister. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a 32-year-old described by Yushchenko as "apolitical," took over on March 21, after the Yanukovych-controlled parliament failed to approve of Yushchenko's first choice and political ally Volodymyr Ohryzko.

    Similar parliamentary overrules of presidential dictates have affected domestic politics, as well, allowing Yanukovych to gain near-total power over Yushchenko.

    But on April 2, Yushchenko decided to take action by dissolving the parliament and calling for new elections. The impetus came two weeks ago after 11 deputies, who had claimed to be loyal to Yushchenko, defected to Yanukovych's camp during a coalition reformation that violated the Ukrainian constitution.

    If Yushchenko had allowed Yanukovych to violate the constitution to consolidate power, Yushchenko would have become a simple figurehead president. His decision to invoke Article 90 of the constitution, which allows him to dissolve parliament on account of "a failure to form within a month a coalition of parliamentary factions in the Verkhovna Rada" (Yanukovych dismissed and reformed his coalition 11 months after the parliament first convened), signals that Yushchenko is not yet ready to fade into political oblivion.

    Despite Yushchenko's decree, Yanukovych and other members of parliament voted to keep working (some deputies even spent the night in the parliament) and plan to take issue with Yushchenko's edict in court.

    Supporters of Yushchenko's decision to dissolve parliament, and in particular, his former Orange Coalition partner, Tymoshenko, have made clear their hopes to revive public support for the original democratic promises that induced the Orange Revolution. On March 31, 70,000 people had gathered on Independence Square (the scene of the Orange Revolution) to show support for Yushchenko and to urge him to dissolve the parliament and call for new elections.

    However, unlike the protests of late 2004, many of the demonstrators who are now showing up on the streets of Kiev are not swimming in orange. At press time, news reports indicated the tent city that thousands of Yanukovych supporters had established on Saturday to counter the pro-Yushchenko camp was significantly expanding. By the end of the day Tuesday, plans called for 40,000 to be bused into Kiev from eastern and southern Ukraine, where the bulk of Yanukovych supporters live.

    Whether such a gathering of the two rival forces will end in mass violence is unclear, but small scuffles are already breaking out. The first street melee occurred Monday night after leaders of the pro-Yushchenko group gave speeches at their permanent campsite, Maidan. Police quickly broke up the scuffle, which involved roughly 20 people.

    But hundreds of thousands will prove harder to contain. If the dueling Viktors cannot come to an agreement, Ukraine's people may take matters into their own hands. If that happens, hopefully it will occur at the ballot box on May 27, the date Yushchenko called for early elections, instead of the street.

    The Beginning of a New Cold War

    From: An article by H.E Mart Helme
    When last February the Russian president Vladimir Putin unleashed his chilling attack against America in a speech in Munich, he was really addressing the European Union, or “old Europe” to be exact, and most humiliatingly its most influential state, Germany.

    Barely a day earlier, TV screens had been inundated with promotional clips about the cooperation between Russia and the EU in the days of Germany’s ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder. It was natural that the present chancellor, Angela Merkel, is all for emphasizing the need to preserve the dialogue with Russia.

    So why did Putin humiliate and aggravate his friends and hosts in such a way? Simple.
    Putin used a well-known technique of Zen-Buddhism’s shock therapy against senile, indecisive, spoiled and greedy Europe.

    Having used his prior bully tactics – gas attacks, political assassinations, obstruction in the Middle-East, etc. – to demonstrate his brutality, resolve and fearlessness in the face of the New Cold War, Putin set the European Union on a crossroads: either Russia or America, either gas and Europe’s readiness for deals or confrontation over economy and security issues with obvious consequences.

    The fact that “old Europe” is in a depressing silence shows that Putin’s message has hit home. Only the representatives of the United States and some of the Northern and Mid-European countries, i.e those who feel that they will have to face Russia’s threats anyway, have raised their voices in protest.

    But why has Putin suddenly turned so active and audacious? It is wrong to seek the answer in Russia’s upcoming elections. Sure, they are a background but nevertheless an unimportant one. The continuing inflation of the prices of raw materials is also more or less a background as it gives Moscow more money to carry out its plans. However, the primary reason lies elsewhere. Basically in the fact that the increasing hunger for energy in the Asian giants has created an alternative for Russia, one that liberates Moscow from the mutual trade dependence with European countries and gives it trump cards for political extortion.

    Indeed, in collaboration with China, India and other Asian countries, Russia can completely satisfy its own need for consumer goods and at the same time export all – and I mean all – of its produced and exportable raw materials to the Asian Tigers, leaving European foundries in Germany and its neighbours dry. In other words Russia no longer needs Europe.

    Moscow gets added confidence thanks to the fast development of relations between Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan – all countries that are part of the Shanghai Association founded in 2001. This syndicate, where Mongolia is an observer country, is the embryo of an extremely powerful geopolitical consortium. It engulfs two thirds of the Eurasian continent, has 1.5 billion people and a remarkable portion of the world’s raw materials. This alliance, not just Russia, is the main challenger to the block of the United States and its allies. Moreover, one has to add to this the hostility of the Islamic world towards the US (and Western civilisation in general). This is a force that Washington does not have the luxury of ignoring.

    But who are still allies of the USA in the present anti-American world? Which countries can Washington still rely on? Primarily the Anglo-Saxon nations (Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New-Zealand) and “new Europe” – the East-European countries, including the Baltic States, who have conterminously felt the threat emanating from Russia.

    In Asia, the two new power blocks fight over India. In Europe they fight for old Europe’s allegiance. As an adept prostitute, old Europe is flirting with both sides. Putin’s attack on Europe was meant to force Berlin, Paris, Rome, Brussels and all the others who are situated to the west of the former Iron Curtain to decide whether the European Union wants to choose the gas coming from Russia – and thus become a vassal of a considerably weaker Russia than that of the Cold War period – or continue as an appendage of the United States. The fact that Europe is unable to form an independent and monolithic centre of power is apparently clearer to Moscow than to Brussels, which is still living in the illusions of a common foreign and security policy and a European Constitution.

    From the point of view of Eastern Europe, it would of course be welcome if new Europe remained allied with America. But be that as it may, these nations can no longer follow a strategy of silent reliance on a non-existent European solidarity. New Europe must stop putting its trust in the EU’s dream of a common foreign and military policy and opt for a clear security policy oriented to the United States.

    This orientation, besides being the only one offering potential security, might tilt the Western-Europeans, who have wound up sitting on Russia’s gas syringe, a few millimetres to decide in favour of a real, not merely a verbal, transatlantic coalition.

    We need a new Truman doctrine. We need a new “Berlin wall” against neo-Stalinist Russia and its anti-Western allies. This time the Baltics cannot be left to the East of it. ‘Old Europe” has to realize that the attempts at democratising Russia have failed. The efforts at integrating Russia with the West have failed. Only one option remains: Russia, which is threatening world peace, must be opposed through a New Cold War.

  • From the blogs...

    Putin Accused Over Death Of Litvinenko

    From: Free Internet Press
    The controversy surrounding the death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died from radioactive poisoning in London last year, was reignited Tuesday when his wife and friends accused Vladimir Putin and the Russian government of "state-sponsored terrorism".
    Speaking at the launch of the Litvinenko Justice Foundation, Litvinenko's wife, Marina, said she would not rest until her husband's killers were found, describing how she had watched from his bedside as his condition deteriorated. "It's not easy for me ... It was not just one moment. I saw him over one month and three days ... He just wasted away."

    Flanked by Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky at the Royal United Services Institute in central London, Mrs. Litvinenko said she had written to President Putin telling him she would continue her campaign until her husband's killers had been brought to justice. "What I do, I do for the murder of my husband, his memory. I don't want it to happen to somebody else ... I want justice for Sasha, for his son."

    Litvinenko, 43, died in a London hospital in November, weeks after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210. He had lived in the U.K. since 2000, having fled Russia after accusing his superiors of ordering the murder of Berezovsky.

    The tycoon, who also lives in London, has blamed the murder on forces working on behalf of Putin, a claim the Russians have dismissed as absurd.

    Tuesday Berezovsky, who put up the money for the new foundation, said his "close friend" had been killed because he was an enemy of the Russian president. "For me it is almost clear that it is a murder by the Russian state and Putin personally was involved in that."

    Berezovsky said Litvinenko's death was a message to those in the security services to show that they could not turn against the regime. "Putin introduced a new law in 2006 which allowed the Russian security services to kill people abroad without any court decision ... Putin issued the law because of me."

    He said Russia was becoming less dependent on western opinion. "They, perhaps, are beginning to accept they are a terrorist country and regime."

    Last week Berezovsky was interviewed by Russian investigators in London He had agreed to the interview on condition that the Russians were searched for weapons and poisons. "They did not have any reason to investigate. They are trying to put people on the wrong track."

    Mrs. Litvinenko's lawyer, Louise Christian, who was also at Tuesday's press conference, said Litvinenko's death was an "arbitrary execution carried out by state agents". She said the British and Russian governments should set up an "independent inquiry" to find the killers.

    Are Poles today victims of their history?

    From: The Beatroot
    Just as we are told that some black men are errant fathers because ‘of the slave trade’, did the ‘Partitions’ result in a Varsovian's lack of civil pride?

    It may seem a daft question (and when has the beatroot ever asked one of those?) but the recent commemorations of the 200 years since the abolition of the international slave trade has raised the issue of how - or if - we are affected today by events that happened many centuries ago.

    This is black British hip-hop singer Ms Dynamite – whose father left her when she was 11 years old - on the legacy of the slave trade on black men today.

      'There's stuff in the family and home which is…a result of slavery. Men were not allowed to be fathers but were used to breed to create more slaves. It's something that - not with everyone - is common in the black community, especially in our generation: the fathers are not always there. We're not that far away from slavery and that way of living, where a man is literally just a tool to reproduce.'

    Slavery – which the British were celebrating ‘abolishing’ last week, but were, of course, one of the main engines of the trade in the first place – was indeed one of the most disgusting episodes in human history. But can it have an effect on the way people behave today? Surly we are not passive victims of something that happened over two centuries ago?

    And isn’t it slightly illogical of Ms Dynamite to claim that the younger generation of black British men are more influence by their slave history than their parents and grandparents (who, believe me, because I know many of the older generation of Jamaicans etc, are almost Victorian in their moral outlook) are less affected by a history that they are chronologically closer too?

    This view, however, is common among people today, and not just the younger black British. The idea that something other than our own free will is to blame for our failings is a neat piece of self deceit. It fits in with our very contemporary celebration of the victim.

    It's all Russia's fault

    And you can see it here in Poland. Many from Warsaw will tell you that the capital is messier, that the people get drunk more often, that nothing works quite as well as in some of the other cities in the country because, in effect, of the consequences of Imperialism.

    Warsaw is messy, in other words, because of the Partitions (which began in 1772 and ended in 1918) when the Prussian, Russian and Austrian empires carved up Poland (see map above). This has left a cultural legacy in different parts of Poland according to which empire it fell under.

    Warsaw was in the Russian part, and ‘Russian traits’ can be seen in the behavior of capital dwellers even to this very day.

    Pozna? was in the Prussian sector. If you ask someone from Warsaw why everything seems more efficient and cleaner in Pozna? they will tell you it is because Pozna?ians were influenced by the Prussian culture.

    Krakovians are culturally snobbish because of the Austrians. And so on…

    Is this just historical determinism – the believe that our actions are caused by things beyond our control? Are we prisoners of our history? Are irresponsible black guys who father babies and then leave the home mere victims of slavery? Are the streets a mess in Warsaw because of the Russians?

    And just as some of the Black community in the UK and US are claiming compensation for slavery over two centuries ago, should Warsaw send Moscow its street cleaning bill?

    Lachva, Belarus And "Yisgadal Víyiskadash Sh'me Rabbo," The Ancient Prayer For The Departed

    From: Larry Gaum for Renaissance Research
    We are now taken to Lachva, a small town approximately ten miles east of Kozhanhorodok, and slightly larger. We are witness to the memorial for the former Jewish inhabitants and to the remnants of the Lachva ghetto. We see the place where our relative Yankel Moraff had his place of business. Stories abound about the Nazi roundup and the killings. Kopel Kolponitzky, our guide and a former resident of Lachva, tells how he escaped on this terrible day. He joins the partisans, and survives in the forests and the marshes, fighting the enemy at every opportunity. He hears for the first time the story of his brotherís death. As his brother lies wounded in the street, his fiance refuses to leave his side. The doctor in Lachva approaches the weak and dying boy to render whatever assistance he can. A Nazi soldier confronts the doctor and tells him not to touch the Jew. He is reminded that he must treat only German soldiers. The doctor defiantly tells him that he will not treat any Germans, soldiers or otherwise. The soldier then methodically raises his rifle and proceeds to shoot all three, as if they were animals in a cage. The local Belarusians now learn too late that the Germans are not their liberators who will free them from their Russian captors. Far from it. As soon as they finish with the Jews the plan is to exterminate at least eighty percent of the non-Jews of Belarus. The die had been cast long ago and their fate was now sealed.

    The bus stops by the ancient Lachva cemetery, where many headstones are over two hundred years old. It is neglected now and the grass has grown around the broken, barely visible stones. Some of the Hebrew writing can still be made out but most markers are deteriorated beyond recognition. It is here that my great-grandfather Aaron Morafchick lies. My uncle Ellie steps forward and in memory of all the Morafchick family, begins to recite "Yisgadal Víyiskadash Sh'me Rabbo," the ancient prayer for the departed."

    During the Second World War, Lachva, Belarus lost almost 100% of its Jewish residents, and 80% of its Slavic residents.

    In order to facilitate the war effort and Germanization of Belarus and Ukraine, Hitler's Generals and Planners had wanted to drain the Pripyat marshlands dividing Belarus from Ukraine; but Hitler, having viewed newsreels of the dustbowls of 1930s North America, turned down Konrad Meyer's 1941 strategic plan.

  • Sports in Brief...

  • Belarusian Vladimir Samsonov lost a finals match against Timo Boll from Germany at the Liebherr 2007 European Table Tennis Championships. Victoria Pavlovich of Belarus and her doubles partner Svetlana Ganina from Russia defeated Hungarian duo of Georgina Pota and Krisztina Toth 4-3 to win the European doubles gold medal. Belarus placed 8th in the final men’s team standings and 10th – in the women’s team scoreboard.

  • At the International Shooting Sport Federation Rifle and Pistol World Cup, in women's air pistol Belarus' Viktoria Chaika won bronze medal.

  • In the Men’s Synchronized Trampoline event at the Trampoline and Tumbling World Cup in Lake Placid, Vladimir Kakorko and Nikolai Kazak, Belarus, took 2nd place with a score of 49.30

  • Endnote...

    Russia made huge mistake when it sold Alaska to USA for only 7.2 million dollars

    Russia made a stupid decision to sell Alaska
    Russia and the United States signed a treaty selling Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million on March 30, 1867. The deal was considered a great achievement of diplomacy at the time.

    The Russians began exploring the northwestern coast of North America in the first half of the 17th century. By and large, Russia discovered the region, and thus owned it for the next 126 years.

    Private property

    Saying that the Russian Empire actually owned Alaska would be a sort of exaggeration. In actuality, Alaska Territory was owned by a transnational corporation called “Russian-American Company.” Founded by Siberian merchants in 1799, the corporation had a monopoly on all trade, business, and natural resources in Russian America i.e. Alaska and California, the Island of Sakhalin and Kurile Islands. The reason why the company held sway over the vast areas was clear and simple: the Russian-American Company operated under auspices of the tsarist family.

    On the one hand, the Russian-American Company took full advantage of the situation. For instance, the Russian managers cut a fictitious title transfer deal with their U.S. partners in the midst of the Crimean War. The agreement was designed to keep Russian assets from being seized by Russia’s enemies e.g. Britain. On the other hand, the company’s close relationship with the Russian elite eventually backfired. A threat began to loom on the horizon.

    Everything for sale

    The threat had taken shape by the late 1850s. Grand Prince Konstantin Nikolayevich, the tsar’s younger brother and chief of the Russian Naval Headquarters, was threat personified. It was the grand prince who first came up with an idea of selling Alaska. He cited “Russia’s lack of funds” as one of the main arguments to back his proposal. In fact, the Russian Empire had been strapped for funds most of the time though the circumstance was hardly given any consideration by Alexander II as he wrote the following in response to his brother’s proposal: “The idea is worth thinking over.” In other words, the tsar set the ball in motion. Soon the government bureaucrats devised a plan aimed at selling Alaska to the States as quick as possible before the U.S. could get hold of the territory by force. The opinion of a few opponents was apparently brushed aside.

    Russia failed to reach an agreement with the U.S. following the outbreak of the Civil War. However, the sides resumed talks after the end of the war. Eduard Stekl, a Russian envoy to Washington, was Russia’s main negotiator in the talks. Stekl negotiated a deal for the sale of Alaska for $7.2 million. It is noteworthy that $165 thousand of the above sum was used for bribing several U.S. senators and newspapermen: those Americans seemed to have their doubts about the feasibility of the deal.

    Looking back at the way things stood almost 150 years ago, one cannot but be amazed at the stance the Russian government took while dealing with the problem. It appears that the Russian government saw the selling of a huge territory of nearly 1.5 million square kilometers as some kind of a cakewalk. The government of Alexander II got rid of Alaska as if it had been a “non-core asset.” Those financial arguments in favor of the deal look especially ludicrous. The state budget of the Russian Empire totaled about half a billion rubles at the time. Taking into account that the ruble and the dollar were more or less in parity in terms of value during the period, there was no way the deal could have had a considerable beneficial effect on Russia’s coffers.