News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, May 13, 2007

Belarusian economics, Venezuelan oil, Russian rubles, Siemens, Yeshivas, Iran, Eurovision, Irina Ekpo-Umo Opinion, Blogs and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #203

    First Quarter Economic Performance in Belarus Was Stable

    From: Office of the President and BelTA
    Lukashenka: Generally, Belarus’ economic performance in the first quarter was stable
    The Belarusian economy developed quite steadily in Q1 2007, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stated at today’s session, which tables results of the country’s social and economic development in Q1 2007 and tasks that need to be accomplished to reach major goals of this year’s development forecast.

    The head of state underlined, the gross domestic product grew by some 8.5% in comparison with the same period of last year. Fixed-capital investments surged by over 30%. The President noted, retail trade and chargeable services, real cash incomes of individuals, labour efficiency and several other parameters exceeded the forecast targets.

    Yet the head of state underscored, he had called today’s session in view of the negative tendencies that started emerging this year. According to the President, the falling management effectiveness and the shrinking production growth rate are the most worrying trends.

    Performance index of several economic branches has worsened. In Q1 2007 eight forecast goals have not been reached. Therefore, today the government will have to analyse the performance registered in the first months of the year in order to work out a comprehensive programme of actions, stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

    The industrial output in Belarus grew by 6.7% to Br 26.9 trillion in January-April, BelTA learnt in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    According to the estimates, the industrial output in 2007 should increase by 7.5%-8.5%, the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis specified.

    Over the four months of the current year the country produced more than Br5.7 trillion worth of consumer goods, an increase of 4.3% as against same time last year (the annual estimates of 8.5%-9.5%). Along with that, production of foodstuffs fell by 3% to Br2,658 trillion (9-10%). In January-April the output of non-foods grew by 10.7% (annual estimates of 8-9%) to exceed Br 2.7 trillion. A total of Br 351.6 billion of alcohol beverages were produced over the period under review, which is 119% to the level of the same time last year.

    According to the data of the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, in Q1, 2007 the foreign trade in goods and services was 14.1% up (annual target 10.8%-12%). Exports went up by 7.5% (13.2%-14.5%), imports soared by 20.8% (8.5%-9.5%). The foreign trade deficit was at the level of $547.5 million.

    Investments in capital assets and construction amounted to Br5.8 trillion in Belarus in January-April, which is 24.5% more in comparable prices than in the respective period of last year.

    More than Br2.523 trillion (26.5% up) was invested in construction and erection work. In line with the forecast for 2007, investments in capital assets will be increased by 14.5-17% as against 2006.

    In January-April 2007, 1.270 million square meters of housing was commissioned in Belarus, 18.8% up from the respective period of last year. In rural areas and small urban communities 570 thousand square meters of housing was commissioned (125.8% as against the same period of last year).

    A reminder, in line with the forecast for 2007, 4.2-4.7 million square meters of housing are supposed to be constructed in Belarus.

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko demanded measures be taken to settle the housing construction problems. We cannot allow unfair participants of this market to make profits out of people’s necessity for housing, the Belarusian leader declared today during a session highlighting the results of the socio-economic development of the country in Q1, 2007, BelTA learnt in the presidential press service.

    The session focused on implementation of the village revival program. Deputy head of the Presidential Administration Alexander Popkov reported about the present state of affairs. Today it is very important to make agricultural companies self-sufficient.

    The President urged the local authorities to orient agricultural companies on production of profit-making goods.

    The head of state also demanded to exercise control over the implementation of the village revival program and rational utilization of funds allocated for it. The development of the production sector in villages should keep pace with the development of the social infrastructure, the President stressed. “The main thing is that we set up not just an agro-town, but a nucleus for the further development in rural areas,” he said.

    The economic policy of Belarus should keep its social directivity, head of state Alexander Lukashenko said at today’s session, which tabled results of the country’s social and economic development in Q1 2007 and tasks that need to be accomplished to reach major goals of this year’s development forecast.

    The President noted, the year had started with a surge in energy prices, which had put a serious strain on the country’s entire economy.

    “Some government officials started speaking about the need to correct and even replace the economic policy, let’s us consider it a private opinion”, said Alexander Lukashenko. “The issue should be approached deliberately, after careful consideration like the nation was promised to”.

    The head of state underscored, at today’s session the government should clearly lay down a plan of actions to minimise consequences of the higher energy prices and to say how goals of this year development forecast will be reached.

    Alexander Lukashenko also noted, in Q1 the state budget underfinanced several state programmes. The President demanded the government should give an explanation why it had happened and how the underrun would be dealt with.

    Energy saving and energy effectiveness are some of the top-priority tasks in Belarus in view of the present situation, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said at today’s session, which is dedicated to results of the country’s social and economic development in Q1 2007 and tasks that need to be accomplished to reach major goals of this year’s development forecast.

    The head of state noted, at today’s session the government should say what had been done in this area. The adaptation of the oil-processing industry to the changed conditions, the progress in retooling the Belarusian power engineering, and the agriculture performance will be analysed. “I’m interested in how our producers will compete with the heavy inflow of Russian products on the home market in view of the Belarusian-Russian agreement on measures to develop the trade and economic cooperation. This issue worries heads of Belarusian companies”, said the President.

    The government will have to outline its attitude to the further subsidising of the real economy. The head of state noted, “The government has twice reported that the state support was effective, but both the times the reports lacked deep analysis and specific proposals for a comprehensive approach to providing the state support”.

    At the session the government is supposed to inform about the progress in fulfilling the President’s instruction to compensate for the losses caused by the higher Russian energy prices with payments for services Russia buys in Belarus. The session will table financial recovery of companies, measures meant to ensure a foreign trade surplus, the state of banking affairs.

    Alexander Lukashenko drew attention to housing and public utilities. “Some officials think about raising the prices for these services right away. We have adopted a corresponding decision. You have almost depleted this year’s quota”.

    The President emphasised he expects the Prime Minister and governors to present productive and substantiated proposals concerning the economizing of state budget funds.

    Belarus will own 40% of shares of seismic prospecting joint venture set up in Venezuela

    From: NLIPRB
    Belarus will own 40% of shares of the seismic prospecting joint venture SeismoVenBel, which will be set up in Venezuela, BelTA has been told in the concern Belneftekhim.

    The joint venture will be founded by the production association Belorusneft and the Venezuelan state oil producing company PDVSA.

    In line with resolution of the government of Belarus #568 of May 8, 2007 Belorusneft will make a contribution worth of $20 thousand into the authorized fund of the open joint stock company, which will be established on the territory of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

    SeismoVenBel will start functioning in 2007. The Belarusian-Venezuelan joint venture is expected to perform seismic operations in the oilfields of Venezuela and to carry out research connected with the exploration of Junin-1 block. The joint venture will implement other projects as well.

    As BelTA informed earlier, at present a group of Belorusneft geologists has been staying in Venezuela to assess oil reserves of the block Junin-1 in the basin of the Orinoco. They should complete the work in November of the current year.

    At the end of April Belorusneft was visited by a delegation of the Venezuelan state oil producing company PDVSA. The sides discussed issues relating to the foundation of the Belarusian-Venezuelan seismic prospecting joint venture and the assemblage of vibration seismic generators made by the Gomel-based company Seismotekhnika on the territory of Venezuela. Top managers of the oil corporation PDVSA praised the work of the Belarusian specialists assessing and certifying oil reserves of the block Junin-1.

    The production association Belorusneft is part of the concern Belneftekhim. It searches, explores and develops oil fields, drills oil wells, produces oil and associated petroleum gas. According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis of Belarus, in Q1, 2007 some 431.1 thousand tons of oil was produced in Belarus or 98.9% as against the same period of 2006. In 2006, some 1,78 million tons of oil was produced – 99.7% compared to 2005.

    There won’t be Russian ruble in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    There are no grounds for creation of a currency union between Belarus and Russia until equal conditions created for economic entities of Belarus and Russia. It has been stated on May 10 at a press-conference in Minsk by the chairman of the management of the National bank of Belarus Pyotr Prakapovich. As said by him, introduction of Russian ruble is not a problem of central banks, but of governments of the two countries. “It is primarily a question to the Russian government that had left agreements envisaged by a common plan of governments and central banks of the two states. Creating of equal conditions for economic entities and population including equal prices for energy resources had been envisaged by the plan,” the chief banker of Belarus underlined. P. Prakapovich noted that Russia’s departure from this underlying principle of introduction a common currency has postponed solving this problem for indefinite time.

    “We are not against transition to market relations and process, including prices for energy resources. But we should do that simultaneously with price growth in Russia,” P.Prakapovich said.

    He added that all key issues on creation of a currency union with Russia were solved in 2003. But issuing of a 2-billion stabilization credit to Belarus to support its economy in the transition period hadn’t been decided upon then. According to Prakapovich, is showed that the ball is at the Russia’s side still.

    Cooperation of the National Bank of Belarus with Russia’s Central bank is still at the same level, P. Prakapovich said. “No factors including rise in prices for energy resources haven’t influenced relations with the Central bank. We have established productive relations, and their aim is to promote turnover between our countries in every way,” the head of the national bank said.

    The head of the National bank has also said that the new session of Inter-bank currency council of Belarus and Russia is to take place on May 24-26 in Minsk.

    Siemens to supply CHP plant to Belarus

    From: Media Newswire
    Siemens Power Generation ( PG ) is to supply a gas-fired Combined Heat and Power ( CHP ) Plant to Belarus. The order for the SSC-300 Cogen plant has a value of more than EUR10 million.

    The PG supply will cover a complete compact power plant comprising two SGT-300 gas turbines, two heat-recovery boilers, low voltage system, medium voltage system and an automatic control system. Customer is PJSC Grodno Azot, the largest chemical manufacturer in Belarus, and one of the largest in Europe. The company will thus be able to produce economically its own steam and electricity for its production and export of fertilizers, chemicals and consumer goods. Commissioning is scheduled to take place early 2008.

    The order represents not only a breakthrough for Siemens industrial plant on the Belarus market, but also a global market breakthrough for the SSC-300 Cogen plant, which is a new concept. It is a modularized small CHP plant which delivers 7.5 MW of electrical power output and 19 tons/h of steam. Its pre-engineering concept introduces a high degree of standardization, leading to high reliability and quality and reduced lead times. The total efficiency rate for the SSC-300 plant to be delivered is 90.3 percent, significantly higher than current levels.

    Jan-Erik Ryden, head of the Siemens Industrial Gas Turbines subdivision within PG, comments on the order: ?This is an important first reference for Siemens offering their small industrial gas turbines as part of an integrated solution for an industrial process business. Bringing together a modern, high-efficiency product from our UK facility with engineering and project management skills from our Swedish site, we have managed to supply an exact fit to the Customer requirements."

    The Power Generation Group ( PG ) of Siemens AG is one of the premier companies in the international power generation sector. In fiscal 2006 ( which ended September 30 ), Siemens PG posted revenue amounting to more than EUR10 billion and received new orders totaling EUR12.5 billion, according to U.S. GAAP. Group profit amounted to EUR782 million. On September 30, 2006, PG had a work force of approximately 36,400 worldwide.

    Belarus yeshiva may stay in Jewish hands

    From: JTA
    Belarus' threat to confiscate a historic yeshiva may be averted after a U.S.-based committee pledged to raise funds for necessary repairs.

    The ad hoc committee, comprised of Agudath Israel of America, the American-Canadian Foundation for the Education and Welfare of Jews of the CIS and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, conferred this week with Yuri Dorn, president of the Union of Religious Jewish Congregations in Belarus, about how to raise $20,000 for initial external repairs to the vacant, 200-year-old Volozhin Yeshiva.

    Town authorities had insisted that renovations must begin this month or the municipality -- which had recently repatriated the building to the community -- would take it back.

    "Today, we notified the authorities" in Volozhin of the formation of the committee, Dorn told JTA on Friday. He expected the town to halt legal processes aimed at confiscating the building.

    Full renovation is expected to cost more than $100,000. This would be undertaken later in the year if a plan for the building's use can be developed by Belarus' Jewish community together with international Jewish organizations.

    Belarus to develop Iranian oilfield

    From: presstv
    National Iranian Oil Company has approved a general plan that was submitted by Belarus for the joint development of Iran's Jofeyr oilfield.

    A source at Belarusnafta, Belarus's state oil company, made the announcement in an interview with the Russian Interfax, the Iranian Shana news agency reported.

    The general plan reportedly includes a paragraph about the use of Belarusian technologies.

    NIOC and Belarusnafta are to start holding some talks soon on development of the said oilfield.

    Commenting on this joint venture, deputy managing director of Belarusnafta in geological affairs Valeri Beskopilni said," Iran has suggested a buy-back mode for execution of the project."

    "Based on the terms of the deal, NIOC, as the owner of the field, will be in charge of drawing up the economic and engineering plan of the project and the Belarusian company, as the main contractor of the project, will undertake the exploration and production phase in a specific period of time, which is likely to be eight years", he added.

    "The contractor of the project will be selling the crude oil products to NIOC in return for receiving a dividend", the official noted.

    Iran and Belarus signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2006 for expansion of mutual cooperation in the oil sector and now Belarus intends to invest in the said field.

    Jofeyr oilfield is located in Iran's southern province of Khuzestan and is expected to produce some 30,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil.

    Triumph at Eurovision Song Contest lifts Serbia's spirits; Belarus' Kaldun takes sixth.

    From: IHT and the BHTimes.
    Revelers and politicians were preparing a hero's welcome Sunday for singer Marija Serifovic, who won the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest in Finland.

    "Thank you, Marija! Thank you!" read some of the headlines in the country, which has been craving recognition after years of pariah status brought about by Serbia's role in the 1990s Balkan wars.

    Serifovic, 22, won the contest early Sunday with a heart-wrenching ballad that beat 23 other entries in a competition dominated by Eastern European countries.

    "Your success brought a great joy to all of Serbia," President Boris Tadic said in a congratulatory note. The concert was broadcast live to an estimated audience of 100 million across the continent, with viewers picking the winner by phone and text messages.

    "Congratulations, Marija! Serbia is very proud," government leader Vojislav Kostunica said. Lawmakers took a break from a political debate at an overnight parliamentary session to congratulate the winner.

    Thousands of Serifovic fans took to the streets of the capital, Belgrade, and other cities to celebrate after the winner was announced.

    Massive convoys of cars honked their horns, clogging the streets, while flag-waving crowds staged sing-alongs of Serifovic's winning tune: "Molitva" or "The Prayer."

    "At long last!" screamed Ana Timotijevic, 33. After "following every Eurovision Song Contest for over 16 years ... I can finally celebrate my country's victory."

    Belarus' Dmity Kaldun took sixth place in the voting. The song "Work Your Magic" had been one of the three top favorites before Saturday's concert but European voters reused to take the talented Koldun seriously. Russia, Israel and Ukraine offered 12 point, first place votes. Ukrainian drag queen Verka Serduchka (comedian Andriy Danylko ) took second place with her song "Dancing Lasha Tumbai".

    Serbia scored an average of 6,56 points per country. Under the current voting system, the highest average of points was achieved by the United Kingdom in 1976 (9,65), they lowest by Greece in 2005 (6,05) which leaves Serbia near the bottom on this hitlist. Marija was 34 points ahead of the runner-up, a value that lies somewhere in the middle. Furthermore, she received 12 points from 36 out of 41 countries (nine times) and twice the ten.

    European Commission planning to start energy talks with Minsk, German foreign ministry says

    From: Navany
    The European Commission is planning to start talks with Minsk about energy issues in June if there are no negative changes in the "political atmosphere" in Belarus, officials of the German foreign ministry told a group of Belarusian reporters currently on a tour of Germany on Thursday.

    The European Commission reportedly intended to start the first round of the negotiations this past March but backtracked on the intention becuase of the arrests of opposition activists ahead of a key opposition demonstration held in Minsk on March 25.

    German foreign ministry officials recalled Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent pro-European rhetoric and expressed hope that relations with Minsk would normalize and become more "symmetrical" following the opening of the European Commission's office in Minsk.

    They said that the EU also hoped that Minsk would send more positive signals, with the release of political prisoners among them.

    On May 14, a Belarusian-German working group on economic matters is scheduled to hold its first meeting in the last two years, according to the German foreign ministry. On the agenda will be energy and transport issues, Belarus' benefits under the EU's Generalized System of Preferences and the performance of an embattled Belarusian company.

    Kidnap victim Irina Ekpo-Umo still held in Nigeria

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry continues working hard for the release of Belarusian citizen Irina Ekpo-Umo, who was kidnapped in Nigeria.

    BelTA learnt from Maria Vanshina, deputy head of the information department and head of the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, the consular department of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry maintains permanent contact with the Russian embassy in Nigeria, top executives of Compass Group Company in Great Britain and other bodies, which are taking part in negotiations for the release of the Belarusian citizen.

    Negotiations with the kidnappers are now in progress. Their conditions cannot be disclosed for the sake of the successful release of the Belarusian citizen.

    BelTA reported earlier, Nigeria resident and Belarusian citizen Irina Ekpo-Umo was abducted on May 5. She was commuting home after work,

    Ekpo-Umo has confirmed that she is safe and sound during telephone negotiations for her release, the Compass Group Company reported to the Belarusian embassy to the UK. Irina Ekpo-Umo has been working in the transnational oil corporation Whassah Eurest Nigeria Limited in Nigeria, deputy head of the information department, head of the press service of the Foreign Ministry of Belarus Maria Vanshina told BelTA.

  • Around the region...

    Moscow gets Central Asian agreement on pipeline to Russia

    From: IHT
    Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, brokered an agreement with two Central Asian countries over the weekend to build a gas pipeline to Russia, delivering a major setback to continuing U.S. efforts to send Central Asian natural gas exports directly to Europe.

    Putin and the presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan agreed Saturday to build a pipeline around the Caspian Sea, giving Russia significantly more control over much of Central Asia's extensive reserves of natural gas.

    Russia has its own bounty of natural gas, but the country's gas monopoly, Gazprom, has preferred to distribute subsidized domestic gas internally while reselling Central Asian gas to Europe at prices that are typically more than double what it is charged.

    U.S. officials have aggressively courted the rulers of Central Asia, which hangs like a balloon under Russia's southern rim. In a visit to Kazakhstan last summer, Vice President Dick Cheney lobbied for new energy routes that bypass Russia, calling Russia's wielding of its energy supplies "tools for intimidation and blackmail."

    In Turkmenbasy, the city on Turkmenistan's Caspian coast playing host to a summit meeting on energy issues among the three countries, the Russian energy minister, Viktor Khristenko, discussed the agreement at a news conference. "Technological, legal and ecological risks are so big that it will be impossible to find an investor" for a U.S.-promoted trans-Caspian pipeline, he said, "unless it is a political investor who does not care how much gas there is to pump through."

    The presidents agreed to sign a formal treaty in September to build the pipeline, which is expected to run along the Caspian shore from Turkmenistan through Kazakhstan, with a goal of delivering about 10 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year to Russia's existing gas delivery grid within three years.

    Russia pays Turkmenistan $100 per cubic meter of gas and subsequently resells it to European customers for $250 per cubic meter. Planned improvements to existing gas pipelines and expanded natural gas exports from Kazakhstan are expected to allow Russia to substantially increase its total delivery of Central Asian gas to more than 90 billion cubic meters per year.

    Also speaking at the meeting, Turkmenistan's president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, left open the possibility that a U.S.-supported pipeline might still be built, along with potential pipeline projects to Iran, China, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. But few gas industry analysts predict the construction of alternative pipelines of any significant capacity in the near future.

    The politics of pipelines in Central Asia are often hotly contested, a digestion of complicated and competing national interests from powerful countries like China, Russia and the United States. This pipeline deal, while not viewed as preordained, had been anticipated for some time. "It was expected that some deal would be reached," said Per Einar Rettedal, the Kazakhstan manager for Statoil, the Norwegian oil company. "I do not think this is a big surprise to anybody that Russia's Gazprom is getting what it wants, to be the one to sell Turkmen gas to Europe."

    Lithuania's president, Valdas Adamkus, has threatened to block a trade and energy treaty between the European Union and Russia if it fails to restore oil supplies, Bloomberg News reported from Warsaw.

    Russia supplies about a quarter of Europe's natural gas. It shut a pipeline supplying Lithuania in July after an accident and the country has relied on more costly seaborne imports since then. Reopening the pipeline is "a political decision," not a "technical problem," Adamkus said in interview Saturday, repeating previous statements.

    Adamkus and four other presidents from states that were once part of the Soviet bloc agreed Friday to set up a company to develop alternatives to energy supplies from Russia.

    Poland's anti-communist law 'unconstitutional'

    From: Telegraph
    Poland's constitutional tribunal has blown a hole in a controversial law aimed at purging former communist agents from public office after it ruled that much of the law was unconstitutional.

    Speaking to a crowded court, the head of the tribunal, Janusz Niemciewicz, listed a lengthy litany of points which the 11-judge panel deemed at odds with the constitution.

    The law required some 700,000 people, including school directors and board members of public companies, to submit statements declaring any contact they had had with the communist secret services.

    The court rejected key aspects of the law including the requirement for journalists to submit declarations.

    The ruling is a blow to Poland's conservative prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and his twin brother Lech, the country's president, who have made confronting the country's communist past into a political crusade.

    Chief Justice Jerzy Stepien, speaking on behalf of the panel, also delivered withering criticism of the government, which had heralded the law as a key point in its war on an alleged network of former communist agents.

    "A state based on the rule of law should not fulfill a craving for revenge instead of fulfilling justice," he said. "Screening must not be used for meting out punishment."

    The vetting law had been a key point of the government's policy aimed at clearing anybody with ties to the nation's old communist secret services from public office.

    When it came into effect in May, the law met resistance from a number of public figures and professional bodies who claimed that it was an affront to their human rights.

    Ukraine's warring parties to agree to set election date

    From: M&C
    Rival parties in Ukraine's internal struggle over parliamentary elections have agreed to set a date for the poll by Wednesday, reports said Sunday.

    The rival camps announced the apparent compromise following a meeting between pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko and the pro- Russian head of government Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev on Saturday.

    The likelihood of an agreement this time around stood at '100 per cent,' Yanukovich's Finance Minister Nikolai Asarov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

    Yushchenko and Yanukovich agreed at the beginning of May to move to reconcile and end the weeks-long constitutional crisis. Neither, however assigned working groups to reach the anticipated solution fast.

    Yanukovich's parliamentary majority has long opposed the new parliamentary elections called by Yushchenko.

    Yushchenko dissolved parliament at the beginning of April, charging the parliament majority had violated constitutional statute by allowing members of parliament elected on one party slate to switch alliances to another.

    Lithuania may block EU-Russia treaty negotiations

    From: Itar Tass
    Lithuania may block negotiations on a new Russia-EU partnership agreement planned in Samara for next week, President Valdas Adamkus told the national television upon his return from an informal energy summit in Poland.

    He conditioned the Lithuanian consent for the negotiations on the resumption of Russian crude deliveries to the Mazeikiu refinery through the Druzhba pipeline. “Whenever anyone is cornered, one must use the last chance,” he said.

    “The blocking of the negotiations would be the most radical way out, yet I still hope we may reach consent,” Adamkus said.

    Crude deliveries to Lithuania were disrupted last June following a Druzhba pipeline accident in the Bryansk region. Meanwhile, Vilnius claimed alleged political reasons.

  • Opinion...

    Lukashenka Admitting Deterioration of Economic Situation

    From: Charter '97
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka admits deterioration of performance in certain branches of the Belarusian economy. “Performance indicators of certain branches of the economy have deteriorated. 8 forecast parameters have not been fulfilled”, Lukashenka declared on Friday at the meeting on results of the economic development of Belarus in the first quarter of the year.

    Meanwhile, Lukashenka warned the government ” the social direction of our economic policy must be retained. And the voices from the government about the necessity of amendment and changing of the economic direction we shall consider as a private opinion”, Lukashenka declared.

    According to him, the issue of socio-economic development of the country must be treated” reasonably, thoughtfully, as we have promised to the people”. Lukashenka considers that” enough time has passed for the government to get rid of the shock of uncertainty”.

    Serious Trial for Country’s Economy

    The Belarusian ruler remarked that” the current year started in the situation of a sharp price hike for power resources. It became a serious trial for the country’s economy as a whole. In this connection A. Lukashenka asked Syrgei Sydorsky to dwell on the plan of the government’s actions “on minimization of consequences of the price- hike for power resources”.

    A. Lukashenka expressed his concern about the fact that in the first quarter “a number of programs were underfinanced from the budget”. “Maybe our finance minister has overworked?” - the President asked.

    Moreover, the head of the state wants the government to report about fulfillment of the orders in the sphere of power- saving, and power efficiency. Lukashenka also wondered, “how the re-equipment of our oil refinery complex, modernization of energy system is going on and what is the situation at the agro-industrial complex”. “I wonder how our manufacturers will compete at the local market with a great flow of the Russian goods coming to the local market after signing the agreement with the Russian government on actions for development of the trade- economic cooperation. As I have been informed, the heads of Belarusian enterprises are concerned about this problem”, head of the republic declared. Meanwhile, he remarked, ”I warned the government that such liberal habits as in Russia do not suit us”.

    No Subsidies for Barbecue

    A.Lukashenka also demanded from the government to clarify the situation regarding further subsidizing of the productive sector of the economy”.

    “The question has to be asked “Will you continue offering general support to the production of barbecue, visit wallets, photo albums and such like goods?” head of the state asked. ”Are we short of barbecue?”- he added.

    A.Lukashenka also mentioned his order to the government on suggesting the means for compensation of the losses incurred by the price- hike for the Russian energy resources through the services rendered to Russia.

    Furthermore, A. Lukashenka is waiting for the government and heads of industries’ grounded suggestions on the budget resources saving. “What are the actual steps envisaged for ensuring the positive international trade balance?” - he asked the question.

    The Belarusian ruler also paid attention to the housing and municipal sphere. ”We have made the following decision, Lukashenka declared, pointing out “in minds of certain officials there are ideas on raising tariffs for housing and municipal services”.

    On the whole, according to A. Lukashenka, he is eager to hear the “constructive understanding of the situation” from the government.

    U.S. relations with Russia have gone steadily downhill under Bush

    From: Anne Gearan for AP
    President Bush may have liked what he saw when he first peered into Vladimir Putin's soul nearly six years ago. Yet while Bush was looking away, the sunnier horizon he sought with Russia turned cloudy.

    Testy, suspicious and defined by misunderstandings and perceived hurts, the relationship between the Cold War powers has worsened steadily on Bush's watch.

    A worried Bush is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for fence-mending with Moscow this week, just three weeks after a similar mission by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Bush also called Putin on Thursday. The two leaders are to meet next month in Germany, and Washington is trying to prevent a diplomatic disaster.

    Putin is not sounding receptive to the Bush administration's message that the U.S. intends no harm to an increasingly restive Russia. On Wednesday, Putin made what many took as a veiled comparison between the global aspirations of the United States and Nazi Germany.

    U.S. officials point to numerous areas of cooperation with Russia and insist that even a missile-tipped argument over U.S. defense plans in Europe does not signal the dawn of a new Cold War.

    "On many things we have done very well, but the fact is that on some others it's been a difficult period," Rice said in Senate testimony Thursday. Rice said the relationship was complicated by a rollback in democratic reforms in Russia and the Putin government's treatment of nearby states.

    "Pretty rocky," was the harsher assessment of Steven Pifer, a specialist on Russia and former Soviet states at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    It was not supposed to be this way, not with two leaders who seem to like one another, generally good economic times in both countries and converging interests in the fight against terrorism. Rice, Bush's longtime top foreign affairs adviser, is even a specialist on Russia and a fluent Russian speaker.

    "I am sure that she is disappointed _ everybody on a senior level in the State Department is disappointed," said Soviet-born Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center in Washington. "They have every right to be disappointed. I am quite disappointed myself."

    Perhaps Rice, of all people, should have seen the deterioration coming. But she, like the rest of the administration, became preoccupied with terrorism after the Sept. 11 attacks and with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed.

    The chumminess between Bush and Putin was regarded as a foreign policy bright spot, but the underlying relationship between the two countries was a relatively low priority.

    "With everything going on in Iraq, with Iran, North Korea, at that level at some point you run out of time," Pifer said. "It's a question of bandwidth."

    Russia and the U.S. talk past each other on the basic issues that divide them.

    The U.S. looks at Putin's consolidation of power and sees a dangerous retrenchment on basic democratic principles. Russia tunes out the lecture from a world power it considers overbearing and hypocritical.

    The U.S. is unnerved by Russia's growing energy wealth, its use of energy as a political cudgel and centralization of the once entrepreneurial energy sector. Russian leaders see their return ticket to world relevance.

    In fact, on Saturday, the leaders of Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan reached a landmark pipeline deal that will strengthen Moscow's control over Central Asia's energy export routes. The agreement sets back U.S. and European efforts to secure alternatives to Middle East oil and gas that would be independent from Russian influence.

    The U.S. sees its plan to station missiles and interceptors at bases in Poland and the Czech Republic as a strategic bulwark against a potential threat from Iran, especially if Iran gains nuclear weapons. Russia sees the breaking of promises it thought it had exacted from the West and unacceptable U.S. encroachment on its doorstep.

    As Putin enters what is probably the last year of his presidency, he has become more defiant of international pressure and more willing to challenge the U.S. and Europe.

    "President Putin thinks the United States has been weakened by Iraq and that he has been strengthened by recent events and high-priced oil," former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke said. "He is trying to put Russia back on the international map."

    The U.S. has tried to lower the temperature, in large part because it needs Russia's cooperation in international negotiations or confrontations with Iran and North Korea, and on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

    Russia is likely to cooperate only so far as it sees its own interests served.

    "The whole idea going into the U.S.-Russian relationship in the early part of the administration is, how can two great powers work together on issues of mutual concern and common interest?" State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

    "That's still true, but also in great power relationships you are going to see differences. Where you are not compromising on principle you narrow those differences, and in some cases you need to agree to disagree."

  • From the blogs...

    Hidden Truths

    From: TOL
    Danish foundation Freemuse presents a report on the use of “music as a political tool in the ideological battle between the authorities and the opposition” in Belarus.

    The authors, Lemez Lovas and Maya Medich, explore the difficulties for performers who do not wish to participate in the all-encompassing propaganda machine of the Belarusian government, the fear and restrictions imposed upon the society, and the historical context of these processes.

    The 88-page report is available online as a PDF download here and also in hard copy from the Freemuse online store. Recommended reading for anyone interested in how the power of establishment on one side, and the protest spirit and inspiration on the other, conflict with each other in the present-day world.

    Additional materials, such as an audio interview with a singer of an independent Belarusian band, and “banned” musical downloads are available at the Freemuse website free of charge — including the English translation of the songs’ lyrics!

    Eritchka celebrates surviving 6 months in BELARUS!

    From: Babushka
    After 6 long months of kasha and doting grandmas, Eritchka is happy to say that she has made it through 6 months, and she’s ready for another 6, maybe even 9.

    Minsk was also celebrating a victory this weekend. That is, the defeat of Nazi Germany on May 8th, 1945. Eritchka celebrated Europe’s victory, and her own, by attending parades, ceremonies, and cruising along the highway in a 1980 Russian Zhigoolly car to the Stalin Line.

    Yes, the Stalin Line. It is a huge tract of land protected by fortifications which served to protect the Western border of the Soviet Union. Work began on the system in the 1920s to protect the USSR against western aggression. The line was made up of concrete bunkers, gun emplacements, and tank storage area. Now after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the line is a military museum located in the territory of the Republic of Belarus, just a few kilometers outside Minsk.

    Eritchka and some Hillel Minsk buddies spent the day frolicking about the battlefields, climbing the tanks and helicopters and crawling into bunkers. The rain didn’t stop them from enjoying the field of Soviet Vehicle Skeletons.

    Poland has no friends- That’s why it won’t ever win the Eurovision Song Contest.

    From: the beatroot
    100 million Europeans watched agog last night at the annual festival of ketch, awful music and strange dance moves held in Helsinki this year.

    For those of you outside the continent, the Eurovision Song Contest has been staged every year by the European Broadcasting Union since 1956.

    Winners are chosen by viewers sending in text messages.

    The event was won by Serbia, the very first time it has entered the competition. Poland didn’t even make the final this year. The UK came joint second to last and Ireland came rock bottom.

    The Ukraine came second and gained the most votes from Polish voters. The girlfriend and I, plus dog, picked Ukraine – the entry being sung by an ageing drag queen (photo). Well, why not? It’s all very Eurovision.

    Serious studies have been done on the contest (probably by ‘cultural studies’ lecturers with nothing better to do) on how people make voting decisions. BBC reports:

      Dr Alan Howard, from Reading University's school of human sciences, has surveyed 1,000 fans of the contest on how they would cast their votes.
      He says the results undermine the belief voting is influenced by the countries' traditional loyalties.
      Only 24% of fans agreed tactical voting was reducing the contest to a farce.
      The 12-month online survey received 1,126 responses from fans in 51 countries.
      A total of 57% said a good performance on the night would make them vote for an act but only 7% said they would vote tactically.
      Thirty-three per cent also said lyrics would have an influence while 16% said the attractivneness of singers might sway them.
      Dr Howard said: "For some time now, the Eurovision Song Contest has gained a reputation as a light entertainment show rather than an important competition.

    What are they teaching kids at uni these days? ‘…the results undermine the belief voting is influenced by the countries' traditional loyalties..’ Ha, bloody ha.

    The winners and losers are not chosen on the merit of their often sparse musical talents. Sorry Dr Howard, but it is all about nationalisms and politics.

    The competition has expanded in recent years and now includes many eastern European countries. The viewers of these ex-communist countries all vote for each other, with predictable results. Look at the top ten countries this year:

    Serbia, Ukraine, Russia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Belarus, Greece, Armenia, Hungary and Moldova.

    The Balkans and eastern Europe are completely dominating the contest now. But it’s always been the same, even before they turned up. Cyprus always votes for Grease and Turkey. Scandinavia always votes Scandinavia. Israel has recently started to vote for Russia, due to the fact, no doubt, of the new Jewish Russian migration there.

    Poland always votes for Ukraine.

    And so it goes, year after year. Unfortunately, even with the eastern European in-built bias, nobody seems to want to vote for poor old Poland. Does nobody love the Poles?

    Poland didn’t even manage to get out of the semi-final, held on Friday this year. The only time Poland did well was the first time it entered the competition in 1994, when Polish diva Edyta Gorniak sung ‘That’s not me’ and came in second – probably as a result of a sympathy vote.

    All the western European countries are equally isolated – with nobody voting for France, UK, even Ireland, which used to win the competition nearly every year during the 1990s.

    I would do what Italy did years ago – don’t even bother sending in an entry.

    Estonia under cyber-attack

    From: Edward Lucas
    Estonia has faced down Russian rioters. But its websites are still under attack

    FOR a small, high-tech country such as Estonia, the internet is vital. But for the past two weeks Estonia's state websites (and some private ones) have been hit by “denial of service” attacks, in which a target site is bombarded with so many bogus requests for information that it crashes.

    The internet warfare broke out on April 27th, amid a furious row between Estonia and Russia over the removal of a Soviet war monument from the centre of the capital, Tallinn, to a military cemetery (pictured below). The move sparked rioting and looting by several thousand protesters from Estonia's large population of ethnic Russians, who tend to see the statue as a cherished memorial to wartime sacrifice. Estonians mostly see it rather as a symbol of a hated foreign occupation.

    The unrest, Estonia says, was orchestrated by Russia, which termed the relocation “blasphemy” and called for the government's resignation. In Moscow, a Kremlin-run youth movement sealed off and attacked Estonia's embassy, prompting protests from America, NATO and the European Union. Perhaps taken aback by the belated but firm Western support for Estonia, Russia has backpedalled. Following a deal brokered by Germany, Estonia's ambassador left for a “holiday” and the blockade ended as abruptly as it began.

    But the internet attacks have continued. Some have involved defacing Estonian websites, replacing the pages with Russian propaganda or bogus apologies. Most have concentrated on shutting them down. The attacks are intensifying. The number on May 9th—the day when Russia and its allies commemorate Hitler's defeat in Europe—was the biggest yet, says Hillar Aarelaid, who runs Estonia's cyber-warfare defences. At least six sites were all but inaccessible, including those of the foreign and justice ministries. Such stunts happen at the murkier end of internet commerce: for instance, to extort money from an online casino. But no country has experienced anything on this scale.

    The alarm is sounding well beyond Estonia. NATO has been paying special attention. “If a member state's communications centre is attacked with a missile, you call it an act of war. So what do you call it if the same installation is disabled with a cyber-attack?” asks a senior official in Brussels. Estonia's defence ministry goes further: a spokesman compares the attacks to those launched against America on September 11th 2001. Two of NATO's top specialists in internet warfare, plus an American colleague, have hurried to Tallinn to observe the onslaught. But international law is of little help, complains Rein Lang, Estonia's justice minister.

    The crudest attacks come with the culprit's electronic fingerprints. The Estonians say that some of the earliest salvoes came from computers linked to the Russian government. But most of them come from many thousands of ordinary computers, all over the world. Some of these are run by private citizens angry with Estonia. Anonymously posted instructions on how to launch denial-of-service attacks have been sprouting on Russian-language internet sites. Many others come from “botnets”—chains of computers that have been hijacked by viruses to take part in such raids without their owners knowing. Such botnets can be created, or simply rented from cyber-criminals.

    To remain open to local users, Estonia has had to cut access to its sites from abroad. That is potentially more damaging to the country's economy than the limited Russian sanctions announced so far, such as cutting passenger rail services between Tallinn and St Petersburg. It certainly hampers Estonia's efforts to counter Russian propaganda that portrays the country as a fascist hellhole. “We are back to the stone age, telling the world what is going on with phone and fax,” says an Estonian internet expert. Mikko Hypponen of F-Secure, a Finnish internet security company that has been monitoring the attacks, says the best defence is to have strong networks of servers in many countries. That is not yet NATO's job. But it may be soon.

  • Sport...

    Pchelnik, Litvinov take Hammer Throw wins in Minsk

    From: IAAF
    Three world class results highlighted the Anatoly Julin Memorial, held on Friday (11) at the Staiki Sport Centre to honour one of the nation’s most eminent hurdlers.

    Darya Pchelnik from Grodno, a member of the 2005 World Championships squad, threw beyond the 70-metre mark three times, topped by her first round 70.82 toss. It was a season’s best for the 25-year-old, and approaching her personal best of 71.08 from2005.

    In the men’s event, it was a familiar name which took top honours. Sergey Litvinov Jr., son of 1988 Olympic champion Sergey Litvinov, received the praises from his father after winning with a 71.43 throw, also a season’s best for the 21-year-old.

    Irina Yatchenko, 2003 World champion and twice an Olympic bronze medallist, made her season’s debut with a victory in the Discus Throw. The 41-year-old veteran reached 59.77 on her first throw, and if there were no torrential rains and winds, she could have bettered this result.

    Aliaksandr Malashevich from Smorgon took the men’s Discus Throw with a 60.29 throw while Nikolay Vasiltsov from Gomel won the Javelin Throw with a 71.42 effort.

    Four victories were gained by Lubov Feshchenko’s pupils, a coach who trained under Julin. Alexey Kontorov won the 400m Hurdles, Victoria Manko the 400 m, junior Andrey Juskov the 100m, and Victor Filippov the 110m Hurdles.

    Canada dominates Finland to win gold medal at IIHF World Hockey Championship

    From: Metro News
    Now that's the kind of formula that wins international hockey championships.

    Canada got goals from skilled players and grinders, timely saves from goaltender Cam Ward and didn't repeat any of the mistakes it had made earlier in the tournament on Sunday during a 4-2 win over Finland in the gold medal game at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

    The country's third gold at the event in the past five years only looked in doubt in the final minutes after Petri Kontiola and Antti Miettinen scored late. But the Canadians were able to hold on for the win after Rick Nash scored his second of the game with just over a minute to play.

    The win earned St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray his third gold medal in four stints as Canada's coach in the tournament.

    "I've had the ability to surround myself with quality people," Murray said afterwards about his impressive tenure at the world championship."

    The game was won with a solid first period. Nash and Eric Staal scored power-play goals and Ward made some key early saves to put Canada on the road to its ninth straight win at the tournament.

    "He was unbelievable," Nash said of his goaltender. "He kept us in a lot of games, and especially tonight, he was definitely the Conn Smyth winner."

    Colby Armstrong also scored for the Canadians, who went undefeated at this tournament for the first time since 2003.

    This run to gold was stunning in its sheer efficiency. Canada outscored its opposition 13-4 during the playoff round games and seemed to get better each time out. The Canadians were bigger, stronger, faster and more disciplined than their opponents when the games counted most.

    After the final buzzer sounded at Khodynka Arena on Sunday night, a Canadian team consisting of a few NHL veterans, role players, up-and-coming stars and a college forward lined up to receive gold medals. The average age of the team was 25.

    Nash was named the tournament's most valuable player and earned a spot on its all-star team. No other Canadian player was recognized with an individual award, which was only fitting for this team-first group.

    Canada entered the event completely under the radar because many thought it didn't have enough skill. Even general manager Steve Yzerman was worried that his team would have trouble scoring.

    Those thoughts were quickly put to rest when energy line player Jamal Mayers had two goals in an opening win over Germany and Canada proceeded to get consistent offensive contribution from three of its forward lines.

    The top unit of Doan, Matthew Lombardi and Nash was its most reliable. The trio led the way offensively.

    Doan's contribution went well beyond that as he handled the political controversy over his captaincy back home with grace. His hat trick against Belarus amidst that distraction in the qualifying round was a defining moment for the team.

    The 29-year-old now has three world championship gold medals, the same number as defenceman Eric Brewer and Murray.

    "This is very special," Doan said. "This group here didn't get a chance to win the Stanley Cup and to come here and win a world championship is special."

    Ultimately, Canada's biggest strength was the way it played together. Players were subbed in and out of roles, Ward and Dwayne Roloson split the goaltending duties and everyone seemed willing to do what Murray asked.

    The Canadians were also helped by a little luck as they avoided a final against powerful Russia when Finland knocked off the host country in the semifinal. Russia won the bronze medal on Sunday with a 3-1 win over Sweden.

    The fans that stuck around for the gold medal game in the evening were strongly behind Canada. Chants of "Ca-na-da! Ca-na-da!" echoed through the building early on.

    Nash got the Canadians on the board at 6:30, just 13 seconds after Finnish defenceman Toni Soderholm had been penalized. The flashy winger skated in off the side boards, flipped the puck to his forehand and snapped a quick shot by goaltender Kari Lehtonen. He then raised his arms skyward, punctuating his fifth goal of the tournament with his most animated celebration yet.

    Staal made it 2-0 on another power play at 13:48. The play started with defenceman Shea Weber jumping to keep the puck in the zone and ended with Staal taking a perfect backhand pass from Mike Cammalleri before sliding it past Lehtonen.

    The Finns eventually got a power play of their own but Ward made two nice saves, including a chest stop on a tipped shot by Finnish forward Tomi Kallio.

    Armstrong's goal at 9:11 of the second period appeared to sink the Finns. He took a backhand pass from Jordan Staal, who became the youngest Canadian player ever to win a gold medal at this event, and beat Lehtonen with a soft wrist shot.

    The game looked well in hand until Kontiola and Miettinen scored in the final period. That was as close as Finland would get.

    All that was left was one final rendition of O Canada.

    Notes: Finland is 1-6 in gold medal games . . . Canada beat Finland 2-1 in a shootout in the gold medal game in 1994 . . . Murray's record at this event is 27-4-4 . He's 17-0-1 in his last 18 games . . . His 27 career wins are second all-time to Dave King's 29, but Murray's coached in two fewer tournaments . . . It was the first world championship gold won by Canada on Russian soil.

  • Endnote...

    Euroatlantism and Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    Brussels Forum was held on April 27-29 in the capital of Belgium. It is the second annual forum which is called by its organizer, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), “summit of the most influential American and European politicians, businessmen, intellectuals, public leaders”. A chairman of the Political council of the democratic forces of Belarus Alyaksandr Milinkevich was invited to the forum (he could not take part in the forum), the Charter’97 coordinator, a former deputy minister of Foreign Affairs if Belarus Andrei Sannikov and the leader of the initiative “We remember” Iryna Krasouskaya. Andrei Sannikov tells about the forum and whether the situation in Belarus was discussed there.

    Tell us please about Brussels Forum in more detail. What is peculiar about it?
    - The peculiarity of the forum is that all vexed problems of today are viewed from the point of view of cooperation between the US and Europe, that is, they have a transatlantic character. The agenda shows the earnestness of discussions: it included Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and post-Soviet space; energy problems, challenges of globalization. One could names of several sections which were held, for instance: “Climate Change and Energy Security”, “Civil Liberties in an Age of Terror”, “Europe`s East, Russia`s Western Neighborhood: Working Towards a Common Transatlantic Approach”, “Baltic to the Wider Black Sea: The New Euroatlantic Challenge?”, “Approaches of Euroatlantic community to relations with China”, “Does Europe and America need?” and so on.

    Participants of a really high level have taken part in Brussels Forum. The forum was held under the auspices of Prime Minister of Belgium Guy Verhofstadt. It should be noted that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Judge of the U.S. Supreme Court Stephen Gerald Breyer, U.S. Senator Bob Bennett, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, Foreign Ministers of Sweden, Georgia, Canada, Armenia, Interior Minister of Germany, European Parliamentarians, representatives of the European Commission, the U.S. Congress, leading analytical centers of European and America have taken part in the forum.

    At the same time the atmosphere is informal there. This forum is interesting by the fact that in two days one can get a full view of what is happening in different regions of the world, and how the world elite treats current problems: military conflicts problem, social, energy problems, problems of relations between the states of Europe and North America. One could easily talk to any of world politicians and analysts. All sessions are moderated by well-known journalists, representing internationally renowned newspapers and magazines: “The Washington Post”, “The New York Times”, “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zietung”, “Le Mond”, BBC Radio Station, CNN TV Channel and so on.

    The aim of the forum is a so-called “synchronization of watches”, i.e. to understand what is going on in the world in reality. Why the forum was held on these dates? On April 30 EU-US summit was held. In the run-up to the summit key players had a possibility to discuss issues on the agenda of the summit.

    -Which issues are of most importance for the political elite of Europe and the U.S.?

    - Undoubtedly, one should note the statement of Javier Solana, who had just returned from Turkey after talks with Turkish delegation on issues directly connected with the international security and peace, for instance on issues of nuclear programs of Iran. Possible solutions of this problem were discussed there rather openly in presence of all participants. Mr. Solana believes that Iran has rather complicated composition of the society, and it cannot be categorically viewed as a state ruled by one person or a group of Islamists. That is why he admits a possibility of direct negotiations of the U.S. and Iran. It is a rather disputable statement; however the statement by Solana was a sensation in a way.

    The session on Russia was stormy, especially after Putin’s statement on virtual imposing a moratorium on observance of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Undoubtedly, all recent tendencies in Russia connected with limiting freedom of the press, journalists’ assassinations, disbanding of demonstrations are worrying the democratic community a lot. At the forum Russia was represented by the chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev, Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinskiy, some political analysts.

    It is worth mentioning that representatives of Russia told that the time when the EU would consist of 48 states, is near at hand. Thus they included Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbajan, Armenia to the EU. They wondered how relations of the EU with Russia would be shaped when 48 countries would constitute the EU, and Russia would stay outside the union.

    - Was the situation in Belarus discussed there?

    - Yes, issues related to Belarus were discussed at the forum. In particular, the role of Russia in Belarusian politics, the support of Lukashenka’s regime by Russia, including support in international organizations, were discussed. Russian representatives haven’t given public answers to these questions.

    Certainly, many people were interested in Belarus, and there were highest representatives of Europe and the US, members of the European and national parliaments, representatives of the State Department and influential representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties at the forum.

    But significance of this forum lies in a chance to learn a lot about what leading politicians and analysts think about this or that situation, and on Belarus in particular.

    - Whom have you and Iryna Krasouskaya met at the Forum?

    - We had many conversations, with the US Secretary of State Daniel Fried, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Czech Vice Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra, a member of the National Council of the Slovak Republic, former Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Hilary Clinton’s advisor Richard Hallbrook, the chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee Konstantin Kosachev, politicians and analysts from the US, Bulgaria, Poland, Latvia, Germany, Britain, Georgia…

    - Did you have a chance to bring up questions of Belarus at the forum?

    - I had brought up a question about reasons of Russia’s absolute support of official Belarus in the Council of Europe and in the UN, and in international organizations in general. It appears that Russian representatives didn’t like such presentation of a problem much. Russia still wants to look like a democratic state, and a too express obvious support to the Belarusian regime notorious for its gross human rights violations does not contribute to this image. Besides, I reminded the story of suspending observance of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty by Belarus in 1995, and that Belarusian leadership is constantly harps on its readiness to take part in anti-NATO and anti-US military actions of Russia, which is extremely dangerous for Belarus, I think. It is simply thoughtlessly to get involved in a dispute of nuclear states, as a role of a small European state should be based upon establishing constructive relations, achieving compromises for promoting own interests, and not on taking part in confrontation.

    There was a possibility to discuss the Belarusian situation with key players, representatives of the US and Europe, on the sidelines of the forum. We succeeded in finding out many interesting things.

    For instance, we have found out that a packet offered by the official Minsk to the EU exists. Conditions set forth by the EU to Minsk for establishing relations with Minsk are well-known. They have been set out in an unofficial document last year. Minsk offers a kind of exchange. Belarusian authorities are ready to consider the question of releasing some persons who are political prisoners, though they do not admit they are political prisoners. They are ready to work on the electoral code, ready to follow some conditions of the Council of Europe, but this all is done in a form which lets slip true intentions of the Belarusian side: recognition of the odious undemocratic regime. For instance, the Belarusian side states that the work on amending the electoral law would be headed by Lidzya Yarmoshyna, who had been blacklisted for her activities and banned entry to many countries. Old proposals of establishing the position of an ombudsman and possible death penalty abolition are pulled out. These steps have been discussed for many years, and nothing new happens, while demands of the Belarusian side are rather well-expressed. Firstly, it is not excluding Belarus from the Generalized System of Preferences. The official Minsk wants this decision to be taken in the near future, though nothing is done to return rights of trade unions. Besides, they demand to liquidate the list of unwelcome persons, and what is the most important, canceling of all measures on freezing assets of those persons abroad. It means that this measure is really effective. They demand the EU to change rhetoric, not to call black black, but to call black white.

    An agreement for opening a representation of the European Commission in Minsk is presented as a considerable step forwards to the EU. Though such actions do not need agreement or disagreement of a country, as when diplomatic relations exist between the EU and Belarus, and when there is Belarus’ representative in the European Commission, such relations are always developing on a clear bilateral basis. When the European Commission adopts a decision to send its delegation, the receiving side can only assist its appearance in the country, and cannot refuse to accept this delegation.

    These “packet proposals” have been discussed with the representatives of the European Commission, with representatives of Solana office rather seriously, but Europeans do not see real actions on the part of Minsk still, as they have been taught by many years of deceit, which followed all proposals, and do not believe words about a desire to improve relations heard from official Minsk from time to time. However, they would be ready to perceive any concrete steps, and in the first place they wait for release of all political prisoners certainly. This question is of great significance. I drew attention of European experts to the fact that a situation of bargaining cannot be allowed on the question of political prisoners’ release. The condition of release of all prisoners of conscience and bringing repressions to an end must be categorical. Europeans have full understanding in this issue, I think.

    On the whole, they do not see readiness of the regime for an open discussion, and do not see official representatives who would be responsible for their words and actions. For instance, after assurances of a high-ranking official that disband of a demonstration would not take place, force is used against participants of the peaceful protest. Such “cracks” in the regime are seen already, but they do not give way for a constructive cooperation still. By the way, the “packet” of Belarusian authorities itself is not considered as a basis for headway.

    - Have you told about a necessity of a dialogue inside the country, between the Belarusian regime and opposition?

    - This topic had been constantly discussed by Europeans and Americans. There is a great interest to it. A proposal of a dialogue opens other possibilities. There is an understanding that a dialogue inside the country must happen, as after any possible separate deals the situation in Belarus wouldn’t change for the better. There is an understanding that it would be the most effective way for the regime and opposition to reach an understanding on key issues and steps which could help the Belarusian situation to overcome the deadlock. But I emphasize that there is an awareness of that, but there are other tendencies as well. Unfortunately, recently the leadership of the Lithuanian Republic acts as a direct lobbyist of direct contacts with the Belarusian regime.

    A desire of the regime’s “friends” to help the regime to stay the way it is, exists as well. It means that business interests, and some money makers do not care a dime that human rights are violated. These people could rather cynically do business in Belarus, even if for a short period of time, but to their benefit. But such actions undoubtedly bring damage the Belarusians, and those companies and persons involved, as we know that after downfall of dictatorships these companies are sued and lose more than they had gained as a result of behind-the-scenes deals. Many businessmen lose also because they hope dictatorships would keep their promises. But numerous firms who tried to start business in Belarus were back at the bottom of the ladder.

    My interlocutors noted the novelty of posing the question about the dialogue. It means they really saw that it is a brand new level of discussion on Belarus’ development. They saw at once that dismantling of dictatorship is meant and not immediate resignation of the regime’s leadership. In other words, the strategy of the dialogue allows many people from the leadership of the country to take part in the democratic transformation of Belarus.

    And it really interests both Europeans and Americans. Besides, the readiness of Europe to help in this particular way of Belarus’ development is obvious. It is a readiness to help to establish normal relations with Europe after transformation beginning in Belarus. Certainly the crucial role is to be played by democratic forces here, because they are the people who could say whether something real is taking place here or not. The democratic forces can both evaluate prospects of transformation and warn Europe about danger of any kind of separate deals.

    - How the actions of the Belarusian opposition, for instance, holding the Congress of the democratic forces, are estimated by the West at the moment?

    - Certainly questions about the upcoming congress were asked as well. But most of serious experts do not understand why these congresses are needed at the present stage, what is the goal, and why the existing coalition should be transformed. In general the political parties and Milinkevich as the leader haven’t quite justified expectations. There was a period of unexplainable passivity. This passivity contracted with a rather big quantity of people who took to the streets on March 25, an April 26. These actions were noticed in the world, but it is clear that the potential of people, who are ready to take part in changes actively, has grown. And the leaders, who had taken the responsibility for realization of this potential, have turned to be not ready for this role for some reasons. And maybe lack of understanding of the congress’ aims is connected to that.

    It is recognized that that the idea of a dialogue between the regime and opposition hasn’t been formally established in Belarus in any way. After Alyaksandr Milinkevich’s steps, after the steps of the steering committee on celebration of March 25 international players expected more meaningful actions in this direction, but were disappointed in some way, as it hadn’t been finalized as a serious approach. Though a great number of participants at the rally on March 25 has demonstrated that a vast majority of Belarusians is interested by the topic of the dialogue. The feedback from the official circles of Belarus has showed that as well. In their conversations with officials Europeans saw interest of Belarusian high officials in this dialogue.

    - Does it mean that an interest to Belarus lasts?

    - I think so. Besides, the changed economic conditions for Belarus, attempts of Belarus to solve the problem of one-sided energy dependence are not remaining unnoticed. But I ought to say that attempts of Belarusian authorities to persuade Europe to support the dictatorship to resist the aggressive oil and gas policy of Russia are not considered as serious. No sensible person in Europe would use dictatorship for increasing confrontation, while real transformations would attract attention of Europeans, as such changes would open opportunities for improving situation in the region, as well as for solving problems with Russia.