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Today's Headlines for:
Thursday, May 31, 2007

President talks tough in Siberia, Borovsky bagged, Youth trial, Polish Pentecostal deported, Condoms required, ICBM's, Blogs and Teletubbies

  • From the Top...
  • #208

    President: Belarus ready to take adequate measures in response to American missile shield in Europe

    From: Belta, Itar Tass and the Office of the president
    The President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, meets with the delegation of the Siberian Federal District of the Russian Federation
    Belarus is ready to play its part in view of the possible deployment of an American missile defence system in Europe, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with a delegation of the Siberian Federal District today.

    “Only together with Belarus Russia can find an adequate response to these deployments and Russian military know it”, stressed the head of state. He believes, “It is inadmissible. It is placed not near borders of the Russian Federation, but primarily our borders”.

    “Even in this situation we could have kept silent, but we speak honestly it is our area of responsibility. We have created a single military taskforce and will fulfil our role as we should, as we promised”, stated Alexander Lukashenko.

    In his words, today the Belarusian army can do a lot if aided by the Russian army. “It will be very hard for us to act alone”, said the President. Yet he underscored, “Without the Belarusian army Russia won’t do anything in the West, as there are no troops except for our army beyond Moscow”.

    “We have created a single military taskforce, which counts for a lot, but everybody but the military fails to take it into account”, stated the President of Belarus.

    "However, Belarus will not be a puppet in anybody’s hands. Belarus is ready for building the Union State with Russia in a serious way, but Belarus should know precisely what the Russian intention, for example, to prioritise the single currency issue, is aimed at. Why has Russia actually denounced the Union State treaty?”, wondered the Belarusian leader. "Yeltsin and I signed it, but we ratified it with the current president, exchanging ratification letters. It means that it was acknowledged and supported, and this was a right decision,”

    He said Belarus was ready for a serious union with Russia.

    He added that “absolutely nothing depends on Belarus” in building the union.

    “We should quickly go out of the situation as it is, demonstrate that this was a mistake and we should return to the building of the union that is a model of how you should live and work,” Lukashenko said.

    In his words, the Belarusian leadership fundamentally believes that Belarus will not become part of any state. “Let’s take small steps so that Belarusians would not become non-citizens”, said Alexander Lukashenko addressing the Russian side.

    on May 29, during a meeting with the delegation of the Siberian Federal District of Russia headed by Alexander Khloponin, the governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, President Alexander Lukashenko has ordered the Minister of Industry Anatoly Rusetsky to study the possibilities for opening assembly plants of Belarusian equipment and developing a service network for Belarusian equipment in this Russian district, the presidential press-service told BelTA.

    The Krasnoyarsk region is prepared to allocate land plots and vacant production premises for these purposes, the governor said. “We can provide preferential energy tariffs,” he added. The Krasnoyarsk region, according to Alexander Khloponin, is also interested in using Belarusian equipment on leasing terms.

    “We are undertaking the responsibility for promoting Belarusian goods in Siberia and the Far East. We have possibilities for this,” the governor stated.

    Belarus is also economically very much interested in the West, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, said.

    Today, nearly 45% of Belarusian exports are bound for Russia and 45% - for the European Union, he said.

    At the same time, according to Alexander Lukashenko, Russian mass media often criticise Belarus, alleging it has “turned away” to the West and claiming it forsakes the interests of the Russians and the Union State. “We are situated in the centre of Europe and cannot fail to develop relations with the West. We must have a normal dialogue and this is advantageous for Russia too,” the Head of State said.

    However, the President said, Belarus will continue adhering firmly to the agreements reached earlier with the Russian Federation. “We have never failed Russia, not even in small things,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Belarus is ready to build up trade and economic cooperation with Siberia regions.

    In his words, Belarus’ trade with regions of Siberia grows rather fast. In 2006 the mutual trade totalled $510.8 million, almost 13% up on 2005. “It is not the level to satisfy the potential of the Republic of Belarus and that of such a huge and richest region. We are ready to work on it”, stressed Alexander Lukashenko. He noted, in Siberia many assembling facilities had been set up, including mechanical engineering and agricultural mechanical engineering ones. Belarus intends to expand its presence on this market, said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko also noted, Belarus and Russia had had certain misunderstanding between the leadership of the two countries and relations of the two countries had suffered from crisis phenomena. “But it doesn’t mean we have bad relations between regions and people”, emphasised the President. In his words, Belarus does its best to make Russians feel in Belarus even better than in their home country. “It is our strategy and we will stick to it”, said the head of state.

    Lukashenka approves draft Belarusian-Russian agreement on through transit of goods

    From: The office of the president and Naveny
    On May 29th by his Decree, the Belarusian Head of State, Alexander Lukashenko, approved the draft Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Government of the Russian Federation on the Transit of Goods Transported between the Customs Bodies of the Republic of Belarus and the Customs Bodies of the Russian Federation as a basis for further talks.

    The document regulates the order of issuing permits for the transit of goods, the permits being issued by the customs bodies of the negotiating parties, and the order of identifying the location and time of delivery of goods for which transit permits have been obtained. The document entitles legal entities acting as customs carriers to transporting goods in transit under customs control without customs escort and without ensuring the payment of customs fees.

    The draft agreement provides an integrated approach to regulating of the issues of paying customs fees and recovering debts with regard to customs fees into the budgets of the negotiating parties.

    Under the document, the parties are to exchange information about the goods in transit between the customs bodies of the two countries, about transit permits, about the completion of transit movement, about the documents that confirm that customs fees have been paid, about violations of customs laws, about money transferred and other information.

    The Chairman of the State Customs Committee, Alexander Shpilevsky, has been authorised to hold the talks and sign the agreement. As SCC Deputy Chairman Uladzimir Hoshyn told reporters on Wednesday, the accord will be signed within the next few days.

    According to him, the document is, in a way, an equivalent of the European Transit Agreement. The Belarusian customs would recognize Russian customs documents and financial guarantees in the amount of customs duty, excise tax and VAT, and the Russian customs will reciprocate, Mr. Hoshyn said. The financial guarantees are needed to prevent losses by the other party in the event of the loss of a shipment, he explained

    Once signed, the agreement will make it possible to enhance transit flows to the Russian Federation across the Republic of Belarus and create the appropriate legal base for the functioning of the Belarusian-Russian transit system.

    Head of Belarusian refining, chemical concern arrested on embezzlement charges

    From: IHT
    Alexander Borovsky
    Security officers in tightly controlled Belarus have arrested the head of the ex-Soviet republic's main refining and chemical production concern on suspicion of embezzlement, prosecutors said Wednesday.

    Belneftekhim chief Alexander Borovsky also faces charges of abuse of authority, said Yegor Livai, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office. He said "several" other representatives of commercial enterprises had also been detained by the KGB, which confiscated "large sums of money and valuables" from them.

    Officials did not reveal details of the accusations against Borovsky.

    Belarus is struggling this year with increased prices for Russian natural gas and a drop in revenues from the sale of products refined from Russian oil following a bitter dispute with Moscow over energy trade.

    Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko and officials in his government have announced plans to create a new state oil company to take charge of the industry and to offer foreign companies stakes in chemical producers that are now controlled by Belneftekhim.

    Belneftekhim and its subsidiaries account for 35 percent of Belarus' industrial production and over half its exports, according to the company.

    Belarus' oil refineries have suffered from a new duty Russia introduced in January on oil exported to Belarus, amid accusations that Minsk was unfairly garnering billions in revenues by refining cheap Russian oil and selling higher-value products to Europe.

    Lukashenko has sought to maintain a largely centrally planned, Soviet-style economy. He recently ordered the creation of a Belarusian Oil Company, which would control the oil industry, an apparent attempt to do away with middlemen companies that buy oil for use and refining in Belarus.

    Italian companies to partake in construction materials production in Belarus

    From: NLIPRB
    Mantua, Italy
    Italian businesses will take part in a project for producing new construction materials in Belarus and setting up small enterprises for manufacturing consumer goods at the premises of vocational colleges in the Vitebsk oblast. Corresponding agreements were reached as a Belarusian business delegation visited Italian Mantua province. The delegation included top executives of the Vitebsk oblast administration, free economic zone (FEZ) Grodnoinvest, FEZ Minsk, companies Limber, Belkard and Conte, representatives of the Belarusian embassy in Italy told BelTA.

    Italian companies also showed interest in Belarusian FEZs. A seminar “Belarus — promising partner in the centre of Europe” held in cooperation with the Industrial Association and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Mantua gathered over 60 Italian businessmen and highlighted the export and investment potential of Belarus, proposals made by Minsk, Vitebsk and Grodno with a view to promoting trade and economic cooperation with Mantua province companies.

    The Belarusian delegation held negotiations with Italian businessmen, visited textile and mechanical engineering companies of Mantua. With assistance of the Associazioni di Volontariato Italiane per la Bielorussia (an association of Italian humanitarian associations, which cooperate with Belarus) and national charity funds, a conference for representatives of social services of Mantua province and Italian families, who welcome Belarusian children coming for recreation to Italy.

    Opposition youth on trial in Belarus

    From: Itar Tass
    The trial of members of the opposition youth group Young Front opened in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Monday.

    They are accused of the activity in the unregistered organization, a charge carrying two years on prison.

    Boris Goretsky, Dmitry Fedoruk, Oleg Korban and Anastasia Polozhanko are on the trial.

    Another activist of the Young Front, Alexei Yanushevsky, figures in the criminal case. He went to the Czech Republic and asked political asylum.

    Members of several Western embassies are watching the trial.

    The opposition-minded youth held a protest action near the court building.

    The Young Front is the most active part of the Belarusian opposition’s nationalist branch.

    Its members take part almost in all street actions of the opposition.

    Police repeatedly detained many members of the Young Front.

    Its leaders tried to register their organization, but the Justice Ministry denied this.

    In last year’s November, the Young Front’ leader Dmitry Dashkevich was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for his activity in the unregistered association.
  • Note: Accoring to Tol Blogs MF activists trial finished today. Judge Aniskievic has found all five guilty, but verdicts were much milder than the attorney wanted. Zmicier Chviedaruk received a 650 USD fine, Aleh Korban, Alaksej Januseuski, Barys Harecki - 450 USD fine each, Nasta Palazanka got an offcial administrative warning.

    All of them were found guilty of violation of Article 193 of the Administrative Code - “Acting on Behalf of a Banned Organization”.

    Restriction on carriage of motor fuel shortened lines at Polish border, official says

    From: Naveny
    Lines of motorists at the Belarusian-Polish border have become "considerably" shorter after the introduction of a restriction on the carriage of motor fuel, Uladzimir Hoshyn, deputy chairman of the State Customs Committee, told reporters in Minsk on Wednesday.

    Starting March 1, 2007, motorists exiting Belarus more than once in three days are required to file customs declarations while crossing the country's border, stating the amount of fuel in their vehicles' tanks.

    The requirement came as part of the government's effort to tackle so-called "salyaravozy" [diesel fuel commuter carriers]. Some residents of the Brest and Hrodna regions living near the Polish border make money by traveling to Poland several times a day to sell diesel fuel, which is more expensive there.

    "We did not fight against the sheer fact of fuel import. Its production here is absolutely profitable. And Polish and Belarusian nationals buying it here and bringing it into Poland were above all doing damage to the Polish economy," Mr. Hoshyn commented. "We took these unpopular administrative measures only because simple people willing to travel to Warsaw or somewhere else further arrived at the border to run against the tail of those gasoline commuter carriers."

    Mr. Hoshyn said that everything had become "simply nice" at the border two weeks following the introduction of the restriction.

    Belarus: Logistics centers to be set up at Beltamozhservis

    From: Railway Market
    Logistics centers will be set up at the unitary enterprise Beltamozhservis, Beltamozhservis Deputy Chief Maxim Taranov reported.

    The offer to set up logistics centers at Beltamozhservis within 2007-2010 was initiated by the State Customs Committee at a meeting with representatives of Russian transporting and forwarding companies. The attendees of the meeting discussed the development of international transit via Belarus, the order of simplifying customs clearance procedures, creation of favourable environment for operation of economic entities.

    “Formation of the logistic network among the European Union, Belarus and Russia will improve coordination and raise the level of services rendered by forwarding and customs agents and owners of terminals as well as boost transit via Belarus,” Maxim Taranov said.

    Today the State Customs Committee in partnership with Beltamozhservis, the Ministry for Transport and Communications and the Belarusian Railways conduct a large-scale research with a view to determining the most favourable conditions (geographic situation, transportation volumes) for setting up logistics centers.

    With a view to implementing the Programme of Transport and Forwarding Centers Development the participants of the meeting also discussed cooperation among the customs services and transporters of Belarus, Russia and the EU; the order of providing preliminary data about the transported cargo; the use of the hazard analysis system; control over disposition of transported goods with the help of the latest technologies (motor roads monitoring). Logistic centers will offer customs clearance and forwarding services using the cutting-edge technologies, promising methods and computerized systems of trade flows managing.

    This year Belarus to transship about 6 million tons of cargoes through Klaipeda port

    From: NLIPRB
    In Q1 2007 Belarus transshipped 20% more cargoes through the Klaipeda port than in January-March 2006, chief of the representative office of the Klaipeda state seaport Arturas Gaiduskas has told reporters today.

    According to him, last year Belarus transshipped 4,5 million tons of cargoes through the port. ‘We praise the cooperation with Belarus in thief field and are ready to extend it’, he said.

    Lithuanian Railways sets preferential tariffs on the transportation of the Belarusian freights, Arturas Gaiduskas noted. ‘We want to make the Lithuanian transport corridor attractive and profitable for Belarus’, he underlined.

    This year Belarus will transship about 6 million tons of oil products, fertilizers and metal through the Klaipeda port, the representative of the Klaipeda state seaport informed.

    Belarus intends to extend cooperation with Lithuania in navigation along inland waterways, Minister of Transport and Communications of Belarus Vladimir Sosnovsky has told reporters today during an opening ceremony of the international exhibition ‘Transport and Logistics’.

    According to him, Belarus and Lithuania signed an agreement on cooperation in navigation along inland waterways. ‘This agreement will promote the cooperation between the two countries in this field’, he said. At present waterways between Belarus and Lithuania are mainly used by tourists. The agreement offers new possibilities of implementing joint projects aimed at preparing the waterways between the two countries for more intensive exploitation. A heavy emphasis will be put in the joint activity on the cargo transportation.

    Belarus and Lithuania have set up working groups, which will put forward several concrete cooperation proposals in the near future, the Minister of Transport and Communications of Belarus informed. ‘I am confident that the cooperation in this field will be encouraged and will bring considerable benefits to both the states’, he said.

    Second deportation order and fine for Polish Pentecostal

    From: Forum 18
    A fine and a second deportation order were handed down today (30 May) on Polish Pentecostal Jaroslaw Lukasik to punish him for his activity with his church in the capital Minsk. The authorities claimed he was "illegally" involved in the church's 27 May Pentecost service which was raided by police. He was ordered to leave Belarus by the end of 7 June and has been banned from returning for five years, he told Forum 18 News Service. He was also fined one month's minimum wage. A Citizenship and Migration Department official told Forum 18 Lukasik's deportation was ordered "for repeated violations of the regime governing the presence of foreigners on the territory of Belarus". Lukasik – whose wife and their three children are Belarusian citizens - insists the order is unjust. "I was present at the service and prayed – that's normal participation," he told Forum 18. "But even though we produced a statement signed by a whole list of church members saying that I did not preach that Sunday, the police insisted on their own version."

    Jaroslaw Lukasik, a Polish citizen, today (30 May) received a second deportation order and a small fine from a Minsk administrative commission for engaging in "illegal religious activity" during the Pentecost service last Sunday (27 May) of John the Baptist Pentecostal Church, he told Forum 18 News Service from Central District Police Station in the Belarusian capital. Under the latest deportation order, he has been given eight days to leave the country – or until the end of 7 June. He may not return for five years, or until 31 May 2012.

    This latest deportation order coincides with one of 8 May under which Lukasik must leave Belarus by 8 June (see F18News 17 May 2007 His wife and their three children are Belarusian citizens.

    In addition, Lukasik told Forum 18, he was today fined the minimum monthly wage, or 31,000 Belarusian roubles (88 Norwegian Kroner, 11 Euros or 14 US Dollars). He intends to appeal both deportation order and fine.

    "I was present at the service and prayed – that's normal participation," he remarked. "But even though we produced a statement signed by a whole list of church members saying that I did not preach that Sunday, the police insisted on their own version." Lukasik said that several of the state representatives who conducted Sunday's raid on the Pentecostal church had signed a protocol maintaining that he had conducted illegal religious activity at the service. "But I haven't seen it, so I don't know precisely of what sort of activity I am accused."

    Detained for several hours following the 27 May police raid, Lukasik was ordered to go before an administrative commission at midday today. Speaking to Forum 18 shortly afterwards, he said he was waiting for police to finish issuing his deportation papers and would then be free to leave the station.

    Heading to Belarus? Don't forget your condom

    From: IOL
    Priest: Condoms don't protect against AIDS
    Death: Thanks for your help
    Customs officers in Belarus have ordered drivers crossing over from Poland to carry a condom or be denied entry into the former Soviet republic, Polish customs officials claimed on Tuesday.

    "Several cases of this kind took place last week. They only involve the border crossing at Terespol," an eastern Polish town which lies across the border from the Belarusian city of Brest, said Marzena Siemieniuk, a local Polish customs service spokesperson.

    The Belarusian guards have allegedly demanded that drivers include a condom in the emergency first aid kit which road regulations say they must carry.

    Belarusian diplomats in Poland, however, denied the existence of new rules.

    In a related story, Condom sales have soared on Poland's border with Belarus after Belarusian border authorities recently began to demand each motorist and passenger be in possession of a condom before entering their country, according to Polish media reports.

    Even Roman Catholic priests, who vow celibacy, are required to be in possession of a condom in order to cross the border into Belarus.

    A Belarusian diplomat accredited to Poland has denied knowledge of any formal regulation requiring visitors to Belarus to carry condoms.

    But train passengers travelling into Belarus via rail are apparently exempt from the condom requirement, Polish media reported.

    "If such incidents have taken place, I will step in," said Alexander Kontski, the Belarusian consul responsible for eastern Poland.
  • Note: That priest would be the first place I checked!

    Bangladesh, Belarus sign agreement on economic cooperation

    From: People's Daily
    Bangladesh and Belarus have signed an agreement for expansion of bilateral trade and economic cooperation through increased contacts at different levels, the Bangladeshi news agency UNB reported Wednesday.

    The agreement was signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk on Tuesday.

    Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Victor Anatolievich Gaisenok and Bangladeshi Ambassador to the Russian Federation, concurrently accredited to Belarus, Amir Hussain Sikder signed the agreement on behalf of their respective countries.

    "The two countries would be benefited by the already concluded trade agreement through expansion of trade and economic cooperation between the two countries," Gaisenok was quoted as saying at the signing ceremony.

    He expressed hope that the bond of friendly ties between the two countries would be strengthened further as his country values the friendly relations and economic cooperation with Bangladesh.

    He said a Belarusian delegation, accompanied by members of the business community, will soon visit Bangladesh for annual consultations in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.

    The meeting will be held in accordance with the protocol signed in 2000 on bilateral consultation between the foreign affairs ministries of the two countries.

    "The meeting would provide scopes for the two countries to assess and review the existing bilateral cooperation and its expansion for mutual benefits," said the Belarusian minister.

    He expressed the interest to sign more agreements on avoidance of double taxation and investment protection between the two countries.

    Bangladeshi Ambassador Amir Hussain Sikder sought Belarus' assistance and cooperation in agriculture and energy sectors, and power generation.

  • Around the region...

    Russia says new ICBM can beat any system

    From: Yahoo
    Russia tested new missiles Tuesday that a Kremlin official boasted could penetrate any defense system, and President Vladimir Putin warned that U.S. plans for an anti-missile shield in Europe would turn the region into a "powder keg."

    First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple independent warheads, and it also successfully conducted a "preliminary" test of a tactical cruise missile that he said could fly farther than existing, similar weapons.

    "As of today, Russia has new tactical and strategic complexes that are capable of overcoming any existing or future missile defense systems," Ivanov said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. "So in terms of defense and security, Russians can look calmly to the country's future."

    Ivanov is a former defense minister seen as a potential Kremlin favorite to succeed Putin next year. Both he and Putin have said repeatedly that Russia would continue to improve its nuclear arsenals and respond to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic — NATO nations that were in Moscow's front yard during the Cold War as Warsaw Pact members.

    Russia has bristled at the plans, dismissing U.S. assertions that the system would be aimed at blocking possible attacks by Iran and saying it would destroy the strategic balance of forces in Europe.

    "We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into a powder keg and to fill it with new kinds of weapons," Putin said at a news conference with visiting Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates.

    Russian arms control expert Alexander Pikayev said the new ICBMs appeared to be part of Russia's promised response to the missile defense plans and, more broadly, an effort to "strengthen the strategic nuclear triad — land-based, sea-based and air-based delivery systems for nuclear weapons — which suffered significant downsizing" amid financial troubles after the 1991 Soviet collapse.

    The ICBM, called the RS-24, was fired from a mobile launcher at the Plesetsk launch site in northwestern Russia. Its test warhead landed on target some 3,400 miles away on the Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, the Strategic Missile Forces said in a statement.

    The new missile is seen as eventually replacing the aging RS-18s and RS-20s that are the backbone of the country's missile forces, the statement said. Those missiles are known in the West as the SS-19 Stiletto and the SS-18 Satan.

    The RS-24 "strengthens the capability of the attack groups of the Strategic Missile Forces by surmounting anti-missile defense systems, at the same time strengthening the potential for nuclear deterrence," the statement said.

    Ivanov said the missile was a new version of the Topol-M, first commissioned in 1997 and known as the SS-27 in the West, but one that that can carry multiple independent warheads, ITAR-Tass reported. Existing Topol-M missiles are capable of hitting targets more than 6,000 miles away.

    Pikayev, a senior analyst at the Moscow-based Institute for World Economy and International Relations, said that little had been revealed about the missile's development, but that Russia has been seeking to improve its capability to penetrate missile defense systems and that the new missile would likely answer to that goal.

    He said Russia had been working on a version of the Topol-M that could carry MIRVs — Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles — and that its development was probably "inevitable" after the U.S. withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in 2002 in order to develop a national missile defense.

    Pikayev concurred with the missile forces' statement that the RS-24 conforms with terms laid down in the START-I treaty, which is in force, and the 2002 Moscow Treaty, which calls for reductions in each country's nuclear arsenal to 1,700-2,000 warheads.

    Ivanov also announced the successful "preliminary" test of an improved tactical cruise missile designed for a mobile Iskander-M launcher, ITAR-Tass reported. Ivanov said last year that Russian ground forces would commission 60 short-range Iskander-M missiles by 2015.

    While Ivanov's saber-rattling about missile defense penetration was clearly aimed at the United States — and at Russians who will vote in March for a successor to Putin — he suggested Russia's armament efforts were also aimed to counter a potential treat from the Middle East and Asia.

    "We see perfectly how our eastern and southern neighbors here, there and everywhere are acquiring short and medium-range missiles," Ivanov said in televised comments at Kapustin Yar, the southern Russian site where the tactical missiles were tested.

    Ivanov said the 1987 Soviet-American treaty limiting such missiles — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, or INF — is no longer effective because "dozens of countries — many of them along our borders — have acquired them. All of this is a real danger for us, and the consequences can be unpredictable."

    He emphasized the need to equip the armed forces with "the most modern, precise weapons" and suggested Russia could arm itself with missiles whose range exceeds the lower limit of 310 miles set in the INF. The ranges of Russia's missiles are "for now within the commitments that Russia has taken upon itself, but I stress: for now," ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.

    Matthew Bunn, a senior research associate at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said the missile test was "in line with Russia's renewed emphasis in recent years of maintaining their weapons systems after years of decline."

    Bunn said he did not think the Russians had planned the test as a reaction to U.S. plans to deploy the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, although they may have worded Tuesday's announcement to make it appear that way.

    "I think if anything, the wording of the announcement may have been changed to emphasize the missile's ability to evade defense systems, but the test was probably planned way before," Bunn said.

    Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the test was Russia's way of showing the U.S. and its own people that it was investing more in national security.

    "The Russians have been talking about developing and testing new weapons for years now, so this isn't a surprise. They have a very aging nuclear missile structure and this test fits in with a broader trend of upgrading security," said Kuchins.

    "After years of spending little on their military, they're now showing us and showing the Russian population that they're paying more attention to defense."

    Russia is also embroiled in a dispute with the West over another Soviet-era arms pact, the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

    Putin has announced a moratorium on observance of the treaty and threatened to withdraw altogether if the United States and other NATO members do not ratify an 1999 amended version.

    Russia said Monday that it lodged a formal request for a conference among treaty signatories in Vienna next week.

    'Teletubbies' spark debate in Poland

    From: Newsday
    Is he gay? He might be gay.
    Poland's watchdog for children's rights was quoted as saying she would ask psychologists to investigate whether the "Teletubbies" character Tinky Winky is gay. Yesterday, she backed away from the comments.

    Ewa Sowinska, ombudsman for children's rights, said in the latest edition of a magazine that the purse-carrying character on the British Broadcasting Corp.'s "Teletubbies" children's show could promote homosexuality, The Associated Press reports.

    Journalists from the weekly Wprost mentioned claims that the "Teletubbies" promote homosexuality, to which Sowinska replied that she had heard of the issue. The journalists then asked about Tinky Winky.

    "I noticed that he has a purse, but I didn't realize he's a boy. At first I thought that must be a bother for him," Sowinska told the magazine in an interview her office approved before publication. "Later I learned that there could be some hidden homosexual undertones."

    Sowinska said she would ask her office's psychologists to look into the allegations "and judge whether it can be shown on public television and whether the suggested problem really exists."

    Yesterday Sowinska's spokeswoman Wieslawa Lipinska told The Associated Press that Sowinska "hasn't asked and won't ask" psychologists to investigate whether "Teletubbies" promotes homosexuality.

    "They are fictional characters, they have nothing to do with reality, and the bag and scissors and other props the fictional characters use are there to create a fictional world that speaks to children," Lipinska said. "We are not going to deal with this issue anymore."

    Sowinska is a member of the League of Polish Families party, which is anti-gay rights and anti-abortion. The party is a junior member in the coalition government led by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

    A similar controversy erupted in the United States in 1999 when a publication belonging to the evangelical leader, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, suggested that Tinky Winky was gay.

    Poland may face nationwide strikes

    From: UPI
    The number of wage strikes in Poland's state-run sector is growing, with fears complete nationwide walkouts could be coming, Polish Radio said Wednesday.
    Up to now, the government has been talking only about money in its dealing with each of the various groups on strike. However, the government should work out reforms that would clarify the future of state sector employees, an analyst told Polish Radio Wednesday.

    Michal Boni, international labor expert and a member of the Polish Solidarity trade union, said the government should organize a round table for negotiations.

    In a commentary on the recent strikes, Polish Radio recounted a string of strikes in state-run institutions that included protests by hospital nurses, civilians employed by the military, police and miners, and ongoing protests by physicians and school teachers.

    The state-run radio said more strikes by state sector employees demanding higher pay could turn into a nationwide protest.

    Estonia provides Red Army soldiers' DNA samples for Russia, Ukraine

    From: People's Daily
    Preliminary DNA testing on remains of 12 Red Army soldiers uncovered at a Soviet-era war memorial will be conducted in Russia and Ukraine, reports from the Estonian capital of Tallin said Wednesday.

    Estonia has provided all the DNA samples of the remains for Russia and Ukraine, where forensic experts will determine their identities in comparison with DNA samples of the soldiers' relatives, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry told the Baltic News Service (BNS).

    Estonian authorities will check and confirm the final results of the testing, said the spokesman.

    Three soldiers' relatives had sent their DNA samples to Russian authorities, saying they hoped to rebury the remains in their homeland, the BNS quoted the Russian newspaper Komsomol Pravda as reporting.

    On May 7, the Estonian Foreign Ministry notified Russia of the latest development of the Red Army monument's removal.

    The remains will be reburied in a military cemetery in Tallin, the ministry said, hoping that Russia will inform Estonian authorities by June 7 of the list of the relatives who intend to attend the funerals.

    On April 26 the Estonian government ordered the removal of the Soldier Liberator monument located in Tynismyagi Square, which commemorates Soviet soldiers killed during World War II.

    The move triggered violent protests from ethnic Russians in the Baltic country and drew strong criticism from Russia.

    Ukraine MPs deadlocked over poll

    From: BBC
    Ukraine's parliament has missed a deadline to pass laws to allow early elections and end a two-month crisis.

    Parliament had two days to approve a deal between President Viktor Yushchenko and PM Viktor Yanukovych to allow the elections on 30 September.

    Mr Yushchenko hinted on Wednesday that he may give lawmakers more time to consider the laws.

    The two have been locked in a bitter power struggle for months. In April, the president dissolved parliament.

    He has accused Mr Yanukovych of trying to usurp his power.

    A bomb scare forced lawmakers to evacuate the building during the tense parliamentary session.

    Corruption claims

    Mr Yanukovych has said he would seek an extension of the debate because there had not been enough time to discuss all the issues.

    Speaker Oleksander Moroz said debate would resume on Thursday.

    Earlier on Wednesday, Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko - a key figure in the stalemate - suffered a heart attack, a ministry official said. His condition was still unknown.

    At issue were laws on election financing, electoral commission reform and the former Soviet republic's bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

    Debate centred on a call to ban politicians from switching parties once elected and a proposed minimum poll turnout.

    Parliament made three attempts to pass the laws.

    Earlier, Mr Yushchenko said "certain forces" were trying to prevent the election.

    "For some, it would mean new corruption allegations, for others it would be political death," he said.

    The election deal had been reached after a marathon 12-hour session of talks between the two leaders on Sunday. It had been hailed as a compromise solution to the country's two-month political deadlock.

    Mr Yushchenko became president in January 2005 following the pro-democracy Orange Revolution, which overturned a rigged victory for Mr Yanukovych.

    But Mr Yushchenko was forced to accept his rival as prime minister after his allies failed to win a majority in the March 2006 parliamentary election, and the two men have repeatedly clashed.

    The president favours closer ties with the West, while the prime minister is seen as more pro-Russian.

  • From the blogs...

    Russia Fears Ethnically Targeted Bio-Bomb?

    From: Wired
    Gee, it seems like just yesterday that I was poking fun of "pills that cure martyrdom" and ethnically targeted plagues. Actually, it was just yesterday. Anyhow, while most of the world is worried about the very real threat of antibiotic resistant TB, Russia is reportedly concerned about the imaginary threat of weapons targeted at their DNA, according to New Scientist:

      Russia has banned the shipment of medical specimens abroad, threatening hundreds of patients and complicating drug trials by major companies, the national Kommersant newspaper reported on Wednesday.

      Kommersant attributed the ban to fears in the secret service that Russian genetic material could be used abroad to make biochemical weapons targeting Russians. The quality daily cited anonymous sources in the medical community.

      The ban, initiated by the Ministry of Health and carried out by the Federal Customs Service, began on 28 May. Shipment beyond Russia's borders of all biological material, including hair and blood, has been blocked.

    This got me wondering. My maternal grandparents were from a village that was in Poland, but is now in Belarus, so would I be immune? Or maybe Belarus doesn't count anyhow. Or maybe my paternal grandparents, who were from Hungary, would provide me with immunity. Or maybe all Jews are immune. This is confusing.

    It's not clear this really has anything to do with bioterrorism fears. The English-language Moscow Times, reporting on the same subject, indicated that although bioterrorism has been cited, it's not clear that's the real reason behind the ban.

    Luckily, at least one Russian scientist (and likely others) recognizes the ban for what it is: lunacy. The New Scientist article quotes Nikolai Yankovsky, head of the Russian Institute of Sciences' General Genetics Institute, "Forbidding the shipment of one's DNA abroad is impossible – I am my DNA."

    Belarus: Go!

    From: Aardvak Travel Blog
    Hello everyone,

    I am very pleased to have found this forum as there is some really good info on here, however it seems nobody has posted a question about Belarus in over 2 years. Are people just not interested in the country? I have been numerous times and can really recommend it if you are looking for a very laid back, back to basics kind of place. It is not the cheapest country in E.Europe ( more expensive then Poland for example ) but the scenery is beautiful and unspoilt and if you like biking,camping and messing about on rivers then it can not be beaten. You will not find many other tourists there which is great and if you do not speak any Russian then it can be a bit difficult at times but it is worth the hard work, trust me.

    Another thing is it is expensive to fly there, London-Minsk direct is over ?350 on Belavia which is a joke but atleast it keeps away my fellow countrymen on their stag weekends. So if you are in a neighbouring country this summer then pop over the border for a country that is not yet on the beaten path, you won't regret it.


  • Perhaps people are waiting for Mr. Lukashenko to leave office.
  • Who is waiting for him to leave?
  • Well, he doesn't carry a great reputation, does he ? ANyway, that wouldn't stop me from visiting the country; the only thing is that I really don't know a lot about the country and I think that's the same with most people... It's almost never in the news and if it is, it's for the wrong (Lukashenko)-reasons, so it's not really attractive I suppose....
  • Sure he does not have a good reputation but he is actually very popular in Belarus. I for one can understand why. I have travelled all over E.Europe and Belarus is the safest,cleanest country there is in my opinion. I have never seen a beggar there! Compare that to Romania or Slovakia.They also like the fact that wages are paid on time and the US holds no sway over the country. I am certainly not an appologist for his regime but I like the fact that if my daughter was out late at night on her own I would never worry about her safety. As a tourist you will never have to worry about Lukashenko, speak freely,people will give you their opinion openly on him,good or bad and you can do the same. It is not North Korea. Anyway maybe I am getting off the topic of travel in Belarus. You are probably both correct as regards for people being put off the country because of it's leader. But in hindsight on a selfish level that is good because it will never be ruined in the way Talinn,Riga,Prague in my opinion have been ruined.
    Note: Here here!

    Woody allen's Classmate: Finally Famous in his Own Right

    From: Babushka
    Much to his wife’s surprise, Belarusian students crowded around Lou to ask for his autograph and seek advice
    “No one has ever asked me for my autograph in my life,” a shocked and hungry Lou said in Beze Cafe in between bites of his Belarusian poppy-seed strudel.

    Lou, husband of February’s Best Babushka, vaguely remembers his awkward Brooklyn schoolmate Allen Konigsburg. But the first time Lou saw Allen on his TV set, it took a while to sink in that little Allen K. had become celebrity-comedian Woody Allen.

    That was a long time ago, and Lou has since come to terms with the fact that he would probably not reach the public eminence achieved by his elementary-school associate, which is not to say that he would not surpass his accomplishments. Little did Lou know, however, that his decision to become an English Language Fellow in the Minsk State Linguistic University through the U.S. Department of State would immortalize his name as renown scholar of film and companion to the rich and famous.

    This year’s American Film Festival in Minsk was sponsored by the American Embassy in Belarus and was held in the soviet-era Victory Theater. The film lineup features such classics as Kramer vs. Kramer, directed by Robert Benton and starring Dustin Hoffman, and of course Annie Hall, directed by and starring little Allen K.

    The U.S. Embassy could not hold back from asking Lou to introduce Annie Hall. Lou spoke of recollections of his classmate, growing up in Brooklyn, and even mentioned that his wife, February’s Best, went to school in Astoria, Queens with Christopher Walken, who also makes a cameo in Annie Hall as Annie’s creepy brother. She remembers eating delicious pastries at Christopher’s father’s store, “Walken’s Bakery.”

    Judging by the roaring laughter, the assembled audience, about 1,000-Belarusians-strong, appreciated Allen’s humor more than your average American.

    Postcards from the Neo-Soviet Union

    From: Kim Zigfeld for Publius Pundit
    Cue the Theme from Jaws. DA-dum. DA-dum, da-dum...

    Reporting in the Times of London, Moscow correspondent Mark Franchetti adds more evidence that Russians have rejected the concept of democracy and are willingly returning to the dark days of Soviet dictatorship, underlining the extent to which we were misled by the idiots who said, during the first cold war, that ordinary Russians were decent democrats who would do the right thing given a chance, and that they could "never go back" to dictatorship once the Berlin Wall fell.

      Seven years after coming to power, Putin, who served a third of his life in the KGB, has few friends left in Europe and America. West of Moscow he is vilified as an authoritarian despot who has crushed opposition to his rule, turned independent media into a sycophantic tool of the Kremlin and jailed or chased his critics into exile. In Litvinenko's case Putin has effectively been branded a murderer by parts of the western press. In Russia, by contrast, Putin enjoys popularity ratings that must surely be the envy of George W Bush and Tony Blair. Well over 70% of Russians support him, according to the latest polls -- by any standards a record for a leader at the end of his tenure. Under the current leadership this is an authoritarian country run mostly by a clique of former KGB agents. And yes, the control of the media is so draconian and pervasive that even the launch of a national children's TV channel has become a political issue. Nor would many dispute that the country's judiciary is a travesty and that corruption in Russia has become far more endemic than it ever was even during the turbulent years when Boris Yeltsin was in the Kremlin. But like it or not, Putin is genuinely popular. Ask most Russians and they will tell you that they would happily vote for the constitution to be changed so as to allow him to stay on a third term (he is due to step down in 10 months' time), a feeling shared by western investors whose primary concern is high returns and political stability rather than democracy and a free press. Many years ago, when I first came to work in Moscow, a political pundit close to the Kremlin told me that the problem between Russia and the West is that Russians are white. "We look like you. We look like Europeans and so the West expects us to think and act like you. As a result, when we don't you get all upset. Why can't they be like us, you fret. But you don't say that about the Chinese, for instance. You don't expect them to think and act like you. Well, we are white but we are different."

    As if to show how right Franchetti was, a spate of developments over the past few days served as proof positive of the Kremlin's malignant intentions. More about them after the jump.

    On Saturday, even as the Kremlin was refusing to extradite the man British police say was responsible for killing Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident on British soil in an attack that could have poisoned hundreds of Britons with deadly atomic radiation, yet another British diplomat was physically assaulted in Russia.

    On Sunday, Reuters reported that the Kremlin had crushed a gay pride parade in Moscow. A British gay rights activist who participated in the march stated:

      he behaviour of the Moscow police was some of the worst I've ever experienced. The police stood back and allowed the fascist thugs to attack us. They made very few efforts to stop them. (It) was very reminiscent of the repression by the police in the Brezhnev era of old-style Soviet Communism. They (the police) seemed to be working hand in glove with the neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists to get them to bash us. But either way, the end result was the same. We got arrested, we got bashed, and most of the assailants walked free.

    Yesterday, May 28th, the famous Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky declared he would be a candidate for president in the 2008 elections. Nothing could send a more emphatic message as to the neo-Soviet state Russia currently embodies than this decision.

    Earlier today, Russia test-fired a MiRV ICBM, which can depoy several different warheads at different targets from a single launch vehicle, a direct challenge to the NATO defensive missile systems now being deployed in Eastern Europe. In other words, it's arms race part II, and Russia doesn't seem to see any hypocrisy at all in giving defensive missile systems to Iran to help that rogue state protect its infant nuclear technology from the West while simultaneously screaming about the presence of such systems in Eastern Europe, which it once tried to enslave. At the same time, the Kremlin continued to discuss pulling out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty unilaterally.

    There is no way to interpret this horrifying litany of aggressive, provocative actions by the Kremlin other than as a direct frontal assault on the West, the intentional revival of the Cold War and the arms race that devastated the USSR, a nation with twice the population and far more financial resources than Russia.

    It's either an act of suicide, or an act of pure insanity.

  • Sport...

    President backs new Belarus rowing course

    From: World Rowing
    Gold medallist Karsten and President Lukashenko
    Thanks to the success of single sculler, Ekaterina Karsten, Belarus has been on the medals table at World Rowing events ever since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union. The country’s president Alexander Lukashenko has recognised the value of rowing in Belarus and last Friday the first of seven new rowing courses was officially opened.

    The Centre for Olympic Training in Rowing opened in Brest, Belarus’s southwest city on the Polish border, as a 10-laned international standard course, complete with Swiss Timing measuring system.

    There is no doubt about the government’s backing of the project as President Lukashenko attended and spoke at the ceremony, publicly praising the success of rowing in Belarus.

    In his opening speech Lukashenko said the Brest rowing centre would give new impetus to the popularisation of rowing and Belarus would continue to develop the rowing base.

    “Sport success means not only the country’s prestige, but the resolution of problems of defensive capacity, demographic security and a stronger gene pool of the nation,” the President said.

    Also in attendance was Piotr Prokapovich President of Belarus Rowing Federation, Aleksandr Grigorov Minister of Sport, Viktor Korzh Ukraine Minister of Sport and Sergey Bubka IOC member as well as the Belarus national rowing team and FISA Executive Director Matt Smith.

    Smith described Lukashenko as a huge sports fan – he also occupies the role as President of the Belarus Olympic Committee – and well informed about rowing. “Mr Lukashenko and Ekaterina Karsten have a close relationship,” said Smith. “He has supported her since winning her 1996 Olympic gold medal.” Belarus Olympic bronze medallist, Yuliya Bichyk was also in attendance and was presented with a symbolic key to the Olympic rowing training centre by Lukashenko.

    “It was a great opportunity to see the total support of sport from the top of the government down to citizens of Brest,” said Smith. “It’s great to see the high profile of our sport.”

    Construction of the Brest rowing canal began, following a presidential order, in 2004 and the facility includes a full sports facility at the finish area with gym and indoor swimming pool, an eight-bay boathouse as well as a hotel.

    Lukashenko also announced that Brest would be bidding for the 2010 World Rowing Under 23 Championships and the 2009 European Championships.

    Following the opening, Brest hosted the two day International Junior Regatta “Friendship” hosting rowers from 11 countries including Serbia and Bulgaria. Belarus scored a large number of the medals. The event is in its eighth year.

  • Endnote...

    Uladzimier Katkolski Dies

    From: TOL and Global Voices
    Uladzimier Katkouski, web-editor of the Belarusian Service of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty dies yesterday after being one year in coma. Uladzimier was one of those who created websites about Belarusians repressed and killed by the Stalinist regime, and, the media service to be called the best in the RFERL network. He was then one to initiate creation of Belarusian – language Google and an activist of BY-Wikipedia. To a large degree thanks to his effort Belarusian-language Internet is now what it is.

    Here is a message from his family - posted in English and in Belarusian:

    Dear Friends,

    Tonight was the saddest day of our lives. Uladzimir, after a long fight passed away in Prague. We believe it was his wish to be returned to his home country Belarus. He will be buried next week in Minsk. Our consolation is that a lot of people are feeling for him and are with our thoughts in this moment. It has been a blessing to have had him with us!

    Uladzimir’s family

    user czalex wrote (BEL):

    […] In his 30 years, Rydel has done as many useful deeds as some manage to do in their 70 or 80 years. […]

    Israel-based blogger Amir Aharoni wrote:

    Uladzimer Katkouski, a.k.a. Rydel23 and BR23, passed away yesterday after about a year in coma caused by a road accident. Katkouski was the webmaster of Radyjo Svaboda - the Belarusian branch of Radio Liberty, one of the editors of Pravapis - a site dedicated to Belarusian language, and a popular figure in Belarusian Internet culture. I knew him personally through the web and we exchanged some emails. While some people accused him of Belarusian nationalism and Russophobia, he was just a guy who wanted to speak his own language and tried to convince the world to give a little respect to the history of his country, which is considered by nearly everyone as just a bunch of counties in Western Russia.

    This is really sad news. The whole story is such a tragedy. Perhaps we can say that he has gone on to another place but certainly, this one that we still live in is much worse for his no longer being here. I think I respected him more than any other single voice on the net concerning Belarusian issues and certainly looked to BR23 daily to see what he had to say. I think he had real bravery and intelligence. He was a credit to all Belarusians. May he rest in peace.