News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, June 10, 2007

China and the Olympics, Corruption, Beer, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Council of Europe, Blogs and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #211

    From: The office of the president and BetTA
    Meeting with the Chairman of China’s Olympic Committee, Liu Peng
    On June 8, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with the President of the Chinese Olympic Committee, the Chairman (Minister) of the Administrative Department for Physical Culture and Sports of the People’s Republic of China, Liu Peng, the presidential press-service told BelTA.

    The Chinese sports system has much in common with the Belarusian one. There is a vast network of sports schools and clubs, boarding schools and specialised sports schools in China; the country provides scientific support for sport and a wide range of medical services. The difference is only in the number of people involved in sports activities in China and Belarus, the former naturally having more training, research and medical institutions hard-wired for sport, including professional sport.

    There are 20 sports administrative centres in China distinguished by types of sport, a university, 17 institutes, 6 physical training colleges and 5 research institutions that are subordinate to the Administrative Department for Physical Culture and Sports.

    During the meeting, president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko handed over an Order of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus to President of the Olympic Committee of China Liu Peng.

    Liu Peng was given the award in recognition of his personal contribution to development of the Olympic movement and the Belarusian-Chinese sports cooperation.

    "The People’s Republic of China has been rendering massive support to Belarus." Said Lukashenko, “We see you have been broadening this support. You have been working in the Belarusian economic sector and are not afraid of risks”, the head of state said and added Belarus was ready to cooperate with China in all spheres.

    Belarus is interested in the Chinese experience of training sportsmen, in particular for the Olympic Games-2008.

    “You have achieved considerable progress in developing sports, in meeting the goals you set for yourself virtually in all kinds of sports. Today we should learn from your experience,” Alexander Lukashenko said addressing Liu Peng.

    Pro-government trade union federation accused of forging signatures on petition against EU's move to suspend Belarus' trade benefits

    From: Naveny
    Guy Ryder, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation
    Two major international organizations have accused the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB) of forging foreign labor union leaders' signatures on a petition against the suspension by the European Union of Belarus' trade benefits.

    Guy Ryder, secretary general of the International Trade Union Confederation, and John Monks, secretary general of the European Trade Union Confederation, have leveled the accusation against the pro-government trade union federation in their letter to EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mendelsohn.

    In the letter, the international trade union leaders say that the FTUB was ordered by Minsk to win international support for its drive against the suspension of the benefits scheduled to take effect on June 21.

    "The government clearly hoped thereby to persuade the International Labour Conference to support their position and for the ILO to inform the EU that matters have improved in Belarus, such that the EU decision should be reversed," Messrs. Ryder and Monks say in the letter.

    The FTUB claimed last month that its petition against the suspension of the benefits had been signed by trade union organizations representing 16 countries, including the Moscow-headquartered International Association of Metal Workers' Trade Unions (MOP) that affiliates Belarusian, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Moldovan, Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian labor unions.

    MOP Chairman Nikolai Shatokhin denied the report, saying that neither he nor other representatives of the organization had signed the appeal.

    "Several of those union leaders whose signatures were included at the end of the statement have now stated categorically that they did not sign the statement and do not agree with it. Their apparent signatures were in fact scanned from other documents they had signed (such as participants' lists from meetings held in Belarus) and copied into the FTUB statement," Messrs. Ryder and Monks say in the letter.

    "We are informing you of these developments in order to ensure that you are aware of the evidence of fraud in the FTUB statement, particularly in case you are in touch with member states that may not realise that this is not a genuine trade union statement. In a more general sense we felt it useful to appraise you of the extremes to which the Lukashenko government appears prepared to go in order to escape the application of the GSP Decision," the letter reads.

    FTUB representatives declined to comment on the letter.

    The suspension of the benefits comes as punishment against Minsk for failure to implement the International Labor Organization's recommendations.

    The ILO Commission of Inquiry adopted them in late 2004 after considering a 200-page report compiled by a special commission formed to probe the Belarusian government's alleged interference in the activities of trade unions.

    Head of state petrochemical conglomerate formally charged with corruption offense

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Barowski
    Alyaksandr Barowski, chairman of the Belarusian State Petrochemical Industry Concern (Belnaftakhim), has been formally charged with a corruption offense, Valery Nadtachayew, spokesman for the Committee for State Security (KGB), told BelaPAN.

    "The charge has been brought under a corruption-related article [of the Criminal Code]," the spokesman said, declining to name the article.

    Mr. Barowski was arrested on May 29 and has been held in a pretrial detention center since.

    Petrochemical industry experts link the case to Belnaftakhim's woes caused by Russia's move to introduce a duty on crude oil exports to Belarus earlier this year. There are reports that Mr. Barowski did not take part in January's negotiations on Russian oil exports to Belarus and criticized the deal resulting from the talks.

    The amount of crude oil processed by Belarus' two oil refineries in the first three months of 2007 dropped by 10 percent compared with the same period of the previous year. Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski blamed it on Belnaftakhim top officials.

    Mr. Barowski was said to have directed that the refineries should import crude oil themselves after most Russian companies refused to supply oil to the companies for processing on a give-and-take basis. The refineries had to borrow to buy crude oil and currently find it hard to pay off the loans, experts suggest.

    Mr. Barowski, 56, had worked for nearly 30 years at the Babruysk-based Belshyna tire plant before taking over as director general of the Palimir artificial fiber manufacturer in 2001. He was named chairman of Belnaftakhim in 2005.

    The state conglomerate includes more than 50 companies that account for 19 percent of the country's overall industrial output and for more than 25 percent of total exports.

    Queuing for Beer of Belarus

    From: Kommersant
    President of Baltika Brewery Anton Artemyev
    The refusal of Belarus to sell the majority stake in Krinitsa Brewery Holding to Russia’s Baltika in 2000 hasn’t terminated its plans to make private the brewing leader of the country. The assets, which worth is estimated at $200 million, are being claimed by SABMiller, Heineken and BBH.

    All Krinitsa, including breweries in Minsk and Brest (the aggregate capacity of 1.8 million hectoliters) and Belarus-biggest malthouse Belsolod, has been put up for sale, said a source with a brewing company operating in Belarus. Krinitsa covers 40 percent of the local market and its estimate is $200 million. The tender results could be expected in a month and a half.

    “SABMiller, BBH, Heineken, Sun InBev and Detroit Belarus Brewing Company bid at the first stage of the tender, but only SABMiller, BBH and Heineken have survived,” the source said.

    Belgospishcheprom chief Ivan Danchenko and Krinitsa Director Grigory Pitkevich confirmed the information. According to Danchenko, $200 million is “the estimate given to the brewery by potential buyers but the final price will be established during the tender.”

    The tender for Krinitsa is the second attempt of Belarus to dispose of it. In 2000, BBH-owned Baltika endeavored to acquire 50 percent plus a stock in Krinitsa for $50 million and even transferred the first tranche of $10.5 million. But the authorities of Belarus had second thoughts about selling the asset and the company was able to get back its money only in 2005.

    Sergei Sidorskiy: Belarus will do its best to avoid harvest losses

    From: NLIPRB
    This year every possible thing will be done in Belarus to avoid harvest losses, Belarus Prime Minister Sergei Sidorskiy said today at a national session dedicated to forage harvesting and preparations for this year’s grain harvesting campaign.

    In his words, specific approaches need to be worked out to minimise losses and avoid last year’s errors.

    Sergei Sidorskiy noted, so far the weather looks favourable this year, which allows expecting high yield of all agricultural crops. “We have every reason to believe in it, however, effective performance of all links of agriculture needs to be established”, he added.

    The session also tabled the effectiveness of scientific support for agricultural work with a view to ensuring the planned yield of agricultural crops. Participants of the session talked over supplies of new machines, including grain-cleaning and drying installations and harvester’s mounting attachments for collecting rape and corn, to agricultural companies. The session also tabled the progress in paving machine stations, open-air grain storage facilities, approach roads to facilities for storing haylage and other kinds of fodder.

    Sergei Sidorskiy got familiar with the state of sowed grain and leguminous crops, malting barley, fodder crops, sugar beet, flax and potato by the example of test fields of the Arable Farming Research Centre of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

    The Prime Minister pointed out the need to more actively utilise scientific achievements in agriculture.

    All maternity pays increased in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    On June 1, 2007 the size of all maternity pays was increased in Belarus. The press service of the President of Belarus told BelTA, on June 8 the head of state signed decree No. 268 to improve the state support for families bearing children.

    The maternity pay for the first child has been raised from three to five subsistence wages and up to seven subsistence wages for the second child and more children.

    The effective subsistence wage will make these maternity pays as large as Br924,000 and Br1.293 million respectively.

    The measure is designed to improve financial support for the families children are born into, stimulate births, and preserve the positive tendencies that have taken shape in recent years.

    Besides, the decree equalises one-time benefits for women, who register their pregnancy with a state healthcare institution within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy expecting their first or a second child, and benefits for women, who have given birth to a third child and more children.

    As such benefits are supposed to encourage women to register their pregnancy with maternity welfare centres as soon as possible and to be regularly monitored by doctors to avoid complications, the decree sets this benefit equal to the subsistence wage regardless of the ordinal number of the child to be born.

    The higher maternity pays are some of the measures the government is taking to help Belarusian families this year, which has been declared a Year of Child in Belarus, and in later years, noted the press service.

    EU external relations commissioner meets with Belarusian deputy foreign minister in Brussels

    From: Naveny
    Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union (EU)'s external relations commissioner, met with Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Varanetski in Brussels on June 8.

    "In the center of their discussion was, of course, the dialogue between the EU and the Belarusian authorities," Christiane Hohmann, spokeswoman for Ms. Ferrero-Waldner, told BelaPAN. "Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner basicly explained what we expect from the Belarusian side to be able to move ahead. We engage with Belarus, which, of course, is our intention, but certain steps have to be taken before that's possible. These steps should include progress in the field of democracy, freedom of expression and the press, and the release of political prisoners."

    "Certain progress has to be made and it has to be considerable progress," Ms. Hohmann noted, adding that Mr. Varanetski "took note" of the European Union's position.

    The spokeswoman also said that the deputy minister raised the issue of the forthcoming removal Belarus from the EU's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). According to her, the decision of suspend the GSP benefits for Belarus, which is to come into force on June 21, had been initiated by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the possibility of revoking it depends on the ILO. "We are not really the right address of that," Ms. Hohmann said. "As far as we understand, the problem is that the ILO conditions have to be fulfilled."

    Around Br2 trillion to be spent by 2010 to develop 187 communities in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The President of Belarus has approved a State Programme for Developing Regions, Small and Medium Urban Communities in 2007-2010. The press service of the Belarusian leader told BelTA, the head of state signed the corresponding decree on June 7.

    Covering 187 communities, the programme is meant to accomplish around 1,000 investment projects, including 195 top-priority ones, to create over 19,000 new jobs, decrease unemployment rate down to 1% and improve living standards of Belarusians.

    With a view to reaching the goals, state support will be extended to economic entities, raising their competitive ability, promoting an environment favourable for small businesses.

    Around Br2 trillion will be spent to accomplish the programme, with the state budget apportioning a quarter of the sum.

    Simultaneously the head of state signed decree No. 266 giving more authority to oblast administrations for providing privileges to state and private economic entities, including privileges given as local budgets’ guarantees for bank loans.

    The steps have created a comprehensive legal system, which allows accomplishing one of the top priorities of the national social and economic development in the next few years.

    Within the current five-year plan the central government together with local authorities will work out specific measures to be taken to accomplish the State Programme for Developing Regions, Small and Medium Urban Communities in 2007-2010.

    In January-April, Belarus posts $374.5mn surplus in trade with Moscow

    From: NLIPRB
    Moscow remains Belarus’ main trade-economic partner among the Russian regions. Exports to Russian capital account for around 37% of the total deliveries of Belarusian products to the Russian Federation, BelTA has been told in the embassy of Belarus to Russia.

    In January-April 2007, the trade turnover between Belarus and Moscow reached more than $1,186 billion, or 13.5% up from the same period last year. Belarusian exports amounted to $780.3 million (15.9% up), imports - $405.8 million (9.1% up). Belarus has a surplus of $374.5 million.

    Belarus’ main exports to Moscow in January-April 2007 were tractors and truck tractors, iron or alloy-free steel bars, trucks, tectile, cheese and curds, polymer materials, plastic and goods made of plastic, fish, goods made of ferrous metals, furniture, milk, knitted wear, insulated wire, tyres.

    Interregional cooperation has been gaining momentum. As of today more than 100 agreements have been signed between towns, regions of Belarus and prefectures of Moscow. Belarusian producers expand their commodity distribution network, open more chain stores; fairs are held on a regular basis. Belarus and Moscow have been successfully cooperating in sci-tech and services spheres.

    The commodity distribution network of Belarusian companies includes more than 350 facilities. The products of Belarusian producers such as Atlant, Brestgazoapparat, Mogotex, Milavitsa, Keramin, Vityas, Marko enjoy stable demand in Moscow. The brands such as Atlant, Gefest, Vityas, Milavitsa and Matias have become as popular as well-known Russian and foreign brands, the embassy informs.

    Prize-winner of President’s Special Fund becomes laureate of Pushkin Contest of Professors

    You are a tsar: live alone.
    Along a free path
    Go, wherever your free mind leads you,
    Perfecting the fruits of beloved thoughts,
    Without demanding prizes for your noble deed.
    -- A. S. Pushkin (from "To the Poet," 1830)
    Yelena Kriklivets, a Russian language and literature professor of Vitebsk secondary school #39, a prize-winner of the Special Fund of the President of the Republic of Belarus for Support of the Talented Youth, has become a laureate of the 7th Pushkin Contest for Professors of the CIS and Baltic States.

    The Pushkin Contest has been held in Russia since 2000. This year – the Year of the Russian Language, the forum gathered 387 professors from various countries. In line with the terms of the contest, its participants should write the essay “ Is it necessary the Russian language for computer generation?” The contest received the greatest number of essays from Belarus and Uzbekistan. The jury panel was composed of famous Russian scientists and journalists.

    Apart from Yelena Kriklivets, the Belarusian team included seven professors more: Svetlana Babicheva, Tatiana Beloborodaya, Oleg Volfson, Zoya Kobyak, Oksana Lychkovskaya, Irina Savkina, Margarita Skachkova.

    Jewish city of Ashdod interested in establishing twin-town relations with one of Belarusian oblast centers

    From: BelTA
    The Jewish city of Ashdod is interested in establishing twin-town relations with one of the Belarusian oblast centers, Ashdod mayor Zvi Zilker said when meeting with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to the State of Israel Igor Leschenya, BelTA has been told in the Belarusian diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv.

    According to Zvi Zilker, one of the biggest diasporas of the Belarusians lives in Ashdod. One of its representatives – Grigoriy Feldman is vice-mayor of the city.

    Development of the regional cooperation between Belarus and Israel was discussed in the meeting between Igor Leschenya and Zvi Zilker, which was also attended by vice-mayor Grigoriy Feldman and chair of the city department of the All-Israeli association of natives of Belarus Isaac Zfasman.

  • Around the region...

    Putin: How worried should the West be?

    From: Times On-Line
    Angered by western 'imperialism' and emboldened by soaring oil riches, the Russian bear is growling again. Sunday Times reporters analyse the new threat from the east and explain why it cannot be ignored

    At the Russian embassy in London on Friday, the greeting to visitors was sub-zero. “What is your question?” barked an official through the intercom; he softened only when told that an appointment with the ambassador himself had been arranged.

    Inside the building the reception rooms are magnificently grand with high ceilings, mahogany doors and antique furniture. On a coffee table stood a plate of Jammie Dodger biscuits, meticulously arranged in the shape of a rose. Next to them was a bowl of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

    Yuri Fedotov, the ambassador, had little time for pleasantries. He dismissed notions of a new “cold war” but firmly accused Britain and the West of riding roughshod over Russian sensibilities.

    “We expect more respect for our national interests,” Fedotov said. “The very notion of friendship in international relations is very subjective. If it is about partnership, it should be on an equal footing, not the partnership of the horseman and the horse.”

    Russia, he added, was threatened by a new American missile interception system – involving the siting of radar stations and rockets in eastern Europe – and would take whatever measures it saw fit to counter it: “This radar station will cover part of Russia, or potentially could cover a part of Russia, which is now not covered by any surveillance systems . . . That is something which is going to change military and strategic balance.”

    The ambassador rejected the idea that the US system was purely defensive: “In military and strategic doctrine, the shield is always accompanied by the sword. You cannot divide them. That’s why Russia, if this happens, would be obliged to take necessary measures.”

    Not since the days of communist rule has such a chill struck East-West relations. The cold snap started when Putin accused the United States two weeks ago of “imperialism” and threatened to target Russian nuclear weapons at Europe if the “star wars” system went ahead.

    Last week at the G8 summit in Germany Putin appeared more conciliatory, offering a deal to President George W Bush to host part of the missile system’s radar network at a site in Azerbaijan instead of Europe.

    Bush and Putin emerged from their meeting putting on a show of friendship. Bush enthused: “I told Vladimir we’re looking forward to having him up to my folks’ place in Maine the beginning of July.”

    Tony Blair, less than three weeks from quitting No 10, had no need for such play-acting. He made no secret of having a “frank and honest” discussion with the Russian leader. As one senior aide said: “He’s got to the stage now where he doesn’t need to have a good relationship with Putin, he can tell it like it is.”

    He and Putin had barely shaken hands before Blair ordered the pool press photographers out of the room. “That’s enough, you can go now,” he said.

    The Russian president began by telling Blair he was sick of the West’s recent treatment of his country. He said he was not just annoyed by the missile defence system planned near his borders, he was also upset at American and British support for the Orange revolution in Ukraine.

    Blair gave as good as he got, telling Putin that western businesses would pull out of a regime that was not open and democratic. Blair also went on to demand that Russia extradite Andrei Lugovoi, the former KGB man charged with the murder of Alexander Litvin-enko, the Russian exile who was poisoned with polonium210 in London last year.

    Afterwards Blair admitted: “The atmosphere on a personal level was perfectly cordial, but there are real issues there and I don’t think they will be resolved any time soon.”

    Is Putin bent on flexing the power of a revitalised Russia? Is this the prelude to a new cold war and a world beset once again by nuclear threats? Or does the Russian hardman, who is grappling with numerous domestic and international pressures, have another agenda? MOST people in the West expected the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 to usher in a new Russia, one that would become free, democratic and capitalist, just like them.

    Instead, robber oligarchs seized assets and power without much care for democracy’s foundation, the rule of law. The result has been deep disillusion and suspicion of the West, reflected last week in the views of Maxim Andreyev, 59, who lives in a tiny, crowded flat in St Petersburg. “When communism fell there was a sense of euphoria,” said Andreyev, a former factory manager who now survives on odd jobs and a pension of £50 a month.

    “Fifteen years ago we thought democracy meant that soon we’d live better. And we looked at the West in awe.

    “But for people like me life only became harder. I don’t crave the repression of the Soviet Union, but democracy and freedom are luxuries when you have to worry about surviving amid rampant corruption, crime and injustice.”

    The physical hardships have had a deep psychological impact, says Vladimir Pozner, one of Russia’s most respected political commentators. “Many people lost everything and they thought the West would help,” he said. “But there was much talk and little action.”

    Putin became president in 2000 and responded to the chaos by centralising power, both economic and political.

    High commodity prices, especially for oil and gas, rebuilt the shattered finances of the state, if not those of the people. Under Putin, Russia has gone from economic basket-case to energy powerbroker. Economic growth has averaged 6.7% a year and foreign reserves have surged from $12 billion in 1999 to $315 billion at the end of 2006.

    In a world of $70-a-barrel oil, Russia’s vast reserves give it international clout: Putin temporarily cut off supplies of oil and gas to former Soviet satellites until they agreed to pay market prices. He is now rewriting oil deals with western giants such as Shell and BP.

    This posturing has revived national pride. “In Soviet times things were far from perfect but the rest of the world respected and feared us,” said Galina Saliyeva, 51, a nurse.

    “Then when everything collapsed after perestroika, we became the butt of jokes – things which had been our pride and joy like the space programme, the army, our scientists, our nuclear arsenal.

    “Now, once again we can be proud of ourselves and frankly we are getting fed up listening to the West’s constant criticism and preaching.”

    It is easy for people in the West to forget that Russia is the world’s biggest country by landmass – nearly twice the size of the United States or China. Although economically weakened, it retains the mentality of a giant.

    Such is the mood of national revival that even old ogres are enjoying rehabilitation. In Dom Knigi, the largest bookshop in Moscow, the shelves are once again full of adulatory books about Soviet war heroes – including Stalin, the dictator who presided over the murder of millions.

    Although some in the West see Putin as a dangerous autocrat with echoes of the past, the Russian people appear to back him (even allowing for state control of most media): opinion polls put his support at 80%.

    “Most Russians are with Putin when he hits back at the West,” said a Kremlin aide. “They like to see that Russia is once again standing up to America, that it has its own interests which it will pursue and protect.”

    Among Russia’s neighbours the view of Putin and his country is very different. Indeed, the changing nature of the states around Russia that were once part of the Soviet empire are important to understanding Putin’s new aggressive stance. AFTER the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia still saw itself as wielding influence in its former satellites, from Estonia through Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and beyond. After September 11, 2001 Putin saw himself as aiding the West by allowing US forces to operate out of bases in Russia’s former southern region.

    “There was a meeting between the Russian military commanders and major political forces to decide what to do about 9/11, what support to give,” said Dr Alena Ledeneva, an academic now based in Britain who knows Putin. “Out of 21 people at that meeting only two thought that the president of Russia should support the president of the United States. One was Putin himself.”

    Putin was the first foreign leader to telephone Bush after the attacks and offer help. But Russia got little in return. Later the United States pulled out of the 1972 antiballistic missile treaty as it prepared to develop its new defence system.

    Worse, the “colour revolutions” of Ukraine and Georgia saw popular protest, encouraged by the West, overthrow leaders sympathetic to Russia. Georgia even applied to Nato and the European Union for forces to replace Russian peace-keepers in the region. Russia began to feel encircled.

    A vicious spiral was developing. The more Putin exerted order and control in Russia and attempted to maintain its influence in the former Soviet states, the more vocal became the outside opponents.

    Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch who sought asylum in Britain, called for the overthrow of Putin. So did Garry Kasparov, the chess champion who has homes in Russia and the United States. Even Yegor Gaidar, the former Russian prime minister, said: “Sometimes Russia seems to be heading towards fascism.”

    Certainly Putin’s administration has actively encouraged the spread of patriotism and nationalism among ordinary Russians, in particular among the young.

    The Kremlin founded Nashi, a youth group reminiscent of Komsomol, the communist youth organisation. Nashi members like to march in T-shirts emblazoned with Putin’s portrait. Their antiwestern actions have included harassing the British ambassador in Moscow, disrupting meetings organised by Russia’s beleaguered opposition, burning literature considered too liberal and protesting against attempts last month to stage the country’s first gay parade in Moscow.

    In April tiny Estonia, a country of 1.4m people of whom 400,000 are Russians, decided to move a statue of a Russian soldier, erected in 1947, from the centre of Tallinn, its capital, regarding it as an unwelcome reminder of 50 years of Soviet occupation.

    The plan sparked riots, apparently orchestrated by the Russian embassy in Tallinn, and a “cyber-attack” from the east. The internet servers for Estonian government departments, media organisations, banks and businesses suffered a mass “denial of service” by computers based in Russia.

    Russian espionage activities are also as strong as ever, intelligence officials from several western countries said last week. A Canadian intelligence study said that espionage had “reached a level of prominence . . . that has not been witnessed since the cold war”.

    Do these domestic and international tensions really compare with the days when the two superpowers faced each other with their fingers on the nuclear button? To the Russian defector Oleg Gordievsky, it is all very simple: yes, Putin is stuck in a time warp. “He is an old-fashioned KGB apparatchik,” said Gordievsky. “He doesn’t know any other way to deal with the West. He views it like the 1970s.”

    OTHERS believe it is more complicated. Professor Robert Service, the author of a new history of communism, said: “It is a gross misuse of language to call [the present tensions] a new cold war. There aren’t great allies lining up behind Russia to take on the United States. What is in process is a new world order, or even disorder, coming into being, with regional powers asserting themselves in the aftermath of the debacle in Iraq.”

    That new order might include a Russia-China axis. In 2005 Russia and China held their first joint military exercise and are discussing new energy pipelines. Domestic politics is another important factor in Putin’s stance. His second four-year term as president ends in March and under the Russian constitution he cannot stand for a third consecutive term.

    However, many Russians would like him to continue and some observers see his tough stance against the West as a ploy to engineer sufficient popular support to allow him to remain in power. “There’s a lot of talk about it,” said Evgeny Lebedev, a Russian living in London whose father owns one of the last independent newspapers in Russia. “Prominent politicians have been suggesting he should stay on. Russians have this idea: why replace something that is kind of good? What might come afterwards might be much worse.”

    Other observers believe that Russia’s belligerence has more to do with its desire to retain influence in regions that it still regards as its own and that the West has simply taken its eye off the ball.

    Jonathan Eyal, director of studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said: “We have been taken up with the Americans on the war on terror while rather glibly assuming that postcold war settlement in eastern Europe remained in place. We have rather forgotten that Russia has never accepted that settlement.”

    So far the Russian bear is doing no more than gnawing and growling. It remains relatively weak. It needs the West as customers. And, as one Russian expert pointed out last week, many of the Russian elite now send their children to school in Britain.

    However, flashpoints are looming. America seems determined to press ahead with its missile system and on Friday Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, implied that it was unlikely to accept Putin’s offer of siting radar in Azerbaijan. “One does not choose sites for missile defence out of the blue,” she said.

    Even Russians admit that their country, still laden with nuclear weapons, remains highly unpredictable. “Nobody is totally in control in Russia,” said Ledeneva. “It’s impossible to be in control of that country. In a way I think even Putin himself doesn’t know what will come out of this.”
    Story Continues...

    Russia`s Aeroflot to buy 22 Boeing 787

    From: Zee
    Russian national airline Aeroflot signed a multi-billion dollar deal on Saturday to buy 22 Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft and said it would soon sign a similar deal with Airbus.

    Russia has tried to use the deals to play off U.S. Boeing against Europe`s Airbus for more than a year as the Kremlin seeks to flex its growing economic clout on the world stage.

    "We are very, very pleased that today has arrived," Scott Carson, chief executive of Boeing`s commercial airplane unit, told reporters after the contract was signed.

    "We have been working very hard with Aeroflot for a number of years, helping them identify their requirements," he said.

    First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who oversees Russia`s aviation sector, presided over the signing ceremony at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum. He congratulated Carson over a glass of champagne.

    Asked whether the revival of the order would affect an earlier tentative deal to buy 22 planes from rival Airbus, Aeroflot CEO Valery Okulov said a firm order would be signed later in the year.

    "We will sign a firm order for 22 A-350s either at Le Bourget or at MAKS," Okulov said, referring to the Paris air show on June 18-14 and its Russian counterpart on August 21-26. "So it will be in the summer."

    Okulov said the Airbuses would enter service between 2014 and 2017. Okulov and Carson refused to comment on the value of the deals. Analysts say the deals are worth about $2.5 billion each.

    Aeroflot will finance the Boeing order with a syndicated loan guaranteed by the U.S. Export-Import bank, Okulov said. He declined to name the investment banks involved in the syndicate.

    As part of the agreement, Boeing will cooperate in helping Russian planemaker Sukhoi develop a mid-range passenger jet.

    "This represents a modest step for increasing or improving that involvement," Carson said.

    The Aeroflot order has been the subject of intense speculation amid chilly ties with Washington and Moscow`s failure to take a major stake in Airbus`s parent, EADS.

    Russia last year took a 5 percent stake in EADS through state-controlled bank VTB (VTBRq.L), but wishes to boost the stake were politely rebuffed. France and Germany are the main shareholders in EADS.

    Concerns over the Boeing order grew last year, when Washington imposed sanctions on Russian arms firms, including Rosoboronexport, because of sales to Iran and Syria.

    Rosoboronexport, headed by a former colleague of President Vladimir Putin`s, controls VSMPO-Avisma, the world`s largest supplier of titanium products to the aerospace industry, including Boeing and Airbus.

    Aeroflot`s top competitor in Russia, S7, formerly Sibir airlines, last week signed a deal for 15 Dreamliners with the first deliveries expected by 2014.

    Aeroflot is keen to buy as many foreign planes as possible to retire its old Soviet fleet and is seeking to expand in Europe by acquisitions.

    Okulov confirmed Aeroflot had bid for Serbian flag carrier JAT Airways. Aeroflot is also in a bidding contest for Italy`s Alitalia together with bank Unicredit.

    U.S., Israeli rabbis to visit newly found Holocaust grave site in Ukraine

    From: Ha aretz
    Flowers laid at what Jewish leaders say is a mass grave of Jews slaughtered in Ukraine during World War II, in the village of Gvozdavka-1, Ukraine, Thursday, June 7, 2007. Jewish community leaders in southern Ukraine asked Thursday for control over the land where a mass grave believed to contain thousands of Holocaust victims was found.
    Rabbis from Israel and the United States are expected to visit the Ukrainian site of a mass grave believed to contain the remains of thousands of Jews slaughtered during World War II, local Jewish community representatives said Friday.

    The grave was discovered by chance last month by workers digging to lay gas pipelines in the village of Gvozdavka, about 175 kilometers northwest of the Black Sea port city of Odessa, according to Jewish leaders and local officials.

    Three Rabbis are to arrive at the site in southern Ukraine on Monday to consider identification and reburial efforts and to evaluate the size of the grave, said Berl Kapulkin, spokesman for Odessa's Jewish community.

    The procedure of reburial is very difficult. Everything must be done according Jewish rules to respect the victims, Kapulkin told The Associated Press.

    Jewish leaders in Ukraine and Holocaust scholars said that thousands of Jews were brought to the area in 1941 and that as many as 10,000 were killed.

    According to Ukrainian Jews, the names of just 93 Jews killed at the Gvozdavka site have been established.

    The regional Jewish community also has voiced plans to erect a fence around the site and put up a monument. On Thursday the community asked local authorities to cede the land so the site could be commemorated and respected properly.

    "A gas pipeline has already been put over people's bones. It is blasphemy," said Roman Shvartsman a spokesman for the regional Jewish community. "Many bones are just lying on the ground," Shvartsman said.

    Ukraine's Jewish population was devastated during the Holocaust - a tragedy powerfully symbolized by Babi Yar, a ravine outside the capital of Kiev, where the Nazis slaughtered some 34,000 Jews over two days in September 1941.

    About 240,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis in the Odessa region, which was occupied by the German-allied Romanians, according to Shvartsman. A mass grave with remains of about 3,500 Jews was found in the region last year.

    Polish police arrest 23 suspected mafiosi for illegal arms trading

    From: Junalo
    Polish police have arrested 23 suspected members of an international crime ring for illegal weapons smuggling in central and southern Poland, a spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry said Sunday.The people arrested during the night were suspected of working with the Italian mafia, the spokeswoman said.

    Officers from the Central Investigation Bureau (CBS), which is responsible for fighting organized crime in Poland, led the investigation against the group.

    The men are accused of illegal weapons trading and other crimes.

    Weapons and explosives were secured by the police during the arrests and subsequent searches of the suspected gangsters' flats.

    US millionaire accused in murder of Polish police chief

    From: People's Daily
    Edward Mazur, now a suburban Chicago businessman is accused in the assassination of a
    Polish law enforcement official
    Killed by a hit man: National Police Chief Marek Papala (left) was found dead in 1998. Poland is now trying to extradite millionaire businessman Edward Mazur to stand trial for arranging Papala's death. It was a notorious crime that rocked a nation and has lain unsolved for nearly a decade.

    But now, nearly half a world away, police seem to be finally moving towards unmasking the killer of Poland's national police chief.

    Nearly a decade after Marek Papala, the Polish equivalent of the head of the FBI, was assassinated outside his Warsaw home, the investigation has led to a Chicago suburb 7,600 km away.

    US agents descended on Glenview in a raid last year and arrested immigrant Polish businessman Edward Mazur at his luxury home over allegations he hired a hit man to kill Papala.

    Today, the 60-year-old millionaire and American citizen sits in a Chicago jail, awaiting word on whether he will be extradited to his native Poland. A federal magistrate heard testimony last month and is expected to rule in the coming days.

    Polish authorities have not offered a clear motive for the 1998 gangland-style slaying of Papala, who was killed with a bullet to the head.

    But Polish lawmakers and analysts have speculated the 39-year-old was targeted because he threatened to disrupt trafficking in narcotics or guns.

    Polish officials say Mazur led a double life - fostering a public image as a good-natured entrepreneur while secretly forging ties to gangsters-and hired the killer for $40,000.

    There has not been a visible outpouring of support for Mazur in Chicago's enormous Polish community - the world's biggest outside Poland and said to contain as many as 800,000 members.

    But friends of Mazur's said it is inconceivable he could have been mixed up in such dirty dealings. They describe a gentle, generous father of three who never even drank at his soccer club's frequent parties.

    "No way," said Jozef Karkut, head of Chicago's Polish-American Wisla soccer club and Mazur's friend for more than 30 years. "Not a person like Edward could do that."

    Until his arrest, Mazur seemed to be living the American dream. He moved to the US in the 1960s and earned a degree in engineering. He married and moved to Chicago's suburbs, where he engaged in philanthropy between business trips to Poland, where he associated with government ministers.

    Mazur's attorney Chris Gair said that the two were acquaintances and Mazur arranged for Papala to take English courses at Chicago's Dominican University shortly before he was killed.

    Mazur had also planned to fly with Papala to Illinois to bring him to the university, said another Mazur supporter, Chicago-based journalist Andrew Wasewicz.

    "You wouldn't murder a guy who is supposed to go with you to the United States," he said. "It doesn't add up. From what I see, there is something fishy here."

    At the time of his death in June 1998, Papala had recently resigned as national police chief and was about to start another job as Poland's police liaison to the European Union. His wife found his body as she went to walk the family dog.

    Mazur has not been indicted, but US prosecutors say he faces solicitation-of-murder charges if he is flown to Poland. If convicted, he could get life in prison.

    In 2002 testimony in Poland that relied heavily on one witness, Mazur emerged as a mastermind of a plot to kill Papala.

    Artur Zirajewski, a gangster serving prison time in Poland in a separate case, described a meeting with Mazur two months before Papala's slaying. "There was conversation about the hit man - no one asked about his particulars, only if he was good," Zirajewski testified.

    Russia "pleased" it foiled Kosovo independence at G8

    From: Reuters
    A policeman keeps watch on an opposition rally in St. Petersburg June 9, 2007. Opposition protesters marched through St. Petersburg on Saturday to demonstrate against President Vladimir Putin while he was hosting a huge conference for investors in his home city. Around 3,500 people marched peacefully through the historic city centre shouting "Shame on the Kremlin, shame on the authorities" and Russia without Putin".
    Russia, which blocked Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia, assured Serbia on Saturday of its continued support, saying it was pleased other G8 nations were taking its arguments seriously.

    In a public setback for Western leaders who back Kosovo's bid for independence and who are pushing for action this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin refused on Friday to back down from his insistence there can be no resolution of the province's status without the agreement of Serbia.

    Putin said after a G8 summit of the world's major industrialised nations on Friday that undermining Serbia's sovereignty "does not correspond to moral or legal norms".

    U.S. President George W. Bush said on Saturday the United Nations Security Council must act now on a plan to grant Kosovo supervised independence.

    Washington supports a proposal by U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari which offers Kosovo independence under international supervision, but Russia has threatened to veto any vote.

    "Our position (on Kosovo) was formulated long ago and it has not changed since then," Putin told Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica at their meeting on the fringes of the 11th St Petersburg International Economic Forum.

    "I will inform you with pleasure about the results of discussing this problem within the G8. And I must say that our views on this problem run counter to those of my G8 colleagues."

    "But at the same time, I got an impression that finally our arguments are being treated seriously by our G8 colleagues."

    Serb forces killed 10,000 Kosovo Albanians and drove out nearly a million people in a 1998-99 anti-insurgency war which was halted by three months of NATO bombing of Serb targets. The Albanians vow they will never return to Serb sovereignty.

    Kosovo Albanian leaders, under growing public pressure to declare independence from Serbia, warned they would take their "own path" if the U.N. Security Council did not vote soon.

    "I want to repeat one more time that Serbia once and for all rejected the Ahtisaari plan which contradicts the U.N. charter and consists in taking away 15 percent of Serbia's territory," Kostunica told Putin.

    Kosovo is the cradle of Serbia's Orthodox faith but is now home to a 90-percent Albanian majority. Serbia offers wide autonomy for the province instead of independence.

    Kostunica, who is widely believed to be travelling to Russia's second largest city to personally thank Putin for blocking Kosovo's independence, invited big Russian business to the Balkan nation promising "opportunies much bigger" than now.

  • From the blogs...

    Council of Europe nails Kwasniewski and WSI as CIA stooges?

    From: The Beatroot
    The report headed by Dick Marty (above) claims that CIA prisons in Poland were known about by the then president of Poland, Aleksander Kwasniewski, and operated in collaboration with agents from the now disbanded Military Intelligence Agency (WSI).

    The report’s main finding, I suppose, is that Poland and Romania both operated clandestine CIA prisons, but the one near Szymany airstrip in northern Poland was set up to hold so-called High Value Detainees (HVD) – in other words, the most dangerous of suspected al-Qaeda type terrorists. Poland was the site of the CIA’s most important and sensitive ‘prison’ in Europe.

    The 9,000 word report – much of which I have waded through – paints a picture of the now disbanded Military Intelligence Service (WSI) as a ‘cartel’ operating on behalf of ‘self-interested elites’, and beyond the oversight of civil bodies, such as parliament, or even the prime minister’s office.

    But not the president’s office. One ‘military intelligence source’ (the report is full of unnamed ‘sources’) told Dick Marty:

    “Listen, Poland agreed top down…from the president, yes….to provide the CIA all it needed.”

    The recruitment

    CIA agents apparently identified ‘point men’ within the WSI – which the present PiS government, when giving reasons for disbanding it last year, described as operating as if it was a ‘state within a state’. The report seems to make the same allegations.

    Once identified and recruited these ‘point men’ would be told things on a need to know basis, and that information stayed within this small circle of operatives.

    The WSI had two functions, says the report, when aiding the CIA in the rendition program. It provided military security when prison transfers were taking place; and it infiltrated other state organs, such as the Air Navigation Services Agency, the Border Guards and Customs Office to make the smooth running of the transfers a very closed secret.

    Top agent – Jerzy Kos?

    One of the top agents was apparently Jerzy Kos, who was head of the Board of Mazury-Szczytno Airport Company. ‘He was our man,’ says one ‘source’.

    Later Kos went to work for a private construction company (Wroclawska Jedynka – in which the public National Investment Fund has a stake, and which has received state loans in the past of over 1 million zloty to pay off redundant workers) which gained contracts in war torn Iraq. This Mr Kos is quite a guy.

    The plot thickens

    When, in June 2004, Kos became a kidnap victim in Baghdad, the American Special Forces staged a rare raid to free him (see Fox News report of rescue). The implication is that Kos is a very valuable guy to the CIA.

    CIA sources said that they picked Poland initially, then Romania, as they believed that much of central and eastern Europe does not, yet, have trustworthy secret services.

    But Poland, in particular, was different. One source told Marty:

    “We have an extraordinary relationship with Poland. My experience is that if Poles can help us, they will.”

    Poland negotiated its agreement with the CIA, says the report, in late 2002, early 2003.

    “We have established that the first HVDs were transferred to Poland in the first half of 2003,” says the report’s author.

    The most highly prized HVDs to have been detained in Poland were Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shekh Mohamed. Both were subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques...' These ‘techniques’ have been controversial, to say the least (and described here).

    The evidence for all this comes from the many ‘unnamed sources’, and from flight logs (see here), which have detailed the landings and taking off of CIA planes – evidence, most of which identified by Human Rights Watch when it first made the allegations back in November 2005.

    The ‘new evidence’ – or ‘proof’ as Marty has termed them - appears to come from the interviews with the unnamed sources.

    So they are impossible to verify.

    But the picture that the report paints is plausible. The government disbanded the WSI because it thought it was out of control, and was operating, just as the report says, as a state within a state, on behalf of ‘elites’ – the present government, of course, would refer to these elites as the infamous ‘uklad’.

    So it is perfectly possible that renditioned prisoners were being held in Poland, before being flown off to even more darker places, under the noses of prime ministers and parliamentarians. Hence their genuine ignorance.

    But the accusation that former president Aleksander Kwasniewski was in on all this is a dangerous one for him, just as he is making his ‘political comeback’.

    Yesterday, Kwasniewski said: “I deny it. I have as much many times.”

    Yes, Olek, but do we believe you, anymore?

    Chinese Move Highlights Nostalgic Irony

    Back during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, when one side expelled spies, a similar move was made on the other side. No worries, it's just the way business was done. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and soon others were sent in to take their place.

    But now that the Cold War is over, the "Trade War" is on. And this time it's with China.

    From the IHT:

      Raisins and health supplements imported from the United States failed to meet Chinese safety standards and have been returned or destroyed, the country's food safety agency said Friday.

      The move comes as China itself faces international criticism, especially in the United States, over a series of scandals that have plagued Chinese food, drugs and other products from poisoned cough syrup to tainted toothpaste and pet food.

      Inspectors in the ports of Ningbo and Shenzhen found bacteria and sulfur dioxide in products shipped by three American companies, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said.

      "The products failed to meet the sanitary standards of China," the agency said in a brief notice posted on its Web site...

    Of course, there is no information given on how many people in China got sick on American products. But the one part that gives this away as a farce can be found in this sentence from the article:

      ...No details were given on when or how the inspections were conducted.

    If I am making an educated guess, I would say, this was already decided before the ships hit the port. But hey, that's just me.

    Gerontocrat Ghostbusters?

    From: Vilhelm Konnander
    A spectre is haunting Eurasia - the spectre of Gerontocracy. All the Powers of new Europe are deserting a divided Union to shy away from this spectre: Bruxelles and Rome, Merkel and Blair, French anti-globalists and German Federalists.

    The new Great Game over Central Asia between Russia and the West is becoming a struggle to either raise or exorcise the ghosts of gerontocratic systems. Russia's sphere of vital interests in the near abroad can only be preserved by control over infrastructure, and above all the flows of energy from the region. This is achieved by catering to the needs of a gerontocratic and corrupt system, originating from the soviet heritage, which Moscow has left the states of Central Asia with.

    The West, to the contrary, has a vested interest in exploiting regional resources of oil and gas, and produce safe passages for receiving them. For long, the West was pragmatic in its approach to authoritarian regimes in the region, in order to reach the overarching goal of access to the coveted energy resources. Now, the realisation that it is impossible to work with corrupt and Machiavellian regimes is starting to dawn.

    The summit between presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in May was bad news for the European Union and the United States. Presidents Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan and Berdymukhammedov of Turkmenistan spoke in favour of closer energy relations with Russia, and against developing the westward trans-Caspian gas project. As previously reported, the trans-Caspian gas project is the key to long-term profits for the Western alternative of transferring gas from Central Asia - the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC). Among BTC-investors are British Petroleum (BP) and American Chevron. Also, Royal Dutch Shell is about to lose its controlling stake in the Russian Far East Sakhalin-2 project, and BP is in trouble with its investment in the Siberian Kovykta gas field.

    Western energy companies are certainly experiencing heavy setbacks in the FSU these days. As there is little to do as concerns Russia, the importance of Central Asian resources increase. Still, there is the question of the gerontocrat ghost - the inability to deal with the corrupt regimes of Central Asia. Then, what is companies such as BP and Shell going to do? Well, as the old movie tune goes:

      If there's somethin' strange in your neighborhood
      Who ya gonna call - ghostbusters!
      If it's somethin' weird an it don't look good
      Who ya gonna call - ghostbusters!

    So, who might be such a ghostbuster? Who are the energy moguls going to call to exorcise the spectre - get rid of the ghosts of gerontocracy? A qualified guess might be a traveller in political revolutions, with experience of dealing with the old post-communist foe. Who then would be a better candidate than former US Ambassador Richard Miles? That ambassador Miles was posted to Serbia before the overthrow of Milosevic, and to Georgia during the Rose revolution is, by many, regarded as no coincidence. Some even claim that Miles figured in the outskirts of Ukraine's Orange revolution. After retirement in 2005, ambassador Miles worked as Executive Director of the Open World Leadership Center - headed by James "Icon & the Axe" Billington. Now, it seems, Richard Miles is a man without a mission. So, why not take pity on this old man and turn to him for advice - even give him a job? Miles might just be the ghostbuster who - with a little help from his friends - could get rid of some of Central Asia's gerontocrat ghosts. Who would be more fit to bring democracy and market economy to Central Asia and, in the process, safeguard western energy interests in the region?

    Russian Duplicity Knows No Bounds: The Missile System Red Herring

    From: La Russophobe
    The EU Observer reports that Russia's alternative suggestion for a missile defense system outside Eastern Europe is so full of holes it makes Swiss Cheese look like Cheddar. It's clear from Russia's panicked reaction that this idea is a brilliant one, and must go forward exactly as planned. Now, at last, Russia can taste the results of provoking the entire world into a second cold war. It's quite amazing that even after being whipped in the first cold war, Russians not only want a second but continue to believe they are so much smarter than we are that they can dupe us with ridiculous red herrings of this kind.

    The head of NATO has welcomed Moscow's apparent backing down from its Cold War rhetoric over the US plan to place an anti-missile shield in central Europe, but also cautiously questioned Moscow's offer to use a Russian-operated radar base in Azerbaijan instead. "I am not a technician but I do think that the geographic location of Azerbaijan is different from other choices that the United States has made", NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Friday (8 June), although he did not draw any final conclusions. "It is a bit close to the rogue states", he added, however, referring to Washington's argument that the envisaged system - consisting of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic - is meant to defend the US and Europe from Iran and North Korea.

    Mr Scheffer's comments come a day after Russia opened a new front in the already overheated debate. Speaking at the G8 summit in the German city of Heiligendamm on Thursday (7 June), president Vladimir Putin announced he had secured agreement from Azerbaijan to use its Soviet-era radar station Gabala, which Kremlin leased for ten years in 2002. The station is said to be capable of detecting all launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in Asia and parts of Africa. "This will make it unnecessary for us to place our offensive complexes along the borders with Europe", Mr Putin said on Thursday (7 June), referring to his previous icy warning that he would target Russian weapons towards European territory, if the US builds its missile shield in Europe. In response, US president George W. Bush described the proposal as "interesting" and something to be further studied by military experts.

    Mr de Hoop Scheffer, for his part, stressed that any given solution should not create an A-league and a B-league within NATO. "For me indivisibility of security remains the key principle", he said. At the same time, the NATO chief slammed Kremlin for its sharp tone which he described as "unhelpful, unwelcome and anachronistic." "We need to get on with addressing together the 21st century security challenges, rather than resurrecting those from the past", he said, adding "it is always useful, when the two presidents – Bush and Putin – constructively talk to each other on this subject".

    Who decides?

    Meanwhile, Russia has made it clear that in its view the ball is in the US' court, with the Russian parliament's Konstantin Kosachev saying the White House's response will reveal its true colours. "If the Americans reject Russia's offer under a certain pretext, we will know for sure that their true goal is not only to stave off a potential threat from Iran or North Korea, but also to neutralize Russia's nuclear potential, which we could have assumed earlier," Mr Kosachev was cited by Russia's news agency RIA Novosti.

    But according to Tim Williams from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, Russia's offer is "politically motivated . . . to cause problems in negotiations with Prague and Warsaw as well as in discussions within NATO". The Azerbaijan radar station involved in the proposal is not a "sensible" substitute for the Czech site, as it is so close to Iran that it can become a target and too far from the planned US interceptor base in Poland, Mr Williams argued, adding it was Russia who should explain its true intentions.

    According to a NATO diplomat speaking to EUobserver, it is unlikely that Washington would sacrifice its Czech base, as the offer was already tabled at the working level of the NATO–Russia Council few weeks ago, but the two sides disagreed on one fundamental issue. While the Kremlin portrays the Azerbaijan site as an alternative to a site in central Europe, Washington considers it to be a contribution to the broader system. In addition, it is "a matter of trust", a diplomat said, rhetorically asking whether it is possible to put a key part of the missile defence system in the hands of Russia after the recent war of words. We would run a risk that the second part will complicate the access to crucial systems in times of a crisis, he said.

    Condi Rice is not fooled. She's announced the US will go ahead with its own plan, ignoring Putin's silly artifices.

    Russian Reds Love Hugo Too

    From: New Zeal
    This one's for all those dreamers who think their idol Hugo Chavez's socialism is different from the old Soviet variety.

    From Novosti

    MOSCOW, June 8 - Russian Communist lawmakers suggested Friday that Venezuela's left-wing president speak in Russia's parliament about his ambitious reform program.

    Konstantin Kosachev, head of the State Duma's international relations committee, said the normal practice in parliament's lower house had so far been to invite foreign parliamentary speakers, not heads of state, but that an exception could be made for Chavez, given his high popularity with Russian legislators.

    Viktor Ilyukhin, of the State Duma Communist Party faction, said many Russian MPs would like to learn firsthand about the socialist reforms Hugo Chavez is carrying out in his country.

    The committee has passed the proposal to the Venezuelan ambassador to Russia, Kosachev said.

    In a drive to nationalize industries, Chavez decreed earlier this year that foreign companies hand over control of four multibillion-dollar oil projects in the Orinoco basin, and took over the telephone operator CANTV and other major utilities.

    The recent closure of the RCTV channel May 27 sparked mass public protests in Venezuela, after Chavez refused to renew its license replacing it with a new state-owned channel, Tves, aimed at promoting socialist ideology. The move was widely seen as a crackdown on the freedom of speech in the media and condemned by many countries, including the U.S.

  • Sport...

    Foreman squeaks by Thompson in battle for Jerusalem!

    From: East Side Boxing
    If there was ever an ironic stereotype for the term “bittersweet victory” it must unquestionably fall on the shoulders of tonight’s bout between Yuri Foreman and Anthony Thompson. Usually the statement walks hand in hand in with the understanding of a “Pyrrhic victory” in describing how one fighter gets the win with devastating cost to himself, but usually that refers actual physical punishment not punishment in a marketability sense.

    Though Yuri Foreman won tonight, I doubt many objective people, unlike me, will be showing him much praise. The realities of boxing are such that not only do regular fans demand victory but more specifically an emphatic or an impressive one to get on a fighter’s bandwagon. Though the technical realities allow a fighter to get by with the former, the latter is what a fighter ultimately needs to gain an adoring throng of objective supporters.

    The fight itself was very difficult to score and I would not much complain if the result was a draw or a narrow decision for Thompson. As a fan of Yuri I was of course disappointed, though my score did reflect a slight 96-94 win for him, since putting a close bout in the hands of the judges is begging for a loss or a draw. While Thompson was the more flat-footed of the two, ultimately, Foreman’s movement tired him out going down the stretch. As the fight was drawing to its conclusion Yuri was roughing a tiring Thompson out and getting the 9th and 10th rounds more definitively then the previous rounds which were too close to comfort for either fighter.

    Even though Harold Lederman and the HBO crew got on Foreman’s case for clinching ala Ruiz the whole way, it seemed unfair since Thompson was initiating many clinches as well. Part of the problem for him was he threw his best stuff on the inside when both men were clinching, which did not give all the judges a clear view of every one of the shots. For Yuri’s part, the shots he scored with best were usually the ones coming when both men were separated, hence giving the judges a clearer view of his best work. However, even at that point it was still too difficult to confidently give either fighter those 10-9’s. It would, however, seem like a logical reason to assume why the Brooklyn-based Belarus-Israeli got the nod. Furthermore, while the overall punch stats were generally even, the power punch connects did favor the winner of the bout.

    Next up for Foreman, according to the HBO crew rumor mill, is a title fight, and while as a fan I would welcome such news, it seems there is still a lot of work to be done to make such an attempt a truly successful one. That said, thus concludes the biggest bout between 2 Israeli fighters in the history of the sport. While to most fans it was more a disappointment relative to how it looked on paper, one can hope it will serve to motivate both men to try harder in the future.

    Congratulations to both guys for putting their records on the line and for Top Rank for putting it together. Just goes to show how not every single bout can play out in real life the way it looks on paper.

    Bulgaria with 6 Points after 2 Wins Over Belarus

    From: INTL IBOX
    Only 4 days after the previous victory, Bulgarian national team won over the team of Belarus with 2:1 in a match of ‘G' group from Euro 2008 qualifications.
    With goals of Martin Petrov (10') and Chavdar Yankov (40') the Bulgarian nationals turned Puntus' players on the national stadium ‘Vasil Levski'.

    This way the footballers directed by the contemporary coach Stanimir Stoilov kept their chances for qualifying in the ‘mad rush' that will take place in Austria and Switzerland.

    The Bulgarians got a total of 6 points after the two games vs. Belarus.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus President speaks for cheaper bank loans

    From: BelTA
    In July this year the National Bank of Belarus will start reducing the refinancing rate, Chairman of the Board of the bank Piotr Prokopovich has told BelTA today.

    According to him, further adjustment of the refinancing rate depends on the economic situation in the country.

    “As soon as we reach the planned inflation level – 0.6% a month – we will be able to start reducing the rate,” said Piotr Prokopovich. “I think this will happen in July; in July we may start gradually reduce it,” he added.

    As BelTA informed earlier, on February 1, 2007 the National Bank increased the refinancing rate by one percentage point – up to 11% per annum. Till the end of the current year the bank plans to reach the planned level of the refinancing rate – 7-9% per annum.

    Goals outlined by the 2007 Major Monetary Management Guidelines for H1 2007 and the year as a whole must be reached, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said on June 8.

    The head of state was informed, this year the national banking system successfully reaches planned monetary management goals. Special attention is focused on parameters directly influencing the achievement of the national social and economic development goals.

    Alexander Lukashenko was informed, the financial situation is stable. This year Belarusian ruble gained 0.2% against the US dollar, with the exchange rate keeping steady throughout May to total Br2,145 per $1 as of June 1. Such stability has been in place for the last three years.

    Piotr Prokopovich also said, this year Belarusian banks provide unprecedented lending support to the real economy sector. In January-May 2007 borrowing grew by over 60% on the year to almost Br24 trillion. The figure is more that twice as much as the one set by this year’s Major Monetary Management Guidelines. Lending to individuals grows as fast as well.

    Alexander Lukashenko demanded that in the future banks should continue paying special attention to crediting the real economy, ensuring a gradual decrease in the price for credit resources.

    The head of state also stressed the need to accelerate the replenishment of the country’s gold and foreign currency reserves. Earlier plans provided for an increase in the reserves up to $3 billion by 2011. The President said the goal should be reached this year in order to secure the stability of the financial system.

    As of June 1, 2007, Belarus’ gold and foreign currency reserves amounted to $2.224 billion in national terms. Since early this year the sum has grown by $470 million, $70 million above this year’s forecast. Piotr Prokopovich assured the President the instruction will be fulfilled within the stated time.