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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

CIS Meeting, Moldova, Arms trade, Gas Debt, Small business, Human Rights, Lithuania, Russia, Polish scandal, Opinion Blogs and Tennis

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  • #212

    Expert group to put forward proposals concerning harmonization of migration policy of CIS member states

    From: BelTA
    At the informal summit of the CIS heads of state in St.Petersburg
    Within a month the CIS Council of Ministers should set up a working group composed of experts in migration issues to put forward proposals concerning harmonization of the migration policy pursued by the CIS member states. Such task was set at the CIS informal summit in St. Petersburg, participants of the Minsk meeting of the CIS council of permanent plenipotentiaries noted.

    At the summit the CIS leaders were also informed by the CIS Executive Committee about formulating the CIS further development concept. The CIS leaders took a decision to authorize the interstate working group to draw up a plan of actions aimed at framing the concept and to submit it and the draft concept for consideration at the next CIS summit.

    As BelTA informed earlier, in November 2006 Kazakhstan, which has been holding the presidency of the Commonwealth, presented a new draft CIS development concept. The CIS Foreign Ministries set up a working group to develop it. The next CIS summit will be held in Dushanbe in October this year.

    Moreover, the CIS permanent plenipotentiaries assessed the main results of the meeting of the CIS council of heads of government held in Yalta on May 25 this year. Some 24 various documents were signed in Yalta.

    Six agreements were signed in the sphere of humanitarian cooperation, seven concerned financial issues and five – security ones. Three documents were dedicated to economic cooperation. In particular, draft agreements on forming the single energy market of the CIS member states and on cooperation in the fight against the trade turnover of counterfeit medical preparations were submitted for consideration of the CIS heads of government.

    At the same time seven draft documents were considered and approved at the regular meeting of the CIS Council of Foreign Ministers in Astana on April 25, 2007. One more document – a resolution “On drafting interstate programs on the set of joint measures aimed at combating illegal turnover of narcotic and psychotropic substances and precources for 2008-2010” was discussed on April 25-26 in the capital of Kazakhstan at the coordination meeting of the CIS bodies cooperating in the fight against crime.

    Alexander Lukashenko: no unresolved issues between Belarus and Moldova

    From: BelTA
    There are no unresolved issues in relations of Belarus and Moldova, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko said on June 12, as he met with Petru Lucinschi, ex-President of Moldova, head of the Lucinschi Foundation for Strategic Research and Development of International Relations.

    The press service of the Belarusian leader quoted him as saying that incumbent Moldova President Vladimir Voronin upholds the same view. The Belarusian head of state met with Vladimir Voronin at a recent informal CIS summit in Saint Petersburg.

    The Belarusian leader underlined, he has hearty memories of Petru Lucinschi’s work as the President of Moldova and his kind attitude to Belarus. However, ex-President Petru Lucinschi still plays an important role in Moldova’s domestic political life. “As an experienced politician and a statesman, after visiting our country, you can analyse the situation and suggest something to the current leadership of Moldova”, said Alexander Lukashenko. He noted he would like to learn Petru Lucinschi’s views regarding the development of Belarusian-Moldovan relations.

    The President of Belarus said, in the near future Belarus is ready to help Moldova with equipping machine and tractor stations and building roads. “Today our support for Moldovan agriculture is a way to help Moldovan peasants with harvesting”, said Alexander Lukashenko.

    At present there over 150 stations equipped with Belarusian machines in Moldova. In 2007 50-70 stations are supposed to be opened, by late 2009 — another 150-200.

    The administration of Chisinau plans to increase the bus fleet of the Moldovan capital, planning to buy buses and municipal vehicles. It is rather a promising market for Belarusian producers.

    In turn, Petru Lucinschi pointed out the positive dynamics of Belarusian-Moldovan trade growth. He mentioned, in recent years the trade turnover between the two countries has almost tripled. “In our time we laid down the foundation of economic relations between Belarus and Moldova”, said Petru Lucinschi.

    The Republic of Moldova is an important trade partner of Belarus and ranks fourth among the CIS states in bilateral trade. Belarus’ main exports to Moldova are petroleum products, tractors, trucks, timber products, bitumen and others. Belarus imports foodstuffs and agricultural products from Moldova. In January-April 2007, the trade turnover between Belarus and Moldova amounted to $61.2 million, 14.8% up on the year. The foreign trade surplus totalled $26.5 million.

    The ex-President of Moldova presented his book “Moldova and Moldovans” to Alexander Lukashenko. The book analyses Moldova’s history since ancient times up to the present day.

    The Lucinschi Foundation was founded in autumn 2001 after Petru Lucinschi retired from his office of the President of Moldova. The Foundation is a non-governmental organisation, which enjoys weighty authority in Moldova. The main goal of the Foundation is to carry out research in various spheres of public life and to work out acceptable solutions to the existing problems relating to the development of the Moldovan society.

    Belarus' Arms Trade Raises Questions

    From: Epicos
    Despite a limited domestic defense industrial base, the isolated European nation of Belarus continues to rank among the world's leading arms exporters, causing degrees of both perplexity and anxiety among U.S. and European officials. Weapons exports - particularly to developing nations - are considered to be a lucrative source of income for the country, according to Forecast International's new Belarus Military Markets report.

    The greatest concern regarding Belarus' arms exports is where they end up: in the hands of fellow isolated states or 'rogue regimes' and in conflict-ridden hotspots. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, from 1998 through 2005 the country ranked 11th in the world in deliveries of arms to developing nations with $1.1 billion in deliveries. The recipients of these deliveries have included Yemen, Sudan, China, Iran, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, the Ivory Coast, Congo, Algeria, and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as well as conflict areas in the Balkans, the Adjara region of Georgia, and the Palestinian territories.

    The question of how Belarus is able to sustain such an outward flow of defense material leads to greater conjecture. Its domestic arms manufacturing base still performs maintenance and upgrades on some Soviet-era equipment and Russian aviation equipment, but altogether lacks the broad production capabilities of other large defense exporting nations. While the Belarusian defense sector includes some 30 industrial plants and 15 research and design bureaus (all operating under the aegis of Goskomvoenprom, the state military-industrial committee), it generally produces components rather than entire hardware such as aircraft or missiles.

    In addition, Belarus' Soviet-era stocks should theoretically have run dry by now. At the same time, such weaponry has become increasingly obsolete in the face of defense technological advancements, leaving Minsk a customer base of sidelined actors and isolated states that are otherwise cut off from most suppliers.

    "Because the end of the Cold War effectively shut down the Soviet arms pipeline into the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, weapons-exporting nations of the former USSR such as Russia and Belarus have been forced to turn to alternate markets, particularly ones that either are shunned by Western exporters due to diplomatic circumstances, or are former Soviet arms-buying clients," said Forecast International European Military Markets Analyst Dan Darling. "Where the West is unwilling to go - for instance, at the current time, Sudan -Belarus is more than happy to fill the gap. For Belarus, these are reliable markets largely devoid of direct competition."

    Selling arms to such objectionable partners is of no inconvenience to Belarus, whose political leadership has been subject to travel bans by the European Union and the U.S. Belarus' autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko has been accused of stifling both media and political dissent and using used the secret police (still known as the KGB) to intimidate foes. The former collective farm manager has imposed a state-controlled Soviet-style economy on the country, and repeatedly rages against Western democracies and the NATO Alliance.

    While harboring goals of becoming the eventual leader of a hypothetical Russia-Belarus union state, Lukashenko has begun building closer relations - including militarily - with China, Iran and Venezuela. Military and technical contracts worth $250 million have been completed over the past 10 years between China and Belarus, and Chinese officers train at Belarusian military academies. On January 22, 2007, a Memorandum of Understanding on defense cooperation was signed with Iran. And in March of 2007, Minsk publicly offered to sell Venezuela the SA-3 Goa and SA-8 Gecko surface-to-air missile systems through its domestic Tetraedr firm.

    Still, relations with Russia take precedent, and it is through Russia that many analysts suspect Belarus is able to carry on its lucrative arms trade. With a weapons development base that is lacking, the primary assumption has been that Russia works as the supplier and Belarus acts as the conduit for further delivery.

    The hypothesized arrangement itself works perfectly for both parties, with Russia as supplier - reaping the benefits of steady, reliable markets shut off from the West - and Belarus providing the political cover. Lukashenko in turn gets a substantial portion of profits - profits that serve to alleviate domestic pressures, line his personal pockets, and cement his power. Belarusian opposition politicians claim today that the profit in this fund accumulates by $1 billion annually through the arms trade and that Lukashenko conceals part of this in his personal bank accounts, thus begging the question: How else could Belarus sustain high arms export figures on the world market other than through a steady Russian pipeline?

    "The trouble for the U.S. and its European allies in dealing with Minsk is that Belarus presents a difficult case," Darling points out. "Regardless of how unsavory they view the Lukashenko regime, the fact of the matter is that Belarus has not engaged in warfare on its neighbors, has no aggressive territorial designs, and, from what is known, does not harbor or train any terrorist groups within its borders."

    "Shutting the tap off its arms exports will only happen if Russia closes the valve," Darling adds, "ultimately leaving Belarus' stocks to eventually dry up. And despite some recent strains in the Russia-Belarus relationship, we don't foresee that scenario happening anytime soon."

    SIPRI Report: Azerbaijan and Belarus Increase Their Military Expenses

    From: Trendz
    Azerbaijan and Belarus ranked as the two individual countries with the biggest growth in military spending, at 82% and 56 % respectively, reported the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 11 June.

    From 2005 to 2006, the largest regional increase occurred in Eastern Europe, where the military budget rose by 12% overall.

    According to experts, in 2006 over ˆ900bln in the world was directed towards military purposes. The rise in expenses per resident of the planet was ˆ137, up from last year. Global military spending increased by 37% over the past ten years. Global military spending reached $1.2 trillion last year.

    Looking back over the past decade, significant increases have been registered in Central Asia and Russia, though the Stockholm-based institute said completely reliable data was not available for those areas.

    With $529bln (ˆ396bln) set aside for military purposes in 2006; up from $505bln in 2005; the United States accounted for 46% of the total global military budget.

    Belarus is to pay gas debt this year, Russian ambassador says

    From: Naveny
    Belarus is to pay debts that it owes to Russia for natural gas supplies this year, Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Surikov told reporters in Minsk on Monday.

    He recalled that under a deal on 2007 gas supplies signed by Belarus and Russia natural gas giant Gazprom on December 31, 2006, the country was to pay only 55 percent of its gas bills in the first six months of 2007.

    He said that Belarusian companies paid for natural gas supplies in full and expressed confidence that the Belarusian finance ministry had "accumulated" funds to pay the debt, BelaPAN reported.

    At the same time, the ambassador said that Belarus may well default on the payment of the debt. "I cannot say that everything is proceeding ideally," he noted. "If non-payment occurs Belarus asks for a stabilization loan of $1.5 billion in this connection."

    He said that under Russian regulations governing the budget, Russia was not authorized to issue a loan totaling more than $900 million to a CIS member country. He added that Russia might agree to grant a stabilization loan to Belarus in tranches.

    In late May, the Belarusian first deputy prime minister, Uladzimir Syamashka, said that Belarus owed Russia about $400 million for gas supplies.

    Small business association invites authorities to talks about audits

    From: Naveny
    The Perspektyva small business association has invited the entrepreneurship department of the economic ministry to talks about audits of small businesses that have recently increased.

    Perspektyva leader Anatol Shumchanka told BelaPAN that audits had become more frequent following the release of the tax ministry's "recommendations for the conduct of audits regarding the availability of documents certifying goods' quality."

    He said that tax and sanitary officials were now quick to issue confiscation orders to private retailers failing to produce sanitary or quality certificates for the goods on offer.

    He noted that the situation was particularly bad in provinces.

    According to the Perspektyva leader, the procedure of obtaining a sanitary certificate for every new shipment of goods, as required, takes between 25 and 30 days, which is too much time for businesses dealing in seasonal goods. "In fact, they are left without work in this period," he noted.

    Earlier in the day, around 200 market vendors in Babruysk, Mahilyow region, staged a spontaneous protest in front of the city executive committee's building after sanitary and tax officials made unscheduled audit visits to the city's markets, issuing confiscation orders. Local government officials promised them that the audits would be postponed until Friday, according to Alena Myadzvedzeva, a local small business activist. They said that the penalties also would be suspended until Friday.

    In Vitsyebsk, tax and sanitary authorities raided a retail market a week ago, confiscating goods from three market vendors in two days.

    Belneftekhim starts transporting oil products through Baltic ports

    From: BelTA
    The concern Belneftekhim has started transporting oil products Free on Board /FOB/ through the Baltic States on a long-term basis. For this purpose the trading companies of the concern Belneftekhim LIT (Lithuania) and Belneftekhim Baltic Co. (Latvia) signed contracts with the terminals of the Klaipeda and Riga ports for the transshipping of the Belarusian oil products, BelTA was told in the concern Belneftekhim.

    In line with the contracts the Klaipeda port will monthly transship 60 thousand tons of Belarus-made black oil and 60 thousand tons of motor petrol and the Riga port – 70 thousand tons of diesel fuel a month.

    According to the specialists of the concern, FOB supplies (it means that the seller pays for transportation of the goods to the port of shipment, plus loading costs) is one of the most practical methods of enhancing efficiency of export sales of oil products. Long-term contracts are important both for the companies-exporters and the port terminals. Such contracts guarantee stable and timely shipping operations.

    The concern intends to increase the volume and to expand the offering list of oil products supplied Free on Board.

    In the near future Belneftekhim wants to increase CIF supplies of the Belarusian products (CIF - a contract term indicating that price includes cost, insurance and freight). Belarusian Oil Company, which will start working in July 2007, has been tasked to provide such supplies.

    Rights abuses in Belarus keep getting worse: U.N. expert

    From: IHT
    Human rights violations in Belarus have been worsening with no sign that the government will improve its record under international pressure, a U.N.-appointed rights expert said Tuesday.

    "During 2006 the situation of human rights in Belarus constantly deteriorated," Adrian Severin told the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing abuses such as imprisonment of political opponents, torture, excessive use of police force and severe restrictions on the news media.

    Representatives of Belarus and Russia, its big ally, dismissed the report as politically biased.

    "All my efforts to engage in constructive dialogue with the government of Belarus were fruitless," Severin told U.N.'s top rights watch dog, adding that the government failed to allow him to visit the country for the third consecutive year in 2006 and has yet to respond to a new request this year.

    More than 150 people were reportedly put on trial without having access to a lawyer in connection with the presidential elections of March last year, in which Alexander Lukashenko won another five-year term, he told council members.

    The Romanian legislator reports to the 47-nation council, but is independent of the United Nations. Severin told reporters he had made a number of high-level visits to Belarus as a legal expert for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and for the Council of Europe before he took up his U.N. mandate in 2004.

    Just as the government has dismissed a barrage of international criticism in recent years, it has ignored all his previous calls to put an end to abuses, said Severin.

    "In fact, the political system of Belarus seems to be incompatible with the concept of human rights as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations" and in the rights treaties which Belarus has ratified, he said in a 19-page report.

    The rights council should either press for democratization of the country's government or "admit that Belarus' human rights record cannot be improved because the human rights violations are consistent with the political nature of the regime," he said.

    Severin — who encouraged Belarusian civil society activists to continue their work toward democratization — called on the U.N. to set up a legal expert group to investigate whether the country's government was responsible for the disappearance and murders of several politicians and journalists and help to put an end to impunity.

    Although there were a few positive developments, such as the release of some of the political prisoners and reports that some rights groups and newspapers have recently been treated better, the improvements were not enough yet to bring real change, he said.

    Support by the international community is of "paramount importance for the destiny of Belarus and its people," Severin told council-members.

    Russia and other neighboring countries should join in travel sanctions for Belarusian officials imposed by the EU and the United States, he said in his report. At the same time, countries should condition trade with Belarus on human rights criteria, he said.

    "Russia could exercise a very important role in supporting any international strategy meant to improve the situation of human rights in the country," Severin said.

    The report contained false allegations and "absurd conclusions," said Belarus ambassador Sergei Aleinik, calling Severin an "incompetent and politically engaged expert" who wanted to create a negative image of the country.

    "The special rapporteur is misusing the human rights put forward a political model for interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state," he told the council.

    Oleg Malginov, who heads the human rights division of the Russian Foreign Ministry, told the council that the report was politically biased and said it demonstrated why the mandates of U.N. rights experts on specific countries should be abolished.

    UN Human Rights Council should become platform for objective dialogue between states

    From: BelTA
    The UN Human Rights Council can and should become a platform for an objective, interested and equivalent dialogue about human rights between all states, Belarus permanent representative to the UN Office and other international organisations in Geneva Sergei Aleinik said in his speech during the 5th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

    BelTA learnt from the permanent mission of Belarus to the UN Office and other international organisations in Geneva, the Belarusian side had called upon members of the Council to pass a decision to abolish the mandate of the UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Belarus and to build a new universal system for assessing human rights situations, a system without such politically motivated mandates. The Belarusian side had expressed hope that institutional development, formation of new human rights mechanisms will not be slowed down by clandestine political motives.

    According to Sergei Aleinik, the so-called report by Special Rapporteur Adriand Severin continues the practice of free-tongued distortions and absurd conclusions, contradicts dozens of reports made by international organisations. “It is essentially a product of a non-competent and politically biased expert, who is directly interested in creating a negative image of our country”, noted Sergei Aleinik. In his words, “The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was adopted by a minority of the member-states and the Special Rapporteur was chosen from the country, which co-authored the resolution, not by a collegiate but individual decision”.

    Sergei Aleinik stressed, the Special Rapporteur had declared his mandate political, global and boundless. Last year dwelling on the assertions he started expressing opinions about human rights situations in other regions of the world. The Permanent Representative of Belarus believes, the mandate is a dangerous precedent, which can lead to multiple cases of using political dominance and abuse against other nations.

    Most delegations at the session spoke for immediate abolition of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus.

    Lithuanian company Ukio bankas ready to inject over $300mn in investment projects in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The Lithuanian company Ukio bankas is ready to inject over $300 million in investment projects in Belarus, first secretary of the embassy of Lithuania to Belarus Vidmintas Verbitskas has told BelTA.

    He has noted that at present the company has been developing an investment program and concrete projects and has been negotiating the issue with the corresponding Belarusian departments. In particular, the company plans to build a big sports and entertainment center at the stadium of Minsk Tractor Works.

    Vidmintas Verbitskas called the arrival of Ukio bankas in Belarus a momentous event and underlined that “such big corporate investments may become a signal for the Lithuanian capital to start investing in Belarus.”

    When speaking about promising areas of investment cooperation the diplomat noted that the Lithuanian side was showing keen interest in many spheres including production, processing, trade, transport, logistics, real estate and IT.

    In 2005, Lithuania funneled $10.7 million into Belarus’ economy and in 2006 - $23.3 million. In the number of enterprises set up in Belarus with foreign ownership Lithuania hits the top ten countries-investors.

  • Around the region...

    Russia banks poised to end North Korea deadlock

    From: Reuters
    Russia said on Wednesday it was poised to transfer North Korean funds frozen at a Macau bank, raising prospects for an end to the deadlock that has stalled a nuclear disarmament deal for weeks.

    Russia has said it was ready to give the green light to one of its banks to transfer the $25 million stuck in Banko Delta Asia (BDA) provided Washington gave written guarantees it would not fall under U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang.

    "In principle, we are ready," Russian news agencies quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov as saying. "I do not know when this will happen, but we are talking days."

    A Russian finance ministry source told Itar-Tass news agency that the "appropriate operation was being prepared."

    Pyongyang has refused to honour a February deal to begin shutting its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and source of material for atomic bombs until its funds in the BDA is released through normal banking channels.

    Losyukov said Russia's finance ministry was now negotiating written guarantees with Washington. He said it was too soon to identify the Russian bank involved in the transfer.

    The funds were blocked after the United States blacklisted BDA, accusing it of laundering illicit funds for North Korea.

    Because of the stigma attached to holding North Korean assets, banks have balked at acting as a conduit for the money to be returned to Pyongyang.


    South Korea's foreign minister said earlier on Wednesday that negotiations to transfer the North Korean funds were in their final stages, and Yonhap news agency quoted an official in Seoul as saying the deal could be completed by the end of the week.

    Optimism the impasse could be resolved grew this week after U.S. officials said Moscow would help out, and confirmation came from the Russian ministry on Wednesday.

    "The Russian side... does not mind a possible participation of the Russian banks in arranging a transfer of North Korean funds held on accounts in Delta Asia bank to North Korea," ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement.

    The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Far East Commercial Bank, a private Russian bank where Pyongyang has a dormant account, was likely to receive the funds.

    Russia is one of five regional powers -- along with China, Japan, South Korea and the United States -- which has been negotiating with impoverished North Korea to end its nuclear weapons programme in exchange for massive economic aid.

    Under the February agreement, North Korea is slated to get 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, or its equivalent, once it completes initial steps, including shutting down Yongbyon.

    During the next phase of the pact, which includes making a complete declaration of all its nuclear programmes and disabling all its nuclear facilities, North Korea will get economic, energy and humanitarian aid up to the equivalent of a further 950,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

    Walesa publishes secret Communist files: Poland wrestling with whether to release police files that name spies and informants

    From: Hamilton Spectator
    Five hundred pages of files kept by the Polish police on Lech Walesa when he was leader of the striking Gdansk shipyard workers in the early 1980s have just gone up on the Internet.

    Walesa -- who went on to become president of Poland -- put them there himself to confound those who have spread rumours that he was a police informer in the old days before Communism collapsed in Poland in 1989.

    "I got sick and tired of the constant accusations, doubts and insinuations being peddled by these people and decided to publish these materials for all to see," he said.

    It is the most dramatic move yet in an argument that has been raging in Poland for months over whether all the old police files should be made public so that everyone who spied on colleagues or neighbours for the secret police can be identified.

    * What made Walesa such a controversial figure?

    There were many brave men and women involved in the battle for civil rights in the old Communist states. One could mention the Russians Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, the Czech Vaclav Havel, the Slovak Alexander Dubcek -- all of them remarkable. But until 1989, no one defied Communist authority as successfully as Walesa.

    In the summer of 1980, Communist Poland was paralyzed by a strike of 100,000 workers protesting about increases in food prices. They elected a strike committee, with Walesa, an electrical engineer from the Gdansk shipyard, as chairman, and created the Solidarnosc (Solidarity) movement, which the Communists never succeeded in suppressing.

    The situation was replete with irony. Lenin, the founder of Communism, had exhorted workers to use the general strike as a political weapon. Now the self-professed Leninists who ruled Poland were forced to negotiate with a genuine strike leader who was not a Marxist but a practising Roman Catholic. In 1981, the crisis ended with a military coup.

    * What happened to Walesa after that?

    Walesa spent seven years either under arrest or being harassed.

    In 1983, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1989, he was elected president of post-Communist Poland, but lost his position in the 1995 election.

    He stood again unsuccessfully in 2000. Since then he has lectured around the world on the history and politics of central Europe.

    He is now 63.

    * Why should this story matter now?

    All the old Communist regimes had extensive police networks which relied on information secretly passed on by informants, who spied on their neighbours or colleagues.

    There are an unknown number of ex-informants still alive, perhaps still holding important jobs. In Poland, old police files are held by a trust called the Institute of National Remembrance.

    Every now and again, leaks emerge from historians with access to the archives. Last month, one of Poland's most eminent journalists, Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died in January at age 74, was "outed" as a former spy.

    In March, the Polish government brought in a new vetting law, which required 53 categories of professionals -- including politicians, journalists, academics, head teachers and directors of publicly listed companies -- to declare whether they had collaborated with the police.

    It applied to about 700,0000 Poles born before Aug. 1, 1972, and to foreigners working in Poland.

    Those who failed to sign a declaration before May 15, or were caught lying, faced dismissal and other penalties. After widespread protests, the law was effectively annulled by the constitutional court. By that time, thousands had filled in their forms, but many others had refused, and were prepared to take the consequences.

    * What is wrong with exposing ex-informants?

    There are Poles who personally have nothing to hide who vehemently oppose the sniffing out and naming of old collaborators, because of the mindset it induces.

    Too many people, they say, are obsessed with what happened before 1989, instead of dealing with the world they now live in.

    Adam Michnik, a former Solidarity leader who now edits Poland's largest newspaper, has spoken of there being two Polands: "A Poland of suspicion, fear and revenge is fighting a Poland of hope, courage and dialogue."

    Lech Walesa was among those opposed to opening the archives, saying that it would destabilize Poland's democracy. But the counter-argument is that while the information about ex-informants lies festering in the archives, it is a cause for suspicion, rumour and possibly even blackmail. Exposure would clear the air.

    * Is this problem confined to Poland?

    The same problem exists in every one of the countries that used to be under Communist rule, 10 of which are now members of the EU.

    In 1991, the Germans passed the Stasi Records Act, regulating access to the old East German police files. The law allows anyone who was spied on to see their file, and see who spied on them, but does not allow them to see the spies' files, to avoid the risk of revenge attacks.

    This Stasi law is regarded as a model of its kind. It has been copied in most of the other former Communist states of Eastern Europe.

    After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the new Iraq government also sent observers to Germany to study the Stasi law before deciding what to do with the mountain of files assembled by the Baathist police.

    This problem crops up wherever an oppressive regime has collapsed or been overthrown.

    In many cases wiser heads have argued that there is no point in exacting retribution.

    In France, after the war, the former prime minister Pierre Laval was shot, and the ex-president Marshal Petain died in prison, but a halt was called to further reprisals against Nazi collaborators.

    In Spain, after the death of Franco, the new democracy decided not to punish those who had worked with him, and most of the country has enjoyed political stability since.

    In South Africa, after the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela's government also chose reconciliation.

    In Britain, very few could be accused of collaboration with the Nazis, though the two most blatant offenders, William Joyce and John Amery, were hanged.

    But in a part of the U.K., the problem is a live one. Peace in Northern Ireland was obtained at the price of allowing a large number of killers to walk free.

    There are still many unanswered questions about the period, including suspicions that some police or intelligence officers connived in terrorist murders, but the political leaders from both sides have decided to let bygones be bygones.

    Ukraine’s relations with Russia need “strategic re-evaluation”

    From: Itar Tass
    President Viktor Yushchenko said relations between Ukraine and Russia require “strategic re-evaluation in very many respects”.

    He believes “the time has come to move from declarations in economic integration processes to practical steps.”

    “At every our meeting, [Russian President] Vladimir Putin and I talk about the Kerch Strait and other problems related to the sea border between the two countries,” Yushchenko said at a quarterly press conference titled “The Policy of New Realism” on Wednesday.

    He described the dialogue with Russia as “constructive”.

    “I value this dialogue. As for the Russian Federation, I am an optimist in that Ukraine declares its foreign policy goals,” he said.

    In his words, “Ukraine has a forecast policy”, but “Ukraine clearly stands up to its national interests”.

    He stressed that Ukraine had handed over 22 draft agreements to Russia several days ago.

    “We frankly speak about areas of cooperation where it is possible from space to aircraft making,” the president said.

    At the same time, he noted that Ukraine has “many questions” to which “the Ukrainian side would like to get answers”.

    Speaking about “humanitarian harmonisation” between the two countries, Yushchenko said, “I give priority to the rights of pensioners on both sides. Our policy is based on respect for the rights of our strategic partners and is dictated by our national interests.”

    Lithuania will seek easing visa regime between European Union and Georgia

    From: Regnum
    The Lithuanian Interior Ministry started discussing easing visa regime with Georgia. As REGNUM was told at the ministry today, it is connected with the general EU program to combat illegal emigration to the European Union by the EU interior and justice ministers council.

    According to Lithuanian Interior Minister Raimondas Sukys, the EU will try to ease visa regime with Georgia, as a “specific situation” occurred in the country. “After the EU-Russia agreements came into force since June 1 to ease visa regime, a situation occurred in the Georgian conflict territories that does not foster conflict settlement, as local residents, who obtained passports from Russia illegally, can have the visa for 35 euro, while for Georgian citizens it costs 65 euro,” Sukys announced.

    The interior minister also noted that by introducing such regulations, the European Union does not promote peaceful settlement of the Georgian conflicts, despite its declarations that the EU is interested in resolving “frozen conflicts.”

    Russia asks Estonia's help to bring home WWII soldiers' remains

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russia's foreign minister called on Estonia Wednesday to help relatives of Soviet WWII soldiers whose remains were recently moved from central Tallinn bring them back to Russia for reburial.

    In late April, Estonian authorities relocated a Soviet war memorial in the capital and exhumed the remains of soldiers buried there, sparking furious protest among ethnic Russians in the Baltic state, and in Russia.

    "The Russian side made a firm request that Estonian authorities help relatives of the Soviet soldiers, whose remains were exhumed in Tallinn, in reburying them in line with their wishes," the Foreign Ministry's statement quoted Sergei Lavrov as saying.

    At talks in Sweden with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, Lavrov also urged an investigation into the death of a Russian national, Dmitry Ganin, who was stabbed during the protests in Estonia, where ethnic Russians make up about one-third of the population.

    Earlier Wednesday, authorities in Tallinn said the remains of Captain Alexei Bryantsev, one of the 13 soldiers buried in the city in 1944, would be handed over to his son Viktor, who is now in the Estonian capital, pending a DNA test.

    A Russian embassy spokesman said Viktor Bryantsev was expected to take the remains on a flight to Moscow Friday. Maxim Kozlov said Russia was covering all of Viktor's accommodation, DNA analysis and transportation costs.

    Earlier reports said a ceremony to rebury the Red Army captain in his home town of Gukovo in southern Russia would take place Saturday.

    The relatives of three other soldiers were earlier reported to have voiced plans to have their ancestors reburied in their homeland.

    Estonian authorities said the remains of the soldiers - revered as heroes who helped defeat the Nazis, but regarded as occupiers by the Estonian leadership - who could not be identified would be reburied at a military cemetery in Tallinn on July 3.

    Estonia's Defense Ministry said Russian relatives could ask for a new exhumation and reburial once they were laid to rest at the Estonian cemetery.

  • Opinion...

    Why Ahmadinejad visited Belarus

    From: Alex Kogan for The Jerusalem Post
    Strangely enough, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad`s two-day official visit to the Belarus capital of Minsk last month received much less attention in the West than it really deserves.

    Most dispatches were based on Russian and Iranian sources, which gave scant details on Ahmadinejad`s talks with his authoritarian counterpart from Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko and Speaker Vladimir Konoplyov.

    The reports claimed that the main outcome of the Iranian leader`s visit to "one of our very best friends" had been an agreement on energy resources: Belarus will be now supplied with Iranian oil.

    The Belarusian and Iranian presidents announced the deal on the first day of their summit.

    Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to accept Belarus`s proposal for joint development of the Jufeir oil and gas deposit in Iran.

    Belarusneft - a large, state-run oil production enterprise - first made the offer to Iran in late 2006.

    Teheran has studied the overall plan carefully, and approved it. Under the plan, Belarus will be allowed to extract oil in Iran and use it at its own discretion.

    Belarus`s ambassador in Israel, Igor Leshchenya, told The Jerusalem Post that Ahmadinejad`s trip to Minsk was considered an attempt to break the Western boycott against Teheran.

    Leshchenya said the visit was "totally transparent," as all relations between Minsk and Teheran are. The sides discussed only "issues of economical cooperation," he said.

    Analysts noted that Lukashenko`s so-called "economic miracle" in his former Soviet republic had mostly been based on cheap oil and gas from Russia.

    On the other hand, Belarus has lost 20 percent of its budget due to Russia`s charging higher prices for energy resources. Russian fuel will cost Belarus even more next year.

    As a result, Belarus has been trying to break into the international oil market. And the Iranians have come to the rescue, helping what they consider a fellow "pariah state."

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was quoted by The Associated Press as saying two years ago that Cuba, Myanmar, Belarus and Zimbabwe as "outposts of tyranny" requiring close US attention.

    "In some cases Belarus is even worse, as its weaponry is used everywhere, even in Darfur and by the Chinese and Hizbullah," Rice said.

    If everything works out as planned, Belarus and Iran could succeed in breaking the political blockade imposed by the US and its allies.

    Minsk provides a perfect, roundabout way to acquire anything Teheran needs. There are no strict sanctions imposed on Belarus, and so it is capable of serving as a shipment point for any goods, and a foreign mouthpiece for any political position of the Iranian regime.

    And those were the real reasons for Ahmadinejad`s visit to Minsk.

    Putin's state of mind

    From: Arnaud de Borchgrave for the Washington Times
    If the west had lost the Cold War, would Gorbachev still be around?
    The reasons behind Russian President Vladimir Putin's increasingly hostile attitude toward the Bush administration are becoming clearer. To understand them in their proper context, imagine the United States and its allies had lost the Cold War. NATO has collapsed.

    Next thing we know capitalism collapses, along with America's two political parties. In their place springs a one-party system, known as USA, which now stands for United Socialists of America.

    As we lick our military, diplomatic and psychological wounds, Canada and Mexico follow our former European allies into the Warsaw Pact. France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Spain and the Benelux countries join COMECON, the Warsaw Pact equivalent of the now defunct European Economic Community. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) folds and is replaced by INTER-ARTA (Inter-American Regulated Trade Association). Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela become charter members.

    The Soviet leader -- Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin or Mr. Putin -- then embarks on a triumphant tour of the former NATO capitals, including Ottawa and Mexico City, now full-fledged Warsaw Pact allies.

    Soviet hubris has led the world's most powerful nation to punish a recalcitrant dictator in the Middle East, say, Iraq. The men in the Kremlin decide to invade Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, roping in key satellites in a coalition of the unwilling. Oblivious to local tribal and sectarian forces, Soviet and coalition forces find themselves bogged down in another Afghanistan.

    When the Soviet leader first met with his new counterpart in the White House, he stared into his soul and liked what he saw: an American socialist who could be trusted. But now that the Russian imperialist was bogged down in Iraq, the USA president was beginning to enjoy his discomfiture. He then went on to criticize the Kremlin leader for the biggest blunder in the history of socialism. The Russian's ratings plummeted to single digits.

    Now back to reality. Mr. Putin is savoring President Bush's predicament and piling on. His paranoid military had briefed him on the anti-missile system the U.S. wants to install in Poland and the Czech Republic as a deterrent to hostile nuclear-tipped Iranian missiles. From what his intelligence tells him, Iran is so far behind in producing a nuclear weapon, let alone one that can be miniaturized and fitted into the nose cone of a Shahab-4 missile, that the Americans must have an ulterior motive.

    A copy of North Korea's No-Dong 2 missile, the latest Shahab-4, or Shooting Star, would have a range of about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles), which would threaten Israel, Jordan and all the Gulf countries, but not Europe.

    Mr. Putin, after listening to his military and intelligence services, decided to rattle the Europeans by snarling at Mr. Bush. This could produce a little more daylight between Washington and its European allies. Given Mr. Bush's single-digit popularity ratings in Europe, Mr. Putin presumably concluded this is a propitious time to push the envelope with strident warnings about a new missile race, this time one the U.S. started.

    At first blush it seemed like much ado about very little. The U.S. proposal to expand its missile defense shield to cover Europe entails locating 10 missile interceptors in Poland that would be linked to a new radar base in the Czech Republic. For Eastern European countries that are now NATO members, the U.S. missile plan seemed like additional guarantees against their former imperial masters in Moscow. Mr. Putin's new Russia is now flush with the income of oil and gas exports and many Eastern Europeans sense nostalgia in Moscow for what is known as its "near abroad."

    Poland, a country that has spent more than two centuries under imperial Russian and imperial Soviet domination, is divided on the plan for a new U.S. missile base against Iran. Surveys show 58 percent of Poles and 68 percent of Czechs opposed. But the Polish government is pushing back on what they detect to be recrudescent Russian imperial ambitions.

    Russian generals have spoken to Polish generals as if their NATO membership was more fiction than reality. So before they accept a U.S. missile base, Polish authorities want to make sure the U.S. supplies local air defense and anti-missile systems. Unless Polish security is enhanced vis-a-vis Russia, the government sees no point in enhancing security against Iran in the distant future and antagonizing Russia in the immediate future.
  • Note: This article was previously blogged by Robert Amsterdam

  • From the blogs...

    Ziuganov For '08!

    From: New Zeal
    Guennadi Ziuganov, leader of the Russian Federation's Communist Party, announced his intention to take part in the electoral contest for the presidency of Russia for March 2008.

    Ziuganoz now becomes the fifth Russian opposition leader who aspires to be elected as President.

    He was questioned on the topic Monday during a tour on the north of Russia, and he said that his candidature counts on the support of his comrades but the Communist Party will adopt a final decision during its congress in September.

    If his election is effective as presidential candidate, this will be the third time in his career for President, after two postulations in 1996 and 2000.

    Remembering :The Twenty Year Anniversary Of A Monumental Speech

    From: Political Yen/Yang
    Today marks the 20th anniversary of the now famous Ronald Reagan speech, where he encouraged Secretary Gorbachev to "tear down this wall". That wall fell later after he was out of office, but the close proximity of the words and the deeds lead many to believe that this one speech was very instrumental in the dream becoming a reality.

    Growing up during the Cold War, no one really gave much thought that they'd ever see a reunited Germany, much less the fall of the Iron Curtain. But, Reagan had a vision and wanted to see that vision become reality, to facilitate a brighter hope and future for those that lived under the oppressive Soviet empire and create a more peaceful world.

    How much of that came because of him will no doubt be the subject of many debates well into the future. Where a person stands on that issue will depend entirely on the politics of that particular person. But to deny that Reagan played any part in that event, simply denies the reality of the situation.

    Here is an interesting article on that speech and how it compares and contrasts with some others.

    Also here is a list of 10 interesting facts about some other famous presidential speeches.

    What’s Polish for: Can I fondle your buttocks?

    From: The Beatroot
    "Prosze, czy moge pogladzic twoj miekki tyleczek"?

    Just one of the lines in a small ‘tourist glossary’ thought up by an Irishman who is a frequent visitor to the weekend tourist hotspot of Krakow.

    The phrases in the little dictionary are written out in English phonetics, so the above sentence I suppose would read:

    ‘Proshe, che moge pogwaghich tfoy mienki tewechek?

    The phrase book also includes other chat up lines (all bound to fail, of course) such as: "Jestem twoim niewolnikiem". (I am your slave’).

    There have been many stories in the press about Brits on stag party weekends in Krakow, Wroclaw, etc getting stinking drunk and upsetting the delicate sensibilities of the oh, so cultured inhabitants of the city. This is just the latest of them.

    The Super Express tabloid even reported in the oh so supiorior tone of the most snobbish of Krakovian – “The locals are disgusted’….’They [drunken British - Irish] deserve a punch in the nose…’. Blah, blah…

    They seem to miss the point that the phrasebook is obviously a silly joke.

    They also seem to forget that there are well over half a million Poles in Britain and Ireland and many of them are going out nighttime and getting completely hammered.

    And long may they do so.

    Being a half Brit/Irish myself, I find some of the antics of the British and Irish in Poland slightly embarrassing. But let’s get this in perspective: a few hundred lads having a good time in Krakow should be met with as much tolerance as a few hundred thousand Poles should be welcomed in the UK and Ireland.

    The Super Express tabloid – which when reporting the story adopts a high condescending tone (in amongst pictures of topless women and other tabloid trash) is merely reproducing some of the rubbish journalism that has appeared in the British press about Poles since they arrived in high numbers three years ago.

    Super Express deserves a punch on the nose.

    Update: I can reveal (as the hacks would say) that the origin of this ‘phrase book’ is actually TWO YEARS OLD - that's before the cheap airlines started flying over the British stag parties. This dumb Polish tabloid story is not even fresh news! Dumb, gets dumber. Cheap journalism gets cheaper still. See online phrase book here.
  • Note: Apologies in advance for the photo.

    Comes a Humanitarian

    From: Kim Zigfeld for Publius Pundit
    Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Putin
    If somebody had told you twenty years ago that within five years the mighty USSR would collapse like a house of cards and the cold war would end, you probably would have laughed at them.

    Suppose they'd then told you that less than a decade after the collapse, the people of Russia would freely elect a proud KGB spy as their second-ever president, and sit idly by whilst he (1) assumed control over the national media, (2) abolished local elections and elections to the upper house of parliament, (3) jailed his leading rival (in Siberia, no less) and quite possibly (4) blew up a couple of apartment buildings full of innocent people to justify war in Chechnya and ordered contract hits on a series of public critics of his regime. Probably, you would have called for the men in white coats, wouldn't you?

    And what if they then told you that right after all that happened Russia's most famous living dissident, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who spent time in the GULAG and was then exiled for daring to criticize the murderous regime of Josef Stalin (who killed at least as many Russians as Hitler), would happily accept a prize for "humanitarian activity" from that very KGB spy, having earlier invited him over for a spot of tea and posing for photo op (as shown above) and not saying a single word about the creeping return of a Stalinesque regime, but only: "Our bitter national experience can yet help us in a possible repeat of unstable social conditions. It will forewarn and protect us from destructive breakdowns." In other words: Don't worry, be happy! That "humanitarian activity" for which he was rewarded by the KGB spy? In the words of the Washington Post, it was having "praised Putin for working to restore a strong state and echoed the president's accusations of Western encroachment."

    What would you have said then? Maybe you'd have thought about that movie "Bridge on the River Kwai" and the scene at the end when the British officer, played by Alec Guinness, suddenly realizes he's spent the whole movie helping the Japanese to win World War II. Maybe you'd think, gee, I bet that sometime right before he kicks the neo-Soviet bucket Solzhenitsyn is going to have a look on his face just like that British officer had just before he got shot and fell on the dynamite plunger by accident.

    Well, he will if there's any justice in the world, anyway.

  • Sport...

    Junior Winner’s Roddick Connection

    From: Andy Roddick
    Uladzimir Ignatik
    We couldn’t win a round here in men’s tennis, but we’re doing a great job of training another country’s winner.The French Open junior boys champion, Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus, was crowned Sunday and there was not only rejoicing by his family in Minsk, but no doubt at the John Roddick Tennis Academy in San Antonio, Texas as well, where this 16-year-old has been training since he was 14.

    About the only person he hadn’t called within a half hour of taking down Australia’s Greg Jones in the final was John, who is with Andy and Jimmy Connors at Queens Club in London, getting ready for Monday’s start of the grass-court run-up to Wimbledon.

    Why haven’t you called John and Andy? I asked. Vlad smiled. It’s his little payback for the joke the Roddicks played on him two years ago. “I’ll tell them when I see them tomorrow.” He’s playing a 16-player junior invitational at Queens, beginning Wednesday.

    Payback? Roddick’s management agency, SFX, discovered Ignatik when he went out in the semifinals of an under-14 tournament in France at age 13, and they signed him and sent him initially to a small academy in California.

    “I didn’t like it there,” Vlad said. “There weren’t enough good players and the coaches were a little strange.” OK, we won’t explore that further. Just get on with the story.

    “So, now I am 14 and playing junior tournaments in Europe and they call again and say they have a bigger academy they’re sure I will like. But they don’t tell me the name.”

    They flew him to San Antonio, picked him up at the airport and drove him to the academy. When he saw the name “Roddick” on the sign at the entrance, his face lit up.

  • Endnote...

    "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall"

    From: Robert Amsterdam
    June 12th marks the 20th anniversary of President Ronald Reagan's famous speech given at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin, one of the most important events in bringing an end to the Cold War. Revisiting Reagan's remarks from this historic day and contrasting them with the current approach to solving problems with the Russian Federation shows that there is still so much work to be done to build a properly functioning relationship.


      And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.
      Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

      General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

    These days it is difficult to imagine another world leader willing to reach such a level of direct rhetoric to express their concerns to Russia. But then again the Reagan administration didn't have to worry about major multinational corporations and financial institutions defending the actions of the Kremlin to protect their investments and maintain their proximity to power. Just look at outgoing PM Tony Blair, who is being heavily criticized by UK businesses for questioning Russia's democratic values (Even Peter Hambro and Tony Hayward have jumped on the bandwagon, despite directly experiencing Russia's hostility and bullying).

    There cannot be much optimism for the development of a free society in Russia when so many Western firms are enthusiastically underwriting autocracy, and thereby inhibiting governments' ability to stop Russia's drift toward repression.