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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Agriculture in Grodno, Economics, Gaz debt, Travel bans, Commies, Babies, harvest numbers, Region, Bogs and Sport

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  • #229

    President visits Grodno region

    From: Office of the president
    The President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, visiting agro-town Gervyaty in Ostrovets district, Grodno region
    The nature of financing of the agriculture industry in Belarus will be changing, said the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, during his today’s working trip to Grodno region.

    During the visit, the Head of State got acquainted with the progress in the ongoing harvesting campaign in the region, surveyed the soil preparation currently underway for the sowing of winter and stubble crops, looked at how the process of processing and storing grain and seed-stock was organised and visited the agricultural production cooperative Gervyaty.

    The President was reported on the progress in implementing the 2005-2010 State Programme of Rural Revival and Development in the agricultural enterprises of Grodno region.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed to the importance of stepping up the economic efficiency of agricultural production in Belarus and ordered that the state rural revival programme should be implemented in full. In the near future, the main funds allocated for rural development will be channelled into materialising this vital programme.

    According to him, it is planned to gradually cut subsidies to agriculture in Belarus. The issues related to providing subsidies should be kept under strict control, Alexander Lukashenko said. The President added that, beginning from 2008, the state would subsidise agricultural companies by 50 percent; one year later they ought to be able to operate efficiently without subsidies. Funds will be provided only for highly-profitable projects that can be implemented within a short period of time.

    Alexander Lukashenko visited a local secondary school and a physical and recuperation sports complex.

    The Head of State had a warm conversation with the residents of agro-town Gryvyaty. Answering their questions, the President urged them not to worry about the stability of the national currency.

    As he noted, today Belarus has two times more gold and foreign currency reserves than a year before. “This is why the [Belarusian] rouble will be stable; we will be strengthening it. The stability of the national currency is the number-one issue. If the rouble collapses, this country collapses. I regard it as a vital issue. We just don’t speak that much about it: money doesn’t like too much talking. But people may be absolutely confident about the security of their savings kept in Belarusian roubles,” the Head of State said.

    Industrial output 7.8% up in seven months in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    In seven months the industrial output in Belarus exceeded Br49.5 trillion which is 7.8% more as compared with the same time last year, BelTA learnt in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    In 2007 the industrial output is expected to go up by 7.5%-8.5%.

    According to the data of the Ministry, in seven months of the year the country produced almost Br10.5 trillion worth of consumer goods, an increase of 6.2% as against same time last year (the annual target – 8.5%-9.5%). The foodstuffs production fell by 1% to B4r4,951 trillion although it was expected to grow by 9%-10%. The production of nonfoods soared by 13.1% to Br4,833 trillion (the annual target - 8%-9%). The production of alcoholic beverages reached Br672,4 billion, an increase of 17.2%.

    According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, in six months 2007 the trade in goods and services jumped by 20.6% as against January-June 2006 (the annual target – 10.8%-12%). Exports grew by 17.4% (the annual target – 13.2%-14.5%), imports soared by 23.7% (the annual target – 8.5%-9.5%). The trade deficit stood at $1.07bn.

    Belarus sets up public council to protect national economic interests

    The public council to protect national economic interests has been set up in Belarus’ State Customs Committee.

    According to the Chairman of the State Customs Committee, Alexander Shpilevsky, among the goals of the council is to create the environment conducive to the promotion of business, export-import operations and foreign investment. The public council will protect the interests of domestic commodity producers and consumers of imported goods.

    Alexander Shpilevsky noted that today’s session will consider the problems which emerged after the new Customs Code had come in force. Representatives of Belarus’ State Customs Committee and business communities of Belarus and Russia will discuss the difficulties and the ways of overcoming them. Moreover, the council is expected to develop the measures to improve the customs policy and customs control, to speed up foreign trade operations and counteract smuggling. The Customs Committee intends to explain some provisions of the new Belarusian customs legislation to Russia’s representatives.

    Belarus’ inflation stands at 0.5% in July

    The inflation in Belarus was at the level of 0.5% in July, BelTA learnt in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    The consumer price index stood at 4.1% as against December last year with the prices growing by 0.6% a month on average.

    A reminder, in accordance with the main guidelines of the monetary policy of Belarus, the inflation is expected to be at the level of 6-8% this year.

    GDP goes up by 8.8% in seven months

    The Gross Domestic Product went up by 8.8% in seven months this year as against same time last year. In 2007 GDP is expected to go up by 8-9%, in 9 months – 8.3%.

    In January-July this year the industrial output grew by 7.8% (the annual target – 7.5%-8.5%, the nine-month target – 7%). The consumer goods output was up 6.2% (the annual target – 8.5%-9.5%, the nine-month target – 8%). The foodstuffs production fell by 1% although it was expected to grow by 9%-10%. The production of nonfoods soared by 13.1% (the annual target -8%-9%).

    According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, in H1 2007 the GDP energy intensity went down by 12.7% while it was expected to fall by 6%-7%. The profitability of sold products stood at 13.2% in six months, while the annual target was 14.5% and the H1 target was 12.5%. The labour productivity in January-June was 8% up (the annual target – 7%-8.6%)

    In January-July capital and residential investments up by 19.5%

    In January-July the capital and residential investments in Belarus amounted to Br12,14 trillion, up by 19.5% over the same period last year. Over the seven months the volume of building and assembly operations increased by 21.6% over the same period last year up to Br5,3 trillion.

    In January-July this year, housing completions made up 2,516 million square meters, up by 13.2% from the same period last year. In rural and small urban communities housing completions amounted to 1,126 million square meters (20.1% up) including 865 thousand square meters (16.5% up) in villages.

    Belarus Pays Debts To Gazprom

    From: RFE/RL
    Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, says Belarus has paid all of its $456 million debt for Russian gas deliveries in the first half of the year.

    Gazprom threatened to limit gas deliveries to Belarus earlier this month if the bill went unpaid.

    Belarus made a first $190 million payment on its debt for Russian natural gas on August 3.

    Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka told journalists today that Belarus is now going to pay for Russian gas deliveries in full and in a timely manner. "It will be difficult for us. But the honor, dignity, and reputation of our country should be above all," he noted.

    The dispute over the unpaid bill was watched closely by the West, as pipelines in Belarus serve as a key transit route for Russian oil and gas shipments to Europe.

    Belarus vows ‘adequate response’ to US travel ban

    From: Peninsula Daily
    Belarus promised an "adequate response" yesterday after Washington expanded a list of Belarussian officials banned from entering the United States.

    "Given the United States' unilateral, groundless actions, Belarus will naturally be forced to take adequate measures in response," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement, without being more specific.

    On Tuesday, the United States’ Embassy announced the widening of a May 2006 list of persons banned from entering the United States, in response to what it said was continued repression, notably against democracy activists.

    For nearly a decade the United States has been at loggerheads with President Alexander Lukashenko's leadership.

    Washington has described this ex-Soviet republic on Russia's western edge as Europe's last dictatorship.

    In its statement on the widening of the ban, Belarus' foreign ministry said that "we have more than once spoken of the pointless and counterproductive nature of such decisions. Such a policy has completely exhausted itself, is a thing of the last century.

    "In an era of globalisation the continued limiting of contacts by the American side is not something that can foster mutual understanding or the development of bilateral ties," the statement said.

    The initial list comprised nearly 40 names including Lukashenko and others suspected of repressing human rights and committing fraud during presidential elections.

    The expanded restrictions cover deputy ministers, the chief prosecutor and his deputies, interior ministry officials with a rank of lieutenant-colonel or above, the head of presidential administration and his deputies, electoral commission officials nationwide, the chair of the constitutional court, the directors of state enterprises and their deputies, the Embassy said.

    The measures would also affect the spouses of the designated people, it added.

    Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan should form union state, says leader of Russian Communist Party

    From: Naveny
    Gennady Zyuganov
    Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan should form a union state, Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, said at a news conference held in Moscow on August 9.

    "Without a union of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and, preferably, Kazakhstan too, you and us do not have a historical prospect," he noted, adding that the only states to survive in the 21st century would be "self-sufficient states" or states that choose to form unions to "be competitive in the modern market and be able to defend their state and national interests," Mr. Zyuganov said.

    "The USSR was a self-sufficient state, that is why our main goal is to do our best to make the union of Russia and Belarus a reality," he stressed.

    Authorities report rise in number of births in first half of 2007

    From: Naveny
    Births rose in number by 8.8 percent in Belarus in the first six months of 2007, Tatsyana Shametavets, a senior official at the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, told reporters in Minsk on August 10, BelaPAN reported.

    An increase of 9.8 percent in the number of births was recorded in urban areas and a 6.2-percent rise in villages, the official said, adding that the Homyel and Brest regions had the highest increase in births.

    The rise in the birthrate met projections set by the government-devised National Demographic Security Program, which provides for a set of measures intended to stop Belarus' population decline.

    According to Ms. Shametavets, the country's death rate dropped by 4.2 percent in the first half of the year.

    Belarusian experts project the country's average life expectancy to be 63.3 years for men and 75.5 years for women this year.

    A total of 109 billion rubels, including 59 billion from the central budget, is expected to be provided for the implementation of the 2007-2010 National Demographic Security Program, Ms. Shametavets said.

    In a related story, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that higher gas prices will not affect the population. These remarks came while talking to residents of the Hervyaty agro-town in the Hrodna region on August 10, according to government news sources.

    "Yes, gas has become more expensive, but oil prices have not risen as much," the Belarusian head of state was quoted as saying. "It is disadvantageous to the state, of course, but it will not affect the population."

    Mr. Lukashenka reportedly noted that the government had been saving money to pay for the increase in the prices since January 1. "They promised us a loan for this year so that we would be able to adapt to the prices; we expected it and we planned our year in this way," he said. Belarus never received the loan, "but we wriggled out of this situation," he noted.

    Mr. Lukashenka reportedly promised that the government would do its best to strengthen the Belarusian rubel.

    Gross grain harvest in Belarus approaches 6 million tonnes

    From: NLIPRB
    The gross grain harvest in Belarus has approached 6 million tonnes. In the morning of August 9, 5.7 million tonnes was harvested, Belarusian Deputy Agriculture and Food Minister Vasily Pavlovsky told BelTA.

    There is slightly more than 16% of grain crops left to harvest. Specialists believe the grain harvesting will be over by mid-August. Belarus will collect 7 million tonnes of grain, the official was convinced. It is obvious now as since the beginning of the harvesting campaign the average yield has been staying at 30 centners per hectare, exceeding last year’s figures.

    The highest yield figures are registered in the Minsk oblast — 1.636 million tonnes. The figure in the Grodno oblast stands at 1,075,200 tonnes, the Brest oblast — around 848,000 tonnes, the Mogilev oblast — 803,000 tonnes, the Gomel oblast — 716,000 tonnes, the Vitebsk oblast — 848,000 tonnes.

    Specialists expect the Minsk oblast to gather in around 1.8 million tonnes of grain, the Grodno oblast — at least 1.3 million tonnes, the Brest and Vitebsk oblasts — 1 million tonnes each. Agricultural companies in the Mogilev oblast will definitely reach the figure, with grain yield exceeding last year’s level by 3 centners per hectare equalling 33.4 centners per hectare.

    Vasily Pavlovsky said, the harvesting heat has shifted to the Vitebsk and Mogilev oblasts, which still need to harvest 31% and 24% respectively. The daily harvesting progress in these oblasts makes 3.9% and 4.8%. In other oblasts the figures vary from 2% to 2.6%. Yesterday 59,200 hectares or 2.6% of the total area was cropped in Belarus.

    On the whole, the work is progressing smoothly. The harvesting of brewer’s barley should be accelerated as well as the government purchase of the crop, noted Vasily Pavlovsky. So far only 56,300 tonnes of brewer’s barley has been purchased, 37.5% of the target. Flax harvesting needs paying attention to. The harvesting of rotted flax straw should be accelerated.

    Belarus to announce tender for building two new cement mills

    From: NLIPRB
    A tender for building two new cement mills in Belarus will be announced soon. It has been already decided, Architecture and Construction Minister Alexander Seleznev told media today.

    There are two fitting locations in Belarus, which need further exploration of the available raw stock cement production requires. The mills will be built there using foreign investments, said Alexander Seleznev. One location is based on the Khotislav deposit (Malorita region, Brest oblast), the other one — the Dobrush minefield (Gomel oblast).

    According to the official, the construction of one cement mill coupled with the necessary transport and engineering costs as well as social facilities will cost about $340-360 million.

    Meanwhile, Belarus continues thinking about setting up a cement holding company in the future. The possibility of merging the three existing cement mills is well-thought-out and follows global tendencies, noted Alexander Seleznev. “We still have time to decide on how the merger will be accomplished,” noted the Minister. “The possibility of setting up a holding company is vital if foreign investors are invited to partake in modernising the existing companies. As the situation has changed and we decided to upgrade our cement mills on our own, we will not hurry to set up the holding company. The corporization of Belarusian Cement Mill and Krichevtsementnoshifer continues at present.”

    International festival “Savior of Honey Feast Day” opens in Minsk

    From: BelTA
    The international festival “Savior of the Honey Feast Day” has opened in Minsk today. The forum will be running through August 19.

    According to organizers of the festival, during the forum, beekeepers from Belarus, Ukraine and Russia (Bashkortostan, the Kuban region, Rostov and Altai) will present more than 50 varieties of honey. Participants of the forum will not only present the best honey but demonstrate the culture traditions of their regions as well. For instance, the beekeepers will be dressed in national costumes. The forum will feature ancient and modern beekeeping devices, an exposition of traditional crafts, an exhibition-sale of the art articles made at the Minsk Convent of Saint Elizabeth.

    The program of the forum includes a concert of art groups and singers, charity events, cultural-educational lectures. Within the framework of the festival, a honey tasting party will be organized. Every day a region-participant of the forum will present a 100kg barrel of honey.

    The festival is held within the framework of the project “World of Honey and Health” which was launched in Minsk on August 14, 2006 with the blessing of Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Filaret, Patriarch of Exarch of All Belarus. The main goal of the project is to provide Belarusian consumers with qualitative honey and beekeeping products, to inform the population about healthy life style and healthy food, to assist in implementation of the programme “For Healthy Belarus”.

    FEZ Minsk companies attract $39.9m in investments in H1 2007

    From: BelTA
    The emblem of the Free Economic Zone of Minsk
    Companies residing in the free economic zone Minsk attracted $39.9 million in investments in January-June 2007, 32.1% up on the same period of last year. Representatives of the FEZ Minsk administration told BelTA, foreign investments amounted to $14 million in H1 2007, 55.5% up on the year. Fixed-capital investments totalled Br43.9 billion, 26% up.

    In January-June 2007 the output of FEZ Minsk companies swelled by 25.8% in comparison with the same period of last year to a total of Br502.3 billion. The companies earned more than Br456.4 billion selling their products over the six months.

    Companies residing in the free economic zone mainly specialise in mechanical engineering and metal working, chemical and petrochemical industry, construction materials and woodworking. In 2007 the list of import-substituting goods was expanded with 123 commodities that 34 FEZ Minsk residents produce.

    In H1 2007 FEZ Minsk residents exported $116.8 million worth of commodities, 27% up on the year. Import amounted to $112.1, 7% up.

    In January-June 2007 FEZ Minsk resident companies paid Br51.4 billion in taxes, duties, and fees to the budget and non-budgetary funds.

    At present Great Britain is the largest investor in FEZ Minsk. Around 50% of accumulated foreign investments has come from Great Britain since the FEZ Minsk was founded.

    FEZ Minsk was created in 1998 with a view to attracting domestic and foreign investments, modern technologies and management practices for setting up facilities to produce export-oriented and import-substituting goods. Since the foundation the FEZ Minsk has registered 126 companies, with 73 companies operational at present.

  • Around the region...

    Georgian President Ready for Talks With Russia on Bomb Incident

    From: Bloomburg
    Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said he is ready for talks with his Russian counterpart to ease tensions over an incident in which Georgia says a Russian warplane dropped a bomb on its territory.

    Georgia says two Russian planes entered its airspace Aug. 6 and one of them dropped a bomb that didn't detonate. Russia said Aug. 9 that Georgia fabricated the incident to draw attention away from the demands for independence by two breakaway regions.

    ``We don't want to have a confrontation with Moscow, we want to avoid any possible incidents like this,'' Saakashvili said in a televised speech late yesterday. Talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin should be ``normal and constructive,'' he said.

    Georgia has accused Russia of trying to destabilize the country and backing separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The regions broke away during wars in the 1990s and have pro- Russian leaderships and Russian peacekeepers.

    Putin: Russia launching new air defence programme

    From: Reuters
    Russia's President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday a new radar station near St. Petersburg was the first stage in a large-scale air defence programme, Russian agencies reported.

    "This is the first step in a large-scale programme in this sphere that will be carried out to 2015," Putin was quoted as saying during a visit to St. Petersburg. He did not elaborate.

    It was the first public announcement of such a programme. Russia has said it will beef up its air defence system in response to the United States's initiative to station elements of a missile shield near Russia's borders.

    The Voronezh-type radar station in the village of Lekhtusi about 50 km (30 miles) north of St. Petersburg has been operational since December 2006 and can monitor the territory between the North Pole and Africa.

    "This is what I call modern development of armed forces. A lot more effective, a lot more reliable," Putin was quoted as saying.

    The United States wants to base interceptor missiles and a radar system in Poland and the Czech Republic, saying it needs protection against missile attacks from "rogue states" like Iran and North Korea.

    Russia has reacted furiously, saying the plan will upset a delicate strategic balance and that the missile shield is against Russia, not "rogue states". It has threatened to target its own missiles at Europe, prompting talk of a new Cold War.

    Putin has proposed Washington drop the idea, offering in return that the U.S. military use a Voronezh-type station under construction in southern Russia and a centre in Moscow to share data on attacks. The United States has reacted cautiously.

    Political chaos intensifies in Poland

    From: IOL
    Jaroslaw Marzec, the head of Poland's powerful Central Bureau of Investigation (CBS), was sacked on Thursday for unknown reasons, the latest in a string of high-ranking officials axed by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

    In a surprise move on Wednesday, Wladyslaw Stasiak was abruptly named Poland's new interior minister after Prime Minister Kaczynski sacked Janusz Kaczmarek from the post over an alleged leak regarding corruption allegations.

    Before he became interior minister, Kaczmarek had served as Poland's prosecutor general and was regarded as a competent technocrat as well as a devoted ally of Kaczynski's Law and Justice (PiS) party.

    Kaczynski apparently sacked him over issues linked to an investigation led by the Central Anti-corruption Bureau (CBA) which alleged former deputy prime minister Andrzej Lepper solicited bribes for the rezoning of farm land.

    Kaczmarek told Polish media on Thursday his sacking may be an attempt to cover up the activities of strong PiS politician and Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro in connection with the allegations against Lepper. Ziobro, in turn has ruled out any wrong doing.

    Last month Kaczynski axed Lepper as deputy prime minister and farms minister, but the CBA and justice officials have yet to make public any evidence against him. Lepper claims he is innocent and that the CBA, as Kaczynski's private political police, tried to frame him.

    Lepper's sacking has given rise to the latest crisis in Kaczynski's wobbly tri-party coalition government. An early general election could come as soon as this fall.

    The prime minister also said on Wednesday Poland's police commander Konrad Kornatowski would be replaced by an as yet unnamed person. Kornatowski subsequently tendered his resignation.

    While Kaczynski's protracted and intense conflict with junior coalition parties in his government has become the stuff of everyday politics, commentators say the latest string of sackings suggests a "private war" is also raging inside PiS circles.

    The latest developments forecast further chronic political instability, the believe.

    Polish crime writer on trial for murder

    From: Telegraph
    Writer Krystian Bala: murderer or liteary genius?
    A POLISH crime writer has added an unexpected appendix to his novel - he is on trial in real life for the murder described in the best-seller.

    Krystian Bala, 33, says his book Amok was inspired by newspaper clippings about a grisly killing in December 2000.

    But police allege Bala's fiction was no stranger to the truth, and contained details which could only be known by the murderer.

    They say the plot, about a mutilated body pulled from a river with hands bound and a noose at its neck, was too similar to the death of an advertising agency owner named Dariusz J.

    Police suspicions were raised by an anonymous phone tip-off soon after the book was published in 2003, and heightened when it emerged the victim was a friend of the author's ex-wife.

    Investigations revealed someone had sent a TV crime program emails from internet cafes in Asia describing the murder as "the perfect crime".

    Bala was on a diving trip to South Korea and Indonesia when the emails were sent.

    The author had also sold a mobile phone, the same model as the victim's missing one, four days after the body was found.

    Bala passed a lie-detector test. But police noticed he left long pauses before answering questions, a trick used to throw the machines. They say he could have been using breathing techniques he learnt as a diver.

    Before the trial began in Wroclaw, Poland, Bala said: "Amok is a fictional work. Although the language and situations are strong, it is an intellectual work."

    Chief Inspector Jaceck Wroblewski has read the book several times and says the only sentence he wants to stick is 25 years' jail.

    A verdict is expected soon.

    Ukrainian election commission refuses to register opposition bloc's candidates

    From: IHT
    Ukraine's elections commission on Saturday refused to register a main opposition grouping's candidates for next month's parliamentary elections, raising new tensions in the country's crisis-prone politics.

    The early parliamentary elections called for Sept. 30 defused a monthslong confrontation between President Viktor Yushchenko and his foe Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych that broke out after Yushchenko ordered the parliament dissolved.

    Ukraine's stability is of interest both to the Kremlin and the West, with Yushchenko pushing for Ukraine to join NATO and the European Union while Yanukovych is more oriented toward Russia.

    But the rejection of candidates from the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko group would likely raise questions about the election's legitimacy. The bloc's leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, is highly popular; recent polls have shown the bloc attracting about the same level of support as Yushchenko's Our Ukraine-Our Self-defense.

    A Central Elections Commission spokesman, who declined to give his name, confirmed the rejection, but did not give details, saying he was not authorized to speak to the news media.

    Tymoshenko, in a statement, called the move illegal, saying the candidates were refused registration because they had failed to provide their full addresses. She said the bloc's registration was stalled by commission members loyal to Yanukovych.

    "These marionettes have just fulfilled Yanukovych's direct order," Tymoshenko said.

    Tymoshenko said she would contest the decision in courts and appeal to the European Union and other international institutions.

    Yanukovych's supporters rejected Tymoshenko's allegations and accused her of deliberately creating a scandal around her political force to boost its popularity.

    "Who is interested in a scandal around documents filled out the wrong way? ... Who is building its ratings on scandals? I think the answer is obvious," said Olena Lukash, a senior member of Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

    Ukraine's politics have been beset by an array of troubles since the 2004 Orange Revolution — the massive protests that broke out after fraud-plagued presidential elections in which Yanukovych was declared to have won the most votes. Yushchenko won a court-ordered repeat vote.

    However, Yushchenko's presidency quickly became plagued by internal squabbling and he dismissed Tymoshenko as prime minister in the fall of 2005.

    Yanukovych's party won the largest share of votes in 2006 parliamentary elections and he became prime minister after the Socialists, who had been allied with Yushchenko, broke ranks to form a majority coalition with Party of Regions.

    Yuschenko accused Yanukovych this year of trying to usurp power and ordered parliament dissolved. Yanukovych rejected the call, but eventually agreed to early elections after tensions escalated to the point that some observers feared an armed confrontation was imminent.

  • From the blogs...

    Annals of Cold War II: With so much Russian Aggression and Dishonesty, Seems Just Like Old Times

    From: Publius Pundit
    Various international newspapers (Canada, Ireland) have reported:

      Two Russian Tu-95 bombers made the 3,200-mile flight to Guam, where more than 22,000 American troops are involved in exercises, a senior air force general said yesterday. Major-General Pavel Androsov said that when US jets were scrambled, the Russian and American pilots "exchanged smiles." He added: "Whenever we saw US planes during our flights over the ocean, we greeted them. On Wednesday, we renewed the tradition when our young pilots flew by Guam in two planes. We exchanged smiles with our counterparts, who flew up from a US carrier and returned home."

    It turns out that not only is Russia, in the wake of its attack on Georgia and its Arctic land grab, willing to make such provocatory moves, it's willing to lie about them too. The Washington Post reports that Russia's actual achievement was far less dramatic and bold than the Russian general described it:

      The U.S. Pacific Fleet commander said Thursday Russian bombers never got within 300 miles of Guam this week and didn't fly over the U.S. territory as a Russian air force general claimed. Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard disputed that U.S. fighters intercepted the bombers. The admiral said the Russian aircraft never got close enough to the Pacific island or the massive U.S. military exercises being held nearby, to warrant such action. "U.S. planes went to an orbit point in preparation for an intercept that never occurred because the Bears didn't get close enough," Willard said in an interview using a slang term for the Russian planes.

    Russia routinely tries to deny its outrageous actions, like its attack on Georgia, by claiming they are not "logical" and therefore could not have happened. But what does Russia possibly think it has to gain by threatening the homeland of the world's most powerful nation with nuclear weapons -- much less from lying about it? What, for that matter, did Russians think they had to gain by electing a proud KGB spy as their president? What did that "president" think he had to gain by making jokes about rape in front of a foreign diplomatic delegation? What did the dictator Nikita Krushchev think he had to gain by taking off his shoe at the United Nations? Are we to believe none of those things happened either? Russia is, to say the least, an illogical nation.

    Lies and aggression from Russia. Seems like old times. So much for dictator Vladimir Putin's words about Russia being a "reliable partner." Once again, Russia stands utterly alone.

    Georgia and the mysterious missile

    From: Edward Lucas
    Why Georgia must join NATO

    IT IS a fair bet that if Georgia were in NATO the missile that hit the village of Tsitelubani on the evening of August 6th would never have been fired.

    The Russian view seems to be that on this and other occasions the Georgians have been inventing tales about bombing, or even bombing themselves, in order to attract western sympathy. Georgia says that two Russian Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft entered its airspace from Russia, fired a Raduga Kh-58 air-to-surface missile (which failed to explode) and left.

    Russia insists that nothing of the kind happened. It is of course theoretically possible that Georgia is engaged in an elaborate bluff involving secret planes, faked debris, forged radar logs and diplomatic histrionics.

    But it is startlingly unlikely. After all, it would be hard to conceal such a ploy from the many American and other foreign military advisers based there. If Georgia is to have a chance of persuading unenthusiastic NATO members like Germany that the club needs to take in still more members, it needs to radiate responsibility, not pull stunts. The former, not the latter, is just what President Mikhail Saakashvili and his government have been doing.

    Furthermore, if the attacks were faked to whip up outside support for Georgia, they have failed miserably. In March, a mysterious raid by nightflying attack helicopters rocketed public buildings in villages in the Kodori Gorge, a region of the breakaway region of Abkhazia where Georgia has reestablished its rule. The western response was almost inaudible.

    Investigating that bombing—in which, luckily, nobody was killed—was shunted off to the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which monitors the Russian “peacekeeping” efforts in Abkhazia. UNOMIG's bureaucrats shuffled paper for three months and then produced a feebly inconclusive report.

    Wherever the latest, seemingly abortive, attack was actually aimed, it has also produced alarmingly little Western support. That may be because it is August, and most decision-makers are on their holidays. But if the result is to show for a second time that Georgia is rather isolated, that will send a useful signal to the Kremlin about any future planned adventures in the region.

    It may also be that Russia wants to derail Georgia’s new and successful approach towards reintegrating the smaller breakaway region of South Ossetia. A pro-Georgian parallel government has been unnerving the Kremlin-backed administration there.

    Whatever the aim, it comes at a high price: mysterious air raids just across the border from the Olympic site of Sochi hardly fit the image of stability and dependability that Russia is trying to promote. As with many other events in the Caucasus, the real explanation may lie in the Kremlin's internal power struggles, not in geopolitics or diplomacy.

    The underlying lesson though is that Georgia should be in NATO sooner rather than later. Even the most paranoid Russian would presumably admit that once in the alliance, Georgia would have little need to bomb itself. NATO expansion calms things down: that is the lesson of the Baltic states, which joined—in the teeth of Russian objections—in 2004. None of Russia’s warnings about the effect of NATO expansion into the “former Soviet Union” have proved true. The Baltic region is more stable now, not less, as a result (and things would be still better if Finland and Sweden joined too).

    If Georgia were in NATO, it would also be less likely that Russia would want to bomb it. It is one thing to try to intimidate a neighbour in a security grey-zone. It is another to jostle someone sheltered by (and contributing to) the Western security umbrella, however stretched and faded its canopy may be.

    Kissinger: Russia's Missile Shield Proposal Should Be Considered

    From: Robert Amsterdam
    A rather important op/ed from Henry Kissinger in the IHT today. I had always suspected that Bush's exceedingly friendly reception for Putin at Kennebunkport was aimed at increasing cooperation on the Iran issue (which I believe is starting to happen), and now we are probably seeing the results of Kissinger's very quiet visit to Moscow.

    Henry Kissinger:

      Beyond this vestige of traditional arms control looms the prospect of a new approach to international order. Putin's initiative to link NATO and Russian warning systems could be - or could be made - an historic initiative in dealing jointly with issues that threaten all countries simultaneously. It is one of those schemes easy to disparage on technical grounds but, perhaps like Reagan's Star Wars vision, is a harbinger of a future posing entirely new creative opportunities. It permits one to imagine a genuinely global approach to the specter of nuclear proliferation, which has heretofore been treated largely through national policies. And such an approach could become a forerunner for other issues of comparable dimension.

    Read the full article here.

    ....Never Intended to Become a Military Bloc

    From: New Zeal
    The presidents of Russia and China will meet in the South Urals August 16-17 for talks and a review of troops engaged in a regional antiterrorism exercise, Peace Mission 2007, China's ambassador to Russia said Friday.

    "On the invitation of President Vladimir Putin, Chairman of the Chinese People's Republic Hu Jintao will visit Russia on August 16-17 to watch the joint antiterrorism exercise conducted by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)," Liu Guchang told a news conference.

    The diplomat said the leaders would meet twice, and the heads of all SCO states would gather August 17 for a review of the troops in the Chelyabinsk Region, on the final day of the exercises, which started on August 9.

    The group, comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, is largely viewed as a counterweight to NATO in the region. It has Iran, Pakistan, India and Mongolia as observer nations.

    The SCO never before held a full-scale military exercise involving all its member states, but Russia and China have already held several joint exercises under the auspices of the organization, including Peace Mission 2005. About 5,000 servicemen and 82 Russian and Chinese aircraft are engaged in the current exercises.

    Established in 2001 as a non-military alliance, the SCO initially focused on Islamist extremism and other security threats in Central Asia, but has since expanded its scope to include cooperation in disaster relief and trade.

    Russia's then Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said in May that the organization, often referred to as the Shanghai-Six, has never intended to become a military bloc.

    Like the flag of freedom

    From: TOL
    My Belarusian language is like the flag of freedom (or what it’s like to be speaking Belarusian in modern-day Belarus).

    Start speaking Belarusian, and you can go to such places where you can`t go with white-red-white flag or with the “For Freedom” badge. You can gradually affect even such persons who look at your “restricted symbolism” and who wouldn`t listen to your arguments.

    Speaking the language of the Free Belarus, I understood with pleasure, that the people`s view of myself became change quickly: for the first time somebody look at me with sympathy and fear; as I begin speak (Belarusian) they look at me with respect and envy. Yes, I am not lying! May be it`s because I don`t communicate much with policemen and men without interests, but even small traders understood me when asking their for tea or coffee in Belarusian.

    Strangers on the street or by phone never react negatively to my Belarusian language. More often – a little bit confused, quickly begin conversation. Very often they tried to answer smth in Belarusian with embarrassment. For instance “dziakuj”.

    My acquaintances typically reacted like this:
    - Oh! What`s up with you? Speak Belarusian…
    - I am Belarusian and I should speak my native language, shouldn`t me? Not Chinese, not English, you know…

    - Oh, you speak Belarusian so fluently and nice! Wonderful, awesome!
    - Thanks a lot!

    - And how ever did you become an opposition man?
    - No, I am just a Belarusian!

    There are such persons, who wear the badge: “I am speaking Belarusian!”
    I wear the badge too. I speak Belarusian! And it makes a point even in the dark! When the person hears my voice, he knows well: I am speaking Belarusian! When he doesn`t – it doesn`t matter.

    I respect my right speak my native language, and respect the similar right for my interlocutors. He can speak with me even Japanese – and I will go my way, because understand nothing. From my experience I know: when I speak Belarusian, when good conditions exist, sometimes people begin speak Belarusian with me! Without embarrassment!

    Just speak to me in the language I can understand.

  • Sport...

    BATE into UEFA Champions League third qualifying round

    From: BelTA
    The 1:1 draw in the second-leg match between FC BATE Borisov and FH Hafnarfjordur from Iceland saw the Belarusian club go through.

    Leading 3-1 from the first leg in Iceland, the Belarusian champions looked to be in control until the guests converted a penalty at 33 minute. BATE leveled late in the second time. The draw sealed a 4-2 aggregate victory for BATE.

    In the third qualifying round Borisov BATE will play Romania’s Steaua which came up victorious over Poland’s Zaglebia in two matches 1:0, 2:1.

    BATE will host the first-leg match on August 15 and go to Romania on August 29 for the second leg, FC BATE spokesman Sergei Daskevich told BelTA.

  • On the second day (10) of athletics of the 24th World University Games at Bangkok, Thailand, Belarus’s Darya Pchelnik took the Hammer Throw gold with a 68.74m effort, closely followed by Ireland’s Eileen O'Keeffe (68.46). Czech Lenka Ledvinova (66.41) finished third.

  • In a close final, Yauheniya Valadzko bettered her personal best to give Belarus its second victory on Friday, taking the 100m hurdles in 13.03 seconds, ahead of Turkey’s Nevin Yanit (13.07) and Ukraine’s Yevgeniya Shigur (13.08), the fastest in the semifinal with 13.02.

  • In a low-par final, Irina Tarasova prevailed in the Shot Put with a 17.46m toss, ahead of Belarus’ Yuliya Leantsiuk ( 17.20) and Poland’s Magdalena Sobieszek (16.88).

  • The bike marathon Paris-Moscow 2007 has arrived in the Vitebsk oblast. The town of Tolochin welcomed participants of the cycling race today, head of the Sports and Tourism Office of the Tolochin Region Executive Committee Vladimir Shishalevich told BelTA.

    Ten students of Tolochin Children’s Sports School of the Olympic Cycling Reserve have joined the race. Participants of the cycling race have already travelled over 2,500km across Europe promoting the idea of keeping peace on the planet. In Belarus the race travelled through Brest, Baranovichi, Nesvizh, Stolbtsy, Dzerzhinsk, Minsk, Zhodino, Borisov, visiting places of interest and memorials, meeting with representatives of the general public and veterans. The international team includes representatives of 15 countries of the European Union as well as citizens of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation. This annual event is held as part of the international movement for peace and cooperation between nations. The race is expected to arrive in the Russian capital on August 20.

  • Endnote...

    US Foreign Policy magazine ranks Belarus 51st in its 2007 Failed States Index

    From: Naveny
    Belarus was placed 51st out of 177 states listed by the bimonthly US Foreign Policy Magazine in its third annual Failed States Index.

    To provide a clearer picture of the world's weakest states, The Fund for Peace, an independent research organization, and Foreign Policy ranked the 177 states in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration, using 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators. The index scores are based on data from more than 12,000 publicly available sources collected from May through December 2006.

    Topping the list were Sudan, Iraq and Somali as the states most at risk of failure. Moldova was ranked 48th, the weakest showing among European countries. Uzbekistan was ranked 22nd, Iran 57th, Georgia 58th, Russia 62nd, Venezuela 74th, Cuba 77th, Kazakhstan 103rd, Ukraine 106th, Armenia 112th, Latvia 135th, Estonia 140th, and Lithuania 143rd.