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Today's Headlines for:
Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Belarus pays gas bill, Iran, U.S. Expands Travel Sanctions, Malaysian investment, Russian missiles, Polish scandal and Kazulin's 500 days in jail…

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  • #228

    Energy Ministry: Belarus has fully paid for natural gas Gazprom supplied in H1 2007

    From: BelTA
    The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, visited the agricultural complex Vitex in Uzda district, Minsk region
    Belarus has fully paid for the natural gas Gazprom supplied in H1 2007, Aide to the Energy Minister of Belarus Andrei Zhukov told BelTA.

    In his words, today the Energy Ministry has transferred the remaining $66.5 million Belarus had to pay for the natural gas supplied in H1 2007.

    In line with the contract Belarus paid for 55% of the Russian gas cost in H1 2007. The deferred payment amounted to $456.16 million in January-June 2007.

    Gas issues testify to Russia’s desire to control Belarus economy, foreign experts say

    Gazprom’s threats to cut down gas supplies to Belarus have resulted in a kickback among foreign politicians and mass media.

    The Economy Minister of Poland demanded that Gazprom should observe agreements on Russian gas supplies to Belarus and stated that Poland is emphatically against the planned supplies reduction.

    The European Commission has expressed serious concern about the present situation. “The Commission is convinced that safe and uninterrupted supplies of energy resources are of key importance to the economy of Europe. That is why arguments about energy supplies in the immediate vicinity of the European Union raise serious concern in the European Commission. The Commission calls upon both the parties in the argument to promptly find a peaceful solution, observe contract obligations and not to disrupt gas supplies to the European Union member-states,” reads a statement made by the European Commission.

    The US Department of State has spoken against political considerations in energy industry. “We would like the governments of Belarus and Russia to find a wise solution to the problem and find a way, which would not threaten gas supplies to any other countries along the gas pipeline,” said Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman of the US Department of State. He reminded, at the G8 summit in Saint Petersburg both Russia and the USA undertook to guarantee the predictability of energy streams. “We would not like energy resources or other vital supplies to be subject to economic or political considerations”

    Many foreign mass media notice the political dimension in many gas conflicts in the ex-USSR.

    Financial Times Deutschland said, “Russia, which has been striving for the tightest union with the country it borders on the west, is no longer ready to meet Minsk halfway. Apart from that, experts consider negotiations as a token of Russia’s desire to extend its control onto the Belarusian economy. Moscow is switching its foreign policy to commercial rails”.

    Experts believe Russia hopes that Gazprom will be able to increase its share in the Belarusian piping industry even more. “The present domination is generally unstable. Gazprom wants more control over Beltransgaz.” Niall Trimble of Energy Contract Company also believes the variant is possible. “It quite fits their policy’s spirit,” he told Reuters. “Russians are using their position on the market”.

    An article “EU concerned by energy dispute between Russia and Belarus” published by the European Union’s online news service EUobserver said, “the latest move in Moscow's arm-twisting of its neighbours renews European concern over its reliance on Russian energy supplies.”

    Italian leading business edition “Il Sole 24 ORE” said, Gazprom’s problems with the neighbouring states definitely affect the reputation of the Russian monopoly. As an example the edition mentioned a 3.39% decline in Gazprom’s stock quotation on the Russian stock exchange after a new stage in confrontation with Belarus unfolded on August 1.

    The development of the Belarusian-Russian energy dialogue has evoked a certain response among official circles as well as printed and electronic mass media of Lithuania.

    A BNS’s article “Lithuania should be concerned about Gazprom’s policy” is dedicated to the issue. Several politicians have expressed their views more strongly. The BNS quoted member of the European Parliament Sarunas Birutis as saying, “Lithuanians should be concerned about the aggressive policy of Kremlin-run Russian gas giant Gazprom and should get down to tackling energy security problems”. Sarunas Birutis reckons consumers in such countries as Lithuania, Poland and Germany may feel repercussions of Gazprom’s decision.

    US edition New York Times said, the present rigid tactics can affect Gazprom’s clients in Western Europe, raising doubts about the reliability of Russian supplies and the wisdom of the European policy aimed at increasing the dependence on Russian energy resources.

    News agency PRESS-UZ.INFO said, “It is now obvious that the next ‘gas war’ will strike first of all Russia’s image as a reliable supplier of gas and oil onto the European market”.

    Representative of the European Commission Martin Selmayr told the BCC in a live interview, “The European Commission has ever believed such issues to be serious. We think reliable and steady energy supplies to be vital for the stability of the European economy. Reliability of our trade partners beyond the European Union borders is also important. We take an extremely serious attitude towards the issue and call upon all the countries involved in the conflict to secure a resolution in a peaceful, friendly and prompt manner. And certainly in any case disruptions in energy supplies to the European Union must be avoided.”

    Belarus’ gold and hard currency reserves approach $3.1bn

    From: BelTA
    As of August 1, 2007, Belarus’ gold and hard currency reserves reached $3.086 billion, the press service of the Belarusian head of state quoted Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus (NBB) Piotr Prokopovich as saying to Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko today.

    The National Bank had fulfilled the instruction of the head of state to raise the gold and hard currency reserves up to at least $3 billion this year, said Piotr Prokopovich. The achievement was attributed to the successful operation of the national economy. Belarus enjoys financial stability, with possibilities for fast economic growth present, noted the official. The NBB’s purchase of foreign currency worth $508 million was one of the main sources the gold and hard currency reserves were replenished from.

    Since early this year foreign currency proceeds swelled by 18.6% up on the same period of 2006. The increase was put down to the constant replenishment of foreign currency sources in the country.

    According to Piotr Prokopovich, the increase in the gold and hard currency reserves is a good basis for the further strengthening of the national currency, securing its stable exchange rate as well as prices in Belarus.

    The NBB Chairman of the Board assured the President, in the future “the gold and hard currency reserves will not shrink regardless of the significant payments we will make this week: we will pay for gas to Gazprom in full.” Timely measures taken by the government and the National Bank will allow restoring the gold and hard currency reserves within the next month. On September 1 the reserves are expected to be at least as much as the amount registered on August 1, said Piotr Prokopovich.

    Belarus Pays gas debt Debt

    From: Moscow Times
    Belarus paid back two-thirds of the $456 million it owes to Gazprom, Belarussian state television said Monday.

    "Belarus paid back two-thirds of the debt, it is approximately $300 million," the state television channel said in a news bulletin but did not specify where the information came from.

    Belarus avoided an immediate cut in its gas supplies last week by repaying part of its debt to Moscow, but Russia warned Minsk to pay in full within one week or see its flow of the fuel reduced by 30 percent.

    "Belarus will pay up the debt in full by Aug. 10. At the moment financial transactions are taking place," Beltransgaz spokesman Vladimir Chekov told RIA-Novosti news agency.

    Analysts have said Belarus can just about pay the full price after having its gas supplies subsidized by Moscow for years, but they also note that it is running external deficits that need to be financed either with borrowing or inward investment.

    Gazprom doubled gas prices for Belarus to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters from January, but allowed the country to pay only half the price in the first six months. It charges its European clients over $250 per 1,000 cubic meters.

    Iran may invest 100 mln euros in Belarus hydro plants

    From: Interfax
    Iran plans to take part in projects to build hydro power plants in Belarus and has said it is ready to invest about 100 million euros, a source in Belarusian state company Belenergo told Interfax.

    "Representatives from an Iranian parliamentary delegation and business circles held talks with the Belarusian Energy Ministry, during which they discussed options for Iran to take part in energy projects in Belarus," the source said. He said that "during the talks the Iranian side proposed to consider the possibility of Iranian companies participating in the construction of hydro power plants in Belarus and said that it is ready to invest about 100 million euros in these projects."

    "At the moment in Belarus there are only two hydro construction projects at a high level of preparedness - Grodno and Polotsk hydro plants. These plants are of interest to potential investors," the source said.

    Belarus plans to build other hydro infrastructure in the future "but for the moment these projects are in the distant future."

    The Iranian delegation is in Belarus from August 5 to 9.

    In a related story, BelTA tels us that by 2009 Svetlogorsk plans to build a modern architectural compound including a many-storied apartment house, an administrative-trading centre and the whole necessary infrastructure. The customer and investor of the project is the Iranian company Meta-International.

    As BelTA was told in the architecture and construction department of the Svetlogorsk regional executive committee, the Iranian representative office and the regional administration concluded a contract for making design estimates of the construction, for building, creating the whole necessary infrastructure and beatifying the adjacent territory. The preliminary cost of the project - $8-10 million.

    At present the Iranian company has been designing the architectural compound. This work is expected to be completed till the end of 2007. Next year the compound is planned to beautify the downtown.

    U.S. Expands Travel Sanctions On Belarusian Officials

    From: RFE/RL
    The United States says it has expanded a list of Belarusian officials placed under strict travel restrictions in connection with human-rights violations.

    Following the contested reelection of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in March 2006, U.S. President George W. Bush signed an order sanctioning about 40 Belarusian authorities blamed for repressive policies and violations connected to the election.

    A statement issued on August 7 by the U.S. Embassy in Minsk said that since that order was issued, the Belarusian government has "continued to imprison and harass persons for speaking out in favor of democracy, holding peaceful demonstrations, and opposing the repressive policies of the regime."

    The expanded list includes:

    • officials at or above the deputy-minister level or equivalent
    • any prosecutor-general or deputy prosecutor-general
    • Interior Ministry officers above the rank of lieutenant colonel
    • KGB officers above the rank of lieutenant colonel
      ideology officers of the Minsk City Executive Committee and regional executive committees
    • the head and deputy heads of the presidential administration
    • members of the Central Election Commission
    • the chairs of the regional election commissions
    • the chief judges of Belarus's district and regional courts
      the chairman of the Constitutional Court
    • the directors and deputy directors of state-owned companies
    • the spouses of any official or employee listed above.
    Belarusian officials said the country will take "appropriate" measures in response to the travel ban.

    "We have repeatedly said that such decisions are counterproductive and hopeless. This policy has played itself out. It is a thing of the past century," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Vanshyna said.

    "The consistent restriction of contacts by the American government in the era of globalization is not and cannot be a measure conducive to the achievement of mutual understanding and the development of bilateral relations," she added.

    Belarus exports transport services 3 times more than imports

    From: NLIPRB
    Over the five months of 2007 the exports of transport services in Belarus exceeded the imports 3.4 times, BelTA was told in the press service of the Economy Ministry.

    Over the period under review, the surplus of trade in road, railway and air transport services came to $354.9 million.

    In January-May the exports increased by 28.4%, or 17.4% above the target.

    The long-term and short-term measures helped achieve the surplus of the trade in road, railway, water and air services in 2007. The top priority programmes include the programme to promote efficient use of transit opportunities of the Republic of Belarus for 2006-2010, the programme to develop international passenger and cargo hauls for 2003-2008, the Belarusian Railways development programme by 2010, the civil aviation development programme for 2006-2010, Roads of Belarus programme for 2006-2015 and the programme on the development of the services industry in the Republic of Belarus for 2006-2010.

    Belarus Keen To Expand Trade, Investment Ties With Malaysia

    From: Bernama
    Belarus, an Eastern European country of 10 million people, is keen to forge and enhance trade and investment cooperation with Malaysia.

    "Belarus is strategically located and Malaysian companies can use the former Soviet republic as a gateway to European Union countries in the west and Russia in the east," its Foreign Minister, Sergei Martynov, told Bernama during his recent visit to Malaysia.

    Landlocked Belarus, which declared its independence in 1991, has as its neighbours -- Poland to the west, Ukraine to the South, Latvia and Lithuania to the north and the Russian Federation to the east.

    It has a relatively well-developed and diversified industriel base, a broad agricultural sector and a high education level with literacy rate of almost 100 per cent.

    In heavy industry, Belarus is one of world's top manufacturers of heavy dump trucks, tractors and a wide range of agricultural and road-building machinery.

    Belarus has a well-developed chemical industry and is a world player in the fertiliser industry which Malaysia is one of its markets.

    It is a member of the Eurasian Economic Community which groups besides Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

    Belarus is now negotiating for accession to the World Trade Organisation.

    The country is also well-known for its high-technology industries such as nano-based technology industries and electronic and laser optics, which are all based on a strong foundation in research and development.

    Currently, Malaysia imports potassium fertiliser and machinery from Belarus. Malaysia's exports are natural rubber, spare parts, home appliances and microchips.

    Belarus and Malaysia are currently working on a visit of President Alexander Lukashenko to Kuala Lumpur to further enhance bilateral ties.

    On reforms and economic liberalisation, Martynov said Belarus was doing it at its own pace, taking into account the overall interests and welfare of the people.

    "We believe in step-by-step gradual approach ... we don't believe in political or economic revolution," Martynov said, adding that the government also encouraged private enterprises.

    Among all the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States, Belarus has the highest standard of living.

    Martynov said currently, about 60 per cent of its industries were state-owned and many of them were difficult to be privatised because they were too huge, with some employing about 30,000 people.

    Geographically, much of the 207,600 sq km Belarus is a hilly lowland covered with swamps, forests, rivers and lakes. Its forests cover over one-third of the land. There are also wide rivers emptying into the Baltic and Black Seas.

    Belarus' gross domestic product was estimated to be US$79.13 billion (US$1=RM3.46) and per capita income was US$7,700 while real growth rate was eight per cent in 2005. It exports are mainly machinery and equipment, mineral products, metals, textiles, chemicals and foodstuffs.

    Its industries comprise manufacturing of metal-cutting machine tools, vehicles such as trucks, tractors, motorcycles and earthmovers. Others are manufacturing of television, fertiliser, refrigerator, radio, textiles, chemical fibres, consumer goods, oil refining, woodworking and defence-related products.

    Belarus's major trading partners are Russia, Britain, Netherlands, Ukraine, Germany and Poland.

    Peat marshes, the country's most valuable mineral resource, are used for fuel and fertiliser and also in the chemical industry.

    Among its main natural resources are peat deposits, granite, dolomitic limestones, chalk, sand, rock, clay, potassium salt and a small quantities of oil and natural gas.

    About 26.77 percent of Belarus are arable land and agriculture plays an important role.

    Its main products are grain, potatoes, sugar beet, vegetables, flax and milk and beef production.

    Martynov said Belarus was also interested to expand ties in education.

    "We welcome more Malaysian students as currently there are students from about 70-80 countries in Belarus where the educational cost is low," he said.

    LRT to start Belarusian TV program

    From: Baltic times
    Kestutis Petrauskis
    Lithuanian public television will soon start producing a weekly television program to be beamed into Belarus, The Baltic News Service reported on Aug. 2. The one-hour talk show will be put together by a team of Belarusian journalists in Vilnius for broadcast on Belsat, a Belarusian-targeted satellite channel that Polish TV will launch this fall.

    The show will present topics about Belarus and neighboring countries, discussing relevant events in the region.

    The project is part of Lithuanian and Polish efforts to provide outside information to Belarus, where media is strictly controlled by that country’s authoritarian government.

    Kestutis Petrauskis, General Director of Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT), told The Baltic Times that this is the first-ever attempt to bridge the TV media gap that exists between the borders of Poland, Belarus and Lithuania.

    “Lithuanians want to have Belarus as good neighbors, we wish the best for the Belarusian people,” Petrauskis said.

    Polish public television (TVP) and the Polish foreign ministry signed an agreement for the Belsat project in April. TVP administrators asked Petrauskis last month for assistance in launching its Belsat TV channel in November.

    The 20 or so Belarusian journalists working on the LRT-produced show will collect stories in their home country and bring their material over the border for studio production in Lithuania. The program will then be transmitted from Poland, via satellite, to Belarus.

    Petrauskis said border security for the traveling journalists is one of his biggest concerns.

    “I see problems in the future ... Belarus [border] guards can stop the movement immediately for the journalists coming to and from Belarus,” he said.

    He drew parallels to the past practice of having Belarusian newspapers and magazines printed in Lithuania, a process which Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko eventually managed to shut down.

    “Lithuanians have supported free Belarusian press,” Petrauskis said, “ ... but the Belarus border control confiscated the magazines and papers going to Belarus.”

    Deputy Director Bohdan Andursyshyn of Belarus Radio Liberty said he doesn’t think the border issues should disrupt Polish and Lithuanian public television from doing their job, and praised the project.

    “Any kind of new venture to increase awareness is worthwhile. ...We support it [Belsat] in Belarus and we are very encouraged. We wish the Polish project success and the Lithuanians, too,” Andursyshyn said.

    Radio Liberty broadcasts eight hours of programming a day into Belarus from Poland and Lithuania on short and medium waves. Belarus is the only country in Europe to forbid the retransmitting of its RFE/RL programs.

    Alyaksandr Milinkevich, the Belarusian opposition’s former presidential candidate, has called upon European politicians to support the efforts of Polish public television, according to an online press release from the Office for a Democratic Belarus, a Brussels-based NGO run by Belarusians living abroad.

    “This project is extremely important for the Belarusian society that every day sees the propaganda of Lukashenka’s regime and the Russian television that is not unbiased,” Milinkevich said in the appeal. “For the pro-democratic forces and civil society, their own satellite television channel will become the beginning of an independent and democratic state.”

    Mortality rate goes down in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The mortality rate has been declining in Belarus, BelTA was told in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

    According to the source, 69 thousand 54 people died in Belarus in January-June 2007. It makes 95.8% as against the same period of 2006. At the same time the mortality rate increased by 4.5% in the Belarusian capital – Minsk.

    The mortality rate declined in the country due to the lower number of deaths from cancer, circulatory system and respiratory apparatus diseases. However, the number of deaths connected with infectious, parasitic, digestive apparatus and urogenital system diseases increased, the specialists say.

    The number of deaths from external factors reduced by 6.1% (mainly due to the lower number of deaths connected with acute alcoholism – by 21.8%). However, Belarusian doctors registered more cases of death from occasional drowning (177.8% to the analogous period of 2006) and road accidents (109%). The biggest death rate in the result of car accidents was registered in the Mogilev oblast (by 40.5%), the Vitebsk oblast (by 26.4%) and the Brest oblast (by 24.2%).

    In January-June this year the crude death rate made 14,3 per 1000 residents in Belarus. The highest indices were in the Minsk and Vitebsk oblasts (16,5 and 16,1 respectively) and the lowest one – in the City of Minsk (9,9).

    Bellegprom to place RUR 0.5-1bn bonds in Russian market in March 2008

    From: BelTA
    The Bellegprom concern plans to place three-year bonds to the tune from RUR 500 million to RUR 1 billion in the Russian market in March 2008, BelTA learnt in the concern.

    According to specialists, the Russian Bank Elektronika will issue the bond loan. In May this year Elektronika provided a RUR 500m bond loan to the Pinsk Industrial and Commercial Association Polesye.

    The bond loan will be used to fund investment projects aimed at modernization of the Bellegprom companies. To place the bonds in the Russian market the concern will have to register a branch company Bellegprofinans in Russia.

    According to Bellegprom specialists, bonds are usually placed either in November or in March. However, before placing the bonds Bellegprom companies are set to draft business plans. The best business plans will be selected at a special session of the concern. “We cannot get everything done by November that is why the bonds will be placed in March,” the employees of the concern said.

    The Bellegprom concern was created in 1992 on the bases of Ministry of Light Industry of the Republic of Belarus. The concern unites more than 120 companies of the Belarusian light industry. They produce 80% of the total output of the light industrial goods in Belarus including cotton, silk, wool, flax, synthetic fabrics, cotton yarns, wool yarns, carpets, carpets products, sewing and knitted products, hosiery, footwear for women, men, children and sports, leather goods, products made of natural and imitation fur, porcelain and bristle-brush products.

  • Around the region...

    Ukrainian is world's tallest man, Guinness World Records says

    From: IHT
    President Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine, left, shaking hands with Leonid Stadnik, 36, who is believed to be the world's tallest man at 2.57 meters, or 8 feet, 5.5 inches.
    A Ukrainian man is the tallest person in the world, beating a Chinese man who previously held the title, Guinness World Records said Wednesday.

    Leonid Stadnik, a 37-year-old former veterinarian, was measured at 2.57 meters (8 feet 5 inches) in 2006, Guinness World Records spokeswoman Amarilis Espinoza said in London.

    Stadnik is more than 20 centimeters (8 inches) taller than the former titleholder, China's Bao Xishun, who measured 2.36 meters tall (7 foot 9 inches).

    Stadnik's growth spurt started at age 14 after a brain operation apparently stimulated his pituitary gland.

    He lives with his mother, Halyna, in northwestern Ukraine, taking care of the family's house and garden.

    Georgia claims proof that Russia fired a missile that landed near a house

    From: IHT
    Raduga Kh-58 missile
    The Republic of Georgia said Wednesday that it had proof that Russian jets had violated its airspace and fired a missile that landed near a house.

    The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a formal protest over the incident, calling the intrusion and the firing of the missile "undisguised aggression and a gross violation of sovereignty of the country."

    Georgia has long accused Russia of trying to destabilize the country and of backing separatists in its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which President Mikhail Saakashvili has pledged to bring back under central government control.

    The Foreign Ministry said that radar records showed that a Russian Su-24 jet flew from Russia into Georgia on Monday and fired a missile, which did not explode.

    Investigators identified the weapon as a Russian-made Raduga Kh-58 missile, which is designed to hit radar installations, the ministry said.

    The missile, code-named by NATO as the AS-11 Kilter, carried a warhead of 140-kilograms, or 300 pounds, of TNT, it said.

    A Georgian Defense Ministry official said the Russian aircraft was probably aiming at a Georgian radar installation in the area.

    Russia has denied the accusations. On Wednesday, General Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeepers patrolling South Ossetia, said an unidentified aircraft dropped the missile after flying over South Ossetia and coming under fire from the ground. Kulakhmetov suggested the plane had come from Georgia.

    The Gori region, where the missile was dropped, is next to South Ossetia.

    The European Union called on both Georgia and Russia on Wednesday to show restraint in the dispute.

    Christiane Hohmann, the external affairs spokeswoman for the European Commission, said it was not possible to comment on the incident until the full facts were known. She said that a team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was looking into the incident.

    "No. 1, we are calling on both sides to use restraint," Hohmann said. "We call on both sides, Georgia and Russia, to cooperate on this issue."

    The spokeswoman said the European Union did not want the incident to have an impact on Georgia-Russia dialogue to resolve separatist conflicts.

    In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Moscow viewed the incident as an "attempt to derail positive trends in Russian-Georgian relations and exacerbate the situation with the settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict." It said that Moscow insisted on a swift investigation.

    The Georgian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the nation did not have Su-24 jets or missiles of the type that hit.

    The speaker of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, Sergei Mironov, accused Georgia it of fanning "anti-Russian hysteria" to deflect attention from domestic problems, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

    Relations between Russia and Georgia have been strained since Saakashvili was elected president in 2004 and made clear his intentions to move the former Soviet republic closer to the West and join NATO.

    Growing Ties between China and Russia

    From: Voice of America
    Chinese President Hu speaking during a visit by Russian President Putin last year
    Members of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, begin military exercises August 9. The nine-day drill, dubbed Peace Mission 2007, involves the military forces of China, four central Asian countries [Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan], and Russia, the host nation. The dominant SCO forces are those of Russia and China, which are also expanding their cultural and economic links. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports annual trade has already reached $40 billion.

    2007 is the year of China in Russia. The yearlong focus on Russia's large Asian neighbor includes a Chinese art exhibit this month at the State Museum of Eastern Art in Moscow. 2006 was the year of Russia in China.

    But Sino-Russian relations date back nearly four centuries to a time when the emperors of China, according to the exhibit brochure, considered trade demeaning and viewed foreigners as barbarians. Therefore, they allowed commerce only on the border.

    Today, however, trade is a top priority. Chinese President Hu Jintao has made this clear. "We should speed up and multiply cooperation in energy resources. We should take positive steps in the joint exploitation of petroleum, gas and forestry resources,” he said. “We should try to move the cooperation style from a pure resources trade to one with more joint production."

    President Hu spoke last year in Beijing during a visit by his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

    China has been importing mostly raw material from Russia, such as oil and lumber, and exporting consumer goods. Annual trade has grown over the past ten years from about $7 billion to nearly $40 billion. Volume is expected to increase with the completion of new oil pipelines from Russia to China.

    One of Russia's leading China experts, Vladimir Myasnikov, says both countries are developing other trade opportunities. "Energy-related machine building. We're building a nuclear power plant. We provide turbines. We're cooperating in the field of space exploration. High tech should lead the way to a substantial increase in bilateral trade."

    In recent years Russia and China have held joint military exercises. The Chinese are also the biggest foreign buyers of Russian weaponry. Some analysts say Russia is seeking to strengthen military ties with China, because of worsening ties with the United States and NATO.

    But First Deputy Premier Sergei Ivanov rejected the charge two years ago in his former capacity as Defense Minister. "We are not creating any military blocs. As was already said, those exercises are not aimed against any other state."

    The chief of China's general military staff, Liang Guanglie agrees. "This exercise follows the UN charter's goals and regulations, it does not target any third party, does not refer to the interests of any third party, neither does it intimidate any country."

    Both countries will conduct military exercises again this week along with other members of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO is scheduled to a summit meeting in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on August 16th.

    Vandals spray Nazi symbols on dozens of gravestones at Jewish cemetery in Poland

    From: IHT
    Vandals spray painted swastikas and other Nazi symbols on about 100 gravestones at a large Jewish cemetery in Poland, police said Monday.

    Visitors to the cemetery in the southern city of Czestochowa discovered the damage on Sunday and police have not yet found the culprits, said Silesia regional police spokesman Andrzej Gaska.

    "This is one of the biggest acts of destruction in years," said Jan Gebert, spokesman for the Jewish community in Warsaw. "In fact, I can't think of any other cases in Europe that have been this big."

    The vandals used black spray paint to tag the gravestones with the letters SS, swastikas, and the slogan "Jews Out" written in German.

    Gaska said police had not observed activity by anti-Semitic groups in the region for some time, and that the incident appeared to be of a "hooligan nature."

    Czestochowa's Jewish cemetery has about 4,500 graves and is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Poland.

    This country was home to about 3.5 million Jews — Europe's largest Jewish community — until World War II, when most were killed by Nazi Germany. Today there are an estimated 30,000 Jews in Poland.

    Polish mayor, chief rabbi join efforts to clean up Jewish cemetery desecrated by vandals

    Poland's chief rabbi and the mayor of a Polish town joined efforts Tuesday to clean gravestones at a Jewish cemetery that vandals had desecrated with Nazi symbols.

    Rabbi Michael Schudrich said that he and Tadeusz Wrona, mayor of the southern city of Czestochowa, joined about 20 Polish art students who spent a couple of hours scrubbing black paint off some of 100 gravestones at the city's Jewish cemetery.

    Schudrich praised the mayor and the students' efforts as a show of support for Poland's Jewish community, and for tolerance.

    "The fact is, there is anti-Semitism everywhere. But what is also important is the reaction of the rest of society," Schudrich said. "Too often the rest of society tolerates these things. But in this case, the mayor and the young people didn't sit at home and wait for someone else to come clean it up. They came out and made a physical — not just verbal — reaction."

    The group donned gloves and used strong chemicals to remove the oil-based paint. Due to the difficulty of removing the paint, and the risk of damaging inscriptions with the chemical, the efforts would have to be continued by professional cleaners, Schudrich said.

    Polish premier sacks interior minister

    Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski dismissed interior minister Janusz Kaczmarek on Wednesday for alleged leaks that crippled a special police action against a political party leader.

    Mr Kaczynski also declared that parliamentary elections should be held as quickly as possible in view of the current situation that junior partners in Poland’s governing coalition have created.

    Cutting short his holiday on the Baltic Coast, Mr Kaczynski told the reporters in Gdansk that Mr Kaczmarek is one of the suspects who disclosed the details of the secret action against Andrzej Lepper, the leader of Samoobrona (Self-Defence), one of the former coalition partners. The League of Polish Families, or LPR, is the other.

    “We trusted him but the trust was abused,” said Mr Kaczynski. “It is a difficult and unpleasant decision.”

    Mr Kaczmarek denied the charge, saying he was not the source of the leakage.

    Referring to the political situation at home, Mr Kaczynski said that the two junior partners – while claiming they are officially still in the government coalition – opted to co-operate with the opposition parties and there was no way to have a majority in Poland’s parliament.

    “If there is no majority because the coalition was broken by the coalition partners, then elections are unavoidable,” said Mr Kaczynski. “I am for holding elections as fast as possible.” He added that the ruling Law and Justice party is meeting soon to decide on a date for the elections.

    Mr Kaczynski’s twin brother, president Lech Kaczynski, appointed Wladyslaw Stasiak, former chief of the Polish National Security Bureau, as the new interior minister and praised him for his loyalty and honesty.

    “I think he will be the best interior minister since 1989,” he said. “I think I have not made a mistake this time.”

    Krzysztof Chwedoruk, a sociologist at Warsaw University and a political commentator, said he was sceptical that elections will happen imminently.

    “It is not in the style of prime minister Kaczynski,” he said. “This situation may last and it is not the end (of the government).”

    Mr Chwedoruk speculated that strategists around the twins are thinking hard how to unite the Poles again. “It may be the issue of the organisation of the Euro soccer championships in 2012 (with Ukraine),” said Mr Chwedoruk. “It may be used to stay in office.”

    The Polish parliament is scheduled to meet on August 22 after the holiday break to decide on how to resolve the political crisis.

    Lech Walesa, the former president, said that Mr Kaczynski should be replaced by a politician who knows how to unite the nation.

    “He is not a man who knows how to get people to agree,” he said.

  • From the blogs...

    EU Needs to Take a Stand with Russia

    From: The Dragon's Tales
    Sukhoi fighter-bomber
    Two Sukhoi fighter-bombers with Russian Air Force markings, flying together from the direction of North Ossetia, intruded by some 80 kilometers into Georgia’s air space on August 6. At 18:20 local time, one of these planes dived from 3,000 meters altitude and dropped a missile near the town of Gori, some 50-60 kilometers from Tbilisi, on a village within the so-called “Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone.”

    The powerful missile with 78 kilograms of TNT landed in a field, failed to explode, and was defused by Georgian military sappers. Georgian Defense Ministry radars and those of Georgia’s civil aviation authority recorded the flight itinerary from and back to Russia’s North Ossetia. The village, Tsitelubani, is within sight of Russian and South Ossetian “peacekeeping” troops’ posts.

    This incident follows in the footsteps of the Russian air raid on the Georgian-controlled Kodori Gorge in upper Abkhazia on March 11 (see EDM, March 19, 20). The United Nations led the investigation into that incident, dragged its feet as long as it could, and published the results in July, whitewashing Russia, despite the clear evidence of Russian culpability. The fresh whitewash almost certainly emboldened the Russian military into recidivism, further probing and testing Georgian and Western reactions.

    If the Europeans don't stand up and state, "here, but no further" wrt the Georgian-Russian conflict (with teeth) this will end up making Russia bolder and bolder. If Belarus' government is undermined by the Russian gas conflict, do you really think that they're going to let it have an Orange REvolution on the off chance it might be successful and be steered into the EU? *snork* And then whither Ukraine? And then? Russia needs to be told, by Europe, that they need to knock it off and Europe needs to hold that line. Otherwise, for the next twenty years, Russia is going to be a serious PITA for Europeans: consider they're coveting the Med too. At least navally.

    Russia and Georgia: On the Brink of War

    From: Publius Pundit
    Britain's Telegraph newspaper reports that Russia has fired missiles into Georgia. The paper states: "Vano Merabishvili, Georgia's interior minister, said that two Sukhoi attack aircraft entered Georgian airspace from Russia at 7:30 pm last night and fired at least one air-to-surface missile towards the village of Tsitelubani, 40 miles west of Tbilisi. The missile carved a 5-metre deep crater into a corn and potato field but failed to detonate." Merabishvili told the paper by telephone: "We cannot understand why this has happened. This village has no political or military importance. But less than 5 kilometres from the area is a Georgian tracking radar, and it is my view and the view of our military that this was the target." Rushing to the scene, Georgia's president Mikhail Saakashvili condemned the raid as an yet another effort to destabilize his nation.

    Drunk on lust and hatred, the neo-Soviet Union is moving to full attack mode. First it seeks to unilaterally seize the Arctic, and now, before the dust of international outrage over that reckless act of provocation has even settled, it is brazenly committing acts of war against a smaller neighbor. It's vital that the world rushes to show solidarity with Georgia, which has valiantly defeated Russia's first round of imperialism seeking to bring the nation back into the neo-Soviet fold (this included even a coup d'etat followed by an embargo). This isn't the first time Russia, obviously frustrated by its inability to bring Georgia to heel through other means, has made a military incursion into Georgian territory. How long before Georgia does what it must do and defends itself from this naked imperialism?

    Gold rush under the ice; Russia wants a vast slice of the Arctic

    From: Edward Lucas
    RUSSIA’s foray into the Arctic is an audacious geopolitical adventure, as popular at home as it is troubling for outsiders. At stake are the region’s natural riches, until now frozen both in law and in nature. But global warming is making them look more accessible. They may include 10 billion tonnes of oil and gas deposits, tin, manganese, gold, nickel, lead, platinum and diamonds, plus fish and perhaps even lucrative freight routes. Exploiting them will be technically tricky, and is probably decades away. But as the ice melts, the row is hotting up about who owns what’s underneath it.

    The five Arctic Circle countries—America, Canada, Denmark (which looks after Greenland’s interests), Norway and Russia—each have a 200 mile (322km) “economic zone” allowed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Russia argued in 2001 that its continental shelf stretched out into the Arctic, entitling it to a larger chunk. The UN said it needed more evidence.

    That is what this week’s expedition, led by Russia’s most glamorous explorer, Artur Chilingarov, is trying to prove. By taking rock samples from the seabed, it hopes to arm Russian scientists with proof that the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain chain, is a continuation of Russia’s landmass.

    That would allow the Kremlin to annex a 460,000 square mile wedge of territory, roughly the size of western Europe, between Russia’s northern coastline and the North Pole. Such international maritime-border wrangles normally progress at a snail's pace, and are stupefyingly boring. When Denmark allocated $25m in 2004 to try to prove that the Lomonosov Ridge was connected to Greenland, few noticed or cared.

    But the latest Russian expedition is not just collecting geological samples; on Thursday August 2nd it placed the Russian flag (in titanium) on the yellow gravel 4,200 metres below the surface at the site of the North Pole. That was the first manned mission there, mounted by a polar flotilla that no other country could match. A mighty nuclear-powered icebreaker shepherded a research vessel that launched hi-tech mini-submarines capable of pinpoint navigation under the Arctic ice.

    For outsiders used to stories of Russian bungling and backwardness, that was a salutary reminder of the world-class technical clout and human genius the Kremlin can still command.

    Even more startling, though, was Russia’s rhetoric. “The Arctic is ours and we should manifest our presence,” said Mr Chilingarov, a charismatic figure whom President Vladimir Putin has named as “presidential envoy” to the Arctic. “This is like placing a flag on the moon” said Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Institute.

    The stunt has no legal force. But it still scandalised Canada’s foreign minister, Peter MacKay. “This isn’t the 15th century,” he complained. “You can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory’.” Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, insisted that his country was doing nothing of the kind. But Andrei Kokoshin, chair of a parliamentary committee on the ex-Soviet region, said Russia “will have to actively defend its interests in the Arctic”, adding: “There is something to think about on the military side as well. We need to reinforce our Northern Fleet and our border guards and build airfields so that we can ensure full control.”

    Canada, punily defended since the end of the cold war, is now planning to spend $7 billion on eight new Arctic patrol vessels. America’s Congress is considering spending $100m to update three ageing polar icebreakers and build two more.

    But the biggest change may be in America’s attitude to international law. A small but vocal lobby that objects to international administration of seabed mining has so far blocked the Bush administration’s attempts to have the Convention on the Law of the Sea ratified by Congress. But even the most die-hard American freemarketeer may have to accept that international bureaucrats are a better bet than the Kremlin’s crony capitalists when it comes to getting a fair slice of the polar action.

  • Sport...

    The Cold War: Fedor Weighs His Options

    From: Sherdog
    Belarus' Fedor Emelianenko (26 - 1 - 0 )
    From all appearances, Fedor Emelianenko's fiercest battle will come not at the dangerous hands of Mirko Filipovic, nor the submission acumen of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, or even the gelatinous, suffocating girth of Zulu, Jr.

    Instead, the sport's pound-for-pound king is waging war at the negotiation table, leveraging his considerable status for the sweetest deal possible.

    Discretion not being one of the sport's strong points, the legal jiu-jitsu has played out in the various news outlets. UFC President Dana White denounced Fedor's handlers as "crazy Russians," while said handler Vadim Finkelstein told that the promotion was "very harsh" in their terms and "not that eager to communicate."

    Fans have precious little patience for the maneuverings. To their collective mind, Fedor hasn't fought a ranked heavyweight in over seven months, and his conspicuous absence from substantial competition is an annoyance.

    Of primary concern to Finkelstein is that Fedor's ancillary interests are protected, including opportunities for his Red Devil squad and a guarantee of his continued participation in Combat Sambo. The UFC is naturally reluctant to agree to the latter, figuring that a loss in a modified MMA bout would be damaging to their investment. (Worse, they can't even promote the winner.)

    But Combat Sambo, while certainly a rough-hewn sport, doesn't present the same physical threats as full-bore MMA. Contestants wear headgear, shin pads, and fight under time restrictions: the potential for serious injury, even to Fedor's notoriously brittle hands, is mitigated.

    Moreover, Fedor presents as being so far and above the standard talent level in that sport that his involvement, while a risk for a promotion banking on his "baddest man alive status," isn't likely to suffer for the concession. Watch a Sambo bout featuring him and it's little more than a glorified sparring match, televised for the whole of Russia to revel in.

    Assuming the worst -- that Fedor is knocked into Belarus by a silent killer on the Sambo circuit -- is that footage any more debilitating to the show than Anderson Silva succumbing to a flying leg lock courtesy of Ryo Chonan, or Quinton Jackson getting fed through the ropes after Wanderlei Silva was done with him?

    His management's insistence on providing fights for others at the Red Devil gym is not without precedence: infamously, there was Tank Abbott's "recommendation" that the UFC employ Eddie Ruiz during his underwhelming comeback bid of 2003. (Ruiz, who never would've entered the Ultimate otherwise, was battered by Yves Edwards.)

    If Zuffa was willing to indulge Abbott, it doesn't seem unreasonable to slot the qualified Russian athletes in their WEC series.

    Assuming White and his contractual rivals aren't able to meet halfway, it would be a serious blow to both the UFC heavyweight title (which would be rendered as hollow as a malfunctioning Twinkie) and Fedor himself, who would be faced with a serious lack of competition on top of which to construct his legacy.

    K-1, while strong in the lighter weight categories, is a Ringling Bros. affair once the scale exceeds 220. If anyone would be entranced at the idea of seeing Fedor square off with genetic mutations like Hong-Man Choi or Akebono, I would suggest you practice a self-lobotomy with a power drill.

    Showtime's EliteXC series, while certainly possessed of a desire to have qualified athletes, is still too diluted at this point to offer Fedor any appreciable competition. And the less said about bodogFIGHT, so starved for heavyweight talent that it enlisted a middleweight Matt Lindland to face Fedor, the better.

    The sole salvation for a freelance athlete is Josh Barnett, who would seemingly be in a position to follow Fedor if he were so inclined.

    While Fedor has options outside of the UFC, there's virtually only that one meaningful match on the table outside of their jurisdiction. Anything else -- bouts with Antonio Silva, Ricco Rodriguez, Jeff Monson -- are novelties at best, wastes of time and money at worst.

  • At the Under-23 European Championships - European hammer championship fourth placer, Mariya Smaliachkova (BLR), needed no more than one throw to get through to the final when she sent the implement out to 67.87. Only two other competitors managed to go over 65m, Nataliya Zolotuhina (UKR), under-23 bronze in 2005, and Lenka Vedvinova (CZE).

  • Endnote...

    Alyaksandr Kazulin: 500 nights behind the bars

    From: Charter '97
    7 August was the 5 hundredth day of imprisonment of the former presidential candidate of the Republic of Belarus Alyaksandr Kazulin.

    Kazulin was thrown to prison for organizing the protest action against falsification of the presidential election results on the Day of Freedom 25 March 2006. 13 July the Minsk city court sentenced the policymaker to 5.5 years in prison. There Alyaksandr Kazulin went on a hunger strike demanding consideration of the Belarusian issue by the UNO Security Council. The political prisoner’s hunger strike lasted for 53 days. He lost over 40 kg of weight and got irrevocable health consequences. The courageous policymaker attained his objective- the US representative raised the Belarusian issue at the UNO Security Council.

    Today’s state of health of Alyaksandr Kazulin is commented on by the political prisoner’s daughter Yulia Kazulina who met with her farther in the jail recently . The comments were extended by his party collaborators Syargei Skrabets and Igar Rynkevich.

    Yulia Kazulina: In his letter after our meeting the father writes: ” After the meeting it is as if you returned to the other world, as if you lived in different dimensions. You open the door, you step over the threshold- and everything is different”.

    Father looked calm and confident though the pressure on him is increasing, he is informatively pressed. He receives not all the letters , even those which we are sending, I mean the letters about family affairs and health –but even these letters do not reach him. Now Mother started numbering the letters and sending them by express mail.

    The prisoners are prevented from communicating with him.

    He was given three unreasonable warnings. For the last warning he was deprived of a short-term meeting. All in all, there are only three such meetings a year… Thus the following meeting may be only in November…

    We asked him about his state of health. There are the same problems- pains in the back and the leg. Those are the consequences of beatings during two arrests. The father’s back was his weak point and now it is still worse.

    Syargei Skrabets: Today we are declaring louder and louder “The former presidential candidate professor Kazulin is suffering in the jail!” Social democrats of Belarus (BSDP (G) and BSDG) declared their joint action in support of the political prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin. This action is presumed to cover the whole country. The applications for solidarity pickets have been forwarded in Minsk, Lida and Baranavichy. Similar applications are being prepared in many towns and villages.

    Igar Rinkevich: For many Belarusians those 500days mean the period of the dramatic event continuation. Alyaksandr Kazulin was thrown to jail in compliance with the judgment of the submissive to the authority’s court for his being in the vanguard of the democratic changes, of the struggle for truth and justice. If he were not in prison the leader of the Belarusian social democrats by the analogy with the well-known 500 days of Yavlinsky would also do everything for the radical improvement of his people’s well-being, for Belarus to become free.

    Alyaksandr Kazulin is under the total control, under the siege which can be compared to the”Leningrad blockade”. But even in prison he has not become another victim of the political repressions. He is not simply referred to as the political prisoner N1 but is called the hero of our time because even behind the barbed wire he continues the courageous struggle and he will win.

    500 days is incredibly much. But Alyaksandr Kazulin with his strong will and spirit will pull his health and strength together for gaining his ahead- of- schedule release.