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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Belarus and Venezuela, Putin to Visit, Lyons group, ECO News, EU/US problems, Gas. Missiles, Ukraine, Culture, sport, Russian elections and the blogs

  • From the Top...
  • #262

    Belarus regards Venezuela as strategic partner in Latin America, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko plans to make the first official visit to Venezuela in December this year. On 4 December, the head of state held a meeting focused on the issues related to the forthcoming visit, BelTA has been told in the press service of the Belarusian leader.

    The President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has already visited Belarus twice: in July 2006 and in June 2007. Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez have agreed to build strategic cooperation and identified priority areas of the bilateral relations.

    Although lying at a great distance from each other, within a relatively short period of time Belarus and Venezuela have achieved substantial progress in various fields of interaction: many joint projects have been launched, highly beneficial for both Belarus and Venezuela.

    The intensification of trade and economic interaction between Belarus and Venezuela has been possible largely due to the high level of the political dialogue, common objectives of the two countries in social policy, similar views on the world order and similar positions within the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement.

    Opening the meeting, the President said: “Our country must expand its presence in Venezuela, intensify all-round ties. The importance of the Venezuelan vector of our foreign policy lies, first of all, in the fact that it allows Belarus to consolidate its positions in the Latin American region”.

    Political interaction must be amplified with the cooperation in trade, economic, scientific-technical, military-technical and humanitarian spheres, the head of state said.

    Venezuela is the most developed country in Latin America, Alexander Lukashenko said. This country occupies the first place in that region in terms of the proven oil reserves, and comes 7th on the list of the biggest oil producers in the world. Venezuela also possesses big reserves of natural gas. It is possible that this December Belarus will start extracting oil in Venezuela.

    Venezuela has given Belarus an opportunity to participate in large-scale investment projects, the President said.

    Venezuela, he said, is one of the most promising markets in Latin America; therefore Belarus has good exports prospects. “Venezuela is prepared to buy our products. They need them,” said Alexander Lukashenko. He also stressed the importance of Venezuela as a re-exporter of Belarusian products to the other countries of that region.

    Summing up the results of the meeting, Alexander Lukashenko stressed the need to intensify the efforts aimed at developing cooperation with Venezuela. “The demand for Belarusian products in Venezuela is now big. This is a country with huge financial resources. Many countries are showing interest in Venezuela today, but our advantage is that we started to work there earlier than others. The implementation in Venezuela of the outlined plans will make it possible for Belarus to gain profit and valuable experience of building up such large-scale activity abroad,” the President said.

    Belarusian embassy opens in Venezuela

    IN a related story, a Belarusian embassy has opened in Venezuela. According to charge d’affaires ad interim of Belarus to Venezuela Vladimir Grushevich, relations between the two countries have been rapidly developing. Belarus and Venezuela are strategic partners.

    The countries have laid a solid foundation of the bilateral relations in political, economic sci-tech, cultural and educational spheres.

    In the last few years Venezuela has been dynamically developing with its GDP growing by about 8-9% a year. The country is one of the fasters growing economies in the region. It has rich deposits of oil, gas, iron ore, coal, gold, bauxite, etc.

    Oil extraction and refining are core industries of Venezuela with revenues from oil export accounting for 87% of the county’s total exports. Virtually all petrochemical companies belong to the state.

    Cooperation with Venezuela gives an opportunity for Belarusian companies to enter new markets, Vladimir Grushevich added. “This country is interested in cooperating with Belarus. Venezuelans like Belarusians. The friendship between the leaders of the two countries and respect of the two peoples is a great prerequisite for the development of the bilateral cooperation,” Vladimir Grushevich said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Alexander Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin to meet in Minsk to discuss Union State draft constitutional act and budget bill

    From: BelTA
    On December 13-14, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin will pay an official visit to Belarus. The Supreme State Council of the Belarus-Russia Union State is expected to approve the Union State draft budget for 2008 and to consider a draft Constitutional Act of the Union State. Details of the meeting were discussed on December 4 by Alexander Lukashenko, Chairman of the Supreme State Council of the Union State and President of the Republic of Belarus, and State Secretary of the Union State Pavel Borodin, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian leader’s press service.

    There are 13 issues on the agenda of the forthcoming session of the Supreme State Council including the one concerning the Union State budget, which will be increased by 10% as against 2007 and will exceed RUR 4 billion.

    Apart from the main financial document Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin will consider more than ten production and social programmes including programmes in the field of construction, high technologies, mechanical engineering and as well as documents on overcoming of consequences of the Chernobyl disaster.

    “We lay special emphasis on the production programmes, as we annually allocate up to 75%-80% of the budget for their implementation. Such programmes help create new jobs,” Pavel Borodin told reporters after the meeting with the Belarusian leader. According to him, the draft budget was supported virtually by all ministries and departments of the Union State as well as by the Union State Parliament.

    Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin will also discuss in detail a draft Constitutional Act of the Union State. According to Pavel Borodin, there are five variants of the document. The one drafted by the Permanent Committee of the Union State reflects real needs of the two nations. “The matter does not concern institution of a post of the Union State president or ministers. As executive power institutions can work collectively, like in Europe,” said the State Secretary. “The draft describes a confederation model of the Union State. It means the national emblems and anthems will not be changed. However, the Union State needs its parliament. It also needs to delegate certain state powers to the Union State level. In concerns border protection, customs procedures, defence, military-technical cooperation, financial-monetary policy, price policy,” Pavel Borodin noted. According to him, the Union State will have to pass through a 7-10-year transitional period and will need a temporary constitution, which will create new jobs, not posts.

    Alexander Lukashenko and Vladimir Putin will also consider cooperation in the fuel and energy sphere and urgent issues relating to mutual trade.

    South African Lyons Financial Solutions chosen to develop Belarus’ High-Tech Park

    From: BelTA
    South African company Lyons Financial Solutions has won the open international tender to be chosen as the strategic investor for building the compound of the High-Tech Park in Belarus, representatives of the HTP administration told BelTA.

    The tender commission has forwarded the corresponding papers to the Council of Ministers of Belarus, which will suggest the general investor for consideration of the President of Belarus. Besides, other foreign companies may become co-investors in building the HTP. There are also plans for HTP resident companies to partake in financing the project.

    BelTA reported earlier, eight HTP resident companies are ready to finance preparations for developing the HTP compound. Some of the companies have already signed agreements for carrying out geological survey and drawing the architectural design of the HTP’s first stage development. OAO Institute Minskgrazhdanproject will design the residential, scientific and manufacturing areas of the High-Tech Park, while Belstroitsentr will manage the construction and will exercise engineering supervision of the project. The High-Tech Park administration plans to start developing the territory in spring 2008.

    October 8, 2007 saw the HTP administration announce an open international tender for choosing the strategic investor. The tender commission received six applications: two from Turkey, one each from Belarus, South Africa, the USA and Japan. In late November the three fittest applications were chosen — companies from south Africa, Turkey and the USA.

    As of November 30, 2007 the HTP was home to 37 companies, one individual entrepreneur, and six business projects.

    In January-September 2007 HTP resident companies created around 1,200 new jobs. About 4,000 people work there. Over the period software development output grew by 110% up on the same period of 2006 to a total of Br80.9 billion. Over the nine months export amounted to $31.5 million, 120% up on the same period of 2006.

  • Ecology...

    Presidium of Council of Ministers to consider draft strategy on environmental areas development and control

    From: BelTA
    The national strategy on environmental areas development and control by 2015 has been developed in Belarus. The draft of the document is to be discussed at a session of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers on December 4. The session will be led by Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky, BelTA learnt in the Council of Ministers’ Office.

    The national strategy is aimed at setting up the system of environmental areas: the places where rare and endangered animal and plant species are preserved.

    The national strategy should provide the optimal combination of interests of economic development of the country, rational use of its natural resources on the one hand and preservation of biological and landscape variety and the constitutional rights of the citizens for favourable environment from the other hand.

    The national legal-treaty base determines the state bodies which are interested in setting up the efficient system of environmental areas. According to the national strategy, this legal-treaty base should be improved in line with the up-to-date achievements of science and practice, the plans of socio-economic development of the country.

    The national strategy of environmental areas development and control by 2015 was developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection. The document was approved by President’s decree.

    Moreover, the National Academy of Sciences has elaborated the scheme of rational deployment of the environmental areas by January 1, 2015. The scheme will be approved by the governmental resolution.

    The national strategy and the rational deployment scheme have become a basis for the state development programme of the environmental areas system for 2008-2012. The document developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection will be approved by the President.

    The programme aims to develop an efficient system of nature-protected territories to preserve ecological systems, biological and landscape variety. The programme envisages a range of nature-conservative measures to preserve and restore environmental area, create favourable conditions for ecological tourism and recreation and increase budget revenues.

    The draft documents will be considered at the session of the Presidium of the Council

    Belarus’ State Control Committee criticises Lake Naroch sanitation measures

    The State Control Committee of Belarus /SCC/ criticised the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus for the sanitation project it carried out in respect of Lake Naroch.

    As SCC Chairman Zenon Lomat said on December 4 at a meeting of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers of Belarus, the Lake Naroch sanitation programme was adopted in the country. However, the funds allocated for this purpose are not utilised. Moreover, no effective lake cleaning methods were devised. According to Zenon Lomat, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection does not effectively cooperate with the Belarusian scientists in this field.

    According to Mikhail Myasnikovich, the Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, scientists of the Academy put forward several proposals concerning improvement of the ecologic situation at the lake to the Ministry. However, these proposals were not supported.

    At the same time Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection of Belarus Leonty Khoruzhik noted that no effective methods of the fight against certain species of insects polluting lakes had been found in the world. That is why all the sanitation measures, which were taken, produced no result yet.

    Belarus maps meadow ecosystems following European methodology

    For the first time Belarusian scientists have made a map of meadow ecosystems following the European methodology. The research was done under the international project: “Protection and management of meadow ecosystems: inclusion of an area with high nature value into the Pan-European Ecological Network”.

    The Belarusian experts made a research and mapped the meadow ecosystems of Belarus in line with the Braun-Blanke methodology which helped them single out most valuable areas of international importance. In the future they will be included into the Pan-European Ecological Network, Oleg Maslovsky, the chief of the project, associate at the V. Kuprevich Institute of Experimental Botany of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, said when speaking at an international seminar in Minsk.

    In the course of the project the experts derived the information about Belarusian meadows at a qualitatively new scientific level. “On the basis of this information we have developed recommendations which will increase the efficiency of meadow ecosystems, will help take ecologically accurate decisions on their management,” he said. The materials will be used by Belarus while implementing the UN biodiversity convention.

    The project took two years, Oleg Maslovsky said. Over this period the experts studied the ecosystems on the area of more than 60 thousand hectares in four regions – Braslav, Naroch, Berezina and Pripyat. Around 49.1 thousand hectares have been described and mapped. “Belarusian meadows are unique habitats of Europe’s rare species,” the scientists said. If we do not take protection measures they can die out. The inventory and mapping project will help study in detain and conserve rare meadow ecosystems. The research database will be handed over to the Ministry of Nature Resources and Environmental Protection.

  • From the International Press...

    Lukashenka dismisses EU’s calls for democratization in Belarus as «ridiculous»

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka dismissed the European Union’s calls for democratization in Belarus as “ridiculous.” "We have as much democracy as in Germany and France,” Mr. Lukashenka said in an interview with Spain’s EL PAНS.

    The interview was conducted in Minsk on November 26 and published by the largest Spanish newspaper on December 2.

    “Fortunately, we have never had to use either tear gas or water cannons, what is the norm for you. So where are human rights really observed?” he said in a reference to the dispersal of street protests in Europe.

    “The Belarusian state provides Belarusians with bigger rights than, say, Spain,” he went on to say. “We are accused of cracking down on media outlets. But opposition newspapers don’t have as large print runs as the main outlets. Can an opposition leaflet rival the Sovetskaya Belorussiya, which has been the leader since the Soviet times?”

    Mr. Lukashenka said that what he called the opposition press was printed abroad “but people don’t buy it, don’t subscribe to it.”

    He claimed that “nearly all opposition newspapers can be bought at kiosks, including the one at the Presidential Administration” but toned down his remarks after the EL PAIS interviewer interrupted him to say that this was not the case. “The system of [newspaper] distribution and subscription is an economic one. Let them [independent newspapers] arrange for this. One has to pay for this,” Mr. Lukashenka was quoted as saying.

    The Belarusian leader accused the West of funding the Belarusian opposition. “You provide the opposition with enough aid – millions of dollars, they don’t work, drive luxurious cars, live in exquisite palaces,” he said.

    Lukashenka warns that Belarusian manufacturers will “raise prices by a total of $2.5 billion” in 2008

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that Belarusian manufacturers would “raise the price of their products by a total of $2.5 billion” next year to offset a higher gas price.

    “The increase in the price of Russian energy resources costs Belarus an extra $2.5 billion,” the Belarusian leader said in an interview with Spain’s EL PAНS.

    The interview was conducted in Minsk on November 26 and published by the largest Spanish newspaper on December 2.

    Commenting on Vladimir Putin’s remark that Russia used to subsidize the Belarusian economy, Mr. Lukashenka noted that his counterpart “said this to Russians who demanded that he explain the reasons why he was stifling Belarus, the only remaining ally that honored its obligations sacredly.” “Mr. Putin had to respond, but it is either his arithmetic that is poor or he was misinformed or he uses other methods of calculation. As a result, we had to find $2.5 billion to pay. And we did. Gazprom’s profits here are higher than in Germany considering the distance,” he was quoted as saying.

    Mr. Lukashenka reiterated his criticism of Russia’s plans to build a Baltic Sea gas pipeline. “Russians have too much ambition and money. If they had not had as much money, they would have been more thrifty and wouldn’t have spent money in such a way,” he stressed, adding that the construction of a second leg of the Yamal-Europe pipeline through Belarus would prove more cost-effective for Russia.

    Mr. Lukashenka said that Minsk could devise a joint strategy with other transit countries. “Life may make us tackle this problem, but I don’t want to do this against Russia’s wishes. Because Russia is my Russia, whatever it may be. I won’t take an anti-Russian stance, although some media outlets attempt to ascribe it to me. I will act in the interests of my people, without detriment to Russia’s interests,” he was quoted as saying.

    Secretary Rice Meets With Belarus Human Rights Defenders

    From: Scoop
    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met today with a delegation of Belarusian human rights and democracy defenders. She reiterated the support of the United States for the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people and stressed that the United States will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in Belarus.

    The delegation consisted of individuals who are leading the fight to overcome the Lukashenka regime's denial of basic rights and pervasive repression, including the arbitrary use of state power to suppress independent media and prevention of free speech and assembly. The group discussed ways in which they can use their strength and unity to achieve a democratic Belarus.

    The delegation included Aleksandr Milinkevich, the 2006 opposition presidential candidate of the Unified Democratic Forces and recipient of the 2006 Sakharov Prize for Human Rights; Sergey Kalyakin, Anatoliy Lebedko, and Anatoliy Levkovich, political party leaders and Co-Chairs of the Unified Democratic Forces; Pavel Severinets, Chairperson of Belarusian Christian Democracy, and former political prisoner; Enira Bronitskaya, a human rights advocate and former political prisoner; and Dmitry Fedaruk, Acting Chairperson of pro-democracy NGO, "Youth Front".

    'Russian missiles could reach Mideast via Belarus'

    From: JPost
    Russia's recent decision to supply Belarus with Iskander missile systems comes in response to the deployment of a US antimissile system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

    Russian media quoted official sources as saying that the Western missile shield is a plot to undermine Moscow's nuclear deterrence. Washington has claimed that the shield is aimed not at Russia, but at states such as Iran that are seeking to develop nuclear weapons that could one day strike the West.

    European analysts said the creation of a launch pad in Belarus would allow Russia to place "tactical and psychological" pressure on neighboring Poland, where public support for the proposed deployment of the US antimissile system is low. Analysts have said that Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes to turn Europeans against the project by making it clear that they - rather than the Americans - would suffer the consequences of any nuclear confrontation.

    However, military expert Pavel Felgengauer wrote in the Russian daily Novaya Gazeta that he suspected there is much more to the Iskander deployment than the desire to pressure the Europeans.

    According to Felgengauer, the deployment represents a threat not only to European countries but also to Israel, because the missiles could be sold to Iran and Syria.

    Minsk has announced that a missile brigade equipped with Iskanders will be deployed close to the Russian border. The US missile defense sites in the Czech Republic and Poland are beyond the reach of these missiles, Felgengauer wrote.

    He noted that the so-called "export" model of the Iskander E, which is to be deployed in Belarus, has a reduced range of 280 kilometers. It will, therefore, stay clear of Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty limitations and will not be subject to international controls that limit the export of any ballistic missile with a range of over 300 km. These missiles can also be upgraded to give them a wider target range.

    Three years ago, Felgengauer said, former prime minister Ariel Sharon managed to block Iskander E sales to Syria by personally asking Putin to cancel the deal.

    According to Western experts, the Iskander missile can easily overcome air defense systems. It is almost impossible to prevent their launch because of the system's mobility and its advanced targeting abilities. Even a small supply of such missiles would drastically change the balance of power in regional conflicts.

    Felgengauer said the military correspondent of the Russian daily Kommersant, Ivan Safronov, who died mysteriously in March 2007, received a confirmation from official sources of the delivery of modern Russian armaments, including Iskander E missiles, to the Middle East by way of Belarus.

    Belarus remains one the main partners of Iran in arms exports. The nation sells Russian arms to other buyers on a commission basis. Belarus's military industry was involved in the development of the Iranian Shahab 3 and Shahab 4 ballistic missiles.

    Belarus, Ukraine to discuss bilateral cooperation in frontier issues

    From: NLIPRB
    At a session in Kiev on December 3-5 the border departments of Ukraine and Belarus will discuss bilateral cooperation, Alexander Tishchenko, the chief of the press centre of the state border troops committee of Belarus, told BelTA.

    In his words, on December 3-5 the chairman of the state border troops committee of Belarus, Igor Rachkovsky, will be in Ukraine on a visit to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart, chairman of the state border service of Ukraine, Nikolai Litvin. The two sides will consider the state and prospects of bilateral cooperation, joint participation in international technical assistance projects. The situation on the Belarusian-Ukrainian state border, implementation of the agreements and operation of border checkpoints will be also on the agenda.

    The talks will also focus on the measures to ensure control over border crossing by individuals and transport vehicles as the countries signed an intergovernmental agreement on simplifying the rules of crossing the Belarusian section of the motorway Slavutich – Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The new rules cover personnel, vehicles and freights of the Chernobyl plant and companies carrying out activities in the alienation zone as well as foreign specialists involved in implementing international projects on shutting down the nuclear plant.

  • Cultural News...

    Minsk Art College to host exhibition Letters to Friends: Vilnius –Minsk

    From: BelTA
    An exhibition in tribute to the memory of famous artist Alexander Isachev from Rechitsa opens in the picture gallery of the Rechitsa local lore museum
    The Ciurlionis National Art School will represent the works of its students in Minsk. The exhibition Letters to Friends: Vilnius –Minsk will be held in Minsk State Art College on December 4-18, BelTA learnt in the Lithuanian Embassy in Belarus.

    The exposition will feature painting and graphic art from school’s stocks. The works were created by students aged 14-18 years old in 1977-2007. The young artists depicted the Vilnius views, species of architecture, streets and squares of the Lithuanian capital.

    The works were exhibited in Japan, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden and the USA. They won various awards as well. In 2006, the Ciurlionis National Art School and Minsk State Art College signed a cooperation agreement. In line with the agreement, the schools will exchange of exhibitions, hold various art projects. Thus, in 2007, a huge exhibition of Minsk students’ wash drawings was showcased in Vilnius.

    “The exhibition in Minsk is a great contribution to studying the experience of the art education in Lithuania. It will promote closer cooperation between the two educational establishments of both the countries,” Lithuanian diplomats noted.

    The works of students of Minsk National Art College were exhibited in 60 countries worldwide including Germany, Poland, the USA, Norway, Japan and France. The Minsk college actively cooperates with the similar educational establishments abroad – in Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Germany. They exchange of exhibitions, hold joint plein air paintings.

    The Ciurlionis National Art School was founded in 1945. Students of the school study music, art and ballet. The school supports relations with the similar schools in Germany and Poland.

    Warsaw hosts exhibition Modern Fine Art of Belarus

    The exhibition Modern Fine Art of Belarus has opened in Warsaw. Attending the opening ceremony were painters, Belarusian and foreign diplomats, representatives of Belarusian diaspora and other guests.

    The exhibition features works by Viktor Alshevsky, Pavel Ameliusik, Andrei Savich, Pavel Zhuravlev. A quartet of the State Chamber Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus performed at the event.

    The Belarusian consulates often organize various events promoting Belarusian culture in Poland, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Poland Pavel Latushko told BelTA. “Events of the kind create positive atmosphere for cooperation in other spheres – economic, political, scientific,” the diplomat noted.

    When speaking at the opening of the exhibition Viktor Alshevsky noted that such events give a powerful impetus to strengthening the Belarusian-Polish cultural contacts. Viktor Alshevsky is a famous contemporary artist of Belarus. Belarusian Theater and Art Institute graduate he now teachers in the Belarusian Arts Academy. His works are part of private collections in Belarus, Italy, Germany, Israel, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the USA, France, Turkey and other countries.

    The exhibition will last till December 20.

  • Around the region...

    Putin victorious in Russia, rejects criticism of vote

    A member of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (Ours) shouts at a rally near Red Square in central Moscow Monday.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed his party's landslide election victory as a vote for stability Monday, but foreign observers cried foul and western countries urged the Kremlin to probe fraud allegations.

    "It's a good example and a good indication of Russia's internal stability," Putin was quoted by Russian media as telling 10,000 enthusiastic young campaign workers at a rally outside the capital Monday.

    "It's now clear to me that Russians will never allow their country to develop along the destructive path seen in some other countries of the former Soviet Union."

    The strength of Putin's personal victory Sunday, with a 60 per cent turnout at the polls and 64.1 per cent of the voters deciding that he was the best leader to govern Russia, may undercut western criticism about the fairness of the elections and of his increasingly authoritarian regime.

    While Putin savoured his triumph, the United States was calling for a full investigation of reported violations and NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer voiced "concern" over democratic freedoms in Russia.

    Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said Canada had spoken to Russian authorities about the election's alleged shortcomings.

    "We can only hope that the alleged irregularities will be thoroughly investigated. We have already expressed our concern to Russian authorities," Bernier said in a statement.

    "We do not see any reason for a modern and prosperous Russia to settle for a lesser form of democracy than its G8 partners."

    With most of the nearly 70 million ballots from Sunday's election counted, news agency Itar Tass reported that the Central Election Commission was projecting that Putin's United Russia party would win between 310 and 315 seats of the 450 seats in the nation's parliament, called the Duma.

    Two pro-Kremlin parties - the right-wing Liberal Democrats and the left-wing Fair Russia - won nearly 80 seats between them. This gives Putin far more than the two-thirds majority required to change the Russian constitution, which forbids him from seeking a third term in presidential elections slated for next March. Russia's regional legislatures and perhaps the courts could have a say in the matter, but virtually all of them are already firmly under Kremlin control, so Putin will have a free hand to change electoral or constitutional laws as he likes.

    The 55-year former KGB agent from St. Petersburg stated his intention two months ago to remain an influential force in Russian political life, and called on voters to back him by casting their ballots for United Russia.

    Communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov, whose party won 11.6 per cent of the vote and seats for about 60 deputies, will be the only true opposition in the new parliament. He and the leaders of other parties that failed to win seats in the next parliament accused United Russia and the president of fixing Sunday's poll.

    "We're protesting against the falsified result of the elections," Yevgeny Kopyshev, 68, a retired Russian general, said at a Communist Party rally with dozens of protesters in central Moscow, surrounded by police and soldiers.

    According to the Kremlin, French President Nicolas Sarkozy spoke by telephone with Putin and offered "warm" congratulations although France's Foreign Ministry called on Russia to "shed full light" on fraud allegations.

    Germany, meanwhile, said there was "no doubt" that the elections were not free and fair, while Britain urged Russia's elections authority to "urgently" investigate the charges of electoral abuse.

    Citing concerns about United Russia's use of government resources during the campaign, as well as media coverage that was overwhelmingly favourable to the president and United Russia, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which was allowed to have far fewer observers than during the last Duma ballot four years ago, declared that Sunday's election had failed to meet democratic standards.

    "We saw violations of basic rights, notably free speech and assembly rights," Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Union's external affairs commissioner, told journalists in Berlin on Monday.

    Some of the tallies for United Russia on Sunday resembled those toted up by the Communist party when it ruled the Soviet Union. For example, in Chechnya, where the army has been fighting secessionists for years, it was announced that United Russia had won more than 99 per cent of the voters and that more than 99 per cent of the voters had turned out.

    Already testy relations between the Kremlin and the West and countries in what Russians call "the near abroad" over fundamental issues such as democracy and freedom are unlikely to improve. Putin's government has bitterly denounced U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, is adamantly opposed to western support for Kosovo's Albanian majority separating from Serbia and supports enclaves in Georgia and Moldova where pro-Russian minorities seek much closer ties with Moscow.

    Canada has been anxious over strident Russian claims to the oil and mineral-rich Arctic Ocean, which is becoming more open to shipping and development as a result of global warming.

    "Relations have been getting steadily worse. We have been using this phrase, 'A new low for a long time now' and I don't think we've reached bottom yet," said Masha Lipman of the western-funded Carnegie Centre, a Moscow think-tank.

    "As long as Putin remains in charge of foreign policy - and that is his domain - there are unlikely to be any changes. Russia is an obstructionist mood and there is no room for compromise."

    The growing rift between the west and Russia may also deepen over the Kremlin's energy pricing and supply policies to transit countries to western Europe such as Ukraine and Belarus as well as other countries in Russia's backyard.

    In one of Putin's first acts since the parliamentary elections, the president signed a law on Monday suspending a treaty covering conventional forces in Europe that limits the number of tanks, heavy weapons and military aircraft. The move, which was expected, will allow Russia to stop NATO inspections of its military facilities and remove a cap on the number of non-nuclear weapons that it keeps it keeps west of the Urals in the European part of the country.

    Mockery of democracy

    From: Washington Times
    The co-chairmen of the joint congressional human rights panel criticized the Russian elections as a "mockery" of democracy, as they announced a hearing tomorrow on charges of fraud and intimidation during Sunday's vote for the Duma, or lower house of parliament.

    "It is regrettable that the conduct of Russia's state Duma elections were fraught with numerous violations of widely accepted democratic standards, especially in the pre-election period, which, at times, made Russia look like Belarus writ large," said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

    Belarus, a neighbor of Russia, is run by the authoritarian President Alexandr Lukashenko, whom the Bush administration has called "Europe's last dictator."

    Mr. Hastings dismissed denials from Russian President Vladimir Putin and accused him of allowing "government officials to use their coercive power to produce the desired turnout and results."

    Mr. Putin's United Russia party won 64 percent of the vote. With his allies in other parties, Mr. Putin can count on nearly 80 percent support in the new parliament. His main opposition, which took only 11 percent of the vote, is the Communist Party.

    Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and co-chairman of the commission, added that Mr. Putin, widely popular among Russian voters, did not need to cheat.

    "President Putin was running public approval numbers that would be the envy of the heads of state of any modern democracy," Mr. Cardin said.

    "There was no need to seize opposition literature, confiscate computers, intimidate and beat up campaign workers. The tactics used by Russian officials to assure a heavy vote total in favor of Mr. Putin and his United Russia party does not bode well for democratic governance and civil liberties in Russia's future."

    The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted that "many foreign observers" concluded that the elections were "free, open and fair" but added that it will study the criticism from some international monitors, according to a statement posted on the Russian Embassy's Web site (www.russianembassy .org).

    The congressional commission hearing, which begins at 10 a.m. in Room B-318 of the Rayburn House Office Building, will feature testimony from Paul Goble, a specialist on Soviet and Russian issues; Nikolas K. Gvosdev of the Nixon Center; and Sarah Mendelson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    'Strong ally'

    The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines yesterday denounced an attempted military coup against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and pledged that the United States will "remain a very, very strong ally" of her country.

    "We do not support extra-constitutional means to change government in the Philippines or anywhere else in the world," Ambassador Kristie Kenney told reporters in the capital, Manila. "I think it's always disturbing when you see people behaving contrary to the rule of law and constitutional authority."

    She added that she was "delighted" that the six-hour siege of a hotel in the city's financial district last week ended without bloodshed.

    The ambassador called Mrs. Arroyo a key U.S. ally in the region in the war on terrorism.

    Army Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and former navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes led a small group of rebels in the takeover of the Peninsula Hotel. They accused Mrs. Arroyo of corruption, demanded that she resign and called on the military to rise up against her.

    They surrendered after police commandos and troops stormed the hotel.

    Experts say arsonists set Polish official's car ablaze

    From: PR Inside
    Police were questioning witnesses on Tuesday after investigators said that arsonists set fire to a top anti-corruption official's car.

    On Sunday, the private car of Julia Pitera, an official in the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, was found burning on the street in front of her home in a residential
    district of Warsaw.

    Two police experts said Tuesday it was a case of arson, according to police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski. He would not speculate about a motive.

    Pitera, 54, a member of Tusk's Civic Platform party, is in charge of fighting corruption and abuse of power in state offices. Pitera told reporters Tuesday that she had no idea who could have set her car ablaze.

    Tusk said he will consider assigning Pitera bodyguards, but she said she had not requested that.

    Polish prosecutor withdraws arrest warrant for billionaire Ryszard Krauze

    From: Forbes
    Poland's chief prosecutor has withdrawn an arrest warrant for the country's fifth richest man Ryszard Krauze, a newspaper Dziennik reported today citing the prosecutor's spokesman.

    In August the prosecutor tried to detain and press charges against Krauze, who controls several Warsaw-listed stocks including biotech company Bioton and oil venture Petrolinvest, as part of a wider investigation into leaks that undermined a corruption probe and led to a collapse of the ruling coalition.

    Krauze has stayed abroad since the scandal broke out. He stepped down as the chief executive of Poland's largest computer-services company Prokom and agreed to merge it with a local peer Asseco Poland, in which he also has a stake.

    The arrest warrant was withdrawn on November 15, the newspaper quotes prosecutor's spokeswoman Katarzyna Szeska as saying. The decision means Krauze will not be detained on his return to Poland.

    Gazprom Second-Quarter Net Falls 25 Percent on Warmer Weather

    From: Bloomburg
    OAO Gazprom, Russia's natural-gas export monopoly, said profit fell 25 percent in the second quarter as warmer weather reduced demand in Europe and inflation drove up costs at home.

    Net income dropped to 103 billion rubles ($4.2 billion) from 136 billion rubles a year earlier, the Moscow-based company said on its Web site today. That's 22 percent lower than the 132 billion-ruble median estimate of eight analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Sales rose 5.1 percent to 532 billion rubles.

    ``Although these numbers may look weak compared with last year's, they're a one-off and not indicative of a trend,'' said Ron Smith, head of research at Alfa Bank in Moscow. ``Gazprom's business model is extremely solid and will soon benefit from higher oil prices.''

    State-run Gazprom, supplier of a quarter of Europe's gas, relies on exports for profit because Russia caps domestic prices to subsidize industries and restrain inflation. An unseasonably warm winter in Europe caused Gazprom to lower its estimate of deliveries this year by almost 2 percent.

    Sales advanced on demand in Russia, whose economy is expanding for a ninth year, and on higher prices in former Soviet republics including Ukraine and Belarus.

    While Gazprom lowered its estimate for European exports this year, it plans to export a record 157.7 billion cubic meters to Europe next year. The price may reach $354 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2008, Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller said last week, a third more than the forecast for this year.

    European Exports

    ``The high oil prices we're seeing today will only start benefiting Gazprom's income statement sometime in the spring,'' Smith said.

    Gazprom wants to increase its share of Europe's market by increasing exports by more than 50 percent as early as 2013. The company, together with European partners such as Eni SpA and E.ON AG, is planning to build two underwater pipelines from Russia that will plug directly into the European Union's energy network, bypassing traditional transit countries Ukraine and Belarus.

    Gazprom can meet the increased demand only by tapping into the gas production of Central Asian neighbors such as Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, whose main export pipeline passes through Russia.

    An agreement reached by President Vladimir Putin in May to refurbish the existing line and build a new one along the Caspian Sea has stalled as Central Asian leaders consider an alternative route to the EU that bypasses Russia.

    Gazprom last week agreed to pay as much as 50 percent more for gas from Turkmenistan next year. In the past, cheap Turkmen gas has been crucial for Gazprom to keep the price for Ukraine below European levels.

    In January 2006, Gazprom briefly cut deliveries to Ukraine amid a price dispute, causing shortfalls across Europe. The two sides agreed yesterday to raise gas and transit prices for 2008.

  • From the blogs...

    Out With the Old

    From: TOL
    The Belarusian government remains repressive. But the younger generation is getting restless.

    The end of the Belarusian democratic opposition’s autumn “marching season” has highlighted several important developments in the country’s youth movement. As was the case with the protests after the fraudulent March 2006 presidential elections, young people made up the majority of opposition supporters taking part in the recent European, Forefather’s Eve, and Social marches. What is new is their increasingly independent stance.

    During the European March, young demonstrators defied the decisions of the state and of opposition leaders, formed a separate column, and marched down Minsk’s main avenue. Prior to the Social March in November, youth leaders again declared that they would not follow the route approved by authorities and agreed to by opposition planners. Two separate protests took place. A group of about 200 young people met at the site of the March 2006 demonstrations, marched down the city’s main avenue, passed the KGB building, and ended in Independence Square, where several dozen stood on the steps of parliament, displayed their banners, and sang patriotic songs.

    While this drama may have made the marches more colorful, the events themselves were both poorly attended and organized. The division of the marchers symbolized the growing divide between younger and older opposition generations. Young activists were disappointed in the conformism and caution of the opposition leadership, which was frustrated that tens of thousands of the new generation didn’t turn up to show their support for pro-European and pro-democratic views.


    In 2007, hope and disappointment have become common, though misunderstood, terms used to characterize Belarusian youth. Recently dashed expectations are a result of youth activism coming of age in 2006. That year, young people emerged as the most active part of opposition society. Youth organized and led the post-election protests. Describing the March demonstrations, a parent explained, “Our children led us onto the streets.” Of the more than 1,000 people arrested, most were young, including many who had never before been active in opposition circles. They protested the regime’s electoral fraud, while pushing the opposition leadership to be more confrontational.

    The struggle didn’t end with the destruction of the “tent city” in October Square, where many young protesters were living. Throughout the summer and fall, young people continued to protest by wearing their “For Freedom” pins, organizing flash mobs, and carrying out hunger strikes and other demonstrations. The upsurge in youth activities scared the ruling regime, which retaliated by detaining, arresting, expelling, and firing hundreds of young people. The repressive atmosphere of 2006 was captured eloquently by a photograph of a Belarusian mother outside a detention center holding a hand-made sign that read, “looking for my son.”

    This year has been no different. The European Union, U.S. Embassy in Minsk, and Amnesty International have criticized the ongoing campaign against youth. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka plays the role of the good, but stern, “father” to his people, but he is being challenged increasingly by a new generation of disobedient sons and daughters.

    Security services frequently visit the families of youth activists to advise them on how to raise their children. It seems at times that the regime is paying more attention to this new generation than to the leadership of the democratic opposition. The regime fears young activists more than any other segment of the opposition and has put them squarely in its crosshairs.

    In September alone, more than 100 young activists were detained and dozens imprisoned. The regime continues to use “anonymous tips” of dead bodies, rape, explosives, drugs, and trafficking to harass young activists, and it has trumped up charges of obscene language and other instances of “indecent behavior,” “hooliganism,” and “disrespecting society” to jail them.

    One student was expelled from university and another young activist lost her job for political reasons. A youth activist was sent forcibly to a hospital for a psychiatric examination by the KGB. A leading opposition youth group was denied registration. Two young journalists received warnings for working for foreign media. And court cases have been filed against 96 graduates of educational institutions who refused to accept mandatory, state-assigned work placements.


    Both sides of the political divide in Belarus realize the importance of youth in the battle for the hearts and minds of citizens and in the country’s future development. There is no doubt that Belarusian youth are largely pro-European and pro-democratic. While to many observers, Belarus seems to be a museum for all things Soviet, young Belarusians today belong to both worlds, east and west. They move easily between languages and travel to countries in the EU and Commonwealth of Independent States. Most see their future in Europe.

    A decade ago, surveys augured of this collective mindset; they found that young Belarusians had no “nostalgia for Soviet times … and would prefer to see the West European model” established in Belarus. In a 1997 national poll, more than 54 percent of young respondents favored democracy, while only 42 percent of the total population sample did. Among university students, support for democracy was 81 percent.

    The statistics aren’t much different today, despite the paucity of studies. A 2007 Gallup survey indicated that more than half of those ages 18 to 35 would vote for a candidate for change in the 2008 parliamentary elections, compared with less than a third of those between 36 and 55 and less than half of those older than 56. A recent Belarus Institute for Strategic Studies poll shows that in the choice between joining a union with the EU or Russia, young people overwhelmingly would choose Brussels over Moscow.

    The dramatic outburst of youth activism and the appearance of so many new faces in 2006 raised the hopes of many domestic and foreign observers. They quickly anointed the March Youth as “the new force” that finally would bring about change, seeing in it a group intent on achieving results. Other experts discounted the impact of the movement by stacking it against the regime’s massive ideological indoctrination and repression of youth. They predicted either an apolitical and apathetic generation or a legion of young Lukashenka followers.

    By summer 2006, it was obvious that most of the new political or civic youth initiatives that appeared during the protests were incapable of establishing strong and effective structures. Bunt! (Revolt) is a good example. Bunt! was established by youth who previously were unengaged politically but were active in the March protests. After bonding through arrest and imprisonment, its founders promised to establish a “different kind of youth group, not like the others.” But a combination of government repression, poor organization, and internal dissention decimated the group, which today is a shadow of its former self.

    Other youth initiatives, like Khopits! (Enough), were created only for the elections and never intended to continue. The March events even contributed to the demise of one of the most recognizable of the established youth groups. Zubr (Bison) announced that, in response to the new situation, it would fold and continue its fight against the regime “as a part of a broad nationwide movement.”

    Flash mobbing, the best known of the post-election youth activities, was also a brief phenomenon, at least on a mass scale. Immediately after the March crackdown, there were regular instances of young people who, notified via the Internet and text messaging, would suddenly descend on a public space and hold events to demonstrate solidarity, freedom of association, and a rejection of the regime. Some of the more imaginative antics included groups protesting the lies of state television by putting scarves over their eyes when the news was broadcast on an outdoor screen in October Square; reading the Belarusian Constitution near the Ministry of Justice; destroying and throwing away copies of the state newspaper Soviet Belarus; and launching black balloons during Lukashenka’s April inauguration.
    Story continues...

    Reluctant Democracy

    From: The Accidental Russophile
    Spiegel Online has an long and interesting article titled Portrait of a Reluctant Democracy. On the eve of the carefully orchestrated Duma elections, Spiegel provides a sort of cross-section of opinions and the political times in Russia. Their case study involves a series of cities across Russia, and by god, for once it doesn't include Moscow. Ivanovo, Magnitogorsk, Tyumen, Bedime, and Vladivostok are chosen as representative of the successes and failures of Putin's tenure as President of the Russian Federation.

    Some of the more interesting tidbits from the article:

    Vladimir Ryzhkov (whose Republican Party was dissolved in May by the Russian Supreme Court and after 14 years will no longer be part of the Russian Duma): "This is not an election, it's a farce." Ryzhkov states that the controlled multi-party system that is being formed in Russia reminds him of the former East Germany.

    Boris Nemzov, a leading candidate of the "pro-business" SPS (but that protesters characterize as "Party of the Oligarchs") is asked by a reporter if he could imagine cooperating with the dominant United Russia party.

    "If you mix a kilo of cranberries with a kilo of shit," Nemzov replies, "you get two kilos of shit."

    There's the spirit of pragmatism and compromise upon which successful democracy's are built! Nemzov's SPS party is deemed unlikely to meet the minimum 7% for inclusion in the new Duma.

    Another telling moment:

      Nemzov says, to an audience at Ivonovo's "Silver City" shopping center: "Do you want me to tell you what the cleanest spot in the country is? The ass of the president! That's because someone is kissing it from morning to night."

      Three female students giggle. A furious-looking soldier turns red in the face. Putin is his idol. An agitated pensioner calls out: "You stole our pensions in the '90s, you thieves!"

      Nemzov is prepared for these accusations. He pats the angry pensioner on the back and responds to the attack with numbers: "When I was the energy minister, the price of oil was only $17. Nevertheless, Boris Yeltsin spent 7.5% of the national budget on pensions. The Putin administration spends only 4.2% on pensions."

      And didn't Gazprom, the state-controlled energy giant, pay $13 billion for Abramovich's shares in the oil company Sibneft? Thirteen billion dollars, says Nemzov, is more than the government spends on its "national projects," much-touted programs devoted to healthcare and building low-income housing. "In other words," says Nemzov, "the most important national project for Mr. Putin is the oligarch Abramovich."

      Ever since the arrest of oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003, Nemzov tells his guests, everyone who hopes to do business in peace knows "where they have to leave their money" -- with United Russia.
    In Magnitogorsk, almost 90% of the city's tax revenues are derived from the steel mill Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Combine (MMK) owned by Viktor Rashnikov and operated by Andrei Morozov. Morozov and MMK have somewhat reluctantly decided to support United Russia. This support is not without its detractors among the workers in the city.

      When it came out that the mill's managers would support United Russia, critics in Magnitogorsk began parodying the party's Russian name, Yedinaya Rossiya, calling it "Yedim Rossiyu," or "We eat Russia."

      "They have learned nothing from history," complains Gennady Grabaryev, a local opposition politician. [..] He sees a group of aging MMK veterans demonstrating on the square behind the city hall. Mariya Lyssenko holds a placard: "United Russia's members of parliament have cheated the MMK pensioners." She and her husband worked at the MMK for a combined 106 years, only to be pressured by management, following the privatization of the combine, to sell their shares at rock-bottom prices. Lyssenko and her husband were told it was their duty to save the plant from an outside takeover.

      Lyssenko, whose shares would be worth Ђ120,000 today, must now make ends meet on a monthly pension of about Ђ100. According to a Russian proverb -- "Nye poyman, nye vor" -- those who are not caught are not thieves.
    And yet in other regions of Russia, such as the booming city of Tyumen, travel agency entrepeneur Natalya Mironova, flatly remarks regarding United Russia:

      "Why should we vote for anything else? We're doing very well here."

      [..] Born during the Soviet era in the city of Asbest, {W. Shedd notes: Russian for asbestos, which should give you a clue what they mine there} an industrial hell west of Tyumen, Mironova worked as an English teacher in the 1980s and moonlighted as a tour guide for Intourist, the state-owned travel agency. The economy stagnated, while private business ownership was forbidden. "Not in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would establish my own company one day," says Mironova.

    The Russian Election: Post-Apocalypse Perspectives

    From: Publius Pundit
    The Moscow Times reports that war-torn Chechnya recorded 99.5% voter turnout in last weekend's parliamentary ballot, and of that over 99.3% went to Vladimir Putin's party United Russia. When asked whether this freakish and absurd result didn't clearly indicate voter fraud, the Kremlin denied any such possibility and claimed that the region's "special traditions" explained it.

    And they're quite right. Those "traditions" date back to Josef Stalin.

    The MT also reports that Andrei Lugovoi, who stands accused by the British government of murdering anti-Putin dissident Alexander Litvinenko with Russian-made polonium-based radiation poisoning, was elected into the Russian legislature on the "Liberal Democratic" ticket of insane nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Already immune from British prosecution since the Russian government refused to extradite him on "constitutional" grounds, from his perch in the Duma Lugovoi is now immune from any Russian prosecution as well. This is convenient, since the Kremlin's original reason for refusing extradition was patently bogus.

    For sheer unmitigated contempt towards the democratic process, this has to rival the election by the the Russian people of several former Politburo members into their first legislature a few years back. Dare we wonder how Russians would react if Britons elected Boris Berezovsky into their legislature?

    Garry Kasparov's party Other Russia, denied a place on the ballot entirely, has collected a litany of evidence of vote fraud and published it on its English-language website. Der Spiegel reports that the German government has condemned the elections, saying through spokesman Thomas Steg: "There can be no doubt. Measured by our standards, it was neither a free, fair nor democratic election." The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe joined them in this view.

    Despite the fact that, with all this blatant fraud, Putin's two slavishly loyal parties (United Russia and Fair Russia) garnered 72% of the vote (and an even larger share of the actual seats), Russian papers reported that Putin was still not satisfied with the result, wanting United Russia alone to match his personal 70% mandate from the 2004 presidential election. It may well have been Putin's "plan" to have only his two parties breach the 7% minimum support required for seats, with Fair Russia serving as the "opposition."

    So the consolation for those who love democracy is apparently that "at least the Duma still has some Communists and insane radical nationalists in it." And so it goes in Russia.
  • Note: Also from Publius is a refernce to a very good article about Russia's Nashi which can be found HERE

    Маленький листочек бумаги

    From: Teddy Bear Confessions
    Я очень люблю подбирать разные бумажки которые валяются на улице. С помощью них можно краем глаза заглянуть в чью-нибудь незнакомую жизнь. Даже простой список продуктов на базар может оказаться очень интересным. Я как Шерлок Холмс разглядываю эти записочки и пытаюсь составить представление об авторе. Я смотрю на форму букв, сокращения; даже то как свернут этот листок может о многом рассказать.

    Иногда я поднимаю рисунки школьников, иногда попадется обрывок конспекта, а бывает и вовсе загадочный лист с закорючками. Вчера вечером к моей коллекции добавился настоящий алмаз. Записка была маленьким клочком вырванным из ежедневника. Словно стыдливо скрывая свое содержание, бумажка была надежно сложена конвертом. Почерк мелкий - буквы острые и сильно наклонены вправо. А текст следующий:

    "Привет! Мы с тобой не знакомы, поэтому у меня есть к тебе предложение которое я думаю тебя заинтересует. Хочешь я встану перед твоим бойцом на колени и сделаю ему приятный массаж, после как он кончит мне в ротик разойдемся как в море корабли не зная друг друга. Если да, давай на остановке Зоопарк, в любой вечер когда он будет классно стоять и хотеть встретиться. ....(Неразборчиво) там есть так что снег, дождь не помеха, наоборот меньше народа + не будет слышно твоих вздохов в ответственный момент. Если да, 3809671511...
    с 8 до 17, с 19 до 22. Юрий. Обратно звонить не буду, только маячок."

    Это ли не удача, господа?

    Great Film - "Eastern Promises"

    From: Sonja Belle
    While also being a terrific and exciting gangster film in its own right, David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" is above all a profound human drama about integrity and courage. Naomi Watts plays a second-generation Russian immigrant in London who is confronted by a difficult moral dilemma. And so does the viewer, because unlike most films dealing with sensationalistic subjects such as forced prostitution, human trafficking and sexual exploitation, "Eastern Promises" doesn't manicheistically divide the world between "good" victims and "bad" villains. Instead, the victims are mostly passive (like in real life), while the real struggle occurs between our revulsion at oppression and injustice, and our fascination with the human evil. Rarely have we seen a more complex and fascinating gallery of ruthless gangsters who remain humane and attractive despite their unforgivable behavior. They are members of the London chapter of the fearsome Russian mafia organization known as "Vory v zakone" ("Thieves in law") and they include such memorable figures as Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), his son Kirill (Vincent Cassel) and his driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen). But most memorable of all is an unbelievably brutal fight scene in a steam bath that has already achieved a legendary status, in no small part because Viggo Mortensen did the whole thing completely nude (last two photos). There is also a powerful sex scene between Nikolai and a female prostitute, which surprisingly reveals the complex homoerotic relationship between him and Kirill. As Peter Travers describes the scene in his excellent review in Rolling Stones, "Kirill tests Nikolai’s manhood by forcing him to fuck a young girl while he watches. Nikolai takes the girl from behind so he can’t see her face. But we can see his. And in that moment, when Nikolai’s squint loses its hard focus, Mortensen reveals a haunted man. There is immense skill in his performance. It’s a Mortensen tour de force''. Sharply written, brilliantly directed and perfectly acted, "Eastern Promises" is David Cronenberg's best film, and so far, the best film of 2007.

  • Sport...

    Natalya Tsilinskaya of Belarus wins two bronze medals at Track Cycling World Cup in Sydney

    From: BelTA
    The eight-time world champion Natalya Tsilinskaya from Belarus won two bronze medals at the UCI Track Cycling World Cup, Sydney Australia.

    On November 30 the Belarusian picked up a sprint bronze. In the third-place heat she defeated Shuang Guo of China. On December 2 the Belarusian finished in third in keirin behind Victoria Pendleton of Great Britain and Jennie Reed of the USA. Natalya Tsilinskaya also came in 5th at the 500m Heat.

    Gennady Alekseenko presents report about Belarus’ Olympic Movement to IOC President

    In other sporting news, the 36th General Assembly of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) was held in Valencia (Spain). Belarus’ National Olympic Committee was represented by 1st Vice President Gennady Alekseenko and General Secretary Georgy Katulin. President of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge, President of the American Olympic Committee Mario Vazquez Rana, Honorary President of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch were invited to attend the Assembly as well.

    Reports about the EOC activity, its commissions and working groups in 2007 and also the report of Pere Miro, the IOC Director for Olympic Solidarity, were presented at the congress. Representatives of the Olympic Committees marked the successful implementation of Olympic Solidarity’s programmes, the growth of organization’s authority all over the world.

    Representatives of the organizing committees of the capitals of the future Olympic Games: Beijing 2008, Vancouver 2010, London 2012 and Sochi 2014 delivered their speeches as well. In particular, they told about their preparations for the forthcoming events. Participants of the session paid a special attention to the issues related to holding the Youth European Olympic Festivals. Representatives of the organizing committees of the Spanish town of Jaca and Serbian Belgrade told about the holding these competitions this year. In 2009, the 9th Youth Winter Sports Festival will be held in the Polish town of Beskid Slaski, the 10th Summer Festival – in the Finnish Tampere, the 10th Winter Festival will be held in the Czech Liberec, the 11th Summer Festival – in the Turkish town of Trabzon.

    During the 36th General Assembly of the European Olympic Committees, 1st Vice President of Belarus’ National Olympic Committee Gennady Alekseenko met with IOC President Jacques Rogge, President of the American Olympic Committee Mario Vazquez Rana and President of the European Olympic Committee Patrick Hickey. During the talks, the sides discussed the development of the Olympic movement in Belarus, the preparation for the Olympic Games.

    Gennady Alekseenko presented a special report about the Olympic movement in this country, about the achievements of the Belarusian sport, the work of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee. The 1st Vice President of Belarus’ National Olympic Committee presented IOC President Jacques Rogge, President of the American Olympic Committee Mario Vazquez Rana and President of the European Olympic Committee Patrick Hickey with the books and photo-albums devoted to the development of the sports branch and Olympic movement in Belarus. These editions also include information about the up-to-date sports facilities which are being constructed now in this country. During the meetings with Jacques Rogge and Patrick Hickey, Gennady Alekseenko discussed the issues related to using the renovated sports infrastructure of Belarus to conduct high-level international competitions.

  • Endnote...

    Lukashenka says that he will consider pardoning Kazulin if the prisoner asks him for this

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in an interview with Spain’s EL PAНS that he would consider pardoning Alyaksandr Kazulin if the convict asked him for that.

    “A court made this decision. This is an independent branch of government and I respect its decision. The only thing that I can do is to pardon him. If the convict asks for this, I’ll consider his application and then say whether I’ll release him,” the Belarusian leader was quoted as saying.

    The interview took place in Minsk on November 26 and published by the largest Spanish newspaper on December 2.
    Mr. Lukashenka stressed that the former presidential candidate had been imprisoned for “specific crimes.” “Our Criminal Code does not penalize political crimes,” he said. “It’s not important for me who he is. He is a citizen for me and for the court as well. All citizens, including the president, and especially a presidential candidate, should abide by the law. And what is supposed to be done is a certain person forms a gang and storms a prison?”

    According to Mr. Lukashenka, the 5 1/2 years in prison that Alyaksandr Kazulin was sentenced to is not a very long term. “We have both life imprisonment and the death penalty,” he said. “If he had not been a presidential candidate, he would have received 10 or 12 years, not 5 Ѕ, for a blast on our streets. But as an ex-candidate, he excited a slight pity.”

    Dr. Kazulin, rector of Belarusian State University between 1996 and 2003 who was a candidate in Belarus' 2006 presidential election, was arrested during a police crackdown on a peaceful post-election opposition demonstration on March 25, 2006. He was found guilty of hooliganism and the organization of group actions disturbing the public peace.

    At an unsanctioned opposition rally held at the center of Minsk that Saturday on the occasion of the anniversary of the 1918 Belarusian National Republic, at which people expressed protests against the official election results, Dr. Kazulin called for walking to a detention center to demand the release of opposition activists held there. When being half-way to the destination, the Kazulin-led crowd was violently attacked by a large mass of riot police.

    Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumaw claimed after the clash that protesters had set off an unidentified bomb, but numerous reporters present at the scene saw smoke pots flying from the police side and young men among the protesters kicking the pots back at the police lines. Numerous photographs posted in the Internet clearly showed a helmeted soldier protected by a police shield who was aiming a weapon at demonstrators. Experts said that the weapon seemed to be the KS-23 police shotgun used to launch various non-lethal grenades. Nonetheless, General Navumaw alleged that the police had not applied any "special means" to disperse the crowd.

    According to a survey conducted by the Vilnius-based Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies in May 2007, 34.9 percent of Belarusians believe that Dr. Kazulin was sent to prison on political motives and should be released.