Missile defense warnings, Ruble gains, Russia takes more money, Flu epidemic, Fascism, Opinion, Blogs and Sport
Belarus interested in signing agreement on unified air defence system with Russia
“Belarus is interested in signing the agreement in question. Now coordination of its main provisions is nearing completion. This is normal as any international agreement comes through a certain expertise,” Igor Azarenok said.
According to him, the draft agreement on the unified air defence system places stress on joint application of military aircraft of Belarus and Russia.
The scheduled deployment of American ballistic missile defence facilities in Poland “will by no means affect the level of military training and application of the Belarusian air forces and air defence”, commander of the air forces and anti-aircraft troops Major General Igor Azarenok told a briefing in Minsk today.
According to him, Belarus has no such armament against which the ballistic missile defence system will be targeted.
Along with that, Igor Azarenok noted that “any deployment of new weaponry in the vicinity of our territory creates tensions and increases the hazard level in the region”.
In related news, Belarus is going to buy ten trainer aircrafts L-39, commander of the Belarusian air force and anti-aircraft defense Major General Igor Azarenok has told reporters today.
According to him, a number of countries proposed Belarus to buy these aircrafts. “This is not a one-day issue. This year we are planning to conclude a contract to purchase these aircrafts”, Igor Azarenok noted.
He also said that ten trainer aircrafts L-39, which were bought in Ukraine last year, proved effective in pilot training. “They are easy to service and economical”, he highlighted.
L-39 air squadron is deployed in the town of Lida at the 206th assault air-base. Last year owing to the aircrafts the total flying hours of military pilots of the Belarusian air force and anti-aircraft defense increased two times from 2005. More than 100 pilots and navigators polished up their skills. Practically all graduates of the aviation department of the Military Academy met the requirements of the third class pilot.
Moscow warns Czechs and Poles on U.S. shield
Russia has been increasingly bellicose in its response to the U.S. proposal to build the missile defense system in Eastern Europe. General Nikolai Solovtsov, head of Russia's missile forces, said the system would upset strategic stability. It would be the first such site in Europe.
"If the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic take such a step," he said, "the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of targeting these facilities if a relevant decision is made."
President Vladimir Putin has said he does not trust U.S. claims that the system would be to guard the American East Coast and Europe from missiles launched from "rogue nations" in the Middle East.
But on Monday, the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolanek, said his country and Poland were in favor of the U.S. missile defense proposal.
"I think it is in our joint interest to negotiate this initiative and to build in our area the missile defense," Topolanek said after talks in Warsaw with the Polish prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
The bases in Poland and the Czech Republic would be designed to intercept missiles being developed by Iran, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said last month. Two other bases in Alaska and California would protect the United States from threats from North Korea, Obering said.
Kaczynski brushed aside Russia's fears, saying "the missile defense is not directed against any normal state."
"Any statement suggesting that the missile defense would change the alignment of forces in Europe is a misunderstanding," he said. "This truth is being conveyed to our partners in the west and the east."
A State Department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, said Monday the United States has worked closely with the Czech and Polish governments to develop the missile defense system and that it was in no way directed at Russia.
"We have offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense because we believe we face a common threat emanating from the Middle East as well as other areas," Vasquez said.
Solovtsov said he was concerned that the United States, which plans to deploy 10 interceptors in Poland, could increase those numbers in the future.
The general also said it would take Russia less than six years to build upgraded versions of medium range missiles if Moscow decided to pull out of a 1987 agreement with the U.S. that banned their deployment.
"It is not difficult to restore their production," Solovtsov said at a news conference. "The missiles were dismantled, but the production technology has remained."
Russian military officials have said Moscow's decision to pull out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty would depend on whether the United States went ahead with the missile defense plan. The key arms control agreement was negotiated between the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan.
At a European security conference this month, Putin said the treaty was outdated, and that many nations had since developed the medium-range missiles eliminated by Russia and the United States.
Putin has warned that Russia could respond to the deployment of U.S. missile defense in Europe by building new, more efficient weapons. He had previously boasted that Russia was developing new missiles that would be impossible to intercept.
Solovtsov said Russia would continue gradually replacing Soviet-built intercontinental ballistic missiles with new Topol-M missiles and would fully rearm around 2016 while maintaining levels under a 2002 arms control treaty signed by Putin and President George W. Bush. That treaty obliges both sides to cut their strategic nuclear weapons by about two-thirds by 2012. "It's possible to deploy such weapons shortly if the situation requires that," Solovtsov said.
Ivan Safranchuk, director of the Moscow office of the U.S- based Center for Defense Information, said that Russia was using its threat to pull out of the treaty in a bid to force Washington to backtrack on its missile defense plans.
"The calculation is that the Europeans, who stand to lose the most from this, will put pressure on the United States," he said in a telephone interview.$@
Ruble May Gain as Putin Uses Oil, Gas to Lift Exports
``Russia has a big weapon in the form of energy,'' said Lars Rasmussen, an analyst at Danske Bank A/S in Copenhagen who covers the former Soviet states. ``They intend to use it to extract higher revenues from their neighbors. This is very positive for the ruble.''
The currency may gain about 5 percent against the dollar this year, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the world's most profitable securities firm. That's on top of a 9.2 percent advance in 2006, when Russia's trade surplus expanded to a record on surging fuel exports.
Russia, the world's biggest energy producer, provides almost half of Germany's natural gas and almost all the gas used by Finland, Greece and Bulgaria and former Soviet states such as Belarus and Lithuania. Russia's plans to charge its neighbors higher gas prices may extend economic growth and boost the ruble even as oil prices decline on world markets.
The government forecasts growth of 6.2 percent in 2007.
The ruble traded at 26.23 to the dollar on Feb. 16, a 0.5 percent gain for the week and just 0.3 percent short of its more than six-year high of 26.15 set Dec. 4, 2006. It was at 26.22 at 1:30 p.m. in Moscow. Russia limits daily movements of the ruble against a basket of euros and dollars.
A 5 percent increase in the value of the currency this year would take the ruble to its highest since September 1999.
Belarus agreed to pay $100 per 1,000 cubic meters in 2007 for Russian natural gas, more than twice as much as last year, to avert a cutoff in supply.
Ukraine will pay a third more, on top of a 100 percent increase last year. Russia more than tripled its average export price for gas last year to $162.20 per 1,000 cubic meters, from $52.30 in 2005, the federal customs service said Feb. 13.
Russian threats to shut down supplies ``give a certain cause for concern,'' U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Feb. 11 in Munich. He made the remarks a day after Putin said the U.S. had ``overstepped'' its limits in international relations.
The government is also increasing control over supplies to western Europe by using its clout with former satellite states to buy stakes in fuel pipelines.
OAO Gazprom, the state-run gas export monopoly and the world's largest natural-gas producer, on Feb. 13 said it would buy half of Belarus's national pipeline operator by 2011. The same day Gazprom reported a 68 percent leap in third-quarter sales.
Europe depends on Russia for a quarter of its gas needs and a fifth of those imports pass through Belarus. The reliance is set to grow as Europe's own production drops in places such as the North Sea.
``We like the ruble and still think it has a long way to appreciate,'' said Michael Ganske, who manages $7 billion of emerging-market debt at Deka Investment GmBH in Frankfurt. ``The economy is so rich in oil and gas, and exports such a massive amount, that the outlook is very positive.''
The economy grew for an eighth straight year in 2006, the longest run since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Oil prices have fallen 25 percent internationally since reaching a record high in July, and the decline may undermine Russia's efforts to bolster export earnings. Crude oil traded at $59 per barrel at the end of last week.
The economy shrank 9.1 percent in 1998 as the price of oil plummeted below $14 a barrel, slashing state income and forcing the government to default on $40 billion of domestic bonds.
Declining fuel prices could hurt the ruble, said Michael Derks, a global strategist at Arch Financial Products Ltd., a London-based hedge fund.
``The ruble will weaken from here,'' Derks said. ``If the oil price goes to $50 a barrel, it's pretty easy to work out what your view on the ruble is.''
Overseas investors drawn to the country's economic growth and its control over the world's largest natural gas reserves, second-largest coal reserves and eighth largest oil reserves now face fewer hurdles.
Euroclear, Europe's largest settlement house, said last week it would accept payment in rubles to settle trades. ICAP Plc, the world's biggest inter-dealer broker, said on Feb. 12 it would allow electronic trading in the ruble on the EBS global foreign- exchange platform. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. will also set up an index to track average Russian bond prices this year.
``This is going to help open up Russia's local-currency debt markets to foreign buyers, as it's much easier now to trade Russian bonds,'' said Raphael Marechal, who helps manage $3.2 billion in emerging-market bonds at Fortis Investments in London. ``These inflows will feed into further ruble appreciation.''
The currency will gain 4 percent to 5 percent this year, Marechal said.
The ruble will probably rise to 25.1 against the dollar by year-end, according to Goldman economists Jens Nordvig, Thomas Stolper and Fiona Lake, writing in the firm's February 2007 Global FX Monthly Analyst, published Feb. 6.
``Investment has been a weak point in Russia's otherwise impressive economic recovery, so it is welcome to see a rising trend,'' the Goldman economists wrote.
KfW Group, Europe's biggest corporate bond issuer, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development sold the first international bonds denominated in rubles last month. Kfw and the EBRD each sold 2 billion rubles of debt.
ZAO Gazprombank also became the first Russian company to issue a ruble bond internationally, saying it anticipated stronger demand after Euroclear's decision. It sold 10 billion rubles of securities.
``Russia is becoming more of a developed country rather than an emerging market,'' said Nikos Markakis, a currency trader at Global New Europe Fund SA in Athens, which manages $150 million. ``The ruble will be supported as it attracts new inflows.''
Russia is going to take another 230 million dollars from Belarus
From: Charter '97
“In 2006 for improving the existing situation SCC regularly addressed the Federal Custom’s Service of Russia on the subject of observing the procedure of custom’s clearance of goods designated for Belarus. At the end of the last year the Russian side informed Belarus that the procedure had been employed by the Russian custom’s service in strict compliance with the Russian legislation, that means that the priority was given to the national legislation, the SCC further reports. After that Belarus had nothing to do but to take the adequate countermeasures regarding Russian goods coming from Kaliningrad to the Russia’s mainland”, the State Custom’s Committee of Belarus insists.
It is to be mentioned, that in January 2007 the Belarusian custom’s officers started searching Russian goods transited through Belarus to the Russian Federation’s mainland with compulsory convoying of transport means. Before that Russian goods had been transited through Belarus against the transportation documents with the corresponding stamps of the Kaliningrad’s custom’s service, permitting their exports to the Russia’s mainland. The Belarusian custom’s officers used the resulting figures of their special measures as arguments for their actions. Thus, the export of 47 batches of shipment from the Kaliningrad region to Russia through Belarus amounting to USD 10 million out of 872 batches being inspected (TV equipment, home appliances, meet products) had not been certified.
During all the above-mentioned period of time the Belarusian side did not care about the situation with Kaliningrad’s shipment despite of the discomfort and losses of the Russian deliverers. The SCC ‘s declaration appeared after Mintrans of Russia had reported on the prohibition for Belarusian deliverers to carry the shipment from third countries to and from Russia. According to estimations of the Belarusian experts, 6.7 thousand of Belarusian vehicles participate in the transit between Western Europe and Russia. The annual proceeds of these deliveries total over 230 million dollars.15 thousand people are involved in the business. The State Custom’s Committee of Belarus points out that the declaration of the Mintrans of Russia “hasn’t taken into account the objective conditions”. They consider that for simplification of the custom’s clearance procedure of the goods delivered from the Kaliningrad region to the Russia’s mainland through Belarus it is necessary to work out within the frame of “the union state” a separate procedure, similar to the previously existing one, and put its implementation under the strict control of both parties.
Sudanese lawmakers in Belarus to boost bilateral ties
From: sudan tribune
|Ahmad Ibrahim Taher|
Ahmad Ibrahim TaherSpeaking to reporters in the airport, Al-Tahir described the purpose of his visit as strengthening the bilateral relationship, the Belarus BelaPAN reported.
Kanaplyow, for his part, noted that "any visit always has a meaning, the more so as our country conducts a multi-vector policy." "We have recently attached a great importance to Non-Aligned Movement countries, with which we’re developing both close political and economic relations," he said. "Sudan is a country that has good mineral resources that Belarus needs."
The chairman of the lower parliamentary house said that Belarus was ready to supply tractors, trucks and other products to the African country.
The Sudanese parliamentary speaker is scheduled to hold talks with Kanaplyow and Henadz Navitski, chairman of the National Assembly’s Council of the Republic, as well as Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski on February 19. He will meet with Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw and Defense Minister Leanid Maltsaw the following day.
Al-Tahir also is expected to visit several industrial enterprises, visit the Brest region and meet with Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumaw during his six-day visit.
Belarus, Estonia look set to intensify cooperation in tourism
Foreign minister of Estonia Urmas Paet visited the Belarusian booth, said Alexander Ostrovskiy, the consul general of Belarus to Tallinn. The Belarusian consul and the Estonian minister discussed ways of boosting the cooperation between the two states.
Within the framework of the exhibition, Vladimir Yakovenko, a member of the national tourism agency of Belarus, met Irina Svidlov, chief of tourism department of the Tallinn city administration. They discussed the prospects of holding the second Belarusian-Estonian tourism workshop in Tallinn in May.
In a related NHLIPRB story, Sudan hopes the current visit of a Sudanese delegation to Belarus will bring about concrete agreements which would promote the development of the bilateral relations, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Republic of Sudan Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir said when meeting Vladimir Konoplev, the chairman of the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus.
Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir thanked Belarus for the invitation adding it is great honor for Sudan.
Vladimir Konoplev, in turn, voiced hope that the first visit of a Sudanese delegation to Belarus will help make the cooperation between the two countries closer and more beneficial. He wished the Sudanese guests enjoy their sojourn in Belarus.
The visit will run through February 23. The Sudanese delegation will meet representatives of the Belarusian parliament, the defense ministry, the foreign ministry; the Sudanese guests will pay visits to MTZ, Ostromechevo in Brest region, the National Library of Belarus, a memorial compound Brest Hero Fortress and the State National Park Belovezhskaya Puscha.
The Republic of Sudan is a presidential republic with the population of more than 36 million. In 2005, GDP of Sudan amounted to $27,7 billion; its exports arrived at $5,7 billion and imports made up $6,9 billion. Oil and cotton constitute the bulk of the Sudanese exports. Sudan imports mostly machines, equipment, consumer goods, foodstuffs and medicine.
ARMENIA MP: ARMENIAN-BELARUSIAN ECONOMIC COOPERATION PIVOT IS INFORMATIONAL TECHNOLOGIES AREA
"High technologies can become the basis for Armenian-Belarusian economic partnership. Armenia has achieved certain results in this area and can share experience with Belarus, who take some steps for IT sector development", he said.
Badeyan also mentioned construction as another area for partnership. In his words, both nations face construction boom now.
He said 4 million square meters were put into exploitation in 2006 in Belarus. In his words Belarus also face human resources shortage, and Armenian construction companies can compensate it, if they are given a right to take part in tenders for construction.
Belarus Declares Flu Epidemic In Two Provinces
More than 1 per cent of the population - the statistical threshold for an epidemic - was infected with the virus in the cities of Gomel and Minsk, and surrounding areas, officials at the Republic Centre of Hygiene and Epidemiology said.
Quarantines went into effect in the most badly affected districts of both cities.
Education authorities ordered five schools closed immediately, with reportedly dozens more set to shut down if the flu continued to spread.
Children are particularly vulnerable to the germ. The flu so far has cropped up in slightly more than half of Belarus' provinces, according to Health Ministry data.
Health officials announced a nationwide campaign to limit the spread of the disease, by issuing health workers masks and segregating flu patients in hospitals, and similar preventative measures.
The Group A flu virus struck neighbouring Ukraine last week, and during December and January took hold in the populations of Slovakia, Romania, Norway and Portugal.
The flu is normally not dangerous, except to underage patients and persons with weakened constitutions.
Belarus' state-financed health system, considered by most of its users chronically bankrupt, has experienced difficulty in the past dealing with common diseases, due to a government policy of avoiding imported medicines and medical techniques where possible.
Local budgets to channel Br76,5 billion into reconstruction of sport facilities in 2007
The Brest oblast executive committee will allocate Br2,2 billion, Vitebsk oblast executive committee – Br6,5 billion, Gomel oblast executive committee – Br15,4 billion, Grodno oblast executive committee – Br12,5 billion, Minsk oblast executive committee – Br2,3 billion, Mogilev oblast executive committee – Br5,9 billion, Minsk City Council – Br31,7 billion.
According to Alexander Kosinets, a total of 38 sport facilities were planned to be put in operation in 2007. “At the same time, taking into account the failure to meet last year’s targets the list of facilities increased to 43,” the vice premier stated.
Presidential decree #148 of March 12, 2006 passed the state program of reconstruction and commissioning of incomplete sports facilities for 2006-2008. In accordance with the program, a total of 38 incomplete sport facilities should be commissioned and 36 facilities should be reconstructed. The state customers of the program are the ministry of sports and tourism, the ministry of agriculture and foodstuffs, the defence ministry, oblast executive committees and the Minsk City Council. A total of Br267,86 billion are planned to be utilized.
Famous Kharkov guitarist Juliana Machneva to be on tour in Belarus
On February 19, Juliana Machneva will perform in Gomel, on February 20 – in Pinsk, on February 21-22 - in Minsk, on February 23, she will give a concert in Mogilev, chairman of the Belarusian club of guitarists Oleg Kopenkov has told BelTA.
Juliana Machneva is a guitarist, composer and teacher. She gives recitals, writes music for the guitar and other instruments. She is a laureate of a numerous international contests and festivals. Her guitar sounded in many towns of Ukraine and also in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Switzerland and the USA.
In her concert programs Juliana Machneva presents classical, ancient and modern music as well as her own compositions which combine various music styles. During her free time the guitarist writes poems, draws, makes photos.
Today Juliana Machneva gives lectures at Kharkov arts school #3 and the Kharkov State Academy of Culture.
DOES BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION HAVE A FUTURE?: Valery FEDOROV, Director General of All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center
From: Eurasian Home
|The flag of the Union State?|
We will compare the recent survey’s data with the data that was collected about two years ago. In April 2005 we held the survey with the same sampling and used virtually the same questions.
The first key question: “How is the process of formation of the Belarus-Russia Union developing?”
We can observe the extreme pessimism here. Only 6% of respondents believe that the Union will be successfully created. Two years ago 13% of respondents thought so.
40% of respondents consider the process to be slow and inefficient. 32% say that the integration process has reached a deadlock.
Thus, the public opinion poll conducted in Russia has shown that there is no progress in the integration and that the process has either slowed down or run off the rails.
The second question: “Why does this happen and who is to blame for it?”
There is no single opinion. The conditionally dominating estimation (only 28 % of respondents) is that above all Aliaksandr Lukashenka and the Belarusian authorities are responsible for the impediments. The other points of view are less popular. 17% of respondents believe that the idea of the Union is farfetched. 9% accuse Belarus’ opposition of that.
As regards the trend, the number of those who believes that Lukashenka is responsible remains unchanged. Two years ago it was 29%. Many Russians consider that the integration is nothing but a screen of true intentions of the Belarusian authorities. I would like to emphasize that the recent conflict hasn’t told on the number of those who hold the opinion.
As to the necessity to form the Belarus-Russia Union: two years ago 7% of the Russian respondents said that the Union was not needed; now 17% say the same thing.
The next question is: “What sort of the Union should it be?”
There is no single opinion here. If to speak about the format the Union should have and the role each party should play in the Union, we proposed three options. The first option is the unification of the states that would be equal in rights. 29% of respondents support this position and the same was two years ago.
The second option is Belarus’ joining Russia as one or several entities within the Russian Federation. Two years ago this option was the most popular – 39%, now 23% back up that.
The third one is good-neighborly relations between the countries. It is backed by 39%, while two years ago 25 % thought so. There are more people who believe that the single state is not needed.
We asked the Russians to express their opinions of Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka.
Now 17% of respondents respect Lukashenka and sympathize with him. 22% believe that Belarus deserves a better president. The majority (42%) takes issue with Lukashenka, but thinks that it is for the Belarusians themselves to chose their president.
The number of Lukashenka’s adherents, opponents and those who are indifferent to him is stable. In 2004 the figures were almost the same. One can say that there are neither fierce adherents nor fierce opponents of Lukashenka in Russia. The Russians take Lukashenka neutrally as a leader of the neighboring country.
We have also estimated attitudes of the Russian citizens towards the Belarus’ president. If to take positive and negative attitudes, we can observe that about 36% of respondents have primarily positive attitude and 36% have primarily negative attitude towards Lukashenka. There have been certain changes in comparison with the survey held in September 2006. Then the ratio of the positive and negative attitudes was quite different. 49% had positive attitude while 24 had negative attitude. The Russians have cooled off Lukashenka for the half a year. That means that the Russians dislike the style of interaction with the public chosen by Lukashenka.
Vladimir PETUKHOV, Research Director of VCIOM
Many people know that VCIOM jointly with its partners from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine has been managing the Euromonitor project for three years.
In this context I would like to share with you the results of the autumn survey concerning the Russian-Belarusian relations. The investigation was devoted to the 15-year anniversary of the USSR breakup and the integration processes in the former Soviet Union. According to the results, those 15 years contributed their mite. The peoples of Russia and Belarus take different views of many things and processes.
Remember that during the 15 years a new generation has grown up – this generation lived in the Soviet Union as children. The period when the countries were together does not exist for them. This generation aspect is of extreme importance when we speak of integration processes. Belarus is an excellent example in this regard.
While Russia has a very strong social differentiation but the generation gap is weaker, in Belarus the situation is opposite. Here the level of social differences is not high but age groups have different views of life.
It is quite true that Belarus is the most pro-Russian country in the former Soviet Union. But the pro-Russian policy is assured primarily by the Belarusian citizens who are more than 45 years old. The young people have quite different attitudes.
I give several examples. 50% of Belarus’ citizens regret the USSR breakup, while 36% do not regret it. 70% of Russia’s citizens regret the breakup. If to speak what the Belarusian young people aged between 18 and 24 years old think of the breakup we can observe the completely different situation. 14% regret and 53% do not regret. 81% of the older people regret the USSR breakup.
We asked the people how they would vote if the referendum was held on the USSR revival. In Belarus about 36% would support the idea while 32% would be against it. Almost one third of respondents would either ignore the elections or find difficulty in replying. This small advantage is achieved due to the older people. The young people would vote against it and the ratio stands at 2:1.
In Russia about 53% would vote for the USSR revival. All age groups would vote for it.
As regards integration preferences and likings for countries, the situation is as follows. When we ask what country they would like to unite with, 64% of the Belarusian citizens mention Russia, 32% - Ukraine and about one fourth would like to join the EU.
Among the young people likings for Russia are higher (52%) and about 40% would approve the integration into the EU. So, the difference between Russia and the EU is about 10%.
We also asked where the people would like to live. They rejected the USSR and the CIS. The post-Soviet space and Europe got the equal number of the votes. Almost 40% of the young people would like to live in the EU.
This way, there is a generation split in Belarus. It is not fortuitous that when we asked who Belarus’ most friendly country is, Russia ranked first. It is necessary to note that there are also other countries that the Belarusians like. Those are Ukraine, Poland and Germany.
As we can see, intricate integration processes are taking place in the former Soviet Union. And there is a danger that as time goes by and new generation grows up, it will become more and more difficult to solve the problems of reintegration in the post-Soviet space.
EU Ready to Engage in Conditional Dialog with Belarus
|Some Euro-Ubber-Fascist from this article. Don't really care what his name is...|
While it is prudent to maintain the political pressure on largely isolated Belarus, officials in Brussels also said they want to make concrete offers for cooperation with the regime in Minsk.
"If there is even the slightest chance that the Belarusian regime is ready to conduct an honest dialog with Europe, then the EU should, in the exclusive interest of democratizing the country and liberating its oppressed populace, seize the opportunity, but set strict conditions from the beginning," said Hans-Gerd Pöttering, the newly chosen president of the European Parliament.
Should such a signal came from Minsk, the country, and its people in particular, would stand to profit from offers made in the context of European foreign policy. A list of possible offers is said to already be contained in shadow action plan with the long-term goal of bringing Belarus closer to the EU using a package of political and socio-economic aid.
Easier travel, stipends and more
Such a package could include easing of travel restrictions, providing assistance for small and medium-sized businesses, cooperating on education and health projects, supporting justice system reforms and giving stipends to Belarusian exchange students in EU-states.
But the EU also sees itself as a community of shared values, and the offers to Minsk do not come free of charge.
Pöttering said the EU's conditions included a commitment to democratic values, the rule of law, freedom of expression and human rights; and clear steps towards democratization, which include the unhindered activities of political opposition, non-governmental organizations and the media.
He also stressed that the Belarusian government would be required to clarify the disappearance of opposition leaders -- cases that have been pending for years, -- release its political prisoners and put an end to arbitrary arrests.
The EU also wants to provide the Belarusian people with access to uncensored information. European parliamentarian Michael Gahler said it's important the EU to give a voice inside Belarus to those who speak out about the country.
"That helps the people to realize that they are not alone, and it also helps them to get organized," he said.
A new flexibility on the part of Belarus is another precondition for any EU offer.
Some experts say the current political climate could well incline the Belarusian government to change its approach.
"We have to acknowledge that we are obviously dealing with a new situation in Belarus, given that the love between the Russian and the Belarusian president is not what it previously seemed to be," said Elmar Brok, a European delegate and member of the EU parliament's foreign policy committee. "The constellation of interests in Belarus may also have changed."
Brok referred to a row in January over gas supplies from Russia. After Moscow hiked its gas prices and imposed an oil export duty on its former Soviet neighbor, Minsk imposed a transit fee on Russian crude oil and Moscow subsequently cut off oil supplies via a major pipeline to western Europe for three days.
This could increase the readiness for compromise in Minsk. If, on the other hand, the Belarusian leadership does not send any signals, then all of the EU’s offers for cooperation will be null and void.
"If there is no change in Minsk, then we cannot conduct a dialog, either," Brok said
Talking Tough to Stay in Power
From: Washington Post
|It reads: The Great Dictator and he is dancing on a valve marked GazProm|
Putin obviously thinks he is riding high. The Russian economy is booming. Incredibly, in the past seven years, Russia's gross domestic product has grown by 500 percent, measured in current dollars (from $200 billion in 1999 to $1 trillion last year). The world is desperate for Russia's oil and gas, and Putin remains astoundingly popular at home. His successor is certain to be handpicked by him. One can only marvel at how adeptly he handles a 3 1/2 -hour televised news conference, with detailed answers, alternating charm and combativeness.
Despite all that, Putin has painted himself into a corner as he faces the end of the two terms in office that the Russian constitution allows him. This is a man who speaks the language of a modern leader trying to rebuild his country, when in fact he and his cronies have really just wanted to enrich themselves. Having spent his time as president undermining democracy, property rights, the free press and the rule of law by taking over Yukos oil (and throwing its owner into a Siberian prison) and then other big companies, now he and his coterie must cling to power somehow -- or risk losing it all if they cannot stage-manage a transition to the proper person.
The tolerance of corruption in the Putin regime is astounding. Recently, for instance, a Swiss court established that Minister of Communications Leonid Reiman, a close personal friend of Putin's, was the owner of telecommunications assets in Russia worth more than a billion dollars. But this has not been reported in major media in Russia, and Reiman remains at his post without having offered any explanation or apology, only an implausible blanket denial.
How can Putin and his cronies give this up?
It seems clear that Putin has these worries in mind when he fulminates on the world stage against the United States. Such words have the effect of increasing his popularity and therefore his grip on the country, which has been suffocated by his near-total control of television stations, newspapers, nominations of candidates, political parties and even public meetings. The evidence of a growing Russian authoritarianism is clear: Russia is one of the few countries that has declined since 2000 from "partly free" to "not free," according to Freedom House's meticulous ratings.
Russia's foreign policy in these seven years has changed accordingly, showing how brazen national political values do affect a country's behavior outside its borders. Recently, for instance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov boasted: "Not one single significant international problem can be resolved without Russia or against Russia." Rather than acting as a problem-solver -- as Putin did in his first term when, for instance, he cooperated with the U.S. effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan -- he is now positioning himself as a spoiler on the world stage when it comes to the United States and its allies.
Nevertheless, Putin has managed to charm some Western leaders -- former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and, most notably, President Bush. Just this month, Bush told the Wall Street Journal: "Vladimir Putin has kept his word on everything he's said to me." Well, then he cannot have said much. Putin reciprocated in his anti-American Munich speech: "I consider the president of the United States my friend. He is a decent person." He could as well have said: "He is a useful fool."
Putin has divided the European Union by pampering its southern members -- France, Greece, Italy and Spain -- while antagonizing Poland and the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have tied themselves closely to the United States. In Moscow, the four latter states are called the "aggressive new minority" in the E.U.
Russia has shown itself to be most aggressive in foreign policy in its own neighborhood of former Soviet republics. It has antagonized these countries so badly with its bullying -- oil cutoffs, transportation blockades, trade shutdowns, immigration crackdowns -- that they are all rushing for the exits and seeking closer cooperation with NATO and the E.U. or working to develop new energy pipelines that skirt Russia. Russia's role in the region is dwindling despite its growing oil- and gas-fueled national wealth. As nationalist intellectual Stanislav Belkovsky, director of the National Strategy Institute in Moscow, recently put it: "In 2006, Russia ceased to be a regional power."
Likewise, even as it declares itself an energy superpower, Russia has tripped itself up. In the past year, it has bombarded its neighbors with rude surprises: oil taxes and higher gas prices; spigots closed to force a political point. No amount of reassurance at this point can erase concerns in Europe about Russia as a reliable energy supplier. In the post-Soviet space, both friends and foes of Russia are repelled, finding Putin's regime too unreliable and abrasive. They all now are trying to reduce their dependence on Russia.
The ultimate question is how the Putin regime will end. For the first time in Russian history, the secret police are fully in charge, right to the top. A tightly knit circle of Putin's friends from his St. Petersburg KGB days rules in the Kremlin. Led by Igor Sechin, Putin's closest colleague, they control virtually all security organs. There is much speculation about whether they can even be overruled by Putin himself. The closest parallel to the Sechin group in the past is the group controlled by Joseph Stalin's secret police chief Lavrentii Beria, though there is one great difference: Unlike Putin, Stalin was not a creature of the security apparatus; he manipulated it for his own needs. There is another big difference: This group is interested only in amassing great wealth, not in controlling the lives of its countrymen. Which is why it is alarmed by the prospect of the 2008 presidential election and why Moscow is awash with rumors that Putin will find a way to stay on.
Given what is at stake, the United States can no longer be a mere bystander in this drama. Six years of soft policy on Russia have done nothing but encourage the Kremlin's anti-Western stand. Bush could learn a lesson from Mikheil Saakashvili, president of Georgia, to carry a big stick when dealing with Putin. When Bush compliments Putin, he evokes only contempt in the Kremlin. President Ronald Reagan knew how important it was to speak the truth loudly and clearly. Vice President Cheney's speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, last May was a welcome departure, which enraged the Kremlin. It's the time for the White House to follow through.
The West persuaded Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev to ratify the Helsinki conventions on human rights and free and fair elections in 1975. The Helsinki conventions played an important role in undermining the Soviet dictatorship. The United States should invoke them again as Russia approaches a new round of parliamentary and presidential elections, in which it now appears that every rule in the book is set to be violated.
Indeed, in Munich Putin saved his rudest abuse for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was founded on the Helsinki conventions and is the international organization for monitoring elections. Like Brezhnev, Putin accused the OSCE of "interfering in the internal affairs of other countries," but the Helsinki conventions made democracy an international concern. Putin and his cronies may not like that, but given the link between Russia's domestic policies and its foreign behavior, it's important for the West to insist.
Tsar Putin’s Russia
From: Gorilla Radio Blog
|In this summary of the latest developments in Russia's political scene, less than a year from national elections (and just more than a year for the election of Putin's successor) Jean-Marie Chauvier details the spectrum of political forces and the domestic, regional, and international issues that swirl through Putin's Russia.|
The upturn is not yet assured: There is more poverty and less equality than in Soviet days. Russia needs investment to overcome its weaknesses: loss of capital and of expertise, obsolete infrastructures, a widening technology gap with other industrialised countries, declining life expectancy and a decreasing birth-rate. Even so, economist Jacques Sapir saw 2006 as a year of strategic reorientation, with a new industrial policy based on a realisation that the economy cannot continue to depend entirely on gas and oil revenues. This means more state intervention, against the advice of international organisations and of Russian neoliberals, who are arguing over the use of a $80bn stabilisation fund.
The United States secretary of defence, Robert Gates, thinks that President Vladimir Putin’s aim is to restore Russia to its former great power status and to revive national pride. According to opinion polls, Putin has 70%-80% of the people behind him, especially the prosperous middle classes and the highest-paid workers. Lilia Ovtcharova of the Independent Institute for Social Policy reports that wages are now 80% of their 1989 level in real terms and that consumption is up by an average 167%. These figures do not reflect social differences. Poverty may be diminishing but it is still endemic and inequalities are greater than ever, especially as market forces have swept away the Soviet safety net. So the net result of 15 years of transition is due for a rigorous review, particularly in the light of the vast, hidden, informal economy and society.
President Putin is not Hugo Chávez or Evo Morales. Despite the declared wishes of the majority, he has not questioned the privatisations of the 1990s, and he has not re-nationalised key sectors with the intention of establishing a social market economy. Only those robber oligarchs with political ambitions have been prosecuted.
Faced with the choice of ultra-liberalism or state control, Putin opted for a compromise that would reassure the new owners and the West: Restore the sovereign powers of the state, bring the oligarchs to heel and let the market economy take its course.
How to power this growth?
What development will power this growth? Leonid Grigoriev, president of the Institute of Energy and Finance, said: “To double GDP without modernising the economy is not much of an achievement. Many people, especially the young and members of the business community, are aware that we now have a half-developed country, with raw materials and huge social inequalities. The past 15 years have been wasted in the field of scientific advances. The well-educated and trained post-war generation is approaching retirement. Investment began again five years ago but it accounts for less than 20% of GDP and represents only 33% of the capital invested in 1990.”
There was a major turning-point at the beginning of Putin’s second term in 2003, when he handed control of the crucial hydrocarbons sector to selected state undertakings. The sector had partly recovered from the oligarchs, who had acquired their holdings at knockdown prices during the privatisations of the Yeltsin era. Putin’s move to protect strategic assets does not preclude opening them to foreign capital; but, given the offensive mounted by the public energy monopolies Gazprom and Transneft, it is intended to block a U.S. policy, instituted in 1991, aimed at diminishing Russian power. This policy was the purpose of NATO enlargement and the establishment of alternative energy supply routes to replace the Russian networks.
Another of Putin’s aims is to recreate a common Euro-Asian economic area, possibly including a European-Russian partnership. This Kremlin strategy, stalled in South Caucasus, has had some success in Ukraine, where 60% of the population are against joining NATO; and, in Kazakhstan, and Belarus, which will have to abandon its outdated regime and open up to Russian capital. Moscow is also developing cooperation with China, India and the Muslim world. Putin has expressed serious concern (in a speech on 8 November at the inauguration of a Russian military intelligence centre) over the international situation, the unilateral actions of the United States, new strategic weapons systems that require “an appropriate response” and foreign support for “acts of terrorism” in Russia.
Much of the media soon came up with an easy explanation for a series of assassinations in autumn 2006: The Kremlin was getting rid of its enemies. When the story turned out to be more complicated, it ceased to be front page news. The Russian press, however, is still unravelling the tangled tale. Observers have noted several strange coincidences. The journalist Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated on 7 October, Putin’s birthday, when he was in Germany on a visit of importance for Euro-Russian relations. Alexander Litvinenko, the former Federal Security Service agent and boon companion of oligarch Boris Berezovsky, was poisoned on 23 November, during the Russo-European summit at Helsinki.
Other murders struck at the centre of power: Andrei Kozlov, killed on 13 September, was vice-president of the Central Bank, and Alexander Plokhin, assassinated in October, was a director of the Foreign Trade Bank. Both were involved in activities at the heart of Putin’s strategy: Kozlov in the fight against organised crime, Plokhin in European aviation. Yegor Gaidar, founding father of the Russian reforms, was taken seriously ill in Dublin on 23 November, an illness which he considers to be part of the same campaign.
Who would gain from a coup?
Anatoly Chubais thinks there is a real possibility of a coup directed against the Kremlin (and its relations with the West) and blames Berezovsky: A suggestion echoed elsewhere. Who stands to gain? Certainly not Putin. Italian expert Giulietto Chiesa thinks the attacks represent a clear attempt to discredit and incriminate Russia. He believes this is in the interests of certain circles in Russia and the European Union, and of some members of the Bush administration.
There has been evidence of diminishing democracy since 1993 (including the use of tanks against parliament) but it has only recently received any critical attention. The West, silent during the wars in Chechnya, suddenly found its voice when the private oil consortium Yukos was taken over in 2003. According to a report that received little press coverage, Yukos had planned a merger with Sibneft and was arranging, in collaboration with Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco, for a massive investment of U.S. capital in the Siberian oilfields on the eve of the Iraq war.
The Yukos takeover was the first step towards renationalisation of energy, to the detriment of certain closely connected Russian and foreign interests. Putin rejected the Chilean-style course recommended by his economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, who resigned in 2005, protesting that Russia had changed and was no longer a free country.
At the anti-Russian Vilnius summit in May 2006, U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney, denounced what has been called an “authoritarian drift” in Russia. The country is now 102 out of 130 in the economic freedom rankings, top of the list in the Transparency International global corruption reports, and 147 out of 168, lower than Sudan or Zimbabwe, in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom rankings. It is true that radio, television and the popular papers have been taken over by the state; but the quality papers remain neoliberal, since until recently they were partly controlled by Berezovsky, who has just left the famous Kommersant group, spearhead of the 1990s market ideology. In the same spirit, the government is keeping both Russian and foreign NGOs under tighter control.
This is “soft authoritarianism,” according to Gaidar, for whom the Putin era falls into two distinct phases: 2000-2002 was a period of reforms, with relatively independent parliament and media, under the influence of powerful and influential business organisations; 2003-2004 saw the introduction of a “decorative and directed” democracy, in which governors and presidents of republics were appointed, not elected.
Garry Kasparov is more outspoken. He considers that Putin has effectively restored the Soviet system and achieved Gorbachev’s dream of an authoritarian state with limited reforms. He sees Putin as Mussolini in Moscow. Lev Ponomarev, leader of the Movement for Human Rights, thinks there may even be a far-right coup.
The anniversary of the 1917 revolution is still celebrated on 7 November, but unofficially. The traditional communist parade was banned in 2006, and demonstrators from Gennady Zhuganov’s Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) had to make their way along the pavement to their authorised meeting-place under heavy police surveillance. There were about 10,000, mostly elderly, who were joined by groups of young radicals from the Young Communists, the Red Youth Vanguard and Eduard Limonov’s National Bolshevik party. According to the polls, the Bolshevik revolution is becoming more popular with the young.
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Shortage of premium cigarettes
From: Belarus News and Facts
This year, the government limited imports to 1.5 billion cigarettes, mostly premium brands that cost over 2,500 rubels a pack. In the last five years, it has created extremely favorable conditions for the domestic tobacco companies at the expense of consumers, who experienced yet another shortage of high quality cigarettes early this year.
"The [import] quota was insufficient as expected, which resulted in a shortage of premium brand cigarettes in January this year," said Volha Klimanovich, manager for corporate relations with British American Tobacco (BAT) Trading Company.
She says BAT expects the demand for premium brands to rise to 2.2-2.3 billion cigarettes this year, noting that the domestic manufacturers will not be able to meet the demand even with new contracts for production of quality cigarettes under licenses. BAT has been allowed to import 650 million cigarettes this year.
Philip Morris, another big international supplier, was not given a quota for the import of cigarettes in Belarus this year, according to Ihar Alkhimovich, manager for corporate matters of Philip Morris Management Services B. V.. Philip Morris is one of the three major suppliers who does not manufacture its brands under contracts and license agreements with Belarusian companies.
Until recently, Philip Morris has supplied the country with Marlboro, Parliament and L&M brands.
The Belarusian Ministry of Trade said a reduction in import quotas was intended to encourage international companies to manufacture cigarettes in Belarus.
The Nyoman cigarette company in Hrodna has recently launched the new brands Minsk Zolotoi, Premier Lux and Magnat Lux that bureaucrats say are of the same quality as L&M, West and some other international medium-priced brands. The government officially blocked the import of Pall Mall, L&M, West and later Marlboro and Parliament.
The measure prompted international companies to shift from imports to production of cigarettes in Belarus. Tabak Invest, an American-Belarusian company, launched production of Monte Carlo, Magna and Winston under license from Japan Tobacco Int. (JTI).
Nyoman has been manufacturing Alliance since 2005 and Viceroy since 2006 under control and direction of BAT. British American Tobacco plans to supply new equipment and launch two more brands this year in cooperation with the Hrodna-based factory.
The domestic companies producing cigarettes under contracts and licenses from international manufacturers satisfy the demand for medium-priced cigarettes, while there is still a shortage of premium brands.
Launching production of a new brand at a local facility requires equipment upgrade and additional training for workers, Klimanovich says. For instance, BAT will supply Nyoman with new equipment within the first six months of the year to ensure better control of quality of cigarettes manufactured under contracts with the company.
She notes that the government's decision to limit cigarette import was unjustified because it takes time to arrange and launch production of premium brands.
However, the Ministry of Trade says it can increase the quota if the domestic companies fail to meet the demand.
Meanwhile, House of Representatives member Vasil Khrol said recently that import restrictions cost the government $30 million a year in lost potential revenues, because cigarettes are smuggled into the country anyway, mainly from Russia. "I smoke cigarettes that someone brings to me from Moscow," he confessed. But Finance Minister Mikalay Korbut, a nonsmoker, replied that Belarus needs to upgrade the local cigarette production facilities.
Klimanovich says budget revenues from legal imports are two- or thee-fold higher than revenues from the same number of cigarettes manufactured in Belarus.
Belarus Minsk combine and move to Russia
The Belarus Federation has given green light for a merge between Belarus top teams Yunost Minsk and Dinamo Minsk. The team will play in the Russian Vyshaya Liga (2nd level) under a new name as of next season.
The merger team will dress its top team in Russia while a farm team, mainly made up of junior players, will play domestic in Belarus. Although premature the new team name and club logo will most likely refer to the national symbol; the bison.
This season already, two foreign teams are active in the Vyshaya Liga. Kazakh teams Kazzinc-Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk and Kazakhmys Saptaev are enjoying relative success being currently ranked third and fifth. In contrary to those two teams, the new team from Minsk has successfully negotiated the right to be eligible for promotion to the Russian Hockey League in case the team wins the playoffs.
The news follows the announcement that the city of Minsk wants to build a brand new 13,000 seat arena which will be an important asset in Belarus' bid for hosting a future World Championships.
Having a team with the countries' best players playing in Europe's strongest league, the Belarus Federation aims to rise its stock in international hockey.
The 'project' is heavily sponsored by the team sponsors, but also by the Belarus government which has a big hockey fan in president Aleksandr Lukashenko. Less amused by the news are the fans in Belarus, who see two top teams leave a Belarus league which has grown considerably in competivity throught recent years. The league managed to attract the top teams of Ukraine and Latvia. Yunost Minsk proved the world their strength by defeating Finnish Ilves Tampere, Hungarian Alba Volan and Russian Avangard Omsk recently during the 2007 IIHF Continental Cup Super Final.
Minsk will return to Russia for the first time in 11 years. Back then, like several other former Soviet-Union states, they competed in the Russian league intil they were shut out from playing in the Russian league in 1996.
Samsonov keen to earn glory
From: Gulf Times
As he gears up for the main draw starting today, Samsonov is well aware that he will once again have to tackle the Chinese bigwigs, especially the defending champion Wang Liqin.
"Yes, in the last few years, they (Chinese) have emerged as a strong force. They have seven players in the top 10 and many more are coming up well strong enough to win world championships," felt the 2005 European champion. "You cannot write off the Koreans. They are always a surprise package," he added.
Samsonov, however, feels that the only way to match up to the Chinese is by playing them on a regular basis.
"Some of them use a different rubber for the blade and some have a vivid style of playing. Since they have more players, the internal competition is also stiff. The only way one can counter them is by playing more and more against them," said the twice World Cup champion.
Samsonov denied that Chinese resurgence has had any adverse affect in the popularity of the sport back home and in Europe.
"Table tennis has always been Belarus' forte. The game is as popular as soccer or athletics. Even tennis has picked up well. And as far as support from the government goes, it's appreciable enough," asserts Samsonov, who spends most of his time in Belgium playing for Royal Villette Charleroi club.
The 30-year-old feels age is not a barrier when it comes to playing table tennis and one can go on as long as one feels fit.
"Take the example of Jan-Ove Waldner of Sweden who is 42 now. Ten years ago, he was in the top 10. In the 2004 Athens Olympics he finished fourth and at the 2000 Sydney Games he finished with a silver. So if you keep your body fit, you can go on at the highest level," informed Samsonov
Though there have been many memorable victories, Samsonov has never been able to claim the prestigious World Championship and a medal at the Olympics.
"There are lots of victories that you cherish forever. But new goals is what keeps you going. I have not won the World Championship and at the Olympics. So that's one thing on my agenda,"