Trips to Oman and India, BY discussed in EU, Russia: Sugar, pipelines, beating down opposition, Milinkevich, Carbon nanotubes, Opinion and Censorship
Belarus intends to intensify cooperation with India and Oman, president says
|Alexander Lukashenko meets with the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said|
The visit of the president to Oman, which had the status of a state visit, became the first in the 15-year long history of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Today Oman is one of the leading and most authoritative countries of the region. Belarus is interested in the development of contacts with this state as Belarus desires to have a closer dialogue with the Persian Gulf countries.
Since the Sultanate has been pursuing more open policy towards its foreign economic partners lately, the market of Oman, as yet developed poorly, may be very promising for Belarus.
Besides, Oman possesses significant investment resources which Belarus is ready to utilise to pursue mutually beneficial projects. The bilateral cooperation in the sphere of education is promising.
Belarus and Oman have been fruitfully cooperating within the framework of the UN and other international organisations. The bulk of Omani exports consists of oil and oil products and liquefied gas. The supplies of hydro-carbon resources bring the country 75% of its export revenues.
The explored oil reserves in the Sultanate are relatively small (40-45 million tons of oil produced annually, which, experts say, will be exhausted in approximately 20 years), but the leadership of Oman gives preference to the gas industry: given the present-day efficiency of natural gas development, this resource will be exhausted in roughly 60 years. Obviously, the money Oman will earn on selling its hydro-carbon resources will be invested in lucrative investment projects abroad, like the neighbouring United Arab Emirates is doing.
On April 14, on his arrival to Muscat, Alexander Lukashenko had a brief meeting with sultan of Oman Qaboos Bin Said who holds all major posts in the country, namely that of prime minister, supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces, head of the Central Bank, foreign ministry, defence ministry and finance ministry.
It is noteworthy, that Oman accepts no more than two foreign delegations of such a level every year.
The president of Belarus and sultan Qaboos Bin Said mapped out the specific avenues they intend to move along to intensify the bilateral cooperation and exchanged opinions on urgent international issues.
The talks ran short of 30 minutes. On the night of April 14, an official dinner was given on behalf of the sultan of Oman in honour of the president of the Republic of Belarus, which, besides from the Omani and Belarusian officials, was attended by nearly all members of the diplomatic corps accredited in the country.
On April 15, the Belarusian leader had talks with the deputy primer of Oman, Sayyid Fahad bin Mahmood Al-Said. ‘I thank you for the invitation to visit the Sultanate to study opportunities for cooperation with Oman. And they are quite good,’ the president said.
Alexander Lukashenko has praised the scale and level of development of Oman which had gained impressive results in three and a half decades of its development.
Sayyid Fahad bin Mahmood Al-Said expressed hope, the visit of the president of Belarus to Oman would bring positive results.
On the same day, the president of Belarus held another round of talks with sultan of Oman Qaboos Bin Said in both extended and one-to-one formants.
Belarus and Oman have common interests in some spheres of cooperation, the president of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, said.
‘We are doing our utmost to worthily represent Belarus in Oman,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.
The trade and economic relations between Belarus and Oman should have solid legal framework, he said. ‘This is an important task which is being addressed now,’ the Belarusian leader added.
An exchange of visits by delegations of the two countries will help improve the bilateral trade and economic ties, the head of Belarus noted.
The sultan of Oman, on his part, has expressed interest in the development of cooperation with Belarus.
Within the framework of the visit, representatives of Belarusian ministries, agencies and companies, who accompanied the president, held bilateral negotiations with Omani colleagues.
The Belarus’ taxes and duties minister, Anna Deiko, signed an agreement on avoidance of double taxation and prevention of tax evasion with regard to profit and capital taxes.
The Belarusian chamber of commerce and industry and the chamber of commerce and industry of the Sultanate of Oman have signed an agreement on cooperation. Vladimir Bobrov, the head of the Belarusian chamber of commerce and industry, signed the agreement representing the Belarusian party.
The Minsk mayor, Mikhail Pavlov, also held fruitful negotiations in Muscat with his Omani colleague. The Minsk administration is interested in signing an agreement on establishing ties between Minsk and Muscat, he said.
Minsk and Muscat have good prospects for the development of interaction in various spheres, above all in the sphere of economy, education and tourism.
Mikhail Pavlov invited his Omani counterpart to visit Minsk in time most convenient for him and the Omani colleague expressed interest in getting acquainted with the tourist potential of Belarus.
After Oman, Alexander Lukashenko went to India. Answering questions of reporters in New Delhi, the president of Belarus said India was not only a priority partner, but also a pride of the foreign policy of Belarus. Now ‘the time of India is coming’, he said. ‘Such a colossal state with such human resources, enormous economic potential cannot fail to be essential in the world. No issue in the world can be solved today without the participation of India,’ the Belarusian leader said.
‘The peculiarity of our relations with India is that they are based on scientific-technical cooperation. It is science, rather than trade, that is in the vanguard here,’ Alexander Lukashenko emphasized.
In the capital of India, Alexander Lukashenko held talks with president of the country Abdula Kalam; prime minister Manmohan Singh; vice-premier, chairman of the Council of States (the upper chamber of the Indian parliament) Bhairon Singh Shekhawat; foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee.
During the talks the sides discussed urgent issues of the bilateral relations. The leaderships of Belarus and India reaffirmed their commitment to intensifying trade and economic cooperation and enhancing the efficiency of sci-tech interaction. The president of India promised to give support to joint Belarusian-Indian projects.
The sides also touched upon urgent international issues. Alexander Lukashenko thanked the Indian side for its support in international organisations. On its part, Belarus will give analogous support to India in all spheres, the president of Belarus said.
India, along with China and Russia, is one of the important foreign political partners of Belarus, the president said. ‘We have an opportunity to rely on the potential of these states for ensuring our independence and sovereignty,’ he added.
The two presidents signed a joint declaration mapping out the avenues of further expansion of the Belarusian-Indian interaction.
The sides reaffirmed their commitment to the development of strategic partnership, the importance of new initiatives in the spheres of trade, economy, science, technology, investments, including the setting up of joint enterprises and industrial application of the products of scientific research.
The document also marks the completion of Belarusian-Indian negotiation on the Belarus’ accession to the World Trade Organisation.
On the night of April 16, an official dinner was organised on behalf on the president of India, Abdul Kalam, in honour of the president of Belarus.
In the course of the dinner Alexander Lukashenko said Belarus and India had bright cooperation prospects. The results of the Belarusian-Indian talks confirmed the high level of friendship, mutual understanding and trust between the two countries, he said.
The Belarusian side, the president said, attaches special importance to the strengthening of stable and mutually beneficial relations with India which is one of the priority trade and economic partners of Belarus in Asia.
Belarus and India have similar positions on the majority of issues of multilateral cooperation, Alexander Lukashenko said.
The president of Belarus endorsed the idea of the India’s president to push the bilateral trade to $0.5 billion by 2010.
Abdul Kalam emphasized that the visit of the head of Belarus to India coincided with the 15th anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations between the countries, which is marked on April 17.
‘India sees Belarus as a close friend. We recall with satisfaction the results of your previous visit to India in 1997 which gave a significant boost to the bilateral relations in various spheres. Undoubtedly the present visit on the highest level will contribute to the strengthening of various contacts between the two countries’, the president of India said addressing Alexander Lukashenko.
According to Mr. Abdul Kalam, there is a need to tap deeper into the potential of the two countries to intensify the trade-economic cooperation.
Alongside with the top-level talks, New Delhi also saw a business forum featuring representatives of Belarusian and Indian business circles.
Within the framework of the visit, the following five documents were signed: a treaty between Belarus and India on extradition, an agreement between the ministry of agriculture and foodstuffs of Belarus and agriculture ministry of India, a programme of cooperation between the government of Belarus and government of India in the spheres of culture, arts, education, mass media and press for 2007-2009, a protocol between Belarus and India on the accession of Belarus to the World Trade Organisation and the executive programme of the Belarusian-Indian cooperation in the sphere of science and technology for 2007-2010.
On April 17, the president of Belarus returned to Minsk.
CoE for efficient dialog with Belarus authorities on democratization
From: Itar Tass
It is more likely a question of Belarussian self-isolation, he said at a news conference on the sidelines of PACE session that discusses the Belarus democratization strategy.
Representatives of the Belarussian opposition – Alexander Milinkevich and Anatoly Lebedko – are attending the discussion.
In the opinion of Herkel, it is necessary to create conditions for efficient dialog to this effect with the Belarussian leadership.
Milinkevich expressed hope that the Council of Europe will help to promote European values and experience of democratic reforms in Belarus.
Lebedko, in turn, voiced an opinion that the Council of Europe pays insufficient attention to the problem of Belarus. He proposed to hold a conference and a roundtable discussion on the Belarus issue in Strasbourg.
“We think it wise to invite Belarussian representatives of different views to such discussions,” Chairman of the State Duma Committee on International Affairs Konstantin Kosachyov told Itar-Tass, adding, “Our opinion was neglected.”
“As for me, this fact will not make the discussion multifaceted,” he said. “It would be a mistake for such a respected organization, as the Council of Europe, to stake on opposition only,” the official said.
“We should learn to cooperate with the acting authorities, even if we do not agree with them in some spheres,” Kosachev said.
Belarus backs India in NSG
India and Belarus, a former Soviet republic, strengthened their strategic and political ties by signing an extradition treaty. Belarus also reiterated its support for India's claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.
Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko conveyed his country's willingness to back India in the NSG when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday evening.
'Belarus will continue to work with the participating governments of the NSG in order to create conditions for the expansion of the framework for cooperation with India in the field of peaceful uses of atomic energy,' said a joint statement said at the end of Lukashenko's talks with Indian leaders.
Lukashenko arrived in India for a three-day visit Sunday evening.
Belarus' support for India in the area of civilian nuclear energy cooperation is significant in its own way as this former Soviet republic is known to be a strong advocate of stringent non-nuclear proliferation norms and practices.
Belarus has special sensitivity on the nuclear issue as it was one of the countries affected by nuclear radiation from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident from the neighbouring Ukraine.
'The two sides expressed their intention to broaden and strengthen cooperation in the field of peaceful uses of atomic energy,' the statement said.
India and Belarus also invigorated their ties across political, economic and cultural areas by signing three other pacts for cooperation in the field of agriculture, culture and arts, science and technology.
The two countries signed a protocol on the accession of Belarus to the World Trade Organization.
Rules Changed on Belarusian Sugar Imports
Sugar produced in Belarus from sugar beets can be imported into Russia duty-free, but sugar produced in Belarus from imported raw materials is subject to a duty of $340 per ton.
The Russia sugar market amounts to 5-5.5 million tons ($3.5 billion) per year. In 2006, 650,000 tons of refined sugar were imported, 80 percent of it from Belarus (7.8 percent of the total market). Sugar imports from Belarus grew by 34 percent, to 431,000 tons, between 2002 and 2005. Last year, Belarusian sugar was on average 10 percent cheaper than Russian sugar.
Russian sugar industry analysts say that there is little real control over sugar imports from Belarus. The average price of refined sugar rose by 1.50 ruble to 15.70 rubles per kilogram in March.
Russia's economics ministry opts for pipeline bypassing Belarus
From: Ri Novosti
The industry ministry has already submitted a draft proposal to build the second leg of the Baltic Pipeline System to the government and is currently conducting active operations with pipeline monopoly Transneft [RTS: TRNF] on the project.
"The second leg of the Baltic Pipeline System is our priority now, and the Kharyaga-Indiga [pipeline] comes next," Andrei Dementyev said at the Pipeline Transport 2007 conference underway in Moscow.
Earlier reports said the industry ministry planned to assess whether it would be viable to build the Kharyaga-Indiga oil pipeline, which was originally seen as part of a larger pipeline to link oil-rich parts of West Siberia to Murmansk, a permanently ice-free port on the Barents Sea, for trans-shipment to Europe and the United States, before late this year.
Asked whether the new pipeline, which is due to carry 80 million metric tons (588 million bbl) of oil annually from Unecha in the Bryansk Region on the border with Belarus to Primorsk in the Leningrad Region, would reduce oil transit through the Druzhba pipeline, Transneft CEO Semyon Vainshtok said the aim was to diversify oil export routes, also by increasing Baltic sea shipments on larger tankers.
However, Vainshtok refused to disclose project costs and timelines for a feasibility study.
"I don't know how much it will cost," the businessman said, referring to the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean oil pipeline, whose cost had increased 40% in 4.5 months.
Vainshtok also said that the project feasibility study would be prepared as soon as the government had issued instructions on launching the second leg of the Baltic pipeline.
The Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline extends for almost 2,000 kilometers (1,300 miles) across Belarusian territory and pumps on average up to 80 million tons of Russian oil per year to Germany, Poland and Ukraine.
On January 1 Belarus introduced transit duties on Russian oil at $45 per metric ton, which suspended Russian oil transit to Europe through the Druzhba pipeline.
Milinkevich suggests opening "European information centers on human rights, democracy" at Belarusian universities
The former presidential candidate discussed the matter at his Monday meetings with Terry Davis, secretary general of the Council of Europe, and Rene van der Linden, president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), in Strasbourg, according to the politician's press office.
"Belarusian youths should have the opportunity to get first-hand knowledge about Europe and Europeans, human rights and democracy," Mr. Milinkevich was quoted as saying.
Named "Democracy, education and Europe in Belarus," the proposed project would envisage the establishment of such centers at all schools of higher learning in Belarus. Their operation would be coordinated by representatives of the Council of Europe or the European Union.
Mr. Milinkevich and a few other Belarusian opposition politicians attended a meeting of PACE's Subcommittee on Belarus on Tuesday.
|Dr. Alexandr M. Radkov, Minister of Education in the Republic of Belarus|
There is no need so far to establish "European information centers on human rights and democracy" at Belarusian schools of higher learning, Education Minister Alyaksandr Radzkow told reporters in Minsk on Wednesday.
The official was commenting on recent remarks by opposition politician Alyaksandr Milinkevich who suggested opening such centers at Belarusian universities.
"Belarusian youths should have the opportunity to get first-hand knowledge about Europe and Europeans, human rights and democracy," the former presidential candidate said in Strasbourg earlier this week.
Named "Democracy, education and Europe in Belarus," the proposed project would envisage the establishment of such centers at all schools of higher learning in Belarus. Their operation would be coordinated by representatives of the Council of Europe or the European Union, according to Mr. Milinkevich.
"We have a special course - even at school we study this subject in the framework of the "Man. Society. State" course," Mr. Radzkow said. "We believe that this is enough at the current stage."
The education minister said that the government could revisit the matter "if such a need arises."
Mr. Radzkow warned against "artificial" changes in the educational system, emphasizing the importance of "national educational traditions, the country's demand for certain professionals."
"We follow the changes that take place in the sphere of European education and see how difficult they are to introduce," Mr. Radzkow said.
Belarussion and Indian Scientists Devise New Carbon Nanotube Production Technology
Scientists of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in partnership with Indian counterparts have developed a new production technology of carbon nanotubes, BelTA learnt in the state committee for science and technology of Belarus.
According to experts, carbon nanotubes significantly improve properties of polymer compounds. Due to the new technology production of carbon nanotubes became cheaper.
Scientists of the two countries have produced a trial carbon nanotubes plant with the production capacity of 10 gram an hour.
Another joint research project deals with production of heat-conducting substrate based on aluminium nitride imported to Belarus from India, the state committee for science and technology reported. The new technology cuts prime cost of heat-conducting substrates by 10%-12%. It is also noteworthy that the new technology is eco-friendly and leaves no hazardous waste.
The state committee for science and technology also reported that in the period from 2005 to 2007 Belarus and India were conducting seven joint research projects on creation of new technologies, materials and equipment. The bilateral sci-tech cooperation will be continued.
Mikhail Sventintskiy: investments in light industry of Belarus to exceed $30 million in 2007
In his words, exhibitions and fairs are the main tool of forming the consumer demand in the Belarusian market. The demand for Belarusian goods is growing both in the domestic and foreign markets, he said. Nonetheless, it is necessary to boost promotion of the domestic goods in foreign markets, Mikhail Sventintskiy believes.
The exhibition “BelTEKSlegprom.Spring” is held every year to demonstrate achievements of the light industry. This year 175 companies from seven countries take part in the fair. The exhibition gives an excellent opportunity to sign contracts and find new customers.
The fair covers all the branches of the light industry, namely, clothes, headwear, hosiery, textile, curtains and accessories. Visitors of the exhibition will see new models of fur and leather garments, fabrics, new packaging solutions.
During the exhibition a wholesale sale of goods, business meetings, specialized seminars and round-table discussions will be held. On April 19, a demonstration of business style clothing for students is scheduled.
The fair is organized by the Bellegprom concern, trade ministry of Belarus, Belexpo, Roslegprom.
Chernobyl Birds' Defects Link Radiation, Not Stress, to Human Ailments
From: National Geographic
Healthy-looking deer, boar, lynx, and eagle owls were among the animals found throughout the zone, despite the blast that had showered radioactive material over huge swaths of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia.
But a new study shows that barn swallows living near Chernobyl, which is in the Ukraine, suffer from many more birth defects and abnormalities than would ordinarily be expected.
In addition, the swallows are not living as long and are not breeding as successfully as their distant counterparts.
By studying birds rather than humans, the researchers have been able to separate the physiological effects of the radiation from sociological and psychological ones.
"Birds don't drink, birds don't smoke, and they don't suffer the same kind of stresses as humans" that can cause diseases such as cancers, said study co-author Tim Mousseau, a biology professor at the University of South Carolina and a National Geographic Society Committee for Research and Exploration grantee.
The findings therefore suggest that people living near the affected zone could still be at risk even though radiation levels have declined.
Anders Møller, from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, led the team that has been monitoring the barn swallows since 1991 for signs of abnormalities such as deformed beaks, toes, and feathers and unusual coloring.
More than 7,700 birds have been examined, some from Chernobyl and others from control areas including Spain, Italy, and Denmark—far away from the explosion site.
The team's results, published online today in the journal Biology Letters, show that abnormalities are much higher in birds from the Chernobyl population.
For example, more than 13 percent of the Chernobyl birds had partial albinism—tufts of white feathers—compared to levels of around 4 percent in the control birds.
"Abnormal features [like albinism] are extremely rare in nature," Møller said.
Recapturing the same birds year after year showed that birds with abnormalities were four times less likely to survive and that breeding success was reduced by over 50 percent.
The findings support the team's theory that even the low levels of radiation around Chernobyl are enough to cause the higher than average rates of abnormalities and birth defects reported in humans living in the region.
"Based on the bird data, we think there is likely to be a plethora of human ailments associated with the Chernobyl radiation," said Mousseau, who is also carrying out a health study on children living in the Chernobyl region.
Radiation vs. Stress
The team's theory directly contradicts a 2005 report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, which is led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The forum had concluded that social stress and the collapse of agriculture after communism was overthrown in 1990 were the most significant causes of poor health in the region.
"We found that there was a lot of anxiety amongst the population," said Burton Bennett, a retired radiation specialist who chaired the Chernobyl Forum.
"In general the doses of radiation that people were exposed to were low—comparable to background levels over the course of ten years or so."
Bennett is unconvinced by Møller and colleague's findings.
"It takes very high levels of radiation to cause abnormalities, and I really doubt that this study can be substantiated," he said.
According to the Chernobyl Forum report, about 6.6 million people were exposed to high doses of radiation and 56 people were directly killed by the disaster.
The report estimated that as many as 5,000 people may die from some form of cancer related to the radiation.
Møller and colleagues think that the health impact could be much worse.
Keith Baverstock, an environmental scientist at the University of Kuopio in Finland and co-author of a 2001 United Nations report on human health around Chernobyl, agrees that the results of the bird study are worrying.
"It confirms that even relatively low levels of exposure to radioactive fallout can result in genetic effects," he said.
If Møller and colleagues are right, then millions of people living in Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia are still at risk.
"With proposals to increase the use of nuclear energy," Baverstock said, "this is a matter that needs urgent attention."
Ukraine's opposition calls non-stop rally for polls
Embattled pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, long at odds with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich over Ukraine's future direction, has dissolved the assembly and ordered a snap election for May 27.
Yanukovich and his allies, who are closer to Moscow, reject the president's decree and have asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether Yushchenko acted lawfully.
Both leaders, rivals since the "orange" protests swept Yushchenko to power, have pledged to abide by any decision by the Court and suggest they may compromise on an election date.
But the opposition, led by fiery former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, again accused the Court of political bias.
Tymoshenko, who lobbied hardest for a new election, called on supporters to pour into the streets on Friday and demand an election without a court ruling.
"Today we decided to ask all citizens, all patriots who believe that criminals, mafia or clans should not rule today's Ukraine... to gather by 6 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Friday and hold our maidan," Tymoshenko told a news conference. She was referring to Independence Square, focal point of the 2004 upheavals.
"It must be held until the start of legitimate, free and honest elections ... which will put an end to any notion of using cash to buy Ukrainian politics."
Tymoshenko roused crowds alongside Yushchenko in 2004 and was first prime minister for eight months before being sacked. She long pressed him for a new election, but has been more radical in rejecting a role for the Constitutional Court.
SCUFFLES OUTSIDE THE COURT
Earlier on Wednesday, riot police pushed aside protesters outside the Constitutional Court, letting judges inside to press on for a second day with an assessment of Yushchenko's decree.
The sitting got under way after about an hour's delay, with 16 of the 18 judges present.
"Today they (the court) have nothing to do with justice. They are involved in a farce called 'the seizure of power by Yanukovich's clan'," Tymoshenko said.
The president dissolved the assembly after accusing Yanukovich, named prime minister after parliamentary elections barely a year ago, of illegally enticing his supporters to join the coalition backing the government.
The president and prime minister took their arguments to Western Europe on Tuesday, Yushchenko visiting European Union's headquarters in Brussels and Yanukovich addressing the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
Both men vowed to solve the crisis by democratic means. European institutions say they will take no sides.
European Union heavyweight France appealed to Yushchenko and Yanukovich loyalists on Wednesday "to show restraint and let the democratic institutions do their work safely".
French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei called for dialogue "to find a rapid solution to this crisis, in the interest of the stability and democracy in Ukraine".
Yanukovich told a government meeting he still saw a chance of a compromise solution. But he also asked the prosecutor general to look into attempts to block the Constitutional Court.
Russian Police Release Kasparov, Beat Protesters in Petersburg
Kasparov, who leads a group of opposition groups called "The Other Russia," was arrested the day before during a Moscow march which attracted some 3,000 protesters and much more police. Nearly 200 people were arrested in Saturday's Moscow incidents.
Kasparov was reportedly held in a police station for five hours and then taken to a court which fined him for "shouting anti-government slogans," his lawyer, Karinna Moskalenko said.
"The police today [in St. Petersburg] acted tougher than yesterday in Moscow," his spokeswoman Natalya Morar said to Bloomberg. "People were blocked off by the police from all sides and broken up. They could not go anywhere, they were beaten up by the riot police."
She was refering to incidents later today, Sunday, when about 120 people have been detained at the end of an opposition rally in Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg. A spokesman for the city's interior department said to RIA Novosti: "About 150 persons participated in the clashes and about 120 of them were detained."
Olga Kurnosova, the head of Kasparov's organization in St. Petersburg, said she was detained before she could even get to the demonstration. Kasparov was also to attend but missed his train because of the arrest. The police also arrested Eduard Limonov, the head of the National Bolshevik Party, his spokesman Alexander Averin said to Bloomberg. Limonov was arrested at a flat in St. Petersburg along with eight other party members at about 3 p.m. local time and taken to a police station, Averin said.
"Several participants in the rally have been arrested for chanting anti-constitutional and anti-government slogans and using foul language," a police spokesman told Interfax. "Leaflets and pamphlets urging readers to organize an unauthorized march were seized from several other demonstrators. They were detained and taken to a police station."
In total, it is believed the rally was attended by about the same number of people as that in Moscow a day earlier, about 3,000.
"This is our city and this is our rally," said Sergei Gulyayev, one of the organizers of the St. Petersburg march, to the WP. "We do not support Boris Berezovsky's methods. We reject allegations that our rally has been sponsored by him." Gulyayev was later arrested. Berezovsky is a Russian billionaire in the U.K. who recently said was plotting a revolution to topple Putin.
However, president Putin still enjoys overwhelming support in Russia, despite these marches. Polls show that the majority of Russians support the country's leader for stability and economic growth Russia has enjoyed under his rule.
The US-based Human Rights Watch condemned the police action as "the latest example of growing government hostility toward peaceful dissent in Russia," AFP reports.
"The last two days showed that the Putin regime doesn't pay attention anymore to legalities and relies on brute force," Kasparov told CNN television. "My prediction is that by the end of this year, Russia will sink into political turmoil."
Russian journalists charge censorship
Almost all major broadcast media in Russia have come under Kremlin control since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, and analysts predict that will tighten even more before the presidential election next year.
Managers at the Russian News Service, which provides news to Russia's most listened-to radio station and its sister stations, denied they were imposing censorship. But staff members said their new bosses had blocked live reports from anti-Kremlin protests over the weekend and blacklisted the chess champion and opposition activist Garry Kasparov from being mentioned.
New managers at the service were also urging journalists to give more airtime to representatives of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, staff said.
"It was clearly stated to us at a staff meeting that Garry Kasparov" and others like him "are has-beens and they are not of interest to our listeners, therefore we do not talk about them," said a journalist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Entries posted by other staff members on an Internet blog, mediapartizan.livejournal.com, echoed the journalist's account about the new policy.
Two of the new managers, including the general director, came from Channel One, a state-owned television company that has a reputation for slavishly loyal coverage of Putin.
The new general director, Alexander Shkolnik, dismissed talk of a black list of opposition politicians as "stupidity." He said the only criteria were that coverage "should be current, interesting and not of an extremist character.
"The whole political spectrum will be represented." Asked about Kasparov, he said: "If he does not voice extremist slogans, then we will let him on air."
Russian News Service has always been cautious in its coverage of the Kremlin. But the former general director, Mikhail Baklanov, who submitted his resignation a week ago, said news coverage was now clearly skewed in favor of United Russia. "We did not have that before," he said. "It certainly was not the station of one party alone."
Putin has denied any restrictions on the media, but campaigners say freedom of speech has been steadily eroded during his seven years as president.
Private television station NTV, in the past renowned for its probing reporting, has become more deferential since it was sold to the state gas monopoly, Gazprom. And the Gazprom-owned Izvestia paper fired its editor in 2004 over unvarnished coverage of the Beslan school siege in which more than 330 people died, most of them children.
Transneft, Transnefteproduct Ordered to Consolidate
|The head of Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft, Semyon Vainshtok, speaks during a news conference in Moscow.|
Vladimir Putin sealed the Transneft decree Monday, April 16, 2007. The president gave five months to the government to ensure contributing 100 percent in Transnefteproduct to the stock capital of Transneft in settlement for a new issue of common stocks.
For this purpose, Transnefteproduct was crossed out of the list of strategic enterprises. At the same time, the government’s stake in Transneft should be maintained at no less than 75 percent plus a stock.
The concept of creating a united pipeline company based on the assets of Transneft and Transnefteproduct dates to 2005. Since then, its expediency has been doubted from time to time and implementation shelved for a while.
Top management of Transneft has never hailed the idea and Sergey Grigoriev, who is vice president of the company, used to call it another headache.
“Transneft will execute the decree,” Grigoriev assured yesterday, “but we haven’t been officially notified about it.”
Transneft is a monopoly owner and operator of Russia’s oil pipelines, delivering 93 percent of the crude produced in the country. The company owns 48,700 kilometers of trunk pipelines, 418 oil pumping stations and 870 storage facilities for 14 million cu meters.
Transnefteproduct is a monopoly for pipeline supplies of petroleum. The overall length of its main pipelines equals 19,300 kilometers.
U.S. Missile Deals Bypass, and Annoy, European Union
The main party in Poland’s governing coalition is inclined to accept the deal, and the country’s president, Lech Kaczynski, known in Europe for his fierce conservatism and nationalist talk, has been invited to the White House in July to talk things over with President Bush.
The Czech Republic’s fragile government coalition, meanwhile, has agreed to negotiate placement of high-powered American tracking radar on its soil despite widespread local opposition. The radar, now in the Marshall Islands, would help guide the antimissile missiles from Poland to hit and destroy their fast-moving targets in outer space.
The European missile shield would be part of an integrated system that is already taking shape in California and Alaska, where the United States expects to deploy 30 long-range interceptors to guard against missile attack by the end of 2008.
Washington says the Eastern European system could act in time to protect most of Europe and all of the United States and even much of Russia from a nuclear attack by Iran, that is, if Iran ever developed or obtained nuclear weapons and rockets with a range long enough to reach those targets, as well as a desire to fire them. They don’t have those armaments now, but they might by 2015, the Bush administration says.
Not everyone agrees that a threat is imminent, but Washington isn’t asking anyone to help pay for the system.
Why, then, are so many people unhappy?
It is not the cost. The United States has already spent tens of billions of dollars on the missile shield. A few more billion won’t draw that much attention from Congress or taxpayers.
Nor is it Russia’s complaining that the antimissile missiles will chip away at its nuclear position. The 10 interceptor missiles that Washington is proposing to put in Poland could hardly stop Russia’s hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles in the event of all-out war.
The American antimissile missiles will be placed too close to Russia to be of use against ICBMs fired from anywhere west of the Ural Mountains. If they work, though, the antimissile missiles in Alaska and California could stop a Russian ICBM fired in America’s direction from east of the Urals. The fact is that in tests the antimissile missiles don’t work much of the time, and when they do it is under controlled circumstances that are far from typical in an actual attack.
No, what is going on in Europe has less to do with missiles than with diplomacy and European queasiness about American power and influence on the Continent.
The European Union is upset because Washington is negotiating bilaterally with Poland and the Czech Republic about something that affects Europe as a whole. The union has been trying for years to patch together a coherent European security and defense policy independent of NATO, and it doesn’t help when member states start cutting deals with Washington on their own.
Many Europeans are also offended that the talks are not being routed through NATO, which has been struggling to stay relevant ever since the cold war.
“The offer created a situation where it isn’t clear what the role of NATO is in providing collective security,” says Ondrej Liska, a leader of the Czech Green Party, which is a member of the Czech Republic’s governing coalition.
NATO will discuss the subject on Thursday.
But the Bush administration knows that reaching a consensus on such a delicate subject within the recently expanded NATO, now with 26 member nations, would take longer than it could afford. It is rushing to get the program far enough along that the next administration would be reluctant to kill it.
Russia, meanwhile, is upset because the little missile base in Poland and its companion radar base in the Czech Republic would give the American military its largest and most permanent footprint yet in the former territory of the Warsaw Pact.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, complained in an article in the Financial Times this month that it was “unacceptable” for the United States to use the European Continent as “their own strategic territory.”
Russia’s lower house of Parliament issued a unanimous statement that said talk of the antimissile shield was “already bringing about a new split in Europe and unleashing another arms race.”
Is another cold war looming? Not yet. But Poland is buying American F-16s and Russia is moving surface-to-air missiles into Belarus near Poland’s border, and tensions are deepening.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, as Soviet troops withdrew from Eastern Europe and America began to talk about closing bases in Germany, Europe looked as if it might become the big, peaceful, postmodern federation that European Union architects had long dreamed of: a humanist club where conflicts at home and abroad would be resolved by talking everything to death instead of killing.
Then the Balkans blew up and the United States military stepped in to stop a war that Europe seemed incapable of facing. That frustrated Russia, which supported Serbia in the war, but Russia could not offer much help because it was still impotent and staggering from the collapse of its Soviet empire.
Now Russia is rich with oil and gas and its military spending is soaring. The rest of Europe — for Moscow increasingly defines itself as European — is wary of stirring up old animosities.
“We should be very careful about encouraging the creation of new dividing lines in Europe or the return of an old order,” President Jacques Chirac of France said last month when asked about the American antimissile missile plans.
The former Soviet president Mikhail S. Gorbachev put it more succinctly when he told the official Russian news agency, Ria Novosti, last week that “It is all about influence and domination in Europe.”
EurAsEc prime ministers meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana
From: Itar Tass
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov leads the Russian delegation.
Karim Masimov of Kazakhstan and Almzabek Atambayev of Kyrgyzstan attend the Interstate Councils’ meeting for the first time in the capacity of prime ministers.
Prime Minister Akil Akilov represents Tajikistan.
Not all member states are represented by prime ministers.
Deputy prime ministers Andrei Kobyakov and Rustam Azimov lead delegations of Belarus and Uzbekistan.
The heads of governmental delegations met over an agenda of 15 issues.
“We need to solve a number of matters aimed at development of the integration processes in the EurAsEC,” Fradkov said in opening remarks.
Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov expressed sympathy with his Kyrgyz counterpart Almazabek Atambayev about the political crisis in his country.
“But since you have come here, the situation appears to be normalizing,” he said.
A source in the Russian delegation said that a major matter to be discussed at the Interstate Council’s meeting would be the preparation of documents required for forming a law base of the EurAsEC customs union.
“Twenty-four documents have been already prepared and over half have been agreed upon,” he said.
Other issues on the agenda are approval of a coordinated social policy of EurAsEC states, the overcoming of poverty and labor migration issues.
The prime ministers are to pass a decision on EurAsEC budget policy for 2008.
The Interstate Council will review on Wednesday macroeconomic development of the member states in 2006
A Nervous Wreck
From: Moscow Times
First, the authorities forewarned opposition organizers that they would be held responsible for anti-governmental activities. On Friday evening, National Bolshevik leader Eduard Limonov was having dessert at a Moscow restaurant when he was presented with a warning from the Prosecutor General's Office stating that he would be held accountable for any acts of "extremism." The threat might have worked: The next day he showed up late for the demonstration. Authorities detained him anyway during the Dissenters' March in St. Petersburg. Other opposition group leaders, including former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, received similar warnings.
Second, the authorities tried to limit the profile of the protests, both in their form and where they could be held. Protesters were forbidden from gathering in the city center, being offered distant Tushino airfield as an alternative, and were prohibited from holding a march.
Third, law enforcement agencies dealt severely with all infractions. Moscow court officials were brought in to work on Saturday to render any necessary decisions regarding protesters who were detained. Riot police from other regions were brought in to bolster the Moscow force, and they were liberal in their use of force against the protesters, beating them with truncheons. The police didn't use tear gas or water cannons, although both were on hand.
It all seemed pretty excessive given the marginal nature of the threat the protesters represented to the powers that be. Dissenters' March leaders are relatively unpopular with the general population, the various groups are not well coordinated and they have no distinct platforms other than their opposition to President Vladimir Putin. Nevertheless, they seem very nervous in the face of even this ineffectual form of opposition.
The government reacted just as nervously to a U.S. State Department's annual report earlier this month on the worldwide state of human rights. It was a standard report, one of many such statements issued since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The report contained no new or particularly pointed criticism, at least not in comparison with what had already been said in other U.S. statements. The document was, nonetheless, the object of angry debate and condemnation in the State Duma and Federation Council, where far too much time and energy were spent on the subject.
Why is all of this happening?
The reason is that Russia's political elite is growing increasingly nervous in the run-up to the December parliamentary elections and the March 2008 presidential election. Politicians face uncertain futures because they don't know whether Putin will choose to remain for a third term. If Putin decides to go, they are worried over whom he might chose as his successor. As a result, just about everyone in power seems to have been seized by conspiracy mania.
High-ranking officials openly accuse Russia's enemies of preparing a revolution akin to the one that occurred in Ukraine, which explains why they devote so much hysterical attention to happenings in Kiev. The political leadership is convinced that the opposition is being financed by the West in the hope of destabilizing the political system, and that high-ranking diplomats, led by the ambassador of one of the Group of Eight countries, are coordinating the distribution of funds to the opposition. According to this theory, demonstrators deliberately bring women, children and the elderly to their protests in hopes of provoking the police into attacking those less able to defend themselves, thereby proving to the world the "bloodthirsty" nature of this regime.
Thus, a statement from the U.S. State Department's that it would support Russia's nongovernmental democratic organizations was perceived as a direct confirmation of the existence of an "Orange conspiracy" that was being supported by the West.
This is the mood among Russia's political elites prior to the elections. As the elections draw nearer, this mood is bound to intensify, and it won't stop building until the Duma issues a plea from the people for Putin to stay on for a third term and for the Constitution to be amended accordingly. The politicians will present more and more "proof" to Putin that, without him at the helm, nothing in the country will work properly. They'll tell him that disorder will reign unless he agrees to stay. If and when he does so, the relations between Moscow and the West will fall to such a level that the reactions to what is happening in Russia will finally become absolutely unacceptable from a political standpoint.
The importance of being Pinter: A new production by the Belarus Free Theatre reinforces the global resonance of the British playwright's political works.
From: Michael Billington for Guardien UK
In Britain one question is constantly asked about Pinter: are his late, overtly political plays as rich and fascinating as earlier, acknowledged masterpieces like The Caretaker and The Homecoming? In the end, it's a parochial question. The more you travel, the more you realise the universal resonance of Pinter's studies of political oppression. I've never forgotten seeing One for the Road in Barcelona, where an audience that had collective memories of Franco-ist fascism responded to this study of state cruelty with an intensity I've never witnessed in Britain.
But something extraordinary happened in Leeds. The Belarusian actors presented a 90-minute show in which Pinter's Nobel acceptance speech cued in compressed versions of his late political plays. Artistically, big risks were taken. Nicolas in One for the Road was played by a woman who brandished a flaming torch over a male victim's naked body. In Mountain Language an actor assumed the posture of a vicious guard dog. At one point the company all appeared trapped inside a polythene sheet as if gasping for the oxygen of freedom. In short, the actors turned Pinter's plays into an expression of life in Belarus: a so-called "democratic republic" that silences debate and has more policemen per head than anywhere else in the world.
What was moving was to hear the actors talk afterwards of their own struggles. They had mostly been outlawed from appearing in state-run theatres. Their own performances often took place in private houses. Several of the company had been in prison; yet there was no self-pity in their descriptions. They were simply determined artists who wanted to work and who clearly found in Pinter's plays an echo of their own experience.
This doesn't mean that Pinter's late political plays have no relevance to Britain itself: works like One for the Road, Mountain Language and Ashes to Ashes are about the global danger of diminution of freedom and loss of liberty. But, watching the brave and brilliant actors from Belarus, I was reminded of how isolated we are in Britain. We fuss about nice aesthetic distinctions. One distinguished speaker, actually American, said in Leeds that Pinter's late political plays are "timely" rather than "timeless". But I wonder. As long as there is injustice, cruelty and oppression, I believe Pinter's later works will not merely survive. They will possibly even outlast the linguistic virtuosity of some of the early plays. That, for me, was the priceless lesson of Leeds: that politics gives drama a purchase on posterity.
The American Dream on Belarusian State TV
The state news agency BELTA even released a special statement regarding the ratings. The last paragraph is worth quoting:
- Women make up the majority of the show’s audience. Most are 30-45 years old. Female viewers project the events depicted on the show onto their own lives, comparing them with what they see on the television screen. For younger teenage viewers (16+) the show also serves as educational material: girls evaluate the behavior of show’s main characters, their striking outlook, and ability to present themselves.
I wonder whether the author of this BELTA article has watched even one episode of “Desperate Housewives.” If she did, then I’m impressed with how bravely she has revealed the secret plans of the state channel to undermine the belief of our housewives in our stable, “wonderful” Belarusian reality (although, most Belarusian women become “housewives” when they come home after an 8-hour working day). Comparing the everyday life of a typical thirty-something Belarusian woman watching BTV with the life and problems of her peers in the US is much more serious than watching Brazilian and Mexican soap operas. How many of the main heroines of Latin American TV series are former models, who suddenly realize that falling for the guy who mows your lawn is what really makes you happy, or senior managers of large companies, who quit their prestigious jobs in order to spend more time with their children? Finally, what can teenage Belarusian girls really learn if they base their models of behavior on the lifestyles of American housewives – was at least one of the show’s heroines, for example, a member of BRSM? (BRSM is a state-financed youth organization, the direct heir of VLKSM Lenin Communist Youth Union, the communist youth organization of the USSR era).
But it is also possible that the real objective of putting the show on Belarusian state TV is to make our audience feel that those spoiled American housewives know nothing about real life. In this way, our women can sympathize with Laura Bush, who also watches the show in the evenings:
- …Here’s our typical evening: Nine o’clock, Mr. Excitement here is sound asleep, and I’m watching Desperate Housewives— with Lynne Cheney. Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they’re desperate, they oughta be with George.”
Annals of Neo-Soviet Media: Russian TV ignores the Moscow Protests
Last weekend offered a surrealistic view of the country's news landscape.
All Saturday Ekho Moskvy radio reported on the mass arrests and beatings of participants in The Other Russia's rally held on Turgenev Square, as well as the Union of Right Forces' gathering on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad, the Young Guard rally on Pushkin Square and the protest against illegal immigration held on Bolotnaya Ploshchad.
The major television channels, in contrast, broadcast stories on bombings in Iraq, a Turkish bus accident involving children and unprecedented high temperatures in Germany. Only Ren-TV provided significant coverage of the rallies during its Saturday evening current events program. Later, Mayor Yury Luzhkov began appearing on screen trumpeting the success of the annual spring cleanup in the city and bragged about the maturity of Russian democracy in permitting a number of political opposition meetings in the capital on the same day. Yet all Saturday and Sunday, on state-owned Rossia television channel and Mayak radio, just about every commercial break contained a spot for a French documentary on the United States' true motives in organizing revolutions in former communist countries.
"Our authorities have such little faith in their own propaganda that they have to depend on a foreign film," I thought as I switched between the parallel worlds of radio and television.
Then, on Sunday, came the film itself. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a writer or director's name in the opening credits, which immediately got the alarm bells ringing. Then came footage of attractive young people from Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus who said they refused to accept their arbitrary leaders, demanded fair elections and saw U.S. President George W. Bush as their supporter. It was impossible not to sympathize with them, or to disagree with U.S. Senator John McCain, who decried the switching off of electricity to a printer in Bishkek that published newspapers opposed to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev.
I could not help wondering whether airing it was a form of subtle subterfuge by Rossia staff fed up with being treated like pawns by the authorities or some ruse by Kremlin propagandists who believed that airing it would serve as some sort of inoculation against such a revolution here.
Personally, I see the whole thing in light of my own political error of historic proportions. During the Congress of People's Deputies elections in 1989, the first Soviet election where there was some choice, I voted for Boris Yeltsin. I disliked him strongly, but the authorities had staged such a huge campaign to discredit him that I had to vote for him out of protest. I am, therefore, at least partially responsible for all that followed: the appearance of borders and customs officers where we once traveled freely, the tens of thousands killed in disputed territories between former Soviet republics, the fact that press freedoms promised during President Mikhail Gorbachev's tenure have yet to be delivered, the state-oligarchic excesses from 1993 to 1999, and the managed or sovereign democracy -- take your pick -- that inevitably followed.
This all led me to the conclusion that the shortcomings of the current leadership alone were not sufficient basis for supporting an even worse opposition. We now have a new, naive generation that seems ready to repeat the mistake I made in 1989.
On Saturday, operating on the principle of "the worse the current situation, the bigger the backlash," The Other Russia delivered a blow against the authorities in the same way martial arts specialists use their more powerful attackers' momentum against them to gain victory. I am confident that the number of young people who sincerely believe life will get better if this "bloody regime" is removed has risen.
Unfortunately, their faith is not borne out either by the "democratic" revolution in Russia or by recent events in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.