200th issue, Lukashenka in Azerbaijan, EU, US, UN, Eatinain and Ukrainian issues, Russia, Poland and Hockey news
Alexander Lukashenko Meets with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev
From: BelTA and the Office of the President
|President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. May 2, 2007|
Today, in Baku (Azerbaijan), the Presidents of Belarus and Azerbaijan have signed an agreement on friendship and cooperation.
Under the agreement, the sides reaffirm their commitment to ensuring favourable conditions for the development of mutually-beneficial Belarusian-Azerbaijani economic cooperation and pledge to take measures to perfect the mechanism of economic and trade relations.
Belarus and Azerbaijan say they are ready to continue the work on creating an enabling economic, financial and legal environment for promotion of small-business.
Under the agreement, Belarus and Azerbaijan say they intend to develop cooperation in transit and transport, communications, within the UN framework and that of other international organisations, to intensify interaction between parliaments, governmental and public organisations, local administrative and local self-government bodies.
The parties reaffirmed their desire to consistently pursue the policy of partnership in security sphere on the bilateral and multilateral basis. They also pledge to actively promote peace.
Belarus is interested in participating in Azerbaijani programmes aimed at the development of regions, agriculture and infrastructure, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Sergei Martynov, told BelTA today.
Azerbaijan is making big transformations in its economy today, he said. “This requires significant amount of equipment and modern technologies. In this respect, Azerbaijan represents a promising sales-market for Belarus, which we have already started to explore. However, we would like to participate in Azerbaijani programmes on a large scale,” he said.
The national academies of sciences of Belarus and Azerbaijan have also signed a programme for cooperation in 2007-2010. The document was signed in Baku today, with the two heads of state, Alexander Lukashenko and Ilham Aliev, present.
President of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus Mikhail Myasnikovich told BelTA, the programme lists 31 projects and envisages significant joint research efforts. “As a rule, those are five or six draft complete technological projects. There are a lot of applied technological projects. Besides, scientists of the two countries intend to pay special attention to power engineering and hydrocarbons”, stressed Mikhail Myasnikovich.
In his words, in the near future scientific circles of Belarus and Azerbaijan should resolve two additional major issues, which are related to post-graduate student education and on-the-job training.
Belarus attaches big importance to the development of relations with Azerbaijan and sees the country as an important partner not only in Transcaucasia but in the CIS on the whole, a representative of the Belarusian delegation accompanying President Alexander Lukashenko during his visit to Azerbaijan told in an interview with BelTA.
The official said that Azerbaijan is interested in studying the Belarusian experience of modernizing the industry and building up production capacities. In this connection in 2007 the Ministry of Industry and Energy of Azerbaijan set up a group to handle interaction with Belarusian colleagues.
At present Belarus is mulling over a possibility to start assembling gas meters, lighting fixtures, solar batteries, truck axles and trailers, lighting masts, furniture, TV sets, mobile drilling rigs, elevators in Azerbaijan.
In 2006, Azerbaijan ranked 6th in foreign trade of Belarus with the CIS member states. In 2006, the trade with Azerbaijan surged by 24% over 2005 to amount to $37,2 million. Belarusian exports to Azerbaijan increased by 22.9%, imports – by 39.4%. Belarus had trade surplus to the tune of $31,7 million.
Azerbaijan’s major exports are oil and oil products, strong drinks, tobacco goods, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, tea, cotton.
Proved oil reserves in Azerbaijan make up more than 1 billion tons, or 0.6% of the world reserves. The oil production in Azerbaijan has been recently growing. Azerbaijan mainly extracts oil from sea deposits on its part of the Caspian shelf which are developed with the participation of foreign companies. in 2005, Azerbaijan produced 22,2 million tons of oil, in 2006 – 32,3 million tons. The projections are 35 million tons in 2007, 50 million – in 2009, 62 million 2010.
The gold and exchange currency reserves of Azerbaijan make up more than $3 billion.
Over the decade Azerbaijan has attracted $22 billion of direct foreign investments, of them $10 billion paid back in the form of oil produced by investors. Considering the current growth rate of oil production and exports, the investments of foreign companies will pay back in two years.
Azerbaijan leader hails energy cooperation with Belarus
From: RFE RL
Azerbaijan holds vast oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Sea, which it exports to neighboring Georgia, Turkey and Europe. Set on becoming a major energy exporter, the country is looking for new outlets to make the management of its natural resources more efficient.
"Our corresponding structures are working hard in this direction, and we have already held several rounds of consultations [with Belarus]," Ilham Aliyev told a news conference with his Belarusian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, following bilateral talks.
Aliyev said his country's oil output would reach 43 million metric tons (315 mln bbl) this year and over 50 million (367 mln bbl) in 2008, and that natural gas production was rapidly developing.
Azerbaijan exports its oil via three pipelines - Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan transiting Georgia to Turkey, Baku-Novorossiisk, which links the Azeri capital with a Russian port on the Black Sea, and Baku-Supsa to Georgia.
The country also intends to join the Odessa-Brody project, bringing oil from Ukraine to Poland.
Dependent on energy deliveries from Russia, Belarus has been looking to diversify its energy sources after Moscow halted energy supplies to and transit via Belarus in a row over prices in late January.
Aliyev also said Belarusian companies were interested in developing Azeri oilfields. "We completely support such intentions," the leader said.
Baku hosts First Belarus National Exhibition
He added that more than 200 enterprises, organizations and employers have come to show the export potential of Belarus and the both countries’ companies will ink a number of agreements and deals within the scope of the exhibition.
Azerbaijan’s Commerce and Industry Chamber chair Suleyman Tatliyev said the event will contribute to the further expansion and deepening of ties between the two nations.
Belarus-marked Tractors and MAZ trucks assembled in Ganja Auto Plant of Azerbaijan were shown outside the Olympic Sport Complex where the exhibition was being held.
The official opening of the exhibition will be attended by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev and Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko. The exhibition will go on by May 5.
Belarus President to visit Venezuela
From: El Universal
Luckashenko did not set a date for his visit, but did note his country's interest in approaching Venezuela to discuss food-related and military cooperation, quoted official Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN).
"For valuable consideration of Venezuelan President Hugo CHávez' help to Belarus in hard times and sensitive issues, we will provide twice the benefits than any western company may offer Venezuela. We will work twice or three times in Venezuela compared with any work than can be done by western specialists," said Lukashenko.
"Venezuela is Belarus' strategic partner," he added, and said that his country started to implement prior agreements with the Venezuelan government.
Belarus deems it important to inform about UN’s efforts to minimize Chernobyl accident consequences
During the general discussions on the agenda of the committee, the Belarusian delegation called the United Nations Department of Public Information to pay more attention to qualitative information support of the activity of the main political bodies of the UN – the General Assembly and the UN Economic and Social Council.
The Belarusian representative also noted the urgent necessity in active information support of the UN certain projects aimed at minimizing the Chernobyl accident consequences.
The Belarusian delegation stated the need to ensure more qualitative coverage of the UN’s efforts and some of its member-states in the fight against human trafficking.
Andrei Popov dwelled about the information activity of the UN Office in Minsk. In particular, he highlighted that the UN offices should respond more actively and provide information support for important initiatives put forward by the UN member-states.
The session of the UN Committee on Information will be running through May 11.
The UN Committee on Information is a key body to supervise the organization’s activity in the sphere of public information, evaluation of the UN information services in the field of information and communication technologies, distribution of the information regarding the organization’s activity. The Committee unites 110 countries including Belarus.
More than 110 companies of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to take part in exhibition MILEX 2007
The Russian exposition will be represented by the federal state company Rosoboronexport. In particular, the Russian side will present the Penza production association Electropribor, the Nizhniy Novgorod Research Institute of Radio Engineering, OAO Kazan Helicopter-Making Plant, the production association Uralvagonzavod, OAO Defense Systems.
The scientific-production association “Aerotechnika” will represent Ukraine.
Attending the exhibition will be Belarusian companies-exporters – the company BelTechExport, Belvneshpromservice, Belspetsvneshtechnika, the 140th Repair Plant, the 558th Aircraft Overhaul Plant, the 2566th Radioelectronic Weapons Overhaul Plant, Belarusian State University of Computer Science and Radioelectronics, the designing bureau Display, OAO MNIPI, OOO Belfortex, the state scientific production association Agat, BelOMO, the scientific production unitary company Ekran, OAO Research Institute EVM, the company Monitor-Service, OAO Peleng, the Minsk Wheeled Carrier Plant, the Minsk Tractor Plant.
Official delegations of 43 countries worldwide were invited to attend the 4th international exhibition of arms and military equipment MILEX 2007.
Belarus Solidarity Cycling Tour
From: One world.nl
As a first step, the European Centre for Ecological and Agro Tourism (ECEAT) has managed to organize a "solidarity cycling tour", which will bring together volunteers from Western Europe and Belarus. Lasting thirty days, but divided into three periods of ten days, the expedition will cover about 800 kilometers of beautiful eco-corridors and typical villages.
Cycling one day out of two, the thirty volunteers will dedicate the rest of their time to meetings, workshops, discussions and debates with the local population. They will each be specialized in a subject, which they will have to work on. ECEAT wishes to lead Belarusian people to achieve private initiatives for sustainable tourism and protection for nature and culture.
School Children Visit Belarus
During the stay, individual schools lead programs for their students where all participants got a firsthand look of the Jewish history in Belarus. The school kids stopped in Minsk to visit the site of the old Jewish ghetto, a crumbling synagogue, and than visited an abandoned Jewish cemetery. But for the Jewish community, Belarus also shows signs of revival – the Choral synagogue recently opened it's doors in Grodno, in addition to several Jewish schools and day care centers that continue to thrive.
Belarus favourite with Malta Eurovision fans
From: Malta Media
These votes will be added to those from other clubs within the OGAE Network spread around Europe and a final fans vote result will determine this year's fans favourite entries.
Belarus acheived 128 points. Cyprus came second with 109 points, follwed by Switzerland (108), Denmark (106), Bulgaria (102), Slovenia (100), Greece (99), Serbia (94), Finland (92) and Spain (88).
Malta’s Olivia Lewis was excluded from the voting.
Commenting on Malta's choice, MaltaMedia's founder and creative director Toni Sant said "There's no obvious winner this year. At least one hasn't revealed itself yet, like Lordi did last year. Belarus has one of the better songs this year but to be honest I don't see anything special about it."
Meanwhile Malta’s Eurovision Song Contest entry placed sixth in Eurovision preview event at a Manchester bar where eighty fans voted their 28 semi-final favourites at Spirit Bar, Manchester Evening News reported.
The semifinal previews included all the songs which were shown on a large screen. The biggest cheers of the evening were reserved for Bulgaria, Switzerland, Serbia, Norway, Malta, Hungary and Belgium.
The last concert Olivia Lewis will give before leaving for Helsinki in Finland will be held in Qormi on Wednesday from 2000 CET onwards.
The concert is being organised by Olivia Lewis’ relatives in collaboration with the Qormi local council. Qormi Goes Vertigo will be held at Pjazza Narbona, next to St Sebastian’s Church.
MaltaMedia.com will report live from Finland during Eurovision week with Toni Sant present at the Helsinki Arena.
Human Rights Groups Worldwide Call on UN Members to Reject Belarus' Candidacy
These organizations, based in countries ranging from Cameroon to Uzbekistan, called on UN General Assembly members not to vote Belarus onto the Council, which is the UN's top human rights body. The elections to the Council, which was created last year as part of UN reforms, will take place on May 17.
"Belarus has an appalling human rights record," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "Belarus' election to the top UN human rights body would undermine the Council's ability to uphold human rights standards worldwide."
Under the resolution establishing the Geneva-based Council, members must "uphold the highest standards" of human rights and "fully cooperate" with the Human Rights Council Belarus has done neither.
Under President Alexander Lukashenka, Belarus has one of the worst human rights records in Europe. The Council of Europe has rejected Belarus' candidacy for membership because of its government's poor record on human rights and democracy.
In December, the UN General Assembly expressed deep concern with Belarus' human rights record and failure to cooperate with the Council, and it insisted on the need for change (http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/resguide/r61.htm). Since then, the Belarusian authorities have done nothing to address these concerns.
Instead, the Belarusian government severely restricts the activities of human rights groups and has systematically moved to close them and opposition parties. Peaceful protesters are violently dispersed and arrested, and opposition leaders are jailed. The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the only remaining registered human rights organization, faces politically-motivated charges of tax evasion.
The UN expert charged by the Human Rights Council with monitoring the human rights situation in Belarus, Adrian Severin, has been blocked from performing his mandate by Lukashenka's government. Severin, who has not been allowed to visit the country since he was appointed in 2004, noted the "absolute refusal to cooperate on the part of the Government of Belarus"
"The Human Rights Council appointed a monitor on Belarus, and the government's refusal to allow him to visit the country should alone disqualify it from Council membership," said Hicks.
As part of its candidacy, Belarus claimed that it cooperates with UN human rights mechanisms and pledges "to continue to engage constructively" with them (http://www.un.org/ga/61/elect/hrc/). Belarus also asserted that it is "committed to fulfilling its international commitments" under human rights conventions.
"If Belarus were truly committed to fulfilling its human rights obligations, it would end its severe persecution of opposition members and human rights groups," said Hicks. "Belarus' shameless record on human rights outweighs its hollow rhetoric, and UN members should reject its candidacy."
A joint letter from Human Rights Watch and more than 40 other local and international human rights groups called on governments to ensure that the candidacy of Belarus, which is running as a member of the East European group, is rejected. No country can be elected unless an absolute majority (or 97 members) of the UN General Assembly writes in the name of the candidate on a ballot.
To view the joint letter to UN member states regarding Belarus' candidacy, please visit:
Tensions worsen between Russia and Estonia
Russia escalated the dispute further Wednesday when a spokesman for the state railroad company told news agencies that repair work would be scheduled on its links entering Estonia, halting shipments of oil to the country's Baltic Sea ports. Russia has already faced criticism for cutting off energy resources to punish neighbors that fall out of favor, including Ukraine, Georgia and Lithuania.
In Estonia, officials blamed Russian hackers for shutting down government Web sites, while the country's president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, called on Russia "to remain civilized" after days of protests in both countries over the removal of a Soviet-era monument in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, late last week.
The Estonian ambassador, Marina Kaljurand, said her bodyguards had used pepper spray to protect her from protesters from a pro-Kremlin youth group, Nashi, who charged her at a scheduled press conference. Kaljurand was not injured; Nashi's leaders told Russian news agencies that her bodyguards had beaten protesters.
The Estonian Embassy in Moscow has been under siege by protesters since the removal of the monument, which has been a source of social, political and diplomatic tensions for years. The Estonian government ordered the monument's removal from a square near Tallinn's Old Town last Friday after a night of rioting and looting that injured scores and left one protester dead, stabbed to death in a fight.
Estonia had already formally complained of harassment of its diplomats in Moscow, a violation of international conventions, but the protests Wednesday were the most disruptive yet, coming on the first workday after a long holiday weekend. The raucous protests forced the closure of Estonia's consulate and the evacuation of diplomats' families, about 20 people in all, said a spokesman, Franek Persidski.
Protesters attacked a car belonging to Sweden's ambassador at the embassy, prompting a formal protest from Stockholm, and later Kaljurand's car as it left the office of Argumenty i Fakty, the magazine where she held her press conference.
The Russian Foreign Ministry, asked for a response, declined to comment on the harassment of diplomats, but a spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, told the Interfax news agency, "We still believe that the tension and the reaction of civil society in Russia were provoked."
The Russian police, who have responded forcefully to anti-Kremlin protests in recent weeks, have appeared reluctant to disperse the protesters, organized by Nashi, a nationalistic group that organizes rallies and other events in support of President Vladimir Putin. The group's name means "Ours."
A police spokeswoman said that one protester had been detained outside the Estonian Embassy after spraying some substance; four were reported arrested Tuesday after tearing down the embassy's flag.
Many Estonians view the monument, erected in 1947 and known as the Bronze Soldier, as a symbol of Soviet occupation that began in 1940 and ended only with independence in 1991, and have campaigned to relocate it to a less conspicuous spot.
Others from Estonia's Russian-speaking minority, who have had uneasy relations in the newly independent country that is now their home, have denounced the removal as an insult to Soviet soldiers and a glorification of Nazi Germany. Those sentiments have been loudly amplified by Russian officials and the largely state-controlled media here.
The bronze statue was moved Monday to a military cemetery in Tallinn, while government workers excavate the ground in the park where it once stood. So far they have uncovered the coffins of 12 people, believed to be Soviet soldiers who died during the campaign to drive the Nazis out of the Baltics. The remains will also be reburied in the cemetery, which Estonian officials say is a more appropriate location to mourn the fallen that a bustling city square.
Russia's actions - and inaction - prompted pointed rebukes from leaders in Estonia and expressions of concern from the European Union, which Estonia joined in 2004.
"It is customary in Europe that differences, which do now and then occur between states, are solved by diplomats and politicians, not on the streets or by computer attacks," Ilves, the Estonian president, said Wednesday, according to news reports from Tallinn.
On Tuesday, the foreign minister, Urmas Paet, said that attacks on Estonian Web sites were being carried out from Internet addresses registered to Russian government agencies, including Putin's administration. The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment, saying a spokesman was traveling. Paet also accused Russian diplomats of meeting with protesters in the hours before the violence last Friday.
NASA denies snubbing Russia's offer to jointly explore Moon
From: News SAWF
NASA spokesperson Michael Braukus has said the agency never received any such offer from Russia.
"Nothing was offered and nothing was declined. We have not received a Moon cooperation offer from Roskomos,” said Braukus.
On Sunday, Interfax news agency reported Roskosmos chief, Anatoly Perminov, as saying, that Russia had proposed pooling resources to explore the Moon, but that NASA had refused it.
"We were ready to cooperate, but for unknown reasons, the United States said they would undertake this program themselves," said Perminov.
Space experts say NASA is pursuing an increasingly isolationist stance that could leave it trailing behind, as other nations forge new partnerships to explore space.
George Abbey of Rice University in Houston, Texas, who directed NASA's Johnson Space Center from 1995 to 2001, said NASA is shifting away from international cooperation, adding that it should be working with other countries on all aspects of the return to the Moon mission– including transportation.
According to him, the US government has tightened its restrictions on the exchange of technical information with other countries, which is making joint space projects with other countries increasingly difficult.
“In the last couple of years, there have even been concerns raised within NASA about exchanging technical information with other countries, particularly Russia, on work involving the International Space Station (ISS). It's kind of surprising to me that we would be talking this way after we've been working with these countries over a number of years," said Abbey.
“Working with other countries would make the return to the Moon less costly for NASA. If we're going to the Moon or Mars, trying to go ourselves is not realistic. I think the cost as well as other factors make it such that you need to work with other countries.
“The US stance is making it increasingly isolated. It's causing other partnerships to be formed, because other countries are going to work together. We're putting ourselves in a difficult situation in that regard,” he added.
Elsewhere, Braukus has said the agency was still seeking international cooperation on projects that could include joint construction of a Moon base and joint robotic Moon missions.
But he reiterated NASA's stated intention to go it alone to build the Ares launch vehicle and Orion crew capsule that would propel people to the Moon.
"It's a matter of space economic and security policies that we want to develop the Orion and Ares launch vehicles," he said.
Howard McCurdy, a space policy expert at American University in Washington, said the desire to build its own space transportation system might also streamline the system's production.
"NASA wants to keep the mission simple. International cooperation increases mission complexity, which increases cost – usually more than the monetary contributions of the partners," New Scientist quoted McCurdy as saying.
John Logsdon, a space policy analyst of George Washington University in Washington, DC, US, said, the Interfax report might have stemmed from a misunderstanding by some Russian officials about the US policy to develop its own transportation system.
He said the miscommunication occurred possibly during recent US-Russian negotiations that led to the signing of a one billion dollar contract for Russia to make cargo flights to the US part of the International Space Station.
“During those preliminary discussions, Russia made a likely informal offer to help NASA with transportation to the Moon. My understanding is that they kind of threw into that discussion an 'Oh yes, if you provide us some money, we'll help you get to the Moon'. And it's a strong US policy to develop the transportation system as a US-only capability. I don't think it's a big deal. It's not like there was a formal specific proposal that after due consideration NASA rejected,” said Logsdon.
Death, industrial action and firings at LG Electronics in Poland
LG is one of the biggest and most important companies operating in Poland. The group owns a wide variety of investments, most notably its TV and LCD monitor/ screen production in Mlawa and Biskupice Podgorne (near Wroclaw) and its refrigerator and washing machine plant in Kobierzyce. The latter was opened thanks to a huge government / EU subsidy of hundreds of millions of euros; until 2016, LG Chem Poland, LG Electronics, LG Phillips and LG Innotek will receive free land, grants and tax exemptions. All these funds are being sunk into the development of Poland as a cheap labour manufacturing centre for the European Union.
Work conditions are generally tough at these factories. They can also be dangerous; there are many health and safety concerns about the production of televisions and LCDs, including the long-term health effects of exposure to toxics such as mercury or crystals.
On Thursday night / Friday there was a fatal accident in the Biskupice Podgorne plant – not the first. A few minutes after midnight, a 31-year-old worker tried to repair a machine and was killed. The same happened to a 49-year-old worker in December.
On Friday, the workers were angry. They were angry not only because of the death of their colleague but because they have been forced to work overtime for months. Typically, they work about 10 hours a day and take home between 1000 to 1600 zloties (250-400 euros) a month. They say that the conditions are so bad that workers often pass out and have to be sent to the hospital. Friday was the last day before the “long weekend”, when most people try to get a little vacation around the May Day holiday and the workers had promised themselves a few days early that they would finish punctually after 8 hours to mark the occasion. When the bosses demanded that they work two more hours overtime, about 150-200 workers just walked off the job. The workers were told they’d be fired and that they’d be banned from entering the factory.
Well, some of them didn’t just walk off the job – a few made some demands and decided to unionise. They demanded protective clothing, breaks during working hours and no more forced overtime. After this incident, a branch of Solidarity was set up and signed up 130 workers.
Daniel Goral, one of those workers who made demands, came to work on Monday and was fired. Apparently other workers are threatened with firings and may have gotten the sack today. Goral intends to fight his firing and filed suit today.
People who are interested in this case can help by sending protest letters to LG. Here is a sample, which of course may be modified as people see fit:
We are aware of labour problems at LG production sites in Poland, particularly in Biskupice Podgorne where, in contradiction of the Labour Code, people are forced to work overtime in poor working conditions. On April 27, workers left on time after eight hours of work only to be threatened. Daniel Goral was subsequently fired. We demand that he is reinstated. We support the workers’ demands for protective clothing, breaks and an 8-hour work day.
We do not believe that consumers should purchase products from firms which engage in unfair labour practices, therefore we will not be purchasing any of your products. Should such events continue in your factories, we would encourage a wide-scale boycott of your firm and protest action against it.
Ukrainian president fires 2 Constitutional Court judges
From: Itar Tass
Stanik was the court rapporteur on the April 2 presidential ordinance dissolving the Verkhovna Rada.
On Monday the president dismissed Deputy Chairman of the Constitutional Court Valery Pshenichny for the same reason.
The national unity coalition has made a statement concerning the Pshenichny dismissal. In the opinion of the coalition, the judge was dismissed for “blocking the activity of the Constitutional Court, which can return relations between power branches into the constitutional space.”
The coalition “strongly protested against the systematic release of illegal ordinances by the president” and said, “50 Verkhovna Rada deputies have signed an appeal to the Constitutional Court, asking to proclaim unconstitutional the new ordinance of Yushchenko.”
Presidential legal aide Nikolai Poludenny told Channel 5 that Yushchenko was considering the dismissal of Susanna Stanik, as “she had committed serious violations.”
The Constitutional Court started to consider the presidential ordinance that dissolved the parliament and scheduled early elections for May 27 on April 17. Another presidential ordinance of April 26 invalidated the first ordinance and scheduled early elections for June 24.
The Constitutional Court has 18 members, including six appointed by the parliament, six appointed by the chief of state, and six appointed by judges.
The Vagaries of the Presidential Succession
From: By Leon Aron
Democracy is an unpredictable, often maddeningly slow, and contradictory affair. Apparently, these flaws were among those that Russian president Vladimir Putin intended to redress when he set out to mold the highly imperfect, raucous, poor, but real and developing democracy he inherited in 2000 into something simpler, more homogeneous, more manageable, and allegedly better suited to Russia's "national tradition." Because of this, the modifiers "managed" and "sovereign" have come to be attached to the Kremlin's definitions of a political system the present regime is attempting to forge.
Among a few things democracies without modifiers do rather well is the orderly change of government. The sharply increased control over politics, some key sectors of the economy, and the mass media has weakened or subverted the mediating institutions that endow both the process and the result of transition with legitimacy. The shock absorbers of democracy--local legislatures and executives, press and television, parliament, and opposition--have been severely eroded or eradicated. The foundation of the much ballyhooed "vertical of power"--as the new system of the Kremlin's dominance is called--is shallow, and the stairs going down are gnarled and perhaps unable to bear much weight.
Today's Russia adds two serious complications to this generic authoritarian handicap. The first is the centuries-old Russian and Soviet political tradition, some features of which Putin's predecessors, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, tried to overcome, but Putin (who has rued the disappearance of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century") seems to admire and emulate. Successions were hardly smooth even under the tsars, with quite a few legitimate claimants to the throne (or even those already sitting on it by right) strangled, drowned, stabbed, or forced to retire into monasteries. Heirs apparent were particularly unfortunate in the Soviet era: not one ever managed to consolidate power, eventually yielding to those whom the previous ruler had never intended to install. Lenin never wished for Stalin to succeed him; Stalin would not have wanted Khrushchev; Khrushchev, overthrown in a coup, did not anoint Brezhnev; Brezhnev did not approve of Andropov; nor Andropov of Chernenko; and not Chernenko of Gorbachev.
The other obstacle is the sheer enormity of the stakes involved. Russia has always been, at least in part, a patrimonial state in which political power translated into direct ownership or at least control of property. In the Soviet days, government bureaucracy was the sole manager of that immensely rich land. Yet never before, either under the tsars or the general secretaries, was the jackpot at once so huge and so liquid, both literally and metaphorically, as the millions of barrels of oil flowing daily through the pipelines and bringing in an estimated $500 billion annually. This sort of prize greatly multiplies intensity and uncertainties of the competition.
Staying or Going?
Before examining the mechanics and complications of succession, however, its very probability ought to be determined. Today, no one but Putin himself knows for certain if he is staying or going. All the rest of us can do is assess the odds for either outcome.
The case for staying is straightforward: fueled by record oil prices, the Russian economy is growing very nicely and, with it, so are personal income and the standard of living. The president is very popular. Largely incapable of publicly criticizing the regime because of the suppression of private funding and the blocked access to television, the political opposition has been weakened and marginalized, and the parliament made subservient to the Kremlin. In such circumstances, amending the constitution to allow a third term (or even to do away with term limits altogether), with or without a national referendum, is not a particularly difficult feat to accomplish.
Yet while public opinion polls indicate that pluralities or even majorities wish for Putin to stay on, there is also significant opposition to changing the constitution in order to allow for the third term in office, let alone to abolishing the term limitations altogether.
This ambiguity matters because, facile taxonomies aside, Russia is still far from being an "unfree" police state like North Korea, Cuba, China, and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, one of the reasons for Putin's popularity is that on matters about which sizable segments of his countrymen feel strongly, he very rarely has gone against public opinion. Instead, the government has quickly retreated and adjusted the course of welfare reform, which incompetently monetized in-kind welfare benefits and suspended the ban on right-side steering wheels on imported cars.
In a recent poll, 38 percent of Russians agreed that "Russia is part of Europe" and that the fates of the two are "linked tightly." Although those who thought Russia was a "special Eurasian civilization" constituted a plurality (47 percent) among all respondents, in the "twin capitals" of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where all Russian revolutions have occurred and power disputes have been settled, the "Europeans" constituted 47 percent and the "Eurasians" 40 percent.
There is a very good chance that, much as many of them like Putin, the "Europeans" will resent what is known in Russian political discourse today as the "Lukashenization" of Russia: a scenario in which the country becomes a pariah of Europe, like Belarus under Alyaksandr Lukashenko's dictatorship. With the loss of G8 membership almost certain to follow the addition of a third term, Russia's exclusion from the "civilized world" is likely to be regarded by millions as an insult to its dignity.
Of course, a direct political impact of the domestic and international outcries may prove non-threatening in the short run. Inside the country, initial public disapproval may not translate into a concerted protest, just as the abolition of the election of governors and of the independent (non-party) candidates for the Duma in 2004 and 2005 did not. The Kremlin also could be reasonably hopeful that the dependence on Russian gas will greatly weaken Europe's critical resolve, as will the West's continuing reliance on Russia's cooperation in nuclear nonproliferation (especially in the case of Iran) and the War on Terror. As happened on numerous occasions throughout Soviet history (after the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968, for instance), the Pogovoryat-i-zabudut [they will talk and they will forget] script may again play out.
Still, the third-term option carries uncertainty. It is a gamble, and if there is one thing we know about Putin--a careful apparatchik from the middle ranks of a giant bureaucracy called the KGB--it is that risk-taking is definitely not his preference.
The Politics of Oil
As a deterrent to extending the term in office, the hazards of immediate political fallout pale in comparison with possible developments in the longer term. The first peril is the price of oil. No one knows what it will be, but anyone presiding over a largely oil-driven national economy (at least one-third of the Russian state budget today comes from oil and gas revenue) must be constantly concerned about the enormous gap in possible valuations.
By the end of Putin's putative third term in 2012--when the relinquishing of office will be made even more difficult by the calcification of the power structure and the entrenchment of the ruling elites--top experts predict a price-per-barrel "spread" of $20 to $120. It is widely assumed among Russian economists that a precipitous decline in the price to below $40 per barrel will have profoundly negative consequences for the economy and standard of living--possibly resulting in a recession, if not a crisis.
While a slump in oil prices is a possibility, the decline in the rate of output growth is a virtual certainty. Noted in these pages a year ago, these tendencies are rooted in the ideologically driven change in economic policy. Russia's two most efficient and modern private companies, YUKOS and Sibneft, have been absorbed by the least transparent, most wasteful, and corrupt state-controlled ones: Gazprom and Rosneft. As a result, after expanding on the average of 8 percent a year between 1998 and 2004, Russian oil production grew by 2.4 percent in 2005, while the export volume fell in absolute terms.
The antiquated state-owned pipeline monopoly is incapable of keeping up with repairs of the thirty- and forty-year-old stock. While the domestic demand for energy is growing sharply due to economic expansion, the inefficient equipment and subsidized domestic prices for gas, oil, and electricity waste resources that otherwise would be available for export.
The West Siberian fields, which produce the lion's share of Russian oil, are inching toward exhaustion, necessitating the shift of exploration and production to the far north and northeast. The extremely difficult weather and soil conditions in those areas, including permafrost, will require new technology and higher salaries, and the tens of billions of dollars in investment may take decades to recoup. Yet state funding has been very slow to materialize, and most of it seems destined for potential boondoggle projects (such the Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline) motivated by political and bureaucratic considerations rather than by economic rationale. These projects are thus bound for enormous cost overruns and interminable construction.
While Gazprom and Rosneft have been too busy snatching assets and accumulating mountains of debt to pay for them, private Russian and foreign companies are unlikely to be in the mood for expensive long-term commitments. In addition to punitive taxes that kill the incentive to invest in green field ("upstream") exploration and development, the judicial murder of YUKOS has prompted the owners of the top private companies to cut back sharply on such investments--or, like Sibneft's Roman Abramovich, to sell out and leave the oil business altogether. Foreign energy corporations are now prevented from developing and production-sharing in the largest--and therefore most profitable--deposits. They also have been chastened by the government's successful pressure to "renegotiate" existing agreements, as happened to Royal Dutch Shell's multibillion Far East natural gas venture, Sakhalin-2, and the continuing attempts to force TNK-BP out of the giant East Siberian Kovytka natural gas field.
Thus, even without a drop in the price of oil, the all-but-inevitable slowdown in Russia's oil production after a period of uninterrupted growth could spell political trouble for the Kremlin's next occupant.
"Oh, sorry, I thought you were Estonian"
From: By Susanna Niinivaara in Moscow
"Aren't you frightened, then?" a Russian activist in his twenties asked me defiantly.
I responded with some surprise, questioning whether it was somehow dangerous for a Finnish newspaper reporter to be standing there.
The young man reddened and began to apologise profusely. He had overheard me talking with someone and had drawn his own conclusions from my accent: "I'm terribly sorry, I thought you were Estonian."
In other words, an Estonian would certainly have reason to be fearful for his or her safety in Russia.
If the demonstrators have assembled with peaceful intentions, as they claim, then there should be no reason for Finns or Estonians alike to have any trepidation about going out on the streets of Moscow.
On the other side of the embassy compound, I got to hear that if Estonia does not restore the disputed bronze statue and Soviet World War II memorial to its original site in the centre of Tallinn, the activists camped outside the embassy are considering going a stage further in their protests and taking the building apart.
Demonstrations are an integral part of democracy, whether they are in support of those in power or critical of them.
Expressing one's own opinion on issues sometimes requires more by way of courage, and sometimes less.
In Moscow, it calls for rather less in the bravery department to yell that the Estonians are fascists than it does to lambast the current Russian regime for shortcomings in democracy, since criticism of the Kremlin carries the threat of a night or two in jail.
But from whichever side of the fence it comes, this kind of adolescent use of intimidation reeks of base cowardice, and it should not have a voice.
Belarus, Denmark reach qualifying round at IIHF World Hockey Championship
Oleg Antonenko and Aleksei Kukakov each had a goal and an assist for Belarus in the Group B game.
“Both teams were in the same position. We wanted to stay alive,” Belarus coach Curt Fraser said. “I thought the game would be much closer. I am very, very happy for our team. There was a great weight on their shoulders.”
Belarus took an early lead when Andrei Glebov shot through a crowd on a power play to beat Austrian goalie Reinhard Divis on the stick side barely three minutes into the game. Dmitry Dudik knocked in his own rebound at 17:48 to make it 2-0.
Austrian defenceman Andre Lakos scored on a power play with 1:20 left in the first period, firing the puck over Andrei Mezin’s glove from the left faceoff circle. He scored again less than five minutes into the next period with another wrist shot to make it 2-2.
The Austrians were hit by a string of penalties, and Ugarov and Antonenko converted two of the power plays. Kulakov added a fifth goal in the final period to close out the scoring.
“We got back into the game but then got four penalties in a row and they buried two of them,” Austrian Jim Boni said. “We’re now in the relegation round. It’s going to be tough for us.”
Stempniak's Two Goals Lift U.S. Over Belarus
From: Turkish press
The Czechs got two goals and an assist from Jaroslav Hlinka in a 6-1 victory over Austria, defenseman Petteri Nummelin netted two power-play goals in Finland's 6-2 win over Denmark, and Alexei Morozov's hat trick and two assists led Russia past Ukraine 8-1.
The Americans and Czechs are 2-0 in Group B, and Finland and Russia are 2-0 in Group D.
The Americans were 3-0 up by the end of the first period, with scores from defenseman Jack Johnson and forwards Stempniak and Chad Larose.
Chris Clark added a fourth U.S. goal 4:30 into the second period, and Stempniak added the fifth — on a two-man advantage — for his third goal in two games.
Belarus captain Oleg Antonenko ruined John Grahame's shutout bid, deking defenseman Brian Pothier to flick the puck in over Grahame's shoulder.
"We wanted to give John the shutout so it's a pity," Clark said. "That will be tougher against the Czechs."
The Americans and the Czechs play Tuesday.
200 issues of the Being Had Times
From: The BEING HAD Times
|200 Isues of the BEING HAD Times: Several bloggers have simply pulled up staked and gone on the other deals. This has been going on for several weeks now. |
But I am still here and still making newspapers.
But at this moment I have begun to question the relevancy of making these on line gazettes. I say this because something has changed with Belarus in its relation to the outside world since New Years. Last year there were two major events which held the interest and kept our little country on the front page. The first of course was the presidential elections and the surrounding pro-democracy hoopla. The second was the lead up to the gas and oil deals. In both cases what would happen in Belarus was of great importance to people all over the world. However, from our current standpoint, it seems as though there is a very good chance that we have all been had and have never really been speaking of Belarus or its president Alexander Lukashenka, but instead have been speaking of Russia all along.
Though shouting down the "last dictator of Europe" became rather fashionable with the University protest set, the truth of the matter was that the Belarusian elections might simply have been a litmus test for Ukriane's desires to push back against Europe and for Vladimir Putin's potential run for a third term. In both of these cases an acquiescence by Belarus to external pressure would have indicated that there would be no future either for a strong CIS group or a policy making Russia. Those "though flawed" elections, as they are still constantly tagged in the western media, did in fact have a massive effect. The reality that there really might not be such overwhelming popular support to follow the western model has been a shock and the dominos are continuing to fall. And as the smoke clears, we see a new Russia risen from the ashes.
Perhaps then Lukashenka's words that Belarusians would lay down their lives for Russia, was more than just idle rhetoric. Allowing Russia to, at least publicly, have its way with Belarus in the agricultural markets and in the energy fields has done nothing but to solidify Russia's image as being a major force in the world. Russia is no longer a disaster. Russia now plays hardball. It has power, both in material wealth and in military strength. Its rhetoric now is blatantly anti-Western. It's arrogance in policy making both internally and externally has most of Europe and the Americans off guard and everybody is seeing a real potential for a return to the cold war.
So at the moment, it's not really about Belarus anymore. Well, this is not true. The president has become a globe trotter, finding deals with countries that have been blacklisted by the US, solidifying ties across the board and allowing Belarus to prove that EU isolation isn't really all that lonely. There is a lot going on. Belarus is and has always been about work, so for sure nobody hear is planning on shutting down any time soon. And nobody seems to actually want to say that there won't be a union regardless of recent treatment. .
And this is the point. I think maybe we are just seeing a phase in Belarusian/Russian relations. Maybe the financial stability Belarus had over the last two years leading up to the potential third term for the president was allowed for by Russia simply to make sure that there was something tangible behind the idea of Alexander Lukashenka staying on. Perhaps the shift away from Belarus and towards the solidification of Putin's image as a powerful, articulate and endlessly strong minded leader is taking lace simply to insure that he has the popular support to stay on for another five years.
So, either because Belarus really has been kicked aside like a stray cur or because its role at the moment is to support Russia, there simply isn't the real tension and interest that there has been. And I am not the only one who has noticed this: As you may have noticed, there isn't even a blog section in this issue because other than Kim Zegfeld (La Russophobe) Nobody had anything to say and several bloggers have simply pulled up staked and gone on the other deals. This has been going on for several weeks now.
But I am still here and still making newspapers. Possibly I am still here because I am not a market economist and at heart have simply wanted to DO SOMETHING FOR Belarus rather than trying to find a way to TAKE from Belarus. So instead of crying that there was no new news, we now have a lot more about Russia and its president these days. We also now have at least an article or two about the countries around us and give a little space to opinions about the events around Belarus. And ironically, while it seems that blogging about Belarus has become passe to others, the numbers for the BEINGHAD Times seems to be going up every week. Maybe this is like Forrest Gump's typhoon wiping out the rest of the shrimping fleet, or maybe it is simply that the BHTimes is a good product. But in any case, I have yet to run into a good enough argument that says actually stop doing it. Which I guess means hat there will be an issue #201 come this Sunday.
Thank you to all of the BHTimes readers for being there. Another thank you goes out also to all of my readers for supporting me and my internet project over the last three years. And an extra special thanks for all of you who have made donations, sponsored ads or invested over the past three months. We are going to get there.