Cold War tensions, President receives church award, Gazprom, Russian relations, Pentecostal plight, Ukrainian mass grave, Slavic bazaar starts, Blogs
Belarusians should not lose their spiritualness and internationalism
From: The office of the president
|The gala occasion of consecrating the reproduced reliquary of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk|
The reliquary of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk had been first made and placed at the Saviour Church of the Convent of the Saviour and St. Euphrosyne in 1910. In 1920s it had disappeared and now its whereabouts is unknown. The President of Belarus supported the initiative of the Belarusian Exarchate to reproduce the reliquary. Allocated for this purpose were 120 kg of silver from the State Fund of precious metals and precious stones.
During the solemn ceremony at the Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk, the Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, Filaret, conferred on Alexander Lukashenko the Order of Grand Prince St. Vladimir, Equal-to-the-Apostles, 1st class. The President of Belarus has been honoured with this highest-for-laymen award of the Russian Orthodox Church in recognition of his considerable contribution to the developing of relations between the church and society, his support of Orthodoxy.
Receiving the award from Metropolitan of Minsk and Slutsk Filaret, Alexander Lukashenko said: “This award is especially dear for me because I have not received any orders except for those conferred on me by the Belarusian Orthodox Church. I believe this order marks not only my merits but also the merits of all Belarusian people.”
“Historical memory is the foundation of patriotism and love, the basis of the noble feeling of love and respect of an individual for his Fatherland. We know well what may happen when the historical past is ignored and centuries-old moral values on which the continuity of generations rests are defied,” the Head of State said.
The Order of the Grand Prince St. Vladimir 1st class is awarded to heads of state and religious leaders of Orthodox churches. The award was instituted in 1957. In 2002, President of Russia Vladimir Putin was awarded the order. The Patriarch of Exarch of All Belarus has also given the President a Diploma from Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Alexii II.
“A unifying idea, internationalism in Belarus date back to St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk. Spiritualness is a trait of the Belarusian people that we must not lose, the same goes for internationalism,” said the President of Belarus at the consecration ceremony.
After the ceremony, Mother Superior of the Monastery of the Saviour and St. Euphrosyne made the Head of State a present of an icon of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk and a picture of the landscape around the monastery ornamented with beads.
Alexander Lukashenko went to see the unique 12th century frescos on the walls of the Church of the Transfiguration of Christ that was built while Euphrosyne was still alive. The frescos and the architecture of the temple are the earliest specimens of iconography and the art of building of the Ancient Russia, according to archbishop of Polotsk and Glubokoye Feodosy. “There are no other places in Eastern Europe where so many Russian frescos painted with such mastery survive,” he said.
After seeing the frescos, the President went to see the cell where St. Euphrosyne lived.
Gazprom pays for part of Belarus pipeline ahead of schedule
From: Ria Novosti
"OAO Gazprom paid the first stake ahead of schedule," BELTA said, citing a statement by the government property management agency. "The $625 million ... will go to the republican national development fund."
Belarus said the shares would be transferred to Gazprom on June 15.
The May 18 deal to buy 50% in Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion in four equal installments till 2010, acquiring a 12.5% stake in Beltransgaz at each stage, is expected to tighten Gazprom's operational control of the Yamal-Europe pipeline, so far its main export route to Central Europe running through Belarus.
The Russian energy giant said earlier that the Belarusian pipeline was worth $3.3 billion, well below the $5 billion valuation Belarus had long insisted on. The final deal was largely concluded late last year as Russia and Belarus became embroiled in an oil and gas dispute after Gazprom, keen to bring former Soviet republics in line with market rates for energy supplies, doubled the gas price to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters.
In a related story Hemscott tells us that Russian gas giant Gazprom has lowered the price for natural gas exports to Europe to 241.5 usd (178.7 euros) per 1,000 cubic metres in its 2007 budget, the Vedomosti business daily reported.
The price is well below the figure previously calculated by Gazprom of 293.8 usd due to lower-than-expected gas demand in Europe because of the unusually warm winter, as well as a drop in oil product prices, Vedomosti said.
The newspaper cited Gazprom executives talking about figures that were not released to the public when the state-controlled company approved its 2007 budget last week.
Gazprom officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
The lower export figures and decreased profits for the company, which controls around a quarter of world gas reserves, meant that 'Gazprom has not had such an unsuccessful year in a while,' Vedomosti said.
Trade between Russia, Belarus almost $5 bln in 1Q07
Belarus' trade deficit with Russia was $1.3 billion, the agency said.
Belarus has reported a substantial trade deficit with Russia over the past few years, due to the large volume of oil and gas imports from Russia.
Following an energy row with Russia early this year, Minsk has been exploring possibilities for energy cooperation with other oil-exporting countries, such as Iran, Azerbaijan and Venezuela.
Putin reiterates that relations with Belarus will be shifted to market principles
"We are not going to spend huge funds on subsidizing the economies of other countries," the Russian leader said in an interview with foreign reporters ahead of the G8 meeting. "We already spoke about this — we have been subsiding countries, former republics of the Soviet Union, with cheap energy for 15 years. Why should we do this? Where is the logic? Where are at least some grounds for this?"
"When the question was about Ukraine they told us that this was a political decision and accused us of supporting Lukashenka's regime that western countries do not like very much," he said. "We said, 'Firstly, we cannot wage a war on all fronts at once. Secondly, we are planning to move to market prices with all our partners. Time will come and we will do so with Belarus as well.' We did this. As soon as we did this uproar broke out also in the western press about why and what we were doing, why we treated the small Belorussiya ill. Is this a kind of an honest or fair attitude to Russia in these terms?''
Mr. Putin denied that the shifts in Russia's relations with the countries were politically motivated moves and added that his country was ready to "develop integration" in the post-Soviet region but only on the basis of equal partnership.
Belarus does not plan to attract foreign builders for housing construction
According to Minister of Architecture and Construction of Belarus Alexander Seleznev, “we cannot attract foreign builders, as we cannot pay them competitive wages”. Anyway the country needs labor force for the construction branch. The Minister believes this problem may be settled by modernizing this branch. “For this purpose we should have a good technical basis. We have started production of tower cranes and plan to double the output of mineral wool boards, glass, bricks. Having addressed all these problems we will get a necessary economic effect – to raise wages and to attract additional personnel”.
The year of 2007 should become decisive for the construction branch of Belarus, Prime Minister Sergei Sidorskiy said. The Belarusian construction organizations have enough funds to promote development of the construction branch. This year Belarus will build 4,7 million square meters of housing. “The local bodies of authority should not share financial resources but efficiently work”, Sergei Sidorskiy said.
When underlining the importance of the theme the Prime Minister said that “we have been building a state for people and those who need to improve their living conditions should improve them”.
Belarus, Kyrgyzstan to work together to renew Kyrgyzstan’s tractor stock
She noted, certain advancements had been made for Minsk Tractor Works (MTZ trademark) to open a mechanical repair shop at the premises of an automobile repair plant in the suburbs of Bishkek. An entire MTZ workshop, that is a complete production line for renewing components will be opened there, explained the diplomat. In her words, tractors Belarus has become quite popular in Kyrgyzstan. Around 1,500 tractors need to be renewed with new components as part of the project.
Among prospective avenues of cooperation between Belarus and Kazakhstan Lydia Imanalieva named supplies of agricultural, road and quarry machines, mutual supplies of seeds of agricultural crops. She also noted, Kyrgyzstan buys lot of household appliances in Belarus. There is a Belarusian trading house in Bishkek. Now the firm is expanding its business. According to the Ambassador, advancements have been made to supply Belarusian light industry products to Kyrgyzstan. In mid-June OAO Elema plans to ship the first large batch of textile products to Kyrgyzstan.
In turn, Belarus imports tobacco, cotton, food and other products from Kazakhstan.
The Ambassador also underlined, following an instruction of the heads of state this year the Belarusian-Kyrgyz trade is supposed to increase up to $30-40 million.
Three days' prison for Pentecostal pastor
From: Forum 18
Pastor Antoni Bokun of the Minsk-based John the Baptist Pentecostal Church was handed down a three-day prison sentence yesterday evening (4 June) for leading worship without state permission at his home the previous morning, Forum 18 News Service has learned. After being detained during the 3 June Sunday Communion service, Pastor Bokun was held overnight at a local remand prison, local Christian lawyer Sergei Lukanin told Forum 18 on 4 June. As the 24 hours Bokun spent in detention following his arrest are considered part of the sentence, his release is due tomorrow afternoon (6 June).
Directed to the press office of Minsk's Central District Police Station on the morning of 4 June, Forum 18 was told that Pastor Bokun's case material was at Central District Court, where he would be tried shortly. The police spokeswoman refused to provide further details, including the charges against the pastor.
While such cases are normally heard the morning following overnight detention, Pastor Bokun was not sentenced until approximately 8.30 pm, Lukanin told Forum 18. Speaking from the courthouse, he explained that the cases of five students also charged with violating regulations for holding demonstrations or other mass meetings were being heard first, beginning at around 3pm. Apparently due to a crowd of some 100 people supporting the defendants, the police van escorting them twice approached the courthouse at approximately midday but drove away again, said Lukanin. The defendants were kept inside the metal van for the whole day, despite direct sun of approximately 30 degrees Centigrade. This led the lawyer to express concern that medical attention was not permitted for Bokun's high blood pressure.
According to Lukanin, two uniformed police, Major Aleksandr Radyukevich and Captain Yuri Kulinich, were present from the beginning of the 3 June Sunday service of John the Baptist Pentecostal Church. Having interrupted the Breaking of Bread (Communion), he said, they escorted Pastor Bokun to Minsk's Central District Police Station. "So the service had to go on without him." At the police station, Pastor Bokun was asked to sign a protocol admitting that he had violated Article 23, Part 34 of the Administrative Violations Code. Bokun wrote that he had not violated the 1994 Belarusian Constitution, however, and that he believes the Demonstrations and Religion Laws to be unconstitutional.
Yesterday's sentence comes exactly a week after Pastor Bokun was detained overnight and given a heavy fine of 620,000 Belarusian roubles (1,740 Norwegian Kroner, 215 Euros or 290 US Dollars) for leading a similar service the previous Sunday. Viewed by Forum 18, a copy of the 28 May court decision fining Pastor Bokun states that between 11am and 12.50pm on 27 May he "organised and led a mass religious event without permission". On that occasion, the court recognised his "acknowledgment of guilt, sincere remorse and the fact of a first offence" as extenuating circumstances.
IKEA may open shopping centre in Minsk
In his words, IKEA’s development strategy envisages having a shopping centre in every city populated by at least 1-1.5 million people. Minsk suits the requirement, noted the diplomat.
He also said, IKEA is now considering the possibility of opening new shopping centres in the ex-USSR, including Ukraine. “I hope Belarus will be considered as a possible location”, said Stefan Ericsson.
The diplomat believes the development of Belarusian-Swedish cooperation in all vital economic branches to be important. There are areas Swedish business vigorously explores in Belarus, he added. Investment cooperation between Belarus and Sweden vigorously develops as well. Last year Swedish investments in Belarus reached $17.2 million. In 2004 investments from Sweden amounted to $3.78 million, 2005 — $11.8 million.
There are twelve companies with a share of Swedish capital in Belarus — six joint ventures and six foreign-owned companies. There are representative offices of Swedish companies including offices of transnational corporations Ericsson, Volvo, IKEA and ABB.
Student helps restore overgrown cemetery
From: The Republican
Antil, who graduated fifth in her class at Palmer High School in 2005, is now a sophomore at Siena College in New York, where she is studying psychology and international studies.
She went with a group of nine other students on the trip last summer, and has hundreds of photos capturing the experience, which she treasures along with the memory of the journey.
"I fell in love with the language and culture," Antil said about Belarus.
The group accompanied New York orthodontist Dr. Michael Lozman, who has organized similar trips to eastern Europe to restore cemeteries. When they arrived at the site, in the tiny village of Vselyub, they saw an overgrown field inhabited by cows, geese and ducks. The gravestones were hidden by brush. Some were even partially buried underground.
"It didn't look like a cemetery," Antil said. "We had to cut down trees, burn brush and put a fence around it. Everyone worked together and we did get a lot of help from the village."
Despite a language barrier, the students from the nearby kindergarten through 11th grade school would stop by the site every day to help the Americans with their project. Antil said she picked up some Russian and is now studying it at Siena. She will spend next semester in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Many of the stones were partially buried and the group righted 208 stones. Most dated from 1900 to 1930. Antil said she saw nothing past 1939, and that the Nazis kicked over the gravestones. Many of the villagers didn't even know the field was a former cemetery. She said Jewish people were encouraged to leave Belarus in the 1930s.
She said there were about 700 people in the town, which is about two hours south of Minsk. Everyone in the group stayed with a family. She said the townspeople were surprised to see women working - they erected an 80-foot fence, and hauled buckets of cement.
Some of the stones didn't look like the ones typically found in a cemetery. Some were round, like boulders, she said.
"It was rewarding and intense. I learned so much about the Holocaust and the Jewish culture," she said. "I was not sure I could go to Auschwitz. I wasn't sure I could handle it."
Antil took many pictures of her visit, from the cemetery project which took seven days to complete, to the remnants of the concentration camps.
"It was definitely a very unique trip. It helped me broaden my horizons a little bit," Antil said.
Lozman, who is Jewish, said his first trip to Belarus was in 2001. He wanted to see the village where his father lived, and was appalled by the condition of the Jewish cemetery there. Since that visit, Lozman has completed six cemetery projects, and accepts donations for his projects. Of Antil's group, he said, "Not only were they superb in their behavior and cultural sensitivity, but they were such hard workers. I was extremely proud of them."
As for Antil, he said, "Leah is an exceptional young lady. Leah, I think if I had to describe what my perceptions were, was a little uneasy when we first started the project but turned out to be the most dedicated and excited ... person I could remember having on the trip. It was wonderful to watch her dedication. She really was amazing."
Antil's not sure what the future will bring, but said she would like to work internationally, whether teaching English or working for the United Nations.
"It was like going and sharing a piece of history," Antil said about the trip.
Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk to gather 32 countries
He added, negotiations with participants are going flawlessly, with half of the negotiations already over. The participants include the USA, Cuba and China as well as many European states, including Poland, Greece, France, Italy and Germany. Guests from Africa and Australia are expected to arrive.
Rodion Bass also said, over 150,000 tickets are ready for selling, which is to start on June 5.
About 100 actions will be held during the 16th international festival of arts “Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk”. The program of the festival includes traditional opening and closing ceremonies, the Days of Culture of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and the Union State, the Day of the City of Moscow, the Day of the City of Vitebsk and the Day of the Youth. The concerts will begin at 1800hr and 2200hr; solo concerts will last 2 hours, an opening concert – about 3,5 hours, the closing one – 2,5 hours. A handicraft exhibition “City of Masters”, various press conferences and exhibitions will be held within the framework of the festival as well.
Outstanding French singer Patricia Kaas and Eurovision 2007 winner Marija Serifovic of Serbia will perform at the opening concert.
This year’s Slavonic Bazaar is also expected to welcome Dana International (Israel), an ensemble Dance of Kair (Egypt) and other foreign stars. Philip Kirkorov, Larisa Dolina, Boris Moiseev, Verka Serdyuchka, Sofia Rotaru are expected to perform at the opening concert.
Belarus will be represented by Angelica Agurbash, Alesya, Inna Afanasyeva, music bands Pesnyary and Syabry, the state dance ensemble of Belarus supervised by Valentin Dudkevich, the Presidential Orchestra of the Republic of Belarus and others.
The opening ceremony will be hosted by Yelena Spiridovich (Belarus), Oksana Fedorova (Russia) and Vasiliy Ilaschuk (Ukraine).
U.S. urges Russia to help over Litvinenko
"It's clear that there are comments coming out of the Russian leadership on their insistence that they will not cooperate. We would encourage them to cooperate," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview published by Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last weekend that Britain's request for the extradition of former agent Andrei Lugovoy in connection with Litvinenko's death was politically motivated and not backed up by enough evidence.
Litvinenko, a former spy who had become a Kremlin critic and moved to Britain, met Lugovoy and Russian businessman Dmitry Kovtun in the Millennium Hotel in London on November 1 last year.
He fell ill within hours of the meeting and died in a hospital just over three weeks later. Doctors diagnosed polonium poisoning.
"This is a case that needs to be resolved. This murder of Mr Litvinenko is just terrible. It's an awful, terrible way to die through this radiation poisoning, not to mention the other people possibly put at risk through what was done," said McCormack.
Asked about Putin's comments that there was not enough evidence to extradite Lugovoy over the case, McCormack declined comment. "The important thing here is to answer the question of who killed this man. The British authorities say they have enough evidence to bring this particular person to trial."
In his interviews, Putin also hit back at Britain for granting political asylum to Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev and tycoon Boris Berezovsky, both wanted in Russia.
McCormack said the British government should examine these cases mentioned by Putin. "Absolutely, I am sure they are taking a close look at them. That is for them to resolve, but we would encourage an attitude of cooperation."
The United States and Russia have traded a barrage of barbs in recent months over a range of issues, from Kosovo to a missile defence shield the United States plans in Europe that Moscow strongly opposes.
PM seeking 'frank talks' with Putin
Tony Blair will seek a "frank conversation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his increasingly fractious relations with the West at the G8 summit.
The Prime Minister said he wanted to discuss issues including the US's plans for a missile shield and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko when the men meet at the event in Germany.
However, Mr Blair insisted that he did not believe the tensions would result in "some great confrontation" because it was not in Russia's interests to have a "scratchy or difficult" relationship with international partners.
The row over nuclear arms is threatening to overshadow the three-day summit, where leaders are hoping to strike a key deal to tackle climate change which includes both America and China.
US President George Bush on Tuesday sought to calm the row with President Putin - who has threatened to target European cities with nuclear arms if America presses ahead with developing a missile shield - by inviting Moscow to co-operate in the project.
Mr Blair said the US had promised to be "completely transparent" and "share the technology".
"The fact is this has always been about the danger of rogue states. The truth of the matter is that, for all sorts of reasons, it is not something that is really about Russia at all and yet suddenly it is put up by Russia in this way, in quite a confrontational way," he told the BBC.
"Now I think the sensible thing, and this is what I'll do certainly when I meet President Putin, is to have a frank conversation about the state of the relationship between not simply Britain but Europe and Russia."
Mr Blair - who will be attending his last G8 as Prime Minister before stepping down later this month - insisted people would see there was a "difficulty" with Russia's relationship with the outside world.
He added: "I don't really think that in the end it will be in the long-term interest of Russia to have a relationship with Europe or with the Western world that is scratchy and difficult."
Mass grave of slain Jews found in Ukraine: Several thousand Holocaust victims believed to be buried in village of country called a `killing field'
From: The Star
The a grim finding comes in a country that one Holocaust expert described as "an enormous killing field."
The grave was found by chance last month when workers were laying gas pipelines in the village of Gvozdavka-1, about 180 kilometres northwest of the Black Sea port city of Odessa, said Roman Shvartsman, a spokesman for the regional Jewish community.
The Nazis established two ghettos near the village during the war and brought Jews there from Odessa and what is now the country of Moldova, Shvartsman said.
In November 1941, Nazi officials set up a concentration camp in the area and killed about 5,000 people.
"Several thousand Jews executed by the Nazis lie there," Shvartsman told The Associated Press.
The Jewish community was aware of the mass murder at the time, but no one knew where the bodies were buried, he said.
Yitzhak Arad, a Holocaust scholar and a former director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, said the area was known to be a site of mass killings of Jews during the Holocaust. He said he found that 28,000 Jews were brought there from surrounding towns and that 10,000 died, murdered at a rate of around 500 a day.
Holocaust expert Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the discovery was not unexpected.
"I'm not surprised that, even in these days, there are discoveries such as these. It underscores the enormous scope of the plans of annihilation of the Nazis and their collaborators in Eastern Europe," he said.
Anatoly Podolsky, director of the Ukrainian Centre for Holocaust Studies, said there are believed to be some 250 to 350 mass grave sites dating from the Nazi occupation, during which some 1.5 million Ukrainian Jews are believed to have been killed. The number includes those massacred near their homes and those transported to death camps elsewhere.
Podolsky said most of the sites were located after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but there were still some left to find. Ilia Levitas, head of Ukraine's Jewish Council, put the number of mass Jewish graves in Ukraine at more than 700.
According to Shvartsman, the names of 93 Jews killed at the Gvozsdavka-1 site have been established.
No firm climate targets from G8, U.S. says
From: Washington Post
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, chairing the annual meeting of the Group of Eight (G8), had hoped to secure U.S. backing for a pledge to halve emissions by 2050 and limit warming of global temperatures to a key scientific threshold of 2 degrees Celsius.
But she is now likely to settle for an expression of U.S. support for United Nations efforts to combat climate change and an agreement to tackle emissions at a later date.
"We have opposed the 2 degree temperature target, we are not alone in that -- Japan, Russia, Canada and most other countries that I have spoken with do not support that as an objective for a variety of reasons," James Connaughton, a senior climate adviser to U.S. President George W. Bush, told reporters.
"At this moment in time on that one particular issue we do not yet have agreement," he added, referring to firm targets for cutting emissions that scientists say will swell sea levels and cause droughts and floods.
Separately, French Environment Minister Alain Juppe said G8 powers -- Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States -- were far from a final climate deal despite months of negotiations.
"We are far from a deal because Germany, supported by France, wants to go further, to lay the groundwork for post-Kyoto and to agree quantifiable targets," Juppe told French television.
Europeans are still hoping the summit can send a signal about leaders' desire to come up with a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate deal which runs until 2012 and which the U.S. is not a part of.
Merkel was expected to press Bush on the climate issue when she lunches with him on Wednesday. She will later meet with Russia's Vladimir Putin before holding a dinner and reception for all the G8 leaders in Heiligendamm, a seaside resort founded in 1793 as an exclusive summer spa for European nobility.
On the eve of the meeting, Bush criticised Russia on democracy, escalating a war of words with Putin that Merkel fears could overshadow other key themes like climate change and aid for Africa.
"In Russia reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development," Bush said during a visit to Prague on Tuesday.
Differences between Washington and Russia centre on U.S. plans to deploy parts of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow is also resisting a push by Washington and European countries to grant independence to the breakaway Serbian province Kosovo.
Leaders from the G8 are expected to discuss other foreign policy issues including Iran's nuclear programme, Sudan and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The world's top industrial powers first gathered in 1975 in Rambouillet, France, to coordinate economic policy following a global oil crisis and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates.
Recently, the club has come under pressure to adapt to shifts in global economic power. Merkel has invited leaders from Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa to address those concerns.
A number of African leaders have also been invited for an "outreach" session on Friday. It was unclear on the eve of the summit whether G8 countries would make ambitious pledges on development aid and AIDS funding for Africa.
Some 16,000 security personnel are in the area for the summit. The leaders will be shielded from thousands of demonstrators by a 12-km (7.5-mile) fence topped with barbed wire.
Almost 1,000 people were injured on Saturday when violence broke out at an anti-G8 protest in the nearby city of Rostock.
The Reasonings, Motives, and Purposes Of Putin: Are They Rational?
From: Political Yen/Yang
From the Canadian Globe and Mail comes this article:
- MOSCOW — In a threat not uttered since the Cold War, Vladimir Putin said that Russia intends to aim its missile systems - potentially nuclear weapons - at targets in Europe in retaliation for the U.S. decision to establish antimissile bases there.
During a lengthy dinner, Russia's President defended his semi-authoritarian style and insisted he is the world's only true democrat. In an interview with The Globe and Mail and a small circle of other journalists, he stressed that his country is not moving away from a market economy, refused to consider extraditing a former KGB agent charged with poisoning a dissident in London, and lashed out repeatedly at the United States and NATO for operating in countries previously within Russia's sphere of influence.
In the last 17 years since the fall of the old Soviet Union, the world has generally viewed the new Russia as irrelevant and not a serious force to be reckoned with (in terms of influence in the world arena). In the big picture, this has not been the best course of action, but that's the way it has played out up to this point.
In many of the former Warsaw Pact countries and former Soviet Socialist Republics, there was (and still is) much resentment over how Mother Russia lorded over them and interfered within their local affairs. If one of the nations was to get too independent from Moscow, force was threatened and in some cases used, if local officials did not comply with Kremlin directives. (SEE: 1956 Hungary and 1968 Czechoslovakia)
Today, the resentment has shifted back to Moscow. At present, most of these former satellites are looking towards Western Europe and the U.S. for the development of their economies and other kinds of support that Moscow could not supply then, and still cannot now. And Putin, being a former Cold Warrior, cannot stand it. It's an ego thing with him and those that stand with him in the Russian government.
How can we reach this conclusion?
Russia lost much influence when they could no longer prop up the various eastern European governments that once stood with them. The Russian government's collective ego was left bruised after coming to the realization that their theories on the fall of western civilization were not accurate, and the theories of a glorious existence of world-wide socialism would never materialize (at least not Soviet style). After decades of predicting the collapse of western capitalism (particularly the U.S. and her allies), their collective tails were tucked between their legs as they pulled out. To add insult to injury, the same nations were elated and looking forward to repairing relations with those nations that had been the subject of an intense propaganda campaign by the Kremlin, despite the fact this has been a gradual process.
In some ways and to some degree, we can certainly understand the suspicions of Russians. One need only to look at history to gain a more in-depth understanding of their attitudes towards the west.
Napoleon and Hitler, two imperialists that wanted to build empires that equaled or were greater than that of the Romans, set their sights on Russia without thought to the serious difficulties that would lie ahead in such an endeavor. Their blatant aggression was bold and specific.
These events, alone, could shed some light on explaining Putin's growing outward mistrust of Europe and the U.S., if it were not for one very important thing. The defensive missile shield is not offensive in nature.
This leads me to question the irrational response Putin has chosen to render.
The Bush administration maintains that the purpose of installing a missile shield in Europe is to protect it from rogue states currently seeking a nuclear bomb, like Iran and North Korea. Putin claims that these counties do not (at present) pose a valid threat, on the basis of the fact that neither country has a capable delivery system. He is right for now, but just how long will he be right?
This leads me to wonder further, why is he so concerned?
If Putin is right, then he shouldn't be worried if the U.S. and the countries agreeing to deployment waste money on it. Right? The only thing that is feasible after this is, Putin's motives are not as pure as he wants us all to believe.
He must want the world to think that his fear and mistrust of the EU leads him to believe that the EU and/or the U.S., both want to attack Russia with nuclear weapons at some point down the road. And by having the missile shield in place, it would embolden Europe to become more aggressive and turn once again to imperialism for expansion purposes, as they have done in times past.
That's all well and good. But if we look at present-day Europe, they certainly are not giving any outward signs that this is the case. In fact, instead of aggressive rhetoric and actions, we see modern-day Europe as a model of passive foreign policy (almost to a fault). In reality, if anything at all, Europe is a pacifist entity that avoids most conflicts due to the ability to look back and see what consequences lie at the end of war. And let's not forget this little tidbit of insight: Europeans still remember the widespread destruction of their continent and certainly have the capabilities of visualizing what their continent would look like if they chose this path again, this time with nuclear weapons being at the center of such a conflict.
The U.S. has even offered to provide a shield that will protect Russia and by them turning it down, it becomes more apparent that this isn't about the danger they perceive will come from the west. In real terms, it demonstrates to me (and many others) that Russia wants to maintain a level of leverage should they once again decide to exert coercive influence, over its former sphere of influence.
If we look at the insanely jealous husband that is always accusing his wife of infidelity, we can usually pinpoint the source of his suspicion and paranoia to the fact that he, himself, is not faithful to her. And in a textbook model of egocentric behavior, he knows that he is not doing right, so he perceives that everyone else must not being doing right either. This case is no different. His accusations of perceived aggression by the west, can also fall into this category.
What else could it possibly mean?
Russia's Plan for the EU?
From: New Zeal
Sergei Karaganov, head of the editorial board of "Russia in Global Affairs" magazine writing in Novosti
Moscow and the European capitals should understand that they have common interests. Maybe, they should even stop using a politically correct but meaningless term -"strategic partnership."
They should work for a strategic union rather than partnership. Otherwise, their global positions will be weakening - the EU will continue losing its global influence in the mid-term and Russia will follow suit in five to six years. Initially, this could be an energy union - an exchange of assets. Russia could give Europe a share in energy production in exchange for a share in distribution.
For the time being, the sides are not ready for this union. They should work to turn what the media are calling "the tragedy of failure" into an impetus for taking their relations to a new level. This will allow them to look to the future with optimism.
At Last! Bush Blasts Russia!
From: La Russophobe
President Bush risked further stoking a testy dispute with Russia over a new U.S. missile defense system on Tuesday, saying Moscow has "derailed" once-promising democratic reforms.
In a speech celebrating democracy's progress around the globe — and calling out places where its reach is either incomplete or lacking — Bush said that free societies emerge "at different speeds in different places" and have to reflect local customs. But he said certain values are universal to all democracies, and rapped several countries for not embracing them.
"In Russia, reforms that once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development," Bush said, speaking at a conference of current and former dissidents.
The president asserted that this discussion of democratic backsliding in Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin was just one part of a strong relationship. "America can maintain a friendship and push a nation toward democracy at the same time," Bush said. But the lecture, however gentle, was not likely to be well-received by Putin, already riled over what he sees as unwelcome meddling by the United States in Russia's sphere of influence. Most recently, Moscow has become increasingly irritated by U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe, on Russia's doorstep.
U.S. officials have been alarmed by threatening statements from Putin and others over the proposed network. Russia believes the system — with a radar base to be sited in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in neighboring Poland — is meant for it. Putin has said he has no choice but to boost his nation's own military potential in response. Putin warned over the weekend that Moscow could take "retaliatory steps" including aiming nuclear weapons at U.S. military bases in Europe. China on Tuesday joined Russia in saying the shield could touch off a new arms race. "Part of a good relationship is the ability to talk openly about our disagreements," Bush said in the speech at Czernin Palace. "So the United States will continue to build our relationships with these countries and we will do it without abandoning our principles or our values."
Bush said this same approach applies to other allies with difficult democratic records, naming Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and China. "China's leaders believe that they can continue to open the nation's economy without also opening its political system," Bush said. He listed as the nations with the "worst dictatorships," Belarus, Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Iran and Syria. He also criticized Venezuela, Uzbekistan and Vietnam as places where progress had been made but now "freedom is under assault." The conference was hosted by Natan Sharansky, a former prisoner of the Soviet regime who has continued to champion freedom, an former Czech President Vaclav Havel, who led the Velvet Revolution that ended communism in the former Czechoslovakia in 1989. The president met with dissidents after the speech.
With the Iraq war raging and that country far from a stable democracy, critics say there is widespread skepticism about Bush's "freedom agenda" — the byproduct of his promise to advance democracy in every corner of the globe. But Bush claimed the mantle of democratic warrior.
"I pledged America to the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," he said. "Some have said that qualifies me as a dissident president. If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, then I'll wear the title with pride."
Earlier, Bush defended the plans for the missile shield here against fierce opposition by the local population as well as Russia. Czech leaders chimed in to back him up, as did Poland's prime minister from afar. "The people of the Czech Republic don't have to choose between being a friend of the United States or a friend with Russia," Bush said at a joint appearance with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and President Vaclav Klaus in a high-ceilinged hall of medieval Prague Castle. "You can be both. We don't believe in a zero-sum world." Standing on soil that was in the Soviet orbit less than 20 years ago, Bush made a declaration not thought necessary for decades: "The Cold War is over." The once-obvious statement has been rendered less so lately amid an escalating war of words between Washington and Moscow.
So far, the Bush administration has mostly held its rhetorical fire, giving muted reaction such as calling Putin's remarks "not helpful" and repeating its insistence that the network is meant to protect NATO allies against a missile launch from Iran, not Russia. U.S. officials do not want to give Putin the satisfaction of appearing to be engaged in a dispute among equals with the world's only superpower. But the system is unpopular in the Czech Republic, too, among its wary citizens if not its leaders. People fear becoming a terrorist target, and they worry about Russia's wrath, as well. Bush, Topolanek and Klaus sought to calm those fears.
Bush said he will make his case directly to Putin Thursday when they meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Germany. "My message will be Vladimir — I call him Vladimir — that you shouldn't fear a missile defense system," Bush said. "As a matter of fact, why don't you cooperate with us on a missile defense system? Why don't you participate with the United States?" Klaus applauded Bush's promise to make "maximum efforts" with Putin. Bush was flying from Prague to Germany for the three-day summit. Bush's eight-day European trip also includes stops in Poland, Italy, Albania and Bulgaria.
Are We Following the Cold War with Cold Peace?
From: A New Dark Age Is Dawning
Will history tell us we were fools? We worried about the wrong war and made the wrong enemies. In the first decade of the 21st century the leaders of America and Britain allowed themselves to be distracted by a few Islamist bombers and took easy refuge in the politics of fear. They concocted a "war on terror" and went off to fight little nations that offered quick wins.
Meanwhile these leaders neglected the great strategic challenge of the aftermath of cold war: the fate of Russia and its mighty arsenals, its soul tormented by military and political collapse, its pride undimmed. They danced on Moscow's grave and hurled abuse at its shortcomings. They drove its leaders to assert a new energy-based hegemony and find new allies to the south and east. The result was a new arms race and, after a Kremlin coup, a new war. Is that the path we are treading? This Russian risk could yet dwarf our blunder on Iraq (more) By Simon Jenkins
The New Cold War
From: Nether World
The relationship between the USA and Russia has been deteriorating for a while now, largely because of America's insistence on continuing with this lunatic program, which Russia obviously sees as a threat, but also for other reasons. Indeed, things have got so bad that Condoleezza Rice, a supposed expert on the Cold War, had to deny last month that a new Cold War was taking place and then two weeks later accuse Russia of having a Cold War mentality. This was before Putin's recent announcement, if Russian missiles are going to be aimed at us it will be hard to dismiss the idea that we are returning to the bad old days before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Bush's continued insistence that the proposed missile shield is not against Russia and is merely a defence against North Korean or Iranian attacks is not believed in Russia as neither country has the capacity to successfully target the USA. Russia's argument against this seems quite reasonable. After all, how would the USA react if missiles were placed in a neighbouring country with a string of assurances that it was defence against some other state? Using Bush's logic, all Castro and Khrushchev would have needed to do in 1962 is insist that the missiles in Cuba were a precaution against a possible attack from Canada. Tony Blair was always enthusiastic about the missile shield and lobbied for parts of to be installed in Britain making the country a potential target.
At the heart of all this is the neocon credo of "Full Spectrum Dominance", an unrealistic plan for America to have total control of land, sea, air and space. This is what Tony Blair approvingly refers to as a "unipolar world". To most other people it's simply an empire and is already pretty much scuppered as a plan. America can only get away with this kind of dominance if compliant states let it and Russia has now drawn a line in the sand. Obviously this will cause the Bush administration to go into one of its periodic episodes of chest-thumping histrionics but in reality there is little it can do other than either back down or resign itself to this new reality.
If this is a new Cold War, there are some differences from the last one. The Soviet Union was bankrupted by the arms race which America started. The new Russia, on the other hand, has some of the world's largest reserves of natural gas, a commodity desperately needed in Europe and we have already seen how Russia can use this resource as a weapon. This will make it somewhat harder for European countries to fall into line with every insane command from the White House. The stark reality is Europe needs to maintain good relations with Russia or face a severe energy crisis.
That's not to say that there aren't legitimate disputes with Russia that need resolving. Among these is the fate of Kosovo which might be solvable, and the trail of contamination left across London from the polonium 210 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko which probably won't be solved. For its part, Russia has genuine security concerns. Not only is it angry over the so-called defence shield, it is also angry about the broken promises concerning NATO expansion into eastern Europe.
What we seem to be presented with is two choices, neither of which are particularly appealing. The first is the unipolar world Blair is so enthusiastic about where America is the only power on the planet and we all ally ourselves to America's benevolent protection and defer any disputes over to its jurisdiction secure in the knowledge that it will always act fairly and impartially as we have seen so often. The other option is the Bipolar world where another power (Russia in this case) acts as a counter-balance to American hegemony resulting in America's allies having nuclear weapons pointed at them as we experienced in the last Cold War.
There is a third option, and I'm not sure if this is any more appealing than the other two. That is a multi-polar word where there are several superpowers that can keep each other in check. Obviously this still means that someone or other will still be pointing missiles at us but it might allow us a bit more independence from the de facto occupation of so much of the world (particularly Europe) by American forces. This would mean that Europe would have to stand up on its own two feet and refuse to be a pawn in a game between America and Russia. I think this is eventually what we may end up with as China also flexes its muscles. The downside is that this all sounds very 1984 with three large blocks permanently at war with just the alliances changing from time to time. There don't seem to be many other alternatives at present. Nuclear weapons are not going to be un invented, some states will always be more powerful than others and alliances will always be formed and broken. Also, the prospect of further conflicts is very real the more scarce the World's resources get.
How ironic that the destruction of Iraq over fictitious WMD and the sabre rattling with Iran over potential WMD has led to a serious threat of real WMD raining down on Europe's cities as the world's last superpower insists on pointing its WMD at Russia. And what a coincidence that this current crisis flared up shortly after Britain decided to renew its Trident WMD program. No doubt we will now be told that with Russian missiles aimed at London, renewing Trident was the correct decision and the original cause for this new arms race (America's provocation of Russia) will be glossed over.
Cold War Re-Freeze?
From: My Cow
The US states that the missile defense screen is to protect from attacks by countries such as Iran and North Korea. Russia was not impressed, and downplayed the danger of attack from Iran while dropping heavy hints that the defense system was instead aimed at Russia.
Putin said: "If the American nuclear potential grows in European territory, we will have to have new targets in Europe.” He also suggested that while Iran and North Korea don’t have the types of weapons that the defense system was designed to shoot down, Russia does.
This has caused some consternation in NATO whose members are now scrambling to find a diplomatic solution. The new French President Nicolas Sarkozy has specifically responded by saying that he plans on having “frank” discussions with President Putin around the statement. Britain’s Tony Blair has taken a more holistic approach, stating that Europe as a whole would not be shy in voicing concerns.
The attitude of Russia has been described as unhelpful in the least, and certainly Mr. Putin’s statement was bold and confrontational. It was sparked primarily by the intention to build missile interceptor bases in Europe, and by Washington’s earlier withdrawal from the 2002 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
With the number of potentially belligerent and nuclear-capable nations making their presence felt in the world, there may need to be a fine balancing act done to help protect the safety of the West without creating further belligerence.
If Russia is starting to rattle sabers, then the rest of the world needs to sit up and pay attention, before we find ourselves back in the economically taxing and extremely dangerous stand-off days that marked the height of the Cold War.
Pride & Prejudice
From: Vilhelm Konnander
During the last few weeks, events related to LGBT-rights have given rise to both concerns and hopes about the situation of homosexuals in Central and Eastern Europe. Developments have clearly shown that homophobia is still rampant in the region, but all the same there are promising tendencies in some countries that at least some authorities have started to respond to international critique against official homophobia. Reviewing recent events, gives a somewhat more hetereogeneous picture than was the case only a year ago.
A few weeks ago, a celebrity homosexual was beaten beyond recognition in Lithuanian capital Vilnius. The only reason was that he was openly gay. He might as well have had a pink triangle stitchted to his chest. Homosexuality is simply not socially accepted in this deeply Catholic country, and people and parliamentarians alike do not hesitate to openly condemn this "pariah to society."
Last week, Amnesty criticised Lithuania for not respecting gay rights, actively hindering an EU-sponsored campaign "For Diversity - Against Discrimination" - in celebration of the Europan Year for Equal Opportunities for All. Now, the campaign has had to be delayed in anticipation of permission from Lithuanian authorities. Last week, the Vilnius Rainbow festival was denied the right to assembly in the capital. In response to the exposed situation for the Lithuanian LGBT-community, the European section of the International Gay and Lesbian Association (ILGA) has decided to arrange its annual conference in Vilnius this autumn.
Turning East to Moscow, a group of LGBT-activists - including several western parliamentarians - were brutally beaten by anti-gay groups, when trying to hand over a petition to mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Their simple plea was to argue for the permission to march through central Moscow during the 2007 Moscow Pride festival. While being beaten by skinheads, Russian police stood idly by watching the "spectacle" afar, only to afterwards arrest some thirty gay rights' activists, including two members of the European Parliament.
However, what might be considered a slight improvement was yesterday's Pride march in Latvian capital Riga, organised by the Mozaika network. With the experiences from last year's violent anti-gay protests in fresh memory, authorities now allowed some 1,000 activists to march the streets under heavy police protection. Still, the march has created a deep rift in the Latvian LGBT-community, and ILGA-Latvia has publicly denounced organisers as provocateurs and profiteers, whose actions will only worsen the situation in the country.
Another partial success was the 19 May Warsaw Pride festival, where some 5,000 LGBT-activists were, for the first time, allowed to undertake the march. Despite massive anti-gay protests, the Pride parade went by without the extensive violence we have got used to see in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe. However, Poland remains a fundamentally homophobic country, and the Kaczynski twins, ruling Poland as President and Prime Minister, are among the country's foremost opponents of gay rights. Polish homophobia is, to be quite frank, on the edge of the ludicrous. Thus, last week, Poland's Children's Ombudsman considered banning the kids' show Teletubbies. Why? The reason is laughable: Apparently, one of the "male" characters in the show carries a handbag. Such a role model might prove a negative influence on Polish children, the Polish Ombudsman argued, as it might indicate the small blue figure was - GAY! Lo and behold! It was only after widespread ridicule in international media, that the Ombudsman decided to reconsider her position.
Belarus Manager Rings in Changes before Repeat Bulgaria Match
"I cannot say anything about tactics, but there will be a lot of changes in the team. You will see a lot of new names in the starting eleven, compared to the game in Minsk," Puntus told reporters on Tuesday at the Sofia airport.
Belarus arrived in Sofia for the second leg of the European championship qualifying group G game against Bulgaria, having lost the first meeting in Minsk 2-0.
"We drew our conclusions and will try not to commit the same mistakes. We will fight for the win until the end," Puntus said.
Asked whether he will have a defender man-mark Dimitar Berbatov, who scored both goals in Minsk, Puntus said he had no such plans, although he went on to remark that extra attention would be paid to the Bulgaria and Tottenham Hotspur striker.
The Belarus team arrived in Bulgaria accompanied by allegations of match-fixing, both at home and in Romania, which plays in the same qualifying group.
Bookmakers in Belarus were swamped with bets on Bulgaria before the Saturday game, which by far exceeded bets on other outcomes, but Puntus refused to comment on the budding scandal.
"I don't take such allegations seriously because I know how hard it was for us to play that match," he said.
It is not the first time that Belarus' national team has been accused of throwing matches, with suspicions surrounding its games against the Czech Republic and Moldova in September 2003.
Determined mother, daughter from Belarus hold on to heritage, pursue a better life in U.S.
From: The Advocate
|Irina Kourilova and her daughter, Olga, 18, still speak Russian at home. They moved to United States from Belarus, a part of the former Soviet Union, more than a decade ago. Olga recently graduated second in her class at West Feliciana High and will go to LSU in the fall to major in international studies.|
Irina Kourilova and her daughter, Olga, 18, speak their native Russian at home, a practice that preserves a link to the land they fled more than a decade ago.
However, they haven’t let language remain a barrier to success in the United States.
Although Olga’s English-language skills were so limited St. Francisville educators recommended the 6-year-old begin in kindergarten rather than first grade, she didn’t stay behind long.
By the third grade, she was back in class with other students her age.
Now, as a recent West Feliciana High School graduate at the top of her class, she’s even ahead in her academic career.
Olga will begin LSU in the fall with almost enough hours to be a sophomore, including 14 hours of French credit.
Her plan is to major in international studies with perhaps a minor in mass communications or business.
Determination to succeed runs in the family.
While still living in what was once the Soviet Union and worried about radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant 1986 incident, Irina Kourilova sought to protect her young daughter by marrying an American she met through her job.
When she realized her mate was an abusive husband and stepfather, Irena Kourilova was on the move again. She and Olga fled Idaho by bus — three days and nights — with only $30 and a dictionary she flipped through looking for the English equivalents of her Russian words.
“The only person I knew in this huge country was a woman in Baton Rouge,” Irina Kourilova said, explaining her destination choice.
Once in Louisiana the reality of no job, no money, no transportation didn’t deter her.
“I was delivering newspapers, sewing, watching children, whatever,” she said.
Friends helped during the early years, she said, mentioning in particular an expensive dental bill paid for Olga.
Early minimum-wage jobs supported them until Irina Kourilova’s language skills had improved enough to accept a position with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
“My worst nightmare was not being able to take care of my child,” she said.
For Irina Kourilova, taking care of her daughter involved more than providing physical necessities.
She ordered textbooks from Russia to strengthen Olga’s mathematical skills because she found American ones not advanced enough.
She introduced Olga early to classical literature and continued to speak Russian with her at home so her daughter could communicate with family members during the rare trips back to Russia.
“My Russian is definitely accented,” Olga said, adding she can’t always remember Russian words she wants to use.
“I’ve noticed that I snap my fingers just like my mother does when she can’t think of an English word,” Olga said.
The two return to their hometown of Minsk, Belarus, to see family usually every five years, she said.
During the last trip, Olga said she was grateful for the few days spent in Moscow when they first arrived because it put her on a fast track for communicating more easily with her relatives.
“You improve when you’re only speaking that language,” she said.
Calling herself “an auditory learner who can listen and learn,” Olga said she still had to work for all her A’s.
She barely missed being co-valedictorian with Kristen Brignac, because of an extra summer class she took at LSU.
“It was a computer course on HTML and other cool things,” Olga said.
The two girls had taken the same courses throughout high school, earning the same extra quality points for honors classes, but her A in the LSU class added only four quality points, creating a slight separation.
Because the two had already written, and practiced, the graduation speech they had planned to give together, Principal Michael Thornhill allowed them to do it that way.
Irina Kourilova said she’s very proud of her daughter and was especially touched when Olga asked her to be her Homecoming Court escort this year.
The mother said their closeness has in some ways been necessitated by not having any relatives in the country, but also because she believes in being an involved parent.
Through the years, their living room floor was often filled with her daughter’s projects and/or classmates.
“Sometimes I began to feel as if I were working just for pizza,” she said with a laugh.
“A 10- or 11-year-old boy greeted me last week by saying, ‘Hi, Olga’s mom.’”