Harvest issues, Russia gives loan, Rolling Stones, Iran, Turkmenistan, Taxes, Sport facilities, Ukraine, Poland Blogs and Sport
Video link meeting on the progress in the ongoing harvesting campaign
According to him, because the harvesting campaign has been protracted, the loss may surpass 1 million metric tons of grain. "This is inadmissible," the Head of State said.
"If we gather in the harvest quickly and qualitatively, we will not only satisfy the national demand, but will also have a certain reserve," Alexander Lukashenko said.
This year has yielded good crops of grain, he said. "Indeed, [this year's harvest] has been difficult, hard, but it feels as if we foresaw this situation in advance and bought a greater quantity of highly productive combine harvesters, including foreign ones, which can raise grain, directly and figuratively speaking," the President added.
Belarus should ensure food safety by its own efforts
The Head of State is concerned with the situation at the world grain market and first of all at the European market. “Today there is no bread in the Western Europe, Russia and Ukraine. For the last one and a half months the prices on grain have soared by 50%. The prices for bread in the neighboring countries are increasing,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
The President underlined that the country has grown good harvest this year. “In case the harvest is gathered quickly, we will satisfy the needs of the country and will make some reserves,” the President stated.
Belarus’ President criticized the governor of Brest oblast for irrational farming
The flooding of the biggest part of areas under crops and leguminous plants (280 thousand hectares) is a failure of the local authorities. “Several years ago I asked you to decide where and what to sow,” the Belarusian Head of State said addressing Konstantin Sumar.
“The local authorities should have foreseen that grain crops would never grow on such low plots of land. Other crops should have been sown there,” said Alexander Lukashenko.
“Why to sow the areas which are not good for grain crops? Why to spend funds and labour resources?” the Belarusian Head of State asked and added this is the last time they discuss this issue.
Belarus should grow more grain maize
Having listened to the report by chairman of the Gomel oblast executive committee Alexander Yakobson, the Head of State demanded that the region should focus on cultivation of warm-season crop. “If it is profitable we have to increase the area under food corn. This year has shown that these plants are heat resistant,” the President said. Bearing in mind the climate change and global warming we have to cultivate what yield benefits, Alexander Lukashenko stressed.
Gomel oblast is set to produce 7,500 tons of corn this year. Alexander Yakobson assured that the oblast would beat the target. This year the oblast has partially used its own corn seeds. The oblast corn factory has been boosting its production capacities.
No natural gas subsidies for grain dryers
“Grain should be dried by the facilities running on wood. Natural gas should be used in exceptional cases. To use diesel or stove fuel is inadmissible,” the Head of State said. He noted the need to convert all grain drying facilities of the country to operate on local fuels.
According to the President, there are effective companies which are ready to dry grain using natural gas which costs today more than $100. “Please use natural gas, but the state will not subsidize the natural gas costs,” he said.
The Head of Sate also added that there are the companies in the country making grain dryers running on any fuel. In a year or two we need to stop using hydrocarbon fuel in grain drying, the President said.
Milk production should not decrease in Belarus
The head of state has stressed that there was no milk shortage on the domestic market. However the decrease of milk yield per cow should not be allowed. “This concerns the whole country,” he said.
The President has noted that the country consumed one tenth of the grain harvested, the rest was used for cattle fodder. “What do we cultivate grain for if there is no milk?” the President said.
State will not increase financial aid to agriculture
“The state will not pour more money into agriculture than it does now,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko. In his words, starting next year subsidies to agricultural companies will be halved and one year later no subsidies will be granted.
State budget funds will be provided for the sake of implementing special programmes only. Primarily governors will be in charge of distributing around 90% of such resources.
“The money will be spent on building up the material base of agricultural companies only,” said the President. “We will no longer guzzle away money. Peasants should understand it clearly. Nobody should expect we will hand out the money. There is no spare cash”.
Local authorities should help private households in harvesting
Local authorities, first of all chairmen of regional executive committees together with heads of agricultural companies should find an opportunity to help private households in harvesting.
“You have to help villagers. And of course, the fields should be plough up again by late September. I insist on that,” the President added.
In addition, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has suggested increasing grain purchases from farmers by 500,000 tonnes.
Alexander Lukashenko noted, the government should consider the possibility of having more reserves in case peasants want to sell more grain, for example, 0.5 million tonnes more.
According to the President, it would be a profitable investment as grain is likely to get more expensive in view of the present deficit. “It definitely won’t go to waste. If worst comes to worst, we will sell it if we don’t need it. The price will be much higher,” Alexander Lukashenko is convinced.
Belarusians should have no problems with selling products the country needs on the home market.
“It is a crime when rural Belarusians can and are eager to make money, are ready to sell excessive amounts of their products, to sell mushrooms and berries collected in the forest while we cannot buy them, not at all to a loss of Belkoopsoyuz [the Belarusian Union of Consumer Cooperative Societies],” said the President. “In its time Belkoopsoyuz received much support, it is time to return the favour”.
Belkoopsoyuz will buy the entire excessive stock of agricultural products people would like to sell, said Belkoopsoyuz Chairman of the Board Vladimir Kuleshov.
He noted, they are using 8,600 trade companies, 900 procurement stations, 630 vehicles and recruited 3,300 seasonal workers in order to procure the products. Facilities have been prepared to process and store the products between seasons. Thirty-two refrigerating chambers with the storage capacity of 1,000 tonnes have been upgraded to increase the capacity for freezing and storing wild berries. Contracts with processing companies of other government agencies have been signed.
According to the official, problems with timely financing payments to individuals have been solved. Br34 billion in loan resources allocated to consumer cooperative companies in line with a presidential decree will be spent on the designated purpose.
Alexander Lukashenko satisfied with harvesting campaign
“This year we have started harvesting as well-organized as never before without any urge from my part. I am very satisfied with that,” the President noted during a video link meeting highlighting this year’s harvesting campaign.
The head of state pointed to the fact that bread was too expensive this year due to unfavorable weather conditions in several countries. To date, Belarus has harvested almost 40% of grain, yet a lot has to be done to minimize the losses. “If we do not need bread, we will sell it for good money,” he stressed.
Alexander Lukashenko demanded the harvesting campaign be completed by mid August. “Then we will have bread. Otherwise we will sustain losses,” the head of state said.
According to him, this year’s crop is quite good. “We have an opportunity to virtually fully satisfy the domestic demand in grain, potato, main vegetables and beet roots,” the President said.
At the same time he stressed that the key target was to collect everything what had grown with minimum losses. “Everyone understands what needs to be done. So far we have collected and processed one third of the crop,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
Russian govt. okays $1.5 bln loan for Belarus to pay energy debt
From: Ria Novosti
"This is a preliminary approval, and the final decision will be adopted by the government in the form of budget amendments," Alexei Kudrin said. The government plans to amend the 2007 budget in October.
In late February, Belarus asked Russia for the loan to cover energy price hikes introduced by Russia earlier this year. Russia, which has been seeking to gain control over Belarus's Europe-bound pipelines, doubled the gas price for its neighbor to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters from January 1. The energy dispute between the two countries triggered new accusations in Europe that Russia is using oil and gas as a political weapon.
Since then, Belarus, whose economy had relied heavily on low energy prices from its former Soviet ally, has been paying only $55, and its debt reached $400 million by late May.
In mid-May, Russian state energy giant Gazprom [RTS: GAZP] signed a deal to purchase a 50% stake in Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz for $2.5 billion.
Rolling Stones not coming to Belarus
From: Charter '97
|Mick Jagger laughing it up with the Belarusian opposition.|
The invitation for the meeting with the British outstanding musician the Free Theatre received in the early June. The Belarusians were given the possibility to choose among the two European capitals, Budapest and Warsaw, which were to be toured by the Rolling Stones.
After a short dispute the Polish capital was chosen where the greatest concert of the Bigger Bang album presentation tour of the group was to be held.
The meeting took place at the make-up room of the Rolling Stones leader an hour before the concert. Along with Mick Jagger and representatives of the Belarusian Free Theatre the musician’s son and wife took part in the meeting.
Artistic head of the Free Theatre Mikalai Khalezin tells how the meeting was organized and what its subjects were. (Fragment of the interview)
-How well is Jagger informed about the state of affairs in Belarus?
-He is sufficiently informed because he is a socially active person, besides he is politically informed and actively affects the political life. We didn’t have to instruct him on the essentials of the recent Belarusian history. We only dwelt on particular subjects.
-What topics did you manage to discuss?
-First, he agreed to become a sponsor of the project ” World Musicians for Solidarity with Belarus” initiated by Lavr Berzhanin and supported by the Free Theatre. And that means that we may rely on Mick’s assistance in making contacts with the higher rank musicians and on his authority in the musical media. Secondly, he is eager to pay attention to Belarus when communicating with heads of the states and influential politicians, so, it actually means a supervision of the country which we dramatically lack. Thirdly, he supported our European march to be held in Minsk this October, having declared that he would attentively follow to which extent the words of the Belarusian authorities about the European choice would correspond their actions.
-Wasn’t the supposed coming of the Rolling Stones to Minsk discussed?
-We have discussed only the probable coming to Minsk only of Mick himself. But as the tour program was very hectic we decided to come back to this issue after it is finished. He himself expressed his desire of coming to Minsk to support the independent musicians and counterculture activists.
Unfortunately, the Rolling Stones concert in Minsk is unlikely to become true– in our country there is neither political will, nor resources, nor sufficient wages of the population for such project arrangement.
Though the Stones themselves consider that the absence of Belarus in the schedule of the tour is an absolute nonsense.
Iran, Belarus to boost economic ties
From: Press TV
According to Iran's Trade Promotion Organization, the amount of trade between Iran and Belarus is not significant considering the great potentials for economic cooperation; therefore, the two will be mainly seeking to boost bilateral relations.
Iran and Belarus are capable of developing to the point where they not only meet their domestic demand but also export to other countries, IRNA says.
During the four-day meeting, which is scheduled to start August 12, the two sides will negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding on tariff preferences.
Possible solutions to issues related to customs services and establishing a branch of an Iranian Bank as well as production standards, are among the topics that will be discussed in the meeting.
On the last day, Iran's Minister of Commerce and the Belarusian Minister of Industries will sign an MoU to strengthen the two sides business relations.
Turkmenistan and Belarus draw up cooperation plans
|A giant likeness of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov hangs about the parliament|
According to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the two countries have established very close and productive interstate dialog over the last years the foundation of which was laid down by the first president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka. The steady growth in trade testifies to the high level of bilateral relations. It has increased 14 times to US $ 57 mln lately. In this regard, the president of Turkmenistan said that just before the start of the meeting he signed a document on the establishment of an interstate commission and approved its composition from the Turkmen side.
In their turn, representatives of Belarus proposed to open trade and logistics centers in Ashgabat and Minsk that would help expand and strengthen trade relations as well as advertisement of goods.
During discussions about possible areas of further partnership, the sides noted, first of all, cooperation in the fuel and energy sector. "Belarus is very interested in Turkmen energy carriers and can offer the most advanced technologies in this respect. It is also ready to work in Turkmenistan by setting up joint ventures," Alexander Kasinets said. The Turkmen president invited Belarusian partners to join the ongoing intense development of the richest oil and gas deposits in the Turkmen part of the Caspian Sea and onshore areas on the basis of production sharing.
The education sphere was defined as no less important area of cooperation. In this context, Belarusian vice-premier said that his delegation included rectors of the agricultural university and one of the largest technical universities who are ready to discuss all necessary issues. "Each of 53 Belarusian higher educational establishments would be delighted to admit Turkmen students and open their branches in Turkmenistan," the guest said. In relation to the establishment of the national tourist zone on the Caspian Sea the sides discussed prospects for training skilled specialists for the spheres of city planning and tourism. Apart from that, there are prospects for cooperation in relation to the opening of the agricultural university in Dashoguz to train specialists for the agricultural-industrial complex. As is known, two countries have established contacts in the sphere of agriculture, in particular, in supplies of equipment that had proved successful in Turkmenistan's conditions.
In the context of establishing cooperation in the city planning sphere, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow told his guest that a tender to build a cement plant in Turkmenistan would be announced soon, and invited Belarusian partners to take part in it. In turn, Alexander Kasinets said that Belarus was ready to supply timber and other construction materials to Turkmenistan.
During the talks, the issue of launching flights between the two capitals was also discussed. The Turkmen president proposed opening a direct air route between Ashgabat and Minsk, and instructed relevant officials to deal with this issue as soon as possible, the TDH reports. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov also proposed to arrange for vacation of Belarusian children in newly built children's recreation centers near Ashgabat.
Cooperation in the sphere of sport was paid particular attention. As Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov noted, Turkmenistan has built a lot of sport facilities, including an ice palace where skilled Belarusian coaches could work and train the Olympic teams. Speaking about importance of establishing contacts in the cultural sphere, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov expressed gratitude to the Belarusian side for taking active part in Turkmenistan's art festivals. During the meeting the sides agreed to hold days of Belarusian culture in Turkmenistan in 2008 and days of Turkmenistan culture in Belarus in 2009.
"We have discussed practically all spheres of cooperation, Alexander Kasinets said in an interview with TDH, having praised the results of talks with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. We intend to establish a large-scale cooperation with Turkmenistan in the name of further prosperity of two friendly peoples."
On the same day, Turkmen-Belarusian interstate talks were held in the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan. Issues of preparation of bilateral documents designed to take the interstate dialog to a qualitatively new level were discussed during the talks. Meetings in the Ministry of economy and finance and in the Ashgabat's mayor office are scheduled for tomorrow. The Belarusian guests will visit large sport facilities, museums, textile enterprises as well as trade centers of the Turkmen capital.
Money will come from the South
From: Belarus Magazine
Being the first Belarusian financial structure on the territory of Italy the representation office of OJSC Belagroprombank will intend to attract Italian and European financial resources for realization of very important for Belarus investment projects. Ivan Bambisa had conducted negotiations in Milan with assessors (Regional Ministers) on matters of industry and tourism of the district Lombardy, General Director on industrial activity of Milan city executive board, Administration of Lombardy Industrial Association “AssoLombarda”. At the meetings prospective lines of cooperation in investment as well as in foreign trade spheres had been discussed. Advantages of cooperation with Belarusian financial sector had been presented to the Administration of Institute of foreign loans insurance of Italy (SACE) of a largest Italian financial group “UniCredit”. Belarusian delegation had visited major industrial companies due to this fact was initiated consideration of projects on creation of new assembly lines for agricultural equipment and modern manufacture of bio-diesel fuel, on modernization of Agro-industrial complex power by high-technology Italian equipment, on cooperation in the sector of agro— and eco-tourism.
Tax proceeds account for 73.6% of Belarus’ consolidated budget in H1 2007
In H1 2007 consolidated budget revenues exceeded Br16.5 trillion, up by 12.5% in comparable prices or 1.8 trillion on the same period of 2006.
Positive tendencies were displayed in collection of all types of the budget-forming taxes apart from excises and taxes on proceeds. For example, VAT payments controlled by the tax bodies increased by 1.6%, profit taxes – by 5.2%, income taxes – by 6.2%. Budget revenues generated from excises and taxes on proceeds fell due to the changes in the legislation on taxation of the turnover of oil products.
Budget revenues controlled by the tax bodies totaled Br12.1 trillion or 0.5% (Br62.5 billion) more as against last year’s analogous index. The plan was overfulfilled by 4.8% - additional Br559.1 billion was generated.
Taxes paid by Minsk economic entities accounted for 38.4% of all revenues controlled by the tax bodies, the Gomel oblast – 16.5%, the Vitebsk oblast – 12.8% and the Minsk oblast – 10.6%. Taxes paid by economic entities of other regions accounted for 21.7% of all revenues.
At the same time the biggest budget revenues controlled by the tax bodies were generated by the organizations of the concern Belneftekhim (16.2% of all revenues), the Energy Ministry (10.3%), the Industry Ministry (5.1%), the concern Belgospischeprom (4.5%), the Ministry of Transport and Communications (3.3%) and the Ministry of Architecture and Construction (3%).
The biggest part of such budget revenues is generated by juridical entities. Taxes paid by individual entrepreneurs and natural persons accounted for 3.1% and 0.9% of all revenues respectively.
Among juridical entities 66.2% of revenues controlled by the tax bodies are produced by the state-run organizations. The share of organizations of the non-state sector of economy approached 29.8%. Payments made by commercial organizations take the central place in tax proceeds. Taxes paid by commercial organizations accounted for 56.8% of the budget revenues generated by all organizations of the non-state sector or 16.9% of budget revenues controlled by the Ministry for Taxes and Duties of Belarus.
Taxes paid by enterprises set up with foreign ownership accounted for 34.5% of the budget revenues produced by non-state companies or 10.3% of revenues controlled by the tax bodies.
Taxes paid by other non-state companies (banks, insurance organizations, foreign juridical entities and others) accounted for 8.7% of the budget revenues generated by the non-state sector or 2.6% of revenues controlled by the tax bodies.
Alexander Lukashenko: sports facilities are popular in Belarus
|The international hockey tournament “Friendship Cup” opened in the Gomel Ice Palace|
The head of state believe that the sports facility of the kind should be set up in every regional center. Alexander Lukashenko noted that Belarus has been constructing sports facilities not only in cities but in towns as well. In this respect Brest oblast is leading among other Belarusian regions. Not long ago a modern sports compound Victoria and a rowing canal were opened there.
The Ice Palace gives an opportunity to go in for many sports, Alexander Lukashenko said. According to him, although the Palace is not too big, it is as good as other sports facilities build abroad.
Sports facilities enjoy popularity in Belarus, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko declared at the opening ceremony of the Pruzhany Ice Palace.
In his words, construction of sports facilities fuels economic development. The President noted that he paid great attention to the ice hockey development as it was one of the costliest and sophisticated sports.
The Ice Palace was designed and built in strict compliance with all the safety standards in the shortest possible time. The President believes that it will not be just a sports facility but it will become a community center.
Now there are about 500 sports facilities in Belarus. They provide training to over 200,000 boys and girls. Alexander Lukashenko noted that Brest was home to three Olympic Champions, namely, Sergei Makarenko, Leonid Taranenko, Yulia Nesterenko, as many as 49 athletes of Brest oblast make part of national sports teams.
The President thanked everybody who took an active part in the construction of the Ice Palace in Pruzhany. The head of state received a symbolic key to the Palace after which he cut the ribbon and opened the Ice Palace.
Russia to deploy S-400 air defense systems around Moscow
From: Ria Novosti
The S-400 Triumf (NATO codename SA-21 Growler) is a new air defense missile system developed by the Almaz Central Design Bureau as an upgrade of the S-300 family.
"A battalion equipped with S-400 Triumf air defense systems and a command post will be put on combat duty [around Moscow] August 6," Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky told a news conference Tuesday.
Russia successfully conducted July 12-13 live firing tests of S-400 air defense complex at the Kapustin Yar firing range in the Astrakhan Region.
Drobyshevsky said units of the first battalion had arrived at their deployment site in the Moscow Region and were preparing to assume combat duty.
A regular S-400 battalion comprises at least eight launchers and 32 missiles and a mobile command post, according to various sources.
S-400 has been designed to intercept and destroy airborne targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers (250 miles), or twice the range of the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot, and 2.5 times that of the S-300PMU-2.
The system is reportedly highly capable of destroying stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles with an effective range of up to 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles), and a speed of up to 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) per second.
Experts believe that the ability to intercept and destroy cruise missiles and ballistic missiles makes S-400 Triumf a crucial part of theater missile defenses.
Lieutenant General Alexander Gorkov, the Air Force air defense chief, said earlier in July that Russia planned to deploy new air defense systems primarily around all strategically important administrative and political centers in two stages by 2015.
The Russian Air Defense Forces, which are part of the Air Force, currently deploy more than 30 regiments equipped with S-300 (NATO reporting name SA-10 Grumble) missile complexes, which will be gradually replaced with S-400 systems.
Russia: one of the world's richest countries?
From: Ria Novosti
On Tuesday, Russia's Economic Development and Trade Ministry submitted a remarkable document to the government - a plan for Russian social and economic development until the year 2020. With ambitious targets, it attracted the attention of experts even before its official publication.
According to the forecast, if the country shifts its economic orientation from raw materials to innovation, its gross domestic product will grow by an average of 6.7% a year, putting the Russian economy into the world's top five. At that rate, the country's economy will grow two-and-a-half times by 2020, giving it an annual per capita GDP of $30,000 - no less than Western Europe and North America.
Some experts smirk at the forecast for its starry-eyed idealism-but Russia's present-day and recent economic growth rates back it up. GDP has been adding almost 7% annually for the last eight years, exceeding the most optimistic projections of government experts and other analysts. The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has forecast a 6.5% growth rate for this year. It will certainly be greater than that-the Kremlin and the Cabinet expect 7-8%.
Russia's industrial development is on a par with the Asian Tigers'. Manufacturing and engineering picked up just as mining slowed down. The Federal State Statistics Service, or Rosstat, reported a 7.7% increase in industrial output in the first half of the year. The rate for manufacturing and engineering was 12.2%. The figures for June were even more impressive: 10.9% and 15.6%, respectively.
So a majority of economists are not skeptical about the country's development strategy. According to experts at the Institute of National Economic Forecasting, affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences, pessimistic forecasts are based on an inertial model of development, which is outdated now that 15 years of reforms has given Russia a full-fledged market economy. Now, the targets will be hit. "It's hard to give advice to the government in the current situation. They're saying all the right things. They must act accordingly. That's what matters most," says Viktor Ivanter, the Institute's director.
Academic economists are even more optimistic in their forecasts. They expect GDP growth to stay within a range of 7.9-8.3% in 2007-30. They see only one drawback in the development strategy: it does not specify the factors that will bring about this huge economic growth.
The Economic Development and Trade Ministry thinks they are finding fault. The strategy presents only its general opinion of Russia's economic future and the government's social targets, which are to raise living standards and reduce poverty.
The ministry will be ready by December with a more detailed forecast for the country's development until 2020. The comprehensive study will specify all indices, with a thorough analysis of every economic sector, and distribute responsibilities among ministries and other central-government agencies.
U.K. Embassy says visa restrictions in place for Russian officials
From: Ria Novosti
Britain expelled four Russian diplomats last week and said it would impose visa restrictions for officials over Moscow's refusal to extradite London's chief suspect in the fatal poisoning of the former FSB officer and British national in London last November.
Press secretary Anjoum Noorani said the embassy had set out the changes made to the visa regulations to the Russian authorities and would not discuss the details in public.
Earlier Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry's official spokesman denied any changes.
"The Foreign Ministry has received requested explanations from the British Embassy in Moscow," Mikhail Kamynin told journalists. "They said no changes had been made [to visa regulations], and that the [new] rules introduced in April are still in effect."
But Kamynin said Russia would treat future visa requests from Britain adequately.
In early July, Russian prosecutors formally refused to extradite former Kremlin bodyguard-turned-businessman Andrei Lugovoi, accused by the U.K. of poisoning former Russian security officer and Kremlin critic Litvinenko with radioactive polonium, citing the Constitution.
Moscow responded to London's measures by expelling British diplomats and promised similar visa restrictions. The countries also suspended cooperation against terrorism.
The face of disaster
From: Kiev Post
As the specter of Chornobyl, Ukraine’s claim to infamy, slowly resurfaced in the public consciousness, a sober and intelligent statement by Ukraine’s authorities would have been nice. Instead, we got an earful of past incompetence from an official who should have stayed in the past.
Even if someone out there in television land was willing to give the Ukrainian authorities the benefit of the doubt regarding the latter’s ability to handle the situation, the delusion was soon dispatched by Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk.
“A disaster has happened. After the Chornobyl catastrophe we are confronted with a situation that can pose a real threat to our people,” Kuzmuk said from the scene.
As it turns out, the comparison between the Lviv spill, which has yet to claim any casualties, and Chornobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident, was a huge exaggeration. The comment spurred panic and did little to instill confidence in thousands who fled their homes in the vicinity of the spill.
As if to compensate, Kuzmuk returned to TV screens the next day to tell people in the disaster zone that they could “breathe easily” and feel free to drink from their wells and graze their livestock.
Having served as defense minister during some of the country’s worst military disasters, such as the leveling of a block of flats with a stray missile and the shoot-down of a Russian passenger liner over the Black Sea, Kuzmuk was a poor choice to break the news. But he has returned from the scrap heap of discredited officials twice already. If Ukraine wants to convince its citizens and others that it isn’t a disaster zone, then a good first step would be to at least find a better spokesman during catastrophes.
Poland's twin leaders accused of using anti-corruption agency to play politics
But a year later, a sting implicating the leader of a junior coalition party has thrown the Central Anti-Corruption Office's impartiality into question, resulting in bickering within the government so intense that it is threatening to rip apart the three-party coalition.
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski's political opponents say the case confirms their fears that the agency has strayed from the fight against corruption and instead is digging up dirt to benefit his ruling conservative Law and Justice party.
They say Poland's twin leaders — the prime minister and President Lech Kaczynski — have created an agency with little oversight and powers that lend themselves to abuse.
"I think the Central Anti-Corruption Office is a political police unit that exists for the protection of only one party: the main party," Andrzej Lepper, the agency's most recent high-profile target, recently told reporters in Gdansk.
Lepper, a one-time ally of the Kaczynskis, was deputy premier and agriculture minister — until July 9, when the prime minister accused him of corruption.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski credited the anti-corruption office with snagging Lepper, leader of the Self-Defense party, in a major sting operation revolving around the rezoning of lakeside land for development in northeastern Poland.
Lepper, in turn, accused the anti-corruption office of dirty tricks. He has demanded that Parliament set up a committee to investigate alleged abuse of power by the anti-corruption agency — a stance supported by leaders of the third party in the governing coalition, the League of Polish Families as well as the largest opposition party, Civic Platform.
The prime minister warned that the coalition can only continue if the two parties drop their demand for a parliamentary investigation. But so far they have refused to back down.
Amid the fighting within the coalition, Kaczynski on Friday fired two political officials — one linked to each party — intensifying a sense that the coalition could collapse completely, with early elections the only way out.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice party swept to power in 2005 on pledges to fight crime and corruption. One of the party's first missions was to launch a crusade to root out the corruption that has plagued the country since the fall of communism 17 years ago.
The government ordered the agency to weed out corruption in business and at the highest official ranks, granting the agency the right to tap telephones and spend up to nine months checking the records of private and publicly owned companies suspected of wrongdoing.
Few Poles question the need to fight corruption, which flourished in Poland during the communist era and in the years after communism's fall.
Corruption scandals — such as the imprisonment of Lew Rywin, a co-producer of "Schindler's List," for soliciting a US$17.5 million bribe from a leading newspaper in order to change media laws — helped bring down previous left-wing governments.
But Jagoda Walorek, directing manager at the anti-corruption organization Transparency International Polska, called the anti-corruption office a "propaganda machine of the government" that has done "very little" in the fight against crime.
"It's made a couple of spectacular and media-pretty arrests," she said. "Other than that, it's tough to say what they really do. The one thing we know is that they want to look good in the media."
In the sting operation that led to Lepper's dismissal, undercover agents struck a deal with two businessmen to pay them 3 million zlotys (US$1.1 million; €800,000) in exchange for using their close ties to the Agriculture Ministry to rezone lakeside land for development, bureau chief Mariusz Kaminski said.
After a six-month operation, agents agreed to meet with the suspects at a hotel to swap the money for the necessary signed and stamped documents from the ministry, he said.
The agency "didn't know the shadow of suspicion" would fall on Lepper, said Kaminski, of the Law and Justice party, rejecting accusations that the sting was politically motivated.
Six Strikes and Russia is Out of the G-8?
From: Publius Pundit
SIX times in ONE YEAR? Whatever happened to the good old "three strikes and you're out"? Russia has far more cases pending before the ECHR than any other nation and, outrageously, is currently taking steps to limit ECHR access by Russians rather than actually changing its behavior justifying the prosecutions.
How is it possible that this barbaric nation holds a veto on the U.N. Security Council and a seat on the G-8 team of elite democracies? How can anyone even think of investing money in this uncivilized dictatorship or of attending the Olympic games there -- right in the very region where all these breathtaking state-sponsored murders are taking place? Speaking of the Olympics, it seems that American IOC voters are the ones that gave Russia the 2014 games, a final outrage by the failed Bush administration that will live in infamy but which, at least, totally refutes any claimed anti-Russian bias in the United States.
Neo-Soviet Russia is a Fascist State
From: La Russophobe
One key concern arising from the recent spat with Russia is this awakening superpower is drifting into the foothills of fascism domestically. The simple defence Russians have offered in recent weeks is that Russians are by nature fiercely patriotic. I knew a Russian who, when the train stopped on the Russian border, picked up handfuls of Russian soil and started to sob.
The loss of their empire – the USSR - is keenly felt. Vladimir Putin, for example, described the end of the USSR as the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. It would have been more appropriate if he had given this title to the Ukrainian terror-famine of 1929-33 where the Russian occupier diverted all food from the collectivized peasants to the rest of the USSR. This terror-famine resulted in more deaths than all countries in the First World War. Russians refuse to apologise for the famine and still talk of Ukrainians in the same derogatory terms that some English used to use about the Welsh and Irish.
Putin is keen to maintain influence in the former Soviet satellite states and this is increasingly causing conflict. The key turning point was the Orange revolution in 2004 which discarded the Kremlin’s favoured candidate in Ukraine to bring in a pro-Western President with dreams of EU and NATO membership. The idea of losing “Little Russia”, the dearest of the CIS satellite states, to NATO shocked many Russians including Putin and ushered in more authoritarian tactics. The most worrying of these tactics was the politicised use of energy supplies. Ukraine had its gas cut-off shortly after its drift westward in 2004, and more recently Estonia has had oil supplies to its port disrupted by Russia during the statue crisis.
Putin is concerned that the loss of influence in the satellite states will threaten Russia's power along its borders by its old adversary NATO. He blamed the Orange Revolution in part on the unchecked rise of a democratic youth movement in Ukraine called PORA, who opposed the authoritarian government.
To prevent a similar group being established in Russia, Putin created his own youth movement “Nashi”. The official line was that this group were supposed to counter the rise of fascism, in the National Boshevik party. However, it soon became apparent that Nashi’s true function was as a personality cult for Putin whose job was intimidate, bully and harass his opponents.
In the recent Estonia crisis, thugs from Nashi terrorized the Estonian Embassy forcing the ambassador into hiding. In the protests one person was killed and 99 injured. Similarly, the UK ambassador in Moscow was intimidated by Nashi thugs merely for attending an opposition conference. The 120,000 Nashi members must show total devotion to the president. Their young leaders meet Putin himself in training camps and have an audience with his potential successor, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergie Ivanov. Nashi actions are well-organised, they wear distinct red uniforms, have their own buses, power supply and well-financed phone-in campaigns. The comparison with Hitler Youth is beginning to be made more and more often.
The most sinister aspect of Nashi is the revival of Soviet-style propaganda. In the official manifesto, Nashi recruits are subjected to Soviet-style prejudices of xenophobia and anti-Americanism that existed in the Cold War. The domain name for the Nashi website is www.nashi.su, opting for the “.su” of the non-existant Soviet Union, rather than “.ru” for Russia. The manifesto calls on Nashi members to stamp out any colour revolution as this would represent “a loss of sovereignty to external influences”. A flashing banner on the Estonia crisis declares: “It’s our history, it’s our war, it’s our soldier!” A poster at a recent rally criticised the number of adoptions of Russian children to the US. The members of Nashi, aged 17-25, who could essentially hold progressive views, are being indoctrinated with anti-European and anti-American sentiment.
The opposition groups in Russia are denied the right to hold protest and not allowed access to any of the state-controlled media. Nashi, however, are allowed to hold marches, which are covered favourably on state television. Financing for Nashi comes from Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas giant. Similar to Hitler Youth, the group undergoes paramilitary training and have been implicated in the attacks on opposition groups like the banned National Bolshevik Party, led by Limonov and the Estonian ambassador. Their actions mirror more widespread of violent intimidation towards opposition groups, human rights activists and the free press.
Since Putin came to power, 15 journalists have been murdered by contract killers. Marina Litvinovich, the chief political adviser to opposition leader Garry Kasparov, was beaten up so badly she lost two front teeth. Lidia Yuspova, a human rights campaigner based in Chechnya, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, only to receive and anonymous call warning her she would not live to receive it. Groups of black-shirted skinheads have been responsible for assaults and murders directed at immigrants from the Caucasus.
Putin’s popularity ratings run at 80 per cent, showing that his grip on the state-media has effectively kept Russians in an information vacuum. He has exploited the fierce national pride of his people and reinforced prejudices by accusing the US of hegemony and speaking of the NATO presence along the borders.
Social instability and health problems run rampant throughout the country. A 20-year-old Russian has less than a 50 per cent chance of reaching the age 65 (compared to 80 per cent for an American). Russia has three million drug users, with as many as two million may be HIV-infected. Its prisons are rife with tuberculosis and hold 1.3m people many of them young homeless boys. By effectively integrating an immigrant population Russia could help to swell its workforce but current immigration stands at zero. Russia is more than just the Nashi movement, state-controlled media and murdered journalists, but Putin's legacy will be determined by how legitimately he can justify his people's patriotism by improving the quality of living.
Sex for the motherland: Russian youths encouraged to procreate at camp
From: Edward Lucas
Obediently, couples move to a special section of dormitory tents arranged in a heart-shape and called the Love Oasis, where they can start procreating for the motherland.
With its relentlessly upbeat tone, bizarre ideas and tight control, it sounds like a weird indoctrination session for a phoney religious cult.
But this organisation - known as "Nashi", meaning "Ours" - is youth movement run by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin that has become a central part of Russian political life.
Nashi's annual camp, 200 miles outside Moscow, is attended by 10,000 uniformed youngsters and involves two weeks of lectures and physical fitness.
Attendance is monitored via compulsory electronic badges and anyone who misses three events is expelled. So are drinkers; alcohol is banned. But sex is encouraged, and condoms are nowhere on sale.
Bizarrely, young women are encouraged to hand in thongs and other skimpy underwear - supposedly a cause of sterility - and given more wholesome and substantial undergarments.
Twenty-five couples marry at the start of the camp's first week and ten more at the start of the second. These mass weddings, the ultimate expression of devotion to the motherland, are legal and conducted by a civil official.
Attempting to raise Russia's dismally low birthrate even by eccentric-seeming means might be understandable. Certainly, the country's demographic outlook is dire. The hard-drinking, hardsmoking and disease-ridden population is set to plunge by a million a year in the next decade.
But the real aim of the youth camp - and the 100,000-strong movement behind it - is not to improve Russia's demographic profile, but to attack democracy.
Under Mr Putin, Russia is sliding into fascism, with state control of the economy, media, politics and society becoming increasingly heavy-handed. And Nashi, along with other similar youth movements, such as 'Young Guard', and 'Young Russia', is in the forefront of the charge.
At the start, it was all too easy to mock. I attended an early event run by its predecessor, 'Walking together', in the heart of Moscow in 2000. A motley collection of youngsters were collecting 'unpatriotic' works of fiction for destruction.
It was sinister in theory, recalling the Nazis' book-burning in the 1930s, but it was laughable in practice. There was no sign of ordinary members of the public handing in books (the copies piled on the pavement had been brought by the organisers).
Once the television cameras had left, the event organisers admitted that they were not really volunteers, but being paid by "sponsors". The idea that Russia's anarchic, apathetic youth would ever be attracted into a disciplined mass movement in support of their president - what critics called a "Putinjugend", recalling the "Hitlerjugend" (German for "Hitler Youth") - seemed fanciful.
How wrong we were. Life for young people in Russia without connections is a mixture of inadequate and corrupt education, and a choice of boring dead-end jobs. Like the Hitler Youth and the Soviet Union's Young Pioneers, Nashi and its allied movements offer not just excitement, friendship and a sense of purpose - but a leg up in life, too.
Nashi's senior officials - known, in an eerie echo of the Soviet era, as "Commissars" - get free places at top universities. Thereafter, they can expect good jobs in politics or business - which in Russia nowadays, under the Kremlin's crony capitalism, are increasingly the same thing.
Nashi and similar outfits are the Kremlin's first line of defence against its greatest fear: real democracy. Like the sheep chanting "Four legs good, two legs bad" in George Orwell's Animal Farm, they can intimidate through noise and numbers.
Nashi supporters drown out protests by Russia's feeble and divided democratic opposition and use violence to drive them off the streets.
The group's leaders insist that the only connection to officialdom is loyalty to the president. If so, they seem remarkably well-informed.
In July 2006, the British ambassador, Sir Anthony Brenton, infuriated the Kremlin by attending an opposition meeting. For months afterwards, he was noisily harassed by groups of Nashi supporters demanding that he "apologise". With uncanny accuracy, the hooligans knew his movements in advance - a sign of official tip-offs.
Even when Nashi flagrantly breaks the law, the authorities do not intervene. After Estonia enraged Russia by moving a Soviet-era war memorial in April, Nashi led the blockade of Estonia's Moscow embassy. It daubed the building with graffiti, blasted it with Stalin-era military music, ripped down the Estonian flag and attacked a visiting ambassador's car. The Moscow police, who normally stamp ruthlessly on public protest, stood by.
Nashi fits perfectly into the Kremlin's newly-minted ideology of "Sovereign democracy". This is not the mind-numbing jargon of Marxism-Leninism, but a lightweight collection of cliches and slogans promoting Russia's supposed unique political and spiritual culture.
It is strongly reminiscent of the Tsarist era slogan: "Autocracy, Orthodoxy and Nationality".
The similarities to both the Soviet and Tsarist eras are striking. Communist ideologues once spent much of their time explaining why their party deserved its monopoly of power, even though the promised utopia seemed indefinitely delayed.
Today, the Kremlin's ideology chief Vladislav Surkov is trying to explain why questioning the crooks and spooks who run Russia is not just mistaken, but treacherous.
Yet, by comparison with other outfits, Nashi looks relatively civilised. Its racism and prejudice is implied, but not trumpeted. Other pro-Kremlin youth groups are hounding gays and foreigners off the streets of Moscow. Mestnye [The Locals] recently distributed leaflets urging Muscovites to boycott non-Russian cab drivers.
These showed a young blonde Russian refusing a ride from a swarthy, beetle-browed taxi driver, under the slogan: "We're not going the same way."
Such unofficial xenophobia matches the official stance. On April 1, a decree explicitly backed by Mr Putin banned foreigners from trading in Russia's retail markets. By some estimates, 12m people are working illegally in Russia.
Those who hoped that Russia's first post-totalitarian generation would be liberal, have been dissapointed. Although explicit support for extremist and racist groups is in the low single figures, support for racist sentiments is mushrooming.
Slogans such as "Russia for the Russians" now attract the support of half of the population. Echoing Kremlin propaganda, Nashi denounced Estonians as "fascist", for daring to say that they find Nazi and Soviet memorials equally repugnant. But, in truth, it is in Russia that fascism is all too evident.
The Kremlin sees no role for a democratic opposition, denouncing its leaders as stooges and traitors. Sadly, most Russians agree: a recent poll showed that a majority believed that opposition parties should not be allowed to take power.
Just as the Nazis in 1930s rewrote Germany's history, the Putin Kremlin is rewriting Russia's. It has rehabilitated Stalin, the greatest mass-murderer of the 20th century. And it is demonising Boris Yeltsin, Russia's first democratically-elected president. That he destroyed totalitarianism is ignored. Instead, he is denounced for his "weak" pro-Western policies.
While distorting its own history, the Kremlin denounces other countries. Mr Putin was quick to blame Britain's "colonial mentality" for our government's request that Russia try to find a legal means of extraditing Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
Yet the truth is that Britain, like most Western countries, flagellates itself for the crimes of the past. Indeed, British schoolchildren rarely learn anything positive about their country's empire. And, if Mr Putin has his way, Russian pupils will learn nothing bad about the Soviet empire, which was far bloodier, more brutal - and more recent.
A new guide for history teachers - explicitly endorsed by Mr Putin - brushes off Stalin's crimes. It describes him as "the most successful leader of the USSR". But it skates over the colossal human cost - 25m people were shot and starved in the cause of communism.
"Political repression was used to mobilise not only rank-and-file citizens but also the ruling elite," it says. In other words, Stalin wanted to make the country strong, so he may have been a bit harsh at times. At any time since the collapse of Soviet totalitarianism in the late 1980s, that would have seemed a nauseating whitewash. Now, it is treated as bald historical fact.
If Stalin made mistakes, so what? Lots of people make mistakes.
"Problematic pages in our history exist," Mr Putin said last week. But: "we have less than some countries. And ours are not as terrible as those of some others." He compared the Great Terror of 1937, when 700,000 people were murdered in a purge by Stalin's secret police, to the atom bomb on Hiroshima.
The comparison is preposterous. A strong argument can be made that by ending the war quickly, the atom bombs saved countless lives.
Franklin D Roosevelt and Harry Truman may have failed to realise that nuclear weapons would one day endanger humanity's survival. But, unlike Stalin, they were not genocidal maniacs.
As the new cold war deepens, Mr Putin echoes, consciously or unconsciously, the favourite weapon of Soviet propagandists in the last one.
Asked about Afghanistan, they would cite Vietnam. Castigated for the plight of Soviet Jews, they would complain with treacly sincerity about discrimination against American blacks. Every blot on the Soviet record was matched by something, real or imagined, that the West had done.
But the contrasts even then were absurd. When the American administration blundered into Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of people protested in the heart of Washington. When eight extraordinarily brave Soviet dissidents tried to demonstrate in Red Square against the invasion of Czechoslovakia, in 1968, they were instantly arrested and spent many years in labour camps.
For the east European countries with first-hand experience of Stalinist terror, the Kremlin's rewriting of history could hardly be more scary. Not only does Russia see no reason to apologise for their suffering under Kremlin rule, it now sees the collapse of communism not as a time of liberation, but as an era of pitiable weakness.
Russia barely commemorates even the damage it did to itself, let alone the appalling suffering inflicted on other people. Nashi is both a symptom of the way Russia is going - and a means of entrenching the drift to fascism.
Terrifyingly, the revived Soviet view of history is now widely held in Russia. A poll this week of Russian teenagers showed that a majority believe that Stalin did more good things than bad.
If tens of thousands of uniformed German youngsters were marching across Germany in support of an authoritarian Fuhrer, baiting foreigners and praising Hitler, alarm bells would be jangling all across Europe. So why aren't they ringing about Nashi?
China/Russia Military Cooperation
From: New Zeal
The first batch of Chinese officers and soldiers have left China for Russia to attend a joint anti-terrorism drill held by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
Officers and soldiers left from Korla railway station for Russia at 2:52 p.m. on Thursday, along with armaments needed for the drill.
The six member countries of SCO -- China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- will stage a joint anti-terrorism drill from Aug. 9 to 17.
The drill, dubbed "Peace Mission 2007", will be carried out in Chelyabinsk in Russia's Ural Mountainous region and in Urumqi, capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
"They (the soldiers) will travel a total distance of 10,300 kilometers," said Qiu Yanhan, deputy commander of the Chinese troops taking part in the drill.
"This is the first time the People's Liberation Army (PLA) has sent so many soldiers and armaments to such a far away place," Qiu said.
The exercise will help deepen relations between the militaries of SCO members and enhance cooperation on defense security, according to Guo.
A total of 1,600 soldiers from China's army and air force -- including airborne and logistic units -- will take part in the drill, according to the Ministry of Defense.
Say it ain't so Valery…
From: Moscow Times, Sporting News and UK Guardian
|Valery Shantalosov, former Belarus goalkeeper has been charged with having offered bribes to his teammates to lose the final two games of the Euro 2004 qualifying tournament|
At the same moment that Major League Baseball tries to come to grips with whether or not Barry Bonds, who is at the moment on the verge of breaking the all-time home run record, used steroids during his monumental late-carreer power surge, a big sports scandal has appeared in the news out here in the beautiful and interesting Republic of Belarus. Authorities in Minsk have charged former Belarus goalkeeper Valery Shantalosov, with having offered bribes to his teammates to lose the final two games of the Euro 2004 qualifying tournament. The games in question were against Czech Republic and Moldova in September 2003. At the time, Belarus was already out of contention having lost five of its first six games of the tournament. Belarus lost 3-1 at home to the Czech Republic and 2-1 at Moldova four days later. Shantalosov did not play in either game.
The main thrust of the accusation focuses on taped phone conversations between Shantalosov and an unnamed Russian gambler from before and after the games.
According to Minsk police investigative head Gennady Kazakevich, the gambler offered tens of thousands of dollars to the longtime goalkeeper to persuade his teammates to under-perform during the matches so as to insure that the goal differential would be favorable to the gamblers interest. The Belarusian players, already out of the running for a birth in the next round, are said to have agreed because they had nothing really to play for.
Kazakevich said investigators suspect that Shantalosov was working with a "famous Russian sports journalist," whom Kazakevich did not name.
Shantalosov, currently working as a trainer with Russian second-division team Sibir, has denied the accusations.
"This is a provocation," Shantalosov told Belarus' Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper. "If there were facts against me then they wouldn't have let me travel or work. ... I am prepared to explain everything to the president of the country and the head of the football federation of Belarus."
"I'm not even aware the police are looking for me," Shantolosov was quoted as saying by Belarussian Web site Football.By. "I'm not hiding, I've been back home many times and everyone knows where I work."
Shantalosov has been charged in Belarus with match-fixing and if convicted, could face up to three years in prison. Belarus has not as of yet submitted a formal extradition request to Russia, as a Belarussian judge must first rule that there is sufficient evidence for such a request. After that, all case materials would then have to be examined by the Russian General Prosecutor's Office.
Shantalosov was the first ever goalkeeper for an independent Belarus, making his debut in 1992 following the break-up of the Soviet Union. During his career he made 24 international appearances for Belarus and played for several top flight clubs in Belarus, Russia, Latvia and Kazakhstan. He was also voted the best goalkeeper in Belarus in both 2001 and 2002. Shantalosov spent most of his career playing in the Russian Premier League and is generally considered the best-ever shot stopper to come out of Belarus. He conceded just 143 goals in his 362-game career. He quit the field in 2005 and became a coach.
A spokesman for UEFA, European football's governing body, said the organization would investigate the match-fixing claims. Last January the Polish government detained 70 referees, owners and club officials for bribery and match fixing, citing games played during this same period of time.
Belarusian Alena Grishko won the first medal of the Belarusian team during the Olympic Festival in Belgrade in shot put. Now the Belarusian team has three awards. This evening Belarusian Maksim Yarigo will compete in shot put, while Anastasia Kuzmich will do her best in javelin throw, Kristina Alekseenko — long jump.
В Могилев – к тульскому самовару
В центре дворика установили знаменитый тульский самовар в три метра высотой, а также внушительных размеров чашку. Здесь же обустроили городок для аттракционов и спортивную площадку. В выходные дни «Тульский дворик» становится для могилевчан излюбленным местом семейного отдыха. Следует заметить, что развлекательный объект, выполненный в национальных традициях российской старины, — плод тесных культурно-экономических связей Могилева и Тулы. Ранее здесь уже был открыт символический побратимский «Московский дворик», позволяющий посетителям проникнуться духом Белокаменной. В Могилевском гор-исполкоме уже вынашивают новую идею, связанную со строительством «Звенигородского дворика».