Belarusian currency in question, Polish border scandal, Iranian Bank to open, Education and the nation's future, Russia, Cold war, KGB, Blogs, Sport
Refusal to peg Belarusian rubles to Russian currency will not affect Belarus’ economy, President says
|Visiting Mogilev and Vitebsk Regions|
“Only primitive economists-oppositionists consider the Belarusian economy to be unstable. Our economy will never collapse. I was saying this three and ten years ago. And I am telling you this now,” the Head of State noted.
In turn, Chairman of the Board of the National Bank of Belarus Piotr Prokopovich explained that a refusal to peg the Belarusian rubles to the Russian currency is a technical issue. “Earlier we used to peg the Belarusian rubles to two currencies – the Russian rubles and US dollars. But the course of events shows that it is more effective to peg our rubles to one currency,” he explained. According to Piotr Prokopovich, “US dollars were chosen as Belarusians prefer to keep their savings in this currency.” “There is no any policy here or subjectivism towards Russia or the Russian Central Bank,” he underlined.
In a related BelTA story, today Belarus and Russia have no issues which require immediate consideration at the highest level, President Alexander Lukashenko said today when answering a question concerning his alleged meeting with Vladimir Putin in Sochi.
“If we were going to meet on August 22 the Belarusian mass media would report on this, the Head of State said. Today there are no such issues which we could discuss at the highest level in line with the concept we have agreed recently. We meet if we have two or three major issues to discuss or if there is an extraordinary issue. We meet on an official level and take decisions as it should be between the two states.”
The Belarusian leader noted that there are enough forms of such meetings, for example, the Supreme State Council. “I think we can organize a session of the Council in autumn to discuss all issues which exist there on the level of the heads of state and government,’ Alexander Lukashenko said.
The next session of the Council of Ministers of the Belarus-Russia Union State will be held in Minsk in late September this year, deputy head of the Minsk Representative Office of the Permanent Committee of the Union State Pavel Kuzemchak has told a press conference today.
Participants of the session are expected to discuss five issues relating to the activities of the Belarusian and Russian law enforcement agencies. In particular, they are planned to approve a programme on arranging the external borders of the Union-State in 2007-2011. They will also hear a report on performing the Union State budget in H1 2007 and will discuss a draft agreement on medical preparations, Pavel Kuzemchak said.
Ex-Belarus Bank Chief Criticizes Proposed Dollar Peg
A planning paper from the BNB suggests that Belarus unhook its currency from the Russian ruble as of 2008 and tie it to the U.S. dollar. The bank said such a move is needed to stabilize the Belarusian ruble and increase international trade.
Speaking to RFE/RL's Belarus Service on August 15, Bagdankevich said the move would be positive from the point of view of Belarus's "sovereignty," in that it would lessen Minsk's dependence on Moscow.
But he added that it would make no economic sense, because Belarus needs to orient its economy toward the European Union and Russia, as well as the United States.
Bagdankevich said politics is most likely behind the proposal.
"In today's situation, I think [unhooking the Belarusian ruble from the Russian ruble] is more of a political decision," Bagdankevich said. "Evidently, [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka has decided to drive another stake into the idea of creating a union state."
If enacted, the change would underscore the deteriorating relations between Minsk and Moscow. The traditional allies have been increasingly at odds since a dispute over energy prices in December 2006.
A BNB spokesman, Mikhail Zhuravovich, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that no decision has been made and that the idea is simply being discussed.
Belarus Bars Polish Politicians From Celebration
The Polish officials say they were kept waiting at the Belarusian border for nearly an hour before being turned away.
Belarusian authorities say the Poles were planning to gather with what it calls an illegal Polish group. They say the Poles were told in advance they would not allowed into Belarus, but tried to enter anyway merely to create a scandal.
Belarus has a large Polish minority. Part of the country was Polish territory before World War II.
President Alexander Lukashenko has accused the Polish groups of conspiring to overthrow his government.
Poland has expelled several Belarusian diplomats and imposed a travel ban on some members of the Lukashenko government.
The United States and European Union have routinely accused Mr. Lukashenko of suppressing human rights and free speech. He has accused the West of interfering in Belarusian affairs.
Belarus needs no unwanted foreign visitors - Lukashenko
In a related story, Itar Tass tells us that President Alexander Lukashenko said on Friday that Belarus needs no unwanted foreign voyagers,. These remarks were made in the wake of the recent border incident, when the authorities denied entry visas to some Polish politicians.
“We are a sovereign and independent country, and we had expected no visitors of this sort,” Lukashenko said during a working visit to the Vitebsk and Mogilev regions. “They will be here only if we invite them. If not, there is nothing for them to do here. The entrance is closed.”
“Here, in the countryside, I can put it in plain, simple village-type words. We gave them a good punch, and it served them right,” emotional Lukashenko said.
Belarus on August 15 denied entry visas to the deputy speaker of the Polish parliament, Krzsyzstof Putra, leader of the Civil Platform party Donald Tusk, and leader of the parliamentary group Robert Tyszkiewicz.
The Belarussian Foreign Ministry then said that “each country has a list of persons, whose presence in the territory of the given state is undesirable.”
“There is such a list in Belarus, too,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Besides, the Polish side had been warned in advance that some of its representatives planning a trip to the town of Grodno would be denied entry visas.”
Certain Polish politicians eager for provocation at Belarusian border
Today, at 11:50, Belarus time, Deputy Speaker of the Senate of Poland Krzysztof Putra together with Deputy Head of the Senate Chancellery Romuald Lanczkowski tried to cross the Belarusian-Polish border through a border checkpoint. They stayed at the border from 11:50 till 12:20. Border guard officers explained to the politicians that they are forbidden to enter Belarus according to the effective legislation. The decision had been earlier conveyed to these citizens of Poland by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus. Without any indignation, Krzysztof Putra and Romuald Lanczkowski went back at 12:20.
According to the information the State Security Committee has, today politicians of the Polish party Civil Platform — Senator Donald Tusk and Robert Tyszkiewicz, head of the group “Solidarity with Belarus” of the Polish Sejm, who are also denied entry to Belarus, are intent on crossing the Belarusian border.
The Polish politicians are believed to be intent on holding joint actions together with an illegitimate wing of the Union of Poles of Belarus. Besides, today is the Poland Army Day and they may have some plans connected with that, BelTA has been told. Apart from that, a parliamentary elections campaign is starting in Poland soon and Tusk and Tyszkiewicz are trying to swing potential electors — some Polish minorities in Belarus — in the favour of their party, said the source.
The actions of the Polish politicians, in particular, those of Tusk and Tyszkiewicz, are considered to be a wilful provocation and lobbying of their party’s interests through the group of ethnic Poles led by Angelica Boris, said the source. According to the officer, the politicians know very well they will be denied entry to Belarus and yet are eager to put up an intentional scandal in order to highlight their alleged fight for the rights of ethnic Poles while Belarusian authorities impede their actions.
BelTA reported earlier, in summer 2005 Senator Donald Tusk, leader of the Civil Platform, travelled to Grodno and made a speech for the so-called Union of Poles of Belarus. The speech meant to destabilise the Belarusian society was regarded as direct interference with internal affairs of Belarus and an attempt to provoke conflicts using interethnic reasons.
Belarus’ MFA: Poland ‘was notified in advance’ about denial of entry to Belarus for some Poland nationals
Trips for the sake of political profiteering or exploiting the Polish national minority in Belarus in order to gain additional benefits in Poland’s domestic political field are not understood and will not be understood in Belarus, Deputy Head of the Information Department, Head of the Press Service Department of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Vanshina told BelTA when asked about the denial of entry to Belarus for Polish parliamentarians.
She remarked, the position of the Belarusian side is rather transparent in such cases and has been repeatedly voiced.
Every country has a list of persons, whose presence in the country would be undesirable. Belarus has such a list, too, said Maria Vanshina. She continued, as far as the present specific situation is concerned, consistently demonstrating intentions for building up productive, good neighbourly relations with Poland, the Belarusian side had notified the Polish side in advance that some Poland nationals, who plan on travelling to Grodno, will be denied entry to Belarus
In view of the fact it is totally inexplicable what ends the arrival of the aforementioned persons at the Belarusian-Polish border was supposed to serve. Maria Vanshina wondered, whether it had been the desire to promote relations with the Polish national minority in Belarus or the intention to arrange another PR campaign using Belarusian Poles and the territory of a sovereign neighbouring state. She said, in all likelihood the second reason seemed more plausible, as such voyages cannot be described otherwise but provocative.
“Belarus is open for building mutually beneficial, equivalent and good neighbourly relations with Poland. We welcome any visits of official representatives of Poland to Belarus with constructive intentions,” concluded the official.
Monthly cash income per capita as much as Br467,900 in Belarus in H1 2007
Over the six months of the year real cash incomes of Belarusians increased by 17.1% in comparison with the same period of 2006, while this year’s target is fixed at 7.5-8.5%. This June real cash incomes of Belarusians went up by 17% in comparison with June 2006.
According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, in H1 2007 monthly cash income per capita averaged Br467,900, 70% above the minimal consumer budget and 162.1% above the subsistence budget. In January-June 2006 the figures stood at 47.2% and 26.7% respectively, with monthly cash income per capita as large as Br370,700.
Cash incomes of individuals mainly come from salaries and social transfers, which accounted for 78.9% of the total cash incomes over the six months of the year. In money terms salaries totalled Br15,849.6 billion (58.2% of cash incomes of individuals, 61.1% in H1 2006), while social transfers such as pensions, benefits, scholarships and the like amounted to Br5,645.5 billion (20.7% and 22% respectively).
According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, in H1 2007 Belarusians spent Br21.6 trillion (79.8% of the total expenses and savings) on buying goods and services. Taxes and fees amounted to Br4.1 trillion (15%). Savings (growing deposits, purchases of securities, foreign exchange operations), including changes in borrowed money, totalled Br1.4 trillion (5.2% of the total expenses and savings of individuals).
In July 2007 the consumer price index totaled 4.1% against December 2006. Last month the prices grew up by 0.5% in comparison with June 2007, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis. In January-July 2006 inflation in Belarus stood at 3.6%.
Thus, in 2007 the average monthly inflation has made up 0.58% (the 2007 forecast – 0.5-0.6%).
A reminder, the main guidelines of the monetary policy for 2007 envisages the annual inflation at the level of 6-8%.
According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, in July food price index made up 5% against December 2006 and 0.6% against June 2007. Last month public catering prices stepped up by 1.1% (by 10.1% against December 2006). In July 2007 non-food prices swelled by 0.3% (3.1% up on December 2006).
Tariffs on paid services to the population grew by 0.4% last month, by 3.3% as against December 2006.
Industry price index in July 2007 totaled 10.6% against December 2006 and 1.8% to June 2007 (including production means and consumer goods – 0.3% and 0.6% respectively). In January-July the biggest growth of prices was seen in the energy (33.2%) and microbiology (20.9%).
According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, last month tariffs on cargo hauls did not change, they grew by 7.2% as against December 2006.
Italian prosecutors begin probe into Belarus girl harassment
From: Itar Tass
The girl whose name is not disclosed was accommodated with an Italian couple living in Milan. They had rest together on the Ligurian coast and lived in a hotel in the Pietra Ligure town. According to Italian police, it is in the hotel where the girl met with cruel treatment.
The name of the Italian man has been put on the lists of suspects in the investigation of the case of the child’s sexual harassment.
Iranian bank will be established in Belarus in the next three months
“One of these issues is the subject of construction and initiation of Iranian bank in Belarus that will be fulfilled until the next three months,” he continued.
“Some of bylaws regarding Customs and Standard Association were uncompleted that will be completed within the next two months,” added Dr. Mir Kazemi.
“Signing this entente memorandum will start investment in the fields Agriculture, Petroleum, Gas, Cement, Automobile manufacturing, establishing various factories and making commercial and residential centers with seed money of 1.5 Billion Dollars,” he stated.
“This memorandum is a very comprehensive and expanded document of organizing common affairs of the two countries in various fields such as Automobile manufacturing, Road construction, Agriculture and other industrial fields,” said the Minister of Industry of Belarus regarding his own evaluation of the signed entente memorandum.
“Considering the emphasize of the presidents of the two countries on lifting the commercial transactions up to One Billion Dollars, execution of mentioned bylaws with cooperation of various companies of Private Sector will fasten the fulfillment of this goal ,” stated the Minister of Industry of Belarus.
“Currently the value of these countries projects is over 1.5 Billion Dollars and we hope that the utilization of them will be started in near future,” he continued.
Belarus addresses educational issues
According to the presidential press service, Alexander Radkov attributed the stronger competition to hard efforts put into informing young Belarusians about the professions the country needs at present. Speaking about results of this year’s university entrance campaign, Alexander Radkov noted, the demand for education, including the demand for higher education, is strong, which in turn results in a strong competition for university seats.
The head of state was informed about the readiness of the educational system for the new academic year. All Belarusian educational establishments are fully supplied with Belarus-made textbooks and reference books as well as the necessary equipment. Before the year is out, 40 new facilities will be opened, with 11 ones already commissioned.
Belarusian universities should establish cooperation with future employers of university graduates, said Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko today as he heard out a report of Education Minister Alexander Radkov.
According to the press service of the President of Belarus, the head of state gave an instruction for educational institutions to use opportunities industrial enterprises offer, arranging early on-the-job training sessions for students.
The President was also informed about the progress in fulfilling his instruction to set up an educational, research and innovation complex on the basis of Belarusian State University of Information Technologies and Radio Electronics. The facility is supposed to train specialists in bleeding-edge technologies, information technologies and communications, as well as nano technologies coupled with production.
Nowadays Belarus lacks qualified specialists in industry, civil engineering, and agriculture and that is why their number should be increased, stressed Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko today as he heard out a report of Education Minister Alexander Radkov.
The press service of the Belarusian head of state told BelTA, the President had given an instruction to assess the future demand of Belarus and the real economic sector for specialists.
Alexander Lukashenko had been told about results of the university entrance campaign, the readiness of Belarusian educational institutions for the new academic year as well as the general improvement of the educational system.
The Belarusian Education Ministry suggests introducing a registration fee for sitting nationwide tests [GCSE-like exams] for secondary school graduates, Education Minister Alexander Radkov informed President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko today.
The presidential press service quoted Alexander Radkov as saying, the measure will raise the responsibility of university applicants. For example, this year 10% of the applicants failed to come to the tests. The Minister also suggested cutting down the term for handing in application papers. The term now makes 18 days.
Alexander Radkov noted, admittance rules in universities and specialised secondary schools had been established and need only technical polishing. Meanwhile, the quality of examination papers needs improving. According to the Minister, the testing system handles the task of choosing the best applicants, which is confirmed by the present competition for university seats — around three persons per seat. Apart from that, the testing system has been approved of by university applicants and their parents.
After years of trying, Tzarbucks to open first shop in Russia
The first store will open in September in the Mega Mall north of Moscow, a Starbucks spokeswoman, Kate Bovey, said last week.
Starbucks joins the retailers Wal-Mart Stores and Carrefour in seeking to enter Russia, where consumer spending rose 24 percent last year, the most in Europe. Russians are expected to spend $12.5 billion eating out in 2009, after annual increases of more than 7 percent, according to Rosinter Restaurants Holding, which operates the T.G.I. Friday's and Benihana restaurants.
"Russia is hugely important as a region, it's a primary market for us," Carol Pucik, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, said from Amsterdam on Friday. "It gives a lot of opportunities."
Starbucks first registered its trademark in Russia in 1997. Five years later, Starbucks lost the right to the brand after a Moscow lawyer who specializes in claiming unused trademarks won the rights to it from the state patents chamber. That ruling was overturned last year, said Evgeny Arievich, a lawyer at Baker & McKenzie in Moscow who represented Starbucks.
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The Mega Mall store will make Russia the 43rd country in which Starbucks operates, Bovey said. The company recently opened stores in Brazil and Egypt and plans to enter India.
Starbucks's local partner in Russia is M.H. Alshaya, a Kuwaiti retailer that operates cafes in 10 countries outside its domestic market, according to Bovey.
The U.S. coffee chain, which was started in 1971 and named for the coffee-loving first mate in the novel "Moby Dick," had 14,396 stores worldwide as of July 1. The company's long-term goal is for 40,000 cafes globally, half of them outside the United States.
The Mega Mall is operated by Ikea, the world's largest home-furniture seller. Anchor retailers include Auchan of France, Stockmann of Finland, and OBI Bau & Heimwerkermarkte, a German home-improvement chain, said Oksana Belaychook, a spokeswoman for Ikea Russia.
|Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shakes hands with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov.|
This news came on the heals of reports last month that Russia would sell 250 advanced long-range Sukhoi-30 fighter jets to Teheran. Russia has already supplied Iran with sophisticated air defense systems.
Why would Russia, a country that expects to be counted among the world's leading industrialized nations, be selling advanced weaponry to the most belligerent outlaw states? The claim that such sales are of defense weapons and are therefore harmless is risible and insulting. It is not possible, of course, to make such a claim regarding fighter jets, which obviously have advanced offensive capabilities. But air defenses are also offensive tools in the hands of belligerent nations, because they protect missile arsenals or nuclear facilities from preemptive or counterattack, thereby giving rogues states greater confidence that they can either attack directly or support terrorism with impunity.
Let's say, however, that Russia were selling purely defensive systems to Iran and Syria. This too would be unacceptable, because the sale of any weaponry to countries that are openly supporting terrorism and defying the international community directly conflicts with efforts to punish such behavior.
It is a failure of the international system that full arms embargoes have not been imposed on Iran and Syria. Both nations are already in violation of the UN embargo against supplying Hizbullah with weaponry, imposed after the Second Lebanon War. Syria, in particular, is responsible for a wave of prominent assassinations in Lebanon that is also under intense UN investigation.
Russia is doubly responsible for this international failure: first, by using its veto threat to block effective sanctions against Iran and Syria, and second with its bilateral arms deals that would violate the minimal sanctions that should long ago have been imposed to punish these nations' international aggression. There is no sign that Russian behavior is improving in this sphere. The idea that Russia is now competing with the US in pumping arms into the region is not an excuse, but an indictment.
While we would argue that it is a mistake to be selling additional advanced weaponry to Saudi Arabia without conditioning such sales on a host of changes - including the end of Saudi-based financing, by the billions, of schools indoctrinating jihad against the West; of anti-Israel boycotts and anti-Semitism; of support for Sunni militias in Iraq; and of support for Hamas in Gaza - selling weapons to Syria and Iran is obviously much worse.
International peace and security demands that the radical Islamist alliance of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and al-Qaida be isolated and defeated. In this global battle, Russia has been weighing in on the wrong side.
Rather than being held hostage by Russia and China in the UN Security Council, the US and Europe need to use the authority of already-passed resolutions to impose much tougher sanctions on Teheran and Damascus. In addition, Russia needs to know that it cannot remain a member in good standing of the G-8 - the international community's most exclusive club - while it is selling advanced weaponry to and running diplomatic interference for some of the world's most dangerous rogue states.
While President George W. Bush has often been accused of going it alone diplomatically, this certainly has not been the pattern with Russia. If anything, Bush is to be criticized for putting too much confidence in his "friendship" with President Vladimir Putin. This sort of soft touch has evidently reached its limits, as Putin has taken advantage of US reluctance to trim back its relations with Russia in any way, even though the US could threaten to withhold billions of dollars worth of space cooperation and other bilateral benefits to Russia.
Putin does not seem to respond to statements without consequences, such as American opposition to its arms sales. Nor is "friendship" a meaningful category in shaping his policies toward the region. American attempts to bolster its allies will be for naught if those allies see that the other side is continuing to escape sanctions and to grow in strength and influence.
Western willingness to impose consequences on Russia for its open support of rogue regimes will be a key litmus test for all nations that are making judgments regarding which side is serious enough to win. It is not the US that should fear jeopardizing its "friendship" with Russia, but Russia that should be concerned about losing the benefits of its current membership in the West.
Polish police analyze tapes of alleged anti-Semitic comments by priest
|Jewish groups were furious about Benedict XVI's decision to meet controversial Polish priest Tadeusz Rydzyk who was recently accused of anti-Semitism after defamatory remarks were allegedly caught on tape. Polish prosecutors are considering opening a criminal investigation against the priest, who heads a powerful media empire.|
The priest, the Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, runs a conservative media empire that includes Radio Maryja, a station that has broadcast anti-Semitic programming in the past - leading many Rydzyk critics to believe that he did indeed make the comments that are on the tape - supposedly from a lecture made in the spring.
Rydzyk has not denied giving the speech, but his reaction has been somewhat contradictory. He suggested the tapes were doctored - but without specifying which parts of his speech might have been altered. But he has rejected accusations of anti-Semitism and said he didn't intend to offend anyone.
His purported comments have sparked the outrage of Israel and Jewish groups. The Israeli ambassador called them the worst case of anti-Jewish language Poland has seen since an anti-Semitic campaign in 1968 that drove thousands of Jews to flee the country.
Prosecutors in the central city of Torun received the tapes on Tuesday from the weekly magazine Wprost. The tapes are said to be of a lecture Rydzyk gave last spring, prosecutors' spokeswoman Ewa Janczur said.
Wprost last month published excerpts and posted audio clips on its Web site from the lecture, given to students this spring at a journalism school Rydzyk established in Torun, where Radio Maryja is headquartered.
On the tapes, the speaker purported to be Rydzyk suggests that Jews are greedy and that Polish President Lech Kaczynski is subservient to Jewish lobbyists.
The speaker also appeared to criticize the first lady's support for abortion rights, called her a witch, and suggested she should kill herself.
Janczur said prosecutors were examining the tapes before deciding whether to launch a criminal investigation. The decision would be announced after August 22, she said.
Israel's ambassador to Poland has urged Polish and Roman Catholic authorities to condemn Rydzyk.
Earlier this week, Pope Benedict XVI met briefly with Rydzyk and two other Polish priests after the pontiff's weekly public blessing Sunday in Castel Gandolfo, his summer home.
The Vatican issued assurances Thursday that the Pope's meeting with Rydzyk, which drew protests from worldwide Jewish organizations, did not imply any change in the church's desire for good relations with Jews.
UKRAINE: Election Set to Bring Another Crisis
On Apr. 2 President Yushchenko issued a decree dissolving parliament and calling for fresh parliamentary elections, which was disobeyed by the pro-governmental majority. The President claimed the government was usurping power after some opposition parliamentarians moved to the ruling coalition.
The number of pro-government deputies was getting dangerously close to 300, and that would be enough to make constitutional changes that could weaken the President's power and set aside any presidential veto.
With both sides feeling that the slightest concession to the opponent meant a public admission of guilt, finding a compromise became a daunting task.
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and the President bickered for weeks over the legality of their actions, and even over the loyalty of Ukraine's uniformed agencies, creating widespread fears of a violent escalation of events.
Unlike on previous occasions, both the West and Russia refrained from intervening in Ukraine's domestic affairs, opting to adopt the stance that the post-Soviet republic should sort out its own problems.
Yushchenko's decree raised many eyebrows among legal experts, and the country's Supreme Court was expected to rule against him.
Repeated dismissals of judges by the President, and what the head of the Ukrainian Supreme Court Vasyl Onopenko termed as "unprecedented pressure", presumably from both sides of the conflict, contributed to paralysing the court's procedures.
Nevertheless, Yanukovich was likely to accept the early election anyway, using it as an extra trump card in negotiations with the opposition.
While the May 27 agreement to hold an early election in September is a victory for the national-liberal opposition, the date of the election is to the ruling Party of the Regions' liking.
The government will have time to increase its support ratings by raising pensions and the minimum wage.
"The Party of the Regions agreed to the election because they think they can play this game and win even more votes," Ivan Presniakov, political analyst at the Kiev-based International Centre for Policy Studies told IPS.
On Jun. 27 Yushchenko temporarily agreed to suspend his decree dissolving parliament to allow deputies to approve amendments to the election law which are needed to conduct the elections.
After the session one-third of the members of parliament gave up their mandate, giving Yushchenko legal grounds to sign a fourth decree dissolving parliament on Aug. 1 and legitimising the upcoming election.
Experts have, however, warned that inconsistencies in the law will provide fertile ground for any losing force to contest the election result, something which populist opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of the bloc named after her, has already begun to suggest.
Ukrainian politics remains shady and closed, and the multitude of behind-the-stage deals and possible alliances are the subject of constant and often contradictory speculation by Ukrainian journalists and pundits.
The uncertainty over the election outcome and the similar support rates of both sides gives strength to the idea that more important than a few more votes will be the coalition-forming negotiations.
The Party of the Regions will run on its own, but leaving open the possibility of re-enacting the coalition if communists, socialists or both make it into parliament.
Much of the Ukrainian media has speculated on dissension within the ruling Party of the Regions, but the recent publication of the Party's list did not indicate any significant power loss for Yanukovich, who was also confirmed as the Prime Minister candidate for the party.
A grand coalition has also not been excluded by Yanukovich's party, which is striving to be seen as a mainstream pro-European force, and has to cope with the socialists loss of popularity and the communists' radical demand of eliminating the presidency altogether.
But so far opposition forces are dismissing a joint cabinet with elements of the current government. The question in the 'orange' liberal camp backed by Yushchenko remains which party will put forward the Prime Minister candidate in case of victory.
Yuliya Tymoshenko's bloc is expected to take the biggest chunk of opposition votes, but Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party has strengthened its support base by joining forces with the People's Self-Defence bloc, a popular movement set up by former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko.
Moreover, pro-presidential forces are hoping that thanks to the President's recent bold steps, Tymoshenko can be outplayed by presenting an "image of a strong President who is struggling against Yanukovich, which is also a good start for his presidential campaign in 2009," Presniakov told IPS.
In the meantime, the public continues to grow cynical as the idealism of past years fades away. Ukrainian media speculates that television channels might refuse to allow key political figures to debate on television, and instead expose their populist tendencies.
Some claim that behind the ideological battle lie purely economic interests. Kost Bondarenko, a Ukrainian political analyst, wrote in the local media that "it is precisely the economic factor that was definitive in sparking the crisis" after the government prevented the 'orange' side from benefiting from privatisation deals.
Still, in Presniakov's view, "there is no single reason for the conflict; on all sides there are different people with different goals and incentives. The structural conflict between the Prime Minister and the President is more important."
The existence of a structural political problem has been admitted by all main sides in the political conflict, and there is relative consensus on the need for a new constitution.
The opposition and the pro-presidential forces want to introduce a binding mandate in parliament to avoid future desertions, whereas the Party of the Regions would like to see the new constitution envisaging that only parliament, and not the President can initiate the legislative branch's dissolution. Both sides have also suggested that high-ranking officials should be stripped of immunity.
There is no unanimity on how and when to approve a new document, but Tymoshenko is demanding a referendum on the same day as the elections, and is collecting signatures in support of the idea. Nobody will be surprised if Ukrainian politicians fail to agree once again.
Gas Storage in Ukraine Set to Resume
From: Moscow Times
Gazprom stopped storing gas in Ukraine two years ago after a dispute over payment for 7.8 bcm of gas held in Ukrainian underground storage containers, the newspaper said.
A warm winter this year decreased demand for gas, leaving Russian storage facilities too full to meet Gazprom's storage needs and forcing the company to return to Ukraine, Vedomosti said. Gazprom's gas storage capacity in Russia is about 65 bcm, the newspaper said.
The company's contract for Ukrainian storage runs from October to March 2008, said Andrei Knutov, spokesman for RosUkrEnergo, a Russian-Ukrainian gas venture half-owned by Gazprom.
Gazprom has assigned RosUkrEnergo to handle the storage in Ukraine, the newspaper reported.
Annals of Cold War II
From: Publius Pundit
First, Russia began delivering sophisticated missile defense systems to Syria, systems that can easily be passed on to an even worse sponsor of terror, Iran. What protection do we have from that? Russia made Syria promise not to send the weapons on to Iran, and it assures us Syria would never break its word. Recently, the U.S. announced its intention to label Iran's "Revolutionary Guards" unit a terrorist group, and the group responded: "America will receive a heavier punch from the guards in the future. We will never remain silent in the face of U.S. pressure and we will use our leverage against them." We've just reported on this group's offensive missile capability, and now Russia is potentially providing a way for them to defend it.
Second, after menacing the U.S. base at Guam with bombers, Russia announced an official reinvigoration of its long-range bomber program and sent out a host of bombers on various missions to emphasize its hostile intentions. In typical neo-Soviet fashion, many of these bombers were somewhat comical relics of the past driven by propellers, but others were more modern jets.
Third, Russia was caught red-handed having repeatedly violated Georgian airspace and jettisoning a missile on Georgian territory, then spewing forth a shoddy torrent of lies to cover its tracks. Russia is seeking to destabilize two different regions of Georgia so as to prevent the country from qualifying for NATO membership and assuring it will remain an easy target for neo-Soviet imperialism.
Finally, in an act that bespeaks truly craven neo-Soviet cowardice, Russia silenced the broadcasts of the BBC, showing that just as in Soviet times it can't handle mere verbal criticism.
How much more evidence does the world need before it responds appropriately to the neo-Soviet threat?
The forge of Belarusian Informers
European Humanitarian University and KGB (paul-broom)
I was invited to a meeting in KGB. I refused and three of them came to my home, was rude to me and mom, and gave me the notification.
I had the conversation with the major of KGB Nosov Vladimir Anatoljevich, whose arms were shivering all the time. During the meeting he has a stupid habit of screwing up his eyes, and was an impression, that he is laughing from me.
Meetings usually take place on Kamsamolskaja str., 28, Bureau of Passes, KGB.
As appeared later, major wasn`t very competent in this deal. He refused in giving me his phone number, although it was printed in notification; was going somewhere to consult if I have right to bring the notification after the meeting with a special mark, where should be the time of the meeting. I said that I can bring it with me, because the notification belongs to me. Nosov answered that not and went out for consultation.
I asked him about the reason of this meeting and he told it is because I should explain my living in Lithuania.
The way I entered the university, who is in chief, who is the dean, where are we living, with whom, are the anti-Belarusian opinions take place, and how much are grants and so on.
Also there were some difficult for understanding questions: was I asked to transport media or cd throw the border, was I oppressed, did I contacted with the Lithuanian citizens, who was arrested by the police, were the discrediting evidences took place…
I don`t know what is the discrediting evidence. May be it is when I used to talk with the merchant or trader? It`s obvious that I brought the media with me - were my answers.
Then Nosov give me another notification with the request to come on Monday. He told me to think a little about it and agree for construct conversation. Notification is the A4 paper, which you have to sign. It tears to 2 pieces, one of which stay with you and another with him as the confirmation of understanding the situation by you. But in my situation with Nosov it didn`t happen so. He gave me his piece of paper, and left his mine. And I don`t know – whether I should go to him on Monday or not.
Here are some advices for you. What you can do, when KGB take a look on you (”Viasna“)
The author gives us some advices in the next part of the article, but I think, it`s not so interesting for foreigners or people who live constantly outside of the country. The fact is, that the problem is very important and needs more attention.
Russia Resumes Bomber Flights, US Remains in Denial
From: New Zeal
August 17 President Vladimir Putin said Russia permanently resumed Friday long-distance patrol flights of strategic bombers, which were suspended in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"I made a decision to restore flights of Russian strategic bombers on a permanent basis, and at 00:00 today, August 17, 14 strategic bombers, support aircraft and aerial tankers were deployed. Combat duty has begun, involving 20 aircraft."
The president, speaking on the final day of large-scale military exercises involving Russia, China, and four Central Asian countries in the south Urals, said that on the first day of patrol flights, bomber planes would spend about 20 hours in the air, with midair refueling, and would interact with naval forces.
"Air patrol areas will include zones of commercial shipping and economic activity. As of today, combat patrolling will be on a permanent basis. It has a strategic character," Putin said.
The president said that although the country stopped strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, "Unfortunately, not everyone followed our example." Other states' long-distance strategic patrol flights have created certain problems for national security, he said.
A former Russian Air Force chief said the resumption of patrols would strengthen Russia's defense capability. "It's a good thing that the old geopolitical setup has been revised. It used to be based on the principle, 'No one is going to attack us.' Practice testifies to the contrary," Army Gen. Pyotr Deinekin said.
The general said that the early 1980s, in response to the U.S.'s deployment of cruise missiles in Europe, Soviet strategic aviation started patrolling areas as far afield as the U.S. coast. Patrols were discontinued following the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, and due to severe economic difficulties, including an acute fuel shortage.
"Flights will be conducted on the same basis as they were in the past," Deinekin said.
Following Putin's announcement at Peace Mission 2007, exercises that were viewed by Western media as a display of Beijing and Moscow's renewed military might, Washington played down the significance of Russian strategic bomber flights.
"That's a decision for them to take," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "It's interesting. We certainly are not in the kind of posture we were with what used to be the Soviet Union. It's a different era. If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision."
EDITORIAL: Demanding Justice in Georgia
As Reuters reported last Wednesday:
Georgia wants to join NATO but the alliance's constitution says a country cannot become a member if there are conflicts within its borders, and Tbilisi has two. The breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions fought wars against Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Their declarations of independence have not been internationally recognized but Moscow gives them moral and financial support.
Once Georgia becomes a member of NATO, Russia will lose all hope of launching a military action to seize it back as a slave state, as it was in Soviet times, and it will become much more difficult, if not impossible, to use economic means to destabilize it. In order to block Georgia's ascension into NATO, Russia is actively fomenting upheaval in both Abkhazia and Ossetia -- doing things in those regions that it specifically demanded other countries not do in Chechnya. To put it simply, peace in Ossetia and Abkhazia is not in Russia's interests, and Russia has done everything it can to make sure it does not occur -- no matter how much hypocrisy it commits in the process. To put it even more simply, Russia is trying to use NATO's own constitution against it. That must be stopped.
Russia has routinely reached into Abkhazia and Ossetia in order to stir their boiling pots, but most recently its actions escalated dramatically, beyond the point of no return.
As shown in the map at left, on August 8th Russian planes not only plunged repeatedly into Ossetia but, when they came under fire from Georgian partisans, flew out of Ossetia and into the heart of Georgia, jettisoning a missile as part of their evasive maneuvers that landed near the Georgian hamlet of Tsitelubani.
In a characteristic display of brazen dishonesty and craven cowardice, eerily reminiscent of what occurred in the aftermath of the Litvinenko killing (and at many other times during Russia's sordid history), the Kremlin tried to deny any involvement, claiming the Georgians had bombed themselves in order to make Russia look bad. Their pathetic Keystone Cops display would have been humorous if so much were not at stake. Laying to rest all doubt, as if Russia could possibly be trusted, as we reported last week, when an international team of experts was dispatched by Europe to investigate, they quickly made mincemeat of the Russian lies and formally concluded that the warplane was Russian and had made multiple incursions into Georgian airspace. Still, no apology from Russia.
If Georgia had a NATO base, then sophisticated American fighter jets would have been scrambled to meet the Russian incursion based on sophisticated radar warning systems, and the Russian pilot would never have made it back to his "rodina." He would have been blown of out the sky, as he should have been, as Russia would do to any plane that attempted such actions in Russian air space. But Russia feels it can act with abandon against Georgia because it is small and relatively helpless country that the West has not yet fully brought within its protection. How Russia, the largest country in the world by far, could be so desperate to get even more territory is something that only a Russian can possibly understand (though it may have something to do with the fact that Russia knows full well it can't possibly defend its Siberian territory from Chinese incursions).
In other words, Russia is a craven, cowardly bully. Everyone in the world with the least bit of horse sense knows there is only one way to deal with a person like that. Serve him a knuckle sandwich. A whole plateful, if necessary.
So Georgia must have a NATO base, and that means it must have NATO membership. Right now. NATO was not created to implement a set of arbitrary rules and regulations about what sort of country is "fit" to join. It was created to protect us from the threats of our enemies -- most specifically Russia (in its former guise as the USSR). NATO must do whatever is necessary to bring Georgia immediately within its fold of protection and to tell Russia, in no uncertain terms: Hands off, or else. Turkey is a member of the 26-nation NATO contingent. Turkey, as shown above, shares a long land border with Georgia. It's militarily insane to leave Turkey's flank unnecessarily exposed in this manner. The Olympics are scheduled to be held in 2014 within walking distance of Georgia's northern border. Are we going to send our young athletes into a meat grinder?
Any other response than to immediately bring Georgia into NATO would be tantamount to the way the Allies handled Hitler in the early going of World War II, just after he grabbed Czechoslovakia. The Allies thought Hitler would be satisfied with this burnt offering, and then suddenly there was Poland.
When compared to the vital, vibrant democracies of Europe and North America, Russia is a pathetically weak and disorganized country with a ridiculous sham for a military and a cosmic joke of an economy. It's political system is nothing short of medieval. But it can still wreck havoc in a small country like Georgia if nobody stops it, and it might grow stronger if left unfettered before, as the USSR did, it ultimately and inevitably destroys itself. If we choose not to stop the neo-Soviet Union in Georgia today, then we'll more than likely have to stop it someplace much closer to home tomorrow.
Those are just the practical considerations. They say nothing about the simple morality of allowing a small country struggling to overcome years of Soviet oppression to be swallowed up by a large aggressor nation. If we allowed that, how would we sleep at night?
It's time for the citizens of the West to call their leaders to account for this issue. It's not only our leaders, but we ourselves, who are responsible to put things right in Georgia. If our leaders lack the intelligence or courage to do what is necessary, we must replace them with those who can. America is right now in the early stages of a presidential election cycle, and the question of Georgia ought to be foist upon every candidate, and often.
After all, they hold our children's futures in their hands.
“Khodorkovsky is Illegally in Siberia”
Lawyer Raises Allegations against Officials
From: Robert amsterdam
In October, it will be four years since the Yukos affair reached its first climax with Khodorkovsky’s being stuck in Novosibirsk. With that, half of his prison term will have been served, and the oil magnate, under Russian law, would have the right to request his release. “When we talk about Russia, then we are not talking about a state under rule of law, however,” says Amsterdam. As proof, he cites the developments in the past few months.
Judge’s Order Ignored
Since February, the Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating Khodorkovsky anew. For this, he was transferred from the penal camp to the detention facility in the Siberia city of Chita. This time, he is being accused of theft and money laundering. In May, a Moscow court ordered that the investigation be carried out in Moscow, as have been the entire Yukos proceedings to date. But investigating officials are ignoring the judge’s order. “During the first show trials, there may have been recognizable directives to the judges on how proceedings were to be carried out,” recalls Amsterdam. “But for the outside [world], at least the appearance of adhering to Russian law was guaranteed. Now that is not even considered necessary.” Russia has moved on to the manipulation of courts by political leaders and the open violation of law and justice overall, Amsterdam said.
Amsterdam is convinced: “The Russian leadership is most afraid that Khodorkovsky will be politically active in the upcoming elections and could support a party.” That is also why the new proceedings were introduced, Amsterdam added. But there won’t be a election per se. “It is not even the same as the last trip to ballot box; the scenario is much more strongly controlled by the powers that be.” That has been taken care of by changes to the relevant laws. Russia, says Amsterdam, is moving closer and closer to becoming a one-party system; it is irrelevant that this party appears under several names.
Amsterdam does not expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to leave the political stage after the end of his second term. “We are seeing a new corporate state in Russia. Members of the political leadership are at the same on the supervisory boards of the most important companies,” he explains. Putin does not have to be president in order to stay in power. “He just has to take over Gazprom.”
Yukos, previously the largest private company in Russia, was broken up in December 2004 and awarded Rosneft, a state company.
Yeltsin: Selling out Russia
From: Vilhelm Konnander
In late December 1991, the Soviet Union awaited its final dissolution. Earlier in the month, the Belovezha agreement had effectively torpedoed the USSR, and republic after republic ceded from the Union. On 25 December, president Gorbachev resigned, and by New Year the red flag was lowered from the pinnacles of the Kremlin. In its place, the Russian tricolor was hoisted, signalling a Russia of uncertainty. As a new nation, Russia was in dire need of recognition as a sovereign and successor state of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, its economy was in free fall, with food shortages and an industry in total disarray. In both respects, Russia needed to become a player on the new world stage.
All this is well-known history now, but still serves to contextualise the situation when Yeltsin - allegedly - offered the return of Karelia in exchange for much needed money. On an ideological level, Russia's new leadership needed to part with the past and the injustices of history to build a new nation. Yeltsin had thus previously supported the independence of the Baltic states, partly out of personal conviction, and partly to further undermine Gorbachev's position. There was also a liberalising belief that one way out of the problems was by local and individual initiatives. Thus, in June 1991, Yeltsin had urged Russia's regions to take as much sovereignty as they could digest. Also, a similar offer was made to Japan for the return of the Kurile islands, which the Soviet Union had conquered in 1945. The offer to Japan was still on the table until May 1993, when Yeltsin cancelled a visit to Japan for further talks on the issue, whereafter no mention has been made on it from the Russian side.
According to Kainuun Sanomat, in response to the Russian offer, Finnish president Mauno Koivisto appointed a secret group to analyse the costs for regaining Karelia. An initial cost of reconstruction was estimated to 13 billion euro, but subsequently the price tag increased to 71 billion euro. Obviously, this was too high a price to pay for Karelia, and - even though Russia repeatedly reiterated the offer during spring 1992 - president Koivisto in the end told Yeltsin in July 1992 that "Finland cannot afford Karelia."
Obviously, there were also security policy considerations, as the return of Karelia would bring Finland within sight of St. Petersburg - a problem that Russia historically had taken issue with. Also, Finnish public opinion seemed ambivalent or straightout negative to the idea, so it might have proven politically hazardous to raise the issue publicly. Still, regaining Karelia was publicly discussed in Finland at the time, even though few may actually have realised that there was a concrete offer on the table. Then, the main proponents for the this cause were nationalist Karelian exile organisations, which only served to make the generation having lived through the war increasingly apprehensive. The price in human lives and suffering had been too high to once more risk the chance of having Finland's great neighbour too close at hand. The price once paid by the loss of Karelia - 10% of Finnish territory and 400,000 refugees - was simply too high to risk its reiteration in the future. A final reason why the Russian offer was turned down might have been an impending economic crisis - partly due to the total loss of trade with Russia after soviet demise - bringing mass unemployment to Finland.
So, how has the Finnish establishment reacted to these news? Well, denial seems to be the word of the day in Helsinki. Despite the fact that Koivisto on numerous occasions has both said and written things, strongly supporting that there actually was a Russian offer, he simply states through his secretary that these news "do not feel familiar." Also, most high-ranking politicians and diplomats of those days vehemently deny anything of the sort of a Russian offer to return Karelia. It is more than obvious that official Finland now closes it ranks in face of an alternative to official history.
Why the Karelia affaire is disclosed right now is unclear. Ever since 1991, information about the Russian offer has been covered by media and documentaries, although often more as a footnote than as the main story. The difference this time over though, seems to be that now there may be detailed information exactly about how the entire affaire was handled. Another motive may be that some Finnish interests now want to discredit the last moral justifications for Finland's post-war appeasement policy in relation to the Soviet Union. With an increasingly menacing Russia at its borders, and a debate on Finnish accession to NATO out in the cold, this may prove an opportunity for NATO-adherents to undermine proponents of more accomodating relations with Russia, in contrast to what would be the result of Finnish NATO-membership.
So, why these massive denials. If there was a Russian offer on the table - as much now indicates - it seems the only decent and sound decision would nevertheless have been to turn it down. Opting for status quo instead of staggering costs in a dire and uncertain economic situation in addition to the great uncertainties of how a future Russia would develop, seems the most secure and responsible decision to make. If so, president Koivisto would once more have risen to the task of being a statesman of the best Finnish tradition.
Still, memory is short, and presuming that the public in retrospect would be able to correctly assess the situation in the early 1990s is perhaps too much to ask for. Therefore, what is at stake is the reputation and historical verdict of an entire generation of politicians in Finland, which only serves as a driving-force to making the Karelia affaire into a true scandal. Perhaps, the right thing to do - instead of continued denial - would simply be to proudly confess that this was the only responsible thing to do given the historical circumstances. This would though not be in line with Finnish tradition, which perhaps is the reason why it is good that this affaire now comes out into the open. As Russia is returning to the past it parted with in 1991, Finland may need to part with a past it never totally left behind. As long as this is not the case, Finland will continue to walk a thin line in its relations with Russia.
Finally, as for Yeltsin's part in the Karelia affaire, most Russians would today claim this as further evidence that he sold out Russia. Yeltsin's sense of a historical role and obligation to part with and try to make good for the crimes of communism is something current Russia wants to forget. Paradoxically, exactly this morale and courage of the early Yeltsin, to stand up for his beliefs in a democratic and just Russia, is what he will go down in history for. To this should also be added Yeltsin's attempts to put Finlandisation behind in relations between Moscow and Helsinki.
Belarus hoping to move up the medal table in 2007
|World Champion Belarusian Nadzeya Ostapchuk|
Photo by Picture Alliance
Belarus has named a team of 28 athletes for the World Championships in Osaka led by defending champions Ivan Tikhon (Tsikhan) in Hammer and Nadzeya Ostapchuk in the women's Shot Put.
31-year-old Tikhon will be going for his third successive major championship title after adding European gold in Gothenburg last year to his world title won in Helsinki in 2005. Ostapchuk will be hoping to improve on her European silver medal from Gothenburg last year to defend her 2005 World title.
The team also contains the Turava sisters, Aleisa and Ryta who each won gold at last years European Championships in Gothenburg in the 3,000m Steeplechase and 20km Walk respectively.
Ryta, in particular has been in unbeatable form this season, winning all four of the IAAF Challenge races she started as well as the European Cup race Walking in Royal Leamington Spa in Britain. Her 1:27.10 winning time from Sesto San Giovanni in May is also the fastest time in the world this season.
With two gold, two silver and one bronze medal from Helsinki, Belarus finished fifth in the overall medal table in 2005.
Belarussian team for the IAAF World Championships
Shot Put: Yury Bialou, Pavel Lyzhyn, Andrei Mikhnevich
Hammer Throw: Vadim Devyatovskiy, Ivan Tsikhan
Decathlon: Andrei Krauchanka, Aliaksandr Parkhomenka
20km Walk: Ivan Trotskiy
50km Walk: Andrei Stepanchuk, Vitaliy Talankou
400m: Ilona Usovich
800m: Sviatlana Usovich
5000m: Volha Krautsova
3000m Steeplechase: Alesia Turava
Shot Put: Nadzeya Ostapchuk, Yanina Provalinskaya-Karolchyk
Discus: Iryna Yatchenko
Hammer: Aksana Miankova
20km Walk: Elena Ginko, Ryta Turava
4x100m Relay: Volha Astashka, Aksana Drahun, Alena Neumiarzhitskaya ,Natallia Safronnikava, Nastassia Shuliak
4x400m Relay: Iryna Khliustava, Anna Kozak, Ilona Usovich, Sviatlana Usovich, Yulyana Yushchanka
Lukashenka reluctant to meet president of Russia for the first time within thirteen years
From: Charter '97
First within thirteen years of his being in power the Belarusian governor said that he saw no reason for meeting with the Russian colleague, the Vremya Novostey newspaper admits. “Now there are no issues to be discussed at the summit level”, Alyaksandr Lukashenka considers.”We meet with the president of Russia when two or three issues or any urgent issue for discussion appear. We meet officially, make decisions as it is used to be in relations between the two states”, he declared.
However, Mr. Lukashenka made it clear that the meeting with the Russian leader can be easily organized if required.’”I f any necessity of our meeting with Vladimir Putin arise it will take not more than a day for organizing it- we shall make a phone call, agree on the time , meet and discuss the issues”.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka also stressed that the subject of the Russian-Belarusian relations remained vital. He also promised that a regular meeting of the supreme state council of the “union state’ is due in autumn.”The parties will discuss there all the problems of the presidents’ as well as of the governments’ competence, if any”, he promised.