Lukashenko in Venezuela; Big oil deal for BY, Union State scandal, Gas, Politics, Economics and Belarus' Alexey Zhigalkovich winner of 2007's JESC!
Alexander Lukashenko names Venezuela a most consistent ally and commercial partner of Belarus
|President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez|
Alexander Lukashenko and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez are set to discuss all the issues of cooperation between Belarus and Venezuela, BelTA learnt in the presidential press service.
Several important joint documents are expected to be signed in Caracas.
During the visit, the Belarusian head of state is to take part in a ceremony of opening the National Exhibition of the Republic of Belarus in Venezuela.
In 2006, the Presidents of Belarus and Venezuela decided to set up a strategic alliance.
“Despite the huge geographical distance, Belarus and Venezuela have made big progress in various cooperation areas over a short period of time: a lot of mutually beneficial projects have been launched,” the press service noted.
The two sides have started setting up joint ventures on prospecting seismology, oil extraction, production of construction materials. Belarus has launched exports of automobiles, farm machines, road-construction equipment, household appliances to Venezuela. Belarus is starting the projects on organising assembly productions of MAZ, MTZ and BelAZ companies, construction of residential areas and agro-towns in Venezuela.
The two countries have been developing the cooperation in science and education, culture and military-technical area.
Venezuela is the most developed country in Latin America. The country occupies the first place in the region in terms of the proven oil reserves, and comes 7th on the list of the biggest oil producers in the world. Venezuela also possesses big reserves of natural gas.
Venezuela as consistent political ally
Venezuela is one of the most consistent political allies and commercial partners of Belarus, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on December 7 as he met with President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez.
“We can state that the collaboration of our countries has reached the level of strategic partnership testified by regular contacts between the presidents of the countries,” added Alexander Lukashenko. It is the fourth meeting of the heads of Belarus and Venezuela since July 2006.
During the negotiations the leaders of the two countries confirmed the readiness to promote productive dialogue in the specific cooperation avenues they had defined during bilateral meetings in Minsk. Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez also spoke for more vigorous development of cooperation
Over the last seven years Belarusian export to Venezuela has been represented mainly by potash fertilisers. In 2007 apart from potassium Belarus exported automobiles and tractors to Venezuela.
At present joint commercial projects are being implemented, including the creation of joint companies for prospecting seismology, oil extraction, production of construction materials. Belarus has started shipping automobile, agricultural, road construction machines, household appliances to Venezuela and setting up assembling facilities of MTZ, MAZ and BelAZ. Belarusian specialists design residential districts in Venezuela. The Venezuelan side suggested that Belarus should consider taking part in building natural gas distribution networks in Venezuela.
Belarusian experts believe, the authority and influence of Venezuela in Latin America and the Non-Aligned Movement may contribute to more vigorous promotion of Belarus’ interests in other countries of Latin America.
On December 7 the President of Belarus laid a wreath at Simon Bolivar’s sarcophagus in the National Pantheon, talked to representatives of the general public of Venezuela.
“I am sincerely grateful for the honour of visiting the place that is sacred for every citizen of your country — the National Pantheon and bowing to the ashes of the great son of the Venezuelan nation, Liberator of South America Simon Bolivar. His name invokes a feeling of deep respect, while his life is a vivid example of selfless service to his Motherland, freedom and justice”, wrote Alexander Lukashenko in the VIP visitors book of the Pantheon.
The National Pantheon contains remains of over 140 prominent citizens of Venezuela, including politicians, historians, writers and doctors. The name of Simon Bolivar is very popular in Latin America. It is immortalised in names of countries (the Republic of Bolivia), provinces, cities, streets, money units as well as multiple monuments.
On December 7 Alexander Lukashenko and Hugo Chavez are also expected to partake in opening the National Expo of the Republic of Belarus. The expo gathered 216 Belarusian exponents. A presentation of the economic, export, scientific and technical potential of Belarus will take place as part of the exhibition. Visitors will be able to get familiar with investment projects, free economic zones, banking and insurance, tourist opportunities Belarus offers, the country’s higher education and education options foreign students enjoy.
Products by MTZ, Amkodor, BelAZ, Belagromash, Motovelo will be demonstrated in action in the open air.
Leading musicians and performers of Belarus will take part in the cultural component of the expo. Visitors will be able to get familiar with Belarusian crafts and the national cuisine. Apparel collections by Belarusian designers and light industry products will also be demonstrated to visitors of the expo.
Belarus and Venezuela have already signed contracts for all the products the expo highlights.
MAZ to set up joint venture in Venezuela
The Minsk Automobile Works (MAZ) plans to set up a joint venture in Venezuela with a annual output of three thousand cars, MAZ General Director Nikolai Kosten told journalists in Caracas.
“At present the two sides are holding negotiations and studying the charter of the joint company,” he said. Nikolai Kosten did not rule out that the two countries would sign the document on the joint venture construction in the near future.
According to him, it will take three years to construct the joint venture that is to occupy nearly 6 thousand square meters. The project will claim about $50 million. According to the preliminary information, the joint venture will employ 300 people in two shifts.
Belarus' Alexey Zhigalkovich and his song S druzyami win the Junior Eurovision song contest!
From: esc today
Tonight, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2007 took place in Rotterdam, Netherlands and saw Belarus winning for the second time with Alexey Zhigalkovich and his song S druzyami. As always, we offer the real Song Contest freaks a close look on the statistics.
Belarus has received points from all countries but Cyprus, all the other countries gave at least four points and four times the twelve points. The runner-ups from Armenia were obviously polarizing: they received seven times the douze, twice the ten, once eight, seven and five - and four times not a single vote. Although with 17 countries competing it is very likely that a country receives points from all countries (since every country has to give points to ten out of 16 other countries), only Russia and Serbia managed to do so - they finished third and sixth respectively.
Belarus has scored an average of 8.56 points - the lowest average score of a winner ever. On the other hand, Armenia has scored the second highest average of points of a runner-up with 8.50. Apart from the first contest in 2003, Armenia is also the most succesful debuting country ever reaching second place. The other debutants Georgia and Bulgaria also did quite well finishing fourth and seventh respectively while Lithuania finished only 13th. Countries that have achieved their best results so far are Serbia and F.Y.R. Macedonia while Greece, Portugal and Belgium have reached their worst placings so far.
The runing order
For the third year in a row, the country that performed last finished first. Last year, the songs that reached the top 3 were all performed in the second half, this year it is less obvious that songs performed late do better: the Armanian entry was performed third and finished second, the Serbian entry that came third was number nine of the evening and the fourth placed song from Gerogia has even opened the show. On the other hand, the songs performed at number 14, 15 and 16 did not reach the top 10 with Greece coming last. Of course, the question comes up if the new voting system, which means that you can vote right after the show begins, does affect the results after all. But there is one thing that will probably never change: the song performed second did not do well at all: Belgium finished third from last.
That's a sensitive subject. First of all it has to be pointed out that giving points to a neighbouring country does not necessarily mean that there are "political" reasons - the televoters may have also just thought that the song they have voted for was the best one! Nevertheless, there were some friendly neighbours as always: Belgium has received its only points from the Netherlands, Greece has received its only points from Cyprus (even if only two this year). Georgia and Armenia have exchanged their twelve points while the Netherlands have recieved their highest mark from Belgium, Russia from Belarus, F.Y.R. Macedonia from Bulgaria and Serbia and Cyprus from Greece. Nevertheless, there are other examples that don't prove diaspora voting: Malta gave its 4 - 12 points to Eastern countries, Sweden its top 4 marks. Furthermore, Sweden managed to reach the first half of the scoreboard the second year in a row without any other Scandinavian country taking part.
Belarus has scored an average of 6.72 points per non-former USSR country. If the other five countries had given Belarus the same average amount of points, Belarus would have probably not won the competition (it has to be taken into consideration that the "missing" points would have been given to other countries!). Nevertheless, with six former USSR countries taking part, this statistic is rather inaccurate: mathematically, it is very unlikely to be able to expect these countries give to the same average amount of points than the others.
Belarus refutes allegations that Lukashenko and Putin plan to distribute authority within Union State
“Since the allegations appeared in the Russian mass media it is them who should be asked for comment. We do not confirm the information,” the head of the Belarus’ presidential press service Pavel Legky told BelTA.
The item on the draft constitutional act and the course of its preparation is not on the agenda of the coming session of the Supreme State Council of the Belarus-Russia Union State, acting head of the Union State representative office in Minsk Anatoly Komisarchuk told BelTA.
According to him, there are 12 items on the agenda of the session with a special stress placed on the Union State budget 2008. The budget will exceed RUB 4 billion which is 10% more than in 2007.
Besides, the session will take stock of the trade-economic cooperation between Belarus and Russia in 2006 and in H1 2007, Anatoly Komisarchuk noted. Among other issues on the agenda are the programme of the concerted foreign political activities 2006/2007, award of the Union State prizes in literature and arts 2007/2008 and some other issues.
Belarus’ foreign debt ceiling upped to $4 billion
According to her, two leading rating agencies have assigned a sovereign credit rating to Belarus this year. The aforesaid would help attract more foreign credits to the country.
Elena Pashkevich informed that in pursuance of the governmental instructions the Finance Ministry is elaborating the state debt concept that would determine the parameters of the economic security of the country.
Today the foreign debt of Belarus equals $827.8 million, with a slight reduction at the beginning of the year. Credit lines opened by Germany, China, Russia and Italy prevail among the opened credit lines for Belarus. German credits accounts for 14% of the Belarusian credit portfolio.
According to Elena Pashkevich, an efficient rate of Belarusian foreign debts, taking into account the internal margin of the Belarusian banks, totals 11-12% per annum. The expenditure on insurance against risks makes up a considerable part of the rate. At present the Finance Ministry negotiate with the German insurance company Hermes on moving Belarus onto a higher (the sixth) group of credit risks.
Russian Energy Ministry dispels gossip about high gas price for Belarus next year
In a related story, The Russian Federation Industry and Energy Ministry has disproved information distributed by several mass media that claimed that Belarus will have to pay $160 per 1,000 cubic metres of natural gas in 2008. The fact was reported by Russian news agencies citing Ivan Materov, Deputy Minister of Industry and Energy, who had made the statement on the sidelines of Russian-Hungarian intergovernmental consultations.
Ivan Materov said, the next year’s natural gas price for Belarus will be roughly $125 per 1,000 cubic metres. Specialists are about to prepare the final price, he added.
Creation of single computer border control system is almost completed in Belarus
In his words, now the process is 90% completed. In the near future the state border committee will receive databases from state agencies concerned.
The system will allow reducing the clearance procedures at the border. It will also provide an opportunity to keep track of what is going on at all border checkpoints and to determine the authenticity of IDs. The new equipment will read off the passport data and verify it with the database.
The system is planned to be launched on January 1, 2008.
Belarus’ Customs to work hard on holidays
During the forthcoming holidays and weekends the Belarusian Customs Service will work harder than in everyday operation, the press service of the State Customs Committee told BelTA.
In order to ensure timely and uninterrupted flow of traffic and smooth fulfilment of Belarusian companies’ obligations to foreign partners, most domestic customs clearance stations will work during the forthcoming holidays and weekends. In anticipation of the seasonal surge in export and import operations the Belarusian Customs Service confirms its readiness to service the growing transit traffic and guarantees fast and quality performance of services with regard to Russian cargoes in transit via the Belarusian customs border.
BelTA has been told, with the freedom of transit principle fully implemented in legislation, transit traffic via the Belarusian border is steadily on the rise. According to customs statistics, in January-October 2007 the amount of Russian transit cargoes transported by road soared by 27% up on the same period of 2006.
The State Customs Committee would like to inform consigners and trucking companies that in view of the new Customs Code and Decree No 320 coming into force customs clearance of transit cargoes can be suspended in exceptional cases only if the effective laws of the Republic of Belarus are violated.
Venezuela's Chavez promises oil for Belarus
|In this image released by Miraflores Press Office, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, right, shares a joke with Alexander Lukashenko, President of the Republic of Belarus, during a visit to Guara Este oil field in Anzoategui, Venezuela, Saturday, Dec. 8, 2007.|
As President Alexander Lukashenko concluded his first visit to Venezuela, Chavez said both he and his counterpart are wrongly labeled "dictators" by Washington and their critics.
"The international media dictatorship ... calls him 'Europe's last dictator,' and me the last dictator of Latin America. Here we are, the last dictators. But it's written in the Bible: the last will be first," Chavez said, laughing. "They demonize us ... (because) we're leading a process of liberating our nations, uniting our nations."
Venezuela and Belarus share similarly hostile stances toward Washington. The U.S. government labels the leftist Chavez a threat to Latin America's stability and calls Belarus an "outpost of tyranny," accusing Lukashenko of stifling dissent and free speech.
Chavez presented Lukashenko with a medal, and they signed an agreement pledging military cooperation. They did not discuss specifics publicly, but Chavez has expressed interest in buying an air defense system from Belarus equipped with radar and anti-aircraft missiles.
Today in Americas
Clinton's public persona: Soldier with scars and armorCyber attack on U.S. nuclear arms lab linked to ChinaHuckabee dogged by decisions as governorThe two governments also signed an accord establishing a joint venture to exploit oil and natural gas in the South American country.
"The oil your nation needs ... is here, as much as you need for 100 years, 200 years," Chavez said during a ceremony at Guara Este oil field in eastern Venezuela. "And here is the Belarus-Venezuela mixed company to share this potential and this wealth."
He said the joint venture will operate at an oil field at Lake Maracaibo, one in the Orinoco River basin and three others. "In a few years we can produce nearly 50,000 barrels of oil a day between us, and that oil will go to Belarus."
The deal could be a boon to Belarus, which is reliant on Russia for its oil and gas. Under the agreement between the nations' state-run companies, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, will control 60 percent of the venture, while Belorusneft will take a 40 percent stake.
"We have a way to respond to this great gift the Venezuelan people have given us," Lukashenko said through an interpreter. "I promise ... that we are going to do everything you say for your country, to maintain your sovereignty, guarantee your security and independence."
Officials also signed a series of accords pledging cooperation in areas from mining to construction of public housing in Venezuela.
Although the United States remains the top buyer of Venezuelan oil, Chavez said his country and Belarus both see Washington similarly: "We resist being guided, dominated and bound up by an empire that aims to be the world's owner."
Lukashenko receives Venezuela's highest award
In a related Interfax story, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has received Venezuela's highest award, the Order of The Liberator.
The order was presented to Lukashenko by President Hugo Chavez, an Interfax correspondent reported early on Sunday.
A Belarusian-Venezuelan oil company was inaugurated near San Tome during Lukashenko's visit to Venezuela. The ceremony was attended by Lukashenko and Chavez.
The two presidents visited the joint venture and were briefed about prospects of oil production.
Russia tipped to swallow Belarus
From: ABC News, Interfax,
Russian media has been reporting that sources within the office of the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, say that a union with Russia is about to happen.
The reports say that Mr Putin will may visit Belarus to sign a Constutional Act of Union late next week, and that the document has already been drafted.
In a climate where speculation is rife about what Mr Putin will do next after he steps down from the Russian presidency in March, the reports say he could become the president of the new Union State.
Officials from both countries have dismissed the reports, with the Kremlin calling them speculative fantasies.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's office has expressed "surprise" at Russian media reports that there are plans to name Russian President Vladimir Putin as head of the Union State of Belarus and Lukashenko as speaker of the Union State's future parliament.
"This information remains on the conscience of its inventors," Lukashenko spokesman Pavel Lyogky told Interfax.
A union between Russia and Belarus in works?
According to the Hindustan Times, President Vladimir Putin will travel to Minsk next week hoping to finalise a deal that would unite Belarus and Russia into a single state and, perhaps, give Putin a new lease on power as head of the new country.
"This is a very serious development," says Sergei Markov, a Kremlin-connected analyst. "Majorities in both countries want this reunification, and it makes a lot of sense from the security and economic viewpoints."
The Kremlin has announced that Putin and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko will meet next Thursday in Minsk to discuss the terms of the proposed new state's Constitution.
Experts say the arrangements are not yet finalized, but could involve the smaller Belarus amalgamating with huge, oil-rich Russia in much the same way Hong Kong was recently restored to Chinese sovereignty.
Belarus, with about 10-million people, is giant Russia's closest ally in the former Soviet Union and has long been dependent upon Moscow for energy supplies, security assistance and economic subsidies.
The two countries have been discussing the possibility of re-unifying for years, though talks have always stalled in the past over government structure, division of powers and the degree of sovereignty that Belarus would retain.
"The biggest obstacle to reunification is Lukashenko, who fears he'd lose power in a big Russia-Belarus union," says Markov. "They haven't come to a solution yet, but it could be close."
A new Russia-Belarus state, with a new Constitution, might enable Putin to set aside the previous Russian Constitution that limited him to two terms in office in order to become leader of the new super-state.
Byelorussia plans to sign 10 agreements a year with Azerbaijan
Nikolay Pazkevich, Ambassador of Byelorussia in Azerbaijan, reported today at the press-conference in Baku that today the contract base includes 50 agreements.
“Carried out analysis shows that approximately the base of 100 agreements is necessary for normal development of bilateral relations. That is why we figure on annual preparation and acceptance of 10 agreements. We are preparing such package for 2008 and we plan to complete it until 5th session of Azerbaijan and Byelorussian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation to be held in Minsk in the first half of 2008,” N.Pazkevich said.
The contract base has to provide $500 million of mutual trade turnover a year.
Belarus and Azerbaijan prepare to open regular air traffic for trade turnover growth
Also according to ABC.AZ, the government of Belarus and the Ministry of Economic Development of Azerbaijan are working out the issue of optimization of cargo delivery system for two countries’ trade development.
At today’s media conference in Baku the Byelorussian ambassador Nikolay Patskevich to Azerbaijan said that the proposal package includes not only increase of number of available Baku-Minsk flights.
“The Byelorussian party also worked at the matter of organization of cargo delivery by transport aircrafts. We have already made suggestions for acceptable tariffs for such carriages,” Patskevich said.
The MED backs this initiative.
“We also strive to set up Trade & Logistics Centre and are preparing relevant offers,” Patskevich said.
Both countries have plans to provide bringing their commodity turnover up to $500 million a year.
“For the first 10 months of 2007 trade turnover between the two countries totaled $74 million, but only $2 million of it falls on export from Azerbaijan. We aspire to obtain equaling of Azerbaijani export with volumes of Belarus,” Patskevich said.
Belarus considers Azerbaijani wine and cognac are of poor quality
Hopes for export of Azerbaijani wine and cognac to Belarus however, have not been justified.
Byelorussian ambassador Nikolay Patskevich to Azerbaijan claimed that wines and cognac made in Azerbaijan fail to conform to standards of Belarus.
“Not being wine and cognac producer we have introduced tough requirements to them. Nevertheless Azerbaijan has liqueur producers providing high quality of their output,” he said.
Currently Belarus imports from Azerbaijan tobacco, cotton, juices, and chemical products. Overall export from Azerbaijan to this country is at the level of $2 million.
“We are interested to expand range of juice supplies and cotton production in Azerbaijan,” Patskevich said.
Gazprom seeks 60 pct Belarus gas price hike-source
The source said Gazprom was seeking a price of $160 per 1,000 cubic metres, up from the current $100 -- the lowest price it charges its customers.
Gazprom charges European clients over $250 and the price is expected to rise to $350 next year. Earlier this week, Gazprom agreed with Ukraine to raise the price to $179.5 from the previous $130.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Minsk late next week.
Russia will not change gas price formula for Belarus - minister
According to Ria Novosti however, Russia will not review a natural gas price formula for Belarus as requested by the ex-Soviet republic, a deputy industry and energy minister said on Friday.
"This is not entirely fair as we agreed on the present formula after long and difficult talks," Ivan Matyorov said, adding that there is an agreement between Russia and Belarus stipulating the gas price formula.
In December 2006, Russian energy giant Gazprom and Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz signed a contract on gas transits in 2007-2011. The document envisioned the price of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters for 2007 and a formula for prices for 2008.
Gazprom wants to make the country gradually switch to EU pricing levels, which are way higher ($250 per 1,000 cu m).
Matyorov also said the exact price for 2008 has not been defined yet, but would roughly total about $125 per 1,000 cu m. He denied reports that the price could reach $160 per 1,000 cu m, a figure some media sources have cited.
Gazprom board chairman Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday the price of Russian natural gas for Belarus could reach average European levels in 2011. "The gas price for Belarus is among the lowest of CIS states, but it is due to reach the average European level in 2011," he said.
EU support program for Belarus’ non-state media will be launched in January 2008, European Commission official says
Under the program, €500,000 will go toward organizing workshops and seminars for print and online media, helping reporters publish their stories, and running information and awareness raising campaigns about the European Commission, Mr. Holzapfel said.
Since November 17, reporters have been submitting applications for a 2008-2011 regional information and communication program, he said. The program, which has a budget of €5-million, was designed for East European countries involved in the European Neighborhood Policy.
According to Mr. Holzapfel, the money will be spent for developing non-state television and radio broadcasting to Belarus, training reporters, publishing information materials, conducting public-opinion polls and monitoring the Belarusian media.
National libraries of Belarus and Poland sign cooperation agreement
The document was concluded for the near five years. The agreement foresees the exchange of books, setting up the joint bibliographic data bases, development of information area, experience exchange and implementation of joint projects.
According to Tomasz Makowski, the National Library of Poland cooperates with the similar establishments in many countries but the contacts with Belarus’ National Library are of great importance. “The common past unites us with Belarus: the National Library in Warsaw has the stocks which are a part of the Belarusian history and, vice versa, Minsk’s library has the stocks which are of some interest of the Polish side. I hope that the agreement will strengthen the contacts between our establishments,” the head of the main Polish library noted.
According to Roman Motulsky, the cooperation between the national libraries of the two countries is too important. “The peoples of Belarus and Poland established close relations long time ago. I do not imagine the further development of the European information area in the library business without cooperation between Belarus’ National Library and Poland’s National Library,” the director of the Belarusian National Library added.
On December 13-14, the international scientific conference dedicated to the Nesvizh library of the Radzivills Family will be held in Warsaw. The forum will be held under the auspices of Bogdan Zdrojewski, the Minister of Culture and National Heritage of Poland. Attending the forum will be specialists from Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Russia and Ukraine.
The conference is to be held in line with the international project dealing with the electronic collection of Radzivills’ archives which are in different countries. The project was launched at a session of the international commission with the assistance of UNESCO in early 2007. Belarus’ National Library and Poland’s National Library are leading participants of the project.
U.S. blocks Russia-NATO Council's cooperation program for 2008
From: Ria Novosti
Russia's law suspending its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty officially came into force on December 3. The moratorium itself will take effect at the stroke of midnight on December 11-12.
The Americans, Lavrov said, had "issued an ultimatum that the Russia-NATO Council's programs for 2008 stipulate that all Council members continue to observe the CFE."
"As this would contradict the law signed by the Russian president to suspend our implementation of the treaty, we could not agree to that, and unfortunately the U.S. delegation blocked approval for the entire cooperation program," the Russian diplomat added upon his return from Friday's Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels.
He said the program had included cooperation projects between his country and the 26-nation bloc for 2008, including the implementation of an anti-terrorist program, joint efforts to enhance cooperation against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and programs to fight drug trafficking and man-made catastrophes.
Lavrov said that although the above projects would be developed further, the fact that an important document fixing a large number of partnership spheres was blocked over the "biased position" of U.S. colleagues provoked "regret."
Moscow considers the original CFE treaty, signed in December 1990 by 16 NATO countries and six Warsaw Pact members, to be discriminatory and outdated since it does not reflect the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the breakup of the Soviet Union, or recent NATO expansion.
Speaking of the CFE Treaty, Lavrov said that "the old treaty has lost its meaning," as the preservation of flank limitations hampered an effective fight against terrorism.
Lavrov also said: "If you look at NATO's geographical position in the north, in the west, or in the south, these armaments [NATO's armaments under the CFE Treaty] and military hardware cannot be used there, because these are land-based armaments, while there are seas and oceans around, and so the east is the only destination."
Russia has also proposed establishing ceiling limits for armaments to all NATO members, regardless of the alliance's plans to expand, although Lavrov said the proposal has yet to be discussed.
Lavrov also said the amended version of the CFE Treaty of 1999 needed to be upgraded. Moscow voiced its proposals at an emergency conference of signatories to the CFE Treaty in June.
NATO foreign ministers spoke openly on Friday of difficulties in current relations with Russia.
"This partnership has entered a challenging phase," ministers said in a communique, also saying that, "We value and want to continue our constructive and frank dialogue with Russia, including on issues on which we disagree."
Look Who’s Still Standing in Russia
The opposition might, in other words, not necessarily want to coalesce around a politician like Gennadi A. Zyuganov, head of Russia’s Communist Party. But these days, it does not have a lot of other choices.
With President Vladimir V. Putin’s party swaggering to an election landslide last week that wiped out the liberals in Parliament for the first time, Mr. Zyuganov’s party now seems to represent the only viable force remaining against the Kremlin.
They are the only ones left with a toehold in the government — these heirs to Lenin, Stalin and the other titans of the last century, these stalwarts who continue to brandish the hammer and sickle even as many younger Russians consider it more of a hokey T-shirt logo than a mighty symbol. It is a party that draws its backing largely from the elderly and others who feel left behind as the country has lurched toward capitalism.
It is a measure of the dismal state of the opposition that liberals — including icons like Vladimir A. Ryzhkov and Boris Y. Nemtsov who gained prominence in the 1990’s by pursuing a pro-Western, free-market philosophy — are making noises about an alliance with Mr. Zyuganov in a desperate attempt to bring down Mr. Putin.
Even some among the urban intelligentsia, who have typically viewed Mr. Zyuganov as a has-been beloved by misguided pensioners, nonetheless pulled the lever for his party last Sunday in hopes of bolstering a Putin rival.
While not disavowing his forebears, Mr. Zyuganov has tried in recent years to recast the party in the style of a Western European Communist or even Social Democratic one. The Russian Communists support private property, freedom of religion and multiparty democracy. In the recent campaign, they ran on the populist slogan “restoring lost values,” attacking business oligarchs and the gap in wealth in Russia.
Still, Mr. Zyuganov is such a warhorse, having run in elections since the Soviet Union’s end, that for the opposition to put his candidacy forward in the presidential election in March would be as if the Republicans in the United States were to unite around Bob Dole for president in 2008.
And despite the Communists’ moves to improve their image, it may be hard for the Russian electorate to get past the Zyuganov of old.
In the 1990’s, the Communists had the largest faction in Parliament, and voters these days tend to associate politicians from that era with political and economic disarray. Back then, Mr. Zyuganov assailed capitalism, and while Russians may now have mixed feelings about the post-Soviet age, they adore their big-box stores and cars and freedom to travel.
Mr. Zyuganov has also expressed ultranationalistic views — including suggesting that Zionists and Jews have too much influence in Russia and the world — that were anathema to liberals. No matter that lately he has held his tongue more, and said he is opposed to anti-Semitism.
For now, as the country looks toward the March election and questions intensify over who will succeed Mr. Putin (if he does step down when his term ends, as he has pledged), some liberals are suppressing their doubts and thinking about uniting with the Communists in order to run a candidate against whomever Mr. Putin favors.
Even if they do join forces, Mr. Putin’s favorite will most likely win. The Kremlin’s advantages were evident in last Sunday’s election results, with Mr. Putin’s party, United Russia, reaping 64.3 percent of the vote and the Communists finishing a distant second, with 11.6 percent.
Opposition parties and election monitors denounced the balloting as unfair and biased toward United Russia. The current Parliament has a handful of liberals like Mr. Ryzhkov, but all were defeated. Because of new election laws pushed by Mr. Putin, Mr. Ryzhkov could not even run.
Leonid N. Dobrokhotov, a Communist historian and informal adviser to Mr. Zyuganov, said the Communists were seeking to become a home for the well educated, noting that among its members of Parliament is Zhores I. Alferov, a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2000.
“I know that it looks very paradoxical to receive the support of liberals, but it is possible to explain — the Communists have become the only democratic party in the Parliament,” Mr. Dobrokhotov said. “This is a tremendous change from the past. We are not the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.”
Mr. Ryzhkov did not exactly agree. He said the Communists have in recent years usually reached an accommodation with the Kremlin in Parliament, declining to oppose most of Mr. Putin’s initiatives in return for patronage and other spoils. He contended that if Mr. Zyuganov continues on that path, the party will face extinction because the older voters who are its base will die off and younger voters will have little reason to support it.
“The second strategy is more risky and creative, and it is for the Communists to join the other opposition forces, even the liberals and other left forces, to create a people’s front for democracy,” Mr. Ryzhkov said. “It would be a wide front of opposition against Putin’s authoritarianism and his police state, and it will be something entirely new.”
Mr. Ryzhkov, by the way, would not say whether he would back Mr. Zyuganov for president. He said he had another candidate in mind — himself.
Poland sport officials tried on corruption
The Wroclaw court opened preliminary hearings to be followed by a trial late next week, Polish Radio said Thursday.
If convicted, the accused face a maximum 5 years in jail.
The 22 accused were part of a group of 34 people, including soccer club managers, coaches, activists and soccer judges, charged with participating in an organized crime ring.
The charges involve accepting and giving bribes, and fixing match results.
Inquiries in the giant corruption scandal in the Polish soccer union has been under way for two years.
Prosecutors have been working on charges against about 100 people, the report said.
Polish police seek thieving Santa
Witnesses of the hold-up Thursday in Ploty, northwest Poland, found it difficult to describe the robber who wore a Santa costume with a plastic face mask and long white beard, police said.
The thief gave his best wishes to the saleswoman before brandishing an item resembling a handgun and making off in a getaway car with several thousand zlotys (several hundred euros, dollars).
The robber chose November 6 for the heist, celebrated as the feast of St. Nicholas in Poland.
Ukraine assembly sets Tuesday vote on PM
"Whatever the circumstances, a vote will take place on Tuesday on the candidature for prime minister of Ukraine and on the make-up of the government," speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the chamber. He then declared parliament closed until Tuesday.
Tymoshenko was President Viktor Yushchenko's ally during the 2004 pro-Western "Orange Revolution" mass protests that swept him to power. But after a turbulent eight-month mandate as prime minister, she was sacked by the president.
The two were reconciled before September's parliamentary election in which two parties associated with the "orange" protests won a tiny majority.
The president submitted her nomination to parliament on Thursday despite their history of uneasy relations.
The "orange" coalition, made of her bloc and the president's Our Ukraine party, holds 227 seats, only one more than needed to secure election in the 450-member legislature.
But the election this week to the speaker's chair of Yatsenyuk, an ally of the president, gave heart to "orange" parties that their majority, however slender, was viable.
And the opposition, led by outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich's Regions Party, has indicated that it was prepared to accept Tymoshenko as prime minister if she won approval.
"I don't care what color the coalition is. What matters is what this coalition will do," Rinat Akhmetov, a senior Regions Party official and Ukraine's wealthiest business magnate, told reporters late on Thursday.
"If it is aimed at reforms and economic growth, may God grant them good health."
Tymoshenko, with her peasant braid and designer outfits, issued calls to action at Yushchenko's side during the 2004 protests.
In office, Tymoshenko sniped constantly at the president and her government was split into two camps. Relations worsened with Russia and she spooked investors with calls for a sweeping review of "dubious" privatizations.
But her popularity has proved enduring as her bloc scored well in the September election to entrench itself as the country's largest "orange" group.
|Aliyichka hypnotizes Mazl Tov children...|
But it’s not over yet; Minsk’s Jews of all ages are waiting to see what the second half of the holiday will bring them. Today, JDC Minsk’s employees are getting ready for their office holiday party, to be led by JSC volunteers, Erica, Aliyah, and Sebastian. This weekend, students and university graduated are anxiously anticipating the Hillel Hannukah Shabbaton, where there will educational historical Hannukah content and of course, lots of fun. And of course, the holiday will be topped off this Sunday by a final festive concert organized by the JDC and Minsk Jewish Campus.
Now, Putin's Nashists Go After the Babies
From: publius pundit
- Yulia Zimova, the head of Mishki, said the organization was created to encourage children aged 8 to 15 to be more active in society. Only two months old, Mishki is just the latest in a broad array of pro-Kremlin youth groups. It joined 30,000 youngsters at a Nashi rally on Vasilyevsky Spusk, near the Kremlin, in the morning to celebrate the victory of President Vladimir Putin and United Russia, whose candidate list he led in Sunday's State Duma elections, before holding its own rally later in the day. The rally was Nashi's third since Sunday. Their essential purpose, just like Nashi, is to support Putin. "I love the Mishki! I love Russia! I love Putin! Together, we will win!" children's voices boomed from speakers set up on Vasilyevsky Spusk, near Red Square, during the morning Nashi rally.During the Mishki portion of the rally, the new group's members spelled out a giant letter to Putin on the ground, asking him to head the organization, Zimova said, adding that the president would be given a tape showing the letter. In a surreal twist, besides childish flags suited for a kindergarten, many of the Mishki teenaged girls held teddy bears, which they said were their own. Mishka is also the Russian word for teddy bear. Holding up a clean, pink stuffed bear, one of the 18-year-old girls said, "I've had Lavrik for a year."
Putin has not been hesitant in using Nashi as agents of Kremlin policy. So, for example, we see above a photograph of the British ambassador to Russia, Sir Anthony Brenton, with the word "LOSER!" scrawled across his face as hoards of Nashi cult members demonstrate against the British embassy, accusing Britain of daring to support the forces of democracy in Russia in the wake of Russia's assassination of dissident Alexander Litvinenko on British soil and buzzing Britain with nuclear bombers. The BBC's journalists in Russia have also come under violent attack. Nashi is even in the process of filing lawsuits on the Kremlin's behalf for political purposes.
Polish fire safety drill
Yesterday afternoon, someone from administration gave me a tip off. She said: “Listen, don’t tell anyone, but there is going to be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock tomorrow.”
So I went and told everyone that there would be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock.
This was useful news. The mornings are particularly intense where I work and this would help us organize a little better if we all had to troop out of the building and stand around in the cold for heaven knows how long, while firemen inside ran around pretending there was a fire.
Come the morning my immediate boss was told there would be a surprise emergency fire drill at 11 O’clock. So he told all the staff…who already knew, of course.
As 11 O’clock approached the atmosphere became expectant. At 10.30 the lifts stopped working. By 10.45 people had stopped working. By 10.50, when downstairs buying sandwiches (who knows how long this would last?) I saw people in coats and hats waiting in reception for the alarm to go off. It reminded me of the Fawlty Towers episode where all the hotel guests did the same thing, hanging around reception half an hour before the alarm. Basil Fawlty told them to go “back to their rooms and act normally.”
But nobody where I work was acting ‘normally’.
And then 11 O’clock finally came. And then 11 O’clock finally went. No alarm.
The only surprise left of the ‘surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock’ was that it didn’t happen at 11 O’clock.
By 11.15 it still hadn’t happened, either.
The Director came in to the office and told me that the reason why the surprise fire drill was late, was that the fire engine had gotten stuck in the heavy Warsaw traffic!
A bad comedy script writer wouldn’t have dared to make this up.
Finally, at 11.20 the Director reappears, walking down the corridor, opening each of the doors to offices, saying: “Ok, it’s started.”
People emerging into the corridors, confused. If the fire drill had started, then where was the fire alarm?
Meanwhile, fake ‘smoke’ started to appear from the corridor around the corner.
Who was not down stairs already on the third floor where I work, trooped their way down, with fake smoke hot on their heals.
Except …our department had a problem. One of us, Wlodek [all names are changed except when it is their real ones] is disabled, and cannot walk down stairs. And the lifts stopped working forty minutes ago.
Earlier the boss had rang security, asking what to do about this. We were told that four of us had to ‘bring him down in a stretcher.’ My boss asked them if they ‘had a stretcher?’
They hadn’t. So did they expect that we would have one?
By the time we got to the stairs, Head of Security emerged with two mates. They told Wlodek to ‘go back to the office and wait till it’s over.’ So I watched Wlodek and Security disappear back down the corridor and into the fake smoke gloom.
When we got outside, the fire engine had just pulled up, watched by a few policemen who had been posted on duty by the gates. Someone heard the Chief Fireman ask one of the hundreds of people hanging around, “Which entrance is the main one?’ He hadn’t even consulted plans of the building before turning up!
We were told the performance could last ‘up to two hours’, so I was glad of my sandwiches. I was even thinking of popping home. In the end, thankfully, it only lasted about 15 minutes, when we were called back in again.
The lifts didn’t work for another hour and a half, so we drudged back up the stairs, through the fake smoke, to find Wlodek hard at work in his office.
All in all, a totally pathetic performance by all public services, and…well, a little dangerous that public buildings should be in the hands of a bunch of fools.
Still, I haven’t laughed so much in ages.
Deep Thoughts About Money and the Holidays
From: An American in Belarus: English Language Fellow Progam 2007-08
When the topic of money comes up, I have to explain how much it costs to survive in the United States so they get some perspective. But somehow it always feels like I’m apologizing… when you’re talking to someone who only makes $2,400–4,800 per year, it’s hard to convince them that my $25,000 grant is nothing in the States. After a few of these agonizing discussions, I have learned to steer clear of the subject.
Being here has made me question many things about my life back home; for example, do I really need to wear a new outfit every day of the week? Do I really need all those shoes in my closet? Does every person really need a car? Do I really need to use throw away bags when I shop? How many presents do I really need to receive or give on Christmas? Do I really need a new cell phone or camera just because the newest model is smaller or has more features? Over the past three months, I have learned that the answer to all of these questions is “no.” To blend in with my colleagues, I wear my clothes more than one day; I don’t have a car so I walk or take the bus; and when I shop I always bring my own bags with me. And speaking of technology, I am among the privileged few who have a computer in their homes, let alone a high-speed Internet connection with Skype.
In many ways, living here has been a very liberating experience. Life is simpler, but in many ways it is lived on a deeper level. Many people have to work two jobs to make ends meet, entire families share the same small flat, most people don’t have cars… but somehow they manage to survive. It seems like the little things mean more here. I’m not saying that everyone should sell all their possessions and move to Belarus. I’d be lying if I said this place didn’t have any problems because it does. But what it does have is a version of life minus the commercialism and materialism that surrounds us in the United States. As for me it’s a breath of fresh air, especially as the holidays approach. Do we really need to start hearing Christmas music and advertisements the day after Halloween? If increasing retail sales and credit card debt is the main spirit of the season then I guess the answer is yes. I can’t tell you how good it feels to remove myself from the feeding frenzy that I know is going on back home.
Seeing yourself and your culture through the eyes of others is an intense experience; sometimes you like what you see, but other times you don’t. I’ll leave you with this thought: A fish that never leaves the sea, never discovers water.
Top VTB Banker Murdered over Timber?
From: robert amsterdam
Despite having been found drowned with both his hands and feet bound, VTB board member Vasily Titov surprisingly commented "Police officials are doing their work. We have no evidence of murder." (though it's unlikely this quote was taken in context).
Like many other natural resources industries, timber has become quite the booming sector in recent years in Russia. Participants in the sector include Oleg Deripaska's Basic Element, Nikolai Makarov, and Mikhail Fridman. Even Leo Hambro, son of mining magnate Peter Hambro (who's no stranger to bureaucratic corruption in Russia), is planning a big flotation on the London Stock Exchange's AIM market of Tynda Forest Holdings, which has cutting rights to an area the size of Wales. (Kommersant has an excellent, if somewhat dated, backgrounder on the sector.)
Reports point out that the forest leasing contracts that Zhukovsky handled must all be annulled and rewritten before the end of next year under a new law (click here to see the new Forestry Code). "The regulations themselves are very murky, and all this is being done at least partially outside the law. ... This has indeed helped to make it a very criminalized business as groups compete over these leases," said Alexei Yaroshchenko of Greenpeace.
The government has acknowledged the criminal element in the timber industry. On May 15, Natural Resources Minister Yury Trutnev reported to the president on the implementation of the new Forestry Code, and revealed that more than half of the wood in Russia is obtained through illegal means:
- NATURAL RESOURCES MINISTER YURY TRUTNEV: First of all I would like to report that work on bringing the forestry code into force is proceeding. We had to develop and adopt 23 government cabinet resolutions. And at the present time all have been completed. Every month we gather together all the leaders of the Russian regions and listen to all their comments. We try to ensure that legislative changes do not affect work in the forestry sector.
In addition, we are working on issues relating to theft in the forestry sector. We are monitoring the entire territory of the Russian Federation for these purposes. Today one of the most acute problems exists in the Chita region.
Unfortunately, the amount of wood obtained through illegal means is greater than the amount that is obtained legally. We have uncovered two private customs points and more than 250 loggers. A significant amount of wood stolen from other regions passes through the Chita region. On Saturday we are going to fly to the region with the Interior Minister [Rashid Nurgaliyev], a large team that includes customs officers and the FSB, and examine all these problems.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: The adoption of a new law, the Forestry Code, should have a positive influence on the forestry sector.
YURY TRUTNEV: Naturally.
So far this is not enough information to know what's really going on here, but anytime an influential player at a state bank is murdered so close to an election, I tend to pay attention. Please speak up if you have information or insights to share.
Tsylinskaya crashes but gets up to take third medal in three days in Beijing World Cup
From: velo news
Dutchwoman Willy Kanis was ahead of both crashes and won gold at round No. 2 of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup Classics at Beijing's Laoshan Velodrome. Germany's Christin Muche also stayed upright, taking silver at the Laoshan Velodrome.
Belarus' Natallia Tsylinskaya was one the four riders who crashed, but was not hurt badly, quickly remounted her bike and rolled across the finish line third.
The first crash happened when Russian Swetlana Grankowskaja brushed against Great Britain's Victoria Pendleton on the back straightaway. Grankowskaja lost her balance and tumbled off the track.
Grankowskaja was not seriously injured, and after taking a minute to regain her composure, she ran the final 100 meters of the race alongside her coach who was pushing her bike.
Tsylinskaya, Pendleton and Lithuanian Simona Krupeckaite all went down in the second crash, which occurred just seconds after the first, right before the race's final turn. After a brief medical examination, reigning world Keirin champion Pendleton walked off the track.
But Krupeckaite had to be carried off on a backboard and was taken to the hospital. A race official said she had an arm injury, but further details were not immediately available.
This was Kanis' second gold medal at the Beijing World Cup. On Friday she teamed with Yvonne Hijgenaar to win team sprint gold.
Tsylinskaya's bronze was her third medal in three days. She also won gold in women's sprint and bronze in the women's 500-meter time trial.
Venezuela creates own time zone
|Venezuelan early risers will now get more daylight|
President Hugo Chavez says that an earlier dawn means the performance of the country will improve, as more people will wake up in daylight.
"I don't care if they call me crazy, the new time will go ahead," he said.
But critics say the move is unnecessary and the president simply wants to be in a different time zone from his arch-rival, the United States.
The new time puts Venezuela four-and-a-half hours behind Greenwich Mean Time, and out of step with all its neighbours.
The move had first been announced in August, but it has been delayed twice because international bodies and Venezuela itself were not ready to implement the change.
Science and Technology Minister Hector Nacarro praised the measure.
"I see it as a very positive thing that while there is light we can be in it," he said.
And President Chavez said earlier this year that schoolchildren would arrive for lessons with more energy as a result of the change.
"These children have to get up at five in the morning... they arrive at school dead tired. And why? Because of our time."
The time change is the latest in a series of reforms implemented by President Chavez, who has already changed the country's name, coat of arms and flag.
You can slice Greenwich Mean Time any number of ways
Small time differences are hardly unique, however.
Canada's Newfoundland province is half-an-hour out of step with other Atlantic provinces.
Pakistan is only half-an-hour behind India, while Nepal is a mere 15 minutes ahead of its large southern neighbour.
Western Australia and South Australia observe a 90-minute time difference across the state boundary.
However, the remote border town of Eucla and the surrounding area, home to a few hundred people, operates on its own time zone, 45 minutes ahead of Western Australia and 45 minutes behind South Australia.