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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Development of nuclear energy industry, Budget revenues, Five-year plans, Nukes, Cartoons, EU, Freedom, Polish corruption and Hockey

  • From the Top...
  • #274

    Development of nuclear energy industry is the priority factor in ensuring Belarus' energy security

    From: Office of the president
    On 14 January, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko conferred state awards on representatives of various fields of activity
    On 15 January, the final political decision on the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus was taken at a meeting of the Security Council held by the Head of State, Alexander Lukashenko.

    According to the President, the topic of a nuclear plant construction has been widely discussed at various levels. “Some issues have been settled by now; some are being addressed at the moment. But, this notwithstanding, it is at this meeting of the Security Council that we must take the final decision [as to the construction of a nuclear plant],” the Head of State said while opening the meeting.

    In his words, the development of the nuclear energy industry, along with the modernisation of the active energy grids, the use of renewable energy sources, reduction of the GDP energy intensity and diversification of the sources of supply of hydrocarbon resources, is the priority factor in ensuring the nation’s energy security; a real opportunity to counteract the dictates of monopolists and minimise the damage resulting from critical situations.

    Moreover, in the long run, the development of the nuclear power industry will help guarantee further consolidation of national independence and economic self-dependence, the President added.

    “The construction of a nuclear power plant is a real prospect, a strategic task, and Belarus does not intend to give it up,” Alexander Lukashenko said. According to the Head of State, this is going to be a historic decision as it will prove crucial for economic, energy and political independence of the future generations of the Belarusians. “Today we are laying the foundation for the functioning of the Belarusian state in the age when the world faces an increasingly acute problem of depletion of the supplies of hydrocarbon resources. The future generations will appreciate our decision, I think,” said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko: slow preparation for nuclear plant construction

    The preparation for building the nuclear power plant in Belarus goes very slowly, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told a session of the Security Council of the Republic of Belarus on January 15. The session tabled the development of nuclear power engineering in Belarus.

    According to the President, the country lacks clear vision and algorithms of addressing fundamental tasks in the area of nuclear power engineering. Alexander Lukashenko remarked, developments around the construction project taking into account all domestic and external factors are poorly forecast. “No finite decision has been made so far regarding many most important points: the location, the design and the general contractor. The operation of state agencies lacks precision, consistency, and teamwork,” stressed the President.

    He remarked, definitely some work is in progress in Belarus, with some positive results achieved. In particular, Belarusian specialists have been made familiar with the experience of building such facilities in other countries, have established contacts with the IAEA and the world’s leading companies, which specialise in building nuclear power plants. Belarus and the IAEA have prepared a draft framework programme of technical cooperation. A decree “Certain measures for building the nuclear power plant” was signed with a view to building up nuclear power engineering. A decision has been made to choose the Nuclear and Radiation Security Department as the main watchdog for the nuclear power engineering industry. A directorate for the nuclear power plant construction has been set up. Those responsible for designing and scientific support for the preparation and construction of the power plant have been chosen.

    Belarus President favours least risky nuclear power plant project

    Belarus should choose the variant with the least amount of accompanying risks to build its nuclear power plant, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told a session of the Security Council of the Republic of Belarus on January 15. The session tabled the development of nuclear power engineering in the country.

    “Our task is to choose the single correct variant, which will minimise accompanying risks for Belarus and allow us to exploit all benefits of a proprietary nuclear power plant to the full advantage,” noted Alexander Lukashenko.

    Nowadays the entire world is focused on building nuclear power plants due to surging prices for hydrocarbons. There are plans to build a huge number of nuclear reactors around Belarus. However, “some hotheads among the opposition to the government persistently try to organise some kind of an anti-nuclear campaign among the general public,” noted the President. “It seems some of our oppositionists and scientists live in vacuum,” underscored Alexander Lukashenko. “As always we see ‘Belarusian ways’ suppress reasoning. Looking around a corner, we start dwelling on the necessity of building a nuclear power plant. The entire world has taken the decision but we are still talking. And afterwards we will try hard to catch up, but at twice the price”.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus will establish total control over nuclear plant construction operations

    Belarus will establish a total control over the nuclear plant construction operations, which should meet all international standards, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said on January 15 at a session of Belarus’ Security Council, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    According to Finance Minister of Belarus Nikolai Korbut, the preliminary cost of the project may reach $4 billion. The project will be financed from the budget, the National Development Fund, the Innovation Fund of the Energy Ministry and thanks to foreign loans. The necessity to build the third and forth power generating units will undoubtedly arise after the construction of the first two units, participants of the session underlined.

    “Many investors show interest in the construction of the Belarusian nuclear plant. Financing offers came from the Middle East and the European countries. The Government and the National Bank will choose the best variant,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “This year we should also start training personnel for the plant. Our specialists should supervise every construction stage and learnt from the foreign experience. As soon as we carry out the project, we should learn how to do everything on our own and to offer our services to other countries,” the President stressed.

    The society realises the necessity of having our own nuclear plant, the head of state noted. “People realise that there is no alternative to the construction of a nuclear plant in Belarus today,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    The contractor will be chosen in line with the Belarusian legislation.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus to ratify agreement with South Africa on abolishing visas for service passports holders

    From: BelTA
    On January 15, the permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS of the House of Representatives endorsed an agreement between Belarus and South Africa on abolishing visa requirements for holders of diplomatic and service passports or official passports.

    According to Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky, the agreement was signed to expand bilateral relations between the two countries. It was signed in August 2006. “The document will help intensify a political dialogue and develop trade and economic relations between South Africa and Belarus,” he said.

    Belarus has signed similar agreements with Turkey, Brazil, Argentine and Egypt.

    In line with the agreement, citizens of Belarus and South Africa holding valid diplomatic and service or official passports can enter, exit or go transit through the territory of the two countries without visas. They can stay in the territory of the state for ninety days since the day of entry.

    The application of the agreement does not restrict the right of each side to deny entry to unwelcome persons or to cut short the visit of citizens of the other side in their country.

    Valery Voronetsky informed that the category of the persons entitled to official passports in South Africa is similar to the category of the persons holding service passports in Belarus. In South Africa diplomatic passports are given to the top officials of the state, government members, diplomats, spouses of diplomats and their under children. Official passports are issued to middle and junior-level civil servants.

    The document remains in force for an indefinite period of time until one of the sides terminates the agreement by sending a written notification through the diplomatic channels 30 days in advance.

    Belarus intends to ratify agreement with Bangladesh on economic cooperation

    The permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS of the House of Representatives endorsed an agreement between Belarus and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh on trade and economic cooperation. The deputies are going to recommend the agreement for ratification at a spring session.

    Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky said that the document was signed in Minsk in May 2007 and is aimed at regulating trade and economic relations between the two countries. It will facilitate the relations by means of removing the trade obstacles. In his words, the norms of the agreement have been brought as close as possible to the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

    The agreement establishes the most favoured nation treatment for developing contacts between economic entities of the two states. For example, this pertains to any customs taxes and duties applied in import/export, including the means of levying and also payments related to trade in goods. The two sides agreed that the principle of freedom of transit of goods is essential for achieving the goals of the present agreement.

    The sides have undertaken not to apply bans or quantitative restrictions including licensing in import of goods from the territory of one state to the territory of the other.

    The agreement spells out that the sides will seek to ensure stable conditions for developing trade and economic cooperation between the two countries and will encourage the exchange of information, for example, about the legislation and economic programmes.

    Valery Voronetsky said that the agreement will help create the legal environment and the mechanisms to protect Belarusian producers and exporters in Bangladesh and will give a new impetus to the development of friendly relations between the two nations. The ratification of the document will not require financial expenses from the national budget, Valery Voronetsky added.

    Belarus’ consolidated budget revenues to total Br50.2 trillion in 2008

    From: BelTA
    The consolidated budget revenues will total Br50.2 trillion in 2008, up by 8% on 2007, BelTA learnt from Maksim Ermolovich, the chief of the head department of budget policy of the Finance Ministry of Belarus.

    In 2008 the budget expenditures will amount to Br52 trillion or 1.9% of Belarus’ GDP. This year more funds will be injected in the development of the economic sector – more than Br12 trillion. Some Br5.6 trillion will be allocated for the development of industry and power engineering, Br2.6 trillion – for transport and communication; Br3.6 trillion – for the village revival programme; Br30 trillion – for social security purposes.

    According to Maksim Ermolovich, a peculiarity of the budget-2008 will be financing the economic sector – industry, agriculture, the development of the regions and the fulfilment of the governmental investment and energy-saving programmes.

    This year, as well as in 2007, Belarus has abolished the tax road. The tax burden was also relieved thanks to the abolishment of taxes on trade, construction and placing advertisement in a foreign language. As a result, manufacturers will get Br1 trillion of additional usable funds.

    In 2008 the Belarusian budget will get revenues thanks to the foreign economic activity (more than 17% of all revenues), VAT (25%), excises and income taxes – 10% each and taxes on profits – 13%.

    Belarus budget revenues from customs oil duties to make Br4.2 trillion in 2008

    In 2008 subsidies to oil processing companies will make Br3.7 trillion, Br1.4 trillion more than in 2007. According to provisional data in 2007 revenues of the state budget from customs duties on oil reached Br4 trillion.

    Maxim Yermolovich explained, in 2008 according to Belarusian-Russian agreements revenues from customs duties on exported oil will be shared between the two countries using 20% and 80% formula. In 2007 Russia took 70% of the revenues while Belarus took 30%. In 2009 Russia will get 85% of revenues from oil export, Belarus — 15%.

    Subsidies to oil refining companies are set at 110% for piped oil and at 130% for oil transported by railroad. The subsidies are calculated using the growing Russian duties on oil. The customs duties on oil and petroleum products are linked with the amount of provided subsidies. If the customs duty rises, revenues of the state budget rise as well. Now this customs duty tends to rise. The Russian Federation raises it every two months. Respectively Belarus sets the same rates. Revenues of the state budget increase and subsidies to oil refining companies do, too.

    The 2008 budget takes into account the average customs duty registered in 2007. The oil price is insignificant. For Belarus only the customs duty is important. It is this duty that is taken into account to assess compensations and revenues of the state budget, stressed Maxim Yermolovich.

    In 2008 Government to allocate Br500bn for servicing Belarus’ external debt

    According to Maksim Ermolovich, the deficit should be secured by the internal and external sources of financing. “That is why the Finance Ministry is trying to enter external markets in order to float its bonds and raise foreign loans. At the same time there is a certain danger as these funds should be given back,” the specialist underlined.

    In this conjunction the Finance Ministry is making projections for more long-term prospective – till 2013. “We should know what loan portfolio we will have, what credit repayment obligations we will have to discharge, what interest we will have to pay and how to distribute this sum by year. That is why we should be careful about taking out foreign loans,” Maksim Ermolovich noted. If Belarus raises foreign loans it will have to make considerable payments back in 5-10 years.

    In 2007 Belarus increased its external debt limit to $6 billion. “It does not mean that the debt will be so massive. The rates of increase of the external debt are not so threatening,” Maksim Ermolovich underlined. This sum - $6 billion does not exceed 10% of Belarus’ GDP. So the country’s external debt limit is still low compared to other countries. At present Belarus’ external debt stands at $2.3 billion taking into account the Russian stabilisation loan.

    In 2008 the Finance Ministry of Belarus intends to attract up to $500 million worth of foreign loans, Maksim Ermolovich underlined.

    Belagroprombank to get third syndicated loan

    In a related story, Belagroprombank has declared on attracting the third syndicated loan, BelTA learnt from the bank.

    The loan chief organizers are Commerzbank AG (Germany), Uni?redit Group (Italy) and Banco Finantia SA (Portugal). The syndicate conditions a one-year loan with a possible one-year prolongation, with the margin of 3.1% per annum. The original sum of the loan stands at $20mln.

    To remind, Belagroprombank signed an agreement on receiving a RUR1bn syndicated loan in June 2007. The Russian Bank VTB has organized the loan attraction.

    In August 2007 Belagroprombank prolonged the €30mln syndicated loan per one year attracted in August 2006. The syndicated loan was issued by Bank VTB (the Russian Federation) and VTB Bank Europe plc (Great Britain). More than 10 banks from the Russian Federation, European and Asian countries took part in the deal.

    Belagroprombank is going to reach $1bn of attracted foreign resources in 2008.

    Belarus to start planning two-year budgets in 2008

    From: NLIPRB
    In 2008 Belarus will start planning its budget for 2009-2010, Chairman of the Budget, Finance and Tax Policy Commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly Sergei Kiselev told reporters on January 14.

    He remarked, for a long time the government and the parliament had been considering the idea of making plans for 2-3 years in advance. “We are inclined to plan two-year budgets. Belarus is an energy-dependent state, which is why it is difficult to make forecasts for a longer period like Russia has started doing. Nevertheless work on prospective budgeting is in progress in Belarus”.

    Sergei Kiselev also said, in the future the deficit set by the budget will continue being kept under 1.5% at most. “It is a normal figure. In the international practice the budget deficit stands at 2-3%. It is important to note that the budget money is not wasted, but spent on the real economy development,” he said.

    Head of the Central Budget Policy Department of the Finance Ministry Maxim Yermolovich remarked, the programme for the social and economic development of Belarus up to 2010 provides for decreasing the tax burden by 4.3 percentage points. In view of the plans no major increases in budget revenues are expected. However, the figure will grow by at most 10% annually, but the budget deficit will not be increased.

    In turn, Sergei Kiselev explained, in 2008 the budget deficit stands at 1.9% of the GDP, several times more than the budget deficit registered in previous years. “But we allowed the deficit, as the money will be spent on developing the real economy sector,” stressed the MP.

  • From the international press...

    Belarus names nuke plant builder, ups cost estimate

    From: Reuters
    Belarus on Tuesday took the final decision to build its first nuclear power plant as it tries to diversify its energy resources, raising the estimated cost to $4 billion and naming Russia's Atomstroiexport as the builder.

    Belarus was severely affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine which killed thousands as winds blew radiation into its territory.

    "The approximate cost of the project could be $4 billion," said a statement from President Alexander Lukashenko's office.

    "Funding for the project will come from the budget, external debt, the national development fund and the energy ministry's innovation fund."

    Although Atomstroiexport had expressed interest before in building the plant, Belarussian media had reported that the government had been looking at U.S. and French companies, while Lukashenko himself invited Japan to consider constructing it.

    Lukashenko first announced concrete plans for the plant last year -- after Russia almost doubled the price Minsk paid for gas imports to $100 per 1,000 cubic metres -- and estimated the cost at $2.5 billion.

    The dispute surrounding prices with Russia, and Moscow's insistence that ex-Soviet states should eventually pay market prices for gas, prompted Belarus to explore a whole range of energy projects in countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Venezuela.

    Cartoon editor on trial in Belarus

    From: Northern Light
    On Friday the trial against Belarussian editor Aleksandr Sdvizhkov opened in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Sdvizhkov, former deputy editor of the now closed independent weekly Zgoda, is charged with ”incitement to religious hatred” after having published the Danish Mohammed cartoons back in February 2006. If convicted Sdvizhkov can be sentenced from three to ten years in prison.

    Eigth of the 12 original cartoons were printed alongside an editoral with the headline ”Political creation”, which chronicled the international uproar protesting the Danish cartoons in the beginning of February 2006.

    At the time of publication Belarussian KGB-agents confiscated the weekly’s computers, discs, and other electronic equipment.

    The probe against the paper was initiated after authorities received complaints from the state Committee for Religious and Ethnic Affairs on behalf of the small Muslim community in Belarus.

    Deputy editor Aleksandr Sdvizhkov fled to Russia before criminal charges were brought against him, but he was arrested two months ago when he returned to Belarus.

    The paper was closed down in March 2006 two days before the presidential election March 19 which paved the way for a third term for dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko. The cartoon affair was seen as a pretext for taking action against an outlet covering the candidate from the opposition.

    Sdvizhkov was in charge of the publication of the cartoons, but the newspaper never made it to the reader. The top management interferred and stopped distribution of the issue before it reached newspaper vendors in Minsk.

    According to the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2006 nine countries around the world took punitive actions against publications or their editors for reprinting one or more of the 12 cartoons run by Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. Six newspapers in three countries have been forced to close and at least nine journalists in four countries have been arrested and faced potential criminal prosecution. Governments also issued censorship orders and sponsored protests.

    Belarusian foreign ministry notes «positive dynamics» in relations with EU

    From: Naveny
    Andrey Papow, spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry, noted a "positive dynamics" in relations between the country and the European Union in 2007.

    "With satisfaction we note that the previous year was marked by the conduct of a series of important joint events with the European Union and its member countries," Mr. Papow said in the statement. "There was the exchange of visits by officials of the EU and Belarus, including at the level of the Republic of Belarus government and the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; consultations about various areas of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and joint seminars and conferences on themes of mutual interest."

    Mr. Papow mentioned the initialing of a draft agreement on the establishment of the European Commission's delegation in Minsk, expressing hope that the establishment of the delegation would "create a basis for the further stepping-up and expansion of our relations with the European Union in such mutually beneficial areas such as energy and energy efficiency, transport and transit shipments, environmental protection activities, cooperation between customs and border control services, scientific and technical cooperation."

    He said that the Belarusian government wanted to pay a "particular attention" to trade and economic cooperation with the EU. "For this purpose, the government of the Republic of Belarus is developing a set of measures to improve the investment and business environment in the country," he said.

    The spokesman expressed hope that the "positive dynamics" would yield in 2008 "significant tangible results and the removal of artificial barriers to mutually beneficial cooperation."

    Belarus one of mostly unfree countries in world

    From: Charter '97
    According to research of The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal, Belarus has one of the lowest levels of economic freedom in the world. Belarus occupies 150 position from 157, and stands in the line with such countries as Iran, Turkmenistan, Burma, Libya, Zimbabwe, Cuba and North Korea.

    Hong Kong has the freest economy, show the results of annual research published today. The former British enclave, having gone under the jurisdiction of China on a formula “one country, two systems”, has become a leader for the 14th year in succession. “We are determined to uphold this position," Hong Kong Financial Secretary John Tsang said today.

    The survey’s authors estimate Hong Kong’s index of economic freedom of 90,3 from 100 points. Singapore is the second with 87,4 points, the third country is Ireland (82,4). Australia, United States, New Zealand, Canada, Chile, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom are in the first ten.

    Russia occupies 134th position between Ukraine and Vietnam. China scored 52,8 and takes 126th position among 162 countries and world territories covered by research. Belarus, Iran, Turkmenistan, Burma, Libya, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and North Korea are at the bottom of the list.

    The study is based on assessing of 10 factors, including business freedom, trade freedom, fiscal freedom, government size, freedom from corruption, etc.

    FLF teaches finance in Belarus

    From: Word and Way
    The Future Leadership?Foundation taught biblical principles of finance and Christian stewardship during a recent trip to Belarus.

    Randy Shipman, Terry Spickert, Doug Kaylor, Emerson Swope and Brad Dixon taught Crown Finance materials to churches in the different regions of Belarus. James Smith taught in the Baptist Seminary in Minsk.

    Ken Enloe, who traveled to Belarus on several previous occasions, served as trip leader.

    The biggest challenge with such a trip is dealing with preliminary issues, Enloe said. Since Belarus has closed its borders, Enloe worked to secure visas and gather information on what team members could and could not bring into the country.

    Once the group made it to Belarus, Enloe continued to Luthuania to investigate future missions opportunities.

    “I felt that our group inherited a great deal of the good will that had been created by Missouri Baptist people and churches in the 1990s and early part of this century,”?said Dixon. “All of us were asked, ‘Do you know _______?’ Or, ‘can you contact the church/pastor/people that helped us before, so that we can tell them how we are doing?’ Several of us brought letters and gifts from Belarus to pass on to people and churches in Missouri.”

    This was Dixon’s third trip to Belarus. He visited the country in 1995 and 1997. “My impression is that Belarus is more prosperous, with many cars on the streets and roads, a great availability of products in the stores and a greater ability for people to have stand-alone houses as homes,”?Dixon said.

    “But it also appears that there is less freedom than there was in the mid-1990s, with the government attempting to control everything about business, and making it difficult for private businesses to make a profit.”

    Enloe agreed that Belarus continues to face challenges. “The government, in the last year or two, has grown more restrictive and oppressive,”?he said.

    “The president and government officials are clamping down, creating more obstacles and barriers for the churches. But I?am always challenged by the believers’ faith in the face of adversity. They are going to do what they have to do. It is humbling for me, personally.”

    Enloe urges others to take advantage of opportunites to participate in international mission trips. “There is so much we take for granted,”?he said. International trips can “truly transform your perspective and give new ideas how to live out your faith.”

  • Cultural scene...

    Deputies to ratify Belarusian-Indian programme on cooperation in cultural sphere

    From: BelTA
    The House of Representatives is preparing to ratify the Belarusian-Indian programme on cooperation in the sphere of culture, art, education and mass media for 2007-2009. House of Representatives’ permanent commission on international affairs and ties with CIS will consider the document on January 15, BelTA learnt from the parliamentary press service.

    The Belarusian-Indian programme was signed in New Delhi in April 2007 during Belarusian president’s visit to India.

    In line with the programme, the sides will exchange of art exhibitions, promote cooperation between Belarusian and Indian cinematographic organizations. Moreover, the two sides intend to establish direct cooperation between educational establishments of both the states. The Belarusian and Indian sides intend to study an opportunity to exchange visits of journalists and experts in mass media sphere, representatives of news agencies and book publishers.

  • Around the region...

    Russia Drops in Economic Freedom Rankings

    From: The Other Russia
    Russia has taken 134th place in the latest ranking of counties by economic freedom. The findings were published in the annual Index of Economic Freedom, a joint report of the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal. A total of 155 countries were included in the survey.

    Of the countries comprising the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), only Belarus and Turkmenistan were ranked below Russia. Armenia stood in 28th place, Kyrgyzstan 70th, Kazakhstan 76th, and Moldova 89th.

    Hong Kong took first place in this year’s results, receiving a metric of 90.6 out of 100 (Russia received a 49.9). Singapore and Ireland were second and third, respectively, and the United States and Austria filled out the top-five countries.

    In the previous Index, Russia was situated between China and Nepal at 120th place. The document, now in its 14th year, rates countries based on 10 criteria, including “investment freedom,” “government expenditures” and “freedom of trade”. Russia’s lowest measure was “freedom from corruption.” On the other end, Russia ranked 5th in the world for “fiscal freedom.”

    The paper’s authors assert that freedom of a country’s economy and the pace of its development are directly correlated.

    UK and Russia trade threats in diplomatic row

    From: Reuters
    Russia and Britain traded threats and recrimination on Tuesday as a diplomatic feud over the role of the British government's cultural arm worsened.

    Russia threatened further action against the operations of the British Council, while London hit out at Moscow's crackdown on two of the cultural body's offices, saying the move would only exacerbate the spat.

    Moscow announced on Monday it would impose visa restrictions against regional offices of the Council in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg that are defying a Kremlin order to suspend operations.

    The move is part of a dispute stemming from the 2006 murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian emigre and Kremlin critic who Britain believes was killed by a Russian assassin.

    Moscow's ambassador to London, Yuri Fedotov, said Russia could also take action against the British Council in Moscow if the cultural body continued to defy the Kremlin.

    "If the British Council will continue to defy the Russian authorities the next step would be, I would say, the British Council in Moscow," he told BBC radio.

    "So far ... the British Council office in Moscow was spared as an act of goodwill although all legal issues which are relevant with the regard to the offices of the British Council in other regions of Russia are also relevant for Moscow."

    Britain's defiance was "not helpful for the prospects of further development of relations", he added.


    British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said Russian threats could only worsen the situation.

    "It is not in the interests of either the UK or Russia for flourishing cultural, educational and scientific links to be held hostage to unrelated issues in this way," he said.

    Miliband said that in addition to planned tax measures and immigration restrictions against British Council regional offices, Russia had said it may take further action against the British Council in Moscow, including visa restrictions against British diplomatic staff.

    Relations between London and Moscow -- soured by spying charges, Litvinenko's murder and differences over Kosovo -- are at their lowest ebb since the Cold War.

    Russia says the legal status of the two regional Council offices is not in line with Russian law.

    Miliband said the British Council's activities across Russia complied with the law. He has called the Kremlin order illegal.

    "The government will consider these latest actions by Russia carefully and will continue to engage with our international partners on them. We will respond to the Russian government shortly," Miliband said.

    Moscow told the Council to suspend operations at its offices in the two Russian cities from January 1

    But the British Council's offices in St Petersburg and the Urals city of Yekaterinburg defied the order on Monday by resuming work after the long New Year break.

    Russia said it would not issue visas to new employees sent to work in the British consular offices of St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg to carry out British Council work.

    It also said Russian authorities would take steps to recover tax arrears it says are owed by the Council's office in St Petersburg. Britain denies tax is owed.

    The Council promotes British culture abroad and arranges educational exchanges.

    Polish President Warns About Russia Policy

    From: Moscow Times
    Polish President Lech Kaczynski on Tuesday criticized the government that took over from one led by his brother, saying its policy to improve ties with Russia could prove dangerous.

    In an interview with state-run Radio 1, Kaczynski said a decision to pull out Polish troops from Iraq and a general change in foreign relations under Prime Minister Donald Tusk was one of the "key political problems" facing Poland.

    He also reiterated that Russia must accept that Poland has "permanently left their sphere of influence."

    Tusk's pro-EU Civic Platform party won fall elections, defeating the Law and Justice party and its nationalist government of former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's twin brother.

    Kaczynski's tough-talking government strained relations with the EU, along with neighboring Germany and Russia, but moved closer to Washington.

    Tusk's team, which took office in November, has fundamentally changed Poland's foreign stance, particularly toward Washington and Moscow.

    One of its first moves was to decide to bring Poland's 900 soldiers home from Iraq by the end of October and demand more say in a U.S. plan to include elements of a new missile defense shield on Polish soil.

    As for Moscow, Tusk's government dropped a veto that had blocked the opening of talks for Russia to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In return, Russia's government lifted a two-year ban on Polish meat imports.

    Tusk will travel to Moscow in February to try to improve relations. Neither of the Kaczynski twins visited Moscow or received President Vladimir Putin while in office.

    The Polish president said without elaborating, however, that the "fundamental turnabout in foreign policy made by this government seems to be ... sometimes very dangerous for our country."

    "I want the best possible relations with Russia," Kaczynski said, but he repeated his view that Moscow "must remember once and for all that the geographical sphere where Poland lies ... has permanently left their sphere of influence."

    He suggested Moscow was still trying to influence Poland's politics by -- among other things -- dictating whether Warsaw should accept the U.S. request to host a missile defense base.

    The U.S. request to place 10 interceptor missiles in northern Poland as protection against possible attacks from unpredictable nations like Iran has drawn the ire of Moscow.

    Russia says the shield would threaten its own security and has warned of targeting it with its own missiles.

    The controversy is to be the main theme of Tusk's talks in Moscow scheduled for Feb. 8 and in talks he is expected to have in Washington this spring.

    New Polish Defense Minister Bogdan Klich, meanwhile, was in Washington on Tuesday to push U.S. officials for security aid in exchange for hosting the missile defense interceptors.

    Klich, on his first visit to Washington as defense minister, met on Monday with senior State Department officials, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. On Tuesday, he was to meet U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

    Family Wants Answers In Marine's Suspicious Death

    From: WJZ
    Heartbreak for a family in Anne Arundel County after their son, who served as a Marine, died overseas under mysterious circumstances.

    Kathryn Brown talked to family members who say he was murdered.

    The family says medical reports show their son was beaten to death. But nearly a year later, foreign police refuse to search for a killer.

    Loretta Lawson-Munsey has a heart full of steely determination--to get justice for her oldest son.

    Aaron Lawson, 28, died mysteriously in Poland eight months ago. Bruises marked the Marine reservist's head, neck, arms and legs.

    "He was a good guy, and he didn't deserve this," said Lawson-Munsey.

    Nearly a year later, his family has virtually no answers about how Aaron died or why.

    Polish police have ruled his death an accident, though the medical examiner's report shows Aaron likely died from blunt trauma.

    "The police still won't rule it as a homicide," said Matthew Lawson, Aaron Lawson's father.

    "I did a horrible thing. I took pictures of my dead son with the funeral director showing me his marks because I knew someone killed my son," said Lawson-Muncey.

    The Lawsons have made repeated pleas to the U.S. Embassy in Poland, the Marine Corps, the FBI and Congress for help.

    They believe Aaron was the victim of a Polish Mafia hit possibly because he befriended a young woman who had Mafia ties and tried to help her leave.

    "To them Aaron was just some guy on the street that may or may not have gotten in the way of their business and to us he was so much more," said Sam White, Aaron's best friend.

    The circumstances surrounding Aaron Lawson's death are a source of endless pain and bitter frustration for his parents who want nothing more than justice for their oldest child.

    "We just want somebody to help us. We want somebody that may know help," said Lawson-Muncey.

    Police in Poland do not answer to the victims' families so the Lawsons are unable to communicate. They're currently working with Maryland congressman Wayne Gilchrest to hopefully get some answers about how their son died.

    Two Polish football clubs relegated in corruption scandal

    From: The News
    The Polish Football Association (PZPN) will downgrade two Polish football clubs Zaglebie Lubin and Widzew Lódz to the second league for their involvement in the corruption scandal, sports daily Przeglad Sportowy has found out unofficially.

    The official decision of the Football Association will be announced on Wednesday.

    Both clubs in question have admitted to their participation in the corrupt practice of setting up game results for bribes in the hope of being granted the possibility to remain in the first league.

    Widzew is accused of having arranged the results of twelve matches between August 2004 and May 2005, and Zaglebie - all nine matches it played in the spring of 2004.

    The corruption “co-ordinator” in Zaglebie Lubin was the club’s chairman Jerzy F., who paid referees up to 80,000 zlotys in bribes. In Widzew Lódz it was one of the club’s co-owners who corrupted referees, writes the daily.

    Michal Tomczak from the Polish Football Association has refused to comment on the revelations unofficially disclosed by Przeglad Sportowy.

    “I’m not going to make any comments on possible consequences until Wednesday”, Tomczak said.

  • From the blogs...

    More Than 50% of Individual Entrepreneurs Have Taken Part in 2-week Strike

    From: Viasna
    ‘About 50-60% of Belarusian entrepreneurs supported the strike. In Minsk only about 40% worked,’ said the leader of the campaign For Free Development of Business Viktar Harbachou.
    Bear in mind that on 1 January small entrepreneurs declared a two-week strike against paragraph 1.1 of presidential decree #760 of 29 December 2006, which came into force on 1 January. According to this paragraph, small businessmen are prohibited to hire workers except for close relatives. Even then, the maximal number of employees is three. According to Harbachou, the strike took place in the form of ‘forced vacation with non-payment of taxes’.

    ‘It is quite hard to say what percent of entrepreneurs will come to work tomorrow’, pointed Harbachou. ‘Some of them are not going to work till February, others decided to re-register as private Unitarian enterprises or are busy with employing their relatives.’

    On 10 January in Minsk an action of protest of entrepreneurs took place in Minsk. More than 3 000 persons took part in it. 27 of them were detained. 23 of the detainees were sentenced to 15 days of jail, 1 – student of Belarusian State University Tatsiana Tsishkevich – to 20 days.

    ‘Entrepreneurs are shocked by what is going on, all these arrests and trials. People are dissatisfied. It is especially noticeable in the regions,’ commented Harbachou.

    He also emphasized that no negotiations with the authorities can take place till the release of the imprisoned protesters.

    Fear in Poland

    From: The Beatroot
    The Polish language version of Fear: anti-Semitism in Poland, the book by Jan Gross, has just been published here, two years after the English version.

    Polish historians have jumped on it, calling it ‘speculative’ and reinforcing a tired old stereotype of the anti-Semitic Pole. And a Polish prosecutor is reading the book to see if Gross has ‘slandered the Polish nation.’

    The previous Kaczynski government brought in a law in 2006 that made it an offence to 'slander the Polish nation by accusing it of participating in communist or Nazi crimes.'

    Gross’s publisher, Znak, is delighted, naturally. Empik, the largest book chain store, has been selling out of Fear since it was released last Friday.

    I hope the prosecutor in Krakow doesn't go ahead and take Gross to court. The right way to settle a historical dispute is to debate it. Thankfully, that is what some have been doing.

    Another book by an author, like Gross, who was born in Poland but since has made an academic career in the US, The Polish-Jewish Conflict in the Wake of World War II by Marek Jan Chodakiewicz seems to argue that understanding the pogrom in Kielce in 1948, and other acts of violence against Jews in the post-war period, was not connected to the Holocaust, or to a general Polish anti-Semitism, but to the situation of Jews, and Poles, in a lawless land with private property appropriated by what was, effectively, a communist occupation.

    From reviews, Gross points the finger at the Catholic Church, Polish nationalism before the war, among others, which added to the ‘ideology’ of anti-Semitism which was evident, he says, at that time. The wiki entry sums Gross’s book up like this:

      "Fear" undermines Poland's self-image as the heroic and the principle martyr of the war. [Gross] points to Polish "society's violently expressed desire to render the country 'Judenrein' (Jewless). For Gross, Poland's communist regime took over where the Nazis left off in the annihilation of three million of the 3,5-million Jews who lived in Poland before the war. "Poland's communist rulers fulfilled the dream of Polish nationalists by bringing into existence an ethnically pure state,"

      In an interview with Polish daily Rzeczpospolita published on Friday, January 11 2008, Gross rejected charges that his book was directed against Poland. "I am convinced anti-Semitism was one of the main poisons that were injected into the Polish identity," he was quoted as saying, and he blamed nationalist and Catholic circles.
    Chodakiewicz, on the other hand, puts the murders of Jews in the context of the conflict – sometimes violent on both sides - caused by concrete circumstance, he says. His argument is interesting. He told Polish Radio, in what is a very interesting piece (it sounds better than it reads):

      "A free country would have taken care of all the burning issues. Number one was property restitution. Whoever has been despoiled by the Nazis and the communists should have his or her property restored. That goes both for the Christians and the Jews. That didn't happen because of the communist hostility towards private property. Therefore, there were conflicts over property which only the communists could have solved.

      Also, the communists entirely destroyed the machinery of the Polish state. When the communists pushed the Nazis out of Poland they started shooting, arresting and deporting functionaries of free Poland. That also means the police and the judiciary of the underground. There was no law and order. When there's no law and order banditry is rampant.

      If you add into the mixture what the Soviets were doing – raping, pillaging and killing then you have a fuller picture. The Jewish community which survived the Holocaust, individual Jews and the Jews who returned from the bowels of the Soviet Union were thrown into this mini inferno.'
    The truth? Dunno. But what’s good about all this, is that Poles do not go nuts anymore when they are accused of anti-Semitism. They have debates. And if they drop the daft prosecution nonsense down in Krakow – which would be an attack on academic thought and debate - then that will be progress, I suppose. So is the fact that they are talking about something that was taboo for years. And for that they can thank Jan Gross for, as much as anyone.

    Historian threatens to reveal Polish atrocities against Jews if tried for slander, Haaretz, 15 Jan

  • Sport...

    Belarus ready to consider proposal to join Russian Open Hockey League

    From: BelTA
    During the European Champions Cup, which finished in St. Petersburg on January 13, Alexander Medvedev, the chief organiser and mastermind of the new Open Hockey League, made several statements for the press.

    According to him, with the code of conduct signed and the consultations with general managers of many clubs completed, the League will start next season.

    Alexander Medvedev is a deputy chairman of Gazprom Board of Directors, general director of Gazpromexport, a member of the board of guardians of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation and chairman of the board of directors of SKA ice hockey club (St. Petersburg). According to him, the proposals to join the League will be forwarded to 18 clubs of the Russian Super League. To join the Open League they should agree to three basic principles. First, this is financial transparency. The ceiling on the salaries is $15 million with a bonus of $7,5 million for four stars. The lowest limit is $10 million. The second principle is the requirements to the ice arena including the capacity (not less than 5,500 seats), illumination and security. The third principle is the affiliation fee of $500 thousand.

    Foreign teams wishing to join the new league should meet the aforementioned requirements. Alexander Medvedev stated that there are real candidates from Germany, Finland, Austria, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Latvia. Thus, at the start of the season the League will include 22 teams. Many journalists were surprised at the absence of the clubs from Belarus.

    “The Belarusians said that they were not going to compete in the Russian tournaments. More so, they lack an arena meeting the necessary requirements,” Alexander Medevedev told reporters. He also added that the packages of documents have been sent to all interested parties.

    However, secretary general of the Ice Hockey Federation of the Republic of Belarus Sergei Goncharov said he had a meeting with Alexander Medvedev to refute the information. “I told him that he was given the wrong information and that Belarus is ready to consider an invitation to take part in the League. However, Belarus has received no documents so far,” Sergei Goncharov said. Alexander Medvedev promised that the package of documents will be soon dispatched to Minsk.

    As for the arena, a 7,000 capacity stadium will be inaugurated in Bobruisk next autumn.

    The formula of the Open League is likely to be similar to the NHL regulations. All teams will be divided into four zones following a geographical principle. Either eight or twelve teams will advance to the play-off. Two federal TV networks have expressed the intention to cooperate with the League. The organisers repeatedly stress they want to make the ice hockey project profit making.

  • Endnote...

    2008 will be the key and crucial year in implementing the five-year programme of social and economic development of Belarus

    Nikolai Bebchik, the chief of the mechanical assembly production of the S.Vavilov Minsk Mechanical Engineering Works, has been honoured with the Medal 'For Distinction in Labour'
    The year 2008 will be the key and crucial year in implementing the five-year programme of social and economic development of Belarus, said the Head of State on 14 February while conferring state awards.

    65 individuals have been honoured with state awards and official letters of thanks of the President of the Republic of Belarus today.

    “It’s nice to start a new year by congratulating the best men of the country,” the President said. Work collectives of companies, institutions and organisations have reported impressive achievements in various fields of activity, thus consolidating the economy of Belarus, enriching the national culture, boosting science and education, ensuring social and political stability, law and order in the society, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President praised the achievements of the heads and workers of manufacturing companies who, in a severe economic environment, managed not only to prevent production decline, but also to boost production and increase the economic efficiency. Specifically, the personnel of Atlant, the indigenous producer of refrigerators and other equipment, has managed to launch, within a short period, the manufacturing of new types of products, thus contributing greatly to the nation’s import-substitution efforts. The staff of the Belarusian association BelOMO have been addressing pivotal tasks related to resource-saving, implementation of innovations, exports boosting.

    According to the President, members of law enforcement bodies and border troops deserve deep respect and praise. “Their courage and professionalism have helped to repress the criminal activity of those who break laws, makes attempts on the life and property of our citizens,” the Head of State said. This year the Belarusian government will keep paying unremitting attention to ensuring law and order and fighting all types of crime.

    According to the Head of State, among the awardees there are many scientists and teachers, artists and representatives of the press. “We are emphasising the importance of skilful and purposeful education work, consistent and active position in promoting cultural and moral values, consolidating the society for strengthening our young state and contributing to its prosperity,” Alexander Lukashenko said.