Belarus acuses US of Spying, Medvedev New president; Economic News, Political rallies, Inflation, Maz sales, Russia, Ukraine, Polish scandal and Sport
Belarus in for mutually respectful and beneficial cooperation with USA
Andrei Popov stressed, “We’ve made familiar with the statement. The European Union speaks for normalising relations between Belarus and the USA, fairly noting that the normalisation should be based on mutually beneficial cooperation. Let me remind you that Belarus has repeatedly suggested exactly this formula to the United States as the basis for further dialogue. The same view was underscored by the President in his recent Address to the Belarusian nation and the National Assembly. The head of state made it clear there are no insurmountable hindrances in Belarusian-American relations. So Belarus is totally in favour of mutually beneficial cooperation with the USA. But you should agree that to make it happen, both the sides should be ready to make steps towards each other, guided by principles of sovereign equality and mutual respect.”
Belarus starts exporting electricity to Poland
BelTA has been told, a contract had been signed with Poland. According to the contract Belarus undertakes to supply around 70 million kWh of electricity every month to Poland till the end of the year.
Thus after a break, which had lasted more than a year, Belarusian energy supplies were resumed. In 2006 Belarus exported around one billion kWh to Poland. However, due to an increase in prices for imported natural gas and a consequent increase in prices for Belarusian electricity, the export was suspended.
It is now again profitable for Poland to import electricity from Belarus, noted Belenergo specialists. The source attributed it to an increase in prices for Russian natural gas for Poland.
Belarusian electricity is exported from energy units No 5 and 6 of Bereza state district power plant to Polish substation Wolka Dobrynska.
MAZ, GAZ Group to raise production in line with growing demand
The MAZ head noted that in 2008 the plant’s production of trucks will exceed more than 25 thousand vehicles (23 thousand in 2007). MAZ exports almost 60% of its products to Russia.
According to the experts, last year the sales growth at the Russian market of trucks made up over 30%. Developing a joint product, MAZ trucks with the Yaroslavl engine YaMZ, “we lay claim to expand our presence at the market”, Igor Kulgan, the Director of the GAZ Group powertrain division, noted.
Today, the major accent is made on the vehicles of high ecological and technical qualities. The GAZ Group has offered a new high mileage engine YaMZ-650 that is purchased by MAZ. He also noted that two years ago the Avtodiesel Factory (Yaroslavl Diesel Engine Plant) produced 63 thousand engines a year. This year, the company reached the production of 97 thousands engines. There is a chance to increase the programme up to 100-110 thousand engines.
Today, the Yaroslavl Avtodiesel consists of three plants, Igor Kulgan said. One of them shows the total capacity of 20 thousand of YaMZ-650 engines. Yarsolavl new plant with the total capacity of 80 thousand will produce YaMZ-530 engines of 315HP. All of them work together with MAZ.
The GAZ Group representative noted that all the aforesaid needs considerable investments. More than half of the GAZ Group investments are put in the powertrain division. In 2008, the budget of the division totals almost RUR 6 billion. The new engine programme for 2007-2012 will demand nearly RUR 23 billion.
GAZ Group was established in 2005 with the restructuring of RusPromAuto's production assets. GAZ Group is Russia's largest automotive manufacture of light commercial vehicles, trucks, buses, cars, diesel engines, power-train components and road construction equipment. GAZ Group comprises 18 leading automotive and machine building producers in Russia and LDV Group in the UK.
YAZDA Company (Yaroslavl) and Avtodiesel make up the GAZ Group powertrain division.
Belarus ranks first in CIS in terms of industrial growth in Q1 2008
The industrial growth of Belarus accounted for 13.6% from January-March of 2007. Azerbaijan ranked second with the relevant showing of 12.9%. Ukraine where the industrial growth was equal to 7.8% was third.
In Moldova the industrial growth accounted for 7.7%, in Russia – 6.2%, in Kyrgyzstan – 4.1%, in Kazakhstan – 3.7%, in Armenia – 0.2%.
In Tajikistan the industrial production fell by 10.1%.
The CIS Statistical Bureau does not have information on the industrial growth in Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
The industrial growth in the CIS member states rose by the average of 7% in Q1 2008.
Economy Minister: 10% increase in Belarus’ GDP in 2008
Belarus’ GDP will grow by at least 10% in 2008, Economy Minister of Belarus Nikolai Zaichenko said on May 7 as he met with veterans and participants of the Great Patriotic War, former employees of the BSSR State Planning Committee.
“Nowadays Belarus is implementing ambitious economic programmes. The annual GDP growth has averaged 9.7% over the last four years. It is a very high figure. Over the three months of 2008 Belarus’ GDP has grown by 10.5%,” he said. The official added, they are making forecasts for 2009 and calculating the development of the national economy in 2010-2011.
“We pay a lot of attention both to existing production facilities and their modernisation and to setting up new production facilities, including those in non-conventional economy sectors,” said the Minister. All of them should become a solid base for improving living standards of Belarusians. In the future there are plans to “substantially increase pension support for our veterans”, noted Nikolai Zaichenko.
By 2010 the average monthly salaries in Belarus are supposed to reach an equivalent of $700. It can be reached only through increasing the output of products, which enjoy demand on the international market, believes the Economy Minister.
Belarus accuses US of running spy ring amid escalating tensions
From: International Herald Tribune
The U.S. State Department said the allegation was "just ridiculous" and that the department was considering whether to close its embassy in Minsk.
Tension has been building between Washington and the authoritarian regime of President Alexander Lukashenko, and most U.S. Embassy employees have been expelled in recent months.
Valery Nadtachayev, a spokesman for the main security agency, the KGB, told Belarusian television on Monday that the U.S. Embassy had hired 10 local citizens to take photographs of police officials, airports and villages near the state border.
Most of the diplomats were expelled after the U.S. imposed sanctions on a state-controlled Belarusian company and travel restrictions on President Alexander Lukashenko and other top government officials.
The U.S. Embassy in Minsk declined comment, but in Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey rejected the accusations.
"Other than laughter I really don't have much reaction to it," Casey told reporters. "It's completely unfounded and untrue. They can come up with whatever excuses they like for their totally unjustified and unwarranted (expulsion) of our staff, but I'm sorry, this is just ridiculous."
He said State Department officials were still weighing how to respond to the expulsions, including the possibility of closing the U.S. Embassy.
EU slams Belarus over US diplomats
In a related Press TV story, the European Union has called on Belarus to reconsider its decision of expelling American diplomats that Minsk claimed to be spies.
In a statement the EU presidency, currently held by Slovenia, called on Belarusian authorities to review the decision and take urgent steps to normalize relations with Washington.
The EU also said that the Minsk's decision was "unjustified and harmful", AP reported.
Relations between the two countries began to deteriorate in November, after the US imposed sanctions on the Belarus national energy company, over alleged human rights abuses, a move Minsk has denounced as "violation of international law."
Belarus national energy company accounts for about a third of the country's foreign currency earnings.
The US Embassy in Belarus is now down to 4 people, after starting the year with a staff of 35. The embassy will remain open, but it will practically offer no services.
IAEA to oversee Belarus nuclear plant project
From: RIA Novosti
The proposed plant, with a capacity of 2,000 MW, is expected to provide electricity equal to that generated from five billion cubic meters of natural gas, at half the cost.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said the location for the plant should be chosen this spring in line with International Atomic Energy Agency's recommendations and in order that preparations for the NPP construction can start.
A tender for the reactor is due to be announced in 2009, and the first unit is planned to be launched in 2016.
The IAEA specialists from Pakistan, Germany and Italy "have experience in choosing locations for construction of nuclear power plants in their countries and will provide Belarusian specialists with methodical and other aid," a Belnipienergoprom spokesman said.
Environmental and opposition groups have spoken out against the country's nuclear project saying that the government has provided little information regarding the construction.
The former Soviet republic, Belarus was among the regions worst hit by the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in neighboring Ukraine and the after-effects of the nuclear disaster are still being felt.
The Chernobyl tragedy was caused by overheating following a disastrous experiment involving fuel rods, which was ironically aimed at improving safety.
Vast areas, including beyond the Soviet Union, were contaminated by the fallout of the explosion. As a result, 56 people, mainly rescue workers, were killed at the scene, and another 4,000 died of thyroid cancer shortly afterwards.
More than 300,000 people were relocated. Some 5 million people live in areas of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine classified as "contaminated" by radioactive elements.
Several million more people are believed to have been exposed to varying degrees of radiation.
Belarusian graduates sent to work in Chernobyl zone against their will
From: Kyiv Post,
Many of the approximately 3,000 marchers expressed particular dismay over the government's policy of assigning recent university graduates to work in areas contaminated by the 1986 nuclear reactor explosion.
The Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine is just south of the border with Belarus. The explosion spewed a cloud of radiation over much of Europe, and Belarus, downwind from the plant, was severely affected.
In recent years, the government has removed about 1,000 cities and towns from the radiation danger list, despite what critics say is a substantial continuing health risk.
Statistics about illness in the contaminated parts of Belarus - about 23 percent of its territory - are kept under wraps by the government of authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko.
The government says that the areas it has removed from the danger list are safe to return to.
Protesters said the government was denying help to people affected by the disaster, including those who were sent in to clean up radioactive fallout.
"The government has abolished our benefits in order to bury us and the problems together. Lukashenko is simply burying those people who liquidated the disaster," said 56-year-old Valery Yagur, a protester who had been among the clean-up workers.
Lukashenko's government rarely allows opposition rallies, and participants took the opportunity of Saturday's sanctioned gathering to raise protests against his hardline rule, carrying signs reading "Freedom" and the now-banned red-and-white flag that was the first flag of post-Soviet Belarus.
The demonstration was peaceful and ended without incident.
Protester Konstantin Timokhov, 21, said he was deeply worried that the government will force him to work in a contaminated area when he graduates from university.
"The government is hiding the truth from us. My health and my future are in danger," he said.
Radiation levels have declined substantially in most areas near Chernobyl, but scientists disagree on the level of risk.
Some doctors who work in towns downwind from Chernobyl say the health effects are still being felt, and students being sent into these areas are afraid.
Kasya Markouskaya, 23, has been ordered to spend two years in Buda-Koshelyovo, a contamination-area town, when she graduates with a journalism degree this spring.
"My situation is little different from that of a slave who has been forced to do dangerous work," Markouskaya told The Associated Press recently. If she refuses, she will either be stripped of her diploma or required to reimburse the state for the full cost of her education. When she entered university, there were no such strings attached.
The work assignments began last year, and about one-fourth of this year's 21,000 graduates are being sent to the contaminated areas.
Vice Prime Minister Alexander Kosinets said at parliamentary hearings Friday that if the work assignments were canceled, these regions would be left without the doctors, teachers, agricultural workers and other specialists they need.
Many people from these areas moved away; Lukashenko now wants to repopulate them so agriculture and industry can be revived.
Some of the young professionals sent to contaminated regions last year have already fled. About 800 graduates have refused to take up their work assignments this year, the Education Ministry said.
Saturday's rally also included statements of opposition to proposals to building a nuclear power plant.
Lukashenko later in the day called opponents of a plant "enemies of our people."
Minsk authorities ban picket in memory of Yury Zakharanka
As Sviatlana Zavadskaya told to Narodnaya Volia newspaper, on 21 April she filed an application for holding a picket on 7 May 2008, the day when Yury Zakharanka had been kidnapped.
The aim of the picket is to attract attention of the public to the fact that cases of the famous people disappeared in Belarus are not really investigated and also to the fact that International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance should be adopted and ratified by the Republic of Belarus. This convention is additional guarantees to Belarusian citizens from enforced disappearances and other violation of their rights to freedom and personal security.
Police prohibit handing out non-state press
3 May is celebrated as the Universal Day of Press. At 12 a.m. representatives of the United Democratic Forces (including members of the Belarusian Popular Front party, the United Civil Party, the Party of Communists Belarusian, etc.) gathered near the Main Post Office in Minsk to mark this day by handing out to passers-by the officially registered non-state newspapers: Narodnaya Volia, Nasha Niva and Tovarishch. Bear in mind, that the state retail and subscription monopolist on press Belsayuzdruk, neither sells these newspapers, nor provides subscription to them, all because of their ‘oppositional’ content.
The political activists were met by many policemen and men in civvies, some of them with video cameras. The action was also attended by representatives of non-state media. When the people started handing out the newspapers, the deputy chair of the main department of the internal affairs of Minsk city executive committee, police major Stanilevich warned them that such actions would be qualified as an unauthorized mass action (article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, provides such penalties as warning, fine or up to 15 days of arrest).
As a result the action participants simply unfurled the newspapers and stood reading them for about half an hour. Then they decided to appeal to the prosecutor’s office against the major’s self-will. The prosecutor’s office, predictably enough, not only refused to accept the complaint, but even did not present the complaint book to the oppositionists.
Then a group of activists and journalists went to the main office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. At about 1 p.m. the action participants managed to put down the chronicle of the events near the Main Post Office in the MIA complaint book.
Zmitser Bandarenka: “Response to repressions is boycott”
From: Charter '97
- You were one of the initiators of the dialogue of the opposition with the regime. Did this initiative make sense, while the political prisoners are still in prisons, peaceful rallies are brutally disbanded, and Lukashenka publicly insults MPs on TV?
- It did make sense, but you are right: today is the time for the opposition to abandon the dialogue too. I must remind that in the beginning of the 2007 Belarus was on the edge of an economic catastrophe after the decision of Russia to hike prices of oil and gas imported to our country. There was a threat of losing independence. In this situation the opposition intentionally extended a helping hand to the Belarusian government. No matter what Lukashenka would say today, offering a dialogue by the democratic forces helped to realize a number of investment projects in Belarus, considerably reinforced positions of the country in its talks with Russia, allowed to open credit lines in Europe. One thing is to deal with the last dictatorship in Europe, and the other with the government that have stated their beginning of democratization, readiness to conduct a dialogue with their opposition, and the beginning of a dialogue with the West. And the fact that the leader of the state publicly uses such words as “lousy”, “scabby”, “hell-raisers”, he is just attaching these words to himself, demonstrating his own aggressiveness and lack of good manners.
- Does opposition completely give up on the dialogue with the regime?
- The dialogue opened absolutely new opportunities for the country. During their visits abroad opposition representatives said: in case all political prisoners are released, the US and European countries would have to take steps to meet the Belarusian regime. Recently in Washington we with high-ranking representatives of the US Department of the State discussed a possibility of a visit of Belarusian Foreign Minister and a representative of Lukashenka’s administration to the US. America was really ready for a real breakthrough in the relations with our country. Readiness to grant a considerable assistance in solving energy problems of Belarus was mentioned.
If the Belarusian regime released Alyaksandr Kazulin before the end of February, as the US and European politicians had been promised, since March 1 we could live in a new Belarus. However, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has chosen the side of those his associates who in no way imagine themselves in a democratic, European Belarus.
The opposition would be ready for a dialogue again only in case of real steps of the regime for democratization of the country.
So far the regime has given up on the dialogue and democratization, and unleashed a real terror against political opposition and the civil society. That is why the democratic forces are to start realization of a different strategy.
- How does a new strategy of the opposition could look like?
- The new strategy today is a severe resistance to dictatorship in all directions. In the situation when no liberalization is taking place, we cannot hope that the upcoming election to the “parliament” would be democratic and free, that is why slogans “Boycott to electoral farce!”, “Boycott to Lukashenka’s regime!”, “Boycott to dictatorship!” are appearing on the agenda. The regime itself has pushed the opposition to change the approaches.
- What could the boycott of the election bring? Parties are stating that the electoral campaign gives democrats an additional opportunity to inform the population of Belarus on the situation in the country.
- There are cases in history when boycotts which had been carried out successfully, forced authorities to make considerable concessions at the imminent elections. An unprepared boycott is much worse. For instance, Belarusian opposition used partial boycott at the local elections in 1999 and 2007. It is not effective to announce a boycott of the election in a few days before voting. Such campaigns really result in depression of the society and withdrawal of activists. The boycott of the election in 2000 to a great degree consolidated democratic forces, allowed youth movements to emerge (Zubr, the Young Front). I think nobody would disagree that the defeat in the presidential election in 2001 was connected to the weakness and passiveness of the candidate nominated by the opposition. All the strong candidates either didn’t have a right to take part in the election because of imprisonment, or had been murdered.
Washington shrugs off accusations of organizing spy ring in Belarus
Belarus’ First National Channel aired another report accusing the United States of having recruited Belarusians to spy on their country on May 4. In fact, the report contained few new details of an espionage story broken by the channel this past March.
The initial report said that the ring had been organized by the US diplomatic mission in Minsk and involved around 10 Belarusian citizens who passed to the United States information "for the use to the detriment of Belarus."
“I think the Belarusian Government is scared of its own people. I think they are afraid of us or anyone else that’s willing to stand up and support democracy and democracy advocates there,” Mr. Casey said at a press briefing on May 5.
“And I think they've proven, time and again, through their actions, whether that's reduction of our staff or whether that's ridiculous accusations of this nature, that they'll come up with any excuse to try and deflect from what the real issue is,” he said.
The spokesman described the espionage allegations as “simply untrue” and “unfounded” and said that they “make a very poor excuse for reducing our Embassy staff.”
Mr. Casey said that the Belarusian and US governments had no communication on the matter.
The May 4 report included an interview with Valery Nadtachayew, spokesman for the Committee for State Security (KGB), who said that the KGB had prevented the group organized by the US embassy from turning into a spy ring. “This group did not become a spy ring only because of the prompt intervention by Belarus’ law enforcement agencies. They managed to prevent attempts at drawing Belarusian citizens into criminal activities involving high treason in the form of espionage at an early stage,” he was quoted as saying.
The KGB spokesman named Curt Finley, who he said was an FBI officer, as the organizer of the spy ring, saying that the American had already left the country.
Mr. Nadtachayew confirmed that none of the Belarusians allegedly recruited by the US embassy had been arrested.
In an interview with BelaPAN this past March, US Charge d’Affaires Jonathan Moore denied the accusations. “We have no spies operating in Belarus,” he said.
The US diplomat said that Mr. Finley and Bernard Nixon, another embassy officer mentioned in the report, were part of the embassy’s security service and were not FBI officers.
The espionage allegations came amid an escalating diplomatic row between the two countries. Only four US diplomats stay in Belarus at present.
Protoge in Russia Is Sworn In
From: New York Times
|Outgoing President Vladimir V. Putin spoke during the inauguration ceremony of Dmitry A. Medvedev at the Kremlin on Wednesday.|
The ceremony, mixing czarist splendor with renewed Russian confidence, marked the passing of formal power from departing President Vladimir V. Putin to his young and untested prot?g?.
But the events also served as a tribute to the enduring stature and popularity of Mr. Putin, who Mr. Medvedev nominated as prime minister within hours of taking office.
Mr. Putin, a former K.G.B. leader who had presided over Russia’s economic revival while consolidating power, rolling back civil liberties and leading a government beset with corruption, arrived at the ceremony alone and before Mr. Medvedev.
He stepped from a black limousine and briefly stood before the ceremonial Presidential Regiment, which was standing outside in the chill. “Greetings, comrades!” he said, and was met with a deep, rousing cheer. The soldiers’ breaths frosted the air.
In a departure from past inaugurations, the departing leader then addressed the more than 2,400 guests inside St. Andrew’s Hall before the new president took his oath. Mr. Putin said that he had lived up to his promise, made eight years ago, to serve the country and its citizens faithfully.
The remarks appeared to presage Mr. Putin’s continued hand on Russian power.
“It is extremely important for everyone together to continue the course that has already been taken and has justified itself,” he said.
Only then did Mr. Medvedev, 42, approach the lectern, rest his hand on a copy of Russia’s Constitution, and utter the oath of office.
In a brief address afterward, he touched themes he has embraced since Mr. Putin selected him as his successor late last year and as he was shepherded through a scripted election.
He emphasized improving living standards, education and medical care, and modernizing Russia’s narrow economy, which relies on oil and gas revenues, as well as other forms of natural resource extraction.
“I would like to assure all of the citizens of this country that I will be working to my fullest capacity,” he said. “I fully realize how much has yet to be done.”
Mr. Medvedev, whose public persona is decidedly softer than Mr. Putin’s, also stressed the importance of civil rights, as he has in several speeches since he became the presumptive president-elect.
Minutes later, Mr. Putin accompanied the new president outside to review the passing formations of the ceremonial regiment. When the two men left the dais after the last platoon passed, it was on cue from Mr. Putin, not Mr. Medvedev, who followed the former president’s lead.
The ceremony was brief. But the leaders’ paired comments, and Mr. Putin’s physical dominance of each ceremonial stage, neatly framed the central questions about what the inauguration will mean for Russia’s politics and direction.
Will Mr. Putin remain the nation’s preeminent politician and policy setter? Or will Mr. Medvedev, whose career has been spent in his sponsor’s shadow, have the ability and latitude to choose the country’s course?
Mr. Medvedev has no known political history as a member of the nation’s security services, whose members climbed through the ranks of government and business under Mr. Putin to become a pervasive and dominant national force.
Mr. Putin, 55, managed to stay atop these often warring government clans, and to mediate their disputes and secure enough of their loyalty to create the impression of a stable, if not fully predictable, state. Whether Mr. Medvedev will be able to navigate the country’s bureaucratic and business disputes alone is not clear.
Mr. Medvedev has also presented himself in paradoxical ways.
He had often complimented the style and achievements of Mr. Putin, with whom he appears to have both a friendship and unwavering public support. But at times Mr. Medvedev has publicly championed the rule of law and the importance of human rights — both of which faced intensive pressure during Mr. Putin’s two terms.
His critics have said he is little more than Mr. Putin’s puppet, and that his pledges to liberalize the country and commit to human rights are undermined by the very means of his election victory, against a weak slate of pro-Kremlin candidates. The Russian government allowed no true opposition candidates to compete.
Mr. Putin, who leads United Russia, the country’s dominant political party, is expected to be confirmed as prime minister at a special session of the Parliament on Thursday. He wasted little time in moving toward office. The Kremlin announced he intended to meet parliamentary leaders on Wednesday afternoon.
As Mr. Putin moved toward his new role, Mr. Medvedev’s remarks and his first presidential decree — guaranteeing public housing by 2010 for surviving veterans of World War II — emphasized domestic affairs.
A difficult foreign-policy portfolio awaited him, including a West wary of Russia after Mr. Putin’s assertive style, and claims by Georgia, a Kremlin satellite in Soviet times that has turned toward the West in recent years, that Russia has been annexing the breakaway region of Abkhazia.
A reminder of the foreign policy challenges arrived almost immediately after the ceremonies ended, when Marina Litvinenko, the widow of former K.G.B. officer Alexander V. Litvinenko, issued a statement asking the new president to investigate the killing of her husband.
Mr. Litvinenko died in London in 2006 after ingesting a toxic radioactive isotope, polonium-210. He was a harsh Kremlin critic. From his deathbed, he had accused Mr. Putin of ordering his killing.
The crime and its aftermath helped sour relations between Britain and Russia and raised questions about how the Kremlin has conducted its foreign policy. Mrs. Litvinenko said that if Mr. Medvedev was to live up to his promise to be a reformer then he should set the record straight.
“You have an opportunity to reveal the secret of this crime to the world, to name the instigators and the perpetrators, and to close this dark page of Russian history,” she said. “This would let you distance yourself from the legacy of the previous regime.
“If you do not do it,” she added, “all predictions of your lack of independence would unfortunately be confirmed.”
There was no immediate announcement on the composition of Mr. Medvedev’s government, or over how powers would be divided between the two Russian leaders. The two men are scheduled to appear together on Friday at a military parade in Red Square.
Priorities for Russia's New Administration
|Despite the proliferation of fancy cars and luxury shopping areas such as this one in Moscow, much of Russia's population is near-destitute.|
Corruption. Official corruption has skyrocketed under Putin. Last year, Russia tied for 143rd place out of 179 — along with Indonesia, Gambia and Togo — in a global survey of corruption perceptions by Berlin-based Transparency International. The state runs much of the country's oil and gas industry and is swallowing ever-larger parts of other sectors of the economy. State officials now control vast amounts of money, and businessmen say bureaucrats have taken the place of organized criminals as the main impediment to market competition.
Health. Russia's population is dying out. Infant mortality rates and low life expectancies — the average Russian man lives only to the age of 58 — are prompting a demographic crisis at a time the government is cracking down on much-needed migrant labor from other countries. Rampant alcoholism and diseases such as HIV/AIDS have grown under Putin. As first deputy prime minister, Medvedev spearheaded a so-called national program to improve Russia's health care, but experts say the project has been window dressing on a Soviet-era system that's practically in ruins.
Poverty. Moscow's streets may be jammed with Mercedes, Bentleys and BMWs on their way to fancy restaurants and luxury shops with some of the highest prices in the world, but much of Russia's population is near-destitute. The population in many parts of the countryside is vanishing as people move away from areas with no jobs, while the yawning gap between the super rich and the vast majority of Russians is ballooning. Russia is awash with money from its massive energy resources, but 12 percent inflation last year is making life increasingly difficult to afford even for the tiny middle class. Prices for some food products doubled in 2007 and are expected to continue rising this year.
Infrastructure. Tens of billions of dollars of Russia's energy wealth are channeled abroad each year, but very little is being spent on rebuilding decaying Soviet-era infrastructure. Roads and housing in much of Russia are in a dreadful state. Manufacturing has never recovered from its post-communist collapse, and most of the products Russians buy are imported. But economists are especially worried about the state-owned energy industry. They say not nearly enough is being invested into developing natural gas fields and oil deposits, and that Russia may not be able to supply even its own energy needs in just a few years.
Foreign policy. Russia's relations with the West are so bad some Russia observers are talking about a new Cold War. Putin has boosted his popularity at home by opposing Western countries on almost every issue, including sanctions against Iran and independence for Kosovo. Moscow led opposition to the United States over the war in Iraq and has threatened to direct nuclear missiles against Europe if Washington builds its planned missile defense system there. Moscow also has imposed trade embargoes and cut energy supplies to pro-Western, former Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine. Russia's bloated and corrupt military may be in shambles, but Moscow believes its energy wealth entitles it to respect on the world stage — and the Kremlin has looked to the old Soviet model of obfuscation and intimidation. Experts say Russia would be far better served by integrating with the international community. One political analyst says Russia's foreign policy priority is to simply stop pretending it's a superpower.
Ukraine seeks 15-year gas deal with Russia
Russia and Ukraine have had periodic disputes in recent years over gas prices which have led to supply cuts, including one at the beginning of 2006 which briefly affected European Union countries.
The ex-Soviet state transits some 115 billion cubic metres of gas westwards, accounting for almost a quarter of the European Union's needs and some 80 percent of Russia's total gas exports.
The latest row was resolved last month, when Naftogaz and Gazprom signed a 2008 supply contract for 55 billion cubic metres (bcm) at $179.5 per 1,000 cubic metres -- an increase from $130 last year and $95 in 2006.
"I would like to have at first a contract in which it will be precisely noted -- from the current $179, in the next 5 years, there will be percentage rises every year. And this will be fixed," Dubyna said.
As an ex-Soviet state, Ukraine had long enjoyed subsidised energy prices from Russia.
Moscow now wants to raise these to market levels but the yearly negotiations became especially fierce after the 2004 "Orange" revolution which swept to power the Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko.
Dubyna acknowledged that Ukraine would have to pay market prices at some point but wanted the increases to be predictable.
"We need a long-term contract in which there would be gradual price rises towards central European prices worked out by some kind of formula," he said.
DEAL MUST SUIT GAZPROM
He said the government is looking over a two-pronged agreement that Naftogaz has prepared comprising of contracts on transit and domestic supplies. He did not say what price Ukraine could pay next year, though he expected an increase.
Dubyna said there should be a direct contract between Naftogaz and Gazprom, getting rid of the RosUkrEnergo intermediary which the Ukrainian government accuses of masking corruption in the complex regional gas transit system.
"The supply system should suit both Gazprom and Ukraine," he said.
Dubyna also said the oil flow in the Odessa-Brody-Plock pipeline could be reversed to the original aim of pumping Azeri oil via the Black Sea to Poland in the second half of this year. Warsaw and Kiev have talked of doing this for several years.
"In order to pump in the other direction, Ukrtransnafta needs to buy 450,000 tonnes of technical light oil, remove the Urals (Russian export blend crude) and then move on. This is what Ukrtransnafta is doing today," he said.
The pipeline pumped 9.06 million tonnes of oil last year in the opposite direction, a steep rise from the 3.42 million tonnes it pumped in 2006.
Top Ukraine officials bicker as CPI disappoints again
Inflation jumped 3.1 percent last month, and although that was lower than a rise in March of 3.8 percent -- a 9-year record -- it was still higher than analysts forecast of 2.7 percent.
Annually, inflation reached a huge 30 percent -- aided by an almost 50 percent jump in food prices -- and cumulative price rises in the first four months of the year rose to 13.1 percent -- 3.5 percentage points above the government's 2008 target.
A top presidential already said several weeks ago that the finance and economy ministers should resign and another on Wednesday called the government's policies "wrong and incomplete", Interfax reported.
"CPI breached the 30 percent mark in April, again above consensus and clearly something that policymakers have to tackle immediately," said Simon Quijano-Evans of UniCredit.
"Even the much-needed tightening of monetary conditions through the foreign exchange channel will continue to dwindle as a practicable policy option, simply given the worsening macroeconomic picture," he said.
The central bank has acted since the beginning of the year to soak up the liquidity of the hryvnia, raising the refinancing rate twice to 12 percent from 8 percent and issuing a large amount of its depository certificates.
It has also let the hryvnia in recent weeks to strengthen outside a previously strictly kept band of 5.00-5.06/$ and beyond a wider target of 4.95-5.25, although it maintains that this broader band remains.
The government's response to inflation has been mixed -- it decided to keep food prices down by setting caps for producers' profits and for retail prices against their wholesale prices.
But, criticised by Yushchenko and accused by one international ratings agency of populism, the government's better known policies have been raising wages, social benefits and compensation for lost Soviet-era savings. The finances of the budget -- which the government has yet to amend despite setting themselves a March deadline -- are now uncertain as most privatisation plans worth potentially billions have been suspended by Yushchenko.
Though close allies during the 2004 "Orange" revolution, former central banker Yushchenko is wary of the presidential aspirations of Tymoshenko, an ex-gas tycoon turned social crusader. Elections are due around the beginning of 2010.
First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov warned on Wednesday the government would have to cut its estimate of revenues from privatisation leading to lower spending on prigrammes such as the construction of infrastructure.
Ukraine must modernise roads and airports and build hotels and stadiums for the Euro 2012 soccer championship it will host with Poland and has already been criticised strongly by Europe's soccer authority UEFA for slow progress.
"The programmes will be reduced and that will be down to those who try to sabotage the finances," Turchynov told a briefing, referring to potentially lower privatisation revenues.
On the same day, the country's privatisation agency, who's chief was sacked by the government then reinstated by a decree from Yushchenko, cancelled the sale of five regional energy producers.
Although these sell-offs were small, Yushchenko has already cancelled a May tender of the Odessa Port plant, with a starting price of $600 million and four electricity producers including the country's largest one, Dniproenergo.
Yushchenko, who called off the tenders on grounds that the firms are of strategic importance, has said nothing about the sale of dominant telecom firm Ukrtelekom, which the government said may fetch as much as $7 billion.
Lepper on trial for sex scandal
From: Independent Online
The trial of the populist Samoobrona (Self-Defence) party leader and his deputy Stanislaw Lyzwinski, who is accused of rape and sexual harassment, was being held behind closed doors under a decision by the court hearing the case in Piotrkow Trybunalski, a town in central Poland.
Lepper, 53, was charged in November 2007 with exploiting his position as Samoobrona leader to force a woman who was seeking a job with the party to have sex with him and other officials in 2001-2002.
The offence carries an eight-year prison sentence.
Lyzwinski, 54, could face 10 years behind bars. Both men have denied the charges.
In December 2006, 33-year-old former party employee Aneta Krawczyk accused Lepper and Lyzwinski of demanding sex in exchange for a job.
Lepper was also charged over a failed attempt to force sexual favours from another female party employee.
The sex scandal rocked Poland's coalition government, contributing to a slide in popularity that saw it fall from power in a snap election in October 2007.
Lepper was once a political pariah, best known for leading commando-style protests as a 1990s farm activist which earned him a string of court convictions.
In May 2006, however, the conservative Law and Justice party brought Samoobrona, along with the far-right League of Polish Families, into a coalition to shore up its minority government.
Lepper, who served as agriculture minister and deputy premier, was fired in September of that year after a policy dispute, only to return weeks later as the then prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski sought to stave off the ensuing political crisis.
Lepper was sacked again in July 2007 after a bribery scandal, although he denied any wrongdoing and claimed he was the victim of a feud with Kaczynski.
Samoobrona was swept from parliament in last year's snap election - which also saw Kaczynski lose office - obtaining just 1,5 percent of the vote compared to 11,4 percent in the 2005 polls.
Polish government not influencing Polish Football Association, says PM
Polish Radio reported that Civic Platform (PO) MP Slawomir Nitras is a candidate for the head of PZPN. PM Tusk said that he did not discus the matter with Nitras.
Nitras told Polish Radio that he had been approached by the representatives of the government about the issue, but later on told the Polish Press Agency that he had not received any formal proposition of heading the PZPN, only some general suggestions.
"I am not making decisions on what is going on at the PZPN. I value MP Nitras very much, but he hasn't been talking to me abut this issue, nor did any other persons interested in the post," said PM Tusk at a press conference yesterday.
The PM added that it is not the task of the PM or the government to decide about the hierarchy in sports associations.
The new president of PZPN will be elected on 14 September. The present one, Michal Listkiewicz, announced that he is not planning to run for re-election.
His resignation is in connection with widespread corruption that has spread throughout the leagues, including the Polish premier division. So far some 120 people, including coaches, PZPN board members and referees have been charged by the Public Prosecutor's Office.
Switzerland 2, Belarus 1
From: International Herald Tribune
|Canadiens forwards Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn will provide a lift to Belarus at the IIHF world championship.|
The Kostitsyn brothers will bolster the Belarus attack. Andrei collected 26 goals and 53 points for the Canadiens in the regular season, while Sergei scored nine goals.
Belarus could have used the latest additions yesterday as it lost 2-1 to Switzerland in Quebec City.
Julien Sprunger, a Minnesota Wild prospect, scored two power-play goals for the Swiss.
Martin Gerber got his second consecutive start in the Swiss net and turned in another steady effort, making 22 saves as Switzerland pushed its record to 2-0.
Начало мая в “Катакомбах”
7 мая - The Shape, Бульваръ, АССА
8 мая - долгожданные (многими) Artefact
9 мая - День Победы под мелодии “сборной” группы +Jam и Jully (проекта Ю. Михайлова)
10 мая - День рождения группы Triver Letu при участии русских рок-н-ролльщиков Bce Crazy
Адрес: Рабкоровская, 2
Время начала мероприятий: 19.00
Бронирование билетов: +375291800093, +375295697637
Moscow hands over 8 Slutsk belts to National Art Museum of Belarus
The State Historical Museum of Moscow handed over 8 Slutsk belts and 2 fragments of them to the National Art Museum of Belarus for a long-term exposition. These masterpieces became the highlight of the exhibition “Slutsk belts” which was opened at the Belarusian museum on May 5.
At the solemn opening ceremony of the exposition Belarusian Culture Minister Vladimir Matveichuk said that the exposition features the exhibits of the Historical Museum of Moscow as well as the treasures of the National Art Museum of Belarus – the belts of the Slutsk, Lipka and Lion manufactures and the portraits of the Belarusian gentry wearing Slutsk belts. The exhibition will stay open till April 22, 2009.
Chairman of the Russian Accounts Chamber Sergei Stepashin who had been on a visit to Minsk in February 2008, had expressed his intention to assist with organizing an exhibition of Slutsk belts in the capital of Belarus.
The State Historical Museum of Moscow exhibits over 20 Slutsk belts, with over 40 belts reserved. The National Art Museum of Belarus possesses two fragments of Slutsk belts.
Slutsk Belts are very precious, hand-made silk and gold belts of the 18-19th centuries. These belts obtained a high popularity in the past. Similar belts that were also called Slutsk belts were manufactured in Nesvizh, Warsaw, Krakow and other towns.
Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev: 3rd President of the Russian Federation
He was appointed first deputy prime minister of the Russian government on November 14, 2005. Formerly Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, he was also the Chairman of Gazprom's board of directors, a post he has held (for the second time) since 2000. On December 10, 2007, he was informally endorsed as a candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections by the largest Russian political party, United Russia, and officially endorsed on December 17, 2007. Medvedev's candidacy was supported by incumbent President Vladimir Putin and pro-presidential parties. A technocrat and political appointee, Medvedev had never held elective office before 2008.
Dmitry Medvedev was born to a family of university teachers and brought up in Kupchino, a proletarian district of Leningrad.
He graduated from the Law Department of Leningrad State University in 1987 (together with Ilya Yeliseyev, Anton Ivanov, Nikolay Vinnichenko and Konstantin Chuychenko) and in 1990 received his PhD in private law from the same university. Anatoly Sobchak, an early democratic politician of the 1980s and 1990s, was one of his professors, and Medvedev later participated in Sobchak's successful Saint Petersburg mayoral campaign.
In 1990 he worked in Leningrad Municipal Soviet of People's Deputies. Between 1991 and 1999 he worked as a docent at his old university, now renamed Saint Petersburg State University.
Business and political career
In 1991 - 1996 Medvedev worked as a legal expert for the International Relations Committee (IRC) of the Saint Petersburg Mayor's Office headed by Vladimir Putin. According to the research of critics of Putin's regime, Yuri Felshtinsky and Vladimir Pribylovsky, the committee was involved in numerous business activities including gambling. The connection with gambling business was established through a municipal enterprise called "Neva Chance." "Neva Chance" became a co-owner of the city gambling establishments with an authorized capital usually of 51%. The mayor's office contributed its share not in money, but "by relinquishing the right to collect rent for the facilities that the casinos occupied" the authors concluded that Medvedev "was one of the first people ... in Russia as a whole, who figured out how the government could "join" a joint stock company without breaking existing laws: not by contributing land or real estate, but by contributing rents on land and real estate."
In November 1993, Medvedev became the legal affairs director of Ilim Pulp Enterprise, a St. Petersburg-based timber company. This enterprise was initially registered as a limited liability partnership, and then re-registered as a closed joint stock company Fincell, "50% of whose shares were own by Dmitry Medvedev." In 1998, he was also elected a member of the board of directors of the Bratskiy LPK paper mill. He worked for Ilim Pulp until 1999.
In November 1999 Medvedev became one of several St. Petersburgers brought by Vladimir Putin to top government positions in Moscow. In December of the same year he was appointed deputy head of the presidential staff.
Dmitry Medvedev became one of the politicians closest to President Putin, and during the 2000 elections he was head of the presidential election campaign headquarters. From 2000 to 2001, Medvedev was chair of Gazprom's board of directors. He was then deputy chair from 2001 to 2002. In June of 2002, Medvedev became chair of Gazprom's board of directors for a second time. In October 2003, he replaced Alexander Voloshin as presidential chief of staff. In November 2005, he was appointed by President Vladimir Putin as First Deputy Prime Minister, First Deputy Chairman of the Council for Implementation of the Priority National Projects attached to the President of the Russian Federation, and Chairman of the Council's Presidium.
A mild-mannered person, Dmitry Medvedev is considered to be a moderate liberal pragmatic, an able administrator and a loyalist of Putin. He is also known as a leader of "the clan of St.Petersburg lawyers", one of political groups formed around Vladimir Putin during his presidency. Other members of this group are the co-owner of the Ilim Pulp Corporation Dmitry Kozak, speaker of Russian Federation Council Sergei Mironov, Yuri Molchanov, and head of Putin's personal security service Viktor Zolotov.
2008 presidential elections
Following his appointment as First Deputy Prime Minister, many political observers expected Medvedev to be nominated as Putin's successor for the 2008 presidential elections. There were other potential candidates, such as Sergey Ivanov and Viktor Zubkov, but on December 10, 2007, President Putin announced that Medvedev was his preferred successor. Four parties supporting Putin also declared Medvedev to be their candidate to the post - United Russia, Fair Russia, Agrarian Party of Russia and Civilian Power.
United Russia held its party congress on December 17, 2007 where by secret ballot of the delegates, Medvedev was officially endorsed as their candidate in the 2008 presidential election. He formally registered his candidacy with the Central Election Commission on December 20, 2007 and said he would step down as chairman of Gazprom, since under the current laws, the president is not permitted to hold another post. Sources close to Gazprom and Medvedev have told the Vedomosti newspaper that Medvedev may be replaced by Putin at Gazprom. His registration was formally accepted as valid by the Russian Central Election Commission on January 21, 2008.
Political analysts believe that Putin's choice of a successor would coast to an easy election-day victory, as pre-election opinion polls have indicated that a substantial majority of potential voters will back Putin's chosen candidate for president. An opinion poll by Russia’s independent polling organization, the Levada Center, conducted over the period December 21-24, 2007 indicated that when presented a list of potential candidates, 79% of Russians were ready to vote for Medvedev if the election were immediately held.
In his first speech since he was endorsed, Medvedev announced that, as President, he would appoint Vladimir Putin to the post of prime minister to head the Russian government. Although constitutionally barred from a third consecutive presidential term, such a role would allow Putin to continue as an influential figure in Russian politics (the constitution also allows him to return to the presidency later). Some analysts have been quick to point out that such a statement shows that Medvedev recognizes that he would only be a figurehead president. Putin has pledged that he would accept the position of prime minister should Medvedev be elected president. Although Putin has pledged not to change the distribution of authority between president and prime minister, many analysts are expecting a shift in the center of power from the presidency to the prime minister post should Putin assume the latter under a Medvedev presidency.
Election posters have portrayed the pair side-by-side with the slogan "We Will Be Victorious Together"
In January 2008, Medvedev launched his presidential campaign with stops in the regions. With preliminary results showing he would probably win the March 2, 2008 presidential election by a landslide, Medvedev vowed to work closely with the man who tapped him for the job, President Vladimir Putin.
He was elected President of Russia on March 2, 2008. According to final election results, he won 70.28% of votes with a turnout of over 69.78% of registered voters. The fairness of the election was disputed, with official monitoring groups giving conflicting reports. Some reported that the election was free and fair, while others reported that not all candidates had equal media coverage and that Kremlin opposition was treated unfairly. Monitoring groups found a number of other irregularities, but made no reports of fraud or ballot stuffing. Most agreed that the results reflected the will of the people. On May 7, Dmitry Medvedev took oath as third President of the Russian Federation in a ceremony held in Kremlin Palace. After taking the oath of office and receiving a gold chain of double-headed eagles symbolizing the presidency, he stated: "I believe my most important aims will be to protect civil and economic freedoms; We must fight for a true respect of the law and overcome legal nihilism, which seriously hampers modern development."
In December 2005 Medvedev was named Person of the Year by Expert magazine, an influential and respected Russian business weekly. He shared the title in 2005 with Alexei Miller, CEO of Gazprom.
Dmitry Medvedev is married and has a son named Ilya (b. 1996). His wife, Svetlana Vladimirovna Medvedeva n?e Linnik, was both his childhood friend and school sweetheart. They wed several years after their graduation from secondary school in 1982. Medvedev is one of the authors of a textbook on civil law for universities first published in 1991 (the 6th edition of Civil Law. In 3 Volumes. was published in 2007) and is regarded as "brilliant" by many civil law scholars. He is the author of a textbook for universities entitled, Questions of Russia's National Development, first published in 2007, concerning the role of the Russian state in social policy and economic development. He is also the lead coauthor of a book of legal commentary entitled, A Commentary on the Federal Law "On the State Civil Service of the Russian Federation", scheduled for publication in 2008. This work considers the Russian Federal law on the Civil service, which went into effect on July 27, 2004, from multiple perspectives - scholarly, jurisprudential, practical, enforcement- and implementation-related.
Medvedev has often represented himself as a devoted fan of hard rock, listing Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin as his favorite bands. He is a collector of their original vinyl records and has previously said that he has collected all of the recordings of Deep Purple. As a youth, he was making copies of their records, although these bands were then on the official state-issued blacklist. In February 2008, Medvedev and Sergey Ivanov attended a Deep Purple concert in Moscow together.
Medvedev stands 162 centimeters (5'4") in height.
Despite a busy schedule, he always reserves an hour each morning and again each evening to swim and lift weights. He swims 1,500 meters (approximately 0.93 miles), twice a day. He also jogs, plays chess, and practices yoga. Among his hobbies are reading the works of Mikhail Bulgakov, and following his hometown professional soccer team, FC Zenit Saint Petersburg.
He keeps an aquarium in his office and cares for his fish himself. Medvedev owns a Neva Masquerade male cat named Dorofey. Dorofey used to fight with a cat belonging to Mikhail Gorbachev (who was Medvedev's neighbor) so the Medvedevs had to castrate Dorofey.
In Runet, Medvedev's name became closely assotiated with Preved meme, linked to padonki slang, which resulted in many ironical and satirical writings and cartoons that blend Medvedev with a bear. Medvedev is familiar with this phenomenon and feels no offence in it, stating that memes have right to exist.
Reportedly, Dmitry Medvedev uses an Apple iPhone, despite the fact that this cell phone is not officially sold or even certified in Russia, probably making his device a grey import.