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Sunday, June 08, 2008

CIS informal summit, EU border, UN, Putin and Russia, Ukraine and Gas, Poland and scandal; News, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #314

    President participates in CIS informal summit in St. Petersburg

    From: The office of the president
    The president and the other heads of state at an informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg
    On 6 June the President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, took part in an informal CIS summit in St. Petersburg.

    Attending the summit were all 12 presidents of the CIS member states.

    The presidents exchanged their opinions regarding the draft CIS Economic Development Strategy until 2020, interaction in the sphere of transport, cooperation in the energy sector. The heads of state also discussed humanitarian issues and the main avenues of further development of the Commonwealth.

    The CIS summit meeting in October 2007 in Dushanbe approved the CIS Development Concept and the plan of main actions to fulfil it. The plan provides for adopting a CIS development strategy in 2008.

    Belarus believes completing the creation of a free trading zone within the CIS is vital for the CIS economic development today.

    It is planned to dedicate the year 2009 to energy issues. The Belarusian side deems it possible to develop brand new projects within the CIS framework for transporting energy resources, using cost-efficient and accessible alternative energy sources, including bio-fuel.

    Belarus proposes to intensify research in the area of small nuclear power engineering.

    In 2008 the CIS member states have been focusing on addressing transport-related issues in line with the thesis “one year – one issue resolved”. The programme of Belarus’ chairmanship in the CIS Council of the Heads of State provides for identification of priority cooperation areas in transport for the period until 2020.

    The Belarusian side believes that this year there is a need for developing an effective scheme of interaction in transport, launch large-scale projects to create new transport corridors. There is a need for building effective interaction between the CIS customs and border services, identifying transport corridors, seaports, locations of transport and logistic centres that are strategically important for the entire CIS region. These projects should receive priority financing, Belarus says.

    The next CIS summit is expected to take place in autumn 2008 in Bishkek.

    In the evening, the CIS heads of state had a working dinner in Peterhof.

    Belarus is among leaders in industrial production growth of CIS member countries

    In line with the data of the CIS Statistical Committee, Belarus is among the leaders in industrial production growth of the CIS member countries.

    In January-April this year, the highest rates of the industrial production growth were registered in Azerbaijan (14.3%), Belarus took the second place (13.3%) and Ukraine (8%). According to the CIS Statistical Committee, the industrial production growth in Moldova made up 7.2%, the Russian Federation – 6.9%, Kazakhstan – 3.5%, Kyrgyzstan – 3.4%, Armenia – 0.1%. The reduction of the industrial production growth was registered in Tajikistan – 6.8%.

    On the average, in January-April 2008, the industrial production growth in the CIS member states increased by 7% over the same period last year. There are no data regarding this index from Georgia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus’ SCC partaking in conference for customs cooperation at EU’s Eastern border

    From: NLIPRB
    Representatives of the State Customs Committee (SCC) of Belarus are taking part in the international conference “Customs cooperation at the Eastern border of the European Union” regularly held by the European Commission.

    The SCC representatives took part in a session of the working groups on customs procedures and trade simplification, border security and fraud counteraction, BelTA learnt from the Consulate General of Belarus in Gdansk. Belarusian customs informed the European colleagues on the situation and development outlook of the customs service in the country and introduced a range of proposals on strengthening interaction with customs bodies of Poland and other EU countries.

    The Belarusian delegation met with Consul General of Belarus in Gdansk Ruslan Esin to exchange opinions on possible establishment of contacts between the Belarusian regional customs and Polish regional customs chambers in the Northwestern region of the country on the issue of vehicle and freight registration at the border.

    Belarus temporarily introduced export customs duty on wheat and meslin at 40% of customs cost of commodity

    From: Agrimarket
    Belarus introduced export customs duty on wheat and meslin at a level equal to 40% of customs cost of commodity, effective till June 30, 2008, reported in the press-service of President of Belarus.

    President's decree No 304 introduces the customs duty on wheat and meslin, exported outside the countries-participants of the Eurasian economic community, at a level equal to 40% of customs cost of commodity, but no less than 105 EUR/t and that would be effective till June 30, 2008, stated in the report of the press-service.

    According to the press-service, this decree is intended to regulate the situation in wheat trade between Russia and Ukraine. Introduced export duty is similar to the one introduced in Russia.

    This norm would contribute to satisfying domestic demand of Belarus Republic in gluten wheat at the expense of import from Russia. Introduction by Russia of the export restrictions earlier has created deficiency threat for this product in Belarus, added representatives of the press-service of President.

  • From the United Nations...

    UNICEF invited to join working out UN strategy to fight slave trade

    From: NLIPRB
    Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of Belarus Natalia Petkevich invited UNICEF to join the preparation of a draft UN strategy able to provide a comprehensive approach to fighting slave trade.

    The press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told BelTA, during the visit to New York Natalia Petkevich met with President of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann and UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson.

    During the meeting with the new President of the General Assembly Natalia Petkevich discussed prospects of cooperation between the Belarusian delegation and the office of the President during the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly, which will last from September 2008 to September 2009.

    With the UNICEF representative Natalia Petkevich discussed practical issues relating to conditions and criteria of the UN Children’s Fund operation in medium-income countries such as Belarus. These conditions and criteria are changing following the increase in living standards in the republic. The sides agreed UNICEF should continue working in Belarus regardless of the income per capita in the country.

    Natalia Petkevich: UNICEF should address child abandonment

    Resolution of problems of child abandonment, children with special needs and disabled children should be in the centre of attention of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Permanent Representation of Belarus in the UN quoted Deputy Head of the Belarus President Administration Natalia Petkevich as saying at a substantive session of the UNICEF Executive Council in New York.

    Natalia Petkevich informed participants of the Executive Council session about efforts Belarus exercises to protect underage children when their parents fail to fulfil their parental duties and put the children in a socially dangerous situation. She informed about Belarus’ practices used in education and upbringing of kids with special needs and disabled children, including the establishment of integrated institutions, which allow the kids to stay with their families and get education in the usual way as well as receive special psychological and pedagogical support.

    The official stressed, Belarus has worked out a new state policy for childhood protection. The policy is aimed at creating conditions for observing children’s rights, providing the necessary aid and support of the society and the government to them, further improving their status. Belarus ranks thirteenth among countries with favourable maternity conditions. Infant mortality in Belarus is the lowest in the CIS and corresponds to the European level.

    The attention of the session participants was drawn to the advisability of UNICEF’s participation in developing and promoting general systematic UN strategies, which are related to the security and protection of childhood. In view of Belarus’ initiative for a UN strategy for fighting slave trade that children may also fall victim to, UNICEF experience is extremely valuable for the correct and systematic explanation of the part of the strategy that covers trade in children, said Natalia Petkevich.

    Election of Belarus' diplomat as vice-chairperson of UNGA committee is recognition of Belarus’ authority

    The election of a Belarusian diplomat as Vice-Chairperson of the UN General Assembly Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) is the recognition by the UN General Assembly of Belarus’ authority in settling economic issues, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Belarus Andrei Popov told a news briefing in Minsk June 5.

    As BelTA informed earlier, the counsellor of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Belarus to the United Nations, Andrei Metelitsa, was elected vice-chairperson of the UN General Assembly Economic and Financial Committee (Second Committee) at a session of the UN General Assembly in New York. This is the first time when a representative of Belarus has been elected to the post of the vice-chairperson of this committee, which is one of the most important in the UN General Assembly.

    "Belarus has gained considerable experience in pursing its own economic development policy and can share it with the international community,” said Andrei Popov. According to him, this is also evidenced by such documents as the human development index report, which annually reflects the achievements of Belarus.

    "Naturally, this decision of the UN General Assembly is also a testament to the fact that Belarus considers very carefully all urgent issues on the agenda of the UN General Assembly," said Andrei Popov. It is important that Belarus makes certain proposals aimed at addressing pressing problems, among which are food crisis, ensuring stable energy supply, fight against human trafficking and many others, Andrei Popov said.

    Additionally, Mr. Antonius Broek has been appointed UN/UNDP Representative in the Republic of Belarus. His candidature has been agreed with the Belarusian Government. Mr. Antonius Broek is expected to arrive in Minsk on June 8.

  • Economics...

    Belarus to join Eurasian Development Bank agreement

    From: NLIPRB
    The Council of Republic of the National Assembly has approved a bill on the accession of Belarus to the agreement on the Eurasian Development Bank.

    Belarus’ share in the Bank’s statutory fund will account for 1% or $15 million. The Russian contribution made up $1 billion.

    After joining the Eurasian Development Bank, Belarus will get an opportunity to obtain loans on beneficial terms for investment projects and to attract direct foreign investments under the guarantees of the Bank.

  • From the International Press...

    Putin appointment to Belarus post concerns US

    From: AP
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, right, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walk during their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Friday, May 23, 2008. Vladimir Putin arrived in Minsk to attend the CIS session of heads of government.
    The United States is concerned about a new sign of deepening ties between Belarus and Russia at a time of heightened tensions with both countries.

    On Tuesday, Russia and Belarus named Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the post of prime minister of an alliance of the two neighbors.

    Officials and analysts in Washington say it is unclear whether the move is a step toward closer political union or a mere formality. But it comes as U.S-Belarus relations have been in crisis. Belarus has protested U.S. sanctions aimed at punishment for its heavy-handed treatment of critics and intolerance of dissent. The standoff has led to the brink of cessation of diplomatic relations.

    While tensions have also flared periodically between Moscow and Minsk, the announcement could be a sign that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is seeking closer ties with Russia in the face of the sanctions, a bad local economy and greater domestic opposition.

    Karen Stewart, the U.S. ambassador to Belarus, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the United States will be watching for signs that that the alliance is deepening.

    "We will have to wait and see what materializes," she said.

    Stewart has been in Washington since March when she left Minsk under pressure from the Belarusian government. She returned after Belarus withdrew its ambassador to Washington.

    She said that the United States would object to any union between the two countries, if their people were not given a say.

    "We have no objection to the integration of states as long as it is voluntary, as long as the people have been able to express their will and it is mutually beneficial and does not erect barriers to the wider community of nations," she said.

    Belarus immediately downplayed the significance Putin's appointment, announced by the Belarusian and Russian presidential offices.

    The post — officially called the chairman of the union's Council of Ministers — has been held by the Russian prime minister since 2000. The position was created in December 1999, along with the post of chairman of the Supreme State Council, which has been held since its creation by Lukashenko.

    Russia and Belarus signed an agreement in 1996 that envisaged close political, economic and military ties, but efforts to achieve a full merger have foundered. Structures of the alliance serve coordination purposes and have vague responsibilities.

    Lukashenko angrily rejected a Kremlin proposal in 2002 to incorporate his nation into Russia, and negotiations on strengthening the union have stalled. He has also sparred with Putin over Russian energy exports. Last year, he denounced Russia as a "huge monster" when Russia more than doubled the price of natural gas and imposed a customs duty that made oil more expensive.

    The new appointment follows Putin's transition from president to prime minister earlier this month and the inauguration of his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev as the new president. Kremlin observers are watching for signs that Putin is trying to consolidate power in the new post.

    Before the transition, some observers had speculated that Putin might become the president of a new unified state of Russia and Belarus after he stepped down earlier this month after eight years as Russian president. That speculation ended when Putin made clear he intended to become prime minister.

    Many say that Russian politics are particularly hard to read at the moment, because the lines of authority between Putin and Medvedev are unclear. Lukashenko's decision making is even more murky.

    "As Alice in Wonderland would say, 'It's getting curioser and curioser,'" said Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

    Aron said Lukashenko may be warming to Russia under the pressure of a bad economy, combined with rising commodity prices and well-aimed U.S. sanctions. Russia has recently provided loans to Belarus, ostensibly to help it handle rising Russian energy prices.

    "I think it is in his interest in staying in power to do pretty much whatever Putin wants," he said.

    Belarus continues providing consular services to US citizens in full scale

    From: Naveny
    Belarus’ embassy in Washington and the country’s consulate general in New York continue to provide consular services to US citizens in full scale, Andrey Papow, spokesman for the foreign ministry, said at Thursday’s briefing.

    “All requests that these diplomatic offices receive from US citizens are granted,” he said. “We work in order that there will be no complaints against us on the part of American citizens.”

    This past spring the US embassy in Minsk stopped issuing visas to Belarusian citizens after it had to reduce its diplomatic staff in Minsk from 32 to four by order of the Belarusian government, which retaliated for Washington’s sanctions against Belarus’ state petrochemical conglomerate Belnaftakhim.

    On March 7, Minsk recalled its ambassador to the USA, Mikhail Khvastow, "for consultations" after the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a statement with regard to the applicability of the sanctions. The Belarusian foreign ministry emphatically recommended that US Ambassador Karen Stewart leave Belarus "for the same purpose." The ambassador went away after the Belarusian government had threatened to expel her. In addition, Minsk cut its diplomatic staff in the United States and urged Washington to reduce its staff in Belarus to the same number.

    “We are aware of and concerned about the circumstance that our citizens are not provided with consular services in due scale by our American colleagues,” Mr. Papow said. “This is the matter of the responsibility of the American side before the citizens of Belarus. Our American colleagues often say that they care much about the interests of Belarusian citizens. There is a need to prove these words by a real deed.”

    Mr. Papow also said that the embassy in Washington currently has five diplomats, and that the embassy does not employ US citizens. “All the officers who have returned to the homeland will receive jobs at the foreign ministry of Belarus,” he said. According to him, Ambassador Khvastow stays in Minsk and “holds consultations on the entire spectrum of issues relating to Belarusian-American relations.”

    When asked about Minsk’s possible response to the US sanctions, the spokesman said, “Like any other state, we’ll, of course, defend our interests. Time will show what method will be employed.” “Sanctions are not a civilized method of settling disputes in international relations,” he added.

    Estonia gives Belarusian students political refuge

    From: Russia Today
    More and more students are dismissed from schools in Belarus because of ideological conflicts. Estonia has so far accepted 15 students from the neighbouring state who have been expelled from universities due to political reasons. Numerous Estonian non-government associations and civil activists have also taken steps in support of them.

    The Assembly of Students Representatives, which unites 58 schools with Russian as the first language in Estonia, have appealed to the Minister of Education and Research, Tonis Lukas, to let a Belarusian student, Ivan Shilo, finish his studies in Estonia. The student was expelled from his school in Belarus due to political reasons.

    Ivan Shilo is the deputy head of the pro-national youth organisation Mlady Front. He was expelled before one of his final exams for protesting against Russian being the main language in the country school system.

    Estonia has given him the chance to continue his education in the school with Russian as a primary language.

    According to the assembly representative, it is important for the Belarusian opposition and student activists to feel the support and solidarity from other countries.

    Meantime, Estonian students have also faced consequences of their public activities.

    One of Estonia’s schools is still considering the expulsion of one of its students for taking part in riots after relocating of the World War II monument for Soviet soldiers.

    Cardinal Bertone to Visit Belarus

    From: Zenit
    The Pope's secretary of state will visit Belarus this month, with plans to visit the dioceses of Minsk, Pinsk and Grodno.

    A Vatican communiqu? release today reported that Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone will make an official visit to Belarus from June 18 to June 22.

    "During his stay," added the statement, "Cardinal Bertone will encounter members of the government, preside at liturgical celebrations and other moments of prayer in the Archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev, and in the dioceses of Pinsk and Grodno, and meet with members of the Belarusian Catholic episcopal conference."

    Last week Benedict XVI received in audience Sergei Aleinik, the new ambassador of Belarus to the Holy See. In his address delivered in written form, the Pope said he was "appreciative of the many encouraging signs and challenges that are present in the country today."

    Regarding the role of the Catholic Church in the country, the Pope said it "looks forward to continuing to exercise its role in society through its various structures and institutions," which "seek only to serve men and women and all of society through the transmission of universal values inspired by the Gospel."

    He said the Church "does not ask for special privileges," but rather the "freedom to be able to fulfill serenely the mandate received from the divine founder in service of his creation."

    Religious freedom

    The Church in Belarus has been affected in recent years by the law on religions, approved in 2002 by President Aleksandr Lukashenko. Human rights groups have called it the most repressive law in Europe on religious freedom.

    The law prohibits activities of religious associations that are not registered with government authorities, and provides for the censure of religious literature.

    In September 2007, Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Kosinets told Belarus' religious leaders that the Catholic Church should end the use of foreign clergy over the next few years.

    "We are in favor of religious personnel in our republic being natives of Belarus," he said at a roundtable discussion. "People may not conduct religious activity if they do not know either Belarusian or Russian, or the mindset and customs of Belarus."

    While no official action has been taken to expel priests, the vice premier suggested that "there should be a substitution of foreign religious personnel by natives of Belarus in the course of the next seven years."

    Of the roughly 350 Catholic priests in the country, the majority are foreign, and almost all of those are Polish.

  • From the Opposition...

    Authorities trying to placate protesting patients of tuberculosis hospital

    From: Viasna
    The conflict in Bahusheuski oblast tuberculosis hospital in Vitsebsk region, is acquiring a greater publicity. The authorities are trying to calm the protests down by attempts to placate the most active protesters.

    Neli Sipaila, the master of the tuberculosis hospital of Orsha, came to Natallia and Valeryi Drabysheuskis. She familiarized with the conditions in the hospital and informed the spouses about the danger they present to their nine-year-old daughter.

    ‘But when we were being signed out of the hospital’, Natallia Drabysheuskay says, ‘nobody thought about the danger to the child. Being ill, we can infect our daughter. Still, we have no human conditions – even hot water is absent.’

    Then Natallia and Valeryi were summonsed by the officer of Vitsebsk oblast executive committee Pavel Hrydzen. ‘He reproached us that we had addressed the independent media with our problem. Then he promised to organize ambulatory treatment for me and proposed to place my husband (who is more ill than me) to Navayelenski hospital. According to him, now the necessary medicines will be brought to Valeryi from the hospital of Orsha every three days,’ said Natallia Drabysheuskaya.

    Hrodna: Human rights activist fined for waving white-red-white flag

    5 June Leninski district court of Hrodna found the human rights activist Viktar Sazonau and the chairman of Hrodna oblast branch of the United Civil Party Yury Istomin guilty under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code (violation of the rules for organizing and holding mass events) and sentenced them to large fines.

    At the trial the police majors Andrei Autukh and Siarhei Vechar testified that that during the unauthorized concert of the Polish rock band Lombard Istomin and Sazonau were standing on the roof of an administrative building, waving a white-red-white flag for six minutes. On the basis of these testimonies Judge Kozel sentenced Sazonau to a fine of 1 050 000 rubles (about 493 US dollars) and Istomin, for whom it is already the second ‘violation’ under the abovementioned article – to 1 750 000 rubles (about 821 dollar).

    Russian Human Rights Watchdog Shocked by “Justice” in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    A co-director of the Moscow branch of the international society “Memorial” (the International Volunteer Public Organization “MEMORIAL Historical, Educational, Human Rights And Charitable Society”) Yan Rachinsky is shocked by the verdict to the public leader Vyachaslau Siuchyk.

    As said by the human rights watchdog, he visits Belarus for the first time. Though he had heard a lot about problems with human rights in the country, he was unaware of the fact that they are so serious, radio Svaboda informs.

    Yan Rachinsky has arrived to Minsk on June 3 on invitation of Belarusian friends in order to take part in the opening ceremony of a new memorial plate in Kurapaty memorial site, and to take part in the conference dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the people’s memorial site’s foundation. Vyachaslau Siuchyk was arrested in front of Rachinsky’s eyes.

    “Many times before I read about such occasions in Russian independent press, but I witnessed that for the first time. Moreover, I was present during the events in Kurapaty Siuchyk was charged with,” the human rights watchdog said.

    Mr Rachynsky noted that when Siuchyk was offered to get into a police car on his free will, a policeman even pledged the honour of an officer he would return to Kurapaty before 7 pm.

    But the representative of Russian “Memorial” saw even more surprising thing in the court, when witnesses for the prosecution (traditionally, they were policemen) perjured.

    “Such obvious failure of evidence together with a judgment of conviction is rare even in Russia,” the human rights activist noted.

    On June 4 Judge of Minsk region Vyachaslau Tulejka sentenced the chairman of the “Memorial” branch of the Belarusian Voluntary Society of History and Culture Monuments Protection Vyachaslau Siuchyk to 10 days of administrative arrest. The politician was charged with staging an unsanctioned mass rally. It was an announcement of results of competition held by Radio Svaboda (Radio Liberty Belarusian service) (“My picture – My Kurapaty”) in Kurapaty on June 3.

  • Around the region...

    Russia Takes Critical Tone on Economy

    From: NYTimes
    In his first major economic speech since becoming president, Dmitri A. Medvedev said Saturday that the world might be in the throes of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and that a newly revived Russia could offer solutions to a systemic crisis that has underscored America’s shortcomings.

    Mr. Medvedev, who was inaugurated on May 7, spoke at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, an annual event since the 1990s that was thrust into the spotlight last year as Russia’s answer to rival forums held in Europe.

    It was also a showcase for the former imperial capital of St. Petersburg, hometown of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin and Mr. Medvedev. The forum opened Friday evening with a free concert for city residents.

    In a keynote address that underscored his knowledge of corporate terminology, Mr. Medvedev spoke of “economic egoism” and “economic nationalism,” and he made specific reference to the United States overreaching its economic capabilities.

    “It turned out to be an illusion that one country, even the most powerful, could take upon itself the role of global government,” he said.

    “Moreover, namely, the dissonance between the formal role of the United States of America in the world economy and its actual capabilities was one of the central causes of the current crisis. However big the American market, and however reliable the American financial system, it’s not capable of replacing global goods and financial markets.”

    Moscow Warns Georgia, Ukraine; Brushes Off Abkhaz Mediation Offer

    From: RFE/RL
    Russia has condemned moves by Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO, saying they could have serious repercussions.

    The comments came as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met separately on June 6 with his Georgian and Ukrainian counterparts in St. Petersburg on the sidelines of an informal summit of leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

    According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Medvedev warned Ukraine that it would be in breach of a friendship treaty if it joined NATO. He also said Russia plans to nearly double the price it charges Ukraine for natural gas at the start of next year.

    Medvedev told Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili that pursuing NATO membership would hamper efforts to settle Georgia's conflicts with pro-Moscow separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    "We felt [at the meeting] that President Saakashvili, indeed, wants to pay priority attention to the resolution of these conflicts," Lavrov said. "By the way, it was said -- at least it seems to me that he understands -- that the course toward NATO accession is not the key to a settlement."

    Meanwhile, Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, says the bloc wants a greater role in efforts to settle the crisis in Abkhazia. He made the remarks after talks in the main separatist city of Sukhumi on June 6 with Abkhazia's de facto President Sergei Bagapsh.

    "We want to get [more deeply] engaged," Solana said. "You know, there are formats already in place. I hope very much that there will be formats in which everybody will participate in a constructive manner. The format may evolve in the future, but in any case, we are ready to get more engaged and more involved."

    Medvedev, speaking during talks with Saakashvili in St. Petersburg, brushed off the idea of foreign mediation over Abkhazia, saying, "I think we can sort out our relations by ourselves."

    Solana this week criticized Moscow for activities related to Abkhazia -- including the deployment of additional Russian troops there. He says the deployment has "raised the temperature" of the crisis.

    Tensions over Abkhazia have soared since Moscow announced in April that it was establishing more formal ties with the separatists there.

    Russia to double Ukraine gas price

    From: AFP
    Gazprom claims Ukraine failed to pay a 600 mln dollar debt
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that Moscow would charge Ukraine double the present amount it pays for gas from next year, but insisted the move was not political.

    "The price of gas for Ukraine will almost double from January 1, 2009," as a result of greater costs for Russia in acquiring the gas, Lavrov said after a meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko.

    Earlier gas prices rises imposed by Russia on Ukraine prompted complaints by critics that Moscow was punishing Kiev for its pro-Western policies.

    But Lavrov insisted the rise in prices was purely commercial, saying Russia was simply passing on hikes in prices charged by producers in Central Asia.

    The price Ukraine pays "will grow significantly for objective reasons," Lavrov said.

    Although Russia holds massive gas reserves of its own beneath its vast Siberian expanses it also imports large amounts of gas from Central Asian neighbours due to a lack of investment in developing its own reserves.

    In March, Central Asia's main producers, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, said that they would charge Russia "European" prices -- almost double current levels -- starting from 2009.

    Ukraine currently pays Russia 179.5 dollars (115 euros) per thousand cubic metres of gas.

    Last month the head of Ukraine's Naftogaz, Oleg Dubina, said Ukraine would only be ready to pay European prices in five years' time and that he hoped to sign a long-term deal on gradually increasing prices.

    However on Friday, Lavrov said Yushchenko had welcomed the idea of market prices as healthy for Ukraine's economy.

    An energy price hike would put further pressure on Ukraine's overheating economy, which is struggling under soaring inflation that saw consumer prices climb 30 percent in the year to April.

    Gas has long proved a sticking point in relations between Russia and Ukraine, which since Yushchenko's election in 2005 has tried to reorient its foreign policy from Russia towards the West.

    A price dispute in 2006 saw Russia briefly cut off all of Ukraine's gas, causing disruption to supplies to the European Union, which relies on Russia for a quarter of its supplies.

    In March, gas supplies to Ukraine were again partially cut in a debt dispute.

    Despite an agreement to restart supplies, disagreements remain over the role of shadowy intermediaries and the exact size of the remaining debt.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last month said Moscow was ready to end use of intermediary companies if Kiev paid the remaining debt, although he did not specify the amount concerned.

    Meanwhile Ukraine has been promoting a variety of gas and oil pipeline schemes intended to circumvent Russia's long-standing monopoly on supplies across much of eastern Europe.

    Ukraine coalition loses majority

    Ukraine's governing pro-Western coalition has lost its parliamentary majority after two members quit.

    One was from PM Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc, the other from President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party.

    The coalition that first came to power after 2004's Orange Revolution now has 225 seats - exactly half of parliament.

    It is unclear whether the coalition will remain viable, or whether it may become necessary to seek a new coalition or call elections.

    The governing coalition can normally also count on the vote of one unaligned member, giving it a majority.

    A spokesman for Ms Tymoshenko insisted the government would still be able to function.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Football in Poland is more corrupt than in Italy

    From: Cafe Babel
    In the run up to Euro 2008, a corruption scandal has come to light in the Polish league that rivals anything Italy has to offer. 29 clubs have already been caught up in the scandal, and 116 people implicated

    In public, Dariusz Wdowczyk likes to come across as worldly wise; it goes down well with the Polish crowd. In his grey suit, the trainer also likes to chat in English. After all, as well as playing for the Polish national team, he has also represented Glasgow Celtic. A video from the Polish anti-corruption authority CBA shows him in his training kit, sitting contritely at his living room table – whilst being arrested. Wdowczyk stands accused of bribing referees during his time as trainer for Korona Kielce, fast-tracking the team's rise from the third division to the Polish premier league, the Orange Ektraklasa, but must be relegated following the accusations. Wdowczyk has already confessed. ‘It's a shame it had to happen.’

    The cosmopolitan Dutchman Leo Beenhakker became the Polish national trainer after the 2006 world cup in Germany, subsequently leading the team to their first place in the European championship, which takes place this year in Austria and Switzerland. Had he not taken up the post, it would probably have gone to Wdowczyk, who instead is now one of the main players in a corruption scandal that has already implicated 29 clubs from the top four divisions and 116 individuals.

    Sorry doesn’t cut it

    The method is systematic. The public prosecutor's office in Breslau, which is dealing with the case, also has the football union PZPN and regional referee associations in its sights. The scandal came to the fore in Poland during the 2006 world cup. At that time, however, the rest of Europe showed no interest. After all, the corruption scandal surrounding Italy's Serie A had just become public and eclipsed everything else. In comparison, however, what was happening in Poland was much more serious.

    Poland is one of the most corrupt countries in the EU, with even the far reaches of society affected. Many surgeries only treat patients once the doctor or assistant has received a little extra pocket money. In a climate like this, it is no surprise that corruption also thrives in the sporting world. Tomasz Lipiec, the former minister for sport, was arrested in 2007 under suspicion of corruption, having allegedly accepted bribes when awarding building contracts for public sporting facilities to construction companies. The proceedings against him are ongoing.

    After the change of government in October 2007, Julia Pitera, the former chairwoman of Transparency International Poland, was picked to help the government as a parliamentary secretary in its fight against corruption. The only thing puzzling her is why Europe has only now expressed an interest in the subject: ‘Personally, I've been aware of the corruption in Polish football since 2001 – when dealings between referees became known. But it hasn't bothered anyone for a long time.’ She blames the Polish football association for allowing the problem to grow and endangering Poland's changes of hosting the next European championships in 2012.

    The association has tried to ignore the problem for a long time, especially since some board members are themselves under suspicion. In the meantime, association chief Michal Listkiewicz, who has himself been criticised, attempted to calm the situation by expressing his regret in public: ‘Sorry! We are sorry! We apologise for not getting this problem under control in good time. This problem was just too big for us to handle. We are sorry! Perhaps we waited too long to react, but it is never too late to say sorry.’

    Beenhakker's evasive action

    National trainer Leo Beenhakker has more than enough on his plate with trying to keep the subject of ‘corruption’ out of the preparations for Euro 2008. After the Wdowczyk case was made public, the Dutchman expressed appropriate concern: ‘I hope, and I pray, that the people in charge in Poland can rectify the situation.’ The first eleven consists almost entirely of players who earn their living playing for foreign teams, although of course they developed their skills in the corrupt Polish league. Since Beenhakker took up his post, he has been irritated by the state of Polish football and its basis on favouritism. His first official act was to ban functionaries and journalists from staying in the same hotels as players. This came about after some players were disturbed during the 2006 world cup by functionaries partying into the night in their accommodation in Barsinghausen. On the subject of what his team, who face Germany on 8 June, could potentially achieve in the Euro 2008, Beenhakker stated: ‘If we don't advance as far as expected in the European championships, I guarantee that this will be due to poor performance on the pitch, not because someone else is pulling the strings.’

    Another arrest in Polish football corruption probe

    From: TopNews
    Polish security forces on Wednesday arrested another football person on suspicion of corruption, according to the PAP news agency the son of former national team coach Jerzy Engel.

    The news coincided with the publication in Germany of an interview with former goalkeeper legend Jan Tomaszewski, who told Germany's Sport Bild weekly that "Poland is the most corrupt country in the football world."

    It also comes at a time of allegedly growing fear amid the European body UEFA whether Poland and Ukraine were really fit to host Euro 2012.

    Jerzy Engel Jr. was reportedly the man arrested by anti-corruption forces. He is a coach with clubs including Polonia Warsaw and third division Radomiak. Engel tried in vain to become assistant of national team coach Leo Beenhakker, who is with the team at Euro 2008.

    Poland has been plagued by corruption in football with more 120 persons arrested since 2005. Referees, coaches and players have been accused of fixing matches and accepting bribes, with justice minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski 29 clubs involved in the illegal schemes.

    While Beenhakker said that he will try to keep the issue away from the Euro team, Tomaszewski was not so sure, saying that players would read about the corruption in every paper.

    Tomaszewski urged UEFA boss Michel Platini to take drastic action and punish all those responsible. He called for a new football leadership in the country and even said that Poland should be stripped of Euro 2012 if no measures are taken.

    "If nothing happens he should take away Euro 2012 from us," Tomaszewski told Sport Bild.

    Sikorski calls Afghan politician ‘terrorist’

    From: Polski Radio
    Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Radoslaw Sikorski causes scandal in Afghan media after he accuses a local politician of being a murderer.

    During his surprise visit to Kabul on Tuesday, after declaring Poland's help for the Afghan army to the tune of two million dollars, Sikorski was outspoken in his criticism concerning the deeds of Gulbuddin Hekmatiar.

    Sikorski is certain that Hekmatiar is the person behind the death of his friend, British cameraman Andy Skrzypkowiak. At a press conference in Kabul, Sikorski expressed hope that he would eventually be brought to court to answer fro his crimes.

    Hekmatiar's name features on the list of terrorists sought by the US. He is rumoured to have ties to Al-qaeda and the Taliban, with whom he has cooperated for several years now.

    At the same time, however, his Hezb-e-Islami party is getting wider and wider support in the Afghan parliament. It is also common knowledge in Afghanistan, that, despite being a war criminal, Hekmatiar is conducting on-the-sly talks with President Hamid Karzai concerning a possible truce with the Taliban.

    Sikorski is the first politician at top diplomatic level to condemn Hekmatiar in Afghanistan.

    Walesa collaborated with communists, says Polish president

    From: The News
    President Lech Kaczynski thinks that his predecessor Lech Walesa was the secret 1970s communist collaborator "Bolek".

    During an interview for Polsat private TV station, last night, Kaczynski said that a forthcoming book on Walesa shows the truth about a period in Walesa's life, which he himself knows without having to read about it.

    The book, penned by Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, two historians from the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), is said to contain details of formerly unknown documents concerning Walesa's alleged contacts with the Communist secret services in the 1970s.

    "This is not a faultless biography, of course. It is obvious that in the 80s Walesa was undoubtedly the nation's leader, which is not to say that writing the truth about him should now be filtered. A democratic society has the right to be served uncensored information, even if the truth is hard to bear,” concluded Kaczynski.

    Walesa featured as "Bolek" in 1992 on the so-called Macierewicz's List of secret collaborators with the Communist regime in Poland. In 2002 it was ruled that the former president was not, in fact, a secret agent for the communists.

    Alleged rape victim testifies in political sex scandal

    From: The News
    The court in Piotrkow Trybunalski, central Poland, will hear further witnesses in the sex scandal case in the Self-defense party.

    Today the court will continue the hearing of Urszula K., who was allegedly raped by the former MP and deputy head of the Self-defense party, Stanislaw Lyzwinski,. The victim will resume testimony given on Monday during a six-hour hearing.

    Further witnesses for the prosecution will also testify today.

    The investigation into the Self-defense sex scandal was launched after Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza published an article in December 2006 based on the account of Aneta Krawczyk, former Self-defense member and former head of Lyzwinski's parliamentary office, now key witness and auxiliary prosecutor in the case.

    The woman claims to have been offered the position for providing both Andrzej Lepper, head of Self-defense, and Stanislaw Lyzwinski with services of a sexual nature.
    Lepper and Lyzwinski are now facing up to eight and ten years in prison respectively.

  • Sport...

    Veremeenko could participate in summer league for Wizards

    From: Washington Post
    Forward Vladimir Veremeenko, a second-rounder in 2006, could join the Wizards this summer.
    Forward Vladimir Veremeenko, who was selected by the Wizards in the second round of the 2006 draft but has remained in Europe and is playing for Khimki of the Russian SuperLeague, could participate in summer league for the Wizards in July and is open to the possibility of signing with the Wizards.

    However, the 6-foot-10, 208-pound Veremeenko is under contract to Khimki and would have to negotiate a buyout in order to sign with the Wizards. Veremeenko's agent, Marc Cornstein, said it is possible for Veremeenko to be cleared by Khimki to play for the Wizards in summer league even without getting out of his contract.

    "Vladimir is excited about the prospect of testing himself in the NBA and we are looking into the possibility of him playing in summer league and hopefully, signing with the Wizards," Cornstein said. "Right now, he has contractual obligations to his team but he is anxious to come over here if it's possible."

    Hleb meets Barca representatives

    Alexander Hleb has met representatives from Barcelona with a view to joining the Primera Liga club, according to the player's agent.

    "We have had talks with Barcelona but nothing has been signed," agent Uli Ferber said.

    The Arsenal midfielder, 27, will make a final decision on his future when he comes back from holiday next week. Hleb has had discussions with the Gunners but it appears unlikely he will turn out for the Londoners next season.

    The Belarus international had been strongly linked with a move to Inter but the Serie A club's appointment of Jose Mourinho appears to have ended that possibility.

    Mixed doubles yields unlikely winner at the French Open in Paris:

    Bob Bryan decided at the last moment to play mixed doubles at the French Open. Good thing he did: He teamed with Victoria Azarenka to win the final Friday.

    Bryan, of the United States, and Azarenka, of Belarus, beat top-seeded Katarina Srebotnik of Slovenia and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia 6-2, 7-6 (4) in the final at Roland Garros.

    "We weren't even signed up," Bryan said. "I was at the practice court. I rushed over (to the referee's office). Made it with two minutes to go."

  • Cultural scene...

    Пэндзаль & TABLE это вам не IKEA.

    From: Minsk Blog
    К столу у нас, надо признаться, отношение потребительское. Хотя вся наша современная цивилизация, как-то не покажется удивительным, базируется на этом скромном предмете. Изобретение стола имело столь же великое значение, сколь и изобретение колеса. Стол сегодня сопутствует нам везде: от обеденного до «рабочего стола» на экране монитора, причём сфера применения его просто огромна. Но, не смотря на такую важную роль стола в материальной культуре, люди не замечают его, не воздают ему должное уважение…

    А ведь офисные, чайные, туалетные столы и столики, не говоря уже о школьных партах, устали выполнять свои непосредственные обязанности по обслуживанию людей и достойны стать реальными объектами арт-пространства. Группа молодых белорусских художников (участников выставочного проекта «Пан-тон») решила восстановить эту несправедливость. Результатом творческого напряжения явился арт-проект «Пэндзаль & TABLE», который открылся 21 мая в художественной галерее “Университет культуры”. Надо заметить проект получился нестандартным, лёгким для восприятия и концептуально цельным.

    Некоторые посетители, пришедшие на выставку, ожидали увидеть разнообразную мебель, но обнаружили художественное прочтение стола как арт-объекта посредством живописи, скульптуры, фото, графики и арт-объектов. Иными словами открыли для себя стол в новом, доселе даже не представляемом виде…

  • Endnote...

    Belarus can be included in ILO special paragraph

    From: Charter '97
    Today in Geneva in the framework of the 97th annual International Labour Conference, the Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO) is to discuss the problem of Belarus.

    The official Belarusian delegation and the chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic trade Unions are taking part in the conference in Switzerland.

    By the way, last year the official delegation was headed by Vice Prime Minister Andrei Kabyakou and a deputy head of the presidential administration Natalya Pyatkevich. This year the delegation is headed by Labour Minister Uladzimir Patupchyk, and it includes representatives of the Labour Ministry, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus and representatives of employers.

    The chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions Alyaksandr Yarashuk believes that the situation in Belarus is to be discussed at a serious level. For the seventh year in a row the Belarusian issue is discussed. The country was included into the special paragraph, and a commission for investigation was created once. Last year the EU deprived Belarus trade preferences, but A. Yarashuk believes:

    “The situation hasn’t changed basically, and it cannot change. Certainly, all the steps for fulfilling recommendations of the International Labour Organization (there are 12 of them, by the way), are nothing else but reforming the political system towards democracy. Today’s regime hasn’t become ready for this stage yet, it is not a self-destroyer and not a great reformer either. The situation with trade union rights in the country cannot change for the better fundamentally,” Yarashuk said to Radio Svaboda.

    As said by the chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions Alyaksandr Yarashuk, the talk in Geneva would be harsh. He does not exclude that Belarus will be mentioned in the so-called special paragraph for the 6th time. Besides, the regime hasn’t adopted the Law on Trade Unions yet, which under the presidential decree was to be adopted last spring. The ILO is known for its principled position, Alyaksandr Yarashuk said.

    “The ILO insists on fulfillment its recommendations and doesn’t yield. Moreover, they are even ready to take radical steps, to apply Paragraph 33 of the ILO Constitution. It means an appeal to international community countries to suspend any contacts with Belarusian government. And secondly it means unpleasant prospects directly connected with trade preferences”.