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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lukashenka greets Cardinal Bertone, Minsk Student Village, NATO, CIS, Pinskdrev, Russia, Ukraine, Opposition, Polish scandal, News, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #318

    Roman Catholic Church recognises Belarus as bridge between East and West

    From: BelTA
    The Roman Catholic Church recognises Belarus’ mission as a bridge between the East and the West and is ready to help smooth these relations, Secretary of State of the Holy See Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone said as he met with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on June 20.

    The catholic church will exercise efforts for Belarus to have its own significant position at the international level. “The presence of the Secretary of State in Belarus signifies that the Pope welcomes and shows his respect for the President and all Belarus citizens,” remarked Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. “Pope Benedict XVI admires the peace and mutual understanding that we see in your country. He is very glad that there are many values we preach together, the values your land has”.

    Secretary of State of the Holy See appreciated the cooperation between the Belarusian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. “It is a positive fact and we should work to improve it and make it serve the common good”.

    The President of Belarus remarked, he had been informed about meetings of the Secretary of State of the Holy See with representatives of the Belarusian Orthodox Church. “I am glad you have found a common language and that the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are very pleased with these contacts. I adhere to the equal rights of the confessions, their respect for each other,” he said. Alexander Lukashenko pointed out, it became possible thanks to the Orthodox Church leadership, who pursue a policy of respect. “The Orthodox Church doesn’t believe that there are large and small confessions. It contributes to the peace and calmness in our land and to the fact that every man can genuinely choose his way to the temple he deems necessary,” remarked the head of state.

    Alexander Lukashenko underscored he has very kind personal relations with the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus. “I welcomed the return of [Archbishop Minsk-Mogilev Metropolitan] Tadeusz Kondrusievicz to the native land. He is a true patriot of his country. He has an understanding attitude towards the processes that are going on in Belarus. I am convinced he will fight for the independence and sovereignty of our state and the state will be his reliable support in this”.

    Alexander Lukashenko: interdenominational peace, national accord guarantee stability of Belarusian society

    Interdenominational peace and national accord guarantee the stability of the Belarusian society and Belarus does its best to support the stability, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Secretary of State of the Holy See, His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on June 20.

    The head of state underscored, although Belarus is a secular democratic country, the country’s Constitution guarantees the right for determining one’s attitude to a religion to every citizen, the right to express and distribute religion-related beliefs. The state does not interfere with internal affairs of the church and does not charge religious organisations with performing any state functions.

    The country boasts the most favourable conditions for developing versatile social activities and interdenominational collaboration. There are 25 confessions and religious schools in Belarus. “Tolerance in religion is a traditional trait of the Belarusian society and we can rightfully pride ourselves on having no religious or ethnic conflicts,” noted the President. Although over long years Belarus has survived multiple hardships, wars, the Chernobyl tragedy, the nation has not lost its best qualities and has ever upheld high humanistic and moral values. “Our goal is contribute to the development of faith tolerance, internationalism, friendship between nations taking into account peculiarities of the religious life and the polyethnic composition of the nation,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    Alexander Lukashenko: visit of Holy See’s Secretary of State to Belarus meets Belarusian society needs

    The visit of the Secretary of State of the Holy See to Belarus meets needs and moral values of the Belarusian society, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Secretary of State of the Holy See, His Eminence Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on June 20.

    In Belarus the Roman Catholic Church has a considerable potential, has made serious advances in socially important efforts, and does a lot for promoting traditional Christian values among people such as the family, morale and mercy. “It helps believers understand the need for a responsible attitude towards health and life, towards relatives and the state,” noted Alexander Lukashenko. “We are glad to welcome the Secretary of State of Vatican in Belarus. It meets all needs of our society, its moral values”.

    Belarus is ready for a large-scale dialogue and cooperation with historically traditional Belarusian confessions, which serve the public good and strive to help people. “From this point of view the Roman Catholic Church is our long time partner,” said the head of state. He added, there are considerable prospects for taking joint measures in the humanitarian, cultural and scientific spheres.

    Alexander Lukashenko asked the Secretary of State of the Holy See to deliver a genuine gratitude to His Holiness Benedict XVI for attention to Belarus and Belarusian Catholics and expressed hope that the good attitude to the country will be reinforced by results of the visit of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has invited His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to visit Belarus at a convenient time.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus President wants Minsk Student Village ready by November 2011

    The construction of the Minsk Student Village should be completed by November 2011, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko during the ceremony, which marked the start of the construction.

    The government will allocate around Br700 billion for building the campus, which will house around 11,000 students from various universities.

    It will be a unique facility for Belarus and the entire CIS. The campus will include eight modern dormitories, a clinic, a sport and recreation centre, a shopping centre, an entertainment centre and other social infrastructure objects.

    Belarus is a country with a high education level of the population. Belarusian specialists are competitive on the international labour market. It is important to give education opportunities and create a comfortable environment for the educational process. According to the head of state, the housing problem is acute: around one third of non-Minsk students cannot get an accommodation from their universities and are forced to pay a lot for rented accommodation. With much lower tenancy costs, the student village will resolve the housing problem for 11,000 students.

    More students for government-funded university education in 2009

    In 2009 the number of students entitled to government-funded university education is planned to increase, Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko said when asked by students during his visit to the construction site of the Minsk Student Village.

    Private universities will be suggested increasing the number of students they enrol. The measures will allow avoiding the so-called double school graduation problem brought about by the transition to the 11-year school education scheme.

    Alexander Lukashenko said he still believes that the number of students entitled to higher education in Belarus should not be decreased. According to the President, the fact that higher education makes men independent and free is one of the advantages of higher education.

    Speaking about the transition to the 11-year school education scheme, the President underscored, “We are not rolling back. We will use the accumulated experience and first and foremost we will be able to decrease the education burden and introduce five-day school education”.

    He added, if Belarus continued using the 12-year scheme, it would require an additional funding as large as around Br150 billion every year. “We’d better spend the money on scholarships and salaries for teachers. Within the five-year term we will put the secondary school on the right track and it will develop on,” said the President.

    Residential area with geothermal heating system will be constructed in Minsk, President says

    A residential area with a geothermal heating system will be constructed in Minsk in the near future, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said when talking to students of Minsk universities during his visit to the construction site of the Minsk Student Village. Chinese specialists who have big experience in this area will help Belarusian constructs implement the project.

    Alexander Lukashenko said that in the next five or seven years Belarus will increase the alternative energy share to 30%. “Wind, solar and water energy are almost free of charge. That is possible in Belarus and we will be working on it,” the head of state said.

    “We have been talking a lot about independence, sovereignty. But if we continue “stumbling” on energy resources, continue kneeling, then what independence and sovereignty we can talk about?” the Belarusian leader asked. Therefore Belarus needs to develop alternative energy to get rid of energy dependence.

    Alexander Lukashenko also touched upon taxation issues. According to him, the mechanism of taxation will be improved in the country.

    Union State to consider political situation around NATO eastward expansion

    From: BelTA
    A session of the Foreign Policy Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union State will take place in Minsk on June 23, BelTA learnt from the PA press service.

    The parliamentarians will discuss the issues of cooperation with the PA CSTO, the political situation around NATO expansion to the East, ABM deployment in Europe. The session will consider a report on the Union State budget performance in 2007.

    On June 25, the Belarusian capital will host a session of the PA Commission for Social Policy, Science, Culture and Humanitarian Issues. The agenda of the meeting will embrace the implementation of the social development concept of the Union State in the part of unification of the legislation in culture, tourism, physical education and sports. The participants of the meeting will also discuss delegation of the members of the commission to the PA delegation for the participation in the 7th International Festival of Arts Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk and the establishment of the Union State printing body Youth Newspaper. The parliamentarians will focus on the formation of the 2009 joint budget in social policy, education, culture, tourist, physical education and sports.

    Parliamentarians to consider issues concerning customs infrastructure of Belarus-Russia Union State in Grodno

    The Commission of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Belarus-Russia Union State will consider the course of implementation of the programmes on improving the customs infrastructure and developing the external border of the Belarus-Russia Union State. The session of the Commission will be held in Grodno on June 23, BelTA learnt in the press service of the Belarus-Russia Union State.

    The parliamentarians will also consider the draft Order of development and implementation of the programmes of the Belarus-Russia Union State. Before the session, the deputies of the Parliamentary Assembly will meet with the leadership of the Grodno oblast and to get familiar with the work of the border checkpoint Bruzgi.

    On the same day, sessions of the commissions of the Parliamentary Assembly will be held in Grodno as well . The commission for economic policy will consider the draft programme of the Belarus-Russia Union State “Development of machine-tool construction for the period till 2012”, the cooperation of Belarus and the Russian Federation in international road transportation, the implementation of the programme “Development of diesel automobile construction for the period till 2008”.

    Russian Foreign Ministry: Belarus, Russia to strengthen bilateral foreign political interaction

    Belarus and Russia intend to strengthen bilateral foreign political interaction, BelTA learnt from the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation after a meeting between First Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Igor Petrishenko and Deputy Head of the Foreign Ministry of Russia Grigory Karasin in Moscow on June 20.

    The meeting focused on the issues of the Belarusian-Russian collaboration including the scheme of the further political contacts.

    The two sides favoured “the further strengthening of the foreign political interaction between the two states and agreed upon additional ministerial consultations on the issues of the mutual interest”, the Foreign Ministry of Russia briefed.

    Belarus ratifies protocol on CIS border guards’ cooperation in crisis situations

    From: BelTA
    On June 20 the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus ratified a protocol on approving the regulation on arranging cooperation of border services and other agencies of the CIS member-states in providing aid for settling crisis situations at external borders.

    Chairman of the International Affairs and National Security Commission of the Council of the Republic Nikolai Cherginets said, the protocol was signed by the President of Belarus in Dushanbe in October 2007 with a proviso saying the Republic of Belarus will not send border guard or other military units to crisis areas outside the country.

    Belarus’ participation in the protocol will create additional opportunities for quality new initiatives in border guarding. Belarus will be able to participate in developing documents relating to the settlement of crisis situations, to share relevant information, to train personnel of border services for responding to crisis situations.

    The document specifies cooperation between border services of the parties in resolving a crisis situation, the basis of organisation and mechanism of cooperation in carrying out joint measures and resolving arguments. The document defines the legal status of the taskforce sent to settle a crisis situation and the legal status of the personnel. According to the document personnel of the taskforce should observe generally recognised international law principles and norms.

    CIS approves draft agreement on cooperation in transport by 2020

    The CIS Economic Council approved a draft agreement on the priority cooperation areas in transport by 2020 at a session in Moscow on June 20. The document will be submitted to the CIS council of the heads of government in autumn 2008, Deputy Transport Minister of Russia Sergei Aristov told reporters.

    According to him, the document is aimed at reducing the cost of goods in trade between the CIS member states. Transport costs now account for 20-25% due to the lack of unified transport tariffs.

    Sergei Aristov noted that when the CIS was developing a transport strategy by 2020 the idea was to unify tariffs in railway, road and air transport. Yet, it turned out that many CIS countries would not be ready to apply unified tariffs even by 2020. The reasons are poor infrastructure and several restrictions on the part of the European Union. Under the document, the CIS member states will unify some tariffs and determine the rules in transporting goods.

    Yet the CIS does not give up on the idea to build up a single transport space with single rules. “Our main task is to create common transport space with unified rules,” Sergei Aristov said.

    CIS plans to create single system of next generation passport-visa documents

    The CIS Economic Council approved a draft agreement on cooperation, creation of state-run information systems, next generation passport-visa documents, their further upgrade and use in the CIS member states at a session in Moscow on June 20.

    Commenting on the draft, deputy chief of the Federal Information Technology Agency of Russia Alexander Pankratov said that among other things the document intends to increase efficiency of the fight against terrorism, illegal migration and organised crime and also to promote exchange of information between special services.

    According to Alexander Pankratov, “new passport-visa documents which will comprise biometrical data will be introduced in the CIS. According to the draft agreement, the national information systems will be harmonised for the purpose of making passports, visas and other documents necessary for border crossing.

    The document will be submitted to the CIS council of the heads of government in autumn this year.

  • Economics...

    Pinskdrev starts to supply furniture to Azerbaijan

    From: BelTA
    Pinskdrev Company has started to supply cushioned and cabinet furniture to Azerbaijan. The Belarusian furniture at the amount of around $10 thousand has been already supplied to Azerbaijan, BelTA learnt in the company.

    According to specialists, earlier Belarus has supplied matches, plywood and plank timber to that country. In May this year Belarusian companies Pinskdrev and Gomeldrev opened furniture trading house “Azerbaijan-Belarus” in Baku. The Azerbaijani partner of the joint venture is OOO Azles-Export-Import. In 2008, the supplies of the Belarusian furniture to Azerbaijan are expected to be increased by 30%.

    The furniture is the main export article of the company (52.9% of the total export in 2007). The share of the Pinsk-based company in the total export of the Belarusian furniture is around 20%. In Belarus Pinskdrev’s commodity distribution network has 7 representation offices and 25 chain stores. The company opened its stores in the Russian Federation (Moscow and Smolensk), in Ukraine (Kiev) and Lithuania (Vilnius). In 2007, the company exported its products to 32 countries. The main sales markets of Pinskdrev are the Russian Federation (36.1%), Germany (12.2%) and Kazakhstan (11.7%). In 2007, Pinskdrev produced furniture at the amount of Br309.3 billion in comparable prices.

    Pinskdrev is one of the oldest woodworking companies of Belarus. It includes 33 branches including Pinwood, Pinskdrev-Vulkan and others. Pinskdrev produces all kinds of furniture and also plywood, matches, chipboards, construction and furniture scale wood, converted timber. Pinskdrev products meet the world’s highest standards. The company’s achievements in furniture making and woodworking are confirmed by the prizes The CIS Best Company and The Best Exporter of 2006. Pinskdrev employs 6.2 thousand people.

    Council of Republic approves Subsoil Code

    From: BelTA
    The Council of Republic of the National Assembly of Belarus has approved the draft of the Subsoil Code.

    According to Anatoly Malofeev, the chairman of the permanent commission for regional policy and local self-government of the Council of Republic, the document classifies mineral resources, differentiates the competences of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment Protection and the Emergencies Ministry.

    The document regulates the order of the mining activity. The document contains the norms concerning the demands for rational use and conservation of earth resources. In line with the document, the subsoil is the state property. It can not be a subject of alienation, donation or pledge.

    According to Anatoly Malofeev, the document separately stipulates the issues regarding the use of geothermal resources.

    In line with the document, the head of state only gives permission to extract mineral resources. The president of the country establishes the rates of payments for the use of mineral resources, the payments of the state reward for deposits’ discoverers, identifies the single policy concerning the mineral resources protection and use, approves the state programme concerning the mineral resources.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarusian president invites the Pope to visit

    From: AP
    Belarus' authoritarian president invited Pope Benedict XVI to the mostly Orthodox former Soviet republic, the presidential press service said in a statement Friday.

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko made the offer the same day he met with Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is in the country to preside at the weekend consecration of the first Catholic church to be built in the capital city, Minsk, since 1910.

    The Orthodox church, which includes about 80 percent of the population, wields significant clout in Belarus through a 2003 agreement it signed with the government.

    But the Vatican under Benedict has been pursuing a goal of outreach to the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians. A trip to Belarus by Benedict could move the Vatican and Russian Orthodox Church one step closer to a meeting — and the ultimate goal of healing the nearly 1,000-year schism between the two main branches of Christianity.

    Lukashenko is also desperate to boost his reputation ahead of September's parliamentary elections — including hiring a British public relations firm in March to package his policies in for Western consumption.

    Lukashenko met Friday with Bertone, the Holy See's secretary of state, when the president indicated approval of an agreement between Belarus and the Holy See that would give the Catholic Church the legal right to work with government institutions in promoting its values.

    "Our co-operation answers all the demands of our society, its values and orientations," Lukashenko said, according to Friday's statement from the presidential press service. It was unclear when the agreement would be signed.

    Bertone said the Vatican would help Belarus "find its place in the world."

    "The Catholic Church will try to ensure that Belarus has a significant place in the international arena," Bertone said Friday in comments shown on state TV.

    Bertone is the Vatican's highest-ranked official ever to visit Belarus.

    Minsk-based political analyst Yaroslav Romanchuk said Friday's developments were the upshot of successful bargaining.

    "The Vatican is realizing a long-held strategy of expanding throughout Belarus and getting access to state structures," Romanchuk said.

    Lukashenko, for his part, will use the Vatican to "lobby for his type of politics" using its sway within the European Union and the United States, he said. Furthermore, the Vatican will uphold the sovereignty of Belarus, which Lukashenko fears may eventually fall into Russia's hands, Romanchuk said.

    Catholic-Orthodox relations in the former Soviet Union have been particularly thorny following the demise of the Soviet Union, with the Orthodox accusing the Vatican of trying to poach for converts. The Vatican insists it is just looking after the welfare of its tiny flock there.

    The tensions have prevented a meeting between the Russian Patriarch Alexy II and the pope.

    Property disputes have aggravated attempts to improve relations between Catholics and Orthodox in the former Soviet Union, and were one of the reasons John Paul II, a Slav, never realized his dream of making a papal pilgrimage to Russia.

    Belarus finds Napoleonic soldiers' grave

    From: AP
    A Defense Ministry official in Belarus says the remains of 180 Napoleonic soldiers who died in a major battle against the Russian army have been found in the former Soviet republic.

    Tens of thousands of French troops were killed when the Russians attacked Napoleon's army as it was crossing the Berezina River in November 1812 on the punishing retreat from Moscow.

    The soldiers' remains are located about 70 miles east of Minsk near the town of Borisov.

    The grave is adjacent to another site where authorities ceremonially reburied 223 French soldiers last year.

    Col. Viktor Shumsky said Thursday that a reburial ceremony was also likely for the Napoleonic soldiers, pending agreement from France.

    Belarus' Belpromstroibank assigned 'B+/B' ratings; outlook stable - S&P

    From: Forbes
    Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has assigned Belarusian bank Belpromstroibank JSC its 'B+' long-term and 'B' short-term counterparty credit ratings with a stable outlook reflecting the high economic and industry risks in Belarus, the bank's high credit risk, which results from rapid loan growth and high single-party concentration and its barely adequate capitalization.

    S&P said that Belpromstroibank's majority ownership by the Republic of Belarus of about 92 percent, its good market position and customer franchise, and its adequate funding profile and profitability support the ratings.

    Belpromstroibank ranks as Belarus' fourth-largest bank with a 12 percent market share in customer deposits.

    S&P added that it considers Belpromstroibank as a government related entity, and consider that the government is very likely to provide extraordinary support to the bank in case of need.

    About two-thirds of Belpromstroibank's loans are extended to state-owned enterprises, mirroring the structure of the economy. Credit risk is high, due to rapid loan growth, an unseasoned portfolio that has not been tested in an economic downturn, and large single-party loan concentrations, it said.

    S&P expects Belpromstroibank to continue its rapid expansion in line with its business strategy, while maintaining an adequate asset quality and financial performance.

    Although the government is looking to attract new shareholders to the bank in the medium term, we expect the relationship between Belpromstroibank and the state to remain strong, the rating agency said.

    Belarus Builds New Satellite, Plans to Open Mission Control Center

    From: Red Orbit
    The implementation of Belarusian space projects should continue, President Alexander Lukashenko said.

    "We do not have to be some space superpower, but we will continue our space program because we now have a good school," Lukashenko told students of Minsk universities after the groundbreaking ceremony for a students' campus in Minsk on Thursday.

    We need to continue implementing our plans to create our own remote sensing satellite, the president said. "This satellite will be even better than the one that Russia ruined during launch [BelKA]," he said.

    Belarus also plans to open its own Mission Control Center, Lukashenko said.

    The launch of the first Belarusian satellite, BelKA, in July 2006 was a failure, resulting from the crash of the Russian Dnepr rocket shortly after launch from Baikonur. Apart from the Belarusian satellite, 17 other spacecraft were lost in the incident.

  • From the Opposition...

    Another claim sent to UN HR Committee

    From: Viasna
    According to human rights activist Raman Kisliak, BPF member Siarhei Lazenka has filed an individual claim to the UN Human Rights Committee. The activist was detained on 19 August 2007 during an open session of BPF Brest regional office. Lazenka was charged with organizing an unauthorized meeting and fined 70,000 roubles. Lazenka tried to appeal against the decision; however, the verdict was reaffirmed by a number of higher courts.

    In his address, Lazenka says that he considers the detention and the verdict illegal, since he was detained at an official session of BPF Brest regional office. Lazenka is the first out of 28 detained participants to send his claim to the UN Human Rights Committee.

    Pastor tried for holding a mass

    Pastor Leanid Akalovich was fined 1,000,000 roubles for consecrating a cross installed in the village of Drazhna (Minsk region) in honour of 25 peaceful people killed by Soviet partisans in 1943. The meeting was called unauthorized by the local police officials. As a result, two participants of the action were sentenced to 15 days of prison each.

    Liabedzka warned for request to investigate Belarusian weapons export

    UCPB leader Anatol Liabedzka was summonsed to the General Prosecutor’s office where he was warned of possible responsibility for libel as far as his request to investigate Belarusian weapon trade with Venezuela is concerned. In his address to the General Prosecutor, Liabedzka claimed Belarus delivered weapons to Columbian rebels, which was supported by a number of foreign newspapers and Interpol.

    Zhanna Litvina: new mass media law will ruin Belarus-Europe dialogue

    According to Zhanna Litvina, head of Belarusian Association of Journalists, by passing the regressive mass media bill Belarusian authorities will ruin Belarusian dialogue with EU bodies.

    - The bill is essential for our society, so why is it passed so fast then? There only one reason for that – after the upcoming parliamentary election the new deputies will blame the old parliament members for having adopted this bill, says Litvina.

    Karen Stewart: “Parliamentary” polls will be a key test for Lukashenka

    From: Charter '97
    The Belarusian authorities must free its last remaining political prisoners if it wants an easing of US sanctions and improved relations.

    "We look for the release of prisoners and look for what might happen in the elections, which will be a key test of whether Lukashenko is willing to follow through on earlier cautious indications of willingness to reform,” the US Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart said to AFP in a telephone interview.

    Ambassador Karen Stewart was speaking from Washington after the authorities in the ex-Soviet state forced her and most of her staff to leave the country, which the United States has dubbed Europe's "last dictatorship."

    "We're still willing and ready to look at ways to improve our relationship. But it's dependent on some step on their side on the human rights situation and that is the basis for our sanctions," Karen Stewart told.

    "We look for the release of prisoners and look for what might happen in the elections," she said, referring to parliamentary polls due in September.

    The US has had to cut its embassy staff from 32 at the start of March to just four diplomats today in response to a series of instructions for US diplomats to leave, issued by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s leadership.

    Tensions blew up after Washington tightened existing sanctions on Belarus, extending them to a major petrochemical firm Belneftekhim and its subsidiaries.

    Stewart stressed that Washington wanted the release of all political prisoners, the most prominent being opposition leader Alyaksandr Kazulin, a former government minister who turned against Lukashenka to stand against him in a 2006 election.

    In addition, the parliamentary polls will be a key test of whether Lukashenka is willing to follow through on earlier cautious indications of willingness to reform, she said.

    "If any time there's willingness to move on some of these, we would certainly be willing to talk," she said.

    "The next major milestone to look for improvements in Belarusian political life are parliamentary elections and the campaign period before that," she stated.

    Stewart also added that among signs that Belarus might be willing to reform were the release early this year of all political prisoners apart from Kazulin. But the fiery opposition figure remained behind bars and two more political prisoners, youth activist Andrei Kim and leader of entrepreneurs’ movement Sayrhei Parsyukevich, have since been jailed and convicted.

    It should be reminded that In November the United States of America slapped sanctions against Belneftekhim concern’s enterprises due to refusal of the authorities to release political prisoners. On 15 May they imposed economic sanctions on three more Belarusian enterprises – Belarusian Oil Trade House, Lakokraska and Steklovolokno. The European Union extended ban for entry the EU countries for Belarusian officials, responsible for violation of human rights in Belarus. The adopted in May resolution of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly calls to release political prisoners, too. In early June the USA and the EU issued a joint statement repeating their demand on immediate and unconditional release of all Belarusian political prisoners. One of the main conditions of improving relations with the West is holding of free parliamentary elections as well as release of political prisoners and stopping of persecution of the dissents in Belarus.

  • Around the region...

    Russia, Serbia Oppose UN Chief's Plan to Diminish UN's Kosovo Presence

    From: VOA
    British troops serving in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo patrol the mountainous road near the border dividing Kosovo and Serbia, 5 June 2008
    Divisions within the U.N. Security Council on the subject of Kosovo were apparent yet again on Friday, when the secretary-general spoke about his plan to transfer some responsibilities from the U.N. mission in Pristina to the European Union. Serbia, and its powerful ally Russia, have rejected the U.N. chief's plan, but the United States, Britain and France support it. From United Nation's headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

    Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council that following Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia in February and the entry into force last Sunday of its constitution, the U.N. mission's ability to operate there has come into serious question. The mission is known by its acronym UNMIK.

    "I intend to adjust operational aspects of the international civilian presence in Kosovo and to reconfigure the profile and structure of UNMIK," he said.

    His plan includes allowing the European Union to gradually assume increasing operational responsibilities in the areas of international policing, justice and customs throughout Kosovo.

    Saying there is no ideal solution, Mr. Ban defended his proposal as the "least objectionable" and one that was arrived at after lengthy consultations with the parties and other stakeholders.

    Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999, when NATO air strikes halted a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanians in what had long been a province of Serbia.

    Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu welcomed the secretary-general's initiative.

    "I would like to assure the secretary-general that he will have the on-going support and cooperation of Kosovo as he moves forward with this initiative," he said.

    Not surprisingly, Serbian President Boris Tadic said Belgrade cannot endorse the secretary-general's proposal, nor will it ever recognize Kosovo's independence.

    "Only the Security Council can bring a decision to reconfigure the situation," he said. "The Security Council is the only institution endowed with the power to [enact] legitimate changes in the composition of the international presence in Kosovo."

    Russia, Serbia's ally and a veto-wielding Security Council member, picked apart the secretary-general's proposal paragraph-by-paragraph. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin insisted if the secretary-general does not get approval for his plan in the council, it would be a violation of both the U.N. resolution that established UNMIK and of the U.N. Charter.

    "We made it absolutely clear that this kind of reconfiguration cannot take place without the decision of the Security Council," he said. "It is also the position of Belgrade, but it is certainly our position. We think that should there be attempts to do this reconfiguration outside the Security Council, without the express consent of the Security Council, that would run contrary to [U.N. resolution] 1244 and to the U.N. Charter for that matter."

    But U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the secretary-general does have the authority to act.

    "The United States believes the secretary-general has the discretion to reconfigure UNMIK and we support the initiative he has taken to do so," he said. "The United States has some concerns about this initiative, but on balance, this initiative may prove to be the most practical way forward."

    Secretary-General Ban made clear the complexity and strong emotions tied to the Kosovo issue, when he told the 15-member council that in almost 40 years of diplomatic life he has never encountered an issue as divisive, as delicate and as intractable.

    Russia urges US to delay missile plan

    From: AP
    Russia's foreign minister urged the U.S. on Friday to postpone the planned deployment of missile defense sites in Europe and called for a delay of NATO's eastward expansion to mend frayed ties.

    Sergey Lavrov said the level of trust in Russian-U.S. relations is now lower than during the Cold War. He warned that by ignoring Russia's objections, the U.S. and its allies would further damage already tense relations.

    "It's very important to take a break and freeze all that," Lavrov said in a speech at a conference. "All these projects must stay where they are."

    Russian-U.S. relations have been strained over Washington's plans to establish missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Kremlin sees the plan as a threat to Russia's security, although the U.S. says the system would be meant to counter a possible attack from Iran.

    Washington also has strongly backed plans for NATO to incorporate Russia's ex-Soviet neighbors, Ukraine and Georgia — an expansion that Moscow fiercely opposes.

    Lavrov said the disputes in U.S.-Russian relations have badly hurt mutual trust.

    "It may sound paradoxical, but we had more mutual trust and mutual respect on an inter-government level during the Cold War," he said.

    He said that a new security pact for Europe proposed by Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, earlier this month could help overcome Cold War-style divisions.

    "That would create a new atmosphere of trust in the region," Lavrov said. "We must stop sliding into the past, into the absurdity we all will be ashamed of. There are acute issues where we doubtlessly have common interests."

    Asked to comment on Polish officials' statements that Washington is eyeing Lithuania as a possible alternative to Poland for the sites, Lavrov said that his ministry has asked the U.S. State Department about the issue, but has received no answer yet.

    Lavrov said there has been no visible progress in talks with the U.S. over its proposals intended to soothe Russian concerns about the planned missile defense sites.

    Washington has promised not to activate the sites unless Iran proves itself an imminent threat to Europe. It also has offered to allow Russian officers to monitor the sites to make sure they are not directed against Russia.

    Lavrov said that Washington had failed to add substance to the offers and had taken some of them back. "Every new contact shows that the proposals are being reversed, they are shrinking and becoming less convincing," Lavrov said.

    Ukraine C.Bank buys dollars at 4.75 hryvnias

    From: Guardian
    Ukraine's central bank intervened on the interbank foreign exchange market on Friday, buying dollars at 4.75 hryvnias, dealers said.

    The intervention was the first since the bank bought the U.S. currency at 4.82 on June 12.

    "It had been some time since the central bank intervened, but today it satisfied all client orders at 4.75," said one dealer.

    The dollar had slipped on the interbank market to 4.67-4.68 from 4.7 on Thursday. Dealers said demand for hryvnias had risen ahead of the deadline for banks to meet reserve requirements.

    Another dealer said central bank purchases totalled no more than $100 million dollars as most clients were unwilling to sell large amounts at such a rate.

    The central bank then announced its latest official rate for the hryvnia -- 4.8497 to the dollar valid from Monday, June 23 against the previous rate of 4.8525 on Friday.

    Dealers offered no forecasts on whether the central bank would, as a result of the latest intervention, proceed with further upward movements of the official hryvnia rate.

    "How can you take a guess if the central bank says nothing about how it arrives at setting its official rate?" said one.

    The central bank altered its exchange rate policy in May, ending a three-year-old practice of keeping the hryvnia within a corridor of 5.0-5.06.

    The official rate of 5.05 was initially revalued to 4.85 and has since undergone minor adjustments.

    Sir Paul McCartney braves thunderstorms to play free concert in Ukraine

    From: Telgraph and Kommersant
    Thunder, lightning and torrential rain were not enough to put Sir Paul McCartney off performing his first concert in Ukraine.

    Former Beatle Paul McCartney played to an audience of 350,000 on Independence Square (“the Maidan”) in Kiev on June 14 in heavy rain. Sir Paul, who played in Russia in 2003 and 2004, was brought to Ukraine through the efforts of philanthropist and son-in-law of former president Leonid Kuchma Viktor Pinchuk. The cost paid by the Viktor Pinchuk Foundation for the free concert was not disclosed, but it can be noted for comparison that a similar concert in Liverpool recently cost 1.7 million for equipment, insurance and legal fees alone. The concerts in Liverpool and Kiev are all that are on McCartney’s schedule for the summer, but an autumn tour is under discussion.

    Admission to the VIP seating area at the free concert was obtained by contributing funds to fight cancer. The presidents of Ukraine and Georgia were among the attendees. Pinchuk’s New Channel television station broadcast the concert live and giant screens were set up in the main squares of Ukraine’s five largest cities to view the concert. An estimated 10 million people watched the concert, at which McCartney performed 33 songs. The audience in Kiev was the third largest ever recorded for a concert. Larger audiences have only turned out in Rio de Janeiro, to see Rod Stewart in 1994 and the Rolling Stones in 2006.

    McCartney, who turns 66 this week, began the concert with the Beatles’ song “Drive My Car.” He dedicated the song “My Love” to his former wife Linda and gave a rare performance of “Mrs. Vanderbilt,” once a favorite in Soviet discotheques. He spoke Ukrainian to the audience with the aid of phonetic signs at his feet, thanked the audience in Ukrainian and Russian and had fun with the translators who provided sporadic subtitles for his comments by speaking gibberish occasionally, which is a favorite trick of his. The singer and his musicians were at odds over the repertoire a few times, but McCartney showed himself once again to be a master showman and a good time was had by all.

    The free Independence Concert was also broadcast live on TV across the country and on giant screens set up in five other cities.

    Sir Paul's two-and-a-half hour set also featured Beatles classics such as Back In The USSR alongside solo material including his Bond theme tune Live And Let Die, complete with pyrotechnics and fireworks.

    The concert ended with two encores, concluding with Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

    As confetti in Ukraine's yellow and blue national colours was scattered over the square, Sir Paul sang: "We hope that you enjoyed the show."

    Ukraine, which gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has played host to a number of well-known British performers in recent years.

    Last June, Sir Elton John performed to 200,000 people in Independence Square, while the Rolling Stones rocked Kiev's Olympic Stadium in July.

    Organisers of the charity event said money raised would be spent on diagnostic equipment for the children's department of Ukraine's National Cancer Institute.

    Many children currently have to seek treatment abroad because Ukraine lacks the necessary equipment.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland in turmoil after controversial documentary on Walesa

    From: Polskie Radio
    Lech Walesa will sue the filmmaker of a documentary about himself, Head of Polish Television and Chairman of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) for slander.

    “Everybody who disseminates such tripe should be severely punished”, the legendary “Solidarity” leader and former Polish President told TVN24 television yesterday in reference to the documentary broadcast on the Polish Public Television on Wednesday.

    The documentary “Secret Agent Bolek” featured, among others, the two authors of the recent book about Walesa “Secret Services and Lech Walesa. A Contribution to the Biography”, IPN historians Slawomir Cenckiewicz and Piotr Gontarczyk, who talked about the origin of their book.

    The documentary also presented comments by Lech Walesa’s former colleagues from the Gdansk Shipyard where he was employed as an electrician in 1970s, as well as former Communist Secret Services (SB) officer who maintained Walesa’s personal files.

    The documentary clearly indicated that Walesa had collaborated with SB under the nickname “Bolek” and that he destroyed sections of the personal files drawn up by SB, reports TVN24.

    The former Solidarity legend admitted that he had not seen the documentary, but denied any co-operation with the Communist services and said the filmmaker, Head of Polish Television and IPN Chairman would be sued for up to 20 million zlotys each for slander.

    “Walesa collaborated with SB, but he remains one of the key figures of the 20th century nevertheless. No one can question that”, one of the authors of the book, Piotr Gontarczyk told TVN24 yesterday.

    The historian said that perhaps the Communist services had blackmailed Walesa into cooperation although evidence for that was never found.

    “We do not want to destroy the legend of Walesa. We only intend to amend his biography”, Slawomir Cenckiewicz said on TVN24.

    According to an opinion poll conducted by pollster PBS DGA for TVN24 on June 19, 71 per cent of Poles do not believe that the latest publication about Lech Walesa and a debate on his past is necessary.

    Some 59 per cent of the respondents to the poll said the debate on the book about Walesa would not change their perception of the Solidarity legend, while only 18 per cent were of the opposite opinion.

    The official premiere of the book “Secret services and Lech Walesa. A Contribution to the Biography” is scheduled for June 23.

    Lech Walesa was the co-founder of the Solidarity trade union, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 and served as President of Poland from 1990 to 1995. He is one of the few Poles known all around the world.

    Prominent Polish politician sentenced for forging signatures

    From: Polskie Radio
    Renata Beger
    A court in Pila, west-central Poland, has sentenced Renata Beger, formerly of the populist Self-defense party, to five years probation and fined her 30,000 zlotys for election fraud.

    The court adjudicated that Beger forged signatures on a list of alleged Self-defense supporters in the parliamentary elections of 2001.

    Beger's trial had to be repeated after the Circuit Court in Poznan quashed the sentence passed in 2006 the court in Pila on procedural grounds.

    Renata Beger is a prominent figure in Polish politics. She was a member of the Sejm, Poland's lower parliamentary chamber, from 2001 to 2007. Beger gained immense popularity after being delegated by her party to a special parliamentary committee investigating one of the biggest corruption scandals in Polish history, the so-called Rywingate. After she was accused of counterfeiting signatures, she was expelled from the committee.

    Beger is not only known for political activity but also for her controversial personality. In an interview for one of the Polish tabloids she extensively described her and her husband's love life and concluded in saying that she likes sex "just like horses like oats". Her uncouth behaviour made her the object of ridicule for many stand-up comedians and singers.

    She is also one of the very few members of parliament who had only primary education completed upon election. Her secondary-school leaving exam, which she took in 2004, was widely commented on throughout the country. However, Beger is probably best known for referring to the previous Secretary General of the UN as Anan Kofan. (mn)

    Commotion in Polish parliament

    From: The News
    Krzysztof Grzegorek, former deputy health minister charged with taking a 20,000-zloty bribe
    Law and Justice (PiS), the biggest opposition party in Poland, has accused the ruling coalition of limiting the opposition's rights.

    At today's joint meeting of the health and justice committees in the Sejm, Poland's lower parliamentary chamber, the deputies were to receive information on the case of Krzysztof Grzegorek, former deputy health minister charged with taking a 20,000-zloty bribe, back in the time when he was still head of a hospital in Skarzysko-Kamienna, south-central Poland.

    However, members of the PO-PSL coalition voted to remove the discussion concerning corruption in health care from the agenda. In reaction to that, members of PiS ferociously opposed what they see as curbing the rights of the opposition at a press conference which took place after the meeting.

    "The ruling Civic Platform party promised that Poland would follow in Ireland's footsteps, meanwhile democratic standards are being violated in Poland as if it were Belarus. By hushing the opposition, one takes away one of its basic rights. And there is no democracy without the opposition", said MP Andrzej Dera, adding that the government apparently considers corruption as a matter of little importance.

    Law and Justice (PiS) is now demanding Bronislaw Komorowski, the speaker of the Sejm hailing from the Civic Platform (PO), to react to this situation.

    Poland's politics: Looking nice but doing nothing

    From: Economist
    Is one of the best governments in Poland's history good enough?

    A PREDECESSOR which outsiders regarded as rude, silly and incompetent is always a bonus. But the Polish government headed by Donald Tusk has two other big advantages: a booming economy and a lack of serious opposition. So despite its rather scanty record, the ruling coalition is popular at home and abroad.

    Mr Tusk's Civic Platform party defeated its centre-right rival, Law and Justice, in a tight election last October. The outgoing prime minister, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, led a government bent on destroying the cosy deals between business and bureaucracy that took root in Poland after the collapse of communism in 1989. But it became preoccupied by bizarre intrigues over intelligence. It was spectacularly incompetent in foreign policy, picking pointless fights with Germany. Its efforts to fight corruption and reform the judicial system led to abuses of power, not cleaner government. It failed to reform public services or modernise creaking infrastructure.

    It is not hard for Mr Tusk's government to look good in contrast. It has done best in foreign policy, thanks largely to a competent foreign minister, Radek Sikorski. Shifting from his hawkish anti-Kremlin past, he has charmed both Russia and Germany. He has forged a strong alliance with Poland's northern neighbour, Sweden, launching a joint plan for a new eastern partnership for the European Union.

    Mr Sikorski has also been playing high-stakes poker with America, demanding money for military modernisation, and high-tech defences for Warsaw, in return for hosting a missile-defence base. Some in Washington think that having such a vital base on Polish soil should be honour enough. If Poland can strike a deal with Condoleezza Rice, America's secretary of state, when she visits Warsaw shortly, Mr Sikorski will be riding high. Some call him a future president. His bargaining position is strong: missile defence is unpopular with voters. Lithuania is eager to step into the breach if the Poles refuse the base, but Poland is the Americans' first choice.

    The government's other success is a parliamentary commission to promote deregulation. Every Polish government has tried to scrape clean a barnacled bureaucracy, with a signal lack of success. Mr Tusk's brainwave was to hand the issue not to a special ministry (easily nobbled by Poland's change-resistant civil servants) but to lawmakers. Headed by the exuberant Janusz Palikot, the commission launched a public competition to identify the stupidest rules—eg, the requirement that most businesses handling cash must keep receipts in paper form for five years. As these are printed on thermal paper, they fade unless kept cold. That, and other sillinesses, should go next year. It is a small start, but hugely welcome.

    On other fronts, the government's record is weaker. It nibbles at problems, sometimes usefully, more often ineffectually. It exudes an atmosphere of mild chaos, coupled with an unhealthy appetite for the spoils of power. Mr Tusk is charming and decent but not decisive. He has yet to be tested by a big crisis.

    To be fair, the government faces one huge constraint: Law and Justice's Lech Kaczynski, twin brother of the former prime minister, who will be president until 2010. The opposition has enough votes to deprive the government of the majority it needs to override a presidential veto. One of Mr Tusk's aims seems to be to win the presidency later, rather than take any bold action in government now.

    That may be politically astute, but it risks wasting valuable time. The congested and clapped-out road and rail networks cause problems not only for Poland but also for its neighbours. A combination of obsolescent power stations and tough EU rules on carbon emissions threatens huge rises in the cost of electricity. In 2012 Poland will co-host the next Euro football tournament with Ukraine, requiring huge investment in new roads and stadiums, which are badly behind schedule. Wasteful public spending subsidises an army of bogus welfare claimants. The economic outlook is less bright than it was. The sun is shining today, but such problems seem sure to cloud Mr Tusk's future.

  • Sport...

    Nesterenko wins European cup 100

    From: European Athletics
    Yulia Nesterenko winning the 100m
    Belarus's Yulia Nesterenko is still some way short of the form that took her to the Olympic title four years ago but she showed her class by getting in front after a slow start in lane seven to win in a season's best of 11.17, the first woman from her country to win this event in the top flight of the European Cup.

    Britain's Emma Ania held off Russia's Yevgeniya Polyakova for second in 11.22, with the 2007 Cup winner over 100m third in 11.26.


    Belarus's Natalya Shymchuk upset the odds by launching her implement out to 63.24m with her fourth and final effort, which produced a huge whoop of delight from the women in the green-and red strip of her native country.

    Shymchuk had been lying a comfortable second with her opening effort of 59.82m, which held the lead until Russia's Mariya Abakumova threw 61.78m in the penultimate round.

    Her huge throw added nearly a metre onto her personal best and gave her some happy memories of the Cup after finishing seventh 12 months ago in Munich.

    By contrast, Germany's Christina Obergf?ll was the local heroine last year when she launched the javelin out to the current European record of 70.20m, the most recent of the six European records and 14 world records that have been set in the 43 years of Cup competition, but this time failed to find her form and could only throw 57.07m for fifth place and, giving a statistic she will not wish to remember, her worst competition for nearly two years.

    Abakumova's second place put Russia nine points - more than one event - in front of their neighbours from across the Steppes.

    A Fourth Round Steal: Mikhail Stefanovich drafted by Toronto

    From: MVN
    It was only in 2006 when the Leafs drafted Nikolai Kulimen in the 2nd round 44th overall. Even at that time some scouts were screaming it was a steal. Now it’s 2008 and Cliff Fletcher has guaranteed the young Russian a roster spot as he continues to impress in his overseas career.

    This year at the draft the Leafs may have found another steal. This time they waited all the way until the fourth round to make the selection. With the 98th overall pick they grabbed up Minsk
    Belarus native Mikhail Stefanovich. The Leafs won’t have trouble getting Stefanovich across the border; he played this season in the QMJHL. It was a bit of a turbulent season for the rookie who at times was clearly homesick. Despite that he still managed to put up 66 points (32 goals 34 assists) in 62 games with the Quebec Remparts.

    Aside from his QMJHL year Stefanovich put on a show for the B Pool of the World Junior Championship for

    International rankings had Stefanovich slotted 20th overall but his freefall at the draft turned out to be the Leafs gain.

    The skinny on Stefanovich is that he is a bit of a project. He could turn out to be a super star or a bust, he posses tons of skill but still needs to work on how he plays away from the puck. His heart has been questioned but it could just be a case of homesickness that plagued his rookie season; as he continues to grow used to the North American style he should continue to flourish.

    Question marks also surround the Continental Hockey League in
    Russia. They are starting to rival the NHL in terms of money; recently they offered Evegeni Malkin 12.5 Million tax free to jump back to his homeland to play hockey. Stefanovich may be drawn to making top dollars and playing closer to home.

    Whatever happens with Stefanovich this is a great pick for the Leafs. They have the potential to have snagged a superstar and in the 4th round of the draft the risk is minimal. Clearly the Leafs overseas scouting staff should give themselves a pat on the back. This is a scouting staff that has taken the chance on Kulimen and Stefanovich and unearthed Fabian Brunnstorm a full year before the hype began.

  • Cultural scene...

    From: Naveny
    A series of events collectively named National Days of Belgium will be held in Belarus in October 2009, Pascal Buffin, an officer at the Belgian embassy in Moscow, told BelaPAN.

    Organizing the events will be the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber Of Commerce for Russia and Belarus and the office of Belgium’s honorary consul in Belarus, said Mr. Buffin, who was on a delegation of Belgian and Luxembourgian businesspeople that arrived in Belarus on June 16 on a four-day visit.

    According to him, the objective of the Days will be to boost business cooperation between the two counties, make Belarusians more familiar with Belgian culture and strengthen two-way cultural ties.

    The two countries have a great potential for mutually beneficial cooperation and good opportunities for realizing it, Mr. Buffin said. The Belgian embassy in Moscow supports and encourages mutual visits by representatives of Belarusian and Belgian business circles, which help expand bilateral trade and economic cooperation, he said.

    Just like Belarus, Belgium is situated at an intersection of trade routes and “knows better than anyone that it means to be a transit country,” Mr. Buffin said. The delegation included representatives of companies operating in the engineering, logistics, construction and other sectors, all of which are promising areas of cooperation, he noted.

    Arkady Arianoff, director general of the Belgian-Luxembourg Chamber Of Commerce for Russia and Belarus who led the delegation, said in an interview with BelaPAN that he was optimistic about the future of trade and economic relations between Belarus and Belgium. It would be premature to talk about the results of the visit, as businesspeople are yet to assess the offers that were made to them and the possibility of cooperation, Mr. Arianoff said. He said, nevertheless, that the results of the visit were positive and expressed hope that a many more Belgian businesspeople would be on a delegation that would visit Belarus in October 2009.

  • Endnote...


    The Brest Hero Fortress
    The press services of the presidencies of Russia and Belarus have announced that the leaders of these countries, Dmitry Medvedev and Alyaksandr Lukashenka, will meet in Brest on June 22. It will be the first bilateral meeting of the two presidents. Reportedly, the meeting is taking place on Russia’s initiative (Itar-Tass, June 10), though it is also speculated that Lukashenka invited his Russian counterpart earlier to take part in the ceremonies for what is known as the Day of Grief and Memory, the day that the German army invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 (Belorusy i Rynok, June 16).

    The symbolism of the summit is all too evident. One of the few tangible results of the so-called Union State to date has been the production of a documentary film under the working title "Krepost'" (Fortress) at a cost from the Union budget of about $9 million (BG Delovaya Gazeta, June 13). The defense of the Brest fortress in June and July 1941 lasted more than six weeks and remains one of the few examples of Soviet resistance against the enemy in the early stages of the German-Soviet war. Lukashenka visits there regularly, and the Orthodox cross at the Fortress was consecrated by Metropolitan Filaret, the Patriarchal Exarch of Belarus, on May 12 (BelTA, May 13).

    But why is Medvedev coming to Belarus now? In early June when Lukashenka attended the CIS summit in St. Petersburg, the new Russian president held meetings with several CIS leaders but notably not with the Belarusian president (, June 10). Officials suggested that the two had little to discuss and that relations were "normal," but such diplomatic niceties could hardly conceal the coldness between the former fraternal countries as the two sides have failed to reach agreement on elevating the Russian ruble as the common currency of the Union State or on the future of gas prices and the possibilities for Russian businesses in Belarus.

    On paper, Lukashenka's state is thriving. The Ministry of Statistics reports that between January and May, GDP rose by 10.4 percent over the same period last year. Industrial output increased by 13.3 percent compared to an annual target of 8-9 percent, and food production by almost 15 percent (BelTA, June 16, Beneath the fa?ade of growth and progress, however, the energy issue and relationship with Russia is threatening to undermine Belarus.

    For one thing, the price of gas is not stable, despite the five-year agreement reached with Russia some 18 months ago, which proposed that the Belarusians should move gradually to payment of world prices to Gazprom by the year 2011. The predicament was illustrated in a press conference given by Russia's ambassador to Belarus, Aleksandr Surikov, for Russia Day (12 June).

    Surikov noted that the Belarusians may still not be paying the highest prices by 2011, because they will not pay customs tariffs or transport expenses as, for example, the Poles will. In 2009, he continued, according to Gazprom's website, Belarus will pay $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, but in the Belarusian budget only $140 has been allotted for this purpose. Currently, the Belarusians are paying $128 per 1,000 cubic meters and there may be one further rise this year. But the Belarusian side would prefer to return to the earlier price of $119 (Belorusy i Rynok, June 16). Gas prices will clearly play a critical role at the summit. The ambassador made reference to Russia's decision some years ago to transform its former state-run system to a market economy. Belarus has failed to follow suit. With time and the appropriate changes in Belarus, however, he anticipates that Russia could be purchasing Belarusian tractors at world prices without problems.

    It is also prognosticated that the summit will broach military-security questions, following up on the meeting between former president Vladimir Putin and Lukashenka last December. The Russians are currently competing for the tender of the announced nuclear power station in Belarus, though to date no site has been selected for this enterprise.

    Are the two leaders on a fence-mending exercise? Medvedev has no doubt noted the latest EU overtures to Belarus, which include a Polish-Swedish plan for an "Eastern Partnership" program that would encompass this formerly isolated country and offer assistance toward future EU membership, provided that the Belarusian side indicates goodwill and progress toward democracy (Belorusskie Novosti at, June 2). Lukashenka has also declared his intention to run for a fourth term as president in 2011 (, June 14),

    It is evident therefore that despite official frustration with the situation in Belarus, it is in Russia's interests to hold a bilateral meeting at this time. It will be only the second public meeting between the two leaders and will initiate future relations between two personalities, who are likely to head their nations in the coming years, while serving to counter new initiatives toward Belarus from the EU. One can posit that Russia will need to move carefully in political relations, while encouraging Russian companies to exploit Belarus's profitable oil refining, sugar and machine-building enterprises.

    As for Belarus, Lukashenka uses such high-level meetings to enhance his prestige and to demonstrate his strength vis-?-vis Russia. Amid a longstanding diplomatic dispute that he has initiated with the United States (whose embassy staff has been reduced to just five people), he also needs Russian support. Yet the summit is likely to have more symbolic than real significance as neither side is likely to move far on crucial issues.