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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, October 05, 2008

Belarus to adopt private business practices, Elections outcome affirmed, Chernobyl, Lodon, EU talks, Russian money, Ukrainian arms and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #349

    Belarus President encourages state companies to adopt private business practices

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    Public sector companies should vigorously adopt positive practices used by private businesses, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visiting glass factories in the Gomel oblast on October 3.

    “Today’s situation allows free access of private companies to the industry,” said the head of state. “We will compare the performance of state-run companies and private ones and will make corresponding conclusions”.

    The President of Belarus praised the operation of Belarusian-Austrian joint venture Gomel Glass Container Plant. He said he wishes the glass makers to use a businesslike approach to the territories they occupy.

    President wants Belarusian glass making to reach world standards within next few years

    Within the next few years the Belarusian glass making industry should reach world standards. Belarusian head of state Alexander Lukashenko gave the instruction to the government and heads of enterprises at a government session dedicated to the national glass making industry development.

    “By November 7, 2010 the Glass-Making Development Programme should be accomplished so that we could see the compliance of products with European and world standards,” stressed the President. “There are examples of it: Yelizovo Plant and Gomel Glass Container Plant,” he added.

    The President asked to pay special attention to energy intensity as well as ecological safety. Both of the parameters should be kept in line with European levels, underscored Alexander Lukashenko.

    The head of state remarked, the government should be frugal about spending money.

    “The global trends urge us to invest the available funds in those industrial development projects that have already been elaborated and are free from serious risks,” the Belarusian Head of State noted.

    “Usually the government is critical of heads of enterprises and talks about the lack of projects. But the manufacturers inform me that there are ready projects and elaborated modernization plans; however some stages of their implementation are underfunded. So why not invest money in the further development of these enterprises,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He added that the enterprises have 2-3 years to implement the projects. “Money should be invested in the successful projects of successful companies. This is the major conclusion,” the President underlined.

    The bulk of the available money should be invested in manufacturing. If there is effective manufacturing, other spheres of the country’s life will develop, too, noted the President.

    “Let us develop the mineral resource base which will help us overcome the dependence on costly imports,” the head of state said.

    “If we see that there is a lack of sand for glass production in this or that deposit then we should be looking for other places in Belarus,” Alexander Lukashenko said. The glass raw material productions can be simultaneous, he added.

    The President took note of the existing problems with the shortage of calcined soda. Alexander Lukashenko said that Austrian ATEC Company can set up appropriate manufactures. “ATEC has given a good account of itself. For six years it has invested $100 million in the Belarusian economy,” the President said. “We need to deal with this issue immediately,” he added.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus CEC affirms outcome of Belarus’ parliamentary elections

    From: BelTA
    A session of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus affirmed the outcome of the elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus of the fourth convocation that were held on September 28.

    The elections were successful in all the constituencies of the country. 110 deputies were elected to the Lower House of the Belarusian parliament.

    CEC Secretary Nikolai Lozovik pointed out the enormous work carried out by the organizers of the elections; he noted that the election campaign was transparent, free and democratic. The necessary conditions were created for all the participants of the electoral process. The CEC attached a special attention to the transparency of the last stage of the campaign – the vote count. A number of suggestions proposed by the OSCE observation mission were taken into consideration during the preparations for the elections. The members of the district election commissions were specially trained. Most of the district election commissions fulfilled the CEC recommendations and the vote count procedures were open and were attended by observers. Nevertheless, some issues emerged at certain polling stations and the observers have grounds to be critical of the members of the district election commissions. “The critical remarks, however, are based not on actual facts but on assumptions. What matters most is that we did not come across such incidents of the electoral law violation that could influence the results of the voting and the outcome of the elections,” the CEC Secretary said.

    CEC Chairperson Lidia Yermoshina said that “we will work on the mistakes.”

    Lidia Yermoshina regrets absence of opposition MPs

    Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus Lidia Yermoshina regrets that representatives of opposition parties have not been elected to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.

    Lidia Yermoshina told media on October 3, “There are few political parties in the country. They are dissolved in the total number of electors and not visible. Nevertheless, if representatives of non-opposition political parties have entered the parliament, the other side should be represented as well. It would add versatility to the political life,” believes Lidia Yermoshina.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarusian-Syrian cooperation needs an extra boost

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian-Syrian relations need a powerful additional boost to get the bilateral cooperation going, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said on October 2 when he met with Walid Al Mualem, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Syrian Arab Republic.

    “The Belarusian nation, our state have very friendly feelings towards the Syrian people. Everything we can do for the Syrians we will. There are no topics we cannot discuss,” stressed the head of state. “At present the trade turnover between Belarus and Syria is measly and does not meet our potential. A powerful additional boost for the Belarusian-Syrian relations is required”.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes today relations between Belarus and Syria “are very kind and good, but they resemble some frozen surface of a huge sea”.

    “The surface should be given a shake. We need to cooperate more vigorously and there are many reasons we can avoid recounting. They are well-known. International challenges are among them,” said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes in the near future Belarus and Syria should exchange top level visits. “I would like you to tell President Bashar Al-Asad that we expect him to come to Belarus in early 2009,” the head of state told the Syrian Foreign Minister.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, the foreign ministries and the embassies should analyse and revise the existing bilateral agreements and obligations in order to be able to submit specific proposals before the meeting of the two presidents and define the areas the parties will promote strategic cooperation in over the long term.

    Talking to the Belarusian head of state, Walid Al Mualem remarked that despite the certain progress in the bilateral collaboration the overall Belarusian-Syrian trade and economic cooperation does not meet the level reached by the leadership of the two countries.

    In his opinion, Belarus and Syria could successfully promote cooperation in setting up free economic zones and exchanging exhibitions.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus is interested in overcoming Chernobyl consequences together with West

    From: BelTA
    Belarus would be thankful to the Western world for continued efforts in overcoming Chernobyl disaster consequences, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said on September 30 as he met with Anne-Marie Lizin, head of the OSCE PA monitoring mission.

    Alexander Lukashenko thanked Anne-Marie Lizin for aid in resolving Chernobyl problems. “It is a very sensitive issue for us, as it is related to the health, welfare, well-being of our children primarily. This is why if any proposals are made in this regard, wishes or requests to do something together and there is a desire to work together, to channel the capacity of the Western world to aiding our people, we would be very much thankful,” stressed the head of state.

    He suggested that Anne-Marie Lizin should express her wishes regarding Chernobyl problems at a meeting with the Belarusian Foreign Minister before her departure from Belarus. “Everything you say regarding Chernobyl problems we will implement immediately,” assured the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko also said, opinions voiced by OSCE observers about elections do not always coincide with views of fifty member-states.

    “I’ve been thinking about what you said, that the election campaign in Belarus is not the same thing as an election campaign in the West and is somewhat boring. I agree with you on that 100%. But it is explainable. Parliamentary elections are not the most important ones in our country. Presidential elections are the big thing. If we combined elections of the executive and legislative authorities, we would have an immense amount of buzz and bang,” said the President.

    He added, Belarus does not have an established tradition of election campaigns. “In my opinion it has some destabilisation threat to the domestic political situation and may lead to negative consequences in economy and social life. This is my fear. You understand it is enhanced by the financial crisis in Europe and America. This is why during the campaign as the head of state I tried to keep things calm in the country in order to avoid negative consequences,” added the President.

  • Economics...

    Belarusian companies to present 72 investment projects at investment forum in London

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian companies intend to present 72 investment projects at the investment forum in London, BelTA learnt in the Economy Ministry of Belarus.

    Companies of the Belarusian ministries of industry, energy, architecture and construction, transport and communications, information, sports and tourism, agriculture and foodstuffs, Belneftekhim, Bellesbumprom, Belgospischeprom, Bellegprom concerns will display their investment projects in London. The oblast executive committees and free economic zones Brest, Vitebsk, Gomel-Raton, Grodnoinvest and Minsk will also take part in the investment forum in Great Britain.

    The setting up of a flat products production at the Belarusian Steel Works (required investments - $1.6 billion), the reengineering of the MAZ production system to produce trucks meeting Euro-3 and Euro-4 standards ($1.5 billion), the construction of a plant to produce sulphate bleached pulp, the construction of a production facility to produce kraft paper, hard paper and office paper at OAO Svetlogorsk Cardboard Mill (around ?1 billion) will be among the biggest projects which will be presented at the London forum.

    Among the other projects which are to be presented in London are the projects on investment in OAO Grodno Azot ($1 billion), the construction of new production facilities and modernization of existing ones at the Minsk Tractor Works in 2009 – 2015 ($824.8 million), the construction of a new solid-fuel power plant in Zelva ($990 million).

    Belarusian banks – Belinvestbank, Belarusbank, Priorbank, Bank Moscow-Minsk, Belvnesheconombank, Belgazprombank intend to hold presentations and tell about their investment possibilities.

    The Belarusian investment forum will be held in London on November 16-19 this year. A number of Belarusian top officials, representatives of state bodies and organizations, the foreign organizations which work in this country are expected to take part in the forum. Representatives of investment, consulting, banking structures and also heads of companies from foreign countries will attend the London forum as well.

    Austrian investors interested in privatization plans of Belarusian companies

    Austrian investors are interested in the privatization plans of Belarusian companies, Johann Zaks, Director General for Foreign Trade Issues of the Federal Ministry of Economics and Labour of Austria, told reporters after he held talks with the Belarusian government officials in Minsk on October 2.

    He noted that at present the relations between Belarus and Austria are progressing from merely trade to a serious cooperation in the area of investment. “We are particularly interested in the privatization plans in Belarus,” Johann Zaks underlined.
    The Austrian delegation which is paying a visit to Belarus is composed of major Austrian companies that hold leading positions on the international market and have a lot to offer to the Belarusian side. It pertains to Siemens VAI Metals Technologies GmbH & Co which has participated in the construction of a steel works in Zhlobin. Now this company would like to take part in the upgrading and expansion of production at the Belarusian Steel Works (BMZ trademark). The representatives of a major construction concern STRABAG AG also came to Minsk. They want to establish cooperation with Belarusian companies and set up joint ventures. The HABAU Group has presented its cooperation proposals to the Belarusian side, too.
    According to Johann Zaks, the promising cooperation areas include the use of renewable energy sources (the first relevant negotiations have been successful), waste management technologies, municipal infrastructure, timber processing, water supply, environment protection.

    Austria is interested in developing cooperation in the tourism area. “I am sure that the tourism industry of Belarus has a rather high potential,” Johann Zaks said. The tourism revenues make up about 8.7% of Austria’ GDP. Belarus can also develop the tourism infrastructure and build up cooperation with Austria in this field.

  • From the International Press...

    EU invites Belarus FM to landmark meeting

    From: AFP
    Sergei Martinov
    The European Union has invited Belarus's foreign minister to meet his EU counterparts on October 13, the first invite since the bloc slapped sanctions on Minsk in 2006, a spokeswoman said Friday.

    EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana "spoke this morning with (Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei) Martinov and invited him to come to Luxembourg on October 13," Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said.

    The EU had raised the prospect of such a meeting ahead of last weekend's general elections in Belarus along with the possibility of lifting sanctions against hardline President Alexander Lukashenko's regime.

    Even if the results of the election -- swept by Lukashenko loyalists -- were deemed "disappointing" by the EU and criticised by Western observers, the bloc highlighted some "positive developments which preceded the vote".

    Those included the release of political prisoners and an invitation to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the polls.

    The European Union has been seeking a way to reach out to what it sees as a key state at the outer reaches of Western and Russian influence, especially in the wake of Moscow's conflict with Georgia, where EU monitors are deployed.

    Forty Belarussian figures, including Lukashenko, have been banned from entering the EU since the 2006 presidential election which was judged to contravene international norms.

    Of all the 27 EU nations, Poland and Lithuania, neighbours of Belarus and particularly anti-Moscow, have been pushing the hardest to get the sanctions lifted.

    Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has made the comparison with Cuba, noting that the EU has lifted its sanctions there despite the fact that Havana is still holding political prisoners.

    The Lithuanian foreign ministry has said that the elections do not change the fact that dialogue with Belarus is "indispensable".

    Both countries are likely to call at the meeting for a selective review of the sanctions in place and other measures of encouragement in the form of visa facilitation and scholarships, according to European diplomats.

    Belarusian leader defends landslide vote

    From: AP
    Belarus' authoritarian president on Tuesday defended the ex-Soviet nation's parliamentary elections despite the opposition's failure to win a single seat.

    Alexander Lukashenko, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" in the West, cast Sunday's vote as a big step toward democracy.

    But monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said it fell short of democratic standards — an assessment echoed by the United States. Russia, however, praised the elections and criticized the OSCE assessment.

    Lukashenko told OSCE observers Tuesday that the elections were conducted in line with Belarusian law. He said that Belarus now expects the EU to lift economic and travel sanctions against Belarus.

    "Belarus expects Europe to lift sanctions which have offended us," Lukashenko said at the meeting.

    Lukashenko has ruled Belarus with an iron fist for more than 14 years, quashing dissent and opposition parties and shutting down independent news media.

    The United States and the European Union have imposed economic sanctions on the country and a travel ban on Lukashenko and his officials.

    "Visa restrictions are a shame for Europe," Lukashenko said.

    Election officials insisted the election was free and fair, even though none of the 70 opposition candidates won places in the 110-seat parliament.

    Lukashenko's isolation deepened this year when his nation's main sponsor and ally, Russia, sharply increased energy prices for Belarus.

    Signaling an apparent desire to mend the rift with the West, Lukashenko recently softened his anti-Western rhetoric and Belarusian authorities last month freed the last remaining political prisoners whose release the West had demanded.

    "Let's cooperate normally. If Europe makes a step forward in political and economic cooperation, we will make three steps," Lukashenko said Tuesday.

    In an apparent attempt to avert the Kremlin's anger over his efforts to mend ties with the West, Lukashenko added that "Europe would make a big mistake if it makes worsening of our ties with Russia a condition for improving ties."

    The Russian Foreign Ministry said observers from the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States found the vote was conducted "in accordance to international norms of democratic elections."

    Russian Ambassador Confirms $2 Bln Stabilization Loan for Belarus

    From: IStock
    Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov has confirmed that a general agreement had been reached to provide a $2 billion stabilization loan to Belarus in 2008.

    "The general agreement remains in effect. The credit could be provided in December, or even earlier," Surikov told Interfax in Minsk on Thursday.

    "A general agreement to extend Belarus a $2 billion stabilization loan was reached a long time ago and the money will be used to prop up the Belarusian economy and to fill gaps in the payment balance, including in anticipation of gas price hikes, he said.

    Russia extended Belarus a $1.5 billion stabilization credit in December 2007, the Russian ambassador said.

    Commenting on the cost of the stabilization credit amid a temporary crisis on the Russian financial market, Surikov said, "I don't think the credit will become far more expensive compared to 2007. Concrete terms are being negotiated by the finance ministries. In any case, this credit will be cheaper than a commercial loan," Surikov said.

    Belarus '09 budget overhauls tax, cuts deficit

    From: Guardian
    Belarussian gave initial approval on Thursday to next year's budget which will overhaul the tax system and reduce the deficit to 1.8 percent from 1.9 percent in 2008.

    The draft, still to be passed in a second reading, got rid of a graduated income tax system of between 9-30 percent. Instead, there is to be a flat rate of 12 percent.

    Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets later told journalists that the change was aimed at raising living standards.

    The draft indicates that Minsk wants to try to borrow $200 million abroad next year to cover a deficit of $1.4 billion. The remainder will be covered by existing funds.

    Belarus is in talks with Moscow to receive a credit on favourable terms of $2 billion, similar to the $1.5 billion it received last year which helped Minsk pay for a sharp increase in gas imports from Russian monopoly Gazprom .
    Belarus now pays $129 per 1,000 cubic metres, far below the $500 that Gazprom says its Western European clients pay.

    The budget draft assumes a gas price of $140 next year, but that is far below a level of $200-250 mooted by Moscow.

  • From the Opposition...

    Parliamentary elections made Belarus a «unique» country, German ambassador says

    From: Naveny
    September’s parliamentary elections have made Belarus a “unique” country, German Ambassador Gebhardt Weiss said in an interview with BelaPAN.

    According to the diplomat, “there’s no other country in Europe” where there are no opposition politicians in the parliament and so few candidates take part in parliamentary elections.

    Mr. Weiss said that the new House of Representatives may include more competent people, “including from the provinces.” He noted that “modernization and efficient management are seriously connected with certain decentralization of power coupled with elements of local self-government.”

    The ambassador called for a thorough study into why the vote had not been transparent despite promises by Belarus’ top officials. “And it’s interesting to me whether they [the elections] will be analyzed in the framework of a new form of internal political dialogue. I believe that the opposition’s wish to take part in the dialogue on the matter is understandable and legitimate,” he said.

    Mr. Weiss pointed to Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s remarks about “certain mistakes made during the elections.” “If a politician uses such words consciously, he may mean that he wants to work on this,” he said.

    German ambassador said that the Belarusian authorities had made progress on human rights in the past few months. “Apart from this, it seems to us that certain government appointments indicate the authorities’ desire to more consistently continue the course of necessary strategic modernization in a way that would draw support from various parties, including the West,” he said.

    The diplomat noted that the abolition of the European Union’s sanctions targeting a group of top Belarusian officials was more likely after the release of all political prisoners and September’s parliamentary elections in Belarus. The West seeks to secure warmer relations with Belarus “through step-by-step normalization” inside the country, Mr.Weiss said.

    After Belarus’ parliamentary elections, which OSCE observers described as an improvement on the previous campaigns but still criticized, “Minsk, Brussels and Washington still speak about the need for dialogue and adequate cooperation,” the ambassador said.

    Noting that Belarus the West should have “transparent” dialogue, Mr. Weiss said that “the implementation of certain proposals and requirements of the EU would serve the interests of the entire region, including Russia and Belarus.”

    Parliamentary Election: Human Rights Defenders draw preliminary conclusions

    From: Viasna
    From the moment of announcement of the elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of 4th convocation Belarusian Helsinki Committee, in cooperation with the human rights defenders, began the monitoring of the election. The monitoring was conducted on the basis of long-term observation of the main stages of the election campaign: formation of district election commissions, registration of initiative groups, registration of candidates, election campaigning, early voting and Election Day voting, and summing up the voting results. The election was monitored in 86 election districts. 490 monitors, registered as observers in the district election commissions and at polling stations, participated in the work. Information and analytical centers were created in order to collect, analyze, and distribute the information.

    As a result of the monitoring of all stages of the election to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the 4th convocation we come to the following preliminary conclusions:

    The parliamentary election took place in the context of the difficult situation with human rights. Basic civic and political rights, such as the freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assemblies and associations, remained significantly restricted by the Belarusian authorities. Facts of politically-motivated persecution of the opponents of the regime by the official authorities of Belarus, including criminal prosecution, were the matter of our deep concern. Three political prisoners remained behind bars: Alexander Kazulin, Andrei Kim, and Alexander Parsiukevich. 14 people, who took part in the peaceful protest actions of entrepreneurs early this year, were sentenced under criminal procedure to fines and restriction of freedom. All these circumstances did not help to create the atmosphere of trust for the election time. Despite numerous promises of representatives of the Belarusian authorities to hold free and fair elections, they failed to fulfill the OSCE recommendations, made during the previous elections. The Central Election Commission also refused to participate in the negotiations with the representatives of the UDF about the possible improvement of the conditions for the election campaign.

    Early release of political prisoners has become a significant step to change the situation for better. Although the level of control over the society remained as high as it was earlier, release of political prisoners could facilitate the improvement of the climate of trust in the society and of the election climate. We should point out, during the election we have registered facts of detention of election participants by police, summons of opposition parties’ activists by tax agencies, the department of financial investigation of the State Control, agencies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and KGB. The peculiarity of this election was the fact that it was carried out on the background of the events that took place in Minsk on July 3rd, 2008, during the official celebration of the Independence Day. A number of state printed and electronic media with their unrestrained position, practically accusing the opposition forces of preparing and committing a terrorist act, did not contribute to calm atmosphere during the election campaign. In conjunction with investigatory measures carried out on the case, many participants of the election process were summoned to police and KGB, interrogated, their finger prints taken, etc. We should point out, often the participants of the election process perceived that as the politically-motivated pressure.

    It’s worth pointing out, during the elections the authorities refrained from mass detention actions and preventive arrests of representatives of the opposition parties and movements.
    Click HERE for the complete text of this article

    Central election commission ignores manipulations of election results

    From: Charter '97
    The spokesman of the Central Election Commission Mikalai Lazavik said complaints of observers and former MP candidates wouldn’t influence the results of the Parliamentary elections.

    ‘The complaints contain no significant facts revealing that the elections were held with violations of the law and able to influence the voting results’, he emphasized.

    ‘They complain that there were few representatives of political parties in election commissions that is allegedly a basis for falsification’, Interfax quotes Mikalai Lazavik.

    Besides, Mikalai Lazavik notes that some observers complain at restricted access to vote count.

    The parliamentary elections in Belarus were held on September 28. 264 candidates contested 110 seats in the parliament. About 100 opposition candidates failed to get to the “house of representatives.

    The OSCE/ODIHR election observing mission didn’t recognize the elections in Belarus free and democratic. OSCE observers noted ‘bad or very bad’ process of vote count in 50 per cent of the cases. 40 per cent of the observers weren’t able to monitor the vote counting in full. The elections ultimately fell short of OSCE standards.

    The number of complaints of the opposition at violations of the laws during the election campaign has increased to 135. Former MP candidates, their proxies, and observers tell facts of rigging the voting results to the Central Election Commission and prosecutor’s offices.

  • Around the region...

    A Rational Russia Policy?

    From: Washington Post
    In the first presidential debate, Barack Obama said that he and John McCain "agree for the most part" on issues regarding Russia. But while both were tough on Russia, their consensus, such as it is, is hardly the result of shared clarity on U.S. policy toward Russia. In fact, neither candidate has outlined a policy that would overcome the current confrontations with Moscow and make the world more secure. The big question is how they expect to change Russia's behavior.

    The overwhelming public support here of the war in Georgia has reinforced the position of the Russian leadership, and Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev are no more ready to compromise or concede to U.S. criticism than the United States is willing to accept Medvedev's claim that Russia has "privileged spheres of interest." Russia today simply dismisses the United States as an international authority.

    And the United States does not have sufficient leverage to intimidate Russia into behaving in a way it considers more appropriate or to lure Russia into sharing, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said, the United States' "goals, and aspirations, and values and dreams." The current approach -- seeking to punish aggressive, defiant Russia but working with Moscow in vital areas of common interest -- is not sustainable. A Russian government spokesman said it directly last week: You can't have both.

    No reasonable person is considering war with Russia (if Sarah Palin sounded hesitant on this issue, that's probably because two weeks is not long enough to learn foreign affairs from scratch). As for a new Cold War, McCain, Obama and Russian leaders have all said they don't want this.

    A return to Cold War relations is, of course, impossible. Back then, there was a clear, even Manichaean sense of purpose: Capitalism and communism sought to destroy each other, existentially if not physically, and they were explicit. "We will bury you," Nikita Khrushchev famously said in 1956.

    But in that struggle, the West had a sympathetic constituency inside the Soviet Union: not just the dissidents, a tiny group willing to sacrifice themselves for the freedom of others, but millions of Russians who spent hours listening -- through the jamming of radio signals-- to broadcasts from the United States, Germany or Britain. Those quiet listeners were not warriors, but they were, in some fundamental way, allies of America as it waged its anti-communist crusade. The decades of terror and repression had left the nation scared and exhausted. People did not physically resist, but they resented the aging Politburo leaders and the communist regime that reduced their lives to endless struggles with lines and shortages and deprived them of individual freedoms and natural pursuits such as entrepreneurship. They might not have said so explicitly, but they, too, wanted communism defeated.

    Unlike the conflicts of the Cold War, the confrontation between Russia and the United States today is not driven by a desire to destroy each other and lacks a clear goal. Russia demands that the West recognize it as an equal and respect its interests, but it won't specify those interests. It's likely they include expanding Russian control over Ukraine, but it is inconceivable that the Kremlin would say so publicly. Meanwhile, the demand that Russia "behave" and adhere to international norms raises important questions: Is punishing Russia America's top priority, a goal to be pursued even if it means putting European security at risk? Is the resolve to punish Russia driven only by U.S. national interests, or is there another, irrational element?

    The United States no longer has a sympathetic constituency in Russia that views America as a force for good that may help make Russians' lives freer, more democratic or more prosperous. These days, people who still view the United States so positively are hard to find, even among the liberal intelligentsia, and the U.S. reaction to the war in Georgia further reduced their numbers.

    Putin's autocratic regime enjoys strong support here: In September, Putin's approval rating was 88 percent and Medvedev's 83. This is not loyalty driven by fear of repression -- the Russian people rally behind the leader who has delivered better living standards and reasserted Russia's international standing. It may sadden Russian liberals, including me, but political rights and civil liberties simply do not matter much in Russia these days.

    Relations between Russia and the United States have entered a dangerous stalemate. America can't accept Russia's aggressive posture, but U.S. anger is only making things worse. The risk of Russia slipping toward an isolationist course and a militarized economy is growing. Events of the 20th century indicate that in the long term, Moscow's own irrational pursuits may prove more baneful to Russia than any foreign adversary. But in the short term, Russia's neighbors as well as European security could be at great risk.

    The foundations of U.S. policy toward Russia must be revised. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's recent suggestion that even authoritarian regimes have legitimate security interests may be a realistic starting point for discussion, even if it sounds too radical for the U.S. officials who handle foreign policy. At the least, though, America should be guided by realistic vision and rational goals, not by Cold War preconceptions and illusions.

    Russia fears US nuclear arms on its borders

    From: Daily Times
    Accession of Russia’s neighbours Ukraine and Georgia to NATO could lead to deployment of tactical nuclear weapons on their territory and trigger a new arms race, the Kremlin’s security chief said in an interview.

    Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said in an interview with Izvestia daily, to be published on Thursday, that Washington and NATO sought to achieve military and strategic supremacy over Russia by extending the alliance’s borders. “Georgia and especially Ukraine in case of their accession to the alliance can become a convenient springboard for deployment of large ground, air and naval strike forces armed with high-precision and tactical nuclear weapons,” he said.

    “Potential deployment of such weapons in Ukraine will make them strategic, because their destruction zone will cover critically important military and economic objects in European Russia, with elements of state governance and military command,” Patrushev said. “Such actions by the Americans can aggravate mutual mistrust and spiral (into) an arms race to which we do not aspire, I want to stress.”

    At a summit in Bucharest in April, NATO members turned down requests from former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine to be granted a Membership Action Plan, which would have set them on the road to membership. But they held open the possibility of future entry.

    Patrushev, a long-term ally of powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and former FSB secret service chief, also warned that a possible US strike on Iran from Georgian land would lead to “additional threats to Russia’s national security”.

    Defence spending: Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday the government would allot an extra 80 billion roubles ($3.13 billion) next year to buy new weapons and partly offset Moscow’s losses during a brief war in Georgia. The figure gives a clue as to how much the August conflict may have cost Russia’s budget coffers. Senior Russian officials had earlier ducked the question.

    “The Caucasus events once again demonstrated the importance of our work on strengthening the combat-readiness of armed forces,” Putin told a government meeting. “It is envisaged to allot an additional 80 billion roubles to purchase new military equipment and weapons and to deploy our troops where we consider it expedient to do so.” “The talk is also about partial compensation of the losses caused by military actions in the Caucasus and ... the purchase of new equipment. These losses must be offset by ... new capabilities of our defence industry.”

    Putin: Ukraine gave military aid to Georgia in war with Russia

    From: IHT and CSMonitor
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin charged Ukraine with supplying arms and manpower to Georgia during its recent war with Russia, and said if Ukraine's involvement was proven, it would be a "crime."

    Russian news and information agency RIA Novosti reports that Mr. Putin made the accusation Thursday during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to sign a new contract on Russian natural gas exports to Ukraine.

      "I don't think there is a graver crime than supplying arms to a conflict zone," Putin told his Ukrainian counterpart, Yulia Tymoshenko, during their meeting at the Russian premier's residence near Moscow.

      He also said that he regretted "that Ukraine thought it acceptable to supply weapons to the conflict zone."

      Putin also said Moscow had evidence proving that Ukrainian military experts were present in the conflict zone during the five-day war that began when Georgian forces attacked breakaway South Ossetia.
    The BBC writes that Ms. Tymoshenko said she was confident that Ukraine's involvement in the war in Georgia would not be confirmed. The BBC adds that Putin's accusation "amounted to an attack on [Tymoshenko's] political rival, [Ukrainian] President Viktor Yushchenko," who sets Ukraine's defense policy.

    Reuters reports that despite Putin's accusation, he and Tymoshenko agreed to a new deal to gradually increase Ukraine's payments for Russian gas over the next three years. Kiev, which has been paying Russia roughly $180 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, had been concerned that Russia would require it to immediately start paying market prices, which are more than $500 per 1,000 cubic meters.

    The Times of London reports that the Kiev-Moscow talks come amid a power struggle in Ukraine between Tymoshenko and Mr. Yuschenko. The two came to power during Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution," but the government, a coalition of their two parties, has been wracked by infighting ever since. The Times writes that just before the talks, Tymoshenko accused Yuschenko of commandeering her plane to stymie her negotiations with Putin, highlighting one of the key disputes between the two: Ukraine's relationship with Russia.

      Since Russia has in the past used gas supply as an instrument of policy against neighbouring states, the talks are being watched closely by the whole of the Ukrainian political class. The key question is whether Ms. Tymoshenko will give too much ground to the Kremlin. President and Prime Minister are at loggerheads over Mr. Yushchenko's openly critical view of Moscow's intervention in Georgia. In August he told the Times that the war was a compelling reason for accepting Ukrainian membership of Nato. Ms. Tymoshenko on the other hand has voiced almost no criticism of the Kremlin about the Georgian crisis.

      This prompted accusations from presidential advisers that Ms. Tymoshenko was soft-peddling on Russia in order to win Russian cash and government support for her bid to supplant Mr. Yushchenko as president. Elections have to be held before 2010 and jostling for position has already begun. The Secret Service has been asked to investigate whether the prime minister had acted "to damage the country's national interests." Last month the President said Ms. Tymoshenko's actions were "aimed at destabilising the situation" and were tantamount to treason.
    Russia's influence in Ukraine is not limited to diplomacy. The Chicago Tribune reports that Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula is home to a large ethnic Russian population and a major Russian naval base. Although Crimea's regional government is not separatist, like those in Georgia's South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions, there are concerns in Ukraine that Russia could use a similar excuse to invade Crimea as it did in Georgia.

      "There is indeed a parallel situation here in Crimea," says Sergei Kulik, director of Nomos, an independent think tank in Sevastopol. "Many people in Crimea have both Russian and Ukrainian passports, which makes it possible to one day declare that the rights of Russian citizens have been violated and must be defended. That would bring us to the same situation we saw in Georgia."...

      Sevastopol has been home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet since 1783. In 1997, Ukraine agreed to lease the port to the fleet until 2017, when the agreement would be up for renewal. Angered by Russia's actions in Georgia, Ukrainian leaders no longer want to renew the fleet's lease after 2017.

      If the Black Sea Fleet is forced to leave Sevastopol, said Leonid Grach, a Communist Party member of Crimea's autonomous parliament, "then Crimea will explode. It'll become Kosovo, or Abkhazia, or South Ossetia. ... We won't have enough cemeteries to bury all the dead people."

      Eviction from Sevastopol would force the Kremlin to spend tens of billions of dollars to make the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk fit for naval ships, destroyers and submarines. The fleet's presence in Sevastopol also serves as an invaluable vanguard of influence in Ukraine that Russia would find hard to replace.
    But one of Russia's concerns about Ukraine looks to be allayed, at least for the time being. Although Yushchenko has campaigned for Ukraine's membership in NATO, The Wall Street Journal reports German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Thursday that Germany would not support giving a membership "road map" to Ukraine or to Georgia this year.

      Mrs. Merkel's rejection of a NATO track for Georgia and Ukraine, at a news conference with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in St. Petersburg, would effectively act as a veto. The Western military alliance operates by consensus.

      U.S. officials had hoped a NATO ministerial meeting set for December might be the occasion for the alliance to extend a so-called Membership Action Plan, or MAP, to the two ex-Soviet States. However, any quick move toward their NATO membership grew less likely after Georgia's five-day war with Russia in August.

      The U.S. State Department declined to comment, saying it hadn't seen or heard Mrs. Merkel's remarks.

    Ukraine: No arms sales in Georgian war

    In a related story, Ukraine's military did not help Georgia or sell it weapons during its August war with Russia, a Ukrainian arms export official said Friday.

    Ukraine is a top supplier of weapons to its ally Georgia. But the head of the state arms export company Ukrspetsexport, Sergei Bondarchuk, said "not a single bullet" was supplied to Georgia during the conflict, the Interfax news agency reported.

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Ukraine may have sent weapons to Georgia after the war had started and said that Ukrainian-supplied weapons systems were operated by Ukrainians. Russia urged Ukraine to investigate the matter.

    Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov denied sending military personnel to fight. On his Web site, he said 21 Ukrainian soldiers were in Georgia for military drills when the war started. They were sent to the capital Tbilisi and quickly flown out of Georgia, he said.

    Yekhanurov said that about a quarter of Ukraine arms exports go to Russia.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Lehman Brothers may not get paid by Polish government

    From: WBJ
    The contract between the Polish government with Lehman Brothers concerning advisory services in its dispute with Eureko over PZU is slowly coming to an end
    "Lehman proposed a resolution to the dispute before it announced its financial problems. The proposal however was not approved by the Treasury Ministry," said a person close to the dispute.

    Ministry spokesperson Maciej Wiewior was not willing to comment on the situation, as the Treasury is waiting for information on who will take over the European part of the American bank which is currently administered by Pricewaterhouse Coopers.

    "Further actions are conditioned with what happens to Lehman Brothers in London, as the Poland government has a contract with this branch," said the spokesperson.

    "Our objective is a compromise which will represent our rights purchased from the Treasury Ministry. Our investment in PZU is still strategic and long-term," said Michal Nastula, president of Eureko Polska.
    If it is hard to understand this article, it is because the writer is speaking in Polish.

    Communist pensions targeted

    From: WBJ
    Wojciech Jaruzelski and Czeslaw Kiszczak
    The ruling Civic Platform (PO) party has tabled a bill that would cut pensions for communist-era secret police
    The ruling Civic Platform (PO) party has tabled a bill that would cut pensions for communist-era secret police as well as members of the Military Council for National Salvation (WRON), the junta formed during Poland's martial law years. According to Reuters, the move could affect up to 30,000 people.
    Pensions, some amounting to zl.8,000 a month, could be halved or quartered.

    Two of the most recognizable figures to be affected are former generals Wojciech Jaruzelski and Czeslaw Kiszczak. Both men are currently embroiled in a trial concerning the imposition of martial law in 1981.

    "We know that people like Jaruzelski have not had to face up to what they've done," Zbigniew Chlebowski, a PO MP and head of the party's parliamentary club, told reporters. "After 18 years, justice should be served to the people who tried their best to make communism in Poland last as long as possible. It is impossible that well-known people such as Jaruzelski and Kiszczak should not pay the price," Chlebowski added.

    Kiszczak, the last prime minister of communist Poland, told TVP that he had no regrets. "I am not afraid. I would do what I did in my life the same way again, without regard for the consequences," he said.

    According to PO's projections, lowering these pensions would trim zl.600 million from the national budget.

    Poland close to losing hosting rights for Euro 2012

    From: IN The News
    Poland could be stripped of the rights to host Euro 2012 if the national association is not reinstated, according to Uefa and Fifa.

    The governing bodies are concerned that the PZPN is no longer being run as an independent body after administrators were appointed on Monday.

    The PZPN has been trying to resolve a corruption case but was unable to so the government, via the Polish National Olympic Committee (PNOC), stepped in to appoint a new board.

    However, Fifa and Uefa rules forbid government intervention and the governing bodies have now threatened to stop Poland from hosting Euro 2012.

    Uefa spokesman William Gaillard told the BBC: "The rules are clear. We offered Euro 2012 to the FA, not the government.

    "So if the FA are not in place or suspended then they are not in a position to host the tournament."

    Fifa and Uefa have contacted the International Olympic Committee to try and help them restore the autonomy of the PZPN but have set a deadline of Monday for the situation to be resolved.

    Gaillard added: "We are standing firm with Fifa. Our patience has limits and we are very close to the limit.

    "If the FA is not reinstated by Monday's deadline then we will have serious discussions about the future of Euro 2012 immediately. We will not wait any longer."

    The problems come one week after Poland, and co-hosts of Euro 2012 Ukraine, were told to quicken preparations for the tournament.

    Uefa officials had been unhappy about the current infrastructure in place in the capital cities of both countries and their ability to host the influx of travelling supporters during the tournament

    Poland's arbitration tribunal suspended the PZPN board

    From: TVNZ
    Miroslaw Drzewiecki
    Poland's arbitration tribunal suspended the PZPN board and named an administrator on Monday after Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki filed a motion saying it had violated the law in a number of cases.

    World body FIFA, whose statutes forbid government intervention in football affairs, said on Wednesday Poland must reinstate the PZNP by 1000 GMT on Oct. 6 or risk being suspended from this month's two World Cup qualifying matches.

    "We are standing firm with UEFA. Our warning and deadline still stands," a FIFA spokesman said on Friday.

    Poland will not return to the negotiating table until FIFA withdraws its "ultimatum", sports ministry official Adam Gieresz was quoted as saying by the PAP news agency after another round of talks with the FA broke down late on Friday.

    Poland are scheduled to play Czech Republic on Oct. 11 and Slovakia four days later in European qualifying Group Three which the team lead with four points from two games.

    Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk backed his sports minister, saying the administrator should stay in place, while administrator Robert Zawlocki said he would not step down.

    "I will support Minister Drzewiecki in this matter," Tusk said in his first public comment on the issue during the second day of emergency talks on the issue.

    "Sometimes a tough stand is needed and this can be costly. I am sure Minister Drzewiecki will not dismiss the administrator," Tusk told reporters.

    "Polish soccer cannot be healed (with such a dismissal). And why do we need qualifiers that we will lose anyway if Polish football doesn't change?"

    Corruption accusations have often been raised against the PZPN and its head, Michal Listkiewicz, but a succession of sports ministers, including Drzewiecki, have failed to oust him.

    Local commentators say Listkiewicz, widely seen as a close friend of UEFA President Michel Platini, will probably resist any such attempts this time round as well.

    Paedophile Castration Only on Request

    From: Gazetta
    Caption: A Francisco Goya etching
    "What more can be done"
    The Justice Minister has backtracked on regulations, proposed two weeks ago, that would legalise the compulsory administration of sex drive-suppressing drugs to sexual offenders.

    The bill, which was to deliver on Prime Minister Donald Tusk's pledge to introduce the 'compulsory chemical castration of paedophiles', has now lost its key provision. It authorised the use of the 'means of direct coercion', on terms provided for in the Mental Health Protection Act, towards sexual offenders placed upon serving their time in closed therapy centres. A draft of the bill has just been submitted to the ministers for review.

    The previous draft was unveiled by Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski during a press conference two weeks ago. The provision on the use of 'direct coercive measures' would legalise the compulsory administration of pharmaceuticals not only, as is the case today, to persons unable because of a mental disability to consciously express their will, but also to mentally sound persons.

    Such a law doesn't exist in any democratic country. 'Someone has to make the first step', PM Donald Tusk had said then.

    Today, the most far-reaching legislation, also in Poland, makes it possible to send a sexual offender for compulsory therapy. But if the patient refuses to receive medicine or undergo other procedures, the therapy will be confined to staying at a closed medical facility.

    Bioethical experts criticised the bill as inconsistent with the fundamental medical principles of respecting the patient's will and not performing any procedures that would not serve his welfare.

    'This is very slippery ground', Prof Marek Safjan, co-author of the Council of Europe's bioethical convention, had told Gazeta. ''If we accept the compulsory chemical castration of sexual offenders, why not perform lobotomy on violent criminals? Only where will this take us? Medical therapy mustn't be used in public interest. Otherwise, we'll return, for instance, to the compulsory sterilisation of mentally disabled patients performed in Sweden as recently as in the 1970s'.

    The proposed law was also criticised by constitutional experts as an attempt to introduce unconstitutional corporal punishment, criminal law experts pointed out that depriving someone of their ability to reproduce was an offence, and sexologists stressed that chemical sex-drive suppression wouldn't be effective without psychotherapy, which couldn't be performed against the patient's will.

    Theologians were opposed too, noting that the Catholic Church regarded the ability to reproduce as part of every individual's natural dignity.

    The way the proposed law had been drawn up was criticised by members of the Polish Association of Forensic Psychiatry. 'Drawing up such regulations isn't a job solely for legal experts but also, in this case, for psychiatrists, sexologists, or psychologists. Only they can judge whether the proposed regulations are consistent with the principles of medical ethics. Yet no one is asking us for opinion. We'd been sent the final draft of the bill, but had just two days to review it', says Janusz Heitzman at Warsaw's Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology.

    Polish prelate backs plans to force chemical castration of pedophiles

    In a related story, A Polish archbishop has backed government plans to permit the forced chemical castration of pedophiles as part of a crackdown on sex offenders.

    "Bearing in mind the methods of treatment available when we want to cure a person, it seems ethical to help him this way," said retired Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski of Gdansk. "Let's remember it doesn't just concern him, but also the children who may be wrecked by his lack of self-control and who will suffer throughout their lives."

    In an interview with Poland's Radio Zet, he said the penalty, recently proposed in a package of tough penal reforms by Poland's center-right government, was morally right to prevent pedophiles from violating the dignity of others. He said it could be compared to methods for treating alcoholics. Chemical castration is a drug that takes away a person's sex drive.

    "If it helps a person ... by making his brain function more correctly, then I'd see it solely as a treatment rather than as retribution," Archbishop Goclowski, 77, said in the Sept. 30 interview. "A normal person should be aware of the good of the child who is damaged in this way."

  • Sport...

    Final Preparations for IPC Wheelchair Dance Sport World Champs Complete

    The final steps in readying the capital of Belarus for the 2008 IPC Wheelchair Dance Sport World Championships were officially completed last week from 24 to 25 September.

    The championships, taking place from 24 to 27 October in Minsk, will see approximately 135 athletes from 17 countries participating in the event.

    The last site visit was conducted by IPC Wheelchair Dance Sport in Minsk, together with the local Organizing Committee, the Belarusian Federation of Wheelchair Dance Sport and the Rhythmic Sportive Gymnastics. Several meetings were held with all parties, along with other authorities which are also involved in the organization of the championships. Additionally, a variety of operational topics were discussed, and decisions were made related to the final preparations of the event.

    Held at the Football Hall in the Belarusian capital, the competition will be over the course of two days, 25 to 26 October. Scheduled events include the Combi Standard (class 1 and 2), Combi Latin (class 1 and 2), Duo Standard (class 1 and 2) and Duo Latin (class 1 and 2). Couples dance in two different classes, class 1 (14 points or less) and class 2 (more than 14 points). The classification will be held on Friday, 24 October at the Hotel Minsk by the IPC Wheelchair Dance Sport Classification Team.

    Wheelchair Dance Sport involves athletes with a physical disability that affects the lower limbs. Wheelchair dancers may participate in "combi"-style dancing with an able-bodied (standing) partner or duo-dance for two wheelchair users together. Standard dances include the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, slow foxtrot and quickstep. Latin-American dances include the samba, cha-cha-cha, rumba, paso doble and jive. There are also Formation dances for four, six or eight couples dancing in formation.

    In 1998, Wheelchair Dance Sport became an IPC Championship Sport, but is not part of the Paralympic programme today. It is governed by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and co-ordinated by the Wheelchair Dance Sport Technical Committee, which incorporates the rules of the International Dance Sport Federation (IDSF). In 2008, Wheelchair Dance Sport is widely practiced by athletes in more than 30 countries.

    For more information about the 2008 Wheelchair Dance Sport World Championships, please visit

  • Endnote...

    Belarus President: Europe should not view Belarus through eyes of some oppositionists

    From: BelTA
    Europe “should not look at Belarus through the eyes of some bankrupt politicians representing the so-called opposition”, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at the meeting with head of the OSCE PA monitoring mission Anne-Marie Lizin on September 30.

    “I would not recommend Europe to look at Belarus through the eyes of some bankrupt politicians representing the so-called opposition in our country. What is the opposition? You saw them. And when in the run-up to the elections you told us that we should give the citizens of our country the opportunity to discuss the outcome of the elections in the streets and not break them up, I thought to myself: thanks God the observers will see how our citizens will discuss the outcome of the elections. I asked the law enforcement officers to stay away from them so that Ms Lizin and her colleagues will have an opportunity to see our opposition with their own eyes. I expected 400 people to come (that has always been the number of the opposition), but only 250 showed up. I am saying it to discourage you from evaluating us from the point of view of this small group of people,” the Head of State underlined.

    Alexander Lukashenko added that this part of the Belarusian society has certainly the right to express their views. “Let them say what they want to say, but you should keep in mind that besides them, there are 10 million people who expressed their will in a democratic way during the elections,” the Belarusian leader added.

    Addressing the OSCE PA Vice President, the Belarusian Head of State underlined, “We expect you to say more than you have said so far, despite the fact that you will have to face enormous pressure from certain OSCE members. Much of the Europe’s development will depend on what you will say, because today one cannot ignore Belarus which is situated right in the centre of Europe.”

    Belarus will not endanger Belarus-Russia relations to improve relations with Europe

    “Europe will make a huge mistake if it starts demanding us to improve the relations with the West at the expense of the deterioration of the Belarus-Russia relations. We have traditionally had good relations with the Russians. I do not think that Europe would benefit from the bad relations between Belarus and Russia. Anyway, Europe itself wants better relations with Russia. This is why if you urge us to improve the relations with Europe on the account of Russia, we will never agree to that,” the President underlined.

    Alexander Lukashenko expressed his confidence that the Belarusian side can “find the compromise that will suit Belarus, Europe and Russia.”

    “We are willing to try our best to find that compromise. But I do not want you to think that we are under such circumstances that we would ask you to let us join the European Union, OSCE, PACE and so on. We are not in such circumstances,” the Head of State added.

    Belarus President urges OSCE observers to present well thought-out evaluation of elections

    The Belarus President called upon OSCE observers not to hurry with giving any opinion about the parliamentary elections in Belarus following the dictate of some country. Belarus “didn’t expect revolutionary declarations”, stressed Alexander Lukashenko as he met with head of the OSCE PA monitoring mission Anne-Marie Lizin on September 30.

    “In my opinion you said the most important thing: our elections have been held in compliance with the national legislation. Whatever laws in a country may be, they have to be observed. As long as laws exist and are unchanged, the country and its citizens should live in accordance with these laws. It is an axiom. It would have been worse if you had said that in Belarus this important process had not corresponded to national laws. People are tried for that,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    The President reminded in Belarus the responsibility for breaking election laws had been enhanced two times and is very severe now.

    “For me, as the head of state, who is the guarantor of the Constitution and observance of laws, the recognition that the elections were held in line with the national legislation is the most important evaluation. It would have been strange if the elections had been held in line with different laws,” added the Belarusian leader.

    Alexander Lukashenko also remarked he had red the preliminary conclusions made by the OSCE observers in detail. “I believe you should very seriously consider what was done in Belarus before the elections before writing the final conclusion,” said the President.

  • Endnote II...

    A Temporary Thaw
    Belarus' president reaches out to the West, but can we trust him?

    From: The Slate
    On the ground in Belarus, Russia's politically tempestuous belle poitrine, it is hard to overlook the graveyards. There are the actual cemeteries—almost a third of the country's population died during World War II, including 90 percent of its Jews. And there is the metaphorical death mask wrapped around the face of Belarus society—with easily the most repressive government in Europe, Belarus' tattered pedestrians, empty stores, and crumbling apartment blocks look like they are in the authoritarian, unreconstructed Soviet dictatorship that the country has remained since independence nearly two decades ago.

    But during a trip to Belarus, I saw the way people in Belarus defy their history and their leader—the intransigent and at times buffoonish president, Alexsandr Lukashenko—to dig out an oasis of normality during their day-to-day lives. Master of a nation of 10 million highly educated citizens in the heart of Eastern Europe, Lukashenko may rule the public square but not the public conversation nor the public mood. In Minsk, picnic spots are carved out of every square foot of green space while rich social evenings are excavated out of loud, inclusive, beery conversations in bustling, well-managed restaurants. Through the sheer force of national will, Belorussians seem to push their government to an on-high abstraction.

    It's an understandable impulse to push government away when national politics is ruled by capricious whim. Lukashenko has recently been giving off neck-jerking mixed messages. He has warned that Belarus will cut off all communication with Western countries if they fail to recognize the legitimacy of the Belarus parliamentary elections that were held Monday. (The United States has expressed concern about discrepancies in the voting process, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the "election fell short of democratic standards.") It is a draconian threat set against Lukashenko's unexpected promise, in response to overtures from the West, to substantially improve ties with the European Union and the United States if they only credential his election as democratic.

    The West has also taken the election seriously. A high-ranking official at the EU Embassy in Washington, D.C., told an audience last week at Radio Free Europe: "The freer the election, the more likely Belarus will enjoy better relations with the West."

    Lukashenko has been whipsawing Belarus observers all summer. Angered by American sanctions against his government, Lukashenko in May summarily expelled 10 U.S. diplomats. After their expulsion, the top American diplomat in the country, Jonathan Moore, held a press conference where, visibly angry, he taunted, "For the United States, the political prisoners in Belarus are much more important than the number of American diplomats in Belarus."

    Then in late August, Lukashenko released the country's last two political prisoners. The State Department cheered the move, declaring it had "a real potential for an improvement in relations with the United States." Yet the 54-year-old president promptly arrested 20 journalists for mocking him in a cartoon, and days later he declared his support for and "solidarity" with Russia's decision to invade its southern neighbor Georgia.

    Beginning a long driving tour around Minsk one bright afternoon, my friends Olya, a waitress, and her husband, Sasha, a bullish-looking 35-year-old, swung by my hotel in a spanking-new BMW to pick me up for dinner. Sasha explained his business: importing cars from Germany. From Olya's back-seat squirm, I gathered Sasha's method of acquiring expensive cars was not a topic of further conversation. Both the car and Sasha purred from neighborhood to neighborhood. Sasha drove well, but Olya voiced increasingly angry corrections when Sasha made, at an accelerating pace, conversational wrong turns. (Olya: "Minsk is not one of the most beautiful cities in Europe"; "there is not a lot to do in Minsk"; "Jews do not control this country.") But when I asked about the Belarus government, there was no disagreement: Both scowled at me and promptly changed the subject.

    A sizable number of Belorussians support Lukashenko, a skilled populist admired for standing up to the West and, when it suits him, to Putin. Yet he is often as much a source of embarrassment as an architect of national repression. Like some of the president's colleagues elsewhere in the former Soviet Union, Lukashenko has the post-Soviet taste for verbal goose-stepping. He once called Hitler "not all bad." And before the 2006 presidential elections, he warned that anyone attending opposition protests would have their necks twisted "as one might a duck." Even more serious, Belarus is one of the world's most dangerous illegal arms exporters. Lukashenko has sold armaments to Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah.

    So is this week's election an opportunity for the West to entice Belarus from some of its roguish behavior, perhaps loosening Russia's grip on one of its most steadfast allies?

    Most Belarus-watchers say no. Lukashenko's feelers to the West are probably a means to seek leverage in his relationship with Russia, which has doubled the price it charges Belarus for natural gas and with which his relationship is generally more troubled than is frequently understood.

    Ties with Russia have been more difficult this year than in the past, surmises Alex Brideau, an Eastern Europe analyst in the Tokyo office of Eurasia Group. Brideau points out that even though Belarus—and Lukashenko in particular—are highly dependent on the Russian government for support, there have been tensions for years, particularly in Lukashenko's relationships with senior Russian leaders. "The leadership in Minsk likely still sees Moscow as its main supporter over the long term, but the problems in the relationship this year may have led Lukashenko to try to send a message to President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin that they need to pay attention to him," said Brideau.

    "Lukashenko's move to free opposition politicians from prison suggests he is willing to ease tensions with Washington and Brussels, and the U.S. government's lifting of some sanctions suggest it is willing to acknowledge the steps he has taken," said Brideau. "The thaw may not go much farther than it already has, however, as the two sides are very far apart. I think it likely that the U.S. and Europe will be very cautious about overtures from Lukashenko, out of concern that he could at some point change course again."

    In any case, it will take more than a mild warming of relations with the West to alter the enduring Soviet hangover that pervades daily life in Belarus. After a week in Minsk, I went to Vitsebsk, a hilly, forested, largely preserved city in the far northwest near Latvia remembered (when it is remembered) for sheltering Marc Chagall until early adulthood. Chagall opened an art school in Vitsebsk in 1919, and the town continues to claim the arts as a civic birthright.

    In Vitsebsk, at last, Belarus steps away from its Soviet Forever fantasy and yields to its long Eastern European history. Cafes fill with art students. Couples stroll through well-tended parks, past men on benches concentrating on games of chess. The ballet and three theaters are booked solid for the night.

    But to the eastern shore of the deep canyon sculpted by the Vitsba River, a carapace of crooked streets wind through neighborhoods of ancient, faltering little homes with sad metal roofs. Warmed by coal stoves responsible for the blackened trees, the houses huddle against tiny stores and small gardens; only a museum occupying Chagall's childhood house gives notice that this honeycomb of Eastern European outlier life was once a Jewish shtetl and is now home to Belorussians who appear no more moneyed, forced by a warped politics to inhabit a world just as small as a century before—and perhaps smaller.