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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Government wants private business, Belarus and Russia, Gas deal, Arms sales, Confucius, Hero Fortress film, Ukraine, Polish scandal, Sport and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #371

    Alexander Lukashenko demands Government to conduct balanced economic policy regarding private business

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    Alexander Lukashenko
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko demanded the Council of Ministers and the relevant governmental bodies to conduct a balanced economic policy towards businessmen and avoid social complications and political rush, Belarusian Head of State said at a session highlighting the issues of business regulation on December 23.

    “Blaming the global financial crisis the government suggests postponing adoption of amendments to the business activity. The crisis, of course, should be taken into account. In this situation it is again obvious that neither businessmen nor the government are ready to settle the long-standing problem in a civilized way,” the Belarusian leader stressed.

    Alexander Lukashenko reminded the participants of the session that over three and a half years have passed after the decree on business regulation measures was adopted. According to the Belarusian Head of State, almost nothing has been made over the period to create optimal working conditions for the economic agents. The major goal which was to create wholesale warehouses in every oblast for centralized imports of goods has not been accomplished. The system of customs clearance and other numerous procedures remain complicated and cost-ineffective.

    “There has been no proper control. The government believes the problem will settle by itself. Instead of working systematically, we are again trailing behind and make ourselves return to the problems that should be addressed at the governmental level,” the President said.

    “We have to take concerted efforts, without dogmatism and narrow-departmental approach, to work out most optimal measures to solve the acute problems of today taking into consideration both modern-day challenges and the national interests of maintaining the economic and social stability,” the Head of State underlined.

    Alexander Lukashenko demanded that the government reports on the progress in the implementation of the President’s task to develop this sector of small business.

    The President underlined that the regulation of individual entrepreneurship has been discussed many times. As early as in 2001, Decree No 12 was adopted to provide individual entrepreneurship with a legal framework. At that time, customs clearance of the goods manufactured in the third countries but imported from Russia was abolished, a single tax was introduced. These measures were aimed at discouraging entrepreneurs from doing business illegally.

    “This gave the impetus to the development of entrepreneurship. However, some negative tendencies appeared then. For example, the share of the informal market started growing. Simplified taxation and customs clearance rules were instituted for some individual entrepreneurs, which created more advantageous conditions for some entrepreneurs comparing to other businessmen,” the Head of State said.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes that “the course of events showed we needed to smooth out those trends.” The issue became especially urgent after Belarus and Russia changed the principle of levying VAT in bilateral trade. “Individual entrepreneurs and the Government were unprepared for this,” the Belarusian leader added.

    Belarus President urges business to step up social investment

    Business should invest in the development of the social area more actively, said President of the Republic of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko.

    “I want people to understand that the state alone will not solve the existing problems. The private sector should be involved in it. I am just asking businessmen: invest in the country that gave birth to you and reared you. If every businessman does something for his country, it will be twice as rich,” the President underlined.

    The Head of State noted that the ice arena and the pool constructed with the help of Triple LTD are a good example for business. “Yuri Chizh became a pioneer in doing a good cause. I am looking forward to the same thing from other representatives of the Belarusian business circles,” Alexander Lukashenko said. “We will put a strain on those who do not understand my requests,” the President added.

    If Belarus surmounts crisis, it can be among world’s leading economies .

    “If we survive the crisis that affected us, we will be ahead of others when the world’s economy starts rising,” the Head of State assured.

    “Unfortunately, this pest, the so-called global financial crisis, hurt us, too. Nevertheless, Belarus in general and the Brest oblast in particular, are holding on,” the President said.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, what matters most at present is to sell the products that are manufactured in the country. “No matter how difficult it is, everyone, from a worker to a governor, should know: you should sell what you have produced,” the President underlined. He added that the products should be of top quality.

    “I have just spoken at a session dedicated to entrepreneurship. The session revealed that the products that can be manufactured in Belarus, are often imported,” Alexander Lukashenko noted. The Head of State therefore commissioned the government with the task to analyze the kinds of products individual entrepreneurs are selling on the domestic market and to make sure the same goods are manufactured at Belarusian enterprises.

    Everyone should hold on, the President said. “Those who survive the crisis will be the strongest in this world,” the Head of State assured. Belarus has everything to handle the difficulties.

    “We will construct and create, anyway,” Alexander Lukashenko underlined. There will be no cutbacks in the social development plans of Belarus. “If we cannot complete something within a year, we will do it within two years. But we will definitely do it,” the President concluded.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus and Russia are able to settle any issues of bilateral relations, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and Russia are able to settle the issues of mutual interest, Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko said in a meeting with Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin on December 22, BelTA informs.

    “Ahead of our talk I would like to say that there are no problems with settling all Belarus-related issues of Russia in the way it should be done. I think there are absolutely no problems with addressing all Belarus’ issues by the Russian Federation. I am confident that we are able to settle them because we believe there are no problematic issues,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President of Belarus said that Russia has always wanted to see that the state of affairs is good in Belarus and that the bilateral relations are good, too. We are ready for this. The Russian Federation is a strategic partner for us and not simply a strategic partner but a brotherly state. We will always proceed from these positions, may somebody like it or not. This is what the Belarusian people want. You know my point of view with regard to the Russian Federation,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    In turn, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev stated that “our views on this coincide. We, of course, view Belarus as our key partner, strategic partner”.

    Belarus is not going to beg anything from Russia, Alexander Lukashenko says

    Belarus is not going to beg anything from Russia, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev in the Kremlin on November 22, BelTA informs.

    “There is something we need to talk about today. But at first I would like to dismiss all kinds of insinuations that have appeared recently that Belarus was going to beg something from the Kremlin. I would like to say straight away we are not going to ask for anything,” the Belarusian leader said.

    Alexander Lukashenko reminded, that Belarus was an assembly room of the former Soviet Union “and of Russia today”. “We buy completing parts and resources from the Russian Federation. If the economy of Belarus comes to a halt, it will mean 10 million partially or completely unemployed people in Russia. As the companies from which we buy the completing parts will close down too. I think this is not in the interests of Russia, even more so of Belarus. In this context we do want support of the Russian Federation because this is in the interests of Russia and Belarus,” the Head of State said.

    The President of Belarus agreed with the Russian counterpart that 2008 was a complicated but fruitful year for the two states. “We have achieved truly significant results in economy. There were no problems in other areas. Russia is right to emphasize that the current economic situation was created not by us. It came to Belarus and Russia from outside. If the stability prevailed in the world, we would stand firmly on our feet in five years (Russia even sooner),” the Belarusian leader is confident.

    Alexander Lukashenko and Dmitry Medvedev said that the current difficult financial and economic situation made an impact on the rate of economic development. “We do not conceal this fact. But the statements made in Europe and in the USA that you cannot overcome the crisis on your own are right,” the Belarusian Head of State said.

    Belarus named Russia’s key partner

    Russia believes Belarus is its key strategic partner, said President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev during talks with President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko in the Kremlin on December 22.

    “The statement says it all. Issues will still pile up in cooperation of countries, even such close ones as Belarus and Russia. We meet exactly for the purpose of dealing with them,” underscored Dmitry Medvedev. “It is our constitutional duty as presidents to meet, discuss, and make decisions, which are mutually beneficial and accepted by our nations. This is my point of view.”

    The President of Russia remarked, arranging a meeting at the end of the year is a custom among good friends. “Therefore, I believe today we can discuss the way the year has passed,” Dmitry Medvedev told Alexander Lukashenko.

    According to the Russian leader, 2008 has been a very saturated year, even a complicated one. “Meanwhile, the dynamics of the Belarusian-Russian cooperation was quite good. The trade turnover rose steadily. In principle we’ve come to make the decisions we were supposed to have made, with the global financial and economic crisis among other reasons. We continue cooperation, finding ways out of these problems. I think we can meet the New Year regarding the Belarusian-Russian cooperation in a good mood,” said Dmitry Medvedev.

    A session of the Supreme State Council of the Belarus-Russia Union State is scheduled to be held in Moscow in late January - early February, spokeswoman for the Russian President Natalia Timakova told reporters on December 23.

    According to her, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko have reached an agreement on this. “The two Presidents gave commissions regarding the drawing up of the agenda of the coming meeting”, Natalia Timakova said.

    Russians consider Belarus most stable and successful CIS member state

    From: BelTA
    The poll carried out by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center revealed that the Russians consider Belarus the most stable and successfully developing country of the Commonwealth of Independent States, BelTA has learnt.

    According to the poll, 51% of the Russians believe that Belarus is a stable and successfully developing country, Kazakhstan is second (40%), Azerbaijan is third (11%). The remaining CIS member states did not score more than 9%, Tajikistan and Georgia being in the bottom of the list with 3% and 1% respectively.

    In terms of trust in political leaders, the Russians placed Belarus first; 44% of the Russians trust Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko. He is followed by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev (35%). Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev is placed third (7%).

    Belarus named CIS most comfortable country for Russian speakers

    The Russians believe Belarus is the CIS most comfortable country for Russian speakers, according to a poll performed by the All-Russian Public Opinion Studies Centre.

    It is Belarus that secures rights of Russian speakers in the best way, 49% of the Russians believe. As far as comfort of staying is concerned, Belarus is followed by Kazakhstan — 21%. According to respondents, other CIS countries fail to secure the rights of Russian speakers in a proper manner. The situation is most drastic in Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Georgia.

    The poll also showed that the Russians have little interest in the cultural legacy of the CIS states: 47% of those polled had troubles naming the country they would like to know more about. Meanwhile, 17% of those polled showed interest in the historical and cultural legacy of Belarus, 14% — Kazakhstan, and 12% — Armenia.

    Chinese Ambassador: Belarus-China cooperation is gaining momentum

    From: BelTA
    The cooperation between Belarus and China has recently been gaining momentum, BelTA learnt from Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of China to Belarus Lu Guicheng. He took part in the cultural event titled Confucius in Belarus timed to the forthcoming Christmas and New Year on December 23. The event was organized by the Belarusian State University (BSU) under the auspices of the Chinese Embassy in Belarus, and Confucius Institute for Chinese Studies at the BSU.

    Lu Guicheng underlined that Belarus is one of 78 countries where a Confucius Institute was set up. There are 249 institutes and 56 classes worldwide. The ideas of Confucius and the Chinese culture are becoming increasingly closer to other nations.

    Harmony is the essence of Confucius ideas. “The harmony of a country is achieved through a policy in the interests of all its citizens, the harmony of the world is achieved through good relations with other countries based on equal rights for the comprehensive development. Each country has its own history and culture which is an integral part of the human heritage and has the equal right for harmonic existence. We cannot paint our colourful world in one colour, we cannot use the same standards to measure the values of billions of people. This is the world as Confucius saw it and other Chinese continue to see,” the diplomat said. This philosophy remains relevant to this very day.

    The Ambassador noted that culture has no borders. Just like the great Belarusian artist Marc Chagall belongs to the whole world including China, Confucius belongs to Belarus, too.

    Lu Guicheng presented a gift to the Confucius Institute in Belarus: an elaborate portrait of this Ancient Chinese philosopher created by Chinese masters and a collection of quotations of Chinese philosophers.

    The meeting in the Belarusian State University continued with a demonstration lesson of the Chinese language conducted by a Chinese teacher. The Belarusian students showed excellent pronunciation and calligraphy skills.

    The students demonstrated the knowledge of a tea-drinking ceremony, a master class in Chinese marshal arts, sang Chinese songs. They spared no efforts to impress the Chinese guests with their knowledge of the Chinese culture and traditions.

    At the end of the meeting Lu Guicheng noted that it is the culture that contributes most to the better understanding between the peoples. The students of the two countries that study the languages of each other help strengthen this understanding. The youth serves the bridge of friendship between the Belarusian and Chinese nations, the Chinese Ambassador said.

    The event was covered by Chinese mass media: Xinhua News Agency, China Central Television (CCTV) and others.

  • Economics...

    Belarus to introduce preferential energy tariffs for companies-exporters

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will introduce the preferential tariffs on energy for GDP-forming energy-intensive companies-exporters. This is one of the anti-crisis measures designed in Belarus, Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko said at a session of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers on December 24, BelTA informs.

    He informed about the draft measures designed to address the most complicated economic problems during the global financial crisis. They include the measures to support Belarusian export and to preserve foreign sales markets, enhance the competitiveness of products, stabilize the financial state of organisations and optimize production and sales costs.

    These measures give an opportunity to support financially the companies as the prices for products keep falling. This will also help “meet softly and flexibly the requirements which are imposed by the global crisis,” the Economy Minister said.

    The most significant measures include the compensation for some part of loan interests from the national budget, issuing interest-free tax credits to the organizations that are facing the problems with marketing their products. Some kinds of raw materials and parts that are not manufactured in Belarus and are imported into the country for the country’s own use will be relieved from customs duties. Preferential tariffs on natural gas, electric and thermal energy will be introduced for key energy-intensive enterprises.

    The legal framework has already been developed for most of these measures. Suggested by ministries and agencies, the Council of Ministers has prepared a draft resolution on the compensation for some part of loan interests for legal entities in 2009, and a draft resolution on granting a tax credit. A list of organizations has been compiled that in 2009 will be compensated a part of interests for using loans (their initial number is 73). The state support is to amount to Br153.6 billion. According to Nikolai Zaichenko, this sum has exceeded what has been left in the budget (Br113 billion), but the Finance Ministry and the Economy Ministry keep working on it. The national development fund is also to be involved in these programmes.

    Some 95 companies would like to get interest-free tax credit for value added tax and profits tax. The term of the tax credit is one year. Its major recipients are the companies of the Industry Ministry, the Ministry of Architecture and Construction, the Bellegprom Concern and the Bellesbumprom Concern.

    According to Nikolai Zaichenko, the support in the form of preferential tariffs on energy is not new. But it will be applied now. This issue will be discussed at a session of the commission for energy import under the chairmanship of Vice Premier Vladimir Semashko on December 24.

    Specialists are also developing President’s instructions on establishing standardized revenue distribution.

    Specialists are also developing the measures to promote the sale of goods such as timber at commodity exchanges. According to the Minister, companies should have an alternative way to sell their products. Therefore the logging value will be preserved at the level of 2008. Sales of some kinds of timer at commodity exchanges will be made voluntary in 2009. The most important resources will be sold via exchange.

    Belarus Premier: only export-oriented and competitive companies will get support

    Only export-oriented and competitive companies will be supported by the state, said Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky at a session of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers to discuss the measures to maintain the stability of the country’s key and other enterprises on December 23, BelTA has learnt.

    The Prime Minister said, “At present, in the conditions of the global financial crisis we are focusing on the implementation of the innovation development programme.” The enterprises that managed to quickly upgrade their production and secured their competitiveness will get the state support, Sergei Sidorsky said.

    The head of the Belarusian government reminded that a set of measures was adopted in Belarus to maintain the economic security of the country in the conditions of the global financial crisis in October. They are aimed at helping the Belarusian economy adapt to the conditions of economic austerity, optimizing expenses and raw materials. “The financial resources were channeled into certain priority areas, the internal economic sector; a set of measures was adopted to support the banking system and promote the domestic products abroad,” the Prime Minister said. All this was designed to boost the exports of Belarusian enterprises, Sergei Sidorsky added.

    In his opinion, the current situation is going to be protracted, because the foreign market does not show any signs of stabilization. The state should spare no effort to avert the downturn in the trade and Belarusian exports, especially with those countries where Belarus has already found its niche. Almost every company has developed a system of anti-crisis measures. Now these efforts should be put into practice to get the expected results, Sergei Sidorsky underlined.

    The measures to liberalize the economy gave the enterprises more freedom to act. The major challenge we are facing today is to manufacture a product, sell it and gain profits. That should become the goal of all the enterprises of the country, the Prime Minster said.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus seeking $3B loan from Moscow

    From: AP
    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev shakes hands with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, in Moscow's Kremlin on Monday, Dec. 22, 2008. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with his Russian counterpart Monday for talks that reportedly included a request for $3 billion in loans to help Belarus' Soviet-style economy weather the global financial meltdown.
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with his Russian counterpart Monday for talks that reportedly included a request for $3 billion in loans to help Belarus' Soviet-style economy weather the global financial meltdown.

    It's the second time this year that Lukashenko has turned to his lukewarm ally for help in supporting his ex-Soviet republic's economy. Earlier he sought a $2 billion loan from Moscow.

    Before the visit, the Kremlin said Lukashenko and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and would discuss "a wide range of issues of bilateral cooperation" including "cooperation in the fuel and energy sector."

    But the daily Kommersant, citing unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry officials, said Belarus was seeking $3 billion in loans from Moscow but that Moscow wants Belarus to recognize two breakaway Georgian regions as independent nations as a condition for providing the money.

    Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia after its August war with Georgia, but so far only one other nation — Nicaragua — has followed suit.

    Russian Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin was later quoted by ITAR-Tass and Interfax as saying that Belarus had asked Russia for a 100 billion ruble loan ($3 billion).

    Kommersant also reported that Moscow wants Belarus to turn over control of its state-run natural gas transport system as a condition for the money.

    Belarus relies heavily on cheap imports of Russia oil and gas and it's a key transit nation for Russian natural gas headed to Europe. But the countries have clashed over price contracts in the past and Europe-bound supplies have been disrupted — to Moscow's dismay.

    In brief comments before TV cameras prior to their Kremlin meeting, Medvedev said 2008 was an "eventful and in some sense complicated year."

    "But at the same time, with regard to the dynamics of the Russian-Belarusian partnership, it was not bad," he said.

    Lukashenko said Belarus considers Russia a strategic partner.

    "Russia is our sister country. Whether one likes it or not, we begin with that stance and we always will act accordingly. That is how the Belarusian people are attuned," he said.

    Belarus's economy is mainly centrally controlled, and the government has burned through its gold reserves this year trying to prevent the collapse of the Belarusian ruble.

    Last week Lukashenko announced he was also seeking $5 billion in aid from the United States, even though Washington has dubbed him "Europe's last dictator" for his authoritarian rule.

    The country is also negotiating for a $2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

    Belarus to trade in rubles in exchange for $3.5 bln Russian loan

    In a related story, Ria Novosti reports that Belarus has turned to Russia for a 100 billion-ruble ($3.5 billion) loan in exchange for payment in rubles in bilateral trade, a Russian deputy finance minister said on Monday.

    "There is a letter saying that they want to obtain a loan of 100 billion rubles in exchange for transition to ruble payments for trade," Dmitry Pankin said.

    Pankin failed to specify the rate, at which Belarus wanted to obtain the loan, or whether the loan issue would be discussed at today's meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko in Moscow.

    The Russian government earlier agreed to grant Belarus a $2 billion stabilization loan. Belarus received half of this sum back in November.

    Mutual trade between Russia and Belarus increased more than 40%, year-on-year, in 2008 and is expected to hit a record $33 billion by the end of the year.

    Lukashenko Postures, Gets Gas Deal

    From: Moscow Times
    President Dmitry Medvedev reached an undisclosed agreement Monday with Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko on a price for Russian gas exports next year after Lukashenko offered some tough comments ahead of their meeting.

    An accommodation with Ukraine remained more distant, as Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov warned 13 European Union leaders on Monday of possible disruptions of deliveries if supplies to Ukraine, a major transit country, were cut.

    Although no details for the Belarussian deal were released, Lukashenko appeared to have won concessions from Moscow if the curt statement issued by the Kremlin afterward was any indication.

    "The talks have produced an agreement about the main principles" of supplying gas to Belarus and payments next year, said Natalya Timakova, Medvedev's spokeswoman.

    Lukashenko said ahead of the talks Belarus couldn't afford the initial price proposal from Gazprom of at least $200 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. The country's First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko said Belarus was looking for a price of $140.

    A source in the Belarussian delegation said the price reached during the talks was "quite acceptable," Interfax reported. Belarus and Russia also reached a security-related deal, the source said.

    Spokeswomen for the Kremlin and Lukashenko's administration in Minsk declined to comment on the gas deal, as did a Gazprom spokesman.

    The security deal may have involved a joint air-defense system, a proposal that Belarus has balked at in the past, said Alexander Fadeyev, a researcher at the CIS Institute, a think tank studying the former Soviet republics.

    Lukashenko came into the negotiations with some bluster, warning Medvedev in an opening speech on Monday that Russia would suffer if high gas prices crippled the Belarussian economy. Russian companies supplying industrial components to partners in Belarus would have to lay off 10 million employees if those partners were to go bankrupt, he said. Belarus itself has a population of just under 10 million.

    "I want to publicly sweep away all kinds of insinuations that have been voiced lately about Belarus going as far as to crawl to the Kremlin to beg for something," he said. "I want to say right off: We are absolutely not going to beg for anything at all."

    The fact that no official information was made public about Monday's deal indicates that the talks were difficult and failed to reach an exact agreement, Fadeyev said. Lukashenko simply got assurances that the price wouldn't rise to the level against which he had protested.

    An earlier agreement, reached in 2006, stipulated that Belarus would enjoy a 20-percent discount next year on the price Russia charges for gas delivered to the EU.

    There was also no information on whether a Belarussian request for a loan of 100 billion rubles ($3.5 billion) in exchange for denominating gas payments in rubles had been granted. Deputy Finance Minister Dmitry Pankin announced on Monday that the proposal had been made, Interfax reported.

    Any new loan would be the third extended by Moscow to Minsk in the space of 12 months. Most recently, it agreed last month to lend Belarus $2 billion, of which half has already been transferred and the other half is to be provided before the end of February. Belarus borrowed $1.5 billion in December 2007.

    Both loans are long term, for 15 years, with this year's loan at an interest rate of LIBOR plus 3 percent, and last December's at LIBOR plus 0.75 percent.

    If all that is left is to finalize some of the specifics with Belarus, gas talks with Ukraine appear to have made little, if any headway.

    The message to EU leaders from Zubkov, who is also chairman of Gazprom, said Ukraine would be to blame for any possible disruptions of the gas transit, the Cabinet said in an e-mailed statement.

    Moscow, he said in the message, had offered to pay Kiev in advance for the transit of Russian gas across Ukraine, which would be able to use the funds to cover what it owes for gas already delivered. Ukraine refused, he said.

    Zubkov said that Ukraine's delay in paying is "especially perplexing" after the International Monetary Fund agreed to provide it with $16.5 billion in loans to cover budget outlays and support its banking system.

    "I would like to assure you that Gazprom will, as usual, fully meet its contractual obligations to European clients," Zubkov said. "At the same time, it cannot be ruled out that the current position of the Ukrainian side or some of its steps ... might lead to a breach of stability in delivering gas to Europe."

    Russia will continue intensive talks with Ukraine in the days remaining before the end of the year, Zubkov said.

    Ukraine would not tap into EU-bound supplies because it has a reserve of gas sufficient to last through the end of spring, said Oleksandr Shlapak, first deputy chief of staff for Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

    "Ukraine will not steal anyone's gas in the new year," Shlapak said Monday, Interfax reported.

    Ukraine's national gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, has put aside 16 billion cubic meters of gas in underground storage facilities, Shlapak said.

    He also said that Yushchenko had agreed to a price based on the formula Gazprom uses in its contracts with the EU, but only if that price would only apply for the first quarter of 2009, and could later be reduced.

    The formula Gazprom uses pegs its prices to those for oil, but with a lag of six to nine months, meaning the first quarter prices will be some of the highest in its history, or upward of $400.

    US lawyer imprisoned in Belarus files complaint to UN Human Rights Committee

    From: Navany
    US lawyer Emanuel Zeltser imprisoned in Belarus' Mahilyow has filed an urgent complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, BelaPAN said.

    In the complaint, Mr. Zeltser says that the Belarusian government is "violating his civil and political rights during his detention in Belarus as a political prisoner."

    He is seeking his immediate release. The 21-page complaint summarizes the "harsh and abusive treatment" of Mr. Zeltser in custody in Belarus.

    The lawyer says in the complaint that he never intended to visit Belarus and his last memory before he awoke in Belarus was having a cup of coffee in London.

    Since the arrival, he says, he has been subject to physical beatings, deprived of his prescriptions, suffered severe pain and mental deterioration, and denied proper medical treatment.

    Mr. Zeltser filed the complaint through his Washington-based counsel, Joseph L. Brand (Patton Boggs).

    The US Department of State and several leading members of the US House of Representatives have called for the release of Mr. Zeltser on humanitarian grounds.

    On August 11, Mr. Zeltser was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of "attempted industrial espionage" and the use of fake documents. His secretary, Russian national Vladlena Funk, was sentenced to one year in prison on the same charges. The Minsk City Court held the trial behind closed doors and no details of the case were disclosed to the public.

    The pair were arrested upon their arrival in Minsk in March and put into the KGB detention center.

  • From the Opposition...

    Ministry of Internal Affairs responded to human rights activists’ address to Lukashenka

    From: Viasna
    In his letter to the activists of Brest region, deputy head of the main department for law and order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs claims, everything was fine with the rights of women prisoners in Belarus.

    First deputy head of the city department for law and order and crime prevention Barsukou informs, that men and women are kept separately. Women are kept in the “most light and dry cells”, and inspection and search are conducted only by female supervisors. According to Barsukou, they carry out regular work to bring the conditions of confinement “to the established international norms and law requirements”.

    Let us remind you, Brest activist of the Movement for Freedom Raman Kisliak initiated a letter to Lukashenka stating that the arrest centers do not fulfill the requirements to observe the rights of women prisoners.

    Movement for Freedom registered

    In a related story, the Ministry of Justice last week handed over an official certificate of registration to the leaders of the “Movement for Freedom”.

    Deputy chair of the Movement Yuras Hubarevich told that to RFE/RL. He pointed out, three earlier attempts to register the movement in the Ministry of Justice ended with a failure.

    The decision to create the non-governmental organization was made on October 23rd in Mahiliou. Over 70 people from different regions of Belarus took part in the founding congress. The congress approved the statute and formed the governing bodies of the NGO. Aliaksandr Milinkevich is elected chairman of the movement. Viktar Karniyenka and Yuras Hubarevich became his deputies.

    In response to US missile shield in Europe Russia can deploy Topols in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    One of the responses of Russia to deployment of elements of the US missile shield in Europe could be placing Topol complexes in Belarus.

    It has been stated by a source in the Russian military agency to Interfax.

    “If the United States continues to bring elements of its strategic forces closer to Russia's borders, including missile-defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, which are aimed at the reduction of our nuclear deterrent, mobile Topol complexes could be placed in Belarus. I think that the level of strategic cooperation of the “union state” of Russia and Belarus would allow to settle the issue positively,” the source of the Defence Ministry said.

    As said by him, such a step wouldn’t demand huge investments. In the Soviet time missile divisions were deployed not only in Russia, but in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Baltic States, Ukraine. At the moment, according to the source, missile infrastructure outside Russia remains in good condition only in Belarus. There is a network of roads in the missile launching area, fortified command posts.

    As the ministry noted, there is no necessity to deploy mobile complexes of the new generation Topol-M in Belarus.

    “Topol missiles’ term of service has been extended. It is a long-lasting missile. It is impossible to find an autonomous launching platform which is masked at the deployment site in dispersed dispositions,” the source underlined.

    It should be noted that Topols were exactly the missiles of the missile regiments deployed in Belarus in Soviet time. A single-warhead missile with a solid rocket motor is on alert in the Strategic Missile Forces for 21 year. The grouping of the Strategic Missile Forces has about 500 missile complexes of 6 types, including about 300 Topol complexes.

    As we have informed, a few days ago Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated that deployment of US elements of missile shield threatens Belarus and “union ally” Russia.

    And earlier it was said that Belarus cab deploy Russian missile complexes Iskander at its territory. However, as Lukashenka explained, the decision to buy Iskanders was adopted a few years ago. The deal was postponed “on financial reasons”, and according to the Belarusian leader, “in the near future” deployment of Russian missile complexes at the territory of Belarus “is not planned”. At the same time the countries have already agreed upon creation of a common regional air defense system.

  • Around the region...

    Russia denies supplying S-300 missile systems to Iran

    From: Ria Novosti
    Russia is not selling S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran, the Russian federal service for military cooperation said in a statement on Monday.

    "Reports on deliveries of S-300 systems are untrue," the statement said.

    Iran's official news agency IRNA, quoting a deputy head of Iran's parliamentary foreign policy and security commission, reported on Sunday that Russia had started supplying components for S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.

    Russia's state-run arms exporter said earlier on Monday that Moscow only sold defensive weapons to Iran, in strict compliance with the international nonproliferation regime.

    "Only defensive systems are being supplied to Iran, including surface-to-air systems. Previously, Tor-M1 air-defense systems were supplied to Iran," Rosoboronexport said.

    Iran's Foreign Ministry has neither denied nor confirmed the report.

    An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tel Aviv had received assurances from Russia that it had not started S-300 deliveries to Tehran.

    A deputy chief of Russia's federal service for military cooperation said last Wednesday that military cooperation between Russia and Iran was designed to ensure regional stability.

    "Military cooperation between Russia and Iran has a positive impact on stability in the region. We have been developing and will continue to develop this cooperation," Alexander Fomin said.

    According to unofficial sources, Russia and Iran are currently in talks on a deal to sell Tehran advanced medium-range surface-to-air missile systems.

    Russia to allocate $35.3 billion for arms production in 2009-11

    In a related story, Ria Novosti also reports that State capital investments into serial production of armaments and military hardware in 2009-2011 will total about $35.3 billion, a first deputy chairman of Russia's military-industrial commission said Monday.

    "In practice, over three years these expenditures will total about 1 trillion rubles," Vladislav Putilin said.

    Putilin also said the government had approved the state defense order for 2009-11 worth a total of 4 trillion rubles ($141 billion).

    Russia plans to put into service more than 400 new weapons, materiel and other pieces of military equipment, the official added.

    In the period of 2009-2011, Russian armed forces will receive 70 strategic missiles, 30 Iskander missiles and a number of carrier rockets and spacecraft.

    In addition, "Russia will buy 38 military aircraft, six drones, over 60 helicopters, 14 ships, almost 300 tanks and over 2,000 vehicles," Putilin said.

    Moscow, Kiev Heads Toward Gas Impasse; Russia Threatens to Halt Sales to Ukraine Over Debt, Jeopardizing Flow to Europe

    From: Washington Post
    Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, with his deputy premier, Igor Sechin, at a meeting of leading natural gas exporters in Moscow aimed at strengthening cooperation.
    Russia and Ukraine appear to be heading for a new collision over natural gas that could disrupt supplies to Europe this winter, with Russia threatening to stop selling the fuel to Ukraine on Jan. 1 if it does not repay more than $2 billion in debt.

    Russia called on European nations Tuesday to pressure Ukraine to guarantee the delivery of Russian natural gas to the continent. The appeal, made by Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko, came as negotiators prepared to meet in Moscow in an attempt to resolve the politically tinged standoff.

    Russia briefly reduced its supply of gas to Ukraine in March and shut it down for a few days in January 2006. But the latest disagreement could be more severe because the global financial crisis has battered both countries and left them hungry for funds.

    Any disruption could affect Europe because Russia supplies as much as a quarter of the gas the continent uses, most of it delivered through pipelines in Ukraine. Analysts say Ukraine could divert gas intended for Europe to satisfy its own needs if Moscow carries out its threat to shut off the supply to Ukraine.

    "Europe must be concerned by the decisions made by Ukraine," not by Russia, Shmatko said at a news conference. "Russia will ship and export gas in quantities stipulated in our agreements."

    He added that Europe should "exert required pressure" to ensure "guaranteed gas transit."

    Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, set the Jan. 1 deadline for payment of Ukraine's gas debts at a news conference last week, saying Ukrainian officials had informed the company they could not raise any more funds for gas for the rest of the year.

    But Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said the country had already paid Russia for gas consumed in the summer and autumn, and the national gas company, Naftogaz, said additional payments were planned.

    The dispute arose in negotiations over a new gas contract between Russia and Ukraine. Moscow is trying to raise prices after more than a decade of charging subsidized rates. Ukraine has resisted the increase, asking Russia to pay more for using its pipelines and offering to let Gazprom sell directly to Ukrainian consumers.

    The Russian demand for payment comes as Ukraine is struggling to avoid a financial meltdown, with the value of its currency plunging and its vital steel industry laying off thousands of workers. The International Monetary Fund and other funding sources have already granted Ukraine a $16.5 billion emergency loan.

    Some politicians in Kiev have accused Moscow of trying to exploit the crisis to force Ukraine to surrender control of its pipelines and to weaken its fractious, Western-leaning government. But others say that Gazprom is struggling to survive the crisis too and that it is worried that its other customers will follow Ukraine and seek to defer payment of their bills.

    Viktor Zubkov, Gazprom's chairman and a deputy prime minister, formally notified European leaders on Monday of possible delivery disruptions because of the dispute with Ukraine. He said that Gazprom had offered to pay Ukraine in advance for the use of its pipelines so it could have the funds to cover its debts but that Ukraine declined.

    A senior Ukrainian official, Oleksandr Shlapak, said Ukraine had guaranteed delivery of Russian gas to Europe, adding that it had enough in underground facilities to last through the first part of the new year even if Russia cut off supplies.

    "Ukraine will not steal anyone's gas starting in the new year," he told the Interfax news agency. He added that Russia was unfairly insisting on prices that did not reflect the impact of the financial crisis, which has resulted in a sharp drop in the price of oil.

    Addressing a meeting of gas-exporting nations in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the crisis would hit the gas industry harder than other energy sectors but argued that the price of natural gas should rise as a result.

    "Costs of exploration, gas production and transportation are going up. It means the industry's development costs will skyrocket," he said. "The time of cheap energy resources, cheap gas, is surely coming to an end."

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poles lose Erika Steinbach defamation case

    From: The News
    The Court of Appeal in Cologne, Germany, has ruled that Poles distributing leaflets depicting Erika Steinbach with a figure from the Nazi SS libeled the head of the German Federation of Expellees.

    The Court of Appeal has agreed with a lower court which previously forbade members of Polish Trusteeship (Powiernictwo Polskie) to distribute the leaflet. It also ordered them to pay Erika Steinbach 50,000 euro in damages, as well as to cover the costs of trial.

    The offending leaflet, which shows the German Federation of Expellees head Erika Steinbach - who represents the interests of Germans who were either expelled after World War II or fled their homes in Central and Eastern Europe – with an SS man and a medieval knight who appear on the leaflet is accompanied by a a phrase of a speech by Adolf Hitler.

    Erika Steinach, offended when she learnt about the leaflet, sued the Polish Trusteeship for deformation of character. The trustee members in turn, claim that they had a right to demonstrate against the dangerous activity of the Federation of Expellees.

    "I didn’t expect any other verdict," said Senator Dorota Arcieszewska – Mieleczyk of the Polish Trusteeship, adding that it will not hinder her association's battle with Steinbach.

    Erika Steinbach's Federation of Expellees came in for strong criticism in Poland, after the newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported in 2003 that at a meeting of her federation, materials glorifying the 1939 invasion of Poland were available for sale.

    UK – drink driving warning issued, in Polish

    From: Polskie Radio
    Scottish police have issued a warning about alcohol and the road after 10 percent of those stopped for driving over the limit were found to be Polish.

    Four out of 43 people discovered driving over the limit came from Poland during a four week Safety on the Roads Campaign launched to cut down the number of deaths on the road in the period leading up to the Christmas break.

    During the long weekend break in Poland last May police detained a staggering 1835 drunk drivers.

    US airport security harasses elderly Poles?

    From: The News
    More and more Poles complain about the US airport immigration services: even the elderly pare being harassed.

    Dziennik reports of one 73-years-old Polish woman, who was delayed from visiting her son and grandson in New York after she was taken from the airport to a cell in handcuffs.

    According to the officers, the woman had violated US immigration law – a few years earlier she illegally prolonged her stay in the US.

    In November another Polish woman aged 81 was also transported to custody in handcuffs.

    Poland’s foreign ministry has already complained to US consul-general to Poland, Philip Mine.

    “We respect the right of US law to refuse Polish citizens on their territory. But we decided to point to the humanitarian aspect of the case,” explains foreign ministry’s spokesman Piotr Paszkowski. Paszkowski.

    To avoid such cases in the future the US is considering launching an information campaign in Poland on its immigration law.

    Only this year the US Citizenship and Immigration Services have sent back home several dozen Poles who landed on the US soil. The number of rejected Poles increased with every month – in November as many as 13 were forced to return to Poland, more than any other month this year.
  • Note: Message here: Take the hint!!

  • Sport...

    Alexei Grishin of Belarus wins World Freestyle Skiing Cup in China

    From: BelTA
    Alexei Grishin of Belarus scored 249.25 points to win the gold medal in aerials at the World Freestyle Skiing Cup which was held in Adventure Mountain, China. Three more Belarusians made it to the top ten. Dmitry Dashchinsky scored 226.61 to place sixth. Dens Osipov was seventh with 219.61 points and Anton Kushnir ninth with 208.00 points.

    Alla Tsuper of Belarus came in sixth with 80.95 points in the women’s aerials. The gold medal went to Shanshan Zhao from China (201.63).

  • Cultural scene...

    Kremlin greenlights patriotic epic;
    Central Partnership to produce 'Brest Fortress'

    From: Variety
    Central Partnership, Russia's leading independent production company, has won a government tender to make the first fully state-funded feature since Soviet times — $8 million budgeted patriotic war film, “The Brest Fortress” — in association with state film studio Belarusfilm in Russia’s Western neighbor Belarus.
    It is the first of a raft of similar government-backed patriotic films that will roll out from 2010 onwards under a new policy that switches state funding to projects more in line with wider Kremlin political priorities.

    The amount of money pledged is nearly 10 times as much as the maximum amount given in Russia in recent years for state-approved patriotic war films: Afghan war movie “9th Company” made in 2005 on a budget of $10 million received around $1 million; last year “1612” — an epic about the Russian-Polish war of that year, made at a cost of around $12 million also received a $1 million subsidy.

    The move, announced Tuesday, suggests Moscow’s response to the increasing crisis in the Russian film industry is a return to a Soviet-era policy of supporting producers by spending taxpayer rubles on 100% state funded propaganda, nationalistic and patriotic projects.

    The film — about the heroic defense of the Brest Fortress, a key border stronghold that held out for nine days, longer than expected, after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 — is being 100% financed through TRO, the television and radio broadcasting council of the Russia and Belarus Union State, a loose, supra-national association founded in 1996 that has been beset by vague objectives and lack of common political will in the two countries, both former Soviet republics.

    The decision to target tax payer funds toward grand, nationalistic filmmaking seems to have brought some focus to the relationship. Filming on “Brest Fortress” is due to begin in Minsk in the spring, with a release scheduled for the 65th anniversary of the end of the war (known in both Russia and Belarus as the Great Patriotic War) in 2010.

    The film’s producer credits will be shared between Igor Ugolnikov, chairman of the TRO, Ruben Dishdishian, head of Central Partnership, and Belarusfilm CEO, Vladimir Zametalin.

    In a joint statement released by the parties Tuesday, Dishdishian said: “We are glad to be part of this project. At the moment we all need heroes and to take part in a film about the heroic defense of the Brest stronghold is very timely. I hope it will be successful with viewers, both those brought up on patriotic Soviet cinema and younger audiences.”

    Ugolnik said the film would describe in detail the first day of the war and the way in which many different nationalities of the Soviet Union stood shoulder to shoulder to defend their motherland, adding that it would strictly adhere to “historical truth” and avoid cliched depictions of “crazed Germans and abnormal Russians.”

    A spokeswoman for Central Partnership, Yulia Kulikova, added that participation in the project offered a measure of stability for the company in the coming year.

    Russian ministry of culture head of press Natalia Uvarova told Variety, the return to 100% state funding was part of a new government drive to support both established and young directors, and producers of “children’s, educational, patriotic and cultural films” that championed the moral values of a democratic society and lawful state.

    Some $70 million of a total of $194 million in film funding budgeted for 2010 would be earmarked for such projects and 10 100% state funded films are expected to be produced.

    Uvarova added that the funding formula was “not exactly the same as in Soviet times, as now an expert commission will decide which projects are funded.”

  • Endnote...

    Cold War Shivers. US-NATO clash with Russia

    From: Global search
    2008 will be remembered as a turning point in Russia’s relations with the West. It was a tumultuous year, with Kosovo, missiles in Europe and NATO’s seemingly relentless march eastward like thunderclouds gathering on Russia’s horizon, which finally burst 8 August over South Ossetia, bringing tragedy to Georgians, triumph and tragedy to Ossetians and Russians, as the Russian army stopped short of Tbilisi in their defence of the plucky Ossetians.

    Poland, in a tizzy, quickly signed up for US Patriot missiles; the EU and NATO, in a snit, suspended relations with Russia and did their best to undermine Russia’s fragile economy. US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates made a grand tour of countries supposedly threatened by Russia (in addition to visiting his new friends in Kosovo), though only the woe-begone Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili bothered meeting him at the airport. This darling of the West – and Israel – suddenly found himself friendless after his disastrous altercation with his neighbour. Even Israel pulled in its horns, cutting off its lucrative arms sales out of fear of Russia.

    Little more than a month later, the storm clouds over Russia seem to have dispersed. Europe again began improving relations, with a Euro-Russia summit in November, followed by renewed negotiations on a strategic partnership and a renewal of Russian-NATO dialogue in December. The Bush administration was not amused, but then lame-duck President George W Bush has about as many friends these days as Saakashvili.

    It was amusing watching NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer jumping through hoops, so to speak, in early December after a NATO foreign ministers meeting, as he explained the alliance’s decision to begin “a conditional and graduated re-engagement” with Moscow, despite strident disapproval from Washington, not to mention Moscow’s own strident disapproval of NATO moves to absorb Ukraine and Georgia, and after its spectacular assertion of authority in its “near abroad” with the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abhazia. The Hoop argued, “Russia is such an important factor in geopolitical terms that there is no alternative for NATO than to engage Russia.” He innocently claimed he had no idea why Russia felt “victimised, not to be taken seriously, but if that is the perception, we have to discuss it, because I have to try to convince them that democracy and the rule of law coming closer to Russia’s borders – why should that be a problem?”

    As if he actually believes that NATO is about the tired cliches of democracy and freedom that are used to justify this Cold War relic, and not about US empire and its attempt to end any residual opposition, especially in the oil-rich Eurasian space, which Russia just happens to control.

    So why the sudden courtship of the Russian ogre? De Hoop said it was because of Afghanistan, fighting terrorism and narcotics. We could add the financial crisis as well. But towering over even that is the very frightening spectre of another arms race between the two – yes two – superpowers which Europe is uncomfortably sandwiched between.

    It’s as if Don Juan realised too late that his latest flame – his true love this time – was wise to him and had decided the jig was up. Defying the US, de Hoop Scheffer and his Euro diplos realised their place was the tried and true middle path between the two big guys. He did his best to pretend that nothing really was wrong, but no one was fooled. “I’m basically an engager,” de Hoop Scheffer said. “But engagement can’t take place in the context of spheres of influence. We have to see if Georgia is a watershed or not. I hope not, and I’ll do my best that it will not be.” Sorry, de Hoop. You closed the barn door too late. Your beloved has bolted.

    The emissary of the spurned lover, Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitri Rogozin, welcomed the decision to resume informal talks with Russia, saying, with not a little sarcasm, “I personally do not see the difference between formal and informal sittings, except that you don’t have coffee in an informal meeting but you still can order one.” Rogozin also said that the decision not to give a formal action plan to Georgia and Ukraine showed that relations with Russia were more important to NATO than either applicant. He predicted that NATO would retreat from admitting Georgia and Ukraine, a prospect that “does not cheer anyone in the alliance.” Rogozin said that “there is an open split within NATO, and it will widen if NATO tries to expand further. The schemes of those who adopted a frozen approach to Russia have been destroyed.” Words that left Don Juan apoplectic. The Hoop shot back that Rogozin could say what he liked, and American officials dismissed his comments as bluster aimed at a domestic audience.

    Upping the ante, in the NATO meeting’s final communique, which went through 22 drafts, the foreign ministers gave their unanimous support to the planned deployment in Europe of US missile defenses, which Washington continues to say are for protection from Iran, not Russia. Reading from a script retrieved from history’s dustbin, the ministers called the missile system “a substantial contribution” to defense and encouraged Russia to take up US proposals for cooperation on missile defence, oblivious to US president-elect Obama’s own scepticism about the system, or the comments last month by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that the missile defense would “bring nothing to security” but “would complicate things and make them move backward,” or Russia’s threat to install short-range missiles of its own in Kaliningrad.

    As for Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s proposed talks on a new “security architecture” for Europe – which Sarkozy agreed to in November – de Hoop Scheffer said that NATO members were “quite happy with the security structure as it exists in Europe. There is not a shimmer of a chance that NATO could or would be negotiated away.” The Euro fans of America and foes of Russia see the Russian president’s proposals as a direct attempt to undermine NATO. And so what? The only way to make peace with Russia is to do what should have been done 17 years ago, when the Warsaw Pact was disbanded: dismantle its twin and build a European partnership from the Atlantic to the Pacific, minus the US and Canada. There is something called the United Nations where everyone can get together. The EU and Russia are already working together on peacekeeping – through the UN – as seen with the current EUFOR mission in Chad, which includes 320 Russians. I repeat: Who needs NATO to police the world?

    De Hoop drew his line in the sand at a news conference with Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili. She expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the meeting, in which ministers reconfirmed that Georgia and Ukraine would eventually become members of NATO and said NATO would accelerate cooperative reform programmes with both countries through existing NATO commissions. Don’t hold your breath, Eka. A lot can happen between now and “eventually”. The US and Germany are at odds over how further expansion of NATO can proceed, with Germany insisting on a MAP (Membership Action Plan) and Bush’s team arguing that “MAP has been fetishised”. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried said that this “is not the only way to get there,” wherever “there” is. Instead of a MAP, he has in mind the NATO-Georgia Commission established hurriedly after 8 August, modeled after the NATO-Ukraine Commission established in 1997 – “MAP without MAP”, as the German fetishists drolly put it.

    But the bottom line on Georgia is that it can’t join NATO if it is not at peace with its neighbours, as this would oblige NATO to go to war to “defend” it. This argument could even encourage Russia to make a move on Crimea, putting Ukraine in the same predicament, making it, too, ineligible. How ironic this would be, given NATO’s pretensions to be a bastion of peace.

    As the Hoop performed his verbal acrobatics, the EU was performing its own highwire act with Russia, renewing negotiations on a new strategic partnership. But with a nod to US desires to keep moving eastward come hell or high water, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also outlined to the press the EU’s proposed new “Eastern Partnership” with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, the latest move into the ex-Soviet bloc since the EU expanded in 2004 and 2007 to embrace the Baltics and all the former Warsaw Pact nations. The partnership offers free trade deals, closer energy ties, easier access to visas and financial assistance programmes worth a total of ?600 million over two years. To their bitter disappointment, EU-member hopefuls Ukraine and Moldova were lumped together with the others, indicating that their applications were on hold.

    Interesting, the supposed rush to get Ukraine and Georgia into NATO and the procrastination over them joining the much more important economic organisation. The Eastern Partnership was a response to Sarkozy’s Mediterranean Union, bringing all the Mediterranean countries together with the EU in a loose economic club, and was put on fast track after the war in Georgia in August. Barroso denied suggestions that the EU was seeking to establish itself as an alternative power centre to Moscow. “The Cold War is over,” said Barroso, “and where there is no Cold War, there should be no spheres of interest.” Who does he think he’s kidding?

    But Russia has no beef with EU expansion, which can only benefit Moscow in the long run. In fact, it is not inconceivable that Russia itself could join this economic pact, which clearly benefits one and all, at least economically. This cannot be said of NATO. De Hoop Scheffer understandably wants to keep his prestige (and pension), but this is one endangered species that deserves extinction.

    As NATO prepares the fireworks for its big 60th anniversary, its plans for Georgia and Ukraine are in disarray and its war in Afghanistan is a nightmare which could tear the organisation apart in 2009. Happy anniversary.