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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Most Belarusians believe domestic political situation stable, Belarus Editor Jailed, Science, Pretax profits, Techno park, Nukes, Politics and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #275

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarusian science should earn money by introducing its inventions

    From: BelTA
    Valentin Orlovich, the chief research associate at the Institute of Physics of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, has been honoured with the Medal of Francysk Skaryna
    On January 18, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko visited the site, where Belarus’ High-Tech Park will be constructed. As BelTA learnt from the presidential press service, the head of state was interested in the course of fulfilling his instructions concerning this important state project given earlier. Besides, the visit to the construction site was not a scheduled action.

    The Belarusian leader stressed he necessity to beautify and improve the territory of the academic town of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus located close to the High-Tech Park. “We are carrying out a super-modern project and cannot ignore the problems of the territories locater nearby. Order should be brought to the buildings, infrastructure and greenfield sites,” said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko was informed about the utilisation of the funds allocated for the reconstruction of facilities of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and for the development of manufacturing capabilities of the scientific establishments.

    Later Alexander Lukashenko arrived at the scientific-production centre “Institute of Pharmacology and Biochemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus”. He visited labs, got familiar with the equipment used there and spoke to the personnel.

    In the research laboratories of the institute Alexander Lukashenko discussed the progress in introducing the latest achievements of the Belarusian scientists. As the financial situation in the research institutions and wages of their personnel mainly depend on this. “Twenty years ago scientists could simply sit in the rooms doing nothing and being sure that the state will settle all their financial problems. Today the situation and economy have changed. The state will undoubtedly continue injecting money in science but scientists should strive for earning additional funds by introducing their innovations,” the President underlined.

    When addressing the scientists, the head of state noted that the Year of Health, declared in Belarus in 2008, provides for fulfilling many challenging tasks. This is not only developing physical culture and sport but also reequipping hospitals and medical centres, dealing with the demographic problem and stimulation of medical science.

    Within the current five-year term the scientists will have to resolve a complicated task – jointly with manufacturers to step up the production of modern effective medical preparations, Alexander Lukashenko stressed. This is a matter both of import-substitution and the launching of the production of new, original and innovation-based medicines in Belarus.

    According to the specialists, while saturating the domestic market with medical preparations, which is estimated at $350 million a year, Belarus should continue actively entering foreign markets. For instance, only European countries annually spend almost €200 billion on medicines. The Belarusian manufacturers should produce not only medicines but also vitamins and dietary supplements as well.

    Alexander Lukashenko gave instructions to develop the experimental and production base of the centre, to ensure the fulfillment of the state tasks concerning the creation of new medicines, to complete the first and the second construction stages.

    During his visit to one of the production facilities of the National Academy of Sciences, where the head of state was demonstrated a medical plasticized article production line, the researchers raised the question concerning the improvement of the legal framework which restricts possibilities of the research structures to develop their own production bases. The President promised the scientists to address this issue in detail.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    In January-November 2007, Belarus’ foreign trade 24.7% up

    From: BelTA
    In January-November 2007, Belarus’ foreign trade increased by 24.7% over the same period last year up to $51.8 billion, BelTA has been told in the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis.

    Export grew by 22.1% to $24.8 billion, imports by 27.3% to $27 billion. Over the eleven months the deficit of foreign trade in goods and services came to $2,188 billion, with the merchandise trade deficit as large as $3.227 billion, the surplus of the foreign trade in services — $1.038 billion.
    Export-import operations with intermediate goods (energy resources, raw stock, materials and components) accounted for the main part of the foreign trade deficit. In January-November 2007 Belarus imported $18.5 billion worth of intermediate goods (29.9% up) and exported $15 billion worth of intermediate goods (17.7% up). Due to higher energy prices the value of imported natural gas went up $981.8 million, oil — $1200.1 million up from the same period of 2006.

    In January-November 2007, the trade in goods reached $47.2 billion, with the export as large as $21.8 billion, import — $25.4 billion. In cost terms the merchandise export swelled by 20.6% up on the same period of 2006 in current prices, merchandise import — 27.3% up.

    According to the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis, over the eleven months of 2007 the foreign trade in services amounted to $$4.12 billion, 39.4% up on the same period of 2006. The export of services soared by 37.2% to a total of $2.767 billion, import — 44.2% up to $1.353 billion.

    In 2007, Belinvestbank posts pretax profits of Br50.9bn

    In 2007, Belinvestbank posted pretax profits of Br50,88 billion, up 38% from 2006, BelTA was told in the Bank.

    As of Janaury 1, 2008, Belinvestbank assets were equal to Br3,13 trillion (up 49%), loan portfolio - Br2,22 trillion (up 48%).

    Over the period under review Belinvestbank normative capital grew by 32,6% to total Br319,17 billion, including the authorized capital - Br154,41 billion.

    As of January 1, the volume of deposits attracted by the Bank reached Br2,81 trillion (up 50.8%). Deposits attracted from individual clients ramped up by 33% up to Br793,79 billion, corporate clients – by 64% to Br1695,48 billion.

    Belarusian Bank for Development and Reconstruction Belinvestbank was founded on September 3, 2001 through a merger of Belbusinessbank and Belarusian Bank of Development. The Bank services state programmes, accumulates investment resources of the government, conducts its investment policy and services credit lines of foreign investors. Belinvestbank ranks in top five major banks of Belarus.

    A reminder, on October 9, 2007 Fitch Ratings confirmed Belinvestbank’s long-term issuer default rating “B-”, short term rating “B”, support rating “5”. The bank’s individual rating was upgraded from “E” to “D/E” due to diversification of the loan portfolio and funding base, improvement of the risk management procedures.

    In 2007 Belarus’ trunk pipelines transport 7.9% more gas

    n 2007 the Belarusian trunk pipelines transported 70.2 billion cubic meters of gas, up by 7.9% on 2006, BelTA learnt from the Ministry of Statistics and Analysis of Belarus.

    Last year the Belarusian pipelines pumped over 90.9 million tonnes of oil, 92.5% more compared to 2006.

    Gas is transported via Belarus by Beltransgaz Co. and the gas pipeline Yamal-Europe. Oil is delivered by Gomeltransneft Druzhba Co. and the Novopolotsk-based oil transportation company Druzhba.

    BNTU technological park Metolit, Sultan Qaboos University intend to sign cooperation agreement

    From: BelTA
    Sultan Qaboos University
    The technological park of the Belarusian State Technical University Metolit and Sultan Qaboos University (the Sultanate of Oman) intend to sign a cooperation agreement, BelTA learnt from Yuri Alekseev, the director general of the park. Such agreement was reached during a visit of representatives of the scientific and educational circles of Oman to Minsk.

    Representatives of Sultan Qaboos University got familiar with the scientific-innovation activity of Metolit and showed interest in the Belarusian biotechnologies, new materials, metalworking and medical techniques. Metolit presented a whole set of promising scientific projects to the guests from Oman, which can be jointly carried out. In the near future the guests will analyse all the proposals in detail and sign an agreement describing concrete cooperation terms.

    According to Yuri Alekseev, the Omani scientists showed special interest in the powder material oxyfuel gas spraying technology and equipment developed by Metolit. This technology is used for high-wearing tractor and truck details, oil, drilling and gas processing equipment. The technology increases the durability of details 3-5 times compared to the analogous techniques. The foreign specialists were also interested in the technology of polishing details made of stainless and carbon steel, aluminium and copper. It combines operations of cleaning, oxidising and polishing metal materials. Special salts are used to process metals instead of chemical acids. It makes the technology eco-friendly. The Omani guests expressed interest in the Belarusian medical equipment as well.

    According to the preliminary agreement, Metolit will participate in the creation of a new scientific-technical park under Sultan Qaboos University. “Our cooperation will help promote the national innovation products to the market of the Sultanate of Oman,” Yuri Alekseev underlined. Moreover, scientists of the two states will be get new opportunities for carrying out several joint scientific projects.

    Founded in 1985 Sultan Qaboos University unites seven educational establishments – natural-science, medical, pedagogical, agricultural, engineering, trade-economic and art colleges.

    The technological park Metolit of the Belarusian National Technical University was founded in 1992. The industrial cluster develops, assimilates and batch produces new technologies, materials and equipment. Metolit also aids small innovation companies promoting their products.

    TV and radio company Mir to broadcast 30% more information programmes

    From: BelTA
    Ways to improve the performance of interstate TV and radio company Mir after the transition to full-scale TV and radio broadcasting across the Commonwealth of Independent States caused lively discussions at a session of the Council of CIS member-states’ plenipotentiaries to CIS charter and other bodies in Minsk.

    Mir President Radik Batyrshin remarked that Mir should become a TV channel with a rich informational component, high social responsibilities. It should act for the benefit of all shareholders and should not discriminate the viewership according to geographical differences. In order to reach these goals as from February 1, 2008 the number of information programmes the channel offers will increase by 30% while the number of shows for kids will triple. The cultural and country lore components will be beefed up. To make it possible, the company together with the Interstate Foundation for Humanitarian Cooperation worked out several new cycles of programmes, which will be broadcast this year.

    Besides, the company’s retooling plan has been developed, as the equipment’s deterioration rate currently stands at 70%. There are plans to switch over to multimedia technologies and deploy a powerful web portal.

    TV and radio company Mir was initially envisaged as a CIS broadcasting authority and a system for sharing video reports about socially important CIS events. However, some countries try to enforce national laws, which demand that at least half of the air time should use the official language of the country. Sociologists believe such steps could decrease the viewership by 3-4 times. According to Radik Batyrshin, TV channel Mir should be immune against it.

    He suggested legalising Russian as the main broadcasting language of the company. The initiative, however, will not prevent national branches of the company from making programmes in languages used in the CIS member-states.

    Radik Batyrshin pointed out that every year the company’s funding is cut down by 20% on the average, while the expanding media market entails rising costs for all instruments of TV and radio broadcasting business.

    TV and radio company Mir includes nine national, four regional branches and representative offices as well as a reporter’s post, with the broadcasting time as large as 20 hours daily. The company uses the satellite ABS-1 to reach the viewership from the Atlantic to the Pacific. By early 2008 Mir’s viewing public totalled 42 million people.

    Most Belarusians believe domestic political situation calm, stable

    From: BelTA
    According to a sociological survey performed by analytical centre EcooM, 48.5% of Belarus’ citizens believe the domestic political situation is stable.

    Another 23.8% of those polled are inclined to think the situation in Belarus is calm. 11.2% of respondents are in favour of naming the situation as rather tense while 9.9% said the situation is neutral. Only 0.7% of respondents are confident the political situation in the country is tense while 5.9% of respondents did not think about it at all.

    An overwhelming majority of respondents (81.4%) rejected the possibility of their taking part in mass political actions while 13.3% said the probability of their doing so is low. 4.7% of polled citizens are ready to participate in political actions.

    The survey was carried out throughout Belarus in December 2007 – January 2008, with 1,614 citizens aged from 16 to 31 polled.

    Belarus creates single database of committed crimes and offences

    Belarus has created a single database of crimes and offences committed on the territory of the country, Prosecutor General of Belarus Piotr Miklashevich told a press conference on January 16.

    According to him, the prosecutor’s check did not reveal a mass concealment of crimes and offences. According to Piotr Miklashevich, “only relevant bodies and officials will have an access to the database."

    At present the database contains information about 1.2 million crimes. “These are those cases when reports on administrative offences were drawn up,” Piotr Miklashevich underlined. The database does not contain information about 300 thousand offences, when relevant reports were not drawn up (ticket fines, crossing the street in the wrong place, etc.).

    No objective information to confirm disappearance of citizens in Belarus

    The General Prosecutor’s Office continues investigating criminal cases concerning citizens gone missing in Belarus, Prosecutor General of Belarus Piotr Miklashevich told a press conference in Minsk.

    “No objective information to confirm the fact of disappearance has been found,” said the official.

    Piotr Miklashevich also said, the view of the General Prosecutor’s Office on the case of Valery Ignatovich remains unchanged. “Despite his complaints there is nothing able to place in doubt the court’s ruling,” he said.

    BelTA reported earlier, legal proceedings were launched following the disappearance of reporter Dmitry Zavadsky in 2000. Valery Ignatovich and Maxim Malik, former officers of the special operations unit Almaz, have been found guilty of kidnapping the reporter. They were sentenced to life imprisonment in a high-security penal colony.

  • From the international press...

    Belarus Editor Jailed for Islam Cartoon

    From: AP
    A Belarus court sentenced a newspaper editor Friday to three years in prison for reprinting a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad that sparked worldwide riots when it was initially published in a Danish newspaper.

    In Vienna, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe protested the sentence and called for the release of Alexander Sdvizhkov, the former deputy editor of the small-circulation Zhoda newspaper.

    Security officers in Belarus launched an investigation of Sdvizhkov in February 2006 when he published the caricatures which had originally appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

    Fiery protests swept across Muslim countries in early 2006 in reaction to the Danish publication.

    President Alexander Lukashenko ordered the paper shut the following month, calling the publication of the cartoon "a provocation against the state." Sdvizhkov was arrested and charged with "inciting religious hatred" in November 2007 when he returned to Belarus following several months of living in Russia and Ukraine.

    The Minsk City Court imposed its sentence Friday after a closed-door trial. Sdvizhkov said he would appeal.

    Belarusian Islamic leader Ismail Voronovich called the sentence excessively harsh.

    The ex-Soviet republic is overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian; less than 1 percent of the country's 10 million is Muslim.

    In the 14 years he has been in power, Lukashenko has run the country with an iron fist, quashing opposition groups, closing down independent media and restoring Soviet-style, central controls to the economy.

    Belarus denies plans to sell missiles to Iran

    From: Reuters
    The S-300PT
    Ex-Soviet Belarus dismissed as laughable on Friday a report by intelligence journal Jane's that it was ready to sell Iran two missile systems for $140 million.

    Jane's on Thursday said Belarus, a fierce critic of the United States, was in the final stages of negotiations with Tehran over the sale of Soviet-era S-300PT air defense systems. The report quoted Belarussian defense sources.

    "This is untrue. Such information can only induce laughter," said a spokesman for Belarus's security council. "There are no grounds for the story and no grounds for any sale."

    Russia denied last month statements by Iran's defense minister that it intended to supply an S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to Iran.

    The S-300 missiles have a longer range than the TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles which Russia said earlier this year it had delivered to Tehran under a $1 billion contract.

    The United States and Israel criticized that deal, saying Iran could use the system to attack its neighbors.

    Iran is subject to U.N. sanctions over its refusal to halt sensitive nuclear activity that Western countries suspect it wants to master to build nuclear bombs. But conventional weapons sales to Tehran are not banned.

    A foreign ministry spokesman said Belarus would abide by all U.N. measures concerning Iran.

    Western media have previously suggested that Russian missile systems could be supplied to Iran, possibly through Belarus, which is accused by the United States and European Union of violating fundamental human rights.

    Jane's quoted the Belarussian sources as saying that the S-300PT systems would be transported to Iran partly assembled aboard cargo aircraft.

    The S-300PT was one of the first modified versions of an air defense system first developed in the Soviet Union in 1978.

    The modified system, completed in the 1980s, is used by three air defense brigades in the country wedged between Russia and three European Union countries.

    Belarus, under President Alexander Lukashenko, has been developing ties with several states criticized by Washington, including Iran, Cuba and Venezuela.

    The United States had previously accused Belarus of selling arms to now-deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, while offering no conclusive proof.

    Russia, Belarus defense chiefs sign communications deal

    From: Ria Novosti
    The defense ministers of Russia and Belarus signed an agreement on Saturday to set up a communications system between regional groupings of the countries' Armed Forces.

    Russia's Anatoly Serdyukov and his Belarusian counterpart Leonid Maltsev met in Moscow for talks on bilateral military cooperation.

    Serdyukov said last year that the development of military ties with Russia's ex-Soviet neighbor have been encouraged by NATO's eastward expansion and U.S. missile shield plans, and that Russia would continue to supply arms and military hardware to Belarus at subsidized rates and on a priority basis.

    The countries are developing a unified air defense system in line with plans to create a Union State, which they have been working on since 1997, envisioning a common economic, customs, and political space.

    Belarus considers buying advanced Russian air defense system

    In a related story, Belarus is looking to buy the advanced S-400 Triumf (SA-21 Growler) air defense system from Russia, the chairman of the Belarusian State Military-Industrial Committee said on Wednesday.

    The S-400 Triumf is a new air defense missile system developed by the Almaz Central Design Bureau as an upgrade of the S-300 family.

    Nikolai Azamatov said Russia could start exporting the S-400 in 2009 and that Almaz executives were ready for negotiations.

    According to some sources, Belarus submitted last year a formal request for two S-400 battalions to be made available by 2010.

    Almaz General Director Igor Ashurbeili previously said that production and the subsequent export of S-400s could start in 2009. Belarus currently has three S-300 complexes on combat duty.

    However, Russia said last August that it would not export S-400 missiles in the foreseeable future.

    "A decision to export such systems may only be made by the country's top leadership," a source in the military-industrial complex said, commenting on a recent statement by Belarus's defense minister on his country's intention to buy S-400 systems.

    Russia has deployed an S-400 battalion to guard the airspace around the capital, Moscow.

    The S-400 is designed to intercept and destroy airborne targets at a distance of up to 400 kilometers (250 miles), or twice the range of the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot, and 2.5 times that of the S-300PMU-2.

    The system is believed to have high capability to destroy stealth aircraft, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles with an effective range of up to 3,500 kilometers (2,200 miles), and a speed of up to 4.8 kilometers (3 miles) per second.

    A regular S-400 battalion comprises at least eight launchers and 32 missiles and a mobile command post, according to various sources.

    Small business activist Alyaksandr Rubchenya arrested in Homyel

    From: Naveny
    Alyaksandr Rubchenya, chairman of the council of vendors at Homyel’s Tsentralny market, was arrested on January 18.

    As Mr. Rubchenya told BelaPAN, he was attacked by a stranger just before the arrest. “I was going out of a hairdressing salon when a young man jumped at me, punched me in the face and began screaming that I had insulted him,” he said. “Half a minute later, I was approached by three policemen who accused me of using obscene language and escorted me to a police station.”

    According to Mr. Rubchenya, his detention was another in a series of arrests all over the country ahead of a rally that entrepreneurs plan to stage in Minsk on January 21. The authorities are afraid that thousands of entrepreneurs will take to the streets in Minsk to protest Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s edict, just as they did last week, he said.

    About 3,000 small business owners and sympathizers gathered on Minsk’s Kastrychnitskaya Square on January 10 to demand the abolition of Paragraph 1.1 of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s Edict No. 760 that requires that sole entrepreneurs should not employ workers other than three family members. Under new regulations, entrepreneurs have to re-register their businesses into “private unitary enterprises” if they want to have more employees, which would automatically double the amount of taxes that they have to pay.

    More than 20 people grabbed at the rally were sentenced to 15 days in jail last week.

  • Cultural scene...

    Agitation cycle race of Belarusian and Russian young people to be held in summer 2008

    From: BelTA
    The agitation cycle race “Youth of Russia and Belarus – a way to the future of the Union State” will be held in summer 2008. The 700-kilometer race will span across four regions of Belarus and Russia (the Vitebsk, Mogilev, Smolensk and Pskov oblasts), BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Education Ministry. The cycle race was organized by the Permanent Committee of the Union State. During the race, its participants will meet with war veterans, take part in various sports competitions and roundtables devoted to the issues dealing with the cooperation of the youth of both the states.

    According to specialists of the Education Ministry, recently the Belarusian-Russian relations in educational sphere have been intensified significantly. The Council of Ministers of the Union State passed a decision to hold a gathering of students of the Union State in the Vitebsk oblast of Belarus and also the academic excellence contest “Russia and Belarus: historical and spiritual community” (on the base of Belgorod State Technological University). In 2008, gathering of young ecologists of Russia and Belarus “Ecology without Borders” (in National Reserve Kurshskaya Kosa in the Kaliningrad oblast) and a civic-patriotic gathering of students of military colleges of Belarus and Russia (in Belarus’ National Health Center “Zubrionok”) are expected to be financed from Union’s budget.

    More than 60 educational establishments of Belarus cooperate with educational establishments of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Pskov, Smolensk, Nizhniy Novgorod, Volgograd, Petrozavodsk, Bryansk, Ryazan, Kaliningrad and others. Almost all Belarusian universities cooperate with Russian universities within the framework of the joint scientific agreements and programmes.

    The two countries concluded more than 300 agreements on cooperation in educational sphere. The agreements guarantee the equal rights for the citizens of both the states to get qualitative education on the territory of Belarus and Russia. The sides concluded 269 agreements on cooperation between universities. In 2006-2007, around 2 thousand Russian students attended Belarusian universities, more than 10 thousand Belarusian students attended universities of the Russian Federation.

    Belarusian-Russian University (Mogilev), a branch of Moscow State University of Economy, Statistics and Computer Science and a branch of Russian State Social University function in Belarus.

    According to the Belarusian Educational Ministry, in 2007 a number of events for children and students were held at the expense of Union’s budget. These are a contest of research works of students of secondary schools of Belarus and Russia in Polotsk, a tourist gathering in the Pskov oblast of Russia, the Days of Education of the Republic of Belarus, academic excellence contests, exhibitions of scientific-technical developments in Nizhniy Novgorod and St. Petersburg, tourist gatherings and patriotic actions with the participation of children and war veterans of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Smolensk, Bryansk and all the regions of Belarus, international festival of youth initiatives “Open project – youth cooperation” with the participation of teams of various regions of the Russian Federation and others.

  • Around the region...

    British Council ‘front for spying in Russia’

    From: Times On-Line
    OFFICERS at the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the former KGB, suspect MI6 of using the British Council as a cover for gathering intelligence and recruiting agents in Russia.

    The allegation is at the centre of a relentless campaign by the authorities against the council, which resulted in the closure of its offices in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg last week.

    “We have no doubt that British intelligence uses the council as well as other organisations to spy in Russia,” a senior FSB officer said.

    The council, which organises cultural events, has rejected any notion that it has links with the world of intelligence.

    The row has further strained relations between Britain and Russia, already at their lowest ebb since the end of the cold war because of the death in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer, and Russia’s refusal to extradite Andrei Lugovoi - Scotland Yard’s prime suspect in the murder.

    David Miliband, the foreign secretary, accused the Russian authorities of a “campaign of intimidation” after the FSB called the council’s Russian staff in for questioning. He described their actions as “reprehensible, not worthy of a great country” and a “stain” on Russia’s reputation.

    “We saw similar actions during the cold war but, frankly, thought they had been put behind us,” Miliband said. The Russians hit back by accusing Britain of suffering from a “colonialism complex”.

    Officially the row, which has dragged on for more than 18 months, centres on the council’s legal status in Russia. The Russian foreign ministry claims the organisation is not properly registered while the revenue authorities say it owes back taxes over English language classes it used to run. The British government is adamant that the council’s activities are legal.

    In practice there is much more to the standoff. The FSB has long claimed that foreign organisations are being used by western intelligence as a cover for operations in Russia to influence its internal politics.

    Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has joined in the accusations, echoed last week by Sergei Mironov, speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament. “They like very much to teach democracy, to teach us laws, but believe that this is not obligatory for them and often engage in nondiplomatic activities under the cover of diplomatic organisations,” Mironov said.

    In public the campaign against the council has been waged by the foreign ministry. Behind the scenes it is the FSB that is said to have orchestrated the crackdown.

    Russian police had accused Stephen Kinnock, head of the council’s St Petersburg office and son of Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader, of drink-driving. Last week he returned to his home in Copenhagen.

    The FSB also questioned the council’s Russian staff. “The staff were left in no doubt that they would face consequences if they continued working at the council,” an informed source said.

    Russia’s military chief of staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, warned yesterday that Moscow could use nuclear weapons in preventive strikes in the event of a major threat.

    Russia: Could Use Nuclear Weapons

    From: AP
    Russia's military chief of staff said Saturday that Moscow could use nuclear weapons in preventive strikes to protect itself and its allies, the latest aggressive remarks from increasingly assertive Russian authorities.

    Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky's comment did not mark a policy shift, military analysts said. Amid disputes with the West over security issues, it may have been meant as a warning that Russia is prepared to use its nuclear might.

    "We do not intend to attack anyone, but we consider it necessary for all our partners in the world community to clearly understand ... that to defend the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia and its allies, military forces will be used, including preventively, including with the use of nuclear weapons," Baluyevsky said at a military conference in a remark broadcast on state-run cable channel Vesti-24.

    According to the state-run news agency RIA-Novosti, Baluyevsky added that Russia would use nuclear weapons and carry out preventive strikes only in accordance with Russia's military doctrine.

    The military doctrine adopted in 2000 says Russia may use nuclear weapons to counter a nuclear attack on Russia or an ally, or a large-scale conventional attack that poses a critical risk to Russia's security.

    Retired Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, formerly a top arms control expert with the Russian Defense Ministry, said he saw "nothing new" in Baluyevsky's statement. "He was restating the doctrine in his own words," Dvorkin said.

    Moscow-based military analyst Alexander Golts said that when Russia broke with stated Soviet-era policy in the 2000 doctrine and declared it could use nuclear weapons first against an aggressor, it reflected the decline of Russia's conventional forces in the decade following the 1991 Soviet collapse.

    "Baluyevsky's statement means that, as before, we cannot count on our conventional forces to counter aggression," Golts told Ekho Moskvy radio. "It means that as before, the main factor in containing aggression against Russia is nuclear weapons."

    Putin and other Russian officials have stressed the need to maintain a powerful nuclear deterrent and reserved the right to carry out preventive strikes. But in most of their public remarks on preventive strikes, Russian officials have not specifically mentioned nuclear weapons.

    Baluyevsky spoke amid persistent disputes between Moscow and the West over issues including U.S. plans for missile defense facilities in former Soviet satellites, NATO members' refusal to ratify an updated European conventional arms treaty, and Kosovo's bid for independence from Serbia.

    Like Golts, Moscow-based military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said Russia plays up its nuclear deterrent because of its weakness in terms of conventional arms. "We threaten the West that in any kind of serious conflict, we'll go nuclear almost immediately," he said.

    But in the absence of a real threat from the West, he said, "It's just talk."

    Britain is target in Ukraine’s people smuggling bonanza

    From: Times On-line
    CHEWING slices of pork fat at his house less than two miles from the border with Slovakia, a Ukrainian people smuggler broke into a grin studded with gold teeth as he predicted a sharp increase in trade this year.

    On December 21 border controls in much of eastern Europe were abolished as nine new European Union members implemented the Schengen agreement, which allows people to move between most EU countries without a passport check.

    From Poland in the north through Slovakia and Hungary to Bulgaria in the south, the porous 1,800-mile Ukrainian border is now the EU’s final barrier against illegal immigrants.

    For the smuggler, who claims to have helped hundreds of illegal immigrants into Slovakia, the end of passport controls on EU borders heralds a bonanza.

    Migrants typically pay £5,000 to £10,000 to be guided across to the EU. In future, they will do so knowing they can reach France without an official check. Britain, which has not signed the Schengen agreement, represents a challenge but many of those arriving in northern France find a way to cross the Channel.

    “More will try to cross from here in Ukraine,” the smuggler said. “First we’ve got a good track record as about 70% don’t get caught, and second because they will be able to travel across the EU without having to show their passports. I expect business to boom.”

    Many of those entering the eastern EU countries are thought to be heading for Britain. Although the UK and Ireland have kept border controls, well-guarded frontier posts in Germany and Austria, where many illegals used to be stopped, have closed down. German police say the number of illegal immigrants found in random checks has more than doubled in three weeks.

    The people smuggler, who spoke on condition that his identity was withheld, claimed to be part of an international criminal network that routinely pays off guards on Ukraine’s borders.

    “Senior border guard officers are bribed,” he said. “I’m given a so-called ‘window’ - a time and a place when a particular stretch of the border won’t be patrolled, say 400 yards for a few hours. With that kind of deal, crossing with a group of illegals is easy.

    “Not all border guards are corrupt, of course, but we have no problem finding enough who are willing to turn a blind eye.”

    His claims raise fears that no matter how much security is reinforced with extra equipment and personnel, a surge of illegal immigrants will always be able to breach EU borders unless endemic corruption is curbed.

    Last year Ukrainian border guards detained some 3,000 illegal immigrants from as far afield as China, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Somalia. Ukrainian anti-trafficking police estimate that only 20% of those trying to cross are caught. Detainees are held in a refugee camp in Mukhachevo, a small town 500 miles southwest of Kiev, the capital. Last week the camp held 400 migrants.

    “I know some people in Birmingham and I’ve been told it’s easier to get to Britain now the Schengen rules have changed,” said Ahmed, a young Pakistani, who was caught trying to cross into Hungary and is now held at the camp. “They can send me back but I'll try again.”

    Most immigrants caught by border guards make another attempt, despite having to pay a relative fortune to the smugglers.

    The smuggler interviewed last week said that each migrant pays the total sum for the trip, up to £10,000, to a middleman. The money is then split several ways in the course of the journey between smugglers, border guards, drivers and minders.

    “There are many wheels to grease,” the smuggler said. “Getting an illegal from his home village somewhere in southeast Asia all the way to Europe is complex. There’s a huge organisation behind it all, which on the Ukrainian leg alone involves dozens of people.”

    More than half the illegal immigrants who cross into the EU via Ukraine go first to Moscow, often on official visas. They are crammed into safe houses, in some cases for months, before being driven into Ukraine, hidden in lorries in groups of up to 150 people. From Kiev, or the port city of Odessa, they are taken to border villages.

    Impoverished and only a short walk from the border, the remote hamlets are said by police to be teeming with smugglers who conceal migrants in cellars and abandoned farmhouses before leading them across the border through thick woods and over steep hills. The smugglers use boys as guides because they cannot be prosecuted if caught. They take groups of up to 15 migrants.

    “People in villages along the border have been into smuggling illegal immigrants across the border for years. It’s their main income,” said a senior Ukrainian police officer.

    According to the smuggler, he is paid £500 per illegal immigrant, of which he keeps £100. The rest goes to his accomplices on both sides of the border. He claimed that in spring and summer, when most migrants are smuggled, he could easily earn £1,500 a month - more than 15 times the local monthly salary.

    It can be a deadly crossing. Last September a Chechen woman tried to enter Europe with her four young children from hills on the Ukrainian side of the border, just a few miles from the smuggler’s village.

    Walking alone she lost her bearings in heavy rain and falling temperatures. Panicked, she left behind her three daughters, aged between 6 and 13, to search for help. Polish border guards found her and her two-year-old son wandering aimlessly. But by the time they reached the girls, all had died from hypothermia.

    Migrants are also at the mercy of criminal gangs who pose as smugglers. Recently 12 Chinese workers were held hostage by their minders. They were handcuffed in a cellar on Ukraine’s border with Slovakia and beaten and starved for several days.

    Their captors forced them to phone home to ask relatives to wire more money. They escaped and police are investigating.

    “No matter how much they tighten controls, we’ll always find a way across,” said the smuggler. “As far as I’m concerned, the expansion of Schengen is a blessing.”

    A Scholar's Legal Peril in Poland

    From: Washington Post
    Jan Gross
    Polish prosecutors are considering taking the unusual step of filing criminal charges against an Ivy League professor for allegedly "slandering the Polish nation" in a book that describes how Poles victimized Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in the aftermath of World War II.

    Jan T. Gross, a Princeton University historian and native Polish Jew, has raised hackles here with the publication of "Fear," an account of Poland's chaotic postwar years in which Jews who barely survived the brutal Nazi occupation under the Germans often went on to suffer further abuse at the hands of their Polish neighbors.

    The book was first published in 2006 in the United States, where reviewers found it praiseworthy. Gross's work, however, generated bitter feelings among many Poles who accused him of using inflammatory language and unfairly stereotyping the entire population as anti-Semitic. When the Polish-language edition of his book was released here last Friday, prosecutors wasted no time in announcing that he was under investigation.

    A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office in Krakow, which is handling the case, said a decision was expected this week on whether to press charges against Gross or summon him for questioning.

    The law in question was adopted in 2006, around the time that "Fear" was published in English; Gross and some other historians say it was partly a response to the book. The measure prohibits anyone from asserting that "the Polish nation" was complicit in crimes or atrocities committed by Nazis or communists. The maximum penalty is three years' imprisonment.

    The threat of legal action has not deterred Gross so far. He arrived in Warsaw on Monday for a nationwide tour to promote his book, which has already sold out in some stores. In an interview, he said he doubts prosecutors will charge him.

    "It's completely bizarre," he said, seeming to relish the attention. "There's an old saying in Polish that if God wants to punish someone, he takes away their brains first."

    Poland has prosecuted Gross for his views before. In 1968, during communist rule, he was arrested as a student for participating in a free-speech movement and served five months in prison. He departed for the United States a year later, taking advantage of a Polish government policy that encouraged Jews to leave the country. He enrolled at Yale University and ultimately became a U.S. citizen.

    In 2001, as a scholar, he provoked an intense public reckoning in Poland by publishing "Neighbors," a book about a 1941 pogrom in the town of Jedwabne. Uncovering new evidence, he documented how hundreds of Jews were massacred by Polish villagers in an atrocity that had previously been blamed on the Nazis. Although the book caused an uproar, its findings were later corroborated by an official historical commission and endorsed by the government.

    Many Polish historians are less enamored of Gross's most recent book. But several have slammed the authorities for even thinking about taking the Princeton professor to court, saying it makes the country look backward.

    "As a historian, I quite simply consider it a scandal," said Pawel Machcewicz, a professor at the Polish Academy of Sciences. "It jeopardizes the standing of Poland as a democratic nation. We must demonstrate that we are not afraid of any historical truths, no matter how devastating."

    At the same time, Machcewicz and other scholars have strongly criticized "Fear," arguing that Gross has sought to inflame public opinion by exaggerating the Polish attacks on Jews as "ethnic cleansing." They also said he ignored how Polish society was filled with ethnic and religious recriminations after the war and that many Catholics, Poles and Ukrainians found themselves the target of violence.

    "I'm not going to say the majority of his facts are wrong," said Machcewicz. "It is true: Polish anti-Semitism existed. There were pogroms. Many Jews were killed. There is no reason to deny it or hide it. . . . But the language he used is counterproductive."

    Poland's tragic wartime history remains a highly sensitive topic here. The Nazis exterminated an estimated 3 million Jews in Poland, or about 90 percent of the prewar Jewish population. But 3 million other Poles were also killed, and many people see them as forgotten victims in the eyes of the rest of the world.

    Many Poles are still reluctant to engage in an open discussion of those years. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the archbishop of Krakow, suggested this week that the publisher of the Polish-language edition of "Fear," a printing house with close ties to the church, had made a mistake.

    "Your task is to promulgate the truth on history and not to wake up demons of anti-Polishness and anti-Semitism at the same time," he said. "Reading the book filled me with pain."

    Andrzej Paczkowski, a well-known Polish historian and board member of the Institute of National Remembrance, said Gross had succeeded in stirring up emotions but questioned whether the public debate would do much good.

    "This book is as much for psychologists as historians," he said. "I think in this case he's not a very good teacher. If you want to persuade someone of your own opinion, in my view, you should avoid scandals and media circuses and instead slowly demonstrate the course of events by relying on facts."

    As he prepared to launch his book tour, Gross said he was not surprised at the hostile reaction.

    "The memories of the war here are fixed, of people being victims and heroes," he said. "The truth of the matter is that European societies during the war did not behave as they'd like to think toward Jews."

    He also said he was not intimidated by the risk of a legal backlash or any other dangers. Next week, he is scheduled to make a public appearance in Krakow, the city where prosecutors are weighing legal action.

    "People have warned me that I should worry and not walk at night alone, but I don't feel any threats," he said. At the same time, with his photograph in dozens of newspapers and magazines these days, he admitted to wearing a hat to disguise himself on the streets. "We'll see what happens," he said with a shrug.

  • From the blogs...

    Ales Bialiatski: “Sentence to Alexander Zdzvizhkou is direct violation of the Constitution”

    From: Viasna
    Minsk city court announced its verdict on the case against Alexander Zdzvizhkou, former deputy editor-in-chief of Zhoda newspaper. He was found guilty of violation of article 130 part 2 of the Criminal Code “inciting religious enmity” for reprinting caricatures of Prophet Mohammed. Zdzvizhkou received a sentence of three years of imprisonment in a medium security prison.

    The proceedings against Zdzvizhkou and Zhoda newspaper were instigated in 2006, before the presidential election. The former deputy editor-in-chief reprinted caricatures of Prophet Mohammed from the Dutch Jyllands-Posten newspaper. Alexander Zdzvizhkou was arrested in the end of fall 2007.

    Vice-president of International Human Rights Federation (FIDH) Ales Bialiatski thinks, “In our situation in Belarus, when Russian National Unity (RNU) insults Jews with perfect impunity, it is impossible to speak about these caricatures as inciting religious enmity. There is an impression that Belarus is a reactionary Moslem country, because the caricatures were printed in more than 50 countries of the world and nowhere had we seen similar verdicts. In case of Alexander Zdzvizhkou there are bigger reasons to speak about censorship of the press and ungrounded attack on the freedom of expression and the freedom of speech. This verdict is a direct violation of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus”.

    The trial was held behind the closed doors. On the request of the sides only the resultant part of the verdict was read. A. Zdzvizhkou was guarded. The verdict becomes effective on January 18th, 2008 and an appeal could be lodged within 10 days, the judge announced.

    The public prosecutor asked for 4 years of imprisonment in a medium-security prison for A. Zdzvizhkou.

    In February 2006 the State Security Committee (KGB) opened proceedings for publication of cartoons on Muhammad after an enquiry was made by the prosecutor’s office of the country and the KGB.

    The enquiry was made based on the petition of Muslim communities of Belarus and of the Committee on Religious and Ethnic Affairs.

    In the middle of March, 2006 Zhoda newspaper was shut down by the decision of the Supreme Court of Belarus.

    Kozlovsky Makes the MSM

    From: Publius
    Three weeks ago, we told you the outrageous story of Oleg Kozlovsky (shown above in the embrace of two fans of Vladimir Putin), shanghaied into the Russian army to stop him from criticizing the neo-Sovietization of his country by dictator Vladimir Putin. I followed up with a more detailed overview a few days later on Pajamas Media.

    Now, at long last, the mainstream media has gotten around to reporting these events, specifically the Chicago Tribune via reporter Alex Rodriguez. The story has also been translated into Russian and is circulating on their wire service. The only prior MSM mention of the incident I'm aware of was a brief blurb in the Economist on December 28th, undoubtedly due to the continuing brilliant work of their Russia expert, Edward Lucas.

    The Tribune states:

      Oleg Kozlovsky has needled the Kremlin for two years, heading up an opposition youth movement, helping organize rallies against President Vladimir Putin and criticizing the regime in a Russian-language blog he puts out. Now Russian authorities have finally found a way to silence him.

      They drafted him.

      Kozlovsky is legally exempt from conscription and has the documents to prove it. Nevertheless, on Dec. 20 police waited for him to leave his Moscow apartment, hauled him off to an enlistment office, and within 48 hours shuffled him off to a nearby military base where for a year he'll serve in a Russian army notorious for its brutality to conscripts.
    The story was published two days ago, and seemingly hasn't yet been picked up by other MSM outlets, which only goes to further demonstrate their increasing obsolescence. It's an outrage that it takes us so long to respond to urgent matters of this kind, where lives hang in the balance. According to the website of his opposition group, Oborona, Kozlovsky has been spirited away from his home in Moscow to the city of Ryazan, but has forced the military officials there to give him a medical examination to verify his disability. He's obtained written confirmation that he is medically fit for military service only during time of war, but has still not been discharged, with the Kremlin squirming to impose additional medical analysis and other forms of bureaucratic torture while Kozlovsky remains in the Army's clutches. We could wake up tomorrow and read that he's been killed in any manner of "accident" or, worse, subjected to the vicious form of military hazing that is rife in Russia and has led one soldier to have his genitals amputated.

    And if we do, our MSM will be just as much responsible as the Kremlin itself. If you read a newspaper that hasn't reported this story, you need to ask yourself what else you are missing, and to consider writing a letter to their editor demanding something better.

    The Nashi Are Ready to March

    From: Robert Amsterdam
    This bit comes from Zygmunt Dzieciolowski at OpenDemocracy:

    Alexei Levinson is a highly respected sociologist from Moscow's Levada Centre, who has studied Russian society for decades. He is concerned by the gradual elimination of democratic values from Russian life and politics. Yet to some degree his view of Nashi's future is similar to those of hunger-striker Kostya Goloskokov. He too thinks that even after the election season Nashi will not simply vanish. What worries him most is that nobody seems concerned about the movement's future. "(Nashi) is an important vehicle for the current administration to win the 2008 election. What will be its role and function in the future I don't know."
    Levinson think that Nashi members are like soldiers: they can't just train, march and rehearse for months and end up inactive. "If you have thousands of people who are on alert to do something for years and then find they have no task to perform, it's dangerous. They have their roles, their positions, they are already organised. Nobody can just say to them, 'goodbye Nashi, thank you very much, perhaps we'll see you next time."

    If Alexei Levinson is right - and many Nashi supporters would agree - the future of this movement may hold a surprise or two.

  • Sport...

    National Olympic Committee honors Belarus’ top athletes

    From: Naveny
    Hammer thrower Ivan Tsikhan was named Belarus' best athlete of the year 2007
    The National Olympic Committee (NOC) presented awards to Belarus’ best athletes of the year 2007 at a ceremony in Minsk on January 17.

    Speaking at the ceremony, NOC Vice President Henadz Alyakseyenka noted that Belarusian summer sport athletes had won six gold, three silver and four bronze medals at world championships last year, the best result in Belarus’ history. “This is the 11th best result in the world. If we manage to avoid losses, we stand a good chance of repeating the successful performance at previous Olympic Games,” he said.

    “There are no factors obstructing athletes’ purposeful preparations for the Olympics,” Mr. Alyakseyenka noted.
    As many as 139 Belarusian athletes have already won 2008 Beijing Olympics slots, he said.

    Hammer thrower Ivan Tsikhan was named Belarus' best athlete of the year 2007 in a poll of journalists conducted by the National Olympic Committee and the sports newspaper Sportivnaya Panorama.

    The 31-year-old athlete won the 2007 World Athletics Championships in Japan’s Osaka, his third consecutive world title, in August.

    In the poll, he scored 1,142 points, 98 more than the runner-up, two-time Olympic rowing champion Katsyaryna Karsten, who won her fifth world title in September.

    Weightlifter Andrey Rybakow, sailor Tatsyana Drazdowskaya and weightlifter Andrey Aramnaw rounded out the top five with 887, 530 and 502 points, respectively.

    The top 10 also included soccer player Alyaksandr Hleb (379 points), the rowing duo of Yuliya Bichyk and Natallya Helakh (316 points), skier Leanid Karnyayenka and the canoeing pair of Raman Pyatrushenka and Vadzim Makhnew.

    The women’s national basketball squad, which won bronze medals at the European Championships earlier this year, were named the best Belarusian team of the year.

  • Endnote...

    The New York Times: “Generation Jeans,” performance about Belarus stand-up routine

    From: Charter '97
    The US tour of the Belarusian Free Theatre has great success. Mikalai Khalezin’s performance “Generation Jeans” presented as part of the Under the Radar festival in New York. Belarusians are to take part in the theatre workshop in the California Art School. Leading US newspapers published review to the performances of the Free Theatre. “It is a sort of Belarus stand-up routine, what follows is basically a one-man human-rights rally,” the influential New York Times running.

    The article “Generation Jeans” in the New York Times reads:

    “It would be nice to think that freedom of speech and democracy suddenly burst into full flower the morning after the cold war ended. But it didn’t turn out quite so happily in some of the former Soviet republics as it did in satellite countries like Czechoslovakia, where the Rolling Stones played a live concert and were greeted by the new president.

    In Belarus, as Mikalai Khalezin reminds us in “Generation Jeans,” an engrossing show by Belarus Free Theatre, just owning a copy of such decadent music could still land you in prison.

    Starting with his high school experiences as a trafficker in blue jeans and vinyl rock albums, Mr. Khalezin takes his audience on a political and cultural tour of Belarus under two dictatorships: the one of the proletariat under the Soviets and the one under Alyaksandr. Lukashenka that followed.

    Speaking in Belarusian with an English translation on a screen above the stage and a D.J. providing background music, Mr. Khalezin tells how jeans became the flag of a generation of freedom fighters in the Soviet bloc. Along the way he offers humorous insights into the dark world of black marketeering of jeans and rock under the Communists.

    If the first half-hour is a sort of Belarus stand-up routine, what follows is basically a one-man human-rights rally. After a bust for illegal possession of jeans, Mr. Khalezin was arrested, beaten and held in claustrophobic conditions for attending an antigovernment demonstration. At one point Mr. Khalezin induces the audience to join him in shouting, “I am free,” an exercise few have probably indulged in lately, but a healthy one for anyone inclined to take it for granted.”

    An interview with Mikalai Khalezin, the theatre’s producer is soon to appear on our site. He will tell about the US tour in details.