Lukashenko meets with Putin, Schengen visa, EU policy, 3,300 new jobs, BY in space, Marozaw gang executed, Artur Finkevich released, Blogs and Sport
Alexander Lukashenko meets with Vladimir Putin
From: The office of the President
|Russian President Vladimir Putin receiving Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko at his residence in Sochi.|
The presidents discussed the prospects of Belarusian-Russian integration, prospects of strategic cooperation in a range of areas; they also considered the outlook for expanding trade and intensifying economic contacts, prospects of cooperation in the military sector; issues related to transit through Belarus; the equipping of the external boundaries of the Union State with the necessary facilities; coordination of actions in the international arena as part of a common foreign policy course.
The presidents also considered the possibility of Belarus’ participation in Russia’s national projects and federal programmes. That could be supplies of Belarus agricultural equipment and food to Russia.
Special attention during the meeting was paid to interaction in sport and tourism. The Belarusian side proposed considering the possibility of building a Belarusian facility as part of the facilities to be built in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
Some time after the beginning of the meeting, the two presidents were joined by the Prime Minister of Russia, Viktor Zubkov, and his First Deputy, Dmitry Medvedev.
On 3 February, several hours before the meeting with Russia’s President, Alexander Lukashenko met with Viktor Zubkov and Dmitry Medvedev to discuss, in an informal setting, a range of issues pertaining to Belarusian-Russian cooperation.
Schengen visa policy affects Belarusian-Polish tourist links
The sides exchanged opinion on the development of Belarusian-Polish relations in tourism. Pavel Latushko informed about the measures taken by Belarus to reduce visa fees and simplify visa requirements for citizens of Poland going to Belarus for tourism purposes.
The Belarusian side initiated development of partnership relations between Polish Tourist Organization and National Tourism Agency (NTA) of the Republic of Belarus. Rafal Szmytke expressed interest in developing joint Belarusian-Polish projects aimed at encouraging tourism in the Augustow canal region and Belovezhskaya Pushcha. The sides noted the necessity of taking joint efforts by NTA and PTO to create the conditions for boosting cooperation between travel agencies of Belarus and Poland.
The sides also discussed the prospects of the activity of the Belarusian-Polish commission for tourism. Rafal Szmytke was informed about the plans to open a representative office of the Tourism Department of the Republic of Belarus in Warsaw.
Belarus’ Foreign Ministry praises European Parliament’s initiative to cut Schengen visa fees for Belarusians
The Foreign Ministry of Belarus believes that the initiative of a group of the European Parliament deputies, who represent the faction of Socialists, to reduce Schengen visa fees for Belarusians is a step in the right direction, spokesman forf the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov told BelTA when asked to comment on the initiative.
“Apparently, even those European politicians, who you would never suspect of being too loyal to Minsk, are well aware that visa regulations in Europe should not hamper the development of people-to-people contacts and economic ties. We believe that establishing lower visa fees for Belarus’ citizens would correspond to the spirit of the 1975 Helsinki Agreements,” he said.
At the same time Andrei Popov said that “we are bewildered at the assertion made in the officially distributed initiative of the European deputies saying that Belarus has been allegedly inactive with regard to facilitating visa regulations with the EU”. In this regard Andrei Popov said that since 2004 the Republic of Belarus has been consistently proposing the EU to sign such an agreement. Belarus has sent letters on this issue to Eneko Landaburu, EU Director General for External Relations, and to Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Member of the EC in charge of External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, and to Franco Frattini in charge of Justice, Freedom and Security. Unfortunately, these proposals of Belarus have found no understanding of our European partners so far.
Belarus confirms its readiness to hold talks with the EU on visa issues. “More so, we have taken several unilateral steps in this direction”, Andrei Popov said. “For example, we have abolished the letter of invitation requirement for guest short-term visas for EU citizens, who plan to go on a trip as long as 30 days at most. Belarus has reduced visa fees for citizens of the neighbouring EU countries. We believe that in these circumstances we can count on reciprocity on the part of the European Union.”
EU ready to pursue more active good neighborliness policy towards Belarus
According to the ambassador, the president and the Belarusian authorities on the whole would like to see their independent state develop in closer contact with the EU. The European Union believes that the efforts of the Belarusian authorities instill hope, the ambassador said. The diplomat expressed hope that the parliamentary elections in Belarus, which are due this year, will be free and will comply will the democratic principles.
“I hope that owing to the efforts of the Belarusian authorities, 2008 will become a year of development of cooperation with the European Union so that the European good neighborliness policy could take full effect in Belarus,” Ms Mireille Musso added.
Belarus, Finland to talk over OSCE issues in Helsinki
Belarusian-Finnish ministerial consultations about OSCE issues will take place in Helsinki on February 4. The consultations are supposed to table a wide range of issues regarding the OSCE operation in 2008, including the organisation’s reform and effectiveness improvement, the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told BelTA.
The Belarusian delegation will be led by Vladimir Serpikov, Deputy Head of the Central Department for Europe, Head of the General European Cooperation Department. The delegation will also include Belarus’ Permanent Representative to the OSCE Alexander Sychev and Denis Sidorenko, Head of the OSCE and Council of Europe Office of the General European Cooperation Department of the Central Department for Europe.
During the consultations the Foreign Ministry of Finland will be represented by Aleksi Harkonen, Head of the Delegation of Finland in the OSCE and Special Envoy of the Chairman-in-Office for OSCE Issues Heikki Talvitie.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is a major international regional organisation, which comprises 56 member-states, including all European countries, CIS states, the USA and Canada.
The Republic of Belarus has been a full-fledged member of the OSCE since January 30, 1992. Taking an active part in the OSCE decision-making, Belarus contributes to the development of the common European dialogue about cooperation and security in the OSCE area.
Belarus has traditionally been one of the most active and consistent supporters of the OSCE reformation, dedicated to removing the existing distortions and fixing the drawbacks. The main purpose of the efforts is to turn the OSCE into a full-fledged international organisation, which acts for the benefit of all member-states.
In 2008 Finland acts as the OSCE Chairman in Office, which is responsible for coordinating actions and holding consultations regarding everyday operation of the organisation.
Poll: Belarusians support multi-directedness of foreign policy
According to the poll, most of the Belarusians (66.5%) consider that close cooperation with Russia meets the interests of Belarus. 33.4% of the questioned believe Belarus will benefit from cooperation with Western European countries (Germany, France, Italy, etc.), 32.4% of the polled – with post-Soviet countries, 27.4% - Ukraine, 26.4% –with the countries of Central Europe (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and others).
Nearly one fourth of the polled (24.3%) say the cooperation with China corresponds to the interests of Belarus. 14.4% of the respondents speak in favour of the Baltic states, 12.6% - Japan, 11.2% - Latin American countries (Venezuela, Brazil and others).
Only 0.7% and 2% of the questioned named North and South Korea respectively, 3.1% - Cuba, 3.9% - Iran, Iraq, Libya. Only 7.1% of the respondents said that close cooperation with America will benefit Belarus.
The poll showed that 27.4% of the questioned believe that the expansion of the links with the West will help improve socio-economic situation in the country, 18.5% of the respondents say this is the attraction of foreign capital to Belarus.
At the same time some 39.4% of the polled named strengthening of the union with Russia and other CIS countries as the major source of improvement of the socio-economic situation in Belarus.
One thousand 808 respondents aged 18 and older were questioned in the course of the sociological poll.
Over 3,300 new jobs created under innovation programme in 2007
The results of the programme in 2007 will be high on the agenda of a session of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers on February 5. The session will be chaired by Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky, BelTA learnt from the Council of Ministers’ Office.
A total of 173 facilities were put in operation under the programme last year (the target was 178). They included 16 facilities of the first level (new productions), 53 of the second level (setting up new manufactures at the existing companies) and 104 of the third level (upgrading the existing production by means of implementing advanced technology). The plan of action of the programme comprised 733 projects. Thirty-seven government bodies were involved; more than Br3,471 trillion was injected in the programme.
Some 595 projects were scheduled for completion last year. However, 111 of them were not delivered. The main reasons were lack of proper financing, low level of the projects, lengthy tender procedures, disruption of equipment supplies by a supplier.
In line with the programme 844 projects will be implemented by 2010 (including 173 facilities of the first level, 274 of the second and 397 of the third level).
Belarus to stimulate innovative activities
Belarus will take measures to stimulate innovative activities. A relevant draft decree has been submitted to the Council of Ministers, the chairman of the State Science and Technology Committee, Vladimir Matiushkov, said at a session of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers.
A resolution of the Government on financing scientific, sci-tech and innovation activity has been drafted, he informed.
According to Vladimir Matiushkov, Belarus has started developing the innovative activity regulations. A set of the documents includes the resolution on setting up innovative infrastructure entities. On January 1, 2008 Decree No 699 set zero customs tariffs for 775 commodity items, which are technological equipment. Decree No 522 introduced single standards on bonuses and Decree No 450 established additional payments for the academic degrees and titles. The Government’s resolution No1555 approved the state intellectual property protection programme while Resolution No1411 regulated the issues related to state sci-tech examination.
Lukashenko Finds His Place in Sochi
|Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko discussed skiing at Krasnaya Polyana and quickly agreed that there is nothing else like it in the world.|
Lukashenko was the first to show up at Krasnaya Polyana. He skied down the slope several times with a thoughtful look on his face as he waited for his colleagues. Lukashenko, according to the approved schoolbook story of his life, has been an cross-country skier since childhood and learned downhill skiing several years ago.
Medvedev apparently learned alpine skiing much later, several months ago or, more likely, several weeks ago. I would not rule out the possibility that it was several days ago. He was the last to come out onto the slope, already after the few journalists present had bit the bullet and settled in for 200-ruble glasses of mulled wine at the cafe. (That's about $8.)
“We've been looking for you all over the mountains,” Lukashenko said coming up to him.
I remember very well Putin agreeing to meet Lukashenko several years ago for some morning skiing at Chumbulak, in Kazakhstan, and not being able to find him. After searching various slopes, they found him on the “baby” slope, where instructors help beginners get started.
“Well, let's not get carried away,” Medvedev answered, obviously not as enthusiastic about the sport as some others are.
The Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov showed up.
Medvedev, like any beginning skier, suggested that this would be a good time to stop for tea. He had to make that suggestion two more times before the others agreed to it, and then they looked as though they would rather have gone down the hill a few more times. The prime minister holds his own on skis as well as he does in government sessions.
The drank not tea but cocoa, from Lukashenko's thermos. The Belarusian offered a toast “To the beginning of the presidential campaign” and they clicked glasses, leading to the suspicion that cocoa can be fortified with cognac as easily as coffee. Why else would they have resisted the chance to have mulled wine after their tea?
Putin had been in that cafe already this month, but he was not present now. Sources said that he was working on documents at his residence, Bocharov Ruchye. As they left the cafe, Medvedev told the barman, “We have to maintain tradition” and gave him his ski goggles.
The busy barman took the gifts without ceremony. Putin had given another barman there his goggles last month after he refused to accept money for the tea the president ordered.
That evening, when the presidents of Russia and Belarus met at Bocharov Ruchye, Lukashenko told Putin how much he enjoyed himself at Krasnaya Polyana.
“Did you like it?” Putin asked. He was proud of what he has here and probably also wanted Lukashenko to elaborate because he knew his words would reach the International Olympic Committee, and it would hear that things are finally coming along.
“I've never seen any thing like it in the world!” Lukashenko enthused. That would have meant more if it weren't for the fact that Lukashenko hasn't seen anything in the world for years, since most countries won't allowed him to visit.
“The main thing is the orderliness and security,” Lukashenko continued, as if he were talking about Minsk. “And a high level of convenience of families.”
You might have thought that Lukashenko came with his wife, but it wasn't so. They've been separated for years.
“We agreed on it and now we have to conciliate it,” he continued. “We wanted to create a Belarusian corner at the Olympiad.” Obviously, Belarus should build one of the 80 Olympic facilities by itself.
“Of course,” said Putin nodding, perhaps a little too readily, since it later became known that Lukashenko's idea was for the Belarusians to build something (most likely a hotel), with their own labor and money, that would not be subject to licensing by the International Olympic Committee, and the object would remain the property of Belarus. Then Lukashenko, who, I'm sure, plans to be president in 2014 (and for several Olympic Games to come), can come to Sochi and feel literally at home.
Twenty minutes later, the two presidents met with Medvedev and Zubkov on the second floor of the residence. They were all emphatically informally dressed. Medvedev was in Jeans, Putin wore a brown sweater and Zubkov wore a blindingly white sweater. Only Lukashenko was wearing a suit jacket.
To include him in the conversation, Putin asked Medvedev how cooperation with Belarus was going within the national agricultural project. Medvedev did not understand.
“We, we are mainly supporting our agriculture,” he began, surprised at the question. Belarus is not yet part of Russia and thus it is beyond the scope of national projects.
Perhaps Medvedev thought that Belarus had to be included in the national projects. Since the new agreement on natural gas prices went into effect, relations between Russia and Belarus have been in a warming period, which will certain end soon in another collapse.
“No, I meant equipment purchases in Belarus,” Putin said, thus relieving the first deputy prime minister of the duty of including the neighboring country in the Russian national projects.
“Equipment purchases!” Medvedev echoed. It was probably not the first time that day he thought that the person from Belarus sitting across from him would be a cross for him to bear. Beginning in May, he will sit across from him instead.
World Bank to carry out $150-million power generation project in Belarus
The project is provided for by the World Bank’s 2008-11 country assistance strategy for Belarus, which was adopted last December, she said.
Officials at the energy ministry and at the energy efficiency department of the State Standardization Committee, managers of the Belarusian State Energy Concern (Belenerha) and representatives of the World Bank currently consider specific steps that will be taken to carry out the project, Ms. Klochan said.
According to her, there are now plans to convert heating boiler houses into small power and heating plants, modernize power lines and promote power generation by the private sector. “We are just starting out with the project,” Ms. Klochan noted.
In May, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors is expected to authorize a water supply network modernization project estimated at $60 million, she said, adding that the project has been submitted to Belarusian governmental agencies for consideration. “We hope to start implementing this project this summer,” she said.
Belarus became a member of the World Bank in 1992. Since then, the bank has provided Belarus with $258 million in loans and funded 30 grant programs worth a total of $18 million. Under the newly adopted country assistance strategy, the Bank is to annually provide about $100 million in long-term loans to Belarus to support the country in addressing global environment and energy challenges.
Opposition Party of Communists of Belarus resumes activity
As the PCB press service reported on Monday, the first major event of the party after a temporary suspension of its activity was a plenary meting of the Central Committee held on February 3. The plenary meeting defined the tasks for the near future.
One of the most important directions of the party’s work, in particular, will be the preparation for the elections of deputies to the lower chamber of the Belarussian parliament scheduled for autumn 2008. The PCB also intends to actively take advantage of the difficult socio-political and economic situation developing in the country to strengthen left-wing aspirations and views in society and increase its ranks.
The PCB activity was suspended on August 2, 2007 for six months in accordance with a decision of the Supreme Court of the country. The Supreme Curt and the Ministry of Justice of Belarus discovered a number of serious violations of legislation in the activity of opposition communists.
According to the party leadership, now “all remarks, which served as a formal basis for suspending the PCB activity, have been completely removed.”
Belarus court frees jailed opposition activist
From: San Diego.com
The court in Molgilyov, eastern Belarus, freed Artur Finkevich, jailed for two years in 2006 for painting anti-presidential graffiti on the eve of an election which handed President Alexander Lukashenko a landslide victory and a third term.
Finkevich later received an additional 1-1/2 years for violating prison rules.
'The court reduced his sentence to six months and as he had already spent time in prison ... it ordered his release,' Pavel Severinets, a leading opposition figure present at the sitting, said by telephone.
'We have been told he has been informed of his release and is now gathering his things.'
The European Union and United States accuse Lukashenko of infringing fundamental rights, including freedom of speech and assembly, and have barred entry to him on grounds that he rigged his 2006 re-election.
The EU has made improved ties contingent on improvements in Belarus's human rights record, including the release of what are described as political prisoners.
Several such detainees have been released in the past year, prompting cautious praise from Brussels. And in recent days the ambassadors of Germany and France have said a September parliamentary election could lead to closer ties.
'It is clear that these releases are the result of pressure by the international community on Belarussian authorities,' Severinets said. 'For the West, this is a thaw of sorts. In any event, what is happening is generating optimism.'
Since quarrelling with traditional ally Russia last year over energy prices, Lukashenko has sought a better relationship with the West. He has called a parliamentary election for September and promised Western observers could attend.
No election has been judged free and fair since the mid-1990s in the country bordering Russia and three EU members.
The admission of observers has been a key issue in elections in ex-Soviet states. Russia on Tuesday offered the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Europe's largest rights body, concessions in a row over conditions for monitors hoping to observe next month's presidential election.
Three members of Marozaw gang executed by shooting
Anastasiya Tsymanovich would not disclose when the execution of the gang leader, Syarhey Marozaw, and his close associates, Valery Harbaty and Ihar Danchanka, was carried out.
A Homyel-based lawyer who spoke on condition of anonymity told BelaPAN that a death certificate for Syarhey Marozaw arrived in the Chyhunachny district registry office in Homyel the previous week.
The three were sentenced to death by shooting in a months-long trial that came to an end on December 1, 2006.
"The gang leader, Marozaw, tried to play for time in every possible way to defer the execution," the lawyer said. "He repeatedly 'recalled' new episodes of crimes and promised to name top officials of the central and regional governments who helped the gang operate for such a long time unpunished. Marozaw tried to save his life and, perhaps, hoped that a moratorium would be announced on death penalty in Belarus."
This past October, the Supreme Court of Belarus handed down sentences to five gang members, including Messrs Marozaw and Danchanka, on new charges, again sentencing the two to death by shooting. It then sentenced to prison two other members who fled to Russia after the opening of the case and were arrested later.
Five police officers, including the chief of the regional criminal investigation department, were convicted by the Supreme Court in the case earlier. A total of 46 people then stood trial.
The police are currently searching for a former prosecutor of the Homyel region in connection with the gang's crimes.
Meanwhile, the Chyhunachny District Court in Homyel is to hear charges against six more alleged members of the gang. More than 130 people are witnesses in the case.
Belarus to remove beaver-built dam on border river
"A dam across the Kotra river that beavers have built will have to be removed. Belarusian border guards have questions in connection with the fact that beavers have built a dam on a river that forms the water part of the Belarusian-Lithuanian border. Of course it will be dismantled, and the beavers will be resettled," Stanislav Berbol told Interfax.
"Most likely it's Lithuanian beavers that have built this dam," Berbol said. "It is possible that Belarusian beavers have taken part in building this dam, but I think their participation in that construction was insignificant," he said.
"For more than 30 years there has existed a nature reserve on the Lithuanian side of the Kotra river, and a lot more beavers have come to live there in these years than from the Belarusian side," Berbol said. "It is only for the last few years that beavers have been living on Belarusian territory in the area of the Kotra river."
The Kotra is about 35 kilometers long and about 6 meters wide, Berbol said. as
Former Prime Minister Vyachaslaw Kebich publishes 500-page memoirs
The Russian-language book, which contained almost 500 pages, had been printed in 50,000 copies by Minsk’s Paradox publishing house.
The book is about “all those people who strive for power,” the author said at the party. “I was among the people who never sought power.”
According to the 71-year-old Kebich, he narrated events preceding the collapse of the USSR. “The book is of a political nature,” he said. “Having trustworthy information I write about how some people, namely Mikhail Gorbachev, Aleksandr Yakovlev and Eduard Shevardnadze, treacherously ruined the Soviet Union. I write that it was possible to save the Soviet Union in a new form if Gorbachev had wanted a new constitution to be adopted in the country.”
According to him, he stated the history of the signing of the famous Belavezhskaya Pushcha agreement. Mr. Kebich, being in the capacity of Belarus’ prime minister, was one of those who drafted the agreement during Belarusian-Russian-Ukrainian talks at the Viskuli government residence in Belarus' Belavezhskaya Pushcha National Park in December 1991. In that agreement, the "High Contracting Parties" above all noted that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had ceased to exist as an entity of international law, and then announced the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Journalist Ihar Asinski, the book’s editor, said that he was captivated by the author’s “confessional and sincere style and his strong-worded assessment of happenings.”
Vyachaslaw Kebich, born in a village near Valozhyn, Minsk region, on June 10, 1936, had served in various engineer positions since 1958 until being appointed as director general of a machine-tool plant in Minsk in 1973. In 1980, he became a high-ranking Communist Party official.
Between 1985 and 1990, Mr. Kebich was chairman of the State Planning Committee of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. He held the post of chairman of the Council of Ministers from 1990 through 1994.
He was a candidate in Belarus' first presidential election in 1994. In the first round, he placed second with 17.3 percent compared with 44.8 percent for Alyaksandr Lukashenka. In the runoff round, he received 19.9 percent against Mr. Lukashenka's 80.1 percent.
Mr. Kebich featured in MP Lukashenka's historic pre-election anti-corruption report, but no investigation into accusations against him was conducted after Mr. Lukashenka became president in the summer of 1994. In 1995, Mr. Kebich was elected to the Belarusian legislature. He was a member of the House of Representatives between 1996 and 2004.
In the run-up to Belarus’ 2006 presidential election, Mr. Kebich came out with a statement in which he praised the incumbent president and condemned the opposition candidates.
Belarus to Host 2009 World Youth Fest
From: Prensa Latina
Cuba urged that the event continue to be an expression of the struggle of progressive youth for a better future, a fiesta of friendship, peace and fraternity, Julio Martinez, first secretary of the Young Communist League of Cuba, told Prensa Latina.
The decision of Belarus as host was made by the general council of the World Democratic Youth Federation in Lisbon, said Martinez, who highlighted the importance for progressive forces worldwide to meet in Europe to display the anti-imperialist spirit characterizing such gatherings since 1947.
Why kowtow to brutal, cynical Russia?
From: Times On-Line
The loudest alarm signal is Russia's predictable yet mystifying presidential election on March 2. Predictable because everyone knows who will win: Dmitri Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's polite, lawyerly sidekick; mystifying because the meaning of that victory is so unclear. Will Mr Medvedev be a mere figurehead? Will he stand down and allow Mr Putin to return? What does his stint running Russia's energy giant, Gazprom, one of the world's most corrupt, incompetent and sinister companies, tell us about his plans for the future? What does his rise mean for the clans of crooks and spooks whose murky feuds have increased so sharply in past months? Once a dead art, Kremlinology is now a lively and useful discipline.
Politics in Russia is a matter of life and death. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia's richest man, is on prison hunger strike in protest against the ill-treatment of his aide Vasily Aleksanyan. Mr Aleksanyan is confined in a filthy mould-infested cell because he refuses to sign a bogus confession incriminating Mr Khodorkovsky. His judicial torture, including denial of medical care, which has blinded him, has been condemned by the European Court of Human Rights. It reads like something from Dostoyevsky, not a factual account of prison conditions in supposedly one of the world's top eight industrialised democracies.
That doesn't bother most Russians. Mr Putin is wildly popular; so is Mr Medvedev. Mr Khodorkovsky and other former “oligarchs” are seen as despicable emblems of the 1990s, a decade in which Russians feel they were swindled at home and humiliated abroad. Mr Putin has brought both stability and pride. For now, democracy has failed: most Russians say they agree that the media should be controlled and that the opposition should not be allowed to contend for power.
Those feelings are complex. They are partly the result of the state-controlled media's propaganda. They also truly represent tragic misunderstandings and missed opportunities in the Yeltsin years, when oil prices were low and Russian governments struggled with crippling foreign debts. Mr Putin has been lucky - with oil at nearly $100 a barrel, Russia is bound to prosper. Yet he too is a product of the 1990s, an unemployed ex-spy who became a top official in the Yeltsin Kremlin. His denunciations of that era neglect to mention its strengths: press freedom, and also economic reforms such as privatisation and price liberalisation from which Russia has hugely benefited.
Communism has gone, but in its place has come “sovereign democracy”, a potent cocktail of self-righteousness, nationalism and xenophobia that fuels the Kremlin's power grab abroad. In the “swing states” of Eastern Europe - Bulgaria, Latvia and Moldova - we are already losing the new Cold War. We have avoided catastrophe in Serbia by a hair's breadth. The great engines of EU and Nato expansion, which brought half a continent into our orbit after the collapse of communism, have stalled.
But it is not just “faraway countries of which we know nothing” that are at stake. Russia plays divide and rule with the West, ruthlessly using our democratic politics and open economies to undermine us. It has brazenly hired Gerhard Schröder, the former German chancellor, to promote its biggest energy project, Nord Stream. This is a hugely expensive and strategically vital gas pipeline on the Baltic seabed that will bypass Poland and deliver gas straight to Germany. Like a rich and powerful man who becomes pathetically dependent on heroin, Germany is mainlining on Russian energy. The new pipeline hooks up addict and pusher directly. Instead of urgently diversifying away from gas and to other suppliers, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria are following the same path.
Russia has cowed and muzzled the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, supposedly the Continent's main democracy-promoting and election-monitoring body. It has nobbled the Council of Europe, a talking shop that is supposed to be the custodian of human rights. The British Conservatives, in bizarre alliance with Mr Putin's United Russia party, came within a whisker of electing a former KGB man and Kremlin propagandist, Mikhail Margelov, to the presidency. At its summit in Bucharest in April, Nato's European members are all set to kowtow to Kremlin pressure and give a cold shoulder to Georgia's bid to move towards membership. The EU can not even summon the willpower to liberalise its internal energy markets, let alone counter the Kremlin's ruthless use of cheap energy deals and lucrative pipelines.
Our biggest weakness is money. During the old Cold War, doing business with the Soviet Union was a rare and highly suspicious activity. Now bankers, lawyers, consultants and spin-doctors (and even, it is whispered, politicians) flock to take 30 silver roubles for services rendered, even when they are privately disgusted by the source. Until that changes, we have little chance of resisting the Kremlin - and even less of persuading ordinary Russians that their corrupt, cynical, brutal and incompetent rulers are harbingers of disaster, not triumph.
Russia launches space freighter to ISS
From: Ria Novosti
The Progress M-63 space freighter will deliver 2.5 metric tons of cargo, including food, equipment and other supplies, for the ISS.
Automatic docking with the orbital station has been set for 2:38 p.m. GMT on February 7.
The current, 16th expedition on board the ISS comprises U.S. astronauts Peggy Whitson and Daniel Tani, and Russia's Yury Malenchenko.
NASA said on Monday that the repeatedly-delayed Atlantis space shuttle launch had been set for February 7.
During the upcoming mission, the crew members will carry out three spacewalks, installing and activating the $2 billion Columbus space laboratory, which has taken some 10 years to construct and is Europe's main contribution to the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS crew will also see a new face, with flight engineer Daniel Tani being replaced by European Space Agency astronaut Leopold Eyharts.
The flight has been repeatedly delayed since December 6 over problems with faulty fuel tank sensors and a radiator hose. The launch of the 24th shuttle mission to the ISS is still uncertain, however, due to weather concerns making yet another delay extremely likely.
Grenade Fragments Found at Blast Site
The explosion took place at a ten-story building on Korneev St. in the Kirov neighborhood of the city at about 9:10 a.m. Moscow time. The blast occurred in the basement or first floor of the building. No fire or collapse resulted from it.
Three people were hospitalized in the blast. According to local Internet publications, they were all workers from Belarus. A criminal investigation of illegal arms possession is underway in connection with the blast.
Ukraine Wins WTO Entry Bid, Anticipates Growth Pickup
WTO members approved the accession agreement today in Geneva. Ukraine now has until July 4 to ratify the accord and will become a WTO member 30 days after that.
Ukraine, a country of 46 million that borders Russia and the European Union, reported an average wage of about $267 a month in 2007, or about a quarter of the monthly wage in neighboring Poland, also a member of the WTO. Ukraine is counting on WTO membership to open new markets and give a boost to the $106 billion economy.
``We have difficult homework to do,'' Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said at a press conference in Geneva. ``This starts the colossal integration work that lies ahead.'' Membership means ``better living standards, higher wages, improved social standards and economic life.''
The WTO sets global rules to ease commerce among members and acts as an arbitrator in settling trade disputes between countries. The organization is struggling to break a deadlock in talks on a broad treaty to eliminate more trade barriers and is now targeting a deal next year.
Ukraine's accession to the WTO will probably delay Russia's bid to join the trade arbiter, said David Christy, partner at Miller and Chevalier, who has represented WTO member governments including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Poland.
``It is expected that Ukraine will ask Russia for certain concessions,'' Christy said in a phone interview from Washington. ``It will probably delay the day when Russia joins the WTO.''
Russia has sought membership in the WTO for more than a decade and relations between the two governments have been strained over Western integration, energy and security. Russian negotiator Andrei Kushnirenko said in December that membership would probably be approved in the third quarter.
Ukraine's deputy prime minister for European integration, Hryhoriy Nemyria, said in an interview yesterday that Ukraine won't use its admission to the WTO ``against any other nation, including the Russian Federation.''
``Lower tariff barriers associated with membership will be a crucial part of Ukraine's sustained economic success,'' said Scott Licamele, a vice president at Renaissance Capital in Kiev. Accession to the WTO is also ``an important step toward closer ties with the European Union.''
Ukraine, which borders both Russia and the 27-nation EU, expects its annual economic growth to accelerate by as much as 2 percent as WTO membership gives it access to new markets, according to the Economy Ministry. Exports make up more than half of the country's gross domestic product.
Longer term, WTO membership will help sustain economic growth by making loans cheaper for Ukraine, said economists including Jonathan Schiffer, a sovereign credit analyst at Moody's in New York.
``It would not, by itself, lead to a change in a credit rating, but it will be a positive factor to be taken into account alongside the various other factors, including macroeconomic data, credit risks, political stability,'' Schiffer said on Nov. 15.
Ukraine will enter the WTO more than three years after the 2004 Orange Revolution, in which Yushchenko dismissed the regime of then-president Leonid Kuchma. Yushchenko won on pledges to bring the country closer to the West and distance it from Russia, increase living standards and guarantee human rights.
Yushchenko said in Geneva that WTO membership would add 1.7 percentage points to gross domestic product and an extra $3.5 billion in foreign investment. He also said production in the metals market will rise 22 percent, increase employment in the industry by 19 percent and boost exports of metal products by 26 percent.
``The terms of accession are substantial, forward-looking, and demonstrate Ukraine's commitment to global trade based on market forces, transparency and the rule of law,'' U.S. trade representative Susan C. Schwab said in a statement.
Yushchenko also said his country will ``gladly'' join the working group on Russia's WTO membership ``as soon as possible,'' saying the two neighboring countries are ``sincere partners.''
While the EU refuses to discuss Ukraine's bid to join the bloc, it has pledged to set up a free-trade area with the country after it joins the WTO.
``World Trade Organization membership will bring a lot of benefits to Ukraine in terms of trade access,'' said Tim Ash, managing director at Bear Stearns in London. ``It will also bring investments as Ukraine's economy will globalize and the general business environment will be improved.''
Ukraine's economy has expanded an average 7.4 percent a year since 2000. The World Bank sees growth at 6.7 percent this year and 5.5 percent next year.
Admission to the WTO will help Ukraine boost its key exports, such as steel, because trade quotas will be abolished, said economists including Ash. Both the EU and the U.S. restrict Ukraine's steel exports to protect their own producers, including ArcelorMittal and U.S. Steel Corp.
Ukraine was the world's eighth-biggest steel producer last year after China, Japan, the U.S., Russia, South Korea, Germany and India, according to the International Iron and Steel Institute. Steel shipments generate most of the country's export revenue.
Russia, which limits imports of Ukrainian pipes used mainly for oil and gas pipelines, will have to end the caps when it enters the WTO, possibly next year, economists said.
``Sectors such as pipe manufacturing would stand to benefit from export-led growth as tariff barriers would reduced,'' said Licamele of Renaissance Capital.
Poland, Junction for Illegal Immigrants
From: Prensa Latina
Organized by mafia people-smugglers, the immigrants are convoyed across the country to become prostitutes in Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy or Spain.
Polska daily news comments that Polish police barely touch these cases, since the current government does not force them to do so.
Poland, with its large border with Ukraine, became the European Union's biggest eastern door after entering the Schengen space in January, a borderless area of many former Soviet Union states.
Polish beggars target householders
From: burnley express
So far three men of different descriptions have called at separate homees displaying cards asking for cash.
In the first incident, last Friday afternoon, a smartly-dressed Polish man, thought to be aged around 20, was reported to be knocking on doors and begging in Burnley Road, Padiham. He showed a card to residents which said he was a student and needed money to complete his studies.
The man, who is white, was wearing a dark-coloured knitted hat, zip-up jacket and dark trousers.
In the second incident, a man was seen putting a card through doors in Basnett Street, Burnley. The card said he had three children and needed money to buy food and clothes for them. This man is white, around 5ft. 4in. tall and of stocky build. He was wearing a blue tracksuit and a blue baseball cap.
A third man with the same card was also seen targeting houses in Briercliffe Road, Burnley. The beggar is thought to be aged around 50 and was wearing a blue baseball cap and blue tracksuit top. He was also carrying a Lidl carrier bag.
Police are keen to stress none of the men have been agressive, although residents are asked not to give them money.
Insp. Viki Crorken of Burnley police said: "I would ask people not to give them any money. There are a lot of support services available to help people with things like clothing.
"We would advise people either not to answer their doors or to answer but say 'no thank you' and then close the door. The men all have different descriptions but the way they ask for money is the same."
Anyone with information is urged to contact Burnley police on 425001 or Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555 111.
Polish police announce ‘Old Fork’ campaign
From: Polskie Radio
The initiative has been advertised on the Polish Police Internet Forum, according to TVN24, and aiming to bring to police management’s attention the fact that the overwhelming majority of the police employees in Poland are dissatisfied with their pay.
A mass protest is set to begin on February 5.
The “Old Fork” campaign is also a sign of the police officers’ disappointment at the government’s procrastination in delivering on the previously promised pay rises.
The police Internet users’ protest has not been co-ordinated with the police trade unions, as they are “useless” in the opinion of the majority, according to TVN24.
The police force are one of many public employees who are pressing for higher wages: these groups include medical staff, teachers, customs officials, prosecutors and even judges.
Polish internal security agency tapped phones illegally, claims MP
From: News PL
The head of the parliamentary Special Services Committee told a private radio station he thinks that the heads of ABW will be soon taken to court.
“During the government of Law and Justice (2005-2007), the Internal Security Agency was bugging phones without the consent of the court. The investigation has revealed 94 such cases so far,” Zemke told RMF FM radio.
According to the MP, the previous heads of ABW repeatedly broke the law. Although the agents received consent from the courts for surveillance for month or three months period, if they failed to find any evidence against a person, they continued the surveillance unauthorized.
The MP stressed that there are probably more such cases, as the inspection is still in progress.
The Internal Security Agency is a government institution established in 2002 to protect the internal security of the Republic of Poland and its citizens. It also has the right to investigate corruption among persons on public posts, if it may be a threat to the security of the state.
Situation in Polish secret services ‘disastrous’, according to former military counterintelligence chief
From: Axis Globe
According to Macierewicz, the style of appointing new heads of Poland’s secret services by the ruling Civic Platform (PO) and the quality of the new appointees ‘smacks of vengeance’, in particular in the military counterintelligence, which is being "brutally liquidated, destroyed and its staff persecuted". Macierewicz also told the radio that the current head of the Intelligence Agency, Andrzej Ananicz, was guilty of attempts to strengthen Russian presence in Poland in 1992.
The former head of Poland’s military counterintelligence accused Ananicz of having Poland ratify a treaty that guaranteed Russia its presence in former Russian companies located in Poland.
Antoni Macierewicz added that under the Polish constitution, Prime Minister Donald Tusk was directly responsible for all of the changes made in the secret services and said that the changes should "be placed under particular scrutiny", Polish Radio 3 notes.
It was nearly midnight on 26 July 2006, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and other dignitaries gathered in southern Kazakhstan to witness the launch of Belarus’ first satellite. But within two minutes after takeoff, the Russian rocket carrying the machine and satellites from 17 other countries failed, sending the payload crashing to the ground.
One press report said the president “took the blow with dignity.”
And determination, apparently. Barely two days later, Belarusian officials announced their intentions to build another satellite. It is slated for launch in late 2009.
Supporters say the program could boost the country’s economy and defense, but critics call it a multimillion-dollar exercise in vanity.
One prominent Belarusian scientist said the effort is serious and will result in new technologies that the country can export.
“Not long ago we signed an international contract for delivery of technologies that help to process information about the earth and to create digital maps. We’re quite strong at technologies of processing space information, and there’s a great demand for them in the world,” said Siarhej Ablamejka, director of the National Academy of Science’s United Institute of Informatics Problems.
Already, Ablamejka said, Belarusian scientists have worked with their Russian counterparts to invent a method of thermal protection for space ships that is now in use for Mars landing projects.
But Anatol Liabedzka, leader of the opposition United Civil Party, said, “This project has no scientific or practical value. It’s just that the long list of Lukashenka’s historical victories and achievements does not have a line about turning Belarus into a space nation. Eight million dollars spent to satisfy his vanity could have been spent in a much more effective way.”
BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME
In a modest way, Belarus is already a “space nation.” Belarusian scientists have participated in Soviet and Russian space programs; two Belarusians, Piotr Klimuk and Uladzimir Kavalionak, were Soviet cosmonauts, and the parents of Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, were from Belarus.
But these “space achievements” belong to the Soviet past. Independent Belarus has few such milestones of its own. The failed satellite was to change all that. It was dubbed BelKA – an abbreviation for Belarusian Space Apparatus as well as the name of a small, furry animal (belka in Belarusian means squirrel). One of the dogs in the Soviet ship Sputnik 5, which orbited earth in 1960, was also named Belka.
The recent squirrel’s death in a fiery crash meant the loss of $8-10 million in development costs – covered by insurance – and two years’ worth of work, according to various sources.
Scientists have promised that BelKA’s successor will be more advanced. “A new satellite will be easier to operate, more reliable, light, and effective than BelKA,” said Piotr Viciaz, the deputy chairman of Presidium of National Academy of Sciences. “We’ve learned the lessons of the past, and life goes on. We try to make use of the work we’ve done with the first satellite and to improve the quality and reliability of the satellite,”
The satellite will contain a high-resolution telescope to take pictures of the earth’s surface to be used in cartography, forestry, agriculture, meteorology, and emergency preparedness. It could also be used to explore a region in the northeast of the country where a new oil field has been discovered.
The project will likely have military applications as well.
“The basis of national space program should include the demands of our country to use space technologies for defense issues as well as for mastering new technologies,” President Lukashenka said about a year ago at a meeting dedicated to the questions of space exploration with specialists involved in space program.
The second satellite will cost around $15 million, but some experts argue that it is not money that really matters in this case, but the reputation of the country and its leader.
A MATTER OF PRESTIGE
The space program has long been a pet project of Lukashenka, culminating in his disappointing visit to the launch pad in Kazakhstan two years ago.
“To tell you the truth, I agreed on creating a satellite not only because it was needed by our society and the state. It would be a great pity for me to lose you, clever people, who were involved in a space program some time ago,” Lukashenka told a gathering of scientists in November, referring nostalgically to the Soviet era.
Valery Karbalevich, an analyst at the Minsk-based Strategy think tank, said that economically, it’s clear BelKA’s benefits didn’t cover its costs. “But I think the president is a bit disingenuous. It’s not humanitarian help to scientists, but political prestige of the state and its leader that really matters,” Karbalevich said.
Aleksandr Vajtovich, a former president of the National Academy of Sciences who used to lead the country’s space committee, said he thinks the aims of the program are misguided. “I think it would be more successful for Belarus to develop technologies connected with space communication,” he said. “This sphere is more commercially successful. Our country isn’t that big – you can take pictures from a plane if you need to.
“We should invest our money in highly profitable businesses that will give us the opportunity to find a place of our own in the high-tech structure of the world economy,” Vajtovich added
Franco Bonacina, a spokesman for the European Space Agency, said the type of space equipment a country develops is not purely a matter of markets; it largely depends on the country’s expertise and facilities. He said that about 13 percent of his agency’s 2008 budget will go for Earth observation equipment, while 9 percent will be spent on telecommunications. Development of launchers, which are in great demand, will take up about 21 percent of the European agency’s budget.
MINSK, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
Despite doubters, the Belarusian space program goes on, with plans for not only more satellites but also a flight control center in Minsk.
And Belarusian scientists are looking further ahead, to a third satellite, which will be equipped with a telescope able to focus on an area as small as one meter.
“The space market develops, and new requirements to equipment are introduced. If we build a telescope with such a resolution, it will make a Belarusian satellite more competitive on the world market,” said Ablamejka of the National Academy of Sciences. The third satellite should be ready in four years.
In the meantime, when the second satellite goes into orbit within two years Belarus will have the chance to make the BelKA catastrophe a mere footnote. Whatever the motives, Belarus will forge ahead, per aspera ad astra – through struggles to the stars.
Ales Bialiatski: ‘One can speak of normalization of relations between the authorities and their political opponents only after the release of all political prisoners!’
As it is already known, the prosecutor Ihar Proshka ruled to reduce the prison term to three months and, taking into consideration the Artur’s being in custody for the three months of the investigation, release him from jail.
The vice-chairman of the International Federation for Human Rights, human rights activist Ales Bialiatski says that human rights are satisfied with the court decision on the cassation complaint on the criminal case against Finkevich and the release of the political prisoners Mikalai Autukhovich, Zmitser Dashkevich, Artur Finkevich and Vasil Liaonau witnesses the beginning of positive tendencies. ‘However, we must not calm ourselves till the political prisoner Andrei Klimau and Aliaksandr Kazulin are in jail, the youth activist Andrei Kim is kept in the investigative isolator and Aliaksandr Kruty and Valery Mysnikau are in psychiatric hospitals. We can speak about normalization of the relations between the authorities and their political opponents with more confidence only after the release of all of them!’, added Bialiatski.
Letter to the editor...
From: The Story
As usual, I enjoyed reading your blog recently. If you don't remember me, I'm Matthew, I wrote to you last year. I too have a wife from Belarus, and now two daughters. We live in Northern VA, but go back to Minsk, nearly every year.
I laughed at the youtube video you posted and the whole cake episode.
As much as I love that country and visiting there, there are times when all you can do is stand there at the counter with "you gotta be kidding me" look on your face while the lady wearing the pink (or green) hat on her head tries to tell you that you are wrong.
It reminded me of my last trip to Minsk. I went to a magazine in the "cyxepebo" region and being a sucker for good beer, I picked up couple of bottles of premium beer and some of the local brew (which is just as good in my opinion). When I gotto the register, the girl took the premium bottle, looked at it, and said to me in Russian "this costs 10,000 rubles, do you know that" I replied "yes", she then looked at me and furrowed her brow and said "do you HAVE 10,000 rubles?". This caused me take a look down at my appearance and get some looks from those behind me. As I just came out of the lakes from fishing, I may not have been dressed in my best track suit or pointy shoes, but none the less had money in pocket. I couldn't help but be offended, but had to save face quickly. Prior to coming inside, i exchanged a $100 for rubles, I pulled the money out, gave her a 100,000 ruble note and told her "Da, yest. Shto vy dumete, ya iz raone?". This put her into all kinds of a tizzy as she now had to run from register to register looking for change.
Normally, I try to keep a low key, but don't particularly care for the way that some people look down on those who appear not to have money.
Hopefully that experience will prevent some other fisherman from having to be embarrassed on his way home!!
I was going to in August, but I came in late for my Bro in-law's wedding and was in and out in 7 days, spent most of the time doing the obligatory tour of relative's houses and shashlik pits, I did, however, have the pleasure of kicking a MVD Colonel's ass in a skeet shooting contest. It's a good thing that those black and white sticks hold so much authority, because their marksmanship skills have a lot to be desired.
Best of luck to you in Pinsk, It sure looks like a beautiful town. I haven't gotten to see much of southern Belarus, we mostly travel around the northern end since that's where most of her crew is from. I'll be sure to continue reading your postings.
Ten-man Armenia stun Belarus
From: Times of Malta
The meeting between the two teams who won their opening match on Saturday, was a nervy affair but Armenia, who finished the game with 10 men, had the last laugh thanks to substitute Hakobyan whose late strike sent his team top of the table with six points from two matches.
Belarus had opened the scoring as early as the fifth minute, Viachaslav Hleb, the brother of Arsenal stalwart Aleksandr Hleb, driving the ball home after profiting from a mistake by Armenia goalkeeper Mayis Azizyan.
Another dangerous attack by Belarus almost yielded a second goal on 16 minutes as Vitaly Bulyga advanced down the right before sending in a low far-post cross where Raman Vasiliuk's sliding effort came off the woodwork.
Belarus paid dearly for this miss as Armenia drew level on 18 minutes thanks to a header by Ararat Arakelyan.
The game remained balanced after the change of ends but 13 minutes into the second half, Armenia should have moved ahead.
Hakobyan, who hit Armenia's winner against Malta, drifted into the box before setting up Samuel Melkonyan whose first-time volley from routine distance sailed well over the bar.
Only a tipping save from Belarus goalkeeper Aliaksandr Liantsevich from a fierce strike by substitute Karen Aleksanyan denied the improving Armenians a second goal with 14 minutes remaining. However, from the ensuing corner, taken by Aghvan Mkrtchyan, Hakobyan slipped past an opponent before rolling the ball home.
Four minutes from time, Armenia were reduced to ten men after defender Alexander Tadeosyan was sent off by referee Anton Zammit for a second booking but Jan Poulsen's men held on to move closer to winning the tournament.
Artur Finkevich released
From: Charter '97
Prosecutor Karankou demanded 6 months and 20 days of imprisonment for Artur. The political prisoner has spent in prison 3 months after the term of his serving at the so called Khimiya (correctional prison facility) expired.
Considering the fact that a prison term is counted as double “khimiya” term, the judgeship of the Mahilou Area Court reversed the decision of the court of Kastrychnitski district on 1.5-year imprisonment. Today afternoons, after documents will be executed, the political prisoner will be released.
Politician Paval Sevyarynets commented on the details of Artur Finkevich’s release and initiating cases against other democratic activists to the Charter’97 press center. In his view, “we are dealing with a special repressive policy of the authorities, when famous to the West political prisoners will be released, to give the authorities a possibility to bargain with the EU, but repressions against other little-known people will continue on a larger scale.”
As an example Paval Sevyarynets reminded a criminal case against Andrei Kim, activist of the campaign “Initiative,” who was brought an official charge yesterday, and other repressions against the youth and entrepreneurs.
“The authorities are pretending to conduct “thaw” policy, but repressions are strengthening: cases against a number of Young Front members and against entrepreneurs’ protests are initiated, students are expelled from universities for their opinions and public activity. It’s not a “thaw,” but just bargaining with the EU, not more,” Sevyarynets emphasised.
It should be reminded that political prisoner Artur Finkevich was serving the term of imprisonment for drawing political graffiti. 10 May 2006 the court of the Pershmaiski district of Minsk sentenced Artur Finkevich to 2 years at khimiya (correctional prison facility). Since 29 June 2006 to 26 October 2007 Artur Finkevich served his term in Mahilou special detention facility ?43.
Political prisoner was transferred to pre-trial detention center in Mahilou on 26 October. He was to be released in 1.5 month, but on 16 November he was charged on the article 415 of the Criminal Code of Belarus “evasion of serving punishment” of alleged violation of discipline in the correctional prison facility.
Judge Natallya Krashkina of the Kastrychnitski district court of Mahilou found the leader of the youth democratic movement guilty of criminal offence and sentenced him to 1.5 year of imprisonment in the minimum security colony.
Meanwhile, we remind that a criminal case on the article 364 (violent acts against a militiaman) was initiated against activist of the campaign “Initiative” Andrei Kim. The young man faces up to 6 years of imprisonment.
Former candidate for presidency Alyaksandr Kazulin and former deputy of the 13th Supreme Council Andrei Klimau are still in prisons. Will they be released in the nearest time?
Among 12 EU conditions, after fulfilment of which Europe is ready to cooperate with the official Minsk, the main ones are to release all political prisoners and stop persecution of the opposition, as well as hold free election.