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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Bomb explodes at July 3rd celebration; National security, Chernobyl, Priorbank, EC customs; Russia, Polish scandal, Opposition, News and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #322

    Bomb explodes at July 3rd celebration

    From: Naveny and BelTA
    Blast site at the Minsk Hero City stele
    A homemade bomb tore through a crowd of concertgoers that included the head of state at about 12:30 a.m. on Friday, injuring more than 50 people.

    A total of 54 people needed medical assistance as a result of the blast, with 47 of them being hospitalized, the Ministry of Health said. As many as 18 ambulance cars were used to transport victims to hospitals and it took no more than 20 minutes to transport the injured from the scene, according to the ministry.

    Among those hospitalized, there were 37 Minsk residents, four residents of the Minsk region, one resident of the Brest region, and one resident of the Vitsyebsk region, the ministry said. In addition, the blast injured three citizens of Ukraine, with two of them hospitalized, and one citizen of Russia, a student girl from Smolensk.

    Those injured were between 13 and 78 years of age, according to the Minsk police department.

    The blast also hurt three policemen, the department said.

    Of those hospitalized, 24 people were taken to Minsk’s Clinical Hospital No. 6, six to the National Research Center of Traumatology and Orthopedics, five to the Minsk City Emergency Aid Hospital, five to Clinical Hospital No. 2, three to Clinical Hospital No. 4, one to Clinical Hospital No. 3, one to the defense ministry’s 432nd Main Military Medical Center, and one to the interior ministry’s hospital, according to the Ministry of Health.

    About 40 people remained in hospitals on Saturday. Most of them had shrapnel wounds in legs and arms. Doctors described the condition of three patients as very serious. They received shrapnel wounds in the abdomen and chest.

    There were reports that the bomb was a plastic bottle filled with nuts and bolts.

    Another homemade explosive device was found at the scene later, Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumaw said at a police conference on July 4. He noted that experts were examining fragments of the detonated bomb and the unexploded device.

    Police say that there are grounds to believe that the crime will be solved. Composite pictures of suspects have reportedly started being created on the basis of witnesses’ descriptions. The Minsk police department has appealed to those who may have seen something suspicious and can help the investigation to call it.

    Explosion in Minsk was not aimed at me, Alexander Lukashenko

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko thinks that the bomb that exploded at the concert in Minsk on July 3 was not aimed at him.

    “It would have been a boon to them, but the President has bodyguards. That is why this provocation aimed at civilians looks even more abhorrent,” the President noted. “Moreover, I was across the road, this is why I do not think that it was aimed at me.”

    “It is very hard to intimidate us. If you want to fight – do it face to face. I think those people are vile cowards. Since now on we will deal with them in a different way.”

    No provocations will disrupt national unity of Belarusians, Alexander Lukashenko says

    No provocations will disrupt the national unity of Belarusians, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told journalists while visiting the Stalin’s Line museum complex on July 5.

    “The very fact that the celebrations gathered about half a million people shows that this holiday is generally recognized and attests to the unity of the nation,” the President said.

    He underlined that “no provocations will be of any help to anyone, even if somebody does not like this holiday – there are people in our country who do not like it and you know these people by sight.”

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko expressed gratitude to the USA and Russia for their support in the investigation of the bomb blast that took place at the concert in Minsk on July 3.

    “A dozen specialists from Russia are already working on it. General Bortnikov offered me his help immediately,” the President said.

    Alexander Lukashenko also noted that he appreciates the help offered by the Americans. It mainly pertains to technical assistance. According to Alexander Lukashenko, he told the heads of law enforcement agencies of Belarus to avail themselves of this offer if necessary. “It will be useful both for experience and contacts exchange and the solution of technical problems,” the President added.

    I did not leave explosion site to avoid panic, Alexander Lukashenko says

    “If I had left the site of the bomb blast as it was recommended, the organizers of this abhorrent crime would have achieved their goal. After all, their aim was to spread panic,” President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told journalists.

    “Had we started to bustle around evacuating the President, had we stopped the concert as it was suggested, panic would have started resulting in a deadlier tragedy than the one that happened at Nemiga,” the President said.

    Alexander Lukashenko expressed gratitude to the Belarusian people for having been able not to falter or succumb to panic.

    “Those people whom I can hardly call human beings did not achieve what they wanted.

    According to the Belarusian head of state, all the assessments of the explosion have already been given. The President thanked Belarusian, Russian and foreign journalists for the ethic coverage of the events. “It is hard to add anything to what has already been said. You have seen it all with your own eyes,” the President said.

    Government will not use explosion to exert pressure on opposition, Alexander Lukashenko says

    Commenting on the statement of the opposition that the government is using this tragic event to suppress them, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said that guilty mind is never at ease; this case will be investigated according to the law.

    Alexander Lukashenko noted that people should not worry. It was the only negative event during the celebration of the Independence Day.

    The President gave an example of the ways two opposition parties treat the events. “I am comparing two extreme wings of the opposition: communists and the Belarusian People’s Front (BPF). At present they seem to act in concert. However, while the BPF expressed their sympathy, the leader of the communists did not exclude the possibility of provocation from the side of the government. It is a fascist ideology to blow something up to eliminate the dissidents,” the head of state concluded.
  • Note: For more stories about the blast, please see below

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus will be improving national security system, Alexander Lukashenko says

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will be constantly improving the national and, above all, military security system promptly responding to new trends in the international situation, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko stated at the Independence Day military parade on July 3.

    “Strengthening the Armed Forces and the military organization of the country has always been one of the top-priority goals of the Belarusian state policy. We will continue working on improving the organizational structure and qualitative parameters of the technical supply of the troops, polishing the government system, enhancing the efficiency of military personnel training,” the head of state underlined.

    “The Belarusian people learnt the lessons of the past war. It is not by accident that the Belarusians have a heightened sense of responsibility for the security of their Fatherland. The history teaches and warns that wars and armed conflicts do not happen by themselves, they are unleashed by those whose ambitions prevail over the interests of countries and whole continents,” the president said.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, today the mankind faces such dangerous challenges and threats as local armed conflicts, international terrorism, religious, national and political extremism, human trafficking, illicit drugs, famine and shortage of energy resources.

    “Today we have seen the attempts prodded by some politicians to rewrite the history and to destroy the post-war system of international relations. The prospects of Nato expansion into former Soviet Union countries appear more feasible. Nato remains the most powerful military bloc. Its infrastructure has approached closely Belarus. The process of deploying the American anti-missile system at the Belarusian border is acquiring an irreversible nature,” the head of state noted. According to the Belarusian President, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe has, in fact, ceased to be one of the pillars of the European security.

    Alexander Lukashenko stated that the unilateral declaration of Kosovo independence attests to the existence of double standards and poses a threat to boundary revisions, repartition of the European political map. “Encouraging separatism is an unwise and dangerous policy,” the President said.

    OSCE PA committee adopts Chernobyl resolution

    From: BelTA
    At the 17th annual session the OSCE PA General Committee on Economic Affairs, Science, Technology and the Environment passed the resolution on Chernobyl submitted on the initiative of a Belarusian delegation, BelTA was told in the press service of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly.

    The OSCE PA annual session is held in Astana on June 29-July 3. The Belarusian delegation includes deputy chairman of the House of Representatives Sergei Zabolotets and chairperson of the permanent commission for state construction of the Council of the Republic Natalia Andreichik.

    The resolution is intended to search for an optimal and effective solution to the problems in ensuring the coordinating role of the OSCE. The resolution stresses the need to take coordinated international efforts in mitigating the Chernobyl consequences.

    During the discussion on the draft the MPs of Ukraine, Austria, the FRG, Switzerland, Azerbaijan stressed the importance of the resolution and urged the OSCE to take more active efforts to help the affected countries minimize the consequences of the catastrophe.

    Euromoney honours Priorbank as Belarus’ Best Bank

    From: BelTA
    The renowned British financial magazine Euromoney recognized Priorbank Best Bank of Belarus, BelTA was told in the Bank.

    On July 1, Euromoney held its Annual Award for Excellence Reception at the Vienna Hilton. Several other Raiffeisen Network banks in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Bulgaria and Slovakia received Best Bank Awards in their respective countries. This year RZB and Raiffeisen International received the Award for Excellence for Central and Eastern Europe for the fourth consecutive year.

    “The decision of the jury confirms that we are on the right track. In a demanding market environment we were able to continue our profitable growth," said Walter Rothensteiner, CEO of RZB and Chairman of Raiffeisen International’s Supervisory Board.

    Priorbank is a member of RZB Group and subsidiary of Raiffeisen International Bank-Holding AG (Raiffeisen International), a fully-consolidated subsidiary of Raiffeisen Zentralbank Osterreich AG (RZB). RZB owns 68.5% of the common stock, the balance is free-float. The shares are traded on the Vienna Stock Exchange.

    Priorbank was founded in January 1989. The biggest shareholders are RZB Group (63.05%) and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (13.5%).

    Euromoney is the world’s leading monthly publication for the global banking, finance and capital markets. Its Awards for Excellence, now in their 17th year, recognise the best-performing financial institutions in every significant financial market and product sector, as well as the leading banks in well over 100 countries.

    EC customs praises preliminary information system

    From: BelTA
    The EC customs consider it forward-looking to introduce Belarus-proposed system of preliminary information about goods and transport means crossing the Belarusian border and the borders of the member-states of the European Communities (EC).

    The EC customs got interested in a detailed elaboration of the issue after Belarus’ SCC Chairman Alexander Shpilevsky made a speech at the sessions of the World Customs Organization (WCO) in Brussels on June 26-28, 2008, BelTA learnt from the press service of the State Customs Committee.

    The Chairman of the Belarusian State Customs Committee briefed that in order to increase transit of goods in Belarus, the country has started developing an up-to-date customs infrastructure and a telecommunication network of the checkpoints with the introduction of technologies meeting the WCO standards. The undertaken measures contributed to a stably growing volume of goods transit via Belarus. Alexander Shpilevsky noted that the Belarusian Customs is open for cooperation and guarantees fast, high-quality services.

    During the visit to Brussels, the SCC chairman held several bilateral consultations with the heads of the delegations of the customs services - the WCO members, the leaders of the structural subdivisions of the World Trade Organization. In particular, Alexander Shpilevsky met with Lars Karlsson, head of the WCO capacity building department. Alexander Shpilevsky thanked him for the organization of a visit of a group of IT experts to Belarus. The major objective of the visit was to analyze the information systems of the customs services of Belarus and the EU member-states.

    Alexander Shpilevsky also met with the heads of the customs services of the CIS, Germany, Belgium, Turkey and other countries. In particular, the SCC chairman and his German colleague considered an opportunity to sign an agreement between the governments of Belarus and Germany on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs.

  • From the International Press...

    Dozens injured in bomb blast at Belarus concert

    From: AFP and
    Belarus emergency workers assist the injured at the site of a blast in Minsk
    A bomb packed with nuts and bolts injured up to 50 young revellers at a huge outdoor concert in the Belarussian capital Minsk attended by President Alexander Lukashenko, officials said Friday.

    Interior Minister Vladimir Naumov said a second explosive device that failed to detonate had also been found at the same venue.

    Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, was at the concert at the time of the blast and visited the site within a few minutes, his press office said.

    The Belarusian president was not wounded in the blast, and it was unclear if the attack was an assassination attempt. There were no reported claims of responsibility.

    There was no immediate indication of who was responsible for the attack at the Independence Day concert, which occurred at 00:30 am (2130 GMT Thursday).

    "An act of hooliganism took place at a gala concert in Minsk tonight. There was an explosion of an undetermined, apparently home-made device.... More than two dozen people have been injured," Minsk police said in a statement.

    Naumov was quoted by Belarussian news agency Belta as saying around 40 people had been hurt and that three of them were in intensive care. Hospital officials said up to 50 people were injured.

    Naumov also revealed that a second explosive device had been found and would help investigators in their inquiries on the bomb that detonated.

    There were tens of thousands of people at the concert, mostly young people. The injured were taken to hospital in ambulances as police picked through the nuts and bolts that the bomb threw out.

    "I felt a shock wave and suddenly blood started coming out of my leg. A bolt had gone into my leg. There weren't enough ambulances and my relatives had to take me to hospital in their car," Olga, 23 told AFP from her hospital bed.

    Yelena Melnik, 28, said: "I remember that I wanted to make a call on my mobile phone and suddenly the phone flew out of my hand. I felt a shock but no pain.... The doctors had to take nuts out of my knee."

    Interfax news agency quoted witnesses as saying they saw people with fingers and toes blown off in the moments after the blast.

    "All the injuries are shrapnel wounds," Viktor Serenko, chief doctor at a hospital in Minsk that was treating seven of the injured, told AFP.

    Dmitry Kudyakov, a 32-year-old engineer at the concert, said he felt a strong shock wave and saw smoke.

    “People started crying,” he said. “Some fell on me, and there was a lot of blood.”

    Viktor Sirenko, chief physician at the city’s emergency hospital, said three people were in grave condition.

    “We are struggling to save their lives,” he said.

    Most of the wounded were in their 20s, but two children ages 5 and 6, and several elderly people also were among the victims. Viktor Gurko, chief physician at Hospital No. 6, displayed nuts and bolts removed from victims’ bodies.

    There have been similar bombings, however. The northeastern city of Vitebsk was hit by two blasts in one month in 2005.

    Belorusian woman passes an explosion site in downtown Minsk, Belarus, Friday, July 4, 2008. Belarusian health officials say more than 50 people have been injured in a bomb explosion at an outdoor concert in the capital of Minsk.
    Igor Gurko, a doctor at another Minsk hospital, said they were treating 31 people injured in the explosion. Four of the injured being treated by Gurko and Serenko were in intensive care, the doctors said.

    In comments broadcast on state television, Minsk police chief Anatoly Kuleshov said: "I think that the explosion was organised by a hooligan who didn't like our beautiful and well-organised party."

    The country's nationalist opposition Belarussian People's Front, which fiercely opposes Lukashenko's rule, on Friday urged him not to use the explosion to further limit democratic freedoms in this former Soviet republic.

    "It would be a major mistake if the authorities use this reprehensible event to further limit freedom and democracy and for a crackdown against political mistake," the deputy head of the party, Vintsuk Vecherko, told AFP.

    The Belarussian president, who is backed by Moscow, rules the country with an iron fist and his regime -- lodged on the European Union's eastern border -- is considered "the last dictatorship in Europe" by the United States.

    Belarus Planning 3G License Auction

    From: Cellular News
    It has been reported that Belarus is planning to award 3G licenses in the near future. The BBC Monitoring service, citing a report by the Belapan news agency said that new entrants to the market would be allowed to bid for the licenses.

    According to Henadz Tsaryk, a departmental chief at the communications ministry, "If there are such contenders that can create a network within an appropriate period, no problem,"

    The ministry is expected to consider bids for the licenses before this December, although a formal timescale was not laid out.

    According to figures from the Mobile World database, Belarus currently has mobile operators with the following market shares: MTS (52.8%), MDC (43.3%) and BeST with 2.7%. MDC was brought by Telecom Austria last year, and Turkcell is reported to be in talks to buy a stake in BeST.

    Both MDC and MTS trialed 3G networks in Minsk during the summer of 2006, and MTS applied for a 3G license - but it does not appear to have been awarded

    Belarus/Viet Nam trade doubles in three years

    From: Vietnam News
    Ambassador Aleksandr Kutselai
    Viet Nam News interviewed Belarus ambassador Aleksandr Kutselai on the occasion of the country’s National Day today.

    What do you think about the effect of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Viet Nam in early April on bilateral ties?

    Viet Nam and Belarus are good friends and Belarus wants to develop a multi-faceted co-operation based on mutual self-interest. Thus, the meeting between the two countries’ leaders has obviously played an important role in co-ordinating this process.

    Presently, Viet Nam and Belarus have established a high-level political relationship between leaders, parliaments, provinces, cities and ministries.

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s visit to Viet Nam in early April has promoted political and economic relationships between our two countries, and enhanced the legal foundation for future ties.

    There are now 60 conventions and agreements. During President Lukashenko’s visit, the two leaders signed a joint statement which defines various strategic directions for developing relations between Viet Nam and Belarus.

    The two countries also signed ten pacts, agreements and inter-government protocols during the visit.

    Strategic directions for co-operation for the 2008-10 period were proposed and some contracts were signed.

    Can you tell us something about the Vietnamese community in Belarus?

    For a long time, the long-lasting friendship between the two countries have been developed with active co-operation between friendship associations, social associations and organisations in the two countries’ provinces and cities.

    There are not many Vietnamese people living in Belarus (about 1,000 people); they mostly arrived in the golden times of the former Soviet Union.

    Not all of them live there legally but Belarusian authorities have facilitated their living and working situations. Recently, many Vietnamese people have been allowed to reside legally.

    Many Vietnamese people run their own private business in Belarus like restaurants and shops, and local authorities ensure their security, freedom and rights. The Vietnamese embassy in Belarus has helped maintain a close relationship with representatives of the Vietnamese community there.

    Are there any obstacles which need to be overcome to improve our co-operation in the fields of business, culture, education and other areas?

    At the moment, our main bilateral co-operation is in the field of economic-trading. Our two economies support each other. Enterprises in both countries don’t compete against one another in the world market. Though the two countries are geographically located far from each other, which sometimes hinders transportation, the bilateral relationship has been actively developed.

    Last year, bilateral goods-trading and service-exchange turnover reached US$100 million. The amount of exchanged goods has doubled in the past three years but there is still much to be done, as the previously mentioned figure is less than both nations’ potential.

    The main factor affecting our present trading is that both sides have not exchanged information actively enough, such as information on goods and services available in our countries, and the characteristics and prices of those goods.

    Cultural co-operation between us has also been promoted, and co-operation in science, education and health have been increasingly active.

    Viet Nam’s cinema workers have joined the film festival in Belarus and both sides have implemented student-exchange programmes.

    At the end of May, many Vietnamese citizens joined the Global Education forum in Minsk at a gathering of international alumni of Belarus’ universities.

    What do you think should be done to further promote bilateral trade between the two countries, especially between small and medium-sized enterprises?

    First of all, these enterprises should take advantage of the conditions offered in the two countries based on signed agreements, so as to further promote their activities.

    During State and head-of-state level visits, ministries and enterprises have been mobilised to join the process, which has created direct relationships between the concerned agencies of both sides.

    We think the main directions in mutual interest in the field of economic-trading are:

    Firstly, buy in Viet Nam and directly export to Belarus goods that Belarus does not produce including raw materials to produce goods in Belarus;

    Secondly, build joint-ventures to produce goods in Viet Nam to export to other Southeast Asian countries;

    And thirdly, build joint ventures to produce products of Belarus and Viet Nam to enhance competitiveness of the goods by closer access to the sources of raw materials and reduce the products’ prices.

    At present, we import rice, seafood, ground nuts, tea, coffee, pepper and spices from Viet Nam. We want to import greater amounts of these items in future. Belarus recently bought many computer accessories from Viet Nam and we’re happy to see that this industry has been so well developed in Viet Nam. This is one of the foundations for the two sides’ co-operation in the field of electronics.

    We also have various long-term projects for assembly and technology-transfer in machinery manufacture, electronics, optics and medicine-production.

    Belarus produces more than 30 per cent of the world’s exported kalium fertiliser, 8 per cent of the world’s rickshaws (last year, the rickshaw-producing factory in Minsk was in the top three of the largest rickshaw factories in the world), 30 per cent of the world’s heavy-weight tipper lorries and a sizeable amount of the world’s electronic chips.

    Belarus is an industrial nation with well developed machinery-manufacturing, which may be useful for the industrialisation of Viet Nam.

    Developing trade between the two countries is the main mission; the most important priority. In the next year or two, we will reach a turnover of US$200 million in exchanged goods and bilateral services.

    What do you think about the changes in Viet Nam since you started working here four years ago?

    Viet Nam has developed dynamically . When I visit localities in the country, I see new factories, completed infrastructures, business centres, modern hotels, etc.

    Viet Nam has scored high economic development indexes with improved social conditions, which has enhanced foreign investors’ trust in the country.

    This is the result of the policies that Vietnamese leaders have applied and of the efforts of the Vietnamese people.

    Belarus’s President highly appreciated and expressed his admiration of Viet Nam’s achievements during his recent visit.

    I hope Viet Nam will not stop at what she has achieved. We wish the people of Viet Nam even greater prosperity and happiness in future.

  • From the Opposition...

    Screws and bolts as filling of explosive device

    From: Charter '97
    Pictures showing that the injured had been wounded by bolts and screws filling the home-made bomb, have been published in blogs.

    “About 20 persons were taken to us. All of them are alive, they have wounds of different size and seriousness, mostly lower leg wounds; they have foreign bodies (screws); there was one open fracture of a lower leg. All of them have been offered treatment, and now we are to settle matters with documents. A boy of 18 was the most difficult case out of all injured taken to our hospital. He was filled with all this iron things most: in his foot, forearm, in chest and abdominal cavities. We finished saving him only at 9 a.m.” a doctor-blogger writes.

    “And I really liked the version of hooliganism… The only thing which could be more impressive is to call it an accident… Or massive suicide…” the blogger adds.

    Lukashenka predicted explosion in Minsk?

    In a related story, One day before explosion in Minsk Lukashenka told about probability of explosions in interview to newspaper “Komsomolskaya Pravda v Belarusi”.

    «Off cource there will be an animation. But the fact that West is bored with our opposition perturbes much. Espesially Americains are bored, – marks A. Lukashenko, – They say directly "If there will be things there will be money". What does it mean? Street manifestations, demonstrations. And what if riots and explosions... Than customer would be satisfied»,-- writes newspaper.

    At least 50 people have been injured in Belarus after a bomb exploded on July 3 late night during a concert in the Minsk dedicated to official Independence day.

    Viktar Ivashkevich: «Even at that time we warned police that such jokes with bombs “

    In the connection with the blast in Minsk the deputy chairman of the Belarusian Popular Front party Viktar Ivashkevich urges upon policemen to turn their attention to pro-fascist organisations.

    “Back a year ago a bomb was attached to the door of the Belarusian Popular Front party head office. Policemen of the Central police department of Minsk called in mine pickers. It was a hoax explosive device filled with leaflets of National Bolsheviks and of some organisation of Communist youth.

    Even at that time we warned police that such ‘jokes’ with bombs will end in no good, that these “jesters” should be found. But the regime didn’t search for anybody. One should think that the action was organized by those who oppose Belarus’ independence, and in fact these are the same organizations which support liquidation of Belarus and its merging Russia in a form of 8 regions. The regime should direct attention to these terroristic organisations. The fact of terroristic hooliganism of them against patriotic organisations of Belarus is well-known,” Viktar Ivashkevich told to the Charter’97 press-centre.

    Meanwhile first information from witnesses of the blast in Minsk appears in LiveJournal.

    "My brother called. Something exploded in Nemiha Street about half an hour ago. He was about 30 meters from the blast site. He is celebrating his second birthday today. He saw more than 30 wounded. At least one guy lost his hand, one girl lost toes, another guy had something stuck in his hip wound. There were seas of blood. He didn’t see dead bodies, but they were possible there. The explosion was loud, there was a little column of smoke, and there was no flash or plenty of fragments... Policemen in cordon say that it was a cracker, nothing special," – writes blogger mirritil.

    «We were about 20 meters from the explosion site near the road. We heard a strong bang, we felt a strong shockwave and saw a small pillar of black smoke. It looked like smoke from gun powder that makes think that it was a home-made bomb. Strange as it may seem, there was no panic. Law enforcers’ actions were well organized. I’d like to believe that it is a kind of weird accident», -- writes mr_freezze.

    “I was in the clinic No.2. I saw a guy wounded in chest. His condition was grave, liver and stomach are also injured. They removed 2 bolts from him. So it doesn't look like a firework at all!”, -- has commented a visitor of the Charter’97 website.

    Minister of the Interior Affairs Uladzimir Navumau, who visited the place of the tragedy said: “It will become clear whether it was a terroristic act or something else”. A criminal case has been opened, but the Minister hasn’t specified under which articles of the Criminal Code.
  • Note: For more photos from the bomb site including several U-tubes, please see here, here, here, and here from the the Charter '97 site

    Authorities increase pressure on human rights activists before parliamentary elections

    From: Viasna
    The day when the human rights activists declared their intention to monitor the upcoming parliamentary elections, June 12th, the First Channel of the Belarusian TV advertised a news item which insults the honor and dignity of the human rights defenders. Later the video was demonstrated by the Panarama news program on Sunday.

    While state-controlled media are trying to discredit the human rights activity, the authorities started detailed examination of tax history of the human rights defenders. During the recent 10 days the Ministry of Taxes and Duties demanded declarations about income and property from BHC chair Aleh Hulak, the former chair of BHC Tatsiana Protska, vice-President of FIDH Ales Bialiatski, BHC member Zmitser Markusheuski, human rights defender Valiantsin Stefanovic, and their family members.

    We believe the actions of the authorities are related to the intention of the human rights activists to monitor the election process.

    Meanwhile, yesterday Aliaksandar Lukashenka signed Edict 344 “about Elections to the Chamber of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus of the 4th convocations”. According to the edict, the parliamentary elections will be held on September 28th, 2008.

  • Around the region...

    Russian parties get more government funding

    From: AP
    Russia's lower house of parliament on Saturday passed a measure quadrupling government funding for major political parties. This will bring tens of millions of dollars into the coffers of the dominant United Russia party, but leave liberal opposition parties with nothing.

    The bill was passed by a 444-0 vote in the State Duma.

    Under the proposed law, a party will get 20 rubles (87 cents) for each vote it received in last year's national elections for parliament — if they got at least 3 percent of the national vote — and in this year's presidential election. Liberal opposition parties, which did not make it into parliament and did not field presidential candidates, will get nothing.

    The old rate of funding was five rubles per vote. The increase will mean additional annual government funding of some 957 million rubles ($41.6 million), more than 65 percent of which would go to United Russia.

    The legislation also allows significant increases in the total amount of contributions a party can accept from private and corporate donors — rising to 4.33 billion rubles ($188 million) a year.

    Many Russian opposition groups have complained about an array of laws they say give United Russia, its allies and the Communist Party an overwhelming presence that makes it all but impossible for the liberal opposition to take part in the country's political life.

    Before the 2007 election, half the Duma's seats were filled by candidates from individual races, rather than party lists, allowing independents and members of small parties a hypothetical chance. Now, all the seats are filled by party list and a party must get at least 7 percent of the nationwide vote to enter the legislature. Meanwhile, more stringent regulations on registering parties have been enforced.

    Two liberal opposition candidates were unable to make it onto this year's presidential ballot.

    Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was disqualified for allegedly submitting forged nominating petition signatures. Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, the most visible Kremlin critic overseas, was unable to lease a hall to hold the assembly of supporters required by law to get the nomination procedure under way.

    The measure passed by the Duma would take effect in 2009. The measure must also be approved by the upper chamber of parliament and signed into law by the president; both steps are almost certain to take place.

    Few signs of a thaw in the new Cold War

    From: Telegraph
    The trouble with Russian politicians is that it is frequently difficult to tell when they are smiling and when they are snarling.
    Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's new president, smiles more than Vladimir Putin, his predecessor, whose rarely bestowed grin often seemed laden with menace and condescension.

    Mr Medvedev also sounds more benign when he opens his mouth, as was shown last week when he spoke of his desire to search for compromise to end a prolonged crisis in relations with Britain. That gesture has raised hopes of a breakthrough when he meets Gordon Brown in Hokkaido tomorrow.

    Mr Medvedev may be presenting a disarming front, but does he mean what he says?

    A quick glance at some of the president's comments since coming to power two months ago suggests that, for all his liberal demeanour, the new president sings from the same song sheet as Mr Putin.

    He has accused the British Council of being full of spies, launched a rant against America's "national egoism" and sharply criticised its proposals to build a missile defence shield in central Europe.

    The Medvedev era has also seen the British Council face renewed Kremlin pressure, while BP is facing what looks like an official campaign to force it from Russia – hardly auspicious for those hoping for a d?tente in East-West relations.

    Even so, the optimists cling to the fact that Mr Medvedev is less strident than Mr Putin. He may lash out at the West, but he has not compared the US to the Third Reich, called the British Government "stupid" or accused Britain of being a haven for "terrorists and criminals", as his predecessor was wont to do.

    In today's Russia that is counted as progress and Western governments who want to be impressed are impressed. Britain has been particularly eager to consign the tortuous latter Putin years to history. Mr Brown's Government has unofficially signalled its willingness to forget the past – the closure of the British Council's regional offices, the murder of Alexander Litvinenko and Russia's refusal to extradite the man suspected of carrying it out – in return for a fresh start.

    Mr Medvedev may have spoken of a desire to compromise, but warned he would only do so if Britain took "corresponding steps". What Russia really wants is the extradition of Boris Berezovsky, the oligarch who has become Mr Putin's chief enemy, a promise that Mr Brown would be unable to make after a court granted the fugitive political asylum.

    There is no doubt that it is Mr Putin who holds the real power in the Russian duumvirate. Visiting heads of state spend more time with him than with the president, even though the prime minister has no official foreign policy remit.

    The coterie of Kremlin officials who share the prime minister's KGB background wield enormous power. The problem for the future of Anglo-Russian relations is that the former KGB men, known as the Siloviki, do not much like Britain – the reason why there are more Russian spies active in Britain than at any time since the Cold War.

    It is difficult to see a resolution to the crisis resulting from a single meeting. However optimistic his aides may sound, Mr Brown must have a niggling feeling that he is not even talking to the right man.

    Why the Kremlin Is So Scared of Ukraine

    Russia and the West are losing each other yet again. The magnetic attraction and repulsion between the two has been going on for centuries. Indeed, historians have counted as many as 25 of these cycles since the reign of Tsar Ivan III.

    In the past, however, the Kremlin's sharp anti-Western turns were reversed -- usually out of simple necessity -- after relations reached rock bottom. Not this time. On the contrary, the current deterioration of the relationship has developed a momentum of its own.

    There are four reasons for this. First, the Russia's "defeat" in the Cold War -- and its loss of imperial and superpower status -- has created a deep and so far unresolved crisis in the collective mentality of the country's political class. Russian leaders continue to perceive the West as a phantom enemy, in opposition to which all the traditional mythologies of Russian foreign policy are being resurrected.

    Second, by the end of Vladimir Putin's second term as president, Russia's modernizing dreams had been shattered. Modernization, indeed, simply turned out to be yet another redistribution of property to those on top, particularly those who came out of the St. Petersburg Mayor's Office and the Federal Security Service The image of the West as an enemy has become the only ideological excuse for Putin's model of the corporate state.

    Third, the soaring price of oil has made the Kremlin believe that it is all-powerful. Today's Russia, which thinks of itself as a "great energy state," now laughs at the modest goal it declared before the oil boom -- of catching up with tiny Portugal in terms of living standards.

    Finally, a series of Western mistakes and misfortunes, a crisis in trans-Atlantic relations, a lack of leadership, and the growing threat of Islamic fundamentalism (in both the Middle East and Europe) have led Russian leaders to believe that the West is a sinking ship, to be abandoned as soon as possible.

    While this belief unfortunately does have some validity, there is one problem: Russia is part of that ship. Moscow can make advances to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and it can remind the Arab world that the Soviet Union helped it develop and offered it protection in the United Nations Security Council. But in the eyes of most Islamic extremists, Russia is part of that same "Satanic" West -- indeed, its most vulnerable part. Therefore, it is Russia, with the soaring birth rate among its Muslim citizens, that is the most attractive country for expansion and takeover.

    But Moscow's self-destructive confrontation with the West can be halted, and its centuries-old debate between Westernizers and the Slavophiles can be put to rest once and for all. This, however, will depend on Ukraine's success on the path of European development it chose in the Orange Revolution of 2004 and 2005.

    Ukraine does present a threat, but not to Russia's security, as Kremlin propagandists claim. The real threat is to the Putin model of a corporate, authoritarian state, unfriendly to the West. For the Kremlin it is a matter of life and death that countries that were once part of the Soviet Union but chose a different model of development -- Ukraine being the chief example -- should never become attractive to ordinary Russians.

    The example posed by the Baltic nations does not threaten the Kremlin much because they are perceived as foreigners. Indeed, in Soviet films, Baltic actors were usually cast in the roles of Nazi generals and U.S. spies. Ukrainians, on the other hand, are close to us in their culture and mentality. If they made a different choice, why can't we do the same?

    Ukraine's success will mark the political death of Putinism -- the squalid and bankrupt philosophy of "KGB capitalists." If Ukraine succeeds in its European choice, if it is able to make it work, it can settle the question that has bedeviled Russian culture for centuries -- Russia or the West? So the best way to help Russia today is to support Ukraine's claim that it belongs to Europe and its institutions. This will influence the Kremlin's political mentality more than anything else.

    If the Kremlin's anti-Western paranoia continues and its Eurasian fantasy of allying with China lasts another 10 to 15 years, Russia will end up seeing China swallowing its Far East and Siberia. Indeed, the weakened Russia that will be Putin's legacy will then also lose the Northern Caucasus and the Volga region to their growing Muslim populations.

    The remaining lands would then have no other choice but to attach themselves to Ukraine, which should by then have become a successful member of the European Union.

    After 1,000 years, Russia will have come full circle, returning to Kievan Rus after wandering on the roads of the Mongol hordes, the Russian Empire, Soviet communism and farcical Putinism.

    Ukraine Lifts Inflation Forecast; Economic Growth Behind Target

    From: Bloomburg
    Ukraine increased its forecast of inflation for 2008 and said the country's economic growth in the first half lagged behind its projection for the year.

    The inflation rate will be 15.9 percent at the end of the year, more than a previous forecast of 15.3 percent, Justice Minister Mykola Onishchuk told journalists today after a government meeting to approve changes to the 2008 state budget.

    Ukraine's cabinet has rejected demands by President Viktor Yushchenko to trim this year's budget deficit to tackle inflation, which was 31.1 percent in May. Yushchenko disagrees with Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko on policies including how to fight inflation and the sale of state assets.

    The country's economy grew 6.4 percent in the first half of 2008, Timoshenko said before today's meeting, which was held to ensure that the legislature adopts the 2008 budget before its summer recess, which starts on July 14. The cabinet has forecast growth of 6.8 percent in gross domestic product for the year.

    Timoshenko said today that a ``significant'' amount of this year's 30.4 billion hryvnia ($6.61 billion) budget surplus will be used to develop the agricultural and energy industries, shipbuilding, aviation and the upgrading of roads.

    The government will continue with planned social spending and increase financing to prepare for the Euro 2012 soccer tournament, which will be co-hosted by Ukraine, Timoshenko said.

    Yushchenko had invited Timoshenko, the head of central bank and the Ukrainian parliament speaker to meet on July 7 to agree on budget changes.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Three Cheers for Polish thieves both Old and young

    From: NWE
    Gdansk area police have stopped a gang of three underage thieves and their 18-year-old fence who robbed guests in local vacation centres.

    According to investigators, the boys, aged 9, 13 and 14, spent the cash they stole on entertainment and handed the rest of their loot to the 18-year-old, who was to sell it on internet auctions. The two older boys are also suspected of attempting to extort PLN 10,000 from a local woman by threatening to blow up her home. The 18-year-old faces up to five years in prison for trading stolen goods, while the youths will answer to a court for minors.

    In a related story, A 71-year-old woman from the north-western town of Slawno may spend the next five years in prison after she stole her caretaker’s mobile phone. Before letting her off for the day, Genowefa L. asked the woman to take out the trash. When she got back, the victim noticed that her phone was missing and called the police. Investigators quickly located the phone by dialling its number, when it started ringing inside the elderly thief’s locked cupboard.

    Hash smugglers in Poland indicted

    From: Polskie radio
    The Prosecutor's Office in Gdansk has forwarded an indictment against four men charged with trafficking 1.5 tonnes of hash from Morocco to Poland.

    The prosecutor's office is accusing the four traffickers, two dual citizens of Germany and Poland and two Polish citizens, of organizing the transfer of 1.5 tonnes of hashish in the spring of last year.

    The drugs were found in a freight of tiles shipped from Casablanca to Gdynia, northern Poland, from where it was to be transported to the Netherlands via Germany.

    The traffickers thought they managed to avoid customs control after bribing a customs officer with 10,000 euros. However, the customs officer was cooperating, secretly, with the Polish police.

    The traffickers are now facing up to 15 years in prison.

    The Polish customs services estimates the worth of the drugs at 44 million zlotys, or approximately 12 million euros.

    Homeless people die after bird flu vaccine trial in Poland

    From: Telegraph
    21 people died after being given the vaccine
    Three Polish doctors and six nurses are facing criminal prosecution after a number of homeless people died following medical trials for a vaccine to the H5N1 bird-flu virus.
    The medical staff, from the northern town of Grudziadz, are being investigated over medical trials on as many as 350 homeless and poor people last year, which prosecutors say involved an untried vaccine to the highly-contagious virus.

    Authorities claim that the alleged victims received ?1-2 to be tested with what they thought was a conventional flu vaccine but, according to investigators, was actually an anti bird-flu drug.

    The director of a Grudziadz homeless centre, Mieczyslaw Waclawski, told a Polish newspaper that last year, 21 people from his centre died, a figure well above the average of about eight.

    Pole busted with heroin in Vancouver successfully blames son

    A mother who blamed her son for her troubles has been acquitted by a jury of smuggling two kilograms of heroin into the Vancouver airport in gifts wrapped for Christmas.

    Krystyna Raczkowska, 52, was arrested after she and her 29-year-old son, Wiktor Raczkowski, returned home Dec. 24, 2006, after a short trip to Poland to visit relatives.

    The jury heard from Crown witnesses the mother was seen tugging her clothing, crossing her arms and talking continuously as she waited to pick up her luggage.

    A search revealed drugs with an estimated street value of $400,000 concealed at the base of two ceramic pots wrapped as presents and carried in the mother's suitcase.

    Raczkowska was charged with possession of heroin for the purpose of trafficking and importing heroin into Canada.

    Crown counsel Edlyn Laurie told a B.C. Supreme Court jury in Vancouver the mother had full knowledge of the drugs in her possession and was therefore guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

    But Raczkowska testified that the evening before they left Warsaw there was "lots of commotion" in the house and presents were being wrapped and placed in suitcases.

    "She testified that when she was told she had narcotics in the suitcase she was surprised and confused," said B.C. Supreme Court Madam Justice Kristi Gill in her charge to the jury Wednesday.

    "She denied being aware that narcotics were in her suitcase . . . and at the conclusion of her evidence she told you that she blamed her son."

    Jacqueline Perciival, her lawyer, told the jury the son had "arranged" for the drug transaction and "that he used his mother," noted the judge.

    Raczkowski was arrested and charged with the same offences as his mother but the Crown stayed the charges.

    Both mother and son had prior criminal records.

    The judge instructed the jury that Raczkowska's convictions for possession of narcotics and possession of property obtained for crime could be used only to determine her credibility, not her guilt.

    The verdict came after a four-day trial and a little more than a day of deliberations by the jury.

  • Sport...

    Creating the Belarus Athletics Federation

    From: European Athletics
    The Federation staff: from left to right: Communication Manager Nastassia Marynina, General Secretary Tatsiana Ledouskaya, Vice President Anatoliy Baduev, Executive Director Boris Krishtanovich, Administrative Manager of National Team Mikhail Entin.

    The BAF staff who are working hard to take their
    federation forward!
    (Left to right: Communication Manager Nastassia
    Marynina, General Secretary Tatiana Ledouskaya,
    Vice President Anatoliy Baduev, Executive Director
    Boris Krishtanovich, Administrative Manager of National
    team Mikhail Entin.)

    Life in an Athletics Federation can be tough, but as the saying goes, 'a problem shared is a problem halved'. So European Athletics created the monthly 'Federation Feature' to share the real life problems faced by our Member Federations and the creative solutions they are coming up with to solve them.

    This month's Federation Feature throws the spotlight on the Belarus Athletic Federation (BAF) who have been making great strides to improve the work of their Federation in order to develop strong international relations and increase the popularity of athletics in Belarus.

    BAF have plenty of the raw materials to create a thriving athletics nation: great athletes, willing volunteers, 138 athletic schools with 31,649 athletes and 1,380 coaches, however the last major International athletics competition that it held was in 1978.

    Now with hard work, strong leadership, support from European Athletics and the IAAF, and it's very own website, BAF is ready to be taken seriously on and off the track!

    The Problem:
    Belarus Athletics has a thriving athlete training programme and a number of home produced stars. However as a former Soviet Union Country, until 1993 they were performing as members of the USSR team with the practically impossible chances of international selection.

    Running an established Athletics Federation is tough enough, but creating a new Federation from scratch, with limited resources, language barriers, and in the shadow of its former big brother was never going to be an easy!

    The Belarus Athletic Federation (BAF) had plenty of the raw materials to create a thriving athletics nation; great athletes, willing volunteers, people who know and love the sport; however they lacked the structures, communication tools and facilities to really achieve their potential and to fully integrate with the Continental and International Governing bodies.

    The Solution:
    Organisational Structure
    A number of key changes in the structures of BAF at the end of November 2007 sparked a massive overhaul of the entire organisation:Uladzimir Patupchyk, the Minister for Labour and Social Protection in Belarus, was voted as the new President, National Team Coach Anatoli Badoev was elected Vice President, and 1988 Olympic 4x400m relay gold medallist and 400m hurdles silver medallist Tatsiana Ledovskaya took up the post as General Secretary.

    Under new management and with support from both European Athletics and the IAAF, the BAF outlined its two key priorities for the short term future of Belarus Athletics:

    1. To Improve integration within European and International Athletics.
    2. To Increase the popularity of athletics in Belarus.

    One of the first major tasks in achieving both of these priorities was the creation of a successful and effective communication tool; the BAF website –

    A group of young experts working in the Federation or attached to the National Team got together to develop this programme which now boasts up-to-the minute news stories, race results and team selections, and there are plans for an English version which the federation hopes to launch late in Autumn.

    Engaging Youth
    In addition to the ten key federation staff, BAF actively encourages members of the Belarusian athletics team to take active roles in the Federation; they are extremely proactive in engaging enthusiastic young people with international language skills to help in the administrative side of the sport in projects like the website creation and management.

    The key principle behind this work is to harness much needed skills for the development of the organisation, whilst also raising the profile and the relevance of athletics to young Belarusian’s.

    Using athletics to promote healthy lifestyles
    In addition, BAF are working hard to promote European Athletics ‘Your Sport for Life’ principles by using fun athletic events to promote healthy, but achievable lifestyles for the Belarus population.

    They organise a variety of mass participation athletic events like the Minsk International Marathon Festival which last year saw over 15,000 people aged 6-80 run anything from 99m to 42.195km! The Belarusian Cross-Country Championships where school children, students, professionals, athletes and corporate teams all get outside and dirty together, and the recent children’s Relay competition “Prizes of Olympic Champions” where 4-6 year olds compete in 8x50m Relays.

    A strong spokesperson
    The Belarus Athletic Federation have worked extremely hard in the last year to capitalised on the small support available from European Athletics and IAAF to lay the groundwork for a very successful future Federation. They have a huge task to continue to grow their home market and build strong international relationships; however they have a positive and hard working team ready for the challenge.

    We will give the final word to BAF President

    Uladzimir Patupchyk, “I understand the Federation I am leading and I am very proud to be its President as athletics is the Queen of sports! Our main task now is to create a Federation with a great working atmosphere, to unite all those stakeholders involved in athletics – administrators, athletes, coaches, and the public. Together we will cope with the challenges that the future brings.”

  • Endnote...

    How Putin Muzzled the Moscow Times

    From: Kim Zigfeld
    Put yourself in Andrew McChesney’s shoes.

    You’re the American editor of the Moscow Times, a newspaper published in Russia in English with a miniscule print circulation but a website that is ranked by Technorati as one of the most linked sources of specialized information about Russia in the world. Funded by foreigners, you have a long, proud history of employing Russian reporters and issuing blistering editorial and news content documenting and criticizing anti-democratic moves by the Kremlin. And now, the Kremlin is in the last stages of a final crackdown on the last vestiges of critical media, a crackdown that nobody in the West seems willing to do too much about.

    You have two choices. Keep holding the Kremlin’s feet to the fire and get snuffed out like a candle in the wind (but a blaze-of-glory kind of candle) or tone it down and see how long you can last, figuring that even a little real journalism is better than none in a neo-Soviet dictatorship.

    What do you do?

    Like a turkey on Thanksgiving morning, you look across the barnyard and you see Farmer Putin sharpening his axe. On June 5, your own pages report that the Kremlin is moving against an obscure little English tabloid called the eXile, an odious little screed that supports itself by hawking Russian mail-order brides to sweaty, pimply, prepubescent readers and trades in self-congratulation, topless women and silly, bitter attacks on anything and everything American (because the paper’s American editors hold the country where they couldn’t quite make it — hence their exile to Russia — in rather low esteem).

    And you realize the horrible beauty of this move. You see that Russian dictator Vladimir Putin understands nobody cares in the least what happens to the eXile. In fact, the world will actually be better off without it.

    The eXile attacks the Kremlin’s enemies far more often than the Kremlin, so if the Kremlin shuts it down how can anyone complain about a crackdown? (For instance, one of the eXile’s more childish, idiotic and ludicrously self-important contributors, himself an avowed Marxist and atheist, recently ran a pathetic hatchet job on the brilliant work of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in documenting the failures of the Putin administration, a smear that might as well have been paid for by the Kremlin itself. No matter that the New York Review of Books and the Carnegie Center, to name just two eminent sources, have praised Nemtsov’s work to the sky. The real truth is to found in this off-color Russian comic book!)

    It’s like when Chief Justice John Marshall grabbed the power of judicial review by using it for the first time to rule in favor of Thomas Jefferson. How could Jefferson complain? And what could he say a few years later when that power was turned against his presidency?

    On June 11, the MT reported that the eXile had bit the dust. It quoted Mark Ames, the editor/publisher:

    “‘The paper is dead, unless a miracle happens.’ The newspaper missed an issue this week after its financial backers ‘got scared away by the government focusing its attention on it,’ and now The eXile is very likely to cease publication all together.’”
    There’s probably no harsher critic of the Putin regime in the world than me, but even I have to take my hat off to the KGB spymaster on this one. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get too worked up about the closure of the eXile. It’s as if the National Enquirer were written by frat boys at a community college in Daytona Beach, a seedy masturbation club for nasty anal retentive children with nothing better to do. Russia will be better off without it. The world will too.

    The same can be said for Eduard Limonov’s freakish National Bolshevik Party, a gathering of racists and nationalists whose leader routinely publishes tracts in the eXile’s pages along with a coterie of other ragtag losers and weirdos. Putin has already liquidated the formal aspects of the Party, and nobody shed a tear — nor should they have.

    Except of course when these actions are seen philosophically as stepping stones, precedents for totalitarian extermination. No sooner had the NBP gone the way of the dodo, for instance, than Putin purged every other political party that opposed his policies from the Russian parliament and from the presidential elections. And, I believe, no sooner will he strike down the eXile then he will turn his Evil Eye, like Sauron from Rohan to Gondor, toward the Moscow Times. To the extent there’s any blowback over the eXile — and there probably won’t be — he’ll simply take that into account when carrying out his next attack. To the extent there isn’t, he’ll feel free to do his worst.

    Russia’s new “president” Dimitri Medvedev has spouted some rhetoric recently about protecting the media and freeing the judiciary from influence. But as Russian journalist Yevgeny Kiselyov (booted off the airwaves after stepping on too many Kremlin toes) wrote recently in the Moscow Times:

    Perhaps Medvedev is simply taking a page from Putin’s book, however. After all, in his first term Putin also spoke nobly about the need for the rule of law (albeit with a Russian twist, introducing his “dictatorship of the law” model). But in the end, far from creating an independent legal system, Putin created a judiciary that applied the law selectively to eliminate his political opponents.
    Medvedev hasn’t called for Kiselyov to be put back into a position of prominence on national TV, and a recent piece in the New York Times documents how, in fact, the Kremlin’s foes are still being aggressively purged in that forum. When the article was translated into Russian and published on a Russian website, a reader responded:

    There is room on TV only for those who work to strengthen the country. If your actions are destructive, i.e. you do not support the unidirectional progression of your country, then there is no place for you there. I really want to say: write in newspapers and on the Internet, but TV is too strong a tool to hand over to everyone. TV should be for propaganda.
    Indeed, Putin is better positioned today to carry out an escalation of this crackdown than he was a year ago. Now, he has a puppet “president” to blame when the blowback comes, a luxury he didn’t have when he was on point. He can conveniently retain all the power of the presidency (he recently made a state visit to France and was received by Nicolas Sarkozy just as if he were still Russia’s prime ruler) and deflect all of the blowback for a draconian new round of oppression.

    This is some pretty impressive stuff from Mr. Putin, a bravura performance worthy of the highwater period of Soviet cloak and dagger. Even Grampa Joe Stalin never managed to populate the corridors of Russian government with so many KGB spies (and he wasn’t one himself).

    Just as in the time of Stalin, it hardly matters if, on balance, like the eXile, you’re actually friendly to Putin and hostile to Russia’s “enemies” in the West (including their basic standards of professionalism for journalists). That won’t save you from being shoved onto a train to Siberia along with folks like Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Take, for instance, Khodorkovsky critic William Browder. Head of a large investment fund with heavy commitments to the Russian market and a strident advocate of Putin who approved the Khodorkovsky arrest, Browder recently found himself facing exactly the same kind of attack that sent Khodorkovsky to Siberia, and is now exiled from the country. The fact that, today, you might profess loyalty to the dictatorship means little to Putin; what matters is how much influence you are generating independent from the Kremlin, influence that makes you a theoretical threat tomorrow. That’s what motivated Stalin, and it’s what motivates the neo-Soviet chip off his block.

    Remember now, you’re McChesney. And don’t forget that the Kremlin hasn’t hesitated to go much further than merely shutting down offensive journalism outlets. As the tragedy of Anna Politkovskaya and Paul Khlebnikov reminds us, the final solution is always on the table, too.

    So, what do you do?

    I’m afraid the decision has already been made. When opposition leader Oleg Kozlovsky was recently arrested to prevent him from participating in a protest against Medvedev’s inauguration and the first meeting of a new shadow parliament organization, he was sentenced to an outrageous two weeks in prison where he launched a hunger strike. The Moscow Times didn’t report it (other than a one-sentence reference in a wire report.)

    When, from behind bars, he published the lead op-ed in the Washington Post, including a photograph of himself in the clutches of Putin’s goons, the Moscow Times website didn’t carry it. Instead, it ran a column from a Kremlin sycophant announcing a meeting in Washington DC funded by Russian state-owned propaganda network Russia Today designed to drum up support for Putin. The Moscow Times has recently redesigned its website apparently to downplay and bury any content that might be offensive to the Kremlin. And to all appearances it has stopped publishing critical letters to the editor (it’s quashed not one but three of mine in the last two months).

    I can’t be too tough on McChesney. He’s got a staff of Russians with families that don’t want to see them unemployed, much less in prison, and the paper is still a beacon of truth in Russia, though it is flickering. McChesney tells me he sometimes has problems getting permission to put material from big American papers on his website, and that’s an outrage. But there’s nothing to stop McChesney from generating original editorial material from sources like Kozlovsky, and he’s just not doing that. To repeatedly feature those who are directly confronting the Kremlin would be dangerous, and it doesn’t seem he wants to run that risk.

    Still, though, the problem doesn’t ultimately lie in Moscow, but in Western capitals where our leaders are collaborating in the rise of a neo-Soviet state in a manner that seems little different from the actions that facilitated the rise of Hitler. If we won’t provide the leadership, how can we expect to have any followers?

    The Moscow Times is the canary in the mine shaft. If we let it drop without a fight, we’ll pay a heavy price later on.