News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gas service complete, Hard times ahead, Swiss Confederation, Abkhazia, S.Ossetia, CIS, China, Russia, Ukraine, Polish Jokes, Sport, News and Culture

  • From the Top...
  • #369

    Belarus President: latest technologies should be used in gas service installation

    From: BelTA and the Office of the President
    Berezino (Minsk oblast) was the last out of 118 regional centres of Belarus where the natural gas service was installed. Now the priority goal is to supply gas to every single consumer, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko attending the ceremony of launching the natural gas supply network on December 16, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The Belarusian Head of State was on a working trip to the Minsk oblast; he took part in the ceremony and got familiar with the social and economic development of the region.

    The natural gas service was first provided in 1960 when the gas main Dashava-Minsk was put into operation. In the Soviet times the gas service was mainly extended to those settlements that were in the close vicinity of the gas mains because the installation of gas networks was complicated and expensive.

    According to the Head of State, that hampered the equal social and economic development of the regions, especially small towns and villages, which had a negative impact on the well-being of their citizens. That was the reason why a goal was set to introduce gas service all over the country.

    Beginning 1995, the gas service has been rapidly installed in Belarus; over 14 years, more than 21,000 km out of today’s 36,000 km of gas pipelines was laid. More than 2.2 million apartments, 2,000 industrial and 9,000 utility services facilities have been supplied with natural gas service.

    The number of natural gas consumers is rising every year. It is encouraging that almost 18,000 km of gas pipelines have been installed in the countryside. The President noted that the implementation of the national rural revival programme gave a powerful impetus to the installation of gas service in the countryside.

    In the Minsk oblast alone, the gas service was extended to 28 towns and 394 villages. All in all, up to Br 40 billion will be allocated to extend the gas service to the Minsk oblast towns and villages for the period till 2011.

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has commissioned local authorities with the task to use the potential of gas service installation as efficiently as possible.

    According to him, the priority task here is to reduce energy consumption. Cutting-edge energy-saving technologies should be employed to secure the economical use of resources. According to the President, thrift and care are becoming the key factors of improving the well-being of people.

    The gas service was installed in Berezino 5 months ahead of the schedule. It is time regional executive committees join the process. They have to think about extending gas service to the manufacturing sector and private houses.

    Many people are concerned about the possible increase in gas prices, Alexander Lukashenko said. “The world oil prices have recently plummeted almost three times. But no one can guarantee that gas prices will not rise tomorrow,” he said. According to the Head of State, we should proceed from the fact that natural gas will never be cheap.

    The gas service installation gives people an opportunity to choose which fuel to use depending on the situation on energy market.

    While speaking to Berezino citizens the Head of State touched upon the global financial crisis. Alexander Lukashenko stated that unfortunately Belarus will not be able to stay away from the crisis which results, first and foremost, in the sales cuts. This is why the number-one goal of the country is to sell the manufactured goods; therefore it is necessary to step up efforts to sell domestically manufactured products.

    In general, Alexander Lukashenko noted that the forthcoming 2009-2010 will not be easy. “We have to get through these years. After the crisis the strong will become even stronger; weak enterprises will get our support, if they really want to work and earn money,” the Head of State said.

    Alexander Lukashenko made a tour of the Berezino Cheese-Making Plant. The Head of State was reported about the implementation of the instruction related to dry whey production. The company launched the whey-processing investment project in 2007. Whey is used in the production of feeds, and meat products, confectionary and bakery goods, and is a substitute of whole milk. Providing the prices remain stable, the project will pay back in five and a half years. Twenty-four new jobs will be created in the course of the project. In 2009, the company plans to reconstruct the cheese-making shop to increase the capacity to 15 tonnes of hard rennet cheese per day.

    The President of Belarus also got familiar with the new technology of milk processing, dry whey production equipment and tasted the products made by the company. The Belarusian Head of State liked what he saw; he commissioned the government with the task to develop the progress.

    Yet, the President was not happy about the overall development of the Berezino region. According to the Head of State, the region is one of the most underdeveloped in the country. “The Berezino region works badly, worse than any other region, even in the Chernobyl affected areas,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He addressed critical remarks towards the senior officials of the region and pointed out the mismanagement of the agricultural industry.

    The President commissioned the Minsk Governor with the task to take urgent measures to improve the situation in the region. Alexander Lukashenko gave the local authorities one year to drastically change the situation.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    New tariffs on utility services to become effective in Belarus January 1

    From: BelTA
    The Council of Ministers of Belarus issued Resolution No1942 on December 16, 2008 to impose new utility tariffs, BelTA learnt from the Council of Ministers’ Office.

    The tariff on engineering service of residential houses will be up 11.8% as compared to the effective tariff. The tariffs on heat energy and hot water supply have been revised upward by 15.6%, on cold water supply by 20%. The tariff on disposal of solid waste has been increased by 18.9% and the one on the use of elevators by 20%.

    Starting January 1, 2009 electrical energy will cost Br173.3 pr 1kWt. The electricity tariffs are differentiated in terms of the time of consumption. The electricity consumed from 22h00 to 17h00 (the period of minimum load) will be Br121.1, from 17h00 to 22h00 (maximum load) Br346 per 1kWt. The tariffs on electrical energy for the houses (apartments) fitted with gas stoves will be Br125.3 per 1kWt (Br87.7 during the period of minimum load and Br250.6 during the maximum load time).

    Resolution No1942 has been adopted in pursuance with a subparagraph of the President’s decree No604 “On the measures to increase the efficiency of the utility industry” of October 6, 2006 and enters into force on January 1, 2009.

    A reminder, this year the tariffs on utility services have been revised two times on January 1 and May 1. In January-August 2008, the tariffs were increased by $9.1 in equivalent per two-room apartment.

    Swiss Confederation eager to enhance relations with Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The Swiss Confederation is eager to enhance relations with Belarus. Scheduled for Q2 2009, the opening of a full-fledged consular service in Minsk will be one of the major steps in this area. The consular service will issue visas, BelTA learnt from Dietrich Dreyer, head of the Minsk office of the Swiss Confederation embassy.

    He reminded, the Swiss diplomatic mission sends all the papers required for getting a visa from Minsk to the embassy in Warsaw to get the documents later by diplomatic mail. This is why visa clearance can take around three weeks.

    According to Dietrich Dreyer, the number of Belarusians who visit Switzerland rises every year. In 2007 around 4,200 Belarusians visited the country. “It is not so little. I think with Switzerland’s accession to the Schengen zone new opportunities are opening up for Belarusians and the number of tourists willing to visit our country will increase. The number of visa applications has noticeably increased in the last few days,” underscored the diplomat.

    Statements about Switzerland being an extremely expensive country for recreation are outdated. The country offers recreation opportunities to people with varying incomes, noted Dietrich Dreyer. Switzerland boasts not only excellent alpine skiing resorts. It offers various hiking tours, travels around the country using panoramic trains as well as shopping at quite democratic prices.

    Switzerland became part of the Schengen zone on December 12, 2008. Swiss consular services have started issuing Schengen visas on December 15.

    Swiss consular services start issuing Schengen visas in Minsk

    Swiss consular services have started issuing Schengen visas in compliance with requirements, which are common for all Schengen treaty member-states, BelTA learnt from Dietrich Dreyer, head of the Minsk office of the Swiss Confederation embassy.

    The diplomat explained, a Schengen visa allows travellers to stay in a country for up to 90 days within 6 months during tourist, private and business trips.

    The Minsk office of the Swiss embassy handles visa matters in Belarus. Visa clearance takes at least three weeks. All papers are sent to the embassy in Warsaw for processing to be returned to Minsk by diplomatic mail, said Dietrich Dreyer.

    Switzerland became part of the Schengen zone on December 12, 2008. Passport control is lifted for citizens of Schengen zone countries at land borders. Passport control will stay in effect in airports till March 29, 2009.

    Schengen visas allow entry to all Schengen zone countries, namely Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Holland, Norway, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Czechia, and Hungary.

    Lidia Yermoshina praises CIS role in democratization of electoral processes

    From: BelTA
    Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus Lidia Yermoshina praises the role of CIS monitoring mission in the democratization of electoral processes, BelTA has learnt.

    Lidia Yermoshina told media on December 17, “Significant progress is obvious. In 2001, when the CIS mission monitored presidential elections in Belarus, it was its first experience of this kind. Today the mission is a real international body within the Commonwealth, one of CIS leading agencies.”

    A reminder, at its Saint Petersburg session, the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly adopted a declaration on the principles of international observation of elections and referendums in the CIS member states. Senior officials of the Russian Central Election Commission believe that the OSCE should adhere to similar standards of election monitoring. Lidia Yermoshina told BelTA that the Belarusian CEC would like to see this document adopted by the OSCE, too. In her opinion, however, “it is very unlikely that such document will be adopted within the framework of the OSCE, because it will too much oblige the states of western democracy to adhere to it. “The Copenhagen document they stick to was developed in the 1990s, during the collapse of the socialist system. This document was meant to supervise the processes underway in the new, reformed states. I think, the OSCE does not intend to introduce additional standards to monitor electoral processes in the western states, the states of the old democracy,” Lidia Yermoshina said.

    According to her, the CIS is the only institution where the observation is carried out in line with international standards. “Everything that is done beyond the Commonwealth is often represented by some limited missions, a fictitious symbol of international observation. A group of 20 people that visited the US or a group of 12 people that visited Poland can hardly be called an observation mission,” Lidia Yermoshina said. She underlined that it is the CIS that has gained greatest experience of international electoral observation.

    OSCE report about Belarusian elections is politically biased, Lidia Yermoshina says

    The final report made by the OSCE ODIHR about the parliamentary elections in Belarus is politically biased, Chairperson of the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Belarus Lidia Yermoshina told a roundtable session at the CIS Executive Committee in Minsk on December 17.

    For the first time the preliminary report made by the OSCE ODIHR about the parliamentary elections mentioned the compliance of the election process with national laws instead of compliance with OSCE recommendations only. “The final document, however, omitted the compliance of the election campaign with national laws while it is a mandatory requirement: compliance of election processes with national laws must be indicated,” said Lidia Yermoshina.

    The final report focused on shortcomings of Belarus’ elections and cited negative facts. Positive things were only briefly mentioned. “It testifies to the political bias of the document. Using the wording the OSCE final report contained (such as ‘we’ve been told that’, ‘it is said that’, no particular sources are mentioned) I would like to note that I’ve been told that mission head Mr Arens doesn’t agree with the final report and criticised several things,” said the CEC head. Thus the practice of using the international monitoring institution for punishing a country has not died yet. Lidia Yermoshina also added, monitoring outside the CIS is either nothing like in the USA or hostility monitoring like in Iraq.

    Abkhazia, S.Ossetia address Belarusian parliament with request to recognize their independence

    From: BelTA
    The House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus is considering the appeals from the national parliaments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to recognize their independence, Speaker of the Lower Chamber of the Belarusian parliament Vladimir Andreichenko told reporters on December 16, BelTA informs.

    Vladimir Andreichenko said that the Belarusian parliament received the request from South Ossetia on December 1. The address from Abkhazia had been delivered to the Belarusian parliament before then. In line with the national legislation, these addresses will be considered by the House of Representatives after they are studied by the relevant commission.

    “The people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are Belarus’ friendly nations. Our country was one of the first to provide

  • Economics...

    Foreign currency earnings of Belarusian companies 43.4% up in January-November

    From: BelTA
    In January-November 2008 foreign currency earnings of Belarusian companies increased by 43.4% in comparison with the same period of last year to a total of $35.17 billion, BelTA learnt from the Information Office of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus.

    Proceeds from commodity export swelled by 45.3% to $31.26 billion to a total of 88.9% of the foreign currency proceeds. Earnings from the export of services accounted for 9.7% of the total or $3.4 billion (26.5% up), foreign currency proceeds from domestic trade — 1.3% or around $0.47 billion (54.2% up). Other revenues amounted to $30.5 million (140% up).

    According to provisional data of the National Bank, exports to the CIS accounted for around 37% of the total foreign currency proceeds from commodity

    List of strategic Belarusian companies approved

    A list of open joint-stock companies, which are vital for the operation of strategically important branches of the economy and/or for other important national needs, has been approved. The decision was adopted by the Council of Ministers’ resolution No 1927 of December 15, 2008, BelTA learnt from the Council of Ministers Office. The document comes into force on July 17, 2008.

    The list contains 162 enterprises, including 8 accountable to the Architecture and Construction Ministry, 11 — the Industry Ministry, 15 — Belgospischeprom concern, 9 — Belneftekhim concern, 14 — Bellegprom concern, 3 — Bellesbumprom concern. The list also contains 9 strategic enterprises in the Brest oblast, 14 — the Vitebsk oblast, 6 — the Gomel oblast, 6 — the Grodno oblast, 9 — the Minsk oblast, 6 — the Mogilev oblast, and 4 enterprises in the city of Minsk.

    The government resolution was adopted in line with decree No 7 “Amendments and addenda to Belarus President Decree No 3 of March 20, 1998” of April 14, 2008.

    BelTA reported earlier, decree No 7 gradually lifts restrictions on the circulation of shares of Belarusian open joint-stock companies, which were created through privatisation and denationalization. Earlier alienation of these shares was forbidden.

    During the first phase (starting July 17, 2008) the restriction on alienating shares of joint-stock companies, in which authorised funds the government share is zero or equals 75% and more, is lifted. The ban on alienating shares of joint-stock companies, which specialise in processing agricultural products, and shares of cereal product companies is fully lifted.

    During the second phase (starting January 1, 2009) restrictions on alienating shares of joint-stock companies with the state share over 50% will be lifted.

    During the first and second phase restrictions will stay in place for shares of joint-stock companies, which ensure the operation of strategic industries of the national economy. These are the companies listed by government resolution No 1927.

    During the third phase (starting January 1, 2011) all restrictions will be lifted.

    Along with other companies the list includes Berezastroimaterialy, Keramin (Minsk), Belkard (Grodno), Minsk Bearings Plant, Horizont, Kommunarka, Belarusian-Russian joint venture Brestgazoapparat, open joint-stock company Krinitsa, Mozyrsalt, Elema.

  • From the International Press...

    Belarus, China ink agreement on cooperation in peaceful uses of atomic energy

    From: Trend

    Belarus and China have signed the intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in peaceful uses of atomic energy. The document was signed by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to China Anatoly Tozik and Deputy Minister of Science and Technology of China Cao Jianlin in Beijing on December 16, BelTA learnt in the Chinese Embassy in Belarus.

    During the signing ceremony Anatoly Tozik noted that some Chinese corporations have shown their interest in participation in construction of the first Belarusian nuclear power plant. The signed agreement provides the legal-treaty base for development of the Belarusian-Chinese cooperation in the nuclear area.

    During a meeting in Beijing on August 7 this year, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Chinese President Hu Jintao noted that the relations between the two countries are developing dynamically. It concerns the political, trade and economic, investment, humanitarian and sci-tech areas, the Belarusian Ambassador highlighted.

    Belarus 'to recognize Abkhazia, S.Ossetia soon'

    From: Ria Novosti
    Belarus will soon recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states, the state secretary of the Russia-Belarus Union State said on Wednesday.

    Russia recognized the two republics as independent states on August 26, two weeks after the end of a five-day war with Georgia, which began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia to bring it back under central control. So far, only Nicaragua has followed suit.

    "The Belarusian parliament will consider the [recognition] requests that we officially handed to [Belarusian President Alexander] Lukashenko," Pavel Borodin said. "I think that Belarus will formally recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia's independence."

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, whose country has been trying to establish a union with Russia and is dependent on Russian energy supplies, said earlier he would back parliament if it chose to recognize the breakaway regions.

    South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been given observer status in parliamentary sessions of the Russia-Belarus Union State.

    Polish priests not welcome in Belarus

    From: Polskie Radio
    Three Polish priests from the Grodno diocese in Belarus have not received permission for extending their religious mission.

    Belarusian authorities claim the decision arises from the fact that the priests in question do not have command of the official languages used in administration contacts, namely Russian and Belarusian. Independent commentators point to the reason for the authorities’ dissatisfaction being the celebration of mass in Polish.

    There are currently 56 priests from Poland working in the Grodno diocese. Apart from the three who will have to leave Belarus by January 1st the remaining have resident permits valid for only six months.

    A similar situation concerns Polish priests and sisters in the Minsk diocese.
  • Note: A good start but they can do better...

    Lukashenka acknowledges that Belarus will have hard times in next two years

    From: Navany
    Belarus will have hard times in the next two years, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said Tuesday while visiting Berazino, a city of 13,000 residents near Minsk.

    “I feel that the coming years 2009 and 2010 are going to be difficult,” the Belarusian leader said.

    “We have to live through these years,” the presidential press office quoted him as saying. “The strong will come stronger out of the crisis and we’ll support weak enterprises, if they really want to work and earn.”

    The president “noted with regret” that Belarus would not manage to remain uninvolved in the global economic crisis, which above all affects sales of goods, that is why the main task confronting the republic is to sell the manufactured products, the press office said.

    Every opportunity for marketing domestic products should be used to the maximum possible extent, the head of state stressed, according to the press office.

    He directed that the government should prevent an increase in the unemployment rate.

  • From the Opposition...

    Minsk: protest of entrepreneurs

    From: Viasna
    Some thousands of people took part in a protest rally of entrepreneurs. The protesters demanded liberalization of business environment in Belarus.

    At 1.00 p.m., about 500 people gathered near the National Academy of Sciences. They were holding banners ‘entrepreneurs have always been and will be support of people in hard times for the state. A. Shumchanka’, ‘Suffocating thousands in order some people to prosper’, ‘New conditions for individual entrepreneurs are worthy ‘contribution’ to the global crisis’, ‘Authorities! Provide conditions for business’.

    The number of participants grew. By estimate of the people present, the rally gathered some thousands of people. A column moved from the Academy of Sciences along Surhanau Street to the Park of People’s Friendship (Banhalor square) where a meeting was to be held. There were no militiamen, at least militiamen in uniform. People were walking along the pavements in quiet and organized way. Entrepreneurs didn’t carry flags and from time to time shouted ‘Work!’ and ‘Freedom for entrepreneurs!’

    Some dozens of people headed by entrepreneurs’ leader Ales Taustyka remained near the Academy of Sciences. They said they would go to Banhalor square – ‘place for dog-walking’. As Ales Taustyka told the Charter’97 press center, in his view, a rally in outskirts is senseless. According to him, entrepreneurs should protest near the House of Government.

    A meeting was held on Banhalor square. Anatol Shumchanka, leader of Perspective NGO, addressed the mob and told about the problems the Belarusian business had faced and expressed a hope the rally would help to solve the issue on individual entrepreneurs.

    A resolution, read out by Shumchanka, demands to create a state committee in partnership with leaders of entrepreneurs’ movements, and to appoint a president’s commissioner for entrepreneurs. It was also decided to recommend viewing the reference of the officials responsible for ruining of small business.

    After his speech, Shumshanka announced the end of the meeting. But other entrepreneurs took to the stage and said to the Perspective chairman he could end the meeting after only his speech.

    Entrepreneurs’ leader Ales Makayeu demanded that previous conditions of work for individual entrepreneurs should be preserved, among them a possibility to employ any people - they are deprived of this opportunity since 1 January 2008. It was said the participants of the rally would expect the government to respond.

    It should be reminded that Perspective NGO applied for authorization of the rally.

    A preventive national strike of individual entrepreneurs, organized by association For Free Development of Business, took place in Belarus on 10 December.

    Entrepreneurs say to the authorities it is impossible to work under new conditions. Since 1 January 2009 entrepreneurs must buy all goods and materials using official documents, certificates, customs clearance, value-added taxes and bookkeeping documents for the purchased goods. Moreover, an individual entrepreneur is forbidden to employ any persons except for his or her close relatives. These are unreal conditions for most of small entrepreneurs.

    Ukrainian hryvnia slump. Devaluation of Belarusian ruble unavoidable

    From: Charter '97
    The Ukrainian national currency continues going down against the dollar, the euro, and the Russian ruble. Experts suppose Belarus, where the situation is far worse, will inevitably face the Ukrainian scenario.

    Banks sell the dollar for UAH 9 to the dollar, the euro costs UAH13.

    Currency exchange offices buy the dollar for 7.90-8.55 hryvnias, while selling rate is UAH8.60-9.1 to the dollar, Ukrainian media report.

    The euro purchasing rate is 11.0-11.85 hryvnias to the euro, selling rate is 11.80-13.0 hryvnias to the euro. The Russian ruble purchasing rate is 2.40-3.3 hryvnias, selling rate is 2.80-3.60 hryvnias to 10 rubles.

    It should be reminded that the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) reduced the hryvnia rate against the euro up to UAH 10.59 against euro. Besides, the UNB marked down the hryvnia rate against the dollar up to 7.73 vryvnias to the dollar.

    Ukraine is seized with panic as bank deposits are depreciating and real payments, pensions, and buying power are falling down. However, a considerable price decline in dollar and euro equivalent can be noticed.

    Experts suppose Belarus, where the situation is far worse, will inevitably face the Ukrainian scenario. The government of Ukraine has already received 4.5 billions out of a 16-billion loan of the International Monetary Fund. So, Ukraine has a kind of an “airbag”. However, the Ukrainian authorities have been marking down hryvnia rate for the last 4 months to support exporters and save the economy.

    The national currency is expected to slash in Belarus. As the Belarusian ruble has strengthened against the hryvnia and the Russian ruble, Belarusian goods are becoming noncompetitive at markets of these countries. Under these conditions, devaluation of Belarusian ruble is unavoidable.

  • Around the region...

    Electoral Rot Nearby? The Russians Don’t See It

    From: NYTimes
    The voting monitor began his rounds on election day here at Polling Place No. 7. “Issues? Violations?” he asked the poll workers, glancing around like a casual sightseer. They said no, so he left.

    The monitor, Kholnazar Makhmadaliyev, breezed from one polling site (“What’s up? Things O.K.?”) to another (“Everything fine here?”), shaking a lot of hands, offering abundant compliments and drinking brandy with this city’s mayor.

    Such went Mr. Makhmadaliyev’s stint on a large observer mission led by the Kremlin that concluded that Belarus, a former Soviet republic and an ally of Russia, had conducted a “free, open and democratic” parliamentary election in late September.

    The Kremlin monitors’ version of reality, though, clashed with the one described by a European security group, whose own monitors dismissed the election as a sham tainted by numerous shortcomings, not the least of which was vote rigging.

    The monitors dispatched by the Kremlin did not report anything like that. Nor did they raise concerns about Belarus’s security service, still called the K.G.B., which had exerted harsh pressure on the opposition, imprisoning several of its leaders over the last year and thwarting their campaigns. Or about state-controlled television broadcasts repeatedly branding opposition leaders as traitors.

    Or, for that matter, about the final results: a sweep of every seat in the 110-member Parliament by supporters of President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, often described as Europe’s last dictator.

    The Kremlin under Vladimir V. Putin has sought to bolster authoritarian governments in the region that remain loyal, and these election monitoring teams — 400 strong in Belarus alone — are one of its newer innovations. They demonstrate the lengths to which the Kremlin will go to create the illusion of political freedom in Russia and other former Soviet republics, even though their structures of democracy have been hollowed out.

    The monitors play a critical role in creating a democratic veneer, solemnly giving their customized assessments and formal reports, which are promoted by the government-controlled media. They also provide a counterweight to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who denounce the same elections.

    The goal for the Kremlin is to convince the public — and, perhaps, even foreigners — that these governments are lawfully elected and representative of the popular will.

    “These monitors really illustrate what is happening in the post-Soviet space,” said Andrei Sannikov, an organizer of European Belarus, an opposition movement. “The monitors bless everything — in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, places where we know there are no real elections. These leaders want to be accepted and seen as truly democratic, even though they are unreformed and unchanged. They want to present themselves as equal to the American president.”

    Ultimately, Mr. Sannikov said, “they want some kind of legitimacy, especially in the eyes of the West.”

    A Sphere of Influence

    By backing these leaders, Russia has also reaped economic benefits and maintained its regional sphere of influence. It has done so even while seeking to destabilize pro-Western neighbors, most notably when it invaded Georgia in August in response to what it said was Georgian aggression. Belarus, which has 10 million people, is the only former Soviet bloc nation to Russia’s west that maintains warm ties with the Kremlin.

    The United States and its NATO allies have also sought good relations with many of the authoritarian governments in the region, to offset the Kremlin’s influence, to maintain military bases and to increase business opportunities. Still, the West has generally refrained from endorsing the results of elections in these countries.

    Senior Russian officials tend to tie themselves in knots explaining how governments that have crushed opposition movements can conduct fair balloting. The officials refer to Western election monitors as a tool that the West uses to smear Russia and other former Soviet republics.

    Vladimir A. Pekhtin, a vice speaker of the Russian Parliament who supervised the Kremlin monitors in Belarus, said every recent election in the former Soviet Union had been democratic and fair. He included countries like Uzbekistan, whose president has ruled since the end of Communism and was re-elected last year with 88 percent of the vote.

    Asked about the conclusions of Western monitors in Belarus, Mr. Pekhtin said, “They just made it up, invented it, to try to show that there was some kind of rot.”

    Still, even some insiders acknowledge what is at work here.

    Igor Y. Yurgens, an adviser to President Dmitri A. Medvedev who is the chairman of a liberal-leaning research group set up by Mr. Medvedev, described the Kremlin missions as doing little more than currying favor with neighbors.

    “It’s a pretty clumsy thought that the near abroad can be consolidated only through this, through being polite to the authorities in place,” he said.
    The article continues...

    Yushchenko Forecasts Pain as Ukraine's Economy Deteriorates

    From: WSJ
    Ukraine's gross domestic product plunged at its fastest rate in more than a decade in November, and President Victor Yushchenko warned that the worst is yet to come.

    GDP in the former Soviet republic contracted 14.4% in November from a year earlier, the State Statistics Committee said Tuesday. In January to November, the annual growth rate slowed to 3.6%, half the pace of the past seven years.

    Mr. Yushchenko told local authorities that the coming months will be particularly painful for the already battered economy. "In the first quarter of 2009, GDP is expected to fall between 7% and 10%," he said, according to his press service.

    The news came as the country's currency, the hryvnia, hit a historic low of 8.50 hryvnia to the dollar, despite intervention from the National Bank. The Ukrainian currency has shed nearly half of its purchasing power since late summer.

    With an economy heavily dependent on commodities, Ukraine has been among the hardest hit emerging markets during the global economic slowdown. As international demand for steel has collapsed, so have prices, straining businesses and banks and causing equity markets to drop.

    Industrial production slid nearly 29% in November, and steel output fell by half in the same month. Growth in consumer demand slumped to 1.1% on the year in November from 16% in October.

    Both exports and imports continued to decline, and the trade deficit in the first 10 months of the year widened to $16.1 billion.

    A conflict between Mr. Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has impeded action to offset the growing crisis, delaying the passage of measures in parliament and almost derailing a $16.5 billion loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

    November data released earlier this month by the National Bank showed Ukraine spent 80% of the first tranche of the IMF loan within a month of receiving it. The central bank spent $3.4 billion in foreign exchange interventions in November to defend the hryvnia.

    On Tuesday, the parties of the president and the prime minister formed a new coalition, which most observers perceive as fragile.

    Nonetheless, economists said it might provide some stability, if only temporarily.

    "New parliamentary elections now look much less likely," said Oleh Yuzefovich, an analyst at Alfa Capital.

    "This will keep the existing government in power and save valuable time for it to continue passing anticrisis legislation."

    Ukraine's NATO membership will be decided at referendum, says Tymoshenko

    From: Kiev Post
    Whether or not Ukraine will join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will depend on the results of a nationwide referendum, said the country's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

    "NATO accession will take place depending on the results of a nationwide referendum. There is nothing new here. This provision has been spelt out in our manifesto documents since 2004," Tymoshenko told Interfax-Ukraine on Wednesday.

    Having this matter resolved through a referendum will not contradict the manifesto documents of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYT), Our Ukraine - People's Self-Defense or Lytvyn's Bloc and will also be "consistent with Ukraine's national interests," she said.

    "Our coalition is a coalition of forces which promote real democracy. And therefore the views and interests of our people are not a hollow sound for us. NATO is not an issue that could dismantle the coalition, we will remove any misunderstandings," Tymoshenko said.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Former Polish football boss takes stand in corruption case

    From: M&C
    Former head of the Polish football federation (PZPN) Michal Listkiewicz took the stand on Tuesday as a witness in an ongoing investigation into corruption in the sport.

    Listkiewicz said he'd answered 'honestly' after about an hour on the stand in a Wroclaw court. He did not give details about the proceedings.

    'I answered all the questions honestly and frankly, because I'm truthful,' Listkiewicz said.

    The Polish football federation voted in Grzegorz Lato in October as its new head, as Listkiewicz stepped down amid the investigation.

    Listkiewicz said he didn't know about corruption while he headed PZPN, and had no contact with Ryszard F., or 'The Hairdresser,' the alleged leader of the corruption ring.

    Lato has called on officials to work and make Polish football 'clear' of corruption, 'so that we could together make Euro 2012 our shared success.' Poland is to host the 2012 event together with Ukraine.

    Football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA had threatened Poland with sanctions unless the government allowed the federation to elect a new leader.

    The investigation into corruption in Polish football was launched in May 2005, and so far has charged more than 100 people that include referees, officials and members of the football federation.

    Beenhakker uncertain to stay after Polish FA clash

    From: Soccar Way
    The chances of Dutch manager Leo Beenhakker staying with the Polish national team depend on a conversation the coach is to have with the association's new chairman on Wednesday.

    In an interview with AD/Sportwereld, a sportspaper in the Netherlands, Beenhakker commented on recent difficulties with the Polish FA. The coach disagrees with policies set by FA chairman Grzegorz Lato, who as a result invited the manager to his office on Tuesday.

    "I don't want to say too much about it yet. If you burp in let's say China, it'll be all over the internet the next minute and it can be used against you," the coach said about Tuesday's meeting.

    "At least I have made a few proposals. If the gentlemen agree, I can continue. If not, it'll be a different story. I really don't know how it'll end."

    Beenhakker has coached a large amount of teams over the last 36 years, including clubs as Ajax, Real Madrid and Club America. He also managed the national teams of the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Trinidad and Tobago before trying his luck in Poland.

    After qualifying for this year's European Championships, the final tournament itself was considered a disappointment as the Poles were eliminated in the first round.

    US Senator apologizes for telling 'Polish jokes'

    From: The News
    US Senator, Rep. Arlen Specter has made an official apology for telling Polish jokes at his party’s New York gathering last week.

    Specter sent a relevant letter to all major Polish organizations in the United States explaining his behavior. On Tuesday, the Senator had a phone conversation with the President of the Polish-American Congress Frank Spula who accepted the apologies but suggested a written form would be advisable. Senator Specter responded quickly, underscoring his good relations with the Polish community strengthened by several visits to Poland. He underscored his high esteem for Polish participation in the international anti-terrorist coalition and the military effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The senator went on to say that in fact, he really hadn't a clue as to how many Poles it tool to screw in a light bulb.

    "I am not an expert on this question so obviously I was out of line in my assumption as to what the real number of Poles the job actually takes. When I first heard the story, it did seem like a rather humorous situation because really, you just stand on a chair, reach up and replace the bulb. I really can't say why it takes more than one Polish guy to do this job. Maybe it has something to do with the quality of the bulb or maybe even the ladders. Or maybe it's the unions. You know that could be a real thing right there. In any case, I understand that they are upset and you know, hey, what can I say? I should have been more sensitive to their feelings about this light bulb issue. Who knew?"

    The Senator expressed regret over his remarks considering them as a highly unfortunate mistake.

    No charges levelled at Taser cops

    The four Richmond Mounties involved in the Tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski will not be charged with criminal wrongdoing.

    Crown prosecutors with the B.C. Criminal Justice branch Friday confirmed there was not enough evidence to sustain criminal charges against any of the former Richmond RCMP officers involved in the incident at Vancouver International Airport more than a year ago.

    The officers involved in the incident are identified as Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson, Const. Kwesi Millington, Const. Bill Bentley and Const. Gerry Rundel.

    Stan Lowe of the Crown prosecutor's office revealed Dziekanski had been shocked five times, not twice, as originally reported by RCMP.

    In the days immediately following the incident, an eyewitness contradicted the RCMP's version of events, saying she thought she heard four charges go off.

    Walter Kosteckyj, the lawyer representing Dziekanski's mother, Zophia Cisowski, said his client had been devastated to learn the four Mounties involved would not be charged.

    "We knew that he had been Tasered at least twice," Kosteckyj said. "(Friday) we find out that the woman that was at the airport was accurate when she said he was Tasered on multiple occasions.

    "The question that Zophia had for the prosecutor is: 'How can you tell me that my son -- who can't speak the language, and was lost and in distress and needed help -- was besotted upon by four Mounties, Tasered five times, jumped upon and restrained to the point where his heart gave out, that that is not excessive force?' And if that isn't, what is?"

    He added that the threshold for criminal charges are high, and suggested the officers may not be off the hook yet, as they still face the possibility of a civil suit, not to mention a provincial inquiry and coroner's inquest.

    Dziekanski, 40, had arrived at YVR on Oct. 14, 2007 after a 21-hour flight, and spent nine hours wandering lost at the airport. He appeared to be given little direction or assistance from airport staff.

    Police who travelled to Poland later learned Dziekanski had been emotionally distraught even before he left, and was so terrified of flying that he had missed one plane because he refused to get on it.

    It was only after Dziekanski began acting violently in a secure area of the airport -- throwing things like a computer terminal -- did anyone appear to take note and call security.

    Within seconds of arriving on the scene, RCMP shot him with a Taser, discharging the gun five times -- three times in probe mode and twice in push-stun mode. He died shortly thereafter.

    But it wasn't the Tasering alone that caused his death, according to the Crown.

    Pathologists concluded heart disease caused by chronic alcoholism and the 'stress of physical restraint worsened by the deployment of the Taser" may have all caused his heart to stop.

    "Since this incident, the RCMP has made a number of changes to its conducted energy weapon policies, training, practices and reporting requirements," RCMP acting commissioner Al MacIntyre said at a press conference Friday.

    But when asked if, given the same circumstances, a similar incident could occur, RCMP officials confirmed it could, saying the four officers behaved according to proper RCMP policy.

    "Based on the investigation information before me, I don't see a policy breach," said Supt. Wayne Rideout, who was in charge of the investigation by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT).

    Video shot by Paul Pritchard shows Dziekanski, when confronted by police, to be backing up and putting his hands in the air in a demonstration of compliance when he was shot by one of the officers with a Taser.

    RCMP said the video does not tell the whole story. IHIT investigators interviewed 10 witnesses, the four police officers, Canada Border Services Agency staff and viewed surveillance video. Given what the officers had been told before they arrived, and given what they saw when they arrived, they were entirely within their right to use the Taser, RCMP brass said.

    As they made their way to the area where Dziekanski was throwing a fit, officers were getting constant updates from their dispatcher, who was relaying information about a man who was throwing things around and in a state of emotional distress.

    After Dziekanski put his hands up, officers saw him pick up something. It turned out to be a stapler.

    MacIntyre said police officers often don't know what they are walking into when confronting someone who appears to be emotionally unstable. "They routinely face situations most would run from," he said. "As police officers they never know what to expect."

  • Sport...

    Olympic champion Andrei Aryamnov recognized Belarus’ Best Athlete 2008

    From: BelTA
    Olympic champion 2008 Andrei Aryamnov was recognized Belarus’ Best Athlete 2008. He scored the highest in the poll conducted by the Sports Panorama Newspaper, informs BelTA.

    Andrei Aryamnov took the Olympic title in weightlifting (105kg). He broke three world records en route to the title: in the Snatch, in the Clean and Jerk and in the aggretate lift. Andrei Aryamnov scored 258 points in the Best Athlete poll. 89 respondents ranked him first, 26 second and 9 respondents third. Oksana Menkova, Olympic champion in hammer throw, placed second in the poll. Alexander and Andrei Bogdanovichis, Olympic champions in canoe/kayak, scored 1031 points to settle for the third position.

    The top ten athletes also feature Andrei Kravchenko (athletics, decathlon), Andrei Rybakov (weightlifting), Inna Zhukova (rhythmic gymnastics), Natalia Mikhnevich (athletics, shot put), Vadim Makhnev/Roman Petrushenko (canoe/kayak), Yekaterina Karsten (rowing) and Vasily Kirienko (cycling).

    Borisov BATE was unrivalled in the nomination Best Team 2008. This year, for the first time in Belarus’ history, the club from Belarus advanced to the Champions League group stage. BATE scored 71 points in the poll, the national women’s basketball team placed second with 45 points and the national rhythmic gymnastics team third with 17.

    This year 136 sports reporters took part in the poll conducted by the Sports Panorama Newspaper. The ten best athletes will be honoured with special diplomas of the National Olympic Committee. The best three and BATE will be awarded memorable prizes.

    Alexander Gleb recognized Belarus best football player

    Halfback of the Belarusian national team and Spanish Barcelona Alexander Gleb was recognized the best football player of Belarus according to the newspaper All About Football and the traditional annual poll conducted by the newspaper Press Ball, BelTA has learnt.

    The captain of the Belarusian national team scored 624 points becoming the football player of the year for the sixth time. Earlier he was given this title in 2002, 2003, 2005-2007. Alexander Gleb was ahead of forward of FC BATE (Borisov) Vitaly Rodionov who scored 466 points and halfback of the Belarusian team and Russia’s Rostov Alexander Kulchy who gained 312 points.

    All in all, the newspaper polled 354 people: football specialists, coaches, players and reporters.

    Belarusian President’s team beats Grodno oblast’ team at amateur ice hockey tournament

    From: BelTA
    The team of the President of Belarus scored another victory at the second national amateur ice hockey tournament. On December 13 the President’s team beat the Grodno oblast team 10-6 (5-2, 3-1, 2-3), BelTA informs.

    The President’s team scored first at the 6th minute. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made three assists. The receiving side’s most valuable player was Pavel Belyi with five goals. Dmitry Kravchenko was recognized MVP in the Gomel oblast team.

    A week ago, at the start of the tournament, the President’s team defeated Minsk oblast 11-6. The Brest oblast won an away match in the Mogilev oblast 12-9. The Gomel oblast came up a winner in a home match against the Grodno oblast 11-3.

    The tournament will be held in two stages, with four teams advancing to the playoff. The first stage will run until March 28, 2009. The semifinal matches will be staged on April 18; the final and bronze-medal matches on April 19, 2009.

    The second national amateur ice hockey tournament for the Prize of the President’s Sports Club is organised by the republican sate-public association “President’s Sports Club”, the Ministry of Sport and Tourism of Belarus, the Ice Hockey Federation of the Republic of Belarus and Minsk City Council.

  • Cultural scene...

    Brest to host International Festival of Classic Music January 8-12

    From: BelTA
    The 21st international festival of classic music January Musicales will be held in Brest on January 8-12, BelTA learnt in the culture department of the Brest Oblast Executive Committee.

    Taking part in the festival will be music bands and singers from 17 countries including Austria, Belarus, Italy, China, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Finland and South Korea. Representatives of Bulgaria, Georgia, Algeria and Brazil will take part in the Brest festival for the first time. Various schools of classical and modern musical art will be presented during the Brest January Musicales 2009.

    World music celebrities – composer, People’s Artist of the USSR and Russia Ludmila Lyadova and Italian flute player Antonio Amenduni will be among the guests of the festival. Laureates of the Special Fund of the Belarusian President for support of the talented youth: Dmitry Vasiuk, Ekaterina Maretskaya, Elvira Seifulaeva will participate in the festival as well.

    The 21st international festival of classic music January Musicales will be organized by the Belarusian Culture Ministry, the Brest Oblast Executive Committee, the Brest City Executive Committee, the Belarusian Union of Musical Professionals, the Brest Oblast Music Society.

    Jury names Belarus’ contenders for Eurovision 2009

    On December 15, the jury named five finalists of the National EuroFest TV Music Project – a qualifying round of the Eurovision 2009 International Song Contest.

    Chairman of the jury People’s Artist of Belarus Anatoly Yarmolenko said it was difficult for the jury to select five out of the fifteen participants. “It will be much more difficult for the audience in the finals – they will have to choose only one singer,” he said.

    Gyunesh, Litesound band and Dakota, Dominika, the group Veter v Golove and Piotr Yelfimov will meet in the finals in January 2009.

  • Endnote...

    Оскандалившиеся белорусы недели

    Прошедшая неделя ознаменовалась аж двумя громкими скандалами, в которых были задействованы сразу три представителя Синеокой. Началась неделька с любопытнейшей статейки в «Вечернем Минске», где под фотомантажом Полины Смоловой и Пола Маккартни сообщалось, что на Полину в Москве по весне запал экс-битл и приглашает петь в обедневший на таланты Лондон. Когда нам показали эту статью с фото, то даже невооруженным глазом было видно, что снимок – это фотомонтаж. Странно, что позже для определения подделки приглашали каких-то профессионалов, которые умудрялись при этом сказать, что это достаточно хороший монтаж. В чем хороший, если сразу видно?

    Во второй статье, появившейся на следующий день, сообщалось, что Смолова того, фьють, уже в Лондоне, а в третьей, от 10 декабря, нам всем объявляли о том, что все это туфта. При этом давали комментарий пресс-секретаря Смоловой Елены Селиной, которая как-то уж совсем странно напустила еще больше тумана, мол, «почему считается, что то, что утверждают другие, - правда, а то, что говорит Полина Смолова, - нет?» Типа, так оно все и было, но тут же Селина заявила корреспонденте ВЧ: «Вы же сами с Полиной говорили. Правда?» Типа, я не причем.

    А вот Полина вообще отказалась комментировать сие странное событие, мол, я не я, и хата не моя.

    Дело ясное, что дело темное. Уже давно потухшую белорусскую «зорку» и никак не разгорающуюся российскую решили хоть как-то пропиарить в хереющем хозяйства господина Виктора Батурина, который оказался куда как менее прозорливый и предприимчивый, чем его жена Рудковская с ее протеже Димой Биланом. После развода с Рудковской и финансовым дефолтом название возглавляемого Батуриным фонда «Долги наши» вообще воспринимается с иронической улыбкой. Долги усугубляются явно убыточным проектом с Полиной, которую взвалил на свой воз Батурин, и с которой, по информации, исходящей из самой же команды бывшей белорусской поп-дивы, толком не знает что делать дальше.

    Вот, решил привлечь внимание таким образом. Но не вышло. Возмущенная скандалом Пугачева вычеркнула Смолову из списка участников своего новогоднего концерта. «Что позволено Юпитеру, не позволено быку».

    Ну, а в пятницу стало окончательно известно, что наши молотобойцы Вадим Девятовский и Виктор Тихон уж точно вернут свои олимпийские медали. Обе пробы на допинг дали положительный результат. Вердикт вынесен. Правда, наши спортсмены заявили, что также подадут в суд и будут отстаивать свои права до последнего. В отличие от Смоловой Девятовский и Тихон не прячутся от прессы, а открыто обсуждают проблему, считая, что они жертвы заговора. В телепрограмме «Панорама» ведущий также посочувствовал Девятовскому, мол, да, гнобят нас, а вы не сдавайтесь. Почему-то ведущий не спросил молотобойца, а отчего же уже второй раз «залетает» наш спортсмен с допингом? Причем на этот раз его дисквалификация уже пожизненная – более шансов у Вадима выиграть олимпийскую медаль, увы, не представится.

    Жаль их всех, но кто виноват? Смолова, к примеру, говорила в интервью, что вот теперь в Москве, мол, у нее профессиональная хорошая команда. Но кто как не команда подставила Смолову с дурацкой фальшивкой о Поле Маккартни! Хорошо, если такая информация еще до самого музыканта не дойдет, а то Батурину придется после некислых отходных своей экс-супружнице раскошеливаться и на «алименты» экс-битлу.

    Скандал с серебряной и бронзовой медалями Девятовского и Тихона посерьезней будет, но и здесь виноватых искать где-то там, в МОК глупо. То, что допинг – это спортивное преступление знают все, а залетные спортсмены как это не странно ни разу не упомянули, что ничего запрещенного не принимали, но твердили только то, что пробы у них брали с нарушениями. Однако, по совести, их нарушения перед мировым и белорусским в частности спортом куда как значимей.