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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tourism to revive rural regions, Eastern Partnership, Human trafficking, Germany, USA, Moscow, UAEB , Azerenka, Miss Russia and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #413

    President urges to develop tourism and hotel business to revive rural regions

    From: BelTA
    Development of rural tourism and hotel business will help revive rural regions, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters.

    “We can assert today that rural tourism in Belarus is a reality. The first stage of formation is over,” the head of state said.

    Belagroprombank makes a great contribution to the development of rural tourism by providing soft loans to constructive initiatives in this area, Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President stressed that rural tourism is very important not only because it attracts tourists to Belarus but because it helps ensure continued viability of rural areas and bring new lands into economic cycle.

    According to the head of state, Belarus is doing well in this business. It has studied the demand and the means of attracting clients. “We need to step up efforts in this area,” the President said.

    Speaking about the prospects of the new hotel compound in Alexandria, the President is sure that the project will be very successful. The hotel will be popular among athletes who come to take part in local competitions. “And let us be frank, there are many people who would want to see the place where the President of Belarus started his life journey,” he said.

    “In terms of hotel business, social infrastructure and the hog breeding farm in Alexandria should become an example for others,” the head of state underlined. “You see the perfect order here, though it used to be about the worst place in the country.” According to the President, the Alexandria example should be adopted with one remark – there should be fewer expenses. “The first, pilot project is always more expensive. But the forthcoming projects should be more cost-effective,” he explained.

    According to the President, this policy is bearing fruit. “Who would think that we will have issues selling agricultural products? Today the major challenge is how to sell, not how to produce. We have to build up processing capacities,” the Belarusian leader said. He added that two similar hog breeding farms are to be opened in Polesye.

    Belarus President: order impossible without eradicating corruption in state agencies

    It is impossible to establish order in the country without eradicating corruption in state agencies, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as he met with Chairman of the State Security Committee Vadim Zaitsev on May 21.

    The press service of the President of Belarus told BelTA, appointing the new KGB chief in 2008, the head of state gave several instructions regarding the improvement of the agency performance and increasing its role. On May 21 the President heard out a report about what has been done since then.

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out that state security bodies should work much better. The role and significance of the KGB should be raised to the level they were at during the best Soviet times.

    As the State Security Committee is working hard to eradicate corruption in state agencies, the President asked questions about the state of things in this area. “Without establishing order in state agencies, we will not establish order in the country,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

    The President pointed out that his instruction about keeping the KGB ranks clean must be followed precisely. Negative facts have no place in state security bodies.

    Periodical external attempts to discredit and shove power-wielding bodies against each other, in particular, the KGB and the Interior Ministry, were touched upon. Several cases of information leakage on the Internet designed to achieve these goals have been registered lately. The head of state said: “The response should be the same: “You are in the civil service and should act in the interests of the nation”. Alexander Lukashenko remarked, every power-wielding body in Belarus has clearly outlined responsibility areas and duties. The President constantly ensures the necessary cooperation between power-wielding bodies. As far as attempts to discredit power-wielding agencies are concerned, they are purely artificial, added the head of state.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Eastern Partnership offers Belarus concrete projects

    What Belarus likes about the Eastern Partnership initiative is an opportunity to implement concrete projects, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told media on May 22.

    “We want to get what we expect from the Eastern Partnership project: roads, pipelines, infrastructure facilities and so on. It means that our interest is based on the practical side,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    According to the Belarusian leader, being a transit country Belarus is of great interest to Europe and can offer a lot. “People want to benefit from the project,” the head of state said. “What do they want from us? There is much talk – from democracy to human rights. It is just talk. We don’t mind if someone imposes this democracy, but we will see, who is more democratic,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Belarus’ integration with Russia questioned

    Russia’s failure to fulfil Union State agreements questions the very idea of the Union State integration, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told media on May 22.

    “You see how our Russian brothers act. Every thing that we have agreed on in the Supreme State Council, with relevant papers signed, every thing is blocked,” Alexander Lukashenko was indignant. He noted that he is going to discuss this problem with the Russian Premier at the forthcoming session of the Union Cabinet in a no-nonsense manner.

    “If we start blocking each other in these matters and Russia starts keeping us away from its market, who needs these so-called integration processes at all?” said the President. “Just don’t blame me. I am not the one to blame for the stuck integration, for ‘you look to the West’ thing, involvement with the Eastern Partnership and so on… What are we supposed to do?” added the head of state. “We will clear things up. I will pose the question to the Prime Minister,” underscored Alexander Lukashenko.

    President encourages nation to buy Belarusian products

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko calls upon Belarusians to buy Belarus-made products during the crisis. The Belarusian head of state made the relevant statement on May 22.

    “We would like you to buy things in the country instead of importing them in these complicated times,” said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko stated that at present it is difficult to sell merchandise due to low demand. “I want you to wear our own make and eat our own food. It may be less attractive than imported things, but at present foreign currency is in short supply,” noted the President. He also added that Belarusian producers will have to improve the quality of their make.

    Speaking about plans to limit the duty-free import of commodities to €200 per person, the President said the possibility was being discussed. “We shall see whether it is worth enforcing. But you should understand that we must protect our producers,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko. Meanwhile, the President believes this unpopular decision can be temporary. In his words, many countries are taking measures to protect their own producers. In particular, Russia has virtually prohibited buying imported goods, including Belarusian ones, although the two countries are in the same customs space.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus Foreign Ministry: choosing between CIS and Eastern Partnership is not an option

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is not going to choose between its interests in the CIS and future participation in the Eastern Partnership, Press Secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov told media on May 21.

    “These two vectors of our foreign policy is of principal importance for the country. Belarus will continue preserving this stance. As far as we understand, our partners are growing more and more understanding about it,” said Andrei Popov.

    In his words, Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership meets interests of the country. “As before we insist that the future evolution of the initiative cannot be aimed against some third states. Contrariwise, we firmly believe that it has the potential to ensure participation of other countries in specific projects to be implemented within the framework of the programme on a mutual basis. This is why Belarus will continue working in this direction,” noted the Foreign Ministry spokesman.

    Belarus ready for rapprochement with US, but not at any pric

    Belarus is still ready to improve relations with the United States of America, but not at any price, Press Secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Popov told a briefing on May 21, BelTA has learnt.

    “Belarus-US relations are of major importance for the both sides, this is why we believe that the two countries should understand that these relations should be improved,” the Foreign Ministry official representative said.

    “We are ready to make our relations better, but not at any price. We believe that those economic restrictions that were imposed by the US administration some time ago should be lifted. I am convinced that it will open a new page in our dialogue,” Andrei Popov said.

    Belarus can train operators for air defence systems S-400 on its own

    From: BelTA
    Belarus can train operators for air defence missile systems S-400 on its own. S-400 systems may be supplied to Belarus as part of the efforts meant to create the united regional air defence system of Belarus and Russia, Head of the Military Academy of Belarus Sergei Bobrikov told media on May 22.

    “The Military Academy of the Defence Ministry practises forward-looking education. If a new armament or hardware is designed, test samples are first of all shipped to the Academy. When the troops get the new weapons, we are already prepared to start training specialists able to operate them,” noted Sergei Bobrikov.

    The official underscored that the Military Academy boasts one of the world’s finest schools for training specialists able to operate air defence missile systems. “The experience and equipment allows training highly-skilled specialists. We hope we will be able to cope with training personnel for S-400 systems independently if the army gets such systems,” he added.

    Belarus’ MI-26 to head for Greece June 1

    Belarusian MI-26 helicopter will help extinguish forest fires in Greece, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry.

    The Belarusian helicopter is expected to head for Greece on June 1.

    MI-26 is the most weight lifting helicopter in the world. It is equipped with a 15 tonne spillway unit.

    In 2008, Belarusian MI-26 extinguished forest fires in Greece.

    At present, Belarusian MI-8 is participating in extinguishing forest fires in Turkey.

    Belarus is among UN leaders in human trafficking prevention

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is among most active UN member states in the area of human trafficking prevention, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, told a press conference on May 22.

    Interactive Thematic Dialogue of the UN General Assembly "Taking Collective Action to End Human Trafficking" was held in New York on May 13, 2009. This forum gathered all the UN member states. “Belarus had a prominent role in this dialogue because the forum became possible due to the efforts of a small group of states, including Belarus. In my opinion, the thematic dialogue was a success,” Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said.

    The parties involved in the dialogue considered innovative ways to enhance the efficiency of the fight against trade in human beings. The new measures include a global action plan which can help coordinate efforts at the international, regional and national levels. The talks on the global plan of action continue. Its main point is that the countries should stick together if they want this fight to be effective. The plan also dovetails with the United Nations Millennium Goals, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Around 6.000 tourists visit Braslav region daily

    From: BelTA
    During summer season, around 6.000 tourists visit the Braslav region daily, BelTA learnt from Andrei Kudin, acting director general of the Braslav Lakes National Reserve.

    According to him, taking into consideration that the population of the Braslav region is around 32.000 people only, such traffic provides a significant support for the economy of the region and local residents.

    In 2008, tourist centres of the region accommodated 6.200 tourists. The major part of the tourists comes from big Belarusian towns, mostly from Minsk and Vitebsk. The number of foreign tourists, who visited the region last year, is 1110. Those were the citizens of Russia, the USA, France, Poland, Germany, Austria, Norway and other countries.

    The Braslav Lakes National Reserve occupies 69.1 thousand hectares. There are more than 70 lakes which occupy 12% of reserve’s area. The biggest lakes are Lake Drivyaty, Lake Snudy, Lake Boginskoe and Lake Strusto. The deepest lake is Lake Voloso Yuzhny (more than 40 metres). The flora of the reserve numbers 70 species, 16 of which are included in the Belarus Red Book. The Braslav Lakes National Reserve represents 188 species of breeding birds, 41 species of animals, 30 species of fish, 5 species of reptiles and 10 species of amphibians.

    Nesvizh Castle offers virtual excursion

    The National Historical and Cultural Museum-Reserve “Nesvizh” has created a data terminal which tells about the history of the castle and the Radzivil family, BelTA learnt from Galina Kondratieva, deputy director of the research department of the museum. The information and educational project will be presented in Nesvizh on May 21.

    The data terminal contains the detailed information about the town of Nesvizh, the Nesvizh Castle, famous representatives of the Radzivil family, one of the richest and noblest dynasties on the Belarusian and Polish lands.

    The virtual excursion to the Radzivils’ residence of the 16-19th centuries will be available in three languages – Russian, Belarusian and English. Tourists will be able to get familiar with archives, museum values, rare books from the Radzivils’ Library. The data terminal also offers the information about the tourist services, telephones and addresses of the significant historical and cultural facilities of Nesvizh.

    “The creation of the data terminal in one of the most visited museums of Belarus, the Nesvizh Radzivils’ Residence, will expand communication opportunities of the museum, provide the information about the unique monument, develop its cultural and educational potential, attract more visitors,” Galina Kondratieva noted.

    The data terminal has been developed with the participation and financial support of the Moscow UNESCO Bureau for Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Moldova and Russia, under the auspices of the Belarus National Commission for UNESCO

  • Economics...

    Minsk to host session of Belarus-Germany Economic Cooperation Council

    From: BelTA
    The 5th session of the Belarus-Germany Economic Cooperation Council will be held in Minsk on June 16. This important bilateral event is being prepared jointly with the German Federal Ministry of Economy and Technology, BelTA learnt from Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to Germany Vladimir Skvortsov.

    The Belarusian delegation is led by Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, the German one by State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Economy and Technology Bernd Pfaffenbach.

    According to Vladimir Skvortsov, during the forthcoming session, the sides intend to consider the measures to overcome the negative impact of the global financial and economic crisis on development of the Belarusian-German trade. One of the main causes of decline of Belarus’ exports to Germany is the fall of paying capacity or bankruptcy of German companies.

    The sides will discuss the methods of work in the environment of increased financial risks and mechanisms of trade insurance. This all should help Belarusian exporters understand what to do to keep their positions on the German market and to boost supplies.

    According to the diplomat, the session of such a level has not been held for ten years. During this period, the joint Belarusian-German group for trade and investments has functioned.

    Investment agreements worth $250mn signed at Gomel Economic Forum

    Investment agreements at the amount of $250 million were signed at the Gomel Economic Forum on May 21. The investment projects will be implemented in the Gomel oblast with the participation of foreign investors.

    According to the signed agreements, Russian and Ukrainian businesses are going to invest in production of passenger railway cars in Gomel, production of electric energy from solid domestic wastes in the Zhitkovichi region, development of the hotel business in the region.

    According to Elvira Karnitskaya, head of the economy department of the Gomel Oblast Executive Committee, the signed agreements attests to the fact that the region remains attractive for investors despite the complicated economic situation in the world. Attending the forum are almost 250 representatives from 22 countries including representatives from 12 Russian and 5 Ukrainian regions. The Polish delegation is one of the most representative at the forum. For instance, the delegation of the Lubuskie province of Poland led by head of the region Helena Hatka includes 12 people.

    More than 100 investment projects are presented at the Gomel Economic Forum this time. Potential investors may get familiar with the potential of the region in such areas as industry, agriculture, trade, tourism, housing and communal economy.

    In 2009, the Gomel forum is sponsored by official partners of the event – Belarusian banks, insurance enterprises, various companies. The Belarusian Steel Works is the general sponsor of the Gomel Economic Forum.

    The forum includes three sections: “Successful Investments – Efficient Economy”, “From Partnership to Mutually Beneficial Trade” and “International Cooperation in Small-Sized Business”. Participants of the forum will be able to visit the 10th International Exhibition and Fair “Spring in Gomel 2009” which will display a wide range of the goods produced in the Gomel region.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    USA extends partial suspension of sanctions against two Belarusian companies

    From: Navany
    The US Treasury Department on May 21 extended until November 30 a partial suspension of its sanctions against AAT Lakafarba, a paint and varnish company in Lida, and AAT Polatsk-Shklovalakno, a glass fiber manufacturer in Polatsk.

    The Department says in a statement that all transactions between US persons and the two Belarusian companies are authorized until November 30, 2009, while all property and interests in property of Lakafarba and Polatsk-Shklovalakno that were previously blocked remain blocked.

    In November 2007, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Belarus’ petrochemical conglomerate, Belnaftakhim, over alleged human rights violations by the Belarusian government. It added Belnaftakhim to its list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons, which led to freezing any assets found in the USA that belonged to Belnaftakhim and barring US citizens from doing business with Belnaftakhim and its subsidiaries and offices.

    The Treasury Department later decided to partly suspend its sanctions against two Belnaftakhim companies, Lakafarba and Polatsk-Shklovalakno, until at least June 1, 2009.

    Belarus President blasts Russia for blocking agreements

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Friday blasted Russia, saying it is to blame for blocking the previously reached agreements to form a "union state" aimed at bringing the two countries closer together, reports.

    Moscow has had a formal alliance agreement with Belarus and has sought to create a customs union with it and Kazakhstan.

    "Everything that we agreed, that we discussed at the supreme state council, the appropriate documents that we signed -- all of this has been blocked," the official BelTA news agency cited Lukashenko as saying.

    "If we are going to be blocking each other on such issues and Russia starts denying us access to its markets, then who needs this so-called integration process? "The presidents take decisions, and the Russian government fails [to implement them]," Lukashenko stressed.

    "I am not guilty of the fact that this integration (with Russia) has not moved forward and that we are developing ties with the West, entering the Eastern Partnership.... What else could we do?" Interfax is quoting Lukashenko as questioning.

    Lukashenko said Belarus was counting on the EU partnership plan for badly-needed investment in the country's Soviet-era infrastructure.

    "We would like to get what are we are counting on in the Eastern Partnership. Concretely that means roads, pipelines, infrastructure projects," president's press department release says.

    His comments came ahead of an expected trip by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Minsk scheduled for May 28.

    Belarus president appears to have specifically blamed Russia’s prime minister Vladimir Putin for reneging on the previous agreements while not holding anything against President Dmitry Medvedev, notes.

    Belarus considers UAE strategic partner in Persian Gulf region

    From: Itar Tass
    Belarus considers the United Arab Emirates its strategic partner in the Persian Gulf region, Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said.

    In his meeting with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan on Saturday, Sidorsky said, “I’m satisfied for a short period of time both countries succeeded in reaching a higher level in cooperation.”

    At the same time, he said trade turnover between the two countries did not correspond to the high level of political dialogue and the economic potential of Belarus and the UAE. Thus, last year trade turnover between Belarus and all world countries reached 72 million U.S. dollars while it amounted to 21.4 million U.S. dollar with the United Arab Emirates.

    In order to step up trade and economic cooperation Sidorsky proposed to carry out several projects. In his words, Belarus may supply pipes and milk powder to the UAE and other countries of the region. “These projects are practically ready,” the Belarussian prime minister said.

    The government sources told Itar-Tass Minsk also proposed to set up automobile assembly facilities in the UAE. This equipment is produced by Belarussian automobile factories, as well as by Amkodor JSC. In addition, BelZa, MAZ and Belmedtekhnika and the Belarussian metallurgical plant, as well as Milavitsa Company and some other enterprises, have good prospects for increasing export to the United Arab Emirates.

    Nahyan showed interest in Belarus’ proposals, primarily on milk powder supplies, and the development of cooperation in the agrarian sector. He also supported Belarus’ initiative to create a joint inter-governmental commission on trade and economic cooperation.

    According to the UAE minister, “the creation of a legal base should be one of the priorities of the commission in order to guarantee businessmen’ s interests”. In addition, the commission will “make meetings between businessmen of the two countries more regular”, he said.

    The UAE foreign minister is currently in Minsk on a working visit. He is accompanied by representatives of business circles of the UAE.

    Sidorsky, Masimov discuss Belarus-Kazakhstan cooperation

    From: Trendz
    Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky and Prime Minister of Kazakhstan Karim Masimov discussed the urgent issues of bilateral cooperation and the interaction in the EurAsEC and the CIS, BelTA reported.

    Kazakhstan is one of Belarus' major trading and economic partners ranking third, after Russia and Ukraine, in Belarus' trade with the CIS member states.

    In 2008, Belarus-Kazakhstan trade exceeded $500 million, up 4.7% from a year earlier. Exports reached $365.2 million, up 1.1%. Belarus had a trade surplus of $193.4 million.

    In January-March 2009, the trade was down 27.2% to $75.9 million. Exports shrank by 13.1% to $58.7 million, imports by 53.1% to $17.3 million.

    Belarus is interested in building up bilateral trade, deepening other forms of economic interaction including inter-industrial cooperation and setting up joint facilities. The potential of investment cooperation has not been used to the full. Belarus is also interested in involving Kazakhstan capital in the projects implemented in Belarus.

  • From the Opposition...

    Human rights activists issue statement on cases of Autukhovich, Liavonau and Asipenka

    From: Viasna
    Statement on the cases of M.Autukhovich, Y.Liavonau and U.Asipenka
    22 May 2009
    Human rights activists are concerned about the violation of the rights of Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Liavonau and Uladzimer Asipenka, who are kept under arrest for their alleged involvement in the arson facts in Vaukavysk in 2004.

    Human rights activists stress that the periods of the preliminary investigation are dragged out. The businessmen have been in a pre-trial detention center since February 2009. Since then the investigation has been repeatedly prolonged. Meanwhile, the investigators fail to carry out any investigative actions. Thus, the legality of their imprisonment seems absolutely groundless.

    Human rights activists are concerned about the health status of Mikalai Autukhovich, which has seriously worsened due to the hunger-strike. The administration of the Republican Hospital of the Ministry of the Interior have repeatedly refused to accept parcels.

    Considering these circumstances, human rights activists call upon the preliminary investigative officials to change their measure of restraint and release them.

    Apart from that, we are deeply concerned about the fact that their lawyers are prohibited to disclose information on the progress of the investigation, including the human rights violations, which seriously restricts the possibilities of their defense. The case apparently has serious violations of the procedural rights of the accused, there are no actual legal grounds for their further imprisonment, which has resulted in a hunger-strike of protest.

    Human rights activists would like to remind that the necessary level of transparency of the investigation and the openness of the trial are crucial guarantees of securing the rights of the accused, and demand that the law enforcement bodies and the court adhere to the democratic principles of the judiciary and the openness of the investigation, which has drawn a wide public response.

    Aleh Hulak, head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee

    Hary Pahaniaila, head of the BHC’s legal committee

    Ales Bialiatski, vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights

    Valiantsin Stefanovich, human rights activist

    Belarusian ruler dissatisfied with Putin

    From: Charter '97
    Alyaksandr Lukashenka accused the Russian government of failing to fulfil “union” agreements.

    Alyaksandr Lukashenka told during his working trip to the Mahilou region it is the Russian government that should be blamed for failing to perform agreements with Russia within the “union state”, Interfax reports.

    “The presidents take decisions, but the government of Russia fails,” Lukashenka told journalists.

    According to him, “everything we agree upon at top level, everything that is signed is blocked, not fulfilled.”

    “If Russia starts blocking and keeping us away from its market, who then needs this so-called integration? What should we do in this case?” Lukashenka told.

    The Belarusian ruler said the current problems in the bilateral relations would be considered at the nearest session of the council of ministers of the union state in Minsk. He also added head of the Russian government Vladimir Putin asked him for a meeting.

    It should be reminded that prime minister Syarhei Sidorski blamed Russia for not performing anti-crisis programmes, and speaker of the “house of representatives” Barys Batura – of pressure to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia and failure of other integration plans. In such a way he responded to the recent statement by speaker of the Russian State Duma Boris Gryzlov who said it took too much time for Belarus to be prepared to recognize Abkhazia.”

    Syarhei Sidorski said at a meeting with state secretary of the “union state” Pavel Borodin in Minsk ahead of the forthcoming session of the council of ministers of the “union state” that Russia slowed down fulfilling the anti-crisis plan denying access for Belarusian producers to the government purchases system in Russia.

    “Rosselkhozbank doesn’t credit Belarusian equipment today,” Sidorski said.

    Batura also blamed Russia for the fact it didn’t legally confirm “the agreements on paying for gas and cancel of punitive sanctions for undertake of planned volume of gas supplies”, and didn’t cancel oil customs duty that “contradicts the previously signed documents and the very concept of the union state”.

  • Russia...

    No Gas Deal at the E.U.-Russia Summit

    From: Time
    The location may have been the first hint. The 23rd European Union-Russia summit on Friday was held in the Russian Far East city of Khabarovsk, a former Tsarist army outpost just a few dozen miles from the Chinese border and 5,000 miles east of Western Europe. The location seemed more aimed at inducing jet lag and awe at Russia's size than at forging agreement on energy, an issue that has consistently soured relations between the two powers over the past months — and which the summit failed to resolve.

    While the site implied that Russia was not ready to budge on any of the issues on the table, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev made the point exceedingly clear. "The Russian Federation has not given any assurances and will not give any," he said after requests from the European side that the January gas crisis — when Russia cut off supplies to Ukraine for over a payment dispute — not be repeated. Although smiles abounded and the talks were held at the Musical Comedy Theatre, just off Khabarovsk's main Karl Marx Prospekt, the tone was one of disagreement. (See pictures of Russians celebrating Victory Day.)

    The major sticking point was Ukraine's place in the gas supply chain between Russia and Europe, and the country's role in the January gas war. In the coming months, Ukraine will have to spend $4 billion to buy the 19.5 billion cubic meters of gas it requires to fill its storage reservoirs before the cold comes again. But how it will afford the purchase from Russia remains unclear. "We have doubts about the solvency of Ukraine," Medvedev said, according to Russian news agency Interfax. "We are ready to help Ukraine, but we would like to see much of this work taken up by the European Union, that is, by those who are interested in the reliability and security of energy cooperation."

    In response, head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso said that the two parties involved in the dispute should be the ones to settle it: "We have asked Russia and Ukraine to do everything they can to avoid such crises. It would not be good for the overall climate of relations if such a crisis happened again." Barroso was part of a delegation that included E.U. foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Czech President Vaclav Klaus, whose country holds the E.U. presidency. (Read: "Vaclav Klaus: "The Man with the E.U.'s Fate in His Hands.")

    Medvedev said Russia could help with some of the cost, but not all. "When it comes to credit, let us help syndicate the corresponding money for Ukraine, but this should not be only Russia doing this," he said. "At the end of the day, it is not us who have problems paying." Yet, observers see Medvedev's comment as more of a barb than as a viable suggestion. "I would be surprised if the E.U. felt that [helping Ukraine purchase gas from Russia] was an appropriate use of their funds," says Niall Trimble, director of The Energy Contract Company, a consulting company based in England. "In order to rebuild relations, Russia needs a period of uninterrupted supply for a significant time. Action always speaks louder than words and the Russians do have a little bit of work to do."

    But Trimble acknowledges that, even amid the quarreling, the summit showed some hope: "Russia has a good track record. They were always seen as a very reliable supplier. There is no reason to believe the problems can't be resolved. I think the chances are pretty good that gas will continue to run."

    The E.U. also lost its bid to convince Russia that a consortium to manage Ukraine's pipeline system should be exclusively controlled by the E.U. Another sticking point was the Energy Charter Treaty, adopted in 1991, that integrated the energy sectors of the former East Bloc into Europe. Russia has sought to "ensure that the Energy Charter ceases to be the basis for the energy dialogue between the E.U. and Russia in the future, and to emphasize the need for new ad hoc arrangements in the format proposed by Russia," says Dmitry Orlov, head of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, a Moscow-based think tank. During the talks, Medvedev reiterated that Russia would not participate in the current version of the document. Because of Medvedev's steadfastness, Orlov believes the E.U. is "now ready to consider new positions on energy questions." (See TIME's special package on the Russia-Georgia war.)

    Words were also traded between the two sides concerning the place of Georgia in current defense architecture. Russia remains suspicious about security frameworks expanding into its Soviet-era sphere of influence.

    Though no major breakthroughs were made during the summit, there were also no major collisions. "Expectations that the summit would only cause troubles and fruitless discussions were wrong," says Nikolai Petrov, an analyst at independent think tank The Carnegie Moscow Center. "It looks like it wasn?t extremely successful, but it wasn't a failure." Referring to past E.U. conferences that have been held in remote Russian cities, he adds: "If anything, this was a continuation of E.U. field trips into Russia's deep countryside."

    For those who experienced the bite of the cold during Russia and Ukraine's gas row last winter, they can only hope an agreement between the two sides is not as far off as Khabarovsk is from Brussels.

    Syria says MiG deal with Russia still on

    From: Reuters
    Syria denied on Sunday a Russian media report that Moscow no longer wants to sell it eight advanced MiG-31 planes because of pressure from Israel.

    "This is part of attempts to undermine the friendly relations and cooperation between Syria and Russia," an official Syrian statement said.

    The statement was issued as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited the Syrian capital and met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

    Kommersant newspaper quoted an unidentified person close to Russia's state arms exporter as saying that the $500-million deal, agreed to in 2007, was halted after Israel protested.

    The paper quoted another source in an unidentified Russian ministry as saying the contract had been halted because Syria could not come up with the money to pay for the fighters.

    Syria, which has adhered to a ceasefire with Israel on the Golan Heights since 1974, has been trying to upgrade its military in the last several years.

    Nude photos of Miss Russia 2009 leak on the Net

    From: MosNews
    The girl who was last month crowned Miss Russia 2009 , appears to have her nude photos all over the Internet.

    It turns out that Sophia Rudyeva, professional model from St. Petersburg, was photographed a while ago for US ‘Perfect 10’ magazine, an edition that publishes nude pictures of ‘all natural’ girls from all over the world. The pictures were first available to paid customers of the magazine’s online version, Komsomolskaya Pravda daily writes Monday.

    However, after the girl was named Russia’s most beautiful woman, her nude photos became available for free. Then, other photographers started claiming they were in possession of Sophia's erotic photographs.

    In her lengthy statement published Friday by the popular Russian daily Moskovsky Komsomolets, Miss Russia said she wants people to know the whole truth about the pornographic photo session that appeared in the media soon after she was crowned Russia’s top beauty.

    “This was my first ever photo session, I was 15. Like many other girls, I dreamed of becoming a model and when a modeling agency offered me a job posing for a lingerie advertisement, I agreed. When I saw what I had to put on for the session, I was horrified and wanted to cancel it,” the statement said.

    Sophia went on to tell how the agency’s manager bullied her into the shooting by saying she would have to pay a fine if she refused.

    “And then she said they were not going to let me out anyway. This is not porn, she said, you’ll forget about it tomorrow.”

    Rudyeva said she doesn’t know how many more girls were deceived like her. She said her parents had known nothing about the session and warned parents of aspiring models to watch over their daughters.

    “If I had had my nude pictures taken now, as an adult, the criticism that I’ve received would be justified. But for the silly teenager that I was, this photo shooting seemed like the great start of a great career. I was shown Pirelli calendars and told that all models posed naked, besides, I was given champagne. I hope my unfortunate case will be a good warning to all parents and they will look after their children better.”

    In her statement, Sophia also apologized to everyone who was offended by her nude photos, and thanked everyone who supported her during the scandal, including the Miss Russia Contest organizers. She said she was determined to help young models avoid repeating her mistakes.

    “I want to establish a foundation to support underage models. I know that many beautiful Russian girls face the same problems as I did, and I want to help them. Children should never suffer. You know, nobody could help me when all this happened.”

    Finally, Miss Russia 2009 addressed all websites that posted her nude pictures, saying that they should be ashamed for showing erotic photos of a minor, and remove them.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Footballers addicted to gambling

    From: The News
    Polish football’s attraction to corruption is only matched by footballers’ addiction to gambling.

    “Eighty percent of Polish football players gamble. Half of them visit casinos, the other half gamble on-line,” says Tomasz Hajto, a footballer from Lodz, who played in Germany and England. “Gambling is the main plague of Polish football. Footballers have replaced alcohol with roulette,” confirms Marek Kozminski, a footballer from Krakow, who played in Italy, quoted in the Przeglad Sportowe sports daily.

    The game in Poland has been rocked over the past few years with revelations of corruption, with nearly 200 players, officials and coaches being arrested on match fixing charges. But could gambling be as big a problem in the game, resulting in ruined careers, broken families and worse.

    Gambling debts were the reason why Slawomir Rutka, from the Korona football team, committed suicide.

    Polish footballers are frequent guests at casinos. The members of one of the nation’s top clubs, Wisla Krakow even have their own VIP room in a casino, where they usually celebrate after victories. Football players also love betting and place bets on whatever they can: who will score a goal, how long it will take to reach a destination point, how much a restaurant bill will be. They also place bets on matches at bookmakers, although this is forbidden.

    “Sport and gambling give an adrenaline rush. That is why football players in their free time often reach for alcohol, drugs, extreme sports or gambling,” explains psychologist Jacek Sedkiewicz.

    To stop footballers from gambling, chairmen and owners of football clubs forbid players to enter casinos. But players find ways around the ban.

    Three players from the Amika Wronki football team, banned by the club from gambling in Poznan, Wroclaw and Szczecin, managed to get their fix by travelling 200 km to gamble in Berlin.

    Footballers addicted to gambling lose huge amounts of money, and as a result of taking high interest rate loans have enormous gambling debts. Wahan Geworgian, a player from Lodz, lost 130,000 zlotys (30,000 euros) during just one night at the gambling table. Mariusz Nosal from the Odra Wodzislaw club lost all his money and that which he borrowed, divorced his wife, broke ties with his family and fled the country.


    From: Polskie Radio
    A famous Polish TV presenter and his fiancée might face trial for wheedling 16 million zlotys out of Pekao S.A. Bank.

    Tomasz Kammel, former TVP presenter and his fiancée Katarzyna Niezgoda – who is a former deputy president at Pekao S.A., Poland’s second largest bank - are involved in a major scandal which the press has named ‘Kammelgate’.

    The Internal Security Agency, suspecting nepotism, is concerned that a state bank may have lost millions of zloty by Niezgoda giving a large contract for employee training to a company involving her husband, when the Pekao SA could have done the training ‘in-house’.

    In April 2009, media revealed that Niezgoda commissioned the “Sparrow” company to carry out training at the Pekao S.A bank, when she was a deputy president. In 2007 the company was co-owned by Niezgoda’s fiancé Tomasz Kammel, who later sold his shares but continued working for the company.

    In 2001-2004 Sparrow earned approximately 1 million zlotys (230,000 euros) a year; in 2005, when Kammel and Niezgoda became partners, profits rose to 5,5 million zlotys (1,2 million euros) and after 2005 reached almost 10 million zlotys (2,3 million euros) a year.

    The Internal Security Agency which has investigated the case and established that Pekao S.A might have lost 16 million zlotys (3,6 million euros) due to Kammel and Niezgoda. The Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw is to decide whether the former TV presenter and his fiancée will be brought to trial.

    As a result of the scandal Katarzyna Niezgoda lost her job at the Pekao S.A. bank and Tomasz Kammel was fired from TVP.

    Cocaine discovered in engines

    From: Polskie Radio
    Customs officers in the port of Gdansk have discovered 33 kilos of pure cocaine in a shipment of second hand engines.

    The drugs were hidden in a container on board a freighter arriving from Uruguay on the order of a Polish company. Police traced the consignment to an international drugs ring. Four persons, Poles and Germans, have been arrested so far in connection with the case.

    The market value of the intercepted cocaine is estimated at 10 million zloty, roughly 2.3 million euro - the biggest discovered attempt at drug smuggling in Poland this year.

    Thanks to joint actions of Customs Service officers and agents of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBS) a total of 44 kilograms of cocaine has been seized at various border checkpoints since the beginning of 2009.

  • Sport...

    Exclusive interview with Victoria AzarenkaReuters

    From: Sports Campus
    Name: Victoria Azarenka

    Nickname: Vika

    Date of Birth: July 31, 1989
    Birthplace: Minsk, Belarus
    Current Residence: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

    Height: 5?10" (1.80 m)
    Weight: 130 lbs (60 kg)
    Plays: Right-handed / Two-handed backhand
    Status: Pro (2003)

    Current Ranking: 9
    Prize Money: $ 2,649,023
    Win Loss Record - Singles: 165-75
    Win Loss Record - Doubles: 83-34

    Azarenka broke into the top 10 by winning the Sony Ericsson WTA in 2009 and became only the second Belarussian ever to do so following Natasha Zvereva. She became just the 6th teenage female singles champion in the history of this tournament. She is also the first player in 2009 to debut in the Top 10. had a chance to interview her after her tremedous win - following are her answers.

    TSC: A lot of great juniors don't necessarily make the grade on the senior tour, how difficult did you find the step up in class?

    Victoria: Yeah there is a big difference from the juniors and the WTA Tour, but I just kept playing my game and working on improving different areas so I could win and compete with the top players.

    TSC: How important for you was that first win over Marion at the Brisbane International at the start of the year? How has it affected your performance at other events?

    Victoria: My win over Marion was very important to me because I had reached the finals of four other WTA events before this, before finally winning my first event. It gave me a lot of confidence to start off the year, and then in Memphis I felt much more relaxed when I won my second title.

    TSC: Do you prepare differently for the Grand Slams? Is there a mental side to your preparation?

    Victoria: Yeah the grand slams are always different than the other tournaments because we are all playing to win one of them, so I make sure that I train well and do fitness but get enough rest too so that I am not tired because it is a long two weeks. Mentally, I make sure I am fresh and prepared and just stay focused.

    TSC: How are you preparing for the French Open? What are your expectations from the event?

    Victoria: For the French Open I am taking the week off before and will probably go home to Minsk to train and then will arrive in Paris around Wednesday or Thursday. For the French I just want to play my game and play well like I have been this year and not put too much pressure on myself.

    TSC: On your blog you've mentioned that you and Vera (Zvonareva) will play doubles together at the Grand Slams, how do you fit in practice sessions with her?

    Victoria: Yeah its tough with our schedules, but we fit in practice for doubles when we can. We just really play well together in doubles and I really like playing so hopefully we can play at the grand slams and keep winning.

    TSC: Which is your favourite surface, what did you grow up playing on?

    Victoria: My favorite surface is hard court and the surface at the Australian Open. I have always played well on these two surfaces. At home in Minsk I grew up playing indoors a lot and then when I went to Spain on red clay.

    TSC: How does it feel to be among the top 10 players in the world?

    Victoria: It is unbelievable. I was so excited and happy to break into the top ten and win the Sony Ericsson Open. I couldn't believe it right away.

    TSC: What are your professional ambitions?

    Victoria: Well for sure my goal is to win a grand slam, that is what we are all training so hard for and playing for.

    TSC: Do you have a role model in tennis? Any other sporting heroes?

    Victoria: One of my role models growing up was Steffi Graf because she was just so classy and such a great player. I also look up to Nik Khabibulin who is the NHL goalie for the Chicago Blackhawks that I live with in Arizona since I was 15. He is always there for me and I can talk to him about anything.

    TSC: Who introduced you to tennis when you were younger, and what did you like best about it?

    Victoria: Yeah when I was younger I used to (go) with my mom to work everyday at the tennis club she worked at and then I started playing in the clinics with the other kids. It was just so much fun to me and I was just crazy about it.

    TSC: At what age did you begin training for this sport? How many hours a day do you spend on training now that you are a professional?

    Victoria: When I was fourteen I moved to Marbella, Spain, to train but it wasn't a good fit for me and then I decided to move to the U.S. with Khabibulins and my coach Antonio Van Grichen. Now when I am training in between tournaments I practice two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and do one hour of fitness with my fitness coach Mark Wellington.

    TSC: Do you follow a strict / specific diet plan? Any regular exercise / relaxation regime that you follow apart from training?

    Victoria: I don't follow a really strict diet, but I just try to eat healthy when I am practicing and training. I train pretty hard and practice a lot, so I don't really have any other routines.

    TSC: Has interest in tennis increased in Belarus after you came into the limelight? We believe you live in Florida now, do you go back home to Minsk often?

    Victoria: Well before me Natasha Zvereva and Max Miryni were really popular in Belarus so I am not sure if there is more interest in tennis now in Belarus because of me but I hope so. And yeah, I train in Florida now sometimes but I live in Scottsdale in Arizona when I am not on the road traveling. I go home to Minsk a few times a year but it is hard to go a lot with the tournament schedule and all the traveling.

  • Endnote...

    A great educational journey

    From: San Mateo Daily Journal
    Acclimating was never an issue for 18-year-old Anastasia Markovtsova.

    Markovtsova, known to most as Annie, grew up watching her parents fight for a better life. Born in Gomel, Belarus, Markovtsova’s family left when she was young going to New York City with cardboard boxes for luggage. Through multiple moves and watching her parents overcome challenges to become successful in their careers, Markovtsova came to have an understanding of the importance of education. That understanding mixed with her love of science led this Aragon senior to strive to be a doctor.

    What type of doctor remains to be decided; Markovtsova simply knows she wants to do hands-on work with people and not be stuck in a lab. She will be the first in her family to break from the family tradition of studying mathematics. Markovtsova also needs to overcome a personal challenge, her tendency to faint at the sight of blood.

    Markovtsova grew up blissfully unaware of the difficulties surrounding her family. She remembers living in New York and visiting FAO Schwartz, a large toy store. The family could not afford the toys, but the visits allowed Markovtsova the opportunity to play with them. Transitioning to America was difficult for Markovtsova’s mother, she recalled. She had studied at the Harvard University equivalent in Russia, but could not find work. She ended up studying in Los Angeles to earn her doctorate degree. Markovtsova lived with her father for one year in New York before moving to Southern California to join her mother.

    Finding a school for Markovtsova proved challenging for her parents. She began with a short stint in a public school. Her parents did not like the curriculum, however, moving Markovtsova to a private Catholic school. Markovtsova smiled when she explained how religious teachings did not completely fit with her scientist parents’ point of view. Markovtsova finally landed in a science and math magnet program, where she stayed until fourth grade.

    The family moved to Foster City and Markovtsova was enrolled in Audubon Elementary. While at Audubon, a teacher paired Markovtsova with a first-grade little buddy who was also Russian. It was through this partnership that Markovtsova began performing with a traditional Russian chorus. Markovtsova continued to perform through her sophomore year.

    At Bowditch Middle School, Markovtsova was introduced to track, specifically hurdles. Her love of the sport continued into part of her time at Aragon. Markovtsova also gave water polo a try her freshman and sophomore years. The previous two years, Markovtsova took up cross country. She simply enjoyed the ability to run for two hours daily.

    Markovtsova petitioned to attend Aragon, noting the educational options. She began at Aragon trying to do everything — a goal she now realized was a huge mistake. Her sophomore year was a bit easier since Markovtsova had already figured out her limitations.

    “On many occasions, this young lady has stormed my office with the outcry of ‘I love to learn,’” recalled Department Chair of Guidance Trisha Liskay. “She then goes on and shares with me all of her new discoveries she has made in and out of her classes. She does all of this with the bliss of a child tasting ice cream for the first time. Anastasia relishes learning and earnestly goes above and beyond in all of her studies.”

    She has done a lot. Markovtsova served on the student council as a delegate her freshman year. She has been on the school paper all four years — three covering sports and one covering news. Markovtsova joined the robotics team this year — she’s the only blonde female on the team. Markovtsova joined the concert choir last year. She’s played the flute since she was 5. She began to play the piccolo in eighth grade and shortly attempted to play tuba, which Markovtsova quickly realized was too big for her to carry.

    Over the summers, Markovtsova used the time to explore a variety of science options. She was one of 20 students to earn an internship at the University of California at San Francisco doing laboratory work. Markovtsova found it interesting, however quickly realized a lab location was not for her.

    She spent four weeks during the summer before her junior year at the University of California at Davis for COSMOS, a college-run program for high school students. Markovtsova chose to focus on biomedical studies.

    About a year and a half ago, Markovtsova’s family hit another milestone — they received their green cards. Interestingly, Markovtsova always thought reaching that point would be an answer to many problems. Instead, Markovtsova realized she has always been American.

    Along the way, Markovtsova has earned a number of honors including being a National Merit Finalist. She has successfully taken a number advanced placement tests, but the success will not offer her college credit. Markovtsova has elected to attend the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

    Before heading south, Markovtsova will spend the summer back in Belarus with her family.