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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, June 14, 2009

Minsk construction, Ukrainain relations, Belovezhskaya Pushcha, Indian investment, IMF, Customs union, Moscow, Hackers and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #418

    No delays for major construction projects in Minsk

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko urged to avoid delays in major construction projects in Minsk’s downtown. The President outlined the goal as he got familiar with plans for developing the Belarusian capital city on June 11, BelTA has learnt.

    The President was made familiar with projects for developing two sites in the centre of Minsk. There are plans to build office and residential premises, shopping and commercial facilities as well as a five-star hotel in areas close to Maxim Bogdanovich Street and Yanka Kupala Street near the River Svisloch. There are plans to erect office and residential buildings in areas close to Krasnoarmeyskaya Street and Pervomayskaya Street near the River Svisloch. The investors are the General State Reserve Fund of the Sultanate of Oman. The investors plan to put around $550 million into implementing the projects. The investors have assured the head of state that the new buildings will make an integral part of the city without damaging its layout.

    The President approved plans for the development of these territories as a whole and gave an instruction to polish their financial and economic substantiation and land plot allocation terms. “We will negotiate only on market terms. We will keep in mind the average European price,” said Alexander Lukashenko. The President pointed out that the investor is going to get huge areas not just in a capital city but the centre of Europe. He also added that the construction should not last longer than five years.

    The President demanded that means should be concentrated on building major objects and the pace should be accelerated in order to avoid creating multiple unfinished facilities.

    The head of state also drew attention to the development of Pobeditelei Avenue, in particular, the construction of the National Olympic Committee HQ. The President gave an instruction to build the facilities on time. Otherwise, the land plots will be handed over to another investor. Alexander Lukashenko underscored that at present many are willing to invest in construction projects in Minsk.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, Ukraine to set up new joint ventures

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and Ukraine are determined to set up new joint ventures, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky said as he met with Ukrainian Premier Yulia Timoshenko in Kiev on June 12.

    “We agreed that it is necessary to attach a special importance to the establishment of joint ventures which will advance our trade,” the Belarusian Premier said. At present, the Ukrainian market accounts for almost a quarter of Belarusian tractors. Tractor assembly plants operate in Kiev and Nikolayev. Dnepropetrovsk has an assembly production of agricultural machinery and aggregates. Mogilev lifts are also assembled at a Belarus-Ukraine joint venture.

    Sergei Sidorsky underlined the importance of the expansion of Ukrainian business presence on the Belarusian market.

    “Ukrainian businessmen are welcome here, they bring new technologies and do not depend on raw materials of the country,” Sergei Sidorsky said.

    Business negotiations were held during the ongoing visit of the Belarusian Premier to Kiev. According to Belarus’ Industry Minister Anatoly Rusetsky, “there is some progress in the solution of trade issues between Belarus and Ukraine which is of vital importance for Belarusian manufacturers.”

    The resumption of import of Ukrainian electric energy will allow both the countries to create a balance in mutual payments. According to Anatoly Rusetsky, the Belarusian-Ukrainian joint ventures in Ukraine will enjoy the benefits of MFN regime. They will be able to get loans in Ukrainian banks to provide supplies of their products.

    At present, Ukraine is stepping up construction including road construction. It means that the demand for the Belarusian machinery produced by MAZ and BelAZ will be restored. At the same time, Ukrainian customers have some money issues, but both the sides are ready to settle this problem, Anatoly Rusetsky noted.

    On June 12, the sides also discussed the supplies of Belarusian dairy products including butter to the Ukrainian market. According to Belarusian Minister of Agriculture and Food Semyon Shapiro, in Q1 2009, Belarus supplied more than 600,000 tonnes of butter to Ukraine. The sides discussed other possibilities to intensify the cooperation between Belarusian and Ukrainian producers.

    Within the framework of the working visit to Kiev, Sergei Sidorsky also met with Chairman of the Ukrainian Verkhovnaya Rada Vladimir Litvin.

    Belovezhskaya Pushcha ranks fourth in 7 Wonders of Nature shortlist

    From: BelTA
    Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park ranks fourth in the nomination “Forests, national park, reserves” of the Wonders of Nature Campaign, BelTA learnt from Deputy Information Minister of Belarus Alexander Slobodchuk who is in charge of the new official committee to support the National Park in the international Internet-contest.

    The project has been organized by New 7 Wonders Foundation, the Swiss non-profit organization. The goal of the project is to make the list of seven wonders of nature. Voting is open at

    The nature sites are divided into seven categories: landscape, ice formations; islands; mountains and volcanoes; caves, rock formations, valleys; forests, national parks, reserves; lakes, rivers, waterfalls; seascapes. The first phase of the contest was over in December 2008.

    Now 261 qualified national and multinational nominees are competing to make it to the top 77. The voting on the website will stay open till July 7. In July a group of experts will pick up 21 finalists. The new wonders of nature will be announced in 2011. Belarus is also presented in the lakes, rivers, waterfalls nomination (Dnieper is in the 31st place, and Naroch Lake holds 38th position).

    Belovezhskaya Pushcha is one of the world’s oldest natural reserves. In 1992 UNESCO included it in the World Heritage List. The national park was awarded the status of a biosphere reserve in 1993 and a special diploma of the Council of Europe in 1997.

    Every tenth visitor of Belovezhskaya Pushcha is foreigner

    Every tenth visitor of the Belovezhskaya Pushcha Reserve is a foreigner, Ludmila Grechanik, director of the Nature Museum of the Belovezhskaya Puscha Reserve, told BelTA.

    According to Ludmila Grechanik, citizens of almost 70 countries of the world have already visited the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. Every year, the number of the tourists who visit the reserve increases, she noted. In 2007, some 189,000 people visited the Belovezhskaya Pushcha; in 2008 – 270,000.

    Belovezhskaya Pushcha is one of the oldest nature reserves in the world. In 1992, Belovezhskaya Pushcha was included into the UNESCO Heritage List. In 1993, it acquired the status of a biosphere reserve, in 1998 – the status of the key international ornithological area. The length of the park makes up over 60 kilometres from north to south and ten to 50 kilometres long from west to east. The area totals 163,505 hectares, 20% of which is a reserve where any human activity is prohibited.

    Ten countries to partake in international forest certification meeting in Minsk

    From: BelTA
    Minsk will host the eighth plenary session of the international technical standardization committee ISO/TC 218 Timber on June 15-19, BelTA learnt from spokesperson of the Forestry Ministry of Belarus Ruzhena Novitskaya.

    Taking part in this session will be 10 delegations from Russia, Ukraine, Switzerland, Malaysia, England, US, Canada, China, New Zealand, and Japan. All in all, about 100 delegates are to take part in the session, including Belarusian forestry and standardization specialists and representatives of the Belarusian parliament, Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belarusian Universal Commodity Exchange, members of the technical committee and timber exporters.

    Belarus is the head of WG-2 Round Timber task group. This group analyzes the existing international standards for round timber and proposes measures to improve these standards, takes part in the establishment of the global timber standardization system, defines the optimal number of standards.

    The Belarusian task group also keeps in touch with interested countries and experts, studies the opinions of potential customers, summarizes proposals on revising current and developing new standards, takes part in all ISO plenary sessions, closely cooperates with the Interstate Council for Standardization. It is a good opportunity for Belarus to develop and expand international cooperation in the forestry sphere, standardization and certification, seek new markets, participate in adopting interstate decisions on forestry standardization.

    The fifth international practical conference on standardization “Towards the global system of timber standardization” will be held on June 15. On June 17, the plenary session will consider messages of the heads of the chairman’s advisory group, reports of the working groups of the Committee and ISO/TC 218 Timber Secretariat. The consideration of two ISO international standards worked out by the Belarusian specialists, members of WG-2 group will highlight the agenda of the meeting. On June 18, foreign guests will visit the Berezina Biosphere Reserve.

    The final session of the committee on June 19 will discuss the draft concept of the global system of timber standardization, approve the working programme and business-plan for 2009-2010, take a decision on the next session of the ISO/TC 218 Timber” and adopt resolutions.

    Belarus was put in charge of the work on international standardization of round wood in WG-2 of the ISO technical committer in 2007. The decision was taken at a session of the organization in Lvov (Ukraine). All in all the organization includes 200 countries. The technical committee of five groups is headed by Ukraine.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarus wins Grand-Prix of CIS Book Art Contest

    From: BelTA
    The Grand-Prix of the 6th CIS International Contest Book Art went to the Belarusian edition Napoleon Orda. The Way to the Fatherland, BelTA learnt from the Information Ministry of Belarus.

    All in all, Belarus got seven diplomas in different nominations. 19 out of 32 displayed Belarusian books were published by state publishing houses.

    The contest featured 140 editions from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Estonia.

    The solemn awarding ceremony will be held during the 22nd Moscow International Book Exhibition/Fair on September 4.

  • Economics...

    Indian companies to invest in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Indian companies are ready to invest in the Belarusian economy, said Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of India to Belarus Ramesh Chander as he met with Grodno oblast senior officials on June 11.

    According to the Ambassador, the global crisis did not hit India’s economy as hard as it did in Europe and the US. At the same time India made substantial progress in such industries as metallurgy, mining, automobile construction, power engineering, and IT. Indian companies are ready to invest in the Belarusian economy.

    “It is important to expand information cooperation between our countries; new business contacts can be established only if businessmen of the two countries are informed about cooperation prospects. To date, the cooperation between the Grodno oblast and India is insignificant. There no large-scale joint projects which can be implemented in India and Belarus,” the diplomat said.

    According to Ramesh Chander, the sides should apply greater efforts to inform each other about potential projects in various areas, including tourism, education and science. “About 3.5 million Indian tourists visit Europe every year, they might also come to Belarus if they know about the tourist attractions of this country,” he said.

    Apart from that, there is an opportunity to attract more Indian students to study in Belarus and promote Indian training programme ITEC among Belarusian students.

    First Deputy Chairman of the Grodno Oblast Executive Committee Ivan Zhuk said that the Grodno oblast and India could make the bilateral trade more vibrant. “The products made in Grodno can satisfy most exacting Indian customers, and the Belarusian market presents many opportunities for Indian products. In the conditions of the economic crisis, our countries could help each other, after all, we do not compete on the international market,” he said.

    On June 11, the Indian Ambassador visited Grodnoenergo, Grodno State Medical University, and Puppet Theater; on June 12 he is to visit Grodno Khimvolokno, ZovLenevromembel, and to meet with FEZ Grodnoinvest administration. He is also to attend the opening of an exhibition of Indian goods that is to be held in Grodno Ice Palace on June 12.

    Nord Stream will not affect transit via Belarus, Alexander Surikov assures

    Construction of the Nord Stream pipeline will not affect the volume of transit of Russian gas via Belarus, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Russia in Belarus Alexander Surikov told a press conference in Minsk on June 11.

    “The volume of transit via the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline is 30 billion cubic metres and will remain at this level. About 14 billion cubic metres is pumped through the Beltransgaz pipeline. This volume will remain unchanged in the future. Where the two sides do not put enough effort in is the joint venture set up by Gazprom and Beltransgaz,” Alexander Surikov said.

    According to the Russian Ambassador, the two sides have failed to build up transit by 16 billion cubic metres. “We need to unite efforts, add 16 billion cubic metres of gas to the existing transit volume and earn revenues for this joint venture. These revenues will be transferred to the budget of Russia and Belarus. The work has not been started yet, either by Gazprom or by Beltransgaz,” he stressed.

    Alexander Surikov also believes that the two companies should have put forward proposals on the development of this business which could bring great revenues to the countries in the form of taxes and create many jobs.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    IMF set to raise Belarus loan by $1 bln

    From: Guardian
    The International Monetary Fund is set to increase its standby loan programme to Belarus by $1 billion to $3.4 billion, the Fund's local office said on Wednesday.

    "Fund officials are recommending to the IMF board of directors to increase the size of support for Belarus by about $1 billion," the office said in a statement quoting its representative, Chris Jarvis.

    "This increase is based on the fact that Belarus's needs are greater in connection with the global economic crisis and also because the government and central bank are making serious efforts to solve these problems."

    Exports have fallen over 40 percent from the former Soviet republic since the beginning of the year as the European Union and Russia -- key buyers of Belarussian goods -- suffer from the economic crisis. This in turn has put pressure on the Belarussian rouble.

    The currency was devalued by 20 percent against the dollar at the beginning of the year as part of IMF conditions. The first tranche of the IMF loan amounting to $788 million was then released.

    Belarus had been expecting a second tranche of about $400 million this month or next. The IMF now says that second tranche could be worth $675 million.

    Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan to create customs union by mid-2011

    From: Itar Tass
    Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan will complete the creation of a customs union by the middle of 2011, Russian Vice Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said on Saturday.

    After that the three countries will begin accession talks with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to join it together within the customs union.

    “The mechanisms of talks between the three countries and the WTO has not been determined yet,” Kudrin said.

    He expressed confidence that 90 percent of what Russia has achieved at the talks with the WTO will be included in the new agreement.

    “Russia conducted negotiations on reasonable enough conditions,” he added.

    Kudrin believes that “the position of Kazakhstan and Belarus will be close to the position of Russia,” adding that this will require new protocols.

    The first consultations on the customs union's accession to the WTO will begin in Geneva next week, head of the Russian delegation for the WTO accession talks Maxim Medvedkov, who in charge of the department of trade negotiations at the Russian Ministry of Economic Development, told Itar-Tass.

    Formal negotiations on the accession of three member countries to the WTO will begin after January 1, 2010, Kudrin said.

    The customs union consists of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

    Belarus leader may snub Moscow security meet

    From: Reuters
    Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko may snub an ex-Soviet security pact meeting in Moscow hosted by Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev over a milk export row, Belarus' Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday.

    Relations between the ex-Soviet allies have been strained by Belarus' refusal to recognise Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

    Russia has banned on technical grounds the import of 1,200 types of milk product from Belarus, which earns billions of dollars from its dairy exports, and last year had about 4 percent of the Russian market.

    Lukashenko was due in Moscow on Sunday for the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (ODKB) meeting, which unites Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

    "Belarus is seriously concerned over the introduction by one of the ODKB countries of discriminatory trade restrictions violating international agreements," the ministry said.

    "Due to continuing uncertainty over this issue, the Belarussian side has not yet taken a final decision with regards to the participation of the official delegation ... in the ODKB council meeting."

    ODKB countries control a key land route from Europe to Afghanistan and the organisation is often billed as a counterweight to NATO. The Moscow meeting is due to discuss the creation of a joint rapid reaction force.

    Interfax news agency quoted a Russian Foreign Ministry source as saying Belarus' attempt to link the milk row with the ODKB meeting was "inappropriate".

    On Saturday, Lukashenko asked officials to look into reintroducing controls at the border with Russia. The two countries have been striving for years to form a union state.

    Belarus media sites under attack by zombies

    From: Register
    The spectre of politically-motivated hacking attacks has once again risen in Eastern Europe.

    Media websites in Belarus, in particular news site, are under a distributed denial of service attack. Charter97 has been unavailable for several days and under lower-level attack for much longer, security tools firm Arbor Networks reports.

    Translated versions of local reports on the attack against Charter97 can be found here.

    Jose Nazario, manager of security research at Arbor Networks, said the nature of the attack and the type of botnet used to run it is similar to those used to attack the Georgian presidential website in July 2008. More on the Machbot-like botnet behind the Belarus attacks can be found in a blog posting by Arbor here.

    Armed conflict between Georgia and Russia over the ethnically Russian separatist region of Georgia provided a background to these cyberattacks. The motive, much less the source of cyberattacks against Belarussian websites, is unclear.

    However, the attacks follow increased political tension between Belarus and Russia, culminating in Russia's recent decision to withhold the last quarter of a $2bn loan to Belarus.

    Alexander Lukashenko, the president of Belarus, has accused the Russians of punishing his country for failing the recognise the independence of rebel-held regions of Georgia. Increased friendship between Belarus and the EU is also an issue.

    The former Soviet republics have often found themselves on the front-link of cyberattack over recent years. The internet infrastructure of Estonia, which relies heavily on online services, was ripped apart in 1997. The central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan was turfed offline for more than a week back in January.

    The Kyrgyzstan attack, blamed as with previous assaults on Russian cybermilitia, probably had far less effect on the ground than the Estonian assaults, because it occurred in a region with low internet penetration where online access to government service and banking is not much of an issue.

  • From the Opposition...

    Yushchenko satisfied by cooperation with last Europe’s dictatorship

    From: Charter '97
    On June 12 the president of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko met with Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhei Sidorski in Kyiv.

    As informed by the press-service of the Ukrainian president, “Yushchenko positively assessed the fact that agreements between him and his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka on activation of cooperation of the two countries are realized in the broad terms”.

    “I am satisfied that we have good contexts for the cooperation, starting from bilateral, regional, European relations. I would encourage the government, the political forces and the parliament of Ukraine to cooperate in this context together. These relations are extremely important for us,” Yushchenko said.

    He expressed a hope that during the present visit of the Belarusian Premier a number of the strategic issues which hadn’t been solved for a long time, would be worked out. “I hope that your visit would allow to settle all these questions,” Yushchenko said.

    In his turn, Sidorski noted that all the agreements reached at the previous meetings of the presidents are under the most serious control, and would be implemented in the full.

    “We are paying constant attention to development of our trade and economic relations. I think that we have every possibility to boost our trade turnover,” Sidorski said. He said last year the turnover of Belarus and Ukraine was $5 billion.

    Observatory for Protection of Human Rights Defenders urges Belarusian authorities to re-register 'Viasna' and stop harassment of human rights defeners

    From: Viasna
    The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Belarus.

    New information:

    The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the new refusal by Belarusian authorities to re-register the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” under the name “Nasha Viasna”. It is the third refusal since the Human Rights Committee issued a communication recommending the re-registration of this organisation[1].

    According to the information received, on May 28, 2009, the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” received a letter from the Belarusian authorities, stating that the latest registration application submitted on April 25, 2009 under the name “Nasha Viasna” had been rejected on May 25, 2009.

    The authorities argued, inter alia, through the letter, that “some elements” on several founding members were “distorted”, without stating what was unclear, that some founding members had received administrative sentences in the past, and that criminal cases had been instigated against some of them.

    On January 26, 2009, 67 members of the organisation had signed an application to the Ministry of Justice of Belarus to register their human rights organisation under a new name: “Nasha Viasna”. They have had to change the name of their organisation because Belarus legislation forbids the use of the name of a organisation that has been liquidated. On March 3, 2009, members of “Viasna” had been informed by letter of the decision of the Ministry of Justice dated February 26, 2009, to deny their request to register their organisation under the name “Nasha Viasna”.

    The co-founders of “Nasha Viasna” subsequently lodged a complaint against this decision, and received a letter from the Supreme Court of Belarus on March, 27, 2009 informing them that their complaint against the refusal to register their NGO had been received, and that the session was due to start on April 7.

    On April 22, 2009, the Supreme Court of Belarus rejected the complaint lodged by the co-founders of “Nasha Viasna”. Judge Ihar Milto declared that the decision by the Ministry of Justice was legal, and argued that a series of inaccuracies had occurred in the list of founding members and in the organisation’s charter.

    The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about these events and recalls that as a Participating State of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Belarus must conform with paragraph 8 of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution on Strengthening OSCE Engagement with Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions[2], which states that the OSCE Participating States recognise “the need for particular attention, support and protection for human rights defenders by the OSCE, its Institutions and field operations, as well as by participating States”.

    Background information:

    Viasna had been registered with the Ministry of Justice since 1999, but was forced to close down in October 2003 by decision of the Supreme Court. On December 24, 2003, Viasna’s appeal lodged against the Supreme Court decision to liquidate the organisation was rejected. Its members were denied the right to pursue legally their human rights activities in Belarus within the framework of their organisation. After they had exhausted all domestic remedies to challenge the Court’s decision, in April 2004, Mr. Aliaksandr Bialiatski, President of Viasna and FIDH Vice-President, lodged a complaint before the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

    In July 2007, the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that the dissolution of Viasna was a violation of Article 22, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and that the co-authors of the complaint were “entitled to an appropriate remedy, including the re-registration of Viasna”. Consequently, the organisation made an new attempt to register, but its application was soon rejected, in violation of Communication No. 1296/2004 of the UN Human Rights Committee.

    Actions requested:

    The Observatory urges the authorities of Belarus to:

    i. Put an end to all forms of harassment against the above-mentioned organisation’s activities, repeal the decision to close it down and re-register it, and ensure in all circumstances that its members are able to carry out their work freely without any hindrances;

    ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment against human rights defenders in Belarus;

    iii. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, in particular with Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, Article 5, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others [...] to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups”, as well as with Article 12.2, which states that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

    iv. Comply with the provisions of the Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the 2nd Conference on the Human Dimension of the Cooperation and Security Conference in Europe (CSCE) (1990), and uphold in all circumstances the principles and provisions enshrined in the international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Belarus and which, in particular, guarantee freedoms of association, demonstration, expression and opinion, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

    v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Belarus.

  • Around the Region...

    No democracy needed for Russia, says ruling party think-tank

    From: Reuters
    Russia does not need to move toward greater democracy because the financial crisis requires strong leadership, a think-tank close to the ruling party United Russia has said in a report.

    The report for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party appears to pour cold water on President Dmitry Medvedev's declared intentions of cautiously reforming Russia's tightly controlled political system.

    "It would be more honest and realistic to say that the democratization of Russia's political system in the near future cannot be a priority...The priority for now is good governance," the Public Projects Institute, headed by parliamentarian Vladimir Pligin, said in the report released on Wednesday.

    It was authored by 100 people including Pligin and public chamber member Alexander Brod.

    Its conclusions appeared to chime with those of Putin, Russia's president from 2000-2008 and now the dominant partner in a dual leadership with his chosen successor Medvedev.

    Business daily Vedomosti earlier published unusually frank remarks about Russia's political system from what it said was an early draft of the report. These were missing from the final version.

    "Regional leaders...are appointed via arrangements strongly reminiscent of regional committee secretary nominations in the Soviet era," the newspaper cited the report as saying.

    It said Russia's tightly controlled media resembled that of the Soviet media during the so-called "period of stagnation" prior to Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika" reforms in the 1980s.

    Medvedev has carefully cultivated an image as a liberal since his election, though analysts say he has made very few substantive changes so far. Some believe he is little more than a figurehead installed to appease the West with promises of liberalism and change which will never materialize.

    Medvedev has suggested reducing the minimum amount of votes a party needs to gain parliamentary representation and giving the opposition better access to the media. But it remains unclear how big their practical impact will be.

    The report for United Russia said the priorities lay elsewhere and implicitly suggested Putin's 2000-08 presidency as a model for successful government.

    "In times of war and crisis, a successful political system becomes charismatic, and therefore, inevitably more authoritarian. A storm requires a captain," the report said.


    Not everyone is happy at the state of Russian politics, particularly at a time when the global financial crisis has plunged the economy into a deep recession.

    Last Friday the president of the southwestern Russian region of Bashkoristan, Murtaza Rakhimov, made a strong public attack on the Kremlin's system of "vertical power" set up by Putin.

    "Russia is walking away from the process of democratization... The level of centralization is worse than in Soviet times," Rakhimov told the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.

    Some commentators played down the significance of Rakhimov's remarks, saying the veteran leader was about to be replaced and took advantage of his situation to blast the Kremlin. But some of what he said still rang true for critics of the government.

    "It's pretty clear a mass-scale democratization will never take place in Russia," independent analyst Stanislav Belkovsky said.

    Gas dispute to 'cost Ukraine billions in Russian fines'

    From: Independant
    Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko has warned that Russia could fine his country $10.4bn (£6.3bn) over a gas dispute.

    Mr Yushchenko accused Russia of "political manipulations" ahead of meetings of the European Council on Thursday and Friday.

    Russia, which supplies gas to Ukraine, has asked the EU to help its neighbour pay its energy bills. Ukraine has met every payment so far this year, but the Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, signed an agreement with Russia in January that contains heavy penalties for missing deadlines.

    The President and Prime Minister are at odds over relations with Russia, with Ms Tymoshenko being closer to her Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Mr Yushchenko has criticised Ms Tymoshenko over the terms of the deal.

    Mr Yushchenko said that, under the January agreement, Ukraine could end up paying more than $10bn in the first quarter this year for not consuming enough gas as stipulated under the terms of the arrangement.

    The call for an EU meeting was intended to smear Ukraine, he said, adding: "These political manipulations will last for years unless we revise the conditions. It's billions of potential penalties."

    Russia dismisses ambassador to Ukraine Chernomyrdin

    From: Reuters
    Russia has dismissed its ambassador to Ukraine, former prime minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the Kremlin said in a statement on Thursday.

    Chernomyrdin, 71, who had served as Russia's ambassador to Ukraine since 2001, watched relations between the countries deteriorate sharply when the Orange Revolution in 2004 brought pro-West President Viktor Yushchenko to power in Kiev.

    Once one of the most powerful men in Russian gas export monopoly, Gazprom, Chernomyrdin's final years as ambassador were marked by bitter disputes between Russia and Ukraine over gas deliveries.

    Russian prime minister from 1992 to 1998, Chernomyrdin was on Thursday appointed an adviser to the Russian president, the Kremlin statement said.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Back from the dead?

    From: The News
    A woman declared dead woke up in the morgue and turned out to be just fine.

    Police in Zwolen are investigating a very unusual case of a woman declared dead, who woke up in the morgue and turned out to be just fine.

    A man called an ambulance on Friday morning for his sick wife. The doctor who arrived on the scene declared the woman dead and the patient was transported to a morgue. The family had began preparations for a funeral, when, in the afternoon, one of the morgue workers heard strange sounds and noticed that one of the bodies was actually moving. He called a doctor and the supposedly dead woman was taken to a hospital ward.

    The local prosecutor's office has launched an investigation into this seemingly horror-movie situation.

    Polish smugglers swallowed 200 packets of cocaine in bid to fool customs

    From: Belfast Telegraph
    Two men swallowed 200 packages of cocaine in a bid to give border agency officers the slip at Belfast International Airport, a court has heard.

    The pair, both Polish, thought they were smuggling cannabis after arriving on a flight from Amsterdam last August. But after they were taken to hospital for examination it was discovered the drugs were in fact small packages of cocaine, worth an estimated £500,000, Antrim Crown Court heard.

    Adam Ruczaj (28) and Tomasz Ciulwik (29), were jailed for 10 years and four months for trying to smuggle a kilo of cocaine each.

    John Whiting, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigation, HM Revenue and Customs said the detention of the two men by UK Border Agency officers should be a warning to all criminals.

    After the sentences were passed he said: “These men say they thought they were smuggling cannabis, but drug trafficking is a dangerous and murky business.

    “Violence and corruption follows the illegal drugs trade, regardless of the type or quantities involved. Criminals dealing in illegal drugs are thinking solely of profit and show disregard for the damage drugs do to individuals.”

    Poles quick to condemn yet excuse themselves

    From: Polskie Radio
    Poles condemn infidelity, divorce, child abuse and putting one’s parents into a nursing home, according to a recent CBOS opinion poll.

    The poll shows that sixty six percent of Poles do not approve of divorce and 31 percent think premarital sex is wrong. Every fifth Pole disapproves of living together in a relationship without being married, yet twenty percent of those polled claim to be in such a relationship.

    Ninety-one percent of those who participated in the poll think there is no justification for cheating in a relationship yet 26 percent of men and every fifth female admits to having been unfaithful at some point or another in their relationship, according to research carried out by sexology professor Zbigniew Izdebski.

    Poles similarly do not approve of putting their elderly parents in a nursing home. The CBOS poll shows that such an idea would not even cross 84 percent of Poles minds.

    Ninety-five percent of Poles think that beating their child is bad and can never be justified.

    “It is a paradox,” explains social psychologist Janusz Czapinski. According to Czapinski, Poles do not recognize their ‘sins’ and rather tend to find explanations for them. “Beating children is associated, for us, with dramatic violence, so we never think that we actually cross those barriers. […] Everything is a question of definition,” adds the psychologist.

  • Endnote...

    “Moskovsky Komsomolets”: Lukashenka is expected to kneel and beg pardon

    From: Charter '97
    Russian journalists try to guess under what condition Belarusian milk may return to the Russian market.

    Return of Belarusian milk to the Russian market would depend on a range of conditions, head of the Russian Agency for Health and Consumer Rights Gennady Onishchenko said.

    According to him, one of the conditions was “giving a full list of enterprises and types of dairy products”.

    “Russia will choose laboratories, accredited in Russia, in accordance with the law. These laboratories will give reports covering all characteristics needed for the technical regulations and other normative acts,” Onishchenko said.

    However, Russian journalists suppose there may be different conditions of returning Belarusian milk products.

    “I imagine how Lukashenka will kneel and beg pardon Putin’s pardon for his rude words,” Aleksandr Minkin, an observer of “Moskovsky Komsomolets” newspaper told in an interview to”Echo of Moscow radio station.

    Minkin said to a question whether Lukashenka should apologize to minister of finance Aleksey Kudrin:

    “No, he shouldn’t! Kudrin is a function. Putin and Medvedev can be offended. We have two men who take offends. The rest have no right to take offends. They don’t dare. Have you ever seen that an official taking offend and banging the door after eh or she was insulted? Never! They do not have such a feeling. Milk has noting to do with this. As soon as Saakashvili said something insulting about Putin, Georgian wines, Borjomi, rahat-lokum, even dill spoilt. As soon as Lukashenka said something insulting, milk went sour. It happens with these wines, Borjomi, milk, cheese, sour creme at the very second when a leader of the guilty country says something offensive about our prime minister. That’s all. Products show immediate reaction.”

    The journalist supposes Lukashenka won’t have to apologize to Putin:

    “Maybe he won’t kneel but will just give what Russia wants him to give, these pipes. He must pay something for his rude words. He has said enough for a blockade,” Minkin said.