News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Belarus' economic potential, Passports, NAM, CIS, CSTO, Diaspora, Economics, Russia, Tourism, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #428

    Alexander Lukashenko prioritises preserving, building up Belarus’ economic potential

    From: BelTA
    Meeting on the current issues of the social and economic development of the Republic of Belarus
    In the modern world increasing the effectiveness of efforts meant to preserve and build up the economic potential and maintain decent living standards for people should be the key task for Belarus. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made the statement at a government session held on 17 July to discuss current matters regarding the country’s social and economic development.

    The head of state said that negative tendencies in the economic development of the country and its provinces are still in place. “The problem of payment arrearages is getting worse, the foreign trade is shrinking, fixed-capital investments are falling,” he remarked.

    The President reminded that in late May an agreement was reached that similar meetings will be held regularly with a view to discussing emerging problems regarding the social and economic development of the country as a whole and its provinces in particular. Alexander Lukashenko said that, first and foremost, he is interested in the resolution of the problems that had been unearthed during the previous meeting and in whether there are positive changes at companies in distress.

    “It is necessary to keep one’s finger on the pulse, finding the problems that deter our development and address them promptly. This is why ‘unpolished’ and sincere information about all the topical issues is so important,” underscored the head of state.

    In his opinion, the agribusiness state is especially important at present because the state of this basic industry determines the national food security as well as the availability of raw resources for several adjacent industries. The session is supposed to consider the progress in forage conservation, preparations for grain harvesting as well as the commissioning of new modern grain cleaning and drying installations. The state of things in every region of Belarus will be discussed.

    Legal instruments ready to liberalize Belarus economy

    Nineteen legal acts have been prepared in Belarus in order to liberalize the domestic economy, Alexander Likhachevsky, Director of the Entrepreneurship Department of the Belarusian Economy Ministry, told a press conference on 15 July.

    Alexander Likhachevsky remarked that a plan of top-priority actions meant to liberalize business activity in 2009 is being consistently implemented. “In H1 2009 52 normative legal acts were adopted, including 10 president decrees, 13 government resolutions, 22 ministry regulations. Nineteen legal acts have been drafted,” said the official. The work will continue.

    In particular, this year Belarus will reduce the number of administrative procedures in healthcare, transport, civil engineering and other areas. In order to improve property and land relations auction and tender procedures have been simplified, the administration of state property has been optimised. The liberalization has also touched upon certification of products, pricing, operations on the securities market and other areas. In 2009 the tax burden is supposed to be reduced by 1.3 percentage points against the GDP, leaving around Br2 trillion in hands of economic entities.

    According to Alexander Likhachevsky, a draft decree has been submitted to the government. The document introduces several measures to improve antimonopoly laws. “There are measures to facilitate administrative procedures related to antimonopoly control over economic concentration and expand rights of antimonopoly bodies in taking effective measures to prevent monopoly actions of administration bodies and juridical persons,” he said.

    A draft government resolution has been put together to improve the preparation and consideration of investment contracts with the Republic of Belarus. There are plans to empower local executive committees to sign investment contracts on behalf of the Republic of Belarus.

    Following an IMF initiative there are plans to set up bank management funds in Belarus. The Belarus President Administration is currently considering a draft relevant decree. “The document provides for determining the legal status and terms of creating, operating and state registration of bank management funds,” said Alexander Likhachevsky.

    He also said that a draft resolution of the Council of Ministers had been submitted to the government. The document regulates some aspects of release, circulation and redemption of housing vouchers. There are plans to enable non-residents, juridical and natural persons to buy housing vouchers which are issued by Belarusian entities. Apart from that, the government has received a draft decree on measures meant to optimise foreign trade and transit as well as several other documents.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus parliament to ratify agreement on new CIS passports

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian MPs are preparing an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in creating state information systems of new-generation passport and visa documents and their consequent development and use in the CIS states for ratification, the press service of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus told BelTA.

    The agreement was inked in Chisinau on 14 November 2008. It is necessary to promote cooperation in this area in order to increase the effectiveness of fighting terrorism, illegal migration and organized crime.

    According to the agreement, the new generation passport and visa documents are meant to identify citizens outside their home country. They contain biometric data which is checked when the citizen leaves and enters a state. In line with the document biometric data are physiological markers of an individual that can be used to determine his identity (a digital photo, fingerprints, a picture of the iris and other personal biometric data). The data can be processed in line with laws of the country, which is a participant of the agreement, only if their holder signs a written consent.

    In line with the document the parties will create national information systems of new-generation passport and visa documents for the sake of perfecting border control and establishing optimal conditions of border crossing for citizens. The systems are supposed to bring about a technical capability for information exchange as part of interstate cooperation of law enforcement agencies.

    As the information systems are created, the sides are supposed, in particular, to rule out the possibility of illegal reproduction of biometric data, to ensure confidentiality of the information that the system stores.

    The House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus plans to ratify the agreement at the autumn session that begins on 2 October.

    Belarus for lasting dialogue between NAM and world powers

    From: BelTA
    Belarus proposed to establish a high-level long-lasting dialogue between the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the EU, China, Russia and US through the regular participation of the representatives of these countries in NAM activities, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov said at the 15th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    According to the Belarusian side, a special thematic summit with the participation of the EU, China, Russia and US may be arranged to discuss ways to step up cooperation for the sake of peace and justice in the world.

    Sergei Martynov underlined that the current global crisis offers a unique opportunity to establish a new type of global relations based on fair and responsible cooperation.

    As in the present day conditions no superpower or a group of states can efficiently counter modern challenges, the Belarusian Foreign Minister called for broader engagement with the world’s economic and political powers to stimulate the global economy and stabilize the international situation.

    Talking about the universal significance of the NAM ground-laying principles, Sergei Martynov metaphorically defined the major goal of the organization – to turn from the Non-Aligned Movement to the Non-Aligned World – non-aligned with violence, threats, fear, arrogance, intolerance and hypocrisy.

    During the summit Sergei Martynov met with the Foreign Ministers of Libya, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and South Africa to discuss the cooperation prospects with these states.

    Over 300 delegates to participate in 5th Congress of Belarusians of World

    From: BelTA
    More than 300 delegates from 20 countries will take part in the 5th Congress of the Belarusians of the World, which will be held on 18-19 July in the Minsk Johannes Rau International Educational Centre, BelTA learnt from the spokesman for the Associaition of the Belarusians of the World Batskaushchyna Tatyana Panchenko.

    The main topic of the congress is: “Preserving and Developing Belarusians’ National Identity in the Modern World”. The reports will be presented by head of Batskaushchyna Aleksei Marochkin, Doctor of Historical Sciences Yanka Zaprudnik (USA), Candidate of Historical Sciences Natalya Gordienko (Belarus) and others. The discussions in the sections will be divided in three topics: means of national identification of Belarus and Belarusians in the world; native country and diaspora interaction on the way to preserve cultural identity; Belarusian identity in the European context.

    Book presentations and meetings with representatives of the Belarusian intelligentsia community will be organized during the congress.

    Attending the congress will be also by Commissioner for Religions and Nationalities Leonid Gulyako, Belarusian diplomats, officials of the Ministries of Culture, Education and Information.

    The Congress of the Belarusians of the World is organized by Batskaushchyna is convened not less than once every four years. The elected Rada coordinates activities between congresses.

    Belarusians from abroad should create positive image of their Motherland, Galina Sivolova says

    “The Belarusian Diaspora abroad should tell the rest of the world about Belarus’ achievements, its hard-working people, its history and current affairs. It will help create a positive image of the country,” said Galina Sivolova, the headmistress of Skaryna Belarusian school in Vilnius, and the delegate from Lithuania at the Fifth Congress of the Belarusians of the World.

    “We should not wait any longer for somebody else to praise Belarus. It is us who should inform the world about our wonderful country, its smart and hospitable citizens, rather than those who have hardly ever heard about Belarus. And we have much to tell about: magnificent nature, ancient history and rich culture,” said Galina Sivolova.

    “I hope we shall adopt the “Belarusians in the World” project at the Congress. It will allow uniting the Belarusians from all over the world. We have to think together on creation of a positive image of our native land. We should develop and advocate our wonderful language and culture,” she said.

    The Lithuanian delegate also noted that Belarus is dealing with the crisis in a worthy way. “I hope the Belarusians are wise enough to overcome it with fewer losses than other countries,” she said.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Alexander Kosinets: Slavonic Bazaar is world-scale cultural forum

    From: BelTA
    The 18th international festival of arts Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk is coming to an end. A solemn closing ceremony of the festival will be held late at night July 16.

    Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian and Moldovan famous pop singers and bands including Iosif Kobzon, Anzhelika Agurbash, Irina Dorofeeva, Kim Breitburg, Diana Gurtskaya, Boris Moiseev and Nadezhda Kadysheva will take part in the solemn closing ceremony of the Vitebsk festival. Grand-Prix winners of the Vitebsk 2009 Musical contests will also take part in the concert.

    The 18th international festival of arts Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk gathered more than 5,000 guests from 33 countries. A representative of Brazil has taken part in the festival for the first time.

    The Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk is the world-scale cultural forum, Chairman of the Vitebsk Oblast Executive Committee Alexander Kosinets noted during the closing ceremony of the 18th international festival of arts Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk on 16 July.

    The farewell song of the Slavonic Bazaar Festival has been performed.

    Some 21 shows were presented on the stage of the Summer Amphitheater of Vitebsk. Around 120,000 spectators attended them. In the showbill you could see the names of Lara Fabian, Sarah Connor, Raimonds Pauls, Valery Leontiev, Roza Rymbaeva, Sophia Rotaru, Yadviga Poplavskaya and Alexander Tikhanovich, Boris Moiseev, Valery Meladze, Nadezhda Kadysheva and Alexander Rybak. The Belarusian Norwegian took part in the Slavonic Bazaar opening ceremony.

    Traditionally, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and Moscow gave their concerts. Latvia sent one of the biggest delegations – around 100 people – singers, artists and musicians. The audience saw performances by artists from Kazakhstan, Israel, China, and Vietnam. The first-time participant is Brazil.

    Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk is a long-term large-scale interstate cultural project of Belarus and Russia which aims to promote cooperation between different cultures and spiritual unity of the peoples of the world. The festival contributes to the revival and development of culture and arts. It aims to support young talents and new trends in culture and arts.

    Young singers from 16 countries took part in the Vitebsk 2009 song contest. The international jury was headed by Laima Vaikule. Russian representative Dmitry Danilenko won the Grand Prix of the Vitebsk 2009 song contest. Belarusian Andrei Kolosov took the second place. This contest was followed by the Vitebsk 2009 junior song contest. Romanian representative Maria took the Grand Prix of the junior song contest in Vitebsk. Belarusian Maria Novik took the second place. The jury panel of the Vitebsk 2009 junior song contest was chaired by Leonid Zakhlevny.

    This year, Belarusian President’s special award “Through Art to Peace and Mutual Understanding” was be presented to Russian singer Valery Leontiev.

    The Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk is not only about pop music. More than 70 various events were held during the 18th international festival of arts Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk. Craftsmen from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine presented their works in the Zadvinje Folk-Crafts Centre. A great number of meetings with artistes and writers were held as well. Performances of Moscow theaters, meetings with singers of the Israeli opera, an exhibition of Marc Chagall’s works were also on the programme.

    The unique exhibition “A Hundred of Marc Chagall’s Works” was held within the framework of the festival this year. Moscow charity fund “Triumph – New Century” presented Belarus with these priceless works. Seven copies of Ilya Repin’s works also were handed over to the town of Vitebsk.

    Around 600 representatives of mass media and Internet outlets from 11 countries covered the international festival of arts in Vitebsk. These were journalists from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Great Britain, the USA, Germany, China and Macedonia. Concerts of the festival were broadcast by the Belarus National TV and Radio Company and Rossiya TV Channel of Russia.

    The budget of the Belarus-Russia Union State allocated around RUB25 million for the festival. The contribution of the Russian side is RUB9 million 300 thousand, the share of Belarus is RUB15 million 596 thousand.

    The 18th international festival of arts Slavonic Bazaar in Vitebsk was running from 10 July to 16 July.

  • Economics...

    Belarus’ oil refining output up 19.3% in H1

    From: BelTA
    In H1 2009 the Belarusian oil refining industry turned out Br10.695 trillion worth of commodities, up 19.3% over the same period last year, the National Statistics Committee told BelTA.

    In January-June the industry increased the production of automobile gasoline by 5.2% to 1.75 million tonnes, heating oil by 1.7% to 3.16 million tonnes, domestic furnace fuel by 26.3% to 327,000 tonnes. The production of biodiesel fuel increased 5,4 times to 231,100 tonnes. The industry manufactured 3.36 million tonnes of diesel fuel (97.8% as against the same period last year), while the production of the lubricating oil decreased by 26.4% to 66,500 tonnes.

    In H1 Belarus produced 850,100 tonnes of oil, or 98.6% as against the same period last year.

    As of 1 July, 2009 the finished goods inventory of the industry amounted to 9% of the average monthly output of automobile gasoline, diesel fuel — 1%, heating oil – 1.9%, lubricating oils — 52.1%.

    In January-May 2009 the profitability of the industry stood at 6.5%.

    In January-May the export of Belarusian petroleum products shrank by 8% over the same period last year to a total of 6.394 million tonnes. The export to non-CIS states amounted to 5.617 million tonnes (89.8% as against the same period last year), export to the CIS states — 776,600 tonnes (111.7%).

    Oil transportation via Belarus up 2.3% in H1

    In H1 2009, Belarus pumped 44.8 million tonnes of oil, up 2.3 from the same period last year, BelTA learnt from the National Statistics Committee.

    In H1 2009, Belarus transported around 26.5 billion cubic metres of gas, down 29.2% from H1 last year.

    Gas is transported in Belarus via Beltransgaz networks and Yamal-Europe gas pipeline. Oil is pumped by Gomeltransneft Druzhba and the Novopolotsk Oil Transportation Company Druzhba.

    Belarus trades with 159 countries in January-May

    In January-May 2009 Belarus traded with 159 countries, exporting to 121 countries and importing from 144 countries, the National Statistics Committee told BelTA.

    The area of Belarus’ trade has expanded since early this year. For comparison, in January Belarus traded with 127 countries, exporting commodities to 86 countries and importing products from 118 countries.

    In January-May Belarus’ main trade partners were Russia (47.9% of the total trade), the Netherlands (7.9%), Germany (5.7%), Ukraine (5.6%), Latvia (3.4%), Poland (3.3%), China (2.6%), the UK (2%) as well as Italy and India.

    In January-May 2009 the Belarusian export to Russia shrank by 47.2% to $2392.5 million, with the country accounting for 33% of Belarus’ export volume. The export to the Netherlands went down by 50.2% to $1311.9 million. Consequences of the global crisis have affected Belarus’ trade with many other countries. Thus, in January-May Belarus’ export to Ukraine amounted to $520 million (40.3% as against the same period last year), Poland — $303.3 million (46.4%), Germany — $240 million (61.1%), Latvia — $559 million (69.6%). Export to India, meanwhile, increased more than 2.3 times to $207.9 million.

    In January-May 2009 Belarus’ merchandise trade amounted to $17.685 billion, or 59.8% as against the same period last year. Belarus’ export shrank to $7.241 billion (52% to January-May 2008), with the import down to $10.444 billion (66.7%).

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus urges new NAM strategy, concerted efforts to fight global crises

    From: Xinua
    Belarussian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov Wednesday urged the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at its 15th summit here to work out a more pragmatic new strategy in line with today's changing world situation and make concerted efforts to overcome global crises, especially the ongoing financial crunch.

    Martynov said during a speech at the summit on behalf of Belarussian president that he is sure the NAM leaders will proceed precisely from the principles of impartiality, objectivity and openness while formulating a NAM strategy for the years to come.

    Noting that the upcoming three years may be crucial for determining the future place and role of NAM in the international community, he urged the summit to give a clear answer on how to utilize most effectively the NAM potential and mobilize all resources and actors, including those outside the movement, to stabilize international situation and overcome the multifaceted global crisis.

    He stressed that although the world has changed these years but the values laid down by the NAM founders in the basis of the movement in 1950s and 1960s have not lost their topicality.

    The promotion of the NAM positions and approaches to solution of modern problems, including in the European continent, will remain a central element of Belarus' foreign policy and not be subject to situational changes.

    The Belorussian delegation, chaired by Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov, is participating in the 15th NAM summit, which has attracted more than 100 NAM member-state leaders or their representatives to the Egyptian Red Sea city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

    The Belarus delegation proposed to improve the NAM efficiency and enhance its role by means of optimizing its structure and presenting the movement's position at major international forums and urged NAM to give more attention to the new problems of international relations.

    The Belorussian side has taken an active part in reaching a consensus on disputable matters.

    Belarus received the observer status of NAM in September 1997 and became a fully-fledged member at the 12th NAM summit in Durban, South Africa in September 1998. It remains the sole European member of the movement.

    Israel, Belarus sign tourism agreement

    From: YNET
    Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov and his Belarusian counterpart Sports and Tourism Minister Oleg Kachan signed an agreement in Minsk last week to increase tourist flow between the two countries.

    The agreement, that was signed for a five-year period after which it will be automatically renewed, is meant to generate a rise in tourist traffic by increasing joint activity in the wholesales field and upgrading relations with existing and new airlines.

    In addition, the agreement includes stepping up cooperation between the two nations' tourism authorities, training manpower, exchanging experts in the field, distributing tourism material and information and more.

    Upon signing the agreement, the ministers said their countries recognize the power of the tourism industry to improve the quality of life of their residents and the role the industry plays in promoting peace and understanding.

    Misezhnikov also meat with Belarusian Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko and Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov.

    He said in a statement that followed: “In the next few years, the Tourism Ministry will strengthen its cooperation with the main source countries for incoming tourism to Israel, while also increasing its activities in additional countries in Eastern Europe and Asia.”

    The minister added, “These activities will concentrate on removing obstacles, strengthening ties and implementing targeted marketing activities in order to realize the tourism potential from these countries.”

    In 2008, some 18,000 Belarusian tourists visited Israel – a 67% rise from the 10,800 who visited in 2007.

    Belarus man gets 7 years for illegal workers

    From: Hampton Roads
    Viktar Krus could have been a true immigrant success story.

    The Belarus native started out legitimate, but greed quickly took over. Krus amassed a $34 million illegal immigrant empire that supplied cheap labor to Oceanfront resorts, downtown hotels and railroad yards.

    At his sentencing in U.S. District Court on Friday, Krus apologized to the entire nation before a federal judge sentenced him to seven years and three months in prison. Krus, 28, pleaded guilty to conspiracy, tax fraud, visa fraud and money laundering charges.

    "I will learn my hard lesson," Krus told the judge. "I'm really sorry for this."

    U.S. District Judge Mark S. Davis noted that Krus could have made millions legally.

    "Look what you did," a bewildered Davis said.

    Between 2003 and 2008, Krus ran his conspiracy through 20 corporations, grossing $34 million, while evading millions in taxes and wiring millions more to his homeland, Russia and other Eastern European nations. In that time, he brought in more than 3,800 immigrants, most illegally, to work as hotel housekeepers, at the Ford plant loading vehicles onto rail cars, and at a Petersburg railroad yard.

    He forced his employees to live 12 to 15 to an apartment and deducted from their $7-an-hour salaries for uniforms, travel and other necessities. Meanwhile, Krus charged hotels $10 an hour per worker, taking in $3 per person profit on top of the fees he charged the workers.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. DePadilla, calling Krus "a locust" on society, asked the judge for a nine-year sentence.

    "He made his money off of other aliens' backs," DePadilla told the judge. "He stripped every dollar he could out of the American economy."

    Federal agencies and Virginia Beach police conducted the investigation as part of a broad effort to root out illegal workers and those who profit from them.

    The conspiracy included bribing human resources directors of hotels to obtain contracts. The hotels then turned away American workers they should have been employing, DePadilla said.

    The hotels used a variety of tactics to avoid hiring Americans, he said. In one case, a hotel scheduled an interview with a woman at 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve. Another housekeeper applicant was told she'd have to travel to Chicago every other week, which wasn't true.

    "They deliberately dissuaded Americans from taking these jobs," DePadilla told the judge.

    Davis raised concerns about something not mentioned in the case: the potential threat to national security caused by allowing thousands of illegal immigrants into the country.

    "It's, in essence, a threat to the security of the country," he said. "That's something that can't be ignored."

    So far, 23 co-defendants have been convicted in the case.

    Krus will be deported after serving his 87-month prison term. Court records show that he failed to pay $7.4 million in payroll taxes during the scheme and wired $1.6 million in profits to Eastern Europe.

    The government has recovered about $50,000.

    Uzbekistan and Belarus Reveal Serious Disagreement within the CSTO

    From: Georgian Daily
    On June 14, member countries of the Collective Security Treaty Organization signed a document on the establishment of CSTO Rapid Reaction Forces. Foreign Service.

    Due to its economic and military potential, Russia will provide the main and virtually the only viable component of these forces. This treaty is symbolic as it seals Russia’s political-military aspirations in the CSTO area. Surprisingly, Uzbekistan and one of Russia’s closest allies, Belarus, did not sign the document. Such developments make the mere existence of the CSTO RRF futile. Uzbekistan possesses the strongest military potential and the greatest strategic importance in Central Asia. Moreover, its decision not to sign the document is critical for considering potential U.S. engagement in the region.

    BACKGROUND: The decision to establish the CSTO RRF was taken on February 4, 2009, during the summit of CSTO member countries. It was designed to fight terrorism, extremism, illegal drug trafficking, and provide for effective participation of CSTO members in maintaining regional and international security.

    Belarusian President Lukashenko was not present at the CSTO Summit on June 14, 2009, and did not sign the document, thus boycotting the event. This decision was caused by the ban on Belarusian dairy products and meat from the Russian market, a serious blow to the Belarusian economy.

    Russia, through its Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) banned the import of almost 500 items of dairy products from Belarus, and then a further 800 because the Belarusian producers had not redrafted documentation in accordance with the requirements of the technical regulations relating to milk. And the republic refused "to discuss collective security issues in circumstances in which its economic security finds itself under threat."

    Uzbekistan’s motivation is far less obvious and Islam Karimov, unlike Lukashenko, did not completely boycott the Summit. Uzbekistan outlined four conditions for signing the CSTO RRF document: firstly, that the CSTO RRF can only be used based on a consensus of CSTO members; secondly, that the CSTO RRF document cannot enter into force before it is signed by all CSTO members; thirdly, that the CSTO RRF can only be deployed on non-CSTO territory and only if such deployment does not contradict internal legislation of the host country; fourthly, that the CSTO RRF cannot be used to resolve conflicts within the CSTO. In addition, Uzbekistan refused to permanently avail its troops for deployment as part of the CSTO RRF. Such conditions aim to prevent Russia from meddling with Uzbekistan’s internal affairs, which is especially important in light of the current chill in relations between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the one hand and the unstable situation on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border on the other. Inconsistencies in Russia’s Central Asia policy could further destabilize the situation.

    Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s reaction to the decisions of Belarus and Uzbekistan was tempered and he stated that both countries are welcome to join the CSTO RRF.

    IMPLICATIONS: Uzbekistan’s conditions are reasonable in terms of regional security in both Central Asia and the broader non-CSTO region. By outlining these conditions, Uzbekistan will prevent two major precursors for destabilization of the situation in the entire greater Caspian region. Firstly, it will eliminate the CSTO’s and mainly Russia’s direct involvement in any potential crisis between Uzbekistan and its immediate neighbors. Problems between the Central Asian states, which are largely caused by water distribution issues, would hence be managed without outside interference. Secondly, it contributes to security in the Caucasus, because Uzbek conditions would prevent the CSTO RFF from being used in the Russian-Georgian and Armenian-Azerbaijani conflicts.

    Russia has a history of destabilizing behavior in the region and it currently has a highly volatile stance on such sensitive issues for Central Asia as the distribution of water resources and the construction of hydropower plants. Russia initially endorsed the Rogun hydropower plant project in Tajikistan. However, this changed when President Medvedev suddenly denounced Russia’s support of the Rogun agreement with Tajikistan and instead supported collegial decision-making on this project, which would involve other regional countries like Uzbekistan. To aggravate the situation further, Russia embarked on constructing the Kambarata hydropower plants in Kyrgyzstan. As a result, the already tense situation around water distribution was further fueled by Russia's inconsistent actions.

    If Uzbekistan's decision not to sign the treaty is driven by such considerations, then its concerns over the CSTO RRF are quite reasonable, because such forces could legitimate Russian interference and thus further escalate the situation. An interesting pattern is revealed in Uzbekistan’s recent foreign policy course. The first element is related to its decision to abstain from the CSTO RRF. By doing so, Uzbekistan distances itself from unnecessary involvement in CSTO affairs which are contradictory to its interests, be it Russia-led deployment of CSTO troops or losing command over parts of its troops deployed within the CSTO.

    This move certainly demonstrates Uzbekistan’s cautious and weighed approach to Russia. The second element is Uzbekistan’s behavior toward NATO and the U.S. – President Karimov allowed non-military supplies to be shipped through the territory of Uzbekistan. Tashkent’s two-sided moves reveal Islam Karimov’s eagerness to balance between the U.S. and NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other. Unlike Belarus, Uzbekistan did not demonstratively reveal its opposition to the CSTO RRF, but rather quietly submitted its reservations. Uzbekistan is also stressing the importance of improving its relations with foreign investors in the energy sector. Through attracting more foreign investment, Uzbekistan hopes to diversify its foreign policy options even further. On May 13, during the annual oil and gas conference, the chairman of state giant Uzbekneftegaz Ulugbek Nazarov said the country was expecting foreign companies to help in optimizing technical efficiency, processing deep natural gas, enhancing energy efficiency and new technologies.

    Belarus’ decision not to sign the document is mainly dictated by its economic interests in Russia, but there is more to the decision. Belarus has not yet recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia; a move one would otherwise expect from such a reliable partner to Russia as Belarus has been until recently. Belarus seems to be changing its strategic route right before our eyes. Nevertheless, it is still too early to speak of a total u-turn of Belarusian policies. Its boycotting of the last CSTO summit is a reaction to concrete Russian policies with regard to Belarusian goods entering Russian markets. Belarus termed this move economic discrimination against Belarus by the CSTO country Russia. The fact that Belarus linked economics to political-military issues is especially revealing.

    It is obvious that these complications are dictated by independent calculations of CSTO members and these calculations do not necessarily go in line with those of Russia. An equally important factor is that both Belarus and Uzbekistan realize that Russia strongly desires to establish a political-military presence throughout the former Soviet space in case NATO moves eastward. The actions taken grant both countries improved security and room for maneuver in the face of such demarches.

    Russia’s over-reliance on hard power further polarizes Central Asia, the South Caucasus and other regions of the former Soviet Union. If establishing the CSTO faces so many contradictions and obstacles, one could question the organization’s purpose. The current situation brings opportunities for the U.S. to engage in the region.

    CONCLUSIONS: Considering the current situation in Afghanistan and Western energy security concerns, it is becoming increasingly important to pay attention to Central Asia. The resurgence of the Taliban and the threat of the conflict spilling over into to Central Asia add validity to the claim. The Uzbek military, despite its large size and relatively superior armaments, is still lagging far behind NATO troops and it is doubtful whether it will be able to meet the challenges of insurgency if it reoccurs. For the U.S., this could be a great opportunity to start engaging the Uzbek leader and give him an alternative to the shaky CSTO.

  • From the Opposition...

    European Union condemned regime in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    On July 16, the Day of Belarusian Solidarity, the European Union made a statement on the situation in Belarus following the results of the report by the OSCE Office in Minsk at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna.

    The statement condemns detention of opposition activists Artsyom Dubski, raises concern over health condition of political prisoner Mikalai Autukhovich, condemns refusal to register to human rights organizations and opposition political parties, absence of freedom of speech in the country. We offer the text of the statement of the European Union.

    Swedish Presidency of the European Union OSCE Permanent Council No. 769

    Vienna 16 July 2009

    EU Statement in response to the report by the Head of the OSCE Office in Minsk, Ambassador Hans-Jochen Schmidt

    The European Union warmly welcomes Ambassador Schmidt back to the Permanent Council and thanks him for his comprehensive report.

    The EU values and supports the work of the OSCE Office in Minsk aimed at assisting Belarus to meet its OSCE commitments. We underline the importance of the Office increasing its co-operation with both state institutions and civil society. We encourage the Office to continue its activities in all the areas provided for in its mandate including monitoring of and reporting on important developments in civil society and the media.

    With regard to project registration the EU calls upon the Belarusian authorities to further simplify and accelerate this process in order to allow for an effective project implementation. In this context the EU welcomes the recent registration of an NGO project aimed at increased interaction between state institutions and civil society in Belarus.

    In the Human Dimension the EU appreciates the Office’s efforts to implement projects, including by increasingly involving NGOs into its activities. The EU hopes that the Belarusian authorities will soon approve proposals presented by the Office to organize roundtables on “Freedom of Assembly and Association” as well as on the “Electoral Law”.

    In the Economic and Environmental Dimension the EU welcomes the intention of the Office to support economic reforms towards Belarus’ transition to a market economy. We encourage the Office to include, whenever possible, representatives of the civil society into its activities also in this Dimension.

    In general, the European Union attaches great importance to a further intensification of its relations with Belarus. We therefore hope that the Belarusian leadership will take positive steps in key areas as outlined in the General Affairs and External Relations Council Conclusions on Belarus of 13 October 2008 and 16 March 2009. The EU expects Belarus to reform its Electoral Code to bring it into line with OSCE commitments. It also hopes for more concrete action by Belarus towards the respect of democratic values, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression and of the media, and the freedom of assembly and political association. Such measures would be positively assessed during the in-depth review which the EU will undertake later this year with regard to developments in Belarus and allow the EU to step up its relationship with Belarus including through the instruments in the framework of the Eastern Partnership, of which human rights issues form an integral part. In this context we look forward to the EU Ministerial Troika Meeting with Belarus scheduled for 28 July.

    In this context the EU calls on the Belarusian authorities to submit as soon as possible their drafting proposals regarding changes in the electoral legislation and electoral practice to the ODIHR.

    The EU welcomes the holding in June 2009 of its first human rights dialogue with Belarus. At the same time we note with concern recent developments in Belarus.

    On 7 July youth activist Artsyom Dubski, who was declared prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International earlier this year, received an un-proportionally harsh sentence of one year in prison for avoiding to serve a restricted freedom sentence to which he was convicted over his participation in a demonstration on 10 January 2008. The EU reiterates the need for Belarus to respect the fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of assembly and association. The Belarusian criminal code should be reviewed in order to better reflect these freedoms and to meet European standards.

    The EU also remains worried about the health situation of the arrested entrepreneur Mikalai Autukhovich who has reportedly been on hunger strike since 16 April 2009. In this context the EU appreciates that Ambassador Schmidt was granted a visit to Mr. Autukhovich in the pre-trial detention facility on 29 May. At the same time, we urge the Belarusian authorities not to restrict the meetings of the detainee with his family members. The EU asks the Belarusian authorities to consider humanitarian aspects of the case and is looking forward to its early resolution.

    The death sentence pronounced on 29 June by a regional court in Belarus on Vasili Jazepchuk gives also rise to our concern. We urge Belarus to abolish the death penalty and, as a first step, to introduce a moratorium.

    The EU has received mixed signals with regard to registration of political parties and NGOs in Belarus in recent months. While we welcome the registration of the movement “For Freedom” we deplore registration denials for the Belarusian Christian Democratic Party, the human rights organization “Nasha Viasna”, the Belarusian Liberal Party of Freedom and Progress and, most recently, for the Belarusian Assembly of Pro-Democratic Non-governmental organizations.

    The EU expects Belarus to honour its commitment to a pluralistic development of the media, including by granting independent newspapers access to the state-owned distribution system and by accrediting foreign media outlets in the country. In this context the EU calls on Belarus to continue its co-operation with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and to make full use of his recommendations.

    The EU remains convinced that the OSCE Office in Minsk can contribute substantially to progress towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus and therefore encourages the Office to continue working in this direction.

    Finally, the EU would like to thank Ambassador Schmidt and his team for their dedicated work and wish them success in their future endeavours.

    Head of State Religious Committee supports closure of New Life church

    From: Viasna
    During a special press-conference on 15 July in Minsk, Leanid Huliaka, head of the State Committee for Religious and National Affairs, spoke in favour of the closure of the New Life Protestant Church by Minsk city authorities.
    According to Mr.Huliaka, the church failed to register at its address at 72 Kavaliova St.

    ‘It was not reregistered, since its building was not meant for services. The priests turned the building into a church without permission. That is why Minsk authorities cannot register the association at the address,’ said the official.

    Mr.Huliaka also said he had had a number of meetings with priest of the New Life church Viachaslau Hancharenka and its legal representative Siarhei Lukanin to consider the situation.
    ‘Minsk city authorities used to offer New Life a different location for the construction of the church. However, the priest rejected the offer.

    Moreover, the city authorities transferred BYR 37.5 million of compensation to New Life’s account. This year, New Life returned the money to Minsk city authorities.

    New Life was also offered to have services and register its legal address at the Sukno community recreation center. All this was turned down,’ said Mr.Huliaka.
    At the same time, New Life’s lawyer Siarhei Lukanin says the official is not quite right in his statements.

    ‘There were no official offers concerning the registration at the Sukno center. Moreover, we have official replies by all the district administrations of Minsk, saying the church will not be granted premises. S for the compensation, I would not mention the money at all, for BYR 37.5 million for a building of 1,700 square meters is some USD 8 for a square meter, while an average cost of it in Minsk is currently round USD 1,000 per meter,’ said Mr.Lukanin.

    He also declared that Minsk city authorities had not allocated any land for the construction of a new church building, but just mentioned such possibility.

  • Russia...

    CIS leaders come to Moscow for day at the races

    From: Ria Novosti
    The leaders of six of the 11 CIS countries were joined in Moscow on Saturday by the presidents of the former Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia for an informal trip to the races.

    The annual President's Cup horse race has become something of an event for CIS leaders, although Russia's strained relations with some members of the Commonwealth of Independent States resulted in several no-shows by the presidents of Belarus, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.

    The leaders of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Moldova did attend, with only the Tajik president not running a horse in the race, which was won by the stallion Monomakh from the Don stables in Rostov, southern Russia.

    "We personally invited all the presidents," Russian presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko said on Friday.

    Uzbek President Islam Karimov expressed his thanks for the invitation but said the trip would not fit into his schedule, while Turkmenistan's Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov declined the invitation due to a relative's illness.

    Belarus, Ukraine and Turkmenistan have had diplomatic differences with Russia in recent months, particularly over trade in natural gas, but Moscow saw no drama in the absences.

    Despite the removal of much political significance from the event, President Dmitry Medvedev held meetings with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Tajik leader Emomali Rakhmon. Medvedev said the latter laid the groundwork for his upcoming trip to Tajikistan.

    After the race, Medvedev met jointly over lunch with the presidents of Azerbaijan and Armenia, Ilham Aliyev and Serzh Sargsyan, to discuss the search for a settlement to the dispute over Nagorny Karabakh, an Armenian-populated region in Azerbaijan that has been de facto independent since a conflict in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

    The Russian president has become personally engaged in the search for a resolution to the standoff, and the sides were expected to continue discussions started by the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders on Friday about the fundamental principles of a settlement.

    The Moscow gathering was also significant for the attendance of Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, marking their increasing integration by Moscow into post-Soviet international structures.

    Moscow recognized the two republics shortly after its war with Georgia last August, when Tbilisi attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control. Despite diplomatic pressure, particularly on Belarus, only Nicaragua has joined Russia in recognizing the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

    Russia Hopes To Join WTO By Next Year

    From: WSJ
    Russia could join the World Trade Organization by mid-2010 if the U.S. delivers the backing it has publicly promised to Moscow's long-delayed bid, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said.

    Mr. Shuvalov, in an interview, also said high energy prices were a danger to the long-term development of Russia's economy, which must be weaned from its dependence on oil and gas.

    Russia, which has been negotiating for 16 years to join the WTO, is the biggest economy outside the 153-nation group. But Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shocked U.S. and European officials shortly afterward by saying that rather than seeking entry by itself, Moscow would seek to join as part of a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Last week, however, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called the customs-union plan "problematic," saying Moscow will likely continue with its nearly complete talks to join independently.

    The Legacy of START and Related U.S. Policies

    From: US State Department
    The United States and the former Soviet Union signed the START Treaty in 1991. Pursuant to the provisions of that Treaty, due to expire in December of this year, the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus have destroyed hundreds of bombers and ballistic missiles and have removed thousands of nuclear warheads from their operational forces. These results are tremendously important.


    Although the START Treaty was signed in 1991, its entry into force was delayed for three years following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Under the 1992 Lisbon Protocol, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine joined Russia as legal successors to the START Treaty and committed to relinquishing all nuclear and strategic offensive arms. The Treaty entered into force on December 5, 1994.

    The 1992 Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program provides funding and support for the destruction of weapons of mass destruction in former Soviet states. It has been instrumental in helping Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus implement the Treaty.

    On December 5, 2001, the United States and Russia completed all START-mandated reductions so that each party had cut the number of deployed strategic delivery vehicles to fewer than 1,600 and their attributed warheads to fewer than 6,000. Also, all nuclear weapons had been removed from Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

    How START Works

    The START Treaty reduced levels of strategic offensive arms by limiting each side's nuclear arsenal to no more than 6,000 warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles and by placing caps on the number of warheads attributed to specific types of delivery vehicles (ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers). Under the START counting system, each type of missile or heavy bomber is attributed and assumed to be armed with a specific number of warheads. A cap was also set for both the total number of missiles and bombers, as well as for the number of attributed warheads. A core aspect of START is its verification regime which calls for detailed declarations and intrusive inspections. The United States has conducted over 600 inspections in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine while Russia has conducted over 400 inspections in the United States.

    The Moscow Treaty

    Presidents Bush and Putin took a different approach when they signed the Moscow Treaty in 2002.

    That Treaty, unlike START, limits the number of actually deployed nuclear warheads and does not require the elimination of delivery platforms for them. Under the Moscow Treaty, the parties must have no more than 1,700-2,200 strategic nuclear warheads deployed by 2012.

    This is different than START’s attribution approach. As of May 2009, the United States had cut its number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 2,126, which meets the limits set by the Treaty for 2012.

    Post Cold War Arms Reductions

    Since the end of the Cold War, the United States has:
    Reduced the number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly one third of the cold war level.
    Unilaterally reduced non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons to less than one-tenth of Cold War levels.

    Retired over 1,000 strategic ballistic missiles, 350 heavy bombers and 28 ballistic missile submarines.
    Not produced enriched uranium for use in nuclear weapons since 1964 nor produced plutonium for nuclear weapons since 1988. In 2006, the United States proposed a global treaty that would prohibit the production of highly-enriched uranium (HEU) or plutonium for nuclear weapons.

    Through an agreement with Russia, the United States has blended down 325 MT of HEU – enough for 13,000 nuclear weapons, for use in U.S. nuclear power plants.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poles spend around zl.100 million on fake drugs, says WHO

    From: WBJ
    Impotence medicines, anabolic supplements, diet pills, and psychoactive drugs are most often copied

    Over recent years a great number of fake products have started seeping into the Polish market. Be they the latest fashion accessories, cigarettes or electronics. Now consumers have to be aware of yet another copycat product – medicine.

    According the World Health Organization, quoted by daily Dziennik, Poles spend as much as zl.100 million on fake medicines every year.

    The kinds of drugs that are most often copied are impotence medicines and anabolic supplements, diet pills, and psychoactive drugs.

    According to the daily, despite the fact that many of the “fillers” in these drugs are safe placebos, inducing sugar, there are also some which list chemicals such as anti-freeze solutions and wood polish among their ingredients.

    Foreign companies flee Poland

    From: The News
    Foreign investors are closing down factories in Poland and firing employees in an attempt to cut costs.

    In August Takata-Patri, a spare car parts manufacturer, is going to make over 500 people redundant and move its headquarters from the western city of Walbrzych to Romania.

    In October SEWS Polska, a branch of the Japanese Sumitomo concern, which produces cables for Toyota, is also planning to close down its factory in Lower Silesia and move to Romania.

    Four other foreign investors, mainly from automotive industry, are considering the replacement of their factories and those companies which planned to build their plants in Poland are having second thoughts.

    In 2008. direct foreign investment (FDI) in Poland dropped by 5,6 billion euros in comparison to 2007.

    “Poland is no longer a cheap country for investment,” explains Marcin Kaszuba from Ernst&Young. In 2008 the average salary in Poland increased by 10 to 12 percent. A strong zloty and the possibility that the government will increase taxes are also perceived as obstacles by investors. Countries with a cheaper work force, such as Romania, have become more attractive for business. Last year the average salary there equaled 517 euros, one third of the salary in Poland, and the low flat tax and VAT rates in Romania also give it a competitive advantage..

    The additional threat to foreign investors is the agreement signed with the Polish government, which says that if an employer cuts too many permanent posts, it will have to pay back subsidies, with interests.

    But over a hundred companies at present have no choice but to reduce employment as a result of falling production.

    Sports Minister should resign, say Law and Justice

    From: The News
    Law and Justice politicians demand Sports Minister Miroslaw Drzewiecki’s resignation after high bonuses were granted to members of the company in charge of organizing the Euro 2012 football championships.

    “He’s a bad minister in a bad cabinet,” says Law and Justice’s Adam Hoffman.

    Law and Justice thinks that Drzewiecki should be dismissed for his decision to grant high bonuses to the members of the executive board of the PL.2012 company, which supervises the organization of the 2012 European Football Championship. Each board member is said to have received 110,846 zlotys (26,000 euros) in bonuses.

    According to Minister Drzewiecki, however, the decision on the bonuses was taken by the supervisory board, not him

    Rydzyk’s hotline to heaven

    From: The Beatroot
    I have seen the future, and the future is...Father Tadeusz Rydzyk!

    The restless, ultra conservative, media empire of the founder of Radio Maryja, TV Trwam, the newspaper Nasz Dziennik, a ‘media school’ in Torun and much more besides, is now moving where no restless, ultra conservative, media mogul has moved before: the mobile phone market!

    It’s a logical business move. Take the loyal audience you have - and there is no more loyal a media audience - and push a product directly at them. It's a happy coincidence, too, that much of your target audience is one of the rare demographics in Poland that doesn’t much use mobile phones - the old and/or the deeply confused about modern life.

    The product on offer is a pre-paid mobile phone with very big buttons, just perfect for those arthritic fingers to make a quick call to family, friends, the priest and even one of those infamous radio phone-in shows that are always on Radio Maryja, and make a quick anti-Semitic remark, or two?

    For more information call 720 00 77 77. Numbers beginning with a “7”, in Poland, by the way, mean you pay.

    Zloty from heaven!

  • Sport...

    Kovalchuk dreams of Belarus's Lazarus act

    From: UEFA
    Having been ready for the "ground to swallow her up" after two glaring errors were punished by Switzerland on Belarus's UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship debut, goalkeeper Ekaterina Kovalchuk is eager for the hosts to give their all against Germany as they prepare to bow out.

    Bad memory
    "Those mistakes were because I was flustered," Kovalchuk said, reflecting on her opening-day nightmare. "You can't go on the pitch with the mindset of avoiding mistakes because then you are sure to make them. But after those mistakes, especially in the second half, I started to feel better. The girls gave me a lot of support." The 18-year-old needed it; the uncomfortable memories of that first period as Switzerland raced into a 4-0 lead coming back to haunt her on her return to tournament headquarters in Minsk. "I felt awful," she admitted, forcing a smile. "I wanted to be alone, not to see anyone; to close my eyes and for the ground to swallow me up. But my team-mates didn't let me wallow and looking back I'm grateful to them."

    Improved showing
    Dmitri Shevchuk's side went on to lose 4-1 and though they suffered another three-goal defeat against France last time out it was, Les Bleuettes coach Jean-Michel Degrange pointed out, a much better performance – not least from Kovalchuk. "Of course I have weak points but on Thursday I made only one real mistake when I tried to help a defender – fortunately I wasn't punished," said the Belarus keeper. Indeed, she helped keep her side in the game until the closing stages when two goals in as many minutes from substitute Solène Barbance sealed a 3-0 triumph. That may not be enough, with Kovalchuk saying her side "really needed to draw to keep our hopes alive".

    'Nothing to lose'
    Belarus have only a theoretical chance to progress from Group A: they need to hope Switzerland beat France while they claim a five-goal victory against five-times champions Germany. "We have to stay realistic," said Kovalchuk. "We will give our all for the win, but five? That will not happen. Germany will be pretty motivated, especially after their big loss to Switzerland. That said, we have nothing to lose." Belarus's hopes of bowing out on a high have been hit by injury, with captain Yelena Zyuzkova (neck) and Ekaterina Miklashevich (knee) both ruled out as physical setbacks continue to plague the hosts. "Our lack of experience is obvious, but we have also had a lot of problems," Kovalchuk added. "Even before the tournament we lost key striker Anzhela Lapusta and attacking midfielder Tatyana Kiose, a real leader. We have had no luck." Perhaps that will come against Germany.

  • Endnote...