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Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, July 05, 2009

Independence Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis, EU, Russia, Economics, Sport, Opposition and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #424

    Alexander Lukashenko: people’s will and respect for heroic history is Belarus’ sovereignty source

    From: BelTA
    Alexander Lukashenko participates in the action 'Let's Sing the Anthem Together'
    People’s will and respect for the heroic history is a source of the Belarusian sovereignty, Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko said at the military parade to mark Independence Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis.

    “It is deeply symbolic that we celebrate Independence Day of the Republic of Belarus on 3 July, hence, uniting the most sacred notions for us – Freedom and Independence. By making this day the main state holiday, the Belarusian people have once again proved their wisdom. The source of our sovereignty is neither declarations on paper nor the statements of so-called national leaders. It is people’s will and respect for the heroic past, for glorious and unforgettable deed of the millions of soldiers and officers, partisans and peaceful citizens,” the President stressed.

    Nearly 500,000 Minsk residents and guests of the Belarusian capital attended the military parade in Minsk, BelTA learnt from the interior department.

    War veterans were the major participants of the solemn procession.

    Partaking in the parade were about 3,000 military. Among them were cadets of the Suvorov Military Academy in Minsk, the Honorary Guard of the Armed Forces, the 120th guards mechanized brigade, students of the Military Academy of Belarus, the military department of Belarusian State Technical University, transport and communications troops, servicemen of the interior troops and the Emergencies Ministry. The state-of-the-art military equipment and samples of the war equipment were displayed during the parade.

    Almost 4,000 people took part in a solemn procession of the youth and athletes.

    Alexander Lukashenko emphasized that despite the fact that the Nazis were able to invade the Belarusian land, they could not force the Belarusian people to their knees. Almost 1.5 million natives fought in the Great Patriotic War.

    Alexander Lukashenko named the Bagration operation a paragon of military art, one of the brightest pages in the history of the Great patriotic War. The operation helped oust the Nazi occupants and create conditions for the complete liberation of Europe.

    “We remember and take pride of the deeds of the preceding generation. The veterans of the Great Patriotic War will stay the most respected citizens of our country,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Day of Belarus' Liberation is the symbol of national pride

    Alexander Lukashenko congratulated countrymen on the main national holiday, Independence Day of the Republic of Belarus, and on the great historical date – the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazi invaders, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    “For the Belarusian nation the victory over the aggressor epitomizes the triumph of justice, freedom, and endurance over slavery, barbarism, and violence. We bow to all those who did not spare themselves on the frontlines and in the rear, bringing closer the Day of Liberation! The Day is very important for our sovereign state. This is the symbol of national pride, valour and glory; this is the spiritual treasure which has a big impact on the formation of the identity and mentality of the generations of the Belarusians. It helps us overcome the difficulties with dignity and move confidently toward our goals,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Having lost every third citizen and having gone through all the horrors of the war, Belarus has been consistently and actively advocating the idea of settling disputes by means of negotiations, not through new conflicts, the President said.

    Alexander Lukashenko views the Victory over the fascism in the Great Patriotic War as the basis consolidating all peace-loving forces of various countries and nations. “When we are untied, we are invincible. Nobody will be ever able to break us, intimidate us, and lead us astray from our aim to build a strong and flourishing Belarus,” says the President in his message of congratulation to the Belarusian people.

    Alexander Lukashenko wished compatriots inexhaustible energy, good health, happiness and well-being.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus will partake only in equitable unions

    Independent Belarus will be an active member of those unions that are based on mutual respect, equitable and sincere relations, common goals, but not on dictate, monopoly or blackmail.

    “This pertains to all international and regional unions, be it the UN, European Union, Council of Europe, CIS or other formations,” the head of state underlined.

    In his words, encouraging integration among the former Soviet Union states, we have to realize that artificial state formations will not be able to bring the fraternal states closer and promote their well-being. To achieve that it is necessary to undertake practical steps in economic, social and political areas. These steps should be fortified by a real political will of interested heads of state.

    Belarus will further develop cooperation with both Russia and EU

    According to the head of state, Russia remains Belarus’ strategic partner. “We place the development of Belarus-Russia partnership above sugar, dairy or other petty economic disputes,” Alexander Lukashenko said. He underlined that the pragmatic cooperation with the European Union member states is also on Belarus’ agenda.

    “We are destined to be a link between east and west. Opportunistic approach is alien to us; we are not gong to be friends with someone against someone or to take advantage of interstate disputes.” This is why Belarus is cooperating not only with its traditional partners, but also “welcomes those who want to see kind and sincere friends in us,” the head of state added. He reminded of good relations with China, India, the countries of Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

    Belarus should be self-reliant during crisis

    An analysis of the global political reality proves that Belarus should be self-reliant and not wait for someone to help it.

    “It is globalization that triggered a process that threw all the countries into a global crisis,” the head of state said.

    According to the Belarusian President, the increasingly common global anti-crisis summits just prove the mendacity of pretentious statements about the existing global solidarity. “While calling for concerted efforts to respond to the crisis, they in fact frantically started to create inter-state barriers and declare trade wars,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “The formula for Belarus’ sovereignty is composed of two equally important values – responsibility and freedom. They served the basis for creating a strong state, maintaining peace and accord, showing Belarus as a reliable and honest international partner,” he added.

    “We will survive the turbulent times we are going through now. I am strongly convinced of that,” Alexander Lukashenko underlined.

    Belarus does not trade in friendship with Russia

    Belarus does not trade in friendship with Russia, Belarusian Head of State Alexander Lukashenko said at the military parade to mark Independence Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis.

    “I have told it many times and would like to stress it once again (I would like it to be heard, first of all, by Russia and the Russian authorities): Belarus does not trade in friendship with Russia. We are brotherly nations. Our common Great Victory and today’s anniversary representing the joint contribution to the defeat of the enemy and liberation of our people and the whole mankind from the Nazi occupants strongly outweigh mutual discrepancies and complaints against one another. Together we will deal with any problem,” the President of Belarus said.

    Alexander Lukashenko stated that “attempts have recently been made to interpret the principle of multi-directedness as Belarus’ betrayal of allies”. “Oppositionists do not leave the idea to prevent Belarus and Russia from integration,” the head of state stressed.

    The President emphasized that over the last 15 years the country was believed to collapse economically and socially. “We are very strong. On the back of the present-day conflicts, terror acts on different continents of the planet, Belarus maintains peace and concord in the society, the unity of people, keeps safe from military threats and other outside challenges. In order to preserve stability we will be consistent in strengthening the national security including defensive capacity,” the head of state said.

    According to the President, the Belarusian army is well-armed and ready to protect the country. “Our sons, who perform the soldier’s duty, are the elite of the society. We should do the utmost to provide them with the state-of-the-art weapons and make them socially protected. Servicemen are highly respected in our country. We have reached that level when it is great honour and prestige for the young people to serve in the Belarusian army,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The head of state expressed sincere gratitude to war veterans and congratulated countrymen on this remarkable date in the heroic history of Belarus.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Swedish EU Presidency to further Belarus’ participation in BSS cooperation programme

    From: BelTA
    The Swedish EU Presidency will promote Belarus’ participation in the programmes of the Baltic Sea States, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sweden to Belarus Stefan Eriksson told reporters on 1 July.

    According to the diplomat, the key issue on the agenda of the Swedish EU Presidency will be the adoption of the Baltic Sea Strategy. This document is aimed to tackle environmental and economic issues of the region which is constituted by the Baltic Sea littoral states and the countries of the Baltic Sea basin, including Belarus.

    “It will pertain to the EU members first and foremost, but there will be issues where a broader engagement with the EU neighbours, including Belarus, will be crucial,” Stefan Eriksson said. Belarus has recently obtained an observer status at the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

    Commenting on the Swedish stance towards the Russian-German Nord Stream project, the ambassador underlined that his country is skeptical about this initiative. “The work on the possible environmental aftermath of the project has not been completed yet. It will be finished in August. Only after that we will be able to voice our position towards this project,” the diplomat explained.

    Stefan Eriksson: Sweden will help promote Belarus-EU contacts

    While holding the EU Presidency, Sweden will help promote Belarus-EU contacts, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Sweden to Belarus Stefan Eriksson told reporters on 1 July.

    According to the diplomat, on 28 July Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov will meet with the EU Council Troika. On 7 December, Brussels will host a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Eastern Partnership Programme. “During its chairmanship Sweden will do its utmost to consolidate and speed up the cooperation within the framework of the Eastern Partnership Programme through new agreements on association and free trade to secure free movement of people, goods and services,” Stefan Eriksson stated.

    Sweden assumes the Presidency in the EU Council on 1 July. Sweden intends to pay special attention to the employment problem in the EU, the fight against climate change (a new international agreement on this issue is expected to be signed in Copenhagen), the trans-border cooperation and increasing the role of the European Union as a defender of democracy and human rights in the international arena.

    Belarus to receive observer status in CBSS 1 July

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will receive an observer status in the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) on 1 July, 2009. The unanimous decision was taken by the ministers of the CBSS member-states in the 15th ministerial session of the Council of the Baltic Sea States in Denmark in June, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    Founded in 1992, the Council of the Baltic Sea States is an overall political forum for regional inter-governmental cooperation. The members of the Council are Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Germany, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Sweden as well as the European Commission. Several states such as Great Britain, Italy, the USA, France and others enjoy an observer status in the Organisation.

    Ministerial sessions and CBSS heads of state summits are held twice a year. The presidency of the Council rotates among its member-states on an annual basis.

    According to the experts, CBSS has developed a wide network of cooperation in economy, environmental protection and monitoring, education, culture and cultural heritage preservation.

    Viktor Sheiman: Belarus would like to be Venezuela’s key trading partner

    From: BelTA
    Belarus would like to become a key trading partner for Venezuela, Viktor Sheiman, a special aide to the President of Belarus on special matters, co-chairman of the joint Belarusian-Venezuelan high level commission, noted during his meeting with Rafael Ramirez, Minister of Energy and Petroleum of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, in Minsk on 2 July.

    First Vice Premier of Belarus Vladimir Semashko also took part in the talks.

    According to Viktor Sheiman, the bilateral Belarusian-Venezuelan relations continue developing and are based on political cooperation at the highest level. The complementarity of the Belarusian and Venezuelan economies is the guarantee of the successful development of the trade and economic cooperation, he noted. “Belarus would like to be a key trading partner for Venezuela,” Viktor Sheiman underscored.

    “We would like to have a balanced and mutually beneficial cooperation,” he underscored. In 2008, the two countries increased the trade four times. “During today’s difficult economic situation, Belarus and Venezuela have to coordinate their actions in foreign trade more closely. The joint projects should be give a boost,” the co-chairman of the joint Belarusian-Venezuelan high level commission noted.

    According to him, during the recent visit of the Venezuelan Vice President to Belarus, the sides adopted concrete measures to intensify the implementation of the joint projects. The sides reached the results which helped launch joint companies in Venezuela with the participation BelAZ, MAZ and MTZ. During the session of the Belarusian-Venezuelan high level commission, that will be held in Caracas in August this year, the sides will give an impetus to implementation of other mutually beneficial projects. “Belarus is ready to satisfy Venezuela’s demand for technological, electronic and industrial equipment, quarry and road equipment,” Viktor Sheiman underscored.

    In turn, Rafael Ramirez expressed satisfaction with the level of bilateral cooperation, especially in the energy area. “We have started reaping benefits of this joint work in our country,” he stressed.

    In 2008, trade between Belarus and Venezuela increased by 298% from 2007 due to the increase of the export and totaled $173.3 million. Belarusian export surged by more than 305% to $173.1 million. The import amounted to $147,000 (down six times). Belarus had a $172mn surplus of more than in trade with Venezuela.

    In January-April 2009, Belarusian export to Venezuela doubled over the same period 2008. Import was virtually non-existent.

    Belarus major exports to Venezuela are potash fertilizers, trucks, tractors, special-purpose vehicles, topographic devices and instruments, trailers and semi-trailers, tyres, road equipment, soil-tillage machines, fried milk. Belarus imports coffee from Venezuela.

    In 2007 the Belorusneft Production Association opened its office in Venezuela.
    Belarus and Venezuela created a joint oil production companies, Petrolera BeloVenezolana and the Sismica BeloVenesolana joint seismological venture. Belgorkhimprom has opened its representative office in Venezuela.

    In Venezuela there are joint ventures set up jointly with BelAZ (Ven-BelAZ Camiones C.A.), BelavtoMAZ (MAZ Ven C.A.) and MTZ (VeneMinsk Tractores C.A).

    The Belzarubezhstroi company has opened its representative office in Caracas.

    Belarus and Venezuela have been steadily developing cooperation in construction. In particular, the two sides have opened a joint venture to produce construction materials and a company for the implementation of the infrastructure and dwelling project in the Macarrao region in Caracas. The sides also implement the dwelling project in the state of Aragua (5,000 apartments).

  • Economics...

    Belarus’ merchandise trade 40.2% down in January-May to $17.7bn

    From: BelTA
    In January-May 2009 the volume of Belarus’ foreign trade in goods totalled $17.685 billion, 59.8% as against the same period of 2008, the National Statistics Committee told BelTA.

    Belarus’ export of commodities went down to $7.241 billion (52% as against January-May 2008), import — $10.444 billion (66.7%). The foreign trade deficit made up $3.203 billion.

    Belarus’ trade with the CIS states amounted to $9.816 billion (57.1% as against the same period of last year). Export shrank to $3.188 billion (51.3%) while import went down to $6.628 billion (60.3%). Meanwhile, Belarus-Russia trade shrank to $8.465 (58.1%). Belarus’ export to Russia amounted to $2.393 billion (52.8% as against the same period of last year), import from Russia — $6.072 billion (60.5%).

    In January-May Belarus-Ukraine trade went down to $987.7 million (47% as against January-May 2008). Export totalled $520 million (40.3%), import — $467.7 million (57.7%).

    Belarus’ trade with non-CIS states reached $7.869 billion (63.6% as against January-May 2008), export — $4.053 billion (52.6%), import — $3.816 billion (81.7%). In particular, Belarus-Germany trade went down to $1,000.5 million (73.6% as against the same period of last year).

    Belarus receives $600mn of IMF loan

    Belarus has started receiving the second tranche of the IMF loan, BelTA learnt from the information department of the National Bank of Belarus.

    A reminder, on 29 June the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund took a decision to increase the financial support under the Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) by $1 billion to $3.52 billion and to allocate another tranche of the loan to Belarus in the amount of $679.2 million.

    The National Bank has already received more than $600 million. The remaining part will have been transferred by the end of the day.

    In January Belarus received around $800 million. Thus, the total volume of the IMF loan will total $1.48 billion.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Russia, Belarus end dispute over agricultural supplies: report

    From: Xinuane
    Russia and Belarus have resolved disputes concerning supplies of Belarusian dairy and meat products to Russia following talks beteen the agriculture ministers of the two countries on Wednesday.

    Interfax news agency quoted a press release from the Russian Agriculture Ministry as saying: "All disputed issues have been resolved. We are continuing our cooperation in the normal regime."

    The talks were held between Russian Agriculture Minister Yelena Skrynnik and Belarus Agriculture and Food Minister Semyon Shapiro.

    Belarus will cut dry milk supplies to Russia from 110,000 tons to 70,000 tons, but increase exports of cheese and curd to 132,000 tons from 100,000 tons.

    Belarus also agreed not to supply Russia with dry milk before October 1 this year.

    Skrynnik said officials from both ministries would meet in July to further discuss agricultural policies.

    "At the meeting, consideration will be given to the legal and economic aspects of synchronizing the agricultural policies of Russia and Belarus as well as the efficiency of interaction between veterinary services and the compilation of data on expected supplies of meat and milk in 2010," she said.

    Russia and Belarus had been locked in a so-called "milk war" last month.

    Moscow, a major consumer of Minsk's agricultural and industrial goods, banned more than 1,000 dairy products imported from Belarus in early June, dealing a heavy blow to the latter's foreign trade. The ban was later removed.

    The short-lived controversial ban triggered by Minsk's boycott of a summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Moscow on June 14.

    Chernobyl children's program cancelled

    From: LF Press
    The end of a program that provided relief for children suffering the effects of the Chernobyl meltdown has disappointed a group of local families.

    "Everyone knew this might happen but it's still such a letdown," says Leigh Classen, whose Sarnia family has for two summers played host to a 12-year-old boy from Belarus.

    For the past 14 years, 200 children living with the aftermath of the world's worst nuclear disaster have come to Canada for a six-week visit and a chance to boost their immune systems.

    The Chatham-Kent, Essex and Lambton (CKEL) Chernobyl Children's Fund usually takes in 40 kids, making it the most active chapter in the country.

    But Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko insisted on new travel restrictions this year. He reacted after a young Belarusian girl staying with an American family decided to extend her visit by four months last year.

    The girl was home by December but the president cancelled the program, said David Morrison, chairman of local fund.

    "I think it was an excuse really. Lukashenko doesn't like these kids going out of the country."

    With no agreement in place, the program was cancelled in Canada on June 5.

    Belarus children born long after the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown benefit from time away from a radioactive climate. Every six weeks spent away has been shown to increase a child's life span by two years.

    PACE president expresses “deep” concern about recent death sentence pronounced in Belarus

    From: Navany
    The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has expressed “deep” concern about the most recent death sentence passed on a young man in Belarus on June 29.

    "The death penalty is a flagrant violation of human rights. It does not serve, but denies justice,” PACE President Lluis Maria de Puig said in a statement. “No crime could justify it.”

    The Brest Regional Court found the 30-year-old man guilty of murdering and robbing six old women in villages near the town of Drahichyn, Brest region.

    On June 23, PACE voted to restore the Belarusian parliament’s Special Guest status in the Assembly on condition that Minsk declares a moratorium on the death penalty.

    The PACE president said: “This new condemnation to death shows the urgent need for such a moratorium for as long as the legal system still provides for capital punishment.”

    He called on the Belarus authorities not to carry out the sentence and to take the necessary steps to introduce a moratorium, thereby demonstrating their determination to draw closer to the Council of Europe's values and standards.

    Mr. de Puig welcomed the decision recently announced by Viktar Huminski, chairman of the standing committee on national security in the House of Representatives, to set up a working group of the lower parliamentary house to draw up proposals regarding the declaration of a moratorium on the death penalty.

    “The obstacles which have so far prevented abolition of the death penalty can and must be overcome; European experience has shown this to be possible,” the president said.

    PACE granted special guest status to the Belarusian legislature in 1992. Due to a lack of progress in terms of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, this status was suspended in 1997, and Belarus' request for membership of the Council of Europe was frozen the following year.

  • From the Opposition...

    Is support of political prisoners in Belarus a crime?

    From: Charter '97
    Activists of “European Belarus” spent the night in a militia department and were fined 350,000 rubles for a banner “Freedom to Autukhovich!”

    On June 30, activists of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Maksim Vinyarski and Uladzimir Kumets hung out a banner “Freedom to Autukhovich!” on a bridge above Nyamiha Street. They are arrested by militia for their actions. A report under article 17.1 of the Code of Administrative Offences (disorderly conduct) was drawn up against the detained.

    On July 1, the activists were guarded to the Tsentralny district court of Minsk. As activists of “European Belarus” Uladzimir Kumets told the Charter’97 press center: “We were given reports to sign that say we used obscene language, insulting militiamen in Nyamiha Street, but this is false. The banner “Freedom to Autukhovich!” wasn’t mentioned in the report. A sham witness confirmed at the trial that we insulted the militiamen. We tried to prove we are not guilty, but we got a fine of 10 basic units.”

    It should be reminded that leaders of entrepreneurs from Vaukavysk Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau, and Uladzimir Asipenka were detained on February 8, 2009. Human rights activists consider the detainees to be political prisoners drawing attention to the fact that Autukhovich and Lyavonau were convicted before and recognized prisoners of conscience by the international community. Mikalai Autukhovich is on hunger strike since April 16. He demands to send his case to court or release him on his own recognizance.

    Emanuel Zeltser has been released from Mahiliou prison

    From: Viasna
    The US citizen Emanuel Zeltser was released from penal colony #15 in Mahiliou in the evening on June 30. The former prisoner flew to the United States at 5:30 a.m. on 1 July.

    A decree to pardon Zeltser was signed by Lukashenka on 30 June after his meeting with a US congressional delegation. Lukashenka emphasized at the meeting that Zeltser had violated the Belarusian law. ‘He was detained in our country, tried in accordance with the Belarusian law, even Jonathan Moore, US charge d'affaires in Belarus, doesn’t deny this,’ Lukashenka’s press service quotes him. ‘I’ve never thought this man will be a question in the relations between our states. Well, I can pardon Emanuel Zeltser according to the Belarusian law. You ask me to do this, don’t you? If this is very important for America and our relations and promotes normalization of our relations, I’ll sign the decree today.’

    Jonathan Moore, charge d'affaires of the US in Belarus welcomed the decision of the Belarusian authorities on Zeltser’s release and called it ‘a step forward’. ‘Further development of the relations depends on steps of the both sides’, he said.

    In August 2008, Minsk City Court sentenced lawyer Zeltser to three years in prison for the use of fake documents and attempted industrial espionage. The Supreme Court upheld this decision on 31 October. Zeltser didn’t admit his guilt.

    On 8 June, Zeltser went on hunger strike protesting against actions of Minsk City Court, which delayed sending documents for amnesty to the penal colony. On 25 June the prisoner suspended his hunger strike till the end of the month.

  • Around the Region...

    Obama seeks new start in US-Russia relations

    From: AP
    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, walk back to their limousine after greeting a crowd
    Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev end a seven-year hiatus in U.S.-Russian summitry on Monday, with both men declaring their determination to further cut nuclear arsenals and repair a badly damaged relationship.

    Both sides appear to want to use progress on arms control as a pathway into possible agreement on other, far trickier issues — like Iran and the tiny country of Georgia, a former Soviet republic. Those difficulties and many others have soured a promising linkage in the first years after the Cold War and pushed ties between Moscow and Washington to depths not seen in more than two decades.

    Obama arrives here Monday afternoon, the first stop on a weeklong trip that will also take him to Italy and Ghana.

    "It's not, in our view, a zero-sum game, that if it's two points for Russia it's negative two for us, but there are ways that we can cooperate to advance our interests and, at the same time, do things with the Russians that are good for them, as well," Obama's top assistant on Russia, Michael McFaul, said in a pre-summit briefing.

    He seemed to be of one mind with the Russian leader, Medvedev.

    "Russia and America need new, common, mutually beneficial projects in business, science and culture," the Russian president said in his weekly Internet address. "I hope that this sincere desire to open a new chapter in Russian-American cooperation will be brought into fruition."

    Two things appear certain to be on the agenda:

    _The Russians have said they will agree to allow the United States to use their tebeinghad_mailrritory and air space to move munitions and arms to U.S. and NATO forces fighting Taliban Islamic extremists in Afghanistan. The Kremlin announced the deal three-days before the summit as a significant sweetener for Obama.

    _A directive by both presidents for negotiators to work on a nuclear agreement that would further reduce warheads and replace the 1991 START I accord that expires Dec. 5. Both sides are agreed in principle to cut warheads from more than 2,000 each to as low as 1,500 apiece.

    Those deals are likely to be announced at an Obama-Medvedev news conference.

    Putin's 'siloviki' move to resume command

    From: Japan Times
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently announced that Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have abandoned their separate talks to join the World Trade Organization. Instead, they would seek to enter the world trade body as a single customs union. In effect, this means that Russia seems to be casting aside its accession to the WTO — a major reversal of Russian strategy.

    Putin's statement hit like a bolt from the blue. Two days earlier, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and European Union Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton had completed successful talks on Russia's accession to the WTO with Putin first deputy Igor Shuvalov, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and Minister of Economy and Development Elvira Nabiullina. As late as June 3, Putin had declared himself sure of Russia's "swift joining of the WTO."

    The leaders of Belarus or Kazakhstan seemed equally surprised by Putin's statement, especially as Russia had just prohibited almost all imports of dairy products from Belarus in a protectionist ploy. After 16 years of negotiations, Russia appeared poised to join the WTO within a couple of months.

    Indeed, only three difficult hurdles remained: (1) Ukraine's demand for a bilateral protocol on market access, which would force Russia to abolish roughly 100 trade sanctions, primarily in agriculture; (2) border controls with Georgia (whether Abkhazia and South Ossetia are independent, as Russia maintains, or are part of Georgia, as the rest of the world believes); and (3) EU insistence that Russia abolish planned prohibitive export tariffs on lumber.

    Only the Georgian issue is really serious. A customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan is no alternative to Russia's WTO accession. No countries have ever entered the WTO collectively, nor is this legally possible says WTO head Pascal Lamy. Moreover, while the customs union was proclaimed in 1995, the earliest it can be formed is in July 2011, which is unlikely.

    Predominantly a commodity exporter, Russia has less need for the WTO than a manufacturer like China. Even so, one-fifth of Russia's exports comprise metals and chemicals that are sensitive to antidumping measures. A series of World Bank and Russian studies have estimated that Russia can gain 0.5 to 1.0 percentage point in economic growth for half a decade if it joins the WTO.

    Membership is also important for Russia's international standing. It is the only G20 country outside of the WTO, which accounts for 96 percent of global trade. The WTO also represents a choice of economic and political strategy. Before Putin resigned as president in May 2008, he presented his "Russia 2020" program. Its heart was an "innovation strategy" based on more market reforms and investment in human capital, leading to annual growth of 6 to 7 percent. In their rhetoric, President Dmitry Medvedev and his technocrats embrace this vision.

    But Putin and his siloviki (political allies whose power base is in the security apparatus) seem to prefer an "inertia strategy" — the worst of the Russia 2020 scenarios. This strategy amounts to state capitalism, living on Russia's energy wealth and doing nothing to curtail Russia's massive red tape and corruption.

    By reversing course on the WTO, Putin has again shown himself to be Russia's master. He did the same thing last summer by lashing out against a successful mining and metallurgical company, Mechel, and provoking the war in Georgia.

    During the winter, Putin's poor policy choices on the financial crisis undermined his power. Rather than shielding Russia's private enterprises, he engineered a domestic liquidity freeze, which led to a sharp drop in GDP of 9.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009 despite Russia's huge foreign reserves. The pragmatic technocrats took over, but the subsequent doubling of oil prices signals that the danger for Russia's economy is over for now, so the siloviki are resuming command.

    The question is what their next step will be. The prominent Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer insists that their prime aim is to finish off Georgia and its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, who remains in power and defiant. Georgia has received no military support and is virtually undefended. The Kremlin continues its propaganda offensive against Georgia, and has vetoed prolonging the mandate for United Nations observers in Georgia and Abkhazia. A major Russian military maneuver, Caucasus 2009, is under way. The last such maneuver, Caucasus 2008, was followed by the invasion of Georgia.

    During the latter part of this maneuver, Monday through Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama is supposed to meet President Medvedev in Moscow. Medvedev obviously hopes to reach out and improve Russia's and his own standing in the world. The siloviki, however, prefer Russia isolated and authoritarian, with power securely in their hands.

    The Kremlin wants a new strategic arms control agreement, but the siloviki desire nothing more. Obama's administration had hoped for a final breakthrough in Russia's WTO talks, but Putin's actions have eliminated prospects for such an outcome. The U.S. also wants progress on the territorial integrity of former Soviet states such as Georgia, but that, too, is unlikely. Putin or his collaborators seem to be setting up Medvedev for a failure, suggesting that their jealousy of Medvedev's limited power is greater than their interest in defending Russia's national interests.

    Yet there is still hope that Putin encounters a reaction negative enough to compel him to change his stance on WTO accession. After all, he suspended Russia's WTO accession talks after the August 2008 war in Georgia, only to allow them to restart this spring.

    Ukraine outlaws possession of porn, but can't define what it is

    From: Wallet Pop
    Make love, not porn, because if you live in the Ukraine, you'll get fined and sent to jail. Tuesday, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko signed a bill into law, making the possession of pornography a criminal offense in the country.

    I first heard of the report while watching the Russian news network last night and my immediate reaction was: "WTF?" Thinking the announcement couldn't possibly be true and must have been Russia's unfunny way of mocking my birth country, I hopped onto the Internets, only to find --10 seconds later -- reports of the aforementioned law.

    "But what constitutes 'pornography' in the Ukraine?" I wondered. And the only definition I could find was one claimed by XBizNewswire to have been featured in the 2003 legislation, which states, "Pornography is vulgar, candid, cynical, obscene depiction of sexual acts, pursuing no other goal, the explicit demonstration of genitals, unethical elements of the sexual act, sexual perversions, realistic sketches that do not meet moral criteria and offend honor and dignity of the human by inciting low instincts." Hmmm. Not at all subjective.

    If this definition of pornography does not change, anything from acclaimed art and classical literature to adult magazines and X-Rated films could be considered pornography. Quick, Ukrainian art enthusiasts, hide your copies of Michelangelo Buonarroti's "The Creation of Eve," and Francisco de Goya's "La maja desnuda!" I see "explicit demonstration of genitals!" Who cares if these paintings have been treasured by the world for centuries? They "offend honor and dignity of the human!"

    And perhaps book burning will follow? Watch out Harlequin, as you might lose an enormous population of bored, life-hating, Russian-speaking grandmothers with nothing to do but to sit outside on benches and devour your steamy romance novels, visualizing the passionate sex scenes between a blue-eyed, silky-haired hunk and a soft-spoken but well-endowed damsel.
    I'm curious how the government is planning to catch individuals who own this poorly defined "pornography." Will there be spies and surveillance cameras? And will the porno-police come bursting through doors screaming, "I give you two seconds to put down that dirty magazine and raise your right hand before I shoot!" God forbid a family watches a taping of the mother giving birth at this time! Someone should send out a memo to all expecting parents in the Ukraine planning on videotaping the births of their offspring to make the genitals not seem so explicit; otherwise, mom and dad might face up to three years in the slammer.

    According to, The Ukrainian Ministry of Justice said that individuals may keep pornographic paraphernalia as long as it is used "for medical purposes." I would love for the Ukrainian government to hold a press conference and provide a detailed list of sufficient maladies that would earn one the privilege of keeping hardcore porn videos, copies of Playboy magazines, salacious comic books and erotic art. Perhaps, photos of nude women have a therapeutic effect on people chronically depressed from a longing for a playmate. Or maybe, plot-less sex scenes suppress flu symptoms.

    Oh, how dare I sound so cynical? President Yushchenko is right. My birth country is too pure for such smut! We must think of the children, right? Because surely, fining people for possession of a Playboy magazine or an adult home video is the proper way to fix a struggling nation. It's not like the Ukraine suffers from an overwhelming prostitution rate due to a spike in sex tourism or from a dysfunctional government and a collapsing economy. No. No. Dirty magazines are leading the country down the drain, and so they have to go.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Drug crime up 50% y/y in first five months - Police report

    From: WBJ
    Between January and May this year 32,000 drugs-related cases were initiated in Polish courts

    A shocking report prepared by the Police Headquarters indicates that while crime statistics are generally falling, drug-related offenses are growing at an alarming rate, according to Rzeczpospolita.

    Between January and May this year 32,000 such drugs-related cases were initiated in the courts, which is 50% more than in the same period of last year. According to a report by the Central Investigation Bureau (CBS), the number of crime groups selling drugs in Poland has grown from 85 in 2006 to 147 in December last year.

    According to CBS officers, not a single day passes without an attempt to smuggle drugs into the country or a drugs dealer being caught. In addition, according to polls, some 90% of students in high schools admit that buying drugs in schools is not a problem, while prosecutors claim that the economic crisis has seen a growing number of people willing to sell drugs.

    Interior Ministry softens planned radical police reform

    From: WBJ
    The Interior Ministry is partially withdrawing from its earlier planned radical reform of the retirement scheme for police officers. Deputy Interior Minister Adam Rapacki is expected to make an announcement to this effect later today.

    Currently 100,000 police officers are entitled to retire after just 15 years of work. In 2007, every fifth police officer who decided to retire was below the age of 40. The retirement schemes for police and army officials cost the tax payers some zl.9 billion annually.

    At the beginning of the year, Interior Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, announced that police officers will have to work for a further ten more years before retirement. However, pressure from the profession has forced the Interior Minister to review this move and it currently plans to prolong the period by just five years.

    Moreover, it was decided that the new scheme will not include officers who joined the services after January 1, 1999, as was planned earlier, but it will only affect those who will begin working in 2011.

    Head of broadcaster TVP suspended

    From: WBJ
    The National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) suspended the acting head of TVP, Piotr Farfal, who has led the national broadcaster since December.

    Farfa? has been a member of TVP's board since being nominated by the League of Polish Families in May 2006. He has proven a controversial figure due to his past membership in anti-semitic, radical-right organizations.

    Previously suspended board members Marcin Bochenek and S?awomir Siwek have been reinstated by KRRiT, with the latter replacing Farfal.

    There are doubts, however, if the decision is legally binding and Farfal is threatening to take the matter to the Prosecutor's Office.

  • Sport...

    FC BATE building a dynasty in Belarus

    From: Roar
    They produced players like Alexander Hleb and Vitali Kutuzov, two of the highest profile current Belarusian internationals currently plying their trade abroad. And now, BATE Borisov are building a dynasty in their own right.

    Borisov is a city of around 150,000 located east of the capital Minsk. And it’s now the home of the dominant Belarusian club side of the past few years, winning three consecutive League titles and currently looking good for a fourth (currently 9 points clear at the time of writing). Their 2008 success is their fifth in all.

    Belarus is one of a number of countries to operate a calendar year season due to climactic factors, Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway being among the others.

    Last year, BATE made history by being Belarus’ first-ever representative in the group stage of the Champions’ League after eliminating Anderlecht and Levski Sofia. They were drawn with giants like Real Madrid and Juventus. Although predictably finishing bottom of the group, they still managed three draws- including two with Juventus.

    BATE’s squad includes several Belarusian internationals, and star players include the gifted attacking midfield duo of Igor Stasevich and Sergei Krivets, both of whom scored against Juventus. They follow the pattern set by teams of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in general- a well-drilled side with high levels of technical ability and tactical awareness.

    Belarus are currently coached by former Perth Glory coach Bernd Stange, under whom a fair number of domestic players have been utilised, and they now find themselves in contention for second place in their group behind England. One of those, FC Vitebsk midfielder Pavel Sitko, scored against England in a 3-1 home loss.

    Should BATE repeat their feat of qualifying for the first group stage, last year’s experience will put them in good stead and big name opponents will await- filling up the club coffers will not be a problem. Considering Arsenal’s poor away record against teams from the region (having suffered defeats to Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Kiev, CSKA Moscow and Shaktar Donetsk), and that Chelsea are also susceptible to tripping up to this kind of opponent, dire warnings of doom and defeat for the English capital’s clubs are not without without sound foundation.

    Grabovski sticks with Leafs

    From: Toronto Sun
    The Maple Leafs signed centre Mikhail Grabovski to a three-year contract today.

    Grabovski, 25, played 78 games for Toronto last season, registering 48 points on 20 goals and 28 assists, along with 92 penalty minutes. In his first full NHL season, Grabovski ranked third among all league rookies in assists and points. He led the Leafs with a 16.1% shooting percentage, and was second on the team in penalty minutes and power play goals. He represented Belarus at the 2009 World Championships in Switzerland, averaging 27:23 of ice time and leading the team with three goals, six assists and nine points in seven games.

    The Leafs acquired Grabovski on July 3, 2008, from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for the rights to Greg Pateryn and Toronto’s second round choice in the 2010 Entry Draft. The native of Potsdam, East Germany was originally Montreal’s fourth choice, 150th overall, in the 2004 Entry Draft.

    Meanwhile, Leafs GM Brian Burke was in Sweden yesterday attempting to sign free agent goaltender Jonas Gustavsson, who posted a stellar 1.96 goals against average and .932 save percentage for Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League last season, visited the four NHL cities this week that have expressed interest in signing him – Toronto, Colorado (Denver), Dallas and San Jose.

    Gustavsson’s agent Par Larsson said today that the young goaltender will not make a decision for a few more days.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus: A Holiday, Sort Of

    From: Global Voices

    On July 3, Belarus celebrated its Independence Day with a military parade.

    Belarusian analyst Alexander Klaskouski wrote a lengthy article (RUS) for the portal, in which he explained, among other things, the history and the politics behind the date of the holiday:

    […] July 3 was chosen to spite political enemies, to rebut the nationalists who mark Freedom Day on March 25 (honoring the [Belarusian People's Republic]), and to cross out the decision of the disbanded organ, the Supreme Council, to celebrate independence on July 27, honoring the adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty in 1990 (many people no longer remember that until the mid-1990s this was the main holiday). […]

    LJ user rokobungi, in a post titled A Holiday, Sort Of (RUS), looks back to the time of the referendum of Nov. 24, 1996, when the date of the holiday was approved. The blogger notes the fact that July 3 is the date of the 1944 liberation of Minsk. Also, he cites the referendum vote results:

    […] 5,450,830 people voted in favor of moving the Independence Day [to a different date) - 88.18 percent; 646,708 people voted against it - 10.46 percent; and 83,925 ballots […] were recognized as invalid. […]

    This year there were lots of police in the streets, possibly due to the fact that crowds were too big last year at the same celebration. LJ user sammy-belarus writes in her blog (RUS):

    […] The police have surpassed themselves this year. They were checking everyone with metal detectors, and there was a fixed camera filming everyone who was passing through. [Other] restrictions: one couldn't carry any alcohol in, only soft drinks in small transparent bottles were allowed; no cameras with lenses longer than 4 cm; and, naturally, access was denied to people who were tipsy […].

    A lot Minsk residents left the city that day. Some of them went to their summer houses, others went camping.

    Independence Day and the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Belarus from the Nazis

    In a related story, Navany repors that Warplanes roared overhead as troops, tanks and vehicles filed past Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his five-year-old son Kolya, who was dressed in a specially tailored military uniform and performing a military hand salute.

    The parade, broadcast live by all national television channels, was commanded by Deputy Defense Minister Yury Merantsow and reviewed by Defense Minister Leanid Maltsaw.

    Two Mi-8 helicopters flew over the area, with one of them displaying a huge state flag and the other displaying a banner highlighting the liberation anniversary.

    Nine open UAZ-469 4x4 vehicles carrying World War II veterans ran past the Belarusian leadership and other VIPs.

    The parade involved more than 40 military aircraft and about 160 military vehicles, including Soviet tanks and self-propelled anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns of the World War II times, modern T-72B battle tanks, BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicles, BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, S-300 surface-to-air missile systems, BelGrad and Smerch multiple rocket launchers, Osa surface-to-air missile systems, Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers and Shturm-S anti-tank guns.

    The parade traditionally started with a march of a group of young drummers from the Minsk Suvorov Military School, and culminated in a drill show by an elite company of honor guards and a performance by a military brass band.

    Marching past the reviewing stands were Military Academy cadets and officers, personnel of the 120th Independent Mechanized Brigade, the 86th Signal Brigade, the defense ministry's transport support department, the emergency management ministry, the State Border Troops Committee, the Interior Troops, and the Special Operations Forces.

    The event also featured an air show by two aerobatic demonstration teams, Kryly Belarusi and Belaya Rus.