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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The new Vegas, Always Russia, Ukraine, Cancer research, Elections, Italy, Georgia, Gas, Wheat, Chleb, Money, Britney, Polish scandal and more...

  • From the Top...
  • #429

    Belarus remains Russia’s ally

    From: BelTA
    President Meets Participants of Minsk Bike Festival 2009
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko urges not to believe the gossip and speculations spread by some mass media that claim that Belarus would abandon Russia. The President made the relevant statement as he met with Sergei Stepashin, Chairman of the Russian Audit Chamber, on 21 July.

    “We will never leave Russia just like Russia will never leave us,” said the President of Belarus. “All the things they write about it are total lies and a deliberate distortion of facts following any events, even the smallest ones. Let alone economic and political relations between Belarus and Russia”. “This is an anti-people lobby that has been activated in Russia and in Belarus,” added Alexander Lukashenko.

    Addressing Sergei Stepashin, the Belarusian leader made it clear that: “We have always been together and will be. This is why the State Control Committee and the Audit Chamber have a lot of work to do for the future. I am confident that the amount of work will even increase”.

    The head of state said he hopes that cooperation between the two agencies will grow stronger in all areas. “I always support any intermediation of yours in any issues pertaining to the mutual relations between the countries,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko. “Auditing will always be a vital effort of any government”.

    Alexander Lukashenko meets with participants of Minsk 2009 Bike Festival

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko met with participants of the Minsk 2009 Bike Festival which was held in the Belarusian capital on 18 July, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The event with the participation of bikers from various countries of Europe was held near the Minsk Sport Palace within the framework of the celebration of the 65th anniversary of Belarus’ liberation from the Nazi invaders. The main goal of the event was to strengthen the friendly relations between the youth of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and other countries.

    Members of the International Club of Bikers laid flowers on the Victory Monument.

    The President had a talk with bikers and organizers of the event, saw the special show prepared by stunt players.

    Alexander Lukashenko was proposed to take a ride by a Harley-Davidson bike. The President agreed and headed the bikers’ column which drove through Pobeditely Prospect.

    Attending bikers’ parade were representatives of Belarus, Germany, the Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, the USA, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Poland, France and other countries. All in all more than 800 motorcycles took part in the event. The parade was held within the framework of the Minsk 2009 Bike Festival which was held in the Silichi Ski Centre on 17-19 July.

    Bank registration streamlined in Belarus

    Procedures used in the state registration of banks and non-banking credit and financial institutions will be streamlined in Belarus. The new rules are laid down by resolution No. 111 of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus of 17 July 2009, Sergei Dubkov, Head of the Central Office for Banking Supervision, member of the NBRB Board of Directors, told BelTA.

    The document provides for unifying the paperwork and deadlines for the procedures which accompany state registration of banks and non-banking credit and financial institutions. The amount of information that has to be submitted to the National Bank when bank branches are set up has been reduced.

    The resolution specifies the procedure of getting an NBRB permit for buying more than 5% of the shares in the authorised fund of a bank and the procedure of getting an NBRB permit that allows bank founders (participants) to buy more than 10% of the shares in the authorised fund. The procedure of getting an NBRB authorisation for bank re-organisation has been streamlined as well.

    The amount of information, which is included into the list of bank founders and submitted to the National Bank in a digital form, has been reduced to automate bank founder data processing.

    Apart from that, with a view to developing the national precious metals and gems market the document reduces the size of the regulatory capital that enables a bank to perform operations with precious metals and gems from an equivalent of €25 million to €5 million.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, Ukraine sign protocol on customs cooperation

    From: BelTA
    Chairman of the State Customs Committee of Belarus Alexander Shpilevsky and Chairman of the State Customs Service of Ukraine Anatoly Makarenko have signed the protocol of the first meeting of the Belarus-Ukraine working group for customs cooperation. The meeting was held at the Vystupovichi-Novaya Rudnya crossing point on 14 July. The chiefs of the customs authorities of the two countries met at the Novaya Guta-Novye Yarylovichi crossing point in the Gomel region on 21 July.

    Anatoly Makarenko stated that signing of the protocol is the result of the intensive work of the customs services of the two countries on establishing prior information exchange on goods and vehicles moved across the Belarus-Ukraine border and on simplifying customs procedures. The protocol containing six articles also envisages preparing and carrying out an exhibition of Belarusian goods in Ukraine in September 2009.

    Positive experience of the Belarusian customs will be considered and studied by the Ukrainian experts and possibly put into practice in the future. Anatoly Makarenko stressed that Ukrainian customs officers need to look into the Belarusian experience of e-declaration of goods.

    The head of the customs service of Ukraine praised high efficiency of the Novaya Guta crossing point and its comfortable conditions both for customs services and also for the people crossing the border. Ukraine plans to complete the reconstruction of its part of the Novye Yarylovichi crossing point by 2010. Once up and operational, the new facility will be able to process increased transit flows, Anatoly Makarenko said.

    Anatoly Makarenko accepted the invitation of his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Shpilevsky to get familiar with the operation of the Belarusian crossing points on the border with the Baltic countries. There is a need to learn from European partners, yet the experience of the neighbours might be as useful, Anatoly Makarenko noted.

    Belarus’ representatives attend OSCE seminar on electoral management bodies in Vienna

    From: BelTA
    Representatives of Belarus have attended a two-day seminar on electoral management bodies organized by the Greek Chairmanship of the OSCE. The seminar was held in Vienna on 16-17 July, BelTA learnt from Nikolai Lozovik, Secretary of the Belarus Central Election Commission.

    Attending the seminar were representatives of all the OSCE participating states, a number of the international organizations involved in election management. The Belarusian side was represented by CEC Secretary Nikolai Lozovik and Deputy Director of the Belarus National Centre for Legislation and Legal Research Ludmila Panferova.

    “The holding of the seminar and Belarus’ invitation to attend it as one of the experts attests to OSCE’s aspiration to settle the urgent problems connected with the election management and expand the cooperation in this area with all the states including Belarus,” Nikolai Lozovik noted.

    During two days, three sessions were held to discuss the structure of electoral management bodies, their role in improving election legislation and practice and in making full use of international and domestic observer findings and recommendations.

    EU to support Belarus’ cancer research

    From: BelTA
    The European Union remains committed to supporting Belarus’ research on cancer diagnosis and treatment, said Head of the EC Delegation in Ukraine and Belarus Mr Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira. He took part in the opening of a hereditary cancer centre in Grodno on 21 July.

    Grodno hereditary cancer centre is established in line with the TACIS programme “Hereditary cancer knowledge exchange, awareness raising and management in the border regions of Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania” run by the European Union together with Pauls Stradins Clinical University Hospital of Riga. The project is estimated at a total of EUR500,000.

    Dispensary observation groups have already been formed, hereditary cancer risk groups identified. The hereditary cancer diagnosis methods have been developed; computerized cancer patients registry set up. The medics of the centre have examined about 25,000 residents of the Grodno oblast; almost 2,500 of them were defined as a risk group and referred to the further examination.

    A web-site of the project contains a special questionnaire to help visitors find out whether they belong to the hereditary cancer risk group.

    “I am convinced that this project can make a great contribution to cancer prevention and treatment. This cooperation area is very likely to be further supported by the European Commission,” Mr Jose Manuel Pinto Teixeira said.

    He informed that by September, after additional negotiations are held with the Belarusian Office, the European Commission will announce country programmes and other projects it will finance in 2010 within the framework of the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument.

    Belarus-made Streptokinase may hit EU drugstore shelves

    Streptokinase produced by Belmedpreparaty may hit drugstore shelves in Europe. Representatives of the Swiss Solution Shop company are visiting the largest Belarusian pharmaceutical factory on 21-23 July, BelTA learnt from the company.

    The partners are interested in exporting this medicine to Europe. The drugs of this kind are made only by a few pharmaceutical companies in the world. Streptokinase is prescribed to patients suffering from pulmonary embolism, deep and superficial vein thrombosis, peripheral arterial thrombosis, acute myocardial infarction, retinal artery thrombosis, etc.

    “It is not the first visit of the Swiss company representatives. Earlier they were dispatched the medicine certificate and its samples. The Swiss praised the results and the product quality”, said the company representative.

    According to experts, Belmedpreparaty production increased by 18.5% in January-June 2009 against the same period of 2008, export was up by 21.4%.

    The enterprise has launched a number of investment projects to upgrade the manufacture of antitumor powders and solutions for injections. The company is certifying the upgraded tablet manufacture for compliance with the GMP international standards.

    Belmedpreparaty is one of the largest pharmaceutical enterprises in Belarus and the only producer of blood substitutes, insulin, medicine for oncological diseases, tuberculosis, etc. The factory owns more than 100 trademark certificates and more than 50 patents of different authorities. In May 2009 Belmedpreparaty won the Best Innovative Enterprise nomination of the nationwide Technosphera-2008 contest. The drugs are registered and exported to Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Uzbekistan and other countries.

  • Economics...

    Italian banks show interest in cooperation with Belarus’ banking industry

    From: BelTA
    “Italian banks are interested in boosting the cooperation with the Belarusian banking sector. Their participation in privatization of Belarusian banks is possible as well,” Domenico Santececca, Chief of the Italian Banking Association, told the round table which was held during a visit of Italian banks’ delegation to Belarus.

    Domenico Santececca noted that Belarus is an attractive region for Italian banks. “At the same time, we should take into consideration that during the global crisis, the process of Italian banks’ expansion into the world markets has slowed down,” he said. “However, the crisis will come to an end and everything will be started again. Foreign banks are interested in the Belarusian banking sector”, he noted.

    According to the Head of the Italian Banking Association, “the production structure in Belarus is stable”. The country should be more open towards the European Union, he added.

    Italy’s Sace might raise insurance cap for Belarus

    The Italian company Sace will consider a possibility to raise insurance cap for Belarus, analyst of the company Marco Minoretti told reporters in Minsk on 21 July.

    The Sace representative informed that the company provided insurance services to Belarus worth $70 million, of them 60% went to banks. On 23 July the Italian company plans to consider a possibility to increase the insurance cap for Belarus.

    He underlined that at present the priority task of the company is to support Italian exporters. “The CIS market is very important for Italian exporters, this is why we intend to keep providing assistance for our exporters in this region,” he said. The company thoroughly studies the economic situation in Belarus, in particular the progress in privatization, development of the agricultural sector – Belarus-Italy cooperation might be expanded in these areas. “The Belarus-IMF agreement is deemed a very positive move from the macroeconomic point of view,” he added.

    Belagroprombank to offer untied lending

    Belagroprombank will consider the possibility of coming out into the open financial market with untied lending, Belagroprombank Deputy Chairman of the Board Sergei Kobrinsky told media on 21 July.

    In September the bank will pay out a $55 million syndicated loan and will be ready for new projects. At the beginning of the autumn Belagroprombank plans to advance into the open financial market. “September is a traditional period for livelier financial activity. We will have to determine our potential partners in order to state the structure of the deal,” he said. Sergei Kobrinsky did not reveal the details but said they will be available in early September. He added that the bank will get new partners and the geography of cooperation will expand.

    Representatives of Belagroprombank as well as other Belarusian banks took part in a roundtable session in Minsk on 21 July. The session was held as part of the visit of an Italian banking industry delegation to Belarus. According to Sergei Kobrinsky, Belagroprombank successfully cooperates with Italy. “At present cooperation with Italy is more than promising because unlike in other countries the cost of funding in Italy remains the same for us,” he said. By now Belagroprombank has implemented over 100 projects worth over €50 million with Italy.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Old allies signal loyalty to Russia has limits

    From: Ria Novosti
    The Kremlin will find it hard to ignore the absence of half the leaders of the former Soviet Union from an informal summit in Moscow last weekend, at a time when Europe is developing its interests in Russia's "back yard."

    This year's Presidential Cup horse race, a traditional cue for an informal gathering of the 11-member Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), drew only five top guests: the leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Tajikistan.

    The presidents of Ukraine, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan all failed to show up, citing personal reasons. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko went instead to ride a Harley-Davidson at a local bikers' rally.

    "The CIS leaders used the chance ... to show they are unhappy with the state of relations with Russia," said Alexei Mukhin, head of the Center of Political Information think tank.

    Medvedev's predecessor Vladimir Putin had managed to stiffen the loyalty of the ex-Soviet states, helped by their economic dependence on Moscow and their fear of popular revolutions. But Russia's war with Georgia last year and a series of bilateral spats have strained this loyalty again.

    "A race away from Russia is inevitable," analyst Leonid Radzikhovsky said on an opposition-minded web site, Yezhednyevny Zhurnal. (


    Moscow's war with Georgia last year over the pro-Russian separatist region of South Ossetia marked the first time the Kremlin has deployed troops in anger outside its borders since the fall of the Soviet Union, and this alarmed its neighbors.

    None have so far followed Moscow in recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and another Georgian rebel region, Abkhazia -- both of whose leaders did go to Moscow's hippodrome as Medvedev's guests. Georgia anyway quit the CIS after the war.

    Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev is preparing for a presidential election on July 23, but the other absent CIS leaders all had bones to pick with Russia.

    Ukraine, looking for closer integration with the West since its popular revolution in 2004, is at odds with Moscow over gas transit and the future of a Russian naval base.

    Belarus, long Russia's closest ally, has clashed with Moscow over gas prices, ownership of gas networks and dairy exports.

    Uzbekistan is angry about Russia's support of border hydropower projects in neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which it sees as a threat to its national water supplies.

    And Turkmenistan has stepped up efforts to diversify its gas supplies to China and Iran after an explosion in April on a pipeline linking it with Russia, its traditional partner. It has blamed the explosion on the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom.

    Such problems are not new for Russia. The new factor is the West's attempts to court some of its allies.

    Moscow has been alarmed to see the European Union lifting its ostracism of Lukashenko over his democracy record, and inviting Belarus to join the EU's Eastern Partnership.

    Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia have also joined the project, designed to expand their political and economic ties with Europe, and viewed by many in Russia as an instrument to prise them away from Moscow's orbit.

    To the east, Russia sees Turkmenistan being courted by the West as a source of gas for the projected Nabucco pipeline, designed to ease Europe's reliance on Russian supplies.

    Moscow has also been worried by increased U.S. military activity in Central Asia as U.S.-led coalition forces fight the Taliban in nearby Afghanistan.

    Kyrgyzstan this year shut down a U.S. air base, but later allowed the Americans to re-establish a transit point there for their supplies to Afghanistan.

    But Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the magazine Russia in Global Affairs, warned against overdramatizing the exodus of Russian allies.

    "Doing a balancing act has become a survival tool for these countries," he said. "But ... each time it turns out that when it comes to real problems, they have nowhere to go (but Russia)."

    Trade with Russia remains the largest source of income for most of the CIS allies. Until Nabucco takes off, Russia also remains the key gateway for Central Asian gas to Europe.

    Since the start of the global crisis, Russia has disbursed more than $5 billion in rescue credits to Belarus, Armenia, Moldova and Kyrgyzstan and has pledged another $7.5 billion to a special ad-hoc fund. Few others can match this largesse.

    "Several years ago we faced a similar situation, and people were saying that was the end of the CIS," he said. "Later everyone flocked back."

    Belarus shuts down major Russian diesel pipeline

    From: Reuters
    Belarus' emergencies ministry has shut down a major Russian diesel pipeline to Latvia's Ventspils, it said on Tuesday citing failures by the pipeline owner to fix numerous deffects that could lead to leaks.

    The closure will likely extend an already long list of Russia-Belarus trading rows over the past months, which involved disputes over gas arrears and dairy products amid Minsk's rapproachement with the West and chilly ties with its former top ally, Moscow.

    Russia ships around 10 million tonnes of diesel per year to Ventspils via the territory of Belarus but plans to suspend those flows once it expands its own diesel export facilities on the Baltic Sea.

    Belarus to finish harvesting of winter barley

    From: Agrimarket
    Farms of Belarus have harvested winter barley throughout 8.7 thsd. ha or 94.4% of planned harvesting area, informed Food and Agricultural Ministry of Belarus on July, 20.

    In Brestskaya oblast this crop is cut at 94,6% of planned area, in Grodnenskaya – at 99%, in Minskaya – at 86,8%. There are about 38 thsd. tones of barley threshed. The average yield of this crop totals 43.7 c/ha.

    The harvesting campaign of rapeseed is going on. According to on-line data this crop is harvested throughout 95.8 thsd. ha or 27.9% of planned area. Farms of Brestskaya and Gomelskaya oblasts are in the lead by rate of harvesting with 64.7% and 54.9 areas have been harvested respectively. The average yield of rapeseed in the Republic is 23 c/ha.

    Grains and leguminous plants have been cut throughout 27.7 thsd. ha or 1.2% of planned area. Harvesting is carried out by the single agricultural organizations of Brestskaya, Gomelskaya, Grodnenskaya, Minskaya oblasts. Centralized harvesting of grains is planned to start on July, 25.

    For the moment the main efforts of farms focused on forage conservation. According to on-line data the volume of stored up grass fodder with account of after-grass totals 3.37 mln. tones of fodder units, or 54.6% of planned. Counting on one conditional cattle head there are 11.6 c fodder units what is 1.4 c higher than on the same data last year.

    Perennial after-grass grasses have been cut throughout 307 thsd. ha or 36/8% of planned area. There are 7776.6 thsd. tones of hay have been prepared (64?8% of planned) 9.3 mln of haylage(106%) and 1.988 mln. of silos (14%).

    Poll: Thirty-nine percent of Russians back financial aid to Belarus

    From: Navany
    Thirty-nine percent of Russians view financial assistance provided by the country to Belarus as justified and describe the latter as a reliable and strong ally in the international arena, the Russian Public Opinion Research Center said with reference to a survey conducted in June.

    Twenty-six percent of the 1,600 interviewed people said that Belarus was giving too little in return and the Russian government should reduce its financial aid, while 19 percent said that the assistance should be stopped altogether.

    The pollster said that supporters of the ruling United Russia party and the Communist Party, as well as elderly people were more likely to back economic assistance to Belarus.

    Forty percent of the respondents said that the Belarusian-Russian union was equally beneficial for both countries. As many as 39 percent said that it was Belarus that benefited more, while eight percent checked Russia.

    Thirty-two percent said that living standards were similar in Belarus and Russia. Twenty-six percent noted that Belarusians were better-off, while 23 percent said that living standards were higher in Russia. People with low incomes were more likely to hold the former opinion, according to the pollster.

    The center interviewed people in 140 localities in 42 Russian provinces. The survey had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

  • From the Opposition...

    Budget crisis gathers pace in Belarus: salaries to drop even more

    From: Charter '97
    In the near future incomings of Belarusians who are paid from the state treasury are to be cut down inevitably.

    According to PRIME-TASS agency, foreign currency earnings of Belarusian enterprises in January-June 2009 was $10,832 billion, according to preliminary accounts, which is by 41.9% less than in the analogous period of 2008. Decline of the economic circumstances of enterprises causes considerable cut downsizing of budget receipts, which inevitably draw Belarus into the new stage of the crisis, a social one.

    “According to all economic laws Belarus starts to be drawn into budget crisis now. It is obvious that the economic state of our largest enterprises, that give most revenues increasing the budget, continues to worsen. They are about 200 export-oriented enterprises. They are not giving as much money as last year. It means that incomings of people, who are paid from the state treasury, are to be cud down inevitably now. This process is to start in the second half of this year and to continue in the beginning of the next year,” an economist Mikhail Zalessky comments the situation to

    This being said, when receiving the new tranche of the IMF loan, the government would have to go the length of follow recommendations of the fund, one of which is liberalization of price formation.

    “And the things that have happened in all countries where the IMF and the World Bank have worked will happen in our country: I mean dramatic social stratification of the population. The authorities can well consent to such a scenario to take place. They can go any length for preserving their snug chairs and a possibility to continue their adventurist policy,” Zalessky believes.

    Action on Independence Day July 27 banned in Mahilou

    From: Viasna
    The Mahilou city executive committee didn’t allow opposition activists to hold information pickets in the city center dedicated to the 19th anniversary of adoption of the Declaration of the State Sovereignty of the BSSR by the Supreme Council of the BSSR.

    The answer, signed by deputy head of the city vertical Fyodar Mikheenka, says there is a special place for such actions in Mahilou – Cheluskintsev Street near house #54-a. this place is far from crowded streets. To get a permit for an action the applicants must sign a contract with the local militia, medical workers, utility services and pay them. This is nearly 500.000 rubles. However, paying for services doesn’t guarantee the action will be permitted. The action of Freedom Day wasn’t permitted two years ago allegedly because of repairing the ground. The oppositionist found out that no repair works were carried out on this place.

    The response of the city executive committee notes: if the applicants don’t agree with the decision of the authorities, they can go to court. The oppositionists don’t exclude they wil do so. Despite of the position of the authorities, they are not going to give up and are ready to hold pickets and spread information about the real Independence Day.

    We remind that Alyaksandr Lukashenka banned official celebration of Independence Day on July 27. The authorities mark Indecency Day on July 3 – the Day of liberation of Minsk from the Nazi troops.

  • Russia...

    Georgia's Saakashvili Seeking U.S. Weapons to Deter Russia

    From: Washington Post
    Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili urged the United States on Tuesday to supply his country with advanced defensive weapons, warning on the eve of a visit by Vice President Biden that a decision not to provide such arms would encourage a Russian invasion.

    In a wide-ranging interview, Saakashvili said that discussions about a weapons deal remained at "very early stages" but that he planned to press Biden to speed up delivery of antiaircraft and antitank systems, saying such weaponry was "purely defensive" and "would make any hotheads think twice about further military adventures."

    "I think the decision to help us is there," he added, noting recent meetings between Georgian and U.S. defense officials. "It's a matter of speeding up the process. . . . We want the country to still be around when those things start to arrive here. That's ultimately what's right now at stake."

    The United States has been working to train and modernize the Georgian military for more than a decade, but Russia has warned strongly against new arms shipments to the former Soviet republic, which it routed in a brief war last year.

    The Kremlin says that Georgia started the war by ordering an attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia and that new weapons would encourage further aggression by Saakashvili. In January, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the cabinet to draw up economic sanctions against countries that supply arms to Georgia.

    Saakashvili's request underscores the difficult choices facing the Obama administration as it seeks to "reset" and improve relations with Russia while continuing to support Georgia, Ukraine and other countries in the former Soviet sphere where the Kremlin says it has "privileged interests."

    Georgia has also suggested that the United States and other countries join the European Union's civilian monitoring mission along its border with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another breakaway enclave recognized by Russia as an independent state. U.S. participation would amount to a "long-term security guarantee," and the idea has received "positive feedback" from European and U.S. officials, Saakashvili said, but talks have been delayed.

    Briefing reporters last week ahead of Biden's visit, Antony Blinken, the vice president's national security adviser, was noncommittal when asked whether Washington would refrain from supplying arms to Georgia in an attempt to reduce tensions in the region. "We are working with Georgia with defense reform and defense modernization," he said. "Our focus is on doctrine, on education and on training, and preparing for Georgia's future deployments to Afghanistan."

    In recent years, the Pentagon has tried to improve the Georgian army's command-and-control systems and trained Georgian troops for peacekeeping and police operations in Iraq. But Saakashvili said the focus of U.S.-Georgian military cooperation has now shifted to "homeland defense."

    He said he was "realistic" about the impact any new weapons would have on Georgia's ability to fend off Russia's much larger army for very long. But he argued that a stronger military deterrent would "strengthen our political hand" and help prevent a new conflict.

    A decision by the United States and its NATO allies not to supply Georgia with defensive arms, on the other hand, would be seen as weakness, he said. "I think that would be the surest sign for the Russians: 'Go and get them,' " he said.

    Saakashvili argued that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be tempted to start another war because he faces "a pretty desperate situation," with the Russian economy in crisis, his domestic political standing in question and former Soviet republics increasingly ignoring Moscow's wishes. "There are hundreds of reasons to attack Georgia," Saakashvili said. "The only thing to stop him is a clear unequivocal message from the West that there's going to be very grave consequences."

    Saakashvili said President Obama exceeded his expectations by forcefully defending Georgia's sovereignty during a recent visit to Moscow. He also said he has detected no "reluctance or hesitation" about providing Georgia with weapons.

    Still, he said, "It's a much slower process than we would like it to be. It's just a matter of: Are we a regular country in a regular situation that can wait many years . . . or can we make it faster and more efficient?"

    Saakashvili said the decision could affect the entire region, because other nations might give in to Russia's imperial ambitions if Georgia fell. "I think Biden gets it," he said, noting that Biden visited after the war and spoke about upgrading Georgia's defensive capabilities. "We hope he's still the old Biden."

    Ukraine needs energy plan for Russia ties: U.S. official

    From: Reuters
    Ukraine could change its entire relationship with Russia if it takes tough decisions on energy that would make it less dependent on gas from its former Soviet master, a senior U.S. administration official said on Tuesday.

    "If Ukrainians were able to get to the level of Poland in terms of energy efficiency then they would be able to significantly cut their needs for gas imports," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

    Ties between the ex-Soviet neighbors sank after Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution." Kiev has sought closer integration with the West and has accused Russia of exerting power over the region through its grip on the energy sector.

    "If that (reduce gas imports) were to happen, then that would significantly change Ukraine's relationship with Russia," the official said.

    Ukraine has had repeated rows with Russia over increasingly expensive gas prices and the latest disputes led to supply cuts to millions of Europeans in winter earlier this year.

    The European Union, Russia and international financial organizations are in talks with Ukraine to provide what the official described as "significant investments" to help upgrade its gas transit system and pay for storage gas in advance.

    The EU gets a fifth of its gas needs from Russia via Ukraine and in wintertime Ukraine must store extra gas to ensure smooth transit toward the bloc.

    But in return the EU wants Ukraine to modernize and make transparent its energy sector and to increase prices for Ukrainians to ensure the viability of state energy firm Naftogaz, frequently at the center of spats with Russia.

    "If all this goes forward, the entire nature of the energy system will change here (in Ukraine)," the official said.

    Britney’s Speedy Russia Trip

    From: Moscow Times
    Britney Spears visit to Russia is turning into a soap opera as the fallen pop idol has faced death threats and a run-in with the country’s infamous traffic police.

    And she hasn’t even gotten to Moscow yet.

    Spears may be well-versed in outrunning the paparazzi, juggling frappuccinos and attempting to revive a career whose unraveling will go down in the history books of pop culture. Navigating Russia is another story.

    The singer, on her “Circus” tour played her first Russian gig in St. Petersburg on Sunday. She had already made the decision to keep her two young sons far from this stable, peace-loving nation, consigning them to a London hotel room to await her return, after receiving a series of death threats by e-mail.

    “Originally, both boys were to accompany Britney but she was against taking them because of these constant threats,” a tour spokesman told British tabloid The Sun last week.

    Death threats in Russia? You’d think there were contract killings, or a failure by authorities to take threats seriously and investigate them. Oh wait…

    After the St. Petersburg gig, where she played to 15,000 fans at the Ice Palace, Spears immediately left the country, deciding to spend the two nights before her Moscow show in Stockholm instead. A spokesperson in Moscow confirmed that she left the country between gigs.

    However, the departure wasn’t quite immediate.

    On the way to Pulkovo Airport, eager to get to her private jet after spending just seven hours in St. Petersburg, Spears’ cortege endured that most pleasant of Russian experiences: an encounter with the traffic police.

    As the singer’s three Mercedes SUVs turned onto the northern capital’s Murmanskoye Shosse, they were met with a wave of the baton and a shout of “Dokumenty!” reported Monday.

    “He didn’t understand right away what was traveling behind the car and who they were carrying,” a member of Spears’ security service told “It seems he decided that if there were three identical Mercedes on the road, with Moscow plates at that, they had to be checked. Maybe the guys just wanted to make some extra money.”

    Luckily, an “international scandal” was averted, said, after the police let the cortege pass once they realized that Spears was inside, going so far as to wish her “bon voyage.”

    Spears’ car sped up, up and away, only to land in a massive traffic jam caused by a car accident that had killed the driver, backing up the roads for miles and miles.

    Welcome to Russia, Britney! Let the Circus begin.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Head of Poland's referee training detained in corruption probe

    From: Earth Times
    Police in southwestern Poland detained Thursday the country's head referee trainer in an investigation into football corruption that has led to charges being brought against some 230 people. Stanislaw Z., whose last name was withheld by law, was in charge of training referees for the Polish football federation (PZPN.) The 56 year-old man was taken to Wroclaw for questioning, the Polish Press Agency reported.

    The investigation into corruption was launched in May 2005 and has so far led to charges against referees, officials and members of the football federation.

    The arrests come as Poland prepares along with co-hosts Ukraine to host the Euro 2012 football championships. Critics have called for the country to clamp down on corruption in an effort to bring Polish football up to standard.

    Riot police, traders clash in Polish capital

    From: Reuters
    Hundreds of riot police, some of them mounted, fought pitched battles in central Warsaw on Tuesday with traders resisting eviction from a bazaar seen as a symbol of the raw capitalism that flourished in the early 1990s.

    Police closed down the city centre's main thoroughfare temporarily as they used water cannons against the protesters, who fought back with stones, bricks and sticks.

    Earlier, traders had used fire extinguishers and tear gas against security guards trying to storm the red and white KDT building, which has housed clothes and shoe stalls since the free-wheeling days following the fall of communism in 1989.

    The authorities want to dismantle the building and erect a museum of modern art in its place. Under a court order, the trademen were meant to have left the premises two days ago.

    Warsaw's mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, said she expected those who violently resisted eviction to be punished.

    "We will be pressing charges. The law must be obeyed," she told Polish television.

    "The time for talks is over. There were two and a half years for that. Now I have lost my trust (in them) and without trust there can be no more talks."

    Police said they had detained 12 people in the violence, in which at least 18 policemen and security guards and a large number of protesters suffered injuries.

    "When the town hall official tried to enter the building to convince traders to leave, he encountered tough resistance from the traders who had locked themselves inside," said Tomasz Andryszczyk, a spokesman for the municipality.

    Polish television channels broadcast the clashes live.

    "Help us save our jobs! This is our whole life," said one protester.

    Tradesmen waved red and white Polish flags and sang the national anthem.

    The city authorities have offered an alternative venue to the traders on the outskirts of Warsaw. But they prefer the current location because it is very central, next to Warsaw's trademark Stalin-era Palace of Culture.

    3-day road crashes kill 50 Poles, hurt 703

    From: UPI
    Fifty people were killed and 703 injured in 458 road accidents across Poland that police described as the most tragic weekend so far this summer.

    About 1,800 people were arrested for driving under influence of alcohol during the long weekend, Karol Jakubowski of the Polish central police headquarters told Polish Radio Monday.

    During the previous weekend, Polish police registered 365 road crashes with 47 deaths and 539 injuries.

    After DUI, the second reason for such a high number of road accidents and casualties in this year's holiday season is speeding, Jakubowski said.

    Dramatic situation of Polish police

    Staff cuts and financial cutback will affect Polish police. There will be three thousand less police officers than previous year – informed RMF FM.

    Staff cuts and financial cutback are connected with a project of the budget. According to this budget, Polish government decided to find savings in The Ministry of Interior and Administration. “It is hard to believe. We do need more officers to make our society absolutely save. This decision is like a bolt out of the blue. Everyone says that there are many vacancies in our police, because nobody wants to be a policeman. Today our government decided to end this problem. Less money means no new officers what means that our streets and safety will not be protected so effective” - said Janusz Lobuz form the police in Little Poland. “We will see it very soon, because there will not be enough policemen on our streets. It will also be more difficult to call the police because no one will be able to intervene” – added the policeman.

  • Sport...

    Italian Media: Inter & Barcelona Agree Aliaksandr Hleb Loan Deal

    Inter and Barcelona have agreed a deal for Belarus midfielder Aliaksandr Hleb and he will join the Italians on a one-year loan with the option to make the move permanent next year.

    Sky Sport Italia claim negotiations between Massimo Moratti and Barcelona chief Joan Laporta have been progressing throughout the morning where both men reached an accord.

    Hleb recently bemoaned his lack of playing time at Camp Nou, leading to speculation he would leave.

    Italian reports seem indubitable, claiming Jose Mourinho has now got his man after missing out on him last year. Hleb was close to the Nerazzurri back then, but he signed for the European Champions in a €13million deal.

    He is now expected to join the Nerazzurri imminently with voices claiming an official announcement from the Italians will follow. Having captured Lucio from Bayern Munich, Mourinho is set to complete his double haul as the squad begins to take shape.

    The move for Hleb appears to have gathered pace amid the transfer of Maxwell to Barcelona.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus to become post-Soviet Las Vegas

    From: Russia Today
    Russia’s gambling business is moving from Moscow to Minsk. The former Moscow casino Shangri La is opening its brand-new premises in Belarus, as the first to be licensed by the Belarusian Ministry of sport and tourism.

    According to Russia’s law on the state regulation of gambling, which was passed three years ago, all casinos should have moved their businesses from cities to four special gambling zones in the country’s Krasnodar, Altay, Kaliningrad and Primorsky Regions by July 1, 2009. The owners of the business vigorously opposed the very idea, and up to the last days there had been rumors that the enactment of the law would be postponed or cancelled. Those hopes seemed quite reasonable, as the gambling business was providing more than $2 billion for Russia’s budget. It also formed a substantial share of some local budgets, especially in such big cities as Moscow and St Petersburg, and nothing was supposed to substitute for those lost earnings.

    Moreover, after three years, there is still nowhere to move the one-arm bandits to: not one of the four planned “gambling zones” is ready to receive clients. In the Krasnodar region, there is some infrastructure, but no buildings. In the other three – no infrastructure and not even any approved plans for the construction of the “zones”. By June, the Kaliningrad region had only just issued a tender for leasing the land for the gambling centers.

    However, there was no indulgence from Russia’s government and, from July 1, gambling business all over Russia became illegal. Some casinos have found a way out by changing labels – they transformed into restaurants, sporting poker clubs and internet-cafés (with an opportunity to play in internet-casinos, of course). Others have begun to look for better places outside Russia. And it seems that some glances settled upon Belarus.
    With open arms

    Unlike Russia and Ukraine, which also banned gambling on its territory two months ago, Belarus has quite positive feelings towards this kind of business. The representatives of the Belarusian Ministry of sport and tourism, which is responsible for regulating the gambling industry, say there are no plans to make gambling taboo in Belarus. On the contrary, there is interest in creating big casinos.

    At the moment, there are more than 8,000 casinos and gambling halls in this small country, which borders both Russia and Ukraine. However, they are for the most part minor enterprises. Foreign capital share in this business is only 10 per cent, and Belarusian authorities clearly do not mind raising this share, as in this case gambling would become a more substantial source of income for the country’s budget. So far, the state is getting just over $13 million annually, and it will certainly be glad to increase this sum (Moscow alone used to get some $120 million annually from the gambling business).

    Thus, Belarus will greatly appreciate Russia’s gambling industry (as well as the Ukrainian) moving to its territory. According to Vasily Korzun from the Belarusian Ministry of Sport and Tourism, Belarus is interested in attracting big players to the gambling sector, and it would be glad if Russia’s assets come to the country.

    And it seems that Belarus has even been preparing to welcome Russian business. At the moment, President Aleksandr Lukashenko is ready to sign a decree “on some measures for improving the procedure for carrying out activities in the sphere of the gambling business”. According to Lukashenko, this decree is to make gambling laws in Belarus “the best in the world”. Rumors has it that the new laws will open up a wide door for Russian investment into Belarus. Belarusian authorities expect that the Russian gambling business will decide against spending the estimated $10-12 billion to develop the four ‘gambling zones’, as it is too much money in a time of economic crisis, and would rather create the fifth ‘zone’ in Belarus. The country has good infrastructure, and importantly, it is closer to Moscow than the Kaliningrad region.

    Moreover, there are plans to build a large gambling and entertainment complex near Minsk Airport, so that the clients will be able to go to the casino right after touching down. The draft document on this issue is now at the Belarusian Ministry Council for approval. The complex is to be situated in a duty-free zone, and a citizen of any state will be able to stay there for 72 hours.

    However, there are rumors that only big players will be able to play by the new rules, which means that hard times will come for the Belarusian gambling business, most of which is represented by small companies. Some in the Belarusian media even claim to have seen the draft presidential decree, which, they say, raises the necessary authorized funds to heights unreachable for many Belarusian companies – 50,000 euros for casinos and gambling halls. This sum should be deposited in a bank to guarantee awards to the winners. At the moment, the required authorized fund is the same for gambling and all other companies in the country (around $1000). Another new rule is that all playing machines should have a return rate of 90%. There are no machines of such quality in Belarus at the moment (usually the rate is 80-85%, like in most countries of the world), while in Russia that rule was introduced several years before.

    And these are not the only reasons why Belarusian gambling investors might oppose the government plans. Specialists underline that the Russian entertainment monsters would fight savagely for the Minsk market – a battle not likely to be won by Belarusian companies. So in a year or two, the whole industry would be concentrated, obviously, out of Belarusian hands. Besides this, the new rules would break up many local gambling businesses in the country’s small cities, which are the basis of many of the regional elite’s well-being.

    On the other hand, there are optimists in Belarus who say that the increased flow of Russian gamblers will outstrip the costs of increased competition. All in all, specialists say it will take Belarusian companies around 2 years to adapt to the new rules, if they are accepted. But for many local businessmen, being a manager in a big Russian company is not much worse than having a business of their own, which means constant struggles with red tape. That is why it may well turn out that, together with the government, they just wait until the Russian businessmen pull all the chestnuts out of the fire for them.