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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Belarus to stay self-determined- seeks good ties with both Russia and the West; NAM, NPP, 3G, WWII, GNP; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #441

    Belarus’ domestic, foreign policies to stay self-determined

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will continue determining its domestic and foreign policies on its own, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told media in Turov on 2 September.

    According to the head of state, so far Belarus has adhered to a multiple-vector policy and will stick to it in the future. Once again he reminded that Belarus is not choosing between Russia and the West, but is ready to build productive relations with everyone. “We have a multiple-vector policy. We declared it from the first days of my presidency and keep to it even now whether some like it or not. All the rest is idle gossips,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “In the future we will put maximum efforts into ensuring this multiple-vector nature”.

    “While we have virtually no major problems with Russia, you know our relations with the West. If the West wants to cooperate with us using the principles it applies in cooperation with other nations, we will gladly do it,” said the President. “I’ve already mentioned what is unacceptable: if someone is eager to destroy the country and break the policy it pursues, then we cannot work together with any political force, any state”.

    Alexander Lukashenko underlined that Belarus is a sovereign and independent country that will continue determining its policy on its own: “We will hear out everyone — the West and the East, but we will use our own wisdom.” “No changes or U-turns can take place here. Russia has always been and will be our brotherly nation. It may grate on someone’s ears but it is the truth,” added Alexander Lukashenko. As far as the West is concerned, “it is a technologically advanced region, half of the trade” and that sums it up, said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko wants Pripyat area developed

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has issued an instruction to work out a programme for developing the Pripyat River area. The head of state issued the instruction during his working visit to the Gomel oblast on 31 August.

    “It pains me to see the most beautiful land give so little to people,” said Alexander Lukashenko. Efforts should be focused not only on tourism development but also agribusiness. “Every piece of land should be used. We should use the land the best way we can without any environmental impact,” said the President.

    According to the head of state, the region is unique in its own ways, although it could use some civilizing. “Let’s take the Pripyat River for example. 575 km long it is, there is no such wonder in other parts of the planet. It is the Belarusian Amazon River of a kind. Places where the air is so pure, where one breathes so freely are very hard to come by,” remarked the President.

    “Let’s take what we can from this land. We should do our best to present the land to the world,” added Alexander Lukashenko. There is an abundance of historic facts or natural sights there.

    In the Gomel oblast the Pripyat wildlife sanctuary has been open for 40 years. It was designed to preserve landscapes and the hydrologic complex of the Belarusian Polesie in its natural state along with preserving and restoring rare and endangered species, studying environmental changes that were brought about by melioration, and detecting consequences of the mankind’s activities. In 1996 the wildlife sanctuary was converted into the national park Pripyatsky, which attracts over 10,000 tourists every year. In January-July 2009 it provided Br1,204.5 million in tourism services, 70% up on the same period of last year. A unique European project Pripyat Safari is close to completion there. 4,000 hectares has been allocated to demonstrate animals in their natural habitat. Proper infrastructure for water tourism development has been created there, too.

    The Gomel oblast offers a sightseeing tour “The golden ring of the Gomel oblast”. As long as 820 km it takes visitors through nine communities, with 16 guided tours available. The head of state was told that work is underway to make Belarus’ first known human settlement, Yurovichi, part of the sightseeing tour. Last year 20,000 people, including 2,000 foreign tourists, enjoyed this particular sightseeing tour.

    The Gomel oblast also does a lot to promote farm tourism. Over the last three years the number of farm tourism estates has increased by ten times.
    Belagroprombank offers loans for building farm tourism estates on preferential terms. There are plans to build 43 farm tourism estates by 2010. In 2008-2009 this kind of recreation attracted 3,500 tourists.

    Belarus increases public spending

    Despite economic difficulties, Belarus has increased expenditure on education, healthcare and the national programme “Children of Belarus”, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said at the opening ceremony to inaugurate a new Belarusian-language primary and secondary school in the village of Tereblichi on 1 September.

    The President said that despite financial and economic difficulties and the global crisis, Belarus did not cut down expenses on education, healthcare and the national programme “Children of Belarus”, quite the opposite, the public spending was increased. “We had to adjust some other areas of spending, but the priority social projects remained intact,” the President said.

    Alexander Lukashenko drew attention to the fact that the country has developed a tradition of opening new schools by a new academic year. Even this year four new schools were inaugurated in Belarus. “Actually we have enough schools in our country. The construction of new schools and kindergartens attests to the increasing number of children in Belarus. It means that parents feel secure about their future,” the President said.

    It is also encouraging that the population in rural areas is increasing and growing younger. This is the main achievement of the national rural revival programme. It is noteworthy that in the Stolin region alone there are 1,900 families that bring up five or more children.

    Addressing the children and their parents, Alexander Lukashenko said that Knowledge Day is among those special holidays that leave no one indifferent. He congratulated those present on Knowledge Day and presented a symbolic key from the new school to its director. He made an entry in the distinguished visitors' book. A tourist gear kit was handed over to the school on behalf of the head of state.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    UK Ambassador calls for rejecting stereotypes about Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Belarus Nigel Gould-Davies calls for rejecting stereotypes about Belarus. He made this statement at a press conference dedicated to the conclusion of his diplomatic mission in Belarus.

    “Every time I meet with foreigners who visit Belarus for the first time, they say how beautiful the country is, how wonderful and special are people who live here. I talked to many football fans who came here for the qualification match in October 2008 and many other people from various countries. The reaction was always the same – pleasant surprise. And not just surprise, but amazement,” the diplomat said.

    “All foreigners are astonished by a drastic contrast between the image of Belarus and the reality. Why? We have to think about it seriously. Nobody believes that the international media decided to criticize Belarus on purpose. Then why do such stereotypes exist? Let me leave this question open and ask another two: how much could we have achieved together if not these stereotypes? How determined is Belarus to address this issue? I doubt that this problem will resolve by itself,” the diplomat said.

    Belarus actively engaged in defining NAM foreign policy priorities

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is among the countries which take an active part in the development of the foreign policy priorities of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the Foreign Ministry of Belarus told BelTA. The Non-Aligned Movement Day is marked on 1 September.

    Belarus proposed to include its several initiatives into the NAM final documents. They are, first of all, related to the recognition of a variety of ways of progressive development; intensifying international effort against slavery and human trafficking; abolishing unilateral sanctions; prevention of designing new weapons of mass destruction; formation of an all-round energy agenda.

    Belarus greatly contributes to the development of the NAM proposals to raise the efficiency of the UN General Assembly: consolidating the role of the major body of the United Nations Organisation in addressing international problems and enhancing its efficiency.

    Belarus proposals are not abstract phrases. They serve as the guidelines for the NAM member-states to form a stance of on every issue of the international agenda.

    For example, NAM condemns the application of unilateral measures as tools of economic pressure by one country towards others, and this is an important message signaling that such steps are not accepted by the majority of the countries - UN members.

    NAM conducts its major activities in the United Nations headquarters. This is quite logical. The United Nations is the universal platform to discuss international problems and exchange the opinions between the NAM member states. The position of the Non-Aligned Movement is voiced in the United Nations, during sessions of its main bodies, auxiliary committees and commissions.

    Yet the NAM activities are not limited to the UN headquarters. The Non-Aligned Movement promotes the practices of holding thematic ministerial meetings in the states - members of this organisation to discuss certain issues in various areas ranging from information support, to the advancement of women, inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and others.

    The Centre for Science and Technology of the Non-Aligned Movement assists the member states with transfer of technology; the Center for Human Rights and Cultural Diversity is designed to promote an equal and respectful dialogue between the states.

    Environmental study: Ostrovetskaya site is optimal for Belarusian nuclear power plant

    From: BelTA
    A comparative analysis of the three potential sites for building the nuclear power plant in Belarus has revealed that the Ostrovetskaya site in the Grodno oblast is the optimal one. The comparison is laid down by a study designed to assess the environmental impact of building and operating a nuclear station in Belarus. The study is available at the website of the Belarusian Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Ministry (

    According to the environmental impact study, all the three sites have no prohibitions against building the power plant. Meanwhile, the Krasnopolyanskaya and Kukshinovskaya sites are complicated by potential subsoil erosion and karstic processes. Apart from that, geotechnical and hydrogeological conditions of the Kukshinovskaya site are complicated. Some unfavourable factors can be fixed using expensive technical solutions. However, summing up all factors authors of the study believe that the Ostrovetskaya site is more suitable than the other two.

    The three sites have been examined taking into consideration IAEA recommendations. According to geophysical survey and seismic exploration the Ostrovetskaya site is safe. Engineering geology has revealed that the main installations will rely on clay and sandy soils of medium endurance. The bearing capacity of the soils is high. The underground water is free-flow and lie lower than 15 metres. The Viliya River can be used to refill the cooling system of the nuclear power plant. The length of the railway approach line is close to 32 km, automobile roads — 4 km from the motorway P-48 Vilnius-Glubokoye-Polotsk.

    The Ostrovetskaya site is located in north-west of Belarus in the centre of the Ostrovets region, Grodno oblast.

    The distance from the centre of the site to borders of the neighbouring countries totals: to Lithuania — 23 km, Latvia — 110 km, Poland — 200 km. The land reserves of the territory limited by a 30 km radius from the possible location of the power plant total 215,370 hectares. Environmental, recreational and historical lands account for only 0.1% of the figure.

    The final choice of the nuclear power plant location will be made taking into account the public opinion. In particular, public hearings of the environmental impact study will take place in Ostrovets on 9 October.

    There are plans to build a nuclear power plant in Belarus with the capacity close to 2,400 MW. The first power unit of the Belarusian nuclear station is supposed to be commissioned in 2016, the second one — in 2018.

    Belarusian MTS to get 3G licence this year

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian mobile company Mobile TeleSystems (MTS trademark) plans to acquire the licence to provide 3G communication services by the end of the year, MTS Director General Vladimir Karpovich told media in Minsk on 1 September.

    “We expect to get the licence by the end of the year,” said Vladimir Karpovich. “The company is interested in developing new technologies because customers need them as practice in other countries, including Russia, shows”.

    He added that MTS subscribers already have access to 3G services as part of roaming agreements that MTS has signed with some international operators. “Inside the roaming zone our clients can use 3G services and experience all the advantages that the innovation provides,” remarked the Director General.

    The Belarusian-Russian joint limited liability company Mobile TeleSystems has been providing GSM 900/1800 cellular communication services in Belarus since 2002. The company’s founders are Russian Mobile TeleSystems (49% of the authorised capital) and the Belarusian landline communication monopoly Beltelecom (51%). In 2008 the Belarusian mobile company increased its subscriber base by 13.7% to a total of 4.32 million as of 1 January 2009.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Historical events of 1939 to be discussed at international conference in Minsk

    From: BelTA
    Public and religious figures from Belarus, Poland and Germany will discuss the outbreak of WWII at the international conference “Occupation of Poland in 1939: the ways for reconciliation”. The event will be held in the Johannes Rau international educational centre in Minsk on 3 September, BelTA learnt from the educational centre.

    The participants will deliver reports on the state of historical research “Reconciliation within the context of European culture of memory,” “Belarus in the context of the world tragedy: 1939”, “Assessment of the events in September 1939 by residents of the then Eastern Poland”. The discussions will also focus on the “Ways for reconciliation: German-Polish experience and possibilities of using it in the context of the Belarusian-Polish relations”.

    Attending the event will be Metropolitan Filaret of Minsk and Slutsk, Patriarchal Exarch of All Belarus, chairman of the union of Belarusian Jew public organisations and communities Leonid Levin, Vicar General of the Minsk-Mogilev archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church in Belarus Bishop Antony Demianko, Professor of the University of Bialystok Wojceh Slesinsky, chief of the history chair of the Franstysk Skorina State University in Gomel Professor Gregoriy Lazko and others.

  • Economics...

    In January-July capital investments up by 17.8% in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    In January-July capital investments in Belarus were up by 17.8% over the same period last year, Deputy Economy Minister Tatiana Starchenko told a press conference.

    Investments in production facilities increased by 20.3% over January-July 2008. Some 21% of investments went into housing construction, Tatiana Starchenko said.

    A total of 3.2 million square metres of housing were commissioned. This accounts for 53.4% of the annual projections and up 12.4% from January-July last year. A third of new houses was delivered in rural areas (940,600 square metres).

    In January-July 1355.5 thousand square metres of housing were built in rural settlements and small population centres, or up 15.3% from the same period of last year.

    According to Tatiana Starchenko, 25 investments projects in various sectors of the national economic have been completed this year.

    Belarus economy marked by stable growth, foreign investors say

    Foreign investors view Belarus as a stable, growing economy, Deputy Economy Minister of Belarus Tatiana Starchenko told a press conference.

    In H1 2009 foreign investment in Belarus amounted to $4.2 billion. Investments were allocated in various sectors of economy, the priority areas being transport, trade and industry. The transport industry accounted for 45% of the total investment.

    Around 60% of the total foreign investments are direct foreign investment, which is due to several bylaws that Belarus has adopted to liberalize the economy, improve business conditions and simplify the tax system, Tatiana Starchenko said.

    Export policy is Belarus’ key economic goal, Tatiana Starchenko says

    The export policy remains the Belarusian crucial economic goal, Deputy Economy Minister of Belarus Tatiana Starchenko told a press conference on 2 September.

    According to her, the geography of sales as well as their infrastructure needs to be expanded. Almost all economic sectors have their export sales strategies and take efforts to develop commodity distribution networks. Tatiana Starchenko focused on the role of leasing as an important instrument for advancing the Belarusian products to the Russian Federation.

    According to Tatiana Starchenko, in H1 2009 the export in goods and services grew 54.6% from January-June 2008. The import fell from 68.5% in January-March 2009 to 67% in H1 2009. Belarus had a trade deficit of $3133.6 million as against the 2009 forecast of $1470-1500 million.

    Worsening market conditions, recessing business activity and reducing foreign solvent demand for the basic Belarusian products remain the major reasons for such an unfavourable situation in the foreign trade.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus leader seeks good ties with both Russia and the West

    From: RIA Novosti
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country is seeking to cooperate equally with both Russia and Western countries, BELTA news agency reported on Wednesday.

    "We have a multi-dimensional policy, which has been declared since the first days of my presidency, and we are still following this whether people like it or not," he said.

    Lukashenko said that Russia "has always been and will remain a brother nation," while the West "is technologically developed region - our neighbors, accounting for half of trade."

    Relations between Belarus and Russia, which have been trying for several years to establish a Union State, have been strained recently over a series economic and political disputes, including Russian energy supplies, a milk export row and Lukashenko's reluctance to sign a deal to set up a post-Soviet rapid reaction force.

    Belarus and the European Union have recently moved to rebuild ties. The EU lifted a travel ban on Lukashenko and invited Belarus to attend an Eastern Partnership summit earlier this year along with five other ex-Soviet states, offering closer economic and political ties in exchange for commitment to democracy.

    Belarusian jet crashes at Polish air show, 2 dead

    From: AP
    A Belarusian fighter jet crashed Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009, during an air show in central Poland, killing both pilots on board the two-seater plane, officials said. The Su-27 jet went down while performing maneuvers at a festival in Radom, 65 miles (105 kilometers) south of Warsaw.
    A Belarusian fighter jet crashed Sunday during an air show in central Poland, killing both pilots on board the two-seater plane, officials said.

    The Su-27 jet went down while performing maneuvers at a festival in Radom, 65 miles (105 kilometers) south of Warsaw.

    Footage broadcast on state television in Poland showed the plane turning in the air, then dropping behind trees. A giant cloud of black smoke appeared on the horizon. The Su-27 was not near the tarmac or crowds attending the air show when it crashed.

    The two Belarusian pilots were killed, the air show's organizers said in a statement. A joint Polish-Belarusian panel of experts was investigating the cause.

    The Belarusian Defense Ministry said the crash was likely caused by birds becoming entangled in an engine.

    When the plane began to lose altitude during a stunt flight, the pilots "did not eject and steered the plane away from the town, avoiding graver consequences at the cost of their lives," ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Remenchuk said.

    He identified the pilots as Col. Alexander Morfitsky and Col. Alexander Zhuravlevich. He said Morfitsky was deputy commander of an air force unit in western Belarus, and Zhuravlevich was deputy commander of a fighter base.

    The jet was one of two Belarusian planes taking part in the show. The other aircraft was a transport plane.

    Belarus cuts '09 GDP growth forecast to 1-2 pct

    From: Foxyard
    Belarus sharply lowered its 2009 gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast, projecting an increase of between 1 and 2 percent, down from the previous 2 to 5 percent growth forecast.

    In recent years, the ex-Soviet state's economy has grown between 7.5 and 10 percent.

    But Belarus - like many of the post-Soviet republics with economies powered mainly by exports - has been battered badly by deteriorating demand for goods in Russia and Europe, its chief exports markets.

    In the first seven months of the year, the economy grew by 0.4 percent

    The government's new forecast came on the last day of the visit of the International Monetary Fund mission, which has returned to Minsk to discuss the disbursement of a third tranche of a promised $3.5 billion standby loan.

    On Wednesday, Tatiana Starchenko, deputy economy minister said the IMF has revised up its GDP estimates for Belarus for this year.

    "Based on preliminary results of this visit, they [the IMF] have changed their forecast, bringing them more in line with our estimates," Starchenko told reporters.

    The IMF has previously forecast that the Belarusian economy would shrink by up to 3 percent this year.

    Starchenko declined to provide the IMF's new estimates and the Fund has not revealed any revisions yet.

    Belarus has already received $1.5 billion from the IMF since the beginning of the year and expects the remaining in three tranches, worth about $678 million each, by the end of next summer.

    The IMF set a series of conditions for Belarus to follow to receive the loan in full, limiting, for example, the central bank's spending of its reserves. The Fund has also recommended banking privatisation as a way to generate much needed cash for the government.

    The economy, which is still largely in government hands, has nonetheless fared better than many other ex-Soviet states during the recent crisis. It has decisively outperformed Russia, which saw its economy shrink by 10.1 percent in the first half of the year.

    But while Russia has a massive oil windfall revenue savings it can draw from, as well as the world's third largest currency reserves, the resources of Belarus are limited. Its central bank's reserves, at $3.6 billion as of Aug. 1, are less than a hundredth of Russia's stash, and they are shrinking.

    In addition, demand for Belarus's top exports, which include oil and agricultural products as well as chemicals and machines has declined drastically. This has forced Alexander Lukashenko's government to request financial assistance from the IMF, the World Bank and Russia.

    The country is still waiting for the final $500 million tranche of a $2 billion credit from Russia, after bickering between the two governments earlier in the summer delayed the disbursement.

    Russia to assist in Belarus NPP feasibility study

    From: WNN
    Russia's AtomStroyExport (ASE) has signed an agreement to assist in a feasibility study into the construction of the Belarus' first nuclear power plant.

    The feasibility study - which will look at the investment options available to finance the proposed plant - is to be completed by the end of 2009.

    In May, Russia and Belarus signed an intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the field of atomic energy for peaceful purposes. This framework specifies the main directions of cooperation in the development, design, construction and operation of nuclear power in plants, nuclear fuel supply, nuclear and radiation safety, as well as scientific cooperation, training and others. The Belarus council of ministers approved this agreement on 1 September.

    An intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Belarus specifically on cooperation in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belarus is expected to be signed in October. ASE said that work is progressing on the preparation of contractual agreements with signatures due in December.

    Belarus earlier launched a tender for the construction of the plant and invited bids from Rosatom, Areva and Westinghouse-Toshiba. ASE - Rosatom's nuclear power plant construction subsidiary - was reportedly the only bidder prepared to proceed and provide financing.

    The plant will initially comprise two 1200 MWe AES-2006 model pressurized water reactors. The first unit is scheduled to be commissioned in 2016 and the second in 2018, ASE said. Ostrovetsk in the Grodno region has been selected as the prime candidate site for the plant, which places it in the north east of the country near to neighbouring Lithuania and Poland and not more than 300 km from another Russian build project in Kaliningrad.

    Belarus' ministry of natural resources and environmental protection has published an environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of the nuclear power plant's construction and operation. The ministry said that the plant would meet international standards on nuclear and radiation safety.

    Belarus, heavily energy dependent on gas imported from Russia, is steadily moving ahead with plans for its first operating nuclear plant. At the beginning of 2008, the country's Security Council confirmed that it intended to build, and a bill enshrining the "fundamental principles" for the introduction of nuclear power was passed in June 2008.

  • From the Opposition...

    Putin to Charter’97 website: Lukashenka is not a dictator

    From: Charter '97
    Prime Minister of Russia Vladimir Putin answered a question of a journalist of during a press conference following the results of Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

    The two prime ministers had negotiations in Polish Sopot, where Vladimir Putin takes part in the events dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the World War II.

    Our journalist asked Vladimir Putin “Lukashenka is dubbed the last dictator of Europe. How long is Russia going to support the dictator and prolong suffering of the people of Belarus? Why does Russia support dictatorial regimes, but doesn’t help democratic forces?”

    The Russian prime minster answered: “You question is not correct. Mr Lukashenka was elected through direct secret vote, and we deal with the acting authorities. We never support unconstitutional processes in one or another country, especially in the former Soviet countries.

    Democracies in our countries are very weak, political systems are not stable, and legal regimes are rather uncertain. Stability is the main thing in this situation.”

    Brest Viasna may be registered

    From: Viasna
    Uladzimir Valichkin, one of the founders of Brest Viasna
    The Department of Justice of Brest Regional Executive Committee has postponed delivering judgment on the state registration of the Brest Viasna regional public association.

    The official letter received by the founders of Brest Viasna requests that the NGO provided the original of the letter of guarantee concerning the issue of its legal address and approve the amendments to the NGO’s Charter proposed by Brest Viasna at a general assembly within a month’s time, thus providing certain chance for the organization to obtain state registration.

    Brest activist arrested for distributing HR newsletter

    In a related story, On 30 August Brest police detained activist Ivan Stasiuk as he was distributing copies of the ‘Human Rights’ newsletter. The newsletters were later seized after the activist had been taken to Brest Maskouski police department. As a result, he was warned that the newsletters would be submitted for an expert examination and released without charge.

    The action marking the International Day of the Disappeared was organized by the Young Front youth organization.

  • Russia...

    Poland, Russia at odds over WWII outbreak

    From: Press TV
    Leaders of former 20 allies and enemies gathered in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the WWII.
    Russian Premier Vladimir Putin has blamed Britain and France for the outbreak of WWII while skipping an apology for ex-Soviet's invasion of Poland in 1939.

    At a ceremony marking the outbreak of the war in the Polish port city of Gdansk on Tuesday, Putin downplayed Russia's responsibility, emphasizing instead on the Soviet Union's role in fighting the Nazis.

    In an article published in Poland, he argued that Britain's and France's policy of appeasement towards Hitler in 1939 had left Stalin with no choice but to sign a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany - including a secret clause carving up Poland.

    "If we are going to speak objectively about history, we must understand it does not have just one color," Putin said.

    In the meantime, Polish President Lech Kaczynski voiced his anger at the Soviet role in World War II at commemorations marking the beginning of the global conflict.

    In front of Putin and other world leaders, Kaczynski said the 1939 Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact had divided Europe.

    Earlier, speaking at the dawn ceremony in Gdansk, referring to the occupation of eastern Poland by Soviet forces a fortnight after that, Kaczynski said, "On September 17... Poland received a stab in the back... This blow came from Bolshevik Russia."

    Putin, however, in his speech after Kaczynski, said all the pacts between European states and Nazi Germany were "morally unacceptable," including the 1939 Nazi-Soviet accord.

    "All attempts to appease the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable and politically senseless, harmful and dangerous," Putin said.

    Relations between Poland and Russia are currently thorny, partly because of differing historical interpretations of events at the start of the war.

    Survivors remember Russia's Beslan massacre

    From: AFP
    Five years on, Russian authorities have not learnt from the Beslan hostage siege, survivors of one of Russia's worst massacres in recent memory said Tuesday as they marked its grim anniversary.

    Several hundred relatives and survivors gathered at the crumbling ruins of School Number One in this southern town to commemorate the hostage disaster that took the lives of over 330 people, including 186 children.

    The painful memory of the massacre that left a host of questions unanswered is slowly fading away and President Dmitry Medvedev did not mention the Beslan siege as he congratulated Russians on the start of a new academic year.

    Survivors and relatives of those who perished in the massacre said they had yet to see a fair investigation into the tragedy and complained that the security situation in the north Caucasus was deteriorating daily.

    "Five years ago, after Beslan, we thought that the world had to change," said Valentina Ostaniy, who was at the besieged school together with her son and nephew.

    "But years later we see that nothing has changed. We are still afraid to send our children off to school because terror acts which have become yet more horrific and devious, take place in northern Caucasus every day."

    Tuesday's memorial ceremony started with the school bell ringing at 9:15 am (0515 GMT), exactly the time when militants stormed the school in this town in the mountainous province of North Ossetia in southern Russia's turbulent Caucasus region.

    Hundreds of parents, relatives and survivors brought flowers, toys and water bottles in memory of those left without water during the three-day siege that ended in bloodshed on September 3.

    An Orthodox priest performed the prayer service, and the North Ossetian leader, Taimuraz Mamsurov, whose son and daughter are among the survivors, laid flowers.

    The Voice of Beslan, an organisation representing the victims of the school siege, and other activists will hold a vigil at the school for the next three days and nights.

    Beslan was a scene of carnage.

    An explosion went off inside in the school, where gunmen demanding the end of the war in Chechnya had been holding more than 1,000 hostages, a large number of them children, since September 1 -- the day Russians celebrate the start of the academic year.

    The blast triggered an all-out battle between Russian special forces and the mostly Chechen gunmen.

    Ella Kesayeva, Voice of Beslan co-chair, said the survivors and relatives were deeply disappointed by what she said was a merely "formal investigation" into the handling of the siege and the rescue operation.

    The Voice of Beslan has so far been unsuccessfully lobbying for a law that would grant benefits to survivors of terror acts, Kesayeva said.

    The group has also asked Medvedev to meet its activists during the three-day period of mourning but has not heard from the Kremlin so far, she added.

    "Authorities do not wish to talk to us," Kesayeva said.

    In his speech congratulating Russians on the start of the academic year, Medvedev never mentioned once the Beslan school siege.

    He however said Russia was a multinational country as he stressed the importance of maintaining good neighbourly ties.

    Only a few Russian media outlets devoted space to the anniversary, with commemorations of the 70th anniversary of the start of World War II and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to Gdansk overshadowing the event.

    Russia sets monthly oil output record in August

    From: Reuters
    Russian oil output hit a record monthly high in August, nearing 10 million barrels per day, as the world's second-largest crude exporter launched a major new field in the Arctic and grabbed more market share from OPEC.

    Russia produced 9.97 million barrels per day in August, up 0.6 percent from 9.91 million bpd in July and 1.5 percent higher than the 9.82 million bpd produced in August 2008. Natural gas production also recovered from its lows on improved demand. "There is a huge amount of frustration within OPEC that Russia has taken advantage of OPEC's cuts over the last year and has gained market share," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at UralSib investment bank.

    Russian oil output has recovered in 2009 after it fell last year for the first time in a decade. After flirting with OPEC when a barrel of oil cost less than $40, Moscow has set a course on raising production to bolster its recession-hit economy.

    State-run Rosneft (ROSN.MM), the country's biggest oil firm, this month launched its Vankor oilfield in the Arctic, which is destined to become a major supplier to China. [ID:nLL714287]

    Energy Ministry data showed Rosneft's oil output in August rose to 2.39 million barrels per day (bpd), a 5.5 percent, or 123,700 bpd, increase on July production.

    Vankor will supply Rosneft with 25.5 million tonnes, or 510,000 bpd, when it reaches peak production in 2014. This is equivalent to nearly one-quarter of the firm's output last year.

    Alfa-Bank senior oil and gas analyst Chirvani Abdoullaev said Vankor could be producing 220,000 bpd by the end of 2009, enough to ensure that Russian output rises this year.

    Rosneft is not alone in having launched new fields. LUKOIL (LKOH.MM), its closest peer, began production at the South Khylchuyu deposit and TNK-BP (TNBPI.RTS) has started the Uvat, Kammenoye and Verkhnechonskoye projects in the last year.

    LUKOIL produced 1.86 million bpd of crude in August, up by 0.2 percent versus July, while TNK-BP's output rose 2.2 percent month-on-month, the Energy Ministry data showed.

    August oil production by Russia's fourth-largest oil producer, Surgut (SNGS.MM), fell by 3.1 percent versus July.


    Russia's August output surpassed the last monthly record of 9.93 million bpd, which the country achieved in October 2007.

    Analysts expect rising monthly production to extend into a small full-year increase, although output will stagnate over the next few years due to a lack of investment in new fields and limited export capacity.

    "Big fields take 10 years to develop," said Russian oil analyst Oswald Clint at Sanford Bernstein in London.

    "Vankor say they will do 250,000 bpd next year, but unless you're bringing on very sizeable fields every year, the 5 percent decline rate in Western Siberia will take that out."

    This year's increase, however, has helped Moscow profit from a recovery in oil prices brought about in part by output cuts from the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

    "Russia is at least $22 billion better off because of OPEC action," Weafer said, a number derived from the $15 difference between an oil price of $40 a barrel in January and its year-to-date average, multiplied by Russia's daily 7 million bpd of crude and refined product exports in the year so far.

    Russia's natural gas production, which had been falling from the beginning of 2009 as demand plunged in Europe and at home, rose 4.7 percent from July to 1.40 billion cubic metres per day.

    Production was still 10 percent lower than in August 2008.

    Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) increased production to 1.08 billion cubic metres (bcm) per day, up 4.3 percent from 1.04 bcm per day in July.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Revealed: £2bn cost to UK from cigarette smuggling

    From: Telegraph
    His gloved hands thick with coal dust, the customs guard pulls out a carton of Classics cigarettes and drops it to the floor. Reaching into the coal scuttle, another pack follows and another, until the floor of the carriage is soon a mess of coal and smuggled cigarettes.

    The guard and his colleagues are searching the train looking for contraband goods, unscrewing ceiling boards and walls, removing curtain rails and searching the coal scuttles at the end of each carriage. They will make other discoveries before the Prague-bound train is allowed to move on.

    At the Ukrainian-Polish border town of Przemysl, the seizure of 4,500 cigarettes hardly solicits a reaction. The border guards know the discovery will barely impact on one of Europe's fastest-growing forms of organised crime.

    For criminal gangs from the Mafia to the Triads, cigarette smuggling is the new cash cow, and governments, companies and taxpayers are suffering the consequences.

    Europe's growing addiction to cigarette smuggling is burning a £7bn hole in the pockets of governments in western Europe through lost tax revenues, and leaving companies including UK-listed British American Tobacco (BAT) and Imperial Tobacco nursing some £600m in lost sales each year.

    While the problem starts in many of the former Soviet-bloc countries and other parts of the developing world, the effects are being felt on streets across the UK.

    The illegal import of cigarettes that are either produced in counterfeit factories or legally purchased in low tax jurisdictions and smuggled into Britain is growing by the day and tobacco industry insiders question how it will ever be stopped.

    Criminal gangs are using increasingly creative means to flood Britain with smuggled packs of Marlboro, Superkings or Lambert & Butler, or eastern European brands such as Classics or Jin Ling.

    This month it emerged that children in the north east of England are being recruited to act as mules on smuggling missions. Seduced by the offer of cut-price air tickets and spending money, teenagers are flying to low-duty countries to fill their suitcases with cigarettes, returning to Britain to pass them on to criminal gangs.

    Four schoolgirls aged 15 and 16 who live near Durham narrowly avoided jail after being caught smuggling 200,000 cigarettes into Britain.

    Meanwhile, in April, HMRC investigators discovered £70m-worth of cigarettes in south London smuggled into the country in empty computer towers and air conditioning units. Documents with the smuggled cigarettes suggested the towers and units were to be filled with money to pay for the cigarettes and returned to the Balkans.

    In the UK, the cost of tobacco smuggling to the exchequer was estimated by HMRC to run to £2.6bn in the 2006/7 financial year, while losses for retailers, wholesalers and distributors are thought to run to £230m annually and £191m for the manufacturers.

    As the recession rocks the UK, demand for low-cost cigarettes is growing, driven by the dominant view that this is a victimless crime. However, tobacco industry insiders and customs officials suggest it is anything but.

    "The same groups who are making money by smuggling guns, people, narcotics and counterfeit medical products are the ones who are smuggling cigarettes. From the Mafia or Triads to terrorist groups," says a head of one big tobacco company's anti-smuggling unit.

    The attraction for criminal gangs is that the profits on offer are similar to those made by trafficking drugs, but the penalties are significantly less punitive.

    Experts claim a container of 450,000 premium packets of cigarettes transported from Ukraine and sold on the streets of Britain will turn a £1m profit. Similarly, a typical white van filled with smuggled cigarettes will turn a £60,000 profit, while a car load gives £6,000.

    "In most cases, if caught, smugglers will often only have their vehicles seized, so it is pretty low risk," says the anti-smuggling head.

    But while Britain is the profitable endgame for many smugglers, Poland is the European epicentre.

    "Poland is the turnstile of Europe when it comes to cigarette smuggling," says one senior investigator at a tobacco company. "It is the transit country between East and West."

    So far this year some 400m cigarettes have been seized by customs officials in Poland, compared to 565m in the whole of last year. That is up from 425m in 2005 and 470m in 2006. "Poland is the first line of defence when it comes to the battle against smuggling," says Bogdan Bednarski, a senior expert in the Polish customs enforcement department. "We stop perhaps 10pc of what is coming in, but smuggling and illegal cigarette production in Poland are both on the rise."

    Bednarski's estimate of seizure rates is seen as optimistic by many in the industry, some of whom put the figure at between 3pc and 5pc. That suggests between 12bn and 20bn cigarettes are smuggled into the country. Meanwhile, a total of 30bn cigarettes are thought to be smuggled out of Ukraine each year.

    Cigarette companies have received some of the blame, with critics arguing that the "Big 4" – Philip Morris, Japan Tobacco, BAT and Imperial – over-produce in Ukraine, knowing their products will be smuggled elsewhere. Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco agreed in 2004 to pay a combined $1.65bn (£1bn) to the European Union and member states amid allegations they were involved in smuggling. However, recent signs suggest the cigarette manufacturers are now taking a different approach.

    Poland's smuggling problem dates back to 2004 when the country joined the EU, since when the government has been raising tobacco duty levels to meet EU targets – twice this year alone.

    However, higher duties in Poland have only heightened the disparity with taxes and tobacco sale prices in neighbouring countries such as Ukraine and Russia.

    A pack of premium brand cigarettes sells for nine zlotys (£1.93) in Poland. Meanwhile, a pack will sell for 6.8 hryvnia (50p) across the border in Ukraine but for 4.5 zlotys after it has been smuggled into Poland. The benefits are clear to see.

    That has persuaded criminal gangs and Polish nationals living near the border to exploit the difference by smuggling.

    At the main vehicle and pedestrian border crossing near Przemysl, a bar on the Polish side acts as a base for gang members who buy cigarettes from smugglers. They are then deposited in secret warehouses before being channelled to local markets or to more profitable EU countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

    Hano Tomasz, deputy director of customs for the region, says an average of 2,000 pedestrians, 1,000 cars and 130 lorries pass through the Przemysl border point each day. Officials typically confiscate about 20,000 cigarettes every 24 hours.

    While the situation is grave, it is a far cry from the situation last year. Then, Tomasz explains, 10,000 pedestrians were crossing each day, the majority for the sole purpose of smuggling.

    On the Ukrainian side of the border, the "ants", as they are known, would line up at booths to buy cigarettes, before cramming their vehicles or holdalls with cartons.

    A decision in December 2008 to reduce the maximum number of cigarettes individuals are allowed to take across the border from 200 to 40 helped radically change the status quo but it also provoked uproar in Przemysl.

    For many in the town, where the unemployment rate is 17pc, smuggling had been a socially acceptable trade. The decision to change the limit spelt an end to many people's "careers", resulting in mass protests at the border. Tomasz says more than 300 people blocked the border crossing, allowing no one to cross for three days and prompting the police to send out riot officers to deal with the situation.

    "Ten people were arrested. It was a very unpleasant time for the customs officers," says Tomasz. "The protesters threatened us, saying they knew where we lived or they knew our children. One officer's car was destroyed; another officer was beaten at a bar and ended up in hospital."

    While seizures have since declined dramatically at the border point, justifying the government's decision to change the import limits, overall smuggling levels continue to grow.

    "It is like a bubble," says the senior tobacco company investigator. "You squeeze it in one place and the problem just grows somewhere else."

    Success in reducing the numbers of ants smuggling each day has simply led to the growth of bigger consignments transported across the border and on into Europe via lorries or trains.

    In June local customs officials discovered 60,000 packets of cigarettes sealed in bricks on a train from Kiev. Other recent finds have included cigarettes hidden in rolls of toilet paper, salads bags or even baked in loaves of bread.

    Counterfeit cigarette production is also growing. Polish authorities have raided five illegal factories so far this year, each producing as many as 500m cigarettes a year.

    The problem is especially concerning because of the low quality of many of the products. Seized cigarettes have been found to contain worms, arsenic or rat poison. Outside one factory, officials found large piles of cow dung which was being used to fill out the cigarettes.

    Counterfeit production offers criminal gangs greater profits – double that of smuggling – and control of supply, but the problem remains small in Poland compared to non-duty paid smuggling because the risks are far higher. It costs around $2.5m to set up a counterfeit factory and a successful raid can see a gang's profits go up in smoke. Smuggling entails few of those risks.

    "The effort to catch smugglers is huge but the penalties are mostly administrative, simply fines. For bigger seizures over 100,000 cigarettes, sentences can be tougher but judges are reluctant to jail smugglers," says Bednarski. "It is frustrating."

    However, given the quantities of cigarettes many gangs are smuggling, they are increasingly using drug trafficking means to smuggle cigarettes, say experts.

    "Artificial floors and ceilings are being installed in cars, foil is being used to escape x-ray detection, and postal or cargo transport is being used to reduce the risk for smugglers," says the investigator.

    Drug trafficking also includes bribery of officials and Tomasz is doing his best to stamp down on corruption at the Przemysl border point. Two years ago, 70 customs guards were arrested at the crossing for alleged involvement in a smuggling ring.

    "The temptation is very great and criminal organisations work hard to find people who will collaborate with them," says Tomasz, who has helped to set up a hotline to encourage locals to report corruption.

    The Polish government is also trying to combat the problem by raising salaries for border guards. Wages are set to rise 30pc over the next three years, having not previously been increased for a decade. Custom guards will also be incentivised to make seizures, while a new law being introduced in Poland will allow officials working in mobile customs units to carry arms for the first time.

    Officials are also looking to technology to try to crack down on the problem. Bednarski is hopeful of receiving government funding to buy x-ray machines so that lorries and trains can be scanned at the border. However, at 10m zloty each, technology comes at a price. The customs official is desperate to bring in the machines before a new train line from China to Germany opens.

    "Once the line opens, the situation will get worse. Then you will see not only cigarettes but counterfeit handbags, medical products and clothing," he warns.

    Against that backdrop, is Bednarski able to stay upbeat? "As a customs man I am glad that there will be work to keep us busy, but that is the only positive," he says, with a wry smile.

    Fans segregated over riot fears

    From: BBC
    Eleven officers were hurt in the trouble in March
    A segregated fan zone has been set up for Northern Ireland football fans going to Poland amid fears of trouble at a World Cup qualifying match.

    Polish authorities have built the area in Katowice in a bid to ensure the event passes off without incident.

    Eleven police officers were injured during rioting between rival supporters at the corresponding fixture at Windsor Park in Belfast in March.

    Coaches have also been put in place to take supporters to and from the match.

    The Irish Football Association (IFA) said fans who had decided to stay in Berlin and Krakow would also be bussed to the match at Slaski Stadium in neighbouring Chorzow.

    The Amalgamation of Official Northern Ireland Supporters Clubs (AONISC) has set up a special mobile phone network service to inform its members of places to avoid during their trip.

    Rival fans threw bricks, bottles and traffic cones on their way to Windsor Park
    IFA officials recently travelled to Poland with PSNI officers and representatives from the AONISC to seek safety assurances from the host nation.

    Raymond Kennedy, president of the IFA, said he hoped the measures would result in a trouble free occasion.

    "These activities have been organised with the fans' safety of paramount importance and should ensure the safety of the Northern Ireland supporters," he said.

    "We would urge all supporters to be aware of the fan zone and not to meet anywhere outside of the dedicated area.

    "I think it is important to let the fans know that plans are in place and if they are followed will provide some form of comfort for our travelling support."

    Gary McAllister, from the AONISC, said: "The Irish FA and PSNI have worked tirelessly on behalf of Northern Ireland's fans in the months running up to Saturday's game, and the Amalgamation and its members are extremely grateful for their efforts."

    Man who killed friend in car crash travelling at twice the speed limit

    From: Belfast Telegraph
    A Polish man who killed his friend in a fatal car crash was “travelling far too fast” a lawyer has claimed.

    The Belfast Crown Court jury of nine men and three women also heard the prosecution allege that according to an expert engineer, 27-year-old Robert Baranowski was driving at more than twice the 30mph speed limit when he crashed his Peugeot 206 in Ballysillan Park in February last year.

    Tragically, his friend Dagmar Farkasova was thrown out of the car from the back seat and later died in hospital from a severe head injury.

    Baranowski, from Deerpark Gardens in Belfast, denies causing her death on February 12 last year by dangerous driving.

    Opening the case to the jury, prosecution lawyer David Russell told them that during the trial, they would hear from numerous witnesses how their attention was drawn to Baranowski's car as it came down the steep decline because of the noises the engine was making. He said that drivers in the oncoming lane noticed how Baranowski's car appeared to hit the kerb as the road narrowed at a traffic island before skidding into their lane, colliding with another Peugeot car and ploughing into a brick wall where it came to rest.

    “What we say is that what is clear from the witnesses at the scene who saw the lead up to the collision... is that the accused was travelling far too fast for this road and for the circumstances in which he found himself on that road on this day,” claimed the lawyer.

    The jury heard that during the police investigation, officers asked expert engineer Damien Coll to examine the scene and CCTV footage taken from police cameras in the area.

    Mr Russell said from the footage, which would be played to the jury during the trial, Mr Coll had been able to see Baranowski's car as he drove up the Crumlin Road and turned into Ballysillan Park. He told the jury that while Mr Coll had calculated Baranowski's average speed on the Crumlin Road at 33mph, he had accelerated up to 55mph during the first 109 metres of Ballysillan Park.

    The lawyer added, however, that in the 286 metres in the lead-up to the fatal impact, the Peugeot 206 had sped up to 63mph, just over twice the legal speed limit for the residential, built-up area.

    Baranowski was arrested and interviewed about the fatal accident and he told officers he had been driving home from work when the collision happened.

    He said while he could not remember the actual impact, he could recall hitting the kerb and the car being thrown to the right and the next thing he remembered was waking up in hospital.

    However, Mr Russell told the jury that in the Crown case, Baranowski's driving had “fallen far below” the standard expected of a careful and competent driver.

    “He was driving at greatly excessive speed, accelerating harshly from the Crumlin Road down Ballysillan Park, he failed to take account of the road and the circumstances ahead of him... and he failed to have any regard for himself or for the passengers who were in the car with him,” declared the lawyer.

    Poles deep in debt

    From: The News
    Poles have fallen in to a collective debt exceeded 3 billion euro, shows a report by the Economic Information Office.

    In the last four months the amount of personal debt has grown by 20 percent and in the last year by 70 percent.

    Over 1.5 million people in Poland are indebted, shows the report. Most of the debtors are men. Women tend to pay off debts more often.

    The most indebted are the inhabitants of the Mazovia and Salisia provinces. In August the average debt in the regions equaled 8 203 zloty (1 960 euro).

    According to the report, a debtor is a person who has an active debt for more than 60 days, resulting from not paying off a loan, rent, TV license or alimonies etc.

    Polish government to increase surveillance

    From: Polskie radio
    The Ministry of Interior and Administration is working on a draft bill to allow police to wire tap all sorts of criminals, including those suspected of minor offences.

    According to the new draft bill, police will be authorized to tap the line, search computers, read personal letters, e-mails and SMS’ of rapists, pimps, pedophiles and people who produce, sell, share and store child and animal pornography, environment polluters, stock exchange cheats, people who reveal state secrets and hooligans.

    So far such surveillance methods were used only with reference to the most serious offences, including murder, terrorism, corruption, drug dealing and criminal activity, if there was a substantial reason to suspect that a crime had been committed.

    It is estimated that every year 20,000 bugs are planted in Poland. However, these are unofficial numbers.

    If the government accepts the draft bill, police may receive extended powers in several months.

  • Sport...

    Viktor Zuyev from Belarus wins AIBA first bout in Milan

    From: BelTA
    Vice Champion of the 2004 Olympics in Athens Viktor Zuyev from Belarus (+91kg) beat Canadian super heavyweight Didier Bence on the first day of the 15th AIBA World Championships in Milan, Italy on 1 September, BelTA informs. On 7 September Viktor Zuyev will face Marko Tomasovic from Croatia who started the contest with a convincing victory over Irish boxer Cathal McMonagle (14-5).

    Another Belarusian Mikhail Bakatura (64kg) failed in his bid to win Frankie Gomez from the USA 4-18.

    The Belarusian athletes will be presented in all weight categories except for the 48kg weight.

    Partaking in the competitions in Milan are 553 boxers from 144 countries.

    Belarus wins two medals at Trampoline World Cup in Belgium

    Belarusian trampoline jumpers won two medals at the World Cup Trampoline and Tumbling Competition in Ostend, Belgium on 28-29 August.

    Vycheslav Model won bronze in men’s single competition. Another Belarusian, Yakov Rakitski was 22nd.

    Tatiana Leoniuk and Anna Gorchenok won silver in women’s synchronized trampoline.

    Vyacheslav Model and Yakov Rakitski were 9th in men’s synchronized competition.

    Anna Gorchenok was only 11th in women’s single trampoline. Tatiana Leoniuk was 12th.

  • Endnote...

    Fireworks Fly in Belarus

    From: NTDTV

    Sparks fly in Belarus as an international fireworks competition gets underway.

    It's the first time the country's held this European championship qualifier at a festival near the capital Minsk.

    Each national team fired an average of 5,000 shots during their display.

    No home team took part - the festival's rules do not allow it.

    Not that these spectators seemed to mind.

    "I didn't expect it to be as great as it was. I have never seen anything like this to be honest, I've been in different countries but have never seen such a show."

    "It was an excellent fireworks, I had never seen such good fireworks in my life, not in Minsk or anywhere else. I may evaluate it as 100 percent great or even 200 percent."

    Lithuania's team came out on top with the Czech Republic taking second place.