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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Better relations with EU, Opposition protest, India, West 2009, Rowing, Buisness, Russia, Missiles, Eurovision and Polish scandal and corruption...

  • From the Top...
  • #446

    Belarus chooses international priorities over brief and disputable advantages

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has clearly determined international priorities taking into account national interests and will not change them in order to gain brief and disputable advantages. The statement was made by President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at the V Belarusian-Lithuanian international economic forum in Vilnius on 16 September, BelTA has learnt.

    The President remarked, they try to make Belarus make some choice between Europe and Russia, claiming that the two vectors are incompatible. “I think putting it this way is wrong,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “To be the linking bridge between the East and the West is our cornerstone view”. The Belarusian head of state is convinced that Belarus has geographical, cultural, economic and even political conditions to attain the goal.

    Meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart Dalia Grybauskaite earlier, Alexander Lukashenko said that Belarus will not tolerate any pressure. “I would like Europeans to understand that we will not take measures specifically to suit some projects,” stressed the Belarusian head of state. “Due to certain circumstances we have learned how to resist pressure. We will not succumb to anyone but will act in interests of the Belarusian nation without damaging our neighbors,” he said.

    At the same time Alexander Lukashenko remarked that Belarus is ready to listen to foreign opinions. “We are reasonable people and know how to listen. If we are given a good piece of advice, we will use it”. The President underlined that he is in favor of an open-hearted policy and had never failed anyone. “We are a sovereign country. We don’t have the obligations you have before the European Union. We have more freedom in making decisions and you can expect us to deliver once we make a deal,” said the Belarusian head of state.

    Speaking about the private talks, Alexander Lukashenko remarked that they had managed to discuss all matters in an open, honest and principled way. “I liked the openness of our dialogue. I like hearing another opinion about sensitive issues in an open way. Time will tell. We will see who was right about the sensitive issues that Europe puts before us,” he added. Yet Alexander Lukashenko believes that there are no problem things in Belarus-Lithuania relations.

    Alexander Lukashenko underlined that Belarus understands the fact that Lithuania has certain obligations as a member of the European Union. “I understand it. If Poland or Lithuania feel awkward talking to us, let me know,” said Alexander Lukashenko. In his opinion, Belarus and Lithuania have a reliable foundation integrated by the economy. The President assured that Belarus is resolute to implement many economic programmes and overcome various challenges to reach the goal.

    In turn, the Lithuania President remarked that the meeting had touched upon main things regarding the cooperation with Belarus, in particular, cooperation in economy, energy industry, culture as well as possible and future bilateral projects. She underlined that all views regarding political and economic areas had been agreed with all European Union member-states. “This is why we talk as a representative of the European community,” noted Dalia Grybauskaite. Speaking about holding a national expo of Belarus in Lithuania as well as the Belarusian-Lithuanian economic forum, the President of Lithuania said that it would be a good step towards enhancing the economic relations and bringing the two countries closer in politics.

    Belarus expects the European Union to reduce the cost of Schengen visas and simplify visa regulations, said Alexander Lukashenko. The accession of Poland and the Baltic states to the Schengen zone significantly restricted the possibility of the Belarusians to maintain contacts with the neighboring countries. Belarus is the only European country that has to pay €60 for a Schengen visa. According to the Belarusian head of state, the situation is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts the statements that the development of interpersonal contacts is among the key goals of the united Europe.

    The President underlined that Belarus counts on Lithuania’s assistance as this issue directly affects the relations between the Belarusians and the Lithuanians and considerably restrains the development of cultural exchange, tourism and trade.

    Alexander Lukashenko was glad to state that Belarus and Lithuania manage to address this issue on the bilateral level by creating favorable conditions for crossing the border for the residents of transboundary areas.

    The crisis should encourage Belarus and Lithuania to find new areas of cooperation and implement the projects that were ignored in better times due to their complicated fulfillment or not so high profitability, the President believes. Alexander Lukashenko regretted that the world economic and financial crisis has seriously affected the Belarusian-Lithuanian trade and economic ties. However, the President believes that certain profits can be generated by the crisis. “The crisis should drive us towards seeking various ways to establish cooperation in many areas: mechanical engineering, energy industry, agriculture, food industry, tourism,” remarked Alexander Lukashenko.

    “We have to find new schemes of manufacturing cooperation, ways to set up assembly enterprises, ways of investment cooperation,” the Belarusian head of state is convinced.

    Belarus’ resumed participation in the Generalized System of Preferences of the European Union could be an important step meant to enhance Belarus-EU trade. The President remarked that at present there are several factors restraining the export of Belarusian commodities to the European Union market. In particular, the European Union applies trade procedures against Belarus which are similar to those used against the USA, Australia, Japan and other advanced industrial countries. “It is quite obvious that the real economic capabilities of Belarus and of those countries are incommensurable and we enjoy less favorable conditions,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

    The President of Belarus also encouraged all businessmen, including Lithuanian ones, to participate in mutually beneficial cooperation in trade and transit, development and implementation of specific joint projects. Alexander Lukashenko believes that there are opportunities for that at the bilateral level and within the framework of international projects such as the Northern Dimension Partnership on Transport and Logistics.

    Belarus, India confirm interest in tighter cooperation

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and India have confirmed the mutual interest in stepping up the all-round cooperation. The development of Belarusian-Indian ties was discussed during a meeting of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and Indian Foreign Minister Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna on 17 September, the press service of the Belarusian head of state told BelTA.

    “I very often say that we are proud of being friends with such great countries as Russia, China, and India,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “Over the years of our cooperation we have secured good results. Last year Belarus-India trade approached half a billion dollars”. Yet the President believes the achievement is insufficient in view of the existing potential.

    The Belarusian head of state pointed out that Belarus and India should soon put joint efforts into expanding the trade and economic cooperation. “We expect Indian investors to be more active in Belarus,” said Alexander Lukashenko. “We would like to identify two or three major projects, focus attention on them and try to make a breakthrough in investments, joint manufacturing for other areas of cooperation to follow”.

    The President pointed out the advancement of Belarusian-Indian ties in the area of science and technology. “Our scientists cooperate in all fields. It means that there are no closed areas in our interaction,” he remarked.

    Views of Belarus and India virtually coincide on all issues on the international agenda. “Belarus and India are prominent members of the Non-Aligned Movement. We could play a much bigger role in stepping up cooperation within the framework of the organization,” Alexander Lukashenko is convinced.

    In turn, Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna pointed out the importance of the Belarusian head of state’s visit to India in 2007 after which many important agreements in multiple areas of the bilateral cooperation are being fulfilled. The head of the Indian Foreign Ministry confirmed his country’s intention to work hard to increase trade with Belarus.

    Belarus, India to make breakthrough in investment and production areas

    Belarus and India intend to make a breakthrough in the joint investment activity and implementation of joint projects in the manufacturing area, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with Foreign Minister of the Republic of India Somanahalli Mallaiah Krishna.

    The Belarusian head of state underlined, “We expect Indian investors to step up their activity on the Belarusian market; we would like to identify two or three cooperation areas and try to make a breakthrough in the investment and manufacturing activity. And then we will achieve a breakthrough in other areas, too.”

    Alexander Lukashenko pointed out that Belarus-India relations are extremely successful. Belarus is proud of its friendship with such great powers as Russia, China and India. Belarus-India cooperation proved to be fruitful. Last year, the bilateral trade approached half a billion dollars. But it is an insignificant amount against the real potential of the bilateral relations, the President said.

    The Belarusian head of state underlined that Belarus and India intend to expand trade and economic relations. Alexander Lukashenko pointed out the high level of collaboration in the scientific and technical area. “Our scientists have established comprehensive cooperation in all the fields. It demonstrates that all areas are open for the bilateral cooperation,” the President said.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Armenian PM to visit Belarus in 2009

    From: BelTA
    Prime Minister of Armenia Tigran Sargsyan plans to visit Belarus this year, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Armenia to Belarus Oleg Esayan told media on 18 September.

    Chairman of the Armenian parliament Hovik Abrahamyan is also expected to visit Belarus. According to the Ambassador, the dates of the visit are still to be agreed. Armenia, on its part, is getting ready to receive Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov. “We believe this year will be a good start for new cooperation between the two countries,” the diplomat said.

    “The two countries are closely cooperating and establishing friendly relations. The fact that Armenia was among the first who opened its embassy in Belarus means a lot,” said Oleg Esayan. Belarus and Armenia have been cooperating in the regional and international organizations; both are active participants of the CIS and the CSTO. The two countries are establishing cultural contacts as well. This autumn Armenia is expected to host the Days of the Belarusian Culture. “Such events contribute greatly to the international, interstate dialogue,” the Ambassador is confident.

    Azerbaijan-Belarus friendship society set up in Baku

    Azerbaijan is interested in establishing more active relations with Belarus in many areas, said Academician Arif Mekhtiyev, president of the Azerbaijan-Belarus friendship society that has been set up in Baku, at the first session of the society. Arif Mekhtiyev is head of the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles under the Azerbaijan President, BelTA learnt from representatives of the Belarusian embassy in Azerbaijan.

    The Azerbaijan-Belarus friendship society has been set up on the initiative of the Azerbaijan side. It includes prominent figures of science, culture, education, business circles of the country. Academician Ziyad Samedzade, head of the Economic Policy Commission of the Azerbaijan parliament, has been elected deputy president of the Azerbaijan-Belarus friendship society.

    The new organization is supposed to promote bilateral ties in economic, scientific, cultural, and educational spheres. At the next session members of the society are expected to discuss economic, cultural and educational projects that they intend to promote for the sake of strengthening the friendship between the two countries.

    Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs of Austria to visit Belarus

    On 17-18 September, Secretary-General for Foreign Affairs of Austria Johannes Kyrle will pay a working visit to Belarus, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    During the visit to Minsk, Johannes Kyrle will meet with Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov and Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky. The sides are expected to discuss the urgent issues of the bilateral cooperation including the Belarusian-Austrian cooperation in international organizations and the relations between Belarus and the European Union.

    Johannes Kyrle will take part in the unveiling ceremony of the memorial sign on behalf of the Austrian Government in the former ghetto of Minsk.

    West 2009 exercise starts in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    The operative strategic army exercise West 2009 started in Belarus on 18 September, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Defense Ministry of Belarus.

    The West 2009 manoeuvres are supposed to train the preparation and application of the Belarusian-Russian military regional taskforce in ensuring the security of the Union State, readiness to repulse possible aggression and enhance effective teamwork of the military authorities and units of the armed forces of Belarus and Russia.

    The exercise is based on possible development scenarios of military conflicts seen over the last several decades and modern views on preventing and repulsing an aggression.

    The exercise will be divided into two phases. The first phase, from 18 to 22 September, will focus on training defensive operations of the Belarusian-Russian military regional taskforce. The second stage, on 23-29 September, will assess the efficiency of the United Regional Air Defense System in parrying air attacks and conducting coordinated defensive operations.

    The total number of troops partaking in the exercise will make up almost 12,600 people including nearly 6,500 military of the Armed Forces, other troops and military units of Belarus, about 6,000 from the Armed Forces of Russia and nearly 30-strong of the Armed Forces of Kazakhstan.

    The tactical operational exercise will take place at the Obuz-Lesnovsky combined arms firing range (Brest oblast). The Borisov firing range will host a separate exercise of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia. Its active phase will be held on 27-28 September. The West 2009 exercise also covers the territory of Russia, the Ashuluk and Telemba firing ranges in particular.

    “Thus, pursuing a peaceful multi-directed policy, Belarus ensures its military security by means of strengthening its Armed Forces’ potential and improving the potential of the military regional taskforce of Belarus and Russia. The policy meets the national interests of Belarus and Russia as well as of other CSTO member-states, constituting the most significant factor of the international security. The operative strategic army exercise will become the next practical step in training the armed forces of Belarus and Russia, stimulate further development of the Union State security system,” the Defense Ministry of Belarus said.

    Air Force, Air Defence of Belarus on alert duty

    The Air Force and Air Defence troops of Belarus, who are partaking in the operative strategic army exercise West 2009 that started in Belarus on 18 September, have been put on combat alert duty, BelTA has learnt.

    The exercise will assess the efficiency of the performance of the United Regional Air Defense System of Belarus and Russia.

    Ahead of the exercise the Russian air defence aviation which is expected to partake in the military tasks re-deployed to the airdromes of the Air Force and Air Defense of Belarus. Among them are more than 40 aircrafts including Su-24M, Su-25SM, Su-27, Su-27SM, Su-34, Mig-29SMT, Mi-28N, K-52, Mi-26, Mi-24, Mi-8, Il-22M11 and Il-76.

    The exercise will use 63 aircraft, 40 helicopters, around 470 armored fighting vehicles, 228 tanks, 234 self-propelled and towed artillery units, mortars and multiple launch rocket systems.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Minsk Arena deemed fit for Eurovision

    From: BelTA
    The entertainment and sports complex Minsk Arena meets all the requirements for holding the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2010. The statement was made by Bjorn Erichsen, Director of the Television Department of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), at a press conference in Minsk on 18 September.

    “I’ve been to Minsk Arena today and saw that it was very large. It is possible to hold three song contests there. Besides, the equipment that Minsk Arena has is fit for holding the senior Eurovision,” believes the EBU representative. “After ascertaining several details I’ve made sure that the complex is fully compliant with EBU requirements”.

    Deputy President of the Belarusian Teleradiocompany Alexander Martynenko told media that the concept of holding the Junior Eurovision in Minsk has been created and the team for implementing it has been recruited.

    “We are in active negotiations with UNICEF about possible partnership. With UNICEF’s aid we plan to invite famous ambassadors of good will for holding master classes. The Swedish television will be our partners for setting the stage,” said Alexander Martynenko.

    Apart from that, a special team of professionals recruited from EBU member-states will help stage the show. These professionals have taken part in arranging all the Eurovision contests.

    The Supervisory Board, which includes nine EBU members, has decided that the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2010 will take place in Minsk. “Through the tender Belarusian Teleradiocompany came up with the best offers regarding the marketing, organization and other aspects. Apart from that you have a new facility fit for holding the contest. The number of victories was not the determining factor for making the decision,” explained Bjorn Erichsen.

    In 2009 Belarusian Teleradiocompany will become a member of the Supervisory Board because the contest will take place in Belarus next year. Together with eight other countries Belarus will hold a tender among broadcasting companies willing to hold the contest in their own countries. The Russian TV channel RTR was the main competitor of Belarusian Teleradiocompany for holding the Junior Eurovision 2010.

  • Economics...

    Bellakt to penetrate Asian and African markets

    From: BelTA
    The Bellakt company is extending its reach into new markets, including China, Vietnam, Nigeria, Iran and Egypt, BelTA learnt from Bellakt Director Alexei Gritusev.

    According to him, the company has already signed contracts with Nigeria and Egypt. The supplies have not been launched yet, but trial samples have already been sent. The company is holding negotiations with China and Vietnam, which will be followed by Iran and Iraq. “The problems lie in the commercial aspect of the matter,” Alexei Gritusev said.

    At present the company ships powdered milk products to Syria, Libya, Venezuela, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates. Alexei Gritusev reminded that in 2007 the company was Belarus’ first enterprise to obtain the right to supply dry milk to Venezuela. These products have been delivered to this country for the third year consecutive; a total of 3,500 tonnes has been shipped, by 2010 the company will have supplied 5,000 tonnes to this country. At present, Bellakt is negotiating the supplies of baby foods. Alexei Gritusev believes that the success on the Venezuelan market will enable the company to enter other markets of Latin America.

    Russia remains the major trading partner of the company accounting for about 53% of its exports. The Bellakt products enjoy a steady demand in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. “Our goal now is to increase the export of our baby foods. We have never had any problems selling our milk powder,” Alexei Gritusev said.

    According to him, the export volume in dollar terms shrank, though it increased in physical terms. For example, in January-August 2009, the export of baby foods to Russia rose against the same period last year. The export in money terms decreased as a result of the price drop on the global market. Alexei Gritusev said that the company had foreseen such a situation and shifted its focus on the products that sell well both on the domestic and foreign markets. In January-August, the company’s output inched up 2% over the same period last year. “We have not terminated a single investment project and intend to fulfill everything that we have planned in 2009,” Alexei Gritusev underlined.

    Volkovysk-based Bellakt company was founded in 1970 and reincorporated as a joint stock company in 1995. At present the company is a major baby formula producer among the post-Soviet countries. The production capacity of the company enables it to process up to 700 tonnes of milk per day. The company employs 1,300 people.

    Bellakt to start producing allergy-free baby formula in 2009

    By the end of 2009 the Bellakt dairy producer plans to establish the production of allergy-free baby formula, Liudmila Machulina, Bellakt medical information advisor, Candidate of Medical Science, Associate Professor at the Belarusian Medical Academy of Post-Graduate Education, told a national seminar dedicated to the implementation of the presidential programme “Children of Belarus” for 2006-2010.

    The participants of the seminar visited the major departments of the enterprise and made sure that the company created all the conditions to produce high-quality and safe products in compliance with international requirements. HACCP standards (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) have been introduced at a shop floor producing baby foods.

    At present allergy-free baby formula is undergoing clinical trials at the national research centre “Mother and Baby”. “It means that by the end of this year the company’s line-up of baby formula will be complete,” Liudmila Machulina underlined.

    She noted that the presidential programme “Children of Belarus” has a subprogramme “Children’s Nutrition”.

    This subprogramme is to promote the production of import-substituting baby foods in Belarus.

    According to expert estimates, baby formula produced in Belarus is in compliance with all international standards.

    Bellakt offers basic formula for healthy babies and medicated formula for babies having health issues. The quality of Belarusian baby formula rivals that of foreign baby foods.

    Fifty Belarusian food stores to open in St. Petersburg soon

    Fifty Belarusian food stores Belarusian Gift are to open in Saint Petersburg in the near future, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov told reporters on 18 September. He took part in the fourth session of the task group of Belarus-St. Petersburg Business Cooperation Council which concluded in Grodno on 18 September.

    “Today we focused on the establishment of a distribution network of Belarusian foodstuffs in Saint Petersburg. We have done a lot in this area. For example, Belarus and Saint Petersburg have set up wholesale and logistics facilities with the necessary retail and refrigerating equipment. Five Belarusian Gift stores have already been opened, another two are expected to be opened in the near future.”

    The Vice-Premier noted that 50 sites in Saint Petersburg were allocated for the construction of Belarusian stores; the Belarusian side chose 14 of them; here the construction will be started in the near future, the construction of eight of them will be launched in 2009.

    This project should be implemented within a year or a year and a half, Andrei Kobyakov said. He pointed out that the Grodno oblast is the leading Belarusian region in terms of food supplies to Saint Petersburg, accounting for 70% of the total supplies to this Russian city.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Protests Greet Belarusian President's Visit To Lithuania

    From: RFE/RL
    Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite greets her Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Vilnius.
    Protests in the Lithuanian capital welcomed the official visit by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to Vilnius, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

    Demonstrators recreated the opposition's historical, white-and-red Belarusian national flag with thousands of paper birds on the river embankment near the Lithuanian parliament.

    A huge poster with a crossed-out picture of a face with a moustache and a sign saying "No Country for Moustache!" was placed nearby.

    When Lukashenka and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite started talks at the presidential palace, dozens of protesters picketed the building, saying that Lithuania should be against the oppression of democracy and the widespread human rights violations in Belarus.

    Lukashenka's trip is a rare visit to a European Union country. Rights activists are particularly unhappy with Lukashenka's visit because it begins on the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of two opposition leaders who have not been seen in the last decade.

    Lukashenka said after his talks with Grybauskaite that they had agreed on all issues that were discussed.

    'Constructive Interaction'

    He said at a Belarusian-Lithuanian economic forum that Minsk and Vilnius could jointly add to the "constructive interaction along the East-West axis."

    He also expressed hope that the EU will lower Schengen visa costs for Belarusian citizens, which now cost 60 euros per visa.

    Lukashenka said "such a situation is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts the statement that developing personal contacts is a key goal of unified Europe."

    EU calls for reform after Belarus crackdown

    From: Reuters
    European Union president Sweden called on Belarussian authorities to take steps to improve democracy and human rights in the country after a crackdown by authorities on demonstrators this week.

    "The Presidency urges the Belarussian authorities to refrain from the use of force in dealing with peaceful demonstrations and to ensure that representatives of independent media are able to perform their tasks without interference," Sweden, holder of the rotating presidency, said in a statement on Thursday.

    On Wednesday, police in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, broke up an unsanctioned opposition rally and arrested about 20 people. [ID:nLG254802]

    About 40 activists had gathered on the city's main square to mark the anniversary of the 1999 disappearance of opposition activist Viktor Gonchar.

    Riot police broke up the protest, dragging activists into nearby vans and blocked journalists trying to cover the rally.

    The European Union has proposed negotiating an association agreement with Belarus under its "Eastern Partnership" scheme which provides for closer cooperation on energy and offers aid.

    Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko was described by a former U.S. administration as Europe's last dictator, but he has granted concessions to the opposition in recent years in a bid to build better ties with the European Union.

    New chapter in diplomacy, Krishna in Belarus

    From: Rediff
    External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is in Belarus to foster bilateral ties between the two countries.

    On Wednesday, Krishna -- the first Indian external affairs minister to visit Belarus -- visited the Victory Square Monument in Minsk and paid tribute to soldiers who had laid down their lives during the World War II while fighting the Nazi invaders.

    "This is the first ever visit by an Indian minister for external affairs to Belarus. I think it is an important visit with a view to further cement and strengthen relationship to mutual advantage," said Ramesh Chander, Indian Ambassador to Belarus.

    Krishna's visit is being seen as important, as it would help to cement ties further between the two countries.

    "In 2008, we had a 432 million trade turnover. And this year, it is likely to touch 500 million by the end of the year," Chander added.

    Krishna reviewed guard of honour of the Belarus Army at the Square. Deputy Mayor of Minsk, Titenkov Mikhail, received him.

    On Thursday, Krishna will call on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko.

    He will also hold talks with his counterpart Sergey Martynov. Two agreements will be signed including one on Cooperation in Physical Education and Sports and a Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of a Digital Learning Centre in Minsk.

    The Digital Learning Centre will impart skills in advanced computing and software creation to young Belarusian students, initially with Indian faculty members and thereafter with trained Belarusian professionals.

    Krishna will also pay an official visit to Turkmenistan on September 18 and 19.

    He will call on Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov and hold meetings with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov. Krishna will also have a meeting with Minister in-charge of Oil and Gas sector Baymyrat Hojamuhammedov.
    Both countries will sign a cooperation agreement during the visit.

    Russia, Belarus begin joint anti-aircraft defense exercises

    From: RIA Novosti
    The first phase of joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises began on Friday with the involvement of some 100 aircraft and 12,600 military personnel, the Belarusian Defense Ministry announced.

    The five-day first phase of the joint Zapad 2009 (West 2009) anti-aircraft defense exercises will concentrate on the preparation of defense operations of the regional forces. The second phase of the exercises, on September 23-29, will focus on the effectiveness of the unified regional anti-aircraft defense systems of Russia and Belarus.

    The exercise will, among other things, rehearse interoperability within the framework of the Belarusian-Russian integrated air defense system, which the two countries agreed to establish in February.

    According to the Belarusian Defense Ministry statement, 63 airplanes, 40 helicopters, 470 infantry fighting vehicles, 228 tanks and 234 artillery systems will participate in the exercises. S-300 air defense missile systems will also be used.

    S-300s are considered one of the world's most effective all-altitude regional air defense systems, comparable in performance to the U.S. MIM-104 Patriot system.

    Belarus has several Russian-made S-300 air defense battalions on combat duty, and has long been negotiating the purchase of advanced S-400 systems from Russia, which should be available in 2010.

    Besides the 12,600 Russian and Belarusian military personnel, around 30 Kazakh military personnel will also participate.

  • From the Opposition...

    Milinkevich’s website: Actions of Lukashenka to defend sovereignty more important than political liberalization

    From: Charter '97
    The team of Milinkevich considers the trip of Belarusian dictator to Vilnius a wise step.

    At the corporate website of the former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, a document by one of the main advisors of Milinkevich, Andrei Lyakhovich, is published in the column of Analytics. The document is called “Development of the situation in Belarus in first half of September-2009: main events and commentaries”. In the section “Recommendations” it is said:

    “To our mind, considering the threat to independence of Belarus by Russia, the West shouldn’t make demands which are absolutely unacceptable for Lukashenka’s regime. In the run-up to the presidential elections (possibly in 2010) one shouldn’t rigorously insist on liberalization of the election law, on including all the independent media into the state system of distribution, on giving air time for oppositionists…

    …In the context of the existing threat from Russia, one should treat political liberalization in Belarus as an unavoidably slow process. Because of its crisis state, opposition won’t be able to use it for a long time. On the other hand, excessively increased process of political liberalization could create additional possibilities for pressure from the side of Russia…

    …Extending of cooperation between Belarus and the EU in the framework of the Eastern Partnership shouldn’t be strictly preconditioned by steps of Lukashenka’s regime towards political liberalization. In order to strengthen independence of Belarus, widen cooperation of Belarus with the West, one should first of all use possibilities of cooperation with the authorities: expand trade and economic relations, cooperation in the framework of the Eastern Partnership, trans-border cooperation.

    Considering the crisis state of the Belarusian opposition and the threat from Russia, the following should be noted.

    The actions of Lukashenka’s regime aimed at defence of sovereignty in the relations with Russia and at widening the cooperation with the West are of greater importance for interests of the West and for Belarusian national interests, than political liberalization in Belarus.

    A policy of moderate pressure on Lukashenka’s regime seems the most effective policy.

    It should be consistently maintained that there should be no political prisoners in Belarus. Possibilities for the civil society and independent press in Belarus should be expanded:

    1. Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code that envisages criminal responsibility for activities on behalf of unregistered public associations and political parties should be abolished.

    2. Terms of renting premises for headquarters of public associations should be improved and their legal addresses’ registration facilitated.

    3. Articles 367, 368, 369 of the Criminal Code which allow persecuting journalists for their professional activities, must be abolished.

    4. The practice of politically motivated dismissals and expulsions form universities must be stopped.

    5. Legal and administrative hindrances for humanitarian and educational contacts of Belarusian children and youth with the outside world should be removed.

    To our mind, the Special Guest status in the PACE for Belarusian parliament is untimely.

    The invitation of Lukashenka to the Lithuanian-Belarusian economic forum is a right step of the Lithuanian government also in the context of promoting positive changes in Belarus, expanding cooperation of Belarus and the EU. However, the invitation should have been postponed to a different day of the forum. Lukashenka’s arrival to the EU capital on September 16, on the anniversary of disappearance (murder, to be more exact) of one of the opposition leaders V. Hanchar, is a signal for the authorities that the EU is ready to conduct a dialogue on Lukashenka’s terms…

    …Lukashenka offers the West to develop cooperation on the grounds that Belarus respects the conditions of a certain geopolitical contract. He shouldn’t yield to Russia. He shouldn’t recognize independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. He should participate in Eastern Partnership. He should insistently invite Western business into the country. He should be interested in development of trade and economic relations.

    Lukashenka’s team thinks that the West won’t return to the policy of sanctions, would continue “pull Belarus away” from Russia. Lukashenka said about three lines of cooperation the West really chooses to work now.

    The government has returned to the practice of repressions against opposition in February 2009, in the run-up to March decision of the EU on sanctions. The regime finds it necessary to give the same signal to the West now: it shouldn’t be demanded steps in the direction of political liberalization”.

    A note by website: Now it is absolutely clear on which analysis the “strategy” of Alyaksandr Milinkevich is based. IT is cooperation with the regime. The leader of human rights and educational organisation “For Freedom” movement has been trying to persuade Western politicians for a long time that no pressure should be used against the Belarusian dictator, as only Lukashenka is a guarantor of the sovereignty of Belarus and a defender from Russia. However the abovementioned analysis work does not have a word about the beginning of the largest Russian-Belarusian military drills in the history of modern Belarus. The chief adviser of Milinkevich, analyst Lyakhovich, hasn’t noticed Russian trains of military equipment and 6,000 Russian soldiers, bombers and fighter planes of Russia. There isn’t a word in the document that the Belarusian delegation at the UN General Assembly opposed territorial integrity of Georgia, that Lukashenka agreed for Belarusian army’s participation in the Collective Operational Reaction Forces of the CSTO, that the second stage of drills of these punitive forces is taking place already. And it is not by chance, as the whole concept of allegedly pro-European aspirations of Lukashenka collapses then.

  • Russia...

    Russia abandons plans to deploy missiles near Poland

    From: LA Times
    An undated file picture shows a Russian Iskander on display during a military equipment exhibition in the Siberian town of Nizhny Tagil
    Russia will drop its controversial threat to deploy missiles near Poland in a reaction to shifts in U.S. missile shield plans, a Defense Ministry spokesman said Saturday.

    After President Obama decided last week to scrap the U.S. plan for missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow was widely expected to follow suit and abandon its threat to deploy Iskander missile systems in the far western Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

    "Naturally, we will cancel the measures that Russia planned to take in response to the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems," Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin said in an interview with Echo of Moscow radio. "Common sense has finally prevailed over ambitions."

    Obama's move to scrap plans for the missile facilities, which the Kremlin viewed as a menace, removes a stubborn sticking point from U.S.-Russian relations. The timing suggests it might have been intended to woo Moscow into growing more helpful on the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

    But Russian officials have remained noncommittal -- and their abandonment of an unfulfilled threat is unlikely to boost Western hopes for cooperation on the Iran issue.

    Moscow has generally backed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and been at pains to maintain cordial relations -- and considerable trade interests -- with Iran. The Iranian president traveled to Russia this summer amid raging street protests over the legitimacy of his reelection, and was received by his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

    On Saturday, however, the Russian government sharply criticized Ahmadinejad for calling the Holocaust a "myth."

    "Statements to that effect, no matter where they come from, signify a departure from the truth, and are unacceptable," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said. "Attempts to deny the Holocaust . . . are an insult to all [World War II] victims and to all those who fought against fascism."

    Russia has come under heavy pressure from Israel and the United States to toughen its stance against Tehran's nuclear program. Expectations are growing in advance of Oct. 1, when officials from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China will meet with Iranian diplomats in Turkey.

    The idea of deploying missiles in Kaliningrad had been roundly criticized by the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and European countries. NATO officials warned that setting up missiles in the patch of Russian land between Poland and Lithuania would have violated U.S.-Russian security treaties.

    Moscow replied that any military plans for Kaliningrad were an internal affair, and not up for international discussion. If the United States pressed ahead with its plans, Russian officials said, then so would Moscow.

    General Motors To Produce Cheap Cars In Russia

    From: Bernama
    General Motors facilities in Russia will produce cheap cars and initial investment will comprise 170 million euro (US$250 million), according to German Gref, the head of Sberbank, which together with Canadian Magna bought GM European Opel branch.

    "Production will be arranged in a brief time in St. Petersburg. Most likely Opel Astra will be assembled," Russian news agency Itar-Tass cited Gref as saying.

    "New Opel business plan has 170 million euro, which are investments in Russia that may be provided for production of components and for assembly", he said, adding total investments may be close to 600 million euro (US$883 million).

    However, that is a distant perspective, he said.

    "Opel's problem is that the company has to decrease costs and preserve investments into innovations. The project is very difficult and would be impossible without such partner as Magna," Gref said.

    He did not rule out cooperation with crisis-hit AvtoVAZ carmaker in case it offers a similar cheap car.

    "If AvtoVAZ has a similar low-cost model we can cooperate in component production. That is possible. We are interested in stabilizing the situation at AvtoVAZ," Gref said.

    In the meantime, in Moscow foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko admitted the deal to buy Opel had "a certain political dimension" on the eve of the German election.

    "In modern life politics and economics are interlinked notions. But in this context the deal with Opel targets mostly economic aims for us.

    "However, I would not conceal that due to its large-scale scope and the pre-election context in Germany it also has a certain political dimension," Nesternko said.

    But he added one should "not look for a secret political agenda in the deal."

    "That is a mutually beneficial deal, which we hope will become a new step in the integration of the Russian economy into the European one.

    That is an important event, a substantiated and market-based choice aimed at a long-term perspective with a certain degree of social responsibility," he said.

    "The deal will not only allow to expand cooperation with our partners, but also to get access to advanced foreign technologies and modern production management methods," Nesterenko said.

    Russia's Sberbank to sell unpaid loan assets

    From: Reuters
    Sberbank (SBER03.MM) is happy to remain Russia's largest lender and hopes to sell assets acquired through unpaid loans during the crisis -- from shops to oil fields -- within three years, its head said on Saturday.

    Russia slipped into its first recession in a decade this year and the resulting rise in non-performing loans has seen a wide range of collateral pass into the hands of banks.

    "Our job is finance ... We must, as quickly as possible, get rid of these assets," Sberbank chief executive German Gref said at an economic forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

    "We are already among the top three biggest retailers in the country, and a large oil company. If we start doing (rail) freight, and Russian Railways starts opening bank branches, it won't work at all."

    The head of the state-controlled bank later told reporters he hoped to sell such assets within the next 2-3 years.

    "Some of the assets we will sell immediately, and some will need certain restructuring and the injection of additional financing," Gref said.

    Sberbank has already assumed control of oil fields from Urals Energy, several real estate projects and a chain of shops, while collateral on its books includes an airline.

    Gref's sentiment matches that of the Russian government, which has said it will auction off any assets acquired through companies unable to repay loans granted as part of the state's anti-crisis plan. [ID:nLG21592]

    Still, Sberbank diversified its business when it jointly with Canada's Magna (MGa.TO) recently agreed to buy a majority stake in German car maker Opel from General Motors [GM.UL].


    Unlike Russia's number two lender VTB (VTBR.MM), Sberbank has managed to remain in profit. Gref reiterated that provisions were 2.5 times higher than actual bad loans on its books.

    "The past year was such a storm that only a really powerful ship, like Sberbank, could survive," he said.

    The bank -- which accounts for a quarter of Russia's banking sector assets -- remains committed to keeping its network of some 20,000 branches across Russia's 11 time zones.

    "We would have had to shut 1,500 branches this year as unprofitable, but we are holding them," he said, adding that a maximum of 150 branches could be closed.

    Asked about Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's call for banks to lower interest rates on loans to 6 percent in the coming years [ID:nLI179221], Gref said that would only be possible if inflation was 1-2 percent compared to about 12 percent currently.

    He noted that another condition would be to lower the central bank's refinancing rate to 2 percent from the current 10.50 percent.

    Gref also said Sberbank might buy back its shares from the market in order to carry out a stock options programme for management, but no decision had been taken yet. He declined to give further details.

    A source told Reuters on Friday the buy-back idea had been on the agenda for the last board meeting on Thursday but was taken off the agenda because it had "not been fully prepared".

    Sberbank's chief financial officer Anton Karamzin told Reuters any possible buy-back would involve less than 1 percent of the bank's stock.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Ex-Celt’s match-fixing fine

    From: Sun
    Convicted ... Dariusz Wdowczyk
    FORMER Celtic hero Dariusz Wdowczyk has narrowly dodged jail - after he was convicted of MATCH-FIXING charges.

    The 47-year-old was instead hit with a £21,000 fine for bribing referees and footballers in his native Poland.

    Wdowczyk only avoided prison after co-operating with the investigation into the huge soccer scandal - which has already seen 200 people sentenced.

    A court heard Wdowczyk and his assistant Andrzej Wozniak had set up an elaborate system of bribery while in charge of third division Korona Kielce.

    They had even managed to influence officials in the Polish Football Federation. And it is believed the pair set up more than 20 matches during the 2003/2004 season.

    Wdowczyk - who played for the Hoops from 1989 to 1994 - was detained in 2008 following the major probe into corruption in Polish football.

    The judge in Kielce said: "Sport's fair-play rules have become such an important social issue that they have to be protected by the law."

    Wdowczyk - also director of football at Livingston in 2007 - was sentenced to three years, suspended for five years for good behaviour.

    He was also banned from football for three years.

    It is understood he has the right to appeal - but is not planning to do so.

    EU to fine Poland over 100 million euro

    From: Polskie Radio
    The European Commission is demanding Poland return 400 million zloty in direct funds, paid during 2006-2007.

    The EU accuses Poland of failing to supply a unified system of farm maps, in line with the EU's requirements, so as to be able to distribute subsidies to individual farmers.

    Warsaw, on the other hand, says that supervision of the project was very precise and denies irregularities in procedure.

    Poland will have to turn to the European Tribunal to avoid sanctions, which will be officially announced in two weeks time.

    Record fine for PKM Duda CEO for misleading investors

    From: WBJ
    Maciej Duda
    Maciej Duda, president of meat processing company PKM Duda, will has been fined zl.200,000 for misinforming investors in relation to denying speculation of having invested in currency options.

    At the end of last year he stated that the firm was not involved in toxic options, while two months later it turned out that the negative valuation of the options stood at zl.29 million. The CEO defended himself claiming that he was misunderstood by the investors.

    "I meant options of speculative nature and not standard transactions securing export revenues. I regret that the market understood me in a wrong way," explained Duda. The imposed fine is the maximum penalty that can be imposed for such misconduct.

    "This is the highest ever fine for information manipulation imposed on an individual," said ?ukasz Dajnowicz, spokesperson of the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF).

  • Sport...

    2009 European Rowing Championships begin

    From: Universal Sports
    Florian Stofer and Andre Vonarburg had an impressive day earning a spot in Sunday's final.
    The international rowing course at Brest, Belarus is a new destination for the majority of the athletes at the 2009 European Championships. The course was completed in 2007 and this is the first international regatta to grace its waters. The venue consists of two parallel canals, one for the competitors to warm up and cool down on and one for the 2000m race course. Brest is 3km from the Polish border and the majority of athletes flew to Warsaw, Poland, before a long drive to Brest.

    Day one of the European Championships featured the first round of racing, the heats. In flat, calm conditions with a slight tail-wind developing later in the morning, the finishing order of races was often sorted within the first 500m. There were, however, exceptions with the men’s quad turning into one of the highlights of the day.

    Women’s Pair (W2-)

    There were two heats today. The top two boats made it directly to the final on Sunday. Romania and Russia are these boats. Russia earned bragging rights by qualifying with the fastest time. Russia’s Mayya Zhuchkova and Alevtina Podvyazkina finished eighth at last month’s World Rowing Championships and their partnership, that began as under-23 rowers, looks solid and on track.

    Men’s Pair (M2-)

    Serbians Nikola Stojic and Goran Jagar of Serbia have stepped up a notch. The duo have recorded mixed results since they partnered up four years ago. Stojic is one of Serbia’s most successful rowers with a career that goes back through a number of forms of his nation, back to 1992.

    Heat one saw Stojic and Jagar, the 2007 European Champions, win convincingly and record the same qualifying time as winners of heat two, Apostolos and Nikolaos Gkountoulas of Greece. The Gkountoulas brothers are 2009 World Rowing Championships bronze medalists and they will be looking to displace the Serbians when they meet in the final on Sunday. Serbia and Greece are the two boats to go directly to the final.

    Women's Double Sculls (W2x)

    With the support of the home crowd, Belarus raced in heat one of two heats. The top two boats would go through directly to the final and Belarus got into second place following Italy’s Laura Schiavone and Gabriella Bascelli down the 2000m course. Schiavone and Bascelli raced during the season in the quad. At this regatta the duo are competing in both events.

    Heat two represented the fastest qualifying time with the Czech Republic sisters, Jitka and Lenka Antosova storming down the course in the lead the entire way.

    Lenka Antosova is just 17 years old and raced last month at the World Rowing Junior Championships as well as the World Rowing Championships where she paired up with older sister, Jitka to finish fifth in the final of the double. Poland also qualified for the final from their second place position in heat two.

    Men's Double Sculls (M2x)

    Florian Stofer and Andre Vonarburg of Switzerland are off to a flying start. The duo came together earlier this season following Vonarburg’s decision not to continue racing the single. This meant Stofer changed from sweep rowing to sculling. Together they raced in heat two recording the fastest qualifying time and earning a spot in the final.

    Estonia’s Allar Raja and Kaspar Taimsoo also qualified with their win in heat one. These two crews will meet in the final on Sunday, having last raced each other at the World Rowing Championships in August where Estonia had the upper hand.

    Men's Four (M4-)

    The Czech Republic looked to have the edge coming into today's action. The Czech’s finished fourth at last month’s World Rowing Championships. Today they moved on to the European Championships A-final by winning heat one. The crew of Gruber, Makovicka, Bruncvik and Horvath are three of the athletes that won this event at the European Championships in 2007.

    Much to the delight of the spectators, Belarus’s four got ahead of Ukraine to win the second heat. Belarus is in the A-final on Sunday.

    Women's Single Sculls (W1x)

    Julia Levina, 36, of Russia, has competed in three Olympic Games and over a decade ago she raced internationally for the first time in the single. Today Levina took on Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic. Levina had the lead at the start, but the well-raced and confident Knapkova easily pushed into the lead going into the second half of the race. Levina did not fight back. Knapkova goes directly to Sunday’s final.

    Ekaterina Karsten-Khodotovitch of Belarus was the first person in her country to win an Olympic gold medal. She did this back in 1996. Today she raced for the first time in an international event in her home country. Karsten did not disappoint the spectators, demonstrating a relaxed and smooth stroke in heat two of the women’s single. No other sculler could even get close to the reigning World Champion. Karsten will race again in Sunday’s final.

    Men's Single Sculls (M1x)

    This event attracted the largest number of entries, with 18 nations fronting up. Greece’s Ioannis Christou is the defending European Champion and he raced in the third of three heats. Christou found himself in one of the tightest races of the morning. The Greek had to fight his way past three boats to find the lead and even then both Artem Kosov of Russia and Dairis Adamaitis of Latvia pushed Christou until the end. Christou managed to cross the line first and goes to the semi-final with Kosov.

    Heat two recorded the fastest qualifying time when Lithuania’s Mindaugas Griskonis and Martin Gulyas of Germany fought it out through the middle of the race and then had to hold the pressure right until the end when Bulgaria’s Aleksandar Aleksandrov joined in the sprint to the line. Griskonis and Gulyas qualify for the semi-final.

    The first heat was similarly not decided in the first 500m. Croatia’s Mario Vekic started off at the back of the field and had to work his way through to the lead. As the rest of the field faltered in the second 1000m, Vekic pushed into the front ahead of Lukas Babac of Slovakia. Vekic and Babac qualify for the semi-final.

    Lightweight Women's Double Sculls (LW2x)

    Hungary’s Anna Alliquander and Zsuzsanna Hajdu gave Poland’s 2009 world silver medallists, Magdalena Kemnitz and Agnieszka Renc a run for their money in the first heat. Although Kemnitz and Renc had found the lead coming into the second half of the race, Alliquander and Hajdu continued to move on them chasing the Poles right to the line. Poland and Hungary go directly to Sunday’s final.

    In heat two the reigning World Champions, Greece’s Christina Giazitzidou and Alexandra Tsiavou had an easier time, leading France (Simon and Maurin) from start to finish. This event requires athletes to average a weight of 57kg and these athletes would have been weighed two hours before racing. This adds an extra element of planning for these athletes and weighing in correctly becomes an art in itself. Having a day off from racing, by going directly to the final, is frequently beneficial.

    Lightweight Men's Double Sculls (LM2x)

    Two of the three heats followed similar race patterns. Heat one and two both sorted out the finishing order within the first 500m of racing. Heat one started and finished in the order of France, Portugal and the Czech Republic as the three qualifying crews. France (Pierre-Etienne Pollez and Maxime Goisset) executed a nearly even-split race from their leading position and also gave them the fastest qualifying time of the three heats. France, Portugal and the Czech Republic advance to Saturday’s semi-finals.

    Heat two followed suit with Italy, Poland and Ukraine leaving the starting blocks in first second and third and finishing 2000m later in this same order. At the head of the field, Lorenzo Bertini and Elia Luini of Italy showed that this combination will be a force to be reckoned with over the next two days of racing.

    Heat three included a late surprise entry of Vasileios Polymeros into the Greek boat. Teaming up with Dimitrios Mougios brings the 2008 Olympic silver medalists back together and they showed little sign of slowing down today. The Greeks got out of the starting blocks in the lead and remained there for the rest of the race. But this was not without challenges. Austria’s Joschka Hellmeier and Florian Berg gave Polymeros and Mougios a good run for their money, making the trip to Belarus well worth it. At the finish line Greece, Austria and Spain had qualified for the semi-finals tomorrow.

    Lightweight Men's Four (LM4-)

    This event is shaping up to be a German – French showdown. Germany are the reigning World Champions but the French see the reuniting of three of the crew that finished fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics (Bette, Tilliet and Solforosi). Today the two countries raced in opposing heats. France won heat one in a time of 6:09 while Germany finished first in heat two in a time of 6:08.

    These two crews will take up the center lanes in Sunday’s finals and there is little doubt that their respective coaches will have a keen eye open to see what their opposition is up to.

    Women's Quadruple Sculls (M4x)

    Belarus, unfortunately for the local supporters, ended at the back of the field while reigning World Champions, Ukraine led from start to finish. Italy came through to second after coming back from a slow start, showing that their double that raced earlier in the day could manage the two event regatta schedule.

    Men's Quadruple Sculls (M4x)

    Poland are the Olympic and World Champions in the men’s quadruple sculls, but today their “B” boat showed that the country contains great depth. In heat two Sobczak, Licznerski, Sloma and Chabel dealt to all opposition by getting into the lead through the second 500 and remaining there. Poland earns a berth in the final on Sunday.

    Heat one was not so decisive and ended up being one of the most exciting events of the day with all six crews vying for one spot for more than 1500m of the race. Then Belgium, Germany and Slovenia ran out of puff leaving Belarus, Russia and Ukraine to sprint for the line. Ukraine got there first and will be in the lane next to Poland in Sunday’s final.

    Women’s eight (W8+)

    This event is shaping up to be a Romanian showcase. They look to be in a class of their own after easily winning heat one. Romania comes to the European Championships after finishing second at last month’s World Rowing Championships and today they finished in a time of 6:18, eight seconds faster than the winners of heat two, Ukraine. Romania and Ukraine now earn a rest day and will return to the Brest regatta course waters for the final on Sunday.

    Men's Eight (M8+)

    Despite the dominance of Romania in the women’s eight, the Romanian men’s eight never seem to be able to reach the same standard. Today Romania raced in heat one of the men’s eight but from early on in the race, they showed that they did not have the speed of the leading boats. Defending European Champions, France held the lead. Poland, who were fourth at the World Rowing Championships, chased hard, but France’s crew of a mixture of their top sweep rowers and scullers, held them off. France and Poland both earn direct qualifying spots for the final.

    Italy have had a disappointing season in the eight barely squeezing into the final at last month’s World Rowing Championships. They come to Brest hoping to put things right. The Italians raced in heat two slotting in behind Ukraine as they raced down the 2000m course. An evenly paced race by Ukraine held them in the lead and with just enough of a margin to hold off any Italian challenges. Both Ukraine and Italy go directly to the final.

  • Endnote...

    Putin praises missile rethink

    From: FT
    Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, said yesterday Washington's decision to scrap plans for a missile defence shield in central Europe was a step forward - but he called for other concessions from the US.

    In his first public comments since the White House announced its decision on Thursday, Mr Putin said he wanted the US to support efforts by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan to join the World Trade Organisation.

    "I expect that after this correct and brave decision, others will follow," Mr Putin said in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

    He suggested the measures should also include the "removal of all restrictions on the transfer of high technology to Russia".

    The US administration said scrapping Bush-era plans for ground-based missile interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic for a sea- and air-based system would result in a more flexible system that could be deployed sooner.

    It added that Poland and the Czech Republic could host smaller interceptors at a later date.

    Critics warned that, rather than earning Moscow's goodwill, the US move might have emboldened Russia's hawks.

    However, Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, countered accusations that the US had undermined its own national security. "We are not, quote, 'shelving missile defence'," she said.

    "We are deploying missile defence sooner than the Bush administration plan-ned to do so, and we are deploying a more comprehensive system."

    The US insisted that it has not linked its move to hopes of a tougher Russian line on Iran's nuclear programme. However, in a speech in Brussels, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato secretary-general, indicated that Moscow should now make some concessions.

    He said: "What I would expect is that Russia will join us in putting maximum . . . pressure on Iran to stop Iran's nuclear aspirations."

    Analysts doubted whether Mr Obama would get much in return from the Kremlin.

    Masha Lipman, of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said: "Anything that looks like a concession can be viewed by the Russian side as a sign of weakness."

    Ms Lipman said she did not expect Russia to support sanctions against Iran, nor make any sort of "public, unequivocal commitments" regarding arms sales to Tehran.

    However, she said, it would be likely to facilitate the signing of a strategic arms treaty to replace the Start pact expiring in December

    In his speech in Brussels, Mr Rasmussen urged Russia to work with Nato on missile defence and -proposed looking at ways to link US, Nato and Russian anti-missile systems.

    He said Nato and Russia should conduct a joint review of the security challenges they faced.

    "I would like Russia and Nato to agree to carry out a joint review of the new 21st-century security challenges, to serve as a firm basis for our future co-operation," Mr Rasmussen said.

    "We should explore the potential for linking the US, Nato and Russian missile defence systems at an appropriate time."