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Today's Headlines for:
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Social spending, Eastern Partnership, UNGA, Eurovision, Grodno CHP, Papal Visit, UFO; Russia, News, Culture, Sport and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #447

    Alexander Lukashenko: social spending will stay intact in 2010 budget

    From: BelTA
    The president participating in the Dažynki National Harvest Festival and Fair
    In the next five years Belarus’ agriculture should reach the European standards, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said during the agricultural festival Dazhynki 2009 on 19 September, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    The town of Kobrin hosted the festival this year. Alexander Lukashenko went to the Brest oblast to celebrate the holiday and visit the facilities built ahead of the festival.

    The Belarusian leader visited a new ice arena and a hotel. The President was briefed that the oblast upgraded 410 facilities, laid engineer networks and built 120 kilometers of roads. Besides, it constructed an aqua park with a balneary, an amphitheatre and an ice arena. Over Br420 billion have been allocated to implement the projects.

    The head of state took stock of the tourism development in the Brest oblast. According to Governor of the oblast Konstantin Sumar, a lot has been gone to develop agro-ecotourism in the oblast. In 2009 there were 113 farm estates as against 6 in 2006. In 2008 the oblast provided almost Br20 billion worth of tourist services, and almost Br12 billion worth of services in January- July 2009.

    Alexander Lukashenko paid attention to the fact that the improvement of the Dazhynki host-towns should not be stopped after the holiday is celebrated. The President instructed the State Control Committee and the Presidential Administration to check the towns that hosted the national festival before.

    Alexander Lukashenko noted that within the next five years Belarus should reach the European standards in the agricultural production and modernize the whole agricultural industry. “We have no time for swinging. In the next five years it is necessary for the Belarusian agriculture to reach the European standards. The most important factors here are efficiency and the development pace, an ability to address the needs of the domestic and global markets. These issues should be brought to the forefront of the rural revival programme 2011-2015 that is already being developed by our scientists and experts of the profile state organizations,” the head of state said.

    According to the President, to reach the goal it is necessary to be more active in implementing innovations in the agricultural industry. “Our best farms can be cited as a good example. We should make everything possible to use their experience across the board,” he stressed.

    The Belarusian leader said that the system of supporting the agricultural sector has altered. “In the future we will leave aside subsidies. The base we are to create within the next five years will secure self-financing of the agricultural sector,” he said.

    At the same time it does not mean the state will not put funds in the agricultural development. “The resources, however, will be allocated to implement the state programmes only,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President paid attention to the necessity to ensure a high technical level in the rural area, to complete the upgrade of the agricultural companies and build agro-towns.

    Great attention has been recently paid to develop the social area in the rural sector. More than 33,000 homes and apartments have been built over the last years.

    As for the budget 2010, the head of state noted that the social spending would not be revised downward.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Implementation of Eastern Partnership projects can start in 2010

    From: BelTA
    The implementation of the Eastern Partnership projects can start in 2010, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valery Voronetsky said during a session of the House of Representatives’ permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS on 22 September.

    There have been worked out all major projects in which Belarus focuses on transit infrastructure development, creation of transport corridors, transport services and simplification of customs procedures.

    “These issues have been discussed with Latvia, Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. The European Commission is yet elaborating the mechanisms to discuss the projects. We forecast the implementation of the projects will start next year,” Valery Voronetsky said.

    The chairpersons of the parliamentary committees for international affairs of the Eastern Partnership member-states are expected to meet in Stockholm in autumn 2009. According to Valery Voronetsky, the session will aim at elaborating approaches to the interparliamentary cooperation between the EU organizations and the Eastern Partnership participants. “There are several issues that remain unsettled. In particular, it concerns Belarus’ institutionalization in the Eastern Partnership parliamentary structure. The European Parliament as well as several national parliaments offers to present Belarus in this structure in some other way that does not, actually, coincide with our expectations. We are trying to regulate the issue via the diplomatic canals. We suppose the issue can become one of those topping the agenda of the forthcoming session,” Valery Voronetsky said.

    Belarus economy yet to reach ambitious goals

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian economy has yet to reach ambitious goals, said Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky as he met with Managing Director of Ausfuhrkredit Gesellschaft Bank (AKA Bank) Hans-Jorg Todt on 22 September.

    “We don’t scrap the ambitious goals set by the Belarusian government. We will continue implementing investment and innovation programs for the next 3-5 years,” said the Prime Minister. He remarked that with declining economies in the neighboring countries this year’s investment growth rate in Belarus stands close to 117%. This is why investments are a vital part for implementing programs.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, Germany is one of Belarus’ leading partners. In January-July 2009 the bilateral trade exceeded €1 billion. In Belarus 352 enterprises with a share of German capital have been set up and work successfully.

    Sergei Sidorsky confirmed the readiness of the government to continue working with AKA Bank. He also thanked the bank administration for their objective evaluation of actions taken by the Belarusian government. In March and September 2009 AKA Bank revised the credit portfolio for Belarus and raised the limit available to the country.

    According to Sergei Sidorsky, investments have been channeled into the real economy. On 21-22 September AKA Bank management got familiar with performance indicators of Belarus’ leading companies that the bank had provided credit support to. Those are mechanical engineering, microelectronics, processing industry enterprises.

    Sergei Sidorsky reminded that Belarus had been affected by the world financial crisis. However, the country has worked out a good anticrisis programme that has proved to be effective. At present many countries declare close recovery after the crisis. “We take an objective approach to it and do our best to make the Belarus economy feel confident. It is confirmed by the fact that this year Belarus’ GDP is close to last year’s, which means that we have last year’s performance level,” said the Prime Minister.

    Belarus pursues reforms that are praised by the World Bank and other financial institutions. In particular, the latest report of the World Bank placed Belarus on the 58th position in the list of countries with the most favorable business conditions. Belarus plans to be one of the top thirty countries with the best business climate.

    Apart from that, the meeting touched upon Belarus’ possible transition from the seventh investment risk group to the sixth one. The AKA Bank Managing Director believes it is quite possible. “We are not glad that Belarus is in that category today,” stressed Hans-Jorg Todt.

    Sergei Martynov to present Belarus’ views at UNGA session

    From: BelTA
    As head of the delegation Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov will participate in the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly on 23-28 September, the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told BelTA.

    The head of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will take part in general political discussions to present Belarus’ views on the most topical problems on the international agenda. The Minister is also supposed to take part in events timed to the start of the General Assembly session. Those are the Conference on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ministerial meetings on fighting the violence against girls, dialogue between religions.

    The Belarusian delegation will focus efforts on promoting Belarus’ initiatives, namely the adoption of the global action plan to fight slave trade, creation of an effective international mechanism to facilitate access of all countries to technologies of new and renewable energy sources, enhancement of international development aid to countries with average incomes.

    Sergei Martynov is also expected to hold meetings with top executives of the UN Secretariat, several international organizations, and foreign ministers of several countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

    Belarus to promote global action plan to fight human trafficking at UNGA session

    At the session of the UN General Assembly Belarus will push forward the adoption of the global action plan to fight trafficking in human beings, the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry told BelTA.

    As head of the delegation Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov is participating in the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly that opened in the UN headquarters in New York.

    The head of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will take part in general political discussions to present Belarus’ views on the most topical problems of the international agenda. The Belarusian delegation will focus efforts on promoting Belarus’ initiatives, namely the adoption of the global action plan to fight slave trade, creation of an effective international mechanism to facilitate access of all countries to technologies of new and renewable energy sources, enhancement of international development aid to countries with average incomes.

    The Minister is also supposed to take part in events timed to the start of the General Assembly session. Those are the Conference on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ministerial meetings on fighting violence against girls, dialogue between religions.

    Sergei Martynov is also expected to hold meetings with top executives of the UN Secretariat, several international organizations, and foreign ministers of several countries of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarus: ONT cannot take part in the Eurovision Song Contest 2010

    From: BelTA
    During his recent visit to Belarus, Bjorn Erichsen, Director Eurovision TV, told local press that ONT, the broadcaster announced to be taking over the country's Eurovision Song Contest participation from BTRC, do not have the right to do so as they are not officially members of the EBU yet. ONT have applied for membership but their application will be discussed in December whereas country subscriptions for the 2010 contest must be submitted by mid November at the latest. Under the circumstances, the Belarussian call for songs by ONT seems invalid.

    In July 2009 it was announced that ONT would be taking over the organisation of the Belarussian participation in the Eurovision Song Contest from BTRC. At the same time, a call for songs was launched in Belarus by the new broadcaster. According to the EBU rules, though, only broadcasters who are already EBU members can take part in the Eurovision Song Contest. The deadline for the subscriptions for the 2010 contest is the 15th November but ONT’s application for EBU membership will not be discussed until December. According to Mr Erichsen, the EBU are still in the process of determining whether the broadcaster fulfills all the criteria for membership. reports that Bjorn Erichsen when asked whether ONT have the right to launch a call for songs for a Eurovision Song Contest preselection he stated: “At the moment, ONT do not have the right to organise any kind of selection or make any kind of preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest as they are not officially members of the EBU.” According to the same source, Mr Erichsen also commented on the use of Eurovision logos by ONT saying that it is strictly prohibited and went on to point out that the broadcaster’s chances of EBU membership might be jeopardised by such a breech of EBU rules.

    Mr Erichsen continued: “If they become a member in December, then both broadcasters will have to decide between themselves which one will be organising the country’s participation. "

  • Economics...

    Next year’s Belarus development forecast ready by October 1

    From: BelTA
    A draft forecast of Belarus’ social and economic development in 2010 will be submitted for consideration of the Belarus President by 1 October, Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky told media on 23 September. The Prime Minister is expected to get familiar with the progress of retooling Orsha Linen Mill.

    The draft forecast outlines two scenarios of the national economy development. The balanced basic one expects the GDP growth rate to be at 102-103% while the reassuring prospective scenario expects the GDP growth rate as high as 110-111%.

    “The development of the Belarusian economy will depend on the activeness of foreign markets,” explained Sergei Sidorsky. At present many countries, including Russia and the USA, have announced they are recovering from the crisis. The recovery enables the government to expect a revival of markets and the global economy as a whole, hence an increase in Belarusian export.

    Reaching into new markets will be another factor to contribute to the optimistic development of the Belarusian economy, Sergei Sidorsky is convinced. “We see that in third countries in Africa and Asia Belarusian products are in demand,” he said. For instance, Africa needs up to 50,000 tractors. Actually the entire output of the tractor plant can be sold, explained the Prime Minister. There is also demand for products made by BelAZ, MAZ and other flagships. “These are new prospects and they should be explored faster. The economy development will depend on how fast we get a solid grip onto these markets,” he stressed.

    WCO offers support for Belarusian customs service

    The World Customs Organization has pledged to provide assistance for the development of the Belarusian customs service. This statement was made by Secretary General of the World Customs Organization (WCO) Kunio Mikuriya as he met with Chairman of the State Customs Committee of Belarus Alexander Shpilevsky.

    This is the first visit of the WCO Secretary General to Belarus. According to him, international experts who had visited our country praised the work of the Belarusian customs service. “It is very important as Belarus is a transit country,” he underlined. “I receive a lot of information and comments regarding the work of the Belarusian customs services from the neighbouring states. I am here to streamline and facilitate the work of the customs bodies of Belarus,” the foreign guest said. In his words, the development of a country depends on its economic performance which in turn in large part depends on the development of trade; customs houses are designed to facilitate this trade.

    Kunio Mikuriya welcomed the efforts of the Belarusian customs services to coordinate their activities with European standards. According to him, Belarus is making great progress in the establishment of the Customs Union and the expectations of Europe regarding this organization are very high. “We pin great hopes on this organization to facilitate trade between West and East,” he said.

    The WCO Secretary General told reporters about his meeting with Vice-Premier of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov. “I promised to support the Belarusian customs services, including its relations with other international organizations,” Kunio Mikuriya said. According to him, Belarus has a high human potential which is essential for the development of the customs service alongside with advanced technologies. He believes that Belarus’ experience might be interesting for other countries, too.

    First Deputy Chairman of the State Customs Committee Vladimir Goshin pointed out that during the crisis Belarus managed to prevent a significant drop in cargo transit through its territory. The reconstruction of nine customs clearance stations has been completed; another two stations on the Polish and Lithuanian borders will be upgraded in the near future. Belarus’ major exporters are switching to e-declaration. By September 2009, 69% of enterprises that supply their products abroad will switch to e-declaration.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Eastern Partnership projects may be launched in Belarus in 2010, deputy foreign minister says

    From: Navany
    Projects within the framework of the European Union's Eastern Partnership program may start being carried out in Belarus as early as 2010, said Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Varanetski while speaking at a meeting of the House of Representatives' International Affairs Committee on September 22, BelaPAN said.

    The projects that have been proposed by Belarus are mostly aimed at the development of the carriage infrastructure, the establishment of transport corridors and the simplification of customs procedures, Mr. Varanetski said.

    Although these projects are currently discussed with Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and Poland, mechanisms for authorizing and carrying them out are not yet in place, he said. The European Commission is devising such mechanisms, he added.

    The heads of the international affairs committees in the parliaments of the countries participating in the Eastern Partnership are expected to have a meeting in Stockholm this fall, Mr. Varanetski said. Under discussion will be approaches to the organization of inter-parliamentary cooperation between the EU and the Eastern Partnership participating states, he said.

    It is necessary to decide on the “format” of Belarus' participation in the Eastern Partnership parliamentary assembly, Mr. Varanetski said. The European Parliament has suggested a "somewhat unconventional" format, which is not in line with Belarus' interests, he noted.

    It is proposed that the Eastern Partnership parliamentary assembly, which is called the EU-Neighborhood East Parliamentary Assembly (EURONEST PA) or the Parliamentary Assembly for Relations with the Countries of the Eastern Neighborhood, should consist of 60 members of the European Parliament and a 10-member delegation from each of the six post-Soviet states participating in the Eastern Partnership, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

    Five of the six delegations would consist of members of Parliament, but no decision so far has been made as to who will be on the Belarusian delegation, as the Belarusian legislature is believed to have been formed in a way that was far from democratic standards.

    Belarus’ Government approves architectural design for reconstruction of Grodno CHP N02

    From: Isria
    The Belarusian Government has approved the architectural design for reconstruction of Grodno Heating and Power Plant N02. The estimated cost of the reconstruction project will make up Br205.8 billion (at prices of 2006).

    The technical upgrade of Grodno CHP plant No 2 is stipulated in the national programme of the modernization of major production facilities of the Belarusian energy system. After the reconstruction the capacities of the plant will rise from 180.75 MW to 305 MW. The new capacities will allow to double energy production and reduce fuel rate. Due to this project the country will save over 100,000 tonnes of fuel equivalent a year.

    A contract worth USD 56 million was signed with the Indian company Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on 17 September. Under the contract, the Indian company is to deliver and install the equipment for the Grodno CHP plant No 2. India offered credit line to implement this project.

    CHP plant No 2 was commissioned in 1970. It is the major electric energy producer in the Grodno oblast. About half of the generated thermal energy is designed for the heat supply of Grodno; the rest goes to Grodno Azot.

    Belarus Hopeful for Possible Papal Visit

    From: Zenit
    The archbishop of Minsk-Mohilev expressed his enthusiasm at the possibility that Benedict XVI could soon visit Belarus and meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.

    Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz said this in comments posted on the Web page, in response to statements made over the weekend by Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev.

    Archbishop Hilarion, who since March has been the chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate, met Friday with Benedict XVI, later telling a group of journalists that he hopes the Holy Father and Patriarch Kirill will be able to meet soon.

    "This message, though not officially corroborated, was met with joy by all our believers," Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said. "The priests, who learned about this message during a Mass on completion of the recollections in Minsk, rejoiced, because all of us were waiting for this event to occur. It would be great if it were true, because at last what Belarusian Catholics have been dreaming for years could become a reality.

    "We also know that the president of the Republic of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukasenko, officially invited the Pope. The pontiff said at the time that he would come when God opened the doors. Maybe, it is already the time that God is about to do this."

    "The message about a possible meeting between Benedict XVI and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill gladdened my heart," he added. "I am dreaming of such a meeting.

    "I always prayed for such an event when I was in Moscow and I am doing it now in Belarus. Such a meeting would open a new page in our relations -- in the relations between the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Church."

    "We need that new page in our relations, because the challenges of the present, the challenges of the secularized time are very hazardous. It is obvious that we need to answer these problems jointly," Archbishop Kondrusiewicz underlined.

    "It would be a good orchestra, a Catholic-Orthodox or an Orthodox-Catholic, a Christian orchestra, which would protect Christian roots of Europe and Christian values," the archbishop concluded. "That's why we need to pray and ask God to make this visit and the meeting a reality."

    UFO sighting above Brest, Belarus during daytime

    From: All News
    Interfax News Service in Belarus has reported on a recent mass UFO sighting in Belarus. Allegedly, on 1 September a UFO was seen by many residents in the city of Brest during the day. The UFO circled the city for around on hour and emitted a bright beam of light.

    Nicholas Lyulkovich, a train station manager, described the object as ‘egg-shaped’ and about the size of a passenger plane. The colour of the UFO was said to be sparkling silver and it continually rotated on its axis. Every few minutes the UFO would descend closer to earth and then rise again.

    Mr Lyulkovich called his colleagues to come and see the UFO and they to attested that they saw it along with others in the city. Many attempted to take photos of what they thought might have been an extraterrestrial craft but their cameras would not work. After an hour the UFO flew to the north of the city and out of sight.

    Belarusian Ufologist, Victor Gaduchik noted that in the last month UFO sightings in Belarus have been occurring at an unprecedented level.

  • From the Opposition...

    Us condemn human rights violations in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    The United States are still deeply concerned by violations in Belarus.

    It has been stated by the US representative Douglas Griffin at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

    As said by the diplomat, Belarus is among the countries which cause highest concern in connection with crackdown on peaceful protests, threats to activities of human rights activists and oppositionists, oppression of minorities, alongside with Afghanistan, Burma, Cuba, Iran, Russia and Sri Lanka, the website of “European Belarus” informs.

    We remind that over the last two weeks two protest rallies were cracked down in Belarus. Dozens of pro-democracy activists were brutally beaten up, arrested and sentenced to huge fines.

    On February 8 in Vaukavysk Mikalai Autukhovich, Yury Lyavonau and Uladzimir Asipenka were detained. On February 18 entrepreneurs from Vaukavysk were charged under Article 218 of the Criminal Code (intentional damage to or destruction of property of citizens). On June 23, a criminal case under article 359 of the Criminal Code (a terrorist act) in the form of preparation (article 13) was instigated against Autukhovich and “other persons”, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported.

    Human rights activists consider the detained to be political prisoners drawing attention to the fact that Autukhovich and Lyavonau were convicted before and recognized prisoners of conscience by the international community.

    For violation of rules of serving a sentence a Young Front Activist Artsyom Dubski was sentenced to a year of imprisonment in a standard regime colony on July 7, 2009.

    Freedom of expression and freedom of associations is gravely violated in Belarus. About ten young leaders were drafted to the army illegally and forcibly.

    In March 2009 a human rights activist Yana Palyakova was driven to suicide.

    Amnesty International addresses Lukashenka on Viasna's case

    From: Viasna
    Amnesty International has written to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus to express its concern that the human rights organization, Nasha Vyasna (Our Spring), formerly known as Vyasna, has been denied registration by the Belarusian authorities for the third time. On 12 August 2009 the Supreme Court of Belarus upheld a decision taken by the Ministry of Justice on 28 May to refuse registration to Nasha Vyasna.

    The organization, which was founded on 15 June 1999, was liquidated on 28 October 2003 by the Supreme Court, on the recommendation of the Ministry of Justice, which claimed that invalid documents had been presented for registration in 2003, and that the leaders of the organization had violated Belarusian legislation while monitoring the presidential elections in 2001. Since then, the founders of Nasha Vyasna have applied for re-registration three times, but have been refused for a number of reasons. These include the fact that 20 of the 69 founders had convictions for administrative offences for participation in unsanctioned demonstrations and the distribution of illegal publications, the goals of the organization were vague, there were spelling mistakes and errors in the list of founders, the mechanism for electing the Chair and the Secretary was not described, the name of the organization was missing from one document, and the headquarters of the organization were too cramped. In addition to this, the Ministry of Justice claimed that the second half of the name of the organization was not in line with the statute of the organization.

    Amnesty International believes that the continuing rejection of applications of Nasha Vyasna for registration is an attempt by the authorities to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate work as human rights defenders. Following the recent decision by the Supreme Court, the founders of Nasha Vyasna have declared their intention to continue their human rights work despite the risk of prosecution that they now face under Article 193.1 of the Belarusian Criminal Code. Amnesty International has previously expressed its concern that this article is used to obstruct activists from peacefully exercising their right to freedom of association. The article was introduced by Presidential Decree in December 2005 as part of a series of amendments that introduced penalties for civil society organizations ahead of the presidential elections in March 2006. According to the article, it is illegal to belong to, or participate in the activities of, an unregistered non-governmental organization. Amnesty International believes that Article 193-1 violates both the Belarusian Constitution and Belarus’ obligations under international human rights law.

    Additionally, the continuing failure to register Nasha Vyasna has been criticized by international bodies. On 24 July 2007, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that the dissolution of the human rights organization Vyasna in 2003 had been a violation of the right to association and that the organization was entitled to an appropriate remedy including re-registration and compensation. On 23 June 2009 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution which, among other things, calls on the Belarusian authorities to ensure the respect of freedom of association by allowing registration of the human rights organisation Nasha Vyasna and by repealing Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code.

    In its communication with the Belarusian President, Amnesty International called on the Belarusian authorities to allow the registration of human rights organization Nasha Vyasna, to abolish Article 193-1 immediately, and to allow people to exercise their right to freedom of association free from harassment and intimidation.

  • Russia...

    US-Russia atomic arms pact possible by Dec.-Medvedev

    From: Reuters
    Russia and the United States could agree on a new treaty on reducing their nuclear arsenals by December, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday after talks with U.S. President Barack Obama.

    "The work is under way," Medvedev told reporters. "A good start allowed us to hope that our teams will cope and in due time (December) we will have a document."

    Later in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, the Russian leader said he and Obama viewed "verifiable and irreversible reductions" of nuclear weapons as an essential element in the improved relations between the two countries.

    The two countries hope to agree a new treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in December.

    Why Democrats Fail at Arms Control

    From: WSJ
    In his address to the U.N. General Assembly yesterday, President Barack Obama once again stated his goal of "a world without nuclear weapons." Today Mr. Obama will address a special session of the U.N. Security Council on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. He will reiterate his intention to sign a new treaty with Russia providing for significant nuclear reductions, as well as his aim of persuading the U.S. Senate to reconsider its 1999 rejection of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Once those goals are met, he plans a second round of negotiated nuclear reductions with Russia.

    But Mr. Obama's ambitious arms-control agenda is in trouble. To students of arms control, this comes as no surprise. Every Democratic president for the past 40 years has come into office committed to negotiating deep nuclear reductions with Russia. Each has left office without success.

    The surprising fact is that the entire alphabet soup of U.S.-Russian strategic arms-control treaties was negotiated and signed by Republican presidents. Nixon gave us the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, Reagan the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Bush 41 the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and Bush 43 the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).

    By contrast, their Democratic counterparts have a much thinner record of accomplishment. President Jimmy Carter signed the SALT II treaty but withdrew it from Senate consideration after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the treaty never entered into force. President Bill Clinton labored for eight years but never signed a strategic arms-control treaty with Russia.

    The principal reason that recent Democratic presidents have failed with Russia has been their excessive enthusiasm and ambition, which perversely encourages the Russians to overreach, dooming prospects for agreement. This was a problem for Messrs. Carter and Clinton. And it promises to be an even bigger problem for Mr. Obama, who comes to office with an arms-control agenda—the abolition of nuclear weapons—far more ambitious that of any previous administration.

    The most pressing arms-control problem facing the U.S. and Russia today is the need to make sure that some sort of arms-control verification regime is in place when the current one established under the START treaty expires on Dec. 5 of this year.

    Early on, Sen. Richard Lugar (R., Ind.) admonished the administration to "resist calls to load the negotiations agenda with objectives that, while desirable, would slow down the talks and threaten the tight timetable" for avoiding a lapse in arms-control verification. Mr. Obama disregarded this advice, deciding instead to use the negotiation to replace START as a vehicle for making an early downpayment on his commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons.

    This decision guaranteed that the negotiations would be much more complicated than if they focused only on replacing the START verification regime. Mr. Obama has compounded this basic problem with a series of tactical decisions that, while accommodating Russian demands in the short term, will make it much harder to reach agreement in the long term.

    In May, he agreed that the new treaty will limit not just deployed nuclear warheads but also warhead delivery systems. In July, he agreed that the new treaty will address missile defense and also "strategic conventional weapons." Each of these decisions introduced additional issues into the negotiation and opened avenues for Russia to demand additional concessions.

    Most damaging of all, by making this new agreement a centerpiece of his foreign policy, Mr. Obama has led the Russians to conclude that he needs the agreement more than they do. Predictably, they have taken this as an invitation to raise the ante, heaping on still more preconditions to signing any agreement.

    Today the administration finds itself in the unhappy position of negotiating against a firm deadline, with very ambitious objectives and a negotiating partner that does not share its political need to reach agreement. Come December, Russia can be expected to present Mr. Obama with two choices: Sign an agreement on terms disadvantageous to the U.S. (thereby risking defeat of the treaty in the Senate), or allow the START treaty to expire with nothing to replace it.

    Any delay in this negotiation will, of course, delay the rest of Mr. Obama's arms-control agenda. Worse still for the president, the next item on that agenda—Senate reconsideration of the CTBT—also looks to be in serious trouble.

    The bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission, chaired by former Defense Secretaries William Perry and James Schlesinger, may have dealt that treaty a fatal blow. The commission unanimously recommended that the administration negotiate a definition among the key signatories of what constitutes a prohibited nuclear-weapons test before seeking Senate reconsideration. So far there has been no indication that Mr. Obama is prepared to satisfy this requirement, which many will take as confirmation of the commission's suggestion that there is an underlying disagreement among the parties about what the treaty prohibits. Senate resistance to the CTBT certainly will increase if this issue cannot be resolved.

    At today's meeting, Mr. Obama would be wise to avoid raising unrealistic expectations about what he can achieve in the area of arms control. And if he cannot reach agreement with Russia by the Dec. 5 expiration of START, perhaps he will listen more carefully the next time Sen. Lugar advises him on how to deal with Moscow in an arms-control negotiation.

    US complains to Russia about sex tape 'smear'

    From: AP
    he U.S. Embassy in Moscow has complained to the Russian Foreign Ministry about a sex tape that U.S. officials call a smear of an American diplomat.

    The State Department is calling the video that appeared on a Russian Web site a fabricated montage that includes some real footage of Kyle Hatcher, a married diplomatic liaison to Russian religious and human rights groups.

    "Mr. Hatcher has been the subject of a smear campaign in the Russian press and on the Internet to discredit him and his work," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly. "We deplore this type of smear campaign."

    The video shows Hatcher making telephone calls on a darkened street. Then it cuts to a hotel room, where Hatcher can be seen in a hotel room, apparently from a hidden camera. Later, the video appears to show a man and a woman having sex in the same room with the lights off. It is not clear that man is Hatcher.

    In an interview recorded with ABC News, U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Beyrle blamed the Russian government.

    "Clearly the video we saw was a montage of lot of different clips, some of them which are clearly fabricated," he said. "We had our security office back in Washington take a look at that and they are convinced Kyle has done nothing wrong. I have full confidence in him and he is going to continue his work here at the embassy."

    Russia, Plagued by Heroin Use, to Press U.S. on Destroying Afghan Poppy Crops

    From: NYT
    During talks this week with his American counterpart, Russia’s top drug enforcement official, Viktor P. Ivanov, will press the United States to step up efforts to destroy Afghan poppy cultivation, which he said was feeding a devastating drug problem in Russia.

    The request comes just as American policy makers have swung sharply away from Bush-era programs to eradicate the opium poppy crop, which is used to produce heroin. After a visit to Afghanistan in July, the Obama administration’s special envoy for the region, Richard C. Holbrooke, said poppy eradication had alienated poor farmers and was “driving people into the hands of the Taliban.”

    Mr. Ivanov, head of the federal drug control service and a trusted adviser to Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, said Tuesday that eradication programs had failed in Afghanistan because they were too weak, and that the United States should apply the more muscular methods it used recently in Colombia, where vast coca fields were sprayed aerially with the herbicide glyphosate.

    “I would call on the United States to use defoliation from the air,” Mr. Ivanov said, citing the work of Thomas Schweich, who served as ambassador for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan under President George W. Bush.

    “There are people who support this method in the United States,” Mr. Ivanov said. “The debate is going on, which is important.”

    Afghanistan is seen as a crucial area of cooperation for the United States and Russia, in large part because of Russia’s crippling heroin problem. The authorities here estimate that 30,000 young Russians die every year from drug use. Mr. Ivanov said that 90 percent of Russian addicts used Afghan heroin, which flows into the country freely over the “virtual borders” it shares with central Asian neighbors.

    The flow of drugs from Afghanistan may seem abstract in Washington, he said, but it is developing into a global security risk, providing funds to militant groups, and tainting the United States’ image.

    “I do not back anti-Americanism, but this cannot but affect our relations with third countries,” Mr. Ivanov added. “The problem has to be solved somehow. There is a decision to increase the military contingent in Afghanistan, but this idea does not enjoy much support. Arms could be twisted and new forces sent there, but does this solve the problem? We can see that the poppy plantations are not shrinking.”

    By advising aerial eradication, Mr. Ivanov is stepping into a longstanding policy debate. Several years into the current war, when efforts to manually eradicate the poppy crop began, some Bush officials began arguing for aerial spraying, said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a counternarcotics expert at the Brookings Institution.

    But others warned that the tactic would have devastating social and economic consequences, depriving farmers of their livelihood and potentially turning them toward the insurgency. Members of President Obama’s policy team were so compelled by these arguments that they rejected the eradication program undertaken by the last administration and shifted their efforts to interdicting opium supplies and cultivating alternative crops.

    “It’s a dramatic change, not just in Afghanistan — it’s a dramatic change in the history of U.S. narcotics policy,” Ms. Felbab-Brown said, adding that if Russian negotiators are not aware of the shift, “either there is some real breakdown in communications, or they didn’t do their homework.”

    Afghanistan’s opium crop shrank last year for the second year running, and prices fell to their lowest point in 10 years, the United Nations reported this month. Some observers attributed the drop to successful eradication and interdiction programs, others to market dynamics.

    Afghanistan still produces more opium every year than users worldwide consume, and illicit stockpiles may have grown to 10,000 tons, a two-year world supply, the report said.

    Mr. Ivanov, whose visit is being cast as a kickoff to “reset” talks between Russian and American officials, said he would not present the eradication idea as an ultimatum. But he was clearly prepared to make his case, suggesting, for instance, that, the United States eradicate the poppy fields and then use some of the money it spends on antidrug programs to plant wheat for Afghan farmers.

    “The Afghan government is against it,” he said of aerial eradication. “But they are not able to defeat this monster alone. It is too strong. If they cannot deal with terrorism alone, and need help from outside, they cannot fight this monster, which is much stronger.”

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Footballers get prison in match fixing scandal

    From: The News
    Eight ex-football players and officials from the Korona Kielce club in central Poland have been sentenced to two years in prison in connection with Poland’s wide-spread corruption scandal.

    All suspects have been sentenced for bribery or attempted bribery of referees, Polish Football Association’s (PZPN) observers and football players from rival teams - all pleaded guilty.

    Corruption scandal emerged at Korona Kielce football club broke out in 2003/2004 season, when the club struggled to get promotion to the second division. Out of 43 people charged, including footballers, referees and club authorities, 28 pleaded guilty.

    Pawel W., chairman of the club, was sentenced to two years in prison. Additionally, he will have to pay 2,000 zloty (482 euro) in fines and is not allowed to organize professional sports events for five years. Dariusz W., a former coach of the Korona Kilece, was also sentenced and fined.

    Over 230 people – players, referees, officials and members of the Football Federation (PZPN) – have been charged so far for being involved in match fixing schemes since the investigation was launched four years ago.

    Polish priest robs bank

    From: The News
    A priest stole the equivalent of some 1,000 euros from a bank after having terrorized a woman cashier with a knife.

    The robbery took place in Szamotuly, western Poland. The man was detained shortly afterwards by police, whereby he introduced himself as a priest.

    On making an ID check it turned out that he is indeed a priest, recently working in a parish in Bia?ogard, northern Poland, though at present he is currently without any permanent assignment.

    He is facing a prison sentence of up to several years.

    Old man kills wife and son during court session

    From: The News
    A seventy-seven year old man has shot his wife and son dead and set their house near Warsaw on fire.

    The shooting started at 11.30 CET, Tuesday, in a house in Celestynow near Warsaw. Two people were killed and several, including a judge, were injured. At the time of the shooting a special court session was being held in the house to establish who had the rights to the house.

    A judge, solicitor, clerk of the court and family members were present at the trial.

    The killer, with chest and arm shot wounds, was transported to a hospital in Warsaw.

    The man set the house on fire in order to remove evidence. The arson as he had gathered cloths and petrol in one of the rooms. Fire reached the attic but was later extinguished.

    Police are interrogating witnesses.

  • Sport...

    Belarusian hammer throwers Tikhon, Devyatovsky likely to get acquitted

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian hammer throwers Ivan Tikhon and Vadim Devyatovsky will be most likely acquitted by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Belarusian Sports and Tourism Minister Oleg Kachan told a press conference.

    “I am 60% sure that Tikhon and Devyatovsky will be acquitted,” said Oleg Kachan. He believes that the Belarusian sportsmen were “hostages of the destiny”. According to the Minister, the Belarusian side doubts the correctness of the doping testing procedure, in particular, terms.

    Oleg Kachan also remarked that the doping scandal befell two Belarusian hammer throwers at once because Belarus wins a lot of medals in this sport. “In sports every side is ready to take any action to promote their sportsmen. But this is what the court exists for,” concluded the Minister.

    BelTA reported earlier that on 11 December 2008 the Disciplinary Commission of the International Olympic Committee decided to annul results showed by Belarusian hammer throwers Vadim Devyatovsky and Ivan Tikhon at the Olympics 2008 due to testing positive for excessive levels of testosterone.

    Belarus accused the Beijing lab of careless operation and deviations from standards of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Belarusian and foreign specialists believe that it is viable to dismiss the results of the doping tests as invalid.

    The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne suggested scheduling the hearing of the case on 4-5 December. By 21 September the Belarusian sportsmen and representatives of the International Olympic Committee had to notify the Court of Arbitration for Sport whether they accept the date or not.

    In May the Court of Arbitration for Sport suggested hearing the case on 13-14 July. The Belarusian sportsmen agreed to that requesting the International Olympic Committee to provide answers regarding the doping test procedure performed by the Beijing lab during the Olympics 2008. However, the Committee failed to provide the answers and requested postponing the hearings till 8 June. Even after the answers have been given, the date of the hearings remained uncertain.

    If the sportsmen fail to prove they are not guilty, Vadim Devyatovsky will lose his silver medal while Ivan Tikhon will be stripped of a bronze one. Apart from that, Vadim Devyatovsky will be banned from the Olympics for testing positive for doping twice. Ivan Tikhon’s fate will be up to the International Association of Athletics Federations to decide. A two-year ban is the most likely punishment in such cases.

    Olga Nazarova wins silver at Summer Biathlon World Championship

    Olga Nazarova from Belarus was second in women’s 5km pursuit at the 2009 IBU Summer Biathlon World Championship in the German town of Oberhof.

    Natalya Sokolova from Russia won the golden medal; bronze went to Yelena Khrustaleva from Kazakhstan.

    Belarusian athletes Irina Babetskaya Nadezhda Skardino and Olga Kudryashova were 5th, 8th and 11th respectively.

    A reminder, on 22 September Irina Babetskaya was first in the women’s sprint; Olga Nazarova won silver.

    Belarus takes gold and two silvers at European Rowing Championships

    The Belarusian athletes won gold and two silvers at the European Rowing Championships in Brest on 20 September.

    The two-time Olympic Champion and six-time World Champion Ekaterina Karsten with 7 minutes and 40.02 seconds came first in the 2000m women’s race.

    Belarusian foursome of Valery Rodevich, Kirill Lemeshkevich, Stanislav Shcherbachenya and Denis Migal were second in the 2000m men’s race with 5 minutes and 54.44 seconds.

    Nadezhda Belskaya, Natalya Koshel, Natalia Gavrilenko, Olga Pleshkova, Nina Bondareva, Anna Nakhaeva, Olga Shcherbachenya-Zhilskaya, Zinaida Klyuchinskaya, and Yaroslava Pavlovich with 6 minutes and 26.02 seconds won silver medals in the women’s eight race.

    All in all, some 500 athletes from thirty-two countries took part in the European Championships in Brest.

  • Endnote...

    POTASH-Dominance of global producers looks secure for now

    From: Reuters
    The global commodity boom and bust has lifted a little-known crop nutrient called potash out of obscurity, turning the global potash industry into an investor darling and highlighting the power of a handful of producers to control prices.

    In a parallel to the cartels of the 1930s, a tight coterie of companies dominates the global trade in potash, a nutrient that analysts see becoming an even hotter commodity as the world's food needs grow in the coming decades.

    Big producers such as Canada's Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (POT.TO), Germany's K+S (SDFG.DE) and Russia's Uralkali (URKA.MM) have kept supply tight and prices relatively high even as the global recession has driven down fertilizer demand.

    "The structure of the industry is very close to being an oligopoly. Effectively, it is a cartel-like structure, where a small number of suppliers control the entire market," said UBS analyst Alexei Morozov.

    It's a situation with disturbing parallels to the 1930s. A Time Magazine story in 1939 entitled "Mining: Potash Politics" told how an obscure cartel dominated the supply of potash, one of the most essential ingredients in securing the world's food supply.

    The dominance of the world's top producers is not going unchallenged, however. India and China, two of the world's biggest potash buyers, are exerting more pressure on suppliers to lower prices, although their success has been limited so far.

    But further down the road a spate of planned capacity expansion could change market dynamics in a few years, resulting in a glut of supply that could test producer discipline.


    Potash is a mineral used by farmers across the globe, but it is mined in only a handful of countries.

    Canada, Russia, Belarus, Germany, Israel and Jordan account for roughly 90 percent of global supply, while two marketing consortiums account for more than 60 percent of exports.

    "The bulk of the export market is controlled by BPC and Canpotex and these two groups always focus on a strategy of price over volumes," Morozov said.

    Canpotex is the potash export arm of the big three North American producers: Potash Corp (POT.TO), Mosaic Co (MOS.N) and Agrium Inc (AGU.TO). BPC, or Belarussian Potash Co, is the export arm of European producers Uralkali (URKA.MM) and Belaruskali.

    Since BPC was formed earlier this decade, the market dynamics of potash trade have changed dramatically. BPC and Canpotex managed to push the price of potash to $1,000 per tonne at the peak of the 2008 agricultural commodity boom, up from levels of $100 to $150 per tonne earlier this decade.

    Even as grain prices collapsed and potash exports fell over 70 percent in the first half of 2009, producers managed to hold export pricing at $460 per tonne, which translates into a price of about $400 a tonne at the mine level.

    With potash demand expected to rebound in 2010, analysts doubt prices will fall further, unless China -- the world's largest potash importer -- can secure a substantial discount to current prices. Many say that is unlikely.

    "Potash Corp, Canpotex (and others) have been trying since 2005 to see just how high they can get prices before the market screams enough," said Salman Partners analyst Raymond Goldie.

    "They found that $1,000 was too high, they found that $700 was too high. I think they are finding that $400 offshore and $500 domestically are prices that can be sustained."


    The rise and fall of the sector had some quirky consequences. For a while Potash Corp was the biggest company in Canada by market capitalization -- above market darling Research In Motion (RIM.TO) and above the country's well-run, well-capitalized banks.

    "The market really likes the potash industry because it is more unique than other basic material industries," said UBS's Morozov. "Potash is scarce, supply is tight and greenfield expansions are expensive and ... quite lengthy."

    Most experts estimate that building a potash mine and production facility with a 2-million-tonne annual capacity will cost at least $2.5 billion and take a minimum of five years.

    Those costs are prohibitive for most existing potash producers, and it is all but almost impossible for small exploration companies to single-handedly raise this capital.

    Moreover, there are no cost-effective substitutes for potash, which improves a plant's resistance to disease and the overall quality of the crop, as well as increasing yields.

    Producers argue that a growing global population, limited arable land, increasing food scarcity concerns and changes in dietary habits in emerging economies further support the thesis that fertilizer demand will continue to increase.

    Furthermore, farmers can defer potash application for a year or two and allow their crops to tap into the existing potash content in the soil, but delaying potash application any longer could crimp crop yields and cut profits.

    "I think sales volumes are going to rebound pretty substantially in 2010. We are obviously lapping some pretty easy comparisons, but the sales channel is pretty short on potash at this point and ultimately it is going to have to restock," said Morningstar analyst Ben Johnson.

    POTASH-FACTBOX-Facts about the crop nutrient potash

    Potash was once of little interest outside the agricultural sector, but the crop nutrient has become a hot item, with pricing having outperformed other commodities during the boom and the subsequent downturn.

    A small coterie of companies that control the vast majority of global potash production has maintained a tight rein on supplies and buoyed prices as emerging economies with growing food requirements have clamored for increased fertilizer supplies.

    Here are a few facts about potash:

    * The mineral, identified in the fertilizer world by the chemical symbol K, is one of the three main macro nutrients required by plants, along with nitrogen (N) and phosphate (P).

    * Potash helps improve a plant's disease resistance, crop quality and increases yields. It is the only potassium fertilizer source; there are no practical substitutes.

    * Only 12 countries produce potash. Canada, Russia, Belarus and Germany account for more than 75 percent of global supplies.

    * Eight companies currently control more than 80 percent of global supply: Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (POT.TO), Mosaic Co (MOS.N), Agrium Inc (AGU.TO), K+S (SDFG.DE), Uralkali (URKA.MM), Silvinit (SILV.RTS), Belaruskali, and Israel Chemicals (ICL.TA)

    * Two marketing conglomerates control more than 60 percent of global potash exports. Canpotex is the overseas potash marketing arm of Potash Corp, Mosaic and Agrium, while Belarussian Potash Co is the export agent of Uralkali and Belaruskali.