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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lukashenko wants unity in CIS, Atomic energy, EC agreement, Gazprom, Iran, World Cup, U21; News Sport and the usual Polish corruption scandals...

  • From the Top...
  • #452

    Alexander Lukashenko warns against disunity in CIS

    From: BelTA
    The summit meeting. Alexander Lukashenko in the centre
    The CIS countries should not allow the disunity among themselves, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told reporters in Chisinau. According to the Belarusian leader, all participants of the summit were unanimous that the CIS countries need to live together, “no one called for the termination of cooperation”. Alexander Lukashenko believes that the CIS should continue serving as a platform for talks. “This platform is the only one in the post-Soviet space, it should be preserved”.

    Summing up the meeting, the President said that the talks were not easy. It took effort to agree the agenda. Belarus proposed to discuss the issue of joint effort to mitigate the impact of the financial and economic crisis and thus saved the situation. A year ago the governments were instructed to design corresponding measures. Yet, no result has been produced so far. “They say the crisis will be over soon. But we continue discussing what needs to be done,” noted the Belarusian leader. Alexander Lukashenko said he asked the Finance Minister of the Russian Federation what Russia, which has huge reserves, can do to help the CIS countries.

    Russia always says it supports Belarus when the IMF takes decisions on extending financial assistance to Belarus. Yet, Russia states it openly that it is not going to give Belarus a $500mn loan. The IMF is bewildered as, while evaluating the volume of financial assistance to Belarus, it took Russia’s loan into account. It is not a matter of principle for Belarus whether Russia will give it a long-promised credit. “If yes, then it will be good. If not, we will find other ways. But this is the issue of principle: if you make a promise, stick to it,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    Alexander Lukashenko: no trade barriers in CIS

    The problem of barriers to trade was also discussed during the summit. “We formalize it in the documents that we are not going to put up any barriers or introduce any protectionist measures. Yet we see barriers and protectionism in our relations with Russia. When are these issues going to be settled?” Alexander Lukashenko wondered.

    Belarus has suggested that the leaders of the CIS states should consider taking joint measures to combat consequences of the global crisis. Negative tendencies in the global economy have led to a considerable reduction of the trade turnover inside the Commonwealth, slow economic growth and a falling number of jobs. “We cannot afford the luxury of ignoring the present situation and delaying the adoption of joint measures,” believes Alexander Lukashenko.

    Apart from that, there are positive examples of such cooperation albeit in the bilateral format in the Commonwealth. Belarus has worked out and is fulfilling joint anticrisis programs in direct cooperation with Russia and Ukraine. “I am convinced that in this situation our primary task is removing all the remaining barriers in the mutual trade, ruling out protectionist measures,” stressed the Belarusian head of state.

    According to the Belarusian side, the adoption of a joint action plan meant to overcome consequences of the global financial and economic crisis in 2009-2010 will foster the accomplishment of the goal and will require all the CIS states to take effective steps in this area. The removal of interstate barriers in the mutual trade and the implementation of coordinated protection of domestic market from unfair competition of third-country economic operators are especially topical.

    Belarus President expects major advance in relations with Ukraine

    The Belarusian leader also mentioned Viktor Yushchenko’s address at the summit: “His arguments were compelling”. His main point was that neither Belarus nor Ukraine would have needed the loans if the free trade zone had been created. The countries could earn the money by themselves. Tajikistan and Azerbaijan made similar statements.

    Alexander Lukashenko remarked that it will not be possible to have an in-depth talk about many pressing issues on that day and suggested scheduling a meeting soon in order to discuss the accumulated issues.

    On the eve of the meeting the prime ministers of the two countries will discuss all problems in the bilateral relations in detail. According to the Belarusian head of state, it will allow to advance Belarusian-Ukrainian relations.

    Alexander Lukashenko wished “a better destiny” to the Ukrainian nation. “Neither your nation nor ours deserve what we are going through at the moment. It was not us who started the troubles and problems that exist in the world today. We have been subjected to it,” said the Belarus President. “But you spoke the truth when you said that we are recovering from the crisis and we will be stronger,” Alexander Lukashenko told Viktor Yushchenko.

    In turn, the Ukrainian head of state underlined that Ukraine believes that relations with Belarus are significant and good neighborly ones. In his opinion, the relations require major development and improvement. Viktor Yushchenko said he hopes the sides would reach mutually acceptable views during the talks on that day.

    The participants of the summit agreed that the countries have many problems. But if the countries are united, they act unanimously, the President stressed.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus defends peaceful uses of atomic energy

    From: BelTA
    Nations have an inalienable right to peaceful uses of atomic energy, the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry quoted Vladimir Gerasimovich, Head of the International Security and Arms Control Office of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, as saying in his speech during the general discussion at a session of the First Committee at the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

    Belarus believes that instead of limiting the right of nations to peaceful nuclear uses the international community should take steps to create an environment of greater trust fostered by unconditional practical fulfillment of the already adopted resolutions regarding nuclear disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation.

    In turn, Belarus pursues a responsible policy in the area of export control and takes all the necessary measures to fulfill relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. It was remarked that in 2009 Belarus acceded to the Global Initiative To Combat Nuclear Terrorism.

    Belarus is also in favor of forming a special global energy partnership for the sake of increasing the availability of new energy technologies and renewable energy sources to developing nations and transition economy countries.

    According to the press service of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Andrei Dapkiunas backed the multilateral approach outlined by the Secretary General’s report to tackling complicated international issues. He remarked that overcoming global problems requires multilateral efforts based on using strong sides and contributions of all nations of the planet. It was stressed the multilateralization and partnership have no wise alternative as a mechanism of cooperation in a versatile and contradictive world. The Belarus Permanent Representative called upon the nations, in particular, global focuses of power and leading political associations, to foster the establishment of global partnerships and strategies to fight global crises.

    Speaking about overcoming the energy crisis, the Belarus Permanent Representative underlined that participation of all interested parties, including developed nations, private business and NGOs, in the global mechanism designed to make new energy technologies and renewable energy sources more available to developing nations and transition economy countries will allow formulating a clear-cut algorithm of actions and securing a quality boost along with widespread universal use of the latest energy technologies, new and renewable energy sources.

    Parliament ratifies Belarus-EC agreement

    From: BelTA
    The House of Representatives ratified the framework agreement between Belarus and the Commission of the European Communities on 8 October.

    The agreement was signed in Minsk on 18 December 2008. It regulates the issues of the EU technical aid to Belarus within the framework of European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI). The ENPI offers Belarus new opportunities to receive EU technical assistance in order to boost the country’s social and economic development.

    Several treaties have been signed following the framework agreement. One of them regulates the financing of the Baltic Sea Region cross-boundary cooperation program for 2007-2013. The total volume of financial assistance of Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Ukraine will amount to €250 million.

    Every year the European Commission chooses a priority area in Belarus for financing. In 2009 it is the projects on standardization. The European Commission allocated €10 million for these projects in 2009.

    Belarus’ MPs to discuss participation in EURONEST in Stockholm

    Belarusian parliamentarians will go to Stockholm on 15 October to discuss the format of Belarus’ participation in the EURONEST, the Eastern Partnership Parliamentary Assembly, Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Aleinik told BelTA.

    “The format of Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership PA is being discussed now. Belarus insists on the equal rights for its delegates in the organization,” Sergei Aleinik said.

    In his words, the format of parliamentary cooperation in the Eastern Partnership initiative has not been determined yet. It is to be coordinated during the Stockholm session. Partaking in the meeting will be deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus and the Belarusian senators, Sergei Aleinik said.

    The Minsk-Brussels dialogue is quite constructive, Sergei Aleinik stated. “We do not have any closed topics,” he added.

    As for the lifting of the US sanctions on the Belnekhtekhim companies, the diplomat stated that “although there are no prospects that such sanctions can be abolished any time soon, Belarus continues holding a dialogue on the issue with the American side”.

    Belarus attends World Media Summit in Beijing

    From: BelTA
    The World Media Summit has opened in Beijing, BelTA informs.

    The two-day forum will highlight the modern-day challenges, cooperation and opportunities for mass media outlets, their activity during the global economic crisis, the influence of digital technologies and other issues. Attending the summit will also be representatives of the Belarusian news agency BelTA and the Belarusian TV and Radio Broadcasting Company.

    Opening the summit President of China Hu Jintao has said that the forum is committed to intensify the cooperation and the dialogue between the mass media outlets of various countries, promote mutual understanding between the people all over the world. The Chinese leader underscored the media’s important role in combating such contemporary challenges as the financial crisis, terrorism, regional conflicts and others. The media’s social responsibility for distributing the objective and true information increases due to its role as the media influence on the political, economic and other areas of the public life is extremely high.

    The heads of the different news agencies will be able to meet and discuss promising cooperation areas. The summit is unique due to its world scale as the majority of media contacts are developed regionally.

    According to BelTA Director General Dmitry Zhuk, the Belarusian news agency has been closely cooperating with the CIS partners as well as such big news agencies as Xinhua and Prensa Latina, which work in the areas interested for Belarus from the economic point of view. “This interest is mutual. The contacts today are aimed mainly at businessmen. For instance, a representative of one of the Iranian news agencies has asked for the information on the investment climate in Belarus and on the regulations to open a company in the country. Moreover, I have held interesting meetings with the European colleagues that, I am sure, will lead to a signing of bilateral agreements in the future,” said Dmitry Zhuk.

  • Economics...

    Mikhail Mikhadyuk: Belarus will reduce gas import once nuclear power plant is built

    From: BelTA
    Belarus is expected to reduce the annual import of natural gas by 4-5 billion cubic meters as soon as it constructs a nuclear power station, Deputy Energy Minister of Belarus Mikhail Mikhadyuk said during the public hearings on the preliminary environmental impact assessment of the future Belarusian nuclear power plant on 9 October.

    “Belarus is one of few countries which, without its own natural gas resources, has considerably increased its share in the primary energy consumption. In 2008 gas consumption accounted for 62.3% of Belarus’ total fuel and energy consumption and 79.7% of boiler and furnace fuels. A share of natural gas in the national electric energy industry made up 95-96%,” Mikhail Mikhadyuk said.

    According to him, the nuclear power plant would help the country considerably reduce the natural gas consumption. An annual purchase of natural gas will go down by 4-5 billion cubic meters, the prime cost of electric energy will plunge 20-30%. With the development of the fuel and energy industry and diversification of fuels, the natural gas consumption in boilers and furnaces will reduce from 79.7% in 2008 to 50-60% in 2020.

    Apart from nuclear fuel, Belarus will be using 2.2-3 million tons of coal by 2020. The country is expected to consume at least 6.7 million tons of local fuels and renewable energy, nearly one million ton of liquefied gas and about one million tons of mazut.

    According to Mikhail Mikhadyuk, this will increase the level of energy security of the country especially during the time when the energy prices go up.

    Mikhail Mikhadyuk also informed that a law on renewable energy and wind energy development programme are being currently drafted in the country.

    Attending the public hearings on the preliminary environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the future nuclear plant are representatives of the Energy Ministry, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Economy Ministry, Healthcare Ministry, Justice Ministry, Energy Institute of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Atomstroyexport (Moscow), Atomenergoprojekt Institute from St. Petersburg, Energoprojekt design institute from Kiev. A total of 813 participants have registered for the conference. Taking part in the hearings are also representatives of the environmental community: Belarusian Green Party, Ekozashchita Party, Scientists for Non-Nuclear Belarus Movement, Ecodom.

    Belarus has plans to construct a nuclear power plant of the 2,400MW capacity. The first power unit will be put into operation in 2016, the second – in 2018. The plant will be built upon the project of Saint Petersburg Atomenergoprojekt Institute. General contractor will be Atomstroyexport, a state-owned engineering company regulated by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom). Atomstroyexport constructs about 20% of the world’s nuclear plants.

    Russia’s budget bill apportions money for building Belarusian nuclear station

    Russia’s budget bill for 2010-2012 provides for funding the construction of the Belarusian nuclear power plant, Alexander Glukhov, First Vice President of the Moscow-based Atomstroyexport company, told media during public hearings about the report on the environmental impact of the Belarusian nuclear power plant on 9 October.

    According to Alexander Glukhov, the budget bill provides for rather sufficient funding for the Belarusian nuclear station, however, the document has not been approved yet. The First Vice President did not specify concrete figures. “We are doing our best now to form the sources of funding for building the Belarusian nuclear power plant,” he said. The executive added that it is an honor for the Russian company to participate in building the Belarusian nuclear power plant.

    The First Vice President remarked that they are working hard on preparing the contractual arrangement on turn-key construction of the nuclear power plant in Belarus. With a draft contractual arrangement ready now, it is supposed to be signed in December 2009. Alexander Glukhov remarked that the contractual arrangement will also specify the funding for the project.

    Apart from that, in October 2009 Belarus and Russia are supposed to ink an intergovernmental agreement on building the Belarusian nuclear power plant.

    Atomstroyexport will be the general contractor for the nuclear power plant construction. The company and BelNIPIenergoprom have signed a contract for working out an investment consideration for the nuclear power plant construction. The investment consideration is supposed to be ready in December 2009. There are also plans to sign an agreement on working out the requirement specification for designing the Belarusian nuclear station.

    Foreign investments can be used to build third power unit of Belarusian nuclear station

    The third power unit of the Belarusian nuclear power plant can be built using foreign investments, Belarusian Deputy Energy Minister Mikhail Mikhadyuk told media during public hearings about the preliminary report on the environmental impact of the future Belarusian nuclear station in Ostrovets on 9 October.

    While the first and second power units of the future nuclear station will be state-run, the third one can be built using foreign investments, said Mikhail Mikhadyuk. In his words, no foreign investors have expressed interest in taking part in the nuclear station construction yet, however, Russia’s share in the future nuclear power plant is under discussion now.

    Speaking about the public hearings the Deputy Energy Minister underlined that they were taking place in line with international practices. “Public hearings are not a formality. They are held in all regions of Belarus. Today nationwide hearings are taking place in Ostrovets. We value remarks of the general public. We will take them into account while finishing the environmental impact report. The final environmental impact assessment of the nuclear station will be ready by the end of the year,” said Mikhail Mikhadyuk. Yet he remarked that there is no alternative to building a nuclear power plant today.

    The Deputy Energy Minister said that only after an ecological examination is done in Q1 2010 and a government examination of the project is done, the final decision on building the nuclear station and the choice of its location will be made and relevant documents will be worked out.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Gazprom set to increase gas price for Belarus as agreed earlier, CEO says

    From: Navany
    Gazprom is set to continue to gradually increase the natural gas price for Belarus as agreed earlier, the CEO of the Russian gas giant said in Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

    Gazprom’s firm stance is that the price should be updated in accordance with a bilateral contract, Russian media quoted CEO Aleksei Miller as saying at the 24th World Gas Conference.

    Belarus continues to pay the lowest price for Russian gas among Gazprom’s foreign consumers.

    Belarus’ first deputy prime minister, Uladzimir Syamashka, said earlier this week that the country’s government was holding talks with Gazprom to prevent a “surge” in the price next year.

    The government projects the price to be $166 per 1000 cubic meters in 2010.

    In a report released in mid-August, Gazprom said that the contract price of gas supplied to Belarus was $157.74 per 1000 cubic meters in the second quarter of 2009.

    Mr. Miller said last month that Belarus still owed the Russian monopoly around $200 million for gas supplied this year.

    Under a five-year contract, signed with Gazprom on December 31, 2006, the price for Belarus was raised to $100 per 1000 cubic meters for 2007 compared with $46.68 in the previous two and a half years. The price was to gradually increase to the European market level by 2011. It was to be 67 percent of the level, excluding delivery costs, in 2008, 80 percent in 2009, 90 percent in 2010, and 100 percent in 2011.

    EU can provide «several hundred million euros» in macro-financial assistance to Belarus, says deputy foreign minister

    From: Navany
    The European Union can provide “several hundred million euros” in macroeconomic support to Belarus, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Syarhey Aleynik told reporters in Minsk on Thursday.

    “Our talks are in quite an advanced stage,” the deputy minister said. “As far as we understand, the European Commission will be guided by conclusions that will be made by the International Monetary Fund.”

    Mr. Aleynik said that Belarusian government officials had recently met in Istanbul with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) who had “voiced a favorable opinion of the implementation of the Stand-By program.”

    The European Commission has not yet made a decision on the Belarusian authorities’ application for macroeconomic support.

    The assistance may be given, if Belarus complies with its commitments under the Stand-By Arrangement with the IMF, Jean-Eric Holzapfel, charge d’affaires of the European Commission’s delegation in Belarus, said last month.

    The Belarusian government applied to the EU for the support at the end of this past June.

    The objective of the Macro-financial Assistance, which is supplementary to resources of the IMF and other multilateral donors, is to support third countries in crisis that are in close proximity to the EU. The support is usually in the form of either medium or long-term loans, combined with grants when considered necessary.

    Iran, Belarus Agree on Expansion of Economic Cooperation

    From: Fars News Agency
    Iranian and Belarusian officials here on Saturday stressed the need for bolstering relations and increasing trade exchanges between the two countries.

    "Now all the people are waiting for the opening of more gates in the relations between Iran and Belarus," Chairman of Tehran's Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mine (TCCIM) Yahiya Al-e Eshaq said in a meeting with Belarusian Envoy to Tehran Victor Ribaak.

    Considering their existing capacities and potentials, Iran and Belarus can play complementary roles to each other, Al-e Eshaq pointed out.

    He also hailed the remarkable progress in the Belarusian heavy industries, and said it can be considered as an advantage for Iranian experts.

    "Tehran's Chamber of Commerce is prepared to develop the two countries' trade ties in the private sector and prefers to swiftly find opportunities and potentialities to put into action cooperation between the two sides, which is now at the level of negotiations so that investors of both countries will be able to boost the level of economic relations through carrying out different projects," Al-e Eshaq stressed.

    Ribaak, for his part, underlined that his country has granted some facilities to foreign investors, Iranians in particular.

    "The political relations between the two countries only have a 16-year-old history and we should make up for this lagging through the further expansion of economic relations," ha added.

    Belarusian Opposition Activist Jailed For Seven Years

    From: RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty
    Andrey Bandarenka in June
    A Minsk court has found opposition activist Andrey Bandarenka guilty of theft and sentenced him to seven years in prison, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

    Bandarenka told RFE/RL after his verdict was announced that the charges against him are politically motivated and that he is going to appeal the verdict.

    Bandarenka is a well-known businessman and an active member of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP).

    Last year he participated in the parliamentary elections as a candidate but was not elected.

    He was arrested on May 27 and accused of financial misdeeds.

    Fellow AHP member Alyaksandr Dabravolsky told RFE/RL that the hearings were held without any witnesses or documents proving Bandarenka's guilt.

  • From the Opposition...

    Will European Union support dictatorship only?

    From: Charter '97
    Illegitimate “chamber” has ratified framework agreement between the government of Belarus and the Commission of the European Communities. The document has a clause that all the projects are implemented only with the approval of the authorities.

    The agreement regulates receiving of technical aid from the EU by Belarus under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. Until 2011 the European Commission plans to grant Belarusian authorities millions of Euro for projects in such spheres as state border administration, near-border regions development, ecology, education, energy, standardization.

    Yesterday “Radio Svaboda” quoted words of the deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Syarhei Alejnik who in his speech in the “chamber” turned attention of the “deputies” to the fact that the Belarusian side managed to sign a special additional protocol to the framework agreement.

    “In practice that means that means of international technical aid of the EU will be issued to you country to implement only those projects and programs which are approved by the Belarusian government, and which have been recognized as suiting the national interests of Belarus,” deputy foreign minister stated.

    Thus, it means that the money of the European Union are to be granted to Lukashenka’s regime, and not to the civil society of the country. Non-governmental organisations would be able to participate in implementation of the abovementioned projects only with the approval of the government, but it is obvious that only institutions subordinated to the state would be preferred. Human rights and democracy issues have been completely ignored while signing this agreement.

    “It’s true, the relations of the European Union with the Belarusian authorities invite lots of questions, and there are no answers so far. The civil society and oppositional political parties of Belarus are in favour if the European vector of the country’s development, but when one looks at the Eastern Partnership program, one see that a place for dictator Lukashenka is reserved there. With much effort we prevented his visit to the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague, but there are no guarantees that he won’t go to another such event. The EU programs have also a place for the government, for local authorities, and only some civil forum for NGOs. If it would look simply like a meeting with talks and then we are to part, what for is it needed at all?

    There are no mechanisms of influencing receiving resources, no control over that by the civil society. Oppositional political parties do not take part in any thing at all. In this connection lots of questions arose, and I didn’t receive answers to them when about a week ago representatives of the European Commission visited Minsk. It could happen so, that the European Commission would realize all the projects only with the government, and the civil society would stay on the sidelines,” the leader of the United Civil Party Anatol Lyabedzka said to website.

    The leader of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov in an interview to noted that every time when Europeans give up their principles, Lukashenka’s regime acts more and more insolently and aggressively, both inside the country and in the world arena.

    “There is a framework for normal relations between Belarus and the European Union, in particular, it is Agreement on partnership and cooperation, which envisages development of relations with the EU in all spheres and directions. Such and agreement was signed with Belarus in mid 1990ies, but then the EU countries suspended ratification of this agreement because of the political situation in Belarus. Today the Belarusian regime is trying to “pull out” at least some programs, but not for development of the economy or the society in general, but to overcome the consequences of the crisis. Regrettably, the European Union consents to sign such agreements in a hope that the Belarusian political situation would change, but today only a naïve person might expect such changes under Lukashenka’s rule.

    Europeans are trying to shut their eyes to the top problems of Belarus – political prisoners, human rights, free elections, and that would result simply in deterioration of the Belarusian situation, and finally to further deterioration of relations between Belarus and Europe. We see that every time Europeans go back on their principles, Lukashenka’s regime acts more and more insolently and aggressively, both inside the country and in the world arena. An example to that are recent Belarusian-Russian military exercises, which have been directly aimed against the neighbouring European states. There won’t be any improvement in relations with our country, until Europe returns to its principled position on Belarus,” Andrei Sannikov is convinced.

    Entrepreneur fined equivalent of 56 000 US dollars for absence of hygienic certificate

    From: Viasna
    On 9 October the Supreme Economic Court upheld the verdict of Vitsebsk oblast court by which Orsha entrepreneur Zhana Bokhan was fined 160 000 million Belarusian rubles.

    Besides, some goods worth 1 million rubles were confiscated from the entrepreneur, all because she was working without certificate of hygienic registration. Zhana Bokhan says that during the two last years the numerous control organs didn’t demand such certificate from her.

    Vikhat Harbachou, leader of the movement For free development of business, says that nowadays an entrepreneur has no defense against the control organs. The events in Orsha witnesses that the absence of stable normative acts on business lets the authorities use serious reprisals towards entrepreneurs.

    Main hockey player, main Olympian, main judge

    From: Charter '97
    The amendments, which will allow Alyaksandr Lukashenka issue legal extrajudicial decisions, are being prepared to the Belarusian legislation.

    Minister of Justice of Belarus Viktar Halavanau says the Ministry of Justice prepares an amendment to the criminal code that will allow suspending instigating of a criminal case, if an individual, against whom the case was instigated, made a motion to Alyaksandr Lukashenka until the motion is considered by the Belarusian ruler.

    Thus, Lukashenka, who has power to pardon and release of criminal responsibility for economic crimes, gains the right to decide the destiny of every person in Belarus.

    If a commission subdued to Lukashenka agrees on instigating a criminal case, it will be no question about a verdict of the court. If the planned amendments are adopted, judges will turn into technical executors.

    We remind that Alyaksandr Lukashenka suggested in August 2009 that the interior minister, the KGB and Financial Investigation Department heads should get the right for “carry out operative and search activity, use measures of restraint and perform other procedure actions on a motivated ground”. The Belarusian ruler is sure that “such top officials” are not less competent than a prosecutor. Lukashenka also insists on creation of a separate investigative committee subjected to him.

    Belarusian human rights activists think the last initiatives of the Belarusian dictator send the country back to the notorious Stalin’s Troika commissions, when the head of a local NKVD department, a secretary of the regional committee, and a prosecutor authorized arrests before trials. It was used to eliminate the “anti-Soviet elements”.

  • Russia...

    Russian Oil Companies Are the Weak Link in the Kremlin’s Plans to Expand Its Grip on Downstream Assets Abroad

    It is official Russian policy to push oil companies to acquire downstream assets outside of Russia, and with a wave of mergers and acquisitions set to sweep European refineries, opportunities are looming. But European governments are not enthusiastic – and neither are many Russian companies.

    Igor Sechin, the chief “silovik” in former president Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, now deputy prime minister for the energy sector in prime minister Putin’s government, revealed his dream to the Wall Street Journal earlier this year – a rather modest plan for the man who is believed to have masterminded the dismantling of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Yukos. “My dream is for Russian oil to be refined in Russia or by assets controlled by Russian companies,” he confided.

    Sechin’s plan might be close to realization, as analysts agree the European oil product market is facing a wave of mergers and acquisitions (M&A). According to Jürgen Doetsch, co-owner of German oil trader Erich Doetsch, “the European downstream market is facing a structural shift. The golden decade when refineries in Europe earned big money is ending, and refineries could return to being loss-makers as they were for 25 years before the turn of the century.”

    The shift is marked by the big six super majors, such as British-Dutch Shell, French Total S.A and U.S. ConocoPhilips, divesting or considering divesting refineries. Shell is looking to sell one UK and two north-German refineries, and ConocoPhilips is uncertain about the future of its Wilmershaven refinery in Germany.

    Total S.A. CEO Christophe de Margerie specified on September 22 that Russian companies could be among the buyers: “they have a market to develop in Europe and may be interested to buy when we are interested to sell,” he told Bloomberg. His statement followed hot on the heels of Total’s sale of a 45 percent stake in its Dutch Vlissingen refinery to Russia’s Lukoil in June for $725 million.

    The selling is not just limited to the multinationals. Polish petrochemical national champion PKN Orlen, owner of Europe’s largest chain of filling stations, is said to be looking to divest a 63 percent stake in Czech Unipetrol and an 87 percent stake in Lithuania’s Mazeikiu Nafta in order to pay off $3.2 billion worth of debt.

    Governments are also getting in on the act. The Belarusian government is mulling privatization of its strategically significant Naftan-Polymir refinery complex, the country’s largest, supplied by the Druzhba pipeline. Belarus has been in talks with Russian majors Rosneft and Lukoil over a sale, but is dragging its heels. “If you have money and willingness, then please come. I am ready to support the program of privatizing the Belarusian oil-refining association,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on September 16, evaluating the total complex at nearly $3 billion.

    Another dark horse is Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves and the Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA. PDVSA owns stakes in a number of German refineries as partner in Ruhr Oel, a joint venture with BP that controls around a quarter of German refinery capacity. Ever since coming to power in 1999, Chavez has said he will divest PDVSA’s overseas assets and in 2003, PDVSA was in talks to sell to Russia’s Alfa Group, co-owner of oil company TNK-BP, but these talks came to nothing.

    September, however, also saw the signing of an upstream tie-up between a consortium of Russian oil companies and PDVSA to extract in Venezuala’s Orinoco regions. The partnership could plausibly entail asset swaps, seeing transfer of Venezuela’s downstream stakes in Europe to Russian companies.

    Pipeline pressure

    Russian companies, however, face considerable political resistance to plans to buy into European refineries, especially those of strategic significance. Analysts expect the ongoing M&A wave to trigger a number of political spats between Russia and individual European countries.

    Leonid Fedun, the vice president of Lukoil, Russia's second biggest oil company and most active acquirer of foreign assets, complained to the Financial Times in April that "some countries in Eastern Europe have an extreme level of political antagonism toward Russian investments." In the same month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev complained of “idiotic” fears in Spain of Russian investment in the energy sector.

    Fedun's comments came a week after the privately-owned Russian oil company Surgutneftegaz acquired 21 percent in the Hungarian energy group MOL. Hungarian politicians responded in a dramatic fashion: the Hungarian courts allowed MOL to delay registering the new shareholder until poison-pill clauses had been adopted in the company’s charter that left decision-making power with the government-backed board of directors at the expense of shareholders.

    Such tactics may however cause the Kremlin to up the ante rather than back off. Russia has gained bargaining power vis-à-vis the Central European refining sector supplied by the Druzhba pipeline, following the start of construction in August 2009 of the Baltic Transport System-2. BTS-2 will reroute Russian oil from Druzhba around Belarus to Russia’s new Baltic port of Ust-Luga in the Leningrad Region, and thus increase flexibility of export routes. Refiners remember that Lithuanian refinery Mazeikiu had its oil supply shut off by Russian pipeline operator Transneft after it fell into Polish, rather than Russian, hands in 2007.

    The East Central European countries put their hopes on the Odessa-Brody pipeline running through Ukraine from the Black Sea, planning to extend it to the Polish refinery of Plock, Orlen’s biggest plant. The pipeline would then ship Azeri oil to Central Europe. However, the feasibility of the plan is not yet established, and the pipeline continues to be used in reverse mode to ship Russian oil to the Black Sea.

    Reluctant imperialists

    The weak link in the Kremlin’s strategy could be the Russian oil companies themselves. With the noticeable exception of Lukoil they have shown little interest in expensive acquisitions in Europe’s downstream sector.

    Lukoil is open about pursuing downstream expansion, with major acquisitions in Italy in 2008 along with the Dutch acquisition from Total this year. However, Lukoil’s ambitions predate Igor Sechin’s watch over Russia’s energy sector. In fact, the fully private company, in which U.S. major ConocoPhilips holds a 20 percent stake, counts as one of the freest from Kremlin influence. And the company’s strategy of overseas downstream expansion was evident as early as the 1990s, when it purchased a chain of filling stations in the United States.

    On the other hand, the state-owned Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil company, has still to make a large foreign acquisition, and is focused on capital-intensive upstream expansion in the Arctic and Pacific shelf, with little resources left for acquisition abroad. Gazpromneft, the oil division of state-controlled gas giant Gazprom “doesn’t really have the scale for European acquisitions to make much sense,” according to Ron Smith, head of research at Alfa Capital.

    Surgutneftegaz, the opaque private oil company that bought 21 percent in MOL in April, would seem the most likely acquirer of European assets. The company, generously described by Sechin as “Russia’s best privately-run oil company,” is believed to be sitting on a cash pile and potential war chest of $20 billion.

    At the time, however, many commentators believed the acquisition of a stake in the Hungarian company was requested by the Kremlin for political reasons, namely to stymie the Nabucco gas pipeline project in which MOL is a participant, rather than being part of Surgutneftegaz strategy. “They are very tight and un-ambitious with their massive pile of money, the MOL thing notwithstanding. It would be completely out of character,” said Smith. In addition, Surgutneftegaz is more focused on downstream investment in Russia.

    Finally, TNK-BP held talks with PDSVA on acquiring the Venezuelan company’s refinery stakes in 2003, but the talks ended without any results. Analysts say TNK-BP is very focused on adding value, and the returns on European refining are not sufficiently compelling. TNK-BP is more focused on Russian downstream, having just overhauled its Ryazan refinery, one of the largest in Russia.

    This leaves Lukoil with a clear field in making acquisitions downstream in Europe, as far as local governments allow, and, in conjunction with the ConocoPhilips 20 percent stake, well on its way to becoming a true oil multinational.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    EXCLUSIVE Michal Kaminski: 'I'm no antisemite'

    I think that it’s unfair comparing Jedwabne with Nazi crimes and putting it with the same level as the Nazi policy.
    Michal Kaminski
    When I finally interview Michal Kaminski he is looking extremely flustered, not to say hounded, by the attention he has received during his flying visit to Conservative Party conference. The controversial leader of David Cameron’s new allies in the European Parliament has been chased into a fringe meeting by a woman from Channel 4 and to the doors of a lunch hosted by Conservative Friends of Israel. Allegations about his far-right past have quite literally pursued him to a suite at Manchester’s Midland Hotel.

    Here it is that the 37-year-old head of the new European Conservatives and Reformists grouping has chosen to explain his controversial past statements, which range from the Holocaust and the role of Jewish partisans in the Soviet occupation, to General Pinochet and homosexuality.

    In his only interview with a British newspaper, he says he welcomes the opportunity to reassure readers of the JC that he is no antisemite.“If you grew up in Poland, if you saw the traces of the Holocaust in my country, the accusation of being an antisemite is, I think, really hard,” he says. “Being an antisemite is something which is contradictory to all my beliefs, starting with my religious beliefs as a Christian and ending with my political conservative views.” He adds that he considers that western civilisation is essentially Judeo-Christian and therefore “created to a big extent by Jews”.

    Mr Kaminski says that he understands the concerns raised by some of the allegations against him. His colourful CV has already caused acute embarrassment to the Conservative Party and provided ammunition to those who say Cameron has rejected the mainstream centre-right in Europe in favour of a rag-tag bunch of apologists for fascism. At the same time, his robust support for Israel provides Anglo-Jews with a dilemma. His status as guest of honour at the CFI lunch demonstrates the level of trust he commands among leading Jewish Tories. His visit to Israel last month saw him welcomed by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.

    But how does this square with Mr Kaminski’s political beginnings with the far-right National Revival of Poland party (NOP)? The party he joined as a teenager is said to have pledged that “Jews will be removed from Poland and their possessions confiscated”. His response is that he was just 15 when he joined the NOP in 1987 when it was still an underground movement. Two years later it merged into the mainstream Conservative Christian National Union. “It was for me the first available option to join the anti-Communist movement and when I was 17 I left this group,” he says, adding that there was no evidence of a neo-fascist tendency at the time. “When I was a member of them, I don’t remember. Maybe you will find that someone will… but as far as I know it was a party which was Catholic and nationalist-orientated.”

    Mr Kaminski himself raises the issue of Jedwabne, a town in the north-east of Poland which was the site of a massacre of hundreds of its Jewish inhabitants in July 1941 by a mob of Poles. Sixty years later, the then Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski issued an apology for the atrocity, but the issue was hugely divisive. As the deputy in the Polish parliament responsible for the area, Mr Kaminski expressed his opposition to a generalised apology, a decision he stands by.“

    From the very beginning I was saying as a human being, as a Pole, that Jedwabne was a terrible crime, unfortunately committed by the Polish people. My point was from the very start: we are ashamed of these people, we have to condemn them, we have to judge them if they are still alive. But I don’t want to take the whole responsibility for this crime for the whole Polish nation.”

    He adds that he doesn’t believe the Jedwabne massacre should be classified on the same level as the Holocaust. “I think that it’s unfair comparing it with Nazi crimes and putting it with the same level as the Nazi policy.”

    More difficult for Mr Kaminski (and potentially Mr Cameron) is the suggestion that the Polish politician claimed no apology should be made until Jews apologised for alleged Jewish crimes of collaboration with the Soviet Union. His answer is ingenious. He says that asking the Poles as a whole to apologise for Jedwabne would make as much sense as asking the Jews to apologise for alleged Jewish involvement in Communist crimes. It is a theme to which he returns later in the interview: “My position is that there were acts of collaboration of the Jewish people with the Soviet army when the Soviet army came to Poland. It’s a fact. It’s a historical fact… If you are asking the Polish nation to apologise for the crime made in Jedwabne, you would require from the whole Jewish nation to apologise for what some Jewish Communists did in Eastern Poland.”

    I ask him about an interview he gave to the ultra-nationalist Polish newspaper Nacza Polska at the time of the apology, when he is alleged to have said he would only apologise for Jedwabne when “someone from the Jewish side will apologise for what the Jews did during the Soviet occupation between 1939 and 1941, for the mass collaboration of the Jewish people with the Soviet occupier.” He claims he does not remember giving the interview. Does he recognise the words as his? “I absolutely do not recognise them. It was nine years ago.” He adds that official statements at the time made his position on the matter clear. I ask him about his use of the slogan “Poland is for the Poles”, which is said to have associations with pre-war Polish ultra-nationalism. He says he had been referring to Poland’s corruption scandals of 2000 when the new democracy was seriously under threat. “We have to give Poland to Poles but….not in a racial or nationalistic sense but in terms of democracy. We want to give back Polish democracy to the Poles, to the citizens.”

    I ask him to clarify claims that he expressed pride in wearing the Chrobry sword, the symbol of the National Radical Camp Falanga, a Catholic totalitarian group formed in 1935. He issues a categorical denial: “No, I never wear it. I don’t even know which symbol you are referring to. [Mr Kaminski later clarified his position, claiming he had in fact worn the symbol]

    ”There is no doubt there has been a concerted attempt by David Cameron’s political enemies to discredit Mr Kaminski. But there are areas of his own political biography where he admits he made serious errors of judgment. In 1999, he visited the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London, an event he described as “the most important moment of my whole life”. He later made a statement to the Polish parliament saying he regretted his actions. He says: “I think I made a mistake visiting Pinochet. A decent politician should have the courage to admit the mistake”.

    I wonder if he thinks it was also a mistake to have described homosexuals as “pedaly”, a derogatory term akin to “shirt-lifters”. Again he admits an error of judgement. “I said I would never use these words again. But please remember it was a word used commonly by Polish politicians about homosexuals. “Since I discovered that this word was offensive in the eyes of homosexuals, I never used it again.”As we end the interview he talks of his pride at heading up the new conservative grouping in the European parliament and his great respect for British Conservatism. But Mr Kaminski cannot have imagined that he would end up as such a controversial figure for the party that has inspired his politics for so long.

    The creation of the ECR has been a huge risk for David Cameron, brought about because he needed to provide some “red meat” to the Eurosceptics in his party. In the final irony, though, it turns out that Mr Kaminski is himself an enthusiastic Europhile who has embraced the Lisbon Treaty so hated by the right-wing of the British Conservative Party. “I was on the side of those who were in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. It is well known in Poland. It is not a secret,” he says. I apologise that so much of the interview has been taken up by allegations from Mr Kaminski’s political enemies. To his credit he says that it has been important to answer his critics.

    UPDATE: Mr Kaminski made the following statement to the JC on Friday:

    "I did wear the sword, which was used around a millennia ago to crown Polish Kings, on my lapel on occasions. After 1989 it was used as one of the symbols of the Christian National Union and many Conservative politicians would wear it, including politicians now in the Civic Platform. In recent years it has been taken as a symbol by the Far Right. Although it is not the same, there are similarities with how the BNP in Britainhas taken the Union Jack as their symbol. When I felt the symbol started having this meaning I stopped wearing it and I asked the rest of my party to stop too."

    Gambling Scandal Fallout Continues In Poland

    From: Casino Gambling Web
    Andrzej Czuma
    Government officials trying to lighten the load on casinos in Poland is now an international story and late this week the fallout from that scandal continued. Four top ranking officials have all been removed from their jobs.

    Prime Minister Donald Tusk cleaned house this week, removing Andrzej Czuma, the Justice Minister, and Grzegorz Schetyna, the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister from their jobs. Two more officials followed in losing their jobs in the government shortly after.

    Recent events related to the gambling act raise justified doubts among Poles," said Prime Minister Tusk, "For the government to work in an atmosphere of trust and impartiality, my colleagues and I want to do everything to convince Poles, but also our opponents, about our impartiality."

    Word spread earlier this week of how government officials tried to stop the gambling bill that would have raised taxes on the casino gaming industry. Those government officials had ties to the industry, and many believe they were protecting the interests of the casinos.

    Deputy Economy Minister Adam Szejnfeld submitted his resignation and perhaps the biggest firing came at the hands of Mariusz Kaminski, head of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau. He is accused of forging documents in 2007 and overstepping the boundaries of his position.

    Polish hooligans to riot at Czech match?

    From: Polish Radio
    Hoardes of Polish football fans expected in Prague
    Czech media is warning citizens against the hoardes of Polish football fans expected in Prague for Saturday's World Cup qualifying match.

    A leading Czech newspaper, Lidove Noviny, reports that Polish fans are renowned throughout Europe for having a particularly rowdy and unsavoury reputation.

    “From a safety point of view, this will be the most demanding match our team has seen in a few years,” Miroslav Platil, head of security for the Czech Football Federation, adding that the Federation has been preparing extra security measures for almost two months.

    Lidove Noviny writes as well that, wherever Polish football fans appear, there always seems to be run-in with police and with fans from other teams.

    “In the majority of European countries, football-related violence happens away from the stadium. Not in Poland,” claims the daily. The paper adds, however, that Polish hooligans tend to lash out in violence, despite efforts by Polish football clubs, teams and the Polish Football Association to curb such actions. Czech sports channels have been airing footage of Polish hooligan violence – particularly focusing on the riots that broke out in Belfast, Northern Ireland, earlier this year.

    Police and security services have been preparing to secure the stadium and surrounding areas in Prague before the match.

    “The operation has two elements – internal and external. The first concerns security in Prague, while the second focuses on security throughout the Czech Republic. We are dispatching police in civilian clothing to many cities around the country. We are working closely with Polish police and are hoping to detain many hooligans at the border,” Martin Synecky, security specialist in the Czech National Police department, is quoted as explaining in the paper.

  • Sport...

    Belarus cruise past Kazakhstan

    Leonid Kovel was on target for Belarus
    Belarus recorded a second commanding victory over Kazakhstan in Group 6 as Bernd Stange's side look to finish their FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign on a high.

    Bordachov opener
    Belarus beat Kazakhstan 5-1 in Almaty in April and they found goals easy to come by again in Brest, winning 4-0. The hosts' qualification hopes had ended with a goalless draw against Ukraine last month, but they came out strongly here. Maksim Bordachov, in for the injured Aleksandr Hleb, put Belarus ahead on 23 minutes with his first international goal after being teed up by Dmitri Verkhovtsov.

    Kalachev double
    Belarus had to wait until the 69th minute before extending their advantage as Timofei Kalachev, who scored twice against Kazakhstan in April, struck with a spectacular 25-metre effort. Substitute Leonid Kovel made it 3-0 with four minutes to play following a fine solo run before Kalachev completed the scoring with his second and Belarus's fourth deep into added time. Belarus's final Group 6 fixture is away to England on Wednesday, when Kazakhstan host Croatia.

    Scotland U21 1-0 Belarus U21: Murphy has final say for young Scots

    From: Scottsman
    IT WAS sweetly novel to watch a Scotland side leave the field to acclaim for victory achieved with a last-gasp goal – a precious strike from substitute Jamie Murphy to place Billy Stark's U21 side joint-top of Group 10 that was deserved.

    And acclaim less for perseverance, although that was to be found in space, and more for the patience and panache shown in its production. As the encounter remained
    scoreless well into the four minutes of added time, it looked like Scotland would be spend
    their day cursing that they had pushed and pushed without opening the door.

    Then Barry Bannan had the presence of mind to switch play from left flank to the right and find Chris Maguire, who smartly brought the ball under control and slipped it to Paul Caddis. With an intelligent, weighted pass down the channel, he in turn picked out Murphy, sent on as a fourth striker 23 minutes earlier. It was all controlled and classy, but even so it appeared the move might peter out when the Motherwell forward made a beeline for a non-existent space at the byline – only to drill the ball in from a seemingly impossible angle.

    Scotland now share leadership of their section with Austria – late winners themselves over Azerbaijan yesterday – and Stark's side remain firmly in contention for a play-off berth. Their hopes will go on the line in Azerbaijan next month, but these U21s don't look as if they will come up short through any absence of belief.

    Scotland gave the mainly youthful crowd of 4,011 cause to raise their voices throughout. It took them a good quarter of an hour to feel their way into an encounter against opponents who were athletic and willing but didn't seem as technically accomplished as their senior counterparts. In common with their hosts, though, what they could boast was six points from their Group 10 campaign ahead of yesterday. And crucially, this tally had come from only two games, the Scots' unfortunate loss to Austria last month halting the momentum supplied by two wins from their double header against Albania.

    What engendered optimism in those successes was the threat posed by front two Chris Maguire and David Goodwillie. At St Mirren Park, they again formed a confident and problem-posing partnership. They forced chances that were more half than full but Aberdeen's Maguire did have the Belarussian keeper toiling with a stinging shot he could only grip at, saving at a second attempt. He and Dundee United's Goodwillie worked the Belarussian backs ceaseslessly and Maguire's willingness to run the channels allowed him to dink a ball inside that Kevin McDonald should have buried. Instead, he made contact with the wrong part of his cranium.

    That was the second time McDonald looked the likely man. The Burnley player is something of a rarity in being a physically imposing Scottish midfielder. He used his stature to be a domineering force in the centre of the park, but in the penalty box he failed to prove a significant presence. A ball whipped in by Paul Caddis from the right just begged to be buried but he nodded an unconvincing header against an opponent. The deflection meant keeper Illia Haurylau had to react sharply to block but the initial header ought to have been placed beyond his reach. McDonald impressed, though, as did miniature midfielder Barry Bannan, the Aston Villa youngster full of tricks. In defence, meanwhile, there was much to recommend in the authority of Paul Hanlon, debutant Ross Perry and captain Caddis. They stood firm as Belarus produced a couple of knee-trembling shooting opportunities as the finish approached. Ultimately, though, it was Murphy who supplied the finish that mattered.

    We've shown we're more than just fighters, says 'ecstatic' Scotland boss Stark
    SCOTLAND Under-21 coach Billy Stark reflected on "as good a start as we could have hoped for" after Jamie Murphy's 93rd minute winner against Belarus made it three wins out of four for his team in their European Championship qualifying campaign.

    That they conjured up a victory from an afternoon that seemed destined to see them held for a point at St Mirren Park meant, Stark said, he couldn't be anything other than "ecstatic". But the coach claimed he would have lavished praise on his players even if they had not found the net with a cleverly constructed goal. Their performance until that point had been an admirable mix of drive, discipline and dainty play – a combination that isn't usually associated with the Scottish national team.

    "Countries come here knowing they'll be in a fight, that they'll come up against committed players," Stark said. "We never want to lose those qualities but don't want that to be it when it comes to what we are about. We want to be able to play, pass the ball and do the exciting bits of the game."

    Despite great craft and graft from front two Chris Maguire and David Goodwillie – who will miss out on the trip to Azerbaijan next month after picking up one of four "bookings for nothing" that infuriated Stark – they didn't always manage that in the final third. They did so in the moment that mattered, though, with Murphy driving past his marker before driving the ball in from an acute angle when it seemed he had set himself on the road to nowhere with a late run.

    "Jamie has a rare ability," the Scotland coach said. "He is wiry and deceptive and can seem to show the ball to his opponent but then get to the other side. He came on for 25 minutes and benefited from the work that had been done by our other strikers, who can wear players down. This campaign hasn't been all about the two strikers on the pitch. Chris came off the bench to score the penalty in Albania and Jamie scored as substitute in the home game against them."

    Matchwinner Murphy could hardly contain himself after his latest goal for his country. "I can't put into words how I felt at the end there," he said. "It was unbelievable. The manager said I was unlucky not to start and if I did come on I had to take the chance. I think I've done that."

    Scotland: Martin; Caddis, Perry, Hanlon, Mitchell; Gray (Murphy 67), McDonald, McGinn, Bannan; Maguire, Goodwillie (Loy 93). Subs not used: Gallacher, Easton, Wotherspoon, Fleck, Forbes.

    Belarus: Haurylau; Veretilo, Filipenka, Karpovich, Matveichyk (Palitsevich 86); Sivakov, Bukatkin; Niakaichyk, Skavysh, Rekish (Varankov 65); Yurchenko (Astraukh 73). Subs not used: Hutar, Ryzhko, Rakhmanov, Kolotsei, Ostroukh.

    ALEX HLEB HAS GUNNER REGRET; Switch to boyhood heroes Barca turned into nightmare

    WHO'S SORRY NOW - Alex Hleb
    BELARUS star Alex Hleb has confessed he made a huge mistake in quitting Arsenal last summer.

    The 28-year-old midfielder left the Emirates to make his "dream move" to Barcelona, the club he has supported since boyhood.

    But it turned into a nightmare with Hleb barely starting a match for the Spanish giants and he has now moved on again, joining his former club Stuttgart on loan.

    Hleb, set to face England in Wednesday's final World Cup qualifier at Wembley, admits he will feel sad being back in north London and so close to the club where he did so well.

    Hleb said: "I regret leaving Arsenal. I was playing every week for one of the most exciting sides in Europe.

    "I was being guided by one of the best coaches in the world and I owe Arsene Wenger a great deal. A footballer only truly exists when he takes to the field and makes a proper contribution to the team.

    "But at Barcelona the season was spent with me almost entirely on the bench. I just couldn't continue with them.

    "I was part of the squad that was almost unstoppable but it was hard not to feel detached from all the happiness and celebration at the end of last season.

    "I could have gone to Inter Milan on loan but I turned down Jose Mourinho to go back to my old club Stuttgart, where I was always very happy."

  • Endnote...

    CIS is an old woman who still wants to live

    From: Kyiv Post
    Moldovan President Mihai Ghimpu.
    Moldovan parliamentary Chairman and acting President Mihai Ghimpu has rejected criticism by local journalists, who claimed that, while he had called for Moldova's withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent Stats (CIS) during a recent election campaign, he still hosted a CIS summit on October 9.

    "I like to eat honey and therefore have a good memory. I did not say that Moldova should withdraw from the CIS. I said that the CIS is an old woman waiting to die. You see, it turns out the old woman still wants to live," Ghimpu said at a news briefing in Chisinau on Saturday.

    Ghimpu praised the outcomes of the CIS summit in Chisinau. "Moldova has honored its commitments as a country holding the CIS presidency," he said.

    "We discussed important issues and signed a number of documents. In compliance with its obligations that it assumed while joining the CIS, Moldova does not participate in discussing military issues and also those concerning the border and customs services. Therefore, we either did not sign documents dealing with these issues or signed some of them with reservations," he said.

    "The adoption of an anti-crisis agreement was the most important at the summit," Ghimpu said. "There was a substantive and businesslike conversation. The presidents of Ukraine and Belarus assumed a tough but a constructive position," he said.

    Asked by Interfax in what sense the Belarusian and Ukrainian presidents' position was tough, Ghimpu replied, "Alexander Lukashenko and Viktor Yushchenko criticized the fact that the CIS was discussing anti-crisis measures only at the end of 2009, whereas the crisis began last year."

    Moldova will continue cooperation with the other CIS members both on a multilateral and a bilateral basis, he said.

    "In this respect, we have already reached a number of agreements with Ukraine and Belarus on developing our trade and economic cooperation. I hope we will be able to increase exports of grapes and wine produce to these countries in the near future," he said.