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Today's Headlines for:
Thursday, November 26, 2009

OSCE summit, Russia, Kazakhstan, Abkhazia, S Ossetia, NATO, Agricultur; Economics, News, Sport, Cuture and Polish Scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #465

    Alexander Lukashenko: time to discuss international agenda at OSCE summit

    From: BelTA
    It is time to discuss the international agenda at the highest level of the OSCE, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko said as he met with President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev in Minsk on 26 November, BelTA has learnt.

    On behalf of the Belarusian people Alexander Lukashenko congratulated Nursultan Nazarbayev on the election of Kazakhstan as OSCE president in 2010. “It is the first time that a CIS member state has been chosen to take the presidency of the OSCE and we are happy about it,” the Belarusian President said. He underlined that Belarus supports all Kazakh initiatives. “The initiative to discuss the topical issues of the international agenda at the highest level within the framework of the OSCE is very important,” the President of Belarus said.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes that the visit of his Kazakh counterpart to Belarus will be packed with events. “The experts and the governments of the two countries had done a good job preparing for the visit. They laid a good ground for making final highest-level decisions on economic projects, the Belarusian leader said. “I am convinced that despite the packed agenda, the negotiations will not be difficult,” he added.

    According to the Belarusian head of state, Belarus and Kazakhstan have developed friendly relations and expressed confidence that the meeting will result in strategic long-term decisions.

    Belarus works out final stance on Customs Union

    Belarus has developed a final stance on its participation in the Customs Union. The President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko has held a meeting on the Customs Union formation on 23 November, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    Taking part in the meeting were Head of the Belarus President Administration Vladimir Makei, Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Andrei Kobyakov, Chairman of the Presidium of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus (NASB) Mikhail Myasnikovich. It is the second meeting on this topic in November this year. The first one (which was a broader participation meeting) was held on 17 November. At that meeting Alexander Lukashenko gave an instruction to develop proposals specifying Belarus’ stance on this issue.

    The head of state informed that a session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council will be held in Minsk on 27 November at which the presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia will discuss the Customs Union formation and the single economic area in the future. The sides are to sign documents that will launch the Customs Union of the three states.

    “At the previous meeting we thoroughly discussed all the problems of the Customs Union formation. We heard sincere opinions of people who advocate this union and people who see certain problems in it. Then some issues emerged, and we agreed that we would take seven or ten days to coordinate the positions to elaborate the country’s stance on the Customs Union,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President got familiar with the final proposals prepared by the participants of the session and noted that “these are well-thought-out approaches.”

    Belarus’ final decision to join the Customs Union is based on the assessment of possible consequences for the country’s economic and political security.

    Belarus expects that this new integration association will be based on equal rights and equal benefits, freedom of movement of goods and services, generally accepted non-tariff regulation, equal economic terms and removal of unjustified barriers to mutual trade.

    The President believes that the interests of the countries in the Customs Union should be mutual and balanced.

    Alexander Lukashenko stresses priority of relations with Russia

    In an interview to the Italian newspaper La Stampa on 25 November, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko reiterated that the relations with Russia remain a priority for the Belarusian state.

    “We have very good relations with Russia. There is no other state in the world with which Belarus has such a level of relationship. Yet we have unsettled issues as well,” the President said. Being a European state, Belarus naturally tends to develop the dialogue with the European Union. “If the EU wants to unite the whole Europe, it cannot leave out Belarus as well as Ukraine,” the Belarusian leader noted.

    According to the head of state, Belarus’ trade with the EU is as high as the trade with Russia. “As a politician I am obliged to support this trade,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    On Belarus' relations with the West he said that Belarus will not sacrifice its national interests and will engage in a dialogue only in case its sovereignty is respected and the principle of non-intrusion into its home affairs is secured. "We are not going to go begging on our knees for anything. We are not in a situation that would get us shiver all over and make rush to the EU. We propose cooperation,” said the President. “If the Europeans have an interest in the Belarusian state, then let them come over here, and we will travel too. We will cooperate.”

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Sergei Lebedev: Abkhazia, S Ossetia might join CIS

    From: BelTA
    CIS Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev did not rule out a possibility of the accession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia to the CIS. He made this statement in a press conference in Minsk on 26 November.

    He noted that the CIS constitutive documents allow new members to join this organization. “A country seeking CIS membership has to be unanimously approved by all the CIS member states. If any of the CIS states disagrees, a country will not be accepted,” he said.

    Sergei Lebedev said that now it is too early to talk about a possibility of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s accession to this organization, because none of the CIS states, except Russia, recognized the independence of these countries.

    He reminded that to join the CIS, a country has to carry out the certain mandatory procedures.

    EurAsEC is not an impediment to CIS, Sergei Lebedev says

    The EurAsEC is not an impediment to the CIS, CIS Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev said when commenting on the forthcoming session of the EurAsEC Interstate Council and the signing of the Customs Union documents.

    Sergei Lebedev has said he welcomes the integration of any kind. “There is no comparing the EurAsEC, CIS and the CSTO. Each country chooses the level of integration it is currently capable of,” he added.

    The documents signed by the council of the heads of government in Yalta on 20 November are a testimony that the Commonwealth is “alive and well despite financial and economic hardships,” Sergei Lebedev said. New documents are developed and the existing ones are improved.

    “The CIS will grow even stronger. In Yalta I dismissed speculations about the CIS disintegration as ungrounded,” Sergei Lebedev said.

    He has no doubts that Ukraine will remain the CIS member state, but it will have its own stance on some issues. The relevant statement was made by Head of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Yulia Timoshenko, Sergei Lebedev informed. This position of Ukraine is not out-of-the-way as many CIS member states adopt a different stance on some issues.

    Belarus, Russia to discuss environmental responsibility

    From: BelTA
    A scientific and practical conference highlighting the formation and development of environmental responsibility will take place in Yanka Kupala State University of Grodno on 26-27 November. Partaking in the conference will be Belarusian and Russia scientists, BelTA learnt from the university.

    One of the organizers of the conference is the university’s pedagogical department which ecological education research laboratory has been accumulating scientists to work in this direction. The members of the laboratory took part in the development of the Swedish-Belarusian-Russian project in environmental education.

    The conference will focus on the issues of molding environmental responsibility among school and university students.

    Belarus to create database of ecological assessment expert

    A database of experts in the strategic ecological assessment (SEcA) will be created in Belarus within the framework of the EU and UNDP joint project to build up potential in the SEcA area and carry out environmental protection conventions in the Republic of Belarus, BelTA learnt from project’s PR manager Vyacheslav Smirnov.

    Experts in the strategic ecological assessment are few in Belarus. Nevertheless the demand for their services is high. “The experts can use strategic ecological assessment while preparing different state plans and programs. It allows minimizing the negative effect on the environment before or during project implementation,” Vyacheslav Smirnov noted.

    The EU and the UNDP provide support to Belarus in training SEcA specialists. The implementation of the joint program includes training seminars, where ecologists study ecological assessment practices, its advantages and results of application, division of functions and responsibilities while using SEcA, instruments and practical approaches to the assessment. Taking part in the seminars are representatives of the UNDP, state bodies, public companies, specialists and experts in the area of ecological assessment and implementation of ecological conventions.

    Integral system of electronic services in Belarus by 2015

    From: BelTA
    An integral state system of electronic services available to corporations and individuals should be created in Belarus by 2015, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told participants at a special session of the Connect the CIS Space summit on 26 November.

    “We plan to increase national information resources and electronic services. It is necessary to set up an integral state system of electronic services available to corporations and individuals by 2015,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    The head of state remarked that Belarus will also continue developing electronic trade, customs and tax declaration. The IT basis of education and healthcare will be improved.

    In his words, a major program aimed at introducing information technologies is in progress in Belarus. In particular, close attention is paid to the Electronic Belarus program that the country is carrying out independently. “But we would be glad to welcome domestic and foreign investments into this sector of the economy,” stressed the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko believes that the promotion of Belarusian technologies onto the international market is promising. “Belarus has a traditionally well-developed math school. Our programmers are some of the world’s best ones. This is why we have something to present as an intellectual product,” he said.

    Belarus’ High-Tech Park is supposed to be the true center for developing the innovation economy. Its work is of economic and social importance. With its favorable tax and customs terms, the High-Tech Park offers highly paid and prestigious jobs largely tailored for young Belarusians. The Park offers opportunities to young Belarusians to realize their talents in the home country.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Belarusian ballet to open Year of Belarusian Culture in Russia in March 2010

    From: BelTA
    The National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus will open the Year of Culture of Belarus in Russia in March 2010, head of the arts department of the Belarusian Culture Ministry Mikhail Kozlovich told a press conference in Minsk on 23 November.

    The cultural program in Moscow will start with the performance of the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre of Belarus. The company of the theatre will present its classical repertoire.

    The events that will be held in Moscow include an exhibition of modern Belarusian painters, performances of Belarusian artists and bands, display of Belarusian films. It is also planned to organize a joint gala concert of Belarusian and Russian performers dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory.

    Days of the Belarusian culture will also take place in St. Petersburg. The event will include a gala concert of Belarusian artists and opening of Yan Borshchevsky’s memorial plaque. A concert of the State Chamber Orchestra of Belarus and a round-table discussion “A theme of patriotism in the works of modern writers” will be organized at the Hermitage concert hall.

    According to Mikhail Kozlovich, Pesnyary and Syabry, famous Belarusian bands, will go on tour around the cities of Russia. A theme exhibition of Maksim Bogdanovich Literature Museum will be presented in Yaroslavl. the Days of the Belarusian Movie will be held in several Russian cities in the course of the year. The closing ceremony of the Year of Culture of Belarus will take place in Moscow.

  • Economics...

    National Bank to reduce refinance rate from 14% to 13.5%

    From: BelTA
    The National Bank of Belarus decided to reduce the refinance rate by 0.5% to 13.5% since 1 December 2009 (Decree No 187 of 20 November 2009), BelTA learnt from the information administration of the National Bank.

    The press release of the National Bank says that such step was caused by the sustainable decrease of the inflation rate, the stable situation on the domestic currency market and a number of other positive trends in the Belarusian economy.

    Apart from that, this step was facilitated by the pursued interest and stock market policy. Together with other monetary tools it has positively influenced the attractiveness of ruble savings of the citizens and preservation of people’s confidence to the Belarusian ruble.

    The National Bank will keep supporting the high attractiveness of ruble deposits and providing the availability of loans for persons and companies.

    Belarus’ foreign trade balance will improve by the end of 2009

    Belarus’ foreign trade balance will improve significantly by the end of the year, the dean of the economy department of the Belarusian State University, Mikhail Kovalev, said at the workshop on banking services. The workshop is held as part of the Bank. Insurance. Leasing. exhibition in Minsk.

    According to Mikhail Kovalev, Belarusian export plummeted since August 2008 down to $1.6 billion a month at the end of last year. In early 2009 the export decreased further to $1.3 billion. The situation has improved since then, with export reaching $2 billion a month. “We expect the foreign balance will improve significantly by the end of the year as import has stopped increasing,” Mikhail Kovalev said.

    It is important that the banks take a rational approach to consumer lending, he cautioned. The increase in the foreign trade deficit in 2008 was, among other things, triggered by the growth of consumer loans. Last year Belarusians imported $2 billion worth of cars alone. Mikhail Kovalev urged the banks to pay special attention to lending to the real production sector. Retail deposits should be used as investments, he noted. “As for the loans to buyers, they should be extended, first of all, to those who buy Belarusian products abroad,” Mikhail Kovalev added.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus will not bow down to EU, Lukashenka says in interview with La Stampa journalists

    From: Navany
    Belarus is ready to do more for the European Union than the EU for Belarus, but Belarus will not bow down to the EU, Alyaksandr Lukashenka said in Wednesday’s interview with journalists representing Italy’s most influential daily newspaper La Stampa, BelaPAN said.

    Excerpts of the interview were broadcast by Belarus’ national television channels on Wednesday night.

    “Today we’re ready to do more for you than you for us. We’re ready, we have such an opportunity, but we have no intention to crawl on our knees and bow down to the European Union,” the Belarusian leader said.

    “We aren’t in a situation that we have to run into the European Union with trembling knees or bodies,” Mr. Lukashenka said. “We’re offering you cooperation. If you have an interest in your center of Europe, if you have an interest in the Belarusian state, in the problems that we live with, please come. We’ll also come to you, and will cooperate. If you don’t have such an interest, no one will make you act in this direction. I realize this pretty well. It isn’t the first year I’ve been president. But I’ll represent my state in a proper manner like, by the way, your premier, Silvio Berlusconi, does.”

    Mr. Lukashenka also insisted that there are “good relations” between Belarus and Russia. “There is no other country in the world with which we have such relations as we have with Russia,” he said. “There is not such a level of relations as the level of our relations with Russia, although there are enough problems, too.”

    Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi is expected to pay a visit to Belarus on November 30.

    Russia, Belarus unable to come to terms

    From: RIA Novosti
    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's meeting with Belarusian journalists at his residence in Barvikha, near Moscow, on November 23, was bound to become a high-profile event in Russian-Belarusian relations.

    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko initiated regular meetings with Russian journalists several years ago to offer his interpretation of bilateral relations. Now the Russian leaders have decided to talk not only with their Belarusian counterparts but also with the media community in general. One reason for this could be the insufficient effectiveness of one-on-one meetings.

    What has happened to Russian-Belarusian relations? Why has the level of mutual trust fallen so low, as both sides admit?

    Numerous problems have darkened this year's celebrations of the establishment of the Union State of Russia and Belarus. Worse still, these problems are believed to have become systemic and therefore not easily resolved.

    The two countries' strategies have become opposing, unfriendly and even mutually exclusive in the last few years.

    Russia is working hard to complete the BTS-2 Baltic pipeline system to ship oil around Belarus. When the pipeline comes on line in 2011, it will greatly lessen Russia's transit dependence on Belarus and also weaken the transit status of that country.

    Meanwhile, Belarus has joined the Eastern Partnership, a project initiated by the European Union to ease the transit countries' dependence on Russia through consolidation. It was inaugurated in Prague in May 2009.

    Russia's subsidies to Belarus, which have reached $50 billion since 1991, can be explained by its transit dependence on Belarus, which ships up to 80% of Russian oil and 20% of its natural gas to Europe.

    Before the global economic crisis, Russia exported hydrocarbons worth over $100 billion via Belarus annually. Minsk authorities viewed the $5 billion subsidies, which account for at least 40% of the Belarusian budget, as fair payment for the safety and reliability of transit shipments.

    The transit status Belarus inherited from the former Soviet Union was the key reason for establishing the Union State. No other comparable tie has developed in bilateral relations since its establishment. This explains Russia's oil and gas bypass strategies and the current cool period in bilateral relations, in which periods of respite were intermingled with sugar, dairy and other trade wars.

    The biggest question no one can answer now is how Russian-Belarusian relations will develop after Russia completes the bypass projects, when it will no longer have to pay the obligatory subsidies to the Belarusian economy. Until then, the key question will be how much Russia is affected by Lukashenko's struggle for the transit status quo.

    So far, Belarus has opted for a strategy of suspending integration projects that are vital for Russia. For example, it hindered the signing of the agreement on the Collective Rapid Response Force of the CSTO member states, leaving the future of the CSTO agreement hanging. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

    The future of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan may also be vague. The agreement is to be signed by the end of 2009, and Belarus can use it as another bargaining chip for privileges.

    The year 2009 is the last year before BTS-2 system start-up, with Russia still fully dependent on Belarus for hydrocarbon transit. Will the construction of the Nord Stream and South Stream natural gas projects bypassing Ukraine, which have been given a fresh boost this autumn, encourage the Ukrainian and Belarusian authorities to consolidate their positions on the transit issue?

    This would make the threat of a supplies blockade maximally large for Moscow. Belarus could do this not to spite the ally, but to compensate the losses it sustained because of the crisis and future shortfalls. The crisis has halved Belarusian export revenues, which make up as much as 75% of its budget.

    Under these circumstances, the Belarusian president may resort to a confrontation with Russia to ensure his political survival.

    No systemic solution has been proposed to any of these problems. The meetings of the Belarusian president with the Russian media and of the Russian president with the Belarusian media cannot solve them. Relations can be promoted only if they rest on a pragmatic foundation.

    Strangely, the time could be right for building such a foundation. The crisis, which has destroyed the consumer economy as such, has also shifted the focus to reviving the producer economy and developing a common market to service it.

    Belarus is the only country in the region with an excessive number of skilled workers. Russia has an abundance of know-how but lacks the workforce for implementing it.

    This is a good time for finding points of contact and in this way preventing bilateral relations from getting worse.

    Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia To Establish Customs Union

    From: RFE/RL
    Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev is in Minsk ahead of a Eurasian Economic Community (Eurasec) summit where Belarus, Russia, and Kazakhstan are to form a customs union, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

    Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Nazarbaev will hold talks on cooperation before the Eurasec summit begins on November 28.

    Kazakh Ambassador to Belarus Anatoly Smirnov told RFE/RL that Kazakh and Belarusian leaders will sign a number of "important documents, including ones regulating cooperation between the economic institutions of the two countries."

    The document establishing the customs union is slated to be signed on November 28 and the union is due to begin on January 1.

    By July 1, customs checkpoints along the Belarusian-Russian border are to be closed, as will checkpoints along the Kazakh-Russian border a year later.

    Lukashenka told journalists in Minsk on November 24 that the customs union will provide "great support to Russia," adding that Kazakhstan and Belarus will not be the "backyards" of such a union.

    Belarus increased agricultural products output by 1.1%

    From: AgriMarket.Info
    During January-October of 2009, all varieties of agricultural economies in Belarus increased output of agricultural products by 1.1% compared to the same period of the previous year, to the sum of 24.6 trn. BYR (8.85 bln USD), declared the National statistics committee (Belstat). According to the forecast, in 2009, the volumes of the general agricultural products output in Belarus will grow by 9.5%.

    According to data of Belstat, during January-October of 2009, the production volumes of agricultural organizations and farming economies grew by 4.7% compared to January-August of 2008. At the same time, plant growing products output increased by 1.2%.

    In 2009, Belarus produced 9 mln tonnes of grains

    In 2009, the general production of grains and leguminous plants in Belarus totaled 9 mln tonnes, declared Vasiliy Pavlovsky, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Food, on November 12.

    According to the Deputy Minister, the country plans to harvest nearly 500 thsd tonnes of maize and 746 thsd tonnes of rapeseed.

    Despite rather difficult weather conditions, the country managed to receive grain harvest at the level of the previous year, added V.Pavlovsky.

  • From the Opposition...

    NATO made a plan of repelling possible Russian-Belarusian aggression

    From: Charter '97
    Defense Minister of Poland Bogdan Klich has stated that the NATO knows how to defend Poland in case of foreign aggression.

    Bogdan Klich admitted that the NATO has a plan how to defend Poland “in case of Russian assault”. Such a statement has been made by Russia’s ambassador to the NATO Dmitry Rogozin, RIA Novosti informs.

    In particular, Klich stated that Poland shouldn’t have to fear Russian-Belarusian military exercises (Zapad-2009), as the NATO has made a plan of Poland’s defence.

    “Though these plans are secret, Klich informed that after manoeuvres of Russia and Belarus these plans have become more relevant,” Rogozin said.

    As website have informed, on November 1 a British newspaper Telegraph with a reference to Polish magazine Wprost wrote that during recent joint Belarusian-Russian military drills West 2009, an amphibious landing on the Polish coast and the firing of nuclear weapons were simulated.

    In late October military drills West 2009 was criticized by Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet.

    “The military exercises near the borders of the Baltic states demonstrate that Russia still uses significant means for struggle with the NATO,” Estonian Foreign Minister said at Riga Conference.

    “The drills held by Russia near the borders of the Baltic states were the largest over ten years, and their aim was “to cut off the three Baltic states from the NATO,” Estonian Foreign Minister said.

    Latvian Defense Minister Imants Liegis also said that the scenario of West 2009 military exercise included intervention in the Baltic states as a part of freeing “Kaliningrad in blockade”.

    Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said on November 12 that NATO should turn attention to the Belarusian–Russian military exercises held in September near the Polish border.

    Radoslaw Sikorski also said that he had written about that in the letter to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO Secretary General.

    Uladzimer Asipenka charged with terrorist act preparation

    From: Viasna
    According to human rights activist Aleh Vouchak, Vaukavysk businessman Uladzimer Asipenka has been charged with the preparation of an act of terrorism, following similar charges brought against Mikalai Autukhovich a few days earlier.
    ‘It was evident that, after Mikalai Autukhovich was charged with terrorist act preparation last week, his friend Uladzimer Asipenka would face the same charge, since there should be ‘a gang.’ However, if the trial will be an open one, everyone will see that the charges are groundless. The authorities expect the judges to be humble,’ says Mr. Vouchak.

    Three Vaukavysk businessmen Mikalai Autukhovich, Uladzimer Asipenka and Yury Liavonau were arrested on 8 February 2009 on suspicion of deliberate property damage. In July Yury Liavonau was released. Soon information appeared that Mikalai Autukhovich and Uladzimer Asipenka would be charged with the preparation of a terrorist act against Chair of Hrodna Regional Executive Committee Uladzimer Sauchanka and Deputy Minister of Taxation Vasil Kamianko.
    According to Mr. Vouchak, there are some more persons involved in Autukhovich’s case – Vaukavysk resident Aliaksandr Laryn and former police major from Hrodna Mikhail Kazlou. The human rights expert says they may face similar charges in the near future.

  • Russia...

    Russia: no space for space tourists

    From: AP
    A top Russian space official says there is no space for tourists wishing to fly to the International Space Station.

    Sergei Krikalyov said that since the space stations crew has doubled to six people, there is no room for tourists in the Russian spacecraft that link the station with Earth.

    Russia's Soyuz spacecraft will provide the only link to the station after the planned retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet next year.

    Canadian Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte returned to Earth last month after a stint as the seventh paying space tourist aboard the station.

    Krikalyov, the chief of the Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City outside Moscow, spoke Thursday during a training session for a crew going to station in late December.

    Russia's Vladimir Putin in France for economic talks

    From: BBC
    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin arrives in France on Thursday for two days of talks, with economic issues expected to dominate.

    Mr Putin wants France to invest in Russia's gas pipelines, in spite of EU fears it could swamp the market.

    He also hopes French companies will put money into struggling car manufacturer Avtovaz, makers of the Lada.

    Mr Putin will dine on Thursday with his French counterpart, Francois Fillon, and may meet President Nicolas Sarkozy.

    Enormous reserves

    Gas will be at the heart of Mr Putin's talks because Russia wants - and is likely to receive - more French investment in its two pipeline projects.

    The pipes, which stretch across the Baltic and Black seas, bring enormous reserves to the European market.

    The European Union has long been wary of the projects, which it fears will make Europe overly dependent on Russian gas.

    But it appears that "realpolitik" - a recognition of the Russian domination of the market - is prevailing in Paris.

    Mr Putin is also looking for help in modernising Avtovaz.

    The French carmaker Renault already has a 25% stake in Avtovaz. But they could be reluctant to pump in more funds, given the current state of the world car industry.

    A third issue likely to be discussed by the two premiers is the planned sale of a French ship to Russia - a helicopter carrier currently in dock in St Petersburg is being admired by Russian navy procurement officials - which would be the first time Russia has bought armaments from a Nato country.

    However it has provoked deep concern among some of Russia's neighbours, including Estonia and Lithuania, who have asked Paris for more detailed information.

    U.S., Russia study ways to extend START verification

    From: Reuters
    U.S. negotiators working to conclude a new strategic arms treaty with Russia are discussing ways to continue nuclear weapons monitoring until the new accord can be ratified, a State Department spokesman said on Monday.

    U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July to work on a new treaty that would cut their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads.

    The current Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between Russia and the United States expires on December 5. Negotiators in Geneva are hopeful of reaching a draft agreement around that time, but the deal would still have to be ratified by both sides, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

    "The negotiating teams continue to work very hard in Geneva. They have agreement on a number of issues but they are also trying to work out some of the areas where they need to come together," he said.

    "Because the treaty has to be ratified by the respective legislatures, we ... know that we are not going to have a ratified treaty that can enter into force," Kelly added. "So we are having discussions with Russia to see how we can continue some of the transparency and verification measures ... until the treaty is ratified."

    Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a bill last week that would permit Russian arms experts to come to the United States to carry out inspections permitted under the START treaty.

    The measure would let Obama approve the inspections as long as the Russians extended similar permission to U.S. arms experts.

    Lugar, in a Senate speech, said extending the START verification mechanism was particularly important because it is also used to monitor the 2002 Moscow Treaty on strategic nuclear forces.

    Kelly said the Lugar legislation was part of the effort to extend the START weapons inspection and verification regime.

    "Since we recognize we're not going to have a fully ratified treaty in both capitals, we're looking at ways that a number of provisions can remain in effect in this period between December 5 and whenever the new treaty is ratified," he said.

    "These monitoring mechanisms are important," Kelly said. "You need to have some kind of mechanism to keep these means of monitoring in place and ongoing."

    Estimates of current nuclear stockpiles vary, but the U.S.-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated at the start of 2009 the United States had about 2,200 operationally deployed nuclear warheads and Russia had about 2,790.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Polish president on trial in Walesa libel case

    From: AFP
    A Polish court on Tuesday began hearing a libel case against President Lech Kaczynski over his claim that his predecessor and Solidarity icon Lech Walesa was a communist-era spy.

    Both men regularly trade barbs in the media, but neither was present in the Warsaw court for the start of the lawsuit brought by Walesa. Both were represented by lawyers, Poland's PAP news agency reported.

    Walesa is demanding that Kaczynski withdraw the claim and pay 100,000 zloty (24,000 euros, 36,000 dollars) in damages.

    "A legal expert cannot behave this way, refusing to respect the verdicts of our justice system," Walesa told the Polish news channel TVN24 Tuesday, in a swipe at Kaczynski, who has a doctorate in law.

    "These are nothing but lies. I was never an agent of the SB!" he later told the channel, referring to the communist-era security service.

    In a television interview last year, Kaczynski repeated long-running assertions that Walesa was an agent codenamed "Bolek", mentioned in the SB's files.

    Allegations about Walesa's past have surfaced regularly since the fall of Poland's communist regime in 1989, but he was cleared by a special vetting court in 2000.

    Amid a dispute between the two men's lawyers over whether Kaczynski as president could even be tried by the court, the tribunal adjourned the hearing until December 18.

    Walesa has acknowledged signing a secret police document on one of the many occasions he was hauled in for his opposition work in the 1970s, but has termed "absurd" the claim that he collaborated by spying on fellow activists.

    Walesa and Kaczynski were allies during the struggle against the former communist regime, when shipyard electrician Walesa led the Solidarity trade union and opposition movement and later won the Nobel peace prize.

    But they fell out after Walesa was elected president for a five-year term in 1990.

    Kaczynski was himself elected head of state in 2005, and his supporters stepped up their battle against Walesa. The pro-Walesa camp has protested what it dubs a smear campaign.

    New campaign of Polish government

    Polish government has started its new campaign titled – “Not only bruises can make a victim”. More than 800 thousand women experience some acts of violence every year. More than 150 of them die because of ‘home misunderstanding’ – reported Polish Press Agency.

    The campaign was started one week ago, during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The main goal of the campaign is to pay attention for this unpleasant problem. “We deal with many forms of violence: physical, psychological, sexual or economical. We believe that 800 thousand of Polish women experience one of those forms every year. It may mean that every of us know a woman who is harassed” – explained Joanna Piotrowska form Feminoteka Foundation.

    Every symptom of any kind of harassment may be reported to police and our police must react. There are also many non-government organizations, which help harassed women. But our main problem is that Polish women do not want to report their problems. “Only 30% report that they are harassed. Why? Because they are afraid of their husbands or they are ashamed. We must change it” – added Piotrowska.

    The foundation wants to organize meetings, debates and workshops in order to solve all problems of Polish women and educate them. 160 organizations decided to take part in this project.

    Heartbroken drunk

    From: STV
    Polish police spent two days searching for a drowned man when he turned up looking for his clothes.

    Maciej Nowark disappeared after splitting from his girlfriend and was spotted drinking heavily in the early hours of the morning.

    His clothes were found next to a lake the next morning and the heartbroken 24 year old's friend feared he had killed himself.

    However, as police divers searched the water for his body, Maciej turned up at the scene looking for his discarded clothes.

    An officer said: "He told us that he can't remember why he had taken his clothes off because he had been drunk. But he woke up at a nearby house."

  • Sport...

    Top Belarusian Junior Player Signs with Minnesota

    From: GopherSports
    One of the top junior women's tennis players in Belarus who competed in last year's U.S. Open junior tournament has signed a National Letter of Intent to attend the University of Minnesota.

    Nataliya Pintusova, a Minsk, Belarus native, is ranked third among under-18 players in Belarus and 53rd in the International Tennis Federation World Junior rankings. She played in the main draw of the U.S. Open junior singles and doubles tournaments this past summer. She lost her opening singles match to the 15th seed 6-2, 6-1 and battled the second-seeded doubles team to a 6-3, 6-2 setback in the opening round.

    Pintusova achieved a career-high World Junior ranking of No. 35 last November and was a finalist in the Florence International Tournament this past April.

    "We are all very excited that Nataliya has chosen to attend Minnesota," Gophers' coach Tyler Thomson said. "Her junior tennis resume is extremely impressive and I know she's eager to contribute to our 2010-11 team. Nataliya is a very upbeat person and a very hard worker, and she will make an immediate and positive impact on our program."

    Pintusova joins a Gopher squad that finished 12-12 overall and was ranked 69th nationally in the spring of 2009.

    New sports channel for Belarus

    Belarus will see the launch of a new cable-delivered sports channel specialising in ice hockey on September 1, 2010.

    According to Lenta, the service will be named Arena-Media and a response to the current poor coverage of the Belarusian Extraliga ice hockey league on the state TV network.

    Arena-Media will be 51% owned by the Belarus Ice Hockey Federation (FHRB), with Dynamo Minsk holding 29% of shares and unnamed individuals 20%.

    Start-up costs have put at over $1.8 million (€1.2 million), and funding, derived chiefly from advertising, is expected to help it break even within three to four years.

  • Endnote...

    Belarus tries to solve its economic problems at Russia’s expense”

    From: RT
    The Russian and Belarusian presidents have exchanged criticism on the eve of the signing of the documents on the creation of the Customs Union.

    The media commented on new statements of Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko, who once again criticized the Russian leadership. The criticism came on the eve of Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergey Martynov’s visit to Moscow. Lukashenko’s comments also followed the interview that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev gave to Belarusian journalists on November 23.

    Lukashenko described Medvedev’s meeting with Belarusian media as “absolutely senseless” and added that journalists who had been invited to Moscow “hate Russians.” Lukashenko told heads of state-run news agencies from the Commonwealth of Independent States on November 24 that “a negative image of Belarus” in the eyes of the Russian leadership has been created by the mass media.

    Medvedev in his interview on November 23 “urged the Belarusian leader to be more self-restrained in his opinions of both the actions of the Russian government and, personally, [Prime Minister] Vladimir Putin,” website said.

    The Russian president also stressed that Moscow wants to build a closer union with Belarus and does not influence Belarusian politics.

    However, the main disagreements between Russia and Belarus “lie in the economic sphere,” Vremya Novostey daily said. “Russia has not provided us the promised loan, which we needed,” Lukashenko said, adding that “the IMF arrived and laid down terms, which we agreed to.”

    Medvedev said that Russia had lent Belarus over $3 billion over the past two-and-a-half years, and that no one else receives such loans from Moscow.

    At the same time, the Belarusian leader stressed that Minsk had not changed its political orientation to pro-Western, calling such allegations, “absurd and unconfirmed.”

    The leaders of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are expected to sign a long-awaited deal on the Customs Union on November 27. They will meet in Minsk as part of a session of the Inter-State Council of the Eurasian Economic Community (EurAsEC) member states, and the Customs Union supreme body at the level of the heads of state. The union should start working on January 1, 2010.

    Lukashenko was quoted as saying by the media that “the Customs Union means the strengthening of Russia’s positions.” He also expressed hope that “Belarus and Kazakhstan will not be left on the sidelines.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily noted in this regard that the Belarusian leader “recently said that there are a lot of things that have not been completely agreed to and infringe upon the interests of Belarus.”

    The intentions of the countries signing the Customs Union are “serious,” but some problems remain, Leonid Vardomsky, head of the Center of Post-Soviet Studies, told the paper. The idea now is to start the realization of the project, he said. Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have different tax, customs and duties legislation, but all contradictions should be resolved by the Customs commission, he said.

    The session of the inter-state council of the EurAsEC should strengthen trade and economic ties between the member states, said Maksim Minaev of the Center for Political Conjuncture. At the same time, the event should become “another tactical move as part of the course on pragmatic partnership” between Moscow and Minsk, the analyst added.

    Some observers are not certain about Lukashenko’s tactics toward the Customs Union. Statements of Russian and Belarusian leaders allow analysts in Minsk to think that “the outcome on November 27 may be much unexpected,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta wrote.

    “Just a week before the signing of the historic document, when all principal issues seemed to have been solved, [Lukashenko] said at the special meeting with the government that Belarus is still considering the option of entering this Customs Union,” the paper said. The president told the government’s members that they had not studied well all the consequences if the country joins this organization, the paper added.

    Leaders of Russia and Kazakhstan are trying to persuade Lukashenko “not to disrupt” this regional project, observers say. The very fact of the interview that Medvedev gave to Belarusian media is being treated by local journalists as his attempt “to soften the situation and demonstrate the readiness to discuss problems and the absence of deep offences,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta said.

    Minsk wants to join the Customs Union, hoping to come “to an agreement with Russia about the energy supplies at reduced prices,” Vremya Novostey said, citing analysts in Belarus. “If this issue is not resolved, Minsk will not gain anything from joining the union,” the paper said.

    Meanwhile analysts are arguing if the Customs Union is good for Russia itself. The idea of Russia’s joining the World Trade Organization as part of the Customs Union has been replaced recently by the possibility of Moscow joining the WTO separately, many observers say. However, Medvedev said, during the Russia-EU summit in Stockholm, that both options were still possible.

    Andrey Suzdaltsev of the Higher School of Economics believes that the Customs Union project “is overloaded with political expediency.” Belarus and Kazakhstan rather than Russia will gain economic benefits from the union, the analyst told website.

    Moscow’s partners in the union “are trying to solve their economic problems at Russia’s expense,” Suzdaltsev said. “Belarus is seeking unlimited crediting and energy supplies at reduced prices,” he stressed. “This means huge expenses for the Russian budget.”

    The analyst predicts that the documents on the creation of the Customs Union will be signed in Minsk on November 27, but after it, the process of negotiating additional agreements and specifications may take a long time.

    “The membership in the Customs Union will only add points to the Belarusian leader in his opposition to Moscow,” believes Olga Pavlenko of Russian State University for the Humanities. “Lukashenko since 2006 has actually developed a new foreign policy strategy – the arc between Russia and the European Union,” she told

    “If Russia begins to put forward demands that are unacceptable from Minsk’s point of view, Lukashenko starts talking to Moscow in the language of ultimatums,” she said. “That is why Russia makes serious concessions to the Belarusian side and seeks compromises,” she added.

    At the same time, Moscow may be irritated by Minsk’s policies in the issue of recognizing two former Georgian republics, many observers think. Three groups of Belarusian parliamentarians have already visited Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Kommersant daily said. “But analysts still believe Belarus’s decision will depend on the outcome of President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s bargaining with Moscow,” the paper added.

    He needs two things from Moscow – “money and guarantees that Moscow will at the very least remain neutral on the upcoming presidential elections,” the daily said, citing observers in Minsk.

    “Belarus and Russia seem to be in the Union State, but we see that Lukashenko is pursuing his own policy,” Aleksandr Krylov of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations said. The Belarusian parliament sent six deputies to Abkhazia and South Ossetia and six to Georgia on November 17, the analyst noted.

    Thus, Minsk made it clear that it still recognizes Georgia’s sovereignty over the two republics, Krylov said, adding that Belarus will now discuss this issue with Tbilisi. The Belarusian authorities will try to gain all possible political benefits from their steps in the issue of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the analyst added.

    Now Lukashenko expects loans from Western countries, Krylov said. But the West in the conditions of the crisis “has considerably reduced financial assistance to post-Soviet countries,” he added.

    The Russian president stressed in his interview with Belarusian journalists that Moscow had never asked other countries to recognize the former Georgian republics. “It’s the prerogative of each state whether to recognize or not,” he said.