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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Belarus closer to EU, Eastern Partnership, Union State, VAT, Azerbaijan, Opposition, Human Rights; News, Sport, Culture and Polish Scandal...

  • From the Top...
  • #469

    Germany thanked for advancing Belarus closer to EU

    From: BelTA
    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko appreciates Germany’s role in Belarus-EU rapprochement. The Belarusian head of state made the relevant statement as he met with Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Germany to Belarus Gebhardt Weiss on 8 December.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, Gebhardt Weiss has done his best to bring Belarus closer to the European Union.

    “Ambassadors are supposed to bring countries closer and they must never ever counteract the processes going on here, they must never dig trenches and build ‘Berlin walls’ between countries. Unfortunately, things happen differently sometimes,” said the President.

    “I can only be thankful as far as Germany and its current ambassador are concerned. You have done your best in this situation. Your mission was aimed at bringing Belarus closer to Germany and the European Union,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko. “The pragmatism and respect for our nation deserve great trust”.

    The head of state said he hopes the efforts of the Ambassador of Germany will be duly rewarded.

    “I would very much like the new ambassador to be as attentive and understanding about the problems that exist in Belarus today and want to help it,” said the President. “I would like you to produce one result – bringing nations closer”.

    In turn, Gebhardt Weiss said that his diplomatic mission in Belarus will end in mid-2010. Assessing what has been done, the diplomat said: “Despite all these difficult framework terms today Brussels is hosting the first meeting of foreign ministers of Eastern Partnership member-states. It will also be the first meeting of the Belarusian Foreign Minister and the new German Foreign Minister. I would like to underline that we have done a lot and a very important year is ahead of us. I believe that everything will be right in the development of the domestic political life in December 2010. I think opportunities for the full growth of cooperation between the European Union and Belarus will emerge. I wish them to you and your country”.

    Germany is one of Belarus’ priority partners. Promoting relations with Germany is one of the key prerequisites for normalizing relations with the European Union and Belarus’ full-scale participation in European interstate and interparliamentary organizations.

    Germany is one of the leading steady non-CIS trade partners of Belarus.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    France all in favor of Eastern Partnership

    From: BelTA
    France does its best to support the Eastern Partnership, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of France to Belarus Mireille Musso told a press conference on 9 December. Mireille Musso’s diplomatic mission in Belarus is about to end, BelTA has learned.

    According to the diplomat, the Eastern Partnership will contribute to privileged cooperation between the European Union and all the participants of the initiative.

    The Ambassador believes that through the initiative these countries will become closer to the European Union, getting familiar with its operation in the political and economic sense. Mireille Musso said: “We do believe that the rapprochement, the cooperation will foster overall wellbeing which is impossible without freedom and democracy”.

    The Ambassador of France remarked: “We don’t teach lessons but we think that European values have universal meaning and everyone can touch them. One shouldn’t be afraid of these values. They help countries to advance and they foster peace between nations. The European Union has existed for about 50 years in this union of peace and reconciliation despite the difficulties we face”.

    Mireille Musso also stressed the unquestionable importance of the Lisbon Treaty which is supposed to help work out a single policy in all the European Union countries. The Treaty came into force on 1 December.

    Sergei Martynov: Eastern Partnership needs to be more dynamic

    The Eastern Partnership project should be more dynamic. Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov expressed such a position of the Belarusian side at the first annual Eastern Partnership ministerial session in Brussels.

    According to him, during the session the Belarusian side has announced that the Eastern Partnership has good prospects. It needs to become, however, more dynamic to implement them.

    “In this respect Belarus together with Lithuania and Ukraine has made a well-thought move. They have presented a joint list of projects (nearly 20) related to the energy security, transport and transit, border cooperation,” the minister said.

    Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine stressed the necessity of granting the European financial institutions with all necessary mandates to finance the Eastern Partnership projects. The three countries focused major attention on the importance of taking decisions promoting liberalization of the EU trade regime with respect to the partner countries.

    “The theme of free movement was high on the agenda of the session,” Sergei Martynov said. In his words, Belarus (in the issue of reducing the cost of Schengen visas) was supported by neighbor countries: Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and many other EU states. “The participants of the session agreed to address the issue in the shortest time possible,” Sergei Martynov said.

    The Belarusian side also stressed the necessity to maintain parity in implementing the agreements defined at the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague.

    Union State born out of desire for closer ties between Belarus, Russia

    From: BelTA
    The creation of the Union State was brought about by the desire to enhance economic and humanitarian ties between Belarus and Russia. The statement is part of the welcoming address of Russia President Dmitry Medvedev to participants of the celebrations that mark the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Union State Foundation Treaty. The cerebrations took place in the Kremlin Palace in Moscow on 8 December, BelTA has learned.

    The address was voiced by Head of the Russia President Administration Sergei Naryshkin. According to the address, the signing of the Union State Foundation Treaty was one of the most important events in the modern history of Belarus and Russia. In Dmitry Medvedev’s opinion, the union of the two countries is meant to raise living standards of the Belarusians and the Russians.

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko sent his congratulation on occasion of the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Union State Foundation Treaty. It was read out by Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Valery Ivanov.

    “Without an exaggeration an outstanding event took place ten years ago. Based on unbreakable historic ties, spiritual and cultural affinity, close economic ties, it was the natural embodiment of the desire of the Belarusian and the Russians to get united,” reads the address sent by the Belarusian head of state.

    “Together, we build up the defensive capacity and security of the Union State, we stand in the international arena. A high level of mutually beneficial industrial and scientific cooperation has been reached, stable ties between regions have been established. Equal rights of the citizens of Belarus and Russia to labor, pension and medical care, choice of residence, education are our key achievements.

    “Our goal is to expand the comprehensive cooperation horizons as much as possible and carry out all the articles of the Union State Foundation Treaty for the benefit of the nations of Belarus and Russia,” says the address sent by the Belarusian head of state.

    Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine submit Eastern Partnership joint projects to EC

    From: BelTA
    Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov and his counterparts from Lithuania and Ukraine handed over a list of joint projects to be implemented within the framework of the Eastern Partnership programme to the European Commission. Sergei Martynov took part in the Eastern Partnership ministerial session in Brussels on 8 December, BelTA learnt from the Foreign Ministry of Belarus.

    The discussion focused on the assessment of the progress made since the Eastern Partnership programme was launched as well as the prospects and priorities in 2010. In his statement Sergei Martynov stressed the importance of the Eastern Partnership initiative for the regional cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe.

    Sergei Martynov called upon the European Union to concentrate its efforts on the activity directed towards concrete projects meeting the interests of the partner countries. The Belarusian delegation proposed the EU to promptly determine the procedures necessary for consideration and approval of the projects, accelerate the process of involving international and European financial institutions in their implementation.

    Representatives of the EU countries, the European Commission, the EU Council, European Parliament and other EU institutions heard Belarus’ proposals on EU possible immediate steps to secure full implementation of the Eastern Partnership potential regarding Belarus. These proposals include easing the access for the Belarusian goods to the EU market and lifting protectionist measures.

    At the same time, the Belarusian minister expressed his hope that the problems with the EU visas for Belarusians will be solved in the nearest future. He welcomed the decision of the Council of the European Union on 17 November 2009 that gives an opportunity to make visa procedures easier and cheaper.

    Sergei Martynov called for steadfast adherence to the Prague Declaration of the Eastern Partnership and, in particular, to the principles of joint competence, transparency and mutual respect. Sergei Martynov stressed that only strict observance of the abovementioned principles in such forms of the Partnership as the Civil Society Forum and the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly can make the initiative a strategically successful undertaking.

    The Belarusian Foreign Minister held bilateral talks with the Foreign Ministers of Germany and Poland, and took part in working meetings with his counterparts from the state members of the Eastern Partnership and the EU.

    The conference of the Foreign Ministers of the Eastern Partnership initiative of the EU is the first meeting of such kind after the establishment of the Eastern Partnership initiative at the Prague summit in spring 2009. The Eastern Partnership initiative was established by twenty-seven EU members and six partner states: Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Culture ministries of Belarus, Russia to ink agreement on national heritage

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian Culture Ministry and the Tourism and Culture Ministry of Ukraine plan to ink an agreement on cooperation in the area of national heritage by the end of the year. The statement was made by Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Belarus Igor Likhovyi at the presentation of an electronic edition Book Edition of the Khreptowichs Family on 9 December.

    “I am pleased to watch the Belarusians trying to recover the national legacy. It is certainly difficult. But it is also the global cultural heritage this is why it is important to allow everyone to access it,” said Igor Likhovyi.

    According to the diplomat, events like the virtual reconstruction of the Khreptowichs’ library performed by Belarusian and Ukrainian specialists are linked by time and space. At present they are searching for Yaroslav the Wise’s library in Ukraine. The library of such a scale could not have gone missing. Where it is now is not as important as people’s ability to access it. The signing of the national heritage cooperation agreement will contribute to reaching the goal.

    Vitebsk to host photo-exhibition Soul of Serbia 12 December

    A charitable photo-exhibition, Soul of Serbia, will open in the Vitebsk religious school on 12 December. The exposition will display 45 works of well-known Serbian photographer Darko Dozet, BelTA learnt from the press service of the Serbian center.

    The photo-exhibition will stay open till 11 January 2010. Then it will be held in other towns of Belarus.

    Besides, Vitebsk will also host an event to commemorate Patriarch Pavle of Serbia who deceased on 15 November 2009.

    The charitable project will open an opportunity for potential donors to help residents of Kosovo and Metohija. The donations will be used to purchase clothes and products necessary for the Serbs living in enclaves.

    The charitable project is organized by a cultural institution, Serbian Center, founded on 23 September 2009. The photo-exhibition will become the first event held by the Serbian Center. In the future the center is going to conduct several other charitable and humanitarian projects. Among them are concerts of the Serbian and Belarusian music, seminars, conferences, many others.

  • Economics...

    20% VAT budget bill in parliament

    From: BelTA
    The Finance Ministry has brought the next year’s budget bill into the Belarus parliament. The draft budget increases the VAT from 18% to 20%, BelTA has learned.

    Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets told a session of the relevant commission of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly on 7 December, the increased VAT is expected to earn extra Br1.7 trillion for the national budget. Simultaneously four other taxes will be abolished, namely donations to the fund for supporting agricultural producers, the retail trade tax, the automobile purchase tax, local fees collected for automobile parking. As a result, the tax burden will be reduced from 34.3% as against the GDP in 2005 to 28.2% as against the GDP in 2010.

    Revenues of the consolidated budget are expected to reach Br53 trillion, expenses – Br55.7 trillion, with the deficit at Br2.7 trillion.

    Belarus’ GDP to rise by 11-13% in 2010

    On 7 December President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko signed decree No 595 “Approval of the major indicators of the forecast of Belarus’ social and economic development in 2010”, the press service of the head of state told BelTA.

    In 2010 the Gross Domestic Product is expected to increase by 11-13% in comparison with the previous year, industrial output – 10-12%, agricultural output – 10-11%, fixed-capital investments – 23-25%.

    In 2010 52% of the increase in the industrial output is supposed to be exported.

    In view of the fact the foreign trade in commodities and services is supposed to go up by 24-25%, with export up by 27-28% and import up by 20-21%.

    In 2010 the growth rate of real earnings is supposed to make 113-114% while the Consumer Price Index will reach 109-110%. The nominal accrued average monthly salaries will reach an equivalent of $500 by the end of 2010.

    All in all, the next year’s targets are set to ensure the conclusive fulfillment of resolutions of the Third All-Belarusian People’s Assembly and reaching the goals outlined by Belarus’ social and economic development program for 2006-2010.

    Except for a few articles the decree comes into force as from 1 January 2010

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Russia-Belarus Union State can benefit both countries - Medvedev

    From: RIA Novosti
    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Tuesday both Russia and Belarus would benefit greatly from an adherence to the founding principles of the Union State.

    The two former Soviet neighbors have been trying to build a union since 1996, but have deviated from the original idea of political integration towards socio-economic cooperation.

    A series of agreements signed during President Boris Yeltsin's second term culminated in the December 8, 1999 treaty to create the Union State, but Yeltsin's successor Vladimir Putin showed little enthusiasm for the project's grander goals.

    "We are moving along the path toward the creation of a unified customs and economic space," Medvedev said in a message dedicated to the 10th anniversary of the treaty.

    "We have a large-scale task ahead of us. Its realization is in the hands of the people."

    "I am convinced that by an adherence to the principles of the construction of the Union, we will successfully move forward in the interests of the well-being of Russia and Belarus," he also said.

    Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Belarusian capital late last month, when he and the leaders of Belarus and Kazakhstan signed a package of deals to create a customs union with common tariffs, paving the way for a single economic space.

    Medvedev also pledged in November a 30-40% discount on natural gas for Belarus in 2010, while Prime Minister Putin said last week that a cut in energy prices for Belarus should coincide with Minsk's integration into the Union State with Russia.

    Azerbaijan threatens Eastern partnership, Armenian FM

    From: News.AZ
    Edward Nalbandian
    Azerbaijan’s withdrawal from the cooperation planned by the project can put the Partnership’s success at stake.

    The first meeting of foreign ministers of EU Eastern Partnership took place yesterday, in which the Armenian delegation led by Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian participated.

    In his speech, the Armenian foreign minister stated that Armenia seeks to strengthen relations with the EU. According to Nalbandian, the Partnership’s initiative creates additional opportunities for cooperation with the European Union on political, economic and humanitarian thematic platforms.

    Referring to the EU’s intention to establish legal-contractual relations of new quality with partner states, Nalbandian stated that it proves the positive result of the cooperation established over the past ten years and stated Armenia’s readiness to work toward the development of Armenia-EU Association Agreement and to create a deep and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.

    Emphasizing that all the initiatives proposed by the Partnership program are important for Armenia and the other partners, Nalbandian paid special attention to the issue of facilitating visa arrangements, since it will significantly promote contacts among Armenian and European Union peoples.

    Nalbandian attached great importance to the rational cooperation within the frames of Eastern Partnership emphasizing that Azerbaijan’s withdrawal from the cooperation planned by the project can put the Partnership’s success at stake: “Such behaviour from a partner state discredits the true idea of cooperation, and the absence of a response from participating countries even more devaluates it,” Nalbandian emphasized.

    At the meeting it was decided to hold the next meeting in the second half of 2010, and the next summit of the Eastern Partnership in 2011, informs the Republic of Armenia Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    Belarus sees 8 pct as fair yield for debut Eurobond

    From: III
    Belarus sees 8 percent as a fair yield for the debut Eurobond issue it plans in 2010, Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets said on Wednesday.

    "Some countries with comparable ratings have entered the market...A price of around 8 percent -- in principle, that is a fair price," Kharkovets told reporters.

    Belarus plans to issue at least $500 million of Eurobonds and is in talks with Sberbank, Russia's biggest lender, on the organisation of the issue.

    Standard & Poor's rates Belarus' B+ on long-term foreign currency debt with a negative outlook, while Moody's has it at B1 -- both four notches in to the speculative grade category.

    Among similarly ranked sovereign issuers, Sri Lanka in October sold $500 million in 7.40 percent global bonds maturing in 2015.
    Belarus has seen its economy dented badly by deteriorating demand from recession-routed Russia and Europe, its chief exports markets, forcing it to look for sources of external funding.

    The former Soviet republic has discussed plans for raising a eurobond since 2007 as part of plans to raise capital on international markets. But the issue has repeatedly been postponed due to unfavourable conditions on world markets.

    Belarusian Activists Seek Lenin's Removal From Historic Town

    From: RFE/RL
    Activists from the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy Party (BHD) began collecting signatures today for a petition to remove a large Lenin bust in the western Belarusian town of Navahradak, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

    The petition drive began after local officials charged party member Yury Kazak with hooliganism after he poured green paint on the Lenin bust on December 8.

    BHD activists told RFE/RL that Kazak was expressing his feelings toward Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, who they said ordered the murder of millions of people.

    The BHD activists said people are participating in the action and actively signing the petition.

    Navahradak, which has a population of some 30,000, is one of the oldest towns in Belarus.

    It was the first capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, is home to the Mindaugas Castle ruins, and is the birthplace of famous 19th-century poet Adam Mickiewicz.
  • Note: This is bullshit. People here like their Lenin monuments...

    Belarus: bakery department enterprises increased groats production by 1.4%

    From: Agrimarket
    During January-October period of 2009, the enterprises of the bakery department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Belarus produced 37.7 thsd tonnes of groats products, an increase of 1.4% compared to the same period last year, informed the department.

    During ten months of the current year, organizations of the department produced 29.1 thsd tonnes of groats, up 0.2% compared to January-October level of 2008. In particular, the organizations produced 7.8 thsd tonnes of pearl barley (down 6% compared to January-October period of 2008), 6.4 thsd tonnes of fine ground barley (down 21.5%), 3.9 thsd tonnes of wheat groats (down 15.8%), including also 3.2 thsd tonnes of semolina groats (up 0.5%).

    During January-October of the current year, oatmeal and buckwheat groats production volumes increased by 26.6% (to 4 thsd tonnes) and 33.8% (to 6.3 thsd tonnes), respectively.

    The plants produced 8.4 thsd tonnes of fast-cooked groats products, an increase of 5.7% compared to January-October period of 2008.

  • From the Opposition...

    In Brussels Martynau made excuses for Tatsyana Shaputska’s expulsion, but nobody believed him

    From: Charter '97
    The issue of expulsion of “Young Front” activist from the Belarusian State University was brought up t the meeting with representatives of Belarusian authorities in Kyiv and Brussels.

    It was stated by Carl Bildt, Foreign Minister of Sweden which is presiding in the EU now, at a press-conference after the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the EU and “European Partnership” countries.

    Carl Bildt stated that it would be “absolutely unacceptable” if the expulsion was connected with Shaputska’s participation in the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership. This event was held in Brussels on November 16-17, BelaPAN informs.

    The Foreign Minister of Belarus Syarhei Martynau said that “not the government, but the university expels students”. Her underlined that the reason for expulsion was “absence rate”.

    In response Carl Bildt noted that “representatives of law-enforcing agencies had come in contact with the administration of the university”. “They certainly might have asked about her absence rate, but it does not come within their duties usually”, the Swedish minister stated.

    We remind that Tatsyana Shaputska was expelled from the law department of Belarusian State University after she had taken part in the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in Brussels. This is flagrant even against the background of usual practice of expulsion of politically active students from Belarusian universities. The Eastern Partners is an initiative of the European Union, officially supported by the Belarusian leadership. Civil society, as well as governmental bodies, can participate in the project.

    61st Anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights shows: we should protect our rights everywhere and always

    From: Viasna
    Our country has undertaken before the whole word to respect, protect and guarantee human rights. To which extent these international undertakings are implemented? Let’s focus on one of the most important stances of the Declaration set out in Article 3: ‘Everyone has the right to life, freedom and security of person’.

    The right to life is inalienable and no one can be deprived of life even in the name of the state. At the same time, Belarus is the only country in Europe and in the post-Soviet space where the death penalty is still in action. This year two people have been sentenced to death.

    In 2009 the Belarusian human rights defenders and civil society activists actively struggled for the right of every human being to life. The campaign Human Rights Defenders against Death Penalty was launched in Belarus. Within the frames of this campaign there was prepared a petition to the Belarusian authorities with the demand to abolish the death penalty in Belarus. The petition was signed by many famous public figures, politicians, artists, musicians and literary workers.

    A press-conference dedicated to the issue of death penalty was held in cooperation with Amnesty International. At this event the human rights defenders presented the report: Let’s Stop Death Penalty in Europe: On the Way to Death Penalty Abolishment in Belarus that contains a thorough analysis of the political, social and moral aspects of this issue.

    During the year numerous pickets and performances were held in different parts of Belarus to draw the public attention to the question of the death penalty abolishment. The actions in Minsk, Hrodna, Brest, Baranavichy, Mahiliou and Navapolatsk were the most active. The Belarusian human rights defenders handed out thousands of postcards that had been designed by Amnesty International and contained the petition to the president for the abolishment of the death penalty. Many receivers submitted these addresses to the presidential administration.

    The public concern with the topic of death penalty was eloquently demonstrated by the contest of artistic works, among the participants of which there were artists, journalists, literary workers and students. The results of the contests and the names of the prize winners were announced on 10 October, International Day against the Death Penalty.

    Even the Belarusian authorities had to count with the actions of the human rights defenders and eventually recognized that there was such an issue in the country.

    The campaign on the death penalty abolition in Belarus showed one more time that the authorities are not always ready to abide by the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and therefore it is important that all people should defend their rights everywhere and always.

  • Russia...

    ‘Soviet Discourse’ Serves Russian Leaders and the West but Not Russia or Other Post-Soviet States

    From: Georgian Daily
    Presenting the Russian Federation as the Soviet Union of today is “becoming ever more popular not only in Russia but also in the West,” a leading Moscow commentator says, but it does little to help Russia and the other post-Soviet states overcome Soviet thinking at home and define their national interests.

    In an article posted online today on the 18th anniversary of the Beloveshchaya accords, Sergey Markedonov explores what he calls “these paradoxes,” all the more potent because “the basic elements of the Western anti-Soviet myth coincide with the Kremlin’s political propaganda (

    In this essay, Markedonov notes that over the last decade with “the strengthening of the power vertical” Russians “have become so accustomed to conflate the Russian Federation with the USSR” that they forget how the opposition of those two formations led to the end of the Soviet Union and the real successes of the Russian Federation in the 1990s.

    Under Soviet conditions, he continues, Russia was treated as a step child in comparison with other republics – it lacked many of the institutions the others had and was restrained in pushing the values of the dominant nationality (the Russians) – and consequently in the late 1980s, many Russians saw an exit from the USSR as working to their benefit.

    And in the 1990s, which most Russians now view as a time of collapse and retreat, post-Soviet Russian “was able to achieve a non-nuclear status for Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.” It did not provoke a re-division of inter-republic borders, and it was Moscow and no one else that ended six of the eight armed conflict that did break out on the territory of the former USSR.

    More than that, during “the cursed 90s,” Markedonov notes, “Russian dominance on the post-Soviet space was in practice officially recognized by American and European diplomacy,” with Russia being viewed as the leader in democratic transformation and “the gates to Europe (and to the West in general)” for all the others.

    Thus, it is “at a minimum unjust” to view the Yeltsin years as an uninterrupted “chain of retreat” and defeat as many Russians now do, the Moscow analyst says. But “at the same time,” one must acknowledge that there were many mistakes and that “Russia was conceived by its own elite as an unrecognized state which was not self-standing” but rather controlled by others.

    Because of that feeling, Russian politicians from the end of the 1990s on have tried to correct what they call the Beloveshchaya mistake. “Instead of distinguishing between Soviet and Russian policy, the leadership of the new Russia” chose instead to rally around the Soviet past, as the mark of their legitimacy and the basis viewing the CIS as Russia’s “geopolitical property.”

    In recent times, Markedonov continues, “Soviet discourse with each day is becoming ever more popular not only in Russia but also in the West.” In Moscow, it is seen as “a powerful resource for legitimizing the regime,” as a way of linking the current powers that be not with the events of the 1990s but with USSR as a great power.

    But paradoxically, he continues, “Soviet values are being stressed not only inside Russia.” In Europe and the US, many opinion leaders speak about the “rebirth of the Soviet colossus” to justify a cautious approach to Russia. Curiously, the basic features of such arguments, Markedonov points out, “coincide with the political propaganda of the Kremlin.”

    In both cases, Markedonov says, “the Soviet myth is an extremely useful instrument in the hands of politicians.” For the new Russian elite, it provides a justification for autarky and authoritarianism and a demand to be treated as a super power whatever the country’s actual status may be.

    And for “certain circles in the US and Europe,” this myth is useful in order to “justify their own failures” and explain away the expectations these people had for Eastern and Central Europe by holding up Russia as the reason things have not worked out as the West had expected at the end of Soviet times.

    For some in both Russia and the West, “contemporary Russia [remains] an unrecognized state. It remains a hostage of the past and cannot pragmatically assess its own (not soviet) resources, realistically understand its national interests, and define its geopolitical allies, partners and opponents.

    Russia seeks U.S. help in fight against heroin epidemic

    From: CNN
    Russia's top drugs adviser has called on the United States to use its troop surge into Afghanistan to help stem the flow of drugs entering its borders, as heroin addiction reaches epidemic levels.

    Last week President Barack Obama announced plans to send an extra 30,000 U.S. troops to the region in an effort to stabilize the Afghan government by defeating the Taliban, who are believed to be heavily involved in the country's burgeoning drugs trade.

    However the strategy of destroying the poppy fields of southern Afghanistan, which yield the heroin flooding out of the country, is now viewed as counterproductive by the U.S.-led coalition because it drives farmers into the hands of the Taliban.

    Last year the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that Afghan poppy farmers earned around $730 million, making it a hugely lucrative cash crop.

    But Russia, estimated to have between one-and-half and six million addicts, says poppy fields are the real killer in this war-ravaged land and should be destroyed.

    It has a compelling case: health ministry officials say overdoses kill around 80 people a day in Russia and are fueling the spread of HIV.

    The U.N. says about 15 million people worldwide use heroin, opium or morphine, fueling a $65 billion market for a drug that is also fueling terrorism and insurgencies.

    For many, the carnage caused by heroin is far worse than any roadside bomb or suicide attack.

    Viktor Ivanov, the Director of Russia's Federal Drug Control, told CNN that his country is bearing the brunt of this trade and more must be done to crack down on poppy cultivation within Afghanistan.

    "In my opinion, international community and international forces, once they take on the responsibility of creating a future for Afghanistan, must understand that without terminating its drug industry it will be difficult to create a working, democratic society in Afghanistan," he said.

    Ivanov suggested the U.S. use herbicides to defoliate crops from the air, pointing out how successful this had been in eradicating crops used to produce cocaine in Colombia.

    "According to U.N. data, in the past year 75 percent of cocoa plants have been destroyed," he said. "This can be attributed to the defoliation method. It is the most effective method and I'm surprised that we are not using it in Afghanistan."

    But earlier this year, Washington's top envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, argued that a complete "re-think" of U.S. policy was needed because crop eradication in Afghanistan had been wasteful and ineffective.

    "The Western policies against the opium crop, the poppy crop, have been a failure. They did not result in any damage to the Taliban, but they put farmers out of work," Holbrooke told reporters at a meeting of G8 nations in Trieste, Italy in June.

    "We are not going to support crop eradication. We're going to phase it out," he added. Policy would instead focus on intercepting drugs and chemicals used to make them, and going after drug lords. Afghan farmers would also be encouraged to grow alternative crops.

    According to the U.N., Afghan opium production this year fell for the second year running, which some analysts believe can be attributed to this policy shift.

    But with 30,000 heroin-related deaths a year, according to health ministry figures, Russia remains unconvinced as it struggles to stem the flow of drugs through its vast southern borders.

    "The drug culture in Russia is, in part, a result of our proximity to Afghanistan," Ivanov claimed. "The heroin is brought into Russia by the northern silk routes, through weakened borders in remote areas."

    Ivanov also pointed to wider socio-economic reasons for Russia's drug problem but denied Moscow has an outdated approach to dealing with addiction, with the emphasis on punishment. For example, human rights groups claim addicts are placed on a "narcological register" and face arrest when they register for clean needles.

    "Drug addicts are placed on it voluntarily," he said. "We are not talking about forced treatment. If a person commits an insignificant crime that may be punishable in a court of law, we have special drug courts that allow an individual to opt for voluntary addiction treatment. This allows an individual to take health into his own hands.

    "Our goal is to cure them. If they want to be treated anonymously, by all means, they can do so. If they want government to assistance, we are willing to help.

    "The question is not about finding, registering, and punishing a drug addict. First, an addict must acknowledge his or her own sickness. Second, society must be able to offer a qualified support system."

    Meanwhile, the number of people living with HIV in Russia has more than doubled since 2001, while the lack of needle exchange programs has curbed efforts to combat the spread of the disease, says Annabel Kanabus, director of international AIDS charity AVERT.

    "The crisis is still going on," she said. "Efforts at prevention are not really working."

    Russia's healthcare system is already buckling under the weight of a national crisis with alcoholism. According to World Health Organization figures, the average of life expectancy of a Russian male is just 60, compared to almost 80 in most other European countries.

    Russia's battle with alcoholism

    Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, alcohol use has risen, as Russians have struggled to adapt to economic change, health experts say. When the Soviet Union fell and the state disappeared, unemployment soared, and a significant portion of the population was pushed into poverty, Jofre-Bonet, a health economist at City University London, told CNN.

    However, Ivanov feels the United States and its allies can offer some hope as it battles the equally destructive problem of heroin addiction.

    New Arms Pact Coming Soon - Russian Foreign Minister

    From: New York Times
    Russia and the United States are close to signing a new pact to cut nuclear arms and replace the expired START-1 treaty, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

    "The question is easy. The treaty will be signed soon," Lavrov told a news conference, when asked by Reuters if the new agreement would be signed before the scheduled end of the U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen on December 18.

    Lavrov did not specify an exact date.

    Work on a new arms pact has become a key element in efforts by Moscow and Washington to "reset" their relations after a series of bitter rows in the past years.

    However, despite intensive negotiations lasting months, Moscow and Washington did not agree a replacement pact by December 5, when START-1 expired.

    Both countries have imposed a blackout on details of the talks, but sources on both sides have signalled that only a few elements of the new treaty, which would further cut the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States, were outstanding.

    A senior Kremlin aide said on Tuesday the new arms pact was expected to be signed before the end of the year. In the meantime, Russia and the United States have pledged to stick to the terms of the START-1 treaty.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Environment minister to get canned?

    From: The News
    Prime Minister Donald Tusk is expected to announce the resignation of Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki today, according to media reports.

    The resignation of the official will be no surprise, as it had been planned for some time, says Wojciech Stepniewski, from the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). Stepniewski believes Nowicki is an outstanding expert in his field, and his resignation indicates that the Environment Ministry will from now on be run solely by politicians.

    "It looks as though we are doing away with an expert's opinion in the Environment Ministry to give way to politics again,” laments Stepniewski.

    Prime Minister Donald Tusk should account for the official’s resigning from the post, as losing such a good specialist cannot go unmentioned, says MP Janusz Piechocinski, from the Polish Peasants’ Party. The official claims that leaks to the media on the matter right before the Climate Conference in Copenhagen was a serious misstep.

    "Releasing such information just when the minister was opening the summit is simply dramatic. It shows that many politicians and media representatives lack imagination, as even though all those who had known this scenario was likely to happen after Copenhagen, they should keep quite as this shows the Polish representative at an unfavorable light at an international meeting of key significance," says Piechocinski.

    According to weekly Wprost the resignation of Minister Nowicki comes in the wake of a conflict between the Civic Platform official and deputy minister Stanislaw Gawlowski. Another reason for stepping down is allegedly a dispute between the politician and Prime Minister Donald Tusk over the allocation of funds gained from selling carbon emission permits to Spain. Maciej Nowicki wants the sum earmarked for climate protection, contrary to the opinion of Donald Tusk, who wants to designate the sum to a different end, writes the weekly.

    Wprost claims the decision was taken on Friday, yet due to the minister’s participation in the Climate Conference in Copenhagen, the move will be announced by Prime Minister Donald Tusk today.

    Maciej Nowicki has held the post of environment minister since November 2007.

    Signs of intelligent life on earth: Tourism in Poland drops

    From: NPE
    Tourists are spending less money in Poland this year, but some are still finding it a good place for an inexpensive holiday.
    According to a report in Rzeczpospolita, tourists are spending one fourth less this year than last, with the number of foreign visitors dropping to 11.8 mln in 2009, a level not seen since the mid-1990s.

    The decline in numbers is due in large part to the financial pains being felt throughout Europe, especially in Germany. The number of Germans visiting Poland in the first nine months of this year dropped by 10 percent to 3.4 mln, and those who do come are spending less.

    The situation appears to be stabilizing, but the recent rise in the value of the zloty is hurting "shopping tourism" from both Poland's Eastern neighbours and from Western European countries. "A strong zloty has caused some tourists to cancel their trips to Poland, just like in 2008," said Krzysztof Lopacinski, head of the Tourism Institute.

    More Polish drunk driving

    From: NPE
    An HGV collided head-on with a coach in Hajdaszek, south of Kielce, this Wednesday morning, killing two and injuring twenty-one. The incident occurred when the HGV driver lost control of his vehicle and veered into the wrong lane.

    An ambulance medic at the scene told a reporter from Gazeta Kielce, “It was a massacre. The blue bus was full of people… We had to assess the wounded to make sure those in most need went first. Unfortunately the driver and one passenger were already dead. The most seriously injured passenger was flown by helicopter to hospital in Kielce.”

    Kids? What kids?

    A drunk driver was so desperate to escape police this Wednesday evening, not far from Pinczow, he sped off, overturned the car, crawled out of it and ran, leaving his two children behind, sitting in the wreckage. The six-year-old boy and two and a half-year-old girl were unharmed in the incident, despite not wearing seatbelts. The driver was soon apprehended and shown to have 0.2% alcohol in his blood.

    Student hacks parents to death

    From: NPE
    A university student hacked his parents to death with an axe, and then called the police to admit the crime.

    The 19-year old known only as Mikolaj who studies at Wroclaw University was at his parent’s home when at five in the morning he took the axe, walked into their bedroom and attacked his mother Hanna (45) and father Artur (40).

    After dismembering the bodies, Mikolaj called the police and told them what he had done.

    When police arrived at the home in the small village of Borownia they couldn’t believe their eyes.

    “Officers entered the bedroom and found the boy sitting on the floor beside the bed crying his heart out. In the bed were the bloody remains of his parents.

    “He admitted the attack and when asked why he had done it, he said he didn’t know, but later confessed that it was because his parents were opposed to his homosexuality” said police spokesman Artur Chorazy.

    A few days before the murder, Mikolaj brought his homosexual lover to the family home.

    Neighbours from the from small village are shocked.

    “It was such a quiet, peaceful family. They always seemed happy. We just can’t understand what happened, why Mikolaj would do something like this. It’s shocking and completely incomprehensible,” said neighbour Jan Gembara.

    “He was such a nice boy. He passed his high school diploma with honours, and was a multiple winner of competitions in various sports. His parents were also very well-educated and Artur ran his own business.”

    But they add, they were also very Catholic and strict.

    Polish teacher leaves pet dog to starve

    From: NPE
    A primary school teacher is facing two years in jail after leaving her pregnant dog chained up in her kitchen while she went on holiday - for seven months.
    Olivia P., has been suspended from her job and now faces animal cruelty charges after all the dogs died.

    “What on earth does this woman teach our children if this is how she treats her pets?” said one neighbour.

    The teacher claims that she simply “forgot” to leave food; “I love my dogs and I do not feel guilty.”

  • Sport...

    Dinamo Minsk win at Spartak

    From: BelTA
    Dinamo Minsk beat Spartak Moscow in a scheduled Kontinental Hockey League match in Moscow on 4 December.

    The final score was 6-5 (2-2, 2-1, 1-2, 0-0, 1-0). Dinamo won by shoot-outs.

    Goal scorers for Dinamo were Mikhalev, Antonenko, Platt, Shafarenko, and Meleshko.

    Meleshko and Huvenen scored in the shoot-out series, while Dinamo’s goaltender Vitaly Koval denied two shots by Spartak’s strikers.

    Dinamo Minsk have won all their shoot-out series this season.

    Dinamo has already played twice against Spartak this season. Dinamo won 3-2 on 15 October, and lost 2-5 on 21 November. Both games took place in Minsk.

    Dinamo played 31 games and scored 37 points. They are 10th in the West Conference, and occupy 18th position in the overall KHL standings.

    Dynamo plays three next KHL games at home against Lada Tolyatti (on 7 December), Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (9 December), and Ak Bars Kazan (11 December).

    Dinamo Minsk beat Tolyatti

    Dinamo Minsk won second Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game in a row, beating Lada Tolyatti in Minsk on 7 December.

    The final score was 4-2 (1-0, 1-0, 2-2). Lintner, Platt, and Huvenen (2) scored for Dinamo.

    On 12 November Dinamo won at Tolyatti 4-3 by shoot-outs.

    Dinamo has 40 points after 32 matches and occupies 9th position in the Western Conference and 16th in the overall KHL standings.

    Dinamo plays the next two KHL games at home against Nizhnekamsk (9 December) and Kazan (11 December).

  • Endnote...

    Belarusian opposition activists abducted

    From: AP
    Men appearing to be law enforcement officers have abducted four Belarusian opposition activists in an attempt to scare them away from political activity in the repressive former Soviet republic, a human rights organization said Tuesday.

    The activists were held for several hours before being released in the woods dozens of miles (kilometers) from the capital, Minsk.

    Dmitry Dashkevich, leader of the Youth Front, said five men seized him from his Minsk apartment on Sunday. They put a bag on his head, pushed him into a minibus and after a five-hour drive threatened to kill him, he said.

    "It was a real imitation execution," he said. "In the woods they told me they had already dug my grave and would bury me there."

    Dashkevich said his abductors were in plainclothes but carried police radios, leaving him with little doubt that they were from the special services.

    After returning to Minsk, Dashkevich said he reported his abduction to the police, who responded by searching his apartment and confiscating opposition literature.

    Yauhen Afnahel, an activist with the European Belarus Movement, was abducted Monday. Two other opposition activists were abducted in late November. In all four cases, the scenario was the same, according to Dashkevich.

    The respected human rights center Vyasna issued a statement Tuesday condemning the abductions, which it described as a form of political persecution.

    "We are certain that Belarusian law enforcement agencies took part in the abductions of the activists of the youth organizations," Vyasna activist Vladimir Lobkovich said.

    The Interior Ministry said it had no information about such abductions.

    European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek issued a statement Tuesday condemning the abductions in Belarus, which he said would harm its efforts to improve relations with Europe.

    "I appeal to the authorities to create circumstances which would eliminate such incidents from happening ever again," Buzek's statement said.