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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Belarus-Serbia trade, Infrastructure developing, Council of Europe, Corruption, Oil duties, Russia, Ukraine, Opposition, Polish scandal and Sport

  • From the Top...
  • #391

    Intention to sign Belarus-Serbia free trade agreement strong

    From: BelTA
    President Alexander Lukashenko and Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic of Serbia
    During his working visit to Serbia President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko met with Serbia Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic on March 3, the press service of the Belarusian head of state told BelTA.

    The meeting focused on stepping up the trade and economic cooperation between Belarus and Serbia. The parties expressed a mutual interest in signing an intergovernmental agreement on free trade and in setting up joint ventures for assembling Belarusian tractors, buses, automobiles and other machines.

    The meeting also touched upon the creation of a business cooperation council, which is expected to include the leading businessmen of the two countries.

    These and other issues are supposed to be discussed in detail when Serbia Vice Premier Mladjan Dinkic visits Belarus at the end of March 2009. A delegation representing Serbian businessmen is expected to accompany the Vice Premier.

    The meeting also touched upon the creation of a business cooperation council, which is expected to include the leading businessmen of the two countries.

    These and other issues are supposed to be discussed in detail when Serbia Vice Premier Mladjan Dinkic visits Belarus at the end of March 2009. A delegation representing Serbian businessmen is expected to accompany the Vice Premier.

    Belarus and the former Union Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) established diplomatic relations in November 1994. Since June 2006, Serbia has become the legal successor of the agreement on diplomatic relations establishment. Belarus opened its embassy in Belgrade in November 1996.

    Since 2003, Belarus and Serbia have been developing their trade and economic relations actively. In 2008, the trade between the two countries made up almost $65 million (20.3% up s against 2007). The Belarusian export hit $41.4 million. Belarus posted a surplus in trade with Serbia at the amount of $18 million. Belarus exported white salt, potash fertiliser, cotton cloth, linen, artificial thread, synthetic fibre, steel wire cord, articles made of ferrous metal, tractors, bearings and washing machines.

    Main Serbia’s imports to Belarus were raw materials, constituent parts which are necessary for various branches of the Belarusian economy.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Infrastructure development should bring additional revenues to small and medium-sized towns

    From: BelTA
    Budgets of small and medium-sized towns should be increased due to more active infrastructure development, said Prime Minister of Belarus Sergei Sidorsky at a session of the Presidium of the Council of Ministers to revise the progress in the implementation of the national comprehensive development programme for regions, small and medium-sized urban settlements for 2007-2010 on March 3.

    This programme emphasizes transition from getting donations from local and central government to self-financing, Sergei Sidorsky said. He explained that it should be done through the development of urban infrastructure.

    Overall, in his words, the implementation of this programme resulted in some positive developments. The socio-economic development of these towns has considerably improved, new enterprises and new jobs are being created, people get their salaries regularly.

    ‘It is a good result. We are interested in the inflow of people in small and medium-sized towns. Apart from that, a set of decisions was taken to develop agrotowns; the state is interested in developing processing industry and industrial infrastructure here to create new jobs,’ the Prime Minister noted.

    At the same time Sergei Sidorsky expressed a certain dissatisfaction with the course of implementation of the programme in 2008. More than 30% of the regions failed to meet the consumer goods production target, and 24% of the regions did not reach the industrial output target.

    'The President and the government did everything possible to help companies in these towns work efficiently. The programme has been underway for two years already. Indeed, we have got many good results. However, there are some regions which we expect to develop more efficiently. We want every region to be sufficient. Therefore we need to look into what decisions we need to take so that all targets would be met, so that the consumer market and business would develop in small and medium-sized towns,' Sergei Sidorsky said.

    According to him, for the local authorities to be more effective, quantitative indicators in terms of the growth of small and medium-sized business will be adopted. 'There is a need to raise the awareness about small business advantages among businessmen and citizens in small and medium-sized towns,' the Premier said.

    Bank reserves are sufficient for implementing all regional investment projects. 'If there is a lack of resources, please address the government. We will find the funds as this is not big money,” Sergei Sidorsky said.

    The Prime Minister instructed the local authorities to consider the issues related to the programme, to analyze the work in every region and town. There are no grounds to wind down the programme even though there is the global financial crisis, Sergei Sidorsky said.

    Boris Batura participates in Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Council of Europe

    From: BelTA
    Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the Belarusian National Assembly, Chairman of the Council for Cooperation of Local Authorities of the Council of the Republic Boris Batura is taking part in a plenary session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe which is being held in Strasbourg (France) on March 3-5, BelTA learnt from the information department of the Upper House of the Belarusian Parliament.

    The session will discuss the activity of local and regional authorities. Within the framework of the visit to Strasbourg, Boris Batura is expected to meet with the leadership of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

    In December 2008, the Permanent Committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe granted the Council for Cooperation of Local Authorities of the Council of the Republic of Belarus an observer status at the Congress.

    Boris Batura: European expertise in local governance is very important for Belarus

    The European expertise in improving local governance system is very important for Belarus, Chairman of the Council of the Republic of the Belarusian National Assembly Boris Batura said at a plenary session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe which is being held in Strasbourg (France) on March 3-5, BelTA learnt from the information department of the Upper House of the Belarusian Parliament.

    Boris Batura met with Vice President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, head of the Armenian delegation Emin Yeritsyan, Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis and top officials of the Association of the Local Democracy Agencies (ALDA).

    The participants of the meetings discussed the cooperation prospects between the Council for Cooperation of Local Authorities of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.

    CIS experts working on ways to combat corruption

    From: BelTA
    A session of the expert group tasked with polishing and agreeing a draft CIS anti-corruption agreement is taking place at the CIS Executive Committee in Minsk on March 3-4, BelTA has learnt.

    Opening the session, Albert Druzhinin, Director of the Department for Security Cooperation and Counteraction of New Challenges and Threats of the CIS Executive Committee, said that the draft agreement is supposed to ensure the plan of major actions meant to implement the CIS Future Development Concept and the 2008-2010 Interstate Programme of Joint Anti-Crime Measures. The draft document was presented at a meeting of heads of competent national anti-corruption agencies of the CIS member-states in December 2008. At present the experts are discussing the amendments suggested by Belarus, Russia, and the CIS Executive Committee.

    The draft agreement contains five sections. The first one outlines goals, tasks, areas and forms of cooperation. The latter include legal aid in criminal and civil cases involving corruption offences, joint actions, cooperation in search and return of assets of corrupt officials, exchange of up-to-date information and legal documents, scientific research, training and re-education of personnel, development of relevant cooperation programmes.

    The second section stipulates principles of shaping the legal base regulating the cooperation. The third section regulates information exchange and fulfilment of requests. The fourth section deals with confiscation of corruption-earned incomes. The fifth one describes technical aspects of the agreement fulfilment.

    The document will not touch upon rights and obligations of every CIS state which are stipulated by other international agreements the country is party to. After the agreement comes into force, any country sharing its goals and principles will be able to accede to it.

  • Economics...

    Export oil duty in Belarus raised to $115.3 per 1 tonne on March 1

    From: BelTA
    On March 1, the export duty for crude oil was increased from $100.9 to $115.3 per 1 tonne. The Council of Ministers has adopted relevant Resolution No. 247, BelTA learnt from the Office of the Council of Ministers.

    The oil export duty was revised upward following a similar increase in the export oil duty in the Russian Federation effective from March 1. The export duty on oil products was raised to the level of the duties valid in Russia. For example, duties on light oil products (light and middle distillates, liquefied gas, benzol, toluene and xylol) were increased from $80.3 per tonne to $90 per tonne. Duties on dark petroleum products (engine oil, processed oil products, mineral wax, oil coke, oil asphalt) were raised from $43.2 per tonne to $48.5 per tonne.

    In line with the intergovernmental Belarusian-Russian agreement, export duties on oil and oil products in Belarus are equal to the duties applied in Russia. They are imposed in Belarus on the same day as the duties in Russia.

    In conformance with the Belarusian-Russian agreements, in 2009 the oil duty for Belarus is calculated under the coefficient of 0,356 of the Russian duty. Beginning March 1, it amounts to $41 per 1 tonne in Belarus.

    Belarusian ruble gains 2.6% against basket of currencies since January 1

    Since the beginning of the year the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble has increased by 2.6% against the basket of currencies and stands at Br935.2 as from March 5. The change is within the 5% band of fluctuations allowed in 2009.

    The exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar stood at Br2,870 per $1 (Br10 up) during the trading session at the Belarusian Currency and Stock Exchange on March 4.

    Meanwhile, the exchange rate of the euro went down by Br25 to make up Br3,598 per €1. The exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the Russian ruble went up by Br0.23 to make up Br79.22 per RUB1.

    Thus, since the beginning of the year when the one-time devaluation was enforced, the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the US dollar set by the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus for March 5 has decreased by 8.3% while the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the euro has grown by 2.8%, against the Russian ruble — 12.1%.

    BelTA reported earlier, in 2009 the National Bank pegged the Belarusian ruble to the basket of three currencies – the US dollar, euro and Russian ruble. On January 2 the exchange rate of the national currency against the currency basket was set at Br960 after a 20% single-step devaluation of the Belarusian ruble.

    Earlier NBRB Chairman of the Board Piotr Prokopovich was quoted as saying that at the end of Q1 2009 the exchange rate of the Belarusian ruble against the basket of foreign currencies will be as high as it was at the beginning of the year — Br960.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Prague pressed to invite Belarus dictator to summit

    From: EurActive
    The Czech EU Presidency should invite Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Europe's last dictator, to an 'Eastern Partnership' summit in Prague on 7 May, opposition-minded think-tank representatives from Belarus told EurActiv. But they made clear that the EU should not promise him anything.

    "The difference between Belarus and other countries is that other countries have problems, while Belarus is the problem," said Tatiana Poshevalova of the Belarus Centre for Social Innovation.

    Poshevalova was speaking in Brussels alongside other figures from Belarusian NGOs, who held meetings with EU politicians and Brussels-based think tanks on Tuesday (3 March).

    Poshevalova explained that her country is a unique case and rejected suggestions that the experiences of other ex-Soviet countries are applicable to Belarus too. She pointed to the "outstanding skills of the Belarus regime for simulation," admitting that it has been very successful in projecting a better image of itself abroad, while at the same time keeping a hold on the country.

    "The regime does not want to be democratised. There is no doubt about that," she said.

    Ulad Vialichka, director at Education Center Post, an NGO, focused his criticism on the servility of civil society, which the regime encourages via the creation of non-governmental organisations favourable to the regime (so-called 'GoNGOs'). He said the regime is making ritualised, symbolic changes, like allowing two independent newspapers to appear in shops, but in fact has a hidden agenda of wanting to draw closer to the EU without changing in substance.

    Poshevalova said it is not only GoNGOs, but also 'DoNGOs' - Western donor-oriented NGOs - which should shoulder part of the blame for substituting civil society with "phantoms". She explained this by describing how DoNGOs often fall into the trap of losing their independence by following the donor's policy. She said specific websites, such as , are a useful tool for judging NGOs' reputations.

    One of the regime's major strengths, analysts explained, is the fact that property protection in Belarus does not exist. Therefore, the regime's capacity to crack down on anyone is absolute, they pointed out. They also warned that Western investors face the same threat of seeing their property confiscated at any time.

    Andrei Yahorau, an analyst at the Humanitarian Techniques Agency, another Belarusian NGO, joined his colleagues in calling for civil society to be more closely associated with the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative. However, it is unclear how this could happen in practice, as Lukashenko recently told EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that he wanted intermediaries (the opposition) to be excluded from his contact with Brussels.

    Belarus gained political credit in Brussels for not recognising the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the military conflict in August 2008. Thus Belarus representatives were asked whether they expect Lukashenko to stick to that position. In response, they said they do not expect the regime to adopt an official position for now, but stressed that any decision is possible depending on the circumstances.

    Asked by EurActiv whether the EU should invite Lukashenko to the Prague Eastern partnership summit on 7 May given the grim situation in Belarus, opposition representatives did not hesitate to respond: "Yes, invite Lukasheko. But don't promise him anything," said Posevalova.

    Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian interior ministers discuss cooperation in Minsk

    From: Kiev Post
    The interior ministers of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine discussed how to step up cooperation between their ministries at a meeting in Minsk on Tuesday.

    Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said that "cross-border crime amid the economic crisis could enter a stage of escalation." He said that the issues of countering terrorism and extremism amid the economic crisis would be discussed at the meeting in Minsk.

    Nurgaliyev said that "the interior agencies are currently facing the very difficult task of maintaining order and stability in our countries amid the financial and economic crises."

    "People in our countries should be protected," he said.

    Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, in turn, said that his country is facing a "very difficult situation."

    "A huge army of unemployed people has formed, and many of them are trying to gain illegal income," he said, adding that "street crime has recently increased in the country by 10-15%, with economic crime growing as well."

    Lutsenko stressed the need to step up the activities of the three interior ministries. He thanked his Russian and Belarusian colleagues for helping Ukrainian police officers arrest hundreds of criminals last year.

    He also said that "amid the economic crisis, the interior bodies are faced with the task of ensuring that the terrible times of the early 1990s are not repeated."

    "We should maintain stability and order in our countries," Lutsenko said.

    In 2008, Belarus Universal Commodity Exchange sold 24.000 tons of rapeseed oil for exports

    In 2008, Belarus Universal Commodity Exchange sold agricultural products at the sum of 1093 bln BYR (382.55 mln USD), an increase of 1.4 times compared to 2007 level, according to the announcement of the exchange.

    The export volumes were formed from 42.600 tons of rye flour, 5.000 tons of wheat flour, 820 tons of groats, 23.800 tons of rapeseed oil.

    Belarusian consumers purchased 21.600 tons of soybean meal, 22.600 tons of sunflower meal, 6.000 tons of feed barley, 20.400 tons of feed maize, 10.000 tons of feed wheat, 60.000 tons of soybean oil.

    Additional proceeds from sales of Belarusian exporters totaled nearly 2.7 mln USD, including 595.800 USD for rapeseed oil and 211.200 USD for rye flour.

    As a reminder, the government allowed the list of 78 agricultural commodities for the exchange trade operations, including rye flour, groats, soybean and sunflower meals, grains, soybean oil and etc.

    Belarusian Activists Want To Remove Soviet-Era Monuments

    From: RFE/RL
    Ihar Lyalkou
    A group of Belarusian public activists in Minsk say they have petitioned the presidential administration to dismantle hundreds of Soviet-era monuments and replace them with others dedicated to famous figures in Belarusian history.

    "Whatever we can say about today's regime in Belarus, as a historian and political scientist I think that the regime is not based on the principles of Stalinism and Leninism," Ihar Lyalkou, who organized an initiative to remove Belarusian monuments to Vladimir Lenin, Feliks Dzerzhinsky, Mikahil Kalinin, and many other Soviet heroes, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service.

    According to Lyalkou and his associates, the dismantled monuments could be collected in an open-air museum around the so-called Stalin Line memorial near Minsk, making them available for viewing.

  • From the Opposition...

    Another ruble devaluation expected in Belarus

    From: Charter '97
    During a visit of the IMF mission, experts say the ruble will face new devaluation.

    “I think the experts will estimate the development of the crisis in Belarus, how the previous arrangements are being fulfilled,” former head of the National Bank of Belarus Stanislau Bahdankevich told “Belorusski Partizan”.

    As the expert says, the Belarusian authorities spend loans only for consumption.

    “Gold and foreign currency reserves are wasted,” Stanislau Bahdankevich thinks. “The volume of the gold and foreign currency reserves doesn’t decline, but they are being wasted. All loans (from Russia and Venezuela) were spent to support the rate of the Belarusian ruble that is totally incorrect in my opinion. We spend gold and foreign currency reserves only for consumption. I think the IMF mission will recommend further liberalization.”

    According to Stanislau Bahdankevich, the Belarusian authorities will devalue the ruble again.

    “I think the Belarusian authorities will take a wilful administrative decision on this issue,” the expert thinks. “It’s difficult to say anything about it. The economy needs further devaluation. I’d only insist on announcement of the new course of the economic policy, based on market economy, on market rules. The first step is reforms, real reforms, not a show; the second step may be devaluation. Reforming should have been launched 15 years ago, not today. Reforming and economy devaluation have been announced today, but in real fact the authorities interfere with economic processes, as we can see in the situation with commercial apartments.”

    As it has been reported, at the beginning of the year, the IMF executive board of directors approved granting $2.46bn loan (420 per cent of Belarus’s quota in the IMF) aimed at supporting a 15-month Belarusian reform program (till April 2010). The first $788 million tranche of the credit at LIBOR +0.75% was transferred to Belarus on January 14, and the rest sum is to be transferred taking into account regular quarterly reports of the Belarusian government. The Ministry of Finance of Belarus waits for a new $400 million tranche in April 2009.

    The International Monetary Fund and the Belarusian government agreed upon all conditions of the loan on December 31, 2008. The Belarusian authorities applied the IMF for a loan in October 2008.

    The program of reforms, agreed upon by the Belarusian government and the IMF, provides liberalization of economy, in particular, formation of pricing, a new regime of formation of currency exchange rates (transfer to pegging the national currency to the currency basket after one-time 20% devaluation), and strong curbing of inner demand, including budget restraint and minimization of state support of banks, declining salaries in non-productive sphere.

    Refusal to register ‘Nasha Viasna’ is a manifestation of systematic and purposeful discrimination of human rights activists

    From: Viasna
    On 2 March 2009 the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus decided to deny the state registration to the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna, the successor of the liquidated civil association Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’.

    We, founders of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna state that the registration denial:

    is groundless and unlawful;

    is an open manifestation of systematic politically motivated discrimination of the founders and members of the organization;

    is a violation of our constitutional right to association;

    violates the international undertakings in the sphere of human rights, ratified by the Republic of Belarus;

    witnesses the non-readiness of the Belarusian authorities to make system changes aimed at further liberalization in the country.

    We believed that the registration of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna will be a compensation for violation of our right to association by liquidation of the Human Rights Center Viasna in October 2003. On 24 June 2007 the UN Human Rights Committee confirmed that the authorities had violated our rights in this case and ruled that we had the right to adequate means of defense, including renewal of the registration of the organization and compensation. By its decision the Committee also obliged the authorities to take measures for prevention of similar violations in future. The systematic nature of discrimination towards us is confirmed by the fact that it is already the second time when we receive a registration denial: the Ministry of Justice took a similar decision for the first time in September 2007.

    We are of the opinion that by refusing to register the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna the state authorities of Belarus not only demonstrated disrespect to rights of the country’s citizens, but also cynically ignored the international undertakings of Belarus in the sphere of human rights.

    Founders of the civil human rights association Nasha Viasna Ales Bialiatski, Uladzimir Labkovich, Tatsiana Reviaka and Valiantsin Stefanovich.

  • Around the Region...

    Armenia Devalues Dram to Clinch $540 Million IMF Loan

    From: Bloomburg
    Armenia devalued its currency by 22 percent against the dollar as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund for a $540 million bailout of the former Soviet republic.

    The IMF expects the dram to weaken as much as 30 percent as the country moves back toward a free-floating exchange rate, the central bank said in a statement today, citing the IMF’s permanent representative to Armenia, Nienke Oomes. Central bank chief Artur Javadyan said he expects the dram to remain nearer today’s level, ranging between 360 to 380 drams per dollar this year. The currency was last at 372.4150.

    There were some “signs of panic” after the decision, presidential spokesman Samvel Farmanyan said in an interview, following media reports of soaring prices and the closure of some stores. “There is no reason to worry.”

    Armenia is the fourth former Soviet republic after Ukraine, Belarus and Latvia to request aid from the IMF as investors withdraw capital from emerging markets and banks lose access to financing because of the credit squeeze. The IMF has already allocated more than $35 billion to stave off defaults and prop up ailing banks in eastern Europe, including Serbia and Hungary.

    Resisting Devaluation

    The landlocked country between the Black and Caspian seas is home to about 3 million people and borders Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia, the nation that went to war with Russia in August last year. The economy grew 6.8 percent last year and is dependent on diamond-processing and the manufacture of machinery, clothing and some foodstuffs, according to Bloomberg and U.S. government data.

    Armenia resisted weakening its currency last year as Russia’s ruble slumped 16 percent against the dollar and Ukraine’s hryvnia dropped 37 percent. Kazakhstan devalued the tenge by 21 percent on Feb. 4, and Belarus’ ruble was allowed to fall 21 percent in January. Armenia’s dram fell just 0.9 percent to the U.S. currency last year.

    The decision to devalue was based on the experiences of central banks in other countries and is aimed at helping the “struggling” economy, Javadyan said in the statement.

    “It’s a positive strategy to free float because it gives them the flexibility to adjust to new economic scenarios,” said Michael Ganske, head of emerging-markets research in London at Commerzbank AG. “In the current global economic environment it’s very, very hard to maintain an overvalued currency.”

    ‘Best Option’

    IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn recommended that the fund’s executive board approve the $540 million loan when it meets later this week, he said in an e-mailed statement today. A 28-month stand-by agreement will help “address the deterioration in Armenia’s external outlook, restore confidence in the currency and financial system, and protect the poor.”

    The artificially strong dram was affecting economic growth and boosting unemployment, the IMF’s Oomes said, according to the central bank statement. “The best option is for the currency to float freely and for the market to determine the rate itself.”

    The central bank had been managing the currency for the past “few months” to ensure financial stability and limit the impact of a depreciation on local companies and exporters, the central bank statement said. Armenia sold about $360 million to manage the dram in 2008, according to the statement. The country’s reserves dropped $300 million last year to $1.3 billion, as of Jan. 31, according to Bloomberg data.

    While Armenia said it’s returning to a “free float,” the central bank may still intervene to avoid “sharp currency fluctuations,” Javadyan of the central bank said. Policy makers also raised the refinancing rate today by 1 percentage point to 7.75 percent in a bid to prevent inflation from exceeding the central bank’s target, he said. Armenia’s inflation was 4 percent in January.

    Obama’s Letter To Russia

    From: Opinionator
    News broke on Monday that President Obama had sent Russia’s president, Dmitri Medvedev, a secret letter in January raising the possibility of a deal — the United States might abandon its plan to build a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Russia would help end the Iranian efforts toward nuclear weapons.

    Jacob Heilbrunn at Huffington Post sees the move as a sign of revived American diplomacy: “Don’t look now, but the Obama administration is making as radical moves in foreign policy as it is with the economy.”

    No, Russia doesn’t [have] the power to compel Iran to abandon its dream of nuclear missiles. But a Russia allied with Europe and the U.S. could help exert real pressure on Tehran to reconsider its plans. Moreover, Obama clearly wants to draw Russia back into the western camp. Cutting a deal with it is classic power politics and a sign that Obama, unlike Bush, has a keen understanding of the game of international politics. You might call it, as defense secretary Robert Gates did, a sign of an “analytical” mind. Bring on the analysis. . . .

    The main point is that instead of standing aloof and sulking in the corner, as the U.S. has for years, it’s starting to wield its influence. For too long, Bush allowed America’s foes to dictate events by refusing to engage them. Obama is taking the opposite approach. Just as the economy needs to be jump-started, so does foreign policy. Obama has recognized that. The revitalization of American diplomacy and power has begun.

    At Reality-Based Community, Mark Kleiman wonders if Obama is trying to play the Medvedev-Putin rift to his advantage:

    The split between Medvedev and Putin seems like good news. I wonder to what extent the Obama-Medvedev letter on missile defense was intended to add a card to Medvedev’s hand in domestic politics?

    Note that the story broke first, not in the New York Times (which would have suggested a leak from somewhere in Washington) but in Kommersant, which suggests that someone in Russia thought it might be useful to have news of the letter get out.

    Who in Russia? Generally speaking, Kommersant reflects the views of the market economist/technocrat faction now coalescing around Medvedev as against those of the security goons and kleptocrats who constitute Putin’s power base. That suggests that Medvedev wanted it to be known that he and his American counterpart are pen pals, and that the Americans are making nice.

    But where the left sees opportunity, the right sees disaster: Abe Greenwald called the offer a “debacle” at Commentary, the same word Charles Krauthammer used on Fox News All Stars, according to a summary of his remarks posted by the National Review staff at the Corner:

    This is smart diplomacy? This is a debacle. The Russians dismissed it contemptuously.

    Look, if we could get the Iranian nuclear program stopped with Russian’s helping us in return for selling out the Poles and the Czechs on missile defense, I’m enough of a cynic and a realist to say we would do it . . .

    This administration has prided itself, flattered itself on deploying smart diplomacy. “Smart diplomacy” is a meaningless idea, but if it has any meaning at all, it is not ever doing something as humiliating, amateurish, and stupid as this.

    Also at the Corner, David Satter said the letter to Medvedev was “disturbing less for its content than for its readiness to take Russian statements literally.”

    Obama may have good intentions, but good intentions are appreciated only by countries whose intentions are also good. This is not the case with present-day Russia. Until there is a change in Russia sufficient to make its leaders less afraid of their own people, taking Russian propaganda statements literally is a distraction that the U.S. needs to avoid.

    Meanwhile, Danger Room is reporting a different take altogether from John Pike, who heads GlobalSecurity.

    “Russia has neither the ability nor the interest to pressurize Iran into giving up its nuclear weapons program. It is one way the Americans can ‘engage’ the Russians, so as to not appear to be a Bush rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. But it is no more than a means to give diplomats something to talk about,” he tells Danger Room. “It is a way of putting the ball back into their court, so few months down the road we can say that we gave them the chance, [and] it is not our fault that we are forced to deploy BMD [ballisitc missile defense] components in central Europe.”

    Hryvnia Soars as Ukraine Revises Budget to Meet IMF Loan Terms

    From: Bloomburg
    Ukraine’s hryvnia climbed the most in more than two months against the dollar as the government announced budget changes to comply with the terms for a second payment of an International Monetary Fund loan.

    The currency jumped 6.5 percent to 7.8500 per dollar by 3:56 p.m. in Kiev, the biggest gain since Dec. 29 and the highest level in three weeks. It climbed as much as 7 percent to 9.8094 per euro, the strongest advance since Jan. 15 and the highest level versus the common currency in a month.

    Ukraine turned to the IMF for a $16.4 billion bailout last year to avert a default and stabilize its banking system. The former Soviet republic got the first $4.5 billion payment in November before approving a budget deficit of 5 percent of gross domestic product that put the second tranche of $1.9 billion in jeopardy. The IMF had demanded a balanced budget.

    “The progress being made between the prime minister and the president has done a lot to soothe people’s minds when it comes to the second tranche of the IMF loan,” said Ozgur Yasar Guyuldar, an emerging-markets strategist in Vienna at Raiffeisen Centrobank. “They’re seeing some positive news flow for once.”

    President Viktor Yushchenko announced the budget review on March 2 after a meeting with Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, the central bank chief and leader of the opposition last week. The IMF, set to return to the former Soviet republic in the next few weeks to discuss further payments, has praised efforts by the leaders to bury political differences and draft a recovery plan.

    Ukraine is facing a 5 percent economic contraction after nine years of expansion and is struggling to finance a $12.3 billion current-account deficit, according to government data.

    Job Losses

    Unemployment rose to 3.2 percent in January and industrial production tumbled 34.1 percent, the sharpest drop since the country regained independence in 1991. The PFTS stock index has dropped 33 percent this year, as steelmakers including Yenakievsky Metalurhiyny Zavod cut production.

    The economic crisis has been aggravated by power struggles between Timoshenko and Yushchenko, hampering efforts to revive growth and cut budget spending.

    The two leaders of 2004’s Orange Revolution that overthrew a pro-Russian government have clashed over economic policy and relations with Russia and ended their parliamentary alliance in September last year.

    The renewed cooperation is “very encouraging,” said Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, chief of the IMF’s mission to Kiev. The IMF would accept a budget deficit of 1 percent of GDP or it “may be wider,” should Ukraine be able to find “non-inflationary ways of covering the deficit,” she said Feb. 27.

    The hryvnia has slumped 40 percent versus the dollar over the past six months, making it the worst-performing currency tracked by Bloomberg after the Seychelles rupee. The Natsionalnyi Bank Ukrainy has sold foreign currency to prop up the hryvnia on a “daily basis,” Serhiy Kruhlik, head of the bank’s external relations, said in an interview from Kiev.

    Currency Auction

    The central bank plans to hold a currency auction targeted at households today, Kruhlik added, similar to an auction Feb. 27 that sold $34.5 million to commercial lenders.

    Policy makers’ interventions in the currency have been contributing to a reduction in liquidity, which is also supporting the Ukrainian currency, said Dmitry Gourov, a Ukraine economist in Vienna at UniCredit SpA.

    “They’ve been keeping interest rates high and pulling hryvnia out of the market through their currency interventions,” he said. “This is forcing people to convert foreign currency.”

    Ukraine’s overnight refinancing rate was increased by two percentage points to 18 percent last month and the rate for non- collateral loans was raised to 20 percent, from 17 percent, in a bid to help steady the hryvnia, the central bank said Feb. 18.

    The extra yield investors demand to buy Ukrainian bonds instead of U.S. Treasuries fell 22 basis points to 35.24 percentage points, according to JPMorgan Chase& Co.’s EMBI+ Indexes. Still, the so-called spread has risen almost 10-fold in the past year.

    While the economy is likely to contract 7.5 percent this year, Ukraine “will not” default on its sovereign debt because the IMF and European Union wouldn’t want to risk the possibility of contagion to eastern Europe, Ivan Tchakarov, an economist in London at Nomura Holdings Inc., wrote in a research note today.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    UEFA investigates scale of corruption in Polish football

    From: Gazaetta
    The European soccer body is demanding an explanation related to the corruption in Polish leagues
    The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) sent a letter in February to the authorities of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) demanding an immediate explanation related to the corruption in Polish leagues.

    UEFA is becoming increasingly irritated with the news coming from the media related to the scale of the wrongdoings and is demanding a list of detained referees, the charges they are facing as well as a report of the actions which PZPN is planning to undertake.

    Although no official threat was included in the letter, unofficially UEFA is considering imposing a supervisor from the European watchdog onto PZPN. UEFA has also already decided that no Polish referee will participate in any game in this round of the European championships. Further consequences can be more painful, and can even lead to the suspension of PZPN authorities.

    Poland scores low marks on US report on human rights

    From: Gazetta
    Human rights reports details shortcomings of the Polish law enforcement system.

    The Unites States has released its annual human rights report. The document declares, "The [Polish] government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, prison conditions remain poor and overcrowded; lengthy pre-trial detention, misconduct and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials remained problems.

    The judicial system was inefficient and continued to function poorly. Occasional anti-Semitic violence and harassment also were problems. Corruption remained a problem throughout the government and society".

    Polish police hold priest, MD in child porn raids

    From: AP
    Polish police say they have detained 78 people — including a priest and a doctor — suspected of possessing child pornography and spreading it on the Internet.

    Poland's national police say they confiscated 116 computers, 5,400 CDs and DVDs, 19 USB drives, more than 100 videocassettes and other materials in early morning raids in 91 homes and offices across Poland.

    The police said Wednesday that 10 people have been charged so far for possessing and distributing child pornography on the Web. Authorities are still questioning the remaining people in custody.

    If convicted of spreading child pornography, the suspects face up to 8 years in prison.

    Exeter rapist's sentence upheld

    From: BBC
    Jakub Tomczak is serving his sentence in a Polish prison
    A Polish court has upheld a sentence given to a man convicted of a brutal rape in Exeter.

    Execter Crown Court found Jakub Tomczak, 24, guilty of rape and causing grievous bodily harm. The attack was in July 2006.

    In January 2008 he was given two life sentences to be served in Poland.

    Poland's Supreme Court agreed that Tomczak should serve a minimum of nine years before being considered for parole.

    Brain damage

    Under Polish law all cases involving Polish nationals convicted abroad are reconsidered by a Polish court once they are repatriated.

    Tomczak's 48-year-old victim was found naked and unconscious in Redlands Close in the Whipton area of Exeter.

    She had suffered a skull fracture and brain damage in the attack and her injuries were so severe she was left with no memory of what had happened.

    Mr Tomczak, a law student, had been on a night out in the city, and his movements were tracked by CCTV camera.

    After the attack, he returned to Poland where, four months later, he voluntarily gave a DNA sample to local police at the request of UK officers.

    The sample was analysed in the UK, where it matched the DNA profile taken from semen found on the victim.

    Mr Tomczak was brought back to the UK to face trial under a European arrest warrant, before being repatriated to Poland after his conviction.

    He had denied the attack, saying he had gone home after becoming separated from friends.

  • Sport...

    Belarus Coach To Hleb: You Must Play More!

    Bernd Stange, the national coach of Belarus, has warned Aliaksandr Hleb that he must fight to get more playing time.

    Hleb has not had been a regular at the Camp Nou like he was for Arsenal and Belarus coach Bernd Stange is not happy with the situation.

    Speaking to the News Of The World, Stange said, "In London he was a hero. If I went to a restaurant with him, there in matter of seconds about 20 people would surround him asking for an autograph.

    "Now he is at a mega-club," continued Stange. "They have 25 world class players.

    "Only eleven of them can go on the pitch. Seven sit on the bench and seven more watch games from the stands."

    Stange is clearly worried at his star player's lack of playing time.

    "It makes me nervous, too, when I see the captain of my team coming on as a sub for five or ten minutes, or not at all," he stated.

    "But he [Hleb] needs to make a fight of it."

    In the past, Hleb has stated that he is content at Barcelona, but he will surely need to re-evaluate things should his situation not improve.

    Baseball - game for all family!

    Within the limits of support for Olympic movement and baseball popularization, and also for the purpose of attraction to sports employment for pupils of schools of Brest and their families, the management of the baseball club “Brest Zubrs” decided to carry out the event “Baseball – a game for the whole family!”.

    Numerous meetings of young baseball players of club “Brest Zubrs” and their parents at the baseball stadium of Brest have given a good motivation to expand the action among city schools. The first club initiative was picked up by pedagogical collective and high school administration № 20.

    In a covered track and field athletic arena the second companionable meeting about baseball between parents and children of the given school took place.

    Following the results of the introduction to the game the children celebrated an 18-16 victory. All players of the competitions were awarded memorable diplomas and sweet gifts. Afterwards the participants were able to reminiscence the event in the arena cafe with a sweet table and tea drinking. A photo tabloid has been issued and placed at the central information stand of high school № 20.

    The next games of pupils and their parents of Brest will take place on March 7th in a track and field athletics arena.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Выстава “Кола агню”

    From: Minskie Blog
    6 сакавіка ў 17.00 у мастацкай галерэі “Універсітэт культуры” адкрываецца выстава “Кола агню”,

    якая праводзіцца па выніках 6-га міжнароднага пленэра па кераміцы “АРТ–ЖЫЖЫЛЬ” майстар-клас”.

    “Скульптура ў кераміцы” – так на гэты раз гучала тэма пленэра. Ён быў праведзены і арганізаваны аддзелам культуры Бабруйскага гарвыканкама і Бабруйскай арганізацыяй Беларускага саюза мастакоў з 10 ліпеня па 31 ліпеня 2008г. у Бабруйску.

    25 прафесійных мастакоў-керамістаў з Беларусі, Літвы, Малдовы, Польшчы, Румыніі, Расіі, Украіны прадставяць на выставе свае работы.

    Па словах арганізатара “Арт-жыжаля”, Валерыя Калтыгіна, “пленэры па кераміцы праходзяць у складаных палявых умовах, у яднанні мастакоў з прыродным асяроддзем, у спалучэнні традыцыйных народных тэхналогій і матэрыялаў з сучаснымі мастацкімі формамі і ідэямі; на гэтых, адзіных на Беларусі, пленэрах у ходзе абпалу вырабляецца самая разнастайная кераміка – з дымленнем, з рэдукцыяй паліўнага пакрыцця, абварная, раку-кераміка і вырабы ў спалучэнні розных тэхнік і прыёмаў апрацоўкі”.

    Як кажа дырэктар мастацкай галерэі “Універсітэт культуры” Дзяніс Барсукоў, “Арт-жыжаль” – унікальная з’ява ў мастацкім жыцці Беларусі. Гэты пленэр з’яўляецца сапраўднай школай майстэрства для маладых керамістаў, выпускнікоў БДУ культуры і мастацтваў, Беларускай акадэміі мастацтваў і інш. Вынік пленэраў, фантастычная па форме і фактуры кераміка, штогадова дэманструецца ў нашай галерэі і карыстаецца вялікім поспехам у гледачоў і СМІ”.

    Куратары выставы: Валерый Калтыгін – арганізатар пленэра, Тамара Васюк – дацэнт кафедры народнага дэкаратыўна-прыкладнога мастацтва БДУ культуры і мастацтваў.

    Святочную атмасферу на адкрыцці створыць рок-этна-гурт “Рокаш”.

    Выстава будзе працаваць з 7 сакавіка па 21 сакавіка 2009г.

    Арганізатары выставы: БДУ культуры і мастацтваў, мастацкая галерэя “Універсітэт культуры”, Аддзел культуры Бабруйскага гарвыканкама, Выставачная зала г.Бабруйска, Бабруйская арганізацыя Беларускага саюза мастакоў.

    Наш адрас: мастацкая галерэя “Універсітэт культуры”,
    Кастрычніцкая пл., 1 (Палац Рэспублікі);
    тэл. 227 26 12.
    Мы працуем: 11.00 – 19.00,
    вых. : нядзеля, панядзелак.

  • Endnote...

    Russian scholar says US will collapse _ next year

    From: AP
    If you're inclined to believe Igor Panarin, and the Kremlin wouldn't mind if you did, then President Barack Obama will order martial law this year, the U.S. will split into six rump-states before 2011, and Russia and China will become the backbones of a new world order.

    Panarin might be easy to ignore but for the fact that he is a dean at the Foreign Ministry's school for future diplomats and a regular on Russia's state-guided TV channels. And his predictions fit into the anti-American story line of the Kremlin leadership.

    "There is a high probability that the collapse of the United States will occur by 2010," Panarin told dozens of students, professors and diplomats Tuesday at the Diplomatic Academy — a lecture the ministry pointedly invited The Associated Press and other foreign media to attend.

    The prediction from Panarin, a former spokesman for Russia's Federal Space Agency and reportedly an ex-KGB analyst, meshes with the negative view of the U.S. that has been flowing from the Kremlin in recent years, in particular from Vladimir Putin.

    Putin, the former president who is now prime minister, has likened the United States to Nazi Germany's Third Reich and blames Washington for the global financial crisis that has pounded the Russian economy.

    Panarin didn't give many specifics on what underlies his analysis, mostly citing newspapers, magazines and other open sources.

    He also noted he had been predicting the demise of the world's wealthiest country for more than a decade now.

    But he said the recent economic turmoil in the U.S. and other "social and cultural phenomena" led him to nail down a specific timeframe for "The End" — when the United States will break up into six autonomous regions and Alaska will revert to Russian control.

    Panarin argued that Americans are in moral decline, saying their great psychological stress is evident from school shootings, the size of the prison population and the number of gay men.

    Turning to economic woes, he cited the slide in major stock indexes, the decline in U.S. gross domestic product and Washington's bailout of banking giant Citigroup as evidence that American dominance of global markets has collapsed.

    "I was there recently and things are far from good," he said. "What's happened is the collapse of the American dream."

    Panarin insisted he didn't wish for a U.S. collapse, but he predicted Russia and China would emerge from the economic turmoil stronger and said the two nations should work together, even to create a new currency to replace the U.S. dollar.

    Asked for comment on how the Foreign Ministry views Panarin's theories, a spokesman said all questions had to be submitted in writing and no answers were likely before Wednesday.

    It wasn't clear how persuasive the 20-minute lecture was. One instructor asked Panarin whether his predictions more accurately describe Russia, which is undergoing its worst economic crisis in a decade as well as a demographic collapse that has led some scholars to predict the country's demise.

    Panarin dismissed that idea: "The collapse of Russia will not occur."

    But Alexei Malashenko, a scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center who did not attend the lecture, sided with the skeptical instructor, saying Russia is the country that is on the verge of disintegration.

    "I can't imagine at all how the United States could ever fall apart," Malashenko told the AP.