Prague summit, EU trade, Belarus-Russia relations, National security, Children’s recuperation, Victory Day, Georgia, Sport and Polish scandal...
Prague summit gives official launch to Eastern Partnership initiative
The Belarusian delegation was presented by First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Semashko and Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov at the inaugural summit of the European Union Eastern Partnership.
At the summit’s plenary session the Belarusian delegation put across its national stand on the development of cooperation with the EU within the Eastern Partnership. Vladimir Semashko noted that the initiative needs to be based on the principles of equality, interests and specific character of every participating state.
The Eastern Partnership should not be turned into an instrument of seeking spheres of influence, but serve the interests of all the states of the region and do not allow any new dividing lines in Europe. Belarus presented priority investment projects on developing transit infrastructure, energy saving, customs clearance and border control with the EU.
The summiteers have adopted the final declaration that defined the major cooperation spheres and areas between the EU and partner countries within the initiative framework. Belarus took an active part in the development of the declaration that largely responds to its national interests.
The Belarusian delegation held meetings with Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy. The sides discussed the state and prospects of the relations between Belarus and the European Union. The parties exchanged signed copies of the Declaration on Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Belarus and the Commission of the European Communities in the field of energy. The declaration aims to enhance the national energy security and Belarus’ more active participation in the European energy projects.
The Belarusian delegation also met with Miguel Moratinos, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Spain, to consider the issues of the Belarusian-Spanish relations and collaboration in the Eastern Partnership.
While in Prague, Vladimir Semashko met with representatives of large Czech companies and banks to discuss concrete projects on cooperation in energy, engineering, oil chemistry and logistics.
Adopted by the European Union on March 20, 2009, the Eastern Partnership is aimed at boosting all-round cooperation between the European Union and six post-Soviet countries – Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan - on equal and non-discriminative basis.
Belarus becomes Partnership’s full member
The EU Eastern Partnership initiative has been adopted in Prague. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine have been its full members. Representatives of the 27 EU states and six post-Soviet countries have adopted the relevant joint declaration, BelTA informs.
The main goal of the Eastern Partnership is to create necessary conditions to accelerate political association and further economic integration. With this aim, the Partnership will seek to support political and socio-economic reforms in the partner countries, facilitating rapprochement with the European Union.
The initiative will be based on commitments to the principles of international law and of fundamental values including democracy, the rule of law, the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the international law principles, market economy, sustainable development and good governance. The Eastern Partnership will be developed in parallel with the bilateral cooperation between the EU and third states.
The Prague summiteers believe that the Eastern Partnership will provide additional impetus to the economic and social development of its partners. It will facilitate good governance including in the financial sector, promote regional development and social cohesion and help reduce the social and economic disparities. The Eastern Partnership will expand macroeconomic assistance provided through relevant international instruments.
Belarus, EU to develop energy cooperation
“This is a small but confident step,” Benita Ferrero-Waldner said. This is a very important move for the two sides, according to Sergei Martynov.
By signing the declaration, the sides state the intent to continue discussing the issues of oil and gas transportation, safety delivery problems of mutual interest. Belarus-EU will exchange information on energy strategies and programmes, approximate the approaches to regulation and reformation of the energy sector especially gas and electricity markets. The sides intend to develop regional cooperation in the area of energy markets.
The sides acknowledge that Belarus and the EU are bound by common interests in the energy sector and that the integration of their energy markets may bring benefits to the two sides and strengthen the energy security on the European continent.
The declaration will be finally formalized once it is signed by Energy Minister of Belarus Alexander Ozerets and European Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs.
Partnership’s first meetings to take place in June
The initial meetings within the framework of the Eastern Partnership will take place in June 2009. The decision was taken at the inaugural Eastern Partnership Summit in Prague on May 7, BelTA informs.
The participants of the Eastern Partnership will focus on four thematic platforms: democracy, good governance and stability, economic integration and convergence with EU sectoral policies, energy security and contacts between people. Each platform will adopt a set of realistic, core objectives and a corresponding work programme. Third states will be eligible for the participation in concrete projects.
Meetings will be held twice a year at the level of heads of state and government of the Eastern Partnership member-states. The Foreign Ministers will meet on an annual basis.
The Prague summiteers have supported the launching of flagship initiatives that would give additional momentum, concrete substance and visibility of the Eastern Partnership.
The EU PA - eastern neighbors and the European commission for designing the conditions for the civil society forum of the Eastern Partnership will be created within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. The summiteers also invite the European Investment Bank to provide investment assistance to small and medium-sized business in conformity with the mandate on the eastern neighborhood.
The European Union will provide additional financial support for the purposes of the Eastern Partnership depending on the progress of each partner. The private sector will be given stimuli and EU guarantees to encourage the private sector to invest in certain projects in the countries-partners.
The Eastern Partnership focuses on many-sided cooperation. This initiative is aimed at strengthening energy security through cooperation in the area of long-term and reliable energy supply and transit including by means of improving the regulation, enhancing energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewables.
New page in Belarus-EU relations
Belarus and the European Union are opening a new page in relations. The fact was mentioned at a meeting of Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov and Javier Solana, High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union, in Prague on May 7. The meeting took place before the Eastern Partnership summit began, BelTA has learnt.
Belarus’ participation in the Prague summit on an equal basis is an important success of cooperation with the European Union. After the meeting Sergei Martynov told media, both Belarus and the European Union had put considerable efforts into making it happen.
Sergei Martynov and Javier Solana discussed, in particular, possibilities for expanding Belarus-EU cooperation in other ways. The sides agreed to hold regular working meetings.
As far as Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership is concerned, Belarus sees its key content in project activities. Sergei Martynov underscored, Belarus is not attracted to the programme by direct financing. Belarus plans to suggest projects, which could become a serious essential part of the partnership to its neighbours in the European Union and the Eastern Partnership. The proposals are related to transboundary cooperation, electricity transit, infrastructure, and transit logistics.
“All these things should be the key essential part,” said the Minister. “The formal juridical shell, which will be approved today, and the financing as the technical support for the shell are not important. I would like to emphasise one more time that projects, the content part of the partnership are important.”
Sergei Martynov also added that the situation at the summit is totally calm and productive. “It is necessary to differentiate the essence of matters from the mood of individual people,” he remarked.
Alexander Lukashenko urges transparency in Belarus-Russia relations
The head of state remarked he is opening a new page in relations with foreign diplomats. Alexander Lukashenko told the Russian ambassador: “You are not one of the foreigners. You are one of our people. Nevertheless, you represent the closest nation to us, Russia, this is why I decided to open this page by a meeting with you”.
Alexander Lukashenko suggested that he and Alexander Surikov should continue the talks in a one-on-one format. “I am sure that as the ambassador you will report all facts to the Russian Federation leadership so that there would be more understanding about these or those matters between Minsk and Moscow,” said the President. “I would like our sincere and warm conversation to make a good start of the tradition of communication with ambassadors of foreign nations,” stressed the head of state.
In turn, the Ambassador of Russia said Alexander Lukashenko’s decision is right and timely, especially in view of the global economic crisis.
In 2008 Belarus-Russia trade reached a record high of almost $34.2 billion. Belarus’ merchandise export to Russia exceeded $10 billion, 19.2% up on 2007.
Belarus President urges steady investment efforts
“These days we are forced to operate in complicated conditions but even during these complicated times investment efforts must not be reduced. Decisive actions are required. Crises come and go. We need to get prepared for the market,” stressed the President.
“You will have to increase the output of the Krasnoslobodsky mine up to the designed capacity and complete the Br850 billion construction of the Berezovsky mine,” Alexander Lukashenko told Soligorsk miners. The output of the two mines is expected to total 12 million tonnes of ore per annum. “Money should not be wasted on everyday needs. It should be spent on commissioning new facilities and enterprises,” added the head of state.
Speaking about the Krasnoslobodsky mine construction, the President remarked it was completed within only six years. It is the first time such a large-scale project has been implemented in the former Soviet Union. Most complicated surface and underground installations (shafts, a conveyor gallery for ore delivering, deckhead buildings, an ore stockpile) were built within a short time, with construction quality ensured.
Alexander Lukashenko underscored, the mine was built only by Belarusian specialists and using only Belaruskali funds. Around Br600 billion has been utilised already. Another Br200 billion will be utilised to bring the mine output to the designed level.
The commissioning of the fifth mine will provide Belaruskali’s second mining department with raw materials for about 50 years.
“We definitely have the right to say that under these complicated conditions we think about the future of the country and also create the foundation of the future,” said the President.
Belarus set to build up national security
“Our country intends to make the national security interests respected both by enhancing its military potential and promoting effective cooperation with all countries of the world,” noted the head of government.
Belarus well remembers the lessons taught by the Great Patriotic War. “This is why we all understand the need for peace on our planet and do our best so that the tragic events, which killed dozens of millions, will never happen again,” said Sergei Sidorsky.
New challenges and threats of the XXI century have become international. International terrorism, drugs trafficking, considerable stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, installations with an ecological hazard potential, unequal distribution of military potentials and their unjustified build-up by certain countries are common international problems. They require joint coordinated actions of the entire global community, creation of an effective international security system, stressed the Prime Minister.
Belarus parliament working on CIS agreement on illegal arms turnover
Belarusian parliamentarians plan to ratify a CIS agreement on cooperation against illegal production and turnover of firearms, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices during the spring session, the press service of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus told BelTA.
The agreement was inked at a session of the CIS Heads of State Council in Chisinau on November 14, 2008. It was brought about by the spreading use of firearms and explosive devices by criminals, with their production and trade becoming transnational.
The agreement will allow taking coordinated measures to prevent, detect, and suppress crimes, working out a common strategy to fight illegal arms turnover and production of explosive devices. It envisages the foundation of a common database listing criminal groups, their leaders and members. The agreement also stipulates cooperation of the sides in international organisations.
Belarus, Spain coordinate draft agreement on children’s recuperation
Belarus plans to conclude similar agreements with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Kingdom of Lichtenstein.
Alexander Kolyada stressed that in February this year Belarus and Germany concluded an agreement spelling out the terms of recuperation of underage Belarusians in Germany.
Belarus and Ireland signed a similar agreement in February. The document was signed by Justin Harman, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ireland to the Russian Federation and Belarus (on concurrent), and Alexander Kolyada, Director of the Department for Humanitarian Activity of the Property Management Directorate of the President of Belarus.
In April, the Republic of Belarus and the Kingdom of the Netherlands signed the government-to-government agreement on the recuperation of underage citizens of Belarus (notes were exchanged between the Foreign Ministries of Belarus and the Netherlands). The first group of 31 children from the Yelsk region of the Gomel oblast went for recuperation to Holland on April 26.
In January-April 2009, over 1,000 children visited five foreign countries in line with the programme on humanitarian cooperation with foreign civil organisations and by means of foreign grant assistance.
This year the Belarusian children went for recuperation to the following countries: Italy - 613, Germany - 298, the Netherlands - 84, France – 21 and Great Britain – 20 children.
TV marathon “Our Victory” connected 11 CIS countries
The TV marathon included live broadcasts from the Red Square, Sevastopol and Brest. TV viewers were able to watch a military parade in Red Square, a parade of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, flower laying ceremony and changing the guard of honour in Brest.
The TV audience in the CIS countries were able to watch the reconstruction of the events of the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, hear the recollections of war participants, get familiar with unknown pages of the war.
The TV marathon started at 9am (Moscow time). It was broadcast by all major TV channels of the CIS member countries. The potential audience of the conference was potentially more than 250 million people.
Photo exhibition in CIS Executive Committee presents war monuments
Monuments and memorials to soldiers-liberators and victims of the Great Patriotic War are displayed at the photo exhibition which opened in the CIS Executive Committee in Minsk.
Opening the exhibition, Evgeny Belov, permanent representative of the Russian Federation in the Commonwealth, noted that the exhibition features the photographs of monuments from Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, other CIS countries, Baltic states and Western Europe.
“Unfortunately, not everywhere the monuments are treated with due respect today,” the Russian official noted. As an example he cited the memorial in Latvia, which was erected in the grounds of the former concentration camp where a lot of children were killed. “They are trying to present the camp as a labour one. It is one of the flagrant examples of the barbarous attitude to the memory of the war,” Evgeny Belov underscored.
Eastern Partnership expected to accelerate removal of Belarus-EU trade restrictions
Vladimir Semashko remarked, within the Eastern Partnership framework Belarus is primarily interested in new opportunities to increase export, attract investments into the Belarusian economy, in more active utilisation of the transit potential as well as facilitation of visa regulations with European Union countries.
In his words, Belarus’ participation in the European programme will allow largely boosting export to the European Union. At present the European Union is the top destination for Belarusian export. Belarus is interested in expanding all export opportunities up to the free trade zone.
Attracting major investments is also interesting for Belarus. Vladimir Semashko noted, over the last few years fixed-capital investments have been growing fast in Belarus, however, the growth mainly utilises domestic funds. Participation in the Eastern Partnership will allow Belarus to use credit resources of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
Speaking about increasing transit opportunities, Vladimir Semashko said, it will be done via supplying electricity from Russia to Europe, enlarging the transport corridor from the south (Ukraine) to the north (the Baltic states). The First Vice Premier believes that transit goals should be addressed together with the development of the border infrastructure.
As far as facilitation of visa procedures for Belarus is concerned, the step would allow sharing experience more actively and expanding contacts between people. The official believes it is necessary to resume the ratification of the Belarus-EU partnership and cooperation agreement, which was suspended in 1996. In his words, some things are no longer topical today, new things have emerged, however, the negotiations on signing the agreement should be resumed and the European Union shows understanding the step is needed.
Belarus, China sign €260m loan agreement to upgrade Minsk CHP-5 plant
Belarus and China signed an agreement to grant Belarus a loan worth €260 million to modernize Minsk CHP-5 plant, BelTA learnt from Deputy Energy Minister of Belarus Mikhail Mikhadiuk.
“We have signed a loan agreement with the China Development Bank; we will start to utilize the funds in the near future. They will be spent on the construction of an advanced steamgas power unit with the capacity of 400 megawatt. The Chinese side is to do the whole range of works,” he said. The new power unit will raise the energy production efficiency and save fuel. The project is to be completed by 2011.
A reminder, in 2008 the Belarusian side and China signed a contract worth more than €260 million to reconstruct the plant.
In Q1 Belarus’ foreign trade down 40% to $10bn
In January-March 2009, Belarus’ foreign trade in goods reduced by 40% over the same period to $10073 million, BelTA has learnt from the National Statistics Committee.
Belarus’ export decreased by 51.2% to $4103.4 million and import dropped by 68.1% to $5969.7 million. In January-March 2009 Belarus’ foreign trade deficit amounted to $1866.3 million.
In the period under review, the trade between the Republic of Belarus and the CIS member states amounted to $5565.3 million (56.9% as against the same period of 2008). Belarus’ export downed almost two times to reach $1793.6 million, import – downed 60.5% to $3771.7 million. In Q1 2009, the trade between Belarus and the Russian Federation reduced by 58% over the same period to $4808.1 million. Belarus’ export to Russia reached $1357.4 million (down 52.6%), the import from Russia reached $3450.7 million (down 60.4%).
In January-March 2009, the trade between Belarus and Ukraine totaled $547.8 million (45.2%). Belarus’ export to Ukraine made up $276.4 million (36.2%), import – $271.4 million (60.3%).
In January-March 2009, the trade between Belarus and non-CIS countries reached $4507.8 million (64.5%), export made up $2309.8 million (51.8%), import - $2198 million (86.8%).
Belarus leader pleased with EU Eastern summit
"Judging from the information I received, things ended up as we thought," Lukashenko, quoted by the official BELTA news agency, told reporters on a trip to southern Belarus.
"We sell half our goods to the EU and we have to overcome duties and barriers. Doesn't it make sense to fight for a free trade zone with the European Union?"
Lukashenko, accused for years of crushing fundamental rights, was given an invitation for Belarus to attend the Eastern Partnership summit in Prague, which launched a programme to ease rules on visas and strengthen energy and economic ties.
But he sent a deputy prime minister to Thursday's meeting to avoid irritating some EU members, Czech diplomats said. Also invited were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The EU last year suspended an entry ban on Lukashenko in response to the release of detainees it deemed political prisoners and the easing of restrictions on the media.
The president last week visited Rome and the Vatican, his first official trip to a Western country since the mid-1990s.
In his comments, Lukashenko praised Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko for helping smooth Belarus's relations with the West. The presidents met on the eve of the Prague gathering.
"I spoke to (Yushchenko) not long ago about the Eastern Partnership summit and I thanked him for what he was doing to help build bridges between Belarus and the West," BELTA quoted him as saying. "He carried out his promises in full."
The EU has made the formal lifting of sanctions against Belarus contingent on further progress on democratisation.
But Lukashenko said human rights issues were unrelated to Belarus's participation in the event.
"What do human rights have to do with oil or gas?" he said. "Who is against human rights in Belarus today? Of course, no one should view human rights as the right to smash shop windows or stir up unrest in the streets."
Belarus's liberal and nationalist opposition, divided between cooperating with authorities or opposing them, welcomed the Prague summit in principle. Most activists did not see the EU invitation to Belarus as a victory for the president.
Belarus Denies Missile Cooperation with Iran
"As far as S-300 and Iskander (missiles) are concerned, these complexes cannot be exported without my approval. There is not a single contract or project related to these systems that I have been asked to approve. This is utter nonsense," Alexander Lukashenko said.
Ria Novosti alleged in an earlier report that Belarus is willing to sell short range missiles to Iran in an agreement with Iranian officials.
In recent months, Israel and the US have sought to pressure Russia (the original manufacturer of the S-300 missile system) to halt the delivery of the system, which according to Western experts could effectively rule out the possibility of any Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities until Tel Aviv acquires the advance US fighter jet, F-22.
Last Wednesday, a Russian official said Moscow is not planning to provide Tehran with S-300 air defense systems despite previous reports.
Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the Russian State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee said that sending S-300 missiles to Iran was out of the question.
Belarus to stick to Union State agreement with Russia, Lukashenka says
"We have signed a treaty with Russia on building a union state," the Belarusian leader said. "We won`t move away from this treaty even if Russia has a tendency to back away from what has been agreed."
Mr. Lukashenka stressed that the Union State should only develop on the principle of complete equality between both sides.
“Without such equality, there can be no such union,” he said. “But if we instill such a principle, then the union can develop. To be frank, we don’t have a union with equal rights.”
Mr. Lukashenka said that he enjoyed good personal relations with Russia`s President Dmitry Medvedev and its Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin.
But he criticized Moscow for increasing gas prices for Belarus and restricting access for Belarusian products, saying that Russia should have adopted a "more careful position."
"Economics form the basis of our relations," Mr. Lukashenka said. "If our economic relations are poor, you can’t expect relations to be any better in terms of politics."
BelTEXlegprom to be held in October
|Over 160 enterprises from 11 states will take part in "Beltexlegprom" fair. The participants will demonstrate clothes, footwear, accessories and artwork. Business meetings, round tables and collections demonstrations will be held within the frameworks of the exhibition.|
The organizers of the exhibition are Belarusian State Concern “Bellegprom”, Ministry of Trade of the Republic of Belarus, “Roslegprom” JSC, “RLP-Yarmarka” Ltd., Republican Unitary Enterprise “National Exhibition Center “BelExpo President Affairs Management of the Republic o? Belarus.
«BelTEXlegprom» is the largest industrial exhibition of the Republic of Belarus. In 2008 more than 250 companies from 13 countres: Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Estonia, South Korea, Republic of Belarus took part in the exhibition. More than 10 000 bulk buyers and specialists visited the exhibition.
The main content of the exhibition:
• fabrics of all kinds
• knitted garments
• footwear and materials for its manufacture
• domestic textile
• textile and leather fancy goods
• goods made of fur and leather
• yarn, thread
• unwoven materials
• raw materials for textile and light industry
• equipment, machinery and technologies
• art crafts
• package, wrapping and marking
• trade equipment
Specialized seminars, round-table discussions in which heads of the leading branch enterprises as well Trade and Mass Media representatives will take part, presentations of companies-participants of the exhibition, fashion clothes and footwear shows will be held within the business program of the exhibition.
World mass media: EU leaders shouldn’t forger that Belarus is dictatorship
From: Charter '97
“The Swedish-Polish initiative Eastern Partnership was adopted in order to strengthen advance of the multilateral European Neighbourship policy in the Eastern direction. But is looks rather paradoxical that “mutual interests and commitments” are placed before “values” of the EU summit declarations.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who had been ruling Belarus for the last 14 years, was invited to Prague despite of his reputation of the “last dictator of Europe”. It looks as if the EU leaders have forgotten that democracy is absent in this country, that the ruling party controls mass media, that mouths of oppositionists are gagged, and about numerous cases of deprivation of freedom, which even caused imposing sanctions against Belarus. Last year even alleviation of these sanctions was sharply criticized.
The Belarusian election was neither free nor fair, and in the sphere of democracy in Belarus “no positive changes” have been noticed. Making a speech at the European parliament’s conference, the Belarusian representative in the EU frankly said: “The EU should be interested in Belarus being on its side”. Such a pragmatic approach not just casts light upon Minsk’s sceptical approach to the Eastern Partnership, but shows that Belarus is not going to build its policy according to the principles of the EU, and that it would consider Russia “its only real partner” as before,” Turkish newspaper “Today's Zaman” writes.
German “Die Welt” writes that “the six partner countries make more than a heterogeneous group in all respects. Moldova and Belarus are obviously under Moscow’s influence. Their presidents Vladimir Voronin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka do not take part in Prague meeting”.
The influential American “The Wall Street Journal” notes more harshly: “The EU didn’t state clearly how quick 600 mln Euro would be allocated, and what criterions of the reforms’ effectiveness would be, There is a dictatorship in Belarus, and there are considerable problems in the sphere of human rights in some countries. Four out of six countries have unsolved territorial conflicts.”
“The Eastern Partnership was designed as a way to give a hand to the six countries of the former Soviet Union, without offering them a possibility of joining the EU,” notes the French newspaper “Le Monde”. “In reality, the European Union has rushed into a struggle for influence with Moscow, trying to entrench in its neighboring countries its “soft power” as a counterbalance to Moscow’s readiness to use the whole range of offensive means for nailing down the Kremlin’s authority in the zone of its “priority interests”. Russia has called the partnership offered by Europe interference in its natural sphere of influence, and exerted strong pressure on the neighbouring countries with the aim to thwart the process. In response Europeans lowered demands to these regimes, where respect of democratic norms leaves much to be desired: the issue of values has paled into insignificance for the sake of geopolitical interests. Thus, the authoritarian Belarus has been invited to the project under the condition that Lukashenka won’t recognize independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” the French newspaper writes.
Zmitser Fedaruk is returned to military unit
It is already the second time he got in the center. Before this he was in a hospital in Barysau from where he was directed to Minsk. On 24 February he was operated because of varix dilatation.
As a result of the new examination found that Zmitser Khvedaruk has flat-footedness and some problems with hearing. Nevertheless, the medics decided to send him back to the military unit in Zhodzina, where he is serving.
NATO holds Georgia war games, Russia critical
|Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili speaks at a meeting with the military's General Staff in Tbilisi, Wednesday May 6, 2009. NATO launched military exercises in former Soviet Georgia on Wednesday after heavy criticism from neighboring Russia and a brief mutiny in the Georgian military|
Russia — which regards NATO as a Cold War relic with intrusive ambitions to expand into former Soviet countries — angrily dismissed Georgian accusations that Tuesday's mutiny was a Moscow-engineered coup attempt.
Adding to tensions, Russia on Wednesday expelled two Canadian diplomats who worked at NATO offices in Moscow. The Foreign Ministry said the NATO employees' expulsion was meant as retaliation for the alliance's decision to kick out two Russian envoys from of its headquarters in Brussels, apparently over a February spy scandal.
"We naturally were forced to react," Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised comments Wednesday, adding that Russia was simply playing by the "rules of the game."
Russia's relations with NATO have for years been fraught with tension, in part over efforts by tiny Georgia and neighboring Ukraine to gain membership in the Western alliance.
Moscow insists the two former Soviet republics are within its sphere of influence and should be left alone by NATO. It views the alliance's military exercises as Western meddling in Georgian domestic affairs.
Russia's ties with Georgia, meanwhile, have deteriorated since its pro-Western president, Mikhail Saakashvili, came to power in 2003. The two countries have often exchanged barbs and accusations, and last year fought a brief but devastating war over two breakaway Georgian regions, which Russia has since recognized as independent.
On Tuesday, hundreds of Georgian soldiers surrendered after a daylong standoff at a tank battalion headquarters near Tbilisi, during which they barred the defense minister and refused to follow orders.
Some Georgian opposition members called the mutiny a charade, cooked up by the beleaguered Saakashvili to rally support. For weeks, opposition protesters have accused Saakashvili of corruption, mismanagement and provoking the August war with Russia.
Georgian authorities initially accused Moscow of orchestrating the mutiny to topple Saakashvili, but then said the rebellion was aimed at disrupting the NATO exercises under way at a military base near Tbilisi — not far where the mutiny occurred.
It was not the first time Georgia made inflammatory remarks only to back down later.
During the Russian-Georgian war, Saakashvili told CNN television news that Russian troops were "closing in on the capital" and planning to install a puppet regime in Tbilisi. But there were no signs of Russian military activity near the capital; a Russian convoy had turned away after at one point being headed toward Tbilisi.
Shortly after the fighting ended, Saakashvili announced the United States would take over the country's airports and ports — a report the U.S. swiftly denied.
And in November, Saakashvili blamed Russian troops near separatist South Ossetia after shots were fired near a motorcade carrying him and the president of Poland. Moscow denied Russian forces opened fire, and accused Georgia of staging the incident. Some Polish officials were also skeptical about Saakashvili's account.
Amid the escalating tensions, Russia has also made claims that turned out to be false.
The Kremlin has described Saakashvili as mentally unbalanced, and Russian television recently broadcast a scene of Saakashvili diving for cover after a false alarm about a Russian air raid in the Georgian city of Gori.
Both Georgia and NATO insisted Russia was welcome to take part in the alliance's military exercises, but Moscow dismissed the idea outright. Participants were holding meetings until at least May 11, after which battlefield maneuvers would begin, Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman David Dzhokhadze said. Some 15 countries were taking part, after Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia and Armenia bowed out.
Medvedev sends Victory Day messages to Abkhazia, South Ossetia
From: Ria Novosti
A report on the official Kremlin web site quoted from messages to the presidents of Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine, as well as the leaders of the former Georgian republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but did not include any message to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Tbilisi broke off diplomatic relations with Moscow following Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and its membership of the Commonwealth of Independent States officially ends in August.
In his messages to the Abkhazian and South Ossetian presidents, Medvedev compared the August 2008 conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia to World War II.
"Our peoples fought shoulder to shoulder against the fascist German aggressors for freedom and independence," he told South Ossetian President Edward Kokoity. "The traditions of comradeship and mutual support stood the test of time and appeared again during the tragic days of August 2008, when it was necessary to resist together the aggression against South Ossetia."
In his message to Abkhazian President Sergei Bagapsh, the Russian head of state praised the ideals that "defended our peoples in the battles of World War II," values which he said had been upheld in last year's conflict with Georgia.
"They protected the choice made by the people of Abkhazia in favor of free and democratic development," Medvedev said, adding that relations between Russia and Abkhazia would "become stronger and develop for the good of our peoples."
Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states after the five-day war with Georgia, which attacked South Ossetia in an attempt to bring it back under central control. Most residents of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia had held Russian citizenship for several years.
IMF Board OKs $2.8B Loan Disbursement For Ukraine
The second disbursement from the $16.4 billion rescue facility the country obtained last fall had been delayed for several weeks, until the IMF reached an agreement last month with Ukraine's government on tightening fiscal policy and shoring up the banking system.
John Lipsky, the IMF's first deputy managing director and acting chairman of the board, said in a statement that the protracted global economic slump had led to a sharp decline in Ukraine's fiscal revenues and put additional strain on the country's fragile banking system.
"These developments have called for significant policy adjustments," he said. "The authorities' revised economic program, supported by a stand-by arrangement with the fund, seeks to mitigate the effects of the global crisis, restore confidence in the banking system, and preserve fiscal sustainability while protecting the most vulnerable segments of the population."
Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, IMF mission chief to Ukraine, said on a conference call that while the country still faces difficult challenges, conditions have stabilized in the last few weeks and there's political consensus among policy makers.
In a separate interview published on the fund's site, she said the economy will likely contract by more than the 8% decline projected last month for 2009, and that further downward revisions may be needed if external conditions continue to deteriorate.
Pazarbasioglu also expressed hope that the approval of the additional disbursement will help the country attract external financing from other sources.
In Friday's decision, the board granted some waivers for nonobservance in a number of areas, including the cash deficit and budget, as well as exchange rate and import restrictions.
Most of the currency restrictions have already been lifted, said Pazarbasioglu, with the National Bank of Ukraine reaffirming a commitment to implementing a flexible exchange rate policy. The government also agreed to remove any restrictions on imports.
In revising the IMF-supported program, the government agreed to a budget deficit target of 4% of gross domestic product this year instead of a balanced budget, which Pazarbasioglu said was "economically justifiable given the contraction."
The next review will focus on maintaining a prudent fiscal policy and making progress on bank restructuring, she said. Following a diagnostic study by the central bank, seven banks are being recapitalized.
"The financial system has stabilized," said Pazarbasioglu, praising Ukrainian officials for restoring confidence to the system.
The second tranche was increased from below $1.9 billion, bringing the total amount disbursed to $7.3 billion. The board also approved raising the amount of the third disbursement, which would be available once the next program review is completed in mid-June, to about $3 billion given the delays.
More child porn arrests made
Several hundred police from across the country raided 60 apartments, houses and offices Tuesday morning and confiscated 84 computers, 32 hard drives, and over 5,000 CDs, DVDs, pen drives, mobile phones and other items containing images of child pornography.
Police spokesman Karol Jakubowski told reporters that the sting operation, coordinated by a special unit for combating human trafficking within the Criminal Bureau of Police Headquarters, had been carried out swiftly so that the suspects would not have time to alert each other.He added that in the case of ten of those arrested, this is a repeat offence.The seized computer disks and other items are now being examined by IT specialists and will be used as evidence in court.
This is the fourth sting operation this year to be carried out against internet pedophilia in Poland.
In February, 78 people were arrested an Operation code-named Typhon. In March, police arrested 56 people in a sting-op called Simone 3, and last month brought yet another 63 arrests for child pornography in operation Cytrus.
Possession and distribution of child pornography can result in a prison sentence of up to eight years.
Polish agent 'may have been kidnapped by a foreign power
With extensive knowledge of Polish agents working overseas, including their code names and contacts, intelligence officials are concerned that if Zielonka has fallen into the hands of a foreign secret service much of the country's intelligence network could be compromised.
It has also emerged that the head of military intelligence, Radoslaw Kujawa, has been called to appear before a parliamentary intelligence committee to explain why, despite the sensitive nature of Zielonka's position, that no inquiries were made into his disappearance for two weeks.
The newspaper Dziennik quoted a committee member as saying that as Zielonka had been on sick leave officials attributed his failure to turn up for work to continuing sickness, and presumed that he "would just send in another sick note".
Investigators probing the officer's disappearance have refused to rule out the possibility that he may have been the victim of a crime unrelated to his work or that he may have committed suicide.
Newspapers have quoted sources from the secret service saying that Zielonka may have been suffering from depression and had trouble both at home and at the office.
But Poland's defence ministry has remained coy about the subject.
"Please understand me: no comments on this issue," said Bogdan Klich, the defence minister.
Drug crop found in bedroom
A number of cannabis plants growing in plant pots were found in the back bedroom of the house in Westminster Road. A quantity of dry cannabis and other drug paraphernalia was also found.
All the items were seized by the Neighbourhood Policing Team and a 26-year-old Polish man was arrested and given an adult caution for production of cannabis.
PC Richard Barr, Community Beat Manager at West End Morecambe, said: "This was a significant discovery and, although it was only a relatively small amount of cannabis being cultivated, hails another success in our efforts to reduce all drug activity in the West End.
"We are working tirelessly with different operations in the area in targeting street drug-dealing and any drugs activity in homes in the area.
"This has resulted in a number of successes in recent weeks.
"We would continue to urge any members of the public who suspect drug activity is taking place in their neighbourhood to contact the police."
Anyone with information about suspected drug activity is asked to contact Lancashire Constabulary on 08451 253545 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Polish man denies helping pal’s suicide
From: Get reading
Kamil Borczakat, of Vauxhall Drive, Woodley, died in the Royal Berkshire Hospital in December after the incident in Hurst’s Dinton Pastures Country Park on November 8.
Piotr Mylinski, 27, also of Vauxhall Drive, denies aiding and abetting the 31-year-old’s suicide.
Polish man photogrpahed dying friend
Yesterday at Reading Crown Court DC Sally Russell and Ian Acheson, prosecuting, read police interviews with Mylinski.
The court heard Polish pizza delivery driver Mylinski described his mate of 10 years as “a very, very extraordinary man”. He explained how he was able to swim in ice-cold water, hypnotise people and ride horses. He added he was “a very friendly, calm person”.
During the interviews Mylinski said he agreed to watch, photograph and film his pal ‘hanging’ himself.
The intention was, he said, for Mr Borczakat not to actually kill himself.
Mylinski said: “He asked me if I would go to the woods to make some pictures of him hanging.
“[It was to] make some fun – even if, you know, it was strange fun.”
Mylinski said over the past few years Mr Borczakat’s lifestyle had changed and he had discussed reincarnation and form changing.
He said: “He believed he had been reincarnated on many occasions.
“When he would talk about this [death and reincarnation] I was trying to make it some silly thing. I told him ‘you are joking’.
“[But] I was not taking it so seriously. If I was sure he was going to make suicide I would’ve called for some help. He said he had some rope.”
On the night of the incident Mylinski took photographs and a short film of Mr Borczakat.
He told police that it went wrong.
He attempted CPR on him and called an ambulance.
While he was waiting for the ambulance he said he chucked the rope in the lake and hid the chair in a bush. “I do not know why I did it,” he said.
“Some stupid idea suddenly became a matter of death or life.”
The trial continues.
Court hearing over lack of payment
Belarus to host 2014 IIHF World Championship
The Czech Republic, which also intended to bid for the 2014 Worlds, withdrew its application.
Latvia has previously hosted a World Championship while Belarus, Hungary and Ukraine never held a (top division) World Championship in their country.
Belarus will host the event with the 15,000-seater Minsk Arena as the main venue. It is under construction and will be inaugurated in November. Another new arena in Minsk with a capacity of 7,700 is planned in the Chizhovka district. Its construction will finish in 2011.
Belarus applied to host the world championships in 2010 and 2013 but lost to Germany and Sweden.
The next World Championships are allocated to Germany in 2010 (Cologne, Mannheim), Slovakia in 2011 (Bratislava, Kosice), Finland in 2012 (Helsinki, Turku), and Sweden in 2013
Russia survive tough quarter-final against Belarus
Russia will meet United States in their semi-final Friday after the North Americans beat Finland 3-2 with all the goals coming in the second period.
It was the first time in nine meetings that the U.S. had beaten Finland at an International Ice Hockey Federation event. Finland's run, stretching back to 2002, included three wins in world championship quarter-finals.
Ilya Kovalchuk spared Russian blushes when he scored the winner with 12.38 minutes left against opponents who were making only their third quarter-final appearance at the tournament.
"When they scored first, it was kind of shocking to us," said Kovalchuk. "Our strategy was to score early and force them to attack."
Belarus were expected to act as little more than sparring partners for the Russians but, having survived the first period, they went ahead after 2:39 of the second when Konstantin Koltsov thumped home a rebound from Ruslan Salei's slapper.
Russia replied less than three minutes later, Vitali Proshkin scoring with a shot which found its way through a crowd of players.
Oleg Antonenko put Belarus back in front with six minutes left in the period but Vitali Atyushov and Alexander Frolov scored in less than one minute to give Russia a 3-2 lead.
But, after Russian pair Kovalchuk and Dmitri Kalinin were sent to the sin bin for slashing and interference respectively, Salei leveled with a shot over Ilya Bryzalov's glove with 22 seconds of the period remaining.
Bryzalov was substituted by Alexander Eremenko for the third period and Kovalchuk won the game when he burst into the Belarus half, cut into the middle and slid a shot along the ice and into the net.
In the other match, Niko Kapanen gave Finland the lead less than one minute into the second half but the U.S. hit back when Dustin Brown, T.J. Oshie and Ryan Suter scored in a five-minute spell.
Brown scored with a first-time shot after a three-way move with Suter and Ron Hainsey, then Oshie scored with a similar effort. Suter's goal came after a pass hit the stick of a Finnish defender and fell kindly into his path.
Hannes Hyvonen scored the second goal for the Finns who won their only title in 1995.
Belarus and Europe inch closer
But old habits die hard in Belarus - a country that has been dubbed the "last dictatorship in Europe".
At a recent small-scale anti-government demonstration, around 30 people gathered outside one of the prisons in the capital to demand the release of three prisoners. They believe they are behind bars for their political activities.
Within minutes the police arrived - special forces in camouflage uniforms spilling out of a large green truck.
When the protestors refused to move on, the police used force, driving the crowd through the streets of Minsk, punching and kicking them from behind.
In years gone by, perhaps, the demonstrators would have been arrested as well. This time they were not. Progress, of sorts.
The three prisoners are all entrepreneurs - small traders who say that repressive economic laws are driving them out of business.
'Closed for business'
The markets of Minsk have become a breeding ground for opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko's rule.
Alexander Makaev runs a small stall selling bathroom fittings at a market on the outskirts of the city. In amongst the taps and shower heads, you can see opposition leaflets peeping through.
Mr Makaev says that a new law, which came into force in 2007, makes it virtually impossible for small businessmen like him to operate. He cannot hire staff without paying punishing taxes.
He says that the tax system is so designed, that 90% of entrepreneurs end up having to break the law or go out of business.
"Belarus is closed for business," he says. "Everything is designed according to a vertical power structure. The biggest businessman in this country is Mr Lukashenko himself, and you need to know how to cut a deal with him."
But the Stotz Farm tells a different story. Around 20km outside Minsk, this former collective farm is now owned by a German company. There are 800 head of cattle, 5000ha (12,000 acres) of arable land.
But most of the company's profits come not from producing milk or wheat, but from selling state of the art German farm equipment - tractors and combine harvesters - on the Belarussian market.
Andrei Haibullin, the company's director, says that the Belarussian authorities are making a real effort to improve the climate for foreign investors.
"In the past six months, the demands made on our company by the government and other regulatory bodies have significantly decreased," he said.
"More and more often, we find the government coming to us and offering their help."
At the end of April, Alexander Lukashenko visited Rome. He was received in the Vatican by the Pope himself. It was his first official trip to the European Union since 1995, after Brussels suspended its travel ban and other sanctions.
But Sergei Martynov, the Belarussian foreign minister denies that the changes under way in his country are in any way the result of European pressure.
"Belarus is changing and Belarus is a changing society," he said. "But Belarus is undergoing all these changes not to please the European Union or anyone else.
"We are doing what we do because of the requirements of our own society."
The vast bulk of the Belarussian economy is still controlled by the state.
During the 1990s, as other former Soviet States like Russia and Ukraine underwent the "shock therapy" of rapid and large scale privatisation, Belarus remained almost entirely closed.
But now, says Mr Martynov, Belarus is ready for change.
"Now we are a much more confident economy, and we are opening up. We are not going to do it in a garage sale manner," he says.
"We are going to negotiate tough on each and every asset, and we are going to do only those kinds of sales which will be profitable."
As Minsk and Brussels move closer together, relations with the Kremlin have soured.
Large-scale Russian subsidies are beginning to dry up, and Alexander Lukashenko has been forced to look for other sources of income.
The Belarussian opposition believes, however, that the current reforms are cosmetic.
Andrei Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister, says that the EU is being hasty in rehabilitating Mr Lukashenko.
"He badly needs money," he says.
"He needs investment. He knows that Russia is not providing the amounts that it used to provide to him, so he doesn't want to change anything here, but he does want to use this new policy of the European Union to improve his own financial situation, to strengthen his regime."
But if Brussels wants to pull Belarus out of Moscow's orbit, it will take more than economic investment. In military terms, Russia and Belarus remain close.
In February the two countries signed a joint air defence pact, raising the possibility of Russian missile systems being deployed on Belarussian soil.
In many ways, Belarus feels like a time capsule, a place where International Labour Day still draws crowds; where old Soviet habits are proving very resistant to change.
Some of those habits will become obstacles on the path towards democracy and European integration.