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Belarus should develop new methods of foreign trade, Alexander Lukashenko says
|Meeting With Heads of Belarus' Diplomatic Missions, Alexander Lukashenko delivers his opening remarks|
According to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus needs to focus on economic reforms if it wants to stay competitive. “The post-crisis leader will be those who are better prepared for tomorrow rather than those who are well-adjusted today. And in some things, we are still lagging behind,” he said.
The President urged to change the quality of foreign and economic activities. In the new conditions Belarus needs to produce a sophisticated product rather than just a product. “We need to proceed from primitive trade to sophisticated trading networks, pre-sale and after-sale service. We need to be on a par with world-class standards never yielding to competitors either in efficiency or quality,” the head of state said.
Alexander Lukashenko is confident that the Belarusians will be able to win over foreign markets only if they offer goods at competitive price.
The President paid special attention to the quality of goods. Consumers are becoming more demanding and Belarusian producers should keep pace with changing requirements, he said.
Belarus intends to acquire healthy foreign assets
We need to examine and acquire companies, banks and trading networks abroad or buy stakes in them. The crisis, which is a time of opportunities, is pushing us to engage in this business, which is new for us, the President said.
According to the head of state, there is a need to start working on gradual trans-nationalization of Belarusian capital.
First of all we have to boost our export. The joint projects implemented in Venezuela, Turkmenistan and China should be an expiring example. This will ensure our irreversible presence in these markets and become a kind of Belarus’ trademark,” the head of state said.
Belarus ready to expand investment cooperation with US
“Look, such US giants as Caterpillar and Honeywell are dying to get to our market. I think the new US government has enough common sense to realize that such contacts no way threaten the national interests of the United States,” the Belarusian leader said.
In his words, the new US administration shows great determination to act more responsibly in the changing world. “The role and place of the US in the system of international relations is being revised. I hope this will have a positive impact on Belarus,” the President added.
Alexander Lukashenko underlined that the United States is a great empire that has interests in most remote places of the world. “Despite drastic differences, the two countries have some common goals, of which the global security is most crucial,” the head of state is convinced.
Alexander Lukashenko stated that Belarus is a reliable partner of the US regarding the fight against the international crime, illegal drug trade, human trafficking. Belarus plays an effective role in maintaining regional stability and security. “We share the principles of the international anti-terrorism coalition and are ready for a closer cooperation in export control and fight against terrorism,” the President said.
Belarus, US to restore diplomatic presence after sanctions removal
“We expect the US to lift economic sanctions that humiliate the US, too. This will signal the readiness to fully restore the mutual diplomatic presence. We invite the United States to hold a constructive dialogue on a whole range of issues. We are ready to reach out to the United States to restore mutual understanding and trust,” Alexander Lukashenko said.
According to the Belarusian head of state, the economic sanctions imposed by Washington hurt the US consumers of Belarusian products first and foremost. “I discussed it in detail with a delegation of the US Congressmen. The conversation was not easy, but it was rather open and sincere. Believe me, we have discovered many areas of mutual interest. The Congressmen asked for another meeting to discuss this and other issues. We are open and ready to negotiate,” the President of Belarus added.
Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus is not beseecher, but equal member of Eastern Partnership
According to the head of state, the extent of Belarus’ participation in this programme will depend on the country’s own interests; “it will no way be determined by gratitude for inviting us to participate in this project.”
Alexander Lukashenko stated that Belarus lags behind leading EU states in terms of labour efficiency, application of advanced technology, service sector and business activity in general. This is why we have to take a leaf out of Europe’s book and learn to work amidst cut-throat competition and comply with most stringent criteria. But our major goal is to bring the living conditions in Belarus to European standards. Such “a gain” can be brought through Belarus’ participation in the Eastern Partnership project.
Belarus-EU cooperation changes unaffected by bargaining
Belarus welcomes the brand new status of relations with the European Union and clearly understands that the dialogue with the European Union will not be simple. However, the Belarusian side will remain dedicated to building mutual relations on an equality basis without requirements and conditions. “Like every other country Belarus has its own way of development that corresponds to the degree of development, peculiarities of history and economy, and, none the less important, human psychology. Our own way doesn’t mean the worst one,” said the head of state.
The President underlined Belarus’ special role and interest in Europe consolidation. In his opinion, there is no altruism and pathetics but a pragmatic and plain calculation, which says that Belarus and its nation will only benefit from the consolidation of Europe.
Belarus is intent on building a genuine good neighbourly policy belt in its broadest meaning — in economy, politics, culture, freedom of communication and travels of people. Not only for Belarus, but for Russia and the European Union. According to Alexander Lukashenko, it is now difficult to predict what forms such a good neighbourly policy belt may evolve into. It may be part of the common economic space devised by the European Union and Russia several years ago. Becoming its inalienable part would be the vital component of Belarus’ strategy.
“If the European Union truly tries to set up a zone of prosperity and stability on its border, there is hardly any European country more suitable than Belarus,” noted the head of state. Living standards in the country are ahead of those in many neighbouring countries of the region. There are no ethnical or confessional disputes or social strains. The wealth stratification of the society is minimal. All the facts are results of the government’s creative policy and care for people, stressed the President.
Belarus makes great progress on its way to WTO
“A relevant political decision was taken by the head of state, a task group was set up, contacts were established and the progress is absolutely obvious. Obstacles for holding efficient negotiations were removed – it is very important, as bilateral talks on the terms of access to the markets of the two countries have been carried out for a long time and proved rather successful. The first informal consultations have already taken place and I see that the movement in this direction can bear fruit,” the diplomat said.
According to Mikhail Khvostov, the decision to join the WTO within the framework of the Customs Union of the three states is an unexplored process. The heads of the task groups had preliminary discussions as to how this mechanism can and will work, he said.
“I think we should work on acceding to the WTO in the form of the Customs Union and simultaneously develop bilateral contacts with this organization. Because we will see what way will be easier and we will go that way. If the process slows down in the multilateral format, we will then pursue the bilateral format,” the diplomat said.
According to him, so far each of the countries has made varying progress in the efforts to join the WTO. “Russia has made bigger progress, Belarus has achieved less. Kazakhstan need to do some things too,” the diplomat said.
“What is important is that we have got a possibility to coordinate our WTO accession movement. It used to be mainly departmental approaches. Today we have a political will of the leaders of the three states to seek the WTO membership together. This policy is right as it will facilitate the WTO entry,” Mikhail Khvostov believes.
The diplomat said that the WTO membership is important for Belarus. “It is not because that we want to join another international multilateral organization. It is because that the WTO membership will give us bigger export opportunities. And what is most important is that the WTO has a clear transparent mechanism of settling disputes. Today’s mechanism of settling economic and trade disputes within the framework of bilateral agreements is not perfect; it is somewhere in third countries. It is time-consuming, and the main thing, it is not clear how a violating state can be brought to responsibility. Therefore the World Trade Organization is very important for us,” Mikhail Khvostov said.
Belarus has no problems with selling sugar
“I have no doubts that the entire amount of sugar will be sold,” said the Belgospischeprom Chairman.
Asked why sugar stock is growing in Belarus, Ivan Danchenko said this is resources, which are required to satisfy the domestic demand and ensure stable sales abroad. “It should be noted that we spent one hundred days to make beetroot sugar but we sell it through the year,” he added. Besides, in winter when beetroot sugar processing is complete, Belarus receives 0.1-0.2 million tonnes of raw sugar required for steady operation of companies. As a rule, sugar refineries are flagship enterprises.
Ivan Danchenko said that this year 150,000 tonnes of sugar will be shipped to Russia. “We have developed normal partnership relations with Russian sugar manufacturers. We work within the framework of the agreement between the Russian Union of Sugar Producers and Belgospischeprom”. All the four Belarusian sugar refineries are now part of the Russian Union of Sugar Producers. A sugar company has been set up in Belarus. It is a resident of the Russian Federation. It is founded by four Belarus-owned sugar refineries. Russian and Belarusian sugar producers share information and arrange hands-on personnel training programmes.
Once the domestic demand is satisfied, excessive sugar is sold to Russia and other CIS and non-CIS states. At present Belarusian sugar is sold in 13 countries. The search for new markets was stepped up after Russia reduced Belarusian beetroot sugar purchases in 2005-2006. There are plans to sell 0.23-0.25 million tonnes of sugar to third countries this year. The figure has been agreed with the Russian Union of Sugar Producers and customers in purchasing countries.
Ivan Danchenko remarked that Belgospischeprom companies have no serious problems with selling other products. In January-May 2009 the export of sugar increased by 34%, salt — 19%, dairy products (baby food) — 10%, starch — 18%. Confectionery sales have increased. Russia is still the key trade partner of Belgospischeprom companies. Sales in the CIS states, the European Union, Middle East, Venezuela are on the rise.
Belarus welcomes Russian investors to co-build advanced dairy
Belarus is planning to construct a cutting-edge dairy plant which would process two million tonnes of milk, Minister of Agriculture and Food Semyon Shapiro told a press conference for Russian and Belarusian reporters.
“We are now looking into investment sources and welcome Russian investors to take part in the construction of the plant,” the minister said. Yet so far Russian investors have shown little interest in the project. They are more interested in acquiring stakes in existing companies.
Semyon Shapiro stressed that Russian capital is present in the Belarusian processing industry. Russians have invested in the Belovezhskiye Syry company and other facilities. The Russian company, Unimilk, is cooperating with the Pruzhany and Shklov milk plants and is ready to invest in these companies. Russia’s Detskoselsky concern has recently made a proposal to exchange shares with one of Belarusian companies.
The minister noted that raising investment is the basis of the state policy of Belarus. The privatization in the country is carried our in compliance with the legislation. “If some think they can buy a facility for two kopecks, the yare just wrong,” Semyon Shapiro said. According to him, the requirements to investors in Belarus are justified.
Belarus to restart Unecha-Ventspils pipeline 24 July
BelTA reported earlier that on 17 July the operation of the Belarusian section of the Unecha-Ventspils oil-products pipeline was suspended due to its poor technical condition. The latest inspection performed by a German company revealed 1,082 defects, which were supposed to be fixed in 2008-2009. Yet, only 254 defects (23.5%) had been fixed.
Viktor Borovsky, Head of the Safe Industry Operations Department of the Belarusian Emergencies Ministry, informed that two working meetings with Zapadtransnefteprodukt executives took place in Minsk on 22 July. The company obliged to work out a schedule for fixing defects till December 2009. The schedule is supposed to be handed over for approval by 27 July.
“Therefore, a decision was taken to restart the pipeline at 23h00 on 23 July,” Viktor Borovsky said.
The operation of the oil-products pipeline had been suspended for preventive purposes in order to encourage the owner to speed up the work on fixing the defects. The owner of the pipeline had notified its organisations about the transportation suspension ahead of time, Viktor Borovsky added.
BPC, India’s IPL agree $460-per-tonne price
The contract has been signed with the Indian Potash Ltd (IPL), the largest Indian importer of potash fertilizers, to deliver fertilizers in 2009-2010. “The price for the delivery is $460 per 1 tonne. Shipments at the new price will begin in July 2009 and will last till March 2010. The overall volume of shipments under the contract will total 675,000 tonnes including the option,” BPC informed.
IPL, holding more than 60% of the potash fertilizers market in India, is a BPC strategic partner.
According to BPC Director General Vladimir Nikolaenko, being part of the global economy, the potash industry was hit by the financial crisis. “The year of 2009 has been difficult for the potash market. The falling demand made the negotiations with our partners including India difficult,” the Director General stated. Consumers urged the producers to reduce the price on potash fertilizers as the prices on nitrogen, phosphate and NPK fertilizers reduced too.
“The new market conditions made us change our position in negotiations with IPL and influenced the potash fertilizers price policy on the Indian market in 2009. The price of $460 per 1 tonne under the long-term contract is a compromise settlement reflecting the next step in the development of potash industry,” Vladimir Nikolaenko noted.
Belarusian Potash Company (BPC) is the exclusive supplier of potash fertilizers produced by the production association Belaruskali (Soligorsk) and Russia’s Uralkali (Berezniki) to foreign markets. Belarusian Potash Company was set up in 2005. The shareholders are Uralkali (50%), Belaruskali (45%) and Belarusian Railways (5%). Belarusian Potash Company accounts for over a third of the world market of potash fertilisers. Its products are exported to Africa, Europe, India, China, the USA, the Pacific region, Central and South Americas. The company has a well-developed distribution network and representative offices in Beijing (China), New Delhi (India), Singapore, San Paulo (Brazil) and Chicago (USA).
Belarus to purchase 150 Russian combine harvesters in 2009
In 2009, Belarusian agricultural companies will purchase 150 Russian combine harvesters. Minister of Agriculture and Food of Belarus Semeon Shapiro told reporters on 24 July.
According to him, the Belarusian agricultural companies have already purchased 30 Rosselmash-produced combine harvesters and they are going to pay for the rest of 120 combine harvesters in the near future. Belarusian specialists satisfy with the quality of the Rosselmash-produced agricultural machinery.
At the same time, Belarus stakes on the agricultural machinery produced in this country, the Minister noted. Every year, Belarus purchases almost 2,000 combine harvesters produced by Gomselmash and Lidagroprommash.
Eyeing Tax Boost, Belarus Lures Russian Gaming Investment
From: Gambling Complience
Hardline President Alexander Lukashenko said he is now ready to give the go-ahead to pending legislation titled “on some measures for improving the procedure for carrying out activities in the sphere of the gambling business”.
Lukashenko said the decree will make gambling laws in Belarus “the best in the world”, according to Russia Today.
The move is being seen as a bid by the authorities in Belarus to raise tax and licence revenue by luring gamblers and investors into the state from Russia and Ukraine-both of which have recently taken high profile moves to severely restrict gambling in their territories.
Vasiliy Korzun, from the Ministry of Sport and Tourism which is responsible for regulating the gaming industry, said Belarus was interested in attracting big players to the gambling sector and would be happy if Russia’s assets came to the country.
Referring to the recent opening of a Storm International-operated Shangri La casino in the Belarus capital Minsk, he said: “We have issued the first license for a Moscow casino to work in Minsk. It is Shangri La.”
The Shangri La Minsk opened with just five tables and ten slot machines but there are plans to double the size of the operation in the coming weeks, according to Storm president Michael Boettcher, who expects to bring VIP players to the new casino from Moscow, one hour away by plane.
Changes believed to be contained in the decree would also favour big Russian operators over local smaller gambling operators.
The most significant of these would raise the necessary authorised funds needed to set up a casino or gaming hall business to €50,000 – compared to around €1,000 for all businesses at present.
Another likely requirement favouring Russian businesses would be that gaming machines should have a return rate of 90 percent. At present all machines in Belarus pay out at around 80-85 percent. In contrast, Russian operators have more modern machines after the law at home demanded 90 percent payouts several years ago.
It is also thought there will be movement on the tax regime concerning gaming, and possible changes to the stringent currency control laws that prevent visitors leaving the country with more than US$10,000.
Local operators fear they could also be the losers if the big operators of Russia and Ukraine fight for market-share in Belarus, with the industry predominantly falling into foreign ownership.
At the moment, there are at least 20 small casinos and 300 slot halls in Belarus, raising annual tax revenue of $13m, but inward foreign investment accounts for barely 10 percent of the industry at present, and is focused on two foreign-owned casinos in Minsk, and a number of slot halls operated by the Russian firm Ritzio.
The Russian government is asking its gambling businesses to spend an estimated $10-12bn to develop four “gambling zones” where gaming would still be legal, but the sites have attracted scorn because of their remote locations and the lack of any tourist infrastructure.
However, in the current economic climate and with little sign of development so far, it may be that some would rather move to a so-called “fifth zone” in Belarus – a country with less onerous gambling regulation, geographically closer to Moscow than some of the proposed gambling regions in Russia, and in need of foreign investment.
There are also plans to build a large gambling and entertainment complex near Minsk Airport. A draft document states the complex is to be situated in a duty-free zone, and visitors from across the world will be able to stay there for 72 hours.
The move by the Belarus government is the latest by a number of countries in eastern Europe, such as Bulgaria, who want to take advantage of the Russian and Ukrainian crackdown.
IMF Says Belarus Counting on $500M Tranche From Moscow
From: Moscow Times
Kolyadina also said Belarus should sell off some banks this year and prepare other companies for privatization when the global financial crisis is over.
Belarus this year received $1.5 billion from Russia, $1.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund as part of a $3.5 billion deal and should receive a further $1.36 billion from the IMF, $200 million from the World Bank and the $500 million Russian tranche.
“Our forecasts at the moment show that the 2009 financial gap is closed,” Kolyadina said in an interview. “If the economic situation remains as it is, then Belarus would be able to close the gap using the resources already identified.
“There will be complications, however, if Russia does not disburse the $500 million that Belarus planned to receive.”
Russia delayed the $500 million, the last tranche of a $2 billion credit, saying the country could go bankrupt as early as next year.
President Alexander Lukashenko hit back, saying Russia had made the loan contingent on Belarus recognizing the rebel Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — a move that would undo a recent rapprochement with the European Union.
Kolyadina said creditors should have no doubts about Belarus’ ability to service its debts.
“Belarus will be able to service its external debt in 2009 and 2010, by our calculations. [The debts] are not at such levels as to have a significantly negative impact on the economy,” she said.
Saakashvili Praises Belarus Abkhaz, S.Ossetia Stance
“The situation has completely changed in the post-Soviet space,” he said at a meeting with the lawmakers from the ruing party on July 24. “I want to welcome a very brave decision of Belarus about prohibiting its citizens to violate Georgian laws and warning them about criminal liabilities in case of illegal entry into breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”
“I think time has come when the international community should carry out accelerated reintegration of Belarus,” Saakashvili added.
Deputy Head of the Belarus Foreign Ministry’s consulate service said on July 22 that “any entry into Abkhazia and South Ossetia without a special permission of the Georgian authorities is prohibited and punished under the Criminal Code of Georgia. We insistently recommend our citizens to take into consideration these provisions of Georgian legislation while planning their trips to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
Georgia’s law on occupied territories permits foreign citizens to enter into the two breakaway regions only via Georgian territory and considers entry there via Russia as illegal, in case there is no special permit issued by the Georgian authorities.
On July 23, the same official from the Belarus Foreign Ministry’s consulate service tried to downplay that warning by saying that the media showed “clearly excessive interest” towards the matter. He said that the Foreign Ministry deemed it necessary to make such explanation following two cases of arrest of Belarus citizens in Georgia recently over illegal entry into Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Russian diesel transits resume via Belarus after suspension
From: Ria Novosti
Minsk suspended the Belarusian section of the Unecha-Ventspils oil product pipeline, citing its unsatisfactory technical condition. The move was seen as response to Russia's ban on meat supplies from two Belarusian producers over health concerns, the claim Minsk has denied.
"Pumping facilities were activated at 6 p.m. [Moscow time]... 1,000 ppm of diesel fuel is currently being transported," the company said.
Russia's government earlier said the diesel pipeline could resume operation on August 5. But Belarusian officials said after talks with the pipeline operator that transits could resume late on Thursday.
Belarus's senior industry safety official, Viktor Borovsky, said an agreement had been reached with the Russian owners that the most dangerous defects would be repaired promptly with the others before the end of the year.
Belarus earlier said the pipeline's further operation could have led to accidents and damage to the environment.
Latvian businesses said the suspension of the pipeline would cause them serious losses, and suggested it was a political decision.
Belarus, long Russia's closest ally, has recently clashed with Moscow over natural gas prices, ownership of gas networks and dairy exports.
Dictator becomes insolent because of impunity
From: Charter '97
Belarus is going to be an equal partner of the EU Eastern Partnership program and to define the level of involvement in the program proceeding from its national interests, Alyaksandr Lukashenka stated in Minsk addressing chiefs of Belarus’ foreign diplomatic missions.
“Belarus is entering the Eastern Partnership not as a petitioner, but as an equal participant. The level of our involvement and conditions of our participation in the program are to be defined proceeding from our national interests, and not from gratitude that we have been invited there,” Lukashenka said.
He underlined that “we welcome the brand new situation in the relations with the EU, but we understand that the dialogue won’t be easy.” He also noted that improvement in the relations between Belarus and the EU is not a result of some “bargaining, over-compromising or PR”. Lukashenka underscored that relations between Belarus and the EU should be built “upon egalitarian basis without any demands and conditions”
Lukashenka believes that as nay other state, Belarus “has its own way forwards, which is on conformity with the degree of its economic and historical development”.
The dictator has stated that Belarus would develop in the way it needs, and “not according to one stereotype, to somebody’s dictation”.
As Lukashenka is convinced, “not the outer democratic shell is important, and not a democracy implanted from outside”.
“Such a democracy which has been implanted hastily is instable, it comes and goes. And the trouble is that such experiments of Michurin do harm to this country, to economy, and in the long run to the nation,” he said. He also stated that “nobody denies that democracy is a right thing”, and expressed an opinion that “Belarus doesn’t have less democracy than its neighbours; the kind of democracy a common man and his family needs daily, not the idle talk at the expense of foreign sponsors”.
Lukashenka turned attention to the fact that “the EU, being guided by new relations with Belarus, and the US administration, haven’t set it as an aim to remove the current regime”.
“It means that an understanding of a possibility to go towards one gaol by different routs has appeared,” he added.
He noted that “we seek to form a real good neighbourhood belt, in economy, politics, freedom of travel, in the wide sense of the word, not only for ourselves, but for Russia and the EU as well”.
As for the relations with the US, the Belarusian dictator has also stated that he would consider full lifting of the economic sanctions by Washington as a signal for full-fledged restoration of mutual diplomatic presence.
“We expect lifting of economic sanctions from the American side. It would be viewed as a signal for full-fledged restoration of mutual diplomatic presence,” Lukashenka said.
Touching upon relations with Russia, Lukashenka said that he considers the “union state” a neverending construction project but not a utopia.
“It’s true, the union state is a neverending construction project, but not a failure or utopia,” he stated.
As said by him, “the choice of Belarus is based upon benefits of the common system of building unique relations with Russia as with an independent state”.
The Belarusian leader believes that at the moment “in Russia reconsideration of its role and methods of work worldwide including cooperation with Belarus is underway”. “We are not going and we cannot hinder this process,” Lukashenka said. Meanwhile, he asked rhetorically: “Why should a single system of security from Brest to Vladivostok be ruined, why should cooperation in the sphere of machine building be ruined?” To his mind, “a threat of graceless great power statehood” has become visible in Russia in relations with Belarus.
Lukashenka has also expressed concern over increased “controversial matters in relations with brotherly Russia”. “Questions have started to emerge more often, and they are getting more and more acute. Besides, logic and consistency of their emergence are discernible,” he stated.
Authorities responded to PACE – another death sentence delivered
“Two dwellers of Salihorsk, found guilty of murder of two officers of the company, were sentenced to death and life imprisonment,” Interfax learnt from the prosecutor’s office of the Minsk region.
According to a source of the agency, another accused in this case got 13 years in prison, he was found guilty of aiding killing.
The prosecutor’s office noted the court found “two people guilty of killing 2 persons committed by a group of people for selfish motives.”
The judgement hasn’t taken effect yet, the prosecutor’s office said.
A chief economist (female) and a driver of Bolshevik-Agro company (male) were killed in the Salihorsk district at the end of February this year.
It has been the second death penalty in Belarus for the last month. In late June this year, the court sentenced two Belarusians for murders of six pensioners in the Drahichyn district to death and life imprisonment. Lawyers filed a cassation appeal against the judgment.
The judgement was delivered a week after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe said the special guest status for the Belarusian “parliament” would be restored only after Belarus imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.
International Amnesty and Belarusian Helsinki Committee condemned a month ago the capital punishment issued in Belarus.
Russia Warns Against Arms Sales to Georgia
Georgia is hoping the United States will provide antitank and antiaircraft weapons to replenish its defensive arsenal after last year’s war with Russia. After talks in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, American officials said the United States had so far made no commitment to supply weapons, but they did not rule it out.
Dmitri O. Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to NATO, said Friday that President Dmitri A. Medvedev had issued a decree that would impose sanctions on any manufacturer who sells offensive weapons to Georgia, “wherever it is in the Arctic or Antarctic region or in the United States.”
He said Russia considered the question of rearming Georgia more serious than whether Georgia enters NATO.
In the past, the United States has provided small arms and ammunition to Georgia as part of its military training program. But since last year’s war over the secessionist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s suppliers have been keenly aware of Russia’s fierce opposition, and the United States has limited its contribution to training and organization.
It remains unclear whether Washington is ready to change that policy.
Georgians were encouraged by remarks made at a State Department news briefing on Thursday, when a spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said the United States was committed to upgrading the Georgian military so that it would meet NATO standards “and add to the capability of the alliance.”
Though he did not refer specifically to weapons, Mr. Crowley said, “It is logical that the United States would have a military-to-military relationship with Georgia.”
“Obviously,” he added, “it becomes increasingly important, given the current situation in and around that country.”
Video of Mr. Biden’s visit dominated Georgian television news on Friday. Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saakashvili, called the visit a “serious diplomatic victory,” pointing especially to remarks the vice president made in an unscripted meeting with children displaced by the war with Russia.
Mr. Biden told the children that Russia “used a pretext to invade your country.” He also made reference to the Berlin Wall, saying Georgia could win back its territories gradually by attracting separatists to a better life, which he argued was “ultimately why the Berlin Wall came down.”
Mr. Biden was back in Washington on Friday after a tour of Georgia and Ukraine that was intended to reassure both governments that the United States would not abandon them even as it moves to improve relations with Russia.
Mr. Medvedev told an interviewer at NTV that Russia needs “normal, working, friendly relations with the United States — mutually beneficial relations.”
The effort, Mr. Medvedev said, should not lead to the “deterioration of our ties with other countries or of U.S. relations with some other countries, including Ukraine and Georgia.”
Biden Says Weakened Russia Will Bend to U.S.
Mr. Biden said he believes Russia's economic problems are part of a series of developments that have contributed to a significant rethinking by Moscow of its international self-interest. The geographical proximity of the emerging nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea is also likely to make Russia more cooperative with the U.S. in blocking their growth, he said.
But in the interview, at the end of a four-day trip to Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Biden said domestic troubles are the most important factor driving Russia's new global outlook. "I think we vastly underestimate the hand that we hold," he said.
"Russia has to make some very difficult, calculated decisions," Mr. Biden said. "They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable."
Mr. Biden's remarks were the most pointed to date by a senior administration official on why the Obama administration believes its "reset" with Russia is likely to succeed, while previous efforts to engage Moscow by the Clinton and Bush administrations ended with little progress.
The remarks also are among the administration's most critical of Russia's current role in the world, and come just weeks after President Barack Obama insisted that the U.S. seeks a "strong, peaceful and prosperous Russia" in an address at his high-profile July summit in Moscow with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Natalya Timakova, a spokeswoman for Mr. Medvedev, declined to comment on Mr. Biden's remarks. Ms. Timakova acknowledged that the Russian government is currently looking at many of the issues he raised -- including economic challenges, the banking sector and the country's shrinking population.
Despite Russia's economic and geopolitical difficulties, Mr. Biden said, Moscow could become more belligerent in the short term unless the U.S. continues to treat Russia as a major player on the international stage. He said Russian leaders are gradually beginning to grasp their diminished global role, but that the U.S. should be cautious not to overplay its advantage.
"It won't work if we go in and say: 'Hey, you need us, man; belly up to the bar and pay your dues,' " he said.
"It is never smart to embarrass an individual or a country when they're dealing with significant loss of face. My dad used to put it another way: Never put another man in a corner where the only way out is over you."
Since the end of the Cold War, consecutive U.S. administrations have tried to re-engage with Moscow on a range of foreign-policy issues, in the belief that the two countries had increasingly common national-security interests. After initial charm offensives, however, both the Clinton and Bush administrations' efforts were stymied.
Mr. Biden's remarks illustrate the extent to which the Obama administration believes the balance of power is shifting toward Washington, giving the White House a new opening to leverage its strategic advantages to persuade Moscow to reduce Russia's nuclear arsenal, loosen its grip on emerging democracies on its border, and cooperate on Iran and North Korea.
"It's a very difficult thing to deal with, loss of empire," Mr. Biden said. "This country, Russia, is in a very different circumstance than it has been any time in the last 40 years, or longer."
Specifically, he said, economic troubles played a central role in Moscow's strong desire to restart nuclear-reduction talks. He noted that Russia can no longer afford to maintain an arsenal that, while much smaller than Cold War levels, is still one of the two largest in the world by far. "All of sudden, did they have an epiphany and say: 'Hey man, we don't want to threaten our neighbors?' No," Mr. Biden said. "They can't sustain it."
He also argued that Russia's domestic struggles have made it less able to influence events in its so-called near abroad -- the former Soviet republics that, to varying degrees, are seeking increased independence from Moscow.
“I can see Putin sitting in Moscow saying, 'Jesus Christ, Iran gets the nuclear weapon, who goes first?' Moscow, not Washington.”
Russia maintains thousands of troops in the northern Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and has shut off gas flows into Ukraine twice in the last three years. Despite such shows of power, Mr. Biden said, even a close Russian protectorate such as Belarus has shown signs of bucking Moscow recently.
Mr. Biden said Moscow's efforts to strong-arm former Soviet republics through use of its energy resources have backfired. He noted that Russia's running dispute with Ukraine has galvanized European efforts to build a new pipeline through Turkey and southern Europe, known as Nabucco, that would bypass Russia.
"Their actions relative to essentially blackmailing a country and a continent on natural gas, what did it produce?" he said. "You've now got an agreement that no one thought they could have."
Next START talks due by early Sept-Russia
A U.S, spokesman said on Friday that "positive progress" was made during two days of negotiations in Geneva this week.
"The sides arranged to hold the next round of talks at the end of August - start of September in Geneva," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev met in Moscow earlier this month and agreed on a target for cuts in their nuclear arsenals.
The two leaders pledged to finalise a START successor treaty to cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads on each side to 1,500-1,675 from levels above 2,200. They aim to strike a deal before the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expires on Dec. 5, replacing it with a 10-year agreement.
Poland demands Britain protects its migrant workers from race attacks
"Racially motivated threats and attacks against Poles seem to be more and more common in the United Kingdom," wrote Janusz Kochanowski. "Polish citizens who benefit as migrant workers from the freedoms of movement and work in a European Union country are a subject of serious concern."
While recognising that the "British police seem to be very sensitive to racially motivated crime", Mr Kochanowski urged the British authorities to do more to protect his countrymen.
"A call for preventative rather than post facto measures is rather important," he wrote.
"Being far from exaggeration I would like to bring your attention to the incidents which from the perspective of fundamental rights protection in the EU are very serious."
The letter, which was also sent this week to Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights and the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency, highlighted a number of recent incidents that have caused alarm both in Poland and among the hundreds of thousands of Poles living in the UK.
At the beginning of July, Combat 18 and Loyalist extremists were blamed for written threats delivered to the Polish Association in Northern Ireland.
"No sympathy for foreigners, get out of our Queen's country," said the text of the threat. "Other than that your building will be blown up. Keep Northern Ireland white. Northern Ireland is only for white British."
The warning has alarmed Poles and raised the spectre of attacks on a similar level to the violence that drove more than 100 Romanians from their homes in Belfast last month.
Mr Kochanowski has also drawn attention to a brutal attack carried out against 39-year-old Jaroslaw Janeczek in Aberdeen this month.
Mr Janeczek suffered serious internal and head injuries during a vicious attack, which police described as having a "racist element", by two men with pit bull terriers.
The incidents have highlighted fears in Poland that as the British economy sinks into the recession Poles working in Britain are set to face increasing resentment and hostility as unemployment grows.
Since Poland joined the EU in May 2004 over a million Poles have travelled to Britain in search of work, becoming in just a few years one of the country's largest ethnic minorities.
European Commission officials are also concerned that a backlash against East European migrants could lead to an increase in violent incidents.
"We are very worried to have seen rises in xenophobic attacks against European migrants," said an official.
Belchatów coal plant in Poland is Europe's dirtiest
The Belchatów coal plant belched 30.9 million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2008. The plant is run by state-owned utility BOT Elektrownia.
Poland is not the only offender, however. Germany has 11 of Europe's 30 most polluting facilities.
In 2008, Europe's 30 dirtiest plants produced a collective 387.8 million tonnes of CO2 in 2008, down 1.9 percent from 2007.
The information was published in the annual “Dirty Thirty” list produced by World Wildlife Fund International since 2005.
Defense Ministry accused of large scale nepotism
After this fact was revealed the opposition and the media accused Klich of nepotism and violating political standards.
Defense Ministry spokesman Robert Rochowicz explained that all those were employed through open competition, and that people who were appointed fulfilled all requirements. Meanwhile, the Minister for battling corruption Julia Pitera, has questioned this statement and declared that the competitions have to be held again.
The employees in question are being dismissed and the Ministry was requested to introduce new procedures in relation to employing new people.
Defense industry could slash jobs
And, in a related story, a fall in orders from the military could force defense-sector companies to slash their workforces this year. Rzeczpospolita reports that up to 5,000 people in the industries could be made redundant.
Around 400 workers at tank producer Czolgowe Zaklady Mechaniczne Bumar ?ab?dy have exited the firm. By the end of the year a total of around 800 workers will have to leave Bumar Group, which currently employs 2,800.
Airplane parts producer WSK Rzeszów and PZL Wola, an engine producer, could each shed around 300 people.
“Other defense industry companies and research institutes regularly cut jobs, but without publicity,” Malgorzata Kucab from trade union NSZZ Military Workers told the daily.
Pawel Soroka, of the Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski Polish Industrial Lobby, told Rzeczpospolita that he calculated around 5,000 jobs would be lost in the military manufacturing sector in the coming months, out of approximately 46,000 jobs in the industry.
Belarus raises the bar with record crowds
A crowd of 4,500 at Saturday's final in Borisov between Sweden and England – the second highest in finals history – took the aggregate number of tournament spectators beyond the 40,000 mark, almost tripling the previous best of 14,773 set in 2006. It was reward for a "concerted organisational effort" according to Belarus Football Federation president Gennadi Nevyglas. "There were adverts throughout the city and on TV," Nevyglas told uefa.com. "We also invited children from summer camps – they told me they were fed up of going to the forests and wanted to see some football."
The 3,850 supporters that turned out for the goalless draw between Iceland and Norway on the opening day was a new high for a match at this tournament, surpassing the 3,500 that watched last year's final in Tours. An hour later the record was broken again as 5,000 were in Borisov to see the hosts defeated 4-1 by Switzerland. "I know the supporters really enjoyed it," Nevyglas added. "Belarus lost but they were cheering the team on right until the end."
Even they struggled to raise a cheer as the hosts were overwhelmed by Germany, a 9-0 defeat surpassing the five-time champions' previous mark of 8-0 set against Russia in 2004. Yet the aggregate tournament attendance record has been smashed, and the only record left standing is for any match in the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship, qualifying or finals. A crowd of 6,002 in Ludwigshafen saw Germany beat Finland 3-0 in the third round of the 1999/00 edition, when the competition was U18. Belarus have set a high benchmark for next season's final hosts, FYR Macedonia.
'Stalin victims' found in Belarus
Soviet bullets were found with the remains at Glubokoye, a village which had been in Poland but fell into Soviet hands in 1939.
A youth group discovered the remains earlier this week, reports say.
Local historians said the victims had most probably been shot by the NKVD secret police between 1939 and 1941.
"I think we can all but rule out any suggestion that these people were shot by the Germans during the occupation," historian Igor Kuznetsov told Reuters.
"First, there are the cartridge cases from Soviet weapons. Second, the Germans carried out public executions and these people were killed in secret, in a manner typical of the NKVD."
Soviet forces occupied eastern Poland in 1939 after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.
In 1940, more than 21,000 Polish army officers and intellectuals were executed on Stalin's direct orders in the Katyn Forest near the city of Smolensk, in western Russia.
For decades, the Soviet authorities blamed Nazi Germany for the Katyn massacre.