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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Poland admits to CIA prisons, Modern challenges, Eastern Partnership, UN peacekeeping, Oil duties; News, Sport, Culture and Polish panty scandals...

  • From the Top...
  • #490

    Belarus able to counteract modern challenges

    From: BelTA
    During the global financial and economic crisis Belarus has convincingly proved its ability to counteract various modern-day challenges. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko made the statement at an official reception held on 23 February to mark the Fatherland Defenders and Armed Forces Day.

    The President underlined that Belarus has placed a reliable barrier against any manifestations of extremism or anti-constitutional actions.

    For many years Belarus has been an example of political and social stability largely thanks to power-wielding agencies. According to the head of state, the combat ability of the troops and spirit of the personnel are held high. The well-measured and creative army development process is tested and tuned during large-scale maneuvers that eloquently demonstrate the Belarusian army’s readiness to carry out its missions.

    Alexander Lukashenko remarked that the Fatherland Defenders Day had stopped being a professional holiday long before and had become a nationwide one. “It is not a tribute to the tradition. We remember the history, we hold in esteem those who took up arms to protect our Motherland. With deep respect we treat the military personnel, those who have inherited the military glory”.

    Wise people say that the care for women demonstrates the civilization level of a country while people’s respect for and trust in the army demonstrate the energetic and healthy spirit of the nation. Sociological surveys indicate that the nation treats the army with respect. It means that the young sovereign Belarusian state is doing its best to make the armed forces a reliable guarantee of security and calm in the country, said Alexander Lukashenko.

    In the XX century Belarus lived through many trials but the country survived when the nation and the army united to protect it. “We suffered to grasp the Victory and understood that protecting the Motherland is a nationwide obligation. This is why it is quite logical for our people to feel responsible for preserving peace and stability in the Belarusian land. The first decade of the new century has demonstrated that protecting one’s fatherland is still a topical matter,” noted the President.

    In his words, the global crisis that has affected all countries also made geopolitical problems of the mankind more prominent. It has essentially influenced the military situation in various parts of the planet. “Barefaced pressure is the most popular means chosen to achieve selfish motives. The growing competition, sometimes unfair competition, spread of information attacks, foreign encouragement of destructive forces are alarming. These and other threats must be skillfully and systematically countered,” stated Alexander Lukashenko.

    The head of state underlined that in these complicated conditions Belarus successfully develops and has proved its ability to counteract modern challenges.

    New generations of Belarus defenders continue glorious traditions

    New generations of Fatherland defenders fittingly continue the military traditions of Great Patriotic War winners and do their duty with honor. The congratulation of President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko on occasion of the Fatherland Defenders and Armed Forces Day was read out by State Secretary of the Security Council Leonid Maltsev at a solemn meeting at the Palace of the Republic on 22 February.

    “On this festive day that embodies the continuation of generations I speak to all those who draw their duty in the Armed Forces or the reserve, I am grateful for their fidelity to the oath and military duty,” reads the congratulation.

    The head of state remarked that in the year of the 65th anniversary of the Great Victory the veterans, whose path is steeped in unfading glory, whose deeds are part of the Belarusian history forever, deserve special honor.

    The Belarus President wished veterans, soldiers and officers good health, strong spirit, love and respect of their relatives and loved ones, success in their selfless service for the Republic of Belarus.

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus to attend joint parliamentary session of Visegrad Group, Eastern Partnership

    From: BelTA
    A Belarusian delegation will take part in a joint session of the parliamentarians of the Visegrad Group and Eastern Partnership (EP) member states in Budapest on 23-24 February, BelTA learnt from Sergei Maskevich, Chairman of the House of Representatives’ permanent commission for international affairs and links with the CIS.

    The delegation of Belarus consists of Sergei Maskevich and Nina Mazai, Chairwoman of the Council of the Republic’s permanent commission for international affairs and national security.

    The session will focus on the problems of the Eastern Partnership initiative implementation. In particular, the parliamentarians of the EP states will be able to represent their interests and speak about their view on further development of the EP. The session will also highlight the energy security of the EU states and the new approaches to improving the competitiveness in the EU. Apart from that, the participants will share their opinions on the post-Lisbon strategy.

    Sergei Maskevich said that Hungary is currently chairing the Visegrad Group (it also includes Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia) and it was Hungary who had invited Belarus to take part in the joint session. The bilateral inter-parliamentary cooperation of Belarus and Hungary has been recently expanding and strengthening. Sergei Maskevich believes that the Hungarian parliamentarians will support Belarus in its desire to participate in EURONEST in the capacity of a full-fledged partner.

    Commenting on the information that the European Parliament had decided to get ten representatives of the opposition on the Belarusian delegation at the EORONEST, Sergei Maskevich said: “It is rumors, plans, and suggestions. But the decision on the composition of the delegation will be made by the EURONEST constitutive assembly, not by the European Parliament, which has only 50 votes in the EURONEST. Sergei Maskevich stressed that in such situation the position of ten parliamentarians from Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Moldova will be of prime importance.

    In addition, Sergei Maskevich and Nina Mazai are set to meet with a delegation of the European Parliament deputies in Minsk later this week. “We expect them to tune to our frequency and hear our opinion and arguments. We, in turn, will try to listen to their point of view,” said Sergei Maskevich. He added that the meeting is important for both sides “to make sure that the situation is not a hopeless one and we are eager to seek the avenues of cooperation and interaction.” Sergei Maskevich said that Belarus lays high hopes on the development of fruitful relations with the European Parliament and he hopes that the sides will reach a consensus.

    Belarus to partake in UN peacekeeping operations

    From: BelTA
    A session of the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations started at the UN headquarters in New York on 22 February. A Belarusian delegation led by Deputy State Secretary of the Security Council Stanislav Zas takes part in the session, BelTA learnt from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

    Speaking at the session, Stanislav Zas pointed out that although Belarus is actively involved in a variety of the UN activities and is a security donor in the Eurasian region, for some objective reasons it only dispatched civil specialists to take part in the UN field missions.

    The Belarusian representative reminded that in the time when the international community is desperate to settle the disputes that erupt all over the world, Belarus responded to the call of the UN Secretary General and decided to gradually join the UN peacekeeping operations. Belarus recognizes the UN primary responsibility for maintaining peace and security and condemns any actions in defiance of the resolutions of the UN Security Council, Stanislav Zas said. Peacekeeping efforts should be undertaken upon the consent of the host government, they should be based on impartiality and nonuse of force (except for self-defense), sovereign equality, political independence, territorial integrity of states and non-interference in their domestic affairs.

    The Deputy State Secretary of the Security Council expressed hope for the development of the fruitful cooperation and the further constructive dialogue to raise the efficiency of peacekeeping efforts in cooperation with the UN Secretariat, the UN Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations and the UN Peacebuilding Commission.

    Stanislav Zas met with Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy and Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Susana Malcorra to confirm Belarus’ determination to take part in peacekeeping operations.
    The Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations of the United Nations was established by General Assembly Resolution in 1965. As of 1 September 2009, the Committee was composed of 143 Member States, 14 states and international organizations participated as observers. Belarus joined the Committee in February 1997.

    Belarus urges revision of Russia-imposed oil duties

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has suggested including discussions about Russia’s levying a customs duty on the oil products it exports to Belarus into the agenda of the 14th session of the Customs Union Commission. The session is scheduled for 26 February, a representative of a Belarusian government agency told BelTA.

    Belarus believes Russia is in violation of the international obligations stipulated by the Customs Union legal base. In particular, Russia is believed to have violated the Belarus-Russia agreement on the Customs Union of 6 January 1995 (it came into force on 30 November 1995), the treaty on the Customs Union and the single economic space of 26 February 1999 (23 December 1999), the treaty on the single customs territory and the Customs Union formation of 6 October 2007 (10 October 2008).

    In line with a teletypogram sent by the First Deputy Director of the Federal Customs Service of Russia heads of regional customs administrations and the head of the central energy customs house are instructed to use customs duties on crude oil and certain oil products exported from Russia to Belarus as from 1 January 2010. The customs duties are specified by Russian government resolution No 1091 of 25 December 2009. At present Russian government resolution No 32 “Customs duties on the crude oil and certain oil products exported from Russia to the member-states of the Customs Union agreement” is in effect.

    The customs administration measures used by Russia in line with the teletypogram run contrary to international agreements and the national legislation of Russia. They have stopped the export of paraxylene, commercial paraffin, petrolatum, mineral wax and other products to Belarus. These products are vital for the normal operation of Belarusian chemical companies. It has negatively affected the ties that economic operators from various parts of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan have built over the years.

    The source also remarked that Russia’s decision to impose customs duties on exported oil products are applied only to one Customs Union member-state.

    According to Article 6 of the Customs Union Commission Treaty of 6 October 2007 (it came into force on 10 October 2008), the Customs Union Commission is charged with monitoring the execution of the international treaties relating to the Customs Union formation. Belarus believes at the next session of the Customs Union Commission it is necessary to discuss Russia’s violation of the abovementioned international treaties and obligate Russia to stop levying export customs duties in line with the obligations within the Customs Union framework and to pay out compensations for the export customs duties paid by economic operators.

    Belarus believes that when the Customs Union Commission considers Russia’s use of obviously discriminatory measures against Belarus, the Commission will demonstrate fidelity to principle and make the decision to secure equal approaches to regulating trade and economic relations between the Customs Union member-states.

    Pressure for Union of Poles in Belarus counterproductive

    From: BelTA
    Any attempts to influence the dispute around the Union of Poles in Belarus or put pressure on the Belarusian authorities to make them support any side are not acceptable and are counterproductive, reads an open letter sent by Belarus’ Ambassador at European institutions in Brussels Vladimir Senko to European mass media.

    The lack of territorial, religious and ethnical conflicts is one of the key achievements secured by the independent Belarus. Observance of rights and freedoms of all ethnic groups, across-the-board support for their public efforts remain key elements of the domestic policy with substantial financing backing of the state budget, reads the statement.

    Vladimir Senko emphasized that the property of Polish public organizations will remain in hands of Belarusian citizens with Polish roots. “We were surprised that Polish representatives sent the matter for consideration of Brussels. The response of European officials is obviously incommensurable with the essence of the problem. Along with accusing Belarus some statements threaten to introduce political and economic sanctions,” reads the letter.

    The diplomat is seriously concerned about the biased response of Polish mass media and several official bodies as well as the distorted interpretation of the real status of the Polish national minority. In his words, they disregard the opinion of an overwhelming majority of public organizations. The Ambassador stressed that the stance of the Belarusian authorities will remain unchanged: problems around the Union of Poles in Belarus can be resolved only by the organization itself and in line with Belarusian laws.

  • Economics...

    Gazprom now owns 50% share in Beltransgaz

    From: BelTA
    Belarus has received Gazprom’s final payment for 12.5% of the shares of the Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz, representatives of the State Property Committee of Belarus told BelTA.

    The Information Office of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus has confirmed that $625 million had been transferred.

    Thus, Gazprom now owns 50% of the Beltransgaz shares. The value of Beltransgaz assets is estimated at $5 billion.

    With a view to setting up a Belarusian-Russian gas transportation joint venture, on 18 May 2007 the State Property Committee of Belarus and Gazprom signed a contract for selling 50% of Beltransgaz shares for $2.5 billion. Gazprom was supposed to pay $625 million for 12.5% of Beltransgaz shares every year between 2007 and 2010. In June 2007 Gazprom paid $625 million for the first 12.5% installment of the Beltransgaz shares.

    The Belarusian pipeline operator Beltransgaz delivers natural gas to domestic customers and transports gas via the country. The company operates around 7,000 km of gas pipelines, which diameter varies between 100 mm and 1,400 mm, and services the Belarusian section of the Gazprom-owned transcontinental pipeline Yamal-Europe.

    Belarus’ Energy Ministry to raise $650mn in foreign loans in 2010

    The Energy Ministry of Belarus plans to raise $650 million in foreign loans in 2010, Deputy Energy Minister of Belarus Mikhail Mikhadiuk said at a session of the ministry.

    The role of loans in financing the investment projects in the energy industry of Belarus has increased, Mikhail Mikhadiuk said. “Loans account for 31% of the sources of financing we use to fund investment programs in the Energy Ministry and more than 40% in the Belenergo system,” he said.

    In 2009 the government set a target before the Energy Ministry to attract foreign investment worth $450 million. “We raised $437.8 million, 6.8% above the target, including $58.8 million of direct investments,” Mikhail Mikhaiuk said. Belenergo attracted $369 million of foreign loans, also above the target of $345 million.

    According to Mikhail Mikhadiuk, Minskenergo has established most effective cooperation with foreign investors. Last year the enterprise raised $295.7 million in foreign investments. In 2009 Grodnoenergo did not make any borrowings on the foreign market but used around Br70 billion of Belarusian credits to perform construction and assembly jobs at the Grodno hydroelectric power station. “Grodno did a good job in attracting the financing for the Grodno CHP plant 2. Loan agreements were signed this year,” Mikhail Mikhadiuk said. The work on attracting foreign investment is slow in the Mogilev, Vitebsk and Gomel energy systems. Tender bids to modernize the Miradino substation were held just recently.

    Mikhail Mikhadiuk urged to step up the work on attracting foreign investment. Belenergo should play a key role and work more consistently in this direction, he stressed.

    Belarus Energy Ministry to sign $2.5bn contracts with China

    The Belarusian Energy Ministry plans to sign contracts worth $2.5 billion with Chinese partners, Deputy Energy Minister Mikhail Mikhadyuk told a session of the Energy Ministry board on 24 February.

    “As instructed by the government, this year we should sign contracts worth $2.5 billion with China and attract at least $500 million in Chinese loans in line with the signed contracts. Projects have been determined, let’s get to work,” said Mikhail Mikhadyuk.

    According to the Deputy Energy Minister, attention should be paid to preparations for polishing the joint projects with Chinese partners. In order to sign the contracts on time, China should submit technical and economic proposals by May 2010.

    The Belarusian Energy Ministry also plans to act fast to start attracting Finnish credit resources. The money will be used to build compact cogeneration plants like the project implemented in Pruzhany. “Relevant instructions have been given, specific objects have been picked out,” said Mikhail Mikhadyuk.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus ambassador warns EU over sanctions

    From: EU Observer
    Mr Lukashenko. Belarus' ambassador to the EU said it should stay out of the Polish minority dispute
    The Belarusian ambassador to the EU has called for the union to back off in a row over the country's ethnic Polish minority.

    The ambassador, Vladimir Senko, made the remarks in an open letter to the media on Tuesday (23 February) entitled: "EU is concerned, but Belarus asks for patience."

    The Belarusian ambassador to the EU has called for the union to back off in a row over the country's ethnic Polish minority.

    The ambassador, Vladimir Senko, made the remarks in an open letter to the media on Tuesday (23 February) entitled: "EU is concerned, but Belarus asks for patience."

    In 2009, Belarus imported over 205 thsd tonnes of grains

    From: AgriMarket
    In 2009, Belarus increased exports of food products by 1.4% compared to 2008 results, and reached the level of 2.22 bln of USD, the imports reduced by 20.8% – to 1.62 bln USD, declared the National Statistical Committee.

    In 2009, the price volumes of exports increased due to the growth of price indices of export volumes of beef, sugar, vegetable oils, poultry meat, butter.

    At the same time, the country reduced import volumes of pork, vegetable oils, groats, macaroni products, and etc.

    During the year, the share of food products in the general structure of exports from Belarus totaled 10.4% as opposed to 6.7% in 2008, in the structure of consumer goods export volumes – 54.7% against 47.7%.

    In 2009, the share of food products in the general structure of imports to Belarus totaled 5.7% as opposed to 5.2% in 2008, in the structure of consumer goods import volumes – 35.5% against 34.5%.

    Dairy and meat products became the main positions of Belarusian food products exports in 2009. The main positions of imports of food products to Belarus included grains (205.7 thsd tonnes, down 58.4%), vegetable oils (115.2 thsd tonnes, up 8.3%).

    Italy’s Danieli applies for sheet rolling mill tender in Belarus

    From: Steel Orbis
    The leading Italian producer of steelmaking machinery and plants Danieli & C. Officine Meccaniche S.p.A. (Danieli) has submitted its application for the international tender for the construction of a new sheet rolling mill in Belarus in association with local steelmaker Byelorussian Iron and Steel Works (BMZ).

    According to local media reports which cite the office of the council of ministers of Belarus, Danieli is expected to invest €175 million in the project.

    As SteelOrbis previously reported, in October 2009 Belarus opened an international tender for the construction of a new sheet rolling mill with a designed annual capacity of 1.2 million mt of hot rolled sheets in coils, in order to create its own capacities for the production of sheets and with the aim of replacing imports of the products in question. The deadline of the tender was prolonged from January 4, 2010 to March 1, 2010.

    Rammstein promoter promises 'no porn or violence' at Belarus show

    From: RIA Novosti
    A Rammstein concert in Minsk, the capital of ex-Soviet Belarus, will feature no displays of pornography, violence or Nazi symbols, the show's organizer said on Tuesday.

    Aleksander Obrozov was speaking the day after the head of the country's Council for Morals told RIA Novosti that the German rock band's show should be cancelled, saying that the group promoted "homosexuality, masochism and other perversions, as well as brutality and obscene language."

    The group's latest album, which topped charts all over Europe, features a naked woman apparently being chopped up and eaten by a group of men clad in black.

    "The decision to bring Rammstein to Minsk is a mistake that may cost us dearly," Nikolai Cherginets said.

    He also added that while the show would be a "usual concert" for the band, for Belarus, where life is "based on the Christian and secular principles of respect for the unique personality of every person," a performance by the former East German nationals could lead to the "destruction of the Belarusian state."

    However, after his representative had returned from a fact-finding mission to a Rammstein concert in Olso, Obrozov announced that they had witnessed nothing to suggest that the group was a threat to Belarus.

    "Our representative attended a February 18 show in Oslo. He did not see any signs of cruelty, pornography or violence. There were also no Nazi symbols on stage," he said.

    He also said that the band, who have been accused in the past of flirting with Nazi imagery, "understand very well that the fascists were guilty for the deaths of millions of people."

    Over two million people were murdered by Nazi troops during their three-year occupation of Belarus.

    Rammstein's current tour takes them to a number of eastern European cities, including Moscow, Riga, Vilnius, and Kiev.

  • From the Opposition...

    Kaczynski not satisfied by answer of Belarusian dictator to his letter

    From: Charter '97
    The Polish president believes that the Belarusian ruler has answered too generally, and is going to send a letter to the EU leadership.

    In the letter to Alyaksandr Lukashenka Polish president called upon him to see into the matter of the Union of Poles in Belarus personally. However, no turning points in the letter of Lukashenka were found by Lech Kaczynski, noted in an interview to the European Radio for Belarus Pawel Wypych, Secretary of the Chancellery of the Polish president.

    “This letter hasn’t resulted in any turning point. It looks as if Lukashenka believes all the actions recently performed by the Belarusian authorities totally acceptable and answering the standards of a democratic state,” said the state secretary of the chancellery.

    Having received no appropriate reaction from the Belarusian authorities, Lech Kaczynski decided to write a letter to the European Union’s structures, to President of the European Union Herman Van Rompuy and European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek. In these letters Polish president wants to acquaint them with how Alyaksandr Lukashenka views the entire situation. And this vision does not satisfy the Polish side, said presidential minister Wladyslaw Stasiak.

    “We can assuredly say this letter does not satisfy us. He has just confirmed that the talks which held before that, haven’t taken effect, haven’t brought about a satisfactory result,” Stasiak said.

    Head of Barysau regional election commission abuses power, says local human rights activist

    From: Viasna
    On 24 February human rights activist Aleh Matskevich lodged a complaint with the Central Electoral Commission against Chair of Barysau regional election commission Mikalai Zeliankevich, claiming that the official had abused his authority by refusing to provide information on the progress of the elections despite the activist’s mandate of observer.

    Mr. Matskevich claims that, under the current legislation, electoral observation can be maintained after the declaration of the observer’s intent and his (or her) subsequent registration on the election commission’s register. However, Mr. Zeliankevich ignored the arguments, saying the observer’s application had to be considered at the commission’s meeting on 24 February.

    The human rights activist later applied for the clarification of the disputable issues to the Central Electoral Commission. The Commission’s head of Public Relations Department Aliaksandr Piskunou admitted that Mikalai Zeliankevich had abused his authority as chair of the local election commission.

    Baranavichy Office of Public Prosecutor refuses to monitor implementation of Election Code

    A human rights activist from Baranavichy Syarhei Housha, who complained about a violation of the Election Code to the City Office of the Public Prosecutor, has received an official refusal.

    Let us remind you that Housha asked the Public Prosecutor to oblige Baranavichy City Executive Committee to publish lists of election commission members and indicate the places they work at in a newspaper. However, the Office of the Public prosecutor has replied that it will not demand it from the City Executive Committee. Syarhei Housha has sent a complaint to the Regional Office of the Public Prosecutor in connection with it.

  • Russia...

    Yanukovych Will Visit EU Before Russia

    From: Moscow Times
    Ukrainian President-elect Viktor Yanukovych will visit Brussels before Moscow to show his commitment to developing relations with Europe, a European Union official said Tuesday.

    "He is coming on Monday," said the EU official, who declined to be identified. "Yanukovych wants to send a clear message to Europe by going to Europe on his first foreign trip."

    Yanukovych, who will be sworn in Thursday, has not announced a firm date for visiting Moscow but is expected to go by March 10.

    Yanukovych will meet EU President Herman Van Rompuy while in Brussels, the official said, and is also expected to meet EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who will attend Thursday's inauguration.

    Yanukovych won an election runoff on Feb. 7. He narrowly defeated Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who dropped a legal challenge to the outcome on Saturday. She said she could not trust the court to fairly consider the evidence.

    Tymoshenko, meanwhile, has renewed her attacks on Yanukovych and rejected any post-election deal with him.

    In a televised statement Monday, she accused him of already beginning to sell off Ukraine's gas pipeline network — a sensitive issue since it touches on relations with Russia — and predicted that he would not stay in power for long.

    "Yanukovych, who came to power by lies, is not our president, and he will not last long," she said.

    "I want to say that I would not, under any circumstances, create a coalition together with Yanukovych," she said.

    Tymoshenko has refused to resign as prime minister despite a request from Yanukovych, and his Party of the Regions is trying to form a coalition in the parliament to replace her.

    Yanukovych on Sunday named three possible candidates for the post of prime minister: businessman Sergei Tigipko, former Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and former Finance Minister Mykola Azarov, who is also a member of his Party of the Regions.

    "We expect a result by the end of this coming week," Yanukovych told the Ukraina television station in an interview.

    Tigipko, 50, and Yatsenyuk, 35, have presented themselves as pragmatists who would be able to undertake tough reforms as Ukraine reels from a deep economic crisis. Russian-born Azarov, 63, leans more toward Moscow and traditional state regulation.

    As president, Yanukovych has no formal part in creating a coalition, but his party will be in talks with other factions in the parliament to decide on a program and new prime minister.

    Russia, U.S. leaders urge faster work on START deal

    From: Reuters
    The presidents of Russia and the United States agreed Wednesday to urge their negotiators to speed up work and prepare for signing a new START deal to cut strategic nuclear weapons, the Kremlin said in a statement.

    Barack Obama

    "The Russian side stressed the importance of completing the talks within a short term to prepare this document -- vital for strategic security and stability -- for signing as soon as possible," it said after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama.

    "In this respect, the presidents agreed to give additional instructions to the delegations of the two nations to speed up the process of negotiations," the Kremlin said.

    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Tuesday spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for about 15 minutes "and encouraged Russia to continue to move ahead, push hard, so we can reach an agreement in the next couple of weeks," the U.S. State Department said.

    Obama and Medvedev have pledged to complete the pact to succeed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired late last year.

    The two presidents have agreed to cut deployed nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 on each side.

    IRAN: Russia backtracks on S-300 missile systems for Tehran

    From: LA Times
    After a mysterious delay and a public challenge by Tehran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to backtrack on Russia's pledge to supply S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran, telling Moscow's official state news agency on Wednesday that Russia "has never taken actions that could cause the destabilization of certain regions."

    "There are issues that need to be resolved before [the contract] is executed," he said, referring to a deal that was signed in 2005. "We hope that all countries supplying arms, and not only defensive ones but also those that are killing our peacekeepers, will treat this issue in the same way."

    Russia has been under pressure by the U.S. and Israel not to sell weapons to Iran, which has been accused of supplying arms to militant groups abroad as well as posing an existential threat to Israel with its nuclear program.

    The S-300 system is capable of hitting aircraft up to 90 miles away and tracking 100 targets at a time, and could be used in case of an Israeli air attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

    But last week, Russia announced it would delay the shipment due to "technical problems" just one day after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow.

    Lavrov's latest comments suggest Russia is considering canceling the contract altogether rather than be seen as supplying weapons to Iran as the world powers contemplate stricter sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

    The Iranians are losing patience and have begun to lash out at Russia in the press.
    On Feb. 21, the reformist Iranian newspaper Ettemad ran a report under the headline "Russia's contradictory remarks on delivery of S-300 to Iran," in which the paper accused Russia of delaying the delivery for political reasons.

    "We are not a nation to sit with fingers crossed if Russia fails to meet its obligations," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, was quoted as saying Wednesday.

    "We will resolve our problem by mastering the technology to produce S-300 missiles," he told the Mehr news agency

    The Russian-Iranian missile stalemate comes on the heels of a controversy over Israel's Iron Dome rocket defense system, which critics say is ineffective and costly.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland admits role in CIA rendition programme

    From: Guardian
    The Polish authorities have for the first time admitted their involvement in the CIA's secret programme for the rendition of high-level terrorist suspects from Iraq and Afghanistan, it emerged today.

    After years of stonewalling, Warsaw's air control service confirmed that at least six CIA flights had landed at a disused military air base in northern Poland in 2003.

    "It is time for the authorities to provide a full accounting of Poland's role in rendition," Adam Bodnar, of the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, said.

    "These flight records reinforce the troubling findings of official European inquiries and global human rights groups, showing complicity with CIA abuse across Europe."

    For years, European and human rights investigators have believed Poland played a key role in the secret renditions programme, which became a human rights scandal for the George Bush administration.

    An extensive Council of Europe investigation in 2007 found that "especially sensitive high-value detainees" were held at a prison facility, rented by the CIA from the Poles, near the Szymany airfield in northern Poland.

    The Polish authorities told the investigators they were not aware of flight data that would reveal the traffic in kidnapping.

    But following a freedom of information campaign from the Helsinki Foundation and the New York-based Open Society Justice Initiative, the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency released flight data showing that at least two of the aircraft used in the CIA operations flew from Kabul and Rabat, in Morocco, to Szymany at least six times between February and September 2003.

    "We know that CIA detainees were held in those two locations in the period in question," the campaigners said.

    The two aircraft, a Boeing 737 and a Gulfstream V, were US-registered and previously known to be part of the CIA operation.

    "In the past, the Polish government denied its involvement in rendition. It failed to provide any of these flight records to previous investigations," the campaigners said.

    Analysis of the flight logs also indicated an attempted joint coverup by the CIA and the Polish authorities, with the aviation authorities being told that several of the flights were destined not for Szymany but for Warsaw.

    "The CIA filed 'dummy' and false flight plans, or no flight plans at all, for the incoming and outgoing flights of N379P," the campaigners added.

    "[The Polish aviation authority] collaborated with the CIA by accepting the task of navigating these disguised flights into and out of Szymany airport without adhering to the requirements of international flight planning regulations.

    "The most remarkable aspect is that the Polish government, which maintained for more than four years that no such records existed – or that, if they did, they were untraceable – has now provided an apparently comprehensive list of these landings, compiled and presented in an orderly and coherent fashion."

    Young Poles as lazy as Italians?

    From: The News
    Poles aged between 15 and 24 years are among the least professionally active Europeans, shows a new EU report.

    Young Poles have almost caught up with Italians when it comes to economic activity, according to data collated by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical agency. Only 35 percent of Poles aged between 15 and 24 years have a job - in Italy the figure is 30 percent. Three or four years ago the number of working young Poles was almost 50 percent.

    The average age of a Pole entering the labour market has gone up to 22 years. Young Dutch and Danish start their first job at the age of 16 or even 15 and Germans at the age of 18. The average age for the whole EU is 20 years.

    The reason why young Poles are delaying entering the workplace – some would say adulthood - is partly because most of them are still in education.

    “An increasing number of young people continue their studies beyond compulsory schooling in order to have better chances on the labour market or, simply, because they do not want to work yet,” says Aleksandra Strojek from Sedlak&Sedlak, quoted in the Metro newspaper. He adds that in Poland many people still believe that as long as young people are learning, they are not obliged to work.

    Young Poles are not eager to start an independent adult life, postponing the decision to leave the parental home as long as they can. Females, on the other had, generally tend to move out earlier - by two or even more years - than young men. Young women usually move out from their parent’s home at the age of 28 and men at the age of 30 – compared to 31 years old in Italy).

    By the age of 34 as many as 80 percent of women live independently. For men the number is lower. Meanwhile, women in the EU tend to leave the parental nest at the average age of 22 and for young men, the average age is 26.

    The report by Eurostat shows that young people predominantly remain with their parents for material reasons - 44 percent of Europeans aged between 15 and 30 say they cannot afford to move out. The other reason is simply laziness. Some young people admit that remaining with their parents allows them to live more comfortably with fewer responsibilities.

    “Young people have no motivation to start independent life. They say that there is no use working for pennies,” says Strojek. Instead, they take money from their parents, live from scholarships or earn money on the black market, usually by giving private lessons.

    Polish Panty Pilferer Placed in the Poky

    From: NPE
    A 28-year-old man was arrested by police in Ostrowiec this Sunday evening for stealing ten pairs of knickers in a string of separate incidents. Following the final theft, a pair that were hanging out to dry, the owner of the knickers alerted police, who were able to follow the man’s footprints through the snow which led them directly to him.

    At the moment of his arrest the man was completely drunk, with 0.15 percent of blood in his alcohol. Nine of the pairs had been used by the man to decorate a nearby bus stop, the tenth polka-dotted pair were still stuffed in his coat pocket. The matter would probably have ended with a caution or a fine, but for the fact that the man also tried along the way to break into and steal two cars. As a result, the man now faces charges with a potential total of ten years in prison.

    Smugglers held

    In Sandomierz this Wednesday police arrested two men and a woman in possession of 1,600 packets of cigarettes and 13 litres of alcoholic spirits which had been smuggled into the country in two separate incidents. First, officers stopped a Polish man from Tarnobrzeg and a female Ukrainian citizen with 600 packs of cigarettes and the neat alcohol. Later, a resident of Lubaczow was stopped in a routine search and found with 1,000 packets of illicit cigarettes in his vehicle.

  • Sport...

    Swiss eliminate Belarus in SO, face U.S. next

    From: ESPN
    Switzerland's goalie Jonas Hiller celebrates after his team beat Belarus 3-2 after a shootout in a men's playoff qualifying round ice hockey game at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010.
    Switzerland earned a matchup against the United States by vanquishing Belarus 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday.

    Jonas Hiller of Switzerland stopped Sergei Kostitsyn's final shot to give the Swiss the victory.

    Thomas Deruns and Romano Lemm scored on Switzerland's first two shots of the shootout. Ivo Ruthemann's final shot was stopped to open the door for the Belarus team to extend the shootout, but Hiller thwarted Kostitsyn's attempt.

    Hiller had 20 saves for Switzerland while Andrei Mezin made 40 saves under a barrage of 43 Swiss shots.

    Julien Sprunger and Hnat Domenichelli scored in regulation for the Swiss; Aleksei Kalyuzhny and Konstantin Zakharov scored for Belarus.

    The U.S. will play Switzerland on Wednesday in a rematch of a group play game won by the Americans 3-1. The Swiss took host Canada to a shootout in group play before losing 3-2.

    Kalyuzhny, Kostitsyn lead Belarus past Germany 5-3

    From: Washington Post
    Germany finally got a goal, then another and another. Belarus got something better: A victory, its first since pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Olympic history.

    Alexei Kalyuzhny scored twice and Sergei Kostitsyn had a goal and three assists as Belarus won its first Olympic hockey game since stunning Sweden in 2002, beating winless Germany 5-3 on Saturday night.

    Germany, held scoreless in its first two games in Vancouver, got goals 21 seconds apart from John Tripp and Marcel Goc near the midpoint of the third period to tie it at 3.

    Seconds after Germany captain Marco Sturm was stopped in close by goalie Vitali Koval for the third time, Ruslan Salei's slap shot in traffic deflected off Thomas Greiss' right leg pad and into the net for the go-ahead goal at 14:36 of the third. Kalyuzhny added his second goal of the game with 1:15 remaining.

    "We got our win, that's the most important thing. Doesn't have to be pretty," Salei said.

    The Belarus players credited a well-played 4-2 loss Friday to Sweden - yes, the Swedes again - for giving them a confidence boost. Belarus lost its opener to Finland 5-1.

    "Obviously, Germany is not as established a team as the Swedish or the Finns. They gave us more open space, more opportunities and we took advantage of them," said Salei, who plays for the Colorado Avalanche.

    Latvia and Germany were the only teams among the 12 in Olympic group play to lose all three games in regulation. They aren't eliminated, but will enter the qualification round as the bottom-seeded teams. All teams still have a chance of reaching the quarterfinals.

    "We definitely had a little push going through the bench after we tied it up," Goc said. "But when they got chances it was quality chances and their shots were always top corner. Not much the goalie can do there."

    Germany has seven NHL players to Belarus' two - Kostitsyn and Salei - yet is winless in the Olympics since 2002. Germany lost three times and tied twice in Turin in 2006. Belarus didn't qualify for the Turin Games.

    "It's very frustrating right now. I think everybody is pretty down," Goc said. "You could see it in everybody's faces. Everybody was real disappointed. We worked hard and didn't get the reward we wanted."

    Germany, scoreless in the Olympics since tying Switzerland 2-2 on Feb. 19, 2006 and shut out in its three most recent games, finally got a goal when Dennis Seidenberg of the Florida Panthers scored on a power play at 5:39 of the first.

    Belarus got the goal back about five minutes later with one of the best one-man efforts so far, Alexi Ugarov's breakaway. Ugarov stole the puck off Michael Bakos' stick and beat Greiss with a backhander as two defenders unsuccessfully tried to catch up.

    Kalyuzhny, who plays for the Moscow Dynamo in Russia's KHL, beat Greiss inside the far post despite falling while skating across the slot in the second period, and Kostitsyn made it 3-1 at 11:10 of the second ahead of Germany's one flurry of these Olympics.

    "We played every game better and better," Kostitsyn said. "Against Sweden we played good and then we played great. Our confidence level is now much better than before."

  • Cultural Scene...

    Minsk hosts an Oswaldo Pajares concert

    From: BelTA
    A concert of Russian and Latin American music with the participation of the Venezuelan bandmaster Oswaldo Pajares and Symphonic Orchestra of the National State Television and Radio Company of Belarus took place in Minsk at the cultural center of the Minsk Tractor Works on 22 February. The concert was dedicated to the 200th anniversary of Venezuela’s independence, BelTA learnt from the Embassy of Venezuela in Belarus.

    Oswaldo Pajares is a famous Venezuelan musician. As a violin player, he performed with such bands as the MERCOSUR Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Ibero-American Youth Orchestra and the Simon Bolivar National Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

    In 2006 Oswaldo Pajares established the Capital Philharmonic Orchestra of the Anzoategui state of Venezuela and became the bandmaster of this orchestra. Oswaldo Pajares and his orchestra took part in various Venezuelan and international prestigious festivals. Oswaldo Pajares took Master’s degree in Orchestral Conducting at the Simon Bolivar University. Oswaldo Pajares is also the director and violin player of the Boheme string quartet.

    Children’s World exhibition in Minsk attracts twice as more exhibitors in 2010

    The number of exhibitors taking part in the 6th international specialized exhibition Children’s World 2010 has almost doubled. The exhibition opened in Minsk on 24 February, BelTA learnt from Deputy Education Minister of Belarus Kazimir Farino.

    In his words, the exhibition presents a variety of products essential for every kid – baby foods, furniture, books and toys. Kazimir Farino pointed out that products of Belarusian manufacturers are quite competitive. Belarusian enterprises can offer high-quality toys, beautiful and comfortable furniture and interesting books. The Deputy Education Minister praised the furniture made by Postavymebel. “Tables, chairs, school desks, file and carpenter's benches are in great demand by kindergartens and schools. A great variety of high-quality furniture has been showcased at the exhibition,” he said.

    The Children’s World exhibition opened at the Belexpo National Exhibition Center. The exhibition features the products made in Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Portugal, and Poland. The exhibition was organized under the auspices of the Trade Ministry, Education Ministry, Healthcare Ministry and the Minsk City Council.

    Be2gether 2010 Music Festival to be held in June

    Be2gether 2010 Music Festival will be held on 25-27 June, BelTA learnt from organizers of the event.

    The traditional festival of music and arts will be held by the walls of the Norviliskes Castle in Lithuania, 100 meters away from the Belarusian border.

    Taking part in the festival will be singers and bands from various countries including several representatives of Lithuania and Belarus. Morcheeba, Bloodhound Gang, Therapy, Tricky, Groove Armada, Gogol Bordello, Clawfinger were the headliners of the festival in the past. Belarus was represented by Lyapis Trubetskoi, N.R.M., Drum Ecstasy, IQ48, The Toobes. The preliminary list of the participants of this year is expected to be known in March.

    Be2gether is one of the biggest music festivals held in the Baltic states. Within four days it will gather singers and bands from various countries.

  • Endnote...

    As a Bridge, Ukraine Is Stronger to the West

    From: WSJ
    With the election of Viktor Yanukovych, the debate about which direction the new Ukrainian president will take his country has begun, such as with Mr. Yanukovych's own oped "Ukraine Will Be a Bridge Between East and West," Feb. 17. The opposite question also needs to be asked. In what direction will Ukraine make Mr. Yanukovych turn?

    A place to look for this answer is the issue of Ukraine joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Mr. Yanukovych had indicated interest in joining such a union during his campaign, but could Ukraine today realistically do so? Ukraine has become a member of the World Trade Organization. All the existing members of this other union are not. In disputes within the union, the existing members could engage in any actions they wished, including protectionism. Ukraine would be held to the rules of the WTO, barring it from taking the same actions as Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan could. Ukraine would then be at a disadvantage.

    The political realities of Ukraine will also have an influence on how Mr. Yanukovych governs in Kiev. Ukraine today is a genuine democracy. It has moved politically away from countries that still are a one-person states. Mr. Yanukovych will not be able to use the same tactics that politicians in such states do. He has to deal with an open and free media that he cannot attempt to silence. Ukraine is becoming a very different society than the other countries in the former Soviet Union. Mr. Yanukovych will have to govern by these new rules.

    Mr. Yanukovych says that Ukraine will be a bridge between East and West. For a bridge to be strong, its pillars must also be. Today, as a bridge, Ukraine would be attached in the West to a pillar that is robust in terms of individual freedoms and democratic rule, the same foundation that Ukraine is being built on. In the East it would be attached to a pillar that remains weak in these attributes. A bridge with a weak support could collapse Mr. Yanukovych's vision.

    Bohdan Skrobach


    Mr Yanukovych unfortunately fails to convince those who want to believe in the possibility of modern, prosperous, vibrant Ukraine.

    Rather, it seems we should expect more of the same. Like his predecessor Viktor Yushchenko, Mr. Yanukovych does not appear to seek a thriving social, cultural and political landscape, but to "unite" elites for the sake of saving the country—presumably with a mind to the unity of elites that has already been achieved in Russia. And like Mr. Yushchenko's predecessor President Leonid Kuchma, Mr. Yanukovych does not want Ukraine to make "false choices between the benefits" of the West and of the East. Like his predecessors, instead of championing the rule of law, property rights, market deregulation, better security and governance, and the freedoms to think, to trade and to produce—the only known path to a modern, prosperous nation—Mr. Yanukovych offers ages-old populist slogans.

    It is doubtful that more populism is the answer to Ukraine's problems: unrealistic entitlements, a bloated and inefficient public sector, corruption in the judiciary and in all levels of the government, and a national addiction to natural gas from the East.

    Also, it is unclear how Mr. Yanukovych will accomplish his stated goals to "create jobs," "stabilize prices so that people can afford the necessities," and ensure "adequate wages and pensions," since the constitution of Ukraine does not give him the necessary power to do so.

    Seeing a prosperous, predictable, vibrant, free, and governable Ukraine capable of finding friends all over the world is in the interests of its neighbors, and in the interests of the European Union and the United States. Mr. Yanukovych fails to make convincing arguments that his presidency will bring the country closer to this objective.

    Vacslav Glukhov