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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Energy self-sufficiency, China cooperation, CSTO, OSCE, IMF, Russian gas, Eurobonds; News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal

  • From the Top...
  • #499

    Lukashenko: Belarus should be energy self-sufficient

    From: BelTA
    Matters vital for making Belarus energy self-sufficient should be dealt with within the next five years, the press service of the Belarusian head of state quoted President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko as saying at the state award ceremony on 26 March.

    “We have to ensure the security of our country. Due to historic reasons the foundation of our security depends on energy matters. This is why we actively seek new means, new technologies all over the world. Sooner or later we have to stop being dependent so that we would not be picked on continuously with claims that we live at someone else’s expense,” said the head of state.

    “We should prove that we are civilized, educated, strong-spirited people who can live their lives the way they want. It is the key purpose in my life, in my efforts. I hope I will not be alone in resolving the problem.” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

    “Everything we do today we do to preserve the sovereignty of our country. Places like Belarus are virtually non-existent these days. Every other country has joined something, has become part of something else. Every country dances to someone else’s pipe. Naturally we understand that it is not that simple to be White Russia today and independence is not that easy to come by,” stressed Alexander Lukashenko.

    “The response to the cries of anguish from everywhere (yes, there are those who mess about in our country, they don’t care who we are friends with – West or East, they will say it is bad anyway) is simple: we just want to keep our country,” said the President.

    Alexander Lukashenko: Belarus will not dance to anyone’s pipe

    “There are no other places like Belarus. All countries have already joined or become part of some other states. All countries, small and medium ones, dance to somebody’s pipe. Naturally, we understand that it is hard to be Belaya Rus and maintain independence. But we should do our best to preserve our state,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    The President noted that this is not an attempt to go against the imperatives of our era. But our people deserve their own piece of land on the earth, so that our children and grandchildren do not blame us for not preserving this land for them, a place they can always come back to, where they will always be welcome, the head of state said.

    He underlined that everything that is being done in Belarus today is aimed to maintain the national security and preserve sovereignty. “The clamor can now be heard almost everywhere (there are people like this in Belarus, too: no matter with who we make friends - east or west – they are never happy), the answer is simple: we would like to preserve our state,” Alexander Lukashenko said.

    “We will seek for fortune in the places where they treat us well, receive, respect and pay what we deserve for our labor. I think you understand what I am talking about” the President added.

    26 March saw Alexander Lukashenko present state awards and commend 47 Belarus citizens. He singled out the deed of valor committed by the Belarusian pilots in Poland as he awarded Orders of Personal Bravery to the widows. The President said: “Colonels Alexander Zhuravlevich and Alexander Marfitsky showed a special kind of courage. They committed a deed of valor: in an emergency they steered the aircraft away from the town and paid with their lives to prevent deaths of citizens. Such a selfless act inspires pride in compatriots and yet fills our hearts with sorrow for the dead.”

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Belarus, China reach new level of cooperation

    From: BelTA
    Belarus and China are set to sign $3.4 billion worth of contracts. China will also extend a $1 billion soft loan to Belarus for the implementation of the projects that have been previously coordinated between the two sides. China will also provide a gratuitous aid to the tune of CHY60 million (almost $8.8 million) to Belarus. Such agreements were reached during a meeting between President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and Vice President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping in Minsk on 24 March, BelTA learnt from the presidential press service.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus and China have reached a high level of cooperation and can openly and sincerely discuss any investment project: from modernization of roads to the nuclear power station construction. “China has so far put $1 billion in the projects in Belarus. I am sure this cooperation will be further expanded,” the President said. The Belarusian head of state also praised the bilateral trade and economic cooperation: “Once we were dreaming about the trade turnover of $500 million. Today the bilateral trade is almost $2.5 billion a year”.

    Alexander Lukashenko thanked China for Belarus’ support in the international arena and its great assistance in economy and finance. The Belarusian leader also confirmed Belarus’ interest in the further strengthening of ties with China.

    Belarus values highly the level of the political trust and mutual understanding in the bilateral relations with the People’s Republic of China. The Belarusian-Chinese political cooperation is mainly defined by an active dialogue and exchange of visits of top officials, businessmen and general public. Belarus and China have many similar positions on the most important issues of the international agenda.

    According to Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus considers the attempts to put the issue of Taiwan’s independence into the agenda of the UN General Assembly session as ungrounded and contradicting the UN Charter principles. “The support of separatism is a direct threat both to China and the world community,” he said.

    The leadership of the People's Republic of China hails the crisis management policy of Belarus. “Amidst the global financial and economic crisis, Belarus has managed to preserve political stability, economic growth and improve the well-being of people. This means that we have made progress in managing the global crisis,” the Chinese official said.

    The PRC Vice President stated that over the 18 years of the Belarus-China diplomatic relations, the bilateral cooperation has reached a very high level. “We need to develop further the mutual trade and advance cooperation in the most important projects,” Xi Jinping underlined. He stressed the importance of cooperation in the military, sci-tech and humanitarian areas.

    In his words, “China is deeply grateful to Belarus for its strong support in the international arena”. According to the Chinese official, the People’s Republic of China hopes to expand cooperation with the official Minsk and coordinate the foreign political positions. Xi Jinping added, Beijing is ready to support Belarus as the report on Belarus is discussed in the UN Human Rights Council.

    The two sides signed seven important Belarus-China cooperation agreements. The documents include a framework agreement between the governments of Belarus and the PRC to intensify the bilateral trade and economic cooperation, intergovernmental agreements on cooperation in technology and economy, on supply of a mobile cargo inspection system for the customs service of Belarus and on mutual protection of confidential information. The list of documents also include an agreement between the National Bank of Belarus and the People’s Bank of China on using national currencies in trade transactions, the agreement between the Finance Ministry of Belarus and the China Development Bank on financial cooperation and also an agreement between the Government of Belarus and the Government of the PRC on allocation of buildings and land plots for embassies.

    After the talks Alexander Lukashenko and Xi Jinping met with the representatives of the business circles. Alexander Lukashenko stressed that by joint efforts the trade almost tripled from 2005 to 2008. Xi Jinping noted that last year the countries managed to get through the most difficult period of the global crisis: Belarus-China trade totaled $870 million and reduced by only 5.7%, far less as compared to the figures in trade with other countries.

    According to Xi Jinping, the two sides are in talks to develop relations in the energy, transport, communications, car making areas. Large financial institutions of the two countries are taking an active part in the process. Banks and companies of Belarus and China are expected to sign $3.4 billion worth of contracts during the visit of the PRC Vice President to Belarus.

    CSTO foreign ministers discuss international cooperation

    From: BelTA
    Held in Moscow on 25 March, the session of the CSTO Foreign Ministers Council mostly focused on cooperation of the member-states in the international arena, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told media after the session.

    “We discussed the issues our countries resolve in the CSTO framework in detail. The initiatives put forward by CSTO member-states are related to key aspects of the CSTO operation,” said Sergei Lavrov.

    The session tabled CSTO cooperation with other international organizations, in particular, the United Nations Organization and EurAsEC, as well as other topics.

    After the session the CSTO foreign ministers adopted four statements. Among them Sergei Lavrov pointed out the statement adopted in view of the 65th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War victory. In addition, the ministers inked a statement on the unity of views of CSTO member-states at the conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, cooperation in working out such a treaty, and a statement in support for Kazakhstan’s presidency in the OSCE.

    Belarus Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov took part in the session.

    OSCE Chairman-in-Office to visit Belarus 30 March

    From: BelTA
    OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Kazakh Secretary of State and Foreign Minister Kanat Saudabayev is set to visit Belarus on 30 March, the press service of the Foreign Ministry told BelTA.

    Kanat Saudabayev is expected to meet with the top officials of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus and the Foreign Ministry.

    The agenda will include the OSCE-related topics and Belarus-Kazakhstan relations.

    The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is the world's largest regional organization comprising 56 participating states including all European countries, the CIS states, the USA and Canada.

    The Organization deals with the political-military, economic, environmental and human dimensions. It addresses a wide range of security-related concerns, including arms control, confidence and security-building measures, human rights, counter-terrorism, economic and environmental activities. All 56 participating States enjoy equal status, and decisions are taken by consensus on a politically, but not legally binding basis.

    Belarus joined the OSCE as its full-fledged member on 30 January 1992. The country

  • Economics...

    Belarus to get $700m IMF tranche next week

    From: BelTA
    Belarus will get around $700 million next week as the last tranche of the International Monetary Fund’s standby arrangement program, BelTA learned from the IMF’s resident representative in Belarus Natalia Kolyadina.

    On 26 March the IMF Board of Directors completed the final review, the fourth one of the standby arrangement in Belarus and okayed the allocation of the final tranche to Belarus. The IMF Board of Directors said that Belarus had taken all the measures specified by the SBA program in order to ensure macroeconomic stability in the country.

    According to the source, the authorities are now more flexible with the exchange rate of the national currency and in the near future no “strong moves” like devaluation are supposed to take place. “The measures the government takes are rather adequate,” said Natalia Kolyadina.

    Corrective measures in the fiscal sector, the monetary management were positive. The steps taken by the authorities contributed to minimizing consequences of the “oil shock” that had made important changes in Belarus’ economy. Yet the deficit of the current account raises certain concern.

    “We expect the Belarusian authorities to go on with reforming,” said Natalia Kolyadina. She added a regular IMF mission will arrive in May. The sides will then discuss concrete matters relating to continuing the IMF financing of Belarus’ social and economic reforms.

    When in Belarus the mission is supposed to start talks on the future Belarus-IMF program. Structural changes will be in focus. Several missions are likely to be needed for that, said the IMF resident representative in Belarus.

    BelTA reported earlier that the initial 15-month SBA worth SDR1.62 billion (close to $2.46 billion) was approved by the IMF Executive Board on 12 January 2009. On 29 June 2009 the SBA-powered financial support was increased up to SDR2.27 billion (about $3.52 billion).

    In January 2009 Belarus received the IMF loan’s first tranche of $800 million. The second tranche (around $680 million) came in July. In October 2009 Belarus received another IMF credit tranche to the tune of $699.5 million. The fourth tranche in excess of $688 million was transferred in December 2009. Thus, the total lending provided by the IMF is now close to $2.87 billion.

    Belarusbank to increase foreign borrowing by $330m in 2010

    In 2010 Belarusbank intends to increase the total foreign borrowing by $330 million (63% up) to $850 million. The information was released at a session of the general meeting of shareholders on 26 March.

    In 2009 the bank attracted around $520 million in foreign resources, including post-financing. The resources are used to finance 138 ongoing investment projects. Despite the crisis Belarusbank increased the volume of foreign borrowings by $160 million in comparison with 2008.

    In addition, Belarusbank plans to increase its resources by at least Br12 trillion (35% up) to Br46 trillion. Deposits of individuals are supposed to go up by Br3.3 trillion (32% up) to Br13.8 trillion, deposits of corporations – Br3.4 trillion (27% up) to Br16 trillion.

    Lending to the economy will increase by Br11 trillion (37% up) while the credit portfolio will reach Br42 trillion by the end of 2010.

    Belarusbank’s profits are expected to go up by nearly 50% to Br450 billion.

    Chairman of Belarusbank’s Supervisory Board, Belarus Finance Minister Andrei Kharkovets stressed that this year the bank should pay more attention to improving liquidity as well as the structure of assets through optimizing risk management. In addition, he instructed Belarusbank to increase the volume of long-term borrowings, including foreign ones. All the steps should help Belarusbank stay the leading bank in Belarus.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    China, Belarus agree to begin yuan or ruble settlement

    From: Xinua
    The People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, announced Thursday it has signed an agreement with the central bank of Belarus, under which bilateral trade can be settled with the Chinese yuan or Belarussian ruble.

    The move would help deepen economic cooperation, and facilitate trade and investment between the two nations, said the PBOC in a statement on its website.

    The PBOC said it was a major step in promoting the yuan in international trade settlement after it launched in July 2009 a pilot program of cross-border settlement in yuan in the cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Dongguan.

    The PBOC signed a currency swap agreement in March 2009 with the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus, allowing the two banks to swap 20 billion yuan (2.9 billion U.S. dollars) or 8 trillion Belarus rubles over three years.

    Since the end of 2008, China has also sealed currency swap agreements with the Republic of Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia.

    According to Chinese government statistics, the volume of yuan-denominated cross-border trade settlement totaled 5.6 billion yuan at the end of February.

    China's Xi promises Belarus $1 billion in loans

    In a related Reuters story, China will loan the former Soviet republic of Belarus $1 billion on favourable terms, the man widely seen as China's next leader told Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday.

    His visit and the loan vow were fresh signs of growing Chinese interest in the former Soviet Union, and not only in energy-rich Central Asia where it is vying with Russia and the West for access to resources.

    "China has taken a decision to grant Belarus favourable credits of $1 billion, which will be used for projects the nations have agreed upon," Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said at a meeting with Lukashenko.

    Xi, seen as the frontrunner to succeed President Hu Jintao in 2013, gave no more details.

    Lukashenko offered Chinese companies wider access to the $50 billion economy of Belarus, which exports potash to China. He also offered fervent support for China's position on Taiwan.

    China has a record of investing in developing nations without the political conditions often demanded by Western countries, for example concerning human rights or democracy.

    In power since 1994, Lukashenko's intolerance of dissent has resulted in sanctions and criticism from the West, but he has taken some steps lately aimed at improving relations with the United States and the European Union.

    Lukashenko has been courting nations worldwide, from Venezuela to China, as he seeks to decrease dependence on Russia for energy and trade.

    Belarus Hires Banks for Debut Eurobond Sale This Year

    From: Bloomberg
    Belarus hired BNP Paribas SA, Deutsche Bank AG, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and OAO Sberbank for a debut Eurobond offering this year as the country seeks to bolster its finances after export revenue tumbled.

    “Today work officially began” on the debt sale, Pavel Ladik, an aide to the former Soviet republic’s Finance Minister, said by phone from Minsk. The offering and its terms “will be subject to market conditions,” he said.

    Belarus, a country of 10 million people with an economy the size of Sudan’s, is rated B1, four levels below investment grade, by Moody’s Investors Service and an equivalent B+ by Standard & Poor’s, the same level as Bosnia & Herzegovina and Uganda. Belarus joins its biggest trading partner, Russia, in seeking to tap international debt markets this year.

    The government of Aleksandr Lukashenko, who has run Belarus since 1994, shelved plans to issue Eurobonds in November 2008, citing the global financial turmoil. The country turned to the International Monetary Fund for a $3.5 billion bailout loan instead to meet spending commitments after export revenue slumped.

    Belarus Executions Draw European Protest

    From: New York Times
    Belarussian rights activists said on Thursday that two convicts were executed last week, triggering protests from European parliamentarians.

    Authorities in the former Soviet republic have not confirmed the executions, but Valentin Stefanovich of the Belarussian human rights group Spring-96 said prison officials had informed lawyers for Andrei Zhuk and Vasily Yuzepchuk of their execution.

    "In Europe, there is no place for the death penalty. The Belarussian authorities should be aware that there cannot be political dialogue without shared values," the leaders of three European parliamentary bodies said in a joint statement.

    Long ostracised in the West for his suppression of dissent, Belarusian President Alexander Lukachenko is seeking to reduce economic dependence on Russia and has taken some steps to improve ties with the European Union and United States.

    "The decision to execute Mr Zhuk and Mr Yuzepchuk was taken in blatant disregard of the fact that the U.N. Human Rights Committee was still considering individual applications on their cases," the declaration said.

    It was released by Sinikka Hurskainen, Jacek Protasiewicz and Uta Zapf, who lead bodies dealing with Belarus for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

    The Belarusian Interior Ministry declined to comment.

    Belarus is the only country in Europe that carries out executions, according to Amnesty International. Some other countries, including Russia, have not formally abolished the death penalty but observe moratoriums.

    Under Belarussian legislation, official notification of the executions could take months, Stefanovich told Reuters.

    Yuzepchuk was sentenced to death last July for the murder of six elderly women. At trial, his lawyer contended that Yuzepchuk had been beaten into confessing.

    Zhuk was also sentenced last July, after being convicted of armed assault and murdering a man and woman in February 2009.

    Belarus Food And Drink Report Q2 2010

    Despite the country's reputation as a poor place to do business, Belarus has attracted interest and investments from a number of international major players in recent months as discussed in Our recently published Belarus Food & Drink Report for Q210. Unlike most of its neighbouring countries, Belarus is looking likely to have avoided a deep recession in 2009. That said, we hold that economic conditions in the country remain precarious, with demand only having been supported by significant government intervention. Indeed, the government's roll in the economy continues to be pervasive. However, ongoing reforms to the business environment are making Belarus an increasingly appealing investment destination, with several firms already present in the market looking to ramp up their investments.

    While the country's mass grocer retail (MGR) sector remains grossly underdeveloped with independent grocers accounting for the majority of sales, there are signs that this is slowly changing. Modern outlets are growing in popularity, particularly with the more affluent - if still very small - middle class. In November 2009 the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) acquired a stake of 25.5% in domestic firm West Ost Union Commercial Industrial Group (WOU) which runs the Buslik supermarket chain in the country. Founded in 2006 it runs a chain of 12 modern supermarkets specialising in children's goods. The EBRD investment will provide the retailer with working capital, vital for its planned expansions of 25 stores by 2013. While the EBRD has previously invested in the country's drink sector, this is its first investment in the retail sectors. The EBRD views retail commerce as vital to the development of a successful market economy, with such investments providing essential funds for its development.

    Another international major which has expressed interest in increasing its investments in Belarus is global soft drink and snack food giant PepsiCo. In November 2009 the firm said that it plans to launch several new programmes in Belarus, including an agricultural one. PepsiCo is looking to stimulate the Belarusian agribusiness sector by partnering with farmers and investing in their technological development. PepsiCo has already launched a similar programme in Russia through which around 250,000 tonnes of potatoes are cultivated annually using the firm's aid. These potatoes are then purchased by Frito-Lay, PepsiCo's salty snacks division. Through this programme farmers are supplied with quality seeds, harvesters and climate controlled warehouses for vegetable storage, as well as micro loans and consulting aid from experts. The agricultural sector in Belarus still consists largely of state-run collective farms, which are generally speaking, inefficient. Soil depletion is a major problem, owing to a severe lack of equipment and fertiliser shortage, with many farmers still relying on horse-drawn ploughs. Therefore, such investments by the likes of PepsiCo are vital if the sector is to develop and raise the country's export potential. While Belarus still has a long way to go in terms of developing its food and drink sector, such investments are a very important step in the right direction.

    Belarus to pay for gas $171.5

    From: Charter '97
    Gazprom has announced the average annual price for gas for Belarus and told about the plans of cotrol over Beltrasgaz.

    The average annual price for gas for Belarus in 2010 is to make $171.5 per 1,000 cubic metres. As informed by BelaPAN, it had been told by Deputy Chairman of Gazprom's Management Committee Andrey Kruglov to journalists in Minsk.

    "Proceeding from the previous agreements, when calculating the price for gas a decreasing coefficient 0.9 is used. It means that the average annual gas price for Belarus would be $171.5," he said. "We expect that payments would be made basing upon this price".

    For comparison: in 2009 an annual price for gas was $148-150 per 1,000 cu m. Such figures were quoted by Beltransgaz director general Uladzimir Mayorau (Vladimir Majorov).

    Kruglov told that indebtedness of Belarus for gas for today is 94 billion 500 thousand dollars. This indebtedness was formed in 2010. Problems with settling obligations, as said by him, started in the second half of 2009, but by the end of December last year's indebtedness had been paid off.

    Touching upon the corpotare policy of the company, he underlined that Gazprom is interested in recieving the controlling block of stocks in Beltransgaz.

  • From the Opposition...

    Martynau: Iran is unagressive power

    From: Charter '97
    The head of the Foreign Ministry does not see any agressiveness of the Iranian dictatorship and calls upon developing relations with Iran.

    Syarhei Martynau told about his understanding of the situation in Iran in an interview to "Vybor+" ("Choice") TV show of the ONT Channel on March 25.

    As informed by BelaPAN, Martynau stated that "we do not view Iran as an agressive power".

    As said by the minister, even 30 years after the Islamic revolution, the trade turnover of Iran with the West is much greater that Belarus' with Iran.

    "So I am answerig my colleagues planly and simply: we should still overtake you, and expand our relations with Iran, in order to reach the stage which you has already reached. So you do not have to worry, friends," Martynau said.

    As previously wrote, on February 11 Iranian dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that Iran is a nuclear state. On the same day the US imposed new sanctions against Iran.

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is known for brutal disbanding of protest rallies and public executions of oppositionists.

    On January 28 two oppositionists out of 11 sentenced to capitcal punishment were executed in Iran. They were detained during mass protest rallies held in June 2009 after the presidential election. The the opposition refused to recognize the victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and started regular protest rallies with a demand to review the results of the vote.

    None of 13 Babruisk BCD activists registered

    From: Viasna
    13 Babruisk members of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party were refused registration as candidates due to various reasons, e.g. Viachaslau Sheleh’s application was turned down after the election commission declared 3 signatures collected by his campaign team fake. Mr. Sheleh says he is going to appeal the refusal at the regional election commission.

    Another activist Mrs. Iryna Uvarava was not registered, because one of her signature sheets was lost. She says she has the copies of all the sheets and is going to appeal the decision.

    Taisia Kabanchuk was accused of ‘collecting signatures in a different district.’

    ‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’

    Hrodna region: part of pro-dem activists not registered

    The city of Hrodna

    14 out of 30 constituencies will be non-alternative, with a total of 55 candidates registered.

    Dzmitry Slutski, the UCP Hrodna city office chair, was refused registration due to an error in his income declaration.

    Other opposition activists who were refused registration as candidates include two members of the ‘Just World’ party.

    Hrodna district

    A UCP activist Kiryl Semianchuk was refused registration due to a clerical error by his campaign teams members while collecting signatures.

    Masty district

    A Belarusian Christian Democracy activist Zmitser Kukhlei was not registered as a candidate for the Hrodna Region Council after the local election commission found 8 signatures collected by his campaign team fake, but at the same time he will be able to run for the Masty District Council.

    Astravets district

    UCP activists Mikola Ulasevich and Ivan Kruk were registered as candidates for the Hrodna Regional Council. At the same time, the two activist, together with Uladzimir Hrazhul and Liudmila Sushko, were refused registration as candidates for the Astravets District Council. The activists say they are likely to appeal the refusals.

    Slonim district

    5 out of 9 pro-democratic activists were registered as candidates for the district council: Mikhail Miskevich, Paval Sevastsian, Albert Hlinnik, Ivan Sheha and Viktar Marchyk.

    Pro-democratic civil and political activists will not run in as many as 9 districts of Hrodna region.

    Svetlahorsk district: democrats lose two candidates

    Only 6 pro-democrat activists were registered candidates for the Svetlahorsk district council.

    Two opposition activists were refused registration by the district election commission: BPF member Viktar Akhramchuk was not registered because part of the data on the signature sheets was written by his campaign team members, not by the voters themselves; Just World activist Tatsiana Yurkevich was refused registration due to her failure to declare a car trailer in her application.

    In total, 50 candidates are registered in 40 constituencies of the district, i.e. only 10 of them do not represent the state.

  • Russia...

    Putin Outlines Critical Issues in US-Russian Relations

    From: Georgian Daily
    During last week’s visit to Moscow by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, it was announced that the text of the START follow-on nuclear arms reduction treaty has almost been finalized. Apparently, all the contentious issues have been resolved.

    Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, stated that on Moscow’s insistence a formula was found to include a clause in the treaty stipulating the “connection between ballistic missile defense (BMD) and offensive nuclear weapons.” According to informed sources, the new treaty will be signed by presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in a European capital before April 12. An international nuclear security summit is scheduled to begin in Washington on April 12, and the signing of a new nuclear disarmament treaty just before the event could be a welcome public relations coup for both Obama and Medvedev (Kommersant, March 20).

    Lavrov announced, during a joint press conference with Clinton in Moscow, that the “reset” in relations with the US “has been a success” and compared Clinton’s visit to Moscow with a “mid air refueling” that has boosted relations. Lavrov quoted Medvedev, who told Clinton: “US-Russian relations are honest and open with agreements honored” (Interfax, March 19). Lavrov’s upbeat assessment of current US-Russian relations is in stark contrast with the opinions expressed by others. An influential Kremlin adviser on US-Russian relations, the Director of the Institute of USA and Canada Studies, Sergei Rogov, published an article claiming that Clinton’s visit to Moscow was a last ditch effort to save the bilateral relationship from a serious crisis. According to Rogov, after the announcement of the “reset” last year, “only the tone of statements became less hostile, but essentially that was all” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, March 22).

    Initially, the START follow-on treaty seemed an easy matter, since both Russia and the US are already in the process of decreasing their nuclear arsenals –Russia because it is struggling to produce replacements for its aging missiles, submarines and bombers, while the US does not see the need to spend vast sums conducting a pointless unilateral nuclear arms race. The new treaty was considered a vehicle to an overall improvement in relations and promoting essential cooperation on more sensitive issues such as Iran and Afghanistan. According to Rogov, if the new treaty is not signed soon and ratified before a new Congress convenes next January following the midterm elections in November, the treaty may be derailed by Republican Senators and US-Russian relations will plummet as a consequence. The new treaty, instead of boosting overall cooperation, may become an additional problem.

    In Moscow, Clinton met Russia’s true national leader Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, and according to Putin’s foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, the entire scope of US-Russian relations –trade, BMD, Iran, Russian accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Georgia and Ukraine– were “frankly” discussed. Ushakov said: “the need to convert words into deeds was stressed.” Putin holds the US responsible for not removing Russia permanently from the Jackson-Vanik amendment trade limitations. “Putin said plainly that Russian entry into the WTO directly depended on the political will of the US administration,” stated Ushakov. As for the Jackson-Vanik amendment, Putin noted that previous American administrations had promised to annul it. Clinton confirmed that aim: “We are still unaware how soon the amendment may be repealed,” Ushakov said (ITAR TASS, March 19).

    Of course, last June Putin personally killed all hope of any speedy Russian WTO accession by announcing that it will only enter alongside Belarus and Kazakhstan after agreeing on a customs union with those two nations. This, in effect, means that negotiations must begin almost anew after 17 years of previous talks (Interfax, June 9, 2009). Since then, Moscow has announced that it may join WTO not as part of a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, but “in close cohesion with them” (Interfax, August 18, 2009). The exact meaning of this statement is unclear, and since last June Russian WTO accession talks have been stalled. For Putin the customs union is the first step toward reintegrating the post-Soviet space into a new super state. This month, Putin’s First Deputy, Igor Shuvalov, announced Moscow’s intent to abandon using the Russian ruble to create a common currency with Kazakhstan and Belarus by 2012 (RIA Novosti, March 9). For Putin, the partial restoration of the Soviet (Russian) empire may be more important than WTO membership, but blaming Washington seems irrational, though it could be a useful ploy for domestic consumption.

    Putin told Clinton during a “long discussion on BMD” that the US failed to follow up suggestions on BMD cooperation proposed by Moscow in 2007, and that this has created problems. Putin told Clinton that new UN Security Council sanctions against Iran are possible, but they may be counterproductive. According to Ushakov, Putin used “interesting and expletive” words, while informing Clinton of the Russian position on Georgia and Ukraine (RIA Novosti, March 19).

    Putin views the cornerstone of relations with the US as Washington’s acceptance of the strategic drive to reintegrate the post-Soviet space under Moscow’s rule. If Washington tacitly agrees to the notion, by somehow pressing through WTO membership of the customs union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia as a new super state, and Washington broadly accepts the Russian policy of dominating Georgia and Ukraine, as well as recognizing the new greater Russia as a geopolitical equal through close “BMD cooperation” –there could be real progress and partnership.

    It seems that Putin spoke openly with Clinton about real Russian concerns that have little to do with the Iranian nuclear issue. The new START follow-on treaty per se also avoids this issue, compared with the fate of Georgia, Ukraine and the rest of the post-Soviet space. Putin, once again, identified Russia as primarily a regional power that sees the US as a main adversary, challenging its regional dominance. This stance has much in common with how the Iranian ruling class defines its own outlook: the US must not encroach.

    Nato chief proposes missile shield to include Russia

    From: BBC
    Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called for a new missile defence system that would protect the US and its allies, and include Russia as well.

    Mr Rasmussen said the threat of missile proliferation was real and growing and, in cases such as Iran, these missiles could threaten Nato territories.

    He said missile defence could bring Nato and Russia together.

    Mr Rasmussen was speaking at the Brussels Forum - an international gathering in the Belgian capital.

    The Nato secretary general said he saw a new Euro-Atlantic missile defence system, as he called it, as more than just a means of defending Nato countries against ballistic missile attack.

    Mr Rasmussen clearly believes that such a system could re-invigorate not just the European allies' relationship with the US but also Nato's whole relationship with Russia.

    "It would be an opportunity for Europe to demonstrate again to the United States that the allies are ready and willing to invest in the capabilities we need to defend ourselves," he said.

    'New dynamic'

    But he also argued that such a step would create a new dynamic in European security.

    It would be a strong political symbol that Russia is fully part of the Euro-Atlantic family, he said.

    It's a bold proposal. The US has tried to draw Russia into its missile defence plans with very limited success.

    Moscow tends to see the proposal as ultimately undermining its own nuclear deterrent.

    But Nato as a whole is increasingly interested in such defences and looks set to go ahead with them with or without Russia on board.

    Russian building collapses, 3 reported killed

    From: AP
    An apartment block west of Moscow partially collapsed following a suspected gas explosion Saturday, killing three people and possibly trapping others under the rubble.

    Some of the supporting walls of the three-story building gave way and a fire broke out in the building in the small Moscow-area town of Pavlovskaya Sloboda.

    Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Veronika Smolskaya was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying seven people were injured and three may still be trapped under concrete.

    The blaze engulfed several apartments but firefighters quickly brought it under control, she said.

    Emergency officials trawled through the rubble in the hazy spring sunshine as shocked locals looked on.

    Gas explosions are relatively frequent in Russia, especially outside the big cities, where infrastructure is underdeveloped and few apartments are hooked up to gas mains.

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Yet another 64 caught in child porn sting

    From: The News
    Sixty-four people from around Poland have been detained on charges related to child pornography, under sting operation ‘Charly,’ a cooperation between Polish Luxembourg police.

    “The investigation opened when police from Luxembourg discovered a server containing thousands of pornographic photographs of children from which dozens of Polish people were downloading photos,” stated Agnieszka Hamelusz, from the press office at the National Police Headquarters.

    The Luxembourg police provided their Polish counterparts with IP addresses, allowing local police to indentify the locations of the computers containing pornographic material.

    During the sting operation, which took place simultaneously in 14 provinces around Poland, 56 computers, 1600 CDs and DVDs and 21 hard drives were seized.

    This is the third such crack down on child pornography in Poland already this year. In February, police arrested 12 people for distribution of underage porn in cooperation with German police. In January, 120 people were detained on similar charges.

    Between 2007-2009, Polish police have detained over 1,000 people suspected to being involved in the distribution of child pornography, 299 of those detained were arrested and charged.

    Hotline for black students in Poland

    From: The News
    Another racist attack on a black student in Warsaw has spurred his university into action.

    Collegium Civitas, which has about 50 African students, joined hands with the Different Africa Foundation to create a support line for black students with funds obtained from the EU and the labor ministry.

    Africans in Warsaw, as well as other cities, say they hear racist insults on a daily basis and attacks on them are not isolated incidents.

    When in trouble, they can now phone the hotline, which is operated in three languages: English, French and Portuguese by Africans who have lived in Warsaw for years, know the city and its people.

    They will offer help not only in crisis situations, but are also ready to give advice on where to buy African food in Warsaw or where to go. A website was also created with Collegium Civitas and Warsaw University students as moderators to enable Africans and Poles to exchange views.

    Last May, Collegium Civitas appealed to the Warsaw city mayor to launch an anti-racist campaign and asked the municipal police department to start an English language help line for African students.

    Perhaps an answer to the great question concerning Poland:

    Poles smoke and drink while pregnant

    From: The News
    The Chief Sanitary Inspectorate has released alarming statistics that 14 percent of Polish women consume alcohol while pregnant and 38 percent smoke cigarettes.

    The statistics are the result of a survey conducted by the Health Ministry and the Inspectorate in June 2009 in 382 clinics throughout Poland – about 3,300 women were polled.

    “These statistics explain why there are so many babies lying in hospital incubators crying because they are addicted to alcohol or nicotine,” says Professor Anna Dobrzanska, one of the doctors who worked on the survey.

    Despite such health risks, 11 percent of Polish women claim to smoke regularly while pregnant, 38 percent admit to having smoked cigarettes on occasion and 14 percent say that they have consumed alcohol while pregnant. One in one hundred women surveyed admitted to having taken narcotics while pregnant as well.

    Health Minister Ewa Kopacz says that mothers must be provided with clear information about how their actions while pregnant affect their unborn child – both how it affects the baby’s weight, immune system, height and general health after birth.

    “I am embarrassed to admit that I too am a female smoker – I was when I was pregnant and I smoked when I breast-fed,” admits Kopacz.

  • Sport...

    Manchester City Ready To Move For Barcelona Misfit Aliaksandr Hleb

    Manchester City are making ready to lodge a summer bid for Barcelona's Aliaksandr Hleb, according to L'Equipe.

    The French newspaper claims that the cashed-up Eastlands club are willing to offer a four-year deal to the former Arsenal midfielder, whose last two seasons on the continent have not gone quite as planned.

    The Belarussian hardly featured for Barca as they blasted their way to a glorious treble last season, and so was shipped out to Stuttgart at the end of the campaign.

    And while Hleb has recaptured much of his spark on his old Bundesliga stomping ground, a permanent deal looks unlikely following a dispute with VfB coach Christian Gross.

    A return to the Premier League is now a real possibility for the 28-year-old playmaker, who made 130 appearances during his three terms with the Gunners.

    Apart from Man City, Aston Villa are also said to be interested in Hleb.

    Azarenka launches title defence before rainstorms

    Victoria Azarenka managed to slip in a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru to open her title defence at the WTA Miami event Friday Miami before rainstorms swept over Crandon Park.

    The fourth seed was home and dry by the time the wet weather arrived, forcing a full schedule of matches off court in early afternoon on Key Biscayne.

    Azarenka, who thrashed Serena Williams here a year ago to lift the trophy, was plagued by six double-faults in her 72-minute win for a third-round berth. But she did damage with four breaks of her 49th-ranked opponent.

    Dulgheru was playing the event for the first time after making a career breakthrough last season by claiming the Warsaw title.

    Men also got in a pair of results at the nine-million-dollar ATP Masters-WTA combined event, with Spanish 15th seed David Ferrer starting with a defeat of Frenchman Michael Llodra 6-2, 6-4.

  • Cultural Scene...

    Gifted Cuban Artists Perform in Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Young Cuban artists of the musical Project The Kings of Salsa made a concert at the MAZ Cultural Theatre of the Belarus capital, indicated diplomatic sources. In the concert the musicians and dancers performed traditional Cuban songs in modern versions and made hundreds of Belorussians very happy. The concert was the penultimate of the group.

    The Kings of Salsa belong to the Adolfo Guzman musical company, which, together with European companies organized the tour to show the Cuban art in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Belarus.

    The gifted musicians were accompanied by dancers belonging to the Ballet of the Cuban TV, who showed virtuous Cuban dances.

    The public was surprised with the performance of the Cuban artists and requested such shows to be held with periodicity in this Eastern Europe cold country.

    The Cuban cultural Day in Belarus started with a meeting in the Cuban Embassy, where the 25 members of the group exchanged with the Cuban diplomatic staff.

  • Endnote...

    Лукашенко дал интервью аргентинской газете Diario La Nacion на пляже

    Помимо высокой результативности переговоров на высшем уровне, визит Александра Лукашенко в Латинскую Америку имел еще одну особенность: СМИ региона интересовались личностью нашего президента и такой экзотичной для них страной - Беларусью

    Одно из интервью глава белорусского государства во время пребывания в Венесуэле дал аргентинской газете Diario La Nacion. Беседа с политическим обозревателем издания Луисом Малейрой состоялась в неформальной обстановке. Однако вопросы были самые что ни на есть серьезные.

    - У Вас очень хорошие отношения с правительством президента Чавеса.

    Александр Лукашенко: Когда мы ведем разговор с представителями Латинской Америки, Азии, Африки - неважно, какой страны - мы всегда исходим из того, что мы не только должны где-то взять, заработать, но мы обязательно прежде всего должны этому народу что-то дать. Буквально за три года мы в несколько десятков раз увеличили товарооборот с Венесуэлой, сегодня ведем разработку месторождений газа, строим жилые поселки и города, фермерские коллективные сельскохозяйственные предприятия. Это очень важно для Латинской Америки, особенно для Венесуэлы, поскольку у них нет настоящих фермерских и коллективных хозяйств, и они хотят сравнить эти две формы хозяйствования на земле и выбрать лучшую. Мы продаем им практически весь спектр промышленной и сельскохозяйственной продукции, которую производим в Беларуси. Но мало того, что мы продаем - мы строим у них подобные предприятия по производству тракторов и грузовых автомобилей, и мощности этих предприятий будут очень большими. Торгуя с ними и строя для них предприятия, мы хотим обучить венесуэльцев, чтобы они умели делать всё то, что делаем мы. У нас нет закрытых тем в сотрудничестве с Венесуэлой, как и с другой страной Латинской Америки.

    - У нас есть информация, что Беларусь - одно из самых безопасных государств, намного безопаснее, чем столицы многих европейских государств.

    Александр Лукашенко: Вы - первый человек, с которым я как с журналистом в Латинской Америке разговариваю, я Вас приглашаю в Беларусь. Вы воочию убедитесь, что это самая красивая, безопасная страна, где живут самые добрые люди планеты.