News, opinion, sports and culture E-mail:

Today's Headlines for:
Sunday, April 11, 2010

President Lech Kaczynski and a delegation of senior Polish officials killed in plane crash

  • From the Top...
  • #502

    Poland mourns death of president, other top officials in plane crash

    From: BelTA
    Thousands of Poles streamed by the presidential palace in central Warsaw Sunday in a second day of national mourning for President Lech Kaczynski and a delegation of senior officials who were killed when the presidential jet crashed in heavy fog on approach to an airfield in western Russia.

    The Saturday morning crash, which officials said killed all 97 people on board, including the president's wife, generated what participants described as a spontaneous outpouring of support, not necessarily for Kaczynski's nationalist politics or his party, but for the office of the presidency and the military officers, lawmakers and civil servants who were killed alongside him in the service of the Polish nation.

    "You can look around the street here, and half the people would not be voting for Kaczynski," said Aleksander Zborowski, 36, an Arizona State-educated engineer who was standing in front of the presidential palace along with thousands of other mourners Saturday evening. "But they are here because he was our president. It is patriotism."

    In a misty chill Sunday morning, mourners lined up to enter the palace in small groups to sign a condolence book, passing floral wreaths and thousands of red, green and yellow votive lights still burning like flower banks around a pedestrian esplanade in front of the palace. Others attended Sunday mass to hear Poland's influential Roman Catholic prelates saying prayers for Kaczynski and the other victims.

    Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the crash "the most tragic event of the country's postwar history," and his government called on Poles to observe two minutes of silence.

    Under Poland's constitution, Tusk exercises primary control over the government, based on his party's majority in Parliament. The president, although the titular armed forces commander, plays a largely ceremonial role.

    Among military personnel killed were the army chief of staff, the head of the air force and the navy chief commander.

    Also listed among the dead were some revered figures in the Polish struggle to break free of communism: Anna Walentynowicz, 80, the diminutive crane operator whose firing in August 1980 from the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk helped spark the creation of Solidarity, the political movement that nine years later helped topple the communist government; and the last Polish president in exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, 90, who stepped down when Lech Walesa, the leader of Solidarity, became the first post-communist president of Poland.

    "This is a great tragedy, a great shock to us all," Walesa said.

    The crash occurred Saturday morning near the city of Smolensk as the president's plane, a 26-year-old Russian-made Tupolev TU-154, was carrying the officials to a ceremony in Russia commemorating the Soviet massacre of Poland's officer corps in 1940 at the outset of World War II, one of the most traumatic events in 20th-century Polish history.

    The governor of the Smolensk region said the pilot decided to land despite advice from the control tower that he divert to another airport because of poor visibility. The three-engine aircraft clipped trees and broke apart about a mile short of the runway at a military airport, officials said. Television images showed small fires amid the fog and a broken tail fin with the red and white colors of the Polish flag.

    Kazcynski, who became president in 2005, was the identical twin brother of former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Together they had roiled domestic and international politics with their combative brand of Polish conservatism that was suspicious of both the Kremlin and the European Union bureaucracy in Brussels. Lech Kaczynski was facing reelection this fall but was trailing in opinion polls.

    "In the face of this tragedy, we stand all united," said Bronislaw Komorowski, speaker of the lower house of Parliament and now the acting president. "There is no left or right, there are no differences, no divisions. We are all together with our message of compassion to the families of those who died nearby the Smolensk airport."

    Komorowski declared a week of national mourning.

    President Obama, who also telephoned Tusk, said in a statement, "Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kaczynski family, the loved ones of those killed in this tragic plane crash, and the Polish nation." Obama said the tragedy was "devastating to Poland, to the United States, and to the world" and described Kaczynski as "a distinguished statesman who played a key role in the Solidarity movement and . . . was widely admired in the United States as a leader dedicated to advancing freedom and human dignity."

    The Polish delegation had been planning to mark the 70th anniversary of the summary execution of more than 20,000 Polish officers by the Soviet Union's secret police, the NKVD, in the forest of Katyn. The spring 1940 massacre followed the division of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the beginning of World War II.

    The killings, which were ordered by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, were coldly systematic: Each officer was shot in the back of the head, his hands tied behind his back. And by wiping out such a large part of the Polish officer corps, the Soviets created a leadership vacuum they were able to exploit when the Red Army drove the Nazis out of Poland.

    For decades, the Soviets attempted to cover up the crime, blaming it on the Nazis, and the authorities in Moscow did not accept responsibility until 1990, when Mikhail Gorbachev said the Soviet Union carried out the killings. The legacy of Katyn still festers in Russian-Polish relations, and some in Russia still dismiss the crime as an anti-Russia conspiracy whipped up by the Poles.

    "This is unbelievable -- this tragic, cursed Katyn," Kaczynski's predecessor, Aleksander Kwasniewski, said on Polish television. "You get chills down your spine."

    Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took charge of an investigation into the crash, flying to Smolensk, where he was scheduled to meet Tusk, who flew in from Warsaw. Both men had attended a ceremony this week marking the Katyn massacre, and Putin -- the first Russian leader to attend the commemoration -- said, "We bow our heads to those who bravely met death here."

    Putin's words and the airing of the film "Katyn" by the acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda on Russian television this month were seen as significant efforts to improve often-strained relations between the two countries. Wajda's father, a Polish cavalry officer, was killed at Katyn.

    James Sherr, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House, a London-based think tank, stressed the need for transparency. "The Russians will be under pressure to handle this in an extremely impressive way, and it is possible, if they can, that the relationship between the countries will benefit," he said. "But if the crash and emotions provoked by it lead to recriminations and defensiveness, then we will see something else."

    A nationalist with an abiding suspicion of Russia, Kaczynski, 60, did not attend the joint ceremony Wednesday and instead was arriving for a largely Polish ceremony Saturday. Kazcynski had in the past infuriated Moscow with his embrace of Ukrainian and Georgian leaders hostile to Moscow and his support for the placement of a U.S. missile defense system on Polish soil.

    The deaths near Katyn of Kazcynski and a delegation sprinkled with people who had felt the heavy hand of the Soviets seems extraordinary and will certainly fuel conspiracy theories about the crash. But all early reports pointed to pilot error.

    Polish and Russian officials said the plane was serviced and refurbished at a Russian plant in December, but the Polish government's continued use of aging Russian jets has been the source of some controversy in the country. The government said it could not afford a new fleet of Western planes.

    "I once said that we will one day meet in a funeral procession, and that is when we will take the decision to replace the aircraft fleet," said former prime minister Leszek Miller, who was injured when a government helicopter crashed in 2003.

    In addition to Obama's statement, condolences from other world leaders poured in.

    "I knew that his whole life had been dedicated to the fight for the freedom of Poland and the freedom of Europe," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of Kazcynski.

    "On this difficult day, the people of Russia stand with the Polish people," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Tusk in a phone call, according to the Kremlin press service.
  • Note: For an opinion on the reasons behind the crash, please see The Story

  • Other Belarusian News...

    Alexander Lukashenko reelected President of National Olympic Committee of Belarus

    From: BelTA
    Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has been unanimously reelected President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Belarus during the session of the National Olympic Committee in Minsk on 9 April, BelTA has learnt.

    Igor Zaichkov, Aide to the President of Belarus on physical education, sport and tourism, appointed First Vice President of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus. Gennady Alekseenko and Sergei Teterin appointed deputies of the head of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus.

    Andrei Astashevich, Yuri Borodich, Oleg Kachan, Ellina Zvereva, Georgy Katulin, Nikolai Kuptsov, Marina Lobach and Aleksei Miroshnichenko became members of the NOC Executive Committee.

    Famous sportsmen: fencers Elena Belova and Nikolai Alekhin, athlete Maria Itkina and weight-lifter Valery Shariya appointed honorary members of the National Olympic Committee of Belarus.

    Belarus aims for top 10 at London, Sochi Olympics

    Belarus should be in the top 10 sports nations at the Olympics in London and Sochi, said President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko at the session of the National Olympic Committee on 9 April.

    The head of state is convinced that it is quite feasible if arduous steps are taken to radically improve the country’s sports industry. “We have the conditions to make it happen and enough people. You should win 25 medals at the summer Olympics, including five gold ones. We should aim for the figure. I don’t ask 100 medals of you. Give me 25 at the summer Olympics and up to 5 at winter Olympics,” said Alexander Lukashenko.

    He stressed that the country has all the conditions to reach such results, modern sports installations are built, colossal investments are poured into sports. But there is no commensurate output. “We make no headway and fail to ensure large-scale progress in sports. The situation does not suit me at all! I remember I was asked for a sheltered football manege. Done. Where are the champions?” Alexander Lukashenko wondered. “Yes, there are problems. But why some produce high results while others can’t when the former and the latter use common methods?” In his opinion, there is not enough discipline, good conscience and responsibility to one’s own country. The head of state demanded that, primarily, officials and sport executives should introduce discipline and order.

    “We have the conditions for Belarus to make a breakthrough similar to China’s and Korea’s,” said the President.

    Belarus should focus on training own athletes and coaches

    President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko thinks it necessary to focus on training Belarus’ own sportsmen and coaches. The Belarusian leader made this statement at the session of the National Olympic Committee on 9 April.

    The head of state noted that the invitation of foreign specialists is a common practice around the world, but this practice should not prevent Belarusian sportsmen from getting into national teams. Belarus should also train its own coaches.

    Belarus has a lack of coaches able to train national teams and the reserve of coaches. The specialists training national teams are over 50 years old, and there are no specialists to replace them. “Over the last ten years no graduate of the coaches’ department of the Physical Culture University has reached a level high enough to be able to train high-class sportsmen. The High School of Coaches has not met our expectations yet, either,” the President said.

    As for the invitation of foreign sportsmen to represent Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko believes that this should be approached very carefully, because often those are not the best sportsmen, but those who did not get into the national teams of their countries and are not in demand there. “We include them in national teams, spend a lot of money on their training, give them citizenship, settle their housing and other issues, but there is no useful effect. Let us take Russia, for example. Will it give you an Olympic champion? Of course, not”, the President said.

    According to the head of state, the major task facing the Ministry of Sport and Tourism is to set up national schools promoting various sports together with national sports federations, associations and unions. Apart from that, the training of specialists at sports universities of the country should be thoroughly analyzed and streamlined.

    The President reiterated that the training of the sports reserve hinges on a coach. One of the issues is to help young hopefuls from junior teams reach the level of national teams.

    Belarus hails Russia-US nuclear treaty

    From: BelTA
    The Belarusian side welcomes the signing of the Russia-US new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) and views it as a serious contribution to strengthening the global security and peace, Head of the Information Department, Spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry Andrei Savinykh voiced the statement of the Belarus Foreign Ministry at a briefing on 8 April.

    “We count on both the Russian and American sides to take every efficient measure aimed at further reduction of offensive arms which would help make the process of nuclear disarmament irreversible and multilateral. Further successes in nuclear security enhancement will largely depend on the collective efforts of all interested parties. We really appreciate the recognition of the contribution of the Republic of Belarus in the disarmament and non-proliferation process in the preamble of the new treaty. Belarus was one of the first who refused to stockpile nuclear weapons and has been so far a many-year responsible participant of the 1991 Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms,” the statement runs.

    The statement stresses: “We hope Russia and the US will stay committed to the security guarantees fixed in the 1994 Budapest Memorandums that were also confirmed in the joint Russian-American statement of 4 December 2009. Taking into consideration that unique experience Belarus gained during the implementation of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty as well as other international agreements on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation we count on the continuation of a political dialogue and cooperation on the issue”.

    CIS veterans to march in Red Square Parade 9 May

    From: BelTA
    War-veterans from all the CIS countries will take part in the parade timed to the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War which will be held in the Red Square of Moscow on 9 May, CIS Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev told international conference, Victory over fascism in 1945: its significance for peoples of the CIS and the world, in Moscow on 8 April, BelTA has learnt.

    Sergei Lebedev noted that the presidents of the CIS member countries, who will attend the CIS informal summit in Moscow on 8 May, will congratulate the veterans on Victory Day. The CIS veterans will be awarded the medal, On the 65th Anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, which was instituted by the CIS Heads of State Council in Bishkek.

    The Moscow conference has become one of the most representative forums timed to the Great Victory. Attending the conference were presidents and vice-presidents of the national academy of sciences of the CIS countries, heads of the CIS ministries and governmental departments, diplomats, scientists. At the conference Belarus was represented by Oleg Proleskovsky, Information Minister, member of the CIS Council for Humanitarian Cooperation, Mikhail Myasnikovich, Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Belarusian scientists. Experts from the Baltic states, Great Britain, Germany, Poland, the USA and China took part in the forum as well.

    The conference has been organized by the CIS Intergovernmental Foundation for Educational, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation, the Russian Ministry for Education and Science and the National Academy of Sciences of Russia. The forum has been held in line with the action plan for preparations and celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War.

    Belarus’ delegation discussing agricultural projects in Venezuela

    From: BelTA
    A delegation of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of Belarus led by Agriculture and Food Minister Semyon Shapiro has flown to Venezuela to flesh out the cooperation arrangements in the agricultural industry and sign contracts, BelTA has learnt.

    The protocols of intent concluded during the recent visit of the Belarusian President to Caracas include the construction of an agrotown in Ato Pedregal. From the Belarusian side this project will be implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Architecture and Construction.

    The Belarusian delegation already held meetings with the top executives of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Commerce Ministry of Venezuela. The Belarusian delegation is also to tour Ato Pedregal village where an agrotown will be built.

    Under the project proposed by Belarusian experts, the agrotown will occupy 4,350 hectares, of which 3,000 hectares will be farmland, said Director of the Belgiprovodkhoz enterprise Anatoly Krasutsky.

    The agrotown is to specialize in the innovative meat and dairy production. A dairy farm to be constructed is to breed 800 heads of dairy cattle and 2,000 heads of beef cattle. The 12,000 hog-raising farm will be the largest facility to be built in the agrotown. About 500 tonnes of beef and 400 tonnes of pork in the carcass weight equivalent are to be produced there. The annual milk yield is to make up 2,400 tonnes.

    The cottages to be built in the agrotown are to accommodate 560 families or 2,800 people.

    Apart from meat and dairy production, Belarus offers to develop crop farming. The projected production of fodder crops is to amount to 25,000 tonnes, grain maize 10,000 tonnes, vegetables 2,000 tonnes and fruit 1,500 tonnes.

    “The construction of the agrotown of Ato Pedregal does not mean that Venezuela will stop buying finished products from Belarus. Today Venezuela imports Belarusian milk powder and is interested in the deliveries of butter,” Semyon Shapiro said.

    Since 2008, Venezuela has purchased 19,400 tonnes of milk powder 26 fat from Belarus. In 2010, milk powder worth $36 million was shipped to Venezuela.

  • Economics...

    Belarus gets 4.7% share in Customs Union’s import duties

    From: BelTA
    Belarus’ share in the total import customs duties in the Customs Union will make 4.7%, Vitaly Busko, member of the Belarusian parliament, Deputy Chairman of the Customs Regulation and Border Policy Commission of the EurAsEC Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, told a press conference held at the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus on 9 April.

    Speaking about results of the Saint Petersburg session of the EurAsEC Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Vitaly Busko said that the parliamentarians had considered a draft agreement on distributing import customs duties between Customs Union member-states. Belarus’ share is as large as 4.7%, Kazakhstan’s – 7.33%, Russia’s – 87.97%.

    Asked whether these figures are final, MP Igor Karpenko said he believes that speculations about whether the sums of import duties of the three countries will change are inappropriate and uncalled-for. In his opinion, “It is necessary to start working, to see how they will be distributed”. He admitted that there might be underlying potential problems. The MP remarked that the shares had been set by analyzing the GDP and foreign trade of Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan.

    The reporters also wondered whether the EurAsEC IPA had discussed customs duties on car import. Igor Karpenko reminded that a Customs Union agreement had been signed to protect the market from third-country automobile products. “Duties on imported trucks, tractors and buses are important for Belarus, too. Because preferences will be created for the extra promotion of these Belarusian products to the EurAsEC market,” said the MP. He added that not car import duties but oil import duties are a more painful matter for Belarus.

    Belarus to abolish privatization via selling shares on soft terms

    Belarus will abolish preferential terms of selling the shares of companies designed for privatization, Chairman of the State Property Committee Georgy Kuznetsov said as he presented a bill to introduce amendments and addenda to some laws of the Republic of Belarus and invalidate some acts of the Republic of Belarus and enact particular provisions related to the privatization of the state property, BelTA has learnt. The document was adopted in the first reading.

    Under the bill, employees of a joint stock venture created after the reorganization of a state-run unitary enterprise can no longer purchase the shares of the company on preferential terms and in exchange for personalized privatization vouchers Imushchestvo; a lease enterprise can no longer buy out rented state property.

    “Strategic investors would like to take part in privatization on parity basis with the state. It is impossible given minority shareholders,” Georgy Kuznetsov believes.

    Under the document, those willing to acquire the facilities included in the privatization list should necessarily pay for them. The document spells out the methods of privatization of state property, the mid-term planning of privatization processes.

    Besides, the facilities under privatization many be sold outright in case an auction or a tender are declared invalid because an application was submitted by only one person.

    The bill is aimed to streamline privatization processes and impose an efficient control over the privatization of state property, create favorable conditions to attract investors.

  • From the Foriegn Press...

    Belarus: Capitalism's Unlikely Frontier

    From: Bloomburg
    French software startup Abaxia was hunting for an offshore research and development site in 2006 when one of its employees suggested taking a look at his native country, Belarus. "I had to get out an atlas to be sure where it was," recalls Ongan Mordeniz, Abaxia's R&D chief.

    Today, more than half of Abaxia's employees work in the former Soviet republic of 9.5 million, wedged between Russia and Poland on the EU's eastern rim. The company and two affiliates employ 85 engineers at a software development center in Minsk near the former Communist Party headquarters, which is now President Alexander Lukashenko's residence. They're among an estimated 10,000 professionals working for outsourcing operations in what is now the region's No. 3 country for such shops, behind Ukraine and Romania, according to the Central and Eastern European Outsourcing Assn.

    Why Belarus? After all, two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall the country still seems sealed in a time capsule, with a centrally planned economy run by an authoritarian leader who is routinely denounced by Western governments for what the U.S. State Dept. terms "frequent serious abuses" of human rights. Minsk (pop. 1.8 million), a tranquil city of wide boulevards, hulking Stalinist architecture, and Soviet-era factories, is an unlikely place to find capitalism's new frontier.

    Yet the Lukashenko government is opening the door to investment as never before. Since 2007 it has enacted regulatory reforms and tax relief measures that have vaulted Belarus from 129th place to 58th on the World Bank's ranking of the "ease of doing business" in 183 countries. (Poland ranked 72nd, Russia came in 120th, and Ukraine was 142nd.) The Belarus government says foreign direct investment more than doubled last year, to $4.8 billion, even as investment plummeted in neighboring countries.

    American companies may soon join the wave. In late March representatives of Microsoft (MSFT), Cisco Systems (CSCO), Honeywell (HON), and Navistar (NAV) (formerly International Harvester) visited Minsk for meetings with Lukashenko and top business leaders. "We see great opportunities here," says Veronika Prikrylová, Microsoft's business development manager for Central and Eastern Europe. Microsoft is opening a sales office in Minsk this spring and hopes that having a local presence will help it combat piracy. An estimated 80% of software now used in Belarus is illegally copied, Prikrylová says.

    Lukashenko is looking westward as Russia pulls back on aid to its neighbor. Belarus' economy has long been kept afloat by Russia, which has supplied it with below-market-priced energy while soaking up exports from inefficient Belarussian factories. Economic growth over the past decade has averaged 7.1% annually. "We are not rich, but the government takes care of us," says Galina Zorina, a retired piano teacher strolling through Minsk with her sister, carrying a spray of willow branches for the Russian Orthodox version of Palm Sunday. Russia has subsidized Belarus to keep it as a buffer against EU and NATO expansion.

    The nation has been a high-tech magnet since Soviet times. Minsk was one of the Communist bloc's computer-science capitals, and local universities still turn out 4,000 information technology grads every year. Salaries, which average $1,200 a month for Abaxia's engineers, are only slightly above the $1,160 average for engineers at India's IT outsourcing companies. Yet while some graduates emigrate, the low cost of living in Belarus keeps many at home. "I thought about moving to the U.K., but it's easier to support my wife and kids here," says Alexey Balushkin, 27, a senior software designer at Abaxia.

    Belarus also produces world-class specialists in mathematics and physics. That's an attraction to companies such as Invention Machine, a Boston-based group that in 2004 acquired the assets of a Belarus software company. Invention Machine now runs an 80-person lab in Minsk, including a team of computational linguists who develop "semantic engines" capable of extracting and analyzing key concepts from documents in multiple languages. "They have taken the field of natural language processing to a new level," says James W. Todhunter, the company's chief technology officer.

    Invention Machine is one of 78 tenants in a high-tech park the government established in Minsk in 2005. All benefit from generous incentives, including exemption from Belarus' 24% corporate income tax and a provision that lets expatriate managers work without having to obtain work permits. "No other country in the region has done this much" to attract IT investment, says Arkady Dobkin, CEO of EPAM Systems, a Newtown (Pa.) outsourcing company with over 2,000 employees in Minsk and a client list that includes Microsoft, Oracle (ORCL), and SAP (SAP).

    For now, the outsourcing boomlet is still in its infancy; the estimated $300 million it generates each year is dwarfed by the $2.5 billion in annual oil subsidies Russia has provided. Russia, pushing to get its crisis-hit economy back on track, said in January that it would end most of the subsidies this year. "It's going to get much harder for us," says Georgy Egorov, chairman of Belvnesheconombank, a leading bank in Minsk. To raise cash for the government, Lukashenko has restarted a long-stalled privatization effort. In the past two years the government has sold controlling stakes in two mobile-phone companies to Mobilkom Austria Group and Turkcell (TKC) and has said it will privatize banks. Strategic investors are also moving in. In December, Italy's Finmeccanica agreed to partner with Belarussian companies on engineering, transport, and aerospace projects. "There are few investment opportunities like this left in the world," says Tom Mundy, an economist at Moscow-based Renaissance Capital. Belarus' proximity to Europe, well-educated population, and solid infrastructure add to the appeal, he notes.

    Whether global companies are ready to do business with Lukashenko is an open question. Although U.S. and EU sanctions imposed on Belarus in 2006 have expired, he still draws criticism from the West. On Mar. 30, EU Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Ashton expressed "grave concern" about harassment of opposition figures in the runup to regional elections on Apr. 25.

    Companies remain cautious. Navistar, for example, has considered supplying engine technology to MAZ, a Soviet-era producer of trucks and buses. "They need some kind of Western partnership," says Steven Hyde, Navistar's vice-president for international business development. But, he predicts, doing business in Belarus will remain an unappealing sell "as long as there is a high dependence on political personalities instead of the rule of law."

    Belarus ready to review gas deal with Russia - deputy premier

    From: PowerGen
    Russia initiated the signing of a new gas cooperation agreement with Belarus and the latter is ready to seal the deal in case of synchronized transition to a price formula providing equal gas supply profitability on domestic and foreign markets, Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka was quoted by the Prime-TASS business news agency as saying on Thursday [8 April].

    He reiterated that the two countries are discussing the programme to expand bilateral cooperation in the fuel and energy sector.

    "This is a framework programme that, in our opinion, needs to have reconsidered agreements on gas, oil, parallel operation of energy systems and nuclear power stations," he said.

    However, last December "the Russian side offered another four intergovernmental agreements to this programme and said they should be prepared very fast," Syamashka said.

    "Russia initiated a new gas agreement. We say that we are not against this initiative, although the existing agreement is valid for two years and will expire only in late 2011," he said.

    At the same time he stressed Belarus will sign the agreement if "Russia includes into this document the principle of synchronized transition to equal gas supply profitability that envisions an equal profit rate from gas that a consumer buys in Russia, Belarus, Germany or Poland or elsewhere".

    Syamashka noted, Belarus transferred a reconsidered gas agreement to Russia.

    "That's why the ball is on their side," he said.

    Belarus ratifies agreement on motor transportation with Turkmenistan

    Belarus has ratified an intergovernmental agreement with Turkmenistan on international motor transportation of passengers and cargos, ITAR-TASS reports. The document regulates international road haulage between states, transit through their territories, motor transportation to third countries and from them, as well as private travels by car from one country to another.

    According to Deputy Minister of Transport and Communications of Belarus Nikolai Verkhovets, who presented the document in the Parliament, "the agreement will not only widen and deepen the relations between the countries, but will also create the best conditions for mutually advantageous exchange of goods, services and ideas in the Belarusian-Turkmen cooperation."

    The Belarusian parliament also ratified a second agreement with Turkmenistan on cooperation and mutual assistance in customs matters. The official representative of the State Customs Committee of Belarus Sergei Borisyuk said that the adoption of the agreement was necessitated by increased trade between the two countries.

    Are you not from Belarus?

    Does your family come from Belarus? No? Are you sure? The borders were changed so many times it can be hard to know where that grandma of yours really comes from: Russia, Poland, Ukraine or Belarus. Think twice – you could join quite a hall of fame.

    The are two main groups of Belarus-born people. You can illustrate them via the presidents of Israel and Ukraine. The Jewish family of Shimon Peres left Belarus to help create the newly-established country. The family of Viktor Yanukovych left simply looking for a job.

    Belarus’ Jewish communities in Pinsk, Bobruisk and Vitebsk gave the world Marc Chagall and his teacher Yehuda Pen, the writers Mendele Mocher Sforim, David Pinski and Solomon Simon and the lexicographer Eliezer Ben Yehuda. You might say the writer Etgar Keret is Israeli, but his father was born here. The Israeli politicians Chaim Weizmann, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir are ‘ours,’ as is the family of Golda Meir.

    Belarusian Jewish migrants to the US gave us Kirk Douglas, Ralph Lauren and Steven Ballmer (yes, the Microsoft CEO). Philip Chess, the co-founder of Chess Records, was born in Belarus, as was David Sarnoff, the pioneer of American commercial radio and television and the songwriter Irving Berlin. Belarusian Jews made great American scientists and chess players.

    They ended up in all sorts of places – Belarus-born Sidney Baevski Myer created Myer, Australia’s largest chain of department stores.

    The notorious Soviet diplomat Andrei Gromyko (a.k.a. Mr No), the Russian politician Anatoly Chubais and stateswoman Valeriya Novodvorskaya are from here.

    The families of US actors Lisa Kudrow and David Suchet moved from Belarus. I think we can also claim one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s grannies!

    Who takes your fancy? The builder of Russia’s Sukhoi military jets, Pavel Sukhoi? The founder of cultural-historical psychology, Lev Vygotsky? Gymnast Olga Korbut? Maybe the father of the Cheka (the Bolshevik secret police), Felix Dzerzhinsky, or his colleague, the the first man to take charge of both Israeli secret services, the Mossad and the Shin Bet, Isser Harel?

    How about Stuttgart midfield Alexander Hleb? Ice hockey forward Andrei Kostitsyn? His brother, winger Sergei Kostitsyn? The wrestler Alexander Medved? The winner of the 2009 World Chess Cup, Boris Gelfand? Fashion model Maryna Linchuk?

    I could also give you the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Polish composer Michal Kleofas Oginski and the Polish writer Ryszard Kapuscinski. The first lady of the Republic of China on Taiwan Faina Chiang Fang-liang (born Vakhreva) as well as Marina, the wife of Lee Harvey Oswald, come from Belarus.

    You might argue that they are not Belarusians sensu stricto. But they were born here. There must be something in the air. Maybe the water.

    Globalisation negates the importance of a person’s place of birth. But there are people who left Belarus and remained Belarusians, accentuated their origin. In these brand new lives in Argentina or the UK, they mad space for the Belarusian language and traditions.

    Not all of our eminent emigres are figures of history.

    Living in the Netherlands today is the Belarusian artist Andrei Zadorine, in France, Boris Zaborov, in Brussels, Natalia Zaloznaya and Igor Tishin live in Brussels. Their student Andrey Dureiko lives in Germany. All over the world there are successful Belarusians in banking, design, computing. Some of them prefer not to talk about their Belarusian passport in order not to lose it: Belarus does not allow dual citizenship.

    But the number one Belarusian in the world is Boris Kit. This outstanding rocket scientist and Belarusian turned 100 a couple of days ago. Today he lives in Frankfurt am Main but remains truly devoted to his language and his motherland. Perhaps he is the man to make you feel that, in fact, it is a pity not to come from Belarus…

  • From the Opposition...

    No money: Great sales of state property started

    From: Charter '97
    The Belarusian authorities say the country is ready to sell Russia Naftan refinery and Beltransgaz’s controlling stake.

    The Belarusian government is holding negotiations with Russian Rosneft and Lukoil companies on possible selling Naftan’s stake in exchange for strategic investments.

    “I don’t hide that we are negotiating with Rosneft and Lukoil and discussing they may come to Naftan as strategic investors,” first deputy prime minister of Belarus Uladzimir Syamashka said at a session of the National Council for Labor and Social Affairs on Thursday, Interfax informs.

    Syamashka stressed that a strategic investor should guarantee investing of capital, have distribution areas, perform social obligations and modernize the enterprise. “We haven’t found such an investment yet, so we have to modernize our refineries by our own efforts,” the first deputy prime minister said.

    The official reported that the Belarusian refineries spend $150–200 million per year for modernization. It is planned to reach 92–93% processing depth by 2013 in comparison with the current 70–72%.

    The first deputy prime minister also added that he had recently held talks with a “big foreign company”, which expressed its readiness to become a strategic investor of Minsk Automobile Plant.

    The government of Belarus is ready to consider a proposal of Russia regarding possible selling Beltransgaz’s controlling stake to Gazprom, Uladzimir Syamashka told journalists.

    “If the Russian party makes an official proposal, we’ll think it over,” Syamashka said.

    He noted that Belarus consummated the transaction on selling a 50% stake in Beltransgaz to Gazprom in February.

    “Beltrangaz got the last $625 million for a 12.5% share on February 24. Now there is parity. We are not discussing a possibility of selling the controlling interest now,” Syamashka added

    Vitsebsk: will electors come to precinct located 3 km away from their home?

    From: Viasna
    The candidate for the Vitsebsk regional Council of Deputies Iryna Akulionak, activist of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Narodnaya Hramada, has to defend the electoral rights of citizens of the Budaunichaya constituency #58 where she is running. The matter is that dwellers of Bileva, a new suburb of Vitsebsk, had been assigned to the precinct that is located in secondary school #12 that is situated more than three kilometers away from the suburb. It means that many people will have to get to the precinct by public transport, sometimes even with changes.

    Naturally, not every elector will be able to devote one-two hours of leisure time for voting at the local elections, and it will be difficult for elderly people and invalids to realize their right to elect. Many dwellers of the suburb told I.Akulionak about it during personal meetings.

    The candidate informed the precinct election commission about this issue and was answered that it was the problem of the electors. In fact, as a result of the latest amendments of the Election Code the authorities don’t have to care about the attendance of the election – the elections will be considered as valid even if one elector votes at a constituency.

    Babruisk: court refuses to exclude candidate from electoral race

    On 9 April the Mahiliou regional court considered the lawsuit of Viachaslau Sheleh, a member of the Belarusian Christian Democracy concerning the non-registration of his candidacy for the Babruisk town Council of Deputies. Meanwhile, Mr. Sheleh was registered as a candidate for the Mahiliou regional council. The signature sheets in support of his candidacy are identical in the both cases. However, the Babruisk town election commissions had allegedly found some invalid signatures, whereas the Mahiliou regional election commission hadn't found any.

    That's why Mr. Sheleh demanded from the court to exclude him from the electoral race as a candidate for the Mahiliou regional council of deputies, because he, being an honest man, couldn’t run for a deputy seat having invalid signatures in his signature sheets. The same request was also addressed to Mikalai Lazavik, the secretary of the Central Election Commission, with whom Viachaslau met in Minsk.

    'Mikalai Lazavik explained the situation by saying that some officials were more loyal whereas some others had a more scrupulous approach, but refused to exclude my candidacy. He said that the Central Election Commission didn’t have such powers and advised me to wait for the court verdict,' says Viachaslau Sheleh.

    At first the candidate applied to court with a complaint against the decision of the town election commission about his non-registration. However, after a collector of signatures told him in a private talk that there were some cases when people signed in his support on behalf of their relatives, he changed his mind. He agreed with the court that some of the signatures were invalid and asked to be withdrawn from the elections.

    'I explained to the court that my conscience didn’t let me to take part in the elections as I have invalid signatures in my signature lists. I asked the judge whether it was normal if somebody takes part in the elections unlawfully. The court regards it as normal and refuses to take me off the elections. What a paradox!' says Mr. Sheleh.

    Sviatlana Stalmakhova, didn't grant the plaintiff's request for finding some of the signatures in his support invalid, as it wasn't the subject of his lawsuit. The court also refused to take the candidate off the elections by its verdict.

    'They wished me good luck at the court and told me to go and win,' continues Viachaslau Sheleh. 'And also pointed that from now on they will attentively watch my actions.'

  • Russia...

    U.S.-Russia Nuclear Treaty Runs Into Resistance on Capitol Hill

    The weapons reduction treaty struck between Russia and the United States ran into headwinds on Capitol Hill Sunday, as two top senators warned that concerns over the Obama administration's newly unveiled nuclear strategy could trip up the treaty's ratification.

    President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the document Thursday, committing their countries to reducing their nuclear arsenals by historic amounts. Under the treaty, nuclear warheads would be reduced by one-third and the missiles and other vehicles carrying them would be cut by half.

    But the treaty's signing coincided with the release of the administration's new nuclear weapons policy, which rules out the use of nuclear weapons against most non-nuclear countries and states the United States does not intend to build or test new nuclear weapons. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., expressed concern about that policy Sunday and said it may have to change in order for the Russia treaty to clear the Senate with the needed 67 votes.

    "We have to make darned sure our nuclear warheads are capable, are modern," Lieberman told "Fox News Sunday," as world leaders arrived in Washington for the start of a major nuclear summit. "I'm going to be real hesitant to vote for this treaty unless we have a commitment from the administration that they're prepared to modernize our nuclear stockpile."

    Lieberman said the administration will have a hard time getting the votes to ratify in the Senate unless it commits to modernizing the stockpile and obtains clarification from the Russians about whether they'd consider pulling out of the treaty if the United States pursues its missile defense shield.

    "I don't believe there will be 67 votes to ratify the START treaty" unless those conditions are met, Lieberman said.

    Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, also said the administration's nuclear policy is "troublesome."

    "It takes away our ambiguity about our use of nuclear power," he told "Fox News Sunday," adding there's "not a chance" the Russia treaty will be approved this year.

    "This is a treaty for next year," he said, explaining that the economy, terrorism and the national debt will take priority this year.

    Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates defended the agreement in interviews Sunday morning, saying nuclear nations need to be mindful of the threat that nuclear material could fall into terrorist hands.

    "It's a serious threat," Clinton said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We know that terrorist groups, primarily Al Qaeda, persist in their efforts to obtain enough nuclear material to try to do something that would cause just such mass havoc and terror and damage and destruction that it would be devastating."

    She said the United States will still be able to protect itself and its allies despite efforts to reduce stockpiles.

    "We have, still, a very powerful nuclear arsenal," Gates said.

    Russia says Moscow bomber was teenage "Black Widow"

    From: Reuters
    More than 50 people were killed and another 100 injured in suicide bombings this week in the Moscow metro and in a town in the turbulent North Caucasus region of Dagestan, raising fears of a new bombing campaign against the Russian heartland.

    Photographs of a young woman, obtained by Reuters from a law-enforcement official in Dagestan, showed her dressed in a black hijab and holding a grenade.

    Another photograph showed the woman holding a pistol. The same photograph was published in the Kommersant newspaper on Friday.

    The source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue, named her as Dagestani-born Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, the widow of 30-year-old Umalat Magomedov, a prominent insurgent killed by Russian forces on December 31.

    Abdurakhmanova also used the name of Dzhanet Abdullayeva, the source said.

    Magomedov, who was shown in the photographs holding a pistol, styled himself as the "Emir of the mujahideen of the Vilayat Dagestan," a local Islamist group, the source said.

    The Russian Prosecutor-General's main investigations unit later identified the same woman as the bomber.

    "A native of Dagestan, Dzhanet Abdullayeva, born in 1992, detonated explosives at the Park Kultury metro station," it said in a statement, giving no further details.

    Officials said two female suicide bombers -- known in the Russian media as "Black Widows" -- killed at least 40 people on packed Moscow metro trains during the rush hour on Monday.

    The first bomb tore through a metro train just before 8 a.m. as it stood at the Lubyanka station, close to the headquarters of the FSB. A second bomb was detonated less than 40 minutes later in a train waiting at the Park Kultury metro station.

    The suicide bombings in Moscow and Dagestan follow a surge of violence over the past year in the patchwork of North Caucasus republics, where Russia has fought two wars against Chechen separatists since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

    Russia's FSB security chief Alexander Bortnikov has blamed militant groups linked to the North Caucasus for the attacks but given no further details on the investigation.

    Islamist Chechen rebels claimed responsibility on Wednesday for the Moscow metro bombings and threatened further attacks against Russian cities.

    Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, who calls himself the "Emir of the Caucasus Emirate," said he had ordered the twin suicide bombings in Moscow to "destroy infidels" and in revenge for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's policies in the North Caucasus.

    Tennessee mom sends adopted son back to Russia alone

    A Tennessee mom sent her adopted son back to Russia alone after she decided she could no longer parent the seven year old boy.

    Torry Hansen wanted to be a mom so badly that she adopted an older child from a foreign country. She adopted Artyom Savelyev, age seven, from Russia in September. Hansen traveled with her mother, Nancy Hansen, to pick up the boy and brought him to her East Tennessee home. The boy was skinny, but appeared to be happy. Shortly after bringing him home though, behavioral problems started. The Hansen's felt lied to about the boys stability.

    "The Russian orphanage officials completely lied to [Torry] because they wanted to get rid of him," Nancy Hansen told the Associated Press.

    At first, the family felt they could work through the behavioral problems with love. Nancy chronicled a list of problems, ranging from hitting and kicking to threatening to kill his family members.

    "He drew a picture of our house burning down and he'll tell anybody that he's going to burn our house down with us in it," she said. "It got to be where you feared for your safety. It was terrible."

    Hansen purchased a plane ticket for the boy, renamed Justin, and sent him to Russia on a United Airlines flight, alone. She made arrangements to pay a man in Russia $200 to pick up the boy and take him to the education ministry. Torry sent a note along with the boy, reading, in part: "After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends, and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."

  • From the Polish Scandal Files...

    Poland Ambassador: Delegation Likely Pressured Kaczynski Plane Captain

    From: Novinite
    The captain of the Polish government plane, which crashed near Smolensk on Saturday, was likely pressured by the high-ranking delegation, said Poland’s Ambassador to Sofia, Andrzej Papierz.

    “The easiest thing is to put the blame on the pilot because he was in charge but I would abstain from doing that,” His Excellency said talking to Bulgarian journalists after the service in the Catholic cathedral in Sofia honoring the memory of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and the other 95 person who died in the horrific crash on their way to the Katyn Massacre remembrance ceremonies.

    “I wouldn’t want to elaborate on this topic but I have traveled with such delegations many times, and I know that there is enormous pressure piling on the pilot in such cases even if the person in charge of the flight believes landing should not be attempted,” Papierz declared commenting on why the Polish pilot attempted to land at Smolensk even though he was advised by the Russian dispatchers to land in Minsk.

    Papierz pointed out that a lot of people had gathered for the remembrance of the 70th year since the Katyn Massacre, and after landing at Smolensk, the VIP Polish delegation, which was led by President Kaczynski, had to travel another 15 km to the actual spot of the ceremonies. The Belorussian capital Minsk, where the plane was advised to land, is located 150 km away from the Katyn Massacre site, and the delegation probably decided that landing there would mean a huge delay.

    Ambassador Papierz said he participated in the opening of the Polish military cemetery near Katyn 10 years ago, and knows the fatal airport at Smolensk where Kaczynski’s plane attempted to land.

    “This is one of the many military airports, in the woods, I don’t see any fault on part of the Russians here. These are very narrow, surrounded by forests, there was a very thick fog, and this is what caused this tragedy,” Poland’s Ambassador in Sofia suggested as cited by BTA.

    He said that authorities would probably be more careful in sending such large VIP delegations on one plane. In his words, the Bulgarian President travels the same way with his delegations when he visits foreign countries.

    “We are not so rich as to have Air Force 1 planes, and to transport everyone individually. This is our reality. There has been much talk of buying new planes but the society is very sensitive towards such purchases; such decisions are viewed very negatively by the people, I think the situation in Bulgaria is similar. People see them as a kind of privilege, and as a result our government had two Tu-154 airplanes, and one of them crashed,” Papierz concluded.

    He did stress that the specially appointed commission would have to investigate and find out what exactly happened with the plane.

    “There are many personal tragedies here. The President’s mother was brought home from the hospital yesterday, she is in a very serious condition. She probably has not even been told that her son perished,” said the Polish Ambassador.

    The one-week mourning in Poland for the casualties of the horrific crash started on Sunday.

  • Sport...

    Trotski and Drabenia nab Belarus Race Walking Cup victories

    From: IAAF
    Ivan Trotski en route to his title at the Belarus Race Walking Cup
    Trotski clocked and Drabenia clocked 1:21:09 and 1:34:02, respectively, over the 20Km course.

    In the men’s race, Trotski, Andrei Talashka and Vitali Talankou were at front of the group until the final lap. Only then, when Talankou began to lag, Trotski and Talashka fought on until the final metres with Trotski was able to pull ahead to win by four seconds.

    “It was difficult to win today,” Trotski admitted, “as my opponents were seriously ready. That makes it all the more pleasant to win. I hope to develop my success in the next competitions.”

    In the men’s 35Km, Aliaksandr Kazakou boldly went ahead and led more than half the race all alon. Last year he also moved to the front early but in the last kilometer was overtaken by Andrei Stsepanchuk. This time, the walker from Mogilev successfully completed the work he began to take the first "gold" of his career.

    In the women’s 20Km Drabenia and Sniazhana Yurchanka broke from their competitors after six kilometres and marched together almost the same distance, before Drabenia finally broke away to notch a comfortable 26-second victory.

    In the junior 10Km races, the victories went to Aleh Sauchanka from the Mogilev region and Marina Kuznyak from the Brest region, clocking 42:03 and 47:42 respectively.

    Mikhail Dubitski for the IAAF

    Leading Results -

    MEN -
    20 km:
    1. Ivan Trotski 1:21:09
    2. Andrei Talashka 1:21:13
    3. Vitali Talankou 1:21:43

    35 km:
    1. Aliaksandr Kazakou 2:35:54
    2. Andrei Stsepanchuk 2:37:52
    3. Alexey Litvinchuk 2:39:37

    Junior MEN -
    10 km:
    1. Aleh Sauchanka 42.03
    2. Yauhen Zaleski 42.58
    3. Barys Sharhar 42.59

    WOMEN -
    20 km:
    1. Hanna Drabenia 1:34:02
    2. Sniazhana Yurchanka 1:34:28
    3. Alina Matveyuk 1:34:57

    Junior WOMEN -
    10 km:
    1. Marina Kuznyak 47.42
    2. Kseniya Umets 48.08
    3. Tatsiana Stsefanenka 48.32

    Wozniacki, Govortsova gain MPS final

    From: Money Times
    Wozniacki of Denmark had to rally from a set down to defeat fourth-seeded Elena Vesnina 1-6, 7-6 (7-4) 6-4. The defending Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., champ and 2009 U.S. Open runner-up was embarrassed in the first set but clawed back to win for the fourth time in five matches in the event.

    Govortsova of Belarus, meanwhile, downed third-seeded Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5, in a match that lasted just under two hours.

    The 21-year-old has yet to win a singles title on the professional tour.

    Sunday's final will be the first time the pair has ever faced each other.

  • Endnote...

    Analysis: Katyn touches another Polish generation

    From: AP
    People light candles for Poland's President Lech Kaczynski his wife and the other victims of a plane …
    He died en route to the most sensitive mission possible — a visit to the place that has driven a wedge between Poles and Russians for three generations.

    The death of Lech Kaczynski, Poland's president and dozens of his high-level countrymen in a plane crash, and the purpose behind the journey, laid bare the deep divisions that remain between two nations still struggling to be more than uneasy neighbors who watch each other with skepticism and suspicion.

    Saturday's planned visit to the Katyn forest was somber in purpose but underscored his suspicious eye of the massive neighbor and former taskmaster to the east. The memorial service was to mark the 70th anniversary of the killing of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret security during World War II.

    Katyn. The site of the massacre of Polish military officers, priests, shopkeepers. Men shot in the back of the head by Josef Stalin's NKVD, the precursor of the KGB.

    "It is an accursed place," former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told TVN24 after the crash.

    Janusz Bugajski of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that Saturday's crash has put Katyn at the center of Polish-Russian relations.

    "It brought to the forefront again an event that Moscow would like to forget or, if not to forget, to sideline," he said, noting that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin took a significant step by attending the Katyn commemorations last Wednesday with Polish counterpart Donald Tusk.

    The ancient city of Smolensk has long played a significant and somewhat symbolic role in Russian-Polish relations.

    Russian and Polish rulers fiercely fought over it for centuries, as well as over other contested territories in today's Ukraine and Belarus, and the Russian takeover of the city in the mid-17th century preceded Moscow's takeover of eastern Polish lands.

    Earlier this week, Poles took deep satisfaction in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's presence at the memorial for the 22,000 killed there.

    Putin was the first Russian leader to commemorate the Katyn massacres with a Polish leader and noted that both nations' "fates had been inexorably joined" by the atrocities that saw 22,000 Polish officers, prisoners and intellectuals massacred by Stalin's secret police in 1940 in and around Katyn, a village near Russia's border with Belarus.

    "In our country there has been a clear political, legal and moral judgment made of the evil acts of this totalitarian regime, and this judgment cannot be revised," he said, but he did not apologize or call it a war crime.

    Listening to the remarks was the Polish prime minister, Tusk, not Kaczynski who, as president, was not invited to the event.

    "It was a step forward. He could have not shown up, he could have not invited Tusk," Bugajski said.

    Instead Kaczynski, along with others, made their own trip Saturday for Polish-only commemorations.

    "I think in a way this is a God-given opportunity to really talk honestly about Katyn and what led to Katyn," Bugajski said. "We know who killed these people."

    For half a century, Soviet officials claimed that the mass executions had been carried out by Nazi occupiers during the Second World War. But the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev's rule admitted in 1990 that the crimes had been committed by Stalin's NKVD secret police.

    "Without a doubt, there is evident symbolism in this tragedy that we cannot even grasp now," Slawomir Debski, the head of Poland's Institute of International Affairs, said. "At a time when it seemed we were reaching a conclusion of the Katyn issue between Poland and Russia, after the ceremonies and good gestures, we have another tragedy."

    Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, said Kaczynski's death could fuel anti-Russian sentiments among some Poles.

    "There will be certain people who'll say 'It was Russians who organized the whole thing,'" Lukyanov was quoted by the news portal as saying.

    He said only an open investigation by the Russian authorities could put to rest any suspicion but there was optimism, too.

    "But we may also look for a grain of hope in that it can mend our relations because it is such a tragedy that we may see a kind of catharsis," Anna Materska-Sosnowska, a political scientist with Warsaw University.

    Russia and Poland have always kept a wary eye on each other. Poland, after communism's collapse, eagerly embraced the west, joining the European Union and NATO, partly to anchor itself in Europe and give itself a security blanket against Russia.

    Now Katyn, which has long divided the two countries, could further erode already testy national relations or, analysts said Saturday, could provide the chance for them to move forward and extend hands.

    "We cannot understand why people representing the Polish state died at the same place where thousands of Poland's officers had been murdered," Debski said. "Apparently this soil must like Polish blood."