Year of Quality, District elections, Oil supplies, New medicines, EU, Russia Ties, Economics, Politics, News, Sport, Culture and Polish scandal
Extensive action plan for Belarus’ Year of Quality unveiled
|The president is currently on vacation in Switzerland|
The action plan includes more than 60 events covering all aspects of the social and economic development of the country. The Days of Quality will be held in every town, region and organization. Mass media plan to hold an advertising campaign to popularize efficient quality management methods. Seminars for the experts of the organizations will focus on the quality management systems in compliance with the ISO 9001, ISO 14001, HACCP, ISO 18001 international standards. The companies will continue working on developing their technical standardization, assessing the level of compliance with the EU requirements, using best international practices to advance Belarusian products to the foreign markets.
The action plan stipulates the development of the maintenance service for Belarusian high-technology products and their spare parts in Poland. There are plans to set up service centers in Cuba and Venezuela to maintain and upgrade Belarusian-made tractors and mine trucks.
The plan envisages the creation of the information resource which will contain the information about Belarusian products that meet international quality and safety standards. In 2010, the quality of aftersales service of high-technology goods including various vehicles should be improved. Companies will expand the range of goods and services, launch new quality standards.
The Belneftekhim Concern will take the measures to improve the quality of petrol as the catalytic cracking installation at the Mozyr Oil Refinery comes on stream. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food intends to develop and launch the management education quality system at agrarian universities. The main goal of the Ministry of Transport, oblast executive committees and the Minsk City Executive Committee is to renew the fleets of inter-city buses.
The Health Ministry will take the measures to improve the quality of aid for substance abusing teenagers and women. There is a need to set up psychological support offices at large educational establishments with the student and staff population of more than 2,000 people.
The Economy Ministry of Belarus will coordinate the implementation of the Year of Quality action plan. The plan will be financed from the local and state budget, organizations and other sources.
Belarus’ political parties eager to work at district election commissions
Political parties have nominated 468 representatives or 8.5% of all the applicants. However, their number made up only 1% of all the candidates willing to take part in the work of territorial election commissions.
The Communist Party of Belarus put forward 200 representatives, Belarusian United Left Party Fair World 104, Agrarian Party of Belarus 23, Belarusian Party "The Greens" 6, Belarusian Patriotic Party 7, Belarusian Social and Democratic Party (Hramada) 1, Belarusian Social Sports Party 4, Liberal Democratic Party 22, Republican Party of Labor and Justice 12, United Civil Party of Belarus 43, Party “Belarusian Social Democratic Party Hramada” 10, Belarusian Popular Front 22, Social Democratic Party of Popular Accord 14.
The CEC received 2,233 applications from public associations (or 40.6% of the total number of the applications). They include Belaya Rus (332), BRSM Youth Union (338), Belarusian Public Association of Veterans (252), Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (851), Belarusian Women’s Union (243) and others (217).
Some 1,888 citizens (or 34.3%) seek nomination through submitting an application and 910 applicants (16.5%) are representatives of labor collectives.
A total of 5,499 people seek to take part in the work of district election commissions.
The composition of these commissions is to be finalized on 8 February. A total of 367 district election commissions are to be set up in Belarus, of them 60 will be established in the Brest, Vitebsk, Grodno, Gomel and Minsk oblasts each, 58 in the Mogilev Oblast and 9 in the capital city Minsk (here the functions of district election commissions will be vested in precinct election commissions).
Sergei Martynov in Germany to discuss Belarus-EU relations
Sergei Martynov participated in the 46th Munich Security Conference that took place on 5-7 February. Sergei Martynov held talks with Vice Chancellor Foreign Minister of Germany Guido Westerwelle, heads of the foreign political agencies of Switzerland and Ukraine -Micheline Calmy-Rey and Petro Poroshenko, Foreign and Security Policy Advisor to the Federal Chancellor Christoph Heusgen. Priority attention was given to the further steps in intensifying the bilateral cooperation and developing relations between Belarus and the EU.
The Foreign Minister of Belarus also met with OSCE Secretary General Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, Foreign Minister of Italy Franco Frattini, Foreign Minister of Iran Manutschehr Mottaki, Foreign Minister of Slovenia Samuel Zbogar, High Representative of the Council of the European Union Javier Solana, co-author of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program Sam Nunn.
Belarus, Denmark to promote interregional cooperation
Belarus and Denmark intend to promote interregional cooperation, Holger Pyndt, Director of the National Association of Local Authorities of Denmark, told media in Mogilev on 9 February.
Representatives of local authorities of the Danish cities Aarhus, Odense, and Lolland as well as representatives of the Denmark Interior Ministry are on a three-day visit to the Mogilev Oblast. They are supposed to take part in a Belarusian-Danish seminar in Mogilev on 9 February.
Denmark experts visited Belarus in 2009 and chose the Mogilev Oblast as the partner to promote interregional cooperation with. In November 2009 a Mogilev delegation visited Denmark and the prospective partner cities of Aarhus, Odense, and Lolland. Now the Danish delegation is on a reciprocal visit to the Mogilev oblast. “Apart from getting familiar with the potential and places of interest in the Mogilev Oblast we have come to share local government and self-government practices, to determine major avenues and prospects of future cooperation. In particular, we have already envisaged several interesting projects. As requested by our partner cities we will share our experience of waste utilization and usage of alternative energy resources using the Odense and Lolland municipalities as an example while representatives of the Aarhus municipality will get the Mogilev administration familiar with one-stop operation routines,” said Holger Pyndt.
Chairman of the Mogilev Oblast Council of Deputies Vladimir Pantyukhov remarked that Mogilev is primarily interested in Danish practices of social life necessities.
The Danish delegation is expected to get familiar with places of interest in Mogilev, Bobruisk, and Belynichi, to visit several social institutions of the oblast, to meet with representatives of the local authorities, councils of deputies and the general public.
Russia’s State Duma to ratify protocol on oil supplies to Belarus
The protocol was signed in Moscow on 27 January. The document amended the agreement signed by the governments of Belarus and Russia on 12 January 2007 to regulate the trade and economic cooperation in the export of oil and oil products.
According to the accompanying documents, the protocol is designed to develop and intensify further mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and Belarus in the supplies of Russian oil and its transit via Belarus.
According to the document, the Russian crude oil transported on the request of a competent body of Belarus for domestic consumption is exempted from the customs duty. The domestic consumption is calculated by the competent bodies of the two sides. The size of the export customs duty on the crude oil exported from Russia beyond the duty-free volume is defined taking into account the rates set in the Russian legislation.
The State Duma is expected to consider the protocol on 12 February.
No plans to audit Russian oil supplies to Belarus
Auditing agencies of Belarus and Russia have no plans to audit Russian oil supplies to Belarus, Chairman of the Audit Chamber of Russia Sergei Stepashin told media after a joint session of the Russian financial watchdog and Belarus’ State Control Committee in Minsk on 9 February.
“Let’s wait till the Belarusian parliament ratifies the agreement on Russian oil supplies to Belarus,” said Sergei Stepashin. The agreement was signed in Moscow not a long ago.
In his opinion, at present there is no pressing need to control oil supplies matters, in particular, zero-duty oil supplies for Belarus’ domestic consumption. Oil issues may be unearthed if the situation is in a stalemate, said Sergei Stepashin. As an example he quoted the milk quarrel that Belarus and Russia had in summer 2009. The auditing bodies of the two countries had to straighten it out.
The head of the Audit Chamber of Russia urged to avoid bringing political reasons into oil matters.
Russia’s Military Doctrine prioritizes cooperation with Belarus
Cooperation with Belarus has been defined in the Russian Military Doctrine as a top priority in the military and political development. The doctrine approved by President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev can be found on his official website, BelTA has learnt.
The doctrine envisages the coordination of the activity between Belarus and Russia in strengthening the national Arm Forces and using the military infrastructure. The document stresses the necessity of elaborating and coordinating the measures of maintaining the Union State defense capacity in line with the Military Doctrine of the Union State.
Consolidation of efforts and development of collective forces for collective security and joint defense, with other CIS countries, have been determined as a priority of the military and political cooperation with the OSCE member-states.
Belbiopharm develops 36 new medicines in 2009
New products accounted for 21.8% of the total output, 5.9% up from 2008. Among the novelties are medications for cardiovascular and nervous systems, anti-infectious, spasmolytic, endocrinological antitumor drugs.
By 2015 Belbiopharm plans to expand its lineup up to 800 descriptions (at present the company produces over 600 descriptions of pharmaceutical products, of them 500 are medicaments). The company’s product portfolio tripled from 1990 to 2009.
The development of new medicines is a part of the state sci-tech program, New Medicaments, as well as the programs, Import Replacement, and, Phytopreparations. In 2006-2008 the domestic market was supplied with $20.3 million worth of import-substituting products.
The Belbiopharm Concern unites 18 organizations, including ten pharmaceutical ones. Belbiopharm enterprises account for over 90% of Belarus-made drugs. The concern exports up to 45% of the make.
Belarus’ budget deficit at Br0.9 trillion in 2009
In 2009 revenues of the consolidated budget amounted to Br62.8 trillion, 102% of the corrected annual target or 95.6% as against 2008 revenues. In 2009 revenues of the national budget reached Br46.8 trillion, 102.5% as against the corrected annual target. In 2009 the revenues of the national budget went down by Br2.3 trillion in comparison with 2008.
According to the source, tax revenues from foreign trade were the most affected ones. In 2009 the budget earned Br8 trillion from foreign trade, 1.3 times less than in 2008.
In addition, in 2009 the national budget earned Br8.2 trillion from value-added tax, 1.6% up on 2008 (up by Br132 billion). Excise revenues of the national budget totaled Br3.5 trillion, 5.4% down on 2008.
Revenues of the Social Protection Fund of the Labor and Social Protection Ministry totaled Br16.2 trillion, 101.4% as against the corrected annual target.
In 2009 expenses of the consolidated budget amounted to Br63.8 trillion, 99.2% of the annual target. In 2009 expenses of the national budget stood close to Br46.3 trillion, 99.5% as against the corrected annual target.
Budget appropriations for the social sphere (healthcare, physical training, sports, culture and mass media, education, social policy together with the Social Protection Fund) totaled Br20.3 trillion.
Education expenses amounted to Br1.3 trillion, healthcare expenses – Br1.2 trillion (99.7% of the corrected annual target), culture expenses – Br191.9 billion, physical training and sports expenses — Br162.5 billion.
Retail bank deposits 3.1% up in January
In January 2010 Belarusian ruble and foreign currency deposits of individuals in Belarusian banks increased by almost Br557.28 billion, or 3.1%, to total Br18.71 trillion on 1 February, BelTA learnt from the Information Office of the National Bank of the Republic of Belarus.
Last month the deposits in the national currency reached Br4.8 trillion, Br79.25 billion, or 4.7% up. Foreign currency deposits increased by $33.5 million, or 0.9%, and as of 1 February 2010 made up $3.57 billion.
Decree No 22 “Guaranteed recovery of individuals’ cash assets in accounts and/or bank deposits” of November 4, 2008 provides for full recovery of individuals’ savings in all banks of the country. In addition, according to the existing Belarusian laws individuals’ incomes gained from bank deposits are exempt from taxes.
Belarus’ international reserve assets down 6.7% in January
In January 2010 Belarus’ international reserve assets calculated using the IMF methods decreased by 6.7% ($379.1 million) to $5273.4 million, BelTA learnt from the information department of the National Bank.
In line with the methods used by the International Monetary Fund, Belarus’ international reserves are defined as marketable foreign assets, which consist of monetary gold, the country’s special drawing rights in the IMF, the country’s reserve position in the IMF and foreign currency reserves. The reserve assets can be promptly used for money market interventions in order to stabilize the exchange rate of the national currency, to finance the import of goods and services by the government, for paying and servicing the foreign national debt and for other purposes.
In January Belarus’ international reserve assets calculated using national methods fell $377.3 million (6.3%) to $5601.2 million.
As of 1 February hard currency accounted for the larger part of the international reserve assets of Belarus ($2616.9 million, or 46.7%) along with precious metals and gems ($1114.9 million, or 19.9%). Last month the hard currency assets went up by 3.4%, while the volume of precious metals and gems reduced by 1.9%. Other assets amounted to $1869.4 million, or 33.4%. They shrank 19.1% in January.
BelTA reported earlier that the NBRB expects the country’s gold and foreign currency reserves to increase by $0.5-1.83 billion in 2010. This is envisaged in the draft monetary policy guidelines of Belarus.
Belarus Aims to Lure Industry Investors, Forge EU, Russia Ties
|Foreign Minister of Belarus Sergei Martynov at a press-conference following the negotiations with the EU Troika.|
“We are opening the economy to foreign investment,” Martynov said in an interview on Feb. 6 during an international security conference in Munich, Germany. “We would like to have more and we would welcome foreign investors to Belarus.”
Belarus wants better ties with the EU after President Alexander Lukashenko’s government was dubbed “Europe’s last dictatorship” in 2005 by the Bush administration. A 2009 World Bank survey of conditions for doing business ranked Belarus 13th among 27 countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, ahead of Poland, Turkey, Russia and Croatia. The survey rates factors such as starting a business, registering property and protecting investments.
Energy, petrochemical, chemical and automotive companies may “be of interest” as Belarus opens up state-controlled companies to investors, Martynov said. Belarus is home to the Minsk Tractor Works and produces 6 percent of the world’s tractors, the government says.
Plans to join Russia and Kazakhstan in a planned “single economic space” are aimed at creating a market of 180 million people, Martynov said. The three countries began applying a single customs tariff on Jan. 1, he said.
“If we are part of an important and vibrant economic union, the common weight of those included in this union increases,” he said. “Belarus will gain both economically and politically.”
While the government doesn’t want Belarus to become a candidate to join the EU, “we work to have a much better relationship with the European Union than we had before,” Martynov said. “We continue to have a dialogue with the European Union on certain political issues, but that dialogue is not an obstacle in itself to economic cooperation.”
EU foreign ministers said in November that Belarus’ release of political prisoners in 2008 increased possibilities for cooperation. Belarus hasn’t made much progress on human rights, including crackdowns on political demonstrations and hampering opposition groups, the ministers said in a statement.
Opposition activists have criticized an order this month by Lukashenko to monitor Internet use. The order, taking effect on July 1, obliges providers to keep information on Internet services they provide, Agence France-Presse reported Feb. 1.
Martynov rejected the criticism, saying the rule is mainly meant to prevent “abuse of the Internet” such as child pornography and copyright piracy. The criticism is based on “stereotypes” about Belarus, he said.
Fitch Downgrades Belgosstrakh to IFS ‘B-’; Outlook Negative
The rating action reflects the deterioration in the average credit quality of Belgosstrakh’s investment portfolio following a sizeable equity investment in a state-owned bank. It also reflects Fitch’s view that the Republic of Belarus, Belgosstrakh’s 100% owner, would be no more likely to support the company than other state-owned enterprises in the event of need, even though Fitch expects it may have greater ability to do so on account of Belgosstrakh’s relatively smaller size. The Negative Outlook reflects the weakening ability of the Belarusian authorities to support the insurance sector in such a scenario. The rating also takes into account the leading role performed by Belgosstrakh in the development of the Belarusian insurance sector and the company’s adequate capital position.
Belgosstrakh’s rating will continue to be affected by any significant changes in Fitch’s view of the financial condition of the Republic of Belarus.
The average credit quality of Belgosstrakh’s investment portfolio is weak. Fitch notes that 55% of the company’s total investments at Q309 were held in equities of Belagroprombank (rated ‘B-’, Outlook Negative) following a BYR650bn capital injection from the government in December 2008 to acquire this shareholding. Other investments are placed entirely in state-issued bonds, bonds of state-owned banks, or cash in state-owned banks, all of which are rated ‘B-’, Outlook Negative by Fitch. The agency also notes the relatively low liquidity of most of Belgosstrakh’s investments in light of the underdeveloped investment market in Belarus.
Fitch notes Belgosstrakh’s extremely strong coverage of the regulatory solvency ratio and views capital as adequate for the rating level. However, the agency believes the significant concentration of Belgosstrakh’s investments in state-owned enterprises presents a high credit risk that could rapidly reduce capital adequacy in the event of financial instability at the sovereign level.
Belgosstrakh’s underwriting performance is reasonable with a combined ratio of 103.3% in H109 (FY08: 100.1%). Fitch notes that tariffs for compulsory lines of business in Belarus are set by the state, thus limiting Belgosstrakh’s ability to control the profitability of its portfolio. The agency also notes positively that Belgosstrakh is tasked with the provision of practical and methodological support for the evolution of the insurance industry in Belarus, and has significant influence in the determination of insurance tariffs and insurance legislation.
Belgosstrakh was founded in 1921 and had a 58% share of the non-life insurance market in Belarus as at 1 December 2009. The company has two subsidiaries: Stravita, a life insurer, and Poligraf, which carries out polygraphic and publishing activity. At end-H109 Belgosstrakh had BYR777bn in net assets and seven branches covering all Belarusian regional centres, including Minsk.
This rating action reflects the application of Fitch’s current criteria which is available on Fitch’s website at www.fitchratings.com and specifically include: ‘Insurance Rating Methodology’, dated December 29, 2009, and ‘Non-Life Insurance Rating Criteria (Global)’, dated March 2, 2007.
Poland Recalls Ambassador to Belarus
From: Moscow Times
|Good bye and good riddence!|
Tensions have periodically erupted between Minsk and Warsaw over Belarus' treatment of its large Polish minority, which numbers some 400,000 people in a country of 10 million.
Warsaw's latest protest came a day after police seized control of a building used by the Union of Poles in the town of Ivenets. Polish newspapers said Belarussian police, acting on a prosecutor's orders, used "brutal force" to empty the building.
"By recalling our ambassador for consultations, we want to send a strong political message," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said.
The Belarus Foreign Ministry's press office said it was not ready to comment on the issue.
Paszkowski said Poland had not yet decided whether a previously planned visit to Warsaw this Friday by Belarus' foreign minister would go ahead.
The Gazeta Wyborcza daily quoted Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski as saying he anticipated a "tough conversation" with his Belarussian counterpart.
The Belarus-based Union of Poles split five years ago into two factions, one loyal to authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's government and the other critical of it.
The Ivenets branch refused to accept a decision by the union's pro-government leadership last month to dismiss the branch chief.
Long ostracized by the West for the suppression of dissent and a lack of democracy in Belarus, Lukashenko has begun to court the European Union with steps such as freeing political prisoners, apparently hoping to decrease his country's economic dependence on Russia.
Relations with Poland and other neighbors have generally improved in the past year, but Western governments stress that he must take stronger steps toward democracy.
"Poland is still interested in establishing new bilateral relations and also multilateral relations through the EU with Belarus, and we are still hopeful that this trend can be maintained," Paszkowski said in an interview.
Did Belarus Rip Off ‘The Big Bang Theory’?
|A scene from “The Theorists,” which Chuck Lorre says is a Belarusian copy of his show “The Big Bang Theory.”|
As Josef Adalian of TheWrap.com reported on his TV MoJoe blog, Mr. Lorre called attention to his apparent Eastern Bloc admirers-slash-copycats in a title card at the end of “The Big Bang Theory” on Monday night.
In the card, Mr. Lorre wrote that he had come across a Belarusian series called “The Theorists,” about “four nerdy scientists who live next door to a beautiful blonde waitress.” Each episode, he added, “appears to be a Russian translation of a ‘Big Bang Theory’ episode.”
But when Mr. Lorre complained to lawyers at Warner Brothers, which produces “Big Bang Theory,” he said, “we were told that it’s next to impossible to sue for copyright infringement in Belarus because the TV production company that is ripping us off is owned and operated by the government of Belarus.” Having no legal options, Mr. Lorre wrote that he hoped the producers of “The Theorists” would “break down and send us some felt hats.”
Below is a video clip from “The Theorists,” whose production values, we must say, are astoundingly high. We can’t tell what the characters are saying, but as always, the inclusion of a laugh track makes the comedy extra-hilarious.
Andzelika Borys: Regime of Lukashenka violates rights of all Belarusians
From: Charter '97
Andzelika Borys, the head of the unrecognized Union of Poles in Belarus, said this commenting on the conflict about the Polish House in Ivyanets.
The UPB head noted the situation resembled the one in 2005, when riot militia had taken the Polish House in Hrodna by storm. “These events demonstrate the Belarusian authorities continue to press on the independent Union of Poles in Belarus,” Borys said.
According to Borys, this policy displays itself in “pressure on independent organizations and people who have independent views”. Among examples she gave such facts as long-term pre-trial detention of businessman from Vaukavysk Mikalai Autukhovich, pressure on journalists of independent media, including Polish TV channel Belsat.
Andzelika Borys expressed gratitude to the “democratic society of Belarus and all people of good will” for solidarity with the unofficial Union of Poles.
Andzelika Borys also said Polish President Lech Kaczynski had invited her to a meeting. According to the UPB head, the president expressed his solidarity with the NGO.
We remind that yesterday in Ivyanets (Minsk region), militiamen and officers of court burst into the Polish House, owned by the unrecognized by the Belarusian authorities Union of Poles. Officers of court attached the property. The building was surrounded by militiamen. Activists of the Union of Poles were forced away from the building. After that militiamen got Stanislau Buracheuski, appointed head of the Ivyanets pro-governmental Union of Poles, into the building.
The previous conflict related to the Polish House in Ivyanets happened late January. The authorities tried to hold a congress there in order to replace the head of the local branch of the Union of Poles not recognized by the authorities, Tereza Sobal (Teresa Sobol). Dozens of organization’s activists were detained on the way to Ivyanets.
The Union of Poles was split in 2005. Its part which was loyal to the regime is officially recognized. Activists of the UPB not recognized by the authorities headed by Andzelika Borys are subject to crackdown by the authorities.
Constitutional Court reluctant to consider revocation of Article 193-1
‘On 28 January 2010 I received a run-around reply from the Belarusian Constitutional Court signed by the Court’s head of secretariat Mr. Yuraha, denying my right to appeal to the Constitutional Court’, says Mr. Atamanchyk.
‘Appeals for inspecting legal acts for their compliance with the Constitution can only be lodged by the President of Belarus, the House of Representatives, the Council of the Republic, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court and the Council of Ministers. Other individuals can only appeal to the above-listed bodies of power,’ says the official letter.
‘I think that the secretariat is not authorized to deny me my Constitutional right to appeal to state bodies’, says the youth activist.
According to Kiryl Atamanchyk, he is going to appeal the official’s reply.
The activist has already submitted a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, reporting about the violation of his right to the freedom of association by the Republic of Belarus.
Tymoshenko accuses winner Yanukovich of election fraud
Official results indicate that pro-Russia Yanukovich came first with 3 per cent more votes than Prime Minister Tymoshenko who had led the 2004 Orange Revolution.
International observers said the poll was run correctly, but Ukraine’s Iron Lady appears to want a third round, like in 2004, when street protests led to cancellation of the election won by Yanukovich for election fraud.
According to Rudenko, “even if Tymoshenko had won, Ukraine would still be moving towards a strong presidential system. Now, constitutional reform could concentrate powers in the hands of the head of state. Yanukovich’s Regions Party will control parliament and name the new prime minister. Russian influence will increase, but not in ways that might ruffle the feathers of the oligarchs who run eastern Ukraine, which is Yanukovich’s power base. The European Union will now have to deal with Russia whose borders will stretch into the heart of the Old Continent.”
In this election, neither Washington nor Brussels showed much interest. “Even Moscow did not interfere in the vote, which shows that it was not very important geopolitically. Moscow was well disposed towards either candidates, both of whom pledged to have good relations with the United States and the European Union,” Rudenko said.
Now the country faces a permanent political crisis with a ruling class that is corrupt, prone to infighting. Prime Minister Tymoshenko and outgoing President Yushenko could even face legal problems now that they are politically on their way out.
In the meantime, ordinary Ukrainians have to shoulder the economic crisis, live on salaries that barely reach US$ 300 a month, and bid good-bye to Europe, now that Brussels like Washington “turned its back us”.
The new president is also unlikely to deliver on his promises of jobs, security and justice. People in any event are tired and disillusioned.
“We made a revolution for real ideals, but now the only ideal is money,” said Raissa Marchuk, a 55-year-old teacher, who was in streets during the 2004 revolution.
Moscow says U.S. missile shield aimed at Russias
From: Washington Post
The White House denied missile defense was an obstacle and said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had not raised the program when he and U.S. President Barack Obama last discussed the treaty.
But the renewed blast from Moscow raised questions about the chances of an early agreement on a successor to the Cold War-era START nuclear arms reduction pact that expired in December.
Interfax news agency quoted Russian armed forces chief of staff Nikolai Makarov as saying: "The development and establishment of the (U.S.) missile shield is directed against the Russian Federation."
Washington has insisted its planned limited missile defense is meant to intercept a small number of warheads that might be fired by a "rogue state," such as Iran or North Korea.
"I think the notion that somehow this is in any way an impediment to what's going on with START is -- is simply -- it's simply not true," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at a news briefing. "It certainly wasn't what President Medvedev told President Obama."
Obama pleased Russia by scrapping the previous U.S. administration's plans to deploy elements of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic that Moscow bitterly opposed.
But Makarov said Russia still had serious concerns about Obama's revised plans, which are based on sea- and land-based missile interceptors in Europe, despite U.S. insistence that they are no threat to Russia.
"Despite the declarations of those statesmen who say that, on the contrary, it provides for our security, that's far from the case," state-run RIA news agency quoted Makarov as saying.
"For this reason it's completely understandable that we have a very negative attitude about this issue," he added.
'A PARTNER AND FRIEND'
A U.S. defense official in Washington, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said: "Those missile defense initiatives are not and never have been designed around Russian capabilities. We consider Russia a partner and friend in promoting stability and security in the region."
Russian and U.S. officials have said they are close to agreeing on a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- part of efforts to improve relations that sank to a post-Cold War low after Russia's war with Georgia in 2008.
"Whenever you get down to this point in a treaty, you're taking conceptual agreements and putting them into words," Gibbs said. "And there are going to be some fights over -- over different words and that's what they're working through.
"But I can assure you, it's not -- it's not our different approach to -- to missiles."
Russia says it fears the U.S. missile plan would alter the balance of power between the Cold War foes and has expressed reservations about agreeing to cut offensive weapons without limiting missile defenses.
Washington has acknowledged a link between offensive and defensive nuclear arsenals but has said the new treaty will not limit missile defense, which would severely jeopardize chances of the U.S. Senate ratifying it.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had also said in December that U.S. missile defense plans were the deal's main obstacle.
Makarov met his U.S. counterpart last month for what both sides said were productive talks on the treaty, and negotiations have continued in Geneva.
France and Russia in warship deal
It would be the first arms deal of its kind between Russia and a Nato member.
It remains unclear when or where the 23,000-tonne Mistral class warship will be built.
The deal, which would increase Russia's capacity to launch amphibious offensives, will alarm ex-Soviet states such as Georgia, analysts say.
Russia and Georgia fought a short war in August 2008.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy had approved the sale of one Mistral, but Moscow naval officials had then asked for a further three ships, said Jacques de Lajugie of the French arms agency DGA.
The deal has not yet been signed.
With an estimated cost of up to 500 million euros, the Mistral is an assault ship that can carry troops, helicopters and armoured vehicles.
Russia has reportedly been keen to buy the 980ft (299m) ship from France to modernise an ageing armoury.
The prospect that the ship could be used against Nato members or their allies has raised concerns in some parts of the alliance. A US official travelling with defence secretary Robert Gates to Paris on Monday said "we have questions" for France about the order.
4 (more) footballers charged for corruption
From: The News
Two former Polar Wroclaw FC players, Tomasz R. and Jacek S., former Slask Wroclaw FC player and former Zaglebie Lubin FC player, Zbigniew M., are accused of taking and giving bribes as well as encouraging other football players to cheat on the football pitch.
Two Polar Wroclaw footballers had already been sentenced previously to four months in prison, but the Court of Appeals in Wroclaw increased the punishment to one year. The other footballers pleaded innocent in 2008 but were detained again in 2009 on different corruption charges.
Over 300 people throughout Poland – players, referees, officials and members of the Football Federation (PZPN) – have been charged so far for being involved in match fixing schemes.
Pole pries prostitutes pretending to be policeman
He would arrive at the doorstep then flash the silver badge at them and announce that there was an investigation concerning an infection with HIV which would lead to a lot of trouble for the prostitute, making it impossible for her to work for several months. He then suggested that he could be persuaded to keep a secret if the woman had sex with him. If the woman still resisted, he threatened to make the nature of her work public.
The badge he used was a plastic toy of the kind readily available from any toy shop and even had the word ‘Police’ written on it in English, not Polish. But most of his victims didn’t look closely enough at the flashing badge in a black wallet. So far police have found eight women who were cheated in this way, but they do not exclude the possibility that further cases will be found. The man, who lives in Gostynin and works in Plock, and is in a steady relationship, was taken completely by surprise. He was even carrying the fake plastic police badge when arrested by Plock officers. The man faces up to ten years in prison.
Farmer poses as gynaecologist
|Farmer wandered through corridors for two years|
Donning a white coat and stethoscope, the 45-year old wandered hospital corridors administering examinations for two years.
Police believe that he wasn’t acting alone and at least one other person was in on the scam.
Belarus: Playing Spoiler is their National Pastime
From: Olympic Hockey
Injuries have dimmed the once bright star of Belarus' national team. As eager as they are to again play spoiler as they did in 2002 when they bumped the Swedes from the Olympics during the quarters, they'll have to overcome injuries to key players to do so. Ruslan Salei, Captain of that squad, commented of that big win:
It was amazing the excitement in our country after that; it's obviously going to be difficult to match.
Salei has been limited to one game this season for the Avalanche, leaving Belarus without their former captain.But Salei's injury is hardly the most damaging. Click read more to continue reading about the challenges facing the Belarusian squad in the Olympic men's ice hockey tournament set to begin in one week.
Canadiens winger Andrei Kostitsyn has been out since early January when he went under the knife. The Habs have kept the nature of the injury and the sugery to correct it quiet, but his timetable to return makes his participation in the Olympics highly questionable.
Also sidelined is Maple Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski who broke his wrist and has been out since January 2nd. He's not expected to be available for the tournament. Andrei's bother Sergei battled an ankle injury that kept him sidelined for 10 games in December and January. He's playing again, but how effective he'll be without his linemates on Belarus' top line is anyone's guess. Since returning he's suited up in eight games, potting a goal with a pair of assists.
Belarus will turn to their wily veteran netminder, Andrei Mezin, and pin their hopes to play spoiler on him. It was his stellar work in net against the Swedes in 2002 that propelled them to their best finish in Olympic history. He stopped forty-four shots holding Sweden to 3 goals and leading Belarus to their improbable victory. Playing for Dynamo Minsk this year in the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) he's posted a 10-19-5 record to go with a 2.64 GAA. All of this adds up to a pile of headaches for head coach Mikhail Zakharov, who took over the squad in November.
Plenty of players in the professional ranks would find themselves tempted to roll over, skate their games and enjoy the conviviality in the Olympic village. But after missing the 2006 Olympics and showing signs of re-establishing themselves with an eighth place finish in the 2009 World Championships, Belarus has something to prove. They need Sergei Kostitsyn to discover a deft scoring touch and for Mezin to stand on his head, as he did at the World Championships last year (4-1 1.72 GAA .948 save percentage), to keep the puck out of the net. The injuries will give them the chance to sneak up on an unexpecting opponent, enabling them to perhaps play spoiler again.
Pavel Latushko: the name of Belarus’ painter Ivan Khrutsky returns to Europe’s culture
“The name of Ivan Khrutsky is returning today to the Belarusian culture as well as to the European culture as UNESCO has declared this year the Year of Ivan Khrutsky. The name of the painter has been inscribed into the UNESCO List of Anniversaries,” Pavel Latushko said.
Belarus will organize a number of events to celebrate the anniversary of the painter. Polotsk, the native town of the painter and the Belarusian Capital of Culture this year, will host an exhibition of the painter’s works, a conference, an open air and contests among young painters. A bust to the famous compatriot will be erected in Polotsk. Ivan Khrutsky’s works will be exhibited in Louvre and the UNESCO Headquarters in 2010.
The National Museum of Arts has opened an exhibition of Ivan Khrutsky’s works. The exposition includes 24 masterpieces. Besides, the museum also hosts an exhibition of the paintings of Yadviga Matseyevskaya, painter’s great granddaughter. The museum has held a presentation of a memorable stamped envelope dedicated to the jubilee of the painter and a silver coin issued by the National Bank of Belarus to the 200th birthday of Ivan Khrutsky.
Ukraine Elections Hold Key To East-West Balance
From: The Bulletin
Many countries worldwide know that the country of Ukraine holds the key to the balance of power between the East and West. However, along the way to joining the West, NATO and the European Union, something very wrong happened. There are very definite reasons why.
What Went Wrong And Why Yushchenko Was Defeated
Political experts and political science analysts have asked what went wrong and why President Yushchenko and his Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko did not accomplish the mandate of the people and, thus, the link between East and West was never totally fulfilled. However, close analysis reveals why some of the goals of President Yushchenko to link the Ukraine and West failed.
Trouble was in the making as far back as New Years Eve 1999 when then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who did little for Russia’s economy, military presence and civil liberties appointed an unknown man named Vladimir Putin to become president. At the time, Mr. Putin was working with the mayor of St. Petersburg, but had the background serving as chief of Russia’s worldwide famous KGB intelligence service and the FSB for internal security, which gave him the proper mindset to forge the Russian Federation back on the map as a world power.
So, after an assassination attempt by dioxin poisoning, President Yushchenko kept marching as a true wounded hero along with his running mate (and Prime Minister) Julia Tymoshenko, all the way to the nations highest office knowing that his defeated opponent was highly backed by Russia’s Kremlin inner circle and then-President Putin. Mr. Putin had a strong hold of Russia’s intelligence service, which had infiltrated the Ukraine parliament where it was going to make life difficult for Mr. Yushchenko.
Mr. Yushchenko had strong hidden opposition from many Ukraine citizens of Russian ancestry who, although wanting more independence from what is now the Russian Federation did not want a total shift to western European and U.S. influence, and the key element, strong opposition in the Verkhovna Rada, (Ukraine Parliament), from many “former Soviet hardliners” who had been carefully influenced by Vladimir Putin and his Kremlin elite to fight most all of Mr. Yushchenko’s efforts for the Ukraine to join NATO, become an avid member of the European Union, and also form almost a total break from Russia as if it never existed and Putin and his agents quickly went to work to make sure Russia was not going to be humiliated in addition to losing the Orange Revolution.
The Ukraine, of all the fifteen breakaway republics from the Soviet Union, was the crown jewel, being the strongest, most economically prolific, technologically advanced breakaway republic and is strategically located along the Black Sea where the Russian 7th Fleet still sits due to a lease agreement with Ukraine.
But when Russia invaded Ukraine’s friend and ally Georgia in 2008, it caused Russia and Ukraine to become enemies again as Ukraine President Yushchenko strongly criticized Russia, threatened to sink Russian ships based at Sevastapol and in diplomatic and economic ways chastised Russia. As a result, Mr. Yushchenko lost backing from many key Ukraine insiders, who sensed it was not politically correct to come down so hard on what was proving to be a strong re-emerging Russia with Vladimir Putin as its president, now Prime Minister. There was additional tension due to the Russian oil pipeline which runs directly thru the Ukraine to western Europe as western Europe gets almost 40 percent of its oil from Russia.
And, European Union members did not allow Ukraine to join the E.U. because the Ukraine posed an economic threat of competition, especially in metal exports and produce, and talented but inexpensive, skilled technological labor and E.U. membership would make Ukraine the largest country geographically in its union and NATO membership.
Many European members have become afraid of Russia with Mr. Putin in charge because they’ve enjoyed peace since the Soviet breakup. Thus, with all these obstacles, the mandate of the Orange Revolution for the people was not, and still has not, been met, and many disillusioned Ukrainians, and now the runoff election between Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yanukovich have surfaced.
Just this past week, former Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma who served as president from 1994 until Mr. Yushchenko took over in 2005 strongly criticized the in-fighting between Mr. Yushchenko and his Prime Minister Tymoshenko, as to who had the most power. He also criticized the Ukraine parliament for constant faction fighting and also for not being more diplomatic with Russia even though the Ukraine had broken away and formed its own identity. Mr. Kuchma speaking on Radio Free Europe added Ukraine needs new faces in the political arena.
The former president was responsible for stabilizing the Ukraine economy after the Soviet breakaway.
Tymoshenko-Yanukovich, Bitter Rivals
Viktor Yanukovich and his Regions Party backed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, won the first round, gaining approximately 35 percent of the vote compared with Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko and her Bloc Party who gained about 25 percent. She still stands a good chance to upset Mr. Yanukovich in this runoff as either candidate must get at least 50 percent of the vote to be declared the winner. This election will be close. It is also likely the vote may be contested after the election - as it is the Ukrainian way.
Viktor Yanukovich from eastern Ukraine, near Donetsk Oblast (province) region. He has strong backing from Mr. Putin and Russian leaders and is promoting stronger ties with Russia (and less with the European Union and no NATO relationship) and wants Ukrainians to speak only Russian and not Ukraine, which is not popular with Ukrainians.
Julia Tymoshenko, current Ukrainian Prime Minister, is from Dnepropetrosk in central Ukraine. She is very convincing and resonates well with a broad spectrum of Ukraine people. (She is an oil baroness and Mr. Yanukovich is a former electrical worker and also served as Ukraine Prime Minister from 2002 to 2004.)
This past week he refused to go on TV to debate Ms. Tymoshenko because he is not a good speaker and he knows this is Ms. Tymoshenko’s strength, as she is extremely the populist, and she can be very convincing.
Mr. Yanukovich resonates with Russian voters and those who view a strong connection with the west as a betrayal to east European and Russo-Ukraine ancestry and relates to many blue-collar workers. Especially in eastern Ukraine but basically will represent many Russian interests.
Ms. Tymoshenko has also been known to work out good deals especially on oil with Vladimir Putin and Russia. In fact, Mr. Putin admits he enjoys working deals with Ms. Tymoshenko. She is smart and voters know she is working for Ukraine interests and not Russian, something Mr. Yushchenko was not able to do with Russia and something Mr. Yanukovich seems disinclined to do. In fact, on November 19, 2009, Ms. Tymoshenko worked out a solid gas agreement with Mr. Putin in Yalta, which also impacted twenty other European countries as they depend on Russian gas, but travels thru the Ukraine pipeline to Western Europe, but Ukraine voters can live with this as Ukraine benefits.
Ms. Tymoshenko’s best shot now is to garner the 13 percent of voters who voted for former Ukraine Economic Minister Sergei Tigipko and the 7 percent received by Ukraine banker Arseniy Yatseniuk and rural voters. This is how a major upset can take place.
Remember, in the runoff, there are more voters for only two candidates as compared to the
eighteen in the first round.
Either candidate will be much different than Orange Revolution winner Yushchenko and there has not been much support this time from the U.S., Canada or Great Britain and Ukraine politicians realize as former President Kuchma said, although Ukraine broke away, it does not mean deals can’t be made and dialogue always makes for good diplomacy. So, you will now see a centralized Ukraine with European countries for some time, and no NATO membership, as both candidates are willing to allow Russia to maintain their 7th Fleet in Sevastapol until at least 2017 or years later or until another president is elected as the Ukraine continues to develop its own identity of democracy.
With ongoing negotiations between Russia and the U.S. to ratify the START Treaty for nuclear arms reductions, it is very important for Ukraine voters to realize the ramifications of electing a pro-Russian president in a country, which is the best ICBM missile manufacturer in Europe with Russia as its neighbor.
Closer Relationship With Russia
The Ukraine was denied a Membership Action Plan initiative by NATO members despite a hard push by George Bush and his administration to be granted membership and the facts are real that the Ukraine has fought with the United States in every major campaign against terrorism and recently offered to fight in another campaign with NATO.
There are about 36.6 million registered voters in Ukraine and over 380 thousand registered worldwide with many residing in the Philadelphia area.
Everything said, the Orange Revolution was not a failure, but, instead the first step in its short independent history after decades of Soviet domination and Ukrainians are showing the world that it has resilience and can stand up to the ever re-emerging Russian Federation and that makes many European countries, some in the Mid East and the United States and Canada very happy for now and Ukraine and Russia can peacefully co-exist.