Belarus arrests 3 leading opposition activists  |

Belarus arrests 3 leading opposition activists  |


The Associated Press

MINSK, Belarus — Belarus arrested three top opposition figures Wednesday who were on their way to Brussels to meet with European Union officials, a move certain to further fuel tensions with the bloc.

The 27-nation EU already has imposed sanctions on authoritarian Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s regime over its crackdown on dissent and recalled its ambassadors from the ex-Soviet nation, which is wedged between Russia and Poland.

Those arrested were Anatoly Lebedko, the head of Belarus’ largest opposition United Civil Party; Sergei Kalyakin, the leader of the Fair World leftist party; and Alexander Otroshchenkov, a leading activist of the European Belarus group.



Belarus arrests 3 leading opposition activists  |


Key events in the history of space exploration

Key events in the history of space exploration

4 October 1957: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, igniting the space race. Sputnik’s radio signals continue for 22 days until the transmitter batteries run out. It burns up on 4 January 1958 as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere

3 November 1957: The dog Laika, the first living creature ever to orbit the earth, is launched aboard Sputnik II. Laika dies a few hours after launch, although this is kept secret until 2002. Instead, the Soviets claim she lived for several days

Read on for 30 more key events.

(Via The Telegraph)

Russian military stops issuing soldiers with cigarettes, offers candy instead

Russian military stops issuing soldiers with cigarettes, offers candy instead

Real changes in culture?  Or more cosmetic façades?

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Colonel General Dmitry Bulgakov has announced that the Defense Ministry will no longer purchase cigarettes for soldiers, Russian website reports.

“There are no cigarettes in our new military allowance. We have replaced cigarettes for the army with caramel candies and sugar. However, we can’t prohibit smoking completely. If a soldier wants to smoke, he will have to buy cigarettes with his own money at a store during his period of leave,” Bulgakov said.

Bulgakov also announced that all Russian officers will change their footwear by 2013.

“We have developed special office shoes for officers. They are lightweight shoes made of high-quality leather, which let soldier’s feet breathe. Women’s boots will be substituted too. Now we will distribute refined shoes for our beautiful military women. And, of course, the unpleasant naval jacket with a high collar will be replaced by a convenient sweater.” Bulgakov said.

(Via MosNews)

Russia groans under the weight of its rubbish

Russia groans under the weight of its rubbish

Landfill areas in Russia are bigger than some countries and authorities call for more recycling and tougher action against pollution.

With more than 2,000 square km of rubbish and solid waste rotting across Russia, the total area is six times the size of Malta.

Only 30 per cent of Russia’s waste is recycled properly, leading to 80 billion tons being dumped across the country.

The volume increases by 7 billion tons each year, the Federation Council’s first vice-speaker Alexander Torshin said at a national ecological forum, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported.

Vladimir Putin has also warned that the authorities need to act if they want to change the ecological situation in the country.

The Prime Minister said that about 15 per cent of Russian territory is in poor ecological condition, Interfax reported.

“In almost all of the country’s regions air and water pollution remain high,” Putin said at a meeting devoted to improving Russia’s ecology.

Federation Council first vice-speaker Alexander Torshin suggests that in the coming years we will begin mining trash piles for secondary resources (he continues to suggest that this could rival Gas/Oil as a source of resources/wealth)


(Via Johnson’s Russia List)

Loss of Chechnya: the case for the defence

Loss of Chechnya: the case for the defence

Chechnya’s ex-foreign minister Ilyas Akhmadov has published a book chronicling the loss of his republic to Russia. Politicians from other countries with similar tales of loss and betrayal have tried to justify their actions in the same way. Oliver Bullough examines the current situation in the light of some of their accounts.

If a politician has lost an election, he writes a book about it. If he has lost a whole country, however, you might expect him to keep it quiet. Nonetheless, over the centuries, a few men have taken on the task of explaining away the most enormous failure that a political career can end with.

Russia has tended to be the villain in these memoirs because of its habit of periodically swallowing its neighbours. As a result, it looked as though the genre might die with the Cold War, when Moscow finally lost its empire. In previous centuries, exiled ex-leaders of briefly-independent Georgia or Ukraine committed their excuses to paper, but those states are free now. So who could be left to remind us how we abandoned their small nations to Russian vengeance?

Enter Ilyas Akhmadov, who ably fulfils that role on behalf of the Chechens – for whom he was briefly foreign minister, although he lacked a ministry even before he lacked a country. And his memoir does so in bewildering detail. I already knew the names and biographies of many of the people he mentions, but even I struggled with sentences like this one: “it must have been when I was praising his house that Aushev asked me about the cement factory in Chiri Yurt”.

From the progression of the exiles’ memoirs, you can trace the development of the world order, as the leadership of the Western world swings away from Europe. The Polish captain blamed the French in the 1830s, while Zhordania and many others blamed the British in the 1930s and after.

“For the 250,000 Polish Servicemen who fought under British command, the Yalta agreements came as an unbelievable shock,” wrote Kazimierz Sabbat, Poland’s last president in exile before the collapse of communist rule, in Polonia Restituta, with admirable restraint considering the vastness of Poland’s betrayal at the Yalta conference.

Writing today, Akhmadov blames the Americans.

“The lack of a principled assessment in the West contributed to the radicalization of the Chechen resistance; the West was seen as acquiescing to Russia, leaving only two available paths: submission to (Russia’s ally) Kadyrov or jihad,” he writes sadly.

“It is either Kadyrov or extermination and that choice is being hailed by the outside world, somehow, as a sign of progress.”

(Via Open-Democracy: Russia; Post Soviet World)

Medvedev sets sights on cleaner public procurement with new Russian laws

Medvedev sets sights on cleaner public procurement with new Russian laws

As three government departments set about drawing up a new Public Procurement Law, President Medvedev reiterated the need for more openness in the procurement system last week, calling for tougher anti-corruption measures.

“I repeat that we need clear, transparent and effective rules in the state procurement system, especially as concerns planning state procurement needs, setting the initial purchase prices for goods and services, and managing and monitoring the way contracts are performed,” he said at a meeting to discuss the execution of presidential instructions.

The Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, the Finance Ministry and Economic Development Ministry are drawing up new legislation that better regulates the state procurement process.

Kickbacks in state procurement programs have been a serious problem in Russia, with Konstantin Chuichenko, head of the presidential oversight administration, estimating last November that they amount to one trillion rubles ($32.5 billion) a year.

(Via Modern Russia)

Russia employs Arctic brigade to defend oil and gas reserves

Russia employs Arctic brigade to defend oil and gas reserves

The move follows a muscular series of comments from the deputy head of Russia’s Border Service Colonel-General Vycheslav Dorokhin who said the Kremlin planned to build up its forces in the region to better patrol its Arctic territorial waters.

The troops will be based in the far northern town of Pechenga on Russia’s Kola Peninsula close to the Norwegian and Finnish borders and will be combat-ready later this year.

Russian military planners said they had studied the way Arctic troops in Norway and Finland operated and had ordered in the necessary winterised clothing and arms for the new brigade which could number up to 8,000 troops.

In particular, he said Russia wanted to step up patrols of the strategically important North East shipping passage.

“Our potential there will be built up. We won’t let anyone feel themselves free (to move about as they please) in the Arctic.”

Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway are all locked in a race to grab a slice of the northern wilderness after US researchers predicted that global warming might leave the area ice-free, and therefore more easily navigable and explored, as early as 2030.

Experts say the region potentially contains one fifth of the world’s oil and gas reserves and that the swath of Arctic territory claimed specifically by Russia could be home to oil supplies double the size of Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves.

(Via The Telegraph; by the interesting journalist Andrew Osborn)

To Lure Foreign Investment, Russian President Calls for Reform

To Lure Foreign Investment, Russian President Calls for Reform

The president of Russia, Dmitri A. Medvedev, on Wednesday proposed a sweeping change to the management of the country’s many state-run companies, saying an overhaul that would remove ministers from the boards of directors is overdue.

After a decade of rolling back the results of its early post-Soviet privatizations, the Russian economy is again top-heavy with government-run companies, particularly in the oil and natural gas industries.

As president, Mr. Putin had appointed loyal officials in his government to crucial positions on the boards of large companies dealing in energy, transportation, military industry and aviation. Igor I. Sechin, a deputy prime minister overseeing the oil industry, is chairman of the state oil company Rosneft, for example.

Mr. Kudrin is on the board of Alrosa, Russia’s diamond mining company.

Mr. Medvedev, when he served as deputy prime minister before his election as president in 2008, had also served as chairman of Gazprom, the big natural gas company.


“Cinderella of the Stars” Valentina Tereshkova – First woman in Space

“Cinderella of the Stars” Valentina Tereshkova – First woman in Space

In June 1963, the whole world heard about the Russian “Chaika” (Seagull), Valentina Tereshkova’s call sign.

The first woman in space, ”Cinderella of the Stars” was born into a peasant family and worked at a textile factory after finishing evening school.

While working and earning an education at a technical school by correspondence, Valentina dreamed of the heavens. She learned how to skydive at a local aero-club, completing 163 jumps.

“There were only five women in our group, but the workload was more than the men’s,” Tereshkova explains, saying the training was extremely rough at that time. “But each of us was obsessed with the crazy idea of completing the training with brilliant results and of making a spaceflight.”



















































In 2000, Valentina Tereshkova was named “Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century” by the British Women of the Year Association.

(Via Ria Novosti)

Fighting terrorism with tourism

Fighting terrorism with tourism

The drive from Vladikavkaz airport into the North Ossetian capital passes through the village of Beslan and by the monument to 33 4 victims, – more than half of them children – of the 2004 school siege that won the region global notoriety. “A horrific tragedy; several of my relatives are buried here,” says Oleg Karsanov, the republic’s tourism minister, as we pass by the graves, the nearby mountains obscured by overcast skies.

Mr Karsanov is determined to rebrand his native North Ossetia and turn the mountainous republic into a magnet for tourists. After holding several posts in local government, he was tasked with nurturing regional tourism; he had developed a solid bank of targets four years before the federal model appeared. Oleg Karsanov’s plan is two-pronged: to build up basic infrastructure such as roads, plumbing and electricity via state grants, and to provide incentives for investors to open hotels and other amenities. The minister initially hopes for the support of the large North Ossetian diaspora in Russia and abroad, which includes such names as the former national football coach Valery Gazzaev and the conductor Valery Gergiev.

Rostislav Khortiev, 50, a businessman, has already taken the plunge, returning from Siberia three years ago to build a £1.7m hotel project 75 miles from Vladikavkaz. Employing 35 people, the hotel hosts groups from across Russia on skiing and fishing packages. “It’s a great place to make an ethnic village for tourists,” Mr Karsanov gleams.

The most ambitious element of the plan revolves around Mamison, a $1bn (£615m) ski resort under construction two hours’ journey south-west of Vladikavkaz. “Unfortunately, there are still few – if any – world-class ski resorts in Russia. Mamison will offer our countrymen the opportunity to experience world-class skiing without leaving the country,” Mr Karsanov says.

There is stiff competition across the North Caucasus for a piece of the federal funding pie. The Sochi Olympic Winter Games in 2014 will help, Mr Karsanov believes.

(don’t miss the Photo slideshow and Audio documentary on the page in the link!  [Via Russia and India Today])