European integration, Russia and former USSR

Wikileaks. NATO, the Baltics, and Russia.

The main task of all military organizations is to be prepared for hostilities or to create the conditions to get the peace showing their strength. During the Cold War the “balance of terror” guaranteed five decades of stability to the world.

 WikiLeaks cables has revealed secret NATO plans to defend Baltics from Moscow. The decision to draft them was taken earlier this year at request of the United States and Germany at the Northern Atlantic Alliance headquarters. The White House also offered to beef up Polish security against Russia by deploying naval and air forces to the region.

 In those months Washington and Moscow were toughly negotiating the new START agreement and President Barack Obama was promoting a new approach to the former foes. The 21st century challenges need new solutions and an agreement among the most developed countries is desirable. Negotiations with the Kremlin were successful at last, and Russia was later invited to join a section of the western security system at Lisbon’s summit in November.

 It would have been surprising whether the NATO had not prepared plans to protect its allies in Eastern Europe. In the cables it is written that this planning is an “internal process designed to make the Alliance as prepared as possible for future contingencies” and “it is not ‘aimed’ at any other country.” Relationships with Russia began to be strained after Saint Petersburg’s G8 summit in 2006. A cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007 was believed to have originated in Russia, and the war broke out in Georgia a year later. Russia's foreign ministry said it was “bewildered” by revelations edited by the British newspaper The Guardian, but this kind of reaction is part of the game.

Ukraine. Aid for influence.

The EU does not forget Ukraine. In the same time as Russian President Medvedev was on an official visit to Kiev the European Parliament has approved a EUR 500 million loan to Ukraine to help it overcome the financial crisis.

 The European Parliament speaker Jerzy Buzek welcomed the decision of the European Parliament to support Ukraine through a loan facility and declare Ukraine a close strategic partner of the European Union.
 ”The assistance is provided at a time when the EU is helping to mobilize financing to support the reform of the Ukrainian energy sector, including developing a sustainable solution to Ukraine’s medium-term gas transit and gas payment obligations,” Buzek said.
 ”Nevertheless, EU macro-financial assistance can only contribute to economic stabilization if the main political forces in Ukraine ensure political stability and establish broad consensus on the rigorous implementation of the necessary structural reforms,” he added.

 At the end of April the European Commission gave to Kiev a list of 18 reforms, implementation of which will provide an opportunity to attract additional financial assistance to Ukraine from the EU. The document contains specific activities and possible EU assistance in response to their implementation. The list includes political reforms to ensure macro-financial stability, business climate, energy sector reform, civil aviation and the environment.

 Ukrainian President Yanukovich is also hoping to secure a new $19bn credit programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its struggling economy after ramming through Rada a 2010 budget with a relatively tight deficit target of 5.3 per cent of GDP.

Russia, as a participant in the G20 and the G8, is ready, as a partner, to advance all issues relating to Ukraine, including International Monetary Fund and World Bank support,” president Medvedev said during his visit.

Moscow's massacre in the subway
As in London and Madrid are the innocent people to die. Two terrorist attacks in half an hour away from each other occurred this morning. At 7:56 a.m. the first bomb exploded at the station Lubianka, red line. Passengers on the train and on the platform died. At 8.37 a second bomb blew up on the same line, four stops souther, at the station Park Kultury, the yield famous by the movie "Gorky Park". The two attacks took place in the heart of Moscow: the first few hundred meters from the Kremlin, directly below the palace of the secret services, the former KGB; the second near the strategic first ring road and subway travel. Tens are the victims of this terrorist action: at Lubianka 23 dead and 18 wounded, at Park Kultury 12 dead and 13 wounded. But the number of the victims increases every hour. The 8 in the morning is a rush time in Moscow. On the subway you travel crushed like sardines and surface streets are completely blocked by the traffic. Several wounded were evacuated only with the use of helicopters. The authorities have urged people to limit the car use to go downtown. Despite the immediate measures taken by the Municipality the already chaotic traffic in Moscow became literally crazy. Thousands of people stormed the bus stops. The center of the capital, a megalopolis with 13 million inhabitants, is paralyzed. "No panic" is an appeal launched by Patriarch Kirill. Numerous phone calls were received by newspapers and radio or police with complaints of suspicious packages or explosions. It is still unknown the matrix of the attack. Last week the alleged responsible for last summer derailment of the super luxury train "Nevsky Express" was killed, but there was also the news that a group of fascists-nationalists, with the aim of organizing terrorist acts in the capita, was arrested. According to early surveys the attacks were carried out by two female suicide bombers with an explosive belt of around 3 kilograms of dynamite. This is the ninth attack on the Moscow metro. On February 6, 2004 it was recorded the worst with 41 deaths. At that time commuters on the green line were attacked. EuropaRussia

The race for the Arctic goes on.

 The Arctic belongs also to Russia. Restrictions on Moscow's access to the development of hydrocarbon fields in the Arctic, which accounts for over 25% of global oil and gas reserves, is unacceptable, President Dmitry Medvedev said at a session of the presidential Security Council.

"We have seen attempts to limit Russia's access to the exploration and development of Arctic deposits which is of course unacceptable from a legal point of view and unfair from the point of the geographical location and the very history of our country," Medvedev highlighted and stressed that "polar countries are taking active steps to expand their economic and even military presence in the Arctic zone."

The five Arctic nations -- Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States -- are locked in a tight race to lay claim to vast riches believed to be hidden beneath the ice and snow in the Arctic.  They have claimed overlapping parts of the region estimated to hold 90 billion untapped barrels of oil. Under international law, each of the five Arctic Circle countries has a 322-kilometer (200-mile) exclusive economic zone in the Arctic Ocean.

 Medvedev did not specify which nations his comments were addressed to. Russia claims a large part of the Arctic seabed as its own, arguing that it is an extension of its continental shelf. Moscow has undertaken two Arctic expeditions - to the Mendeleyev underwater chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov Ridge in the summer of 2007 - to support its territorial claims in the region.

It first claimed the territory in 2001, but the United Nations demanded more conclusive evidence.

Russia has said it will invest some 1.5 billion rubles ($50 million) in defining the extent of its continental shelf in the Arctic in 2010.

 In 2008, Medvedev signed an Arctic strategy paper saying that the polar region must become Russia's "top strategic resource base" by the year 2020.

The document called for strengthening border guard forces in the region and updating their equipment, while creating a new group of military forces to "ensure military security under various military-political circumstances. "It said that by 2011 Russia must complete geological studies to prove its claim to Arctic resources and win international recognition of its Arctic borders.

 The Kremlin is against any arms race in the Arctic. In summer 2009 Denmark announced its plans to establish an Arctic military command and a task force.

Украина как демократический внеблоковый мост
Пять лет после оранжевой революции Виктор Янукович приступил к исполнению обязанностей главы украинского государства в Киеве в 25 февраля.

Инаугурация четвертого президента происходила в Верховной раде в пустом на одну треть зале заседаний, ряды депутатов от «Блока Юлии Тимошенко» (БЮТ) были пусты. Премьер-министр, уступившая Януковичу победу на выборах с разницей в 3,5% голосов, но так и не признавшая своего поражения, также отсутствовала на церемонии. Отказались почтить вниманием торжество первый и третий президенты Украины Леонид Кравчук и Виктор Ющенко. Зато на инаугурации присутствовал второй президент Леонид Кучма, объявивший своим преемником Виктора Януковича еще на предыдущих президентских выборах в 2004 году. В 2005 году на инаугурации Виктора Ющенко присутствовали и Кучма, и Кравчук.

Глава Миссии ОБСЕ Жоао Соареш описывал второй тур президентского голосования на Украине как «очень впечатляющий пример демократических выборов». По многим специалистам,Украина является самой развитой демократией в пост-советском пространстве.

В президентской речи Янукович обозначил свои главные приоритеты: реформа правительства, сокращение аппарата, создание "дееспособной исполнительной власти, которая немедленно займется наиболее пораженными отраслями экономики и социальной сферы", а также создание "сильного и стабильного парламентского большинства". Задачи у него трудновыполнимы.

Эксперты утверждают, что для Януковича важно отобрать у Тимошенко административный ресурс как можно скорее. Иначе она снова проведет в парламент крупную фракцию, а также добьется победы на местных выборах всех уровней. И президент останется в изоляции, окруженный лагерем политического противника.

Последствия экономического кризиса очень тяжелые. С мая 2008 по май 2009 средняя заработная плата на Украине выросла с 1735 до 1845 грн (выросла на 6,34 %), однако из-за девальвации гривни средняя зарплата в долларовом эквиваленте сократилась с $343 до $240 (снизилась на 30 %). За январь-апрель 2009 года падение промышленного производства составило 31,9 % в сравнении со средним показателем по СНГ 9 %; прирост инфляции составил 19,1 % (в годовом исчислении); объём розничного товарооборота упал на 14,4 %. В ноябре 2009 года Международный валютный фонд решил приостановить предоставление финансовой помощи до проведения президентских выборов из-за отсутствия консенсуса между властями в сфере бюджетной политики.

Янукович в своей речи подчеркнул, что Украина продолжит интеграционные процессы с ЕС и постсоветскими странами как «внеблоковое государство». «Будучи мостом между Востоком и Западом, интегральной частью Европы и бывшего СССР одновременно, Украина выберет такую внешнюю политику, которая позволит нашему государству получить максимальный результат от развития равноправных и взаимовыгодных отношений с Российской Федерацией, Европейским Союзом, США и другими государствами, которые влияют на развитие ситуации в мире», - объяснил президент Украины.
«Вызовы, которые стоят перед международным сообществом, диктуют необходимость объединяться в как можно более широком формате. Я имею в виду единый мир как силу, способную гарантировать планете мирное сосуществование разных цивилизаций, энергетическую, экологическую, продовольственную безопасность. Мы готовы принимать участие в таких процессах как европейское внеблоковое государство», - сказал президент Украины.

Между тем в тот же день Европарламент принял резолюцию, в которой содержится пункт о возможности Киева запросить членство в ЕС. А в другом пункте резолюции выражается сожаление в отношении того, что уходящий президент Ющенко присвоил лидеру Организации украинских националистов Степану Бандере, «который сотрудничал с нацистской Германией, титул национального героя Украины». Европарламент выражает надежду на то, что новый президент страны пересмотрит это решение.

Первый зарубежный визит Виктор Янукович совершит 1 марта в Брюссель, а в Россию он прибудет 5 марта. Идея первой поездки в Европу принадлежит министру иностранных дел Украины Петру Порошенко. Практического смысла в поездке нет, с Евросоюзом отношения и так в порядке.

Любой шаг Виктора Януковича в сторону России теперь будет встречать жесткое противодействие со стороны оппозиции. Однако, новому президенту придется мудро решить проблемы присутствии в Крыму Черноморского флота, транзита российского газа в ЕС, статуса русского языка на Украйне. Почти 20 миллион человек не могут употреблять своего родного языка в официальных документах. Не надо забывать что когда Виктор Янукович служил премьер-министром при Кучме он всегда защищал местного капитала от интересов российских олигархов и в его команде, до сих пор, работают американские специалисы.

Впервые в истории Украины руководителя государства благословлял на труд во благо народа глава Русской православной церкви. «Пусть хранить вас Господь на многие благие годы, пусть Господь хранит Русь-Украину», -- сказал Патриарх Московский и всея Руси Кирилл во время молебна в Киево-Печерской лавре. Присутствующие обратили внимание при этом, что слова молитвы за Украину «Боже Великий единий, нам Украину храни» патриарх немного дополнил: «...нам Русь-Украину храни».

Наш прогноз простой: именно при Януковиче произойдет сближение Украины с Европой и ее евроинтеграции. У четвертого президента есть огромный шанс модернизировать свою страну благодаря новому приобретенному геополитическому весу бывшего советского республика. Пропустить его было бы непростимо.

Ukraine. The new better balanced bridge
Five years after the Orange Revolution ousted him Viktor Yanukovych has sworn in as President of Ukraine. He took the oath of office in the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian Parliament.

The former USSR republic “is in an extremely difficult situation," he said in his first speech as Head of State. "There is no state budget for the current year. The debts on foreign loans are colossal. Poverty, a ruined economy, and corruption are only part of the list of the troubles that constitute Ukrainian reality." The meaning of his words is clear: it’s time to dig the axe of war and start to work together.

His electoral opponent’s refusal to concede defeat and step down from the premiership threatens to prolong the political wrangling that has paralyzed the country since 2006. Yulia Tymoshenko continues to accuse him of having won the run-off through fraud. But Joao Soares, president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, called Ukraine's election "an impressive display" and "a victory" for democracy.

The voting pattern showed a sharp split between Russian-speaking voters in the industrial east and south who backed the new President and Ukrainian speakers in the west and in the centre who voted for Tymoshenko. Yanukovych’s margin of victory was only 3.5 percentage points.

The former Soviet republic can not wait for political peace anymore. Last autumn, the International Monetary Fund froze a $16.4 billion bailout. Ukraine’s gross domestic product plunged by 15 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank. IMF officials will visit Kiev on April 7th.

Ukraine will embark on a foreign policy," Yanukovych highlighted, "that will allow our country to fully benefit from equal and mutually beneficial relations with Russia, the European Union and the United States." His first foreign official visit as Ukrainian leader will be to Brussels, the second to Moscow. In Yanukovych’s idea his country will come back to be “a bridge between the East and the West, integral part of both Europe and the former USSR”.

The new President will simply correct the too westwards Yushchenko’s policy into a more natural 'non-aligned’ one. When Yanukovych served as Prime minister under Kuchma’s presidency he supported national economic interests against the Russians in many tenders and had a good relationship with the USA. His best advisers are American still now.

The new President has indicated he would put an end to Ukraine's drive to join NATO and renegotiate a gas-supply deal with Moscow, which some believe would enable him to establish closer ties with Russia's Gazprom. He has proposed the creation of a consortium (33% stakes each to Ukraine, Russia, and EU) to run the national gas pipelines and has hinted at possible concessions to the Kremlin over the future Russia’s Black Sea fleet forces in Crimean peninsula. Yanukovych needs to find a good solution for Khrushchev’s poisoned present and for the use of Russian as official language. Around 20 million people can not use their mother tongue in state documents.

The European Union and Russia need stability in Ukraine for raw materials’ transit . On the same day Yanukovych swore in, the European Parliament has issued a document which leaves the door open to a future Ukrainian membership to the EU and expresses the hope that the new President will cancel his predecessor’s recent decree that gave the honorary title of national hero to Stepan Bandera. Brussels will study a road map to guarantee no-visa EU entry to the Ukrainians in the next future and, as a first step, free of charge Schengen visa.

Yanukovych has much to gain from the international situation, using his country’s new geopolitical importance. Financial and technological aids from West and East may be crucial for the modernization of Ukraine and for its European integration

Lithuania poorer, Europe safer. Ignalina shutdown.

People at Visaginas are frustrated. According to plan last reactor at the Soviet-era nuclear plant of Ignalina has been shut down at 11 p.m. local time. The future has become unpredictable for thousands of high qualified specialists. Will the town of 25,000 inhabitants be abandoned by most of them? The youngsters have already left looking for better jobs in the capital – 2 hours ride by train – or in Russia.

Vilnius agreed to close the facility by 2010 in order to win admission to the EU in May 2004. The plant was built in the 1980 and is considered by many to be unsafe since it shares design flaws with the Chernobyl unit that exploded in 1986.

Lithuania – one of the two most nuclear-energy dependent nations along with France – had been hoping that Brussels would allow it to keep Ignalina open for another two to three years, but the European Commission flatly refused. The EU allocated about $1.2 billion to cover part of the plant’s decommissioning costs.

The country risks to become too dependent on Russian gas supplies. Last shutdown reactor had a capacity of 1,320 megawatts, making it one of the largest reactors in the world. It supplied over 70 percent of Lithuania’s electricity needs. Power prices in the country of 3.3 million people were to rise by 30 per cent for households and 20 per cent for businesses, marking a new blow amid one of the world’s deepest economic crises.

Lithuania’s economy shrank by 15.2 per cent in 2009, the Government estimated, and the nuclear shutdown could shave up to 1 percentage point off gross domestic product this year, experts say

The former Soviet republic is seeking European investors to underwrite construction of a new nuclear power plant. Among the companies under consideration are Britain’s Centrica PLC, Germany’s RWE, Electricite de France, Germany’s E.ON AG energy corporation, the Czech Republic’s CEZ, Finland’s Fortum Oyj, Italy’s ENEL, France’s GDF Suez, Sweden’sVattenfall, U.S. company Duke Energy, Japan’s Toshiba, France’s Areva and Spain’s Iberdrola.

 After January 2009 gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine leaving half Europe without supplies was the EU decision to shut down Ignalina the right one and in the right moment?

The new Central and Eastern Europe. Russia and the others
After May 2004 Central and Eastern Europe had a dramatic change. On one side Russia is trying to mantain its influence in the region, on the other former Kremlin's satellites are looking for a new dimension. The European integration is one of the crucial topics in the EU agenda. The risk of isolating Moscow is real as its anger as a resurgent power. The  western world needs Russia as a faithful ally for its raw material wealth, for its military capability, for its culture, for its experience in dealing with eastern peoples. There are too many existing challenges in the 21st century to do alone: nuclear proliferation, international terrorism, migration, climate changes, Chinese emerging power, reducing traditional energy sources.
Former Soviet republics and 'new European' States are seeking a difficult balance to reach. The history of the terrible for the entire Euro-Asian region 20th century still provokes political divisions in current affairs. How long will these problems continue to be painful?

Poland. Andrzej Wajda. Katyn. The defeat of the silence

The truth on a crime hidden for half of a century. The defeat of a perfidious fabrication based on the silence. The will to give his farewell to this unbelievable tragedy. Katyn by Andrzej Wajda summarizes all this.

Its watching is in some points simply upsetting: impressive psychological portraits are mixed with scenes from a shambles. “We have been waiting for the right moment to make a film on the massacre of Katyn. The lie and the crime, connected with this event, are well inside our national conscience,” says the great Polish director.

More than 22 thousand Polish citizens, taken prisoners in autumn 1939, were slaughtered in USSR by NKVD, Stalinist secret police, in spring 1940. For decades the Nazi were unfairly accused of this butchery. “That dreadful falsehood was one of the basis of the Polish – Soviet friendship even if there were documents, dated 1943, that stated the opposite. It was denied the obvious ”, underlines Wajda.

The relatives of the victims were frightened to accept the invitation to attend the film that  was watched by more than 3 million people only in Poland. “Many of them lived those terrible years again at the cinema and found in the film episodes from their personal tragedies”, admits Isabella Sariusz Skapska, secretary of the Association of  Families.

“For years we have been seen photos and documents of Katyn, but there wasn’t the image,” says Andrzej Wajda in his Warsaw’s school of cinema. “We needed to explain in a visual way how a tragedy like this could happen. Such terrible historical events must find their place in the art if we want them to survive in the memory. Watching the film, people understand that this is the past. There’s no aim of revenge. Our film is a kind of funeral, an attempt to close with this drama forever.”

Which sources did you use? “The documents signed by Stalin and the Politburo are well known. Our work is not a documentary film. The events in the plot are taken from the tales of the victims and of their families. They are real stories.”

You have dedicated this film to your parents. How much is it autobiographic? “It isn’t all. My father was killed in the prison in Kharkov after being in Starobelsk. My mother lived till 1950 hoping that my father were safe. There wasn’t his name on the first edited Katyn list. Only thanks to the Red Cross aid later we discovered the truth.”

You are saying that there isn’t any personal element Katyn, aren’t you? “A character that is, may be, close to my mother is Anna, Andrzej’s wife, the officer of cavalry. In the film she is played by Maja Ostaszewska. It’s the woman who gives the farewell to her husband who goes to the captivity.”

In your film you used two real historically true symbolic images: a coming down from the cross Christ with a broken arm who lies among injured prisoners under a plaid and some Soviet troops who tear out the Polish flag. “It wasn’t necessary to have many. We used also some pieces from the original German and Soviet propaganda films of that period. We didn’t touch them, because this is the best way to show the manipulation of the truth. The event is the same, but the remarks are different. At the end of the film we added from the literature another symbol, that is the history of Antigon. A girl cuts her hair to defend the memory of her brother who dies fighting for his right to state that his father was killed by the Soviets.”

In your opinion, what did the Soviet  executioners think doing their dirty work? “There are documents with their number and names. NKVD’s killers slaughtered a victim after another. They did it mechanically without thinking. It’s impossible to carry out certain orders in another way. Every day they had to murder a hundred of Polish prisoners. From April 5th to the beginning of June 22 thousand people from 3 camps were killed. The most incredible thing is that even the Soviet executioners were later killed, because they became dangerous eyewitnesses.”

Is that of Katyn a crime of communism or of a totalitarian system? “The communism was a totalitarian system. Soviet Russia was a totalitarian State. This is a crime against humanity, one of the biggest reason of today’s bad relationship between Warsaw and Moscow. The Russians speak about Katyn as a tragedy provoked by the situation. We were enemies in war. The Poles respond it wasn’t necessary to kill all those people.”

Moscow’s newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta harshly criticized your film arguing that you didn’t use trustworthy sources. “It is not true. The documents are clear. The Germans discovered the mass graves and they analysed them in 1943. When the Polish prisoners were killed those regions were in Soviet hands. Berja and Central Committee’s documents with Stalin’s signature were delivered to President Lech Walesa in the Nineties. The rest was found in victims’ pockets. There are detailed notes, where everything is written. For example, from Adam Solski’s diary ‘we got on a truck at 6 in the morning. Who knows what’s going to happen?’ In the film we used this historical testimony.”

What was the most difficult thing to do in this film? “It was the decision to make the film. But, then, how to play it? How and what to tell? The killed soldiers’ stories? The women’ ones? Which historical period should we choose? We had to select the material. A film like this one must last no more than two hours. Was it better to decide for the story of one family or of more people? I chose to have more characters to use more memories and to be more free in the plot.”

Your film was shown in Moscow only twice at the mid of March: in the House of Cinema and in the House of Literature. There are serious problems. Katyn goes against common Russian belief of their history. “We have contacts with the human rights society Memorial. We are looking for fearless people who want to distribute our film.”

From your point of view, is this the time for the penitent of the Russians, as heirs of Soviet Union, and for Polish forgiveness? “The film was made with this idea. Russians made important steps ahead with the delivery of the documents during Mr. Gorbacev and Yeltsin Presidencies. May be, we should have made Katyn ten years ago. But this is art! The only thing I don’t want now is the political manipulation of our film.”

Personally, as a practicing Catholic, do you forgive your father’s killers? Mr. Wajda turns his face on his right side. He keeps silent for long endless seconds when we regret for this necessary question. Then, the great Polish director frowns and answers with a trembling voice. His eyes have become watery all of a sudden. “The Russians must face their own past. They must stop with their tales about their history full of glory and with their speeches on ideal systems. They should follow the example of Solgenitsin and of  Memorial. Here, we are not speaking about the forgiveness of one person, but of the entire Polish society. After the end of World War II Polish bishops wrote a letter to the German episcopate. They pardoned German people, because they saw convincing steps from the other side. You may forgive when the others recognize their sins.”

March 24th, 2008


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