Belarus: Bomb blast injures 37 – Parliament campaign begins

Life-Upgrade.com pulled together information a German news organization on this important development in Belarus.

Belarus: Bomb blast injures 37 – Parliament campaign begins

Minsk, BY – July 4th 2008,

Below the stage of an open air concert at the Independence Square a bomb exploded and injured 37 persons. No one was killed – according to Minister Naumow. On July 4th it is Independence Day – also in Belarus, since 1990.

More HERE

Is this a new era of radical protest against dictator Lukashenko?

At the same time the Parliament campaign begins, in which the Belarussians vote for a new Parliament. This time, Lukashenko does not exclude opposition politicians. Nice, but if you candidate as an opposition candidate you can easily lose your job. If you protest against the Government in public, as a Belarussian man / woman – you can get 6 months in jail.

Since 1996 not a single ballot in Belarus was accepted as a democratic ballot. More HERE

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Remember the brutal abatement of the peaceful 2004 protests, also at the Independence Square.

Violent clashes in South Ossetia, serious escalation or business as usual?

Robert Parsons, a english-language blogger for France 24 reported cynically today on an exchange of mortar fire on the border of South Ossetia resulting in the death of three Ossetians.

“South Ossetia – a tiny breakaway province in the Republic of Georgia, on the border with Russia – is in the news again today. Headlines say that the Ossetian rebels have ordered a “general mobilization” after three people were killed in shelling overnight.

The Ossetians say Georgian forces fired mortars on their main city, Tskhinvali. The Georgians categorically deny bombarding the city with mortars, but say their peace-keeping forces returned fire after the Ossetians atacked Georgian villages in the area.

Strong stuff – but pretty much business as usual in this on-again, off-again conflict, which has been running for 16 years now. This sort of clash has become almost routine in South Ossetia, particularly during the summer months. Determining which side opened fire first is almost impossible.”

While this may seem like business as usual to Westerners at computers thousands of miles away, it is certainly not being taken lightly by the parties involved–especially Russia, who predictably blamed Georgia for the fighting.

Russian newspaper Kommersant declared the incident the most serious since summer 2004. While taken as an individual event, it truly was small news, but given recent trends in the region, the big picture issue of Georgia’s separatist republics is quite frightening.

Nonetheless, the situation in Georgia is one totally ignored from the American press. Why? It’s far away and complicated. But whether or not Americans understand it, it will have ramifications for America.

Consider this:

Russia currently has several thousand peacekeeping troops (with questionable goodwill) in the two break-off republics Abkhazia and South Ossetia. These two provinces have been de facto independent since 1992, and in order to help these regions, whose citizens’ national identities are in limbo (and to possibly move towards annexation), Russia has granted citizenship to nearly all of their residents.

Georgia, which has been at the edge of war with Russia over the last five years, under an ongoing trade embargo and faced with expulsion of its citizens from Russian territory, has built up troops and tanks on the borders of the two regions and occasionally bombards rebel positions with artillery.

Much of this Georgian hardware comes from the West, or Western surrogates like Israel. The United States has specifically sold Georgia spy drones, one of which was shot down by a Russian jet in May over Abkhazian territory. The United States continues to support the Georgian government after it became dominated by anti-Moscow pro-Western elements in the Rose Revolution. Most recently, President Bush made a major push to have Georgia, along with Ukraine, join NATO–a move that was fiercly denounced by Moscow, and ultimately thwarted by European countries not wanting to be embroiled in Georgia’s tensions with Russia.

How does this affect the West now?

Image a very plausible scenario. A Georgian (possibly Western-made) mortar kills Russian soldiers. Russia will not hesitate to react, and would like nothing more than an excuse to take down the new Georgian regime, which with Russia’s military might, could be easily done.

That could very well spin into a situation where we are militarily supporting a state that is at war with Russia, a nuclear power, now the second biggest exporter of oil in the world and a voting member of the Security Council. Neither Georgia nor Russia are likely to back down in the near future.

The real question is, do we really want to be involved in this?

It seems the tables have turned Mr. Paulson

The irony was complete. Faced with compounding economic crises Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson flew to Moscow today to discuss trade and investment with newly elected president Dmitri Medvedev–specifically thanking Medvedev for the $8 billion Russia has already invested in the United States and requesting more.

All of this is an extraordinary twist of fate considering 10 years ago Russia was up it its elbows in debt to the Western world, and now the former communist country can watch the world’s most powerful capitalist nation come and ask for favors.

While the occasion was overall congenial, the young Russian president couldn’t help but make a few cracks at the superpower’s expense in the process. He advised that in the future, American leaders should shy away from “national egoism” and “financial and economic egoism.” When asked about America’s concerns about the state of Russian democracy, he replied the U.S. was “essentially in a depression” and was in no place to criticize other countries, especially one with a bolstering economy like Russia’s.

When asked about his pledge to fight corruption in his country, despite supporting a one-party system, he responded that indeed Russia would need to “make use of political competition, among other things.” Although, as if to nullify the preceding statement he added “But it must be sensible. That is to say, competition, correctly built.”

Denmark world’s happiest country, Russia among most depressed, survey suggests

According to the annual World Values Survey conducted by the United States National Science Foundation Denmark ranked the highest in citizen happiness out of 97 countries surveyed.

Other notable rankings included the United States at 16 and Zimbabwe in last at 97 with Iraq and Russia also in the bottom ten. The rankings are determined from both written surveys and face-to-face interviews and have found trends like gender equality and feelings of personal freedom and control of destiny as constant contrasts in the upper and lower echelon countries.

Gazprom warns of 25% price increase by year’s end

Russian oil giant Gazprom announced today in finance newspaper Kommersant that its the average price for “Russian Export Blend Crude” will reach $500 for 1,000 cubic meters by the end of the year, up from $400. Despite the price hike, Russian oil, which is currently selling at $139.21 per barrel is still valued at a lower price than either Brent Crude or American Sweet light crude, at $144.26 and 143.57 respectively. Gazprom currently provides around one forth or Europe’s total petroleum supply.

This news comes as BBC reports that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s push to reduce the EU’s VAT (value-added tax) on gas this fall will be ignored or at least overshadowed by scrambling over contingencies following the Irish “No” on the Treaty of Lisbon. Expensive European gas is not about to get any cheaper.

Russia calls for understanding, denounced for attack

When Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took the podium on June 20 at the international symposium “Russia in the 21st Century” in Moscow, he probably expected to be ignored outside the Russian press. However, he probably expected that his speech calling for increased cooperation between the United States, European Union and Russia would at least not be denounced as aggressive rhetoric.

Today, Le Monde published an editorial (a couple weeks late) criticizing Russia for going “on the offensive” by mining statements from Lavrov’s June 20 speech. That’s interesting, I read the speech myself, and while it was a bit pedantic and weighted down by Lavrov’s typically heavy academic voice, it was in no way aggressive in nature or tone.

Lavrov begins by countering the idea that after the cold war, there is no need for an organization incorporating the United States, Russia and European countries for dialogue, especially on regional security. Already, many of the security treaties signed at the end of the Cold War era are now being ignored by both sides, and no new consensus has been built between the three parties on how to deal with issues like Kosovo, Iran and instability in former Soviet republics.

He points to current trends including the rise of China, India and his own county’s resurgence as signs that the world is changing from its single-superpower model. However, he says this “post-American” world does not mean a world “after the US” nor “without the US” but simply a multipolar international power structure that encourages and embraces diversity of opinion on solutions to world problems. A threatening idea indeed.

He also notes that Russians, as well as Americans do share a common culture and history. He says he would like to dispense with Cold War notions of spheres of influence and instead develop a trusting cooperative arrangement such that European nations might come to European solutions together.

However, rather than take this as a call for cooperation, Le Monde writer Daniel Vernet took it as a critique, quoting Lavrov as saying “there was more mutual trust and respect [between the three parties] during than Cold War” than now. A provocative statement, but also likely true at least on the level of respect.

In nearly all major debates between the United States, European Union and Russia in the post-Soviet world, the former two parties have circumvented Russia by simply not using the international institutions in place that are built for exactly these discussions. Instead, they have used NATO–essentially a clique of rich democracies that Russia is not a part of as the single decider on all European problems. Obviously Russia is more geographically a part of Europe than the United States is, but has far less influence in Europe’s regional security concerns than the US. Just as obvious, therefore, is the fact that Russia would like to have say on issues that have a direct impact upon its national security.

Vernet claims all of Russia’s talk of new institutions is simply hunting for the right to a veto. But, even if so, why not? The contentious relationship between these three powers in the Post-Cold War era has come primarily from the fact that Russia feels ignored and disrespected. While Le Monde gave the speech belated coverage, the American press was as silent as the dead on the issue. Instead they all reported on June 20th, that at some point during the day Lavrov warned it would be a mistake for the United States to attack Iran. There’s a news flash.

If anything the reaction to this speech makes Lavrov’s point. I doubt such an extension of an olive branch 20 years ago would have received such a unenthusiastic and distrustful reaction.

the three-way chess game in the Caucasus continues …