- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) — Insider notes from United Press International for Feb. 6 …

Russian president Vladimir Putin is preparing a big new push to get Russia into the World Trade Organization and is counting on his soul mate George W. Bush to help. It's all the fault of the Europeans. Putin, like many other Russians, is hugely proud of the way the farm economy has been transformed. Throughout the 1980s, the old Soviet Union routinely imported up to 40 millions tons of Western grain a year. Last year, Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine between them produced a sufficient surplus to export more than 10 million tons. This year, they expect to export 25 million tons. The European Union last year took 5 million tons of Russian grain, to the horror of EU farmers and the Brussels bureaucrats who run the EU's protectionist Common Agricultural Policy. So now the EU has clamped down import quotas on Russian grain, limiting them to selling 500,000 tons this year — a bullying measure they would not be able to impose if Russia were a member of the WTO. Hence Putin's determination to get into the club.

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An interesting if one-sided conversation took place at the Brazilian ambassador's dinner party in Washington the other evening. The new French Ambassador, Jean-David Levitte, strolled amicably toward the guest of honor, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and thrust forth his hand to the man who had just dismissed France and Germany as "old Europe." "Good evening Mr. Secretary," said Levitte. "I represent half of the old world."

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While Rumsfeld castigates the "old Europe" for its sluggishness in backing Bush's war aims in the Gulf, it seems that "new Europe" is not exactly rushing to embrace the Pentagon. Polish Minister of National Defense Jerzy Szmajdzinski has expressed opposition to any permanent U.S. bases on Polish territory, countering reports that some units might be moved there from Germany. Szmajdzinski noted that when Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined NATO four years ago, it was clearly stated that no foreign military bases, foreign forces or nuclear weapons would be allowed on the territories of new NATO member countries. Szmajdzinski tempered his remarks by noting that some foreign forces might be permitted to use Polish facilities on a temporary basis.

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Spy games in Bratislava. Slovakia's Minister of the Interior Vladimir Palko has filed criminal charges against the director of the Operational Technology Department in his own ministry. He is charging his staff with abusing their authority and "possible sabotage" for stonewalling an inquiry into the alleged bugging of Pavol Rusko, a flamboyant local media magnate who also founded and runs the new Thatcherite ANO party. Although ANO is part of the governing coalition and his colleagues sit in the Cabinet, the controversial Rusko has stayed out of government. Now he says he holds the minister personally responsible for the bugging. At the same time, Slovakia's NBU intelligence agency claims to have uncovered a plot by four staffers to bug their own boss, Jan Mojzis, and doctor the tapes in order to discredit him. The four staffers, who were kept on from the old Communist-era StB, were allegedly trying to gather material to safeguard their own jobs, fearing dismissal under the imminent screening procedures now that Slovakia is about to join NATO. Ah, these old Eastern European traditions.

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Pakistan is getting very nervous about the prospect of facing Israeli-trained Indian troops.

The Indian army is to send a brigade of special forces troops (some 3,500 men) to Israel for special anti-insurgency warfare training designed to help them fight Islamic militants in disputed Kashmir. The Israeli training course is reputed to include counter-infiltration tactics and "preventive force" missions, which sounds like the kind of incursions Israeli troops have been making into Palestinian areas. The training deal comes along with a $30 million arms deal for special equipment including light weapons, secure radio links, specialist stun grenades and night-vision kit. The details are to be hammered out next week when an Indian Defense Ministry delegation visits Israel.

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Somebody should be keeping an eye on Yemeni astrologist Ahmed Mohammed al-Mehdi. According to Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal newspaper in a report from Yemen's capital, Sanaa, al-Mehdi predicted few months ago that on Feb. 1 "a space shuttle will crash and U.S. maritime fleets will sink in the sea." The Yemeni astrologist is also credited locally with predicting the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington months before they took place, announcing that "fire will break out in more than one U.S. city." Al-Mehdi, who hails from the Beit al-Fakih region in the al-Hadida province, had also predicted the killing of a number of Yemeni and Arab leaders, including the killing of Yemeni President Ibrahim al-Hamdi in 1977. No reports of any sinkings as yet.


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