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Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. on Friday of endangering global security by imposing a “unilateral diktat” on the rest of the world and shifted blame for the Ukraine crisis onto the West.
In a 40-minute diatribe against the West that was reminiscent of the Cold War and underlined the depth of the rift between Moscow and the West, Putin also denied trying to rebuild the Soviet empire at the expense of Russia’s neighbors.
“We did not start this,” Putin told an informal group of experts on Russia that includes many Western specialists critical of him, warning that Washington was trying to “remake the whole world” based on its own interests.
“Statements that Russia is trying to reinstate some sort of empire, that it is encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors, are groundless,” the former KGB agent declared in a speech delivered standing at a podium, without a smile, in a ski resort in mountains above the Black Sea city of Sochi.
Listing a series of conflicts in which he faulted U.S. actions, including Libya, Syria and Iraq, Putin asked whether Washington’s policies had strengthened peace and democracy.
“No,” he declared. “The unilateral diktat and the imposing of schemes [on others] have exactly the opposite effect.”
Putin, 62, has stepped up anti-Western rhetoric since returning to the Kremlin as president in 2012, helping push up his popularity ratings since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March.
Even so, the speech was one of the most hostile Putin has delivered against the West and it appeared partly intended to show Russian voters he will stand up to the rest of the world and defend their interests.
The criticisms of a world order dominated by Washington, more than two decades after the Cold War, recalled a 2007 speech in Munich in which Putin shocked the West by lambasting Washington’s “unipolar” world view. The speech prompted many Western leaders to reassess their view of Putin.
Shifting the Blame
The annual meetings of what is known as the Valdai Club have rarely featured such open, direct and tough language in their debates on Russian policy.
Critics say the meetings have become a showcase for Kremlin policy, with the session attended by Putin shown live on state television and little discussion of Russia’s record on human rights and democracy, which is criticized in the West.
Putin rejected criticism over the Ukraine crisis, in which Moscow has sided with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, and threw the West’s criticisms of Moscow back in its face.
Repeating accusations that Western governments helped pro-Western groups stage a coup d’etat that ousted a pro-Moscow president in Kiev in February, Putin said: “No one wanted to listen to us, and no one wanted to talk to us.”
“Instead of a difficult but, I underline, civilized dialogue they brought about a state coup. They pushed the country into chaos, economic and social collapse, and civil war with huge losses,” he said.
Dismissing U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed on Moscow as a mistake, he said: “Russia will not be posturing, get offended, ask someone for anything. Russia is self-sufficient.”
He made only passing references to the decline of Russia’s $2 trillion economy, which is in danger of sliding into recession as its currency tumbles along with the price of oil, its main export item.
But he said in a question and answer session after his speech that Russia would not burn though its gold and foreign currency reserves thoughtlessly to prop up the economy.
Putin has increasingly sought to shift blame for the economic crisis onto global problems, the sanctions and the oil price. He and other Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, have also used increasingly tough language to blame the West for the Ukraine crisis.
A cease-fire has been in force in Ukraine since Sept. 5, but it has been violated daily and the West says Moscow continues to have troops and weapons in east Ukraine. Russia denies this.
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Item Club warns growth and business investment may be squeezed as businesses are nervous over political uncertainty.
The Item Club predicts that business investment growth will slow sharply next year, from 9% in 2014 to 5.8% in 2015. Photograph: Paul Rapson/Alamy
Graeme Wearden reporting,
Britain’s economy could suffer a “huge uncertainty shock” if next year’s general election delivers a hung parliament, a leading economic forecaster warns.
The prospect of no clear winner when Britain heads to the polling booths in May is already pushing down next year’s growth and business investment predictions, according to the EY Item Club’s autumn forecast. It also cites the weakening eurozone economy and geopolitical tensions, including the Ukraine crisis, as threats that are making businesses nervous.
The Item Club predicts that business investment growth will slow sharply next year, from 9% in 2014 to 5.8% in 2015. That will hamper economic growth, tipped to fall from 3.1% this year to 2.4% in 2015.
The warning comes as new economic data are due that will probably show the British recovery slowed down between July and September.
Peter Spencer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, believes that, with polls showing next year’s election is hard to call, the uncertainty and nervousness in the financial markets around the election will be much greater than in 2010.
“This makes it very difficult for anyone engaged in business planning to manage a company through this uncertainty,” he said. “I don’t think we would have had this conversation in 1997. The gulf between the parties this time is enormous.”
Businesses are also worried by the prospect of a referendum over Britain’s membership of the European Union, Spencer said.
“The comparative advantage we offer foreign investors is dependent on the fact we are a haven of political stability, and our proximity to Europe. If both of those are brought into question, what happens to the likes of Nissan and Toyota, or financial services firms in the City?”
Spencer pointed out that Germany’s industrial productivity and exports had fallen sharply in August, as the Ukraine crisis and eurozone fears had risen. “A huge uncertainty shock is really hammering Germany’s economy now,” he said, illustrating the dangers facing Britain. “It is a very good example of what can happen if businesses get clutched by this sort of risk.”
The UK economy is also a long way from regaining its full potential following the financial crisis, he added.
The EY Item Club, which uses the Treasury’s model of the UK economy, flagged up that exporters are suffering from the stalling European recovery and the fall in the value of the euro.
HM Treasury agreed that the eurozone area, Britain’s largest trade partner, is a “growing risk”, saying: “We have to recognise that the UK is not immune to these problems, which is why we will continue working through the plan that is building a resilient economy.”
Data due on Friday will show how the UK economy performed in the third quarter of 2014. Economists predict that GDP increased by 0.7% in the quarter, a slowdown compared with 0.9% between April and June.
Howard Archer of IHS Global Insight said there was a risk that growth could be weaker, given “limited industrial production and the very real possibility that construction output contracted”.
The retail industry is also struggling. Footfall across UK high streets, out of town retail parks and shopping centres around the UK was down by 0.9% year-on-year in September, according to figures from Springboard, after a 1.1% fall in August.
(L to R) France’s President Francois Hollande, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a meeting on the sidelines of a Europe-Asia summit (ASEM) in Milan, Oct. 17, 2014.
Talks between Russia, Ukraine and European governments on Friday were “full of misunderstandings and disagreements,” the Kremlin said, undercutting more upbeat messages from leaders hoping for a breakthrough in the Ukraine crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko at the start of a meeting with European leaders aimed at patching up a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine and resolving a dispute over gas supplies.
The various leaders emerged an hour later telling reporters some progress had been made and promising further talks.
“It was good, it was positive,” a smiling Putin told reporters after the meeting, held on the margins of a summit of Asian and European leaders in Milan.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later poured cold water on hopes of any breakthrough, saying “certain participants” had taken an “absolutely biased, non-flexible, non-diplomatic” approach to Ukraine.
“The talks are indeed difficult, full of misunderstandings, disagreements, but they are nevertheless ongoing, the exchange of opinion is in progress,” he said.
A similar message emerged overnight after Putin met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a formerly cordial relationship that has come under heavy strain from Moscow’s support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The meeting was reported by both sides to have made little progress, with the Kremlin saying “serious differences” remained in their analysis of the crisis.
Putin, Poroshenko, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were due meet later in the day, their aides said.
The West has imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its annexation of Crimea and its support for east Ukraine’s separatists.
The European leaders urged Russia to do more to end constant, deadly violations of a cease-fire that was agreed by Putin and Poroshenko last month in Minsk, saying Russia needed to fulfil its commitments.
Officials said local elections and the issue of using unmanned drone aircraft for surveillance of the borders between Russia and Ukraine were particular sticky points in the discussions, with Russia pushing to have its drones taking part alongside those offered by France and Germany.
The crisis in relations with Kiev has led Russia to cut gas supplies to Ukraine because of unpaid bills. The European Union fears this could threaten disruptions in the gas flow to the rest of the continent this winter, and is working hard to broker a deal.
Russia is Europe’s biggest gas supplier, accounting for around a third of demand, and the European Union gets about half of the Russian gas it uses via Ukraine.
The stand-off over pricing is the third in a decade between Moscow and Kiev, though this time tensions are higher because of the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters that Russia, Ukraine and EU officials would meet in Brussels to try to resolve the gas row.
Taking the lead in the diplomacy, Merkel saw Poroshenko on Thursday evening and then met Putin until well after midnight — an encounter that was significantly delayed because the Russian president arrived in Milan much later than expected.
Speaking off the record, a German source said Putin had not been in a “too constructive mood.”
Putin had warned on Thursday that Russia would reduce gas supplies to Europe if Ukraine took gas from the transit pipeline to cover its own needs, although he added that he was “hopeful” it would not come to that.
More than 3,600 people have died in eastern Ukraine since fighting broke out in mid-April when armed separatists declared they were setting up their own state.
Although Putin announced this week that Russian troops near the border with Ukraine would be pulled back, Western officials want to see clear evidence that Moscow is acting on this.
“Vladimir Putin said very clearly he doesn’t want a frozen conflict and doesn’t want a divided Ukraine. But if that’s the case, then Russia now needs to take the actions to put in place all that has been agreed,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron.
“If those things don’t happen, then clearly the European Union, Britain included, must keep in place the sanctions and the pressure so we don’t have this sort of conflict in our continent.”
Lord Michael Cashman.
Labour leader Ed Miliband says Lord Michael Cashman will serve as the party’s LGBT rights envoy – at a time when LGBT rights “are going backwards” abroad.
Mr Miliband made the announcement this afternoon in his speech to the Labour Party Conference in Manchester.
“We’ve made extraordinary progress on lesbian and gay rights over the last 20 years. When I think about the transformations, growing up into adulthood? It’s the biggest transformation,” Mr Miliband said.
“We’ve made such progress on equality. But we have to face the fact that internationally things, if anything, are going backwards.
“We can’t just let that happen. We can’t just say that’s okay. The next Labour government will fight to make sure that we fight for our values and human rights all around the world.”
The Labour leader said Lord Cashman would stand up for LGBT rights abroad.
“So today I can announce that I am appointing Michael Cashmann, Lord Cashmann, as our envoy on LGBT rights all around the world.”
It would mean that the gay peer would become a diplomat to the UK Government – if Labour wins next year’s general election.
In August, he was elevated to the House of Lords.
At the time, Lord Cashman told PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s a huge and humbling honour, and if anything it just brings me closer to my roots, closer to where I began. I just wish my old Mum and Dad were alive to witness it.
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair personally congratulated Lord Cashman for his long service to politics and LGBT rights at a central London reception earlier this summer.
The peer is a highly-regarded figure in the Labour Party.
A video tribute from all four surviving Labour leaders, Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Neil Kinnock, was played out in front of the former MEP who was visibly moved by the testimony.
Lord Cashman co-founded gay rights charity Stonewall in 1989.
Before going into politics Michael Cashman had long been a household name.
As a child actor he was cast in the role of Oliver Twist in the original run of Lionel Bart’s musical Oliver!
However, he is possibly best known for his role as Colin Russell in the BBC’s long-running soap Eastenders.
His character is best remembered for taking part in the first ever same-sex kiss in a British soap.