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David Cameron at prime minister’s questions. Photograph: PA
It all started off as an ordinary prime minister’s questions – the normal quips between the leaders, the questions, and the bad gags.
Yet it became a case of raised eyebrows and suggestive double-entendres as the prime minister, David Cameron, made a dig at the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls.
The shadow chancellor said he would be tough on the deficit and tough on the causes of the deficit. He is one of the causes of the deficit.
I think we’ve all found one of the first ever examples of political masosadism.
Some MPs were left open-mouthed, while others shouted: “You mean sadomasochism!”
The Speaker of the house, John Bercow, cried: “Order, order! We all know what the prime minister meant. I understand the house gets excited.”
One MP said audibly: “You screwed it up.”
Cameron corrected himself, saying: “I meant to say masochism,” and added:
Normally the shadow chancellor likes to dish it out but can’t take it, but after this quote he likes to take it as well, so there we are.
Ed Balls (right)
But pray tell, what is masosadism, Mr Cameron?
Putin says EU’s opposition scuppered project but Russian leader outlines plan to pump more gas to Turkey on visit to Ankara.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at the controversial new palace in Ankara. Photograph: Ria Novosti/Reuters
Russia has dropped plans for a pipeline to send gas to Europe, President Vladimir Putin announced on Monday, blaming the European Union for stalling the project.
Putin, speaking during a visit to Turkey, said the South Stream pipeline, which Russian officials have hailed for years as an important step towards improving European energy security, was over.
“We see that obstacles are being set up to prevent its fulfilment,” said Putin, speaking at a joint news conference with the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “If Europe does not want to carry it out, then it will not be carried out.”
The pipeline, along with the North Stream pipeline that carries gas to Germany through the Baltic Sea, was meant to bypass Ukraine. Mikhail Krutikhin, a Russian energy analyst, said: “From the beginning this was a political project, and the goal was to punish Ukraine and cut it off from gas flows. It was never economical to spend so much on this pipeline.”
However, Moscow will boost increase gas supplies to Turkey and Putin said that instead of South Stream, a new hub could be built on the Turkish-Greek border to supply Europe with gas. He also issued a thinly veiled threat to Europe, hinting that since concluding a massive, long-term gas deal with China earlier this year, the European market was no longer that important for Russia, after a year during which the Kremlin has been targeted by western capitals for its role in Ukraine.
“We will re-concentrate our energy resources on other regions of the world,” said Putin. “We will work with other markets and Europe will not receive this gas, at least not from Russia.
“We think this is against Europe’s economic interests and is causing damage to our cooperation.”
Construction had already started on sections of the pipeline, which was due to carry its first gas at the end of next year. The pipeline was meant to take Russian gas across the Black Sea to southern Europe, via Bulgaria, but the European commission has said the pipeline needs to conform to European competition rules, and has put pressure on Bulgaria not to back the project in its current form.
“My Bulgarian partners would always say that whatever happens, South Stream will go ahead, because it is in the Bulgarian national interest,” said Putin.
“If Bulgaria is deprived of the possibility of behaving like a sovereign state, let them demand the money for the lost profit from the European commission,” he said.
Putin met his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, amid striking differences over the crises in Syria and Ukraine, but the leaders focused instead on their countries’ booming economic and trade ties. The Russian leader arrived in Turkey accompanied by a large delegation, including 10 ministers.
The two countries, which are major trading partners, have set an aim of increasing their two-way trade volume from £21bn ($33bn) to £64bn by 2020. Russia provides the bulk of Turkey’s gas and is set to build Turkey’s first nuclear power plant. Turkish construction firms are active in Russia, while millions of Russian tourists travel to Turkey each year.
A description of the project on Gazprom’s website said South Stream was “another step in Gazprom’s strategy to diversify the supply routes for Russian natural gas” and would “significantly improve the energy security of the whole European continent”.
But after Putin’s announcement in Ankara, Gazprom’s chief executive, Alexei Miller, confirmed that the plug had been pulled on South Stream. “The project is closed. This is it,” he told reporters.
Russia’s economy, which is heavily dependent on the export of oil and gas, has been struggling in recent weeks as tumbling oil prices combine with the effects of western sanctions to stoke fears and send the rouble tumbling. On Monday the currency hit new historical lows.
The Russian and Turkish leaders, often compared to each other for their drift toward authoritarianism, have opposing positions on Syria’s crisis, but were expected to set their differences aside during their meeting at Erdoğan’s new mega-palace, which has been strongly criticised by Turkish opposition parties, environmentalists and activists, who say the 1,000-room complex is too costly and extravagant.
Russia remains the closest ally of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, while Turkey supports Syria’s opposition forces. Turkey has also been a strong advocate of the Tatar community in the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia and has publicly supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Barred from Crimea by Russian authorities, Tatar leaders, who strongly opposed the annexation, are feted in Turkey. On a visit just a month after the annexation, Mustafa Dzhemilev, a Soviet-era Tatar dissident, was given Turkey’s highest award.
At G20 summit, Russian president says he regards sanctions over Ukraine as pointless, illegal and likely to harm world trade.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Photograph: AFP / Getty Images.
Vladimir Putin has admitted for the first time that he is prepared for his country to face a “catastrophic” slump in oil prices, as David Cameron said Europe would have no choice but to step up sanctions if the Russian president did not abide by previous agreements to respect Ukraine’s independence.
Putin was speaking before a bilateral meeting with Cameron on the margins of the G20 summit in Brisbane. The meeting is likely to be a bruising affair, especially after the British prime minister likened Russia to Nazi Germany, saying Europe had learned lessons from history about how a big country could bully others.
Putin said Russia’s economy had the reserves to withstand a collapse in oil revenues, but added: “We are considering all the scenarios including the so-called catastrophic fall of prices for energy resources, which is entirely possible and we admit it.”
He said he regarded sanctions as pointless, illegal and likely to harm not just Russian but world trade. “This contradicts international law because sanctions can only be imposed within the framework of the United Nations and its security council.”
He claimed that as many as 300,000 German jobs could be at risk if there were no contracts with Russia. Putin is also due to see Angela Merkel at the summit.
The Russian economy is forecast by its central bank to run zero growth next year, and the value of the rouble has fallen. Russia gets half its total budget revenue from oil and natural gas taxes.
British government sources are increasingly confident that sanctions limiting the ability of Russian banks to raise capital are taking their toll. Britain has been urging the Russians to stand by a ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk in September and to stop sending Russian material and arms across the border to rebel-held regions of Ukraine.
Cameron told reporters: “It’s possible to stand by the Minsk agreement. It’s not a perfect agreement from anyone’s point of view, but it has some key parts to it, about Russian troops and about borders and about respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. I think there’s a very clear choice for Russia of which path it takes. If it takes the Minsk path we could progressively see normalisation of relations between Russia and Ukraine, you could see Ukraine’s sovereignty and elections respected, you could see the removal of sanctions if that were to happen.
“But the other path of not respecting the Minsk agreement, continuing to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, continuing to see Russian troops in Ukraine and Russian tanks and the rest of it – I don’t think Europe would have a choice but to maintain the sanctions we have, to start looking at further measures that could be taken if Russia takes further steps, and to putting relationships between European countries and Russia on a very different basis.”
Earlier, Cameron said: “We have to be clear what we are dealing with here is a large state bullying a smaller state. We have seen the consequences of that in the past and we should learn the lessons of history and make sure we do not let it happen again. I don’t think there is a military solution to this, but the sanctions have had some effect. You can see that in what has happened to the Russian rouble, what has happened to the Russian stock market and the difficulty the Russian banks have in gaining finance.”
The Australian prime minister and G20 host, Tony Abbott, has been at the forefront of the criticism of Putin. It is thought that 38 Australians were among the 298 people killed on flight MH17, the civilian plane shot down over Ukraine in July. Such is the anger in Australia that there were protests against Putin outside his hotel in Brisbane.
Australia sent three ships to its northern coast after a flotilla of Russian navy vessels appeared there this week.
Abbott said: “It is our clear understanding on the evidence so far this plane was clearly shot down by Russian-backed rebels most likely using Russian-supplied equipment. I think there is heavy responsibility on Russia to come clean and to atone.
“It is part of a regrettable pattern, whether it is the bullying of Ukraine, the increasing number of Russian military aircraft flying into the airspace of Japan, European countries or the task group in the South Pacific. Russia would be so much more attractive if it was aspiring to be a superpower for peace and freedom and prosperity, if it were trying to be a superpower for ideas and values, instead of trying to recreate the lost glories of tsarism or the old Soviet Union.”
The two summits in Brisbane ending on Sunday had originally been intended by Australia to focus on job creation, improved growth and unblocking barriers to trade deals between the US and EU.
The issue of climate change given a new momentum by the China-US deal is also likely to feature as Australia battle to keep the agenda manageable.
But the Australians are also keen to pick up initiatives to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance by shaking up a creaking international tax system that is unfit to tackle multinationals capable of shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions.
Cameron made tax transparency a big theme of the British G8 presidency last year and said on Friday that 90 countries had now agreed to cooperate on sharing tax information in line with guidelines set out by the OECD, the international body charged with modernising the international tax system.
He added he “damn well expected” companies to pay corporation tax in full in the UK adding the conversation and culture was changing in boardrooms worldwide as executives realised they had to run defensible policies on paying tax.
Cameron believes the culture change is being driven by popular anger directed at companies caught avoiding taxes, but also by unprecedented levels of cooperation between tax jurisdictions threatening to expose the way company accountants try to transfer profits to low-tax jurisdictions.
But Cameron held off from directly criticising the new European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, over claims that he had for decades overseen a regime as Luxembourg prime minister designed to lure companies to base operations in the low-tax country.
Cameron has tried to block Juncker’s appointment as Commission President in the summer, largely due to his federalist views, but faced by other battles on the European stage Cameron refused to directly join the call for Juncker to quit after it had been shown he had designed an effective tax haven in Luxembourg in the centre of Europe.
Cameron may feel as he prepares for potential renegotiations over Britain’s relationship with the EU that he cannot afford to confront Juncker, preferring instead to stress the moral case for companies to pay tax .
The Juncker assault had been given new impetus by a leak of a mass of documents showing the scale of the tax avoidance practised in Luxembourg at a time when Juncker had been prime minister.
Cameron said: “We have a very strong moral case to make now. When you have a 20% corporation tax rate, we damn well expect you to pay it. The culture is changing across the boardrooms round the world – they are having a lot of discussions about whether their strategy over tax is responsible and defensible.”
Even as Russia shores up its illegitimate proxies in eastern Ukraine with weapons and troops, the West continues to behave spinelessly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel discounted the possibility of further economic sanctions against Russia, opting instead to float the lame likelihood of individual visa bans and asset freezes against separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. As the foremost leader of the 28-nation European Union bloc, Merkel’s unwillingness to more strongly confront Russia is disappointing. But abhorrent is the active opposition to more sanctions of such politicians as Hungary’s prime minister and the Czech Republic president. The United States, whose Congress is now in Republican hands, remains the best hope for Ukraine getting military aid and additional economic assistance.
The Russian assault on Ukraine is an assault on the international rule of law and the post-World War II order. It’s time to stop Vladimir Putin now. He is emboldened by the West’s weak response to his theft of Crimea and his attempts to dismember Ukraine.
The separatists destroying the infrastructure in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas have no lofty principles to uphold and don’t offer residents in Ukraine’s two most populous oblasts a better way of living. Rather, the violence and destruction is designed to bring Ukraine’s government in Kyiv to knuckle under to Putin’s imperial ambitions. Putin doesn’t want to absorb these territories, home to more than six million Ukrainian citizens before the war, into the Russian Federation. He just wants to wreak havoc and stoke fear.
The fact that Russia’s economy is tanking is testament to the fall in world oil and gas prices. To the extent the West is coordinating and assisting the drop in prices, its leaders are to be commended. But the drop looks to be more driven by the global economic slowdown and Saudi Arabia’s desire to undercut American competition.
The goal of Western sanctions has been to change Putin’s behavior. He remains undeterred. So further sanctions are essential, including a steep tax on Russian energy imports. Putin’s Russia should not be the venue for any international events. Crushing Putin’s economy is the fastest way to stop Putinism, bringing Russians closer to peace and prosperity.
Author of Ukraine’s lustration law Yegor Sobolev is number 13 on the Samopomich party list and recently left the Volya Party taking other activists with him. © Olexander Lepetuha / DYVYS
The young political startup party Volya (or freedom) has become the first casualty of the new parliament, splitting before the first session of the new parliament even opened.
The demise of the party just months after it was founded, is an alarming indicator that much of Ukraine’s politics remains business as usual.
“The topic of Volya is closed,” former Volya party member Yegor Sobolev told the Kyiv Post after announcing that he and others were leaving the party on Nov. 9. “I need to work on forming a coalition and organizing monitoring of lustration and not disputes with swindlers. I wish the party Volya the strength it needs to cleanse itself.”
Sobolev is a EuroMaidan activist and the party’s highest-profile member. He and other activists joined forces with experienced politicians such as incumbent Ivano-Frankivsk parliament member and businessman Yuriy Derevyanko.
Although many wondered about the strength of such a union of the idealistic camp of the party led by Sobolev and the old guard led by Derevyanko, the split in Volya’s ranks only became public when Derevyanko stated earlier this month that the party had decided to create its own grouping to represent its interests in the Rada.
The announcement put many members of the party in a precarious situation. Volya did not put forward its own candidate list for the Oct. 26 parliamentary election. Instead many of its people piggy-backed other political forces because Volya did not believe it was capable of crossing the 5 percent threshold to enter the parliament. Those who ran on other party lists are committed to staying with party factions who made them lawmakers.
Most Volya candidates who chose to run on a party list ran under the Samopomich (self-reliance) banner, including Sobolev, though one also ran on the Narodny Front list. Samopomich, which was started by the popular Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy, ran on the image of brining fresh faces and activists to the parliament and was one of the breakout parties of the election, winning 11 percent of the votethrough the proportional system.
Following the election Derevyanko stated that it was imperative that Volya have its own grouping to defend its “principles, values and political promises.”
Although Derevyanko said there was no conflict with Samopomich, many interpreted his statement as the final stage of the split between the idealistic camp in the party that rose on the wave of EuroMaidan, and the old guard who use parties as tools for promoting their interests.
“It is a conflict within Volya. There were the civic activists like Sobolev who wanted to create a new structure and people like Derevyanko who wanted to use that structure for their own personal purposes,” said Oleksiy Haran, professor of political science at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
For years, Derevyanko has been subject to accusations by the Ukrainian media of connections to unsavory business practices and businesses, including EDAPS, a private company that for years monopolized procurement tenders for certain types of counterfeit-proof documents, such as passports and excise stamps.
Derevyanko denied the accusations at a press conference held on Nov. 7 stating that such stories were “pure manipulation of information.”
But in a recent public Facebook post Sobolev said he had been misguided about Derevyanko and his business activities, and even apologized for asking people to join the party.
He explained that Derevyanko had originally been introduced to him and others as someone who had supported the EuroMaidan protests and reform. Sobolev pledged to grow from the experience and “become a real man” in “this profession of wolves.”