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(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.”
Major terrorist attack is ‘inevitable’ as Isis fighters return, say EU officials | #ISIS #Syria #Iraq #EU
EU’s 28 governments are said to be struggling to respond to threat of Islamist fighters coming back from Iraq and Syria.
Ian Traynor in Brussels.
Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, said about 3,000 EU citizens were fighting in Syria. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
A major Islamist terror attack in Europe is almost inevitable as European members of Islamic State (Isis) return from Syria and Iraq, according to senior EU officials familiar with the diplomatic, intelligence, and security planning taking place to try to counter the threat.
They said the EU’s bodies and its 28 governments were under intense US pressure to get to grips with the menace represented by thousands of European citizens fighting in Syria, but that Europe was struggling to develop coherent instruments to reduce the risk of an atrocity.
“It is pre-programmed,” said a senior official involved in the policy and security debate over the chances of an attack. “We have clear signals that this is what the foreign fighters are doing. This is the main threat we are facing.” Interior ministers from the 28 countries are to meet in Luxembourg in a fortnight to try to come up with a concerted policy.
“The home affairs council is very aware and very frightened of this … The colleagues in the police administration just don’t know how to cope. They all fear this could be totally out of control. It may already be too late,” the senior official told the Guardian and five other European newspapers.
In a separate interview, Gilles de Kerchove, the Belgian EU official who coordinates the union’s counter-terrorism policy, said executives from the big social media providers, including Twitter, Facebook and Google, would attend the interior ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg in an EU attempt to deprive Isis propagandists of their highly effective exploitation of the internet.
“We want these companies to develop a counter-narrative. There will be a big discussion with the internet players,” said De Kerchove.
He put the number of EU citizens fighting in Syria at around 3,000. “We don’t have harmonised statistics. But the flow of fighters has not dried up. It’s a significant number and it has not stopped,” he said.
Senior US intelligence and homeland security officials have been attending recent meetings of EU policy-makers, alarmed that some of the European fighters could be easily infiltrated into the US.
“The Americans are very worried about Europeans entering freely under the visa waiver programme. They are looking into this very seriously,” said De Kerchove.
In addition to the dilemmas posed by extremists returning to Europe, EU capitals and Washington are aghast not just at the brutal prowess shown by Isis in Syria and Iraq, but also at the claimed arrival in Syria of senior al-Qaida operatives from havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan grouped in the so-called Khorasan group. They are said to include the Saudi explosives expert Ibrahim al-Asiri.
“This guy seems to be one of the best bomb-makers in the world,” said De Kerchove. “This small group of veterans linked to al-Qaida is a concern. We know some flew from Afghanistan/Pakistan to Syria.”
Confronted with these dilemmas, EU interior ministry, intelligence and police officials are meeting regularly in various combinations. But the attempts to come up with a coherent policy and instruments are dogged by institutional, national and departmental rivalries and differing priorities, senior officials said.
The EU has been trying to come up with a counter-terrorism strategy for the past 18 months. The current emergency is jolting the process, but officials are intensely pessimistic that the results will be too little, too late.
Various schemes are under discussion, most notably an EU-wide Passenger Names Record (PNR) for all air travel within the EU supplying up to 15 parameters that are mixed in a computer algorithm to help identify suspects.
The scheme is opposed in the European parliament on civil liberties grounds as it would monitor millions of ordinary travellers. The Germans, sticklers for data protection, are also lukewarm on the idea but are keener on reintroducing tighter border controls within the passport-free Schengen zone.
“We think PNR is one of the few tools allowing detection of suspicious travellers,” said De Kerchove. “But many people think it’s a dangerous slippery slope, collection of data on the innocent.”
At recent EU meetings with his counterparts in the EU, Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, has also been urging more rigorous screening of all passports and ID cards at airports, the officials said. The proposal was also opposed on the grounds that it would cause massive queues.
A police database known as SIS or Schengen Information System is also available as a tool for flagging up suspicious travellers and identities that have been entered into the system. The intelligence services, the sources said, are wary, however, of contributing information to this system for fear of compromising their material, thus rendering it less effective.
Britain, the source of around one quarter of the European jihadis believed to be in Syria, is not party to the SIS system because it opted out of all the instruments under the EU’s justice and home affairs portfolio and still has to negotiate what bits it will rejoin.
But according to De Kerchove, the British are nonetheless among the most active and insistent in pushing a tough concerted EU strategy.
“We should have the UK plugged into the SIS. That’s very important, but it has not happened yet. The Home Office says they want to be in. I was in London last week. They push and push. On counter-terrorism, the UK is one of the countries supporting us the most. They’re very, very committed and they have excellent information.”
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said the UK authorities believed “more than 500 UK-linked individuals have now travelled to Syria and Iraq since the uprising began. Obviously, it’s very difficult to give precise numbers on this.”
De Kerchove said he had asked Theresa May, the home secretary, and had not received precise figures. Nor was it clear how many had returned from Syria or Iraq to Britain.
According to the French authorities, the number of native jihadis in Syria and Iraq has soared from 555 to 932 this year. Of those, 118 have returned to France. According to experts consulted by European officials involved in the effort, an estimated one in nine of those returning represents a terrorist threat.
Officials point to the killing of four people at Brussels’s Jewish Museum in May as a portent of things to come and of the mishaps afflicting the Schengen system. The suspect awaiting trial in Belgium, Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, a French national of Algerian heritage, had spent a year in Syria. He flew from Turkey to Frankfurt in Germany. German customs officers identified him from the SIS system and alerted the French. He was allowed to travel further and allegedly came to Brussels where he is suspected of opening automatic machine-gun fire on the museum before being arrested later in Marseille.
The number of EU nationals fighting in Syria is put at 3-4,000. The senior official said that in post-9/11 Afghanistan there were an estimated 100 Europeans fighting with al-Qaida and the Taliban and that presented a big problem then.
Two Dutch nationals of Turkish origin were also arrested by the Belgians last month on their return from the Middle East, with Dutch television reporting at the weekend that they were plotting an attack on the headquarters of the European commission in Brussels. The officials said there was no evidence to support this.
On Thursday the mayor of Brussels, Yvan Mayeur, said the threat of returning jihadis “is not virtual for us, it is concrete, it is real”.
He said he was examining 14 files on the issue of suspected extremists from Belgium, which is believed to have the highest per capita rate in the EU of fighters in Syria.
by Katya Gorchinskaya.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso speaks to the press following talks with the Ukrainian president in Kyiv on Sept. 12. © AFP
In a concession to Russia, Ukraine and the European Union agreed delay implementation of a major trade agreement until the start of 2016, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said. They also appeared to be preparing to make more concessions after the ratification of the agreement, scheduled for next week.
EU Trade Commissioner Karl de Gucht said in Brussels that Ukraine, Russia and EU also agreed on extending unilateral trade preferences for Ukraine until the end of 2015 as well. They allowed Ukraine to boost exports to EU by 14 percent in the first half of this year, Barroso said.
De Gucht said these measures “give breathing space to discuss whatever problem may arise and then it will be up to the three parties concerned to see what they do after Jan. 1, 2016. I hope by then we come to a solution,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
The EU member states are yet to agree to the delayed start, which Barroso called “a compromise” among Ukraine, Russia and EU during trilateral consultations.
The three sides also agreed to continue discussing Russia’s complaints about the effects of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement on its markets on Nov. 17, President Petro Poroshenko said in Kyiv. He said the issues will be raised at the Association Council, the only body that can amend the text of the agreement after it is ratified and comes into effect. It was originally designed to fine-tune such agreements.
Both the Ukrainian and the European Parliament are preparing to ratify the Association Agreement, an overarching political agreement, on Sept. 16 in a synchronized session, which will be broadcast via video links, President Poroshenko announced at Yalta European Strategy conference in Kyiv.
“I am sure that will be one of the most important historic moments,” Poroshenko said.Kyiv Post+ offers special coverage of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the aftermath of the EuroMaidan Revolution.
The delays are part of Russia’s campaign to thwart Ukraine’s democratic progress and aspirations for closer EU integration, a drive that began after the EuroMaidan Revolution forced President Viktor Yanukovych out of power on Feb. 22. The most extreme aspects, of course, are Russia’s military invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin’s backing of a separatist war in eastern Ukraine. But Russia has also used trade as a weapon and cut off supplies of Russian natural gas to Ukraine while imposing import bans on many Ukrainian products.
The EU-Ukraine trade agreement was signed in June, and the technical preparation for its ratification by the European parliament is being done in record terms – 10 days instead of the usual three months. Its provisional application was supposed to start on Nov. 1, but after the new deal only the political part of the deal will start to work on that date.
A part of the reason for the rush with ratification was to cut time for Russia to bully Ukraine into backing out of the agreement, or amending the text to incorporate Kremlin’s suggestions.
Russia has been trying to derail the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union for years, using increasingly more aggressive tactics, from trade wars to real war in Donbass. It has also threatened to impose additional tariffs and other barriers on Ukraine, allegedly to protect its markets from illegal European goods. Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said on Sept. 12 Russia was preparing a response in case the trade deal comes into effect.
In the meantime, Russia also rolled out close to 2,400 objections and suggested amendments to the Association Agreement, which was initialed and sealed by the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Poroshenko said that there will be no changes to the text of the Association Agreement before ratification. However, this might change soon after ratification once the Association Council starts its work.
Although Ukraine’s foreign ministry said that the decision to postpone application of DCFTA was a “gesture of solidarity with Ukraine,” many in Ukraine and abroad saw it as another diplomatic victory by Russia, and feared that more is yet to come at the Nov. 17 Association Council, the body that typically starts to tweak association agreements to fix parts that prove dysfunctional after a year or more in operation. In Ukraine’s case, the first meeting is set just 17 days after the Association Agreement comes into effect.
“We tried to do our best to prevent this scenario, but couldn’t, ” one EU country diplomat said in Kyiv.
(Kyiv Post deputy chief editor Katya Gorchinskaya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).
A local resident carries a toy bear as a Ukrainian serviceman patrol on Sept. 8, 2014 near a residential building damaged during recent shelling in the Avdeevka, 5 kilometres north of Donetsk © AFP.
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union formally adopted a package of new sanctions against Russia on Monday, but said their entry into force would be delayed to leave time to assess whether a ceasefire in Ukraine is holding.
“The entry into force (of the new sanctions) through the publication in the Official Journal will take place in the next few days. This will leave time for an assessment of the implementation of the ceasefire agreement and the peace plan,” EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said in a statement.
“Depending on the situation on the ground, the EU stands ready to review the agreed sanctions in whole or in part,” he said.
(Reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Andrew Roche).
Alexey Eremenko.Lev Shlosberg.
A Pskov region lawmaker was found stumbling through the streets covered in blood on Friday, after having called attention to reports that local paratroopers may have been deployed to war-torn Ukraine.
Lev Shlosberg sustained temporary amnesia, head injuries, a broken nose and numerous bruises, Igor Yakovlev, an associate in the social-democratic party Yabloko, said on his Facebook page Saturday.
The lawmaker eventually recovered enough to claim he had been attacked from behind by three thugs who beat him unconscious, Yabloko head Sergei Mitrokhin said.
“The rascals tracked Shlosberg to his house, assaulted him without a word … beat him up for several minutes and only fled when witnesses appeared,” Mitrokhin said on Yabloko’s website.
Local police launched a case based on charges of “hooliganism resulting in minor bodily harm,” which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.
Mitrokhin’s call to append the case to include the more serious charge of “attack on a state or public figure,” which carries up to a life sentence, had gone unheeded as of Sunday.
Pskov authorities assigned hospital guards to Shlosberg, who is well known in Russia for his crisp and balanced criticism of Kremlin policies.
Shlosberg, 51, spearheaded an investigation into the troops from the elite Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division who were buried in the region earlier this month under mysterious circumstances amid persistent rumors that they died in Ukrainian infighting.
The lawmaker, who directly linked the attack to the investigation in a brief interview with Flashnord.ru on Saturday, is not the first person who was allegedly attacked after looking into the paratroopers’ fate.
Reporters with independent media outlets Dozhd and Fontanka claim to have been assaulted by unidentified thugs in the Pskov cemetery last week while looking for the paratroopers’ graves. They drove away, allegedly before any serious harm could be inflicted.
Official Kiev, NATO, the EU and the U.S. all claimed last week, with varying degrees of certainty, that Russia had sent its troops to aid the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
The insurgents have launched a surprising counteroffensive in recent days after appearing to have teetered on the brink of defeat for weeks.
Ukrainian officials blamed the separatists’ victories on an influx of heavy military equipment from Russia, complete with troops to operate them.
A senior NATO official estimated on Thursday that Russia had deployed about 1,000 soldiers. Russian NGO Soldiers’ Mothers Committee estimated that there had been about 400 Russian military casualties in Ukraine, and Shlosberg claimed on Ekho Moskvy radio hours before the attack on him that the 76th Airborne alone had lost at least 100 troops in Ukraine so far.
President Vladimir Putin denied that Russia had provided any military help to the rebels, and so did the Defense Ministry, which said the allegations “aren’t even funny anymore.”
Putin, however, called in an interview aired by Channel One television on Sunday to end hostilities and begin talks on “eastern Ukraine’s statehood.”
The call echoes the pro-separatist sentiment promoted by Channel One and other pro-Kremlin state media since the civil war’s outbreak last spring. Official Kiev has so far been refusing to discuss the “statehood” of the breakaway eastern provinces.