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Angela #Merkel: #Russia creating problems for EU-minded neighbours


German chancellor reaffirms Nato’s commitment to defend member states in eastern Europe.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Photograph: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images.

Reuters in Berlin.

Angela Merkel has accused Russia of interfering in the domestic affairs of countries that are seeking closer ties to the European Union.

“Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine are three countries in our eastern neighbourhood that have taken sovereign decisions to sign an association agreement with the EU,” Merkel told the German daily Die Welt in an interview. “Russia is creating problems for all three of these countries.”

She pointed to “frozen conflicts” in breakaway regions such as Transdniestria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as Russian interference in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has shown its displeasure with Moldova’s pro-European course – confirmed in an election last week in which a pro-Russia candidate was prevented from participating – by banning imports of Moldovan wines, vegetables and meat.

Last month Vladimir Putin signed a strategic partnership agreement with Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia, drawing strong criticism from Nato and the EU.

Merkel also accused Moscow of trying to make countries in the western Balkans economically and politically dependent on Russia in order to gain influence there.

She defended her decision at a Nato summit in 2008 not to put Ukraine and Georgia on track for membership of the military alliance, but reaffirmed Nato’s commitment to defend countries in eastern Europe that are members.

“There is no reason to talk about a war in the Baltics. But regardless, article 5 of the Nato treaty, which sees an attack on one member as an attack on the alliance as a whole, stands,” Merkel said.


The Guardian.

Fleeing #war and crumbling #economy, Ukrainians flock to #Europe


  • Ukrainians leaving to find jobs and to avoid conscription.
  • Biggest group of non-EU citizens given residency permits in 2013.
  • Gangs in Poland, Baltics selling illegal documents.
  • Many migrants spend years apart from their children.

Children hold candles in the cellar in Donetsk on Dec. 2.Children hold candles in the cellar in Donetsk on Dec. 2. © AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER KHUDOTEPLY

Liisa Tuhkanen and Guy Faulconbridge, Reuters.

LONDON — Andriy left his home town in western Ukraine earlier this year on a journey that brought him through the hands of shady traders in Poland to one of the world’s booming markets for illegal immigrantsLondon.

Fleeing the strife of war with Russian-backed fighters and a shattered economy, Andriy is following a path similar to one taken by thousands of his fellow Ukrainians who have travelled either eastwards to Russia or westwards to the European Union.

“I don’t want to fight in any war,” said Andriy, who spoke on the condition neither his surname nor home town would be published because of fear that he could be deported.

The nineteen-year-old, speaking in Russian because his English is limited, added: “I don’t want to die – I want to live. I just want a normal life.”

More than 4,300 combatants and civilians have been killed in eastern Ukraine since pro-Russian rebels seized border regions in April. Nearly a million people have fled the area, with a surge in the past two months.

Most have fled to other areas of Ukraine but some have gone further afield, with thousands seeking a new life in Russia and, increasingly, Europe.

According to several legal and illegal migrants who spoke to Reuters, many are coming via gangs in Poland, the Baltics and Ukraine that offer fake or doctored EU documents for several thousand dollars, plus the option of transport to Western Europe where spot document checks are extremely rare.

The nature of illegal immigration means it yields little data but legal flows show Ukrainians were the biggest single group of non-EU citizens granted residency permits by EU members in 2013.

According to Eurostat, 236,700 Ukrainians were granted residency permits by EU states last year, and 171,800 of those permits were granted in Poland, one of the main routes for Ukrainians to travel to Western Europe.

The flows abroad are modest compared to the exodus during the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union or the Jewish emigration that helped populate New York’s Brighton Beach, but stories such as Andriy’s give a sense of the turmoil sowed by the crisis.

For accompanying graphics click here:

SILENT WORKERS

Some men are driven to leave by the fear of being called up into the poorly equipped Ukrainian army that is fighting the Russian-backed rebels.

For many other migrants, finding acceptably paid work is the overriding reason to travel.

Their voices are silent in European discourse, but illegal migrants such as Andriy are cast by some politicians as the enemies of hardworking European voters.

The migrants thrive in a taxless underworld that is flush with demand and cash: Andriy has no intention of returning to Ukraine because demand for his decorating and repair services is high in London’s booming property market.

The cash he can earn in Britain – often more than several hundred pounds a week – far outstrips what he could earn in Ukraine’s near-bankrupt $135 billion economy.

For some Ukrainians the turmoil stoked by the Russian-backed insurgents is the final straw in a wider disenchantment with the day-to-day reality of corrupt elites, economic collapse and violence that has followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Popular destinations for Ukrainians include Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Britain’s attractiveness is dampened by more stringent border controls than other EU countries.

Reuters has seen one of the doctored documents used as identification by migrants, who said Poland was the door to freedom for many.

“Lots of people go illegally,” said a Ukrainian woman living legally in Poland, who did not want to be identified. “Lots of people go through Poland… it’s where Europe starts.”

‘SKYPE PARENTS’

With the correct documents, a Ukrainian living in the European Union could legally seek work, pay tax, open a bank account and travel home.

Without the correct documents, migrants in Europe are forced to work around the law.

As a result many spend years apart from their children who benefit from their earnings but not their presence.

“Migrants come for a better life but there are some heartbreaking situations: Mothers who have left their children in Ukraine and communicate by Skype,” said Andy Hunder, director of the Ukrainian Institute in London.

“They feed their children but to feed them they must leave them,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe and Wiktor Szary in Warsaw and Aija Krtaine in Riga; Editing by Sophie Walker)


Reuters.

#Putin blames #EU as #Russia abandons plans for South Stream gas pipeline


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.Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, at the controversial new palace in Ankara. Photograph: Ria Novosti/Reuters

Shaun Walker in Moscow and agencies, The Guardian.

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.


The Guardian.

#Moldova’s Pro-Europe Parties to Win #Majority in New #Parliament, Analysts Say


A member of a local electoral commission empties a ballot box after a parliamentary election at a polling station in Chisinau, Nov. 30.A member of a local electoral commission empties a ballot box after a parliamentary election at a polling station in Chisinau, Nov. 30. Photo: Gleb Garanich / Reuters.

Reuters.

CHISINAU — Moldova’s three main pro-Europe parties appeared on Monday to be able to form a new coalition with most of the vote from an election on Sunday counted, despite the pro-Moscow Socialist Party taking first place.

With 87 percent of the vote counted, according to the election authorities, the three parties — the Liberal Democrats, the Liberals and the Democrats — had a combined vote of 44 percent, enough to win a majority in the 101-seat parliament.

This was in spite of the pro-Russia Socialist Party taking a surprise lead with 21.5 percent of the vote and the communists, who wish to revise part of a trade deal with the European Union, taking third place with 17.8 percent.

A three-party coalition, led by Prime Minister Iurie Leanca’s Liberal Democrats, has piloted one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries along a course of integration with mainstream Europe since 2009, culminating in the ratification of a landmark association agreement with the EU this year.

Sunday’s vote took place in the shadow of a separatist war in neighboring Ukraine triggered by it following similar pro-Europe policies that set it on a collision course with Moscow.

Pre-election surveys showed deep division over whether ex-Soviet Moldova should stick to the pro-Europe path pursued for the past five years or move back into Russia’s orbit.

This, together with the coalition’s poor record of fighting corruption and conducting deep reform, as well as Russian pressure on Moldova to change course, had raised questions over the coalition’s ability to hold on to power.

“The three [coalition] parties, whose strategic aim is European integration, will have no difficulty in forming a ruling majority even without the help of the parties of the left,” said analyst Oazu Nantoi, director of the Institute of Public Policies political research centre.

He predicted they would be able to muster 54 seats in the new parliament, a comfortable majority in the assembly.

Figures released by election authorities, with 87 percent of the vote counted, gave the Liberal Democrats 19.2 percent of the vote, the Democratic Party 15.8 percent and the Liberal Party 9.4 percent.

The strong vote for the socialists, whose leader Igor Dodon is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, reflected a deep reluctance among many to diminish the close, historic relationship with Russia, the main supplier of energy — and also a fear of the consequences.

They had campaigned against the westward movement of Moldova and in favor of the Russia-led Customs Union economic bloc.

Moldova’s breakaway pro-Russian enclave of Transdnestr gives Russia a potential springboard for action in the landlocked country of 3.5 million, wedged between war-torn Ukraine and EU member Romania.

Moscow though has so far shown no readiness to intervene. But it has shown its displeasure by banning imports of wines, vegetables and meat from an economy which relies on agricultural exports.

Many analysts say that with Moldova already gaining from the EU deal — its citizens can travel visa-free to Western Europe — the pro-European drive will be difficult to reverse.

Prime Minister Leanca has said he wants full European Union membership for Moldova by 2020.

The Communist Party had been expected to recover its old position as the dominant force of the left, but the Socialists appeared to have made inroads into its vote.

“The communists changed their position too much in relation to the European Union and the Customs Union, whereas the socialists positioned themselves as the one pro-Russian party,” said political analyst Vitalie Andrievschii.


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The Moscow Times.

#AFP: Year of 2014 in #Ukraine (Photos)


A priest tries to stop a fight between the protesters and the riot police in the downtown of Kyiv on Jan. 22. © AFPA priest tries to stop a fight between the protesters and the riot police in the downtown of Kyiv on Jan. 22. © AFP

AFP.

Ukraine is facing an end of obviously the hardest year it has had since gaining independence in 1991. Three month-long EuroMaidan Revolution took the power away from corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych and his government that he kept on a short leash. It led to more than 100 people dead, some of them foreign citizens.

Berkut, a special unit of local police, guards the street in the center of Kyiv on Jan. 23.Berkut, a special unit of local police, guards the street in the center of Kyiv on Jan. 23. © AFP

Pivot towards the European Union, that Yanukovych strongly opposed, was followed by the Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a peninsula in southern Ukraine and a home for 2.4 million people. A so called referendum that was held on March 16 became a basis for Vladimir Putin-led Russia to take the control over the Ukrainian land.

A local musician plays the piano set on the anti-government barricade in Kyiv during a concert organized on Feb. 10.A local musician plays the piano set on the anti-government barricade in Kyiv during a concert organized on Feb. 10. © AFP

Putin didn’t stop there. On Apr. 6 his camouflaged troops, that called themselves “people’s militia”, started an invasion of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in Ukraine’s east. Almost 1,200 Ukrainian soldiers were killed since then in an anti-terrorist operation focused at pushing the separatists and Russian army out of the Ukrainian territory, according to the official information.

A protester holds Ukraine's national flag at a burned building on Feb. 20 in Kyiv.A protester holds Ukraine’s national flag at a burned building on Feb. 20 in Kyiv. © AFP

Meanwhile, some sources say Russians lost up to 9,000 soldiers during the war in the Donbas, though it’s unclear how many of them are Russian citizens.

Protesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20, police tries to stop them as violence on Independence Square, Khreshchatyk and Instytutska streets escalates.Protesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20, police tries to stop them as violence on Independence Square, Khreshchatyk and Instytutska streets escalates. © AFP

The international community doesn’t recognize Russian annexation of Crimea and self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. A number of economic sanctions applied by the Western democracies against Russia have been the main tool for calming down the Putin’s aggression. However, sometimes when Ukrainian authorities were asking for the support of a larger scale, Western countries did not go beyond the condemnation statements.

A protester throws a molotov cocktail at riot police in the center of Kyiv on Jan. 22.A protester throws a molotov cocktail at riot police in the center of Kyiv on Jan. 22. © AFP

On Sep. 5, Ukraine agreed a cease-fire with the separatists during the negotiations in Minsk, Belarus. However, fighting still continues.

People carry a coffin of a man who was killed during recent clashes, as they gather at Independence Square on Feb. 22 in Kyiv.People carry a coffin of a man who was killed during recent clashes, as they gather at Independence Square on Feb. 22 in Kyiv. © AFPProtesters catch fire as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police on Feb. 20 in Kyiv.Protesters catch fire as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police on Feb. 20 in Kyiv. © AFPProtesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20.Protesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20. © AFPProtesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20.Protesters advance to new positions in Kyiv on Feb. 20. © AFP

Self-proclaimed prime minister of the pro-Russian separatist “Donetsk People’s Republic” Alexander Borodai (C) stands as he arrives on the site of the crash of a Malaysian airliner carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 17. © AFPPro-Russian militants take position on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 26.Pro-Russian militants take position on the roof of the international airport of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 26. © AFPA body lies in a wheat field at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 19.A body lies in a wheat field at the site of the crash of a Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in Grabove, in rebel-held east Ukraine, on July 19. © AFPA Ukrainian girl cries as she stands on the road with her luggage after she left her home near the village of Grabove, some 80 kilometers east of Donetsk on Aug. 2.A Ukrainian girl cries as she stands on the road with her luggage after she left her home near the village of Grabove, some 80 kilometers east of Donetsk on Aug. 2. © AFPMembers of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service search for bodies in a field near the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Grabove, in Donetsk region on July 26.Members of the Ukrainian State Emergency Service search for bodies in a field near the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Grabove, in Donetsk region on July 26. © AFPPeople react as a man attempts to revive another wounded as a result of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on May 26.People react as a man attempts to revive another wounded as a result of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian troops in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on May 26. © AFPBodies of crew members lie next to a destroyed Ukrainian tank in the northern outskirts of city of Donetsk, on July 22.Bodies of crew members lie next to a destroyed Ukrainian tank in the northern outskirts of city of Donetsk, on July 22. © AFPArmed Ukrainian forces detain a pro-Russian militant in the village of Chornukhine in the Lugansk region on Aug. 18.Armed Ukrainian forces detain a pro-Russian militant in the village of Chornukhine in the Lugansk region on Aug. 18. © AFP

View of the outskirts of Mariupol on Sept. 4 under pro-Russian separatists heavy artillery action.View of the outskirts of Mariupol on Sept. 4 under pro-Russian separatists heavy artillery action. © AFP


Kyiv Post.

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