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#Putin and the #Pope


Pope Francis meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican, on Nov. 25, 2013.Pope Francis meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a private audience at the Vatican, on Nov. 25, 2013. © AFP PHOTO POOL / CLAUDIO PERI

Thomas L. Friedman, OP-ED COLUMNIST

Reading the papers these days I find that the two world leaders who stir the most passion in me are Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia.

One is everything you’d want in a leader, the other everything you wouldn’t want. One holds sway over 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, the other over nine time zones. One keeps surprising us with his capacity for empathy, the other by how much he has become a first-class jerk and thug. But neither can be ignored and both have an outsized influence on the world today.

First, the pope. At a time when so many leaders around the world are looking to promote their political fortunes by exploiting grievances and fault lines, we have a pope asking his flock to do something hard, something outside their comfort zone, pushing them to be more inclusive of gays and divorced people.

Yes, Francis was rebuffed by conservative bishops at a recent Vatican synod when he asked them to embrace the notion that “homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” adding, “are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities?”

But, as an editorial in this paper noted: “The very fact that Francis ordered church leaders to address these challenges seems a landmark in Vatican history.” The pope asked that rejected language be published for all to see, while also cautioning against “hostile inflexibility — that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God.”

“Hostile inflexibility?” Whose leadership does that describe? Look at Putin’s recent behavior: His military was indirectly involved in downing a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine and his K.G.B. has not only been trying to take a bite out of Ukraine but is nibbling on Estonia, Georgia and Moldova, all under the guise of protecting “Russian speakers.”

I opposed NATO expansion because I believed that there are few global problems that we can solve without the help of Russia. By expanding NATO at the end of the Cold War, when Russia was weak, we helped to cultivate a politics there that would one day be very receptive to Putin’s message that the West is ganging up on Russia. But, that said, the message is a lie. The West has no intention of bringing Ukraine into NATO. And please raise your hand if you think the European Union plans to invade Russia.

Yet Putin just exploits these fears for two reasons. First, he has a huge chip on his shoulder — no, excuse me; he has a whole lumberyard there — of resentment that Russia is no longer the global power it once was. But rather than make Russia great again by tapping its creative people — empowering them with education, the rule of law and consensual politics to realize their full potential — he has opted for the shortcut of tapping his oil and gas wells and seizing power from his people.

And instead of creating a Russia that is an example to its neighbors, he relies on the brute force that his oil and gas can still buy him. While he rails against NATO, he is really afraid of European Union expansion — that Ukrainians would rather embrace the E.U. market and democracy rules than their historical ties to Russia because they know that through the E.U. they can realize potentials that would never be possible with Russia.

By seizing Crimea and stoking up nationalism, Putin was not protecting Russia from NATO. He was protecting himself from the viruses of E.U. accountability and transparency, which, if they took hold in Ukraine, could spread to Moscow, undermining his kleptocracy.

Normally, I wouldn’t care, but when the world is dividing between zones of order and disorder, and the world of order needs to be collaborating to stem and reverse disorder, the fact that Putin is stoking disorder on Russia’s borders, and not collaborating to promote order in the Middle East, is a real problem. What’s more worrying is that the country he threatens most is Russia. If things go bad there — and its economy is already sagging under Western sanctions — the world of disorder will get a lot bigger.

That is why Putin’s leadership matters, and so does the pope’s. I’m focused on Putin because I think he is making the world a worse place for bad reasons, when he could make a difference in Europe and the Middle East with just an ounce more decency and collaboration. America, too, has plenty to learn from the pope’s humility, but say what you will, we’re still focused on trying to strengthen the global commons, whether by protecting people from jihadists in Iraq or fighting Ebola in Africa. We could do more. Putin needs to do a lot more.

“The best leaders don’t set timid and selfish goals that are easy to meet but instead set bold and inclusive goals that are hard to achieve,” remarked Timothy Shriver, the chairman of the Special Olympics, who has just written a book on leadership, “Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most.” “We’re all looking for ways to make sense of a world without a center, but we’ll only find that in people who lead with authentic humility and reckless generosity.”


The New York Times.

#Sweden Cites Two New Sightings as Hunt Continues for ‘Russian’ Sub


The Swedish minesweeper HMS Kullen is seen in the search for suspected The Swedish minesweeper HMS Kullen is seen in the search for suspected “foreign underwater activity” at Namdo Bay, Stockholm Oct. 21, 2014

Reuters.

Sweden’s military is working on two new observations that could be evidence of suspected “foreign underwater activity” near the country’s capital, a senior naval officer said Tuesday.

Swedish forces have been scouring the sea off Stockholm since Friday, after what the military called three credible reports of activity by foreign submarines or divers using an underwater vehicle.

The vessels were unidentified, but during the 1980s the Swedish navy from time to time hunted suspected Soviet submarines in its waters.

“Today, I can also report that there have been two further observations which were made by members of the public that are interesting enough to require further follow-up work,” Admiral Anders Grenstad told reporters.

He would not give further details about what kind of new sightings had been made, but said they were being assessed and were not yet considered as credible as the three made earlier.

Grenstad said the operation was aimed at gathering intelligence, not military action, and could continue for some time.

“I want to stress again that this is not a U-boat hunting operation which has the aim of bringing down an opponent with military might,” he said.

He also said Sweden had no information as to which country might be behind the suspected intrusion into Swedish waters. But during the 1980s and early ’90s, Sweden’s defense forces regularly played cat and mouse with suspected Soviet submarines in its territorial waters.

Some of the incidents were later reclassified as likely to have been false alarms.

In recent months, Swedish jets have been scrambled to meet Russian planes crossing into the country’s airspace, a pattern repeated in the Baltics where NATO has responded.

Finland has complained that Russia has violated its airspace and that the Russian navy interfered with the operations of a state environmental research vessel in international waters in August and September.

The incidents come as tension between Russian and the West is rising in the region over the conflict in Ukraine. In a joint press conference on Tuesday with the leader of Estonia, Sweden’s prime minister said his country would increase spending on defense.


The Moscow Times.

#Germany blames pro-Russian rebels for #MH17 passenger plane crash


An armed pro-Russia militant attempts to stop journalists from accessing 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, 2014An armed pro-Russia militant attempts to stop journalists from accessing 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, 2014 © AFP

Reuters.

BERLIN – Germany’s BND foreign intelligence agency has concluded that pro-Russian rebels are to blame for the downing of Malaysia Airline MH17 in Ukraine in July, Der Spiegel weekly reported on Sunday, the first European agency to say so.

The crash over pro-Russian rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17 killed all 298 passengers and crew and led to a further deterioration of ties between the West and Moscow, who are in dispute over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

Gerhard Schindler, president of the BND, told a secret parliamentary committee on security affairs earlier this month that separatists had used a Russian Buk missile defence system from a Ukrainian base to fire a rocket that exploded directly next to the Malyasia Air plane, Der Spiegel reported.

“It was pro-Russian separatists,” the magazine quoted him as saying.

The BND concluded the rebels were to blame after a detailed analysis based on satellite and other photos, Der Spiegel said. Noone at the BND was immediately available to comment.

Kiev blames the incident on the rebels and accused Moscow of arming them, but the rebels and Moscow deny the accusations.

European governments have so far refrained from openly pointing the finger, but shortly after the crash U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was strong evidence that Moscow-backed separatists had downed the plane.

The Dutch government, which has two investigations underway into the downing of the airliner, has yet to say who was responsible. Two thirds of the passengers were Dutch.

A preliminary report by the Dutch Safety Board last month said the airliner crashed due to a “large number of high-energy objects” from outside the aircraft. It drew no conclusions as to where they came from.

(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt in Amsterdam; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

 

Spiegel | Reuters.

#Poroshenko Signs Law Granting Limited Self Rule in Eastern #Ukraine


poroshenko-billUkrainian President Petro Poroshenko delivers a speech as he visits the Khortytsia Island near the Dnieper River to meet with servicemen, who take part in the military conflict in eastern regions of the country, while marking the Day of Ukraine’s Defenders in Zaporizhzhia region, Oct. 14, 2014.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Mikhail Palinchak/Handout via Reuters.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed a law granting three-year limited self-rule status to certain territories in the separatist-minded Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

According to a statement posted Thursday on the presidential website, the law was signed to create the “conditions for the prompt normalization of the situation, restoration of legal order, constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens.”

Ukrainian legislation will still be applicable in these territories “with consideration of peculiarities,” the statement said. People’s militias will be created to maintain order on the ground, while local government bodies will govern these territories after local elections scheduled for Dec. 7, the statement added.

After the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych in March, rebels in the east of Ukraine refused to acknowledge Kiev’s pro-Western government and established self-proclaimed republics in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

In accordance with the law signed Thursday, insurgents who participated in the eastern conflict against Ukrainian army forces will be immune to criminal prosecution.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told state-run news agency RIA Novosti on Friday that its government would not recognize the new law, as it was signed by a foreign state.

“Kiev is still under illusion that it governs us, but in reality this is not the case,” he said.

In addition, Zakharchenko said Donetsk’s insurgents, who lost ground following a Ukrainian army offensive in July, were planning to return to the rest of the Donetsk region, which is “currently occupied” by Ukraine.


The Moscow Times.

Kremlin: #Putin’s Talk With EU and #Poroshenko ‘Full of Misunderstandings’


(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.(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.

Reuters.

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.

Frozen Conflict

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.”


The Moscow Times.

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