Tag Archives: Russian President Vladimir Putin

New #NATO Chief Jens Stoltenburg Has #Putin’s Backing — For Now

New NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway arrives to chair his first meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels Oct. 1.New NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg of Norway arrives to chair his first meeting at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels Oct. 1. Francois Lenoir / Reuters

The Associated Press.

At a time of daunting geopolitical crises, NATO is undergoing its own version of regime change, with the arrival of a new chief official who has the blessing, at least temporarily, of one of the West’s biggest adversaries: Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Former two-term Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg started work Wednesday as NATO’s secretary-general, the 13th in the trans-Atlantic organization’s 65-year existence. And the key question is whether his consensus-building style will be more effective in tamping down the Ukraine conflict and other flashpoints than the hard talk of his predecessor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

“I expect more moderate language, and that he will try to keep the dialogue open,” said Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, an independent Norwegian research institution.

To allies like Germany, the expectation of a dial-back of the rhetoric from Rasmussen — a former conservative Danish prime minister — was one factor arguing in Stoltenberg’s favor.

Last month, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, though squarely blaming the Kremlin for the continued crisis over Ukraine, said: “I found that some things that came out of Brussels, from NATO headquarters, in these last few weeks weren’t always helpful.”

Stoltenberg was unanimously chosen as Rasmussen’s successor by NATO’s policy making North Atlantic Council in March. It was a pick that won swift if tentative approval from Putin, who had dealt with Stoltenberg when the 55-year-old Norwegian headed the left-of-center government of one of Russia’s neighboring countries.

“We have very good relations, including personal relations,” Putin said in an interview on Russian state television last spring. “This is a very serious, responsible person, but we’ll see how our relations develop with him in his new position.”

Traditionally, a European has headed NATO’s civilian headquarters in Brussels, while an American officer holds the post of the alliance’s supreme military commander, beginning with General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1951-52.

Stoltenberg will be the first secretary-general to hail from an alliance nation that borders Russia. He becomes NATO’s highest-ranking civilian at a time when Western relations with Moscow are at their lowest ebb since the collapse of the Berlin Wall a quarter-century ago.

Simultaneously, NATO member states are confronted with crises in Iraq, Syria and North Africa, the uncertain future of Afghanistan, and an array of security challenges ranging from the threat of cyber-attacks to pirates preying on commercial shipping in the waters off the Horn of Africa.

“As we all know, NATO is not just a security alliance. It is a family of values which reaches across the Atlantic and defends almost 1 billion citizens of our allied countries,” Stoltenberg told a news conference at the NATO summit in Wales earlier this month.

“We must continue to stand up for those values,” he said.

Stoltenberg, an economist by training, became Norway’s youngest prime minister in 2000 the day after his 41st birthday, though he had to resign seven months later when his Labor Party took a beating at the polls. He joined the party at age 14 and was involved in Vietnam War-era street protests that sometimes ended with rocks being thrown at the U.S. Embassy.

In the waning days of the Cold War, when he was a promising young politician, the Soviet Union’s spy agency tried to recruit him, but he reported the KGB’s attempts to Norwegian authorities and did nothing wrong, Norwegian intelligence officials have said.

As premier, he became a recognizable face on the international scene with his sober, dignified response to the terror attacks that killed 77 people in Norway in July 2011. It was the worst atrocity since World War II to befall his small but proud country. For Norwegians, he said, it meant “hours, days, nights filled with shock, despair, anger and weeping.”

Belying a dovish reputation, Stoltenberg pushed through an increase in military spending during his second spell as prime minister in 2005-13.

Stoltenberg has long been a staunch U.S. ally. He endorsed President George W. Bush’s “war on terror” after the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, backed the decision to send Norwegian troops to Afghanistan, and sent Norwegian units to take part in NATO’s airstrikes in Libya.

As well as heading NATO’s staff and chairing its policy making council, a major part of the secretary-general’s job is trying to broker agreement among the alliance’s 28 member countries. Stoltenberg can boast of some international assignments, including serving as a United Nations special envoy on climate change and chairman of a high-level UN advisory panel on climate-change financing.

He is married with two grown-up children and is an avid biker and skier. Harpviken predicted that Stoltenberg will miss the informality of Norwegian public life, where he could strike up a conversation with a fellow cyclist or motorist as they both waited for the light to change on an Oslo street.

The analyst also said Stoltenberg has demonstrated that he has the skills needed to achieve effective unity at NATO at a time where the alliance must tackle security challenges on multiple fronts simultaneously.

“He rarely picks a conflict with anybody,” Harpviken said. “He is a consensus maker. Not a visionary perhaps, but one who builds through small steps and minor measures.”

The Moscow Times.

#Merkel Evokes Cold War in Warning of Long #Ukraine Crisis

German Chancellor Angela Merkel waits for Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb to arrive for talks at the chancellery in Berlin, on Sept. 29, 2014.German Chancellor Angela Merkel waits for Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb to arrive for talks at the chancellery in Berlin, on Sept. 29, 2014.

Arne Delfs and Brian Parkin reporting,

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union and the U.S. may be facing a long confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, citing the 40 years it took East Germany to escape communist control.

Merkel, who grew up in former East Germany, signaled determination to uphold EU sanctions on Russia in comments in Berlin yesterday that underscored the fraught relationship with President Vladimir Putin, whose actions in the Ukrainian crisis she says are rooted in a Cold War mentality.

“I don’t see any change at the moment regarding Russia’s position,” Merkel said. “We needed 40 years to overcome East Germany. Sometimes in history one has to be prepared for the long haul, and not ask after four months if it still makes sense to keep up our demands.”

Merkel’s warning added to her comments to German industry leaders last week that an end to the ‘‘deep-rooted conflict’’ with Russia is far off as a cease-fire fails to halt fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

“Merkel lost faith in Putin a long time ago, but there’s now a realization in Germany and Europe that the Ukraine conflict is turning from hot-phase crisis management into a long game,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment’s office in Brussels, said by phone today.

Ukraine’s conflict, which the United Nations says has left more than 3,500 people dead, is forcing Merkel to take a stand as the country’s government seeks closer EU ties and accuses Putin of fomenting the pro-Russian rebellion in the east. Russia denies involvement in the conflict.

Permanent Confrontation

Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the worst casualties since a Sept. 5 truce, the government said yesterday. President Petro Poroshenko said last week that the worst of the war is over as Ukraine focuses on elections next month, securing gas supplies and preparing a bid for EU membership.

“As long as the EU tries to prop up the Kiev government, there will be permanent confrontation with Moscow,” Techau said.

Merkel, 60, grew up as the daughter a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, the state founded in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany in 1949 after the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II. Communist rule collapsed after the Berlin Wall was breached following mass protests in 1989, and East Germany ceased to exist with reunification on Oct. 3, 1990.

Finland Concern

“Nobody had anticipated that Putin would take such a momentous decision” to “take us back to a Europe before 1989,” Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., said at a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington yesterday.

“A lot of trust was destroyed by Putin’s policy” in Ukraine, Wittig said. “And I think it’s a challenge to regain that trust.”

Merkel made her comments at a news conference after talks with Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, whose government has put fighter jets on alert after Russian planes repeatedly violated the northernmost euro-area country’s airspace.

Finland has the EU’s longest border with Russia and Stubb agreed that the Ukraine conflict isn’t going to be resolved anytime soon. “We are looking at a long-term situation,” he said.

(To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Tony Czuczka, Chad Thomas).


Defense Ministry Dismisses Reports of Russian Paratroopers Killed in Ukraine | #DmitryGudkov #Russia #paratroopers

Rebels stand in front of what they say is a mass grave with five bodies, in the town of Nizhnaya Krinka, eastern Ukraine.Rebels stand in front of what they say is a mass grave with five bodies, in the town of Nizhnaya Krinka, eastern Ukraine. Marko Djurica / Reuters

Anna Dolgov reporting,

An opposition lawmaker who inquired about the reported deaths of Russian paratroopers in Ukraine has been told by the Defense Ministry that the accounts are “rumors” and that releasing information about military casualties would violate privacy laws.

State Duma lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov — one of the few critics of President Vladimir Putin’s administration to remain in parliament — asked the Defense Ministry last month for information on whether Russian troops were fighting in Ukraine, the number active or past servicemen who had been killed in the conflict, and the military affiliation of three dozen men whom he identified by name.

The names on Gudkov’s list — 39 of them in all — included soldiers who were buried last month in the western Russian city of Pskov and which disappeared from grave markings after a local lawmaker and journalists started asking questions.

The ministry’s response, which Gudkov published on his LiveJournal social network page Monday, gave little information on any of those issues.

“Your request regarding rumors concerning the activities of Russian servicemen on the territory of Ukraine … has been reviewed,” the letter signed by Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said.

“Despite repeated accusations by a range of Ukrainian and Western politicians, quoted by foreign media, the Russian Federation is not a party in the conflict between the government forces of Ukraine and the residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions who disagree with the policies of the country’s leadership.”

As for the men whose names Gudkov cited, “releasing information on citizens listed in the request is considered impossible based on the requirements of the Russian federal law of 2006 ‘On Personal Data,'” the response said.

Gudkov argued the ministry’s unwillingness to go into specifics indicated a wish to hide a possible Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

“If the servicemen listed above in my letter had nothing to do with the tragic events in Ukraine, would [the ministry] respond to me along the lines of ‘Don’t tell me what to do, and I won’t tell you where to go’?” he wrote in his LiveJournal post.

“Would they take cover behind the law on the protection of personal data?” he said, adding “by the way, I did not ask them about personal data.”

The deaths of Russian paratroopers from the Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division have been shrouded in mystery ever since they were buried in August.

Pskov regional lawmaker Lev Shlosberg, who spearheaded the investigation into the servicemen’s deaths, was hospitalized with head injuries and a broken nose after being beaten by three unidentified assailants on a street late last month.

Scores of Russian journalists asking questions in Pskov have also reported being attacked by unidentified assailants, while a BBC news crew looking into reports that Russian soldiers had been killed near Ukraine’s border were beaten and had their camera smashed in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan earlier this month.

According to one human rights advocate, the secretive burials in Pskov were not a one-off.

Yelena Vasilyeva, who tracks and compiles reports about alleged Russian military casualties in Ukraine, said on her website that the bodies of more than a dozen other servicemen were brought last week to a military morgue in the southern city of Orenburg.

Vasilyeva also published a copy of a military order, discharging the servicemen from the army after they had already been killed, she said. Vasilyeva said that the order was handed to her by military officers “outraged” by the army’s handling of its casualties.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Monday published an appeal to Russian servicemen who may be deployed to Ukraine, saying “Putin, as commander in chief, knows perfectly well that the participation of the armed forces in military activity in the east of Ukraine is illegal.”

“That’s why you are serving without insignia … That’s why he is lying that you lost your way and ended up in the Donetsk and Luhansk region,” Nemtsov wrote in the appeal, published on the Ekho Moskvy website. “Putin and your commanders will disown you in a second, saying that they had not sent you to war, and your families will never find the truth if something were to happen to you.”

Requests for information on servicemen’s deaths have also come from a number of other Russian activists, including the Pskov lawmaker Shlosberg and human rights ombudswoman Ella Pamfilova, who last month gave military prosecutors 30 days to answer her request. The deadline came and went on Sunday, though Pamfilova did not receive a response, Ekho Moskvy reported.

The Pskov-based 76th Airborne Division, which last month received the Order of Suvorov from President Vladimir Putin, was awarded in honor of its long history of military glory, including its participation in various “local conflicts” during previous decades, the Defense Ministry said, in response to Gudkov’s question.

 The Moscow Times.

Ukraine prosecutor opens criminal case against Russian officials | #Russia #Ukraine

A barrel of a T-72 tank is seen with a flag of the DNR (Donetsk People's Republic) in the southern coastal town of Novoazovsk, August 31, 2014.A barrel of a T-72 tank is seen with a flag of the DNR (Donetsk People’s Republic) in the southern coastal town of Novoazovsk, August 31, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/VASILY FEDOSENKO

Pavel Polityuk reporting,

(Reuters) – Ukrainian state prosecutors said on Tuesday they had opened a criminal investigation against a Russian law enforcement agency, accusing it of supporting separatist and “terrorist” groups in the east of the country.

The move appeared to be a tit-for-tat response to a criminal case launched on Monday by Russia against “unidentified representatives of Ukraine’s senior political and military leadership”, National Guard and nationalist organizations, in which it accused them of committing “genocide”.

The two legal investigations will further ratchet up tensions between the two ex-Soviet neighbors and put pressure on a ceasefire agreed on Sept. 5 between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russian separatists that has been marred by daily skirmishes and artillery shelling.

In a statement, the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said it had opened a criminal investigation against officials of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation, a law enforcement body that answers only to President Vladimir Putin.

The statement accused the Russian officials of “carrying out illegal interference” in the work of Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies and armed forces.

“(This interference) is aimed at aiding the terrorist organizations ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ in their criminal activities and obstructing the performance of duties by government officials,” it said.

The separatists have declared two “states” in mainly Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine centered on the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and say they will not return to Kiev’s rule.

President Petro Poroshenko has offered the regions broad autonomy but says they must remain part of Ukraine.

In its statement on Monday announcing legal action against Ukraine, Russia accused the Kiev leadership of committing “genocide” against Russian-speaking citizens when their forces used heavy weapons to crush the separatists.

A U.N. human rights official recently put the total death toll in Ukraine’s conflict since April at around 3,500 and also accused the pro-Russian separatists of human rights abuses, including murder, abduction and torture.

Russia, which opposes Kiev’s pro-Western policies, has long accused Ukraine of using violence against citizens in the east.

Moscow has denied sending weapons and troops to help the pro-Russian rebels, despite what Kiev and the West say is incontrovertible proof.

(Reporting By Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)


Iran President Rouhani Offers Help to Russia | #NuclearEnergy #Iran #Russia #Sanctions

President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the welcoming ceremony during a summit of Caspian Sea regional leaders in the city of Astrakhan, Sept. 29.President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the welcoming ceremony during a summit of Caspian Sea regional leaders in the city of Astrakhan, Sept. 29. Alexei Nikolsky / Reuters / RIA Novosti / Kremlin.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized Western sanctions against Moscow as “the wrong tool” Monday and said his country was ready to provide Russia with any assistance it might require.

“There are different ways of taking countermeasures,” Rouhani told state-run television channel Rossia-24. “You can strengthen relations between neighbors, and in the current circumstances, we are ready to provide assistance of any kind to the people and government of Russia.”

Rouhani announced during last week’s United Nations General Assembly that Iran and Russia were discussing nuclear energy projects. In early August, the countries signed a memorandum of understanding on increasing economic and trade ties in a number of areas, including the energy sector.

Rouhani was in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan on Monday to take part in the Caspian Sea Summit, along with President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. The five littoral states were to conduct negotiations on the legal status of the sea and its vast natural resources.

Iran and the Soviet Union signed treaties on the status of the Caspian Sea in 1921 and 1940, legal documents that remain valid to this day. Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan — whose borders emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union — have not considered themselves bound by these agreements.

The Moscow Times.