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© Kyiv Post
In his address to the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, President Vladimir Putin said on Dec. 4 that Crimea is to Russians what the Temple Mount is for Muslims and Jews.
He based his statement on the fact that Prince Volodymyr the Great, the ruler of medieval Kyivan Rus in the 10th century, was baptized in Crimea as he brought Christianity to his kingdom. The fact is that Volodymyr ruled in Kyiv. Putin’s remarks underscore Ukraine’s connection to the peninsula, not Russia’s.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak (R) speaks next to Canada’s Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson during a press conference following talks in Kiev on Dec. 8, 2014. © AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY
The Associated Press.
OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Canada’s defense minister says Canadian soldiers are arriving in Ukraine to help train military police.
The training is part of an agreement Canadian Defense Minister Rob Nicholson signed Monday in Kiev pledging Canadian help in the face of Russian aggression. Nicolson wouldn’t say how many trainers are being deployed or how long they will stay.
Canada has already donated helmets, tents and sleeping bags as well as tactical communication systems and night vision goggles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin received a less-than-warm welcome from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper last month when he approached Harper for a handshake at the G-20 summit in Australia. Harper told Putin: “I guess I’ll shake your hand, but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine.”
President Vladimir Putin approaches to shake hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande during a meeting at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, Dec. 6. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters
Alexey Eremenko, The Moscow Times.
The weekend meeting between the French and Russian presidents has given France a chance to become “the new Germany” for Russia, which lost its last Western ally after a falling-out with official Berlin, analysts say.
French mediation “is aimed at preventing Russia-EU relations from going to the dogs,” said Tatiana Kastueva-Jean of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris.
For France, reaching out to Russia has the benefit of boosting President Francois Hollande’s flagging rating and upholding Paris’ longtime strategy of relative independence in foreign affairs.
But the success of Hollande’s bid depends on both the Kremlin and the other Western powers, said Arnaud Dubien, head of the French-Russian think tank Observo.
“Everybody loses if no one acts now,” Dubien, whose think tank is affiliated with the French-Russian Chamber of Commerce, said Monday.
Hollande held a snap meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Saturday at Moscow’s Vnukovo Airport.
The agenda was dominated by Ukraine, where fighting persists between a pro-Russian insurgency and governmental forces in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
“I very much hope that in the near future we will have a final cease-fire agreement” on Ukraine, Putin said after the meeting, Reuters reported.
He also endorsed the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine, indicating that Russia did not plan to annex the rebel-held regions as it did with Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in March.
For his part, Hollande spoke about a possible end to Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its involvement in Ukraine, linking it to the hopefully forthcoming cease-fire.
In an apparent follow-up, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — whom Hollande reportedly consulted before meeting Putin — announced new talks with rebels starting Tuesday.
Experts said Moscow and Paris appeared to have found common ground on Ukraine — though under-the-table deals may have been thrown into the mix.
“France likely pledged to guarantee that Ukraine would not join NATO,” Dubien said. Kiev joining the alliance is a longtime fear for Putin’s government.
Don’t Mention the War(ships)
Though France has backed EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, it has taken a notably moderate stance toward Moscow.
Hollande was one of the few Western leaders who did not give Putin a hard time at a G20 meeting in Australia’s Brisbane last month.
Nor have French authorities pressured French businesses to cut connections to Russia like Germany did, said Sergei Fyodorov of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Russia-France bilateral trade stood at an admittedly modest $15.6 billion, or 2.4 percent of Russia’s total foreign trade in the first 10 months of this year, according to Russia’s Federal Customs Service. It has shrunk during the past few years.
France’s willingness to go easy on Russia may have been due to the 3 billion euro ($3.7 billion) lawsuit Moscow threatened over the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers it commissioned in 2010.
Hollande said in September that the ships’ delivery was being postponed over Russia’s role in Ukraine.
Putin said that the Mistrals were not discussed during his meeting with Hollande over the weekend, Reuters reported — a claim that experts polled by The Moscow Times were inclined to believe.
Paris is apparently trying to prevent the single issue of the Mistrals from dominating the bilateral agenda, said Kastueva-Jean, who heads the Russia-NIS (New Independent States) Center at IFRI.
Germany Out, France In
Russia’s prime ally in the West until recently was Germany, whose bilateral trade with Russia, tellingly, stood at $56 billion (8.8 percent of Russia’s total) between January and October, according to customs figures.
Chancellor Angela Merkel had advocated a softer stance on Russia from the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine.
But last month she joined the hard-liners after extensive talks with Putin at the G20 summit, where she reportedly failed to sway him on Ukrainian separatists.
“Hollande’s reaching out to Putin is an attempt to balance out Germany’s influence in the EU,” Kastueva-Jean said.
“France is the last big country that can mediate between Russia and the West,” Dubien said.
There is a recent precedent for Hollande’s attempts to play peacemaker with Russia: In 2008, his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy brokered the end to the “five-day war” between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Hollande, struggling with dismal approval ratings, is clearly keen to follow in Sarkozy’s footsteps, experts agreed.
But he is also enacting France’s general drive toward a relatively independent foreign policy, which dates all the way back to Charles de Gaulle, said Fyodorov of the Russian Academy of Sciences. De Gaulle dominated French politics from World War II to the late 1960s.
However, much depends on whether Putin will — or, indeed, can — really influence the ragtag band of rebels in eastern Ukraine, analysts said.
And just as vital is whether official Brussels and Washington would be willing to back France’s diplomatic effort, or whether they will stick to their hard-line position, Dubien said.
“We’ll know within days,” the analyst said. “But if we miss this chance to end the crisis, the window of opportunity will close for a long time, months at least.”
At a meeting with members of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and federal and regional human rights commissioners. December 5, 2014. Photograph: Kremlin.
Vladimir Putin met with members of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and federal and regional human rights commissioners from all the different regions.
The meeting examined current issues concerning respect for human rights and development of civil society institutions in the regions.
PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA VLADIMIR PUTIN:
Good afternoon, colleagues,
I think this is the first time we are meeting in such broad format.
Our meeting is taking place in the run-up to international Human Rights Day. It is a great pleasure to see here so many colleagues who are involved in human rights work in practically every single region of our country. I say “practically every single region” for a reason which I say more about a little later, because not every region has yet established institutions to ensure protection of human rights.
Let me start by saying that one of our tasks of course is to take part in improving the norms governing international humanitarian law, but above all, we will work on developing our own legal framework in this area and building up our country’s own human rights organisations.
The Council for Civil Society and Human Rights met in this hall just recently. The results of that meeting then became the basis for instructions that I and my colleagues from the Presidential Executive Office worked on and issued just yesterday. We will definitely come back to some of these matters at today’s meeting and I would be happy to hear your views on what we need to do to improve our work in this area.
The human rights commissioners play a special part in protecting human rights of course. Nearly every region has a regional commissioner now, working in the same areas as at the federal level. Progress has been made since I met with regional human rights commissioners in the summer of 2012. But as I said, not every region has set up these institutions yet.
Let me make it very clear that it does not matter where our citizens live, from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad, and from Murmansk to Sevastopol, every person must have the possibility of ensuring that their rights are protected through the institution of the human rights commissioners.
The human rights commissioners are a separate organisation that is independent from the state authorities and has been invested by the state with the important mission of supporting and protecting human rights. Often, when people’s rights are violated or infringed upon, they turn to you as the final place of appeal, and they nearly always find a responsive attitude, understanding, and the desire to restore justice. This is why the number of people turning to the human rights commissioners has been growing both at the federal and regional levels.
People turn to you when they have met with deaf ears elsewhere, when the authorities fail to hear them, ignore them, or remain indifferent to their lawful demands, or when people encounter lack of respect for their lawful rights. It is good to see that in very many cases, not in all, but very often, you do succeed in obtaining a positive result.
This is work that requires a particular character and outlook, because you do not have executive functions or powers, and so your work calls for persistence, professionalism, confidence in your rights and confidence that you are doing needed work and the right thing.
Influential, authoritative and confident human rights commissioners are a big force in the regions. The regional authorities listen to you, take your views and recommendations into account, and see you as equal partners, and the result of course is that people gain, and this is the way it should be.
Unfortunately though, this situation is not the case everywhere in the Russian Federation. There have been cases of people taking a bureaucratic and formalistic approach to the institution of the human rights commissioners and appointing to this position people who are close to or dependent on the authorities. You cannot get far with this approach of course and it will probably be impossible to achieve the desired results. I therefore ask my envoys to the federal districts to make a thorough analysis of what is being done to ensure the regional human rights commissioners’ work as a full-fledged and – most importantly – independent institution.
We all need to realise the importance of the commissioners’ work. They are being guided solely by people’s interests and are protecting their rights, based on their powers, the law, and their consciences. We must value their unbiased desire, based on constant contact with the public, to bring greater order and justice to society.
In this context, let me say a few words about legislation. Meeting with [Russian Human Rights Commissioner] Ms Pamfilova recently, we discussed proposals for improving the law on human rights commissioners in Russia. This law was passed back in 1997 and is in need of updating. The plan is to raise the status and strengthen guarantees for the work of regional human rights commissioners. We discussed these matters too at the meeting in 2012. Circumstances have changed both at home and abroad since then of course. I would like to hear from you today your views on the law’s effectiveness with regard to your work and perhaps your proposals for possible improvements.
The institution of the human rights commissioners is now solidly established. There are still some things that need additional work, but the institution itself has unquestionably taken shape and established a solid place for itself in our country. It is important and society needs it. It is here that people find support in protecting their social, labour, housing, economic and political rights. We see another trend too today, however. People often seek to defend their own rights and take part in making sure they can realise these rights. You no doubt heard the Address to the Federal Assembly yesterday, in which I spoke about precisely this point.
We of course will support this positive and constructive mood in society and give people the space and freedom they need so that each individual can realise their potential. I am sure that your human rights activity aims at this same goal and that you will continue to make a big contribution to ensuring equal opportunities for all.
You have built up a wealth of experience in your work with people and you know how public support mechanisms work and how to bring people together to resolve all manner of issues and pressing problems. I hope our meeting today will be useful so that we can make the needed adjustments to our work and improve too the state mechanism for your support.
Thank you very much for your attention.
December 5, 2014, 16:00 | The Kremlin, Moscow