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#Putin’s remarks underscore #Ukraine’s connection to the #Crimea, not #Russia’s

Prince Volodymyr the Great© Kyiv Post

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.

Kyiv Post.

TIME Exclusive: #Putin Cut #Ukraine Criticism From Speech Ahead of Peace Talks

President Vladimir PutinRussian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education at the St George’s Hall of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on Dec. 8, 2014. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin—AFP/Getty Images

Simon Shuster in Moscow, TIME.

A reference to the “mass destruction of Ukraine’s own citizens” was dropped from a draft copy of a Dec. 5 speech, TIME discovers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently cut out a blistering critique of Ukrainian authorities in a speech to human-rights advocates last week, as he seeks to carve out a peace deal with his country’s neighbor.

In a draft prepared by Putin’s speechwriters and obtained by TIME, the President was set to accuse Ukrainian authorities of the “mass destruction of their own citizens” during their ongoing conflict with Moscow-backed separatist rebels. But at the last moment, Putin appears to have dropped that line. The speech, as he delivered it on Dec. 5, made no mention of Ukraine whatsoever.

Reached by TIME on Monday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov declined to comment on why the President had omitted this entire section when he delivered the speech in the Kremlin throne room that afternoon. Asked whether the change signaled a shift in Putin’s position on Ukraine, Peskov said, “No, absolutely not.”

But Russia’s position on the Ukraine conflict had already softened ahead of the next round of peace talks to be held later this week. Those talks, which will involve representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the separatists who control large portions of eastern Ukraine, as well as European mediators, will provide all sides with the best chance they’ve had in months to reach a lasting cease-fire in the eight-month-old conflict, which has already claimed more than 4,000 lives. (The date for the talks, initially set for Dec. 9, could be delayed by several days at the requests of the separatist leaders, who have asked for more time to prepare.)

Ahead of those negotiations, Putin has appeared to take a more conciliatory approach, as Russia faces immense political and economic pressure from the West to call off its support for the Ukrainian separatists. Three days before the talks were due to commence in Minsk, French President François Hollande made a surprise visit to Moscow, and Putin took the unusual step of meeting Hollande at the airport rather than having the French leader come to him, as diplomatic protocol would normally require.

When the two Presidents sat down on Saturday at Vnukovo airport for two hours of discussions on Ukraine, Putin said, “We need to resolve” the conflict and the rift it has caused between Russia and the West. Following the closed-door meeting, Putin told reporters that Russia respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity and wants to see it restored. Hollande then spoke with his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, about the “prospects for progress that have emerged” in relations with Russia.

But Putin’s last-minute redaction of the speech on Friday is perhaps the clearest sign yet of a change in rhetoric. He has tended throughout the conflict in Ukraine not to miss an opportunity to denounce the Ukrainian authorities for violating the rights of ethnic Russians, and Friday’s meeting with rights advocates in the Kremlin seemed like an ideal venue to trot out those claims once more.

According to the copy of the draft speech distributed at the Kremlin press center on Friday, Putin was meant to tell his audience that, “Neither international acts nor the structures meant to defend human rights have been able to stop the Ukrainian authorities’ mass destruction of their own citizens. Despite the fact that international observers are present in Ukraine, people are unable to stop the violation of their most basic right, the right to life.”

Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser and political consultant, says the redaction appears to be part of a broader shift in Russia’s messaging. “The turn on the Ukraine issue is clear, even obvious,” he says. “Putin now wants to strengthen the message of friendliness, and the Kremlin is trying in various ways to turn down the heat on the Ukrainian issue.”

Russian state television networks, for instance, have gradually stopped labeling the Ukrainian government “fascist” in their reports, and on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to the separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine as an “open boil” on the body of the country, that needed to heal. Even a month ago it would have been hard to imagine such language coming from senior Kremlin officials, who have doggedly supported the separatists ever since their war against Ukraine began in April. “But now Moscow is trying to distance itself from them,” says Pavlovsky.

One of Putin’s imagemakers from the start of his presidency until 2011, Pavlovsky says it is not rare for the President to make last-minute changes to the texts that his speechwriters prepare. And he would almost certainly have approved the original version denouncing rights violations in Ukraine, Pavlovsky says. “Otherwise it would not have been there. But at the last minute he apparently decided that it’s not appropriate.”

The reason seems to be the troubling state of Russia’s economy. Over the past nine months, the U.S. and its allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia to force a change in the Kremlin’s interventionist policies in Ukraine, and those sanctions have managed to inflict substantial pain on Russian elites and state-connected firms. At the same time, a sharp drop in the price of oil, Russia’s most important export, has decimated federal coffers and the national currency, which has lost about 40% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.

But a sudden change of course on Ukraine could damage the Russian President, Pavlovsky warns. The Kremlin’s propaganda channels have spent months stirring up public support for the separatist cause, and the President could see a drop in his sky-high approval if he is seen as submitting to Western pressure at this stage in the conflict, he says. “They don’t want the public to notice this shift.”


#Canada to train Ukrainian military police

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.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.”

The Associated Press.

#France Gives #Russia ‘Last Chance’ to Negotiate With West

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.

Airport Talks

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.

Channeling Sarkozy

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.”

Related News:

The Moscow Times.


President of Russia: Meeting with federal and regional human rights commissioners #SNRTG

At a meeting with members of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and federal and regional human rights commissioners. December 5, 2014.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.


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



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