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Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (R) gives a press conference with Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg (L) after talks in Kiev on November 18, 2014. © AFP
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged Russia to restart talks on de-escalation of war in eastern Ukraine. “We are inviting Russia to serious talks in some neutral territory. The United States and European Union countries are helping us in that,” Yatsenyuk said after meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Kyiv.
Yatsenyuk’s remarks came as NATO noted a further buildup of Russian or Russian-led troops both on Ukraine’s territory and across the eastern border in Russia, despite a cease-fire agreement signed in September.
“This is a serious military buildup and we call on Russia to pull back its troops,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was quoted by Reuters as saying.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited Kyiv on the same day to meet with the president and the prime minister, also remarked about an increase of tensions in Ukraine, and said the European Commission might arrange an international conference on economic assistance to Ukraine early next year.
“It’s most likely that the European Commission will arrange a special conference early next year to introduce economic stability in Ukraine,” Steinmeier said.
Ukraine’s industrial output declined by 9.4 between January and October, the nation’s statistical agency reported on the same day. Ukraine’s financial needs are estimated to be several fold over the $17 billion earmarked by the International Monetary Fund, and growing amid the Russia-sponsored war.
Russia has consistently denied accusations by western leaders of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, insisting that such accusations are “hot air.”Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the Ukrainian authorities to “immediately enter an all-encompassing internal Ukrainian dialog with participation of all the regions, and fulfillment of the Minsk agreements.”
The Sept. 5 Minsk agreements and follow-up protocol, signed by the Ukrainian authorities, as well as representatives of the Russian Federation, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and separatist leaders from Donetsk and Luhansk regions, laid the foundation for de-escalation of war in the east of Ukraine.
The sides agreed to move troops away from the front line to create a war-free buffer zone between the separatist-controlled parts of the territory and the rest of Ukraine. The central government agreed to give a broader autonomy to the secessionist regions in exchange for a promise to hold local elections there under the Ukrainian law in December.
However, the self-proclaimed governments of Luhansk and Donetsk regions held illegal local elections on Nov. 2, and the central government cut all budget payments to the regions as a result.
Lavrov on Tuesday condemned the move. “Unfortunately, instead of establishing lasting contacts with those who do not accept the result of the military coup, Kyiv took a course towards the social and economic worsening of the east, and threatens to renew the forceful solution of the conflict,” ITAR-TASS agency quoted Lavrov as saying.
A hunger riot in Yenakiyeve, says the caption in this Youtube video.
In the meantime, local media in Luhansk and Donetsk regions reported growing unrest in the regions, where people are running out of both cash and food. Dozens of people in Yenakieve, Donetsk Oblast, came to the mayor to demand social payments and food. Similar incidents have been reported in Torez and Makiyivka.
In Luhansk Oblast, commandant of the town of Chervonopartyzansk told the local site 05366.com.ua that the town no longer reports to the self-proclaimed authorities of the Luhansk People’s Republic.
“We have differences with the leadership of the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic). We do not report to either them, or Novorossiya,” Denys Ponyzovy was quoted by the website as saying.
The website also noted that at least five townships in Luhansk region are talking about an autonomy and are unhappy with the self-proclaimed Luhansk leadership.
Iraqi security forces personnel fire artillery during clashes with Islamic State militants, in Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad October 26, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
Esther Tanquintic-Misa, International Business Times | World.
An Iraqi intelligence report cited by Fars News has disclosed the radical and blood-hungry ISIS militants have been receiving arms and food support dropped by aircraft from the United States. The cargoes were allegedly dropped under the guise of air raids.
The report’s disclosure came after Iraqi security sources uncovered a large ISIS weapons cache in west Baghdad over the weekend. Portal Al-Shorfa.com, quoting Brig Gen Saad Maan, spokesman of the Iraqi Interior Ministry, reported the loot, found in an ISIL cell active in the capital, was made up of “about 500 kilogrammes of explosives, light and medium weapons, ISIL black flags, communications devices and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).”
Upon closure inspection, Iraqi forces said the weapons were much too “state-of-the-art,” prompting theories the weapons can only come from the U.S. Each of the bullets were believed to cost $2,000, Fars News said, noting the bullets “pierce armored vehicles and kill the people inside the vehicle.”
“What is important is that the U.S. sends these weapons to only those that cooperate with the Pentagon and this indicates that the US plays a role in arming the ISIL,” an Iraqi security source told FNA. The crisis in Iraq escalated when the ISIS captured Mosul on June 10. This was followed by the fall of Tikrit, some 140 kilometres (87 miles) north west of Baghdad.
Since then, Iraqi soldiers as well as volunteer forces have joined in the fight to ward off the ISIS from further entering Iraq. Both forces have been engaged in heavy fighting with the militants. They have so far managed to push back the ISIS in several areas.
This follows the pronouncement of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the weekend that the Pentagon will rush training Iraqi forces to combat the militant ISIS. The mission will use troops already in Iraq.
And just on Monday, the U.S. has approved selling additional military weapons to Iraq. According to portal worldtribune.com, the military weapons sale request involved air weapons as well as spare parts for artillery and trucks, amounting to nearly $700 million.
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A North Korean flag flutters on top of a tower at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea, in this picture taken near the truce village of Panmunjom on Nov. 12, 2014. Kim Hong-Ji / Reuters.
A new governmental agreement drafted by Russia and North Korea will see Moscow hand over Koreans who have fled the totalitarian regime in their native country.
The deal comes at a time when Russia is strengthening ties with the isolationist leadership in Pyongyang, apparently to snub the United States, said Andrei Lankov, a leading Russian expert on Korea.
The agreement may yet prove to be a formality, experts said — but Russia has handed over escaped North Koreans before.
Russia has similar agreements with many countries and blocs, including Ukraine and the EU. But the North Korean deal stands out because the UN has explicitly advised against the forcible repatriation of North Koreans, who face jail and even execution for fleeing the motherland.
The agreement, available on the Russian government’s website, outlines expulsion rules and procedures for illegal immigrants from North Korea, whose leadership has been accused by the UN of crimes against humanity.
The same rules would apply to Russians illegally entering the far eastern state, though experts polled for this story could not recall a single such instance.
The draft is dated Sept. 2, but has so far flown under the media radar. The text says the deal is to be finalized by the Federal Migration Service, which did not return a request for comment sent Thursday. Nor did the government’s press office.
A Trickle of Refugees
Experts estimated in the mid-2000s that at least 10,000 North Koreans were arriving every year to work in Russia, which has a 19-kilometer border with their country.
That figure, however, only includes those who arrived in Russia legally. Most are working migrants employed in the logging and construction industries.
Illegal migrants from North Korea number several hundred: only a fraction of the estimated 300,000-strong community in China, their main destination, said Lyubov Tatarets of rights group Memorial.
Tatarets, based in the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, provides legal help to North Koreans educated enough to know how to request asylum — who she said number only a small proportion of the refugees.
“Most stay undercover and live here for years,” she said by telephone Thursday.
But the North Korean refugees arriving are increasingly better educated than commonly believed, and know to seek legal help, said Korea scholar Lankov, who teaches at Kookmin University in Seoul.
Russia has an agreement on illegal immigrants with North Korea, but it dates back to the 1950s, said Yelena Burtina of migrant rights group Civil Assistance.
Moscow appears to have no cohesive governmental policy on North Korean asylum seekers as yet, experts agreed. Migration authorities have expelled some and allowed others to stay, or at least safely leave for third countries, though no statistics are available.
In a fresh court case this week, Memorial succeeded in getting the decision overturned of the Federal Migration Service to deny asylum to a North Korean refugee, identified only as Kim, who has fled North Korea twice.
During the famine of 1997, Kim escaped to China, but later tried to move to Russia, fearing extradition, according to Memorial. However, he was relying on an old map that still depicted the Soviet Union instead of Russia, and so ended up at the border of Kazakhstan, which repatriated him. He was one of the few survivors of a mass breakout from a labor camp last year, and managed to get to Russia — where he was arrested and initially denied asylum.
Russian authorities may be afraid of granting asylum to North Korean refugees en masse in case word gets back to Pyongyang that it is doing so, Tatarets said.
A Milder Crime
Official Pyongyang has recently launched a crackdown on runaways, disgruntled that its supposedly loyal citizens are ready to bolt the country at the earliest opportunity, Lankov said.
The new draft agreement does not stipulate the immediate expulsion of illegal immigrants: That is only to be done at the request of the country hosting the immigrant. This means it may just be a technical document, experts said.
Penalties for fleeing North Korea are much softer than they used to be, Lankov said. While two decades ago, illegal emigration meant the firing squad, now it is more likely to be a moderate beating and up to a year in prison, unless the failed escapee publicly criticized the regime.
But extradition to North Korea was nevertheless decried by a special report of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year.
“Extradition to North Korea is a crime, pure and simple,” said Burtina of Memorial.
Moscow and Pyongyang, geopolitical allies from Soviet times, have made moves to strengthen their alliance in recent months.
In May, Russia finally wrote off most of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt. The following month, Pyongyang said it would loosen visa regulations for Russian investors and even allow them uncensored access to the Internet. And last month, the two countries sealed a $25 billion deal on modernizing 3,000 kilometers of North Korean railroads over the next 20 years.
The alliance is Russia’s indirect retribution for U.S. sanctions over Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in March and alleged meddling in the Ukrainian civil war, Lankov said.
“Moscow is showing the U.S. that it can create problems for it elsewhere in the world if pressure persists,” the expert said.
“It’s also a bit of an emotional reaction, backing a staunch anti-American David against Goliath,” Lankov said. “Though to be fair, Pyongyang is actually much more pragmatic than they think in Moscow.”
Even as Russia shores up its illegitimate proxies in eastern Ukraine with weapons and troops, the West continues to behave spinelessly.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel discounted the possibility of further economic sanctions against Russia, opting instead to float the lame likelihood of individual visa bans and asset freezes against separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. As the foremost leader of the 28-nation European Union bloc, Merkel’s unwillingness to more strongly confront Russia is disappointing. But abhorrent is the active opposition to more sanctions of such politicians as Hungary’s prime minister and the Czech Republic president. The United States, whose Congress is now in Republican hands, remains the best hope for Ukraine getting military aid and additional economic assistance.
The Russian assault on Ukraine is an assault on the international rule of law and the post-World War II order. It’s time to stop Vladimir Putin now. He is emboldened by the West’s weak response to his theft of Crimea and his attempts to dismember Ukraine.
The separatists destroying the infrastructure in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas have no lofty principles to uphold and don’t offer residents in Ukraine’s two most populous oblasts a better way of living. Rather, the violence and destruction is designed to bring Ukraine’s government in Kyiv to knuckle under to Putin’s imperial ambitions. Putin doesn’t want to absorb these territories, home to more than six million Ukrainian citizens before the war, into the Russian Federation. He just wants to wreak havoc and stoke fear.
The fact that Russia’s economy is tanking is testament to the fall in world oil and gas prices. To the extent the West is coordinating and assisting the drop in prices, its leaders are to be commended. But the drop looks to be more driven by the global economic slowdown and Saudi Arabia’s desire to undercut American competition.
The goal of Western sanctions has been to change Putin’s behavior. He remains undeterred. So further sanctions are essential, including a steep tax on Russian energy imports. Putin’s Russia should not be the venue for any international events. Crushing Putin’s economy is the fastest way to stop Putinism, bringing Russians closer to peace and prosperity.
Erin McClam, for NBC News.
It’s still not clear whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, was hit over the weekend by an airstrike in Iraq. But the uncertainty raises a question: What would the militant organization look like without its savvy, shadowy man in charge?
There are logical candidates to succeed him — Baghdadi has enough deputies, commanders and advisers to fill a flow chart — and ISIS has a clear, methodical process for choosing a replacement.
But analysts who have studied ISIS stress that they do not expect any change in the organization’s land-hungry, bloodthirsty plans when and if Baghdadi is killed or incapacitated.
In fact, because he will be replacing Baghdadi, who has military bona fides and has nurtured a cult of personality at the top of ISIS, the next leader may try to prove his mettle by being even more expansionist and ruthless.
“He needs to show that he’s capable of leading from Day 1,” said Laith Alkhouri, the director of Middle East and North Africa research for Flashpoint Intelligence, which studies and consults on global security.
The United States has not confirmed that Baghdadi, who has led ISIS since 2010, was wounded in any airstrike. The Iraqi defense and interior ministries both put out statements Sunday saying that he had been hit. But the analysts pointed out that the Iraqi government has a spotty record when it comes to reporting the deaths of militants, and they also raised the possibility that Iraq is trying to goad ISIS into proving Baghdadi is alive, perhaps providing hints to his whereabouts.
If Baghdadi were taken out, analysts say they believe it would take a week or two for ISIS to choose a successor.
That would fall to the Shura Council, a collection of eight to 11 people who advise the caliph, the title Baghdadi has given himself. The Shura Council focuses on security and battlefield operations and would want someone with strong military experience.
But the next leader would also need the approval of the Sharia Council, in charge of evaluating religious credentials — not just swearing allegiances but studying under the appropriate radical scholars. Baghdadi has a Ph.D. in Islamic studies.
“You have to be extremely devout, in the footsteps of Baghdadi,” Alkhouri said. “You have to have the religious and the military. You have to show how powerful you are on the battlefield, just as how powerful you are in an audio message.”
The hours and days after Baghdadi’s death would be critical, said Charlie Winter, a researcher for Quilliam, a research and policy organization in London that studies extremists organizations.
If the leaders of the organization couldn’t coalesce around a successor, it could complicate the advancement of ISIS, leaving it open to chaos and infighting among the groups within, which have differing goals and allegiances, he said.
Baghdadi is “the ideological glue to what is a highly decentralized movement,” Winter said. “Because he is this charismatic figure, this legitimate figure, knowledgeable in Islam and military tactics, his presence kind of keeps a lid on what could become a number of different groups within Islamic State fighting each other.”
For that reason, ISIS, which has demonstrated a command of social media and a flair for highly produced video, might not announce Baghdadi’s death until his successor is already in place.
Among the candidates mentioned by analysts is Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the top spokesman for ISIS, who is considered a right-hand man to Baghdadi and who stood up to Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of al Qaeda, before al Qaeda cut ties to ISIS.
Adnani is believed to be in his mid-30s, which makes him younger than most of the Shura Council, and he is Syrian, while the council is dominated by Iraqis. ISIS began in Iraq before expanding to Syria in the chaos of the civil war there.
Other candidates are Abu Ahmad al-Alwani, the head of the ISIS military council, and Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former Iraqi intelligence officer who heads the security council, Alkhouri said.
The head of the Shura Council, Abu Arkan al-Ameri, could also be up for the job, as could Abu Suleiman al-Naser, a former ISIS war minister who almost never appears in public. He was rumored killed in 2011.
And the vast majority of the broader ISIS leadership is still unknown, so the next man in charge could be someone even the analysts have never heard of. But Winter said he expected the next leader to pick up where Baghdadi leaves off.
“That’s the kind of thing you have to earn over time,” he said. “But the ideology wouldn’t die with him.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.