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Obama Transcript: New US, EU sanctions ‘going to have a greater impact on the Russian economy than we’ve seen so far’


US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Ukraine on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on July 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM © AFPUS President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Ukraine on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on July 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM © AFP

Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of U.S. President Barack Obama’s remarks on Ukraine on July 29.


U.S. President Barack Obama announces new sanctions against Russia on July 29.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.

In the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, and countries around the world, families are still in shock over the sudden and tragic loss of nearly 300 loved ones senselessly killed when their civilian airliner was shot down over territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine.  These grieving families and their nations are our friends and our allies.  And amid our prayers and our outrage, the United States continues to do everything in our power to help bring home their loved ones, support the international investigation, and make sure justice is done.

Since the shoot-down, however, Russia and its proxies in Ukraine have failed to cooperate with the investigation and to take the opportunity to pursue a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Ukraine.  These Russian-backed separatists have continued to interfere in the crash investigation and to tamper with the evidence.  They have continued to shoot down Ukrainian aircraft in the region.  And because of their actions, scores of Ukrainian civilians continue to die needlessly every day.

Meanwhile, Russia continues to support the separatists and encourage them, and train them, and arm them.  Satellite images, along with information we’ve declassified in recent days, show that forces inside Russia have launched artillery strikes into Ukraine — another major violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.  And we have information that Russia continues to build up its own forces near the Ukrainian border and that more Russian military equipment, including artillery, armored vehicles, and air defense equipment, has been transferred across the border to these separatists.

Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has worked to build a strong international coalition to support Ukraine, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity, its right to determine its own destiny, and to increase the pressure on Russia for actions that have undermined Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and ability to make its own decisions.  The core of that coalition is the United States and our European allies.

In recent days, I’ve continued to coordinate closely with our allies and our partners to ensure a unified response to the shoot-down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and Russia’s continued arming of the separatists.  And I’ve spoken several times with Prime Minister Rutte of the Netherlands and Prime Minister Abbott of Australia.

Yesterday, I had a chance to speak with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom, President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, and Prime Minister Renzi of Italy. We are united in our view that the situation in Ukraine ought to be resolved diplomatically and that a sovereign, independent Ukraine is no threat to Russian interests.  But we’ve also made it clear, as I have many times, that if Russia continues on its current path, the cost on Russia will continue to grow.  And today is a reminder that the United States means what it says.  And we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world.

Today, and building on the measures we announced two weeks ago, the United States is imposing new sanctions in key sectors of the Russian economy:  energy, arms, and finance.  We’re blocking the exports of specific goods and technologies to the Russian energy sector.  We’re expanding our sanctions to more Russian banks and defense companies.  And we’re formally suspending credit that encourages exports to Russia and financing for economic development projects in Russia.

At the same time, the European Union is joining us in imposing major sanctions on Russia — its most significant and wide-ranging sanctions to date. In the financial sector, the EU is cutting off certain financing to state-owned banks in Russia. In the energy sector, the EU will stop exporting specific goods and technologies to Russia, which will make it more difficult for Russia to develop its oil resources over the long term. In the defense sector, the EU is prohibiting new arms imports and exports and is halting the export of sensitive technology to Russia’s military users.

And because we’re closely coordinating our actions with Europe, the sanctions we’re announcing today will have an even bigger bite.

Now, Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the sanctions that we’ve already imposed have made a weak Russian economy even weaker. Foreign investors already are increasingly staying away. Even before our actions today, nearly $100 billion in capital was expected to flee Russia. Russia’s energy, financial, and defense sectors are feeling the pain. Projections for Russian economic growth are down to near zero. The major sanctions we’re announcing today will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, including the cronies and companies that are supporting Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine.

In other words, today, Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress. And it doesn’t have to come to this — it didn’t have to come to this. It does not have to be this way. This is a choice that Russia, and President Putin in particular, has made. There continues to be a better choice — the choice of de-escalation, the choice of joining the world in a diplomatic solution to this situation, a choice in which Russia recognizes that it can be a good neighbor and trading partner with Ukraine even as Ukraine is also developing ties with Europe and other parts of the world.

I’m going to continue to engage President Putin as well as President Poroshenko and our European partners in pursuit of such a diplomatic solution. But it is important for Russia to understand that, meanwhile, we will continue to support the people of Ukraine, who have elected a new President, who have deepened their ties with Europe and the United States, and that the path for a peaceful resolution to this crisis involves recognizing the sovereignty, the territorial integrity, and the independence of the Ukrainian people.

Today, the people of Ukraine I hope are seeing once again that the United States keeps its word. We’re going to continue to lead the international community in our support for the Ukrainian people, and for the peace, the security, and the freedom that they very richly deserve.

Thanks very much.


Q Is this a new Cold War, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: No, it’s not a new Cold War. What it is, is a very specific issue related to Russia’s unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path.

And I think that if you listen to President Poroshenko, if you listen to the Ukrainian people, they’ve consistently said they seek good relations with Russia. What they can’t accept is Russia arming separatists who are carrying out terribly destructive activities inside of Ukraine, thereby undermining the ability of Ukraine to govern itself peacefully. That’s something that no country should have to accept.

And the sooner the Russians recognize that the best chance for them to have influence inside of Ukraine is by being good neighbors and maintaining trade and commerce, rather than trying to dictate what the Ukrainian people can aspire to, rendering Ukraine a vassal state to Russia — the sooner that President Putin and Russia recognizes that, the sooner we can resolve this crisis in ways that doesn’t result in the tragic loss of life that we’ve seen in eastern Ukraine.

Q. So far sanctions haven’t stopped Vladimir Putin. Are sanctions going to be enough? And are you considering lethal aid for Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind, the issue at this point is not the Ukrainian capacity to outfight separatists. They are better armed than the separatists. The issue is how do we prevent bloodshed in eastern Ukraine. We’re trying to avoid that. And the main tool that we have to influence Russian behavior at this point is the impact that it’s having on its economy.

The fact that we’ve seen Europeans who have real, legitimate economic concerns in severing certain ties with Russia stepping up the way they have today I think is an indication of both the waning patience that Europe has with nice words from President Putin that are not matched by actions, but also a recognition as a consequence of what happened with the Malaysian Airlines flight that it is hard to avoid the spillover of what’s happening in Ukraine impacting Europeans across the board.

And so we think that the combination of stronger U.S. and European sanctions is going to have a greater impact on the Russian economy than we’ve seen so far. Obviously, we can’t in the end make President Putin see more clearly. Ultimately that’s something that President Putin has to do by — on his own. But what we can do is make sure that we’ve increased the costs for actions that I think are not only destructive to Ukraine but ultimately are going to be destructive to Russia, as well.

All right. Guys, I’ve got to get going.

END
3:49 P.M. EDT

#MH17: Troops Move on Crash Site in Ukraine, Foiling Deal


Dutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated PressDutch police officers on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine. Dmitry Lovetsky/Associated Press

ZUHRES, Ukraine — Just hours after the Malaysian government reached an agreement with Ukrainian separatists on Sunday over access to the crash site of a Malaysian airliner shot down in rebel territory, the Ukrainian military launched an operation to recapture the debris fields, again stalling international efforts to secure the site.

The heavy fighting threatened to torpedo hopes of a breakthrough and cause yet more delays in collecting evidence and retrieving the remaining bodies from the crash. Ukrainian security officials said they needed control over the site to prevent the pro-Russia separatists from destroying clues to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

By Sunday evening, the Ukrainian advance had blocked a road leading from the provincial capital, Donetsk, to the airplane debris northeast of Shakhtyorsk, but it remained unclear whether government troops were in control of all or part of the approximately 14 square miles of debris fields.

Videos posted online appeared to show Ukrainian armored vehicles near the site, and reporters who visited earlier Sunday said insurgents were nowhere to be seen.

The combat spread out along the road in a fluid and chaotic scene, leaving it wholly unclear who controlled what. Fragments of rockets lay on the sunbaked macadam, and columns of black smoke rose along the horizon.

One separatist commander at a checkpoint outside Shakhtyorsk, about 10 miles from the crash site, said the Ukrainians had retaken the area, and a rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, confirmed that government troops were advancing.

“The attempts to clear militia from the crash site irrefutably show Kiev is trying to destroy evidence,” he told reporters in Donetsk. His claim was apparently intended to counter earlier allegations that the rebels had been tampering with evidence to hide their own role in the downing of the plane.

Separatists seemed to be in a state of alarm, driving in convoys of buses and armored vehicles out of Donetsk toward the fighting. They controlled the road as far as the town of Zuhres.


Area of rebel activity


The Malaysian jetliner, a Boeing 777-200, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian and American officials say the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by the rebels. Russia and the rebels have denied any involvement and blame Ukraine.

Ukraine and the United States have said repeatedly that Russia is providing military equipment to the separatists and claim to have evidence that Russia is firing artillery and rockets on Ukrainian military positions.

On Sunday, the Obama administration stepped up its public pressure on Moscow, as the State Department released intelligence images presented as evidence that Russian forces had fired across the border.

The images were said to show charred ground on the Russian side of the border, described as evidence of rocket launches into Ukraine. Another showed artillery pieces of a type found only in the Russian military, pointed toward Ukraine. Other images showed crater impacts inside Ukraine.

It was not possible to independently verify the images. They are from DigitalGlobe, which provides high-resolution satellite images and aerial photos; they were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft. Small groups of foreign police officers and forensic experts have managed to reach the crash site, but efforts to secure it with larger contingents have repeatedly fallen through.

Part of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. Credit Digital Globe, via U.S. State DepartmentPart of a document released by the State Department on Sunday purporting to show evidence of rocket launches from Russia into Ukraine. The images in the document, which were provided by DigitalGlobe, were not from American spy satellites or surveillance aircraft and could not be independently verified. CreditDigital Globe, via U.S. State Department.

Earlier Sunday, the prospects of a more robust foreign presence at the crash site seemed to have improved when the office of Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia announced in an email that he had reached an agreement with Mr. Borodai “to allow a deployment of international police personnel” to enter.

After the announcement, about 30 unarmed Dutch police officers left the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv intending to reach the debris fields. But fighting stopped the officers after they reached Donetsk, said a spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The Dutch police deployment on Sunday, ordered overnight by the Ministry of Security and Justice in The Hague, reversed an earlier decision by the head of a Dutch police mission in Kharkiv. He had intended to delay movement toward the crash site until a vote on Thursday by the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev that he said would provide a “legal basis” for the deployment of foreign police officers.

The Netherlands, whose citizens accounted for around two-thirds of the crash victims, is leading an international effort to get to the bottom of what happened to Flight 17.

Retrieving the Remains of Flight MH17: Russian Roulette

The area is tactically important for the Ukrainian military, which is trying to close access to Donetsk from the east, lest separatists in the city be resupplied and reinforced from the direction of the Russian border.

Clashes flared in half a dozen towns east of Donetsk on Sunday. There was also fighting to the north, with an artillery strike in the town of Horlivka reportedly killing at least 13 civilians.

The longer the crash site remains unguarded, the smaller the chances of recovering evidence. Responding to growing reports that the wreckage and passenger items had been tampered with, Australia said Sunday that it was sending unarmed police officers to the site to prevent any further meddling. Australia lost dozens of citizens on Flight 17.

“Our objective is to get in, to get cracking and to get out,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said at a news conference in Canberra, the capital. Australia had considered allowing some of its officers to carry weapons, but Mr. Abbott said he had decided against that.

“This is a risky mission, no doubt about that,” he said, “but all the professional advice I have is that the safest way to conduct it is unarmed as part of a police-led humanitarian mission.”

Foreign access to the site has been hampered by problems from the start, with heavily armed rebels initially restricting the movements of foreign experts. In Kiev, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said the Ukrainian troops intended to “liberate” the crash site to secure evidence.

The Ukrainian government has been loath to see foreign governments negotiate with the separatist leaders based in Donetsk, the capital of a self-declared republic that no foreign state, including Russia, has recognized. Malaysia has been particularly active in reaching out to the rebel leadership. It brokered a deal last week under which the rebels handed over the plane’s data and voice recorders, which they had seized at the crash site.

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Zuhres, and Andrew Higgins from Kharkiv, Ukraine. Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Hong Kong, and Michelle Innis from Sydney, Australia.


The New York Times.

Dominican Republic: The Lake That Burned Down A Forest


VICE News travels to the Dominican Republic, site of a looming environmental and economic crisis many experts believe is the result of climate change.

Lake Enriquillo is the largest lake in the Caribbean — and for the past 10 years, it’s been getting larger. Having already doubled in area, the lake is destroying everything in its path and displacing local residents who are being forced to take extreme measures to survive.

The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 1)

After seeing the devastation Lake Enriquillo’s massive growth has inflicted on the region, VICE News meets residents who have lost everything and finds out what they’re now doing in order to survive.

The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 2)

VICE News heads into the hills near Lake Enriquillo to see how people whose livelihoods have been ruined by the lake’s unstoppable expansion are now surviving. What we find is that many have become involved with the black-market charcoal trade. As they cut down and burn trees to make the charcoal — labor-intensive work that isn’t very lucrative — they actually contribute to the climate change that probably led to the lake’s growth in the first place.

The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 3)

In response to Lake Enriquillo’s rapid rise and expansion, a black-market charcoal trade has flourished, and Haiti is the Dominican Republic’s biggest customer. In part 4, VICE News heads to the Dominican Republic’s largest open-air market, on the border between the two countries, to witness this trade in action.

The Lake That Burned Down A Forest (Part 4)

As with all catastrophes it is the poorest nations that suffer the most.

Vice News.

In Kyiv, mourning continues a week after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight #MH17


Kyiv Post Editor’s Note: Kyiv photographer and video journalist Zoya Shu shot this video, with English subtitles, outside the Netherlands Embassy in Kyiv, where hundreds have come to pay their respects daily to the 298 people killed aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17. Most of the victims were Dutch residents flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

People in Kyiv mourn the victims of the MH17 flight

Shu writes: 

“At once after the #MH17 tragedy people in Kyiv, Ukraine, started bringing flowers, toys and candles to the embassies of the Netherlands, Malaysia, United Kingdom and others, to express their condolences as they mourned the victims of the flight.

They keep coming evan now. People stand there in silence, pray, cry. And only kids violate the silence by asking about it, with the childlike directness. It was rather hard to make this video, it’s just plain sadness…Ukraine, always such a peaceful and calm place, has been in turmoil for months, there have already been so many victims of this artificially fomented conflict.

I can not comprehend why people do all that evil to other people. It does not look like it will stop any time soon, but that’s one of my biggest wishes right now.”

Kyiv Post.