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 81 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 07:10 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ukraine forms 'ministry of truth' to regulate the media

Journalists fear freedom of speech will be curtailed as Kiev follows Moscow in stepping up the propaganda war

Зачем Украине «министерство правды»

Maksim Vikhrov for Slon.ru
Friday 19 December 2014 05.00 GMT  

Ukraine has a new government ministry. This month, the parliament voted to create a ministry of information policy that will be led by Yuriy Stets, the head of the information security department of the national guard. According to the new minister, the information war against Russia cannot be won without it. But in resorting to such measures, does Ukraine not risk losing its battle for democracy?

Almost no one in Ukraine doubts that Russia is waging a propaganda war. The Russian actors Mikhail Porechenkov and Ivan Okhlobystin have become notorious [for supporting the separatists], and Ukrainians approve of the fact that their popular Russian TV serials were recently banned. But the idea that the government should oversee the information sphere was not universally welcomed. It had to be forced through parliament, with deputies called upon to vote on the composition of the cabinet as whole rather than individual ministers.

Journalist Mustafa Nayyem best described the circumstances surrounding the creation of the press ministry, saying: “We have not seen the details and we do not know what sort of monster we are creating”. Despite many abstentions, the law was passed.

The deputies had cause to be cautious. Under the terms of its creation, Stets’s ministry will receive wide powers to influence the media: officials will formulate and implement a “state information strategy” and take measures to protect citizens from “partial, ill-judged and unreliable information” and from manipulative technology. Its purview extends to registering media outlets and defining professional standards.

    We do not know what sort of monster we are creating

But Stets will wield carrots as well as sticks. His department will coordinate “state aid for the media” and attract investment in order to create a “national information product”.

What exactly hides behind this vague formulation is a matter of guesswork but Ukrainian activists are already tipping the ministry for a corrupt future. They are far more worried, however, by the prospect that freedom of speech in Ukraine might be curtailed.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has warned of this threat, as have the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, journalists from Sumy Oblast and their colleagues from Kirovohrad, who organised a demonstration. It is easy to understand their feelings. A similar ministry existed in Ukraine under former president Leonid Kuchma. Its time was marked by the death of the journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

Kiev insists, however, that the creation of the ministry is as essential as it is timely. “The main function of this ministry, as far as I am aware, is to prevent an attack on Ukraine from an assailant”, said the president, Petro Poroshenko. He is echoed by a bevy of functionaries and deputies.

“A year ago, I proposed that a ministry of propaganda be created”, said Sergey Kaplin, a deputy from Poroshenko’s bloc. “It would simply destroy separatism as a phenomenon as soon as it appeared in [Ukraine]”. Stets promises that his department will be dissolved as soon as the war ends.

There is something to be said for their line of reasoning. One way or another, the Russian media has played a notable role in plunging Donbas into crisis: recall the inflammatory articles by Darya Aslamova, for instance. It is no accident that immediately after seizing the regional administration in Donetsk, the separatists took control of the TV towers.

You used to be able to defend Russian media in Ukraine by appealing to the need for pluralism but now, after Russian state TV presenter Dmitry Kiselev and his ilk broadcast stories about boys being crucified and slaves distributed among the national guard, that is no longer possible. What is more, the scale of the Russian propaganda campaign is exercising Nato and Kiev is obliged to support its western allies.

But in combating aggression from abroad, Ukraine risks curtailing press freedom at home. Encroachments have already occurred. The ministry of defence recently tried to limit journalists’ access to the “zone of anti-terrorist operations”, insisting that they be accompanied by soldiers. Fearing a scandal, the ministry later rescinded the order, or at least postponed it, but it left a bad taste in the mouth.

An incident involving journalist Dmitry Mendeleev also springs to mind: he wrote an article [accusing] government bodies of selling weapons on the commercial market at time of war. Poroshenko himself asked the general prosecutor to deal with the journalist’s “subversive activity”.

There are fears, therefore, that the ministry of information policy is being created not so much to combat an external enemy as to suppress internal opposition. If that is indeed the case, Ukraine will drift off in the same direction as Vladimir Putin’s Russia. While accusing the Kremlin of propaganda, Kiev is itself trying to create a hermetically sealed sphere of information. It is not hard to imagine how destructive the consequences might be. But the question is, does it have any real alternative?

    There are fears that the ministry of information policy is being created not so much to combat an external enemy as to suppress internal opposition

It is no secret that Russia’s propaganda machine is much more effective than Ukraine’s. Even under former president Viktor Yanukovych, the authorities didn’t manage to control the media: the opposition press stirred up rebellious sentiment and it all ended with the fall of the regime.

A similar situation remains in Ukraine today. Heightened expectations mean that the new government is criticised even more than the old one. The economic crisis breeds subversion. The possibility that support for Poroshenko will fall to critical levels over the next year cannot be ruled out. But with the war ongoing, unrest in the rear might spell catastrophe – not only for the current authorities but also for Ukraine as a whole. That is why Kiev [feels it] must surrender democratic principles in the name of stability.

No less important to Kiev is the restoration of legitimacy in the eastern and southern regions. Here, again, it will not be possible to get by without tough counter-measures. No matter how much bloggers from the capital make fun of [Russian TV channels] Lifenews and Channel 1, millions of Ukrainians have internalised the clichés of Russian propaganda.

Phrases such as “Maidan coup”, “national guard punishers” and “Kiev junta” have embedded themselves in the lexicon of inhabitants in the south and east. Restoring the legitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities while also respecting diversity of opinion will therefore be devilishly difficult. Clearly, it will involve replacing one set of propaganda clichés with another but, for now, Kiev may have no other option.

    Phrases such as ‘Maidan coup’, ‘national guard punishers’ and ‘Kiev junta’ have embedded themselves in the lexicon of inhabitants in the south and east

It appears that the prolonged conflict is assuming similar features on both sides of the fence. Faced with an armed opponent, pacifist games must be set aside or your chances of survival diminish tragically. But there is a cost to everything.

The possibility that a [propaganda journalist] such as Vladimir Kulistikov or Dmitry Kiselev will soon appear in Ukraine cannot be discounted. On the other hand, there is hope that the ministry of information policy represents nothing more than a vacancy created to give Stets a job. But in that case, how can we expect Ukraine to hold its own in the war of information?

A version of this article first appeared on Slon.ru. Translation by Cameron Johnston

**************

Long Road to Recovery for Injured in East Ukraine

by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 December 2014, 07:12

Sitting up with difficulty in her hospital bed, Raisa Bulda says that despite months of treatment she still feels like she is only just beginning her recovery.

It was back in August that a shell tore through her home on the edge of rebel bastion Donetsk in eastern Ukraine and left her screaming for help in a pool of blood.

But it was last week that she finally had a full operation on her shattered right leg and so much work -- getting back on her feet and trying to return to a normal life -- still lies ahead. 

"It will be long and tough," says the pensioner, 67, looking down at the metal brace clamped from her knee to her ankle.

It will take some six more months of supervision before doctors say her leg will have healed as much as it can.

"After the course of treatment, if all is okay, I will then be able to try to learn how to walk, just like a little child," the former nurse says.   

The brutal fighting between government forces and Russian-backed rebels has been raging already for some eight months.

But recovering from the injuries inflicted by the mortars and missiles will take some residents of the region much longer.

The United Nations estimates that more than 10,200 people -- many of them civilians -- have been wounded since April. Another 4,700 have lost their lives.

- Injured for life -

Upstairs in the children's ward of Donetsk's trauma hospital, Nikita Arkhipov, 16, talks softly as he tells how a game of football with his friends turned into tragedy.

In early November he was playing in goal during a kickabout on a school playing field not far from where Ukrainian forces and rebels are battling for control of the ruined Donetsk airport when mortars hit the pitch.   

Two of his friends were killed instantly and shrapnel ripped apart Nikita's knee. 

"I called my mum and told her that they had blown my leg off. That's what I thought -- it was so painful."

Doctors managed to save his leg, however, and he now lies with it bruised and battered in a metal brace.

He is already able to move around somewhat with the help of a crutch and says he's determined to recover.

"Getting better is all in your head, if you're in the right mood then you can get better."

The head of the children's orthopaedic ward Vladimir Voropayev says that to improve from such wounds will take a long course of not only physiotherapy but also psychological counselling.

"It is a whole complex of treatments that is needed for such children," he says.

Despite the fact that the doctors have not been paid for six months, the sparkling hospital remains one of the best in the region and everything needed to treat them is still available.

The doctor says the treatment for Nikita and three other boys who were injured along with him is being covered by the charitable fund of Ukraine's richest man Rinat Akhmetov, himself from Donetsk. 

Despite this, however, it is unlikely that Nikita will ever fully recover from the wounds he sustained.

"The impact of this will remain whatever happens," says Nikita's foster mother, Larissa.

But top of his class and particularly strong in mathematics, she says, he is brave and determined -- and he's already come a long way.

"He's returning to normal life. There was depression and he refused to eat but he's returning."

Source: Agence France Presse

 82 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 07:05 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad

Franciscan order of monks inquiry uncovers major financial fraud

Minister general says 800-year-old order in grave difficulty after ‘questionable financial activities’ by monks and outsiders

Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome
The Guardian, Friday 19 December 2014 16.38 GMT   
   
The Franciscan order of monks has announced it is in grave financial difficulty after the discovery of a massive fraud.

An internal investigation begun four months ago has found that some monks who ran the Franciscans’ endowment engaged in “questionable financial activities” that have emptied the 800-year-old order’s coffers.

The Franciscans are a community within the Catholic church who follow St Francis of Assisi, who was known for advocating a life of poverty.

The order’s financial woes were disclosed in a rare open letter published this week by American monk, Michael Perry, the Franciscans’ minister general.

He painted a desperate picture of an order whose viability is in doubt and facing a “significant burden of debt” as a result of the deception. He also cast blame outside the church. “These questionable activities also involve people who are not Franciscan but who appear to have played a central role,” he said in the letter.

While short on detail, the letter describes an investigation that began in September into the activities of the office of the general treasurer of the Franciscan order dating back to 2003. An unnamed general treasurer has resigned from his duties, Perry said.

The inquiry so far has discovered that the Franciscan order is facing “grave, and I underscore ‘grave’ financial difficulty”, Perry said and that the systems of oversight meant to protect the order had been either “too weak or compromised”.

“We are encouraged by the example set by Pope Francis in his call for truth and transparency in financial dealings in the church and in human societies,” Perry wrote.

He added that civil authorities were also involved in the case, since outsiders were considered at least partly to blame for the alleged wrongdoing.

The church was also seeking the advice of outside lawyers.

The Franciscan order declined to comment.

The Vatican bank is also mired in investigations including allegations of shady property deals. Pope Francis has called on the Vatican bank to be more transparent and accountable as part of his effort to reform the church’s bureaucracy.

 83 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 07:01 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

A brain-dead Irish woman’s body is being used as an incubator. Be angry

Ireland’s politicians tell us not to be emotional about the abortion debate but these are women’s lives and it’s right to be upset

Emer O'Toole   
theguardian.com, Friday 19 December 2014 16.52 GMT   
       
In Ireland, a woman who is clinically dead but 17 weeks pregnant is being kept alive against her family’s will. At this painful time, her relatives must go to court to stop the Irish state treating their loved one’s body as a cadaveric incubator.

Do those facts emotionally affect you? Then please calm down. What we need here is balance. Indeed, the Irish media considers it a moral virtue to trot out pro-life arguments alongside the facts of each and every new horror story that arises from Ireland’s abortion laws. There are two sides to this debate, after all. And Taoiseach Enda Kenny has cautioned us against “knee-jerk” reactions to sensitive cases such as this. What is the opposite of a knee-jerk reaction? Is it a tropism towards the light so slow that we wither and die in the dark? Because I think that might be a more fitting analogy here.

In 1983, due largely to pressure from Catholic lobby groups, Ireland became, as Fintan O’Toole puts it, the only country in the democratic world to have a constitutional ban on abortion. The eighth amendment holds that the right to life of a pregnant woman cannot be privileged over that of a foetus. In 1992 a high court judge ruled that a suicidal teenage rape victim, Miss X, had the right to abortion. Due largely to pressure from the Catholic right, it took the Irish government more than 20 years to legislate for the case. Finally, in 2013, after the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar in 2012, it did so. This resulted in the protection of life during pregnancy bill, which, as the Abortion Rights Campaign argued at the time, was so restrictive that it was doubtful whether it would enable a suicidal teenage rape victim to access abortion at all.

The ARC was not just correct, but prophetic. This year, a suicidal teenage victim of rape and torture (Miss Y) was forced to carry her pregnancy to viability and deliver by C-section. And now we have a clinically dead woman being ventilated and fed for the sake of an insentient foetus, while her heartbroken family takes legal action in order to mourn her.

But we mustn’t get emotional. There’s no political appetite for another abortion debate. Kenny has already dealt with this issue. The passing of the protection of life during pregnancy bill last year was very difficult for him and his party. He deserves a pat on the back for legislating at all.

If you must discuss this case, do so cooly: in terms, perhaps, of its potential effects on the career prospects of male politicians? Is the ambitious Leo Varadkar, the health minister, using this case opportunistically? What might it mean for the future leadership of Fine Gael? That’s what matters here. Women’s bodies, women’s lives, women’s rights: those are messy, incendiary topics, best avoided.

However, you can’t just say “no comment” if you’re the taoiseach. It might look cold. And so, Kenny, while carefully strapping his knees to the legs of a chair lest they betray some kind of humanity, recommends a careful measure of empathy: “Let anybody put themselves in the position of this family,” he says. And I can’t help but wonder if he can countenance this kind of empathy because it allows him a male subject position.

Let anybody put themselves in the position of this family. Then let anybody put themselves in the position of Savita Halappanavar, in pain, miscarrying, at increased risk of septicaemia, denied an abortion. Or of Miss Y, raped, seeking asylum in a country that bureaucratically continues her torture. Or of a woman told her foetus has a fatal abnormality but that she must continue to carry it. Or of a terrified teenage girl waiting for the abortifacient pills she ordered from some dodgy website. Or of a mother-of-two, going through a marriage breakup, who finds she is pregnant. Or of any of the women who contact Mara Clarke’s Abortion Support Network, asking for help to cross the Irish channel, each with their stories, each with their reasons.

Women’s experiences are routinely erased from Irish discourse on abortion. Our government and media won’t engage with the reality of living in a body that gets pregnant. When others do, they are dismissed as irrational, emotive: feminine.

Objectivity, historian Helen Graham once said, is not an equidistant position between any two points. It is right to be angry and upset in the face of injustice. 2014 has shown us the truth about the contempt for women underlying Kenny’s new legislation.

Be angry that a dead woman’s body is being used as an incubator. Be upset that Miss Y was forced to carry her rapist’s child to 24 weeks. These are women’s bodies. These are women’s lives. And that is what matters here.

 84 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 06:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

Russian immigrants on rouble's free fall: sadness and indifference

Olga Oksman   
theguardian.com, Friday 19 December 2014 20.09 GMT   
   
In Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, the fall of the rouble has not gone unnoticed.

The Russian currency has conspicuously crashed, driven in part by falling oil prices that help drive the Russian economy and economic sanctions from the US and Europe.

Life in Russia has become more difficult, in particular for the most vulnerable, such as pensioners on fixed incomes. Ordinary Russians have flooded shops looking to buy durable goods with little deprecation in value as they try to find any way to preserve their hard-earned salaries and savings.

After waves of immigration in the 1970s and 1980s, along with smaller moves in the 1990s and later, the US – and in particular New York City – has a sizable Russian expatriate community. The different immigration waves had different identities: refugees from the Soviet Union; emigres after the fall of communism; more recently, children of oligarchs.

The barrage of information on the Russian economy is top of mind for many, especially in traditional ex-pat enclaves such as New York City’s Brighton Beach.

Galina said she did “care about falling rouble and overall situation in Russia,” just as she cares about “the image of Russia in the international arena.”

She added: “And I think in general, Russians here [in the US] care about the situation there; that is why you saw protests outside the Russian consulate for fair voting in Russia, people still go and vote (those who have a right). Many of us have relatives and friends [there], and some own apartments that are pretty much falling in price as we see the rouble crumble.”

Marina and Oleg are a married couple. Marina, in her 50s, came to the US two years ago and still has many ties to Russia. Her husband, who is in his 60s, immigrated to the US more than 25 years ago and long ago established a new life here.

Marina’s grown children are in Russia, along with family, friends and an apartment she left behind when she moved. Marina believes in Putin, calling him her “boss,” and noting that she is often left defending Russia’s president to all her friends here.

While Marina frets about the situation, Oleg takes a more stoic view. “I have no one and nothing left in Russia, so I have nothing to worry about”, he says, adding that he sees the situation “objectively, not like a resident of the country but like any outside observer, the same way I would look at a place like China”.

Oleg says he no longer discusses politics with his wife.

“It is a difficult situation”, Marina tells me. “But the price of food is still fine; in fact a loaf of Russian bread costs more here than it does in Russia. It is the luxury goods that no one can buy now – the European shoes – but you can still live, [and] buy food.”

Unfortunately, airline tickets fall into the luxury category. “My children were going to visit for Christmas, but airline tickets have to be bought in dollars or euros, so they can’t visit now”, Marina says.

Despite the potential hardships ahead for those that are near and dear, Marina is an optimist: “this is the fourth crisis in my lifetime,” she says with a half-laugh, half-sigh. “It will get better at some point.”

Runs on the banks have taken their toll. A relative of this reporter who years ago immigrated to Canada still owns an apartment in St Petersburg. As the rouble started its decline, this relative felt it was time to finally sell the place, which represented her last financial tie to the country.

But when she started to make inquiries, she was informed that even if she managed to sell it, the banks did not have the ability to exchange a large sum of roubles into dollars.

Too many people had gone straight to the bank with their savings to try to save what they had before the value of the rouble fell further. She can sell the apartment, but she would be left holding a lot of fast-falling roubles.

A friend of hers who moved to Bulgaria was already in that exact situation. Having sold her apartment in Russia recently, the newly minted Bulgarian now tries to exchange the roubles into euros each day. The amount she can exchange daily is capped, and each day she goes to the bank, the money in her hands grows ever smaller.

Immigrants fear speaking out

I was also born in Russia, though I was raised in the US. When I set out for Brighton Beach to speak to regular people about their views, my mother offered to accompany me. Considering she has not chaperoned me since I was about 14, I was a little surprised by the offer. But she was concerned about potential anger and political vitriol that my questions might elicit, and with her fluent Russian and better cultural understanding, she felt she could better help me navigate.

Much has been made of the cult of personality that exists around Vladimir Putin, and the incredible grip on power he holds. But I had not expected how far his – and the phantom Soviet reach – still held. Attempting to speak with people, what amazed me was the fear that remains in immigrants that some political retribution will befall their relatives in Russia if they speak about the turmoil in the economy with a newspaper.

After reassuring one woman in her 50s who has lived in the US for 15 years that her last name would not be used – so there was no way to identify her – she still refused to speak on the grounds that her mother still lived in Russia and could be put in danger.

When I tried to get a few points of view at a local bookstore in Brighton Beach, the staff panicked and shut down completely when I said I was a reporter.

At first, one woman at the bookstore said she did not understand my question, so I translated it into Russian – at which point she admitted, in Russian, that she understood everything I had said, and her eyes wide, muttered that she needed to go and ran from me.

A third woman, who has lived in the US for more than 30 years and has never been back to Russia since leaving in the late 1970s, said she could not talk even if no name was used at all, because she believed the Russian government could somehow still find out she had spoken to a newspaper.

That my question was about the recent fall of the rouble made little difference; this a part of New York has a deeply ingrained fear of denouncing the Russian government.

While the people living now in Russia had gotten used to occasionally hearing dissidents on non-state TV programs, to reading views against the government in some independent press, to seeing some demonstrations against the government on the streets, those living in the US for years still held fast to the Soviet views. They feared the retribution of past regimes, the secret police and most of all, the press, which for years was closely connected to the Russian government.

Clearly, the only people I was going to be able to speak to had to be young enough not to have lived through the worst of the Soviet Union or had to have left Russia at a time when the grip on free speech had been loosened a little.

Turning to online parenting groups for Russians with young children and connecting through friends of friends of friends, responses finally began to trickle in. They varied from concern and worry for those left behind to total disregard about the issue.

Veronica says she is “paying attention” but “disconnected from that region mentally and emotionally.” Oleg H summed it up best, saying that people who had moved to the US long ago were “disconnected” from Russia: “For those of us who left the communist state, Russia is no more important than France, or Germany or South Africa.”

Another Oleg put it succinctly when he said: “I care about falling Russian rouble no more than Japanese yen or Turkish lira”. Meanwhile, Inga joked that maybe it is “time for another Russian revolution”.

Felix, similarly, said he could not “give a shit about the currency or current financial situation”, adding that “Putin is a smug, arrogant SOB; Russia is no longer so powerful when oil is at $55 [a barrel]”.

Ksenia said: “Of course I care. The falling rouble affects the middle class and poor people the most. Those who were not able to afford a lot will be the most affected now. Frankly, my heart aches for all the Russian people who fell victims of the political games”.

Vladislav worried that “the brunt of the hardship will fall on regular people. I have no concerns about the fall of the currency; it actually benefits me, as my dollar can now buy more.

“I really feel bad for the people. The single mom, who is struggling to make ends meet. The families with many children, who were just getting by. The elderly, whose pensions just got tinier. Unfortunately, it will not change much. Just like in 1999, when Putin’s scapegoat was the Chechen people, he will find scapegoats again”.

 85 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 06:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

From the archive, 20 December 1938: Chamberlain's reply to Hitler - still waiting for commitment to peace

Prime minister Neville Chamberlain defends his policy of appeasement in the Commons following the Munich Agreement

1938: Chamberlain declares ‘peace for our time’

From our Parliamentary correspondent
theguardian.com, Saturday 20 December 2014 05.30 GMT    

Westminster, Monday.

Mr Chamberlain reached to-day the last Parliamentary stage in his journey from Munich to Rome, and the Opposition tried to discover whether he was packing in his trunk any gifts for Mussolini - such gifts, Mr Lloyd George suggested, as friendship with the country whose forces were waging savage warfare on the wives and children of the heroes of the Ebro, as connivance in the sinking of British foodships, and as the refusal to resist the continued intervention of Italy in Spain.

The House had a right to answer, declared Mr Lloyd George. Signor Mussolini announced to his own people what his aims were, and surely the elected representatives of 25,000,000 British people might expect as much confidence from the Prime Minister?

The Premier
Mr Chamberlain, indeed was mainly concerned to defend his policy of appeasement. “If I had to live these eighteen months over again I would not change it by one jot,” he declared. But he did, nevertheless, suggest for the first time that the results of Munich had not been as good as he has expected, and the terms he used in a very important passage of his speech relating to Germany may have been intended as a warning to Italy.

He described the post-war relations between Britain and Germany. The treatment of the German people had been neither “generous nor wise.” We now recognised their great qualities and had a strong desire to see them co-operate in the restoration of European civilisation, for without their help there would be neither peace nor progress in Europe. There was wide agreement in the House with this statement of the position.

“At the same time”, he added with great emphasis, “I must add that it is not enough for us to express that desire. It takes two to make war, and I am still waiting for a sign from those who speak for the German people that they share this desire and that they are prepared to make their contribution to peace which will help them as much as it would help us.”

Britain’s Rearmament
This passage too had general approval, and agreement with Mr Chamberlain grew as he concluded this part of his speech. “To reproach us with rearmament after Munich,” he said, “is strangely to ignore facts which are patent to all. We are ready at any time to discuss the limitation of armaments on the basis that all would contribute to that limitation with due regard to their own safety. So long as others are going on arming day and night we are bound to do the same, for although reason is the finest weapon in the world to combat reason it has little chance to assert itself where force is supreme.”

Mr Chamberlain ended with a warning that it would be “a tragic blunder” to mistake Britain’s love of peace and her faculty for compromise for weakness, and he sang the praises of democracy when roused.

This statement not naturally surprised the Munich worshippers, and it led Mr Alexander to ask whether the Prime Minister also awaited a “sign” from Rome? Mr Chamberlain preferred “to leave the matter as I have stated it,” but in a reference to the Rome visit he showed that he had been stung by critics of his policy.

He regretted extremely the suggestion that Lord Halifax and himself should be required beforehand to be bound not “to betray any cause, abandon any vital principle, or sacrifice any important interest either of this country or of our friends.” Such a suggestion was “not only insulting to us but highly discourteous to our hosts.”

Views on Munich
Mr Chamberlain appears to be a fatalist in foreign affairs. It is all a matter of handshakes or war to him. Thus, for example, he brushed aside Mr Dalton’s criticism of the effect of Munich in Central Europe by saying that the alternative to Munich was war.

Mr Lloyd George ridiculed M Daladier and Mr Chamberlain congratulating each other upon their victory - “Wellington meeting Blucher.” “They both ran away as hard as they could from their obligations, but the Prime Minister, in spite of his more advanced years, kept well ahead,” added Mr Lloyd George.

Neither Sir Archibald Sinclair nor Mr Lloyd George believed that war was the only alternative to “appeasement.” They both saw Munich not in the light of its immediate context but as the inevitable consequence of years of retreat by the Government. Neither was happy to think that the same policy might be followed in Rome.

 86 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 06:52 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Greek presidential elections hit by new bribery allegations

Independent Greeks party MP, Pavlos Haikalis, alleges offer of lucrative inducement to support ruling coalition’s candidate

Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Friday 19 December 2014 17.03 GMT   

Greece’s presidential election descended into accusations of skulduggery on Fridayyesterday, when an opposition MP accused the government of attempted bribery.

Just four days before a second round of voting in the 300-seat chamber, Pavlos Haikalis, who represents the small, rightwing Independent Greeks party, said he was approached by a middleman offering him a multimillion-euro inducement to support the ruling coalition’s candidate. “There was a preliminary discussion which started as a joke but then became very serious,” the MP told Mega TV, adding that the middleman offered to hand him €700,000, pay off his mortgage and provide advertising contracts.

Haikalis, an actor, reportedly used a watch equipped with camera and recorder to record the conversation. The audiovisual material was expected to be distributed to party leaders late on Friday with the accusation of dirty tricks inflaming already heightened political tensions.

Panos Kammenos, who heads the populist party, held an emergency press conference to reveal what he described as “an appalling affair”.

The Greek chamber reconvenes next Tuesday for a second vote after the government fell far short of amassing the necessary 200 votes for its nominee, the former EU commissioner Stavros Dimas.

In the event of failure again, the election goes to a third round on 29 December. Should that fail, snap polls have to be called, a contest the radical-left main opposition Syriza party is slated to win. Kammenos, whose 12 MPs could help tip the balance in favour of the government, has said he prefers the twice bailed-out country to hold fresh elections than continue with EU-IMF dictated economic policies that have pauperised swaths of the population.

It is the second such accusation from the Independent Greeks. A female MP claimed last month that she had been similarly approached with the intention of being bribed but failed to produce evidence of the allegation.

A government spokeswoman, Sofia Voultepsi, dismissed the claims as “badly acted theatre” and called for the party to produce audiovisual proof.

“It is obvious why these ridiculous performances are set up: so that a president of the republic is not voted for, and the country is led to early elections,” she said in a statement. “For reasons of public interest, the evidence must be made public immediately. If there is no evidence, legal procedures must begin immediately against the perpetrators of this wretched affair.”

 87 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 06:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Vladimir Putin invites Kim Jong-un to Moscow

North Korea’s leader may travel to Russia to mark the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May as mark of closer relations   

Reuters
The Guardian, Friday 19 December 2014 14.11 GMT      

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has invited the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to Moscow next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in the second world war, the Kremlin’s spokesman said on Friday.

It would be Kim’s first foreign visit since taking the helm of the reclusive east Asian state in 2011. His personal envoy travelled to Moscow last month as part of efforts by the two Cold War-era allies to improve relations.

“Yes, such an invitation was sent,” a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the state news agency, Tass. Russia marks the former Soviet Union’s 1945 victory every year on 9 May.

Moscow needs North Korean cooperation to boost its natural gas exports to South Korea as Gazprom would like to build a gas pipeline through North Korea to reach its southern neighbour.

Pyongyang is also seeking support from Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the UN security council, against international criticism relating to accusations of human rights abuses and its nuclear programme.

A UN committee passed a resolution last month calling for the security council to consider referring North Korea to the international criminal court for alleged crimes against humanity.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has also said North Korea is ready to resume the stalled international talks on its nuclear programme.

North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States began talks in 2003 to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, but they were suspended after Pyongyang tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

*************

Why Russia is bolstering ties with North Korea

Angry with the West's response over Ukraine and eager to diversify its options, Russia is cozying up to North Korea. For Pyongyang, the timing couldn't be better, says Eric Talmadge
   
Associated Press in Pyongyang
theguardian.com, Wednesday 4 June 2014 11.30 BST      

Angry with the West's response over Ukraine and eager to diversify its options, Russia is moving rapidly to bolster ties with North Korea in a diplomatic nose-thumbing that could complicate the US-led effort to squeeze Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons program.

Russia's proactive strategy in Asia, which also involves cozying up to China and has been dubbed "Putin's Pivot," began years ago as Moscow's answer to Washington's much-touted alliance-building and rebalancing of its military forces in the Pacific. But it has gained a new sense of urgency since the unrest in Ukraine and Pyongyang is already getting a big windfall with high-level political exchanges and promises from Russia of trade and development projects.

Moscow's overtures to North Korea reflect both a defensive distancing from the EU and Washington because of their sanctions over Ukraine and a broader, long-term effort by Russia to strengthen its hand in Asia by building political alliances, expanding energy exports and developing Russian regions in Siberia and the Far East. For North Korea, the timing couldn't be better.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the largesse it banked on as a member of the communist bloc, the North has been struggling to keep its economy afloat and has depended heavily on trade and assistance from ally China. Sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs have further isolated the country, and Pyongyang has long feared it could become too beholden to Beijing.

    Better ties with Russia could provide a much needed economic boost, a counterbalance against Chinese influence and a potentially useful wedge against the West

Better ties with Russia could provide a much needed economic boost, a counterbalance against Chinese influence and a potentially useful wedge against the West in international forums and particularly in the US-led effort to isolate Pyongyang over its development of nuclear weapons.

"By strengthening its relationship with North Korea, Russia is trying to enhance its bargaining position vis-à-vis the United States and Japan," said Narushige Michishita, a North Korea and Asia security expert at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Michishita added that showing Washington he will not be cowed by the sanctions was "one of the most important factors" for why Putin is wooing Pyongyang now.

Moscow remains wary of having a nuclear-armed North Korea on its border. But over the past few months it has courted the North with various economic projects, political exchanges and a vote in the Duma, the top Russian legislative body, to write off nearly $10 billion in debt held over from the Soviet era.

It has pledged to reinvest $1 billion that Pyongyang still owes into a trans-Siberian railway through North Korea to South Korea a project that is still in the very early stages. That, together with a pipeline, would allow Russia to export gas and electricity to South Korea.

    The same day the United Nations' General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Russia's annexation of Crimea, Russia and North Korea were busy signing an economic trade cooperation pact

Michishita noted that the same day the United Nations' General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Russia's annexation of Crimea, Russia and North Korea were busy signing an economic trade cooperation pact.

The warming began around July last year, but it has accelerated as Moscow's antagonism with the West has grown.

Moscow sent a relatively low-ranking representative to the 60th anniversary of the end of fighting in the Korean War that month. But since then, it has hosted North Korea's head of state at the opening of the Olympic Games in Sochi and, in March, sent its minister in charge of Far East development to Pyongyang.

A three-day visit in April by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, who is also the presidential envoy for Russia's far eastern federal district, marked the "culmination of a new phase in Russian-North Korean relations taking shape a sort of renaissance if you will," Alexander Vorontsov, a North Korea expert at the Russia Academy of Sciences, wrote recently on the influential 38 North blog.

"It is still an open question whether the current crisis in Ukraine will result in any more substantial shifts in Russian policy toward North Korea, particularly in dealing with the nuclear and missile issues," Vorontsov said in his blog post. "With the West increasing pressure on Russia as a result of differences over Ukraine, the very fact that Moscow and Pyongyang are subject to US sanctions will objectively draw them together, as well as with China."

    The very fact that Moscow and Pyongyang are subject to US sanctions will objectively draw them together, as well as with China

Since 2003, a series of multilateral talks have been one of the primary means of pressuring North Korea to denuclearize and to coordinate policy between the six main countries involved China, Russia, the United States, Japan and North and South Korea.

Though still seen as one of the best tools the international community has to pressure Pyongyang on the nuclear issue, the talks were fraught from the start because of the North's unwillingness to back down and the lack of a unified stance among the five other nations.

With North Korea showing no signs of giving up its nuclear option, some analysts believe a widening rift between Russia and the US could weaken future six-party talks.

"North Korea's motivations and actions are driven by the leadership's perceptions, world view, and ideology," said Seoul-based analyst Daniel Pinkston, of the International Crisis Group. "That remains the same. As long as the leadership is wedded to son'gun (Military First) ideology, they will not denuclearize before the rest of the world does. And that's exactly what their government and media say repeatedly."

Michishita, the Japanese security expert, said the Moscow-Pyongyang thaw could just muddy the waters.

"North Korea will not denuclearize anyway," he said. "A better relationship with Russia might be a positive factor for North Korea in coming back to the six-party talks. But North Korea will certainly try to use it to enhance its position vis-à-vis not only the United States and Japan, but also China."
Eric Talmadge is the AP's Pyongyang bureau chief

 88 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 06:48 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
U.S. imposes new sanctions against Russia ahead of peace talks with Ukraine

Agence France-Presse
19 Dec 2014 at 20:55 ET  

The United States imposed sanctions Friday on Russian-controlled Crimea as Ukraine announced the loss of five soldiers ahead of peace talks meant to end a war against Russian-backed insurgents.

President Barack Obama prohibited American exports of goods or services to Crimea, a strategic peninsula and vacation destination that Russian seized from Ukraine last March.

“The United States will not accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea,” Obama said in a statement.

Similar measures were imposed Thursday by the European Union as the West attempted to ratchet up pressure on Moscow over its seizure of Crimea and support for a rebellion by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.

Canada also added new sanctions Friday, targeting separatist leaders and the oil and gas sector in Russia, where the government is battling a currency crash and economic crisis.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that threatened US sanctions “could undermine the possibility of normal cooperation between our countries for a long time.”

- Back to peace talks -

The united Western pressure came as Ukraine and the rebels prepared for talks meant to put a stalled peace process back in motion.

However, Ukraine’s military reported losing five soldiers on Friday, the highest toll since Kiev and the Russian-backed militias struck a December 9 truce designed to reinforce a tenuous September agreement.

The next stage is meant to be comprehensive negotiations.

Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko hoped to start these on Sunday, with the help of European and Russian envoys in the Belarussian capital Minsk. But a top rebel said the insurgents would only be ready by Monday.

“We agreed the general list of issues we need to discuss,” rebel negotiator Vladislav Deynego told AFP by telephone. “But we still have no Minsk date.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were due this weekend to impress the importance of an immediate meeting during their third joint call to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko in the past few days.

- Dire economic situation -

The scale of the fighting has subsided with the onset of winter and heavy snows that make progress across the war-scarred fields and muddied roads all but impossible.

All sides are now busy looking for ways to ensure that millions of civilians who have been unable to flee the artillery shelling and rocket fire make it safely through the winter in apartments with little to no water or heat.

The United Nations believes the daily battles have killed more than 4,700 people and driven nearly a million from their homes.

Its children’s fund UNICEF said on Friday that “tens of thousands” of youth still lived in areas engulfed by violence.

“The situation for more than 1.7 million children affected by the conflict remains extremely serious,” the UN Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organisation said.

Any peace agreement is likely to include a requirement for fighters on both sides to let through humanitarian convoys they fear may be used to smuggle in weapons to their adversaries.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was essential for the Minsk negotiators to establish a buffer zone that sets the initial boundaries of areas overseen by the rebels within a unified Ukraine.

Steinmeier added after talks in Kiev with Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that the sides must also agree to swap their remaining prisoners and “resolve humanitarian relief issues”.

Although Russia is under growing financial pressure because of the sanctions and low oil prices, Ukraine’s situation is even more dire.

Standard & Poors lowered its credit rating for Ukraine on Friday to CCC- with a negative outlook, warning that dangerously low foreign currency reserves could prompt a default within months.

“The negative outlook reflects our view of the increasing risk that, without additional financial support, Ukraine may default on its obligations,” the credit rating agency said.

**************

Vladimir Putin invites Kim Jong-un to Moscow

North Korea’s leader may travel to Russia to mark the USSR’s victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May as mark of closer relations    

Reuters
The Guardian, Friday 19 December 2014 14.11 GMT       

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has invited the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to Moscow next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet defeat of Nazi Germany in the second world war, the Kremlin’s spokesman said on Friday.

It would be Kim’s first foreign visit since taking the helm of the reclusive east Asian state in 2011. His personal envoy travelled to Moscow last month as part of efforts by the two Cold War-era allies to improve relations.

“Yes, such an invitation was sent,” a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told the state news agency, Tass. Russia marks the former Soviet Union’s 1945 victory every year on 9 May.

Moscow needs North Korean cooperation to boost its natural gas exports to South Korea as Gazprom would like to build a gas pipeline through North Korea to reach its southern neighbour.

Pyongyang is also seeking support from Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the UN security council, against international criticism relating to accusations of human rights abuses and its nuclear programme.

A UN committee passed a resolution last month calling for the security council to consider referring North Korea to the international criminal court for alleged crimes against humanity.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has also said North Korea is ready to resume the stalled international talks on its nuclear programme.

North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States began talks in 2003 to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons, but they were suspended after Pyongyang tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

*************

Why Russia is bolstering ties with North Korea

Angry with the West's response over Ukraine and eager to diversify its options, Russia is cozying up to North Korea. For Pyongyang, the timing couldn't be better, says Eric Talmadge
  
Associated Press in Pyongyang
theguardian.com, Wednesday 4 June 2014 11.30 BST       

Angry with the West's response over Ukraine and eager to diversify its options, Russia is moving rapidly to bolster ties with North Korea in a diplomatic nose-thumbing that could complicate the US-led effort to squeeze Pyongyang into giving up its nuclear weapons program.

Russia's proactive strategy in Asia, which also involves cozying up to China and has been dubbed "Putin's Pivot," began years ago as Moscow's answer to Washington's much-touted alliance-building and rebalancing of its military forces in the Pacific. But it has gained a new sense of urgency since the unrest in Ukraine and Pyongyang is already getting a big windfall with high-level political exchanges and promises from Russia of trade and development projects.

Moscow's overtures to North Korea reflect both a defensive distancing from the EU and Washington because of their sanctions over Ukraine and a broader, long-term effort by Russia to strengthen its hand in Asia by building political alliances, expanding energy exports and developing Russian regions in Siberia and the Far East. For North Korea, the timing couldn't be better.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union and the largesse it banked on as a member of the communist bloc, the North has been struggling to keep its economy afloat and has depended heavily on trade and assistance from ally China. Sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs have further isolated the country, and Pyongyang has long feared it could become too beholden to Beijing.

    Better ties with Russia could provide a much needed economic boost, a counterbalance against Chinese influence and a potentially useful wedge against the West

Better ties with Russia could provide a much needed economic boost, a counterbalance against Chinese influence and a potentially useful wedge against the West in international forums and particularly in the US-led effort to isolate Pyongyang over its development of nuclear weapons.

"By strengthening its relationship with North Korea, Russia is trying to enhance its bargaining position vis-à-vis the United States and Japan," said Narushige Michishita, a North Korea and Asia security expert at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies. Michishita added that showing Washington he will not be cowed by the sanctions was "one of the most important factors" for why Putin is wooing Pyongyang now.

Moscow remains wary of having a nuclear-armed North Korea on its border. But over the past few months it has courted the North with various economic projects, political exchanges and a vote in the Duma, the top Russian legislative body, to write off nearly $10 billion in debt held over from the Soviet era.

It has pledged to reinvest $1 billion that Pyongyang still owes into a trans-Siberian railway through North Korea to South Korea a project that is still in the very early stages. That, together with a pipeline, would allow Russia to export gas and electricity to South Korea.

    The same day the United Nations' General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Russia's annexation of Crimea, Russia and North Korea were busy signing an economic trade cooperation pact

Michishita noted that the same day the United Nations' General Assembly passed a resolution condemning Russia's annexation of Crimea, Russia and North Korea were busy signing an economic trade cooperation pact.

The warming began around July last year, but it has accelerated as Moscow's antagonism with the West has grown.

Moscow sent a relatively low-ranking representative to the 60th anniversary of the end of fighting in the Korean War that month. But since then, it has hosted North Korea's head of state at the opening of the Olympic Games in Sochi and, in March, sent its minister in charge of Far East development to Pyongyang.

A three-day visit in April by Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Trutnev, who is also the presidential envoy for Russia's far eastern federal district, marked the "culmination of a new phase in Russian-North Korean relations taking shape a sort of renaissance if you will," Alexander Vorontsov, a North Korea expert at the Russia Academy of Sciences, wrote recently on the influential 38 North blog.

"It is still an open question whether the current crisis in Ukraine will result in any more substantial shifts in Russian policy toward North Korea, particularly in dealing with the nuclear and missile issues," Vorontsov said in his blog post. "With the West increasing pressure on Russia as a result of differences over Ukraine, the very fact that Moscow and Pyongyang are subject to US sanctions will objectively draw them together, as well as with China."

    The very fact that Moscow and Pyongyang are subject to US sanctions will objectively draw them together, as well as with China

Since 2003, a series of multilateral talks have been one of the primary means of pressuring North Korea to denuclearize and to coordinate policy between the six main countries involved China, Russia, the United States, Japan and North and South Korea.

Though still seen as one of the best tools the international community has to pressure Pyongyang on the nuclear issue, the talks were fraught from the start because of the North's unwillingness to back down and the lack of a unified stance among the five other nations.

With North Korea showing no signs of giving up its nuclear option, some analysts believe a widening rift between Russia and the US could weaken future six-party talks.

"North Korea's motivations and actions are driven by the leadership's perceptions, world view, and ideology," said Seoul-based analyst Daniel Pinkston, of the International Crisis Group. "That remains the same. As long as the leadership is wedded to son'gun (Military First) ideology, they will not denuclearize before the rest of the world does. And that's exactly what their government and media say repeatedly."

Michishita, the Japanese security expert, said the Moscow-Pyongyang thaw could just muddy the waters.

"North Korea will not denuclearize anyway," he said. "A better relationship with Russia might be a positive factor for North Korea in coming back to the six-party talks. But North Korea will certainly try to use it to enhance its position vis-à-vis not only the United States and Japan, but also China."
Eric Talmadge is the AP's Pyongyang bureau chief

****************

Russian immigrants on rouble's free fall: sadness and indifference

Olga Oksman   
theguardian.com, Friday 19 December 2014 20.09 GMT   
   
In Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, the fall of the rouble has not gone unnoticed.

The Russian currency has conspicuously crashed, driven in part by falling oil prices that help drive the Russian economy and economic sanctions from the US and Europe.

Life in Russia has become more difficult, in particular for the most vulnerable, such as pensioners on fixed incomes. Ordinary Russians have flooded shops looking to buy durable goods with little deprecation in value as they try to find any way to preserve their hard-earned salaries and savings.

After waves of immigration in the 1970s and 1980s, along with smaller moves in the 1990s and later, the US – and in particular New York City – has a sizable Russian expatriate community. The different immigration waves had different identities: refugees from the Soviet Union; emigres after the fall of communism; more recently, children of oligarchs.

The barrage of information on the Russian economy is top of mind for many, especially in traditional ex-pat enclaves such as New York City’s Brighton Beach.

Galina said she did “care about falling rouble and overall situation in Russia,” just as she cares about “the image of Russia in the international arena.”

She added: “And I think in general, Russians here [in the US] care about the situation there; that is why you saw protests outside the Russian consulate for fair voting in Russia, people still go and vote (those who have a right). Many of us have relatives and friends [there], and some own apartments that are pretty much falling in price as we see the rouble crumble.”

Marina and Oleg are a married couple. Marina, in her 50s, came to the US two years ago and still has many ties to Russia. Her husband, who is in his 60s, immigrated to the US more than 25 years ago and long ago established a new life here.

Marina’s grown children are in Russia, along with family, friends and an apartment she left behind when she moved. Marina believes in Putin, calling him her “boss,” and noting that she is often left defending Russia’s president to all her friends here.

While Marina frets about the situation, Oleg takes a more stoic view. “I have no one and nothing left in Russia, so I have nothing to worry about”, he says, adding that he sees the situation “objectively, not like a resident of the country but like any outside observer, the same way I would look at a place like China”.

Oleg says he no longer discusses politics with his wife.

“It is a difficult situation”, Marina tells me. “But the price of food is still fine; in fact a loaf of Russian bread costs more here than it does in Russia. It is the luxury goods that no one can buy now – the European shoes – but you can still live, [and] buy food.”

Unfortunately, airline tickets fall into the luxury category. “My children were going to visit for Christmas, but airline tickets have to be bought in dollars or euros, so they can’t visit now”, Marina says.

Despite the potential hardships ahead for those that are near and dear, Marina is an optimist: “this is the fourth crisis in my lifetime,” she says with a half-laugh, half-sigh. “It will get better at some point.”

Runs on the banks have taken their toll. A relative of this reporter who years ago immigrated to Canada still owns an apartment in St Petersburg. As the rouble started its decline, this relative felt it was time to finally sell the place, which represented her last financial tie to the country.

But when she started to make inquiries, she was informed that even if she managed to sell it, the banks did not have the ability to exchange a large sum of roubles into dollars.

Too many people had gone straight to the bank with their savings to try to save what they had before the value of the rouble fell further. She can sell the apartment, but she would be left holding a lot of fast-falling roubles.

A friend of hers who moved to Bulgaria was already in that exact situation. Having sold her apartment in Russia recently, the newly minted Bulgarian now tries to exchange the roubles into euros each day. The amount she can exchange daily is capped, and each day she goes to the bank, the money in her hands grows ever smaller.

Immigrants fear speaking out

I was also born in Russia, though I was raised in the US. When I set out for Brighton Beach to speak to regular people about their views, my mother offered to accompany me. Considering she has not chaperoned me since I was about 14, I was a little surprised by the offer. But she was concerned about potential anger and political vitriol that my questions might elicit, and with her fluent Russian and better cultural understanding, she felt she could better help me navigate.

Much has been made of the cult of personality that exists around Vladimir Putin, and the incredible grip on power he holds. But I had not expected how far his – and the phantom Soviet reach – still held. Attempting to speak with people, what amazed me was the fear that remains in immigrants that some political retribution will befall their relatives in Russia if they speak about the turmoil in the economy with a newspaper.

After reassuring one woman in her 50s who has lived in the US for 15 years that her last name would not be used – so there was no way to identify her – she still refused to speak on the grounds that her mother still lived in Russia and could be put in danger.

When I tried to get a few points of view at a local bookstore in Brighton Beach, the staff panicked and shut down completely when I said I was a reporter.

At first, one woman at the bookstore said she did not understand my question, so I translated it into Russian – at which point she admitted, in Russian, that she understood everything I had said, and her eyes wide, muttered that she needed to go and ran from me.

A third woman, who has lived in the US for more than 30 years and has never been back to Russia since leaving in the late 1970s, said she could not talk even if no name was used at all, because she believed the Russian government could somehow still find out she had spoken to a newspaper.

That my question was about the recent fall of the rouble made little difference; this a part of New York has a deeply ingrained fear of denouncing the Russian government.

While the people living now in Russia had gotten used to occasionally hearing dissidents on non-state TV programs, to reading views against the government in some independent press, to seeing some demonstrations against the government on the streets, those living in the US for years still held fast to the Soviet views. They feared the retribution of past regimes, the secret police and most of all, the press, which for years was closely connected to the Russian government.

Clearly, the only people I was going to be able to speak to had to be young enough not to have lived through the worst of the Soviet Union or had to have left Russia at a time when the grip on free speech had been loosened a little.

Turning to online parenting groups for Russians with young children and connecting through friends of friends of friends, responses finally began to trickle in. They varied from concern and worry for those left behind to total disregard about the issue.

Veronica says she is “paying attention” but “disconnected from that region mentally and emotionally.” Oleg H summed it up best, saying that people who had moved to the US long ago were “disconnected” from Russia: “For those of us who left the communist state, Russia is no more important than France, or Germany or South Africa.”

Another Oleg put it succinctly when he said: “I care about falling Russian rouble no more than Japanese yen or Turkish lira”. Meanwhile, Inga joked that maybe it is “time for another Russian revolution”.

Felix, similarly, said he could not “give a shit about the currency or current financial situation”, adding that “Putin is a smug, arrogant SOB; Russia is no longer so powerful when oil is at $55 [a barrel]”.

Ksenia said: “Of course I care. The falling rouble affects the middle class and poor people the most. Those who were not able to afford a lot will be the most affected now. Frankly, my heart aches for all the Russian people who fell victims of the political games”.

Vladislav worried that “the brunt of the hardship will fall on regular people. I have no concerns about the fall of the currency; it actually benefits me, as my dollar can now buy more.

“I really feel bad for the people. The single mom, who is struggling to make ends meet. The families with many children, who were just getting by. The elderly, whose pensions just got tinier. Unfortunately, it will not change much. Just like in 1999, when Putin’s scapegoat was the Chechen people, he will find scapegoats again”.

 89 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 06:41 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
U.S. imposes new sanctions against Russia ahead of peace talks with Ukraine

Agence France-Presse
19 Dec 2014 at 20:55 ET  

The United States imposed sanctions Friday on Russian-controlled Crimea as Ukraine announced the loss of five soldiers ahead of peace talks meant to end a war against Russian-backed insurgents.

President Barack Obama prohibited American exports of goods or services to Crimea, a strategic peninsula and vacation destination that Russian seized from Ukraine last March.

“The United States will not accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea,” Obama said in a statement.

Similar measures were imposed Thursday by the European Union as the West attempted to ratchet up pressure on Moscow over its seizure of Crimea and support for a rebellion by pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.

Canada also added new sanctions Friday, targeting separatist leaders and the oil and gas sector in Russia, where the government is battling a currency crash and economic crisis.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that threatened US sanctions “could undermine the possibility of normal cooperation between our countries for a long time.”

- Back to peace talks -

The united Western pressure came as Ukraine and the rebels prepared for talks meant to put a stalled peace process back in motion.

However, Ukraine’s military reported losing five soldiers on Friday, the highest toll since Kiev and the Russian-backed militias struck a December 9 truce designed to reinforce a tenuous September agreement.

The next stage is meant to be comprehensive negotiations.

Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko hoped to start these on Sunday, with the help of European and Russian envoys in the Belarussian capital Minsk. But a top rebel said the insurgents would only be ready by Monday.

“We agreed the general list of issues we need to discuss,” rebel negotiator Vladislav Deynego told AFP by telephone. “But we still have no Minsk date.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande were due this weekend to impress the importance of an immediate meeting during their third joint call to Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko in the past few days.

- Dire economic situation -

The scale of the fighting has subsided with the onset of winter and heavy snows that make progress across the war-scarred fields and muddied roads all but impossible.

All sides are now busy looking for ways to ensure that millions of civilians who have been unable to flee the artillery shelling and rocket fire make it safely through the winter in apartments with little to no water or heat.

The United Nations believes the daily battles have killed more than 4,700 people and driven nearly a million from their homes.

Its children’s fund UNICEF said on Friday that “tens of thousands” of youth still lived in areas engulfed by violence.

“The situation for more than 1.7 million children affected by the conflict remains extremely serious,” the UN Children’s Rights and Emergency Relief Organisation said.

Any peace agreement is likely to include a requirement for fighters on both sides to let through humanitarian convoys they fear may be used to smuggle in weapons to their adversaries.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it was essential for the Minsk negotiators to establish a buffer zone that sets the initial boundaries of areas overseen by the rebels within a unified Ukraine.

Steinmeier added after talks in Kiev with Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that the sides must also agree to swap their remaining prisoners and “resolve humanitarian relief issues”.

Although Russia is under growing financial pressure because of the sanctions and low oil prices, Ukraine’s situation is even more dire.

Standard & Poors lowered its credit rating for Ukraine on Friday to CCC- with a negative outlook, warning that dangerously low foreign currency reserves could prompt a default within months.

“The negative outlook reflects our view of the increasing risk that, without additional financial support, Ukraine may default on its obligations,” the credit rating agency said.

*************

Russia Says New U.S., Canada Sanctions Will Fuel Ukraine Unrest

by Naharnet Newsdesk 20 December 2014, 12:54

The latest round of Ukraine-related sanctions by the United States and Canada hamper efforts to resolve the conflict, Russia's foreign ministry said Saturday.

"The sanctions are directed to disrupt the political process," the ministry said in a statement following the announcement of the latest measures on Friday.

"We advise Washington and Ottawa to think about the consequences of such actions," it said, adding: "We will start to develop counter-measures."

U.S. President Barack Obama issued an executive order prohibiting trade with Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Moscow annexed from Ukraine in March.

Additionally 24 individuals and entities were added to the U.S. Treasury blacklist -- people from Crimea and separatist leaders involved in fighting in eastern Ukraine as well as several Russians supporting the insurgency.

Canada meanwhile slapped fresh measures on Russia's oil and gas sector and issued travel bans on several politicians in Russia and the separatist regions.

"Crimea is the original and inseparable part of Russia. Residents of Crimea today are together with the Russian people, who never have and never will bend under external pressure," the Russian foreign ministry statement said.

Instead of helping resolve the conflict, the sanctions "support Kiev's 'party of war'," it said, referring to Ukrainian officials who oppose negotiating with separatists.

Kiev is now preparing for a new round of talks with representatives of the self-proclaimed "people's republics" of Donetsk and Lugansk, the latest effort to put an end to fighting that has killed over 4,700 people since April.

Crimea's new leaders dismissed the U.S. sanctions, saying the peninsula will now seek investors from Asia. "If the West doesn't want to work with us, we'll work with the East," deputy chairman of Crimea's council of ministers Dmitry Polonsky told AFP.

"Nothing scary is going to happen," he said. "There won't be any serious consequences, we'll just change our partners."

The newest additions to the U.S. blacklist are commanders and ministers in the separatist east, most of them Ukrainian nationals.

It also includes Crimea's prosecutor Natalia Poklonskaya whose looks and stern demeanor became a web sensation and inspired Japanese manga-style comics earlier this year.

Among the Russians now banned from travelling or owning assets in the United States are Konstantin Malofeyev, a businessman Kiev accuses of funding armed groups, and Alexander Zaldostanov, the leader of the Night Wolves, a pro-Putin motorcycle riders club, who is known as Khirurg (The Surgeon).

"I couldn't care less about what America does against me, but for me this is of course acknowledgement of my work for the Motherland," Zaldostanov told the Echo of Moscow radio, adding that his favorite bikes are Russian-made.

Source: Agence France Presse

 90 
 on: Dec 20, 2014, 06:36 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Pope marks 78th birthday by giving hundreds of sleeping bags to the homeless

Agence France-Presse
19 Dec 2014 at 10:20 ET     

Pope Francis marked his 78th birthday by ordering the distribution of hundreds of sleeping bags to homeless people in Rome, Vatican officials said Thursday.

Konrad Krajewski, the archbishop in charge of the pope’s charity work, led an operation in which a minibus packed with 400 sleeping bags carrying a papal ensign toured around the Italian capital on Wednesday evening looking for people to give them to.

“This is a gift for you from the pope on the occasion of his birthday,” the Swiss guards who helped in the distribution were quoted as telling the recipients.

A total of 300 bags found takers on the streets on Wednesday and another 100 were given to a homeless group to be distributed at a later date.

Francis turned 78 on Wednesday and eight homeless people were among the people he greeted at the end of his audience in St Peter’s square.

The Argentinian leader of the world’s Catholics has made concern for the poor one of the defining themes of his papacy.

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