From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE NORTH 2019 JANUARY-MARCH"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or continue to King Of The North 2019 April-June

KING OF THE NORTH 2019 JANUARY-MARCH

WTO REGION 6 IN 1995 CENTRAL ASIA - RUSSIA, ARMENIA, GEORGIA, AZERBIJIAN, CUBA
  • Today Central Asia stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China in the east and from Afghanistan in the south to Russia in the north.    The region consists of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

WTO REGION 5 IN 1995 WESTERN ASIA/EASTERN EUROPE – BALKAN STATES, POLAND, ROMANIA, HUNGARY, BULGARIA, CZECHO-SLOVAKIA, YUGOSLAVIA, ALBANIA, ESTONIA, LATVIA, LITHUANIA.
  • Today Western Asia is 23 countries as a subregion: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Gaza Strip, Georgia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Yemen.
  • Today Eastern Europe is the eastern part of the European continent.    There is no consensus on the precise area it covers, partly because the term has a wide range of geopolitical, geographical, cultural, and socioeconomic connotations.    It is projected to be *Cyprus, *Czech Republic, *Estonia, *Hungary, *Latvia, *Lithuania, *Malta, *Poland, *Slovakia, Slovenia, *Bulgaria, *Romania and *Croatia.
        The above countries with an * in front of them are part of the European Union in todays world.
    • The Balkan peninsula or the region includes: (Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia) with Greece and Turkey excluded.
    • Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Albania, Montenegro and Moldova are part of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) set up to help ex-communist states harmonise their economic and legal systems with EU demands.
    • On 2/6/2019 Macedonia the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic became the 30th member of a formal signing of the NATO accession protocol and expects Macedonia – now known officially as North Macedonia to formally join the alliance in 2020.    Three other ex-Yugoslav republics – Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro – have already joined NATO, as have other countries in the Balkan region including Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.



    So as 2018 has passed do we know who the "King of the North" is?
    "Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time.    The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods.    He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place." (Daniel 11:35,36).
    The king of the north mentioned in verses Daniel 11:36-45 is the same King from the North (also known as the stern-faced king or the horn power) that was introduced in Daniel 8.    Notice how this point is demonstrated.
    Verse 35 points to the appointed time of the end, and verse 36 describes a king who will be successful until the time of wrath is completed.
Rev. 17:11 The Eighth Head: The Seventh Head (revived Roman Empire) will grow an Eighth Head in verse 11 (Some claim this to be "The scarlet animal that is to be destroyed).
    Rev. 17:11 And the beast that was, and is not, even he is the eighth (‘Ogdoos’ eighth is connected to ‘Okta’ eight; here the vision shows that the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head or an outgrowth which will be destroyed; “the eighth” king, his “wound being healed,” Rev. 13:3, Antichrist manifested in the fullest and most intense opposition to God.    He is “the little horn” with eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things, before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, and to whom the whole ten “give their power and strength,” in Rev. 12:13, 17.), and is of the seven (originally came from the seven heads; The eighth is not one of the seven restored, but a new power or person proceeding out of the seven, and at the same time embodying all the God opposed features of the previous seven.    For this reason there are not eight heads, but only seven, for the eighth is the embodiment of all the seven.),
and goeth into perdition (‘Apoleia’ indicating loss of well-being, not of being, is used of the Beast, the final head of the revived Roman Empire; In the birth-pangs which prepare the “regeneration” there are wars, earthquakes, and disturbances, at which Antichrist takes his rise, from the sea, Rev. 13:1; Mark 13:8; Luke 21:9-11.).
(Paraphrased: “The scarlet animal that died is the eighth king, having reigned before as one of the seven; after his second reign, he too, will go to his doom.”).
    [No one can really narrow down who or what this new entity came from, but the following is food for thought.    I ran across a news article dated 6/9/2018 on my “KingOfTheWest2018.htm" file and I discovered the following statement, was made in it and was titled "Russia joined the G-7 in the late 1990s almost a decade after the fall of the Soviet Union, making the group the G-8."    And as it is seen above in prophecy the seventh head will briefly sprout another as an eighth head, which was Russia, the eighth as one of the seven.    So as it says above "in his second reign," which was in 2018, "he too, will go to his doom.]
    Most likely this king is the Russian president Vladimir Putin because of his continued push to be in the scene and his interfacing into other areas.
    On 3/2/2018 Putin said Russia has new nuclear missile with unlimited range and claims it has advanced weapons tech developed as a nuclear-powered missile with an unlimited range and completely immune to enemy intercept, capable of penetrating any missile defense and can reach virtually any target around the world.    “No defense systems will be able to withstand it nicknamed RS-28 Sarmat rocket — “Satan 2,” and can entirely wipe out an area the size of Texas or France, talking up his country’s military and technological prowess, and the King of the North has spoken and elected to another six-year term.
    On 10/21/2018 President Donald Trump exited the Cold-War era treaty that eliminated a class of nuclear weapons due to Russian violations, triggering a warning of retaliatory measures from Moscow, for the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, required elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries.
    On 12/26/2018 Putin said Russia is deploying a new hypersonic nuclear missile is highly maneuverable, allowing it to easily evade missile defense systems an Avangard missile, so you now know why Trump pulled out of the INF treaty because he knew what Russia was up to, and most likely the U.S. has developed the same also, and the new Space Force was the new system for deterence, and this will force China to get in on this.
    On 12/30/2018 Russia stated in 2019 it will deploy the S-350 Vityaz a new generation short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile complex, to replace its ageing S-300 system.    Also the Russian military had deployed Pantsir-S and S-400 complexes to Crimea, as well as in its Arctic region, the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea, and in its easternmost Khabarovsk region.
    Russia has been flexing its military muscles abroad in recent years, and its involvement in the Syrian conflict and Ukraine has soured relations with the West.
    In a dispute over a separate, longer range missile system, Washington has threatened to pull out of the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), alleging that a new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729 (called SSC-8 by NATO), violates the pact.    The landmark arms control treaty bans either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.    Russia says denies the missile violates the INF and accuses the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit the treaty in order to develop new missiles.
    President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would deploy its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles next year, saying the move meant his country now had a new type of strategic weapon, and the Vityaz (Knight) is a short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile system, developed by Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation.
    Well, lets see what happens in 2019.

2019

1/1/2019 Seven dead, dozens trapped under rubble after Russian gas blast: agencies by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
Emergency personnel work at the site of collapsed apartment building after a suspected gas blast in
Magnitogorsk, Russia December 31, 2018. Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief/Handout via REUTERS.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – As many as 40 people could still be trapped in the rubble of a Russian apartment block that partially collapsed in a gas explosion on Monday, killing at least seven people, news agencies reported.
    The blast, thought to have been caused by a gas leak, damaged 48 apartments in a nine-storey building in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the Urals some 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow, the emergencies ministry said.
    President Vladimir Putin flew into Magnitogorsk late on Monday afternoon, visiting the injured in hospital and meeting with local authorities, state television showed.
    Putin looked on as rescue workers toiled in temperatures of -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit) to locate people trapped under the debris.
    Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev said at a meeting with Putin there were “presumably between 36 and 40 people under the rubble” as of Monday evening, agencies reported.
    After reporting four casualties earlier in the day, Zinichev said that another three bodies had been discovered.
    “We have found another three bodies but we cannot take them out (from under the rubble),” agencies quoted Zinichev as saying.
    “We are working carefully because there is a risk that the building will collapse.”
    Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova told state television that the chances of finding survivors were fading as the day wore on.
    The blast tore through the building at around 6 a.m. (0100 GMT) when many residents were asleep, RIA news agency reported.    Monday was a public holiday in Russia.
    There have been several similar incidents in Russia in recent years due to aging infrastructure and poor safety regulations regarding gas usage.
    In 2015, at least five people were killed when a gas explosion damaged an apartment building in the southern city of Volgograd.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Robin Pomeroy and Louise Heavens)
[Putin should have put more money into infrastructure than missiles.].

1/1/2019 Russia detains U.S. citizen in Moscow for suspected spying by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: A flag flies behind an enclosure on the territory of the U.S. embassy
in Moscow, Russia March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s FSB state security service said on Monday it has detained an American citizen suspected of spying in Moscow and has opened a criminal case against him.
    The FSB said the American had been detained on Friday, but it gave no details of the nature of his alleged espionage activities.    Under Russian law, espionage can carry between 10 and 20 years in prison.
    A U.S. State Department representative said Russia had notified it that a U.S. citizen had been detained and it expected Moscow to provide consular access to see him.
    “We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it,” the representative said, without providing details of the identity of the American or the reasons behind his detention.
    The English-language service of TASS news agency named him as Paul Whelan.
    David Whelan said in an email that he was Paul Whelan’s brother and said that his brother had been arrested.    He declined to comment on how he learned of his brother’s detention, his work status at the time of his arrest and whether his brother lived in Novi, Michigan, as address records indicate.
    There was online speculation that Paul Whelan had worked for global staffing firm Kelly Services, which is headquartered about a 40 minute-drive from Novi in Troy, Michigan.
    A spokeswoman for Kelly said a Paul Whelan had worked for the company until February 2016.
    “Kelly has yet to confirm whether this former employee is the same individual reported upon in the news stories,” said Kelly spokeswoman Heather Klee.
    Russia’s relations with the United States plummeted when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Washington and Western allies have imposed a broad range of sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.     Earlier this month, Russian national Maria Butina pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to a conspiracy charge in a deal with prosecutors, and admitted to working with a top Russian official to infiltrate American conservative activist groups and politicians as an agent for Moscow.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Will Dunham in Washington and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Richard Balmforth, Peter Cooney and Leslie Adler)

1/1/2019 Baby boy found alive after 35 hours under rubble after Russia blast
A still image taken from a video footage shows a rescuer carries a 11-month-old child found
alive in the rubble of a Russian apartment block that partially collapsed after a suspected gas blast in
Magnitogorsk, Russia January 1, 2019. Minister of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief/Handout via REUTERS TV
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A baby boy has been found alive after 35 hours spent in freezing cold in the rubble of a Russian apartment block that partially collapsed in an explosion, emergency officials reported, calling it a miracle.
    The blast, thought to have been caused by a gas leak, damaged 48 apartments in a 10-storey building in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk on Monday, killing at least seven people with 36 people still missing.
    Video footage from the local emergency ministry showed a rescuer worker removing the baby dressed in pink socks and putting a blanket around it before he starts running toward an ambulance.
    The current temperature in the city of Magnitogorsk, home to one of Russia’s largest steel plants in the Urals some 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow, is -17 Celsius (1.4 Fahrenheit).
    The fact that the 11-month-old infant, currently diagnosed with a serious freezer burn and a closed-head injury, was lying in his bed and was wrapped up in layers saved his life, TASS news agency reported, citing a regional emergency center.
    The baby was found when a rescuer heard him crying and “a large-scale operation was immediately organized,” Interfax news agency reported, citing emergency officials. His removal was difficult because of unstable debris which posed risks for rescuers.
    “Hundreds of people were waiting for the appearance of the injured child from under the rubble like a miracle.    And the miracle happened…,” the officials were quoted as saying by Interfax.    “Tears drew in the eyes of the weatherbeaten rescuers.”
    The boy’s mother is alive and has already arrived to the hospital, Interfax added.
    The blast tore through the building in the city of Magnitogorsk, home of one of Russia’s largest steel plants, early on Monday morning, a public holiday in Russia, when many residents were asleep.    Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova said on     Monday that the chances of finding survivors were fading.
    There have been several similar incidents in the country in recent years due to aging infrastructure and poor safety regulations about gas usage.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; editing by Adrian Croft, William Maclean)

1/1/2019 Retired U.S. Marine held in Russia for spying is innocent: family by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Barbara Goldberg
Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia for suspected spying, appears in a photo provided
by the Whelan family on January 1, 2019. Courtesy Whelan Family/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A retired U.S. Marine detained by Russia on spying charges was visiting Moscow for a wedding and is innocent, his family said on Tuesday.
    Paul Whelan had been staying with a wedding party for a fellow former Marine at the Metropol hotel in Moscow, said his brother David Whelan, who learned of the arrest on Monday.
    “His innocence is undoubted and we trust that his rights will be respected,” Whelan’s family said in a statement released on Twitter on Tuesday.
    Russia’s FSB state security service said the American had been detained on Friday, but it gave no details of the nature of his alleged espionage activities.    Under Russian law, espionage can carry a prison sentence of between 10 and 20 years.
    A U.S. State Department representative said Russia had notified it that a U.S. citizen had been detained and it expected Moscow to provide consular access to see him.
    “Russia’s obligations under the Vienna Convention require them to provide consular access.    We have requested this access and expect Russian authorities to provide it,” the representative said, without providing details of the identity of the American or the reasons behind his detention.
    David Whelan declined to comment on his brother’s work status at the time of his arrest and whether his brother lived in Novi, Michigan, as address records indicate.
    BorgWarner, a Michigan-based automotive parts supplier, said Whelan is the “company’s director, global security.    He is responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan and at other company locations around the world.”
BUTINA CASE
    Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow station chief, said it is “possible, even likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered Whelan’s arrest to set up an exchange for Maria Butina, the Russian citizen who pleaded guilty on Dec. 13 to acting as an agent tasked with influencing U.S. conservative groups.
    Putin’s aim was “to make us feel some pain and his family to feel some pain.    That’s their (Moscow’s) pressure point,” Hoffman told Reuters.
    “Putin knows there will be a lot of public square pressure to get this guy out,” he said.
    Putin told U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter on Sunday that Moscow was ready for dialogue on a “wide-ranging agenda,” the Kremlin said following a series of failed attempts to hold a new summit.
    At the end of November, Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina, citing tensions about Russian forces opening fire on Ukrainian navy boats and then seizing them.
    Trump’s relations with Putin have been under a microscope as a result of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
    Moscow has denied intervening in the election and Trump has branded Mueller’s probe as a witch hunt.
    Russia’s relations with the United States plummeted when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, and Washington and Western allies have imposed a broad range of sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington Editing by Bill Tarrant and Paul Simao)

1/2/2019 Cuba’s Castro blasts United States on 60th anniversary of revolution by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta
Cuban First Secretary of Communist Party Raul Castro Ruz gives a speech,
on January 01, 2019, during the celebration of 60th Anniversary of Cuban Revolution at
Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. Yamil Lage/Pool via Reuters
    HAVANA (Reuters) – On the 60th anniversary of Cuba’s revolution, ruling Communist Party leader Raul Castro blasted the Trump administration for returning to an outdated path of confrontation with the island nation and of intervening in Latin America.
    Castro and his late, elder brother Fidel Castro led the rebel band that in 1959 overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator and installed a Communist-run country on the doorstep of the United States, setting the scene for decades of Cold War hostility.
    At the time, their revolution inspired leftist movements throughout Latin America, but the celebrations on Tuesday came as the region is shifting rightwards, coinciding with the inauguration of Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
    Some of Cuba’s closest allies, Venezuela and Nicaragua, are mired in political crises, and U.S. President Donald Trump has tightened the decades-old U.S. embargo on the island, after his predecessor, Barack Obama, had sought to normalize relations.
    “Once again, the North American government is taking on the path of confrontation with Cuba,” Castro said in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba where Fidel Castro proclaimed victory six decades ago.
    The speech by Castro, who stepped down as president in April but remains head of the Communist Party until 2021, was part of a solemn, sunset ceremony in a cemetery where both Fidel Castro and independence hero Jose Marti are buried.
    “Increasingly, high-ranking officials of this administration are … trying to blame Cuba for all the region’s ills,” he said, adding that they stemmed instead from “ruthless neoliberal policies.”
    Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said in November that Washington would take a tougher line against Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, calling them a “troika of tyranny.”
    Clad in military fatigues and cap, the 87-year old Castro said on Tuesday that Cuba had proven throughout six decades of revolution it could not be intimidated by threats.    Instead it remained open, he said, to a peaceful and respectful coexistence.
    Cuba’s true battle this year was an economic one, he added, reiterating comments made at the national assembly in late December by his successor, President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who announced increased austerity for the fourth year running in 2019 in the face of a cash crunch.
    “We need first of all to reduce all non-necessary expenses and to save more,” said Castro.
    A decade ago, as president, he introduced a series of reforms to liberalize and boost the centrally planned economy, yet it remains heavily state-dominated and bound in red tape.
    A series of external shocks such as a decline in aid from Venezuela and devastation wrought by hurricanes have also dented growth, which is sluggish at best.
    Nonetheless, the Cuban revolution is on a secure footing thanks to the transition to a competent younger generation of leaders such as the 58-year old Diaz-Canel, Castro said.
    “It is opportune to express the fact that the Cuban Communist Party decidedly backs the words and actions of Diaz-Canel since he took office,” Castro said.
    “The revolution has not aged, it remains young,” he said.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/2/2019 Seven dead, dozens trapped under rubble after Russian gas blast: agencies by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
Rescuers work at the site of a partially collapsed apartment block in Magnitogorsk, Russia
in this handout photo released by Russian Emergencies Ministry January 2, 2019. Russia's Ministry
for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – As many as 40 people could still be trapped in the rubble of a Russian apartment block that partially collapsed in a gas explosion on Monday, killing at least seven people, news agencies reported.
    The blast, thought to have been caused by a gas leak, damaged 48 apartments in a nine-storey building in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in the Urals some 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow, the emergencies ministry said.
    President Vladimir Putin flew into Magnitogorsk late on Monday afternoon, visiting the injured in hospital and meeting with local authorities, state television showed.
    Putin looked on as rescue workers toiled in temperatures of -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit) to locate people trapped under the debris.
    Emergencies Minister Yevgeny Zinichev said at a meeting with Putin there were “presumably between 36 and 40 people under the rubble” as of Monday evening, agencies reported.
    After reporting four casualties earlier in the day, Zinichev said that another three bodies had been discovered.
    “We have found another three bodies but we cannot take them out (from under the rubble),” agencies quoted Zinichev as saying.
    “We are working carefully because there is a risk that the building will collapse.”
    Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova told state television that the chances of finding survivors were fading as the day wore on.
    The blast tore through the building at around 6 a.m. (0100 GMT) when many residents were asleep, RIA news agency reported. Monday was a public holiday in Russia.
    There have been several similar incidents in Russia in recent years due to aging infrastructure and poor safety regulations regarding gas usage.
    In 2015, at least five people were killed when a gas explosion damaged an apartment building in the southern city of Volgograd.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Robin Pomeroy and Louise Heavens)

1/2/2019 Death toll rises to 18 in Russian apartment block collapse
Russian Emergencies Ministry members work at the site of a partially collapsed apartment block
in Magnitogorsk, Russia in this handout photo released by Russian Emergencies Ministry January 2, 2019.
Russia's Ministry for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Eighteen dead bodies have been recovered from the debris of an apartment block in Russia that partially collapsed in an apparent explosion, while 23 people remained unaccounted for, the regional emergencies ministry told Reuters on Wednesday.
    The blast, initially thought to have been caused by a gas leak, damaged 48 apartments in a 10-storey building in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk in the early hours on Monday, 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow.
    A baby boy was found alive on Tuesday after 35 hours spent in freezing cold in the rubble, in what emergency officials described as a miracle.
    In a separate incident late on Tuesday, three people died on the same street where the building collapsed, when a minibus became engulfed in flames, TASS news agency reported citing the local government office.
    Video footage purporting to show the incident, posted on social media sites, shows a burning vehicle and some bangs are heard. A police spokesman declined to comment when contacted by phone.
    The reason behind the collapse of the apartment block is still being investigated, the Investigative Committee, which probes into major cries, said on its website.
    It said no trace of explosives materials had been found so far on the site.    The initial reports put a possible gas leak behind the collapse.
    There have been several similar incidents in the country in recent years due to ageing infrastructure and poor safety regulations about gas usage.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Editing by William Maclean)

1/3/2018 Death toll rises in Russian apartment building collapse
    Search crews in Russia pulled more bodies Wednesday from a huge pile of rubble where part of an apartment building collapsed, bringing the known death toll to 28 and 13 residents unaccounted for as the grim recovery work entered a third night.
    A 3-year-old girl was among the latest victims of the collapse in the Russian city of Magnitogorsk, Russian news agencies reported, citing the Russian emergencies ministry.

1/3/2018 Death toll jumps to 37 in Russian apartment block collapse: agencies
People gather near the site of a partially collapsed apartment block in
Magnitogorsk, Russia January 1, 2019. Picture taken January 1, 2019. REUTERS/Andrey Serebryakov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thirty-seven bodies have been recovered from the rubble of a Russian apartment building that partially collapsed this week after an apparent gas explosion, Russian news agencies reported on Thursday.
    The blast in the early hours of December 31 damaged 48 apartments in a 10-storey building in the industrial city of Magnitogorsk, some 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow.
    The death toll has progressively risen in the past few days as rescuers battle blisteringly cold temperatures to recover people trapped under the rubble.
    As of Thursday morning, the bodies of 22 of the 37 dead had been identified, agencies cited the local branch of the emergencies ministries as saying.
    Russia’s Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, has said it is still investigating the exact cause of the blast.
    It said no traces of explosives had been found at the site.    Initial reports attributed the blast to a gas explosion.
    Gas explosions are relatively common in Russia because of ageing infrastructure and poor safety regulations surrounding gas use.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/3/2019 Russia charges former U.S. marine with espionage: Interfax by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
A view shows the pre-trial detention centre Lefortovo, where former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan
is reportedly held in custody in Moscow, Russia January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine detained in Russia has been charged with espionage, the Interfax news agency said on Thursday, meaning he could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
    Russia’s FSB state security service detained Paul Whelan, 48, in Moscow last Friday on suspicion of spying, in a case which threatens to aggravate diplomatic tensions with the United States.
    The FSB opened a criminal case against Whelan but gave no details of his alleged espionage activities.
    Interfax said the Russian authorities had brought formal charges against Whelan on Thursday, citing what it described as an informed source.    Reuters could not independently verify the Interfax report.
    Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, declined to comment on the charges but told Reuters that under the terms of the arrest order, Whelan was expected to remain in custody in Moscow until at least Feb. 28.
    “I consider his detention and arrest baseless.    It’s based on investigators’ supposition that he will hinder the investigation process.    We are asking for bail instead,” Zherebenkov told Reuters by telephone.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday the United States had asked Russia to explain Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determines his detention is inappropriate.
    Whelan’s family has said that he was visiting Moscow for the wedding of a retired Marine and is innocent of the espionage charges against him.
    Under Russian law, espionage can carry sentences of between 10 and 20 years in prison.
FEELING POSITIVE
    Zherebenkov said Whelan, who is being held at the Lefortovo detention facility in Moscow, was “feeling positive” and that a translator was explaining the legal procedures to him.
    “All his rights and all international principles are being fully followed,” Zherebenkov said.
    Russia’s relations with the United States plummeted when Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.    Washington and Western allies imposed sanctions on Russian officials, companies and banks.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s relations with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have been under a microscope because of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
    Moscow has denied interfering in the election.    Trump has said there was no collusion and says Mueller’s probe is a witch hunt.
    Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow station chief, said it was “possible, even likely” that Putin had ordered Whelan’s arrest to set up an exchange for Maria Butina, a Russian citizen who pleaded guilty on Dec. 13 to acting as an agent to influence conservative groups in the United States.
    Russia says Butina was forced to make a false confession about being a Russian agent.
    The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Whelan’s detention.
    Putin told Trump in a letter on Sunday that Moscow was ready for dialogue on a “wide-ranging agenda,” the Kremlin said, after a series of attempts to schedule a meeting between the leaders.
    At the end of November, Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina, citing tensions about Russian forces opening fire on Ukrainian navy boats and then seizing them.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Boyle)

1/4/2019 Britain cautions Russia not to use detained ex-U.S. marine as pawn by Kate Holton and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt arrives in Downing Street, London, Britain, December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
    LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Britain cautioned Russia on Friday that individuals should not be used as diplomatic pawns after a former U.S. marine who also holds a British passport was detained in Moscow on espionage charges.
    Paul Whelan was arrested by the FSB state security service on Dec. 28.    His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
    “Individuals should not be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage,” British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said.
    “We are extremely worried about Paul Whelan.    We have offered consular assistance,” Hunt said.    “The U.S. are leading on this because he is a British and American citizen.”
    Since leaving the U.S. military, Whelan had worked as a global security executive with U.S. companies, had visited Russia and had developed a network of Russian acquaintances.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week Washington had asked Moscow to explain Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determined his detention is inappropriate.
    The FSB has opened a criminal case against Whelan but given no details of his alleged activities.    In Russia, an espionage conviction carries a sentence of between 10 and 20 years in prison.
    Whelan’s detention further complicates a strained relationship between Moscow and Washington, despite the professed desire of the two presidents, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, to build a personal rapport.
    U.S. intelligence officials accuse Russia of meddling in U.S. elections – a charge Russia denies.
    Putin has previously stated he would rein in Russian retaliatory measures against U.S. interests in the hope relations would improve, but Whelan’s detention indicates the Kremlin’s calculations may now have changed.
SWAP SPECULATION
    A Russian national, Maria Butina, admitted last month to U.S. prosecutors that she had tried to infiltrate American conservative groups as an agent for Moscow.
    David Hoffman, a former CIA Moscow station chief, said it was “possible, even likely,” that Russia had detained Whelan to set up an exchange for Butina.
    Dmitry Novikov, a first deputy head of the international affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, commenting on a possible swap, said Russian intelligence first needed to finish their investigations.    “Then we’ll see,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
    Whelan’s British citizenship introduces a new political dimension – relations between London and Moscow have been toxic since the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury in March last year.
    Britain alleges Skripal was poisoned by Russian intelligence agents posing as tourists, while Russia denies any involvement.
RUSSIAN TIES
    Paul Whelan is 48 and lives in Novi, Michigan, according to public records.    He is director of global security at BorgWarner, a U.S. auto parts maker based in Michigan.
    The company said Whelan was “responsible for overseeing security at our facilities in Auburn Hills, Michigan, and at other company locations around the world.”    Its website lists no facilities in Russia.
    U.S. media said he had previously worked in security and investigations for the global staffing firm Kelly Services, which is headquartered in Michigan and has operations in Russia.
    “We are relieved and very pleased to know that staff of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow have been given consular access to Paul and confirmed that he is safe,” his brother, David Whelan, said in an emailed statement on Friday.    “Our focus remains on ensuring that Paul is safe, well treated, has a good lawyer, and is coming home.”
    Whelan’s military record, provided by the Pentagon, showed that he served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 14 years.    The highest rank he attained was staff sergeant.    He was discharged in 2008 after being convicted on charges related to larceny, according to his records.
    Whelan has for years maintained an account in VKontakte, a Russian social media network, which showed that he had a circle of Russian acquaintances.
    Out of the more than 50 people tagged as Whelan’s friends on VKontakte, a significant number were software engineers or worked in the IT sector, and a significant proportion had ties to the fields of defense and security.
    One of these people served in the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet, a photo of that person posted on his own account indicated, and a second friend had on his VKontakte page photos of people in the uniform of Russian paratroop forces.
    Whelan used the account to send out congratulations on Russian public holidays.    In 2015, he posted the words in Russian: “In Moscow…” and accompanied it with a Russian mobile phone number.    The number was not answering this week.
    According to his brother David, Whelan was in Moscow to attend the wedding of a fellow retired marine.    When he was detained he was staying with the rest of the wedding party at Moscow’s upmarket Metropol hotel, the brother said.    He did not specify where the wedding itself took place.
    An employee at the hotel, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Friday they could not access the hotel’s database to check, but could not recall any weddings being scheduled at the hotel in the second half of December.
(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Heinrich and James Dalgleish)

1/5/2019 Moscow accuses U.S. of detaining citizen, a day after former U.S. Marine arrested by OAN Newsroom
    Moscow accuses the U.S. of detaining one of their citizens, following the arrest of a retired U.S. Marine by Russian authorities.
    On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry claimed the United States detained Dmitry Makarenko on December 29th on the northern Mariana Islands, and had him moved to Florida.
In this photo released by Kremlin Press service via Sputnik agency, Russian President Vladimir Putin
speaks during a recording of his annual televised New Year’s message in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 31, 2018.
In a televised address just before midnight, Putin said that “we can achieve positive results only through our
own efforts and well-coordinated teamwork
.” (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Moscow said, he was arrested by the FBI after arriving to the Islands with his family.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry also said, Moscow had not been able to reach Russian National in Florida, and Washington had yet to explain his detainment.
This comes after American Paul Whelan was arrested for espionage the day before, while visiting Moscow for a wedding ceremony.

1/5/2019 Ecumenical Patriarch signs decree granting Ukraine church independence by Daren Butler and Bulent Usta
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Metropolitan Epifaniy, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine,
attend a signing ceremony marking the new Ukrainian Orthodox church's independence, at St. George's Cathedral,
the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in Istanbul, Turkey January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The spiritual head of Orthodox Christians worldwide formally granted independence to the Ukrainian church on Saturday, marking an historic split from Russia which Ukrainian leaders see as vital to the country’s security.
    The decree, granting “autocephaly,” was signed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at a service with the head of the Ukrainian church Metropolitan Epifaniy and President Petro Poroshenko in St George’s Cathedral in Istanbul.
    “I want to thank the millions of Ukrainians around the world who responded to my appeal to pray for the church to be established,” Poroshenko said at a ceremony accompanied by solemn liturgical singing.
    “I want to thank the generations of Ukrainians who dreamed…and finally God sent us the Orthodox Church of Ukraine,” he told the congregation in the crowded church.
    The patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, endorsed Ukraine’s request for the new church in October.    The decree, or Tomos, will be handed to Epifaniy at a ceremony on Sunday, completing the process of recognition by the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
    Ukraine last month chose 39-year-old Epifaniy to head the new church, in a move which Poroshenko compared to Ukraine’s referendum for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
    The move incensed Moscow, and prompted President Vladimir Putin to warn of possible bloodshed in his annual news conference.    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.
    Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russia captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait.
BITTER RUSSIAN OPPOSITION
    The Ukrainian Orthodox church has been beholden to Moscow for hundreds of years, and Ukraine’s leaders see church independence as vital to tackling Russian meddling.
    Kiev says Moscow-backed churches on its soil are a Kremlin tool to spread propaganda and support fighters in the eastern Donbass region in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.    The churches strongly deny this.
    “Tomos – is just a paper, the result of restless political and personal ambitions.    It was signed in breach of canonicity and this is why it has no power,” Vladimir Legoida, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Synodal Department for Church-Society and Media Relations, posted in Telegram messenger.
    Epifaniy was chosen by a council at the St Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, built by the son of Prince Volodymyr whose baptism in 988 led to the spread of Christianity in the region.
    The new church may boost pro-Western leader Poroshenko, who lobbied hard for its creation and faces a tight election race in March.
    Russia bitterly opposes the split, comparing it to the Great Schism of 1054 that divided western and eastern Christianity.    Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill made a last ditch appeal against the process last month.
    “Huge win for Ukraine, defeat for the Kremlin,” economist Timothy Ash wrote on Twitter.    “(It) will make Moscow’s hope of some future pull of Ukraine back into its ‘orbit’ nigh on impossible without the use of overwhelming (catastrophic) military force.”
    Religious divisions deepened in Ukraine after 2014 and two Orthodox factions vie for dominance.
    The church known as the Moscow Patriarchate, aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, sees itself as the only legitimate church in Ukraine.    On Dec. 20, Ukrainian MPs passed a law that could force the church to add “Russian” to its name.
    The rival Kiev Patriarchate was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its popularity has grown since 2014.    It favors European integration and championed the independent church but the Moscow Patriarchate denounces it as schismatic.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Maxim Rodionov in Moscow; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/5/2019 Thousands rally in Belgrade against Serbian president
People attend an anti-government protest in Belgrade, Serbia, January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands marched through Belgrade’s frozen city center on Saturday to protest against President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) and demand media freedoms and end to attacks against journalists and opposition figures.
    Protesters blew whistles, waved banners that read “Stop the Treason, Defend the Constitution and Back the People,” and chanted “Vucic, thief!” in the fifth such protest in as many weeks.
    The protests, which have also been staged in the town of Kragujevac, were triggered by an incident in November in which opposition politician Borko Stefanovic was beaten by unknown assailants in the town of Krusevac.
    Backers of the Alliance for Serbia, a grouping of 30 opposition parties and organizations, say Vucic is an autocrat and his party is corrupt, something its leaders vehemently deny.
    The demonstrators demanded more coverage of opposition groups by the public broadcaster and assurances of thorough investigations of attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.
    Vucic had earlier said he would not bow to opposition demands for electoral reform and increased media freedom “even if there were 5 million people in the street,” but suggested he was willing to test his party’s popularity in a snap vote.
    Opposition groups have said they would boycott any election.
    According to an October poll by the Belgrade-based CESID election watchdog, the SNS alone has 53.3 percent support, far ahead of other parties.
    If the opposition parties ran as an alliance, they could count on around 15 percent of the vote, according to the survey.    However, there is little sign so far of such an agreement between parties united by little apart from their animosity towards Vucic and his party.
    The SNS-led ruling coalition has a comfortable 160 of parliament’s 250 seats.    The next national vote is due in 2020.
    Major opposition protests have been relatively rare in Serbia since the popular unrest that ousted strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
    Most of the current opposition leaders served in successive pro-Western coalitions that led Serbia between 2000 and 2012 – when the SNS forged a coalition with Milosevic’s Socialists and came to power.
    Vucic was a nationalist firebrand during the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but later embraced pro-European values and set membership of the European Union as Serbia’s strategic goal.    He also maintains close ties with Russia and China.
(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Maja Zuvela; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/5/2019 Thousands rally against Hungary’s overtime work law, PM Orban by Sandor Peto
People light their mobile phones during a protest against a proposed new labor law,
billed as the "slave law," in Budapest, Hungary, January 5, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands marched through Budapest’s city center on Saturday to protest against a new law that allows employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours per year of overtime.
    Opposition groups have staged several rallies in the past weeks in the Hungarian capital and other cities against what they said was an authoritarian rule of conservative nationalist Viktor Orban.
    Saturday’s rally, organized by opposition parties, trade unions and civic groups, mainly targeted the new labor law dubbed by critics as “slave law.”
.     The protesters marched in snowfall from the historic Heroes Square to the parliament building on the bank of the Danube river, carrying banners such as “Sweep away the regime.”
    “We disagree with almost everything that is going on since this government got into power (in 2010), from corruption to pseudo-democracy,” said 50-year old housewife Eva Demeter.
    She said more Hungarians were pouring onto the streets because the slave law “affects a bigger crowd.”
    Some of the protesters posted on social media or carried banners calling for a “national strike.”
    The modification to the labor code passed by parliament last month has faced intense criticism and sparked the biggest street protest in over a year.    Potentially, it could add two extra hours to an average work day, or the equivalent of an extra workday per week.
    Zoltan Mucsi, the head of steelmaker Dunaferr’s Vasas trade union, said it was undemocratic that the government did not discuss the labor code changes with the unions.
    Some of the main trade union groups may resort to a strike if the government does not sit down with them to negotiate, he told Reuters.
    Trade union membership in Hungary is estimated at below a tenth of the workforce, about half the level in Germany, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
    The past weeks’ anti-government rallies were also against a law that sets up new courts which critics say could be politically manipulated, and against bias in state-controlled media.
    The earlier protests have been mostly peaceful, though there were some clashes with police who used tear gas.
    The ruling Fidesz party reiterated in a statement on Thursday that the protests were part of a campaign for the European Parliament elections in May to help those who support mass migration into the European Union.
    Fidesz won Hungarian elections with a landslide last year, with the ticket of resisting mass immigration into the EU.
(Reporting by Sandor Peto; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

1/6/2019 Ecumenical Patriarch hands over decree, sealing Ukraine church independence by Daren Butler and Natalia Zinets
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I kisses Metropolitan Epifaniy, head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine,
as he hands the Tomos, a decree granting Ukraine church independence, after the Epiphany mass
at the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, Turkey January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians worldwide on Sunday presented the head of the Ukrainian church with a decree granting it independence from Moscow, a historic split strongly opposed by Russia.
    Ukraine sees the break as vital to its security and independence, but it is bound to aggravate the wider conflict between the two countries.
    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who signed the autocephaly decree on Saturday, handed the document to Ukrainian Metropolitan Epifaniy at St George’s Cathedral in Istanbul after a mass to mark the feast of Epiphany.
    “Unity has been restored.    Now we are united,” Epifaniy told the congregation, standing with Bartholomew at the front of the crowded church, both wearing ceremonial robes and holding staffs.
    The 39-year-old Epifaniy was chosen to head the new church last month.
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who also attended the event, compared the development to Ukraine’s referendum for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
    Russia bitterly opposes the split, comparing it to the Great Schism of 1054 that divided western and eastern Christianity. President Vladimir Putin has warned of possible bloodshed.
    “We ask you, mother church and all churches to pray for peace in Ukraine,” Epifaniy said, adding Ukrainian people had been suffering for five years from a war “brought from outside.”
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.    Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russia captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait.
    The patriarchate, the seat of the spiritual leader of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide, endorsed Ukraine’s request for the new church in October.
    “God has heard our prayers,” Poroshenko said in an address on Ukrainian television after the handover of the decree, or tomos.    “Tomos for Ukraine is actually another act of declaring the country’s independence.”     The pro-Western Poroshenko lobbied hard for the church’s creation. He faces a tight election race in March and it may give him a boost.
.     He will take part in a service in Kiev on Monday at the St Sophia Cathedral, now a museum only used for major religious events.    The decree will be displayed at the cathedral for the public to view from Monday, the church said.
    The Ukrainian Orthodox church has been beholden to Moscow for hundreds of years, and Ukraine’s leaders see church independence as vital to tackling Russian meddling.
    Kiev says Moscow-backed churches on its soil are a Kremlin tool to spread propaganda and support separatists in the eastern Donbass region in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.    The churches strongly deny this.
    Religious divisions deepened in Ukraine after 2014 and two Orthodox factions vie for dominance.
    The church known as the Moscow Patriarchate, aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, sees itself as the only legitimate church in Ukraine.    On Dec. 20, Ukrainian MPs passed a law that could force the church to add “Russian” to its name.
    The rival Kiev Patriarchate was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its popularity has grown since 2014.    It favors European integration and championed the independent church but the Moscow Patriarchate denounces it as schismatic.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Murad Sezer, Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/7/2019 Ukraine Orthodox Church marks first Christmas free of Russian ‘fetters’ by Natalia Zinets
Clergymen and officials attend a service marking Orthodox Christmas and celebrating the independence of the
Orthodox Church of Ukraine at the Saint Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Orthodox Christian Church celebrated its first Christmas on Monday outside Russian control and President Petro Poroshenko said the document enshrining its newly gained independence had broken “the last fetters tying us to Moscow.”
    Hundreds of Ukrainians queued in the snow after the lavish two-hour liturgy at Kiev’s St Sophia Cathedral to view the document, known as a “Tomos,” which was only handed to the head of the new Church Metropolitan Epifaniy on Sunday.
    Many Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, not Dec. 25, as they follow a different calendar.
    Accompanied by Poroshenko, Epifaniy processed into the cathedral on Monday carrying the decree, a scrolled white parchment.    White-robed clergy then unfurled it and placed it in front of the iconostasis, a richly decorated screen that separates the sanctuary from the nave in Orthodox churches.
    “For the first time, we celebrate Christmas with an independent autocephalous church,” said Poroshenko after the service.    “It is the basis of our spiritual freedom, we broke the last fetters tying us to Moscow,” said the president, who faces a tough re-election battle this year.
    Russia bitterly opposes the move to grant the Ukrainian Church autocephalous, or self-governing, status, comparing it to the Great Schism of 1054 that divided western and eastern Christianity.
    The Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow has called the leaders of the Ukrainian Church charlatans and schismatics, and President Vladimir Putin has warned of possible bloodshed.
DAY OF JOY
    Despite the snowy weather, hundreds of people watched Monday’s service on a big screen outside because there was not enough space in the packed cathedral to accommodate them.
    “This is the most happy day in the life of every Ukrainian.    And I understand that every soul desires to be here,” Oksana Pasenok, a university professor, told Reuters.
    People formed a long queue after the service to see the decree, which will remain on public display.
    “Today the words of those holy fathers who died for Ukraine, for our freedom, for our liberty, come true,” said Oleksandr Sydoruk, engineer, standing in the queue to see the document.
    “Today, with this ‘Tomos’, our Ukrainian Church and Ukraine revive.    And this is a day of joy for all Ukrainian Orthodox believers.”
    St Sophia Cathedral was built by the son of Prince Volodymyr, whose baptism in 988 led to the spread of Christianity across what are now Ukraine and Russia.
    Russians trace the origins of their own nation to the Kievan state of that era.
    The rupture in inter-church relations mirrors the collapse of political relations between Moscow and Kiev following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, Additional reporting by Sergei Karazy; Editing by Christian Lowe and Gareth Jones)
[
   
    I noted the statement above that Russia traces it origins the Kievan state or Kievan Rus' was a loose federation of East Slavic and Finnic peoples in Europe from the late 9th to the mid-13th century, under the reign of the Varangian Rurik dynasty as seen in the above left image.    The modern nations of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine all claim Kievan Rus' as their cultural ancestors, with Belarus and Russia deriving their names from it.
    But as I show in the above image to the right that biblically from Noah's son Japeth, whose son Magog who settled north of the Black Sea, and is where we get the name "Rosh," Tubal and Meshech
.]

1/7/2019 Latvia’s president nominates Karins of New Unity as PM
Prime Minister candidate Krisjanis Karins listens to the media in Riga, Latvia January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Latvia’s president nominated Krisjanis Karins of the center-right New Unity party for the post of prime minister on Monday in the country’s third attempt to form a new government in the wake of a general election in October.
    The first two candidates put forward by President Raimonds Vejonis, from the populist KPV LV and the anti-corruption New Conservative parties, both failed to form a government.
(Reporting by Gederts Gelzis; writing by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Simon Johnson)

1/7/2019 Ousted Slovak PM Fico seeks top court job
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (not pictured) hold
a news conference after a meeting at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Vidal/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia’s dominant political figure Robert Fico will run to become a Constitutional Court judge this month, seeking to quit party politics less than a year after he was pushed out of prime minister’s office in the furor over the murder of a journalist.
    The murder of Jan Kuciak, who investigated political corruption and EU subsidy fraud, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova triggered biggest protests since the 1989 fall of communism against the sleaze in politics.
    Fico resigned in March after being in power for almost a decade, but remains chairman of the ruling Smer party and is seen as driving policy behind the scenes while party ally Peter Pellegrini serves as prime minister.
    Now Fico, 54, who has a law degree and represented Slovakia at the European Court of Human Rights in 1994-2000, has been nominated to become a Constitutional Court judge.
    The body is the country’s top court, which rules on whether legislation passed by parliament and judgments by lower courts are in line with the constitution.    Former lawmakers have been elected previously to serve on it, but never former party leaders or prime ministers.
    The parliament, where the governing coalition has a narrow majority of 76 out of 150 votes, will select 18 candidates to become Constitutional Court judges in a vote later this month.
    President Andrej Kiska, who is unaffiliated with any party and who sided with protesters calling for Fico’s ousting, will pick nine of them to replace judges whose term expire on Feb. 16.
    The court has 13 judges in total, elected for a term of 12 years.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/9/2019 Kremlin says we won’t use detained ex-U.S. marine as a pawn
FILE PHOTO: Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia for suspected spying, appears
in a photo provided by the Whelan family on January 1, 2019. Courtesy Whelan Family/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Wednesday rejected a British suggestion it might use a former U.S. Marine detained in Russia on espionage charges as a pawn in a diplomatic game and said it reserved the right to conduct counter-intelligence activities.
    Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who also holds a British passport, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28. His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
    Commenting on the case earlier this month, British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said individuals should not be used as pawns of diplomatic leverage.
    Asked about Hunt’s remark, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters:
    “In Russia we never use people as pawns in diplomatic games.   In Russia we conduct counter-intelligence activity against those suspected of espionage.    That is done regularly.”
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe)

1/9/2019 Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan to hold talks in Russia soon: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan
attend a ceremony to mark the completion of the sea part of the TurkStream gas pipeline,
in Istanbul, Turkey November 19, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it expected Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to visit Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin soon, but that no date had yet been agreed.
    Russia and Turkey are both major players in the conflict in Syria and in September reached a demilitarization deal that staved off a Syrian army offensive against the Idlib region.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Andrew Osborn and Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/9/2019 Italy and Poland want ‘new spring’ in Europe: Salvini by Joanna Plucinska
Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and Polish Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski
attend a joint news conference in Warsaw, Poland January 9, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Italy and Poland should join forces to reshape Europe, Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Wednesday during a visit to Warsaw to drum up support for a eurosceptic alliance to contest May elections to the European Parliament.
    The eurosceptic governments in Rome and Warsaw are both keen to repatriate some EU powers from Brussels to national capitals and hope like-minded parties will do well in the May elections, which will follow Britain’s planned exit from the bloc in March.
    “Poland and Italy will be part of the new spring of Europe, the renaissance of European values,” he told a press conference with Poland’s Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski.
    Salvini’s visit to Warsaw was initiated by Brudzinski, who said the two had discussed migration and EU border security.
    Salvini has repeatedly railed against the EU and says the May elections are vital for creating a “reformist” bloc that can overhaul Brussels institutions from within.
    Salvini, whose anti-immigrant League is the most popular party in Italy, said his talks on Wednesday with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), had gone well.
    PiS has echoed the League’s calls for Brussels to interfere less in the affairs of EU member states, though the parties are not currently allied in the European Parliament.
    “At a party level, we have started a journey, a sharing of ideas, visions and projects for the future of the European Parliament that will, at long last, be profoundly different to what went before,” Salvini said.
    “We started a dialogue.    To close a deal in half an hour seems overly optimistic,” he added.
    Salvini said he wanted to put together an alliance of like-minded EU parties that would campaign on a shared, 10-point program that has yet to be fully defined.
    “We proposed a common program to be offered to other parties and peoples in Europe founded on certain themes, like (economic) growth, security, the family, Europe’s Christian roots that some have denied,” Salvini said.
    At present, Salvini is allied to a small group of far-right parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France and the anti-Islam Freedom Party in the Netherlands.    But he wants to extend its reach and draw in conservative groups like PiS.
    Previous attempts by populist right-wing parties to form a eurosceptic alliance in the European Parliament have not been very successful as they often have different priorities or interests and show little appetite for compromise.
    Despite its euroscepticism, PiS has recently been trying to mend fences with Brussels, agreeing to reverse a law criticized by the EU that had forced Polish Supreme Court judges into early retirement.
    Salvini has also called for an end to EU sanctions against Russia, while Kaczynski and other Polish conservatives support them and are deeply distrustful of Moscow.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw and Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/10/2019 Hungary’s Orban wants anti-immigration majority in EU institutions
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends the weekly government
news conference in Budapest, Hungary, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday he would like to see anti-immigration parties gaining a majority in the European Parliament elections later this year, which he said could lead to similar changes in the EU executive.
    Hungary’s goal is first to secure an anti-immigrant majority in the European Parliament, then in the executive European Commission, and later, as national elections change the continent’s political landscape, the European Council, where national leaders make the most important EU decisions, Orban told a news conference.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[WOW! I AM STARTING TO SEE AS IN THE ABOVE TWO ARTICLES THAT SEVERAL EASTERN EUROPE COUNTRIES WANT TO JOIN WITH OTHER EU COUNTRIES TO CHANGE THE POLICIES OF THE PROGRESSIVE SOCIALIST PARTIES WHO HAVE PUSHED THEIR VALUES ON ALL THE EUROPEAN UNION'S 28 NATIONS FOR ECONOMIC GROWTH, SECURITY, FAMILY VALUES, CHRISTIAN ROOTS AND FORCED ISLAMIC SHRIA LAW ISSUES.].

1/10/2019 Former U.S. Marine held for spying had Russian contacts with military backgrounds by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Maxim Rodionov
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the pre-trial detention centre Lefortovo, where former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan
is reportedly held in custody in Moscow, Russia January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine held in Moscow on spying charges, had online contact with more than 20 Russians with military backgrounds, an analysis of social media shows.
    Russian men with military education or a history of military service make up nearly half of Whelan’s more than 50 friends on VK, a popular Russian social network that resembles Facebook, the analysis by Reuters shows.
    At least 12 of his friends received military education in Russia, according to open source information, and at least another 11 appear to have completed national service.
    In addition, about a fifth of those on Whelan’s list have backgrounds in IT, engineering or civil aviation, a quarter are not connected to the military or technical sectors, and there is no information about the rest.
    Whelan’s family says he is innocent and was in Moscow for a wedding when he was arrested last month.    The “Free Paul Whelan” Twitter page managed by the family has used the hashtag #JustATourist in one of its posts.
    Russian authorities have not given details of his alleged spying, and the FSB security service did not respond immediately to questions on whether Whelan’s online activity was linked to his detention.
    Analysis of Whelan’s online activity – including exchanges with Russian friends and content on their own accounts – provides a fuller picture of his contacts than has so far been revealed.
    Reuters contacted 38 people on Whelan’s VK friend list, almost all men in their 20s.
    Whelan, 48, contacted them years ago through pen-pal websites or VK, corresponding occasionally online over the years, five of his contacts told Reuters.
    Whelan’s military contacts in Russia are low-level, come from various regions and have served in the army, airborne forces and navy, according to information and pictures posted online.
    In Russia, men aged between 18 and 27 are conscripted into the military for a year.    Enrolment at military academies, which is not mandatory, can lead to a career in the services.
    Asked if he was aware of Whelan’s Russian military contacts online, his brother David said: “I didn’t know he had a VK account before last week.    But I’m not surprised that he had friends on social media, both Facebook and VK, that had military backgrounds just as he had a military background.”
    Whelan’s lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, was not available for comment.
    The arrest of Whelan, who also holds British citizenship, further strains relations between Moscow and Washington, which have soured over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, economic sanctions and accusations of election meddling.
ONLINE ACTIVITY
    The “Free Paul Whelan” Twitter page shows postcards Whelan sent to his sister from Russia in 2015 and 2018.
    Whelan first posted on his VK page in November 2010 and has since published congratulations on Russian public holidays, military celebrations and other events.
    In February 2015, he posted: “In Moscow …” along with a Russian mobile phone number.    Calls to it this week went unanswered.
    One of Whelan’s friends lists his employer as the Russian Defence Ministry and writes that he studied at the Ryazan Higher Airborne Command School, a military academy.
    A picture posted in 2012 shows the friend in a Russian serviceman’s striped vest under a green camouflage jacket.
    Another 26-year-old Russian posted pictures of himself and classmates at the Naval Cadet Corps, which trains naval officers in St Petersburg.
    A man apparently in his 20s posted pictures of himself in a paratrooper’s blue beret and army fatigues bearing the inscription: “Nizhegorodsky Cadet Corps.”
    Vadim Izotov said he first interacted with Whelan in 2008 while at the defense ministry’s Military University. He was surprised Whelan had been charged with espionage.
    “I understood he had a positive attitude towards Russia, towards our culture.    That’s why he traveled here,” he said.
    “He communicated with Russian military here because he himself had been a serviceman.”
    Lenar Azmukhanov, a 30-year-old from Kazan who attended the Ulyanovsk Higher Military Technical College, said he and Whelan congratulated each other on holidays but their interaction did not go beyond that.
    Another friend of Whelan’s, who did not want to be named, said he first had contact with him in 2005 or 2006 on a pen-pal website.    They met once in person in 2008.
    “As far as I know his trips to Russia were for tourism,” he said.    “He had friends in the military, but I, for example, am not one of them.”
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Giles Elgood)

1/10/2019 Romania says political infighting won’t hamper its EU presidency by Jan Strupczewski
Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila talks to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
and European Parliament President Anotnio Tajani as they arrive for the official ceremony
marking the start of Romania's EU Council Persidency in Bucharest, Romania,
January 10, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Political divisions will not impede Romania’s six-month presidency of the European Union, its foreign minister said on Thursday.
    In its first stint at the helm of the EU, Romania faces Brexit, due to happen in March, European Parliament elections in May and tough talks on the next long-term EU budget.
    But the second-poorest EU country, which joined in 2007, is politically divided ahead of the European elections and its own presidential polls toward the end of the year.    It is also under EU scrutiny over corruption and concerns about the rule of law.
    President Klaus Iohannis, a centrist who represents Romania at EU summits, has been critical of the social democratic government’s preparedness for the EU presidency and its plans to overhaul the judiciary that have raised EU concern.
    The government would rather the prime minister represent Bucharest at EU summits.
    “The government of Romania … will do its best to have a successful presidency,” Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu told reporters ahead of a ceremony marking the start of the presidency later on Thursday.
    “It is not a project of a majority, or of a government, it is a country project for Romania after 10 years of participation in the EU.”
    European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said late last year the Romanian government “has not yet fully understood what it means to preside over EU countries.”
    Melescanu downplayed the political infighting.
    “It is obvious we have a political competition internally, which is quite normal in any democratic society.    It is proof of very vivid democratic life in Romania,” he said.
    Romania’s Minister for European Affairs George Ciamba said Romania was ready to handle the presidency but the political dispute in Bucharest was unlikely to end.
    “Presidency or not, this is not going to stop,” Ciamba said.
    “We have to acknowledge that we have European elections coming, so I think we are going to have politics all over Europe.”
    While not formally under an EU monitoring procedure like Poland or Hungary, Romania has raised concern by its attempts to decriminalize several corruption offences and changes to the criminal codes.
    The leader of the ruling social democrats, Liviu Dragnea, has convictions for vote rigging and abuse of office.
    Dragnea’s convictions barred him from becoming prime minister and he has been pushing Prime Minister Viorica Dancila’s government for legal changes, including a decree that would grant prison pardons and amnesty, including for himself.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

1/10/2019 Russia’s space chief to NASA: Explain why you canceled my visit
FILE PHOTO: Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, attends a
news conference in Moscow, Russia November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of Russian space agency Roscosmos said on Thursday he wanted NASA to explain why it had abruptly canceled his planned visit to the United States, blaming the move on political infighting in Washington.
    Dmitry Rogozin, who is under U.S. sanctions, was scheduled to visit next month at NASA’s invitation.    But NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told The Washington Post last week that the invitation had been rescinded at the request of U.S. senators.
    “It’s a disgrace, this is illegal, and complete international lawlessness,” Rogozin told the Rossiya-24 state TV channel.
    Several U.S. senators were reported to be deeply unhappy about the prospect of Rogozin being allowed to visit the United States despite his being on a sanctions list over his support for his country’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
    Rogozin said NASA appeared to have fallen victim to a conflict between Congress and President Donald Trump.
    Pro-Kremlin politicians often say that they believe Trump is seeking to improve relations with Moscow, but is being held back by anti-Russian lawmakers.
    “I think that America is now consumed by what is essentially its second civil war,” Rogozin said, commenting on why his visit had been canceled.
    “(What happened) … is a piece of the battle between Congress and Trump, and NASA in this particular case is a victim of this battle."
    “We are waiting for our colleagues to calm down.    We are waiting for an explanation.”
    Despite the snub, Rogozin said he remained open to cooperation with the United States in the sphere of space and invited NASA’s Bridenstine to come to Russia for talks on how the two agencies could work together in future, something he said both countries needed.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/10/2019 Hungary PM: no compromise possible with Germany on migration
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
talk to the media after a meeting in Berlin, Germany, July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Thursday no compromise was possible with Germany over migration despite what he called “constant pressure” from Berlin on his government to take in immigrants.
    “German politics does not respect Hungarians’ decision not to become an immigrant nation,” Orban told a news conference.    “I sense especially from the German media, sometimes in a very gross way, that they exert pressure on us to follow them on their path (of admitting immigrants), and we do not wish to.”
    “I don’t see any compromise possible here.”
(Reporting by Budapest newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/10/2019 Hungary PM Orban: I must fight French President Macron on immigration
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron talks to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban
as they arrive at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday said he considers French President Emmanuel Macron the leader of Europe’s “pro-immigration forces,” and therefore he had a duty to oppose him.
    “There is no denying that Emmanuel Macron is an important figure, moreover, the leader of the pro-immigration forces,” Orban told a press conference.
    “It is nothing personal, but a matter of our countries’ future.    If what he wants with regards to migration materializes in Europe, that would be bad for Hungary, therefore I must fight him.”
(Reporting by Budapest newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra)
[As you can see the European Union sent in the heavys to try to get the rebelling Eastern Europe nations to comply to policies that are against their nature as humans.    There is a storm coming as what is occuring.].

1/11/2019 Moscow demands U.S. explain charges against Russian Trump Tower lawyer
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya listens during an interview in
Moscow, Russia November 8, 2016. Picture taken November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kommersant Photo/Yury Martyanov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday demanded an explanation from the United States about charges brought against a Russian lawyer who attended a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower who was this week charged in a separate case.
    Natalia Veselnitskaya, who represented Russian defendants in a money laundering case settled in 2017, has been charged with obstructing justice in that case for submitting a declaration that she falsely represented came from the Russian government independently, U.S. prosecutors said on Tuesday.
    Speaking at a weekly news conference, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said it had become a habit in the United States to open criminal against Russians based on vague claims.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
[Natalia Vladimirovna Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, clients include Pyotr Katsyv, an official in the state-owned Russian Railways, and his son Denis Katsyv, whom she defended against a money laundering charge in New York.    On January 8, 2019, Veselnitskaya was indicted in the United States with obstruction of justice charges for allegedly having attempted to thwart the Justice Department investigation into the money laundering charges against Katsyv.
    Her June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort in Trump Tower has attracted attention related to Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, as well as to the role of her business contacts at research firm Fusion GPS in investigating that interference.
    On June 9, 2016, Veselnitskaya met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner in Trump Tower, which they scheduled after Emin Agalarov's publicist, Rob Goldstone, told Donald Jr. that she was a "Russian government attorney" offering incriminating information on Hillary Clinton due to "its government’s support for Mr. Trump."    Regarding the meeting, Trump Jr. initially wrote, "I love it" but, in July 2017, said the meeting "was a waste of time."    Donald Trump Jr. said that Veselnitskaya used the meeting to criticize the Magnitsky Act.
    Akhmetshin said he met with Veselnitskaya for lunch and she asked him to attend the meeting, which he then did.    According to Akhmetshin, Veselnitskaya's translator, Anatoli Samachornov, also attended.    He said Veselnitskaya left a document with Trump Jr.
    Also on or around June 9, prior to and following the Trump Tower meeting, Veselnitskaya met with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson, ostensibly related to hearings that involved their mutual client Denis Katsyv, concerning charges of Russian tax fraud and money laundering originally uncovered by Magnitsky.    The Simpson–Veselnitskaya meetings were denied by Veselnitskaya herself but confirmed by Simpson's lawyer.    This has led to speculation from Trump allies linking the meetings to Fusion GPS's concurrent work assembling opposition research against then-candidate Trump.
    Two days after the Trump Tower meeting, the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (who     Akhmetshin worked for, as a lobbyist) registered to lobby Congress on the Magnitsky Act.
    Later that June, Veselnitskaya screened a film by Andrei Nekrasov at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., that was critical of Magnitsky.    She was "deeply involved in the making of The Magnitsky Act – Behind the Scenes."    She provided the film crew with "the real proofs and records of testimony" according to RussiaTV5, a "station whose owners are known to be close to Mr. Putin".    In April 2016 according to Russian state news agency Vesti commenting on the European Parliament refusal to show the mentioned above film about Magnitsky she said that "Andrei [Nekrasov] learned that Magnitsky hadn't conducted any investigation"
    Veselnitskaya represented Pyotr Katsyv's son, Denis, when Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, charged him with money laundering.    Federal prosecutors accused Katsyv of using Manhattan real estate deals to launder money stolen from Browder's Hermitage Capital Management.    The Russian government then banned Bharara from traveling there.
    In October 2015, Veselnitskaya traveled to Manhattan, with her clients, for a deposition in the money laundering case.    After being told, at the end of the deposition, that the counterparty would be required to reimburse her for her expenses, she billed the U.S. government $50,000, for an $800 meal, eight grappas, and a $995-per-night room at the Plaza Hotel.
    According to Swiss news sources, a Swiss agent and Russia specialist from the Federal Office of Police, investigating the Prevezon transaction from a Magnitsky Act violation, travelled privately to Moscow in December 2016 with his diplomatic passport, where he was welcomed by Veselnitskaya.    The meeting was apparently set up by Russian Deputy Attorney General Saak Albertovich Karapetyan.    Because the officer visited Russia without the knowledge of his Swiss superiors, and part of his stay in a Moscow luxury hotel was financed by Russian officials, the man was later dismissed, suspected of abuse of office, violation of official secrecy and corruption.
    President Donald Trump fired Bharara on March 11, 2017.    In May, 2017 the international money laundering case was settled with Katsyv's company, Prevezon Holdings, paying $6 million (without any admission of wrongdoing).    The settlement was for less than 3% of the amount prosecutors had initially sought.
    In March 2017, Senator Chuck Grassley filed a complaint alleging that the foundation, Akhmetshin, Prevezon Holdings, and Fusion GPS had violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
    In a July 14, 2017 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Veselnitskaya acknowledged that she was in regular contact with the Russian prosecutor general's office and with Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika "while waging a campaign against U.S. sanctions."
    On November 3, 2017 a judge denied a request for Veselnitskaya to enter the U.S. to attend hearings related to the money laundering case.
    On January 8, 2019, Veselnitskaya was indicted for obstruction of justice by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in connection with 2015 money laundering case.    She was accused of submitting an intentionally misleading statement to the court - a report exonerating her client Katsyv which she claimed was the result of an investigation by the Russian government, when in fact she had helped to draft the report.
Note: The Magnitsky Act, formally known as the Russia and Moldova Jackson–Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, is a bipartisan bill passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2012, intending to punish Russian officials responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a Moscow prison in 2009.    Since 2016 the bill, which applies globally, authorizes the US government to sanction who it sees as human rights offenders, freezing their assets, and ban them from entering the U.S.]

1/11/2019 U.S. to host Iran-focused global meeting in Poland February 13-14
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is pictured before boarding a plane leaving Egypt as he departs
for Manama, Bahrain, at Cairo International Airport in Cairo, Egypt, January 11, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to jointly host a global conference focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, next month in Poland, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.
    The meeting will take place in Warsaw on Feb. 13-14, it said in a statement.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News in an interview to air on Friday that the meeting would “focus on Middle East stability and peace and freedom and security here in this region, and that includes an important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”
    Pompeo, who is on an eight-day visit to the Middle East, said the meeting would “bring together dozens of countries from all around the world, from Asia, from Africa, from Western Hemisphere countries, Europe too, the Middle East of course.”
    Pompeo has said during the tour that the United States is “redoubling” its efforts to put pressure on Iran and sought to convince allies that it is committed to fighting Islamic State despite President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.
    Trump last year withdrew the United States from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord and moved to reimpose sanctions on Tehran.    Other partners in the deal – including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – have sought to keep the agreement from unraveling, although in a shift earlier this week, the European Union moved to impose some sanctions on Iran.
    Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said in a statement that while his country supported the EU’s efforts to maintain the nuclear deal, the agreement “does not stop Iran from activities destabilizing the region” and he hoped the conference would bring closer the EU and U.S. positions.
    He said more than 70 countries were invited to the conference, including all EU members.
    The U.S. State Department said in a statement there were strong shared interests in Middle East stability.
    “The ministerial will address a range of critical issues including terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region,” it said.
    On his Middle East tour, Pompeo is trying to shore up support in the region on a number of fronts, from the U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria to the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to the killing of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Lesley Wroughton in Cairo and Marcin Goclowski in Warsaw; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and James Dalgleish)

1/11/2019 Romania corruption amnesty would harm rule of law: EU by Jan Strupczewski
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis welcomes European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
in Bucharest, Romania, January 11, 2019. Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Under scrutiny during its first six-month EU presidency, Romania would damage the rule of law if it carries out plans to decriminalize some forms of corruption and grant an amnesty to offenders, the head of the European Commission said on Friday.
    The leader of the ruling Social Democrats, Liviu Dragnea, has a conviction for vote-rigging and is therefore barred from becoming prime minister.    He denies any wrongdoing.
    Dragnea has been pushing for changes including a decree that would grant prison pardons and amnesty, which would also help his case.    He is widely seen as the real power holder in Romania, though he holds no government job.
    “If an amnesty were adopted, as some in this country envisage, it would be a step back in the rule of law,” the head of the executive Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, told a joint news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
    Even though the European Union is built on compromises, there can be no negotiations about legal principles, he said.
    An attempt by the Social Democrats to decriminalize several corruption offences at the start of 2017 triggered Romania’s biggest street protests since the 1989 fall of communism.
    In November, lawmakers approved a bill pushed by the Social Democrats and their coalition partner that would cancel wiretap evidence used to prosecute past corruption cases and could wipe out hundreds of convictions, including Dragnea’s.
    The centrist opposition challenged the bill in the Constitutional Court, which could issue a ruling as early as Jan. 16.
INTERNAL DIFFICULTIES
    Speaking later at a news conference with Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, Juncker urged the authorities to set aside internal disagreements during the country’s EU presidency, which began on Jan. 1.
    Juncker added: “I heard the prime minister tell me that she has a clear wish not to cast any shadow on the Romanian presidency by exporting internal difficulties to Europe.”
    Last month Juncker caused an uproar in Romania by expressing concern in a German newspaper that Bucharest might not be ready to take the helm of the EU.    Asked if he stood by these comments, Juncker said he would not take them back.
    President Iohannis, a centrist, has also been critical of the government’s readiness to lead the EU and strongly opposes its amnesty proposals, but tried on Friday to project an image of unity.
    “We are very well prepared for the difficult period ahead of us now,” he said.
    During its EU presidency, Romania faces Brexit in March, European Parliament elections in May and tough talks on the next long-term EU budget.    The second-poorest EU country, Romania joined the EU in 2007.
(Additional reporting by Radu-Sorin Marinas; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/11/2019 Russia condemns UK foreign army base plans, says ready to defend interests
Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson arrives in
Downing Street, London, Britain, December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Friday condemned British plans to open military bases in south-east Asia and the Caribbean and said it stood ready to take retaliatory measures if its own interests or those of its allies were threatened.
    British defense minister Gavin Williamson told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper last month that London was working on plans to build two new foreign bases “within the next couple of years” after it left the European Union.
    Williamson did not specify where the bases might be built, but the newspaper reported that options included Singapore or Brunei near the South China Sea and Montserrat or Guyana in the Caribbean.
    Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, on Friday described Williamson’s comments as baffling and warned such plans could destabilize world affairs.
    “Of course, Britain like any other country is independent when it comes to its military construction plans.    But against the backdrop of overall rising military and political tensions in the world … statements about the desire to build up its military presence in third countries are counter-productive, destabilizing and possibly of a provocational nature,” she said.
    “In the event of any measures that pose a threat to Russia’s security or that of its allies our country reserves the right to take appropriate retaliatory measures.”
    Russia has military bases in several countries across the former Soviet Union and operates military facilities in Syria and has spoken of re-opening Soviet-era bases in Cuba and Vietnam.
(This story has been refiled to restore dropped words in final paragraph.)
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Tom Balmforth)

1/12/2019 Protests against Serbia’s President Vucic enter sixth week
Demonstrators march during a protest against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic
and his government in central Belgrade, Serbia, January 12, 2019. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands of Serbians protested in Belgrade on Saturday against President Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), making demands including media freedom, an end to attacks on journalists and opposition figures, and no secret treaty with Kosovo.
    Protesters brought together by the Alliance for Serbia, a loose grouping of 30 opposition parties and organizations, chanted “Vucic, thief!” in the sixth such protest in as many weeks.
    The opposition rally comes ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit scheduled for next Thursday.     While Vucic says membership of the European Union remains Serbia’s ultimate goal, he maintains close ties with Russia, long a Slavic and Orthodox Christian ally of the country.
    Putin’s visit is seen as a popularity booster for Vucic and his ruling coalition, and his supporters have scheduled a major rally for Thursday to welcome the Russian president.
    Protesters in Belgrade have also accused Vucic of preparing a negotiated settlement with Kosovo, a key precondition for Serbia to join EU.    Belgrade enjoys Russia’s backing in its opposition to Kosovo independence declared in 2008, almost a decade after a brutal 1998-1999 war there.
    “Vucic has a compromise with everyone, with (Kosovo President Hashim) Thaci, with (Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush) Haradinaj, … with everyone but honest people… That is a compromise for treason,” Rada Trajkovic, a Kosovo Serb politician told cheering crowd.
    Protesters also demanded that the government find those responsible for the killing of Oliver Ivanovic, a prominent Kosovo Serb politician, a year ago.    They also announced a rally in Belgrade for next Wednesday to commemorate his death.
    In December, Vucic said he would not bow to opposition demands “even if there were 5 million people in the street,” but said he would be willing to hold a snap election.    Opposition parties said they would boycott such an election.
    Vucic has the backing of around 53 percent of the electorate.    His coalition also has a majority of 160 deputies in the 250 seat parliament.    If the opposition parties ran as an alliance, they could count on only around 15 percent of the vote.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

1/13/2019 Iran protests to Poland over Iran-focused summit
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers his statement, during the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan,
at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 28, 2018. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign ministry summoned a senior Polish diplomat on Sunday to protest Poland’s jointly hosting a global summit with the United States focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, state news agency IRNA reported.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday the summit — to be held in Warsaw on Feb. 13-14 — would focus on stability and security in the Middle East, including on the “important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”
    An Iranian foreign ministry official told Poland’s charge d’affaires in Tehran that Iran saw the decision to host the meeting as a “hostile act against Iran” and warned that Tehran could reciprocate, IRNA added.
    “Poland’s charge d’affaires provided explanations about the conference and said it was not anti-Iran,” the agency added.
    On Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized Poland for hosting the meeting and wrote on Twitter: “Polish Govt can’t wash the shame: while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.”
    Zarif was referring to Iran hosting more that 100,000 Polish refugees during the Second World War.
    Relations between Tehran and Washington are highly fraught following the decision in May by President Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and to reimpose sanctions.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/13/2019 Poland’s Kaczynski cancels campaign appearance due to health problems
FILE PHOTO: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of ruling party Law and Justice, attends a
parliament session in Warsaw, Poland December 12, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via REUTERS
    KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) – Polish ruling party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski has canceled a campaign event on Sunday ahead of European Parliament elections due to poor health, officials said, amid uncertainty in Poland over his ability to run the conservative grouping.
    Last year, questions over Kaczynski’s health weighed on the stock market, as investors worried about political instability were he to step down without a clear successor.    Poland’s de facto leader was absent from public life for months.
    Under Kaczynski’s leadership, the eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party has sought to take more control over the economy, public media and the justice system, leading to Poland’s isolation within the European Union.
    It was unclear why Kaczynski canceled the appearance.    Education Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said in a speech to supporters only that he “wished Kaczynski gets over a virus quickly.”
(Reporting by Wojciech Zurawski; Writing by Anna Koper; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

1/13/2019 Mayor of Gdansk stabbed onstage at Polish charity event
Gdansk's Mayor Pawel Adamowicz speaks with people as he collects money for the
Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity in Gdansk, Poland January 13, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Bartosz Banka via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The popular veteran mayor of the Polish city of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, was stabbed on Sunday evening by a man who burst onto an open-air stage at a national charity event, police said.
    Television footage showed the man screaming that “Adamowicz is dead” because his former party, Civic Platform, which held power from 2007 to 2015, had purportedly tortured him when he was in prison.
    Adamowicz, 53, was attending the finale of the annual Great Orchestra of Christmas charity event, in which volunteers collects millions of euros for medical equipment for hospitals.
    Local media quoted hospital staff as saying Adamowicz’s condition was very serious and he was being operated on.    Adamowicz has been mayor of Gdansk since 1998.    In the 2018 regional election, he won 65 percent of votes.
(Reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/14/2019 Russia’s Putin expected to visit Japan in June: Japanese foreign minister
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with officials and representatives
of Russian business community at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 26, 2018. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit Japan in June, Japan’s foreign minister said on Monday during a trip to Moscow.
    Taro Kono, the minister, was speaking ahead of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
[Do you think that the nations newspapers in Russia put out fake news on Putin, which I assume they do not since they would be shut down that day.    The reason I said this is for the U.S. NY Times and Washington Post that if you keep pushing the Progressive Socialists Liberal Democrat views as you are doing you might find yourself being shut down for what you say in your paper like many of the countries in the world if that future occurs.    What concerns me the most is that is what you want.].

1/14/2019 Poland’s liberal mayor of Gdansk dies after stabbing by Joanna Plucinska
People march against violence and hatred in the wake of a deadly attack on
Gdansk Major Pawel Adamowicz, who was stabbed in Gdansk on stage of a public charity event,
in Warsaw, Poland January 14, 2019. The banner reads "Stop Hatred". Agencja Gazeta/Dawid Zuchowicz via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Pawel Adamowicz, the liberal mayor of the Polish city of Gdansk, died on Monday of his wounds a day after being stabbed by a former convict who rushed the stage during one of Poland’s biggest annual charity events.
    “We couldn’t win,” Poland’s health minister Lukasz Szumowski told reporters via private broadcaster TVN.    Doctors had operated on Adamowicz for five hours, state news agency PAP said.
    Polish officials said the day of Adamowicz’s funeral would be a national day of mourning.
    Television footage showed thousands of people gathering for commemorative vigils across the country on Monday, including in the cities of Gdansk, Poznan and the capital Warsaw.
    Adamowicz was attacked while attending the annual Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, which raises money for medical equipment in hospitals.    The head of the charity resigned soon after Adamowicz’s death was announced.
    Television footage of the attack showed a man screaming “Adamowicz is dead!” as he rushed the stage and stabbed the mayor, who crumpled to the floor.
    Speaking on the stage before he was arrested, the attacker accused the mayor’s former party of putting him in prison, where he said he was tortured.
    The attacker has been identified by Polish authorities as a 27-year-old named Stefan, who was released last month from prison where he had been serving 5-1/2 years for a 2014 conviction for attempted bank robbery.    His full name has so far been withheld.
    Psychiatrists will assess if the attacker can be held criminally responsible for his actions, prosecutor Krzysztof Sierak told a news conference.
    “This is a person who has a personality disorder, but he isn’t mentally ill.    If he was mentally ill, he would have been diagnosed earlier as he was already convicted of four crimes,” said Wojciech Sledzinski, a psychiatrist and director of the Mental Health and Addiction Center in Krakow told Reuters.
UNITY
    The event at which Adamowicz was murdered has raised more than a billion zlotys for charity over 27 years but has been criticized by Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party because of the liberal philosophy it espouses, including its former motto, “Do what you want.”
    Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, urged unity in the face of violence, saying many Poles were united despite their political differences by “their desire to do good.”
    “On this day, something unimaginably bad happened,” Duda told a news conference.
    PiS Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski and opposition politicians condemned the stabbing. Adamowicz was an outspoken opponent of PiS.
    “I’m expressing great pain for the tragic death due to the criminal attack on mayor Pawel Adamowicz.    We express solidarity with his family,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS leader, was quoted as saying in a tweet by the party spokeswoman.
    Adamowicz stood out for his initiatives to encourage migrants to seek refuge in the northern Polish city, and for his support of a protest campaign to defend the rule of law in Poland against what activists consider efforts by the PiS to increase its control over the judiciary and other bodies.
    Adamowicz was one of Poland’s longest-serving mayors, holding his position in Gdansk since 1998.    In the 2018 regional election, he won 65 percent of votes.
(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Anna Koper and Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Peter Graff and Catherine Evans)

1/14/2019 Israelis to scour Danube for Holocaust remains with Hungary’s help
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri speaks during an annual pilgrimage to the
gravesite of Moroccan-born sage and Jewish mystic Rabbi Yisrael Abuhatzeira, also known as the Baba Sali,
on the anniversary of his death in the southern town of Netivot, Israel January 9, 2019 REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
January 14, 2019     BUDAPEST (Reuters) – An Israeli recovery team will search Hungary’s Danube river for remains of Holocaust victims, with Hungarian permission and assistance, so they can be buried in accordance with Jewish rite, a visiting Israeli official said on Monday.
    According to Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, some 565,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, the majority of them deported to the Auschwitz death camp between May and July 1944.
    In October of that year, when the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party took power in Hungary, thousands of Jews from Budapest were murdered on the banks of the Danube, according to Yad Vashem.
    Arye Deri, Israel’s interior minister and an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, said his Hungarian counterpart, Sandor Pinter, had agreed to his request to provide special equipment to forensic experts from the Israeli volunteer Zaka who traveled with him to Budapest.
    “I hope that immediately, tomorrow, the righteous men of Zaka will bestow mercy on these highest of martyrs and bring them to Jewish burial,” Deri said in a video posted on Twitter.
    The Hungarian Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to emailed questions for comment.br> (The story is refiled to add dropped words “Hungarian Jews” in paragraph two.)
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/14/2019 Russia to Japan: control over islands not up for discussion
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with his
Japanese counterpart Taro Kono in Moscow, Russia January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia told Japan on Monday that Moscow’s sovereignty over several disputed islands was not up for discussion and that disagreements between the countries still obstruct the path to a peace deal.
    Russia and Japan have been in dispute since World War Two over islands captured by Soviet troops in the last days of the war.    The islands are known as the Southern Kuriles to Russia and the Northern Territories to Japan.
    “We’ve brought the attention of our friends from Japan to the fact that the questions of sovereignty over the islands are not being discussed.    It is the Russian Federation’s territory,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
    Lavrov was speaking to reporters following talks with Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
    “I won’t hide that we still have significant divergences.    To start with the positions were diametrically opposed and we have said this more than once,” Lavrov said.
    “But the political will of our leaders to fully normalize between Russia and Japan prompts us to activate this dialogue,” he said.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is making a push for a treaty with Russia over the islands.
    He is due to hold peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 22, but Moscow has shown no willingness to cede control over the islands.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional reporting by Polina Devitt; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff)

1/15/2019 Zimbabwe says it may need Russia to help modernize its army: RIA
Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa delivers a speech as he visits an office of
Russian diamond producer Alrosa in Moscow, Russia January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Zimbabwe may need Russian help in modernizing its army in the future, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was quoted as saying by RIA news agency on Tuesday during a trip to Moscow.
    Russia has signed at least 19 military cooperation deals with governments in sub-Saharan Africa since 2014, when it came under Western sanctions for annexing Crimea and stepped up efforts to diversify its economic and diplomatic partnerships.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Writing by Tom Balmforth)

1/15/2019 Russia extends detention of jailed Ukrainian sailors: agencies
Detained crew members of Ukrainian naval ships, which were seized by Russia's FSB security service in November 2018,
stand inside a defendants' cage as they attend a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Moscow on Tuesday ordered eight Ukrainian sailors seized by Russia last year off the coast of Crimea to be kept in pre-trial detention until April 24, Russian news agencies reported.
    Russia seized 24 men and three Ukrainian navy vessels on Nov. 25 near Russian-annexed Crimea.    Moscow accuses them of illegally entering Russian waters, something Kiev denies.
    The court hearings were closed to the public, but the Ukrainians were shown on state television in the custody of armed security officers in masks.
    It was not immediately clear if any others among the 24 would appear in court.
    The United States and European Union have called on Russia to release the men, but the Kremlin has said they must be put on trial.
    No date has been set for a trial.
    Moscow could hand over the men as part of a prisoner swap deal with Ukraine later this year, a Russian diplomatic source was quoted as saying last week by the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrey Ostroukh, Editing by William Maclean)

1/15/2019 Family of former U.S. marine held by Russia rejects reports of Russia visit
FILE PHOTO: Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen detained in Russia for suspected spying, appears in a
photo provided by the Whelan family on January 1, 2019. Courtesy Whelan Family/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The brother of ex-U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying, on Tuesday refuted a Russian media report that said his family planned to visit Russia to try to win his freedom.
    “Those reports are false,” David Whelan, the ex-Marine’s twin brother, said in an email to Reuters.    “Neither his parents nor his siblings are flying to Russia, and we have no plans to fly to Russia.”
    The Interfax news agency on Tuesday had cited a lawyer for the Whelan family as saying that they would make such a visit.     Paul Whelan, 48, who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) on Dec. 28.    His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
    The FSB has opened a criminal case against Whelan but given no details of his alleged activities.    In Russia, an espionage conviction carries a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years.
    Intelligence experts have said that Moscow may have arrested Whelan in retaliation for the U.S. arrest of a Russian national, Maria Butina, who admitted last month to U.S. prosecutors that she had tried to infiltrate American conservative groups as an agent for Moscow.
    A review of Whelan’s social media activity showed that he had online contact with more than 20 Russians with military backgrounds.    Russian men with military education or a history of military service make up nearly half of Whelan’s more than 50 friends on VK, a popular Russian social network that resembles Facebook, the analysis by Reuters shows.
    At least 12 of his friends received military education in Russia, according to open source information, and at least another 11 appear to have completed national service.
    The arrest has further strained relations between Moscow and Washington, which have soured over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and subsequent economic sanctions and accusations of meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
    Whelan lives in Novi, Michigan, according to public records. He is director of global security at BorgWarner, a U.S. auto parts maker based in Michigan.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow and Barbara Goldberg in New York, writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

1/15/2019 Israeli team scanning Danube river for remains of Holocaust victims
A volunteer of Israeli rescue and recovery organisation ZAKA pulls an underwater sonar from the Danube river during a search for the
remains of Holocaust victims murdered on the banks of the river in 1944 in Budapest, Hungary January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – An Israel recovery team began mapping out the floor of the Danube in Budapest on Tuesday in search of the remains of Holocaust victims murdered on the riverbank in 1944 and 1945.
    Israel’s Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem estimates that 565,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, the majority of them deported to the Auschwitz death camp between May and July 1944.
    In October of that year, when the pro-Nazi Arrow Cross party took power in Hungary, thousands of Jews from Budapest were murdered on the banks of the Danube, according to Yad Vashem.
    Israeli Interior Minister Arye Deri said on Monday Hungarian counterpart Sandor Pinter had agreed to his request to provide special equipment to forensic experts from the Israeli volunteer group ZAKA who traveled with him to Budapest.
    The Hungarian Interior Ministry has yet to respond to emailed questions seeking comment.
    On Tuesday ZAKA divers began scanning the bottom of the Danube with an underwater sonar near a Budapest bridge where some remains were recovered several years ago.
    “I think it is a triumph, it is after all these years we come to this work, this holy work on Hungarian ground,” Ilan Berkovich, leader of the ZAKA team, told Reuters.
    “For me, I am basically Hungarian, my parents, my grandparents, all my family actually were from here.    It is kind of a closure, so emotionally it is amazing, actually.”
    ZAKA director Yehuda Meshi-Zahav told Reuters it remained unclear where any remains recovered would be buried.    “That has yet to be determined.    There is some sensitivity in Hungary about this matter,” he said.
    Hungarian Jews have voiced concern at the right-wing nationalism of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has praised a Hungarian wartime leader who was an ally of Hitler and used an image of Jewish U.S. financier George Soros in an anti-immigration billboard campaign.
    On a visit to Jerusalem last July, Orban said Jews should feel safe under his government.    Right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who praised Orban, has found common cause with him on Soros and the U.S. billionaire’s support for critics of their governments’ policies.
    More divers are expected in Budapest at the end of February to recover as much as possible of the Holocaust victims’ remains in a mission estimated to cost more than one million euros.
    “For us it is very important to give respect for the people who died, even after 70 or something years, and we do the best we can to find as many as we can,” ZAKA diver Ilan Levy said.
(Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo in Budapest with additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/16/2019 Russia ready to work with U.S. to save INF arms treaty: Lavrov
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during the annual news conference
in Moscow, Russia January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is ready to work to save the landmark Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) despite numerous problems and hopes Washington will take a responsible approach to arms control treaties, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.
    Washington has threatened to pull out of the 1987 pact, alleging that a new Russian missile violates the treaty, which bans either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.
    Russia says the missile’s range puts it outside the treaty altogether and is not as long as Washington alleges, meaning that it is fully compliant with the INF.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Christian Lowe; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/16/2019 Russia says it caught accused U.S. Marine spying red-handed by OAN Newsroom
    Russia is defending its detention of a U.S. Marine veteran by claiming he was “caught in the act” of spying.    On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Paul Whelan was caught red-handed carrying out illegal activities in his Moscow hotel room.
    The 48-year-old Michigan resident was in Moscow to attend a wedding.    His family has since said he’s innocent of the charges.
FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Whelan family shows Paul Whelan in Iceland.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday Jan. 5, 2019, is brushing back suggestions that an
American being held in Moscow on suspicion of spying could be exchanged for a Russian. Paul Whelan, who also holds
Canadian, British and Irish citizenship was detained in late December. (Courtesy of the Whelan Family via AP)
    The foreign minister said Whelan will be facing spying charges, which could lead to 20-years in prison.    Lavrov denied claims Whelan was arrested in order to conduct a prisoner swap with the U.S.
    “Investigation is in progress, if your question assumes that his arrest may be tied to the desire to exchange (Paul) Whelan for one of our citizens — this is absolutely untrue, we never practice these kinds of things,” he stated.    “I repeat, he was caught red-handed.”
    According to Russian reports, Whelan has been spying for ten-years and was arrested five-minutes after receiving a thumb drive with a list of employees at a secret Russian agency.
    Lavrov promised U.S. diplomats can make a second visit to the detainee, and an Irish diplomat will also be visiting him soon.

1/16/2019 Kremlin: The idea that Donald Trump could have worked for Russia is stupid
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the National Farm Bureau Federation's
100th convention in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday the idea that U.S. President Donald Trump could have worked for Russia was stupid.
    “This is stupid, what is there to comment?” said Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov when asked to address whether Trump had or was working with Russia.
    Trump on Monday denied media reports at the weekend that the FBI in 2017 investigated whether he acted against U.S. interests, and that he had concealed details about his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, telling reporters he never worked for Russia.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by William Maclean)
[Majority of Americans think it is stupid too, only the sore Progressive Socialist Liberals Left Democrats are the stupid ones.].

1/16/2019 Bulgarian lawmakers approve talks with U.S. on F-16 jet deal
FILE PHOTO: A F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet takes part in a flying display during the 49th Paris Air Show
at the Le Bourget airport near Paris June 26, 2011. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s parliament approved the government’s plan to start talks with the United States on buying eight new F-16 fighter jets to replace its aging Soviet-made MiG-29s and improve compliance with NATO standards.
    Some 130 lawmakers voted in favor of the plan of the center-right government, led by Prime Minister Boyko Borissov while 84 deputies were against it, accusing the cabinet of breaching the tender rules.
    A deal for ,b>Lockheed Martin’s F-16V Block 70 would be worth around 1.8 billion levs ($1.05 billion), Bulgaria’s biggest military procurement since the fall of Communist rule some 30 years ago.
    Other bidders had included Sweden, with Saab’s Gripen jets, and Italy, with second-hand Eurofighters.
    Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov, who has conceded that the United States’ bid exceeded the budget by 300 million levs, said that negotiations would last about four months, with the first meeting expected in Brussels next month.
    “From now on there are many issues that we need to clarify – delivery dates, service… spare parts delivery,” Karakachanov said.
    The question of which warplanes to buy has been vexing successive governments in Bulgaria for more than a decade.
    “The U.S. Embassy welcomes the decision today by Bulgaria’s National Assembly to initiate negotiations to acquire new F-16 Block 70 aircraft from Lockheed Martin,” the U.S. Embassy in Sofia said in a statement.
    “We look forward to continuing to strengthen our strategic partnership with our NATO Ally Bulgaria.”
    The plan has spurred heated political debates in the Black Sea country with supporters hailing it as a strategic choice for Bulgaria but many in the Balkan country criticized the process with President Rumen Radev describing it as “a triumph of lobbying.”
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, editing by Louise Heavens)

1/16/2019 Kremlin: peace talks between Japan’s Abe and Putin will be tough
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting
on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Russia Summit in Singapore, November 14, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday it expected talks to be difficult when Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe next week to discuss a deal that could end a decades-old territorial row.
    Abe is making a push to end a dispute over islands captured by Soviet troops in the last days of World War Two that has prevented the countries signing a peace treaty since the war.
    Abe is due to meet Putin on Jan. 22 in Moscow.
    There are still differences between Moscow and Japan’s positions, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by William Maclean)

1/16/2019 Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan to discuss U.S. pullout from Syria next week
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a signing ceremony following a meeting with his
Zimbabwean counterpart Emmerson Mnangagwa at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia January 15, 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will hold talks in Moscow next week to discuss Syria in light of the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said on Wednesday.
    Russia also intends to propose holding a three-way summit on Syria in Russia with Iran and Turkey, Ushakov told reporters at a briefing.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by William Maclean)

1/16/2019 Russia raises alarm over U.S. support of Venezuela’s opposition
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during the annual news conference
in Moscow, Russia January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday Moscow was alarmed by U.S. talk of some kind of possible U.S. military option for Venezuela and accused Washington of leaning on the opposition there to block talks with the government.
    Lavrov, addressing his annual news conference, said the U.S. approach to Venezuela showed U.S. efforts to try to undermine governments around the world it didn’t like were continuing.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has indicated its support for an opposition leader, ratcheting up pressure on Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro as he embarks on a disputed second term.
    In 2017, Trump said he didn’t rule out a “military option” to put an end to what he regards as economic chaos in Venezuela, a close Russian ally, in comments that brought widespread condemnation.
    The U.S. has also criticized Moscow for launching military flights to Venezuela, rebukes that the Kremlin has rejected.
    Venezuela’s opposition-run Congress this week declared Maduro a “usurper” as Washington weighed recognizing the leader of the Congress, Juan Guaido, as the country’s legitimate president, two people familiar with the matter said.
    Pompeo on Wednesday said the United States, which has already imposed sanctions on Maduro and a number of his top allies, backed the opposition’s action.
    “We congratulate, recognize & support the courage of #Venezuela’s National Assembly to formally declare #Maduro a ‘usurper’ of democracy & to transfer executive responsibilities to the National Assembly,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.
    Over the weekend, Pompeo called Maduro’s government illegitimate and said the United States would work with like-minded countries in Latin America to restore democracy in Venezuela.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Christian Lowe; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Franklin Paul)

1/16/2019 Russia rules to hold jailed Ukrainian sailors until April 24: agencies
FILE PHOTO: Detained crew members of Ukrainian naval ships, which were seized by Russia's FSB security service in November 2018,
sit inside a defendants' cage as they attend a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Moscow ruled on Wednesday that four Ukrainian sailors seized by Russia last year off the coast of Crimea should be kept in pre-trial detention until April 24, Russian news agencies reported.
    Russia seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and their combined crew of 24 on Nov. 25 near Russian-annexed Crimea.     Moscow accuses them of illegally entering Russian waters, something Kiev denies.
.     In similar rulings on Tuesday, the court extended the detention of the other 20 Ukrainians until April 24 and, in the case of four of them, until April 26.
    The United States and European Union have called on Russia to release the men, but the Kremlin has said they must be put on trial. No date has been set for a trial.
    Moscow could hand over the men as part of a prisoner swap deal with Ukraine later this year, a Russian diplomatic source was quoted as saying last week by the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/17/2019 Sex seminar model who claimed Trump secrets deported from Thailand
Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belarusian model and escort who caused a stir last year after she was arrested in Thailand
and said she had evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is pictured at the
immigration detention center before being deported in Bangkok, Thailand, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – A model from Belarus who was arrested during a “sex training seminar” in Thailand and then claimed to have evidence of Russian interference in U.S. President Donald Trump’s election was deported on Thursday.
    Thai authorities said Anastasia Vashukevich, 27, two other Belarussians and five Russians were being sent to their home countries two days after they pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy and soliciting.
    Vashukevich drew world attention last February when she said she had hours of audio recordings that could shed light on links between Russian officials and Trump’s election in 2016.
    She offered to release the recordings in exchange for asylum in the United States, but never produced evidence to substantiate her claim and later said she had no plans to release anything.
    Thai immigration chief Surachate Hakparn told media all eight deportees were willing to return to their countries.    The deportations were being coordinated with Belarus and Russia, he said.
    Vashukevich made no comment at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport.    Last year, she had said she feared that she would be sent to Russia.
    Self-proclaimed “sex guru” Alexander Kirillov, 38, a fellow Belarussian among the deportees, told media the group had been seeking deportation since last March.
    “If you have been to a Thai prison, you are not afraid of anything,” he said.
    They were arrested at the beach resort of Pattaya during a seminar on seduction techniques.
    Vashukevich, who is also known as Nastya Rybka, said she had recordings of conversations on interference in the U.S. election through an association with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.    But Deripaska’s representatives have accused her of fabrication and said she was never his mistress.
Deripaska is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and is a onetime associate of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to boost Trump’s chances of winning. Russia has denied meddling and Trump has said no collusion took place.
(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Nick Macfie)
[I bet Mueller is drooling to get his hands on her.
    Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, founder of Basic Element, one of Russia's largest industrial groups, and Volnoe Delo, Russia's largest charitable foundation.    Deripaska is also known for his connection to American political consultant Paul Manafort, who has been convicted on charges of tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts, which stemmed from Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.    Deripaska employed Manafort from at least 2005 to 2009.
    Manaforts activity above has nothing to do with 2016.    I found no connection or collusion to Donald Trump, sorry Mueller.].

1/17/2019 Communist Cuba seeks improved governance by Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: Cuban First Secretary of Communist Party Raul Castro Ruz (C) and President Miguel Diaz-Canel (R)
arrive to Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, on 01 January 2019, to celebrate
the 60th Anniversary of Revolution. Yamil Lage/Pool via Reuters
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba is on the verge of the most dramatic restructuring of its government in decades as popular criticism and frustration with a sluggish economy and bureaucracy mount.
    If a revamped constitution is passed next month, as reports in the state-controlled media have suggested, new executive positions, from a prime minister to provincial governors and municipal mayors, will be created to lighten the load on single figureheads, such as the president, and increase the focus on executing policy.
    Provincial government will be reduced under the proposals in a land the size of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania and municipal government strengthened.
    “The structural changes in government proposed in the constitution all seem aimed at improving efficiency,” said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University.
    “For example, the new post of prime minister puts someone in charge of the day-to-day job of overseeing the ministries,” he said.
    The proposals dovetail with ongoing economic reforms of the Soviet-style system.    They imply stronger governance, such as making state companies more autonomous and implementation of a tax system after more than a half a century of no direct taxes.
    The terms of ward delegates, the only directly elected leaders in the country, will double to five years and the leaders of municipal assemblies and mayors will make up provincial councils led by the governor, replacing provincial assemblies.
    The ward-level delegates already make up the municipal assemblies and elect their local executives.    They will now also ratify the governors proposed by the president and who will coordinate between the national and municipal levels.
    Bert Hoffman, a Latin America expert at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies, said Cuba’s new President Miguel Diaz-Canelwants to show that he is a modernizer and second, someone who achieves change.”
    Like LeoGrande, Hoffman said economic reforms were moving slowly because there appeared to be resistance and a lack of consensus among the Communist-ruled island’s leadership under Diaz-Canel.
    “So he takes on the institutional setup which does not immediately affect powerful interests and where he can make progress.    It will also allow him to bring in new cadres and consolidate his power base,” Hoffman said.
    Campaigning is prohibited in Cuba, and candidates for the ward posts are nominated at neighborhood meetings.    They need not belong to the Communist Party, and many candidates are independents, but only a few government opponents have ever competed.    In 2017 they were barred from doing so.
    The candidates for the provincial and national assemblies are not directly elected.    Commissions composed of representatives of Communist Party-controlled organizations, such as the trade union federation, present them as a slate for a public vote.    They in turn elect the executive.
    Assuming the new constitution is passed, only the 605-member National Assembly will take office through this indirect method in the future.
    During a grassroots debate on the constitution, before the final version was drafted, issues such as gay marriage and social equality dominated discussion, according to the government, while thousands of citizens raised various concerns over the electoral system.
    Meanwhile, while state-run media are pushing for a “yes” vote, debate on whether to vote for or against the revamped constitution is raging among a smaller percentage of the population with access to the internet.
    “I will vote no because Article 5 of the Constitution leaves the country in the hands of the Communist Party for centuries to come,” tweeted Yoani Sanchez, the island’s most famous blogger and editor of an online newspaper.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Tom Brown)

1/17/2019 Putin accuses Kosovo of stirring tensions by setting up its own army
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic
after awarding him with a medal in Belgrade, Serbia, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused authorities in Kosovo of taking a series of provocative steps, including deciding to set up its own army, a move he said had ratcheted up tensions with Serbia and could destabilize the region.
    Putin was speaking at a news conference in Belgrade after holding talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
    Putin said he thought Kosovo’s decision to set up an army was illegal.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade and Polina Ivanova and Christian Lowe in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Toby Chopra)

1/18/2019 Russia dismisses Islamic State responsibility claim for deadly blast
FILE PHOTO: Russian Emergencies Ministry remove the rubble at the site of a
partially collapsed apartment block in Magnitogorsk, Russia January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Andrey Serebryakov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian investigators on Friday dismissed an Islamic State claim of responsibility for a deadly apartment building explosion in December that killed 39 people, saying that militant groups had a history of falsely taking credit for such incidents.
    Islamic State (IS) made the claim in its Al Naba newspaper on Thursday evening, saying it was behind the explosion in the city of Magnitogorsk on Dec. 31 that triggered the partial collapse of a 10-storey apartment building killing 39 and injuring dozens.
    IS did not provide any proof to back its claim of responsibility, saying only that a “security unit” had planted explosives inside the building before safely withdrawing.
    “The operation …transformed the crusaders’ New Year festivities into funerals,” the IS newspaper said.
    Russia’s Investigative Committee said the claim should not be trusted and that investigators were still looking into what happened and studying all possible versions.
    Their primary theory was that a gas leak was to blame, a statement said, saying that no traces of explosive or explosive devices had been found at the scene and that it was too early to draw definitive conclusions.
    “I suggest journalists do not trust statements from terrorist organizations, who as you know falsely take credit for all high-profile incidents in different countries,” Svetlana Petrenko, a spokeswoman for the Russian Investigative Committee, said in the statement.
    President Vladimir Putin flew to the scene of the tragedy some 1,700 km (1,050 miles) east of Moscow on Dec. 31 and has since ordered all of the affected building’s residents to be rehoused.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow, Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Ellen Francis in Beirut, Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/18/2019 Diplomat Sefcovic to run for Slovak president
FILE PHOTO: European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic speaks during an
interview with Reuters at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Career diplomat and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said on Friday he would run for president of Slovakia in March’s election, backed by the ruling Smer party.
    Poll-leading Smer has sought a fresh candidate for the election, having lost some support in the past year after the murder of an investigative journalist stoked public anger over perceived corruption in the central European state.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/18/2019 Bulgaria’s euro membership not before mid-2022: EU’s Dombrovskis
FILE PHOTO: European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis attends a
news conference in Brussels, Belgium, November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Bulgaria will need to wait at least until mid-2022 to join the euro, the EU commissioner in charge of the common currency said on Friday.
    The country meets the nominal criteria to adopt the euro, with low inflation, healthy public finances and its lev currency already pegged to the euro, but is also the EU’s poorest state and has problems at some of its banks.
    Sofia’s application last year to join the EU’s Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM-2), a waiting room before full euro membership, is likely to be successful “by the middle of this year,” Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said in a live chat on social media.
    He added that Bulgaria would need to be a member of ERM-2 for two years, and then another year would be necessary for “practical preparations” before it could join the euro.
    “It takes at least another three years” to adopt the euro from when Bulgaria joins the ERM-2, Dombrovskis said, effectively setting the date for Sofia’s accession to the euro zone at not before mid-2022.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/17/2019 Belarusian model who claimed Trump secrets detained in Moscow: Ifax
Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belarusian model and escort who caused a stir last year after she was arrested
in Thailand and said she had evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is pictured at
the immigration detention center before being deported in Bangkok, Thailand, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A model from Belarus who claimed to have evidence of Russian interference in U.S. President Donald Trump’s election was detained in an airport in Moscow on Thursday after being deported from Thailand, Interfax cited the police as saying.
    Anastasia Vashukevich, 27, and three others were detained upon arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and have been transferred to a police station, Interfax cited the Interior Ministry as saying.
    They were deported by Thai authorities after their arrest during a “sex training seminar” in Thailand and pleading guilty to charges including conspiracy and soliciting.
    Vashukevich, who is also known as Nastya Rybka, has previously said she was in possession of recordings of conversations on interference in the U.S. election through an association with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.    Deripaska’s representatives have accused her of fabrication and said she was never his mistress.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/18/2019 Germany says both Russia, Ukraine must work to de-escalate conflicts
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (L) and his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin attend
a news conference following their talks in Kiev, Ukraine January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Friday urged both Russia and Ukraine to do their part to de-escalate conflicts in eastern Ukraine and in the Sea of Azov, where Russia seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crew in November.
    Maas, speaking in Kiev after a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin, also said Russia must permanently ensure the freedom of passage through the Kerch Strait off the coast of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    “All sides must contribute to the de-escalation of the conflicts,” said Maas, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier in Moscow.    He said Lavrov affirmed Moscow’s pledge to continue shipments of natural gas through Ukraine despite work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline under the Baltic Sea.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Caroline Copley)

1/18/2019 Man sets himself ablaze in central Prague square
Police officers are seen at the scene where a man set himself on fire
in downtown Prague, Czech Republic January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Milan Kamm
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – A man set himself on fire in a central Prague square on Friday as Czechs marked the 50th anniversary of a student’s self-immolation in protest at the Soviet invasion that crushed the Prague Spring.
    The unidentified man was taken to hospital after bystanders doused the flames that enveloped him in the same spot at the elevated top of historic Wenceslas Square where Jan Palach set himself ablaze in January 1969.
    Palach’s suicide was a desperate act aimed at lifting the apathy hanging over the country in the wake of the Soviet intervention in August 1968 in which Soviet tanks and troops occupied Prague, snuffing out the Prague Spring process of democratic reforms to the Communist system.
    “According to initial information, a man born in 1964 poured an inflammable liquid on his body and set himself on fire,” Prague police said on their Twitter feed. An investigation was under way.
    Paramedics put the man, who suffered burns over 30 percent of his body, into an induced coma before taking him to hospital, the Prague emergency service said.
    There was no immediate word on the man’s motives.
    “I saw him from the distance, and rushed in as I realized, ‘My God, he really is on fire’,” said a young woman at the scene next to the National Museum at the head of Wenceslas Square.
    “I started to put out the fire, tried to douse it.    He had petrol on himself, you can still smell it,” she told reporters.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Michael Kahn and Mark Heinrich)

1/18/2019 German minister: Kerch Strait is now open for shipping
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (R) attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov
in Moscow, Russia January 18, 2019. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – It is widely acknowledged that ships can pass through the Kerch Strait – a body of water shared between Russia and Ukraine – is now free, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday.
    “The Kerch Strait is currently free – that’s what everyone involved says,” Maas said during a visit to Moscow.
    Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russia captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Michelle Martin)

1/18/2019 Ukraine foreign minister says arms talks with U.S. ongoing
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin speaks during an annual news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on Friday that arms negotiations were ongoing with the United States.
    Asked about the prospect of the U.S. selling lethal weapons to Ukraine, Klimkin said: “We are now conducting such negotiations.    I cannot talk about individual systems. This is a confidential issue.”
    “We are talking about a very serious strengthening of the defense capabilities of both our armed forces and our defense sector as a whole,” he told reporters at a press conference.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; editing by Matthias Williams and Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/18/2019 Germany: Russia can save INF if it stops violating the treaty
FILE PHOTO: Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas looks on during a 'Global Ireland'
news conference in Dublin, Ireland January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Friday that Russia could save the missile accord known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) if it rid itself of treaty-violating cruise missiles.
    Speaking during a visit to Moscow, Maas said the disarmament treaty needed to stay since it was crucial to Germany’s security interests.    He welcomed Russia’s willingness to keep talking about the INF treaty, from which Washington wants to withdraw.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Michelle Martin)

1/19/2019 Russia says US missile defense plans will fuel arms race
    Russia said Friday the Pentagon’s new missile defense strategy will trigger an arms race in space and undermine global stability.    The tough statement came in response to the U.S. administration’s Missile Defense Review released Thursday during President Donald Trump’s visit to the Pentagon.
    The Pentagon’s new strategy calls for a new array of space-based sensors and other high-tech systems to more quickly detect and shoot down incoming missiles.    It says the new defense technologies are needed to counter advanced weapons being developed by Russia and China along with threats from North Korea and Iran.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry warned that the expansion of the U.S. missile defense system “will inevitably start an arms race in space with the most negative consequences for international security and stability.”

1/19/2019 ‘We have had enough’ say Hungarians rallying against PM Orban
People gesture during a protest against a proposed new labor law, billed as
the "slave law," in Budapest, Hungary, January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Several thousand Hungarians demonstrated in Budapest on Saturday against Prime Minister Viktor Orban and a new overtime law that has drawn workers out to the streets in several protest rallies.
    Marching through central Budapest behind a banner saying “We have had enough,” protesters waved Hungary’s national tricolor and the European Union flag on their way to the main gathering point of the protest at the feet of the medieval Buda Castle.
    “They totally ignore what we say and what we want, which is irritating,” said Lajos Kovacs, one of the protesters.
    Orban’s ruling Fidesz party pushed the law allowing employers to ask workers to do up to 400 hours of overtime a year through the legislature last month, using its big majority as opposition parties sought to block the vote.
    Orban has said the law served the interests of workers, who will have the legal possibility to work overtime at a time when the economy is struggling with a massive labor shortage.
    A survey by pollster Zavecz Research published earlier this week showed support for Fidesz dropped by three points to 32 percent of voters in January, but even so, Orban’s ruling party remained well ahead of its main rivals.
    Nationalist Jobbik scored 11 percent, while the Socialists had 7 percent support according to the survey, which showed that a third of those polled had no preferred party.
(Reporting by Krisztina Fenyo; Writing by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Ros Russell)

1/19/2019 More than 10,000 protest in Belgrade against Serbian president
People walk during an anti-government protest in Belgrade, Serbia, January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – More than 10,000 people marched through Belgrade on Saturday evening to protest against the rule of President Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), demanding media freedom as a precondition for free and fair elections.
    Protesters brought together by the Alliance for Serbia, a loose grouping of 30 opposition parties and organizations, wore badges reading “It has started” and chanted “Vucic thief” in the eighth straight weekly protest by the grouping.    Previous rallies have attracted similar-sized crowds.
    “The only demand we have is that this evil (regime) goes away,” said Branisalv Trifunovic, an actor who addressed the crowd as he had done in previous weeks.    “We want elections, but freedom must come first.”
    No-one at Vucic’s office could be reached for comment.    The President previously said he would not bow to opposition demands for electoral reform and increased media freedom “even if there were 5 million people in the street,” but said he was willing to test his party’s popularity in a snap vote.
    The latest protest follows a visit to Belgrade on Thursday by Russian President Vladimir, welcomed by tens of thousands of people bussed in from all over Serbia.
    “I came here to express my dissatisfaction with the ruling elite,” said Ljiljana Zivanovic, a 64-year old pensioner.    “They (SNS and Vucic) control all media, I am sick of all the corruption going on.”
    The protests have spread to other cities in Serbia and on Friday were held in Novi Sad, the second-largest city, the southern city of Nis and several other towns, though numbers outside the capital remain small.
    “I came here to protest because there is no state any more.    All power is concentrated in hands of one man,” said Luka Tripkovic, who is studying for a doctorate at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by David Holmes)

1/20/2019 Russian crowd defends ownership of Kuriles before Abe visit
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe receives a military Guard of Honour
at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, Britain January 10, 2019. Dan Kitwood/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A crowd gathered in Moscow on Sunday to defend Russia’s ownership of a chain of islands captured by Soviet troops from Japan during the final days of World War Two.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, is pushing for a treaty for the islands, known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.    Russia said on Monday that its sovereignty over them was not up for discussion.
    “Any mention of handing over the Kuriles … is nothing other than an act of treason,” Igor Skurlatov, a speaker at the rally, said.    “Today we give away the Kuriles, tomorrow we will give away Crimea.”
    Organizers said around 2,000 people attended.    The city’s security department put the number at 500, Interfax news agency said.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/20/2019 Russian senator says U.S. warship in Black Sea should keep its distance
The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook, part of the
U.S. 6th Fleet, transits the Bosphorus Strait while en route to the Black Sea in Istanbul, Turkey January 19, 2019.
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ford Williams/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Visits to the Black Sea by U.S. warships have nothing to do with U.S. security and are motivated by domestic politics, prominent Russian senator Alexei Pushkov said on Sunday, warning they should stay away from the Russian coast.
    The U.S. guided-missile destroyer Donald Cook began moving towards the Black Sea on Saturday, “to conduct maritime security operations and enhance regional maritime stability, combined readiness and naval capability,” a U.S. navy statement said.    https://www.navy.mil/index.asp
    The Russian Black Sea fleet began monitoring the warship once it entered the region, RIA news agency cited Russia’s National Defence Control Centre as saying on Saturday.
    “U.S. warships are becoming frequent visitors to the Black Sea.    These visits have nothing to do with U.S. security,” Pushkov, a member of Russia’s Upper House Commission on Information Policy, wrote on his Twitter page.
    “They flaunt their flag, send us a signal, and appease their own senators, who are demanding they send a whole military fleet to the Black Sea.    They should keep away from our coastline,” he wrote.
    This week a court in Russia extended by three months the arrest of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured along with their ships in November in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black Sea with the Azov Sea.    They stand accused of illegally crossing into Russian territory.
    The United States and European Union have called on Russia to release the men, but the Kremlin has said they must be put on trial.    No trial date has been set.
    According to the Montreux international convention, the U.S. warship can stay in the Black Sea for no more than 21 days, RIA cited the Russian defense control center as saying.
    “Our arrival into the Black Sea will showcase the navy’s interoperability in pursuit of common security objectives, enabling us to respond effectively to future crises or deterring aggression,” Matthew J. Powel, commanding officer of the Donald Cook, said in a statement.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Dale Hudson)

1/21/2019 Russia opens civil cases against Facebook, Twitter: report
Facebook and Twitter logos are seen on a shop window in Malaga, Spain, June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s communication watchdog said on Monday it was opening administrative proceedings against Twitter and Facebook for failing to explain how they plan to comply with local data laws, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Roskomnadzor, the watchdog, was quoted as saying that Twitter and Facebook had not explained how and when they would comply with legislation that requires all servers used to store Russians’ personal data to be located in Russia.
    The agency’s head, Alexander Zharov, was quoted as saying the companies have a month to provide information or else action would be taken against them.
    Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in the last five years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country.
    At the moment, the only tools Russia has to enforce its data rules are fines that typically only come to a few thousand dollars or blocking the offending online services, which is an option fraught with technical difficulties.
    However, sources in November told Reuters that Moscow plans to impose stiffer fines on technology firms that fail to comply with Russian laws.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/21/2019 Romanian justice minister’s decree pushes back timeline to fight graft verdicts
FILE PHOTO: A man holds balloons in the colors of the Romanian flag in
Bucharest, Romania, February 5, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s justice minister has drafted an emergency decree that allows politicians and others convicted of graft since 2014 in one of the European Union’s most corrupt countries to challenge the verdicts handed down by the supreme court.
    The measure would benefit several high-level politicians, including Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party, who was ruled out from being prime minister by a 2015 suspended jail term in a vote-rigging case.
    “I have drafted an emergency decree that … will enable all those convicted by illegally-formed panels to challenge (the verdicts),” Justice Minister Tudorel Toader told private television station Romania TV late on Sunday.
    “I have found this solution and drafted the decree, the prime minister will decide.”
    The measure is the latest in a series of legislative and personnel changes made by the ruling Social Democrats since they took power two years ago.
    The moves have been seen as threats to judicial independence and could further heighten EU concerns about democratic values in some of the eastern nations among its members.
    In November, the government requested, and obtained, a Constitutional Court ruling that five-judge panels of the Supreme Court were illegally formed because not all judges had been randomly selected, as required by a 2013 legal change.
    The Supreme Court had interpreted the change to mean that four of the judges would be selected at random, except for the chief judges of the panels.
    But the November ruling of the Constitutional Court clarified the nature of the legal change, allowing several recently convicted politicians to challenge the verdicts in their cases and walk free.
    It did not affect older cases, however, in which the deadlines to challenge convictions had lapsed.
    After the justice minister on Sunday said his decree would allow challenges to all convictions by the incorrectly-formed panels, the opposition Save Romania Union (USR) called the step illegal, as it would retroactively reopen finished cases.
    But government decrees take effect immediately and are harder to challenge.
    Transparency International ranks Romania among the European Union’s most corrupt states and Brussels, which keeps its justice system under special monitoring, has praised magistrates for their efforts to curb graft.
    Anti-corruption prosecutors have been cracking down on high-level graft in recent years, convicting people across parties put on trial at a steady rate of just under 90 percent in 2017.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/21/2019 U.S. ambassador calls on Russia to end is cruise missile systems by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood attends a news conference
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 19, 2018. (Photo/REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)
    A U.S. diplomat is calling on Russia to scrap its cruise missile system, which it says violates a Cold War-era treaty.
    On Monday, U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood said the system presents a “potent and direct threat to Europe and Asia.”    The system is also reportedly capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
    This comes after the U.S. announced it would be pulling out of the Soviet Union-era the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), saying Russia cannot be trusted to eliminate its nuclear arms cache.
    “Unfortunately, the United States increasingly finds that Russia cannot be trusted to comply with its arms control obligations and that its coercive and malign actions around the globe have increased tensions,” stated Wood.    “Its actions, policies and behavior are not those of a responsible state actor.”
    Wood also said Russia has recently tested the device and has shown no resolve to comply U.S. demands to end its nuclear development programs.

1/21/2019 Russia acknowledges new missile but says it does not breach treaty by Stephanie Nebehay and Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood attends
a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Russia has recognized the existence of a cruise missile system that has prompted Washington to say it will quit the 1987 INF disarmament treaty, but has denied that it violates the pact, U.S. officials and NATO diplomats said on Monday.
    Two weeks before the planned U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, which keeps nuclear-capable missiles out of Europe, Washington’s disarmament ambassador in Geneva said there was still time for Russia to destroy the system.
    But after a session of the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, Russian diplomat Alexander Deyneko told Reuters: “We shall not yield to any ultimatums like to liquidate or to eliminate (a) missile that doesn’t fall within the range of the treaty prohibitions.”
    Russia had denied developing what U.S. intelligence calls the SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system.
    However, NATO diplomats said Moscow did now recognize its existence, but argued that its range was within the 500-km limit set by the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.
    U.S. Ambassador Robert Wood said the system was a “potent and direct threat to Europe and Asia” as it had a range of 500 to 1,500 km (310-930 miles), contravening a treaty that is designed to prevent attacks at short notice.
    “Russia must verifiably destroy all SSC-8 missiles, launchers and associated equipment in order to come back into compliance with the INF Treaty,” Wood said.
    “Unfortunately, the United States increasingly finds that Russia cannot be trusted to comply with its arms control obligations and that its coercive and malign actions around the globe have increased tensions.”
    After a meeting with Russian officials in Geneva last week, the United States said Moscow’s offer to save the treaty, negotiated by U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, was not genuine because it could not be verified.
    The impasse sets the stage for U.S. President Donald Trump to fulfill his threat to start withdrawing from the pact on Feb. 2, potentially allowing Washington to develop its own medium-range missiles.
    The United States will still have six months to formally complete its withdrawal, however.
    The U.S.-led NATO alliance said it had not given up on bringing Russia back into compliance.    NATO’s 29 ambassadors will hold a special NATO-Russia Council with Moscow’s acting envoy to the alliance, Yuri Gorlach, in Brussels on Friday.
    NATO diplomats told Reuters that European members of the alliance led by Germany hoped Washington would make a final push to convince the Kremlin to come into line, or possibly to renegotiate the INF to include China.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/21/2019 Trust in Russia’s Putin falls to 13-year low: state pollster
REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference with
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (not pictured) in Belgrade, Serbia, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Public trust in President Vladimir Putin has fallen to its lowest level in 13 years, according to a Russian state pollster, a setback for the Kremlin which works hard to burnish Putin’s image as a wise father-of-the-nation-style leader.
    The poll, by the Public Opinion Research Centre, found that trust in Putin had fallen to 33.4 percent, its lowest level since 2006.
    The results do not pose an immediate problem for Putin who won a landslide election victory and a new six-year mandate in March last year, but could embolden would-be successors to begin what is likely to be a long game of jostling for position.
    Putin’s overall approval rating, which is different from his trust rating, is still high at just over 60 percent.
    His approval rating has slipped from its peak of nearly 90 percent amid dismay over falling household incomes and unpopular government moves to raise the retirement age and hike value added tax.
    Putin’s trust rating hit a high of 71 percent in July 2015 after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea the previous year.
    On the eve of last year’s presidential election, it stood at 55.3 percent.    Since then, public trust in him has dropped sharply, falling to 38.3 percent three months later, ending 2018 at 36.5 percent.
    Putin remains far more trusted than any other politician in Russia however, the same poll showed.
    The second and third most trusted politicians in the poll were Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who received trust ratings of 13.7 percent and 9.3 percent respectively.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/21/2019 Rep. Diaz-Balart: President Trump to enact “game changer” policies toward Cuba by OAN Newsroom
    A republican lawmaker says President Trump is set to place unprecedented economic pressure on the communist regime in Cuba.
    In an interview released on Monday, Florida Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart said the United States will implement “game changer” policies toward Cuba.
    He stressed the new policy will put financial pressure on Havana and other oppressive regimes.
    Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will allow Americans, whose property was stolen by the Castro Regime, to sue.
    Diaz-Balart said this could topple, what he called, a “very fragile” regime.

1/22/2019 Russian court rules to keep suspected U.S. spy Whelan in custody: Ifax
Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who was detained by Russia's FSB security service on suspicion of spying,
looks out of a defendants' cage before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A court in Moscow ruled on Tuesday that former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who is being held in Russia on spying charges, can remain in custody, the Interfax news agency said.
    Whelan, who was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28 and whose family says he is innocent, had been appealing for release on bail.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/22/2019 At least 10 dead as fire rages on Black Sea ships
Smoke rises from a fire at a ship in the Kerch Strait near Crimea January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ten crew died and another 10 were missing presumed dead in a fire that broke out on two ships while they were transferring fuel in the Black Sea, Russia’s Transport Ministry said on Tuesday.
    The vessels which caught fire on Monday have the same names as two Tanzania-flagged ships, the Maestro and Venice, which last year were included on a U.S. sanctions advisory as delivering fuel to Syria.
    Twelve people were rescued from the burning vessels but there was little hope of finding any more survivors, a spokesman for the Transport Ministry’s maritime unit said.    The focus had switched from a rescue operation to a search for bodies, he added.
    The spokesman said the vessels, which had a combined crew of 32, were still on fire and rough no attempts were being made to put out the blaze because of rough sea conditions.
    Russian maritime officials said on Monday that the vessels were carrying out a ship-to-ship transfer of fuel in the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from Russia.
    On Nov. 20 last year, the U.S. Treasury Department added nine Russian and Iranian individuals and companies on its sanctions list for participating in the shipment of petroleum to Syria.
    It also issued an advisory note warning of the potential sanctions risk for any entities involved in such shipments which listed 35 ships, including the Maestro and Venice, as having delivered oil to Syria between 2016 and 2018.
    Reuters reported in December that both the Maestro and Venice continued operations after the Treasury announcement, and regularly entered Crimea’s Temryuk port, according to Refinitiv data.
    In the port, liquefied petroleum gas of Russian and Kazakh origin is transferred onto tankers for export, via the Kerch Strait.
    The strait, between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, connects both Russian and Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea to the Black Sea.
    In November, Russia detained three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crews in the vicinity of the strait, fuelling tensions between the two countries.    Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Christian Lowe and Andrew Heavens)

1/22/2019 Russian courts deny bail for U.S. citizen detained since December by OAN Newsroom
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, who was arrested in Moscow at the end of last year looks through
a cage’s glass in a court room in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
    A Russian court has denied bail for a U.S. Marine veteran, who has been held by Moscow over suspicions of spying.
    Paul Whelan appeared in court Tuesday, after an appeal was filed by his legal team for his release.    His attorney’s called the detention “unwarranted” and “excessive.”
    Earlier in the day, Whelan’s state-appointed lawyer told media outlets the 48-year-old was caught with sensitive information at the time of his arrest.
    He said the so-called “state secrets” were included on a thumb drive Whelan was given by an unknown source he thought contained photographs of his vacation.
    The lawyer made clear this is not an admission of guilt, and Whelan is continuing to deny any wrongdoing.

1/22/2019 Russia says any deal to end land row with Japan needs public support by Vladimir Soldatkin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a
meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia January 22, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Any deal to end a territorial row with Japan needs public backing, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, giving a nod to widespread Russian opposition to ceding territory to Japan.
    Shortly before Putin met Abe in the Kremlin for the latest round of talks on the dispute over a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean, Russian police detained 11 people protesting against territorial concessions outside the Japanese embassy in Moscow.
    The islands — known in Russia as the Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories — were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War Two.    Since then, Tokyo has been seeking their return.
    Russia and Japan have still not formally ended World War Two hostilities because of the dispute.
    In prepared remarks to reporters after their talks, Putin and Abe both spoke of their resolve to try to find a solution to the dispute, but they offered few specifics on whether such a deal was close.
    “Ahead of us lies painstaking work to create the conditions for us to arrive at a mutually-acceptable solution,” Putin said as he stood alongside Abe.
    “Of course, solutions proposed by negotiators should be acceptable for the peoples of Russia and Japan, supported by the societies of both our countries.”
    Opinion polls show that the majority of Russian people are opposed to the idea of Russia giving up control of the islands in order to achieve a deal.
    Abe said he had agreed with Putin that the Japanese and Russian foreign ministers would meet in February to continue talks about a possible deal.
    The Japanese leader also said an agreement was reached that the Japanese and Russian militaries would build closer ties.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/22/2019 Exclusive: Ship in deadly Black Sea blaze was turned away from port over sanctions by Damir Khalmetov and Alexander Ershov
An aerial view from a helicopter shows a rescue vessel during a fire-fighting operation following an accident involving two ships,
which caught fire in the Kerch Strait, near the coast of Crimea in this handout photo released by Russian Emergencies Ministry
January 22, 2019. Russia's Ministry for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disasters/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Two ships ablaze in the Black Sea region, leaving at least 10 crew dead, caught fire while transferring fuel mid-sea after one vessel was barred from using its usual port in southern Russia due to U.S. sanctions risk, two sources told Reuters.
    The vessels, which caught fire on Monday, have the same names as two gas-transporting tankers, the Maestro and Venice, which were included on a U.S. sanctions advisory note last year for delivering fuel to Syria.
    The U.S. Treasury note, published in November, advised that any dealings with these or other vessels involved in transporting fuel to Syria could result in sanctions.
    The Maestro was subsequently barred from using Temryuk port in southern Russia by the owners of its only gas terminal, Maktren-Nafta, two industry sources said, where it had previously loaded liquefied petroleum gas of Russian and Kazakh origin for export to the Middle East.
    The Russian company Maktren-Nafta could not be reached for comment.
    Vessels can resort to ship-to-ship transfers of fuel — a risky maneuver especially if they are transferring flammable fuel — if they do not have access to a port for loading.
    Temryuk port did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Reuters was unable to reach the owners of the vessels.
    Russia’s Transport Ministry said the two ships caught fire on Monday while loading gas ship-to-ship mid-sea, during stormy conditions.
    Russia permits loading of gas at just three locations in the region – all on-land ports – a source in the ministry said.
    “All ship-to-ship transfers, especially of such dangerous cargo, moreover during stormy weather and in the winter, raises big questions,” the source said.
    The ministry source said they did not know whether the tanker had been barred from the port, but added that doing so was within the rights of the owners of the gas loading terminal.
    Fire rages on Black Sea ships: https://tmsnrt.rs/2R6vTW8
ROUGH SEA
    Ten sailors out of a combined crew of 32 were confirmed dead by the ministry’s maritime unit on Tuesday.    A further 10 remain missing, presumed dead, while 12 were rescued, it added.
    The crew was made up of 16 Turkish citizens and 15 from India, the ministry said.
    The ships are still on fire and no attempts are being made to put out the blaze due to rough sea conditions, a ministry spokesman said.
    Refinitiv data showed Milano Shipping as the owner of the Venice, and Maestro Shipping of the Maestro.    The Venice was recently renamed as the Candy, one industry source said.
    But two traders, separate to the industry sources, told Reuters that both vessels were ultimately owned by one Turkish company, Milenyum Denizcilik Gemi.
    Milenyum was placed on the U.S. sanctions list in 2015 for arranging the shipment of liquefied petroleum gas and gasoil to Syrian government controlled areas.
    Phone numbers for Milenyum and Milano Shipping, listed online, were not answered.
SANCTIONS LIST
    On Nov. 20 last year, the U.S. Treasury Department added nine Russian and Iranian individuals and companies on its sanctions list for participating in the shipment of petroleum to Syria.
    It also issued an advisory note warning of the potential sanctions risk for any entities involved in such shipments which listed 35 ships, including the Maestro and Venice, as having delivered oil to Syria between 2016 and 2018.
    Reuters reported in December that both the Maestro and Venice continued operations after the U.S. announcement, and regularly entered Temryuk port, according to Refinitiv data.
    After the Reuters report, the Maestro was barred from using the port’s gas terminal by its owners, and thereby denied access to the port, the two industry sources said.
    But the Venice – now known as Candy – continued to dock at Temryuk, Refinitiv data showed.
    “There’s every indication that some black scheme was going on,” one of the industry sources said.
    Why else would (the Venice) load up with gas and then immediately transfer it onto another tanker?” the source said, adding that the Venice was likely to have been permitted access to the port as it had changed its name to Candy since the U.S. sanctions note.
    Since the U.S. announcement, the Venice/Candy has traveled to near the Lebanese and Syrian coastline on three occasions, Refinitiv data showed on Tuesday, while the Maestro has made the same journey once.
    The data does not show at which port the vessels finally docked.    They appear to turn around before reaching the coast.
    Vessels wishing to conceal their location have been known to switch off their transponders and “go dark.”
    Though ships are allowed to switch off their signaling systems in certain circumstances, for example for reasons of security, such instances are relatively limited and rare, Richard Meade, managing editor of Lloyd’s List Intelligence in London said.
    “Both vessels weren’t showing up as live… despite being fairly close to land-based receivers,” Meade said.    “This certainly would raise red flags in terms of anybody looking at the accident or criminal investigation.”
    The Maestro’s signaling system last reported its location on Saturday, when it was located off the coast of Turkey in the Black Sea, according to Refinitiv data.
    But on Monday, it was near the Kerch Strait, a body of water between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, which connects the Azov Sea to the Black Sea.
    There, it met the Venice, which had left Temryuk port on Sunday morning with a fresh cargo of liquefied petroleum gas, an industry source said.
    After attempting to transfer the highly flammable fuel, both ships were on fire.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov, Natalia Chumakova and Tom Balmforth; writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Christian Lowe and Alison Williams)

1/22/2019 Ukraine opposition leader Tymoshenko launches presidential bid as polarizing frontrunner
Ukrainian opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko delivers a speech during a congress
of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party in Kiev, Ukraine January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko launched her bid for the presidency on Tuesday as the early frontrunner in opinion polls, pledging to fight corruption, increase wages and speed up integration with the West.
    A fiery orator, she immediately emerges as a favorite in the March 31 vote to unseat President Petro Poroshenko, who swept to power in the wake of a 2014 revolution but whose popularity has eroded over his failure to stamp out corruption.
    “A great country is my goal, from which I will not back down a single step.    That is why I am running for president today,” Tymoshenko told party supporters at sports hall in Kiev, to cheers of “Yulia is our president.”
    A former prime minister with a following among Ukrainian nationalists, Tymoshenko was jailed under pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovich, who defeated her to become president in 2010 and was toppled four years later in a popular revolt.
    Released from jail, she again lost the presidency to Poroshenko, a confectionary billionaire who argued that Tymoshenko carried too much baggage to lead the nation.
    While she retains a strong core of supporters, she may struggle to win over a majority in a country where many voters consider her a polarizing figure.
    An opinion poll late last month by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kiev-based Razumkov think-tank put Tymoshenko in the lead, with support among likely voters of 16 percent.    Poroshenko came second with 13.8 percent.
    Tymoshenko said her foreign policy priorities will be Ukraine’s integration into the EU and NATO, which will help the country resist Russian aggression: “We must become a member of NATO right away.    We don’t have time to hesitate,” she said.
    After Yanukovich was toppled, Moscow swiftly annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and supported a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine.    That conflict, still unresolved, has killed more than 10,000 people.    Major fighting ended with a ceasefire in 2015 but deadly clashes still occur regularly.
    Tymoshenko said her team would increase worldwide diplomatic pressure on Russia to stop Moscow’s support of the separatists.
    She has made economic promises which her critics say are incompatible with Ukraine’s obligations under a lending agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
    She promised to increase salaries and pensions 3.5-fold during her five-year presidency and said she would change central bank policy to provide cheap loans to small businesses and mortgages to workers.
    Poroshenko had proven he lacks the political will to fight corruption, betraying the principles that brought Ukrainians to the streets during the 2013-2014 revolution, she said.
    “Stopping corruption will not be a problem.    We will do it.    This is possible.    You and I have the political will.    I promise to become a nightmare for these guys who feed on corruption.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/22/2019 Nuclear-capable Russian bomber crashes amid snowstorm: Defence Ministry
A Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bomber drops bombs during the Aviadarts competition, part of the
International Army Games 2018, at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A nuclear-capable Tupolev-22M3 supersonic bomber crashed while trying to land in a snowstorm on Tuesday in Russia’s far north, the Defence Ministry said, saying the aircraft did not have any weapons on board.
    Two of the plane’s four-man crew died in the crash and a third later died of his wounds in hospital, Russian news agencies reported.    The fourth crew member survived.
    The accident happened in Russia’s Murmansk region when the Soviet-era plane tried to land at an airbase near the city of Olenegorsk in a fierce snowstorm and amid high winds.
    The plane broke up on the tarmac and caught fire.
    The Defence Ministry said it was investigating all possibilities, including a technical fault.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/22/2019 Russia frees model from police custody who claimed Trump secrets: TASS
FILE PHOTO: Model Anastasia Vashukevich, also known as Nastya Rybka, who was deported
from Thailand to Russia after her arrest and pleading guilty to charges including conspiracy and soliciting, looks out from a defendants' cage
before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A model from Belarus who claimed to have evidence of Russian interference in U.S. President Donald Trump’s election     Anastasia Vashukevich and three others were detained upon arrival at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport on Thursday after being deported from Thailand.
    Russian authorities have said they suspect her of forcing women into prostitution, a charge that carries a jail sentence of up to three years.
    Vashukevich, who is also known as Nastya Rybka, has previously said she was in possession of recordings of conversations on interference in the U.S. election through an association with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.    Deripaska’s representatives have accused her of fabrication and said she was never his mistress.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber)

1/23/2019 Russian spy chief met Saudi counterpart and Crown Prince: Ifax
Sergey Naryshkin, the head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, attends United Russia
political party annual convention in Moscow, Russia December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency Sergei Naryshkin on Monday met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as well as the head of the kingdom’s intelligence services, the Interfax news agency said on Wednesday.
    Naryshkin discussed cooperation in the fight against international terrorism with his Saudi counterpart, Interfax cited Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service as saying.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Writing by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/23/2019 Russia and Turkey to act to stabilize Syria’s Idlib province: Putin by Olesya Astakhova
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Turkish counterpart
Tayyip Erdogan at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia January 23, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday after which the Russian leader said the two men had discussed how they planned to stabilize the situation in Syria’s Idlib province.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier on Wednesday that the situation in the region, where Moscow and Ankara have tried to create a de-escalation zone, was rapidly deteriorating and that it was almost under the full control of Nusra militants.
    Putin said the Russian and Turkish defense ministers had already held talks on specific action that the two countries would take in Idlib and that the measures, which he didn’t describe, would now be implemented.
    “Unfortunately there are many problems there and we see them,” said Putin, standing alongside Erdogan.
    He said Turkey was doing a lot to try to remedy the situation, but that more action by both Ankara and Moscow was required to “liquidate the actions of terrorist groups.”
    Putin said he had agreed to host a summit soon where Russia, Turkey and Iran would discuss the situation in Syria.    He did not name a date for the summit, but said he and Erdogan had agreed on its provisional timing.
    The Russian leader also complained about the difficulty of forming a U.N.-sponsored constitutional committee for Syria, saying that France, Germany and Britain had blocked the proposed make-up of the committee in December, a move he said had come as a surprise for Moscow.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
[Keep in mind that Syria is a northern country bordered on Israel, and here we have Russia, Turkey and Iran making decisions of what will occur in Syria, and I see that the King of the North, King of the South, and possibly King of the East are setting up a future of biblical proportions, and the King of the West may be out of this picture as God wanted it to be to snare them when the time comes.].

1/23/2019 Russia takes wraps off new missile to try to save U.S. nuclear pact by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn
A serviceman stands in front of a screen displaying a Russian flag during a news briefing,
organized by Russian defence and foreign ministries and dedicated to SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system,
at Patriot Expocentre near Moscow, Russia January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia showed foreign military attaches on Wednesday a new cruise missile that the United States says breaches a landmark arms control pact, billing it as an exercise in transparency it hoped would persuade Washington to stay in the treaty.
    Washington has threatened to pull out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), alleging that the new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729 (called SSC-8 by NATO), violates the pact, which bans either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.
    Russia denies that.    It says the missile’s range puts it outside the treaty and has accused the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit a treaty it wants to leave anyway so as to develop new missiles.
    The Russian lobbying effort comes as the clock ticks down toward Feb. 2, the date when Washington has said it will begin the process of pulling out of the pact unless Russia verifiably destroys the new missile system altogether, something it has refused to do.
    Russia displayed the new missile system at a military theme park outside Moscow to foreign military attaches and journalists.    A senior defense ministry official explained the weapon’s characteristics in detail as a soldier highlighted different parts with a laser pointer.
    The missile has a maximum range of 480 kilometers (298 miles), which meant it was fully compliant with the INF treaty, Lieutenant-General Mikhail Matveyevsky, head of Russia’s Missile Troops and Artillery, said.
    The United States had previously rejected a Russian offer to look at the contested missile, in what is known as a ‘static display’, because it said such an exercise would not allow it to verify the true range of its warheads.
    The Russian Defence Ministry said diplomats from the United States, Britain, France and Germany had been invited to attend the static display, but declined to attend.
    Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a news briefing before the display that the United States had made clear through diplomatic channels that its decision to exit the pact was final and that it was not open to dialogue.
    Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova later said that Russia had suggested the two nations hold talks on the issue on the sidelines of a meeting of the P5 nuclear powers in Beijing later this month, but had not received “a concrete reply.”
    She said Russia remained open to talks anyway.    Western diplomats have played down the chances of the two countries resolving their differences at that meeting if it takes place.
(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; editing by Gareth Jones)
[I would like to remind Putin that on 3/2/2018 Putin said Russia has new nuclear missile with unlimited range and claims it has advanced weapons tech developed as a nuclear-powered missile with an unlimited range and completely immune to enemy intercept, capable of penetrating any missile defense and can reach virtually any target around the world.    “No defense systems will be able to withstand it nicknamed RS-28 Sarmat rocket — “Satan 2,” and can entirely wipe out an area the size of Texas or France, talking up his country’s military and technological prowess, and the King of the North has spoken and elected to another six-year term.].

1/24/2019 Bosnian Muslims anger Serbs with name change plan, EU calls for calm by Daria Sito-Sucic
Bakir Izetbegovic, Chairman of the Tripartite Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, arrives to attend a visit
and a dinner at the Orsay Museum on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day,
100 years after the end of the First World War, in Paris, France, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – A Muslim party said it would launch a legal bid to change the name of Bosnia’s Serb region, enraging all Serbian parties in the volatile country and prompting calls for calm from the European Union.
    The largest Bosnian Muslim party, SDA, said on Wednesday the name Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) discriminated against Bosniaks and Croats there, and it would challenge it in the constitutional court.
    Under the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, the country is split into two highly autonomous regions, the Serb-dominated Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Muslim Bosniaks and Croats, linked via a weak central government.
    SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic said the legal challenge was a response to “intensified attacks on Bosnia and its integrity” by Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik.
    Dodik, who heads the Serb SNSD party, said the initiative was anti-constitutional and that Serbs will halt their work in the central government.
    “If the appeal is accepted, we will call a special session of the Republika Srpska National Assembly at which we will decide about the future status of the RS (Serb Republic),” Dodik said after meeting other Serb politicians.    He currently chairs Bosnia’s inter-ethnic three-man presidency as its Serb member.
    The EU delegation in Bosnia issued a statement saying: “We call on all political parties to refrain from political maneuvers aimed at distracting attention from the real issues facing Bosnia."     “Polarizing statements and actions … will not facilitate the formation of new authorities at a crucial moment for the country’s EU path,” the delegation added.
    Bosnia is hoping to become an EU candidate later this year.
    Bosnia’s international peace overseer Valentin Inzko said the name challenge “in the midst of discussions on government formation is irresponsible and counterproductive, and further undermines the trust between constituent peoples and their political representatives.”
    Following parliamentary and presidential elections in October, a dispute between Serb, Croat and Bosniak presidency members over Bosnia’s integration into NATO has delayed the formation of the central government.
    The Bosniak and Croat pro-NATO presidency members refuse to approve Dodik’s candidate for the job of prime minister unless he pledges support for NATO integration.    But pro-Russian Dodik is strongly against it.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

1/25/2019 Exclusive: Ukraine says it sees surge in cyber attacks targeting election by Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian Cyber Police Chief Serhiy Demedyuk speaks during an interview with Reuters in
Kiev, Ukraine November 2, 2017. Picture taken November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Hackers likely controlled by Russia are stepping up efforts to disrupt Ukraine’s presidential election in March with cyber attacks on electoral servers and personal computers of election staff, the head of Ukraine’s cyber police said on Friday.
    Serhiy Demedyuk told Reuters the attackers were using virus-infected greeting cards, shopping invitations, offers for software updates and other malicious “phishing” material intended to steal passwords and personal information.
    Ten weeks before the elections, hackers were also buying personal details of election officials, Demedyuk said, paying in cryptocurrency on the dark web, part of the internet accessible only through certain software and typically used anonymously.
    “There are constant attacks – they go from simple (software) to applications that one or another employee uses,” he said, adding they were reminiscent of cyber attacks on the country’s energy, transport and banking systems seen since 2014.
    “Payment occurs in cryptocurrency in most cases … and from the same wallets that were used to finance the previous attacks.    This indicates that the same hacker organizations that are under the control of Russian special agencies are engaged in this,” Demedyuk said.
    Asked about Demedyuk’s remarks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Russian state structures have never interfered, and are not interfering, in the internal affairs of other countries.”
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia plunged following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and Kiev has accused Russia of orchestrating large-scale cyber attacks as part of a “hybrid war” against Ukraine, which Moscow repeatedly denies.
    In one of the attacks the “NotPetya” malware in 2017 hit thousands of computers not only in Ukraine but also around the world, disrupting shipping and businesses.
OVERWHELMING
    Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russia captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait.
    Pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko, likely to stand in the elections, said this month that the Kremlin had developed a huge arsenal of methods for interference in the elections.
    “This is not just our take.    The Russian meddling to influence Ukraine’s elections is well under way,” Petro Poroshenko told foreign diplomats.
    His main opponent in the polls is opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, also pro-Western and with a following among Ukrainian nationalists.
    According to the cyber police, no infiltration into the electoral system has been recorded yet, but they expect even larger attacks a month before the elections when the commission’s regional offices will start working.
    The hackers buying personal details of election officials were concentrating on civil servants and employees who keep the commission’s equipment running, he said.
    On phishing attacks, Demedyuk said “virus-laden New Year’s greetings on behalf of government bodies or the governments have become so widespread that they are just overwhelming.”
    “Such mailing lists, spam letters are sent to them and their relatives, which contains malware to control their computer equipment.    This is the easiest way, but it is effective.”
    The cyber police worry that critical infrastructure in sectors such as energy and banking may again become the object of cyber attacks during or before the elections using malware to create so-called ‘back doors’ for a large coordinated attack.
(With additional reporting by Tatiana Ustinova in Moscow, Editing by William Maclean)
[Why is it that everytime the ruling regime thinks they are losing their election decide that they lost because of Russian collusion, but to me it is that the administration should have put in some protection software to prevent it.    But also anyone who uses social media to make their decisions are idiots anyway they should do their own research if they are getting fake news.].

1/25/2019 U.S. intensifies anti-Maduro push as Russia backs Venezuelan ally by Lesley Wroughton, Mayela Armas and Angus Berwick
People on a motorcycle ride past vehicles with diplomatic licence plates parked outside the international terminal
at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    WASHINGTON/CARACAS (Reuters) – The United States on Friday intensified its push to drive Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power, as U.S. diplomats left the embassy in Caracas and Russia vowed to back its socialist South American ally.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday will urge members of the United Nations Security Council to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state.    Washington requested the meeting of the 15-member council after a string of countries threw their weight behind Guaido, who heads Venezuela’s congress, and urged Maduro to step down.
    Russia opposes the request and has accused Washington of backing a coup attempt, placing Venezuela at the heart of a growing geopolitical duel.    Moscow will insist on compliance with international law, Russia’s RIA news agency cited Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday.
    Private military contractors who carry out secret missions for Russia have flown into Venezuela in the past few days to beef up security for Maduro, sources said.
    Maduro said he welcomed a debate over Venezuela’s situation and thanked Pompeo for making the UN request, in a jocular response during a Friday news conference.
    “I was about to say to the foreign minister ‘ask for a security council debate,’ (but) Mike Pompeo got ahead of me,” Maduro said.    “Thanks, Mike … We’re going to tell the truth about the articles of the constitution, about the coup.”
    Earlier, American diplomats left the U.S. embassy in Caracas in a convoy of vehicles with a police escort en route to the airport, according to a Reuters witness.    Maduro, in a fiery speech on Wednesday, broke off diplomatic relations with Washington and ordered the U.S. personnel out within 72 hours.
    The State Department on Thursday told some U.S. government workers to leave Venezuela and said U.S. citizens in the country should consider leaving.    It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the movement of embassy personnel on Friday.
    U.N. human rights boss Michelle Bachelet called on Friday for an investigation into alleged excessive use of force by Venezuelan security forces against protesters, adding that she was “extremely concerned” that the situation could rapidly spiral out of control.
NO FAKE DIALOGUE
    Guaido, who has galvanized Venezuela’s opposition, proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday during a march of hundreds of thousands in Caracas.    He is considering making a request for funds from international institutions including the International Monetary Fund, two people familiar with the talks said on Friday.
    However, he still has no control over the Venezuelan state and the military, which has so far remained loyal to Maduro despite a deep economic and political crisis that has sparked mass emigration, with inflation forecast to rise to 10 million percent this year.    Guaido has promised future amnesties to military members if they disavow Maduro.
    On Friday, Guaido repeated his offer to the armed forces around Venezuela, asking soldiers “to put themselves on the side of the constitution.”
    Most Latin American nations have joined the United States in supporting Guaido’s claim on the presidency, although Mexico’s new leftist government has said it would not take sides.    Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday his administration would be willing to mediate.
    Guaido said he would reject any negotiations that did not include Maduro’s exit, the setting up of a transition government, and free elections to pick a new president.
    “No one wants fake dialogue … the only thing we want to negotiate is the end of the usurpation,” he told a crowd clustered in a plaza in Caracas’ Chacao district, an opposition stronghold.
    To ratchet up pressure on Maduro, who began a second term on Jan. 10 following an election last year widely considered to be a fraud, the United States is seeking to cut off funds for his government, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
    Guaido is also readying a new board to run state-run oil firm PDVSA’s [PDVSA.UL] U.S. unit Citgo Petroleum, people familiar with the discussions said.
    Maduro warned off any attempt to take control of Citgo, the country’s primary offshore asset.    “It is the property of the Venezuelan people, and we will defend it,” he said.
    The Maduro-appointed board of Citgo is preparing a legal strategy to defend itself, sources close to the talks said.
    Oil prices edged higher on Friday as the political turmoil threatened to tighten the global supply of crude.
    Washington has signaled that it could impose new sanctions on OPEC member Venezuela’s vital oil sector.
    “The oil situation has been an ethical moral dilemma for us,” said U.S. Senator Richard Durbin, the no.2 Democrat in the Senate.    “Cutting off all trade in oil would be the last step.    It would make it even worse for the average person.”
(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Shaylim Valderrama, Ana Isabel Martinez, Brian Ellsworth, Deisy Buitrago, Angus Berwick, and Mayela Armas in Caracas and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Angus Berwick; Editing by Brian Ellsworth, Paul Simao and Rosalba O’Brien)
[There was a time when oil was $150 a barrel and Venzuela was rich and living high on the hog and now it is close to $50 a barrel and Maduro could not fund his socialist system which without money falls apart, and why they are in the condition they are.    He is still defending his oil and has the military controlling it.].

1/25/2019 Exclusive: Kremlin-linked contractors help guard Venezuela’s Maduro – sources by Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro reacts with National Electoral Council (CNE) President Tibisay
Lucena during a ceremony to mark the opening of the judicial year at the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ),
in Caracas, Venezuela, January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia flew into Venezuela in the past few days to beef up security for President Nicolas Maduro in the face of U.S.-backed opposition protests, according to two people close to them.
    A third source close to the Russian contractors also told Reuters there was a contingent of them in Venezuela, but could not say when they arrived or what their role was.
    Russia, which has backed Maduro’s socialist government to the tune of billions of dollars, this week promised to stand by him after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president with Washington’s endorsement.
    It was the latest international crisis to split the global superpowers, with the United States and Europe backing Guaido, and Russia and China urging non-interference.
    Yevgeny Shabayev, leader of a local chapter of a paramilitary group of Cossacks with ties to Russian military contractors, said he had heard the number of Russian contractors in Venezuela may be about 400.
    But the other sources spoke of small groups.
    Russia’s Defence Ministry and Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to requests for comment about the contractors.    But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We have no such information.”
    The contractors are associated with the so-called Wagner group whose members, mostly ex-service personnel, fought clandestinely in support of Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine, according to Reuters interviews with dozens of contractors, their friends and relatives.
    A person believed to work for the Wagner group did not respond to a message asking for information.
    Citing contacts in a Russian state security structure, Shabayev said the contingent flew to Venezuela at the start of this week, a day or two before opposition protests started.
CUBA CONNECTION?
    He said they set off in two chartered aircraft for Havana, Cuba, from where they transferred onto regular commercial flights to Venezuela.    The Cuban government, a close ally of Venezuela’s ruling socialists for the last two decades, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The contractors’ task in Venezuela was to protect Maduro from any attempt by opposition sympathizers in his own security forces to detain himb, Shabayev said.
    “Our people are there directly for his protection,” he said.
    Venezuelan authorities said they had put down an attempted revolt on Monday by rogue military officers about a kilometer from the presidential palace in Caracas.
    Maduro, the 56-year-old successor to Hugo Chavez, only takes to the streets in carefully-controlled situations, since crowds have barracked him in the past.
    One of the two anonymous Russian sources, who is close to the Wagner group and fought in foreign conflicts where it was active, said the contractors first arrived in advance of the May 2018 presidential election, but another group arrived “recently.”
    Asked if the deployment was linked to protecting Maduro, the source said: “It’s directly connected.”    The contractors flew to Venezuela not from Moscow but from third countries where they were conducting missions, he added.
    The third source, who is close to the private military contractors, said there was a contingent in Venezuela but he could not provide further details.
    “They did not arrive in a big crowd,” he said.
    Publicly-available flight-tracking data has shown a number of Russian government aircraft landing in or near Venezuela over past weeks, though there was no evidence the flights were connected to military contractors.
    A Russian Ilyushin-96 flew into Havana late on Wednesday after starting its journey in Moscow and flying via Senegal and Paraguay, the data showed.
    The aircraft, a civilian jet, is owned by a division of the Russian presidential administration, according to a publicly-available procurement contract relating to the plane.
    Between Dec. 10 and Dec. 14 last year, an Antonov-124 heavy cargo aircraft, and an Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft, carried out flights between Russia and Caracas, flight-tracking data showed.    Another Ilyushin-76 was in Caracas from Dec. 12 to Dec. 21 last year.    All three aircraft belong to the Russian air force, according to the tracking data.
(Additional reporting by Rinat Sagdiev in Moscow, Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

1/25/2019 Russia to help Cubana get fleet back in air this year
FILE PHOTO - Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov delivers a speech during the annual international
military-technical forum "ARMY" at Patriot Expocentre in Moscow Region, Russia August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Russia will help Cuba repair state-run airline Cubana’s mostly grounded fleet, likely by year’s end, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov was quoted as saying by Cuban news agency Prensa Latina on Friday.
    Cubana had to cancel most domestic flights last year due to a lack of flightworthy planes and lease aircraft from other companies. The carrier uses mainly Russian and Ukrainian-made Ilyushins, Tupolevs and Antonovs partly because U.S. sanctions prevent it from buying planes with a certain share of U.S. components.    Cuba’s cash crunch restricts it from paying for expensive repairs and spare parts.
    After a high-level Russian-Cuban intergovernmental commission meeting in Moscow, Borisov said both sides had checked the repairs needed and had written contracts, without giving details on costs.
    “Everything has passed to the practical stage and I consider that the Cuban fleet will be re-established in 2019,” he said after meeting with Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas.
    “We agreed in the future to work on creating a services center in Cuba dedicated to the aviation fleet in order to avoid a repetition of a negative situation.”
    One of the aircraft Cubana leased, a 39-year-old Boeing 737, crashed in May killing all but one of the 113 onboard.    An investigation is underway.
    Plans for Russia to upgrade Cuba’s rail network are also advancing, Borisov was cited as saying.
    In 2017, state-owned monopoly Russian Railways (RZD) said it was negotiating to upgrade more than 1,000 km (621.37 miles) of Cuban railroads and install a high-speed link between Havana and the beach resort of Varadero, in what would be Cuba’s biggest infrastructure project in decades.
    An RZD executive told Reuters in November 2017 the deal would be worth nearly 2 billion euros and signed by the end of the year.    Since then, however, the deal’s completion has not been announced.
    “We agreed to divide it into stages and optimize the necessary credits in order to carry out this project,” Borisov was cited as saying.    “I expect it to be put into practise in a near future.”
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Richard Chang)

1/25/2019 Serbia leader announces arrest of mayor over attack on journalist
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic stands in the St Sava temple in Belgrade, Serbia January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic announced the arrest of the mayor of a Belgrade suburb on Friday in connection with an attack on a journalist that has become a cause for protesters during nearly two months of anti-government demonstrations.
    Vucic, a former ultra-nationalist who has become an advocate of closer ties with the West, is facing weekly demonstrations from opposition groups that accuse him of increasingly authoritarian rule.    More protests are planned for Saturday.
    Opposition parties and their backers accuse Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) of stifling media freedoms and carrying out attacks on political opponents and journalists.
    Demonstrators have been angered in particular by a firebomb attack on the home of a journalist, Milan Jovanovic, in Belgrade’s suburb of Grocka last month.    The attackers hurled a firebomb at a car in the garage and fired a pistol at the door as the house burned.    The reporter escaped from a rear window.
    Jovanovic says he was targeted over his reporting about corruption in his municipality.
    In a televised address, Vucic said Grocka’s mayor, who is also an official in the SNS party, had been taken for questioning over his role in the attack on the reporter’s home.
    “A party membership card will not save anyone from responsibility.    Journalists will be protected no matter for whom they work for … No one will be protected because of being a politician,” Vucic said.
    He also pledged a tougher fight against politically motivated violence and cronyism, including changes in the legislature.
    Serbia wants to join the EU, tentatively by 2025, but to do so it must first root out corruption, organized crime, nepotism and red tape.
    Earlier this week, at a panel during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Vucic said he was dissatisfied with media freedoms in Serbia and pledged to make an effort to help improve them.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/25/2019 Russia calls on U.S. to drop plans to deploy missiles in space
FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport
in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Friday called on the United States to drop what it called irresponsible plans to deploy a missile defense system in space, saying the move risked fuelling an arms race.
    The ministry said in a statement that the plans looked like an attempt to resurrect the so-called Star Wars program or U.S. Strategic Defence Initiative which was first announced in the 1980s by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
    Moscow said it was “deeply concerned” by the U.S. plans which it said it interpreted as confirmation that Washington intended to use space for military purposes in the near future.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/28/2019 U.S. Treasury lifts sanctions on 3 Russian companies after Deripaska reduces stakes by OAN Newsroom
    The Treasury Department has lifted sanctions on three Russian companies with ties to oligarch Oleg Deripaska.    In a statement Sunday, the Treasury announced Russian aluminum maker Rusal, industrial consortium En+ Group and energy company EuroSibEnergo aren’t blacklisted any longer after Deripaska divested from all three.
    Treasury officials said the sanctions were targeting Deripaska, who remains blacklisted, but now there’s no need to keep sanctions on Russian companies.
    “If anything, we are trying to de-link these companies so that they will not be under the influence and control of a sanctioned oligarch, that’s our objective,” stated Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
    Congressional Democrats have opposed the Treasury’s move ever since Deripaska said he would comply with a U.S. request to divest last year.
FILE- In this July 2, 2015, file photo, Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska attends Independence Day celebrations
at Spaso House, the residence of the American Ambassador, in Moscow, Russia. The U.S. Treasury has lifted sanctions on
three Russian companies connected to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, it was announced Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 reversing
a move which wreaked havoc on global aluminum markets last year. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    The Rusal sanctions were imposed last April, producing a rise in global aluminum prices and a rise of anti-American sentiments in Russia.
    Democrats have argued the sanctions should remain in place to — as they put it — keep pressure on Russia.
    “The reason these were imposed was because of the malevolent actions of Deripaska and the Kremlin — they are intended to influence the Kremlin’s behavior, and so what has changed that merits now the relaxation of these sanctions?” asked Democrat Representative Adam Schiff.
    Treasury officials said now that Deripaska has divested, the department chose American executives to oversee Rusal assets in the U.S.    The department’s move is also expected to boost Russian-American trade, and help President Trump bring down aluminum prices for U.S. consumers.
    Additionally, the Treasury said there is a difference between the people of Russia and friends of Vladimir Putin.
    “Rusal was picked up not because we were targeting Rusal, but because we were targeting the ownership of Rusal,” said Secretary Mnuchin.    “Our objective was not to put Rusal out of business.”
    Meanwhile, a separate report has suggested the Rusal sanctions have been inefficient to keep corrupt Russian oligarchs in check.    According to Bloomberg, Deripaska’s personal wealth rose by $679 million this month alone despite the sanctions.
    Some are saying U.S. restrictions should target personal assets of the Kremlin’s affiliates rather than Russian companies with tens of thousands of employees in that country.
    “In the old days, when governments did sanctions, they would sanctions the people.    The U.S. government would sanction the Iranian people, and then the Iranian leaders would take in 747s of caviar and champagne for the leadership of the country, not the people.    Now all of a sudden the thing is turned off its head, the people are being left alone, but the top guys are getting their money frozen, and that infuriates them.” — Bill Browder, anti-corruption campaigner.
    The Treasury Department said Rusal sanctions could be lifted by the end of this month.    Meanwhile, Trump administration officials also reiterated their efforts fighting the Kremlin’s corruption and money laundering will continue.
[Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, founder of Basic Element, one of Russia's largest industrial groups, and Volnoe Delo, Russia's largest charitable foundation.    Deripaska is also known for his connection to American political consultant Paul Manafort, who has been convicted on charges of tax fraud, bank fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts, which stemmed from Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.    Deripaska employed Manafort from at least 2005 to 2009.
    Manaforts activity above has nothing to do with 2016.    I find no connection or collusion to Donald Trump, sorry Mueller and Adam Schiff.]

1/29/2019 Kosovo President ready for compromise deal with Serbia by Fatos Bytyci
Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci attends a ceremony of security forces a day before parliament's
vote on whether to form a national army, in Pristina, Kosovo, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Laura Hasani
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo is ready for a compromise deal with Serbia to resolve long-standing issues between the countries, President Hashim Thaci said in a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, committed in 2013 to a European Union-sponsored dialogue aimed at resolving the situation but little progress has been made.
    The talks have been halted since November when the government in Pristina raised customs tariffs on imports of locally-made products from Serbia by 100 percent.    Serbia said it would not hold talks if the trade situation was not returned to normal.
    “I will be ready and willing to make compromises necessary to reach a comprehensive and balanced settlement that will encompass all outstanding issues, thereby ending the century-old conflict with Serbia, and bringing peace to the whole region,” Thaci said in his letter dated Jan. 8.
    It remains unclear why Thaci published the letter now, days after he received a letter from Trump urging his Kosovo counterpart to do everything to reach a deal with Serbia two decades after the war ended.
    Thaci said in June he would seek a solution with Serbia by “correcting borders,” but politicians and analysts in Kosovo said that would mean land swaps.
    His plan rang alarm bells among Balkan neighbors and Western governments who saw it as a move to take three Serbian municipalities inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo’s population.
    If there was a land swap Serbia would get part of northern Kosovo populated mainly by minority Serbs who refuse to recognize the authority of the Pristina government.
    Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has said he is not willing to change his government’s decision on tariffs.
    Washington remains the biggest supporter of Kosovo politically and financially.
    It was under U.S. command that NATO bombed Serbian forces in 1999 to halt killings and the expulsion of Kosovo Albanians during a counter-insurgency operation.
    Kosovo is recognized by around 110 nations, but not by Serbia, Russia and five EU member states.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, editing by Ed Osmond)

1/29/2019 Trailing in polls, Ukraine’s Poroshenko launches bid for second term by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addresses to his supporters in Kiev, Ukraine January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, whose popularity has plunged over rampant corruption and sliding living standards, launched his uphill fight for re-election on Tuesday, promising to steer his country toward the West and join the EU.
    Polls show Poroshenko trailing the opponent he defeated five years ago, opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a veteran former prime minister who has pledged to clamp down on graft, raise wages and lower household energy prices.
    A 53-year-old confectionary magnate and one of Ukraine’s richest men, Poroshenko took power in the heady days of 2014 after a popular uprising that overthrew pro-Russian leader Viktor Yanukovich.
    But his five years in power have been difficult. Russia responded to Yanukovich’s fall by seizing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and backing separatists in the east in a conflict which has killed at least 10,000 people and which remains unresolved despite a 2015 ceasefire.
    The public has blamed a failure to fight corruption for the continuing fall of living standards in one of Europe’s poorest countries.    The average monthly wage is around $380 compared to $450 in the year before Poroshenko took office.
    “The feeling of deep responsibility before the country, before contemporaries, before past and future generations prompted me to decide to run again for the presidency,” Poroshenko told thousands of supporters on Tuesday.
    While apologizing for mistakes, Poroshenko cast himself as the man to guard Ukraine against Russia and populism, and keep Ukraine on its Western course.    Patriotic songs and videos, showing footage of soldiers at the front or the president meeting world leaders, preceded his speech.
    “None of my steps, successful or not, contradicted the strategy of a complete break with the colonial past, of Ukraine going its own way, of a civilization alliance with Europe,” he said.    “And we have no right to stop halfway.”
    Tymoshenko, a fiery speaker who was jailed under Kremlin-backed leader Yanukovich, launched her campaign last week.    Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice who achieved fame as a comic actor, is also seen as a strong challenger.
    Poroshenko is likely to promote himself as a less radical choice than Tymoshenko, whose plans for more state spending could set her on a collision course with the International Monetary Fund and other foreign lenders who have pumped in billions to keep Ukraine’s war-scarred economy afloat.
FATIGUE AND DASHED HOPES
    In the five years since the popular uprising that swept Yanukovich from power, Ukraine’s heady optimism for change has faded.    Seventy percent of Ukrainians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, according to a December survey.
    “There is fatigue from unfulfilled hopes,” Iryna Bekeshkina, the director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, one of three organizations that carried out the survey, told Reuters.
    Poroshenko wants Ukraine to apply for EU membership in 2024.    But while the West remains supportive of Ukraine, the country’s prospects of joining the bloc any time soon are questionable.
    Poroshenko can boast some successes.    He secured visa-free travel to the European Union for Ukrainians.    He led efforts to create a national, independent Orthodox church that threw off centuries of ties to the Russian clergy.
    While he has not won the war in the east, as he had promised to do within weeks, he has not lost it either.    The 2015 ceasefire has largely held despite regular deadly clashes.
    He successfully lobbied for U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to supply lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine and for the EU and Washington to keep sanctions on Russia.
    But corruption still festers, top officials suspected of bribe-taking have stayed out of jail, anti-corruption activists have been attacked and reforms sometimes stalled or reversed.
    Poroshenko’s re-election bid coincided with the release of watchdog Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index.    Ukraine has climbed ten places since last year but still languishes in 120th place out of 180.
    “This result is not consistent with fast European integration, reforms and elimination of corruption from all aspects of life to which our country claims to aspire,” said the head of Transparency International Ukraine Andrii Borovyk.
(Additional reporting by Olena Vasina; Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Ed Osmond)
[Why is Russian president Putin so interested in getting Ukraine back?    It is because Russia is an aging population, and Ukraine has 50 million people that would ignite their economy, as well as the EU would be helped by that, since losing the United Kingdom is in process.].

1/29/2019 Danish minister calls for EU-wide sanctions on Russia over Azov Sea
Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen speaks during a news conference in
Copenhagen, Denmark, October 30, 2018. Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s foreign minister called on Tuesday for European Union-wide sanctions on Russia over a stand-off with Ukraine in the Azov Sea.
    Anders Samuelsen will meet Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, on Tuesday and Wednesday and visit the city of Mariupol by the Azov sea, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    “I believe the EU needs to react to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” Samuelsen said in the statement.
    The EU will issue a demarche – a formal diplomatic protest note – to Moscow as early as this week over Russia’s continued detention of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured during the incident in November, diplomat sources told Reuters last week.
    European foreign ministers meet on Thursday this week to discuss Ukraine and other issues.
(Reporting by Emil Gjerding Nielson; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

1/29/2019 Austrian businessman’s lawyers accuse Poland’s ruling party head of not paying for services
FILE PHOTO: Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, attends
regional elections, at a polling station in Warsaw, Poland, October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Lawyers for Austrian businessman Gerald Birgfellner accused Poland’s ruling party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski of failing to pay him for services related to an office tower project in downtown Warsaw, Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported on Tuesday.
    Recordings obtained by the paper dating from July 2018 appeared to feature audio of Kaczynski commenting on and cancelling the project.    The paper cited unidentified sources.
    “If we don’t win the elections, we won’t be able to build this tower in Warsaw,” he says in the recordings, according to Wyborcza.
    Beata Mazurek, a spokeswoman for Kaczynski’s PiS party, said on Twitter on Monday: “‘Pseudo revelations’ that are being discussed today on (Twitter) is just another story from (Gazeta Wyborcza) about the company Srebrna. The same gossip and speculation, that we’ve been hearing for years.”
    Mazurek was not immediately available for comment when Reuters called on Tuesday.
    Kaczynski oversaw the investment process for the building of the office project, which was meant to include apartments, a hotel and the base of the Lech Kaczynski foundation, named after Jaroslaw’s twin brother and former president of Poland, Gazeta Wyborcza said.
    State-run bank Pekao was meant to help finance the investment preparations for up to 15.5 million euros and offer credit for around 300 million euros, the newspaper said.
    Kaczynski is accused of not paying Birgfellner for his services.    Birgfellner’s lawyers have notified the Warsaw prosecutor’s office of a potential crime on Kaczynski’s part, Wyborcza said.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Koper; Editing by Paul Tait)

1/30/2019 Canada to cut Cuba presence after another diplomat falls ill by Anna Mehler Paperny
A security officer speaks on the phone at the Canada's Embassy in Havana, Cuba, April 16, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada has decided to cut the number of diplomatic staff in Cuba by up to half after another diplomat fell ill, the Canadian government said in a statement on Wednesday, bringing the total to 14 Canadians suffering mysterious symptoms since 2017.
    Canadian and U.S. diplomats in Havana first began complaining of dizziness, headaches and nausea in the spring of 2017.    The United States reduced embassy staffing in Cuba from more than 50 to a maximum of 18, after more than two dozen personnel developed unusual illnesses.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

1/30/2019 Hungary to shun Italian-led eurosceptic alliance, stick with allies: official
Szabolcs Takacs, Hungarian State Secretary in charge of European Union affairs, poses
for a picture during an interview in Budapest, Hungary January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Gergely Szakacs
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party will not join a eurosceptic alliance spearheaded by Italy in the run-up to European Parliament elections despite their common hard line on immigration, a government official said on Wednesday.
    Early this month, Italy’s far-right Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini proposed that Italy and Poland join forces to reshape Europe, trying to drum up support for a eurosceptic alliance ahead of European Parliament elections in May.
    Orban gave his support to the initiative, saying he wanted anti-immigration parties to gain a majority at the vote.    But a senior aide told Reuters that Fidesz would work on bolstering the poll showing of Hungarian candidates for the European People’s Party.
    “There is no hidden agenda here.    The only thing is that these two politicians Mr. Salvini and Mr. Orban have a very similar if not identical approach on how we should tackle the migration challenge,” state secretary Szabolcs Takacs said.
    He said to his knowledge, no meeting was planned between Salvini and Orban, two hard-liners against mass immigration into Europe, in the foreseeable future.
    “Both PiS in Poland and the League in Italy are not EPP members, whereas Fidesz is a member of the EPP.    This very clearly defines our place and our position,” Takacs said.    “Hungary is not participating in this cooperation in the European Parliament campaign.”
    “What we would like to see is that the EPP remains where it should be remaining, the original values, ideas, Christian democracy.”
    Takacs also said Hungary firmly backed Manfred Weber’s candidacy to be the next European Commission President.
    Hungary has been in conflict with European institutions over what critics say is Budapest’s backsliding on democratic norms, with some controversial reforms affecting the independence of the judiciary and the media.
    The European Parliament voted last September to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption in an unprecedented step that left Prime Minister Viktor Orban isolated from powerful allies.
    Takacs said he hoped the number of conflict points between Hungary and European institutions could decrease after the election, saying the next European Commission should take a less political role.
    “What we would like to see is a completely different European Commission, which (guards) European law. Nothing more and nothing less,” he said/
    “Unlike the current President, the European Commission should not declare itself to be a political player in the next institutional cycle.” (Reporting by Gergely Szakacs)

1/31/2019 Russia, U.S. last-ditch talks to break nuclear pact deadlock fail: agencies
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister and head of delegation Sergey Ryabkov (L) greets U.S. delegation head Under-Secretary of State
Andrea Thompson (C) and U.S. Permanent Representative to the Conference on Disarmament Robert Wood at a Treaty on the
Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference with the UN Security Council's five permanent members (P5)
China, France, Russia, Britain, and U.S., in Beijing, China, January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and the United States failed to bridge their differences over a landmark Cold War-era arms treaty at last-ditch talks in Beijing, Russia’s deputy foreign minister was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies on Thursday.
    The impasse sets the stage for the United States to begin pulling out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) as early as this Saturday unless Moscow moves to destroy a missile Washington says is violating the accord.
        Moscow has refused to destroy the Novator 9M729 missile, insisting it is fully compliant with the treaty.
    “Unfortunately, there is no progress,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.
    “As far as we understand, the next step is coming, the next phase begins, namely the phase of the United States stopping its obligations under the INF, which will evidently happen this coming weekend,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying.
    Ryabkov met U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson in Beijing on the sidelines of a meeting of the P5 nuclear powers.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth, Editing by Andrew Osborn)

1/31/2019 U.S.-approved trustee for Russia’s Deripaska has worked with him for years by Polina Ivanova, Polina Devitt and Nathan Layne
Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska arrives for the talks of Russian President Vladimir Putin with
South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A law firm appointed to act as a buffer between Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska and one of his businesses, under a deal that allowed Washington to lift sanctions on the firm, has worked closely with Deripaska for years.
    The U.S. Treasury Department agreed to lift sanctions on three businesses controlled by Deripaska on condition that the tycoon – who will still be under sanctions himself – reduces his ownership in the businesses and severs his control.
    As part of the deal, some of Deripaska’s voting rights as a shareholder in his main holding company, En+ , were handed over to a “voting trust obligated to vote in the same manner as the majority of shares held by shareholders other than Deripaska,” according to the Treasury Department.
    On Monday, announcing names of this and other trustees, En+ said that one of the trustees exercising the voting rights was called “Ogier Global Nominee (Jersey) Limited.”
    A source close to En+, when asked about the nature of the trustee, said Ogier Global was “a very respectable Jersey law firm.”
    Jersey-based Ogier Global has handled multiple deals involving Deripaska’s firms.
    Ogier’s Cayman office represented Deripaska in a 2014 case against equity fund Pericles Emerging Market Partners, court documents showed.    Pericles was run by Paul Manafort, who was briefly campaign chairman for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
    Ogier also acted on behalf of aluminum giant Rusal, which is controlled by En+, in 2017 when it placed the first “Panda Bond” offering by a Russian company, the name given to overseas debt sold in the Chinese market, Ogier said in a statement at the time.
    “Rusal is a long-standing client and we are particularly pleased to have worked with them again,” a partner in Ogier’s Jersey office was cited by the law firm as saying at the time.
    One of its Jersey lawyers “has worked on several headline deals including the $1.5 billion IPO of En+ Group,” Ogier’s website said.
    Like Ogier, Rusal is also registered in Jersey. As of Jan. 28 2019, its registered address was the same as that of the Ogier law firm: Ogier House, 44 Esplanade, St. Helier, Jersey.
    According to the Jersey Financial Services Registry, Ogier Global Nominee (Jersey) Limited is at that address, as is Ogier Global, and Ogier Global is listed as providing an office for Ogier Global Nominee.
    Asked about ties between Deripaska’s businesses and Ogier, En+ declined to comment.    Deripaska’s representative and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers U.S. sanctions, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Ogier also did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
    Michael Dobson, who worked on sanctions policy toward Russia at OFAC and is now at the Morrison & Foerster law firm, said he was not overly concerned that Ogier had done work for Deripaska in the past given the amount of scrutiny it will be under.
    “They have a pretty strong incentive to play above board,” Dobson said, adding that having a law firm that understands Deripaska’s business could be seen as a benefit in terms of compliance.    “As opposed to someone going in blind who doesn’t know if they are being manipulated.”
(Additional reporting by Clara Denina in LONDON; Editing by Giles Elgood)

1/31/2019 U.S. pulling out of INF Treaty unless Russia falls back in line by February by OAN Newsroom
    The clock is running out for Russia to comply with the nuclear treaty it has with the U.S. Little progress was made Thursday as representatives from the U.S. met with their Russian counterparts at a conference held in Beijing.
    The U.S. is demanding Russia destroy its arsenal of long-range missiles, arguing the weapons violate policies put in place by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
    President Trump said he would pull out of the agreement by early February if Moscow doesn’t start dismantling the missile system.
Delegation members from the UN Security Council’s five permanent members (P5) from left; Andrea Thompson of the U.S., Fu Cong of
China and Nicolas Roche of France attend a panel discussion after a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)
conference in Beijing, China, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference
in Beijing consists of five permanent members (P5) China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP)
    "Arms control regimes only work if standards are maintained, and if there are consequences for violating those standards, so if parties are to the treaty, and you abide by that standard, that’s what we expect,” stated Andrea Thompson, U.S. Under Secretary of Arms Control and International Security.    “If you don’t abide by that standard and the other parties allow it to manifest, you’ve now set a new standard, and that undermines all of our arms control regimes.”
    Russia, however, believes its missile system is not in violation of the treaty.    Russian officials at the meeting slammed the ultimatum issued by the U.S. as “blackmailing” efforts to stop “dialogue.

1/31/2019 U.S. to announce suspension of compliance with nuclear pact: officials by Steve Holland, Jonathan Landay and Lesley Wroughton
FILE PHOTO: Components of SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile system are on display during a news briefing, organized by
Russian defence and foreign ministries, at Patriot Expocentre near Moscow, Russia January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will soon announce plans to suspend compliance with a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia, responding to an alleged violation of the treaty by Moscow, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
    The move would start a six-month countdown that could lead to permanent U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 arms control accord, which bans either side from stationing short-and-intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe, the officials said.
    However, Washington could choose not to pull out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), if Russia comes into compliance with the treaty within that time frame.
    The United States alleges that a new Russian cruise missile violates the pact.    The missile, the Novator 9M729, is known as the SSC-8 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
    Russia denies the allegation, saying the missile’s range puts it outside the treaty, and has accused the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit a treaty Washington wants to leave anyway so it can develop new missiles.    Russia has also rejected a U.S. demand to destroy the new missile.We’re going to announce suspension,” a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    A second U.S. official said the U.S. action would be “reversible” if Russia came back into compliance during the six-month U.S. suspension.    “Then the U.S. would unsuspend,” the official said.
    The dispute is aggravating the worst U.S.-Russia frictions since the Cold War ended in 1991.    Some experts believe the treaty’s collapse could undermine other arms control agreements and speed an erosion of the global system designed to block the spread of nuclear arms.
    U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson on Thursday held last-ditch talks with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Beijing ahead of the expiration on Saturday of a U.S. 60-day deadline for Moscow to return to compliance with the treaty.
    Thompson and Ryabkov said afterwards that the two countries had failed to bridge their differences.    They met on the sidelines of a meeting of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members – the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain – all nuclear powers.
    European officials are concerned about the treaty’s possible collapse, fearful that Europe could again become an arena for nuclear-armed, intermediate-range missile buildups by the United States and Russia.
    In an interview, Thompson said she expected Washington to stop complying with the treaty as soon as this weekend, a move she said would allow the U.S. military to immediately begin developing its own longer-range missiles if it chose to do so, raising the prospect they could be deployed in Europe.
    “We’ll be able to do that (suspend our treaty obligations) on Feb. 2,” she told Reuters in Beijing.    “We’ll have an announcement made, follow all the steps that need to be taken on the treaty to suspend our obligations with the intent to withdraw.”
    Once announced, the formal withdrawal process takes six months.    Halting treaty compliance would untie the U.S. military’s hands, Thompson said.
    “We are then also able to conduct the R&D and work on the systems we haven’t been able to use because we’ve been in compliance with the treaty,” she said.    “Come February 2, this weekend, if DoD (the U.S. Department of Defense) chooses to do that, they’ll be able to do that.”
    Washington remained open to further talks with Moscow about the treaty, she added.
    Ryabkov said Moscow would continue working toward an agreement but accused Washington of ignoring Russian complaints about U.S. missiles and of adopting what he called a destructive position.
    “The United States imposed a 60-day period during which we had to fulfill their ultimatum,” the Sputnik news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying after talks with Thompson.    “I conclude that the United States was not expecting any decision and all this was a game made to cover their domestic decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty.”
    Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington think tank, said he sees little chance the treaty can be saved.
    “Neither side is showing the flexibility necessary to arrive with an agreement that brings Russia into compliance,” he said.    “So I think it’s highly unlikely that we will see an 11th hour diplomatic miracle."
    “Both sides at this point appear more interested in winning the blame game than taking the steps necessary to save the treaty,” he added.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Jonathan Landay and Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

2/1/2019 Kremlin blames imminent demise of nuclear pact on Washington
FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport
in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it regretted an impending U.S. move to stop complying with a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia and accused Washington of failing to listen or negotiate to avoid such an outcome.
    U.S. officials said on Thursday that the United States would soon announce plans to suspend compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, responding to an alleged violation of the treaty by Moscow.
    “….The unwillingness of the Americans to listen to any arguments and to hold substantive negotiations with us shows that the decision to break this treaty was taken in Washington a long time ago,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

2/1/2019 Russia’s deputy foreign minister responds to U.S. withdrawal from INF treaty by OAN Newsroom
    Russia’s deputy foreign minister — Sergei Ryabkov — has warned America’s withdrawal from a long-time nuclear arms treaty is a threat to nuclear arms control.
    While speaking Friday, Ryabkov said the U.S. has jumped to conclusions after alleging Russia supposedly violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
    Ryabkov went on to say Russia considers the agreement essential, saying it’s within the interests of its own security as well as Europe.    He noted it would be “irresponsible” for one side to “shatter” the treaty.
    “This game is done, the Americans are sure to finally pull out of the treaty, this will be a serious blow to the international arms control system and the system of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which exist for now,” he stated.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (AP/Photo)
    The Russian deputy foreign minister said the entire situation is interchangeable, and said Russia can’t turn a blind eye to a possible deployment of 24 American tomahawk missiles to Romania.    He pointed out a U.S. missile defense system is already headed for neighboring Poland after an agreement was signed back in March.
A map of the world is displayed behind Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a
news conference at the State Department in Washington, Friday, Feb. 1, 2019. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the U.S. is pulling out
of a treaty with Russia that’s been a centerpiece of arms control since the Cold War. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

2/1/2019 Slovenian PM says government in talks to secure support for budget by Marja Novak
Slovenia's Prime Minister Marjan Sarec speaks during an interview with Reuters
in Ljubljana, Slovenia, February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – Slovenian centre-left Prime Minister Marjan Sarec said on Friday that his minority government will quit if parliament does not pass its 2019 budget plan in March but that it was holding talks with various factions to secure their support.
    In an interview with Reuters, Sarec also said the government planned to introduce a pension reform later this year and hoped to remove some of the bureaucratic hurdles facing potential foreign and domestic investors.
    Sarec’s coalition government, which holds 43 out of 90 parliamentary seats, adopted a draft 2019 budget last week expecting a budget surplus of 0.5 percent of GDP and a spending increase of 4.8 percent to 10.2 billion euros compared to an earlier budget plan made by the previous government.
    “We can do nothing without the budget.    If there is no budget there will be a (parliamentary) election,” Sarec said in the interview.
    A former comedian turned politician who took power in September following June election, Sarec said the privatisation process of Slovenia’s third largest bank Abanka was underway.    As agreed with the European Commission in 2013 when the commission approved state aid to the bank, the bank is due to be sold by the middle of 2019.
    Sarec, whose government is due to announce a new privatisation strategy later this year, also said he was against any “poor-considered privatisations.”
    “I believe we should privatise as little as possible, instead we should put good managers in state firms,” he said.
    Slovenia is due to sell another 10 percent of its largest bank Nova Ljubljanska Banka (NLB) in 2019, having sold 65 percent of the bank in November.    The government will keep 25 percent of NLB in the long run to have a say in key business decisions. [nL8N1XK3ES]
    The planned pension reform would gradually increase retirement age, Sarec said, but gave no further details. At present Slovenians can retire at the age of 60.
    He also said that while not pessimistic about Slovenia’s economic outlook, he was worried that Brexit and trade disputes could affect some of its main trading partners which are mostly other EU states.
    Export-oriented Slovenia, which narrowly avoided an international bailout for its banks in 2013, returned to growth a year later and expects the economy to expand by 3.7 percent this year versus some 4.4 percent in 2018.
(Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

2/1/2019 Hungary’s Jobbik party says might disband after second audit fine by Marton Dunai
A man stands next to an election billboard of opposition party, Jobbik in Budapest, Hungary April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s largest opposition party, Jobbik, has been pushed to the brink of insolvency by a second monster fine related to campaign spending and may be forced to disband, it said on Friday.
    Jobbik, once known for its hard-line and anti-Semitic views, has turned into a milder party in recent years, as it shifted toward the center to challenge Fidesz, the ruling right-wing party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    The State Audit Office, headed by a one-time senior Fidesz official, hit it with a 660 million-forint ($2.4 million) fine for illegal spending in 2017.
    Now it faces another fine, related to 2018 campaign spending, of 273 million forints.    That has dealt the party, still the second strongest in Parliament, a potentially lethal blow, a Jobbik spokesman said.
    “It’s entirely plausible that Jobbik as a party, and its parliament group, will cease to exist,” spokesman Peter Jakab told Reuters.    The party has called an extraordinary congress to set its future course.
    The state auditors said in a statement on their web site on Thursday that Jobbik used unidentified and illegal campaign funds.
    “Jobbik breached the campaign financing laws… calling unpaid bills and debts ‘assets’ even as they could clearly not form the basis of their campaign spending,” it said.
    Jakab said the party had funds left over from 2017 and acknowledged the party had unpaid tax and post office bills listed as supplier loans.    But those funds were not illegal, and procedures were already under way to repay them, he said.
    The party has fought the fines in court, but it can’t keep its operations running and pay the penalties with its current 510 million-forint annual budget, much less campaign in European and local elections this year, Jakab said.
    He said the 20 Jobbik MPs would keep their Parliament seats.
    The changes might accelerate a process of opposition forces – several of which were also fined by the auditors – uniting against Fidesz, he said.
    “The way we are picked apart by the auditors today, other parties can get the same tomorrow,” Jakab said.    “If tyranny attacks freedom, then those attacked tend to group together.    The regime and those fighting against it will form the two sides.”
    “The last people to systematically eradicate the opposition were the Communists, and that led to the 1956 revolution,” he said.    “We would prefer for the rule of law to continue instead.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King)

2/1/2019 Hungary opposition unites in challenge to government’s overhaul of courts
FILE PHOTO: People march at the Chain Bridge during a protest against the new labour law in Budapest, Hungary,
December 13, 2018. The banner reads "Free Country, Free University". REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo /File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s often-divided opposition parties came together on Friday to urge the country’s top court to investigate an overhaul of the justice system, which they say could make it vulnerable to government influence.
    The rare unified political front against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government was forged by concerns about new administrative courts which, from January 2020, will hear cases about government business such as taxation and elections.
    The justice minister will oversee its appointments and budget, which the opposition says is a conflict of interest.
    Orban, whose Fidesz party came to power in 2010, has used a two-thirds majority in Parliament to solidify his power and erode democratic checks and balances with scant resistance from the opposition, which has mostly been weak and mired in infighting.
    “The new law violates the principle of separation of powers,” five parliamentary opposition parties and several other MPs and politicians wrote in a joint press release, adding they would ask the Constitutional Court for a review.
    Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi has rejected concerns that the government would pack the new court with judges loyal to Orban’s government.
    The government has said the courts would be independent and more efficient than generalist courts that currently handle state matters.
    The Constitutional Court can theoretically veto the law or force Parliament to reconsider, but the body has rarely presented a real obstacle to lawmaking. Government spokesmen did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.
    The court reforms helped ignite a string of street protests in Hungary late last year, with new rules expanding private sector overtime also provoking opposition grievances.
    The protests have died down but brought opposition political parties together, prompting speculation about coordinated campaign efforts in European Parliament elections and a municipal vote due later this year.
    Although several parties ultimately said they would go it alone for the European election campaign, the joint courts challenge shows the opposition cooperation continues in other areas.
    “It is an important issue whether citizens can turn to an independent court when they want to enforce their rights against a state administrative body,” the opposition group wrote.
    “The independence of courts means nothing but a chance to win against the state, an opportunity to take up a fight against the tyranny of those in power.”
    In September the European Parliament voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption.    Hungary rejected the accusations.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Toby Chopra)

2/1/2019 Russians worried about country’s direction hits highest in 13 years
FILE PHOTO: A billboard in Moscow for Russian President Vladimir Putin during last year's
presidential campaign election, January 15, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of Russians who believe their country is moving in the wrong direction rose to its highest since 2006, a new poll showed.
    Forty-five 45 percent of Russians now believe the country is “on the wrong course,” compared with 42 percent who approve of the country’s direction, according to the poll by the independent Moscow-based Levada Centre, which was published late on Thursday.
    Those poll results marked a sharp change from a year ago, when only 28 percent said the country was moving in the wrong direction and 55 percent approved.
    The findings do not pose an immediate risk for President Vladimir Putin, who has dominated Russian politics for 19 years and whose overall approval rating remains over 60 percent.
    But they raise questions about how the Kremlin may seek to reverse what both independent and state pollsters have shown is a slide in his ratings since he won re-election last year.
    Last month, a state pollster said the public’s trust in Putin had fallen to its lowest level in 13 years amid dismay over falling household incomes and unpopular government moves to raise the retirement age and the value added tax.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by)

2/2/2019 Russia suspends INF nuclear deal with U.S.: Putin by Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with officials and representatives of
Russian business community at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 26, 2018. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has suspended the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty after a similar move by the United States, President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday, also instructing the government not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington.
    Moscow’s relations with the West have been at their lowest over a number of issues, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine as well as allegations of it meddling with the presidential election in the U.S. and being behind a nerve agent attack in Britain.
    The row over the INF treaty is yet another twist in Russia’s worsening relations with the United States and the West on the whole.
    “The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we suspend it as well,” Putin said during a televised meeting with foreign and defense ministers.
    The United States announced on Friday it will withdraw from the INF treaty with Russia in six months unless Moscow ends what it says are violations of the landmark 1987 arms control pact.
(For a graphic on U.S. nuclear arsenal – https://tmsnrt.rs/2sYZOpw)
    Putin said Russia will start work on creating new missiles, including hypersonic ones, and told ministers not to initiate disarmament talks with Washington, accusing the U.S. of being slow to respond to such moves.
    “We have repeatedly, during a number of years, and constantly raised a question about substantiative talks on the disarmament issue, notably, on all the aspects,” Putin said.
    “We see, that in the past few years the partners have not supported our initiatives.”     During the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also accused the United States of violating the INF and other arms deals, such as the non-proliferation treaty.
    Putin said that Russia will not increase its military budget for the new weapons and it won’t deploy its weapons in Europe and other regions unless the United States does so.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Louise Heavens)
[As I wrote back on 12/30/2018 that Russia stated in 2019 it will deploy the S-350 Vityaz a new generation short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile complex, to replace its ageing S-300 system.    Also the Russian military had deployed Pantsir-S and S-400 complexes to Crimea, as well as in its Arctic region, the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea, and in its easternmost Khabarovsk region.    Russia has been flexing its military muscles abroad in recent years, and its involvement in the Syrian conflict and Ukraine has soured relations with the West.    The U.S. alleging that a new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729 (called SSC-8 by NATO), violates the pact.    Russia denies the missile violates the INF and accuses the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit the treaty in order to develop new missiles.    President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would deploy its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles next year, saying the move meant his country now had a new type of strategic weapon, and the Vityaz (Knight) is a short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile system, developed by Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation.]

2/2/2019 Putin: Russia also suspending INF, will begin work on missiles immediately by OAN Newsroom
    Russia moves to suspend the INF treaty just one day after the U.S. announced it was ready to pull out of the agreement.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the move during a meeting earlier Saturday, instructing officials not to engage in de-escalation talks with the Trump administration.
    He also said the Russian government would immediately start work on a range of new ballistic missiles, including hypersonic missiles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu during a meeting in the
Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Putin said that Russia will abandon the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty,
following in the footsteps of the United States, but noted that Moscow will only deploy
intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    “We will provide a mirror-like response. The American partners have declared that they suspend their participation in the deal, we are suspending it as well,” said Putin.    “They have announced that they will engage in research and development programs, we will do the same.”
    In a follow up, Putin claimed Russia would not deploy its weapons anywhere in the world unless the United States does first.

2/3/2019 Kosovo’s parliament approves 2019 budget, avoids crisis
FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj talks during an interview
with Reuters in Pristina, Kosovo, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Hazir reka
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s parliament approved the 2019 budget on Sunday after an opposition party agreed to support the minority government two days after the deadline expired, forcing a halt in all state expenditure.
    The budget passed with 65 votes in the 120-seat parliament.
    The coalition government, which holds 53 seats, negotiated the support of the opposition Social Democrat Party (PSD).
    Parliament also passed a bill raising public wages.    Teachers ended a strike on Friday after reaching a deal with the government, meaning half million pupils and students will go back to school on Monday after three weeks away.
    Workers in the energy sector, airport control, customs and doctors had also threatened to block their work if the new law on wages will not consider their demands.
    Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said spending in this year’s budget was a record high.
    “With 237 billion euros ($2.71 billion) this is Kosovo’s biggest development budget that will contribute to have an economic growth of 4.7 percent,” Haradinaj said after the vote.
    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Kosovo will grow 4.2 percent this year from 4 percent last year.
    The government plans to keep a budget deficit of 2 percent gross domestic product.    Some 800 million euros will be spent on state infrastructure projects mainly to build new roads.
    Corruption and political instability have kept most foreign investors away from Kosovo since the country of 2 million people declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

2/3/2019 Kremlin: Russia, Turkey, Iran leaders to meet in Russia on Feb. 14: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
(not pictured) after their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia January 23, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet the leaders of Turkey and Iran in the Russian Black Sea resort town Sochi on Feb. 14, RIA news agency reported on Sunday, citing the Kremlin.
    It gave no further details but Putin said last month he would convene such a gathering to discuss the situation in Syria, where Russia and Turkey have been trying to create a de-escalation zone.
    The three countries say they want a political settlement to end the Syrian conflict.    But while Russia and Iran back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Turkey – along with its NATO allies including the United States – wants him to step down.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/4/2019 Russia: U.S. exit from nuclear pact would not mean new Cold War – RIA
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin
with Moldovan President Igor Dodon at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States’ full withdrawal from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty would not herald the start of a new Cold War, the RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday.
    “I don’t think we’re talking about the development of a Cold War,” Lavrov said.    “A new era has begun.”
    Russia suspended the Cold War-era nuclear arms treaty on Saturday after the United States announced it would withdraw from the arms control pact, accusing Moscow of violations.
    Washington has said it will withdraw fully from the INF in six months unless Moscow ends what it says are violations of the 1987 pact.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Louise Heavens)

2/4/2019 Russian foreign minister: No chance of new ‘Cold War’ with U.S. over INF pullout by OAN Newsroom
    Russia is denying its on the brink of a new ‘Cold War’ with the U.S. after tensions between the nations heightened in response to the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from a key nuclear treaty.
    Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the comments early Monday after the Kremlin announced its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty on Saturday.
    The move came in response to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing the U.S. would pull out of the agreement last week.    The U.S. cited Russia’s continued development of long-range missiles as the reason for the decision.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, cente, attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Defense Minister
Sergei Shoigu in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. Putin said that Russia will abandon the 1987
Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, following in the footsteps of the United States, but noted that Moscow will only deploy
intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    However, Lavrov pivoted by claiming Washington had been violating the treaty since 2014.
    “All these initiatives (of the Kremlin) remain on the table, but we will not run around reminding our Western partners about them anymore,” stated the Russian foreign minister.    “When they are ready to recognize their responsibility for the problems created by the U.S. policy…welcome — our doors are open, come in and let us talk, on equal terms, taking into account the interests of each other, lawful interests, but not imaginary ones.”
    The U.S. said Russia still has six-months to come back into compliance with the agreement in order to save the treaty, but Russian President Vladimir Putin shot back by claiming the country will begin work on a range of new missiles immediately.

2/4/2019 Germany vows to keep troops in Lithuania, invest more in barracks
German Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen attends a news conference
at Rukla military base, Lithuania February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    RUKLA, Lithuania (Reuters) – Germany will invest a total of 110 million euros until 2021 in improving military bases in Lithuania, its defense minister said on Monday, underlining Berlin’s continued commitment to the defense of its NATO allies in the Baltic region.
    Germany leads a NATO force of 1,200 troops from 10 countries sent to Lithuania two years ago as part of NATO’s effort to beef up defenses along eastern Europe’s borders with Russia after its 2014 annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.
    “We want to make clear that Lithuania is not alone and will never stand alone.    It will never again have to sacrifice its freedom and independence,” Ursula von der Leyen told reporters during a visit to the German forces.
    “We will stay here with the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) as long as we’re needed, and as long as the security situation requires it.”
    Von der Leyen said the German deployment had bolstered joint training efforts and improved the ability to deploy on missions if needed.
    Germany will invest 50 million euros this year in a joint barracks shared by NATO forces and in other facilities, with spending to total 110 million euros by 2021, she said.
    Welcoming her comments, Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said: “This is the first time we have heard so clearly and from such a high political level that Germany is here for the long term, until the security situation changes.”
    Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, joined NATO along with the two other Baltic states Latvia and Estonia and a number of other ex-communist nations in 2004.
    The three Baltic states, which were forcibly annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and secured their independence only with the fall of communism, were rattled by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal in Berlin and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/5/2019 Russia must develop new missiles to counter U.S. before 2021: RIA cites defense minister
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia must develop a new land-based cruise missile and a new land-based hypersonic missile before 2021 to respond to Washington’s planned exit from a nuclear arms control pact, the RIA news agency cited the defense minister as saying on Tuesday.
    President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday that Russia had suspended the Cold War-era Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty after the United States announced it would withdraw from the pact, accusing Moscow of violations.
    He said at the same time that Russia should develop new missiles in response.
    RIA cited Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as ordering the military to start work on developing the two new missile systems and to ensure that work was completed by 2021.
(Reporting by Ekaterina Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

2/5/2019 Russia backs talks between Venezuela’s Maduro and opposition: RIA
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov
in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan February 4, 2019. Sultan Dosaliev/Kyrgyz Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that the crisis in Venezuela could only be solved by getting the authorities and the opposition to talk to each other, the RIA news agency reported.
    Major European nations on Monday joined the United States in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president of Moscow ally Venezuela, heightening a global showdown over Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule.
    “We continue to believe that the only way to exit this crisis is by sitting the government and opposition down at the negotiating table,” Lavrov was cited as saying by RIA.    “Otherwise it will simply be the same regime change that the West had done many times.”
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

2/5/2019 After deadly Syrian battle, evidence of Russian losses was obscured by Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev
The name of Russian private military contractor Alexei Kalabukhov (C), killed in Syria, is seen
at a gravestone at a cemetery in Kirov, Russia November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Maria Tsvetkova
    YELENOVSKOYE, Russia (Reuters) – The last contact Grigoriy Gancherov and his wife had with their son, a Russian private military contractor fighting in Syria, was on Feb. 4 last year.
    The father subsequently learned from a friend and fellow fighter of Sergei’s that the 25-year-old had died several days later in a major battle against U.S.-led forces in the Deir al-Zor region.
    It was not until mid-April that he received formal notification of his son’s death and the body was returned, accompanied by a death certificate stating he died on March 7 on the other side of Syria.
    Gancherov’s account is one of half a dozen instances Reuters has identified where the Kremlin-linked private military organization that recruited the fighters returned bodies more than seven weeks after the battle and with official documents bearing details that people who knew them say were incorrect.
    According to relatives and a battlefield witness, the fighters all died in the clash in Syria’s Deir al-Zor region, which took place overnight on Feb. 7.
    Such practices, an unusual pattern for Russian fighters killed in Syria, would have helped conceal heavy casualties until after President Vladimir Putin’s re-election in mid-March.
    Moscow’s message at the time was that the military campaign in Syria was a success with only modest human cost.
    That details are emerging nearly a year after the Deir al-Zor battle indicates that Moscow may struggle to control its message about casualties abroad at a time when it is expanding its military activities in the Middle East and Africa.
NEW GRAVESTONE
    About 100 Russian military contractors were killed in the Deir al-Zor battle, sources have said.    The Russian foreign ministry has said that only a handful of Russian citizens were killed there and dismissed reports of heavy losses.
    Sergei Gancherov and his friend were standing near each other shortly before their position was hit, according to the account the friend gave to the father.
    The friend, who was wounded, told the father he learned about Gancherov’s death on a medical evacuation plane on his way back to Russia.
    Reuters was unable to speak to the friend or verify his account.
    Grigoriy Gancherov plans to replace the wooden cross that bears the date recorded in his son’s official death certificate with a gravestone marked with the date of the Deir al-Zor battle.
    That was the first direct confrontation between the United States and Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.    It was also the only known battle in Syria in the early part of last year where Russian military contractors took part.
    Yet in each of the six instances identified by Reuters where fighters were returned to families after the election, the death certificates, issued by Russian officials in Syria, stated they died in late February or March.
    Several relatives of those fighters said the recruiters who informed them about their family member’s death told them not to disclose the circumstances.
    The Kremlin declined to comment on Gancherov’s death or that of the other fighters.    Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was wrong to suggest authorities postponed issuing death certificates of Russians killed in Syria because of the election.
    On whether death certificates issued by Russian officials contained incorrect information, Peskov said it wasn’t a question for the Kremlin.    He added that he didn’t know whether there was a delay in returning the bodies.
    The defense ministry and the ministry of foreign affairs did not respond to requests for comment.
    As Reuters has reported, Russia secretly used private military contractors in Syria to carry out missions in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s ally, in coordination with the Russian military.
    The organization that recruited the fighters, known as Wagner group, uses defense ministry transport infrastructure and hospitals.    Russia denies using military contractors in Syria and says any Russian civilians there are volunteers.
    Peskov could not confirm whether the Wagner group operates in Syria or carries out missions on behalf of the Russian government.
    A person Reuters understands to be close to the Wagner group commander did not respond to requests for comment.
HUGE AIR ASSAULT
    On Feb. 7 last year, Russian fighters advanced toward an oil refinery in Deir al-Zor province held by Kurdish forces and the U.S.-led coalition, which responded with heavy air strikes.
    A military contractor who said he survived by taking cover identified among the many dead he saw two of the six fighters who were returned to families after the election with official documents bearing later dates of death.
    Colleagues told him the delay was because of the large number of deaths and because journalists were monitoring an airport in Rostov-on-Don, in southern Russia, which was a key staging post for the private military firm.
    “It was difficult to deliver all of them at once because reporters were waiting for them in Rostov, meeting planes, as we were told,” said the fighter.
    He said he did not want to be identified because his recruiters did not allow him to disclose information related to his assignment in Syria.
    Reuters reporters spent several days after the February battle monitoring a military morgue and airport in Rostov.    They did not see coffins arriving.
    According to the fighter, one of the dead colleagues he saw was Anton Vazhov from the southern Russian town of Novoshakhtinsk, whose official records say he died on March 21.
    He said he saw Vazhov in a body bag on Feb. 8 upon returning to the battlefield after the air strikes to collect the dead.
    “When we turned him over on his back and blew away the dust, we identified him,” the fighter said, adding that he drove Vazhov away from the battlefield in the back of a truck with more than 20 other bodies.
FEAR OF REPRISALS
    In the region of Kirov, 800 km north-east of Moscow, lie the graves of three fighters whose bodies were returned to families in early April, according to people who knew them.
    The fighter who survived the battle said one of the three men, Alexander Lusnikov, was also among the dead he collected from the Deir al-Zor battlefield.
    Lusnikov’s official records indicate he died on March 1, according to a relative who has viewed the death certificate.
    Another relative, Viktor Dumin, the brother of Lusnikov’s ex-wife, said the fighter told him about the circumstances of the death.
    “Once the president had been elected, it all came to light,” Dumin told Reuters at the cemetery where Lusnikov is buried.
    Neither of the two other military contractors – Alexei Kalabukhov and Konstantin Danilogorsky – had contacted their families since the battle, a childhood friend said. After learning about the battle, their wives tried to contact them but couldn’t reach them, the friend added.
    Their graves say they died on Feb. 27 – the date the death certificates carry, according to a person familiar with the details.
    The brother of another fighter from a town in the western part of Russia said he learned about his sibling’s death in Deir al-Zor in mid-February from an acquaintance in touch with the contractors in Syria, even though the death certificate said he died weeks later.
    He asked not to mention their names saying he feared reprisals.
SURGE IN REGISTERED DEATHS
    The belated return of bodies and incorrect documents described by friends and relatives last spring contrasts to the normal sequence observed by Reuters over a period of two years.
    Typically, recruiters return a body to a family two or three weeks after a death, accompanied by a death certificate bearing a date of death that usually tallies with what relatives know from fellow fighters.
    The Russian consulate in Syria is responsible for registering the death of Russian civilians killed in the country. Each death certificate carries a serial number, starting from one at the beginning of the year.
    Russian officials at the consulate issued more than 60 death certificates in the first part of last year through April 8, according to documents seen by Reuters.    At least 33 of those were between March 22 and April 8.    The election was on March 18.
    The Russian consulate in Syria didn’t respond to requests for comment. Reuters was unable to establish whether all those certificates were for private military contractors.
(Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)

2/6/2019 Russia jails Jehovah’s Witness for six years in landmark case by Andrew Osborn
Dennis Christensen, a Jehovah's Witness accused of extremism, leaves after a court session
in handcuffs in the town of Oryol, Russia January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Andrew Osborn
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Wednesday found a Danish adherent of the Jehovah’s Witnesses guilty of organizing the activities of a banned extremist organization and jailed him for six years in a case Western governments cast as a test of religious freedom.
    Armed police detained Dennis Christensen, a 46-year-old builder, in May 2017 at a prayer meeting in Oryol, some 200 miles (320 km) south of Moscow after a court in the region outlawed the local Jehovah’s Witnesses a year earlier.
    Russia’s Supreme Court later ruled the group was an “extremist” organization and ordered it to disband nationwide, and Christiansen’s detention, the first extremism-related arrest of a Jehovah’s Witness in Russia, foreshadowed dozens of similar cases.
    A court in Oryol found Christiansen guilty on Wednesday after a long trial, his lawyer, wife and a spokesman for the Jehovah’s Witnesses told Reuters.
    Christiansen had pleaded not guilty, saying he had only been practicing his religion, something he said was legal according to the Russian constitution which guarantees the right to practice any or no religion.
    The U.S.-headquartered Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under pressure for years in Russia, where the dominant Orthodox Church is championed by President Vladimir Putin.    Orthodox scholars have cast them as a dangerous foreign sect that erodes state institutions and traditional values, allegations they reject.
    But Russia’s latest falling-out with the West, triggered by Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, spurred a more determined drive to push out “the enemy within.”
    After Crimea was seized, a giant poster hung in central Moscow bearing the faces of Kremlin critics and labeling them as “a fifth column.”    One of them, opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, was later shot dead.
    Anton Bogdanov, Christiansen’s lawyer, said he planned to appeal Wednesday’s verdict, which he described as an illegal decision and part of Russia’s fight against religious freedom.
    He said he feared the verdict would set a dangerous precedent.
    More than 100 criminal cases have been opened against Jehovah’s Witnesses and some of their publications are on a list of banned extremist literature.
    Yaroslav Sivulsky, a Jehovah’s Witness spokesman, said the group was disappointed by what it regarded as an unjust verdict.
    Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said there had clearly been reasons for Christiansen’s arrest, but that he was unaware of the details of the case.
    The group has around 8 million active followers around the world and has faced court proceedings in several countries, mostly over its pacifism and rejection of blood transfusions.
(Additonal reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe)

2/6/2019 Russia will exit INF nuclear pact in six months: Ifax
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will exit the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty in six months as part of a symmetrical response to the United States’ pullout, the Interfax news agency cited Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Wednesday.
    President Vladimir Putin said at the weekend that Russia had suspended the Cold War-era pact after Washington announced it would withdraw in six months unless Moscow ends what it says are violations of the 1987 pact.
    Moscow denies it is violating the pact.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Hugh Lawson)
[President Donald Trump has been told by his military staff that Russia has been violating the treaty since he took office, which he stated at his State Of The Union.].

2/6/2019 Afghan Taliban: no date yet for U.S. troops drawdown by Maria Tsvetkova
FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in
Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Taliban official said on Wednesday that no timetable had been agreed with the U.S. government for the partial withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and that negotiations were still underway.
    Earlier, Russia’s RIA news agency had quoted a Taliban official at peace talks in Moscow as saying that Washington had promised to pull out half of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of April.
    But that report was contradicted at the end of the talks in Moscow, with the Taliban official previously quoted by RIA, Abdul Salam Hanafi, denying that he had made the comment.
    He said there was no detailed agreement with the U.S. chief negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad who has been meeting separately with Taliban negotiators.    “Until now we did not agree,” the Taliban official said.
    On an April withdrawal, he said: “It’s our desire.    It is our demand … Our demand is withdrawing of foreign forces as soon as possible.”
    Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, among the Afghan opposition politicians attending the talks, said the principle issue under discussion was that Afghanistan should be free of foreign forces.
    He said there was a near-consensus in the talks on this subject.    “It was very satisfactory,” said Karzai.
    Afghanistan’s government was absent from the talks, because the Taliban does not recognize its legitimacy and refuses to sit down with it at the negotiating table.    The government in Kabul said the talks were not in Afghanistan’s best interest.
    But the presence of prominent opposition politicians will add to pressure on the government to talk to the Taliban in the search for a deal to end years of fighting.
    The push for peace comes as the Taliban, ousted by U.S.-led forces in 2001, have staged near daily attacks and are in control of or contesting districts across nearly half the country.
    The venue of the talks indicates an expanding role in Afghanistan for Moscow.    It was embroiled in the conflict there in the 1980s after sending in the Red Army, but has since allowed Washington to take the lead role.
    That may now change after U.S. President Donald Trump said he wanted to eventually pull American troops out of the country and end nearly two decades of U.S. military involvement there.
    Trump said on Tuesday his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce U.S. troops there as negotiations advanced to end America’s longest war.
(Addiitonal reporting by Hamid Shalizi Greg Torode in Kabul and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Christian Lowe, Editing by William Maclean)
[I do not think anyone believes that we are going to leave it in full control of the Taliban without Afghanistan people with partial control and leave it for Russia to influence like it tried to do in the 1990's.].

2/6/2019 Slovakia declines to back Venezuela’s Guaido as Maduro faces rising pressure
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks during a meeting with representatives of FEDEAGRO, the Confederation of
Associations of Agricultural Producers of Venezuela, in Caracas, Venezuela February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia declined to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state on Wednesday, joining Italy in breaking the coordinated action of European Union nations and the United States.
    About 20 European Union nations including Britain, Germany, France and Spain have aligned with the United States in recognizing Guaido’s leadership and pressuring socialist President Nicolas Maduro to call a new election.
    Slovakia’s foreign ministry said last week the country saw Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the only legitimate representative of its people and called for a new election.
    But Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak failed to get backing for that position from two out of three coalition parties at Wednesday’s government meeting.
    Leader of the ruling leftist Smer party, Robert Fico, said he saw the situation in Venezuela was an effort to destroy the existing government and install a puppet as head of state.
    “Slovakia should act within the principles of international law,” Fico said.
    Junior coalition member the Slovak National Party (SNS) also said Slovakia should stay neutral while the ethnic Hungarian Most-Hid party backed the EU position.
    Italy on Monday blocked a joint EU position to recognize Guaido as interim president, diplomatic sources said.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, Editing by Angus MacSwan)
[Now I know why Maduro begged the Pope for help because of Italy.].

2/6/2019 Macedonia signs accord to join NATO despite Russian misgivings by Robin Emmott
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a signature ceremony of
the accession protocol between the Republic of North Macedonia and NATO at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO members signed an accord with Macedonia on Wednesday allowing the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic to become the 30th member of the U.S.-led alliance after a deal with Greece ended a 27-year-old dispute over its name.
    At a formal signing of the NATO accession protocol, which must now be ratified by allied governments, Macedonia’s Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov hailed the moment as showing that the country “will never walk alone” once in the alliance.
    “We stand beside these 29 allies… able and ready to assume the obligations arising from our full membership in NATO,” Dimitrov told a news conference after NATO ambassadors signed the protocol.
    The ratification process typically takes about a year, and the United States has said it expects Macedonia – now known officially as North Macedonia under the terms of its name deal with Greece – to formally join the alliance in 2020.     NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the admittance of a new member highlighted that all European nations who met the entrance criteria could join the regional alliance, a position Moscow rejects.
    “It shows that NATO’s door remains open for countries that meet NATO standards and that adhere to the NATO values of democracy, the rule of law and individual liberty,” Stoltenberg said.
    Russia says that by taking in Balkan members, the alliance is undermining security in the region.
MAKING THE WORLD MORE PEACEFUL
    But Dmitrov said Macedonia’s decision would improve regional stability, echoing the view of Western countries which see NATO and EU membership as the best way of preserving peace in the Balkans after the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
    “For us NATO is about making the world more peaceful, more stable,” he said.
    Three other ex-Yugoslav republics – Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro – have already joined NATO, as have other countries in the Balkan region including Albania, Bulgaria and Romania.
    Both Greek and Macedonian parliaments have agreed to rename the country the Republic of North Macedonia, ending Athens’ years-long veto of its neighbor’s efforts to join NATO and the EU.    Greece sees the use of “Macedonia” as implying territorial claims to a Greek province of the same name.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has also warned NATO against cultivating closer ties with Ukraine and Georgia, two ex-Soviet republics that also aspire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which is headquartered in Brussels.
    After the Macedonia signing protocol, Stoltenberg praised Georgia on Wednesday, saying: “We are very encouraged by what we see in Georgia, their commitment to reforms, their commitment to strengthening defense and security institutions, their commitment to transparency, judiciary reforms.”
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[Is NATO trying to surround Russia?].

2/6/2019 Russia approves 38 million euro loan to Cuba’s military
FILE PHOTO: Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint news
conference following their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has approved a 38 million euro ($43.27 million) loan for Cuba’s defense sector, a senior Russian defense official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
    The deal was first announced in November after Russian President Vladimir Putin met Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Moscow.
    It has now been finalised by Russia, Dmitry Shugayev, head of the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, said in an interview published in Russia’s Kommersant newspaper.
    Kommersant had previously reported Moscow planned to grant Cuba a loan to buy Russian hardware such as tanks, armored vehicles and possibly helicopters.
    Communist-ruled Cuba is a close ally of Venezuela, where Moscow-backed President Nicolas Maduro is facing pressure from the opposition and Western governments to step down.
    Private Russian military contractors who carry out secret missions for the state flew into Venezuela last month, Reuters reported, citing two people close to the contractors.
    One of the sources said they flew there via Cuba.
    In the newspaper interview, Shugayev said Russia has concerns about the Venezuelan crisis and was not considering scaling back defense cooperation with Caracas.
    According to Shugayev, cooperation with Venezuela is limited to maintaining previously supplied arms and helping build military facilities.
(Reporting by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

2/7/2019 Russia: we would be open to U.S. proposals for new nuclear pact
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia would be prepared to consider new proposals from the United States to replace a suspended Cold War-era nuclear pact with a broader treaty that includes more countries, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Thursday.
    Russia suspended the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at the weekend after Washington announced it would withdraw in six months unless Russia ends what it says are violations of the pact, allegations rejected by Moscow.
    The 1987 treaty eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers, but leaves other countries free to produce and deploy them.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said last week he would like to hold talks aimed at creating a new arms control treaty.
    “We of course saw the reference in president Trump’s statement to the possibility of a new treaty that could be signed in a beautiful room and that this treaty should also include other countries as its participants,” Ryabkov said.
    “We look forward to this proposal being made concrete and put on paper or by other means…” Ryabkov said at a news conference in Moscow.
    Ryabkov said the United States had not sent Moscow any concrete proposals for a new pact.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Robin Pomeroy)

2/7/2019 For Putin, economic and political reality dampen appetite for arms race by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump meets Russian President Vladimir Putin
in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – With his ratings down and state funds needed to hedge against new Western sanctions and raise living standards, Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot afford to get sucked into a costly nuclear arms race with the United States.
    Alleging Russian violations, Washington said this month it was suspending its obligations under the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and starting the process of quitting it, untying its hands to develop new missiles.
    That raises the prospect of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow, which denies flouting the treaty.    Putin responded by saying Russia would mirror the U.S. moves by suspending its own obligations and quitting the pact.
    But Putin, who has sometimes used bellicose rhetoric to talk up Russia’s standoff with the West and to rally Russians round the flag, did not up the ante.
    He did not announce new missile deployments, said money for new systems must come from existing budget funds and declared that Moscow would not deploy new land-based missiles in Europe or elsewhere unless Washington did so first.
    “… We must not and will not let ourselves be drawn into an expensive arms race,” Putin told Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
    His statement was borne of necessity.
    Harsh economic and political realities and memories of how the cost of the Cold War arms race contributed to the Soviet Union’s demise means Putin’s options are limited, a situation that may curb his appetite for expensive escalation in future.
    That does not mean Putin is not still spending heavily on the military.    He unveiled an array of new weapons last year which he billed as world-beating, including a hypersonic missile, a laser weapon, an underwater nuclear drone and a nuclear-powered cruise missile.
    But his ability to bankroll a full-on arms race is limited.
    “We need to keep in mind that the question of an arms race that could cut us into pieces is entirely realistic,” Sergei Dubinin, former governor of Russia’s central bank, told Russia’s RBC TV channel before Washington announced its exit.
    He said the United States was trying to repeat its successful Cold War strategy of pushing Moscow into an arms race it could not afford and that Russia would be ill-advised to try to attain parity and needed a smart response instead.
    Memories of empty supermarket shelves in the run-up to the 1991 Soviet collapse still haunt many older Russians as the then Soviet Union directed huge cash flows to the military-industrial complex to try to keep up with the United States while neglecting the consumer economy.
    “They (the Americans) recall that the Soviet Union collapsed in part because it tried to keep up with the United States when it came to who produced more missiles, nuclear submarines and tanks,” Viktor Litovkin, a military expert, told the Russian army’s Zvezda TV channel.
    “They are trying to do the same thing today.”
COUNTING THE COSTS
    With the INF treaty suspended, Washington and Moscow have said they will develop previously prohibited short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles, with Russia saying it wants them ready by 2021.
    Shoigu told Putin the money to develop two new land-based missile launchers would come from this year’s budget by reallocating existing funds.
    Russia does not disclose the full extent of its military and national security spending, but says it will account for around 30 percent of its 18-trillion-ruble ($273-billion) budget this year.
    Oil revenues mean Russia is not short of money.    Its budget surplus this year is projected to be 1.932 trillion rubles ($29.3 billion) or 1.8 percent of gross domestic product.    Russia’s foreign exchange reserves stand at $478 billion, the fifth largest in the world.
    But the money is already allocated in a way dictated by Moscow’s difficult geopolitical situation and by Putin’s own increasingly tricky domestic political landscape.    Reallocating the money would be painful.
    Moscow is hoarding cash to try to give itself a $200-billion buffer against new Western sanctions and is embarking on a multi-billion dollar spending push to try to overhaul the country’s creaky infrastructure and raise living standards.
    With signs of rising discontent over years of falling real incomes, rising prices, an increase in value-added tax and an unpopular plan to raise the pension age, Putin is under pressure to deliver.
    Igor Nikolaev, director of auditor FBK’s Strategic Analysis Institute, said Putin might have to take money from other parts of the budget to fund a new arms race which would force him to scale back social spending plans or dip into the national wealth fund to top up the budget.
    If a burgeoning arms race intensified, such a scenario would become more likely and Putin would be reluctant to spend more on defense in the current political climate, he said.
    “It would not be desirable, especially as we know what’s happening with real incomes and that there are problems with his rating,” said Nikolaev.    “Cutting spending on national projects would receive a mixed reaction.”
    Though re-elected last year until 2024, and therefore not under immediate political pressure, Putin’s trust rating has fallen to a 13-year low.    A poll this month showed the number of Russians who believe their country is going in the wrong direction hit its highest level since 2006.
    Putin’s symmetrical response to Washington, which involves developing new missiles, has already angered some Russians.
    “Are new arms a source of joy?” wrote blogger Vladimir Akimov, saying the money would be better spent on lifting people out of poverty.    “Why not begin by repairing the roads and knocking down the wooden shacks (that people live in) across the country.”
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
[Do we believe the Russian sob story?    Is Trump applying pressure to Russia in the lowering of oil price per barrel and forcing an arms race to bring a peaceful transaction between the world powers?].

2/7/2019 U.S. calls on Russia to allow regular access to jailed ex-marine
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who was detained by Russia's FSB security service on suspicion
of spying, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States called on Russia on Thursday to allow U.S. officials to regularly visit a former U.S. Marine detained on spying charges after a planned visit by U.S. consular officials last month was postponed at the last minute.
    Paul Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage.    Whelan denies the charges and his family has said he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the United States has had two consular visits with Whelan, most recently on Feb. 2. U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman saw Whelan a month earlier.
    Palladino said U.S. consular officials had been scheduled by the Russian foreign affairs ministry to see Whelan on Jan. 17.
    “On the morning of January 17, we learned that the visit would be rescheduled at the investigator’s request,” Palladino told reporters.    “We take seriously our right to visit detained American citizens regularly.”
    “We’ve expressed our concern through diplomatic channels and we call on Russia to meet its obligation under both the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the bilateral consular agreement between our two countries to provide consular access to Mr. Whelanz,” he added.
    Whelan appeared in a Moscow court on Jan. 22, where a judge denied him bail.    If found guilty of espionage, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
    He was detained after receiving a thumb drive containing a list of all the employees of a secret Russian state agency, Russian online news portal Rosbalt.ru reported last month.
    Vladimir Zherebenkov, Whelan’s lawyer, said his client had been misled before his arrest and believed that a thumb drive handed to him in a hotel room had contained holiday snaps rather than secret information.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

2/8/2019 Romania backs Venezuela’s Guaido as interim president
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido leaves after a meeting with representatives of FEDEAGRO, the Confederation of
Associations of Agricultural Producers of Venezuela, in Caracas, Venezuela February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania has officially recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president, joining a coordinated action of European Union nations and the United States, President Klaus Iohannis said on Friday.
    About 20 EU nations including Britain, Germany, France and Spain have aligned with the United States in recognizing Guaido’s leadership and pressuring socialist President Nicolas Maduro to call a new election.
    However Italy on Monday blocked a joint EU position to recognize Guaido as interim president, diplomatic sources said.
    “The President’s decision was taken following careful analysis, including political, diplomatic and legal perspectives, taking into account the fact that the majority of EU states and a series of allies and euro-Atlantic partners have recognized the legitimacy of Interim President Juan Guaido,” Romania’s presidency said in a statement.
    Romania currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Jan Harvey)

2/8/2019 Kremlin: we hope EU settles its differences over Nord Stream 2
FILE PHOTO - Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov looks on during a visit to the Mazda Sollers Manufacturing Rus joint venture plant of
Sollers and Japanese Mazda in Vladivostok, Russia September 10, 2018. Valery Sharifulin/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow hopes EU countries will sort out any differences they have over Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany and believes the project would benefit all European countries, the Kremlin said on Friday.
    The comments came a day after France said it planned to back an EU proposal to regulate the pipeline, potentially threatening its completion and dealing a blow to Germany which has been trying to garner support for the project.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia intends to continue working on the project and that it considered the pipeline the most secure way for gas to be delivered to Europe.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

2/10/2019 Exclusive: Venezuela shifts oil ventures’ accounts to Russian bank – document, sources by Corina Pons and Marianna Parraga
FILE PHOTO: Cutouts depicting images of oil operations are seen outside a building of
Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA is telling customers of its joint ventures to deposit oil sales proceeds in an account recently opened at Russia’s Gazprombank AO, according to sources and an internal document seen by Reuters on Saturday.
    PDVSA’s move comes after the United States imposed tough, new financial sanctions on Jan. 28 aimed at blocking Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s access to the country’s oil revenue.
    Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido said recently that a fund would be established to accept proceeds from sales of Venezuelan oil.
    The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized Guaido as the nation’s legitimate head of state. Maduro has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet seeking to foment a coup.
    PDVSA also has begun pressing its foreign partners holding stakes in joint ventures in its key Orinoco Belt producing area to formally decide whether they will continue with the projects, according to two sources with knowledge of the talks.
    The joint venture partners include Norway’s Equinor ASA, U.S.-based Chevron Corp and France’s Total SA.
    “We would like to make formal your knowledge of new banking instructions to make payments in U.S. dollars or euros,” wrote PDVSA’s finance vice president, Fernando De Quintal, in a letter dated Feb. 8 to the PDVSA unit that supervises its joint ventures.
    Even after a first round of financial sanctions in 2017, PDVSA’s joint ventures managed to maintain bank accounts in the United States and Europe to receive proceeds from oil sales.    They also used correspondent banks in the United States and Europe to shift money to PDVSA’s accounts in China.
    State-run PDVSA several weeks ago informed customers of the new banking instructions and has begun moving the accounts of its joint ventures, which can export crude separately.    The decision was made amid tension with some of its partners, which have withdrawn staff from Caracas since U.S. sanctions were imposed in January.
    The sanctions gave U.S. oil companies working in Venezuela, including Chevron and oil service firms Halliburton Co, General Electric Co’s Baker Hughes and Schlumberger NV, a deadline to halt all operations in the South American country.
    The European Union has encouraged member countries to recognize a new temporary government led by Guaido until new elections can be held.    Europe also has said it could impose financial sanctions to bar Maduro from having access to oil revenue coming from the region.
    Maduro has overseen an economic collapse in the oil-rich OPEC country that has left many Venezuelans malnourished and struggling to find medicine, sparking the exodus of an estimated 3 million Venezuelans.
    Sanctions designed to deprive Maduro of oil revenue have left an armada of loaded oil tankers off Venezuela’s coasts that have not been discharged by PDVSA’s customers due to payment issues.    The bottleneck has caused problems for PDVSA to continue producing and refining oil without imported diluents and components.
    PDVSA also ordered its Petrocedeno joint venture with Equinor and Total to halt extra-heavy oil output and upgrading due to a lack of naphtha needed to make the production exportable, as the sanctions prohibit U.S. suppliers of the fuel from exporting to Venezuela.
(Reporting by Marianna Parraga in Mexico City and Corina Pons in Caracas; editing by Jonathan Oatis and G Crosse)
[As you can see here Communist countries are helping Socialist countries who are against the U.S.A., so that should be a warning to you about the socialism being pushed on the U.S.A. by Democrats.].

2/10/2019 Hungary aims to exceed EU economic growth in years ahead: PM
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the nation speech in
Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. Banner reads "Hungary first!." REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The Hungarian government will aim to keep economic growth two percent above the European Union average in the coming years despite an expected slowdown in the global economy, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Sunday.
    “If the others slow down, we will overtake them in the corner,” Orban said in his annual state of the nation speech.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; editing by Jason Neely)

2/10/2019 Orban offers financial incentives to boost Hungary’s birth rate by Gergely Szakacs
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the nation speech in
Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. Banner reads "Hungary first!". REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced new tax and loan benefits for families on Sunday as part of his government’s efforts to increase the birth rate while holding a hard line against immigration.
    Orban, one of the most outspoken critics of mass immigration to Europe from the Middle East and Asia, added that he aimed to keep economic growth 2 percentage points over the European Union average in the next years despite an expected global slowdown.
    There was no immediate government estimate for the cost of the new measures.    Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, said on Friday that new spending would be financed from general reserves or surplus revenues in the 2019 budget.
    Orban’s ruling Fidesz party faces European Parliament and local government elections this year after a string of protests in recent months against the 55-year-old premier’s rule, although the party still leads in opinion polls.
    The rallies were sparked by the passage of laws in December allowing employers to ask for up to 400 hours of overtime per year, and the creation of new administrative courts that will answer to the government and oversee sensitive issues.
    As Orban gave his annual state of the nation speech on Sunday, several hundred protesters gathered outside the Presidential Palace in Buda Castle, while about a hundred demonstrators blocked a nearby bridge over the Danube river.
    “There are fewer and fewer children born in Europe.    For the West, the answer (to that challenge) is immigration.    For every missing child there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine,” Orban said.
    “But we do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children,” he said, announcing the incentives program.
    The new measures include the expansion of a loan program for families with at least two children to help them buy homes, subsidies for car purchases and waiving personal income tax for women raising at least four children.
    Women below 40 who marry for the first time will be eligible for a 10 million forint ($36,000) subsidized loan, Orban said. A third of the debt will be forgiven when a second child is born and the entire loan waived after the third child.
    The 2019 budget targets a deficit worth 1.8 percent of economic output. In January, it posted a 244.5 billion forint surplus, the highest in two decades, data showed.
    Zoltan Torok, an analyst at the Hungarian unit of Raiffeisen Bank, said that on first glance the measures could cost several tens of billions of forints, but they were unlikely to produce any drastic increase in the budget deficit.
    Despite the street protests, Orban’s Fidesz party remains well ahead of its opposition rivals, according to the latest opinion polls.
    The think tank Nezopont put support for Fidesz at 39 percent of all voters in January, largely in line with a 38-percent reading by the pollster Median.
    While Nezopont said the fallout of Orban’s December reforms had no impact on support for Fidesz, the Median survey said Fidesz had lost over half a million supporters since October.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Jason Neely, Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)
[Everybody is working so much overtime that they will be too tired to have sex.].

2/11/2019 Pompeo trip marks U.S. re-engagement with long-overlooked central Europe by Lesley Wroughton and Gergely Szakacs
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the United Nations following a Security Council meeting about
the situation in Venezuela in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 26, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say.
    On a tour that includes a conference on the Middle East where Washington hopes to build a coalition against Iran, Pompeo begins on Monday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital that last saw a secretary of state in 2011 when Hillary Clinton visited.
    On Tuesday he will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first such high-level visit in 20 years.
    “This is overdue and needed,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our message is we have to show up or expect to lose."
    “Our efforts at diplomatic engagement are aimed at competing for positive influence and giving allies in the region an indication of U.S. support and interest in order to have alternatives to China and Russia.”
    Washington is concerned about China’s growing presence, in particular the expansion of Huawei Technologies, the world’s biggest telecom gear maker, in Hungary and Poland.
    The United States and its Western allies believe Huawei’s equipment could be used for espionage and see its expansion into central Europe as a way to gain a foothold in the EU market.
    Huawei denies engaging in intelligence work for any government.
    Pompeo will also voice concerns about energy ties with Moscow, and urge Hungary to not support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin’s plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe.
    Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia’s Rosatom is involved in a 12.5 billion-euro ($14 billion) expansion.    It is also one of the EU states that benefit most from Chinese investment.
    Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said this month the United States could help Hungary diversify away from Russian energy by encouraging ExxonMobil to proceed with long-stalled plans to develop a gas field in the Black Sea.
    The administration official said there had been progress toward sealing bilateral defense accords with Hungary and Slovakia, which is looking to buy F-16 fighter jets.
MISSING OUT
    Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, said U.S. engagement with the region fell after EU and NATO enlargement to central Europe, and as Washington’s attention moved to Asia and conflict in the Middle East.
    “A lot of Americans thought our work in the region was done, and yet it was not so,” said Fried, now at the Atlantic Council think-tank in Washington.    “There was a sense in the last administration that eastern and central Europe was a finished place.”
    The bulk of Pompeo’s Poland visit will focus on a U.S. conference on the “Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.”    Vice President Mike Pence will also attend the two-day event that starts on Feb. 13.
    Washington hopes to win support to increase pressure on Iran to end what the it says is its malign behavior in the Middle East and to end its nuclear and missile programs.
    President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear work last year but the European Union is determined to stick with it.
    It is unclear what delegations European capitals will send to what Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called a “desperate anti-Iran circus.”
    “We think anybody who doesn’t participate is going to be missing out,” a second administration official said.
    White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law, will discuss a U.S. plan for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, although he is not likely to give details.
(Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Robin Pomeroy)

2/11/2019 Russian ambassador: INF withdrawal ‘crisis of security’ for Europe by OAN Newsroom
    The Russian ambassador to the U.S. is calling the withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty a “crisis of security for Europe.”
    While speaking Monday, Anatoly Antonov said the U.S. decision to withdraw from the INF indicates the “U.S. needs such type of missiles.”    He said Russia will wait and see when the U.S. starts production of missiles and where they will deploy them, adding, the move will not increase security in the U.S. or Europe.
Anatoly Antonov is pictured. | AP Photo
    While tensions between Russia and the U.S. remain high, he didn’t rule out the possibility of future cooperation.
    “I would like to say that we will not try to press on the United States to speed up the process of restoration of our relations,” said Antonov.    “We understand atmosphere in Washington and I hope that this toxic dust in air of Washington will disappear.”
    Antonov pointed out there is still an opportunity for both the U.S. and Russia to cooperate in Afghanistan, saying both have experience within the country.

2/11/2019 Pompeo says U.S. too often absent from central Europe
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a plenary session in Budapest, Hungary, February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The United States should not let Russian President Vladimir Putin “drive a wedge between friends and NATO,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday.
    Speaking in the Hungarian capital Budapest, Pompeo also said the United States should be more engaged in the region.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

2/11/2019 Russia, Turkey agree on decisive action in Syria’s Idlib: RIA
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar meets with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in
Ankara, Turkey February 11, 2019. Turkish Military/Turkish Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Turkey agreed on Monday that they needed to take decisive measures to stabilize the situation in Syria’s Idlib province after talks between the two country’s defense ministers, Russia’s RIA news agency reported.
    The announcement, made after talks between Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in Ankara and outlined in a joint statement, did not specify what the decisive measures would be or when they might be taken.
    The statement was released ahead of a Syrian summit between the leaders of Turkey, Russia and Iran in Russia on Thursday.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier this year said Moscow had floated the idea of Russia and Turkey mounting a joint operation to push militants out of Idlib, but did not say how Ankara felt about the idea.
    Monday’s statement, as reported by RIA, spoke of “the need in particular to take decisive measures to ensure security in the Idlib demilitarized zone.”     “Despite provocations, we underlined the importance and need to continue partnerships between our two countries’ intelligence and military forces to establish peace and to support stability in Idlib,” it said.
    Russia, one of the Syrian government’s staunchest allies, and Turkey brokered a deal in September to create a demilitarized zone in the northwest Idlib region that would be free of all heavy weapons and jihadist fighters.
    The deal helped avert a government assault on the region, the last major bastion of opponents of President Bashar al-Assad.
    However, Moscow has complained about escalating violence in the area and said that militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front group are in control of large swaths of territory.
    Moscow last week called on Turkey to do more to tackle militants there.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; writing by Tom Balmforth/Andrew Osborn; editing by Andrew Osborn)

2/12/2019 Hungarian scientists protest against government plans to streamline Academy
People raise science books outside the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to protest against government plans to
weaken the institution in Budapest, Hungary, February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian scientists held books above their heads as they protested on Tuesday against government plans to reorganize the Hungarian Academy of Sciences’ research and funding to try to reap more economic benefits.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a conservative leader who came to power in 2010, has tightened his control of Hungarian public life, such as the courts, the media, the economy, as well as education and now scientific research.
    “The current situation, which keeps 5,000 MTA researchers and staff in an existential and scientific limbo, threatens the future of the entire Hungarian scientific community,” academy workers said in a statement on their website.
    The government last year decided to reroute funds from the academy (MTA), and last month it launched a tender for the funds instead of allowing research institutions to allocate them as they saw fit.
    The academy, which carries out scientific research using a network of specialized research institutions, is solely funded by the government, receiving 40 billion forints ($142 million) a year.
    Orban posted an open letter on his website on Tuesday in which he addressed some of the criticism leveled at his plans.
    “The guarantee to generate economic benefits from knowledge is still missing from the research and innovation system,” he wrote.    “The increase of domestic industry’s added value is possible only if they concentrate their resources.”
    The protesters in Budapest held up signs saying “MTA is not an ATM.”    They brought scientific books with them, which they held aloft in a reminder of the importance of independent science.
    Orban’s move to revamp various parts of society have drawn criticism from international partners, including a resolution in the European Parliament last year to sanction Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption.    Orban has rejected that.
    He last clashed with the education establishment over the Central European University (CEU), founded by billionaire George Soros, which said it was forced out of the country.
    Its shift to Austria was the culmination of a long struggle between Hungarian-born Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and Orban’s government.
    Physicist Zoltan Berenyi said the MTA may have proved to be too independent for Orban.
    “We see that in today’s Hungary many things can be done even in the university and scientific fields.    We see what happened to the CEU,” he said.
    “One thing I am certain this isn’t is an attempt to make research more efficient.”
($1 = 281.5300 forints)
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alison Williams)
[It is hard to know who to be for, but then the article mentioned Geoarge Soros who is pushing his Socialism on the country, which should scare anyone.].

2/12/2019 Slovak ex-PM drops candidacy for top court, puts ruling coalition on warning
FILE PHOTO: Robert Fico speaks during the news conference at the Chancellery in
Berlin, Germany, April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia’s ruling Smer party chief Robert Fico gave up a bid to lead the country’s top court on Tuesday and warned a coalition partner the government could be in peril if it voted later with the opposition on appointing other judges.
    Fico, who has a law degree, has sought the chairmanship of the Constitutional Court after being ousted as prime minister last year by protests against corruption sparked by the murder of an investigative journalist.
    Fico’s chances looked bleak after a junior partner in the three-party governing coalition, the Most-Hid party representing mainly the country’s Hungarian minority, refused to back Fico’s candidacy, doubting his suitability for the role.
    Fico, 54, was in power in 2006-2010 and 2012-2018 and is still seen as driving policy behind the scenes while party ally Peter Pellegrini serves as prime minister.
    “It is impossible to sit behind one table when Most-Hid repeatedly puts its party interests above responsibility for the country,” he told reporters.
    “If, in today’s vote, some candidates go through by the joint votes of the opposition and Most-Hid, it will be an unprecedented violation of the coalition agreement with serious consequences for the functioning of the cabinet,” he said.
    Under Slovak law, parliament picks two candidates for each court position and the president, Andrej Kiska, a long-term rival of Fico, chooses one from each pair.
    The Constitutional Court rules on whether legislation passed by parliament and judgments by lower courts are in line with the constitution.
    It could become temporarily dysfunctional if parliament or the president fail to pick replacements for the nine out of 13 judges whose terms end on Feb. 16.
    Last year’s murder of journalist Jan Kuciak, who investigated political corruption and EU subsidy fraud, and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova triggered the biggest protests since the 1989 fall of communism against sleaze in politics.
    Kiska will step down in June, having said he would not seek re-election in an election in March.    Fico said he believed only a newly elected president would have the legitimacy to fill the court.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/12/2019 Russian lawmakers back bill on ‘sovereign’ Internet
The coat of arms of Russia is reflected in a laptop screen in this
picture illustration taken February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers backed tighter Internet controls on Tuesday to defend against foreign meddling in draft legislation that critics warn could disrupt Russia’s Internet and be used to stifle dissent.
    The legislation, which some Russian media have likened to an online “iron curtain,” passed its first of three readings in the 450-seat lower chamber of parliament.
    The bill seeks to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by state authorities and proposes building a national Domain Name System to allow the Internet to continue functioning even if the country is cut off from foreign infrastructure.
    The legislation was drafted in response to what its authors describe as an aggressive new U.S. national cyber security strategy passed last year.
    The Agora human rights group said earlier this month that the legislation was one of several new bills drafted in December that “seriously threaten Internet freedom.”
    The Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs has said the bill poses more of a risk to the functioning of the Russian Internet segment than the alleged threats from foreign countries that the bill seeks to counter.
    The bill also proposes installing network equipment that would be able to identify the source of web traffic and also block banned content.
    The legislation, which can still be amended, but which is expected to pass, is part of a drive by officials to increase Russian “sovereignty” over its Internet segment.
    Russia has introduced tougher Internet laws in the last five years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country.
    The bill faces two more votes in the lower chamber, before it is voted on in the upper house of parliament and then signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Maria Kolomychenko; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[I guess the Russians are afraid of United States of America collusion, which I agree with them since the NSA spied on Americans through Clinton, Bush and Obama's years and may still be doing it today.].

2/12/2019 Russia warns United States against intervention in Venezuela
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a meeting with Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov
in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan February 4, 2019. Sultan Dosaliev/Kyrgyz Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against any interference, including military, into Venezuela’s internal affairs, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement following a phone call between the two.
    Lavrov said that Russia was ready for consultations about Venezuela in line with the United Nations charter.
    Lavrov also criticized plans to tighten U.S. sanctions against Russia over the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in England, saying new sanctions would hurt bilateral ties, the statement said.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/13/2019 New EU rules on gas pipelines hamper Russia’s Nord Stream 2
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg
International Economic Forum 2017 in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    BRUSSELS/COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – The European Union reached a provisional deal on Wednesday on new rules governing import gas pipelines including Russia’s planned Nord Stream 2, in a move that cast doubts over the project’s current operating structure.
    Adding to uncertainty is Denmark’s potential ban of the pipeline’s planned route through its territorial waters and threats by the United States to sanction it if it goes ahead.
    The draft law calls for all import pipelines to meet EU energy market rules by not being directly owned by gas suppliers, applying non-discriminatory tariffs and transparent reporting and allowing at least 10 percent of capacity to be made available to third parties.
    “Exceptions are only possible under strict procedures in which the Commission plays a decisive role,” the Commission said.
    EU Commissioner Arias Canete, responsible for energy, said that Europe was closing a loophole in its laws as its dependency on natural gas imports increases.
    “The new rules ensure that EU law will be applied to pipelines bringing gas to Europe and that everyone interested in selling gas to Europe must respect European energy law,” he said in a statement.
    The draft law could slow but not stop the project, led by Russian state energy firm Gazprom in partnership with five Western firms – Germany’s Uniper and BASF’s Wintershall unit, Anglo-Dutch firm Shell, Austria’s OMV and France’s Engie.
    Nord Stream 2 has divided the EU as Eastern European, Nordic and Baltic Sea countries see the 1,225 km (760 mile) pipeline, which is already under construction, as increasing EU reliance on Moscow, while those in northern Europe, especially Germany, prioritize the economic benefits.
    Denmark faces a foreign policy quandary as it has to decide whether the pipeline can go through its territorial waters after it passed new legislation on pipelines allowing it to ban Nord Stream 2 on foreign policy and security grounds.
    Moscow’s military posturing in and around the Baltic Sea has rattled nerves in the Nordic states.
    Denmark’s Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen, who has been urging for a common European stance, said on Tuesday the bloc’s agreement on new rules was positive.
    However, he cautioned that Denmark’s decision on the route would still be based on a broader assessment of the project in relation to its defense, security and foreign policy interests.
    “I would like to emphasize that nothing the Russians are doing is currently pulling towards an approval
    In case of a Danish ‘no’, the project would still be likely to go ahead as the consortium has applied for an alternative route that would avoid the Nordic state’s territorial waters.
    The deal reached by representatives of the European commission and parliament and the 28 member states should lead to a new law in the coming months. EU countries would then have nine months to transpose it into national law.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels and Stine Jacobsen in Copenhagen; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Alexandra Hudson)

2/13/2019 Vice President Pence visits U.S. troops stationed in Poland by OAN Newsroom
    Vice President Mike Pence traveled overseas to greet U.S. troops stationed in Poland.    He spent time thanking our troops for their service to our country Wednesday at the 33rd Air Base near Powidz.
    In a speech, Pence reminded Poland of its mutual defense alliance with the United States, saying we will always stand by our ally.    He then went on to discuss how much the U.S. military has grown since President Trump has taken office.
United States Vice President Mike Pence, center, holds a speech in front of soldiers from the United States
and Poland at the airport in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. The Polish capital is host for a two-day
international conference on the Middle East, co-organized by Poland and the United States. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
    “Just in the past two years, President Trump signed the largest investment in our national defense since the final days of the Cold War, and if you didn’t notice, we gave our troops the biggest pay rise that you’ve received in nearly ten years,” stated Pence.    “We released a national security strategy, advancing peace across the wider world as well.”
    The vice president is in Poland for a four-day visit to Europe, where he will take part in international conferences and visit several historical sites associated with WWII.    He will visit the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz on Friday.

2/13/2019 Russia moves to mask its soldiers’ digital trail by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: A Russian Army member, dressed in a historical uniform, takes a selfie as he attends a rehearsal
for a military parade to mark the anniversary of a historical parade in 1941, when Soviet soldiers marched towards the
front lines at the Red Square in Moscow, Russia November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is moving to ban its soldiers from sharing information on the internet, a step that follows the use of social media posts by investigative journalists to shine a light on Moscow’s clandestine role in foreign conflicts.
    Draft legislation proposes banning servicemen and reserve troops from posting anything online that would allow outsiders to glean their whereabouts or role in the military.
    The bill, which was approved by lawmakers in its second of three readings in parliament on Tuesday, says the ban would cover photographs, video, geolocation data or other information.
    It would also prohibit soldiers sharing information about other servicemen or the relatives of servicemen, while those who break the ban would be subject to disciplinary measures.
    “Information shared by soldiers on the internet or mass media is used…in certain cases to form a biased assessment of Russia’s state policy,” the bill’s explanatory note said.
    The move comes with online investigative journalism sites drawing on open source data to probe Russia’s alleged role in clandestine operations abroad.
    Investigative site Bellingcat used social network posts extensively in reports concluding that Russian soldiers were involved in the downing of passenger flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
    A Dutch criminal investigation concluded last year that the plane was shot down with a surface-to-air missile belonging to the 53rd brigade of the Russian army.    Moscow denies involvement.
    “Social networks were used in many other investigations about the war in Ukraine and the war in Syria, for instance when fellow servicemen or relatives spoke about deceased soldiers,” said Roman Dobrokhotov, chief editor of investigative site The Insider.
    Reuters has used social network posts to identify Russians fighting in eastern Ukraine at a time when Moscow denied its soldiers were fighting there.
    If passed, the legislation will formally institute defense ministry recommendations that pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia says were issued to soldiers in 2017.
    The lower house still has to vote on the bill once more before it is sent to the upper house for a vote and is then signed into law by President Vladimir Putin.
(Editing by Peter Graff)
[Those soldiers just as well turn their phones off and never use them again since they would have no use for them.].

2/13/2019 Pence praises Poland’s actions on Huawei as U.S. pressure mounts
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Polish President Andrzej Duda shake hands during a joint
news conference at Belvedere Palace in Warsaw, Poland, February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence praised Poland on Wednesday for its commitment to “protecting the telecoms sector from China,” as part of a concerted push by the United States to convince its allies to exclude tech giant Huawei from telecoms projects.
    Fueled by concerns that Huawei products could be used by China for espionage, Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have stressed the dangers of collaborating with the Chinese firm during appearances in Poland and central European neighbors this week.
    Huawei has repeatedly denied that its products could be used for espionage.
    “We must continue to work so that all investment review mechanisms protect critical security and economic infrastructure going forward,” Pence said during a joint press conference in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
    In January, Poland arrested a Chinese employee of Huawei and a former Polish security official on spying allegations.
    Poland’s government is also considering excluding Huawei equipment from its future 5G network, sources told Reuters.
    “The recent action your government has taken against a Huawei executive and a Polish national accused of cooperating with him demonstrate your government’s commitment to ensure our telecommunications sector is not compromised in a way that threatens our national security,” Pence said.
    The comments came as Poland seeks to convince the United States to increase its military presence in the country.
    The number of U.S. troops in Poland is capped at 4,500 but it fluctuates as formations rotate.
    Poland, alarmed by Russia’s assertiveness on NATO’s eastern flank, has lobbied hard for the stationing of NATO troops on its soil, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
    Duda told U.S. President Donald Trump in September on a trip to Washington that he would be willing to commit more than $2 billion to help facilitate the building of a permanent U.S. base on Polish soil.
IN THE RACE
    Austria’s technology ministry and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel both said on Wednesday that an EU-wide agreement was needed on whether Huawei should be allowed to participate in building 5G networks in the bloc.
    The European Commission is considering a de facto ban on Huawei’s 5G network equipment due to security concerns.
    But some European countries have been reluctant to follow U.S. demands straightaway, and Huawei is determined to stay in the race for lucrative infrastructure projects.
    The company is ready to face any extra security measures required to compete to develop next-generation 5G networks in central and eastern Europe, Andy Purdy, chief security officer at Huawei Technologies USA told Reuters on Wednesday.
    “The U.S. government is very persistent, very determined and very forceful in communicating the messages about Huawei,” Purdy said in an interview.
    He also said that Huawei is ready to work with the Polish government on additional steps to build trust.
    The company has not as yet seen a slowdown in its business in Poland, the company’s senior standards manager in Europe said on Wednesday.
    “We don’t see slowdown in sales on Huawei equipment here … but if the situation continues, at some point it will impact our business as well,” Georg Mayer told a news conference in Warsaw.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska, Anna Koper and Lesley Wroughton in Warsaw, Idrees Ali in Brussels, Writing by Alan Charlish and Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Susan Fenton and Catherine Evans)

2/14/2019 Russia’s PM: we understand that sanctions pressure will continue
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev speaks during the government session in
Moscow, Russia December 12, 2018. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Handout via REUTERS
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russia understands that it will remain under the pressure of economic sanctions, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Thursday.
    U.S. Republican and Democratic senators on Wednesday introduced a bill seeking to impose sanctions on its banking, energy and foreign debt to punish Russia for meddling in U.S. elections and for its aggression in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Gareth Jones)

2/14/2019 Romanian candidate for EU prosecutor faces investigative hearing at home
Chief of anti-corruption prosecuting agency DNA, Laura Codruta Kovesi, delivers a speech during the agency's
annual report, in Bucharest, Romania, February 28, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Laura Codruta Kovesi, Romania’s former chief anti-corruption prosecutor, said her bid to be named the European Union’s public prosecutor could be damaged by a widely-criticized Romanian agency tasked with investigating magistrates.
    During Kovesi’s five-year tenure at the helm of Romania’s DNA anti-corruption agency, conviction rates for rampant high-level graft rose sharply across the political spectrum, drawing EU praise.
    But the newly created agency, among a raft of legislative and personnel changes made by the ruling Social Democrats in the past two years, now threaten the independence of the judiciary and rule of law in Romania, according to the European Commission, U.S. State Department and many Romanian magistrates.
    Just days after it was revealed that Kovesi was the leading contender for the new EU prosecutor’s post, the agency subpoenaed her for hearings as a suspect in an unspecified case.
    “I think (the summons) is a sort of revenge for the complaint I made at the European Court of Human Rights,” Kovesi told television station Digi24 late on Wednesday.    “The second reason is clearly an attempt to stop my candidacy for EU prosecutor.”
    The investigative agency had not given details of the accusations, she said.
    “This subpoena is the strongest evidence to date that the special unit to investigate judges and prosecutors is a political weapon,” Ionel Danca, spokesman of the opposition Liberal Party, said in a Facebook post.
    The Social Democrats said on Thursday Kovesi’s investigation must not be politicized.    “Trust the justice system and let the evidence, not politicians, speak,” they said in a statement.
    DNA’s success in prosecuting high-echelon corruption was applauded by Brussels, civil society groups and private investors.    But Kovesi was reviled by the Social Democrats before being forced out last year on the order of Justice Minister Tudorel Toader.    She has challenged her dismissal at the European Court of Human Rights.
    Kovesi has an interview with the selection panel for the new role of EU public prosecutor on Feb. 26.    The new EU agency will tackle financial fraud across the European Union.
    Toader wrote to European officials urging them to stifle her appointment, but she has received widespread support across Europe.
    Transparency International ranks Romania as one of the EU’s most corrupt states and Brussels has kept its justice system under special monitoring since the former communist country was admitted to the bloc in 2007.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[Another sad story of a Socialist system in downfall, but what did you expect?].

2/14/2019 Russia can weather possible new U.S. sanctions, minister says
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a Russian rouble coin and a U.S. dollar banknote in this
picture illustration taken October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has the tools to shield its economy from possible new U.S. sanctions, and the central bank and finance ministry have already created a buffer to protect the country’s banks, the Russian finance minister said on Thursday.
    U.S. Republican and Democratic senators on Wednesday introduced a bill seeking to punish Russia for meddling in U.S. elections and for its aggression in Ukraine by imposing sanctions on its banking, energy and foreign debt.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Katya Golubkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Larry King)

2/14/2019 Pence, at summit, lashes out at Europeans over Iran by Lesley Wroughton and Alicja Ptak
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands
as they meet in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused European powers on Thursday of undermining Washington’s crack down on Iran by trying to break U.S. sanctions against Tehran, in remarks that were likely to further strain transatlantic relations.
    Pence spoke at a Middle East peace conference in Warsaw attended by 60 countries, notably including both Gulf Arab states and Israel, in what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “historical turning point” for an alliance against Tehran.    Iran, Russia and the Palestinians were absent.
    European powers, who oppose the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran, were openly skeptical of a conference excluding Tehran.    France and Germany declined to send their top diplomats, while British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt left before Thursday’s main events.
    “Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative,” Pence said.    “In fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions.”
    Trump pulled the United States last year out of the 2015 Iran deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    European countries say they share Washington’s concerns about Iran’s regional behavior but believe withdrawing from the nuclear deal was a mistake, and have promised to try to salvage the deal as long as Iran continues to abide by it.    In practice,     European companies have accepted new U.S. sanctions on Iran and abandoned plans to invest there.
    Pence called on the Europeans to follow Washington and exit the agreement: “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and join with us.”
    He said a new European scheme to trade with Iran, known as the Special Purpose Vehicle, was “an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”
    “It is an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the United States,” he said.
    The mechanism was conceived as a way to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods.
    However, those ambitions have been scaled back, with diplomats saying that, realistically, it will be used only for trade, for example of humanitarian products or food, allowed by Washington.
    European diplomats at the conference rejected Pence’s accusations: “We strongly disagree,” a diplomat from a major European power said.    “We want to push Iran to good results and don’t want to push Iran outside of its nuclear commitment.”
    The summit venue in Poland could itself be seen as a rebuke to Washington’s traditional Western European allies, who are at odds with a nationalist government in Warsaw over moves the EU says curb judicial independence and free speech.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to travel to Brussels on Friday for talks with Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign policy chief.    Pompeo told a news conference there were differences during the summit meeting over how to get Iran to change its ways, but there was unanimity, including from Europeans, that Tehran posed a global threat.
    “We make no bones about it, we need more sanctions, more pressure on Iran,” Pompeo said in closing remarks.    “There was not a defender of Iran in the room.    No country.    No country spoke out and denied any of the basic facts that we have all laid out about Iran, the threat it poses, the nature of regime.”
    The summit was notable because of the presence of Israel alongside wealthy Arab states Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.    Washington aims to narrow differences between its Israeli and Arab allies to isolate Iran.
DESPERATE CIRCUS
    But just as notable were the absences, not only of Iran itself — which called the meeting a “desperate circus” — but of the Palestinians, who refused to attend over what they regard as U.S. bias against them under Trump.    They have been boycotting the administration since Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy in 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
    Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat took aim at the Arab states for attending, citing an Arab meeting last year that reaffirmed demands that Israel first withdraw from Palestinian land before it can normalize ties with Arab countries.
    “Reward the occupation, the decision to abolish the Arab Peace Initiative and the decisions of the Dhahran Summit.    For what?    Mediation between America and Israel on the one hand and Iran on the other,” Erekat tweeted.
    Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the only path to peace was by negotiating with the Palestinian leadership represented by Abbas.
        Niels Annen, Germany’s minister of state, was skeptical that the conference would deliver results on Iran.
    “I am hoping for constructive signals but nobody here has the expectation that this conference will solve problems,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.    “That would be unrealistic because we need a political agreement with all participants at the end of the day.”
    Earlier, Pompeo called for an era of cooperation during opening remarks that were broadcast publicly.    The rest of the meeting, including a presentation by White House advisor and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner on plans for Israeli-Palestinian peace, was held behind closed is doors.
    Kushner told the audience that the United States would not unveil the plan until after an Israeli election on April 9.
    Kushner and Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt are trying to broker a peace plan to cover all core issues of the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, U.S. official say.    Release of the plan has been delayed by Palestinian anger at Trump’s change of U.S. policy on Jerusalem.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Joanna Plucinska, Alan Charlish, Marcin Goclowski and Marcel Kolling; Editing by Justyna Pawlak, Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

2/104/2019 Kremlin, after summit, says no offensive planned in Syria’s Idlib by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
and President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko attend an informal meeting in the Black sea resort
of Sochi, Russia, February 14, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhael Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SOCHI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia, Turkey and Iran had agreed to take unspecified extra steps to clear Syria’s Idlib region of what he called “a hotbed of terrorists,” but the Kremlin said there would be no military operation there.
    Putin, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s closest allies, was speaking after hosting a summit in southern Russia to weigh the future of Syria with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
    All three countries have forces on the ground in Syria, where they have coordinated their efforts despite sometimes differing priorities and interests.
    But tensions between Moscow and Ankara over Syria have risen in recent months, fueled in part by a planned withdrawal of U.S. forces which promises to free up territory controlled by U.S. or U.S.-backed forces, spurring a race to fill the vacuum if and when it opens up.
    Before the summit, the Kremlin had made clear it wanted a green light for action in Idlib where it says Islamist militants have made significant inroads despite the area’s technical status as a Moscow- and Ankara-backed demilitarized zone.
    “…We should not put up with the presence of terrorist groups in Idlib,” Putin told Erdogan and Rouhani.
    “That’s why I propose we consider practical concrete steps that Russia, Turkey and Iran can take to completely destroy this hotbed of terrorists.”
    At the summit’s close, Putin said the three countries had agreed to take unspecified extra steps, a formula used at previous meetings, but did not say what they were.    Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told Russian news agencies that no new military operation against Idlib had been agreed on.
    Rouhani had said he backed tough action, but Erdogan was more circumspect.
    He did not respond to Putin’s suggestion of a joint plan in his opening remarks, and after the summit said that Turkey would continue to do all it could to stabilize Idlib.    But he also repeated a warning he has often made about the need not to spark a humanitarian catastrophe there.
    Moscow is keen to help Assad retake territory from rebels and militants, including eventually the northwestern Idlib province, but Ankara, which has called for the Syrian leader to leave power, has so far successfully pushed back.
    It brokered a deal with Russia in September to enforce a demilitarized zone in Idlib.    The agreement, which envisaged clearing the province of heavy weapons and jihadists, helped avert a Syrian government assault on the region, the last major bastion of Assad’s opponents after almost eight years of war.
    But Moscow has since complained that Turkey has not done enough to keep its side of the bargain and that Islamist militants who used to belong to the Nusra Front group have seized control of much of Idlib.
    Putin’s difficulty however has been persuading Erdogan to sign off on what would be a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive in a region that borders Turkey.
    Ankara is concerned about potential refugee flows from Idlib in the event of a military operation, and wants to retain its influence there.
    It also does not want developments in Idlib to distract from its own plan to set up a safe zone in the northeast of Syria.
SAFE ZONE TENSIONS
    Turkey’s plan to create that safe zone has also stirred tension with Moscow.
    It wants the area near the Turkish border to be cleared of the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG militia and to move into territory there, some of which is currently controlled by U.S. forces.
    Earlier on Thursday, Russia told Turkey it had no right to create such a safe zone unless it sought and received the consent of Assad.
    “The question of the presence of a military contingent acting on the authority of a third country on the territory of a sovereign country and especially Syria must be decided directly by Damascus,” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in answer to a question about the Turkish safe zone plan.    “That’s our base position.”
    After Thursday’s summit, Erdogan said Russia, Turkey and Iran were “on the brink” of taking certain steps east of the River Euphrates.    He did not say what they were.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay, Daren Butler and Dominic Evans in Turkey, by Tom Balmforth, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Christian Lowe in Moscow, and by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)
[Those 3 will probably be fighting each other before this is over.    And if Iran is the instigtor of many of the Islamist militant groups then why are they involved?    I predict within 2 years Syria will be in the same mess it was in before the Trump U.S. came in to clear it up.].

2/14/2019 Cuba says U.S. moving special forces, preparing Venezuelan intervention
General view of opposition supporters taking part in a rally to commemorate the Day of the Youth and to protest against
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Adriana Loureiro
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba said on Thursday the United States was moving special forces closer to Venezuela as part of a covert plan to intervene in the chaotic South American country using the pretext of a humanitarian crisis.
    A “Declaration of the Revolutionary Government” alleged that recent events in Venezuela amounted to an attempted coup that had so far failed.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been trying to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down and hand over power to Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly.
    Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency three weeks ago, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.
    These events, the declaration said, had led the United States to impose drastic sanctions causing damage “1,000 times greater” than the aid it is trying to force on the country.
    “Between February 6 and 10 military transport aircraft have flown to the Rafael Miranda Airport of Puerto Rico, the San Isidro Air Base, in the Dominican Republic and to other strategically located Caribbean islands, probably without knowledge of the governments of those nations,” the declaration said.
    “These flights originated in American military installations from which units of Special Operations and Marine Corps operate, which are used for covert actions,” it said.
    U.S. special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, asked about the Cuban statement at an event in Washington, said “it is a new lie.”
    The Dominican Republic’s Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas, in a statement issued from Italy where he is accompanying the country’s president, said no U.S. military transport planes had landed in his country.    He also reiterated his government’s support for a peaceful solution to the Venezuelan crisis.
    Venezuela, a major oil producer, is in the throes of a severe economic crisis with a dramatic drop in output and six-digit inflation wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of residents, sending an estimated 3 million of them seeking refuge in neighboring countries.
    Communist-run Cuba has been a key backer of the Venezuelan government since the Bolivarian Revolution that began under former leader Hugo Chavez in 1998.
    Most Western and Latin American countries, including the United States, quickly recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state and pledged millions of dollars in humanitarian aid in support.    The aid has begun arriving along the border with Colombia and Brazil.
    Maduro’s socialist government retains the backing of Russia, China and many other nations, as well as control of state institutions including the military.
    Guaido said on Tuesday the aid would roll across the border on Feb. 23 despite the Maduro government’s objections, setting up a possible confrontation.
    Cuba said on Thursday it was clear the United States wanted to “forcibly establish a humanitarian corridor under international protection, invoking the obligation to protect civilians and applying all necessary measures.”
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen in Washington; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)

2/14/2019 Pence calls on EU to withdraw from Iran nuclear deal
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki
gather for a family photo during the Middle East summit in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused Washington’s European allies on Thursday of trying to break U.S. sanctions against Tehran and called on them to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
    “Sadly, some of our leading European partners have not been nearly as cooperative.    In fact, they have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions,” Pence said during a conference on the Middle East organized by the United States in Warsaw.
    Pence said a scheme set up by the EU to facilitate trade with Iran was “an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”
    “It is an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the United States,” he said.
    The Warsaw meeting was attended by more than 60 nations but major European powers such as Germany and France, part to the 2015 nuclear accord, refused to send their top diplomats.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak, Lesley Wroughton, Agnieszka Barteczko and Alan Charlish)

2/14/2019 Slovak assembly fails to pick top judge candidates, plunging court into crisis
FILE PHOTO: Outgoing Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico and his successor Peter Pellegrini
arrive at the ceremony of tendering resignation by Fico and appointing Pellegrini for the post, at the
Presidential Palace in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/David W. Cerny/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia’s lawmakers on Thursday failed to pick any candidates for seats on the constitutional court, rendering the country’s top judicial institution largely unworkable when the majority of current members steps down on Saturday.
    The failure makes Slovakia the third central European country where top judicial appointments have become the center of political wrangling, after governments in Poland and Hungary sparked EU concerns over efforts to politically control top courts.
    Slovakia’s appointment of new judges has turned into a tussle between the ruling Smer party chief Robert Fico, his coalition partners, and outgoing President Andrej Kiska.
    Former Prime Minister Fico, forced to resign last year after street protests triggered by the murder of an investigative reporter, had hoped to find an exit from politics by taking the top seat on the court.
    But after Kiska, who has the right to pick each judge from a pair of candidates proposed by parliament, and a junior coalition partner made clear they would not back Fico for the post, Smer lawmakers abstained from the vote, which resulted in no appointments.
    “The ruling majority failed and made one of Slovakia’s fundamental constitutional bodies dysfunctional,” Kiska said in a statement after the vote, adding he would announce further steps to ensure at least partial functionality next week.
    The Constitutional Court, which rules on whether legislation and legal rulings are in line with the constitution, has 13 judges, and nine will step down on Friday midnight.
    The court needs at least seven out of 13 judges to decide in case election results are legally challenged.    This could potentially include the presidential election in March.
    On Tuesday, Fico gave up his candidacy for the court and warned coalition partners against voting with the opposition to appoint other candidates.
    The failure means a delay of possibly several months as new candidates are picked.
    This could revive Fico’s chances to take the top court seat, if Smer’s candidate for president, European Commission Vice-Chairman Maros Sefcovic, wins over opposition figures in the presidential election.
    The new president will take over from Kiska, who is not running, in June
    The leader of the Most-Hid junior coalition party, Bela Bugar, said he did not understand why Smer had “sabotaged” the vote, even though there had been an agreement to appoint at least six candidates that would allow Kiska to pick three of them and give the court a necessary quorum.
    Fico did not comment on that but verbally attacked journalists after the vote, saying “you are the biggest criminals, you have caused this country the biggest damage.”
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, Editing by William Maclean)

2/15/2019 Thirty years on, some Russians want to reframe Soviet war in Afghanistan by Tom Balmforth
Participants, including veterans of the military campaign, watch honor guards marching past
during a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in front of the
Kremlin wall in central Moscow, Russia February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thirty years after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, some Russian politicians are calling for a reassessment of the conflict which critics have long cast as a bloody foreign adventure akin to the U.S. war in Vietnam.
Moscow completed the pullout of its troops on Feb. 15, 1989 after a nine-year war that claimed the lives of 14,000 Soviet nationals, many of them repatriated secretly in zinc coffins.    Soviet deputies voted in a resolution that same year to formally condemn the intervention.
    Thirty years on, with Russia fighting in Syria and the United States moving to withdraw its own troops, Afghanistan is back in focus and Russian lawmakers have called into question the Soviet resolution.
    A flurry of diplomacy has also thrust Russia back into Afghanistan as a potential power broker, with Moscow hosting the Taliban and Afghan opposition politicians for its own peace negotiations on the heels of U.S. talks with the Taliban.
    Two lawmakers in the Kremlin-dominated parliament have drafted legislation on behalf of veterans groups to overturn the Soviet resolution, arguing that it had fundamentally failed to “correspond with the principles of historical justice.”
    The legislation received preliminary backing from a parliamentary commission on defense last month, but was fiercely denounced on Friday as “unacceptable and irresponsible” by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in comments to RIA news agency.
    The Kremlin declined to comment on the parliamentary initiative and instead lauded veterans of the campaign.
    “For us the most important thing is to remember all the heroes who fulfilled their international duty and did what they had to do.    Most important is not to forget these heroes, and no one indeed is forgetting these heroes,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    The anniversary was marked by prominent commemorative events broadcast on state television.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin last year ordered officials to draw up a special program to mark the anniversary, though he himself did not publicly attend commemorations to mark the end of a war that came to embody a decline in Soviet power.
    Putin, who famously called the 1991 Soviet breakup the 20th century’s greatest geopolitical catastrophe, marked the anniversary by awarding a military intelligence veteran who served in Afghanistan with the title of “hero of Russia.”
    For other decorated veterans of the war, such as Alexander Rutskoi, who went on to become vice president under President Boris Yeltsin, the Soviet withdrawal was a betrayal to the men who laid down their lives.
    But with the United States moving to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Rutskoi did not call for Russia to fill the vacuum left behind.
    “There’s no point whatsoever in sending troops back there. We’ve lost time. We should have done it back then,” he said.
[    Now for the rest of the story: The Soviet–Afghan War lasted over nine years, from December 1979 to February 1989.    Insurgent groups known collectively as the mujahideen, as well as smaller Maoist groups, fought a guerrilla war against the Soviet Army and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan government, mostly in the rural countryside.    The final troop withdrawal started on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989, leaving the government forces alone in the battle against the insurgents, which continued until 1992 when the former Soviet-backed government collapsed.    But they were met with fierce resistance from the guerillas, and were stuck in a bloody war that lasted nine years.    Mujahideen (literally, “struggle”) and in later conflicts with help from the United States, gave Osama bin Laden, who was a prominent organizer and financier of an all-Arab Islamist group of foreign volunteers, his Maktab al-Khadamat funnelled money, arms, and Muslim fighters from around the Muslim world into Afghanistan, with the assistance and support of the Saudi and Pakistani governments.    These foreign fighters became known as "Afghan Arabs" and their efforts were coordinated by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, and these guerrilla-type military groups led by the Islamist Afghan fighters in the Soviet–Afghan War, and now extends to other jihadist groups in various countries.    Due to its length, this was called the "Soviet Union's Vietnam War" or the "Bear Trap" by the Western media, and some claim the Soviets' failure in the war is thought to be a contributing factor to the fall of the Soviet Union.
    So I want to let you know that was not Sylvestor Stone as "Rambo" who defeated them and as you see above Russia is apparently getting back into Afghanistan after a battle with the United States dealing with the Taliban.
    The Taliban or Taleban, who refer to themselves as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, are a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement and military organization in Afghanistan currently waging war within that country.    Since 2016, the Taliban's leader is Mawlawi Hibatullah Akhundzada, pushed their ideology an "innovative" form of sharia Islamic law based on Deobandi fundamentalism and the militant Islamism and Salafi jihadism of Osama bin Laden with Pashtun social and cultural norms known as Pashtunwali, as most Taliban are Pashtun tribesmen.
    The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and military are widely alleged by the international community and the Afghan government to have provided support to the Taliban during their founding and time in power, and of continuing to support the Taliban during the insurgency.    Pakistan states that it dropped all support for the group after the September 11 attacks.    In 2001, reportedly 2,500 Arabs under command of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden fought for the Taliban.    Allies: Al-Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Haqqani network, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
    Do you remember what country the U.S. found Osama bin Laden in?]

2/15/2019 Pence accuses Iran of Nazi-like anti-Semitism
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence signs the visitors book at the Monument to the Victims at the former Nazi German concentration
and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau, near Oswiecim, Poland, February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    MUNICH (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused Iran on Friday of anti-Semitism akin to the Nazis following his visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland that had strengthened his resolve to act against Tehran.
    “We have the regime in Tehran that’s breathing out murderous threats, with the same vile anti-Semitic hatred that animated the Nazis in Europe,” Pence told reporters on Air Force Two before landing in Munich.
    He said that being in Auschwitz had made him reflect to “strengthen the resolve of the free world to oppose that kind of vile hatred and to confront authoritarian threats of our time.”

2/15/2019 Poland summons Israeli ambassador to clarify Netanyahu comments on Poles in Holocaust
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look on
during the Middle East summit in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland summoned Israel’s ambassador on Friday and threatened to scupper a Jerusalem diplomatic summit after reported comments in which Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.
    A spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, who was in Warsaw for a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference, said Netanyahu had been misquoted by The Jerusalem Post, which issued a corrected story.
    But Poland, where sensitivities over the issue of its behavior during the Holocaust are high, called in Israeli envoy Anna Azari and said doubts remained about what Netanyahu said.
    The matter of Poland’s conduct during the Holocaust – in which many of the six million Jewish dead were killed in Nazi camps on Polish soil – was at the center of an Israeli-Polish diplomatic dispute last year.
    After an outcry in Israel and the United States, Poland’s conservative Law and Justice government backed out of legislation mandating jail terms for anyone suggesting the country had collaborated with the Nazis.
    Many Poles still refuse to accept research showing thousands participated in the Holocaust in addition to the thousands who risked their lives to help the Jews – and feel the West has failed to recognize Poland’s own wartime suffering.
    Sensitivities were tested again late on Thursday after Netanyahu answered a question about that law posed by one of the Israeli reporters who had traveled with him to Poland.
    Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as saying: “The Poles collaborated with the Nazis, and I don’t know anyone who was ever sued for such a statement.”
    But a report in The Jerusalem Post on the exchange appeared to suggest that Netanyahu, in his reply, had accused all Poles of complicity.
    Yaakov Katz, the Jerusalem Post’s editor, told Reuters the account in his newspaper had used the term “Polish nation,” but not in a direct quote, and the story was swiftly amended “to have only the quote that Netanyahu said.”
    Tovah Lazaroff, a Jerusalem Post reporter who was present when Netanyahu spoke, told Reuters that the prime minister had said, “Poles cooperated with the Nazis.”
    As the dispute gained speed, Netanyahu’s office accused The Post of misquoting him and noted the English-language daily quickly issued a correction “clarifying that error had been made in editing the article.”
    But Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek said Israel’s statement was not sufficient and Warsaw wanted the issue “to be clarified unequivocally.”
    Earlier, Polish President Andrzej Duda raised a question mark over a two-day summit opening in Jerusalem on Tuesday of the four central European nations – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
    Duda said that if Netanyahu had said what was originally reported, “Israel would not be a good place to meet in spite of the previous arrangements.”    Duda offered his own presidential residence as an alternative venue.
    Netanyahu has sought to use the so-called Visegrad group as a counterweight to western European Union criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, particularly settlement expansion on occupied land they claim for a future state.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Alan Charlish in Warsaw, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; editing by John Stonestreet and Mark Heinrich)

2/16/2019 Far-right activists stage torchlit march in Bulgarian capital by Angel Krasimirov
Members and supporters of several nationalist organizations take part in a march in commemoration of late
General Hristo Lukov, a Bulgarian army commander, in Sofia, Bulgaria, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – More than 2,000 far-right activists from several European countries staged a torchlit procession through Sofia on Saturday to honor a Bulgarian pro-Nazi general, despite opposition from the Balkan country’s political parties and Jewish groups.
    The procession, known as the Lukov March after Hristo Lukov, who led the pro-Nazi Union of Bulgarian National Legions in the 1930s and early 1940s, went ahead after a court overturned the Sofia municipality’s ban for a second consecutive year.
    Participants, mostly young men in dark clothing, many bearing swastikas and making the Nazi salute, laid wreathes at the former home of Lukov amid heavy police security.    Some activists had come from Germany, Sweden, Hungary and elsewhere.
    “General Lukov was a valiant militant officer – a (World War One) war hero, who has inspired the revival of the Bulgarian army,” said Zvezdomir Andonov, one of the march organizers.
    Ahead of the march, hundreds of people took part in a counter-protest under the slogan “No Nazis on the streets.”    Police reported no incidents during the protest or the march.
    The World Jewish Congress, other Jewish groups and Bulgaria’s political parties had called for the march to be suspended.
    “It is absolutely abhorrent that in 2019 in Europe, the very place in which the Nazis attempted to wipe out the entire population of Jewish men, women, and children, far-rightists continue to parade unfettered through the streets with swastikas, SS symbols, and messages of hatred for Jews and other minorities,” said WJC Executive Vice President Robert Singer.
    Lukov’s Union, active from 1932 to 1944, espoused anti-Semitism, anti-communism and a one-party state.
    Lukov served as Bulgaria’s minister of war from 1935-1938, fostering close ties with senior Nazi officials in Germany.    He also pushed through a law modeled on the 1935 Nuremberg Laws in Germany that stripped Jews of their civic rights.    Lukov was assassinated by Communist partisans in 1943.
    Bulgaria fought in World War Two on Germany’s side, though the government of King Boris III refused Adolf Hitler’s demand to deport the country’s Jews to death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland and elsewhere.    This meant most of Bulgaria’s Jews did not perish in the Holocaust and survived the war.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/16/2019 Albanian protesters attack PM’s office to demand he quits by Benet Koleka
Supporters of the opposition party shout slogans during an anti-government protest in front of the
office of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Tirana, Albania, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Protesters in Albania attacked the prime minister’s office with iron bars and petrol bombs on Saturday, demanding his resignation over a scandal-plagued plan to build a ring-road around the capital.
    Several people, including journalists, were hurt as police fired tear gas to push back the protesters, some of whom were residents angry over the planned demolition of homes to make way for the highway around Tirana.
    During four hours of unrest, they attacked two large art installations outside the office of Prime Minister Edi Rama, an artist and former basketball player elected in 2013.
    Saturday’s unrest erupted after a group of protesters broke away from a rally by several thousand opposition demonstrators who had gathered earlier in the day to demand Rama step down and call an election.
    The European Union and its member states called on all sides “to do their utmost to avoid violence and further unrest.”
    Rama has faced mounting pressure in recent months.    The ring-road scheme has been halted due to allegations of corruption in the awarding of contracts, leading him to sack the transport minister.
    Prosecutors are investigating how a company using falsified documents, whose manager is now a fugitive, received 18 million euros in state funds to be build a section of the road.
    “The government was caught stealing, and should go” said opposition Democratic Party leader Lulzim Basha, accusing the government of inciting Saturday’s violence by allowing protesters to break through a police cordon.    He vowed to resume the protest on Thursday.
    Rama accused opposition leaders of stirring up the unrest because they feared an ongoing overhaul of the judiciary would hold many of them accountable for alleged wrongdoing.
    The scandal over the road scheme followed protests by students calling for cheaper tuition fees in December.
    Rama’s Socialist Party government has steered the economy back to growth, with an expansion of about four percent in 2018, and the Balkan NATO-member country could start accession talks with the EU in mid-2019.
    However, the benefits of economic growth are not reaching everyone and many Albanians continue to leave the country in search of jobs.    The perception of corruption is on the rise, especially from public private partnerships also seen as a threat to public debt.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Mark Potter and Helen Popper.)
[Another Socialist Party story which reminds me of the 8 years of Obama's Progressive Socialist Liberal party that decimated jobs created an over reaching government with a failing economy and went from a deficit of 8 trillion to 20 trillion with nothing to show for it.].

2/16/2019 Russia’s Lavrov dubs UK’s Williamson ‘minister of war’
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during Munich Security Conference
in Munich, Germany February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert/File Photo
    MUNICH (Reuters) – A day after British Defence Minister Gavin Williamson accused Moscow of “trying to goad the West” in a bellicose speech, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called him Britain’s minister of war.
    Williamson, addressing the Munich Security Conference on Friday, accused Russia of “illegal activity” on land and at sea, and called on Moscow to reset its relationship with Western countries through dialogue.
    Lavrov addressed the meeting on Saturday and seized the opportunity to jibe back at Williamson when asked about the security situation of the Arctic.
    “We want to understand what kind of mandate NATO is going to have in the Arctic,” he said.
    “If you listen to some people like the minister of war – oh, sorry the minister of defense – of the United Kingdom then you might get an impression that nobody except NATO have the right to be anywhere,” he added to laughter.
    It was not the first time Lavrov and Williamson have clashed verbally.
    Last year, after Williamson told Russia to “go away and shut up,” Lavrov retorted: “Maybe he lacks education.”
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/17/2019 Russia’s Gazprombank freezes accounts of Venezuela’s PDVSA: source by Tatiana Voronova
FILE PHOTO: Cutouts depicting images of oil operations are seen outside a building of Venezuela's
state oil company PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lender Gazprombank has decided to freeze the accounts of Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and halted transactions with the firm to reduce the risk of the bank falling under U.S. sanctions, a Gazprombank source told Reuters on Sunday.
    While many foreign firms have been cutting their exposure to PDVSA since the sanctions were imposed, the fact that a lender closely aligned with the Russian state is following suit is significant because the Kremlin has been among Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s staunchest supporters.
    “PDVSA’s accounts are currently frozen. As you’ll understand, operations cannot be carried out,” the source said.    Gazprombank did not reply to a Reuters request for a comment.
    Reuters reported this month that PDVSA was telling customers of its joint ventures to deposit oil sales proceeds in its Gazprombank accounts, according to sources and an internal document, in a move to try to sideline fresh U.S. sanctions on PDVSA.
    Washington says the sanctions, imposed on Jan. 28, are aimed at blocking Maduro’s access to the country’s oil revenue after opposition leader Juan Guaido proclaimed himself interim president and received widespread Western support.
    Gazprombank is Russia’s third biggest lender by assets and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom.
    The bank has held PDVSA accounts for several years. In 2013, PDVSA said it signed a deal with Gazprombank for $1 billion in financing for the Petrozamora company.    The source said that Petrozamora accounts were frozen, too.
    Russian officials have said they stand by Maduro and have condemned opposition actions as a U.S.-inspired ploy to usurp power in Caracas.
    But Russian firms find themselves in a quandary, caught between a desire to endorse the Kremlin line and back Maduro, and the fear that by doing so they could expose themselves to secondary U.S. sanctions which would harm their businesses.
(Reporting by Tatiana Voronova; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Christian Lowe and Mark Potter)

2/18/2019 Polish officials may cancel trip to Israel over diplomatic spat
FILE PHOTO: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives at a European Union leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish officials may cancel their planned trip to Israel, the head of the prime minister’s office, Michal Dworczyk, said on Monday after media reported remarks by Israel’s prime minister suggesting Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
    Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki decided earlier to call off his visit to Israel, with Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz to go instead.    However, the whole visit could now be canceled as the diplomatic row deepened.
    Dworczyk noted what he described as a “disgraceful” new statement by the Israeli foreign minister’s department.
    “In the light of this statement, any participation of representatives of the Polish state in the V4 summit in Israel is under a very big question mark,” Dworczyk told state ratio.    The V4 summit in Israel was a planned gathering of leaders from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.
    Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Israel’s Army Radio on Monday that he was in favor of maintaining relations with Poland, but he repeated his earlier opinions.
    “Historical truth cannot be changed.    Many Poles collaborated with the Nazis and took part in the destruction of the Jews during the Holocaust. … Anti-Semitism was innate among the Poles before the Holocaust, during it and after it, too,” he said.
    Before World War Two Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities which was almost wiped out by the Nazis.
    Many Poles still refuse to accept research showing thousands participated in the Holocaust in addition to the thousands who risked their lives to help the Jews.
    Tensions between Israel and Poland ran high last year after Poland introduced new legislation that would have made the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison.
    After pressure from the U.S. government and an outcry in Israel, Poland watered down the legislation, removing the prison sentences.
(Reporting in WARSAW by Marcin Goclowski and Anna Koper and in JERUSALEM by Dan Williams; Editing by Paul Tait and Ed Osmond)

2/18/2019 Ukraine seeks more EU aid for south, east regions as elections near by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin speaks during an annual
news conference in Kiev, Ukraine January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Ukraine’s foreign minister asked the European Union on Monday for hundreds of millions of euros in loans and aid for infrastructure and businesses in its troubled east and south, regions he said Russia was trying to “suffocate.”
    EU foreign ministers were discussing increasing support for Ukraine, which holds a presidential election next month in tough conditions.    Russia annexed its Crimea peninsula in 2014 and backs armed separatists in its eastern industrial Donbas region.
    The EU’s top diplomat also confirmed the bloc would put more Russians under sanctions over Moscow’s standoff with Kiev in the Azov Sea, to the southeast of Ukraine.
    “We need targeted… support for the Ukrainian south, to work with us on infrastructure… Further Russian attempts to destabilize Ukraine’s south would be very detrimental for European security,” Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told reporters in Brussels.
    “(There is) an attempt to suffocate the whole Ukrainian Donbas… We need infrastructure, it’s about roads and railways.    And to support people… help them to launch new small and medium businesses because we need to fundamentally reshuffle the whole economic model there,” he added.
    President Petro Poroshenko, elected amid high hopes for change in Ukraine after street protests ousted his pro-Russian predecessor in 2014, is in an uphill battle for re-election after his popularity plunged over graft and sliding living standards.
    Klimkin accused Russia of turning the Donbas region – which remains outside the control of the Kiev government – into a “big (money) laundering machine.”
    The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, who chaired Monday’s ministerial meeting, stressed the bloc’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty” but also urged Kiev to press on with economic and political reforms.
    Confirming the planned new sanctions against more Russians, she said: “I believe the formal adoption of the legal acts will be finalised in the coming days.”
    Despite Western pressure, Moscow has vowed never to return Crimea – home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet – to Ukraine.    A peace plan for eastern Ukraine, sponsored by Germany and France, has helped put an end to heavy fighting there but has since largely stalled.
    Relations between the EU and Russia plunged to fresh lows last year over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain.    But the EU is divided over how hard to punish Moscow – or how far to support Kiev – as some would prefer to prioritize business ties with Russia.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/18/2019 Bulgarian ruling party scraps election code revisions after opposition walkout by Angel Krasimirov
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov arrives at a European Union leaders summit
in Brussels, Belgium December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s ruling center-right party GERB on Monday dropped plans to revise the election code after they prompted the main opposition Socialist Party (BSP) to walk out of parliament.
    The BSP said on Sunday that fair elections could not be guaranteed in Bulgaria following the revisions, voted through after a marathon, 14-hour session last Thursday.
    The move by the BSP, which holds 79 of the 240 seats in parliament, threatened to undermine the assembly’s ability to pass legislation by making it harder to reach a quorum.
    The amendments would have raised the threshold for preferential voting in elections, widened the use of machine voting as opposed to paper ballots, and changed the way the election commission operates.
    Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, whose GERB party has 95 seats, said a new election commission would be formed “in a clear and transparent way” before the European Parliament elections in May.
    The BSP, heir to Bulgaria’s once-mighty Communist Party, reacted cautiously to Borisov’s announcement.
    “You will only see us back in the chamber when we have seen real action by GERB,” said BSP deputy Tasko Ermenkov.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/18/2019 IMF is ‘accomplice’ of Serbia’s President, says opposition leader by Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic speaks during an interview with Reuters
in Belgrade, Serbia, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic/File Photo
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s top opposition leader accused the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday of aiding President Aleksandar Vucic and his allies in the “economic destruction of Serbia.”
    In an op-ed piece published by Belgrade daily Danas, Dragan Djilas, a key leader in the opposition Alliance for Serbia, said IMF policies were contributing to poverty and low living standards in the Balkan country.
    Djilas is also the former Mayor of Belgrade and ex-president of the opposition Democratic Party.
    The Alliance for Serbia is leading street protests against what they see as Vucic’s authoritarian rule and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).
    Djilas accused the IMF and James Roaf, the former head of an IMF mission to review Serbia’s finances, of overlooking the government’s damaging policies.
    Djlas said these include borrowing from China and Russia, corruption, subsidizing state firms, privatization of key assets such as the sale of the RTB Bor copper mine to China’s Zijin Mining and IMF-backed austerity measures introduced in 2014.
    He also singled out low wages, poor living standards and weak economic growth estimated at 4.4 percent for 2018 and 3.5 percent for this year, among the lowest in the region.
    “Having in mind their silence over … catastrophic decisions of Alleksandar Vucic and the government they praise, … IMF representatives in Serbia, led by Mr. Roaf, qualified for the status of accomplices in the project of economic destruction of Serbia,” Djilas wrote.
    The IMF last week praised Serbia’s economic performance in 2018 and said it agreed with government plans to privatize a major bank and a loss-making petrochemical plant.
    The IMF mission in Belgrade declined to comment.
    Serbia ended a three-year, 1.2 billion-euro ($1.41 billion) loan deal with the IMF IN 2018.    It did not draw on any of the funds.
    That agreement came after the IMF in early 2012 froze a previous 1 billion euro ($1.13 billion) standby loan with the-then Democratic Party-led government due to overspending.
    The IMF is currently monitoring the Serbian economy under a 30-month non-financial advisory Policy Coordination Instrument (PCI) arrangement, designed for countries that do not need the fund’s financial backing.
    Djilas also said Serbia should nationalize some assets that were privatized since 2012 when SNS and their Socialist allies came to power, boost wages in the public sector and pensions, and end subsidies to state public utility firms.
($1 = 0.8847 euros)
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ed Osmond)

2/19/2019 EU to take action against Poland if judges harassed for consulting ECJ by Jan Strupczewski
European Commission first Vice-President Frans Timmermans (R) delivers a speech during a debate on BREXIT after the vote on british
Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission will take action against Poland if its government is harassing judges for consulting the European Court of Justice on the legality of Polish reforms, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Tuesday.
    Timmermans, responsible in the Commission for making sure European Union countries observe the rule of law, was responding to a letter from Poland’s biggest judge association Iustitia, which asked him to act.
    Iustitia urged Timmermans to sue the nationalist and eurosceptic Polish government over the harassment of judges who question the legality of the government’s judicial reforms, by asking the opinion of the ECJ.
    “Every Polish judge is also a European judge, so no one should interfere with the right of a judge to pose questions to the European Court of Justice,” Timmermans told reporters on entering a meeting of EU ministers who were to discuss Poland’s observance of the rule of law.
    “If that is becoming something of a structural matter, if judges are being faced with disciplinary measures because they ask questions to the court in Luxembourg, then of course the Commission will have to act,” Timmermans said, without elaborating.
    The Polish government of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has been in conflict with the Commission for undermining the independence of Poland’s courts since the start of 2016.
PROCEDURE
    Worried about the government flouting basic democratic standards in the country of 38 million people, the Commission has launched an unprecedented procedure on whether Poland is observing the rules of law, which serves mainly as a means of political pressure.
    The procedure could lead to the loss of voting power in the EU for a government that does not observe the rule of law.
    Poland was the first ever to be put under that procedure, by the European Commission for undermining the independence of the courts.
    “Sadly, not much has changed and some things even have worsened,” Timmermans said.
    The EU has also launched a similar procedure against Hungary, where the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is raising concern in other EU countries.    Brussels has also warned Romania to stop its push for influence over the judicial system.
    Iustitia, grouping one third of all Polish judges, wrote to Timmermans to act against repressive disciplinary steps against judges by the National Council of Judiciary, which, under changes made by the PiS government, is now appointed by politicians from the ruling PiS parliamentary majority.
    “The proceedings are usually initiated against judges who are active in the field of defending the rule of law, among others by educational actions, meetings with citizens, international activity,” Iustitia head Krystian Markiewicz wrote in the letter to Timmermans, seen by Reuters.
    “Therefore I appeal for referring Poland to the Court of Justice of the European Union in connection with the regulations concerning the disciplinary proceedings against judges,” he wrote.
(Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw, Writing by Jan Strupczewski; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

2/19/2019 Russia’s Putin, Israel’s Netanyahu to discuss Syria in Moscow
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia July 11, 2018. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia President Vladimir Putin and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks in Moscow on Feb. 21, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
    They plan to discuss the situation in the Middle East, including Syria, the Kremlin said in a statement.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin,; Writing by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Ed Osmond)

2/19/2019 Hungary’s ruling party doesn’t belong in Europe’s center-right: Juncker
FILE POTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the
nation speech in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban should leave the mainstream European center-right grouping, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, comparing Orban to French far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
    The unusually sharp comments, made at a public meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, came after the Hungarian government unveiled a new poster campaign accusing Juncker and philanthropist George Soros of wanting to flood Hungary with migrants.
    “Against lies there’s not much you can do,” Juncker replied, adding that Manfred Weber, the European Peoples Party’s lead candidate for the upcoming European elections, would certainly be asking himself “if I need this voice” in the EPP.
    Calls have been growing for Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party to be expelled from the EPP, which groups Christian Democratic and center-right parties in the European Parliament, because of Fidesz’s stridently anti-immigration campaigns.
    Fidesz’s domestic strength, however, means it has a large delegation in the European legislature, and its removal from the EPP umbrella could erode the center-right’s current dominance of the Strasbourg parliament.
    Juncker, previously the longtime center-right prime minister of Luxembourg, said he had called for Fidesz’s exclusion from the EPP.
    “They didn’t vote for me in the European Parliament,” he said.    “The far right didn’t either.    I remember Ms. Le Pen, she said ‘I’m not voting for you.’ I said: ‘I don’t want your vote.’    There are certain votes you just don’t want.”
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/19/2019 Cuba denies military in Venezuela, charges U.S. readies intervention by Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez gestures as he speaks during a
news conference in Havana, Cuba, October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba denied on Tuesday it has security forces in Venezuela and charged the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign of lies paving the way for military intervention in the South American country.
    U.S. President Donald Trump and members of the administration have charged that Cuba’s security forces and military control Venezuela’s and that troops are also on the ground there.
    “Our government categorically and energetically rejects this slander,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said at a Havana press conference, adding all of the some 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela were civilians, most health professionals.
    Rodriguez called on the U.S. administration to produce proof.
    “There is a big political and communications campaign underway which are usually the prelude to larger actions by this government,” Rodriguez said.
    Communist-run Cuba has been a key backer of the Venezuelan government since the Bolivarian Revolution that began under former leader Hugo Chavez in 1998.
    The Trump administration has been trying to pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to step down and hand over power to Juan Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly.
    Guaido invoked a constitutional provision to assume the presidency a month ago, arguing that Maduro’s re-election last year was a sham.
    The United States immediately recognized Guaido as interim president. Since then many of Venezuela’s neighbors and most Western countries have followed suit.
    Maduro retains the backing of Russia and China and control of Venezuelan state institutions, including the security services.     Rodriguez termed the political crisis in Venezuela “a failed imperialist coup … fabricated in Washington,” and warned plans to deliver humanitarian aid were a recipe for violence and intervention.
    The United States has sent tons of aid that is being stockpiled on Colombia’s border with Venezuela, but Maduro has refused to let it in.
    Guaido has announced he will move the aid into the country by air, land and sea on Feb. 23 and called on Venezuelans to help bring it through.
    President Trump, speaking in Miami on Monday, warned the Venezuelan military to let the aid in or face dire consequences.
    “We are all witnesses in the making of humanitarian pretexts.    A deadline has been set for forcing the entry of humanitarian aid,” Rodriguez said.
    Rodriguez reiterated Cuba’s claim last week that the United States was moving special forces to the Caribbean, a charge the State Department’s special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, termed a “lie.”
(Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by James Dalgleish)

2/20/2019 Putin: We’ll target USA if Washington deploys missiles in Europe by Polina Nikolskaya and Vladimir Soldatkin
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation
Council, regional governors and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will respond to any U.S. deployment of short or intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe by targeting not only the countries where they are stationed, but the United States itself, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
    In his toughest remarks yet on a potential new arms race, Putin said Russia was not seeking confrontation and would not take the first step to deploy missiles in response to Washington’s decision this month to quit a landmark Cold War-era arms control treaty.
    But he said that Russia’s reaction to any deployment would be resolute and that U.S. policy-makers, some of whom he said were obsessed with U.S. exceptionalism, should calculate the risks before taking any steps.
    “It’s their right to think how they want.    But can they count?    I’m sure they can.    Let them count the speed and the range of the weapons systems we are developing,” Putin told Russia’s political elite to strong applause.
    “Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons which can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centers of decision-making are located,” he said.
MISSILES IN EUROPE
    Alleging Russian violations, Washington said this month it was suspending its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and starting the process of quitting it, untying its hands to develop new missiles.
    The pact banned either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe and its demise raises the prospect of a new arms race between Washington and Moscow, which denies flouting the treaty.
    Russia denies violating the treaty.    Putin responded to the U.S. move by saying Russia would mirror the U.S. moves by suspending its own obligations and quitting the pact.
    But Putin, who has sometimes used bellicose rhetoric to talk up Russia’s standoff with the West and to rally Russians round the flag, did not up the ante.
    He did not announce new missile deployments, said money for new systems must come from existing budget funds and declared that Moscow would not deploy new land-based missiles in Europe or elsewhere unless Washington did so first.
    On Wednesday, he made clear however that he was ready, reluctantly, to escalate if the United States escalated and that Russia was continuing to actively develop weapons and missile systems to ensure it was well prepared for such an eventuality.
    He said any U.S. move to place new missiles in Europe would leave Moscow with no choice but to respond because it would drastically cut the time it took U.S. missiles to reach Russia, something that would pose a direct threat.
    He said Russia wanted good ties with the United States, but was ready with its defensive response if necessary.
    “We know how to do this and we will implement these plans immediately, as soon as the corresponding threats to us become a reality.”
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)

2/20/2019 Russia looks to extend detention of ex U.S. marine held for spying: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who was detained by Russia's FSB security service on suspicion
of spying, attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s FSB security service has asked a Moscow court to extend the detention of former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying, the Interfax news agency cited a court spokeswoman as saying on Wednesday.
    Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28. He denies the charges against him. [nL8N1ZM2ZU]
    The court ruled in late December that Whelan should be held in custody until Feb. 28, the agency reported.    The FBS wants to extend this to May 28.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

2/20/2019 Israel should apologize to Poland in Holocaust row: U.S. ambassador to Warsaw by Alan Charlish
FILE PHOTO - U.S. Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher watches as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish
Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz hold a news conference at Lazienki Palace in Warsaw, Poland February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Washington’s ambassador to Warsaw on Wednesday called on Israel to apologize to Poland in a row between the two countries over the Holocaust, after Israel’s acting foreign minister said “many Poles” had collaborated with the Nazis.
    The row, initially sparked by , deepened on Monday after the comment by his minister Israel Katz, who also labeled Poles anti-Semites.
    Katz’s words led Poland to pull out of a planned summit of central European states in Israel.
    U.S. ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, asked if Katz should apologize, said the comment “warrants an apology.”
    Mosbacher said she felt two strong allies like Israel and Poland “shouldn’t be using that kind of rhetoric.    We are too important to each other not to work these things out.”
    Poland was home to one of the largest Jewish communities before World War Two, but more than 3 million Polish Jews died in the Holocaust.
    Many Poles still refuse to accept research showing thousands participated in the Holocaust in addition to the thousands who risked their lives to help the Jews.
    Katz is a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party which presently leads the polls ahead of national elections scheduled for April.
    Netanyahu, whose office said his initial comments had been misinterpreted, has faced criticism in Israel over what some see as a bid to win allies in central Europe at the expense of revising Holocaust history and whitewashing anti-Semitism.
    He had also hoped the Visegrad summit that was boycotted by Poland would burnish his diplomatic credentials as the election campaign picks up.
    Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the prime minister, who was in Warsaw for a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference, had been misquoted by The Jerusalem Post, which issued a corrected story.
    Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, also a member of Netanyahu’s Likud, said on Wednesday there were Poles who cooperated with the Nazis and Poles who saved Jews.
    “The entire Polish nation cannot be blamed for the Holocaust,” he said in an interview with Reshet Beit Radio.    “Poland is one of the friendliest countries to Israel… The understandings between us and Poland still stand.”
(Reporting in WARSAW by Alan Charlish and in JERUSALEM by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/20/2019 Comedian leads new poll in Ukraine presidential election
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, argues with his
opponents, who stage a protest prior to Zelenskiy's concert in Lviv, Ukraine February 8, 2019. REUTERS/Mykola Tys
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy is the frontrunner in Ukraine’s presidential election, according to the latest opinion poll published on Wednesday.
    A survey, conducted by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center, showed the 41-year-old Zelenskiy, a political novice, was ahead of current President Petro Poroshenko and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
    The center said it had interviewed 2016 voters in all regions, except in annexed Crimea, from Feb. 7 to Feb 14.
    The election takes place on March 31, where 44 candidates are set to compete.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Matthias Williams and Alison Williams)
[That reminds me of the year that Pat Paulson a US comedian ran a fake president election, and we almost voted for him because neither candidate was worth voting for.    And even now I would vote for this guy over any of the Socialist Democrats running in the U.S.].

2/20/2019 Microsoft says discovers hacking targeting democratic institutions in Europe
Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Microsoft logo in
this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    (Reuters) – Microsoft Corp on Wednesday said it had discovered hacking targeting democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organizations in Europe and plans to offer a cyber security service to several countries to close security gaps.
    The attacks occurred between September and December 2018, targeting employees of the German Council on Foreign Relations and European offices of The Aspen Institute and The German Marshall Fund, the company said https://blogs.microsoft.com/eupolicy/2019/02/20/accountguard-expands-to-europe in a blog post.
    Microsoft said the activity, which was found through the company’s Threat Intelligence Center and Digital Crimes Unit, targeted 104 employee accounts in Belgium, France, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Serbia.
    Microsoft said many of the attacks originated from a group called Strontium, which the company has previously associated with the Russian government.
    Strontium, one of the world’s oldest cyber espionage groups, has also been called APT 28, Fancy Bear, Sofancy and Pawn Storm by a range of security firms and government officials.    Security firm CrowdStrike has said the group may be associated with the Russian military intelligence agency GRU.
    Microsoft said it will expand its cyber security service AccountGuard to 12 new markets in Europe including Germany, France and Spain to help customers secure their accounts.
    The AccountGuard service will also be available in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia.
    Ahead of a critical European Parliament election in May, German officials are trying to bolster cyber security after a far-reaching data breach by a 20-year-old student laid bare the vulnerability of Europe’s largest economy.
(Reporting by Shubham Kalia and Ishita Chigilli Palli in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips, Bernard Orr)

2/20/2019 India plans to buy 21 MiG-29 jet fighters from Russia: RIA
FILE PHOTO - A MIG-29 fighter performs during the "Aviadarts" military aviation competition
at the Dubrovichi range near Ryazan, Russia, August 2, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – India plans to buy 21 MiG-29 jet fighters and possibly more from Russia, the RIA news agency cited the deputy director of Russia’s federal service for military-technical cooperation as saying on Wednesday.
    The report did not offer a possible time frame for the procurement plans.
    New Delhi last year agreed a deal with Russia to buy S-400 surface-to-air missile systems despite a warning from the United States that such a purchase could trigger sanctions under U.S. law.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)
[Saudi Arabia just gave them a loan so they can afford to buy Russian missle to defend themselves from Pakistan and China.].

2/20/2019 Russia must build own internet in case of foreign disruption: Putin
Officers of Cossack cadet corps watch a television broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the Federal Assembly,
at a settlement of Rassvet outside Rostov-On-Don, Russia February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia must prepare for possible Western attempts to deny it access to the global internet by creating its own self-sufficient ‘segments’ of the web, President Vladimir Putin was quoted as saying on Wednesday by Russian news agencies.
    “I think, they (foreign countries) will think through carefully before doing it, but there is a theoretical possibility (of Russia being cut off from the internet), and that’s why we should create segments that don’t depend on anyone,” Tass quoted Putin as saying.
    “I can’t speak for our partners, what they have up their sleeves, but I think it will do colossal damage to them,” he said, without elaborating.
    Putin’s comments came days after Russian lawmakers backed tighter internet controls to defend against foreign meddling.    Critics say the draft legislation could disrupt the internet in Russia and be used to stifle dissent.
    The bill seeks to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by state authorities and proposes building a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue functioning even if Russia is cut off from foreign online infrastructure.,br> (Reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Editing by Gareth Jones)
[This is amusing that Russia is so scared of since all the Democrats in the U.S. are blaming the Russians from stealing data and collusion into their politics by using the internet and want to blame it on Trump.    Most of Mueller's final report only had indictments on Russian persons with no collusion associated with Trump.].

2/20/2019 Putin, faced with ratings slump, offers Russians financial sweeteners by Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation
Council, regional governors and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin offered a raft of financial sweeteners on Wednesday to hard-pressed Russians after opinion polls showed trust in him has fallen to a 13-year low and almost half the population believe the country is on the wrong track.
    In his annual speech to the Russian political elite, Putin set out how he planned to raise people’s living standards and boost healthcare and education, promising he would find extra money to back the pledges.
    Among his promises: More money for pensioners, mortgage and tax relief for families, and financial incentives for women to have more children.
    Putin also laid out deadlines to close huge and sometimes apparently spontaneous landfill sites that have become a political sore for the Kremlin and angered many Russians who have seen them spring up near their homes, polluting the air.
    “You can’t deceive people.    They keenly feel hypocrisy, disrespect and any injustice Bureaucratic red tape is of little interest to them,” Putin told lawmakers and regional leaders.
    “For people what’s important is what has actually been done and how it improves their lives and their families’ lives.    We need to change the situation for the better now.”
    Putin also spoke of a new arms race with the United States, something that could potentially reduce funds available for social spending if it continues to escalate.
    But for now, Putin said Russia was well able to afford to spend heavily on lifting people’s quality of life.    He said the country’s foreign currency reserves covered the entirety of its external debt obligations for the first time and forecast the economy would be growing by over 3 percent by 2021.
    “…We can now invest and focus colossal, at least for our country, colossal financial resources on (Russia’s) development.    Nobody handed them to us, we did not borrow them – these funds were created by millions of our citizens.    They (the funds) should be used to increase Russia’s wealth and the wellbeing of Russian families.”
    Oil revenues mean Russia is not short of money.    Its budget surplus this year is projected to be 1.932 trillion roubles ($29.3 billion) or 1.8 percent of gross domestic product.    Russia’s foreign exchange reserves stand at $478 billion, the fifth largest in the world.
    But if Putin had to scale back social spending plans to fund a wider arms race, that could further dent his ratings.
    In power as either president or prime minister since 1999, Putin was re-elected last year by a landslide to another six-year presidential term.    He is not under immediate political pressure and enjoys an approval rating of around 60 percent.
    But his rating used to be nearly 90 percent and an opinion poll in January showed public trust in him had fallen to its lowest level in 13 years, while another survey showed this month that the number of Russians viewing the country as moving in the wrong direction was at its highest since 2006.
    Pollsters attribute the souring mood to people fed up with six consecutive years of falling real incomes and unpopular government moves to raise the retirement age and hike value added tax.
(Additonal reporting by Moscow Bureau; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry)
[Putin has been pumping alot of oil also since he remembered when Reagan lowered the price of a barrel as low as $20, and they could not buy enough wheat to feed them and that forced Russia to tear down the Berlin wall.    Oil is at $55 a barrel now, so more oil pumped is $25 a barrel profit which he knew what Trump was doing to Iran.].

2/21/2019 Despite Putin’s swagger, Russia struggles to modernize its navy by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: The Russian Navy's frigate Admiral Grigorovich sails in the Bosphorus on its
way to the Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin calls improving the Russian navy’s combat capabilities a priority.
    The unfinished husks of three guided-missile frigates that have languished for three years at a Baltic shipyard show that is easier said than done.
    Earmarked for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the frigates fell victim to sanctions imposed by Ukraine in 2014 after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, prompting Kiev to ban the sale of the Ukrainian-made engines needed to propel them.
    With Moscow unable to quickly build replacement engines for the Admiral Grigorovich-class frigates, construction stopped.    Russia is now cutting its losses and selling the three ships to India without engines.
    The navy’s problems stem largely, but not exclusively, from the Ukrainian sanctions.    There are also problems, for different reasons, with new equipment for the army and air force.
    The picture that emerges is that Russia’s armed forces are not as capable or modern as its annual Red Square military parades suggest and that its ability to project conventional force is more limited too.
    “You need to always distinguish between reality and the shop window,” said Andrei Frolov, editor-in-chief of Russian magazine Arms Exports.
    “Red Square is a shop window.    It’s like in restaurants in Japan where there are models of the food.    What we see on Red Square are models of food, not the food itself.”
    Western diplomats and military experts say Putin has long projected an image of military might to strengthen his and Moscow’s image at home and abroad, but that Russia is overhauling its military far more slowly than China.
    “Moscow’s problems mean its ability to project conventional military force — something it is doing in Syria and has done in Ukraine — is not as great as the Kremlin would have the world believe,” said one Western official with knowledge of Russia’s military.
    In a speech on Wednesday, Putin did not mention the navy’s engine problems, focusing instead on how it is due to receive seven new multi-purpose submarines ahead of time and 16 new surface ships by 2027.
    Defense spending has risen sharply under Putin.    But Russian officials and military experts say Moscow has a shortage of modern factories and skilled labor and does not have the available financial resources needed to reverse decades of post-Soviet decline as quickly as it wants.
    Frolov said Russia had successfully produced prototypes of new weapons systems, but struggled to move to serial production.
    That does not mean Russia’s military is not a force with which to be reckoned.    Some of its hardware, such as its S-400 air defense systems, is world-class.    Putin has also spent heavily on missile technology, unveiling new hypersonic systems.
    But Russia’s air force and army, like its navy, are experiencing re-armament problems.    Its new stealth fighter first took to the air more than nine years ago and a super tank made its Red Square debut almost four years ago.    Neither is due to be deployed in large numbers soon, government officials say.
NAVAL DISARRAY
    The program to build Russia’s most advanced stealth frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov-class, has been paralyzed by sanctions — even before the sanctions hit it took 12 years to build the lead ship, which entered service last summer.
    Russia hopes to add 14 more such ships to its navy, but has no engines for 12 of those vessels.
    Moscow is trying to develop its own gas turbine engines and its own full-cycle manufacturing base.
    That task has been handed to aircraft manufacturer NPO Saturn, which is part of Rostec, an industrial conglomerate run by Sergei Chemezov, who served as a KGB spy with Putin.
    Ilya Fedorov, Saturn’s then director, said in 2014 he had concerns about costs, and the company failed to deliver the first engines to the navy in 2017.
    Fedorov told the Russian news agency Interfax at the time that “all our ships run on these turbines, and if we don’t make our own everything will grind to a halt.”
    Fedorov is no longer with the company.    Viktor Polyakov, Saturn’s current director, said early last year that prototypes of its three new engine types had passed tests and that serial production had begun.
    Chemezov told Reuters at a military exhibition in Abu Dhabi this month that an undisclosed number of engines had been handed to the navy. But none has yet been fitted to the frigates.
    Saturn says it has received initial orders from the Ministry of Defense.    But one source close to the matter said the ministry had not yet guaranteed how many engines it would buy.
    “We shouldn’t expect Russia to start fully fledged serial production for at least another five years,” said Serhiy Zgurets, director of Defense Express, a Ukrainian consultancy.
    Alexei Rakhmanov, head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, said in December that the first Russian-made engine should be fitted to the fourth of 14 more planned frigates in the “very nearest future.”
    Even if that happens, Igor Ponomarev, the head of the St Petersburg shipyard making the new stealth frigates, says that vessel is not due to be ready before the end of 2022.    The rest of the program is likely to stretch into the 2030s.
TROUBLED STEALTH FIGHTER AND TANK
    Russia’s planned new Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter jet is also experiencing problems.
    Moscow had initially been expected to procure about 150 of the fifth-generation Su-57s, but defense industry and government officials say they now expect just one plane, the first serially-produced aircraft, this year.    A further 14 may follow.
    Experts say the costs of mass-producing the new plane are simply beyond Russia.
    Plans for Russia’s super tank have also foundered.
    Oleg Sienko, the then director of the factory which produces the new T-14 Armata battle tank, said in 2016 Putin had approved the purchase of 2,300 Armatas.    Since then, various prototypes have been tested, but the tank had to be reworked.
    The army will receive the first 12 serially-produced tanks of around 100 only by the end of this year, Defense Ministry sources told daily newspaper Izvestia this month.
    Dr Richard Connolly, a Russia specialist at the University of Birmingham, said Moscow’s military might should not be underestimated but Russia was still suffering from the legacy of an economic crisis that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse, hitting state arms orders and the military-industrial complex.
    “It’s not as easy as simply saying, ‘Right, we’ve got the money, so go and make it happen’, because a lot of the shipyards have rusted,” Connolly said.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, by Gleb Stolyarov and Anton Zverev in Moscow and by Stanley Carvalho in Abu Dhabim, Editing by Timothy Heritage)
[Russia is a country who has a declining population so money from them is diminishing and as you see above they have bit off more than they can chew, and dependent on other entities to provide their warfare.].

2/21/2019 President Putin: ‘Deep State’ working to undermine President Trump, U.S.-Russian relations by OAN Newsroom
    Russian President Vladimir Putin is expressing concern over the so-called “Deep State” working to undermine the Trump administration.
    Putin made the comment Wednesday, while delivering his state-of-the-nation address.    He blasted the political ruling class in the U.S. for straining relations with Moscow, citing the U.S.’s decision to pull out of the Cold War-era nuclear treaty.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a state-of-the-nation address in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019.
Putin sternly warned the United States against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying that Russia will retaliate by fielding new weapons
that will take just as little time to reach their targets. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
    “Virtually, the entire treaty and legal basis of international security, which has evolved over the last few decades, is being dismantled unilaterally and at the same time Russia is called the main threat to the U.S,” stated the Russian leader.    “I will get this straight, it is not true — Russia wants to have fully-fledged, equitable and friendly relations with the U.S.
    Despite wanting to build friendly relations with the U.S., Putin took a hard line stance against the possibility of the U.S. deploying missiles to Europe.

2/21/2019 Putin to U.S.: I’m ready for another Cuban Missile-style crisis if you want one by Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including the State Duma parliamentarians, members of the Federation
Council, regional governors and other high-ranking officials, in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is militarily ready for a Cuban Missile-style crisis if the United States wanted one and threatened to place hypersonic nuclear missiles on ships or submarines near U.S. territorial waters.
    The Cuban Missile Crisis erupted in 1962 when Moscow responded to a U.S. missile deployment in Turkey by sending ballistic missiles to Cuba, sparking a standoff that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
    More than five decades on, tensions are rising again over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, as a landmark Cold War-era arms-control treaty unravels.
    Putin’s comments, made to Russian media late on Wednesday, follow his warning that Moscow will match any U.S. move to deploy new missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the United States or by deploying faster missiles or both.
    Putin detailed his warning for the first time, saying Russia could deploy hypersonic missiles on ships and submarines which could lurk outside U.S. territorial waters if Washington now moved to deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
    “(We’re talking about) naval delivery vehicles: submarines or surface ships.    And we can put them, given the speed and range (of our missiles)… in neutral waters.    Plus they are not stationary, they move and they will have to find them,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
    You work it out: Mach nine (the speed of the missiles) and over 1,000 km (their range).”
TREATY VIOLATIONS
    The State Department dismissed Putin’s earlier warning as propaganda, saying it was designed to divert attention from what Washington alleges are Moscow’s violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
    It referred queries about Putin’s latest remarks to the Pentagon, which did not immediately respond.
    The INF pact bans Russia and the United States from stationing short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe.    Washington announced on Feb. 1 it will withdraw from the treaty in six months unless Moscow ends its alleged violations.
    Analyst Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association think tank said Putin may be seeking to signal that Russia can keep up with the United States, to distract from its internal problems or to deflect blame for the parlous state of the INF treaty.
    “He may also be trying to send the message that, look, neither side should want this world (of a new arms race) so we should sit down and resume discussions,” Reif said.
    Putin has said he does not want an arms race but would have no choice but to act if Washington deployed new missiles in Europe, some of which he says could strike Moscow within 10 to 12 minutes.
    The United States does not currently have ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles that it could place in Europe but could develop and deploy them if the INF treaty collapses.
    Putin said his naval response to such a move would mean Russia could strike the United States faster than U.S. missiles deployed in Europe could hit Moscow because the flight time would be shorter.
    “It (the calculation) would not be in their favor, at least as things stand today.    That’s for sure.” said Putin.
    Relations between Moscow and Washington were strained, he added, but the tensions were not comparable to those of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
    “They (the tensions) are not a reason to ratchet up confrontation to the levels of the Cuban Missile Crisis in the 1960s.    In any case that’s not what we want,” said Putin.    “If someone wants that, well OK they are welcome.    I have set out today what that would mean.    Let them count (the missile flight times).”
    Separately, Washington said on Thursday that it was carrying out an observation flight over Russia under the Open Skies Treaty, the first one since 2017.
    In a statement, the Pentagon said an unarmed OC-135B aircraft was being used and Russia was aware of the flight.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones, Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish)
[I think Putin is trying to look tough to his base for political reason, but knows he cannot afford to continue into a full scale arms race based on the news you read earlier.].

2/21/2019 Cubans expected to voice unprecedented opposition in constitutional vote by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
A woman passes by a screen displaying images promoting the vote for "yes" for the constitutional referendum,
in Havana, Cuba, February 5, 2019. Picture taken on February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – For the first time since the 1959 Revolution, Cuban voters on Sunday may express significant dissent, when they go to the polls to ratify a new constitution that institutes modest economic changes while maintaining the one-party system.
    Opposition to the new charter could reach a quarter of the vote, one Cuban analyst said, a major increase from the low single digits of past votes.
    The new document introduces important changes to Cuba’s Cold War era constitution, recognizing private property for the first time, as well as the role of foreign investment and the Internet.
    While it confirms centralized economic planning, the charter introduces presidential term limits, adds a prime minister and restructures local government.    It also enshrines fundamental principles such as the right to legal representation upon arrest and habeas corpus.
    The current constitution was approved in 1976 with 97.7 percent of 5.6 million registered voters in favor, and just 54,000 voting no.    Most analysts expect the new version to pass by a lesser margin among today’s 8 million registered voters.
    “This time, I would say that around three-quarters of the population will vote yes,” said Rafael Hernandez, a leading Cuban political analyst and editor of Temas, a reform-orientated cultural magazine.
    “We have become accustomed to the idea that if something does not pass by 98 percent there is no consensus, even though in other countries gaining 65 percent would be huge.”
    A grassroots debate last year, instigated by the government, resulted in some secondary changes when a final version was approved in December by the National Assembly.
    Since then Cuba’s government has used its monopoly on public spaces, transportation and traditional media to launch an all-out campaign for approval.
    “Because it defends the sovereignty, independence and dignity of Cuban men and women, I vote yes,” Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted.
    The government has portrayed a “yes” vote as patriotic, while the new constitution’s most vociferous opponents say “no” would be a step toward ending decades of Communist rule.
    And with an ever-bolder civil society and more Cubans than ever before connected to the Internet, public debate has become more active than in the past.
    Hash tags such as #YoVotoSi (I vote yes) and #YoVotoNo (I vote no) compete for space on Twitter.
    “We can only overcome tyranny if everyone who wants a free and democratic Cuba gives full support … I vote no,” tweeted Jose Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, some of whose members have suffered temporary detentions and raids on their homes in the lead up to the referendum.
    Some Cubans, while expressing regret that reforms do not go further, say they will vote for the new charter.
    Alejandro Hernandez, a 54-year-old skilled tradesman in Havana, said the proposals were sufficient to garner his support.
    “That does not mean I agree with everything.    For example, the top figure of the country, the president, should be elected by the people, not the National Assembly,” Hernandez said.
    A clause allowing gay marriage by defining the institution as between persons, not a man and woman, provoked so much opposition that the new constitution contains no reference to marriage.    Its framers in fact removed a previous reference to marriage, effectively kicking the issue down the road for possible inclusion in a future family code.
    A growing evangelical movement, which boasts hundreds of thousands of ardent followers, campaigned against the measure and has not been appeased.
    “I am voting `no` because taking out that marriage is between a man and a woman opens the door in the future to something that goes against our beliefs and the Bible,” said Ruben, a Baptist pastor in Havana, requesting his last name not be used.
    The Catholic Church took a similar position in a four-point critique read from pulpits.    It also took issue with the document’s ideological bent, denial of access to media and education, and the specification that foreigners, but not Cubans, could invest.
    “Affirming as an absolute that ‘only in socialism and communism the person reaches his full dignity’ is totally unacceptable,” Monsignor Jose Felix Perez, secretary of the Cuban Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said of the proposal’s preamble.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Steve Orlofsky)

2/21/2019 Statue of Polish Solidarity priest accused of pedophilia removed
The monument of the late priest Henryk Jankowski is seen pulled down by activists
in Gdansk, Poland February 21, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Bartek Sabela via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – A statue of a priest who was leading figure in the movement that toppled Communism in Poland was removed by protesters, who accused the Catholic Church of neglecting accusations that he sexually abused minors.
    The statue of Henryk Jankowski in central Gdansk – the birthplace of the Solidarity movement – was lifted from its plinth overnight by three men who then handed themselves in to police, Gdansk police spokeswoman Karina Kaminska said on Thursday.
    Their actions came hours before Pope Francis opened a meeting he convened in Rome to address sex abuse scandals that have ravaged the Church’s credibility in Poland and elsewhere over the last three decades.     Jankowski, who died in 2010 and was never convicted of any sexual crime, was a Solidarity chaplain in Gdansk. He was defrocked in 2005 amid claims he had corrupted minors, a year after an investigation into accusations that he abused a 13-year-old boy was dropped.
    In an article published by Gazeta Wyborcza in December, a woman who said she had been abused by him as a child told the newspaper there had also been other victims.
    Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz, who was murdered last month, said having the statue in a public space was inappropriate, but city bishop Leszek Slawoj Glodz portrayed the accusations against Jankowski as attacks against the Church.
    A series of accusations of sexual abuse against the clergy in Poland, where nearly 85 percent of the 38 million population are Catholic, have also divided the country.
    A Polish rights group on Wednesday delivered a report to the pope that accuses some Polish bishops of failing to report pedophilia cases.
    The activists who toppled Jankowski’s statue said Church representatives had failed to “react to the evil” he had committed, according to a statement published on news portal OKO.press.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/22/2019 Venezuelan minister, Russian deputy PM to meet in Moscow on Friday: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami listens as Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro (not pictured) speaks during a
meeting with the ministers responsible for the economic sector at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Venezuela’s Industry Minister Tareck El Aissami will meet Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov in Moscow on Friday, Interfax news agency reported.
    Venezuela, an ally of Moscow, is in political turmoil and the United States and many other Western countries are backing opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/22/2019 Russia extends investigation into ex-U.S. marine held for spying: Ifax
Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who was detained by Russia's FSB security service on suspicion of spying, stands
inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) has extended by three months its investigation into former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying, Interfax news agency cited Whelan’s lawyer as saying on Friday.
    Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28.    He denies the charges against him. A court in Moscow had previously ordered he be detained until Feb. 28.
    “The investigation has been extended until May 28,” Whelan’s lawyer was quoted as saying.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)

2/22/2019 Russia extends detention of ex-U.S. marine accused of spying by Tom Balmforth and Alexander Reshetnikov
Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying talks with his lawyers
Vladimir Zherebenkov and Olga Kralova, as he stands in the courtroom cage after a ruling regarding
extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Friday ruled that Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine accused of spying, should be held in a pre-trial detention facility for a further three months to give investigators more time to look into his case.
    Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies.    If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
    The case has put further strain on already poor U.S.-Russia relations as has that of another detained American, private equity chief Michael Calvey.
        Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Whelan after an acquaintance handed him a flash drive containing classified information.    Whelan’s lawyer says his client was misled.
    Whelan had met the same person in the town of Sergiev Possad in May last year where they visited the town’s monastery and other tourist sites, the lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told reporters on Friday.
    When Whelan returned to Russia again in December to attend a wedding, the same acquaintance unexpectedly turned up and gave him a flash drive containing what Whelan thought were photographs of the earlier trip, the lawyer said.
    “Paul and I consider this was a provocation and a crime by his acquaintance,” said Zherebenkov, saying Whelan had known the man, whom he did not name, for several years.
    Whelan on Friday appeared in court in a cage and looked downcast when he spoke briefly to reporters before masked security officials cut him off.
    “I could do with care packages, food, things like that, letters from home,” Whelan said.
    The court on Friday said Whelan would be held in pre-trial detention until May 28, extending an earlier ruling to keep him in custody until Feb. 28.
    The U.S. embassy in Moscow said a consular official had visited Whelan in custody on Thursday.
    It said, however, that it was unable to provide further information as Whelan had not been allowed by investigators to sign a privacy act waiver (PAW) that would legally allow the U.S. government to release information about the case.
    “In every other instance, we have been able to obtain a signed PAW, but in Mr. Whelan’s case, the Investigative Committee is not allowing this to happen.    Why is this case any different?” embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan wrote on Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Maxim Rodionov; editing by Andrew Osborn)

2/22/2019 European Commission’s Timmermans meets hostile reception in Hungary: report by Toby Sterling
FILE PHOTO: Frans Timmermans, the newly elected Party of European Socialists President, speaks during the Party of
European Socialists annual meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes/File Photo
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Local media and several unidentified people “intimidated” the lead candidate for the main left-leaning grouping in the European Parliament when he visited Hungary last week to campaign for the upcoming European elections, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported on Friday.
    Frans Timmermans, of the Party of European Socialists, is broadly disliked by nationalist parties in Eastern Europe, including in Hungary.    He was confronted throughout his visit by antagonistic media outlets who somehow knew his schedule, including parts which had not been made public, the paper said.
    Timmermans, a Dutchman, is also vice-president of the European Commission and his commission tasks include promoting adherence to the rule of law, an issue that has led to friction between the EU and leaders in Hungary and Poland.
    Timmermans could not be reached for comment.
    Asked for a response, a Hungarian government spokesman said “I don’t think the government should deal with that.”
    Hungarian Socialist Party communications director Balazs Lang said on Friday that Timmermans had engaged with “in-your-face propagandists” who greeted him at almost every stop of the visit, which was aimed at drumming up support for the leftist alliance in the May European Parliament elections.
    Lang said the Dutchman was surprised that questions from reporters were nearly identical, suggesting a coordinated campaign.
    A clip of one such confrontation on YouTube showed a reporter from a Hungarian news outlet accusing Timmermans of trying to bring “refugees” into the country.    When Timmermans tried to speak he was frequently cut off or called a liar.Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party is at odds with its own right-leaning European ally, the European People’s Party.
    Last week European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for Fidesz’s exclusion from the European Parliament’s biggest conservative faction due to its anti-immigrant rhetoric and stances.
    De Telegraaf quoted Timmermans as saying he “should have expected such hostility from the governing party and its supporting media.”
    “Still it’s weird to have to experience this in an EU member state.”
    Timmermans is seen as instrumental in a proposal – supported by the bloc’s biggest net contributors – that would cut aid funds to countries that Brussels says are undermining the rule of law, a plan that could potentially cost Hungary and Poland millions of euros.
    A European Union parliamentary report this year said media in Hungary has become increasingly concentrated in the hands of pro-Orban oligarchs, undermining freedom of the press.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt, Gergely Szakacs, Sandor Peto, and Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Frances Kerry)

2/22/2019 Romanian magistrates stage unprecedented protest against judicial changes
Magistrates display messages that read "Magistrates can protest", "Consultation does not mean ignoring"
and "Stop the overnight changes to judicial legislation" during a protest against changes made to
judicial legislation, in Bucharest, Romania, February 22, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Magistrates protested outside courthouses across Romania on Friday and many prosecutors will stop work next week, in an unprecedented protest against changes in judicial legislation that have raised alarm bells over the rule of law.
    Romania’s government used an emergency decree to alter the legislation on Tuesday, mostly stripping prosecutors of more of their powers.    It was the latest in a series of changes the ruling Social Democrats have made in the past two years that have triggered massive street protests.
    The European Commission, U.S. State Department and thousands of Romanian magistrates have said the changes threaten the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
    “Sudden changes made to judicial laws through an emergency decree, without consulting the Superior Magistrates Council and the body of magistrates, have a major impact on the ability of the overall prosecuting body to fulfil its constitutional duties,” Bucharest prosecutors said in a statement.
    The February decree, put forward by Justice Minister Tudorel Toader, changes the appointment process of chief prosecutors and removes most oversight of a prosecuting unit that investigates magistrates, something critics say was created to intimidate.
    Judges and prosecutors were gathering outside courthouses across the country on Friday in silent protest, holding banners that read “Independence,” “Rule of law,” “An independent judiciary has independent prosecutors” and “Mister minister, enough.”
    Prosecutors in cities from capital Bucharest to the small eastern Romanian city of Suceava will not work cases except emergencies from Monday for three to seven days.    Many judges will also follow suit.
    Prosecutors’ and judges’ associations were meeting to decide on further forms of protest.
    Romania is regularly ranked one of the European Union’s most corrupt states, and Brussels has kept its justice system under special monitoring since it joined the bloc in 2007.country’s anti-corruption prosecuting agency, DNA, has convicted thousands of public officials, including ministers and lawmakers, across party lines for high-level graft.
    Their efforts have won praise from Brussels, diplomats and foreign investors, but disdain from most local politicians.
    The Social Democrats say the changes are intended to curb abuses committed by magistrates.    The party has so far ignored European Commission recommendations to reconsider the changes.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie, editing by Larry King)
[This article reminds me of when the U.S. was under the Progressive Socialist Liberal Democrats from 2009 to 2018 as Obama and his Czars slowly behind closed doors implemented their changes to the U.S.A. and controlled the press in such away that we did not know what they were doing until the public caught on in 2014 and elected the Republicans to control the House and the Senate, and in 2016 the Deplorables elected a Republican president Donald J. Trump who is turning it around and being attacked constantly.].

2/23/2019 Two killed after minibus hits landmine near east Ukraine’s Donetsk
Investigators, representing the breakaway Donetsk People's Republic, work near the wreckage of a minibus destroyed by a landmine
after swerving off road near the village of Yelenovka outside Donetsk, Ukraine February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    YELENOVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) – A minibus hit a landmine while crossing the border between Ukraine and the breakaway Donetsk region on Saturday, killing two civilians and injuring a third, local authorities and witnesses said.
    The bus, carrying three people, hit the mine after swerving off road in the buffer zone between two border posts, a statement on the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic official website read.
    The driver was killed along with one passenger. The other passenger, a 61-year-old man, was being treated in hospital.    He told a Reuters journalist that the passenger who was killed was his mother.
    The incident occurred near the village of Yelenovka, outside Donetsk.    The passengers were returning to the rebel-controlled region after collecting their pensions, the statement said.
    Fighting broke out in 2014 between separatist forces in eastern Ukraine backed by Moscow and forces loyal to the pro-Western Ukrainian government in Kiev.    Despite an internationally brokered ceasefire that ended major fighting in 2015, deadly flare-ups of fighting occur regularly.
    The unresolved conflict will be an issue when Ukraine holds a presidential election in late March.
(Reporting by Alexander Ermochenko; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/23/2019 Poland ruling party pledges more welfare spending ahead of vote
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party speaks on a mobile phone during a session
at the Parliament in Warsaw, Poland January 30, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomr Kaminski via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s nationalist ruling party pledged on Saturday to increase public spending by up to $10 billion a year, raising child subsidies, state pensions and transport infrastructure as part of a campaign ahead of this year’s parliamentary election.
    The eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party won power in 2015 in part because of wide public support for its expansive welfare programs and promises of more economic equality.     With a general election due in late 2019, PiS remains the most popular party in Poland but a string of scandals has eroded its support, raising some doubts whether it can retain its parliamentary majority.    PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said the party was offering voters all it could.
    “A person whose pockets are empty isn’t free,” Kaczynski, Poland’s de facto leader, told supporters at a party convention.    “We are filling these pockets, within what’s possible.”
    Kaczynski said most of the spending increases would take place in coming months and include an income tax exemption for workers younger than 26 years old.
    Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the proposals would increase state spending by 30 billion-40 billion zloty ($7.8 billion-$10.5 billion) a year.    Poland’s 2019 budget deficit is capped at 28.5 billion zloty.
($1 = 3.8258 zlotys)
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/24/2019 Moldovans vote for new government amid talk of protests and poisoning by Alexander Tanas
A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during a parliamentary election in
Chisinau, Moldova February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldovans voted in an election on Sunday that is likely to produce a hung parliament, splitting the eastern European country between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces at a time when its relations with the European Union have soured.
    The current government wants closer EU integration and warns of catastrophe if the country falls back into Russia’s sphere of influence.
    But corruption scandals and worries over the health of its democracy have tarnished the country’s image and weakened the appeal of the pro-Western political class.
    Opinion polls suggest the opposition Socialist party, which favors closer ties to Moscow, will win most seats but fall short of a majority.    The ruling pro-Western Democratic Party trails in second and an opposition bloc called ACUM, campaigning to fight entrenched corruption, is third.
    “I voted with little hope that the new parliament will care about the real concerns of the country,” said Elizaveta Vitiuc, a 40-year-old primary school teacher.
    “I, like many, want change, so that young people do not leave Moldova, so that they see the future in their own country, and not in a foreign country where more than 700,000 of my fellow citizens are now living.”
    The campaign has been dogged by controversy.
    In the last few days alone, ACUM’s leaders claimed they were being poisoned on the orders of the authorities, which the Democratic Party swiftly dismissed as a “strange accusation.”
    Russia’s interior ministry announced an investigation into Democratic Party leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, accusing him of involvement in organized crime, prompting Plahotniuc’s party to accuse Moscow of election meddling.
    Igor Dodon, the Moldovan president and former Socialist party leader, has told his supporters to be ready for mass protests if the Democratic Party tried to cling on to power.
    “Moldova has the potential for development, it’s only necessary that the authorities are not be corrupt, that they should think about the people, and not only about their own pockets,” said Alexandra Ciorescu, a 72-year-old pensioner.
BELIEVING IN THE FUTURE
    The EU forged a deal on closer trade and political ties with the ex-Soviet republic in 2014 but it has become increasingly critical of Chisinau’s track record on reforms.
    One of Europe’s poorest countries, which is squeezed between Ukraine and EU member state Romania, Moldova plunged into crisis in 2014-2015 after $1 billion was pilfered from three banks.
    The EU froze aid after a court struck down the victory in the Chisinau mayoral race of one of ACUM’s leaders, Andrei Nastase, on a technicality last year.    The European Parliament declared it “a state captured by oligarchic interests.”
    On the other hand, Plahotniuc’s party has trumpeted the achievements of its government under Prime Minister Pavel Filip.    The economy is growing, the banking system has stabilized and cooperation with the International Monetary Fund has resumed.
    “I believe in the future of Moldova,” said Filip after casting his vote.    “We are ready to continue reforms and all social programs, the implementation of which will change the lives of Moldovan citizens for the better.”
    Dodon told Reuters in January he was prepared to call snap elections if Sunday’s vote proved inconclusive.
    “I also understand that Moldova’s image has lost quite a lot over the past few years,” Dodon said.    “Any political crisis will once again damage the image of the Republic of Moldova.”
(Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by David Holmes and Jason Neely)

2/24/2019 Cubans go to the polls in high-stakes constitutional referendum by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
A woman passes by a screen displaying images promoting the vote for "yes" for the constitutional referendum,
in Havana, Cuba, February 5, 2019. Picture taken on February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans flocked to the polls on Sunday in a vote expected to approve a new constitution that institutes modest economic and social changes while maintaining the one-party socialist system.
    Debate over the constitution has dominated politics in the country for months, even as it struggles with economic stagnation and as the deepening crisis in Venezuela brings its ally into the crosshairs of the U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
    Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said the referendum was taking place as recent events in Venezuela highlighted the symptoms of an “imperialist threat” toward the region.
    “Today we are going to win … It will also be an important victory for Venezuela,” he said after waiting in line in Havana to cast his ballot.
    “I think the Americans in their arrogance have been wrong.    People are waking up when they see these nefarious practices and realize what is behind this show,” he said.
    Cuban evangelicals were expected to vote against the proposed constitution because they fear it opens the way for gay marriage while the Roman Catholic Church has also voiced criticism.
    A campaign to reject the constitution because it entrenches Communism was launched on social media by dissidents and exiles.
    “This 24th the Cuban people’s rejection of the system imposed by the Communist party will be felt,” Rosa Maria Paya, leader of the Cuba Decide organization of government opponents inside and outside of Cuba, wrote on Twitter.
    The government orchestrated a grass roots debate on a draft of the new constitution last year, but since it approved a final version for Sunday’s vote, it has used its monopoly of traditional media and public spaces to press for approval.
    Foreign and local observers said they expect between 70 percent and 80 percent of voters to ratify the new constitution and a greater number of no votes and abstentions among the country’s 8 million registered voters.
    The current 1976 version of the constitution was approved by 97.8 percent of the electorate.
    “Cubans had the opportunity to debate the constitution in their neighborhoods and workplaces,” Lazaro Rodriguez, 58, said as he shopped in a Havana produce market.
    “It updates our economic system, which is not very good, but we are trying to modernize and that is very positive,” he said, adding that he would vote yes.
    The proposed changes reflect the gradual opening of Cuba since the fall of its former benefactor, the Soviet Union.
    There are references to markets and recognition of private property, foreign investment, small businesses, gender identity, the internet, the right to legal representation upon arrest and habeas corpus.
    The new constitution would also restructure government, adding a prime minister and setting term limits for the president, among other changes.
    Results will be announced on Monday.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by David Goodman)
[Cubans are screwed whether they vote yes or no, since either still has the communist control of them.].

2/24/2019 Putin, Netanyahu to discuss Syria at Moscow meeting: RIA
FILE PHOTO - Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia July 11, 2018. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the Syrian conflict with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the two leaders meet in Moscow next week, RIA news agency cited a Kremlin spokesman as saying on Sunday.
    The meeting with take place on Wednesday, RIA cited Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; editing by Jason Neely)

2/24/2019 Thousands march in memory of slain Russian opposition leader Nemtsov
People attend a rally in memory of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, who was assassinated in 2015,
in Moscow, Russia February 24, 2019. The placard reads "I love Russia." REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands of Russians gathered in central Moscow on Sunday for an annual march in memory of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed a stone’s throw from the Kremlin in 2015.
    Protesters carried portraits of the slain politician and marched behind a banner reading “We have given Russia away to the crooks, it’s time to take it back.”
    Around 10,600 people gathered for the rally on Sunday on a boulevard around 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) north of the Kremlin, according to White Counter, an NGO that tallies up participants at rallies using metal detector frames.
    A demonstration also began in St Petersburg.
    “This is a march in opposition to Vladimir Putin.    This is a march for a free and democratic Russia,” one of the event’s organizers, politician Ilya Yashin said in a video prior to the march.
    Nemtsov, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics, was murdered in 2015 as he walked across a bridge near the Kremlin.    Aged 55, he had been working on a report examining Russia’s role in the conflict in Ukraine.
    His killing sent a chill through opposition circles.
    In 2017, a court sentenced a man to 20 years in jail for his murder and handed terms of between 11 and 19 years to four other men convicted of being his accomplices.
    At the time, the late politician’s allies said the investigation had been a cover-up and that those who had ordered the assassination remained at large.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

2/24/2019 Lavrov says Russia could police Syria-Turkey safe zone: agencies
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during Munich Security Conference
in Munich, Germany February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian military police could be deployed in a proposed “safe zone” along Syria’s northern border with Turkey, Russian news agencies cited foreign minister Sergei Lavrov as saying to Chinese and Vietnamese media on Sunday.
    The suggestion is unlikely to appeal to Ankara, which is keen to set up the zone but has stressed it must be under Turkish control, with only its own forces deployed there.
    “Our only expectation from our allies is that they provide logistical support,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told his supporters in a speech in January.
    Russia has said that Turkey had no right to set up the zone without seeking and receiving consent from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    Lavrov was cited as saying on Sunday that the format of the safe zone was in the process of being finalised by military leaders, and that any decision would take the interests of Damascus and Ankara into account as far as possible.
    “We have experience in combining ceasefire agreements, safety measures and the creation of de-escalation zones with the roll-out of Russian military police,” Lavrov was cited as saying.
    “Such a possibility is being kept open for this buffer zone.”
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; editing by Jason Neely)
[Well, I guess Russia told Turkey what Syria is going to do!].

2/24/2019 Thousands of Romanians protest against judicial changes
Protesters carry a banner during a demonstration against judicial changes
in Bucharest, Romania, February 24, 2019. Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Thousands of Romanians protested across the country on Sunday after the government passed an emergency decree that critics said chipped away at prosecutors’ independence in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.
    The decree, approved without public debate, is the latest in a slew of legislative and personnel changes by the ruling Social Democrats since they took power more than two years ago that have raised concerns over rule of law.
    The European Commission, U.S. State Department and thousands of magistrates have warned the changes threaten judicial independence.
    In an unprecedented protest, prosecutors have said they will only work on emergency cases from Monday for three to seven days.    Many judges will follow suit.
    Magistrates declined an invitation to meet Prime Minister Viorica Dancila on Monday to discuss the decree.
    “The independence of the judiciary is non-negotiable,” a statement signed by magistrates’ associations said.
    “Any dialogue regarding the approval of the … decree should have been initiated before it was approved, not after.    The only solution left now is to revoke the decree in its entirety.”
    In the capital Bucharest, an estimated 7,000 people protested outside government headquarters, blocking traffic and chanting “Justice, not corruption,” “Magistrates, don’t give up,” and “Shame!” Thousands more rallied in cities across the country.
    The decree changes the way chief prosecutors are appointed and removes most oversight of a prosecuting unit that investigates magistrates, something critics say was created to intimidate.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

2/25/2019 Moldova set for hung parliament as opposition threatens protests by Alexander Tanas
Members of a local electoral commission count votes following a parliamentary election
in Chisinau, Moldova February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – Moldova’s election has produced a hung parliament, results showed on Monday, splitting the vote between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces at a time when the ex-Soviet republic’s relations with the European Union have soured.
    The outcome of Sunday’s contest sets the stage for coalition talks or potentially new elections, just as the country has recovered from political and economic crisis following a $1 billion banking scandal in 2014 and 2015.
    Opposition leaders have meanwhile threatened street protests against the result after raising suspicions of vote-buying.
    The incumbent government wants closer EU integration and warns of catastrophe if Moldova, one of Europe’s poorest countries which is squeezed between Ukraine and EU member Romania, falls back into Russia’s sphere of influence.
    But corruption scandals and worries over the health of its democracy have tarnished the country’s image and weakened the appeal of the pro-Western political class.
    The ruling Democratic Party, which wants closer integration with the EU and casts itself as a bulwark against Russia, emerged as the largest party with an expected tally of 34 out of 101 seats, with 99 percent of the results processed.
    The opposition Socialist Party, which favors closer ties to Moscow, trailed with 31 seats while an opposition bloc called ACUM, campaigning to fight corruption, was third with 23 seats.
    “If no one has a parliamentary majority, I think that there will be attempts to form it, but the risk is high that it could come to a snap election in the coming few months,” President Igor Dodon told reporters.
    On Saturday, Dodon, the former Socialist Party chief, called the campaign “one of the dirtiest in our entire history.”
    ACUM leader Maia Sandu said “if the elections are rigged even more than they have already been rigged to this day, we will come out (onto the streets) to protect our vote.”
    Vladimir Plahotniuc, an oil-to-hotels tycoon who leads the Democratic Party, could repeat a feat he achieved at a previous election in 2014, of cobbling together a coalition despite not winning a majority.
    He may woo a smaller party led by Ilan Shor, who just two years ago was convicted of fraud and money-laundering for his part in a scam to pilfer $1 billion out of three banks, the equivalent of an eighth of Moldova’s national output.
    Shor denied wrongdoing. After time spent under house arrest, he became mayor of Orhei, a town in central Moldova, while his appeal was heard. He said he was made a scapegoat for the scandal, known locally as the “theft of the century.”
POISONED POLITICS
    The campaign has been dogged by controversy.
    In the past few days, ACUM’s leaders said they were being poisoned on the orders of the authorities, which the Democratic Party swiftly dismissed as a “strange accusation.” [nL5N20G5VZ]
    Russia announced an investigation into Plahotniuc, accusing him of involvement in organized crime, prompting Plahotniuc’s party to accuse Moscow of election meddling.
    The Democratic Party had already been accused of trying to bend the electoral system in its favor by introducing changes in 2017 on how votes are cast.
    “Moldova has the potential for development, it’s only necessary that the authorities not be corrupt, that they should think about the people, and not only about their own pockets,” said Alexandra Ciorescu, a 72-year-old pensioner.
    The EU forged a deal on closer trade and political ties with Moldova in 2014.    But Brussels has become increasingly critical of Chisinau’s track record on reforms. [nL5N2081U0]
    Dodon and the Democratic Party have clashed over a number of issues.    But some Moldovans suspect the Socialists and Plahotniuc collaborate behind the scenes to carve up the state between themselves – a suggestion rejected by Dodon in a Reuters interview in January. [nL8N1ZN27B]
(Writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

2/25/2019 After Putin’s warning, Russian TV lists nuclear targets in U.S. by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the
Kremlin in Moscow, Russia February 20, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian state television has listed U.S. military facilities that Moscow would target in the event of a nuclear strike, and said that a hypersonic missile Russia is developing would be able to hit them in less than five minutes.
    The targets included the Pentagon and the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland.
    The report, unusual even by the sometimes bellicose standards of Russian state TV, was broadcast on Sunday evening, days after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was militarily ready for a “Cuban Missile”-style crisis if the United States wanted one.
    With tensions rising over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe as a Cold War-era arms-control treaty unravels, Putin has said Russia would be forced to respond by placing hypersonic nuclear missiles on submarines near U.S. waters.
    The United States says it has no immediate plans to deploy such missiles in Europe and has dismissed Putin’s warnings as disingenuous propaganda.    It does not currently have ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles that it could place in Europe.
    However, its decision to quit the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty over an alleged Russian violation, something Moscow denies, has freed it to start developing and deploying such missiles.
    Putin has said Russia does not want a new arms race, but has also dialled up his military rhetoric.
    Some analysts have seen his approach as a tactic to try to re-engage the United States in talks about the strategic balance between the two powers, something Moscow has long pushed for, with mixed results.
    In the Sunday evening broadcast, Dmitry Kiselyov, presenter of Russia’s main weekly TV news show ‘Vesti Nedeli’, showed a map of the United States and identified several targets he said Moscow would want to hit in the event of a nuclear war.
    The targets, which Kiselyov described as U.S. presidential or military command centers, also included Fort Ritchie, a military training center in Maryland closed in 1998, McClellan, a U.S. Air Force base in California closed in 2001, and Jim Creek, a naval communications base in Washington state.
    Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, said the “Tsirkon” (‘Zircon’) hypersonic missile that Russia is developing could hit the targets in less than five minutes if launched from Russian submarines.
    Hypersonic flight is generally taken to mean traveling through the atmosphere at more than five times the speed of sound.     “For now, we’re not threatening anyone, but if such a deployment takes place, our response will be instant,” he said.
    Kiselyov is one of the main conduits of state television’s strongly anti-American tone, once saying Moscow could turn the United States into radioactive ash.
    Asked to comment on Kiselyov’s report, the Kremlin said on Monday it did not interfere in state TV’s editorial policy.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[Speed of sound 767 mph; 667 kilometre in 2.9 sec or a mile in 4.7 sec, therefore the missile 5 times can do it in 0.94 seconds and 1000 miles in 17 minutes.]

2/25/2019 Cubans overwhelmingly ratify new socialist constitution by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
Election officials check the documents of a voter at a polling station during a
constitutional referendum in Havana, Cuba, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Fernando Medina
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans have overwhelmingly ratified a new constitution that enshrines the one-party socialist system as irrevocable while instituting modest economic and social changes, according to the national electoral commission.
    Alina Balseiro Gutierrez, president of the commission, said at a Havana press conference on Monday that preliminary results showed 84.4 percent of the 8.7 million potential voters participated in the Sunday referendum.
    She said 86.85 percent of voters ratified the charter, 9 percent opposed ratification and 4.5 percent spoiled or left ballots blank.
    By comparison, in 1976 when the current constitution was ratified, 99.02 percent of voters in a 98 percent turnout reportedly ratified and just 54,000 were opposed.
    There are no independent observers of Cuban elections, however citizens may observe the count at their precincts.
    Scattered local reports on social media seemed to somewhat confirm the results.
    Cuba’s best-known dissident and pioneer blogger, Yoani Sanchez, who runs an online newspaper from a barrio known for its support of the government, wrote she braved insults and yelling to witness the count in her precinct of 400 yes votes, 25 no votes and 4 blank ballots.
    The independent online newspaper El Toque asked readers to send in local tallies, a dozen of which showed overwhelming support for ratification.
    A report from a district in central Villa Clara province had the new constitution ratified by 414 votes versus 66 opposed, and another from a district in westernmost Pinar del Rio reported 298 yes votes and 18 no votes.
    Debate over the constitution has dominated Cuba’s politics for months, with the government arguing it represents both continuity of former leader Fidel Castro’s policies and adaptation to today’s demands and opponents insisting it is a continuation of Communist party rule and oppression.
    The government orchestrated a grassroots debate on a draft of the new constitution last year, but after it approved a final version for the referendum in December it used its monopoly of traditional media and public spaces to press for approval.
    Nevertheless, dueling campaigns to vote ‘yes’, ‘no’ or abstain raged on the internet.    The Roman Catholic Church issued a critique read in churches, and many evangelicals said they were opposed.
    Dissidents, who were divided between those who advocated a ‘no’ vote and those who called for abstention so as not to legitimize a process they deemed a fraud, reported a few incidents across the country of members being temporarily detained or harassed.
    “The Cuban government engaged in an unprecedented campaign to assure an overwhelmingly positive vote on the new constitution as a way to legitimize both the market-oriented economic reforms underway and the new leadership of President Miguel Diaz-Canel and the post-revolutionary generation,” American University professor of government and Cuba expert William LeoGrande said.
    There are important changes in the new constitution that reflect the gradual opening of the Caribbean island nation since the fall of its former benefactor, the Soviet Union.
    There are references to markets and recognition of private property, foreign investment, small businesses, gender identity, the internet, the right to legal representation upon arrest and habeas corpus.
    The new constitution would also restructure government, adding a prime minister and setting term limits for the president, among other changes.
    “It’s another big missed opportunity,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban-American businessman and head of the Cuban Study Group which advocates engagement with Cuba.
    “The few important economic changes made are not sufficient to create economic growth and attract foreign investment in the needed quantities,” he said.
(Corrects number of potential voters in paragraph 2 to 8.7 million instead of 7.8 million and changes percentages to reflect actual voters in paragraphs 2 and 3.)
(Reporting by Marc Frank, additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and James Dalgleish)
[Like the song by the Who, "Welcome to the new boss, same as the old boss."].

2/25/2019 Moldova set for coalition talks after inconclusive election by Alexander Tanas
Members of a local electoral commission count votes following a parliamentary election in Chisinau, Moldova February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – An election in Moldova has produced a hung parliament, with the vote split between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces at a time when the ex-Soviet republic’s relations with the European Union have soured.
    The outcome of Sunday’s contest sets the stage for coalition talks or possibly new elections, just as the country has recovered from a political and economic crisis following a $1 billion banking scandal in 2014 and 2015.
    Adding to the uncertainty, opposition leaders threatened street protests after raising suspicions of vote-buying.
    The opposition Socialists, who favor closer ties to Moscow, emerged as the largest party with 35 out of 101 seats on a revised estimate, with recounts possible in some constituencies.
    The ruling Democratic Party, which wants closer integration with the EU, came second with 30 seats while an opposition bloc called ACUM, campaigning to fight corruption, was third with 26 seats.
    Democratic leader Vladimir Plahotniuc said his party was “ready for negotiations on forming a majority and approving a new government,” adding, “I hope that such negotiations take place as soon as possible.”
    Corruption scandals and worries over the health of democracy in Moldova, which is squeezed between Ukraine and EU member Romania and is one of Europe’s poorest countries, have tarnished the country’s image and weakened the appeal of the pro-Western political class.
    The Socialist Party said its lawyers were studying reported election violations and declared it may not recognize the results.
    ACUM leader Maia Sandu said her bloc did not recognize the elections as free and democratic.
    The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections were “generally well-run” but “tainted by allegations of pressure on public employees, strong indications of vote buying and the misuse of state resources.”
    President Igor Dodon, formerly head of the Socialist Party, said it would become clear only in the coming weeks whether the election was above board.    He raised the prospect of calling a new election in June if the vote was declared illegitimate or no party managed to form a coalition.
    Dodon on Saturday had called the campaign “one of the dirtiest in our entire history.”
    Plahotniuc, an oil-to-hotels tycoon, could repeat a feat he achieved at a previous election in 2014, of cobbling together a coalition despite not winning a majority.
    He may woo a smaller party led by Ilan Shor, who just two years ago was convicted of fraud and money-laundering for his part in a scam to pilfer $1 billion out of three banks, the equivalent of an eighth of Moldova’s national output in what Moldovans call the “theft of the century.”
    Shor denied wrongdoing and said he was made a scapegoat.    After time spent under house arrest, he became mayor of the central town of Orhei while his appeal was heard.
    His party won 7 seats on Sunday.
POISONED POLITICS
    The election campaign was dogged by controversy.
    In the past few days, ACUM’s leaders said they were being poisoned on the orders of the authorities, which the Democratic Party swiftly dismissed as a “strange accusation.”
    Russia announced an investigation into Plahotniuc, accusing him of involvement in organized crime, prompting Plahotniuc’s party to accuse Moscow of election meddling.
    The Democratic Party had already been accused of trying to bend the electoral system in its favor by introducing changes in 2017 on how votes are cast.
    The EU forged a deal on closer trade and political ties with Moldova in 2014.    But Brussels has become increasingly critical of Moldova’s track record on reforms.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

2/25/2019 TV ratings for Putin’s annual speech dip to lowest since 2013
FILE PHOTO: Cadets of Cossack corps watch a television broadcast of Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing the
Federal Assembly settlement of Rassvet outside Rostov-On-Don, Russia February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Sergey Pivovarov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of Russians who tuned in to watch President Vladimir Putin’s annual address on television last week slipped to its lowest level since 2013, nationwide data from market research firm Mediascope showed on Monday.
    The findings come as opinion polls register a slide in Putin’s popularity ratings following moves last year to raise the retirement age and hike sales tax, amid stagnating real wages.
    Putin, whose overall approval rating still remains high at over 60 percent, uses state television to burnish his image and every year outlines government priorities in his state-of-the-nation speech to parliament.
    This year he put social welfare and combating poverty at the center of the address, a contrast from last year when he used the speech to unveil a new generation of nuclear-powered missiles which he touted as invincible.
    Just 6.3 percent of Russians watched Putin’s Feb. 20 speech to parliament, the lowest level since 2013, according to Mediascope findings which tracked viewership in towns and cities with a population of more than 100,000.
    Viewership for Putin’s speech rose sharply to 8.9 percent in 2014, the year Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula.    Viewing figures have gradually fallen since then, to 8 percent in 2015, 6.7 in 2016 and 6.5 percent last year.
    The Kremlin linked the dip in viewership to the rising use of the Internet.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff)
[Everyone was on the internet to do what they can before Putin controls it.].

2/26/2019 Exclusive: Despite sanctions, Russian tanker supplied fuel to North Korean ship-crew members by Polina Nikolskaya
The Russian vessel Tantal, an oil/chemical tanker, is berthed at the far eastern city of
Vladivostok, Russia April 3, 2016. Picture taken April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
    VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Reuters) – A Russian tanker violated international trade sanctions by transferring fuel to a North Korean vessel at sea at least four times between October 2017 and May 2018, two crew members who witnessed the transfers said.
    Such transactions could have helped provide North Korea with an economic lifeline and eased the isolation of the secretive communist state, whose leader, Kim Jong Un, is due to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam this week.
    Primportbunker, the owner of the vessel the crew members said made the transfers, did not respond to requests for comment by telephone.    No one answered the door when Reuters visited the building where Primportbunker has its headquarters in the port city of Vladivostok on Russia’s Pacific coast.
    On the four voyages between Oct. 13, 2017, and May 7, 2018, the Tantal tanker gave its destination as the Chinese port of Ningbo when it set sail, according to port documents seen by Reuters and tracking data from financial data company Refinitiv.
    It then met up in international waters with a North Korean vessel to which it transferred its cargo of fuel, the two crew members who witnessed the transfers said.
    The two crew said the fuel transfers took place when the Tantal’s transponder, which allows the vessel to be tracked at sea, was not operating.    Shipping industry experts said this indicates the transponder was deliberately turned off or the Tantal had entered a zone not covered by ship-tracking radar.
    On each occasion, the transponder started operating again when the Tantal was close to port in Russia, the two crew said.
    They declined to give their names, citing fear of reprisals.
    “We got officially registered for Ningbo and went to the 12-mile zone (marking the limits of Russian territorial waters),” one of the crew said, describing four journeys in which he was involved.
    “We worked at night there with the North Korean tanker Chon Moyng-1,” he said.
    Such transactions violate the international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missiles program, which include a United Nations ban on nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.
    Washington has accused Russia of “cheating” on sanctions and said it has evidence of “consistent and wide-ranging Russian violations.”    In earlier denials that it has violated sanctions, Russia has said such accusations are not backed up by evidence.
THREE OTHER TRIPS
    Russia’s foreign ministry and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions, did not respond to requests for comment about the Tantal.    The independent U.N. panel of experts that monitors implementation of sanctions also did not respond.
    Russia’s Far Eastern Customs Administration said it could not provide information about the Tantal’s voyages.    The Seaport Administration of Russia’s Primorye region, which includes Vladivostok, said it had sought information from the Federal Marine and River Transport Agency in response to Reuters’ questions but the agency provided no information.
    One of the crew members who said he was on board during the transfers said the ship that received the fuel flew the North Korean flag and saw it had the name Chon Myong-1 on its side.
    The Chon Myong-1 was in March 2018 included on a U.N. list of vessels that have conducted so-called ship-to-ship transfers of fuel in violation of sanctions.
    Reuters’ was unable to obtain comment from North Korea and the owners of the Chon Myong-1.
    The Tantal concealed its fuel transfers to North Korea by declaring when it returned to port that it had transferred the fuel at sea to a Chinese vessel, the two crew members said.
    A third crew member said the Tantal had met up on these occasions with a vessel that was not North Korean – the China-registered Hui Tong 27 – and told port authorities on its return to port that it had transferred its cargo of fuel to this ship.    But the Refinitiv ship-tracking data showed the Hui Tong 27 was not in the area at these times.
    The Tantal also gave Ningbo as its destination on three other trips between October 2017 and May 2018, according to port documents and shipping data.    The two crew members who spoke to Reuters did not cite any evidence that sanctions were violated on these three voyages.
    In December 2017, Reuters quoted two senior Western European security sources as saying Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in the preceding months by transferring cargoes at sea.    The security sources made no mention of the Tantal.
FINANCIAL PROBLEMS
    A court in Vladivostok introduced bankruptcy proceedings on behalf of the Russian tax service against Primportbunker on Sept. 18 last year, according to a publicly available court order.    The first stage of bankruptcy proceedings is still under way — the company is now under temporary management which is assessing its ability to pay off creditors.    If unable to pay, the company’s assets will be sold and it will be closed down, according to Russian law.
    The two crew members who spoke to Reuters said they had not always been paid their wages on time.
    Denis Vlasov, executive partner in law firm Vladpravo which represented Primportbunker, said Primportbunker had tried to resolve its financial problems including wage arrears, but that Vladpravo stopped working with the company about a year ago.    He said he knew nothing about the Tantal’s declared trips to Ningbo.
    Shipping brokers cited customs data as showing that on three of the seven trips from October 2017 to May 2018 the Tantal was carrying fuel from the Komsomolsky refinery in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia’s far east.    The refinery, which is owned by state oil company Rosneft, did not respond to requests for comment.    There was no suggestion Rosneft know of the alleged transfers at sea. Rosneft did not respond to requests for comment.
    The data quoted the brokers for the same three trips showed the oil products were acquired from the refinery by a small Russian trading firm, Mir Torgovli, based in Vladivostok.    Mir Torgovli’s buyer was a Chinese firm in Shandong called Worldmax Trading Co. Ltd, according to the data cited by the brokers.
    Mir Torgovli’s chief executive declined to comment.    Reuters was unable to reach Worldmax Trading.
    After completing the last of the seven voyages for which the destination was registered as China, the Tantal has not left Vladivostok port, according to the Refinitiv ship-tracking data.    It sits at anchor offshore, shipping industry sources said.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow, Jonathan Saul in London, Meng Meng and Aizhu Chen in Beijing, Michelle Nichols in New York, Lesley Wroughton in Washington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

2/26/2019 Latvia broke EU law in removing central bank chief, court rules
FILE PHOTO: Latvia's central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics arrives at the
news conference in Riga, Latvia February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – Latvia broke European Union law by barring its central bank governor, who is also a European Central Bank policymaker, from office, the European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday in a widely expected decision.
    The Court ruled that Latvia has not produced the “slightest evidence” of corruption by Ilmars Rimsevics, who was suspended as governor early last year.    That also left Latvia without a vote at ECB policy meetings and challenged a key plank of central bank independence.
    “It may be necessary to decide to suspend the governor concerned temporarily from office for the purposes of such an investigation,” the Court said.
    “But such a suspension is only permissible if there are sufficient indications that the governor engaged in serious misconduct, and Latvia has provided no evidence to back its accusations of bribery,” the Court said.
    The court’s decision comes after Advocate General Juliane Kokott argued in December that Latvia had failed to provide evidence of corruption — which Rimsevics denies — and that suspending him from office during the investigation amounted to his removal.
    In a case without precedent for the ECB, Rimsevics was detained last February and was even prevented for months from appointing a deputy to represent Latvia in ECB policy meetings.
    Rimsevics and the ECB both took Latvia to court, arguing that removing a central bank chief without proving guilt in a case of serious misconduct violated central bank independence.
    While the ruling is a victory for Rimsevics, he is unlikely to resume his office.    Latvian authorities have revoked his security clearance and barred him from leaving the country, preconditions for work.
Rimsevics, whose term of office ends later this year, has yet to face trial and no trial date has been set yet.    During his absence, Deputy Governor Zoja Razmusa is representing Latvia at ECB meetings.
(Reporting by Michele Sinner, additional reporting by Gederts Gelzis; writing by Balazs Koranyi; editing by Catherine Evans, Larry King)

2/26/2019 U.S. Army estimates Russian capability will peak in 2028, China’s in 2030 by Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen drive Yars RS-24 intercontinental ballistic missile systems
during the Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two,
at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Army estimates the Russian army’s military capabilities will peak in 2028, closely followed by the Chinese around 2030, giving the United States almost a decade to prepare for those threats, a senior Pentagon official said in an interview on Monday.
    The top civilian at the U.S. Army, Secretary Mark Esper, said the Army will reduce, eliminate or delay nearly 200 weapons programs and refocus the funds on investing in capabilities to beat emergent Russian and Chinese militaries.
    “What we’re looking at is 2028 and beyond, because we think it’s time the Russians will be peaking.”    He added, “the Chinese after” in the 2030 time frame.
    Russia and China have been modernizing their military forces for years while the United States has been engaged in fighting insurgencies in the Middle East.
    Esper said to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the service “mortgaged its readiness” to fight against countries like China and Russia.    As a result, the Army now needs to update equipment that has been in service for 40 years, Esper said.
    In fiscal 2019, the U.S. Army requested $182 billion to fund programs and salaries as well as ongoing wars.    Of that, $22 billion was slated for buying weapons systems.
    As the Pentagon’s budget emerges in the coming weeks, it will be made clear which programs will be cut.    “We had upgrades that just simply weren’t necessary, or weren’t justified by the costs,” Esper said.
    Companies that make Army ground equipment like BAE Systems, which makes the Bradley fighting vehicle, and General Dynamics, which makes the Abrams tank, will be watching the budget closely.
    Esper has said he wants to focus funds on six priorities for modernizing the Army which include a better way to precisely fire weapons over a long distance, a new combat vehicle, a new helicopter and better missile defenses for the Army.
    Esper said he hopes that reallocating the funds will pay dividends for decades to come.    “If we’re going to fight and win against the Russians and Chinese in the year 2030, 2040 and 2050, I’ve got to start building the next generation now,” he said.
(Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; editing by Chris Sanders and Jonathan Oatis)
[I am not worried about the above because I do not think we will not even get to that time period.].

2/26/2019 US denies Russian accusation it is preparing Venezuela intervention
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of Russia's Security Council Nikolai Patrushev attends a meeting of President Vladimir Putin with
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A top Russian security official on Tuesday accused Washington of deploying forces in Puerto Rico and Colombia in preparation for a military intervention in Venezuela to topple Moscow’s ally, President Nicolas Maduro, something the United States denied.
    “… The United States is preparing a military invasion of an independent state,” Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, was quoted as saying in an interview with weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty.
    “The transfer of American special operations forces to Puerto Rico, the landing of U.S. forces in Colombia and other facts indicate the Pentagon is reinforcing its troops in the region in order to use them in an operation to remove … Maduro from power,” Patrushev said.
    However, the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, when asked on Tuesday if Washington was preparing to take military action in Venezuela, responded: “No.”
    “The president has said all options are on the table.    Presidents always say that and rightly so.    But it ill behooves the Russians to talk about military intervention after they have dismembered both Georgia and Ukraine,” Abrams told reporters at the     United Nations ahead of a Security Council meeting on Venezuela.
    Venezuela, which has been plunged into political turmoil, was rocked by violent clashes at the weekend.    The United States and a raft of other countries have backed the country’s opposition, while China and Russia have stood by Maduro’s government.
    Patrushev said Washington had asked Moscow for consultations on Venezuela and that Russia had agreed, but that U.S. officials had repeatedly postponed them under false pretexts.
    U.S. officials have previously dismissed Russian allegations about U.S. plans for Venezuela as baseless “propaganda.”
(Reporting by Polina Devitt and Andrew Osborn; additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn and James Dalgleish)

2/27/2019 Kremlin says cyber attacks on Russia often launched from U.S. territory
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov arrives for the meeting with officials of Rostec high-technology state corporation
at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Wednesday said that U.S. territory was constantly being used to launch cyber attacks against Russia, but said it was unable to confirm a U.S. media report that the U.S. military had disrupted the internet access of a Russian troll farm.
    The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the U.S. military had disrupted the internet access of a Russian troll farm accused of trying to influence American voters on Nov. 6, 2018, the day of the congressional elections.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters he did not know how much truth there was to that media report.
    “But in general I can say that U.S. territory is constantly being used to organize a huge number of cyber attacks against various Russian organizations. That’s the reality with which we live.”
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya and Katya Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

2/27/2019 Comedian takes center stage in Ukraine’s presidential race by Matthias Williams and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, hosts a comedy show at a
concert hall in Kiev, Ukraine February 22, 2019. Picture taken February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – In a popular Ukrainian TV series, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy plays a president who is scrupulously honest and outwits crooked lawmakers and shadowy businessmen who try to stand in his way.
    Zelenskiy’s character in the show “Servant of the People” is loved by Ukrainians fed up with how their country has been governed since independence in 1991.    Now they have the chance to turn fantasy into reality in presidential elections on March 31.
    The 41-year-old actor announced a presidential bid on New Year’s Eve and he has since emerged as the surprise frontrunner ahead of incumbent Petro Poroshenko and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko in a crowded field of 44 candidates.
    Zelenskiy’s sudden rise comes at a time voters around the world have upended the status quo, propelling anti-establishment forces such as U.S. President Donald Trump and Italy’s 5-Star Movement, which was also once led by a comedian, to power.
    Critics question Zelenskiy’s political inexperience while investors worry that he’s more of an unknown quantity than Poroshenko.    After all, if he becomes leader the TV star would be in charge of a country at war in need of fundamental change.
    Asked in an interview with Reuters what sets him apart from other candidates, Zelenskiy pointed to his face.
    “This.    This is a new face.    I have never been in politics,” he said after hosting a TV comedy talent show.
    “I have not deceived people.    They identify with me because I am open, I get hurt, I get angry, I get upset.    I do not hide my emotions on camera, I do not try to look different.    If I’m inexperienced in something, I’m inexperienced.    If I don’t know something, I honestly admit it.”
    After performing in student theater, Zelenskiy came to prominence as a team captain in the TV show KVN, where teams compete against each other with jokes and song-and-dance routines.    In 2003, his team formed the basis of TV production company Kvartal 95, which makes Servant of the People.
‘SELLING THE DREAM’
    In the TV series, Zelenskiy starts out as a humble high school history teacher who becomes president after an expletive-laced tirade about Ukraine’s corrupt political class, secretly filmed by one of his students, goes viral.
    Disaffection with how little has changed under Poroshenko has helped fuel Zelenskiy’s popularity, according to Serhiy Leshchenko, an investigative journalist and lawmaker.
    “The desire of Ukrainian citizens is to have new faces, to have new politicians ready to reshuffle the whole political class,” he said, comparing the comedian to Trump.
    “Both of them are TV stars, and both of them are selling people the dream, so people are ready to accept this dream because they are fed up with the old class of politicians.”
    The Maidan protests in 2014 that ousted a Kremlin-backed president brought hope of change, but Poroshenko’s critics say progress has not come fast enough in a country where corruption remains entrenched, oligarchs amass wealth and influence and poverty levels are among the worst in Europe.
    Zelenskiy’s squeaky clean fictional president is a powerful image, blurring the lines of where his character stops and the presidential hopeful begins.    Even his party is called Servant of the People after the TV series.
    At Friday night’s recording of the comedy talent show, the audience, many in their 20s and 30s, laughed and cheered at references and winking allusions to his presidential bid.
    Backstage, he posed for selfies with some fans between skits.    A trailer for a new series of Servant of the People played before the show, where the fictional president talks about his hopes.
    He dreams of a day when Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian film-maker languishing in a Russian jail, will release a new film.    War in the east will be over and Ukraine will host the Olympic Games in Crimea, once it has been taken back from Russia.
    “(I) would just like to see him as the president.    Ukraine needs something new.    I am sick of all this,” said Volodymyr Bren, who was in the audience at the comedy talent contest.
IMF DEALS
    With less than five weeks until the election, several polls have put Zelenskiy in front of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko.
    Support for Zelenskiy is particularly strong among 18-35 year-olds who think he would be the best candidate to tackle corruption in state institutions, according to a December survey on behalf of the International Republican Institute https://www.iri.org (IRI).
    His campaign has been propelled by his TV appeal and social media.    He has 2.7 million followers on Instagram while Poroshenko has 194,000. On Facebook, Zelenskiy invites suggestions from followers on tackling problems such as high utility bills or their choice of prime minister.
    Zelenskiy told Reuters he would not allow Ukraine to default on its debt commitments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has propped up the economy with billions of dollars in loans and provides reassurance to investors.
    He hopes the country will eventually stop relying on the IMF but, for now, he would not allow Ukraine “to default and spoil the image of our country.”
    Tymoshenko and other opposition candidates have fiercely criticized Poroshenko after the government raised household heating tariffs as a condition for more IMF loans.
    Asked for his position on heating costs, Zelenskiy was short on specifics.    He said Ukraine’s tariffs were the lowest in Europe but still too high for many.
TACKLING CORRUPTION
    Ironically, given the clean image of his fictional president, Zelenskiy has had to fend off suspicion that in real life he is a puppet of Ihor Kolomoisky, a prominent oligarch whose TV channel airs Zelenskiy’s shows.
    Zelenskiy insists his relationship with Kolomoisky is strictly professional. He said he would not, as some fear, hand back ownership of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender, to Kolomoisky if he becomes president.
    As part of an IMF-backed clean-up of Ukraine’s financial system, the government nationalized PrivatBank in 2016 – and later alleged the lender was used for large-scale fraud and money laundering. Kolomoisky called the allegations nonsense and has said the bank was nationalized on spurious grounds.
    “Am I that crazy?    Do I want to lose my life, reputation?” said Zelenskiy, when asked whether he would hand PrivatBank back to Kolomoisky.
    The businessman also denies having undue influence over Zelenskiy.    “I’m more his puppet than he is mine,” he told the Ukrainian news site lb.ua.
    To tackle corruption, Zelenskiy said he would introduce a bill to strip the president, lawmakers and judges of immunity from prosecution.    He also called for an independent anti-corruption court that the president could not unduly influence – with judges selected with the help of Western experts.
    He said that would end a political culture where the president or someone else in authority simply picks up the phone and says: “It will be like this, like this or like this.”
    Back in the world of make-believe at the comedy talent show, one contestant hands Zelenskiy a giant key.
    The presidential hopeful says it is too big to fit into his pocket – to cheers and applause from an audience that knows Ukrainian politicians often pocket large bribes.
    The contestant shouts: “Friends, you have a unique chance to vote for a candidate with small pockets.”
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; editing by David Clarke)

2/27/2019 White House, Kremlin face off over future of Venezuela’s Maduro by OAN Newsroom
    Top U.S. diplomats and their Russian counterparts recently discussed the ongoing Venezuelan crisis.
    During a United Nations Security Council meeting Tuesday, U.S. Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams condemned the government’s excessive use of force against its people.
    “We are here today, because of the de facto Russia ‘s refusal to allow humanitarian aid to enter Venezuela on February 23rd,” he explained.
U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams address a meeting on Venezuela in the
U.N. Security Council at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
    On the other side, UN Envoy to Russia Vasily Nebenzya criticized the U.S. and Britain for freezing $30 billion in oil and banking assets of the Maduro regime.    He claimed the move could make poverty in Venezuela much worse.
    “Instead of the hypocritical attempt to bring in an aid of $20 million, it is necessary to immediately lift the ban on the accounts of Venezuelan enterprises in American banks with $11 billion allocated by the government for the purchase of medicines, food and essential goods,” he urged.
    Meanwhile, U.S. officials reiterated their commitment to maintaining sanctions, while delivering more humanitarian aid to the people of Venezuela.
    Russia and the U.S. have opposed each other when it comes to the crisis in Venezuela.    The Kremlin has continued to support President Nicolas Maduro, while the U.S. is pushing for him to step aside.

2/27/2019 Venezuelan vice president to fly into Moscow for talks on Friday: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's Vice President Delcy Rodriguez talks to the media during a news conference
at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez will hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Friday, the RIA news agency reported, the latest in a flurry of visits by Venezuelan politicians to staunch ally Russia.
    Rodriguez will talk to Lavrov about cooperating with Russia to prevent military action against Venezuela, RIA news agency said, citing the head of Venezuela’s foreign ministry Jorge Arreaza.
    “Our cooperation and the situation in Venezuela will be discussed, as well as coordination of actions to prevent any kind of war against Venezuela,” Arreaza was cited as saying.
    Moscow has backed socialist President Nicolas Maduro in the face of a challenge from opposition leader Juan Guaido who declared himself interim president in January, a move backed by most Western nations.
    The prospect of Maduro being ousted is a geopolitical and economic headache for Moscow and Russia has accused the United States of trying to engineer an illegal coup to topple him.
    Russia, alongside China, has become a creditor of last resort for Caracas, lending it billions of dollars as its economy implodes.    Moscow has also helped its military and oil industry and provided wheat.
    Venezuela’s deputy foreign minister, Ivan Gil, and the country’s industry minister, Tareck El Aissami, were in Moscow last week for talks with senior officials.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn, William Maclean)

2/27/2019 Russia delivers high-speed internet to islands disputed by Japan
A general view shows the Island of Kunashir, one of four islands known as the Southern Kuriles
in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has established high-speed internet service on a chain of Pacific islands off its far eastern coast, state-run telecoms operator Rostelecom said on Tuesday, despite a decades-old dispute with Japan over the territory.
    Rostelecom said an 815-km fiber optic cable line had been laid between Russia’s offshore Sakhalin island and the island chain to introduce fast internet in four towns and villages on the islands of Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan.
    Russia and Japan both claim sovereignty over the chain of four islands – known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia – which were captured by Soviet troops during the final days of World War Two.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hold regular talks to resolve the protracted dispute, which has prevented Moscow and Tokyo from formally ending hostilities from the war.
    The fiber optic project cost 3.3 billion roubles ($50.30 million), most of which came from the Russian state budget, according to Rostelecom.
    The project looked like another sign that despite ongoing talks with Japan, Moscow is loath to cede the islands.
    In December, Russia said it had built new barracks to house its troops on the islands and would construct more facilities for armored vehicles.
    Russian energy giant Gazprom also plans to build a liquefied natural gas plant on Sakhalin to supply the island chain.
(Writing by Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/28/2019 Kremlin dismisses talk of possible U.S. move to probe Putin’s wealth
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to take part in a wreath-laying ceremony marking the Defender of the Fatherland Day at the
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by the Kremlin wall in central Moscow, Russia February 23, 2019. Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Thursday dismissed talk of potential U.S. sanctions targeting President Vladimir Putin’s wealth and called draft sanctions legislation an example of anti-Russian sentiment that should not be taken seriously.
    A group of U.S. lawmakers have proposed sanctions legislation targeting Russia that, among other things, would require the director of U.S. National Intelligence to report to Congress about Putin’s personal net worth and assets.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/28/2019 No gas? No votes. Subsidy cuts imperil Ukraine leader’s reelection bid by Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams
Pensioner Nadiya Ignatiy, 60, carries firewood near her house in the village of Skryhalivka, Kiev region,
Ukraine February 11, 2019. Picture taken February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    SKRYHALIVKA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian pensioner Nadiya Ignatiy says she has had the plum and cherry trees in her garden cut down for firewood since the government raised gas prices late last year.
    In next month’s election, she will vote against President Petro Poroshenko in favor of an opponent who has pledged to restore the gas subsidies that were scaled back to secure an international bailout.
    “We cleared the garden,” she said in her house in the village of Skryhalivka, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Kiev.    “Not just me, other people are doing it now… previously you could heat with gas but now it’s a problem.”
    Such frustrations could tip the balance in the March 31 election against Poroshenko, whose market-oriented reforms have helped stabilize a country battling Russian-backed separatism and encouraged Western investors wary of pervasive corruption.
    Poroshenko was elected in 2014 after protests ousted a Kremlin-friendly president and sent the government and the West on a collision course with Russia: Russia annexed Crimea and supported the overthrow of government rule in eastern Ukraine.
    An influential businessman who had made a fortune from confectionery, he pledged to take the ex-Soviet country out of Russia’s orbit and restore control over the east in a matter of weeks.    The latter has not happened, but he has overseen an uneasy stalemate with separatist-held regions and ended a steep recession, with around 3.4 percent growth last year.
    Living standards, however, have continued to decline.    The average monthly wage has dropped the equivalent of almost $80 since 2013 and Ukrainians need more than three times as many local hryvnia to buy a dollar as they did then.
    Inflation peaked at 43 percent in 2015 and the price of a cubic meter of gas is almost 12 times what it was in 2013.
    Since the revolution, “nothing has changed substantially for the better,” said Nadiya Yurchenko, 79, who hoped for a higher pension, heating allowance and better healthcare as well as peace with Russia when she voted for Poroshenko in 2014.
    Poroshenko won the first round outright in 2014, but many polls have shown the election frontrunner this time to be Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and fiery campaigner who compares the gas price rise to “genocide.”
    Another candidate who has surged in February is comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice and largely an unknown quantity.
    “For the IMF and most of Ukraine’s western partners, Poroshenko is a lesser evil, he is an acceptable partner,” said analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.
    However, “with their requirement for raising the price of gas and utility tariffs, the IMF paradoxically ends up giving political help to those whom it fears,” he said.
CORRUPTION ISSUE
    Subsidized gas for households is a source of corruption in Ukraine because businesses divert it for their own use to avoid paying market prices, draining money from the state budget.
    The IMF, which has lent $14.7 billion to Ukraine since April 2014, has made gradually bringing household tariffs in line with market prices a condition for more funding.    When gas prices were hiked in November, Poroshenko said there had been no choice.
    “The government was caught between the bad and the very bad, between tariff increases and a blow to macroeconomic stability.”
    IMF country head Gosta Ljungman has said price controls were ineffective at providing social protection, and led to overconsumption and corruption, while liberalizing the market meant richer households paid more, freeing cash for poorer ones.
    “The most optimal approach is to give markets the right to determine the price, and then to provide well-focused subsidies to those who need them most,” Ljungman told Ukrainian news site FinClub this month in comments his office referred Reuters to.
    Government officials were not immediately available to comment on why some of the poorest Ukrainian households were not getting help to adjust to the new prices.
    Price rises are among voters’ main concerns and gas prices came out top in an opinion poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology in October and early November, when Poroshenko slipped from second into third place behind Tymoshenko and Zelenskiy.
    Poroshenko moved back to second place after Ukraine’s Orthodox Church won independence from the Russian Church in January and the government plans pension increases on Friday that his opponents say are designed to bolster his ratings.
    But Fesenko said any gains may be offset by the arrival this month of the first higher gas bills and then those for other utilities.
    Tymoshenko and other candidates like Yuriy Boyko, a former energy minister popular mainly in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east, have used rising prices to attack the president.
    Tempers flared at a lawmakers’ meeting on Monday when Tymoshenko accused Poroshenko and his associates of funneling money gained from the price rises to offshore bank accounts, an allegation swiftly denied by the leader of Poroshenko’s faction.
    After a Feb. 16 meeting with Tymoshenko, IMF chief Christine Lagarde stressed the urgency for Ukraine to continue reforms and safeguard its return to economic stability.
    Tymoshenko says she wants to keep cooperation with the IMF but change the terms of the deal.    She has also promised sharp hikes in salaries and pensions and to change central bank policy to provide cheap loans to small businesses.
    How she would act on those promises if she wins is unclear, but it is enough to make many investors uncomfortable.
    Poroshenko helped build foreign direct investment back up to $4.4 billion in 2016, but it fell to $1.87 billion in 2017 amid concern about Ukraine’s finances, far off the $5.46 billion under former president Victor Yanukovich.
    “The threat that cooperation with the IMF will be disrupted, and the threat that the country will again return to the prospect of default, is much higher if other candidates win,” said Serhiy Fursa, a Kiev-based investment banker at Dragon Capital.
    Shoring up state finances means little to voters left out of pocket. Liubov Spychak, 73-year pensioner from the town of Cherkasy, fought back tears as she described how expensive it had become to heat her two-bedroom apartment.
    In December almost four-fifths of her pension went on utilities, she said by telephone: “I am very ill after working my whole life for a chemical plant.    I can hardly walk and they rejected my application for subsidies.”
    In Skryhalivka, in the Fastiv district where Poroshenko got around 65 percent of votes in 2014, villagers said many people were struggling.
    With snow thick on the ground on a February afternoon and the thermometer on her living room table showing 5 degrees Celsius, Yurchenko said her pension after a 45-year career as a teacher and school principal did not go far enough.
    She has a 2015 calendar with Tymoshenko’s face hanging on a bookshelf next to volumes of Fyodor Dostoevsky and James Joyce, but will vote for Boyko, as will her 60-year-old neighbor Ignatiy whose fruit trees went to feed her stove.
    Yurchenko estimates she would need to spend nearly four months’ worth of pension income to heat her home properly through the winter.
    Ignatiy said gas, electricity and groceries were all getting more expensive.    “Everything’s going up except for salaries and pensions.”
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

2/28/2019 EU Commission strikes back at Hungarian migration campaign ‘fiction’ by Clare Roth
FILE PHOTO: A government poster is seen in Budapest, Hungary, February 21, 2019. The poster reads, "You also have the right to
know what Brussels is up to", accusing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker of pushing migration plans encouraged by
U.S.-Hungarian businessman George Soros, in a media campaign rebuked by the commission. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission sought on Thursday to address suggestions in a Hungarian government information campaign that Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and billionaire investor George Soros seek to flood the country with migrants.
    Initially dismissing the campaign launched throughout Hungary on Feb. 18 as a “ludicrous conspiracy theory,” the Commission published a report debunking the assertions on billboards and full-page newspaper ads.
    Relations between European Union institutions and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist Fidesz ruling party have soured since the 2015 migration crisis, when .
    Many of the ads feature text stating “You have the right to know what Brussels is planning,” over pictures of Juncker and Hungarian-born Soros.    Orban accuses Soros of encouraging mass immigration into Europe, a charge the philanthropist denies.
    “Citizens do deserve to know the truth about what the EU is doing,” Commission officials said.    “But we believe that they deserve fact not fiction.”
    The Commission report rejected Hungarian assertions that the European Union executive arm wanted to introduce refugee resettlement quotas, stating that refugee resettlement “is and will always be on a purely voluntary basis.”
    Orban was reelected for a third consecutive term last April on a strong anti-immigration platform, and his Fidesz party leads the polls ahead of May’s European parliamentary election.
    He has said he hopes anti-immigration parties will gain a majority, which he said could lead to changes in the EU executive.
    Continuing its take-down of the adverts, the Commission noted that job-training pilot programs for migrants were voluntary and Hungary had opted out of participating.
    “Member states remain exclusively in charge of the numbers of workers they admit, if at all,” the report said.
    The Commission also said that EU funding had nothing to do with a country’s stance on immigration, but that cohesion money would go to countries hit by migration to help them manage.
    Hungary is also under EU scrutiny for not observing the rule of law.    In response to Orban’s ad campaign, Juncker also called for Fidesz’s exclusion from the European parliament’s biggest center-right political family EPP.
(Reporting by Clare Roth; Editing by Alison Williams)
[The U.S. understands Hungry as the Progressive Socialist Liberal Leftist Democrats have been pushing open borders for 10 years now and are doing everything they can to stop Trump from fixing that.].

2/28/2019 EU lawmakers urge Albanian parties to work toward EU talks by Benet Koleka
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the opposition party shout slogans during an anti-government protest in front of
the Prime Minister Edi Rama's office in Tirana, Albania February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    TIRANA (Reuters) – European lawmakers urged Albanian political parties on Thursday not to let domestic squabbles endanger the possible start of accession talks with the European Union in June, after the opposition quit parliament.
    Visiting Albania to assess progress before the European Council decides on June 19 whether the country is ready to start accession negotiations, they urged the parties to ensure they stick to the goal of entering the EU.
    “It is paramount not to cause any delays in this process (of joining the EU) because of national disagreements,” Tunne Kelam, head of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs delegation, told reporters.
    Citing investigations by prosecutors into allegations of vote fraud, and corruption by the former transport minister, the opposition Democratic Party and its allies gave up their parliamentary seats a week ago.
    They have staged three protests this month in the capital, Tirana, to demand Prime Minister Edi Rama step down and call early elections.
    The EU, the United States, the council representing Albania’s three main religions and business groups have appealed for calm and for dialogue.    The opposition has said it will keep up nationwide protests.
    Noting what he called significant progress by Albania in many areas in meeting EU standards, including a reform of the judiciary and vetting of judges, Kelam said it was crucial to implement laws.
    Boycotting parliament would undermine the credibility of the state and nation, so civil society should pressure the parties to “come together,” Kelam said.
.     Rama was elected in 2013 and his Socialist Party government has steered the economy back to growth, with an expansion of about four percent in 2018.    However, the benefits are not reaching everyone and many Albanians continue to leave the country in search of jobs.    The perception of corruption is on the rise.
    Referring to protests in December by university students calling for lower fees and better education, Kelam said providing higher education to young people would give them brighter hopes for the future and help dissuade them from emigrating.
    The European Parliament delegation is also due to visit neighboring Macedonia, which is also seeking to enter the EU.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Frances Kerry)
[Oh No, another failing Socialist system!].

2/28/2019 Activist lawyer takes lead in polls ahead of Slovak presidential vote
FILE PHOTO - Presidential candidate Zuzaba Caputova speaks to Reuters at a news conference in Bratislava, Slovakia February 26, 2019.
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Environmental lawyer Zuzana Caputova has vaulted past the Slovak ruling party’s candidate in opinion polls, just weeks before a presidential election which voters may use to give their verdict on government efforts to crack down on corruption.
    With the first round of voting on March 16, surveys this week showed Caputova taking a strong lead over Maros Sefcovic, the candidate of former prime minister Robert Fico’s Smer party, which has been in power almost continually since the mid-2000s.
    The election is a challenge for the three-party governing coalition a year after the murder of investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee ignited the biggest protests in the central European country’s post-communist history.
    The killings, over which four people have been charged although the motive remains unclear, sparked an outcry over perceived state corruption and impunity that many say has not been addressed by the cabinet.
    Fico resigned as prime minister last year to prevent snap elections and keep the government intact.
    Sefcovic, a career diplomat and European Commission vice-president, had been ahead in the polls until this week.
    A poll by AKO agency for commercial broadcaster TA3 published on Thursday showed first-time politician Caputova garnering 27.5 percent support to 17.1 percent for Sefcovic.
    Another poll by Focus agency, released on Wednesday, put Caputova on 26.3 percent and Sefcovic second at 20.4 percent.
    Both polls were conducted before Sefcovic’s previous main challenger, the scientist and entrepreneur Robert Mistrik, pulled out of the race on Tuesday and endorsed Caputova.
    Caputova, whose most prominent legal case was a 14-year fight against an illegal landfill site in her hometown Pezinok, outside Bratislava, for which she won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2016, also has the support of outgoing head of state Andrej Kiska.    He defeated Fico in the last presidential election in 2014.
    Slovakia’s president wields little day-to-day power but must approve the formation of new governments and appoints judges to the constitutional court.
    If no candidate wins a majority on March 16, the top two candidates will go into a second round two weeks later.
    Smer, which is still led by Fico, has taken a hit in opinion polls over the past year but remains 10 percent ahead of its closest rival for power in parliament.    The next general election is in 2020.
    The party has had almost continual control of parliament since the mid-2000s, during which time the country of 5.4 million has joined the euro currency and enjoyed fast economic growth fueled by sectors such as car production.
    But corruption and the lack of court convictions of public officials remain top voter concerns, which was highlighted by a series of street protests around the country after the killings of Kuciak and fiancee Martina Kusnirova last year.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova and Jason Hovet; Editing by Catherine Evans)

2/28/2019 Progressive politician tests appetite for less religious Poland by Justyna Pawlak
Robert Biedron, the founder of a new progressive party 'Spring' ('Wiosna'), speaks during Reuters interview
in Gdansk, Poland February 25, 2019. Picture taken February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    GDANSK, Poland (Reuters) – Robert Biedron, the founder of a new progressive party in Poland, believes ties between the state and the Catholic Church in one of Europe’s most devout nations are “pathological” and need to be loosened.
    After four years of rule by the nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS), which has sought to promote traditional Christian values in public life, European Parliament elections in May and a national vote in late 2019 will show how many Poles agree.
    Any substantial gains for Biedron’s Spring party, which polled at 14 percent after its launch this month, would be a feat in a country where the Church is revered for helping to end communist rule in 1989 and still wields influence with voters.
    Though PiS is well ahead of its rivals in opinion polls, if Spring can galvanize more younger Poles to vote, some say it could help build a majority with other opposition parties after the election that could oust the nationalists.
    Biedron, 42, who became Poland’s first openly gay lawmaker in 2011, accuses a succession of governments since 1989 of forging cosy ties with the Catholic clergy at voters’ expense.
    Speaking in the Baltic city of Gdansk after a spirited election rally that resembled a rock concert, he said he was confident that Poland was ready for change.
    He compared Poland to Ireland, another mainly Catholic nation in the European Union which has voted to relax restrictive abortion rules and legalized same-sex marriage.    Polish law prohibits on-demand abortion and has no provisions for gay partnerships.
    “People in Poland see that Europe is in another place.    This is a natural consequence of our integration with Europe,” Biedron told Reuters.
    “Polish people … see that the special treatment of the Church should not mean anymore that we tolerate things like paedophilia, like public transfers of money to the church, like the blessing of public toilets or McDonald’s (restaurants) by church and public officials,” he said.
    Since the advent of democracy in Poland, the Catholic Church has tried hard to embed its social agenda in law, winning battles to entrench religious education in schools and having crucifixes put up in public buildings.
    Despite a steady decline, regular church attendance remains high at nearly 40 percent of the population – much higher than in most of the EU.    Priests often attend public ceremonies and the state pays pension contributions for the clergy.
    “Is there another state which gives money for building new churches and at the same time doesn’t have the money to build new kindergartens?    In the heart of the European Union?    In Poland this is happening, it’s pathological,” Biedron said.
    Biedron says the Church should be taxed and state cash used to promote a more diverse and egalitarian society.
    Critics say his calls for a higher minimum wage, a universal pension and an expanded rural public transport network are unaffordable.
GRASSROOTS CHANGE
    Research suggests that Poles remain on average less liberal and more devout than Biedron would wish.
    A survey by Pew Research Centre showed two thirds of Poles think religion is an important component of national identity, compared with only a third of the French and 15 percent of Swedes.
    Since taking power in 2015, PiS has ended state funding for in-vitro fertilization and reinstated a prescription requirement for emergency contraception.    The Church opposes both in-vitro fertilization and contraception.
    Some local authorities are fighting back.    The city of Poznan opened a clinic where women can easily get contraception. Under Polish law doctors can refuse to prescribe contraceptives if it contravenes their religious beliefs, and some do.
    Some local authorities are funding workshops in schools on discrimination against ethnic and sexual minorities after the education ministry canceled an obligation to hold such classes.
    “There is a sort of mounting allergic reaction to the Church … because of a symbiosis between the church and the state,” said Aleksander Smolar, a liberal analyst with the Stefan Batory Foundation.
    Smolar believes Biedron’s campaign run will be a test of the extent to which Poles support religious values in public life.    But he says the party may be too focused on Biedron’s colorful personality to win broader appeal.    “It’s just Biedron and nobody else,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk in Warsaw; editing by Gareth Jones)

2/28/2019 Ukraine president tries to salvage corruption law as tough election looms by Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko addresses lawmakers during a session of parliament
in Kiev, Ukraine February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko proposed fresh legislation on Thursday aimed at fighting corruption, after the constitutional court threw out a previous anti-graft law, raising concerns that the country was backtracking on the issue.
    Poroshenko’s record on tackling corruption is a central topic of debate ahead of his bid for a second term in a presidential election on March 31.    He trails in the polls and critics accuse him of not doing enough to root out entrenched corruption.
    Opposition lawmakers called him to be impeached earlier this week over allegations involving a close ally.
    Ukraine passed a law criminalizing illicit enrichment in 2015 as a condition of it receiving bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund that kept the country afloat during a steep recession.    It was also a precondition for the European Union to grant visa-free travel to Ukrainians.
    But the constitutional court overturned the law this week on the grounds that it contravened the presumption of innocence, sparking concern in the EU and among anti-corruption campaigners and the anti-corruption bureau.
    “This morning I have signed, and now I am commissioning to register, a presidential bill which takes into account the remarks but preserves the key position – the inevitability of criminal punishment for illicit enrichment,” said Poroshenko, who came to power after the Maidan protests in 2014.
    Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the European Commission, highlighted the court’s decision in a speech during a visit to Kiev on Thursday.
    “I must say that we have certain concerns concerning yesterday’s constitutional court ruling concerning the illicit enrichment and the burden of proof concerning this illicit enrichment,” he said.
    “So we must see what exactly the concerns of the constitutional court were, and how it will affect the effectiveness of the fight against corruption.”
    The National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) said it had to stop 65 criminal investigations of alleged illicit enrichment of top officials due to the court ruling.
    Even if parliament approved a new bill, NABU would not be allowed to resume those investigations because the law would have no retroactive effect.
    “The abolition of the article on illegal enrichment is a step back in the anti-corruption reform of Ukraine,” NABU said in a statement.
    “This step … is politically motivated and contradicts Ukraine’s obligations under the United Nations Convention against Corruption, agreements with the International Monetary Fund and the European Union,” NABU said.
    The IMF did not respond to a request for comment on whether the court’s decision could derail the disbursement of new aid.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Matthias Williams and Hugh Lawson)

3/1/2019 Belarus president Lukashenko says likely to run for another term
Belarus' President Alexander Lukashenko speaks during "Big Talk" news conference
in Minsk, Belarus March 1, 2019. Nikolay Petrov/BelTA/Pool via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko told reporters on Friday he was likely to run for re-election.
    His presidential term ends in 2020, and he said he would decide on the date of the next election in the next couple of months.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky, writing by Maria Tsvetkova; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/2/2019 Thousands in Montenegro rally against President Djukanovic by Stevo Vasiljevic
General view of main square during civic protest in Podgorica, Montenegro, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – Thousands protested in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica on Saturday, the fourth such rally in as many weeks, demanding that President Milo Djukanovic and his government resign over alleged corruption, cronyism and abuse of office.
    Throngs of people, rallied by civic activists, bloggers and journalists who say they are not affiliated with political parties, marched through the center of the city chanting “Milo thief.”    Opposition politicians have distanced themselves from the protests.
    Weekly political protests also continued in Serbia, Montenegro’s larger neighbor and fellow ex-Yugoslav republic.
    Marija Backovic, a teacher from Podgorica, said she was protesting for a better Montenegro.    “We are not the danger for this country … those that are destroying it for 30 years are the real danger,” she told the crowd on Saturday.
    The rallies started after Dusko Knezevic, a former ally of Djukanovic, accused him and his ruling Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of corruption, cronyism, abuse of office and murky financial deals.
    Both Djukanovic and the DPS have denied the allegations and said the protests are legitimate unless they turn violent.
    Djukanovic has dominated national politics in the small Adriatic country, a NATO member and candidate for European Union membership, serving as prime minister or president for most of the period since independence in 1991.
    Montenegrin prosecutors accused Knezevic, a banker, of fraud and money laundering, but he fled to Britain.    He has said he will produce more evidence about alleged murky dealings by Djukanovic and his allies.
    In December, Montenegro’s central bank placed the small Atlas Banka, headed by Knezevic, under temporary administration as its capital failed to meet minimum risk requirements.    In January, Atlas Banka sought to increase its capital again after hiking it last October by 1.37 million euros ($1.56 million) to 32.03 million euros.
    In Serbia’s capital Belgrade, meanwhile, thousands marched in protest at what they see as the increasingly autocratic rule of President Aleksandar Vucic.    The veteran leader and his ruling Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) are accused by political opponents of stifling media freedoms and opposition parties have demanded Vucic’s resignation and establishing conditions for free and fair elections.
    Vucic and the SNS, which with coalition allies holds a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament, reject those allegations.
    Both Montenegro and Serbia are seeking join the European Union but have been told they must root out organized crime, corruption and nepotism and reduce bureaucracy before they can become members of the bloc.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Catherine Evans and David Gregorio)
[The people are standing up to another Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) of corruption, cronyism, abuse of office and murky financial deals.].

3/3/2019 Estonian PM eyes new term with far-right gains to cloud coalition-building by Tarmo Virki
FILE PHOTO - Estonia's Prime Minister Juri Ratas attends a summit between Arab league and European Union
member states, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonians head to the polls on Sunday with incumbent center-left Prime Minister Juri Ratas the frontrunner, although he would face a difficult task forging a parliament majority due to expected far-right gains.
    The far-right EKRE is seen more than doubling its vote, pushing a nationalist agenda.
    Estonia enjoys strong economic growth and low unemployment, but regional differences in the country of just 1.3 million people are vast.
    EKRE’s heartland are the counties furthest from the capital where its promise to shake up politics has resonated with many voters.    A fiercely anti-immigrant message lifted its support during the European migration crisis in 2015 and opinion polls suggest it has held on to the gains since then.
    A lot of their supporters are like 52-year-old entrepreneur Mati Vaartnou, from the island of Saaremaa, far from the capital.    “An increasing number of people understand that the current parties will not change anything,” he said.
    EKRE’s increased support, part of the rise of far-right populist parties across much of Europe, means building a strong coalition in the fragmented parliament will be difficult as all other parties have ruled out governing with EKRE.
    “I am sure that there will be an effort to find any other combination to form a government, just as long as we are not in it,” Martin Helme, one of EKRE’s leaders, sitting in his office in front of a map of Estonia before Moscow’s 1940 occupation.
    EKRE’s success could lead to a coalition of Estonia’s main rivals – Ratas’ traditionally pro-Russian Centre and pro-Western Reform – which have not governed together since 2003.
    An opinion poll by public broadcaster ERR showed Centre, whose core supporters are Estonia’s Russian-speakers and which has a co-operation pact with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia, would remain biggest with 28 percent of votes.
Reform polled at 24 percent and EKRE at 17 percent while Ratas’ current coalition partners, the Social Democrats and the conservative Fatherland, stood at around 10 percent each.
    Estonia hit the headlines last year for one of the largest money laundering scandals, with Danish lender Danske Bank saying its Estonian branch helped funnel money from Russia and other ex-Soviet states.
    While Danske Bank has acknowledged that its money laundering controls in Estonia have been insufficient, the scandal has not become central to the election campaign, with voters more focused on economic and cultural issues.
    Centre sparked protests over plans to close the only Estonian-language high school in Kohtla-Jarve, a mostly Russian-speaking town near the Russian border.
    And Ratas’ push to reform taxation, including hiking excise duties, has also angered Estonians, prompting people to head south to neighboring Latvia to buy cheaper alcohol.
    “Estonian people are not like the French who burn cars in the streets,” Reform leader Kaja Kallas told Reuters.    “They just show their protest by not playing that game – they just go to Latvia to buy beers for the sauna.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki, additional reporting by John O’Donnell; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/3/2019 Russia tells U.S. it is ready for bilateral talks on Venezuela
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint news conference with Venezuela's
Vice President Delcy Rodriguez in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is ready to take part in bilateral talks with the United States over the issue of Venezuela, Russia’s foreign minister told his U.S. counterpart late on Saturday.
    The situation in Venezuela was the main topic in a phone call between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that took place on March 2, Russia’s foreign ministry said on its website.
    “i>In connection with Washington’s proposal to hold bilateral consultations on the Venezuelan topic, it was stated that Russia is ready to participate in this,” the ministry said in a statement.
    It was “vital to be strictly guided by the principles of the UN Charter since only the Venezuelan people have the right to determine their future,” the statement said.
    Russia and the United States have been at loggerheads over a U.S.-led campaign for international recognition of Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader who declared himself the interim head of state, over President Nicholas Maduro.
    In the phone call, initiated by the United States, Lavrov condemned the threats that Washington made towards “the country’s lawful leadership,” the ministry said, referring to Maduro.
    Earlier this month, the United States imposed new sanctions on six Venezuelan security officials and revoked the visas of dozens of associates and their families with ties to Maduro, in the latest move to pile pressure on him to step down.
    Lavrov and Pompeo also agreed to continues talks on the expert level regarding Syria, Afghanistan and the Korean peninsula.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; editing by Jason Neely)

3/4/2019 Ukraine’s Tymoshenko: ‘gas princess’, prisoner, and next president? by Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk
FILE PHOTO: Leader of opposition Batkivshchyna party and presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko
attends a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Yulia Tymoshenko has been Ukraine’s prime minister twice, was the global face of a revolution, imprisoned by two different presidents, and the target of an operation to discredit her by President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager [SEE THE NOTE BELOW ABOUT THE REAL TRUTH OF THAT STATEMENT].
    Now the 58-year-old known for her fiery rhetoric and, once upon a time, for her peasant braid hairstyle, hopes to unseat her old rival Petro Poroshenko in a tightly fought presidential vote on March 31.
    Her campaign is a difficult balancing act, promising reforms and continued cooperation with the International Monetary Fund while pledging to reverse sharp increases in the price of gas used for home heating that the IMF set as a condition for more loans.
    At stake is the chance to lead Ukraine five years after the Maidan street protests ousted a Kremlin-backed leadend set the country on a pro-Western course and bloody confrontation with Russia.
    Tymoshenko is popular with older voters and promises a threefold increase in pensions should she win. But having started as the front runner, she trails in a three-horse race with Poroshenko and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy.     Her rhetoric can be pungent.    She calls the gas price increase “genocide.”    Critics call her a populist.    Asked whether she thought that was fair, Tymoshenko told Reuters it was a label “Poroshenko’s corrupt mafia” used to smear her."    His people were using the political dark arts “to fight against their serious and influential opponents, and therefore for me they have chosen the word populism,” she said in a rare interview with a foreign media organization.
    Many investors have been comforted by Poroshenko sticking with Ukraine’s IMF program, which has supported the country through recession and war with Kremlin-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region.
    When asked whether businesses should worry about her presidency, Tymoshenko pointed to her experience of working with the IMF as prime minister but said that the terms of the current arrangement were counterproductive.
    “After the presidential election we would like to start a constructive dialogue with the IMF on how to correct this situation, how to make our joint cooperation bring results that will be felt by the economy of Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens.”
    For ordinary people, “virtually all of their income is wiped out through exorbitant, unreasonably high gas prices, this means that people have no money left to support the Ukrainian economy,” she said.
    Her plan for dealing with Russia is to persevere with the Minsk peace talks, which have staunched but not ended the bloodshed in the Donbass.    She also called for wider negotiations involving the United States, Britain and the European Union.
IN THE DOCK
    Tymoshenko became known as the “gas princess” because of her lucrative dealings at the head of a major energy company in the 1990s.    She came to the world’s attention during b>Ukraine’s 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, which pitted her against Kremlin-friendly rival Viktor Yanukovich.
    When he finally became president, Yanukovich jailed her and with the help of Paul Manafort, who later became Trump’s campaign manager, produced a 187-page report in 2012 justifying her imprisonment after an international outcry.
    Manafort was eventually convicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
    While working as a consultant to Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, Manafort used offshore accounts to secretly pay $4 million for the report on Tymoshenko, according to his indictment.
    She compares the attacks from Poroshenko’s camp to that time.    “I know that the strongest propaganda machine is turned against me, as Manafort once did,” she said, lambasting Manafort for “destroying my honest name, belittling my activities.”
    Though soft-spoken during her Reuters interview, Tymoshenko has loudly turned her fire on Poroshenko in public.
    She called for his impeachment in February over corruption allegations involving the son of one of Poroshenko’s close allies, which were made by an investigative journalist network.    All parties involved deny wrongdoing.
    Tymoshenko called it the tip of the iceberg and would put Poroshenko on trial if elected.
    “Beneath the water there is a corruption pyramid built up enormously over five years,” she said.    “We believe that we will win the presidential campaign and that the president, and his criminal corrupt environment, will be brought to justice.”
    Tymoshenko herself was the subject of an investigation by the same journalist network, bihus.info, which found that her party had hidden the real sources of campaign donations.
    Tymoshenko admitted her party had concealed contributions from businesses by pretending they came from ordinary voters, but said this was necessary to protect the businesses from vindictive investigations by the authorities.
THREE-HORSE RACE
    An admirer of Margaret Thatcher, Tymoshenko keeps a signed copy of the British prime minister’s memoirs in her office.    This is Tymoshenko’s third shot at the presidency, having lost to Yanukovich in 2010 and Poroshenko in 2014.
    Asked whether she saw Poroshenko or Zelenskiy as her main opponent this time, Tymoshenko chose Poroshenko.
    But it is Zelenskiy who has emerged as the new front runner after announcing his candidacy in December, tapping into the disillusionment some feel about the slow pace of change since Maidan.
    Asked why she has fallen as low as third place in some polls and whether her support was waning, she said:
    “There was no fall,” arguing she still had the same number of supporters as before.
    “Simply, there is a new presidential candidate, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has never been in politics.    He now receives in polls the great support of people who are against the establishment, against the entire political class.”
    So is her long experience in politics a strength or a weakness?
    “I believe that Ukraine should end its history of voting for a person, a family name or a cool creative advertisement,” she said.
    “For the first time, we need to vote not for individuals, but for real, serious, well-founded programs of action.    Except us, nobody today has such programs.”
(Editing by Giles Elgood)
[As seen on google: According to the September 2018 indictment in which Paul Manafort confessed as part of a plea bargain with U.S. special prosecutor Robert Mueller, Manafort helped former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to conduct a media campaign in the West directed against Tymoshenko in order to undermine the support for her by the administration of then U.S. President Barack Obama.    The campaign was designed to make Tymoshenko look like a supporter of anti-Semitism.    The indictment also states that in July 2011, former U.S. journalist Alan Friedman sent Manafort a confidential six-page document entitled "Ukraine - the digital road map," which contained a plan for "destruction" of Tymoshenko using video, articles and social networks.    The plan included creating a website, posting on the Internet, and sending out e-mails to "the target audience in Europe and the U.S."    It was also proposed to edit the page of Yulia Tymoshenko in Wikipedia in order to emphasize the "corruption and legal proceedings" related to her.
    I want to remind everyone that during 2009-2017 Obama had the NSA, DNI, DOJ, FBI doing all his dirty work using the FISA corruption and using a massive surveillance system on all citizens and has not been prosecuted for his actions.    And isn't amusing that the Clinton troops continued using Ukranian sources to do their dirty work.]

3/4/2019 Estonian center-right opposition wins elections by Tarmo Virki
Election officials count votes during general election at the polling station in Tallinn, Estonia March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonia’s opposition center-right Reform party pulled off a surprise win over Prime Minister Juri Ratas’ governing center-left Centre party in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
    The results put Reform leader Kaja Kallas in the pole position to become the country’s first female prime minister, although she will have to tackle difficult negotiations to form a governing coalition.
    Most opinion polls since late last year had put Centre in front, although recent surveys indicated a tight race, with some suggesting pro-business Reform could pull ahead.
    “I have to admit I prepared two speeches,” Kallas said near midnight speaking to a cheering crowd of her supporters.    “Now starts the real work to form the government and start to govern this country more intelligently.”
    Reform won 28.8 percent of the vote, giving it 34 seats in the new 101-seat parliament.    Centre stood at 23.1 percent and the far-right EKRE at 17.8 percent, more than doubling its vote from the previous election, said the State Electoral Office.
    Kallas, a 41-year-old lawyer and former European Parliament member, took over as Reform leader less than a year ago.    The party’s founders include her father, Siim Kallas, a former Estonian prime minister and EU commissioner.
    Estonia’s president is due to nominate the candidate for prime minister in coming days, after which the nominee will begin negotiations to form a coalition as all parties fell well short of winning a majority.
    Kallas looks likely to face a difficult task in hammering out a coalition government in the parliament where all other parties have ruled out governing with the euroskeptic nationalists of EKRE.
    EKRE’s success could lead to a coalition of Estonia’s main rivals – Ratas’ traditionally pro-Russian Centre and pro-Western Reform – which have not governed together since 2003.
    “Now it’s my duty and goal to work, for our party will be in the coalition,” Ratas told Reuters, while admitting defeat.
    While both are fiscally conservative, Centre has been seeking to make the Baltic country’s tax system increasingly progressive along the lines of richer neighbors such as Finland, while Reform has championed business-friendly reforms and the flat tax that was long the hallmark of the Estonian economy.
    Analysts said Kallas’ first option was likely a government with Fatherland and the Social Democrats – Reform’s smaller partners in the coalition that ran the country from 2015 to 2017 and will have 56 seats in the new parliament – but she did not rule out a tie-up with Centre either.
    “We keep all the options open for a coalition,” she said.
    Estonia enjoys strong economic growth and low unemployment, but regional differences in the country of just 1.3 million people are vast.
    EKRE’s heartland consists of the counties farthest from the capital, Tallinn, areas where its promise to shake up politics resonated with many voters.    A fiercely anti-immigrant message lifted its support during the European migration crisis in 2015 and it has held on to the gains since then.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Additional reporting by Janis Laizans; Writing by Tarmo Virki and Niklas Pollard; Editing by Susan Fenton and Peter Cooney)

3/4/2019 U.S. allows lawsuits against Cuban entities but shields foreign firms for now by Lesley Wroughton, Patricia Zengerle and Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Cuban flags are seen before a ceremony for the arrival of Carnival cruise ship ms Veendam
during its first trip to Cuba in Havana, Cuba, December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Monday it would allow lawsuits by U.S. citizens against dozens of Cuban companies and other entities on Washington’s blacklist but will maintain, for now, a ban against suing foreign firms doing business on the communist-ruled island.
    The move marked an intensification of U.S. pressure on Cuba and also appeared aimed at punishing Havana over its support for Venezuela’s socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.    But it stopped short of the more severe step of targeting foreign investments in Cuba – though it left the door open to doing so in the future.
    Lawsuits in U.S. courts against potentially dozens of Cuban entities linked to military and intelligence services will be permitted beginning on March 19.    But Washington will keep in place until at least April 17 a prohibition against legal action against foreign firms using property confiscated in the 1960s by the Cuban government, the State Department said.
    Every U.S. president has suspended on a rotating six-month basis a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act that would allow such lawsuits due to opposition from the international community and fears it could create chaos in the U.S. court system with a flood of lawsuits.
    But President Donald Trump’s administration first announced in January a 45-day review of the matter and has now added another 30 days for further study.
    A complete lifting of the ban could let billions of dollars in legal claims move forward in U.S. courts and likely antagonize Canada and U.S. European partners, whose companies have significant business holdings in Cuba.
    It could also affect some U.S. companies that have begun investing in the island since former President Barack Obama’s opening to the old Cold War foe.
    Allowing the provision to go into effect even on a limited basis could undermine efforts by Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel to foster foreign investment and promote tourism to bolster the Caribbean island’s fragile economy.
    A senior State Department official said the Trump administration had consulted with Canada and European partners in deliberations on how to proceed.
    Under Monday’s announcement, lawsuits will not be authorized against foreign partners in joint ventures with the Cuban government, the official told reporters.
(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, Patricia Zengerle and Lesley Wroughton; editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas)

3/4/2019 EU executive hits back at Hungary’s Orban ahead of elections by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual
state of the nation speech in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union executive accused Hungary’s nationalist government on Monday of distorting the truth about immigration into the bloc, marking a further deterioration in their troubled relationship ahead of European Parliament elections in May.
    The EU has long been critical of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s stance on migrants and record on democratic freedoms.
    He says the bloc has imperiled Europe’s Christian civilization by allowing mass immigration.
    Orban has recently stepped up his anti-immigration campaign with billboards and inserts in state media vilifying European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros whom he accuses of being in cahoots to bring large numbers of Muslim immigrants into Europe.
    “The Commission has been unambiguous about our opinion of the Hungarian government campaign that distorts the truth and seeks to paint a dark picture of a secret plot to drive more migration to Europe, allegedly,” European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a news briefing.
    The Hungarian campaign has triggered renewed calls to expel Orban’s ruling Fidesz party from the biggest group in the European Parliament, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP).    The EPP will discuss the issue on March 20.
    The EPP’s candidate to head the next European Commission, senior German lawmaker Manfred Weber, has said he no longer rules out expelling Fidesz.    “I expect him to apologize and end the action,” Weber told the German weekly Spiegel at the weekend.
USEFUL IDIOTS
    But Orban, speaking to the German Welt am Sonntag weekly, dismissed those seeking the expulsion of Fidesz as “useful idiots” playing into the hands of the EPP’s left-wing rivals.
    His Cabinet office published on its web site remarks by European leaders, as well as selected details of EU decisions on immigration, which Budapest says bolster its arguments.
    “They want to manage migration, rather than halt it,” it said, adding that Brussels was unlawfully seeking to force migrant quotas on Hungary.    “We want a Europe which respects the rights of nation states, builds on its Christian values, protects its communities, and is also able to preserve its security in the long term.”
    Zoltan Novak, of Hungarian think-tank the Centre for Fair Political Analysis, said the spat formed part of the start of the European Parliament vote campaign.    “He wants to be the antithesis to the mainstream elite,” he said.
    The EPP has 217 lawmakers in the 750-strong EU legislature, 12 of them from Fidesz.    It is expected to remain the biggest faction in the new European Parliament but will most likely be weakened, surveys show.
    The EU has been largely unsuccessful in taming Orban.
    A probe launched in 2018 against Budapest for weakening the rule of law in the ex-communist country has proven largely ineffective beyond causing Hungary reputational damage.
    Brussels is considering making access to EU budget funds from 2021 conditional on respecting democratic principles.    Hungary and most other ex-communist EU members receive large sums from the budget for infrastructure and other projects.
(Additional reporting by Marton Dunai in Budapest, Jan Strupczewski and Peter Maushagen in Brussels; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/4/2019 Poland defies green activists, EU with Baltic canal project by Karol Witenberg
A general view of the harvested forest on Vistula Spit near Skowronki, Poland February 20, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Michal Ryniak via REUTERS
    GDANSK (Reuters) – Poland is pressing ahead with plans to dig a waterway across a narrow strip of land that separates its main eastern coastline from the Baltic Sea despite concerns among activists and in the European Union that it could damage the environment.
    The Vistula Spit is a heavily wooded sandbank 55 km (34 miles) long but less than 2 km wide which encloses a coastal lagoon.    Poland shares both the lagoon and the spit with the neighboring Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
    Currently, the only access to the lagoon from the Baltic Sea is a channel at the Russian end of the spit.    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), deeply distrustful of Russia, says a canal is needed for both security and economic reasons.
    Critics say it is a costly vanity project that could become another environment-related flashpoint between Warsaw and Brussels after increased logging in Poland’s Bialowieza Forest led to a ruling by the EU’s top court that it was illegal.
    Defending the project, which is estimated to cost 900 million zlotys ($237 million), Poland’s minister for maritime affairs, Marek Grobarczyk, said: “The first and basic reason for the construction … is a threat from the east.”
    “This is the border of the EU, NATO, and above all of Poland, and it cannot really be controlled now because ships can only enter the Vistula Lagoon with Russia’s approval,” he said, adding that work would start in the second half of 2019.
    Russia has deployed advanced nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, while Warsaw is lobbying hard to have more NATO troops on its soil, especially since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
OUR HEARTS BLEED
    However an EU official said on Friday Poland should refrain from building the canal before getting the green light from the European Commission.
    As with the Bialowieza Forest, parts of the Vistula Spit are protected under the EU Natura 2000 program.
    Environmentalists say it is difficult to predict the impact of the canal construction on various species living in the area, including cormorants and Baltic seals.
    “There is no species that will benefit from the project,” said Michal Goc, a biologist from Gdansk University.
    Beaches on the Vistula Spit, which has a relatively modest tourist infrastructure, are mostly wild and empty compared to most of Poland’s Baltic coast.    But the handful of households on the Spit live mostly from tourism.
    Jolanta Kwiatkowska from the mayor’s office in Krynica Morska, which will be cut off after the land is split and remain on what will become a Polish-Russian island, says that the town and its residents are worried that the canal will scare off tourists as it is unclear what will happen to the beaches.
    “The first thing is the destruction of nature which is already happening.    Our hearts bleed when we see the forest being chopped,” Kwiatkowska said in a video recording made available by a group of activists, “Vistula Spit Camp,” referring to some preliminary logging conducted ahead of the large-scale work.
    PiS says the canal will turn Elblag, a small port with a high unemployment rate, into one of Poland’s biggest harbors, along with Gdansk and Szczecin, as more vessels will moor there.
    “Elblag citizens support the project. What kind of port is it if it does not have access to the sea?,” said Witold Wroblewski, mayor of Elblag.
(Additional reporting Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/4/2019 Lithuania to ask Belarus to switch nuclear plant to gas
FILE PHOTO: Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis speaks during the commemoration of victims and award ceremony of
the Righteous Among the Nations at the Paneriai Memorial in Vilnius, Lithuania August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuanian prime minister Saulius Skvernelis will ask Belarus to convert its Russian-built nuclear power plant to gas provided by Lithuania’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and a planned gas link between Lithuania and Poland.
    The nearly-completed nuclear plant has long been viewed as a threat to its safety and national security by Lithuania, which says it is not built to the highest safety standards, an allegation which is denied by Belarus.
    Astravets, which is near the border with Lithuania, is being built by Russia’s Atomstroyexport and financed with a $10 billion loan from by Moscow.    It expects to have the first of its two 1.2 gigawatt VVER 1200 reactors online this year and the next one in 2020.
    “It’s up to Belarus to make a choice: to keep on having an energy sector which depends on the policies of a single country, or to make a strategic change,” Skvernelis said on Monday, without naming Russia, the dominant supplier of energy to Belarus.
    “Lithuania could be a good example and a useful partner for Belarus,” he added.
    Skvernelis, who has thrown his hat into the ring for Lithuania’s president election in May, said that about 60 percent of the nuclear power plant’s infrastructure could be reused for the proposed gas power plant.
    The Lithuanian LNG terminal in Klaipeda mainly imports gas for domestic consumption, using between a fifth and a third of its annual capacity of 2.7 million tonnes of LNG, but hopes to double the flows once gas pipelines to Poland and Finland open after 2021.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Alexander Smith)

3/4/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy dashes ahead in Ukrainian presidential race
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, speaks
during an interview with Reuters at a concert hall in Kiev, Ukraine February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy has pulled further ahead as the frontrunner in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Monday.
    A survey conducted by the non-government Rating Group showed the 41-year-old political novice had the support of 25.1 percent of voters.
    Incumbent Petro Poroshenko had 16.6 percent support and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko had 16.2 percent.
    The election takes place on March 31, with 44 candidates having entered the race.    If no candidate wins 50 percent of the vote, as polls predict, the top two candidates will face each other in a run-off on April 21.
    The Rating Group said it had interviewed 2,500 voters in all regions except in the annexed Crimea, from Feb. 19 to Feb 28.
    Earlier polls also put Zelenskiy in first place.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; editing by Matthias Williams)

3/4/2019 Denmark’s left-wing bloc could oust coalition government: poll
FILE PHOTO: Danish Social Democrats leader Mette Frederiksen speaks at the International Workers' Day at the main scene
in Faelledparken in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 1, 2018. Ritzau Scanpix/Liselotte Sabroe/via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark’s left-wing opposition bloc led by Social Democratic leader Mette Frederiksen stands to oust the current right-wing coalition in parliament, a poll showed on Monday, ahead of a general election that must be held by June.
    The Voxmeter survey showed that support has fallen for the populist, anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party (DF) that supports the coalition government led by the Liberal Party’s Lars Lokke Rasmussen.
    Only 14.6 percent supported DF in the Voxmeter survey, its lowest support since November 2016 and down from 18.8 percent in January.
    The left-wing bloc had a combined support rate of 53.5 percent, the survey showed.
(Reporting by Teis Jensen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

3/5/2019 Putin suspends Russia’s obligations under nuclear pact
    MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia’s participation in a nuclear arms treaty the Trump administration already decided to leave, alleging Monday that Washington and not Moscow was in violation of the 1987 pact. In a decree, Putin suspended Russia’s obligations under the terms of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty and said hold would remain in place “until the U.S. ends its violations of the treaty or until it terminates.”    The U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the INF a month ago.

3/5/2019 Russia suspends INF treaty citing U.S. violations, talks set to continue by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks to journalists in front of a goddess of justice statue during a visit to the
Interior Ministry in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russia formally suspends its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or INF Treaty.
    In a statement Monday, the Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a suspension of the 1987 treaty due to America’s violations of the accord.
    The Kremlin also said Russia would have to develop and deploy new weapons, including medium-range nuclear-capable missiles.
    The move comes after the U..S suspended the accord citing suspected violations by Russia.
    Despite the mutual accusations, U.S. and Russian military officials also pledged to continue talks to find a solution.

3/5/2019 Cattle bones and putrid pools test Serbia’s EU hopes by Aleksandar Vasovic
Cattle skull is seen on a pile of foul smelling cattle bones left behind by a bankrupt
glue factory at the outskirts of Belgrade, Serbia, March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Ten kilometers north of central Belgrade cattle bones piled in huge heaps rot in the sun and pools of brown sludge bubble and emit a sickening odor in the dilapidated remains of a glue factory and a tannery, abandoned a decade ago.
    The site, that covers around 3 square kilometers (742 acres), is testimony to the challenge Serbia faces to bring its environment to the standards required if it is to join the European Union by 2025, as tentatively planned.
    A national cleanup is estimated by the government to cost around 15 billion euros ($17 billion).     Serbia says it will not meet EU environmental and climate change demands by the target date and has proposed an 11-year transition period from when it joins the bloc.
    The tannery and glue factory by the Vizelj canal went bankrupt some ten years ago.    The site was looted and dismantled by illegal scrap metal traders.    Chemicals were spilled and the heaps of bones used in glue production were left unburied.
    Uncertainty over the site’s ownership and status has complicated its cleanup.
    Environmental activists visited the area and warned authorities about the bones and spilled chemicals weeks ago, said Zoran Jankovic, an activist of local Eko Patrola Pancevacki Rit environmental watchdog.
    “This dump of bones and chemicals is located 10 kilometers from the center of the city and 200 meters from fertile, arable land which feeds the city of Belgrade and is owned by … (United Arab Emirates-based) Al Dahra,” Jankovic said.
    Last October, Serbia sold agricultural company Poljoprivredna Korporacija Beograd (PKB) to Al Dahra Agricultural Company for 105.05 million euros ($118.98 million).
    Jankovic said inspectors from the environment ministry surveyed the site this week and last and sampled chemicals “to see what they are dealing with … and to prepare a plan for removal.”
    In an emailed statement, the Ministry for Environment said its inspectors investigated the site and found a “small quantity of waste of unknown origin and composition.”
    “As soon as the details of this case are established, the appropriate services will react in line with the law,” it added.
    The Al Dahra representatives in Serbia could not be reached for comment.
    Last week, Serbia’s minister for environment Goran Trivan estimated investments of 2 billion euros would be needed for municipal and toxic waste processing, and another 5 billion euros for waste water processing, part of the total 15 billion euros expenditure.
(Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/5/2019 European conservative gives ultimatum to Hungarian leader by Marton Dunai and Jörn Poltz
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the nation
speech in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST/ROTTERSDORF, Germany (Reuters) – The leader of the main center-right party in the European parliament said on Tuesday that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban must apologize for his criticism of the EU or his ruling Fidesz party could be suspended from the grouping.
    Orban, an outspoken nationalist, wants to remain in the EPP, Fidesz said on Tuesday, despite growing pressure within the European Parliament’s biggest grouping to suspend or expel it.
    The Hungarian leader has long been at loggerheads with Brussels over his hardline stance on immigration and accusations – which he denies – that he is undermining the rule of law.    The feud is escalating ahead of European Parliament elections in May.
    “Viktor Orban must immediately and permanently end his government’s anti-Brussels campaigns,” Manfred Weber, a German conservative and the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) candidate to be EU Commission President, told Bild newspaper.
    Speaking to journalists in the German town of Rottersdorf Weber said that in recent weeks “Viktor Orban and the Fidesz have crossed again red lines” and added that all options were on the table, “especially the option of expulsion and going away, going our future way without Fidesz.”
    Orban’s party said in an emailed statement, “Fidesz does not want to leave the (European) People’s Party, our goal is for anti-immigration forces to gain strength within the EPP.”
    The EPP will vote on March 20 on whether suspend or exclude Fidesz.    To pass, it requires a simple majority of those of the EPP’s 260 delegates who will be present.
    Jean-Claude Juncker, the outgoing head of the European Commission, said on Tuesday he thought Fidesz no longer had a place in the EPP.
    Orban has launched a media and billboard campaign that frames the May elections as a choice between forces backing and opposing mass immigration and that vilifies Juncker.
    However, on Tuesday the Hungarian leader said he welcomed an initiative by French President Emmanuel Macron for reforming the EU.
    “In the details, of course, we have differences of views, but far more important than these differing opinions is that this initiative be a good start to a serious and constructive dialogue on the future of Europe,” he said in a statement to Reuters.
    Weber told Bild newspaper he expected an apology to EPP member parties, an immediate and permanent end to Orban’s anti-EU campaigns, and renewed government support for the Central European University (CEU) to stay in Budapest.
    CEU was forced out of Hungary and plans to relocate to Vienna from September as Orban wages a bitter campaign against its founder, U.S. billionaire George Soros, accusing him of supporting immigration to undermine Europe’s way of life.    Hungarian-born Soros, 87, denies that.
    The EPP has 217 lawmakers in the 750-strong EU legislature, 12 of them from Fidesz.    It is expected to remain the biggest parliamentary group in the May elections, although likely weakened, opinion polls show.
    Far-right, populist parties are expected to perform well.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai and Gergely Szakacs in Budapest and Joern Poltz in Rottersdorf, Germany, Editing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)
[GET'EM ORBAN.].

3/5/2019 EU’s Juncker hits out at Hungary PM over party group membership
FILE PHOTO: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attends a summit between Arab league and
European Union member states, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker accused Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of coming “within a hair’s breadth” of peddling falsehoods, and said those who spread lies for domestic gain do not belong in the European People’s Party (EPP).
    Juncker’s comments came after the leader of the main center-right party in the European parliament said on Tuesday that Orban must apologize for his criticism of the EU or his ruling Fidesz party could be suspended from the grouping.
    Asked about Orban, Juncker told German broadcaster ZDF: “whoever lies in European affairs for domestic political reasons, has to ask himself whether he still wants to belong to the EPP club.    I think, they are not one of them anymore.”
(Reporting by Peter Maushagen; Writing by Paul Carrel; editing by John Stonestreet)
[ORBAN THEN DO NOT JOIN THEIR STUCK UP CLUB IF THEY CANNOT TAKE CRITICISM OF THEIR IMMIGRATION POLICIES AND IF THEY WANT THEM THEN MAKE THEM TAKE THEM ALL.].

3/5/2019 Hungary’s Orban welcomes Macron’s EU reform initiative
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives as French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media
before the informal meeting of European Union leaders in Salzburg, Austria, September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a strong critic of the European Union, welcomed on Tuesday French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative for talks on reforming the bloc, saying it was “high time we speak seriously about Europe’s future.”
    In an emailed statement to Reuters, Orban said of the initiative:
    “This could mark the beginning of a serious European debate… In the details, of course, we have differences of views, but far more important than these differing opinions is that this initiative be a good start to a serious and constructive dialogue on the future of Europe.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai and Sandor Peto; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/5/2019 Albanian opposition urges snap election as protesters rally outside parliament by Benet Koleka
A supporter of the opposition party shouts slogans during an anti-government protest in front
of the Parliament in Tirana, Albania, March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albania’s main opposition leader on Tuesday urged Prime Minister Edi Rama to call a snap election over allegations of corruption and vote fraud, as anti-government protesters rallied outside parliament.
    They burned portraits of Rama and threw firecrackers at the building, but the demonstration – the fourth against his administration since mid-February and timed to coincide with parliamentary sessions – was calmer than in previous weeks.
    The opposition Democratic Party and its allies gave up their parliamentary seats 12 days ago, saying investigations by prosecutors into allegations of vote fraud vindicated claims that Rama’s Socialists fixed the 2017 national election.
    Rama, who has rejected the allegations, told lawmakers on Tuesday that democracy was not up for “negotiation” and urged the opposition to test its strength at the ballot box in local elections in June.
    Democratic Party head Lulzim Basha called parliament a hotbed of “crime and corruption.”    He told Tuesday’s crowd, which Reuters estimated as numbering more than 5,000, that only “free and fair elections” would pave the way for Albania’s entry to the European Union.
    The Balkan NATO-member country aims to start accession talks with the EU this year, but the febrile political climate could delay that process.
    The European Union and its member states last month called on all sides to “do their utmost to avoid violence and further unrest.”
    The next protest is scheduled for 11 days’ time.

3/6/2019 Hungary’s MEP defiant about European ultimatum: TV
FILE PHOTO: Manfred Weber, member of the European People's Party, in
Berlin, Germany, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt -/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A senior member of the European Parliament from Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party said late on Tuesday his group would not accept conditions other MEPs set to remain part of their moderate conservative alliance, worsening a conflict just before European elections.
    Manfred Weber, the leader of the main center-right party in the European Parliament, said on Tuesday that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban must apologize for his criticism of the EU or his ruling Fidesz party could be suspended from the group.
    But Tamas Deutsch, a Fidesz founder and long-serving MEP in the European People’s Party (EPP), told the private television channel ATV late on Tuesday that he doubted Orban would comply.
    “I would be very surprised,” he said.    “This is not a kiddy party, where you pulled on my pony tail and it hurts.    Manfred Weber is a lot more serious than that.”
    Orban, an outspoken nationalist, wants to remain in the EPP, the European Parliament’s largest group, Fidesz said on Tuesday.    But pressure is growing within the EPP to suspend or expel it, a move backed by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
    The Hungarian leader has long been at odds with Brussels over his hard-line stance on immigration and accusations – which he denies – that he is undermining the rule of law.     Orban has launched a media and billboard campaign that frames the May European Parliament elections as a choice between forces backing mass immigration and those opposing it. It also attacks Juncker.     Weber, the EPP’s nominee for European Commission President should the party win the elections, set three conditions for Fidesz to be allowed to stay in the EPP.     Orban must apologize to other EPP member parties, cease all campaigns against Brussels, and ensure continued operations in Budapest for the Central European University, founded by Orban nemesis George Soros and forced to leave Hungary last year.
    Deutsch rejected all of those conditions but said Fidesz would remain open to a dialogue with the EPP.    Asked whether Fidesz saw a path for politics outside the EPP, Deutsch said:
    “We are not even looking for it … One crosses the bridge when one gets there. We have our political family. It is the EPP.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King)

3/6/2019 Romanian top court rejects challenge to 2019 budget plan
FILE PHOTO: Romania's President Klaus Werner Iohannis talks during a summit of eastern
NATO countries in Kosice, Slovakia, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge to the ruling Social Democrats’ budget plan for 2019 leveled by centrist President Klaus Iohannis, who called it unrealistic and over-valued, television station Digi24 said.
    The ruling Social Democrats approved a budget plan in mid-February that raises spending on public-sector wages and pensions while targeting an incrementally smaller budget deficit of 2.8 percent of gross domestic product against last year’s 2.9 percent.
    But critics have said the budget is based on an unrealistic assumption for economic growth of 5.5 percent, compared with a 3.8 percent forecast by the European Commission.
    The budget also relies on a number of new banking, energy and telecoms taxes introduced via emergency decree in late December without an impact assessment or public debate.
    The decree, which has triggered wide criticism from employers, unions, the president, the central bank, Brussels and ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, will likely be amended this month, potentially changing tax revenue estimates.
    Iohannis can still send the bill, which by law should have been approved in November, back to parliament for re-examination.
. (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by William Maclean)

3/6/2019 Public fury at corruption thrusts ‘Slovakia’s Erin Brokovich’ into poll lead by Tatiana Jancarikova
FILE PHOTO: An election billboard poster of Zuzana Caputova, Slovakian presidential candidate,
is seen in Bratislava, Slovakia March 4, 2019. The poster reads, "Zuzanna Caputova, my president. President for
fair Slovakia. Stand up against evil, together we can do it". REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – A year after the murder of an investigative journalist blew apart Slovakia’s politics, a lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner has suddenly surged into the lead to become president on a wave of popular fury at graft.
    Zuzana Caputova, 45, was given the nickname “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich by fellow lawyers for leading a grueling fight against an illegal landfill in her hometown, with echoes of the plot of a film that won Julia Roberts an Oscar.
    A political novice, she leapt suddenly last week into a firm first place in the presidential polls, after another opposition candidate withdrew and backed her.    She now has more than 50 percent support with just 10 days left before the vote.
    Her message has resonated with voters who have turned against the ruling Smer party, which has dominated the country politically as the biggest group in parliament since 2006.
    The election will be the first since Smer leader Robert Fico, prime minister for 10 of the previous 12 years, was forced to step down as premier after mass demonstrations that followed the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak.
    Kuciak, who was looking into fraud cases involving politically-connected businessmen, was shot at home with his fiancee.    Four people have been charged but the authorities have not explained the motive behind the killings.    The protests that followed were the biggest against the government in Slovakia’s three-decade post-communist history.
    Although the president does not wield day-to-day political power, the job could prove pivotal in rooting out corruption, since the president has veto power over the appointments of senior prosecutors and judges.
    “With the general prosecutor’s term expiring next year and the special prosecutor’s term expiring in 2021, I see strong potential in the president’s power to name their successors,” Caputova told Reuters in an interview.
    Her victory would almost certainly dash Fico’s hope of retiring from politics into a seat on the constitutional court.
    “Slovakia shows signs of state capture: power is not carried out by those elected but by those pulling the strings from behind,” Caputova said.    "We have a problem with corruption, like other European countries, and with making those responsible accountable.    But I see hope in people who take action, who protest and call for change.”
    While Slovakia has been among the fastest growing economies in the European Union, it ranks 57th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, behind neighbors Poland and the Czech Republic but ahead of Hungary.
FIGHT AGAINST DUMP
    Caputova made her name with a 14-year fight against an illegal waste dump in Pezinok, near an older landfill that leaked toxic chemicals and led to incidence of one particular cancer being eight times higher than the national average.
    In 2017, she was part of a campaign that led Slovakia’s parliament to cancel amnesties granted by former prime minister Vladimir Meciar to his secret service chief and others over the 1995 kidnapping of then-president Michal Kovac’s son.
    The pardons were seen by many Slovaks as an attempt to ensure that state-sponsored crime would go unpunished.    Meciar has denied responsibility for the kidnapping.
    Caputova, a divorced mother of two, has spoken out against calls to ban abortion and supported adoptions for gay couples, alienating some voters in the socially conservative country.
    But a survey by AKO agency on March 1, the last before a two-week pre-election moratorium on polls, put Caputova’s support at 52.9 percent, well ahead of Maros Sefcovic, a career diplomat and European Commission vice president backed by Smer.
    If no candidate gets the votes of more than 50 percent of all eligible voters, the two top candidates face each other in a run-off two weeks later.
    Outgoing President Andrej Kiska defeated Fico in a run-off in the last presidential vote in 2014 but is not running again and backs Caputova.
    “Voters are tired of the long rule by the Smer party,” political analyst Marian Lesko told Reuters.    “The question of the day is do you want more of the same or change?
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Jason Hovet and Peter Graff)

3/7/2019 For Kremlin, Ukrainian election a choice between lesser of three evils by Andrew Osborn and Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko reacts during a session of parliament, after lawmakers
supported his amendments to the constitution regarding the country's intentions to join the European Union
and NATO, in Kiev, Ukraine February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Before Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatists in east Ukraine, Moscow had a Ukrainian president who did much of what it wanted.    Now, as Ukraine readies to elect a new leader, none of the main candidates look that enticing to Russia.
    Viktor Yanukovich, the last Moscow-friendly Ukrainian president, was toppled by protests in 2014 and fled to Russia, and Petro Poroshenko, his successor, has put fierce opposition to Moscow at the heart of his re-election campaign.

3/7/2019 Hungary’s ruling Fidesz affirms intent to remain in EPP
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party wants to remain within the European People’s Party, a senior official said on Thursday after the main pro-government daily urged the ruling party to quit the conservative group.
    “Fidesz is a member of the European People’s Party and it wants to remain a member of the European People’s Party,” Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a news conference in response to a question about the newspaper editorial.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Sandor Peto; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/8/2019 Russian legislation seeks to punish spreaders of ‘fake news’ on the web by Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
    Russian lawmakers passed a series of bills Thursday to punish online media and journalists for spreading “fake news” and for disrespecting authorities, including President Vladimir Putin.
    The State Duma adopted the bills in a final reading and sent them to the upper house Federation Council for consideration, Moscow News reports.    If passed, they will go to Putin for his signature.
    The ban targets the spread of “unreliable socially important information” that could “endanger lives and public health, raise the threat of massive violation of public security and order or impede functioning of transport and social infrastructure, energy and communication facilities and banks.”
    An increasingly outspoken group of Russian free-speech and internet activists planned to protest the bill Sunday in Moscow — the latest expression of public concern over constraints on the internet.    At least 8,000 people turned out in Moscow last April when authorities tried to block access to the popular messaging app Telegram.     The ban on “fake news” was adopted 322-78; lawmakers from A Just Russia, the Communist Party and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party opposed it.    The bill penalizing those who insult authorities passed 327-40 with one lawmaker abstaining, according to RFE/RL.
    The proposed law exempts traditional organizations including newspapers, television networks and radio stations.    Under the law, online outlets would face fines from $450 to $15,000 for disseminating “false information that is socially under the guise of accurate reports,” according to Moscow News.
    Showing “obvious disrespect” for authorities, including Putin, as well as state symbols, carries fines up to $5,000 and 15 days in jail for repeat offenders.
    If “fake news” or posts disrespectful of authorities are not immediately and voluntarily deleted, the online news outlets can be legally blocked by the telecommunications watchdog, Roskomnadzor.
    Internet service providers also will be forced to block access to content that “offends human dignity and public morality,” CNN reported.
    Three weeks ago, the Duma, or lower house, passed the “Sovereign Internet” bill that calls for Russian internet traffic and data to be rerouted through state-controlled points.    It also would set up a domestic Domain Name System to allow the internet to function in Russia even if it is cut off from foreign infrastructure, RFE/RL reports.
Thousands turned out in Moscow last year to demand internet freedom in Russia. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/GETTY IMAGES
[God help us if the Democrats win the 2020 US elections as they will probably do the same as seen above and created their own Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media or Roskomnadzor is the Russian federal executive body responsible for censorship in media and telecommunications.].

3/8/2019 Finland’s cabinet quits over failure to deliver healthcare reform by Anne Kauranen
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila arrives to announce his government's resignation at his official
residence, Kesaranta, in Helsinki, Finland March 8, 2019. Lehtikuva/Seppo Samuli via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s coalition government resigned on Friday a month ahead of a general election, saying it could not deliver on a healthcare reform package that is widely seen as crucial to securing long-term government finances.
    Healthcare systems across much of the developed world have come under increasing stress in recent years as treatment costs soar and people live longer, meaning fewer workers are supporting more pensioners.
    Nordic countries, where comprehensive welfare is the cornerstone of the social model, have been among the most affected.    But reform has been controversial and, in Finland, plans to cut costs and boost efficiency have stalled for years.
    “The picture I’ve got over the last few days from parliament forces me to draw conclusions.    There is no way ahead.    I am hugely disappointed,” Centre Party Prime Minister Juha Sipila told reporters at a news conference.
    “We need reforms, there is no other way for Finland to succeed.”
    Parliament’s constitutional committee said the reform package was unconstitutional and required significant changes the government did not have time to implement before the scheduled elections.
    President Sauli Niinisto accepted Sipila’s resignation but asked his government of his Centre party and the National Coalition Party to continue in a caretaker capacity until a new cabinet has been appointed.
    “My government works on a ‘result or out’ principle… one has to carry responsibility in politics,” Sipila said, adding it was his personal decision to resign.
    The government had aimed to dramatically slow the increase in healthcare spending over the next decade, reducing the budget to 18.3 billion euros in 2029 against an estimate of 21.3 billion.
NORDIC PROBLEM
    The reforms expected to generate savings by creating 18 new regions to organize healthcare services instead of the 200 entities that are currently responsible.    Critics said the scale of the projected savings was unrealistic.
    Other Nordic countries have also grappled with the need to cut costs.    Sweden is to gradually raise its retirement age and has opened up parts of the healthcare system to the private sector in a bid to boost efficiency.
    Denmark will gradually increase the retirement age to 73 – the highest in the world – while cutting taxes and unemployment benefits to encourage people to work more
.
    The problem has been particularly acute in Finland where the financial crisis of 2008-9 magnified the effects of demographic changes such as a rapidly declining birth rate.
    Several Finnish governments have tried to push through healthcare reform in different forms over the past 12 years — all have failed.
    Sipila had previously said he would dissolve his centre-right coalition government if it failed to push through its healthcare and local government reform.
    With election so close, analysts said the effect of Sipila’s resignation would be minor.
    “Since elections were already set for 14 April, the resignation of the government is not a big deal at all at this point.    Still, it does create some ugly headlines,” Nordea’s chief analyst Jan von Gerich wrote on Twitter.
    The latest poll by national broadcaster YLE puts the Social Democrats on 21.3 percent ahead of the National Coalition Party on 16.2 percent and the Centre on 14.1 percent.
    In the 2015 general election Sipila’s Centre party topped the poll with 21.2 percent of the vote.
    At 9.5 percent of GDP, Finland ranked ninth among EU countries in terms of how much it spent on healthcare in 2016, relative to the size of its economy, according to Eurostat figures.    Spending has declined over recent years as a result of sluggish growth.
    France topped the rankings at 11.5 percent of GDP with Germany second and Sweden third. Denmark was fifth.    Non-EU member Norway would rank fourth.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen, Tarmo Virki in Tallinn, Terje Solsvik in Oslo; writing by Stine Jacobsen and Simon Johnson; editing by Larry King and Jon Boyle)

3/8/2019 Hungary’s Orban says his party could quit EU’s conservative bloc by Gergely Szakacs and Alan Charlish
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST/WARSAW (Reuters) – Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday his nationalist Fidesz party may leave Europe’s main conservative group due to a row about anti-EU election campaigning.
    On Tuesday, the head of the group, the European People’s Party (EPP), German politician Manfred Weber, demanded Fidesz take down billboards attacking European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, part of its campaigning for European Parliament elections in May in which populist and eurosceptic parties are well positioned to make gains.
    Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, later said Fidesz wanted to stay in the EPP, the most powerful conservative group in the European Parliament, and the posters would be replaced by others touting Orban’s plans to increase Hungary’s birth rate.
    Orban told public radio on Friday he wanted to move the EPP toward a more anti-immigration platform, and raised the prospect of Fidesz quitting the group, which will meet on March 20 to discuss the matter.
    “The debate may end up with (Fidesz) finding its place not within but outside the People’s Party,” Orban said.
    Weber, a member of the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told Bild newspaper he expected Fidesz to apologize to EPP members and called for Orban to end his anti-EU campaigns.
    Orban did not apologize.    He said he had talked with both Juncker and Weber on Thursday and on Sunday he planned to visit Poland, a regional ally governed by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is not in the EPP.
    “If we need to start something new … then obviously the first place to hold talks will be in Poland,” Orban said.
    Asked about his remarks, Weber said it was up to Orban to decide which political family he wants to be in.
    “Viktor Orban in the last years and months and days always was clearly committed that he wants to stay inside the European People’s Party,” Weber said.
    “We are a political family of values, we are a political family that has common ideas, and everybody who is based on these common ideas can stay … others can leave or must be kicked out if this is not accepted anymore.”
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Sandor Peto; Additional reporting by Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

3/8/2019 EPP’s Weber: it’s up to Orban what political family he wants to be in
Manfred Weber, member of the Christian Social Union (CSU) and top candidate of the European People's Party (EPP) for the European
elections, speaks at the party's traditional Ash Wednesday meeting in Passau, Germany, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Michael Dalder
    WARSAW (Reuters) – European People’s Party (EPP) group leader Manfred Weber said on Friday that it is up to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to decide on the political grouping he wants to be in.
    Earlier in Friday Orban said that his ruling nationalist Fidesz party may drop out of the center-right EPP amid a row over his government’s anti-Brussels media campaign.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish; Writing by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/8/2019 Estonian Reform Party to hold coalition talks with Fatherland, Social Democrats by Tarmo Virki
FILE PHOTO: Reform Party Chairwoman, Kaja Kallas, speaks during a news conference in
Tallinn, Estonia March 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonia’s Reform party, the biggest in parliament after the March 3 election, will hold talks with the conservative Fatherland Party and the Social Democrats on a new cabinet, its leader said on Friday.
.     Together, the three parties – which formed a coalition in 2015-2017 – would have 56 seats in the 101-seat-parliament.
    The Reform party’s move follows the Centre party’s rejection of an overture from Reform leader Kaja Kallas because of disagreements over tax reform plans.
    “Our board decided to propose to start coalition talks with Fatherland and Social Democrats,” Kallas told reporters.    “Just like I proposed to (Centre leader) Juri Ratas, this would be on an equal basis, between equal partners.”
    The Fatherland and Social Democrat parties won 12 and 10 seats in the election respectively.
    Reform has championed a business-friendly outlook and a return to a flat tax that was long the hallmark of the Estonian economy.    The Centre Party has been seeking to make the Baltic country’s tax system more progressive along the lines of more affluent neighbors such as Finland.
    Since 2017, the Centre party has governed in a coalition with the Social Democrats and Fatherland.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/8/2019 Slovenia health minister quits in new blow to minority government by Marja Novak
FILE PHOTO: Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Sarec speaks during an interview with Reuters
in Ljubljana, Slovenia, February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/File Photo
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – Slovenia’s health minister resigned on Friday, becoming the fourth minister to leave the center-left minority government and raising concerns about its ability to survive until the next scheduled election in 2022.
    Samo Fakin quit for what he said were health reasons, nine days after Environment Minister Jure Leben quit amid media reports about alleged corruption linked to a railway project in 2017 when Leben was a senior infrastructure ministry official.
    Leben has denied wrongdoing, saying he resigned to ease the pressure on the government.
    In January, Culture Minister Dejan Presicek left over infighting within his ministry, and Development Minister Marko Bandelli stepped down in November over an alleged irregularity associated with to EU funding allocations.
    “The resignation of the health minister is the biggest blow to the government so far as the health sector is crucial, affecting every citizen,” TV Slovenia analyst Tanja Staric said.
    Improving the efficiency of the health sector is one of the government’s priorities as Slovenes in some cases wait several years for non-urgent surgery.
    “These resignations show that relations inside the coalition are very complicated,” Staric told Reuters, “and that it will be almost impossible for the government to stay in power throughout its four-year mandate.”
    A Mediana agency poll last week found 56 percent of citizens backing the government, down from 63 percent a month before.
    But analysts said the government is likely to remain in power for at least another year thanks to solid economic conditions.
    Export-oriented Slovenia narrowly avoided an international bailout for its banks in 2013.    It returned to growth a year later and the economy is expected to expand by up to 3.7 percent this year versus 4.5 percent in 2018.
    Prime Minister Marjan Sarec’s coalition is composed of five parties and holds 43 of the 90 seats in parliament, relying on the opposition Left party with 9 seats to pass major bills.
(Reporting by Marja Novak; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/8/2019 U.S. urges Serbia, Kosovo to halt mutual provocations, resume talks
FILE PHOTO: Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic attends a conference in Minsk, Belarus, October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia and Kosovo should stop provoking each other and resume talks on normalizing relations two decades after the end of their war, a senior U.S. envoy said on Friday.
    Western officials see lingering Serbian-Kosovar tensions as a risk to stability in southeastern Europe.    Both countries seek European Union membership but have been told they must normalize ties to advance toward integration with the West.
    NATO carried out air strikes in 1999 to halt killings and expulsions of Kosovo Albanian civilians by Serbian security forces in a counter-insurgency campaign.
    Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and won recognition from the United States and most EU countries, but not Serbia or its big power patron Russia, and some 4,000 NATO peacekeepers remain in the tiny Balkan country.
    Sporadic normalization talks have made little headway and Kosovo’s nationalist-minded government recently imposed 100 percent tariffs on goods imported from Serbia, as well as pass legislation to set up a national army.
    “The United States calls for the abolition of tariffs, an end to mutual provocations and resumption of dialogue,” David Hale, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said in a Serbian-language tweet issued by the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade.
    His appeal came after a meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, and two days after Kosovo’s parliament adopted a 12-point negotiating platform that stipulates mutual recognition between Serbia and Kosovo, while preserving current borders between the two.
    Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said on Friday the Kosovo negotiating platform was “against common sense … It represents a death blow to the talks…Serbia’s reaction will be appropriate, moderate and in the interest of our people.”
    Both Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci have previously floated ideas about either “correction of borders” or “delimitation” – terms interpreted by analysts as land swaps.
    Vucic has repeatedly said Serbia will not resume talks with Kosovo until it abolishes import tariffs.
    Pristina wants Serbia to fully recognize its statehood and stop preventing it from joining the United Nations and other international organizations including Interpol, the global police agency.
    Hale is also scheduled to meet Kosovo Albanian leaders in Pristina on Saturday.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Additional reporting By Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by)

3/9/2019 Leader of EU conservative bloc seeks talks with Hungary’s Orban over party row
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The leader of the main center-right party in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber, said he aims to talk to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban soon to warn him he is on course to be excluded from the grouping.
    Orban said on Friday his nationalist Fidesz party may leave the conservative group, the European People’s Party (EPP), over a row about anti-EU election campaigning.
    Weber has demanded Fidesz take down billboards attacking European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, part of its campaign for May’s European Parliament elections in which populists and eurosceptics are well positioned to make gains.
        “In the coming days, I will again try to talk personally to Viktor Orban in Budapest, because I want to try to make clear to him that at the moment he is on the way out of the EPP,” Weber told German weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag.
    On Monday, the EPP said it had received motions from 12 member parties in nine EU countries and would discuss suspending or excluding Fidesz on March 20.
    Orban has long been at loggerheads with Brussels over his hardline stance on immigration and accusations – which he denies – that he is undermining the rule of law. The feud is escalating ahead of the European elections.
    Fidesz has made its anti-immigration stance the main plank of its campaign for the European elections in May, putting up billboards accusing Juncker and U.S. billionaire George Soros of plotting to destroy European civilization through immigration.
    Weber told Welt am Sonntag the dispute was not “about an East-West conflict (in the EU), or about migration policy, as is claimed, but rather about which values the EPP and the EU represent.”
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Ros Russell)

3/9/2019 Hungarian scientists fear for academic freedom with new government interference
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the nation
speech in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Staff members of the historic giving the nationalist government influence over its research institutions.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban,, a conservative leader who came to power in 2010, has tightened control over Hungarian public life, including the courts, the media, the economy, as well as education and now scientific research.
    Hungary’s oldest and largest academic institution, the academy (MTA) is solely funded by the government but self-managing with a network of scientific research bodies employing about 5,000 people.
    On Friday, MTA President Laszlo Lovasz and Innovations and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics announced that they had reached an agreement to separate the science research network from the academy’s teaching institutions.    The deal ends several months of uncertainty over how the MTA would be reorganized.
    The research arm would be run by a new management body, with members selected by the government and MTA, according to a joint letter of intent signed by Lovasz and the minister.
    The deal fails to guarantee the independence of research, the Forum of Academy Workers, a movement founded in January by staff of the MTA’s research institutions, said on its Facebook page.
    “The points in the letter of intent do not include any guarantee that can be taken seriously… about maintaining the scientific and organizational integrity and professional independence of the research network,” the Forum said in a post.
    Concerns over the erosion of academic freedom and other democratic rights in Hungary have triggered several anti-government demonstrations in recent months.
    In December, the Central European University (CEU), founded by billionaire George Soros, said it had been forced out of Hungary in “an arbitrary eviction” that violated academic freedom, and it confirmed plans to open a new campus in Austria.
    Renewed government support for the CEU to stay in Budapest has been one of the conditions set for Orban’s ruling Fidesz party to stay in the main center-right party in the European Parliament in a growing row.
(Reporting by Sandor Peto; Editing by Ros Russell)

3/10/2019 Thousands of Russians protest against internet restrictions
People shout slogans during a rally to protest against tightening state control over
internet in Moscow, Russia March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow and two other cities on Sunday to rally against tighter internet restrictions, in some of the biggest protests in the Russian capital in years.
    Lawmakers last month backed tighter internet controls contained in legislation they say is necessary to prevent foreign meddling in Russia’s affairs.    But some Russian media likened it to an online “iron curtain” and critics say it can be used to stifle dissent.
    People gathered in a cordoned off Prospekt Sakharova street in Moscow, made speeches on a stage and chanted slogans such as “hands off the internet” and “no to isolation, stop breaking the Russian internet.”
    The rally gathered around 15,300 people, according to White Counter, an NGO that counts participants at rallies.    Moscow police put the numbers at 6,500.
    “If we do nothing it will get worse.    The authorities will keep following their own way and the point of no return will be passed,” said 28-year-old protester Dmitry, who declined to give his full name.
    Opposition activists said on Twitter that police had detained 15 people at the Moscow rally, confiscating their banners and balloons.    Police have not announced any detentions.
    The protests in Moscow, the southern city of Voronezh and Khabarovsk in the far east had all been officially authorized.    A handful of activists in St. Petersburg took to the streets without the authorities’ consent.
    Russia has in recent years attempted to curb internet freedoms by blocking access to certain websites and messaging services such as Telegram.
    February’s bill passed in the Russian parliament on the first reading out of three.
    It seeks to route Russian web traffic and data through points controlled by the state and proposes building a national Domain Name System to allow the internet to continue functioning even if the country is cut off from foreign infrastructure.
    The second reading is planned in March after which, if passed, the bill will need to be signed by the upper house of the parliament and then by President Vladimir Putin.
    The legislation is part of a drive by officials to increase Russian “sovereignty” over its Internet segment.
    Russia has introduced tougher internet laws in recent years, requiring search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country.
(Reporting by Maria Vasilyeva and Shamil Zhumatov; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Matthias Williams and Raissa Kasolowsky)
[I think the youth of Russia have experienced the freedom of the internet and may fight back and what would we do without Russian hackers interfering in the United States amd making collusion.].

3/11/2019 U.S. sanctions Russian bank over dealings with Venezuela state oil firm by Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton
announce economic sanctions against Venezuela and the Venezuelan state owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA)
during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sanctioned the Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank on Monday, accusing it of helping Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA evade U.S. financial restrictions and provide a “lifeline” for socialist President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
    The Trump administration has taken several steps in recent weeks to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and bolster Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as interim president.
    However, Maduro, who has accused Guaido of a U.S.-directed coup attempt, retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.
    “This action demonstrates that the United States will take action against foreign financial institutions that sustain the illegitimate Maduro regime and contribute to the economic collapse and humanitarian crisis plaguing the people of Venezuela,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
    Under Monday’s announcement, all U.S. assets of Evrofinance, described as jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state-owned companies, will be frozen and U.S. citizens will be prohibited from doing business with it, the Treasury Department said.    The United States imposed sanctions on PDVSA in January.
    Washington has called on foreign banks to ensure that Maduro and Venezuelan government officials are not hiding financial assets abroad.
    “Bankers: Do not help Maduro and his accomplices steal the assets of the Venezuelan people,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton wrote in a message on Twitter on Monday.    “The United States is watching.    The world is watching.    The Venezuelan people are watching.”
    Evrofinance was set up in 2011 with Venezuela’s National Development Fund, commonly known as FONDEN, taking a 49 percent stake in the bank, the Treasury Department said.
    Russia’s Gazprombank and the Russian state bank VTB Bank each took a 25 percent interest in Evrofinance, which was founded as a bi-national bank to fund joint Russia-Venezuela oil and infrastructure projects, the department said.
    Evrofinance was the primary international financial bank that helped finance a Venezuelan crypto-currency, the petro, which launched last year in an attempt to “circumvent” U.S. sanctions, the Treasury Department said.
    Evrofinance said in a statement to its clients on its website that it was operating in a “stable manner” and will “fulfill all of its obligations toward clients and partners.”
    Gazprombank, which is Russia’s third biggest lender by assets and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom, said in a statement that the U.S. Treasury decision would not affect it.
    “Gazprombank has a minority stake in Evrofinance Mosnarbank,” Gazprombank said.    “Gazprombank does not carry out operations on the accounts of companies that are sanctioned by the U.S. over Venezuela.”
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and David Alexander, additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Tatiana Voronova and Elena Fabrichnaya in Moscow; editing by Grant McCool and Tom Brown)

3/11/2019 Pompeo blames Russia, Cuba for Venezuelan crisis by Matt Spetalnick and Lesley Wroughton
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday blamed Russia and Cuba for causing Venezuela’s political crisis by supporting President Nicolas Maduro and said he had urged India not to help Maduro’s government by buying Venezuelan oil.
    His comments came after the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Russian bank Evrofinance Mosnarbank for helping Venezuelan state oil firm PDVSA evade U.S. financial restrictions.
    “This story is not complete without acknowledging the central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare,” Pompeo told reporters.
    “Moscow, like Havana, continues to provide political cover to the Maduro regime, while pressuring countries to disregard the democratic legitimacy of the interim president Guaido,” he added.
    The Trump administration has taken several steps in recent weeks to ratchet up pressure on Maduro and bolster Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, recognized by the United States and more than 50 other countries as interim president.
    However, Maduro, who has accused Guaido of a U.S.-directed coup attempt, retains the backing of Russia and China as well as control of state institutions including the military.
    Earlier on Monday, Pompeo met with India’s Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale at the State Department and among topics was India’s purchases of oil from Maduro’s government.
    “We are asking the same thing of India as we are of every country: do not be the economic lifeline for the Maduro regime,” Pompeo said, declining to give specifics of the talks.
    “I am very confident in the same way that India has been incredibly supportive of our efforts on Iran, I am confident that they too understand the real threat to the Venezuelan people,” he added.
    The Indian market is crucial for Venezuela’s economy. It has historically been the second-largest cash-paying customer for the OPEC country’s crude after the United States, which through sanctions against Maduro has handed control of much of the revenue to Guaido.
    Earlier, the U.S. Treasury said all U.S. assets of Evrofinance, described as jointly owned by Russian and Venezuelan state-owned companies, would be frozen and U.S. citizens prohibited from doing business with it.
    Pompeo said Russian oil giant Rosneft was also defying U.S. sanctions by buying oil from PDVSA, which was sanctioned in January.
    “Russia’s state-owned company, Rosneft, continues to purchase crude oil cargoes from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, in defiance of U.S. sanctions.    And, Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, continues to throw a lifeline to the regime,” he said.
    Washington has called on foreign banks to ensure that Maduro and Venezuelan government officials are not hiding financial assets abroad.
    “Bankers: Do not help Maduro and his accomplices steal the assets of the Venezuelan people,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton wrote in a message on Twitter on Monday.    “The United States is watching.    The world is watching.    The Venezuelan people are watching.”
    Evrofinance was set up in 2011 with Venezuela’s National Development Fund, commonly known as FONDEN, taking a 49 percent stake in the bank, the Treasury Department said.
    Russia’s Gazprombank and the Russian state bank VTB Bank each took a 25 percent interest in Evrofinance, which was founded as a bi-national bank to fund joint Russia-Venezuela oil and infrastructure projects, the department said.
    Evrofinance was the primary international financial bank that helped finance a Venezuelan crypto-currency, the petro, which launched last year in an attempt to “circumvent” U.S. sanctions, the Treasury Department said.
    Evrofinance said in a statement on its website that it was operating in a “stable manner” and will “fulfill all of its obligations toward clients and partners.”
    Gazprombank, which is Russia’s third biggest lender by assets and includes among its shareholders Russian state gas company Gazprom, said in a statement that the U.S. Treasury decision would not affect it.
    “Gazprombank has a minority stake in Evrofinance Mosnarbank,” Gazprombank said.    “Gazprombank does not carry out operations on the accounts of companies that are sanctioned by the U.S. over Venezuela.”
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham and David Alexander in Washington; Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber, Tatiana Voronova and Elena Fabrichnaya in Moscow; editing by Grant McCool and Tom Brown)

3/11/2019 Estonian PM invites far-right to join cabinet by Tarmo Virki
Estonia's Prime Minister Juri Ratas attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states,
in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonia Prime Minister Juri Ratas invited EKRE to coalition talks on Monday, reversing a promise to block the anti-immigrant party from the cabinet as he seeks to replace the coalition’s smallest partner, the Social Democrats.
    The decision marks the first time the ultra-nationalist EKRE has access to power, but forming the coalition is far from certain as Ratas’s Centre party lost the March 3 election and the three possible coalition partners have differing views on several subjects including Russian minority.
    The Centre party has since 2017 governed in a coalition with the Social Democrats and Fatherland, but the status quo was challenged by the latest election, which split the parliament’s 101 seats between Estonia’s five parties, leaving none with a majority.
    Centre – which lost the elections to center-right Reform – and Fatherland decided on Monday they would seek to form a government with EKRE, saying the combination would represent voters widely across counties and political preferences.
    Ratas, leader of the traditionally Moscow-leaning Centre party, had earlier ruled out governing with EKRE, which made strong gains in the latest election and almost tripled its representation in the new parliament to 19 seats.
    EKRE’s fiercely anti-immigrant message lifted its support during the European migration crisis in 2015 and it has held on to the gains since.
    Its gains have come as countries across the EU have recorded a surge in support for right-wing parties following the recent migrant crisis.
    Opponents have been careful to give EKRE access to power, fearing nationalists and populists could hijack the agenda and force a retreat on pillars of the EU such as free movement of people and deeper economic integration.
    Estonia enjoys strong economic growth and low unemployment.
    Growth, however, is expected to slow this year and next, and the regional differences in the country of just 1.3 million people are vast.
    EKRE won a vast number of protest votes in the counties farthest from the capital Tallinn.
    Reform won 34 seats in the 101-seat parliament, while left-leaning Centre got 26 seats, conservative Fatherland 12 and the Social Democrats 10.
    President Kersti Kaljulaid has promised to give the official mandate to form a government to the leader of the largest party, Reform, but this could turn out to be merely a formality if Centre, EKRE and Fatherland cut a deal before that.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki, editing by Ed Osmond)

3/12/2019 No EU tax haven blacklist today, chairman Romania says
Italian Economy Minister Giovanni Tria attends a eurozone finance ministers meeting
in Brussels, Belgium January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union finance ministers are unlikely to adopt a new blacklist of tax havens at their monthly meeting on Tuesday, the meeting chair, Romanian Finance Minister Eugen Teodorovici, told reporters.
    The largest review of the blacklist since its adoption in December 2017 is expected to see the number of listed jurisdictions triple from the current five. However, EU governments have been divided over some of the countries that would be added.
    EU documents show that Italy and Estonia are the only countries in the 28-nation bloc that object to the new list, as they are pushing not to add the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
    EU decisions on tax matters require the backing of all EU states.
    Italy’s Finance Minister Giovanni Tria said on Tuesday that Rome wanted to give more time to the UAE to adopt legislation that would allow it to comply with EU tax standards.
    Asked whether he will lift his veto on UAE listing, he said: “Our opinion does not change but we will take into account the positions of other states,” he said, adding that if the UAE was listed, the country would quickly be delisted once its new legislation is adopted.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Philip Blenkinsop)

3/12/2019 Estonian PM invites far-right to join cabinet by Tarmo Virki
FILE PHOTO: People attend a torchlight procession organized by the far-right Estonian Conservative
People's Party (EKRE) in Tallinn, Estonia February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    TALLINN (Reuters) – Estonia Prime Minister Juri Ratas invited EKRE to coalition talks on Monday, reversing a promise to block the anti-immigrant party from the cabinet as he seeks to replace the coalition’s smallest partner, the Social Democrats.
    The decision marks the first time the ultra-nationalist EKRE has access to power, but forming the coalition is far from certain as Ratas’s Centre party lost the March 3 election and the three possible coalition partners have differing views on several subjects including Russian minority.
    The Centre party has since 2017 governed in a coalition with the Social Democrats and Fatherland, but the status quo was challenged by the latest election, which split the parliament’s 101 seats between Estonia’s five parties, leaving none with a majority.
    Centre – which lost the elections to center-right Reform – and Fatherland decided on Monday they would seek to form a government with EKRE, saying the combination would represent voters widely across counties and political preferences.
    Ratas, leader of the traditionally Moscow-leaning Centre party, had earlier ruled out governing with EKRE, which made strong gains in the latest election and almost tripled its representation in the new parliament to 19 seats.
    EKRE’s fiercely anti-immigrant message lifted its support during the European migration crisis in 2015 and it has held on to the gains since.
    Its gains have come as countries across the EU have recorded a surge in support for right-wing parties following the recent migrant crisis.
    Opponents have been careful to give EKRE access to power, fearing nationalists and populists could hijack the agenda and force a retreat on pillars of the EU such as free movement of people and deeper economic integration.
    Estonia enjoys strong economic growth and low unemployment.
Growth, however, is expected to slow this year and next, and the regional differences in the country of just 1.3 million people are vast.
    EKRE won a vast number of protest votes in the counties farthest from the capital Tallinn.
    Reform won 34 seats in the 101-seat parliament, while left-leaning Centre got 26 seats, conservative Fatherland 12 and the Social Democrats 10.
    President Kersti Kaljulaid has promised to give the official mandate to form a government to the leader of the largest party, Reform, but this could turn out to be merely a formality if Centre, EKRE and Fatherland cut a deal before that.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki, editing by Ed Osmond)

3/12/2019 EPP’s Weber says problems with Hungary’s Fidesz not solved by Marton Dunai
European conservative party leader Manfred Weber makes a statement in the main
synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Crunch talks on Tuesday between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and European People’s Party leader Manfred Weber have failed to resolve their differences, meaning expulsion of Orban’s Fidesz from the center-right grouping is still possible.
    Weber has demanded an immediate and permanent end to Orban’s anti-EU and anti-immigrant campaigning – as well as an apology to EPP members for his rhetoric and renewed support for a university in Hungary.
    The EPP groups around 80 parties across Europe and is currently the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, which means it can name the president of the executive European Commission.
    As a result, Weber is keen to keep Orban’s nationalist Fidesz on board – as well his supporters across Europe – especially with elections due in the bloc in May that could alter Europe’s political make-up.
    “Today my talks with Prime Minister Orban had a constructive atmosphere but the problems are not yet solved,” Weber, a German conservative who heads the EPP’s European Parliament faction, said in Budapest.
    Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas, who is also a vice chairman of Fidesz, told the state news agency MTI that Fidesz wanted to stay within the EPP even though it had some “limits it could not cross,” especially regarding immigration.
    The two met for the first time since Weber issue an ultimatum to Orban to honor EPP principles or seek a new political home.
    Weber said the demand for renewed Hungarian government support for the Central European University, founded by liberal financier George Soros, was the single most important issue that had to be resolved for Orban to remain in the EPP.
    The university said in December it had been forced out of Hungary after a years-long struggle between Soros, a Hungarian American Jewish billionaire who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and the government of Orban.
    In exchange for a permit for CEU to issue American diplomas, the key bone of contention around the school, Weber proposed an expansion of the school with technical research, using support from the Technical University of Munich, the auto giant BMW and several U.S. colleges.
    Weber declined to further detail his talks with Orban, saying it was a “work in progress” before the EPP party decides at a summit in Brussels next Wednesday whether to expel Fidesz.
    Hungary has said billboards attacking Soros and the EU executive will be replaced this week with others touting Orban’s plan to lift the birth rate.    Some of the old ones were being covered with blanks in the capital on Tuesday, while others still on show elsewhere in Hungary.
    Gulyas said the poster campaign was officially over, and added that Orban was ready to apologize to anyone he might have offended with his earlier remarks evoking the Communist revolutionary Lenin to call his EPP challengers “useful idiots.”
    He reiterated a government line that CEU’s future in Hungary was ensured, even as the university, which plans to begin relocating some courses to neighboring Austria from September, said its expulsion from Hungary still stood.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alison Williams)
[Stick in there Orban, you are being attacked by Soro's money and a push for liberal policies.].

3/13/2019 Hungarian university offered German help to defuse EU conflict by Marton Dunai
The exterior of the Budapest-based Central European University, founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros,
is seen in Budapest, Hungary, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s Central European University could receive a helping hand from one of Europe’s top technical colleges to continue its international degree programs, which may begin to defuse a growing conflict among Europe’s conservatives.
    CEU has emerged as an unlikely subject in a dispute that has swirled around Orban’s anti-immigrant stance and anti-EU campaigns and which has prompted 13 of the European People’s Party 80 member parties to ask for Fidesz to be expelled.
    For nearly three decades it has been a gateway to the West for thousands of students from ex-communist eastern Europe, offering U.S.-accredited degree programs in an academic climate that celebrates free thought.
    In December, the university, founded by Hungarian-born U.S. liberal philanthropist and Orban nemesis George Soros, said it had been forced out of Hungary.
    The leader of the EPP Manfred Weber spoke about the idea of helping CEU using the network of the Technical University of Munich during talks with Orban on Tuesday to try to resolve their differences.
    “We are looking for a new perspective,” Weber told journalists in Budapest after the talks.    “I’m sure that such a model can overcome today’s problem that American diplomas cannot be offered today at the (CEU).”
    A Hungarian government spokesman said it considered the CEU issue resolved with the university continuing Hungarian degree programs only in Budapest.
    The EPP is the strongest group in the European Parliament and is trying to beat emerging populist forces to retain that spot, which would enable it to nominate the president of the European Commission, the top executive job in the bloc.
    The EPP’s candidate for commission president is Weber, whose headquarters is in Munich. The EPP is due to vote next week on whether to keep Fidesz in the group.
    A Weber spokesman said it was the German politician’s idea to enlist a Bavarian university to help CEU retain access to international degrees, but they would leave the details to the schools involved.
    He said there was no political guarantee that CEU would be able to recreate the status quo it had lost.
    TUM confirmed that it would be in talks with CEU “very soon” about starting a cooperation, including international teaching programs and three new professorships, and also the possibility of awarding American degrees.
    “Our interest is directed toward the CEU, and we are working toward an alliance between TUM and CEU,” TUM spokesman Ulrich Marsch said.
    Discussions with CEU would take place in Munich in April.
    Marsch noted that TUM had several cooperation agreements with American colleges such as Georgia Tech and UC Davis.
    CEU welcomed TUM’s collaboration offer but said it could only remain in Budapest and collaborate with TUM if it could offer U.S. accredited degrees.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/13/2019 Russia’s parliament backs new fines for insulting the state online by Maria Vasilyeva and Tom Balmforth
A view of the Russian Federation Council headquarters, the upper chamber of Russian
parliament in Moscow, Russia March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s parliament on Wednesday approved new fines for people who insult the authorities online or spread fake news, defying warnings from critics that the move could open the way to direct state censorship of dissent.
    The bills – which now require only President Vladimir Putin’s signature before becoming law – received broad support in the upper house, days after thousands rallied to protest at tightening Internet restrictions.
    Putin’s approval ratings have slipped in recent months to about 64 percent but he faces little threat from an opposition held back by tough protest and election laws and virtually no access to state television.
    One bill proposes fining people up to 100,000 rubles ($1,525) for showing “blatant disrespect” online for the state, authorities, public, Russian flag or constitution.    Repeat offenders could be jailed for up to 15 days.
    The second draft law would give authorities the power to block websites if they fail to comply with requests to remove information that the state deems to be factually inaccurate.
    Individuals would be fined up to 400,000 rubles ($6,100) for circulating false information online that leads to a “mass violation of public order.”
    Lawmaker Andrei Klishas, from Putin’s United Russia party and one of the authors of the bills, said false reports that inflated the death toll at a fatal shopping mall fire in Siberia last year illustrated the need to tackle fake news.
    “This kind of thing must be screened by the law,” he said.
    Russia’s human rights council and a group of over a hundred writers, poets, journalists and rights activists called on the upper house of parliament on Tuesday to reject the law.
    Council member Ekaterina Schulmann said the legislation, which the lower house of parliament approved in January, duplicated existing law and added that it could be applied arbitrarily because its wording was so vague.
    Prominent cultural figures published an open letter describing the bills as an unconstitutional “open declaration of the establishment of direct censorship in the country.”
    The Kremlin denied the legislation amounts to censorship.
    “What’s more, this sphere of fake news, insulting and so on, is regulated fairly harshly in many countries of the world including Europe.    It is therefore of course necessary to do it in our country too,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    Tougher Internet laws introduced over the past five years require search engines to delete some search results, messaging services to share encryption keys with security services and social networks to store users’ personal data on servers within the country.
(Additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya and Anton Derbenev; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/13/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy extends Ukraine presidential poll lead
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, takes part
in a production process of Servant of the People series in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy has extended his lead in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday.
    But support for the 41-year-old, a political novice, remains far below the level need to secure outright victory in the March 31 ballot, and most voters still do not expect him to become president, the SOCIS survey showed.,br>     The poll by the Kiev-based research body showed Zelenskiy on 20.7 percent of votes, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko second on 13.2 percent and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko third on 11 percent.
    A total of 39 candidates have registered for the election.    If no candidate wins 50 percent, the top two will face each other in a run-off on April 21.
    SOCIS said it interviewed 2,000 voters in all regions, except in annexed Crimea, from March 5 to March 10.
    It and other reputable pollsters have done little research on how a run-off might pan out.    But SOCIS said 23.9 percent of those it questioned expected Poroshenko to be re-elected, while 19.3 percent favored Zelenskiy to win, and 13.2 percent Tymoshenko.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/13/2019 Hungary publishes more anti-EU ads despite pledging halt
A government billboard is seen in Budapest, Hungary, March 12, 2019. The billboard reads, "You also have the
right to know what Brussels is up to
," accusing European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker of pushing migration
plans encouraged by U.S.-Hungarian businessman George Soros, in a media campaign rebuked by the commission. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s pro-government media continued to publish anti-EU messages on Wednesday despite a promise by a government official to halt the campaign during talks with a center-right European grouping on Tuesday.
    Government billboards against an EU chief and the U.S.-Hungarian billionaire George Soros were among the grievances of members of the European People’s Party (EPP) which are seeking to expel Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party.
    A dozen of about 80 members of the EPP, the largest grouping in the European Parliament, felt Hungary had violated its values so badly that it should be kicked out, even if that weakens the group just before Europe-wide elections.
    The European Commission, which is also in dispute with Hungary over what is says are challenges to the rule of law, has dismissed the attack campaign, which suggests that it seeks to flood Hungary with immigrants, as fiction.
    Crunch talks on Tuesday between Orban and EPP group leader Manfred Weber failed to resolve their differences, meaning expulsion is still possible.
    Weber has demanded an immediate and permanent end to Orban’s anti-EU and anti-immigrant campaigning – as well as an apology to EPP members for his rhetoric and renewed support for a university in Hungary. [L8N20Z5F4]
    Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas, who is also a Fidesz vice chairman, said on Tuesday: “The hoarding campaign has finished; from now on members of the public will see hoardings promoting the government’s family protection action plan.”
    But full-page adverts were in several pro-government dailies and continued on state television on Wednesday.
    The adverts, which depict a smiling head of Soros behind a grinning EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, an EPP member, say “you have a right to know what Brussels is planning” – the same as the billboards that sprung up across the country.
    The ads go on to list purported EU moves to ease immigration, such as easier visa access or cash payments to immigrants.    The commission says they are a “conspiracy theory.”
    A government spokesman said Hungary only undertook to end the campaign by March 15.
    The EPP is the largest party in the European Parliament, and is expected to remain the strongest despite its eroding support and gains by populist parties, polls have shown.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/14/2019 Hungary PM Orban asks European conservatives not to expel his Fidesz party
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his annual state of the nation speech
in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has written to conservative European leaders who initiated the expulsion of his Fidesz party from the European People’s Party group, apologizing for offensive language but maintaining his political positions.
    According to a copy of a letter obtained by Reuters on Thursday, Orban asked the leader of the Flemish Christian Democrats, Wouter Beke, to reconsider his proposal to eject Fidesz.    A government spokesman said similar letters were sent to all 13 parties that joined in the proposal.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/14/2019 Cuba votes to restructure legal system by OAN Newsroom
    Cuban lawmakers are reportedly planning to restructure their state and legal systems amid a regional crisis.
    According to reports released Wednesday, the Cuban government will introduce a handful of new laws to reform the country’s electoral law, economy and criminal justice system.
    This comes after a sweeping majority of Cuban citizens voted to ratify their constitution for the first time since 1976.
FILE – In this Dec. 21, 2018 file photo, members of the National Assembly debate the draft of a
new constitution at Convention Palace in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa, File)
    “The legitimacy of the Cuban state in 2019 is not based on the same principles as that of 1976, and so it requires a constitution that reflects current reality,” explained constitutional lawyer Raudiel Pena.    “The constitution must be the framework for state authority, public administration and state offices.”
    The government will reportedly maintain a single party socialist system, but will recognize the importance of a market economy.
[All voters in the U.S. notice that the socialist system does not recognize a FREE market economy only a controlled market economy.].

3/14/2019 Cuba says USA, not Canada, manipulating diplomat health incidents
Cuba's Foreign Ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio speaks
during a news conference in Havana, Cuba, March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba denounced the Trump administration on Thursday for continuing to refer to health incidents among their diplomats in Havana as “attacks” without presenting any evidence, saying it was part of a broader campaign to damage bilateral relations.
    Both Canada and the United States have cut back their embassies in Havana to skeletal staffing after diplomats there began complaining about mysterious bouts of dizziness, headaches and nausea two years ago.
    Yet while Republican U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which has vowed to unravel the detente with Cuba started by his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, was quick to label the incidents “attacks,” Canada has not.
    A Canadian government official said in January that Cuban officials appeared as frustrated as Canadian ones over not being able to determine a cause.
    “The topic has been highly manipulated politically by the U.S. government, with unfounded accusations, that have been a pretext to take measures against bilateral relations,” the Foreign Ministry’s director of U.S. affairs, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told a news conference in Havana.
    Cuban-U.S. relations have nosedived since Trump became president, tightening the decades-old trade and travel embargo on Cuba once more.    Over the past year, he has staffed his administration with officials with long pasts of denouncing Cuban communism.
    Last month, he vowed the days of socialism and communism in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua were numbered.
    “This manipulation is also serving those who want to reinforce the idea Cuba is a threat and those who opportunistically look to catalog Cuba as a country that sponsors terrorism,” Fernandez de Cossio said.
    While Cuba did not doubt some diplomats had fallen ill, so far there was nothing to suggest this had not been due to a pre-existing condition, natural causes or even psychological suggestion, he said.
    The relative lack of U.S. authorities’ cooperation with Cuba on its investigation into the incidents did not tally with the concern it alleged, he added.
    By contrast, cooperation with Canada had been much better., he said.    “Canada did not make accusations toward Cuba regarding attacks; Canadian politicians have not come out threatening us or making irresponsible declarations,” said Fernandez de Cossio.
    The Cuban government criticized Canada’s decision in January to cut the number of diplomatic staff in Cuba by up to half after another person fell ill, bringing the total of Canadians suffering unexplained symptoms to 14.
    It said the move would not help solve the mystery and would hurt bilateral relations.
    However Fernandez de Cossio said cooperation was satisfactory and would continue.
    “We aspire for there not to be any greater damage to our relations (with Canada), nor do we see any reason for there to be,” he said.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

3/14/2019 Norway’s justice minister takes leave after partner arrested
Police carry out computer equipment from the house of Norwegian Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara,
in Oslo, Norway, March 14, 2019. Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway’s justice minister will take a leave of absence following the arrest on Thursday of his partner, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Thursday.
    Laila Anita Bertheussen, 54, was detained for questioning earlier in the day on suspicion that she set fire to the family’s car on March 10, Norway’s security police (PST) said.
    The house and car shared by Justice Minister Tor Mikkel Wara and Bertheussen have been vandalized at least five times in recent months, prompting criticism of the police for not being able to resolve the case so far.
    “This information came as a shock to me and to the entire government,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said of the arrest.    “This is a tragedy for Wara and his family.”
    Police will investigate whether Bertheussen was involved in any of the earlier incidents, PST chief Benedicte Bjoernland said.    “It’s too early to speculate on motives,” she added.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/14/2019 In Cuba, Obama’s detente becomes history as Trump threatens by Marc Frank
People pass by images depicting Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez (L), with words that read "The best friend of Cuba,"
and late revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara, in downtown Havana, Cuba, March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba has jettisoned rhetorical restraint toward the United States and is broadcasting footage of military defense exercises in the face of threats and new sanctions from the administration of President Donald Trump.
    The island nation had turned the other cheek over the last two years in the face of Trump’s efforts to end a detente initiated by former President Barack Obama.    Local experts said Havana was eager to salvage what it could of improved relations and not be blamed for their deterioration.
    Not anymore, as the United States is increasingly blaming Cuba’s Communist government for the political crisis in its left-leaning ally Venezuela and piling new sanctions onto the decades-old trade embargo.
    Every day last week, the nightly newscast of Cuban state television showed footage of Soviet-era tanks rolling out from mountain caves, soldiers manning anti-aircraft missile batteries, spandex-clad women shooting rifles and factory workers taking up positions around their plants.
    Cuba has always insisted defense preparations are the best way to maintain the peace with the United States and state television described the images as training for “The War of the Whole People.”
    Relations between Washington and Havana have nosedived since National Security Adviser John Bolton said in November the United States would no longer appease what he called Latin America’s `troika of tyranny` – Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
    Few international observers believe the United states has any intention of attacking the Caribbean island, with which it has tense relations since Fidel Castro’s 1959 Revolution.    Most view Havana’s military exercises as a way to rally nationalist sentiment.
    “The message being sent is for the United States and Cuban population at home,” said Hal Klepak, a Canadian military historian who has written extensively on the Cuban armed forces.
    Klepak said, however, the Cuban armed forces take a U.S. military threat against Venezuela very seriously and in worst case scenario planning can not discount a spill-over toward the island.
    “Preparations of a very limited kind are being made and the population brought up to speed, both to emphasize the seriousness of the moment and to stiffen popular resolve,” he said.
CHANGE OF TONE
    An abrupt change in Cuban rhetoric came last month when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who replaced Raul Castro a year ago, denounced a speech by Trump as “high-handed, cynical, immoral, threatening, offensive, interfering, hypocritical, warlike and dirty.”
    That has set the tone for official rhetoric since then.
    In his Florida speech, Trump had launched a broad attack on socialism and pledged to free the hemisphere from communism.    He branded Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro a “Cuban puppet” and “a man controlled by the Cuban military and protected by a private army of Cuban soldiers.“
    Cuba has furnished tens of thousands of doctors, educators and other technical assistance including intelligence and military assistance to Venezuela’s socialist government since the time of Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, who forged close ties with Fidel Castro.    Venezuela in turn has provided Cuba with heavily subsidized crude oil.
    Since Trump’s speech, senior U.S. officials have denounced Cuba’s role in Venezuela on an almost daily basis, stirring an angry response in Havana.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provoked a quick tweet from his Cuban peer, Bruno Rodriguez, on Monday.
    “Sec. of State makes a fool of himself when saying ‘Cuba is true imperialist power in Vzla.’ His gov. plundered Vzla for 2 centuries … fabricated ‘self-proclaimed’ president,” Rodriguez said.
    The United States led the way in recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela in January – a move followed by dozens of other nations.
    The U.S. administration’s decision this month to partially implement Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, a 1996 law, has added fuel to the fire.
    Title I and II codify all previous sanctions into law and set conditions that must be met for Congress to lift them.
    But previous presidents, both Republican and Democrat, suspended Title III, which allows U.S. citizens, including Cuban-Americans, to sue anyone profiting from their nationalized or confiscated properties.    The presidents stopped short because of opposition from foreign governments and fear thousands of lawsuits would clog U.S. courts.
    The Trump administration will consider further implementation in April.
    Now, not a day goes by without the official Cuban media denouncing the Trump administration and the Helms-Burton Act, which it charges was written by exiles out to reclaim their land and people’s homes and schools to boot.
    The return to Cold War rhetoric and new sanctions has disappointed many Cubans for whom the detente had raised hopes the United States might soon lift its crippling embargo on the beleaguered economy and the two countries might normalize relations.
    “When Obama was in the presidency, we dreamed of an opening that would make things work better, in a healthier, more pleasant way between the two countries,” said retiree Julia Porrata, who sells used books in the colonial sector of Havana.
    “That hope we had is gone,” she said.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Steve Orlofsky)

3/14/2019 Russia’s Lavrov meets Venezuela’s foreign minister in Vienna: RIA
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference following the talks with his
Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl in Moscow, Russia March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is holding talks with Venezuela’s foreign minister in Vienna, Russia’s RIA news agency reported on Thursday.
    Venezuela, a close ally of Moscow, is in political turmoil and the United States and many other Western countries are backing opponents of President Nicolas Maduro.
(Reporting by Christian Lowe and Andrey Ostroukh; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/15/2019 Poland’s ruling party picks LGBT rights as election battlefront by Joanna Plucinska and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
Police officers stand guard as far-right protesters try to block first in the city "Equality Parade" rally in support
of the LGBT community in Lublin, Poland October 13, 2018. Jakub Orzechowski/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalist party aims to stem a decline in its popularity ahead of two key elections this year with warnings that opposition support for LGBT education is a threat to Polish culture and should be blocked wherever possible.
    The Law and Justice Party (PiS) has condemned a new school sex education program planned in Poland’s opposition-ruled capital Warsaw, calling it an infringement of traditional Catholic values by Western liberalism.
    PiS has targeted LGBT rights as it strives to reverse a decline in popularity amid corruption allegations against financial regulators and questions about party chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s business dealings, among other things.     Poland’s European Coalition, an umbrella grouping of opposition parties, has passed PiS by two points ahead of May’s European Parliament elections, according to a new opinion poll.    Parliamentary elections will follow in the autumn.
    The approved lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) education program in Warsaw is meant to teach students about sexual orientation, discrimination and reproductive health, according to standards set by the World Health Organization.
    Conservative politicians, Roman Catholic leaders and commentators argue such lessons will rob parents of the right to decide how their children should be educated and see children discovering their sexuality too early.
    “The whole social mechanism of preparing a young person, first a child and then a youth, for future roles as women and men, to start a family, for the role of mother and father, is being questioned.    It could be destroyed,” Kaczynski told a PiS party convention on Saturday.
    He added that if the opposition prevailed in the coming elections, it would “continue this attack on families, on children,” and urged voters to help PiS foil such outcomes.
    Over half of Poles think homosexuality is not normal but can be tolerated, while a quarter believe it should not be tolerated at all, according to a poll carried out in late 2017 by CBOS.
    Poland remains one of Europe’s most devout countries.    Roughly 90 percent of the 38 million population identify as Catholics and some 12 million attend mass every Sunday.    But while PiS is popular in small town and rural areas of Poland, it draws much less support in larger cities like Warsaw.
ATMOSPHERE OF FEAR?
    Some analysts said the PiS decision to zero in on LGBT matters in an election year was a strategy of playing on fear of the unfamiliar to win votes at a time when support for the PiS is floundering among young voters and urbanites.
    “What the ruling party is doing isn’t a normal discussion about LGBT rights.    Through certain connotations, linking this subject with a so-called threat to children, politicians are trying to create an atmosphere of fear,” sociologist Malgorzata Fuszara told daily Rzeczpospolita on Wednesday.
    The tactic worked for PiS previously, analysts said, noting how in 2015 it used anti-migrant rhetoric to drum up support before its election defeat of the governing center-left Civic Platform.
    “Here they’re playing on fear just like they did with migration.    Only this time it’s not against migrants and Islamic countries but against the expansion of Western valuesz,” said Aleksander Smolar at the Stefan Batory Foundation.
    For their part, Polish bishops said in a statement that the Warsaw sex education program would undermine democracy by limiting parental rights and eroding free speech, as children would be instructed in ways at odds with Polish tradition.
    PiS has used its electoral mandate to strengthen Catholic values, vowing to “lift Poland from its knees” in its fight against the alleged imposition by countries like Germany and France of a more secular, liberal way of life.
    “We don’t want families to be replaced by a new social structure.    We don’t want the state, specialists or experts to be the only ones to decide on how we raise our children,” said Zdzislaw Krasnodebski, a PiS ally in the European Parliament.
    Polish schools do not currently offer formal sex education, instead teaching students how to prepare for “family life.”
    Poland ranks second to last out of 28 European Union states when it comes to equality and non-discrimination, according to Rainbow Europe, an organization linked to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
    Gay marriage is illegal in Poland and homosexual partnerships are not legally recognized.
    PiS has long focused on bolstering the traditional family unit, comprised of a mother, father and children through social spending programs such as “500+,” which awards 500 zlotys ($131) a month per child to families with more than one child.
(Additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Mark Heinrich)
[I am glad to hear that there is at least one country that is fighting back against the sins that are being forced on countries, and Poland and the Catholic Church should be pushing it more since the church just experienced the results of sexual abuse of children by priests who were probably abused themselves by homosexuals and somehow the world managed to make that pliable to the world as okay, but not in the eyes of GOD.].

3/15/2019 Austria to introduce digital tax after failure of EU-wide plan
FILE PHOTO: Austria's Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger addresses the media before a cabinet
meeting in Vienna, Austria August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria will press ahead with a planned tax on Internet giants after plans for an EU-wide levy fell through this week, Finance Minister Hartwig Loeger said on Friday.
    Austria said in January that it would tax firms like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Alibaba 3 percent of their advertising revenue from within Austria.
    It said at the time that it would hold off on implementing that plan until a European Union finance ministers’ meeting this week in case a deal was reached on an EU-wide digital tax, but ministers abandoned the idea when they met on Monday.

3/15/2019 Russian metals tycoon Deripaska sues U.S. over sanctions by Susan Heavey and Nathan Layne
FILE PHOTO: Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska and Industry and Trade Minister Denis Manturov arrive for the talks of Russian
President Vladimir Putin with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska sued the United States on Friday, alleging that it had overstepped its legal bounds in imposing sanctions on his companies and made him the latest victim” in the U.S. probe into Moscow’s alleged political interference.
    In a legal filing, Deripaska asked the U.S. District Court in Washington to block the U.S. Treasury Department from using the “devastating power” of such economic sanctions, which he said were inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution.
    Aluminum company Rusal and its parent company En+ were hit with the U.S. sanctions in April 2018 when Washington blacklisted billionaire Deripaska along with several other influential Russians, alleging they were profiting off their ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and from the state’s “malign activity” around the world.
    Washington dropped the sanctions on Rusal and En+ in January after an intense lobbying campaign in which Deripaska agreed to sell down his stake in En+, relinquishing control over his corporate empire in a bid to stave off its ruin.    The sanctions on Deripaska himself remain in force.
    A spokeswoman for Deripaska said he had filed the complaint against the Treasury Department in order to not let his hard work be destroyed by “political scheming.”    The Treasury Department could not immediately be reached for comment.
    The assets that form the core of Deripaska’s fortune were acquired during the chaotic sell-off of state-owned mines and factories in the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    In the lawsuit Deripaska said his net worth had fallen by more than $7.5 billion, or about 81 percent, since the sanctions were imposed.
    In sanctioning Deripaska, the United States has cited allegations he had ordered a businessman killed and had links to Russian organized crime – accusations he has repeatedly dismissed as unsubstantiated rumors spread by business adversaries.
    “Most of the allegations have been rumored about for more than two decades but remain as unfounded today as they were when first raised,” Deripaska said in the lawsuit.
    The deal to lift the sanctions on the companies defied a Democratic-led push in the U.S. Congress to maintain the restrictions.    Russia has denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Meredith Mazzilli in Washington, Nathan Layne in New York and Anastasia Lyrchikova in Moscow. Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
[This article came out on 1/28/2019 U.S. Treasury lifts sanctions on 3 Russian companies after Deripaska reduces stakes by OAN Newsroom.    The Treasury Department said Rusal sanctions could be lifted by the end of this month.    Meanwhile, Trump administration officials also reiterated their efforts fighting the Kremlin’s corruption and money laundering will continue.    So which Democrat had the Treasury Department enforce the sanctions, since they are afraid to put their name on it and it is obvious they are trying to connect it to the Russian collusion illusion?].

3/15/2019 Hungary’s Orban told: Win back trust to stay in EU center-right bloc
FILE PHOTO: European conservative party leader Manfred Weber gives a news conference inside the
main synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban still needs to do more to avoid the expulsion of his anti-immigration Fidesz party from the main European conservative group, its leader was quoted on Friday as saying.
    Thirteen conservative parties have demanded Fidesz be expelled from the European People’s Party (EPP) over an anti-immigration and anti-EU campaign that attacked European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a fellow EPP member, and U.S. philanthropist George Soros.
    Orban, a strident nationalist, has written letters of apology to EPP politicians but Manfred Weber, the German who leads the grouping in the European Parliament, said the Hungarian prime minister had to do more.
    “If Viktor Orban doesn’t manage to create trust in coming days among the EPP parties and his critics, then things will be difficult,” Weber told Der Spiegel, according to extracts of an interview published on Friday.
    Tearing down the posters “is a start, but no more,” he said, referring to Orban’s move to take down posters that suggest Juncker and Soros are conspiring to flood Europe with illegal immigrants from Muslim countries.
    The EPP, made up of the main center-right parties from across Europe, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, is the largest grouping in the European Parliament.
    With the EPP preparing now for EU elections in May, Weber – accused by some of having been too conciliatory toward Orban and Fidesz – hopes to replace Juncker later this year as president of the Commission, the EU executive.
    The EPP gains from an electorally successful central European party like Fidesz in its ranks, while Orban benefits from having a large group in the European Parliament to shield him from censure there.
    However, his anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric has infuriated many moderate conservatives around Europe.    The EPP will hold a secret ballot next Wednesday to decide whether to expel Fidesz from the grouping.
    The EU has long criticized Fidesz over policies it says threaten the rule of law by imposing party control over the judiciary, media and other institutions.    Fidesz rejects this.
    Some European politicians also condemn Orban’s attacks on Soros, who is Jewish, as anti-Semitic, which Fidesz also rejects.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[I am with you Orban because Soros is behind the flooding of the U.S. with illegal immigrants (aliens) and whatever else to help the Socialist base so tell the EPP where to stick it.].

3/15/2019 Hungary’s Orban hopes EU vote brings strong leaders and nation states by Marton Dunai
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during Hungary's National Day celebrations, which also commemorates the
1848 Hungarian Revolution against the Habsburg monarchy, in Budapest, Hungary, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday that he wanted European Parliament elections in May to give Europe “strong leaders” who would strengthen nation states “so that Europe once again belongs to Europeans.”
    Orban, a nationalist with a strongly anti-immigrant platform, has been threatened with expulsion from the mainstream conservative EPP bloc in the European Union’s parliament, at the risk of eroding their current majority.
    “We want a strong Europe, strong nation states, and strong leaders at the helm of Europe, who don’t bring trouble here but take the help there,” Orban told a pro-government rally in Budapest – a reference to his determination to prevent migrants coming to Europe in search of a better life.
    “We want a fresh start, so we can stop Europe’s demise, the nightmares of a ‘United States of Europe’, so that Europe once again belongs to Europeans.”     European People’s Party leader Manfred Weber has demanded an immediate end to Orban’s anti-EU and anti-immigrant campaigning – and an apology to fellow EPP members.
    But talks this week made no progress, and the EPP will vote next week on whether to expel Orban’s Fidesz party for failing to support its values of civil liberties and the rule of law.
    The EPP groups around 80 parties.    If it remains the biggest bloc in the European Parliament, it will be able to name the next president of the executive European Commission.    But losing Fidesz could endanger this goal.
    However, Orban, for his part, continues to support Weber as the EPP’s candidate to lead the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, after the elections.
    Fidesz’s success at home and in defying Brussels on immigration and governance has given encouragement to many other nationalist and far-right movements across Europe.
    If we don’t defend Christianity, we will lose Europe, which will no longer belong to Europeans,” Orban told the rally.    “In a European ‘liberal empire’, we will all lose our liberties.”
    Some of those present feared that Orban would veer even further from the mainstream if Fidesz was ejected from the EPP, but others backed him to the hilt.
    “We’ll back anything he decides to do,” said Gabriella Lengyel, a 65-year-old pensioner.    “He wants to stay in (the EPP) but represents the Europe we like, not this neo-liberal madness.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[I like what you did Orban someone has to tell the people of the EPP that they are the Antichrists and look what they are doing to the UK, who are just trying to get out of the EU.].

3/15/219 Washington asks Russia: Where’s your proof ex-U.S. marine is a spy? by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying, is escorted out of a courtroom after
a ruling regarding extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States on Friday asked why Russia had not provided any evidence to back up its accusation that Paul Whelan, a detained former U.S. marine, was a spy, a day after Whelan alleged he was being mistreated by a “kangaroo court.”
    Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies.    If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.
    The case has further strained already poor U.S.-Russia relations as has that of another detained American, private equity chief Michael Calvey, who is being investigated on embezzlement charges.
    Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) detained Whelan after an acquaintance handed him a flash drive containing classified information.    Whelan’s lawyer says his client thinks he was set up by the acquaintance and the FSB.
    Whelan thought the flash drive contained holiday photos, the lawyer has said.
    The U.S. Embassy in Russia on Friday complained about Moscow’s handling of the case.
    “Shortly after U.S. citizen Paul Whelan was arrested in Moscow, Russian officials said they caught him red-handed,” Andrea Kalan, an embassy spokeswoman, wrote on social media.
    “It’s been more than two months now, and we haven’t seen a shred of evidence implicating Paul Whelan.    Why haven’t they produced it?
    U.S. diplomats were due to visit Whelan at Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison on Friday.
    Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed the U.S. criticism.
    “Two months and the embassy is already getting hysterical,” RIA news agency cited Maria Zakharova, a ministry spokeswoman, as saying.
    “Law enforcement agencies are working on the case, the guy was caught red-handed, and that was announced openly. I don’t see any grounds for American diplomats to get worked up.”
    In a court appearance on Thursday at which his lawyer’s request to free him from pre-trial detention on bail was refused, Whelan appeared angry and said he had been told that he was not allowed to communicate with anyone.
    “Of course they are,” he said, when asked by a reporter whether Russian authorities were trying to isolate him.
    Whelan at one point complained he hadn’t been provided with a translator and was therefore unable to understand what was being said in court.
    “This is basically a kangaroo court,” said Whelan after learning that his latest request for bail had been rebuffed.
    He is due to be kept in pre-trial detention until May 28 while investigators continue to look into his case.
(Editing by Christian Lowe)

3/16/2019 Anti-graft campaigner Caputova leads Slovak presidential election first round
Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova speaks after the first unofficial results at a party
election headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova led Slovakia’s presidential election first round with 38.9 percent of votes after results from a fifth of polling stations were counted, statistics office data showed on Saturday.
    The ruling Smer party’s candidate, European Commissioner Maros Sefcovic, was second with 18.9 percent.
    Despite having no previous experience of public office, Caputova was set to take pole position for the second round of the election as voters spurn the Smer party a year after the murder of a journalist sparked mass protests.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Writing by Robert Muller; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

3/16/2019 Anti-graft campaigner set to win pole position in Slovakia presidential vote by Tatiana Jancarikova
People walk past an election poster of Slovakian presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 15, 2019.
The poster reads: "President for fair Slovakia. Stand up against evil, together we can do it". REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – An anti-corruption campaigner with no previous experience of public office is set to take the pole position for round two of Slovakia’s presidential election as voters spurn the ruling Smer party one year after the murder of a journalist sparked mass protests.
    The killing of Jan Kuciak, who reported on fraud cases involving politically connected businessmen, triggered the biggest anti-government protests in Slovakia since communism ended three decades earlier.    It also led to the resignation of then prime minister, Smer leader Robert Fico.
    Fico’s government remains in power, but Smer’s popularity has slumped.    On the first anniversary of Kuciak’s murder, thousands of Slovaks rallied to protest against what they see as a lack of government action on the corruption he uncovered.
    Most polling stations across the European Union and NATO member country of 5.4 million people closed at 10 p.m. local time (2100 GMT) with first results expected around midnight.    The two best performing candidates will face a run-off on March 30.
    Some stations remained open due to minor incidents, which should not have major impact on the vote.
    Polls done before a two-week blackout period showed the Smer-backed candidate, EU commissioner Maros Sefcovic, trailing far behind political newcomer and lawyer Zuzana Caputova, whose endorsement by the protest movement has catapulted her to frontrunner position with support at more than 50 percent.
    If elected, the 45-year-old Caputova, a pro-European liberal who belongs to the small, non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia party, will stand out among the populist nationalist politicians on the rise across much of Europe.
    “I see a strong call for change in this election following the tragic events last spring and a very strong public reaction,” Caputova told reporters as she cast vote in her home town Pezinok.    “We stand on a crossroads between the loss and renewal of public trust, also in terms of Slovakia’s foreign policy orientation.”
    The president does not wield day-to-day power but has veto power over the appointments of senior prosecutors and judges, pivotal in that fight.
    The murder of Kuciak and his fiancee, who was shot dead alongside him, is still under investigation.    The biggest breakthrough to date came just two days before the vote, when special prosecutors said they had charged businessman Marian Kocner, a subject of Kuciak’s reporting with connections across the political scene including with Smer, with ordering the murder.
    “Caputova has a history of fighting for the common people as a public-interest lawyer and brings much-needed non-confrontational style and liberal values to the public debate,” Ivan Musak, 52, told Reuters in Bratislava.
    Peter, a 69-year old pensioner who declined to give his full name, was concerned about her lack of political experience.
    “Sefcovic is an experienced diplomat, he would be more capable of representing the country,” he said.    “But I voted for him despite the Smer backing, not because of it.”
    The last AKO agency poll before the vote published on March 1, showed support for Caputova at 52.9 percent and Sefcovic at 16.7 percent.
    Supreme court judge and former justice minister Stefan Harabin, an independent, got 11.4 percent.    He promises to fight immigration and dismantle EU sanctions against Russia.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Jason Hovet, Raissa Kasolowsky, Mark Potter, William Maclean)

3/16/2019 Russia says it will respond to new EU sanctions
FILE PHOTO: A Russian flag flies with the Spasskaya Tower of the Kremlin in the background
in Moscow, Russia, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will respond to new European Union sanctions, its foreign ministry said on Saturday, without saying what action it would take.
    The EU on Friday added eight more Russians to its sanctions list over a stand-off between Russia and Ukraine in the Azov Sea, including senior security service officials and military commanders that the EU accuses of preventing Ukrainian ships from reaching port.
    The EU’s announcement coincided with the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and was coordinated with the United States and Canada.    The two countries also introduced new sanctions.
    “The Russian side will not leave this unfriendly action by the European Union unanswered,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    The EU imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Russian officials in relation to an incident in the Azov Sea last November, when the Russian navy captured 24 Ukrainian sailors and their vessels in the Kerch Strait, near Crimea.
    “The EU’s claim that Russia ‘broke international law’ and used unjustified force does not correspond with reality at all,” the ministry said.
    “The excuse for placing our fellow countrymen on the European Union’s illegitimate sanctions lists amazes with its hypocrisy and cynicism,” it added, saying the individuals targeted were simply doing their jobs.
    The EU’s decision takes the number of people blacklisted by the bloc over the crisis in Ukraine to 170, plus 44 entities.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Mark Potter)

3/16/2019 Czechs to buy army helicopters from U.S. company: deputy minister
FILE PHOTO: Members of Austrian special operations unit Jagdkommando perform an exercise on an Agusta Bell 212 helicopter
in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, March 31, 2017. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic will buy 12 military helicopters from a U.S. company, narrowing the field of possible suppliers, Deputy Defense Minister Jakub Landovsky told a paper on Saturday.
    The Defense Ministry scrapped a tender for helicopters in 2017 and planned to launch another in summer 2018, meant to include bidders from Germany and Italy too.
    The contract, estimated at 12.5 billion crowns ($553 million), will now go to Bell Helicopter, a unit of Textron, or Lockheed Martin’s Sikorski, the Pravo daily paper said.
    “It is true that we did not have any large project with the United States for a long time,” Landovsky said in an interview published by Pravo.
    “The helicopters are now on the table.    And it is possible to say that we are in exclusive talks with the United States now about a purchase of new helicopters,” he said.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Mark Potter)

3/16/2019 Anti-government protesters briefly break into Serbia TV building
Protesters briefly broke into Serbia's state television building during a protest against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic
and his government in central Belgrade, Serbia, March 16 , 2019. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Protesters briefly broke into Serbia’s state television building in the capital Belgrade on Saturday demanding media freedom and unbiased coverage of more than three months of anti-government demonstrations.
    The protesters had been taking part in a demonstration by several thousand people against the rule of President Aleksandar Vucic and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS), calling for media freedom as a condition for free and fair elections.
    State television news has given scant coverage to similar protests that have taken place every Saturday since early December.
    “For the past months we have been asking only for one thing – to allow protest organizers to speak on the state television,” said Bosko Obradovic, leader of the Dveri political party.
    It was not immediately clear how many protesters had entered the building, but it was the first such incursion at state TV by activists opposed to the authorities for almost 20 years.
    Several thousand protesters remained in front of the building as activists chanted “Vucic thief” in the corridors of the building.
    Anti-riot police later entered the facility and began to take out the demonstrators one by one.
    “Everyone who is in the Radio Television Serbia building this evening will be held responsible,” Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic told a press conference shortly before the police took action.
    Anti-government demonstrators last stormed the state TV building, known as the government mouthpiece, on October 5, 2000, bringing down the regime of strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
    The protesters on Saturday were brought together by the Alliance for Serbia, a loose grouping of 30 opposition parties and organizations.
    Vucic has previously said he would not bow to opposition demands for electoral reform and increased media freedom “even if there were five million people in the street,” but said he was willing to test his party’s popularity in a snap vote.
    The protests have spread to other cities in Serbia and on Friday were held in Novi Sad, the second-largest city, the southern city of Nis and several other towns, though numbers outside the capital remain small.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac, Editing by William Maclean)

3/17/2019 Protesters rally outside Serbia president’s residence, police use pepper spray
Demonstrators clash with riot police officers at a protest against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his
government outside the presidential building in Belgrade, Serbia, March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands of anti-government protesters staged a rally outside President Aleksandar Vucic’s residence on Sunday to press their demands for greater media freedom and free and fair elections, a day after they briefly broke into the state television building.
    Riot police used pepper spray against a small group of the protesters after they tried to bring a truck with loudspeakers closer to the residence, a Reuters photographer said.     The protesters, who have been staging such rallies every weekend for more than three months, blew whistles and shouted “resign!” as Vucic gave a news conference inside the building.
    “We shall continue the blockade of the presidency and we will not leave until our demands are met or unless we get firm guarantees that our demands will be met,” Borko Stefanovic, an opposition activist, told reporters.
    “There are no independent media here in this country,” said Srdjan Vuksa, a businessman from the town of Kovin near Belgrade.    “I came here to express my dissatisfaction with that.”
    The protests have spread to other cities and towns, though numbers outside Belgrade have remained small.
    On Saturday evening the protesters briefly occupied the state television building, angered by what they say is scant coverage of their demonstrations by state media.
    Anti-government demonstrators last stormed the state TV building, known as the government mouthpiece, on October 5, 2000, bringing down the regime of strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
    Commenting on Saturday’s incident at the state TV building, Vucic said at his news conference: “I am not afraid.”
    Vucic has previously said he would not bow to opposition demands for electoral reform and increased media freedom “even if there were five million people in the street,” but said he was willing to test his party’s popularity in a snap vote.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Additional reporting by Marko Djurica; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/17/2019 Canada to extend military training mission in Ukraine: source by David Ljunggren
Canadian military instructors and Ukrainian servicemen take part in a military exercise at the International
Peacekeeping and Security Center in Yavoriv, Ukraine, July 12, 2016. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will announce as expected on Monday that it is extending a 200-strong military training mission in Ukraine, a source directly familiar with the matter said on Sunday.
    Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan are scheduled to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Monday.
    “It is the Ukraine extension,” said the source, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.
    A spokeswoman for Sajjan declined to comment, while representatives for Freeland did not reply to requests for comment.
    The troops, who first went to Ukraine in 2015, are due out at the end of March.    Political and military sources had made clear the soldiers would stay longer, given continuing tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
    Canada will not be sending any additional trainers, the source added.
    The House of Commons defense committee recommended last December that Ottawa expand the mission, a message that Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada subsequently stressed in interviews with Canadian media.
    Canada’s defense ministry said in December that the contingent had trained more than 10,000 members of the Ukrainian security forces.
    The Canadian contingent is in western Ukraine, far removed from clashes between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.
    Freeland, a vocal critic of Russia’s move to annex Crimea in early 2014, said in a statement on Saturday that “we continue to condemn this violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the strongest terms.”
    Canada, the United States and the European Union on Friday imposed new sanctions on a number of Russian officials to punish Moscow for its 2018 attack on three Ukrainian ships and the seizure of Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine.
    The Canadian trainers are in Ukraine as part of a larger mission that involves the United States, Britain, Lithuania, Poland and Sweden.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

3/18/2019 Russia decides to deploy nuclear-capable strategic bombers to Crimea: RIA
FILE PHOTO: A Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bomber drops bombs during the Aviadarts competition, part of the
International Army Games 2018, at the Dubrovichi range outside Ryazan, Russia August 4, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has decided to deploy nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers to the Crimean peninsula in response to the U.S. rolling out missile defense systems in Romania, the RIA news agency cited a senior Russian lawmaker as saying on Monday.
    Russia plans to station the bombers at the Gvardeyskoye air base in Crimea, Viktor Bondarev, head of the upper house of parliament’s defense and security committee, was quoted as saying.
    Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and President Vladimir Putin flew into the Black Sea peninsula on Monday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the annexation.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

3/18/2019 Cubans frustrated over U.S. move to end five-year visitor visas by Marc Frank
A vintage car passes by the U.S. embassy in Havana, Cuba, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – The Trump administration’s move to end five-year visitor visas for Cubans has left residents of the island angry and frustrated that it will be even harder to see their relatives, shop, or undertake cultural and academic exchanges in the United States.
    The State Department on Friday said the measure, which became effective on Monday, was taken for reasons of reciprocity because Cuba currently issues only one-time temporary visas to visitors.
    Tens of thousands of Cubans had used the five-year visitor visa to travel, often repeatedly, to the United States.     They now can only get a visa that is valid for one trip during a three-month period.
    Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban-American businessman and head of the Cuban Study Group, which advocates engagement with Cuba, said ending the visa program was mean and counterproductive.
    “It will cause great harm to Cuban civil society, the very sector driving changes to the island’s political and economic structures,” he said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has pledged to end the detente and engagement policy that was begun by the Obama administration in 2016 as part of its effort to end more than five decades of hostility between Washington and communist-run Cuba.
    The U.S. embassy in Havana is operating with a skeleton crew because of an outbreak of mysterious health problems among its diplomats, and last year it shut down most councilor services, forcing Cubans to seek visas in third countries such as Mexico.
    The Trump administration says the U.S. diplomats were the targets of “attacks.”    Cuba has denied any involvement or knowledge of what caused the illnesses, whose symptoms included tinnitus, hearing loss, vertigo, headaches and fatigue.
    Cuba on Saturday blasted the reasoning behind the U.S. visa change, saying it issued visitor visas immediately in the United States, while Cubans had to spend large amounts of money and time to travel to third countries, and then often were rejected.
    “My five-year visa runs out next year and I cannot afford to travel to Mexico every year just to try to get a one-time visa,” said Marlen Calabaza, a retired telephone operator who visits Pennsylvania to help her daughter and five grandchildren.
    “I feel worse for her than for me,” she said.
    Yosmany Moudeja, who runs a small business helping Cubans fill out forms near the U.S. embassy, said his only customers now were people seeking permanent residence in the United States.
    “If before it was difficult, now it’s impossible.    If before people came to get visas to visit, now there is no one,” he said.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)
[Suck it up Cubans you voted for your dilemma.].

3/18/2019 Putin flies into Crimea for annexation party, launches power stations by Anastasia Lyrchikova and Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the crowd during a concert marking the fifth anniversary of
Russia's annexation of Crimea, in Simferopol March 18, 2019. Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via REUTERS
    SEVASTOPOL/MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin flew into Crimea on Monday to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the region from Ukraine and led cheering crowds in repeated chants of “Russia” after inaugurating two new power stations.
    Putin, who has poured billions of Russian taxpayer dollars into Crimea since Moscow seized control of it in 2014, attended the launch of a power station in the city of Sevastopol and oversaw the launch of another in Simferopol by video conference.
    The facilities — able to cover 90 percent of Crimea’s power needs — were partially launched last year, but Monday’s inauguration marked the moment they began working at full capacity.
    The same power stations were at the centre of an international scandal after German engineering company Siemens said its power turbines had been installed at them without its knowledge and in violation of European Union sanctions.    Russia denied that.
    Putin on Monday fielded questions from local religious and community leaders and told a crowd at a pop concert that what he called their historical decision to become part of Russia in a 2014 referendum was comparable to the bravery of Red Army soldiers at the start of World War Two.
    “Only the basic conditions of development have been laid down, but we will do everything to achieve the goals before us,” Putin told the crowd, some of whom could be seen wiping tears from their eyes.
    Russia has spent heavily to try to integrate Crimea, including building a bridge to link the peninsula to southern Russia.    But Western sanctions designed to punish Moscow for its annexation have helped isolate the peninsula, pushing up prices and slowing its development.
    Russia has spent the last five years steadily militarising the peninsula and on Monday a senior lawmaker told the RIA news agency that Moscow had deployed a squadron of nuclear-capable Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers there.
    NATO said in a statement it condemned what it called “Russia’s ongoing and wide-ranging military build-up in Crimea.”
    Ukraine issued a diplomatic protest note over what it said was Putin’s unauthorised visit, saying Crimea was Ukrainian territory.    Most countries continue to regard it as such.
    Russia says the matter is closed forever however, and that the referendum held after Russian forces secured the peninsula showed Crimeans genuinely want to be part of Russia.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Tom Balmforth)

3/19/2019 Germany, Belgium propose new tool to police EU democracies
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium March 19, 2019 REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU member states should be empowered to scrutinize each other’s democratic track record, Germany and Belgium said on Tuesday, in an attempt to beef up the bloc’s defenses against nationalist, populist governments flouting its key principles.
    The proposal, made at a meeting of EU ministers, coincides with high-profile EU investigations against Poland and Hungary for undermining the independence of their courts and media, while Romania is accused of rolling back on anti-graft reforms.
    Germany and Belgium say their proposal would create space for member states to flag rule-of-law concerns early on rather than wait – as at present – for problems to escalate enough in a given country to trigger the EU’s existing mechanism – the complex and multi-stage Article 7.
    The EU has invoked Article 7 to investigate concerns that Poland’s nationalist government has undermined the rule of law.    The process could theoretically lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the EU, but it has now lain largely dormant for months.
    EU states have been unable to agree since last autumn on how to proceed with a similar inquiry into Hungary.
    Acknowledging the hurdles their proposal is likely to face, Germany and Belgium suggested the new screening procedure would only be voluntary and carry no sanction.
    “The EU is a union of values.    It is not only about the single market,” Germany’s EU minister Michael Roth said in presenting the plan for an annual peer review.    “Everybody has to adhere to those values, they are not just nice-to-have.”
    Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said he hoped the new mechanism would be fleshed out by the end of the year.    It was swiftly backed by the Netherlands.
    The health and resilience of EU democracies are in focus ahead of European Parliament elections in May, in which pro-EU parties face off against eurosceptics who promote nationalist and populist policies that at times go against the liberal democratic values of the bloc.
    The EU’s main center-right group, the European People’s Party, is due to decide on Wednesday whether to expel the Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over his anti-EU, anti-immigration campaigns.
    Both Warsaw and Budapest have sometimes yielded to EU pressure, offering concessions in their push to centralize more powers.    But the EU has been largely unsuccessful in preventing them from tightening controls on the judiciary, media and civil society groups.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Peter Maushagen, Editing by Gareth Jones)
[Orban may have to join the anti-EU, anti-immigration campaign parties.].

3/19/2019 In or out? EU’s conservative bloc faces crunch decision on Hungary’s Orban by Thomas Escritt and Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban leaves the stage after delivering his annual state of
the nation speech in Budapest, Hungary, February 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BRUSSELS/BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will attend a meeting of conservative officials from across Europe that may decide whether his party will stay in the main EU center-right political group where he has been accused of authoritarianism.
    Wednesday’s meeting of delegates from the European People’s Party could be the denouement of a years-long dispute between the populist, anti-immigration Orban and more mainstream, pro-EU parties in the EPP that accuse him of flouting the rule of law.
    Thirteen member parties called for a vote on the Fidesz party’s continuing membership after it distributed posters depicting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, an EPP member, as a puppet manipulated by billionaire George Soros into backing uncontrolled immigration into Hungary.
    The stakes are high for both sides.    Losing Fidesz’s legislators – currently there are 12 – could cost the center-right group its position as largest party in the European Parliament after May’s elections.    Worse, other parties might follow.
    But for Orban, being in a group containing German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and venerable government parties from the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia gives him access to the continent’s power brokers and confers a mainstream respectability that other populists lack.
    The CDU has gone to great lengths to preserve relations with Fidesz, even as rights groups accused him of stoking ethnic hatred with anti-migration campaigns, and interfering with judicial independence.
    But the posters, and Orban’s campaign against the private Central European University in Budapest that Soros founded, could have pushed things too far.
    There are signs that the calculus is shifting for Orban as well: Hungary’s pro-government press have called for Fidesz to quit the EPP rather than endure “humiliating” negotiations.
    “All the signals that are coming from Budapest suggest they are targeting a break,” said Andreas Nick, the CDU’s point-man on relations with Hungary in Germany’s parliament.    “It looks as if they are really begging to be kicked out.”
    Nick has described a meeting with a Fidesz official who asked him whether he “also got money from George Soros” after he had had expressed support the Central European University.    “I showed him the door,” he said.
    Orban has talked of shifting the EPP to the right.    If that fails, he has suggested Fidesz could form an alliance with Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS).
    It is also possible that the 260 delegates could hedge their decision, for example by suspending, but not expelling, Fidesz.
.     The challenge is most serious for Manfred Weber, a German ally of Merkel’s who is the conservative bloc’s lead candidate in the European Parliament elections and a possible successor to Juncker as European Commission chief – an ambition that could depend on whether he can keep Fidesz on side.
    But unsuccessful attempts at mediation could undermine his authority and are a gift to other parties that accuse the EPP of being soft on what they call fundamental European values such as democracy and the rule of law.
    “Viktor Orban has undermined freedom of the press in Hungary, forced a university to close and harassed NGOs,” said Ska Keller, the Greens leader in the European Parliament.
    “Manfred Weber cannot be trusted as a candidate for the EU’s top job if he continues to defend Orban.”
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

3/19/2019 UK condemns Russia for sentence on rights activist in Chechnya
Oyub Titiev, the head of human rights group Memorial in Chechnya, attends his verdict hearing at a court
in the town of Shali, in Chechnya, Russia, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Said Tsarnayev
    LONDON (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the sentence handed out to a prominent human rights activist by a court in Chechnya, calling it “an awful example of Russia suppressing vital work of human rights defenders.”
    Oyub Titiev, who runs the office of the Memorial Human Rights Center in the southern Russian region, was sentenced to four years in a penal settlement on Monday after he was found guilty of possessing illegal drugs.    His supporters say he was framed, with the drugs planted in his car.
    Hunt wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “Fabricated charges & absurd sentence imposed on Oyub Titiev are intended to silence his work in holding Russian govt to account for human rights abuses in Chechnya – they must #FreeTitiev.”
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

3/20/2019 German conservatives: Let’s suspend Hungarian party from European bloc by Andreas Rinke
FILE PHOTO: CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer attends meeting of Germany's governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU)
party in Potsdam, Germany, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt -/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German conservative leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Wednesday that suspending Hungary’s Fidesz party from the EU’s center-right political group would be a good option until trust was rebuilt with Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    The European People’s Party (EPP) meet on Wednesday to decide what action to take against Orban’s Fidesz after a row between the mainstream group which accuses the populist, anti-immigrant Orban of flouting the rule of law.    Some delegates want to exclude Fidesz altogether.
    “As long as Fidesz does not fully restore trust there cannot be normal full membership,” Kramp-Karrenbauer, a confidante of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Reuters on Wednesday.
    A membership “freeze” would be an option, the leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) said.
    Fidesz angered the EPP by distributing posters of European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker depicted as a puppet manipulated by billionaire George Soros into backing uncontrolled immigration into Hungary.
    Orban has also campaigned against the private Central European University in Budapest founded by Soros.
    Earlier this month, Orban apologized for offensive language but some EPP leaders said was not enough.
    Kramp-Karrenbauer said Orban had taken some first steps to show that it made sense to continue a dialogue.
    “But it is not enough to put doubts to rest about whether Fidesz shares an understanding of the common values of the EPP that would enable a future cooperation based on trust,” she said.
    Juncker told German radio on Wednesday that he advised the center-right EPP bloc to kick out Fidesz.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Thomas Seythal and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michelle Martin)

3/20/2019 Europe’s center-right suspends Hungary’s ruling party by Marton Dunai
Manfred Weber, the European People's Party's lead candidate in the European Parliament elections, speaks after a
meeting to decide on the fate of Hungary's Fidesz party, in Brussels, Belgium March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Parliament’s main center-right grouping voted on Wednesday to suspend Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz Party until further notice amid concerns that it has violated EU principles on the rule of law.
    The decision by the European People’s Party (EPP) came after calls both from allies, political opponents and rights groups for Orban’s party to be disciplined over its anti-immigration campaigns and controversial changes to the judicial system.
    The group agreed to appoint three elder statesmen to examine whether Hungary infringed the EPP’s democratic standards.
    The three will report after May’s European Parliament elections, meaning that the fractious EPP should be able to present a united front while campaigning.
    “Fidesz will have no say any more on the EPP’s political approach,” said Manfred Weber, the party’s lead candidate in the elections, of the deal reached between Fidesz and the EPP’s other member parties under which Fidesz will not attend party meetings, vote or propose candidates.
    Orban, a nationalist who has often clashed with the European Union over his anti-immigration campaigns and judicial reforms, cast the suspension as a victory, saying he had beaten back an “attack” by the 13, mainly northern European conservative parties that had called for his expulsion.
    “We voluntarily agreed to suspend our participation” until the committee reports, Orban told a news conference after the decision.    “I sat through the meeting with the departure letter in my right hand.    I’d have walked over and handed it over if we’d been excluded.”
    For Orban, membership in the group gives him mainstream respectability and influence that other European populists lack.    He had threatened earlier in the day to quit the EPP if Fidesz were suspended.
    The suspension was not enough for critics of the EPP, who say it stood by as Orban dismantled democratic norms and the rule of law in Hungary.
    “This is a suspension for three months just to wait out the European elections in two months time after nine years of breaking down democracy and the rule of law,” said Dutch Green Judith Sargentini, the European Parliament’s point person on Hungary.
    Weber is looking to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission after the elections.    If Fidesz had been expelled his chances would have been reduced since he would not have the votes of the Hungarian party’s European lawmakers – who currently number 12.
    Orban said there had been no discussion of the substance of policies that many in the EPP have criticized, including Fidesz’s anti-immigration stance and attacks on Juncker.
    Juncker was the target of a Hungarian government poster campaign depicting him as a proponent of mass immigration into Europe and as a puppet manipulated by Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
    Earlier on Wednesday, Juncker repeated his call for Fidesz to be kicked out of the EPP, telling German radio “I think that Mr Orban is a long way from basic Christian Democratic values.”
(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers and Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Gergely Szakacs in Budapest; Writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

3/20/2019 Slovenian government coalition signs agreement with Left party by Marja Novak
FILE PHOTO: Slovenia's Prime Minister Marjan Sarec speaks during an interview with Reuters
in Ljubljana, Slovenia, February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic/File Photo
    LJUBLJANA (Reuters) – The five parties of the Slovenian center-left government coalition signed an agreement of cooperation with the opposition Left party to secure support for its main projects over the next year, the six parties said on Wednesday.
    The Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned that the agreement could hurt the Slovenian economy because the demands of the Left are expected to raise taxes and public spending.
    But Prime Minister Marjan Sarec, whose government took over in September after June’s general election, said the minority government has no choice but to seek opposition support for its projects.    The coalition holds 43 out of 90 parliamentary seats while the Left has 9 seats.
    “The government is a minority coalition government. If we want to do anything we have to make arrangements, that is the reality of democracy,” Sarec told Radio Slovenia.
    The Left expects its cooperation with the government will lead to higher taxes on profit, more public apartments with non-profit rents, an improved national health system and more long-term jobs, Left spokesman Nikola Janovic Kolenc told Reuters.
    The Chamber of Commerce said the demands of the Left could burden companies by as much as 1.4 billion euros ($1.59 billion) and hit the 46 billion-euro economy.
    “We need a favorable business environment, productivity growth and the respect for those who work.    The agreement between the coalition and the Left does not guarantee any of these.    It is a mixture of expensive populist decrees which go against the development of the economy,” it said in a statement.
    The agreement was signed just before the Left helped parliament confirm its 2019 budget plan earlier on Wednesday.
    According to the agreement the Left will cooperate in the preparation of the 2020 and 2021 budgets later this year, which are expected to be confirmed by parliament before the end of 2019.
    The largest opposition party, the center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), claims the Left is in fact stronger than the coalition parties.
    “As long as the state is actually governed by the Left the economy will be regressing,” said Branko Grims, a member of parliament from the SDS.
(Reporting by Marja Novak; editing by Ken Ferris)

3/20/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy keeps Ukraine presidential poll lead
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, takes part in a
production process of Servant of the People series in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy has kept his lead in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Wednesday.
    But support for the 41-year-old, a political novice, remains far below the level need to secure outright victory in the March 31 ballot, and most voters still do not expect him to become president, the SOCIS survey showed.
    The poll by the Kiev-based research body showed Zelenskiy on 20.46 percent of votes, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko second on 13.25 percent and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko third on 9.50 percent.
    A total of 39 candidates have registered for the election.    If no candidate wins 50 percent, the top two will face each other in a run-off on April 21.
    SOCIS said it interviewed 2,000 voters in all regions, except in annexed Crimea, from March 9 to March 14.
    SOCIS said 25.5 percent of those it questioned expected Poroshenko to be re-elected, while 25.1 percent favored Zelenskiy to win, and 12.45 percent Tymoshenko.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/20/2019 Moldova’s president calls for newly elected parliament to meet on March 21
FILE PHOTO: Moldovan President Igor Dodon addresses the media as he visits a polling station during a
parliamentary election in Chisinau, Moldova February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Vladislav Culiomza
    Moldova, an Eastern European country and former Soviet republic, has varied terrain including forests, rocky hills and vineyards.    Its wine regions include Nistreana, known for reds, and Codru, home to some of the world’s largest cellars.    Capital Chi?inau has Soviet-style architecture and the National Museum of History, exhibiting art and ethnographic collections that reflect cultural links with neighboring Romania.

3/21/2019 Poll predicts easy win for Slovakia’s Caputova in presidential run-off
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova speaks after the first unofficial results at a
party election headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 16, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Anti-corruption campaigner Zuzana Caputova was projected to win 60.5 percent of the vote in Slovakia’s presidential election run-off on March 30, according to a poll released on Thursday.
    The Median agency poll for public broadcaster RTVS, the first since Caputova claimed a decisive first-round victory last weekend, put European Union commissioner and ruling party-backed candidate Maros Sefcovic at 39.5 percent in its voting model.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova, writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/21/2019 Kremlin accuses U.S. of stoking tensions by flying bombers near its borders
FILE PHOTO: U.S. bomber B-52 flies over during the final day of NATO Saber Strike
exercises in Orzysz, Poland, June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Thursday said that flights by U.S. nuclear-capable B-52 strategic bombers across the Baltic Sea’s neutral waters near Russia’s borders created tension in the region.
    Russia’s Defence Ministry said earlier on Thursday that it had scrambled fighter jets to intercept a U.S. B-52 strategic bomber after it began flying toward Russia’s borders.
    “In general, I will limit myself to only saying that of course such actions by the United States do not lead to a strengthening of an atmosphere of security and stability in the region that directly adjoins Russia’s borders,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
    “On the contrary, they create additional tensions.”
    Russia’s European exclave of Kaliningrad is on the Baltic Sea.
(Refiles to add dropped attribution in third paragraph.)
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn; editing by Andrew Osborn)

3/21/2019 Dutch populist wins provincial elections after Utrecht attack by Toby Sterling
Thierry Baudet (Forum for Democracy) is seen during the election results evening in the center
of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, March 21, 2018. REUTERS/Cris Toala Olivares
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – An upstart populist party shocked the Dutch political establishment by winning the most votes in provincial elections after a preliminary count in the early hours of Thursday, boosted by a possible terrorist attack this week in the city of Utrecht.
    The result shows the enduring strength of far-right populism in the Netherlands, coming nearly two decades after the assassination of populist Pim Fortuyn in 2002 led to a similar upset in parliamentary elections.
    The most important short term impact is that Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right coalition will be forced to seek outside support to win Senate approval for laws passed by parliament.    Provincial votes determine the composition in the Senate, where Rutte’s government has lost its majority.
    The big winner in the vote was the Forum for Democracy party, led by 36-year-old Thierry Baudet, which holds just two seats in parliament after entering politics in 2016.    On current projections it will have an equal number of seats in the Senate as Rutte’s VVD.
    In a speech to supporters peppered with literary allusions, Baudet said the arrogance of the elites had been punished.
    “We are standing in the rubble of what was once the most beautiful civilization in the world,” he said.
    Following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump, Baudet opposes immigration and emphasizes “Dutch first” cultural and economic themes.    He opposes the euro and thinks the Netherlands should leave the European Union.
    Baudet had continued campaigning when other parties stopped after Monday’s attack in Utrecht, in which a gunman shot three people dead on a tram. Baudet blamed the incident on the government’s lax immigration policies.
    A 37-year-old Turkish-born man has been arrested on suspicion of carrying out the shooting.    Prosecutors have not determined a motive, though they say it may have been terrorism.
    Pollsters had for weeks predicted Rutte’s center-right coalition would lose its Senate majority.    But experts, including pollster Maurice de Hond, said the Utrecht attack boosted turnout most among opponents of immigration.
    The Dutch economy has been one of Europe’s best performers under successive Rutte-led governments, but resentment over early 2010s austerity programs lingers.    Recent debate has focused on funding the government’s plans to meet international goals on climate change.
GOING GREEN
    Left-leaning voters feel not enough is being done and supported the pro-environment Green Left party, which also booked big gains nationwide on Wednesday, including taking nearly a quarter of the vote in Amsterdam.
    Rutte is expected to look to the Green Left or Labour parties for outside support once the new Senate is seated in May, though there are other possibilities in the increasingly fragmented political landscape, which include religious parties and a party focused on voters older than 50.
    Rutte said he would be looking for support from “constructive” parties on either the left or the right.
    Baudet ruled out any cooperation.
    “i>This means drinking a lot of coffee and making even more phone calls” Rutte told supporters.
    “So I’m counting on it that the country will remain well manageable with this result.”
    Parliamentary elections are due by March 2021.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Kim Coghill)

3/21/2019 Dutch government loses Senate majority amid populist surge by Toby Sterling and Bart H. Meijer
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states, in the
Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch government will lose its majority in the Senate after provincial elections on Wednesday, preliminary results showed, as voters flocked to a new populist party two days after a possible terrorist attack in the city of Utrecht.
    If confirmed, the result would mean that Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right coalition will need to seek outside support to pass legislation.
    First estimates based on 60 percent of votes cast showed the new Forum for Democracy will become the largest party in the Senate, in a tie with Rutte’s conservative VVD Party, on its first try.
    Following the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump, Forum for Democracy leader Thierry Baudet opposes immigration and emphasises “Dutch first” cultural and economic themes.
    Pollsters had for weeks predicted Rutte’s centre-right coalition would lose its Senate majority.    But experts, including pollster Maurice de Hond, said the Utrecht attack, which killed three people, appeared to boost turnout most among opponents of immigration.
    Rutte’s VVD is forecast to fall to 12 seats, from 13 in the 75-member Senate, and his coalition as a whole will fall from 38 seats to 31.    The Forum for Democracy is also estimated to take 12 seats.    The country’s Electoral Council will publish final results on March 25.
    The Senate, the upper house of Dutch parliament, is responsible for reviewing measures passed by the more powerful lower house.
    Forum for Democracy leader Baudet shocked establishment parties by saying the Utrecht attack was the result of lax government immigration policies.    Others suspended campaigning.
    The motive of the 37-year-old Turkish-born man arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack on a tram is not yet known.
    “You can tell what’s going on anyway,” Baudet told a rally.    “This is a combination of an honour killing and a half-terrorist motive.”
    The Dutch economy has been one of Europe’s best performers under successive Rutte-led governments, but resentment over early 2010s austerity programs lingers. Recent debate has focused on funding the government’s plans to meet international goals on climate change.
    Many supporters of the conservative parties in Rutte’s coalition are sceptical of spending on climate change.    Left-leaning voters feel not enough is being done and defected to the pro-environment Green Left party, which also booked big gains on Wednesday.
    Rutte is expected to look to the Green Left and Labour parties for outside support once the new Senate is seated in May.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Clarence Fernandez)
[We are now seeing that people are beginning to wake up on what mass immigration is doing to their country and are fighting back to the leftist political forces.].

3/21/2019 German minister urges sanctions on EU members flouting principles
Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas attends a news conference with Finland's Minister for
Foreign Affairs Timo Soini, Sweden's Minister for Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom and State Secretary for Foreign Policy
of Denmark Jonas Bering Liisberg, in Helsinki, Finland March 19, 2019. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday the European Union should cut funding and impose sanctions on members which pass laws that contravene core EU principles such having an independent judiciary and freedom of the press.
    Maas told German broadcaster ZDF that countries like Romania, Hungary and Poland received more EU funding than they provided, so curtailing that could provide important leverage.
    “There are basic core principles that all must respect,” Maas said on a ZDF program.    With members that breach them, “we’ll have to investigate if that should have financial consequences,” he added.
    Cutting funding “is the only language that is understood there,” he said of countries which pass laws to restrict freedom of the press, for instance.
    The European Parliament’s main center-right bloc voted on Wednesday to suspend the Fidesz party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban amid concerns it had violated European Union principles on the rule of law.
    Orban, who took power in 2010, has tightened controls over Hungarian public life, including the courts, the media and the economy, as well as education and now scientific research.
    The EU is also at odds with Poland and Romania over legal steps that critics say undermine the rule of law and other core European values.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Richard Chang)
[The EU cannot buy souls all the time.].

3/21/2019 Hungarians protest against PM Orban’s academic overhaul by Gergely Szakacs
People take part in a protest against government's plans to overhaul the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, on the
Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary, March 21, 2019. The banner reads "Free academy". REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Around 1,000 people rallied outside the Hungarian Academy of Science (HAS) on Thursday to protest against government moves to overhaul the institution, which scientists say is the latest threat to academic independence.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who took power in 2010, has tightened controls over Hungarian public life, including the courts, the media and the economy, as well as education and now scientific research.
    The European Parliament’s main center-right bloc voted on Wednesday to suspend Orban’s Fidesz party amid concerns it has violated European Union principles on the rule of law.
    Some of the protesters on Thursday carried EU flags and waved banners saying “Thinking does not harm your health.”
    “The Hungarian Academy of Science is a trustee of the preservation and development of Hungarian culture and science,” the Forum of Academy Workers, a movement founded by HAS research staff, said on its Facebook page.
    “Yet, our nearly 200-year-old national institution is left fighting for its survival.”
OVERHAUL
    The second protest against Orban’s reforms in as many months followed an accord between the ministry overseeing the overhaul and leaders of the academy to separate the science research network from the academy’s teaching institutions.
    The research arm would be run by a new management body, with members selected by the government and the academy, according to a joint letter of intent signed early this month.
    But HAS staff said the accord, reached as a result of what they called government “blackmail,” was unacceptable.
    The academy is solely funded by the government but self-managing, with a network of scientific research bodies employing about 5,000 people.
    The rally was due to march to the Innovations and Technology Ministry to wave red cards at minister Laszlo Palkovics, architect of the reform, which is due to take effect at the start of next year.
    Orban’s government says the aim of the reform is to reap more economic benefits from scientific research.
    “My actions are driven solely by the desire to make the Academy and the entire Hungarian research ecosystem more efficient,” Palkovics told private broadcaster atv.hu.
    The demonstrators rejected that argument.
    “This is a pretty dangerous tendency when we talk about the need for science to turn a profit immediately and manage scientific life solely according to economic interests,” said 19-year-old student Milan Szabo.
    Concerns over the erosion of academic freedom and other democratic rights in Hungary have triggered several anti-government demonstrations in recent months.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[I would bet that George Soros provided the funds for the above HAS rally.    Even I can see that in the United States that the leftist views have influenced public life, influenced the courts, the media and the economy, as well as education and scientific research which they believe is the way it should be, but they are leaving one thing out of it what God wants us to be, and I think the rest of the Hungarians may agree.].

3/21/2019 Delays in Kosovo talks could destabilize Balkans, Serbia’s president says by Aleksandar Vasovic and Ivana Sekularac
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic poses during an interview with Reuters in
Belgrade, Serbia, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – The failure to revive talks between Serbia and Kosovo on normalizing relations could destabilize the Western Balkan region still recovering from the wars of the 1990s, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday.
    Twenty years after NATO bombed the now-defunct Yugoslavia to halt Serbia’s brutal crackdown on Albanians in Kosovo, its former southern province, talks are stalled.
    Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and won recognition from the United States and most EU countries, but not Serbia or its big power patron Russia, and some 4,000 NATO troops remain to safeguard peace in the tiny country.
    Both countries must fully normalize ties, before either could progress further on their way to join the European Union.
    “Every day of delays could create conditions in which one spark could set the region on fire. The Western countries should know that,” Vucic told Reuters in an interview.
    “That is the danger … when national sentiments are stoked.”
    In response to Serbia’s bid to prevent Kosovo’s membership in international organizations, Pristina imposed 100 percent tariffs on goods imported from Serbia, something that could cost the Serbian economy 600 million euros in one year, around 0.4 percent of GDP.
    To restore the dialogue, Serbia wants those taxes abolished, a move supported by the EU and the United States.
    What any settlement could look like is unclear.    Both Vucic and Kosovo President Hashim Thaci have floated ideas about a “correction of borders” or “delimitation” – terms interpreted by analysts as land swaps.
    The West sees the integration of the entire region into the EU and NATO as a way to maintain regional stability.
    “Our accession to the European Union depends on the dialogue with Pristina and whether one day we will manage to reach a deal,” Vucic said, adding that he expected Germany, France or the EU to become more active in the negotiating process.
    “I think we will see some of their initiatives in the near future,” he said, without elaborating.
    Vucic, in power since 2012, said he had no plan to resign or call early elections, something demanded by thousands in opposition protests that started last December accusing his government of cronyism, corruption and stifling media freedoms, something he denies.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

3/22/2019 U.S. says Russian ship suspected of illicit North Korea trade by Polina Nikolskaya
FILE PHOTO: The Russian vessel Tantal, an oil/chemical tanker, is seen at sea outside the
far eastern city of Vladivostok, Russia October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The U.S. government has named a Russian ship on a list of vessels suspected of providing fuel to Pyongyang, a month after Reuters reported the same ship violated sanctions by carrying out a clandestine transfer to a North Korean tanker.
    The Treasury Department, which oversees U.S. sanctions, included the Russian vessel, the Tantal, on a new list of “vessels believed to have engaged in ship-to-ship transfers with North Korean tankers.”
    The list was included in updated https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/dprk_vessel_advisory_03212019.pdf guidance on addressing North Korea’s illicit shipping practices published by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).    Inclusion on the list does not denote a ship or its owners are being put under sanctions.
    Contacted on his mobile telephone on Friday, the owner of the Tantal, Russian businessman Alexander Anikin, said he had no immediate comment on the Tantal’s inclusion on the list, but would respond to questions later.    OFAC did not immediately respond when asked why it included the Tantal on the list.
    In an article published in February, Reuters cited two witnesses as saying the Tantal transferred fuel to a North Korean vessel at sea at least four times between October 2017 and May 2018.
    Such transactions violate the international sanctions imposed on North Korea over its nuclear and missiles program, which include a United Nations ban on nearly 90 percent of refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.
    The Tantal was one of 18 vessels listed by OFAC in its updated guidance as ships believed to have engaged in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of fuel with North Korean tankers.
    After Reuters’ report about the Tantal’s ship-to-ship transfers in February, Russia’s ambassador to Pyongyang was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying any Russian fuel deliveries to North Korea were legal and mainly by rail.
(Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

3/23/2019 Bulgarian justice minister resigns over real estate deal
Presidential candidate for GERB party Tsetska Tsacheva holds her ballot paper during a
presidential election in Pleven, Bulgaria, November 13, 2016. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian Justice Minister Tsetska Tsacheva resigned on Saturday following media reports that she and three other ruling center-right GERB party politicians have bought luxurious apartments at below market prices, the government’s press office said.
    Tsacheva has denied any wrongdoing and asked the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate the terms on which she had acquired a specious apartment in an upmarket Sofia neighborhood last year.
    Prime Minister Boyko Borissov accepted her resignation after meeting with her early on Saturday, the press office said in a statement.
    “The two discussed the real estate deal linked with her name. Minister Tsacheva told the prime minister that she quit and did not want the tensions [around the deal] to affect the government’s work,” the statement said.
    The Anti-Corruption Commission launched a probe on Friday into the properties purchased last year from the same developer.
    One of the four politicians, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, leader of GERB’s parliamentary group, has also denied any wrongdoing.    But Deputy Sports Minister Vanya Koleva resigned on Saturday over the deals.
    The issue came to light earlier this week after the Bulgarian section of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the non-governmental Anti-Corruption Fund published their investigation into the property deals.    Their report was picked up by other Bulgarian media outlets.
    Speaking to journalists in the southern city of Stara Zagora, Tsacheva reiterated she had demanded the anti-corruption probe herself as she had no concerns about the
    She rejected that she had committed an “abuse of office,” adding: “But while the probe lasts I do not want my involvement this case to weigh on the GERB party and the government.”
    The reports have outraged many in the poorest European Union member state and Borissov has said that anyone who has breached the laws will have to deal with the consequences.
    The news comes as political parties are preparing for EU parliament elections in May.    Opinion polls show a narrow lead for GERB over opposition Socialists.    The GERB-led government took office in May 2017 for a four-year term.
    Despite pledges by consecutive governments to uproot widespread graft, Bulgaria ranks as the most corrupt EU member state, according to anti-corruption group Transparency International.    Despite this, it has not yet sent a senior official behind bars on corruption charges.
    Analysts say high-level corruption is the main obstacle to Bulgaria’s ambition to attract more foreign investment or to join the EU’s Schengen zone for free travel.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

3/25/2019 Russian air force planes land in Venezuela carrying troops: report
An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in
Caracas, Venezuela March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
    CARACAS (Reuters) – Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to a local journalist, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.
    A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.
    The report comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.
    Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding that the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.
    An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.
    The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.
    A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.
    It was not immediately evident why the planes had come to Venezuela.
    Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
    Russia’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking a comment.    The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.
    The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him.    Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.
    In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.
    Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.
    Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was coordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the United States, from entering via the border with Colombia.
(Reporting by Carlos Garcia, Carlos Jasso, Diego Ore and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas, and Maria Tsvetkova and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Leslie Adler)

3/24/2019 Finnish minister threatened at rally, escapes unhurt
A man is detained after trying to hit Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini at the Korson Maalaismarkkinat country fair in
Vantaa, Finland March 24, 2019. Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.
    (Reuters) – A man wearing the logo of a right-wing anti-immigration group threatened Finland’s foreign minister at an election rally on Sunday, but was quickly restrained.
    Shocked but unhurt, Timo Soini thanked police for quickly stopping the man, who was wearing a black shirt from the Soldiers of Odin group – named for a Viking god.
    “Today, there was a terrible incident that nobody wanted or hoped for,” Soini said on his blog after the events at the Korso market in the southern Finnish town of Vantaa.
    “I thank security guards for their good work,” he added.
    Finland is due to hold parliamentary elections on April 14.
    Police said “an aggressive and threatening” man had approached the minister, before being bundled to the ground.
    There was no indication he was armed.
    Reuters was unable to contact the Soldiers of Odin, a group founded in 2015 during a wave of immigration to Europe.
    The incident drew swift condemnation from the government.
    “An attack on democracy is unacceptable.    Political violence should not be accepted.    We must work together to defend our valuable common democracy,” tweeted Prime Minister Juha Sipila.
    Soini in 2017 broke with the populist Finns Party, which opposes immigration and membership of the European Union, opting instead to lead a new conservative party, Blue Reform.
    Ahead of the April vote, Sipila’s centre-right coalition resigned earlier this month over failed healthcare reforms, though the cabinet stayed in a caretaker role.
    Opinion polls show the opposition Social Democrats lead a crowded field of parties.
(Reporting by Terje Solsvik in Oslo and Tarmo Virki in Tallinn; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)

3/24/2019 Hungary could resume anti-EU campaigns, says PM Orban
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks at a migration summit in Budapest, Hungary March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government could resume media campaigns against European Union bodies, he suggested on Sunday, as his nationalist Fidesz party gears up for European Parliament elections due on May 26.
    On Wednesday the European Parliament’s main center-right grouping, the European People’s Party (EPP), voted to suspend Fidesz amid concerns it has violated EU principles on the rule of law.
    The action was triggered in part by Orban’s media campaign attacking European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, depicting him as a proponent of mass immigration into Europe and as a puppet of Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros.
    The European Commission has dismissed the claims as fiction.
    Orban had ended the media attacks and apologized to members of the EPP, but he again struck a combative tone in an interview with public radio on Sunday.
    People are a bit angry with us in Brussels because, at the start of the European Parliament election campaign, we ran an information campaign in Hungary, essentially exposing what Brussels was up to,” Orban said.
    “We have exposed them and, naturally, they are angry.”
    Nationalist Orban has often clashed with the EU over his anti-immigration campaigns and judicial reforms.
    “Our job now is to continuously inform the people about what Brussels is up to,” Orban added in Sunday’s interview.
    “We should not back down, we should not be scared because the opponent takes offence and attacks us with the anger of people who are exposed.”
    Asked whether Orban’s remarks meant Budapest would resume its anti-EU media campaigns, a government spokesman declined further comment, saying: “i>The prime minister’s words speak for themselves.”
    Orban has also leveled criticism at European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, the European Socialist candidate to suceed Juncker after the May elections.
    Orban cast Timmermans as an out-of-touch Brussels bureaucrat living in what Orban called a “bubble.”    Dutchman Timmermans is broadly disliked by nationalist parties in Eastern Europe, including in Hungary.
    “Just this week there was a vote transforming the Dutch upper house, where the party of this Timmermans fell over spectacularly.    He has lost the confidence of the people.    And meanwhile he comes to Budapest and tours European capitals to lecture us about democracy,” Orban said.
    “Such Timmermans-types, who are given the boot at home by their own people, should not be given a position in Brussels, because that will weaken cooperation in the entire EU.”
    Orban also said that the outcome of the European vote would determine whether Fidesz remains in the EPP group or seeks a new alliance in Europe.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by David Goodman)
[Keep fighting Orban since socialist and Soros is all they need to know of why you are bucking the system.].

3/25/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy strengthens Ukraine presidential poll lead
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian actor, leads latest polls for Ukraine's
presidential race. February 8, 2019. REUTERS/Mykola Tys -/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, has strengthened his lead in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Monday.
    But support for the 41-year-old remains far below the level need to secure outright victory in the March 31 ballot, and most voters still do not expect him to become president, the KIIS survey showed.
    The poll by the Kiev-based research body showed Zelenskiy on 20.7 percent of votes, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko second on 11 percent and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko third on 8.1 percent.
    A total of 39 candidates have registered for the election.    If no candidate wins 50 percent of the votes cast, the top two will face each other in a run-off on April 21.
    KIIS said it interviewed 2,004 voters in all regions, except in annexed Crimea, from March 14 to March 22.
    KIIS said 22.6 percent of those it questioned favored Zelenskiy to win, while 16.5 percent expected Poroshenko to be re-elected, and 12.1 percent saw Tymoshenko as the winner.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by William Maclean)

3/25/2019 North Korea’s Kim to visit Russia in spring or summer: RIA cites lawmaker
FILE PHOTO - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un makes his way to board a train to depart for
North Korea at Dong Dang railway station in Vietnam, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will visit Russia for talks this spring or summer, RIA news agency cited Russian lawmaker Alexander Bashkin as saying on Monday.
    The exact date of the trip has not been set yet, Bashkin said.
    The United States last week imposed new sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, the first such steps since a U.S.-North Korean summit collapsed last month.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

3/25/2019 Russian lawmaker proposes ‘reset’ in U.S. ties after Mueller report
FILE PHOTO - National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in
Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow would be happy to mend ties with Washington after a report by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, a senior Russian lawmaker said on Monday.     Mueller found no evidence of collusion but left unresolved the issue of whether Trump obstructed justice by undermining the investigations that have dogged his presidency.
    “In any case, there is an opportunity to reset a lot in our relations but it is still a question as to whether Trump would risk that.    We of course are ready,” Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Polina Devitt; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Paul Tait)
[I do not think Trump can trust Russia now or in the near future since we are all heading toward a Biblical period that I see coming by 2022.].

3/25/2019 Serbia’s ruling Progressive Party wants early election: President Vucic
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during an interview with Reuters in Belgrade, Serbia, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – The leadership of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s ruling Progressive Party (SNS) said on Monday it wanted a snap election to test its popularity a year ahead of schedule and after months of opposition protests.
    “We did not make a formal decision about early elections, but (the party) presidency decided, with me abstaining, that it wants an early vote.    We are closer to early elections than before,” Vucic told reporters.
    He said that SNS party leadership informed Prime Minister Ana Brnabic – who was handpicked by Vucic – about its decision.    Under the provisions of the constitution Brnabic’s government must first resign to allow Vucic to set the date for the vote.
    “Elections will be either in June or spring next year,” Vucic said.    “I am authorized by the presidency to enter talks with our coalition partners about the date.”
    The last parliamentary elections in Serbia, a candidate for European Union membership, were held in 2016.    The SNS-led coalition and its partners led by Socialist Party enjoy a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament.
    According to recent polls, Vucic could secure support of around 44 percent of electorate, while the opposition is trailing far behind with around 12 percent.
    Vucic, a former nationalist who later embraced pro-European values, first came to power in 2012.
    In an interview with Reuters last week, Vucic said he had no plans to call an early vote.
    The Alliance for Serbia (SZS) a grouping of more than 30 parties, started weekly protests in December, accusing Vucic and his allies of cronyism and corruption, violence and stifling media freedom.    He denies this.
    Earlier this month, protesters stormed the offices of the state-run RTS TV and a day later they blocked the presidency building in Belgrade city center.    Eighteen protesters have been detained.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/25/2019 U.S. top court rebuffs mystery company in Mueller subpoena fight by Lawrence Hurley
The U.S. Supreme Court building is pictured in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a bid by an unidentified company owned by a foreign government to contest a grand jury subpoena related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s now-completed inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, though the justices’ action does not force the firm to comply.
    A federal judge imposed a $50,000-per-day fine against the company, which had asked the justices to hear its appeal of a December appeals court ruling that upheld a judge’s decision to hold it in contempt for refusing to fulfill a document request made in the subpoena.
    The company already could owe more than $3 million.
    The Supreme Court rejected the appeal in a brief order with no noted dissents from any of the nine justices.
    Mueller submitted a confidential final report on his findings to U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Friday.    On Sunday, Barr said Mueller did not find a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
    A spokesman for Mueller’s office said the case involving the subpoena will now be overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington.
    The case has remained a high-profile mystery, with the Supreme Court and lower courts declining to identify the company, the country that owns it or the specific purpose of the subpoena.    The company, which has a U.S. office, has said it was a witness, not a suspect, in Mueller’s investigation.
    Court papers detailing its legal arguments were made public but all information about specific facts of the dispute were redacted.    The subpoena was issued last July.
    The Supreme Court in January refused to put the lower court ruling on hold.    According to court filings, the daily fine imposed by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell started accruing on Jan. 15.    Such fines accrue until the grand jury is no longer sitting.    It is unknown whether this grand jury has completed its work.
    The legal question was whether the company is protected under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a law that allows foreign countries to avoid lawsuits in U.S. courts.    The law does not cover commercial activities.    The company argued that this law protects it not just in civil cases but also in criminal cases.    The company also argued that foreign governments are immune from contempt findings in U.S. courts.
    On behalf of Mueller’s office, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the Trump administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, had asked the justices not to take up the case, deeming the lower court rulings correct.
    Mueller charged a series of Russian individuals and three Russian companies.    The conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort involved his concealment from U.S. authorities of millions of dollars he was paid as a consultant to pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians.
    Mueller neither concluded that Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe, nor did he exonerate him of obstruction.
    Trump denied collusion and obstruction.    Russia denied interfering in the election.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)

3/25/2019 Kosovo PM fires deputy minister over comments about NATO
FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj talks during an interview with
Reuters in Pristina, Kosovo, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Hazir Reka/File Photo
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has fired the country’s ethnic Serb deputy justice minister after she called NATO’s 1999 bombing campaign against Serbia a “planned genocide.”
    Deputy minister Vesna Mikic comes from Kosovo’s Serb minority which accounts for about 5 percent of the country’s population of 1.8 million.
    “The NATO alliance committed a deliberately planned genocide against a sovereign country that fought Albanian terrorism inside its own borders,” Mikic said on her Facebook account on Sunday, marking the 20th anniversary of the NATO bombing.
    NATO carried out air strikes in 1999 against the now defunct Yugoslavia, comprised of Serbia and Montenegro, to halt a brutal crackdown against Kosovo Albanians by Serbian security forces.
    After 78 days of bombing, under the terms of an armistice, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ordered his troops to withdraw from Kosovo and be replaced with NATO control.
    Mikic’s post sparked criticism in the predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo where most people praise NATO for halting the two-year war and clearing the way for its independence in 2008.    As many as 4,000 NATO peacekeepers are still deployed.
    Mikic was not immediately available for comment.
    Haradinaj dismissed the deputy minister with immediate effect.
    “In Kosovo government there will be no place for individuals, despite their ethnicity, to denigrate our common euro-Atlantic values,” Haradinaj said in a statement.
    More than 13,000 thousand people, mainly local Albanians, were killed in the 1998-99 war.
    Kosovo has earned recognition from the United States and most EU countries, but Serbia and its major allies Russia and China remain adamantly opposed to Kosovo’s independence.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade, editing by Ed Osmond)

3/26/2019 Austria rejects EU criticism of cuts to child benefits abroad
FILE PHOTO - An Austrian flag is seen on the desk of a Member of the European Parliament during a
debate at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, July 3, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria has rejected European Union criticism of its decision to cut benefits payments for some children living abroad, saying the policy just recognizes that there are lower living costs in other countries.
    Slovakia and other eastern European states have complained about the cuts saying they discriminate against their nationals who work in Austria but keep their families back home.
    The EU has sent Austria a “letter of formal notice” about the policy, which could be a first step towards legal action against Vienna.    Brussels said it was unfair for some people in Austria to pay the same taxes but receive lower benefits.
    Austria’s ruling coalition of conservatives and the far right started indexing the child benefit payments to living costs in January as part of a broader package of tax cuts and reductions in benefits for refugees and immigrants.
    The government said it had written to the EU formally defending the policy.    Conservative family minister Juliane Bogner-Strauss told ORF radio that other states has different living costs “so we have different situations.”
    Austria borders eight countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, where wages are significantly lower.
    Eastern Europeans make up a large part of its workforce in sectors including healthcare and construction but they often live and work away from their families and children.
    In 2016, Austria transferred 273 million euros ($325 million) abroad to EU and European Economic Area countries in benefit payments for 132,000 children.
    The European Commission criticized Germany in 2017 for a similar plan to cut child benefits, which was later abandoned.
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/26/2019 Unpredictable election makes Ukraine’s friends wary by Matthias Williams and Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: A campaign staffer is seen in a pre-election tent for the leader of opposition Batkivshchyna party and
presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, in central Kiev, Ukraine March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KIEV/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Western backers fear the country’s next president may prove unwilling or unable to accelerate reforms they have spent five years investing in, whoever it turns out to be.
    The election due on Sunday has boiled down to a three-horse race between President Petro Poroshenko, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series.
    Kiev-based Western diplomats said all three left doubt over how effectively they would pass reform, tackle corruption and keep aid flowing.
    “We certainly know what we get with Poroshenko,” one diplomat said.    “We think we know what we’ll get with Tymoshenko.    With Zelenskiy, we have no clue.”
    “All of them are flawed,” said another.    “There is no candidate where you will sit there and go: ‘Yes!’.”
    The country is the nexus of the confrontation between the West and Russia since Ukraine’s 2014 Maidan street protests ejected Poroshenko’s Russia-friendly predecessor and Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula, triggering Western sanctions.
    With its war against Kremlin-backed fighters in the Donbass region into a fifth year, Ukraine has battled to keep its cause high on the international agenda and pushed for membership of the European Union and NATO.
    Successive rounds of sanctions on Russia show the West is still willing to stick its neck out for Ukraine, although a desire to prevent Russia from interfering in other former Soviet republics is also in play.
    But investors are jittery and Kiev’s patchy performance on reforms – and Europe’s own distractions like Brexit and an assertive China – have made it harder to keep so-called “Ukraine fatigue” at bay.
    Ideally, the EU would like to see Ukraine – a large neighbor on its eastern border – as a stable democracy, obeying the rule of law and able to defend itself from Russia.
    But the unity behind the sanctions is always fragile, with Italy, Greece, Hungary and other countries closer to Moscow keen to repair economic relations.
    A Ukrainian president weak on reforms could tip the balance towards Russia while jeopardizing international funding and ties with a bloc that has given Ukrainians visa-free travel, a right some two million people have exercised in less than two years.
    Diplomats also worry a closely-fought contest could be marred by allegations of cheating and protests.
    “What Ukraine now risks, is squandering the goodwill and belief it got since 2014,” the second diplomat said.    “The government’s calculation is that they’ll be supported no matter what.”
THREE FLAWED CANDIDATES
    Poroshenko won praise for keeping Ukraine together in the chaotic aftermath of the Crimea annexation, strengthening the army and passing reforms such as in banking and energy.
    But anti-corruption efforts have stuttered and an apparent culture of impunity where top officials are not jailed for alleged embezzlement or bribe-taking has disappointed voters.
    For lack of a better choice, the EU has stuck to its principles of insisting on reforms and promoting Ukraine’s pro-Western aspirations rather than leaning towards any candidate.
    “Poroshenko has had a very clear line, at least on paper, on resisting Russia and being pro-European.    He has not been ideal but we’ve known him, we’ve dealt with him,” said a Brussels-based EU diplomat.
    “It is crucial that the next president sticks to the reform agenda because we have invested so much in it.    Without that and without an unequivocal line on Russia, the relationship will suffer.”
    Zelenskiy by contrast is a puzzle. He tapped into the disillusionment felt since Maidan and his new face and lack of political baggage appeals to voters, especially the young.
    But diplomats worry about his lack of experience and whether he is beholden to Ihor Kolomoisky, an oligarch on whose channel Zelenskiy’s show airs.    The two deny being in cahoots.
    A Zelenskiy victory would raise concerns about the fate of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender, which the government wrested from Kolomoisky in 2016 and then shored up with billions of dollars.
    The government wants to recover money it says was siphoned out while Kolomoisky owned it.    Kolomoisky denies any wrongdoing and says the bank was forcibly nationalized without proper justification.
    “Is he (Zelenskiy) only a puppet?    I don’t think so,” said one Western diplomat.    “Would he end up redoubling efforts to prosecute the PrivatBank case in every jurisdiction available?    You’d have to wonder about that.”
    At a meeting with European ambassadors in February, Zelenskiy acquitted himself reasonably well, according to three diplomats present, playing down his career as a comedian and talking up his effectiveness as a producer and manager.
    Nevertheless, he left an impression of being light on substance, one diplomat said.    The optimistic view, the diplomat added, was Zelenskiy would surround himself with reformers who treat him as a blank page to imprint their vision.
    “You can’t expect much from a person with no political experience,” said another.    “He looked quite sincere but we can only judge from the results.”
    “Did he provide answers in the way others did? Perhaps not, but I don’t think you can dismiss him,” said a third, adding Zelenskiy was clearly intelligent but did not articulate a policy or vision.
    Even if his heart is in the right place, Zelenskiy might struggle to get reforms through a hostile parliament where as of now he has no MPs, diplomats said.
    In one sense, Poroshenko has become the victim of his own success in keeping the Donbass conflict contained, another diplomat said, emboldening voters to take a chance on Zelenskiy.
    “Poroshenko cauterizing the Donbass wound, insulating 90 percent of the country from it, made people feel they can experiment,” the diplomat said.    “You have this deceptive calm in the country.”
    Tymoshenko, a two-time prime minister, is also a mixed bag for the EU.    It came to her side in 2011 when she was jailed by Poroshenko’s predecessor Viktor Yanukovich, but a 2009 gas deal seen as more beneficial to Russia than Ukraine and recent anti-reform rhetoric may have weakened her appeal.
    “She has lost the glow of martyrdom somewhat,” a Brussels-based EU official said.
    One strength of the election in Western eyes is it is genuinely competitive, making for flattering comparisons with Russia, where the Kremlin-backed candidate dominates the field. But it has been marred by accusations of foul play.
    At a March summit in Brussels between Poroshenko and EU leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, Poroshenko said in private he could still win.    The EU told Poroshenko to ensure the vote was fair, an EU official said.
    Opinion polls show Zelenskiy as the frontrunner, with Poroshenko and Tymoshenko fighting for a place in the April run-off.    The fear is a close contest could spark accusations of vote-rigging and street protests.
    In a speech on March 5, US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said anyone trying to falsify voting records should be prosecuted and government resources should not be used to target political opponents.
    “In short, a country seeking integration with the European Union and NATO should ensure its actions meet Western standards,” she said.
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)
[Don't feel bad Ukraine in the U.S. we almost voted for Patrick Layton Paulsen, an American comedian and satirist notable for his roles on several of the Smothers Brothers television shows, and for his campaigns for President of the United States in 1968, and he would be better than any of the 15 Democrats trying to run for the 2020, so you only have to choose between 3, and most of us support Trump.].

3/27/2019 Comedian set to win first round of Ukraine presidential vote by Matthias Williams and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, takes part in a
production of the Servant of the People television series in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainians exhausted by five years of war and decades of official corruption look set to send a comedian with no political experience into a second round run-off against the incumbent when they vote in Sunday’s presidential election.
    The favorite in Sunday’s first round vote is Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice who plays a fictitious Ukrainian president in a popular TV series and who, in real life, has tapped into an anti-establishment mood among voters.
    Many opinion polls put the serving president, Petro Poroshenko, in second place, a result that would set up a run-off between him and Zelenskiy next month, with a hard-to-predict final outcome.
(For a graphic on ‘Ukraine presidential election’ click, https://tmsnrt.rs/2EEQ22R)
    Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is also in the running and could scrape into the second round at Poroshenko’s expense.
    “Zelenskiy will probably be in the second round, up against either Poroshenko or Tymoshenko, which means that it’s going to be a contest between the new and the old,” said Robert Brinkley, chair of the think tank Chatham House’s Ukraine Forum.
    Ukrainians must then decide whether they are so fed up with the existing politicians “that they’ll vote in a complete novice and outsider, or will their cautious instincts … reassert themselves and they’ll say we had better go with the devil we know rather than somebody completely unknown,” he said.
    With Zelenskiy’s insurgent run for the presidency, Ukraine is surfing a wave of popular anger similar to the ones that brought the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement to power in Italy and U.S. President Donald Trump to office.
    Just 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their national government, the lowest of any electorate in the world, a Gallup poll published in March showed.    The global average was 56 percent in 2018.    Just 12 percent of Ukrainian adults have confidence in the honesty of elections, while 91 percent believe corruption in their government is widespread.
    “None of the three candidates suits me.    And the other candidates simply will not manage to get through,” said Kiev resident Yevheniya Shmelkova.    “Therefore, we are indecisive in general – should we go to the polls, or not go. No, of course, you need to go, but the result will be unpredictable.”
    Western governments have much at stake in the election because they took Ukraine’s side in its conflict with Russia and have invested money — and considerable political capital — in keeping Kiev on a path of integrating with the West.
    Whoever is the ultimate winner, they are unlikely to move back into Russia’s orbit, but Western officials and investors say they worry about the unpredictability that a Zelenskiy presidency is liable to bring.
    Poroshenko was elected president in 2014, soon after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, and an armed uprising by Russian-backed separatists in east Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people and still rumbles on.
    A frequent visitor to the front line wearing camouflage gear, Poroshenko has been credited with containing the conflict and standing up to Russia.
    But many voters say he has failed to get to grips with corruption and poverty and that his own entourage is tainted by sleaze.    An increase in gas prices pushed through under pressure from Western donors caused anger among consumers unhappy at their higher bills.
LIFE IMITATES ART
    Tymoshenko has described the gas hike as “genocide,” promising to lift pensions and emphasizing her past as a revolutionary martyr imprisoned by two presidents.
    Zelenskiy has promised that, if elected, he will usher in anti-corruption and other reforms and breathe new life into moribund peace talks over the fate of eastern Ukraine, now de facto controlled by separatists with Moscow’s support.
    In a case of life imitating art, his campaign has been helped by the character he plays in his TV show: an everyman who becomes president accidentally, then cuts through graft and bureaucracy with plain-talking honesty. Zelenskiy has said he would introduce a bill to strip the president, lawmakers and judges of immunity from prosecution if elected.
    Addressing investor fears about his inexperience, he told Reuters in an interview last month he would not allow Ukraine to default on its debt commitments to the International Monetary Fund, which has propped up the country with billions of dollars in loans in return for reforms.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Sergei Karazy, Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Christian Lowe; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/27/2019 Ukraine’s action man president faces voters’ judgment by Pavel Polityuk
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko poses for a picture with servicemen during a rehearsal for the
Independence Day military parade in central Kiev, Ukraine, August 22, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – The bodyguards were nervous, fingers poised over the triggers of their automatic weapons, as Ukraine’s president inspected the site of a rocket attack from separatist territory which had killed 10 people that day, one of many visits to the front line.
    “His security detail fill their boots with sweat whenever he goes,” said Iryna Gerashchenko, deputy speaker of the Ukrainian parliament and an ally of President Petro Poroshenko.
    Visits to attack sites like the one in 2015 have helped secure Poroshenko’s reputation as a robust defender of Ukrainian statehood against Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 as well as supporting the separatists in the east.
    But Poroshenko, a multi-millionaire businessman, has not shaken off allegations he puts business before matters of state.    Corruption allegations have tainted his entourage, reforms have been fitful and price rises have eaten into living standards.
    Ukrainians voting in a presidential election on Sunday must decide whether Poroshenko’s resolute defense of their nation overrides these other considerations.
(For a graphic on ‘Ukraine presidential election’ click, https://tmsnrt.rs/2EEQ22R)
    “His greatest weakness is that he values money over everything else,” said Mustafa Nayyem, a former member of Poroshenko’s faction in parliament.
    The presidency responded by saying Poroshenko had demonstrated his priorities by his actions, shoring up the army, ratifying an association agreement with the European Union and breaking Russia’s hold over gas supplies and Ukraine’s church.
    “This is the most pro-European president in Ukrainian history,” it said.    “And no one in power has achieved such results.    It is clear that this causes an increase in malice from his opponents and leads them to make unfounded statements.”
    Poroshenko’s main challenger is Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian whose ridiculing of Ukraine’s pervasive corruption appeals to voters fed up with politics-as-usual.
    Zelenskiy leads Poroshenko in most opinion polls, which suggest the president will face him in a second round run-off in April.
RETREAT HALTED
    Poroshenko’s man-of-action credentials propelled him to power back in 2014.    A confectionary magnate sometimes referred to as “the Chocolate King,” he had held ministerial posts in successive governments.
    When protests broke out against pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich, he stood on top of a bulldozer with a bullhorn to try to prevent violence between police and protesters.,br>     Elected president in May 2014, he faced a country in chaos.    Separatists, backed by Russia, controlled a swathe of territory in the east and Ukraine’s security forces were dysfunctional.    Arms stores had been looted and some units could not reach the fighting because they had no spare parts for their vehicles.
    Under Poroshenko the army, backed by volunteer militias, pushed the separatists out of several towns and contained them.    The military was re-equipped and morale lifted. Poroshenko is frequently seen dressed in camouflage fatigues visiting front-line units.
    With some deft diplomacy, Poroshenko persuaded Washington to maintain its backing for Kiev and not ease up on sanctions on Russia, even after President Donald Trump came to power promising a detente with Moscow.
    Kiev’s association agreement with the European Union in 2017 allowed visa-free travel for Ukrainians and locked their country into the Western orbit, and billions of dollars in loans from the International Monetary Fund stabilized the volatile economy.
    In exchange for the loans his government had to implement reforms, one of which, a hike in retail gas prices, has caused widespread anger.
    Ukraine’s gas still partially comes from Russia, but since Ukraine receives it via the EU, it is now harder for Moscow to turn off the taps in any financial dispute as it previously did.
    And this year’s granting of autonomy for the Ukrainian branch of the Orthodox Church from Russia by the spiritual head of Orthodox Christians worldwide was a political coup for Poroshenko.
BLURRED LINES
    Campaigning for president back in 2014, Poroshenko was explicit about what he would do with his confectionary business if elected: “I will sell.”
    Five years later, he has not sold, leaving him vulnerable to accusations that his administration — like others before it — is blurring the line between Ukraine’s interests and the financial interests of powerful oligarchs.
    One of his close associates stepped aside from a senior government role late last month pending a corruption investigation involving his son.    Both father and son deny the allegations, of involvement in smuggling military equipment from Russia and selling it to local armed forces at inflated prices.
    A law criminalizing illicit enrichment was thrown out in February, sparking sharp criticism, especially from the United States.    Poroshenko has denied he or his friends were enriching themselves, and urged patience on anti-corruption measures.
    “If you sow potatoes and dig them up straight away, you’ll get nothing,” he said two years into his presidency. “We’ve taken the first steps, we’ve sown.”
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/28/2019 Russian military team arrived in Caracas: Venezuela military attache
FILE PHOTO: A view of the city during a blackout in Caracas, Venezuela March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Members of the Russian military have arrived in Venezuela but will not take part in military operations, Venezuela’s military attache in Moscow was cited as saying by Interfax news agency on Thursday.
    A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry subsequently said Russia had sent a team of specialists to Venezuela discuss military cooperation at the request of the government in Caracas.
    U.S. President Donald Trump called on Russia on Wednesday to pull troops out of Venezuela and said “all options” were open to make that happen.    Two Russian air force planes landed outside Caracas on Saturday carrying nearly 100 Russian troops, according to media reports.    Russia had until now declined to comment on the reports.
    “The presence of Russian servicemen in Venezuela is linked to the discussion of cooperation in the military-technical sphere,” Jose Rafael Torrealba Perez said, according to Interfax.
    Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at her weekly news briefing on Thursday that “Russia is not changing the balance of power in the region, Russia is not threatening anyone, unlike citizens (officials) in Washington.”
    “Russian specialists have arrived in Venezuela in line with the provisions of a bilateral inter-government agreement on military-technical cooperation.    No one canceled this document,” she said.
    In Venezuela’s recent political crisis, Russia and China have backed President Nicolas Maduro, while the United States and most other Western countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido.    In January, Guaido invoked the constitution to assume Venezuela’s interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/28/2019 European court’s adviser urges quicker fines to states that breach EU law
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in
Brussels, Belgium, March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union countries should be fined more quickly if they fail to apply EU rules, the adviser to the bloc’s top court said on Thursday, in a landmark case that could hasten lengthy procedures against offending EU governments.
    The court’s advocate general recommended a daily fine for Spain for having failed to apply EU rules on consumer credit in a case that for the first time would enforce sanctions against EU countries after a single ruling from the EU court.
    Currently they are fined only after a second, confirmation ruling from the EU court which usually takes years, allowing countries to breach EU rules for prolonged periods without penalties.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio)
[It is very obvious that this was directed at some subversive Eastern European countries especially Hungarian's Orban who is going against the EU and its forcing immigration on them.    Hungary has built a fence on its borders to prevent illegal immigration and proved that walls work as seen in below article.].
    As you can see at https://www.worldtribune.com/they-dont-even-try-hungarys-new-border-fence-called-spectacular-success/
1/26/2019 Flashback — ‘They don’t even try’: Hungary’s new border fence called ‘spectacular success’ by World Tribune
Border patrols prevent dozens of crossings every day and catch migrants who make it
into Hungary within the first few miles of the border, according to authorities. /Reuters
    Skeptics who believe a border wall will not stop illegals from entering the United States may want to look at what’s happening in Hungary.
    On the day its border fence was completed, the influx of illegals entering Hungary went down from 6,353 one day to 870 the next.    For the remainder of that month, illegal border crossings were steadily below 40 per day, officials said.
    Border patrols prevent dozens of crossings every day and catch migrants who make it into Hungary within the first few miles of the border, according to authorities.
    “They don’t even try,” a local border guard told The Daily Caller News Foundation.    “We haven’t had a Syrian in six months.”
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s pledge to stop illegals from flowing into the country appears to be a spectacular success.
    Hungary’s 96-mile long, 14-foot tall double-line fence includes several layers of razor-wire capable of delivering electric shocks.    The barrier features cameras, heat sensors and loudspeakers ready to tell migrants they’re about to break Hungarian law if they as much as touch the fence, the April 30 Daily Caller report said.
    Nearly every police officer in Hungary is part of a rotation to monitor the border fence at all times.    Temporary military bases house the police while they do their rotation.
    Additionally, Hungary will train and pay more than 1,000 volunteers to deploy as “border hunters.”
    Illegals who are caught are arrested and dropped off on the Serbian side of the fence.    They don’t get a chance to apply for asylum unless they do so at a “transit zone” where they are held in housing containers while their cases get processed, the Daily Caller report said.
    In September 2015, thousands of migrants streamed across the border every day as they made their way north to Austria, Germany and Scandinavia.
    “It was an invasion,” Laszlo Toroczkai, the mayor of Asotthalom, told the Daily Caller.    “Illegal immigration is a crime in a normal country.    It’s not a normal thing to break into a country.”
    “By the mid-year it was well beyond 100,000 people who came across,” said Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesman for the Hungarian government.    “You should at least have the ability to handle what’s going on.”
    Kovacs added: “You might not like it, it’s not a nice thing, but … the only way to stop illegal border crossings is [to] first build a fence, man it, equip it, and also, in parallel, build up your capabilities in terms of legal confines, legal circumstances to be able to handle what is coming.”
[It should be a requirement for all candidates who run for Congress/Senate to go to Hungary and view their program so they are informed properly instead of Pelosi and Shumer.].

3/28/2019 Romania’s president calls referendum to back anti-graft reform by Radu-Sorin Marinas
FILE PHOTO: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrives at a European Union summit
in Brussels, Belgium March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – President Klaus Iohannis on Thursday called a national referendum for May 26, seeking to thwart a drive by Romania’s ruling Social Democrats (PSD) to weaken anti-graft legislation.
    Thousands of Romanians protested across the country last month after the PSD government passed an emergency decree that critics said chipped away at prosecutors’ independence in one of the European Union’s most corrupt states.
    Approved without public debate, the decree was the latest in a slew of legislative and personnel changes by the PSD since they took power two years ago that have raised EU and U.S. concern for the rule of law in Romania.
    “The PSD continues the assault on justice since coming to power,” the centrist Iohannis told reporters on Thursday.
    “Justice is a matter of national interest, and citizens have the sovereign right to decide whether or not to let corruption become state policy,” he said in announcing the referendum.
    The PSD has repeatedly said its moves in the judicial sphere are meant to remedy abuses committed by prosecutors and judges.
    Romania’s president is empowered to call referendums on issues he or she deems to be of national interest.    The May 26 plebiscite would coincide with voting for the European Parliament.
    Last month, a European Parliament committee backed Romania’s former anti-corruption chief, Laura Codruta Kovesi, to become the EU’s first fraud prosecutor, despite opposition from the PSD government in Bucharest, which sacked her.
    Romania has the EU’s rotating presidency until June 30 but the Kovesi case has further weakened Bucharest’s standing in the bloc, and coincided with an EU push to make funding to member states from its next long-term budget from 2021 conditional in part on their upholding of the rule of law.
    Romania’s last referendum was held on Oct. 7 to amend the constitutional wording of marriage to read between “a man and a woman,” rather than the gender-neutral “spouses.”    It failed to draw enough voters to validate the result, with only 20 percent casting a ballot against the required 30 percent.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/29/2019 Finnish nationalists rise to third place in poll ahead of elections
Finns Party leader Jussi Halla-aho is pictured in Helsinki, Finland February 27, 2019.
February 27, 2019. Lehtikuva/Antti Aimo-Koivisto via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – The nationalist Finns Party has overtaken Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party to become Finland’s third-most popular party before an April 14 election, according to a poll published by public broadcaster Yle on Friday.
    Support for the eurosceptic Finns Party rose to 15.1 percent in March from 13.3 in February.    The party has made rapid gains in recent months, thanks in part to rising anti-immigration sentiment following a number of cases of sexual abuse of minors by foreign men.
    Leftist Social Democrats are still in the lead at 20.1 percent, according to the Yle poll.
    Finland’s governing coalition, led by Sipila’s Centre Party and the centre-right National Coalition, resigned on March 8 due to its failure to push through a healthcare reform considered crucial to public finances.
    But the runner up position looks uncertain as the National Coalition in third place at 14.4 percent and Centre Party at 14.4 percent all fell within the polls’ margin of error of +/- 2.3 percent.
    At the last election in 2015, the Finns Party won 17.7 percent of the vote.    It subsequently split in two in 2017 when hardliner Halla-aho took the party’s reigns.
    Sipila, who continues in the job as a caretaker until the elections, foresaw difficulties in forming the new government.
    “The upcoming negotiations to form a government certainly won’t be easy,” he said about the latest poll results on Finnish TV channel MTV’s morning show on Friday.
    “I refer to Sweden, for instance.    If the election result is not very clear, it may take a lot of time to find grounds for a government coalition,” he said.
    A political deadlock in neighboring Sweden lasted four months after no clear winning block emerged from parliamentary elections in September.
    Leaders of the largest Finnish parties have ruled out working with the Finns Party in a coalition after the upcoming elections.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/29/2019 EU Commission: Romania backsliding on rule of law
European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas attends a press conference at the
European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission criticized Romania on Friday for backsliding on the rule of law and called on Bucharest to treat fairly Laura Kovesi, a candidate to become the bloc’s first-ever chief prosecutor.
    Romania on Thursday indicted Kovesi on corruption charges, prohibiting from traveling abroad, according to Romanian media reports.    Romania now holds the rotating EU presidency.
    “It is crucial that all candidates put forward by an independent selection panel are treated fairly in the course of this process,” Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a regular news briefing.
    “We call on the Romanian government and on the Romanian authorities to fully respect the principle of sincere cooperation as enshrined in the treaty regarding the selection procedure of the European chief prosecutor,” he said.
    “All candidates need to be able to participate in all steps of the selection procedure, unhindered,” he said.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski)

3/29/2019 Timeline: Events in Ukraine’s political history since 1991
FILE PHOTO - Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comedian and candidate in the upcoming presidential election,
hosts a comedy show at a concert hall in Brovary, Ukraine March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – A comedian with no political experience is tipped to win the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday amid discontent over corruption and five years of war against pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.
    Here is a timeline of the main events in Ukraine’s political history since the country’s independence in 1991.
  • 1991: Leonid Kravchuk, leader of the Soviet republic of Ukraine, declares Kiev’s independence from Moscow.    In a referendum and presidential election Ukrainians approve independence by 92 percent and elect Kravchuk president.
  • 1994: Kravchuk loses presidential election to Leonid Kuchma in elections deemed largely free and fair by observers.
  • 1999: Kuchma is re-elected in 1999 in a vote riddled with irregularities.    Appoints a new prime minister: Viktor Yushchenko, former chairman of the national bank.
  • 2000: Journalist Georgiy Gongadze is murdered in what becomes one of post-Soviet Ukraine’s most notorious crime cases.    The incident epitomizes the sleaze and violence of the Kuchma era and leads to street clashes.
  • 2001: Kuchma fires his deputy prime minister for energy, Yulia Tymoshenko.    Known as the ‘gas princess’ for her designer clothes and involvement in the gas industry, she is fired after charges of forgery and gas smuggling in her previous business are brought against her.    Tymoshenko spends a month in detention.    She denies the charges as a political witchhunt and is later cleared by the courts.
  • 2004: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Moscow establishment candidate, takes on pro-European opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko in a presidential election.    After a toxic race – during which Yushchenko’s face is disfigured in a poisoning attempt – Yanukovich is declared winner.    But claims of vote-rigging trigger mass street protests known as the Orange Revolution, forcing a re-run of the vote. In a stunning reversal, Yushchenko is declared the new winner.
  • 2005: Yushchenko comes to power in January, launching a pro-Western agenda that promises to modernize Ukraine and lead it out of the Kremlin’s sphere of influence, toward NATO and the European Union.    He appoints Tymoshenko his prime minister, after her fiery speeches supporting the Orange Revolution gain her a dedicated following.    But she soon falls out with the president and is sacked after less than eight months in office after much infighting.
  • 2006: Following a row with Moscow over gas supplies, a parliamentary election produces a majority for Yanukovich’s pro-Moscow party.    President Yushchenko accepts his rival as prime minister.    Yanukovich gradually secures control over the economy and key government jobs.
  • 2007: Parliamentary elections are held again, pro-“Orange” parties secure a tiny majority.    In December, parliament votes in Tymoshenko as prime minister for a second stint.
  • 2009: Amid another gas pricing row with Moscow, Tymoshenko starts negotiations with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to resolve a crisis that threatens to leave Europe without energy supplies.
  • 2010: A fresh presidential election brings Yanukovich back to power, defeating Tymoshenko for the top job.    His comeback is based on financial support from wealthy industrialists in eastern Ukraine, as well as promises to fight poverty.    Russia and Ukraine clinch a new gas pricing deal, in exchange for an extension of a lease for the Russian navy in a Ukrainian Black Sea port.
  • 2011: Tymoshenko is sentenced to seven years in prison over her 2009 gas deal with Russia on charges of abuse of power.    She denies any wrongdoing and accuses Yanukovich of pursuing a political vendetta against her and her supporters.
  • 2013: Yanukovich’s government suddenly announces suspension of trade and association talks with the EU in November and opts to revive economic ties with Moscow, triggering months of mass rallies in Kiev.    Protests reach 800,000 by end-2013.
  • 2014: Protests, largely focused around Kiev’s Maidan square, turn increasingly violent.    Dozens of protesters are killed.    In February, Ukraine’s parliament votes to remove Yanukovich, who flees.    Tymoshenko is released from jail.    Within days, armed men seize parliament in the Ukrainian region of Crimea and raise the Russian flag.    Moscow annexes the territory after a referendum which shows overwhelming support in Crimea for joining the Russian Federation.    In April, pro-Russian separatists declare independence and fighting breaks out in eastern Ukraine.    In May, businessman Petro Poroshenko wins a presidential election with a pro-Western agenda.    In July, a missile brings down the MH17 passenger plane, with the weapon used traced back by investigators to Russia, something Russia denies.
  • 2017: An association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union is passed, opening both markets for the free trade of goods and services, as well as visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainians.
  • 2018: A naval clash between Russian border guards and Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait near Crimea leads Poroshenko to declare martial law.
  • 2019: The Ukrainian Church secures autonomy from the Russian Orthodox Church, angering the Kremlin.
    The first round of voting in Ukraine’s presidential election will take place on Sunday.    If no candidate secures a majority, the election will move to a second-round run-off on April 21.
(Compiled by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/29/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy maintains strong lead in Ukraine presidential poll
FILE PHOTO: Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, takes part
in a production process of Servant of the People series in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political novice who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, has maintained a strong lead in Ukraine’s presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday.
    But support for the 41-year-old remains far below the level needed to secure outright victory in the March 31 ballot, and most voters still do not expect him to become president, the KIIS survey showed.
    The poll by KIIS research body, the final survey for the election’s first round, showed Zelenskiy on 20.9 percent of votes, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko second on 13.7 percent and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko third on 9.7 percent.
    Thirty-nine candidates have registered for the election.    If no candidate wins 50 percent of the votes cast, the top two will face each other in a run-off on April 21.
    KIIS said 21.5 percent of those it questioned favored Zelenskiy to win in a second round, 18.3 percent expected Poroshenko to be re-elected and 10.1 percent saw Tymoshenko as the winner.
    KIIS said it interviewed 1,600 voters in all regions, except annexed Crimea, from March 20-
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/29/2019 Out of the police cell and into the polling station: Ukraine’s election monitors by Polina Ivanova
FILE PHOTO: Members and supporters of the National Corps political movement hold a rally in support of
foreign citizens, who joined Ukrainian armed forces and military self-defence battalions and took part in a military conflict
in eastern Ukraine, outside the building of parliament in Kiev, Ukraine October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Andriy Verbetskiy is not a typical election observer.    Just days before Sunday’s presidential vote in Ukraine, he was leading several hundred members of an ultra-nationalist group called the National Militia in a protest that ended in clashes with police.
    He is one of 363 members of the National Militia movement, a camouflage-clad group known for its appeals to patriotism and promise “to use force to establish order,” who have officially registered to monitor the vote.
    Their planned presence in polling stations across the country has caused concern about the prospect of violence during a close election that will decide who leads a country at the hard edge of a standoff between Russia and the West.
    The movement, which has repeatedly collided with police, says its members may take control of ballot boxes and close polling stations pending the arrival of police if they detect cheating, setting up possible confrontations.
    But it also stresses it aims to work hand-in-hand with police and election officials and the Central Election Commission, asked why it had registered them, said it had no reason to refuse them.
    The group is focused on criticizing corruption and the government, although it does not formally support any candidate in the contest, in which President Petro Poroshenko is trailing comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy, with former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko a close third, setting the scene for a runoff vote next month.
    Photographs from Wednesday’s protest, outside a Poroshenko campaign rally, showed hundreds of young men carrying anti-corruption banners, many wearing balaclavas, clashing with a cordon of riot police.    Some protesters threw flaming flares.    Verbetskiy was photographed handcuffed on the ground.
    “This happens regularly.    Police squeeze us out,” he told Reuters the following day.    “They hit me with batons and put restraints on my arms, twisted me up, kicked me in the head,” he said, denying what he said were police accusations of hooliganism and possession of pepper spray and pyrotechnics.
    Police in the western Ukrainian town, Vinnytsia, said they had plenty of video evidence proving the protesters were violent, and that the detainees did not lodge any formal complaints about receiving injuries during detention, and refused routine offers of legal and medical aid.
    Verbetskiy, asked whether the incident would interfere with his role as an election observer in Vinnytsia, his home town, said no.    “The court case is just for a small administrative violation,” he said.
    He and three other National Militia members on the election observer register said their main aim was to tackle corruption.
    “The challenge is very simple… Our job is to record and to bring any violation to the attention of the police,” said Verbetskiy, who added he has been detained by police several times.
LOCKDOWN
    Oleksandr Alfyorov, spokesman for the group’s political party National Corps, which has two members of parliament but is not fielding a presidential candidate, said the National Militia observers had been trained by independent experts.
    Their first response to any violation will be to film and report it, he said.    However, if they deem it necessary, they will also have the option of imposing a lockdown, closing the polling station and taking the ballot box into their custody until police arrive, Alfyorov added.
    Allegations of electoral fraud are already flying around, with Poroshenko and Tymoshenko trading accusations and Zelenskiy implying wrongdoing by his rivals via his jokes.
    A recent letter by ambassadors from the G7 group of nations, leaked to RFE/RL, called on Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Avakov, to take action to curb the power of what it called “extreme political movements.”
    “They intimidate Ukrainian citizens, attempt to usurp the role of the National Police in safeguarding elections, and damage the Ukrainian government’s national and international reputation,” French Ambassador Isabelle Dumont was cited as saying in the letter.
    Avakov said the police were in control and critics were perpetuating what he said were two myths.
    “The first myth is that radical groups will sabotage the elections… This myth does not reflect reality, since we have enough power to prevent this situation wherever it may occur,” he was cited by Interfax as saying at a meeting of international election monitors on Thursday.
    “The second myth is that ‘radical groups are governed by the interior ministry and are Avakov’s personal army’.    This myth is more to do with emotions and politics.”
LEGITIMACY
    Verbetskiy, 25, has been a member of nationalist movements since he was 15 years old, and met his wife in the movement.    He joined the relatively new National Militia a few months ago.
    The group is a successor to the ultra-nationalist Azov Battalion which fought pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in a still-simmering conflict which broke out after Moscow annexed Crimea and the West imposed sanctions on Russia.
    Another Western diplomat expressed concern over the impact hundreds of ultranationalist observers may have on the perceived legitimacy of the election’s outcome, in particular that it may feed into Russian attempts to discredit the result.
    “Russia paints you as a fascist state.    Think about how this looks,” the diplomat said, while stressing that Ukraine did not have a more serious problem with such groups than many other European countries.
    In a speech on Thursday, Poroshenko made clear his government was aware of the perception and legitimacy issue.
    “I am absolutely confident that we have enough power not to allow any pro-(Russian President Vladimir) Putin, or nationalistic, or small Nazi groups to try to block or to cancel or to attack our election,” he said.
    “We are responsible, we understand how important this election is for democracy in Ukraine.”
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/30/2019 Kremlin: USA has not requested phone call on Venezuela with Putin – TASS
Russian President Vladimir Putin reacts during a meeting with businessmen and officials
in Moscow, Russia March 20, 2019. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States has yet to request a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in Venezuela, the Kremlin was quoted as saying by TASS news agency on Saturday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he will probably talk to Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping about the crisis in Venezuela.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/30/2019 Slovakia set to elect anti-graft lawyer as first female president by Tatiana Jancarikova
Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova talks to the media during the country's presidential election
run-off, at a polling station in Pezinok, Slovakia, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Riding a wave of public fury over corruption, liberal lawyer Zuzana Caputova looked set to win Slovakia’s presidential election on Saturday, bucking a trend that has seen populist, anti-European Union politicians make gains across the continent.
    Corruption and change have been the main themes ahead of the run-off vote, which takes place a year after journalist Jan Kuciak, who investigated high-profile fraud cases, and his fiancee were murdered at their home.
    Caputova, a pro-European Union political novice who would be Slovakia’s first female president, won the election’s first round two weeks ago with 40.6 percent of the vote, ahead of European Commissioner Maros Sefcovic on 18.7 percent.
    Sefcovic, a respected diplomat who is also pro-EU, is backed by the ruling party Smer, the largest grouping in parliament and which has dominated Slovak politics since 2006.
    Caputova campaigned to end what she calls the capture of the state “by people pulling strings from behind,” a message that opinion polls show resonates with younger, educated voters.
    “I don’t take my victory as a given.    I expect a narrower result than two weeks ago,” Caputova said after casting her vote in her hometown, Pezinok.
    Sefcovic, who voted in Bratislava, said he hoped for a high turnout that would give the new president a strong mandate.
    “Slovakia needs reconciliation and peace because divisions in the society take away our energy from important issues,” he said.
    Voting stations opened at 7 a.m. (0600 GMT) and were due to close at 10 p.m., with results expected overnight.
    At one polling station in the capital, voter Zuzana Behrikova said she had been convinced by Caputova’s activist background.
    “She knows what it is like to face injustice and she has always had the back of those who fought against the oligarchs,” Behrikova said, accompanied by her two young daughters.
‘SLOVAKIA’S ERIN BROCKOVICH’
    Slovakia’s president wields little day-to-day power but appoints prime ministers and can veto appointments of senior prosecutors and judges.
    Five people have been charged with the murders of Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was investigated by Kuciak, and who has become a symbol of perceived impunity after more than a decade of rule by Smer.    Kocner denies any wrongdoing.
    The killings ignited the biggest protests in Slovakia’s post-communist history.
    Caputova waged a 14-year fight with a company Kocner represented that wanted to build an illegal landfill in her home town.    She eventually won the case, earning her the nickname “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich,” after the American environmentalist portrayed by Julia Roberts in a 2000 film.
    An opinion poll by Median agency, the only survey released between the first and the second round of voting, put support for Caputova at 60.5 percent.    Sefcovic, who has campaigned on his experience and personal relationships with foreign leaders, held a 39.5 percent vote share, according to the poll.
    Courting voters who backed anti-immigration candidates in the first round of the presidential election, Sefcovic has said he rejects the vision of an EU “where the distribution of migrants would be decided by someone other than Slovakia.”
    The Moscow-educated politician supported the government’s opposition to mandatory migrant quotas suggested by the European Commission, where he is a vice president.
    Sefcovic, who joined the Communist Party in what was then Czechoslovakia just months before communism collapsed in November 1989, has stressed his Christian beliefs in the campaign.    He called Caputova’s support for abortion rights and LGBT rights “ultra-liberal.”
    “I chose Sefcovic because of his opposition to gay marriage and adoption,” said voter Juraj, 57, in Bratislava.    “Family is the future of the nation.    I don’t want gay people to be allowed to adopt children.”

(Editing by Frances Kerry, Catherine Evans and Helen Popper)

3/30/2019 Slovak ruling party candidate Sefcovic concedes defeat in presidential election
Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova waits for the election results at the
party's headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia’s ruling party-backed candidate Maros Sefcovic conceded defeat in the euro zone country’s presidential election on Saturday.
    Sefcovic, a vice-president the European Union’s executive Commission, told reporters he had called his rival, liberal lawyer Zuzana Caputova, to congratulate her on her victory.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

3/30/2019 Liberal lawyer Caputova on course to become Slovakia’s first female president by Tatiana Jancarikova
Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova addresses the media at the party's
headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Riding a wave of public fury over corruption, liberal lawyer Zuzana Caputova was on course to win Slovakia’s presidential election on Saturday, bucking a trend that has seen populist, anti-European Union politicians make gains across the continent.
    Corruption and change have been the main themes ahead of the run-off vote, which takes place a year after journalist Jan Kuciak, who investigated high-profile fraud cases, and his fiancée were murdered at their home.
    Caputova, a pro-EU political novice who would be Slovakia’s first female president, took 57.9 percent of the vote after results from 38.5 percent of voting districts were counted, data from the statistical office showed, ahead of European commissioner Maros Sefcovic who won 42.1 percent.
    Sefcovic, a respected diplomat who is also pro-EU, is backed by the ruling party Smer, the largest grouping in parliament that has dominated Slovak politics since 2006.
    Caputova, who was the front runner having won the first round more than 20 percentage points ahead of Sefcovic, campaigned to end what she calls the capture of the state “by people pulling strings from behind,” a message that opinion polls show resonates with younger, educated voters.
    The 45-year old member of a liberal non-parliamentary Progressive Slovakia party has been endorsed by opposition parties and a junior party in the ruling coalition that represents the ethnic Hungarian minority, as well as outgoing President Andrej Kiska.
    “I don’t take my victory as a given.    I expect a narrower result than two weeks ago,” Caputova said after casting her vote in her hometown of Pezinok.
    Sefcovic, who voted in Bratislava, said he hoped for a high turnout that would give the new president a strong mandate.
    “Slovakia needs reconciliation and peace because divisions in the society take away our energy from important issues,” he said.
    Polling stations closed at 10 p.m. (2100 GMT), with results expected overnight.
    At one polling station in the capital, voter Zuzana Behrikova said she had been convinced by Caputova’s activist background.
    “She knows what it is like to face injustice and she has always had the back of those who fought against the oligarchs,” Behrikova said, accompanied by her two young daughters.
‘SLOVAKIA’S ERIN BROCKOVICH’
    Slovakia’s president wields little day-to-day power but appoints prime ministers and can veto appointments of senior prosecutors and judges.
    Five people have been charged with the murders of Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, including businessman Marian Kocner, who was investigated by Kuciak, and who has become a symbol of perceived impunity after more than a decade of rule by Smer. Kocner denies any wrongdoing.
    The killings ignited the biggest protests in Slovakia’s post-communist history.
    Caputova waged a 14-year fight with a company Kocner represented that wanted to build an illegal landfill in her home town.    She eventually won the case, earning her the nickname “Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich,” after the American environmentalist portrayed by Julia Roberts in a 2000 film.
    An opinion poll by the Focus agency, carried out the day before the vote, put support for Caputova at 55.2 percent.    Sefcovic, who has campaigned on his experience and personal relationships with foreign leaders, held a 44.8 percent vote share, according to the poll.
    Courting voters who backed anti-immigration candidates in the first round of the presidential election, Sefcovic has said he rejects the vision of an EU “where the distribution of migrants would be decided by someone other than Slovakia.”
    The Moscow-educated politician supported the government’s opposition to mandatory migrant quotas suggested by the European Commission, where he is a vice president.
    Sefcovic, who joined the Communist Party in what was then Czechoslovakia just months before communism collapsed in November 1989, has stressed his Christian beliefs in the campaign.    He called Caputova’s support for abortion rights and LGBT rights “ultra-liberal
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Jan Lopatka, Helen Popper, Rosalba O’Brien and Daniel Wallis)

3/30/2019 Russia dismisses speculation about its ‘specialists’ in Venezuela
Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova listens during the annual news conference of the Russia's
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has clearly stated the purpose of the “specialists” it has sent to Venezuela under a military cooperation deal, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday, dismissing U.S. concerns about their presence.
    “The Russian side clearly stated the purpose of the arrival of its specialists to Caracas.    This is not about any ‘military contingents’,” Zakharova said in a statement.
    “Thus, the speculations about the conduct of certain ‘military operations’ by Russia in Venezuela are absolutely groundless.”
    Russia has said its “specialists” pose no threat to regional stability, brushing aside a call from the United States to remove all its military personnel from Venezuela.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/30/2019 Russia’s Inter RAO says seeks gas turbines deal with GE by October
FILE PHOTO: Boris Kovalchuk, chief executive and chairman of the management board of state electricity holding
firm Inter RAO, looks on before a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan with
Russian and Turkish entrepreneurs at the Konstantinovsky Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, August 9, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    KRASNOYARSK, Russia (Reuters) – The chief executive of Russia’s Inter RAO said on Saturday the energy holding hoped to reach a deal with General Electric Co by October to produce powerful gas turbines in Russia, either as a joint venture or by buying a license from GE.
    Russia, which does not currently produce mid- or high-power gas-fired power turbines, recently launched a 1.9 trillion rouble ($29 billion) program to modernize a quarter of its power generation, or 41 gigawatt of coal- and gas-based plants.
    It is seen as a rare opportunity for Western producers amid falling global demand for gas turbines in recent years, but Moscow has said investors must only use fully localised — domestically produced — equipment as part of a local content push.
    Inter RAO CEO Boris Kovalchuk said the modernization program would open a large market for GE for 10 years.
    “We hope to reach all the agreements with them within half a year,” Kovalchuk told reporters during a conference in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.
    A plant jointly owned by Inter RAO, GE and Russian state conglomerate Rostec produces 77-megawatt turbines in Russia’s central region of Yaroslavl.
    The ongoing talks between GE and Inter RAO are for the local production of 185-195 megawatt turbines.    Inter RAO may purchase Rostec’s stake in the plant as part of the deal with GE, Kovalchuk added.
    A joint venture between Siemens and Russian firm Power Machines is already producing turbines in Russia. Siemens, which owns a 65-percent stake in the venture, has pledged to raise the level of localization in the production process.
    Russian state-controlled firms — Rostec, Rosnano and Inter RAO — have been trying to create their own gas turbine production but their prototype project failed testing, sources, familiar with the matter, told Reuters a year ago.
    Kovalchuk said on Saturday that the project was continuing, and that Inter RAO had passed the second turbine to the project’s operator for improvement.
(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Helen Popper)

3/31/2019 Comedian is center stage as Ukraine holds presidential vote by Pavel Polityuk and Polina Ivanova
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy casts his ballot at a polling station
during a presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – The top three contenders in Ukraine’s presidential elections cast their vote on Sunday in a first round which a comedian – who happens to play a fictional president in a popular TV series – is tipped to win.
    Political newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, who is appealing to voters fed up with entrenched corruption, has consistently led opinion polls in a three-horse race against incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
    At stake is the leadership of a country on the front line of the West’s standoff with Russia after the 2014 Maidan street protests ejected Poroshenko’s Kremlin-friendly predecessor and Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.
    No candidate is expected to receive more than half the votes, meaning the election would go to a run-off on April 21.    Out of a crowded field of 39 candidates, none of the likely winners wants to move Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.
    Investors are watching to see if the next president will push reforms required to keep the country in an International Monetary Fund bailout program that has supported Ukraine through war, sharp recession and a currency plunge.
    Joking around with journalists after casting his ballot, anti-establishment candidate Zelenskiy said he was in an upbeat mood and had “voted for a very worthy guy.”
    “A new life is beginning, a normal life, a life without corruption, without bribes – life in a new country, the country of our dreams,” Zelenskiy said.
    Despite multiple accusations of electoral fraud among the candidates ahead of the election, the first half of voting day itself appeared to go quite smoothly.    Police said that by midday (09:00 GMT) they had received 284 reports of minor violations, and opened three criminal cases.
    Poroshenko has fought to integrate the country with the European Union and NATO, while strengthening the military which is fighting Kremlin-backed separatists in the east of the country.
    After voting alongside his family on Sunday the incumbent spoke about how a fair vote was essential for Ukraine’s progress.
    “This is an absolutely necessary condition for our moving forward, for the return of Ukraine into the family of European nations and our membership of the European Union and NATO,” Poroshenko said.
    Pushing the use of the Ukrainian language and instrumental in establishing a new independent Orthodox church, the 53-year-old confectionary magnate casts himself as the man to prevent Ukraine again becoming a Russian vassal state.
    But reforms crucial to keep foreign aid flowing have been patchy.    Conflict in the eastern Donbass region has killed 13,000 people in five years and rumbles on despite Poroshenko’s promise to end it within weeks.    Frustration over low living standards and pervasive corruption has left the door open for Zelenskiy.
ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT
    Just 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their national government, the lowest of any electorate in the world, a Gallup poll published in March showed.
    Zelenskiy has tapped into the anti-establishment mood, though his inexperience makes Western officials and foreign investors wary and skeptics question his fitness to be a wartime commander-in-chief.
    Inviting comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump and Italy’s Five-Star movement, his campaign has relied heavily on social media and comedy gigs of jokes, sketches and song-and-dance routines that poke fun at his political rivals.
    “He embodies the perceived need for ‘new faces’ in politics and could sway the young, pro-reform electorate to his side,” said Economist Intelligence Unit analyst Agnese Ortolani.
    Zelenskiy’s campaign has blurred the line between reality and the TV series in which he plays a scrupulously honest history teacher who accidentally becomes president.
    In series three, which began airing in March, his character is flung into prison and the country falls under the control of oligarchs, populists and ultranationalists, and eventually gets broken up into 28 states.    Thinly-disguised characters resembling Poroshenko and Tymoshenko come to power.
    The election has been marred by allegations of fraud and vote-buying, meaning one or more of the candidates could contest the result.    Ultranationalists acting as election observers have also caused concern about the prospect of violence.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Polina Ivanova; writing by Matthias Williams and Polina Ivanova; Editing by David Holmes and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/31/2019 Comedian Zelenskiy takes lead in Ukraine presidential election: exit poll
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy casts his ballot at a polling station
during a presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – The first exit poll in Ukraine’s presidential election showed comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy winning the first round with 30.4 percent of the vote, and incumbent President Petro Poroshenko coming in second place with 17.8 percent.
    Announcing the first poll, the Central Election Commission said it was based on voting up to 18:00 (15:00 GMT).
    If no candidate receives more than half the votes, the election goes to a run-off on April 21.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Polina Ivanova; editing by Matthias Williams)

4/1/2019 Vote count confirms comic’s lead in Ukraine elections by Matthias Williams, Pavel Polityuk, Polina Ivanova and Natalia Zinets
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy flashes a victory sign following the announcement of the first
exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – A comedian with no political experience raced ahead in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, offering a fresh face to voters fed up with entrenched corruption in a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia.
(For election graphic click https://tmsnrt.rs/2EEQ22R)
    With over half of all ballots counted by Monday morning, 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, held a comfortable lead over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a vote deemed largely free and fair by the national electoral commission.
    A crowded field of 39 candidates has now shrunk to just two, with Zelenskiy and Poroshenko set to go head-to-head in a second round run-off on April 21.
    Propelled by his anti-establishment appeal, newcomer Zelenskiy must convince voters he is fit to lead a country that has been at war ever since protests in 2014 ejected a pro-Kremlin government and Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.
    He has been criticized for being an unknown quantity and light on policy detail, and his victory speech on Sunday provided little further insight into what he would do if handed the top job in the second round vote.
    Both Zelenskiy and Poroshenko face firmly west, and neither wants to move Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.    But investors are also keen to see if the next president would push reforms required to keep the country in an International Monetary Fund bailout program that has supported Ukraine through war, sharp recession and a currency plunge.
    With 50.4 percent of ballots counted by 09:00 (06:00 GMT) on Monday, Zelenskiy held 30.2 percent of the vote, the Central Election Commission said.
    The result is a powerful challenge to the veteran politician Poroshenko, at 16.6 percent, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who trailed in third place with 13.1 percent.
LAID-BACK STYLE
    “I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all the Ukrainians who did not vote just for fun,” Zelenskiy told cheering supporters on Sunday.    “It is only the beginning, we will not relax.”
    In keeping with the laid-back style of his campaign, Zelenskiy’s election night venue provided a bar with free alcohol, table football and table tennis games.
    Poroshenko called the result a “severe lesson,” especially from younger voters, and urged their support in a second round.
    “You see changes in the country, but want them to be quicker, deeper and of higher quality. I have understood the motives behind your protest,” he said.
    Poroshenko sought to portray Zelenskiy as unfit to represent Ukraine abroad, especially when taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin in international talks.
    Putin “dreams of a soft, pliant, tender, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideologically amorphous and politically undecided president of Ukraine.    Are we really going to give him that opportunity?” Poroshenko said.
    Poroshenko said the vote was free and met international standards.    Tymoshenko said at a news conference she might yet challenge the result, adding that her team’s exit polling put her in second place.
    Stuart Culverhouse, head of sovereign and fixed-income research at investment bank Exotix, said Zelenskiy had tried to present himself more professionally by meeting business leaders and talking of orthodox economic policies.
    “That said, if the exit polls are confirmed in the official vote count, we would expect Zelenskiy to be put under greater pressure in the run-up to the second round to flesh out his policy agenda,” he said.
    Poroshenko has fought to integrate the country with the European Union and NATO, while strengthening the military that is fighting Kremlin-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east.
    Voting was a snapshot of Ukraine’s recent history.    Soldiers lined up to vote in makeshift polling stations in the east.
    Voters formed long lines outside polling stations in neighboring EU member Poland, where between one and two million Ukrainians have moved, many in search of jobs and higher wages.
    Pushing the use of the Ukrainian language and instrumental in establishing a new independent Orthodox church, confectionary magnate Poroshenko, 53, has cast himself as the man to prevent Ukraine again becoming a Russian vassal state.
    But reforms to keep foreign aid flowing have been patchy.    Conflict in the eastern Donbass region has killed 13,000 people in five years and rumbles on despite Poroshenko’s promise to end it within weeks.    Frustration over low living standards and pervasive corruption has left the door open for Zelenskiy.
    The majority of voters in separatist-held eastern Ukraine and Crimea were unlikely to take part in the election as they needed to undergo a special registration process on Ukraine-controlled territory.
ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT
    But Crimean residents who kept Ukrainian citizenship after the Russian annexation crossed the land border to mainland Ukraine, from where buses took them to polling stations.
    Just 9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their national government, the lowest of any electorate in the world, a Gallup poll published in March showed.
    Zelenskiy has tapped into this anti-establishment mood, although his inexperience makes Western officials and foreign investors wary.
    His campaign has relied heavily on social media and comedy gigs of jokes, sketches and song-and-dance routines that poke fun at his political rivals.
    Zelenskiy’s campaign blurred the line between reality and the TV series in which he plays a scrupulously honest history teacher who accidentally becomes president.
    “He embodies the perceived need for ‘new faces’ in politics and could sway the young, pro-reform electorate to his side,” said Economist Intelligence Unit analyst Agnese Ortolani.
(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Polina Ivanova; Writing by Matthias Williams and Polina Ivanova; Editing by William Maclean)

4/1/2019 Russia’s Rusal resumes aluminum supplies to U.S. market by Anastasia Lyrchikova
FILE PHOTO: Chief Executive of Russian aluminium giant Rusal Evgenii Nikitin gives an interview in
Krasnoyarsk, Russia March 29, 2019. Picture taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Anastasia Lyrchikova/File Photo
    KRASNOYARSK, Russia (Reuters) – Russian aluminum giant Rusal has resumed supplies to the U.S. market and aims to win back customers it lost due to sanctions by about September when the industry seals supply contracts for 2020, its chief executive said.
    Last autumn, Rusal, the world’s largest aluminum producer outside China, missed the traditional window for contracting sales for this year as it was still negotiating with the U.S. Treasury Department to be removed from a sanctions list.
    “We fulfilled all our obligations even during the period of sanctions, we did not allow ourselves a single failure.    Therefore, some of our former partners are already coming back, new partners are coming,” CEO Evgenii Nikitin said.
    “We hope that we will be able to bring back our clients toward September, the contracting period for 2020,” he added in an interview with Reuters.
    Rusal’s nine months of talks with Washington ended successfully in late 2018.    In January, Washington excluded Rusal from the sanctions list but kept founder Oleg Deripaska, who had to give up his control of the firm as part of the deal.
    During sanctions, Rusal lost some of its customers, including Novelis Corp, the world’s biggest producer of rolled aluminum products.
    The company is partially resuming deliveries to them but admits that it will have a chance to regain all its clients only when contracts for 2020 are signed.
    “We expect to restore lost positions in all the traditional markets for the company, including Asia and America, with which difficulties arose last year.    To date, we have already resumed deliveries to the American market,” Nikitin said.
    “Volumes for 2019 for most customers, including Novelis, are already contracted, but if there is a need for an increase, our partners will contact us.    The same applies to customers in Japan.”
    Asked if a new contract with Glencore was coming after the expiry of their long-term contract in late 2018, Nikitin said: “Glencore is one of our big customers. We are in negotiating positions with all clientsz.”
NEW SMELTERS
    Rusal planned to keep its 2019 production and investments stable at 3.8 million tonnes and $900 million, respectively, Nikitin said.
    Last week, the company launched new production at its Boguchansk aluminum smelter in Siberia, doubling its annual capacity to 298,000 tonnes a year.    The company is currently considering a further increase in Boguchansk’s capacity, Nikitin said.
    Rusal is also constructing the Taishet aluminum smelter, which it expects to launch in late 2020 and is discussing attracting financing for it from Russian and foreign banks.
    Rusal is confident both Taishet and Boguchansk will find demand for their product.    It expects global demand for aluminum to grow by 3.7 percent to 68 million tonnes in 2019 and maintain the same pace of growth in 2020.
    Nikitin also said that there were no issues with Russia’s alumina supplies from the Mykolaiv (Nikolayev) plant in Ukraine.
    He, however, said he did not know whether negotiations to sell the plant to Glencore, which were halted due to U.S. sanctions, would resume.
    Rusal also plans to keep its 20 percent stake in Australia’s QAL and is in talks with Kazakh firm ERG on a new alumina supply contract, Nikitin said, adding that in general, Rusal does not consider selling any of its assets in the near future.
    Nikitin has been with Rusal for more than 25 years and was offered the CEO job in May by the board, a month after the U.S. sanctions against Rusal.
(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova; writing by Polina Devitt; editing by Tom Balmforth and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)
[Look what happened to this company because of the Muellar witch hunt and think what will happen if we start a bitch hunt to invesitgate the FISA corruption to Hillary and the Clinton Foundation.].

    This page created on 1/1/2019, and updated each month by 1/31/2019, 2/28/2019, and 3/31/2019.

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