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

    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 return to King Of The North 2019 July-September or continue to King Of The North 2020 January-March

KING OF THE NORTH 2019 OCTOBER-DECEMBER

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.



2019 OCTOBER-DECEMBER

10/1/2019 Russia’s Putin, Iran’s Rouhani to discuss nuclear deal
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government
in Moscow, Russia September 25, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

10/1/2019 Kosovo to elect new parliament amid anger over graft, unemployment by Fatos Bytyci
Albin Kurti, leader of the Self-Determination movement (Vetevendosje), attends
campaign rally in Mitrovica, Kosovo, September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Laura Hasani
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Voters in Kosovo will pick a new parliament on Sunday in a snap election dominated by rampant corruption, sky-high unemployment and poor relations with neighboring Serbia that it must try to mend if it is to move closer towards eventual EU membership.
    Kosovo has Europe’s youngest population, with an average age of 29, and has seen annual economic growth averaging 4% over the past decade, but it remains very poor and more than 200,000 Kosovars have left and applied for asylum in the European Union since Pristina won its independence from Belgrade in 2008.
    The election was triggered by the resignation of Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj in July after he was summoned for questioning by the war crimes prosecutor in The Hague over his role in the 1998-99 insurgency against Serb forces.
    Public dissatisfaction with the record of his three-party governing coalition has boosted support for opposition parties, with the center-right Democratic League for Kosovo (LDK) and the nationalist, left-leaning Vetevendosje vying for first place.
    The LDK’s candidate for prime minister, Vjosa Osmani, said she believed Kosovars were now ready to be led by a woman for the first time.
    “In more than 90 percent of cases it is men who are involved in corruption.    A woman sees the state and how to take care of our citizens completely differently,” Osmani told Reuters.
    Educated in the United States, the 37-year-old law professor represents a younger generation of Kosovars more familiar with life in the West and deeply frustrated with the nepotism and ineffectiveness of the tiny Balkan nation’s traditional parties.
IT CANNOT GET ANY WORSE
    Her campaign slogan is “believe!” but voters are skeptical about politicians’ promises in a country where more than a third of people are unemployed and getting a well-paid job usually requires hard cash or political connections.
    “To get a job you need to bribe someone or know the right officials,” said Lindita Azemi, 22, who earns less than 300 euros a month cooking up hamburgers at a local shop despite having a degree in political science and public administration.
    Echoing that note of disillusionment, Ramadan Bibaj, 66, said: “Whoever wins, it cannot get any worse than this.”
    “Politicians became very rich and now they don’t want to know about the people.    Within five years fewer than 400,000 people will remain here (if things continue like this)” he said.
    Kosovo’s population now stands at 1.8 million.
    Both Osmani and her main rival, Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti, are trying to tap into the public anger over graft.
    While Osmani favors free market reforms, Kurti advocates a sovereign fund to rebuild state-owned firms in key sectors.    But both remain opposed to making territorial concessions to Serbia – one option proposed for reviving stalled talks on normalizing bilateral relations.
    Predominantly Albanian Kosovo declared independence in 2008, nearly a decade after NATO bombing drove Serb security forces out of what was then a Serbian province.    In 2013, Kosovo and Serbia agreed to EU-sponsored talks, but little progress has been made since.
    Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by more than 110 states but not by others, including five EU member states, as well as Serbia, Russia and China.
    Under its constitution, Serbia considers Kosovo part of its territory.    Pristina has imposed a 100% tax on Serbian imports and says it will only scrap it after Belgrade recognizes Kosovo as a sovereign state.
    Opinion polls predict no party gaining enough support to form a government on its own after Sunday’s election, and lengthy coalition talks are expected.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Gareth Jones)

10/1/2019 Romania’s centrists want to topple government in no-confidence vote
FILE PHOTO: Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila casts her vote during the European Parliament
Elections in Bucharest, Romania, May 26, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s centrist opposition is seeking to topple the government in a parliamentary no-confidence vote next week, one year ahead of a general election, the National Liberal Party (PNL) said on Tuesday.
    Prime Minister Viorica Dancila’s cabinet lost its majority in August after a coalition junior ally ALDE quit over policy disagreements, leaving her vulnerable to a censure motion.
    ALDE withdrew from the ruling alliance after its leader Calin Tariceanu lost a bid to become the sole pro-government candidate in a presidential election scheduled for November.
    “We’re filing the censure motion later today,” said PNL president Ludovic Orban, saying the largest opposition grouping had gathered 237 signatures from lawmakers to back its bid.
    A government can be toppled if a majority of Romania’s members of parliament, or 233 MPs, vote to back the no-confidence motion.    Political commentators, however, said a slim four-seat margin gives the government high chances of survival.
    The vote could take place as early as Friday.
    EU and U.S. authorities have strongly criticized the governing alliance for an overhaul of Romania’s judiciary which they say threatens the rule of law, and for watering down anti-graft legislation.
    Voters turned on the government in European parliament elections in May, with support for the ruling Social Democrats almost halving compared to levels at the 2016 general election.
(Reporting by Radu Marinas, editing by Ed Osmond)

10/2/2019 Breakthrough at talks opens way to summit on Ukraine conflict by Natalia Zinets and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivers a speech during a parliamentary
session in Kiev, Ukraine August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo
    KIEV/PARIS (Reuters) – A breakthrough at talks between Moscow and Kiev has opened the way to the first international summit in three years being convened on ending fighting in east Ukraine.
    Diplomats from France and Germany, the big European powers also involved in peace efforts, said they were confident the summit could now be called for later this month.
    Over 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
    Envoys from Moscow and Kiev agreed at talks on Tuesday on an election schedule for the separatist region and on legislation giving it special status.
    “Today, the last obstacles were removed on a path to the Normandy Four summit.    I think in the nearest future we will have dates,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told reporters late on Tuesday in Kiev.
    The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany last met in the Normandy format in October 2016.    The group takes its name from a meeting of the countries’ leaders in Normandy in 2014.
    In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed the progress at Tuesday’s talks, Tass news agency reported.
    He said that “now all interested parties and their representatives will work on the prospects for holding … a summit. We hope things will become clearer in the near future.”
SOME OBSTACLES REMAIN
    French and German diplomats, who were part of Tuesday’s talks, hoped for a summit in Paris in mid-October but said there were still some obstacles to overcome.    Relations between Kiev and Moscow have long been strained over Russia’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
    “It’s going in the right direction, but we still don’t have an answer from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin on whether he accepts the summit and we aren’t going to leave Zelenskiy hanging if there is nothing to be gained from a summit,” said a French diplomatic source who asked not to be identified.
    Regular, low-level clashes have persisted despite a ceasefire signed in 2015 but Russia and Ukraine swapped prisoners last month in a sign of progress.
    The conflict is sapping Ukraine’s economy and is one of the factors holding up reforms.
    Zelenskiy wants all Russian troops out of the Donbass region of east Ukraine before an election is held there. He says he will not allow a special status law for Donbass to have any impact on Ukraine’s constitution, thus impeding moves to join the European Union, one of Kiev’s goals.
    Separatist leaders in east Ukraine said Zelenskiy should not try to “dictate conditions."
(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, Olzhas Auyezov and Maria Tsvetkova, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

10/2/2019 Putin: I don’t share excitement about Greta Thunberg’s U.N. speech by Vladimir Soldatkin and Dmitry Zhdannikov
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government
in Moscow, Russia September 25, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday took aim at teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, telling an energy forum he did not share the excitement about her United Nations speech last month.
    The 16-year-old Swede electrified the U.N. summit in New York when she denounced world leaders for failing to tackle climate change, unleashing the outrage felt by millions of her peers by demanding: “How dare you?
    Putin, chairing a session at an energy forum in Moscow, said: “I may disappoint you but I don’t share the common excitement about the speech by Greta Thunberg."
    “No one has explained to Greta that the modern world is complex and different and … people in Africa or in many Asian countries want to live at the same wealth level as in Sweden.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump mocked Thunberg and Canadian Member of Parliament Maxime Bernier called her alarmist and mentally unstable.    Thunberg said their mockery of children showed her message had become “too loud to handle.”
    Putin said young people who paid attention to environmental issues should be supported, adding: “But when someone is using children and teenagers in personal interests, it only deserves to be condemned."
    “I’m sure that Greta is a kind and very sincere girl.    But adults must do everything not to bring teenagers and children into some extreme situations.”
    Inspired by Thunberg’s solitary weekly protest outside the Swedish parliament a year ago, millions of people have poured onto the streets around the globe to demand governments take emergency action on climate change.
    Thunberg told the U.N. conference: “This is all wrong.    I shouldn’t be up here.    I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean yet you all come to us young people for hope.    How dare you?"
    “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said.
    Earlier this week, a member of the Russian lower house of parliament, the Duma, invited Thunberg to Russia to deliver a speech.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Dmitry Zhdannikov, Katya Golubkova and Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Andrey Ostroukh and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

10/2/2019 Putin backs Trump in U.S. domestic row, jokes about election meddling by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Katya Golubkova
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of a session of
the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday sided with his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump in the domestic political storm raging in the United States, and briefly joked that Moscow would hack the U.S. presidential election in 2020.
    Putin said Trump, who faces an impeachment inquiry over accusations that he pressured Ukraine’s president to dig up dirt on a political rival ahead of the November 2020 election, had done nothing wrong by looking into possible cases of corruption.
    Putin said he had not seen any evidence of Trump pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the reconstructed transcript of the conversation released by the White House.
    “…I don’t see anything compromising at all. President Trump asked his colleague to investigate possible corrupt deals by former administration employees,” Putin told a conference in Moscow.    “Any head of state would be obliged to do this.”
    Putin cast the accusations against Trump as the latest attempt by U.S. Democrats to oust the president after what he said was the failure to find evidence of collusion between the Republican Trump and Russia in 2016 election meddling.
    “We see what’s going on in the United States – all pretexts are being used to attack President Trump.    Now it’s Ukraine… It became clear there was no secret deal between Russia and Trump’s team… Now another pretext has been found linked to Ukraine.”
    U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign in order to tilt the vote in Trump’s favor.    Moscow has denied any interference.
    Pressed by a moderator to speak to fears of a Russian attempt to interfere in the elections next year, Putin leaned into the microphone for comic effect.
    “I’ll tell you a secret – yes, we’ll definitely do this to cheer you up over there once and for all,” Putin said, drawing applause from the hall in Moscow.
    He ridiculed the U.S. intelligence assessments of past election meddling, saying that Moscow had better things to do and that in any case the Kremlin would be prepared to work with whomever the United States elected as its president.
    “If this is President Trump, then we will work with Trump.    If not, then not.”
    The U.S. House Intelligence Committee’s chairman said on Sunday that Congress was determined to get access to Trump’s calls with Putin and other world leaders and cited concerns that Trump may have jeopardized national security.
    Putin said he would not mind if his phone calls with Trump were published and that, because of his intelligence background, he always assumed that his words could potentially be published whenever he speaks.
    “I haven’t done the work I do now my entire life and my previous experience taught me that any conversation can be published,” Putin, who once worked for the KGB, said.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Olesya Astakhova and Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Howard Goller)

10/2/2019 Putin brushes off allegations of Russian election meddling
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of a session
of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that it was ridiculous to suggest Moscow would try to interfere in next year’s U.S. presidential election, and that no proof had been presented of past election meddling by Moscow.
    U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign in order to tilt the vote in Donald Trump’s favor. Moscow has denied any interference.
    Speaking at an economic conference in Moscow, Putin said Russia would be prepared to work with any president elected in the United States, and had better things to do than interfere in U.S. elections.
(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Katya Golubkova, Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

10/2/2019 Russia’s Putin says no proof Iran was behind Saudi attacks
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council
in Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that there was no evidence that Iran was responsible for an attack on Saudi oil infrastructure last month and that the United States had not presented any proof of Iran’s role.
    France tried to set up a meeting between the leaders of Iran and the United States after the attack but failed to because Tehran wants Washington to remove its sanctions, Putin said at an energy conference in Moscow.We condemn these (attacks) but we are against shifting the blame to Iran because there is no proof of that,” Putin said, adding that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had personally told him Tehran had nothing to do with the attacks.
    Last month’s attack briefly reduced Saudi Arabia’s oil output by half, causing a spike in oil prices, but Riyadh has been able to quickly restore production, calming the market.
    Russia maintains close ties with both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and Putin on Wednesday credited the Moscow-Riyadh cooperation with stabilizing global energy prices.
(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

10/2/2019 Kremlin says it approves of move by Kiev to back peace plan: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday that it approved of a move by Kiev to sign a peace plan with pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east that it had previously rejected, RIA news agency reported.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday that a plan known as the Steinmeier formula to provide special status for the Donbas region and hold elections there should be written into Ukrainian law.
    Following the move, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he expected a date to be set soon for Normandy four talks on Ukraine between France, German, Ukraine and Russia, the TASS news agency reported.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Olzhas Auyezov)

10/3/2019 Zelenskiy wants Ukrainian candidates to run in Donbass election by Natalia Zinets and Gleb Stolyarov
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts during a news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV/SOCHI (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that Ukrainian candidates should take part in an election that is expected to be held in the east of the country, currently controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
    Zelenskiy made his comments two days after a breakthrough at talks between Moscow and Kiev opened the way to the first international summit in three years being convened on ending fighting in eastern Ukraine.
    The details of the peace plan have not yet been hashed out.    Russian officials have welcomed the plan, but have not commented on specifics.
    “The election should not be held at gunpoint but in accordance with Ukrainian law, with access for candidates from Ukrainian political forces, Ukrainian media and international observers,” Zelenskiy said in televised comments on Thursday.
    He also said that all the people internally displaced by the fighting should have an opportunity to vote.
    Ukraine’s decision to agree to a peace plan, which suggests that the separatist region will be granted a special status and a local election will be held there, sparked protests in Kiev on Wednesday.
    Thousands of protesters gathered in Kiev’s main square, chanting “no capitulation!” and “shame!
    The protest illustrates the domestic political challenges that Ukraine’s Zelenskiy, who was elected by a landslide in April, would face in brokering an end to the more than five-year conflict with Moscow-backed forces.
    “I respect a constitutional right of every Ukrainian citizen to protest.    I am hearing you, and believe me, I will never betray Ukraine,” Zelenskiy said on Thursday.
    He said that he would discuss ending the war at the coming four-way talks in so-called “Normandy format,” in which leaders of Russia,     Germany and France would also take part.    The Kremlin said on Thursday that no date had been set yet for the summit.
    More than 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.    Last month, Russia and Ukraine swapped dozens of prisoners, paving a way for further talks.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing a forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, said on Thursday that Zelenskiy, in order to prove he is a “fair and strong” politician, should complete the peace process in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets in KIEV and Gleb Stolyarov in SOCHI; Additional reporting by Sergiy Karazy in KIEV; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Mark Potter)

10/3/2019 Russia’s Medvedev slams U.S. for Cuba embargo during Havana trip by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta
Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev review an honour guard during
a ceremony at the Revolution Palace in Havana, Cuba, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev lambasted the Trump administration on Thursday for trying to create a “toxic atmosphere” around Cuba, during a two-day trip to the island demonstrating Russia’s support for its Communist government.
    The former Soviet Union was Cuba’s main backer for decades and Moscow has sought to renew its commercial, military and political ties with the island in recent years.    The effort is part of Russia’s broader strategy to expand its presence in Latin America as a counterweight to China and the United States.
    While Russia’s support for Cuba is insignificant compared to the role the Soviet Union once played, it is still welcome as the island’s economy is suffering from a tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo and a steep decline in Venezuelan aid.
    Medvedev’s visit – the highest profile Russian tour since that of President Vladimir Putin in 2014 – is also symbolically important, showing Cuba has still has powerful allies that will help it resist U.S. pressure.
    “(The U.S.) desire to create a toxic atmosphere around cooperation with the island, to scare off investors and create an energetic blockade is obvious,” Medvedev told reporters after holding official talks with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and agreeing to strengthen strategic cooperation.
    “But Cuba’s experience resisting the blockade for nearly 60 years shows that this policy will fail.”
    For Russia, the visit could also be important to shore up Cuban support for their mutual ally, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, some analysts said.
    Venezuela has become one of Russia’s top proxy battles with the Trump administration, which like most western nations no longer recognize Maduro as its legitimate leader, they said. Moscow also has commercial interests there.
    “They are most concerned about the Venezuelan piece of the jigsaw and, so far, want to show Cuba that they are willing to back their efforts to ensure Maduro’s survival,” said Paul Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba who lectures at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies.
    “They need to show Iran and North Korea also that the United States’ coercive diplomacy will not prevail.”
    Russia has the potential to help Cuba out of its current fuel crisis, which Havana blames on U.S. sanctions on energy shipments to the island.    It remains unclear though whether Moscow is willing and has the economic firepower to do so.
    “Russia is wary of becoming a bankroller again so they will only offer enough to prop Cuba up as long as it is politically useful,” said Hare.
    Medvedev and Diaz-Canel signed a series of modest commercial deals on Thursday in the infrastructure, medical and industrial sectors, while the latter confirmed he would travel to meet with Putin at the end of October in Moscow, a month after Maduro.
RELATIONS REBOOTED
    Throughout the Cold War, Moscow propped up Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government, providing it with billions of dollars worth of cheap grain, machinery and other goods.    Those subsidies disappeared with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and trade plunged.
    Relations got a boost once more in 2014 when Russia forgave 90% of Cuba’s $35 billion Soviet-era debt and started providing export financing to Russian companies looking to sell to the cash-strapped island.
    That has become increasingly important as Western commercial financing is drying up due to growing U.S. hostility.
    Russian companies have signed various modest, multi-million dollar deals with Cuba in recent years to upgrade its rickety industrial sector and infrastructure.
    Medvedev and Diaz-Canel on Thursday signed deals for Russia to finance projects to maintain the airplanes in Cuba’s fleet produced by Russia and the upgrade of a metallurgic factory.    Those deals are worth around 21 million euros ($23.07 million) and 33.8 million euros, according to the Russian Export Center.
    Medvedev and Diaz-Canel signed other deals on upgrading Cuba’s railways, cooperating more in science and technology and creating an irradiation center on the island.    The countries did not release details on these agreements.
    Russian exports to Cuba more than doubled in 2017 to $414 million and rose to $440 million last year, according to official Cuban data.    While that remains less than a third of Spanish, Chinese or Venezuelan exports to Cuba, it looks set to continue rising.
    Russian exports include hundreds of cars and minibuses as well as dozens of locomotives that have helped Cuba battle a severe shortage of public transport.
    “For Cuba, the symbolism is that the U.S. strategy of economic strangulation will fail because Cuba can turn elsewhere for support – just as it did during the Cold War,” said William LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University.
    U.S. sanctions are therefore achieving the opposite of Washington’s foreign policy goals, pushing Cuba into the arms of its old allies, said U.S. politicians who support engagement.
    “I wish we were signing agreements with the Cubans and not the Russian,” Massachusetts Congressman James McGovern told reporters on Thursday during a visit to Cuba as the head of a delegation of business people.
    “The United States needs to be engaged in the world.    Where and when we are not engaged, China and Russia will be.”
    Later on Thursday Medvedev visited Havana’s Capitol building, the golden dome of which has been restored with Russian financing.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Katya Golubkova in Moscow; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Richard Chang and Frances Kerry)

10/3/2019 Putin: we will keep working with U.S. to the extent they will
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Energy Week International Forum
in Moscow, Russia October 2, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Moscow is willing to keep working with Washington even as President Donald Trump’s focus shifts to his domestic political woes, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
    “We must take into account what is going on domestically there,” Putin told a conference on international politics.    “It is impossible to stop working with such a global power as the United States and I plan to do this to the extent they can do the same.”
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in Sochi and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov)

10/3/2019 Russia helping China to build missile-attack warning system: Putin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Energy Week International Forum
in Moscow, Russia October 2, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is helping China to build a missile attack warning system, something which only Russia itself and the United States possess at the moment, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
    “This is a serious thing that will drastically increase the defense capabilities of the People’s Republic of China,” he told an international politics conference in the Russian resort town of Sochi.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

10/4/2019 Kremlin hails special relationship with China amid missile system cooperation by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of a session
of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday that Moscow’s move to help Beijing build an early warning system to detect missile attacks showed the two countries had a special relationship.
    President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia was helping China build an early warning system to spot intercontinental ballistic missile launches, something only Russia and the United States possess at the moment.
    “This is a very serious thing that will radically increase China’s defense capability,” Putin said.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say when the system would be operational, but told reporters on a conference call that the move highlighted Russia’s close ties with China.
    Moscow’s relations with Beijing have been marked by mutual wariness in the past and some in Russia are concerned about Chinese influence in the country’s sparsely populated mineral-rich east.    Russia and China share a 4,200-km (2,600-mile) border.
    But Russia pivoted east after the West imposed sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and trade ties with China have since expanded.
    “Russia has special relations with China of advanced partnership…. including (on) the most sensitive (areas) linked to military-technical cooperation and security and defense capabilities,” Peskov told reporters.
    China’s foreign ministry could not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment during the weeklong National Day holidays.
    Last year, Russia held its biggest military drills since the Soviet Union and invited China to take part, a move seen then as signaling closer military ties.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)

10/4/2019 Ukraine says plans second major prisoner swap with Russia
FILE PHOTO: Vadym Prystaiko, Ukrainian former ambassador to NATO nominated to become new Foreign Minister, delivers a
speech during the first session of newly-elected parliament in Kiev, Ukraine August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine plans to carry out a major prisoner swap with Russia and hopes it will take place next week, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, said late on Thursday.
    The Kremlin did not immediately confirm such plans, but said work on a swap was underway and that it favored an all-for-all prisoner exchange.
    The comments come after a breakthrough at talks between Moscow and Kiev this week that open the way for an international summit aimed at ending the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s east.
    Russia and Ukraine swapped dozens of prisoners on Sept. 7 in a carefully negotiated rapprochement that was praised in the West and appeared to herald a thawing in relations frozen since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    “I hope that very soon, and I mean literally next week, we plan an even more large-scale exchange,” Prystaiko said on a talk show on Ukraine’s 1+1 television channel late on Thursday.
    Commenting on his statement, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “The Russian side has long ago said Russia would be happy to do an all-for-all exchange and this must be the final goal.”
    Peskov declined to give any timeline, saying it depended on the readiness of both sides and that work on it continued.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Katya Golubkova)

10/4/2019 Putin: INF pullout hurts nuclear stability in Europe by OAN Newsroom
    Russian President Vladimir Putin is criticizing America’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear missile treaty known as the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty. While speaking at a conference in Sochi Thursday, the Russian leader said termination of the 1987 treaty impairs nuclear security in Europe and around the world.
    President Putin said the U.S. continues to deploy new missiles in Eastern Europe, which he believes may pose a threat to the Kremlin.    NATO rejected Russia’s proposals to impose a moratorium on new missile deployments in Europe last month.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Valdai Discussion Club in the Black Sea resort of in Sochi, Russia,
Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019. Speaking at an international affairs conference Thursday in the southern Russian city of Sochi, Putin
said Stalin’s purges marked a “dark page” in Russia’s history. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Putin doubled down on his commitment to a defensive war in case escalation in nuclear tensions continues.
    “We are all always equally close to God and he will determine where we are after the end of our earthly path, but the situation did not get better, of course,” stated the Russian president.    “It worsened due to the U.S. withdrawal from the INF Treaty.”
    Putin also criticized the U.S. for using Aegis missile launchers in recent military drills in Romania and Poland.

10/4/2019 Ukraine must investigate Joe Biden’s son, says ex-Ukrainian PM by Anton Zverev and Ilya Zhegulev
Former U.S. Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden makes a statement during
an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Bastiaan Slabbers
    MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine must investigate the activities of U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son to establish whether his role in a Ukrainian gas company complied with the country’s laws, Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s former prime minister, said in an interview.
    Azarov did not specify to which Ukrainian laws he was referring.
    Hunter Biden’s role in the company, Burisma Holdings Limited, is in focus after the White House released a memo showing U.S. President Donald Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a July phone call to get prosecutors to look into his activities.    Zelenskiy agreed.
    “It’s a fact (his directorship and fees) and not made up.    It should be investigated so that the ‘i’s can be dotted and the ‘t’s crossed,” Azarov told Reuters.
    A spokesperson for Joe Biden’s campaign declined to comment on Azarov’s investigation call and none of Hunter Biden’s critics have provided any evidence that he broke Ukrainian law.
    Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau has said it is investigating activity at Burisma between 2010-2012, but that it is not looking into changes to its board in 2014, when Hunter Biden joined.
    Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are pursuing an impeachment inquiry against Trump, a Republican, after a whistleblower complained about his call with Zelenskiy.
    Lawmakers are looking into whether Trump’s actions jeopardized national security and the integrity of U.S. elections, saying he appeared to be soliciting a political favor from a foreign leader to get re-elected.
    Azarov lives in Moscow, but says he remains well-connected with parts of Ukraine’s political establishment, adding he would like to return one day.
    Hunter Biden was a director on Burisma’s board from 2014 until at least 2018, according to documents filed by the company in Cyprus, where it is registered.
INTERPOL
    Azarov, who was prime minister from 2010-2014, is himself wanted by Ukrainian authorities.    An Interpol red notice issued in 2015 at the request of Ukrainian authorities cited accusations, including embezzlement and misappropriation.
    Interpol canceled that red notice in 2017 after Azarov successfully challenged it, according to an Interpol document viewed by Reuters.    Interpol said it did not comment on individual cases.
    Azarov has denied any wrongdoing.
    Reuters cannot determine whether there is any active investigation into Azarov in Ukraine.    A spokesman for Azarov said he was no longer regarded as a suspect by Ukrainian authorities, though a notice on the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s website updated on Friday said he was still wanted by the country’s security service.
    Azarov said he was not aware of any evidence suggesting wrongdoing on Hunter Biden’s part, but said it was in the Ukrainian public interest to ascertain the legality of his activities.
    In particular, he said it was important to investigate what Biden had done for Burisma to justify his remuneration from Burisma.
    The younger Biden has said he consulted for Burisma, but critics have suggested he was not doing actual work in return for his compensation, an allegation he denies.
    “I think it’s essential (he’s investigated),” Azarov told Reuters in Moscow, where he fled after street protests toppled Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.
    “If, using his knowledge, he played an active role then there’s nothing scandalous about it,” Azarov said.    “But if he was simply on the books and getting money, then that could be seen as a violation of the law.”
    Burisma was not available for comment.
    Ukrainian prosecutors have said they are not investigating Hunter Biden, but are looking into the legality of Burisma’s activities before Biden joined its board.    Burisma, which denies any wrongdoing, has faced allegations of dodging taxes and of improperly securing licenses for gas deposits.
    Azarov said that he believed allegations from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others that Joe Biden had gotten Ukraine’s prosecutor general fired to protect his son Hunter were “absolute nonsense” but must also be investigated.
.     He did not provide the basis for his views.
    The former U.S. vice president has denied using his influence in 2016 to get Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, fired to prevent him investigating his son’s involvement and has said he and his son have done nothing wrong.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Matthias Williams in Kiev; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alistair Bell, Dan Grebler and Gareth Jones)

10/4/2019 Pompeo warns about Chinese influence in Balkans by David Brunnstrom
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shakes hands with Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic
during a meeting in Podgorica, Montenegro, October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    OHRID, North Macedonia (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Montenegro and North Macedonia on Friday and warned Balkan leaders of possible risks from Chinese investment in technology and big infrastructure projects.
    “As I have done elsewhere in my travels in Europe, I also warned of the risks of Chinese investments in sensitive technologies and China’s bribe-heavy strategy to secure infrastructure deals,” Pompeo said after meeting North Macedonian top officials in the southern town of Ohrid.
    “We want North Macedonia to succeed, not struggle with corruption and with debt.”
    Pompeo began a short trip to two small Balkan countries, Montenegro and North Macedonia, on Friday to discuss their roles in the Western NATO alliance.
    After meeting top officials Pompeo visited a 9th century Orthodox church, one of the oldest in the region.
    China includes Balkan countries in its ‘One Belt, One Road’ project to open up trade links for Chinese companies.    It has extended loans worth billions of dollars to build railways, roads and power plants, mainly using Chinese workers.
    Russia, which has strong ties with some of the countries in the region, openly opposes NATO and EU enlargement to the six Western Balkan states.
    “Hearts and minds of North Macedonia citizens should guide country forward, not Russian bots and trolls on social media,” Pompeo said.
    “You’ve contributed troops to fight alongside ours in both Iraq and Afghanistan; you have contributed to the coalition which has defeated the ISIS caliphate."
    “I am confident that the United States Senate will ratify your accession protocol this fall, so that we can formally fold you into the NATO team.”
    North Macedonia’s attempts to integrate with Western institutions were hampered until it agreed with its neighbor Greece last year on its new name.
    Greece had long insisted that “Macedonia,” the name the country chose after the breakup of Yugoslavia, implied a territorial claim on the Greek region of that name.
MILITARY DEAL
    Flying in from Rome, Pompeo became the most senior U.S. official to visit Montenegro since 2017 when the country joined NATO.    He was set to be the most senior U.S. official to visit North Macedonia since 2001.
    “The United States will continue to partner with you for the good of your citizens, for the region, and for the world,” he said.
    Pompeo said the United States was about to finalize a deal for “$36 million worth of light tactical vehicles” to Montenegro.
    He commended intelligence cooperation with Montenegro, through which “we’ve been able to develop a patch against the latest Russian (computer) malware that now protects millions of devices worldwide.”
    “It is of strategic importance for Montenegro to have U.S. and EU presence in the Balkans so there would be no space for (influence) of those countries who do not share same values,” Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic said.
    Pompeo’s trip to Southern Europe has been overshadowed by an impeachment inquiry in the United States against President Donald Trump.
    U.S. Democrats have pushed ahead with the inquiry following revelations by a whistleblower that Trump had asked Ukraine in July to investigate key political rival Senator Joe Biden and his son, and had withheld aid to Ukraine ahead of this request.
    Pompeo has yet to comment on evidence presented in the probe on Thursday, in which it was revealed that the former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, Kurt Volker, thought it was “crazy” to withhold military aid from Kiev as it confronted a threat from Russia.
    At the start of a meeting with Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic and Darmanovic, Pompeo did not respond to a journalist’s question on whether he thought Volker had acted appropriately in the case.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Bernadette Baum and Toby Chopra)

10/4/2019 Ukraine prosecutor general reopens cases involving Hunter Biden company by OAN Newsroom
Ruslan Ryaboshapka speaks to the media in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
    Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka announced Friday that his office plans to reopen several cases tied to Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the country. He said and his team are set to audit all high profile cases closed or reviewed by his predecessors.
    Recent reports said at least 15 of the cases are disputes involving the energy company where Joe Biden’s son previously served as a board member.    The top prosecutor said his office is seeking “to make a decision on cases…where illegal procedural decisions were taken.”
    “From the proceedings we have reviewed, there are over 15 proceedings where Burisma, (Hunter) Biden or other Burisma founders might be involved,” Ryaboshapka said.    “We will let you know as soon as we have an understanding of the situation.”
    The prosecutor general adamantly denied that the president or any Ukraine officials pressured him to reopen the cases.    His words follow the transcript of a July phone call, which revealed President Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden’s actions.
    “No foreign and domestic politicians, officials, or other people ever called me and tried to influence my decisions on any particular criminal proceedings,” Ryaboshapka emphasized.
    The prosecutor also stated he is thus far unaware of any evidence suggesting Biden’s son committed wrongdoing.

10/5/2019 Ukraine must investigate Joe Biden’s son, says ex-Ukrainian PM by Anton Zverev and Ilya Zhegulev
Former U.S. Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden makes a statement during
an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Bastiaan Slabbers
    MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine must investigate the activities of U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son to establish whether his role in a Ukrainian gas company complied with the country’s laws, Mykola Azarov, Ukraine’s former prime minister, said in an interview.
    Azarov did not specify to which Ukrainian laws he was referring.
    Hunter Biden’s role in the company, Burisma Holdings Limited, is in focus after the White House released a memo showing U.S. President Donald Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a July phone call to get prosecutors to look into his activities.    Zelenskiy agreed.
    “It’s a fact (his directorship and fees) and not made up.    It should be investigated so that the ‘i’s can be dotted and the ‘t’s crossed,” Azarov told Reuters.
    A spokesperson for Joe Biden’s campaign declined to comment on Azarov’s investigation call and none of Hunter Biden’s critics have provided any evidence that he broke Ukrainian law.
    Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau has said it is investigating activity at Burisma between 2010-2012, but that it is not looking into changes to its board in 2014, when Hunter Biden joined.
    Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are pursuing an impeachment inquiry against Trump, a Republican, after a whistleblower complained about his call with Zelenskiy.
    Lawmakers are looking into whether Trump’s actions jeopardized national security and the integrity of U.S. elections, saying he appeared to be soliciting a political favor from a foreign leader to get re-elected.
    Azarov lives in Moscow, but says he remains well-connected with parts of Ukraine’s political establishment, adding he would like to return one day.
    Hunter Biden was a director on Burisma’s board from 2014 until at least 2018, according to documents filed by the company in Cyprus, where it is registered.
INTERPOL
    Azarov, who was prime minister from 2010-2014, is himself wanted by Ukrainian authorities.    An Interpol red notice issued in 2015 at the request of Ukrainian authorities cited accusations, including embezzlement and misappropriation.
    Interpol canceled that red notice in 2017 after Azarov successfully challenged it, according to an Interpol document viewed by Reuters.     Interpol said it did not comment on individual cases.
    Azarov has denied any wrongdoing.
    Reuters cannot determine whether there is any active investigation into Azarov in Ukraine.    A spokesman for Azarov said he was no longer regarded as a suspect by Ukrainian authorities, though a notice on the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s website updated on Friday said he was still wanted by the country’s security service.
    Azarov said he was not aware of any evidence suggesting wrongdoing on Hunter Biden’s part, but said it was in the Ukrainian public interest to ascertain the legality of his activities.
    In particular, he said it was important to investigate what Biden had done for Burisma to justify his remuneration from Burisma.
    The younger Biden has said he consulted for Burisma, but critics have suggested he was not doing actual work in return for his compensation, an allegation he denies.
    “I think it’s essential (he’s investigated),” Azarov told Reuters in Moscow, where he fled after street protests toppled Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014.
    “If, using his knowledge, he played an active role then there’s nothing scandalous about it,” Azarov said.    “But if he was simply on the books and getting money, then that could be seen as a violation of the law.”
    Burisma was not available for comment.
    Ukrainian prosecutors have said they are not investigating Hunter Biden, but are looking into the legality of Burisma’s activities before Biden joined its board.    Burisma, which denies any wrongdoing, has faced allegations of dodging taxes and of improperly securing licenses for gas deposits.
    Azarov said that he believed allegations from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others that Joe Biden had gotten Ukraine’s prosecutor general fired to protect his son Hunter were “absolute nonsense” but must also be investigated.
    He did not provide the basis for his views.
    The former U.S. vice president has denied using his influence in 2016 to get Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, fired to prevent him investigating his son’s involvement and has said he and his son have done nothing wrong.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Matthias Williams in Kiev; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alistair Bell, Dan Grebler and Gareth Jones)

10/5/2019 Oil-rich Venezuela and Russia come to aid of ally Cuba, but its energy woes persist by Sarah Marsh and Marianna Parraga
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 are seen over a pot of caldosa, a typical Cuban stew during celebrations of the 59th anniversary
of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) in Havana, Cuba, September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A flotilla of shipments from Venezuela gave Cuba some respite this week from crippling fuel shortages in the wake of tougher U.S. sanctions, while Russia’s prime minister pledged during a visit to the island on Friday to help develop its energy sector.
    But support from two of its closest allies looks unlikely to resolve Cuba’s energy problems and the government has extended many of the energy-saving measures it had introduced over the past month.
    Havana warned on Sept. 11 it had not secured sufficient shipments of refined fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, for the rest of the month due to sanctions imposed by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump in retaliation for its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
    In response to the shortages, Cuba swiftly deepened austerity measures it had introduced since an economic meltdown in Venezuela, its principal supplier, choked off its energy imports.
    Cuban authorities cut public transport last month, decreased production at some factories, and encouraged the use of more animal-powered vehicles and wood-fired ovens.
    Venezuela responded by increasing oil shipments to its Caribbean ally, despite its own output issues and sanctions-related restrictions.
    Since late September, at least eight tankers carrying some 3.83 million barrels of crude and fuel have been shipped from Venezuela, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and internal data from Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA.    That represents a sharp increase from five vessels loaded with 1.98 million barrels during the first half of September.
    Following the shipments, there are no longer multi-hour queues at Cuban gas stations for gasoline, although diesel remains elusive.
    Transport officials on Wednesday said they would be upping the frequency of train and bus departures, although not yet restoring “normality” following the drastic cuts last month.
    President Miguel Diaz-Canel celebrated that Cuba managed to avoid blackouts in September in an editorial in the Communist Party newspaper Granma entitled “No fear of the current juncture.”
    The two-day official visit of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, which concluded on Friday, also sent a signal the island is not alone.
    Medvedev on Friday visited a horizontal oil well located in the Boca de Jaruco oil field in northern Cuba which is being developed by Russian and Cuban state-run companies Zarubezhneft and Cubapetroleo.
    Zarubezhneft plans to drill 30 wells in two years there at a cost of 100 million euros, Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik wrote on Friday.
    The two countries are working towards reducing Cuba’s dependence on energy imports by improving its energy efficiency and collaborating on oil exploration, a senior Russian government official told TASS news agency.
    However, Medvedev did not announce any short-term measures to provide relief to the island during his visit.
MORE SHORTAGES LIKELY
    Cuba’s oil production currently meets an estimated 40 percent of its needs. Nearly all the rest has been supplied by Venezuela for years under a barter agreement for Cuban medical services, with some imports from other allies like Algeria and Russia.
    However, analysts say Venezuela and Cuba will struggle to keep beating ever-tightening U.S. sanctions.
    To supply Cuba in recent days, PDVSA used a portion of an old fleet that had not left Venezuelan waters for years, likely due to difficulty leasing tankers from vessel operators.
    “It’s getting tougher and tougher,” said Francisco Monaldi, a Latin American energy expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute.    He said many companies in the industry were steering clear of any business with Venezuela in the wake of the sanctions.
    Some analysts say one objective of Medvedev’s visit was likely to discuss helping Cuba out of its energy crisis, perhaps in conjunction with Venezuela.
    There has been a flurry of visits between high-level Russian, Venezuelan and Cuban officials of late.    Most recently, Venezuela’s Executive Vice President Delcy Rodriguez was in Moscow and then Havana.
    “But the degree to which Russia can provide that is questionable given their own economic situation,” said Jason Marczak, Director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
    TASS said Russian supplies of oil products to Cuba grew almost four-fold in the first half, citing the Russian government.    It did not provide details, nor did it give shipment volumes for the second half, during which the Trump administration has upped the pressure.
    Cubans, meanwhile, are struggling.
    Niuris Higueras, owner of Havana restaurant Atelier, said authorities met a group of private business owners to ask them to slash their electricity usage by as much as half.
    “I’ve mostly stopped using air conditioning and the electric oven,” she said.
    State offices are turning off electricity for several hours at midday.    With the computers off, employees turn to paperwork or leave the office to escape the Caribbean heat.
    Some state workers who were told to stay home without a cut in salary have not yet been recalled, while some Havana cinemas have only one screening a day instead of two or three.
    “They ended the comedy shows at night due to the oil problems,” said Yolanda Santana, a cleaner at the modernist Yara cinema.    “I’ve no clue when the situation could improve.”
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City; Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta in Havana and Katya Golubkova and Natalia Chumakova in Moscow; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Daniel Wallis)

10/5/2019 Russian deputy PM to meet Venezuela’s Maduro: Interfax
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
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov has arrived in Caracas to meet Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, the Interfax news agency quoted Borisov’s office as saying on Saturday.
    Maduro and Russian President Vladimir Putin briefly discussed Caracas’ debt obligations to Russia during Madurov’s visit to Moscow last month, the Kremlin has said, without providing details.
    Borisov oversees the Russian defense industrial sector in the government and is also a co-chairman of the Russian-Venezuelan intergovernmental commission.
    Moscow has acted as a lender of last resort for Caracas, with the Russian government and oil giant Rosneft providing at least $17 billion in loans and credit lines since 2006.
    The meeting between Maduro and the Russian official is due to happen also days after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Cuba.    Medvedev said that Moscow would find ways to help Cuba secure supplies of oil and petroleum products.
    A flotilla of shipments from Venezuela gave Cuba some respite this week. But the support from two of its closest allies looks unlikely to resolve Cuba’s pressing fuel problems, which have seen the government extend many of the energy-saving measures it has introduced over the past month.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; editing by William Maclean)

10/5/2019 Russia will find ways to help Cuba get oil, says Medvedev by Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev listens to Chief Executive of Rosneft Igor Sechin during a meeting
at the Gorki residence outside Moscow, Russia, October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Ekaterina Shtukina/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will find ways to help Cuba secure supplies of oil and petroleum products, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.
    Medvedev pledged to help develop Cuba’s energy sector during a visit to the island this week, but did not announce any short-term measures to provide relief for the island from crippling fuel shortages in the wake of tougher U.S. sanctions.
    A flotilla of shipments from Venezuela gave Cuba some respite this week.    But the support from two of its closest allies looks unlikely to resolve Cuba’s pressing fuel problems, which have seen the government extend many of the energy-saving measures it has introduced over the past month.
    “I think we will find other ways to help Cuba get oil and petroleum products,” Medvedev told Rossiya 1 TV when asked if Russian ships could escort oil tankers to Cuba.
    “We discussed this today and agreed that we would draft a work plan for energy supplies to Cuba, bearing in mind conventional energy sources, hydrocarbons, and maybe some other available avenues,” he said.
    Havana said on Sept. 11 that it had not secured sufficient shipments of refined fuels such as gasoline and diesel for the rest of the month due to sanctions imposed by the United States in retaliation for its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
    Cuba’s oil production currently meets an estimated 40% of its needs. Nearly all the rest has been supplied by Venezuela for years under a barter agreement for medical services.
    During the talks held as part of his visit, Cuba said that it would pay all its outstanding debts to Moscow, Medvedev said.
    “The Soviet Union is no longer there, and Cuba is changing, and there’s no question about any free help which would then have to be written off.    All our relations are very pragmatic,” the Russian Prime Minister said.
    “Although they are friendly in nature and based on a historical past, they are nevertheless relations between modern states.    They should be mutually beneficial.”
    Russia and Cuba have signed an agreement to renovate Cuba’s railway system and are also discussing the sale of Russian airplanes to Cuba, Medvedev said, adding that Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, could deliver wheat to Cuba if needed.
    “Oil deliveries may be cut off, but if the United States makes a decision to ban food supplies or to put them under control, this is no laughing matter.”
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Mike Harrison and Hugh Lawson)

10/6/2019 EU divisions over Russia mount as France, Germany seek peace in Ukraine by Robin Emmott, John Irish and Andreas Rinke
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron meets Russia's President Vladimir Putin, at his summer retreat of the Bregancon fortress on the
Mediterranean coast, near the village of Bormes-les-Mimosas, southern France, on August 19, 2019. Gerard Julien/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – French and German attempts to end the conflict in east Ukraine risk increasing tensions that were already rising in the European Union over how to handle Russia and which could complicate peace efforts.
    Progress at talks between Russian and Ukrainian envoys have raised hopes of convening the first international summit in three years on ending the fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
    But some EU states, while welcoming a summit that would involve France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, are worried by growing talk that the EU might partially lift sanctions imposed on Moscow since its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
    EU divisions over how to deal with Moscow have been growing over overtures to the Kremlin in recent months, led by Paris.
    Comments by French President Emmanuel Macron have especially upset governments in EU countries that were once Soviet satellite states or constituent republics.    Alarmed by what they see as an increasingly aggressive Russian foreign policy, they reject anything that might smack of appeasement.
    “Are we to reward Russia because they have not done anything grotesque in the past few months?” one EU diplomat asked.
    In EU meetings, letters and speeches, divisions about Russia that were once under control are resurfacing, diplomats say.
    The tension could make it harder for the EU to agree new sanctions if Russia intensifies what are often depicted by Western leaders as efforts by President Vladimir Putin to undermine Western institutions such as the 28-nation bloc.
    The tension could also further divide the bloc – with a group of French-led, relatively Russia-friendly allies such as Italy on one side, and the Baltic states, Poland and Romania on the other.    This in turn could weaken the resolve of Western-backed governments to stand up for Ukraine, diplomats said.
    EU diplomats still expect leaders of the bloc to extend sanctions on Russia’s energy, financial and defense sectors for another six months at a regular summit in December.
    But while Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel say there can be no sanctions relief until Russia implements a peace deal for Ukraine agreed in 2014-2015, both see sanctions as impeding better relations with Moscow.
MACRON’S “RESET
    The measures, imposed over the annexation of Crimea and Russian support for the separatists fighting in Ukraine, require all EU governments to agree.    Any friction could allow just one country, possibly Moscow’s ally Hungary, to end them.
    “The time has come for the German government to pressure the EU for a partial lifting of the sanctions,” German lawmaker Peter Ramsauer, whose center-right Christian Social Union (CSU) is a member of Germany’s ruling coalition, told Reuters.
    Baltic states, once part of the Soviet Union, fear a Russian trap to block Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO and the EU.    The country of 42 million has borders both with Russia and countries in the EU and NATO.
    With Germany open to France taking a more active role on Russia, Macron unexpectedly relaunched a bid for better Russian ties in July.
    Sending his defense and foreign ministers to Moscow in September and ending a four-year freeze on such high-level diplomatic visits, Macron is seeking to bring Moscow back into the fold of leading industrialised nations.
    Macron, who said in August that alienating Russia was “a profound strategic mistake,” wants Moscow’s help to solve the world’s most intractable crises, from Syria to North Korea.
    “The geography, history and culture of Russia are fundamentally European,” Macron said on Tuesday in a speech to the Council of Europe, the continent’s main human rights forum, from which Russia was suspended after Crimea.
    Russia’s readmission in July, for which France and Germany lobbied, was the first time that an international sanction imposed for Moscow’s seizure of Crimea has been reversed.
    Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister, told EU diplomats last month that while Russia was a security threat, it “remains a neighbor too and we must deal with this reality.”
    In a letter to EU diplomats last month, the EU’s ambassador to Moscow also called for a “pragmatic” approach to Russia.
REWARD OR REVENGE?
    EU diplomats from eastern, Baltic and Nordic nations have said they are confused by Macron’s approach, questioning what has changed in Russia to merit a renaissance in relations.
    The conflict in east Ukraine has killed over 13,000 people since April 2014.
    Russia and Ukraine swapped prisoners in September in what was seen as the first sign of an improvement in relations. But Putin has ruled out returning Crimea, gifted to Ukraine in 1954 by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
    NATO accuses Russia of trying to destabilize the West with new nuclear weapons, pulling out of arms control treaties, cyber attacks and covert action.
    Last year, Western governments including France expelled an unprecedented number of Russian diplomats after a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England that EU leaders blamed on Moscow. The Kremlin rejected any involvement.
    Michel Duclos, a former French envoy to Syria, said the risk for Macron was that, viewed from Moscow, France was “useful for disuniting the Western camp,” recalling what he said was a “classic feature” of East-West relations during the Cold War.
    Macron’s offer to Putin is based on setting up a so-called structured dialogue focusing on five points: sharing expertise and intelligence; a mechanism to defuse EU-Russia tensions; arms control in Europe; European values; working together on international crises.
    The European Union’s own five-point strategy to deal with Russia involves so-called selective engagement.    Many EU diplomats say that is the best way forward, seeking Russian collaboration on issues such as climate change to rebuild trust.
(John Irish reported from Paris, Andreas Rinke reported from Berlin, Additional reporting by Ekaterina Golubkova in Moscow, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

10/6/2019 Kosovo voters focus on graft, Serbia peace deal in election by Fatos Bytyci
A person walks past campaign posters of 'Serb List' political party in Mitrovica, Kosovo, October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Voting centers opened in Kosovo on Sunday for national elections where the main issues for the country’s 1.9 million eligible voters are tackling corruption and a peace deal with Serbia which would pave the way for United Nations membership.
    The elections, the fourth since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, were called after Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned in July when he was summoned to appear before a war crimes court.
    Haradinaj has been questioned over his role in the 1998-99 war as one of the commanders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) who fought for independence from Serbia.
    “Voting was very easy but let’s see what our votes will bring,” said taxi driver Avdi Morina, 46, after voting in a sport hall in the capital Pristina.
    “We want well-being and jobs for young people,” retired doctor Muharrem Bajrami said after casting his vote in the capital.
    Opinion polls have pointed to public dissatisfaction with Haradinaj’s record at the head of a three-party governing coalition which has boosted support for opposition parties.
    Two of those parties, the Democratic League for Kosovo (LDK) and the nationalist, left-leaning Vetevendosje, are seen as front runners in Sunday’s vote, along with the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), the largest party in the current coalition.
    Arton Demhasaj, from the Cohu (Wake up) think tank in Pristina said the first task of the new government would be to restart negotiations with Serbia.
    “The next government will be the government of the dialogue, from the first day to the last day, and only when the dialogue is over then we will have to deal with real issues such as corruption, education and the economy,” Demhasaj told Reuters.
    Negotiations were halted a year ago when the outgoing government imposed 100% tariffs on goods produced in Serbia.
    Most, but not all, of the parties contesting the polls have said that they will abolish the tariffs but will introduce other retaliatory measures against Serbia.
    The United States and the European Union see tensions between Belgrade and Pristina as a major threat to regional stability and are pushing for a normalization of relations.
    On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump appointed Richard Grenell, the straight-talking U.S. ambassador to Germany, as special envoy to try to inject new energy into the talks between Belgrade and Pristina.
    Twenty years after NATO bombing expelled Serbian forces, Belgrade refuses to recognize Kosovo as independent and, in concert with its ally Russia, has blocked Pristina’s membership of international organizations including the United Nations.
    In 2013, Pristina and Belgrade agreed to an EU-mediated dialogue to normalize ties but little progress has been made.
    Last year, Kosovan President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic signaled that they might agree to a land swap but they faced strong opposition to the idea domestically and abroad.
    In Kosovo, all three parties LDK, Vetevendosje and PDK said the land swap was not acceptable.
EUROPE’S YOUNGEST POPULATION
    Kosovo has Europe’s youngest population, with an average age of 29, and has seen annual economic growth averaging 4% over the past decade, but it remains poor. Since Pristina won independence from Belgrade in 2008, more than 200,000 Kosovars have emigrated and applied for asylum in the European Union.
    “It hurts me when I see young, educated people from Kosovo coming to Germany because they don’t see a better future here,” said Skender Nekaj, 44, who came from Germany to Kosovo to vote together with seven other family members.
    The public sector is the biggest employer in the country but job applicants typically need political connections or to pay a bribe to find a job.
    The European Union says corruption is “widespread” and Transparency International ranks Kosovo as a very corrupt country.
    “If you have money you can buy justice here, if you have money you can buy health because you go to a private clinic.    I don’t have money.    My vote is the only thing I have,” said Qendrim Agushi, 32, a construction worker who earns 13 euros a day.
    The election will be overseen by more than 34,000 monitors including 100 from the European Union.
    Polls open at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and close at 7 p.m. (1700 GMT). Preliminary official results are expected by midnight (2200 GMT).
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac/James Drummond/Jane Merriman)

10/6/2019 Thousands rally in Kiev to protest autonomy plan for eastern Ukraine
People attend a rally against the approval of the so-called Steinmeier Formula, in Kiev, Ukraine
October 6, 2019. The posters read: "No surrender". REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Thousands of people gathered in Kiev’s main square on Sunday to protest against President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s deal with Moscow to grant autonomy to Ukraine’s pro-Russian rebel-held east as part of efforts to end a five-year conflict there.
    In the first breakthrough toward a possible peace deal in years, envoys from Moscow and Kiev agreed at talks on Tuesday on an election schedule for the Donbass region and on legislation giving it special status.    Ukraine also agreed to call back its forces from the current contact line with separatist fighters.
    But for many Ukrainians, these measures represent a huge betrayal by Zelenskiy who took power in April after a landslide election win.
    The war in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
    “This is the beginning of the full capitulation of Ukraine,” 53-year-old Roman, who fought in Donbass as a volunteer.    He declined to give his surname.
    Lawmaker Yana Zinkevych, who belongs to the previous president Petro Poroshenko’s party, “European Solidarity,” was among those who addressed the rally.
    “This is Putin’s formula, these are the things that protect Russia’s interests and not ours, we have to fight and prevent its implementation,” Zinkevych told the crowd from a stage in the square.
    Last week’s deal opened the way for a resumption of top-level peace talks to end the conflict, which helped send Russia’s ties with the West to post-Cold War lows in 2014.
    Zelenskiy said last week that he would discuss a peace deal for Donbass in upcoming four-way talks with Russia, Germany and France. He said any elections in Donbass would be held only after all Russian troops had left.    Russia denies having troops there.
    As things stand, Zelenskiy’s party “Servant of the People,” which holds a majority of 251 seats in the Ukrainian parliament, is still short of the 300 votes needed to change the Constitution and give autonomy to Donbass.
    “We heard that the parliament must vote for some special status of those territories.    We will do our best so that the parliament does not support any special status, any conditions that Russia or Putin imposes on us,” said Inna Sovsun, a lawmaker of opposition Golos (Voice) party.
    “The only formula that we are ready to accept is the formula… that was written in our Constitution, the formula, for which thousands of people died, this is the formula of a united sovereign Ukraine,” said Sovsun.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

10/7/2019 Poland’s ruling right-wing party banks on child subsidy to win election by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz
Karolina Burczyk, 26, is pictured with her son Leon in her home in Nowa Karczma, Poland, September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
    NOWA KARCZMA, Poland (Reuters) – Maria Kolsut will be thinking about her financial security when she votes for Poland’s ruling right-wing party in Sunday’s parliamentary election.
    The mother of three is not a fan of all policies pursued by Law and Justice (PiS).    She is worried by its judicial reforms, which the European Union’s executive says threaten the independence of judges.
    But she will put her qualms aside because of a child subsidy which has made her better off than before PiS came to power in 2015.
    Kolsut, a factory worker in the northern town of Nowa Karczma, receives 500 zlotys ($127) a month for each of her children.    The combined 1,500 zlotys from what is known as the 500+ subsidy is roughly equivalent to the minimum monthly wage.
    She no longer has to struggle to pay her utility bills and buy clothes.
    “I sleep soundly,” Kolsut, 35, said as she watched her daughter Lena and friends celebrating her seventh birthday at an indoor play area she hired for the occasion.    “I am pleased with the (PiS) family policies.”
    The subsidy, which is not means-tested and not indexed to inflation, is seen by PiS as vital to its appeal to working-class voters.
    Promises to introduce the subsidy helped PiS return to power in 2015, when its socially conservative and nationalist agenda tapped into public frustration with Western liberal values.
    Critics say 500+ is populist, costly to the economy and reinforces a stereotypical image of women.    But pollsters say it has contributed to a big lead for the PiS in opinion polls.
    A comfortable election victory would give PiS a mandate to further reshape Poland in its conservative image. A close race could force it to rein in some of its ambitions and make it harder to stand up to EU pressure over the rule of law. DIGNITY FACTOR
    In the 2015 election, the then governing center-right Civic Platform (PO) won in Nowa Karzma’s voting district, but PiS won 54% of votes there in a European Parliament election in May.
    “Our region is very family-oriented,” said Karolina Burczyk, a 26-year-old accountant.    “More people used to vote for PO but now PiS is more popular.”
    Weighty issues such as judicial reform, under which judges could ultimately face sanctions over rulings deemed inappropriate, are simply “removed from reality” for many voters, she said.
    The child subsidy, introduced in April 2016, was meant to help 2.7 million families in the country of 38 million people.    Economists said it was expected to bolster the economy by fuelling consumption, at least in the short term.
    It has cost more than 70 billion zlotys.    But it is the first time since communist rule ended in 1989 that Poland has handed out money that does not stigmatize recipients as being poor, and has won over working-class Poles who previously felt they had seen little benefit from the transition to free markets.
    “Suddenly they feel at home in their country, something they may have not felt in the past, or they felt they were being treated unfairly.    There is a dignity factor here,” said Pawel Marczewski, an economist with the Stefan Batory Foundation in Poland.
    Anna Osowska, who is 34 and has five children, is happy she no longer has to apply for emergency social funds each month.
    “I don’t have to go, borrow, ask social services to help,” she said.     Osowska, who does not work, had never voted before 2015, but she backed PiS in 2015 because of the promised subsidy.
REPRESENTATIVES OF THE WEAK
    About 14% of the workforce earns the minimum wage, and human resources firm Sedlak & Sedlak said about 98% earn less than the average wage in Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse.
    “We are the representatives of the weak, those who have been hurt and who today I hope see and know that they have won back their rightful place in society and in Poland,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a party convention.
    Critics say the policy is part of a nationalist agenda that includes stigmatization of sexual minorities and a push back against Western liberal values.
    Some say it exposes public finances to too much risk and removes the incentive for some women to work.    Others rue its impact on Polish politics.
    “When you have aggressive populists as in the case of PiS in Poland, then opposition parties are thinking how would they respond,” said Leszek Balcerowicz, a former finance minister, told Reuters.    “And most of them respond by saying that they would keep it, so populism, aggressive populism, tends to poison the political scene.”
    Spending on social protection for families and children has risen under PiS from 1.5% of GDP in 2015 to 2.7% in 2017 – above the EU average of 1.7%. Consumer Price Inflation Consumer Price Inflation reached its highest point since 2012 earlier this year.     While ratings agencies expect increased social spending to widen the budget deficit, they are not concerned enough to cut Poland’s credit rating, recently affirmed by Fitch at a sound “A-."
(Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Timothy Heritage)

10/7/2019 Kremlin questions veracity of report on Trump-Putin calls
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold a bilateral meeting
at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office dismissed as untrustworthy on Monday a Washington Post report about his telephone conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Trump’s calls with foreign leaders have come into sharper media focus since his opponents in the House of Representatives launched a formal impeachment inquiry alleging that he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden, one of Trump’s political rivals.
    According to the Oct. 4 Washington Post report, in one of his first calls with a foreign leader after becoming U.S. president in 2017,     Trump had “fawned” over Putin and apologized for not calling him earlier.
    In another call, Trump reportedly sought advice from Putin on how to befriend North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    “We are not sure that this article can be regarded as reliable information,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, referring to the Post story.
    “Generally, we believe that such stories must be taken with a large grain of salt and a lot of caution.”
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/8/2019 Kremlin says it’s worried by new arms race, closely following U.S. moves
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) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday it was worried about a new arms race with the United States and that it was closely following U.S. moves to develop new weapon systems.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made the comment on a conference call with reporters when asked about statements made by U.S. President Donald Trump saying that Washington was developing new advanced weapons.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Maria Kiselyova and Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

10/8/2019 Belarus calls for U.S. role in Ukraine peace talks
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is seen during a meeting with Egyptian President
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Minsk, Belarus June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/Pool
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said on Tuesday the conflict in eastern Ukraine could not be resolved without U.S. involvement in peace talks.
    A diplomatic breakthrough last week potentially opened the way for an international summit between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine aimed at finding a way to end the fighting.
    “It won’t be possible to resolve the conflict without the participation of the United States,” Lukashenko said.
    Belarus is a close ally of Russia.
(Reporting by Andrey Makhovsky; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/8/2019 Romania gives green light for Holocaust museum
FILE PHOTO: A member of Romania's Jewish community lays a wreath during ceremonies at a
Holocaust memorial in Bucharest October 8, 2014. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis gave the green light on Tuesday for the creation of the country’s first national Holocaust museum in Bucharest, more than seven decades after the end of World War Two.
    An international commission headed by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel concluded in 2004 that between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were killed in Romania and areas it controlled during the war, as an ally of Nazi Germany.
    Romania has only recently started to come to terms with its role in the extermination of Jews, admitting for the first time in 2003 that it had taken part.
    The new museum, coordinated by the Elie Wiesel Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, aims to promote the history, culture and traditions of Jews in the country and highlight their contribution to modernizing Romanian society.
    “The Romanian state demonstrates consistency in meeting the goal aimed at recovering the memory of the Holocaust, strengthening the education about the Holocaust and combating anti-Semitism,” Iohannis said in comments to members of the Wiesel Institute and local Jewish community leaders.
    The museum will be located in a 8,000 square-meter, eight-storey building erected on the central Calea Victoriei avenue in 1943-1946 by international tyre producer Banloc-Goodrich for its employees.
    Romania switched sides in the war in 1944 as the Soviet Red Army swept down into the Balkans.    The Communist regime which then took power did little to uncover the killings of Jews.
    Romania was home to 750,000 Jews before the war, but only 8,000-10,000 remain today.
(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/8/2019 Putin bestows award for courage on U.S. astronaut who survived rocket failure
FILE PHOTO: The International Space Station (ISS) crew member Nick Hague of the U.S. gestures after donning space suits
shortly before launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday bestowed a prestigious state award for courage on Nick Hague, the U.S. astronaut who survived a botched space launch last year.
    A Russian Soyuz rocket bound for the International Space Station malfunctioned two minutes after liftoff on Oct. 11, 2018, forcing its two-man crew of Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin to make an emergency landing.
    They landed unscathed in the Kazakh steppe after plunging 31 miles (50 km) in a capsule with parachutes slowing their descent.
    Almost a year after the accident, Putin awarded Hague the Order of Courage, according to a decree published on a government portal, noting the professionalism he had shown during the rocket failure.
    It was not immediately clear whether or when Hague would receive his award at a ceremony.
    Russian investigators have said the rocket failure was caused by a sensor that was damaged during assembly at the Soviet-era cosmodrome at Baikonur.
    Hague last week returned to Earth having successfully made it to the International Space Station in a repeat launch in March this year.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)

10/8/2019 Fighting for ‘moral order,’ Polish nationalists eye election win by Justyna Pawlak
FILE PHOTO: People gather in front of the Presidential Palace during a protest against
judicial reforms in Warsaw, Poland, November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party hopes to tighten its grip on power in Sunday’s election with pledges to redistribute its wealth more fairly and protect voters from the liberal values espoused by its centrist opponents.
    Led by former prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 70, PiS has tapped into anger among poorer voters over their share of economic prosperity since the collapse of communism in 1989, mixing its nationalist rhetoric with vast welfare spending.
    Throughout the campaign, it told its voters that business and cultural elites in Poland should be replaced with people who espouse patriotic values, to ensure fair market competition and access to state institutions such as courts.
    “If opposition forces form a government, then it will be dominated by those who want a radical destruction of the moral and cultural order in our country,” Kaczynski told Roman Catholic broadcaster TV Trwam this month.
    A second term for PiS would also bolster anti-immigration populists in the European Union are who keen to scale back the bloc’s liberal agenda and who cheer Poland’s chafing against Brussels.
    PiS has pushed through a range of reforms since taking power in 2015 that the European Commission and rights groups say jeopardize the rule of law by politicizing judicial appointments.    PiS says the courts need to be more efficient and the changes would root out the remnants of communism.
    Opposition politicians accuse PiS of a power grab, while economists have said its spending programs expose the economy to too much risk at a time when Poland’s main trading partners in Europe are experiencing a slowdown.
    Critics say a stronger mandate would also fuel deepening concerns about protection of sexual and ethnic minorities.
    Nonetheless, opinion polls show PiS beating its main opponent, the Civic Platform (PO) of outgoing EU Council president Donald Tusk, by a double-digit margin in the parliamentary vote, with most surveys putting its support at around 40-44%, versus PO’s 21-28%.    PiS scored 37.6% in 2015.
    “People on the Titanic were told to the very end that the course was perfect, the construction stable and the boat safe,” Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, a deputy parliament speaker who is PO’s candidate for prime minister, wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
    “We know how the story ended.    The boat drowned, because of lies, greed and conceit.”
    Whether PiS can form a majority government – or increase the number of seats it commands in parliament – will largely depend on the results for three smaller groupings: the Left, the far-right Confederation and a pairing of rural and anti-establishment parties, PSL/Kukiz’15.
COURT REFORMS
    The party has given few details of its policy plans if it retains power, other than saying its overhaul of the judiciary, which has brought unprecedented punitive action from the European Union during its current term, should be completed.
    The timing of the PiS electoral victory in 2015 was lucky. Since it won power – riding a wave of anger over inequality among poorer voters that has propped up populist governments elsewhere – it has benefited from an economic recovery in Western Europe that bolstered Poland’s state funds.
    The 2015 migrant crisis helped fan nationalism throughout Europe, and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president offered the PiS government an ally at a time of its increasing isolation within the EU.
    Like Trump, with whom PiS shares its views on coal mining and climate, the Warsaw government has polarized society and alienated its allies.
    European diplomats say Poland has toned down its belligerent rhetoric in Brussels in recent months, with a looming departure of Britain from the bloc that could mean the loss of an ally.
    But there is concern PiS will step up reforms that Western policymakers say politicize courts and undermine the media.     Cas Mudde, an expert on the far right at the University of Georgia, in the United States, said “liberal democracy as Poland has known it for most of the 2000s” could be at stake.
    “If PiS gets a second term, now even strengthened, independence of the judiciary and media will be weakened even further, regime cronies will be placed throughout governmental institutions, and opposition forces will be defunded and harassed,” he said.
    Exit polls are due shortly after polls close at 1900 GMT, with preliminary results due on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/8/2019 Factbox: Poland’s ruling nationalists’ unfinished business
FILE PHOTO: People gather in front of the Presidential Palace during a protest against judicial reforms
in Warsaw, Poland, November 24, 2017. Agencja Gazeta/Dawid Zuchowicz via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party has alienated European allies and divided families at home with a series of reforms tackling courts, media, cultural institutions and education.
    Following is a rundown of policies implemented by PiS during its four years in office as well as reform ambitions it has described ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election, which polls show it is likely to win.
RULE OF LAW
    Critics say PiS has given the ruling majority too much control over the justice system, in some cases contradicting the constitution.    The party denies this, saying its reforms aim to make the court system more efficient and fair.
    It has merged the positions of justice minister and prosecutor general, giving a politician direct oversight over criminal proceedings.
    It changed the structure of the Supreme Court so that judges appointed under its rule will decide on the validity of elections, and gave parliament the power to select members of the National Council of the Judiciary which appoints all judges.
    President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, appointed Julia Przylebska, whom PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski refers to as a “close friend,” to head a tribunal that rules on the constitutionality of acts of law.
    Included in PiS-sponsored changes to the criminal code is life sentence without parole, considered inhumane by the European Court of Human Rights.
    More changes are planned.    In its election program PiS says it will lift the immunity of judges and prosecutors and change the rules on the immunity of lawmakers, leaving the decision to charge them with crimes to the prosecutor general.     PiS also says it will continue its reform of the judiciary, without giving further details.
FISCAL POLICY
    PiS has vastly raised welfare spending, while increasing VAT collection rates.    It plans a balanced budget for 2020, although rating agencies say that it’s unlikely to succeed.
    Spending on families rose under PiS to 4% of GDP from 1.78% in 2015.    The increase largely consists of a flagship child subsidy which grants parents 500 zlotys ($127) per month per child.
    Ahead of European elections in May, the government gave a one-off payment of 1100 zlotys to every pensioner.    Such a payment is not included in budget plans for 2020, but PiS says the benefit will be paid out if it wins the elections.
    The government has also been steadily raising the monthly minimum wage which has gone up from 1750 zlotys in 2015 to 2600 zlotys planned for 2020.    It’s set at 4000 zlotys for 2023.
    It says its goal is to change Poland’s economic model so it’s no longer seen as a cheap labor destination for foreign manufacturers and the service industry.
    PiS is planning to raise retirement contributions for high-earners, as part of its goal to redistribute wealth.
INVESTMENT
    PiS has said repeatedly that domestic capital should control strategic parts of the economy.    Since it won power, the share of bank capital in Polish hands rose to nearly 60% from around 41% in 2015, following the purchase of a stake in Bank Pekao from Italy’s UniCredit.
    PiS is also planning large scale investments such as the construction of a hub airport in central Poland and building a canal through the Vistula Spit, which environmental activists say raises concerns.
    PiS wants to continue big energy projects that will help Poland maintain its reliance on coal, while also pledging to reduce carbon emissions, although its goals are less ambitious than EU consensus.
    It wants to build a 1 gigawatt (GW) power station in Ostroleka, in north-eastern Poland, by 2023, which is expected to be the country’s last coal-fueled plant.
    PiS wants to build a gas link to Norway to tap North Sea gas fields, and expand its infrastructure at home to be able to receive more seaborne oil from sources other than Russia.
    PiS has changed the majority of chief executives at state-owned companies, in some cases several times.
EDUCATION, CULTURE AND MEDIA
    PiS has overhauled the structure and curricula of Polish schools in order include more patriotic education, national history and literature.
    It wants to build a network of museums of “strategic importance for Poland,” such as the Museum of Polish History, as part of its “politics of history,” aiming to promote Poland’s vision of the past at home and abroad.
    News coverage by state broadcaster TVP has become biased towards the ruling party, under changes to its management structure introduced by PiS.
    PiS officials have signaled the party will consider steps to bring more news outlets under the control of Polish capital during its second term, in a policy similar to that of its ally, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    PiS also said in its program it aims to regulate journalists by creating a professional organization supervising their ethical standards, giving rise to accusations it wants to limit free speech.
    Soon after coming to power, PiS stopped financing in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments from the state budget.
(Reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Additional reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Peter Graff)

10/8/2019 Ex-U.S. envoy Huntsman urges rethink of Russia sanctions in WSJ op-ed
FILE PHOTO: U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman speaks outside Lefortovo prison after visiting former U.S. Marine
Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, in Moscow, Russia October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Lev Sergeev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Days after ending his term in Moscow, former United States ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has urged Washington to review its sanctions-dominated approach to Russia, questioning its efficiency and calling for dialogue.
    The U.S. has placed multiple layers of sanctions on Russia, its senior officials and largest companies, as well as businessmen it views as connected to the Kremlin, the bulk of them linked to Moscow’s role in the Ukrainian crisis which began in 2014 and has yet to be resolved.
    In a column https://www.wsj.com/articles/america-needs-dialogue-with-moscow-11570488054 for the Wall Street Journal published on Monday, Huntsman argued that “sanctions have become our go-to foreign policy tool to admonish misbehavior” but not all of them are having the desired effect.
    “It’s easy to initiate sanctions, but it has become politically perilous to discuss removing them,” Huntsman wrote.
    “By last count, there are almost 850 Russian individuals and entities that have been designated under various sanctions authorities, with little or no analysis measuring their efficacy.”
    While many of those measures may be having the desired effect and should be maintained, not all of them do, he argued.
    “My embassy colleagues and I heard the same refrain over and over – that in some cases U.S. sanctions are having the opposite of their intended effect, forcing capital back to Russia, buoying Russian domestic sectors and disadvantaging U.S. businesses seeking to gain a strategic market foothold,” Huntsman wrote.
    Unilateral sanctions won’t succeed in changing the behavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin or that of his government, Hunstman said, and leave little space for Washington to “cultivate constructive relationships with those who will shape Russia’s post-Putin period.”
    “The U.S. was caught off guard by Mr. Putin’s unexpected rise to power after the collapse of the Soviet Union.    We can’t afford to let that happen again,” Huntsman wrote.
    “Smart diplomacy thus far has managed to keep us from war, but I worry the current estrangement will limit our options for strategic engagement in the years ahead.”
    The Kremlin has repeatedly criticized U.S. sanctions as counterproductive and said its own actions were in line with international law.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Katya Golubkova and Bernadette Baum)

10/9/2019 Russia brands Kremlin critic’s anti-corruption group ‘foreign agent’: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters,
who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Justice Ministry on Wednesday formally labeled opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption group a “foreign agent,” the RIA news agency reported.
    Russian authorities can designate groups it says receive funding from abroad as foreign agents – a term that carries a negative Soviet-era connotation – under a 2012 law that was heavily criticized by Western governments.
    Civil society groups designed as foreign agents have to apply for inclusion in a government register, submit regular reports on their sources of funding, on their objectives, on how they spend their money, and who their managers are.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Heavens)

10/9/2019 Exclusive: As Trump grows frustrated on Venezuela, U.S. to ‘squeeze’ Cuba, scrutinize Russia by Matt Spetalnick and Luc Cohen
FILE PHOTO: American diplomat Elliott Abrams speaks during the United Nations Security Council meeting about
the situation in Venezuela, in New York, U.S., February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/CARACAS (Reuters) – The Trump administration is preparing new sanctions on Cuba over its support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and is taking a “closer look” at Russia’s role in helping him remain in power, the U.S. special envoy on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, told Reuters.
    President Donald Trump’s frustration over the failure of his “maximum pressure” campaign to unseat Maduro has spurred foreign policy aides to ready further U.S. actions and press for tougher sanctions on OPEC member Venezuela by European and Latin American partners, a second senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.
    Abrams said Washington sees Cuba and Russia providing a lifeline to Maduro, nine months after the Trump administration and dozens of other countries resolved to no longer recognize the socialist leader as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
    “We’re always looking to ways to squeeze (Cuba) because we do not see any improvement in their conduct either with respect to Venezuela or human rights internally,” Abrams said in an interview in his State Department office.
    The new sanctions under consideration for communist Cuba, expected “in the weeks ahead,” would likely target the island’s tourism sector as well as Venezuela’s cut-rate oil delivered to Havana, building on the U.S. blacklisting of tankers used to transport the supplies, the senior official said.
    While U.S. sanctions on Cuba stem from accusations that it provides training, arms and intelligence to Maduro’s security forces, targeting Russia would be based heavily on Moscow’s financial support of Caracas.    Oil giant Rosneft has helped Venezuela market its crude since Washington imposed sanctions on state oil company PDVSA in January.
    Asked whether Washington is preparing sanctions against Rosneft, Abrams said the administration was “taking a closer look at the ways in which Russia is sustaining the regime” but declined to specify any entities or individuals.
    In early August, the Trump administration froze U.S. assets of the Venezuelan government and threatened “secondary sanctions” on any company doing business with it, an escalation of pressure on Maduro.    The move was widely seen as opening the door to putting sanctions on Rosneft, which in recent months has taken around half of Venezuela’s crude exports.
    Abrams said the administration now intended to start “naming names” under Trump’s August order and that new individual sanctions are expected over the next three months.
    But U.S. officials are mindful of the need for caution in targeting a company as large and far-reaching as Rosneft over its Venezuela ties.
    “We don’t have the luxury of being haphazard,” the senior administration official told Reuters, stressing that they were not specifically referring to Rosneft.
    “If it was a company that was solely doing business in Venezuela, that’s a slam dunk.    But when you deal with entities that have multiple components, we have to be thorough.”
    At the same time, the Trump administration recognizes the risk of adding tensions to an already-troubled U.S.-Russia relationship at a time when the countries face geopolitical disagreements over issues like Syria, Ukraine and arms control.
‘WHY AREN’T WE DOING MORE?’
    With some critics saying the economic weapons at the Trump administration’s disposal are dwindling, it remains unclear whether the remaining options will be enough to shift the balance of power in Venezuela.
    Maduro retains the loyalty of the country’s military despite opposition leader Juan Guaido’s efforts to get them on his side after he invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a fraud.
    Guaido leads the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
    Further restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba would be aimed at squeezing the island economically and expanding Trump’s steady rollback of the historic opening to Cuba by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.    The reversal, along with his pressure on Venezuela, has gone over well among Cuban Americans in South Florida, a key voting bloc in Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
    The senior administration official insisted Trump’s growing impatience with the failure of sanctions and diplomatic pressure to push Maduro from power meant he would not ease up despite the president’s decision last month to fire his hawkish national security adviser, John Bolton, who was widely identified with the hardline policy on Venezuela.
    The official said that before the administration stepped up pressure in January as Guaido assumed the rival presidency, the process had been hampered by two years of “slow-walking” by other government agencies that preferred an incremental approach.
    “That’s the frustration that the president harbored – he’d been saying for two years, ‘Why aren’t we doing more?’,” the official said.
    However, a former senior U.S. official said the administration underestimated the complexities of the Venezuelan situation, especially the difficulty of spurring a mutiny in the ranks where many officers are suspected of benefiting from corruption and drug trafficking.
    Asked whether Venezuela policy would change with Bolton’s departure, Abrams said: “The policy of supporting Guaido, supporting the National Assembly, pushing for a return of democracy, is not going to change.”
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)

10/9/2019 Ukraine peace drive hits first bump, but Moscow says summit possible by Pavel Polityuk and Olzhas Auyezov
FILE PHOTO: People attend a rally against approval of new peace proposals for eastern
Ukraine, in Kiev, Ukraine October 6, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukraine on Wednesday refused to pull back troops in its restive east, saying for the second time this week that continued shelling by pro-Russian separatists there precluded the implementation of a disengagement agreement.
    Moscow, however, said the door was still open for a fresh meeting of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany to discuss resolving the five-year-long conflict in the Donbass region, in which U.N. monitors say more than 13,000 people have been killed.
    In a breakthrough this month, negotiators from Ukraine, Russia and the rebels agreed that Kiev would grant the rebel region special status and hold local elections there. Under the agreement, rebel fighters and Ukrainian troops would also pull back from the line of contact.
    But it remains unclear how exactly any of these steps would be implemented and the stalling of the easiest one – the troop pullback – could indicate that the actual settlement of the conflict remains a distant possibility.
    The pullback originally scheduled for Monday and then delayed until Wednesday has now been put off again because of continued shelling by the rebels, a spokesman for Ukraine’s defense ministry said, adding that a straight week of strict ceasefire adherence was a prerequisite.
    Commenting on the delay, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a successful pullback would have jump-started the implementation of peace accords, but it was up to the leaders of the countries known as the Normandy Four to decide whether to press ahead with a summit aimed at ending the conflict.
    “Let is see whether it (the pullback) happens or not in the end… (and if it fails) find out who is to blame for the failure,” Peskov told reporters.
    Separately, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko told the local RIA news agency later on Wednesday that calling a ‘Normandy Four’ summit before the troop pullback would be “premature.”
    “We confirm that the summit must happen… But it must clearly note the fact that the agreements reached three years ago have been implemented,” RIA quoted Rudenko as saying.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s decision to support the peace plan previously rejected by Kiev has triggered protests in Ukraine, with some opponents accusing him of capitulation.    Zelenskiy has said he would “never betray Ukraine.”
    “No one is questioning Ukraine’s sovereignty, this is Ukraine’s domestic issue and Ukraine is dealing with its sovereignty issues on its own,” Peskov said.
(Reporting by Pavel Poliyuk in Kiev and Anastasia Teterevleva in Moscow; Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in Kiev; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Katya Golubkova and Gareth Jones)

10/9/2019 Trump’s envoy visits Kosovo in push for new talks with Serbia by Fatos Bytyci
.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a formal signing ceremony for the U.S.-Japan
Trade Agreement at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – A special envoy of U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Kosovo on Wednesday three days after it held an election, in a new push to restart talks with Serbia to reach a final deal that would pave the way for Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations.
    Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008, but this has not been recognized by Belgrade.    Both countries have been strongly encouraged by the United States and EU to normalize their relations with each other.
    Negotiations abruptly stopped a year ago when Kosovo imposed 100% import tariffs on goods produced in Serbia.
    Kosovo will soon have a new government after a snap parliamentary election on Sunday.    Albin Kurti, whose center-left Vetevendosje party narrowly won the most seats, has been given a mandate to form a government.    He has said he would revoke the tariffs but impose other measures against Serbia.
    Kurti, who met the visiting U.S. envoy Richard Grenell at the U.S. embassy, said: “The content and process of reaching a deal (with Serbia) are more important for the deal to be sustainable, rather than the timeline for reaching that deal.”
    Last week, Trump appointed Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, as special envoy for talks between Belgrade and Pristina.    Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said Grenell’s mission showed that Washington was committed to Kosovo.
    “This gives us confidence and trust in searching for a peace deal with Serbia,” Thaci said in a statement after meeting the U.S. envoy.     “Active participation of the U.S. will be decisive to find a final solution between Kosovo and Serbia.”
    Grenell is due to travel to Belgrade to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday.
    Last year, Thaci and Vucic signaled that they might agree to a land swap to resolve territorial claims the two countries have against each other, but both faced strong opposition to the idea domestically and abroad.
    Kosovo’s highest court ruled that talks between the two countries should be led by the prime minister, rather than Thaci.
    Kurti said he will not support any land swap but that he was ready to take part in an EU-mediated negotiation with Belgrade.
    Serbia lost control of Kosovo after 1999 NATO bombing to halt killings and expulsions of Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians by Serb forces during a counter-insurgency.    The United States remains Kosovo’s biggest diplomatic and financial backer.
    Kosovo is recognized by more than 110 countries, including the United States, but not by Serbia, Russia or China.    Once Belgrade and Pristina reach a deal, Pristina could apply for membership in the United Nations, now blocked by Serbia’s traditional ally Russia.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Peter Graff)

10/9/2019 Russian lawmakers look to ban e-mail users who share illegal content
FILE PHOTO: A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture. Kacper Pempel//File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A group of pro-Kremlin lawmakers has drafted legislation that would allow authorities to block individual e-mail or online messenger users who circulate banned content.
    The bill is likely to alarm advocates of internet freedoms, but the lawmakers say the legislation is needed to combat a wave of hoax bomb threats that have been sporadically called in across the country in recent years.
    Under the proposed legislation, Internet companies would be required within 24 hours to block individual users who circulate illegal content if the Roskomnadzor state communications watchdog asks the companies to do so.
    Companies that fail to comply would face a fine of 1 million roubles ($15,350).
    “In practice, it is efficient to completely block a user, not the individual messages sent by them,” said Andrey Klishas, one of the lawmakers who drafted the bill.
    Russian internet search company Yandex and Google declined to comment. Representatives of Facebook , Viber and Mail.ru Group have not yet responded to a Reuters request for comment.
    Over the past five years, Russia has introduced tougher laws that require search engines to delete some search results, oblige messaging services to share encryption keys with security services, and make social networks store Russian users’ personal data on servers within the country.
    The Kremlin says it is trying to protect the integrity of the internet’s Russian-language segment.    The Kremlin’s opponents fear the authorities are using security as a pretext to ramp up surveillance online.
    To become law, the bill must be approved in three votes in the lower house of parliament before it is sent for approval in the upper house and then signed by President Vladimir Putin.
    The bill can still be amended, but is likely to pass.    Other bills tightening controls of the internet have been signed into law in Russia despite opposition from activists and industry lobbyists.
($1 = 65.1500 roubles)
(Reporting by Nadezhda Tsydenova and Anton Zverev; Writing by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Timothy Heritage)

10/9/2019 Tougher U.S. sanctions make Cuba ever more difficult for Western firms by Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: Cranes dot the skyline as the building of luxury hotels and the renovation
of historic buildings are underway, in Havana, Cuba May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Tougher U.S. sanctions against Cuba have led international banks to avoid transactions involving the island, while prospective overseas investors put plans on hold and foreign firms operating in the country consider restructuring to lower their risk exposure.
    Just a few years ago, foreign businesses were rushing to take a firsthand look at Cuba’s opening economy, lured by the Communist government’s market reforms and a detente pursued by former U.S. President Barack Obama.    Yet two dozen Western executives, consultants and diplomats interviewed by Reuters said President Donald Trump’s reversal of that detente and ratcheting up of the U.S. trade embargo have poisoned the business climate, in combination with Cuba’s homegrown economic woes.
    On top of the decades-old embargo, the Trump administration has sanctioned nearly 200 Cuban military-run companies and hotels as well as any company or vessel involved with shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba.    In April, Trump also activated Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which allows Americans to sue U.S. and international companies profiting from property that was nationalized or confiscated after Cuba’s 1959 Revolution.
    American Airlines, Melia Hotels International, Amazon Inc and French lender Societe Generale are among the companies that have been slapped with lawsuits under the Helms-Burton Act, which they are contesting in court.
    “The situation is catastrophic, at least for Western countries.    I can’t speak for Russia or say China,” a European commercial attache said, asking not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
    Many Western banks have long refused Cuba-related business for fear of running afoul of U.S. sanctions and facing hefty fines, as well as the country’s poor credit history.
    Now, the combination of Trump’s aggressive stance, the complications of new sanctions and fear of being sued under Helms-Burton are deterring the few that remained.
    PostFinance, the last Swiss bank to process Cuba-related transactions, informed clients last month it would no longer do so.    Bank spokesman Rinaldo Tibolla said in an email PostFinance relied on a trust-based network of correspondent banks as well as access to U.S. dollar payments.
    “There is a risk that we will be excluded from this access if payments to Cuba, which may be subject to U.S. sanctions, are allowed to continue,” he said.
    Panama’s Multibank shut down numerous Cuba-related accounts this year and European banks are restricting clients associated with Cuba to their own nationals, if that.    Asked about the closures, Multibank said in a statement it constantly revised its foreign accounts from the perspective of regulations and risk.
    Businessmen and diplomats said large French banks, including Societe Generale, no longer want anything to do with Cuba and some are stopping payments to pensioners living on the Caribbean island.    Neither Societe General nor Paribas, both of which have been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department, responded to a request for comment.
    But for the first time in years, the island has had problems financing the upcoming sugar harvest.    Various joint venture projects, from golf resorts to alternative energy, are finding it nearly impossible to obtain private credit, the executives, diplomats and other sources consulted by Reuters said.
    Even Cuban embassies abroad are finding it more difficult to open accounts, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told a news conference in Havana this month as he blasted sanctions as “genocidal.”
    “Financial sanctions are weapons of mass destruction,” said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which closely follows U.S.-Cuban relations.
    “Enforcement by the Treasury Department can have a devastating impact.”
NOT WORTH THE RISK
    Every time a Helms-Burton suit is filed, or Washington sanctions a bank for violating the embargo, corporate compliance officers say business with Cuba is not worth it, the sources said.
    “It is like the old Chinese death sentence by a thousand cuts,” said a European financial services representative, who also asked to remain anonymous.
    Clients from Canada, Europe and even China were still interested in Cuba, said Canadian lawyer Gregory Biniowsky, who lives in Havana and consults foreign businesses for the law firm Gowlings Consulting Inc.
    “What has changed is their calculations for the short- to medium-term, as in, let’s kind of shelve this for now and go into a holding pattern at least until November 2020,” he said, echoing the observations of other consultants.
    While recent U.S. sanctions have spooked many potential partners, Cuba’s existing 200-odd joint ventures and other agreements with foreign companies appear to be staying the course.
    A number of well-known corporations such as Nestle, Unilever, Imperial Cigars, Sheraton, Pernod-Ricard, Total and AB InBev have ventures in Cuba and none have fled in response to the U.S. crackdown.
    The companies did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment. However, the sources said some were considering restructuring along the lines of British beverage giant Diageo PLC, which recently arrived in Cuba and partnered with a local firm in August to market rum.
    Luca Cesarano, general director of the joint venture, has said he was confident Diageo was shielded from Helms-Burton, which assumes some U.S. exposure to collect penalties, since it was operating in Cuba through a subsidiary.
Neither the subsidiary of Diageo, which is the partner, nor the venture, will interact with any Diageo entity or person that interacts with the United States,” he said in August.
(Reporting by Marc Frank, additional reporting by Maya Nikolaeva in Paris and Eli Moreno in Panama; Editing by Tom Brown)

10/10/2019 Ukraine president says Trump didn’t seek to blackmail him
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a press-marathon at a food market in Kiev, Ukraine October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump did not seek to blackmail him during a phone call in July or a meeting in September.
    Zelenskiy said he had not known that U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been blocked at the time of the call.    Having been made aware of this by his defense minister later, he raised the issue during a separate meeting in September in Poland with Vice President Mike Pence.
    The U.S. House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump, focused on whether he used congressionally approved aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s main Democratic rivals as he seeks re-election in 2020.
    Trump has made allegations, without evidence, that Biden engaged in improper dealings in Ukraine.    Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.
    Zelenskiy told reporters that his aim in having a phone call with Trump was to arrange a subsequent meeting and that he had asked the White House to change its rhetoric on Ukraine.
    “There was no blackmail.    This was not the subject of our conversation,” Zelenskiy said.
    Zelenskiy said there were no conditions attached to him meeting Trump, including whether he should investigate the activities of Hunter at Burisma.
    The White House published its summary of the call between Zelenskiy and Trump in September.    Asked whether the Ukrainian version matched up to the U.S. one, Zelenskiy said: “I didn’t even check, but I think that it matches completely.”
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Maria Tsvetkova and Matthias Williams, editing by John Stonestreet)

10/10/2019 For Putin, Turkish move into Syria a chance to ramp up Middle East role by Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands
during their meeting in Ankara, Turkey September 16, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkey’s incursion into Syria is an opportunity for Russia to dial up its influence in the region as Washington appears to be pulling back, but the risks to Moscow’s diplomacy will rise the longer the operation goes on, people close to the Kremlin say.
    In a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan before the operation against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, made clear he hoped the incursion would be limited in time and scale, the sources said.
    “The sooner this conflict situation is over, the better for everyone,” said Andrei Klimov, a senior pro-Putin lawmaker in Russia’s Senate.
    “I really hope our Turkish partners do everything to avoid even a chance conflict on the ground with Syrian government forces and even more so with Russian soldiers.”
    For Russia, it’s a delicate balancing act.    It has pledged to use its air power to help Assad retake all the territory he has lost in Syria’s eight-year-old war and has repeatedly stressed the importance of the country’s territorial integrity.
    But it is also working with Turkey and Iran to push for a peaceful settlement it hopes will eventually reshape Syria’s constitution and show that Russia can make peace as well as war.
    Critics say Moscow’s efforts are a sham, aimed at yielding a fake political settlement to re-legitimize Assad and attract funds from the European Union and the Gulf to rebuild Syria.
    For Moscow, success would cap a 2015 intervention in Syria that gave Russia new clout in the Middle East and that it is keen to build on, particularly at a time when Washington appears to be distancing itself from the region.
    President Donald Trump pulled U.S. troops out of the way of Turkey’s offensive earlier this week, drawing bipartisan criticism from members of Congress who credit the Kurds with fighting alongside Americans to defeat Islamic State.
    Ankara brands the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia as terrorists because of their ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in Turkey.
    A Turkish operation that drags on too long or gets too messy may upset the Kremlin’s diplomatic efforts.
    Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said on Thursday that while Moscow was sympathetic to Ankara’s security concerns, Putin told Erdogan his forces should tread carefully.
    “We consider it important that all sides show restraint and carefully weigh their practical steps so as not to damage the measures taken to achieve a political settlement,” said Ushakov.
    He pointed to the first scheduled meeting of a Moscow-backed Syrian constitutional committee on Oct. 29 as something that should not be disrupted and said it would be unacceptable for Moscow if civilians suffered in the Turkish offensive.
INTERMEDIARY
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made clear on Thursday that Moscow is already positioning itself for a role as intermediary in resolving the latest twist in Syria’s long drawn-out conflict.
    That could involve brokering talks between Ankara and Damascus, which wants Turkish forces out, and between Damascus and the Kurds, who want a measure of autonomy inside Syria that Assad has so far shown no sign of giving.
    Lavrov told reporters Moscow would try both, noting apparent enthusiasm for Russia’s services from both the Syrian and Kurdish sides.
    “Let us see what we can do,” Lavrov said.
    Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow at Chatham House in London, said: “Russia is probably the only player in the room among the grown-ups who can talk with everyone in the room at the same time.    Whether it’s Israel and Iran, or with Kurdish forces and Turkey, or Assad and everyone else.”
    For Putin, this would be a significant geopolitical win.
    “If he manages to fix this it would be considered a major political victory,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a think tank close to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
    “Putin could argue that the Americans failed to sort this out but we managed it, which implies our approach to the conflict is more efficient than our geopolitical opponents.”
    If Turkey limits its operation to a 30-mile security zone inside Syria and conducts a quick operation, Russia is likely to tolerate it, said Vladimir Frolov, a senior former Russian diplomat.
    Given Russia’s deployment of advanced air defense systems in Syria and its air base there, it has the technical ability to halt any Turkish advance if it wants, he said.
    “If Erdogan wanted to go further into Syria and all but partition it … Moscow will try to block this by forward deploying Russian observation posts with Russian air cover,” predicted Frolov.
    “Russia controls the skies in Syria and Turkey flies its planes now at Moscow’s pleasure.”
(Additional reporting by Olesya Astakhova; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

10/10/2019 Hungary urges EU dialogue with Turkey to prevent new wave of migrants by Krisztina Than and Marton Dunai
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto attends an interview with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Marton Dunai
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The European Union should have a dialogue with Turkey despite Ankara’s offensive on Kurdish-led forces in Syria, in order to avoid a fresh wave of migrants coming to Europe, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Thursday.
    Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies pushed further into Syrian territory on Thursday, opening up a new front in the Syrian civil war and exposing Europe’s inability to influence the direction of the conflict.
    The EU relies on Turkey to curb the arrival of refugees into Europe following a 2016 agreement to seal off the Aegean route after more than 1 million people entered the bloc.    Turkey, which hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, threatened to “open the gates” to allow those already in the country to head for Europe unless it receives support for its plans.
    “We need a constructive dialogue with Turkey to avoid a situation when an additional migratory flow arrives to Europe,” Szijjarto said in an interview, weeks before Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is due to visit Budapest in early November.
    Szijjarto said Hungary’s fence on its southern border with Serbia would be the first point where any new flow of migrants could be stopped and that this should be avoided.    He also criticized some EU member states, without naming names, “who are making a competition who can bash the Turkish president more” while relying on Turkey to curb the flow of refugees.
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist government has forged close relations with Turkey, China and some ex-Soviet states in Middle Asia as part of an eastern opening initiative.
RUSSIAN RELIANCE
    Orban, in power for nearly a decade, has often been at loggerheads with Brussels, for example over his refusal to take in migrants under an EU quota scheme and his efforts to tighten control over the media, and academic institutions.
    Under Orban, Hungary also pursues what he has hailed as good pragmatic relations with Russia.    President Vladimir Putin is due to visit Budapest later this month.
    Szijjarto said the main issue on the agenda will be energy, with Hungary still reliant on Russia for the natural gas it needs, as diversification of supply was still not possible in Central Europe due to a lack of alternative sources and pipelines.
    “To ensure the gas supply of the country for the upcoming 4-5 years it’s going to be Russia to negotiate with,” Szijjarto said, adding he had already agreed with Russian state gas giant Gazprom to start talks about gas shipments for this period.
    “The offer will decide about the length of the period covered by the next agreement,” Szijjarto said.
    “I like listening to our … Western allies speaking about diversification in this region but my question is what did they do for that?
    Szijjarto said the TurkStream pipeline should be constructed as soon as possible in Bulgaria because that will open up an additional delivery route to Hungary.    TurkStream is part of Moscow’s efforts to bypass Ukraine as a gas transit route to Europe.
    When asked where Hungary would stand if the EU decided at the end of 2019 to extend sanctions against Russia that were imposed on Moscow after its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, Szijjarto said: “We would never break European unity on this issue … We have not vetoed yet, we will not veto it.”
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Marton Dunai; Writing by Krisztina Than; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

10/10/2019 Ukraine president not ready to give autonomy status to Donbass territories
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a press-marathon at a food market in Kiev, Ukraine October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday he was not ready to give autonomy status to territories in the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine.
    Zelenskiy is trying to bring peace to the Donbass region, where Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces are fighting a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people in five years.
    A peace deal would need to establish what kind of status could be given to the Donbass.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams)

10/10/2019 Kremlin to Ukraine: pull back troops before we discuss summit
FILE PHOTO: Russia's presidential aide Yuri Ushakov approaches the media after 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) – Ukraine must pull back its troops in the country’s restive east before there can be any talk of a fresh meeting between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said on Thursday.
    “Ukraine has not yet started the practical implementation of the agreements … on troop pullback in Zolotoye and Petrovskoye,” Ushakov told reporters, referring to the locations where both Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels have agreed to withdraw from the line of contact.
    The Kiev government said this week the pullback was being delayed by continued shelling from the rebels’ side.
(Reporting by Olesya Astakhov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/10/2019 Ukraine, Russia resume blame game as peace process hits roadblock by Maria Tsvetkova and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts during a news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday accused Russia of delaying a summit aimed at resolving the conflict between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s east, but Moscow said Kiev needed to pull back its troops first.
    Ukraine, France and Germany had planned to hold the meeting of the group known as the Normandy Four, aimed at resolving the five-year-long conflict, as early as last month, Zelenskiy told reporters, but Russia turned down the proposal.
    “We are ready to meet at any date,” he said.
    In a breakthrough, Ukrainian, Russian and separatist negotiators agreed last month that Kiev would grant the territory controlled by the separatists a special status and hold local elections there – prompting protests at home by critics who accused Zelenskiy of yielding to Moscow.
    Under the agreement, separatist fighters and Ukrainian troops would also pull back from the line of contact. But the pullback, originally scheduled for Oct.7, has not happened yet because Ukraine accused the separatists of shelling its positions and said it would only withdraw after a straight week of full ceasefire observance.
    On Thursday, Zelenskiy told reporters he wanted Russia to guarantee that the rebels would pull back. Moscow, in turn, said that troop withdrawal was a prerequisite for a fresh Normandy Four summit.
    “Ukraine has not yet started the practical implementation of the agreements … on troop pullback in Zolotoye and Petrovskoye,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Thursday, referring to the locations where Ukrainian government forces and separatists were supposed to withdraw from the line of contact.
    “We hope the process gets off the ground and then we will discuss the timing of a Normandy Four summit.”
    Zelenskiy, however, said that if the Normandy talks stall, Kiev would look for other ways to resolve the conflict.
    “(In that case) … we would stop going, for the near future, under this government, we would stop pursuing that path and will look for other options,” he told reporters.
    Zelenskiy did not clarify whether that meant trying to bypass Russia altogether.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Kiev and Olesya Astakhova in Moscow; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Giles Elgood)

10/10/2019 Romania faces prolonged uncertainty after government loses no-confidence vote by Luiza Ilie
FILE PHOTO: Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila attends a debate on the rule of law in Romania at the
European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dancila’s center-left government collapsed on Thursday after losing a no-confidence vote in parliament, raising the prospect of prolonged political uncertainty due to a fragmented opposition.
    A fresh parliamentary election is not an option for now because Romania is due to hold a presidential poll next month. By law, Romania cannot hold a parliamentary vote less than six months before a presidential one.
    The opposition now has 10 days to nominate a new premier who will need the approval of centrist President Klaus Iohannis.    The nominee, along with a new cabinet line-up, must then survive a parliamentary vote of confidence before taking office.
    “You have talked a lot, but I have yet to hear how you plan to govern the country and with whom,” Dancila told lawmakers before the vote.
    The next government will face the daunting task of drafting a budget plan for 2020 that accommodates a 40% hike in all pensions – previously approved by Dancila’s Social Democrat Party – without overshooting already strained deficit targets.
    Her government had been on the brink of collapse since the Social Democrats lost their junior coalition partner in August.
    Analysts expect the new government to be formed around the main opposition Liberal Party, which spearheaded Thursday’s vote, but not without bumps in the road as the opposition is fragmented, with some supporting a plan to trigger an early election.    The next parliamentary election in Romania, a European Union member state, is currently scheduled for late 2020.
    “I will listen to parties’ options and will propose a government solution with a very clear mandate to ensure responsible and efficient governing until the next parliamentary election, whenever it will take place,” President Iohannis said after the vote.
    Negotiations with political parties start on Friday.
FRAGILE FINANCES
    Moves to overhaul judicial legislation and oust chief prosecutors and judges have dominated the public agenda since the Social Democrats came to power in early 2017.
    EU and U.S. officials have strongly criticized the governing alliance for an overhaul of Romania’s judiciary that they see as a threat to the rule of law, and for watering down anti-graft legislation.    Expansionary fiscal and wage policies have increased Romania’s budget and current account deficits.
    “Political developments are compounded by the fragile state of Romania’s public finances and it takes strong political determination and support in parliament for deep reforms and a turnaround of the loose fiscal policy,” Romania’s BCR bank said in a note.
    The Romanian leu was flat against the euro after the vote but it is down 2.1% this year, the region’s second-weakest after the Hungarian forint.
    The Social Democrats have seen a series of setbacks this year.    The European Parliament rejected the party’s first proposed European Commissioner because of conflicts of interest.
    Their former party leader Liviu Dragnea has been sentenced to prison for abuse of office.    Voters punished the party in a May European election for changes to the judicial system that were seen as undermining the rule of law and triggered massive street protests.
    Dancila is the Social Democrats’ presidential candidate, but opinion polls show her trailing far behind Ioannis, a strong critic of the outgoing government, who is seeking a second term.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/10/2019 Ukraine president says ready to discuss PrivatBank with Kolomoisky
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a press-marathon at a food market in Kiev, Ukraine October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday he was ready to discuss the fate of PrivatBank with its former owner Ihor Kolomoisky, but stressed he would defend the interests of the state.
    Kolomoisky has fought a protracted legal battle over control of PrivatBank, Ukraine’s largest lender, which was nationalized in 2016 against his wishes.
    Since the start of his election campaign this year, Zelenskiy faced scrutiny over his business ties to Kolomoisky but dismissed suggestions he would help the businessman regain ownership of PrivatBank or help him win compensation.
    Zelenskiy said public scrutiny over his ties to Kolomoisky was preventing him from holding talks that could actually prove beneficial to solving the dispute and prevent the state budget from incurring losses.
    “Here can be an agreement,” Zelenskiy said.
    “The state should not suffer losses.    We need to sit down with him and say: look, it’s not going to happen, there is no money, nobody would return anything, let’s settle this.    You want to live in this country – go ahead.    But they don’t give me an option to do this.    I’m ready to sit down with any oligarch.”
    The central bank says a $5.6 billion hole had been left in PrivatBank’s finances due to shady lending practices under Kolomoisky’s ownership. Kolomoisky disputes that.
    Zelenskiy met Kolomoisky publicly in September and days later Kolomoisky told reporters he saw scope for a compromise on PrivatBank.    Any rollback of PrivatBank’s nationalization would likely prompt the International Monetary Fund, which is in talks over giving Ukraine a new loan program, to freeze aid.
    Oleksandr Danylyuk, one of the most senior officials in Zelenskiy’s administration, resigned in September citing concerns about PrivatBank and the independence of the central bank.
Danylyuk had been finance minister in a previous government when PrivatBank was nationalized.    Asked about this, Zelenskiy said Danylyuk’s departure was not to do with PrivatBank but because he did not grant Danylyuk’s wish to become prime minister.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Matthias Williams; Ediditng by Mark Potter)

10/10/2019 EU sues Poland over new measures for disciplining judges
FILE PHOTO: People walk outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive on Thursday filed a case at the bloc’s top court against Poland’s ruling nationalists over new measures they have introduced for disciplining judges, which the EU says violates the principle of judicial independence.
    The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is expected to win a second term of office in nationwide elections in Poland on Sunday.    The party remains popular for expanding social spending and for its combative rhetoric juxtaposing national pride with perceived threats from the EU, Germany, migrants, gay people and others.
    The alarm sounded by the EU, rights groups and opposition parties at home that PiS is weakening democracy in the formerly communist country by putting media, the courts and non-governmental groups under more direct state control have done little to dent the party’s popularity among its core voters.
    PiS has strong support in rural areas and among the less well-off as well as among devout Catholics with conservative social values.
    Nevertheless, the European Commission on Thursday took another formal step in its campaign against the party’s overhaul of the judiciary, requesting an expedited procedure at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.
    The Commission said in a statement that it was acting “on the grounds that the new disciplinary regime undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges and does not ensure the necessary guarantees to protect judges from political control.”
    Poland has several other such court cases running over rule of law concerns, migration and climate change – all prominent areas where PiS has clashed with the EU.    More such feuds are expected should the party secure another four-year term in government.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

10/11/2019 Poland’s Kaczynski steps out of shadows to mobilize rural vote by Justyna Pawlak and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski attends an election meeting in
Stalowa Wola, Poland, August 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Long cast as a reclusive backstage strategist, Poland’s conservative chief Jaroslaw Kaczynski is testing out a new role as charismatic leader as he campaigns to mobilize the rural vote ahead of Sunday’s parliamentary election.
    Opinion polls show that Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party (PiS), a eurosceptic grouping with a nationalist tilt, is likely to win its second term in office but the turnout in his rural heartland could determine whether it can govern alone or must seek allies among the opposition.
    Kaczynski wants a strong mandate for PiS so it can expand anti-liberal policies that have met resistance from its European Union partners, including judicial and social reforms.
    Widely seen as Poland’s de facto ruler, he has been pulling the strings of government from behind the closed door of his nondescript office building in central Warsaw, holding no official posts other than his lawmaker’s mandate as a member of Parliament.
    In recent weeks, however, the childless bachelor who reportedly likes to eat lunch alone in his office has instead toured numerous small towns and villages, sampling sausage and quince brandy at PiS-run “family picnics.”
    With crowds chanting “Jaroslaw! Jaroslaw!,” he shook hands and hugged children with an uneasy smile.
    “I feel wonderful, I didn’t expect something like this to happen to me,” said Magdalena Warchol, a 39-year-old shopkeeper who receives the PiS-introduced state subsidy for her three children, during a meeting in Stalowa Wola in central Poland.
    Dressed in his trademark dark suit he wears to commemorate his twin brother Lech who died as Polish president in a plane crash over Russia in 2010, Kaczynski had kissed Warchol’s hand in an old-fashioned gesture practiced by many men in Poland.
    “It’s indescribable,” she said.    “I always vote for PiS.”
EYES ON TURNOUT
    Back in Warsaw, visiting foreign dignitaries tend to make a stop in his office on Nowogrodzka Street – a central location that has become synonymous with power in Poland’s political parlance.
    Sparingly furnished, Kaczynski’s Nowogrodzka office is where he meets senior government officials, including, occasionally, the prime minister.    He visits the government headquarters rarely and only for official events, people close to Kaczynski say.
    Kaczynski has cast the election as a chance to finish his grand ambition of correcting Poland’s course since the end of communism in 1989.    He believes the nation had abandoned its Catholic and patriotic values to please liberal allies in the West.
    “We have to defend Poles from a belief that’s being forced on them: that to be affluent, to live well, like in the West, you have to be like them.    You don’t have to,” Kaczynski told supporters in southeastern Poland.
    “They are going through a sickness, and to demand from us that we let them infect us is asking too much.”
    What worries PiS is voter complacency.    After four years in power, punctuated by scandals in state institutions that had little impact on the party’s popularity, PiS is polling around 40-44%, the largest support of any political party in Poland.    Its unshakeable popularity stems largely from its massive welfare payouts.    It won 37.6% in the 2015 election.
    Turnout is traditionally lower in rural areas, where the majority of the core PiS electorate live: less well-off voters whose lives have been improved by the party’s flagship child subsidy program.
    “Turnout is extremely important from our point of view.    It works to our advantage,” Arkadiusz Mularczyk, a senior PiS lawmaker, told Reuters this week. “Polls show PiS has a chance to win but that shouldn’t put our voters to sleep.    They may be feeling complacent.”
    PiS officials hope Kaczynski, 70, whose power over PiS is undisputable in Poland, can mobilize voters to get to the ballot box on Sunday.
    “His presence during party conventions is incredibly important,” Mularczyk said.    “Kaczynski appreciates the Polish soul perfectly.    His speeches have a broad meaning and reflect our philosophy of governance.”
    PiS came out on top during the European Parliament election in May, when voter turnout hit a record 45.6% for the Europe-wide vote in Poland, compared with less than 24% five years earlier.
    The national vote will take place against a backdrop of mounting political polarization in Poland. PiS has cast the election as a choice between a fair society that espouses Catholic values and a liberal order that promotes a chosen few and endangers family life.
    A survey by IBRIS, pollster for Rzeczpospolita newspaper, showed that only 39% of PiS voters are “very determined” to cast a vote, against 69% of Poles who support the centrist Civic Platform, Poland’s main opposition party formerly led by EU Council President Donald Tusk.
    More than 90% of supporters of a left-wing bloc, which is polling third, said they are very determined to vote.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Anna Wlodarczak in Warsaw; Additional reporting Joanna Plucinska and Alicja Ptak in Warsaw; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

10/11/2019 Cuba reshuffles to improve governance, old guard removed from council of state by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
Alberto Font and Iris Ortiz watch a local TV news recording of Cuba's President Miguel Diaz Canal delivering a
speech at a Cuban National Assembly session in Havana, Cuba, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba started implementing a government reshuffle aimed at improving governance on Thursday, naming Miguel Diaz-Canel to the new position of president of the Republic and removing the last of the revolutionary generation from the council of state.
    Diaz-Canel, 59, who took office last year from Raul Castro, has three months to nominate a prime minister to head up the council of ministers he used to lead, as well as governors for the country’s 15 provinces – also newly-created positions.
    The president of the National Assembly, Esteban Lazo, 75, took Diaz-Canel’s position as head of the council of state, the assembly’s top executive body, despite talk the job might go to a younger candidate.
    The reorganization, mandated by a constitution approved in a referendum earlier this year, aims to strengthen provincial governance and free up the president from the day-to-day activities of governing.
    The president remains all powerful, and behind him the Communist Party, however, said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former analyst for the Cuban government and now assistant professor at Holy Names University in California.
    “There is a split of functions, and more delegation in the management of day-by-day activities, but in the personnel and decision area, nominally and institutionally, power is more concentrated on the president,” he said.
    Two revolutionary commanders, Ramiro Valdes, 87, and Guillermo Garcia Frias, 91, were removed from the council of state, which was reduced to 21 from 31 members.
    As a result, the council will no longer include any members of the so-called “historic” generation that fought in its 1959 revolution, reflecting the broader generational transition that some Cubans hope will result in more reforms.
    Cuba has been suffering from a severe fuel shortage that has forced austerity measures.    September saw public transportation crippled, huge lines at gas stations, oxen replacing tractors, work places closed and hours cut, and wood being used to cook in some bakeries and schools.
    In a speech to the assembly on Wednesday, broadcast by state television on Thursday, Diaz-Canel blamed the crisis on U.S. efforts to stop bartered fuel shipments from ally Venezuela and other countries and said the United States was “chasing (fuel imports) ship by ship and negotiation by negotiation.”
    The Trump administration has piled new sanctions on top of the decades-old trade embargo, exacerbating a cash shortage due to the implosion of Venezuela’s economy, which is also under sanctions.
    Diaz-Canel said Cuba was now operating with 62 percent of the fuel it used before September and hoped to reach 80 percent, while also trying to build up reserves.
    Venezuela increased crude and fuel shipments to Cuba at the end of last month to try to ease the crisis but it is unclear if that will continue.
(Reporting by Marc Frank, Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

10/11/2019 Poland’s justice minister lays out court reform plans before election by Alan Charlish and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
FILE PHOTO: Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro attends a government meeting
in Warsaw, Poland July 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s justice minister outlined plans for a further overhaul of the justice system in comments published on Friday, two days before an election the ruling nationalists are expected to win.
    The Law and Justice (PiS) party’s partners in the European Union, rights groups and opposition parties have already voiced concern about reforms of the judiciary which they say weaken democracy and threaten the independence of courts.
    But, in an interview with Catholic newspaper Nasz Dziennik, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro set out plans for further judicial reforms if the governing party retains power on Sunday.
    “The most important thing is to finish off the structural reform, because the Polish judiciary is overgrown,” he said.
    “We have in fact four levels of court … I think they could be reduced to three, studies and analyses show that.    We could manage courts better this way.”
    Some government critics and independent experts have said changing the structure of courts could allow the government to reappoint most judges and send those who are critical of the government to distant courts or into retirement.
    “The plan seems clear and it will probably boil down to removing inconvenient people from judging,” said judge Bartlomiej Przymusinski, spokesman for Polish Judges Association “Iustitia.”
    “They could not do it through disciplinary proceedings, because the European Court of Justice will probably block that, so they are trying a different way to force them into retirement or move them to faraway regions,” he added.
    The European Union’s executive filed a case against PiS on Thursday at the bloc’s top court over new measures introduced for disciplining judges.    The EU says they violate the principle of judicial independence.
    The Polish constitution does not specify the structure of common courts beyond saying proceedings must include two instances.    Experts say this it would be possible to introduce a change like that suggested by Ziobro could be introduced.
    The main opposition grouping, Civic Coalition, has made maintaining the rule of law in the largest of the EU’s post-communist states a key theme in its campaign.
    “What I understand as being Polish is completely different from the current government … a lack of free courts is not a Polish tradition,” Civic Coalition’s candidate for prime minister, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, said.
(Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Writing by Alan Charlish, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

10/13/2019 Second term awaits nationalist PiS as divided Poles vote by Agnieszka Barteczko and Alan Charlish
A woman walks in front of election banners in Warsaw, Poland October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poles voted on Sunday in an election that is likely to hand the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party a second term in office, potentially deepening the country’s isolation as unease within the EU about its commitment to democratic standards grows.
    PiS is expected to win more votes than it did in 2015 and may get enough parliamentary seats to continue to govern alone – but the shift in the political climate that it has presided over in the past four years has polarized the country.
    Polls opened at 0500 GMT and will close at 1900 GMT.
    The party has cast the election as a choice between a society rooted in traditional Catholic values and a liberal order that promotes a chosen few and undermines family life.
    Opposition parties and Poland’s European Union partners say the outgoing government has undermined the independence of the judiciary and the media and made Poland less welcoming for sexual and ethnic minorities.
    “We can guarantee that Polish families are protected, that Poland’s freedom is protected and that the Polish Church is protected against attacks,” PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told supporters in its eastern rural heartland on Friday.
    Surveys show PiS winning 40-46% of votes, which may give the party an absolute majority.    But it might need to form a coalition, which would raise the possibility of the far-right Confederation – one of three smaller groups that might garner the 5% of votes needed to enter parliament – becoming part of government.
    Polling around 19-26%, the centrist Civic Coalition – an umbrella group that includes the Civic Platform formerly led by EU Council president Donald Tusk – looks certain to continue forming the main opposition.
    Its candidate for prime minister, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, on Thursday accused Kaczynski of destroying democracy and seeking to sow further divisions.    Support for the opposition is strongest in urban centers, where anti-PiS protests have previously drawn thousands of people.
    “He is building a huge wall and creating great tensions,” she told supporters on Thursday.    “That is why I call on all people of good will … regardless of their political views: let’s defend Poland against such …hatred.”
CHURCH AND STATE
    One of the foundations of PiS success is the way it has tapped into anger among poorer Poles who have missed out on prosperity since the collapse of communism in 1989, mixing nationalist rhetoric with a vast welfare program that an economic boom has allowed it to implement.
    It has drawn on the deeply-rooted popularity of the Catholic Church.    Top PiS officials regularly attend Church events and the party has espoused stronger religious values in public life.
    The Church does not openly back any party but senior officials have given the PiS tacit support.
    On Oct. 1, Poland’s senior bishop wrote that Catholics should vote for those to defend the right to life from conception, support family values and define marriage as between man and a woman.
    During campaigning, PiS has called lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights an invasive foreign influence that threatens Poland’s national identity.
    The party has also shifted Poland’s foreign policy away from the European mainstream, becoming a leading proponent of calls to take some powers away from the EU, with which Warsaw is embroiled in a long-running row over judicial and media reforms.
    Brussels has taken legal action to force Polish authorities to row back on legislation it says has politicized the courts.
    PiS says the reforms are needed to make the court system fairer and more efficient and plans further changes if it is re-elected.
    “A lack of independent courts is not part of the Polish tradition,” Kidawa-Blonska said on Friday.
    PiS has also sought closer ties with U.S. President Donald Trump, with whom it shares views on coal mining, climate and abortion – fuelling concern among some western EU diplomats that Trump could use the biggest of the EU’s ex-communist states to sow discord in Brussels over issues such as Iran.
    Deeply distrustful of its former Soviet master, Poland has persuaded Trump to bolster Washington’s military presence on Polish soil to counter Russia’s growing assertiveness since its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
    On the economy, PiS has promised to shake off the post-communist Polish model that relied on cheap labor by more than doubling the minimum wage over 8 years.
    Some economists say the party’s already vast social spending has exposed the economy to too much risk at the time of an economic slowdown in the West, while opposition critics say it has deprived the health care and education systems of funding.
    But markets are largely sanguine about the prospect of another PiS government.
(Reporting by Warsaw bureau; Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by John Stonestreet and Raissa Kasolowsky)
[The above article lets you know that there are two types of Catholic churches, which is those who believe what the Bible says and those who are trying to whitewash the Bible to fit their beliefs of the way the world should be.    So ask yourself which one are you?].

10/13/2019 Russia says exploring settlement in euros, roubles for energy exports
FILE PHOTO: Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin attends a session of the Moscow Financial Forum
in Moscow, Russia September 6, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said the country is considering alternatives to the U.S. dollar for energy transactions and is exploring currency settlements in euros and roubles for energy exports to minimize U.S. exposure.
    “We have a very good currency, it’s stable.    Why not use it for global transactions?” Oreshkin said in an interview with the Financial Times on Sunday.
    “We want (oil and gas sales) in roubles at some point,” he was quoted as saying.    “The question here is not to have any excessive costs from doing it that way, but if the broad ?…?financial infrastructure is created, if the initial costs are very low, then why not?
    Oreshkin said that Russia will be able to sell its energy exports in local currency given the popularity of the country’s domestic bonds among foreign investors, who own 29% of its rouble debt.
    Russia has attempted to reduce its exposure to the U.S. through a “de-dollarisation” policy to offset the impact of U.S. sanctions.
    Russian assets came under pressure after the first round of western sanctions were imposed in 2014 for annexing Crimea from Ukraine.
    Subsequently, Washington imposed further sanctions on allegations of interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections and the poisoning of a former spy in Britain, accusations denied by Russia.
    In August, the U.S. banned its banks from buying sovereign Eurobonds directly from Russia.    Russia’s finance ministry said last month that the country will focus more on selling its debt to investors from Asia and Europe and may adjust the currencies of its bond issues.
    Oreshkin told FT Russia was aiming to boost its bilateral trade with the European Union, but it is unlikely to readmit EU food exports unless the bloc eases Russia’s access to its market.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Paul Tait & Shri Navaratnam)

10/13/2019 Putin offers to help ease Gulf tensions before Saudi trip by Olesya Astakhova and Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a conference of the Israeli foundation
Keren Hayesod in Moscow, Russia, September 17, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Russia can play a positive role in easing tensions in the Gulf following a spate of attacks in the region, President Vladimir Putin said in comments published on Sunday before his first visit to Saudi Arabia in over a decade.
    He cited good Russian ties with Gulf Arab states and Iran in an interview with Arab broadcasters, but said he had no reliable information about who was behind attacks on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 which stoked tension and rattled oil markets.
    Yemen’s Houthi movement said it was behind the drone and missile strikes, but Riyadh and Washington blamed Tehran, which denied responsibility.
    The attack exposed big gaps in Saudi air defenses, prompting the United States to send around 3,000 more troops to the kingdom.
    “It is wrong to determine who is guilty before it is known reliably and clearly who is behind this act,” Putin said, adding that he had agreed to help investigate.
    “Imagine, we don’t know.    The next day, I asked the head of the foreign intelligence service and the defense minister.    ‘No, we don’t know’,” he said according to an Arabic-language transcript provided by Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.
    Putin is due to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Monday and will hold talks with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman before leaving for the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday. Russia and Saudi Arabia are two of the world’s biggest oil producers.
    Tensions in the Gulf have risen to new highs since May 2018, when the United States withdrew from a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran that put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions.
    President Donald Trump has reinstated U.S. sanctions, increasing pressure on Iran’s economy, and there have been attacks on Saudi Arabia and in Gulf waters that Washington and close allies have blamed on Iran. Tehran denies responsibility.
    Putin said such attacks strengthened cooperation between oil producers inside and outside OPEC, an alliance known as OPEC+, and that Russia – which is not in OPEC – would work with its partners to reduce attempts to destabilize markets.
    Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, in a media briefing, said Riyadh was not behind a suspected strike against an Iranian-owned oil tanker in the Red Sea on Friday.
IRAN DEAL, SYRIA
    Pakistan’s prime minister is visiting Tehran and Riyadh this week to try to facilitate talks.
    Putin said the region’s rival leaders did not need advice and mediation.
    “You can only talk to them out of friendship,” he said.    “I know that they, being smart, will listen and analyze what they are told.    In this context we can play a positive role.”
    He said he had “very friendly personal relations” with Prince Mohammed, the de facto Saudi ruler.
    Asked whether Moscow supported a return to negotiations with Iran to limit its missile program as Trump has called for or enforcing the nuclear deal first, Putin said the two issues should be dealt with separately.
    “Most likely it (the missiles) can and should be discussed … The missile program is one thing and the nuclear program is another thing,” he said.    “Of course, this is necessary, but there is no need to merge one with the other…
    On Syria, where Russia and Iran have been key allies of President Bashar al-Assad during the country’s civil war, Putin said any new constitution that is drawn up should guarantee the rights of all ethnic and religions groups.
    A congress convened by Russia last year tasked the United Nations envoy for Syria with forming a committee to draft a new constitution, after many rounds of talks to end the war failed.
    U.N. officials say forming a constitutional committee is key to political reforms and new elections meant to unify Syria and end the civil war.
    Putin said Syrians “interact positively” with Russian military police and military stationed in the country.     Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington was poised to evacuate about 1,000 troops from northern Syria after Turkey began an offensive against Kurdish forces in the border area.    He told CBS the Kurds were looking to cut a deal with the Syrians and Russians to counterattack against the Kurds.
    Turkey says it aims to set up a “safe zone” to resettle Syrian refugees but the offensive has raised international alarm over the possibility of Islamic State militants escaping from Kurdish-run prisons.
    Putin said Moscow did not blame Trump for not improving U.S.-Russian relations, blaming the lack of progress on the “internal political agenda.”
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Writing by Stephen Kalin, Editing by Edmund Blair and Timothy Heritage)

10/13/2019 Putin says Trump not to blame for lack of improvement in Russia-U.S. ties
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an interview with Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic ahead of his visit to
Saudi Arabia, in Sochi, Russia, in this undated picture released on October 13, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow is not blaming U.S. President Donald Trump for failing to improve U.S.-Russian relations, a pledge he had made during his election campaign, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Arab broadcasters.
    “We know that, including during his previous election campaign, he spoke in favor of a normalization (of U.S.-Russia relations), but unfortunately it has not happened yet,” Putin told Al Arabiya, Sky News Arabia and RT Arabic.
    “But we have no claims because we see what’s going on in U.S. domestic politics,” he said, according to a transcript published on the Kremlin’s website on Sunday.
    Putin said the “internal political agenda” was not allowing Trump to take steps aimed at a drastic improvement of bilateral relations, adding Moscow would in any case work with any U.S. administration to the extent that Washington itself wants.
    Putin also said Russia had weapons that neutralize any threat from NATO’s missile deployments in Poland and Romania.
    “This obviously poses a threat to us because it’s an attempt to level out our strategic nuclear potential.    It’s bound to fail, this attempt, it’s already obvious,” he said.
    The interview was aired on Sunday ahead of Putin’s visit to Saudi Arabia on Oct. 14.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Frances Kerry)

10/13/2019 Hungary’s opposition wins Budapest election, makes gains in other cities by Gergely Szakacs and Marton Dunai
Gergely Karacsony, opposition parties' candidate delivers a statement after his victory after being elected Mayor of
Budapest, defeating the ruling party incumbent Istvan Tarlos in Budapest, Hungary, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s opposition scored its biggest election victory in a decade on Sunday when liberal challenger Gergely Karacsony ousted ruling-party incumbent Istvan Tarlos as mayor of Budapest and opposition parties made gains in other major cities as well.
    The result will not affect Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s grip on national power as his Cabinet is buoyed by a strong economy, fierce anti-immigration rhetoric and hefty wage rises.    His ruling Fidesz party remains wildly popular in rural areas.
    No general election is due until 2022 and Orban, who rose to power in 2010, holds a huge majority in parliament.
    With 81.6% of votes counted, Karacsony had 50.6% support compared with 44.3% for Tarlos, according to data on the National Election Office website.
    The better-than-expected showing for the opposition, including a late surge by the 44-year-old Karacsony, vindicated its strategy to field joint candidates, seen as the best way to challenge Fidesz, which had scored seven consecutive landslide election wins on the national, municipal and European levels since 2010.
    “We gave everyone a lesson on democracy. … An opposition unity that voters have long expected has been formed, and the result tells us this is the path to take onwards,” Karacsony told cheering supporters.
    “Changing Budapest and the major cities is the first step toward changing Hungary,” he said as 71-year-old Tarlos, the Budapest mayor since 2010, conceded defeat.
    Opposition parties were also on track to win a majority in the Budapest General Assembly and made gains outside the capital, with preliminary results projecting opposition mayors winning in 10 of Hungary’s 23 big cities.
    “Today, the citizens of Budapest have decided that the time has come for something different,” Orban told a news conference.    “We accept this decision.    In the interests of the country and the citizens of Budapest, we are ready to cooperate.”
    Orban said Fidesz was expected to win the mayoral races in over half of the towns with a population exceeding 5,000 people, adding that the number of votes cast nationwide showed his right-wing alliance remained the strongest in Hungary.
    Orban said, however, that Fidesz would need to pore over the election results and make adjustments to its policies.    But he did not go into detail.
    Naz Masraff, an analyst at think tank Teneo Intelligence said the opposition’s showing could solidify cooperation between opposition parties ahead of the 2022 general election.
    “But forming a wide opposition project will still prove to be very difficult ahead of parliamentary elections, given the need to align diverging priorities ranging from the center-right Jobbik to Liberal Momentum,” he said in a note before Sunday’s vote.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Marton Dunai; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)

10/14/2019 Poland’s PiS seen winning parliamentary election: partial results
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, attend a voting during parliamentary election
at a polling station in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party is seen winning parliamentary elections with 49.3% of votes, according to partial official results calculated on the basis of 42% of electoral commissions published early on Monday.
    Poland’s biggest opposition grouping Civic Coalition is seen coming second with 22.3% support, then leftist alliance The Left with 10.9%, while the bloc of agrarian PSL and anti-system Kukiz’15 has another 9.8%.    The far-right Confederation would get 6.6%.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Kim Coghill)

10/14/2019 Poland’s ruling nationalists win majority in parliament by Marcin Goclowski and Pawel Florkiewicz
Poland's ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski waves after the exit poll
results are announced in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party won a majority in Sunday’s parliamentary election, securing a second four-year term to continue reforms that have put it on a collision course with Brussels.
    PiS secured 45.2% of votes, according to results from 83% of constituencies published by the electoral committee on Monday.    The biggest opposition grouping Civic Coalition (KO), which comprises centrist and liberal parties, came second with 26.1%.
    The win for PiS is likely to stoke concern about democratic standards in the largest former communist state of European Union, where the government has been accused of politicizing the judiciary, turning state media into a mouthpiece and polarising society.
    A second term for PiS could also bolster anti-immigration populists in the EU are who keen to scale back the bloc’s liberal agenda.
    The party cast the election as a choice between a society rooted in traditional Catholic values and a liberal order that promotes a chosen few and undermines family life.
    Critics accused it of fomenting homophobia during the election campaign, with PiS officials calling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights an invasive foreign influence that threatens Poland’s national identity.
    “We saved Poland. … It is time to complete decommunisation.    It is time to stop the LGBT dictate!,” Deputy Digitalisation Minister Andrzej Andruszkiewicz seen as close to far-right politicians wrote in a tweet
.
    The leftist alliance, The Left, got 12.1%, while the bloc of agrarian PSL and anti-system Kukiz’15 was at 8.8%.    The far-right Confederation has probably also passed the threshold and managed to get into parliament, scoring 6.7% based on partial results.
    “The most important thing is that we achieved our aim – from the very beginning our plan was to get the majority,” Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin told private broadcaster TVN24 on Monday.
    According to Reuters calculations, PiS won 238 out of 460 seats in lower house, the Sejm, although this result is subject to change depending on the performance of other parties.
    Poland’s euro-denominated government bonds rallied on Monday after the results came out.    The zloty started Monday trade at 4.3056 to euro, almost unchanged since late Sunday. Warsaw stock exchange started the day with a 0.4% slide.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Anna Koper, Justyna Pawlak, and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)
[At least there is one country and majority of their people in the world that fears the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob who knows what will come for those countries who allow and push the sins of Sodom and Gommorah on their society.    Are you listening Pope Francis?    Soon you will see the anti-Christian forces attack Poland in force.].

10/14/2019 Thousands march in Kiev in protest against Donbass peace plan
Activists and supporters of Ukraine's nationalist movements take part in a rally against the approval
of the so-called Steinmeier Formula, in Kiev, Ukraine October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Thousands of people marched through central Kiev on Monday to protest against President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s deal with Moscow to grant special status to a pro-Russian rebel-held region of eastern Ukraine as part of efforts to end a five-year conflict there.
    Around 20,000 people, including war veterans, took part in the rally ‘No capitulation’ against what they say are unacceptable concessions by Zelenskiy over the Donbass region.
    Ukrainian, Russian and separatist negotiators agreed last month that Kiev would grant the territory controlled by the separatists a special status and hold elections there.
    Ukraine also agreed to call back its forces from the current contact line with separatist fighters.
    The peace plan was previously rejected by the government.    Zelenskiy has said he would “never betray Ukraine” and “any red line will not be crossed.”
    But many Ukrainians say these measures are a betrayal by Zelenskiy who took power in April after a landslide election win.    The war in eastern Ukraine has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
    “We are for peace, but we want it to be done differently.    We also want our boys not to die, but we want our land to remain our land and that there are no enemies on our land,” protester Ludmyla Linnyk said.
    “We have little information about this and it suggests that something is being prepared that we don’t like,” said Pavlo Musiyenko, who was at the rally with his wife and child.
    The deal also opened the way for a resumption of top-level peace talks to end the conflict, which helped send Russia’s ties with the West to post-Cold War lows in 2014.
    Earlier this month Zelenskiy said he would discuss a peace deal for Donbass in four-way talks with Russia, Germany and France.
    Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told Reuters on Monday the leaders could meet in Paris in mid-November if Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine can maintain a ceasefire.
(Reporting by Sergiy Karazy, writing by Pavel Polityuk; editing by Grant McCool)

10/14/2019 Kremlin tells Turkey to ensure Syria operation is proportionate by Olesya Astakhova and Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting, dedicated to the upcoming televised phone-in of Russian
President Vladimir Putin with citizens, in Moscow, Russia June 19, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    RIYADH/MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin complained on Monday that Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria was “not exactly” compatible with Syrian territorial integrity, and Ankara should ensure its actions were proportionate.
    The Kremlin was commenting as Russia-backed Syrian forces deployed deep inside Kurdish-held territory south of the Turkish frontier, less than 24 hours after Washington announced a full withdrawal.
    Washington’s Kurdish former allies said they invited in the government troops as an emergency step to help fend off an assault by Turkey, launched last week after President Donald Trump moved his troops aside in what the Kurds call a betrayal.
    The move was a major boost for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s closest Middle East ally, offering him an opportunity to retake territory in the world’s deadliest current war.
    But it also makes Moscow’s balancing act in the eight-year-old conflict war more delicate, as it will put Syrian government troops, who are backed by Russian air power, in close proximity to the Turkish army and its proxies.
    That raises the risk of a clash between two Russian allies and of Moscow’s own forces being sucked into some kind of incident with NATO member Turkey, to which it has drawn steadily closer diplomatically.
    Russia’s Ministry of Defense said media reports sourced to Turkish officials that Moscow had no objections to Turkey including the town of Kobani in its operation were wrong.
    “During talks with Turkish colleagues questions about extending Operation Peace Spring, the operation by Turkey’s armed forces, to the Syrian town of Kobani were not discussed,” it said.
    The ministry did not identify the Turkish officials, but President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey’s incursion would stretch from Kobani in the west to Hasaka in the east, going some 30 km (19 miles) into Syrian territory.
    On Monday Erdogan said he did not think any problems would arise in Kobani, which had been held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, after the Syrian army deployed along the border, adding that Russia’s Vladimir Putin had shown a “positive approach.”
    Yuri Ushakov, a senior foreign policy adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Moscow wanted Turkey to ensure its military incursion into northern Syria was proportionate.
    “The main thing is that the Turks act in a way that is proportionate with the situation and that their actions do not harm the most important thing – efforts to get a political settlement in Syria.    That is the main thing for us,” said Ushakov.
TENSIONS
    Asked earlier if Turkey’s actions squared with Moscow’s desire for Syria’s territorial integrity to be restored and respected, he said: “Not exactly.”
    Ushakov, speaking in Riyadh during a visit to Saudi Arabia by Putin, added that Russia planned to “do something” without specifying what that might be.
    Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said Russia did not want to entertain the possibility of a clash in Syria between Russian and Turkish forces.    “We wouldn’t even like to think about that scenario,” Peskov told reporters.
    Peskov said Moscow had already warned all sides in the Syrian conflict to avoid any action that could escalate tensions in the area or damage a fragile political process.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said earlier on Monday that he did not envisage any problems would emerge in Syria’s Kobani after the Syrian army deploys along the border.
    Erdogan spoke of what he called Putin’s “positive approach” to Turkey’s actions.
    The Kremlin has said previously it is sympathetic to Ankara’s need to address security concerns in northern Syria.    But Peskov declined to comment on Monday when asked if Moscow felt it was time for Turkey to end its operation inside Syria.
    He said Moscow was in regular contact with Ankara, including at a military level.    Hours later, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigiu spoke to his Turkish counterpart.
    Valery Gerasimov, the head of Russian’s military general staff, on Monday also conducted phone negotiations with U.S. Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Russian news agencies reported.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Maria Kiselyova and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by William Maclean)

10/14/2019 Exclusive: Ukraine sees hope for ‘last chance’ peace summit in mid-November by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko attends a news conference with his Netherlands'
counterpart Stef Blok in Kiev, Ukraine October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany could hold a summit in Paris in mid-November if Kiev and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine can maintain a ceasefire, Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Monday, warning of a “last chance” for Moscow.
    The summit, originally envisaged for September, would aim to resolve the five-year-long conflict pitting Kiev’s forces against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
    More than 14,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in April 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.    Intermittent clashes continue despite a notional ceasefire and diplomatic peace efforts.
    Last week Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, accused Russia of delaying the summit because Moscow says Kiev needs to pull back its troops first.
    Speaking before addressing EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told Reuters the summit would have to follow a seven-day ceasefire and the withdrawal of light weapons from the east.
    “I’m still hopeful, otherwise we wouldn’t even be trying,” Prystaiko said.    “We have some dates … we are aiming for the middle of next month, somewhere around mid-November.”
    “We’ve told everyone openly that we are making maybe the last honest attempt to follow the Minsk path,” he said, referring to the original 2014-2015 peace deal signed in the Belarusian capital.
    “If it doesn’t work, we will have to look to some plan B,” Prystaiko added, although he declined to say what that might be.
    He said there had been no progress on a limited U.N. peacekeeping mission to eastern Ukraine suggested by Russian President Vladimir Putin, although it remained an option.
    “It’s a way to create stability if hostilities cease, because we are talking about peacekeeping, not peace-creating,” he said.
    Putin, Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron would attend the Paris summit.
SPECIAL STATUS
    In a breakthrough, Ukrainian, Russian and separatist negotiators agreed last month that Kiev would grant the territory controlled by the separatists a special status and hold local elections there.
    Under the agreement, separatist fighters and Ukrainian troops would also pull back from the line of contact.
    But the pullback, originally scheduled for Oct. 7, has not happened yet because Ukraine has accused the separatists of shelling its positions and said it would only withdraw after a straight week of full ceasefire observance.
    Prystaiko stressed that the breakthrough with negotiators focused on local polls, not parliamentary elections, and there was no plan to create a federal Ukrainian state.    The country of 42 million has borders both with Russia and countries in the European Union and NATO such as Poland and Romania.
    Many in Ukraine, whose constitution now commits it to seeking EU and NATO membership, fear Russia could acquire a veto over Ukrainian decision-making if separatist politicians in the east were given a voice in the parliament in Kiev.
    Moscow is fiercely opposed to Ukraine joining the Western clubs.
    “We had one autonomous region, and that was Crimea, and it is very well known what happened there,” he said, referring to Moscow’ 2014 seizure of the peninsula following the ouster of a pro-Kremlin president in Kiev amid mass street protests.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/15/2019 Russian investigators raid Kremlin critic Navalny’s offices
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters,
who were detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian police on Tuesday conducted nationwide raids on the offices of opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, part of a criminal investigation that Kremlin critics say is designed to thwart his activities.
    Searches were conducted in relation to investigations taking place in 30 different regions, including in Moscow, into suspected money laundering, Russia’s Investigative Committee, the state body that investigates major crimes, said.
    Investigators opened the money laundering case in August after Navalny called for people to demonstrate in central Moscow over the exclusion of opposition candidates from a local election that took place last month.
    Those protests grew into Moscow’s biggest sustained protest movement in years before appearing to fizzle out.     The Justice Ministry earlier this month formally labeled Navalny’s anti-corruption group a “foreign agent,” meaning it can be subjected to spot checks and face bureaucratic scrutiny.    The term has a negative Cold War-era connotation.br>     Navalny has called that move and others, including the jailing of several protesters, part of a coordinated and trumped up campaign to stifle the anti-Kremlin opposition’s activities.
    On Tuesday, investigators said they had seized documents and other items during their searches.    Several of Navalny’s supporters had been taken in for questioning, they said.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/15/2019 Poland’s PiS mulls personnel changes to energy brief in new government
FILE PHOTO: Poland's ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski waves after
the exit poll results are announced in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is considering some changes in the government after it won a weekend parliamentary election, including in the field of energy policy, Jacek Sasin, a PiS member and Deputy Prime Minister said on Tuesday.
    PiS narrowly won a second term in power, final results from Sunday’s vote showed, but its drive to push through its conservative agenda may be hampered by a loss of the upper house.
    Mateusz Morawiecki would continue as Poland’s prime minister, Sasin said, adding there could be soon minor changes among officials responsible for energy matters, without giving further details.
    “Mateusz Morawiecki remains the prime minister, nothing changes here,” Sasin said.
    The energy portfolio has previously been split between the ministers of energy and the environment, as well as a minister for entrepreneurship and technology, with the prime minister also personally overseeing some energy-related issues.
    Analysts said a potential replacement of Energy Minister Krzysztof Tchorzewski could boost the shares of Poland’s listed state-run energy companies, as the minister had been criticized by private investors for launching policies they said undermined the utilities’ profitability.
    Under Tchorzewski, who intervened on the energy market with a power price cap, utilities stopped paying out dividends and had to support troubled coal mines.
    “If …Tchorzewski loses his job or loses the ultimate supervision of utilities which could, for instance, be redirected to the prime minister we would expect some upside potential for utilities which may start to pay dividends again,” Ipopema Securities said in a research note.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Alex Richardson)

10/15/2019 Russia says ‘unacceptable’ Turkish incursion into Syria must be temporary by Olesya Astakhova and Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russia's special envoy on Syria Alexander Lavrentiev attends a meeting during consultations on Syria at the
European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland September 11, 2018. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool via REUTERS
    ABU DHABI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia called Turkey’s military incursion into northeast Syria “unacceptable” and said on Tuesday the operation had to be limited in time and scale, a rare broadside that suggests Moscow’s patience with Ankara is wearing thin.
    In Russia’s strongest criticism since Turkey launched its military operation last week, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Syria indicated Moscow wanted Ankara to wrap up its offensive soon.
    “We didn’t agree with the Turks any questions about their presence in Syria and we don’t approve of their actions,” envoy Alexander Lavrentiev told reporters in Abu Dhabi during an official visit there by Putin.
    He said Turkish troops had the right under an agreement struck between Damascus and Ankara in 1998, the Adana pact, to temporarily push up to a maximum of 10 km (6 miles) into Syria to conduct counter-terrorism operations.
    “But it doesn’t give them (Turkish troops) the right to remain on Syrian territory permanently and we are opposed to Turkish troops staying on Syrian territory permanently,” he said.
    Lavrentiev made his comments as Turkey pressed ahead with its offensive in northern Syria despite U.S. sanctions and growing calls for it to stop, while Syria’s Russia-backed army moved on the key city of Manbij that was abandoned by U.S. forces.
    The Kremlin said late on Tuesday that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan had phoned Putin.    The Russian leader had used the call to complain about the humanitarian situation on the Turkish-Syrian border and had stressed the need to avoid a clash between Turkish and Syrian forces, it said.
    Putin had told Erdogan that the situation whereby Islamic State prisoners being held in custody by Syrian Kurds were exploiting the chaos by trying to escape was unacceptable, the Kremlin said.
    Putin had also invited Erdogan to visit Russia in the coming days for urgent talks, a proposal Ankara had accepted, it added.
    Lavrentiev, Putin’s Syria envoy, earlier on Tuesday told Russian news agencies that Moscow had always considered any kind of Turkish military operation on Syrian territory unacceptable.
    His comments, which suggest growing tensions between Turkey and Russia, came a day after the Kremlin complained that Turkey’s incursion was “not exactly” compatible with Syrian territorial integrity.
    “The security of the Turkish-Syrian border must be ensured by the deployment of Syrian government troops along its entire length,” said Lavrentiev.    “That’s why we never spoke in favor or supported the idea of Turkish units (being deployed there) let alone the armed Syrian opposition.”
    Lavrentiev said Turkey’s actions risked upsetting delicate religious sensitivities in northern Syria.
    In particular, he said the area was populated by Kurds, Arabs and Sunnis who would not take kindly to their lands being resettled by people who had never lived there, a reference to Turkey’s plan to house refugees from other parts of Syria there.
    Lavrentiev confirmed that Russia had brokered an agreement between the Syrian government and Kurdish forces that saw the Kurds cede control of territory to Syrian troops.
    Those talks had taken place at Russia’s Hmeimim air base in Syria among other places, he said.     Russia’s influence in Syria and the Middle East is widely seen to have been boosted in the last week thanks to Washington scaling back its Syria operation and the Syrian Kurds striking a deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Moscow’s closest ally in the region.
    Lavrentiev said Moscow was hoping that the United States would withdraw all of its forces from Syria.    Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to his U.S. counterpart about Syria on Tuesday evening.
    Russian military police are patrolling the line of contact between Syrian and Turkish government troops.
    Lavrentiev estimated there were around 12,000 Islamic State prisoners being held in northeast Syria.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Maxim Rodionov and Tom Balmforth; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Alistair Bell and Lisa Shumaker)

10/16/2019 Poland plans bill to criminalize ‘promoting underage sex’ by Marcin Goclowski
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party arrives at the Lower House of the Parliament before the session to vote
on the bill that would criminalise "the promotion of underage sex" at the parliament in Warsaw, Poland, October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Lawmakers from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) have begun work on a bill to criminalize “the promotion of underage sexual activity,” in a move which aims to boost their credentials with staunchly Catholic voters but which has angered liberals and women’s rights activists.
    Polish schools do not currently offer formal sex education, instead teaching students how to “prepare for family life.”    Some cities run by more liberal parties have allowed sexual education programs in schools, prompting a backlash from the PiS and the Catholic Church.
    Protests against the new bill, which some activists fear may mean sex educators would risk up to five years behind bars, are planned in several cities on Wednesday.
    The PiS won parliamentary elections in Poland last Sunday, but far-right and staunchly catholic voters also managed to introduce candidates to parliament.
    Some political analysts think the PiS, which lost seats in the upper house and won the same number of seats in the lower house as in 2015, wants to show such voters it is the best party to represent them, which may result in the party turning further to the right and to the Church.
    “This is their gesture towards ultra-Catholics and the Church.    They don’t understand what sex education is and why it is important,” lawmaker Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus from the opposition Now! party said.
    Critics accused the PiS of fomenting homophobia during the election campaign, with party officials calling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights an invasive foreign influence that threatens Poland’s national identity.
    “They are trying to impose a narrative that we are in a culture and civilization war,” Scheuring-Wielgus said, adding the bill is aimed at intimidating and silencing educators and activists.
    But newly-elected PiS lawmaker Marcin Ociepa said fears that educators may end up behind bars are just an “overinterpretation of the bill” and that he saw nothing bad with the legislation which is to be debated on Wednesday afternoon.
    “This only says that it is not allowed to encourage a person younger than 15 … to have sex or to conduct other sexual activities,” Ociepa told private radio TOK FM.
    Bishop Ignacy Dec of the Swidnica diocese told right-wing newspaper Nasz Dziennik, “it is worrying that some local authorities are introducing to pre-schools and schools sexualisation programs recommended by the World Health Organization, which just harm children and youths.”
    Women’s rights activists will protest on Wednesday in several cities, under the “No to forbidding sex education” banner, according to Twitter posts.
    Large protests stopped the PiS in previous years from tightening Poland’s abortion law which is already one of the most restrictive in Europe.
    The fresh social clash underlines the difficulties the PiS faces in pushing through its policies as new politicians from both sides of the political spectrum are expected to mount robust challenges.
    Poland, European Union’s biggest post-communist member, is one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in Europe, but its society is becoming more liberal, and the number of people attending Sunday mass is falling constantly, which may threaten the PiS’s conservative agenda.
(Additional reporting by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)
[Poland a country that has hung on to the true religion of Christianity came into the E.U. not knowing that it had become anti-religious government and is now fighting for its life for its true Christian background.    May God protect you from the evil in the world.].

10/16/2019 Czechs must build nuclear plants even if in breach of EU law, says PM
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives to take part in a European Union
leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium, July 2, 2019. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic will have to build new nuclear power plants to replace aging coal and nuclear capacity even if they are in breach of European law, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday.
    The government wants CEZ to lead the nuclear projects but the 70% state-owned electricity producer has demanded state guarantees the plants would be both viable and deliver returns to shareholders.
    The EU nation generates more than a third of its electricity from nuclear energy and Babis has advocated nuclear power as a low-carbon alternative to coal, which now produces about 50 percent of power.
    “We have to push it through, even if we were to breach European law,” Babis told the European committee of the lower house of parliament.
    “Energy security is our priority and there is no way around it.”
    Potential state guarantees are now under negotiation between CEZ and the government, which has not fully backed any proposed plan beyond saying it would cover the risks of regulatory and legal changes that might complicate construction and operations.
    European Union regulators would have to clear any state aid for the projects.
    The European Commission has approved aid for two recent projects – at Hinkley Point in Britain and at Hungary’s Paks – despite protests from nuclear power foe and Czech neighbor Austria.
    The government’s preferred option is for CEZ to first build one reactor at the existing Dukovany nuclear plant to replace reactors due to be shut down after 2035.    A second reactor at the other Czech nuclear plant, Temelin, could follow.
    CEZ had canceled a previous tender to build a new unit at the existing Temelin plant in 2014 after the previous government refused to provide state guarantees.
    No decision on a supplier is expected until after the next election in 2021.
    Six firms have shown interest in building the next unit – Korea’s KHNP, Russia’s Rosatom, France’s EdF, Westinghouse of the United States, the Atmea consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and EdF, which has been taken over by EdF, and China’s CGN.
    CEZ has said it plans to phase out its coal-fired power plants by 2040 when only its newest lignite power station would remain operational.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka, Editing by Michael Kahn and Nick Macfie)

10/16/2019 Russia removes U.S. diplomats from train near secret test site accident: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Russian and U.S. state flags fly near a factory of Ford Sollers, a joint venture of U.S. carmaker Ford
with Russian partners, in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region, Russia March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia removed three U.S. diplomats from a train near the site of a mysterious military testing accident on Monday because they did not have special permits to be in the area, the Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday.
    Russia’s state nuclear agency, Rosatom, has acknowledged that five of its nuclear workers were killed in an Aug. 8 explosion during a rocket engine test near the White Sea in far northern Russia.
    Interfax cited a source as saying that the U.S. diplomats had been let go, but are regarded to have broken Russian law.
    “The American diplomats were on official travel and had properly notified Russian authorities of their travel,” a spokesman for the U.S. State Department in Washington said.
    The Severodvinsk region came into the spotlight in August amid contradictory reports about the consequences of the explosion.
    The Defense Ministry initially said background radiation remained normal after the incident, but Russia’s state weather agency said radiation levels in the nearby city of Severodvinsk had risen by up to 16 times.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Lisa Shumaker)

10/17/2019 Russia protests after catching U.S. diplomats near military test site
FILE PHOTO: Russian and U.S. state flags fly near a factory of Ford Sollers, a joint venture of U.S. carmaker Ford
with Russian partners, in Vsevolozhsk, Leningrad Region, Russia March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday it would issue a formal note of protest to the United States after it caught three U.S. diplomats in what it said was a restricted area near a closed military testing site.
    The diplomats were removed from a train on Monday in northern Russia and briefly detained before being let go.    Though protected by diplomatic immunity, they are accused of breaking the law as they did not have the special permits foreigners needed to visit.
    The area where they were intercepted is of heightened interest to Western intelligence agencies after a mysterious military accident took place there in August which saw radiation levels briefly spike and killed at least five employees of Russia’s Rosatom state nuclear corporation.
    Thomas DiNanno, a senior U.S. State Department official, said last week that Washington had determined that the explosion was the result of a nuclear reaction that had occurred during the recovery of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile after a failed test.
    The diplomatic incident adds a new irritant to already fraught U.S.-Russia ties which remain strained over everything from tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions to nuclear arms control tensions.
    A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said the diplomats had been on official travel and had properly notified Russian authorities of their travel.
    But Russia’s foreign ministry said the diplomats had been found in a restricted area more than 40 kilometers (25 miles)from the city of Arkhangelsk which they had said they planned to visit.
    “Evidently they got lost.    We’re ready to give the American embassy a map of Russia,” the foreign ministry said late on Wednesday, according to Russia’s REN TV channel.
    Russian media reports said the diplomats’ offence was usually punishable by deportation.    But the foreign ministry was quoted as saying that Moscow was unlikely to escalate the incident in that way.
    “…They have immunity so I think there will just be further proceedings to establish how this was possible,” Yevgeny Ivanov, a deputy foreign minister, was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/17/2019 Russia’s Putin revokes Geneva convention protocol on war crimes victims
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he visits the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography
in Moscow, Russia October 17, 2019. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has revoked an additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions related to the protection of victims of international armed conflicts, a Russian parliamentary website cites a letter from him as saying.
    The Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Convention was ratified by the Soviet Union’s Supreme Council, or parliament, in 1989.
    Putin’s letter, dated Oct. 16 and addressed to the speaker of lower house of parliament on the “recall of the statement made at the ratification,” said an international commission, set up in order to investigate war crimes against civilians, “has effectively failed to carry out its functions since 1991.”
    “In the current international environment, the risks of the commission’s power abuse by the states, which are acting in bad faith, are increasing significantly,” says the document cited by the website that documents laws proposed and passed by the Russian parliament.
    It also said that there was no Russian representative on the commission, while Russia has been regularly paying its fees.
    It gave no further details about what prompted the decision.
    Russia has been accused by critics of causing multiple civilian deaths since its involvement in the Syrian conflict.    It was also blamed for killings of civilians during its short war with Georgia in 2008.    Moscow denies the allegations.
    It is still a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, which is made up of four of treaties and three additional protocols.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/17/2019 Russia accuses U.S diplomats of regularly trying to access restricted military areas
FILE PHOTO: 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) – Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that U.S. diplomats regularly tried to get into restricted military areas.
    She was commenting after Moscow said earlier on Thursday it would issue a formal note of protest to the United States after it caught three U.S. diplomats in what it said was a restricted area near a closed military testing site.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/17/2019 3 U.S. diplomats detained in Russia near secret military site by OAN Newsroom
This photo taken on Oct. 7, 2018, shows a billboard that reads “The State Central Navy Testing Range” near residential buildings in the
village of Nyonoksa, northwestern Russia. The Aug. 8, 2019, explosion of a rocket engine at the Russian navy’s testing range just outside
Nyonoksa led to a brief spike in radiation levels and raised new questions about prospective Russian weapons. (AP Photo/Sergei Yakovlev)
    Three U.S. diplomats were briefly detained in Russia after crossing into a restricted area.    Several Wednesday reports said the diplomats were removed from a train as it arrived in Severodvinsk.
    Local officials said the group was unable to produce the documentation required to enter the area, which is close to a restricted military testing site.
    “They did request permission from the Russian Defense Ministry and did receive…permission for a trip to Arkhangelsk — to Arkhangelsk only,” explained spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.    “Instead, they took a rental car with Russian number plates…and arrived in Severodvinsk, where they took a train to a residential area which has military grounds nearby.”
    Russia has said it is not pressing charges but will be sending a warning to the U.S.    The group is protected by diplomatic immunity, but have been accused of breaking the law regardless.
    The mysterious site experienced a deadly explosion last summer, which lead to a radiation leak that killed a handful of Russian employees.    It remains an area of interest to western intelligence agencies.

10/18/2019 Last Soviet leader Gorbachev urges Russia, U.S. to hold nuclear talks
FILE PHOTO: Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev arrives for ceremonies marking the anniversary of the victory over
Nazi Germany in World War Two, in Red Square in central Moscow, Russia, May 9, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, warned on Friday that the world was drifting into a dangerous era of militarised politics and appealed to Moscow and Washington to sit down for urgent nuclear arms control talks.
    Gorbachev, whose 1980s arms control push and democracy-oriented reforms helped end the Cold War, made the comments to the daily newspaper Izvestia two months after the demise of a landmark nuclear pact he signed in 1987.
    “There are dangerous trends – they are all in plain sight.    I would single out two.    They are the disregard for international law and the militarization of world politics,” Gorbachev said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration formally pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in August, accusing Moscow of violating it, and then tested a missile with a range previously banned under the treaty.
    Moscow denies flouting the accord, but President Vladimir Putin has said Russia now has no option but to produce previously banned missiles to ensure its own security.
    The last major nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States, the New START treaty, is due to expire in 2021.    It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads the world’s two biggest nuclear powers can deploy.
    Putin has said Moscow is ready to extend the pact, but has complained about what he sees as a U.S. refusal to engage properly on the subject.    U.S. officials have said it could be scrapped when it expires and replaced with something else.
    Gorbachev, 88, said the collapse of the INF treaty made the need for U.S.-Russia talks all the more urgent.    Although Gorbachev has no direct influence in Washington and Moscow these days, his views still carry weight with some policymakers given his role in helping craft the global arms control architecture.
    “…It turned out this treaty was the most important pillar of strategic stability.    We need talks so that its destruction does not exacerbate the threat of war,” said Gorbachev.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn/Mark Heinrich)

10/18/2019 U.S. hits Cuba with new sanctions over human rights, Venezuela
FILE PHOTO: Tourists in a vintage car pass by the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is imposing new sanctions on Cuba over its human rights record and its support for Venezuela’s government, the U.S. Commerce Department said on Friday.
    In a statement, the department said it will restrict Cuba’s access to commercial aircraft by revoking existing licenses for aircraft leases to Cuban state-owned airlines and denying future applications for aircraft leases.
    The United States will also expand sanctions to include more foreign goods containing U.S. content and impose additional restrictions on exports to the Cuban government, the statement said.
    “This action by the Commerce Department sends another clear message to the Cuban regime – that they must immediately cease their destructive behavior at home and abroad,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the statement.
    Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez responded in a post on Twitter, denouncing the move as “additional economic blockade measures evidencing moral bankruptcy of an internationally isolated policy promoted by a corrupted government.”
    In a separate statement, the U.S. State Department criticized Cuba for its detention of dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, calling on Havana to disclose his whereabouts, treat him humanely and release him without condition.
    Ferrer, a prominent figure who leads the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was detained in Santiago de Cuba on Oct. 1 after a police raid on his home, which is also the group’s headquarters.
    Cuba’s government does not typically discuss police activity, including the detention of dissidents, who Havana dismisses as provocateurs funded by the United States.
(Reporting by Eric Beech and Makini Brice in Washington and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

10/19/2019 Russia doesn’t rule out new contract to supply air defense systems to Turkey: IFX
FILE PHOTO: Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov speaks during a meeting in Caracas, Venezuela October 5, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia does not rule out reaching a new contract to supply its air defense missile systems to Turkey, Interfax news agency cited Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov as saying on Saturday.
    Borisov also did not rule out Turkey expressing an interest in purchasing Russian SU-35 and SU-57 aircraft, it added.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Mark Potter)

10/19/2019 Putin and Merkel discussed Syria, Ukraine and Libya in phone call: Kremlin
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders summit dominated
by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. Olivier Matthys/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Ukraine, Syria and Libya during a phone call, the Interfax news agency quoted the Kremlin as saying on Saturday.
    Putin and Merkel agreed to continue preparing a meeting of leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine and stressed the importance of advancing the political settlement process in Syria.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Mark Potter)

10/19/2019 Dam collapse kills at least 15 gold miners in Siberia
A view shows the scene of the accident following a dam failure at a gold mine in Krasnoyarsk Region,
Russia October 19, 2019. Russian Emergencies Ministry in Krasnoyarsk Region/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – At least 15 gold miners were killed on Saturday when a dam collapsed, flooding an artisanal mining encampment in a remote part of Siberia, officials said.
    Heavy rains had weakened the dam and water broke through, sweeping away several cabins where the artisan miners lived, about 160 km (100 miles) south of the city of Krasnoyarsk.
    President Vladimir Putin ordered all necessary measures to be taken to help those affected, to identify the cause of the disaster and prevent any impact on a nearby residential area, Interfax quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
    Russia is one of the world’s top gold producers with most of its output coming from large professional industrial mines.    However, alluvial production, which is usually operated by small firms, still contributes some of the country’s gold.
    Alluvial or artisanal gold mining in Russia is usually small-scale, but is still conducted by officially registered firms which are supposed to abide by health and safety rules.
    Krasnoyarsk officials said in a statement that water released by the dam partially flooded two dormitories of the rotational camp in which 74 people lived, adding that 13 people were still missing.
    A Russian investigative committee said it had launched a criminal probe into violation of safety rules at the gold mining spot, while local authorities said the collapsed dam was not registered by official bodies.
    Interfax said the miners were part of Siberian privately-held Sibzoloto, which unites several artisanal mining teams.
    Sibzoloto was not immediately available for comment.
    Sibzoloto produced about 3 tonnes of gold in 2018, Sergei Kashuba, the head of Russia’s Gold Industrialists’ Union, a non-government producers’ lobby group, told Reuters.    Sibzoloto is not a member of the union, he added.
    Russia produced 314 tonnes of gold in 2018.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova, Polina Devitt and Anton Kolodyazhnyy; editing by Tom Hogue and Alexander Smith)

10/21/2019 Slovak prosecutor charges four in murder of investigative journalist
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators light up their mobile phones at an anti-government protest responding to the 2018 killing of investigative
reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/David W. Cerny/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovak authorities charged four people on Monday in the murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée, a case that sparked major protests against high-level corruption and forced then-premier Robert Fico to resign.
    A state prosecutors spokeswoman said in a statement that the six charges filed over the 2018 shooting death of Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova included pre-meditated murder.
    The main suspect is Marian Kocner, a politically connected entrepreneur who was a key subject of Kuciak’s reporting on corruption and cronyism in the Central European country and who prosecutors believe contracted out the killing.
    Kocner has denied any wrongdoing through his lawyer.
    Kuciak, 27, and Kusnirova were gunned down in their house outside the capital Bratislava in February last year.
    The murders shook the European Union member state’s political scene, triggered protests of up to 70,000 people at one point and forced the leftist Fico to resign last March.
    His three-party coalition has survived, led by Fico’s hand-picked successor, Peter Pellegrini, but public anger flared anew with new details from the investigation into Kuciak’s killing indicated Kocner’s sway over state bodies.
    Three suspects including Kocner charged have pleaded not guilty, while the fourth has confessed to shooting Kuciak and the fifth to facilitating the murder.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/21/2019 Putin steps up push for influence in Africa with broadside against West
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on measures to eliminate consequences of the floods in the country's Far
East region, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia October 16, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin stepped up Russia’s push for influence in Africa days before he hosts a summit with African leaders, saying on Monday that Moscow can offer help without political conditions unlike what he cast as the exploitative West.
    The Kremlin has said it expects 47 African leaders to converge on the Black Sea city of Sochi for the Oct. 23-24 event, Moscow’s first Russia-Africa summit and part of an ambitious push for influence and business in Africa.
    Putin on Monday gave the clearest idea yet of his pitch to African countries, warning of rising competition over Africa and accusing the West of intimidating African countries to exploit their resources.
    “We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” Putin said in an interview with the TASS news agency.
    He did not name specific countries, but said he was referring to countries that used to be colonial powers on the continent.
    “They are using such methods to try to return lost influence and dominance in their former colonies in a new guise and rushing to pump out maximum profits and to exploit the continent,” he said.
    By contrast, Putin said Russia was ready to offer help without “political or other conditions” and to embrace the principle of African solutions for African problems.
    Moscow’s relations with Africa were on the up, he added, pointing to military technical cooperation agreements that Russia currently has with more than 30 African countries which it supplies arms to.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/21/2019 Hacking the hackers: Russian group hijacked Iranian spying operation, officials say by Jack Stubbs
FILE PHOTO: A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture. Kacper Pempel//File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Russian hackers piggy-backed on an Iranian cyber-espionage operation to attack government and industry organizations in dozens of countries while masquerading as attackers from the Islamic Republic, British and U.S. officials said on Monday.
    The Russian group, known as “Turla” and accused by Estonian and Czech authorities of operating on behalf of Russia’s FSB security service, has used Iranian tools and computer infrastructure to successfully hack in to organizations in at least 20 different countries over the last 18 months, British security officials said.
    The hacking campaign, the extent of which has not been previously revealed, was most active in the Middle East but also targeted organizations in Britain, they said.
    Paul Chichester, a senior official at Britain’s GCHQ intelligence agency, said the operation shows state-backed hackers are working in a “very crowded space” and developing new attacks and methods to better cover their tracks.
    In a statement accompanying a joint advisory with the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), GCHQ’s National Cyber Security Centre said it wanted to raise industry awareness about the activity and make attacks more difficult for its adversaries.
    “We want to send a clear message that even when cyber actors seek to mask their identity, our capabilities will ultimately identify them,” said Chichester, who serves as the NCSC’s director of operations.
    Officials in Russia and Iran did not immediately respond to requests for comment sent on Sunday.    Moscow and Tehran have both repeatedly denied Western allegations over hacking.
GLOBAL HACKING CAMPAIGNS
    Western officials rank Russia and Iran as two of the most dangerous threats in cyberspace, alongside China and North Korea, with both governments accused of conducting hacking operations against countries around the world.
    Intelligence officials said there was no evidence of collusion between Turla and its Iranian victim, a hacking group known as “APT34” which cybersecurity researchers at firms including FireEye FEYE.O say works for the Iranian government.
    Rather, the Russian hackers infiltrated the Iranian group’s infrastructure in order to “masquerade as an adversary which victims would expect to target them,” said GCHQ’s Chichester.
    Turla’s actions show the dangers of wrongly attributing cyberattacks, British officials said, but added that they were not aware of any public incidents that had been incorrectly blamed on Iran as a result of the Russian operation.
    The United States and its Western allies have also used foreign cyberattacks to facilitate their own spying operations, a practice referred to as “fourth party collection,” according to documents released by former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and reporting by German magazine Der Spiegel.
    GCHQ declined to comment on Western operations.
    By gaining access to the Iranian infrastructure, Turla was able to use APT34’s “command and control” systems to deploy its own malicious code, GCHQ and the NSA said in a public advisory.
    The Russian group was also able to access the networks of existing APT34 victims and even access the code needed to build its own “Iranian” hacking tools.
((Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Editing by Frances Kerry))
[Turla or Uroboros is a Trojan package that is suspected by computer security researchers and Western intelligence officers to be the product of a Russian government agency of the same name.    Turla has been targeting governments and militaries since at least 2008.    In December 2014 there was evidence of it targeting the Linux operating system.
    The advanced persistent threat hacking group has also been named Turla.    Dan Goodin in Ars Technica described Turla as "Russian spies."    Turla has since been given other names such as Snake, Krypton, and Venomous Bear.].

10/21/2019 Poland’s ruling nationalists ask for partial vote recount after losing Senate
FILE PHOTO: Poland's ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski gestures as he speaks after
the exit poll results are announced in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalists asked the Supreme Court on Monday to approve a recount of some votes for parliament’s upper house, a move which if approved could hand them a majority in both chambers and expedite their disputed reform agenda.
    The Law and Justice (PiS) party, which regained its majority in the lower house but narrowly lost it in the Senate in the Oct. 13 election, said it wanted recounts in Katowice and Koszalin due to a high level of invalid votes.
    Its loss of a simple majority in the Senate, and a smaller than expected majority in the lower house, mean it may be harder for the PiS to complete an overhaul of the judiciary, media and cultural institutions.
    Poland’s ruling euroskeptic nationalists have been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the European Union over its reforms of the judiciary and public media, which critics say have eroded the independence of both.
    PiS deputy spokesman Radoslaw Fogiel told reporters the party had spotted “anomalies,” namely “much higher numbers of invalid votes” in some districts that outweighed the differences in vote totals for the respective candidates.
    He did not rule out the PiS requesting further recounts.
    “It is hard for me to say what the intentions of PiS are, for sure the main intention is to take the Senate (upper house),” said Senator Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka from the opposition Left coalition whose seat was one of those targeted.
    “Now we will see if this is why PiS forced through the reform of the Supreme Court,” tweeted Robert Biedron, leader of one of the parties in the Left bloc.
    The Supreme Court has up to 90 days to rule on the validity of elections.
    Opposition parties hold 48 of 100 seats in the upper house, but wield a majority thanks to three independent senators who are broadly supportive.
    Polish media have reported that the PiS, which also holds 48 seats in the upper house, has made overtures to opposition senators in an attempt to establish a working majority.
    “If someone, by some coincidence…became a senator on the opposition list, but thinks that it is worth working for Poland with the…Law and Justice team, we will not chase him away with a stick,” Fogiel told RMF FM radio station after the election.
    One opposition senator, Tomasz Grodzki, said he had been approached by PiS and asked if he would like to become minister of health.    The Senate’s PiS speaker Stanislaw Karczewski told private broadcaster Polsat News he was unaware of such an offer.
    The PiS campaigned on a promise to expand its massive welfare program and deepen reforms of the judiciary, an overhaul that has sparked unprecedented legal action from the EU and drawn accusations that the party is subverting democracy.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/22/2019 Putin, Erdogan meet in Russia to discuss Syrian situation as Turkey threatens to restart offensive by OAN Newsroom
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in last minute talks before a Syrian ceasefire deal expires.    The two leaders reportedly met in the Russian city of Sochi in discussions about normalizing the situation in Syria.    They also discussed the “safe zone” Erdogan is trying to create within Syria’s borders, where he plans to resettle millions of Syrian refugees.
    Kurdish fighters in Syria reached out to the Syrian government and its ally Russia after Turkey launched an invasion into the country earlier this month.    Putin said high-level cooperative talks should help find solutions to the issues in the country.
    “I hope that the level of our Russian-Turkish relations that we have achieved will play its role in normalizing all the issues in the region, and will allow us to find the answers to all the questions, even the most difficult ones, in respect to the interests of Turkey, Russia and all countries in the region,” stated the Russian president.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their meeting in the Bocharov Ruchei residence
in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. Welcoming the Turkish leader in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi
on Tuesday, Putin said their meeting is very important in the current tense situation in Syria. (Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Erdogan said he hoped the meeting would “create the opportunity to discuss peace.”    This comes as the Syrian Army says it’s moved close to the Russian border, and is deploying troops along that region.
    Erdogan has threatened to restart his offensive with greater intensity if Syrian Kurdish fighters are not completely withdrawn from the northeast part of the country by Tuesday night. During a press conference before he departed for Russia, he pointed out there are still around 1,300 Kurdish fighters in the region just hours before the ceasefire is set to expire.
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10/22/2019 Polish opposition follows government in challenging Senate results
FILE PHOTO: Civic Coalition leader Grzegorz Schetyna. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s opposition challenged results in three districts in elections for parliament’s upper house on Tuesday, setting the scene for a dispute over a tight result a day after the ruling party submitted requests for recounts in other districts.
    Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party retained a majority in Poland’s lower house after the Oct. 13 elections, but narrowly lost it in the Senate. The party has asked the Supreme Court to approve recounts in six electoral districts.
    The loss of the Senate majority coupled with a smaller than hoped for majority in the lower house came as a blow to PiS, which had hoped for a stronger mandate to continue its overhauls of the justice system, media and cultural institutions.
    Opposition parties hold 48 of 100 seats in the upper house, but wield a majority thanks to three independent senators who are broadly supportive.
    Polish media have reported that PiS, which also holds 48 upper house seats, has made overtures to opposition senators in an attempt to establish a working majority.
    The opposition was requesting either a recount with votes deemed invalid allocated to them or a re-run of the votes in those districts, with the Supreme Court to decide on the course of action, Civic Platform spokesman Jan Grabiec said.
    “Our protests would take place regardless of whether or not PiS submitted theirs.    We have real grounds for our protests,” Marek Borowski, a senator from the opposition Civic Coalition grouping which includes Civic Platform, told reporters.
    Opposition protests centered around the allegedly mistaken use or confusing positioning of logos on ballot papers, as well as that PiS did not announce early enough its replacement for a candidate who had died.
    In a separate news conference, Civic Coalition leader Grzegorz Schetyna questioned the government’s motives for demanding the recounts.
    “Filing protests, if there is reason to do so, is always justified.    If the reason is just losing the election and not accepting the result, such things are fundamentally politically unjust,” Schetyna said.
    Schetyna added he had received a promise that the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) would monitor any recount.     The Supreme Court has up to 90 days to rule on the validity of elections.
    “We have nothing to hide, if somebody wants international checks we have nothing against that,” PiS deputy spokesman Radoslaw Fogiel was quoted saying by state-run news agency PAP.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish, Pawel Florkiewicz and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczukl, Editing by David Holmes and Ed Osmond)

10/22/2019 Kremlin: preparations for Normandy summit on Ukraine have ground to a halt
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov waits before a welcoming ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday that preparations to organize a four-way summit aimed at finding a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine had effectively ground to a halt.
    A breakthrough in talks last month appeared to open the way to a possible summit between Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, known as the Normandy Four.    But Moscow said on Monday that Kiev had since been sending conflicting signals.
    “Preparations can’t be conducted at the moment because the demands of one of the parties are constantly changing,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday. He did not say which side he was talking about.
    “When one of the sides is claiming to have some new approaches, the ‘Normandy Format’ experiences certain difficulties for such a summit to be prepared,” he said.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn; editing by Jon Boyle)

10/23/2019 Russia warns Syrian Kurdish YPG must pull back or face Turkish army by Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend a news conference following
their talks in Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia warned Syrian Kurdish YPG forces on Wednesday they face further armed conflict with Turkey if they fail to comply with a Russian-Turkish accord calling for their withdrawal from the entire length of Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey.
    Moscow’s warning came shortly before Russian and Syrian security forces were due to start overseeing the removal of YPG fighters and weapons at least 30 km (19 miles) into Syria, under the deal struck by presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan.
    A complete pullout of the YPG would mark a victory for Erdogan, who launched a cross-border offensive on Oct. 9 to drive the Kurdish militia from the border and create a “safe zone” for the return of Syrian refugees.
    The accord, which expands on a U.S.-brokered deal last week, also underlines Putin’s dominant influence in Syria and seals the return of his ally President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to northeast Syria for the first time in years, by endorsing the deployment of Syrian border guards from noon (0900 GMT) on Wednesday.
    Six days later, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a 10 km strip of land in northeast Syria where U.S. troops for years were deployed along with their former Kurdish allies.
    Those changes reflect the dizzying pace of changes in Syria since President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria earlier this month, shaking up the military balance across a quarter of the country after eight years of conflict and prolonged freezes on the frontlines.
    Kurdish militia commanders have yet to respond to the deal reached in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, and it was not immediately clear how their withdrawal could be enforced.
RUSSIAN WARNING
    A joint Turkish-Russian statement issued after six hours of talks between Putin and Erdogan said they would establish a “joint monitoring and verification mechanism” to oversee implementation of the agreement.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was more blunt.    If Kurdish forces did not retreat, Syrian border guards and Russian military police would have to fall back.    “And remaining Kurdish formations would then fall under the weight of the Turkish army,” he said.
    In a swipe at Washington, which has called into question how the deal will be guaranteed, Peskov said the United States had been the closest ally of the Kurdish fighters but had now betrayed them.
    “Now they (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border and almost force them to fight the Turks,” he said in remarks to Russian news agencies.
    The Kurdish-led SDF were Washington’s main allies in the fight to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria.    Trump’s decision to pull troops out was criticized by U.S. lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, as a betrayal.
    In a further sign of growing ties between Ankara and Moscow, which have alarmed the U.S. administration, the head of Russia’s defense sales agency was quoted by the Interfax news agency on Wednesday as saying Moscow could deliver more S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey.
    Turkey, a NATO member, has already been frozen out of a program to buy and help produce F-35 jets and faces possible U.S. sanctions for buying the S-400 systems, which Washington says are incompatible with NATO’s defenses and threaten the F-35 if operated near the stealth fighter.
    Overnight, Turkey’s defense ministry said that the United States had told Ankara the YPG had completed its withdrawal from the area of Turkey’s military offensive.
    There was no need to initiate another operation outside the current area of operation at this stage, the ministry said, effectively ending its military offensive that began two weeks ago, drawing widespread criticism.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/23/2019 Russian police deploy in Syria’s Kobani, Trump says ceasefire permanent by Andrew Osborn and Ece Toksabay
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attend a news conference following
their talks in Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/ANKARA (Reuters) – Russian military police started deploying on Syria’s northeast border on Wednesday under a deal with Turkey to drive Kurdish fighters from the region, and U.S. President Donald Trump said Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish forces was over.
    Just two weeks after Trump pulled out U.S. special forces, allowing Turkish troops to sweep into northeast Syria and target Washington’s former Kurdish allies, Russia’s police deployment shows how swiftly the balance of power in the area has shifted.
    Turkey ‘paused’ its offensive last week under a U.S.-brokered deal which called for Kurdish YPG fighters to withdraw, and then secured Russian support this week for a wider deal requiring the YPG’s removal from the whole northeast border.
    In an address from the White House, Trump said Turkey had announced it was making last week’s ceasefire permanent, paving the way for the United States to lift sanctions it had imposed on Turkish imports in response to the cross-border assault.
    Turkey’s military operation was widely condemned by its NATO and European Union allies, who said it was causing a fresh humanitarian crisis in Syria’s eight-year conflict and could let Islamic State prisoners held by the YPG escape and regroup.
    “Early this morning, the government of Turkey informed my administration that they would be stopping combat and their offensive in Syria, and making the ceasefire permanent,” Trump said, adding that he had given instructions to lift sanctions on Ankara “unless something happens that we are not happy with.”
    The police arrival in Kobani marked the start of a mission by Russian and Syrian security forces to push the YPG at least 30 km (19 miles) into Syria under an accord reached on Tuesday by presidents Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan.
    It also underlines Putin’s dominant influence in Syria and seals the return of his ally President Bashar al-Assad’s forces along the northeastern border for the first time in years.
    A complete pullout of the YPG, which Ankara considers terrorists because of their links to insurgents inside Turkey, would mark a victory for Erdogan who has said he is seeking to create a “safe zone” for the return of Syrian refugees.
    Kobani, where the Russian military police deployed, is of special significance to the Kurdish fighters, who fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize the city in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of Syria’s conflict.
    Next Tuesday, Russian and Turkish forces will jointly start to patrol a 10 km strip of land in northeast Syria where U.S. troops had long been deployed along with their former Kurdish allies.
    Kurdish militia commanders have yet to respond to the deal reached in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi, and it was not immediately clear how their withdrawal could be enforced.
RUSSIAN WARNING
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said if Kurdish forces did not retreat, Syrian border guards and Russian military police would have to fall back.    “And remaining Kurdish formations would then fall under the weight of the Turkish army,” he said.
    In a swipe at Washington, which has called into question how the deal will be guaranteed, Peskov said: “Now they (the Americans) prefer to leave the Kurds at the border and almost force them to fight the Turks.”
    The Kurdish-led SDF were Washington’s main allies in the fight to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria.    Trump’s decision to pull troops out was criticized by U.S. lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, as a betrayal.
    SDF commander Mazloum Kobani said on Wednesday Trump had promised to maintain long-term support for the Kurdish-led forces, who have controlled large swathes of northeastern Syria.
    In a sign of growing ties between Ankara and Moscow, the head of Russia’s defense sales agency was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Moscow could deliver more S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey.
    Turkey, a NATO member, has already been frozen out of a program to buy and help produce F-35 jets and faces possible U.S. sanctions for buying the S-400 systems, which Washington says are incompatible with NATO’s defenses and threaten the F-35 if operated near the stealth fighter.
    In an interview with Reuters, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said the disagreements over the F-35 could be overcome.    Despite criticism from allies over the Syria incursion and its growing ties with Moscow, Turkey remained at the heart of NATO, he said.
    “We are at the center of NATO, and we remain determined to carry out all of our responsibilities fully.    We are going nowhere,” he said.
RECOGNISING ASSAD
    While Tuesday’s deal addresses Turkey’s call for the YPG to be pushed back from the border, it also means Ankara will have to deepen its security coordination with Damascus after years of hostility between Erdogan and Assad.
    Turkey may also have to moderate its own military ambitions in the region.    Turkish security sources said Ankara was re-evaluating a plan to set up 12 observation posts in northeastern Syria in the wake of the deal.    Russia’s Defence Ministry later said the Syrian government would set up 15 posts on the border.
    Assad and Putin have both said Turkish forces cannot remain in Syria in the long term.
    “The most significant part of the Russian-Turkish agreement is the arrival of the Syrian border guard to the northeast, something both Damascus and Russia sought for a long time,” said Yury Barmin, a Middle East specialist at Moscow Policy Group.     “This also means de facto recognition of Assad by Erdogan.”
(Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and Ezgi Erkoyun, Daren Butler and Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/23/2019 Russia lands nuclear bombers in Africa as Putin hosts continent’s leaders by Darya Korsunskaya and Tom Balmforth
Russian President Vladimir Putin reacts at a working luncheon attended by heads of African regional organizations on the sidelines of
the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 23 October 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    SOCHI/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia landed two nuclear-capable bombers in South Africa on a training mission on Wednesday, a flight apparently timed to coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s opening of a flagship Russia-Africa summit designed to increase Russian influence.
    The two Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bombers touched down at Waterkloof air force base in Tshwane on Wednesday, the South African National Defence Force said.    Russia’s Ministry of Defence has said the mission is designed to nurture military ties with South Africa.
    Speaking before dozens of African heads of state at a two-day summit in the southern Russian city of Sochi, Putin called for trade with African countries to double over the next four to five years and said Moscow had written off African debts to the tune of over $20 billion.
    The first Russia-Africa summit is part of a Kremlin drive to win business and restore influence that faded after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which backed leftist governments and movements across the continent throughout the Cold War.
    “Many Russian companies have long and successfully worked with partners from the most different sectors of the African economy and plan to expand their influence in Africa. We of course will provide support at the state level,” said Putin.
    The prize is greater political clout on a continent with 54 United Nations member states, vast mineral wealth and potentially lucrative markets for Russian-manufactured weapons.
    But Russia is starting from a low base.    Although it has enjoyed considerable success selling arms to African countries, Moscow lags far behind competitors in trade terms.
Russia says its trade with African countries rose to $20 billion last year, but it did not rank among the continent’s top five largest partners for trade in goods, according to Eurostat.
    That list was topped by the European Union, followed by China, India, the United States and the United Arab Emirates.
    As it noted the arrival of Russia’s warplanes, the South African National Defence Force praised what it said were strong diplomatic links between the countries.
    “Our relations are not solely built on ‘struggle politics’, but rather on fostering mutually beneficial partnerships based on common interests,” it said in a statement.
    South African media have been more skeptical about Moscow’s return to the continent.    “Russia is the clumsy latecomer at Africa’s superpower party,” ran a Mail & Guardian headline in June.
    Russia’s reappearance was thrust into the spotlight last year when three Russian journalists were killed in the Central African Republic (CAR) while investigating the alleged presence there of a shady Russian private military contractor known as the Wagner group.
    Putin and CAR President Faustin-Archange Touadéra discussed the investigation into the killings at talks on Wednesday, the Kremlin said.
    U.S. officials have vowed to counter what they see as Moscow’s growing political and economic clout in Africa as well as that of China, which has long had a large economic presence there and began its own series of Africa summits in 2006.
    Russia and Niger signed a deal to supply 12 Russian-made Mi-35 attack helicopters to Niger, RIA news agency cited a senior official at Russia’s federal military-technical cooperation service as saying on Wednesday.
    Russia’s largest lender Sberbank and its state financial institutions agreed to support trade finance between Russia and African countries with an agreement worth $5 billion.
    Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom is in talks with Ethiopia to build a nuclear power station there, Interfax quoted the Russian company as saying.
    On Monday, Putin accused former colonial powers in the West of intimidating African countries to exploit the continent’s resources.    “We see how an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments,” Putin told TASS news agency.
(Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Polina Devitt in Moscow, by Tim Cocks and Emma Rumney in Johannesburg; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich)

10/24/2019 Russian court extends detention of ex-U.S. marine Whelan to end-Dec. : Ifax
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, stands inside a defendants' cage before a court
hearing on extending his pre-trial detention, in Moscow, Russia October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Moscow court ordered former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan remain in jail until Dec. 29 on espionage charges, the Interfax news agency reported on Thursday.
    Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in December and accused of spying.    Moscow says he was caught red-handed but he denies the allegations and says he was set up in a politically motivated sting.
(Reporting by Maria Grabar; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova and Jon Boyle)

10/24/2019 Ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying in Russia says guard threatened him with gun: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, looks out of a
defendants' cage before a court hearing in Moscow, Russia August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying said on Thursday that a prison guard had forced him to his knees in custody and that he had been threatened with a gun, the Interfax news agency reported.
    Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in December and accused of espionage.    He denies the allegations and says he was set up in a politically motivated sting.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Angus MacSwan)

10/24/2019 Exclusive: Son of producer who worked with Ukraine’s president gets senior government job by Ilya Zhegulev
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts during a news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – The son of a film producer who helped President Volodymyr Zelenskiy become a household name as an actor has been appointed the Ukrainian government’s chief economic adviser, a senior government official said on Thursday.
    A former comedian and actor, Zelenskiy swept to power casting himself as a political outsider who would clean up Ukrainian politics and bring in new faces, but he has faced scrutiny over his appointments since taking office in May.
    Alexander Rodnyansky, an economist at Britain’s Cambridge University, had already been part of a team of advisers and worked on Zelenskiy’s economic program after he was elected this year.
    But government sources said he had been promoted to chief economic adviser and the appointment was confirmed in a written statement to Reuters from the state secretary of the cabinet of ministers, Volodymyr Bondarenko.
    Rodnyansky, 34, acknowledged his name could attract unwanted attention to his appointment.
    “I was told by people working in the president’s office that my surname was a risk factor.    My surname could be a scandal in and of itself.    I was told this even before I had decided whether I want to join (the government) or not,” Rodnyansky said by telephone.
    It is not clear why his appointment, which could give him a lot of influence over economic policy, has not been announced.
    Since he rose to power, Zelenskiy has appointed a chief of staff who was the lawyer of a tycoon, Ihor Kolomoisky, whose business ties to Zelenskiy have colored investors’ views on Ukraine. He has also appointed several friends and business associates to positions in government, but he has denied accusations of nepotism.
    Rodnyansky’s father, also called Alexander, founded the 1+1 television channel that screened hit comedy shows by Zelenskiy’s production company Kvartal 95 and helped make the future president a household name.
    Rodnyansky senior, whose films include the 2014 drama Leviathan which won a Golden Globe, is now based in Russia, which backs separatists waging an uprising in east Ukraine.
    1+1 was later acquired by Kolomoisky, and the channel became a platform for Zelenskiy’s election campaign.
    After leaving Kiev at the age of six, Rodnyansky junior grew up in Germany, studied and worked mainly in the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom.    From 2009 to 2011, he was the Head of Business Development at his father’s film company.
    Rodnyansky told Reuters he was introduced to Honcharuk in June by Serhiy Shefir, a co-founder of Kvartal 95 who is also the president’s chief assistant.
    “The route to our first meeting (with Honcharuk) was short, because they knew about me through my father,” he said.    “On the other hand, you can count the number of Ukrainian professors in Western universities on one hand.”
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Timothy Heritage)

10/24/2019 Bulgaria elects sole candidate for new chief prosecutor amid protests by Tsvetelia Tsolova
Ivan Geshev, nominee for Bulgaria's new chief prosecutor, arrives to attend a sitting of the Supreme Judicial Council
in Sofia, Bulgaria, October 24, 2019. Picture taken through a glass window. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s top judicial body on Thursday elected the sole candidate for the next chief prosecutor in a process lacking competition that raised questions whether nominee Ivan Geshev would wage a genuine war on high-level corruption.
    After a ten-hour hearing and a hoax bomb threat, the Supreme Judicial Council voted 20-4 for Geshev, currently deputy chief prosecutor, to take up the top job for seven years.
    The powerful position is key to combating graft in Bulgaria, ranked as the most corrupt member state in the European Union by the watchdog Transparency International.
    “Although we had just one candidate, this is the most disputed choice for a chief prosecutor so far,” said Anton Stankov, a lawyer and a former justice minister.
    The vote was held a day after over 1,000 people marched in central Sofia to protest at the 48-year-old Geshev’s promotion.
    On Thursday, protesters blocked two major boulevards in Sofia for hours after they were not allowed near the Council building, where Geshev’s supporters held up banners reading “Geshev – the People’s Sheriff” and “Worthy Chief Prosecutor.”
    The lack of competition for the post angered many in the capital, who see Geshev’s election as a pre-determined outcome of a deal between graft-prone political elites and local oligarchs.
    Geshev holds a law degree from a police academy and has been a prosecutor since 2006.
    Prosecutors, police and investigators have praised Geshev’s successes in cracking down on crime gangs involved in banking card scams, migrant trafficking and cigarette smuggling in recent years and his zeal in chasing offenders.
    Critics argue that quiet support for his nomination by the political establishment indicated Geshev would not go after elites and might use his powers to target rivals and opponents.
    At the hearing, Geshev denied all accusations and said the process for his election was fully transparent.
    “I will not allow media, political or economic circles to indicate who is to be charged and what is more, on what charges,” Geshev said at his hearing before the vote.
    The chief prosecutor is one of the most powerful positions in Bulgaria with wide powers to launch and stop investigations.
    Despite a declared political will to uproot graft, Sofia has yet to jail a high-ranking official on corruption charges.
    Failure to deliver results on fighting graft is keeping the country outside the EU’s Schengen passport-free travel zone, curbs foreign investment and is one of the obstacles to Bulgaria’s push to adopt the euro currency.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/24/2019 Russia sends S-400 missile defense systems to Serbia for military drill
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen sit in the cabins of S-400 missile air defence systems before a parade marking the anniversary of
victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two, in central Moscow, Russia, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW/BELGRADE (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday a division of its S-400 missile defense system would take part in a military drill in Serbia, underlining Moscow’s wish to keep a traditional ally on side even as Belgrade pursues links with NATO and the European Union.
    It will be the first time that the sophisticated S-400s, together with a Pantsir missile battery, will be participating in military exercises abroad, Moscow’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.
    For its part, Serbia’s Defence Ministry said the exercises – dubbed Slavic Shield 2019, aimed to simulate the “use of a joint (combat) group…in defending… against enemy reconnaissance and offensive actions.”
    “Apart from anti-aircraft missile systems in use in the Serbian army, missile systems that are in use by the Russian Air Force will also be used” in the live-fire exercise set to run until Oct. 29, it said in a statement.
    The exercises began on Wednesday but were not made public until Thursday.
    Serbia declared military neutrality in 2006 and joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 2015, though does not seek full membership in the U.S.-led alliance.    It is also an EU membership candidate and is negotiating entry to the bloc.
    But Russia is vying to keep fellow Orthodox Christian, Slavic Serbia within its sphere of geopolitical influence.
    Serbia, whose military is based on ex-Soviet weapons technology, has procured MiG-29 fighter jets as well as helicopters, tanks and armored personnel carriers from Russia in recent years.
    The two countries have also boosted intelligence cooperation. On Wednesday, Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), told Serbian state-run RTS TV that the two countries were performing “complex mutual operations” to protect their external interests.
    Serbia has relied on Russia for support in its continued refusal to recognize the independence of its former southern province of Kosovo, which seceded in 2008 after a bloody guerrilla uprising. NATO peacekeepers remain in Kosovo.
    Serbia also depends on Russia for natural gas supplies and the largest local oil company, Naftna Industrija Srbije, is majority-owned by Russia’s Gazprom.
(The story is refiled to spell out status of Serbia’s EU bid, paragraph six)
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/25/2019 More Russian military police arrive in Syria under peace deal with Turkey by Andrey Kuzmin
FILE PHOTO: Russian and Syrian national flags flutter on military vehicles
near Manbij, Syria, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Around 300 more Russian military police have arrived in Syria, the defense ministry said on Friday, under an accord between Ankara and Moscow which halted Turkey’s military incursion into northeast Syria.
    The deal, reached on Tuesday by Presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, requires that Russian military police and Syrian border guards remove all Kurdish YPG militia from within 30 km (19 miles) of the Turkish border by next Tuesday.
    The military police, from the southern Russian region of Chechnya, will patrol and help with the withdrawal of Kurdish forces and their weapons to 30 km of the Syrian-Turkish border, Interfax news agency reported the ministry as saying.
    Ankara regards the YPG as a terrorist group aligned with Kurdish militants who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.    Turkey launched its cross-border offensive against the YPG on Oct. 9 after U.S. President Trump ordered U.S. forces out of northeast Syria.
    On Thursday, the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) accused Turkey of launching a large land offensive targeting three villages in northeast Syria despite a truce, forcing thousands of civilians to flee.
    Turkey’s Defense Ministry did not comment directly on the SDF report but said five of its military personnel had been wounded in an attack by the YPG militia around the border town of Ras al Ain, near where the three villages are located.
    Russia said the peace plan hammered out on Tuesday was going ahead smoothly and RIA news agency quoted an SDF official as saying Kurdish fighters had already withdrawn from the border area. It also said the Kurds were ready to discuss joining the Syrian army once Syria’s crisis had been settled politically.
    The deal agreed with Putin built on and widened a previous U.S.-brokered ceasefire and helped end fighting.    Trump has since lifted sanctions on Turkey which he imposed over its incursion.
REFUGEES
    The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told Reuters the ceasefire seemed to be holding “by and large” as major powers gather in Geneva ahead of the first meeting of Syria’s Constitutional Committee next week.
    Turkey hosts some 3.6 million refugees who fled the eight-year-old war in Syria and plans to settle up to two million refugees in a “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border.
    An Amnesty International report published on Friday said Turkey was forcibly sending refugees back to Syria.    Ankara denies sending any Syrians back against their will. [L5N27A1WX]
    Next Tuesday, under the terms of the deal reached in Sochi, Russian and Turkish forces will start to patrol a 10-km (6-mile) strip of land in northeast Syria where U.S. troops had been deployed for years along with their former Kurdish allies.
    The arrival of the Russian police marks a shift in the regional balance of power just two weeks after Trump began pulling out U.S. forces, a move criticized in Washington and elsewhere as a betrayal of the Americans’ former Kurdish allies.
    It has also highlighted a growing security relationship between Russia, now the dominant power inside Syria, and NATO member Turkey.
    A U.S. defense official said on Thursday Washington was committed to reinforcing its military position in Syria “with additional military assets” – a clear sign that it has dropped plans for a full withdrawal from Syria and may add capabilities to strengthen American forces remaining in the country.
    Turkey’s military operation has been widely condemned by its NATO allies, which said it was causing a fresh humanitarian crisis in Syria’s eight-year conflict and could let Islamic State prisoners held by the YPG escape and regroup.
    The situation in Syria is expected to be discussed by NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday.    The U.S. and Turkish ministers are among those attending.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin in Moscow and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/25/2019 Russia expects woman convicted by U.S. of being agent home on Saturday
FILE PHOTO: Maria Butina appears in a police booking photograph released by the Alexandria Sheriff's Office in
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. August 18, 2018. Alexandria Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian national Maria Butina, who was jailed in the United States in April after admitting to working as a Russian agent, will be released from a U.S. prison on Friday and arrive back in Moscow the next day, Russia’s foreign ministry said.
    Butina pleaded guilty in December last year to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia, prompting Moscow to accuse Washington of forcing her to confess to what it described as ridiculous charges.
    The case has been an irritant in fraught relations between Moscow and Washington that are strained over everything from Syria to the arrest in Moscow of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine held on spying charges that he denies.
    Butina, who was arrested in July 2018, was sentenced to 18 months in prison in April after she expressed remorse for conspiring with a Russian official to infiltrate a gun rights group and influence U.S. conservative activists and Republicans.
    The 30-year-old Siberian native will be transferred from a federal prison in Tallahassee, Florida before being taken to Miami from where she will fly to Moscow, Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrey Kuzmin; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/25/2019 Russia affirms close oil cooperation with Saudi Arabia, OPEC+
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries sits outside its
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s energy ministry said on Friday it continues close cooperation with Saudi Arabia and OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers to enhance market stability and predictability.
    Its statement came a day after Igor Sechin, CEO of Russian oil giant Rosneft, said the September attacks on Saudi oil assets created doubts over its reliability as a supplier.
    “The quick restoration of the production capacity in Saudi Arabia after the drone attacks has once again underscored professionalism and reliability of the largest producers in the industry,” the ministry said.
    “Russia continues active cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the OPEC+ partners in order to improve stability and predictability of the market.”
    OPEC+, an alliance of OPEC members and other major producers including Russia, has since January implemented a deal to cut output by 1.2 million bpd to support the market.
    The pact runs to March 2020 and the producers meet to review policy on Dec. 5-6.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

10/25/2019 U.S. bars airline flights to all Cuban airports except Havana from December 10 by David Shepardson and Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/HAVANA (Reuters) – The U.S. government said on Friday it would bar U.S. airlines from flying to all destinations in Cuba besides Havana starting on Dec. 10 as the Trump administration boosts pressure on the Cuban government.
    The U.S. Transportation Department said in a notice it was taking the action at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to “further the administration’s policy of strengthening the economic consequences to the Cuban regime for its ongoing repression of the Cuban people and its support for Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.”
    The move will bar U.S. air carrier flights to any of the nine international airports in Cuba other than Havana and impact about 8 flights a day.
    The prohibition does not impact charter flights.    There are no foreign air carriers providing direct scheduled flights between the United States and Cuba.
    Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a tweet that his country strongly condemned the move and that it “strengthened restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and its citizens’ freedoms.”
    Rodriguez said sanctions would not force Cuba to make concessions to U.S. demands.
    These flights carry almost exclusively Cuban Americans visiting home at a time when the Trump administration has drastically reduced visas for Cubans visiting the United States.    Some 500,000 Cuban Americans traveled to Cuba last year.
    The new measure takes effect soon before Christmas and New Year’s when Cuban Americans flock to the island for family reunions.
    Further restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba would be aimed at squeezing the island economically and expanding Trump’s steady rollback of the historic opening to Cuba by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.    The reversal, along with his pressure on Venezuela, has gone over well among Cuban Americans in South Florida, a key voting bloc in Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign.
    Under Obama, the United States reintroduced U.S. airline service to Cuba in 2016. Pompeo said on Twitter on Friday that “this action will prevent the Castro regime from profiting from U.S. air travel and using the revenues to repress the Cuban people.”
    According to U.S. officials, JetBlue Airways Corp flies to three destinations in Cuba in addition to Havana from Fort Lauderdale — Camaguey, Holguin and Santa Clara — and American Airlines flies to five Cuban cities beyond Havana from Miami — Camaguey, Holguin, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Matanzas/Varadero.
    American Airlines said it is “reviewing the announcement and “will continue to comply with federal law, work with the administration, and update our policies and procedures regarding travel to Cuba as necessary.”
    Jet Blue said it will “operate in full compliance with the new policy concerning scheduled air service between the United States and Cuba.    We are beginning to work with our various government and commercial partners to understand the full impact of this change on our customers and operations.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Chris Reese and Sandra Maler)

10/26/2019 Russian woman convicted by U.S. of being agent returns home
Convicted Russian agent Maria Butina is accompanied by federal agents after her release from a Florida prison,
during her transfer onto a jet bound for Moscow at Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida,
U.S. October 25, 2019. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian national Maria Butina, who was jailed in the United States in April after admitting to working as a Russian agent, arrived in Moscow on Saturday, greeted by her father and Russian journalists who handed her flowers.
    “Russians never surrender,” she said in a brief statement at the airport, flanked by her father and a foreign ministry spokesman.    She thanked her supporters and added she was happy to be back.
    Butina pleaded guilty in December last year to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia by infiltrating a gun rights group and influencing U.S. conservative activists and Republicans.
    Her case further strained the U.S.-Russian relations, prompting Moscow to accuse Washington of forcing Butina, a 30-year-old graduate student, to confess to what it described as ridiculous charges.
    Butina, released from a Florida prison on Friday after serving most of her 18-month sentence, did not comment on her case in her statement at the airport.
    But in an interview with Russian state media apparently recorded during the flight, Butina insisted on her innocence.
    “Some actions will need to be taken with regards to the outrage that happened to me,” RIA news agency quoted her as saying.
    Butina had been scheduled for release from the low-security prison in Tallahassee in early November, but a change in federal law moved up her release date based on credit for good behavior, according to her attorney in the United States, Robert Driscoll.
    Her 18-month sentence included nine months she spent incarcerated after her July 2018 arrest.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alison Williams and Frances Kerry)

10/28/2019 Trafigura begins exporting Russian bitumen, says move could improve refined productsbr>
FILE PHOTO: A bitumen road is seen near the western New South Wales outback town
of Bourke, Australia, June 23, 2016. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Trading house Trafigura has exported the first bulk cargo of bitumen from Russia in years under a deal that it says can help the country improve the quality of its refined products ahead of new, global regulations on marine fuel.
    The head of Trafigura Eurasia, Jonathan Kollek, told Reuters the first shipment of bitumen, used to make road paving and in roofing, went from the port of St Petersburg to Europe in a 5,000-tonne tanker this month.
    The company expects to ship at least 35,000 tonnes of bitumen from a Russian refinery between October and March, with the logistics in Russia being arranged by Fuel Technologies Co in St. Petersburg and outside Russia by Trafigura’s industrial investment, Puma Energy, a significant global bitumen player.
    “Russia normally produces a lot of bitumen only when there is seasonal domestic demand in April-September.    When refineries cut bitumen production in October-March, they end up having much thicker fuel oil and have to dilute it with gasoil.    That is obviously a value loss,” Kollek said.
    Russia exports some bitumen by rail but the problem for larger shipments by tanker is that the country charges a relatively high export duty, similar to fuel oil, on the generally cheaper product, said the head of Trafigura’s Russian trading, Alexei Golubev.    That often makes operations uneconomic, he said.
    Golubev said Trafigura had made such shipments possible by buying the product during the low-demand period of October-March and executing a complicated hedge.
    Global prices of high-sulphur fuel oil have dropped sharply in recent weeks, while bitumen prices have remained more robust. Russia produced 6.8 million tonnes of bitumen in 2018 and 67 million tonnes of fuel oil.
    New global marine fuel regulations, known as IMO 2020, come into force next year.    They will require ship owners to shun high-sulphur fuel oil and use gasoil instead.
(Reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Dale Hudson)

10/28/2019 Kremlin critic Navalny and allies hit with $1.4 million lawsuit payout
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who were
detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Monday ordered opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his allies to pay $1.4 million in damages, a blow to the Kremlin critic’s group, whose bank accounts have been frozen amid what he says is a broad government crackdown.
    The Moscow Arbitration Court told Navalny, his Anti-Corruption Foundation and ally Lyubov Sobol each to pay 29 million roubles ($455,000) for libeling the Moscow Schoolchild catering company, Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said.
    The court order is a setback for Navalny and his allies, who helped organize large protests in the capital this summer but now face an array of lawsuits filed by police and state-run firms seeking damages and compensation over the rallies.
    The Kremlin’s critics have cast those lawsuits, as well as a series of mass police raids, as part of a coordinated campaign aimed at crippling their activities following a spate of big political demonstrations. Russian authorities deny those charges.
    State investigators have opened a criminal investigation of the alleged laundering of 1 billion roubles ($15 million) by Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation. They also froze a number of bank accounts linked to it.
    On Monday, the Moscow court said Navalny and his allies had caused the Moscow Schoolchild company moral damage and told his group to delete a video in which they had called into question the quality of its food, TASS news agency reported Navalny rejected the court ruling.    “Cases of dysentery were proven using documents.    But it’s us that has to pay,” he wrote on social media.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional reporting by Anton Zverev; Editing by Dan Grebler)

10/28/2019 Russia’s Putin, Germany’s Merkel discuss Syria, gas transit: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands during a meeting on the sidelines of
the G-20 summit in Osaka, western Japan, Saturday, June 29, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

10/29/2019 Ukrainian troops withdrawing from eastern town: foreign minister
FILE PHOTO: Members of Ukrainian armed forces are seen at a check point in the town of
Zolote in Luhansk Region, Ukraine, October 9, 2016. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said a planned troop withdrawal in the eastern town of Zolote would start on Tuesday, a confidence-building measure ahead of peace talks that he hopes will take place at the end of November.
    Ukrainian troops have battled Russian-backed rebels in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.    Both sides have agreed to modest troop withdrawals in certain areas but these have been disrupted by ceasefire violations.
    Ukraine hopes talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in the so-called “Normandy Format” will help achieve a lasting ceasefire for the region.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

10/29/2019 Russia’s top eight brokerages pass central bank stress tests by Elena Fabrichnaya
FILE PHOTO: Larisa Selyutina, Director of Securities Market and Commodity Market Department of the Bank of Russia,
attends an interview with Reuters in Moscow, Russia September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Elena Fabrichnaya
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Stress tests of the eight largest brokerage companies in Russia have proved their resilience to possible shocks, although many smaller players are struggling to survive, a central bank official told Reuters.
    To try to improve confidence in an industry dogged by bad loans and complex cross-shareholdings, Russia’s central bank has shut down hundreds of banks and brokers that provide access to financial markets for individual investors.
    “We have checked the results of stress tests of the eight largest brokers.    All the players have successfully withstood shock events envisaged in stress scenarios,” Larisa Selyutina, head of the securities and commodity markets department at the central bank, said in an interview.
    Selyutina did not say which brokers were checked, nor the criteria used.
    Russia’s largest brokers by turnover are Region, BCS, Renaissance Broker, FC Otkritie, UNIVER Capital, ATON, VELES Capital and FINAM, as well as units of VTB and Gazprombank , according to the Moscow Exchange.
    The largest by client numbers are Sberbank , Tinkoff Bank , VTB, BCS, FINAM, FC Otkritie, Alfa Bank, ATON, Freedom Finance and ALOR+.
    In some cases, brokers in Russia have to carry out their own stress tests, but in general they are not obliged to report results to the central bank, and the regulator has no immediate plans to change that, Selyutina said.
    But the central bank wants to see quality risk management and will impose mandatory risk controls if needed.
    “This is your choice, we tell the brokers.    Either you organize a quality risk management system yourself, or we do it,” Selyutina said.
    “If players want supervision to be more of a consultative nature rather than punitive, they have to follow the recommendations and not wait until they are transformed into a regulatory act.”
    Since 2015, 632 brokers have lost licenses in Russia, mostly for violating laws and due to tougher regulations, more than halving their numbers to a little more than 500 as of mid 2019.
    Competition is also driving numbers down, as bigger companies can afford to invest in their product lines and better services, Selyutina said.
    As a result, more than a half of 345 smaller companies on the Russian market are not profitable, she added.
    At the same time, the client base for Russian brokerages is expanding.    It has now reached three million, in a country of 147 million people, as Russians look for more attractive returns on their investments than low-yielding bank deposits.
    “Our market is not that large and it is already starting to regulate itself.    The strongest do survive,” Selyutina said.
(Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Katya Golubkova and Mark Potter)

10/29/2019 Bosnia faces outflow of military personnel over low wages: Parliamentary commissioner by Daria Sito-Sucic
FILE PHOTO: A soldier of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (OSBIH) smokes a cigarette before an
exercise on the Manjaca mountain, near Banja Luka, Dec. 14, 2012. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia is facing an outflow from its politically sensitive multi-ethnic armed forces (OSBiH) due to the failure of political institutions to approve adequate funding, the Balkan country’s military commissioner warned on Tuesday.
    The formation of the OSBiH in 2005, assisted by NATO and the EU peacekeeping force EUFOR, has been hailed as the country’s biggest achievement since the end of Bosnia’s war in the 1990s, uniting former foes and promoting national stability.
    So far this year around 450 people, including those employed in civilian roles, have left the 11,000-strong armed forces, according to the defense ministry, though it noted many had retired, died or changed jobs.
    “The system is collapsing from within because status issues are not being resolved and the politicians are not interested to solve them,” Bosko Siljegovic, the parliament’s military commissioner, told Reuters on the margins of an international conference.
    The OSBiH, which brings together Bosniaks, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat elements, is under the supreme command of the country’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency and the national parliament.
    For years the force has been praised as the prime example of reconciliation, but its dwindling appeal among the young is shown by a drop in applicants for each job to two from 13 previously.
    “Low salaries are the main problem, they are lower than in regional police forces or state services of the same rank,” said Siljegovic.    “That is why we have a major outflow of soldiers and officers from the OSBiH.”
    Salaries of soldiers, which previously stood at around 400 euros a month, have been cut to about 300 euros. Lower-ranking army officers are paid around 400 euros and mid-officers around 550 euros.
    Legislation proposing a wage rise has been blocked in the national parliament, which has not been convening due to bickering over the formation of a cabinet after last October’s national election.
    Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who is serving as a Serb member in Bosnia’s three-man presidency, has questioned the role of the OSBiH in Bosnia’s autonomous Serb-dominated region, calling for a stronger regional police force instead.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by David Holmes)

10/29/2019 Hungary shakes up top jobs in justice, highlighting government’s struggle for influence by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech in the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music during the celebrations of
the 63rd anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, in Budapest, Hungary, October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary is set to reappoint its chief prosecutor to a new 9-year term and will remove its main judicial administrator, in moves that critics say highlight premier Viktor Orban’s mixed success in influencing the judiciary which remains one of the most independent bodies in Hungarian society.
    Despite constant clashes with Western partners over the rule of law, the conservative populist Orban has solidified his grip over most walks of Hungarian life.
    He rejects allegations that his government has eroded checks and balances and has said his strong mandate received in democratic elections empowers his Fidesz party to change laws.
    While the country’s prosecution system has been under the direct control of chief prosecutor Peter Polt, an Orban loyalist, the National Association of Judges has resisted Orban and has been engulfed in a bitter dispute over administrative attempts to rein it in, via appointments or financial pressure.
    President Janos Ader, a former head of Fidesz party and Orban’s key ally, proposed reappointing Polt as chief prosecutor for a second nine-year term on Tuesday.    He gave no reasoning.    Parliament, where Fidesz holds a large majority, will have to confirm Polt.
    The European Union said in 2019 Hungary lacked determined action to prosecute corruption in high-level cases and “the effective functioning of the prosecution service remains a concern.”
    Polt has dismissed those claims as “baseless.”
    Tunde Hando, the wife of Fidesz stalwart and European Parliament member Jozsef Szajer, will leave her position as chair of the judiciary administration a year early.
    As chief administrator she was ultimately responsible for the operation of the court system, with a say over issues like the nomination of new senior judges or budgeting.
    Hando said she always acted by the law, adding Hungary’s Constitution makes clear the fundamental division of powers.
    Balazs Toth, a legal expert at the rights group Hungarian Helsinki Committee, who has represented clients in cases against the government, said Fidesz wants a country without checks and balances, but judges have withstood the propaganda and pressure.
    Fidesz has nominated Hando to the Constitutional Court, once Hungary’s top arbiter of law but greatly weakened after Orban’s party started to appoint its members.
    Prosecutors filter criminal cases and decide which cases to investigate and how, choosing which cases to refer to the courts – a power that critics have said it used selectively to block cases detrimental to Fidesz or Orban’s associates.
    When investigating a case of suspected fraud in 2014 involving Orban’s son-in-law Istvan Tiborcz, Polt’s prosecutors found no wrongdoing.    A later probe by the European anti-fraud body OLAF however, detailed alleged fraud totaling 13 billion forints ($44 million) and recommended Hungary investigate.
    Polt reopened the case but again dismissed it.
    Tiborcz has not commented on the case, in which he and his business partners were never charged, as matters did not proceed to court.
Polt has rejected allegations of complicity.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

10/29/2019 Polish Supreme Court rejects vote recount bid by ruling nationalists
FILE PHOTO: People walk past the Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected one of six requests for a vote recount by the ruling nationalists (PiS) following the Oct. 13 election in which they narrowly lost their majority in the upper house Senate.
    The Law and Justice party’s setback in the Senate, coupled with a smaller than hoped for majority in the lower house, dealt a blow to its bid for a stronger mandate to pursue disputed overhauls of the judiciary, media and cultural institutions.
    Supreme Court justices rebuffed the government’s bid for a recount in one Senate district, saying the difference between the candidates’ respective results was too small, and reserved a ruling on five other challenges.
    PiS had said that it was demanding recounts because in some of the districts where it lost by a narrow margin there were a lot of ballots that were spoiled, not counted or left blank.
    “The purpose of an electoral protest,” the court said in a statement, “is to point out specific violations of law affecting the outcome of the election…not to recalculate votes because of the slight difference between individual candidates.”
    Opposition parties hold 48 of 100 seats in the upper house, but wield a majority thanks to three independent senators who are broadly supportive.    The Senate has the power to delay legislation and appoint some prominent figures in the state.
    Poland’s ruling eurosceptic nationalists have been embroiled in a long-running dispute with the European Union over its reforms of the judiciary and public media, which critics say have eroded the independence of both.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/29/2019 President Zelenskiy makes Ukraine investment pitch in shadow of war zone by Natalia Zinets
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts during a news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    MARIUPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) – President Volodymyr Zelenskiy promised to create a level playing field for businesses on Tuesday as he made an investment pitch for Ukraine in the unlikely venue of Mariupol, a port city 20 km (12 miles) from a rumbling separatist conflict.
    A popular comedian who won a landslide election in April with no prior political experience, Zelenskiy came to office promising to end Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed forces that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
    In a battle for the hearts and minds of those living in the eastern Donbass region, he sited his government’s first major investment conference in Mariupol, more than 700 km (435 miles) southeast of the capital Kiev.
    A hub for exporting steel and grain and importing coal, the Black Sea port was briefly under rebel control in 2014 and suffered what Ukraine called a de facto economic blockade by Russia last year.
    The conference took place on the same day as Ukrainian soldiers and rebel forces began a troop withdrawal in a town on the frontline, a confidence-building measure ahead of peace talks Ukraine hopes will take place next month.
    Touting his administration’s reforms to help businesses and tackle corruption, Zelenskiy urged investors not to write off Ukraine as backward and hopeless.
    “Ukraine is a country of opportunities.    And today they are knocking on your door.    But as they say, opportunity never knocks twice.    So do not miss the opportunity, please.    Do not ‘sleep through’ Ukraine,” he said in a speech.
    His administration was reforming the judicial system and law enforcement bodies because “corrupt courts deter investors just as explosions and shots,” he said, promising to ensure “equal and uniform rules of the game for all.”
    Zelenskiy promised to do everything necessary to secure another loan program from the International Monetary Fund.
    Early in his presidency, Zelenskiy has been sucked into a political battle in Washington over an impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Democrats are investigating whether there are grounds to impeach Trump over his request to Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.    Trump has called the inquiry a “witch hunt.”
    Speaking on the sidelines of the same conference, Zelenskiy’s Finance Minister Oksana Markarova said the fallout from the impeachment row would not color investors’ view of Ukraine. She told reporters that most investors believe that “the risks are getting lower and the expectations are improving” for the country.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Sandra Maler)

10/30/2019 Russia’s Putin, Hungary’s Orban to discuss TurkStream pipeline, nuclear energy by Krisztina Than and Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during their meeting
at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia September 18, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The TurkStream pipeline that would bring gas to Central Europe bypassing Ukraine and nuclear energy issues are expected to feature high on the agenda at a meeting between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday.
    Right-wing conservative leader Orban, in power since 2010, has pursued what he has hailed as good pragmatic relations with Russia.    Some analysts, however, say the relationship is lop-sided, with Russian interests dominating.
    A source familiar with the agenda of Putin’s visit said one of the goals was to agree on the TurkStream pipeline.
    “Putin has to agree with all the countries involved, so that there wouldn’t be any troubles with the pipeline,” the source said, declining to be named.
    Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Reuters that TurkStream should be constructed as soon as possible in Bulgaria because that would open up an additional delivery route to Hungary, which is reliant on Russian gas shipments.
    The current gas transit agreement between Moscow and Kiev expires after Dec. 31 and Russia and Ukraine are under increasing pressure to sign a new deal, although this faces several obstacles.
    Russia plans to launch the first part of the TurkStream pipeline, with annual capacity of 15.75 billion cubic metres, by the end of the year to supply Turkish domestic customers.    The second part, with the same capacity, is expected to run from Bulgaria to Serbia and Hungary.
    The talks on Wednesday will also cover future gas deliveries to Hungary, which already has its gas storage full for the coming winter.
    Hungary has annual gas consumption of around 10 billion cubic metres and has almost 6.5 billion cubic metres of gas stored now, Szijjarto told a news conference on Tuesday.
    “Here and now I reject all western European criticism regarding our cooperation with Russia in the field of energy,” he said, adding that Hungary had to rely on Russia for its gas as there were no alternative options.
    He also said Russian oil producer Lukoil and Hungarian MOL will sign a settlement deal over contaminated oil, which disrupted oil exports from Russia to the West this year.
    Orban’s government has promoted Moscow’s interests within the European Union, calling for the ending of economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
    But Hungary has never vetoed the sanctions, and Szijjarto has said Hungary would not veto an extension of sanctions if the EU decided at the end of 2019 to prolong them.
    In 2014, Budapest also signed a deal for two new reactors at its Paks nuclear plant with Russia, to be built by state atomic energy firm Rosatom and funded with a 10 billion euro loan from Russia.    It will be owned and operated by the Hungarian state.
    But the project has been stalled for years and will likely be discussed on Wednesday.
(Writing by Krisztina Than, editing by Ed Osmond)

10/30/2019 Iran, Russia take aim at U.S. military presence near Syrian oilfields by Stephanie Nebehay and Babak Dehghanpisheh
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Russian Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a news conference, a day ahead of the first meeting of the new Syrian Constitutional
Committee at the Untied Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran and Russia on Tuesday condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to maintain a military presence near oil fields in northeastern Syria, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying any exploitation of resources would be illegal.
    Trump’s suggestion on Sunday that Exxon Mobil Corp or another U.S. oil company operate Syrian oil fields drew rebukes from legal and energy experts.
    The United States will strengthen its military presence in Syria with “mechanized forces” to prevent Islamic State fighters seizing oil fields and revenue, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addressed the issue at a news conference in Geneva on Tuesday evening after meeting with his counterparts, Russia’s Lavrov and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu.
    “Well it seems that the United States is staying to protect the oil.    And at least President Trump is honest to say what the United States intends to do,” Zarif said to laughter.Iran and Russia are there on the invitation of the Syrian government, and we intend to stay there as long as the Syrian government and Syrian people want us to be there,” he said.
    Lavrov said that the return of U.S. forces to Syria, after their transfer to Iraq, was “under the pretext of protecting oil deposits from the Islamic State.”
    “The essence is that any illegal exploitation of natural resources of a sovereign state without its consent is illegal and that is the view that we share,” he said.
    “Our U.S. colleagues are aware of our position and we will defend that position,” Lavrov said.
    Fahrettin Altun, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s communications director, said in a tweet later on Tuesday: “Syria’s natural resources belong to Syrians."
    “Oil or other types of revenue should be used for reconstruction efforts including local infrastructure, support for civilians, IDPs (internally displaced persons), and refugees.    Just as Syrians should be able to determine their own political future, they should also be allowed to decide how the resources of their own land should be spent,” Altun said.
    The United States Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn, speaking to reporters in Geneva earlier on Tuesday, voiced concern at what he said was the “continuing dangerous situation in northeast Syria” and urged all sides to work to stabilize the situation.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

As to whether the prophecy below represents the beginning of the events happening in late October 2019 is still to be determined.
    As many promote what Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests.
  • Daniel 11:40At the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter the countries, overwhelm them, and pass through."
  • Daniel 11:41 "He shall also enter the Glorious Land, and many countries shall be overthrown; but these shall escape from his hand: Edom, Moab, and the [chief of the sons of Ammon] prominent people of Ammon."
  • Daniel 11:42 "He shall stretch out his hand against the countries, and the land of Egypt shall not escape."
  • Daniel 11:43 "He shall have power over the treasures of gold and silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; also the Libyans and Ethiopians shall follow at his heels."
  • Daniel 11:44 "But news from the east and the north shall trouble him; therefore he shall go out with great fury to destroy and annihilate many."
  • Daniel 11:45 "And he shall plant the tents of his palace between the seas and the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and no one will help him." [This entity will enter the Temple Mount.].
    It was at this point that the King Of The East and their hordes will come as the "Belt and Road Initiative" or new Silk Road already in process will facilitate that, and the Euphrates River will dry up for some unknown reason as of yet, and this probably is representing Revelation 16:12 which reflects facilitation of that action.
    As Bible students, we all are aware of the allusions to the "Kings of the East" in the prophetic scenario: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared." Revelation 16:12.

    Ezekiel 38:1 "And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying," 2 "Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him," 3 "And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:" 4 "And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords:" 5 "Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet:" 6 "Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee."
    Ezekiel 38:18 "And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that my fury shall come up in my face."
  • Ezekiel 39:1 "Therefore, thou son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:"
    • 2 "And I will turn thee back, and leave but the sixth part of thee, and will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel:"
    • 3 "And I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand."
    • 4 "Thou shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou, and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee: I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured."
    • 5 "Thou shalt fall upon the open field: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God."
    • 6 "And I will send a fire on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles: and they shall know that I am the Lord."
    • 7 "So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel."
    • 8 "Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord God; this is the day whereof I have spoken."
    There may be a battle between the West and the East as seen in Revelation 9:18 "By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths."
  • Daniel 12:1 "And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book."
  • Matthew 24:21 "For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be."    And this led into what Revelation 16 claims.
  • And all we can do is pray that this will happen 1 Thessalonians 4:15 "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep" 16 "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:" 17 "Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." 18 "Wherefore comfort one another with these words."
  • Titus 2:13 "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;"
    Our hope is in the following if we follow the Word Of God is seen in Revelation 3:10 King James Version (KJV) 10 "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."
    So if we follow the word of Jesus he will protect us from the hour of temptation, but it does not claim a rapture, but we hope that is what will happen.
[AS SEEN IN THE VERSES ABOVE THAT THE EVENTS ARE LOOKING AS IF RUSSIA - KING OF THE NORTH AND THE MIDEAST NATIONS - KING OF THE SOUTH ARE GOING TO BECOME ENTWINED INTO THE PROPHECY ABOVE IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE AND THE KING OF THE WEST HAS PULLED OUT OF THIS MESS WHICH I THINK TRUMP MADE THE RIGHT CALL PROBABLY DUE TO GODS INFLUENCE SO LETS SEE HOW IT UNFOLDS AND ALSO WATCH FOR NEWS THAT THE EUPHARATES RIVER DRIES UP ENGAGING THE KINGS OF THE EAST TO GET INVOLVED.].
    The following image is seen at http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterSix/Psalm83.htm so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.

10/30/2019 Russian foreign minister blasts U.S. for decision to protect Syria’s oil fields by OAN Newsroom
From left to right: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign
Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a press conference a day prior to the Syrian Constitutional Committee meeting in Geneva, at the
European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2019. (Valentin Flauraud, Keystone via AP)
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is criticizing the U.S.’s decision to protect oil fields in Eastern Syria.
    While speaking at a meeting with his Iranian and Turkish counterpart Tuesday, Lavrov claimed the U.S. is making excuses to keep its troops in Syria.    The Russian official then alleged America may try to exploit Syria’s oil resources without the consent of the Assad government.
    President Trump said U.S. troops will protect the oil field from being captured by Iran, which could use Eastern Syria to bypass U.S. sanctions. However, Lavrov believes the U.S. could completely withdraw its military from Syria.
    “The U.S. leadership stated publicly that the Islamic State has been defeated, totally defeated and destroyed, but if we talk about the situation as such this is illegal, these actions are illegal,” stated the Russian foreign minister.    “Any illegal exploitation of natural resources of a sovereign state without its consent is illegal.”
    Lavrov as well as the Iranian and Turkish diplomats agreed to advance the work of the United Nations committee to change Syria’s constitution to ensure peace settlement in that country.

10/30/2019 PM Orban says joining TurkStream gas pipeline ‘the sooner the better’ for Hungary
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a news conference
following their talks in Budapest, Hungary, October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Joining the TurkStream gas pipeline is a priority for Hungary, as it would open up an alternative supply route for Russian gas, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Wednesday after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Budapest.
    “TurkStream is a preference (for us), the sooner we can join the better,” Orban told a joint news conference with Putin.
    TurkStream, which will run from Turkey via Bulgaria to Serbia and Hungary, would open up an additional gas delivery route to Hungary, which is reliant on Russian gas shipments via the Ukraine now.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than, Editing by Franklin Paul)

10/30/2019 Hungary vetoes NATO statement on Ukraine over minority rights: minister
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto attends a news conference at the
Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has vetoed a joint NATO declaration on Ukraine as it did not contain a reference to its neighbor’s obligation to fully respect the rights of ethnic Hungarians living there, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said on Wednesday.
    Szijjarto was speaking at a conference on the same day Russian President Vladimir Putin is visiting Hungary, an important ally for Moscow within the European Union which has sanctioned Russia over its military intervention in Ukraine.
    “Hungary will not sacrifice the ethnic Hungarian community … for geopolitics,” Szijjarto said in a statement released after the conference.
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is currently in Kiev to demonstrate the military alliance’s support for Ukraine, which has been fighting pro-Russian separatists for five years.
    Hungary has clashed repeatedly with Ukraine over what it says are curbs on the rights of roughly 150,000 ethnic Hungarians to use their native tongue, especially in education.
    Budapest has threatened to retaliate by blocking Kiev’s attempts to move closer to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) as well as the European Union, both of which Hungary belongs to.
    Szijjarto said Hungary had no choice but to veto the NATO statement as it did not include Hungary’s proposals demanding Ukraine backtrack on a minority rights issue.
    During their most recent feud, Hungary said Ukraine had scrapped the teaching of subjects in the languages of its ethnic minorities, including Hungarian, from its secondary school curriculum.
    Ukraine passed a law in 2017 obliging teachers to use only Ukrainian in secondary schools, saying it wanted to integrate minorities better and help them obtain public sector jobs.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by David Clarke)

10/31/2019 Ukraine president says Nord Stream 2 decision strengthens Russia and weakens Europe
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attend a joint
news conference following their talks in Kiev, Ukraine October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Denmark’s decision to approve the Nord Stream 2 pipeline strengthens Russia and weakens Europe, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday.
    The United States and several eastern European, Nordic and Baltic countries have expressed concern that the Gazprom-led 1,230km (765 mile) pipeline from Russia to Germany will increase Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by David Goodman#)

10/31/2019 Poland, Hungary broke EU laws by refusing to host migrants: court adviser by Jonas Ekblom
FILE PHOTO: Refugees and migrants arrive aboard the Paros Jet passenger ship at the
port of Elefsina near Athens, Greece, October 22, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic broke the law by refusing to take in asylum seekers coming to the European Union during the chaotic summer of 2015, an advisory body to the bloc’s highest court said on Thursday.
    The case cuts to the heart of the feud over migration that has bitterly divided the EU since a spike in Mediterranean arrivals caught it unprepared in 2015.
    The three ex-communist countries on the EU’s eastern flank refused to take in any of those refugees and migrants, citing security concerns, and questioned the legal grounds for the EU assigning each country a fixed quota of people to accept.
    The matter eventually ended up in court and the Advocate General, which advises the European Court of Justice (ECJ), said on Thursday that EU law must be followed and the bloc’s principle of solidarity “necessarily sometimes implies accepting burden-sharing.”
    The ECJ is not obliged to, but usually does follow the Advocate General’s opinions.    A ruling in this case is expected early next year.    The ECJ can fine member countries that violate EU law.     Polish government spokesman Piotr Muller, responding to the Advocate General’s opinion, said that “ensuring security for our citizens is the most important goal of the government’s policies.    Out actions were dictated by the interests of Polish citizens and the need for protection against uncontrolled migration.”
    Beyond migration, the nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary have also locked horns with the EU over the rule of law and climate policies.
    The opinion comes as Germany has warned of a repeat of the 2015 EU migration crisis, expressing concern over a resurgence of arrivals from Turkey.
    In 2015, more than a million refugees and migrants from the Middle East reached the EU, an influx that left the bloc scrambling to provide shelter and security.
    The EU tried to introduce quotas to make sharing out asylum-seekers automatic among member states to help southern countries on the Mediterranean where most people arrived.
    But vehement opposition by Warsaw, Budapest and others has largely defeated the attempt and, four years on, the bloc is still quarrelling over how to manage those seeking shelter from the wars in the Middle East or poverty and conflicts in Africa.
(Reporting by Jonas Ekblom in Brussels, Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Giles Elgood)

10/31/2019 Troops to be withdrawn from Ukraine ahead of Russia peace talks by OAN Newsroom
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pose for a photo during their
meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
    Ukraine is preparing to withdraw more troops from its war-torn border with Russia.    During a Thursday news conference, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stated he will remove more Ukrainian forces on Monday if Russia continues to honor their ceasefire in the eastern Donbass region.
    The withdrawal of both Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebel groups in eastern Ukraine comes as a precondition for peace talks.    The negotiations may end the five year conflict that has killed around 13,000 Ukrainians.    President Zelensky’s efforts to re-patch relations with Russia and withdraw troops have been met with controversy from many Ukrainian citizens, who called the move a “surrender.”
    NATO allies are welcoming the ease in tensions, but have urged Russia to withdraw their forces from Ukraine territory.    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg claimed the Kremlin is responsible for ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine and said Kyiv has a legitimate right to self-defense.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to Ukrainian lawmakers in parliament
in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    This comes amid concerns that unresolved territorial disputes may disqualify Ukraine from joining NATO.    While speaking before the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday, Stoltenberg said all options are on the table.    He added the Kremlin’s actions must not prevent Ukraine’s integration into the alliance.
    “Ukraine has the right to choose its own security arrangements — NATO’s door remains open,” stated Stoltenberg.
    The secretary went on to say freedom is an obligation rather than a right.    He emphasized all nations must constantly strive to uphold the values of free, open and democratic societies.
    “I quoted a poem by Taras Shevchenko,” stated Stoltenberg.    “He wrote, ‘It’s terrible to lie in chains, to rot in dungeon deep, but it’s still worse when you are free to sleep, and sleep, and sleep.’.”

10/31/2019 Facebook bans accounts tied to ‘Putin’s Chef’ Prigozhin over meddling in Africa by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Monday, Sept. 20, 2010 file photo, businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, left, shows Russian President
Vladimir Putin, around his factory outside St. Petersburg, Russia. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
    Facebook is suspending a handful of accounts tied to Vladimir Putin’s infamous ally, Yevgeny Prigozhin.    The social network giant announced Thursday that it has suspended almost 200 accounts over allegations of meddling in Africa.
    The suspension targeted users in Libya, Sudan and Sub-Saharan Africa. The compromised accounts are suspected of supporting Russian mercenaries and corporate interests in the region.    Facebook claimed Russian-based accounts sought to influence the public opinion and domestic politics across the African continent.
    The effort was allegedly orchestrated by Russian financier and caterer Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has previously denied any wrongdoing. He was indicted by Robert Mueller in 2018 for U.S. election interference, which he allegedly directed through Saint Petersburg’s Internet Research Agency.     Facebook’s head of cyber security said the operation in Africa revealed similar behavior.     “This is the first time we’ve seen Russian actors franchising their operations over to Africans,” stated Nathaniel Gleicher.    “Part of what we’re seeing is these threat actors trying to evolve — but we’re evolving a bit faster and we’re getting better at detecting them.”

11/1/2019 Hungary abandons plan for administrative courts, justice minister says
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga speaks during an interview
with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Krisztina Than
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government has abandoned plans to set up separate administrative courts, but it will pass legislation to speed up administrative court cases, Justice Minister Judit Varga told state news agency MTI late on Thursday.
    In May, the government unexpectedly announced it was suspending the idea of a new administrative court system, backtracking on a reform that had raised concerns over judicial independence.
    Changes to Hungary’s judiciary proposed by Fidesz, Hungary’s ruling party, have caused conflict with the European Commission, which says some of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s reforms threaten democracy and the rule of law. Orban rejects allegations that his government has eroded checks and balances.
    “The government believes that the court should be protected from unnecessary disputes and therefore would maintain a unified court system and would not establish an independent administrative court organization,” Varga told MTI.
    She said the bill now drafted by the government would provide a “clear framework” for administrative litigation, speed up the closure of appeals, and “make legal practice more predictable.”    The bill will be submitted to parliament soon.
    Hungary passed a law last year to set up the separate administrative courts, which would handle cases involving the state, such as election or tax disputes.    The courts would have been overseen directly by the justice minister.
    Critics said that could allow political interference in judicial matters.    Hungary later modified the reform after it was criticized by the Venice Commission, a European panel of constitutional law experts.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Larry King)

11/1/2019 Exclusive: Overhaul of Ukraine prosecution agency buries Manafort inquiries – investigators by Polina Ivanova and Ilya Zhegulev
FILE PHOTO: A woman leaves Ukraine's Prosecutor General's Office in Kiev, Ukraine October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Sweeping changes to Ukraine’s top law enforcement agency ordered by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy are set to derail a series of long-running criminal investigations, including two related to U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, three current and former Ukrainian prosecutors told Reuters.
    The reorganization, which includes fresh leadership for the agency and mandatory skills testing for prosecutors, represents an upheaval of Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office (GPO), one of the most powerful bodies in the country, and one that has long been the target of criticism.
    Zelenskiy, who came to power in May, has said the makeover is essential because the office is widely distrusted by Ukrainians and has been seen as a political tool for the well-connected to punish their enemies.
    The overhaul, which began in October, comes amid widespread scrutiny of the agency following efforts by Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to get Ukraine to open an investigation into the Republican president’s political rival – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden – and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company
.
    Plans to shake up the GPO played a role in a July 25 phone call between Zelenskiy and Trump that is now at the heart of the impeachment inquiry into the U.S. president.    On that call, Zelenskiy told Trump he was installing a new head at the agency who would be “100% my person, my candidate” and who “will look into the situation” regarding the Bidens.
    New Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka took office at the end of August.    Under his leadership, the GPO is preparing to transfer all existing investigations to other law enforcement agencies, a process the GPO told Reuters would begin Nov. 20.
    Ryaboshapka, who previously headed an anti-corruption agency and briefly served as Zelenskiy’s deputy chief of staff, also has imposed a written legal exam for all the GPO’s prosecutors, a move many of those staffers view as insulting and an unfair test of their skills and experience.    More than 200 have already been fired for refusing to take the exam, according to the prosecutor’s office.
    During a press conference in October, Zelenskiy said what he meant in his comments to Trump was that Ryaboshapka would be an honest prosecutor.    Ryaboshapka declined to be interviewed by Reuters and has not responded directly to questions sent by Reuters about the criticism of his reforms.    But his office defended them and the exam process.    “The purpose of the reform is to create a renewed, professional, efficient prosecutor’s office that will be trusted by the public,” it said in a statement on Oct. 25.
    Among those who have been fired are 13 prosecutors from the Special Investigations Unit, which was overseeing corruption cases from the period of former President Viktor Yanukovich.    Manafort, who worked as a political consultant in Ukraine for years, was implicated in two of those probes, one linked to a dossier of off-the-books payments made by a Ukrainian political party, and another looking at the alleged illicit use of state funds by Yanukovich’s government.
    Manafort’s attorney did not respond to requests for comment, but Manafort previously has maintained his innocence.
    Serhii Horbatiuk, the former head of the Special Investigations Unit, who was fired for refusing to take the new test, said he believed Zelenskiy’s overhaul was aimed at concentrating power in the hands of loyalists who could exercise more control over sensitive cases, including the probes linked to Manafort.
    “This entire reform is being done in order to take control of the General Prosecutor’s Office… and have the guarantee that there will be no dissent,” Horbatiuk said in an interview with Reuters conducted in his office on Oct. 22, the day before he was fired.
    He and two other prosecutors in his former unit said the transfer of long-running investigations out of the GPO, along with the dismissal of seasoned investigators working on those cases, would result in a massive backlog – and the de facto demise – of the probes.
    “In the fog of this reform you can create such a pile of cases…which will lead to an absence of results,” Horbatiuk said.
    Those fears are overblown, according to Andriy Smirnov, the deputy chief of staff of Zelenskiy’s administration responsible for handling judicial reform.    He said no critical knowledge would be lost if the cases moved to other departments, including the probes related to Manafort.
    “All of this is easy and happens quickly.    With no harm to the investigation,” Smirnov told Reuters.    “The problem being described to you does not exist.”
    Smirnov said the overhaul was in no way designed to allow the government to influence politically sensitive cases.    He described the allegations made by Horbatiuk and two other senior members of his former unit as a “paranoid” response to new leadership.
    In comments to journalists on Oct. 30, Ryaboshapka described the work of Horbatiuk and his team as “ineffective.”
‘BLACK LEDGER’ CASE
    Three members of the Special Investigations Unit told Reuters the loss of key personnel and reshuffling of responsibilities would effectively sabotage five years’ worth of investigations into alleged corruption during the pro-Kremlin presidency of Yanukovich, who was in office from 2010 until he was driven from power in a popular revolt in 2014.    Manafort worked as a consultant for Yanukovich’s political party for over a decade.
    “At least 50% of the information… is in the investigator’s head, it doesn’t fit into the official paperwork,” said Andriy Rodionov, a senior investigator in the unit who is still on staff after passing the mandatory exam.    “Any handing over of these cases is an automatic burial of them.”
    Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman from May to August of 2016.    He stepped down after a Ukrainian lawmaker divulged details contained in a so-called “black ledger” of alleged off-the-books payments made by Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions.    Manafort, who earned millions for his consultancy work in Ukraine, was among the recipients listed in the ledger, which was corroborated at the time by anti-corruption investigators and which prosecutors told Reuters has long been the subject of a GPO probe.
    Following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Manafort was convicted of bank fraud and filing false tax returns and sentenced to 7.5 years in U.S. prison.    In building their case against Manafort, U.S prosecutors accused him of concealing the payments he received from Ukraine.
    In Ukraine, senior investigator Rodionov said prosecutorial firepower was sputtering when it came to the probes involving Manafort.    He said he has already lost three members of his team as part of Zelenskiy’s restructuring; two refused to take the test and another failed it, he said.    Overall, the Special Investigations Unit has lost around a third of its staff, Rodionov said, with the number likely to rise as more prosecutors either refuse to participate in further rounds of assessment or fail to pass them.     Giuliani has called the black ledger a fraudulent document used to unfairly malign Manafort and damage Trump.    He has urged Ukraine to investigate whether Ukrainian officials conspired to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Democrat Hillary Clinton, a conspiracy theory that has been widely debunked.
    Giuliani did not respond to requests to comment for this story.    He told Reuters in a recent interview that “some” Ukrainians say the black ledger is forged.    Earlier this year he said that Manafort had communicated to him through an attorney that the ledger’s “entries about me are false.”

    Rodionov said his team had been “within weeks” of announcing official suspects in the second probe linked to Manafort, which involves allegations that Yanukovich’s administration illegally used state funds to pay a prominent New York law firm to write a report justifying the imprisonment of one of Yanukovich’s political rivals.    Manafort helped the Ukrainian government commission that report, and he promoted its conclusions to reporters and others in the United States.
    “We were ready…to formally announce indictments of both Ukrainian and American citizens,” Rodionov said.    “I spent three years trying to put it all together and now they will crumple it up and stuff it all in a box and hand the box away.”
    A quiet end to Ukraine’s investigations into Manafort would likely play well in the White House.    Trump and his backers have worked for years to discredit Mueller’s Russia investigation, and Trump has previously talked about pardoning Manafort.
    A recent survey by Rating Group Ukraine, an independent polling firm, found that almost two-thirds of Ukrainians don’t trust the GPO.    Critics say that, under previous presidents, the office was used to go after political opponents, squeeze businesses or shield corrupt officials.
    Since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has had more than 20 prosecutors general.    Not one has completed the designated five-year term, which was extended to six years in 2017.
    Yuriy Bezshastniy, another Special Investigations Unit prosecutor who was fired for refusing to take the law exam, said the reorganization was harming the ability of the nation to hold powerful wrongdoers accountable.    He said he found it difficult to understand why the reforms had been introduced or who had come up with them.
    “I’m seeing all sorts of nonsense,” he said.    “Was it politicians or businessmen or clowns or lawyers?    What’s going on is an absolute nightmare,” said Bezshastniy, who had served in the prosecutor’s office since 2001.
    Asked what would happen to Yanukovich-era cases, he replied: “It’s an end to them.    They’re killing two birds with one stone — kicking out people who were actually doing something… and messing up all the cases with one stroke of a pen.”
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Karen Freifeld in New York; Writing by Luke Baker and Matthias Williams; Editing by Marla Dickerson)

11/1/2019 Russia’s Safmar group says it will buy some assets from Trust bank
FILE PHOTO: Mikhail Gutseriyev, president of oil and gas company RussNeft, attends
The Russia Forum 2012 in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2012. REUTERS/Anton Golubev
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Safmar group, an umbrella for Mikhail Gutseriyev’s family business, said in a statement on Friday that it plans to buy some assets that it said were previously owned by Gutseriyev’s nephew, Mikail Shishkhanov, from the state-controlled Trust bank.
    “This is not a question of paying off a mythical Mikhail Gutseriyev debt but of acquiring efficiently operating assets with a high market value,” said Safmar, where Gutseriyev chairs the board of directors.
    Reuters, citing a document prepared by Trust bank, reported on Thursday that Gutseriyev had offered to buy back a property company and other assets taken on by the state to partially cover the bailout of two banks – B&N and Rost Bank – once owned by his family.
    Safmar, which had declined to comment prior to the Reuters report, said on Friday that Gutseriyev had not been a controlling shareholder with B&N bank since 1995. It added that he had not been a shareholder with Rost Bank.
    Russia’s central bank bailed out both banks in 2017.
    Reuters could not independently confirm Safmar’s statement about the ownership structure of the banks.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; editing by John O’Donnell and Kevin Liffey)

11/1/2019 Timing of four-way summit on east Ukraine conflict depends on Russia: Kiev
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko attends a news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – The timing of an international summit on ending more than five years of fighting in eastern Ukraine depends on Russia, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said on Friday.
    A breakthrough at talks between Moscow and Kiev on Oct. 1 appeared to open the way for the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to hold the first four-way summit on the conflict in three years.
    Since then the Kremlin has blamed Kiev for a lack of further progress, but Prystaiko said Ukraine had almost met all the preconditions for convening the summit and that Kiev, Paris and Berlin were ready to meet in the so-called “Normandy Format.”
    “We create all of the necessary conditions … Everything depends on the Russian side,” he told reporters in Kiev.
    The Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatist forces began a phased troop withdrawal in the eastern Ukrainian town of Zolote this week, part of a series of measures to end a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people.
    Prystaiko said Ukraine would also withdraw troops from another eastern town, Petrivske, provided there were no ceasefire violations for seven days in the area.
    “Continuing shelling (in Petrivske), unfortunately, indicates that one of the parties does not want this progress, because this is the last step before the meeting,” Prystaiko said, adding that the last shelling was on Wednesday.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy won a landslide election this year promising to end the fighting.    Western leaders have urged Russia to use its influence on the separatists in east Ukraine to stop the violence.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia deteriorated in 2014 after a pro-Moscow president was toppled following street protests in Ukraine, Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and Moscow backed the separatists in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Sergiy Karazy: writing by Matthias Williams and Natalia Zinets; editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/3/2019 Thousands of Romanians protest against illegal logging, attacks on forest workers
People march against widespread illegal logging and lack of policy response that has left two foresters dead
earlier this year, in Bucharest, Romania, November 3, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Thousands of Romanians marched in the capital Bucharest and other cities on Sunday in protest against widespread illegal logging, which is believed to be behind the deaths of two forest workers in the past two months.
    In downtown Bucharest, an estimated 4,000 people marched toward the water and forest ministry, according to local TV stations, banging drums and chanting “Our forest is not your commodity,” and “Thieves.”
    The protests, organized by Greenpeace Romania and other environmental groups, demanded thorough criminal investigations into the deaths and attacks against forest workers, as well as immediate upgrades to the country’s automated logging tracking system and tighter legislation.
    The Silva trade union federation says six foresters have been killed in recent years while another 650 forest workers were beaten, attacked with axes or knives or even shot at after catching illegal loggers in the act.
    They include Raducu Gorcioaia, who was found dead in his car with head wounds on Sept. 12 near a forest in Iasi county in eastern Romania, and Liviu Pavel Pop, who was shot dead on Oct. 16 in the northwestern Maramures county.    Police are still investigating both deaths.
    Romania, which is home to some of Europe’s last remaining virgin forests and diverse wildlife, is losing an estimated three to nine hectares of forest per hour due to illegal logging, Greenpeace studies have shown.
    Smaller marches took place in other Romanian cities on Sunday, with protesters carrying signs which said “Climate emergency” and “Save the forest.”
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Susan Fenton)

11/3/2019 Romania’s proposed government faces confidence vote key for EU policymaking by Luiza Ilie
FILE PHOTO: PNL (National Liberal Party) president Ludovic Orban looks on during a news conference held by EPP leaders
and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Sibiu, Romania, May 9, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian lawmakers will hold a vote of confidence on Monday for the centrist minority cabinet of Prime Minister-designate Ludovic Orban, the outcome of which risks extending a policymaking vacuum in the European Union.
    The new European Commission team had been due to take over on Nov. 1, but a political tug-of-war in Bucharest that prevented it from nominating a viable commissioner risks pushing that missed deadline beyond the start of December.
    The Commission comprises one representative from each member state and it holds powers including negotiating trade deals, policing members states’ finances and proposing bloc-wide laws on a range of topics including the environment and migration.
    Should Orban lose the vote, the country’s president would have to nominate a new premier, likely further delaying Romania’s pick for the Commission – jeopardising the timely approval of the entire new team.
    Orban’s opposition Liberal Party spearheaded the no- confidence vote which led to the collapse of the Social Democrat government on Oct. 10.
    While Orban said late on Sunday he was confident his government would be approved, the vote yet might be postponed because the ousted Social Democrats and smaller Pro Romania grouping have said they will boycott the meeting.
    Without them, not enough lawmakers would be present and the vote would have to be postponed until after a two-round presidential election on Nov. 10 and Nov. 24.
    “We do not understand the PSD boycott,” Orban told reporters late on Sunday.    “Despite it, I am confident that tomorrow we will give Romania a legitimate government.”
    The two-house parliament is due to start the debates at 1200 GMT, followed by the voting session.
    Aides to Orban told Reuters on Tuesday he would name his country’s candidate for the Commision after the vote, if successful.
    If Orban’s cabinet is not approved, some analysts expect President Klaus Iohannis and the outgoing Prime Minister Viorica Dancila to compromise on a Commission proposal.
    “I would expect the two main political forces in Bucharest to try to reach a compromise on this issue in order not to damage the country’s image,” said Paul Ivan, a policy analyst in Brussels at the European Policy Centre (EPC).
    “Blocking the rest of the EU is not a desirable position for Romania and Bucharest knows this.”
    If approved, Orban’s cabinet would be in place until a parliamentary election next year but is likely to struggle to gain support from opposition lawmakers for its measures.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/4/2019 Cuba lashes Trump, issues rallying cry to fight imperialism by Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban Communist Party leader Raul Castro, President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro signaled on Sunday punishing U.S. sanctions would only stiffen their resolve to stick together and support social change in the region.
    The three leaders presided over the closing session of a solidarity conference in Havana on Sunday, a meeting that drew more than 1,300 social activists, mainly from Latin America.
    The three-day meeting was called to discuss ways to defeat what organizers framed as a U.S. imperialist-led offensive against progressive and socialist governments and movements.
    Under the banner of defeating neo-liberalism and backing democracy, it took place as social unrest rocked conservative-led Chile and as conflict raged in Bolivia over a recent election that gave socialist leader Evo Morales a fourth term.
    Protests also continued in Brazil over the imprisonment of popular former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva, the center-left retook power from the right in Argentina and the United States hit Venezuela and Cuba with sanctions.
    Maduro and Diaz-Canel closed the meeting with addresses broadcast live by state-run television in which they ridiculed U.S. charges that they were behind unrest in other countries or responsible for leftist governments.
    Maduro’s presence appeared designed to signal Cuba would not abandon its strategic ally despite efforts by the United States and other Western and Latin American countries to convince Havana to do so.
    Maduro termed charges by the Organization of American States that Cuba was behind unrest in Chile “stupid.”
    “It is the old Pinochet dictatorship and International Monetary Fund. The people have the right to seek an alternative,” he said in a long and fiery speech.
    Diaz-Canel said in an apparent reference to unrest in Chile and the Argentinian election: “They accuse us of propping up the Bolivarian (Venezuelan ) Revolution … while they cover their eyes, ears and mouth, so as not to see, not hear, nor recognize what people are shouting in the streets: neo-liberalism is an economic failure and a social disaster.”
    “Trump and his court of old hawks attack the Cuban Revolution; the Bolivarian Revolution; the Sandinistas; the Brazilian, Bolivian, Argentine leftist political leaderships and social, popular, progressive movements throughout the region,” he said.
    The Cuban president accused the United states of laying siege to his country by sanctioning third parties who do business with it, urging those present to double their efforts in its defense.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Tait)

11/5/2019 EU top court rules Poland broke rule of law with judicial reforms
FILE PHOTO: A guard officer walks into the Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Poland broke European Union law when it lowered the retirement age for judges in 2017 and introduced a different retirement age for women and men in the profession, the EU’s top court ruled on Tuesday.
    The ruling dealt a further blow to the nationalist Polish government in a long-standing battle with the European Commission, which says Warsaw is breaking the rule of law in the country by undermining the independence of courts.
    The ruling euroskeptic Law and Justice party passed a law in 2017 that lowered the retirement age of judges in ordinary courts and public prosecutors – and the age for early retirement of Supreme Court judges – to 60 years for women and 65 years for men, from 67 for both sexes.
    It also gave the justice minister, a politician from the ruling party, the power to extend the period of active service of judges in the ordinary courts beyond the new retirement ages.
    The Commission, the EU’s executive arm whose role is to safeguard law across the 28-nation bloc, said Poland’s measures were contrary to EU law, and it sued Poland in the European Court of Justice.
    “(Poland)… failed to fulfill its obligations under EU law, first, by establishing a different retirement age for men and women who were judges or public prosecutors in Poland and, second, by lowering the retirement age of judges of the ordinary courts while conferring on the Minister for Justice the power to extend the period of active service of those judges,” the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled.
    Poland’s Foreign Ministry hit back at the decision, saying it was unjustified since Warsaw had made amendments to the reforms in 2018 in order to address EU concerns.
    Under the amendments, the new compulsory retirement age for judges was made the same for men and women, slowing down the process of retiring current judges.
    The European Commission said the ECJ had made “an important ruling in support of the independence of the judiciary in Poland and beyond”    It added: “We stand ready to support the Polish government and to continue discussions on the resolution of all other outstanding issues related to the rule of law in Poland.”
    Should Poland fail to align itself with the ECJ ruling, the Commission could file another request to levy a fine against Warsaw in the months to come.
    Critics say the aim of the reform was to allow the PiS to replace judges with political appointees to gain greater control over the judiciary.    The PiS has said it wanted to improve the efficiency of the justice system and remove residue from Poland’s Communist era.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish in Warsaw; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/5/2019 Ukraine moving quickly toward new IMF loan program: finance minister
Newly-appointed Ukrainian Finance Minister Oksana Markarova attends a parliament
session in Kiev, Ukraine November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine is moving quickly toward agreeing a new three-year loan program with the International Monetary Fund, Finance Minister Oksana Markarova told reporters on Tuesday, denying suggestions that talks for a new deal had stalled.
    Speaking at the same briefing, Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said the government expected to receive 12 billion hryvnias ($485 million) next year from selling state-owned firms, and that it would do everything to bring down inflation.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/5/2019 Unclear when Putin and Trump can meet after Chile canceled APEC summit: Kremlin
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a flower-laying ceremony at the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky on Red Square
on the National Unity Day in central Moscow, Russia November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday it was unclear when Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump could possibly hold their next meeting after an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Chile was canceled.
    Last month, the Kremlin said it would look into the possibility of Putin-Trump meeting at the APEC summit in Chile, which was due later this month.
    Chile has canceled the summit amid street protests at home.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Alexander Marrow; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/5/2019 Ukraine, Russia may sign gas transit deal in late December: minister
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's Minister of Energy and Environmental Protection Oleksiy Orzhel speaks with the
media outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    KIEV (Reuters) – A gas transit agreement between Ukraine and Russia could be signed in the last days of this year, the Ukrainian energy minister said on Tuesday.
    Kiev and Moscow have held several rounds of negotiations on the contract, which expires on Dec. 31.    Russia wants to strike a short-term deal while Ukraine is seeking a long-term agreement to guarantee supply to its own consumers.
    Kiev has said it supports the idea of a new 10-year transit contract, with a guaranteed minimum yearly transit volume of 60 bcm and 30 bcm of additional flexibility.
    “We are working on different options, it (the agreement) will probably be signed in the last days of December.    But we want to agree all numbers, all volumes and other elements of the contract in advance,” Energy Minister Oleksiy Orzhel told reporters.
    He said that Kiev hoped that gas talks between Ukraine, Russia and the European Union would continue next week but Ukraine has not yet received the consent of all parties.
    Ukraine is one of the main routes by which Russian gas travels to Europe.    Moscow’s construction of new pipelines, such as Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream, will cut Russian gas transit through Ukraine to a trickle.
    Last year, Kremlin-controlled Gazprom supplied Europe with more than 200 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas, of which 87 bcm went through Ukraine, providing Kiev with transit income of around $3 billion.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets, writing by Pavel Polityuk, editing by Louise Heavens)

11/5/2019 ‘Richer will get more’: Poorer states say EU spending proposals unfair by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis listen as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor
Orban speaks during the second day of a European Union summit in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The European Union’s eastern and southern countries on Tuesday rejected efforts to cap aid they receive from the EU budget and attach conditions, fearing “the poorer will get less and the richer will get more.”
    The EU, which is gearing up for a battle over its 2021-27 budget plan, provides aid known as cohesion funds to member states in the south and east to help them invest in development and catch up with richer peers to the north and west.
    But various proposals by Germany, the executive European Commission and current EU president Finland would reduce the size of the cohesion funds and attach conditions which would predetermine areas where investments should go.
    “The Commission proposal is really unacceptable for us,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said at a summit in Prague of the Friends of Cohesion group.
    “The current Commission made a proposal that is not fair,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.    “The new proposal wants to reduce cohesion – in other words the poorer will get less and the richer will get more.”
    The group of 16 countries signed a declaration calling for cohesion funds to stay at the same level, in real terms, in the next budget period, and for allowing member states to direct them where they see necessary rather than channeling them to pre-determined areas.
    Discussions over the long-term budget are likely to be tough because an economic recession may be looming in Europe and Britain’s likely departure will also leave a hole because it has been a net contributor to EU coffers.
GERMAN CONCERNS
    The current budget amounts to 1% of the EU’s combined Gross National Income (GNI). The European Commission has proposed a seven-year budget of about 1.1 trillion euros ($1.22 trillion) that would be about 1.11% of the EU’s combined GNI.
    But Germany, the biggest EU economy and paymaster, wants to ensure its contributions to the budget do not shoot up when Britain leaves, and proposes a 1% cap.
    Finland is due to set out budget proposals later this month for discussion at an EU summit on Dec. 12-13.
    Babis said he saw potential savings in areas including defense and border protection, which can be funded nationally, and open more room for the cohesion policies.
    He said that after Britain’s departure, no member state should get a “rebate” on its contribution to the budget.
    “The rebates must go.    That is 14.5 billion euros for the next budget period, excluding Britain,” Babis said.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Gareth Jones)

11/5/2019 Serbia’s opposition protest at state TV studios, forcing president to use side door
Police officers stand guard as opposition demonstrators attend a protest against Serbian President
Aleksandar Vucic in front of state TV in Belgrade, Serbia November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic had to use a side entrance to access the state television building on Tuesday evening after around 200 angry opposition supporters blocked the main door in a protest over what they said was government control of the media.
    Protesters, shouting “Vucic, thief!,” began gathering around about an hour before a Vucic live interview was due to start on Serbian state broadcaster RTS TV.    The protesters accuse Vucic of staging his media appearances and not taking difficult questions, accusations he denies.
    A special police unit stepped in to prevent violence between the opposition protesters and around 100 of Vucic’s supporters.
    Vucic posted a photo on Instagram from inside the RTS studio, saying he had gone in via the side entrance.
    “I would like to thank everyone for their support,” he wrote.
    Most opposition parties are set to boycott next year’s parliamentary elections over accusations that there is not a level playing field for the campaign.    European Union-mediated talks between them and Vucic’s Serbian Progressive party have not yet reached agreement.
    The Alliance for Serbia, a loose grouping of opposition political parties and movements, have been staging weekly rallies for almost a year to protest the rule of Vucic’s Progressive Party of Serbia, which they say is autocratic, corrupt, and stifling media freedoms and democracy.
    Vucic and his party have denied the allegations.
    Serbia has dropped 14 places on the Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index this year, ranking 90th of the 180 states.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, Marko Djurica and Ivana Sekularac, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

11/6/2019 Polish court rejects one more bid by ruling nationalists to recount votes
FILE PHOTO: Poland's ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski gestures as he speaks after the
exit poll results are announced in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s Supreme Court will not consider one further demand from ruling nationalists Law and Justice (PiS) for vote recounts in some districts after a tight Senate election, a spokesman said on Wednesday.
    The court has so far announced that it will not consider four of the six protests raised by PiS after the Oct. 13 election in which it lost control of the upper house of parliament, the Senate, to the opposition.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczo; Editing by Alan Charlish)

11/6/2019 Hungarian ex-Olympic champion and mayor resigns over sex tape
FILE PHOTO: A former chairman of the Hungarian Olympic Committee Zsolt Borkai gestures
in Budapest, Hungary, 5 April 2016. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A former Olympic champion who had just been re-elected mayor of a big city in Hungary said he would resign following his involvement in a sex scandal that eroded support for the ruling Fidesz party in a local election last month.
    Zsolt Borkai, who won a gold medal in gymnastics at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and is married with two children, quit Fidesz last month to limit the political fallout from a video purportedly showing him having sex with a young woman on a yacht in the Adriatic.
    Fidesz, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, portrays itself as a champion of Christian and family values.
    Borkai has apologized for his actions, which he called a mistake.
    In a public letter which he sent to national news agency MTI, and which was also published on the website gyorplusz.hu, on Wednesday, Borkai said he loved his city of Gyor and did not want his actions to hinder its development.
    “I draw the consequences and take responsibility,” he said in the letter.    He said he would resign as of Friday.
    Earlier, when he quit Fidesz, he said “the events around me should not put Fidesz at a moral disadvantage.”
    It is unclear who shot the video or why it was taken during what Borkai, a former chairman of Hungary’s Olympic Committee, described as a private trip on the yacht in the Adriatic Sea.
    Borkai said in the letter that he had paid for the trip himself and the allegations against him with one exception were “a bunch of lies”    He has not denied having sex with the young woman.
    The video came out days before the Oct. 13 municipal election and analysts said it was one of the factors that contributed to a surprise setback for Fidesz.
    Fidesz suffered its first election setback in a decade last month when a coalition of opposition parties ousted the mayor of Budapest in a municipal election and Fidesz lost ground in big cities.    The ruling party is still very popular in rural areas.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/6/2019 Russia’s foreign ministry opposes call to ban Deutsche Welle: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives to attend a news conference, a day ahead of the first meeting of the
new Syrian Constitutional Committee at the Untied Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday he did not support banning foreign media outlets including Germany’s Deutsche Welle from working in Russia, something that had been proposed by parliament, Interfax news agency reported.
    Russia’s parliament accused Deutsche Welle in September of breaking election legislation and asked the foreign ministry to consider revoking the German broadcaster’s right to work in the country.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

11/6/2019 On Norway’s icy border with Russia, unease over military buildup by Gwladys Fouche
Norwegian soldiers stand guard in front of a temporary command centre camp during "Reindeer 2,"
a Norwegian-U.S. military drill, in Setermoen, Norway, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov
    SETERMOEN/KIRKENES, Norway (Reuters) – Under a soft winter sun in northern Norway, U.S. Marines train in the ice and snow as they learn how to fight in the freezing cold.
    “Which country is to the northeast?”    Staff Sergeant Daniel Croak bellows at a group of 20 soldiers in camouflaged combat jackets and white trousers in a pine forest near the town of Setermoen.
    “Russia!” they shout back.
    The troops are part of a contingent of 650 Marines staging a recent joint military exercise with 3,000 soldiers from NATO-member Norway at a time when both NATO and Russia have increased their military presence in the Arctic.
    A few hundred kilometers from Setermoen, Russia is modernizing its forces on the Kola Peninsula, home to its Northern Fleet.    Russia has also carried out maneuvers in recent weeks, staging a major submarine exercise in the North Atlantic, according to intelligence sources cited by Norwegian media.
    “Do not use your GPSes. They may be jammed,” Croak barks to the Marines, a warning stemming from NATO accusations – denied by Russia – that Moscow has in the past jammed GPS systems in Norway.
    The rising tension is unsettling many Norwegians, not least in the town of Kirkenes, which for three decades has been trying to foster cooperation with Russia.
    Residents can cross the nearby border quickly with a visa-free permit.    Many go to the nearby Russian town of Nikel to buy petrol because it is much cheaper there, and street signs use both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts.
    “i>I don’t like it that they build up the military on both sides of the border.    We don’t want rising tensions,” said Eirik Wikan, co-owner of the Kimek shipyard in Kirkenes, which gets two-thirds of its revenues from repairing Russian vessels.
    “Here in the north, we work together to reduce tensions … We are trying not to be part of them.”
A RUSSIAN TOWN IN NORWAY
    About a third of the company’s 180 employees are Russian, 22 of whom work in the Russian port city of Murmansk.
    Nikolai Chagin, a mechanic from the Russian town of Severodvinsk, has worked at the shipyard in Kirkenes since 2006.
    “I don’t have those problems I used to have in Russia before: I have a good job, a normal salary,” he said.
    About 10% of Kirkenes residents are now from the Kola Peninsula.
    Kirkenes’ Samovar theater company performs in both Norway and Russia, and has Russian and Norwegians employees.    Russian choreographer Nikolai Shchetnev feels at home and is thinking of applying for dual nationality.
    “Kirkenes is a Russian town in Norway,” said Rune Rafaelsen, the mayor of Soer-Varanger municipality which includes Kirkenes.
    He said he would not welcome more tanks on the border though he saw Norway’s NATO membership as “a guarantee that I can do my job.”
    Russia denies responsibility for the rise in tensions.    It blames the recent basing of U.S. Marines in Norway, which it sees as a security challenge.
    But Norway’s worries grew after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then staged Arctic military exercises including maritime maneuvers with ballistic missile-capable vessels present.
    “These were clear messages from Moscow,” said Lieutenant-General Rune Jakobsen, Commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters — the Norwegian Armed Forces operational command center.    “Do not be part of (NATO’s) ballistic-missile defense.”
    Despite the tensions, he says Russian forces are behaving less aggressively on the frontier with Norway than in some other border zones between Russia and NATO, such as the Baltic Sea.
    In efforts to build trust, Jakobsen has in recent weeks had talks with the regional head of Russia’s FSB security service in the Kola Peninsula, and met the new head of the Northern Fleet, Alexander Moiseyev, in Kirkenes.
    “As a small nation neighboring a superpower, you have to strike the right balance between deterrence and reassurance,” Jakobsen said.
    But the military exercises are also important for Norway.
    “Working together is what makes it possible to fight together, if we have to,” said Brigadier Lars Lervik, commander of the Northern Brigade based in Setermoen.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/6/2019 Slovakia’s president digs in to fight law banning pre-election polls
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova delivers a speech during her swearing-in ceremony as the country's
first female head of state, in Bratislava, Slovakia, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakian President Zuzana Caputova on Wednesday vetoed a new law extending a ban on publishing opinion polls up to 50 days before elections and vowed to challenge it at the Constitutional Court if the parliament overturns her veto.
    The bill, approved by parliament last week, makes the moratorium on polls third longest in the world after Cameroon and Tunisia, the Slovak Academy of Sciences has said, extending it from a 14-day blackout.
    The bill was adopted ahead of an election due on Feb. 29 next year, and was adopted with the votes of the ruling leftist Smer party, junior coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) and the opposition far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia.
    “I believe the law violates the right to information granted by the Constitution and it limits political competition,” Caputova told reporters.
    “If the parliament overturns my veto, I will use my right to appeal it at the Constitutional Court and ask the court to put it taking effect on hold,” until a final ruling.
    The presidential veto can be overturned with 76 votes, a simple majority in the 150-member chamber.
    The bill’s authors, from Smer and SNS, said they aimed to protect voters from disinformation so they could base their decisions on the parties’ programs and activities.
    The bill, however, does not ban parties from procuring their own opinion polls, as long as they keep the information out of the public domain.
    It has drawn strong criticism from opposition parties and political experts who view it as an attempt to disadvantage challengers from new parties.
    Slovakia, like other countries in Europe, has seen a rise in new parties in recent years.    Newcomer activist lawyer Caputova herself defeated Smer’s candidate in a presidential runoff in March after a late surge in support.
    The socially conservative Smer party, in power nearly continuously since 2006, remains the favorite for next year’s election despite having suffered several electoral defeats since the 2018 murder of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, that sparked mass protests and ousted then Prime Minister Robert Fico from office.
    The long blackout on polls is the second amendment to election rules this year.
    In June, the government rushed through a limit on private donations to political parties, which opponents said favored established parties receiving state funding based on votes they won in past elections.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/7/2019 President blocks appointment of Bulgaria’s next chief prosecutor
FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's President Rumen Radev addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly at
U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – President Rumen Radev on Thursday blocked the appointment of Bulgaria’s next chief prosecutor whose selection as the sole candidate for the powerful post sparked street protests.
    The chief prosecutor’s role is key to combating graft in Bulgaria, ranked as the most corrupt member state in the European Union by the watchdog Transparency International.    He or she has wide powers to launch and halt investigations.
    Radev said he would not sign the documents allowing Ivan Geshev to take up the seven-year mandate from Jan. 10 and that he would ask the top judicial body that selected him, the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC), to review its choice.
    The SJC elected Geshev, currently a deputy chief prosecutor, by 20 votes to four last month.    There were no other candidates for the job and the decision prompted a series of protests amid concerns over whether Geshev would wage a genuine war on high-level corruption.
    “Having only one candidate not only deprives (the procedure) of competitiveness but deprives the next chief prosecutor of prestige and legitimacy,” Radev said in a statement.
    The president’s move is seen as largely symbolic as he can only block the appointment once.    If the SJC again backs Geshev, as expected, Radev would have to rubber-stamp their decision.     Protesters had urged Radev to block Geshev’s nomination saying his election was the pre-determined outcome of a deal between graft-prone political elites and local oligarchs.
    Several lawyers’ organizations had advised the president not to sign Geshev’s appointment.    But, in a letter to the European Commission, prosecutors defended Geshev’s election as fair and transparent, and complained of political pressure on Radev to block the appointment.
    Despite a declared political will to uproot graft, Sofia has yet to jail a single high-ranking official on corruption charges.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova and Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/7/2019 As bigotry stirs globally, Bosnian Jews, Muslims recall lesson in tolerance by Maja Zuvela
Eli Tauber stands near the resting place of a Jewish historian, whose real name was Mose Attias, known as Zeki Effendi
Rafaelovic, at the Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia’s Jews and Muslims on Thursday marked the bicentenary of the rescue of a dozen Jews from an Ottoman-era governor’s jail, saying their liberation by Sarajevo Muslims is a great example of co-existence at a time of rising global sectarian hatred.
    The 1819 rescue, which happened during a Muslim uprising, and consequent removal of corrupt Turkish governor Mehmed Ruzdi Pasha is a holiday for Sarajevo’s Jews, known as Purim di Saray.    The governor had sought a huge ransom to spare the Jews’ lives.
    The event was marked by a joint exhibition and conference depicting the events and celebrating nearly 500 years of peaceful coexistence between Jews and their Muslim neighbors, as well as between Jews and Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.
    “Bosnian Muslims and Jews are one body,” said Bosnia’s Muslim top cleric Husein Kavazovic.
    “Amid the ever rising evil of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia … we are renewing our pledge that we will remain good neighbors who will watch over each other as we did in the past.”
    The Muslim rebellion was recorded by renowned Sarajevo Jewish historian Mose Rafael Attias, also known as Zeki Effendi, in his book Sarajevo Megillah.
    The book’s title is a reference to the Book of Esther, which is read aloud during the Jewish holiday of Purim.    The holiday celebrates the Jews’ salvation from genocide in ancient Persia and is normally held in about March.
    Attias studied Islam and mediaeval Persian literature and was a passionate interfaith advocate.
    His tombstone, which has epitaphs in Bosnian, Hebrew and Turkish, the latter inscribed in Arabic script, has been renovated at the town’s Jewish cemetery as part of the Purim bicentenary.
    “The tombstone itself is a proof of Sarajevo’s multiculturalism,” Eli Tauber, an author and historian, told Reuters.    “Close links between our communities are unique.    The way we mark Purim is also unprecedented and could serve as a role model to the rest of the world.”
    Jews have played a significant role in Sarajevo’s cultural and economic life for 450 years.    Expelled after the Christian re-conquest of the Iberian peninsula, they found sanctuary in the city, then part of the Ottoman Empire.
    At the height of the city’s influence, Sarajevo had eight synagogues serving some 12,000 Jews.    But most of them were killed during World War Two, when the city was occupied by Nazi Germany.    Fewer than 1,250 remained.
    The community recovered somewhat in the post-war era but was dealt another blow with Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse and the subsequent siege of Sarajevo, the longest in modern history.
    Before the Bosnian 1992-95 war, Sarajevo was a multi-ethnic melting pot – mosques, churches and synagogues standing virtually side by side.    It afterwards become predominantly Muslim, but some 800 Jews living in the town remain an important part of its multi-ethnic identity.
(Reporting by Maja Zuvela, Editing by William Maclean)

11/7/2019 Kosovo set for two-party government coalition – final election results
FILE PHOTO: Albin Kurti, leader of the Self-Determination movement (Vetevendosje party), speaks to supporters after
preliminary results of the parliamentary election in Pristina, Kosovo, October 7, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s new government will comprise a core coalition of two parties previously in opposition, after final results published on Thursday from an election held last month showed they won a narrow parliamentary majority between them.
    The leftist Vetevendosje (Self-determination) party got 32 seats in the 120-seat legislature and the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) got 29, the Election Commission said.
    Both parties confirmed on Thursday they will also seek to bring some or all of six groups representing Serbs, Turks, Bosniaks and other ethnic minorities into government. The groups have a combined allocation of 20 parliamentary seats.
    As has been the case for all governments since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, one of the new administration’s main tasks will be to try to normalize fraught relations with its larger neighbor.
    Vetevendosje and LDK – which have been in talks on harmonizing their political programs since an initial count from the Oct. 6 ballot made clear they would be the two biggest parties in parliament – have said they are ready to negotiate with Serbia.
    But neither party is willing to compromise on anything that would undermine Kosovo’s independence – which Serbia has steadfastly refused to acknowledge – or its sovereignty.
    Normalization of ties would bring Kosovo closer to securing a seat at the United Nations.
    Last year, Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci – whose role is largely ceremonial – and his Serb counterpart Aleksandar Vucic signaled that they might agree to a land swap to resolve bilateral territorial claims.    But the plan met with strong opposition both domestically and abroad.
    Last month’s national election was the fourth since Kosovo declared independence.    It was called after Ramush Haradinaj resigned as prime minister following a summons for questioning by an EU-funded war crimes court that sits in The Hague.
    He was quizzed over his role as one of the commanders of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) during the war it fought against Serbia in 1998-99. He denies wrongdoing.
    Haradinaj’s Alliance for the Future of Kosovo party got 14 seats in the election and its former coalition partner, the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), got 25.
    Under Kosovan law, Vetevendosje leader Albin Kurti – as head of the biggest party – will be mandated to become prime minister in the new government.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/8/2019 Romania’s anti-graft president likely to be re-elected by Luiza Ilie
FILE PHOTO: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrives for a European Union leaders summit that aims to select
candidates for top EU institution jobs, in Brussels, Belgium June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/File Photo
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is widely expected to win a first round of presidential elections on Sunday, with pledges to rekindle anti-graft efforts in one of Europe’s most corrupt nations.
    To secure a second term, Iohannis, 60, will probably face a runoff vote on Nov. 24, with opinion polls showing him winning regardless of which of his rivals comes in second on Sunday.
    With the backing of the liberal minority government of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, an ally who won a parliamentary vote of confidence on Monday, Iohannis could install chief prosecutors serious about tackling endemic corruption, observers said.
    His re-election could also bolster the Liberal Party’s chances of forming a coalition government after a parliamentary election due in 2020 and restore investor confidence eroded by several years of political instability and fiscal largesse.
    “This should be news to no one, I very much want a fair justice and an efficient fight against corruption,” Iohannis told new Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu earlier this month.
    Since winning office in 2014, the former mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu has struggled to limit a judicial overhaul by the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), which Brussels and Washington said threatened the rule of law and which triggered the country’s largest protests in three decades.
    The PSD were ousted from power in a no-confidence vote on Oct. 10.    In power since winning a parliamentary election in late 2016, they had gone through three prime ministers.
    Iohannis succeeded in pushing back PSD appointments to top posts, including the anti-corruption prosecuting agency DNA and anti-organized-crime unit DIICOT, both overseen by a prosecutor general.    All three have earned praise from Brussels for exposing high-level graft, including the theft of European Union funds.
    In 2018, the government had removed the head of DNA, Laura Codruta Kovesi, who has since been appointed the EU’s first chief prosecutor.    The prosecutor general’s mandate expired in April and the DIICOT head resigned in October after criticism of his handling of a kidnapping-murder case.
    The posts have been filled with interim appointees, allowing Orban’s justice minister to nominate replacements that observers say would be approved by Iohannis.
    During its rule, the PSD raised the burden of proof in graft cases, reorganized judges panels and set up a special unit to investigate magistrates for potential abuses, widely seen as an instrument of political coercion.
    Viorica Dancila, the PSD leader and former premier, and Dan Barna, the leader of the centre-right opposition Save Romania Union, are vying for a spot in the run-off. Both are under 20% in polls.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Justyna Pawlak and Larry King)

11/8/2019 Polish cabinet reshuffle boosts control over state companies
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party announced its governing cabinet lineup on Friday after winning a parliamentary election last month, setting out plans to consolidate control over state-owned utilities and financial companies.
    Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a former banker, kept his job, but PiS dissolved the energy ministry.    Its responsibilities for energy and mining companies will be transferred to a new treasury ministry to oversee state assets.
    “It is about making use of all reserves, including those which are part of the state treasury, which is in our vital interest,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters late on Friday.
    PiS also created a new climate ministry headed by COP 24 president Michal Kurtyka, amid growing pressure for the EU to fight climate change.
    PiS, a socially conservative grouping with a left-leaning economic agenda, had sought to increase the government’s control over the economy after winning the previous election in 2015.
    It kept large state assets such as PZU, central Europe’s biggest insurer, and bank PKO BP, overseen by different ministries, controlled by competing factions within the ruling camp.
    In the new cabinet, deputy prime minister Jacek Sasin will lead a treasury ministry which will manage state assets worth billions of euros.
    The long-standing ally of Morawiecki – Jerzy Kwiecinski – will leave his post as finance minister and be replaced by Tadeusz Koscinski, a former deputy finance minister.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Agnieszka Barteczko, Alan Charlish, and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Chris Reese, Justyna Pawlak and Chizu Nomiyama)

11/8/2019 In Ukraine victory, top U.N. court rejects Moscow’s bid to block case by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: Olena Zerkal, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukriane, is seen at the UN's highest court
during a hearing in a case launched by Ukraine which alleges Moscow is funding pro-Russian separatist groups
in Ukraine, in The Hague, Netherlands June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/File Photo
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – In a legal victory for Ukraine, the United Nations’ top court for disputes between states said on Friday it would hear a lawsuit filed by Ukraine against Russia for allegedly supporting pro-Russian separatists, rejecting Moscow’s call for the case to be thrown out.
    Reading a summary of the ruling, Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said conditions had been met for the case to be heard in full, with the 16-judge panel rejecting Russian objections by a large majority.
    The International Court of Justice found that on the basis of anti-terrorism and anti-discrimination treaties signed by both countries it has jurisdiction to hear the case over Russia’s alleged support for separatists in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
    At a hearing in June, Moscow had asked judges to dismiss the suit, saying Kiev was using it as pretext for a ruling on the legality of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
    Addressing that point, Yusuf said Ukraine had not asked the court to rule “on the status of Crimea or on violations of the rules of international law” other than those contained in the United Nations anti-discrimination and anti-terrorism treaties.
    Kiev says Russia’s support for separatist forces violated a U.N. convention banning the funding of terrorist groups.
    Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal called Friday’s ruling a victory for Ukraine, saying outside the court in The Hague that it meant “Russia will be accountable and have to present their opinions and their views.”
MH17 IMPACT
    Covert Russian forces seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 shortly after a pro-Russian Ukrainian president was toppled in a popular uprising.    Moscow then organized a referendum and annexed the territory.
    Pro-Russian separatists also launched a revolt in another part of Ukraine, the east, where a conflict has killed more than 13,000 people and remains violent despite a ceasefire that halted full-scale combat in 2015.
    Moscow denies Western accusations by Kiev and Western countries that it sent ground troops, as well as weapons and funding, to assist the rebels.
    The ICJ, or world court, is the leading global court for disputes between nations.    A ruling on Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine would set a precedent that could impact other cases dealing with Russia’s alleged link to the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
    Minister Zerkal said a ruling by the court could bolster attempts to get justice for the downing of MH17 by influencing the U.N. Security Council, where Moscow has blocked attempts to set up a tribunal to deal with the incident.
    A Dutch-led international investigation team found that the airliner was shot down with a Russian missile, and has charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder.    All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the plane crashed.
    Russia denies any blame.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Anthony Deutsch, Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff and Frances Kerry)

11/8/2019 French ambassador in Bosnia summoned over Macron’s ‘time bomb’ remark by Daria Sito-Sucic
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron gestures during the annual conference hosted by the
French state bank BPI in Paris, France, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool/File Photo
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia’s presidency summoned the French ambassador on Friday to protest over President Emmanuel Macron’s comment that the country is a “time bomb” due to returning Islamist fighters.
    Macron, commenting on France’s refusal to support the start of negotiations for European Union accession with North Macedonia and Albania, said a real concern for the EU was Bosnia.
    “If you’re concerned about this region, the first question is neither North Macedonia nor Albania, it’s Bosnia-Herzegovina, the time-bomb that’s ticking right next to Croatia, and which faces the problem of returning jihadists,” Macron said in an interview with British weekly The Economist published on Thursday.
    Zeljko Komsic, a Croat who currently chairs Bosnia’s inter-ethnic presidency, summoned Ambassador Guillaume Rousson and informed him about the numbers of foreign fighters and Bosnia’s efforts to counter terrorism, the presidency said in a statement.
    He also invited Macron to visit Bosnia.
    Macron’s comments prompted angry reactions among Bosnian Muslims who make up a half of the population.
    Officials and analysts dealing with the phenomenon of fighters who went abroad to join Islamist militant groups also voiced surprise.
    “As for the threat from the return of foreign fighters, there are no returns, nobody is returning,” said Vlado Azinovic, an expert on terrorism.    “All these people are stuck in camps and prisons in Syria, and … when they are returned, they will be screened and those found breaking the law will be jailed.”
    However, reflecting the country’s ethnic divisions, the presidency’s nationalist Serb member Milorad Dodik welcomed Macron’s remarks, saying he had repeatedly warned of the same problem.
    Bosnia introduced a law in 2014 that included prison terms of up to 10 years for those who fought in foreign wars or recruited fighters.     Most of the fighters who have returned have been tried and jailed.
    Bosnian Muslims generally practise a mainstream form of Islam but some adopted radical beliefs from the foreign fighters who came during the 1992-95 war and fought with Muslims against Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.
    Some were among Europeans who left to fight for Islamic State.    With the Islamist militant group down to its last shred of territory, many are asking to come home.
    According to Bosnian intelligence, 250 adults and 80 children left Bosnia or the Bosnian diaspora from 2012 to 2016 for Syria and Iraq, where 150 more children were born.
    About 100 adults, including 49 women, remained there, while at least 88 have been killed or died.    About 50 came back.    Others returned to their homes abroad.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/8/2019 Troop withdrawals in eastern Ukraine to start on Saturday: OSCE
Members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard near a car of the Organization for Security and Co-operation
in Europe (OSCE) in the settlement of Bohdanivka, which is located in a disengagement area near the contact line
with Russian-backed separatist rebels, in Donetsk Region, Ukraine November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Troop withdrawals in a village in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine will begin on Saturday at 1000 GMT, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement.
    Ukraine and Russian-backed separatist rebels have agreed to phased troop withdrawals as a confidence building measure that could pave the way for a four-way summit between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany on the Donbass conflict.
    The Kiev government has said that the third such withdrawal, in the village of Petrivske that is due to take place on Saturday, would mean that Ukraine has fulfilled all necessary conditions from its side for such a summit to take place.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/8/2019 Serbia faces risk of U.S. sanctions over Russian arms deal by Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: A Pantsir-S surface-to-air missile system fires a missile during the Keys to the Sky competition at the International
Army Games 2017 at the Ashuluk shooting range outside Astrakhan, Russia August 5, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – A U.S. official is expected to arrive in Belgrade on Friday to discuss the purchase of advanced Russian anti-aircraft missile systems which could expose Serbia to U.S. sanctions.
    Serbia’s military depends heavily on Russian and former Soviet weapons technology, but Russia’s arms sales have been hit by U.S. sanctions over its role in the conflict in east Ukraine.
    Serbian news agency Beta said Thomas Zarzecki, an envoy for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, would discuss compliance with the sanctions during a visit that has not been announced by the U.S. embassy.
    Embassy officials could not be reached for comment and the U.S. State Department did not reply to emailed questions.
    Serbia has recently purchased Pantsir anti-aircraft missile launchers from Russia and deliveries are expected in the next few months.    In recent years, Belgrade has also bought Russian MiG-29 jets, helicopters, tanks and armored personnel carriers.
    U.S. concerns grew last month when Russia sent its S-400 missile defense system and Pantsir launchers to Serbia for a military drill.    The move underlined Moscow’s wish to keep a traditional Slavic ally on side as Belgrade pursues links with NATO and tries to join the European Union.
    Matthew Palmer, a U.S. envoy for the Balkans, said last week that Serbia could risk sanctions over its arms deals with Russia. Under the sanctions, Serbia could face punishments ranging from visa bans to denial of export licenses.
    Late on Thursday, President Aleksandar Vucic urged Serbs not to fear broad sanctions would be imposed on Serbia similar to those of the 1990s during the Balkan wars.
    “When the U.S. are deciding about such sanctions … they are imposing it against a company or an individual, not against an entire nation,” he said.
    Serbia declared military neutrality in 2006 and joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace program in 2015, though it is not seeking full membership of the U.S.-led alliance.
    Serbia has also relied on Russia for support in its refusal to recognize the independence of its former southern province of Kosovo, which seceded in 2008 after a guerrilla uprising.    NATO peacekeepers remain in Kosovo.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/10/2019 Romania’s Iohannis in pole position for presidential vote by Radu-Sorin Marinas
FILE PHOTO: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanians vote in a presidential election on Sunday and are expected to support incumbent Klaus Iohannis, an anti-graft policymaker who has won praise in the West for his commitment to the rule of law.
    Opinion polls show Iohannis, 60, a centrist liberal, winning the ballot with some 40% of the vote.    If the polls are correct he will have to face a runoff on Nov. 24, which he is also expected to win.
    Romania’s president nominates a prime minister, who has executive powers, after holding consultations with political parties.    The president can also veto laws adopted by parliament by challenging them in the constitutional court or by sending them back to be re-considered.
    Iohannis is trailed in the polls by Viorica Dancila, leader of the Social Democrats’ (PSD) and a former premier, and by Dan Barna, head of the centre-right opposition Save Romania Union.    Both are vying for a spot in the runoff with about 20% in opinion polls.
    Romania has been monitored by Brussels over progress on reform of its judiciary since 2007.    But, a succession of PSD governments have tried to roll back certain anti-corruption rules in recent years, joining the ranks of other ex-communist states in the European Union in incurring criticism over the rule of law.
    In May, Liviu Dragnea, a former PSD leader, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison after being found guilty of graft.
    In October the European Commission reported that backtracking from judicial reform and the fight against corruption persisted.
    Iohannis, who won his first term as president in 2014, had challenged a contested overhaul of the judiciary and attempts to limit magistrates’ independence.
    He also spearheaded a national referendum where an overwhelming majority of Romanians said they wanted the government to be banned from altering legislation via emergency decrees, and advocated a national ban on granting amnesties and pardons for graft-related crimes.
    If re-elected, Iohannis will have a chance to install chief prosecutors who say they are committed to tackling endemic corruption, supported by the liberal minority government of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, an ally who won a parliamentary vote of confidence this month.
    “It is important to have continuity at the helm and I think Iohannis deserves a new one (term).    He proved he’s been able to accomplish many things, he successfully fought and defeated the PSD. Look at Dragnea and other (corrupt) people, (who) are now in jail. He must continue,” said 29-year-old shop clerk Dora Stanga.
    Observers said a win for Iohannis might bolster the Liberal Party’s chance of forming a coalition government after a general election due in 2020 and restore investor confidence eroded by several years of political instability and fiscal largesse.
    Polling stations across the country open at 0500 GMT and close at 1900 GMT.    The country has 18.2 million eligible voters.
(Editing by James Drummond)

11/10/2019 Romania’s Iohannis wins presidential ballot, will face runoff
Incumbent candidate Klaus Iohannis smiles as he casts his ballot in the first round of a presidential
election, in Bucharest, Romania, November 10, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s incumbent President Klaus Iohannis won the first round of a presidential election on Sunday, and is likely to face opposition Social Democrat leader and former Prime Minister Viorica Dancila in a Nov. 24 runoff, exit polls showed.
    An exit poll conducted by IRES pollster showed Iohannis garnered 38.7% of votes followed by Dancila with 22%.    Save Romania Union head Dan Barna got 16.1%. Another poll by Curs-Avangarde ranked Iohannis first with 39% and Dancila with 22.5%.
    Data by the electoral bureau, which is expected to unveil partial official results from Monday morning, showed robust turnout of 48% with a record high diaspora voter presence of 660,000 – which was not taken into account by the exit polls.
(Reporting by Radu Marinas)

11/11/2019 Austrian conservative leader Kurz backs coalition talks with Greens
Head of Peoples Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz said on Monday he plans to hold formal coalition talks with the Greens, but warned that a deal bringing the left-wing party into government for the first time was uncertain and would require unusual creativity.
    Kurz and his People’s Party (OVP) came first in a parliamentary election on Sept. 29, but need a coalition partner to form a government that commands a majority in parliament.    Exploratory talks with the Greens aimed at laying the groundwork for fully fledged coalition talks ended on Friday.
    “We will enter talks with the Greens,” Kurz told a news conference after consultations within his party.
    The Greens’ leadership on Sunday backed formal talks with Kurz’s OVP. Had he not taken them up on that offer, Kurz would have had to turn again to a far right reeling from a video sting scandal that blew up its coalition with him, or to the Social Democrats with whom Kurz has fraught relations.
    Kurz has also not ruled out forming a minority government.
    Few details have emerged from the two sides’ talks so far but the outcome is uncertain as the parties have starkly contrasting views on issues ranging from taxation of fossil fuels to immigration and social benefits.
    Kurz said that given their differences they would have to find more creative solutions than previous coalitions have, without elaborating.
    “If we are able to reach an agreement with the Greens, a certain extra creativity will definitely be necessary,” Kurz said.    “Here and there, if we reach a deal, it will involve or will have to involve a different and maybe also new form of governing.”
    The Greens want to overhaul Austria’s tax system to better reflect the environmental impact of goods, such as by scrapping favorable treatment of diesel fuel and heating oil.    Their leader also told Reuters before the election he wanted Kurz to back a public investment package in environmental measures.
    The Greens will want any deal to withstand scrutiny by environmentalists demanding urgent action on climate change.
    Kurz will want it to reflect the parties’ share of the vote – his OVP came first with 37.5% while the Greens came fourth on 13.9%.
    Kurz, whose core supporters include big business and farmers, has said environmental measures should not create extra costs for voters including those who drive to work.
    It is unclear how long talks will last.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/11/2019 Poland says France’s Macron comments on NATO ‘dangerous’: FT
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s critical remarks about NATO were “dangerous,” Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said in an interview published on Sunday evening by the Financial Times.
    Macron told The Economist last week that NATO was experiencing “brain death,” citing a lack of coordination and U.S. unpredictability under President Donald Trump.    The French leader also expressed doubt about the U.S.-led alliance’s security maxim that an attack on one ally would be treated as an attack on all.
    NATO was “the most important alliance in the world when it comes to preserving freedom and peace” and Macron’s questioning of whether its members could still be counted on to defend each other was “dangerous”, Morawiecki said, according to the FT.
    “I think President Macron’s doubts about (NATO’s commitment to mutual defense) can make other allies wonder if perhaps it is France that has concerns about sticking to it.    I hope that we can still count on France fulfilling its obligations,” Morawiecki was quoted as saying.
    “France is spending below 2 per cent of GDP (on defense) .?.?.?I think it’s worth asking why certain aspects of NATO do not look as we wish.    And it’s not for the lack of U.S. commitment to the alliance, but rather the lack of reciprocity on the part of some European allies,” he said.
    France has traditionally had an ambivalent role in NATO, taking no part in its strategic military planning from 1966 to 2009 despite being a founding member. Still Macron’s comments – a month before NATO’s Dec. 4 summit in London – were unexpected.
(Reporting by Anna Koper; Editing by Toby Chopra)

11/11/2019 Polish far-right groups march on independence anniversary by Anna Koper and Kacper Pempel
People take part in a march marking the National Independence Day in Warsaw, Poland
November 11, 2019. Dawid Zuchowicz/Agencja Gazeta via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Poles took part in a far-right march in the capital Warsaw on Monday to mark Polish independence, an annual event that has become a focus of friction between nationalists and liberals.
    Some chanted “God, honor, homeland!” and “No to the European Union!” and waved red-and-white Polish flags.    Others lit red flares, blanketing sections of the parade with smoke.
    We have to return to our roots.    Our world has abandoned God and Christianity,” Robert Bakiewicz, head of a group organizing the march, told participants in central Warsaw.    “We will die as the nations of western Europe are dying.”
    A small group of hardline Italian far-right group Forza Nuova members also took part, waving flags.
    Poland has become increasingly polarized since the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power in 2015, calling for a revival of patriotic and Catholic values in public life and a rejection of Western liberalism.
    Critics say PiS, which won a second term last month with 44% of the vote, has tacitly encouraged groups with roots in the fascist and anti-Semitic movements of the 1930s that organize the march, although the party denies this.
    Last year, on the centenary of Polish independence, government officials and President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the PiS, agreed to hold a joint event with the annual march organizers, but walked at a distance, away from any overt displays of nationalism.
    This year, PiS held its own, separate events.     Our nation has a mission and it has to fulfill it,” PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said on Sunday.    “Our mission is to sustain everything that’s a foundation of our Christian civilization.
    “We will walk this path, and if it’s done in a thoughtful way, it will bring us to victory.”

    On Nov. 11, Poles commemorate the establishment in 1918 of the second Polish republic, created after World War One from parts of what was then Russia, Germany and Austria.
    Two years ago, the march was dotted with racist banners, some of them reading “Pure blood, clear mind” or “Europe will be white or uninhabited.”
    Before PiS came to power, scuffles between participants and police were not uncommon, but in recent years, more families with children have joined.
    On Monday, some wore stickers saying “Stop 447,” in a protest against a U.S. law on the restitution of Jewish property seized during or after World War Two, an issue increasingly featuring in public debate in Poland.
    The U.S. Department of State is expected to provide a non-binding report to Congress later this year on property restitution, under legislation known as the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act, or Act 447.
    Poland was home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities before it was almost entirely wiped out by Nazi German occupiers who set up death camps such as Auschwitz on Polish soil.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne)

11/11/2019 Patriot games: Slovenian paramilitaries face down migrant ‘threat’ on border
A group of uniformed volunteers called Stajerska Varda (Stajerska Guard) holds regular exercises near the border
with Croatia in Kostel, Slovenia November 9, 2019. Picture taken November 9, 2019. REUTERS/Borut Zivulovic
    KOSTEL OB KOLPI, Slovenia (Reuters) – Dressed in camouflage and armed with air rifles, Slovenian paramilitaries moves in formation through woods a stone’s throw from Croatia, patrolling a border zone where the group’s leader says illegal migration is rife.
    The more than 50-strong group, some of whom mask their faces with balaclavas and which includes a handful of women, is led by Andrej Sisko, who also heads Gibanje Zedinjena Slovenija, a fringe nationalist party that has so far failed to win seats in parliament.
    He believes authorities are failing in their duty to protect Slovenia against what he views as the migrant threat, and founded Stajerska and Krajnska Varda (Stajerska and Krajnska Guard) to fill that gap.
    Members of both organistions were participating in the patrol when Reuters TV met them.
    “It is a duty of all of us to ensure security in our own country,” he said.    “If state bodies who are paid for that cannot or do not want to ensure security we can help ensure it, that is what we do.”
    Anti-migrant sentiment in Slovenia and other ex-Communist states has risen sharply since 2015, when eastern Europe bore the initial brunt of a refugee crisis.
    Much of the region has since then resisted attempts by EU authorities in Brussels to enforce a continent-wide quota system for new arrivals, which Slovenia has however signed up for.
    According to Slovenian police, numbers of migrants crossing illegally from Croatia to Slovenia – where a razor-wire fence has been erected along stretches of the border since 2015 – rose to 11,786 in the first nine months of this year from 6,911 a year earlier.
    Sisko this year served time in jail for forming Stajerska Varda and urging the overthrow of state institutions.
    He says the group, which generally meets in the border zone at weekends, does not intercept migrants – which he emphasises would be against the law – but advertises their presence to security forces.
    Police told Reuters they were monitoring the group’s behaviour and had not detected any recent illegal activities.
(Reporting by Boris Kavic and Marja Novak; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/11/2019 Kremlin eyes four-way Ukraine summit this year
FILE PHOTO: Russia's presidential aide Yuri Ushakov speaks with journalists after 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) – An international summit on solving the Ukrainian crisis is likely to take place this year, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow on Monday.
    A breakthrough at talks between Moscow and Kiev on Oct. 1 appeared to open the way for the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to hold the first four-way summit on the conflict in three years.
    “I think that the summit would take place… I think this year,” Ushakov said.
    He also said that Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel would discuss Ukraine, Syria and Libya on the phone later on Monday.
    The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany last met in the so-called Normandy format in October 2016.    The group takes its name from a meeting of the countries’ leaders in Normandy, in western France, in 2014.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/11/2019 Ukraine president: foreign ownership of farmland to be decided in referendum
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during a news conference
in Riga, Latvia October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday that parliament would amend the law to stipulate that the issue of whether foreigners will be allowed to buy farmland would be put to a referendum.
    Zelenskiy has pledged to lift a longstanding ban on the sale of farmland, a move that supporters say will unlock enormous opportunities for investment in the agriculture sector of one of the world’s largest grain exporters.
    There has been resistance to lifting the ban, in part because of fears that land would be snapped up by foreign companies.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/12/2019 Ex-Kazakhstan leader proposes Russia-Ukraine presidents meet in bid to ease conflict
FILE PHOTO: Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev leaves after the enthronement ceremony of Japan's Emperor
Naruhito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2019. Carl Court/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s former president Nursultan Nazarbayev is trying to arrange a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose countries are at odds over the war between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
    “Zelenskiy has already agreed to a tete-a-tete, and (I have) informed the president of Russia about that.    We shall see now (if Putin agrees),” Nazarbayev told a conference on international politics in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on Tuesday.
    Russia, however, gave a guarded response.    Any such meeting must be well prepared and “meeting for the sake of meeting would serve little purpose,” the Kremlin said.
    Nazarbayev, who said he was ready to host such a meeting in Kazakhstan, spoke to Putin by telephone on Monday, his office said.
    If the meeting took place, it would represent a breakthrough in ties strained for years by the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow on Tuesday: “Putin wants the reanimation of relations.    But it is impossible to do that without reciprocity from Kiev.”
    “Clearly, Putin …never refuses such meetings, but he believes that meeting for the sake of meeting serves little purpose, it must be well prepared.”
    The Kremlin said its current focus was on a potential first summit in three years on the eastern Ukraine conflict between the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
    No date for that meeting has been confirmed.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal and Alexander Marrow; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

11/12/2019 Croatia eying euro adoption by 2024, PM says
FILE PHOTO: Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic arrives to take part in a
European Union leaders summit, in Brussels, Belgium July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia’s strategic goal is to fulfill the necessary criteria and adopt the euro by the end of the next government’s term in office, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Tuesday.
    Earlier this year, Croatia sent a letter of intent to the European Central Bank to join the European Exchange Mechanism (ERM-2), a waiting room for euro adoption.
    “Our plan is to join the ERM-2 in the second half of 2020m where we expect to spend two-and-a-half to three years.    Then the euro adoption could follow at the beginning of 2023 at the earliest, or at the beginning of 2024,” Plenkovic told an economic conference.
    He said that among the main benefits for Croatia from the euro adoption would be removal of currency risk, lower borrowing costs and stronger competitiveness of the economy.
    Despite Croatia’s having its own currency, the kuna, most of its savings, around 75% on average in the last decade, were held in euros.
    Croatia is making effort to keep its budgetary balance under control and to reduce the public debt towards 60% of gross domestic product in the next few years, which are among the key criteria to join the euro.
    For next year, the government proposed a budget with a general budget surplus of 0.2% of GDP, rising to a surplus of 0.8% in 2022.    Public debt is projected to fall from 71.3% of GDP at the end of this year to 61.6% at the end of 2022.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic, editing by Larry King)

11/12/2019 Ukraine is ‘victim’ in Trump impeachment fight, Ukrainian-Americans say by Maria Caspani
FILE PHOTO: The committee room in the Longworth House Office Building where the first public hearings
in the impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump are scheduled to take place is
shown on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Regardless of how the House of Representatives’ impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump end, some Ukrainian-Americans believe their ancestral homeland has already become a unwitting victim of tumultuous U.S. politics.
    “I think Ukraine is kind of a victim in this case because I believe they were pushed to do something that is not in the real Ukrainian interest,” said Igor Yarmak, 63, a tech professional in New York City who has voted Republican in the past but dislikes Trump.
    The inquiry into whether Trump misused U.S. foreign policy to ask Ukraine to target a domestic political opponent enters a critical phase on Wednesday when Congress holds its first public, televised hearings to question witnesses.
    Others among the roughly 1 million people of Ukrainian descent living in the United States also expressed frustration at seeing Ukraine, which largely depends on foreign aid and protection from Russia, dragged into the impeachment fight.
    “Once again, Ukraine is in the spotlight for its critical position in eastern Europe and I feel it’s being used by political powers for their own gain,” said Paul Jablonsky, a small business owner and the president of the Ukrainian American Community Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
    The inquiry comes three years into Trump’s unconventional presidency and as Democrats and Trump’s Republicans are gearing up for a brutal election battle.
    Democrats are investigating whether there are grounds to impeach Trump over his July 25 request, in a phone call to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, that the latter investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a key political rival to Trump in 2020.     That call prompted a whistleblower complaint that led congressional Democrats to launch the probe into whether Trump abused his power by withholding nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine to pressure the vulnerable U.S. ally.
    “(It is) really disheartening if it does come to pass that President Trump has been using his individual influence as president to further his political ambitions for the next election,” said 59-year-old Jablonsky, who considers himself an independent and agrees with Trump politically on issues including trade.
    There are large populations of Ukrainian-Americans in Pennsylvania and Minnesota, which are seen as competitive in next year’s presidential election.
    “Trump putting the screws and the pressure on Ukraine … to extort and grind a poor fledging democracy, it’s beyond the pale of understanding,” said Ulana Mazurkevich, a business owner from the Philadelphia area and a Democrat who declined to give her age.
    Ukraine’s Zelenskiy, a comedian and, like Trump, a political novice, won a landslide election victory in April promising voters an end to a conflict with Russian-backed forces in the Donbass region that has killed 13,000 people.
    He has been walking a diplomatic tightrope to maintain good relations with both U.S. political sides whose bipartisan support Ukraine counts on for aid and diplomatic cover against Russia following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014.
    “He might appear as a weak leader because he was trying to play ball with Trump or he was trying to avoid playing ball with Trump,” said Irina Medvinskaya, a U.S. citizen who was born in Kiev and emigrated to the United States at age 15.
    But Medvinskaya, a Democrat, voiced hope that Ukraine could play a historic role if Trump were to be impeached and removed from office.     “If this becomes the death of him, I will be very proud of my motherland.”
(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Scott Malone)

11/12/2019 Poland’s opposition wins speaker seat in upper house of parliament
General view during the first sitting of the Senate, Poland's upper house of parliament
in Warsaw, Poland November 12, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The Polish opposition secured the post of Senate speaker in a parliamentary vote on Tuesday seen as a test of its ability to retain control of the upper house after winning it in an Oct. 13 general election.
    The loss of the Senate was a blow to the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party because that could delay some of its legislative ambitions.    These include further changes to the justice system, which have concerned the European Union.
    Since the election, Polish media have reported that PiS had made overtures to opposition senators in an attempt to establish a working majority.
    In Tuesday’s vote for speaker, the opposition candidate, centrist Civic Platform’s (PO) senator Tomasz Grodzki, a 61-year-old surgeon, won 51 votes, while the PiS’ candidate Stanislaw Karczewski received 48 votes in the 100-member Senate. One lawmaker refrained from voting.
    “This is a victory of democracy,” Grodzki told the Senate.
    During its first term in power PiS, accused by the EU of subverting the rule of law, gained a reputation for pushing through bills at breakneck speed, with hastily called late-night lower house sittings followed by quick approval from the Senate.
    “Taking over the Senate means very severe strengthening of the opposition.    For the PiS every vote lost in the Senate is an image loss,” said Warsaw University sociologist Jacek Haman.
(Reporting by Anna Koper and Marcin Goclowski; editing by Justyna Pawlak and Grant McCool)

11/12/2019 Moldova’s fledgling government felled by no-confidence vote by Alexander Tanas
FILE PHOTO: Moldova's Prime Minister Maia Sandu speaks during a joint news conference at the
Chancellery in Berlin, Germany July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
    CHISINAU (Reuters) – A no-confidence vote brought down Moldova’s government on Tuesday, threatening more instability just five months after pro-Western Prime Minister Maia Sandu took office promising to fight corruption.
    Sandu had formed an uneasy coalition with the Russian-backed Socialist Party, but relations broke down over a proposed reform of how the top prosecutor is appointed.
    “We will continue the struggle, we will not give up,” Sandu told hundreds of supporters gathered outside parliament.    “The struggle is between those who want to control justice and the prosecutor, and those who want freedom and fair justice.”
    Moldova, a country of 3.5 million situated between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, has lurched from crisis to crisis since the disappearance of $1 billion from its financial system in 2014 tarnished the reputation of its political class.
    The former Soviet state signed a political and trade agreement with the EU in 2014, angering Russia. Brussels and the International Monetary Fund support Chisinau with aid.
    EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn tweeted he was “deeply worried” about Tuesday’s vote against Sandu.    “Any change to her resolute action to reform the country over the last 5 months would have severe consequences on #EUsupport.”
    Parties now have 90 days to try to form a new government. If they fail, another parliamentary election would be called.
    Sandu, a Harvard-educated former World Bank economist known for her tough stance on corruption, had formed an unlikely alliance with the Socialists to remove a party run by a tycoon from power after an inconclusive election in February.
    Sandu’s ACUM bloc wants Moldova to join the EU while the Socialist Party formerly run by President Igor Dodon advocates closer ties to Moscow.
    After the vote, Dodon blamed Sandu for the row and called on the Socialists and ACUM to propose a new candidate for prime minister.    He said the Socialists would try to run a minority government if the two sides could not compromise.
    The coalition has tussled over who should have the power to appoint a new prosecutor general.    Sandu wanted to be able to make the choice herself, but the Socialists wanted a special commission under the justice ministry to decide.
    Sandu says the move is essential for her to be able to deliver on a promise to fight corruption and claw back the $1 billion that was stolen from three banks in a scam known locally as the “theft of the century.”
(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones)

11/13/2019 Czech-Chinese ties hit new bump as university shuts center
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping and Czech President Milos Zeman shake hands before their meeting at
the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China April 28, 2019. Madoka Ikegami/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Prague’s Charles University has closed its Czech-Chinese Centre, rector Tomas Zima said on Wednesday, after local media reports that some of its staff had failed to declare payments from the Chinese embassy intended to support its programmes.
    The reports, published in October, prompted the secretary of the center to resign.    Zima made his announcement in a statement posted on the university’s website.
    The Czech Republic has recently been trying to attract Chinese money after years of criticizing China’s human rights record.    However, the push has not generated the expected billions of dollars in Chinese investment.
    Last month, Prague city council canceled a partnership agreement with Beijing.
    And a year ago, the Czech cyber-security watchdog warned against using equipment made by China’s Huawei and ZTE in critical infrastructure.
    The Czech-Chinese Centre had been intended to promote academic and cultural exchange through some of the Charles University’s faculties.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Michael Kahn and Kevin Liffey)

11/13/2019 Ukrainian lawmakers vote to lift ban on sale of farmland by 2020 by Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk reacts after lawmakers voted to remove a ban on the sale of
farmland, at the parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian lawmakers voted on Wednesday to remove a ban on the sale of farmland for the first time in nearly two decades, a move supported by the country’s foreign backers that risks a political backlash.
    The proposal must be voted on a second time to come into force.    The ban would be lifted in October 2020 and the government says the move would add 2-3 percentage points to Ukraine’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth in its first year.
    Supporters who want to scrap the moratorium say that doing so will unlock enormous investment potential in what is already one of the world’s top grain exporters.
    But critics have concerns, including that it could allow local oligarchs to snap up land or that foreigners will muscle out poorer Ukrainians in purchasing plots.br>     As it stands, the proposed legislation stipulates that foreigners will not be able to buy land until 2024 though separately President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said the issue should be put to a referendum, without specifying a date.
    “Finally, we can move away from feudalism to real market relations as a fully fledged, developed country.    Ukrainians have the right to freely dispose of their property!” Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said on Facebook after the vote.
    The draft law sets a minimum starting price for farmland and limits the area that could be accumulated by one person or entity.
    The economy ministry forecasts that one hectare of arable land could cost $2,200, depending on the region.
    Ukraine is the world’s 44th largest country but has the ninth biggest amount of arable land, with 32.5 million hectares.    It operates around 43 million hectares of farmland compared with 178 million hectares in all European Union countries.
    The moratorium on land sales means landholders typically lease their plots to agriculture businesses.
    The World Bank has previously estimated that Ukraine could see its GDP growth rise by 1.5 percentage points yearly if the land sale ban is lifted, boost tax revenues and attract investment that would ultimately raise crop yields.
    Wednesday’s vote drew mixed reactions. Hundreds of protesters tied to opposition parties gathered outside parliament, and brought a coffin with a dead pig inside in protest.    Inside the chamber, some lawmakers temporarily blocked the podium.
    Brussels praised the move, though it stressed the reform should be based on the rule of law, transparency and fairness.
    “The EU supports the government’s plans to open the land market in Ukraine, a move that could unleash huge potential for Ukraine’s economy,” the European Union representative office in Ukraine said on Facebook.
(Editing by Matthias Williams and Dale Hudson)

11/14/2019 Croatia to hold presidential vote on Dec. 22: PM Plenkovic
FILE PHOTO: Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia will hold its presidential election on Dec. 22, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Thursday.
    The election will pit the incumbent Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, candidate of the ruling center-right Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), against the candidate of the Social Democrats and former prime minister Zoran Milanovic.    Two independent candidates also have solid support in the polls.
    The job is largely ceremonial. The president cannot veto laws but has a say in foreign policy and defense.
    According to the most recent opinion poll, in the first round of the vote Grabar-Kitarovic can expect support of some 29 percent of voters, while Milanovic is second with 24 percent.
    Miroslav Skoro, popular singer and largely seen as the candidate of the right-wing nationalist conservatives, came third with 17 percent and a former judge Mislav Kolakusic got 14 percent.
    Altogether around a dozen people voiced their intention to run for the presidency, among them a showbiz celebrity who was also a Playboy model.    They all now have to collect 10,000 signatures of citizens in the next 10 days to confirm their candidacy.
    Grabar-Kitarovic’s five-year term is seen by some observers as having little policy substance domestically while often trying to promote her popularity through populist patriotic rhetoric.
    She has been somewhat more concrete in foreign policy, promoting the so-called “Three Seas Initiative,” a stage for boosting political and economic ties between the European Union members in central and eastern Europe.
    If no one wins an outright majority in the first round, the second round will take place on Jan. 5, 2020.
    The results of the presidential election will also be an early indication of the mood among the voters ahead of the parliamentary election due to take place in late 2020.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Toby Chopra)

11/14/2019 Russia says BRICS nations favor idea of common payment system
FILE PHOTO: Chief Executive Officer of Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev attends a session of the
St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a group of major emerging economies known as BRICS, back the idea of developing a common payment system, a Russian official said on Thursday.     Russia and its BRICS peers have been looking for ways to decrease their dependence on the U.S. dollar and have advocated using their national currencies in mutual trade.     Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said “increasing non-market risks of the global payment infrastructure” was behind the plan to integrate the group’s national payment systems.
    “An efficient BRICS payment system can encourage payments in national currencies and ensure sustainable payments and investments among our countries, which make up over 20% of the global inflow of foreign direct investment,” Dmitriev, a member of the BRICS Business Council, told reporters.
    He did not give details about the payment system envisaged, but Russia began developing a national payment system as an alternative to the Belgium-based SWIFT financial messaging service in 2014 after Western sanctions were imposed on Moscow.
    U.S. and other Western sanctions aimed to punish Russia for the annexation of Crimea and its role in the Ukrainian crisis.
    Dmitriev said the five BRICS nations had also discussed creating a common cryptocurrency for mutual payments as the grouping was reducing the share of payments in the U.S. dollar.
    The share of the dollar in Russian foreign trade payments has fallen to 50% from 92% over the past few years, while the rouble’s share has risen to 14% from 3%, he said.
    Dmitriev did not say whether Russia supported the idea of the common BRICS cryptocurrency.    Previously, Russian officials spoke against any cryptocurrencies, warning that they could be used in money laundering or financing terrorism.
    The BRICS Business Council has also supported the Russian-backed initiative to create coordination centers for mutual investments within the BRICS bloc, Dmitriev said.
(Writing by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Edmund Blair)

11/14/2019 On Russia and EU enlargement, Macron pushes a radical agenda by Luke Baker
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the plenary session of the
Paris Peace Forum, France November 12, 2019. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron’s stark description of the “brain death” of transatlantic military alliance NATO grabbed headlines last week, but his views on Russia and European Union enlargement may well have greater long-term impact.
    His blunt, 8,000-word discourse with The Economist prompted soul-searching in Berlin, Brussels and other European capitals, but Moscow praised it and analysts pored over nuances, broadly seeing it as a call for Europe to chart a radical new course.
    The core argument is built around security and defense, with Macron positing that Europe must bolster its capacity and willingness to act, both because it cannot rely eternally on an unpredictable United States, and because within NATO it is being hamstrung by unilateral action like that of Turkey in Syria.
    That leads him to two major conclusions: that a Europe with strengthened defense capability and enhanced sovereignty will better counter-balance the United States and China and should reexamine strategic partnerships, including with Russia.
    And that if the European Union (EU) is to protect what it has achieved over decades, project its influence in the world and build a community of nations not just a market, it needs to consolidate gains and reassess its enlargement policy.
    “Europe must become autonomous in terms of military strategy and capability,” declared Macron, setting out the first conclusion he draws from perceived shortcomings at NATO.
    “And secondly, we need to reopen a strategic dialogue, without being naive and which will take time, with Russia."
    “Because what all this shows is that we need to reappropriate our neighborhood policy, we cannot let it be managed by third parties who do not share the same interests.”
    On Russia, Macron went into detail about the challenges President Vladimir Putin faces, and underlined that re-engagement might take 10 years and would need to be handled carefully.    But his prescription has fallen on deaf ears with outgoing European Council President Donald Tusk.
    In a speech to the College of Europe on Wednesday, the former Polish prime minister dismissed the Frenchman’s ideas, calling Russia “aggressive” and bent on undermining Europe.
    “Russia is not our ‘strategic partner’, but our ‘strategic problem’,” said Tusk, who has long voiced the threat many Poles feel from their former Soviet overlord.
    “President Macron says that he shares the same views on this subject as (Hungarian Prime Minister) Viktor Orban, and that he hopes that Mr Orban will help convince Poles to change their position on Russia.    Maybe, but not me, Emmanuel.”
FRANCO-GERMAN AXIS
    The incoming European Commission, headed by Germany’s former defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen, has promised to be more “geopolitical” in nature and may take a different approach.
    German analysts have pointed out that while Macron’s views on NATO and Russia appear radical, they coincide in many respects with opinions voiced by Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a presumed potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel.
    “It is perhaps time that France and Germany recognized just how much they agree,” wrote Ulrike Franke, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, comparing a recent speech by Kramp-Karrenbauer with Macron’s comments.
    Yet in Macron’s call for a pause to EU enlargement and a reopening with Russia, some analysts see an unspoken assumption.
    Last month, the French president stood firm at an EU summit and opposed the opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia, two of six Western Balkans countries that are eager to start paperwork on joining the EU.
    By shutting the door, critics see Macron as implicitly surrendering turf to Russia, which has already drawn Serbia into a trade deal with its Eurasian Economic Union and pressured others in the region to join the club.
    The critics fear a fate similar to Ukraine, which signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014 only to see Moscow seize Crimea and occupy east Ukraine in response, a war that continues and that Europe does not want to be drawn into.
    “The Russia question, if pushed further, divides Europe,” Ulrich Speck, a foreign policy analyst at the German Marshall Fund, wrote in an analysis on Twitter, denouncing Macron’s push for a change of strategy.
    “Europe had an agreement, reached with a lot of effort mainly by Merkel and (former U.S. leader) Obama, after Russia’s attack on Ukraine.    To unpack this without any clear strategy and without having support of main players isn’t constructive.”
    France’s former ambassador to Washington, Gerard Araud, points out that EU enlargement is unpopular in France and acknowledges that the frontiers between Russia and Europe are effectively still in play.
    “The fundamental question: Will Putin be satisfied with Ukraine as a buffer state between Russia and EU/NATO, or does he want it as a satellite-state?” he asked on Twitter.
    The answer to that question is likely to be shaped by Macron’s vision of Europe’s future.
(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

11/14/2019 Putin: Russia to deliver S-400 missiles to India as planned
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during their meeting on the
sideline of the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil November 13, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    BRASILIA (Reuters) – Russia plans to deliver S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to India on schedule, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday.
    India agreed to buy the S-400 system from Russia last year despite U.S. warnings the purchase could trigger sanctions against it. India said it needed the weapons to bolster its defenses against China.
    “As far as the S-400 deliveries are concerned, everything is going according to plan.    Our Indian colleagues have not asked to speed anything up, it’s all going fine,” Putin told reporters at a summit of BRICS countries in Brazil.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Katya Golubkova and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Tom Brown)

11/14/2019 Putin: Russia welcomes troop disengagement in Ukraine
Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Dialogue with BRICS Business Council & New Development
Bank at the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
    BRASILIA (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Moscow welcomed the disengagement of Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists at two flash points in eastern Ukraine.
    Speaking to reporters at a BRICS summit in Brazil, Putin said he did not currently have plans to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy before a four-way international summit on Ukraine.
    A breakthrough at talks between Moscow and Kiev on Oct. 1 appeared to open the way for the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to hold the first four-way summit on the conflict in three years.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Chris Reese)

11/14/2019 Georgia’s parliament fails to pass electoral changes, triggering protest by Margarita Antidze
Members of parliament attend the first session of the newly elected parliament
in Kutaisi, Georgia, November 18, 2016. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgian lawmakers failed on Thursday to pass constitutional amendments aimed at holding elections in 2020 under a proportional voting system, triggering protests outside parliament by thousands of opposition and civil activists.
    The ruling Georgian Dream Party appeared ready to support changing the system to full proportional voting from next year – one of the demands made at protests that have taken place in the capital Tbilisi since June.
    Currently one third of lawmakers in parliament are elected not by party lists, but in single-mandate constituencies.
    The switch was scheduled to happen anyway in 2024, but the opposition demanded the change be brought forward, as proportional voting is likely to make it harder for Georgian Dream to maintain its dominance in parliament.
    Parliament began discussing the amendments on Wednesday but some ruling party lawmakers, who feared proportional voting would cost them their seats, opposed the changes.
    In the ensuing vote on Thursday, 101 lawmakers endorsed the amendments – 12 short of the required majority.
    The result prompted a protest rally outside parliament, drawing thousands of people by late afternoon.
    “Georgian Dream did not support the democratic development of the country, did not support this most important bill,” Giga Makarashvili, an opposition activist, told reporters.    “This is a declared war by the Georgian Dream against its own people.”
    It was not immediately clear whether parliament might reconsider the changes, but strong popular pressure for proportional voting was likely to continue with opposition leaders calling for permanent protests.
    Leaders of all main opposition parties met after the vote.    They will demand an early parliamentary election by the proportional system and the creation of an interim government, Elene Khoshtaria, an opposition European Georgia party lawmaker, told Reuters after the meeting.
    “We will exert pressure on the government by all possible constitutional means,” Khoshtaria said.
    Opposition leaders said they suspected the abortive vote was orchestrated by Georgian Dream party chief Bidzina Ivanishvili, a wealthy oligarch whom critics suspect in governing the former Soviet republic of 3.7 million people behind the scenes.
    “No one believes in this (parliamentary) performance … This is a very bad decision for the whole society, but first of all for Bidzina Ivanishvili,” said Giga Bokeria, an opposition European Georgia party leader.
    Ivanishvili issued a statement denying having manipulated the process, saying he was “frustrated by the outcome.”
    “As leader of the ruling political force, I reaffirm my support for the transition to a proportional electoral system in 2020, and I sincerely regret that it has failed,” he said.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; editing by Mark Heinrich and Susan Fenton)

11/14/2019 North Macedonian PM says disappointed by EU but still committed
FILE PHOTO: Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev addresses the press during a news conference
in Skopje, North Macedonia October 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski
    THESSALONIKI (Reuters) – North Macedonia is disappointed by the failure of the European Union to open accession talks, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said on Thursday, but his country was still committed to joining the bloc.
    French President Emmanuel Macron led a small group of EU leaders who blocked opening talks with Albania and North Macedonia in October despite concerns over increasing Chinese and Russian influence in the Balkans.
    “We are disappointed,” Zaev told reporters after meeting his Greek counterpart, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, on the sidelines of a summit in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
    Zaev said he had ‘huge encouragement’ from Mitsotakis for the country realizing its goal.    The Greek premier said he had an agenda to assist the country, Zaev said.
    “There is no alternative for us,” Zaev said, referring to North Macedonia’s EU aspirations.
    After Skopje agreed to end a dispute with Greece over the country’s name – changing it to North Macedonia from Macedonia – the former Yugoslav republic had expected to be granted a date to start entry talks with the EU.
    Macron said the membership bids of Albania and North Macedonia could not progress until the EU changes how and when candidates are vetted on meeting accession targets which range from economic policy to human rights and the rule of law.
    Paris says the EU faces too many challenges to let in two more states from the Balkans, a region still scarred by the legacy of 1990s wars and struggling with crime and corruption.
    However, the European Commission has said blocking their accession damages the credibility of the bloc.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Alexandra Hudson, Giles Elgood)

11/15/2019 Lithuania pardons Russians sentenced for espionage, paving way to spy swap by Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda delivers a joint news conference with Finland's President Sauli Niinisto
(not pictured) at the Presidential Palace, in Helsinki, Finland November 5, 2019. Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa via REUTERS/File Photo
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuania’s president on Friday pardoned two Russians jailed for espionage and Russia said it would reciprocate the move by releasing two Lithuanians, paving the way for a possible three-way spy swap also involving Norway.
    Lithuanian news agency BNS said last month discussions were under way on exchanging two Russians jailed in Lithuania, two Lithuanians sentenced for spying in Russia and a Norwegian jailed in Russia for spying.
    Authorities in the three countries have either declined to comment on the BNS report or denied it.
    But a decree published on Friday on the Lithuanian presidency’s website showed President Gitanas Nauseda had pardoned Russian citizens Nikolai Filipchenko and Sergej Moisejenko.
    Hours later, Russian news agencies quoted Sergei Naryshkin, who heads Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), as saying Russia would take reciprocal measures though it did not say when.
    Nauseda said he would meet NATO-member Lithuania’s head of counter-intelligence, Darius Jauniskis, at 1215 GMT and they planned to hold news conference after their meeting.
FSB
    Filipchenko was detained in 2015 and sentenced in 2017 to 10 years in jail for spying and crossing a state border using a forged document, the Lithuanian general prosecutor’s office said.
    He holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), it said.
    The president also pardoned Moisejenko, who was detained in 2014 and sentenced in 2017 to 10-1/2 years for spying and illegal possession of weapons, the prosecutor’s office said.
    It said both men denied the charges, but that Filipchenko had targeted the Lithuanian president’s security staff with the aim of bugging the presidency’s office and home, and Moisejenko had sought information about Lithuanian and NATO armed forces.
    The president signed legislation earlier this week enabling him to pardon a person convicted of a crime in Lithuania in exchange for a Lithuanian citizen prosecuted abroad who “acted in the interests of Lithuania
    The October BNS article identified the two Lithuanians who could be part of a spy swap as Jevgenij Mataitis and Arstidas Tamosaitis.    Both have been jailed by Russia on spying charges.
    Norway has been seeking the release of Frode Berg, a retired guard on the Norwegian-Russian border who was arrested in Moscow in 2017 and convicted of gathering intelligence on behalf of Norway.    He pleaded not guilty to the charges.
(Writing by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; Editing by Frances Kerry and Timothy Heritage)

11/15/2019 Anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats take opinion poll lead
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Swedish Parliament Riksdagen are seen after they voted Social Democrat leader Stefan Lofven
back as prime minister, in Stockholm, Sweden January 18, 2019. TT News Agency/Jessica Gow/via REUTERS
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats have overtaken the Social Democrats to become Sweden’s most popular party for the first time, an opinion poll showed on Friday, nine years after winning its first seats in parliament.
    The Sweden Democrats would get 24.2% of the votes if an election was held today, according to a poll by Demoskop and published in the Aftonbladet daily.    The Social Democrats would get 22.2%, the lowest ever polled by Demoskop.     The Social Democrats, in government along with junior party The Greens, have been criticized in recent months for failing to deal with a gang-related crime wave.
    In the 2018 election the Sweden Democrats won 17.5% of the vote, trailing the Social Democrats on 28.3% and the Moderates on 19.8%.
(Reporting by Johan Ahlander; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/15/2019 Russian President Putin welcomes drawdown of Ukraine troops, separatist militants by OAN Newsroom
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking to Russian journalists after BRICS Business Council and the
New Development Bank, in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcoming the withdrawal of government troops and separatist militants in Eastern Ukraine.    While speaking at the BRICS summit in Brazil Thursday, Putin said the drawdown falls in line with the diplomatic effort to find a political solution to the ongoing war in Ukraine.
    The Kremlin has insisted the conflict is Ukraine’s internal matter despite the presence of Russian troops in that country.    Putin also said he has no plans to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to end the five year war.
    “A meeting before a Normandy Format meeting is out of question and if we met anyway, why would we bother to hold unprepared meetings?” asked the Russian president.    “I think it is in nobody’s interest, either mine or President Zelenskiy’s…we need to approach some solutions.”
    The Normandy Format talks between Ukraine and Russia, which are mediated by France and Germany, are expected to continue in the coming weeks.

11/15/2019 Hungary tightens control over courts and schools, raising rights concerns
FILE PHOTO: New Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga speaks during an interview
with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, July 23, 2019. REUTERS/Krisztina Than/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The Hungarian government has proposed legislation that would increase its control over the country’s courts and independent schools, raising concerns from rights groups.     One measure submitted to parliament this week would strengthen the Constitutional Court, most of whose judges are already elected by the ruling party.     Since taking power nearly a decade ago, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party has tightened its grip on the media and courts, often sparking conflict with the European Union.     Earlier this month, the government abandoned plans to set up separate administrative courts.     But it vowed to pass legislation to speed up administrative court cases that involve government bodies, and Justice Minister Judit Varga submitted a 200-pages bill this week.     It would allow state bodies to appeal to the Constitutional Court against decisions by lower courts if they think the rulings infringe their constitutional rights or restrict their authority.     Amnesty International said the bill would strengthen the control of the Constitutional Court over lower courts.
    The Hungarian Helsinki Committee said the bill would allow the government to channel politically sensitive cases to the Constitutional Court, which had often ruled in the government’s favor in the past.
    The Constitutional Court has 15 members, elected by a parliament in which Fidesz has a two-thirds majority.
    Varga has said the government aimed to provide a “clear framework” for administrative litigation, and speed up appeals.
    Orban says Fidesz has won repeated election victories since 2010 and its large majority in parliament entitles it to make changes.
    The government also submitted draft legislation to parliament which would force independent schools to re-apply for their licenses from next year, making their future operation conditional on approval by the minister in charge of education.
    Alternative schools – whose teaching methods and curricula differ from state schools – would have to apply for a new license by April.    Those failing to do so will not be allowed to open for the next school year.
    “From now on, it will be up to the whims of the minister to decide which schools will be able to operate and which will not,” said Marton Asboth, a lawyer at the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union.
    The bill says the changes will ensure compatibility among schools.
    The Hungarian Waldorf Alliance, a group of alternative schools, said the bill would end state recognition of alternative teaching methods.
    Billionaire George Soros has already had a run-in with the government over education.    His Central European University had to open a campus in Vienna this year after it said key teaching programs were forced out of Hungary.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/15/2019 Moving university to Vienna, Soros vows to defend academic freedom from Orban
FILE PHOTO: Billionaire investor George Soros speaks to the audience at the
Schumpeter Award in Vienna, Austria June 21, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Billionaire George Soros opened the new main campus of his Central European University in Vienna on Friday, saying it would not halt its struggle to defend academic freedom from Viktor Orban, the right wing leader he says hounded it from Hungary.
    CEU’s decision last year to move the bulk of its courses out of Hungary followed a long struggle between Hungarian-born Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and Orban’s anti-immigrant government.
    Since it was founded by Soros in 1991, CEU has been a gateway to the West for thousands of students from eastern Europe, offering U.S.-accredited graduate degree programs in an academic climate that celebrates free thought
.
    But after sustained public campaigns to vilify Soros, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party changed the law in 2017 to ban foreign-registered universities that do not also offer courses in their home country.
    “CEU has steadfastly defended the principle of academic freedom against a concentrated attack by the corrupt government of Viktor Orban, who was hellbent to destroy it,” Soros said at the inauguration of CEU’s Vienna campus.
    “CEU’s epic struggle against the repressive regime generated worldwide support.    That struggle is still ongoing,” he added.
    The university has moved its U.S.-accredited courses to Vienna.    It has maintained a presence in Budapest, which Soros said was in recognition of the support shown by other academics.
    The move to Vienna was supported by the city’s left-wing government led by Mayor Michael Ludwig of the Social Democrats.
    “An academic institution was told that it was no longer welcome in a nation’s capital city,” Ludwig said, describing the situation as “something that I believe to be unthinkable and should in fact have no place in a united Europe.”
    The European Union has long criticized Orban and his Fidesz party for policies it says threaten the rule of law by imposing party control over the judiciary, media and other institutions.
    Many European politicians have also condemned Orban’s attacks on Soros, who is Jewish, as anti-Semitic.    Fidesz rejects those accusations.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/16/2019 Czechs rally against political leaders on eve of Velvet Revolution anniversary by Jan Lopatka
A man waves the Czech flag as demonstrators attend an anti-government rally, organised by Million Moments for Democracy,
a day ahead of the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that led to the fall
of Communism in former Czechoslovakia, in Prague, Czech Republic November 16, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Around a quarter million Czechs rallied against the prime minister and president on Saturday over concerns the pair are chipping away at democracy in the deeply divided nation celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.
    Protesters from around the nation of 10.7 million filled Prague’s Letna park, waving Czech and EU flags at the site of the biggest rallies in November 1989 when communist rule in Czechoslovakia crumbled peacefully weeks after the Berlin Wall fell.
    Many in the crowd chanted “we are here,” echoing the cry from 30 years ago during the protests that propelled Vaclav Havel into office.
    Organizers want Prime Minister Andrej Babis to sever ties to his Agrofert business they say represents a conflict of interest, or step down by the end of the year.
    Babis — a billionaire businessman — has said he has resolved any issues by moving his assets to trust funds.
    “Some of our politicians do not understand why we are here. Others do not want to spoil the holidays,” said Benjamin Roll, vice chairman of the Million Moments for Democracy Association, which organized the protest.    “The struggle for freedom and democracy never ends.”
    The speakers, including former dissidents who spoke at the 1989 rallies, said Babis and President Milos Zeman were unfit for office.     Police estimated the crowd at 200,000 while organizers pegged the turnout at 250,000.
    Babis and his populist ANO party remain by far the most popular but also the most divisive political force due to the businessman’s background before 1989 when he was a Communist party member and had contacts with the secret police.
    Zeman, who has fostered warmer relations with Russia and China, described the protests as undemocratic because they fail to respect a decision to drop fraud charges against Babis and parliament’s rejection of calls for his own impeachment.
    “I would like to note that Andrej Babis had 1.5 million votes in an election and I had 2.85 million votes,” Zeman said in an interview for news website ParlamentniListy.cz.    “Against that the participation at Letna is a small fraction.”
    A quarter million Czechs protested in June when a new justice minister was brought in as Babis faced a criminal investigation over subsidy fraud.    While state prosecutors dropped that probe, the European Commission is looking into Babis for potential conflicts of interest related to farm subsidies.
    Both Zeman and Babis have kept a low profile in the lead up to the 30-year anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on November 17, which will feature events around the city and a reenactment of the student protest in 1989 that sparked the wider rallies.
(Writing by Michael Kahn, Editing by Clelia Oziel)

11/17/2019 Russia begins moving captured Ukrainian ships before possible handover
Seized Ukrainian naval ships are guarded by Russia's Coast Guard vessels in the port in Kerch, near the bridge
connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, Crimea November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Alla Dmitrieva
    KERCH, Crimea (Reuters) – Russia began moving three captured Ukrainian navy ships on Sunday after a Russian newspaper reported Moscow would return them to Ukraine ahead of a four-way summit on eastern Ukraine next month, a Reuters reporter said.
    The reporter in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, saw tug boats pulling the three vessels through the Kerch Strait toward the Black Sea where they could potentially travel onwards toward Ukraine.
    Russia seized the ships off the coast of Crimea in November last year after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors.    Moscow said the ships – two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat – had illegally entered its territorial waters. Kiev denied that.
    Russia returned the sailors who had been on board the ships to Ukraine in September as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
    Russia’s Conversant newspaper reported on Saturday that Moscow had decided to return the ships to Ukraine and that they would be towed into the Black Sea by Russian tug boats and handed over to three Ukrainian tug boats.
    The move is likely to be seen as a confidence-building measure ahead of a planned summit on Ukraine next month.
    The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine will meet in Paris on Dec. 9 in an attempt to advance efforts for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the French presidency said on Friday.
    Various Russian media outlets have reported that the ships will be returned to Ukraine without their guns and documentation.
    Over 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which prompted Western sanctions.    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy won a landslide election victory in April promising to end the simmering conflict.
(Reporting by Reuters reporter in Crimea and Andrey Kuzmin in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/17/2019 Belarus holds parliamentary election as strongman leader keeps grip by Andrei Makhovsky
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko casts his vote at a polling station during the
parliamentary election in Minsk, Belarus November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus voted on Sunday in parliamentary elections that will be closely watched by the West to see how much leeway President Alexander Lukashenko will allow opposition candidates while keeping his grip on power.
    Lukashenko, 65, has ruled the East European country with an iron fist for a quarter of a century, but has begun allowing some opposition in a bid to foster ties with the West as relations with Moscow sputter.
    Speaking to reporters after casting his ballot, Lukashenko played down the influence any opposition lawmakers could have while also announcing he would stand for another term as president next year.
    “I take into account how our elections will be received in the West and in the East, but we are holding these elections for ourselves,” he said.
    “Well, what difference does it make to the president if there are 3-4 opposition members?” he added.    “They will not determine politics.”
    A buffet that included stuffed pike, chickens and pies was laid out at the president’s polling station.    Providing buffets is a Belarus tradition to encourage citizens to vote.
    Lukashenko also used the occasion to threaten Russia with pulling out of signing an integration deal next month unless Moscow resolved a dispute over energy subsidies.
NO CHANGE POSSIBLE
    In September, the U.S. and Belarus announced they would resume ambassadorial relations for the first time since 2008.
    Washington also signaled it might further scale back sanctions on Minsk depending on how Sunday’s parliamentary elections and the 2020 presidential vote are conducted.
    U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed on Belarus over its treatment of political opponents were mostly lifted in 2016 following the release of political prisoners and other reforms.
    But relations with Russia, a traditional ally, suffered after Minsk refused to recognize Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
    Moscow also cut subsidies to Belarus that have long kept the country of 9.5 million in its orbit.
    Lukashenko has bristled at what he sees as Russia’s attempt to strongarm his country into merging with its much larger neighbor, and accused Moscow of falling into “hysterics” over his moves to balance ties between East and West.
    On Sunday he threatened to pull out of signing a roadmap to bring their economies closer together that could include a unified tax code and a single regulator of oil, gas and electricity markets.
    At the last parliamentary elections, in 2016, Lukashenko allowed two opposition candidates to win seats in the 110-member parliament for the first time in two decades, though both have been barred from standing this time around.
    “The result has long been determined. The authorities have selected approved candidates.    A change of power in Belarus is not possible through elections,” Nikolai Statkevich, a leading opposition figure, told Reuters.
    “Belarus faces being incorporated into Russia. Lukashenko is resisting, but he has no leverage for a long resistance,” said Statkevich, who was imprisoned for four years after running against Lukashenko for the presidency in 2010.
    Weak economic growth has prompted some election candidates loyal to Lukashenko to speak about the need for reform rather than maintaining stability.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Mike Harrison and Angus MacSwan)

11/17/2019 Russia flags possible 2019 summit on eastern Ukraine
FILE PHOTO - Russia's presidential aide Yuri Ushakov speaks with journalists after 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 summit between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine to try to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine is possible this year but no date has been agreed, a Kremlin aide said on Sunday.
    France said on Friday that the so-called Normandy summit will take place in Paris on Dec. 9, but Moscow has not confirmed either the plans or the date.
    “I think there will be a chance to organize (the summit) this year.    I can’t say the exact date, because it is still under discussion, but, obviously, this year,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told a news show on local TV network Russia-1.
    If it happens, the Normandy summit, named after a meeting in the northwestern French region of the leaders of the four countries in 2014, will take place following a breakthrough in relations between Russia and Ukraine.
    Moscow and Kiev exchanged prisoners in September and this month Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed rebels began withdrawing from a village in the disputed Donbass region.
    Russia began moving three captured Ukrainian navy ships on Sunday, Reuters reported, after a Russian newspaper said Moscow would return them to Ukraine ahead of a summit.
    The summit plans are not directly tied to legislation giving Donbass a special status, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during the same Sunday news show, Interfax reported.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin, editing by Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)

11/17/2019 Belarus threatens to pull out of Russia integration deal over subsidy row
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses the media after casting his vote duringr
the parliamentary election in Minsk, Belarus November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Sunday threatened to pull out of signing an integration deal with Russia next month if Moscow failed to resolve their dispute over energy subsidies.
    Russia has propped up its traditional ally with loans and subsidies to keep Belarus in its political orbit but now plans to phase these out to lessen the burden on its economy.
    That has strained ties at the same time as Lukashenko has sought to improve relations with the West.
    Belarus previously said that it stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year from changes to Russian tax policy and has tried to negotiate compensation.    Russia says the subsidies cost its exchequer billions of dollars.
    The two countries are due to sign a roadmap in December to bring their economies closer together.
    That includes a unified tax code, closely aligned banking supervision, and a single regulator of oil, gas and electricity markets, according to details of the plan revealed by Russia’s Kommersant newspaper in September.
    “If our fundamental issues are not resolved: on the supply of hydrocarbons, on the opening of markets, no roadmaps can be signed,” Lukashenko told reporters on the same day as Belarus held parliamentary elections.
    Lukashenko previously accused Russia of trying to strong-arm his country into fully merging with its neighbor and has accused Moscow of falling into “hysterics” over his moves to balance ties between east and west.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; editing by Matthias Williams and Louise Heavens)

11/17/2019 Tens of thousands gather in Tbilisi to demand snap elections in Georgia by Margarita Antidze
Opposition supporters chain the gate of the parliament during a rally to protest against the government
and demand an early parliamentary election, in Tbilisi, Georgia November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) – About 20,000 people rallied in the center of the Georgian capital Tbilisi on Sunday to protest against the government and to demand an early parliamentary election.
    The protest took place days after the parliament failed to pass a planned electoral reform, a move to full proportional representation from the present mixed system.
    Currently almost a half of lawmakers in parliament are elected not by party lists but in single-mandate constituencies.
    Constitutional amendments on electoral changes fell short by 12 votes to be passed as some lawmakers from the ruling Georgian Dream Party, who feared proportional voting would cost them their seats, opposed the changes.
    The switch was scheduled to happen in 2024, but the opposition demanded it be brought forward for the election due in October next year, saying the system unfairly favors Georgian Dream, which has ruled since 2012.
    Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the U.S. Embassy said on Thursday they were disappointed by the vote result and urged lawmakers to find ways to approve the measure.
    “The time has come to finish the Ivanishvili regime in Georgia,” Giorgi Vashadze, an opposition New Georgia leader, said, referring to ruling party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch who critics accuse of ruling the country from behind the scenes.
    All main opposition parties in the ex-Soviet country of 3.7 million joined forces for the protest to demand an earlier vote to be held by proportional system, the resignation of the government and the creation of an interim government.
    “We will not let this parliament work…The doors of this parliament will open only when we accept the surrender of Ivanishvili,” Gigi Ugulava, an opposition European Georgia leader, said.
    All entrances to the parliament would be blocked by opposition activists, she said.
    Activists also put locks on parliament’s gates in a symbolic gesture and pitched tents around the building.
    Protestors blew vuvuzelas and held placards reading “Together against one!,” referring to Ivanishvili.
    Opposition leaders said they suspected the failure of the electoral reform was orchestrated by Ivanishvili, although he denied manipulating the process.
(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

11/17/2019 Anti-government protests in Georgia after electoral reform fails by OAN Newsroom
Demonstrators wave Georgian and American, center left, flags as they gather at the Georgian
parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)
    Anti-government protests broke out in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia over a failed electoral reform. At least 20,000 people took to the streets of Tbilisi on Sunday to denounce the growing influence of the Russian government in their country.
    “This is our peaceful, nonviolent demonstration against this regime,” stated opposition party member Giorgi Baramidze.    “We are sure no government, no regime, can win against the people.”
    Protesters carried the flags of Georgia and the EU, calling on the government to uphold sovereignty of their country.
    “Our demands are the same: free elections with a proportional system, resignation of the government of Georgia — Prime Minister Gakharia — and new administration of the central election committee,” explained United National Movement member Khatia Dekanoidze.
    Demonstrators are urging the government to respect the achievements of the Rose Revolution back in 2003 and ensure the integrity of the nation’s electoral system.
    The government said the proposed reform would put ruling party Georgian Dream at a disadvantage and put Georgia on course to enter the EU.
A demonstrator waves a Georgian National flag as others gather at the Georgian parliament
building in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Zurab Tsertsvadze)

11/18/2019 Russia hands back captured naval ships to Ukraine before summit by Maria Kiselyova and Natalia Zinets
Seized Ukrainian naval ships are guarded by Russia's Coast Guard vessels in the port in Kerch, near the bridge
connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, Crimea November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Alla Dmitrieva
    MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Russia on Monday handed back three naval ships it captured last year to Ukraine, something Kiev wanted to happen before a four-way peace summit on eastern Ukraine next month in Paris.
    The handover, confirmed by the two countries’ foreign ministries, occurred in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    Russia seized the ships in the same area in November last year after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors.    Moscow said the ships – two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tug boat – had illegally entered its territorial waters.    Kiev denied that.
    Russia returned the sailors who had been on board the ships to Ukraine in September as part of a prisoner exchange deal.
    Various Russian media outlets reported that the ships would be returned to Ukraine on Monday without their ammunition and documentation.
    Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Moscow would respond harshly in future to what it called any similar maritime “provocations” near its borders.
    Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the three captured ships were en route to the port of Odessa.
    It said that their original voyage, which Russia had interpreted as a border violation, had been peaceful and legal and that Kiev planned to pursue a case against Russia over the matter at an international arbitration panel in the Netherlands.
    Despite those and other continuing tensions, the handover is likely to be seen as a confidence-building measure ahead of the planned Ukraine summit however.
    The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine will meet in Paris on Dec. 9 in an attempt to advance efforts for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the French presidency said on Friday.
    More than 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula, which prompted Western sanctions.    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy won a landslide election victory in April promising to end the conflict.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/18/2019 Opposition wins no seats in Belarus election as Lukashenko vows to stay put by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addresses the media after casting his vote during
the parliamentary election in Minsk, Belarus November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko maintained his hold on power after results published early on Monday showed not a single opposition candidate had won a seat in parliamentary elections over the weekend.
    Lukashenko has governed the former Soviet country with an iron fist for a quarter of a century and plans to extend his rule beyond next year, announcing on Sunday he would stand in the 2020 presidential election.
    The 65-year-old has given more leeway to the opposition and released political prisoners in recent years in a bid to improve ties with the West after rowing with traditional ally Moscow.
    But official data on Monday showed, on a 77% turnout, no opposition figure won a seat. At the last election in 2016, two opposition members won seats for the first time in 20 years but neither was allowed to stand again this time around.
    Lukashenko said the Belarusian people could vote him out of office next year if they no longer wanted him.
    “I have promised that I would not hang on to this seat until my fingers turn blue.    Trust me, it’s not really the softest chair,” he told reporters.
    Lukashenko also used the occasion to threaten Russia with pulling out of signing an integration deal next month unless Moscow resolved a dispute over energy subsidies.
    There were some low-key protests of around 300-400 people in the run-up to the election that the opposition said was a foregone conclusion.
    “The result has long been determined. The authorities have selected approved candidates.    A change of power in Belarus is not possible through elections,” Nikolai Statkevich, a leading opposition figure, told Reuters.
    In September, the United States and Belarus announced they would resume ambassadorial relations for the first time since 2008.
    Washington also signaled it might further scale back sanctions on Minsk depending on how Sunday’s parliamentary elections and the 2020 presidential vote were conducted.
    U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed on Belarus over its treatment of political opponents were mostly lifted in 2016 following the release of political prisoners and other reforms.
    But relations with Russia suffered after Minsk refused to recognize Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
    Moscow also cut subsidies to Belarus that have long kept the country of 9.5 million in its orbit.
    Lukashenko has bristled at what he sees as Russia’s attempt to strongarm his country into merging with its much larger neighbor, and accused Moscow of falling into “hysterics” over his moves to balance ties between East and West.
    “Belarus faces being incorporated into Russia. Lukashenko is resisting, but he has no leverage for a long resistance,” said Statkevich, who was imprisoned for four years after running against Lukashenko for the presidency in 2010.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/18/2019 Russia offers job to Maria Butina, woman convicted by U.S. of being an agent
FILE PHOTO: Convicted Russian agent Maria Butina, who was released from a Florida prison and then deported
by U.S. immigration officials, meets journalists upon the arrival at Sheremetyevo International Airport
outside Moscow, Russia October 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – In her first public appearance since being deported by U.S. authorities who had jailed her for being a Russian agent, Maria Butina was on Monday offered a job by Moscow to defend Russians imprisoned abroad.
    During an event for the media, Russia’s human rights commissioner, Tatyana Moskalkova, offered Butina, 31, a job working for her commission.
    “I invite you to work in our group defending compatriots abroad.    I’m sure together we’ll be able to do a lot of good for people who’ve ended up in tough situations abroad,” Moskalkova said.
    Butina, who flew back to Russia on Oct. 26 after being deported, did not say whether she would accept the offer made at what she called her first public appearance since she was mobbed by well-wishers in front of the media at the airport on her arrival home.
    Butina pleaded guilty in December last year to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia by infiltrating a gun rights group and influencing U.S. conservative activists and Republicans, a conviction slammed as ridiculous by Moscow.
    Russia accused Washington of forcing Butina to confess.
    The case put strain on relations that were already under pressure from an array of issues including U.S. allegations of Russian election meddling and Russia’s annexation of Crimea.    Moscow denies any interference in U.S. elections.
    Moskalkova invited Butina to help her commission defend the rights of Russians abroad such as Konstantin Yaroshenko, a pilot serving 20 years in the United States for conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the country.
    Moskalkova said she also knew that Butina had been offered a job in the State Duma, the Russian lower house of parliament, and urged her to accept that one too.
    The case of Yaroshenko, who was arrested by U.S. special forces in Liberia in 2010, and others like it have prompted Russia to accuse the United States of hunting its citizens across the world.
    The United States has accused the Russians in question of specific crimes and sought their extradition and arrest with regard to those crimes.
    Russia said last week it had lodged a formal diplomatic protest after Israel extradited a Russian man to the United States where he faces a slew of serious cyber crime charges.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Alison Williams)

11/19/2019 Russian court rejects appeal by ex-U.S. Marine held on spying charges: Ifax
Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who is charged with espionage against Russia, is seen on a screen via
a video link during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Tuesday ruled to keep former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan in custody facing spying charges after it rejected his appeal against the extension of his detention until late December, Interfax news agency reported.
    Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained last December and accused of espionage.    Moscow says he was caught red-handed, but he denies the allegations and says he was set up in a politically motivated sting.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/19/2019 Poland to continue reform of justice system: PM
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland will continue to overhaul its justice system, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Tuesday in a speech laying out policy plans after the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party won a general election on Oct. 13.
    Critics at home and abroad say PiS introduced changes to the court system that subvert the rule of law during its first four years in power.
    Morawiecki gave no further details.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Agnieszka Barteczko)

11/19/2019 Opposition in Georgia vows further anti-government protests
FILE PHOTO: Riot police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against the government
demanding an early parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia November 18, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia’s opposition plans further anti-government protests and will demand an early parliamentary election, its leaders said on Tuesday, a day after police dispersed demonstrators in the capital Tbilisi.
    Police used water cannon to scatter the protesters outside parliament on Monday and unblocked entrances to the building, arresting 37 people.    But hundreds of protesters re-assembled in front of parliament on Tuesday evening.
    “Our protest will continue until the resolution of the crisis that Ivanishvili created in the country,” David Bakradze, leader of the European Georgia party, referring to ruling party leader Bidzina Ivanishvili, an oligarch who critics accuse of ruling the former Soviet republic from behind the scenes.
    The protests began last week after parliament failed to approve a planned electoral reform – a move to full proportional voting from the mixed system at present.
    The switch was scheduled to happen in 2024, but the opposition demanded it be brought forward, saying the system unfairly favors the Georgian Dream party, which has ruled since 2012.
    Bakradze said the opposition’s actions would be non-violent, although he did not rule out blocking entrances to parliament again next week.
    Protesters also demanded the release of the 37 arrested for blocking parliament on Monday.    A Tbilisi city court postponed hearings on their cases.
    Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia said on Tuesday blocking entrances to parliament was illegal.    “Freedom of expression in the country is fully protected by law, but in case of illegal blocking of the state institutions, the police will act within the law…,” Gakharia told reporters.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/19/2019 Ukraine says it’s ready to accept ‘reasonable compromise’ on conflict by Pavel Polityuk
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko attends a news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine is ready to accept a “reasonable compromise” at a four-way summit on settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said on Tuesday.
    Leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France are expected to meet next month in the so-called Normandy format to try to end a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces that has killed more than 13,000 people in five years.
    “We are going to the Normandy meeting with open ideas, an open mind, ready to accept a reasonable compromise,” Prystaiko told reporters at a meeting with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
    Maas said Germany and France would do everything to help reach a permanent solution to the conflict and added that “from our point of view it’s time for Russia to step up to the plate” to help end the conflict.
    The summit will be the first time the leaders of the four countries have met in more than three years and will follow a series of confidence-building measures by Kiev and Moscow, including a prisoner swap and phased troop withdrawals.
    Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 after a Moscow-backed president was ousted in street protests, and was placed under international sanctions soon afterwards.
    Ukraine says Russia engineered unrest by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine that developed into a full-scale conflict, an accusation that Moscow denies.
PRESIDENT UNSHAVEN
    Previous attempts to end the fighting have failed, with each side accusing the other of violating a ceasefire that was agreed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in 2015.
    “The implementation of an agreement that’s been reached can only be measured through actions and results.    And through actions and results, trust can also be established,” Maas said.
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy came to power this year on a pledge to end the war, but his peace moves have also led to protests by demonstrators who accuse him of ceding too much ground to Moscow.
    Speaking at a separate event earlier on Tuesday, Zelenskiy said Ukraine wanted to negotiate a clear timeline for the return of its territories and people at the four-way summit.
    Usually clean-shaven, Zelenskiy was sporting facial hair and said he would not shave until he saw with his own eyes the return of three ships captured in a skirmish with Russia last year. Russia handed back the ships on Monday.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/19/2019 Ukraine wants timeline for return of territories from Russia at December summit
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shows the way to Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis
during a meeting in Kiev, Ukraine November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine wants to negotiate a clear timeline for the return of its territories and people from Russia at a four-way summit on the Donbass conflict in December, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told reporters on Tuesday.
    Usually clean-shaven, Zelenskiy was sporting facial hair and said he would not shave until he saw with his own eyes the return of three ships captured in a skirmish with Russia last year. Russia handed back the ships on Monday.
    “I would like to have results,” Zelenskiy said about the summit between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany.    “We need to agree on the return of our territories.    I’m talking first about some clear timelines.”
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing by Matthias Williams)

11/19/2019 Hungary’s ruling party to curtail freedom of action, access for MPs by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban arrives at a European Union summit
in Brussels, Belgium October 17, 2019. Julien Warnand/Pool via REUTERS
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s Parliament will begin discussing on Wednesday a bill that restricts its members’ freedom of action, a ruling party proposal that has led to renewed accusations of authoritarianism on the part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    Under the bill, MPs will no longer be able to show up unannounced at public institutions or government-owned companies and demand documents, losing an element of surprise.
    Breaking house protocol will carry penalties of up to 60 days’ exclusion from parliamentary premises and loss of up to 12 months of pay.
    The bill is another instance of Orban’s ruling party, Fidesz, tightening its hold on Hungary, a process that has been going on for a decade.    The European Union has investigated rule of law concerns in Hungary and could suspend the country’s EU voting rights.
    MPs critical of the government say the bill is a further erosion of democratic checks and balances.
    “This is clearly a rights violation for MPs,” independent MP Akos Hadhazy, a vocal anti-corruption advocate, told Reuters.    “They don’t strip us of our rights: they strip millions of citizens that we represent.”
    At the 2018 parliament elections, 2.8 million Hungarians voted for Fidesz and 2.9 million for other groups. Hungary’s population is just under 10 million.
    Orban and Fidesz have denied exerting outsized control, pointing to three general election victories and a two-thirds majority in parliament.
    Fidesz’s hold on power may be weakening, though. Major cities — including the capital, Budapest — handed power to an opposition alliance in municipal elections last month.
    The bill’s proponents say it’s intended to preserve Parliament’s honour and efficiency, not stifle criticism.    But Fidesz group leader Mate Kocsis posted the news on Facebook, adding: “Anarchists, attention!    Parliament violence and obscenity will be penalized.”
    The comments come after Hadhazy held up signs during a recent Orban speech in Parliament, including: “He must lie to cover up all his thieving.”
    Orban, whose family and friends have been among the greatest beneficiaries of public procurement and saw their wealth skyrocket in the past decade, has consistently denied having any business interests.
    Bernadett Szel, another independent opposition MP, called the bill “a brutal attack on opposition politics and parties in Hungary … But an abuse of power is never a sign of strength; on the contrary: one of weakness.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai, editing by Larry King)

11/19/2019 Poland sees big state role in economy, more court reforms by Alan Charlish and Agnieszka Barteczko
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s prime minister set out plans on Tuesday to strengthen the state’s role in the economy and deepen an overhaul of the justice system that has put Warsaw on a collision course with its European Union partners.
    Mateusz Morawiecki said the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party would continue increasing welfare spending and the share of Polish capital in domestic companies, underlining its break with the free-market reforms of liberal governments before it.
    Neoliberals have fueled a sense of confusion in our value system.    Many people were led to believe that the state is a ball and chain,” he said in a policy speech to parliament after an Oct. 13 election that gave PiS four more years in power.
    “Extremes are not good.    We are building a normal state,” he said.
    Morawiecki spoke repeatedly of a return to “normality,” referring both to PiS’s economic policies and its conservative vision of the traditional family which has won over voters but has been criticized by opponents for encouraging homophobia.
    He promised new welfare programs to help families with at least three children and the elderly.
    In separate comments, PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said: “Our society… must be based on the Polish family, the family in its traditional sense.    A family which takes the form of a relationship between a man and a woman.”
    Opposition lawmakers criticized PiS’s vision of normality
.
    “The desire for normality means the rule of law and economic prudence, and you break those principles day after day,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, leader of the largest opposition party, Civic Platform.
CONCERNS OVER RULE OF LAW
    Since returning to power in 2015, PiS has introduced changes to how courts are run and altered some of the rules governing the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court.
    The European Commission, the EU executive, responded by launching legal action over reforms which it says threaten the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
    The European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that it was up to Poland’s Supreme Court to decide on the independence of the Disciplinary Chamber and the National Judiciary Council, offering some criteria on adherence to EU law.
    Morawiecki gave no details of the next steps PiS plans to take in its reforms of the judiciary.    The party says further reforms are intended to make the court system more efficient but opponents say the reforms made so far have politicized it.
    PiS has said it will keep a balanced budget in 2020, benefiting from one-off revenues and fast economic growth, although some economists say such plans are too ambitious at a time when the European economy is slowing down.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Alan Charlish, Joanna Plucinska, Anna Koper and Pawel Florkiewicz, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/19/2019 Russia balks at Turkish idea of new Syrian military operation by Andrew Osborn and Polina Devitt
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) attend a joint news conference
following Russian-Turkish talks in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Tuesday it was bewildered by a Turkish pledge to conduct a new military operation in northern Syria if the area was not cleared of people Ankara calls terrorists, warning that any such move would damage efforts to stabilise the region.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was cited on Monday as saying his country would launch a new military operation in northeast Syria if the area was not cleared of Kurdish YPG militia.
    State-owned Anadolu agency quoted him as saying that Russia and the United States had not done what was required under agreements that halted a Turkish offensive last month and called on them to make good on their pledges.
    His comments, and Russia’s frosty reaction to them, reflect emerging tensions over Syria between Moscow and Ankara less than a month after President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan struck a deal that saw Syrian and Russian forces deploy in northeast Syria to remove the Kurdish YPG fighters and their weapons from the border with Turkey.
    Russia’s Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday it was puzzled by Cavusoglu’s statement on several different levels and that Moscow had carried out in full its obligations under the Putin-Erdogan deal.
    “Thanks to a range of measures implemented by the Russian Federation, it was possible to significantly stabilise the situation,” Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian Defence Ministry, said in a statement.
    “The head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s call for military action can only escalate the situation in northern Syria rather than sort things out in the way set out in a joint memorandum signed by the presidents of Russia and Turkey,” Konashenkov added.
    He listed areas where he thought Russia had helped bring about real progress, including quickly separating conflicting sides and conducting joint patrols with the Turkish armed forces.
    Moscow is in the process of deploying more Russian military police to northeast Syria, setting up field hospitals for civilians, distributing humanitarian aid and rebuilding infrastructure, he said.

11/19/2019 Russia unlikely to deepen oil output cuts: sources by Olesya Astakhova and Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is seen
at OPEC's headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is unlikely to agree to deepen cuts in oil output at a meeting with fellow exporters next month, but could commit to extend existing curbs to support Saudi Arabia, three sources said on Tuesday.
    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meets on Dec. 5 at its headquarters in Vienna, followed by talks with a group of other exporters, which includes Russia, known as OPEC+.
    Also on Dec. 5, Saudi Arabia is set to announce the pricing for the public share placement of its energy giant, Saudi Aramco , in what it hopes will be the world’s largest IPO. The oil price at the time is likely to be critical to the pricing of the share offering.
    The sources told Reuters that OPEC and its allies are worried about weak demand growth in 2020.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin set the tone for the December meeting last week, calling Saudi Arabia’s position ahead of the talks “tough.”
    Moscow argues that it will be hard for it to cut oil production voluntarily during the cold winter months, especially in western Siberia, where Russia produces two-thirds of its oil and where most of its well rigs are located.
    Experts have said that an oil well could explode if halted in frozen conditions.    However, there are risks that extreme low temperatures of around minus 50 Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit), could lead to an involuntary production decline.
    When the cuts agreement started on Jan. 1 2017, Russia implemented its commitments gradually, only reaching full compliance in May that year.
    “We expect uneasy talks in December.    Russia will not categorically agree to (deepen) cuts in winter,” a source familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.    The oil ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
SURPRISES” POSSIBLE
    In the latest iteration of the deal, OPEC, Russia and some other large oil producers, have agreed to cut their combined oil output by 1.2 million barrels per day from Jan.1. The agreement runs through to the end of March.
    “Serious consultations have not yet started.    Rollover looks more likely.    Russia cannot reduce more in winter time. But surprises are always a possibility,” an OPEC source said.
    On Monday, a source familiar with the data told Reuters that in November Russia had increased its oil production to 11.25 million barrels per day (bpd), missing its output targets.
    Under the pact with OPEC and non-OPEC oil producers, Russia should cap output at around 11.17-11.18 million bpd, according to Reuters calculations, which use a tonne/barrel ratio of 7.33.
    Russian natural gas supplies to China, which are set to start next month, will also boost output of gas condensate, part of the oil mix.
    Another industry source said that Russian companies are seeking to boost their output in 2020 to support the state budget.
    Alexei Kudrin, a close ally of Putin and head of the Audit Chamber, has said that Russia’s budgeted spending will be 1 trillion roubles ($16 billion) lower this year compared to the previous year.
(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow, Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Rania El-Gamal in Dubai. Editing by James Drummond and Gareth Jones)

11/20/2019 Russia says Turkey told Moscow no new Syria operation planned: TASS
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends the Moscow Nonproliferation
Conference in Moscow, Russia November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Ankara had assured Moscow that it did not plan to launch a new military operation in Syria despite earlier comments, the TASS news agency reported.
    Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu agency on Monday cited Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying Ankara would launch a new military operation in northeast Syria if the area was not cleared of what he called terrorists.
    Lavrov also said that the withdrawal of Kurdish militants in northern Syria was almost complete, RIA reported.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Catherine Evans)

11/20/2019 Putin says Russian oil output is up despite global deal curbs
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual VTB Capital "Russia Calling"
Investment Forum in Moscow, Russia, November 20, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s oil output has increased despite production curbs agreed with OPEC and other oil exporters, President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday.
    Putin, speaking at a business conference, said Russia wanted the energy market to be balanced and predictable and would continue working with Saudi Arabia and OPEC in that sphere.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/20/2019 Ukraine says Russia returned ships in bad condition
FILE PHOTO: A seized Ukrainian ship is towed by a Russian Coast Guard vessel out of the port in Kerch, near the bridge
connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula, Crimea November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Alla Dmitrieva
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian naval ships, captured by Russia last November and released on Tuesday to be returned to Ukraine, are in very poor condition and cannot move independently, the commander of Ukraine’s navy said on Wednesday.
    Russia seized three ships in the Kerch Strait last year after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors.    Moscow said the ships – two small Ukrainian armored artillery vessels and a tug boat – had illegally entered its territorial waters.    Kiev denied that.
    The dispute has caused friction between Moscow and the West, which has backed the Ukrainian position that the ships should not have been held.    The Kerch strait, which separates mainland Russia from Crimea, is the only outlet from the Azov Sea, where Ukraine has major cities and ports, and Ukraine says it cannot be denied access.
    Ukrainian navy chief Vice Admiral Ihor Voronchenko told Ukrainian television’s ‘4th channel’ the ships had not yet reached Ukrainian territorial waters because they were being towed so slowly.
    “They do not go on their own.    The Russians ruined them – even took off lamps, power outlets and toilets.    We will show the whole world the Russian barbarism towards them.”
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is due to greet the ships in the port of Ochakiv in the southern Mykolayiv region.     Moscow returned the sailors who had been on board the ships to Ukraine in September as part of a prisoner exchange.
    The release of the ships took place ahead of a four-way peace summit on eastern Ukraine set for Dec. 9 in Paris.    The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine will meet in an attempt to advance efforts for a peaceful resolution to the conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people in five years.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk)

11/20/2019 Ukrainian President Zelensky pushes for peace ahead of talks with Russia by OAN Newsroom
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks during talks with journalists in
Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is advancing a peace settlement in Eastern Ukraine ahead of talks with Russia.    The Ukrainian president reopened a bridge on Wednesday, which connects Russian occupied areas of Eastern Ukraine to the territories held by his government.
    The bridge was blown up in 2015, but neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian military claimed responsibility for that act.    Zelensky said it’s very important to restore safe and unrestricted movement across the front line.
    EU diplomats who are mediating the Ukrainian-Russian talks welcomed the Zelensky’s move.
    “We’re working very intensively on a political settlement of the conflict with Ukraine and France, and will prepare a meeting in Paris on December 9th,” said German Ambassador to Ukraine Anka Feldhusen.    “I see progress here, people can pass easily to cross the frontline — I think it’s very important.”
    Zelensky said Russian backed forces must abide by earlier agreements and ensure a full and complete ceasefire ahead of the talks.

11/21/2019 Kremlin confident in Serbia relations despite video of spy cash exchange
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov waits before a welcoming ceremony attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said it was confident nothing could harm relations between Russia and Serbia, despite Serbian President Alexander Vucic opening an investigation into a video purportedly showing a Russian intelligence officer handing over money to a Serbian man.
    “Relations with Serbia are a partnership, of a brotherly character.    Nothing can influence that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/21/2019 Russia opens investigation into space center fraud after Putin rebuke
FILE PHOTO: Builders work at a construction site at the Vostochny cosmodrome, near the town of Tsiolkovsky
in Amur region, Russia September 6, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian investigators said on Thursday they had opened two criminal cases into the management of a company involved in building the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space center in the country’s Far East.
    The announcement came less than two weeks after President Vladimir Putin complained to government officials about corruption at the facility and called for further investigations.
    Construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome began in January 2011, part of a plan for Russia to reduce its dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, which Russia leases from the former Soviet Republic for space operations.
    But Putin told government officials earlier this month he was dismayed by the level of graft there.
    “Hundreds of millions have been stolen.    Hundreds of millions.    Several dozen criminal cases have already been initiated. There have already been court decisions, people are in prison,” said Putin.
    His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said later that 11 billion roubles ($172.45 million) of a total 91 billion roubles allocated to the project had been stolen.
    Investigators said on Thursday that they were looking into allegations that fraudulent financial documents had led to the theft of 240 million roubles ($3.8 million) between November 2018 and May 2019.
    Top officials at the Cosmodrome said they were in control of the situation and that any violations would immediately be passed to law enforcement officers, the RIA news agency reported.
    The Vostochny Cosmodrome, whose name comes from the Russian word meaning ‘Eastern’, is situated in the Amur region on the border with China.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/21/2019 Ukraine President Zelensky pushes for peace ahead of talks with Russia by OAN Newsroom
In this photo taken on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, Ukrainian soldiers in a trench in the front line near the town of Avdiivka in the
Donetsk region, Ukraine. U.S.-made X-ray equipment, helmets and missiles make a difference for Ukrainian troops fighting Kremlin-backed
separatists on the front line of the 21st century standoff between Russia and the West. (AP Photo/Vitali Komar)
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is advancing peace settlements in Eastern Ukraine ahead of talks with Russia.    The Ukrainian leader reopened a bridge Wednesday, connecting Russian-occupied areas of Eastern Ukraine to the territories held by his government.    Zelensky said it’s very important to restore safe and unrestricted movement across the frontline.
    The bridge was blown up in 2015, but neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian military claimed responsibility for that act. european Union diplomats, who are mediating the Ukrainian-Russian talks, are welcoming Zelensky’s move.
    “We’re working very intensively on a political settlement of the conflict with Ukraine and France, and will prepare a meeting in Paris on December 9th,” stated Anka Feldhusen, German ambassador to Ukraine.    “I want to make something good for people, I see progress here…people can pass easily to cross the frontline, I think it’s very important.”
    Zelensky said Russian-backed forces must abide by earlier agreements and ensure a full and complete ceasefire ahead of the talks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, centre, visits reconstruction of the bridge crossing over the
Siverskyi Donets River, where the local residents cross the delimitation line in Stanitsa village, Luhanska in eastern Ukraine,
Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Zelenskiy said he hopes that a meeting with leaders of Russia, France and Germany set for next month
will help advance a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

11/21/2019 Russian parliament backs law to label individuals foreign agents by Alexander Marrow
Russian lawmakers attend a session of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament,
in Moscow, Russia November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Alexander Reshetnikov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s lower house of parliament passed legislation on Thursday that will allow individual journalists to be labeled foreign agents, a move that critics say will tighten curbs on the media.
    Russia adopted an initial foreign agent law in 2012 which gave the authorities the power to label non-governmental organizations and human rights groups foreign agents.
    The legislation that was approved on Thursday, and which now goes to the upper house and then President Vladimir Putin for approval, extends the legislation to cover individuals.
    If Putin signs off on the legislation, all material published by an individual who receives money from abroad will be labeled as having been distributed by a foreign agent.    Also, any individual who distributes foreign media could be labeled a foreign agent.
    New-York based Human Rights Watch said the draft legislation was a “further step to restrict free and independent media” in Russia that would affect journalists and bloggers.
    Harlem Desir, media freedom chief for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has called on Russian lawmakers to abandon the law.
    “It may have a considerable chilling effect on journalists, as well as on bloggers, experts, or other individuals publishing information, particularly online,” he said on Wednesday.
    The 2012 foreign agent law required groups covered by the legislation to submit regular reports on their funding, objectives, spending and who their managers are.
    It drew criticism at the time from Western governments that said Moscow was trying to insulate itself from a wave of popular unrest in eastern Europe and the Middle East.
    Moscow said it was needed to combat Western governments using civil society groups as proxies.
    In October, opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption group was labeled a foreign agent by the Justice Ministry for receiving foreign funding.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

11/22/2019 Japan foreign minister to visit Russia to discuss formal WWII treaty: official
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the
start of a bilateral meeting in Nagoya, Japan, November 22, 2019. Franck Robichon/Pool via REUTERS
    NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) – Japan’s foreign minister agreed on Friday to visit Russia next month for talks about a formal World War Two peace treaty, a ministry official said, following a decades-old dispute that has prevented the countries from reaching a pact.
    Toshimitsu Motegi agreed with counterpart Sergei Lavrov to visit Russia in mid-December and discuss the issue, the official said at a briefing on the sidelines of a meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) nations in the central Japanese city of Nagoya.
    Japan claims a string of Russian-controlled western Pacific islands.    The territorial row has precluded a formal peace treaty between the two countries.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/22/2019 Hungary’s ruling Fidesz could quit European conservative bloc: Orban by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech in the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music during the celebrations of
the 63rd anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, in Budapest, Hungary, October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party may leave the European Union’s umbrella centre-right bloc after receiving mixed signals about its intentions following Fidesz’s suspension from the group, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Friday.
    The European People’s Party suspended Fidesz’s membership in March over concern about Orban’s populist anti-immigration campaigns and erosion of the rule of law, freedom of the press and minority rights under his tenure.    Fidesz was not invited to a two-day EPP gathering in Croatia this week.
    The EPP has said it will send a group of “wise men” to investigate conditions in Hungary and decide whether to keep Fidesz among its ranks, a process that new EPP Chairman Donald Tusk expects to close by the end of January.
    The nationalist Orban was defiant in remarks to Hungarian state radio on Friday.    ”We keep our membership suspended.    We are waiting for the EPP to come clean about its views and plans, and then we will make up our minds,” he said.
    “The question is whether the (EPP’s) new chairman can stop its drift to the left.    If he can, we have a common future.    If not, we will have to build another political community.”
    In a speech to the EPP congress in Zagreb, Tusk did not name Orban but made clear the mainstream conservative party group would not change to accommodate right-wing populism.
    “We must put a stop to this,” said Tusk, the outgoing president of the European Council.    “In a political fight, truth and decency cannot be completely helpless against fake news, manipulation and hate.”
    “We will not sacrifice values like civic liberties, the rule of law, and decency in public life on the altar of security and order,” Tusk said.    “Whoever is unable to accept it, is de facto placing himself outside our (EPP) family.”
    Orban is a self-proclaimed “illiberal” whose signature policies have included a double razor-wire fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia to keep out migrants, billboard campaigns and constant anti-immigrant rhetoric.
    Tusk is a former centre-right premier of Poland from the Civic Platform party.    He stepped down in 2014 to become European Council chairman and Civic Platform was defeated a year later by the right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party, an Orban ally that has governed Poland since.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[The Globalist are trying to control everyone and I suggest you get out while you can as you can see they are fighting the UK to keep it from leaving the EU, and your Nationalism is more important than what they offer.].

11/22/2019 Putin honors scientists who died working on ‘extreme weapons’ by OAN Newsroom
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his speech at the State Awards ceremony in the Kremlin in
Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin recently addressed the widows of five scientists who died while working on advanced weapons.    On Thursday, he spoke with the relatives of the engineers who passed last year during the televised state award event at the Kremlin.    Putin gave each of the families an award for what the Russian president called “critically important work.”
    The Russian leader never specified the type of weapons were being worked on, however, he claimed the new arms were the only way to guarantee the peace. The engineers were reportedly killed by a nuclear explosion causing a radiation spike in the area, which authorities have insisted does not pose a threat.
    “I’m talking about the most advanced technical ideas and solutions unlike anything else in the world,” stated the Russian president.     “About weapons designed to ensure sovereignty and security for Russia for decades to come.”
    Putin first announced his plans in advanced weaponry last spring and said Russia will move forward with development despite any setback.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hands the Order of Courage to a widow of a man killed in an accident during a military test
outside Severodvinsk in August 2019, in Moscow, Russia November 21, 2019. (Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS)

11/22/2019 Convicted agent Butina accepts Russia job offer: TASS
FILE PHOTO: Convicted Russian agent Maria Butina, who was released from a Florida prison and then deported by U.S. immigration officials,
holds flowers upon her arrival at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia October 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian agent briefly jailed in the United States and then deported back to Moscow has accepted a state job to defend Russians imprisoned abroad, TASS news agency reported on Friday.
    Maria Butina, 31, pleaded guilty in a U.S. court last December to one count of conspiring to act as a foreign agent for Russia by infiltrating a gun rights group and influencing conservative activists and Republicans.
    Moscow slammed her conviction as ridiculous and accused Washington of forcing Butina to confess.
    Earlier this week, Russian human rights commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova offered Butina a position in the commission during her first public appearance since she was deported back to Moscow last month.
    Butina did not say at the time whether she accepted the offer.
    “She accepted the proposal,” TASS quoted Moskalkova on Friday as saying, without saying when Butina would start her new job.
    Butina did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Her case has further strained relations between Moscow and Washington, already soured over issues including U.S. allegations of Russian election meddling and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Russia denies any interference in U.S. elections.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/23/2019 Orban’s billion-dollar spending yet to bring Hungary revival by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - International Friendly - Hungary v Uruguay - Puskas Arena, Budapest, Hungary
- November 15, 2019 General view outside the stadium before the match REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A video celebrating the inauguration of Hungary’s Puskas Stadium shows Prime Minister Viktor Orban kicking a football across town from his office balcony above the Danube right onto the pitch in the newly-built national football arena.
    The $650 million, 65,000-seat venue was officially opened last week and was built to be ready for next year’s continent-wide European Championship – a tournament Hungary could miss.
    The government has spent more than $2 billion on football since Orban took power in 2010, with nearly $400 million in 2018 alone, according to budget data summarized by the Hungarian Football Association.    That dwarfs previous spending on a sport that has failed to respond to the investment.
    The International Monetary Fund put the country’s economic output at about $160 billion last year – meaning one in every 400 of those dollars financed football.
    Hungary has hosted the 2017 World Aquatics Championships as well as a number of other international sports events and some see Orban’s efforts as part of a ‘soft power’ approach.
    “He considers sports a breakout point, a great tool to enhance the country’s image abroad,” said Agoston Mraz, director of the Nezopont Group, a think tank close to Orban’s ruling Fidesz party.
    “It is connected to everything: a multiplying effect in the overall economy, tourism, media, and so on."
    “It is a lot like Formula 1 and the Hungaroring (race track) was in the 1980s.    Its positive effect was a lot deeper than immediately visible, which justified the billions spent on it."
    “The effect of these events benefits the country in many, many ways.”
    However, the investment has yet to pay dividends on the football field with the national team still struggling.
    After a promising start to Euro 2020 qualification faded, Hungary must now enter the playoffs, where they travel to Bulgaria in March for a knockout match, with the winners facing Iceland or Romania for a place at the tournament.
GLORY DAYS
    Long gone are Hungarian football’s glory days of global dominance in the 1950s, or even their more modest achievements in the late 1970s and ’80s when they reached the World Cup.
    Since then, the fortunes of the national team and Hungary’s club sides have been in decline for over 30 years.
    During that time, their appearance at Euro 2016, when they reached the last 16, has been Hungary’s only major tournament.    Clubs have also failed to advance beyond the group stages of the Champions’ League – and have reached even that phase only twice.
    Orban, a decent club player and lifelong football fan, has considered it a personal mission to turn that around.
    He elevated sports to front and center in his government’s priorities and has made lavish funds available for football to create a world-class infrastructure.
    He even founded a football academy and a professional club in his home town Felcsut, which have received more than $130 million in state funds and private gifts according to official filings.     “State money follows a logic of power, not one of efficiency and professionalism,” Kreko said.
    “The failure was coded into this system… The country is hostage to its leader’s hobby.    He can continue doing this until voters notice – and they are starting to grasp the enormity of the funds that yields them nothing but permanent frustration.”
DOZENS OF STADIUMS
    Under Orban hundreds of local pitches, a dozen new arenas nationwide, and the big national stadium have been inaugurated, training facilities have been built and oaths sworn.
    The Puskas, named after Ferenc Puskas who starred for Real Madrid and played for the ‘Magnificent Magyars’ following the Second World War, officially opened last week with a friendly against Uruguay and was a culmination of that process.
    The Puskas was built on the precise location of the People’s Stadium, a drab Communist-era arena where Hungary played as they reached their peak, appearing in the 1954 World Cup final.
    Club matches with 60,000 fans were not uncommon whereas today the most popular team, Ferencvaros, averages 7,600.
    Demolished in 2015, the People’s Stadium concrete was recycled in the new stands and the center circle was preserved in the exact same location.
    Although the stadium’s hefty price tag drew heavy criticism – especially as early plans for a multi-functional arena hosting facilities for several sports were abandoned to create a football-only pitch – the government has defended it as necessary, along with all other spending on the sport.
    “Football is the most popular sport in Hungary,” said Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, on Thursday.
    “We would prefer better football of course, but a lot of this money goes to non-professional sport and to youth football.    If we ever want a very good national team, we have to support youth football.    And let’s hope for the best in the playoffs.”     Orban, speaking on Hungarian Radio on Friday, said all the country’s major construction projects faced criticism before they were realized.
    “We may have argued, fought, whether we need the stadium or not, but in the end, when we got it, we were all happy."
    “I know the debates that surrounded these projects over the centuries.    The same thing happened with the Chain Bridge, the Parliament building, theaters…"
    “I am never fazed by controversy during development,” he said.    “Once you make a decision you stick by it, because once you carry it out everyone will applaud.    We saw that in the last few days.”
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Christian Radnedge)

11/23/2019 Iran asks Russia to provide $2 billion loan for power plants, railroads: Russian energy minister
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak speaks with the media outside the EU Commission
headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Iran has asked Russia to provide an additional $2 billion loan for projects including the construction of thermal power plants, hydroelectric power plants, railroads and subway carriages, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Saturday.
    “They’re asking for about $2 billion… They say they were promised $5 billion in 2015… We had loans allocated to them, they ask us to bring the total amount up to $5 billion,” Novak said, without providing further details.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

11/24/2019 Romania’s Iohannis hopes for new presidential term to boost rule of law by Radu-Sorin Marinas
A combination picture shows Romanian incumbent candidate Klaus Iohannis (L) and former Romanian Prime Minister
and presidential candidate Viorica Dancila as they speak to the media in Bucharest, November 19, 2019.
Pictures taken November 19, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea, Inquam Photos/George Calin via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanians went to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election runoff expected to re-elect centrist president Klaus Iohannis, who has pledged to restart a judicial reform slowed down by successive Social Democrat (PSD) governments.
    While there have been no recent opinion polls, local bookmakers make Iohannis the short-odds favorite to beat former PSD prime minister Viorica Dancila comfortably in Sunday’s runoff.
    Under a succession of PSD governments, Romania rolled back anti-corruption measures and weakened the independence of the courts. Along with ex-communist peers Poland and Hungary, it has been heavily criticized by Brussels for its actions.
    However, the 60-year-old Iohannis has been credited by Western allies and the European Union with trying to protect the rule of law, in particular by challenging attempts to limit judges’ independence.
    “I will vote for a president to represent us, one that is respected both at home and abroad.    This is the one we need,” said retired army staff Ioan Banu, while heading to a Bucharest college to cast his ballot, after polls opened at 0500 GMT.
    The president’s powers are mostly limited to nominating a prime minister on the basis of who can command a majority, challenging laws in the Constitutional Court, and appointing some chief prosecutors.
    If elected again, Iohannis will have a chance to install anti-graft and anti-mafia prosecutors who are serious about tackling endemic corruption with the backing of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban, who became head of a liberal minority government by winning a parliamentary vote of confidence three weeks ago.
    Teacher Andreea Mihai, 50, said that if Iohannis won on Sunday, “things should slowly return to normality."
    “Both Orban and Iohannis will work together in the same direction.”
    Dancila’s PSD had increased the burden of proof in corruption cases, reorganized panels of judges and set up a special unit to investigate magistrates for potential abuses, a move widely seen as an instrument of political coercion.
    Romania’s judicial reforms have been monitored by Brussels since it joined the EU in 2007; in October, Brussels said the reforms were going backwards.
    Iohannis, a soft-spoken ethnic German and former mayor of Sibiu, became president in 2014.
    He helped to secure a popular approval in a referendum last May that called for the government to be banned from altering legislation by emergency decree, and advocated a ban on amnesties and pardons for graft-related crimes.
(Reporting by Radu-Sorin Marinas; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Christopher Cushing)

11/24/2019 Romania’s President Iohannis wins re-election
Incumbent candidate Klaus Iohannis casts his ballot in the second round of a presidential election,
in Bucharest, Romania, November 24, 2019. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s centrist President Klaus Iohannis easily won a presidential runoff vote on Sunday as expected, crushing his socialist challenger on a pledge to restart a judicial reform slowed down by successive Social Democrat (PSD) governments.
    An exit poll conducted by IRES pollster showed Iohannis garnered 66.5% of votes followed by Dancila with 33.5%. Another pollster, CURS-Avangarde showed Iohannis winning with 64%.
(Reporting by Radu Marinas)

11/25/2019 Russia’s Putin, Ukraine’s Zelenskiy discuss natural gas in phone talk
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the XIX United Russia Party Congress
in Moscow, Russia, November 23, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy have discussed natural gas supplies to Ukraine and gas transit via the country further into Europe, the Kremlin said in a statement on Monday.
    The current deal regarding Russian gas supplies to Ukraine and transit to Europe expires after Dec. 31.
    The Kremlin also said the leaders have talked about the handover to Ukraine of the three ships Russia seized in the Kerch Strait last year after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors.
    Putin and Zelenskiy, as well as the leaders of Germany and France are due to meet in Paris on Dec. 9 to discuss the settlement of the Ukrainian crisis.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

11/26/2019 Georgian police detain activists, use water cannon to disperse parliament protesters by Margarita Antidze
FILE PHOTO: A police officer talk to demonstrators during a rally to protest against the government and demand
an early parliamentary election in Tbilisi, Georgia November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze/File Photo
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Riot police used water cannon to disperse protesters near Georgia’s parliament on Tuesday and detained several activists, hours after thousands rallied in the capital demanding electoral system reform.
    Demonstrators, who were standing at four locations in front of entrances to the parliament, were forced to disperse, although dozens gathered in one place in front of the parliament building.
    Giorgi Vashadze, one of the opposition leaders, told reporters that several people, including one opposition politician, were detained by police.
    Hundreds of police officers were then deployed to the scene.
    Protesters were planning to block entrances to parliament and said they would not let lawmakers in for a session on Tuesday, but officials said that would not be allowed.
    “If protesters violate the law, the state will act adequately,” Mamuka Mdinaradze, a lawmaker from the ruling party, told reporters a few hours before police scattered the protesters.
    Protests in the former Soviet country of 3.7 million people have been taking place for two weeks to push for a switch to fully proportional representation in an electoral system that currently also includes single-seat constituencies.
    The change was scheduled for 2024 but the opposition is demanding it be brought forward, saying the rules benefit the Georgian Dream party, in power since 2012.
    Almost half of current lawmakers were elected not by party lists but in single-mandate constituencies, most representing the ruling party.
    Police also used water cannon on Monday last week to scatter protesters outside parliament, arresting 37 people.    Detainees have been sentenced to terms ranging from four to 13 days in trials which the opposition called politically motivated. (Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)

11/26/2019 Exclusive: Hungary makes EU bid to soften nuclear licensing rules to ease Paks expansion by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands after a
news conference following their talks in Budapest, Hungary, October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has submitted draft legislation to the European Commission to amend the country’s nuclear safety protocols to custom-fit a 12 billion euro Russian-led nuclear plant expansion project that it wants to speed up, eight sources told Reuters.
    The draft legislation was detailed to Reuters by the Hungarian Atomic Energy Agency (HAEA), and corroborated by several sources with knowledge of the matter who wanted to remain unidentified.
    The EU review was confirmed by an EU official requesting anonymity, as well as several Hungarian government sources.    Eight sources, including high-ranking government officials, confirmed the plan.
    Hungary wants to expand its 2-gigawatt Paks nuclear power plant with two Russian-made VVER reactors, each with a capacity of 1.2 gigawatts.
    The project, awarded in 2014 without a tender to nuclear giant Rosatom, an arm of the Russian government, is often cited as a sign of exceptionally warm ties between Hungarian premier Viktor Orban and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a connection that has unnerved Western allies.
    However, Rosatom struggled to meet EU and Hungarian safety criteria, delaying the project by several years, and the Russian and Hungarian governments now want to accelerate it.
    Under the proposed new rules, license applications to build the reactor hole and surrounding insulating slurry wall could be considered before the entire project receives the green light – a break with prior protocol, which only allowed partial licenses to be considered once the construction license was granted.
    Hungary’s top official in charge of energy policy, Technology Ministry State Secretary Peter Kaderjak, confirmed to Reuters the government was working with the European Commission to recast nuclear power plant construction rules.
    Kaderjak called the Paks 2 project “the cornerstone of Hungary’s energy and climate strategy.”
    “We are seeking ways to cut the project execution time as short as possible, fully respecting nuclear safety,” he said.    “That explains this draft amendment.”
RISKY MOVE
    The modification carries risks and makes the project much more difficult to abandon or modify as the framework, literally, will be set in stone, according to seven sources with knowledge of the matter who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    But the move could help the Hungarian government in its haggling with Moscow to modify the current build-and-finance package.    Hungary wants to extend the current payment start date of 2026, which was fixed when the project was first conceived.
    Russia wants to avoid paying delay penalties – by putting off the completion deadline to about 2029 and by having Hungary ease regulatory hurdles such as this one, these sources said.
    The changes will appear in a government decree called the Nuclear Safety Regulations once the European Commission’s nuclear arm, the Euratom Supply Agency, approves the changes.
    An EU source also confirmed the Commission was assessing draft legislation against the EU’s latest Nuclear Safety Directive, adding it had three months to make recommendations, a deadline that is not yet up.
    “In this framework, the Hungarian authorities have made several such notifications to the Commission in recent years,” the EU source told Reuters.    “The latest of these notifications was received this year and is currently being assessed.”
    Asked about the changes, the HAEA told Reuters that reactor hole and slurry wall work, and some equipment that takes a long time to manufacture, may undergo the licensing process parallel with the evaluation of the construction license application.
    “Licenses cannot be granted before the construction license is issued – except for work on soil solidification, soil removal, and the water insulation work to section off the work area, especially the slurry wall permits.”
    Experts estimate the reactor hole to be several hundred meters wide and several hundred meters long, up to 100 meters deep, surrounded by a concrete slurry wall more than a meter thick.    This phase alone could take a year or more to execute.
    The changes are designed to save time so once the overall construction license is issued work can begin on the power plant buildings.
    But experts warned the slurry wall and reactor hole could cost hundreds of millions of euros, and hastening them carries risk: if the HAEA find faults with the overall design, it may require changes that conflict with the concrete already poured, causing a potential cost spike and long delay.
    “Even with these permits Paks 2 carries responsibility for any work it executes, as the ongoing construction licensing process could influence all other licensing,” the HAEA said.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Dale Hudson)

11/26/2019 Cuba ups pressure on U.S. embassy in Havana
FILE PHOTO: Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez attends a news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister
Wang Yi (not pictured) at Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing, China May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Florence Lo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s foreign minister on Tuesday charged the United States with violating the historic 2015 agreement reestablishing diplomatic relations after decades by interfering in the country’s internal affairs.
    Bruno Rodriguez tweeted the U.S. embassy in Havana was engaged in “illegal” activity “intended to attack our constitutional order.”
    It was the second time in less than a week that the Communist-run government accused U.S. diplomats of fomenting dissent.
    While harsh rhetoric has returned to the old Cold War foes bilateral relations, Cuba has refrained from attacking U.S. diplomats up to now.
    Relations, broken off in 1961 and only partially restored in the 1980s, were reestablished as part of a short-lived detente orchestrated by former U.S. President Barack Obama.
    President Donald Trump, upon taking office, quickly announced he opposed the warming trend and is demanding Cuba cease its support for the Venezuelan government of socialist Nicolas Maduro and reform its political and economic system.
    “They violate the Vienna Convention, the agreement for the reestablishment of relations and Cuban and U.S. laws,” Rodriguez wrote, without providing specifics.
    The U.S. embassy did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
    Last week an editorial in the Communist Party newspaper Granma blasted the embassy for its support of leading dissident Jose Daniel Ferrer, who was arrested nearly two months ago.
    Granma accused U.S. diplomats of seeking to destabilize the country, recruit mercenaries and identify new sectors of the economy to sanction rather than boosting ties.
    The State Department defended the embassy’s activities and said they would continue.
    Cuba regularly brands dissidents as in the pay of Washington.
    Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Cuban state-run Corporacion Panamericana for facilitating fuel transactions on behalf of another previously sanctioned Cuban entity for its role in Venezuelan oil shipments to the Caribbean island nation.
    Over the last year, the United States has added new measures to the decades old trade embargo such as sanctioning any company involved in Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba. Washington has also allowed Cuban-Americans to sue foreign and U.S. companies for trafficking in properties nationalized in the early months of the Cuban Revolution.
    Shortages of everything from fuel and medicine to consumer goods have become common this year in Cuba, which the government blames on sanctions and the United States counters are due to the country’s economic inefficiencies.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Tom Brown)

11/26/2019 U.S. blacklists Cuban firm tied to Venezuela sanctions evasion
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a news conference at the
Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Tuesday blacklisted a Cuban company it accused of helping a Cuban state-run oil firm evade Venezuela-related sanctions, the latest in a series of actions targeting Havana for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
    Sanctions were imposed on Corporacion Panamericana SA for acting on behalf of oil import and export company Cubametales, which was blacklisted in July as part of Washington’s Venezuela pressure campaign, according to a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department.
    Washington has slapped sanctions on Cuban companies doing business with OPEC member Venezuela as part of its effort to force out Maduro, a socialist who has overseen an economic collapse and stands accused by the United States of corruption and human rights violations.
    The United States and more than 50 other countries have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the legitimate president.    Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival presidency in January, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a sham.    But Maduro retains the support of the military, runs the government’s day-to-day operations and is backed by Russia, China and Cuba.
    “Today’s action will further squeeze the illegal profit-making scheme Cuba carries out to help the illegitimate dictator Nicolas Maduro,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters.
    According to the Treasury Department, Corporacion Panamericana replaced Cubametales in energy deals and international commercial dealings as well as onboarded several employees from the targeted company to help the firm evade sanctions.
    The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets held by Corporacion Panamericana and prohibit Americans from doing business with it.
    “Cuba has played a direct role in preventing the return of democracy to Venezuela,” Treasury Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich said in a statement.    “Treasury continues to pursue sanctions evaders to deny resources to the illegitimate Venezuelan regime.”
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Orlofsky)

11/26/2019 Slovak MPs defy president’s veto to approve long polling blackout
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators light up their mobile phones as they attend an anti-government protest
rally in reaction to last year's killing of the investigative reporter Jan Kuciak and his fiancee
Martina Kusnirova in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/David W. Cerny/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovak lawmakers defied a president’s veto on Tuesday to impose a lengthy ban on publishing opinion polls ahead of February elections, a move some opposition parties have cast as an attempt to sideline political newcomers.
    Approved by parliament last month, the bill extends the blackout to 50 days from 14 days, third longest in the world after Cameroon and Tunisia according to the Slovak Academy of Sciences.
    The measure was adopted ahead of an election due on Feb. 29 next year with the votes of the ruling leftist Smer party, junior coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) and the opposition far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia.
    Its authors said the bill aimed to protect voters from disinformation so they could base their decisions on the parties’ programs and actions.
    Opposition critics said the measure was a maneuver to disadvantage challengers from new parties.
    President Zuzana Caputova argued that the bill violates the right to information granted by the Slovak constitution and that it limited political competition.
    She said earlier this month she would ask the Constitutional Court to put the implementation of the legislation on hold until a final ruling whether or not it violated the constitution.
    The bill does not ban parties from procuring their own opinion polls, as long as they keep the information out of the public domain.
    Slovakia, like other countries in Europe, has seen a rise in new parties in recent years. Caputova, an activist lawyer and political newcomer herself, defeated Smer’s candidate in a presidential runoff in March after a late surge in support.
    Opposition parties’ chances of replacing the three-party government has grown as support for Smer dipped to its lowest level in more than a decade, an opinion poll showed on Tuesday.
    Smer has seen a slide in support since last year’s murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancee triggered mass protests over corruption and ousted prime minister Robert Fico, who had dominated the euro zone country’s politics for a decade.
    But his three-party coalition government has survived, led by hand-picked successor Peter Pellegrini, and the socially conservative Smer remains the favorite to take the largest share of the vote.
    A coalition of opposition parties, which have ruled out cooperation with Smer, could struggle to present a viable alternative to Smer as it would have to include six or seven parties to win a majority in 150-member parliament.
    That might lead to a post-election stalemate, leaving the likely winner Smer without enough partners to form a government and the opposition also short.
* For an interactive graphic, please click https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/editorcharts/SLOVAKIA-POLITICS-POLL/0H001QXLP9M0/index.html
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Mike Collett-White/Mark Heinrich)

11/27/2019 Croatia government raises wage offer to striking teachers
FILE PHOTO: Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic speaks during the EPP congress
in Arena Zagreb hall in Zagreb, November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic/File Photo
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – The Croatian government has offered striking primary and secondary teachers a gradual salary increase of 10.4% in 2020, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said early on Wednesday after seven-hour talks with trade union representatives.
    “I think it’s a good solution. If the unions accept the proposal, the schools should continue with classes on Friday,” Plenkovic told reporters.
    Thousands of striking primary and secondary school teachers and their supporters demonstrated in the capital Zagreb on Monday to press demands for wage hikes of just over 6%.
    Teachers launched a nationwide walkout on Nov. 19 in an escalation of industrial action that started in early October, saying their roles are undervalued compared with those of other public sector employees.
    “This offer is not exactly what the strike was about, but we will let our members vote on it,” said Branimir Mihalinec from the union of secondary school teachers.
    The teachers went on strike saying that the government regulations defining the complexity of the jobs in the public sector are such that the teachers’ salaries have for years lagged behind other public sector roles.
    Plenkovic said that the government would also work on revision of those regulations next year.
    Last month the government said it would raise wages for all public sector employees by 6.12% in 2020.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Kim Coghill)

11/27/2019 Russia urges U.S. to extend nuclear pact due to expire in 2021
FILE PHOTO: An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test
at 2:10 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, U.S., August 2, 2017.
To Match Special Report USA-NUCLEAR/ICBM U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Ian Dudley/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has formally proposed to the United States that the two nuclear superpowers extend their New START arms control treaty by five years, though Moscow would also settle for a shorter extension, a senior Russian official said on Wednesday.
    The New START accord, which is due to expire in February 2021, is the last major nuclear arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington.    It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy to 1,550 each.
    Russia warned earlier this month there was already not enough time left for Moscow and Washington to negotiate a full-fledged replacement to the treaty and that time was running out to agree on an extension.
    “We proposed to the United States extending the treaty by five years as stipulated in it, or, if for some reason that is uncomfortable for the U.S. side, then for a shorter period of time…,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday, RIA news agency reported.
    Ryabkov, who made the comments after meeting his Chinese counterpart in China, said a shorter extension would not be the best outcome, but that it would be “at least better than nothing.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump told Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in 2017 he thought the New START accord was a bad deal for the United States.    U.S. officials say he will only decide next year whether or not to extend the treaty.
    It was signed by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, in 2010.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)

11/27/2019 U.S. rejects proposal for spy swap of ex-Marine held in Russia by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, stands inside a defendants' cage
during a court hearing on extending his pre-trial detention, in Moscow, Russia October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The United States rejected on Wednesday a suggestion it seek a prisoner swap involving a former U.S. Marine jailed in Russia for nearly a year over spying allegations, and called for his immediate release.
    Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained by agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 last year.
    After a U.S. diplomat visited him in jail on Wednesday, the U.S. embassy complained about Whelan’s declining health and called Russia’s treatment of him “shameful,” saying Moscow had refused to allow the diplomat to bring him Thanksgiving dinner.
    Moscow says Whelan was caught red-handed with a computer flash drive containing classified information.    Whelan says he was set up in a sting and had thought the drive, given to him by a Russian acquaintance, contained holiday photos.
    He has been held in pre-trial detention while investigators look into his case.
    Whelan’s Russian lawyer earlier this month urged the United States and other countries to push for a prisoner swap with Moscow that could get his client released.
    But Julie Fisher, the chargée d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, dismissed any such exchange.
    “There is no need to discuss a swap,” Fisher told reporters after visiting Whelan in prison.    “There is no evidence, no crime,” said Fisher.    “They need to release him.    Paul has not been charged with a crime.”
    Fisher also complained about what she said was Whelan’s declining health and about what she said was the Russian refusal to allow an outside doctor into prison to examine him.
    He had not been allowed a single phone call to his family during the 11 months of his detention, and the U.S. Embassy said Fisher had not been allowed even to deliver Whelan a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday.
    “Russian authorities denied Paul Whelan the minor comfort of a Thanksgiving dinner today.    As American families around the world gather, Paul marks 11 months in prison and can’t even call his parents.    This is shameful treatment,” tweeted Rebecca Ross, the U.S. Embassy’s spokeswoman.
(Editing by Peter Graff)

11/27/2019 Ukraine denounces Apple for calling Crimea part of Russia in apps by Nadezhda Tsydenova and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: The Apple Inc. logo is seen hanging at the entrance to the Apple store on
5th Avenue in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar
    MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine said on Wednesday Apple did not “give a damn” about its pain, after the U.S. tech giant began referring to the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula as part of Russia in its Maps and Weather apps for Russian users.
    Russia and Ukraine have both been highly sensitive to the way global companies identify Crimea, since Russian troops seized the territory and Moscow annexed it after a referendum that Kiev and its Western allies say was illegal.
    Apple appeared to have changed the way it displays locations in Crimea in its software, in a nod to Russian politicians who have demanded the peninsula be referred to as part of Russia.
    Reuters reporters in Moscow who typed the name of the Crimean provincial capital Simferopol into Apple’s Maps and Weather apps on Wednesday saw it displayed as “Simferopol, Crimea, Russia.”    Users elsewhere — including in Ukraine’s capital Kiev and in Crimea itself — see locations in Crimea displayed without specifying which country they belong to.
    “Let me explain in your terms, Apple,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, wrote on Twitter in English.    “Imagine you’re crying out that your design and ideas, years of work and piece of your heart are stolen by your worst enemy, but then somebody ignorant doesn’t give a damn about your pain."
    “That’s how it feels when you call Crimea a Russian land.”
    Apple’s Russia division did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    The EU and United States do not recognise Crimea as Russian and have imposed sanctions against the peninsula and individuals they accuse of violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity.
    Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, reported on Wednesday that the head of the committee on security and anti-corruption, Vasily Piskaryov, had held a meeting with an Apple representative.
    According to a report on the State Duma website, Piskaryov said: “Apple has fulfilled its obligations and brought the programmes on its devices in line with the requirements of Russian law.”
(Reporting Nadezhda Tsydenova and Anton Zverev; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/28/2019 Ahead of NATO summit, Serbia buffeted between West and Russia by Luke Baker and Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attend an
international field exercise organized by Ministry of the Interior of Serbia and NATO's Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response
Coordination Centre (EADRCC) in Mladenovac, Serbia, October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic/File Photo
    LONDON/BELGRADE (Reuters) – Since October, French President Emmanuel Macron has questioned the effectiveness of NATO, hit pause on EU enlargement and called for a new ‘strategic relationship’ with Russia.
    Plenty of countries have reason to pay close attention to his “shake it up” style of diplomacy, but few places will feel his words more keenly than Serbia.
    For Belgrade, any pullback by Europe or NATO could allow space for Russia to fill the void, given the close political, military and economic ties Moscow has with its Balkans cousin – a fellow Slavic and Orthodox Christian state.
    That is likely to be of concern for NATO leaders, who gather in Britain next week to discuss the future of their military alliance, since the Balkans, much like the Baltics, can be seen as a bulkhead against Moscow’s influence.
    “NATO works to promote stability, security and cooperation in the Western Balkans,” said a NATO official.    “Any outside interference in domestic democratic processes is unacceptable. We urge Russia to do the same.”
    In a recent example of alleged interference, Serbian intelligence agencies uncovered evidence of Russian spies building contacts with former members of the Serbian military. [nL8N2816NV]
    Russia’s foreign ministry played down the report, calling it a “provocation,” while Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said it wouldn’t harm relations between the two, adding he was sure President Vladimir Putin “was not informed about this.”
OUT OF NATO
    Alarm bells for the region rang in mid-October, when Macron refused to sign off on allowing Albania and North Macedonia, two of Serbia’s neighbors, to begin talks on joining the EU.
    Macron has grown increasingly wary of EU expansion, arguing that the 28-country group needs to take stock of its near doubling in size over the past 15 years, assess the impact of Britain’s pending departure, and think hard about the criteria it applies to those seeking to join.
    While Serbia has already begun membership talks, it now feels the chill of Macron’s refusal to open the door to others on its patch.
    At the same time, while nearly all surrounding countries have joined or are about to join NATO, Serbia remains out and is committed to neutrality, the memory of NATO’s bombing of its territory during the 1999 Kosovo war still fresh.
    It does belong to NATO’s “partnership for peace” and takes part in NATO exercises, but its military has ties to Russia and Moscow provides technology and patronage, recently deploying its S-400 missile-defense system in Serbia for training.
    Russia also regularly supplies fighter jets, surface-to-air missiles and other weaponry.
PIPELINE LEVERAGE
    For the EU, much of the problem lies in what it sees as weak rule of law in Serbia, analysts said.
    “What is worrying for the EU is not so much Russia but the circumstances that allow Russia to have influence – lack of the rule of law, lack of accountability, state capture, corruption,” said Dimitar Bechev, a non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council and a specialist on Russian influence in the region.
    “They are local phenomena, but Russia knows how to operate in such an environment and is empowered by it.”
    In its latest assessment of Serbia’s progress in meeting the criteria for joining the EU, Brussels flagged its concerns about corruption as well as Belgrade’s failure to align with the EU on restrictive measures imposed on Russia.
    While Moscow does not have the money to match either China or the European Union for spending and investment in the region, it still has considerable leverage.
    Turkstream, a pipeline to supply Russian gas to Europe while bypassing Ukraine, is set to run via Bulgaria and Serbia before arriving in Hungary and supplying Germany, Austria and others.
    That makes Serbia a critical link in the EU’s energy pipeline, similar to the role Ukraine played as gas transshipper to the EU before falling foul of Moscow.
    Milan Karagaca, a former military diplomat and a member of Belgrade’s Centre for Foreign Policy think-tank, doesn’t think Russia has grand plans to exploit Serbia strategically, but sees it “as a pawn in its great game with the West.”
    Serbia’s task is to remain on good terms with Moscow, convince Brussels it is doing what’s required to become an EU member state and avoid alienating NATO.
    A government official, who declined to be named, said Serbia intended to maintain a balance between Russia and the West.
    “No country or international body can claim they have us within their sphere of influence,” he said.
    Whatever the outcome, Serbia risks ending up being a small piece in a larger game of geopolitics that has sped up since Macron took NATO to task and questioned Europe’s capabilities.
    “If the West is disengaged and lets the region go then Russia has lots of opportunities to get mileage out of the situation,” said Bechev.
    On the other hand, if Serbia does join the EU, Bechev says it could become akin to Cyprus or Hungary, two member states with close ties to Moscow.
    “Serbia will be weak or pro-Russian if they end up in the EU, which is no bad outcome for Russia either,” he said.
(Writing by Luke Baker; Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/28/2019 U.S. accuses Russia of helping Syria cover up chemical weapons use by Anthony Deutsch
FILE PHOTO: People walk in a street during a media tour in Douma near Damascus, Syria April 23, 2018. REUTERS/ Ali Hashisho/File Photo
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday accused Russia of helping Syria conceal the use of banned toxic munitions in the civil war by undermining the work of the global chemical weapons agency trying to identify those responsible.
    The comments by the U.S. representative to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Kenneth Ward, drew a rapid denial from Moscow and came as Western powers and Russia clashed at the agency’s annual conference in The Hague.
    Moscow has for months cited dissent by two former OPCW employees who leaked a document and an email as evidence that the OPCW doctored the conclusions of a March 1 report which found that a toxic chemical containing chlorine was used in a 2018 attack near Damascus.
    More than 40 people were killed in that attack in Douma, a town on the outskirts of the capital then held by rebels, on April 7, 2018.
    The United States, Britain and France retaliated a week later by firing missiles at Syrian government targets, the biggest Western military action against the Damascus authorities of the eight-year-old war.
    Syria and Russia deny there ever was a chemical attack in Douma, saying the event was staged using bodies brought from elsewhere, and that the OPCW’s report on Douma was doctored to justify Western military intervention.
    The OPCW has become the battleground for a diplomatic clash on Syria after Russia in 2017 vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of the U.N.-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which concluded in a series of reports that the Syrian military used both nerve agent sarin and chlorine as weapons.
    The OPCW’s own Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which was established by a clear majority vote by its member states in June 2018, is looking into who was responsible for the Douma attack, among several other incidents.
    Its first report is expected next year.
    Russian Ambassador to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, repeated objections to the creation of the IIT, saying it was illegal and politicized.    Syria’s representative to the OPCW on Thursday vowed not to cooperate with the IIT’s investigations.
    Ward said Russia and Syria were merely seeking to cover up the use of chemical weapons by undermining the OPCW.
    “Unfortunately the Russian Federation has played a central role in this cover-up,” Ward told delegates.    “Russia and Syria may sit with us here, but they stand apart from us in a fundamental way.    They continue to embrace chemical weapons.”
    Shulgin rejected the U.S. claim that Russia was helping Syria cover up chemical crimes carried out by the Syrian regime.
    “It is exquisite rhetoric… But these assertions do not hold water.    We disagree,” Shulgin said.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch, Editing by William Maclean)

11/28/2019 Ukraine president spoke to Germany’s Merkel to prepare for summit on eastern Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a news conference
in Tallinn, Estonia November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to prepare for a four-way summit in Paris next month, Zelenskiy’s office said in a statement on Thursday.
    The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany meet in the so-called “Normandy” format on Dec. 9, to help end a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/30/2019 Bulgarian PM says S&P rating hike reflects efforts to improve finances
FILE PHOTO: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Saturday S&P Global Ratings’ decision to raise its long-term foreign currency rating for the Balkan state to BBB/A-2 from BBB-/A-3 reflected the government’s efforts to improve its finances.
    S&P Global Ratings cited the Balkan state’s strong fiscal performance and progress toward entering the Exchange Rate Mechanism II that could set the country on its way to adopting the euro as its currency.
    “We expect Bulgaria’s economy to grow resiliently and post strong fiscal results,” S&P said.    It now expects the economy to grow 3.6% this year, slightly more than its previous forecast, reflecting strong private consumption.
    “Bulgaria’s economy is growing without building macroeconomic imbalances, its fiscal and external balance sheets are strong, and progress on entering the Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II) is steadfast.” S&P said.
    The small and open economy hopes to join the two-year ERM-II by next April and to balance its finances in 2020.
    “Bulgaria’s upgraded credit rating is another good expert assessment of the policies we are pursuing in the areas of the economy and finance,” Borissov said on Saturday.
    Sofia is targeting a one-off budget deficit of 2.1% of economic output this year, mainly due to a $1.26 billion fighter jet deal it signed with the United States and planned larger spending in December.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/1/2019 Poles protest over rule of law after judge suspended
Demonstrators hold up the mobile phone lights during an anti-government protest in support of free
judiciary in Olsztyn, Poland, December 1, 2019. Agencja Gazeta/Robert Robaszewski via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Thousands took to the streets across Poland on Sunday to show solidarity with judges after one was suspended for questioning the ruling party’s judicial reforms, in a sign that concerns over the rule of law will mark its second term in power.
    Since taking office in 2015 Law and Justice (PiS) has been at loggerheads with the European Union over reforms which critics say undermine judicial independence.
    The suspension of Judge Pawel Juszczyszyn last week brought the issue back to the fore.
    “I believe that law and honesty will win in the end,” Juszczyszyn told protesters in front of the Ministry of Justice in Warsaw.
    “I call on judges – don’t let yourselves be frightened, be independent, be brave, we are strong,” he said.
    The government has justified the widespread judicial reforms – including how judges are appointed – by saying they are necessary to improve efficiency of courts and root out the vestiges of the 1945-89 communist era.
    Protestors gathered in at least 105 towns and cities according to organizers, and television coverage showed them waving Polish and European Union flags and brandishing placards with slogans such as “Without law there is no justice.”
    Nobel prize-winning author Olga Tokarczuk had been among those calling on people to protest.
    “I express my solidarity with the repressed judges and encourage you to join demonstrations in their defense,” she tweeted.
    Warsaw police declined to say how many were protesting in the city.
    Juszczyszyn, a judge delegated to the regional court in Olsztyn, eastern Poland, from a lower level court was abruptly revoked when he questioned the appointment of a judge by a new body under rules introduced by PiS.
    On Thursday, a disciplinary officer appointed by the minister of justice started a case against him and on Friday he was suspended.
(Reporting by Jaroslaw Gawlowski, writing by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Alan Charlish, editing by Louise Heavens)

12/1/2019 Ukrainian lawmaker’s son killed in attack in Kiev: source
An investigator inspects a car at a site of a murder attempt on the lawmaker of the Kiev regional council
and businessman Viacheslav Soboliev in Kiev, Ukraine December 1, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Unknown gunmen opened fire at the car of a local lawmaker in the center of Ukrainian capital of Kiev on Sunday, killing his three-year old son, a police source said.
    Vyacheslav Sobolev, a businessman and Kiev regional council lawmaker was at wheel of the car when it was attacked, said the source, who wished to remain anonymous.
    The Ministry of Internal Affairs has not identified the owner of the vehicle or the identity of the victim.
    “As a result of a gunshot wound, a child died in a car ambulance on the way to hospital,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said on Facebook.
    Sobolev is an businessman from Donetsk, a flashpoint of pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine.    In 2010-2011 he was an executive at Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz.
    There have been several murders of well-known figures on the streets of Kiev since Russia annexed Crimea and a pro-Moscow rebellion flared up in east Ukraine in 2014.
    Pavel Sheremet, a Belarussian journalist known for his criticism of his home country’s leadership and his friendship with the slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, was killed in a car bomb in Kiev in 2016.
(Reporting by Ilya Zhegulev, editing by Louise Heavens)

12/1/2019 EU audit finds Czech Prime Minister Babis in conflict of interest: report
Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis speaks during a news conference following the talks with Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev, Ukraine November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – A European Commission audit has confirmed that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is in a conflict of interest due to his former business empire that he has put into trust funds, weekly Respekt reported on its website on Sunday, quoting sources.
    Reuters could not immediately independently confirm the report, which Respekt said was based on two sources with knowledge of the document.
    The European Commission said on Friday it had sent the audit results to the Czech authorities, but said the contents were confidential as the audit procedure was ongoing.
    A spokesman for Agrofert said the company had no information on the audit results.
    Companies in the Agrofert group, the core of Babis’s assets estimated at $3.5 billion by Forbes, are some of the largest recipients of EU subsidies, both for farming and for investment projects, in the central European country.
    They are run by two trust funds since 2017, an arrangement Babis made to meet local law on conflict of interest.
    He reiterated in a television debate earlier on Sunday that he had met all legal obligations.
    The preliminary audit leaked in June had suggested the country may face calls to return millions of euros in EU aid that had been paid to Agrofert companies.
    The EU probe was one of the triggers that brought hundreds of thousands of Czechs to rallies against Babis in the spring and autumn this year, the biggest protests since the end of communist rule 30 years ago.    Babis’s ANO party however remains by far the most popular Czech political group.
    A spokesman for the Czech Regional Development Ministry, which is in charge of handling the audit, said that the report had been received.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Additional reporting by Francesco Gauarascio in Brussels; editing by Louise Heavens)

12/2/2019 Putin and Xi oversee launch of landmark Russian gas pipeline to China by Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sideline
of the 11th edition of the BRICS Summit, in Brasilia, Brazil November 13, 2019. Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday oversaw the launch of a landmark pipeline that will transport natural gas from Siberia to northeast China, an economic and political boost to ties between Moscow and Beijing.
    The start of gas flows via the Power of Siberia pipeline reflects Moscow’s attempts to pivot to the East to try to mitigate pain from Western financial sanctions imposed over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
    The move cements China’s spot as Russia’s top export market and gives Russia a potentially enormous new market outside Europe.    It also comes as Moscow is hoping to launch two other major energy projects — the Nord Steam 2 undersea Baltic gas pipeline to Germany and the TurkStream pipeline to Turkey and southern Europe.
    The 3,000-km-long (1,865 mile) Power of Siberia pipeline will transport gas from the Chayandinskoye and Kovytka fields in eastern Siberia, a project expected to last for three decades and to generate $400 billion for Russian state coffers.
    “This is a genuinely historical event not only for the global energy market but above all for us, for Russia and China,” said Putin, who watched the launch via video link from the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
    “This step takes Russo-Chinese strategic cooperation in energy to a qualitative new level and brings us closer to (fulfilling) the task, set together with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, of taking bilateral trade to $200 billion by 2024.”
    The new pipeline emerges in Heilongjiang, which borders Russia, and goes onto Jilin and Liaoning, China’s top grain hub.
    Xi told Putin via a video link on Monday that the newly launched gas pipeline is “a landmark project of bilateral energy cooperation” and an “example of deep integration and mutually beneficial cooperation.”
    Flows via the pipeline are expected to gradually rise to 38 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year in 2025, possibly making China Russia’s second-largest gas customer after Germany, which bought 58.50 bcm of gas from Russia last year.     Moscow began supplying natural gas to western and central Europe in the 1950s and Europe has long been Russia’s major consumer of gas, supplied by Kremlin-controlled energy giant Gazprom , with total annual supplies of around 200 bcm.     The price China is paying for Russian gas in the new pipeline remains a closely kept secret with various industry sources saying it is tied to the price of an oil products basket.
    Neither Putin, nor Xi commented on Monday on the gas price Beijing is set to pay under the contract.
INCREASED COMPETITION
    Russian pipeline gas will compete against other pipeline gas supplies to China, including from Turkmenistan, as well as against shipments of sea-borne liquefied natural gas (LNG).
    “China’s gas demand growth is expected to slow down from previous years yet remains strong, with an estimated 10% year-on-year growth for the first nine months of 2019,” Jean-Baptiste Dubreuil, from the International Energy Agency’s natural gas market analysis team, told Reuters.
    “Our medium term forecast ‘Gas 2019’ assumes average 8% growth until 2024 (compared with a world average of 1.6% pa).”
    Russia has been in talks with China about raising gas sales via other routes too, such as from the Russian Far East and via Mongolia or Kazakhstan, but has not yet clinched any deals.
    Russia has dramatically increased deliveries of oil to China in the past decade, challenging Saudi Arabia as China’s top oil supplier in certain months.
    To achieve that, Russia launched a major oil pipeline to China, which today ships 600,000 barrels per day (bpd), and opened a new port at Kozmino on the Pacific.    Russia also ships 200,000 bpd to China via a pipeline crossing Kazakhstan.
    Russian coal sales to the east in 2018 exceeded 100 million tonnes, accounting for more than half of Russia’s total coal exports.
(Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin/Andrew Osborn; editing by Andrew Osborn/Katya Golubkova/Christina Fincher)

12/2/2019 Turkey says new Russian missile deal to happen before too long: RIA
FILE PHOTO: A new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base outside
the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkey’s presidential administration has said that the purchase date for more S-400 missile systems from Russia is just a technicality and that it thinks a deal will happen before too long, the RIA news agency reported on Monday.
    Moscow hopes to seal a deal to supply Turkey with more S-400 missile systems in the first half of next year, the head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport said last month.
    Such a move could further strain ties between Turkey and the United States, which has suspended Ankara from the F-35 stealth fighter jet program, in which it was a producer and buyer, to punish it for buying S-400 batteries earlier this year.
    “The date of the purchase of a second set of S-400s is just a technical question.    I think it will happen before too long,” RIA cited a security and foreign affairs official in the Turkish presidential administration as saying.
    Rosoboronexport’s Alexander Mikheev told RIA news agency on Nov. 26 that Moscow and Ankara were actively discussing Ankara taking up an option in the original contract for it to receive more S-400 systems, with talks focused on financial questions.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/2/2019 Hungarian president names Budapest judge to lead powerful judiciary office
FILE PHOTO: Hungary's President Janos Ader speaks during the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at
U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s president on Monday nominated a Budapest judge to head the country’s powerful judiciary office for the next nine years, amid concerns that nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban might be encroaching on judicial independence.
    President Janos Ader, a key Orban ally, proposed Gyorgy Barna Senyei, who is in charge of civil economic litigation in Hungary’s capital, to head the National Office of the Judiciary, Ader said in a posting on parliament’s website.
    The office decides the appointment of judges and oversees the operation of the courts.
    Orban has solidified his grip over most walks of Hungarian life in the past decade, leading to clashes with Western nations over the rule of law.
    However, despite an overhaul in 2011 which triggered a conflict with the European Union at the time, the judiciary has remained one of the most independent bodies in Hungary.
    The National Office of the Judiciary had been led by Tunde Hando, the wife of a ruling party lawmaker, until last month when she was appointed to the Constitutional Court. Orban’s critics say that court, once Hungary’s top arbiter of law, has been weakened since Orban’s Fidesz party started to appoint its members.
    Hando frequently clashed with the self-governing panel of judges, the National Judicial Council, which accused her of abusing her power over the appointment of new judges. Hando rejected the allegations.
    In April, the European Association of Judges (EAJ) visited Budapest and said in a report that Hando was in effect neutralizing the panel that was supposed to oversee her work. https://www.iaj-uim.org/iuw/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Report-EAJ-Hungary.pdf
    In a July 8 recommendation, the Council of the European Union also warned that “checks and balances, which are crucial to ensuring judicial independence, are seen to be under further pressure within the ordinary courts system.
    The National Judicial Council faces increasing challenges in counter-balancing the powers of the President of the National Office for the Judiciary
.”
    Orban has rejected allegations that his government has eroded checks and balances.    He says the mandate he has received through democratic elections empowers Fidesz to change laws and appoint people to key positions.
    Last month, Hungary’s chief prosecutor Peter Polt, an Orban loyalist, was reappointed for a second nine-year term.
    Hungary and Poland’s ruling nationalist party have tightened control over the media, academics, courts and advocacy groups, spurring the European Parliament to launch an Article 7 legal process against both the EU countries.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Paul Simao)

12/2/2019 Russia’s Putin signs law to label people foreign agents
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual VTB Capital "Russia Calling" Investment
Forum in Moscow, Russia, November 20, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed legislation allowing individuals to be labeled foreign agents, drawing criticism from rights groups that say the move will further restrict media freedoms in the country.
    An initial foreign agent law was adopted by Russia in 2012, giving authorities the power to label non-governmental organizations and human rights groups as foreign agents – a term that carries a negative Soviet-era connotations.
    But the expansion of the definition of foreign agent to include private individuals now raises fresh concerns about the ability of independent journalists and bloggers to operate in the country.
    Several rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, had called for the initiative to be dropped as it was being approved by lawmakers.
    Under the law, all material published by an individual who receives funds from abroad will be labeled as having been distributed by a foreign agent.    The law also says that any individual who distributes foreign media could be labeled a foreign agent.
    Rights groups and other organizations designated by the Russian justice ministry as foreign agents can be subjected to spot checks and face bureaucratic scrutiny.
    Russian law also requires so-called foreign agents to submit regular reports on their funding, objectives, how they spend their money and who their managers are.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by David Goodman)

12/2/2019 Putin signs law making Russian apps mandatory on smartphones, computers
Russia's President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony launching Gazprom's Power of Siberia gas pipeline
to China via a video link in Sochi, Russia December 2, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday signed legislation requiring all smartphones, computers and smart TV sets sold in the country to come pre-installed with Russian software.
    The law, which will come into force on July 1 next year, has been met with resistance by some electronics retailers, who say the legislation was adopted without consulting them.
    The law has been presented as a way to help Russian IT firms compete with foreign companies and spare consumers from having to download software upon purchasing a new device.
    The country’s mobile phone market is dominated by foreign companies including Apple, Samsung and Huawei.    The legislation signed by Putin said the government would come up with a list of Russian applications that would need to be installed on the different devices.
    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 user data on servers in the country.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Alex Richardson)

12/2/2019 Russia to upgrade homegrown encyclopedia after Putin pans Wikipedia
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an annual VTB Capital "Russia Calling"
Investment Forum in Moscow, Russia, November 20, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is to set up a new online site for its national encyclopedia after President Vladimir Putin said Wikipedia was unreliable and should be replaced.
    The move will ensure people can find “reliable information that is constantly updated on the basis of scientifically verified sources of knowledge,” a government resolution said.
    Putin last month proposed replacing the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia Wikipedia with an electronic version of the Great Russian Encyclopaedia – the successor to the Soviet Union’s main encyclopedia.
    “This, at any rate, would be reliable information offered in a modern form,” Putin said then.
    In 2015, Russia briefly blocked the Russian-language version of Wikipedia for an article containing information on cannabis under legislation banning sites with drug-related material.
    Moscow has also introduced tougher online controls over the Russian segment of the internet so that it can keep on functioning even if cut off from foreign infrastructure.
    The Great Russian Encyclopaedia is already available in a basic electronic format.
    The new online portal will cost about 2 billion roubles ($31 million), Sergei Kravets, an editor for the Great Russian Encyclopaedia was quoted as saying on Nov. 21 by TASS news agency.
    The government will also set up a national research and education center for the Great Russian Encyclopaedia, the resolution, signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, said.
(This story has been refiled to clarify in headline that Putin is critical of Wikipedia, no change to text)
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)

12/2/2019 FBI says Russian FaceApp is ‘potential counterintelligence threat’
General view of the J. Edgar Hoover F.B.I. Building in Washington, U.S., March 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation considers any mobile app developed in Russia to be a “potential counterintelligence threat,” it said on Monday, responding to a U.S. lawmaker’s query about face-editing photo app FaceApp.
    The viral smartphone app saw a surge in popularity this year due to a filter that ages photos of users’ faces.
    Concerns about its Russian provenance prompted the Democratic National Committee to warn the party’s 2020 presidential candidates against using it, as well as a call from Democratic U.S. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer for the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct national security reviews.
    There is no evidence that FaceApp provides user data to the Russian government.    But the FBI, in a letter responding to Schumer, said Moscow’s ability to access communications directly via internet service providers makes any app built there risky.
    Russia’s intelligence services maintain “robust cyber exploitation capabilities,” the FBI said, and are able under local laws to “remotely access all communications and servers on Russian networks without making a request to ISPs.”
    FaceApp, which launched in 2017, was developed by Wireless Lab, a company based in St. Petersburg.    Its chief executive officer, Yaroslav Goncharov, used to be an executive at Yandex, widely known as “Russia’s Google.”
    The company has denied selling or sharing user data with third parties, adding that user data is never transferred to Russia and most images are deleted from its servers within 48 hours of submission.
(Reporting by Katie Paul, Editing by Franklin Paul)

12/3/2019 Finland’s government resigns as PM loses trust of coalition partner by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki
Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne leaves a meeting of the SDP parliamentary group at
the parliament in Helsinki, Finland December 3, 2019. Lehtikuva/Mikko Stig via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS
- THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. FINLAND OUT.
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne resigned on Tuesday after the Center Party, a member of the governing five-party coalition, said it had lost confidence in the Social Democrat leader in the wake of a crippling postal strike.
    Rinne’s government has been widely criticized over its handling of a two-week strike at Finland’s state postal service, Posti.    The strike spread to the national airline, Finnair, and to other industries before being settled last week.
    “I accept your resignation request, but at the same time I ask your cabinet to continue as a caretaker government until a new government is in place,” President Sauli Niinisto told reporters assembled at the presidential residence.
    The timing of the crisis is awkward.    Finland holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year, playing a central role in efforts to hammer out a new budget for the bloc.
    “Losing confidence” is not a formal procedure, like a vote of no-confidence, and the Center Party move was not directed at the Social Democrats (SDP) but specifically at Rinne.
    Center Party chairwoman Katri Kulmuni said on Monday her party wanted to remain in the coalition, but questioned Rinne’s role in handling the strike.
    The Center Party is unlikely to push for a new election.    It and coalition allies are trailing in the polls and could lose ground to the nationalist Finns Party.    The Finns came second in last April’s election, just behind Rinne’s Social Democrats.
    “The Center Party and the SDP are willing to continue their cooperation and one of the main reasons why is because both parties are low in opinion polls and want to avoid a new election,” Tampere University political scientist Ilkka Ruostetsaari said.
    “Mr Rinne is resigning so in parliament they have to start a discussion about forming the next government … but it is very likely that this same government coalition will continue.”
    Social Democrat Minister of Transportation and Communications Sanna Marin, 34, is seen as a frontrunner to replace Rinne if he steps down.    She said in a tweet on Tuesday that she was heading back to Helsinki from Brussels.     “At 34 she’d be the youngest prime minister ever,” Helsinki University political scientist Johanna Vuorelma said.     “The Center Party would be happy if the prime minister stepped down and they could continue with the same government program and coalition.”
    Another candidate to lead the government would be Antti Lindtman, chairman of the Social Democratic Party, said Vuorelma.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki; additional reporting by Colm Fulton in Stockholm; writing by Simon Johnson and Niklas Pollard; editing by Catherine Evans, Gareth Jones and Philippa Fletcher)

12/3/2019 Finland’s president accepts PM’s resignation, asks government to stay on in caretaker role
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto asked the current administration to remain as a caretaker government after accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Antti Rinne’s five-party coalition on Tuesday.
    “I accept your resignation request, but at the same time I ask your cabinet to continue as a caretaker government until a new government is in place,” Niinisto said as he met Rinne at the presidential residency.
    Social Democrat Rinne was forced out after the Center Party, part of the ruling coalition, said it had lost confidence in the prime minister over the government’s handling of a two-week postal strike.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki; editing by Johan Ahlander)

12/3/2019 Kremlin laughs off allegations of possible Russian UK election meddling
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov waits before a welcoming ceremony attended by Russian President
Vladimir Putin and Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Jeenbekov in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday it viewed suggestions from Western researchers that Russian hackers may have leaked     British-U.S. trade documents before Britain’s election with irony, saying such allegations were often a ploy to deflect attention.
    Moscow was reacting after experts said the leak and distribution of the classified documents online resembled a disinformation campaign uncovered this year that originated in Russia.
    The opposition Labour Party said on Nov. 27 that the classified documents showed the ruling Conservatives were plotting to offer up the state-run National Health Service for sale in trade talks with Washington, something Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied.
    The NHS is much loved by Britons and has become an important issue in the Dec. 12 election, in which Labour trails the Conservatives despite cutting its lead in some opinion polls.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday it had become easy to demonize Russian hackers.
    “Such a persistent term — Russian hacker — is practically used like a fetish in order to distract attention from one’s own problems,” Peskov told reporters.
    “It’s very convenient for demonisation, to cover up ones own headache, and to use this fetish to frighten people with Russian hackers.    We have repeatedly come up against this and we view it with a dose of irony.”
    Peskov said allegations related to Russian hackers were typically based on unconfirmed information and not backed by facts.
    “So it’s not possible to comment on these seriously,” said Peskov.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/3/2019 Finland’s PM to hand in government resignation: president’s office
FILE PHOTO: Finland's Prime Minister Antti Rinne arrives at the European Union leaders
summit, in Brussels, Belgium October 17, 2019. Julien Warnand/Pool via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s Prime Minister will hand in his and his government’s resignation on Tuesday, the president’s office said in a statement.
    “Prime Minister Antti Rinne will give the Republic’s president, Sauli Niinisto, the government’s resignation at Mantyniemi today, Dec 3, at 12.30,” the president’s office said.
    Mantyniemi is the presidential residence.
    Rinne has come under pressure to resign over the government’s handling of a two-week postal strike.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki; editing by Niklas Pollard)

12/3/2019 Russia accuses alleged U.S. spy of lying about his ill-treatment in jail by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan, who is charged with espionage against Russia, is seen on a screen
via a video link during a court hearing in Moscow, Russia November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday accused a former U.S. Marine it has held for almost a year on spying charges of faking health problems in custody and lying about his ill-treatment, comments the U.S. embassy rejected as factually inaccurate “pulp fiction.”
    Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was accused of espionage after agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service detained him in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28.    Whelan, who is being held in pre-trial detention, denies Moscow’s allegations and says he was set up in a political sting.
    He has alleged at court hearings that he is being subjected to ill treatment in custody and that his complaints are systematically ignored.    In October, he said a prison guard had forced him to his knees and threatened him with a gun.
    In August, Whelan’s lawyer said his client was suffering from a groin hernia that prison authorities were aggravating, prompting the U.S. embassy to demand immediate access to Whelan.
    A U.S. diplomat met him last week in jail and called for his immediate release.    The U.S. embassy described Whelan’s treatment as “shameful” and said Moscow had refused permission for an outside doctor to examine him.
    On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Whelan’s allegations of ill-treatment had not checked out and that diplomats were being granted regular access to him in custody.
    “They (the diplomats) know perfectly well that the public statements by the accused about certain abuses and even threats (made to his) life in pre-trial detention – are nothing more than the defense’s provocatory line to help artificially create noise around his person,” the ministry said in a statement.
    It said Whelan had received qualified medical treatment from the detention facility’s doctors as well as a special clinic and that they had not found him to have any serious ailment.
    “So there is no threat to Whelan’s health, and the pretending which he is periodically resorting to is apparently part of the training for U.S. intelligence officers,” the ministry said.
    The U.S. embassy in Moscow rejected the statement on social media, saying Whelan’s health was deteriorating, that he needed an independent medical examination to assess his condition and that Moscow had presented no evidence of his guilt.
    “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should stop distorting the facts.    #PaulWhelan is not a spy.    Still no evidence.    Still no calls to his family.    Enough is enough.    Let Paul go home,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.
(Editing by Peter Graff and Giles Elgood)

12/3/2019 Press watchdogs call for EU to act over Hungary media curbs by Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban talks to the media after casting his ballot during Hungary's
local elections in Budapest, Hungary, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary has stifled its independent media and imposed a level of control over journalists that is unprecedented in an EU country, according to a joint report from six international press watchdogs that calls on EU leaders to take action.
    The report was compiled ahead of a meeting next week at which EU leaders will discuss punishing Hungary for eroding democratic norms under maverick Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    “The Hungarian government has systematically dismantled media independence, freedom and pluralism, distorted the media market and divided the journalistic community in the country, achieving a degree of media control unprecedented in an EU member state,” the report says.
    Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs rejected the criticisms in a posting on Twitter.
    “Fact: TV outlet with largest audience, news portal with largest readership, largest weekly (are) clearly pro-opposition,” Kovacs wrote.    “But report says: opposition media under constant threat, being muted.    What?
    Hungary and Poland’s ruling nationalist parties have tightened control over the media, academics, courts and advocacy groups, spurring the European Parliament to launch a so-called Article 7 legal process against both the EU countries.
    The European Council, which brings together leaders of EU member states, will hold a hearing with EU affairs ministers on Dec. 10 to discuss the proceedings against both countries.
    Ahead of that meeting, the six organizations, which include the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), sent a fact-finding mission to Hungary last month.
    “Hungary’s situation does not get the attention it should,” IPI deputy director and mission leader Scott Griffen told Reuters.    “It is important that the EU public and its institutions understand what is going on in Hungary.”
    The report said some prominent independent outlets remained in Hungary, but their market weight was dwarfed by pro-government publications.
    It said Budapest has “a clear strategy to silence the critical press (and operate) a pro-government media empire as a vast propaganda machine.”
    Critics say that under Orban, state media have become an obedient mouthpiece of his Fidesz party, while the rest of the media landscape is dominated by a conglomerate created by pro-Fidesz businessmen.
    Orban’s government has denied undermining press freedom.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alex Richardson)

12/3/2019 Albania says rebuilding after quake won’t hit other spending priorities by Benet Koleka
A Turkish plane with aid supplies arrives at Mother Teresa Airport in Tirana, Albania, December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Building homes for people displaced by Albania’s worst earthquake in decades will not squeeze state spending on other priorities, the prime minister said on Tuesday, as the army blew up an unsafe six-storey building damaged by the disaster.
    A total of 51 people were killed in the Nov. 26 quake. After finding shelter for more than 6,300 homeless people in hotels, gyms, tents and social centers, the government now faces the task of assessing the safety of buildings and rebuilding homes.
    Prime Minister Edi Rama said the 2020 draft budget would be revised to allocate funds for building homes equivalent to 0.4% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).    That number equates to 7 billion leke ($63.10 million).
    “First, we shall not touch the main parameters of the budget because the challenge is not to rebuild for those made homeless by the quake to the detriment of other groups in the population and the economy,” Rama told a government meeting.
    Without a final figure for reconstruction costs yet clear, Rama said he wants not just to get the homeless into houses, but also to spur employment, consumption and economic growth.
    He added however that in order to save money for rebuilding, the state would not buy any new cars or furniture in 2020, and except for irrigation, no new projects would be accepted beyond those already planned.
    “The rebuilding will be one more tool to help the economy grow, not one to kick it off balance and hurt it,” he said.
    Donations have poured in from Albanians across the world and Rama has asked a group of fundraisers, including a Muslim cleric who has for years been giving new houses to those in need, to pool donations and monitor their use.
    A Turkish plane brought in tents on Tuesday, much needed in winter’s cold by villagers reluctant to quit land and livestock.
    Foreign and Albanian engineers fanned out across Albania’s second biggest town of Durres to check whether high-rises needed just new plaster, or were unsafe and had to be pulled down.
    The six-storey building blown up by the army in Durres was among six damaged dwellings being demolished on Tuesday.
    A former painter and mayor of Tirana who began as premier in 2013 by demolishing illegal buildings to make way for new roads, Rama said he preferred to build new neighborhoods in Durres, the capital Tirana and the townlets of Thumane and Lac.
    Albania’s draft budget for 2020 envisages economic growth of 4.1% next year and a fiscal deficit of 1.6% of GDP, the narrowest in two decades.
    The Balkan country has cut its growth forecast for this year to 3.4% from 4.3% previously, mainly due to falling electricity exports due to lack of rain.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka, Editing by William Maclean)

12/3/2019 ‘People are not animals’; stranded migrants freeze in Bosnian forest by Dado Ruvic
A migrant stands in a snow covered makeshift forest camp near Croatian border
in Bihac, Bosnia and Herzegovina December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    VUCJAK, Bosnia (Reuters) – Hundreds of migrants and refugees stuck in a makeshift camp in a Bosnian forest are struggling to survive in subzero temperatures as snow weighs down on their tents, spurring fears that some may die unless they are resettled soon.
    A senior human rights envoy who visited the camp on Tuesday demanded its immediate closure, though a Bosnian government minister said it could take up to a month to move the refugees to a more secure location.
    “People are people, not animals,” said Mauloddin, 24, an Afghan who set off for Europe 3-1/2 years ago.    “You see, … it’s very cold weather, (there is) no sleeping, no food.”
    Mauloddin is among some 600 migrants from the Middle East and Asia stuck in the camp at Vucjak, a former landfill site about 8 km (5 miles) from the Croatian border, because Bosnian authorities cannot agree on where to settle them.
    Bosnia is struggling to deal with an upsurge in migrant numbers since Croatia, Hungary and Slovenia closed their borders against undocumented immigration.    The migrants hope to get to wealthy western Europe and find work there.
    Some lacked warm clothes and were wrapped in blankets, some traipsed through the snow and mud in flip-flops to collect firewood.    One man brushed snow from the roof of his tent to prevent it collapsing.
    “Vucjak must be shut down today,” said Dunja Mijatovic, commissioner for human rights at the Council of Europe.
    “Otherwise the people here will start dying.”
    Mijatovic added that as a Bosnian citizen whose country generated its own stream of refugees during the wars that tore apart Yugoslavia in the 1990s she was “ashamed” of the conditions in the camp, saying they were “not for human beings.”
    Aid agencies have long urged the authorities to close the camp, which lacks running water and electricity.    The forest is strewn with landmines left over from the wars of the 1990s.
THEY STRIKE US, THEY HIT US
    Security Minister Dragan Mektic said on Tuesday the migrants would be moved to a location near the capital Sarajevo in the next month.
    Until then, said Selam Midzic, head of the Red Cross from the nearby town of Bihac, the migrants will have to endure the freezing cold and many will fall sick.    The Red Cross is the only organization providing food and medicines to the migrants.
    Commenting on their plight, Rezwanullay Niazy, a 24-year-old Afghan, said: “We spent all our money… We came close to Europe, and now they closed the Croatian and Slovenian borders.    When we go there they strike us, they hit us.”
    Human rights groups have accused Croatian police of using violence to push the migrants back over the border into Bosnia, a charge denied by Croatian authorities.
    “They (the Europeans) really don’t want refugees to come to their countries,” said Niazy.
(Reporting by Dado Ruvic and Reuters TV, writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/3/2019 Senior U.S. official: Russia in compliance with New START weapons treaty
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Assistant Secretary for International Security Christopher A. Ford attends the 2nd Preparatory session of the 2020
Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A top U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday that Russia remains in compliance with its obligations under the New START weapons control treaty, but took a hard line on overall weapons policy by saying Moscow is not complying with most other arms control obligations.
    “We assess that Russia does still remain in compliance with its New START obligations, but its behavior in connection with most other arms control agreements — and not merely the ill-fated INF Treaty — has been nothing short of appalling,” Christopher Ford, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, told a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
    President Donald Trump in August pulled Washington out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), another landmark strategic arms accord, citing violations by Russia that Moscow denies.
    Ford said Russia’s non-strategic arms need to be a priority in any future weapons agreement.    “Russia is projected to expand its number of non-strategic weapons considerably over the next decade,” Ford said.
    Russia has formally proposed to the United States that the two nuclear superpowers extend their New START arms control treaty by five years, though Moscow would also settle for a shorter extension.
    The New START accord, which is due to expire in February 2021, is the last major nuclear arms control treaty between Moscow and Washington.    It limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy to 1,550 each.
    Russia warned last month that there was already not enough time left for Moscow and Washington to negotiate a full-fledged replacement to the treaty and that time was running out to agree on an extension.
    Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2017 he thought the New START accord was a bad deal for the United States.    U.S. officials have said he will only decide next year whether or not to extend the treaty.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

12/4/2019 Kremlin calls for Europe to be part of any new missile treaty
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
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Western European countries should be involved in talks about a new nuclear arms control treaty between Russia and the United States following the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Moscow supported a comment made by French President Emmanuel Macron saying that Western European countries should be involved in the talks.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Maria Kiselyova)

12/4/2019 Russia accuses U.S. of deliberately delaying visas for its officials
FILE PHOTO: A Russian flag flies in front of the U.S. embassy building in Moscow, Russia, July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has accused Washington of deliberately delaying the issuing of visas for Russian officials traveling to the United States, something it said could further damage already strained relations.
    The U.S. embassy in Moscow failed to issue visas to a Russian delegation of treasury officials who were due to attend an international audit management conference in Washington on Dec. 3, the Russian embassy in Washington said late on Tuesday.
    The U.S. embassy did not immediately respond to the allegations.    But it has in the past said its consular section has been understaffed since Moscow ordered it to sharply cut its staff in Russia in 2017 during a major diplomatic row.
    The Russian embassy said it did not believe U.S. visas for Russian citizens were being held up because of a shortage of staff.
    “We are concerned about the U.S. State Department’s lack of will to ensure the proper work of its own consular organizations under lame pretexts,” the Russian embassy said in a statement.
    “Such actions by U.S. authorities are leading to a further degradation of already uneasy relations between the two countries,” it added.
    In September, Russia summoned a senior U.S. diplomat to protest over what it said was Washington’s unacceptable refusal to issue visas to members of a Russian delegation traveling to the United Nations General Assembly.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; editing by Tom Balmforth and Lincoln Feast.)

12/4/2019 Top Czech attorney reopens fraud probe into PM Babis by Jan Lopatka
FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends a news conference following the talks with
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev, Ukraine November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis will be investigated further for fraud in a case involving European Union subsidies, the top state attorney said on Wednesday, reversing an earlier decision to drop the matter.
    Babis, a billionaire businessman, had been investigated on suspicion of illegally tapping 2 million euros in subsidies to build a conference center outside Prague a decade ago, before he entered politics.
    He denies doing anything illegal and says the case it politically motivated.
    Opposition parties have called for Babis to quit, but his position seems solid for the time being, with public support holding steady and his coalition partners saying they have no reason to reconsider their participation in government.
    The core of the criminal probe is an allegation that Babis, the country’s fourth-richest person on Forbes list, had hidden the ownership of the conference center and hotel and so it would qualify for EU funding meant only for small businesses.
    Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman said the investigation that had been halted did not go far enough in establishing and evaluating facts, and sent it back to the Prague prosecutor for further inquiries and a new ruling.
    “Said simply, at this point the state of the evidence is not sufficient for the matter to be brought to indictment or dropped,” said Zeman, who answers to the government and can be dismissed without notice.
    Babis said he was not surprised given pressure by the media and others, but he believed the case would be halted eventually.
    “I repeat I did nothing illegal.    Every reasonable person understands that the whole case is made-up, it appeared only because I am in politics,” he told reporters.
    The decision is the second setback for Babis this week.
    Earlier, Czech media reported that European Commission had found a conflict of interest on Babis’s part as prime minister and as beneficiary of trust funds holding his chemicals, media, food and other assets, which received various EU subsidies that may have to be returned.
    Babis has repeatedly said he met obligations over the conflict of interest laws.    The European Commission has said it sent the audit results to the Czech authorities, but that the contents were confidential as the audit procedure was ongoing.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Additional reporting by Jan Schmidt and Robert Muller; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/4/2019 Putin says U.S. ramping up its military forces for space
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with his Serbian counterpart
Aleksandar Vucic in Sochi, Russia December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the United States was rapidly developing its military forces for potential operations in space and that Washington openly viewed space as a potential theater of war.
    Putin, who was speaking in the Black Sea city of Sochi in southern Russia, said that Moscow categorically opposed the militarization of space but that the U.S. moves meant Russia had to further develop its own space sector.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/4/2019 Post-war Bosnia to take full control of air space for first time by Daria Sito-Sucic
Wizzair airplane takes off from the Sarajevo airport in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – Bosnia will take full control of its air space from Thursday for the first time ever after its 1990s war of independence led to a period of oversight by international peace forces.
    Control over its air space was maintained by NATO-led peace forces from 1995 until 2003 when it was transferred to neighboring Serbia and Croatia while Bosnia built up and modernized its own system.
    “This is the first time ever that Bosnia takes control of its air space and it is an enormous success, bearing in mind that (neighboring) Montenegro, a NATO member, does not control its own skies,” Davorin Primorac, head of Bosnia’s Air Navigation Services Agency (BHANSA), said on Wednesday.
    Bosnia took control of air space below 10,000 meters (33,000 feet) in 2014 following a 10-year project to establish its own air navigation management system and after the training of some 400 staff.    Serbia and Croatia retained control above 10,000 meters just as they were doing when all three countries were republics in the old Yugoslav federation.
    Primorac said it had taken decades for Bosnia to take over its air space because its 1992-95 war, prompted by its secession from Yugoslavia, had devastated major infrastructure and equipment and left it short of skilled workers.
    It took considerable time to train flight controllers, rebuild infrastructure and obtain necessary equipment, including radar systems, he said, adding that BHANSA intended to further upgrade its capacities.
    Primorac said Bosnian flight controllers will oversee up to 1,600 flights on a busy day, eight times more than previously.
    After taking over its air control service from Croatia and Serbia, BHANSA’s budget would rise to 72.5 million Bosnian marka ($41 million) in 2020 from 60 million marka this year, he added.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/4/2019 Ukraine president wants all-for-all prisoner exchange with Russia
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a news conference in Tallinn, Estonia November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday that he wanted to agree an exchange with Russia of all remaining prisoners when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit in Paris next week.
    Speaking alongside the visiting prime minister of Sweden, Zelenskiy also said he would discuss holding local elections in the eastern Donbass region at the summit, insisting these be held under Ukrainian law and with Ukrainian candidates.
    The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany meet in the so-called “Normandy” format on Dec. 9, to help end a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/5/2019 Ukraine lawmaker says he met Giuliani to discuss misuse of US taxpayer money in Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach attends a news conference titled "Publication of facts of pressure of U.S. Embassy
on Ukraine's law enforcement agencies to interfere in electoral process in U.S.
," in Kiev, Ukraine October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – An independent Ukrainian lawmaker said on Thursday he had met U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer in Kiev to discuss the alleged misuse of U.S. taxpayer money by Ukrainian state bodies.
    In a statement on Facebook accompanied by photos of the meeting, Andriy Derkach said the two had discussed the creation of an interparliamentary group to fight corruption.
    As first reported by the New York Times, Giuliani has traveled to Budapest and Kiev this week to meet current and former Ukrainian officials for a documentary series amid the ongoing impeachment inquiry into the president.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/5/2019 Ukraine threatens to wall off part of Donbass region if no agreement with Russia
Andriy Yermak, aide to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, speaks at London's
Chatham House, London, Britain December 5, 2019. REUTERS/Marc Jones
    LONDON (Reuters) – A top Ukrainian presidential aide on Thursday said Ukraine would wall off the rest of the country from occupied territories if Russia failed to agree to a ceasefire and prisoner swap at a summit in Paris next week.
    If Russia doesn’t want to agree to a deal “in this case we will be building a wall and life will go on,” Andriy Yermak said at a forum in London.    “We will be living unfortunately in a scenario of a frozen conflict.”
    The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany will meet on Monday for the first time in more than three years to try to end a conflict in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed forces and Ukrainian troops that has killed more than 13,000 people.
(Reporting by Marc Jones; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/5/2019 Little wiggle room as Ukraine, Russia leaders meet for crunch Paris talks by John Irish and Matthias Williams
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a news conference
in Tallinn, Estonia November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins/File Photo
    PARIS/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian and Russian leaders will try to seal a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and agree prisoner swaps when they meet next week but with Kiev politically constrained and Moscow unlikely to bend, prospects for peace remain bleak, diplomats said.
    Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin hold their first face-to-face talks on Dec. 9 in Paris overseen by the French and German leaders, more than three years since the countries’ heads of state last met.    It comes after a slight easing of tensions.
    Over 13,000 people have been killed in the more than five-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.    There has been little sign of a peaceful solution despite a ceasefire agreement signed in February 2015 in Minsk.
    Zelenskiy scored a landslide election victory in April promising to end the simmering conflict but, facing pressure from his opposition, he is wary of conceding too much to Moscow.
    “If we start discussing the real political, military and security issues, namely, withdrawal of some troops on the line of contact, the question of local elections and the status of the Donbass region, you see that the two leaders don’t have a lot of room for maneuver,” said a senior French diplomat.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, which prompted Western sanctions.
    Key to the accords are elections in the disputed eastern Donbass region of Ukraine.    But both sides accuse each other of failing to stick to the deal, which includes restoring Ukrainian state control over the entire border with Russia and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the conflict zone.
    “If Russia doesn’t want to agree to a deal, in this case we will be building a wall and life will go on,” Ukrainian presidential aide Andriy Yermak told a forum in London on Thursday.    “We will be living unfortunately in a scenario of a frozen conflict.”
    Vladimir Frolov, a former senior Russian diplomat, said he saw little chance of a major breakthrough in Paris, describing the positions as irreconcilable.
    “Zelenskiy is going to hit two walls, one in Paris and one afterwards – the wall of Russian intransigence and the wall of Ukrainian public unwillingness to endorse humiliating compromises with Russia,” Frolov said.
    “Moscow does not care about sanctions relief, it cares about meeting its strategic objectives in Ukraine…and a confederate Ukrainian state that Kiev does not fully control,” he said.
    Calling the Dec. 9 meeting a test of where both sides stand, another French diplomat said progress on a ceasefire and prisoner swaps would be a good basis to move forward.
    The summit comes within the wider context of Europe’s relations with Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron has sought a reset with Moscow, something that has unnerved eastern European Union partners.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Michael Perry/Mark Heinrich)

12/5/2019 Putin says Russia ready to extend New START nuclear arms treaty
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the International Volunteer Forum at the
Olympic Park in Sochi, Russia December 5, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is ready to extend the New START nuclear arms control treaty by the end of this year without any more conditions or discussion, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, appearing to drop Moscow’s earlier defiant tone.
    The New START accord, signed in 2010, limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that Washington and Moscow can deploy. Its fate has been in the spotlight since Washington pulled out of another key arms accord in August, citing violations by Russia that Moscow denies.
    “Russia is not interested in starting an arms race and deploying missiles where they are not present now,” Putin told officials in a meeting.
    “Russia is ready to immediately, as soon as possible, by the end of this year, without any preconditions, extend the START Treaty so that there would be no further double or triple interpretation of our position,” Putin said.
    A month ago, Russia said there was no longer enough time left to negotiate a full-fledged replacement for the New START treaty, which expires in February 2021.
    In mid-November, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service said it was unlikely the agreement would be extended.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

12/5/2019 Slovak leader asks court to quash Europe’s longest pre-election poll blackout
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's presidential candidate Zuzana Caputova speaks at her party's
headquarters in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovakia’s president asked the Constitutional Court on Thursday to strike down a lengthy ban on publishing opinion polls ahead of elections in February, a restriction seen by most opposition parties as an attempt to sideline political newcomers.
    The law enacted last month extends the blackout on publishing polls on voting intentions to 50 days from the already lengthy 14 days, giving Slovakia the third-longest ban of its kind in the world after Cameroon and Tunisia, according to the Slovak Academy of Sciences.
    The measure was adopted ahead of an election due on Feb. 29 next year with the votes of the ruling leftist Smer party, junior coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) and the opposition far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia.
    Its authors said the bill aimed to protect voters from disinformation so they could base their decisions on the parties’ programs and actions.
    Opposition critics said the measure, which follows a bill tightening the financing rules for new parties, was aimed at disadvantaging challengers from new parties that could benefit from late shifts in support.
    In her motion filed with the court, President Zuzana Caputova argued that the bill violates the right to information and that it limited political competition.
    The Constitutional Court may put the implementation of the ban on hold before Jan. 10 — the deadline for publication of polls under the 50-day blackout — until a final ruling that is likely to follow later.
    The bill does not ban parties from procuring their own opinion polls, as long as they keep the information out of the public domain, but it imposes fines of up to 10,000 euros on publishers for releasing polls during the blackout.
    Slovakia, like other countries in Europe, has seen a rise in new parties in recent years.
    Caputova, an activist lawyer and political newcomer herself, defeated Smer’s candidate in a presidential runoff in March after a late surge in support.
    Smer has seen a slide in support since last year’s murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée triggered mass protests over corruption and ousted prime minister Robert Fico, who had dominated the euro zone country’s politics for a decade.
    His three-party coalition government has survived and the socially conservative Smer remains the favorite to take the largest share of the vote – but it is not clear if voting shifts would allow it to form a parliamentary majority.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova, Editing by William Maclean)

12/5/2019 Police charge Slovak ex-prime minister Fico with supporting racism
FILE PHOTO: Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico speaks during the news conference
at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico – leader of the country’s biggest party – has been charged with racism over his support for a far-right former lawmaker who lost his seat in parliament over racist remarks, police said on Thursday.
    The Supreme Court ruled in September that Milan Mazurek from the far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS) committed a crime by expressing comments aimed at the Roma minority and imposed a fine on him.
    Fico released a video message in which he supported Mazurek, who had said: “The Gypsy anti-socials have never done anything for the nation and never will,” and compared Roma children to “animals in the zoo.”
    Fico could face a prison term of one to five years if found guilty of approving a crime and defaming nation, race and belief as well as inciting national, race and ethnic hatred, police said in a statement.
    “Milan Mazurek said what almost the whole nation thinks and if you execute someone for truth, you make him a national hero,” Fico said in the message, originally released on his official Facebook page in September.
    “If the Supreme Court ruling were to be the benchmark of what is a crime in addressing the Roma, then the investigatory bodies can enter any pub in Slovakia and lock up all the guests,” he said.
    The far-right LSNS is viewed as a possible coalition partner for Fico’s Smer party after a general election on Feb. 29, given that LSNS has recently backed a number of Smer bills in the parliament.    Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, however, has ruled out such coalition.
    Smer, a Social Democrat, socially conservative party, has been losing support since the 2018 murder of a journalist who investigated links between the underworld and the government, but still remains the most popular party.
    Fico resigned under pressure from public demonstrations after the murder but has kept his three-party coalition in government by installing party ally Pellegrini as prime minister.
    According to 2013 data from the Labour Ministry and the United Nations, there are about 400,000 Roma among Slovakia’s population of 5.4 million, which makes them the second biggest minority after ethnic Hungarians.    Many of them live in segregated townships without sewage and running water, facing discrimination at schools and in the workplace.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova and Robert Muller; Editing by Giles Elgood)

12/5/2019 Polish officials seize 2 tonnes of cocaine from Colombia: PM
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the second day of the European Union leaders
summit dominated by Brexit, in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish officials have seized two tonnes of cocaine from Colombia worth around 2 billion zlotys ($510 million), Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday.
    “This was the biggest amount of drugs seized in the last 30 years,” Morawiecki told a news conference, adding that the security forces have detained several suspects, including four Colombians, two Poles and one Iranian.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/5/2019 Leader of Belarus dismisses fears Russia could swallow his country by Andrei Makhovsky
President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko delivers a speech during a meeting with members
of parliament in Minsk, Belarus December 5, 2019. BelTA/Maxim Guchek/Handout via REUTERS
    MINSK (Reuters) – The veteran leader of Belarus on Thursday dismissed opposition fears that a possible integration pact with Russia could end with his country losing its independence to Moscow, saying the two countries were not discussing deeper political ties.
    Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, is due to hold talks on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin on an integration road map, but a lack of detail on what it might include has fueled fears that Moscow aims to gain new influence in ex-Soviet Belarus as part of a creeping plan to absorb it.
    Leaders of the enfeebled opposition in Minsk warned this week that the deal could “potentially threaten the continued existence of Belarus as an independent state.”
    But Lukashenko said there was no need to worry.
    “I don’t want to cross out everything I’ve done with you, the people, and having created a sovereign independent state … now toss it aside and hand it over,” Lukashenko told parliamentarians.
    “That will never happen while I’m in charge.    It’s our country.    We are sovereign and independent,” he added, saying the two neighbors were not discussing a unified parliament or other political questions.
    Russia has helped to prop up Lukashenko over the past 25 years with loans and energy subsidies.    But it started to scale back this help last year, prompting Lukashenko to accuse Russia of trying to bully his much smaller country into a union.
    The Belarusian government says it stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year from changes to Russian tax policy and wants compensation.    Russia says the subsidies it pays to Belarus cost its exchequer billions of dollars.
    Putin’s current term ends in 2024 when the constitution requires him to leave the Kremlin.    However, some critics have speculated he could try to bypass the constitutional limit on serving more than two consecutive terms and retain power by becoming head of a unified Russian and Belarusian state.
    The Kremlin denies this and Putin has said there are no plans afoot to unite Russia and Belarus.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that Putin and Lukashenko planned to discuss a road map to develop bilateral relations, as well as investment projects and natural gas.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Matthias Williams/Andrew Osborn/Gareth Jones)

12/6/2019 Russia frees anti-Kremlin student protester after opposition outcry
Russian student and political blogger Yegor Zhukov, who was charged with public appeals for extremist activity and received
a three-year suspended sentence, reacts outside a court building in Moscow, Russia December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court unexpectedly freed a prominent student protester on Friday after handing him a three-year suspended jail sentence on extremism charges in a case that has sparked an outcry among the Kremlin’s critics.
    Yegor Zhukov, a 21-year-old student and politics blogger on YouTube, was among more than 1,000 people detained in Moscow on July 27 in one of the biggest crackdowns of recent years.    He and others had taken to the streets to call for free elections.
    The court on Friday found him guilty of inciting extremism on his YouTube channel and banned him from using the Internet for two years.
    But the court did not satisfy a demand from Russian prosecutors to jail Zhukov for four years and opted to give him a suspended sentence instead.
    Zhukov had denied the allegations against him and said he had been caught up in a government crackdown on the opposition.
    “The fact I’m here now is only thanks to you, this is your victory,” Zhukov told supporters after emerging from the court on Friday.
    Prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny welcomed the news of Zhukov’s suspended sentence, but said he should never have been prosecuted in the first place.
    Russian courts were due on Friday to rule in other separate cases against people facing criminal prosecution over anti-government protests that flared this summer.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Anton Zverev; editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/6/2019 Russia, Turkey working on new S-400 missile contract: Interfax
FILE PHOTO: A Russian serviceman walks past S-400 missile air defence systems in Tverskaya Street
before a rehearsal for the Victory Day parade, which marks the anniversary of the victory over
Nazi Germany in World War Two, in central Moscow, Russia April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Turkey are working on a contract for the delivery of a new batch of Russian S-400 missile systems, the Interfax news agency cited a senior official at a Russian military cooperation agency as saying on Friday.
    Such a deal would be likely to further strain Ankara’s relations with Washington which has suspended Turkey from the U.S. F-35 stealth fighter jet program, in which it was a producer and buyer, to penalize it for buying S-400 batteries this year.
    “We’re gradually working on this question.    Most importantly, both sides are intent on continuing cooperation in this sphere,” the head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation was quoted as saying.
    The official, Dmitry Shugaev, said he thought there was a “fairly high likelihood” Turkey and Russia would sign a contract for the delivery of an additional batch of S-400s next year.
    The head of Russia’s state arms exporter told RIA news agency on Nov. 26 that Moscow and Ankara were actively discussing Ankara taking up an option in its original missile contract for it to receive more S-400 systems.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet and Jane Merriman)

12/6/2019 Hungary’s government plans to tighten control over theaters by Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a news conference
in Budapest, Hungary, October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s nationalist government plans to tighten control over theaters, in a move critics said could undermine their independence and stifle artistic freedom.
    According to draft legislation seen by Reuters on Friday, the government would set up a National Cultural Council, headed by a minister, with the task of “setting priorities and directions to be followed in Hungarian culture.”
    The minister would also have a say in the appointment or sacking of theater directors at institutions that are jointly financed by the state and municipality.
    “It is a fundamental requirement for activities belonging under the auspices of this law to actively defend the interests of the nation’s wellbeing,” the bill says.
    Since Prime Minister Viktor Orban won power in 2010, his right-wing Fidesz party has rewritten Hungary’s constitution, gained control of state media, and businessmen close to Orban and the party have built empires.
    His government has often clashed with the European Union over what his critics say is a steady erosion of democratic checks and balances in the Central European country of 10 million people.
    Orban has often challenged Western liberal taboos and after winning a 2018 election, his third in a row, flagged major changes ahead, claiming a “mandate to build a new era.”
    His supporters have called for an end to what they see as the dominance in Hungarian culture of leftist-liberal ideas.    Orban says his election wins give him a mandate to redefine various aspects of national life.
    “An era is determined by cultural trends, collective beliefs and social customs.    This is now the task we are faced with: we must embed the political system in a cultural era,” Orban said last year.
    A government spokesman on Friday confirmed the government sought a greater say in the operation of theaters that it partly funds.    He said a recent sexual harassment case at a Budapest theater made the changes necessary as the government currently has no power to sack the director of the theater involved.
    Gergely Karacsony, a liberal sociologist elected mayor of Budapest in October in a rare setback for Fidesz, said on his Facebook page the bill was a step “in a very bad direction.”
    “This proposal would eliminate cultural diversity, which stems from freedom — which means artists are not kept on a political leash,” Karacsony said.
    The Hungarian Theatre Society also issued a statement saying the plan would curtail artistic freedoms in an unacceptable way.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/6/2019 Slovak police charge ex-president and opposition leader Kiska with tax fraud
FILE PHOTO: Slovakian President Andrej Kiska listens during a news conference in Riga, Latvia December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    BRATISLAVA (Reuters) – Slovak police have charged former president Andrej Kiska with tax fraud, stirring up the political scene ahead of an election due in February.
    Police suspect Kiska, who is now an opposition leader, of wrongdoing in campaign financing before he became president in 2014.    He could face up to 12 years in prison if the case is brought to court and he is found guilty.
    “The fraud is connected with entering tax receipts for the presidential election campaign into the books of (Kiska’s) company although these activities were not part of the company’s business,” police said on Friday.
    Kiska denies any wrongdoing.
    He paid for the presidential campaign through his firm KTAG. The firm claimed a tax return worth 146,000 euros ($165,580) that was not approved by the tax authority which later imposed tens of thousands euros in additional taxes and penalties on the company.
    The police looked into the company’s tax records twice in the past years and did not press any charges.    A third investigation was opened again this year.
    The charge was made one day after Robert Fico, the leader of the biggest ruling party Smer and a former long-time prime minister, was charged with enticing racial hatred.
    Kiska, an arch-rival of Fico whom he defeated in the presidential election, has long said he expected the charges as a part of a political fight against him by Fico.
    “Fico continues with his revenge.    I am not afraid of Fico, I have beaten him once, I will beat him again,” Kiska said at a news conference.
    Kiska now runs a new political party, Za Ludi (For the People), which has been second or third in opinion polls ahead of the Feb. 29 election.
    Fico’s Smer has seen its support dip but still remains the most popular party with backing of around 20%.    However, it is unclear whether he or rather a group of opposition parties will be able to form a majority in parliament.
    Slovakia has been shaken by the murder of an investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée in 2018, which prosecutors believe was ordered by a businessman Marian Kocner who has had strong ties with senior state officials.
    He and his alleged associates will face trial from Dec. 19.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova and Robert Muller)

12/6/2019 Russia says will respond to U.S. on missile deployment
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a joint news conference with Italian
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio in Rome, Italy, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    ROME (Reuters) – Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Friday that Russia will not hesitate to respond to any new deployment of missiles by the United States.
    “We will have a mirror reaction,” Lavrov said.    “Every step will have a Russian reaction,” Lavrov said at a news conference in Rome with his Italian counterpart, speaking through an Italian interpreter.
    Russia has proposed a moratorium on the deployment of short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) banning such a move formally ended in August.
(Reporting by Gavin Jones)

12/6/2019 President Zelensky meets with troops ahead of first summit with Putin by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Oct. 14, 2019, file photo, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, right, listens to a serviceman as
he visits the war-hit Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File)
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is slated to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at a summit with France and Germany.    Reports said the meeting will take place on Monday in Paris, marking the first time the two leaders will come face to face.
    Zelensky ran on a platform to end fighting in eastern Ukraine between his military and Moscow backed rebels, who have killed more than 14,000 people over the last five years. The Ukrainian leader mentioned the meeting when he met with troops along the front lines.
    “A few days ahead of a very important meeting, it was very important for me to have a personal meeting with you,” stated Zelensky.    “With soldiers who look into the enemy’s eyes on a daily basis and courageously secure defense in the country’s east.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, sings Ukraine’s national anthem during his visits a military unit at the
war-hit Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
    Reports said Putin is likely to press Zelensky to fulfill a 2015 agreement, which would reportedly secure autonomy for the rebel held regions and amnesty for separatists.     Ukraine’s former president has warned Zelensky to avoid a one-on-one meeting with Putin.     “Don’t trust Putin ever and in anything.    Putin manipulates everything: content, facts, figures, maps, emotions.    He hates Ukraine and Ukrainians.    I sincerely advise to avoid meeting one-on-one with Putin, and if this is impossible, resist his KGB manipulations and flattery.” — Petro Poroshenko, Former President of Ukraine
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while speaking during a joint news conference with
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic following their talks in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the
Black Sea resort of in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. (Shamil Zhumatov, Pool Photo via AP)

12/7/2019 Russia, Belarus closer to resolving oil, gas issues, says Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko toast during a dinner following
their meeting in Sochi, Russia December 7, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Belarus have come closer to resolving their differences on oil and gas supplies, Russia’s economy minister said on Saturday after talks between the two countries.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko were holding talks on Saturday on an integration road map in the southern Russian city of Sochi.
    A lack of detail on what such a pact might include has fueled fears that Moscow aims to gain new influence in ex-Soviet Belarus as part of a plan to absorb it.
    “A lot of progress has been made, even on oil and gas.    The positions have come significantly closer,” Russian Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin said, without providing any detail.
    Oreshkin added that the two presidents would meet again in St. Petersburg on Dec. 20.
    Lukashenko, who did not address the press after the talks, last month threatened not to sign an integration deal with Russia if it failed to resolve “oil and gas issues.”
    Russia has provided energy subsidies to Belarus in the form of cheap oil and gas and low-cost loans to keep Minsk in its political orbit, but now plans to phase these out to lessen the burden on its economy.
    Belarus has said that it stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars a year from changes to Russian tax policy and has tried to negotiate compensation.    Russia says the subsidies cost its exchequer billions of dollars.
    Lukashenko this week said the countries had yet to reach an agreement over compensation in a dispute over tainted Russian oil that was pumped through the Druzhba pipeline.
    He said the financial losses sustained by Belarus over the contamination of oil in the Druzhba pipeline amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars.
    The Belarusian leader, who has been in power since 1994, has dismissed opposition fears that a possible integration pact with Russia could end with his country losing its independence to Moscow.
    He has said the two countries are not discussing deeper political ties.
    Despite his assurances, some 1,000 people gathered in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Saturday to protest integration with Moscow.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow and Andrey Makhovsky in Minsk; Editing by Jan Harvey)

12/8/2019 Finland’s Social Democrats name Marin to be youngest ever prime minister by Tarmo Virki
The candidate for the next prime minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, after the SDP's prime minister
candidate vote in Helsinki, Finland, December 8, 2019. Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s transportation minister Sanna Marin was selected by her Social Democratic party on Sunday to become the country’s youngest prime minister ever, taking over after the resignation of Antti Rinne.
    The 34-year-old Marin, whose party is the largest in a five-member governing coalition, will be the world’s youngest serving prime minister when she takes office in the coming days.
    Rinne resigned on Tuesday after a party in the coalition, the Centre Party, said it had lost confidence in him following his handling of a postal strike.
    “We have a lot of work ahead to rebuild trust,” Marin told reporters after winning a narrow vote among the party leadership. Antti Lindtman, head of the party’s parliamentary group, was runner up.
    Marin has had a swift rise in Finnish politics since becoming head of the city council of her industrial hometown of Tampere at the age of 27.
    She will take over in the middle of a 3-day wave of strikes, which will halt production at some of Finland’s largest companies from Monday.    The Confederation of Finnish Industries estimates the strikes will cost the companies a combined 500 million euros ($550 million) in lost revenue.
    The centre-left coalition, which took office just six months ago, has agreed to continue with its political program stressing a shift to carbon neutrality, after Rinne announced he was stepping down at the demand of the Centre Party.
    “We have a joint government program which glues the coalition together,” Marin said.
    The timing of the change in leadership is awkward for Finland, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union until the end of the year, playing a central role in efforts to hammer out a new budget for the bloc.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/8/2019 Don’t cede too much for peace at Paris talks, Ukrainians tell president
People take part in a rally ahead of the so-called "Normandy" format summit in Paris, where leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France
will meet to discuss steps to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in Kiev, Ukraine December 8, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Thousands of people gathered in the center of Kiev on Sunday to send a message to Ukraine’s president, who meets his Russian counterpart on Monday, that Ukrainians will not accept a peace deal at the cost of the country’s independence and sovereignty.
    “We are here because we are not satisfied with the peace at any costs … the peace at the costs of capitulation,” Inna Sovsun, a lawmaker of opposition Golos (Voice) party, told the rally.
    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin are meeting in Paris alongside the French and German leaders in a renewed effort to end a conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed forces in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
    Zelenskiy, who won a landslide election victory in April promising to bring peace, said this week that his first face-to-face meeting with the Russian president would give Kiev a chance to resolve the more than five-year-old war in the Donbass region.
    But many Ukrainians are concerned over a possible compromise with Russia, which they see as an aggressor seeking to restore the Kremlin’s influence on the former Soviet republic and ruin Ukraine’s aspiration to closer European ties.
    The Ukrainian government wants to agree with Moscow on a sustainable ceasefire in Donbass, the exchange of all prisoners, and a timeline for the withdrawal of all illegal armed forces from regions under the control of Russia-backed separatists.
    The leaders’ meeting was arranged after Ukraine and separatists withdrew their military forces from three settlements in Donbass – implementing agreements reached between Russian, Ukrainian and separatist negotiators in September.
    Kiev also promised to grant a special status to territory controlled by the rebels and to hold elections there.
    These plans, seen as a sign of Kiev’s capitulation, sparked protests in the Ukrainian capital.
    According to an opinion poll of Ukrainians conducted by a think-tank Democratic Initiative and Kiev’s International Institute of the Sociology on Nov 4-19, 53.2% of respondents are against a special status for Donbass and 62.7% do not accept an amnesty for those who fight against the Ukrainian army.
    “We are here so that the voice from Kiev can be heard in Paris. Friends, we cannot make any concessions to Putin until the last sliver of Ukrainian land is free,” ex-president Petro Poroshenko told Sunday’s rally.
    Relations between two countries collapsed following pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovich’s escape to Russia and Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, which prompted Western sanctions on Russia.
    Historian Volodymyr Vyatrovych said many centuries and recent years of Ukrainian history showed Kiev should not believe in a good will of Moscow.
    “Zelenskiy’s new team seems to be returning to this erroneous strategy, which consists in the fact that we can agree with Russia,” he told the rally.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Frances Kerry)

12/9/2019 Finland picks world’s youngest PM, women-led cabinet by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki
FILE PHOTO: Finland's Members of Parliament, Katri Kulmuni (L) and Sanna Marin participate in the
A-studio talk show in Helsinki, Finland December 3, 2019. Lehtikuva/Roni Rekomaa/via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s new prime minister – the world’s youngest premier – will have a finance minister two years her junior in a new women-led coalition cabinet after a political shake-up, party officials said on Monday.
    Sanna Marin, 34 from the dominant Social Democrats, was nominated on Sunday. Centre Party chief Katri Kulmuni, 32, will get the finance post when the full new cabinet is announced this week, party members said.
    Finland’s government resigned last week after the Center Party said it had lost confidence in Social Democrat Prime Minister Antti Rinne over his handling of a postal strike.
    The five parties in power – four of them led by women – decided to stay in coalition and continue with the same programs, but said there would be a reshuffle.
    “We want to make the axis between the prime minister and the finance minister work,” Kulmuni said.    “That is the foundation for this new generation of collaboration (between the Social Democrats and the Centre Party),” she added.
    There was no immediate comment from Marin, the former transport minister.
    She has had a swift rise in Finnish politics since becoming head of the city council of her industrial hometown of Tampere at the age of 27.
    She will take over in the middle of a wave of strikes, which will halt production at some of Finland’s largest companies from Monday.    The Confederation of Finnish Industries estimates the strikes will cost the companies a combined 500 million euros ($550 million) in lost revenue.
    Kulmuni, who previously held the more junior position of Minister of Economic Affairs, replaces Mika Lintila.    She took over as the head of the Center Party from ex-prime minister Juha Sipila in September.
    Green Party leader Maria Ohisalo, 34, will continue as interior minister, the Left Alliance’s chairwoman Li Andersson, 32, as education minister and the Swedish People’s Party’s Anna-Maja Henriksson, 55, as justice minister.
    Rinne will remain the Social Democrats leader at least until he chairs the party’s conference in June.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen and Tarmo Virki; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew heavens)

12/9/2019 Russian forces enter former Islamic State stronghold in Syria after U.S. pullback
FILE PHOTO: A woman pushes a baby cart as she walks past rubble of damaged buildings
in Raqqa, Syria, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Aboud Hamam/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian forces have entered Raqqa, the former de facto capital of the Islamic State caliphate, in one of the starkest examples yet of how Moscow has filled the vacuum created by President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. forces from northern Syria.
    Russian troops were shown in footage on the defense ministry’s Zvezda TV channel shaking hands with Syrian children and unloading humanitarian aid bundles with the slogan “Russia is with you” from the back of trucks.
    Raqqa was captured two years ago by U.S. troops and their Kurdish-led Syrian allies in the biggest victory of Washington’s campaign against Islamic State in Syria.    But since Trump abruptly ordered a pull-out in October, Moscow has swiftly advanced into territory where U.S. troops had operated.
    Russia is a close battlefield ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, which was invited by the Kurds into territory they controlled after Trump pulled his forces out of the way of a Turkish assault against Kurdish-held areas.
    Russian troops in Raqqa were handing out humanitarian aid and its military doctors were offering residents medical attention, Vladimir Varnavsky, a defense ministry officer, was quoted as saying by RIA news agency.
    “Work in the city to get rid of the rubble and clear the area (of bombs or mines) is not yet complete and there is a shortage of clean water, medicine and food,” he said.
    Russia last month set up a helicopter base an airport in a northeastern Syrian city and also landed forces at a sprawling air base in the region that had been vacated by U.S. forces.
    Russia and Turkey are carrying out joint patrols along Syria’s northern border with Turkey as part of a deal struck between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.
    After saying all U.S. troops would leave northern Syria, Washington has left some behind for now at some bases but rolled back most of their operations.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/9/2019 Swedish government postpones unemployment agency reform to defuse crisis
FILE PHOTO: Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven attends a news conference during the annual informal summer
meeting of the Nordic prime ministers in Reykjavik, Iceland August 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The Swedish government and the centre-right parties backing it in parliament said on Monday they would postpone labor reforms, potentially defusing a row that had threatened the policy deal that keeps Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in power.
    The governing Social Democrats and Greens, along with the centre-right Liberal and Centre parties that support it, said the reform of the country’s unemployment agency would be postponed by one year and would be based on a different legal framework.
    The move is in line with demands made by the opposition Moderates and Christian Democrats who had threatened to join forces with the Sweden Democrats and Left Party in a vote of no confidence in Labour Market Minister Eva Nordmark.
    The ultimatum, which had some leading Social Democrats raising the risk of the government resigning, was awkward for Lofven as it hit at a reform agreed by him and his centre-right supporters in what is called the January Agreement that ended months of deadlock in forming a government after inconclusive 2018 elections.
    “The January agreement stands firm,” Lofven and leaders of the Greens, Liberals and Centre wrote in a signed article in Swedish daily Aftonbladet.
    “The reform of the unemployment agency is a big and important reform that requires the support of parliament.    In order to make that possible, we have agreed to the changes we are now presenting,” they added.
(Reporting by Niklas Pollard; Editing by Toby Chopra)

12/9/2019 Putin meets Ukraine leader for first time at Paris peace summit by John Irish
Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a Normandy-format
summit in Paris, France December 9, 2019. Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the first time on Monday at a summit in Paris aimed at advancing efforts to restore peace to eastern Ukraine.
    Zelenskiy and Putin are holding talks together with the leaders of France and Germany in a renewed effort to end a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. (nL8N28F2Y1]
    Diplomats however caution that the prospects for peace are bleak, with Zelenskiy, a comedian-turned-president, politically constrained at home and wary of conceding too much, and Putin showing little interest in bending to outside pressure.
    After a series of bilateral meetings at the Elysee Palace, Putin and Zelenskiy entered the room for a meeting of the four leaders making little eye contact with one another and with no smiles.    They did not shake hands for the cameras.
    “The main issue is a question of confidence-building so that we can move toward the objective of restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty,” said a French diplomatic source.
    There has been scant sign of a peaceful solution to the crisis despite a 2015 ceasefire deal in Minsk.    Monday’s summit is the first time the four leaders have met under the so-called Normandy format since 2016.
    Many Ukrainians are concerned about compromising with Russia.    They see Putin as an aggressor seeking to restore the Kremlin’s influence on the former Soviet republic and ruin Ukraine’s aspiration for closer European ties.
    Kiev wants to seal a lasting ceasefire in the Donbass region, the exchange of all prisoners, and a timeline for the withdrawal of all illegal armed forces from regions under the control of Russia-backed separatists, Ukrainian officials said.
    The summit comes at a time Macron’s overtures to Putin for a reset of relations have unnerved European allies, in particular former communist countries in eastern and central European countries who cherish their European Union membership and rely heavily on NATO for their security.
    French officials say the Paris summit is a test for Macron’s strategy.
    “As much as I am skeptical of Macron’s view of Russia, it would have been a mistake not to try unblocking the Donbass deadlock through a Normandy summit.    Now let’s see what gives (or does not),” said Brune Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Paris-based Strategic Research Foundation.
    Key to the Minsk accords succeeding are elections in the disputed eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, diplomats say.    But both sides accuse each other of failing to stick to the 2015 deal, which includes restoring Ukrainian state control over the entire border with Russia and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the conflict zone.
(This story fixes typographical error in first paragraph)
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Richard Lough)

12/9/2019 Trump to meet Russia’s foreign minister on Tuesday: Ifax
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Israeli American Council National Summit
in Hollywood, Florida, U.S., December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet U.S. President Donald Trump during talks with his U.S. counterpart in Washington on Tuesday, the Interfax news agency cited a Russian foreign ministry source as saying.
    Lavrov’s trip to Washington for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes as bilateral ties are at post-Cold War lows, strained over everything from alleged election meddling to the wars in Ukraine and Syria.
    Time is also running out for the two sides to strike a deal that would replace or extend their New START nuclear arms treaty that is set to expire in February 2021.
    President Vladimir Putin last week offered the United States an extension on the deal without any pre-conditions or further discussion.
    Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed Lavrov’s trip to Washington in a statement.    It did not mention a meeting with Trump, but Interfax cited a foreign ministry source saying there would be such a meeting.
    “We expect that (Lavrov) will be received by (Trump) and will hold talks with (Pompeo),” the source was quoted as saying.
    The White House neither confirmed nor denied Trump would meet Lavrov.
    U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election campaign in order to tilt the vote in Trump’s favor.    Moscow has denied any interference.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Andrey Kuzmin in Moscow; additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Toby Chopra and Catherine Evans)

12/9/2019 Belarus & Russia discuss forming new union, protesters rally in Minsk against possible integration> by OAN Newsroom
    Belarus and Russia are reportedly discussing a possible political union, which could see the two nations form a new country.    One America’s Kristian Rouz has the details.

12/10/2019 Gunman kills six in Czech hospital before shooting himself by Radovan Stoklasa
A police officer is seen at a road blockade, as police checks cars after a shooting at Ostrava's University Hospital,
near the Slovak-Czech border crossing in Bila, Czech Republic, December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    OSTRAVA, Czech Republic (Reuters) – A 42-year-old gunman killed six people on Tuesday at a hospital waiting room in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava before fleeing and fatally shooting himself in the head, police said.
    It was the worst shooting in the Czech Republic, where gun crime is relatively rare, since a man shot eight people dead and then killed himself at a restaurant in Uhersky Brod in 2015.
    It was unclear what motivated the shooting, which happened in the early morning at the outpatient clinic of the University Hospital in Ostrava, 350 km (217 miles) east of the capital Prague and near the border with Poland.
    Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters it was an “individual act.”
    The shooter fled the hospital after the attack, prompting a manhunt involving hundreds of officers.    He later shot himself in the head at his car with a police helicopter flying overhead.
    He died about a half an hour later after police failed to resuscitate him, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said outside the hospital.    “The perpetrator of this horrendous act is dead.”
    Czech Radio, citing the director of the firm where he worked, identified the suspect as a local construction technician and said he had been on medical leave.
    Reuters could not immediately confirm that.
    Police said they received calls at 7:19 a.m. (0619 GMT) and officers were on the scene five minutes later.
    Hospital director Jiri Havrlant told reporters five people died in the attack and one died in surgery.    Another two were seriously injured but no medics were hurt, he said.
    Victims had been shot at close range, he said. They were all adults: four men and two women.
    The head of the regional police department, Tomas Kuzel, said the attacker was silent as he carried out the shooting and there was no indication of accomplices.
    Police dispatched two helicopters to hunt him.    “When the helicopter was over the car, the perpetrator shot himself in the head,” Kuzel said.    “He died from self-inflicted wounds.”
(Reporting by Radovan Stoklasa in Ostrava, Robert Muller, Jan Lopatka and Jason Hovet in Prague; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Andrew Cawthorne)

12/10/2019 Putin meets Ukraine leader for first time at Paris peace summit by John Irish
Russian President Vladimir Putin is welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of a
Normandy-format summit in Paris, France December 9, 2019. Sputnik/Alexey Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the first time on Monday at a summit in Paris aimed at advancing efforts to restore peace to eastern Ukraine.
    Zelenskiy and Putin are holding talks together with the leaders of France and Germany in a renewed effort to end a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. (nL8N28F2Y1]
    Diplomats however caution that the prospects for peace are bleak, with Zelenskiy, a comedian-turned-president, politically constrained at home and wary of conceding too much, and Putin showing little interest in bending to outside pressure.
    After a series of bilateral meetings at the Elysee Palace, Putin and Zelenskiy entered the room for a meeting of the four leaders making little eye contact with one another and with no smiles.    They did not shake hands for the cameras.
    “The main issue is a question of confidence-building so that we can move toward the objective of restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty,” said a French diplomatic source.
    There has been scant sign of a peaceful solution to the crisis despite a 2015 ceasefire deal in Minsk.    Monday’s summit is the first time the four leaders have met under the so-called Normandy format since 2016.
    Many Ukrainians are concerned about compromising with Russia.    They see Putin as an aggressor seeking to restore the Kremlin’s influence on the former Soviet republic and ruin Ukraine’s aspiration for closer European ties.
    Kiev wants to seal a lasting ceasefire in the Donbass region, the exchange of all prisoners, and a timeline for the withdrawal of all illegal armed forces from regions under the control of Russia-backed separatists, Ukrainian officials said.
    The summit comes at a time Macron’s overtures to Putin for a reset of relations have unnerved European allies, in particular former communist countries in eastern and central European countries who cherish their European Union membership and rely heavily on NATO for their security.
    French officials say the Paris summit is a test for Macron’s strategy.
    “As much as I am skeptical of Macron’s view of Russia, it would have been a mistake not to try unblocking the Donbass deadlock through a Normandy summit. Now let’s see what gives (or does not),” said Brune Tertrais, Deputy Director of the Paris-based Strategic Research Foundation.
    Key to the Minsk accords succeeding are elections in the disputed eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, diplomats say.    But both sides accuse each other of failing to stick to the 2015 deal, which includes restoring Ukrainian state control over the entire border with Russia and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the conflict zone.
(This story fixes typographical error in first paragraph)
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Richard Lough)

12/10/2019 France’s Macron says progress made on Ukraine at summit
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron at the NATO summit in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that progress had been made to restore peace to eastern Ukraine at a summit in Paris where Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time.
    “The fact that we are side by side in Paris today is an important result … and a credible relaunch of (talks) which wasn’t achieved beforehand given the lack of advances for several years.    It is an achievement,” Macron told a news conference.
    The French leader said he hoped a new meeting under the “Normandy format” between the two countries, France and Germany could be done within four months.
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Michel Rose and Leslie Adler)

12/10/2019 Russia and Ukraine leaders, in first talks, agree to exchange prisoners by John Irish and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron
and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend a joint news conference after a Normandy-format
summit in Paris, France, December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool
    PARIS (Reuters) – The leaders of Russia and Ukraine agreed on Tuesday to exchange all remaining prisoners from the conflict in east Ukraine by the end of the year, but left thorny questions about the region’s status for future talks.
    Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in their first face-to-face meeting, took part in nine hours of talks in Paris, brokered by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
    The conflict in eastern Ukraine that broke out in 2014 has killed more than 13,000 people, left a large swathe of Ukraine de facto controlled by Moscow-backed separatists and aggravated the deepest east-west rift since the Cold War.
    The body language between Putin and Zelenskiy, a comedian-turned-politician elected earlier this year on a promise to resolve the conflict, was chilly.    There was no public handshake, and they avoided eye contact.
    But the talks did deliver specific commitments.    A final communique set out the prisoner exchange and a renewed commitment to implement an existing ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region that has never fully taken hold as well as enhanced powers for international ceasefire monitors.
    The sides also said they had agreed, over the next four months, to work toward local elections in Donbass, a major stumbling block up to now.    There were no details though on how the votes would be conducted, and Macron acknowledged there were still disagreements on the subject.
    “We have made progress on disengagement, prisoner exchanges, ceasefire and a political evolution,” Macron said at a news conference at which Zelenskiy and Putin sat separated by Merkel and Macron. “We have asked our ministers in the coming four months to work on this.”
    In addition, Zelenskiy said he and Putin had worked out the outline of an agreement that would allow the transit of Russian natural gas to continue across Ukrainian soil.    He gave no details.    A member of the Russian delegation said officials had been instructed to hammer out details.
    However, there was no definitive agreement on the political issues that stand in the way of resolving the conflict.    These include the status of Donbass within Ukraine and who should de facto control the border between Donbass and Russia.
    Another round of talks in the so-called Normandy format, brokered by France and Germany, will be held within four months.
PEACE ELUSIVE
    Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region spun out of Kiev’s control in 2014, soon after street protests ousted a pro-Moscow leader in the Ukrainian capital and Russia sent in armed men to seize Ukraine’s Black Sea Crimea region.
    A 2015 ceasefire deal was signed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus.    But fighting still flares up in Donbass four years on, and a peace deal has been elusive.    Monday’s summit was the first time the four leaders have met under the Normandy format since 2016.
    Many Ukrainians are concerned about compromising with Russia. They see Putin as an aggressor seeking to restore the Kremlin’s influence on the former Soviet republic and ruin Ukraine’s aspiration for closer European ties.
    Protesters who have warned Zelenskiy about making concessions to Putin in Paris were camped outside the presidential administration in Kiev, watching the summit news conference on a big screen.
    Zelenskiy, who sparred verbally with Russian journalists at the news conference, said he had given no ground on Ukraine’s sovereignty or territorial integrity.    He said he and Putin had disagreed on several issues.
    Asked who triumphed in their exchanges, Zelenskiy said: “I don’t know who (beat) who.    I think it would be appropriate to be diplomatic as we’ve just started talking.    Let’s say for now it’s a draw.”
    Putin, for his part, is unwilling to be seen to bend to outside pressure over eastern Ukraine, and he does not want to be seen to be leaving the Russian-speaking population of Donbass at the mercy of the Kiev government.
    He expressed only cautious hope for the peace talks.    “All this gives us the grounds to suppose that the process is developing in the right direction,” he said.
    Sticking to his cool tone, when he ended his remarks to journalists in Paris, Putin thanked Merkel and Macron warmly but offered no pleasantries to Zelenskiy.
(Additional reporting by Michel Rose in Paris, Paul Carrel in Berlin and Matthias Williams and Natalia Zinets in Kiev Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Cynthia Osterman)

12/10/2019 Putin says Georgian killed in Berlin was himself a killer by John Irish and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference after a Normandy-format
summit in Paris, France December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool?
    (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said a Georgian man murdered in Berlin in August was himself a killer who took part in bloody acts on Russian soil and that Moscow’s requests for his extradition had not been heeded.
    Asked at a news conference in Paris if Russia would respond in kind to Germany’s expulsion of two Russian diplomats over the man’s killing, Putin said: “There are unwritten laws in such cases: you expelled our diplomats, we expel yours.”
    German prosecutors suspect Russian or Chechen involvement in the murder of the man in a Berlin park in August.    Russia has denied any involvement and said last week it would retaliate for what it called Germany’s “unfriendly” move.
    Germany said last Wednesday it had expelled the two Russian embassy employees in protest over what it said was Moscow’s lack of cooperation in the investigation into the murder.
    The expulsions marked an escalation in already heightened tensions between Russia and Germany and other Western countries following the poisoning last year of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter on British soil.
    Chancellor Angela Merkel told Monday’s joint news conference with Putin, and the leaders of France and Ukraine, that she had told the Russian president in a bilateral meeting that Berlin expected Moscow to provide information for the investigation.
    But Putin told the same news conference in Paris that the man had fought on the side of anti-Moscow separatists in Russia’s mainly Muslim north Caucasus region.
    “He is a cruel and blood-thirsty person. In just one of the attacks in which he took part, he killed 98 people.    He was one of the organizers of explosions in the Moscow metro,” Putin said, without offering evidence of his involvement.
    On the killing in the Berlin park, Putin said: “I don’t know what happened to him.    It’s a criminal milieu and there, anything can happen.”
    “But I believe that it is not appropriate to expel diplomats who have nothing to do with this, purely on the basis of preliminary conclusions,” Putin said.
    The Russian-Georgian victim, known as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, was shot dead in August as he was heading to a mosque.
    Surveillance camera footage showed the suspect had cycled up close to the victim who managed to push him over.    The victim then tried to flee but the killer pursued him and shot him at least twice, German prosecutors have said.
    There were sufficient leads to indicate the Russian state or Chechen authorities ordered the killing, they said, adding that Moscow had designated the victim, who had fought against Russians in Chechnya, a terrorist.
    A suspect was detained soon after the killing and investigators had discovered his real identity.    They named him only as Vadim K. or Vadim S. Der Spiegel magazine has reported his passport number links him to Russian security services.
(Writing by Paul Carrel and Christian Lowe; Editing by Stephen Coates & Shri Navaratnam)

12/10/2019 Finland’s young PM promises stability, and to keep posting on Instagram by Anne Kauranen
FILE PHOTO: The candidate for the next prime minister of Finland, Sanna Marin, after the SDP's prime minister
candidate vote in Helsinki, Finland, December 8, 2019. Vesa Moilanen/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Social Democrat Sanna Marin said on Tuesday she would restore stability to Finland and keep using social media – but with care – after being sworn in as the world’s youngest prime minister at the helm of a government led by women.
    Marin, 34, won a confidence vote in parliament, with 99 in favor and 70 against, and will head a coalition government in which four of the five parties are led by women and 12 of the 19 members of the new cabinet are women.
    A former transport minister, she takes over during a wave of labor unrest and strikes that have halted production at some of Finland’s largest companies for three days.
    Marin said recreating trust between the coalition partners would be one of her first tasks after her predecessor, Antti Rinne, lost their confidence over his handling of a postal strike and resigned last week.br>     “This is our opportunity to tell who we Finns are and what kind of country Finland is,” Marin told reporters in the Finnish capital, Helsinki.    “The government’s responsibility is to create stability in society.”
    One challenge is likely to be defending the views of her leftist Social Democrats against the Centre Party, which wants action to boost employment to pay for the costly welfare state.
    Marin did not give details of how she would recreate trust but said: “It demands discussion, a direct one.”     Defending her frequent use of social media, she said: "I present a younger generation but of course, when it comes to social media or Instagram, I think that I’m an individual, a person, a real person even though I’m a prime minister.”
    “So I won’t change the way I behave.    Of course I have to be careful in what I say,” said Marin, who posted pictures of herself pregnant and later with her child, now two, on Instagram.
    She made no reference to other leaders, such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who frequently use social media and sometimes attract criticism over their online comments.
ADVICE FROM YOUNG AND OLD
    The head of the Centre Party, Katri Kulmuni, 32, becomes finance minister, Green Party leader Maria Ohisalo, 34, continues as interior minister and the Left Alliance’s chairwoman, Li Andersson, 32, remains education minister.
    “Finland has truly taken the gender issues to the next level,” Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the European Union’s executive Commission, said in a tweet congratulating Marin.
    The Social Democrats came out on top in an election on April 14 for the first time in 20 years but with only 17.7 percent of the vote.
    The previous coalition resigned after failing to push through a healthcare reform and confidence in politicians has been hit by quarrels between the increasingly fragmented parties, under growing pressure from the nationalist Finns Party.
    “I’m proud that we have a young female prime minister.    I think that is a good thing and a step in the right direction for sure,” said a student from the city of Espoo who gave her name only as Heini.
    Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, at 94 the world’s oldest serving premier, offered Marin some advice.
    “While we believe in the idealism of young people, it is important also for them to consider the experience of the old people,” he told Reuters.    “Then there will be a combination of the two, and that would be good.”
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Additional reporting by Tarmo Virki, Gabriela Baczynska and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Peter Graff and Timothy Heritage)

12/10/2019 Trump warned Russia not to interfere in U.S. elections: White House
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov departs the White House after a meeting with
U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, in a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, warned Russia not to interfere in U.S. elections, the White House said.
    Trump also urged Russia to resolve its conflict with Ukraine, and he emphasized to Lavrov his support for global arms control that includes not only Russia, but also China, the White House said in statement.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

12/10/2019 Russia’s Lavrov calls on U.S. to publish bilateral communications over 2016 election by Humeyra Pamuk and Susan Heavey
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addresses a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday said Moscow wanted to publish a cache of communications with Washington that he said cleared Russia of allegations it interfered in the 2016 U.S. election, but that the United States has blocked their release.
    During a joint news conference with his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Lavrov once again dismissed the American accusation that Moscow tried to sway the 2016 election, which resulted in the upset victory of President Donald Trump.
    “We suggested to our colleagues that in order to dispel all suspicions that are baseless: Let us publish this close channel of correspondence starting from October 2016 until November 2017 so it would all become very clear to many people,” Lavrov said through an interpreter at the news conference.
    “However, regrettably, this administration refused to do so,” added Lavrov, who has begun his meeting with Trump at the White House.    “We are prepared to do that, to publish the correspondence that took place.”
    It was not immediately clear what communications Lavrov was referring to.    He said Moscow “used the channels that existed” between Washington and Moscow at the time in 2016 with the Obama administration, and had got “zero response” when it appealed for an opportunity to directly discuss the allegations.
    U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian state meddled in the election campaign, and a number of Russian citizens and entities were charged by then-U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
    Russia has long denied interfering in the run-up to the November 2016 election in which Republican Trump was the surprise winner against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
    Standing next to Lavrov at the news conference, Pompeo warned Moscow against interfering in next November’s U.S. election.
    “I was clear it is unacceptable and I made our expectations of Russia clear.    The Trump administration will always work to protect the integrity of our elections, period.    Should Russia or any foreign actor take steps to undermine our democratic processes, we will take action in response,” he said.
    Lavrov ignored shouted questions from reporters on whether Russia will interfere in the 2020 elections as he entered the White House.
    On Monday, the U.S. Justice Department’s internal watchdog said that it found numerous errors but no evidence of political bias by the FBI when it opened an investigation into contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia in 2016.
(Reporting by Humyera Pamuk and Makini Brice; Writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Grant McCool)

12/10/2019 Czechs protest against PM Babis after damning EU report
Demonstrators throw signs in the air during a protest rally demanding the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis,
at the main railway station in Prague, Czech Republic, December 10, 2019. The signs read: "Resign!" REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Czechs protested against Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Tuesday after prosecutors reopened a case into alleged subsidy fraud by the leader and Brussels declared a conflict of interest between his businesses and political role.
    Speakers at the protest in Prague by the Million Moments for Democracy civic group demanded Babis’s former business empire Agrofert be cut off from European Union subsidies and public contracts, and they called on Babis to resign.
    Tuesday’s protest was called after the country’s top prosecutor reopened last week a case against Babis, suspecting that he hid ownership of one of his firms a decade ago so it would qualify for a 2 million euro subsidy.
    Separately, an audit by the European Commission, the European Union’s executive, leaked to Czech media last week, showed the Commission saw Babis in conflict of interest because he still had control over Agrofert, a conglomerate of hundreds of firms he had built over the past two decades and put into trust funds in 2017.
    Babis, 65 and in power since 2017, denies any wrongdoing in the criminal case and also repeatedly said he met all legal requirements on conflict of interest by setting up the fund structure.
    The protest group, set up by students, had brought a quarter of a million people to the streets in Prague twice earlier this year in the biggest demonstrations of the country’s 30-year post-communist era.
    The protest on Tuesday at Prague’s central Wenceslas Square was smaller, numbering several tens of thousands according to a Reuters’ estimate, and 60,000 according to the organizers.
    “A liar under investigation has no business being in the post of prime minister,” Benjamin Roll from Million Moments for Democracy told the crowd.
    “The European Commission audit speaks clearly: Andrej Babis abuses political power for his own business,” he added.
    Despite the protests, Babis’s populist ANO movement remains by far the most popular political party with around 30 percent of the vote, drawing support among older voters and regions outside the capital.
    His firms span farming, food processing, chemicals and media, and are among the central European country’s main recipients of various EU money, from farm subsidies that are given per hectare or per animal to project-based finance for innovation and environmental investments.
(This story has been refiled to fix day of week in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

12/10/2019 U.S., Russia appear no closer on arms control disputes by Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addresses a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Russia appeared no closer on Tuesday to settling their disagreements on nuclear arms control as Moscow again proposed extending their New START treaty and Washington insisted China must be brought into the framework.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov largely stuck to their existing positions as they described talks that ranged from alleged Russian interference in U.S. elections to the wars in Ukraine and Syria, North Korea’s nuclear program and improving economic ties.
    At a joint news conference, Pompeo said the United States believed other parties, such as China, needed to be brought in to a wider arms control discussion, and he said he would consider a Russian proposal to include nuclear powers Britain and France.
    “There is real risk that there is a reduction in strategic stability just staying right where we are,” Pompeo said, arguing that delivery systems have evolved beyond the missiles, bombers and submarines covered by the New START treaty signed in 2010.
    “Not only do the conversations need to be broadened to include the Chinese Communist Party, but they need to be broadened as well to encompass the full range of instruments of power….
    Lavrov repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to extend New START, which requires both nations to cut their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550.    The treaty expires in February 2021 but can be extended for up to five years by mutual consent.
    “The ball is in our American partners’ court,” Lavrov said before going to the White House to see President Donald Trump.
    The two met as Democrats in the House of Representatives announced formal impeachment charges against Trump that accuse him of abusing power by pressuring Ukraine to probe a political rival and obstructing the Congress investigation into the scandal.
    Their last Oval Office meeting in May 2017 turned into a public relations disaster for Trump, who was accused by unnamed U.S. officials of divulging highly classified information during that meeting about a planned operation by the Islamic State militant group.    The allegations were denied by the White House.
    Trump was also blasted for media reports that he told Russian officials firing FBI Director James Comey had relieved him of “great pressure.”    Comey’s dismissal ultimately led to a 22-month investigation by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    The inquiry laid bare what Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate.
    Pompeo told reporters interference in U.S. domestic affairs “is unacceptable and I made our expectations of Russia clear” while Lavrov repeated Russian denials that Moscow had tampered in U.S. elections.
(Additional Reporting by Susan Heavey, Makini Brice and Steve Holland; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

12/10/2019 As governments clash with Brussels, some cities hope to claim EU funds
FILE PHOTO: People hold EU and Polish flags as they gather during a pro-democracy demonstration
at the Old Town in Warsaw, Poland January 9, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Some European city mayors whose national governments are in conflict with Brussels could seek ways to access European Union funds directly, the mayor of Poland’s capital Warsaw said on Tuesday.
    Rafal Trzaskowski said EU funding was one area in which he and counterparts from Czech capital Prague, Slovakia’s capital Bratislava and Hungarian capital Budapest would pledge to cooperate at a meeting on Monday.
    “In Budapest we will sign an agreement on cooperation regarding climate change, money, and common projects,” Trzaskowski told reporters.
    The mayors consider themselves more pro-EU and politically liberal than their respective national governments, some of which have clashed with Brussels over EU rules and standards.
    Moves by Hungary and Poland to bring their courts and media under tighter state control have led the executive European Commission to begin rule-of-law investigations that could in theory lead to a suspension of their EU voting rights.
    Brussels is also considering tying adherence to the rule of law and democratic standards with access to EU budget funds — already set to shrink when Britain leaves the 28-country bloc.
    That could place cities like Warsaw, which has received some 16 billion zloty ($4.1 billion) from the current EU budget, which began in 2014 and ends next year, at risk of funding cuts.
    Trzaskowski said Warsaw and other cities were hoping to secure access to EU cohesion and structural funds, which can be distributed both at national and regional level, even if the EU penalizes their national governments with funding cuts.
    “I prefer to explain to our friends in the EU that it would be good for us to access EU money despite the fact that our government infringes the rule of law,” he said.
    Trzaskowski said Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava could also seek to build ties with cities such as Istanbul, where authorities are in conflict with Turkey’s ruling party.
(Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Joanna Plucinska and Catherine Evans)

12/11/2019 Swiss Greens fall short in bid for first cabinet seat
Newly-elected ministers gesture during the swearing-in ceremony at the Swiss parliament
in Bern, Switzerland December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Environmentalist Greens failed to win a seat in the Swiss federal government on Wednesday, unable to persuade parliament to oust a sitting minister and make room for an upstart party that made record gains in October elections.
    Changing just one of the seven cabinet seats would be a sensation in the stability-loving country whose painstaking search for political consensus has featured the same broad coalition in nearly unchanged form for decades.
    Support for the Greens had surged amid voter concerns about climate change, moving Swiss politics to the left and threatening to shake up the coalition of four parties which make up the government.
    But Greens leader Regula Rytz’s challenge to Ignazio Cassis, the foreign minister from the pro-business Liberals (FDP), failed in a vote by the combined 246 members from both houses of parliament who elect each government minister individually.
    MPs said they did not want to rock the political boat or rob the Italian-speaking southern canton of Tessin of its sole representative on the federal government.
    The Greens in October gained a record 17 seats to hold 28 in the 200-seat lower house, putting them in fourth place. The more centrist and pro-business Green Liberal Party added nine seats to control 16, leaving the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) weakened but still parliament’s biggest force.
    Landlocked Switzerland is especially vulnerable to climate change.    Temperatures in the country are rising twice as quickly as the global average, and its iconic glaciers are shrinking.
    The SVP, Social Democrats, FDP and Christian Democrats have divvied up cabinet seats in nearly the same way since 1959.    The three biggest parties get two seats and the fourth-biggest gets one under the informal “magic formula” system.
    In the past it has taken more than one national election cycle to change the cabinet lineup to more closely reflect the results of voting.
    The election of two new cabinet members after tactical resignations last year also complicated the Greens’ bid for a seat by making it necessary to vote out a sitting member, violating tradition.
    Switzerland’s decentralized political system limits the power of the federal government.    Its direct democracy gives voters final say on major issues decided by referendum.
(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/11/2019 Putin, Erdogan pledge to continue military cooperation: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Turkish President
Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) during a joint news conference following Russian-Turkish talks in the Black sea
resort of Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan pledged to continue cooperation in the military and energy spheres, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.
    The pledge, made in a phone call, comes after a Turkish presidential spokesman said American legislation to impose sanctions against Turkey will not affect Ankara’s use of the Russian S-400 missile defense system even if it passes the U.S. Congress.
    A U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday backed legislation to impose sanctions on Turkey after its offensive in Syria and purchase of the S-400 system.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

12/11/2019 Germany contradicts Russia over Georgian murdered in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia's President Vladimir Putin attend
a joint news conference after a Normandy-format summit in Paris, France December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool?/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany contradicted Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, saying it was not aware Russia had requested the extradition of a Georgian man who was murdered in Berlin in August.
    In an escalation in already tense relations, Germany last week expelled two employees at the Russian embassy in Berlin, saying Moscow was not cooperating sufficiently in the investigation into the murder.
    Putin described the victim on Monday as a “cruel and blood-thirsty person” who had fought on the side of anti-Moscow separatists in Russia’s mainly Muslim north Caucasus region, and said Moscow’s requests for his extradition had not been heeded.
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    “The government is not aware of a Russian extradition request for the victim of the crime,” said a spokesman for Germany’s Justice Ministry when asked at a news conference about Putin’s statement.
    The Kremlin did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told Reuters Putin had full knowledge of the case, but that only law enforcement agencies could provide further detail.
    The Russian-Georgian victim, known as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, was shot dead in a central Berlin park in August as he was heading to a mosque.
    German prosecutors suspect Russian or Chechen involvement.    Russia has denied any involvement and said last week it would retaliate for what it called Germany’s “unfriendly” move.
    Tensions between Russia and Western countries including Germany, which is heavily reliant on Russian gas and oil, are already high after the poisoning last year of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter on British soil.
    Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she told Putin at a meeting in Paris that Berlin expected Moscow to provide information for the investigation, a message reinforced by a government spokesman on Wednesday.
    Some German ministers have also said they are considering taking further steps against Russia.
    Western nations imposed sanctions on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.    Last year they expelled 100 Russian diplomats over the Skripal poisoning.
    Germany expects EU leaders to extend sanctions imposed on Russia over Ukraine at this week’s summit, a senior German official said on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Madeline Chambers, Paul Carrel and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

12/11/2019 Russia, Turkey and Iran express concern about militants in Syria’s Idlib
Members of the delegations attend a session of the peace talks on Syria
in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov
    NUR-SULTAN (Reuters) – Russia, Turkey and Iran are concerned about the increased presence of terrorist groups in Syria’s Idlib province, the three countries said after talks in Kazakhstan, pledging to coordinate actions aimed at eliminating the militants.
    Moscow, Ankara and Tehran “highlighted the necessity to establish calm on the ground,” the trio said in a joint statement after the talks, also attended by representatives of the Damascus government and the Syrian armed opposition.
    The three countries also said they rejected attempts to create “new realities on the ground, including illegitimate self-rule initiatives” and that they were opposed to the illegal seizure and transfer of Syrian oil revenues.
    Commenting on the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, the three nations said it should be governed by a sense of “compromise and constructive engagement” without foreign interference and externally imposed timelines.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char)

12/11/2019 Austria’s provisional leader pushes for coalition deal by January
FILE PHOTO: Austria's caretaker Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein arrives at a European Union leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium, October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The head of Austria’s provisional government has raised pressure on ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservatives and the Greens to strike a coalition deal by January or else her cabinet would start taking more far-reaching, political decisions.
    Brigitte Bierlein, a career judge, heads a temporary government of civil servants that took office after the previous right-wing government collapsed in the wake of a video sting scandal that felled the far right’s then-leader.    Bierlein says her government’s role is simply to administer the country.
    Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) clearly won the Sept. 29 parliamentary election with 37.5% of the vote but needs a coalition partner to command a majority in the lower house.    It is in coalition talks with the Greens, and though few details have emerged, both sides say significant differences remain.
    “We hope for a conclusion soon.    Whether that is (by) Christmas or January is not so important,” Bierlein said in an interview with newspaper Der Standard published on Wednesday.    “But if the process drags on longer, the public would cease to be as accepting of our understanding of our mandate.”
    Polls suggest Bierlein’s government is well-liked despite, or perhaps because of, its discretion and limited action.
    “We have thus far not filled any senior positions – no ambassadors, no department heads, initiated no legislation, with few exceptions.    If this takes longer, we as a government would therefore have to reflect on and change our understanding of our mandate, in consultation with the president,” she added.
    Her cabinet of career civil servants has depicted itself as technocratic but it was still the result of a compromise between the three main parties – the OVP, the Social Democrats and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) – and its ministers are seen as close to one or two of them.
    Bierlein was appointed vice president and then president of the Constitutional Court under the same political constellation – coalitions between the OVP and FPO.
    Asked if she had any inside information on how the talks are going, Bierlein said: “No.    I do not know more than you.”
    Her comments could play into the hands of Kurz’s conservatives, who are widely seen as preferring to reach a deal quickly.    The Greens have said they are in no hurry.     “In the long run this cannot go on, because one cannot put off many decisions endlessly,” Bierlein said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/12/2019 Easterners demand funding and nuclear power to support EU climate deal by Michel Rose and Marton Dunai
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly near the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS/BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic set out demands on Thursday that could block agreement on the European Union’s new push for climate neutrality by 2050, trumpeted by the bloc’s new chief executive as Europe’s “man on the moon” moment.
    Tense talks are expected at a summit in Brussels of 27 EU leaders, at which the majority will offer financial incentives to the eastern member states to win their support for the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
    The summit is the first since Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen took office as the new head of the EU’s executive commission, and a failure to agree on the Green Deal, her biggest initiative, would be a setback for the bloc’s new leadership.
    With floods, fires and droughts wrecking lives around the world, Greenpeace climate activists scaled the glass-fronted Europa building where the leaders were to meet, unfurling banners reading “Climate Emergency”, firing off red flares and blaring fire alarm sirens.
    Some activists were detained by police and the protest ended well before the start of the summit at 3:00 p.m. (1400 GMT).
    The eastern countries want more money to fund a transition to lower emissions, including a role for nuclear power, which emits no carbon but which Germany and others aim to phase out.
    “It is important to have certainty that nobody will stop us in the construction of nuclear power units,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told reporters before leaving for Brussels.    “We have to have electricity for people, for firms, and heating.”
    Hungary said it wants EU guarantees that a climate deal would not lead to price hikes in the energy and food sectors, and that costs would be borne by big polluters.
    “Hungary agrees with the ambitious goals set by the EU but we cannot sign a blank cheque,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a news conference in Budapest.
THORNY BUDGET DEBATE
    The bloc’s new chief executive proposed a Green Deal this week to mobilise 100 billion euros worth of investment to help economies move away from fossil fuels.
    But the three eastern states are not yet on board, demanding that any decision spells out in more detail the scale and scope of financing available, as well as funding for nuclear energy.
    The Czech Republic generates about half of its electricity from coal and wants to phase most of it out over the next 20 years, replacing part of it with new nuclear power plants.
    Hungary relies on nuclear for about a third of its energy needs, with coal making up less than 15% of its energy mix.    It wants to abolish coal by 2030 and replace it with a mix of nuclear, gas, renewables and energy imports.
    Poland produces some 80% of its power from coal and discussions about introducing nuclear energy have not yet been settled, partly due to high costs.
    One EU diplomat estimated chances for an agreement at the summit – which must be unanimous – at 50/50.
    The climate discussion feeds into another tricky debate, over the next long-term budget, where no agreement is expected after a latest proposal to cap joint spending at 1.087 trillion euros for 2021-27 was rejected by both the frugal camp and those seeking a heavier outlay.
    “Some people want to pay less, some people want to get more, others to do new things,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters in Brussels.    “I wasn’t the best at mathematics but this, I think, is not going to add up.”
(Additional reporting by Christian Levaux, Jason Hovet, Jonas Ekblom, Robin Emmott, Philip Blenkinsop, John Chalmers, Gabriela Baczynska, Andreas Rinke, Marine Strauss, Marcin Goclowski, Francesco Guarascio and Jan Lopatka; Writing by Gabriela Baczynska and John Chalmers; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/12/2019 Ukraine extends ‘special status’ for conflict-hit regions
Ukrainian lawmakers attend a session of parliament in Kiev, Ukraine December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s parliament voted on Thursday to extend regulations giving limited self-rule to separatist-controlled eastern regions, a prerequisite for a deal to settle the five-year conflict there.
    Lawmakers gave a one-year extension to the regions’ “special status,” which was adopted in 2014 and has been extended several times.
    The conflict in eastern Ukraine that broke out in 2014 has killed more than 13,000 people, left a large swathe of Ukraine under the control of Moscow-backed separatists and aggravated the deepest East-West rift since the Cold War.
    The law granting the extension “is aimed at creating additional interim opportunities for the implementation of relevant legislative conditions aimed at the peaceful settlement of the situation in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” one of its authors, Oleksandr Korniyenko, told lawmakers before the vote.
    The status allows the regions to set up their own police forces, prosecutors and courts and hold local elections.
    An agreement to extend the law on special status has become one of the elements of an agreement of leaders Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany reached during their meeting in Paris this week.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

12/12/2019 ‘We have work to do’: World’s youngest leader debuts at EU summit
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin attends the European Union leaders summit
in Brussels, Belgium December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – New Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin brushed aside the media frenzy over her appointment as the world’s youngest serving head of government at age 34, pledging a sharp focus on climate policies as she made her debut at an EU summit.
    Marin took office on Tuesday after the Centre Party withdrew support from Social Democrat leader Antti Rinne, forcing him to step down as prime minister.    Marin became the world’s youngest national leader, and all five leaders of the parties in her coalition are women, four of them under 35.
    “I haven’t concentrated that much on the media coverage of the change of government or my prime ministership.    I have concentrated on the fact that we have a lot of work to do,” Marin told reporters on Thursday as she arrived for two days of European Union summit talks in Brussels.
    She has been congratulated by female political leaders from around the world, including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen – who last month became the first female leader of the EU executive – and Hillary Clinton.
    “Interview requests keep pouring in from journalists,” Marin’s spokeswoman said.
    Marin, who has spoken about growing up in a disadvantaged family, is a left-winger within her party and a strong defender of Finland’s generous welfare state.
    A long-time fan of alternative metal band Rage Against The Machine, she has said she “dreams of free day care” for all to add to Finland’s public education, which is already free of charge from primary school to university.
    Marin shook hands and chatted with EU leaders as they gathered for a summit at which they will lock horns over climate change, with eastern European states threatening to stall he bloc’s new push to become climate neutral by 2050.
    “The new generations are expecting us to act and we have to fulfill the expectations of the people,” Marin said.    “I’m worried about this climate issue.    We have to do more, we have to do it faster.”
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Anne Kauranen; Editing by John Chalmers/Mark Heinrich)

12/12/2019 Russian TV pulls Ukrainian president’s sitcom after editing out joke about Putin by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrive for a working session during a summit on the conflict in Ukraine
at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France December 9, 2019. Ian Langsdon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian television channel has abruptly stopped airing the sitcom that launched the political career of Ukraine’s president, after viewers noticed it had edited out an obscene joke about Vladimir Putin from the first episode.
    The TNT channel, part of the media arm of Gazprom, raised eyebrows when it announced it would air “Servant of the People,” whose star Volodymyr Zelenskiy, playing a schoolteacher who becomes president, went on to win Ukraine’s presidency in real life this year.
    TNT began airing the series on Wednesday, but the Russian-language service of the BBC noted it had edited out a play on words about Putin and an expensive make of Swiss watch, Hublot, which sounds like an obscenity in Russian.
    TNT had been scheduled to continue airing the show on Thursday and Friday, but those listings have been replaced, the Vedomosti business daily reported.    Listings now show it will run a hospital sitcom and a Russian comedy series.
    TNT did not respond to a request to comment about the alleged censorship.    It denied it had ever planned to continue running the show and said it had only begun doing so for the first few episodes as part of a marketing ploy for a pay-to-view platform where it said the series would still be available.
    “It was a marketing play,” Gazprom Media’s general director Dmitry Chernyshenko told reporters.
    Putin and Zelenskiy met for the first time this week at a summit in Paris aimed at finding ways to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting against government forces.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; additional reporting by Nadezhda Tsydenova and Anton Zverev; editing by)

12/12/2019 President Trump pushes European allies to provide more help for Ukraine by OAN Newsroom
President Donald Trump speaks during the White House Summit on Child Care and Paid Leave in the South Court
Auditorium on the White House complex, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
    President Trump is calling out Democrats and EU member nations for their failure to support Ukraine.    In a Thursday morning tweet, the president asked why European countries aren’t providing more aid to the country.
    He said Ukraine needs more help, but it shouldn’t always be America’s responsibility.
    The president previously brought up the issue while speaking to reporters at the UN General Assembly.
    “I want other countries to put up money (and) I think it’s unfair that we put up the money,” he said.
    “Germany, France and other countries should put up the money, that’s been my complaint from the beginning.”
    The Center for Strategic and International Studies claimed the EU has contributed more than $16 billion in grants and loans to Ukraine since 2014.    The same agency reported the U.S. government has provided Ukraine nearly $2 billion in security assistance during the same time frame.

12/13/2019 EU leaves Poland out of 2050 climate deal after standoff by Jan Strupczewski and Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly near the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union left Poland out of a 2050 climate neutrality agreement on Friday after hours of summit haggling with three poorer eastern member states that demanded more funds for economic transition and support for nuclear power.
    The Czech Republic and Hungary eventually dropped their resistance after winning a guarantee that nuclear energy would be recognized as a way for EU states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.    But Poland remained against.
    The tussle came a day after Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, the new head of the bloc’s executive European Commission, proposed a 100-billion-euro ($110 billion) investment plan for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, declaring it Europe’s “man on the moon moment.”
    With fires, floods and droughts ruining millions of lives around the world, the European Union’s new push comes as popular protest demanding more action to fight climate change spreads around the bloc.
    Von der Leyen said the Brussels summit deal, reached in the wee hours of Friday by 27 national EU leaders, was enough for the commission to start rolling out concrete climate legislative proposals for the bloc next year based on the 2050 goal.
    “We acknowledge that the transition is a big one for Poland,” she said.    “It needs more time to go through the details, but this will not change the time frame … for the commission.”
    Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, whose country relies on highly polluting coal for some 80% of its energy needs, said the negotiations had been “very difficult.”
    “Poland will be reaching climate neutrality at its own pace,” he told reporters after the marathon talks.
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was satisfied with the outcome.
    “There is no splitting of Europe into separate parts but one member state needing more time to see how it will be implemented,” she said.
    Warsaw’s discussions about introducing nuclear energy in the largest ex-communist EU country have not yet been settled, partly due to high costs.
DIFFICULT STRUGGLE
    The neighboring Czech Republic and Hungary want to invest in nuclear energy and won a line in the EU leaders’ tortured decision specifically recognizing their right to do that, despite opposition from Austria, Luxembourg and Germany.
    “It was a long and difficult struggle,” Austrian Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein said.    “Every country can decide about its national energy mix.    For Austria, nuclear energy is not a safe and sustainable source of energy.”
    Poland had demanded more specific guarantees on the scale and scope of financing for phasing out fossil fuels, which ties into another difficult debate in the bloc on its next budget for 2021-27.    On Thursday night, EU leaders meeting in Brussels only agreed to push the can down the road on that to 2020.
    But net payers like the Netherlands were adamant they would not offer more funds to Warsaw if it did not firmly commit to the more ambitious climate goal, which the Hague backs.    The EU is supposed to return to that discussion in June.
    Earlier in the day Poland floated the idea of setting the date at 2070. But a failure to agree at all on climate neutrality would have been a setback for the bloc’s new leadership, including von der Leyen, who took office this month.
    Underlining the stakes, Greenpeace climate activists scaled the glass-fronted Europa building where leaders meet, unfurling banners reading “Climate Emergency,” firing off red flares and blaring fire alarm sirens.
    Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban set the tone ahead of the talks, insisting that less affluent countries of eastern Europe must get generous financial guarantees.
    “We cannot allow Brussels bureaucrats to have poor people and poor countries to pay the costs of the fight against climate change,” he said. ($1 = 0.9073 euros)
(Reporting by Michel Rose, Marine Strauss, Marton Dunai, Jason Hovet, Philip Blenkinsop, John Chalmers, Jonas Ekblom, Andreas Rinke, Gabriela Baczynska, Jan Strupczewski, Marcin Goclowski, Francesco Guarascio and Jan Lopatka; Writing by John Chalmers and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Toby Chopra, Lisa Shumaker and Stephen Coates)

12/13/2019 ‘I don’t feel like a role model’: Finland’s new 34-year-old leader by Jonas Ekblom and Anne Kauranen
Finland's Prime Minister Sanna Marin during an interview with Reuters after a
European leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS/HELSINKI (Reuters) – She may be the world’s youngest-serving head of government, but Finland’s newly appointed prime minister does not feel like a role model, 34-year-old Sanna Marin told Reuters on Friday.
    Marin became the Nordic country’s prime minister on Tuesday, and two days later found herself rubbing shoulders at a European Union summit with leaders of 27 countries, including the powerful figures of Emmanuel Macron of France and Angela Merkel of Germany.
    European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen beamed and embraced Marin warmly as they met at the Brussels summit.
    The appointment of a youthful women to lead her country has been seized on by media around the globe, many of them seeing in her a “role model” for others living in societies where politics have long been dominated by older men.
    “I don’t feel like a role model,” she said in an interview.    “I might be for some people, but we are all just human beings: The issues matter, not the people behind the issues we are all working on.    I think everyone matters.”
    Marin, who started out on her political career when she was in her mid-20s, said she was spurred by climate change and a feeling “that the older generation weren’t paying enough attention” to it.
    She said there is no trick to her success – just hard work.
    Marin, whose Cabinet of 19 ministers will include 13 women, said she would work closely with European allies.
    “We are stronger together,” she said.    “Neither one of us can find the solutions alone so I think that we have a platform, we have to use it.”
(Reporting by Jonas Ekblom in Brussels and Anne Kauranen in Helsinki; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

12/13/2019 Poland sees limited room for Russia diplomacy, despite Macron overtures by Joanna Plucinska
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron greets Polish President Andrzej Duda during a meeting
at a NATO summit in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland sees limited room for diplomacy and dialogue with Russia, a senior Polish official said, despite attempts by French President Emmanuel Macron to persuade Warsaw to rethink its relationship with Moscow.
    Macron told The Economist magazine in November it was time to rethink Europe’s strategic relationship with Russia.    He said there was “some concern” in Poland about his plan, but he was “starting to talk to them.”
    Poland was in the Soviet sphere of influence for four decades until the collapse of Communist rule, and relations have been strained more recently by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and differences over a plane crash in Russia that killed President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others in 2010.
    “Today the room for diplomacy is limited. Room for dialogue is limited,” Krzysztof Szczerski, a senior presidential aide, told Reuters in an interview this week in which he said Macron was expected to visit Poland in the first half of next year.
    “Russian politics could change, it could open the road for wider dialogue, but it would require a shift in conditions. First of all, a departure from the politics of force in the region.”
    Russia’s lack of willingness to share the wreckage, the black box flight recorders and other evidence from the Smolensk crash site have harmed relations, he added.
    “The Russian side’s decision to keep the conditions surrounding (the Smolensk crash) a mystery is a weight on relations between Poland and Russia,” Szczerski said.
    Poles are divided over what caused the president’s plane to crash while trying to land in fog at Smolensk military airport on April 10, 2010.    Most believe it was a tragic accident but some say it was a planned assassination.
    Russia has rejected such suggestions and accusations that it mishandled the remains of Kaczynski and other Polish dignitaries who were killed in the crash before they were handed over to Warsaw.
    Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine also caused friction and Poland’s foreign and defense policy is built largely on deterrence of Russia.
BILATERAL TALKS
    At receptions in London during a NATO summit this month, Macron listened to the concerns of eastern European leaders, Szczerski said.
    Polish President Andrzej Duda said after meeting Macron at the summit that Russia is “no enemy” and described Russia as “a partner and neighbor.”
    Polish officials had previously said Europe should not consider warming ties with Russia.    But Szczerski said Macron had not influenced Duda’s position at the summit.
    “As a country that neighbors Russia we will never push for antagonism in the West’s relationship with Russia, because then we can become a victim of that antagonism,” Szczerski said.
    Relations between Poland and France have been fragile in recent years, in part since Poland in 2016 called off a $3.5-billion contract for military multipurpose helicopters from Airbus.
(Additional reporting by Michel Rose, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/14/2019 Ukraine still pushing for White House meeting by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the
InterContinental Barclay New York hotel during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
    As Congress moves further along in the impeachment inquiry, Ukraine is still working to arrange a White House meeting.    The country’s deputy prime minister told reporters this week they’re still hoping Volodymyr Zelensky and President Trump can sit down for a private discussion.
    “There may be big politics, there may be turmoil, but the strategic nature of our relationship with the United States remains unshattered, and we will be moving forward,” stated Dmytro Kuleba.
    The president invited Zelensky to the White House during their phone call in July. However, those plans were put on the back-burner following the whistleblower complaint and subsequent impeachment inquiry.
    The two discussed a potential meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly earlier this year.
    “I want to thank you for, in addition to Washington, you invited me,” said Zelensky. “I’m sorry, but I think you forgot to tell me the date.”
    Ukrainian officials grew more frustrated this week after President Trump met with Russia’s foreign minister.    The New York Times reported the White House is floating the possibility of hosting a meeting with Zelensky next month.

12/14/2019 Poland’s main opposition picks moderate veteran for presidential vote by Alicja Ptak
FILE PHOTO: Civic Coalition's candidate for prime minister, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska speaks as Civic Platform leader Grzegorz
Schetyna looks on after the exit poll results are announced in Warsaw, Poland, October 13, 2019. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s main opposition group, the center-right Civic Platform (PO), picked a party veteran known for building consensus on Saturday as its contender to unseat nationalist ally Andrzej Duda in a presidential election next year.
    A former parliament speaker, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, 62, is trailing Duda, 47, in opinion polls by a double-digit margin, but her party hopes she will be able to mobilize undecided voters at a time of deepening political polarization in Poland.
    “It is not easy to be in the center in populist times,” said Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of Civic Platform, ahead of the party vote.
    Poland’s political landscape has shifted since the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) government came to power in 2015 after campaigning on a platform of generous welfare spending and nationalist rhetoric infused with Catholic piety.
    While campaigning for several elections since then, including a parliamentary vote in October and a local election last year, the opposition has struggled to formulate a strong message to wrest support away from the PiS.
    Political analysts say Kidawa-Blonska’s advantage is that she appeals to centrist and conservative voters, and could also win over those who have not made a decision on who to back.
    “She won’t convince core PiS supporters, but she has a chance to convince the undecided,” said Agnieszka Kwiatkowska, a sociologist at SWPS university.
    Duda would win 46.2% of the vote, with Kidawa-Blonska trailing on 23.3%, according to a late-November poll by IBRiS for Polish daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna and private radio RMF FM.
    According to other polls, Wladyslaw Kosyniak-Kamysz from the agrarian Polish People’s Party (PSL) and independent Szymon Holownia, a Catholic journalist and TV presenter, would get single-digit support.
    Two other parties, The Left and the right-wing Confederation group, have yet to announce their candidates.
(Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Helen Popper)

12/15/2019 Austria’s Kurz confident of coalition deal with Greens in January
FILE PHOTO: Austrian politician Sebastian Kurz speaks during the EPP congress in Arena
Zagreb hall in Zagreb, Croatia, November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz said he was confident of striking a coalition deal with the left-wing Greens in January, more than three months after an election in which his People’s Party came first but fell short of a majority.
    Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) won 37.5% of the vote in the Sept. 29 election, meaning they require a coalition partner to command a majority in the lower house.
    Since then talks with the resurgent Greens have taken longer than for the last coalition Kurz assembled, with the far-right Freedom Party in 2017. Both sides have said big differences remain and the Greens have said they are in no hurry.
    “I want to be done by early January,” Kurz told Sunday’s edition of the Kronen Zeitung tabloid.
    Another newspaper, Kurier, which is part of the same media group, quoted Kurz as saying: “There will be a government in January.”
    Kurier said the final coalition deal would be presented to the public between Jan. 7 and Jan. 11 at the latest, while Krone said that if all goes according to plan the new government will be sworn in by mid-January.    Both cited Kurz as their source.
    Little has emerged so far on the details of the talks, and Kurz has made disciplined communications one of his hallmarks, along with a tough line on immigration on which he has built his career.
    Both newspapers, however, had an initial outline of the coalition deal taking shape in the talks, which will only break for three days over Christmas.
    One of the Greens’ priorities is adjusting taxes to better reflect the environmental impact of certain goods, such as doing away with favorable treatment of diesel fuel.
    Kurier said one initiative that appears to have been agreed is that “environmentally damaging emissions” will become more expensive but commuters who do not have the opportunity to use public transport instead of their car will receive some kind of compensation.
    Kurz said during the campaign that any measures to reduce carbon emissions should not come at the expense of ordinary citizens who drive to work.
    Kurier said the parties had agreed public transport would be made “massively” cheaper and “a large amount of money” would be spent on expanding the rail network – in a country where public transport is already relatively efficient and cheap.
    Greens leader Werner Kogler later told news agency APA Kurz’s timeframe for a deal was realistic but added that “it could also take longer
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/16/2019 EU to check whether Polish bill on judges undermines court independence
FILE PHOTO: People gather in front of the Presidential Palace during the "Chain of lights"
protest against judicial overhaul in Warsaw, Poland July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Monday it would closely examine whether a new Polish draft law undermines the independence of the judiciary, amid tensions between Brussels and Warsaw over democratic standards.
    The EU has accused Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party of politicizing the judiciary since it swept to power in 2015.    PiS argues that the reforms are necessary to make Poland’s courts more efficient.
    Under legislation PiS submitted to parliament on Dec. 12, judges could be sacked if they question the legitimacy of its judicial reforms.    It also says judges must inform their superiors of past membership of political parties and of any activity in non-governmental organizations and on social media.
    “The Commission continues to follow the situation in Poland closely,” a spokesman for the European Union’s executive, Christian Wigand, told a regular news briefing.
    “The Commission will analyze the legislation proposed, in particular its compliance with EU law, regarding judicial independence,” he said.
    PiS wants to prevent Polish judges from ruling that their peers, nominated by a panel appointed by PiS, are not independent and therefore that their rulings can be questioned.
    Last month the EU’s top court, whose rulings under EU treaties trump national laws, said it was up to Poland’s Supreme Court to decide whether the PiS-appointed panel was independent.    The Polish Supreme Court then ruled that it was not independent.
    The Polish parliament is due to discuss the draft legislation this week.
    “The Commission has a very clear position on protecting the judiciary from political interference,” Wigand said.
    “We have already referred Poland to the Court of Justice of the EU regarding its new disciplinary regime for judges in October,” he added.
    The EU has launched a rule-of-law investigation that could in theory lead to Poland losing its EU voting rights.     Brussels is also considering whether to link access to EU budget funds – of which Poland is a big beneficiary – to the rule of law and democratic standards.
(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/16/2019 East European mayors urge EU to bypass governments in disbursing funds by Marton Dunai
Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, Bratislava Mayor Matus Vallo and Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski shake hands
after signing the Pact of Free Cities at the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, December 16, 2019. REUTERS/Tamas Kaszas
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The European Union should bypass national governments that flout democratic standards and deal directly with municipalities as they can perform “miracles” in areas such as climate change, the mayors of four eastern European capital cities said on Monday.
    The EU has accused the ‘Visegrad Four’ nations – the Czech Republic, Slovakia and especially Poland and Hungary – of eroding the rule of law in recent years. It has threatened to suspend the voting rights of Poland and Hungary.
    At the launch of a new alliance on Monday aimed at securing more direct EU funding, the mayors of Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Bratislava said they could spend the money more effectively than their central governments, mostly dominated by euroskeptic nationalists.
    “The question is whether Europe can step out of its own shadow and do projects directly,” said Gergely Karacsony, a liberal whose victory in Budapest’s mayoral election in October upset the long dominance of Hungarian politics by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s nationalist Fidesz party.
    “Cities can do miracles in the areas of climate change and innovation.    This makes the old adage of ‘Think globally, act locally’ especially acute,” he added.
    Some EU member states say the disbursement of EU funds for infrastructure and other projects should hinge on respect for democratic standards and the rule of law, which Orban’s government and the ruling conservative nationalists in Poland are both accused of undermining.    They deny the accusation.
    The mayors said their cities – all in the hands of parties not in national government – should not be made to suffer for policies that were not their responsibility.
    They said populist governments often used EU funds to entrench their positions and enrich friends, therefore urgently needed development aid should be channeled directly to cities where in any case the most pressing social and environmental problems are often concentrated.
    Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said the cities create a disproportionate share of their countries’ economic output but also have an outsized carbon footprint.
    “We have to allocate money to poorer regions so they catch up, but the cities are engines of growth.    Governments that take money away from cities for political reasons hurt the entire region,” he said.
    Zdenek Hrib, mayor of Prague, Europe’s seventh-richest region, said the economic gauge under which richer regions get less EU aid should be reviewed with factors such as social development also taken into account.     The mayors convened in Budapest at the Central European University, an embattled institution whose teaching has mostly been moved to Vienna following attacks by Orban.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/16/2019 Putin, Merkel discuss Ukraine gas transit and Nord Stream-2: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela talk to each other during a meeting on the sidelines of
the G-20 summit in Osaka, western Japan, Saturday, June 29, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his German counterpart Angela Merkel discussed the Nord Stream-2 natural gas pipeline to Germany and the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine in a phone call on Monday, the Kremlin said.
    The two leaders also discussed the conflicts in Ukraine and in Libya, the Kremlin said in a statement.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova, Darya Korsunskaya, Polina Ivanova; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

12/16/2019 Cuba says it is prepared if U.S. chooses to sever diplomatic ties by Sarah Marsh
Cuba's Foreign Ministry's General Director for U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio attends the annual
U.S.-Cuban academic conference in Havana, Cuba, December 16, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s Communist government is prepared if the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump decides to sever diplomatic relations although it hopes that does not come to pass, a top Cuban diplomat said on Monday.
    Relations were re-established five years ago this week under former Democratic President Barack Obama following half a century of hostility, a stance that earned the United States lots of goodwill from Latin America, which has been clamoring for such a detente for years.
    Washington loosened trade and travel restrictions, Obama visited Havana, and the old Cold War foes looked on track to fully normalizing their relationship.
    But under Republican Trump all that has changed.    Amid an attack on socialism in Latin America, his administration has not only tightened restrictions, such as banning U.S. cruises again, but even imposed sanctions it had never resorted to before.
    It has, for example, allowed U.S. citizens to bring lawsuits against foreign companies deemed to be trafficking in Cuban properties nationalized after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, damaging investor appetite.
    “There are powerful people today in the U.S. government that want to increasingly apply hostile measures and sever our bilateral relationship,” the Cuban Foreign Ministry’s General Director for U.S. Affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio told reporters on the sidelines of an annual U.S.-Cuban academic conference in Havana.
    “If that were to be the case, we are ready to face that reality, but it is not what the people of Cuba want and not what the government of Cuba is seeking.”
    The U.S. says it is pressuring Cuba to end human rights violations such as harassment of opponents of Cuba’s one party system. It also wants Havana to stop supporting socialist Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.While there are no plans to break off diplomatic ties at this time, one thing that has clearly reached a low point is the Castro regime’s abuses of its own people,” a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.    “In addition, the regime is spreading its totalitarian repression to other countries in the region.”
    Havana says the United States does not have the moral authority to lecture anyone on human rights and should not intervene in other countries’ domestic affairs.
    Analysts say Cuba paradoxically often clamps down more on dissent when it feels under siege from the United States.    Activists have complained of an increase in repression of late.
    Some believe Trump is eyeing the 2020 election, with the swing state of Florida home to many Cuban-American exiles who welcome the harder line on Havana.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Grant McCool)

12/17/2019 Czechs keep up protests against PM Babis after EU report
Demonstrators attend a protest rally demanding the resignation of Czech Prime Minister
Andrej Babis, in Prague, Czech Republic, December 17, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Thousands of Czechs protested against Prime Minister Andrej Babis for a second week in a row on Tuesday after prosecutors reopened a case into alleged subsidy fraud and Brussels declared a conflict of interest between his businesses and political role.
    The civic group Million Moments for Democracy has sought to put pressure on the billionaire premier Babis with a series of demonstrations this year, although Babis’s political party ANO maintains a solid lead in polls.
    The group has demanded his former business empire Agrofert be cut off from European Union subsidies and public contracts and have called on him to resign.
    The hour-long march on Tuesday from Prague’s central Wenceslas Square to the government office drew fewer people than a protest last week that numbered several tens of thousands.    Police estimated 7,000 started the march on Tuesday.
    “We are here because we don’t want to tolerate the continued disintegration of the political culture in our country,” Million Moments leader Mikulas Minar told crowds who chanted “Resignation.”
    “We don’t want to tolerate that it becomes the norm to skirt laws, be in a conflict of interest and publicly lie.”
    Protests were called after the country’s top prosecutor reopened this month a case against Babis, suspecting that he hid ownership of one of his firms a decade ago so it would qualify for a 2 million euro subsidy.
    Separately, an audit by the European Commission, the European Union’s executive, leaked to Czech media this month.
    The report showed the Commission saw Babis in a conflict of interest because he still had control over Agrofert, a conglomerate he had built over the past two decades and put into trust funds in 2017 before he became prime minister.
    Babis has denied wrongdoing and has said he met legal requirements on conflict of interest with the funds.
    Agrofert firms span farming, food processing, chemicals and media, and are among the central European country’s main recipients of various EU money, from farm subsidies that are given per hectare or per animal to project-based finance for innovation and environmental investments.
    Babis’s ANO party has held about 30% support in political polls, double his closest competitor, despite the protests.    In November a rally timed with the 30th anniversary to the end of communist rule drew a quarter of a million people.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

12/17/2019 Poland could exit EU over judicial reform clash: top Polish court
FILE PHOTO: People gather in front of the Presidential Palace during the "Chain of lights"
protest against judicial overhaul in Warsaw, Poland July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland could end up leaving the European Union because of plans by the ruling nationalists that would allow judges to be fired if they question the legitimacy of the government’s judicial reforms, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday.
    The court said the plans could contravene European law and exacerbate existing tensions between Brussels and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS).     “Contradictions between Polish law and EU law … will in all likelihood lead to an intervention by the EU institutions regarding an infringement of the EU treaties, and in the longer perspective (will lead to) the need to leave the European Union,” Poland’s Supreme Court said in a statement.
    The EU has accused PiS of politicizing the judiciary since the party swept to power in 2015.    Pis says its reforms are necessary to make the court system more efficient.
    Under draft legislation now before parliament, PiS aims to prevent judges from ruling that peers, nominated by a panel appointed by the party, are not independent.
    “The Commission has a very clear position on protecting the judiciary from political interference,” European Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told Reuters in response to the Supreme Court statement.
    “The Commission continues to follow the situation closely.    We remain ready and available to discuss with the Polish authorities ways forward to resolving the issues at hand.”
    The EU had said on Monday it would investigate whether the draft law undermines judicial independence.
    The Supreme Court statement also said the proposed bill was “evidently” designed to allow President Andrzej Duda, an ally of PiS, to pick a new head of the court before a presidential election expected in May.
    The current head of the Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, is due to stand down in April.    She was appointed before PiS came to power and has been openly critical of the party’s reforms.
    Gersdorf has called a meeting of all judges for March 17 so they can participate in the process of choosing the next head of the Supreme Court, court spokesman Michal Laskowski told a news conference on Tuesday.
    Moves by Hungary and Poland to bring their courts and media under tighter state control have led the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to begin rule-of-law investigations that could in theory lead to a suspension of their EU voting rights.
    Brussels is considering tying adherence to the rule of law and democratic standards with access to EU budget funds.
    Poland joined the EU in 2004 and public support for membership remains strong, despite the tussles between Brussels and PiS. Poland is a major beneficiary of EU funds for its farmers and infrastructure projects.
    There is no mechanism for the EU to expel a member state. So far only Britain has chosen to leave the bloc, following a referendum in 2016.    It is expected to exit the EU next month.
(Reporting by Alicja Ptak in Warsaw; Jonas Ekblom in Brussels, Writing by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/18/2019 U.S. sanctions against Nord Stream 2 pipeline violate international law: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project is seen on the pipe cap at the construction site of the
Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, near the town of Kingisepp, Leningrad region, Russia June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Anton Vaganov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project are a breach of international law and an example of unfair competition, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
Moscow expects the project to be completed, Peskov added.
    On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed a defense policy bill which includes sanctions on companies building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
It now goes to the White House, where President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; editing by Jason Neely)

12/18/2019 Kazakh president reshuffles senior officials
FILE PHOTO: Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev speaks during a joint news conference with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, December 5, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday named Kanat Bozumbayev, previously energy minister, a presidential aide, and reshuffled a number of other senior officials.
    Tokayev did not immediately name a new energy minister, a key position in the oil-and-gas exporting Central Asian nation.
    Tokayev appointed Madina Abylkasymova, until now a deputy central bank governor, the head of a newly established financial supervision agency.
    He also removed political heavyweight Imangali Tasmagambetov from the position of Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Russia, saying he was reaching retirement age.
    The Kazakh president also sacked his deputy chief of staff, Darkhan Kaletayev, without providing any reason, and replaced him with Maulen Ashimbayev, previously an aide.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

12/18/2019 Slovak court suspends bill for Europe’s longest pre-election poll blackout
FILE PHOTO: Slovakia's President Zuzana Caputova takes the oath administered by President of the
Constitutional Court Ivan Fiacan, during her swearing-in ceremony as the country's first female
head of state, in Bratislava, Slovakia, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovakia’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday suspended a law putting in place one of the world’s longest bans on publishing opinion polls before elections, preventing the bill from taking effect before a parliamentary vote in February.
    Opposition and critics have viewed the ruling party-backed bill, approved last month, as an attempt to sideline political newcomers before the European Union country’s Feb. 29 election.
    The change would have extended the blackout on publishing polls on voting intentions to 50 days, from the already lengthy 14 days, which would have been the third-longest ban of its kind in the world, according to the Slovak Academy of Sciences.
    President Zuzana Caputova had filed the motion against the law in which she argued it violated the right to information and that it limited political competition.
    Opposition critics said the measure was aimed at disadvantaging challengers from new parties that could benefit from late shifts in support.    It did not ban procuring polls but barred publication of any results.
    The court ruling returns the black-out period to 14 days, pending further court deliberations that will take place at an unspecified future date.
    The law had won backing from the ruling leftist Smer party, junior coalition partner Slovak National Party (SNS) and the opposition far-right People’s Party-Our Slovakia.
    Its authors said the bill aimed to protect voters from disinformation so they could base their decisions on the parties’ program and actions.
    Caputova, an activist lawyer and political newcomer herself, defeated Smer’s candidate in a presidential run-off in March after a late surge in support.
    Smer leads polls, but has seen support slip since last year’s murder of an investigative journalist and his fiancée triggered mass protests over corruption and ousted prime minister Robert Fico, who had dominated the euro zone country’s politics for a decade.
    Some polls have shown a wide coalition of opposition parties could edge Smer from power in the election.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Alex Richardson)

12/18/2019 Norway picks wind power sceptic as oil minister amid Arctic drilling debate by Nerijus Adomaitis and Gwladys Fouche
FILE PHOTO: Sylvi Listhaug sits at the desk after she was introduced as the new Senior and
Public Health Minister, in Oslo, Norway May 3, 2019. NTB scanpix/Stian Lysberg Solum via REUTERS
    OSLO (Reuters) – Norway made an outspoken right-wing lawmaker who once called wind turbines “white monsters” its oil and energy minister on Wednesday, as the government debates updating rules for petroleum industry activity in its Arctic waters.br>     As head of the oil and energy ministry, Sylvi Listhaug will be in charge of managing Norway’s majority stake in oil firm Equinor, granting licenses to wind farms and deciding where oil companies can drill.
    Norway’s ruling four-party coalition faces a fierce debate over how far north drilling should be allowed.    The Liberals, who control the environment ministry, want to restrict drilling, something which Listhaug’s right wing Progress Party opposes.
    The government must approve new rules before calling another round of exploration license awards in these frontier areas before an election in 2021.
    “The oil and gas industry is not a problem.    It is part of the solution to make the world greener,” Listhaug told reporters on her arrival at the oil and energy ministry.
    “It helps finance our generous welfare system,” she said, adding that working to promote the oil industry was “a dream come true.”
WHITE MONSTERS
    Norway is undergoing a boom in the construction of wind farms, but faces opposition from local residents.
    Listhaug told private broadcaster TV2 in August that Norway, which produces nearly all its electricity from hydropower dams, did not need either onshore or offshore wind power, calling wind turbines “white monsters.”
    “We should not have wind turbines everywhere in the country.    We need to take care of our beautiful nature,” Listhaug said on Wednesday.
    Listhaug resigned as justice minister in 2018 after posting comments online accusing the opposition Labour Party, which was the target of Norway’s worst peacetime massacre in 2011, of putting the rights of terrorists before national security.
    She proposed a bill that would give authorities the right, without judicial review, to strip individuals suspected of terrorism or of being foreign fighters of their Norwegian citizenship. Labour wanted the courts to rule on such decisions.
    Popular among supporters in her party, Listhaug made a cabinet comeback this year and is seen as a potential future leader of the Progress Party.
(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis and Gwladys Fouche; Additional reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Susan Fenton, Alexander Smith and Alex Richardson)

12/18/2019 Norway PM Solberg to change cabinet line-up
Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg comes out on Slottsplassen together with newly appointed Minister
of Oil and Energy Sylvi Listhaug and Minister of Elderly and Public Health Terje Soviknes, both from
Progress Party (FrP), in Oslo in Oslo, Norway December 18, 2019. NTB Scanpix/Terje Bendiksby via REUTERS
ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NORWAY OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NORWAY.

12/19/2019 Putin says impeachment case against Trump is ‘fabricated’ by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual end-of-year
news conference in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that U.S. Democrats had impeached President Donald Trump for “fabricated” reasons in order to reverse his 2016 election victory.
    Putin, speaking at his annual year-end news conference, said he expected Trump to survive the proceedings and stay in office.
    The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to impeach Trump, but Putin, like most observers, said he expected the Republican Senate to acquit him.
    “It’s unlikely they will want to remove from power a representative of their party based on what are, in my opinion, completely fabricated reasons,” said Putin.
    “This is simply a continuation of the (U.S.) intra-political battle where one party that lost an election, the Democratic Party, is trying to achieve results using other methods and means."
    “They first accused Trump of a conspiracy with Russia.    Then it turned out there wasn’t a conspiracy and that it couldn’t be the basis for impeachment.    Now they have dreamt up (the idea) of some kind of pressure being exerted on Ukraine.”
    Putin nevertheless criticized the United States in general for what he called unfriendly steps toward Russia, saying Moscow had adopted a policy of responding in kind.
    In particular, he complained about what he said was a refusal to respond to Moscow’s proposals to extend the New START arms control treaty, which limits the number of strategic nuclear warheads that the world’s two biggest nuclear powers can deploy.
    Regarded by many experts as the only thing preventing an unfettered arms race between the two Cold War rivals, the treaty can be extended for another five years, beyond its expiry date in February 2021, by mutual agreement.
    “So far there’s been no answer to our proposals,” said Putin.    “And if the New START treaty doesn’t exist anymore, there will be nothing in the world to curb the arms race.    And that, in my view, would be bad.”
(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[EVEN PUTIN IS NOT STUPID ENOUGH AS THE DEMOCRATS ARE THAT TRUMP DID NOT DO ANY RUSSIAN COLLUSION].

12/19/2019 Russian President Vladimir Putin’s end-of-year news conference
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his annual end-of-year news
conference in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The following are highlights from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual end-of-year news conference on Thursday.
ON IMPEACHMENT OF U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP
    “You phrase your question as if Trump’s presidency is coming to an end.    I am not sure that’s the case.    (The impeachment bill) still needs to go through the Senate where Republicans as far as I know have a majority.    It’s unlikely they will want to remove from power a representative of their party based on what are, in my opinion, completely fabricated reasons.”
ON EXTENDING THE NEW START ARMS CONTROL TREATY
    “We are ready until the end of the year to extend the existing agreement, the new START treaty.”
    “Now if we were to receive a letter tomorrow – we are ready to sign it and send it back to Washington.”
    “But thus far there has been no answer to any of our suggestions.    And without a new START treaty, there is nothing to curb an arms race.    And that, in my opinion, is bad.”
ON PROGRESS OF RUSSIA’S NATIONAL PROJECTS
    “I believe that there is no need to revise anything in principle. Individual responsibility (for the projects’ progress) has been introduced, it could be strengthened.”
    “Out of the 38 goals that were set for this year, we consider 26 to have been achieved.”
ON RUSSIA’S DOPING SCANDAL
    “Any punishment should be individual.    If someone is guilty of something specific, then that is completely natural and just.”
    “If WADA does not have any claims against our national Olympic Committee, then our team should be allowed to participate under its own flag.    Deal with specific people.”
    “We are doing everything to make sure Russian sport is clean.”
UKRAINE PEACE TALKS
    “There is nothing other than the Minsk (peace) Agreements.    I was of course concerned by (Ukrainian President) Zelenskiy’s statement… that they could be revised.    If a revision of the Minsk Agreements starts, then the situation could enter a complete dead end.”
    “Direct dialogue on Donbass is needed.    It is lacking.”
UKRAINE GAS TALKS
    “This is a very difficult, sensitive topic.    We would like to solve this problem.”
    “We will look for a solution that is acceptable for all parties, including Ukraine.    That’s despite the construction of infrastructure such as Nord Stream-1, Nord Stream-2, Turk Stream.    We will preserve gas transit through Ukraine.”
    “We have no desire to exacerbate the situation in the energy sector or use this to influence the situation in Ukraine itself.”
(Reporting by Moscow bureau; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/19/2019 Russia’s Putin seeks end to Libya conflict and talks between two sides
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of the government
in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2019. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he wants to see an end to the conflict in Libya and then talks between the two opposing sides to begin.
    Speaking at an annual news conference in Moscow, Putin said he would discuss Libya with a Turkish delegation in Russia in the coming days.    Moscow and Ankara have backed different sides in the conflict, which began in 2014.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/19/2019 Russia’s Putin expects Trump to survive impeachment proceedings
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year
news conference in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he expects his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump’s to remain in office despite the House of Representatives voting to impeach Trump on Wednesday.
    Putin said the allegations against Trump are “dreamt up” and that he believes the U.S. Senate is unlikely to remove Trump from office.
    Putin added that Russia is ready to agree on a new START arms treaty with the United States, but that there has been no response to Russian proposals.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/19/2019 Putin says Kiev needs direct talks with Russia-backed breakaway Donbass region
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends his annual end-of-year news
conference in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Ukraine’s leaders needed to have direct talks with the Russia-backed separatist region of Donbass in an effort to restore peace in eastern Ukraine.
    Putin excluded any revisions to the ceasefire agreements drawn up in Minsk in 2015 and expressed a desire to continue with Normandy format talks.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Jon Boyle)

12/19/2019 Russia, Ukraine, EU agree ‘in principle’ on new gas deal: EU official by Vladimir Soldatkin and Katya Golubkova
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic, Russian Energy Minister, Alexander Novak, Ukrainian Minister
of Energy and Environmental Protection, Oleksiy Orzhel, attend a news conference after trilateral gas
talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine in Berlin, Germany December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia, Ukraine and the European Commission, after hours-long talks on Thursday, agreed in principle on a new gas deal starting after Jan 1, 2020, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic told a briefing.
    Ukraine is a key transit route for Russian piped gas exports to Europe.    The current deal between the two post-Soviet countries expires at the end of the year.
    “After these very intensive talks I am very glad to say that we reached an agreement in principle on all key elements which I believe is very positive news for Europe, for Russia and Ukraine,” Sefcovic said.
    Sefcovic, Ukraine’s energy minister, Oleksiy Orzhel, and Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak met in Berlin on Thursday.    They did not provide details.
    Gazprom said in a statement that Moscow and Kiev would meet on Friday in the Belarus capital of Minsk to continue talks.
    Orzhel, speaking at the same briefing, said he hoped to reach “positive results for all sides” soon.    Novak, praising Germany’s brokerage in the deal, said that “we all have done a good work.”
    Earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appointed Georg Graf Waldersee a special Germany envoy to represent Berlin’s interests in the gas talks.
    Russia and Germany are allies in Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, to be launched next year.    It would double Russian gas supplies to Germany via the route running beneath the Baltic Sea, known as Nord Stream 1.
MEETING AFTER NORMANDY TALKS
    Russia, Ukraine and the European Commision officials were meeting 10 days after so-called Normandy talks in Paris on Dec. 9, attended by presidents of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany’s Merkel.
    Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in their first face-to-face meeting, discussed prisoner exchange, a renewed commitment to implement an existing ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region and gas.
    Moscow is currently building two gas pipelines, Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream.    The latter’s extension to south-east Europe is aimed at bypassing Ukraine.
    At his annual news conference on Thursday, Putin said Moscow planned to keep gas transit via Ukraine irrespective of new gas pipelines Russia builds, in a sign of a softer stance toward its ex-Soviet neighbor, from which Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula in 2014.
    “We will look for a solution that is acceptable for all parties, including Ukraine,” Putin said, adding that Russia would be ready to give Kiev a discount of 20-25% for gas purchases.
    “I am confident we will reach an agreement… We have no desire to exacerbate the situation… or use this to influence the situation in Ukraine itself.”
    Ukraine halted its own direct imports of Russian gas in November 2015.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Maria Grabar; additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow, Marine Strauss and Thomas Escritt in Berlin; writing by Katya Golubkova; editing by Jason Neely and Dan Grebler)

12/19/2019 Putin rejects charges of Russian meddling in UK politics, praises Johnson by Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin
Russian President Vladimir Putin reacts during his annual end-of-year
news conference in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Thursday rejected allegations of Russian interference in British politics and praised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for better understanding the mood of British society on Brexit than his political rivals.
Relations between London and Moscow remain strained over everything from the 2018 poisoning in England of a former Russian spy and his daughter to Syria and Ukraine.
    Putin, fielding questions from reporters at his annual news conference, was asked about an unpublished British parliamentary report into allegations Russia had attempted to interfere in British politics, something the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.
    “As regards (Russian) interference or non-interference, we’ve heard many times from official governing bodies in various countries, including Britain, assessments of what is happening inside Russia.    Is that interference?” said Putin.
    “We reserve the right to behave in the same way toward you.    If you think that is interference, then keep thinking that.    But it has nothing at all to do with interference.”
    Reminded by a BBC reporter that Johnson had once compared him to Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter films, Putin said he didn’t care.
    “I know what my country’s interests are. And whatever anyone has said about me has no importance when compared to the fundamental tasks that Russia is interested in solving,” he said.
    Citing unnamed British business people and investors whom he said Russia regarded as friends, Putin said he believed London was interested in forging stronger economic ties with Moscow.
    “We value this and are doing everything to support them so that they feel like they are at home here,” he said.
    And despite being reminded of Johnson’s elf joke about him, Putin had warm words for the British politician.
    “As regards what’s happening now, it’s possible to congratulate Johnson. He turned out to be the victor after all (in this month’s British election) and better grasped the mood in British society than his opponents,” said Putin.
    “And as I understand it, he intends to go through with all of his Brexit plans.”
(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Catherine Evans)

12/19/2019 Putin says no plans for Russia-China military alliance
FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference after
a Normandy-format summit in Paris, France, December 9, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia is not planning to create a military alliance with China, despite Moscow helping Beijing build a missile attack warning system.
    Putin said in October that Russia was helping China build the system.    On Thursday he said it was purely a defensive measure.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Writing by Alexander Marrow; editing by John Stonestreet)

12/19/2019 Putin says he’s open to tweaking presidential term limits by Vladimir Soldatkin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with representatives of German business
community in Sochi, Russia December 6, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he was open to the possibility of altering Russia’s constitution, including proposals to increase parliament’s power and to limit the number of presidential terms anyone can serve.
    The issue of constitutional change in Russia is watched closely amid speculation about Putin’s own political ambitions.
    In power as either president or prime minister since 1999, Putin, 67, is due to step down in 2024 when his fourth presidential term ends.    Under the current constitution, which bans anyone from serving more than two successive presidential terms, Putin is barred from immediately running again.
    Critics have accused him of plotting to wield power beyond 2024 however, suggesting he might change the constitution to run again as president, shift power to parliament and assume an enhanced role as prime minister, or head a new union state comprised of Russia and neighboring Belarus.
    Putin on Thursday said he was open to the idea of making constitutional changes when it came to parliamentary powers and the institutions of the presidency and prime minister, but said Russia should tread carefully.
    “It’s only possible to do this (changes) after thorough preparation and a deep discussion in society. You’d need to be very careful,” Putin said at his annual news conference.
    He said he was open to tweaking presidential term limits, suggesting they could be changed to limit anyone’s ability to serve more than two terms, something he has done.
    “One thing that could be changed about these (presidential) terms is removing the clause about ‘successive’ (terms).    Your humble servant served two terms consecutively, then left his post and had the constitutional right to return to the post of president, because these were not two successive terms,” he said.
    “(This clause) troubles some of our political analysts and public figures.    Well, maybe it could be removed.”
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, Polina Ivanova and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Nick Macfie)

12/20/2019 Cuban economy still afloat despite U.S. sanctions: official by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
FILE PHOTO: A coco taxi passes by cars lining up for gas at the seafront
Malecon in Havana, Cuba, September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban economy remained barely in the black this year given punishing new U.S. sanctions, the country’s economy minister said on Friday, forecasting 1% growth in 2020.
    The Communist-run government has called on Cubans to “resist” and “develop” the economy amidst fuel, food, medicine and other shortages this year as a patriotic duty in the face of renewed hostility from its Cold War foe.
    “Amid the limitations and thanks to the efforts of the people, it is estimated that the Cuban economy did not decrease in 2019,” Alejandro Gil told a session of the Cuban National Assembly broadcast on state-run television.
    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has ratcheted up the longstanding trade embargo.    It has sanctioned more than 200 Cuban companies, as well as Venezuelan and other foreign ships and companies involved in the Venezuela-Cuba oil trade which the Caribbean island depends on.
    “We have been facing additional restrictions with the availability of fuel, affecting, among others, public transport, forcing us to temporarily paralyze some investments and decrease the pace in others and impacting agriculture, food production and distribution and other lines of high economic and social importance,” Gil said.
    Travel to the island has been further restricted and U.S. citizens are now allowed to sue foreign companies deemed to be trafficking in Cuban properties nationalized after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, damaging investor appetite.
    Gil had forecast 0.5% growth this year after a 2.2% increase in 2018.    He said the government was still compiling data on this year’s economic performance and final figures would be available next year.
    Already heavily in debt to foreign governments, partners and suppliers due to the implosion of ally Venezuela’s economy, Gil said austerity measures aimed at repaying debt and resisting U.S. sanctions would remain in effect in 2020 and might have to be increased.
    The measures include steep cuts in fuel allocations to agriculture and other sectors, reduction of imported fertilizer and animal feed, cuts in electricity use and even cooking with wood at some bakeries and schools.
    Gil said priority would continue be given to increasing exports, reducing imports, attracting investment and savings on fuel and other resources.
    As is customary, he gave no updated figures on trade, the debt and current account.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Richard Chang)

12/21/2019 Nord Stream 2 to press on with Europe gas pipe, despite U.S. sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Allseas' deep sea pipe laying ship Solitaire lays pipes for Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the
Baltic Sea September 13, 2019. Picture taken September 13, 2019. REUTERS/Stine Jacobsen/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The group behind Nord Stream 2 said on Saturday it aimed to complete a pipeline to boost Russian gas supplies to Europe as soon as possible, after a major contractor suspended pipe-laying activities due to U.S. sanctions.
    A U.S. bill signed by Donald Trump on Friday included legislation imposing sanctions on companies laying pipe for Nord Stream 2, the project that aims to double gas capacity along the northern Nord Stream 1 pipeline route to Germany.
    Nord Stream 2, which will run along the Baltic Sea floor, will enable Russia to bypass Ukraine and Poland to deliver gas.
    “Completing the project is essential for European supply security.    We together with the companies supporting the project will work on finishing the pipeline as soon as possible,” the groups said.
    Nord Stream 2 confirmed that its contractor, Swiss-Dutch company Allseas, suspended pipe-laying activities.
    Russian gas monopoly Gazprom , which is backing the project, declined to comment.
(Reporting by Maria Grabar, Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Edmund Blair)

12/21/2019 Cuba names prime minister in move to lighten presidential load by Marc Frank and Nelson Acosta
Tourism minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, named as the country's first prime minister a role created by the new constitution,
gestures during the ordinary session of the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, December 21, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel on Saturday named tourism minister Manuel Marrero Cruz as the country’s first prime minister in decades, under a new constitution that seeks to decentralize former leader Fidel Castro’s job.
    Manuel Marrero Cruz, 56, an architect and whose nomination was ratified by the National Assembly, is a former functionary of the military-run Gaviota tourism corporation whose hotels have been sanctioned by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Marrero, tourism minister for 15 years, presided over the growth of the industry into Cuba’s most important, with dozens of partnerships with foreign companies and broad connections with the growing private sector.
    Unlike many other countries where prime ministers often play central, political roles, the post involves day-to-day supervision of the Council of Ministers (cabinet) and the implementation of policy.
    “The head of government will be the administrative right hand of the president of the republic,” the state-run Cubadebate online news outlet said.
    William LeoGrande, a professor of government and Cuba expert at American University in Washington said the post was different than in a multiparty system.
    “It’s a division of responsibilities rather than a division of authority,” he said.
    Castro was prime minister until 1976 when the post was abolished.    The iconic revolutionary became head of the Communist Party and president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers.
    Castro, who ceded power in 2006 to his brother Raul, died in 2016.    He was famous for micromanaging the Caribbean island nation.
    Raul Castro stepped down as president in 2018, but remains head of the Communist Party.
    Now, under the constitution passed earlier this year, the President of the Republic Diaz-Canel no longer heads-up either the Council of State, presided over by the president of the National Assembly Esteban Lazo, or Council of Ministers, though he maintains ultimate authority.
    Cuban officials say changes in government structure aim to improve accountability and administration of the bureaucracy and state-run economy.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

12/21/2019 Four Balkan states flesh out deal for free movement of labor by Benet Koleka
Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic, Albania's Prime Minister Edi Rama, North Macedonia's Prime Minister
Zoran Zaev and Montenegro's President Milo Djukanovic attend a news conference during
a regional meeting of Western Balkan countries, in Tirana, Albania, December 21, 2019. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Western Balkan leaders met on Saturday to advance EU-supported plans for free movement of people and goods in their region to boost trade and investment.
    The leaders of Montenegro, Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania met in the Albanian capital Tirana for their third meeting to give shape to the idea.
    All Western Balkan countries, blighted by wars in the 1990s, aspire to join the European Union, but their accession has been slowed down by Brexit and lack of domestic reforms.
    Serbia and Montenegro are already negotiating EU membership while Albania and North Macedonia’s accession talks were put on hold in October.
    “We cannot survive without this because we are small and insignificant if we do not increase our labor and economic markets,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters after the discussions.
    “We shall be trying to create a joint labor market that means comparatively a higher level of attraction for foreign investors.”
    Serbs, North Macedonians and Albanians could work in each other’s countries given labor shortages, and align rules to create a market of up to 12 million people, he said.
    Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said the European Union supported the plan.
    “The (EU) Commission is readying grants of 1.2 billion euros to our countries to help us implement our accords,” Rama said.
    Lifting barriers and border checkpoints would speed cross-border trade and allow foreign tourists to cross the region without waiting at frontiers, the leaders said.
    “If Chinese tourists land at Belgrade airport, they should be able to cross freely in all the countries of the region,” said Prime Minister Zoran Zaev of North Macedonia.
    The West Balkan region is already part of the CEFTA free trade deal and the Berlin Process backed by big EU economies.
    “This is CEFTA-plus, and Berlin-plus, something we can do together and that our citizens will feel,” Zaev said.
    President Milo Djukanovic of Montenegro added: “Every regional move should help create a dynamic progress to get our countries into the European Union as soon as possible.”
    The other Western Balkan nations of Bosnia and Kosovo did not attend the talks.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Ros Russell)

12/22/2019 More freedom, but predictable outcome: Uzbekistan votes for new parliament
A man casts his ballot during parliamentary election in Tashkent, Uzbekistan
December 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov
    ALMATY (Reuters) – All five parties running in a parliamentary election in Uzbekistan on Sunday have backed reformist President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, meaning that although the vote will be the freest in decades, it is likely to produce a legislature loyal to him.
    The election is the first in the nation of 33 million since Mirziyoyev took power in late 2016 following the death of strongman Islam Karimov, who had run the former Soviet republic as a police state for 27 years.
    Polls opened earlier on Sunday and voting will close at 1500 GMT with preliminary results expected later in the day.
    Mirziyoyev, a former prime minister, has pledged to open up the resource-rich nation after decades of near-isolation, liberalizing both the economic and political systems.
    The vote is being held under a modernized legal framework and follows campaigning that for the first time in Uzbekistan’s history included televised debates between the competing parties.
    However, a monitoring mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a report this month there was still work to be done.    Legal amendments addressing the OSCE’s longstanding recommendations regarding fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression “have been few,” it said.
    The five competing parties are Liberal Democrats who nominated Mirziyoyev for presidency in 2016, the Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival) party, the People’s Democratic Party, the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party, and the green Ecological Party.
    All five have expressed the same emphatic support for Mirziyoyev’s reforms as they did for Karimov’s conservative approach, and no one disagreed with the president’s policies during the debates.    Even the Ecological Party, for example, supports plans to build a nuclear power plant.
    Despite the relative lack of bold policies, increased democratic options for voters are expected to help new entrants like the Ecological Party, which had not taken part in previous elections but held some non-elected seats in parliament.
    “The Ecological Party are new and have certain clear objectives while other parties are just too much ‘Hurrah-hurrah!’ with vague concepts, like in the old times,” Akrom Mirkhalikov, an engineer, said at a polling station in the capital, Tashkent.
    Live television appearances have exposed party leaders to public criticism.    One of them was scorned after saying during a discussion on minimum wages that 2.5 million sums ($263) a month was sufficient for a family of five to live on, which viewers regarded a sign of being out of touch with reality.
    Another party leader said people trying to cut costs when traveling to work abroad – which millions of Uzbeks do – have no self-respect.    That phrase was seen by many as an insensitive reference to an incident in which 52 Uzbeks died when their bus caught fire in Kazakhstan last year.
    Lola Abdurahmonova, a 65-year-old retired teacher, said the choice between parties was difficult, but decided to vote for Adolat based on the debates.
    “I liked the issues they raised and what they want to do,” she said.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Additional reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov in Tashkent; Editing by Frances Kerry and Sam Holmes)

12/22/2019 Croatian president, former PM in presidential run-off on Jan. 5
Presidential candidate Zoran Milanovic casts his ballot at a polling station during a
presidential election in Zagreb, Croatia December 22, 2019. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – The Socialist Democrats’ candidate and former prime minister Zoran Milanovic came first in the first round of Croatia’s presidential election, the State Electoral Commission said on Sunday after 99% of votes were counted.
    Milanovic got 29.5% of the votes ahead of incumbent center-right president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the candidate of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), with 26.7%.    Independent candidate Miroslav Skoro, a popular singer with conservative nationalist-leaning views came in third with 24.4% of votes.
    Milanovic and Grabar-Kitarovic will face in a run-off on Jan. 5, 2020.
    The presidential role is to a large extent ceremonial as the head of state cannot veto laws, but has a say in foreign policy and defense matters.    The president has a five-year term with the next one starting in February 2020.
    Despite her second place in the first round Grabar-Kitarovic, whose first term in office some observers assessed as rather bland with little policy substance and a lot of populist patriotic rhetoric, seems to be the favorite in the second round.
    “Skoro’s right wing voters are unlikely to support Milanovic, so Grabar-Kitarovic seems set to rely on a larger pool of potential voters in the second round,” said political analyst Davor Gjenero.
    The second round pits the candidates of the two biggest parties in a year when Croatia will also hold parliamentary elections, most likely in the autumn.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Editing by Sandra Maler)

12/22/2019 Russia’s Lavrov says Trump told Putin U.S. will continue looking for arms treaty solutions: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during a news conference at
the Russian Embassy in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump had sent a short letter about the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Interfax news agency reported.
    “U.S. President Donald Trump sent a short letter in which he said that they are ready to continue looking for ways to overcome the problems in our relations,” Interfax cited the minister as saying on a TV talk show.
    The letter was in response to Putin’s offer to introduce a moratorium on the development of missiles banned by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Interfax cited Lavrov as saying.     The U.S. formally left the INF treaty with Russia in August after determining that Moscow was violating the treaty and had already deployed one banned type of missile, an accusation the Kremlin denies.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Catherine Evans)

12/22/2019 Russia’s Lavrov says Nord Stream 2 will be launched despite sanctions: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens to a question during a news conference
at the Russian Embassy in Washington, U.S., December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Al Drago/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that the Nord Stream 2 and Turk Stream gas pipeline projects would be launched despite U.S. sanctions, adding that Russia planned to respond to the new measures, the Interfax news agency reported.
    U.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill on Friday that included legislation imposing sanctions on firms laying pipe for Nord Stream 2, which seeks to double gas capacity along the northern Nord Stream pipeline route to Germany.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Catherine Evans)

12/22/2019 Russia ready to include ‘super weapons’ in arms control treaty: Ifax cites Lavrov
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Japanese counterpart
Toshimitsu Motegi (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday that Russia was prepared to include the heavy Sarmat missile and the Avangard hypersonic missile in a new START strategic arms reduction treaty, should it be extended, Interfax reported.
    Russia is also ready to demonstrate the Sarmat missile to the United States, Interfax cited Lavrov as saying on a talk show on Russian state television.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Catherine Evans)

12/23/2019 Kremlin calls Moscow shooting incident ‘a manifestation of madness’
FILE PHOTO: Police officers are seen near the Federal Security Service (FSB) building after
a shooting incident, in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Monday called a Moscow shooting incident last week in which two officers of Russia’s FSB security service were killed by a gunman “a manifestation of madness” of the kind faced by all countries from time to time.
    Russian investigators on Friday named the man who opened fire on the headquarters of the FSB security service in Moscow as Yevgeny Manyurov, a 39-year-old former security guard from just outside the capital.
    Manyurov killed one FSB employee outright and wounded five other people outside the agency’s main building, the former headquarters of the Soviet-era KGB, on Thursday evening, before he was himself shot dead.
    A second FSB employee who had been seriously wounded died from his wounds in hospital.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the shooting a tragedy.
    “We live in such times, and not just us but all governments in the world, when unfortunately nobody is immune from any manifestations of madness with tragic consequences,” said Peskov.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/23/2019 Uzbekistan’s LibDems retain lead in parliamentary election
FILE PHOTO: Uzbek president Shavkat Mirziyoyev attends a news conference with his Kazakh counterpart
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in Tashkent, Uzbekistan April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekovz
    TASHKENT (Reuters) – Uzbekistan’s Liberal Democratic Party has retained the biggest number of seats in the Central Asian nation’s legislature so far, winning 43 seats out of 128 in Sunday’s vote, the Central Election Commission said on Monday.
    The remaining 22 seats in the lower house of parliament will be contested in the second round of voting next month, commission chairman Mirza-Ulugbek Abdusalomov said.
    Although Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev has no party affiliation, it was the Liberal Democrats who nominated him for presidency in the 2016 election.
    The Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival) party has won 35 seats, the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party got 21, the People’s Democratic Party 18 and the green Ecological Party has won 11 seats so far.
    All five parties back Mirziyoyev who has embarked on a campaign to reform the resource-rich Central Asian nation and open it up to foreign investment.
(Reporting by Mukhammadsharif Mamatkulov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/23/2019 Holocaust survivor marks first day of Hanukkah in Moscow by OAN Newsroom
Holocaust survivor and WWII veteran Mikhail Spectr, 86, pauses as he speaks during the annual Hanukkah Menorah
Lighting Ceremony in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
    A Holocaust survivor marked the first night of Hanukkah in Moscow.    Mikhail Spectr led the candle lighting ceremony Sunday in his hometown.    The 86-year-old survivor shared his stories with attendees and recalled the day he was freed by soviet soldiers in 1944.    Spectr was taken by Nazi soldiers that arrived at his village when he was only eight-years-old.
    “We were all sleeping on the floor, we lived on the territory, isolated from the city by barbed wire,” Spectr recounted.    “The entrance was guarded by Nazi soldiers and policemen.”
    After the ceremony, Spectr said he hopes to keep the events of the Holocaust alive as a reminder for future generations.    Multiple survivors of the Holocaust gathered in four cities around the world for menorah lighting ceremonies to mark the first night.
Russian Jews listen to Holocaust survivor Mikhail Spectr during the annual Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony
in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019. Survivors of the Nazi Holocaust are gathering in four cities around the
world for menorah-lighting ceremonies marking the first night of Hanukkah. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

12/23/2019 Putin opens Russian rail route to annexed Crimea by Andrew Osborn and Gleb Stolyarov
Russian President Vladimir Putin stands in a cabin of a train traveling from Kerch to Taman across a bridge,
which was constructed to connect the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula
across the Kerch Strait, in Kerch, Crimea December 23, 2019. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin on Monday opened a rail route linking Russia’s two biggest cities to Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014, and said it proved that the country could deliver on giant infrastructure projects.
    Putin inaugurated the passenger service by personally taking a train across the road and rail bridge which Russian engineers built to link Crimea to southern Russia after an earlier pre-annexation route which ran through Ukraine was shut down.
    “With your work, talent, determination and single-mindedness, you’ve shown that Russia is able to do such world-scale infrastructure projects.    This is after all the longest bridge not only in Russia but also in Europe,” Putin told a crowd of construction workers.
    “And you’ve shown that we can do such large-scale projects using our own technological abilities.    This, without exaggeration, gives us all confidence that we can and definitely will do similar projects in the future.”
    European Union sanctions ban European citizens and companies from investing in Crimea, including in the peninsula’s transport and infrastructure, something which complicated Russia’s drive to build the 212-billion-rouble ($3.4 billion) bridge.
    Construction of the bridge, which is 19 km long (11.8 miles), was opposed by Ukraine, which says it wants the Black Sea peninsula back.    The Kremlin has ruled out returning Crimea.
    The bridge, likely to be viewed as an important part of Putin’s legacy, was designed to integrate Crimea into Russia’s economy and to end its relative isolation by allowing Russia to supply it by road and rail as well as by sea and air.
    Putin said the new rail route would carry around 14 million passengers and about 13 million tonnes of freight next year.
HOLIDAY DESTINATION
    Russian state television has likened the bridge to a multi-billion-dollar railway project under Communist leader Leonid Brezhnev which linked Siberia to the Soviet far east.
    The first passenger train carrying 530 people left St Petersburg on Monday afternoon as Putin watched via video link from a location near the bridge in Russia’s Krasnodar region.
    The passenger service from Moscow is due to start on Tuesday, while freight and passenger services from other Russian cities are due to commence next year.
    Russia has relentlessly promoted Crimea, a favored holiday destination in the Soviet era, as an attractive place for Russians to soak up the sun.
    The contract to build the bridge was handed to Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s childhood judo partner, who controlled the lead contractor.    He accompanied Putin on Monday.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/23/2019 U.S. asks Russia to free incarcerated ex-Marine Paul Whelan
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, stands inside a defendants' cage
during a court hearing on extending his pre-trial detention, in Moscow, Russia October 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A senior U.S. diplomat on Monday called for Russia to free Paul Whelan, a former Marine accused by Moscow of espionage, saying there was no evidence against him and he had committed no crime.
    Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman made the pre-Christmas appeal to Russia outside a Moscow prison after he and diplomats from Britain, Canada and Ireland had visited Whelan.
    Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained by agents from Russia’s Federal Security Service in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 last year.
    Moscow says Whelan was caught red-handed with a computer flash drive containing classified information.    Whelan says he was set up in a sting and had thought the drive, given to him by a Russian acquaintance, contained holiday photos.
    He has been held in pre-trial detention while investigators look into his case.
    Gorman urged Russia to allow an outside doctor to examine Whelan, who has a medical condition, and for the former Marine to be allowed to phone his parents, something he has so far been denied.
    “In a case where there is no evidence and no crime it’s time to have him released,” Gorman said.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn,; Editing by Ed Osmond)

12/23/2019 Russia says ‘nothing catastrophic’ about U.S. sanctions on Nord Stream 2
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev chairs a government meeting in
Moscow, Russia November 28, 2019. Sputnik/Ekaterina Shtukina/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday there was “nothing catastrophic” about U.S. sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, given Russia’s gas transit deal with Ukraine, adding the project would be completed in a couple of months.
    The consortium behind Nord Stream 2, which is led by Russian state energy company Gazprom and will supply Russian gas to Germany and other European customers, said on Monday about 160 km (100 miles) of gas pipeline still needed to be laid.
    “Of course we will finish building it… Gazprom has alternative options for how to lay (the pipeline).    It will take a little more time, but that’s no big deal,” Medvedev said, adding that it could take a couple more months.
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya and Katya Golubkova; Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/23/2019 Russia to take action against U.S. sanctions on gas pipeline by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Nov. 11, 2018 file photo a ship works offshore in the Baltic Sea on the
natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 from Russia to Germany. (Bernd Wuestneck/dpa via AP)
    Russia is planning to take action after the U.S. imposed sanctions on the companies who helped construct a natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
    While speaking to reporters on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov blamed the Trump administration for blocking work on the ‘Nord Stream 2’ project.    He said action will be taken, but did not give specific details.
    The sanctions were signed into law by President Trump on Friday as part of the government’s yearend spending package.
    The project was on track to be completed by 2020, but has been temporarily suspended in response to the sanctions.    The 750 mile pipeline was designed to funnel natural gas from Russia to Germany, doubling Berlin’s intake of Russian oil.
    U.S. officials denounced the project, saying the pipeline would give too much influence to the Russian government.    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the sanctions were “incomprehensible” and could negatively impact the entire European Union.
    “We oppose ex-territorial sanctions.    I don’t see any other way but talks, serious talks.    We don’t tolerate that practice, ex-territorial sanctions do not work.    And now we’ll wait and see how to progress with Nord Stream.    That is very important to me.” – Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

12/24/2019 U.S. urges Georgia to reinforce democracy, rule of law by Margarita Antidze
FILE PHOTO: Georgia's former Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili addresses the media as he visits a polling station
during the presidential election in Tbilisi, Georgia November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia must reinforce its commitment to democracy and ensure its judicial system is free of political bias, the United States said on Tuesday, after weeks of demonstrations in the ex-Soviet state demanding changes to the electoral system.
    The intervention by the U.S. State Department ahead of parliamentary elections next year will be a blow to the ruling Georgian Dream party, led by Georgia’s richest man Bidzina Ivanishvili. Opponents accuse him of ruling the country from behind the scenes despite having no formal role in government.
    “We urge the Georgian government to reinforce its commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and rule of law by ensuring that its judicial and prosecutorial system is free of political bias,” the state department said.
    The South Caucasus country, which serves as a transit route for Caspian Sea oil and gas, was widely praised for establishing democratic institutions in the post-Soviet era.
    But human rights watchdogs have criticized the current government over a lack of progress on judicial reform and for putting pressure on independent media.
    This month the U.S. Embassy and the European Union mission in Georgia criticized a vote by parliament to appoint for life terms Supreme Court judges whom the opposition rejected as pro-government.
    The mass protests began in November after parliament failed to approve reforms to the electoral system including a move to full proportional representation.
    Irakli Kobakhidze, a Georgian Dream lawmaker, described the State Department’s message as “a statement of support from the United States,” which Georgia has long seen as a strategic partner as it tries to shift away from Moscow’s orbit.
    “The statement does not say that prosecutor’s office or courts are politically biased,” he said.
    But the opposition said the statement was a clear message to the government, which some protesters see as too soft on Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in August 2008.
    “Alarming messages against the existing regime in Georgia continue to come from Washington,” said Shalva Natelashvili, the opposition Labor Party leader.
    The authorities was under fire again last week when Facebook Inc said it had removed dozens of artificially generated Georgian accounts and hundreds of pages with thousands of followers that were used to spread pro-government messages.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Catherine Evans)

12/25/2019 Anti-Kremlin activist forcibly conscripted to Arctic was kidnapped, say allies by Andrew Osborn
Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny and project manager at Anti-Corruption Foundation Ruslan Shaveddinov attend a
meeting with members of Navalny's campaign team in Perm, Russia June 9, 2017. Picture taken June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Evgeny Feldmanb
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny said on Wednesday that the forcible military conscription of one of his allies to a remote air base in the Arctic amounted to kidnapping and illegal imprisonment.
    Ruslan Shaveddinov, a project manager at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, was detained at his Moscow flat on Monday after the door was broken down, the electricity cut, and the SIM card on his mobile phone remotely disabled.
    On Tuesday evening, Shaveddinov resurfaced at a remote military base on Novaya Zemlya, a freezing archipelago in the Arctic Ocean some 2,000 km (1240 miles) north of Moscow and the location of a missile air defense unit.
    Navalny said Shaveddinov, who had earlier tried to appeal his conscription on medical grounds, had managed to make one phone call on Wednesday using someone else’s phone.
    He said he had been told he would not be allowed to have a mobile phone during his one year of military service and said another soldier had been assigned to accompany him at all times to watch what he was doing.
    Navalny said lawyers for Shaveddinov would be challenging his conscription and would argue he had been illegally kidnapped and imprisoned.
    “Serving in the army has simply turned into a way of locking people up,” Navalny wrote on social media.
    Opposition activists likened Shaveddinov’s treatment to the way in which Tsarist Russia and the former Soviet Union sent political opponents to far-off corners of what is the world’s largest country by territory.
    Shaveddinov was part of Navalny’s unsuccessful campaign to run against Vladimir Putin for the presidency in 2018, worked as a TV presenter for Navalny’s online channel, and helped manage projects at Navalny’s foundation which specializes in publishing corruption investigations into state officials and managers.
    Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committees, told Reuters she had serious doubts about the way Shaveddinov had been treated.
    “This is definitely illegal,” she said.
    But Colonel Maxim Loktev, the deputy military commissar for Moscow, told the TASS news agency that Shaveddinov had dodged mandatory conscription for a long time and that a court on Monday had ruled his conscription legal.
    One year’s military service is mandatory in Russia for all male citizens aged 18–27, with some narrow exceptions.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Shaveddinov’s treatment looked legal if he’d been a draft dodger.
    “If he evaded conscription, he broke the relevant law of the Russian Federation,” said Peskov.    “If he dodged conscription and was conscripted in this way then everything was done strictly in accordance with the law.”
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Maria Vasilyeva; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/26/2019 Russian opposition leader Navalny freed after Moscow raid: spokeswoman
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny delivers a speech during a rally to demand the release of jailed protesters, who were
detained during opposition demonstrations for fair elections, in Moscow, Russia September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny was freed on Thursday after being briefly detained during a raid on the headquarters of his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) in Moscow, his spokeswoman told Reuters.
    The raid occurred a day after Navalny said that the forcible military conscription of one of his allies to a remote air base in the Arctic amounted to kidnapping and illegal imprisonment.
(Reporting by Maria Vesilyeva; Writing by Anastasia Teterevleva; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/26/2019 Russia can finish Nord Stream 2 within couple of months: Ifax cites Novak
FILE PHOTO: Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak speaks with the media outside the European
Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia can finish the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany within a couple of months, Interfax cited Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak as saying.
    President Vladimir Putin said Russia has a “pipe-laying vessel” to complete the construction of the Nord Stream 2, Kommersant daily reported citing unnamed sources on Thursday, following sanctions imposed by Washington.
    U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions last week on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline designed by Moscow to bypass Ukraine and increase gas supplies via the Baltic Sea to Germany, Russia’s biggest energy customer.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; writing by Anastasia Teterevleva; editing by Jason Neely)

12/26/2019 Serbs protest in Montenegro ahead of vote on religious law
Serbian Orthodox Church clergy and believers hold a service on a bridge near the parliament, ahead of a vote for a bill on 'Religious
freedoms and legal rights of religious organizations' in Podgorica, Montenegro December 26, 2019. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – Hundreds of backers of Montenegro’s pro-Serb opposition took to the streets of the capital Podgorica on Thursday, rallying against a law they say would strip the Serbian Orthodox Church there of its property.
    Ahead of a vote on the draft Law on Religious Freedoms, expected later on Thursday or on Friday, Serbian Orthodox clergy and believers held a service on a packed bridge near parliament, watched by police who had sealed off city center roads and approaches to the government building.
    The law envisages that religious communities in the tiny Adriatic state would need to prove property ownership from before 1918, when predominantly Orthodox Christian Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the predecessor of the now-defunct Yugoslavia.
    The Serbian Orthodox Church is the biggest church in Montenegro, a country of 620,000 people, while the much smaller Montenegrin Orthodox Church remains unrecognized by other major churches. Overall, the Serbian Orthodox Church has around 12 million followers, mostly in neighboring Serbia.
    Despite the protests, the 81-seat parliament in which the ruling coalition led by the Democratic Party of Socialists of President Milo Djukanovic has a slim majority of three seats, has decided to start debating the law.
    Bishop Metodije of the Serbian Orthodox Church said the law was unconstitutional.
    “We will address all international institutions because of such brutal violations of religious freedoms,” he told the crowd.
    The government of Montenegro, which is a European Union membership candidate and a NATO member, has denied it would strip any religious community of its property.
    The Serbian church in Montenegro, which owns 66 mainly medieval monasteries, dozens of churches and other real estate there, insists the state wants to impound its assets.
    “This law would bring nothing good to anyone,” Predrag Scepanovic, a priest, told protesters.
    Montenegro peacefully split from its former federal partner and much larger Serbia in 2006.
    Pro-Western Djukanovic, Montenegro’s long-serving leader, has recently accused the Serbian church of promoting pro-Serb policies that are aimed at undermining Montenegrin statehood.
(Reporting by Stevo Vasiljevic in Podgorica; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

12/26/2019 Russian court extends detention of U.S. Marine Paul Whelan by OAN Newsroom
FILE- In this Aug. 23, 2019, file photo, Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow on Dec. 28, 2018,
speaks while standing in a cage as he waits for a hearing in a court room in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    A Russian court is extending the detention of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who has been accused of espionage.    This week, the court ordered Whelan to be held for an additional three months in a case that is threatening to worsen relations between the U.S. and Russia.     He tried to read a statement denouncing the case against him to the press, but was interrupted by security, who threatened to ban reporters from the courtroom. He was arrested in Moscow late last year for allegedly receiving classified information, but he has claimed he was “set up.”
    Whelan – who also holds British, Canadian and Irish citizenship – was visited by diplomats from each country earlier this week at his detention facility.    The U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Russia led diplomats during their visit to the Marine on Monday.
    Officials said Whelan was in good condition mentally and have urged him to remain strong despite his imprisonment.     “Paul seemed to be in reasonably good spirits today.    He appreciated the fact that all four embassies, for the first time, visited him for the holidays.    He sends his well wishes to his parents, to his family and his friends.” – Bart Gorman, U.S. Diplomat
    Russian authorities have not given Whelan the ability to call his parents since his arrest.    A trial has not been set, but if Whelan is convicted, he could face 20 years behind bars.

12/26/2019 U.N. rebuffs Russia accusation that U.S. visa delays being ignored
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attends a news conference after the
First Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Switzerland December 17, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has repeatedly expressed concern to Washington over U.S. visa delays for officials from Russia and other countries, a U.N. spokesman said on Thursday after Moscow accused Guterres of turning a blind eye.
    Moscow says Washington has deliberately delayed issuing visas to Russian officials traveling to the U.N. headquarters in New York, a move Russia has said could further damage strained relations.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused Guterres of ignoring the U.S. visa delays.
    “For many months, the Secretary-General and the United Nations Legal Counsel have repeatedly conveyed their concerns and the legal position of the Organization to senior representatives of the host country,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.
    Dujarric said Guterres and his team continued to follow the matter closely.
    The latest report from the U.N. committee on relations with the United States – as host of U.N. headquarters in New York – noted that other countries including China, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba had also complained about U.S. visa delays.
    According to the report, the United States said it takes its responsibilities as U.N. host country seriously but added that Washington “reserved the right to exclude individuals in certain limited cases where there was clear and convincing evidence that the individual was traveling to the host country primarily for purposes that were outside the scope of United Nations business and were prejudicial to the host country’s national security.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

12/27/2019 Montenegro’s parliament approves religion law despite protests
Security rush into parliamentary hall after opposition tried to prevent the vote on a bill on religious freedoms and legal rights
of religious organizations in Montenegro's parliament in Podgorica, Montenegro December 27, 2019. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic
    PODGORICA (Reuters) – Montenegro’s parliament approved on Friday a law on religious communities despite street protests and a last-minute attempt in the chamber by deputies of the pro-Serb opposition to prevent the vote going ahead.
    Under the law, religious communities in the tiny Adriatic state would need to prove property ownership from before 1918, when predominantly Orthodox Christian Montenegro joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the predecessor of the now-defunct Yugoslavia.
    The pro-Serb Democratic Front (DF) and other critics of the legislation say it is an attempt to promote the small Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which is not recognized by other major churches, at the expense of the Serbian Orthodox Church, the dominant church in the country of 620,000 people.
    They also accuse Montenegro’s pro-Western president, Milo Djukanovic, and his ruling Democratic Party of Socialists of corruption, ties to organized crime and seeking to push the country further from Serbia, its much bigger neighbor.
    The DF deputies brawled with their opponents just before the vote, which took place in the early hours of Friday after a lengthy late-night debate.
    Police initially detained all 18 DF deputies but later released 15.    Among the three who remained in detention pending charges was DF leader Andrija Mandic.
    “We have said we are ready to die for our church,” Mandic told reporters after the fracas.
    Hundreds of opposition supporters and clergy had taken to the streets of Podgorica on Thursday to rally against the law.    Roads in the north of the country were also blocked for hours.
    The Serbian Orthodox Church has around 12 million followers, mainly in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro.    It owns 66 monasteries in Montenegro, most of them dating back to the Middle Ages, as well as dozens of churches and other real estate.
    Patriarch Irinej, head of the church, asked Montenegrin authorities to end what he called their “brutal terror.”
    “His Holiness .. demands an immediate release … of political representatives of the Serbian Orthodox people in Montenegro,” it said.
    Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said Belgrade would seek to ease tensions through diplomatic means.
    “We will help our people (in Montenegro), but we will not destroy bridges with our neighbors,” Vucic said.
    The Church suspects the Montenegrin state of planning to seize its assets, something the government denies.
Djukanovic has accused the Church of promoting pro-Serbian policies with the aim of undermining Montenegrin statehood.
    Montenegro peacefully split from its former federal partner in 2006.    It is now a member of NATO and, like Serbia, a candidate for European Union membership.
(Reporting by Stevo Vasiljevic in Podgorica; Writing by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/27/2019 Russia says it has deployed first hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu waits for a meeting of the Pobeda (Victory) Organizing
Committee at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia deployed its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles on Friday, the Defence Ministry said, a move which President Vladimir Putin has boasted puts his country in a class of its own.
    Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has informed Putin of the deployment, according to a ministry statement that did not disclose where the missiles were located.
    The new system, called Avangard, comprises a hypersonic glide vehicle designed to sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile, one of several new types of weapons Putin has touted as ahead of their time.
    Putin has said Russia’s new generation of nuclear weapons can hit almost any point in the world and evade a U.S.-built missile shield.    Some Western experts have questioned how advanced some of the weapons programs are.
    The Pentagon said in a statement that it “will not characterize the Russian claims” about the Avangard’s capabilities.    The United States has been developing hypersonic weapons since the early 2000s, according to a Congressional Research Service report published in July.
    Russia said on Nov. 26 that U.S. experts had examined an Avangard under inspection rules of the 2010 New START treaty.    A U.S. State     Department official confirmed that inspectors examined an Avangard, but had no further comment.
    Putin said on Tuesday the Avangard system could penetrate both existing and any future missile defense systems.
    “Today, we have a unique situation in our new and recent history.    They (other countries) are trying to catch up with us.    Not a single country possesses hypersonic weapons, let alone continental-range hypersonic weapons,” said Putin.
    Hypersonic glide vehicles are boosted on a rocket to altitudes of between 40 km (25 miles) and 100 km (62 miles) before detaching to glide along the upper atmosphere toward their target, say researchers.
    Control surfaces on glide vehicles mean they can steer an unpredictable course and maneuver sharply as they approach impact.    They also follow a much flatter and lower trajectory than the high, arching path of a ballistic missile.
    That makes them much harder to detect early with radar, giving missile defenses less time to respond, say researchers.
    However, Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, said he doubted the claim that the Avangard can evade missile defenses.
    “I remain skeptical that gliders will change the survivability of Russia’s nuclear forces since gliding results in slower speeds than traditional re-entry,” he said.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Gareth Jones and David Gregorio)
[So Trump was correct about getting out of the treaty because Russia was making hypersonic missiles against the treaty and most likely China has to, so the Space Force creation is here for that reason and both countries will be forced to invest in that also.].

12/29/2019 Ukraine begins all-for-all prisoner swap with separatists by Pavel Polityuk and Vladimir Soldatkin
Men are escorted by servicemen of the self-proclaimed republics during the exchange of prisoners of war (POWs) between Ukraine and
the separatist republics near the Mayorsk crossing point in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 29, 2019. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have started an all-for-all prisoner swap, after which all remaining prisoners of the five-year conflict should return home, the office of Ukraine’s president said on Sunday.
    The agreement was concluded by Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Paris in December.
    The swap is taking place at a check point near the industrial town of Horlivka in the Donetsk region.
    Russia’s RIA news agency, citing a local official from the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said Kiev would hand over 87 separatists, while Donetsk would return 55 pro-central government fighters.
    Kiev’s forces have been battling separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine since 2014 in a conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.    Sporadic fighting continues despite a ceasefire agreement.
    There have been several prisoner exchanges between Kiev and the rebels.    In the last swap, conducted in December 2017, Ukraine handed over about 300 captives to pro-Russian separatists and took back around 70.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, and its subsequent support for separatists in the eastern Donbass region.
    President Zelenskiy won a landslide election victory in April promising to end the conflict.
    Widely criticized domestically for his plan to grant special status to Donbass to help end the five-year conflict, Zelenskiy’s latest actions have given rise to cautious optimism.
    In September, after a carefully negotiated rapprochement, Russia and Ukraine swapped dozens of prisoners.    The move brought Western praise and hopes that relations between Moscow and Kiev could thaw.
    The released Ukrainians included sailors detained by Russia during a clash in waters off Crimea last year, and filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, jailed in Russia.
    The meeting of Ukrainian, Russian, German and French leaders earlier this month in Paris renewed optimism for a resolution to the conflict, and confirmed the relevance of an early peace agreement signed in Belarusian capital Minsk in 2015.
    Relations between the two countries are also unlikely to be aggravated by a dispute in the gas sector, where Kiev and Moscow are arguing about a new transit contract to replace the current agreement which expires at the end of the year.
    Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of using natural gas supplies to put pressure on the neighboring state, but last week the parties managed to agree on the main points of a new deal.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Richard Pullin and Jan Harvey)

12/29/2019 Austrian conservatives and Greens see coalition deal within days
FILE PHOTO: Head of Green Party Werner Kogler talks to journalists as he arrives for a meeting with head of People's Party (OeVP)
Sebastian Kurz for first coalition talks to form a new government in Vienna, Austria November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz is on the brink of returning to power as a coalition deal with the left-wing Greens is likely to be struck this week, three months after his party won a parliamentary election, both sides indicated on Sunday.
    Late Saturday the Greens called a meeting of their party’s top decision-making body next weekend to sign off on a deal, indicating they expect the accord to be finalized before then.    On Sunday morning Kurz and Greens leader Werner Kogler said the deal could happen “by the middle of the coming week.”
    A deal would make Kurz chancellor again after his coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) collapsed in May over a video sting that felled FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache. A provisional government of civil servants is in place for the time being until a coalition is formed.
    “The finish line has not yet been crossed, but the main obstacles on the path to a joint government have been removed,” Kurz said in the joint statement to Austrian news agency APA.
    “It is now two days before the new year. We want to use this time and the change of year for a final polishing (of the agreement),” Kurz said.
    The Greens’ Federal Congress, comprising various groups within the party including its national, local and European lawmakers, must sign off on any coalition deal, and it requires a week’s notice to meet.
    The meeting has been called for next Saturday and invitations were sent late on Saturday shortly before midnight, a Greens spokeswoman said.
    In contrast to the Greens, Kurz can sign off on the deal himself on behalf of his party.
    “Important individual issues are still open and should be resolved in the coming days,” Kogler said in the statement to APA.
    Given the difficulty in keeping the deal confidential once it is put to the more than 250 members of the Federal Congress, the details are likely to be announced before it meets.    Media reports overnight said that presentation was likely to happen on Jan. 2 or Jan. 3.
    Few of those details have emerged so far, but Kogler has said he wants a package of investment on environmental areas, and Kurz has said his priorities include continuing his hard line on illegal immigration and keeping a balanced budget.
    There have also been reports the deal includes large investments in expanding Austria’s rail network.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Chris Reese)

12/29/2019 Putin thanks Trump for tip Russia says foiled attacks
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his meeting with business community
at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 25, 2019. Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Sunday it had thwarted terrorism attacks reportedly planned in St. Petersburg thanks to a tip from Washington, bringing personal thanks again from President Vladimir Putin to his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump.
    Russian news agencies cited the Federal Security Service (FSB) as saying that thanks to the information, two Russians were detained on Dec. 27 on suspicion of plotting attacks during New Year festivities in St. Petersburg.
    The Kremlin said Putin passed on his gratitude to Trump during a phone call on Sunday for the tip from U.S. special services.    It gave no more details.
    Diplomatic ties between Washington and Moscow are fraught over disagreements from Ukraine to Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, but Trump and Putin have managed to keep personal lines open.
    Two years ago, the Russian leader also phoned Trump to thank him for a tip that Russia said helped prevent a bomb attack on a cathedral in St Petersburg. Russia has repeatedly been the target of attacks by militant groups including Islamic State.
    Sunday’s Kremlin statement said Putin and Trump agreed to continue bilateral cooperation to tackle terrorism.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)
[I can hear it now the FAKE NEWS and the Democrats will be talking to the public about how Trump is in collusion with Russia giving them our secrets.].

12/29/2019 Ukraine holds big prisoner swap with pro-Russian separatists by Pavel Polityuk and Vladimir Soldatkin
Men get off buses before reuniting with servicemen and officials of the self-proclaimed republics
during the exchange of prisoners of war (POWs) between Ukraine and the separatist republics near the
Mayorsk crossing point in Donetsk region, Ukraine December 29, 2019. Yevgen Honcharenko/Pool via REUTERS
    KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the east completed a large-scale prisoner swap on Sunday after bussing scores of detainees in the five-year conflict to an exchange point in the breakaway Donbass region.
    The swap should help build confidence between the two sides, who are wrangling over how to implement a peace deal after the loss of more than 13,000 lives, but major disagreements remain and full normalization is far off.
    Ukraine said 76 pro-government detainees were handed over, while separatists said they took 120 of their prisoners during the swap at a checkpoint near the industrial town of Horlivka.
    “The main thing is that the people are at home before the New Year … I am happy, I think they are too,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, greeting the returnees with tearful relatives at a Kiev airport.
    He thanked fellow leaders of the so-called “Normandy Four” group – Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany – for helping mediate the swap during talks in Paris earlier this month.
    Some Ukrainians remained in custody both in Russia and Donbass and may figure in future swaps, Zelenskiy said.
    Some in Ukraine were unhappy that police accused of firing on protesters against the Russia-friendly then-president Viktor Yanukovich in 2014 were among those handed to the separatists.    But Zelenskiy said the deal was an all-for-all swap.
    As the exchange began early in the morning, Ukrainian men and women dressed in civilian clothes got off buses at the rendezvous and were herded into a tent by the separatists.
FOREIGN MEDIATION
    French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the exchange.
    “The prisoner swap that was completed today is a long-awaited humanitarian measure,” they said in a joint statement, calling for full implementation of a ceasefire.
    Sporadic fighting continues in the region, though major conflict has died down.
    “Today’s prisoner exchange in #Donbass will bring relief to the persons involved and their families, but it will not bring the (peace) settlement any closer,” Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center and a former colonel in the Russian army, wrote on social media.
    “The… terms remain anathema in Kiev, and this won’t change.    The conflict is much more likely to become frozen than resolved.”
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its subsequent support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
    There have been several prisoner exchanges between Kiev and the separatists.    In the last swap, in December 2017, Ukraine handed over about 300 captives in exchange for around 70 people.
    In September, Russia and Ukraine also swapped dozens of prisoners.
    Relations between the two countries have shown signs of improving in other areas too, including in the gas sector, where Kiev and Moscow are discussing a new transit contract.
    Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of using gas supplies to put it under pressure, but last week they agreed on the main points of a new deal.
    Zelenskiy won a landslide election victory in April promising to end the conflict and bring prisoners home.
    Widely criticized domestically for his plan to grant special status to Donbass to help end the conflict, Zelenskiy’s latest actions have given rise to cautious optimism in some quarters.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Additional reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Pullin, Jan Harvey, Andrew Cawthorne)

12/30/2019 Croatian court finds head of Hungary’s MOL, Croatia’s ex-PM guilty of bribery by Maja Zuvela
FILE PHOTO: Zsolt Hernadi, chairman and CEO of the Hungarian oil and gas group MOL, gestures during
an interview with Reuters in Budapest, Hungary, November 4, 2016. REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – A Croatian court ruled on Monday that the head of Hungarian energy group MOL and Croatia’s former prime minister were guilty in a corruption case, opening a new chapter in a legal saga that has dragged on for almost a decade.
    MOL’s Chief Executive and Chairman Zsolt Hernadi was found guilty of bribing former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader in 2008 to allow MOL to become the key decision-maker in Croatian energy firm INA, in which MOL is the biggest shareholder and the Croatian state is the second-biggest.
    They were handed prison sentences of two and six years respectively, Croatia’s N1 television reported, although both were absent from court.    The ruling is not final and can be appealed.    MOL owns close to 50% of INA while the Croatian state owns 45%.
    Court president Ivan Turudic said: “There is an active European arrest warrant for Hernadi and Hungary should act accordingly.”
    Hernadi and Sanader, who was prime minister from 2003 until 2009, have denied any wrongdoing in the case that was originally launched by Croatia’a anti-corruption agency. Both were absent from court.
    Hungary has refused to heed an international Interpol arrest warrant for Hernadi.
    The court’s presiding judge Maja Stampar Stipic said that Sanader had agreed with Hernadi that Croatia would hand over decision-making rights to MOL, in exchange for 10 million euros ($11 million).
    MOL said in a statement that it was disappointed with the verdict and Hernadi continued to have the full support of MOL’s board.
    “The company is disappointed as the existing decisions of the Hungarian authorities and those of the United Nations Tribunal in Geneva concluded that there was no wrongdoing by any MOL Group officer,” it said, adding that it would use all measures as defense “against any allegations of illegal practices.”
    Sanader was initially sentenced to 8-1/2 years in prison in 2014 for taking a bribe from MOL, but Croatia’s Constitutional Court in 2015 ordered a retrial, citing procedural errors.
    On Monday Sanader’s sentence was cut to six years because he became ill in the meantime, Turudic said.
    In 2016 an international body for commercial arbitration at the U.N. in Geneva ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove corrupt activities.
    On Monday MOL said its strategy toward INA remained unaffected by the court ruling.
    MOL and the Croatian government have been at odds for years over management rights and investment policy at INA but a recent decision to invest about $600 million in INA’s Rijeka refinery in Croatia was backed by them both.
(Reporting by Maja Zuvela and Krisztina Than, editing by Louise Heavens and Susan Fenton)

12/31/2019 Austria’s next cabinet takes shape as New Year’s coalition deal nears
FILE PHOTO: Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz speaks during a European
Peoples Party congress in Zagreb, Croatia, November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s future cabinet took shape on Tuesday, with conservative Sebastian Kurz and his party set to control the lion’s share of ministries under a coalition deal with the Greens widely expected to be announced on Wednesday.
    Both sides have said they expect a deal to be reached this week, in which case Austria would join fellow European Union members Finland and Sweden in having the Greens in government at a time of growing calls for urgent action on climate change.
    It would also mark a swing to the left for Kurz, who will return as chancellor and whose last coalition was with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which shared his hard line on immigration.    Their alliance collapsed in May when FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache was ensnared in a video sting and quit.
    The Greens would, however, be the clearly junior partner, heading four ministries out of 15, officials on both sides said.    That reflects their scores in the Sept. 29 parliamentary election, which Kurz’s People’s Party (OVP) won with 37.5% while the Greens came fourth with 13.9% of the vote.
    Few policy details have emerged from the coalition talks so far. The Greens have called for a package of investments in environmental measures and there have been media reports of plans to expand Austria’s rail network.
    Kurz has made clear his priorities include balancing the budget and fighting illegal immigration.
    His OVP will control the finance, interior, defense and foreign ministries, party officials said.    For finance, Kurz has opted for his close ally Gernot Bluemel, who heads the OVP in Vienna.
    Senior Greens lawmaker Leonore Gewessler – a former head of an environmental group that is part of Friends of the Earth – is due to become a minister, the Greens said. Party officials said she would head a sprawling ministry covering transport, the environment, energy, infrastructure, technology and innovation.
    The Greens also confirmed they were nominating Alma Zadic, a 35-year-old lawyer and lawmaker born in Bosnia who has championed a more open immigration policy.    She is likely to become justice minister.
    Ministerial nominations, like the deal itself, must be approved by a Greens party meeting on Saturday.
    Greens leader Werner Kogler is widely expected to become vice chancellor.    Media reports also said the Greens would take over the social affairs ministry and that female ministers would be in the majority for the first time in Austria.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson)

12/31/2019 Putin and Zelenskiy agree to work on new prisoner swap
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy arrive for a working session during a summit on the conflict in Ukraine
at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France December 9, 2019. Ian Langsdon/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy have agreed to begin work immediately on a new prisoner swap, Ukraine’s presidential office said.
    Putin and Zelenskiy agreed in a phone call on Tuesday to draw up a list of Ukrainians, including those held in Russian-annexed Crimea, and Russians held in Ukraine, for an exchange, it said.
    On Sunday, Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine completed a large-scale prisoner swap.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

12/31/2019 Russian firms divert oil from Belarus as no 2020 supply deal signed by Olga Yagova and Gleb Gorodyankin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko
during a meeting in Sochi, Russia December 7, 2019. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A new dispute over oil could be brewing between Russia and Belarus as Russian suppliers divert large volumes of crude to domestic ports in lieu of a deal on 2020 deliveries between the two countries, according to six industry sources.
    Moscow and Minsk have had several oil and gas rows over the past decade in what has been described as love-hate relationship between president Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko.
    Belarus is an important transit route for Russian oil and gas to Western Europe.    Disruption of supply to Belarus has therefore often resulted in reduced or halted deliveries to countries such as Germany and Poland.
    As of Dec. 31, Moscow and Minsk are yet to agree on oil supply and transit terms for next year, the Kremlin said.
    “We propose not to discuss such apocalyptic scenarios,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a daily conference call about the possibility of suspension of Russian oil transit through neighboring Belarus.
    On Monday, Belarusian news agency Belta reported that Moscow and Minsk may sign an interim agreement outlining conditions for Russian oil and gas supplies to Belarus if they miss the Dec. 31 deadline for signing a full contract.
    Russia and Belarus disagree on various issues regarding oil supply in 2020, but primarily over price.
    Russian oil companies avoided preparing documents for supplies to Belarus starting from Jan. 1 and have already diverted volumes to other destinations, two sources familiar with the matter said.
    Lukashenko and Putin discussed Russian oil supplies by telephone, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.    It did not provide any further details.
    Then, Lukashenko held a meeting with his oil and gas officials and ordered them to agree on new oil supply contract with Russia within hours to ensure smooth supplies for the country’s two oil refineries, Belta reported, citing a statement by Belneftekhim state energy firm.
    At the same time, Lukashenko instructed his officials to ensure supply of oil from alternative sources for the coming days – by rail from the Baltic ports and by the Druzhba pipeline, the news agency added.
    Russia and Belarus have a long history of pre-New Year oil rows that have disrupted supplies to Belarus and Europe.
    Moscow and Minsk are also negotiating the 2020 gas supplies on Tuesday, Russian gas giant Gazprom said in a separate statement.
EXPORT PLANS
    Russian oil companies have to divert some 2 million tonnes of crude oil initially planned for Belarus to Russia’s sea ports and domestic market in January.
    Several cargoes were added to January loading plans from Russian ports on Monday, increasing the Urals loading plan from Baltic ports to 6.3 million tonnes.
    Russian pipeline operator Transneft also may store some 500,000 tonnes of crude in its system, sources said.
    A couple of oil firms diverted supply from Belarus to their Russian refineries, the sources added.
    Transneft and Russia’s Energy Ministry did not reply to Reuters requests for comment.
    If supplies to Belarus remain suspended through January, Russian firms may add more cargoes to the loading plan after the New Year holidays.    Moscow returns to work on Jan. 9.
    For January 2020 Transneft has received confirmation from Belarus pipeline operator Gomel Transneft Druzhba that transit volumes will be supplied according to plan, two sources familiar with the talks told Reuters.
(Reporting by Olga Yagova, Gleb Gorodyankin; additional reporting by Andrei Makhovsky in Minsk, Polina Devitt, Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrey Kuzmin in Moscow; editing by Jason Neely and David Evans)

12/31/2019 Ukraine’s Naftogaz to transmit 75 bcm of Russian gas to Europe in 2020
Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolev attends a news briefing in Kiev, Ukraine December 31, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Naftogaz expects to transmit 75 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Europe in 2020 due to the expected delay of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, Naftogaz Chief Executive Andriy Kobolyev said on Tuesday.
    The Ukrainian government is actively discussing resuming gas purchases from Russia, Kobolyev told reporters in Kiev, adding that the gas transmission tariff for Russian producer Gazprom had barely changed in a new contract.
(Reporting by Ilya Zhegulev; writing by Andrey Kuzmin and Polina Devitt; editing by Louise Heavens)

    This page created on 10/1/2019, and updated each month by 10/31/2019, 11/30/2019, 12/31/2109.

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