From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE NORTH 2018"

    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.

KING OF THE NORTH

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.



2018

3/2/2018 Putin: Russia has new nuclear missile with unlimited range - President claims it has advanced weapons tech by Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
    “Efforts to contain Russia have failed, face it. ... Nobody listened to us.    Well, listen to us now.”
    Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted Thursday that his country has developed a nuclear-powered missile with an unlimited range and completely immune to enemy intercept.
    Speaking during an annual state-of-the- nation speech in Moscow, Putin said the ballistic missile is capable of penetrating any missile defense and can reach virtually any target around the world.    “No defense systems will be able to withstand it,” he said.
    NATO has nicknamed this missile — an RS-28 Sarmat rocket — “Satan 2.” Russian media has claimed it could entirely wipe out an area the size of Texas or France.
    Neither the White House nor the U.S. defense community offered immediate reaction.    Putin has a track record of talking up his country’s military and technological prowess.
    Putin also unveiled what he said was Russia’s new advanced weapons technology. His two-hour address included video clips of underwater drones and intercontinental missiles. Putin delivered a warning to the United States over its pursuit of anti-missile defense systems. “Efforts to contain Russia have failed, face it,” he said.
    “Nobody listened to us.    Well, listen to us now,” Putin added, referring to accusations that Washington has been violating non-nuclear proliferation agreements by assisting countries from Poland to Japan to establish global antimissile systems.    It follows claims by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday that the U.S. is training armed forces in Europe on how to use nuclear weapons against Russia.    In his Thursday address, Putin said its new nuclear rocket effectively renders U.S. missile defense systems around the world meaningless.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin “No one in the world has anything like (this weapon),” Putin said.    “It may appear someday, but by that time we will develop something new.”
    Still, Malcom Chalmers, a defense expert at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense and security think tank, said it wasn’t clear that Putin’s announcement represented new or novel Russian military capability.
    “This is Putin emphasizing that his country’s new generation of missiles will be able to overcome any missile-defense systems,” he said.    “Russia has been able to hit targets in the U.S. and around the world since the 1960s.    We also need to view his words in the context of a Russian election this month.    The topic has popular appeal.”
    One of President Trump’s first acts in office was to order Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to conduct a “nuclear posture review.”    Mattis’ report was published in February.
    It concluded that the U.S. “now faces a more diverse and advanced nuclear-threat environment than ever before, with considerable dynamism in potential adversaries’ development and deployment programs for nuclear weapons and delivery systems.”
    The report intensely focuses on Russia and, to a lesser extent, China.
    “They have added new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior, including in outer space and cyber space,” the report says.
[The King of the North has spoken.    Revelation is real.]
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow on March 1.    EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

3/18/2018 What you might not know about Russian President Putin - Tough, wealthy former KGB spy has shady history by Oren Dorell, USA TODAY
    Vladimir Putin, Russia’s longest serving leader since Josef Stalin, seeks a fourth term as president in this Sunday’s election.
    Putin is a former KGB spy who holds a Ph.D. in economics and has a judo black belt.    His tough-guy image is well known because he invited government photographers along as he rode on horseback shirtless, treated a tranquilized tiger and a polar bear, and flew in an ultralight with migratory birds.    But here are a few things you might not know:
Putin is fabulously wealthy
    According to Russia’s Central Election Commission, Putin earned $860,000 between 2011 and 2016.    But estimates of his net worth range from $40 billion to $200 billion.    The latter figure would make Putin nearly twice as wealthy as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person.
    How did it happen?    As a KGB spy during the Soviet era, Putin maintained ties to organized crime, according to Karen Dawisha, author of Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?    As president, he steers government contracts and the sale of state-owned enterprises to businessmen who support his rule and present him with valuable gifts, Dawisha wrote in 2014.
Judo schtick might be just that.
    Putin has practiced some form of martial arts since he was 14, first with a Russian form called sambo and then with judo, according to his official biography and interviews.    He told NPR in 2001 that he considered the sport a type of philosophy that he has practiced his entire adult life.
    Legal analyst Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare blog says that while there are lots of photos of Putin warming up and throwing opponents, they seem to be willing participants.
    “Putin is fraud martial artist,” Wittes wrote on Facebook.    “He only fights people who are in his power, and they are all taking falls for him.”
His dissertation was plagiarized
    Putin in 1996 earned a post-graduate degree that is a rough equivalent of a Ph.D. at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute, though he never attended that school, according to a 2006 presentation by analysts Igor Danchenko and Clifford Gaddy at the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
    His dissertation was on the investment in large-scale natural resource extraction, like oil and gas, to “restore Russia’s great power status.”
    Pages of it were largely copied from a 1982 American business school textbook called Strategic Planning and Policy, Gaddy said.
Dark stories surround his rise
    As prime minister in 1999, Putin was alleged to have been behind a string of apartment bombings that killed 300 residents and were officially blamed on Chechen separatists, according to Alexander Litvinenko, a former FSB officer and whistle-blower who fled to Britain.    Putin denied the allegations, which Litvinenko wrote in the 2001 book Blowing Up Russia.    The bombings provided the rationale for a military campaign in Chechnya that coincided with Putin’s first run for the presidency.
    Putin’s war in Chechnya employed a scorched-earth policy that left thousands of Chechens dead.    Human rights violations were exposed by Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya.
Critics come to bad ends
    Politkovskaya was shot to death at the entrance to her apartment building in Moscow in October 2006.    Litvinenko was poisoned to death in London with a rare radioactive isotope, polonium-210, the next month.    At least three other people who investigated or worked to expose their findings about the apartment bombings were murdered.    And opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot to death in 2015.
Family life
    Putin married his first wife, flight attendant Lyudmila, in 1983, while he worked for the KGB.    They had two daughters. Mariya, 32, studied medicine and has a Ph.D. in dwarfism.    She was last known to be living in the Netherlands.    Katerina, 31, is a competitive rock ’n’ roll dancer and heads the Zhavoronki Acrobatic Rock’n’Roll Center, the world’s only facility dedicated to the sport, according to Reuters.
    Putin divorced his wife in 2013.    His rumored girlfriend, gymnastics gold medalist Alina Kabaeva, 34, was photographed in 2015 wearing a wedding ring, according to British tabloids.

3/19/2018 Putin heading for six more years as Russian president by Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY
    Russian President Vladimir Putin — the country’s longest-serving leader since former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin — was headed to an overwhelming victory in Sunday’s election for another six-year term, according to incomplete returns.    Putin’s re-election was widely expected, and elections officials had pushed hard for a strong turnout to claim an indisputable mandate.    Putin has been president or prime minister since December 1999, making him the only leader that a generation of Russians have ever known.
    With ballots counted from 60% of the precincts, Putin won more than 75% of the vote, according to the Central Elections Commission.
    By 7 p.m. Moscow time, authorities said turnout had hit nearly 60%.
    Putin thanked thousands of people who rallied near Red Square after the vote.    He hailed those who voted for him as a “big national team,” adding that “we are bound for success.”
    He said the nation needs unity to move forward and urged the crowd to “think about the future of our great motherland.”    He then led the enthusiastic crowd to chant “Russia!” the Associated Press reported.
    Putin, in his speech, also dismissed British accusations of Russia’s involvement in an ex-spy’s poisoning as “nonsense,” adding that Moscow is ready to cooperate with London in the probe.
    He referred to the March 4 attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter as a “tragedy.”    He also said if the British claim that they were poisoned by a Soviet-designed nerve agent were true, the victims would have died instantly.    They remain hospitalized in serious condition.
    Earlier Sunday, there were widespread reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but complaints of voting irregularities will likely do little to undermine Putin, according to the AP.
    Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was barred from running against Putin, said he boycotted the election and urged supporters not to vote because of the absence of any real competition, despite seven other names on the ballot.    Navalny was prevented from running because of a criminal conviction widely viewed as politically motivated.
    The English-language Moscow Times newspaper marked the election with a series of stories on young people it dubbed “Generation P,” highlighting some of the 1.3 million people born the year Putin first became president.
    Putin was named president in late 1999 after the resignation of Boris Yeltsin and was elected to two terms.    In 2008 he was replaced by Dmitry Medvedev, who named him prime minister, and then Putin was again elected president in 2012.
    The eight presidential candidates were barred from campaigning Sunday, but much-loved entertainers appealed to voters in a televised message aired throughout the day to fulfill their civic duty and go to the polls.    Voters also faced billboards celebrating Russian greatness.
    Putin has traveled across Russia pledging to raise wages, pour more funds into the country’s crumbling health care and education and modernize dilapidated infrastructure.
    Authorities appealed to patriotic feelings by holding the vote on the anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

5/6/2018 Anti-Putin protests sweep across Russia; 1,600 arrested< by Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
    More than 1,600 people — including prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny — were arrested Saturday in Russia during a day of nationwide protests of the upcoming inauguration of Vladimir Putin for a new six-year term as president, according to a group that monitors political repression.
    Navalny, a longtime Putin nemesis and anti-corruption campaigner, organized the nationwide rallies under the slogan “He is not our czar” in response to the president’s re-election in March.
    In Moscow, where thousands crowded into Pushkin Square, police in riot gear waded into the crowd and were seen grabbing some demonstrators and leading them away, but there were no immediate moves to disperse the protesters.    A helicopter hovered overhead to monitor the crowd.
    “Let my son go!”    Iraida Nikolaeva screamed, running after police in Moscow when they detained her son.    “He did not do anything!    Are you a human or not?    Do you live in Russia or not?
    Police seized Navalny by the arms and legs and carried the thrashing activist from the square.    He was to be charged with disobeying police, an offense that carries a sentence of up to 15 days, news reports said.
Contributing: Associated Press
Police carry opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday in Moscow’s Pushkin Square. AP

5/16/2018 Putin opens bridge linking southern Russia with Crimea
    Russian President Vladimir Putin drove a large construction truck Tuesday to road-test the new bridge linking southern Russia and the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

7/3/2018 Russia takes action against US at WTO over steel, aluminum tariffs
    Russia has joined five other countries and the European Union to become the latest country to take action through the World Trade Organization against the United States over the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum duties.    A trade official says Moscow has initiated a dispute complaint against the U.S. over the 25 percent tariffs on steel and 10 percent tariffs on aluminum, by circulating the request Monday among WTO members in Geneva.

9/22/2018 Thousands rally across Russia against raising pension ages
    For yet another weekend, thousands rallied across Russia on Saturday to protest the government’s plan to raise the eligibility age for retirement pensions by five years – to 65 for men, 60 for women.
    Several thousand people attended a Moscow rally organized leftist groups and authorized by city officials.    Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov called for rolling back the proposed changes, arguing that the government should redistribute resources instead.

9/27/2018 Moscow is ready to help Korean reunification through UNSC action by OAN Newsroom     According to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a reunification of the two Koreas is not too far out and requires international assistance.     Russian diplomats said they are drafting a proposal on Korean reunification at the UN Security Council.     On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Wednesday, Lavrov said Russia is willing to help the two Koreas restore economic and infrastructure links.
    “And we will certainly be initiating at the Security Council the proposals to support this process between Pyongyang and Seoul,” he stated.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrives for talks with members of the Bosnian three-member presidency in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Amel Emric)
    Lavrov welcomed the ongoing talks between Pyongyang and Seoul.
    Russia’s top diplomat told his North Korean counterpart dialogue is important to ensure a sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula.
    He also touted a tighter cooperation between Russia and North Korea on the one hand, and Moscow’s strategic partnership with Seoul on the other.
    “Important that we have this meeting during the General Assembly, and it is a good opportunity to touch base and see how we implement the basic principles of our cooperation,” said Lavrov.
    Some experts are concerned hardliners in Pyongyang could still be nurturing hopes to annex the south, but Russia stressed any reunification could only be achieved through peaceful means.

10/1/2018 Ukraine needs Azov Sea base to counter new Russian threat: military chief by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams
Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces Viktor Muzhenko inspects military exercises at a shooting range
at the Tendrivska Kosa island in Kherson Region, Ukraine September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    TENDRIVSKA KOSA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukraine will build a military base on the Azov Sea and has sent more forces to the area to counter a worsening Russian threat, Ukraine’s armed forces head told Reuters, referring to an arm of the Black Sea that is a flashpoint of tensions with Moscow.
    Ukraine has been at loggerheads with Russia since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and more than 10,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatists.    Ukraine and NATO countries accuse Russia of supplying troops and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine, which Moscow denies.
    Viktor Muzhenko, Chief of the General Staff, said Russia had moved beyond covert fighting in the Donbass region, home of a Kremlin-backed separatist insurgency, to building up its military presence on Ukraine’s borders and nakedly aggressive actions against ships sailing to Ukrainian ports.
    The Azov Sea, a strategic arm of the Black Sea where Russia and Ukraine share the coastline, has become a flashpoint this year.    Ukraine says Russia is preventing scores of vessels from reaching Ukrainian ports through spurious inspections and detentions.
    Washington too has called on Russia to stop “harassing” ships, and supplied Ukraine with U.S. patrol boats.    Moscow in turn says Ukraine might try to blockade Crimea.
    “All those actions that are being taken in the Azov Sea region, are elements of building up our presence in this region for an adequate response to possible provocations by the Russian Federation,” Muzhenko said.
    He said Ukraine had already deployed more air, land, sea and artillery forces to the area.
    Muzhenko ruled out suggestions that Ukrainian navy ships would escort commercial vessels across the sea to prevent them being stopped by Russian ships.
    Russia says its checks on shipping are lawful.
SECURITY
    “Russian checks on ships are intended exclusively to ensure security in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait, they don’t contradict international law as it applies to this maritime area,” Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, told a news conference on Sept. 22.
    Muzhenko was speaking to Reuters on Saturday aboard a military plane flying back from Tendrivska Kosa island on the south coast, on the last of five days of war games across different parts of Ukraine.
    Part of those exercises took place on the Hungarian border, which caused consternation in Budapest.    Ukraine and Hungary have become embroiled in a series of diplomatic rows over the use of Hungarian in Ukrainian schools and Hungary issuing passports to ethnic Hungarians across the border.
    Muzhenko denied the wargames were a show of strength toward Hungary, and said they were intended to counter any chance of Russia attacking Ukraine from the west.
    “First of all, this concerns the ability to respond adequately to threats from the Russian Federation.    We are talking about protecting our communications, about a possible response to threats, including in the west,” he said.
    Washington has continued to support Ukraine under the Donald Trump administration, including supplying Javelin missiles to Ukraine, a step President Barack Obama shied away from.
    Muzhenko said the Javelins had been tested and his troops trained to use them, but they had not been deployed in battle yet.    Asked whether Ukraine wanted to buy the U.S. Patriot air defense system, he said various options were being considered.
(Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Moscow, Editing by William Maclean)
[NOTED Ukraine is not one of the WTO countries in the WTO, who became an independent state after a breakup from the Russian empire on June 10, 1917.]

10/3/2018 South Africa’s Zuma tried to strike nuclear power deal with Putin in 2015: finance minister
FILE PHOTO: Former South African President Jacob Zuma speaks to his supporters after
his court appearance in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, July 27, 2018. REUTERS/Rogan Ward/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene told a corruption inquiry on Wednesday that former president Jacob Zuma pressured him to agree to a massive nuclear power deal with Russia to be presented to President Vladimir Putin in 2015.
    Zuma wanted to present the nuclear deal to Putin at the summit of the BRICS group of emerging economies in the Russian city of Ufa, Nene told the inquiry in Johannesburg.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Joe Brock)
[As seen above the union called BRICS was formed before 2010 with Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa]

10/3/2018 Russia’s Putin says no major military action needed in Syria’s Idlib
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on at a meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz
the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia October 3, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib was effective and no major military actions are planned in the region.
    “I have every reason to believe that we will achieve our goals,” Putin said, referring to the demilitarized zone set up by Russia and Turkey in Idlib.
    “And that means, no large scale military actions are expected there,” he said.    “Military action for the sake of military action is unnecessary.”
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

10/5/2018 Russia says it won’t borrow abroad in 2019 if sanctions slapped on its debt
FILE PHOTO: Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov speaks during a discussion with Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin
as part of of the Moscow Financial Forum in Moscow, Russia September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Russia will not borrow abroad next year if the United States imposes sanctions on Russian debt, an interview recorded on Sept. 26 and aired on Rossiya-24 state television on Friday showed.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/6/2018 Romanians vote on constitutional ban on same sex marriage by Luiza Ilie
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a grafitti, which reads: "6-7 October Go Out and Vote",
sprayed next to a cross symbol in Bucharest, Romania, October 1, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanians began voting on Saturday on whether to change the constitution to comprehensively ban same sex marriage in a two-day referendum that rights activists say has stirred hate speech against LGBT people.
    The conservative state is already one of the only EU members to bar marriage or civil partnerships for same sex couples.
    But supporters of the proposal, including the Orthodox Church and all but one parliamentary party, say they want to go further and change the constitutional definition of marriage from a union of “spouses,” to one exclusively of a man and a woman to stop gay couples winning the right to marry in the future.
    Dozens of human rights groups, which are encouraging people to boycott the ballot, have warned that approval would embolden further attempts to chip away at the rights of minority groups and push Romania onto a populist, authoritarian track.
    A poll released on Friday by CURS estimated a turnout of 34 percent – above the needed 30 percent threshold – with 90 percent in favor of the change.
    A group called the Coalition for the Family collected 3 million signatures to enable the change.    The lower house of parliament voted in favor last year and the senate followed in September, making the referendum the last needed stage.
    Some Coalition campaign posters urged people to vote “Yes” to defend family values or run the risk of gay couples stealing or adopting their children.    A separate advert said a “No” vote would enable a man to marry a tree.
    “Many fear that what has happened in other countries, such as legalizing marriage between a man and an animal, could happen here,” the leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party (PSD), Liviu Dragnea, told television station Romania TV.
LOOSE CONTROLS
    Days before the vote, the government relaxed anti-fraud monitoring and limited options for challenging the result, while the country’s broadcasting regulator eliminated a cut-off date for campaigning.
    “There are … no efficient, applicable mechanisms to verify fraud for this referendum,” independent think tank Expert Forum (EFOR) said, adding the conditions have created “a climate of distrust in the fairness of the process.”
    Some opposition politicians and activists have accused the PSD of using the vote as a smokescreen to divert attention from its leader’s legal problems, and its clashes with the European Commission over the rule of law.
    Dragnea’s appeal against a conviction in an abuse of office case begins on Oct. 8, one day after the vote.
    “The plan is clear: creating an anti-European sentiment in Romania that Liviu Dragnea can use when European officials ask him not to destroy the judicial system, rule of law and anti-corruption fight,” former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos said.
    The government has dismissed the accusations and the Orthodox Church has said a Yes” vote would be Christian, democratic and patriotic.
    Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, decades after neighboring countries and LGBT discrimination is widespread.
(Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)

10/8/2018 Kremlin: North Korea’s Kim invited to Russia, no details of possible visit yet
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during joint news conference
in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 19, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian officials have invited North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to visit Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday, adding the time and place had yet to be agreed.
    Kim Jong Un is expected to visit Russia soon, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said also on Monday.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Writing by Katya Golubkova; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/9/2018 10/9/2018 Russia challenges US compliance with nuclear arms treaty
    Russia on Monday challenged the U.S. claim that it has fulfilled its obligations under a pivotal nuclear arms deal, a new argument that could further fuel tensions between Moscow and Washington.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry said it “can’t confirm” the latest U.S. State Department data.

10/9/2018 Thousands evacuated after explosions at Ukrainian ammo depot by Natalia Zinets
Smoke and flame rise from the Ukrainian defence ministry ammunition depot explosion
in the eastern Chernihiv region, Ukraine in this still image taken from a video on October 9, 2018. REUTERS TV/via REUTERS
    KIEV (Reuters) – Around 12,000 people were evacuated after a fire and explosions at a rate of two to three a second hit a Ukrainian Defence Ministry ammunition depot early on Tuesday morning, officials said.
    No casualties were reported.
    Ukraine’s state security service said it was investigating possible sabotage, and the defense ministry’s spokesman said the fact that explosions were set off in different parts of the depot pointed to sabotage.
    The depot is located in the Chernihiv region, 176 km (109 miles) east of the capital, Kiev.    A woman who lived 50 km away told the TV channel 112 she could hear the explosions.
    “There are no victims, wounded, injured or killed among military personnel, personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the local population,” a Defence Ministry statement said.    “As of 7 a.m. (0400 GMT), the intensity of explosions is two to three explosions per second.”
    The airspace in a 30 km radius was closed and road and rail transport suspended.    The emergency services reported gas and electricity supplies to the area have been disrupted.
    Hundreds of people and equipment were deployed to the site, a statement by the emergency services said, joined by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and the head of Ukraine’s armed forces Viktor Muzhenko.    The president has called for a report.
    Several large fires have hit ammunition and weapons depots in recent years, an additional drain on Ukraine’s military.    Fighting between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatist rebels has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014.
    Last year, massive explosions at a military depot in the Vynnytsya region, 270 km west of Kiev, forced the authorities to evacuate 24,000 people.
    Following that, a parliamentary defense committee inspected other depots.    It warned that there were significant shortcomings in how the depot in the Chernihiv region was managed, according to a lawmaker who was on the committee.
    A “number of shortcomings, including significant ones, were identified,” Dmitry Tymchuk wrote on Facebook.
    “As a result of this trip, I sent an address to the heads of the Ministry of Defence and the General Staff of the Armed Forces, which listed the shortcomings identified with a request to intervene in the situation and solve existing problems.”
    The defense ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Darren Schuettler and Michael Perry)

10/9/2018 Romania aims to legalize same-sex civil union after failed vote
FILE PHOTO: LGBT activists react during an event organised by the LGBT rights group "Mozaiq"
in downtown Bucharest, Romania, October 7, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romania’s ruling party aims to introduce legislation to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, the state news agency quoted a cabinet minister as saying, after a referendum to curb such rights failed to draw enough voters to be valid.
    Sunday’s referendum to change Romania’s constitution to prevent same sex couples from securing the right to marry was seen as a key popularity test for the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), whose attempts to weaken anti-corruption legislation have been condemned by the European Commission.
    But the referendum backfired as turnout was only 21 percent, below the minimum 30 percent required for validity.    Analysts said voters had viewed the referendum as a ruse by the PSD, which supported the change, to divert attention from more pressing concerns.
    “This draft bill is finalised and…my fellow lawmakers will submit it in parliament next week,” European Affairs Minister Victor Negrescu told the state news agency Agerpres.
    The religiously conservative European Union state currently bans both marriage and civil unions for same-sex couples and does not recognize those performed abroad.
    Earlier this year, Romania was forced by a European Court of Justice ruling to grant residency rights to gay spouses married in other EU states.
    Previous attempts to legalize civil unions did not make it out of parliament’s legal commissions.
    Dozens of human rights groups had said a successful referendum would embolden further attempts to chip away at the rights of minority groups and push Romania onto a populist, authoritarian track.
    Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001, decades later than neighboring countries.    It ranks 25th out of 28 EU states based on legislation, hate speech and discrimination toward LGBT people, according to an annual study by ILGA-Europe, an umbrella organization advocating equality.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/9/2018 Russian energy minister says U.S. tweets cause market confusion
FILE PHOTO: Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak attends a session of the
Russian Energy Week international forum in Moscow, Russia October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday that comments and social media posts on Twitter by the U.S. leadership caused confusion on global markets.
    “The emotional flashes, comments, tweets, which are coming from the U.S. leadership – they are bringing confusion to the market.    And in principle, the market doesn’t understand how to act, what will happen in the future,” Novak said in an interview broadcast by Rossiya-24 television.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Katya Golubkova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Dale Hudson)

10/10/2018 Russia’s Kudrin: recession possible next year if U.S. imposes sanctions: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Alexei Kudrin, chairman of Russia’s Audit Chamber, speaks during a session of the State Duma,
the lower house of parliament, discussing the federal budget in Moscow, Russia September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s economy could enter recession next year if the United States imposes new sanctions that are being discussed, RIA news agency cited Alexei Kudrin, head of the Audit Chamber and former finance minister, as saying on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/11/2018 Kremlin opposes Ukraine church’s bid for independence: spokesman
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin
and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia opposes any steps that lead to a split in Orthodox Christianity, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, when asked about Ukraine’s bid to establish an independent church outside Moscow’s control.
    “You know the position of the Russian Orthodox Church on this issue,” Peskov told reporters.    “And, of course, we would not want any steps taken that lead to a deep split in the Orthodox world.”
(Reporting by the Moscow newsroom; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/11/2018 Kremlin: reports of planned Trump-Putin meeting not true
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands
during a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Reports of a planned meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump are not true, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Thursday.
    There are currently no plans for such a meeting, he said.
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/11/2018 Facebook deletes Russian firm’s accounts over alleged data scraping
FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen in front of a displayed Russian flag in this photo illustration taken on August 3, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Facebook has disabled dozens of accounts and profiles belonging to Russian database provider SocialDataHub for what it termed the unauthorized collection of user information, the social media giant said on Thursday
    Facebook said in a statement that SocialDataHub, which has previously provided analytical services to the Russian government, had violated its terms of use.
    “As part of our efforts to protect people’s security, we have recently removed SocialDataHub’s accounts… because they were scraping people’s information,” it said.
    “This is a violation of our terms of service, and we have disabled more than 66 of SDH’s accounts, profiles, pages, and apps from our service,” it added.    “We expect to find and disable more.”
    Russian businessman Artur Khachuyan, who set up SocialDataHub in 2015, told Reuters that the company had not violated any laws or Facebook’s rules.    He said it had received a complaint from Facebook and was drawing up an official response.
    The Facebook complaint seen by Reuters claims SocialDataHub and Fubutech, a company also set up by Khachuyan, are amongst other things providing state services with the means to identify people by analyzing social media users’ photographs.
    In the letter, Facebook demands that SocialDataHub stop collecting user data and present a report by Oct. 12 detailing the data that has been collected by the company.
    It also requested information about the parties to whom SocialDataHub had sold or handed out data.
(Reporting by Maria Kolomychenko; Writing by Tom Balmforth and Polina Devitt; Editing by Jan Harvey)

10/12/2018 Kremlin: we will defend Russians in Ukraine church dispute
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (L) meets with Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate,
in Kiev, Ukraine October 11, 2018. Mykhailo Markiv/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it would defend Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine politically and diplomatically from any illegal activity against them amid a historic Ukrainian split from the Russian Orthodox Church.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the Kremlin was deeply concerned by attempts to create a schism in the Orthodox church.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

10/12/2018 U.S. National Security Advisor to meet Russian security official: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, attends the annual
Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS) in Moscow, Russia April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Security Council secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, plans to meet U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton when he travels to Moscow on October 22-23, RIA news agency cited a Russian source as saying on Friday.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

10/13/2018 Lavrov says Russia keen to boost airline security with Egypt
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Italian counterpart
Enzo Moavero Milanesi in Moscow, Russia October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday that his country was eager to work with Egypt to boost airline security, three years after a bomb attack downed a Russian plane, killing more than 200 holidaymakers.
    In a column published in the Egyptian state newspaper al-Ahram ahead of a visit by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Moscow next week, Lavrov praised what he described as a “multifaceted partnership” with Egypt.
    “It is important today to continue joint efforts that target supporting the safety of both countries’ citizens, including aboard airplanes,” Lavrov said in a commentary, published in Arabic.
    Similar remarks appeared on the Russian news agency TASS.
    Russia halted civilian air traffic to Egypt in October 2015 after Islamist militants detonated a bomb on a Russian Metrojet flight departing from the tourist resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing all 224 people on board.
    Since then Egypt has allowed Russian experts to inspect its airport security arrangements several times and the two countries have signed an agreement covering civil aviation security.
    Flights between Moscow and Cairo resumed in April, but Egypt hopes to secure the return of Russian flights to its Red Sea resorts.
    The bombing and the Russian suspension were blows to Egypt’s tourism industry, a key source of hard currency alongside remittances from Egyptians abroad and Suez Canal revenues.
    The industry has been struggling after the upheaval triggered by a 2011 uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
    Sisi, who has met Russian President Vladimir Putin several times since he became president in 2014, is due to visit Russia on Wednesday.
    Russia is a key trading partner for Egypt, which is a main regional U.S. ally and the most populous country in the Arab world.
    Lavrov said relations between Russia and Egypt were strong, noting a $6.5 billion annual trade between the two countries.
    Russia last year signed an agreement with Egypt to build a nuclear power plant at Dabaa and another deal earlier this year to set up an industrial zone near the Suez Canal.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi in Cairo; Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Andrew Bolton)

10/13/2018 Russia vows tough response to Ecumenical Patriachate over Ukraine by Andrei Makhovsky
FILE PHOTO: Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill conduct Sunday service
in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George at the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey July 5, 2009. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo
    MINSK (Reuters) – The Russian Orthodox Church said on Saturday it would respond firmly to the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate over its decision to back Ukraine’s request to establish an independent, or “autocephalous,” Church.
    Kiev sees the move, endorsed by a synod meeting in Istanbul on Thursday, as a vital step against Moscow’s meddling in its affairs, but the Russian clergy fiercely opposes it as the biggest split in Christendom in 1,000 years.
    Alexander Volkov, spokesman for Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill, said the Holy Synod of the Church would “express its position,” without elaborating on what measures it might take.
    “The Synod, which will convene in Minsk (on Monday), will give its final assessment,” Volkov told reporters.
    “At any rate, the response will be in kind and tough,” he added.
    Last month the Russian Orthodox Church announced it would no longer participate in structures chaired by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, deepening the row over the Ukrainian Church’s bid to break away from Moscow’s orbit.
    The long-running dispute has worsened since 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and gave support to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine.
    Arriving in Minsk on Saturday, Patriarch Kirill, who has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters: “I hope the Orthodox Church will find the strength to overcome hardships… to stay united.”
    The Kiev Patriarchate’s leader has been sharply critical of Putin and in 2014 suggested he was possessed by Satan.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

10/14/2018 Russian opposition leader Navalny freed from jail
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was detained over allegations of staging illegal protests
and sentenced to 20 days in jail, walks inside a court building in Moscow, Russia September 24, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was released on Sunday after 20 days in jail where he was held on charges of staging an illegal protest last month.
    Navalny had been detained since Sept. 24 when he finished a previous incarceration – a 30-day stint for planning an unauthorized demonstration in January.
(Reporting by Nikolai Isayev; Writing by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

10/15/2018 Leader of Russia-backed Crimea to visit Syria
FILE PHOTO: Sergei Aksyonov, the head of Crimea, waits before an annual state of the nation address attended by
Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The leader of Crimea, annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014, is to visit Syria on Monday, the pro-government newspaper al-Watan said.
    Russia-backed Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov will visit Damascus for two days.
    Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s seven-year long conflict.    The leaders of two other Russia-backed breakaway regions, Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia, also visited Damascus this year.
    Crimea has been under Western sanctions since it was annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, editing by Louise Heavens)

10/15/2018 Ukraine wins approval for historic split from Russian church by Pavel Polityuk and Yesim Dikmen
FILE PHOTO: Ecumenical Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill conduct Sunday
service in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George at the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul, Turkey July 5, 2009. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo
    KIEV/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Ukraine secured approval on Thursday to establish an independent church in what Kiev says is a vital step against Russian meddling in its affairs, but the Russian clergy fiercely opposes as the biggest split in Christianity for a thousand years.
    A three-day synod presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, seat of the global spiritual leader of roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians, endorsed Ukraine’s request for an “autocephalous” (independent) church.
    The synod will “proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine,” a statement said.
    The synod took several decisions to pave the way for Ukraine to set up its church, including rehabilitating a Ukrainian patriarch excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church for leading a breakaway church in the early 1990s.
    In retaliation, the Russian Orthodox Church said it would break eucharistical relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Interfax news agency quoted a spokesman as saying.
    The tussle over Ukraine’s spiritual future flows from the poisoning of relations between Kiev and Moscow after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of separatist fighting in Ukraine’s east that has killed over 10,000 people.
    Ukraine accuses the Russian Orthodox Church of wielding a pernicious influence on its soil, allowing itself to be used as a tool of the Kremlin to justify Russian expansionism and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
    Ukraine’s victory on the church issue could bolster pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko’s campaign in what is expected to be a tight election race next year.
    “The decisions of the Ecumenical Patriarch and Synod finally dispelled the imperial illusions and chauvinistic fantasies of Moscow,” Poroshenko said.    “It is a question of our independence, national security, statehood, a question of world geopolitics.”
    The Russian Orthodox Church has compared Ukraine’s moves for independence to the Great Schism of 1054 that split western and eastern Christianity, and warned they could lead to an irreversible rupture in the global Orthodox community.
    On Thursday, its spokesman said Istanbul had “crossed a red line” by reversing the excommunication of Patriarch Filaret.    Filaret hopes to lead the independent church.    The Kremlin also voiced its displeasure, saying it opposed anything leading to a split in the Orthodox faith.
    Filaret told reporters that Thursday’s decision paved the way for Ukraine to merge its three main Orthodox church branches into the new independent entity.
HOPES FOR PEACE
    Ukraine and Russia trace their Orthodox Christian roots to Volodymyr the Great, the prince whose baptism in 988 in Kiev led to the christianisation of the region known as the “Kievan Rus.
    The church known as the Moscow Patriarchate, which is aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, earlier dominated in Ukraine but has been challenged by a rival known as the Kiev Patriarchate formed after the 1991 break-up of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.
    Led by Filaret, the Kiev Patriarchate has championed an independent Ukrainian church and Ukraine’s closer integration with the West.    He is an outspoken critic of Russia’s political leadership, charging that Vladimir Putin is possessed by Satan.
    The Moscow Patriarchate denies its church is a security threat to Ukraine and, far from being a Kremlin stooge, says it has done much to promote peace in the country’s east.
    The Russian Orthodox Church has attacked Ukraine’s bid for independence as a gambit by Poroshenko to shore up his flagging popularity.    It calls the Kiev Patriarchate illegitimate and its spokesman warned that the split would lead to a “tragic and possibly irretrievable schism of the whole Orthodoxy.”
    In retaliation for the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s support for Ukraine, the Russian Orthodox Church decided last month to stop participating in structures chaired by the patriarch and would no longer commemorate him in services.
    It has threatened to go one step further by no longer recognizing him as the first among equals in the Orthodox world.
    Asked about Russian warnings that the church split could lead to violence in Ukraine, Kurt Volker, Washington’s ambassador to the Ukraine conflict, said on Thursday: “I hope there are not protests and violence orchestrated as a result of this decision.    I think it would be tragic to see that.”
(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous word in second paragraph)
(Additional reporting Polina Devitt in Moscow, Natalia Zinets in Kiev and Michele Kambas in Athens; writing by Matthias Williams; editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/15/2018 Russian Orthodox Church breaks with Constantinople in row over Ukraine
Metropolitan Hilarion, Chairman of external relations department of the Moscow Patriarchate and permanent member
of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church, speaks during a news conference in Minsk, Belarus October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    MINSK (Reuters) – The Russian Orthodox Church said on Monday it had decided to break off all relations with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in protest over its endorsement of Ukraine’s request for an “autocephalous” (independent) church.
    Speaking in Belarus after a meeting of the Russian Church’s ruling body, Metropolitan Ilarion, a cleric, said the Holy Synod had been left with no choice but to sever ties with the Patriarchate in Istanbul, seat of the global spiritual leader of roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians.
    Ukraine last week secured approval from Constantinople to establish an independent church in what Kiev said was a vital step against Russian meddling in its affairs.    The Russian Orthodox Church called it the biggest split in Christianity for a thousand years.
(Reporting by Andrei Makhovsky; Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Christian Lowe in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

10/16/2018 Russian-backed Crimea to boost trade, transport ties with Syria
FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad attends an interview with Russian television channel NTV, in Damascus,
Syria in this handout released on June 24, 2018. SANA/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has tentative plans to visit Russian-backed Crimea in April 2019 and is in talks about starting regular passenger flights between Syria and the Black Sea peninsula, Russian news agencies said on Tuesday.
    Crimea has been under Western sanctions since it was annexed from Ukraine by Russia in 2014.    Syria is also subject to European Union and U.S. sanctions.
    The Russian agencies cited members of a Crimean delegation visiting Syria this week, which includes the Moscow-backed prime minister of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov.
    Syrian state news agency SANA said Syrian and Crimean officials had agreed to create a Syrian Trading House in Crimea and a joint maritime transport company.    They also agreed to facilitate financial and banking measures.
    “Crimea is the nearest Black Sea port and therefore can play an important role in the bilateral trade between Syria and Crimea, and between Syria, Crimea and Russia,” SANA reported, quoting a statement by Syrian Economy Minister Samer Khalil.
    Russia is an ally of Assad in Syria’s seven-year long conflict.    The leaders of two other Russian-backed breakaway regions, Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia, also visited Damascus this year.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova in Moscow and Lisa Barrington in Beirut; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Andrew Osborn and David Stamp)

10/17/2018 How Russia moved into Central Africa by Aaron Ross
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a part of the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola/File Photo
    DAKAR (Reuters) – When Central African Republic (CAR) pleaded for help last year to fight marauding militias, former colonial ruler France offered guns it had seized off Somalia.    But Russia objected and donated its own weapons instead.
    By early February, Russia had sent nine planes with weapons along with dozens of contractors to train local soldiers and secure mining projects, marking the start of its highest-profile military foray in sub-Saharan Africa for decades.
    Muscling in on a country dominated by France for years served as a statement of intent about Moscow’s renewed push for global prestige and influence, and is part of a wider campaign shaking up long-standing power dynamics on the continent.
    Since Western nations sanctioned Russia for annexing Crimea in 2014, Moscow has signed 19 military cooperation deals in sub-Saharan Africa, including with Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, according to its foreign and defense ministries and state media.
    The continent’s 54 member states at the United Nations – three of which sit on the Security Council at any given time – form the organization’s largest voting bloc and one of its most coherent, making them attractive allies for Russia.
    “The West is not very much loved by many countries.    And many (see) Russia as the country that will oppose the West,” said Dmitri Bondarenko, an anthropologist and historian at Russia’s Institute for African Studies.
    Besides sending arms and contractors to CAR, Russian national Valery Zakharov is a security adviser to President Faustin-Archange Touadera and Russia’s defense ministry said last week it planned to establish a five-person team at CAR’s defense ministry.
    Russia’s moves come at a time when the defense ministry’s influence over Kremlin foreign policy is growing against a backdrop of heightened tension with the West.
SEIZED WEAPONS
    When CAR made its plea in 2017, there was recognition that a spike in ethnic fighting could turn into a far larger conflict and that its security forces were too weak to tackle myriad armed groups.
    CAR has been under a U.N. arms embargo since 2013 so weapons shipments must be approved by the U.N. Security Council’s CAR sanctions committee, made up of the Council’s 15 members, including France and Russia.    It operates by consensus.
    France first offered to help CAR buy old weapons but the proposal was too expensive.    France then offered 1,400 AK47 assault rifles it had seized off Somalia in 2016, according to a Security Council memo and four diplomats.
    Russia objected on the grounds that weapons seized for breaching the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia could not be recycled for use in another country under embargo, two diplomats said.
    But mindful of the need for a quick solution, the sanctions committee approved Moscow’s donation of AK47s, sniper rifles, machineguns and grenade launchers in December, according to committee documents and diplomats.
    “We presented our problem and Russia offered to help us, subject to Security Council approval,” said Albert Yaloke Mokpeme, CAR’s presidential spokesman.    “If peace is restored tomorrow in CAR, I think everyone will be happy.”
    Russia’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment about committee proceedings.
    France’s foreign ministry said Russia must strictly respect the terms of its arms embargo exemption to keep the weapons out of the wrong hands.
‘WE’RE NOT INTERESTED’
    During the Cold War, the Soviet Union forged close military and diplomatic ties with many African countries.    It was involved in proxy wars in states such as Angola, Ethiopia and Mozambique and helped independence movements fight Western colonial powers.
    Russia is now trying to revive some of the relationships that lapsed after the Soviet Union’s collapse.    It joins a number of countries such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates looking to set up bases in Africa, mediate in diplomatic stand-offs and strike business deals.
    China has long had a major economic presence in Africa but it has shied away from any military involvement.    It did go a step further last year, however, opening its first military base outside China in Djibouti.
    Near the world’s busiest shipping lanes, Djibouti is also home to a large French base, the only U.S. base in Africa, an Italian camp and Japan’s only overseas base.
    Djibouti blocked Russian attempts to set up a base, however, saying it wanted to avoid becoming the terrain for a proxy war.    Moscow is now planning to build a logistics center at a port in neighboring Eritrea.
    While France has a military bases outside Djibouti in former colonies Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal and its soldiers also operate in Chad, Mali and Niger, analysts say Washington’s influence is on the wane.
    Its trade with the continent has halved in the past decade, though much of that is due to U.S. shale replacing oil imports from Africa.    Diplomatic posts have gone unfilled and a task force based in CAR tracking warlord Joseph Kony left last year.
    “Our actions on the diplomatic and military side have sent a huge signal to our partners that we’re not interested in Africa,” said Donald Bolduc, who commanded U.S. special forces across the continent until last year.
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Nagy said Washington’s commitment to Africa was unwavering but, “there is space for other countries to play a positive role in the region.”
AFRICAN DEALS
    As part of Russia’s renewed push, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on a five-nation tour of Africa in March, attended a summit in South Africa in June and visited Rwanda, chair of the African Union, this year.
    Russia has also struck military cooperation deals with many African countries since 2015, though some have yet to come into force.    The agreements typically involve providing weapons and training in areas such as counter-terrorism and piracy.
    Analysts caution that the deals often appear more symbolic than transformative and say it’s not clear if Russia has the resources, or desire, to continue expanding its presence.
    But as in the Cold War, military deals can come alongside economic links, such as mining and energy agreements.    Ethiopia signed its deal in April, a month after Lavrov visited to discuss nuclear energy, agriculture and transportation projects.
    Russian firms have signed mineral deals in Sudan, which cooperates with Moscow in defense technology, and Russia is looking at diamond and platinum projects in Zimbabwe as well as energy projects in Chad.
    Over the past decade, Russian trade with sub-Saharan Africa has increased fast, albeit from a low base.    From 2010-2017, total trade rose to $4.2 billion a year from $1.6 billion, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies https://www.csis.org.
    During the same period, China’s total trade with sub-Saharan Africa nearly doubled to $165 billion while U.S. trade more than halved to $37 billion.
WAGNER GROUP
    Since arriving in CAR, the Russians’ remit has expanded beyond military advice and into various economic and diplomatic activities, a Western diplomat and security source said, fuelling the beginnings of a Western backlash.
    In August, France, the United Kingdom and the United States blocked a Russian request to send more weapons.    The U.S. mission to the United Nations said in a note to the sanctions committee that it was awaiting, “confirmation that measures had been taken to ensure the secure management of the previous donation.”
    Estimates of the number of Russians in CAR vary widely, from 250 to 1,000.    Touadera’s spokesman declined to provide details, nor say what activities the Russians were engaged in.
    Yevgeny Shabayev, head of a chapter of a paramilitary Cossack organization who has ties to Russian security contractors, said there could be 1,000 in CAR and 5,000 to 10,000 across Africa, including in Sudan, South Sudan and Libya.
    One Russian private military contractor, the Wagner group, was thrust into the spotlight in July when three Russian journalists were killed in CAR while investigating its alleged presence there.
    Reuters has been unable to confirm whether Wagner contractors are in CAR.    People with ties to the group have told Reuters it has carried out clandestine combat missions on the Kremlin’s behalf in Ukraine and Syria.
    Russian authorities deny Wagner contractors carry out their orders.    They have denied any role in the journalists’ deaths.
    Russia has also stepped into negotiations with militias in CAR, adding to Western misgivings about its presence.
    According to a U.N. panel of experts, Touadera’s Russian adviser has met militia leaders several times to discuss disarmament and the distribution of natural resources revenue.
    Russia said in August after brokering talks between armed groups that Touadera had expressed gratitude for its involvement and that it intended to continue its mediation.
    Reuters was unable to contact the adviser, Zakharov, for comment.
    “There is a real division between that guy and the rest of the presidential advisers,” the security source said.    “When you ask, ‘Can we see your colleague?’ they say, ‘Who, our colleague?    We don’t know him’.”
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Marie Tsvetkova and Margarita Popova in Moscow and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; editing by David Clarke)

10/18/2018 Putin says Islamic State has seized 700 hostages in Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a signing ceremony following a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 17, 2018. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Islamic State (IS) militants had seized nearly 700 hostages in part of Syria controlled by U.S.-backed forces and had executed some of them and promised to kill more.
    Speaking in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Putin said the hostages included several U.S. and European nationals, adding that Islamic State was expanding its control in territory on the left bank of the River Euphrates controlled by U.S. and U.S.-backed forces.
    Putin did not specify what the militants’ demands were.
    “They have issued ultimatums, specific demands and warned that if these ultimatums are not met they will execute 10 people every day.    The day before yesterday they executed 10 people,” Putin told the Valdai discussion forum in Sochi.
    The TASS news agency reported on Wednesday that IS militants had taken around 700 hostages in Syria’s Deir-al Zor province after attacking a refugee camp in an area controlled by U.S.-backed forces on Oct.13.
    TASS said the militants had kidnapped around 130 families and taken them to the city of Hajin.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in Sochi; Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/18/2018 Putin says Trump listens to him and wants to repair U.S.-Russia ties
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump receives a football from Russian President Vladimir Putin as they hold a joint
news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – Russia’s Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump listened to him and was keen to improve battered U.S.-Russia ties despite the complicated domestic political situation in the United States.
    Putin, who was speaking at a discussion forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, made the comments when asked if he agreed that Trump only listened to himself.
    Putin said he thought the U.S. president wanted to stabilize the troubled relationship between Moscow and Washington and said it was not true that Trump only listened to himself.
    “Maybe he acts like that with someone else, but in that case they are to blame.    I have a completely normal and professional dialogue with him and of course he listens.    I see that he reacts to his interlocutor’s arguments,” said Putin.
    The Russian leader said it was normal they disagreed about many things, something he said was normal in discussions with foreign leaders.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

10/18/2018 Putin blames fatal college attack in Crimea on localisation by Mikhail Antonov
People place flowers and candles at a makeshift memorial near the scene of a recent attack
on a local college in the city of Kerch, Crimea October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov
    KERCH, Crimea (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday blamed a mass shooting at a college in Crimea on localisation, saying a problem that began in the United States had spread around the world through online communities on the Internet.
    An armed 18-year-old student in the Black Sea port city of Kerch killed 20 people, most of them fellow pupils, and wounded dozens at his college on Wednesday, law enforcement officials said.
    The suspected attacker was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after an attack that also saw a bomb set off in the college canteen.    A second explosive device was found among the suspect’s personal possessions.
    “By all appearances this is the result of localisation, as strange as that may seem,” Putin said at a forum in the Black Sea city of Sochi.
    “Everything started with well-known tragic events in schools in the United States.    Young people with unstable minds create false heroes for themselves,” he said.
    “This means that we all, not just Russia, but we across the world are reacting badly to changing conditions in the world.    We are not creating necessary, interesting and useful content for young people,” he said.
    Grieving residents gathered on Thursday in Kerch, laying flowers and lighting candles to mark a three-day official mourning period declared in the region.    Orthodox priests sang prayers in the street, leading a memorial service near the college.
    “Where were the guards?” a tearful woman at a memorial asked.    “Where were the men who were there in large numbers?    Why was it children who were shot dead at point blank?
CYBERSPACE
    The death toll, including 18-year-old suspect Vladislav Roslyakov, rose to 21 on Thursday, Russian agencies cited the Russian Health Ministry as saying.
    The Russia-backed government in Crimea published a list of the victims, most of whom were teenagers.
    Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, prompting international condemnation and Western sanctions, but since then there have been no major outbreaks of violence on the peninsula.
    Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-backed head of the government in Crimea, said it was impossible to conceive that 18-year-old suspect Vladislav Roslyakov had prepared the attack by himself.
    “On the ground, he acted alone, that is already known and established, but in my opinion and in the opinion of my colleagues this reprobate could not have carried out the preparations.”
    The first deputy head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said the security services needed to have greater control over the Internet.
    “For us professionals, it has long been evident that the cyberspace must be under the control of the relevant authorities.    Without this, it’s impossible to guarantee the provision of information security and to combat modern terrorist threats in time,” Sergei Smirnov was quoted as saying.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Stolyarov in SOCHI, Russia; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by William Maclean)

10/18/2018 Putin says it’s not up to Russia to persuade Iran to pull out of Syria
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the annual Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia October 18,
2018. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that it was not up to Russia to persuade Iran to pull its forces out of Syria, and that the governments calling for Iran to leave should provide guarantees that they would not meddle in Syria’s affairs.
    Putin was speaking at a forum in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/18/2018 Special Report: Why Poland fell out of step with Europe by Lidia Kelly, Justyna Pawlak and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk
FILE PHOTO: A man holds an EU flag as he stands under a giant Polish flag during an anti-government demonstration organised
by main opposition parties in Warsaw, Poland May 7, 2016. To match Special Report POLAND-NATIONALISM/ REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Last winter, Monika Pawlik spent her days crawling through mud and digging trenches in frozen ground, training for Poland’s home guard.    Her daughter, Helena, hadn’t yet turned 2 years old.
    The town hall clerk is under no illusions about the potential risks of serving in the volunteer army, saying she is ready to die for the homeland.    “I understand that if there is a war, formations such as ours are sent to their death,” she says.    “I think that I mainly did it for myself and probably from feeling a patriotic duty.”
    Pawlik is a citizen of the European Union, but the 24-year-old’s commitment to defend her nation reflects a mounting unease throughout Poland and elsewhere in the EU.    Nearly 15,000 Poles have joined the country’s volunteer forces since their inception in 2017, a number that Poland’s military planners hope will reach 53,000 in the coming years.
    Poland is a fully paid-up member of NATO.    As the biggest state to join the EU from the former Soviet bloc, it has received more EU support than any other member – over 100 billion euros ($115 billion), according to the Polish finance ministry.    EU membership is popular.    But many Poles – alongside Hungarians and Czechs in eastern Europe – are voicing discontent over foreign influence in their internal affairs.    For instance, Poland and Hungary have defied an EU request to accept a quota of asylum-seekers.    Parties like Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) are winning support by beating a patriotic drum, and the EU is among the targets.
    This trend has deepened fractures across the Union, which commentators widely believe are rooted in financial crisis and the subsequent arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants from Syria and Africa.    In Poland and other European countries that broke free from Soviet domination in 1989, however, the misgivings have long run far deeper.
    Pawlik lives in a village of only several dozen people about 150 km (90 miles) from the eastern border with Russia’s ally Belarus.    Her small house, inherited from her grandmother, is adorned with pots of white and red flowers in the windows.    She planted them with her husband as a tribute to Poland’s white-and-red flag, to honor the centenary of Polish independence this year.
    “I remember my grandmother telling me how the Germans used to pass through these forests and then the Russians,” said Pawlik.    “She would tell me how a Russian would sometimes just go over and shoot your head off and a German would shrug, pretend not to see you and walk away.”
    Many Poles recall bitter experiences in World War Two when Western allies failed to save the country from a Nazi German invasion and, later, allowed it to fester under Soviet domination.    The PiS party, which won 37.6 percent of the vote and secured a parliamentary majority in 2015, is appealing mainly to rural, less educated and poorer voters who feel that while Europe’s liberal ways may have made some people richer, they have not made anyone safer.
    Poland’s government has allied with Hungary, whose prime minister, Viktor Orban, has courted confrontation with Brussels as part of what he calls a “national liberation struggle” against globalization and the liberal ideas of the EU.    PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has said Poland is following Orban’s example.    Both states have railed against internationalist left-wingers and courted nationalist leaders such as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “We renounce this sack of stones we have been carrying on our backs as a nation since 1989,” Kaczynski told crowds celebrating Polish Independence Day last Nov. 11.    “A sack of corruption, abuse, theft, dishonesty, immorality and destruction of Polish patriotism, Poland’s sense of community.”
    Many of Poland’s EU allies are angry that its government is playing a leading role in fuelling a rift between ex-Communist and Western members of the bloc, at a time when the EU is grappling with Britain’s decision to leave.    They have accused Warsaw of a tilt toward authoritarianism, as the state increases its control of the judiciary, public media and parts of the economy.
    In Brussels, senior EU officials say parties like PiS create a false distinction between patriotism and a sense of European community.    “Patriotism is a virtue,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a speech in September.    “Unchecked nationalism is riddled with both poison and deceit.”
    Finding itself increasingly isolated within the bloc, the PiS government has also been more combative with Berlin, once a leading champion of Poland’s EU membership aspirations.    Warsaw says Germany still owes it billions of euros in World War Two reparations, and has told Poles that Berlin should pay the money back.
    A German government spokeswoman said: “The federal government currently has no official request from Poland in relation to reparations claims on which it could comment.”
INSECURITY
    Pawlik says she has no political views, but she is part of the core electorate for the PiS government.    Its bedrock of support is rural communities, especially in the country’s east.
    Since Poland joined the EU in 2004, a large part of the cash it received has been devoted to big projects like roads and bridges.    But under PiS, individual incomes in rural areas have also been helped by government programs to give new child benefits and increase the minimum wage.
    For Pawlik and others, Brussels has disappointed at a more basic level.    Since Moscow’s military intervention in Ukraine in 2014, many people in Poland say they have been nervous of Russian aggression.    Before Russia annexed Crimea four years ago, just 15 percent of Poles worried that their country’s independence may be under threat.    That jumped after Russia intervened in Ukraine, and the number runs at 40 percent now.
    There has recently been a massive build-up of Russian conventional forces on the borders of the Baltic states.    But the EU has very limited joint defense capabilities.
    This is why people like Pawlik joined the Territorial Defence Forces (WOT) – a formation that requires recruits to spend four months over three years in training.    The force, modeled on America’s National Guard, is an integral part of Poland’s defense and deterrence potential alongside land, air, navy and special operations, the defense ministry says.    Poland’s military budget for 2018 envisages spending $153 million on the territorial defense forces, similar to the amount earmarked for the navy.
    Poland’s government has been spending around 2 percent of GDP on defense, as recommended by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and is planning to gradually raise this amount to 2.5 percent of GDP.
    “Military treaties are important but they can give an often illusory sense of power.    We need to be ready to defend ourselves … until our allies arrive with help,” Tadeusz Cymanski, a senior PiS lawmaker, said in an interview.    “If we want to preserve our independence, the current generation ought to have a sense of national pride, a sense of community and a willingness to sacrifice.”
    A volunteer army is an important symbol.    Poland has for centuries been invaded or carved up by its neighbors – Austria, Germany and Russia until 1918, and later, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.    In World War Two, hundreds of thousands of Poles joined an underground Home Army to defend the country after its government was forced into exile.
    A poll by the state-controlled polling agency CBOS showed in August that 88 percent of the population today believes being patriotic means being willing to fight and die for the country.
TOWARDS MATURITY
    Being in the EU has disappointed Poles in other ways.    After Poland joined, labor markets opened up abroad.    Poles left in droves to seek work, dividing families and draining local labor.
    More than 2 million, out of a population of over 38 million Poles, recently moved to live abroad, drawn out of important services such as healthcare to countries including Britain and Germany.    The population of Pawlik’s county, Ostrow Mazowiecka, has fallen by almost three percent since 2004 and she worries there may not be enough people to help defend those who stayed behind.
    “I hope Helena never moves abroad,” said Pawlik, playing with her daughter in her garden.    “I hope she has a better sense of what her ancestors have done for her.    And I think her children will not have to leave for abroad.    I am not a supporter of finding work away from home.”
    While EU membership has allowed large numbers of Poles to seek work abroad under free movement rules, the EU says the long-term thrust of its policy is to help narrow the gaps between living standards across the continent.
    Overall, Poland’s population has nudged up 0.7 percent, but the government is trying to encourage more growth, primarily by paying out generous child subsidies, promising pensions for women who have at least four children but have not worked enough to earn a pension, and offering cheaper public housing.
    The health ministry has also sponsored a booklet called “Towards maturity” for school instructors on family and reproductive health, with a stated aim of “preventing a tendency to postpone procreation.”    Included in it is a statement that promiscuity “changes a woman’s psyche,” because “a woman’s nature is to devote herself entirely to a beloved man.”
NOT GERMANY
    For Pawlik, there has also been a hollowness in EU membership.    She says she once did an internship in her local town hall that was funded by the European Union.    It paid better than a regular internship, but she had to display a poster saying who paid for her work.    She felt it was like a plaque saying, “‘This hinge has been oiled with EU funds.'
    A European Commission official said such a poster is not an EU requirement.
    Przemyslaw Sadura, a sociologist of education from the Warsaw University Institute of Sociology, says national governments such as Poland’s are filling a void left by Brussels in telling people stories that can motivate them and make sense of life.
    “The EU was not able to forge its own story, its own myth; it couldn’t weave together national stories into a single tale,” he said.    PiS, he said, “has a vision.    It encompasses patriotism, a vision for the modernization of Poland, a national engagement, a national economy.    It’s about ethnic community.”
    EU Commission officials say they have no simple answers to what they view as a global trend, of politicians who exploit people’s unease with change by appealing to nostalgia for a national past.    But such attitudes generate frustration that Brussels officials rarely voice in public.    “Central Europe loves a sense of victimization,” one senior EU official told Reuters privately, acknowledging the difficulty institutions have in responding to complaints from Warsaw and Budapest.
    As it builds its nostalgic story, PiS has introduced a sweeping reform of school programs, focusing in particular on history, literature, civics and geography.    From now, school children will be taught about the “benefits and costs” of EU membership, according to education ministry documents.    The ministry mandated the added word, “costs.”
    The new core curriculum says that “the aim of schooling is to strengthen the sense of national identity, connection to history and national traditions.”
    That includes Poland’s status as a victim of Nazi Germany.    Many Poles feel the West has failed to acknowledge the depth of the nation’s suffering under the occupation, focusing instead only on the Jewish Holocaust.    The government says some Poles have been unjustly vilified as perpetrators of atrocities against the Jews.    In fact, some sheltered Jews.    And Poles themselves were deemed “sub-human” by the Nazis.
    Earlier this year, Poland’s government passed a law that would allow the courts to jail anyone suggesting the Polish nation was complicit in the Holocaust.    Under pressure from the United States, it later watered that down to remove jail terms.
    At the same time, the education ministry has canceled an obligation for schools to give anti-discrimination workshops.    A school superintendent, appointed by PiS, recently urged teenagers to follow the example of a 17th-century king who fought against the Ottoman empire.    The superintendent was quoted in the media as saying the great king “managed to defend the whole of Europe against Islam.”
    In the fourth grade, when history is introduced as a subject, children aged 9 to 10 are presented with vignettes of around two dozen historic figures designed to promote a sense of national pride.    These characters are described by the education ministry as having “a momentous impact on the formation of the Polish cultural identity.”
    They include Christian kings, a Polish-born Pope (John Paul II) who inspired the nation to stand up to communism, Marie Sklodowska-Curie, who won the Nobel Prize for her research on radioactivity, and the Solidarity movement which spearheaded the end of Communist rule in Europe.
    “History should arouse pride,” said Wlodzimierz Suleja, the historian who developed the new programs.
    “Our history is grand … We were exceptional in Europe.”    He says he is referring to the fact Poles were able to sustain a sense of nationhood when the country was overrun by others.
    To many in Poland, which has for centuries embraced Catholicism as a way to distinguish its culture from Protestant Germany and Orthodox Russia, religious values are fundamental.    One town has engraved marble tablets with the Ten Commandments to be hung at the entrances to local schools.
    Pawlik says when she was at school, the system failed to teach her an appreciation of her own heritage.    “Our system tends to focus on teaching the history of Germany, its kings, Russia.    We didn’t learn much about Poland,” she said.    “We need to focus on what happened here.”
SACRIFICE
    At the heart of the PiS story is a group of fighters who kept an underground resistance going even after the end of World War Two, turning against the Communist authorities.
    PiS holds up the fighters, known as the Doomed or Cursed Soldiers, as a model for youth, praising them for being uncompromising, unyielding and willing to be martyred despite having the odds stacked against them.
    Controversy surrounds them.    Several have been accused of killing civilian villagers, often Jews, Slovaks and Belarusians, as they sought to resist Soviet authorities setting up a Communist state in Poland.
    But they are the example for Pawlik and other fighters in the territorial defense forces.    In a ceremony in 2016, President Andrzej Duda called them “the last of the great heroes” who sacrificed their lives for the country.
    One of the Doomed Soldiers is a woman known by her nom de guerre, Inka.    A 17-year-old medic and member of the Home Army in World War Two, she was sentenced to death by the Communist authorities and refused to sign a plea for clemency.    Before her death, she wrote a note to relatives, saying, “I am sad that I have to die.    Please tell my grandmother that I behaved as one should.”
    When Pawlik was doing her training, she says, she learned how to fire weapons and was surprised to find she was no weaker than the men.    She wants to be a professional soldier.
    “If I go for something, I take it to the end,” she said.    “But I’m not doing it all for myself.    I’m also doing this for the baby.”
(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Paul Carrel in Berlin and Pawel Sobczak, Pawel Florkiewicz, Julia Jasinska, Cezary Kotowicz and Alicja Ptak in Warsaw; Edited by Sara Ledwith)

10/19/2018 Date for Putin’s meeting with North Korea’s Kim being discussed: RIA
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a session of the annual Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi,
Russia October 18, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A date for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is being discussed, Russian state news agency RIA cited Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov as saying on Friday.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/19/2018 Russia’s Putin to discuss Syrian refugees at summit in Istanbul: Ifax
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss conditions for the return of refugees to Syria at a summit next week in Istanbul of the leaders of Russia, Turkey, France and Germany, the Interfax news agency cited the Kremlin as saying on Friday.
    Putin also plans to discuss the reconstruction of infrastructure in Syria at the summit on Oct. 27, the Kremlin was cited as saying.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

10/19/2018 Russian spying significant and increasing: Swiss intelligence chief
Director of Swiss Federal Intelligence Service NDB Jean-Philippe Gaudin addresses a news conference
in Bern, Switzerland October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Russia spying in Switzerland is significant and increasing, the Swiss intelligence agency said on Friday after two high-profile cases involving alleged Russian agents attempting to infiltrate sites in Switzerland.
    “I cannot give a lot of details about the Russian activities in Switzerland but it is clear we have more activities than before,” Jean-Philippe Gaudin, director of the NDB intelligence service, told Reuters on the sidelines of a news conference.
    “I cannot say how many spies, but it is significant.    Of course I have a lot of information but I will share that with my colleagues elsewhere and not with the media.”
(Reporting by John Revill, Editing by Michael Shields)

10/19/2018 Romania’s tug of war over rule of law nears the line
FILE PHOTO: Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar during the annual report of the anti-corruption unit DNA,
in Bucharest, Romania, February 28, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS/File Photo
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A power struggle between Romania’s government and judiciary is reaching a tipping point that risks driving a new wedge between the European Union and its eastern members over democratic standards.
    Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has said he will soon decide the future of the prosecutor general, the last major figure in an anti-corruption drive which has won praise from Brussels for exposing high-level graft, including the theft of EU funds.
    Augustin Lazar oversees around 2,500 prosecutors, including anti-organized crime unit DIICOT and anti-corruption unit DNA.
    If Toader decides to trigger Lazar’s dismissal, it will mark the end of an era for Romania’s prosecutors.    The head of the DNA has already been fired and DIICOT leader’s mandate has expired.
    The government says the units have ruined innocent lives.
    Anti-corruption prosecutors have secured almost 5,000 convictions over the past five years, including 27 lawmakers and 83 mayors across parties, as well as ministers, county council heads, state firm managers and magistrates.
    Among them is Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democrats, who was barred from becoming prime minister by a conviction in the first of three investigations against him.    He denies all wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political witch-hunt by the judiciary.
    In recent months, his party has launched a slew of bills to overhaul criminal law and procedures to raise the burden of proof.    It has also set up a unit to investigate judges and prosecutors for possible crimes and aims to reorganize judges panels.
    European diplomats, who are seeking sanctions against fellow east European states Poland and Hungary for flouting democratic values, are concerned Romania is following suit.
MOVING BACKWARDS
    “There is now the real risk that things are moving backwards in a way that would be damaging not only for Romanian democracy but for the place that it has built as an EU member state,” the EU executive’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said at a meeting of the European Parliament this month.
    “The procedure that has been started recently in relation to the general prosecutor raises similarly worrying concerns.”
    An EU advisory body for constitutional rights, the Venice Commission, will issue an opinion on Romania later on Friday.    Its preliminary view said parts of the judicial overhaul “are likely to undermine the independence of Romanian judges and prosecutors, and public confidence in the judiciary.”
    Any punitive measures against Romania similar to those the EU is seeking for Hungary and Poland will depend on the outcome of the wider legal changes the Social Democrats have initiated.
    On Monday, the government tightened hiring criteria for DNA and DIICOT prosecutors via an emergency decree; as a result, over 40 of those prosecutors will be reassigned to other work.    It said this was to address the Venice Commission’s concerns.
    Dragnea and senior party members say they aim to curb abuses by prosecutors and secret services, invoking the specter of a “parallel state” that illegally wiretaps them.
    DNA chief Laura Codruta Kovesi lost her job in July after an assessment by the justice minister similar to the one Lazar is undergoing now, despite resistance from the judicial watchdog and the president.
    Other prosecutors and judges have had inspectors in their offices looking for flaws in their work.
    “There is a tactic of making examples out of high profile legal professionals,” one anti-corruption prosecutor told Reuters on condition of anonymity to protect pending cases.
    “They’re trying to show what happens if you don’t behave.    And it is working.    Some people in the judiciary are starting to think, why I am fighting this?
    Minister Toader triggered the evaluation of Lazar, who oversees the prosecution service, or public ministry, in late August, saying the decision did not come out of the blue.
    Over time, I have noticed how the public ministry has veered away from its constitutional role of guaranteeing citizens’ rights and liberties,” he said.    “As before (with Kovesi), I will make a radiograph of the prosecutor general’s management and I will reach a conclusion.”
    The minister told private television station Antena3 earlier this week his conclusion was days away.
    Lazar, who was appointed three years ago and has accused the government of trying to politicize the judiciary, said prosecutors’ work was transparent and he did not fear being dismissed.
    “It is unfortunately a very sensitive time for the Romanian judiciary and rule of law,” he told a conference after the minister’s announcement, the only time he addressed the issue.
    “It’s a context in which manipulating public opinion is often used as an instrument to destabilize prosecutors’ work.”
    The prosecutor general is in charge of requests to lift the immunity of lawmakers for investigations and has a vote on the country’s judicial watchdog.
    Some critics have said he has not been aggressive enough in cleaning up the ranks of corrupt or inefficient colleagues, but many prosecutors admire him for standing up for them.
    DNA statements show the bulk of its anti-corruption cases concern public works contracts given to firms which courts later found to be paying bribes; many were overpriced and some payments, including with EU funds, were made for fictitious works.
    Timmermans said any changes that would weaken oversight of how EU taxpayers’ money was spent in Romania “will trigger an immediate response from the Commission.”
    Investors’ associations have repeatedly warned that corruption is a strong deterrent for business.
    Dragnea, who is also lower house speaker, was given a two-year suspended sentence in a vote rigging case and also sentenced to three and a half years in jail for helping keep two party employees on the payroll of the state child protection agency.    He has appealed and is due in court on Nov 5.
    He is also under investigation in a third case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects, some of them EU-funded, charges he denies.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
    Romania’s centrist president was forced to sign the Social Democrats’ overhaul of the judiciary into law this month after he used up his chances to object.    It removes his veto rights on appointing top prosecutors, one of the key checks and balances.
    Toader’s nominee to replace Kovesi at the head of anti-corruption unit DNA has raised concerns she might be soft on high-level crime.
    In August, riot police fired tear gas into the crowd at an anti-government rally and beat protesters holding their hands up.
    An existing judicial inspectorate, whose chief Toader has kept on after his mandate expired, has been investigating magistrates at a rapid pace.    Many of those probed have criticized the legislative changes.
    U.S. ambassador Hans Klemm told law students this month the judicial overhaul “creates greater opportunities to coerce and punish troublesome magistrates.”
    “Cloaked in the mantle of concern for due process and human rights, some of these changes are a clear attempt to protect vested interests from an independent judiciary,” he said.
    The ruling party does not always succeed.    This month, the Constitutional Court struck down most of alterations to criminal procedures that were challenged and which would have raised the burden of proof on all criminal investigations.
    The Court will discuss challenges brought against proposed changes to the criminal code on Oct. 24.
    The Social Democrats have said their legal initiatives aim to align legislation with EU norms and address abuses, citing acquittals by higher courts, although these are rare, and corruption investigations against some prosecutors.
    Dragnea has also said that Romania’s Secret Service (SRI), which has been gathering wiretap evidence for prosecutors based on court warrants, has been abusing its powers, faking evidence and illegally intercepting “millions of Romanians.”
    He said either parliament or government should pass a bill to retroactively cancel wiretap evidence.    That would jeopardize hundreds of verdicts ranging from corruption to human trafficking and potentially Dragnea’s cases as well.
    DNA said that just over 36,000 people, not millions, have been wire-tapped since 2005.
    “When the dust settles,” the anti-corruption prosecutor said, “it will take years to figure out how these laws were changed and what is left.”
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

10/19/2018 Putin: We will not strike first, but nuclear aggressors will be destroyed by OAN Newsroom
    Russian President Vladimir Putin touts his country’s superior firepower, claiming he will not tolerate any nuclear attacks against Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi,
Russia, on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    On Thursday, Putin explained the full abilities of his new “hypersonic missiles,” which can reportedly break through any missile defense system.
    However, the Russian leader assured Moscow would never strike first and the missiles would only be deployed in case of an attack.
    “I repeat, we cannot be the initiators of this catastrophe, because we do not have a pre-emptive strike policy,” stated Putin.    “But an aggressor should know that retribution is inevitable, that they will be annihilated.”
    The new missiles are expected to be rolled out in the coming months.
[This report did not continue his comment that the destruction of his enemies would come and Russia would go to heaven.    Makes me wonder what Communist Russian heaven would be like.]

10/19/2018 German, Russian MP’s meet, talk Nord Stream 2 pipeline amid U.S. opposition by OAN Newsroom
    German and Russian officials recently met is Berlin to finalize the details on the ongoing pipeline Nord Stream 2.    The sides appear to be excited as the pipeline is expected to bring down energy costs across Europe and replenish the bank accounts of Kremlin-aligned oligarchs battered by international sanctions.
    “Gas supplies from Russia account for about 35-percent, that is it,” stated Pavel Zavalny, chairman of Yugra’s Energy Committee.    “So, we can talk about the dominance in the energy market, but there is no question of any dependence.”
    The meetings come as public hearings over the pipeline begin in Denmark, with some commentators saying Copenhagen could ultimately decide the fate of the project.
    However, President Trump isn’t happy.    He is saying Nord Stream 2 would increase the dependence of key NATO allies on Russia, which the Kremlin could use to advance its policy goals.
    For their part, German lawmakers warned the U.S. against meddling with EU energy policies.
    “Russia is a well-valued, reliable and stable partner, and I think it is a legitimate right of every country to decide who they sell their energy to,” stated Robby Schlund of the Gera-Greiz-Altenburger Disarmament Committee.
Pipes are loaded onto a vessel in the northern port of Mukran, on the island of Ruegen, Germany, February 28, 2018. (Axel Schmidt/Nord Stream 2 Handout via Reuters)
    However, the U.S. Treasury Department said the pipeline could face sanctions as it’s a joint venture between Russia’s already blacklisted energy giant Gazprom and five EU-based companies.
    European companies could face secondary U.S. sanctions as well, which could potentially bring Russia and the EU even closer.
    Last month, the EU and Russia agreed to establish a special payments facility to continue their business with Iran, and some are saying a similar scheme could be established to bypass the possible sanctions against Nord Stream.
    “Americans are coordinating their sanctions policies less and less with the Europeans — all this could weaken the dollar’s supremacy in the coming years, and boost the euros,” said Dr. Jorg Kramer, chief economist at Commerzbank.
    The pipeline is expected to start operation early next year, delivering 55 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to the EU and billions of euros to the Kremlin elites.

10/20/2018 Romania’s tug of war over rule of law nears the line by Luiza Ilie
FILE PHOTO: Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar during the annual report of the anti-corruption unit DNA,
in Bucharest, Romania, February 28, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS/File Photo
(This story corrects Venice Commission description)
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A power struggle between Romania’s government and judiciary is reaching a tipping point that risks driving a new wedge between the European Union and its eastern members over democratic standards.
    Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has said he will soon decide the future of the prosecutor general, the last major figure in an anti-corruption drive which has won praise from Brussels for exposing high-level graft, including the theft of EU funds.
    Augustin Lazar oversees around 2,500 prosecutors, including anti-organized crime unit DIICOT and anti-corruption unit DNA.
    If Toader decides to trigger Lazar’s dismissal, it will mark the end of an era for Romania’s prosecutors.    The head of the DNA has already been fired and DIICOT leader’s mandate has expired.
    The government says the units have ruined innocent lives.
    Anti-corruption prosecutors have secured almost 5,000 convictions over the past five years, including 27 lawmakers and 83 mayors across parties, as well as ministers, county council heads, state firm managers and magistrates.
    Among them is Liviu Dragnea, leader of the ruling Social Democrats, who was barred from becoming prime minister by a conviction in the first of three investigations against him.    He denies all wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political witch-hunt by the judiciary.
    In recent months, his party has launched a slew of bills to overhaul criminal law and procedures to raise the burden of proof.    It has also set up a unit to investigate judges and prosecutors for possible crimes and aims to reorganize judges panels.
    European diplomats, who are seeking sanctions against fellow east European states Poland and Hungary for flouting democratic values, are concerned Romania is following suit.
MOVING BACKWARDS
    “There is now the real risk that things are moving backwards in a way that would be damaging not only for Romanian democracy but for the place that it has built as an EU member state,” the EU executive’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said at a meeting of the European Parliament this month.
    “The procedure that has been started recently in relation to the general prosecutor raises similarly worrying concerns.”
    The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional matters, said on Friday that changes made to Romania’s criminal code and procedures “seriously weaken the effectiveness of its criminal justice system to fight corruption offences, violent crimes and organized criminality.”
    Any punitive measures against Romania similar to those the EU is seeking for Hungary and Poland will depend on the outcome of the wider legal changes the Social Democrats have initiated, including in the criminal code.
    On Monday, the government tightened hiring criteria for DNA and DIICOT prosecutors via an emergency decree; as a result, over 40 of those prosecutors will be reassigned to other work.    It said this was to address the Venice Commission’s concerns.
    Dragnea and senior party members say they aim to curb abuses by prosecutors and secret services, invoking the specter of a “parallel state” that illegally wiretaps them.
    DNA chief Laura Codruta Kovesi lost her job in July after an assessment by the justice minister similar to the one Lazar is undergoing now, despite resistance from the judicial watchdog and the president.
    Other prosecutors and judges have had inspectors in their offices looking for flaws in their work.
    “There is a tactic of making examples out of high profile legal professionals,” one anti-corruption prosecutor told Reuters on condition of anonymity to protect pending cases.
    “They’re trying to show what happens if you don’t behave.    And it is working.    Some people in the judiciary are starting to think, why I am fighting this?
    Minister Toader triggered the evaluation of Lazar, who oversees the prosecution service, or public ministry, in late August, saying the decision did not come out of the blue.
    “Over time, I have noticed how the public ministry has veered away from its constitutional role of guaranteeing citizens’ rights and liberties,” he said.    “As before (with Kovesi), I will make a radiograph of the prosecutor general’s management and I will reach a conclusion.”
    The minister told private television station Antena3 earlier this week his conclusion was days away.
    Lazar, who was appointed three years ago and has accused the government of trying to politicize the judiciary, said prosecutors’ work was transparent and he did not fear being dismissed.
    “It is unfortunately a very sensitive time for the Romanian judiciary and rule of law,” he told a conference after the minister’s announcement, the only time he addressed the issue.
    “It’s a context in which manipulating public opinion is often used as an instrument to destabilize prosecutors’ work.”
    The prosecutor general is in charge of requests to lift the immunity of lawmakers for investigations and has a vote on the country’s judicial watchdog.
    Some critics have said he has not been aggressive enough in cleaning up the ranks of corrupt or inefficient colleagues, but many prosecutors admire him for standing up for them.
    DNA statements show the bulk of its anti-corruption cases concern public works contracts given to firms which courts later found to be paying bribes; many were overpriced and some payments, including with EU funds, were made for fictitious works.
    Timmermans said any changes that would weaken oversight of how EU taxpayers’ money was spent in Romania “will trigger an immediate response from the Commission.”     Investors’ associations have repeatedly warned that corruption is a strong deterrent for business.
    Dragnea, who is also lower house speaker, was given a two-year suspended sentence in a vote rigging case and also sentenced to three and a half years in jail for helping keep two party employees on the payroll of the state child protection agency.    He has appealed and is due in court on Nov 5.
    He is also under investigation in a third case on suspicion of forming a criminal group to siphon off cash from state projects, some of them EU-funded, charges he denies.
CHECKS AND BALANCES
    Romania’s centrist president was forced to sign the Social Democrats’ overhaul of the judiciary into law this month after he used up his chances to object.    It removes his veto rights on appointing top prosecutors, one of the key checks and balances.
    Toader’s nominee to replace Kovesi at the head of anti-corruption unit DNA has raised concerns she might be soft on high-level crime.
    In August, riot police fired tear gas into the crowd at an anti-government rally and beat protesters holding their hands up.
    An existing judicial inspectorate, whose chief Toader has kept on after his mandate expired, has been investigating magistrates at a rapid pace.    Many of those probed have criticized the legislative changes.
    U.S. ambassador Hans Klemm told law students this month the judicial overhaul “creates greater opportunities to coerce and punish troublesome magistrates.”
    “Cloaked in the mantle of concern for due process and human rights, some of these changes are a clear attempt to protect vested interests from an independent judiciary,” he
    The ruling party does not always succeed. This month, the Constitutional Court struck down most of alterations to criminal procedures that were challenged and which would have raised the burden of proof on all criminal investigations.
    The Court will discuss challenges brought against proposed changes to the criminal code on Oct. 24.
    The Social Democrats have said their legal initiatives aim to align legislation with EU norms and address abuses, citing acquittals by higher courts, although these are rare, and corruption investigations against some prosecutors.
    Dragnea has also said that Romania’s Secret Service (SRI), which has been gathering wiretap evidence for prosecutors based on court warrants, has been abusing its powers, faking evidence and illegally intercepting “millions of Romanians.”
    He said either parliament or government should pass a bill to retroactively cancel wiretap evidence.    That would jeopardize hundreds of verdicts ranging from corruption to human trafficking and potentially Dragnea’s cases as well.
    DNA said that just over 36,000 people, not millions, have been wire-tapped since 2005.
    “When the dust settles,” the anti-corruption prosecutor said, “it will take years to figure out how these laws were changed and what is left.”
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; editing by Philippa Fletcher/Adrian Croft)

10/20/2018 Bolton readies Moscow visit amid U.S. concerns about missile treaty by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton answers questions from reporters
during a news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, will visit Moscow next week for talks that may include telling Russian officials that the United States plans to withdraw from the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
    While Bolton will discuss other major topics with Russian officials, including North Korea, Ukraine and Syria, the 1987 accord between the United States and the former Soviet Union is also expected to come up.
    The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1988, required elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries.
    The United States believes Russia is in violation of the accord.    The New York Times said Bolton would tell Moscow that Washington planned to withdraw from the treaty.    White House officials did not deny the report.
    A senior Trump administration official said two administrations had tried to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty.
    “Despite our objections, Russia continues to produce and field prohibited cruise missiles and has ignored calls for transparency,” the official said.
    Withdrawing from the INF treaty could have major implications for U.S. defense policy in Asia and toward its main strategic rival there, China, with which Trump is engaged in a trade war.
    China is not a party to the treaty and has invested heavily in conventional missiles as part of an anti-access/area denial strategy, while the INF has banned U.S possession of ground-launched ballistic missiles or cruise missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (311 and 3,418 miles).
IMPLICATIONS FOR ASIA
    “It has had major implications for Asia,” said Eric Sayers, who served as an adviser to former U.S Pacific Commander Admiral Harry Harris and is now an adjunct fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
    “This will give the Pentagon and Indo-Pacific Command new conventional options to restore the military balance in the theater,” Sayers said.
    Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis said Russia’s violation of the INF treaty was “untenable” and unless it changed course the United States would respond.
    Washington believes Moscow is developing a ground-launched system in breach of the INF treaty that could allow Moscow to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice.    Russia has consistently denied any such violation.
    The Pentagon’s nuclear policy document released in February said that in response to Russia’s violation, the United States would start reviewing its own options for conventional, ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems.
    The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to meet with Bolton, the RIA news agency reported.
    Bolton’s meetings in Moscow were scheduled for Oct. 22-23, RIA said.
    Bolton said on Twitter that he planned to meet with top Russian officials but did not mention Putin.
    “Heading to Moscow tomorrow to meet with senior Russian leaders, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, to continue discussions that began in Helsinki between our two countries,” Bolton said.
    Critics of Trump have accused him of being soft on Russia, and both Republicans and Democrats in the U.S.
    Congress are pushing for more sanctions on Moscow. Sanctions had been imposed for Russia’s suspected meddling in elections in the United States and other countries, the Ukraine crisis and allegations it was behind a nerve agent attack in Britain.
    The Kremlin has denied any election interference or role in the nerve attack.
    A senior administration official said Bolton will use the trip to discuss the next meeting between Trump and Putin.    The two leaders may see each other in Paris at a Nov. 11 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One.
    But they may have more substantive talks on the fringes of a G-20 summit in Argentina later in November.
    Trump’s invitation to Putin to visit Washington still stood, the official said.    Trump made the invitation in the aftermath of a summit in Helsinki in which he appeared to accept Putin’s denials of interference in the 2016 U.S. election over the word of his own intelligence agencies.
    While in Moscow, Bolton will emphasize the importance of maintaining sanctions against North Korea in order to keep pressure on the elimination of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.    Russia and China have suggested easing sanctions.
    Bolton will also travel to Azerbaijan for discussions on a range of regional issues including Iran, before continuing to Armenia and Georgia.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and David Brunnstrom, Idrees Ali and Susan Heavey in Washington; editing by Richard Chang, Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman)

10/20/2018 Polish regional vote a test for eurosceptic PiS government by Pawel Florkiewicz and Pawel Sobczak
FILE PHOTO: The Town Hall and headquarter of the mayor of Warsaw
is seen in Warsaw September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poles vote in a regional election on Sunday with gains expected for the ruling eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party, whose nationalist rhetoric and institutional reforms have fueled a deepening rift with the European Union.
    PiS swept into power in 2015 on a promise of voter-pleasing welfare bumps, social conservatism and more state say in the economy.    The party remains broadly popular, despite accusations at home and abroad of a shift toward authoritarian rule.
    The election is part of a larger struggle over Europe’s future, as Brexit and Hungary’s Viktor Orban, a PiS ally, shake up the European Union and right-wing parties make gains across the continent.
    While it dominates national politics, PiS controls a small minority of city halls, and has a majority in only one provincial assembly out of 16.
    If successful in gaining seats, PiS will have better access to local funding, a factor which could affect parliamentary elections in 2019.    It will also have more influence over schools and theaters, important tools in the party’s nationalist agenda.
    PiS opposes abortion, contraception and IVF fertility treatment and wants culture and education to be more conservative.
    “Dear citizens, if you want more money to reach here for infrastructure and industry, then vote for PiS candidates,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told voters during a rally in Kielce in southern Poland on Oct. 13.
    Opinion polls show PiS could win 33-37 percent of votes for provincial assembly members.    A coalition of centrist opposition parties, the Civic Platform and Nowoczesna, is forecast to capture about 24 percent of the vote.    Post-election coalitions could affect how many assemblies PiS will control.
    The centrist candidate for Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, 46, is seen winning 41-42 percent of vote on Sunday, and securing the office in a second round of voting on Nov. 4, beating PiS’ Patryk Jaki, 33.
    A spike in PiS support in cities, traditionally centrist strongholds, would show its brand of populism gaining broader appeal and would be a major upset for the Civic Platform, the home party of European Council President Donald Tusk.
DISAPPOINTING EU
    A good result for PiS would add to concerns in Brussels ahead of European Parliament elections in May by boosting eurosceptic groups that oppose efforts at closer EU integration.
    Underlining divisions, the EU’s top court ordered the Warsaw government on Friday to suspend an overhaul of the country’s Supreme Court and reinstate judges forced into early retirement.
    The moves were part of broader reforms of the judiciary, which PiS says are crucial to making the system more fair and efficient, but opponents criticize as an attack on democratic checks and balances.
    Throughout his campaign, Warsaw’s mayoral candidate Jaki said he sides with ordinary people against what he describes as an arrogant Civic Platform municipal elite.
    Trzaskowski, a long-time EU emissary for his party, says he wants his native Warsaw to remain “open, tolerant and European.”
    He accuses the PiS-run justice ministry, where Jaki is a deputy minister and which is at the heart of the government’s conflict with Brussels over court reforms, of policies that could lead Poland to leaving the EU.
    “It’s a straight road toward taking Poland out of the EU,” he said on Wednesday
.
    Like Orban’s Fidesz party in Hungary, PiS argues the powers of Brussels should be reined in, and accuses EU institutions of meddling in Poland’s internal affairs.
    “It’s depressing that the EU is so engaged in our politics.    I don’t think it should,” said Agnieszka Zdziuch, a 44-year-old office worker in the town of Staszow in southern Poland.
    Voting starts at 7 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) and ends at 9 p.m., exit poll results are expected shortly afterwards. (Writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Ros Russell)

10/21/2018 Trump says U.S. to exit nuclear treaty, Russia warns of retaliation
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departure from Elko Regional Airport in Elko, Nevada, U.S., October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    ELKO, Nev/MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said Washington will exit the Cold-War era treaty that eliminated a class of nuclear weapons due to Russian violations, triggering a warning of retaliatory measures from Moscow.
    The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, required elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries.
    “Russia has not, unfortunately, honored the agreement so we’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters on Saturday after a rally in Nevada.
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Sunday that a unilateral U.S. withdrawal would be “very dangerous” and lead to a “military-technical” retaliation.
    U.S. authorities believe Moscow is developing and has deployed a ground-launched system in breach of the INF treaty that could allow it to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice.    Russia has consistently denied any such violation.
    Trump said the United States will develop the weapons unless Russia and China agree to a halt on development.
    China is not a party to the treaty and has invested heavily in conventional missiles, while the INF has banned U.S possession of ground- launched ballistic missiles or cruise missiles of ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (311 and 3,418 miles).
    Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, will visit Moscow next week.
    Ryabkov, in comments reported by state-controlled RIA news agency, said if the United States withdrew, Russia would have no choice but to retaliate, including taking unspecified measures of a “military-technical nature.”
    “But we would rather things did not get that far,” RIA quoted him as saying.
    TASS news agency quoted him as saying withdrawal “would be a very dangerous step,” and it was Washington and not Moscow that was failing to comply with the treaty.
    He said the Trump administration was using the treaty in an attempt to blackmail the Kremlin, putting global security at risk. “…We will, of course, accept no ultimatums or blackmail methods,” Interfax quoted him as saying.
    British defense minister Gavin Williamson, in comments reported by the Financial Times, said London stood “resolute” behind Washington over the issue, and that the Kremlin was making a mockery of the agreement.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Polina Devitt; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/21/2018 Poland’s ruling PiS leads in local vote: exit poll
People attend the Polish regional elections, at a polling station in Warsaw, Poland, October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party has secured the highest number of provincial assembly seats in a regional election on Sunday, an exit poll showed.
    The poll by Ipsos pollster showed the conservative PiS winning 32.3 percent in the vote for provincial assembly members, against 24.7 percent for a coalition of centrist parties.
    A centrist candidate for mayor of capital Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, was set to win the race against PiS’ Patryk Jaki.
(Reporting by Warsaw Newsroom)

10/22/2018 Key U.S.-Russian nuclear treaty in question amid rising tensions by OAN Newsroom
    A cornerstone U.S.-Russian nuclear arms treaty appears to be falling apart amid bitter accusations of alleged violations from both sides.
    Over the weekend, Russia’s Vladimir Putin said he believes U.S. deployment of missile defense systems in Eastern Europe over the past 15-years contradicts the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty — also known as INF.
    “When it comes to Europe, we are talking about offensive infrastructure being created there,” said Putin.    “We’re talking a violation from the U.S. side of the articles of the 1987 INF Treaty.”
    Putin’s remarks come in response to President Trump saying Moscow has not held up their part of the bargain.
    “We’ve honored the agreement, but Russia has not unfortunately honored the agreement,” the president told reporters.    “So, we’re going to terminate the agreement, we’re going to pull out.”
    The INF treaty was signed back in 1987 to aid mutual disarmament and better U.S.-Russian relations at the end of Cold War.
FILE – In this Dec. 8, 1987 file photo U.S. President Ronald Reagan, right, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev exchange pens
during the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signing ceremony in the White House East Room in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Bob Daugherty, File)
    However, the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe over the past 20-years has prompted Russia to move its missiles closer to its western border, leading the two countries to where they are today.
    “Now it could be worse than the Cold War, because Putin belongs to a generation that hasn’t seen a major war — these people aren’t as much fearful of war as the people of Brezhnev’s Politburo,” commented political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.
    President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton will visit Moscow yet again next week in what some see as a last-ditch effort to save the agreement.
    The Russian side has claimed U.S. accusations of treaty violations lack evidence.    The Kremlin also challenged President Trump’s claims of America’s full compliance with the accord despite repeated calls for talks.
    “The most plausible assessment is that Russia is in violation of the INF treaty.    We call on Russia to address our serious concerns.” — Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General
    Some military experts have pointed out that there is but one clear beneficiary of this ongoing diplomatic rift.
    Mainland China has produced hundreds of intermediate range missiles since the INF went into effect in the late 1980s.    While Russia and the U.S. have been engaged in mutual blame, Beijing extended its influence and military presence far beyond its national borders.
    “We are concerned about the militarization of the features in the South China Sea,” stated U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis.
    A U.S. withdrawal from the INF could reportedly take place before the end of the year.

10/22/2018 Russia pledges to act to ‘restore’ military balance if U.S. quits nuclear arms pact by Andrew Osborn and Maxim Rodionov
National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Monday it would be forced to respond in kind to restore the military balance with the United States if President Donald Trump carried through on a threat to quit a landmark nuclear arms treaty and began developing new missiles.
    But Russia also signaled it may be willing to give some ground, with a senior Kremlin official telling Trump’s national security advisor that Russia was ready to address U.S. concerns about how the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was being implemented.
    Trump drew a warning of “military-technical” retaliation from Moscow after saying on Saturday that Washington would withdraw from the Cold War-era pact which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles.
    Signed by then-President Ronald Reagan and reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 at a time of unprecedented East-West detente, the INF treaty required the elimination of all short-range and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both countries in Europe.
    Its demise could raise the prospect of a renewed arms race, and Gorbachev, now a frail 87-year-old, has warned that unraveling it could have catastrophic consequences.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday called Trump’s withdrawal plan a matter of deep concern for Moscow.
    “Such measures can make the world more dangerous,” he said during a daily conference call with reporters.
    Despite repeated Russian denials, U.S. authorities believe Moscow is developing and has deployed a ground-launched system in breach of the treaty that could allow it to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice.
    Trump said the United States would develop equivalent weapons unless Russia and China agreed to a halt in development.    China is not a party to the treaty.
    Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had repeatedly warned that the demise of the treaty would force Moscow to take specific military steps to protect its own security.
    “Scrapping the provisions of the INF treaty forces Russia to take measures for its own security because what does scrapping the INF treaty mean?,” said Peskov.
    “It means that the United States is not disguising, but is openly starting to develop these systems in the future, and if these systems are being developed, then actions are necessary from other countries, in this case Russia, to restore balance in this sphere.”
BOLTON IN MOSCOW
    Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, on a visit to Moscow, had talks with Nikolai Patrushev, the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council.
    In a statement issued afterwards via Russia’s TASS news agency, the Security Council said Patrushev had emphasized Russia’s view that the INF treaty should be retained, and tearing it up would undermine international arms control.
    “The Russian side … confirmed their readiness to work jointly in the interests of removing mutual grievances about the implementation of the agreement,” the statement said.
    Bolton was due to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Monday, and to see Putin on Tuesday.
    Peskov said Trump’s decision to quit the pact would be a subject for discussion with Bolton, and that Moscow was looking for a detailed explanation as to why Washington had decided to turn its back on the treaty.
    The INF treaty required the United States and the Soviet Union to forego all nuclear ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km, eliminating an entire category of weapon.
    The Soviet Union scrapped hundreds of SS-20 ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads which had a range of 5,500 km, as a result.    Many of them had been pointed at Europe.
    NATO’s decision to station Cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles in Europe provoked waves of protests in the 1980s from anti-nuclear campaigners who felt their deployment would turn Europe into a potential nuclear battlefield.
EUROPEAN ALARM
    The 28-member European Union called the INF treaty “a pillar of European security architecture” which had resulted in the destruction of almost 3,000 nuclear and conventional warheads and continued to play an important non-proliferation role.
    “The United States and the Russian Federation need to remain engaged in constructive dialogue to preserve the INF Treaty,” Maja Kocijancic, the bloc’s spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy, said in a statement.
    “The world doesn’t need a new arms race.”
    French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Trump on Sunday to stress the importance of the treaty, his office said on Monday.    The German government said it regretted Trump’s decision, saying NATO would now have to discuss the development.
    China also condemned Trump’s move on Monday, saying it was wrong to unilaterally pull out of the treaty.
    In Moscow, Peskov said there was a six-month period for Washington to withdraw from the INF treaty once it had given official notification it was leaving, something he noted it had not yet done.
    That meant the question of Russia acting to restore the military balance between Washington and Moscow was not “for today or tomorrow,” he said.
    Peskov denied U.S. accusations Russia had breached the treaty, alleging that the United States was the one at fault and had been steadily undermining it.
    “Putin has said many times that the United States de facto is taking measures that are eroding the conditions of this treaty,” said Peskov, referring to strike drones and anti-missile systems capable of destroying short- and intermediate-range rockets.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Joseph Nasr in Berlin, Sudip Kar-Gupta, and by Michael Martina in Beijing; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Christian Lowe; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

10/23/2018 National Security Adviser John Bolton confident Russia violated treaty by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump is expected to hold another meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin after the midterm elections.
    During his visit to Moscow this week, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced another Trump-Putin summit will take place on Sunday, November 11 in Paris.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S. National security adviser John Bolton during their meeting
in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
    This comes as Bolton defended the president’s claim Russia violated its nuclear arms treaty with the U.S., which prohibits the country from developing certain nuclear ballistic and cruise missiles.
    He added, he doubts Russia will change its behavior considering it has consistently denied the claims.
    “We concluded that Russia was determined to have intermediate range capability, and given that it has been Russia’s consistent position that they are not in violation of the arms control treaty, that you could, as some have suggested, bring Russia back into compliance, because if Russia says it’s not violating the INF treaty, what are they going to do to change their behavior to comply?” asked Bolton.
    The national security adviser also voiced concern over the possibility Iran, China and North Korea are currently producing nuclear missiles capable of reaching the U.S.

10/24/2018 Russia and U.S. discussed possible Putin visit to Washington: Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton
at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and the United States have discussed the possibility of President Vladimir Putin visiting Washington next year, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
    Peskov said that such a possibility was briefly touched upon during a visit by U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton to Moscow this week.    No specific plans had yet been arranged, Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
    U.S. President Donald Trump and Putin plan to meet in Paris next month, officials said on Tuesday, their first encounter since a summit in Helsinki that unleashed a storm of criticism that Trump was cozying up to the Kremlin.
(Reporting and writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Maria Kiselyova/Andrew Osborn)

10/24/2018 Russia’s Putin says will respond in kind if U.S. withdraws from INF arms treaty
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a meeting with Italian businessmen at the Kremlin in Moscow,
Russia October 24, 2018. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that if the United States decides to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty, Russia will have to respond in kind, and will do so very quickly and effectively.
    “If the United States does withdraw from the INF treaty, the main question is what they will do with these newly available missiles.    If they will deliver them to Europe, naturally our response will have to mirror this,” Putin said.
(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova, Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

10/24/2018 Romania justice minister calls for dismissal of prosecutor general
FILE PHOTO: Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader gestures while talking to media representatives minutes
before delivering a news conference in Bucharest, Romania, February 22, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian Justice Minister Tudorel Toader called on Wednesday for the dismissal of Prosecutor General Augustin Lazar, accusing him of exceeding his authority.
    It is the latest move by the ruling Social Democrat Party to change judicial legislation and replace staff, raising concern over the rule of law at the European Union and among diplomats.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/25/2018 Putin says Russia will target nations that host US missiles
    Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that if the United States deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Russia will target the nations that would host them.
    The stern statement follows President Donald Trump’s announcement over the weekend that he intends to opt out of a 1987 nuclear arms control pact over alleged Russian violations.
    Putin said he hoped the U.S. wouldn’t follow up by positioning intermediate- range missiles in Europe.    Such a move would be a repeat of a 1980s Cold War showdown, he said.

10/25/2018 Soros university says it being forced out of Hungary, mulls move
People are seen in front of the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s Central European University, a graduate school founded by U.S. financier George Soros, said it was being forced out of the country by the nationalist government and would switch to enrolling new students in Vienna if it did not get guarantees of academic freedom by Dec. 1.
    The U.S. billionaire, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, has been the subject of a campaign by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.    Earlier this year, his charitable Open Society Foundations was forced to leave Hungary.
    Thursday’s move by CEU, which was quickly dismissed as a “political ploy” by the government, could deepen a rift between Orban and the European Commission, which has challenged his higher education reforms in the European Court of Justice.
    A change last year to national law on education which withdrew the right to operate from foreign-registered universities that did not also offer courses in their home country was widely seen as explicitly targeting CEU.
    The CEU offers graduate-level courses taught in English and is frequently ranked as the top university in Hungary.    The prospect last year that it might be driven from Hungary drew street protests and international criticism.
    The university’s statement on Thursday said the Orban government had kept it in legal limbo for more than a year by failing to reach a formal agreement on its status.
    “We cannot operate legally in Hungary as a free, U.S. accredited institution.    We are being forced out of a country that has been our home for 26 years,” CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff told a news conference.
    Orban regularly accuses the Hungarian-born Soros of plotting to destroy European civilization by flooding the continent with immigrants.    Soros says his support for refugees is one part of a wider humanitarian mission to back open societies around the globe.
    The government said Thursday’s announcement by the CEU to relocate operations in Vienna was “a Soros-style political ploy” and it does not concern itself with such matters.
    U.S. Ambassador to Budapest David B. Cornstein said in a statement that the CEU remained a priority for the U.S. government and had overwhelming bipartisan support in the United States
    “There is a small window to resolve this, but it needs to happen fast,” he said.
    The government accuses the CEU of operating without full legal compliance.    CEU says it has taken all steps required to comply.
    The statement by the university said it would enroll new students in U.S. degrees at its Vienna campus in 2019 if its legal status in Hungary was not resolved by Dec. 1, though it would try to maintain as much research and educational activity in Budapest as possible.
    Ignatieff said CEU’s board of trustees set the December deadline to give a chance for Cornstein to make a final effort to work out a compromise.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, Krisztina Than and David Ljunggren; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

10/26/2018 U.S. has put all necessary sanctions on Russia over 2008 Georgia war -Trump adviser
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton adjusts glasses during a news briefing
following his meetings with Georgian officials in Tbilisi, Georgia October 26, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
    TBILISI (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Friday that Washington had taken all necessary sanctions against Russia related to a war it fought against Georgia in 2008.
    The war resulted in Russia recognizing two breakaway Georgian regions — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — as independent states.
    Bolton, who held talks in Moscow earlier this week, has said Washington is in the process of deciding whether it will impose additional sanctions on Russia over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain.
(Reporting by Margarita Antidze; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

10/26/2018 National Security Adviser: Vladimir Putin to visit White House sometime in beginning of 2019 by OAN Newsroom
    National Security Adviser John Bolton has confirmed the president will welcome Russian leader Vladimir Putin to the White House.
    During a press conference in the country of Georgia Friday, Bolton said President Trump and the Russian president are expecting to hold a bilateral meeting in Washington following a summit in Paris next month.
    Bolton also revealed the president is planning to host Putin at the White House sometime beginning next year, saying the leaders will likely discuss the conflict between Georgia and the Kremlin.
U.S. National security adviser John Bolton adjusts his glasses while speaking to the media during a news briefing
following his meetings with Georgian officials in Tbilisi, Georgia, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Shakh Aivazov)
    “We have invited President Putin to Washington after the first of the year for, basically, a full day of consultations,” announced the national security adviser.    “What the scheduling of that is we don’t quite know yet.”
    Bolton also said Washington is mulling adding additional sanctions against Russia over its hand in the poisoning of Russia agent Sergei Skripal.

10/27/2018 Russia’s Putin, France’s Macron spoke by phone ahead of Istanbul talks: Interfax
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte
following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 24, 2018. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and France’s President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone ahead of a four-way summit in Istanbul on Saturday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.
    Putin and Macron are due to meet Germany’s Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan to discuss developments in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and the political process for resolution of the conflict.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/27/2018 Turkish foreign minister met Russian counterpart ahead of Syria summit: CNN Turk
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a press conference in Ankara, Turkey, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov ahead of the four-way summit on Syria to be held in Istanbul on Saturday, private broadcaster CNN Turk said, without providing any details.
    Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan are due to meet in Istanbul later to discuss the latest developments in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province and the political process for the resolution of the conflict.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/27/2018 Russia’s Putin spoke to Turkey’s Erdogan ahead of wider Syria talks: Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines
of Syria summit in Istanbul, Turkey October 27, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on Saturday ahead of wider Syria talks to be attended by Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin said in a statement.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/28/2018 Czechs celebrate centenary with largest military parade since communist era by Robert Muller
Soldiers participate in a memorial ceremony marking 100th anniversary of the 1918 creation
of the Czechoslovak independent state, at Prague's Vitkov hill, the Czech Republic October 28, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic marked 100 years since the creation of Czechoslovakia on Sunday with the biggest military parade in its post-communist history, highlighting a weekend of celebrations.
    More than 4,000 military personnel took part in the event, which saw tanks and artillery roll down Evropska (European) Street, one of Prague’s main boulevards that once bore the name of Vladimir Lenin, founder of the Communist regime in Russia.
    In a unique gesture, troops from NATO allies Britain, France, Italy and the United States joined the parade, watched by crowds lining the boulevard in wet, chilly weather. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also attended.
    Before Czechoslovakia was made a country in the final weeks of World War One, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.    It remained a country until 1993 when it split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
    Sunday’s parade, which included a flypass by JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets, was the showcase event of Prague’s centennial weekend which also featured concerts, the re-opening of the National Museum after a three-year renovation, visits by foreign leaders and a state medal ceremony due to be hosted by President Milos Zeman at Prague Castle on Sunday evening.
    The country fell under four decades of communist rule dictated by the Soviet Union shortly after World War Two.    That came to an end following peaceful demonstrations in 1989 in what became know as the Velvet Revolution.
    Since its split from Slovakia in 1993, the Czech Republic has become richer, joined the NATO military alliance in 1999 and became a member of the European Union in 2004.    The Czech Army today numbers 24,000 troops.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Susan Fenton)

10/29/2018 Russia sends officials to Venezuela to advise on crisis reforms
A vendor uses a point-of-sale (POS) device as people wait in line at a vegetable and fruit stall
at a street market in Caracas, Venezuela October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has sent a high-level official delegation to Venezuela, including a deputy finance minister, to help advise the cash-strapped country on economic reform at a time of crisis, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Finance said on Monday.
    Almost 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015, driven out by food and medicine shortages and violent crime with inflation running at 200,000 percent and the OPEC nation’s oil production hitting a 28-year low in 2017.
    Russian oil major Rosneft said in August Venezuela owed it $3.6 billion, while Moscow and Caracas last year signed a debt restructuring deal that allowed Venezuela to pay Russia back a total of $3.15 billion over a decade.
    Andrei Lavrov, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, said on Monday that Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak was due to take part in a meeting with Venezuelan government officials in Caracas on Tuesday.
    Russian officials from the central bank and the Ministry of Economy would also attend, he said, saying Venezuela had invited the Russian experts to take part in a meeting tasked with drafting economic reform measures at a time of crisis.
    “Venezuela’s government asked (Russia) to send relevant employees from Russian government ministries to share their experience of economic reform,” said Lavrov.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya, writing by Denis Pinchuk, editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/30/2018 Russia’s only aircraft carrier damaged after floating dock sinks
A view shows a shipyard following an incident, which involved the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov (not pictured)
and a floating dock (R), in the town of Roslyakovo near Murmansk, Russia October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s only aircraft carrier was damaged while undergoing repairs in the north of the country after the floating dock holding it sank in the early hours of Tuesday morning and a crane crashed onto its deck.
    The Admiral Kuznetsov has seen action in Russia’s military campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad with its planes carrying out air strikes against rebel forces.
    It was being overhauled on one of the world’s biggest floating docks in the icy waters of the Kola Bay near Murmansk close to where Russia’s Northern Fleet is based and was due to go back into service in 2021.
    Maria Kovtun, Murmansk’s governor, said in a statement that a rescue operation had been launched and 71 people evacuated after the floating dock holding the ship had begun to sink.
    The warship had been successfully extracted from the dock before it completely sank, she said.
    Investigators, who said they had opened a criminal investigation into the incident that would look at whether safety rules had been violated, said one person was missing and four others were being treated for hypothermia after being plucked out of the water.
    Alexei Rakhmanov, head of Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation, told the TASS news agency that the ship’s hull and deck had been damaged, although what he called the vessel’s vitally important parts had not been harmed.
    Yevgeny Gladyshev, a spokesman for the shipbuilding factory which operated the floating dock, told the RIA news agency that unspecified equipment had been damaged but that much of the deck had been spared because it had been removed during repairs.
    The floating dock had been hit by a power outage which had caused its water tanks to fill up rapidly, prompting it to sink, the factory said.
    The Admiral Kuznetsov gained notoriety in Britain when then Secretary of Defence Michael Fallon dubbed it the “ship of shame” in 2017 when it passed through waters close to the English coast on its way back from the Mediterranean belching black smoke.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/30/2018 NATO’s Stoltenberg calls on Russia to comply with INF nuclear treaty
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
    OSLO (Reuters) – Russia’s deployment of new nuclear-capable missiles in Europe is jeopardizing a key arms control treaty that helped end the Cold War, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference in Norway on Tuesday.
    President Donald Trump said on Oct. 20 that Washington planned to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, signed in 1987, amid what he sees as Russian violations of the agreement.
    “The problem is the deployment of new Russian missiles.    There are no new U.S. missiles in Europe, but there are more Russian missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and those missiles put the INF treaty in jeopardy,” Stoltenberg said.
    “Therefore we call on Russia to ensure that they are in full and transparent compliance with the INF treaty,” he added.
(Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, writing by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Fouche)

10/30/2018 Kremlin says Turkey doing its best to fulfill Idlib obligations
FILE PHOTO: Newly displaced Syrian children arrive at a refugee camp in Atimah village,
Idlib province, Syria September 11, 2018. REUTERS/ Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkey is doing its best to fulfill difficult obligations on establishing a demilitarized zone in Idlib, and Russia does not see a threat the agreement would fail, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday.
    “We don’t see a threat so far… Unfortunately, not everything is going as it was planned,” Peskov told a conference call on Tuesday.
    He also said that Moscow would inform Syrian officials about the outcome of a summit on Syria in Istanbul between Germany, France, Turkey and Russia.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; editing by John Stonestreet)

10/31/2018 Blast near FSB security service office in northern Russia kills one: TASS
Emergencies Ministry members, law enforcement officers and investigators work at the site of an explosion at an
office of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in the city of Arkhangelsk, Russia October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Yakovlev/29.ru
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – An explosion near an office of Russia’s Federal Security Service in northern Russia killed one and injured three people on Wednesday, Russian state news agency TASS reported, citing the local governor.
    The cause of the blast in the city of Arkhangelsk was not yet known, TASS said.
(Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/31/2018 Austria says will not sign global migration pact
FILE PHOTO: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to the media as he arrives
at the European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria will follow the United States and Hungary in backing out of a United Nations pact on migration over concerns that it will blur the line between legal and illegal migration, the right-wing government told media on Wednesday.
    The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved in July by all 193 U.N. member nations except the United States, which backed out last year.
    Hungary’s right-wing government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a hard-liner on immigration, has said it will not sign the final document at a ceremony in Morocco in December.
    Poland, which has also clashed with Brussels by resisting national quotas for asylum seekers, is considering the same step.
    “We have decided that we will not join the pact,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a conservative and an immigration hard-liner who governs in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, told ORF radio.
    Austria will not send an envoy to the signing ceremony in Morocco and will abstain from a U.N. vote on the pact next year, ORF and news agency APA said, citing Kurz and far-right Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, adding that the cabinet would formally approve the move on Wednesday.
    “We will therefore abstain in the vote at the U.N. General Assembly in the year 2019,” Kurz told ORF.    He and Strache expressed concerns about the pact this month, saying it could restrict sovereignty
    Government officials were not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa; Editing by Tassilo Hummel in Berlin and Clarence Fernandez)

10/31/2018 Russia opens terrorism investigation after teenager blows himself up by Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova
Emergencies Ministry members, law enforcement officers and investigators work at the site of an explosion at an office of
Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in the city of Arkhangelsk, Russia October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Yakovlev/29.ru
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia opened an investigation into suspected terrorism after a 17-year-old youth blew himself up on Wednesday in the lobby of an office belonging to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) in the north of the country.
    Russia’s Investigative Committee said the unnamed teenager had detonated a homemade bomb in the lobby of the FSB, the country’s main domestic security and intelligence service, in the city of Arkhangelsk.    It said he had died on the spot.
    Investigators said they had identified the teenager as a resident of the city, which is around 1,000 km (620 miles) north of Moscow, but did not name him.
    Three FSB employees were wounded in the blast, the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
    It published what it said was a CCTV image of the bomber in the lobby of the building.    The picture showed a young man with his right hand inside a bag that he was holding with his left hand.
    Russia’s Anti-Terrorist Committee said the teenager had removed the bomb from his bag which had then gone off in his hands shortly afterwards, fatally injuring him.
    Violent attacks on the police and FSB occur regularly in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region but are rare outside it.
    Pictures posted on social media by witnesses after the blast showed what looked like a body lying on the floor outside the FSB building’s heavy wooden entrance doors.
    A spokeswoman for the Investigative Committee said the investigation would be handled by Moscow and that Russia’s top investigator, Alexander Bastrykin, wanted the teenager’s motive and other details to be established as soon as possible.
    Svetlana Petrenko, the spokeswoman, said the bomber’s flat was being searched and that his friends and close relatives were being questioned.    She said checks would also be carried out to establish whether he was a member of any banned militant group.
    Russian media had earlier published an unconfirmed warning posted on social media before the blast by someone purporting to be the bomber.    The individual described himself as a communist anarchist and said he had decided to act because he said the FSB was fabricating cases and torturing people.
    Earlier this month, an 18-year-old student killed at least 19 people and injured dozens at a college in the Black Sea region of Crimea.    He went through the building randomly shooting at fellow pupils before killing himself.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Kuzmin; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/1/2018 Russia imposes financial sanctions on Ukraine’s political elite
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arrives at the
ASEM leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia imposed sweeping financial sanctions on Ukraine’s political elite on Thursday, freezing the Russian assets of hundreds of politicians and dozens of businesses owned by major Ukrainian businessmen.
    The sanctions were set out in a decree signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday and were described as counter-sanctions drawn up in response to Ukrainian measures against Moscow.
    The decree said 322 individuals and 68 businesses were affected, including President Petro Poroshenko’s son and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/1/2018 Traitors or Russian agents? Clergy caught in Ukraine church row by Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk
Ukrainian Orthodox church metropolitan Oleksandr conducts a Sunday service
at the Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Priests like Metropolitan Oleksandr face a choice: join Ukraine’s new independent church and be labeled a renegade by supporters of his own church, or stay away, and risk being branded a Russian agent.
    It is a decision facing thousands of clerics as Ukraine prepares to sever ties to the Russian Orthodox Church going back to 1686.
    For the Ukrainian authorities it is an essential step to tackling Russia’s malign influence on its soil, four years after Russia annexed Crimea and backed separatists in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.
    It may also help President Petro Poroshenko, who championed the split, shore up support in a tight election race next year.
    But the move is opposed by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church, which compared it to the Great Schism of 1054 that split western and eastern Christianity.
    Metropolitan Oleksandr, a member of the traditionally dominant Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), wants to join the new church because of what he calls its poisonous association with the Russian state.
    “We love Russians, we love Russia, but we don’t love those who have unleashed a war on the part of Russia and who are feeding it today,” he said in an interview.
    He echoes critics who call his church a tool used by Moscow to justify Russian expansionism and support the separatists.
    Oleksandr compares setting up the new church to removing a diseased body part by surgery.    “The surgical method is painful, but it must be done in the end in order for the body to begin to recover,” the 41-year-old said.
    His stance comes at a price.
    The Moscow Patriarchate has labeled those wanting to join the new church as “schismatics.”    A high-ranking official, Metropolitan Antoniy, said joining the new church would be a betrayal.
    In May, the Moscow Patriarchate censured Oleksandr for “obscene” behavior and told him to stop making public statements that could lead his followers into temptation.
    Separately a video, watched more than 100,000 times on YouTube, called him a “traitor” and portrayed him as corrupt, soft on gay rights and involved in the abduction of two nuns.
    Oleksandr, who regularly puts up photos and videos of his services on Facebook, reposted the video to his 12,000 followers to show what his opponents were up to.
POLITICAL GAME
    Ukraine in October secured approval to set up an independent church from the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, the global spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians.
    The next step is for Ukraine’s various church strands to meet to decide the make-up of the church and who will lead it.
    The Russian Orthodox Church retaliated by breaking off all ties with Istanbul and accused the United States of engineering the split behind the scenes.    President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned of “painful consequences.”
    Patriarch Kirill of Moscow called the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s support for an independent Ukrainian church “shameless.”
    He said Orthodox unity could be preserved only through the “resistance of our people, our clergy, our episcopate, to every mean trick, to every heresy, to every schism.”
    Ukraine and Russia trace their Orthodox Christian roots to Volodymyr the Great, the prince whose baptism in 988 in Kiev led to the christianization of the region known as the “Kievan Rus.”
    The Moscow Patriarchate, which is aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, earlier dominated in Ukraine but has been challenged by a rival known as the Kiev Patriarchate formed after the 1991 break-up of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.
    Support for the Kiev Patriarchate swelled after the annexation of Crimea.    It supports church independence and Ukraine’s closer integration with the West.
    Oleksandr estimates between 40-70 percent of Moscow Patriarchate churches will join the new church, though his parishioners have mixed views.    Some support it, while others, like Anna Trofimova, oppose it as a “political game.”
    Archbishop Kliment, spokesman for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), said in an interview that only a tiny fraction of his church’s believers wanted to switch across.
    Asked about the attacks on Oleksandr, Kliment said his church was itself the victim of a smear campaign.
    As an example, he cited Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin’s statement that his church had no place in Ukraine and suggested it root out Russian agents in its ranks.
    Kliment said support for independence had not risen but the authorities were pushing for it “because in six months there will be presidential elections.”
(Additional reporting by Margaryta Chornokondratenko; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

11/1/2018 U.N. urges end to U.S. embargo on Cuba, U.S. raises rights concerns by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at a press briefing
at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted its 27th annual resolution calling for an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba after a failed bid by Washington to amend the text to push Cuba to improve its human rights record.
    The U.N. vote can carry political weight, but only the U.S. Congress can lift the more than 50-year-old embargo.    The United States and Israel voted against the resolution, 189 countries voted in favor and Ukraine and Moldova did not vote.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the General Assembly that the resolution was an opportunity for countries “to feel they can poke the United States in the eye.”
    “But you’re not hurting the United States when you do this.    You are literally hurting the Cuban people by telling the regime that their treatment of their people is acceptable,” she said ahead of the vote.
    The United States consistently voted against the U.N. resolutions for 24 years but abstained for the first time in 2016 under former President Barack Obama, as Washington and Havana forged a closer relationship.
    But relations have deteriorated sharply since President Donald Trump took office in January 2017, returning to Cold War characterizations of Cuba and tightening trade and travel restrictions that had been eased by Obama.
    The United States voted against the U.N. resolution last year along with its ally Israel.    The General Assembly’s remaining 191 members voted in favor.
    This year, the United States proposed eight amendments to the resolution, including calling on Cuba to “fully grant its citizens internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information.”
    But all of the amendments failed after more than 113 countries voted against them.    Only the United States, Israel and Ukraine voted in favor of all eight amendments.    More than 65 countries abstained.
    Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Thursday the U.S. government lacked the “moral authority” to criticize Cuba and others on human rights.
    “The embargo is a violation of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law,” he said before the vote.    “It is an act of aggression and an act of economic war, which disrupts international peace and order.”
    Last month, the United States launched a campaign at the United Nations that it said was designed to highlight the plight of Cuban political prisoners.    Protesting Cuban and Bolivian diplomats drowned out the launch by shouting, chanting and banging their hands on desks.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

11/1/2018 Germany will back extension of sanctions against Russia: Merkel
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend a meeting at
Mariinsky palace in Kiev, Ukraine November 1, 2018. Mikhail Palinchak/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KIEV (Reuters) – Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Germany would push for an extension of Western sanctions against Russia in December because Moscow had failed to fully implement a Ukraine peace deal brokered in Minsk in 2015.
    “The Minsk agreement is not being fulfilled and we’re only making inching progress if at all and sometimes we’re going backwards,” Merkel said during a visit to Kiev, where she met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
    “So based on the situation we have today, Germany will push for an extension of the sanctions in December too,” she said, adding that among the violations of the Minsk peace deal were elections planned for Nov. 11 in areas controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
(Reporting by Reuters Television; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Thomas Escritt)

11/1/2018 Czech PM says he dislikes U.N. migration pact, wants to pull out
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives at the
European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Thursday he wanted to pull the Czech Republic out of a United Nations migration agreement and would discuss this with his governing coalition partner.
    Babis expressed his dislike of the pact a day after Austria said it would follow the United States and Hungary in backing out of the U.N. pact over concerns that it would blur the line between legal and illegal migration.
    A minister in Poland’s arch-conservative government has also recommended his country quit the agreement.
    The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved in July by all 193 U.N. member nations except U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which backed out last year.    The pact is due to be signed next month in Morocco.
    Babis told lawmakers during a Q&A session in parliament that he disliked the agreement and said nobody but the Czech Republic would decide on migration into the country.    He said he shared fears that the difference between legal and illegal migration was becoming blurred.
    “I do not like the pact,” he said, according to a parliamentary transcript of the debate, when asked whether his government would sign the deal.
    “There are issues that can be interpreted in various ways.    I will be proposing to my partners in government that we act in the same way as Austria or Hungary.”
    The Czechs have stood with central European neighbors such as Hungary and Poland in maintaining a hardline anti-immigrant stance during the course of the European Union’s struggle to stem migration to the bloc by migrants fleeing conflict and deprivation, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.
    Central European states refused to endorse a Brussels-prescribed quota system to share asylum seekers among all EU member states, a plan dropped earlier this year.
(Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

11/1/2018 U.S. Energy Secretary Perry to visit Ukraine and Poland
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry addresses the media after the talks with
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak in Moscow, Russia September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry will visit Ukraine, Poland and other eastern European countries next week as the Trump administration seeks to offer them alternatives to buying coal and gas from Russia.
    Perry will also visit Hungary and the Czech Republic on the trip.    He will meet with government officials on topics from nuclear energy to cyber security and coal and liquefied natural gas exports, the Department of Energy said in a release on Thursday.
    The Trump administration is seeking foreign markets for coal as domestic consumption has dropped to the lowest level since 1983 due to closures of coal-fired power plants that are suffering from abundant, cheap supplies of natural gas.
    In July, 2017 Centrenergo PJSC, one of the largest power companies in Ukraine, agreed to buy 700,000 tons of U.S. coal.
    Last month, Poland’s top natural gas company, PGNiG, finalized the terms of a deal to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) from U.S. company Venture Global LNG, as part of a move to cut reliance on Russia.
    Poland has relied on Russia’s Gazprom for more than half of its gas under a long-term deal that expires in 2022.
    The United States is touting its LNG as more reliable than pipelined gas from Russia, but LNG is more expensive because of the costs of shipping and super-cooling the fuel to the point where it becomes a liquid.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler)

11/2/2018 Cuba lashes out at Trump administration over new sanctions by Marc Frank
Cuba's Foreign Ministry’s director of U.S. affairs Carlos Fernandez de Cossio
speaks during a news conference in Havana, Cuba, November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba on Friday said new sanctions planned by the United States were a futile attempt to change its policies and would only further isolate Washington internationally.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, announced on Thursday that more than two dozen Cuban companies associated with the Communist-run island’s military or intelligence would be added to the more than 100 that Americans are already banned from doing business with or patronizing.
    The announcement came just an hour after 189 member countries of the United Nations called in a resolution for an end to the U.S. economic embargo on Cuba.    Washington tried without success to amend the text to push Cuba to improve its human rights record.
    The U.N. vote can carry political weight, but only the U.S. Congress can lift the more than 50-year-old embargo, which Cuba calls a blockade.    The United States and Israel voted against the resolution.
    Bolton outlined the Trump administration’s plans to get tougher on Cuba and its allies Venezuela and Nicaragua in Miami, the heart of the three countries’ exile communities, just days before the midterm U.S. congressional elections.
    “We energetically reject these measures which will impact the economy and country’s development on top of the impact of the economic blockade,” the director of U.S. affairs at the foreign ministry, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, said at a Havana press conference.
    “They will fail.    They will not break the will of Cubans,” he said.
    Trump has taken a harder line on Cuba after former President Barack Obama sought to set aside decades of hostility between Washington and Havana.    He has rolled back parts of Obama’s 2014 detente by tightening rules on Americans traveling to the island and restricting U.S. companies from doing business there.
    Bolton also said the administration would review whether to allow U.S. citizens whose property was seized by the Cuban government to sue foreign companies that have invested in the properties on the island, a longstanding demand of hard line exiles.
    The measure is part of the Helms-Burton Act, which codified all U.S. sanctions against Cuba into law in 1996.    It has been waived by various presidents ever since due to opposition from the international community.
    Fernandez de Cossio said such a measure would be unprecedented and violate international law, further isolating the United States.
    “There is no possibility whatsoever for people who abandoned Cuba and abandoned property in Cuba to come back and claim them,” he said.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Tom Brown)

11/3/2018 Russia to host talks with Afghan leaders, Taliban delegation
FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference
in Kabul, Afghanistan July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Saturday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had agreed to send a group of senior politicians to peace talks in Moscow, at which a delegation representing the Taliban would be present.
    Russia in August proposed holding multilateral peace talks in Moscow, and invited 12 countries and the Taliban to attend a summit the following month.    But the meeting was postponed after Ghani rejected the invitation on the grounds that talks with the Taliban should be led by the Afghan government.
    In a statement on Saturday, Russia’s foreign ministry said the talks were now confirmed to be held on Nov. 9.
    “It will be the first time that a delegation from the Taliban’s political office in Doha will attend such a high-level international meeting,” the foreign ministry said.
    The ministry has invited several other countries to send representatives, including India, Iran, Pakistan, China and the United States.
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Alexander Smith)

11/4/2018 Cuba lowers economic growth forecast as trade continues to drop by Marc Frank
FILE PHOTO: A Cuban flag decorates a subsidised state store, or "bodega", where Cubans can buy
basic products with a ration book they receive annually from the government,
in downtown Havana, Cuba November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini/File photo/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Communist-run Cuba’s economic growth will come in at around 1 percent this year, compared with the 2 percent previously forecast, due to a fall in exports and tourism revenue, state-run media reported over the weekend.
    The Caribbean island’s gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent last year and 0.5 percent in 2016.
    Economy and Planning Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez reportedly told a council of ministers meeting that the lowered GDP growth forecast for this year was due to “less than expected revenues from activities such as tourism, the harvest (sugar) and mining (nickel),” three key revenue sources for Cuba.
    Gil said austerity measures, which began in 2016, would continue into 2019.    They include cuts in energy and fuel to state companies and reduced imports of consumer goods and inputs for the economy.
    Cuba’s economy is notoriously inefficient and dependent on foreign revenues.    The government also spends a large amount of its revenue on the country’s free healthcare system, education and other services.
    The Trump administration is also tightening sanctions on Cuba that have been in place for more than a half a century and which were loosened a bit under former U.S. President Barack Obama.
    Some economists have estimated that Cuba’s import dependence is as much as 17 cents for every dollar of product produced.
    Cuba’s GDP fell 35 percent in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, which supported the country financially during the Cold War.
    The rise of Hugo Chavez and his Venezuelan socialist revolution led to a partial revival of the Cuban economy as Venezuelan oil was sold to Havana at favorable terms and Cuba sent doctors and other goods to its ally.    But the trade relationship has deteriorated due to Venezuela’s economic crisis and declining oil exports.
    Cuba’s export revenues have declined every year since 2014, even as debt payments mounted, offset somewhat by increased revenues from telecommunications and remittances, though those earnings are treated as state secrets.
    Combined exports and imports fell around 25 percent from 2013 through 2017, with imports dropping to $11.3 billion from $15.6 billion during that period, according to the government.
    In August, the government slapped a hold on already approved “non-essential” imports.country was piling up budget deficits to keep the economy growing.    Cuba’s budget deficit reached 8 billion pesos last year, nearly 9 percent of its GDP, Vidal said.
    “This helps stimulate growth, but by accumulating a financial bubble in the form of public bonds in the hands of state banks,” he said.    “It can’t go on forever.”
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)

11/5/2018 North Korea, Cuba to strengthen bilateral ties by OAN Newsroom
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel have agreed to strengthen bilateral ties.
    The two leaders discussed common issues of concern at a meeting in Pyongyang Sunday and committed to continuing solidarity.    North Korean officials described the talks as “friendly.”
In this Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018 photo released by the North Korean government,
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un raised joined hands,
during a welcome performance in Pyongyang, North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
    Both nations are hoping to eliminate U.S. imposed economic sanctions and reportedly bonded over their shared socialist values.
    “I want to take advantage of this situation by expressing our deepest gratitude to the party, the government and the people of Cuba, who have expressed their support and solidarity with our party, our people and in building a socialist power and for the reunification of the country,” stated Kim Jong Un.
    This comes after a meeting between Diaz-Canel and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who also agreed to expand ties with Cuba.

11/6/2018 Russia seen adopting new tactics in U.S. election interference efforts by Joseph Menn
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the state flag of Russia before a meeting of
Russian President Vladimir Putin with French President Emmanuel Macron
in St. Petersburg, Russia May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Russian agents believed to be connected to the government have been active in spreading divisive content and promoting extreme themes ahead of Tuesday’s U.S. mid-term elections, but they are working hard to cover their tracks, according to government investigators, academics and security firms.
    Researchers studying the spread of disinformation on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other platforms say the new, subtler tactics have allowed most of the so-called information operations campaigns to survive purges by the big social media companies and avoid government scrutiny.
    “The Russians are definitely not sitting this one out,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.    “They have adapted over time to increased (U.S.) focus on influence operations.”
    U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies say Russia used disinformation and other tactics to support President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
    The Russian government has rejected allegations of election interference.    On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman declined to comment on allegations of further meddling in the run-up to the mid-term elections.
    “We cannot react to some abstract cybersecurity analysts because we do not know who they are and whether they understand anything about cybersecurity,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
    He said Moscow expected no significant improvement to its strained ties with Washington after the vote.
    One clear sign of a continued Russian commitment to disrupting American political life came out in charges unsealed last month against a Russian woman who serves as an accountant at a St. Petersburg company known as the Internet Research Agency.
    After spending $12 million on a project to influence the U.S. election through social media in 2016, the company budgeted $12.2 million for last year and then proposed spending $10 million in just the first half of 2018, court filings showed.
    The indictment said the Internet Research Agency used fake social media accounts to post on both sides of politically charged issues including race, gun control and immigration.    The instructions were detailed, down to how to mock particular politicians during a specific news cycle.
    If the goals of spreading divisive content have remained the same, the methods have evolved in multiple ways, researchers say.    For one, there has been less reliance on pure fiction.    People have been sensitized to look for completely false stories, and Facebook has been using outside fact-checkers to at least slow their spread on its pages.
    “We’ve done a lot research on fake news and people are getting better at figuring out what it is, so it’s become less effective as a tactic,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, a former National Security Agency official who is now a threat analyst at the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future threat manager.
    Instead, Russian accounts have been amplifying stories and internet “memes” that initially came from the U.S. far left or far right.    Such postings seem more authentic, are harder to identify as foreign, and are easier to produce than made-up stories.
    Renee DiResta, director of research at security company New Knowledge, said her company had compiled a list of suspected Russian accounts on Facebook and Twitter that were similar to those suspended after the 2016 campaign.
    Some of them seized on the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court to rally conservatives, while others used memes from the leftist Occupy Democrats.    Some operators of the accounts in the collection established themselves as far-right pundits and had accounts on Gab, the social network favored by the far right.
    Brookie said that while the Russian accounts might jump on a hot topic, the payoff would often come by throwing in related issues.
    But that need not be necessary when the main topic is divisive enough.    Take the idea of “Blexit/i>,” a call for black Americans to exit the Democratic Party.    The Daily Beast said it captured 250,000 tweets with the Blexit hashtag during a 15-hour burst last week and found that 40,000 of them came from handles that had previously participated in Russian information campaigns.
    Though jumping on existing bandwagons is easier than what Russia did in 2016, other new tactics have been more complex.
    In the October indictment and an earlier operation uncovered by Facebook, records showed that the instigators used Facebook’s Messenger service to try to get others to buy advertisements for them and to recruit American radicals to promote real-world protests.
    Those moves allowed the Russians to evade strengthened detection systems and blend in with the crowd.
    “They are baiting Americans to drive more polarizing and vitriolic content,” Brookie said.    “Any given solution needs to focus on basing our politics on facts, first and foremost, and to focus on what holds our country closer together.”
(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco; Additional reporting by Katya Golubkova in Moscow; Editing by Jonathan Weber, Neil Fullick, Richard Balmforth)
[This is laughable in that the Democrats still believe that the Russian assumed collusion caused them to lose the 2016 elections.    The deplorables is what beat them by voting against their policies and that is why they took over the Senate and House also after 8 years of the Obama administration.    Its about time for you to look at yourself and quit blaming others for your own deficiencies.    After the recent F.I.S.A. incidents we should be concerned of our own goverment and the NSA issues of a created Russian collusion.]

11/6/2018 Kremlin declines comment on alleged meddling in U.S. mid-term election
A community gym in Smyrna set up for voters a day before the
U.S. midterm election in Smyrna, Georgia, U.S. November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on Tuesday declined to comment on allegations of interference in the United States’ mid-term elections.
    “We cannot react to some abstract cybersecurity analysts because we do not know who they are and whether they understand anything about cybersecurity,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/7/2018 New U.S. sanctions over chemical weapons would be ‘illegal’: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: The Russian flag flies over the Embassy of Russia in Washington, U.S., August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo November 7, 2018
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia would consider any new chemical weapons-related sanctions imposed by the United States to be illegal, a Kremlin spokesman said on Wednesday.
    The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it would impose additional sanctions on Russia after Moscow failed to give reasonable assurances it would not use chemical weapons after a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England.
    “We consider restrictions imposed by the United States against Russia illegal,” Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

11/7/2018 Hungary plans new courts overseen by minister, opposition cries foul
Hungarian Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi speaks to reporters on the sidelines
of a conference on legislative issues in Budapest, Hungary, September 20, 2018. REUTERS/Krisztina Than
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government set out plans on Tuesday to create new administrative courts overseen by the justice minister – a move the leftist opposition has said will limit the independence of the judiciary.
    The courts will deal with lawsuits about government business that are currently covered in the general legal system, according to the text of a bill to set them up posted on parliament’s website. Lawmakers will debate it later this year.
    The EU has criticized a series of legal measures pushed through by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, including the forced retirement of some judges.    In September the European Parliament voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption.    The government rejected the accusations.
    Hungary’s leftist opposition Democratic Coalition party said on Monday that the new courts, proposed by the government earlier this year, would let the ministers hand pick judges to hear legal challenges to state programs.
    “The government would end the independence of courts by setting up a new administrative court, in order to ensure that lawsuits against the state would land in the appropriate place, and the Orban regime would have the last say in the courts,” the leftist party said in a statement.
    Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi told state TV the opposition was “scaremongering.”
    In the text of the legislation, posted online on Tuesday night, he said other European countries had similar administrative courts – and the reforms would ensure the country had a “high quality of … administrative judiciary.”
    “The model will respect judges’ independence … and at the same time will establish the justice minister’s political responsibility for the effective operation of administrative courts,” he said in the bill.
    Trocsanyi said the government would seek the opinion of the Venice Commission, a panel of constitutional law experts of the human rights body Council of Europe, about the legislation.
    According to the bill, the minister will invite applications to fill judges’ positions at the new courts and nominate the judges based on the proposal of a national committee of administrative judges.    If the minister does not agree with the committee’s proposal, he can veto it.
    The minister will also oversee the budgets of the new courts under the legislation.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

11/7/2018 Warsaw bans nationalist march marking Polish independence centenary
FILE PHOTO: Protesters carry Polish flags during a rally, organised by far-right, nationalist groups,
to mark the anniversary of Polish independence in Warsaw, Poland, November 11, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Warsaw’s mayor has banned a far-right march planned for Sunday to mark the centenary of Polish independence, citing the risk of violence and expressions of hatred.
    Organizers said they would defy the ban.    They lodged a court appeal against the decision to shut down the annual Nov. 11 event commemorating the anniversary of Poland’s independence at the end of World War One.
    Tens of thousands of participants had been expected to attend, including far-right activists from elsewhere in Europe, with organizers claiming the event could be the biggest such march in Europe in years.
    Last year’s event caught the attention of the world’s media because some of the 60,000 participants carried banners bearing racist and xenophobic slogans such as “pure blood, clear mind” and “Europe will be white or uninhabited.”
    “Warsaw has already suffered enough due to aggressive nationalism,” Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, a centrist opposition politician, said.    “Poland’s 100th anniversary of independence shouldn’t look like this, hence my decision to forbid it.”
    The eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) party government said it would organize its own march instead, under the auspices of President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally.
    Officials did not clarify whether far-right groups would be allowed to attend.    Duda had earlier decided to stay away from the event.
    “We don’t understand the decision of Mayor Gronkiewicz-Waltz … Even if the courts confirm her decision, we will still meet … The march will take place,” said Tomasz Dorosz, the leader of Poland’s National Radical Camp, one of the groups involved in organizing the march.
    Earlier this week Gronkiewicz-Waltz said she would consider banning the march “if there was any element of hatred,” according to local Polish broadcaster TVN24.
    PiS, a socially conservative group with a nationalist agenda, taps into the same frustrations with western liberal values and anti-establishment sentiment that galvanize far-right voters throughout Europe.
    It has also refused to take in Middle Eastern and North African migrants, despite European Union demands to do so, citing public safety worries.
    However, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who heads the ruling party, condemned the racist messages during the 2017 march.
    “Polish tradition – the one we invoke – has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, we are as far as possible from that, nothing to do with racism,” he said.
    On Nov. 11 Poles commemorate the establishment of the second Polish republic in 1918 from territory seized in the 18th century by the Russian, Austrian and Prussian empires.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Sobczak; Editing by David Stamp and Gareth Jones)

11/7/2018 Libya commander Haftar visits Russia ahead of conference
FILE PHOTO: Khalifa Haftar, the military commander who dominates eastern Libya, arrives to attend
an international conference on Libya at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s defense minister Sergei Shoigu met Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar in Moscow on Wednesday, Russian media reported, signaling Kremlin support ahead of a conference aimed at settling the north African country’s years of strife.
    Russia’s military has long shown backing for the powerful Libyan commander, who dominates eastern Libya.    He has visited Russia before, and last year the Russian defense ministry hosted him aboard its sole aircraft carrier.
    Shoigu and Haftar discussed the Libyan crisis and the security situation in the Middle East and North Africa, Russian news agencies said, citing a defense ministry statement, without giving details.
    Italy will host an international conference on Libya on Nov. 12 and 13, which Haftar will attend, Italy has said.    Haftar’s office has not confirmed his attendance yet.
    Haftar’s office said the meeting in Moscow had covered ways to end Libya’s crisis and the fight against terrorism.
    Russia is expected to send high-level representatives to the Palermo meeting.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Ayman al-Warfalli in Benghazi, Editing by William Maclean)

11/8/2018 Hungary’s government rules out concessions for Soros-founded university
The facade of the Central European University is seen in Budapest, Hungary, October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary’s government said it would not make concessions to the Central European University, the legal status of which has been in limbo for more than a year due to changes in the law from a government hostile to its founder, financier George Soros.
    “In Hungary the law applies to all, including the Soros university,” government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs was quoted as saying in an interview published by the daily Magyar Hirlap on Thursday.
    “No one can enjoy privileges,” he said.    “If other foreign universities can meet the conditions laid down in the law, then the CEU will have to follow suit instead of creating a political issue out of the matter.”
    Kovacs said the state education office would examine in the future whether CEU meets the necessary criteria.
    A change last year to Hungary’s law on education withdrew the right to operate from foreign-registered universities that do not also offer courses in their home country.    It was widely seen as explicitly targeting the CEU, which offers graduate-level courses taught in English and is frequently ranked as the top university in Hungary.
    The university said last month that it was being forced out of Hungary by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government and would switch its main campus to Vienna, enrolling new students there if it did not receive guarantees of academic freedom by Dec. 1.
    U.S. billionaire Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, has been the subject of a campaign by the right-wing government of Orban.    Earlier this year, his charitable Open Society Foundations left Hungary.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Graff)

11/8/2018 Frail Mikhail Gorbachev warns against return to the Cold War by Tom Balmforth
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev gestures as he attends the Russian premiere of the
documentary film "Meeting Gorbachev" in Moscow, Russia November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, warned on Thursday against rising tensions between Russia and the United States and said there should be no return to the Cold War.
    The frail 87-year-old was physically helped by aides to a cinema hall to watch the premiere in Russia of a new documentary about his life, his Soviet reforms in the 1980s and his arms control drive that helped end the Cold War.
    His legacy has come under a pall as ties between Moscow and Washington have fallen to post-Cold War lows, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and rows over sanctions, election meddling and the poisoning of a spy in England.
    He spoke briefly to a cinema hall in Moscow after “Meeting Gorbachev,” a new documentary directed by filmmakers Werner Herzog and Andre Singer, and was asked if the world would hold back from a new Cold War.
    “We must hold back,” he said.    “And not just from the Cold War.    We have to continue the course we mapped.    We have to ban war once and for all.    Most important is to get rid of nuclear weapons.”
    Reviled by many Russians as the man whose reforms ultimately led to the Soviet breakup, Gorbachev is lauded in the West as the man who helped end the Cold War.
    Gorbachev, whose visibly ailing health was in stark contrast to the vigorous reformist figure he cut in the 1980s, said the world was moving dangerously closer to a new arms race.
    Last month in a column for the New York Times, Gorbachev denounced the United States after President Donald Trump said he planned to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty which Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed in 1987.
    The pact eliminated all short- and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both countries in Europe.
    In a prepared, written message read out to the hall by an aide before the film, Gorbachev alluded to the article and said “I am convinced we can stop a new Cold War.    I will do everything for this.”
    “Most dangerous would be a return to confrontation, the start of a new arms race.    They are already talking about a nuclear war as if this is something entirely acceptable.    It is being prepared, scenarios are being discussed.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Editing by William Maclean)

11/8/2018 Lawmakers Attend Trade Conference To Discuss More U.S. Exports To Cuba by OAN Newsroom
Member of the U. S. House Representatives from Arkansas Rick Crawford speaks to reporters during a U.S. – Cuba Agriculture
Coalition press conference at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. Entrepreneurs from the United States’
agricultural sector have arrived in Cuba to promote business between the two countries. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
    Members of Congress meet in Cuba’s capital to discuss easing trade relations with the U.S.
    A two day conference kicked off in Havana Thursday, where a delegation of lawmakers and businessmen met with Cuba’s agricultural ministry and looked at ways to expand Cuba’s market to American farm products.
    Cuba’s government called on the incoming Democrat majority in the House to take measures to ease trade restrictions.
    Republican congressman Rick Crawford says any trade deal with Cuba would need a bipartisan approach.
    “i>That’s going to be entirely up to them and their leadership (New Democratic majority in the United States Congress),” said Crawford.    If they choose to take a positive direction and focus on issues, versus focusing on taking punitive action against the Trump administration it will be up to them to determine.    What we have been told, is they want to take a bipartisan approach.    Time will tell.”
    Cuba’s government added it hopes the so-called “normalization process” started in 2014 will continue, though it’s seen recent push back following the Trump administration’s criticism of Cuba’s socialist government.
    A potential $1.5 billion trade deal hangs in the balance, amid an ongoing trade embargo placed on Cuba in the 1950’s.

11/9/2018 Austrian colonel spied for Russia for decades, Vienna says by Francois Murphy
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attends a press conferance at the Prime Minister Juha Sipila's
official residence Kesaranta in Helsinki, Finland, November 7, 2018. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen/via REUTERS
    VIENNA (Reuters) – A senior Austrian military officer is believed to have spied for Moscow for decades, Vienna said on Friday, adding to a list of recent Russian espionage cases and souring relations with arguably the country’s closest ally in the EU.
    Austria was in the minority of EU countries that did not expel any Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, which London has blamed on Moscow.    Russia denies any involvement.
    Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurzfar-right and pro-Moscow Freedom Party, has said that decision was in line with Austria’s neutrality and a tradition of maintaining good relations with countries on both sides of the former Iron Curtain.
    Vienna is a major diplomatic center hosting many foreign officials.
    But Kurz hardened his tone on Friday, announcing that a recently retired colonel was believed to have spied for Moscow from the 1990s until this year.
    “If the suspicion is confirmed, such cases… do not improve relations between Russia and the European Union,” he told reporters, without naming the suspect.    The case has been referred to prosecutors and the former colonel has been questioned.
    Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who danced with Russian President Vladimir Putin at her wedding in August, has canceled a planned trip to Moscow over the case.    She has also summoned the Russian charge d’affaires since the ambassador is outside the country.
    “For the moment we are demanding transparent information from the Russian side,” Kurz said.
‘UNPLEASANTLY SURPRISED’
    In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was “unpleasantly surprised” by Vienna’s allegations and Moscow knew nothing about the retired officer, news agencies RIA and Interfax reported.
    Russia had in turn summoned the Austrian ambassador, agencies said.
    Kurz repeatedly referred to a recent case in the Netherlands in which the government said Russian agents tried to hack into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons while it was investigating the Skripal case.
    Western countries last month issued coordinated denunciations of Russia for running what they described as a global hacking campaign.
    “Based on the information we have but also because of recent events for example in the Netherlands we can very much assume at the moment that our suspicion will be confirmed,” said Kurz, who has met Putin in Austria twice since the Skripal poisoning.
    It is not yet clear whether the case is an isolated one, Defence Minister Mario Kunasek said, speaking alongside Kurz.
    Austria was tipped off about the case weeks ago by an ally’s intelligence service, and issues of interest to the officer or his alleged handlers included weapons systems and migration into Europe, Kunasek added.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/9/2018 Poland, U.S. strike natural gas deal by OAN Newsroom
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, rear right, and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, rear left, look on as U.S. gas company
Chenier Vice-President for Trade, Anatol Feygin,front left, and President of Poland’s PGNiG gas company Piotr Wozniak,
front right, sign a long-term deal for U.S. liquefied gas deliveries to Poland,in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
    Poland has struck a deal to purchase long-term supplies of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the U.S.
    On Thursday, Poland’s state-owned utility company announced the agreement with Cheniere Energy at a ceremony hosted by the Polish president and U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
    Under the agreement, Poland will purchase almost 30 million metric-tons of U.S. natural gas over the next 24-years.
    This marks another major success for President Trump’s agenda of reducing the European Union’s reliance on Russian energy.
    Secretary Perry said the deal will reduce energy costs in Poland and support economic growth across Europe.
    “The diversity of an energy supply is tantamount to the strength of the Polish economy,” Perry stated.    “This is a signal across Europe that this is how your energy future can be developed, the security of your country, the diversity of supply — it’s a great day for Europe.”
    Polish officials said the deal will further deepen the economic and security cooperation between Poland and the U.S.

11/11/2018 Separatist-held regions hold elections in eastern Ukraine by Matthias Williams and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO: A woman crosses a street past the campaign board of Leonid Pasechnik, acting head of the
self-proclaimed separatist Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), ahead of the upcoming vote
for a new leader in Luhansk, Ukraine November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    KIEV/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Rebel-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine hold leadership elections on Sunday in the shadow of a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people and poisoned relations between Ukraine and Russia.
    Ukraine and its international backers have lined up to condemn the vote as a sham manipulated by the Russian authorities and in violation of a 2015 Minsk ceasefire agreement.    The United States urged voters to boycott.
    Backed by Moscow, separatist rebels seized territory in eastern Ukraine after pro-Western protests toppled President Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014 and Russia annexed Crimea a month later.
    The United States called the elections a charade to give false legitimacy to Moscow-approved leaders already installed in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.    It announced new sanctions on Russia on Thursday.
    “These particular elections are a mockery, really, of the idea of genuine elections that need to be held,” Kurt Volker, Washington’s envoy to the Ukraine conflict, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday.
    “They are under conditions of occupation, where there is no freedom of expression, no freedom of movement, no freedom of campaigning, and generally therefore no freedom of choice for the people in electing candidates for legitimate local leadership positions,” he said.
    Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko called the elections “illegal and represent yet another example of Russian subversive activity.”
    Russia disputes that the elections violate the Minsk agreement.
    “Actually, the deplorable situation with the implementation of the Minsk package was provoked by Kiev’s unwillingness to fulfill the Minsk agreements,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
    The Donetsk region’s acting head, Denis Pushilin, is running in Sunday’s election after his predecessor Alexander Zakharchenko died in an explosion in August.    Russia pointed the finger at Ukraine, while Kiev’s security service blamed internal fighting “between the terrorists and their Russian sponsors.”
    Several former separatist leaders have fled the Donbass area, saying they feared for their lives after their comrades turned on them. Other leading separatist commanders have been killed in unexplained circumstances.
    “Pushilin is a soap bubble, there are completely different people behind him, this is Moscow,” a former separatist leader Alexei Alexandrov told Reuters.
    Ukraine-based analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said Russia was using the elections to give legitimacy to the region’s leaders and may try to turn the fighting into a frozen conflict with the two breakaway regions as protectorates.
    Peskov acknowledged Russia had influence on the region’s leaders but said “it is not unlimited.”
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; writing by Matthias Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

11/11/2018 Russian Pres. Putin Says Moscow Is Prepared To Renegotiate INF Treaty by OAN Newsroom
    Russian President Vladimir Putin signals his willingness to begin discussions with the United States regarding the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Treaty.
    While speaking in Paris Saturday, Putin said he is not sure when the talks will take place.
    Putin went on to say these conversations may begin at the G20 at the earliest, but could take place sometime afterward.
    “We are ready for dialogue, because it is not us who is withdrawing from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,” said Putin.    It is the Americans who plan it.    They and we are ready to restore the dialogue.    And it is more important not just to hold a dialogue on highest and high level but also on experts’ level. I hope that this full-scale negotiation process will be restored.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with US President Donald Trump as he arrives
to attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, as part of commemorations marking
the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
    This follows an announcement by the Trump administration in October, stating their intention to back out of the Reagan-era nuclear agreement.

11/11/2018 Natural that Europe should want an army, says Russia’s Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin looks on during a commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of World War
One at the Arc de Triomphe, in Paris, France, November 11, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Kremlin
via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
    PARIS (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Sunday it made sense for a powerful economic bloc like the European Union to want to defend itself militarily.
    The comments came after U.S. President Donald Trump fired off a tweet as he arrived in Paris on Friday in which he described a call by French President Emmanuel Macron for a European army as “very insulting.”
    “Europe is a powerful economic entity, a powerful economic union and it is quite natural that it wants to be independent, self-sufficient and sovereign in matters of defense and security,” Putin told RT television.
    Trump had taken a dim view of comments Macron made in a Europe 1 radio interview this week in which he appeared to cast the United States as a threat.
    Discussing the growing danger from cyber-hacking, outside meddling in electoral processes and the U.S. decision to withdraw from a missile treaty, Macron said Europe needed to protect against China, Russia “and even the United States.”
    Later in the same interview he spoke of the need for a European army, saying: “Faced by Russia, which is on our borders and which has shown that it can be threatening… we need to have a Europe that can better defend itself by itself, without depending solely on the United States.”
    After they met on Saturday, Trump and Macron sought to paper over any differences, saying they agreed on the need for Europe to spend more on defense.
    An official in Macron’s office said Trump’s rebuke was founded on a misunderstanding.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
[Sounds like Macron has forgotten who came over and saved their asses from German occupation.    Go ahead Macron, EU, it will save the U.S. some money and who are you going to call when China, Iran or Russia attack?]

11/11/2018 Finland’s GPS was disrupted during NATO war games and Russia could be responsible: PM
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila delivers a news conference in
Helsinki, Finland March 26, 2018. Lehtikuva/Emmi Korhonen via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – Finland’s GPS signal was intentionally disrupted during NATO war games in the Nordic countries over the past few weeks and the culprit could be Russia, Prime Minster Juha Sipila said on Sunday.
    Finland’s air navigation services on Tuesday issued a warning for air traffic due to a large-scale GPS interruption in the north of the country.    Norway posted a similar warning about loss of GPS signals for pilots in its own airspace at the end of the October when the NATO exercise began.
    “It is possible that Russia has been the disrupting party in this.    Russia is known to possess such capabilities,” Sipila told public broadcaster Yle.
    Finland is not a NATO member but it took part as an ally in ‘Trident Juncture’, NATO’s largest exercise in decades which ended on Wednesday.    Forces from 31 countries participated in the games close to Russia, in an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland.
    Finland shares a 833-mile (1,340 km) border and a difficult history with Russia.    It has lately developed closer ties with NATO but stopped short of full membership in line with a tradition of avoiding confrontation with its eastern neighbour.
(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

11/11/2018 Thousands protest in Bulgaria against high fuel prices, car taxes
Protesters take part in a demonstration over fuel prices, tax hikes on old cars
and expected increases of car insurance in Sofia, Bulgaria, November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Dimitar Kyosemarliev
    SOFIA (Reuters) – Thousands of Bulgarians blocked major highways and roads in the Balkan country on Sunday in protest at higher fuel prices, tax increases for older, more polluting cars and an expected increase in car insurance premiums.
    Over 2,000 people waving national flags marched in central Sofia chanting “Mafia” and “Rubbish,” frustrated with the rising costs of living in the European Union’s poorest country.
    Protests were also held in over 20 Bulgarian cities, with dozens of drivers blockading roads, including the one leading to Greece, for hours.    Some demanded the resignation of the center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
    Fuel prices have risen in the past month following a spike in global oil prices.    In an attempt to ease discontent the anti-monopoly regulator has said it would look at the fuel sector to see if there are any breaches of competition rules.
    The government’s decision to increase the tax on older and more polluting cars from 2019 has angered many in a country where the average monthly salary is 575 euros, among the lowest in the European Union.
    The opposition Socialists have condemned the move, which they say will hit over 2 million cars, owned by the poorest people in a country of 7 million.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

11/13/2018 Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny barred from leaving Russia
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walks out following his release, after 20 days in jail where he was
held on charges of staging an illegal protest last month, in Moscow, Russia October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was stopped from leaving Russia on Tuesday, a move he said was designed to prevent him from attending the finale of a legal case he filed at Europe’s top human rights court.
    Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, said border guards had detained him as he tried to pass through passport control at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport and told him he could not leave because of a ruling by the Federal Bailiffs Service.
    Russians can be barred from leaving the country if they have unpaid fines or debts.
    Navalny wrote in his online blog that he was certain he had no such outstanding financial obligations.
    A copy of the exit ban given to Navalny by border guards which he published online did not give a detailed reason for his ban or cite a date for the original decision.    It was unclear how long the ban remained in force.
    Navalny was trying to fly to Frankfurt en route to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg where judges are due to rule whether his numerous detentions by police in Russia have been politically motivated or not.
    The 42-year-old lawyer sought to challenge Vladimir Putin at a presidential election in March, but was barred from taking part over a past conviction which he says was politically motivated.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/14/2018 Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny flies out of Russia after exit ban lifted
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walks out following his release, after 20 days in jail where he was held
on charges of staging an illegal protest last month, in Moscow, Russia October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was allowed to fly out of Russia on Wednesday to attend the finale of a case he filed at Europe’s top human rights court, a day after border guards stopped him leaving the country.
    Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, wants to be in Strasbourg on Thursday when the European Court of Human Rights is due to rule on whether his numerous detentions by police in Russia have been politically-motivated or not.
    He was prevented from flying out of Moscow on Tuesday over an unpaid court fine, which he said had been suddenly and illegally enforced as a pretext to stop him traveling abroad.
    The Federal Bailiffs Service, which blocked his exit, did not respond to a request for comment regarding Navalny’s allegations that its actions were illegal.
    However, it told the TASS news agency on Tuesday evening that it had rescinded the travel ban after Navalny had paid the fine.
    The 42-year-old lawyer posted a photograph on social media of himself passing through passport control at a Moscow airport on Wednesday and said he had encountered no problems leaving the country this time.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/14/2018 Czechs join other EU states rejecting U.N. migration pact
FILE PHOTO: Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis attends an interview with Reuters
at the Hrzan's Palace in Prague, Czech Republic, July 31, 2018. REUTERS/David W Cerny/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic on Wednesday joined the growing ranks of European Union countries that reject a United Nations pact to regulate the treatment of migrants worldwide.
    The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved in July by all 193 member UN nations except the United States, which backed out last year.    It followed the biggest influx of migrants into Europe since World War Two, many fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
    But the Czech cabinet voted early on Wednesday not to sign the accord, a government source told Reuters, in line with indications earlier this month.
    “The Czech Republic has long favored the principle of separating legal and illegal migration,” Deputy Prime Minister Richard Brabec told a news conference.
    “That is what the Czech Republic’s and other European countries’ suggestions aimed for.    The final text does not reflect those proposals.”
    The Czech concerns have been shared by the right-wing governments of Hungary and Austria, which have also said they will not sign the agreement at a ceremony in Morocco in December.
    Bulgaria’s coalition government, which includes the anti-migration United Patriots party, has also dropped out of the accord, and its parliament is due to vote on the issue on Wednesday.    Poland has said it may follow suit.
    The non-binding U.N. pact addresses issues such as how to protect people who migrate, how to integrate them into new countries and how to return them to their home countries.
    U.N. Special Representative for International Migration Louise Arbour has called moves to shun the accord regrettable and mistaken and said the compact simply aimed to improve the management of cross-border movements of people.
(Reporting by Robert Muller and Jan Lopatka; editing by Darren Schuettler, Larry King)

11/14/2018 Austria says it will not expel any Russians over spy case
FILE PHOTO: Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attends a news conference in
Brussels, Belgium, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria will not unilaterally expel any Russian diplomats in response to a case in which an Austrian army colonel is suspected of having spied for Moscow for 26 years, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday.
    The case, which was made public on Friday and is being investigated by prosecutors, is an embarrassment for Austria, arguably Russia’s closest ally in the European Union.
    While most EU countries kicked out one or more Russian diplomats over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain in March, Austria has hosted President Vladimir Putin twice since that nerve agent attack, including at its foreign minister’s wedding.
    “There will be no unilateral action by Austria in that direction,” Kurz told a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting when asked if Austria would eject any Russians.
    Kurz has cited his country’s tradition of neutrality as a reason for not expelling any Russian officials over the Skripal case, even though Vienna is a major diplomatic center where more than 100 Russian diplomats are posted.
    “The relationship between Russia and the European Union is regularly discussed in European forums.    That is where this debate belongs,” said Kurz, adding that spying by any country was unacceptable.
    Britain blames Russia for the Skripal poisoning.    Moscow denies any involvement and has also said it knows nothing about the recently retired Austrian colonel accused of spying for it.
    “This will of course not lead to an improvement in relations between the European Union and Russia.    And yes, nevertheless we believe that fundamentally a channel for communication with Russia is important,” Kurz said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/14/2018 Geopolitics should be factor in new nuclear investment decision: Czech PM
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives at the European Union leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday geopolitics should be a factor when the NATO and EU member country decides future nuclear power investments as the country mulls whether to build new reactors.
    Babis’ comments came after a meeting with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry who urged nations in central Europe to have a diverse set of energy supplies and suppliers.
    “We have to keep in mind our geopolitical orientation while investing into nuclear power,” Babis said.
    The world’s main six nuclear power builders from countries including Russia, China and the United States are all vying for the expansion deal, long under discussion in the Czech Republic.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Jan Lopatka)

11/14/2018 Romanian ruling lawmakers push bill to cancel wiretap evidence
Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea reacts during an interview with Reuters,
in Bucharest, Romania, May 23, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS
    BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Lawmakers in Romania approved a bill on Wednesday that would cancel wiretap evidence used to prosecute past corruption cases and could wipe out hundreds of convictions, including that of the head of the ruling Social Democrats.
    The lower house vote, pushed through by the Social Democrats and their coalition partner, seemed certain to increase concern within the European Union whose executive on Tuesday criticized moves in Romania to weaken the independence of the judiciary and democracy.
    If it comes into force, the bill would retroactively cancel evidence intercepted by the intelligence services on behalf of prosecutors based on court warrants.
    It could nullify hundreds of verdicts for crimes ranging from corruption to human trafficking, including potentially the case against Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, a former deputy prime minister.
    Dragnea, who backed the bill together with Calin Tariceanu, leader of the junior coalition partner ALDE, was given a two-year suspended sentence in 2016 for electoral fraud and is currently on trial in a separate abuse of office case, with a third investigation under way.
    Separately, prosecutors want to investigate Tariceanu in a graft case.
    Some previous attempts by the ruling coalition in Romania to decriminalize graft offences, reduce sentences and bring magistrates under political control have failed and the opposition said it would challenge the bill in the Constitutional Court.
    “Serious crime cases … from 2005 onward could be reopened based on this bill, not just corruption, but also murder, human trafficking, drugs smuggling and so on,” lawmaker Stelian Ion of the opposition Save Romania Union told Reuters.
    “They’re using a cannon to shoot at birds, and it could blow up the entire judicial system.”
    He expected the Constitutional Court to reject the bill as it has done in similar cases in the past.
    The European Commission, the U.S. State Department, thousands of magistrates and street protesters have criticized the government’s attempts to weaken the judiciary and raise the burden of proof.
    The Social Democrats have shrugged off the criticism.    They say the European Commission’s report on Tuesday which condemned developments in Romania, was unfair and politically-motivated.
    Dragnea and Tariceanu, who are respectively speakers of the lower house and senate, have accused the intelligence service of abusing its power by faking evidence and illegally wiretapping millions of Romanians.    Prosecutors deny the claim.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

11/14/2018 Japan’s Abe says wants to discuss peace treaty with Putin today
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting on the
sidelines of the ASEAN-Russia Summit in Singapore, November 14, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday he wants to discuss a peace treaty with Russia and the North Korean issue with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
    Putin said last week that Abe told him Tokyo could not immediately sign a peace treaty with Moscow without first resolving their territorial dispute.
    Russia and Japan have been in dispute for seven decades over island territories captured by Soviet troops in the last days of the World War Two.    As a result, they have still not formally ended hostilities.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Toby Chopra)

11/14/2018 Putin and Abe agree to speed up peace treaty talks: Kremlin
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a meeting
on the sidelines of the ASEAN-Russia Summit in Singapore, November 14, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed on Wednesday to step up the pace of talks to end a decades-old territorial dispute, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
    Russia and Japan have still not formally ended their World War Two hostilities because of the standoff which has held back economic ties between the two near-neighbors.
(Writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

11/15/2018 Russia’s Putin says everyone should be free to attend Davos forum
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with China's Premier Li Keqiang on the
sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Singapore November 15, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that everyone should be free to decide whether or not to attend the Davos World Economic Forum, commenting on a report that three Russian businessmen had been barred from the event over sanctions.
    Putin was speaking to reporters at a regional summit in Singapore in response to a question about whether a Russian delegation would take part in the forum after restrictions on the Russian businessmen were reported by the Financial Times.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)

11/15/2018 Russia’s Putin discusses nuclear pact with U.S.’s Pence
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin before a group photo
with ASEAN leaders at the East Asia Summit in Singapore November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said he discussed Washington’s plans to exit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms treaty with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence when they met in Singapore on Thursday.
    Speaking to reporters at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Putin said he and Pence had also discussed relations with Iran.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones)

11/15/2018 Finland says GPS signal disruption during NATO war games came from Russia
FILE PHOTO: Military aircraft make a pass during NATO's Exercise Trident Juncture,
above Trondheim, Norway October 30, 2018. NTB Scanpix/Gorm Kallestad via REUTERS
    HELSINKI (Reuters) – The disruption of Finland’s global positioning system (GPS) signal during recent NATO war games came from Russian territory, the Finnish foreign ministry said on Thursday.
    The Kremlin on Monday dismissed an earlier allegation from Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila that Russia may have intentionally disrupted the signal during the war games.
    Finland’s air navigation services earlier this month issued a warning for air traffic due to a large-scale GPS interruption in the north of the country.
    Norway had posted a similar warning in its own airspace and also accused Russia.
    Finnish authorities are continuing to investigate the matter and the issue is being discussed with the Russian Federation through diplomatic channels, the ministry added in a statement on Thursday.
    Finland is not a NATO member but it took part as an ally in NATO’s largest exercise in decades which ended on Wednesday.    Forces from 31 countries participated in the games close to Russia, in an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland.
    Finland shares an 833-mile (1,340 km) border and a difficult history with Russia.    It has lately developed closer ties with NATO but stopped short of full membership in line with a tradition of avoiding confrontation with its eastern neighbor.
(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

11/15/2018 Ex-Macedonia PM Gruevski seeking refugee status in Hungary by Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: Macedonia's former prime minister Nikola Gruevski enters a court in
Skopje, Macedonia October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Former Macedonian prime minister Nikola Gruevski sought asylum at a Hungarian representation outside Macedonia before reaching Hungary earlier this week and submitting his formal application for refugee status, Budapest said on Thursday.
    Gruevski, who resigned in 2016 after 10 years in power, fled his Balkan homeland six months after being sentenced to two years in prison on corruption-related charges.
    Macedonian police issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to show up to begin his sentence following a Nov. 9 court ruling against his motion for a reprieve.
    Gruevski’s refugee status application could put Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in a tight spot.    He supported the fellow nationalist Gruevski in the run-up to Macedonia’s 2017 election and praised his party’s efforts in halting migrants passing through the Balkans northwards toward Western Europe.
    A senior Hungarian official declined to say in which country Gruevski had first sought Hungarian asylum or how he later made his way to the Immigration and Asylum Office in Budapest where he submitted documents and secured a hearing.
    “According to my knowledge he made a statement regarding threats to his safety … that justified that his hearing should be conducted not in a transit zone but in Budapest,” said Gergely Gulyas, Orban’s cabinet chief.
    Speaking to reporters, Gulyas would not say whether the Hungarian government was involved in helping Gruevski get to Budapest or whether he arrived by land or air.    He said Hungary played no role in Gruevski’s exit from Macedonia.
    Police in Albania, which borders Macedonia, said later on Thursday that Gruevski had crossed Albanian territory into Montenegro to the north on Sunday evening as a passenger in an Hungarian embassy car.    It was unclear whether Gruevski then transited Serbia to reach Hungary further north.
    Albanian police said Interpol notified them of an arrest warrant for Gruevski only on Tuesday, when the ex-premier announced on his Facebook page that he was in Budapest and seeking asylum.
    Gulyas said Budapest had not yet received an official request from Macedonia to extradite Gruevski, adding Hungary would act “in line with the laws” if that happens.    He said there was an extradition agreement between the two countries.
    Asked if Gruevski was being protected by Hungarian authorities, Gulyas said Budapest had applied “the appropriate security protocol,” and was assured he would not leave the country.    Gruevski had not met Orban this week, he added.
    On Wednesday, a Fidesz party spokesman said Gruevski was a politician who was being persecuted by Macedonia’s leftist government.    Gulyas declined to comment on this.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest and Benet Koleka in Tirana; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/15/2018 Czechs protest against PM Babis, coalition partner may quit government by Jan Lopatka
Demonstrators attend a protest rally demanding resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in
Prague, Czech Republic, November 15, 2018. The banner reads: "Enough lies, resign and it will be better." REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s hold on power appeared weaker on Thursday evening as thousands of protesters demanded his resignation in Prague’s main square, while his coalition partners debated whether to quit the government.
    The pressure against him followed a media report in which Babis’s son said his father had wanted him to go into hiding to impede a criminal investigation into Babis and two of his children on suspicion they illegally tapped a 2 million euro ($2.27 million) EU subsidy a decade ago.
    The opposition reacted by calling a parliamentary no confidence vote.    The house speaker said on Thursday the vote, whose outcome appears uncertain, would likely take place on Nov. 23.
    Babis, a billionaire businessman and the EU and NATO member country’s most popular politician, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the report, published by news website Seznam.cz, as part of a media campaign against him.
    In Prague’s Wenceslas Square, several thousand chanted “resignation” and “shame.”    Some waved Czech and EU flags and carried slogans including “Down with Babis.”
    The center-left Social Democrats, a coalition partner of Babis’s ANO party in the minority administration, have been considering “all options” regarding further action, party leader Jan Hamacek said.
    “The situation is serious, the information is substantial and we have to examine the most responsible approach,” Hamacek told Czech Television.
    If the government loses the vote, it must resign.    A new prime minister would be appointed by the pro-Chinese and pro-Russian President Milos Zeman.
    Babis may however look for support elsewhere to survive as prime minister.    The far-right opposition SPD, an anti-EU and anti-NATO party, has indicated it may be willing to back a Babis-led cabinet without Social Democrat ministers if it changes some of its policies.
    The chance that Babis might possibly retain his job even if the Social Democrats pulled out has led some of the party’s lawmakers to lean toward staying in government, a party source told Reuters.
    Babis’s son Andrej told Seznam.cz reporters who tracked him to his current home in Switzerland that his father had wanted him to hide last year when police brought charges in the subsidy case.
    In videoed comments Babis junior, who has been treated for mental illness, said that a man who had been looking after him took him from the Czech Republic and held him against his will in Russian-annexed Crimea, but said he believed it was not his father’s idea.
    Police said on Tuesday they had investigated that allegation and concluded there was no suspicion of a crime.
    Babis said his son traveled to Crimea voluntarily.    He said the son, who has Swiss citizenship, had been treated for schizophrenia since 2015.    The man who had been taking care of the son also denied wrongdoing.
(Additional reporting by Robert Muller; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/15/2018 Chechen leader’s Instagram account briefly unblocked
FILE PHOTO: Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov (front) walks before a ceremony inaugurating
Vladimir Putin as President of Russia at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia May 7, 2018. Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Instagram account of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Russia’s Chechnya region and an avid social media user until he was banned last year, was unblocked briefly and then blocked again after he used it to post an ode to his pistol.
    Kadyrov, a former anti-Russian rebel turned pro-Russian politician, was suspended from Facebook and Instagram in December last year, soon after he was placed on a U.S. sanctions list for alleged rights abuses.
    He has long used both social media platforms, especially Instagram where he has amassed more than 3 million followers with regular photos of his life and posts of his views.
    Screenshots shared widely on social media showed that his Instagram account was back up on Wednesday and remained live for at least eight hours.    After his first new post – a photo of himself holding a gun and wearing protective glasses – it was blocked once again.
    Instagram, which is owned by Facebook Inc, did not reply to a request for comment.
    “On Wednesday my @kadyrov_95 Instagram page was unblocked.    Justice has prevailed.    It took about 11 months to achieve,” Kadyrov wrote on his public feed of another app, Telegram, where he has 40,000 subscribers.
    “All that time, millions of my subscribers were denied the opportunity to receive information first hand,” Kadyrov wrote on Telegram, before his Instagram feed was blocked again.
    During his brief foray back on Instagram, he included an ode to his pistol alongside the photo.
    “GUN.    How much I need to say about you, my friend.    As if in this silence there is only you and I,” Kadyrov posted.
    U.S. authorities accuse Kadyrov, who has been in charge of the majority-Muslim region of southern Russia since 2007, of overseeing “an administration involved in disappearances and extrajudicial killings.”
    Rights groups and Western governments allege that authorities in Chechnya repress their political opponents, discriminate against women and persecute gays, all allegations that Chechnya’s leaders deny.
    Chechnya was brought to heel by Russia after two wars against pro-independence rebels there in the 1990s which killed tens of thousands of people and reduced the region’s towns and cities to rubble.    The capital Grozny has since been lavishly rebuilt.
(Writing by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and)

11/16/2018 U.N. expert group leaves Hungary in row over migrant camp access
FILE PHOTO: A wire fence is seen next to the village of Roszke, Hungary,
March 11, 2018. Picture taken March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – A United Nations team of rights experts cut short a trip to Hungary, saying it had been illegally denied access to camps where migrants are detained on the country’s southern frontier.
    The step marks a new low in relations between Hungary and the U.N., which Budapest has accused of spreading lies about the country and harboring a pro-immigration bias.
    “UN human rights experts have taken the unprecedented step of suspending an official visit to Hungary after they were denied access to the Roszke and Tompa ‘transit zones’ at the border with Serbia,” it said in a statement on Thursday.
    The Hungarian government did not immediately comment.
    Hungary, which lies on the southeastern edge of the European Union, has taken a hardline stand on immigration under right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    His government fortified its southern border with a razor wire fence in the wake of the 2015 migrant crisis, when more than a million immigrants arrived in Europe, hundreds of thousands transiting Hungary.
    Budapest subsequently began taking any new arrivals into custody at container camps set up at two border crossings while their asylum claims are pending.
    “We have received a number of credible reports concerning the lack of safeguards against arbitrary detention in these facilities which called for a visit,” said Elina Steinerte and Setondji Roland Adjovi, members of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
    The European Court of Human Rights stepped in earlier this year when Hungary was found to have been refusing food to some asylum seekers at the two camps on the Serbian border.
    “Unimpeded access to all places of deprivation of liberty including these transit zones must be guaranteed to independent international, regional and national organizations,” the experts said.    “This is vital for the protection of the human rights in a country governed by rule of law.”
    The U.N. also cited an international agreement that guarantees access to any detained persons for its experts.
    Hungary rejects asylum applications from migrants arriving via safe countries.    It was also the first European country to quit a U.N. agreement which aims to make migration safe and orderly amid issues of national sovereignty and international cooperation, following a similar decision by the United States last year.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; editing by David Stamp)

11/16/2018 Russia stifled mobile network during protests: document by Maria Kolomychenko
FILE PHOTO - A police officer stands next to trucks during a protest against the new land swap deal, agreed by the
heads of the Russian regions of Ingushetia and Chechnya, in Ingushetia's capital Magas, Russia October 8, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities ordered two mobile operators to cut most access to mobile data services in the region of Ingushetia as protesters were massing outside government offices there, according to a document from the state telecoms regulator.
    The Ingushetia case, the first time such an order has been documented in Russia, indicates Russia is restricting access to social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter so they cannot be used to organize anti-government protests.
    The same techniques have been deployed in the Middle East where, faced with popular uprisings, governments have limited access to mobile data services, according to activists and mobile operators.
    The document seen by Reuters, from the Ingushetia office of the Roskomnadzor regulator, states that 3G and 4G mobile Internet services were turned off in Ingushetia from Oct. 4 to Oct. 17on the basis of the justified decision of the law enforcement authorities.”
    The document did not mention the protests or say on what basis the law enforcement authorities took their decision.
    The Federal Security Service and the Interior Ministry did not respond to requests by Reuters for comments.    A spokesman for Roskomnadzor, in response to questions, did not say why the services were switched off in Ingushetia.
    Protests broke out in Ingushetia, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia, on Oct. 4 after a deal was agreed delineating Ingushetia’s border with the neighboring Russian region of Chechnya.
    The protesters said the deal conceded too much land to Chechnya, and thousands of them gathered in the region’s administrative capital, Magas, to demand it be rejected.    At one point, security forces fired into the air to try to disperse the protests.
    From Oct. 4, phone users across Ingushetia complained about a lack of mobile internet services, according to lawyer Khusen Daurbekov.    He said he was representing some of the complainants pro bono because he wanted to force the authorities to say why they restricted the mobile network.
    Daurbekov filed a complaint to the local office of Roskomnadzor against two mobile operators, Megafon and Vimpelcom.    The reply, from the head of the office, Aslan Koloyev, exonerated the operators and said the switch-off was requested by law enforcement.
GLOBAL BATTLEGROUND
    Koloyev declined to comment and referred questions instead to the Roskomnadzor press office.    Roskomnadzor representative Vadim Ampelonsky said only that the watchdog had found no violations by the mobile operators in Ingushetia.    Vimpelcom and Megafon declined to comment.
    While 3G and 4G services were switched off in Ingushetia, 2G services were still available.    That meant people could still make voice calls from their mobile phones.    In theory they could also have mobile access to the Internet.
    In practice however, that access is very limited because speeds over a 2G network are low, and become even slower if a large number of people are gathered in one place, for example at a protest, overloading the network.
    Control over social media has become a battleground in the past few years between governments around the world trying to keep a lid on dissent and citizens seeking to express grievances against their rulers.
    During mass protests in Egypt in 2011 against the rule of then-President Hosni Mubarak, authorities told mobile operator Vodafone to switch off its network in Egypt, the company said.
    When anti-government protests broke out in Iran in December 2017, authorities in Tehran imposed restrictions on messaging service Telegram and social media platform Instagram, which had both been used to mobilize protesters.
    Under Russian law, telecommunications services can be switched off on the decision of the Federal Security Service, the Interior Ministry or other law enforcement agencies. (Editing by Christian Lowe and Andrew Roche)

11/17/2018 Junior partner says to stay in Bulgarian coalition after resignation
FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov looks at Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov during a swearing-in
ceremony in the parliament in Sofia, Bulgaria May 4, 2017. Picture taken May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov/File Photo
    SOFIA (Reuters) – The junior partner in Bulgaria’s ruling center-right coalition reaffirmed its support on Saturday for Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s 18-month-old government despite the resignation of one of its leaders.
    Deputy Prime Minister Valeri Simeonov, one of the leaders of the United Patriots, an alliance of nationalist parties, resigned on Friday after several weeks of street protests over remarks he made about disabled rights activists.
    “Valeri Simeonov has quit in a personal capacity, it is not the party that has quit the coalition,” Krasimir Karakachanov, also a deputy prime minister and co-leader of the United Patriots, told Nova TV.
    “No turmoil is expected in either the 'small' (nationalist alliance) or the 'big' (ruling) coalition,” he said.
    Last month Simeonov, who oversaw economic and demographic policy, dismissed a group of protesters demanding an overhaul of Bulgaria’s social care system as “shrill women” and accused them of using their disabled children as a political tool.
    Borissov rebuked Simeonov but said he was unable to sack the minister due to a delicate balance of power in the coalition.
    The nationalist alliance is expected to nominate Simeonov’s replacement as deputy prime minister next week.
    The deputy leader of Borissov’s GERB party, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said the resignation would “calm the situation” and that the government would emerge stronger as a consequence.
    Disabled rights activists welcomed Simeonov’s resignation but said the government needed to do more to soothe social tensions.
    Opposition parties have stepped up pressure on the government ahead of elections for the European Parliament and local elections next year.
    Bulgaria, the poorest member state in the European Union, faces more protests this weekend over higher fuel prices and tax increases for older, more polluting cars, though political analysts say they are unlikely to unseat Borissov’s government.
    Responding to the discontent, the anti-monopoly regulator has said it will examine whether there has been any breach of competition rules in the fuel sector.
    Street protests against low living standards and corruption toppled a previous coalition government led by Borissov in 2013.
(This story corrects paragraph 11 to say taxes on old cars have increased, not on pensions)
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/17/2018 Czechs rally against PM Babis on Velvet Revolution anniversary by Michael Kahn
Demonstrators hold placards and flags as they march during a protest rally
demanding resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague, Czech Republic, November 17, 2018.
The placard reads: "Do not let it go, so we can live here!". REUTERS/David W Cerny
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Thousands of Czechs called for Prime Minister Andrej Babis to resign on Saturday, in protests coinciding with the anniversary of the “Velvet Revolution” that toppled Communism in the former Soviet-bloc state.
    Babis has denied accusations he hindered a fraud investigation and says he will not resign.
    A junior government coalition party has been weighing whether to leave the cabinet after Babis’ son was recorded saying his father wanted him to hide last year to avoid police questioning.     Protesters filled Wenceslas Square and the city’s Old Town Square, some chanting “Resign!” and carrying signs saying “We don’t want a prosecuted PM.”
    Many lit candles to commemorate the Velvet Revolution and bands played throughout the city center.
    Opposition parties have called a vote of no confidence in Babis’s cabinet, which is expected to be held next Friday.
    The centre-left Social Democrats, a government partner of Babis’s ANO party, are considering whether to withdraw support, although a party source said a number of its lawmakers were leaning toward staying.
    Babis won support from President Milos Zeman who said late on Thursday he expected the situation to calm down.    He said in a television interview he would give Babis another chance to form a cabinet if the confidence vote forced him to resign.
    Police charged Babis and two of his children last year with fraud, saying they had manipulated ownership of one of Babis’s firms a decade ago so it would qualify for 2 million euros ($2.3 million) in public aid.
(Additional reporting by Robert Muller Kahn, Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

11/18/2018 Interpol renews arrest warrant for MOL’s CEO, Croatia says
FILE PHOTO: Logo of Hungarian oil and gas group MOL at the company's refinery
in Szazhalombatta, Hungary March 22,2016 REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh/File Photo
    ZAGREB (Reuters) – International police organization Interpol has decided to renew an arrest warrant for the head of Hungarian energy group MOL issued by Croatia, Croatian police said, while MOL on Sunday called the move surprising.
    MOL Chief Executive Zsolt Hernadi has been indicted in Croatia for allegedly bribing former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to allow MOL to become the key decision-maker in Croatian energy company INA, in which MOL is the biggest but not the majority shareholder.
    Last month Croatia began the trial of Sanader, who served as prime minister from 2003 to 2009, and Hernadi in that case.    Both deny any wrongdoing.    Hernadi is being tried in absentia.
    Neither Interpol nor Hernadi could be immediately reached for comment.
    Hungary refused to heed the international arrest warrant for Hernadi and two years ago Interpol dropped it, saying Croatia and Hungary, as European Union members, must first handle the case within the bloc.
    Croatian police said in a statement that Interpol’s executive committee had on Saturday reversed its previous decision after the European Court of Justice upheld Croatia’s request that the warrant be honored.
    MOL said Interpol’s decision was surprising as two years ago an international body for commercial arbitration ruled that evidence presented by Croatia was insufficient to prove that certain contracts made in 2009 between the Croatian government and MOL had been the result of corrupt activities.
    “The decision also ignores the Hungarian court decision from August this year refusing to implement Croatia’s arrest warrant on the basis that Hernadi could never have a fair trial in Croatia,” MOL said.
    Sanader was 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.
    MOL owns close to 50 percent of INA.    Zagreb owns some 45 percent.    The two sides have been at odds for years over management rights in INA and two years ago the Croatian government announced a plan to buy back INA shares owned by MOL.
(Reporting by Igor Ilic; Additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Dale Hudson)

11/19/2018 Kremlin says Putin told Pence Russia did not meddle in U.S. election: Ifax
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a news conference on the sidelines of the
East Asia Summit in Singapore November 15, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S. Vice President Mike Pence Russia had nothing to do with meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, Interfax reported on Monday, during discussions about an upcoming meeting between Putin and President Donald Trump.
    Putin and Pence spoke in Singapore last week about key issues that could be discussed at the meeting between the two leaders, expected to take place at the G20 summit in Argentina in late November, a Kremlin spokesman said.
    Pence raised the issue of external meddling in the U.S. election but Putin told him that “the Russian state had nothing to do … and can not have anything to do with meddling” in any electoral processes, Interfax quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Paul Tait)

11/19/2018 Russia, Turkey, Iran to hold Syria talks November 28-29: Kazakh foreign minister
FILE PHOTO - Kazakhstan's Foreign Affairs Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov addresses the 73rd session
of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
    ASTANA (Reuters) – Russia, Turkey, and Iran will hold the next round of talks on Syria on Nov. 28-29 in Kazakhstan, Kazakh foreign minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said on Monday.
    Delegations of the Damascus government and the Syrian rebels are also set to attend, Abdrakhmanov told reporters.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Paul Tait)

11/19/2018 Russia, Turkey celebrate next step in completion of natural gas pipeline by OAN Newsroom
    Russia and Turkey are celebrating the completion of an important part of a natural gas pipeline connecting the two nations.
    The leaders of both countries met in Istanbul Monday, where they held an event over TurkStream.
    The pipeline is set to supply Russian gas to Turkey and help with European markets.    More than one trillion cubic feet of natural gas will go through the pipeline every year.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
attend an event marking the completion of the offshore part of TurkStream natural gas pipeline that will
carry natural gas from Russia to Turkey, in Istanbul, Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the importance of the pipeline.
    “The launch of the TurkStream will definitely allow our countries to substantially expand our cooperation in the gas sphere,” stated Putin.    “It will have great significance for the economic development of Turkey and the whole Black sea region — it will also become an important factor that will guarantee the security of energy supply to Europe.”
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan claimed the relationship between his country and Russia is strong and both sides are seeing benefits.

11/19/2018 Putin says Russia will retaliate if U.S. quits nuclear missile treaty: agencies
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a ceremony to mark the completion
of the sea part of the TurkStream gas pipeline, in Istanbul, Turkey November 19, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday the Kremlin would retaliate if the United States withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, Russian news agencies reported.
    Putin discussed possible Russian retaliation with top Russian Defence Ministry officials and added that the Kremlin was ready to discuss the INF treaty with Washington.
    The Cold War-era treaty, which rid Europe of land-based nuclear missiles, has come into question against a backdrop of renewed tensions between the West and Russia, most notably over Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and role in eastern Ukraine.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has accused Russia of non-compliance with the 31-year-old missile accord and warned it will pull out of the deal as a result.    The Kremlin denies violating the pact.
    NATO and Russian envoy addressed the dispute during rare talks on Oct. 31, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urging Moscow to make quick changes to comply in full with the treaty.    He said Russia’s development of the land-based, intermediate-range SSC-8 cruise missile posed “a serious risk to strategic stability.”
    European leaders worry any collapse of the INF treaty could lead to a new, destabilizing arms race.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/19/2018 Serb nationalist calls on EU to grant Bosnia candidate status
FILE PHOTO: Milorad Dodik, of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD attends a
news conference where he declared himself the winner of the Serb seat of the Tri-partite Bosnian Presidency
in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ranko Cukovic/File Photo
    BANJA LUKA, Bosnia (Reuters) – The new Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency called on the European Union on Monday to grant the country candidate status and said it was time for foreign judges and peace envoy to leave.
    Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik, an outspoken supporter of Russia, was speaking as he sworn in in the parliament of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic, one day before his official inauguration in Sarajevo along with the Croat and Bosniak members of the presidency.
    “I call on the European Union to immediately grant to Bosnia candidate status for membership,” Dodik said, adding that the gesture would show a constructive approach from the EU instead of supporting foreign interventions in the divided country.
    Bosnia applied for EU membership in 2016 but the reforms needed to pursue its bid have stalled.
    Dodik will be the first of the three presidency members to preside over the body that directs Bosnia’s foreign policy, in which they rotate each six months.    He said he would insist on the departure of the international peace envoy and foreign judges from Bosnia.
    They were installed as the part of the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords that ended the 1992-95 war in which more than 100,000 died and about 2 million were forced from their homes.
    Dodik, who was last year blacklisted by the United States over violations of the Dayton accords, Russia is “our natural and powerful ally,” and that he will work to resume cooperation with Russia, China and the United States, “on the basis of mutual respect
    He also said Bosnia should be demilitarized and its military budget drastically cut, echoing his repeated opposition to integrating Bosnia into NATO.
    “Bosnia will be militarily neutral because any alignment with any military alliance does not have support of Serbs,” he said.
    Dodik’s remarks imply it will be difficult to balance his policies with those of the Bosniak and Croat presidency members, Sefik Dzaferovic and Zeljko Komsic, who both favor NATO integration and cooperation with international representatives.
(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

11/19/2018 Russia accuses Kremlin critic Browder of ordering lawyer’s murder
FILE PHOTO: Hermitage Capital CEO William Browder is sworn-in before a continuation of
Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on alleged Russian meddling in the
2016 presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian prosecutors said on Monday they suspected Kremlin critic Bill Browder of ordering the murder of a lawyer whose memory he has championed, but he dismissed the accusation as a cynical ploy to tar him for lobbying for sanctions on Moscow.
    Browder, the British head of investment fund Hermitage Capital Management, has led a campaign to expose corruption and punish Russian officials he blames for the 2009 death of Sergei Magnitsky, whom he had employed as a lawyer, in a Moscow jail.
    The prosecutors said they had opened a new criminal investigation into Browder and vowed to seek his arrest for creating an international criminal group.
    They accused U.S.-born Browder, 54, of setting up companies to launder millions of dollars and said they suspected he may have poisoned four former colleagues, including Magnitsky.
    Nikolai Atmonyev, an aide to Russia’s prosecutor-general, said it was “highly likely” that Browder himself had ordered the poisoning of Magnitsky in jail, citing testimony from a former cellmate, RIA news agency reported.
    Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 shortly after alleging that Russian officials were involved in large-scale tax fraud.    He complained of mistreatment by the authorities before his death.
    The accusations – which relate to crimes dating from more than nine years ago in at least one case – are the latest in a series to be directed at Browder.    He has cast them as a vendetta waged by President Vladimir Putin for his lobbying, which in 2012 led to U.S. sanctions on Russia in the ‘Magnitsky Act.’
    “I really struck a nerve with the Magnitsky Act,” Browder wrote on social media on Monday, describing the latest allegations against him as “Kafka-esque.”
FEVER DREAM
    Browder drew a parallel between the accusations against him and the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England in March.    The West blamed Russia for the poisoning, which caused a flurry of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.
    “Putin’s ‘fever dream’ response to being caught poisoning the Skripals is accusing me of four murders, including poisoning of Sergei Magnitsky,” Browder wrote on Twitter.
    Last year a Russian court sentenced Browder in absentia to nine years in jail after finding him guilty of deliberate bankruptcy and tax evasion.
    The U.S. sanctions imposed under the Magnitsky Act imposed visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials linked to the death of Magnitsky.
    Putin has dismissed allegations of foul play against Magnitsky and said he died of heart failure.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/20/2018 Kremlin accuses U.S. senators of trying to meddle in Interpol election
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin
and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday that a statement by a group of U.S. senators opposing the election of a Russian candidate to head international police organization Interpol amounted to election meddling.
    Interpol is due to elect a new head on Nov. 21 and four U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio, published a joint statement on Monday urging the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to oppose the candidacy of Russia’s Alexander Prokopchuk.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call: “… This is probably a certain kind of interference in the electoral process of an international organization.”
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/20/2018 Russia says Moscow and Ankara must take swift decisions on Syria’s Idlib: agencies
FILE PHOTO: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu attends a meeting of President Vladimir Putin
with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi, Russia September 17, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday that Moscow and Ankara needed to take swift decisions to support a demilitarized zone in Syria’s Idlib Province.
    Russia earlier this month accused rebels in the insurgent-held region of trying to wreck a Russian-Turkish initiative to create a demilitarized zone there.
    Shoigu, speaking to Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, was cited by Russian news agencies as saying that the two countries needed to act to defend their initiative.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

11/20/2018 U.S. targets Iran-Russia network over oil sent to Syria by Arshad Mohammed and Susan Heavey
FILE PHOTO: A youth works at a makeshift oil refinery site in Marchmarin town,
southern countryside of Idlib, Syria December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday it had moved to disrupt an Iranian-Russian network that sent millions of barrels of oil to Syria and hundreds of millions of dollars to indirectly fund militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
    The complicated arrangement, described by the U.S. Treasury in a statement, involved a Syrian citizen using his Russia-based company to ship Iranian oil to Syria with the aid of a Russian state-owned company.
    Syria then helped transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to Hezbollah, which functions as a political party that is part of the Lebanese government and as a militia, as well as to Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules the Gaza Strip.
    Since 2014, vessels carrying Iranian oil have switched off transponders to conceal deliveries to Syria, the Treasury Department said, adding it, the State Department and the U.S. Coast Guard had issued an advisory to the maritime community about the sanctions risks of shipping oil to Syria’s government.
    The alleged arrangement shows how Russia has sought to undercut U.S. policy toward Syria, where Washington and Moscow back opposite sides of a civil war that began in 2011, as well as toward Iran, which the United States wants to curb its nuclear and missile programs and support for militant proxies.
    “Today we are acting against a complex scheme Iran and Russia have used to bolster the (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad regime and generate funds for Iranian malign activity,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement announcing sanctions on those it said were tied to the network.
    “Central Bank of Iran officials continue to exploit the international financial system,” he added.
    Richard Nephew, a sanctions expert at Columbia University, said “the arrangement exposes Russia’s efforts to support Assad for their own interests, which has the function of thwarting the U.S. desire to no longer have Assad in power.”
    Those targeted include Syrian Mohammad Amer Alchwiki and his Russia-based company, Global Vision Group, which were central to the delivery of Iranian oil to Syria and the transfer of funds to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force’s “lethal proxies,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.
    Other targets include: Syrian national Hajji Abd Al-Nasir, Lebanon national Muhammad Qasim Al-Bazzal and Russian national Andrey Dogaev as well as Iranian nationals Rasoul Sajjad and Hossein Yaghoubi Miab, the statement said.
    Sajjad and Yaghoobi, Central Bank of Iran officials, worked to facilitate Alchwiki’s transfers, it said.
    Others sanctioned include state-owned Russian company Promsyrioimport, a subsidiary of the Russian Ministry of Energy, which the U.S. Treasury said had facilitated shipments of Iranian oil to Syria, as well as Mir Business Bank and Iran-based Tadbir Kish Medical and Pharmaceutical Company.
    The Treasury’s “designation” of the individuals and entities effectively cuts them off from the global financial system by blocking any of their assets under U.S. jurisdiction and in effect warning non-U.S. institutions against dealing with them.
    The United States is at odds with Britain, France and Germany as well as with Russia and China over U.S. President Donald Trump’s May 8 decision to abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, negotiated with the other world powers during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.
    That agreement removed many U.S. and other economic sanctions from Iran in return for Tehran’s commitment to curtail its nuclear program.
    Trump restored U.S. sanctions on Nov. 5 and has threatened more action to stop its “outlaw” policies.
    Iran, in turn, called Trump’s actions economic warfare and vowed to defy the sanctions.    European powers that continue to back the nuclear deal said they opposed the reapplication of sanctions.
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert and Mohammad Zargham; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)

11/20/2018 Treasury Dept. sanctions Iran-Russia firms over alleged oil smuggling scheme by OAN Newsroom
    The Treasury Department is slapping new sanctions on an alleged joint Iranian-Russian oil smuggling circle.
    In a statement Tuesday, the Treasury said it blacklisted one Iranian and three Russian companies over claims they smuggled oil from Iran into Syria.
    Treasury Department Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Russian-Iranian scheme supplied fuel to Assad as well as terror groups Hamas and Hezbollah.    It generated money for Iran’s activities in the Middle East.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, present details of the
new sanctions on Iran, at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
    Russian diplomats are blasting — what they called — America’s questionable unilateral moves.
    “Western capitals don’t seem to want to work with new centers of economic and political influence,” stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.    “They impose a wide range of reprisals on those who do not agree with them — from military force and unilateral economic sanctions to demonization and defamation in a ‘highly likely’ manner.”
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is welcoming the Treasury’s move by assuring there will be grave consequences for anyone smuggling oil into Syria and evading the Iran sanctions.

11/20/2018 Bosnia’s new presidency sworn in, rivalry looms by Maja Zuvela and Daria Sito-Sucic
Newly elected member of Bosnia's tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, Serb member Milorad Dodik,
attends a joint news conference during the presidential inauguration ceremony
in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – A pro-Russian Serb nationalist who wants the Bosnian army dismantled and pro-NATO Croat and Bosniak supporters of a multi-ethnic Bosnia were sworn in on Tuesday as new members of the state presidency, with rivalry looming among them.
    Their different views of Bosnia’s place in the world seem certain to block decision-making in the state body which is responsible for drawing up and conducting foreign policy under peace accords that ended the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
    Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, long an advocate of the Serb region seceding from Bosnia which he has labeled an “impossible state,” took a solemn oath pledging to respect the constitution, the Dayton peace deal and the rights of Bosnia’s people.
    But he made clear that the interests of Serbs and their autonomous region over which he has presided for the past eight years would be his priority.
    After the 1992-95 war which killed 100,000 people, Bosnia was divided into a Serb Republic and a Federation of Croat-dominated and Bosniak-dominated cantons, linked via the tripartite presidency and a weak central government.
    Dodik, who will hold the rotating chairmanship of the presidency over the next eight months, called on other presidency members to work together to speed up Bosnia’s integration with the EU.
    “The time when we were at war has long passed and this is a serious opportunity to progress forward,” he said during his inauguration speech.
    Though Dodik says EU membership is a priority, he opposes any moves to join NATO and instead wants closer ties with Russia and Serbia.
    But Zeljko Komsic, a moderate Croat who is serving a third term in the presidency, and Sefik Dzaferovic, a Bosniak member who comes from the largest Muslim Bosniak SDA party, said they would push for integration into the U.S.-led military alliance.
    “The future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is in the membership of NATO and EU, these are the guarantees of security and prosperity for its citizens,” Komsic said in his speech.
(Writing by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

11/21/2018 Putin may meet Saudi crown prince at G20 in Argentina: Kremlin
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony to mark the completion of the
sea part of the TurkStream gas pipeline, in Istanbul, Turkey November 19, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin may meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina starting on Nov. 30, the Kremlin said on Wednesday.
    Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the Kremlin was closely watching moves in oil prices, but declined to comment on whether Moscow would take any possible action to affect them.
(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh and Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/21/2018 Poland backtracks on Supreme Court law contested by EU
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the
ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, react after the exit poll with results of the Polish regional elections
are announced in Warsaw, Poland October 21, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) proposed a legislative amendment on Wednesday backtracking on Supreme Court reforms at the center of its conflict with the European Union over democratic standards.
    In October the European Court of Justice said in an injunction that Poland had to suspend an overhaul of the Supreme Court, which effectively allowed the PiS to hand-pick top judges.
    A justification of the draft amendment to the Supreme Court was published on the Polish parliament’s website on Wednesday.    “The amendment constitutes an execution of the European Court of Justice injunction,” it said.
    Part of a sweeping overhaul of the judiciary, the reforms passed in July forced some top court judges into early retirement.    The PiS said the changes were needed to make the courts more efficient, ignoring a series of EU warnings to backtrack.
    The law lowered the retirement age of judges to 65 from 70.    Since its implementation, over 20 Supreme Court judges — around one-third of the total — have been forced to quit.
    The proposed amendment stipulates judges who were retired can continue to work at the court, although their retirement remains valid.
    After the European Court of Justice ruling, the head of the PiS and Poland’s de facto leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said Warsaw would observe the EU law but would appeal against the EU court’s decision.    The ruling, however, carries no right to appeal.
    The amendment proposal comes at a time of public concern over a case of an alleged corruption attempt involving the former head of financial market regulator.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Justyna Pawlak and David Stamp)

11/22/2018 Head of Russian spy agency accused of British poison attack dies by Andrew Osborn and Maria Tsvetkova
FILE PHOTO - A general view shows the headquarters of the Main Directorate of the
General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, formerly known as
the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), in Moscow, Russia October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The head of Russia’s military intelligence agency that the West has blamed for a string of brazen attacks died on Wednesday after “a serious and long illness,” the Russian defense ministry said on Thursday, hailing him as a “true son of Russia.”
    The Ministry of Defence heaped praise on Colonel-General Igor Korobov, 62, who had run the spy agency, best known as the GRU, since 2016, saying he had been made a Hero of Russia for his service in the post, the highest state award.     “The loving memory of this wonderful person, a true son of Russia, a patriot of the Fatherland Colonel-General Igor Valentinovich Korobov will always be in our hearts,” the ministry said in a statement.
    Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, expressed his condolences to Korobov’s relatives, while state news agency TASS cited a military source as saying Vice-Admiral Igor Kostyukov, the agency’s first deputy head, had been standing in for Korobov during his illness and was the favorite to formally take over his role.
    Britain has accused the GRU of attempting to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent, the Netherlands has accused it of trying to hack the global chemical weapons watchdog, and U.S. intelligence agencies say it tried to hack the 2016 presidential election.
    Russia denies all those allegations.
    Speculation about Korobov’s fate had been growing since an unconfirmed media report that Putin had summoned him after the Skripal affair and severely criticized the operation which left the Skripals alive and the GRU a target of mockery in the Western media.
    Korobov was absent from a ceremony in Moscow this month where Putin and other senior officials celebrated the centenary of the GRU, with the Russian leader praising its skill and “unique abilities.”
SOVIET VETERAN
    Korobov’s death paves the way for Putin to appoint a successor to head an agency that intelligence experts say has stepped up its covert missions as tension mounts between Russia and the West, which has imposed sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.
    Asked last month if there would be a shake-up at the defense ministry in the aftermath of the Skripal affair, the Kremlin said the low quality of the allegations leveled at GRU did not justify such changes.
    The United States included Korobov’s name on a March sanctions blacklist of people believed to have helped “undermine cyber security on behalf of the Russian government.”
    Korobov was a Soviet military veteran who served in the air force and, according to his official biography, began working for the GRU in 1985.
    The GRU, founded as the registration directorate in 1918 after the Bolshevik revolution, is one of Russia’s three main intelligence agencies, alongside the domestic Federal Security Service and the SVR Foreign Intelligence Service.
    The last head of the GRU, Igor Sergun, also died at a relatively young age.    He was just 58 when the Kremlin said in 2016 he had died unexpectedly.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Andrew Osborn, Writing by Andrew Osborn, Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Clarence Fernandez, William Maclean)

11/22/2018 Denmark suspends Saudi weapon export approvals over Khashoggi, Yemen concerns
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 19, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark has suspended future approvals of weapons and military equipment exports to Saudi Arabia in response to the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist and the kingdom’s role in the conflict in Yemen, the Danish Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
    Germany has already suspended issuing future weapons export licenses and has moved to halt all arms sales, while France said on Monday said it will decide soon on sanctions over Khashoggi’s killing at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month.
    Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s biggest weapons importers.    It heads a military coalition fighting in a civil war in Yemen in which tens of thousands of people have died and caused a major humanitarian catastrophe.
    “With the continued deterioration of the already terrible situation in Yemen and the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, we are now in a new situation,” said Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen in a statement.
    Denmark issued ten such approvals last year, according to the ministry.    Already given approvals will not be suspended, a spokesman said.
    Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised Saudi Arabia for helping to lower oil prices but pressure intensified for the United States to impose tougher sanctions on its Middle East ally over Khashoggi’s murder.
(Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/22/2018 Czech PM Babis sticks to preference for CEZ as builder of new nuclear plant: CTK agency
FILE PHOTO: Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis arrives at the European Union leaders summit
in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – A new Czech nuclear plant should be built by a subsidiary of majority state-owned electricity producer CEZ with the government supporting the project by being second in line as guarantor, news agency CTK quoted Prime Minister Andrej Babis as saying.
    CEZ has in the past refused to build new nuclear plants without clear state involvement, possibly through guaranteed electricity prices.    Some private shareholders in CEZ have also been opposed to the project.
    Babis has long preferred CEZ to be the investor.    The government plans to decide on a financing model for the new unit, to built at the existing Dukovany power plant, in the coming months.
    Babis said last month the government may buy some time to decide on the new plant by working on extending the operation of the existing units at Dukovany by 10 years beyond their current lifespan ending around 2035.
(Reporting by Jan Lopatka)

11/22/2018 Russia says G20 draft communique project touches trade, global restrictions, WTO
Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak gestures as he arrives for the
official photo at the G20 Meeting of Finance Ministers in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A draft G20 communique covers trade and issues related to the World Trade Organisation, among other topics, Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said on Thursday.
    The Group of 20 leading world economies is due to meet on Nov. 30-Dec. 1 in Argentina.
    Storchak told reporters there were major disagreements with the United States over the draft communique and that Argentina was asking all member countries to get actively involved in the drafting of the document.
(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/22/2018 Ukraine parliament confirms Markarova as 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’s parliament on Thursday appointed Oksana Markarova as Finance Minister nearly half a year after her predecessor Oleksandr Danylyuk was sacked following a public spat with the prime minister.
    Markarova, who was nominated by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, has served as acting minister since June and been a key negotiator with the International Monetary Fund about a new stand-by loan.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Matthias Williams and Alison Williams)

11/22/2018 Russia buys crowd-control vehicles that emit sonic waves and light
FILE PHOTO: Servicemen of the Russian National Guard push people back onto sidewalks during an anti-corruption protest organised
by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, on Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, Russia June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s National Guard, which polices anti-govb>ernment protests, has purchased two vehicles fitted with a laser and a sonic sound system to disorient people, raising fears among the opposition they could be used to disperse peaceful protesters.
    The two mini-vans, fitted with what is described as a non-lethal system, cost a total of 65.2 million roubles ($995,250) according to a public procurement order posted online which indicated they had been delivered in October.
    Rosgvardiya, Russia’s National Guard, confirmed the purchases in a statement on Wednesday, but said it was wrong to call the new systems a weapon and that they were intended to be used to provide acoustic and other interference during counter-terrorism operations.
    Alongside regular police, National Guard officers use batons to break up anti-Kremlin rallies and have detained hundreds of protesters at nationwide protests led by opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the past year.
    “If necessary they could use something like this against crowds in the street,” said Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny ally, who listed a number of other hi-tech crowd control vehicles at the authorities’ disposal.
    “I want to advise our government officials,” Sobol said in an online video.    “Learn not to ban demonstrations and frighten people with special vehicles and talk to people…and listen to what is being said.”
    President Vladimir Putin set up the National Guard in 2016, folding in the old Interior Ministry troops, riot police and police special forces into its ranks.    He named one of his former bodyguards, Viktor Zolotov, to head it.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
[So now we know that such devices exist and are being used.    Maybe Trump has that at the southern border in case.].

11/23/2018 Hungary’s Orban defends asylum for fugitive Macedonian ex-leader
FILE PHOTO: Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (L) stands in front of his
Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban during news conference in Skopje May 12, 2011. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Friday defended Hungary’s granting of asylum to a former Macedonian prime minister facing a jail term at home, describing him as an ally and accusing Macedonia’s justice system of involvement in political “games.”
    Former Macedonian premier Nikola Gruevski fled to Hungary earlier this month after being sentenced to two years in prison over corruption-related charges.    Hungary’s foreign minister said Hungarian diplomats accompanied him to Budapest.
    Gruevski received political asylum on Tuesday, prompting criticism from Macedonia, the European Union and the United States.
    Orban said he and Gruevski, who resigned in 2016 after a decade in power, had fought side by side to stop mass migration through the Balkans, which made Macedonia, and Gruevski personally, an ally.
    “I know this man, he was a colleague of mine for a long time,” Orban told state radio mr1 in an interview.    “It would have been a lot harder, if not impossible, to defend the Hungarian border without him.”
    “One treats their allies fairly.    If he turns to us, he can expect due process.    We can’t place him above the law, but we can give him due process.”
    Macedonian police had issued an arrest warrant for Gruevski after he failed to show up to begin his sentence, following a Nov. 9 court ruling against his motion for a reprieve.
    Orban said Macedonian legal proceedings against Gruevski were politically-tinged so they should not influence Hungarian authorities.
    “Complex political struggles and games are happening in Macedonia, and the justice system is a part of that,” he said.    “Macedonian proceedings have no influence over us.    We only care if the (asylum) request is legally sound.”
    Orban dismissed international criticism of Hungary’s help in helping ferry Gruevski across the Balkans to Budapest and its sheltering of him as the work of organizations and people tied to U.S. financier George Soros.
    Soros could not immediately be reached for comment.    But the Budapest-born philanthropist has denied repeated accusations by Orban that he and his Open Society Foundations have undermined Europe’s way of life by encouraging migration.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai, Editing by William Maclean)
[We'll George Soros name was involved so we know there was some sort of Progressive Socialism involved in this issue.].

11/23/2018 Russia, stung by intelligence leaks, plans to tighten data protection by Maria Kolomychenko
People look at data on their mobiles as background with internet wire cables on switch hub
is projected in this picture illustration taken May 30, 2018. Picture taken May 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has drawn up draft legislation aimed at stopping leaks of personal information from state agencies, a step that follows publication of details of Russians allegedly involved in clandestine intelligence operations abroad.
    The bill, produced by Russia’s communications ministry, bars unauthorized people from creating and publishing databases of personal data drawn from official sources, and fines anyone violating that rule.
    It also requires that state agencies setting up systems for handling personal data consult with the Federal Security Service, Russia’s main domestic intelligence agency.
    The communications ministry did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
    The bill, published late on Thursday, says it is in response to a 2017 instruction from President Vladimir Putin and makes no mention of the spate of leaks.
    However, Russian authorities have been embarrassed by leaks about two men Britain alleges were Russian intelligence agents who used a nerve agent to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.    Russia denies involvement.
    The two men told Russian television they were innocent tourists who went to the English city of Salisbury, where Skripal was living, to view its cathedral.
    But the Bellingcat investigative journalism website, drawing on leaked passport information, identified the two as officers with Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.
    In a separate case, a Russian accused in a U.S. indictment of conducting cyber attacks around the world was traced, via leaked official databases, to an address in Moscow that Washington says is a base for Russian military intelligence.
    The legislation, comprising two draft laws and a draft government resolution, has been published for a 30-day period of public consultation, after which it will be submitted to parliament and the government for approval.
    Russia has an active black market in illegal databases compiled using confidential information stolen from state-run registries.    The data includes passport details, addresses, car registrations, flight manifests and even tax returns.
    Releasing personal data in this way is already illegal under existing legislation, but Russian authorities have struggled to stamp out the practice.    Many of the databases are openly available on the Internet.
(editing by John Stonestreet)
[We'll it is true what goes around comes around.].

11/23/2018 Cuban doctors head home, leaving Brazilian towns with no care by Anthony Boadle
A Cuban doctor carries Brazilian and Cuban flags as she returns to her home,
after criticism by Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro towards Cuban doctors prompted Cuba's government
to sever a cooperation agreement, in Brasilia, Brazil November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
    BRASILIA (Reuters) – The first of thousands of Cuban doctors left Brazil on Thursday after criticism by Brazil’s far-right President-elect Jair Bolsonaro prompted Cuba’s government to sever a cooperation agreement, leaving millions of Brazilians without medical care.
    Bolsonaro said the Cuban doctors were being used as “slave labor” because the Cuban government took 75 percent of their salaries.    He said the program that began in 2013 could only continue if they got full pay and were allowed to bring their families from Cuba.
    Bolsonaro, an admirer of U.S. President Donald Trump, was elected last month by Brazilians fed up with rising crime and rampant corruption that reached new highs during almost a decade and a half of leftist governments with close ties to Cuba.
    The Cubans practiced mostly in poor and remote areas of Brazil where Brazilian doctors do not want to work.    The government is now scrambling to replace them in 8,332 positions left vacant by the sudden departures of the Cubans.
    Cuba has a respected health service and generates major export earnings by sending more than 50,000 health workers to more than 60 countries.    Even receiving a fraction of their salaries, the money was good for the doctors by Cuban standards.
    As they lined up to check in at the Brasilia airport, many had large mainly 49-inch smart TVs packaged to take home to communist-run Cuba, where such imported sets are very expensive.
    “I will be happy to see my children but sad to leave people without medical care,” said Lume Rodriguez, a general practitioner who spent two years in the interior of Bahia state.
    “Our patients came to hug us goodbye,” said Rafael Sosa, 32, from Granma province in eastern Cuba.    “I visited many patients here who had never had a doctor in their home.”
    In many Brazilian towns and the outskirts of cities that relied on the Cuban doctors, usually crowded waiting rooms at public health posts were empty this week and notices said appointments had been canceled until further notice.
    Adrielly Rodrigues, a pregnant 22-year-old, was turned away on Wednesday when she went for a pre-natal scan in Santa Maria, a town near the capital Brasilia.
    “We are so worried because we don’t have the money to pay for a private doctor and she is five months pregnant and still needs to be monitored and have tests,” said her mother, Adriana Rodrigues.
    A national lobby of mayors, the FNP, and the municipal health authorities council Conasems said in a statement that 29 million Brazilians could be left without basic healthcare.    They urged the government to make it possible for the Cubans to stay.
    Bolsonaro, who takes office on Jan. 1, said last week he would grant asylum to any Cuban who asks for it, escalating tensions with Havana.    He said Cuban doctors were not qualified and would have to take exams to practice in Brazil.
    The Health Ministry plans next week to waive a requirement that Cubans validate their medical diploma in Brazil so that they can continue working directly contracted by the Brazilian government and not through the Pan-American Health Organization.
    It is not clear how many Cubans will want to break with their communist-run government’s doctors-for-export program, which is present in about 60 countries, especially if they have children in Cuba since it would be tantamount to defecting.
    Brazil plans to fill the medical vacuum with local hires.    In just two days since registration opened, 3,648 Brazilians have been selected to fill the empty posts, a ministry spokesman said, but those replacements are mainly in large urban areas.
    One Cuban who will be staying in Brazil is Richel Collazo, who was so liked in the small town of Chapada in southern Brazil that the mayor asked him to become municipal health secretary.
    “My town needs doctors and he has been key to our medical care,” Mayor Carlos Catto said by telephone.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bill Trott)

11/23/2018 Gateway for east Europe to the West, Soros-founded school leaves Hungary by Krisztina Than
A view inside the Central European University in Budapest, Hungary,
November 14, 2018. Picture taken November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – For nearly three decades Central European University has been a gateway to the West for thousands of students from ex-communist eastern Europe, offering U.S.-accredited degree programs in an academic climate that celebrates free thought and open debate.
    Now that looks set to change as the graduate school founded in Budapest by U.S. financier George Soros in 1991 prepares to move to a new campus in Vienna after a lengthy battle with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
    Orban, a conservative nationalist, accuses the Hungarian-born Soros of plotting to destroy European civilization by flooding the continent with immigrants.    Soros says his support for refugees is one part of a wider humanitarian mission to back open societies around the globe.
    Following legal changes widely seen as targeting CEU and strongly criticized by the European Union and rights groups, the university says it will leave Budapest if it does not get guarantees of academic freedom by Dec. 1.
    Orban’s government has ruled out any concessions to CEU, effectively marking the symbolic end of an era for higher education in Hungary, an EU member state, and raising the prospect of considerable upheaval for many students.
    Recalling how studying for his MA and PhD degrees at CEU transformed his life, Otto Gecser, 43, said students there were brought into contact with “cutting-edge research” and that the university’s diverse student body – drawn from all over Europe and the world – provided unique opportunities.
    “We could learn a lot from them and I guess this … trickles down through us when we teach at (our) universities,” said Gecser, who now heads ELTE University’s Sociology Department in Budapest.
    More than 3,500 CEU alumni are currently working and teaching in Hungary.    CEU also has joint projects with other Hungarian universities.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
    Echoing Gecser’s comments, Hungarian academic Petra Bard, 42, said her legal studies at CEU had proved “a transformative experiencewhich taught her to think critically, to engage in debates and defend her views.
    “This is a different approach we learnt towards debating, towards challenging anything, any thought.    What we were taught is freedom of academia, freedom of speech,” she said.
    Hungarians comprise about 20 percent of the 1,320 students admitted to CEU for the 2018-19 academic year.    Many others are from central and eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union and western Europe, with smaller numbers from further afield.
    CEU says it will move its U.S.-accredited degree programs – accounting for the bulk of its courses – to Vienna, but currently enrolled students will remain in Budapest to complete their degrees.    Around 600 new students are expected to be enrolled at CEU in Vienna next year.
    Zsolt Enyedi, CEU’s Pro-Rector for Hungarian Affairs, said the university’s Hungarian language degree programs – a fraction of the courses offered – were accredited for five more years, so hopefully that would allow the Vienna-based students to come to Budapest for exchange programs and vice versa.
    But the changes will pose significant logistical challenges, in terms of visas, accommodation and residence permits, and commuting between the two cities – some 250 km (155 miles) apart – will become a way of life for many students and teachers.
    “Unfortunately, we cannot be completely sure whether this is a model that is sustainable for the long term,” said Enyedi.
    “Obviously, if a considerable part of our education is concentrated in a different country, if CEU as an American institution is no longer present in Hungary then the bridge that we will be building in the future may be actually more between America and Austria, than America and Hungary.”
    Enyedi said CEU would considerably increase stipends for the students in Austria to make studies affordable for Hungarians and other eastern Europeans.
    “At the same time, I can imagine that the change will have an impact on our student body.    It is easily imaginable that our west European intake will increase, probably we will have more Austrian students,” he said.
    CEU students plan to stage a protest before Hungary’s parliament on Saturday and will be joined by students from other universities, but they realize there is little hope of changing the government’s mind and many are bracing for upheaval.
    “On a personal level, of course it will affect our studies because… moving will cause a lot of change,” said Nassim Abi Ghanem, 28, from Lebanon, a PhD student.
    “We have our supervisors, our classes that will be disrupted.    Where we are going to live and how we are going to do all this personal day to day stuff?    So yes, this adds anxiety to students.”
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[I am glad to see that the country woke up to the teaching of the Progressive Socialist to their youth and bumped Soros and his antichristian philosophies on them.].

11/23/2018 Russia ready to mediate between Palestinians and Israel: Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov listens to a question during a news conference
at the foreign ministry in Madrid, Spain, November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Perez
    ROME (Reuters) – Russia would be ready to host a meeting between Palestinians and Israel and to act as a mediator, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
    Lavrov was speaking to reporters during a two-day trip to Rome.
(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

11/23/2018 Kosovo police arrest three over January murder of Serb leader Ivanovic
FILE PHOTO: A portrait of Oliver Ivanovic is seen during a memorial service for the
Kosovo Serb leader in Mitrovica, Kosovo, January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic/File Photo
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Police in Kosovo have made the first arrests in connection with the murder of Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic in January, detaining three suspects including two ex-police officers in a pre-dawn raid on Friday, officials said.
    Ivanovic, 64, was shot dead on Jan. 16 as he arrived at his party office in Mitrovica, a town bitterly split between Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians and minority nationalist Serbs, who dominate the northern region surrounding Mitrovica.
    He had been facing retrial over killings of ethnic Albanians during Kosovo’s 1998-99 guerrilla uprising against repressive Serbian rule.    Kosovo gained independence from Serbia in 2008 and Ivanovic subsequently became known as a relative moderate for advocating dialogue and compromise with Kosovo Albanians.
    A special police unit sent by the Kosovo Albanian government in Pristina carried out the raid in the Serb-dominated north side of Mitrovica and all three arrested suspects were Serbs, a police statement said.    It said a fourth Serb was detained for resisting and hindering the operation.
    “Relevant evidence” was collected, it added.
    Kosovo’s north, where some 50,000 Serbs live, has been in legal limbo since the 1990s war – politically loyal to Serbia but generally a no-go territory for both Serbian and Kosovo police, with Serb criminal gangs exerting a powerful grip.
    Serbia’s government protested at the Kosovo police action.    “The ultimate goal of this is intimidation of all Serbs in Kosovo,” said Nikola Selakovic, an aide to President Aleksandar Vucic.    “What is the purpose of arresting people at dawn?
    Tensions resurged between Kosovo and Serbia on Wednesday when the Pristina government raised tariffs on Serbian goods from 10 to 100 percent after Belgrade blocked its former province from joining Interpol.    Serbs vowed protests at border crossings with Serbia later on Friday.
    Kosovo’s independence is recognised by more than 110 nations but not by Serbia, Russia or five EU states.
    Belgrade and Moscow have blocked Kosovo from joining the United Nations.
    In 2013 both countries agreed to an EU-sponsored dialogue to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/23/2018 EU says changes to Polish supreme court legislation a good sign
European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis holds a new conference on the European Semester
Spring package at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    WARSAW (Reuters) – European Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis said on Friday that changes Poland is introducing in a law overhauling the Supreme Court are a sign that things are going in the right direction.
    “At first glance it seems to be heading in the right direction.    We need some time to do a deeper assessment of the legislation.    We see this as a positive opening,” he told news conference in Warsaw.
    The lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a legislative amendment reversing changes it had made at the Supreme Court that the European Union had condemned as undemocratic.
(Reporting by Joann Plucinska; Writing by Marcin Goclowski, Editing by William Maclean)

11/23/2018 Deputies pass budget as Ukraine seeks to unlock frozen IMF billions by Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams
Ukrainian lawmakers attend a parliament session in Kiev, Ukraine November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian lawmakers passed the 2019 budget early on Friday, a crucial step towards securing the first tranche of a new $3.9 billion IMF aid program and providing financial stability ahead of elections next year.
    Finance Minister Oksana Markarova said the government would submit the budget to the International Monetary Fund for assessment as quickly as possible but declined to comment on the tranche size.
    Exact details of the budget’s final version are not yet public but Markarova said it was in line with the IMF’s demand for a budget deficit of around 2.3 percent.
    The IMF did not immediately comment on the budget vote.
    “We have begun many processes, reforms and transformations,” Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman told lawmakers before the vote, held after parliament had worked through the night.
    “The country’s budget is a key tool for the implementation of these tasks,” he said.    “In 2019, in the year of turbulence, we must ensure stability.”
    Groysman had told Reuters last week he hoped to secure an IMF tranche as early as December once the budget passed, which would also pave the way for similar disbursals from the European Union and the World Bank.
    Markarova said the government expected 500 million euros from Brussels this year and a loan guarantee from the World Bank that will allow Ukraine to borrow about $800 million.
    The government cannot directly use the IMF money, which must be used to boost the central bank’s reserves.    But the deal gives the markets confidence, which has allowed Ukraine to issue eurobonds since the latest deal was struck.
    The European Union and the World Bank will only lend to Ukraine once the IMF has.
    Ukraine has tapped the IMF and other international bodies for money to guarantee its stability, as it faces a rising debt burden over the next two years and closely-fought parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019.
    However, the IMF loans may come at a political cost.    The government was required to raise household gas prices by nearly a quarter as a precondition for them, a move criticized by some opposition lawmakers during Thursday’s parliamentary debates.
    Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who has led some early opinion polls for next year’s race, has denounced the price hike as a “genocide against the Ukrainian people.”
    Markarova, who has been acting finance minister since June, was confirmed in the post by parliament on Thursday.
    Like Groysman and the central bank governor, Markarova has talked up Ukraine’s need for further cooperation with the IMF, which supported Ukraine’s economy after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and the outbreak of fighting in the east.
    IMF aid has effectively been frozen since April 2017, as Ukraine’s performance on reforms, such as setting up a special court to try corruption cases, slowed down and the government proved reluctant to raise gas prices, kept artificially low since Soviet times, to market levels.
    The government raised household gas prices by 23.5 percent but they are still just over two-thirds of what commercial consumers pay.
(Editing by Jon Boyle)

11/24/2018 Students rally in Budapest to keep Soros-founded school
People attend a rally for the Soros-founded Central European University
in Budapest, Hungary, November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands joined a student rally in Budapest on Saturday calling for safeguards for academic freedom and changes in government policies which have prompted a university founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros to plan to leave Hungary.
    The Central European University (CEU) has announced it will move to Vienna unless Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government agrees by December 1 to ensure the legal framework for its continued operation in Hungary.
    CEU has offered U.S.-accredited degree programs to thousands of students from ex-communist eastern Europe for almost three decades.
    Participants in the demonstration held outside the historic buildings of Corvinus University on the bank of the Danube river, said the academic climate symbolized by the CEU, one which celebrates free thought and open debate, needed to be defended.
    “CEU represents free education and diversity… I am fed up with what is going on here,” said Maria Palmai, 63, a retired bank official.
    More than 3,500 CEU alumni are currently working and teaching in Hungary.
    Students of other universities including ELTE and Corvinus also attended the rally.
    “If we do not stand up for CEU, the next time they will come for ELTE.    Nobody will stand up for ELTE, and if they go for Corvinus, nobody will stand up stand up for Corvinus,” said Eyad, 30, a Jordanian who studies film making at ELTE.
    CEU’s plan to move U.S. accredited programs, the bulk of its courses, to Vienna follows a lengthy battle with Orban’s government, including legal changes widely seen as targeting CEU.
    The conservative nationalist government has accused the Hungarian-born Soros of plotting to destroy European civilization by flooding the continent with immigrants.    Soros says his support for refugees is part of a humanitarian mission.
    The university looks set to move as the government has ruled out any concessions to CEU.
(Reporting by Sandor Peto; editing by Jason Neely)

11/25/2018 Ukraine says Russia seized its ships near annexed Crimea after firing on them by Andrew Osborn and Pavel Polityuk
Russian jet fighters fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula
with a cargo ship beneath it after three Ukrainian navy vessels was stopped by Russia from entering the
Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea, Crimea November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Pavlishak Alexey
    MOSCOW/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine accused Moscow of illegally seizing three of its naval ships off Russia-annexed Crimea on Sunday after opening fire on them, a charge that if confirmed could ignite a dangerous new crisis between the two countries.
    Russia did not immediately or directly respond to the allegation, but Russian news agencies cited the FSB security service as saying it had incontrovertible proof that Ukraine had orchestrated what it called “a provocation” and would make its evidence public soon.
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko immediately called a meeting with his top military and security chiefs to discuss the situation, which involved two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tug boat.
    Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and then built a giant road bridge linking it to southern Russia which straddles the Kerch Strait – a narrow stretch of water which links the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov which is home to two of Ukraine’s most important ports.
    Russia’s control of Crimea, where its Black Sea Fleet is based, and of the bridge, mean it is able to control shipping flows.
    The crisis began earlier on Sunday after Russia stopped the three Ukrainian ships from entering the Sea of Azov by placing a cargo ship beneath the bridge.
    A Reuters witness said Russia backed its blockade with at least two Sukhoi Su-25 warplanes which screeched overhead, while Russian state TV said Russian combat helicopters had been deployed in the area.
    The Ukrainian navy said on social media that six Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the subsequent seizure of its ships which appear to have been rammed and boarded and that the alleged Russian attack on them had occurred after they had retreated and headed back towards Odessa, the Black Sea port from where they had begun their journey.
    “After leaving the 12-mile zone, the Russian Federation’s FSB (security service) opened fire at the flotilla belonging to … the armed forces of Ukraine,” it said in a statement.
    The European Union in a statement said it expected Russia to restore freedom of passage via the Kerch strait and urged both sides to act with utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation.    A NATO spokeswoman issued a similar appeal to both sides.
RISK OF WIDER CONFLICT
    With relations still raw after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict.
    A bilateral treaty gives both Russia and Ukraine the right to use the Sea of Azov, which lies between them and is linked by the narrow Kerch Strait to the Black Sea.    Since Russia annexed Crimea, tension has risen with both countries complaining about shipping delays and harassment.
    Earlier on Sunday, Russia’s border guard service had accused Ukraine of not informing it in advance of the three ships’ journey, something Kiev denied.
    Russia said the Ukrainian ships had been manoeuvring dangerously and ignoring its instructions with the aim of stirring up tensions.
    Russian politicians denounced Kiev, saying the incident looked like a calculated bid by Poroshenko to increase his popularity ahead of an election next year.
    In another sign of rising tensions, Russia’s state-controlled RIA news agency reported on Sunday night that Ukrainian forces had started heavy shelling of residential areas in eastern Ukraine which is controlled by pro-Moscow separatists.
    Reuters could not independently confirm that and the Interfax news agency cited separatists as denying there had been any unusual escalation.
    The latest crisis initially erupted after Russia tried and failed to intercept the three Ukrainian ships in the Black Sea, accusing them of illegally entering Russian territorial waters.
    The Ukrainian navy said a Russian border guard vessel had rammed the tug boat and damaged it in that early incident.
    It said its vessels had every right to be where they were and that the ships had been en route from the Black Sea port of Odessa to Mariupol, a journey that requires them to go through the Kerch Strait.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

11/25/2018 Nikki Haley calls emergency UN meeting on Ukraine by OAN Newsroom
    Outgoing UN Ambassador Nikki Haley says the Security Council will hold and emergency meeting following a conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
    The meeting is set for 11 a.m. Monday, according to post to her Twitter account today, after the Russian Navy fired at and seized three Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait.
    Ukraine said it’s considering a military response to this latest act of aggression.
    Meanwhile, the Kremlin accused Ukraine of provocation, claiming its vessels were in Russia’s territorial waters.
    Anton Lozovoy, a Russian Security Services official, says the vessels “continue moving towards the Kerch Strait where there is a procedure for vessels’ moving and anchoring approved by a captain of this Russian sea port.”
    Russia is reportedly behind the request for the Security Council to meet to address, what could be, a tipping point in the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
    The vessel had a right to freely pass over the Kerch Strait based on international law, according to Ukrainian authorities.
    Shortly after the incident local media reported military clashes on the ground in Eastern Ukraine.

11/25/2018 Poland is intimidating our journalists: U.S.-owned Polish broadcaster
FILE PHOTO: Satellite antennas are pictured at the TVN headquarters in Warsaw March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – U.S.-owned private Polish broadcaster TVN said it was facing intimidation after members of Poland’s internal security agency entered a TVN cameraman’s house and called him to a hearing over accusations he propagated Nazi propaganda.
    The camera operator, Piotr Wacowski, went undercover to film a neo-nazi group for a report broadcast in January by the network, which is controlled by U.S. entertainment firm Discovery Inc..
    Poland’s National Prosecutor’s Office said on Sunday it was premature to accuse Wacowski and it had referred the case to a regional prosecutor’s office for further examination, Polish state-news agency PAP reported.
    A spokesman for Poland’s internal security agency declined to comment. A government spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Earlier this week, U.S. ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher told Polish lawmakers that U.S. Congress could withdraw support for Poland if the free press faced attacks, Polish news website Polska Times reported.
    The U.S. embassy in Poland did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the TVN cameraman.
    TVN24 is the most widely watched independent channel in Poland and the network has had run-ins before with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which has been accused by Brussels of trying to muzzle free media.
    “We are treating this as an attempt to intimidate journalists,” TVN said in a statement late on Saturday.    “The authors of the report acted in accordance with the standards of investigative journalism.”
    The TVN footage showed members of a far-right group dressed in Nazi uniforms, burning a wooden swastika, making Nazi salutes and sharing a cake with a symbol of a swastika made of chocolate cookies.
    Poland’s broadcasting regulator KRRiT fined TVN last year over its coverage of protests in Poland’s parliament, saying it was “promoting illegal activities and encouraging behavior that threatens security.”
    The U.S. government said the regulator’s actions undermined press freedom and KRRiT reversed the decision in January.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska and Pawel Sobczak; editing by David Clarke)

11/25/2018 Slovakia will not support U.N. migration pact: prime minister
FILE PHOTO: Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini talks to the media as he arrives for the informal meeting of
European Union leaders ahead of the EU summit, in Salzburg, Austria, September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovakia will not support the United Nations pact on the treatment of migrants worldwide, Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said on Sunday after the European Union summit.
    The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved in July by all 193 member U.N. nations except the United States, which backed out last year, and is due to be ratified formally in December.
    The pact was conceived after the biggest influx of migrants into Europe since World War Two, many fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
    “Slovakia will not support this United Nations pact under any circumstances and will not agree with it,” Pellegrini told reporters in Brussels after the summit where EU leaders approved the agreement on Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.
    A Slovakia rejection of the migration pact could lead to a shake-up of Pellegrini’s government, given that Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak has threatened to resign if the government shuns the agreement.
    Lajcak was President of the United Nations General Assembly when the migration pact was adopted.
    Pellegrini said that he believed Lajcak would stay even when the pact is rejected by Slovakia.
    “I will do everything I can to keep him in his seat,” the prime minister said.
(Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by David Goodman)

11/26/2018 Russia resists Western calls to free captured Ukrainian ships by Andrew Osborn and Maxim Rodionov
Activists of far-right parties attend a rally to support the Ukrainian navy after Russia seized two Ukrainian armored
artillery vessels and a tug boat in the Black Sea on Sunday, in central Kiev, Ukraine November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia resisted international calls on Monday to release three Ukrainian naval ships that its border patrols had fired on and seized near Crimea at the weekend, triggering the most dangerous crisis in years between Moscow and Kiev.
    With relations still raw after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict and is likely to renew Western calls for more sanctions on Moscow.
    Russia’s FSB security service said its border patrol boats had seized two small Ukrainian armoured artillery vessels and a tug boat after opening fire on them and wounding several sailors on Sunday.    It said it had opened a criminal case into what it called the ships’ illegal entry into Russian territorial waters.
    A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, Maria Zakharova, accused Ukraine of sending the ships to deliberately provoke Russia and said the ranking diplomat at Kiev’s embassy in Moscow would be summoned over the incident.
    Kiev denied its ships had done anything wrong and accused Moscow of military aggression.    Ukraine’s parliament was due to consider a proposal later on Monday to impose martial law for 60 days after President Petro Poroshenko met his top military and security chiefs on Sunday night over the crisis.
    Russia’s rouble currency opened 0.4 percent weaker against the dollar in Moscow, its lowest since mid-November, while Russian dollar-bonds fell.
    Markets are highly sensitive to anything that could trigger new Western sanctions, and therefore weaken the Russian economy.    A fall in the price of oil — Russia’s biggest source of revenue — has made its economy more vulnerable.
NAVIGATION RESUMES
    The narrow Kerch Strait links the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, dividing Crimea from southern Russia.    After annexing Crimea, Russia built a giant road bridge across the Strait, increasing its control of the waterway.
    The crisis began on Sunday after Russia stopped the three Ukrainian ships from entering the Sea of Azov by placing a cargo ship beneath the bridge.    Ukraine said a Russian ship had earlier rammed its tug boat in a failed to attempt to stop it.
    Russia said the flotilla had not notified it in advance of its plans and had ignored warnings to stop while manoeuvring dangerously.    Navigation resumed on Monday after Russia removed the cargo ship blocking the Strait.    A bilateral treaty gives both Russia and Ukraine the right to use the Sea of Azov, which is home to two of Ukraine’s most important ports.
    A Reuters witness in Kerch, a port in Crimea, said the three Ukrainian vessels were being held there.
    People in Russian naval-style uniforms could be seen around the vessels, which bore no sign of damage, the witness said.    They could be seen draping camouflage netting over the deck of one of the vessels.    There was no sign of the Ukrainian crew.
    The FSB said three Ukrainian sailors had been wounded in the incident and were getting medical care, adding that their lives were not in danger.
    The U.N. Security Council will meet on the latest developments at the request of Russia and Ukraine later on Monday, diplomats said.
    The European Union said it expected Russia to restore freedom of passage via the Kerch Strait and urged both sides to act with the utmost restraint to de-escalate the situation.    A NATO spokeswoman issued a similar appeal to both sides.
    Poland, Denmark and Canada condemned what they called Russian aggression.
    Any decision to impose martial law in Ukraine would be unpopular in some quarters as it would curb civil liberties and give state institutions greater power ahead of a presidential election next year which polls indicate Poroshenko would lose.
(For a graphic on ‘Map of the Kerch Strait bridge’ click https://tmsnrt.rs/2PRMbqh)
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Stine Buch Jacobsen in Copenhagen, Karin Strohecker in London and Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw; Writing by Andrew Osborn/Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/26/2018 Russia says it has no missiles violating nuclear arms pact with U.S.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto (not in picture) meets Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov
at the President's Official Residence Mantyniemi, Helsinki, Finland September 12, 2017. Lehtikuva/Martti Kainulainen/via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s foreign ministry on Monday denied having any missiles that violate the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces arms control treaty that the United States has said it plans to quit because of violations by Moscow.
    Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters that the missile that Washington has said is flouting the accord has not been tested at a range banned by the treaty.    He said the U.S. decided Russia was guilty before receiving evidence to the contrary.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra)

11/26/2018 Austrian rail strike stalls trains, disrupts 100,000 passengers
Two trains of the national rail company OeBB are seen during a warning strike
in a railway station in Vienna, Austria November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Trains stopped running across Austria on Monday as last-minute pay negotiations failed to avert a planned two-hour strike, disrupting travel for 100,000 travelers in Europe.
    Wedged between eight countries including Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Austria is an important hub for European rail travel.
    The main rail workers’ union called the “warning strike” to press its demands in the annual pay talks.
    Austrian national rail company OBB said shortly before the strike began that since the union had not told it which lines would be affected, all services would be shut down, including trains arriving from other countries.
    “The union has still not announced the affected connections and lines.    Therefore, for operational security reasons, OBB temporarily shut down rail traffic across Austria at 12 o’clock,” it added.
    The Vida trade union later said talks had broken down after it had received “no serious offer” on pay.    Its statement did not say what further industrial action it might take.
    By 1300 GMT, OBB said long-distance services were resuming and local ones would follow shortly afterwards, but disruptions were likely to continue until the late afternoon.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Alexander Smith)

11/26/2018 Latvian president nominates populist party candidate for PM post
Nominated Prime Minister's candidate Aldis Gobzems of KPV LV party attends a meeting at the
President Raimonds Vejonis' office, in Riga, Latvia November 7, 2018. Picture taken November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
    RIGA (Reuters) – Latvia’s president nominated Aldis Gobzems from the populist party KPV LV as prime minister on Monday and gave him two weeks to form a cabinet and secure majority support in parliament following an inconclusive election last month.
    Latvians, fed up with corruption and weak democracy in the Baltic country of 2 million, punished the ruling three-party coalition in the October election, leading to a highly fragmented parliament consisting of seven parties.
    Gobzems, whose party is the second largest in parliament, is the second candidate to be given a chance to form a government after Janis Bordans of the New Conservative party failed to gather enough support earlier this month.
    “What I can promise today is that I will do everything I can for the rest of my life… so that Latvians can live in prosperity and harmony,” said Gobzems, who has called for a shakeup of Latvian democracy.
    Gobzems said he would seek to form a government with centre-right parties, excluding Russia-friendly party Harmony, but did not specify how many parties he would try to bring in.
    President Raimonds Vejonis has given him until Dec. 10 to form a new coalition.
    Latvia has long been plagued by corruption and moneylaundering.
    Its central bank governor is awaiting trial on charges of accepting a bribe, which he denies.    One of Latvia’s biggest banks, ABLV, went into liquidation this year after U.S. authorities accused it of laundering vast amounts of money for people from the former Soviet Union.
(Reporting by Gederts Gelzis; Editing by Johan Ahlander and Gareth Jones)

11/26/2018 Europe’s East not catching up, may question value of EU: ECB
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags are seen outside the EU Commission
headquarters in Brussels, Belgium October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Economic convergence between east and west Europe has practically stalled, a potential threat to the European Union, a European Central Bank board member said on Monday.
    Former communist nations on the bloc’s eastern periphery are struggling to catch up three decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain and some populist parties are increasingly hostile to the union, even if support for the bloc remains widespread.
    “If there is no credible prospect of lower-income countries catching up soon, there is a risk that people living in those countries begin questioning the very benefits of membership of the EU or the currency union,” Central Bank board member Benoit Coeure said in Vienna.
    “Such doubts would be particularly worrisome in the unstable world we are currently living in,” he added.
    Trust in the EU is falling in some east European states, such as Hungary and Bulgaria, but the vast majority of people in the EU’s eastern nations still say their country benefits from being a member, the EU’s own surveys show.
    Coeure said the key issues are the big drop in productivity growth and the lack of capital.
    “These economies are now faced with a notable capital shortfall,” Coeure added.    “And, worse, investment rates have fallen further since the crisis.”
    Coeure added that the drop in foreign direct investment may not be as temporary as some think as firms are now reassessing how they invest.
    Wages have gone up, reducing the potential for cost savings and firms are now relying more on automation at home to replace labor elsewhere.    They are also simplifying their value chains to reduce the risk of disruptions, decreasing the need to invest in the East.
    “Europe can and should help, in three main ways,” Coeure said.
    “First, by providing the market that makes the development of new industries profitable.
    Second, by channeling funds to sectors and countries where capital can be used most productively.
    And, third, by providing direct financial assistance to foster convergence and support national reform efforts
.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy,; Writing by Balazs Koranyi, editing by Ed Osmond)
[The European Union is giving the BREXIT issue to be as difficult as they can for them to break away from the EU, because they are afraid that more nations or states may consider it.    It looks like the Eastern Europe states may be considering that which would be a lost of power for the bloated EU].

11/27/2018 Merkel ally says Europe may need to step up sanctions on Russia over Ukraine by Tassilo Hummel and Anton Zverev
Norbert Roettgen walks at the fraction level of the German lower house
of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany June 14, 2018. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi
    BERLIN/KERCH, Crimea (Reuters) – Europe may need to impose tougher sanctions against Moscow following Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crews at the weekend, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday.
    Norbert Roettgen, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, made the statement as Russia’s rouble recovered some of its losses from the previous day.
    Markets are sensitive to developments that could trigger new Western restrictions and weaken Russia’s economy.
    The U.S. State Department, the European Union, Britain, France, Poland, Denmark, and Canada have all condemned what they called Russian aggression after it opened fire on and seized three Ukrainian navy ships near Russian-annexed Crimea on Sunday.    Moscow accuses the Ukrainian vessels of intruding into its territorial waters, which Kiev denies.
    Merkel, an important voice in any future EU decision to impose more sanctions on Russia, on Monday spoke by phone to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and said the situation needed to be de-escalated.
    One option for the EU would be to add new companies or individuals to the bloc’s existing sanctions.
    With relations still raw after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its backing for a pro-Moscow insurgency in eastern Ukraine, the incident risks pushing the two countries towards a wider conflict.
    The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday accused Ukraine of deliberately organizing what it called a provocation in the Black Sea by sending its ships through the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait with no advance warning and ordering them to ignore Russian orders to stop.
    It said the Ukrainian action was coordinated with the United States and the EU to “create a pretext to ramp up sanctions against Russia.”
    The Kerch Strait separates Crimea from mainland Russia.    It is the only outlet to the Black Sea from the Sea of Azov, location of major Ukrainian ports.
‘CONFESSIONS’
    A Reuters reporter at the Crimean port of Kerch where the captured Ukrainian vessels were being held said he could see traces of collisions and holes in the ships’ hulls.
    A doctor at the local hospital said three Ukrainian servicemen were being treated there.    An unidentified man prevented the Reuters reporter from entering or talking to them.
    Russia’s FSB security service released video footage on Tuesday of some of the captured Ukrainian sailors admitting that their actions had been deliberately provocative and that they had ignored Russian orders to stop.
    At least one of them appeared to be reading from a script.    Ukrainian politicians said the sailors had been coerced, rendering their confessions meaningless.
    Some of the sailors were expected to appear in a Crimean court later on Tuesday to answer charges that they illegally entered Russian waters.    The FSB said it had information showing their mission had been pre-planned by the Ukrainian government and that two intelligence officers from Ukraine’s SBU security service had been on board to coordinate the provocation.
    Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, confirmed that his officers were on board to support the military and said one of them had been seriously wounded after Russian aircraft fired missiles at the Ukrainian vessels.
    Ukraine, which on Monday night introduced martial law for 30 days in parts of the country it deems most vulnerable to an attack from Russia, said its ships did nothing wrong and had every right to proceed through the Kerch Strait.
    The Kremlin said Ukraine’s decision to introduce martial law could escalate an already tense situation.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams in Kiev and Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by)

11/28/2018 European politicians call for new sanctions on Russia over Ukraine by Andrew Osborn and Anton Zverev
A vessel sails past a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the
Crimean Peninsula across the Kerch Strait, Crimea November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov
    MOSCOW/KERCH, Crimea (Reuters) – Several senior European politicians on Tuesday raised the possibility of new sanctions against Russia to punish it for capturing three Ukrainian vessels at sea, an incident the West fears could ignite a wider conflict.
    A Russian minister said further sanctions would solve nothing and that the incident should not be used to derail the Minsk accord, which aims to end fighting in eastern Ukraine between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels.
    Russian assets have come under pressure on financial markets amid concerns that possible new sanctions could hurt the economy, though the rouble on Tuesday clawed back some earlier losses as investors bet any sanctions would not be swift.
    Russia opened fire on the Ukrainian boats and then seized them and their crews on Sunday near Crimea – which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.    Moscow and Kiev have tried to pin the blame on each other for the incident.
    President Vladimir Putin told German Chancellor Angela Merkel by phone on Monday that Moscow was ready to provide more details to bolster its version of events.    Moscow says Kiev deliberately provoked it in order to trigger a crisis.
    Merkel, who also spoke on Monday with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, called for de-escalation and dialogue.
    The United States urged European nations on Tuesday to do more to assist Ukraine in its standoff with Russia.
    U.S. President Donald Trump told the Washington Post in an interview that he might cancel his scheduled meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina this week over the maritime clash, adding, “I don’t like that aggression.”
    Ukraine has introduced martial law for 30 days in parts of the country it deems most vulnerable to an attack from Russia.    It has said its ships did nothing wrong and that it wants the West to impose new sanctions on Moscow.
    Some of the 24 Ukrainian sailors held by Russia for straying into Russian waters appeared on Russian state TV on Tuesday admitting to being part of a pre-planned provocation.    Kiev denounced what it described as forced confessions.
    A court in Crimea ordered seven of the Ukrainian sailors to be detained for two months pending a possible trial.    It was expected to order the other sailors to be detained for the same period in separate hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday.
    Their vessels were captured by Russian forces at sea near the Kerch Strait, which is the only outlet to the Sea of Azov and controls access to two major Ukrainian ports.
    A Reuters reporter at the Crimean port of Kerch where the vessels are being held saw masked armed men on board one of the ships removing boxes of ammunition.
    Two Russian police officers with automatic rifles stood on the pier where the Ukrainian vessels were moored.    The vessels bore traces of collisions and big holes in places.
NEW SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA?
    Senior German conservative Norbert Roettgen, a close Merkel ally, said the European Union may need to toughen its sanctions against Russia, imposed partly over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
    Karin Kneissl, foreign minister of Austria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said the EU would consider sanctions depending “on the exposition of facts and the further conduct of both parties.”
    Poland and Estonia, both hawkish on Russia, expressed support for more sanctions.
    Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki told Reuters the incident in the Kerch Strait vindicated Warsaw’s call for a more unified Western stance toward Russia.
    “Russia remains wrongly convinced that the reaction of the West isn’t unified … because in energy matters there is one stance and in defense matters there is another,” he said, noting that some EU states such as Germany backed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that increases Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.
    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert also raised Nord Stream 2 on Tuesday when asked to comment on the Ukraine-Russia spat, saying some European nations should review their support for a project that “helps the Russian government.”
    Nauert also said Europe could more vigorously implement existing sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine.
    “The United States government has taken a very strong position in … support of Ukraine.    We would like other countries to do more as well,” she told a regular briefing in Washington.
    Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, speaking during a visit to Berlin, said more sanctions against his country would “not help to solve any problem at all.”
    He suggested Kiev provoked the incident to derail already halting implementation of the Minsk accord in eastern Ukraine, and said Moscow had a keen interest in ending that conflict after absorbing more than a million refugees from the region.
    EU foreign ministers are due to discuss the crisis on Dec. 10. EU leaders are expected later next month to agree to extend existing sanctions on Russia, diplomats said.
    Russia’s FSB security service released video footage on Tuesday of the captured sailors saying they had ignored Russian orders to stop.    At least one appeared to be reading from a script.    Ukrainian politicians said the sailors were coerced, rendering their confessions meaningless.
    The FSB said it had information showing the sailors’ mission had been pre-planned by the Ukrainian government and that two intelligence officers from Ukraine’s SBU security service had been on board to coordinate the provocation.
    Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, confirmed that his officers were on board to support the military and said one of them had been seriously wounded after Russian aircraft fired missiles at the Ukrainian vessels.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Matthias Williams in Kiev, Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Tassilo Hummel, Sabina Siebold, Andrea Shalal and Andreas Rinke in Berlin, Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, John Irish in Paris, Angel Krasimirov in Sofia, Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw, David Alexander and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gareth Jones and Grant McCool)

11/28/2018 Russia to deploy new missiles to Crimea as Ukraine tensions rise by Andrew Osborn and Anton Zverev
FILE PHOTO - Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defence systems during the
Victory Day parade, marking the 73rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two,
at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW/KERCH, Crimea (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it planned to deploy more of its advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Crimea as tensions rose with Ukraine over Moscow’s seizure of three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews.
    Russia has steadily poured new military hardware into Crimea since it annexed it from Ukraine in 2014.    Moscow’s announcement about new missiles comes as it and Kiev try to pin the blame on each other for the confrontation on Sunday.
    A Reuters correspondent in Crimea on Wednesday also observed a Russian navy minesweeper ship, the Vice-Admiral Zakharin, heading for the Sea of Azov, which is used by both Ukraine and Russia and is an area of growing tensions, from the Black Sea.
    Ukraine introduced martial law in parts of the country after the seizure of its ships saying it feared a possible Russian invasion.
    Russian news agencies cited Vadim Astafyev, a spokesman for Russia’s southern military district, as saying that a new battalion of S-400 missiles would be delivered to Crimea soon and become operational by the end of the year.
    The deployment is likely to have been long-planned, but the timing of the announcement appeared designed to send a message to Ukraine and the West that Russia is serious about defending what it regards as its own territory and waters.
    Crimea already hosts three battalions of the anti-aircraft missile systems which have a range of up to 400 km (248.55 miles) allowing Russia to control large swaths of the skies above the Black Sea.
    The new deployment will allow it to increase its air defense coverage area.
    A Crimean court was due to order the detention of nine of the 24 captured Ukrainian sailors – including senior Ukrainian naval officers and at least one member of Ukraine’s SBU intelligence agency – later on Wednesday.
    A court in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, on Tuesday ordered the other 15 Ukrainian sailors to be detained for two months pending a possible trial.
    All of the sailors face jail terms of up to six years if found guilty of what Moscow says was a plot to illegally cross the Russian border by trying to pass through the Russian-controlled Kerch Strait on Sunday without advance notice and ignoring calls to stop.
    Ukraine says its ships did nothing wrong and have every right to use the strait, the only gateway to the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea, without Russian permission.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

11/28/2018 ‘Put Putin in his place’, Ukrainian ambassador tells Germany
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Science and
Education Council in Moscow, Russia November 27, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Ukraine’s top diplomat in Germany urged Berlin and other Western states to punish Russia by extending sanctions, banning energy imports and putting the NordStream 2 gas pipeline on hold after Moscow seized three Ukrainian ships near Crimea.
    The ambassador even raised the possibility of sending German marines to the region.
    Several senior European politicians have raised the possibility of new sanctions against Russia after the incident on Sunday, which the West fears could ignite a wider conflict near Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    “Germany must take a clear line … and put (Russian President Vladimir) Putin in his place,” ambassador Andrij Melnyk told German radio on Wednesday.    “Everything is at stake.”
    “The club of sanctions should be wielded quickly …. There should be a complete ban on gas and oil imports from Russia, NordStream 2 must be put on ice,” he said, adding only such measures could stop Putin’s “brutal, hoooligan-like” behavior.
    Ukraine is already nervous about the prospect of the NordStream 2 pipeline which increases Europe’s reliance on Russian gas, fearing it will lose out on transit revenues.
    “In military terms, what can you do?    Sending German marines to the coast of Crimea … could help stop an escalation.    If you are there, Russians have fewer possibilities to act so brutally,” he said.
    “If you don’t do anything, you can barely hope that this will come to an end,” said Melnyk.
    So far, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for de-escalation and dialogue.
    The foreign minister of Austria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, has said any extension of sanctions imposed on Russia over its actions in Ukraine would depend on further information about the incident and how the two sides behave.
    Russia opened fire on the Ukrainian boats, then seized them and their crews on Sunday.    Moscow and Kiev have tried to pin blame on each other.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

11/28/2018 Ties with West in focus in Georgian presidential runoff by Margarita Antidze
People gather at a polling station during the presidential election
in Tbilisi, Georgia November 28, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgians started to vote for president on Wednesday in an election runoff that pits a candidate backed by the ruling party who favours a policy balancing ties with Moscow and the West against a rival who advocates a stronger pro-Western line.
    Polls opened at 0800 (0400 GMT) and the voting is due to last until 2000.
    If the opposition challenger Grigol Vashadze wins, he is likely to use the presidency’s limited powers to push a vocal message of integration with the U.S.-led NATO alliance and the European Union — sensitive issues in ex-Soviet country that fought a war in 2008 with its neighbour Russia.     The ruling party and its candidate in the vote, Salome Zurabishvili, take a more pragmatic line, balancing Georgia’s aspirations to move closer to the West with a desire to avoid antagonising the Kremlin.
    Zurabishvili, a former French career diplomat and Georgia’s foreign minister from 2004-2005 who is supported by the ruling Georgian Dream party, received 38.6 percent of the vote in the first round on Oct. 28.
    That was just one percentage point ahead of Vashadze, who was a foreign minister in 2008-2012 in the resolutely pro-Western government that was in power when the conflict with Russia broke out over a Moscow-backed breakaway Georgian territory.
    Constitutional changes have reduced the authority of the president, and put most levers of power in the hands of the prime minister, a Georgian Dream loyalist.
    International observers said that the first round of voting had been competitive, but had been held on “an unlevel playing field” with state resources misused, private media biased, and some phoney candidates taking part.
    The first round result was a setback for Georgian Dream and its founder, billionaire banker Bidzina Ivanishvili.    He is Georgia’s richest man, and critics say he rules the country from behind the scenes.
    Zurabishvili’s supporters say she would bring international stature to the presidency.    But her opponents have criticised her for statements that appeared to blame Georgia for war with Russia in 2008 and remarks about minorities that some see as xenophobic.
    Zurabishvili cut back her public meetings with voters and media appearances after the first round.
    The opposition said there have been attacks on opposition activists during campaigning. One opposition coordinator was stabbed and a petrol bomb was thrown into the yard of another activist.
    The second round will be under close scrutiny, from opposition and international observers, for any sign the ruling party is using its control of the state machinery to help Zurabishvili win.
    The ruling party has denied any link to attacks on opposition activists, and denied attempting to unfairly influence the outcome of the vote.
(Editing by Christian Lowe and Richard Balmforth)

11/28/2018 Military buildup underway on both sides of Russia-Ukraine border by OAN Newsroom
    According to National Security Adviser John Bolton, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have planned to meet during the G20 summit in Argentina later this week.    The two leaders are expected to address the mounting tensions between the Kremlin and Ukraine.
    This comes amid alarming reports of ongoing military buildups in both Ukraine and Russia in the wake of a recent maritime incident.    The president told reporters that he is still waiting on a full report from his national security team on this incident before deciding whether to meet with Putin.
    On Tuesday, Russian media reported that the Kremlin has deployed a highly advanced anti-ship missile systems to the occupied Crimea.    The move is poised to fuel tensions as the systems, known as BAL, are a serious weapon of war deployed to a territory with an unrecognized status under international law.
    Meanwhile in Ukraine, troops are on high-alert after Marshall law was implemented by Kyiv earlier this week.
    “I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games — Ukraine is under the threat of full-scale war with Russia,” stated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, second from right, speak with soldiers during a military training at a military base in
Chernihiv region, Ukraine, Wednesday, Nov, 28, 2018. Russia and Ukraine traded blame after Russian border guards on Sunday
opened fire on three Ukrainian navy vessels and eventually seized them and their crews. The incident put the two countries
on war footing and raised international concern. (Mykola Lazarenko, Presidential Press Service via AP)
    The State Department has called for an international response to the brewing crisis in Crimea.    U.S. officials have urged the Kremlin to release the captured Ukrainian sailors and to respect the Russian-Ukrainian treaty of free navigation in the Kerch Strait, which dates back to 2003.
    “The United States government has taken a very strong position in their support in support of Ukraine,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert.    “We would like other countries to do more as well — that is something that’s enshrined in our national security strategy.”     “This incident was intentionally provoked by Ukraine — in my opinion everyone must have a very clear understanding of how and why this happened,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
    The crisis is gradually heating-up and some say the Russian-Ukrainian tensions could spark large scale military clashes for the first time since 2014.
    Hopes for a diplomatic settlement are fading as political circles in both Moscow and Kyiv speculate war may be the only solution.

11/28/2018 In phone calls, Turkey’s Erdogan urges Putin, Poroshenko to diplomatic solution: Turkish source
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling
AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan urged his Russian and Ukrainian counterparts in separate phone calls to resolve tensions between the two countries through dialogue and diplomacy, a source in Erdogan’s office said on Wednesday.
    Ukraine and Russia have been at loggerheads after Russia captured three Ukrainian vessels and their crews over the weekend in what Kiev fears could be a precursor to a full-scale Russian invasion.    Russia accuses Ukraine of plotting with its Western allies to provoke a conflict.
    Erdogan held two separate phone calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the tensions in the Black Sea, the source said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

11/29/2018 Ukraine’s Poroshenko: Putin wants my whole country
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (R, front) addresses servicemen as he visits the
169th training centre "Desna" of the Ukrainian Army ground forces in Chernihiv Region, Ukraine
November 28, 2018. Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko accused Russia’s Vladimir Putin of seeking to annex his entire country and called in interviews with German media for Chancellor Angela Merkel to come to Kiev’s aid in the crisis.
    Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews on Sunday near the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, over what it said was their illegal entry into Russian waters – a charge Ukraine strongly refutes.
    In interviews with Germany’s Bild newspaper and the Funke newspaper group on Thursday, Poroshenko rejected Russia’s charge that the vessels’ entry into the Azov Sea – a body of water shared by Ukraine and Russia on which the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk sit – was a provocation.
    “Don’t believe Putin’s lies,” he told Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling paper, comparing Russia’s protestations of innocence in the affair to Moscow’s 2014 denial that it had soldiers in Crimea even as they moved to annex it.
    “Putin wants the old Russian empire back,” he said.    “i>Crimea, Donbass, the whole country.    As Russian Tsar, as he sees himself, his empire can’t function without Ukraine.    He sees us as his colony.”
    The seizure of the navy vessels drove tensions to their highest since 2015, when Moscow-backed rebels rose against the Kiev government in the eastern Donbass region, sparking a war that has killed tens of thousands.
    Poroshenko called on Germany, the largest and wealthiest buyer of Moscow’s gas exports, to halt the building of an undersea gas pipeline that would allow Russia to supply Germany directly, cutting out Ukraine.
    “We need a strong, resolute and clear reaction to Russia’s aggressive behavior,” he told Funke.    “That also means stopping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.”
    Germany regards the pipeline, which is being built by Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, as a private investment.    But Merkel recently acknowledged its “political dimensions” and said Ukraine must continue to be a conduit for Russian gas sold to western Europe.
    German officials said on Wednesday that their position on the pipeline remained unchanged and that talk of tighter sanctions against Moscow, demanded by the United States and many European politicians, was “premature.”
    Poroshenko also called for the stationing of NATO vessels in the Sea of Azov.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

11/29/2018 Russia blocks Ukrainian Azov Sea ports: minister
Ukrainian naval ships, which were recently seized by Russia's FSB security service,
are seen anchored in a port in Kerch, Crimea November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Alla Dmitrieva
    KIEV (Reuters) – Two Ukrainian Azov Sea ports, Berdyansk and Mariupol, are effectively under blockade by Russia as vessels are being barred from leaving and entering, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Volodymyr Omelyan, said on Thursday.
    Overall, 35 vessels have been prevented from carrying out normal operations and only vessels moving towards Russian ports on the Azov Sea are permitted entry, he said on Facebook.
    “The goal is simple – by placing a blockade on Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea, Russia hopes to drive Ukraine out of our own territory – territory that is ours in accordance with all relevant international laws,” he said.
    Omelyan said 18 vessels were awaiting entry into the Azov Sea, including four to Berdyansk and 14 to Mariupol.    There is also a line of nine vessels to leave the Azov Sea and eight other vessels are standing by near the port berths.
    Grain and steel dominates the Azov ports shipments.
    Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews on Sunday near the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, over what it said was their illegal entry into Russian waters – a charge Ukraine strongly rejects.
    The United States and the European Union have both imposed sanctions on Russia over its conduct toward Ukraine since 2014, when Moscow seized Crimea after a pro-Russian leader was toppled in Kiev.
    Moscow later backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict in which more than 10,000 people have been killed.    Major fighting ended with a 2015 ceasefire but deadly exchanges of fire are still frequent.
(This version of the story corrects typo, fixes section on death toll from Ukraine conflict)
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Robert Birsel, Richard Balmforth)

11/29/2018 Kremlin deploys new S-400 missiles to Crimea amid Ukraine tensions by OAN Newsroom
    The Kremlin is deploying additional air defense systems to the occupied Crimea amid heightened tensions with Ukraine.
FILE – In this file photo taken on Sunday, May 7, 2017, the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system
is driven in Red Square in Moscow, Russia. The Russian military is boosting the defense of the
occupied Crimean peninsula with more anti-aircraft missiles.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)
    The Russian military reportedly deployed a battalion of S-400 missile systems to the disputed peninsula.    This marks the fourth deployment of such systems to Crimea.
    The move comes after President Trump canceled his planned meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit this week.    The president said the Kremlin must release the captured Ukrainian sailors first.
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has refuted previous accusations of provocation against Russia.
    “We are defending the Ukrainian land and protecting the Ukrainian democracy — that’s why we won’t allow the upcoming elections to be delayed, because the only person that would profit from elections being postponed is known to us, his name is Putin,” stated the Ukrainian president.    “We’ll give them not one chance.”
    Meanwhile, the Kremlin said the latest missile deployment to Crimea would prevent — what it called — future provocations.

11/29/2018 Russia does not expect Ukraine crisis to have big impact on grain exports
FILE PHOTO: A combine harvests wheat in a field of the Solgonskoye private farm outside the
Siberian village of Talniki in Krasnoyarsk region, Russia September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the Azov Sea should not significantly affect Russia’s grain exports because it is low season, TASS news agency quoted the Russian agriculture ministry as saying on Thursday.
    “The Azov route is being actively used for Russian grain exports during the river navigation period, so in the autumn-to-winter time, volumes of shipments via this route go down,” TASS quoted the ministry as saying.
    “So the current situation (Russia-Ukraine standoff) is not expected to bring any serious changes (to grain exports).”
    Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews on Sunday near the Crimean peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, over what it said was their illegal entry into Russian waters – a charge Ukraine strongly rejects.
    Ukraine said on Thursday that two Ukrainian Azov Sea ports, Berdyansk and Mariupol, were effectively under blockade by Russia as vessels were being barred from leaving and entering.    Moscow denied it was restricting shipping, saying it had not heard of any problems.
    Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s biggest grain exporters.
    Kiev has temporarily imposed martial law in parts of Ukraine over the crisis.    However, the country’s acting agriculture minister told Reuters on Wednesday that martial law was not affecting Ukrainian grain shipments from ports on the Azov Sea so far and they could be diverted to the Black Sea if necessary.
(Reporting by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Susan Fenton)

11/29/2018 President cheers as Ukraine on cusp of church independence by Matthias Williams and Daren Butler
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko makes a statement on a new national independent church
in Kiev, Ukraine November 29, 2018. Mykhailo Markiv/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KIEV/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Petro Poroshenko said on Thursday Ukraine was on the cusp of securing its own independent church, snapping centuries-old ties to a Russian clergy that Kiev accuses of meddling in its affairs.
    Poroshenko’s comments came after the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, home to the global spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, announced it had drafted a constitutional charter for an “autocephalous,” or self-governing, Ukrainian church.
    Ukraine’s push to create an independent church has incensed Moscow at a time of escalating crisis between the two neighbors following Russia’s capture of three Ukrainian vessels that Kiev fears may be a precursor to a full-scale invasion.
    Relations collapsed following Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the outbreak of a Kremlin-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 10,000 people.
    “Today, at the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, historical decisions have been taken on the creation of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” Poroshenko said in a televised address.
    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew will soon announce when the Ukrainian clergy is to meet to pick the head of the new church, Poroshenko added.
    Earlier, the Ecumenical Patriarchate said in a statement that “the Holy and Sacred Synod drafted the Ukrainian Church’s Constitutional Charter.”
CHURCH RIVALRY
    Ukraine had sought the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s consent to establish an independent church and won its backing in October, prompting the Russian Orthodox Church to break off diplomatic ties with the Istanbul-based Patriarchate.
    Ukraine’s leadership accuses the Moscow-backed faction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, widely known as the Moscow Patriarchate, of being a tool of the Kremlin to spread Russian propaganda and foster Russian expansionism.
    The Moscow Patriarchate strongly denies this and says it is working to promote peace in Ukraine.
    Russia accuses Poroshenko of manufacturing crises, both on the church issue and in the naval standoff that erupted on Sunday, in order to whip up Ukrainian national pride and boost his sagging popularity ahead of elections next March.
    Poroshenko said Russia had tried to thwart Ukraine’s bid for church independence but added: “The Lord was with us because we are leading a righteous struggle for our independence.”
    Ukraine and Russia trace their Orthodox Christian roots to Volodymyr the Great, the prince whose baptism in 988 in Kiev led to the christianisation of the region known as “Kievan Rus.”
    Two large Orthodox Churches compete for influence in Ukraine.
    The Moscow Patriarchate, which is aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, earlier dominated in Ukraine but has been challenged by a rival, known as the Kiev Patriarchate, formed after the 1991 break-up of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union.
    Support for the Kiev Patriarchate swelled after the annexation of Crimea.    It supports church independence and Ukraine’s closer integration with the West.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/29/2018 Slovak foreign minister to resign after MPs reject migrant pact
FILE PHOTO: Miroslav Lajcak, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovakia attends a news conference after the
Strategic Dialogue of the Western Balkans meeting in Cologny near Geneva, Switzerland, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovak Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak has decided to resign in protest at parliament’s decision on Thursday to reject a U.N. pact on the treatment of migrants, his ministry said.
    Lajcak was President of the United Nations General Assembly when the migration pact was adopted and had earlier threatened to quit if his country did not support it.
    The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved in July by all 193 member U.N. nations except the United States, which backed out last year, and is due to be ratified formally in December.
    “Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak has decided, following today’s vote (in parliament)… to resign,” the ministry said, adding details will follow after Lajcak meets Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini and President Andrej Kiska.
    Slovakia’s Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini has said his government would “never” accept the pact because of its take on migration as a generally positive phenomenon, which contradicts Slovakia’s will to distinguish among the migrants.
    Besides Bratislava, other European Union members like Austria, Hungary or the Czech Republic shunned the pact, while Switzerland delayed its decision.
    The pact was conceived after the biggest influx of migrants into Europe since World War Two, many fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and beyond.
(Reporting by Robert Muller and Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)
[Now you know why the U.S. pulled out of that because of migrants who are dangerous would be coming into your country, which is what the Progressive Socialist want.].

11/30/2018 Ukraine bars entry to Russian men of combat age citing invasion fears by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko chairs a meeting with heads of military and security forces
in Kiev, Ukraine November 30, 2018. Mykhailo Markiv/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine on Friday banned Russian men of combat age from entering the country, a move introduced under martial law after Russia fired on and captured three Ukrainian naval ships off Crimea last weekend.
    Ukraine announced it was barring entry to Russian men between 16-60 years and a senior state security official said Kiev was considering whether to respond in kind with “mirror actions” to the Black Sea incident.
    Earlier, in a move applauded in Kiev, U.S. President Donald Trump called off a meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Argentina to signal Washington’s disapproval of Russian behavior in the naval clash with Ukraine.
    News of the canceled meeting pushed down the Russian rouble, which is sensitive to events that might lead to new sanctions being imposed on Russia.
    Announcing the move, President Petro Poroshenko, referring back to Russia’s seizure and subsequent annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for separatist uprisings in eastern Ukraine, said it was important to stop full-scale invasion.
    “These are measures to block the Russian Federation to form detachments of private armies here, which in fact are representatives of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” Poroshenko said.
    “And not allow them to carry out the operations that they tried to conduct in 2014,” he added.
    Ukraine’s border service chief said there would be exceptions on humanitarian grounds, such as if Russians needed to attend the funeral of a relative.
    Officials said they might also impose additional restrictions on Russian citizens already in Ukraine.
    In Moscow, a Russian lawmaker was quoted by RIA news agency as saying Russia had no plans for a reciprocal move to bar Ukrainian men.
    Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for last Sunday’s clash at the Kerch Strait through which ships have to pass to reach Ukrainian ports at Berdyansk and Mariupol.
    It prompted Ukraine to introduce martial law for a period of 30 days from Wednesday in regions of the country thought most vulnerable to a Russian attack.    Poroshenko has requested NATO to deploy ships to the area.
    Russian officials accuse Poroshenko of trying to manufacture a crisis to prop up sagging ratings ahead of an election next March.
    But the incident has prompted renewed calls for more Western sanctions on Russia.
    British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday said London would push for “appropriate sanctions” and called on Russia to release the Ukrainian vessels and crew.
    The United States and the EU have imposed sanctions on Russia since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea after a pro-Russian leader was toppled in Kiev.
    Fighting between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists has killed more than 10,000 people.    Major fighting ended with a 2015 ceasefire but deadly exchanges of fire are still frequent.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

11/30/2018 U.S. State Department approves sale of new artillery rocket system to Poland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. military forces fire a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) rocket
during the annual Philippines-US live fire amphibious landing exercise (PHIBLEX) at Crow Valley in
Capas, Tarlac province, north of Manila, Philippines October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo
    WARSAW (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department approved the sale of 20 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers to Poland to strengthen security in the region and modernize the country’s military, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.
    Poland asked to buy the HIMARS system, produced by Lockheed Martin, last year.
    “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of a NATO ally which is an important force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” the DSCA said in a statement released late on Thursday.
    The DSCA leads U.S. efforts to train and equip allies.
    Poland’s Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak signed off on a new program to update the country’s military on Wednesday, including strengthened cybersecurity and new air defense and long-range missile systems.
    The purchase of the HIMARS launchers and related equipment, estimated to cost around $655 million, is part of this upgrade.    “This is a big step toward finalizing this breakthrough contract for the Polish army,” Blaszczak tweeted on Friday.
    Poland’s armed forces have suffered from decades of under-investment and some two-thirds of their equipment dates from the Soviet era.
    The country has long vowed to increase defense spending, in part to deter what it sees as Russian aggression in the region, and wants to increase the presence of American troops on its territory.
    In a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in September, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said Poland was ready to invest $2 billion to facilitate the development of a permanent base.
    Duda also said he wants government plans to increase defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030 to be speeded up to 2024 if the economy permits.
    NATO has requested member countries spend at least 2 percent of their GDP on defense.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska; Editing by Adrian Croft)

11/30/2018 Ukraine files complaint against Russia at European rights court
Three Ukrainian naval ships (L), which were recently seized by Russia's FSB security service,
are seen anchored in a port in Kerch, Crimea November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Alla Dmitrieva
    STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) – Ukraine has filed a complaint against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights for firing on three of its ships and boarding them on Sunday, the court said.
    The incident, which took place in the Kerch Strait that separates the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea, caused several injuries among the 24 Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner.
    A court statement on Friday said Ukraine had asked it to intervene to ensure the wellbeing of its sailors.    Moscow accuses them of illegally crossing the Russian border and failing to comply with orders to stop.
    “The Ukrainian government has asked in particular that Russia provide medical care to the wounded sailors and provide information on the state of health of the crew members.    It also asks that the sailors be treated as prisoners of war,” the statement said.
    The court said it had asked the Russian government for information about the condition of the sailors’ detention.
    The complaint, the fifth by Ukraine against Russia since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, could take several months or years to be dealt with by the court.
(Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac; editing by John Irish, Richard Balmforth)

12/1/2018 Citing Russia threat, Ukraine boosts security at ports, power plants
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko addresses servicemen of the 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade of the
Ukrainian Armed Forces at an airbase in Vasylkiv near Kiev, Ukraine December 1, 2018.
Mykola Lazarenko/Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday his country had stepped up security at vital infrastructure sites such as nuclear power stations and Black Sea ports in the face of what he called a Russian test of the world order.
    Russia opened fire on and seized three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews on Nov. 25 in an incident which Moscow and Kiev have blamed on each other, triggering a crisis that has raised fears of a wider conflict.
    Poroshenko on Saturday repeated allegations that Russia had amassed a large military force in eastern Ukraine, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists, and in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    “(Russia) has deployed land forces of around 80,000 Russian troops, about 1,400 artillery and missile systems, 900 tanks, 2,300 armored vehicles, about 500 planes and 300 helicopters,” Poroshenko wrote on Twitter.
    Moscow had also built up a powerful naval force in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which Russia and Ukraine share, he said.
    Ukrainian TV channel “112 Ukraine” on Saturday showed Poroshenko presenting new and overhauled military aircraft, helicopters and drones to the Ukrainian army.
    Ukraine had stepped up security at critical infrastructure sites, including at nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, chemical factories and at ports on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, Poroshenko said.
    Ukraine has introduced martial law in parts of the country for 30 days, and Poroshenko said on Saturday military reservists in those areas would practice mobilizing and that military factories would be changing the way they worked too.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed last weekend’s Black Sea clash as a minor border incident and accused Poroshenko of engineering what he called a “provocation” to boost his flagging popularity before an election next year.
    Russian politicians have also said they believe the military phase of the confrontation is over.
    The incident took place near the Kerch Strait between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, which controls access to the Sea of Azov, location of both Russian and Ukrainian ports.    Moscow says Ukrainian navy ships entered Russian waters while trying to cross the strait without prior notice, ignoring orders to stop.    Kiev says its ships should need no Russian permission to cross the strait.
    Russia’s state TASS news agency cited pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on Saturday as saying they had observed a large inflow of Ukrainian military forces nearby.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/1/2018 Georgian president-elect takes strong line towards Moscow after contentious vote by Margarita Antidze
Georgia's president-elect Salome Zurabishvili speaks during an interview
with Reuters in Tbilisi, Georgia, December 1, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Georgia’s new President-elect described Russia on Saturday as an unpredictable occupying power, staking out a tough line towards Moscow as she faces protests at home from opponents who accused her of being soft on Russia during the campaign.
    Salome Zurabishvili, who has the backing of the ruling Georgian Dream party, won 59.5 percent of the vote in Wednesday’s runoff.    Her defeated opposition rival Grigol Vashadze has said he does not recognize her victory and has called for peaceful demonstrations on Sunday.
    In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, Zurabishvili said there could be no point in any negotiations with Russia until it recognizes that it is occupying two breakaway Georgian regions.
    Russia was an “occupying power,” and the biggest concern was “that it’s unpredictable,” she said.
    “When you have an enemy that is known and predictable you know what will be your next steps.    In this case, to be very frank, I don’t know what should be the next steps of Georgia in relations with Russia.    It is so unpredictable and so overly present on our territory.”
    Zurabishvili, who was born in France to a family of Georgian émigrés, served as a French career diplomat before becoming Georgia’s foreign minister from 2004-2005, and will now be her country’s first female head of state.
    Under a revised constitution, the presidency is now largely ceremonial and the prime minister and government wield most executive power.    But the position is still seen as important as the international face of the country, which aims to secure better relations with the West to counter Moscow’s influence.
    Russia fought and won a brief war against Georgia in 2008, after which Moscow recognized the independence of two Georgian breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.    Russia now garrisons troops in the two regions.
    Moscow’s role dominates Georgia’s domestic politics, with rival parties accusing each other of being insufficiently firm in confronting it.    In the run-up to the vote, Zurabishvili was criticized by opponents for comments that appeared to blame Georgia for causing the 2008 war.
    Georgia is an ally of the United States in the South Caucasus region, and houses pipelines carrying Caspian oil and gas to Europe.    It aims to join NATO one day.
    Zurabishvili said she wanted Georgia to be seen “not only through the Russian prism,” but as an ancient country that had a lot to offer to the rest of the world.    Raising its profile on its own would in turn help Georgia counter Russia.
    “To make Georgia more present is also a way to make Russia less influential in our relations with European partners,” she said.    “I’m convinced that we can ask much more from our European partners … and I intend to be a more demanding partner for Europeans as well as for our NATO partners.”
    Zurabishvili said she would aim to use her new role to reconcile Georgia’s divided society, but said the opposition’s call for people to refuse to recognize the results of the election served Russia’s interests.
    “That’s exactly what Russia would have wished for – to have a very divided and very weakened country and a discredited president whose legitimacy is under attack,” she said.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff)

12/1/2018 Putin says no talks with Ukraine about release of sailors
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines
of the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 1, 2018. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday there had been no discussion with Ukraine about the possible release of the Ukrainian sailors who were seized along with their ships by Russia last month.
    Putin spoke with reporters on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Buenos Aires.    Russia is resisting international calls to release three Ukrainian naval ships that its border patrols fired upon and seized in the strait near Russian-annexed Crimea last weekend.
    Moscow accused the 24 sailors of illegally crossing the Russian border.
    Putin said he would not introduce tit-for-tat restrictions on the entry of Ukrainians into Russia after Kiev imposed a ban on Russian males aged 16 to 60 from entering its territory.
    After U.S. President Donald Trump canceled a planned meeting with Putin at the G20 summit, citing the military tensions with Ukraine, the Russian leader said there were no pre-conditions for future bilateral talks.
    “It is regrettable that we can’t succeed in holding a full-scale meeting, which is long due,” Putin said, adding that issues of strategic stability would be of paramount importance.
    Putin and Trump had a brief meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit on Friday, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said.
    Trump’s administration has accused Russia of non-compliance with the 31-year-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and has said it will pull out of the deal as a result.    The Kremlin denies violating the pact.
    “This is related to the issues of strategic stability, especially after the president declared his desire to withdraw from the INF missile treaty,” Putin added.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Hugh Bronstein; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Will Dunham)

12/2/2018 Kremlin hopes Putin and Trump can hold talks before June next year
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen during
the G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The Kremlin hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin can meet and hold talks before a G20 summit in Japan in June next year, a Kremlin aide said on Saturday.
    Trump canceled a planned meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina this weekend citing unease over Russia’s Nov. 25 seizure of three Ukrainian navy ships and their crews.
    Trump and Putin instead had a very brief meeting when they bumped into each other on the sidelines of the summit in Buenos Aires, but did not hold proper talks.
    Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters he hoped it would be possible for the two leaders to meet properly before too long.
    “Of course a new meeting is possible,” said Ushakov.
    “Now we need to again have talks about preparing such a meeting.”
    When asked where that meeting might happen, Ushakov cited a G20 summit in Osaka Japan in June next year as one option.
    “But it seems to me that it’s very important for us and for them to find a way of meeting before then,” said Ushakov.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/2/2018 Thousands in Georgia protest against presidential election results by Margarita Antidze
Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Grigol Vashadze greets his supporters during a rally
near the parliament building in Tbilisi, Georgia December 2, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili
    TBILISI (Reuters) – Thousands of Georgians protested in the capital Tbilisi on Sunday against the result of the country’s presidential election, as defeated candidate Grigol Vashadze said opposition parties would challenge the outcome in court.
    Vashadze has described the election as a “criminal farce” and has called for snap parliamentary elections after the central election commission said on Thursday that Salome Zurabishvili, who was backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, had secured 59.5 percent of the vote.    Vashadze had 40.5 percent, it said.
    “We don’t recognize illegitimate results of this rigged election and demand an early parliamentary election to be called in the country,” Vashadze told thousands of supporters at Sunday’s rally in Tbilisi.
    Zurabishvili is set to become the country’s first female head of state, although the role is largely ceremonial.
    Vashadze said the opposition planned to challenge the election results in court and would offer to work with the government to make changes to the electoral code, followed by snap parliamentary elections.
    International observers, in their assessment of the election, said on Thursday that the vote was competitive, but the ruling party had enjoyed an “undue advantage” and increased misuse of administrative resources “further blurred the line between party and state.”
    Vashadze said that if the government rejects the opposition’s demands, another peaceful protest would be held on Dec. 16, the day of the president-elect’s inauguration.
    Political analysts say they do not expect the election result to trigger any serious unrest in Georgia, an ally of the United States in the Caucasus region.
    Under a revised constitution, the prime minister and government wield most executive power.    But the presidency is still seen as an important position as the international face of the country, which aims to secure better relations with the     West to counter Moscow’s influence.
    Both Zurabishvili and Vashadze favor strong ties with the West.
    Zurabishvili, a former French career diplomat who served as Georgia’s foreign minister from 2004-2005, told Reuters in an interview on Saturday that the opposition’s call for people to refuse to recognize the results of the election served Russia’s interests.
    “That’s exactly what Russia would have wished for – to have a very divided and very weakened country and a discredited president whose legitimacy is under attack,” she said.
    Moscow’s influence in the country dominates Georgia’s domestic politics, with rival parties accusing each other of being insufficiently firm in confronting it.
    Russia fought and won a brief war against Georgia in 2008, after which Moscow recognized the independence of two Georgian breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia.    Russia now has troop garrisons in the two regions.
(Editing by Susan Fenton)

12/2/2018 Emphasis on urgency as climate talks begin in coal city Katowice by Barbara Lewis and Anna Koper
Delegates arrive for the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018
in Katowice, Poland December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Delegates from nearly 200 nations on Sunday began two weeks of talks to tackle deep political divisions at the most important U.N. meeting on global warming since the landmark 2015 Paris deal to shift away from fossil fuels.
    Expectations are low that negotiations in Katowice, at the heart of Poland’s coal region, will fully resolve concerns laid out in reports over recent weeks on the severity of rising greenhouse gas emissions.
    The political climate has also been transformed since the Paris agreement and the fragile global unity that brought about that accord has shattered.
    “This is a very, very important conference,” U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa told reporters.    “It also takes place in a scenario where we have clear signals about the urgency with which we need to address the issues of climate change.”
    Four former presidents of U.N. talks, including Laurent Fabius of France, who led negotiations for the Paris agreement, issued a statement urging “decisive action.”
    “The world is at a crossroads and decisive action in the next two years will be crucial to tackle these urgent threats,” they said in the joint statement.
    However, political divisions were clear from the outset, with Brazil having withdrawn its offer to host the 2019 talks.
    The United States, meanwhile, reiterated at the G20 summit in Argentina on Saturday its decision to withdraw from the Paris accord and a U.S. commitment to all energy sources.
YEAR-END DEADLINE
    The other members of the group of industrialized nations – including the biggest polluter, China – reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the Paris deal, taking into account their national circumstances.
    The Katowice talks precede an end-of-year deadline to produce a “rule book” to flesh out the broad details that were agreed in Paris on limiting the rise in global temperatures to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.
    Delegates said that one of the trickiest issues could be monitoring emissions as the United States, which cannot quit the pact until 2020, uses the talks to press for a level of detail it perceives as useful to its foreign policy dealings.
    Poland is hosting U.N. climate negotiations for a third time, but the nation remains hooked on coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel.    Coal provides about 80 percent of Poland’s power and has been a major source of employment and national pride.
    The younger generation is less emotionally attached to coal and is increasingly environmentally aware, though any phasing out of the fuel in Poland is likely to be slow.
    The energy ministry said only last week that Poland plans to invest in new coal capacity while its long-term energy strategy assumes it will still obtain about 60 percent of its power from coal in 2030.
(Additional reporting by Wojciech Zurawski; Editing by David Goodman)

12/3/2018 Russia’s Putin escaped critique for Ukraine actions at G20-German conservative
Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Argentina's President Mauricio Macri
at the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina December 1, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The G20 summit in Argentina failed to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable for his actions with regard to Ukraine, despite significant efforts by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in bilateral meetings, a key Merkel ally said.
    “President Putin escaped nearly unscathed with his renewed aggression against Ukraine,” Juergen Hardt, foreign policy spokesman for Merkel’s conservatives in parliament, said in a statement on Monday.
    He said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman missed an opportunity at the event both to provide details about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and to start to rebuild trust.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Michelle Martin)

12/3/2018 Kremlin calls absurd accusation it has designs on Ukrainian sea ports
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin
and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Monday called absurd a Ukrainian accusation it has designs on the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk in order to create a land corridor between Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
    As tensions between Kiev and Moscow have risen over Russia’s seizure of three Ukrainian naval ships and their crews on Nov. 25, some Ukrainian politicians have suggested the move was the prelude to a wider Russian invasion.
    “It’s an absurd statement,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.    “It’s another attempt to generate tension.”
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Christian Lowe)

12/3/2018 Political leaders arrive in Poland in race to deliver on U.N. climate deal
A participant's shilouette is seen during the COP24 UN Climate Change
Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Political leaders on Monday began arriving in the Polish coal city of Katowice where two weeks of talks have begun to revive the landmark Paris 2015 deal on climate change as dire warnings mount about a lack of action.
    Representatives of some of the most powerful countries and biggest polluters will be conspicuous by their absence as the United States has said it is leaving the U.N. process and China was not expected to send its top politicians.
    To maximize the chances of success, technical talks began on Sunday, a day earlier than planned, with delegates from nearly 200 nations haggling over how to implement the broad promises of the Paris deal on moving away from fossil fuel.
    The talks in Katowice have been billed as the most important U.N. conference since the landmark Paris accord as they precede an end-of-year deadline to agree a “rule book” on how to enforce action to limit global warming to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.
    Expectations for the Polish talks are low: the atmosphere of political unity built in Paris has been shattered by a wave of populist governments that place national agendas before collective action.
    The host nation Poland remains committed to coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels, calling for a “just transition” to allow communities dependent on fossil fuel help in changing their lifestyle.
    The riots in Paris at the weekend, partly in protest at higher fuel taxes, also illustrate the conundrum: How do political leaders introduce policies that will do long-term good for the environment without inflicting extra costs on voters that may damage their chances of re-election?
    Delegates at the talks said the biggest issues were likely to include finance and the level of scrutiny associated with monitoring individual nations’ emissions.
    The U.N. has a goal to raise $100 billion every year from 2020 for climate action.    To inject momentum, the World Bank Group on Monday said it would provide a further $200 billion over five years from the start of the next decade.
    Other attempts to inject urgency into the Polish talks will include an intervention from British broadcaster and environmentalist David Attenborough, as well as the roughly 25 heads of state and government who are attending the talks.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Toby Chopra)
[Trump pulled out of this because the U.S. was paying too much money with no results, and other countries were still polluting away, and it was a job killer in the U.S.].

12/3/2018 Satellite imagery shows S-400 surface-to-air missile battery in Crimea by OAN Newsroom
Ukrainian tanks unload in Mariupol trade port in Mariupol, south coast of Azov sea, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018.
President Petro Poroshenko says Russia has deployed a large number of troops along its border with Ukraine.
He warns that Russia intends to push further inland into Ukraine following last week’s naval clash between their forces in the Black Sea. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
    New details are coming to light, showing the location of Russia’s recent deployment of advanced missile systems in Crimea.
    According to reports Sunday, S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries were deployed in the Dzhankoi airbase, where the infrastructure has been under construction in recent months.
    Satellite images show eight launchers of the S-400 battery are in four pieces along with two radar systems and multiple trucks, which are believed to be carrying missiles.
    Those missiles are reportedly capable of traveling nearly 250-miles, and can intercept several types of other missiles.
    This comes as tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to rise, following the seizure of three Ukrainian vessels and a dozen sailors roughly a week ago.

12/3/2018 Soros-founded school says forced out of Hungary on ‘dark day for Europe’ by Marton Dunai and Krisztina Than
The exterior of the Budapest-based Central European University, founded by
U.S. billionaire George Soros, is seen in Budapest, Hungary, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – The Central European University, founded by billionaire George Soros, said on Monday it had been forced out of Hungary in “an arbitrary eviction” that violated academic freedom, and it confirmed plans to open a new campus in Austria.
    CEU’s statement is the culmination of a years-long struggle between Hungarian-born but U.S.-based Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and the nationalist, anti-immigrant government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    For nearly three decades CEU has been a gateway to the West for thousands of students from ex-communist eastern Europe, offering U.S.-accredited degree programs in an academic climate that celebrates free thought.
    The university said it would leave Budapest if it had not secured guarantees of academic freedom by Dec. 1.
    “CEU has been forced out,” said CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff in a statement.    “This is unprecedented.    A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally.    A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.”
    “Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom.    It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary,” CEU’s statement added.
    Ignatieff told a news conference later that the CEU had received a “clear and unequivocal” welcome in Austria.
    The United States said it was “disappointed” that CEU was unable to remain in Hungary.
    The European Commission, which has taken Hungary to the EU’s supreme court over the education law that prompted the CEU move and has clashed with Orban over democracy issues, said it was “deeply concerned.”
    The law “needs to be brought back in line with EU law” said an EU spokesman.    “It is now for the Court (of Justice of the European Union) to clarify this matter.”
    Guy Verhofstadt, the liberal leader in the European Parliament and a former Belgian prime minister, said Orban should feel “shame,” adding that it was the first time since Oslo University was forced to close by Norway’s Nazi German occupiers in 1943 that a European university had been shut down.
LONG BATTLE
    CEU’s legal status has been in limbo for more than a year since changes to a higher education law that meant a foreign-registered university could no longer operate in Hungary unless it also provided courses in its home country.
    Orban’s critics say the legal changes deliberately targeted CEU, which is regularly ranked as the top university in Hungary.    Orban accuses Soros of encouraging mass immigration into Europe, a charge the philanthropist denies.
    Earlier this year, Open Society Foundations, Soros’ main funding network, was also forced to leave Hungary.
    CEU, founded in Budapest in 1991, says it has complied with all the new regulations set by Orban’s government, which has refused to sign off on an already agreed document with the State of New York that would allow CEU to stay.
    Hungary’s government has dismissed the university’s move as a “Soros-style bluff.”
    CEU said it would start enrolling students for U.S. degrees at its new campus in Vienna for the next academic year.    Students already enrolled will complete their studies in Budapest.
    The university retains accreditation as a Hungarian university and will seek to continue teaching and research activity in Budapest as long as possible, it said.
(Additional reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[I am glad to see that there are some God fearing countries who know when some believe that the Progressive Socialist are trying to push their antichristian views on them know when to kick them out.].

12/3/2018 Naturalist David Attenborough says U.S. ‘out on a limb’ on climate by Catherine and Macdonald
World renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough delivers the “People’s Seat” address
during the opening of COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    KATOWICE, Poland,(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump is “out on a limb” in his attitude to climate change as nearly every other government, as well as an angry younger generation, are demanding action, British naturalist David Attenborough said on Monday at U.N. climate talks in Poland.
    The 92-year-old, whose TV series “Blue Planet II” was avidly watched as far away as China, has been credited with raising awareness of rampant plastic pollution in the oceans.    He was speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the most important U.N. climate conference since 2015.
    That year saw the signing of the Paris accord, a U.N.-sponsored deal to agree where the limits of global warming should be set, principally through a radical reduction in the use of fossil fuels.    Two weeks of talks in Katowice aim to hammer out details of how that will be achieved.
    Asked about Trump’s decision to abandon the U.N. process, Attenborough said the United States was “out on a limb.”
    “I can only hope that, for whatever reason, whatever mechanism, that will change in the United States,” he said.
    “It shouldn’t affect us and the whole of the rest of the world,” he said, adding that everyone else was “absolutely clear” on the need for action.
    Trump last week dismissed projections in a report from his own government that climate change will cause severe economic harm to the U.S. economy.
    Attenborough, who has been broadcasting on the natural world since the 1950s, was on Monday the first holder of the “People’s Seat” at the U.N. table.
    Climate advocates and citizens with views on or experience of climate change were encouraged to use the social media hashtag #TakeYourSeat to feed comments into his opening-day address, and influence the global debate.
    The broadcaster said U.N. conferences could seem remote, and the hashtag provided “a way in which people can get their feelings across to those who are taking decisions on their behalf.”
    He said he believed he had been chosen to launch the role because of his long experience of broadcasting, during which he has witnessed devastating change.
    In particular, he mentioned coral reefs.
    “If you’re a naturalist or if you’re not a naturalist, they are the most stunning things in the natural world,” he said.
    “It’s a most magical manifestation of life … and you go to a reef which has been bleached, and it’s gone.    All you see is that the coral is dead.”
        But now the young were demanding change.
    “We have all been living beyond our means.    It’s a perfectly simple thing.    We knew not what we did,” he said.
    “We have let down the young generation, and they know it, and they are angry.”
(Additional reporting by Megan Rowling for the Thomson Reuters Foundation; Writing by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

12/4/2018 Soros-backed university moves programs to Vienna
    Central European University said Monday it will move its U.S.-accredited degree programs from the Hungarian capital of Budapest to Vienna next September, because Hungary’s government is refusing to sign an agreement allowing it to stay.
    CEU President Michael Ignatieff said Monday that the university “has been forced out” of Hungary, calling it an “unprecedented” act against an American university by a NATO ally and against a European university by a member of the European Union.

12/4/2018 Kremlin says it regrets that U.S.-Russia dialogue is not working out
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference of Russian President Vladimir Putin
and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Tuesday that it regretted that dialogue between Russia and the United States was not working out despite what it said was a series of important strategic issues that needed to be discussed.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump were due to have an extended meeting at a G20 Summit in Argentina at the weekend, but Trump canceled after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews.
    “Dialogue is not working out despite certain plans and certain homework done by both sides,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/4/2018 Russia’s Novak calls U.S. sanctions against energy ministry unit ‘baseless’
FILE PHOTO: Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak attends a session of the
Russian Energy Week international forum in Moscow, Russia October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday that the Iran-related sanctions, imposed by the United States against a ministry unit, were “baseless.”
    Last month the United States has moved to disrupt an Iranian-Russian network that it said had sent millions of barrels of oil to Syria and hundreds of millions of dollars to indirectly fund militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
    Among various individuals and companies, it put under sanctions state-owned Russian company Promsyrioimport, a subsidiary of the Energy Ministry, which the U.S. Treasury alleges had facilitated shipments of Iranian oil to Syria.
(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/4/2018 Kiev says Russia has ‘partially unlocked’ Ukrainian Azov Sea ports
A command ship of the Ukrainian Navy of Donbas is seen in the
Azov Sea port of Mariupol, Ukraine December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Russia has partially unlocked Ukrainian sea ports on the Azov Sea, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Volodymyr Omelyan said on Tuesday.
    “Yes, Berdyansk and Mariupol ports are partially unlocked.    Vessels make their way to the entrance and exit through the Kerch strait toward Ukrainian ports … the movement is partially restored,” the ministry quoted Omelyan as saying.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

12/4/2018 Bruguera and other Cuban artists detained ahead of protest over decree by Sarah Marsh
FILE PHOTO - Cuban artist Tania Bruguera stands in the middle of her Hyundai Commission,
Our Neighbours, artwork in the the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, in London, Britain, October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Tania Bruguera and several other Cuban artists were detained in Havana on Monday after trying to stage a protest against a new decree that they fear will hamper creativity and increase censorship of Cuban culture.
    Bruguera, the most high-profile of the detainees, was arrested shortly after leaving her home in the morning and before reaching the ministry of culture where the artists intended to hold their protest, her mother, Argelia Fernandez, told Reuters.
    The performance artist, who has been arrested before for publicly protesting against the Communist government, was released in the evening, Fernandez said, but immediately went to the ministry to demonstrate against the arrests of other artists.
    “All I can do is show solidarity,” Bruguera wrote on her Facebook page early on Monday evening, posting a photo of herself wearing a T-shirt with the words “No to the Decree 349.”    “If they detain me, I will be on hunger and thirst strike.”
    Bruguera was reportedly detained again on Monday evening, according to Iris Ruiz, an actress and the coordinator of what has been a rare campaign in recent months against Decree 349, one of the first pieces of legislation to be signed by Miguel Diaz-Canel since he succeeded Raul Castro as president in April.
    Fernandez told Reuters she had no means of locating her daughter because her cellphone appeared to have been blocked by state security.
    Brief detentions are the standard response to opposition street protests in a country that frowns on public dissent and views dissidents as mercenaries in the pay of the United States to subvert the government.
    Cuban officials do not typically comment on such police activity.
    With Decree 349 due to come into force on Friday, protesters decided to step up their campaign with a demonstration all week on the steps of the culture ministry that would include poetry readings and performances.
    Ruiz said her husband, the poet Amaury Pacheco, and another artist were detained after arriving together at the culture ministry on Monday morning.
    Three other artists who also headed there, including campaign leader Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, could not be located, suggesting they had also been detained, Ruiz said.    Otero Alcantara’s phone appeared to be turned off.
    Few Cuban artists have chosen to protest against the decree publicly but unease is widespread in the island’s creative community and among Western diplomats in Havana.    Amnesty International has called it a “dystopian prospect.”
    Cuban authorities, however, have insisted it merely aims to prevent tax evasion and the spread of bad, pseudo-culture, and say that the issue is being manipulated by counter-revolutionaries.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Paul Tait)

12/4/2018 Venezuela’s Maduro says on his way to Russia to meet with Putin
FILE PHOTO - Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with ministers
at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela November 29, 2018. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said late on Monday he was on his way to Russia to meet with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
    Maduro wrote on his official Twitter page he was headed to an “important work meeting” with Putin.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Darren Schuettler)
[Where else could he go?].

12/4/2018 U.S. gives Russia 60 days to comply with nuclear treaty by Robin Emmott
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends a news conference during the
NATO foreign ministers' meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum on Tuesday to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of a arms control treaty that keeps missiles out of Europe, saying only Moscow could save the pact.
    NATO allies led by Germany pressed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at a meeting in Brussels to give diplomacy a final push before Washington pulls out of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, fearing a new arms race in Europe.
    “Russia has a last chance to show in a verifiable way that they comply with the treaty … but we also have to start to prepare for the fact that this treaty may break down,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.     NATO foreign ministers agreed to formally declare Russia in “material breach” of the INF treaty in a statement in support of the United States, after Pompeo briefed them at the alliance headquarters in Brussels on Russian violations and on U.S. President Donald Trump’s stated aim to withdraw from it.
    Russia denies undertaking any such development of land-based, intermediate-range Cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and hitting European cities at short notice.
    Germany, the Netherlands and Belgian are concerned about the deployment of U.S. missiles in Europe – as happened in the 1980s, touching off large anti-American demonstrations – while being caught up in nuclear competition between Moscow and Washington.
    A U.S. exit from the INF treaty would put another strain on NATO allies already shaken by Trump’s demands for higher defense spending and what diplomats say is a lack of clarity about where U.S. strategy is heading on the issue.
    While Stoltenberg said there would now be an intense diplomatic push to try to convince Russia to give up what Pompeo said were “multiple battalions of the SSC-8 missiles,” Washington is set to start to pull out in February, prompting a six-month withdrawal period under the accord, diplomats said.
    “Its range makes it a direct menace to Europe,” Pompeo said of the missiles, which also are called Novator 9M729.    He added that Russia’s actions “greatly undermine America’s national security and that of our allies.”
    Difficult to detect and fired from mobile launchers, the Russian missiles are especially dangerous because they reduce the warning time that NATO air defenses might have to shoot them down, military experts say.
    Pompeo said the U.S. government had raised the issue at least 30 times since 2013 with Moscow but had faced what he said were denials and counter-actions.
    He also said that the United States had evidence that the test launches were from a single site in Russia, the Soviet-era base Kupustin Yar, near Volgograd, southeast of Moscow.
    “In the light of these facts, the United States declares Russia in material breach of the treaty and will suspend our obligations … effective in 60 days unless Russia returns to full and verifiable compliance,” Pompeo said.
EUROPE CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE
    Washington has said it would be forced to restore the military balance in Europe after the 60-day period but Pompeo declined to elaborate, saying only that tests and deployments of new missiles were on hold until then.
    He also said that because China, Iran and North Korea were not signatories to the INF, the United States was putting itself at a disadvantage by not developing medium-range missiles, citing three failed diplomatic attempts to enlarge the treaty.
    However, experts believe the United States would be better off modernizing its long-range missile deterrent and ensuring that it could penetrate sophisticated Russian air defenses, rather than developing a new class of medium-range rockets.
    The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the U.S. Senate, eliminated the medium-range missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
    U.S. Cruise and Pershing missiles deployed in Britain and West Germany were removed as a result of the treaty, while the Soviet Union pulled back its SS-20s out of European range.
    The treaty requires the United States and Russia “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,420 miles), “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.” (Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/4/2018 Russian threat highest since 2014: Ukraine military chief by Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk
Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine's Armed Forces Viktor Muzhenko shows
documents during an interview with Reuters in Kiev, Ukraine December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – Russia has been ramping up its forces near the border with Ukraine since August and now poses the greatest military threat since 2014, the year Moscow annexed Crimea, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
    General Viktor Muzhenko gestured to a series of satellite images which he said showed the presence of Russian T-62 M tanks stationed 18 km (11 miles) from the Ukrainian border.
    They had more than doubled to 250 from 93 machines within the space of two weeks from mid September to Oct 1.
    For Muzhenko this is evidence of a concerted build-up of Russian forces in the run-up to Nov. 25, when Russia fired on and captured three Ukrainian vessels at the Kerch Strait, an action Kiev’s leadership fears may be a precursor to a full-scale invasion.
    Ukraine and Russia have traded accusations over the clash.    The Kremlin’s spokesman on Monday dismissed as “absurd” the notion that Russia wanted to forcibly take over Ukrainian ports.
    Muzhenko said Russian troop levels were at “the highest” since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and then deployed forces to eastern Ukraine.
    “In front of us is an aggressor who has no legal, moral or any other limits,” he said.    “It is very difficult to predict when it will occur to him to begin active combat actions against Ukraine.”
    “This (the Kerch Strait incident) was an act of aggression from regular forces, the border service (of the Russian Federation) in relation to the Ukrainian armed forces,” Muzhenko said.
    The Russian defense ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Muzhenko said Ukraine had deployed more land and air forces to the region in response, and intensified military exercises across the country, but declined to go into specifics.
    He added that Ukraine expects to complete the building of a military base on the Azov Sea, which had been planned before the navy clash, by next year.
    Ukraine was also expecting help from allies, mostly the United States, for equipment including air and naval reconnaissance, boats and weapons for ground troops, he said.
COLLAPSE OF RELATIONS
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following the 2014 Crimea annexation and Russia’s support for separatist rebels in the eastern Donbass region.
    The Donbass conflict has killed more than 10,000 people despite a notional ceasefire.    Russia strongly denies sending troops and heavy weapons to the area.
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko introduced martial law last week for a period of 30 days in regions of the country thought most vulnerable to a Russian attack.
    Asked whether the military would need an extension once the 30 days of martial law expired, he said an assessment would be made closer to the time.
    “The term of martial law depends on the Russian Federation,” he said.
    “Based on how it will increase its capabilities, how it will react, how it will provoke and carry out such provocations – not like in the Kerch Strait but also on a larger scale – the legal regime that will be defined in Ukraine depends on it.”
    From around August, Russia had ramped up its deployment of forces on the Ukrainian border, he said.    Some units were transferred from Russia’s far east to the Ukrainian border in September during Vostok-2018, Russia’s biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union.
    “We are seeing an increase in the intensity of operational and combat training measures, and all of them, as a rule, are offensive in nature,” he said.
    He said there was a “serious increase” in the amount of troops and weapons in Crimea and Russia had also doubled its naval presence in the region in the past month.
    “The combination of all these signs confirms the aggressiveness of the intentions and the threats of a military nature against Ukraine, which are constantly increasing,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

12/5/2018 Caught in Russia-Ukraine storm: a cargo ship and tonnes of grain by Polina Ivanova
Cranes and ships are seen in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Ukraine
November 30, 2018. Picture taken November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    BERDYANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – When the Island Bay cargo ship arrived from Beirut at the Kerch Strait, gateway to the Azov Sea, it sailed into a perfect storm of geopolitics and bad weather.
    The following day, Russia opened fire on three Ukrainian naval ships, impounded them and detained their sailors, some of them wounded. It then blocked the strait by putting a tanker underneath a new bridge it has built linking the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
    While the world digested the implications of the Nov. 25 incident, the most explosive clash in recent years,     Russia said it had reopened the channel to the Azov Sea, which is shared by Russia and Ukraine.
    But Island Bay remained at anchor outside the strait, lashed by gale force winds and sleet, its hull icing over while cargo ships amassed on either side.
    On Monday, a week on, the captain reported seeing 20 vessels awaiting clearance to cross.    Refinitiv data that day also showed 20 Ukraine-bound vessels held up at the strait since Nov. 25, with two others allowed through.
    Meanwhile, Island Bay’s cargo of 5,500 tonnes of wheat, destined for flour mills in Libya, waited in the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk.
    The saga of the ship is a window on the leverage Moscow has over Ukraine’s Azov seaboard, affecting dock workers, port operators, brokers and farmers who depend on the route.
    Russia, whose coast guards began inspecting traffic in the Kerch Strait eight months ago, blamed inclement weather for the delay.    But on Sunday, when the skies cleared, just a handful of ships passed through; by Monday evening, the Island Bay’s captain’s frustration was beginning to show.
    “It is acceptable weather for transit. Coast guards have own opinion,” his log, seen by Reuters, said.    That day, he reported seeing just two ships cross into the Azov Sea.
    Ukraine says the hiatus is one of many since the Russian spot-checks began in May, when Russia opened the Kerch bridge, interrupting exports of grain and steel and imports of coal. Moscow denies any disruption.
THE STEVEDORES
    In Berdyansk’s port, where icy winds had recently ripped off the roof of a nearby shed, staff of stevedore company Ascet Shipping were reading the daily reports from the Island Bay with growing concern.
    Ascet loads almost a million tonnes of Ukrainian grain a year onto cargo ships in Berdyansk and was waiting to load the Island Bay; its size means each day of waiting time costs around $2,000-$2,500, Ascet’s chief executive, Denis Rusin, said.
    This has made Berdyansk an unpopular port in recent months.
    “Ship owners do not want to go to Berdyansk,” said Rusin, whose clients include U.S. firm Cargill [CARG.UL], one of the world’s largest dry bulk and tank shipping companies.    “Buyers are refusing to bet on passage.”
    Since Russia and Ukraine clashed in the strait, Ukraine has introduced martial law in 10 regions, including the Azov Sea coast – highlighting the risks of doing business with Berdyansk.
    “For us this was the worst week in recent years,” Rusin said. “Clients have stopped considering the possibility of signing contracts for delivery in January, let alone February or spring,” he said. THE PORT
    Some Ukrainian politicians have accused Moscow of trying to strangle Ukraine’s Azov Sea ports in preparation for an invasion from the east, following on from Crimea’s annexation and the subsequent breakaway of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.
    Moscow says that idea is a fantasy dreamt up by Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders ahead of elections next year.    It says it has the right to patrol the strait.
    But Berdyansk’s businesses say the patrols target ships bound for Ukraine, causing damaging delays.
    The recent escalation in tensions has not affected ships coming to pick up grain from the Russian side of the Azov Sea, according to Sergei Filipov, director of trading firm QAM7 Dubai, which has operations there.    He said inspections have delayed travel by the usual two or three days.
    On its eleventh day at anchor in Kerch Strait, with skies finally clear, Island Bay reported to Berdyansk: “We called everywhere to make guards (come and) inspect the vessel, but their intentions cannot be explained.”
    The situation has sent Rusin racing to further revise down his business forecasts.
    Climbing out onto the windswept roof of his office on Friday, he pointed to a single truck of grain where multiple trucks used to line up along the dock.
    “We had expected to load around 150,000 tonnes over the next three months… Maybe 200,000,” he said.    Now the company is preparing for anything between 50,000 tonnes and no business at all, he said.
    “This was a change of plan that happened this week.”
    The Azov Sea grain supply chain makes up just 2 to 3 percent of Ukraine’s agricultural exports, deputy central bank chief Dmitry Sologub said.    But for the southeastern Zaporozhye region, home to 1.8 million people, it is critical.
    At the government Port Authority in Berdyansk, officials said they feared for the port’s future as clients look to other locations with direct access to the Black Sea.
    “Of course we would prefer (to use other ports),” said Erdem Sekreter, fleet manager at Turkey’s Bayraktar shipping group, which has two ships waiting to cross the Kerch Strait to reach the Ukrainian coast.
    “It is getting more expensive for ship-owners to go to the Azov Sea – the Ukrainian side of course,” he added.    “We are paying out of our pocket now.”
FARMERS AND TRADERS
    Bison Group owns 40,000 hectares of arable land in Zaporozhye region and exports much of its harvest via Berdyansk.
    With ship-owners raising freight charges to factor in the new risks in the Azov Sea, the costs will be passed down to grain producers, Bison deputy director Igor Serov said.    “It hits agricultural producers really hard.”
    Prices will have to go down by at least $10 per tonne, a trader at Atria Brokers, which handles Berdyansk grain, said.
    But producers may not have other options.    The railway infrastructure is not in place to send exports via Black Sea ports instead, Serov said, and transferring grain by truck to Odessa, for example, would cost an extra $40 per tonne.
    Buyers are also pulling back, afraid of the risks.
    “Our sales have fallen,” the Atria trader said.    “It has affected us in a fundamental way.”
    Every day Island Bay’s cargo sits in port, it racks up costs for traders.    Grain can spoil, and storage costs are steep.
    “The market is suffering… everyone along the chain is paying the price for these war games,” a grain trader said, declining to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.
    On Tuesday, Ukraine’s agriculture ministry said some grain shipments from the Azov Sea had resumed.
    Five of the 14 ships headed to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, held up since the stand-off, were still waiting to cross on Wednesday, Refinitiv data showed.    One had turned back to Istanbul.
    In comparison, of the ships aiming for one of Russian city Rostov-on-Don’s ports, that had arrived to Kerch Strait since the stand-off began, none were still waiting for passage, the data showed the same day.
    Only one out of the six boats headed to Berdyansk had crossed by Wednesday.    After twelve days at anchor in the waters near the strait, Island Bay was still waiting.
(Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in KIEV and Polina Devitt in MOSCOW; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

12/5/2018 Russia says U.S. has shown no evidence it is in breach of nuclear treaty
Russia's President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with top officials of the
Russian Defence Ministry in Sochi, Russia November 19, 2018. Picture taken November 19, 2018. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday the United States had yet to provide any evidence Moscow was in breach of a landmark arms control treaty, but said it was ready to keep discussing the matter with Washington.
    The United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum on Tuesday to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of a 1987 nuclear arms control treaty, saying it would be forced to start a six-month process of withdrawal if nothing changed.
    Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, told a briefing that the U.S. embassy in Moscow had handed over a note on Tuesday evening saying Washington would quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty unless Russia began complying with it.
    “These documents were received for further processing,” said Zakharova.    “In them once again there were groundless allegations about our alleged violation of this agreement.    We have repeatedly said that this is conjecture.    No proof (of our alleged violation) has been presented to us.”
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/5/2018 Kremlin says U.S. ultimatum on nuclear treaty is a tactical ploy
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin
with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the United States was manipulating facts in order to falsely accuse Russia of violating the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces arms control treaty and create a pretext to leave it.
    The United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum on Tuesday to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of a 1987 nuclear arms control treaty, saying it would be forced to start a six-month process of withdrawal if nothing changed.
    When asked about the ultimatum, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said statements from the United States and NATO were whipping up tensions.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth/Polina Devitt; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/5/2018 Putin says Russia will be forced to respond if U.S. exits arms treaty
Russia's President Vladimir Putin is seen during the opening of the
G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would be forced to respond if the United States exits the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces arms control treaty.
    The United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum on Tuesday to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of a 1987 nuclear arms control treaty, saying it would be forced to start a six-month process of withdrawal if nothing changed.
    Putin, in televised comments, said that Moscow was against the scrapping of the treaty, but that the United States had long ago decided to exit the treaty and was blaming Russia for violations in order for them to serve as a pretext.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Toby Chopra)

12/5/2018 Ukraine council to meet on December 15 to form independent church: president
Domes of the Dormition Cathedral of the Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery are seen
in front of the Mother Homeland monument in Kiev, Ukraine November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    (Reuters) – A Ukrainian church council will meet on December 15 in order to create an independent Orthodox church and elect its leader, President Petro Poroshenko said on Wednesday.
    Under Poroshenko’s presidency, Ukraine has pushed to establish a national church and thereby sever centuries-old ties with the Russian clergy.    The Kiev authorities say the step is essential to tackling Russian meddling on its soil.
.     “The synod will be held on December 15, 2018 in St. Sophia (Cathedral), which for centuries has been the center of the Orthodox Ukrainian religious life,” Poroshenko said.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra)

12/5/2018 Russia responds to U.S. withdrawal of Cold War arms treaty by OAN Newsroom
    Russia’s foreign ministry said it has received word of U.S. withdrawal from the arms treaty.    On Wednesday, a spokesperson again denied Russia’s alleged violations of the treaty, which ended the Cold War.
    The spokesperson referred to those allegations, which were brought forth by the U.S. and NATO, as “political schemes.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the talks with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
during meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018. (Maxim Shemetov/Pool Photo via AP)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country will begin developing nuclear weapons, which he says the U.S. is already doing.
    “What would be our response?    Its simple.    We will also do it — develop missiles.    I remind you that this year the U.S. Congress, before the intention to exit the treaty was announced, has allocated money for research and development of those missiles.” — Vladimir Putin, President – Russia
    Putin went on to accuse the U.S. of planning to withdraw from the treaty and simply blame Russia for their decision.    He added, Russia will respond accordingly.

12/5/2018 PM suggests Serbia could intervene if Kosovo sets up full army by Aleksandar Vasovic
FILE PHOTO: Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic attends a news conference after a Western Balkans
meeting at the World Economic Forum near Geneva, Switzerland, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia’s prime minister suggested on Wednesday that any creation of a standing army in Kosovo could provoke a military intervention by Belgrade, two decades after Kosovo Albanians’ uprising against Serbian rule.
    The predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo parliament is set to vote on Dec 14 on whether to transform its 4,000-strong, but lightly armed, defense force into a regular army.
    Though that process could take years, Serbian politicians maintain that a Kosovo army could be used to expel remaining minority Serbs from Kosovo, an accusation denied by Kosovar leaders who rely on European Union and U.S. support in reforms and development of the impoverished, small Balkan state.
    “I am hoping we would never have to use it (the army), but this is currently one of the options on the table as we do not want to watch this … ethnic cleansing,” Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade.
    Balkans analysts said that any action by Serbia’s 28,000-strong army against Kosovo is highly unlikely given Belgrade’s aspirations to join the EU and that Brnabic’s remarks appeared to be a sop to Serbian nationalists.
    “Brnabic’s claims…are in conflict with a recent statement of President Aleksandar Vucic who said that sending the (Serbian) army to Kosovo would lead to direct conflict with NATO,” said Milan Karagaca, a former military diplomat and a member of Belgrade’s Center for Foreign Policy think-tank.
    Fraught relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, soured further when Pristina slapped 100 percent tariffs on imports from Serbia and Bosnia on Nov 21 in retaliation for Belgrade’s lobbying against Kosovo’s admission to Interpol, the international police group.
    NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described the idea of creating a Kosovo army as ill-timed.
    “Such a move … goes against the advice of many NATO allies and may have serious repercussions for Kosovo’s future Euro-Atlantic integration,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels.
    He also described the tariffs introduced by Pristina as divisive, adding that such steps are making EU-mediated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo “even more difficult.”
    He urged both sides to refrain from provocative steps and statements and to seek compromises if they want to move “toward a better future.”
    Brnabic said the tariff hike would bring trade with Kosovo to a halt, costing Serbia 42 million euros a month.    But Vucic said on Tuesday there would be no counter-measures.
    The EU has said Belgrade and Pristina must normalize relations and resolve territorial and other outstanding disputes as a condition for progress toward EU membership both seek.
    Kosovo’s independence came almost a decade after a NATO air war halted a two-year crackdown by Serbian security forces against Kosovo Albanians including arrests, killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanian civilians.
    Kosovo has since been recognized by more than 110 countries.    A group of nations including Serbia, China, five EU members and Russia have refused to recognize it.
    Although Serbia maintains military neutrality, it belongs to NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program, while retaining its longstanding political and security ties with Russia.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/5/2018 U.N. talks leader sees greener future for coal-dependent Poland by Anna Koper and Barbara Lewis
FILE PHOTO: COP 24 President Michal Kurtyka addresses during the opening of
COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – The Polish official leading U.N. talks to revive the Paris climate deal said his country is committed to greener fuel even though his president has vowed not to let anyone “murder coal mining.”
    On Tuesday, the first full day of negotiations in Katowice, capital of mining region Silesia, President Andrzej Duda told workers celebrating the feast of their patron Saint Barbara that the industry had a long future.
    The comments sent shock-waves through two-week U.N. talks Poland is hosting to agree rules for implementing the 2015 Paris accord to phase out fossil fuel.
    Poland’s Deputy Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka told Reuters he is working toward an ambitious deal that respects “the letter and the spirit” of Paris and said it was the energy ministry, not the president, who set policy.
    “Poland is not building any more new coal structures.    It’s a very powerful engagement,” he said in the interview.    “New additional capacities are being built in the renewables sector.”
    Poland, which relies on coal for around 80 percent of its power and more than 82,000 mining jobs, is an unlikely host for U.N. climate talks, but Kurtyka said the country was eager to share with the rest of the world its capacity for transition.
    Over the last 30 years, the former communist-run nation has shifted from a centrally-controlled economy, which the official said was not a good system for humans or the environment.
    Now, as the presidency of climate talks, he said Poland was seeking “a just transition” to a greener world.
    Those comments may allay concern over Duda’s speech on Tuesday where he declared to miners: “Please don’t be worried.    As long as I’m president of Poland, I won’t let anyone murder coal-mining.”
UNIQUE ACHIEVEMENT OF HUMANITY
    Together with Britain, Poland on Tuesday launched an initiative to promote electric vehicles, which Kurtyka said would be less polluting than conventional engines even if they were powered by coal-fired electricity.
Trained as an engineer, Kurtyka said electric vehicles were more efficient than internal combustion engines, which generate waste heat and pollution.
    Nearly 40 countries had signed up to the initiative on knowledge sharing, he said, and for Poland electric mobility could help the country generate jobs to replace mining.
    Campaigners are highly critical of the pace of change as evidence mounts of the growing gap between the need to cut emissions and the work done so far.
    This week’s U.N. talks are technical negotiations ahead of ministerial debate next week.
    Kurtyka said challenges included sharing the burden between developed and developing nations of the cost of moving to a low-carbon world.    But political will was strong to deliver on the 2015 Paris agreement and climate concern could override national agendas, even in politically divided times, he added.
    “I think it is considered very much as a unique achievement of humanity,” he said of the Paris agreement.
    "It is in their hands.    It is in the parties’ hands to reach a consensus,” he said, referring to the nearly 200 nations involved, adding: “I am very reassured.    Everybody’s willing to progress.”
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/6/2018 Cuba eases new rules on private sector after criticism
FILE PHOTO - A view of a closed area at the rooftop of a recently renovated Belle Epoque shopping mall housing the
Gran Hotel Manzana in the top floors and luxury stores on the ground floor in Havana, Cuba, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s government said on Wednesday it was easing new regulations on the Communist-run island’s fledgling private sector originally published in July after hearing concerns of entrepreneurs and experts.
    A new resolution published in the official gazette modifies the original regulations to lift a restriction of one business license per person and a limit on restaurant capacity of 50 seats.
    Among the package of regulations on the private sector, those measures had faced the most criticism from both entrepreneurs and economists who said they would curtail the sector’s growth at a time when the economy is already facing significant headwinds, such as reduced aid from key ally Venezuela.
    The owners of emblematic private restaurants in Havana that are popular with tourists had said they would have to fire workers in order to stay within the 50-seat limit, while Cubans with several business licenses fretted over which to give up.
    Authorities held meetings nationwide over the last few months to inform private-sector workers about the new regulations, and also gathered feedback.
    “During these exchanges with the self-employed workers and with specialist and officials, we received opinions, ideas and experiences that were rigorously evaluated,” Labor Minister Margarita Gonzalez Fernandez said in a broadcast roundtable discussion.    “As a result, we decided to approve the modification of some aspects originally approved.”
    The new private-sector regulations reflect Cuban concerns over rising wealth inequality, tax evasion and black market activity in the wake of market reforms.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta; Editing by Sandra Maler and Leslie Adler)

12/6/2018 NATO Orders Russia to comply with nuclear treaty over fear U.S. will withdraw by OAN Newsroom
    NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is urging Russia to comply with the nuclear treaty.    In a statement Wednesday, Stoltenberg warned Russia to cease its suspected violations of the 1987 Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces — known as the INF.
    The NATO chief said the alliance is also preparing a contingency plan in case the Kremlin fails to comply and the U.S. pulls out of the accord.
    This comes after State Secretary Mike Pompeo threatened U.S. withdrawal from the treaty if Russia does not comply within 60-days.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after a
meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
    Stoltenberg said a compromise solution is still possible.
    “There are no new U.S. missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles, SSC-8, they are mobile, they are hard to detect, they are nuclear capable,” he stated.    “Several allies announced in the meeting yesterday that they will raise this issue, INF issue, with Russia bilaterally.”
    Stoltenberg also said NATO officials will discuss the issues of INF compliance at the upcoming NATO-Russia Council.

12/6/2018 Ukraine asks West to ramp up sanctions on Russia by Crispian Balmer
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin arrives to attend the Organization for Security
and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Summit in Milan, Italy December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
    MILAN (Reuters) – Ukraine urged a gathering of dozens of foreign ministers on Thursday to increase sanctions against Russia, accusing Moscow of ramping up aggression against Kiev and sowing “instability and insecurity” across the West.
    Speaking at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the foreign minister of Ukraine denounced the recent seizure of three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crew by Russian forces off Crimea, saying it represented another assault on international law.
    “It is a matter of urgency to provide a prompt and consolidated international response to this act of aggression.    Declarations are not enough.    There must be action,” Pavlo Klimkin told the annual gathering of OSCE ministers.
    “We must raise the cost for Russia with comprehensive and tailored sanctions … There can be no business as usual.”
    The 57-nation OSCE, a security and human rights watchdog, has been rattled by the military and diplomatic stand-off between Russia and Ukraine, both of whom are member states.
    But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared untouched by the wall of criticism that faced him in Milan, thanking hosts Italy for creating a “warm atmosphere” at the meeting and pinning the blame for years of escalating tensions with Kiev on Ukraine and its allies.
    “Striving for dominance, a small group of countries uses blackmail, pressure and threats,” Lavrov told the gathering in a cavernous conference center in Italy’s financial capital.
    “Kiev (is) free from any punishment, shielded by its Western sponsors, who justify all its outrageous actions,” he said.
FIGHTING
    The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea, previously Ukrainian territory, after a pro-Russian leader was toppled in Kiev.
    Fighting between Ukraine and Moscow-backed separatists in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine has killed more than 10,000 people.    Most of the fighting ended with a 2015 ceasefire, but deadly exchanges of fire are still frequent.
    The unresolved crisis returned to the fore last month when Russian patrol boats fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea and captured 23 sailors.
    Moscow has accused Kiev of orchestrating the clash, saying the Ukrainian boats had entered Russian waters — something Ukraine denies.    Lavrov said on Thursday the move was a “provocation” and charged that Ukraine was seeking to sabotage any efforts to restore peace in the region.
    But U.S., Canadian and European ministers dismissed his version of events and pledged their full support for Kiev, demanding the immediate release of the detained sailors.
    “The Russian aggression was a miscalculation,” said Wess Mitchell, the U.S. assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
    “It has strengthened Western resolve to maintain sanctions against Russia and has galvanized the international community’s efforts to ensure the respect of international law… It is time for Russia to rethink this approach,” he said.
    Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, who has family roots in Ukraine, voiced her support for the country in Ukrainian in one session.
    “Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, its direct involvement in the conflict in the Donbass and now its illegal actions targeting Ukrainian sailors and vessels … cannot and must not be accepted by the international community,” she said.
(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/7/2018 Vying for influence, Russia accuses U.S. of meddling in Macedonia
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrives to attend the
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Summit in Milan, Italy December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo
    ATHENS (Reuters) – The United States is meddling in Macedonian domestic affairs by pushing a name accord with Greece to boost the Balkan state’s bid to join NATO, Russia’s foreign minister said, amid a tussle for influence in the region.
    Athens and Skopje have agreed Macedonia will change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia to end a decades-long dispute and potentially enable it to join the transatlantic military alliance and European Union, which Russia opposes.
    “It’s obvious there is a rampant and continued intervention by the United States and the EU in Macedonia’s domestic affairs,” Russian minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Greek newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton published on Friday.
    Washington has voiced concern about Russia’s “malign influence” in Macedonia and elsewhere in the Western Balkans, accusing it of trying to undermine governments and block their progress towards international integration.
    Moscow denies that, accusing the West in turn of big-footing the region and pressuring to rush the Macedonian process through by early next year.    It says a Macedonian parliament vote that backed the name change was rigged through blackmail, threats and vote-buying.
    “It is noteworthy that such a hurry serves Washington’s only aim for Skopje’s forced integration to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization),” he added.
    Greece has long objected to the tiny landlocked state being called simply Macedonia, arguing it implied territorial claims over a northern Greek province of the same name.    Some on both sides view the name change as a sellout.
(Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/7/2018 Cuba reinforces public transport as it clamps down on private taxis
Tourists ride on a double-decker bus in Havana, Cuba, December 27, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s government said on Thursday it was importing hundreds of microbuses and buses to alleviate a growing transport shortage in Havana due to its clampdown on private sector taxis.
    Given a chronically deficient public transport system, Cubans in the capital have for decades relied on its more than 6,000 private taxis, many of them vintage U.S. cars, in particular those offering shared services on fixed routes.
    However, the Communist government published in July a series of new, tighter regulations on the private sector that included rules for taxis that would progressively go into effect across Cuba, starting in Havana from October.
    Those rules oblige drivers, for example, to purchase a minimum amount of fuel from state gas stations with huge mark-ups in order to curb the black market for fuel amid a decline in oil supplies from ally Venezuela.    They also fix prices for the set, shared routes.
    Some drivers in Havana have said the new rules are so stifling that they prevent them from making a living, so they would rather give up their licenses to operate as taxis.
    The Vice Minister for Transport Marta Oramas said on a broadcast roundtable discussion on Thursday evening that around 800 drivers had handed in their licenses so far.
    “The measures are really severe and every day there is more pressure in the streets with inspectors and police,” driver Julio Garcia told Reuters earlier this week.
    “I’m going to hand in my license,” he said.
    The new rules also include a technical revision that Havana’s “rolling museum”, including Chevrolets, Plymouths and Fords from the 1950s, are struggling to pass, Oramas said, and that 2,167 licenses had been canceled so far as a result.
    Havana residents have complained in recent months about a lack of transport options.    Some drivers said they hoped that by bringing transport to a halt they might be able to pressure the government to revise the measures.
    However, Transport Minister Adel Yzquierdo said “good news for our Havana is that at the end of December and start of January 400 new microbuses that the state has acquired abroad will be arriving.”
    The Caribbean island would also soon receive 90 new buses, he said.
    Cuba’s broader set of rules on the private sector that goes into effect on Friday has sparked concerns it is backtracking on market reforms necessary to help boost its ailing economy.
    Entrepreneurs and economists cheered on Wednesday when the government announced it was lifting two of the most heavily criticized restrictions that would cap restaurant seating at 50 and allow just one business license per person.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta and Sarah Marsh; Editing by Paul Tait)

12/7/2018 Cuba president says policy changes address people’s concerns, not a setback by Sarah Marsh
FILE PHOTO - Cuba's President Miguel Diaz-Canel speaks during a welcoming ceremony to Cuban doctors
just arrived from Brazil at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, November 23, 2018. REUTERS/Fernando Medina
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said his government’s last-minute changes to policies that went into effect on Friday following widespread criticism showed it listens to the people and were not a setback.
    The Communist government this week watered down the most heavily criticized elements of new restrictions on free enterprise and promised to revise regulations accompanying a law on the cultural sector to address artists’ concerns.
    The changes to policies published in July came the same week as Cuba finally launched mobile internet, a long-awaited service that many had been skeptical would ever arrive in one of the world’s least connected countries.
    “There is no reason to believe the rectifications are setbacks nor to confuse them with weakness when one is listening to the people,” Diaz-Canel, who succeeded Raul Castro in April, tweeted.    “None of us can do as much as we all can together.”
    The government said on Wednesday it was lifting a cap of 50 seats for private restaurants and a ban on Cubans holding more than one business license.
    Private sector workers, who make up around 13 percent of the island’s labor force, criticized the government for making such big changes so late.
    Some restaurants had already shrunk capacity and fired staff, while many entrepreneurs had divested licenses or started the lengthy bureaucratic process of transferring them to others.
    Overall they welcomed the move.
    “I think it’s the first time they’ve really listened to the private sector,” said Mickey Morales, the owner of a 150-seat restaurant with panoramic views of Havana’s centuries-old port.    “It’s a relief.”
    On Thursday, the government also said it was consulting with artists on regulations on cultural activities to ease fears about increased censorship.
    Ted Henken, a professor of black and Latino studies at Baruch College in New York, said Cuba’s unusual volte-face suggested it was becoming more open to feedback or less able to withstand growing discontent.
    Diaz-Canel lacks the historic legitimacy of Castro, who fought alongside his older brother Fidel Castro for the 1959 revolution.    He took power as the ailing economy faced dwindling aid from key ally Venezuela and a tighter U.S. trade embargo.
    To date, Diaz-Canel has appeared to seek legitimacy through greater public interaction with Cuban citizens, companies and institutions than his reclusive predecessor, analysts say.
    Until now, that change in style had not translated into substantive policy changes, nor had he openly met with private entrepreneurs or more critical actors of civil society.
    “Hopefully this is the start of a change of course,” Ricardo Torres, an economist at a Cuban state-run think tank, wrote in a public post on Facebook, “where the rights and interests of the island’s inhabitants are adequately taken into account in the politics of the Cuban state.”
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Richard Chang)

12/7/2018 Armenian ex-president Kocharyan detained after court ruling – lawyer
FILE PHOTO: A protester reacts near burning police cars in central Yerevan March 2, 2008. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili (ARMENIA)/File Photo
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – An Armenian court of appeal ordered former president Robert Kocharyan detained on Friday on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, days before a parliamentary election in the ex-Soviet country, his spokesman said.
    Kocharyan served as Armenia’s second president from 1998 to 2008 when mass protests erupted against a disputed election result.
    He was arrested in July this year but released the following month and his case sent to the court of appeal.
    “This decision was restored as a result of pressure,” Kocharyan’s spokesman Viktor Soghomonyan told reporters. Kocharyan has dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
    “It’s obvious that this verdict is, first of all, the result of a political decision and was rendered under conditions of tough pressure from the authorities,” Kocharyan said in a statement on Friday before being arrested for two months of preliminary detention.
    An early election will be held on Sunday in a move to cement the outcome of a peaceful revolution when demonstrators led by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan pushed the former ruling party out of power earlier this year.
    Investigators have charged Kocharyan with an attempt to overthrow the constitutional order during events after the 2008 election when his ally Serzh Sarksyan became president.
    In February-March 2008 the opposition held protest rallies, contesting the result of the election.    The protests were dispersed and 10 people were killed in clashes with police.    The Constitutional Court upheld the election result.
    Pashinyan, an opposition activist at the time who was imprisoned in June 2009 on charges of fomenting unrest during post-election protests, was elected prime minister by parliament on May 8 this year.
    He stepped down in October and became acting prime minister to allow parliament to be dissolved and an early election to be held and said he expected a new legislature to emerge that better reflected the country’s political realities.
(Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan; writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

12/8/2018 U.N. climate negotiators sweat over detail and divides by Barbara Lewis and Anna Koper
FILE PHOTO: Participants take part in the plenary session during
COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Half-way through talks to breathe life into the Paris climate deal negotiators haggled over how to share the cost of curbing global warming and struggled to bridge deep political divides.
    The two weeks of talks, which began at the start of the week, are billed as the most important U.N. conference since the Paris 2015 agreement on climate change.
    The challenge is to meet a year-end deadline to agree a rule book to limit global warming, when the unity that underpinned the Paris talks has fragmented. U.S. President Donald Trump repeated his call to scrap the Paris climate pact.
    By the end of Saturday, negotiators aim to have a simplified a draft for high-level ministerial debate starting on Monday.
    “We still have a lot to do,” Michal Kurtyka, the Polish president of the U.N. talks, told a news conference.    “It is very technical, very complex, very difficult.”
    Delegates said a major issue was how to reassure developing countries that richer nations would deliver on promises to help finance the cost of shifting to a lower carbon economy.
    Environmental campaigners are concerned the Katowice talks will lack ambition, after the United States said this year it was withdrawing from the U.N. process.    Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, in the talks on Saturday added a further challenge by blocking consensus on a major scientific report.
    The U.N. report published in October said it was possible to limit the earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and prevent damaging levels of global warming provided radical changes in energy consumption and other steps were implemented.
    But Saudi Arabia refused to back a proposal from other nations to use wording to “welcome” the report.
    Delegates said the task of driving the process forward would fall to ministers next week.
    “It’s a question of who wins?    The likes of the European Union and China with economies deeply invested in climate action and dependent on multilateralism for global trade, or the likes of Saudi dissenters of climate science, with vested interests that put us all in the firing line?” Camilla Born, senior policy advisor at E3G, a non-governmental organisation, said.
    On the streets of Katowice, the capital of Poland’s Silesian coal-mining region, thousands of demonstrators marched to demand a deal to limit temperature rises to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
    Environmental campaigners also marched in Paris, where violent demonstrations triggered by a fuel tax have taken place.
    Delegates in Katowice said the French social protests were unrelated to the U.N. climate debate, but U.S. President Donald Trump seized on them to call for an end to “the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement.”
(Editing by Clelia Oziel and Edmund Blair)

12/8/2018 Thousands protest in Serbia over attack on opposition politician
Demonstrators walk along a street during an anti-government protest
in central Belgrade, Serbia, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Thousands of people rallied peacefully in downtown Belgrade on Saturday to protest over an attack on an opposition politician and demand policy changes by President Aleksandar Vucic and his ruling Serbian Progressive party.
    Under the slogan “Stop the bloody shirts,” the demonstrators chanted as they marched through the city center to condemn the assault on Borko Stefanovic, leader of the small Serbian Left party.
    Stefanovic was attacked by a group of men wearing black clothing on Nov. 23 in the southern city of Krusevac and suffered minor injuries from being beaten with an iron rod.
    Vucic said Stefanovic’s assailants were arrested shortly after the incident, but opposition figures maintain that his party was involved — something vehemently denied by Progressive leaders.
    “The struggle must be waged with loud chanting against this disgusting, slimy regime,” Branislav Trifunovic, an actor and a protest leader, told the cheering crowd.
    Opposition activists say Vucic is an autocrat and brand his Serbian Progressive Party as corrupt.
    Vucic’s approval ratings have slipped somewhat since he won a 2016 presidential vote by a landslide, but he remains the country’s most popular political leader and his ruling coalition has a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament.
    “Corruption, violence, stifling of press freedoms, they (the Progressive party) do it all and Vucic is their kingpin,” said Radovan Peric, 49, a mechanic from Belgrade.
    Saturday’s rally was called by former Belgrade mayor Dragan Djilas, leader of the Alliance for Serbia — a heterogeneous group of 30 parties, who described the protest as a gathering of citizens against authoritarian rule.
    Opposition protests have been relatively rare in Serbia since the popular unrest that ousted former strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
    Vucic, a nationalist firebrand during the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, later embraced European values and set Serbia’s membership in the European Union as the country’s strategic goal.    He also maintains close ties with Russia and China.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Helen Popper)

12/8/2018 Hungarians protest against ‘slave law’ overtime rules by Marton Dunai and Bernadett Szabo
Trade union members and supporters protest against the government
in Budapest, Hungary, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Hungarians protested in Budapest on Saturday against a proposed new labor law that allows employers to ask for up to 400 hours of overtime work per year, a move its critics have billed as the “slave law.”
    Members of trade unions and their supporters gathered under gray winter skies and marched waving banners like “we protest against the slave law” and “force your mother to do overtime.”
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban has ruffled feathers in Europe and built a system his critics see as autocratic, forcing his will on business, academia, the courts and the media, but he has rarely angered large voter groups at once.
    The last move that struck a nerve with so many people that it forced Orban to backtrack was a planned tax on internet data traffic, abandoned in late 2014 after tens of thousands marched against it.
    The modification to the labor code submitted to Parliament this week has faced intense criticism, sparking the biggest street protest in over a year.    Potentially, it could add two extra hours to an average work day, or the equivalent of an extra workday per week.
    Police blocked off the main square outside Parliament, where the protest was headed originally, forcing the march to loop around the central Budapest area and fill Constitution Road, the main street leading up to Parliament.
    “We are all really upset about the way things are going in this country,” Zoltan Laszlo, vice chairman of the Vasas ironworkers union, told Reuters.    “This government just makes laws with scant consultation of those affected.”
    “Our health status is already abysmal.    People who make these kinds of laws work against society. We’ll show them that we can take our fate into our own hands.    We are willing to turn a lot harsher.”
    According to the bill posted on Parliament’s website, employers are guaranteed an extra 250 hours of overtime per worker per year.    For the rest, they would have to seek employees’ agreement.
    Lajos Kosa, the Fidesz lawmaker who was the original author of the changes, told Parliament this week that the Hungarian workweek will continue to consist of five eight-hour days as a rule, stressing that employees will get paid for any overtime.
    He added that the weekly ceiling including extra overtime will be 48 hours of work.
(Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

12/8/2018 Katowice COP24 Notebook: Protesters raise the alarm on climate
Protesters take part in the March for the Climate on the streets of Katowice, where the
COP24 UN Climate Change Conference 2018 is held, Poland December 8, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Grzegorz Celejewski via REUTERS
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Talks billed as the most important U.N. conference since the Paris 2015 deal on climate change are nearing the end of a first week in the Polish city of Katowice, the capital of the country’s Silesian coal mining district.
    The aim of the gathering is to meet an end-of-year deadline for agreeing a rule book on how to enforce action to limit further warming of the planet.
    Below is a flavor of the mood around the event, held in a sprawl of temporary passageways and meeting rooms next to the “Spodek,” a flying-saucer-shaped sports and concert venue.
SATURDAY 1500 GMT
    Negotiations continue to clean up a messy text ahead of a Saturday night deadline to have a document ready for ministers to wrestle over in the second and final week of the conference.
    Negotiators say there has been progress, but it is slow and, as ever, finance is a stumbling block.
RECORD REGISTRATION
    Although highly technical, negotiators say the Katowice talks are an essential follow-up to the Paris Agreement, which agreed on the aim of limiting global warming but did not provide rules on how to achieve that.
    A U.N. spokesman said a record number — more than 32,800 — had registered to attend the conference.
RETURN FROM EXILE
    Those arriving at the start of next week will include former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who will be returning from exile in Britain to lead his country’s delegation.
1200
    At noon, demonstrators, accompanied by a heavy police presence, took to the streets of Katowice to demand an agreement that will prevent temperatures rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
    The marchers’ symbol is an alarm clock, as organizers seek to wake governments up to the urgency of action.
    “Our message for the politicians and the companies is that they should stop making money at our expense, at the expense of our health,” said one of the demonstrators, who gave his name only as Jeremi.
    “They shouldn’t just think about the next 10 years, but see that it’s possible to live on our planet for much longer,” he said.
    A police spokesman estimated that 3,000 people took part in the march.
YELLOW VEST PROTESTS ‘A SEPARATE ISSUE’
    Environmental campaigners in Katowice said violent protests by “yellow vest” demonstrators in Paris about fuel costs were about social justice and should not be confused with the need for a price on carbon to help shift the energy mix away from fossil fuel.
    French President Emmanuel Macron was forced to scrap a planned fuel tax because of the angry demonstrations about living costs.
HELD AT THE BORDER
    Numbers on the streets of Katowice could have been reduced by at least a dozen after Polish border guards refused to let some environmental campaigners enter the country, non-governmental organizations said.
    One of those stopped was Nugzar Kokhreidze, a delegate from Georgia.
    “I was stopped at the passport control at Katowice International Airport.    They said that my name and surname is in the banned list in some system,” he said in an email.
    Environment organization 350.org said in an email that those denied entrance had been told they were “a threat to national security, which as you can imagine is ludicrous.”
    A spokeswoman for the Polish border guard said 161 people had been forbidden entry to Poland on Friday for many reasons, including a lack of correct documents and being on security lists.    She could not immediately say whether there was any connection to the climate talks in Katowice.
    Since the beginning of this year, Poland has denied entry to 74,000 people.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis, Anna Koper and Sebastien Malo from the Reuters Foundation; Editing by Alexander Smith and Helen Popper)

12/9/2018 Armenians vote in election testing revolution’s power shift by Hasmik Mkrtchyan
FILE PHOTO: Armenia's acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan attends a meeting of the
Supreme Eurasian Economic Council in St. Petersburg, Russia December 6, 2018. Olga Maltseva/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenians began voting in an early parliamentary election as acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan sought a stronger mandate, having been elected by lawmakers to the post in May following a peaceful revolution earlier this year.
    Pashinyan came to power in the wake of weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism in the ex-Soviet republic.    The former newspaper editor, who was jailed for fomenting unrest in 2008, represents a dramatic break from the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.
    He stepped down in October so parliament could be dissolved ready for the early election.
    Poll stations opened at 8 am (0400 GMT) and voting was due to end at 8 pm (1600 GMT).
    Former high-ranking officials were sacked and some were arrested following the power change.    And a court of appeal ordered the detention of former President Robert Kocharyan again on Friday on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.
    He was first arrested in July but freed the following month and the case was sent to the appeals court.
    Kocharyan was Armenia’s second president, serving in the post from 1998 to 2008, when mass protests erupted over a disputed election.
    The former ruling Republican Party, however, still dominates the current parliament that was elected in 2017.
    Pashinyan has said he expects Sunday’s vote to lead to a legislature that better reflects the nation’s new political landscape.
    Nine parties and two blocs are taking part in the election and opinion polls suggest the My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, will easily win a parliamentary majority.
    After taking office, Pashinyan promised there would be no major shifts in Armenian foreign policy and has offered assurances he will not break with Moscow.
    Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is a member of Russia-led military and economic alliances.
    Pashinyan also suggested he would stick with existing policies on the long-running issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    A mountainous part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh, is run by ethnic Armenians who declared independence from Baku during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.
    Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia still regularly accuse each other of conducting attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Helen Popper & Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/09/2018 Belgian PM relaunches government as minority after ally quits by Philip Blenkinsop
FILE PHOTO: Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel holds a press conference
in Brussels, Belgium December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Vidal
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel relaunched his government on Sunday as a minority administration after the biggest party in his coalition quit in a dispute over signing the U.N. migration compact.
    Michel met King Philippe to remould his government as a three-party coalition of his French-speaking liberal MR and two Flemish parties, the center-right CD&V and Open VLD, after the departure of the Flemish N-VA following four years together.
    With a federal election due anyway in late May, many observers see no immediate need for an early vote.
    Michel told a news conference with his remaining ministers that the government would focus in the remaining months on the economy, defending Belgium’s interests ahead of Brexit, security and climate change.
    He also said he would speak with members of parliament to see how his minority government, with just 52 of 150 seats, could proceed, without saying which other parties he saw as potential allies.
    The N-VA’s exit left Michel with three ministerial posts to fill, along with portfolios, such as immigration, held by N-VA’s two state secretaries.
    Alexander De Croo, one of the deputy prime ministers, will become finance minister, Pieter De Crem, a former defense minister, becomes interior minister, while foreign minister Didier Reynders will add defense to his portfolio.
    The right-wing N-VA, which is the biggest party in parliament, pulled its ministers from the coalition after Michel refused its demand that he not sign the U.N. migration compact in Marrakesh on Monday, in a move critics see as an opening shot in the election campaign.
    Michel had secured a large parliamentary majority last week in favor of maintaining Belgium’s support of the United Nations text, with support from the opposition socialists and greens.
    Since it was agreed by all U.N. states bar the United States in July, the text has run into criticism from European politicians who say it could increase immigration to Europe.
    The N-VA risks electoral losses in its Dutch-speaking region to the harder-right, anti-immigration Vlaams Belang.    Its leader Bart De Wever issued Michel an ultimatum that it would quit the government if he signed the non-binding U.N. declaration.
    At least six EU states – mostly in formerly Communist eastern Europe – have already shunned the accord to regulate the treatment of migrants worldwide, a sign of how the bloc has turned increasingly restrictive on accepting refugees and migrants alike since a 2015 spike in arrivals.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Andrew Roche)

12/10/2018 Kremlin says Russia did not interfere in domestic affairs of France
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a news conference of
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Any allegations that Russia helped whip up anti-government protests in France are slanderous, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.
    “We have not interfered and will not interfere in the internal affairs of any countries, including France,” Peskov told reporters.
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Toby Chopra)

12/10/2018 Acting Armenian PM’s bloc easily wins parliamentary vote: commission by Hasmik Mkrtchyan and Margarita Antidze
Armenian acting prime minister Nikol Pashinyan casts his ballot during an early
parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia’s acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, bolstered his authority as his political bloc won early parliamentary elections in the former Soviet country on Sunday, the Central Election Commission’s (CEC) results showed.
    My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, won 70.4 percent of the vote based on results from all polling stations, the CEC said on its website.
    Results showed that two moderate opposition parties – Prosperous Armenia and Bright Armenia – got enough votes to clear the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.
    Pashinyan came to power in Armenia in May after weeks of mass protests against corruption and cronyism.    The former newspaper editor, who was jailed for fomenting unrest in 2008, marked a dramatic break from the cadre of rulers who have run Armenia since the late 1990s.
    He stepped down in October so parliament could be dissolved ready for the early election but remained the acting prime minister.
    “Armenian citizens created a revolutionary majority at the parliament,” Pashinyan told reporters at his bloc’s headquarters after first results were published.
    “If this trend continues, the majority won’t face any problems in implementing legislative changes,” he said.
    After a change of power in the South Caucasus country of around 3 million people, Pashinyan’s government sought to initiate changes to the electoral code.    But the move was blocked by the former ruling Republican Party, which dominated the parliament.
    The Republican Party received 4.70 percent of the vote and it was not clear whether it managed to enter parliament.    Under Armenia’s constitution, 30 percent of seats in parliament must go to opposition parties.
    Former high-ranking officials were sacked and some were arrested following the change of power.    An appeals court ordered the detention of former President Robert Kocharyan on Friday on charges of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.
    He was first arrested in July but freed the following month, and the case was sent to the appeals court.
    Kocharyan was Armenia’s second president, serving from 1998 to 2008, when mass protests erupted over a disputed election.
    Pashinyan promised after taking office there would be no major shifts in Armenian foreign policy and has offered assurances he will not break with Moscow.
    Armenia hosts a Russian military base and is a member of Russia-led military and economic alliances.
    Pashinyan also suggested he would stick with existing policies on the long-running issue of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    A mountainous part of Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh is run by ethnic Armenians who declared independence from Baku during a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991.,br>     Though a ceasefire was agreed in 1994, Azerbaijan and Armenia still regularly accuse each other of conducting attacks around Nagorno-Karabakh and along the Azeri-Armenian border.
(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Peter Cooney, Daniel Wallis and Paul Tait)

12/10/2018 Russia gas pipeline to boost grip on Ukraine, Europe: U.S. diplomat by Timothy Gardner
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline project is seen on a board at the
St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017 (SPIEF 2017) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Russia is seeking to boost its power in Europe and grip over Ukraine with the proposed Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, the top U.S. energy diplomat said on Monday, in a step-up of Washington’s rhetoric against the pipeline.
    “Through Nord Stream 2, Russia seeks to increase its leverage of the West while severing Ukraine from Europe,” Francis Fannon, the U.S. assistant secretary for energy resources at the State Department, told reporters in a teleconference.
    The pipeline has been opposed both by President Donald Trump, a Republican, and his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama as a political tool for Russia to consolidate power over Europe.
    Much of the gas that Europe currently gets from Russia via pipeline goes through Ukraine, which collects billions of dollars in transit charges making up to 3 percent of its gross domestic product.
    If Nord Stream 2,, which aims to bring Russian gas to Western Europe via the Baltic Sea, and TurkStream, a pipeline to bring gas from Russia to Turkey, are completed it would mean transit revenues would evaporate.
    “It’s kind of just what’s left over that would be transited, potentially transited, through Ukraine,” Fannon said.    “Even then that’s only based on whether we can trust (Russia President Vladimir) Putin, I don’t think the record should indicate anyone should.”
    Putin has said that Nord Stream 2, a consortium of Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom and five European companies, is purely economic and not directed against other countries.    Russian gas could continue to go through Ukraine if the pipeline is completed, Putin has said.
    But Russia has stopped shipments of gas to Ukraine in winter in recent years over a series of pricing disputes.    Critics of Nord Stream 2 say it could increase Russia’s ability to manipulate European energy markets.    In an increase in tensions, Russia last month seized three Ukrainian naval ships off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea in the Sea of Azov after opening fire on them.
    Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said this month that Berlin will not withdraw its political support for Nord Stream 2 and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had secured a pledge from Putin in August allowing gas shipments across Ukraine’s territory.
    Fannon made his comments after traveling to Eastern Europe to discuss projects that could offer Europe a more diverse natural gas supply.    Those included a floating liquefied natural gas terminal on the Adriatic island of Krk that could one day receive gas imports from the United States, which is increasing its exports of the fuel, or the eastern Mediterranean.
    Fannon said he expected Russia’s aggression in the Sea of Azov to boost support for several bills in the U.S. Congress that include new sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, though he refrained from commenting on any particular legislation.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Leslie Adler)

12/10/2018 Protesters disrupt U.S. fossil fuel event at climate talks by Nina Chestney
Environmental activist protests against fossil fuel in front of the the venue of the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference
2018 in Katowice, Poland December 10, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Grzegorz Celejewski via REUTERS
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Protesters disturbed a U.S.-sponsored event promoting fossil fuels on the sidelines of U.N. climate change talks on Monday, saying attempts to rebrand coal as a potentially “clean” energy source were misleading.
    The event called “U.S. innovative technologies spur economic dynamism,” touting the benefits of burning fossil fuels more efficiently, infuriated campaigners and many government delegations who want the talks to focus on moving away from coal, oil and gas.
    Some 100 protesters in the audience at the event seized a microphone and interrupted opening remarks by Wells Griffith, the man President Donald Trump appointed as senior director for energy at the National Security Council.
    They waved banners and chanted: “keep it in the ground.”
    “I’m 19 years old and I’m pissed,” shouted Vic Barrett, a plaintiff in the “Juliana vs U.S” lawsuit filed in 2015 by 21 young people against the government for allowing activities that harm the climate.
    “I am currently suing my government for perpetuating the global climate change crisis … Young people are at the forefront of leading solutions to address the climate crises and we won’t back down.”     “Alarmism should not silence realism … This administration does not see the benefit of being part of an agreement which impedes U.S. economic growth and jobs,” he said.
    The conference, in Katowice, Poland, aims to work out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, the global pact on combating climate change.
    The United States, the world’s top oil and gas producer, is the only country to have announced its withdrawal from the accord, saying it would hurt the economy and that the science of climate change is not clear.
    “On the technology front, fossil fuel use is not declining, it is continuing at a steady pace,” said Steve Winberg, panel member and assistant director at the U.S. department of energy.
    “The question is: do we continue using old coal technology used in the 1970s or move forward with new technologies which will be near-zero emitting?
    The U.S. government has proposed eliminating Obama-era policies to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
    However, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has forecast that coal demand will fall this year to its lowest in 39 years, as the power industry moves further toward natural gas and renewables such as solar and wind.
    On Thursday, global investors managing $32 trillion in assets called on governments to accelerate steps to combat climate change, phase out coal power stations and gradually get rid of fossil fuel subsidies.
    Jan Erik Saugestad, chief executive of Storebrand Asset Management, a Norwegian fund with $85 billion of assets under management, said: “Investors are not going to be sold fake news on coal which seeks to mask the rapid decline of the U.S. coal industry and disregards the solar and wind growth markets.”
(The story corrects spelling of “Griffith” in seventh paragraph)
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

12/10/2018 Don’t use protests in France to curb climate ambitions: French officials by Bate Felix
FILE PHOTO: French deputy minister in charge of Ecology Transition Brune Poirson attends the questions
to the government session at the National Assembly in Paris, France, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Governments should not use the violent protests in France that were sparked by a carbon tax increase as an excuse to stem policies to curb global warming, French officials said on Monday.
    French Secretary of State for Ecology Brune Poirson, and Laurent Fabius, who presided over the 2015 Paris climate agreement, said countries must keep up the momentum of that U.N. deal which aims to limit temperature rise to between 1.5 degrees to 2 degrees Celsius by 2030.
    “It would be a error to think that because there are problems in France, we should abandon ecological transition,” Fabius told reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. climate conference in Poland.
    The former foreign minister whose handling of the Paris negotiations earned him worldwide praise, said countries could not afford to curb climate policies because the consequences would be even more devastating.
    “We must move towards that transition, but the transition must be just,” he said, adding that policymakers must ensure that funds earmarked for green policies are used for that purpose, which was not the case in France.
    Speaking in a separate briefing, ecology minister Poirson said one of the key messages from the protests was that green taxes had to target industries and not just citizens, and governments needed to communicate their aims more clearly to the public.
    She said the French government was exploring ways to revamp fiscal policies to achieve environmental aims.
    “That means embracing green budgeting. It is really difficult because it means radically changing they way our institutions, the way our bureaucracy work.    But I don’t see how we could do it differently,” Poirson said.
    The so-called “yellow vests” protests in France prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to call for the end of what he said was a “ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement.”    Trump has already pulled out of the deal.
(Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

12/11/2018 Kremlin calls U.S. criticism of Russian military flights to Venezuela wrong
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 on Tuesday rejected U.S. criticism of Russian military flights to Venezuela, saying it had been inappropriate and wrong for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to condemn the flight of two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to Caracas.
    Two Russian TU-160 strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in Venezuela on Monday in a symbolic show of support for the government there.
    Pompeo condemned the deployment on Twitter.
    “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo wrote.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that Pompeo’s comments were undiplomatic and wrong.
    “We consider it completely inappropriate,” said Peskov.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Editing by Tom Balmforth)

12/11/2018 Russian nuclear-capable bomber aircraft fly to Venezuela, angering U.S. by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russian Tu-160 bombers fly during a joint Kazakh-Russian military exercise at
Otar military range, some 150km (93 miles) west of Almaty, Kazakhstan, October 3, 2008. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons have landed in ally Venezuela, a show of support for Venezuela’s socialist government that has infuriated Washington.
    The TU-160 supersonic bombers, known as “White Swans” by Russian pilots, landed at Maiquetia airport near capital Caracas on Monday after covering more than 10,000 km (6,200 miles), the Russian and Venezuelan governments said.
    Their deployment came days after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose left-wing administration is the most significant U.S. foe in Latin America, held talks with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
    As OPEC member Venezuela’s socialist-run economy implodes, Russia has become a key lender of last resort, investing in its oil industry and providing support to its military.
    Capable of carrying short-range nuclear missiles, the planes can fly over 12,000 km (7,500 miles) without re-fuelling and have landed in Venezuela twice before in the last decade.
    “Russia’s government has sent bombers halfway around the world to Venezuela,” fumed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Twitter.
    “The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.”
‘HIGHLY UNDIPLOMATIC’
    The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected Pompeo’s criticism, saying it was “highly undiplomatic” and “completely inappropriate.”
    “As for the idea that we are squandering money, we do not agree.    It’s not really appropriate for a country half of whose defense budget could feed the whole of Africa to be making such statements,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
    Russia’s Defence Ministry, which said the bombers had been accompanied by two other Russian military planes, did not say if the planes were carrying missiles, how long they would stay for, or what their mission was.
    Russia has used them in the past to flex its military muscles under the nose of the United States, delighting Venezuelan officials who have cast such flights as evidence it is able to defend itself, with allies’ help, from any attack.
    Maduro frequently invokes the possibility of a U.S. invasion in the South American nation, a notion U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration denies.
    Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called Pompeo’s comments “not only disrespectful, but cynical,” highlighting the number of military bases the United States owns abroad.
    “It’s strange the U.S. government questions our right to cooperate on defense and security with other countries, when @realDonaldTrump publicly threatens us with a military invasion,” Arreaza tweeted, referring to Trump’s Twitter handle.
    Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to a request for details on the bombers.
    Maduro said the talks with Putin in Moscow this month yielded Russian investment in Venezuela’s oil and gold sectors.
    Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Venezuelan counterpart at the time that such long-range flights provided pilots with excellent experience and helped maintain the planes’ combat readiness.
(Additional reporting by Angus Berwick in Caracas and Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Rosalba O’Brien)

12/11/2018 Putin: My spy chiefs know nothing about alleged agent Butina in U.S
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with the President of the
Alexander Solzhenitsyn Russian Public Fund Natalia Solzhenitsyn (not pictured) in Moscow, Russia December 11, 2018.
Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday it was unclear to him why a Russian woman, Maria Butina, had been detained in the United States and accused of being a Russian agent because his intelligence chiefs had told him they knew nothing about her.
    Butina is suspected of trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and influence U.S. policy towards Russia and is expected to plead guilty this week following a deal between her lawyers and U.S. prosecutors, according to court filings on Monday.
    “…she risks 15 years in jail.    For what?” asked Putin.    “…I asked all the heads of our intelligence services what is going on.    Nobody knows anything about her.”
(Reporting by Polina Devitt and Andrew Osborn; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/11/2018 Albanian students block Tirana highway in protest at higher fees
Thousands of students of public universities protest against higher tuition fees
in front of the Ministry of Education in Tirana, Albania, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Florion Goga
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albanian students blocked a major junction in the capital on Tuesday after the government failed to meet their demands to improve the education system and reverse fee increases announced this month.
    The colorful and peaceful protest, which has been going on for a week outside the education ministry, is a rare spontaneous show of anger in a country where rallies are usually organized by political parties.
    The protest puts pressure on Socialist Prime Minister Edi Rama whose offers for talks have been rejected.
    “Once our eight demands are met, we can have dialogue.    There will be no dialogue before that,” a female student told a live broadcast.    Those demands include doubling university funding, better student representation, more money for research and better accommodation.
    Rama told the protesters in a Facebook post: “I will be waiting for you at any hour and I am willing to work with you, not only to respond to your 8 requests, but also to turn this moment into a new, transformative phase for the universities.”
    A 21-year-old third-year IT student, Ledion Mema, carried a poster showing Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler and Education Minister Lindita Nikolla captioned: “No can win a war in winter.”
    “I am here because the fees are too high and I also want better conditions in class.    I rarely use computers … and we are still taught with chalk on a blackboard,” Mema told Reuters.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

12/11/2018 Climate policies put world on track for 3.3C warming: study by Nina Chestney
FILE PHOTO: Boats are seen on the dried lake Poopo affected by climate change, in the Oruro Department, Bolivia, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/David Mercado
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Average world temperatures are on course to far exceed the main goal set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global warming, a study showed on Tuesday.
    But the overshoot by the end of this century could be less severe than expected thanks to significant efforts by some countries to combat climate change, said the report by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a consortium of three independent European research groups.
    The Paris Agreement aims to restrict warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.
    Countries are meeting in Poland from Dec. 2-14 to agree guidelines for implementing the pact which comes into force in 2020 but there are concerns these will be too weak to limit temperature rise to within safe levels.
    The CAT report said there had been progress since 2015, but current policies meant the world was heading for warming of 3.3C.
    That compared with the 3.4C it predicted a year ago, and it said that if governments were to implement policies they had in the pipeline, warming by 2100 could be limited to 3C.
    Even a rise of 3C could cause loss of tropical coral reefs, Alpine glaciers, Arctic summer sea ice and perhaps an irreversible melt of Greenland’s ice which would drive up world sea levels, a United Nations science panel has said.     “We have yet to see this translate into action in terms of what governments are prepared to put on the table,” said Bill Hare, chief executive of Climate Analytics, one of the three CAT research groups.     Countries such as Norway and Costa Rica are making progress with low-carbon transport and renewable energy deployment but China’s carbon emissions rose again this year, the report said.
    “With prices for renewables dropping roughly a third since Paris, both South Africa and Chile are mapping out strategies to address coal, and renewables are taking off in India,” said Niklas Höhne of research group NewClimate Institute.
    But countries including the United States, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates have made either no progress or taken backward steps.
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; editing by John Stonestreet and Ed Osmond)

12/12/2018 Polish PM Morawiecki: will call for confidence vote in government
FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki arrives for the
European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 18, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday he will call for a vote of confidence in the Law and Justice (PiS) government to ensure it has a mandate for its reforms ahead of this week’s summit of European Union leaders.
    Since coming to power three years ago, PiS has grown increasingly isolated in the EU amid accusations at home and abroad of a tilt towards authoritarianism.
    The party has seen its popularity ratings edge slightly down following a corruption scandal in the financial regulator.
(Reporting by Pawel Florkiewicz, writing by Justyna Pawlak; editing by Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk)

12/12/2018 Kremlin says U.S. stance on Nord Stream 2 is unfair competition
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with
Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 26, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday that attempts by the United States to undermine the Russia-backed Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to Germany were an example of unfair competition to derail what it casts as a purely commercial project.
    The top U.S. energy diplomat said on Tuesday that European efforts to keep Russia shipping gas through Ukraine after the opening of Nord Stream 2 across the Baltic Sea would be futile and that Russia could not be trusted.We don’t consider this correct or acceptable for us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call, when asked about Washington’s opposition to the project.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

12/12/2018 Kosovo to vote on forming new army for crisis, civilian protection by OAN Newsroom
    Serbia is threatening to take action after its southern neighbor — Kosovo — announced plans to bolster its defense.
    On Friday, Kosovo’s parliament will hold a vote to expand its 4,000 paramilitary force into an army.    If the resolution is approved, the government will allocate more than $100 million to build the army, which will consist of 5,000 armed troops and 3,000 reservists.
    The upcoming vote has prompted backlash from Serbian leaders, who have threatened to carry out a military intervention if the resolution is approved.
    “I will be very direct, even if they use weapons and come here to attack unarmed Serb people, we will stand barehanded in front of them — first us, representatives of Serbs, and our people behind us,” stated Igor Simic, leader of Serbians in Northern Mitrovica.
In this photo members of Kosovo Security Force (KSF) line up for a flag raising ceremony
inside the barracks in the southern part of the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica.
Kosovo is moving to build itself a regular army, angering neighboring Serbia
enough to talk of military intervention — a seemingly empty threat. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
    The leaders of the partially recognized state said the army would protect the national security interests of its citizens and they have no plans to go to war.
    This comes as Kosovo has proposed a bid to become a United Nations and NATO member despite push-back from Serbia, Russia and China.

12/12/2018 Failure to agree climate deal rules would be suicidal: U.N. chief
Participants attend the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in
Katowice, Poland December 11, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Grzegorz Celejewski via REUTERS
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Failure by countries to agree rules on implementing the 2015 Paris climate agreement aimed at curbing global warming would be suicidal, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday.
    Guterres told delegates from over 130 countries meeting in the Polish city of Katowice that they had less than three days to find the political will to reach difficult compromises, sacrifices and common ground needed for a deal.
    “Failing here in Katowice would send a disastrous message to those who stand ready to shift to a green economy,” he said.    “To waste this opportunity would compromise our last best chance to stop runaway climate change.    It would not only be immoral, it would be suicidal.”
    Three years to the day after the Paris climate accord was adopted by over 190 countries, delegates in the Polish coal-mining city are still grappling with how the accord will be implemented.
    This slow progress after more than a week of negotiations prompted Michal Kurtyka, the Polish president of the talks, to tell delegates time was precious and they needed to find wordings which were acceptable to all.
    Environmental activists and some developing countries have also raised concern that the rule book could fall short of pushing countries towards curbing their emissions to meet the Paris targets.
    “The clock is ticking.    While we spend time debating texts and demanding their implementation, the planet outside is deteriorating.    Species are becoming extinct.    Habitats disappearing.    Emissions piling up,” Brazilian Environment Minister Edson Duarte said.
    Guterres said a recent report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged what global warming beyond 1.5 degrees will mean for billions of people, especially those who live in small island states.
    The report outlined a catastrophic future if no action was taken by countries immediately, he said, adding that the window of opportunity was closing.
    The Paris Agreement aims to restrict warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.
    “This may sound like a dramatic appeal, but it is exactly this: a dramatic appeal,” Guterres said.
(Reporting by Bate Felix and Agnieszka Barteczko; editing by Nina Chestney and David Stamp)

12/12/2018 Hungary to set up courts overseen directly by government by Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech in front of the House of Terror during the celebrations
of the 62nd anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, in Budapest, Hungary, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungary passed a law on Wednesday to set up courts overseen directly by the justice minister, a move critics said would allow political interference in judicial matters and further undermine the rule of law.
    The administrative courts will take over cases about government business such as taxation and elections currently handled in the main legal system.    The government said the courts would be presided over by independent judges who would be able to handle cases more efficiently.
    The justice minister will have big powers in appointing the judges and will oversee the courts’ budgets.    Rights groups said that compromised the separation of the executive and judicial powers in what they see as a further step toward authoritarianism by right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    “(The law) is a serious threat to the rule of law in Hungary and runs counter to values Hungary signed up to when it joined the European Union,” the rights group Helsinki Committee said in a statement.
    “As the Bill undermines the separation of powers, the boundaries between the executive and judicial power in Hungary will be blurred and it could pave the way for the government’s political interference.”
    In September the European Parliament voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for flouting EU rules on democracy, civil rights and corruption.    Hungary rejected the accusations.
    The government has already asked for the opinion of the Venice Commission, a group of constitutional law experts of the human rights body Council of Europe and on Wednesday it said it would assess the commission’s views and might make changes to the legislation if required.
    Replying to Reuters questions, the Justice Ministry said the government “would assess the opinion of the Venice Commission and — if necessary — could carry out potential corrections (to the law).”
    It also said administrative courts belonged under the direction of the justice minister in several European countries.
    The new administrative courts, including a separate new supreme court, will start operating in 2020.
    “Like any other court, public administration courts will be filled with independent judges solely governed by the word of the law,” the government’s spokesman said on his blog.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Richard Balmforth)

12/12/2018 Austria delays decision on whether to scrap Eurofighter jets
FILE PHOTO: Two German Eurofighter jets simulate the interception of a plane
over the Baltic sea November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Sabine Siebold/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria will not decide whether to scrap its fleet of Eurofighter jets until a parliamentary inquiry into their purchase wraps up and there is clarity over a judicial dispute related to the deal, the country’s leader said on Wednesday.
    Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s comments suggest it will be months or longer before the government reaches a decision that it had said it would announce this year.
    Newspaper Die Presse reported last week the coalition government was split over whether to get rid of the jets, with Kurz’s conservatives favoring keeping them and the far-right Freedom Party, which controls the Defense Ministry, taking the opposite view. The dispute is delaying a decision, it added.
    “It is important to reach a decision when you are able to,” Kurz told a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting, when asked about a possible delay.
    Austria is locked in a legal battle with planemaker Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium, which also includes BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo.
    Vienna accuses them of fraud and wilful deception in connection with its $2 billion Eurofighter order in 2003.    They deny Austria’s allegations.
    “We need clarity on whether anyone has done anything wrong, on whether partners currently being worked with have done anything wrong and when there is clarity on this then we will be able to reach further decisions,” Kurz said, referring to the legal dispute and an ongoing parliamentary inquiry.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Potter)

12/12/2018 Hungarians protest at ‘slave law’ labor reform
Police stand guard as people attend a protest against the new labour law
in front of the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Around 2,000 Hungarians protested late on Wednesday outside parliament against new legislation allowing employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours per year of overtime, a reform its critics have dubbed the “slave law.”
    Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party pushed the law through the legislature earlier in the day, using its big majority as opposition parties sought to block the vote.
    Protesters shouting “Traitors, traitors” and “Orban go to hell” faced off against hundreds of police who stood on the steps of the parliament building.
    A Reuters photographer said the crowd then moved toward a side gate, where some threw objects at police, who responded with pepper spray.
    The changes to the labor code had already sparked a street protest at the weekend.
    Orban has ruffled feathers in Europe and built a system his critics see as autocratic, affecting businesses, academia, the courts and the media, But he has rarely angered different domestic voter groups at the same time.
(Reporting by Bernadett Szabo, writing by Krisztina Than; editing by John Stonestreet)

12/12/2018 EU to offer Ukraine help over Azov Sea at summit by Gabriela Baczynska
FILE PHOTO: Russian jet fighters fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the
Crimean Peninsula with a cargo ship beneath it after three Ukrainian navy vessels were stopped by Russia from entering the
Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea, Crimea November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders will offer Ukraine help for its regions affected by Russia’s actions in the Azov Sea when they meet on Thursday, according to a draft summit statement seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
    But there is no mention of consideration of further sanctions against Russia, reflecting division among member states.    Diplomats expect a rollover of existing sanctions but no consensus on increases sought by more hawkish governments.
    Condemning Russia, the EU will reiterate its support for Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea’s 2014 annexation by Moscow and – referring to the capture of Ukrainian naval vessels off Crimea last month – said: “there is no justification for the use of military force by Russia.”
    The statement demanded the release of Ukrainian sailors seized during the incident, the return of their vessels and free passage to all ships passing through the Kerch Strait.
    It concludes with the offer of financial and other measures to help areas of eastern Ukraine whose maritime access is affected by Moscow’s action.
    “The EU stands ready to adopt measures to strengthen further its support in favor of the affected areas of Ukraine,” the statement said.
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met summit chair Donald Tusk in Brussels on Wednesday and will hold talks at NATO headquarters in the city on Thursday.    EU leaders will discuss Ukraine and Russia over a summit dinner later in the day.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Richard Balmforth; Writing by Alastair Macdonald ; @macdonaldrtr)

12/13/2018 No Trump-Putin meeting while Russia holds Ukraine ships: Bolton
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the meeting to discuss preparation to mark the anniversary
of the allied victory in the World War II at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 12, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – There will be no meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin while Russia still holds Ukrainian ships and sailors seized near Crimea, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said on Thursday.
    “I don’t see circumstances in the foreseeable future where such a meeting could take place until the ships and the crews are released,” Bolton told reporters at a Washington think tank.
    Russia seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and their combined crew of 24 last month off the coast of Russian-annexed Crimea and accused them of illegally entering Russian waters.
    Ukraine has said Russia captured the two small gunboats and one tugboat illegally and accused Moscow of military aggression.
    Two Ukrainian navy captains being held in a Russian jail have refused to provide testimony because they consider themselves prisoners of war, their lawyers said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

12/13/2018 EU offers Ukraine more help but shies away from new Russia sanctions by Gabriela Baczynska and Alissa de Carbonnel
FILE PHOTO: Russian jet fighters fly over a bridge connecting the Russian mainland with the
Crimean Peninsula with a cargo ship beneath it after three Ukrainian navy vessels were stopped by Russia from entering the
Sea of Azov via the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea, Crimea November 25, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders will offer Ukraine more aid at a summit on Thursday after Russia’s seized its ships off Crimea but calls to punish Moscow with more sanctions lacked support.
    The bloc’s 28 national leaders, however, decided to roll over the existing economic sanctions over Crimea’s 2014 annexation by Moscow and Russia’s subsequent backing for rebels in east Ukraine.    But there is no consensus to step up punitive measures as sought by more hawkish governments, diplomats said.
    In a sign of division on how to handle President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, there is also no mention in a draft summit statement seen by Reuters that the bloc will consider more sanctions against Moscow in the future.
    Condemning Russia, the EU will offer Ukraine help for its regions suffering from curtailed trade because of Moscow’s actions in the Azov Sea, saying: “There is no justification for the use of military force by Russia.”
    The statement will demand the release of the 24 Ukrainian sailors, the return of their three vessels and free passage to all ships passing through the Kerch Strait, which controls access to the Azov Sea near Crimea.
    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who met EU summit chairman Donald Tusk in Brussels on Wednesday, also received reassurances from NATO’s head Jens Stoltenberg.
    Stoltenberg said the Western military alliance will supply Ukraine with secure communication equipment this month – part of a 40-million-euros ($46 million) pledge to bolster Kiev’s armed forces.
    “Ukraine invites allies to come up with comprehensive, tough measures to respond to Russia’s actions,” Poroshenko told reporters after meeting Stoltenberg.
DIVISIONS
    European Parliament lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a non-binding report this week calling on EU governments to introduce targeted sanctions if Moscow fails to release the Ukrainian servicemen.
    Among the 28 EU states, the three former Soviet republics in the Baltics, backed by Poland, Sweden and Britain, wanted a much tougher threat of more sanctions following the new flare-up of tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
    But Germany and France, which put the accent on the need to ease tensions, prevailed.
    “On possible sanctions because of the incident in the Azov Sea, there is no consensus,” a German government source said.    “Many question if that is reasonable.”
(Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke, Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel,; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

12/13/2018 Maldives tells U.N. climate talks: ‘We are not prepared to die’ by Nina Chestney
FILE PHOTO: Maldives' former president Mohamed Nasheed speaks during an
interview with Reuters in Colombo, Sri Lanka June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – The Maldives will do all in its power to keep “our heads above water,” the head of its delegation at U.N. climate talks said on Thursday in an impassioned appeal for nations to overcome their divisions over how to tackle global warming.
    The low-lying Maldives is among countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels and coral reef deterioration.
    “We are not prepared to die. We are not going to become the first victims of the climate crisis.    Instead, we are going to do everything in our power to keep our heads above water,” Mohamed Nasheed told delegates at the talks in Katowice, Poland.
    “Climate change is a national security issue for us. It is an existential threat,” he said, adding that a rise in global temperatures could still be avoided but countries had to unite.
    Nasheed was the Maldives’ first democratically elected leader but was ousted in 2012 in a coup, imprisoned then granted asylum in Britain.
    The Maldives’ current president, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, invited Nasheed to head the country’s negotiating delegation at the Katowice talks, which are aimed at agreeing rules for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.     A draft, more concise text of the deal should be available later on Thursday but it is expected to still be laden with brackets for wording to be decided on and gaps.
    Since last addressing a U.N. climate conference in 2009, Nasheed said he had been deposed in a coup, imprisoned and then forced into exile.
    “But almost 10 years since I was last at these climate negotiations, I must say, nothing much seems to have changed.    We are still using the same old, dinosaur language,” he said.
    “Carbon emissions are rising, rising and rising and all we seem to be doing is talking, talking and talking.”
(Reporting by Nina Chestney and Bate Felix; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/13/2018 Captured Ukrainian navy captains tell Russia: we won’t testify
FILE PHOTO: A detained Ukrainian serviceman and crew member of one of Ukrainian naval ships,
which were recently seized by Russia's FSB security service, looks out of a minibus window outside a court building
in Simferopol, Crimea November 28, 2018. REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Two Ukrainian navy captains being held in a Russian jail have refused to provide testimony because they consider themselves prisoners of war, their lawyers said on Wednesday.
    Russia seized three Ukrainian navy vessels and their combined crew of 24 last month off the coast of Russian-annexed Crimea and accused them of illegally entering Russian waters.
    Ukraine has said Russia captured the two small gunboats and one tugboat illegally and accused Moscow of military aggression.
    The United States and the European Union have called for the release of the sailors, who are in pretrial detention in Moscow.
    Roman Mokryak, the commander of one of the gunboats, told Russian investigators he would not provide any information until his crew was released, his lawyer, Ilya Novikov, said on Wednesday.
    “He believes he alone answers for what happens on board, that his crew carried out his orders and that they cannot be held to account,” Novikov wrote on Facebook.
    Oleh Melnychuk, the captain of the tugboat, has also refused to testify, denying Moscow’s accusations and calling himself a prisoner of war, his lawyer Edem Semedlyayev wrote in a separate Facebook post on Wednesday.
    No date has been set for the sailors’ trial.
    Ukraine has said it fears Russia is preparing to attack it, citing an alleged military build-up along its border.    Russia denies this and says Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is trying to whip up anti-Russian sentiment as part of an election campaign.
    Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backs separatists fighting Kiev’s forces in the east of the country.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by John Stonestreet)

12/14/2018 Some see ‘devil’s work’ as Ukrainian Church prepares to split with Russia by Matthias Williams and Margaryta Chornokondratenko
The Cathedral of the Nativity is seen in the northern town of Korosten, Ukraine December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KOROSTEN, Ukraine (Reuters) – Ukrainian security service officers raided the Orthodox Christian cathedral in this northwestern town this month, saying it suspected its Russia-aligned clergy of spreading religious hatred.
    But Archpriest Anatoliy, the senior priest at the Cathedral of the Nativity, saw the raid as a hostile act in a theological battle between Ukraine’s two main Orthodox factions that is part of a broader political conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
    The cathedral is aligned with Russian Orthodoxy, and part of a church which is widely referred to in Ukraine as the Moscow Patriarchate that is pitted against what is known as the Kiev Patriarchate.
    “I told them: you have your own methods, you have your own strength, and we have our own strength.    You serve the devil, and I serve God,” Anatoliy said of the raid on the gold-domed cathedral in Korosten, 145 km (90 miles) northwest of Kiev.
    “These are their usual methods, intimidation, intimidation, terror,” he said, dismissing the SBU security service’s allegations.
    The raid was one of several on churches with ties to Moscow in the run-up to a council in Kiev on Saturday at which Ukrainian priests will establish a new national church, breaking hundreds of years of relations with the Russian clergy.
    The decision follows a synod in October presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, the global spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians, which endorsed Ukraine’s request for an autocephalous,” or independent, church.
    Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders say the move is essential to keep Ukraine safe from what they see as Russian meddling and Moscow’s neocolonial ambitions.    President Petro Poroshenko compares it to the security umbrella that would be offered by membership of the NATO defense alliance.
    But the Russian Orthodox Church has portrayed it as the biggest split in Christianity for 1,000 years and Saturday’s council is taking place at a time of heightened tension between Kiev and Moscow.
    Ukraine imposed martial law last month after Russia captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait between Russia’s mainland and the Crimea peninsula.
    Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 after a pro-Moscow president was ousted in street protests in Kiev, and backed separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000.
ALLEGATIONS OF INCITEMENT AND BULLYING
    The SBU worries Russia is using the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to incite tensions as cover to invade.
    “The deliberate instigation by the Russian special services of inter-church conflicts in Ukraine, to be combined with provoking direct acts of terrorism, may become a pretext for open military invasion by the Russian Federation’s armed forces of our country,” SBU Chief Vasyl Hrytsak said.
    Showing video footage and phone intercepts at a briefing on Thursday, the SBU said it had uncovered a plot to instigate protests before the council.
    Moscow has denied allegations of meddling in Ukraine and the Moscow Patriarchate sees the SBU raids as an attempt to bully its clergy into attending the council.
    Saturday’s council at the 11th century St Sophia Cathedral in Kiev will decide the make-up of the new church and elect its leader.    The leader will then go to Istanbul to receive what is known as a “tomos,” or decree, for independence.
    The Moscow Patriarchate has said it will boycott the event and punish any priest who takes part.
    “We do not recognize its legitimacy.    This is not a council – this is a gang of bandits, who have gathered to do their work — take over temples and destroy the church,” Anatoliy said.
    Religions divisions in Ukraine widened as relations between the West and Russia sank in 2014.
    The Moscow Patriarchate sees itself as the one true church but authorities accuse it of being a Kremlin stooge helping to spread Russian propaganda and aiding the rebels.
    The Moscow Patriarchate denies doing this and calls the independent church a ploy by Poroshenko to boost his ratings before a presidential election in March.
    The Kiev Patriarchate was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its popularity has grown since 2014.    It favors European integration and champions an independent church but the Moscow Patriarchate denounces it as schismatic.
(Additional reporting by Sergei Karazy in Korosten and Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/14/2018 Ukraine raids offices of Russia-aligned priests amid push for new national church by OAN Newsroom
    Ukrainian security forces recently raided the offices of Orthodox priests with ties to Russia as tensions between the two nations continue to grow.
    Authorities in Ukraine have accused clergy of the Russia-aligned faction of the church of spreading hate-speech and propaganda, but there’s no evidence to back their claims so far.
    This comes as leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox churches are set to meet this weekend to form a new national church separate from Patriarch of Russia.
Believers, including members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate,
attend a public prayer, while demanding governmental non-interference with church, near the
parliament building in Kiev, Ukraine December 14, 2018. (Photo/REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko)
    The move for a new church has been championed by Ukraine’s president, but some say the state should not be involved in the activities of the church.
    “The state has no right to interfere with church affairs.    What they want to do has to be done in a different way.    Do you know what’s going to happen?    What scuffles will take place over every temple?    What battles will take place over every parish?” — Elena Tsyganenko, Ukraine resident.
    Despite the opposition from some Ukrainians, the move for a new national church has also received support from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Istanbul — the global head of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

12/14/2018 Kosovo approves new army despite Serb opposition, NATO criticism by Fatos Bytyci
Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci attends a ceremony of security forces a day before parliament's vote
on whether to form a national army, in Pristina, Kosovo, December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Laura Hasani
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s parliament voted on Friday to create a 5,000-strong standing army, a week after Serbia’s premier suggested the move could provoke military intervention by Belgrade.
    The move, coming 20 years after Kosovo Albanians’ uprising against Serbian rule and a decade after independence, was lauded as “historic” by the United States but NATO criticized it as unhelpful in efforts to ease tensions between Kosovo and Serbia.
    Legislation to transform the lightly armed Kosovo Security Force, which was created mainly for crisis response, civil defense and removal of ordnance from the 1990s conflict, into an army was approved by 105 deputies in the 120-seat assembly.
    Eleven minority Serb deputies boycotted the vote. Kosovo’s constitution mandates the creation of a national army but no action was taken for years while Pristina sought, in vain, to obtain the approval of Kosovo Serbs.
    The move is also strongly opposed by Kosovo Serbs’ patron Serbia, which has refused to recognize the independence of its former province and warned that a national Kosovo army could destabilize the Western Balkans.
    “I regret that this decision was made despite the concerns expressed by NATO,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement on Friday.
    “The North Atlantic Council will now have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement with the Kosovo Security Force,” he said.
    Though creating such an army could take years, Serbian politicians maintain that it could be used to expel remaining Serbs from Kosovo – an accusation denied by Kosovo Albanian leaders who rely on European Union and U.S. support for reforms and development of the small, impoverished Balkan country.
    On Dec. 5, Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic suggested one possible response by Belgrade could be military intervention.
    Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic will be inspecting troops along the Kosovo border over the next three days, his office said on Thursday.
    NATO-led peacekeeping mission to Kosovo still has around 4,000 troops in the landlocked country.
    Balkans analysts, however, said any action by Serbia’s 28,000-strong army against Kosovo is highly unlikely given Belgrade’s aspirations to join the EU and that Brnabic’s remarks appeared to be a sop to Serbian nationalists.     Kosovo’s independence came almost a decade after a NATO air war halted a two-year counter-insurgency war by Serbian security forces that included arrests, killings and expulsions of ethnic Albanian civilians.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Ivana Sekularac, Mark Heinrich and Raissa Kasolowsky)

12/14/2018 EU’s Juncker takes aim at Hungary’s Orban over fake news
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attends a news conference after a
European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Vidal
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders on Friday backed a plan to tackle fake news on the internet and the bloc’s chief executive rounded on one of the EU chiefs, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as one of the main culprits in spreading disinformation.
    The EU plan endorsed by the bloc’s 28 national leaders is largely aimed at guarding against what the United States, NATO and the EU say are Russian attempts to undermine Western democracies.
    But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the bloc should also look within its own ranks in its fight against disinformation and he zeroed in on Orban whose populist politics have raised hackles in Brussels.
    Singling out Orban, Juncker told reporters: “Some of the prime ministers sitting around the table, they are the origin of the fake news.”
    “When Mr. Orban for example says … that migrants are responsible for Brexit, it’s fake news.    So let’s not put all the responsibility on others,” Juncker said.
    Since sweeping to power in 2010, Orban, once a campaigner against Hungary’s Soviet Communist overlords, has used his parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups in ways his opponents say breach EU rules.
    He has irked many in the EU by taking on the image of a crusader for the rights of nation states and ethnic majorities against rules of civic behavior agreed in Brussels.
    Juncker backed the European Parliament when it voted to impose sanctions on Hungary for breaking with EU values on democracy and civil rights.
    EU leaders earlier endorsed plans for an early warning system to alert governments and for tech giants such as Facebook and Google to do more to remove misleading or illegal content.
    “The spread of deliberate, large-scale, and systematic disinformation, including as part of hybrid warfare, is an acute and strategic challenge for our democratic systems,” the EU summit’s conclusions said.    “It requires an urgent response.”
    The EU executive’s plan, endorsed by governments, will hand more money and power to regulators in Brussels to monitor and flag Russian disinformation.    It increases funds for the foreign service EEAS for this to 5 million euros ($5.7 million) from 1.9 million in 2018.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

12/14/2018 Russian lawmakers seek tighter internet control to counter ‘aggressive’ U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Hands are seen on a keyboard in front of a displayed cyber code
in this picture illustration taken October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illutration
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A group of three Russian lawmakers close to the Kremlin has proposed a tightening of state control over the local internet in response to what they view as “aggressive” U.S. cyber security actions, a parliamentary document showed on Friday.
    Russian authorities have in recent years attempted to curb internet freedoms by blocking access to certain websites and messaging services.
    If, as seems likely, the lawmakers’ proposal is approved by the parliament, this would among other things reduce the flows of Russian internet traffic via foreign networks.
    “In an environment like this, defensive measures are needed to ensure that the internet in Russia functions long-term and in a stable way,” the lawmakers’ proposal said.
    Two of the lawmakers belong to the ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin and has a parliamentary majority.    The third, Andrey Lugovoy, is a leading suspect in the murder of former Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
    The proposal said that more control was needed over the internet because of the “aggressive character of the National Cyber Strategy adopted by the United States.”
    The new U.S. strategy, presented in September, steps up offensive measures against foreign hackers and provides federal agencies with new guidance on how to protect themselves and the private data of Americans.
    The United States has accused Russia of carrying out cyber attacks during the 2016 presidential campaign in a bid to boost support for Donald Trump, a charge Moscow denies.
(Reporting by Anton Zverev and Maria Kolomychenko; writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/14/2018 Climate ideals clash with coal realities at Polish-led U.N. talks by Barbara Lewis
FILE PHOTO: General view of a coking plant in the city of Bytom Silesia November 22, 2012. REUTERS/Peter Andrews
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Delegates at U.N. climate talks in the Polish city of Katowice point to the mining museum next to the conference venue as the proper place for coal, which provides 80 percent of the country’s electricity.
    Poland’s decision to host the negotiations to revive the 2015 Paris agreement on phasing out fossil fuel has laid bare the tension between high-minded goals and business realities.
    A short drive from the conference venue, at the Silesian region’s dozen or so remaining mines, tonnes of freshly dug coal thunder down shoots to be rail-roaded to power plants for carbon-intensive generation.
    Coal bosses see a need to address climate risk, but say Poland must use thermal coal for electricity until it has a better option.
    Silesia also produces coking coal, used in steel, and viewed as a strategic mineral even by the European Union, which seeks to be an environmental leader.
    Poland’s JSW, the European Union’s largest coking coal producer, is seeking to grow.
    “The world has to tackle the increase of carbon dioxide emissions, but I do not see a chance the world can live without steel these days and there is not an easy solution to substitute steel and substitute coking coal,” CEO Daniel Ozon told Reuters.
    Financial backing can be an issue for all forms of coal and JSW has its eye on Chinese banks as international lenders are wary.
GENERATION GAP
    For many Poles, coal mining symbolizes national independence.
    State-dominated companies can look to a government striving to win over an electorate divided between an older generation that associates coal with a reliable income and a sense of community, and youths engaged in climate protests.
    As the demonstrators march, international business works to keep shareholders on side.
    One of the climate team from the world’s biggest producer of coking coal BHP was among business representatives taking part in the side events accompanying the negotiations.
    The U.N. talks have proved long and fractious, with flash-points including a revolt by Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United States and Kuwait against a major scientific report that laid out the reasons to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
    “The real challenge is not whether it’s 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees; it’s that not enough is happening,” Graham Winkelman, BHP’s practice lead on climate change, said in an interview.
    BHP stands apart from other big miners with a goal to make its own operations carbon neutral, in line with the Paris agreement, by the second half of the century.
    But just as governments have to work out practicalities, it is also unclear how BHP can achieve its goals.
    “There is no definitive path-way,” Winkelman said, although he repeated a frequent industry request for a carbon price to help shift investment towards a greener technology.
    Poland’s aim is to share the challenges of bringing about a “just transition,” Polish Deputy Environment Minister Michal Kurtyka, who presided over the talks, said.
    As a graduate of Paris’ elite Ecole Polytechnique, a physicist, an economist and an engineer, his favored solution is electric vehicles.    With fewer moving parts and less wasted heat than internal combustion engines, he says they will help even if they run on coal-fired power.
    As a citizen of a country that switched in 1989 from “a centrally planned to a market economy,” Kurtyka has first-hand experience of deep change.
    “In my young days, growing up in Krakow, that was a completely different city from now.    At 8 p.m. the lights switched off.    You could not open the window because of air pollution,” he said.
    In Katowice, some residents say they still can’t let the air in and are not confident that is about to change.
(Additional reporting by Anna Koper and Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Susan Fenton)

12/15/2018 Climate talks extended; island nations urge action by Frank Jordan ASSOCIATED PRESS
    KATOWICE, Poland – Weary officials from almost 200 countries faced another day of negotiations at the U.N. climate talks to bridge their last remaining differences as small island nations on Friday demanded an ambitious stance against global warming.
    The talks in Poland were supposed to end Friday but Michal Kurtyka, a senior Polish official chairing the negotiations, told delegates to resume talks on a revised draft text at 4 a.m. Saturday.
    “All parties, with the support of the presidency, are working very hard right now in order to solve outstanding issues and in order to find the balanced package here in Katowice,” Kurtyka told reporters.
    After two weeks of talks in the southern Polish city, diplomats have come closer to agreeing on the rules that govern the 2015 Paris climate accord.    These include how countries should report both their greenhouse gases emissions and their efforts to reduce them.
    Scientists say global emissions need to drop dramatically by 2030 and reach near-zero by 2050 in order to prevent the potentially catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.
    A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that it’s possible to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher by the end of the century compared to pre-industrial times.    That’s the lower end of the 1.5to-2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 degrees F) mentioned in the Paris accord.
    But this would require a drastic overhaul of the global economy, including ending the use of almost all fossil fuels.
    The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have refused to “welcome” the IPCC report, angering other countries and environmentalists.
    Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed warned that nations such as his, which consider themselves on the front lines of global warming, would veto the current draft because it lacks a clear commitment to the target of 1.5 degrees.
    Another issue haunting negotiator is the rules for an international market in carbon credits.
    The clash pits emerging economies such as Brazil – which amassed large piles of carbon credits under the 1997 Kyoto treaty’s rules – against industrial countries such as those in the European Union, which believe the older credits are of little value.
    Alex Hanafi, lead counsel at the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund, said Brazil was trying to weaken the rules in such a way that would allow countries to count their emissions reductions twice, undermining the carbon markets.
    Brazil’s delegation rejected the claim.    “Brazil is currently working with other parties on a bridging proposal,” said the country’s chief negotiator, Antonio Marcondes.
    Aid for poor countries, and whether they could benefit from a levy on the carbon market, is another key issue at the talks.    Poor countries insist they should get financial support not just to lower emissions and adapt to climate change, but also to make up for the global warming damage that has already occurred, largely because of emissions from industrial nations.
People gather for a demonstration during the climate talks in Katowice, Poland, on Friday. CZAREK SOKOLOWSKI/AP

12/15/2018 Nations agree on global climate pact rules, but they are seen as weak by Nina Chestney, Bate Felix and Agnieszka Barteczko
COP24 President Michal Kurtyka is greeted after adopting the final agreement during a closing session
of the COP24 U.N. Climate Change Conference 2018 in Katowice, Poland, December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    KATOWICE, Poland (Reuters) – Nearly 200 countries overcame political divisions late on Saturday to agree on rules for implementing a landmark global climate deal, but critics say it is not ambitious enough to prevent the dangerous effects of global warming.
    After two weeks of talks in the Polish city of Katowice, nations finally reached consensus on a more detailed framework for the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit a rise in average world temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
    “It is not easy to find agreement on a deal so specific and technical.    Through this package you have made a thousand little steps forward together.    You can feel proud,” Polish president of the talks Michal Kurtyka told delegates.
    After he struck the gavel to signal agreement had been reached, ministers joined him on the stage, hugging and laughing in signs of relief after the marathon talks.
    Before the talks started, many expected the deal would not be as robust as needed.    The unity which underpinned the Paris talks has fragmented, and U.S. President Donald Trump intends to pull his country – one of the world’s biggest emitters – out of the pact.
    At the 11th hour, ministers managed to break a deadlock between Brazil and other countries over the accounting rules for the monitoring of carbon credits, deferring the bulk of that discussion to next year, but missing an opportunity to send a signal to businesses to speed up their actions.
    Still, exhausted ministers managed to bridge a series of divides to produce a 156-page rulebook – which is broken down into themes such as how countries will report and monitor their national pledges to curb greenhouse gas emissions and update their emissions plans.
    Not everyone is happy with everything, but the process is still on track and it is something to build on, several ministers said.
    “While some rulebook elements still need to be fleshed out, it is a foundation for strengthening the Paris Agreement and could help facilitate U.S. re-entry into the Paris Agreement by a future presidential administration,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
AMBITION, AMBITION, AMBITION
    Some countries and green groups criticized the outcome for failing to urge increased ambitions on emissions cuts sufficiently to curb rising temperatures.    Poorer nations vulnerable to climate change also wanted more clarity on how an already agreed $100 billion a year of climate finance by 2020 will be provided and on efforts to build on that amount further from the end of the decade.
    A statement by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who left the talks on Thursday, stressed the need for more work.
    “From now on, my five priorities will be: ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition and ambition,” it said.
    “And ambition must guide all member states as they prepare their (emissions cut plans) for 2020 to reverse the present trend in which climate change is still running faster than us.”
    A U.N.-commissioned report by the IPCC in October warned that keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C would need “unprecedented changes” in every aspect of society.
    Last week, Saudi Arabia, the Unites States, Russia and Kuwait refused to use the word “welcome” in association with the findings of the report.
    The decision text now merely expresses gratitude for the work on the report, welcomes its timely completion and invites parties to use the information in it.
    For many low-lying states and islands at risk from rising sea levels, this is not strong enough but had to be accepted grudgingly in exchange for other trade-offs.
    During the two weeks of talks in Katowice – in the mining region of Silesia, a focus on the fossil fuel industry provided an unwelcome distraction for some countries and environmental groups which want to focus on cleaner energy.
    The conference itself has been hosted by coal-reliant Poland, which has sought to protect its mining industry.    The U.S. administration’s only event in Katowice was seen as trying to rebrand coal as a potentially clean energy source.
(Editing by Ros Russell, Alexandra Hudson and Jonathan Oatis)

12/15/2018 Ukraine’s President names leader of new church in split from Russia by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko congratulates newly elected head of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox church
Metropolitan Epifaniy (Dumenko) at the Saint Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine chose the head of a new national Orthodox church on Saturday, marking an historic split from Russia which its leaders see as vital to the country’s security and independence.
    President Petro Poroshenko said 39-year-old Metropolitan Epifaniy of the Kiev Patriarchate church had been chosen as head of the church by a council, comparing the move to Ukraine’s referendum for independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
    “This day will go into history as a sacred day … the day of the final independence from Russia,” Poroshenko told thousands of supporters, who shouted “glory, glory, glory.”
    “And Ukraine will no longer drink, in the words of Taras Shevchenko, ‘Moscow’s poison from Moscow’s cup,'” he said, quoting the country’s national poet.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia collapsed following Moscow’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.    Ukraine imposed martial law in November, citing the threat of a full-scale invasion after Russia captured three of its vessels in the Kerch Strait.
    The Ukrainian Orthodox church has been beholden to Moscow for hundreds of years, and Ukraine’s leaders see church independence as vital to tackling Russian meddling.
    Kiev says Moscow-backed churches on its soil are a Kremlin tool to spread propaganda and support fighters in the eastern Donbass region in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.    The churches strongly deny this.
    Epifaniy was chosen by a council at the St Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, built by the son of Prince Volodymyr whose baptism in 988 led to the spread of Christianity in the region.
    A triumphant Poroshenko arrived in the morning, shaking hands with people, clenching his fist and crossing himself.    The new church may boost the pro-Western leader, who lobbied hard for its creation and faces a tight election race in March.
    “It is a church without a prayer for Russian power and the Russian army that kills Ukrainians,” Poroshenko told the crowd after the announcement was made.
    But Russia bitterly opposes the split, comparing it to the Great Schism of 1054 that divided western and eastern Christianity.    Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill made a last ditch appeal this week against the process.
    On Saturday, the Russian church called the council a failure because only two members of the church it supports in Ukraine had attended the meeting, according to Interfax news.
    Spokesman Metropolitan Hilarion said the plan “to persuade the canonical Ukrainian church to participate in the creation of the new structure failed …with the exception of two traitors.”
‘ROUGH PRESSURE’
    Ukraine won approval for the new church in October from the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, the seat of the global spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians.
    “We want to support the process of Ukraine’s split from Moscow and for us to have our own church, which is not governed from the Kremlin,” said Lyudmyla Alekseyeva, 66, a pensioner who had come to the event with her daughter and granddaughter.
    “The church should not depend on those who fight against us in the Donbass.”
    Supporters wore ribbons in the blue and yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag, with the message “We are going our own way.”    Many had waited outside in freezing temperatures while the council deliberated.
    Religious divisions deepened in Ukraine after 2014 and two Orthodox factions vie for dominance.
    The church known as the Moscow Patriarchate, aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church, sees itself as the only legitimate church in Ukraine.
    The rival Kiev Patriarchate was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its popularity has grown since 2014.    It favors European integration and championed the independent church but the Moscow Patriarchate denounces it as schismatic.
    Ukraine’s state security service raided Moscow Patriarchate church properties in the run-up to the council, but denied the raids were an attempt to silence opposition to independence.
    Patriarch Kirill had appealed to world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, ahead of the council.
    “Recently, the intervention of the leaders of the secular Ukrainian state in church affairs has acquired the character of rough pressure … which allows us to speak about the beginning of full-scale persecutions,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow; Editing by Alexander Smith and Ros Russell)
Kremlin should take the lead on rap music, not shut it down, Putin says
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to the meeting to discuss preparations to mark the anniversary of the allied
victory in the World War II at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 12, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Saturday the Kremlin should play a leading role in Russian rap music and in youth culture, rather than trying to shut it down.
    His comments follow a spate of concert cancellations by venue owners and local authorities across Russia and the brief arrest of a popular rap artist, Husky.    The crackdown has sparked considerable discussion in recent months, especially among young people.
    Putin said such heavy-handed measures were often counterproductive, and suggested an alternative approach.
    “If it’s impossible to stop something, you’ve got to take charge of it,” he said during a live broadcast of a meeting of his advisory council on culture and the arts.
    “How to do this, how to take charge and guide in the necessary direction… That’s the most important issue,” he said, adding that the question would be discussed further by members of his administration and the culture ministry.
    Husky, who raps in Russian and whose songs have at times been critical of the government, said his concerts were under pressure because authorities objected to lyrics they found offensive.
    After his concert was canceled in Krasnodar, in southern Russia, he tried to perform from the roof of a car instead, leading to his arrest for hooliganism.
    His arrest and sentence to 12 days imprisonment led to a public outcry and the rapper was released early, thanks to the intervention of members of the presidential administration, the editor of state broadcaster Russia Today said on Twitter.
    Putin on Saturday was responding to a statement about rap concert cancellations made by music producer and member of the advisory council Igor Matvienko.    Among other suggestions, Matvienko proposed creating a parental advisory guidance system for concerts.
Addressing Matvienko, Putin said, “You said that rap (rests on) three pillars: sex, drugs and protests. Of all of these, drugs are the most worrying,” Putin said.    “They are the route to a nation’s degradation.” Putin also addressed the question of how to regulate the musical genre’s use of censorious language.
    He said that he had talked about swearing with a linguist.
    “She told me personally that it’s a part of our language.    It’s just a question of how you use it,” he said.
    Matvienko also suggested guidelines on the use of swear words online and in the media, but Putin said this was a sensitive matter as such words are part of Russians’ common culture.
    Likening swear words to body parts, Putin joked: “we have all sorts of body parts, and it’s not like we put them on display all the time, whether it’s hot or cold.”
(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by)
[My comment: When I was young the new movements were the "hippie scenes" and the youth of that time had their own lingo that most parents could not understand and most of it dealt with 'sex, drugs and protests' as it is today.    I do not like any of the Rap, which I call "talkie music," since I do not hear music just talking, which all grew out of 'hammer time' by Stanley Kirk Burrell, better known by his stage name MC Hammer, is an American hip hop recording artist, dancer, record producer and entrepreneur, who had his greatest commercial success and popularity from the late 1980s, until the early 1990s.
    My message here is the lingo of generations has been there in the past, with Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Thoreau, and many other generations in rebellion of their status in life.    I myself hate what rap is now, but as Putin thinks he can control it know, and all I can do is teach my children as a song in the past from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - "Teach Your Chidren.    "You who are on the road, Must have a code that you can live by, And so become yourself, Because the past is just a good-bye.].

12/16/2018 Ukraine Orthodox leaders break with Russian church
    Ukrainian Orthodox leaders on Saturday approved the creation of a unified church independent of the Moscow Patriarchate and elected a leader to head that new church – a move that could exponentially raise tensions with neighboring Russia.
    Before the vote, the Russian Orthodox Church called on the United Nations, the leaders of Germany and France, the pope and other spiritual leaders to protect Orthodox believers in Ukraine.

12/16/2018 ‘All I want for Christmas is democracy,’ say Hungary protesters by Krisztina Than
People walk with flags during a protest against a proposed new labor law,
billed as the "slave law" in Budapest, Hungary, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Hungarians thronged the streets of Budapest on Sunday in the fourth and largest protest in a week against what they see as the increasingly authoritarian rule of right-wing nationalist Viktor Orban.
    Braving sub-zero temperatures, setting off flares and waving Hungarian and European Union flags, about 10,000 demonstrators walked from historic Heroes’ Square toward parliament and then state TV in a march dubbed “Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister.”
    The march was organized by opposition parties, students, and trade unions to demand a free media, withdrawal of a labor law increasing overtime, and an independent judiciary.
    “All I want for Xmas is democracy,” read one banner.
    Hundreds of police in riot gear shepherded what was one of the biggest demonstrations Orban has faced since he rose to power in 2010 and began wielding his large parliamentary majority to pressure courts, media and non-government groups.
    The prime minister projects himself as savior of Hungary’s Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, and won a third straight term earlier this year.
    On Saturday, Orban’s ruling party Fidesz said “criminals” were behind the “street riots” and accused Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros of stoking the protests.
    Soros is a strong critic of Orban but denies claims against him as lies to create a false external enemy.
    Late on Sunday, several opposition lawmakers gained access to the state TV building in Budapest seeking to have a petition read out, but security personnel told them that was impossible.
    “The TV is lying!” shouted protesters, of the state channel viewed as mouthpiece for the government.
    “Dirty Fidesz!” they added.
    “Discontent is growing,” said Andi, 26, a sociology student who did not want to give her full name.
    “They have passed two laws this week which … won’t serve Hungarian people’s interest,” she added, referring to the labor legislation critics dub a “slave law” and new courts for sensitive issues such as elections, protests and corruption.
    Frequently clashing with the European Union over his policies, Orban has tweaked the election system to favor Fidesz and put loyalists at the head of institutions, while allies have enriched themselves.
    But he has rarely angered large voter groups at home, and the opposition is weak and fragmented.
    Police used tear gas on protesters earlier in the week, but Sunday’s demonstrations were peaceful until some tussles broke out at the TV headquarters in the evening.
(Additional reporting by Bernadett Szabo; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Cawthorne)
[I heard the word Soros, and thats all I need to know about what is going down.].

12/16/2018 Ukraine president hopes anti-corruption court formed by February
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko speaks during the news conference
in Kiev, Ukraine December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    KIEV (Reuters) – A special Ukrainian court to try corruption cases will hopefully be formed by February, President Petro Poroshenko told a news conference on Sunday.
    Ukraine has agreed to set up such a court as a condition for loans from the International Monetary Fund.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams; Editing by Mark Potter)

12/16/2018 Georgia’s new pro-Western president seeks unity after vote protests by Margarita Antidze
Georgia's newly elected President Salome Zurabishvili speaks during the
inauguration ceremony in Telavi, Georgia, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze/Pool
    TELAVI, Georgia (Reuters) – Georgia’s incoming President Salome Zurabishvili vowed to reconcile political divisions and deepen ties with NATO and Europe at Sunday’s inauguration that opposition protesters were blocked from reaching.
    French-born Zurabishvili, backed by the ruling Georgian Dream party, won 59.5 percent of votes at last month’s runoff which the opposition called rigged and international observers said was marred by unfair use of state resources.
    Several thousand opposition supporters made for Telavi in a convoy of cars and buses, but police blocked the road, beating some activists with batons, a Reuters reporter said.
    Zurabishvili, 66, daughter of Georgian émigrés and now the country’s first female president, chose for her inauguration an 18th century palace in the eastern town of Telavi as she lost the vote there but wanted to demonstrate inclusiveness.
    “I know different parties have different opinions about recognizing me as president, but I take responsibility to be president for all Georgians,” she said in her speech.
    With the prime minister and government wielding most executive power, the presidency is largely ceremonial but is still the international face of a nation seeking better relations with the West to counter Russia’s influence.
    “The new constitution of Georgia reflects the will of the Georgian people regarding Georgia’s unhindered movement towards the European Union and NATO,” she said.
    “With the assistance of our strategic partner the United States and European friends, I will contribute to this process.”
    Having worked in France’s diplomatic service before becoming Georgia’s foreign minister from 2004-2005, Zurabishvili said she would use that experience to promote her nation’s aspirations to join the EU bloc and NATO transatlantic military alliance.
    Wearing a white coat and red shirt in the colors of Georgia’s flag, she criticized Russia’s occupation of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
    Russia won a brief 2008 war against Georgia.
    “Russia, as a neighbor in the Caucasus, must realize that if it wants to be a full-fledged member of the international community, and intends to restore normal relations in this region, it must prove, both in words and fact, that it recognizes all norms of international law,” she said.
    The ruling Georgian Dream party that backed Zurabishvili was founded by billionaire banker Bidzina Ivanishvili whom critics say rules the nation from behind the scenes.
    Guests at Sunday’s inauguration included Armenian President Armen Sarkissian and France’s former leader Nicolas Sarkozy.
(Additional reporting by David Chkhikvishvili in Gurjaani; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/16/2018 After rare misfire, Kremlin set to win regional vote by Christian Lowe
Festive decorations and illumination lights for the upcoming New Year and Christmas season are on display near the
Kremlin's Spasskaya Tower and St. Basil's Cathedral in central Moscow,
Russia December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva - RC1299C1FD90
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Kremlin-backed candidate is on track to be governor of a region on Russia’s Pacific coast, voting results showed on Sunday, after an election process in which the opposition had threatened the Kremlin’s usually tight grip on power.
    Sunday’s vote in Primorsky region, which includes the port city of Vladivostok, was a re-run of a Sept. 16 election in which a Communist Party challenger claimed he was the rightful winner over the Kremlin’s nominee.
    But that election was annulled by election officials, citing voting irregularities.    Hundreds of people took to the streets at the time, saying the decision robbed the opposition of a rare election win.
    Some political commentators said the September election showed fading public support for the Kremlin, the result of a weak economy and an unpopular proposal – since put on hold – to make people work for longer before they receive their state pension.
    After the election re-run was announced, the Kremlin ditched its candidate from the September vote.    Russian President Vladimir Putin installed as acting governor Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of a nearby region with chiseled good looks and none of the political baggage of his predecessor.
    Kozhemyako entered the election race, while the Communist challenger from the first round was disqualified from running on the grounds he failed to reach the threshold for winning endorsements from regional lawmakers.
    With four fifths of the ballots counted on Sunday, Kozhemyako had a 60 percent share of the vote, according to the central election commission.    His nearest rival, from the populist LDPR party, had 26 percent.
Election officials said there had been no reports of major violations, state television reported.
    Kozhemyako’s win will restore the Kremlin’s familiar tight control over the region, but the circumstances in which the first election was annulled still rankle with some people.
    “You’ve been insulted and humiliated,” Alexei Navalny, one of Putin’s most vocal opponents, said in a video message to voters in Primorsky region before Sunday’s vote.
    “You voted and elected a person, after which the election was stolen, they spat in your face, and the person whom you elected was not even allowed to enter the election,” Navalny said.
(Editing by Mark Potter)
[And I thought the California/North Carolina ballot harvesting was the only corruption going on but it is happening in Russia also.].

12/16/2018 Cuba forecasts slow growth in 2019 as economic woes continue by Marc Frank
A view of the pavilion stalls run by Cuban companies at the 36th Havana International Fair (FIHAV)
in Havana, Cuba, October 29, 2018. Picture taken on October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s economy will grow next year at about the same sluggish 1 percent pace it did in 2018 and an austerity program begun in 2016 will continue, the country’s economy minister said on Sunday, according to state-run media.
    The communist-ruled country has been hard hit by the economic collapse of its strategic ally Venezuela, a decline in export earnings over four consecutive years, bad weather and the Trump administration’s tightening of sanctions.
    Cuba’s economy is notoriously inefficient and dependent on foreign revenues.    The government also spends a large amount of its revenue on a free healthcare system, education and other services.
    Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez, speaking at a closed door session of the National Assembly’s economic commission, said export earnings declined further this year, though no figures were provided by the media.
    Gil said plans for 2 percent growth this year were dashed mainly by Hurricane Irma and other weather-related events that hurt tourism, sugar production and agriculture, all of which should improve next year, as well as domestic inefficiencies and tighter U.S. sanctions.
    Cuba’s economy grew 1.8 percent in 2017 and 0.5 percent in the previous year.
    The country has been late paying suppliers and its debt, and some investors report they have had problems repatriating profits from Cuban banks.
    Gil said austerity measures, which began in 2016, would continue in 2019.    They include cuts in energy and fuel to state companies and reduced imports of inputs for the economy, which have led to scattered shortages of everything from bread and medicine to eggs as production sputters for lack of spare parts and raw materials.
    Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who was also present at the closed-door session, said improving the economy was the government’s top priority.
    “Most of our time must be used in how we unblock things, in how we remove litter from the road that leads to the solution of economic and financial problems,” he was quoted as stating.
    Diaz-Canel also blasted U.S. sanctions, which he said cost Cuba $4.3 billion this year.
    But he focused on domestic economic woes and the need to push forward reforms begun by former President Raul Castro, whom he replaced in April.
    Diaz-Canel called for further loosening of government controls over the state-run companies that dominate the economy and which remained “hamstrung” and the formation of better ties between them and foreign investors and a growing private sector.
(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)

12/17/2018 Opposition lawmakers ejected from Hungary state TV after protest
People stand in front of the parliament building during a protest against a
proposed new labor law, billed as the "slave law", in Budapest, Hungary, December 16, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Security guards ejected two independent lawmakers from Hungary’s state television building after they tried to read out a petition on Monday, a day after police used tear gas against pro-democracy protesters in Budapest.
    The two lawmakers were among about a dozen members of parliament (MPs) who spent the night in the state television building, in a continuation of their demonstration against the policies of Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
    The petition reiterated the demands of Sunday’s protesters, which included a call for the withdrawal of a new labor law, for independent public media and courts and for Hungary to join the European Union’s prosecutors office.
    Independent lawmaker Bernadett Szel posted video footage on her Facebook page that showed the security guards tussling with her fellow-MP Akos Hadhazy and throwing him out of the building.    Szel said she had also been ejected.
    “We wanted to have our petition read out,” she said in the video.
    Other lawmakers were continuing their protest at the building.
    On Sunday, some 10,000 protesters took part in a march dubbed “Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister,” the fourth and largest such rally in a week against what they see as the increasingly authoritarian rule of Orban.
    The march was largely peaceful until police fired tear gas at protesters jostling outside the TV station late at night.
    On Saturday, Orban’s ruling Fidesz party said “criminals” were behind what it described as “street riots” and it accused Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros of stoking the protests.
    Soros is a strong critic of Orban but says the accusations made against him are lies intended to create a false external enemy.
(Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[As you can see by the following articles billionaire Soros is pissed off at Hungary and is pushing his Progressive Socialist Liberal Democratic policies on Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister ViktorOrban.    Hopefully the Right will help him from their “Merry Xmas Mr. Prime Minister,” chants
10/25/2018 Soros university says it being forced out of Hungary, mulls move
11/8/2018 Hungary’s government rules out concessions for Soros-founded university
11/23/2018 Gateway for east Europe to the West, Soros-founded school leaves Hungary by Krisztina Than
11/24/2018 Students rally in Budapest to keep Soros-founded school
12/3/2018 Soros-founded school says forced out of Hungary on ‘dark day for Europe’ by Marton Dunai and Krisztina Than
12/4/2018 Soros-backed university moves programs to Vienna.
    I rest my case, and he is trying to do the same thing in the United States.]

12/17/2018 Russia to move troops into new barracks on disputed islands near Japan by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: A bust of Soviet state founder Vladimir Lenin is seen in front of a Russian Orthodox church
in Yuzhno-Kurilsk on the Island of Kunashir, one of four islands known as the Southern Kurils in Russia
and the Northern Territories in Japan, December 21, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Monday it had built new barracks for troops on a disputed chain of islands near Japan and would build more facilities for armored vehicles, a move likely to anger Tokyo after it urged Moscow to reduce its military activity there.
    The announcement, from the Ministry of Defence, said Moscow planned to shift troops into four housing complexes on two of the four disputed islands, known as the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, next week.
    The news came after the Kremlin said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might visit Russia on Jan. 21 as the two countries step up a push to defuse the territorial dispute to allow them to sign a World War Two peace treaty, something the disagreement over the Pacific islands has long prevented.
    There was no immediate reaction from Japan.    Tokyo said in July it had asked Russia to reduce its military activity on the islands, a plea Moscow dismissed as unhelpful megaphone diplomacy at the time.
    Soviet forces seized the four islands at the end of World War Two and Moscow and Tokyo both claim sovereignty over them.    Diplomats on both sides have spoken of the possibility of reviving a Soviet-era draft agreement that envisaged returning two of the four islands as part of a peace deal.
    President Vladimir Putin and Abe have held numerous face-to-face meetings to try to make progress.
    But tensions have remained high.    Tokyo says it is concerned by what it regards as an unhelpful Russian military build-up on the islands – which has included warplane, missile defense and other deployments. Moscow, meanwhile, says it is perturbed by Japan’s roll-out of the Aegis Ashore U.S. missile system.
    Russian politicians say they fear Japan might agree to deploy U.S. missile facilities on the islands if it ever got any of them back and that Moscow could only countenance a deal if it received a cast-iron guarantee that ruled out such a scenario.
    In the meantime, Moscow is fortifying the islands.     The Defence Ministry said on Monday it wanted troops and their families to move into the two new housing complexes on one of the four islands, Iturup (Etorofu in Japan), and into two others on the island of Kunashir (Kunashiri in Japan), on Dec. 25.
    It said troops were moved into two such similar facilities last year with three more barracks planned for 2019.
    “Also on both islands we have modern and heated storage facilities for weapons and armored vehicles,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that more such facilities were planned.
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Christian Lowe and Mark Heinrich)
[That explains why Japan is recently buying fighter jets and military equipment from the U.S.].

12/17/2018 EU court orders Poland to suspend judicial overhaul law by Daria Sito-Sucic
FILE PHOTO: People walk outside the Supreme Court in Warsaw, Poland August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
    LUXEMBOURG/WARSAW (Reuters) – The European Union’s top court ruled on Monday that Poland must immediately suspend a law that forced some Supreme Court judges to retire, drawing a line under a dispute between Warsaw and Brussels.
    Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party had already agreed to scrap the law that lowered the judges’ retirement age, after the European Court of Justice issued an interim judgment against the legislation in October.    Monday’s order made the court decision final.
    The eurosceptic and nationalist PiS initially pushed through a range of new powers after coming to power in 2015 that rights groups and EU officials said threatened the rule of law and increased the government’s control over Polish courts.
    PiS originally argued the changes were needed to improve the efficiency of the courts and rid the country of a residue of Communism.
    But as it prepares for national elections next year, it has shown signs of softening its position on a number of issues.
    President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling party, said late on Monday he had approved revamped legislation to reverse the change to the judges’ retirement age.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Potter)

12/17/2018 U.S. backs NATO membership for Bosnia, dismisses Serb opposition by Daria Sito-Sucic
FILE PHOTO: A NATO flag is seen ahead of the Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause
    SARAJEVO (Reuters) – The United States supports Bosnia’s ambition to join NATO, a senior U.S. official said on Monday, dismissing Bosnian Serb objections and adding Washington would react strongly to any threat to the stability of the country.
    Bosnia has long proclaimed integration with NATO and the European Union to be strategic goals.    But the pro-Russian leader of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb region, Milorad Dodik, has called for the country to remain neutral and stay out of the U.S.-led military alliance.
    “We discussed the U.S. position which is as firm as it has ever been, supporting the decision that has been made by this government to pursue membership in NATO,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said after meeting Bosnia’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency.
    NATO bombed dominant separatist Serb forces in Bosnia in 1995 to help bring an end to the war there, and the United States brokered the Dayton peace deal that followed.
    This month NATO invited Bosnia to start working on a Membership Action Plan (MAP), which has been blocked for 10 years by the Serbs.
    Dodik said he told Sullivan there was no consensus in the presidency regarding NATO membership.    The Muslim Bosniak and Croat members support it.
    Russia is strongly against the country’s membership in NATO.
    “We in the United States take that decision … made by the government to pursue NATO membership very seriously,” Sullivan said when asked about Dodik’s reiterated objections.
    “We don’t want any country, any country to interfere with government of this independent sovereign country,” he added.
    “The U.S. government will always react strongly to any threats to the stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
    The U.S sanctioned Dodik in 2017 for calling for the secession of Bosnia’s Serb region.
    “There is no change in his status under sanctions,” Sullivan said.    “We are committed to protect this country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in line with the 1995 Dayton agreement.”
    Sullivan said the United States would help Bosnia counter “external forces that actively seek to make Bosnia ever more vulnerable to internal instability.”    He declined to name those forces.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; editing by Andrew Roche)

12/17/2018 Kremlin says new Ukrainian church being used for political ends
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, Parliamentary Speaker Andriy Parubiy
and newly elected head of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox church Metropolitan Epifaniy (Dumenko) sing national anthem
at the Saint Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Monday accused Ukraine’s politicians of using the creation of a new Ukrainian Orthodox church independent of Moscow for political ends.
    Ukraine chose the head of a new national Orthodox church on Saturday, marking a historic split from Russia which its leaders see as vital to the country’s security and independence.
    “In Ukraine, these processes, this schism-creating activity is completely mixed up with politics, which of course is probably not allowed in church canon,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/18/2018 President Putin says Russia can develop missiles if U.S. quits arms treaty by OAN Newsroom
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country has the ability to develop missiles if the U.S. leaves the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treatyz.
    While speaking to Russian military officers Tuesday, Putin said the arms treaty was meant to offer stability through restraint in military activities.
    Both countries have accused each other of violating the terms of the landmark Cold War-era agreement.
FILE – This undated file photo provided Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, by Russian Defense Ministry official web site shows a
Russian Iskander-K missile launched during a military exercise at a training ground at the Luzhsky Range, near St. Petersburg, Russia.
President Vladimir Putin rejected the U.S. claim that Russia violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by
developing a new cruise missile, saying that Russia has other weapons that can do the job. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP/File)
    The Russian leader said if the U.S. breaks the treaty, Russia will have to beef up its security measures.
    “We must continue developing our army and navy and preserve high rates of military construction of the previous years — these are the priority issues we would need to resolve next year,” he explained.    “First, we need to continue enhancing the combat potential of our strategic nuclear forces.”
    Putin also said there is nothing preventing a meeting between the U.S., Russia and other countries to recommit to the treaty or develop a new agreement.

12/18/2018 Trump urges Kosovo to reach ‘historic’ deal with Serbia by Fatos Bytyci
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions during an exclusive interview
with Reuters journalists in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has sent a letter to Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci urging him to do everything to reach a longstanding deal with Serbia two decades after their war ended, according to Thaci’s official website.
    Serbia and its former province of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, committed in 2013 to a European Union-sponsored dialogue meant to resolve all unsolved issues but little progress has been made.
    “Failure to capitalise on this unique opportunity would be a tragic setback, as another chance for a comprehensive peace is unlikely to occur again soon,” says the text of the letter posted on Thaci’s website on Tuesday.
    “The United States has invested heavily in the success of Kosovo as an independent, sovereign state,” it said.
    In Washington, the White House had no comment.    There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo’s capital Pristina.
    Serbian-Kosovar tensions rose anew last week when Kosovo’s parliament voted to approve the creation of a 5,000-strong standing army – only a week after Serbia’s premier suggested such a move could provoke military intervention by Belgrade.
    In June this year, Thaci said he would seek a solution with Serbia by “correcting borders,” but politicians and analysts in Kosovo said that means land swaps.
    But his plan rang alarm bells among Balkans neighbors and some Western governments who saw it as a move to take three Serbian municipalities inhabited mainly by ethnic Albanians, who make up more than 90 percent of Kosovo’s population.
    If there would be a land swap then Serbia would get part of northern Kosovo populated mainly by minority Serbs who refuse to recognize the authority of the Pristina government.
    Britain and Germany have said they do not favor border changes but the United States said if these were agreed by Serbia and Kosovo, it would respect such a deal.
    The United Nations Security Council publicly discussed the issues between the two countries and recent tensions on Monday at a meeting attended by the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo.
    The letter posted by Thaci’s website said Trump would welcome hosting the Kosovo and Serbian presidents at the White House as part of such an “historic accord.”
    Kosovo is recognized by more than 110 countries, including the United States, but not by Serbia, Russia or China.
    Washington remains the biggest supporter of Kosovo both politically and financially.
    It was under U.S. command that NATO bombed Serbian forces in 1999 to halt killings and expulsions of Kosovo Albanians during a counter-insurgency operation.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci, Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

12/18/2018 Belgian PM offers to resign
FILE PHOTO: Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel arrives at a European Union leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel offered to resign on Tuesday after socialists and greens tabled a motion of no confidence in his minority government.
    Michel relaunched his government a week ago as a minority administration after the Flemish N-VA, the biggest party in his coalition, quit in protest at his support of the U.N. migration pact.     Some European politicians say the accord could increase immigration as the bloc has turned increasingly restrictive on accepting refugees and migrants alike.
    Michel’s slimmed down three-party coalition consisted of his French-speaking liberal MR and two Flemish parties.
    With parliamentary elections due in May, Michel could be asked by King Philippe to stay on in a caretaker capacity but with limited power.    The king may also speak to other political leaders in a bid to resolve the issue.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)

12/18/2018 Hungary protests spark opposition coalition – but will it last? by Gergely Szakacs and Krisztina Than
FILE PHOTO: People attend a protest against a proposed new labor law, billed as the "slave law," outside the
headquarters of the Hungarian state television in Budapest, Hungary, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Week-long protests in Budapest have forged fragmented opposition parties into a rare coalition against Viktor Orban, drawing young Hungarians into the streets to demonstrate against what they see as his increasingly authoritarian rule.
    Passage of two laws last week backed by the prime minister’s Fidesz party angered a variety of domestic voter groups, galvanizing the weak and divided opposition to act with a unity rarely seen in his eight years in power.
    The protests in Budapest raised the question of whether such fledgling cooperation can last long enough to put down roots and offer viable opposition to a charismatic politician normally adept at side-lining dissent.
    While no substantial shift in Hungary’s domestic balance of power appears on the cards for now, there is a sense among some Hungarians that Orban overplayed his hand by pushing through the two laws that drew such a concerted opposition response.
    One law, dubbed the “slave law”, allows employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours per year of overtime.
    Another would set up new courts controlled by the justice minister, which critics say could lead to political meddling.
    Denes Hubicsak, an engineer, 24, joined almost all the protests since Dec. 12 and came to the state television building on Monday night, ignoring freezing cold, to demand independent public media and courts.
    “I’m here because I want to live here in 10 years’ time as well,” he said.    “Many people here are protesting because of the slave law now, but they sometimes forget the other one: the law about administrative courts.”
    Hubicsak said he did not have high hopes of the EU reining in what critics see as the increasingly authoritarian policies of Orban, as this has not happened in the past eight years.
    “I cannot see the pressure from the EU or from the European People’s party that could influence them a little, or make Orban or Fidesz just think twice,” he said.
    The demonstrations, which peaked at around 10,000 on Sunday, pose no immediate threat to Orban as Fidesz enjoys strong voter support, ever since his third straight election win in April.
    But if the protests persist and leftist parties and the nationalist Jobbik party can turn the latest cooperation into a lasting campaign, such concerted activism might erode Fidesz’ widely expected win at European Parliament and municipal elections next year, some analysts said.
    There were many students among the protesters on Sunday, and some also joined on Monday night.    This is the so-called Generation Y — Hungarians in their 20s and 30s — for whom Orban and his policies are not an appealing choice.
    They are very unhappy about the government’s education policies which they say fail to prepare them for life in the 21st century by too rigidly focusing on rote-learning.
    “What they do in higher education is really bad,” said Dora, 16, who did not want to give her full name.    “I am worried I won’t have a good college to go to in Hungary and I don’t want to go abroad …I also oppose the labor law.”
RARE UNITY
    Orban has clashed with Brussels over his policies to curb the media and courts, has tweaked the election system to favor Fidesz and put loyalists at the head of several institutions.
    Orban has projected himself as defending Hungary’s Christian culture against Muslim migration into Europe, an image which resonates with millions of voters, especially in rural areas.
    Fidesz had 38 percent support in a November poll by pro-government think-tank Nezopont, while all the opposition parties had about 25 percent combined.
    Csaba Toth, director of liberal think tank Republikon, said the opposition was now working in rare unity and could build on this next year when Hungary holds European and municipal polls.
    “But if they are not able to come up with something forward-looking in the next few days before Christmas, the whole (protest sentiment) could collapse,” he said.
    A government spokesman dismissed the protests as a desperate attempt by a weak opposition and foreign-paid activists.
    “Citizens have the right to protest as long as they don’t break the law.    But beware when a small minority of foreign-trained activists, representatives of losing political parties and, yes, Soros network putschists emerge hell-bent on toppling a popular, democratically elected government,” Zoltan Kovacs wrote in a blog on Monday
.
    A spokesperson for George Soros’ Open Society Foundations said on Monday that Soros had not stoked the protests.
(Writing by Krisztina Than, Editing by William Maclean)
[Soros not involved thats a laugh, with so-called Generation Y — Hungarians in their 20s and 30s who attend universities.].

12/18/2018 Putin: Nothing to stop new states joining nuclear pact with U.S. and Russia
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at the meeting to discuss preparations to mark the anniversary of the
allied victory in the World War II at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia December 12, 2018. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that there was nothing to stop Russia and the United States holding talks with other countries about the possibility of them joining a landmark arms control treaty that is at risk of unraveling.
    The United States delivered Russia a 60-day ultimatum earlier this month to come clean about what Washington says is a violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty between Moscow and Washington.
    The pact keeps intermediate-range U.S. and Russian missiles out of Europe.    Washington has spoken of quitting the treaty altogether unless Russia returns to what it calls “full and verifiable compliance.”
    Moscow denies it is in breach of the treaty and accuses the United States of violating it.
    Both sides have noted that other countries remain free to develop weapons banned under the treaty, and the United States has in particular raised concerns about China with U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton warning Moscow that Chinese missiles have the capability to strike the Russian heartland.
    “Yes, it is true, there are certain problems with this agreement (the treaty) – other countries that possess intermediate and short range missiles are not part of it,” Putin told top military officials at a Defence Ministry meeting.
    “What is stopping (us) from starting talks on them joining the current agreement or starting to discuss parameters for a new accord?” he asked.
    Putin also said that Russia could easily make and deploy land-based intermediate-range missiles if the United States made good on its threat to quit the treaty.
    Although he denied his country was in violation of the agreement, he said it had developed powerful airborne and sea-based cruise missiles and could easily roll out land-based missiles if Washington walked away from the pact.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt, Polina Ivanova, Tom Balmforth and Andrew Osborn;Editing by Kevin Liffey/Andrew Osborn)

12/18/2018 Russian lawmakers back law jailing anyone urging teenagers to protest by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shout slogans during a rally
for a boycott of a March 18 presidential election in Moscow, Russia January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian lawmakers approved draft legislation that would make it a jailable offense to call on teenagers to attend unauthorized street protests, a move Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said on Tuesday was designed to frustrate his own activity.
    Navalny, a 42-year-old lawyer who says he wants to succeed Vladimir Putin as president, has tried to win the support of a young demographic, including teenagers, some of whom have attended his nationwide anti-Kremlin protests.
    Police have sometimes dispersed his rallies using force and jailed hundreds of attendees, including teenagers, whose presence has drawn sharp criticism from the Kremlin which has accused Navalny of manipulating minors for political gain.
    The new legislation proposes introducing fines of up to 50,000 rubles ($750) or a jail sentence of up to 15 days for anyone calling on people aged under 18 to attend unauthorized protests.    Companies or organizations that encourage minors to attend could be fined up to 500,000 rubles under the new law.
    Opposition activists who want to protest already face an array of restrictions, including a requirement to seek the authorities’ advance approval for the time and place of any rally.    Authorities often flatly decline such requests for technical reasons or propose alternative venues in remote locations far from the public eye.
    Navalny wrote on Twitter that the draft bill showed how the authorities were moving to give themselves a new lever to hamstring his opposition activity.
    “They passed the law specially for me, but it’s them that should be jailed for it,” he wrote.
    The bill was approved in its third and final reading on Tuesday.    It must be approved by the upper house of parliament before it is signed into law by President Putin, something that is normally a formality.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/19/2018 U.S. imposes fresh Russia sanctions for election meddling by Nathan Layne
FILE PHOTO: The United States flag flies atop the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington November 18, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States imposed fresh Russia-related sanctions on Wednesday, expanding a blacklist of individuals allegedly involved in a Kremlin-backed campaign to meddle with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, among other misdeeds.
    The U.S. Treasury Department twinned that development with an announcement that it would lift sanctions on major aluminum company Rusal and two other firms tied to Oleg Deripaska after a deal was struck to sever the Russian oligarch’s control over them.
    Deripaska himself will remain under sanctions, Treasury said.
    The fresh sanctions targeted 15 members of a Russian military intelligence service and four entities involved in the alleged election interference, the hacking of the World Anti-Doping Agency and other “malign activities” around the world, the Treasury said in a statement on its website.
    The action, which followed sanctions in April on Deripaska and six other oligarchs, were “in response to Russia’s continued disregard for international norms,” the statement from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said.
    The move also comes on the heels of U.S. President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order in September to impose sanctions on any country or person that tries to interfere in U.S. elections.    Trump issued the order amid criticism over his handling of Russian election meddling.
    “The administration hasn’t taken its eye off the Russian intelligence service and the role they play in malign activities around the world,” said Michael Dobson, who worked on sanctions policy toward Russia at OFAC and is now at the Morrison & Foerster law firm.    “I think it’s definitely a strong action.”
    The sanctioned individuals include several intelligence officers who were allegedly engaged in the hacking of Democratic Party officials and in campaigns to sow discord over social media with the aim of disrupting U.S. elections.
    The list includes Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, who was charged in October in Virginia for attempting to interfere in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, and who has been named in court papers as the accountant for a collection of Russian companies indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller earlier this year.
    Treasury also singled out Victor Boyarkin for his ties to Deripaska.    Boyarkin is a former intelligence officer who reports directly to Deripaska and helped provide “Russian financial support” to a Montenegrin political party ahead of elections in Montenegro in 2016, Treasury’s statement said.
    The Treasury sanctioned several individuals for their alleged roles in the hacking of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and other organizations between 2016 and 2018.
    It also sanctioned two Russian intelligence officers, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, for their alleged role in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in March.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Nathan Layne; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and James Dalgleish)

12/19/2018 Ukraine to send warships back to Azov despite Russian capture
FILE PHOTO: Cranes and ships are seen in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Ukraine November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine will send warships back to its Azov Sea ports again, a security official said on Wednesday, despite Russia’s seizure of three navy vessels and their crew in the area last month.
    Ukraine and Russia have been at loggerheads since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, with more than 10,000 people dead in battles between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists.
    The dispute deepened when Moscow last month seized two small Ukrainian gunboats and one tugboat – with a combined crew of 24 – off Crimea, accusing them of illegally entering Russian waters as they headed from the Black Sea via the Kerch Strait.
    The United States and European Union have demanded the sailors’ release, and President Donald Trump canceled talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in protest.
    “Russia’s aggression will not stop our plans to create a naval group in the Sea of Azov,” Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of the Ukrainian government’s national security and defense council, said in an interview with the local BBC branch.
    “If we stop and retreat, Russia will actually fulfill its task of capturing the Sea of Azov, present the world with self-determined new sea borders in the Black Sea, de facto legalizing the occupation of Crimea,” BBC News Ukraine quoted him as saying.
    Turchynov said Kiev would invite representatives of the transatlantic military alliance NATO and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on board next time to prove Ukraine was not violating any regulations.
    He did not say when ships might next attempt to pass, although he added it should not be long.
Responding to the comments, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Ukraine’s intention to send warships back through the Kerch Strait was a “provocation.”
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/19/2018 Russian nostalgia for Soviet Union reaches 13-year high by Tom Balmforth
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators carry flags and a portrait of Soviet state founder
Vladimir Lenin during a rally held by Russian Communist party to mark the Red October revolution's
centenary in central Moscow, Russia November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The number of Russians who regret the break-up of the Soviet Union has risen to its highest since 2005, amid rising economic concerns and nostalgia for the Soviet welfare system, the Levada pollster said on Wednesday.
    President Vladimir Putin famously dubbed the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century and he and many Russians have long lamented the blow its demise dealt to Moscow’s great power status.
    The number of Russians pining for the Soviet past has been steadily rising under Putin since he returned to the presidency in 2012, poll data issued by the independent Levada Center on Wednesday showed.
    In the survey, 66 percent of Russians said they regretted the Soviet break-up, a level not seen since 2005 when Levada recorded 65 percent and Putin was on his second term in the Kremlin.
    The number of nostalgic Russians fell gradually from 2004, reaching a low of 49 percent in 2012, before rising to its current level, the pollster found, on a par with the 1990s after the Soviet collapse.
    Karina Pipiya, a sociologist at Levada, said that in the past such feelings were often triggered by loss of international prestige and questions of national identity.
    “Now the nostalgia is more determined by economic factors and regret that there used to be more social justice and that the government worked for the people and that it was better in terms of care for citizens and paternalistic expectations,” she said.
    Ordinary Russians have faced stagnating incomes, a weaker rouble and inflation since 2014, when the Russian economy entered recession amid falling oil prices and Western sanctions.
    To help balance state coffers, the Kremlin this year raised the retirement age for both men and women in a highly unpopular measure that dented Putin’s popularity rating.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov brushed off the findings of the nostalgia poll.
    “Other sociologists will say that people are always inclined to retrospectively idealize what happened to them in their youth, and that everything that happened in youth was tastier, more reliable and greater,” said Peskov.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Andrew Roche)

12/19/2018 Kremlin presses on with Turkey missile contract despite possible U.S. arms deal
Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defence systems during the Victory Day parade,
marking the 73rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two,
at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Wednesday Russia was pressing ahead with a contract to deliver advanced S-400 missile air defense systems to Turkey despite the U.S. State Department approving the possible sale of a rival U.S. missile defense system to Ankara.
    The Pentagon said on Tuesday that the U.S. State Department had approved a possible $3.5 billion sale of Patriot air and missile defense systems to NATO-ally Turkey, after notifying Congress of the certification.
    Russia and Turkey have already concluded a deal for Ankara to buy the rival Russian S-400 system with deliveries expected to begin next year despite the United States and NATO member countries, already wary of Russia’s presence in the Middle East, warning it is not compatible with NATO defenses.
    Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Russian and U.S. transactions should be seen as separate from each other, and that Russia was in the process of fulfilling the terms of the deal to supply Ankara with S-400s.
    “These are not connected processes. In this case, we are fulfilling agreements that we have with our Turkish colleagues.    You know that the contract is being fulfilled. This will be continued,” Peskov said.
    He said that Russia trusted Turkey not to disclose secrets about the S-400 system to its NATO partners.
    “We don’t see any grounds not to trust our Turkish colleagues,” Peskov said, when asked if Moscow had concerns Ankara might share sensitive data about the S-400s with the Americans.
    U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly warned Ankara that the Russian system cannot be integrated into the NATO air and missile defense system and that purchasing the S-400 system would jeopardize Turkey’s purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jets and possibly result in Washington imposing sanctions.
    Turkey said last month that its purchase of the Russian missiles was a done deal and could not be canceled.    It said it needed to buy further defense hardware however, which could be bought from the United States.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
[Turkey has tried to join the European Union for years they even invited the Pope one year to show they are good guys, even though they are an Islamic state, and the Pope lived through it.    But now Erdogan and Turkey are trying to become the savior of the Mideast, which is predominately Arab and Islam (i.e. Sunni vs Shiite) except for Israel.].

12/19/2018 EU to continue dialogue with Poland on rule-of-law: Dombrovskis
FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda holds a news conference
in Berlin, Germany, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission will continue a dialogue with Poland over the rule of law in the former communist member of the European Union, despite recent amendments to a Polish law on the Supreme Court, which the Commission said had broken EU rules.
    “We will continue the dialogue with Poland under article 7,” Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference on Wednesday, referring to the EU treaties that describes a process to uphold the rule of law in EU countries.
    The European Union’s top court ruled on Monday that Poland must immediately suspend a law that forced some supreme court judges to retire, drawing a line under a dispute between Warsaw and Brussels.
    Poland’s ruling euroskeptic Law and Justice (PiS) party had already agreed to scrap the law that lowered the judges’ retirement age after the EU court issued an interim judgment against the legislation in October.    Monday’s order made the court decision final.
    “Poland now is expected by the 17th of January to present a report on implementing the court order and in between we will do the assessment of the law adopted,” Dombrovskis said.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski)

12/20/2018 Russia’s Putin says threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during annual
news conference in Moscow, Russia December 20, 2018. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that the threat of nuclear war should not be underestimated, but that he hoped that common sense would prevail.
    Speaking at his annual news conference, Putin said it was hard to predict what the consequences would be of a U.S. withdrawal from the landmark Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987.
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

12/20/2018 Cuba reinserts ‘communism’ in draft of new constitution
FILE PHOTO: Cubans attend a public political discussion to revamp
a Cold War-era constitution in Havana, Cuba August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo/File Photo
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba has reinserted the goal of “advancing toward a communist society” into the draft of the country’s new constitution after its removal from the first version had sparked concern among thousands of citizens, state-run television said on Thursday.
    The national assembly is this week debating a revised draft of the constitution, designed to replace a Soviet-era one to better reflect the times, for example acknowledging private property and opening the door to same-sex marriage.
    Cuba is one of a handful of countries worldwide still run by the Communist Party and has insisted its one-party socialist system is irrevocable.
    Still, the commission writing the new constitution, headed by party chief Raul Castro, took the mention of “communism” out of the first draft that it published in July and put to a nationwide, three-month popular consultation.
    Thousands of citizens at community-level meetings then called for it to be re-inserted, according to Cuba’s state broadcaster, and as a result it was re-inserted into the draft now under debate by the national assembly.
    “The true revolutionary is the one who always looks to overcome the limits of the possible and that is why we must maintain this aspiration (to communism),” lawmaker Yusuam Palacios told the assembly on Thursday.
    The inclusion of “communism” is one of 760 changes to the first draft made on the back of the popular consultation.
    The government has insisted the drafting of the constitution is participatory democracy at its best, while critics point out that the fundamentals of the Cuban system were never up for discussion and say its methodology is questionable.
    If this latest draft passes, as expected, a national assembly vote this week, it will go to a nationwide referendum on Feb. 24.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Sarah Marsh, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

12/21/2018 Media regulator in Russia starts checking legality of BBC’s operations by Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova
FILE PHOTO: A man talks on a mobile phone inside the BBC headquarters
in London November 21, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Winning/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s media regulator said on Friday it would carry out checks to determine if the BBC World News channel and BBC internet sites complied with Russian law, a move it described as a response to British pressure on a Russian TV channel.
    Roskomnadzor, the regulator, said in a statement its checks were Russia’s response to a decision by British media regulator Ofcom, which on Thursday said that Russian broadcaster RT had broken impartiality rules in some of its news and current affairs programs.
    “The results of our check will be announced separately,” the Russian regulator said.
    There was no immediate comment from either the BBC or Ofcom.
    Ofcom said on Thursday it was considering imposing some kind of sanction on RT, which is financed by the Russian state.    It took issue in particular with its coverage of the poisoning in Britain of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.
    Britain has accused agents working for Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, of committing the crime, an allegation Moscow denies.
    British Media Secretary Jeremy Wright also weighed in on Thursday, saying what he called RT’s mask as an impartial news provider was slipping.
    RT rejected Ofcom’s findings, saying Ofcom had ignored its explanations and not paid “due regard” to its rights.
    Commenting on the launch of the Russian investigation on Friday, Margarita Simonyan, RT’s editor-in-chief, said on Twitter that Ofcom had hinted that it planned to strip her channel of its broadcasting license in Britain.
    “(Welcome to the) brave new world,” she wrote.
    “I assume they (the Russian regulator) will now look to see if the BBC expresses alternative points of view.    With a microscope.”
    Russian state media has criticized the BBC in recent days, accusing it of trying to falsely prove that Moscow was involved in whipping up street protests in France, a charge that Russia rejects.
(Additional reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Tom Balmforth)

12/21/2018 Migrant workers’ struggles push Uzbekistan to open up
FILE PHOTO: People attend prayers for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha
in Moscow, Russia September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov -/File Photo
    SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan (Reuters) – Maksud Mahmudov was among millions of Uzbeks who left their impoverished homeland as soon as they finished school to find work in Russia.    In 2014, he and others came back as the Russian economy floundered, but it took two more years to find work.
    The 27-year-old now runs teams of builders for hire, taking advantage of a construction boom in his home city of Samarkand following a 2016 change of leadership in the Central Asian state, one of the world’s most tightly controlled countries.
    “I used to earn around $500 a month doing construction work, but then the treatment of migrants worsened, we were paid less, it became harder to obtain a work permit, so I had to return to my home country in 2014,” he said, recalling a year in which falling oil prices hit Russia’s energy-dependent economy.
    That change is now encouraging Uzbek leader Shavkat Mirziyoyev to open up the economy of ex-Soviet Uzbekistan, which for nearly three decades rejected market reforms, leaving it largely isolated and with mass unemployment.
    Uzbekistan was able to ignore the issue as long as Russia was absorbing millions of migrants, but plummeting oil prices sent Russia into recession in 2015 and many migrants had to leave.
    Russian central bank data shows Uzbeks have sent home 42 percent less money on average in 2015-17 than in 2011-14.    Volumes picked up somewhat last year – when the Russian economy and the rouble stabilized – but are still well below those seen before the oil price crash and sanctions.
    The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who have re-engaged with Tashkent under Mirziyoyev, say implementing market reforms such as privatization are the only way to revive the economy and create new jobs.
    Failing to do so could prompt Central Asia’s own equivalent of the Arab Spring, a senior World Bank economist warned last year, referring to a series of uprisings in 2011 that toppled longstanding leaders in Egypt, Yemen and Libya
.
    The Tashkent government has not commented on that warning and there has been no serious unrest in Uzbekistan since 2005, when security forces crushed protests in Andijan in the impoverished Ferghana valley.
    But Mirziyoyev, who took over when his predecessor Islam Karimov died in 2016 after 25 years in office, is now treating unemployment as a priority.
    “They (migrants) are abroad for a reason.    We could not create jobs for them, that’s why they are abroad.    All the problems start here,” Mirziyoyev said at a meeting with officials earlier this year.
    In its first major move to make hiring easier, the government will cut payroll taxes from next month, making it cheaper for companies to hire workers.    The government estimates the measure will cost the state budget $570 million next year.
WAGE DIFFERENTIAL
    A long-standing lieutenant to Karimov, Mirziyoyev showed little appetite for change before becoming president.
    The country, long closed off from the outside world, has taken a first step by liberalizing its foreign exchange market, bringing a surge in machinery and equipment imports for industries that are still state-owned and centrally planned.
    The government has signed memorandums of understanding with large energy companies such as France’s Total and India’s ONGC and hosts financiers representing Western and Asian companies keen to discover how far change will go.
    The experiences of Uzbekistan’s migrant labor force and their relatives shows the pressing need for reform, suggesting that, while political controls remain tight, the government’s new openness to investment is more than a fad.
    Uzbekistan is rich in natural resources such as gas, gold and other metals and is one of the world’s leading exporters of cotton.
    But between two and three million of Uzbekistan’s more than 33 million people work abroad, mostly in Russia, to provide for their families back home.    One in three young males is a migrant, according to a recent World Bank survey.,br>     Sixty-two-year-old Ruqiyakhon has three children working in Russia.    Her youngest son was able to stay at home and train as a doctor only thanks to his elder brother’s earnings.
    “Now he works at a local hospital but still tries to earn extra money by running his own small business,” she said, declining to give her full name for fear of the authorities.
    “I wish they all could work here and get the same wages, but it is not possible … there is a big difference between wages here and there.”
    She lives in the small Uzbek town of Uchkuprik in the Ferghana valley, Central Asia’s most densely populated area, where even breeding livestock for extra income is difficult due to a shortage of land.
    While some Uzbeks can only find seasonal or short-term jobs abroad, others settle.    Many go to Kazakhstan and South Korea, but Russia is the default choice because of Soviet-era ties.
FICTITIOUS FIGURES
    One of Mirziyoyev’s first moves was to dismiss as “fiction” official statistics which have long put unemployment at about five percent.    Under Karimov, for example, officials would record anyone who owned a cow as a self-employed farmer.
    Last month, the labor ministry reported unemployment for the first half of 2018 at 9.3 percent, up from 5.2 percent a year earlier, and cited a new methodology as the reason for the sharp increase.
    Some Uzbeks have complained about abuse at the hands of employers who could act with impunity because they knew employees were unlikely to walk away with jobs so scarce.    Under Karimov, some Uzbeks, for example, had to hand over part of their salaries to superiors in order to retain their jobs.
    Shakhnoza Ishankulova, who used to work as a teacher in her home town of Marjonbuloq in the Jizzakh region, was fired in 2011 after failing to pay up – she had just undergone chemotherapy and was the only breadwinner in the family.
    After many attempts to get her job back or find work in another school, she moved to Moscow in 2013, where she began working as a cleaner.
    “Why did I bother getting a degree?” she said.    “I went to university, and to a lycee. But despite all that, I am holding a broom.”
    In Samarkand, former migrant Mahmudov now leads a 40-strong construction team. He makes about $250 a month in the winter, when snow makes work difficult, but takes home about $500 per month in the summer – almost as much as he used to in Russia.
(Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow; writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

12/21/2018 Thousands join rally to ‘rejoice’ over Orban’s reforms by Gergely Szakacs
Demonstrators march during a protest against a proposed new labor law,
billed as the "slave law," in front of the parliament building in Budapest, Hungary December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Thousands of Hungarians joined a march in Budapest on Friday led by spoof political party MKKPto support government policies, Christmas and snowfall” – the latest in a string of demonstrations stoked by controversial reforms.
    Passage of two laws last week backed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party angered a variety of groups.    One, dubbed by critics the “slave law,” allows employers to ask staff to work up to 400 hours per year of overtime.    Another would set up new courts which critics say could be politically manipulated.
    At the rally, one protester brandished a placard saying “Happy boss, gloomy Sunday.”
    The Two-Tailed Dog Party (MKKP), launched over a decade ago as a joke, has become a semi-serious force, using ironic humor to tackle practical issues.
    “I wanted to come because I consider the Dog Party to be the most serious of all in the current lineup, which is rather sad,” said student Almos Edes, 26, a university student holding a sign saying ‘We promise everything’ beneath a logo of Fidesz.
    Edes was skeptical of any change being triggered by the rallies, but said he had joined to make his voice heard.
    Friday’s rally also took aim at grievances including regulations that have led to the departure of the Central European University, founded by Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, from Budapest.
    “We can finally work eight days a week.    We no longer need to hassle with independent courts.    Homelessness has been eliminated.    Irritating foreign schools will vanish.    And Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros, Soros,” said an invitation to the rally posted on Facebook.
    Orban has said the protests have been partly stoked by activists paid by Soros, an accusation Soros’ Open Society Foundation has denied.
    The demonstrators were planning to end the rally in Buda Castle outside the Presidential Palace.
    MKKP, which is not in parliament, had 3 percent support among voters in November according to pollsters Zavecz Research and Nezopont.    Orban’s Fidesz scored 36 and 38 percent in the two surveys.
    “I have come to rejoice over the government’s policies,” said Gergo Gocza, 28, holding a sign saying ‘A Sign.’
    “This event is not meant to change anything,” he said.    “We have come to salute the government and the lots of good they have done for us.”
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; editing by Andrew Roche)

12/21/2018 UK defense minister to Ukraine: Black Sea does not belong to Russia
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson
arrives in Downing Street, London, Britain, December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
    ODESSA, Ukraine (Reuters) – British defense minister Gavin Williamson visited Ukraine on Friday where he told his Ukrainian counterpart that the Black Sea did not belong to Russia and that Britain had sent a Royal Navy ship there to show Kiev did not stand alone.
    Williamson was speaking as tensions in the area remain high after Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews in the Black Sea last month, accusing them of illegally entering its territorial waters, a charge Ukraine denied.
    Williamson on Friday met Stepan Poltorak, his Ukrainian counterpart, and visited the port of Odessa where a British Royal Navy ship, HMS Echo, docked earlier this week.
    “The reason…that HMS Echo is here is that we firstly want to demonstrate the solidarity that we have with Ukraine and the fact that Ukraine doesn’t stand alone,” said Williamson.
    “But also demonstrate our right to be able to come to ports such as Odessa, for freedom of navigation, for freedom for navies to be able to operate in the Black Sea.    This isn’t Russia’s sea, this is an international sea.”
    Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been locked in a downwards spiral since Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Iryna Nazarchuk; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/22/2018 Russia warns of global conflict over nuclear pact collapse
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attend
annual news conference in Moscow, Russia December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Saturday that the scrapping of a Cold War era nuclear pact may lead to an arms race and direct confrontation between several global regions, after a proposal by Moscow was rejected in a United Nations vote.
    Moscow had put forward a resolution in support of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) which bans Moscow and Washington from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.
    Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the UN had failed to vote in favor of the proposal.
    “A new blow has been dealt on the global architecture of security and stability.    Now, with the collapse of the INF treaty, several global regions could be plunged into the arms race or even into a direct confrontation,” it said.
    Washington has threatened to pull out of the accord, saying Moscow failed to comply with it.
    On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United States of raising the risk of nuclear war by threatening to spurn the key arms control treaty and refusing to hold talks about another pact that expires soon.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Alexander Smith)

12/22/2018 U.S. to boost financing for Ukraine navy after Russian attack
A command ship of the Ukrainian Navy of Donbas is seen in the
Azov Sea port of Mariupol, Ukraine December 2, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will provide an additional $10 million in military financing to Ukraine to bolster its navy after Russia captured three Ukrainian vessels at sea last month, in a “dangerous escalation,” the State Department said on Friday.
    The move comes after Lithuania and the United Kingdom increased their security assistance to Ukraine, the department said, following the Nov. 25 attack near the Kerch Strait.
    “The United States calls on Russia to immediately return to Ukraine the seized vessels and detained Ukrainian crews, to keep the Kerch Strait and the Sea of Azov open to ships transiting to and from Ukrainian ports, and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the State Department added.
    Russia opened fire on the Ukrainian ships and then seized them and their crews near Crimea – which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March 2014.    The Kerch Strait is the only outlet to the Sea of Azov and controls access to two major Ukrainian ports.
    The incident prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to call off a meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Argentina to signal Washington’s disapproval of Russian behavior in the naval clash with Ukraine.
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Sandra Maler)

12/23/2018 Cuban lawmakers approve new constitution which heads to referendum by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta
Cuba's former President Raul Castro (C-L) talks to his grandson and bodyguard
Raul Rodriguez Castro during a session of the National Assembly in Havana, Cuba, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban lawmakers on Saturday unanimously approved a revised draft of a new constitution that retains the island’s one-party socialist system but reflects its socio-economic opening since the fall of the Soviet Union.
    The draft new constitution, which has 229 articles and will replace a Cold War era one, will maintain the Communist Party as the country’s guiding force and the state’s dominance of the economy, according to state-run media.    A copy has not yet been distributed to the public.
    The document, however also, legitimizes private business that has blossomed over the last decade, acknowledges the importance of foreign investment and opens the door to gay marriage, according to state-run media.
    It imposes age and term limits on the presidency, after late revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul Castro ruled the country for nearly six decades, and introduces the role of a prime minister.
    The current draft incorporates into an original one published in July hundreds of mainly small changes proposed by citizens during a three-month public consultation at community meetings nationwide.    It will go to a referendum next Feb. 24.
    “This process is a genuine and exceptional demonstration of the practice of power by the people and therefore of the markedly participative and democratic nature of our political system,” President Miguel Diaz-Canel told the national assembly in a speech closing its week-long, twice-yearly session.
    The 58-year-old took office from his mentor Raul Castro in April although the latter remains head of the Communist Party until 2021.
    Critics say the fundamentals of Cuba’s system were never up for discussion and the government only included suggestions it wanted to.
    Some, including opposition groups that typically do not mobilize many people, are already campaigning against the constitution online using the hashtag #yovotono (“I vote no”).
    One of the articles revised regards the accumulation of property.    Whereas the first draft originally banned this, the revised constitution simply stipulates that the state must regulate it, according to state-run media.
    However the latest draft also reinserts the aim of “advancing toward communism” that was taken out of the first draft.
    One controversial revision is the elimination of an article that recognized matrimony as the union of two persons as opposed to the union between a man and a woman as in the 1976 constitution.
    That article was the one that sparked the most controversy in a society that has made great strides in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in recent years but remains conservative on the topic.
    The new draft removes the definition of marriage altogether thus still opening the door to same-sex union albeit not giving it the same symbolic level of backing.
    The government has said instead it will update the family code and put it to a referendum in the next two years.
    “There is no setback,” wrote Mariela Castro, the daughter of Raul Castro, who has championed LGBT rights in Cuba in recent years, on Facebook.
    “The fight continues, let’s give a ‘yes’ to the constitution and then close ranks to achieve a family code as advanced as the new constitutional text.”
    She asked for permission to briefly interrupt the assembly meet on Saturday to hug her father in an unusual public display of affection within the Castro family, thanking him for his example “as a parent and as a revolutionary,” sparking applause.
    Still, the decision to put the family code to a referendum has angered Cuban intellectuals who say fundamental human rights should not be put up for vote.    Other laws have not been put to a referendum.
    “Equal rights to marriage in Cuba should be a presidential decree, not a referendum that exonerates the state from responsibility and opens the door to conservative homophobia,” said Harold Cardenas, a professor of Marxism and blogger.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh, Nelson Acosta and Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by James Dalgleish and Alistair Bell)

12/25/2018 Russia says Gaddafi’s son should play role in Libyan politics: RIA
FILE PHOTO: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi,
attends a hearing behind bars in a courtroom in Zintan May 15, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the most prominent son of the former Libyan leader, should play a role in his country’s political life, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was cited as saying on Monday by the RIA news agency.
    RIA said that one of Saif’s representatives had delivered a letter from him to Moscow earlier this month in which he had set out ideas for the political future of Libya and that Saif was in regular contact with Russia.
    Western powers and the United Nations are pushing for the North African country to hold elections next year after a national conference to try to end seven years of conflict in the oil producer.
    Saif’s father was toppled and killed in a 2011 revolt. Saif, who was detained afterwards before later being freed, was seen by some as a potential reformist successor to his father in the years before 2011 and remains a key figure for Gaddafi loyalists.
    “We support everyone. We believe that nobody should be isolated or excluded from a constructive political role,” RIA cited Bogdanov as saying.
    “That’s why we are maintaining contacts with all groups who are based in the west, east and south of the country … Saif al-Islam has the backing of specific tribes in specific areas of Libya and all this should be part of the overall political process with the participation of other political forces.”
    Russia is also in close contact with Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar who dominates eastern Libya and has visited Moscow and held talks with top officials.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber)

12/26/2018 Kremlin does not rule out Putin attending Davos forum
The Russian flag flies over the Embassy of Russia in Washington, U.S., August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin does not rule out the participation of President Vladimir Putin in the World Economic Forum in Davos next month, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.
    The Kremlin earlier this month shrugged off reported restrictions on Russian business leaders who take part in the forum and welcomed a move by the organizers to lift a ban on several Russian tycoons.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/26/2018 Putin says Russia is ready to deploy new hypersonic nuclear missile
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin uses a pair of binoculars to observe troops in action during a training
exercise at the Donguz testing range in Orenburg region, Russia, September 19, 2015. REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Pool
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would deploy its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles next year, saying the move meant his country now had a new type of strategic weapon.
    Putin was speaking after overseeing what the Kremlin said was a pre-deployment test of the new missile system, called Avangard.
    “This test, which has just finished, ended with complete success,” Putin told a government meeting.
    “From next year, 2019, Russia’s armed forces will get the new intercontinental strategic system Avangard … It’s a big moment in the life of the armed forces and in the life of the country.    Russia has obtained a new type of strategic weapon>.”
    Russia has said the new missile system, one of several new weapons Putin announced in March, is highly maneuverable, allowing it to easily evade missile defense systems.
    Putin remotely observed Wednesday’s test from a Russian defense ministry building in Moscow.    The Kremlin described the test in a statement, saying that an Avangard missile, launched from a location in south-west Russia, had successfully hit and destroyed a target in the Russian Far East.
    Putin announced an array of new weapons in March, including the Avangard, in one of his most bellicose speeches in years, saying they could hit almost any point in the world and evade a U.S.-built missile shield.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Andrew Osborn)
[You now know why Trump pulled out of the INF treaty because he knew what Russia was up to, and most likely the U.S. has developed the same also, and the new Space Force was the new system for deterence, and this will force China to get in on this.].

12/26/2018 Russia says Israeli strikes on Syria threatened two civilian flights: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Israeli Air Force pilots' graduation ceremony
at Hatzerim air base in southern Israel, December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday that Israeli missile strikes in Syria the previous day had directly threatened two civilian flights, Interfax news agency reported.
    The ministry, which did not specify which flights had been threatened, added that Syrian air defenses had destroyed 14 of 16 Israeli missiles launched against unspecified targets near Damascus on Tuesday.
    Three Syrian soldiers were injured in the strikes, Syrian state media reported.
    The Israeli military declined to comment on the reported missile strikes and the Russian allegations.
    Addressing a graduation ceremony for new pilots at an Israeli air force base on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no direct reference to specific attacks or Moscow’s criticism.
    But he reiterated Israel’s intention to prevent “Iranian military entrenchment, which is directed against us” in Syria.
    “We will act against it, vigorously and continuously, including during the current period,” Netanyahu said.
    During the more than seven-year war in neighboring Syria, Israel has grown deeply alarmed by the expanding clout of arch-enemy Iran, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
    Israel’s air force has struck scores of targets it describes as Iranian deployments or arms transfers to Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement in the Syrian conflict.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrew Osborn and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn/Mark Heinrich)

12/26/2018 Russia moves towards allowing medicinal narcotic crops
FILE PHOTO: Russia's Health Minister Veronika Skvortsova addresses a news conference on
vaccines against Ebola in Geneva, Switzerland, February 15, 2016. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Russian government on Wednesday approved a draft bill allowing the country to produce crops used in medicinal narcotics, saying this would reduce its dependence on foreign states that have imposed sanctions against it.
    The draft bill, which still needs to be approved by parliament and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin, will allow two factories that already produce opiate-based medications to grow their own crops.
    Most of the substances used by Russia in domestically produced pain medication comes from countries that have imposed sanctions against it, health minister Veronika Skvortsova said.
    “In order not to leave our population without strong painkillers, we must be self-sufficient,” Skvortsova told reporters.    “We need to produce drugs in a full cycle – from substances to their medicinal form.”
    The United States, the European Union and other Western states have imposed broad-ranging sanctions against Russian companies, banks and individuals since Moscow annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.
(Reporting by Polina Nikolskaya; Editing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Peter Graff)

12/26/2018 Martial law expires in Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko (2nd L, front) poses for a picture with servicemen
as he visits an airforce base near Zhytomyr, Ukraine December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    KIEV (Reuters) – Martial law, imposed on Nov. 25 in some Ukrainian areas after Russia captured three Ukrainian ships, expired on Wednesday, President Petro Poroshenko told the country’s security council.
    Poroshenko said earlier this month he did not plan to extend martial law beyond the one month initially foreseen unless there was a large scale attack from Russia.
    The Ukrainian navy ships were captured in the Kerch Strait, between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, which controls access to the Sea of Azov, where there are both Russian and Ukrainian ports.
    Moscow said the ships entered Russian waters while trying to cross the strait without prior notice, ignoring orders to stop. Kiev said its ships needed no Russian permission to cross the strait.
    Under the martial law, Ukraine banned Russian men of combat age from entering the country and boosted security at critical sites such as nuclear power stations and Black Sea ports.
    Ukraine’s military chief said this month Russia had been ramping up its forces near the border since August and now poses the greatest military threat since 2014, the year it annexed Crimea.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

12/26/2018 Russia asks West to try to calm its Kerch Strait tensions with Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian ships detained in Kerch Strait on Sunday are docked in this still image from
video released by Russian Federal Security Service November 27, 2018. Russian Federal Security Service/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Wednesday it hoped Western countries would not take part in any Ukrainian attempt to stage what it called “a provocation” near the Kerch Strait and dissuade Kiev from escalating tensions in the area.
    Ukraine said last week it planned to send warships to its Azov Sea ports via the Kerch Strait despite Russia’s seizure of three navy vessels and their crews in the area in November.
    British defense minister Gavin Williamson visited Ukraine last week where he told his Ukrainian counterpart that the Black Sea did not belong to Russia and that Britain had sent a Royal Navy ship there to show Kiev did not stand alone.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

12/28/2018 Official: Russian weapon 27 times faster than speed of sound
    Russia’s new strategic weapon has rendered any missile defenses useless at a small fraction of their cost, officials said Thursday.    The Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle flies 27 times faster than the speed of sound and is impossible to intercept, Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov told Russian state television.    The new weapon “essentially makes missile defenses useless,” he said.

12/28/2018 Albanian PM reshuffles cabinet after student protests by Benet Koleka
FILE PHOTO: Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama arrives for the second day
of a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. Tatyana Zenkovich/Pool via REUTERS
    TIRANA (Reuters) – Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama replaced eight cabinet ministers on Friday amid a wave of student and anti-corruption protests, and urged his year-old government to think harder about how to make its term “one of achievements.”
    Students seeking a halving of fees and a doubling of the university education budget have been protesting in their thousands since early December and have said they will not even talk unless the government accepts their demands in full.
    And since late November, residents whose houses are slated for demolition to make way for a ring road around the capital Tirana have also been protesting, angered still further by an illegal bid in the construction tender.
    The opposition Democratic Party joined those protests and, although the government accepted that the bid had been illegal and canceled the tender, it called for the government to resign.
    Announcing his reshuffle, Rama urged his Socialist Party to see the changes as “part of a necessary reflection to turn this mandate into one of achievements that will lead us to win a third.”
    One of the triggers for the student protests is alleged corruption in the education bureaucracy.
    The education minister will be replaced by her deputy, whose first task will be to quell the student protests, due to resume on Jan. 7, which Rama said were “still hurting” the government.
    Rama urged his party to engage with those who were angry, to “boost capacities” and to banish nepotism from public administration.
    Unimpressed with the changes, the students left a broken steering wheel and a copy of the constitution at Rama’s office.
    Rama campaigned for a second term a year ago by asking Albanians to enable him to be “alone at the wheel,” without the encumbrance of coalition allies.
    “The wheel is a symbol of the accidents Rama had as a prime minister while the constitution is to remind him of the violations of the right of every Albanian to (higher) education,” the organizers of the student protests said.
    Among the cabinet changes was the appointment of Anila Denaj, a former Finance Ministry official and commercial bank executive who now heads the fund for obligatory medical insurance, to replace Arben Ahmetaj as Finance and Economy minister.
    Belinda Balluku becomes energy minister, replacing Damian Gjiknuri; and Gent Caka, the deputy foreign minister, will step up to become minister, succeeding Ditmir Bushati.
(Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

12/28/2018 Russia and Britain to start returning diplomats in January: Russian embassy
FILE PHOTO: Russia's ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, holds a news conference
in the Russian Embassy in London, Britain, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
    LONDON (Reuters) – Moscow and London have reached an agreement to return some staff to their respective embassies after they expelled dozens of diplomats early this year, the Russian embassy said on Friday.
    The British Foreign Office and the Russian Foreign Ministry were not immediately available for comment.
    “We have reached a general agreement that we will start to restore diplomatic staff in Moscow and in London some time in January,” the TASS news agency earlier quoted Russia’s ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko as saying in a television interview.
    “I am not sure that this would happen to all employees but at least half the staff would be in place,” An embassy spokesman confirmed the remarks.
    Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats over accusations the Kremlin was behind a nerve toxin attack in March on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
    Russia, which denies any involvement in the poisoning, sent home the same number of British embassy workers in retaliation.
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge in London; Editing by Catherine Evans and John Stonestreet)

12/28/2018 Amid recognition row, Kosovo hits Serbia with more customs tariffs by Fatos Bytyci
FILE PHOTO: Kosovo's Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj talks during an interview with Reuters
in Pristina, Kosovo, October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Hazir reka
    PRISTINA (Reuters) – Kosovo’s government on Friday raised tariffs on a second layer of imports from Serbia, stepping up pressure on Belgrade to end a campaign to persuade other countries to withdraw recognition from its former province.
    Kosovo, whose mostly ethnic Albanian population declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is recognised by around 110 nations but not by Serbia, Russia or five EU states.
    The government in Pristina last month raised customs tariffs on imports of locally-made products from Serbia and Bosnia, which also does not recognise Kosovo, to 100 percent from 10 percent.
    On Friday, in a move that Serbia called “insane,” it did the same for imports of foreign-manufactured goods from the two countries.
    Justifying the step, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said Serbia’s derecognition drive was an “act of aggression.”
    Kosovar officials told Reuters a handful of countries had withdrawn their decision to recognise Kosovo.
    Serbia, which has also been active in preventing Kosovo from joining the United Nations, criticised the tariff move.
    “We are for a free trade, normal relation and equal chances for all. What they are doing is insane,” Marko Djuric, head of the Serbian government’s Office for Kosovo, said on state-run RTS TV.    “Pristina has declared war on major global brands.”
    The foreign goods affected by Friday’s move include Coca Cola and products by Nestle and Austrian juice maker Rauch.
    In the month since the first 100 percent tariffs were introduced, imports from Serbia and Bosnia imports fell to a combined 290,000 euros from 35 million euros a year ago.
    In 2017, Serbia’s exports to Kosovo totalled 450 million euros ($515 million) and Bosnia’s 80 million euros.
    Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia – along with 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.
    The EU said Kosovo’s move was a clear violation of the CEFTA agreement.
    Kosovo declared independence a decade after a NATO bombing campaign to end the killing of Albanian civilians by Serb forces during a two-year insurgency.
(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; editing by John Stonestreet)

12/28/2018 Merkel, Macron demand Russia release Ukrainian seamen
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly
cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
    BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron demanded on Friday that Russia release Ukrainian sailors who were seized along with their ships last month.
    Moscow accused the 24 sailors of illegally crossing the Russian border.    Ukraine said Russia captured the two small gunboats and one tugboat illegally and accused Moscow of military aggression.
    “We demand safe, free and unimpeded transit for all ships through the Kerch Strait and the immediate and unconditional release of all illegally detained Ukrainian seafarers,” Merkel and Macron said in a joint statement.
(Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Maria Sheahan)

12/29/2018 Thousands protest against Serbian president by Aleksandar Vasovic
Demonstrators attend an anti-government protest in central Belgrade, Serbia, December 29, 2018. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
    BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbians protested against President Aleksandar Vucicruling Serbian Progressive Party in downtown Belgrade on Saturday.
    Thousands of people chanted “Vucic thief” as they marched peacefully through the city center in the fourth such protest in as many weeks.    They demanded media freedoms, an end to attacks on journalists and opposition politicians.
    Backers of the Alliance for Serbia, an opposition grouping of 30 parties and organizations, say Vucic is an autocrat and his party is corrupt, something its leaders vehemently deny.
    In an interview with the pro-government Studio B TV during the protest, Vucic said he was ready to discuss the opposition demands.
    “I am ready to look at what causes dissent of the people,” he said, after being jeered by a group of protesters as he entered the television station building.
    Vucic earlier suggested he was willing to test his party’s popularity in a snap vote, although Vuk Jeremic, a former foreign minister and the head of the small People’s Party, part of the alliance, said the opposition would boycott any election.
    “There will be no legitimate elections in Serbia with the participation of the opposition until after normal conditions for elections and living are created,” Jeremic said.
    According to a poll by the Belgrade-based CESID election watchdog in October, Vucic’s SNS enjoys the backing of 53.3 percent of electorate while other parties are trailing far behind.
    If the opposition ran as an alliance, rather than individual parties, they could count on around 15 percent of the vote.    Their joint participation in a vote has yet to be agreed and so far they are only united in their animosity to Vucic and his party.
    The SNS-led ruling coalition has a comfortable majority of 160 deputies in the 250-seat parliament.    The next national election is due in 2020.
    Major opposition protests have been relatively rare in Serbia since the popular unrest that ousted former strongman Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
    Most of current opposition leaders served in successive pro-Western coalitions that led Serbia between 2000 and 2012 when SNS forged a coalition with Milosevic’s Socialists and came to power.
    A nationalist firebrand during the violent collapse of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Vucic later embraced pro-European values and set Serbia’s membership in the European Union as the country’s strategic goal.    He also maintains close ties with Russia and China
.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/29/2018 Russia, Turkey discuss coordination in Syria after U.S. withdrawal
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends news conference after talks on forming a
constitutional committee in Syria, at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Foreign and defense ministers from Russia and Turkey discussed coordination between their forces in Syria after the United States’ decision to withdraw troops from the Arab republic, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday.
    “Today, an understanding was reached on how military representatives of Russia and Turkey will continue coordinating their steps 'on the ground' under new conditions with a view to the ultimate eradication of the terrorist threat in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Lavrov said.
    In an abrupt policy shift, Trump has said that Washington would withdraw roughly 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, upending a pillar of American policy in the Middle East and alarming U.S. allies.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by David Evans)

12/29/2018 Russia widens ban on Ukrainian imports in tit-for-tat sanctions row
Ships are seen in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Ukraine November 30, 2018. Picture taken November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia expanded a ban on imported goods from Ukraine on Saturday, saying it would halt some $500 million worth of annual imports of mainly industrial products in retaliation for economic sanctions by Kiev.
    Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the government to prepare a list of measures against Ukraine after Kiev announced economic sanctions on a list of Russian companies and business figures.
    Relations between Ukraine and Russia went into freefall after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the subsequent outbreak of a pro-Russian insurgency in the eastern Donbass region.
    Since then, Russia has banned imports of beer, vodka, juice, wallpaper and confectionery from Ukraine.
    Moscow said on Saturday items included in the new ban included industrial goods as well as some agricultural products, raw materials and food.
    “Ukraine periodically imposes sanctions against both Russian individuals and legal entities, and for specific Russian goods,” a Russian government statement said.
    “Since the introduction of measures to ban imports from Russia of certain types of agricultural products, the Ukrainian sanctions list has been expanded to 18 types of products,” it added.
    Russia’s Economy Ministry said on Saturday in a comment on the government decree that the value of Ukrainian goods included in the updated ban was estimated at around $510 million in 2018.
    Ukraine has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization challenging the Russian trade curbs on its beverages and sweets.
(Reporting by Andrey Kuzmin and Darya Korsunskaya; Editing by Katya Golubkova)

12/30/2018 Russian army to get new missile complex S-350 Vityaz in 2019
People watch S-300 air defense missile systems launching missiles 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
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia will in 2019 deploy the S-350 Vityaz new generation short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile complex, the Russian Defence Ministry said on Sunday, in a long-planned move to replace its ageing S-300 system.
    The ministry also said that the Russian military had deployed Pantsir-S and S-400 complexes in 2018 in Crimea, annexed from Ukraine in 2014, as well as in its Arctic region, the Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic Sea, and in its easternmost Khabarovsk region.
    Russia has been flexing its military muscles abroad in recent years, and its involvement in the Syrian conflict and Ukraine has soured relations with the West.
    In a dispute over a separate, longer range missile system, Washington has threatened to pull out of the landmark 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), alleging that a new Russian missile, the Novator 9M729 (called SSC-8 by NATO), violates the pact.
    The landmark arms control treaty bans either side from stationing short and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe.    Russia says denies the missile violates the INF and accuses the United States of inventing a false pretext to exit the treaty in order to develop new missiles.
    President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would deploy its first regiment of hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles next year, saying the move meant his country now had a new type of strategic weapon.
    Vityaz (Knight) is a short-to-mid range surface-to-air defence missile system, developed by Almaz-Antey Air and Space Defence Corporation.
    The Kremlin said in March Russia would cut its defence budget to less than 3 percent of gross domestic product within the next five years.
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

12/31/2018 Putin tells Trump in New Year’s letter he’s open to meeting
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has told President Donald Trump in a New Year’s letter that the Kremlin is “open to dialogue” on the myriad issues hindering relations between their countries.
    The Kremlin published a summary of Putin’s “greeting message” to Trump on Sunday.    The summary states the Russian leader wrote: “Russia-U.S. relations are the most important factor behind ensuring strategic stability and international security.”
    The message to Trump was among dozens of holiday greetings Putin sent to other world leaders, each tailored to reflect a bilateral theme.

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