Jack Delano Workman at Chicago & North Western repair shops, Chicago, IL Dec 1942
In 8 weeks, on October 26, there are – supposed to be – parliamentary elections in Ukraine. What’s that going to look like? Who’s going to vote? In the presidential elections a few months ago, most of east Ukraine did not vote. How many different ways are there to define democracy and still remain credible?
In an interview today on Russian Channel 1, Vladimir Putin commented on the upcoming elections: “All the participants in the electoral race will want to show how cool they are; Everyone will want to show they are strongmen or strongwomen, and as the political struggle sharpens it is hard to expect anyone to seek a peaceful resolution and not a military one.” That would seem to be an accurate prediction.
The EU yesterday (in yet another definition of democracy) picked its new president. They chose Polish PM Donald Tusk, which may seem a bit strange since Tusk doesn’t speak a word of either English or French, and he comes from a nation that is not even in the Eurozone, yet he will now now get to chair meetings that concern the euro. But Tusk is a hawk on Russia, and therefore suspiciously convenient to the inner core of Washington and Brussels’ control apparatus. He’s said more bad and ugly things about Russia and Putin than just about anyone recently, and that’s saying something.
The US and EU have worked for years to see their desire to take over Ukraine come to fruition. They’ve come a long way, but they wanted Crimea and the Donbass region most of all, and those they still don’t have. Still, they’ve so far shown themselves more than willing to assist first in killing thousands of eastern Ukrainians to get what they want, and now they are prepared to start a war over it.
The well-prepared, built-up step by step, storyline in the western press is the threat of Russia’s expansionary drift. Hence this Reuters piece:
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said that Vladimir Putin is trying to build a new Russian empire for Moscow and that the region now had to choose whether it wanted “a Cossack Europe or a democratic one”. “Russia has carried out an invasion in Ukraine,” the Polish head of state told German public radio. Komorowski said Putin was quite open about his ambitions to “rebuild the empire”. The Polish president is an ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. “I hope Germans are sufficiently mindful of what a Soviet empire meant for Europe,” Komorowski told Deutschlandradio Kultur and Deutschlandfunk, warning against any reprise of the pre-World War Two “appeasement policy of yielding to Hitler”.
That’s the kind of thing where I go: Huh? Did I see that right? You try to scare the Germans by referring to a Russia that by now has been history for almost 25 years, a Russia that was instrumental in saving Europe from the Third Reich and lost 20-30 million people in the process, by reminding them of an 80-year old policy of appeasement to Hitler? The Germans?
When we look at what has actually happened over the past decade, and what we can prove when it comes to expansion drift, that is without a doubt a painfully hollow story. Since what we actually do know, what is not mere conjecture, is that it has instead been the west, through NATO, that has been in expansion mood.
Despite solid agreements not to move NATO’s borders eastward, the alliance has done nothing but move east, and is now planning to put even more troops and new army bases right on Russia’s doorstep. The narrative to justify this NATO expansion that breaches those former agreements, which we can see time and again, is that Russia is moving west, for which there is no proof, only accusations, and that NATO territory is inviolable, but Ukraine is not a NATO member.
No NATO territory is under threat of being violated, other than inside the narrative. Moreover, while voices in Europe increasingly claim that the threat to Ukraine is a threat to Europe (i.e. the EU), Ukraine is no more an EU member than it is a NATO member. Brussels seems to want it to be, but that’s where the narrative ends. So it’s simply being changed on the fly and has now become: “Ukraine is fighting a war on behalf of all Europe”, according Lithuanian leader Dalia Grybauskaite.
Which is where I think: really, Ukraine has killed over 2000 of its own citizens ‘on behalf of Europe’?
The entire conflict could be solved in a heartbeat if Kiev would simply tell the Donbass leadership that they can be autonomous. But that’s not what Poroshenko wants, or Yatsenyuk, and certainly not Washington and Brussels. Because the Donbass is by far the richest region in Ukraine. Which however happens to be home to people who don’t want to be ruled by the present Kiev leadership. Well, so you kill a bunch of them and instill fear in the rest, right?
Putin had something to say about that too, first in Agence France Presse’s version of his Channel 1 interview:
Russian President Vladimir Putin today sharply raised the stakes in the Ukraine conflict by calling for the first time for statehood to be considered for the restive east of the former Soviet state. Mr Putin’s defiant remarks came just hours after the EU gave Moscow – which the bloc accuses of direct involvement in the insurgency – a week to change course or face new sanctions. “We need to immediately begin substantive talks… on questions of the political organisation of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine … ”
And then the way RT reported it:
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on Kiev to start substantial talks on deescalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine. He added that it’s an illusion to expect that the rebels would calmly watch their homes being destroyed. “We have agreed on a plan, so its realization must be pursued,” Putin told Channel 1 TV, adding that the Ukrainian government “must immediately start substantial talks – not a technical discussion – on the political organization of society and the state in southeast Ukraine so that the interests of people who live there are protected.” The plan, according to Russia’s leader, puts negotiations at the center of the peace process.[..]
The devastated infrastructure of the southeast requires full repair otherwise people might just freeze to death, he said. “It looks as if only Russia cares about that. The first most essential condition is to stop combat operations and begin reconstruction of the infrastructure, replenish inventories, do the necessary repairs and scheduled maintenance to be ready for the cold season.” [..]
Commenting on the new batch of sanctions against Russia threatened by western countries, Putin advised his counterparts to think again about what they are advocating. “What are the so-called European values then? Support for an armed coup, suppression of opponents with armed forces – so these are ‘European values’? I believe our colleagues should be reminded of their own ideals … ”
In the meantime, the rumors and allegations don’t just continue, they get stronger. Evidence hasn’t been a factor is this game for a long time, and it is not now. Just today, I’ve seen 2 Russian ladies who say 100 Russian troops died in a battle earlier this month, Kiev claiming that Russian tanks ‘flattened’ an entire village, and Ukraine soldiers saying their comrades who were given safe passage after being trapped, were shot at.
It just never stops, or so it seems. We’ve been subject so far to a tsunami of allegations and accusations, and 99%+ of them have come with zero evidence. But now we risk being pulled into a outright war despite the lack of evidence. Really, it’s come to this: we’re asking for just one piece of evidence for all the accusations we’ve been made party to. Just the one!
Essentially, the western leadership is saying that if the ‘Donbass rebels’, and Russia, won’t let the Ukraine army do just what it wants in east Ukraine, there will be war. But it’s not our leaders who are going to be the boots on the ground. And because Obama has pledged no US military involvement in Ukraine – though CIA, Blackwater and who knows who else, are present anyway -, it will have to be European boots on the ground in Ukraine.
Perhaps prior to the official war declaration our politicians and media can tell us where the remains of the BUK rocket are that’s alleged to have downed MH17, where the contents are of the black boxes, and where the Air Traffic Control conversations with the pilots are which were allegedly confiscated by the Ukraine secret service on July 17.
It’s perhaps hard to remember due to the misinformation tsunami, but the MH17 has been a major driver of the western public’s anger vs Russia, and their acceptance of sanctions and other decisions, and now the threat of war. While it still may just as well not have been the Donbass rebels who shot that plane, but the Ukraine army, or Blackwater or the CIA. We simply don’t know.
The west says that the war in east Ukraine is caused by Russia’s support for the rebels. Just like the overriding narrative today is that the west reacts to what Russia does, while in reality it’s the other way around.
The entire Ukraine conflict could be resolved tomorrow morning if Kiev, and its western support, would pledge to stop waging war on the Donbass. And give it a separate status, either within Ukraine or in a separate state. After half a year+ of warfare, how else could you resolve this crisis? Only through more bloodshed, that’s how.
But our western leadership is simply too trigger happy for comfort. Based on only hints and allegations. There’s a NATO conference in Wales this week; Obama, Merkel, they’ll all be there. I suggest you just watch and listen what comes out of that. It won’t be pretty. Peace will not be a commonly used term there. While for all of us, and all the civilians in the Donbass, that’s all we want.
But these clowns are dragging us into war. And yes, maybe it would be a good idea for you to tell them that you don’t want them to. Before your kids, or their friends, their neighbors, start dying in some far away ugly theater they should never have been part of.
Is peace impossible in Ukraine today? No. Not at all. But it is as long as the west keeps its hopes for conquering the Donbass alive. It should have known that from the start, and perhaps it did, and started this crusade anyway, because the grand prize it’s after is Russia itself. Over our dead bodies.
Emmanuel Macron had been in his new job less than 48 hours when he dropped his bombshell. Picked by François Hollande to be economy minister after a row over austerity prompted a reshuffle, the young investment banker suggested that France could consider an end to its hallowed 35-hour week. Was this Hollande’s “Clause IV moment”, analysts wondered? Was the French president about to show his commitment to economic reform by abandoning a totemic policy, as Tony Blair did on becoming Labour leader in 1994? Not really, it emerged. Laurent Berger, head of France’s largest trade union, the CFDT, made it clear that organised labour would not tolerate the scrapping of the 35-hour week. Macron, he said, had “made a mistake” and, as far as the unions were concerned, “the subject is closed”. That seemed to go for the government too, which quickly rowed back from Macron’s suggestion. A spokesman for the prime minister, Manuel Valls, said: “The government has no intention of going back on the legal length of the working week.”
Another view was that France is having its “sick man of Europe” moment. In a crowded field, the eurozone’s second-biggest economy has beaten off the challengers for the crown of the most problematic country on the continent. Spain and Greece have held this dubious honour – as did Britain, of course, in the 1970s. Italy has held it off and on for decades; there was even a brief period when the mantle fell on Germany. Now it is France’s turn under the spotlight. The symptoms are clear enough. Unemployment is more than 10%; the country has not managed two successive quarters of economic growth since Hollande arrived at the Elysée Palace more than two years ago. Weak growth is putting a strain on the public finances. Its industry is less competitive than that of neighbouring Germany, which has led to job losses and factory closures.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls reiterated on Sunday calls for the European Central Bank to go “further” in tackling the problem of an overvalued euro. Speaking at a Socialist party gathering in La Rochelle, Valls said the ECB’s June decision to cut interest rates was a “strong signal” but more was needed. “The ECB is finally acting to sustain growth, but it must go even further,” Valls said. On Thursday, Socialist President Francois Hollande cited the deflationary risk from the weakened euro and said the ECB needed to do more to fight it and boost growth. ECB President Mario Draghi hinted last week that weak euro zone growth and inflation could push the body to implement a broad-based asset purchase program.
Did German Chancellor Angela Merkel blink? Giving the keynote speech at the triennial meeting of Nobel economists in the Bavarian resort of Lindau last week, Merkel expressed an uncharacteristic moment of doubt. She asked how economics could get things so wrong in failing to predict the financial crisis or the consequences of subsequent policies. Perhaps, she suggested, the economic theories were wrong. “You could also say, we didn’t listen correctly,” she continued. “Or you could say we listened to the wrong people.” Yes, yes — all of the above. Merkel, whose academic background is in chemistry, relied on the wrong people for economic advice, starting with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann, but including virtually all of Germany’s economic “wise men” and think tanks, which remain mired in obsolete economic theories. Merkel observed that some economist somewhere probably predicted each of the events that came to pass, but the “majority” certainly did not, and who is a politician to believe?
Could it be that Merkel is finally ready to listen to the growing criticism of Germany’s insistence on fiscal austerity in Europe? Is she to acknowledging that she has been getting bad advice and is ready to change course? Don’t get your hopes up. The expression of doubt turns out to be rhetorical and the rest of her speech falls into the scolding and boasting that characterizes the official German approach to the disaster that is the euro crisis. There are flaws in the construction of the European Union, Merkel complained, which allow each of the euro-zone countries to set their own fiscal and economic policy. “Each of these 18 euro countries has a national parliament that by no means follows every recommendation of the European Commission or European Central Bank in determining their budget,” she said. The answer, according to her, is sanctions. The problem arises because the EU has no way of sanctioning countries that fail to keep their promises, but it is her “firm conviction” that must change.
Then comes the boasting. “Germany’s experience has been that we can combine fiscal consolidation and growth very well together,” she said. “We were able to consolidate our finances — living and working with a balanced budget provision in our constitution — and at the same time create significantly more employment in the last 10 years.” She remains blissfully oblivious to the fact — because she does indeed listen to the wrong people – that much of Germany’s success is due directly to the uneven playing field created by euro. Can anyone detect a change of heart in these remarks?
On a beach in north Devon a group of women demonstrate their skills with hula-hoops as part of a fitness class led by Marcela Almond, 35. She is one of the new self-employed, a group of people often viewed as another sign of the reviving fortunes of the British economy. Employment continues to rise, while unemployment fell to 6.4% last month, the lowest since 2008. Part of the story of the growth in employment is that 40% of the jobs created since 2010 are the result of a shift to self-employment, making the UK the self-employed capital of western Europe. Almond wasn’t always self-employed. She was a lecturer in the performing arts at Barnstaple College for five years until she was made redundant in November 2012. “For months I couldn’t even get a job cleaning,” she says. “It was demoralising.” In March last year she used £2,000 of her redundancy money to retrain as a fitness instructor and set up her own business, Almond Tree Arts. “I’ve got a group of lovely ladies, but it’s a struggle.”
She works two days a week in an office, earning £350 a month, and her classes can bring in £400 a month. But she says: “If it’s a sunny day, I may have paid £10 for the hire of the hall and have only two ladies paying £5 each in a class, so it’s unpredictable.” Her income as a lecturer was £32,000 a year. Now it’s £9,000, without holiday or sick pay and no state benefits. She has remortgaged the house. Her partner, a qualified mechanic, earns £7.50 an hour (one in four people in Devon earn less than the living wage, set at £7.65 outside London and £8.80 in London). “I work 12-hour days and still money is a constant worry. Our boiler broke last year so we had no heating all winter. It looks as if we won’t have heating this winter either.” Entrepreneurship is the pulse of a thriving economy but, according to the thinktank the Resolution Foundation, one in four who, like Almond, became self-employed in the last five years would rather work for a boss; their situation is involuntary.
As employers use ever more aggressive tactics to reduce labour costs and restrict collective action, productivity is suffering and patterns of employment initially viewed as temporary are becoming permanent. The gap between the richest and the rest widens. This is not unique to the UK. The lack of money in the pockets of the many – who spend proportionately more than the wealthy – has led many experts to cite it as a fundamental crisis in capitalism. In the US, economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich support the analysis of Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, which states that squeezing the majority while allowing the richest to accrue unprecedented levels of wealth does not create “a rising tide that lifts all boats”. On the contrary, unrestrained capitalism that ignores the rules of fair play in employment destroys its own customer. In his documentary Inequality for All, Reich points out that 70% of the US economy is dependent on consumer spending. The problem is that more and more people have less and less money to spend.
In America, middle-class wages have stayed the same or fallen since the 1970s. American billionaire Nick Hanauer, who describes himself as “one of the “.01%-ers”, is now a supporter of the Seattle $15 minimum wage (compared with $7.25 elsewhere in the US). He asks why it is that the CEO-to-worker pay ratio since the 1950s has risen by a staggering 1,000%. He warns: “I see pitchforks … it is the masses that are the source of growth and prosperity, not us rich guys.” This story of wage stagflation and the working poor is just as applicable in Britain. Beyond chancellor George Osborne’s talk of economic recovery, the stories are legion of families and communities across the whole of Britain who are only just managing to keep afloat. No matter how often Osborne says it, it doesn’t make it true. Large numbers of Britons are not in recovery. The gulf between those getting by and those getting on grows each month.
Ecuador is planning to create the world’s first digital currency issued by the country’s central bank, in what is seen by many as a step to abandon the US dollar, the currency now used by the Central American country. The currency is expected to start circulating in December, according to the country’s Central Bank. The technical details or the name of the currency have not been revealed, although the officials stated that it would not be a crypto-currency like Bitcoin. The new currency is expected to co-exist with the US dollar, the current official money Ecuador uses, and will be channeled for 2.8 million people in the country – 40% of the participants in the economy – who are too poor to afford the usual banking. Use of the currency will be voluntary, and it will not be used to pay the state employees.
It will be possible to make and get payments via cellphones, Central Bank’s deputy director Gustavo Solorzano told AP. The software needed for the currency to function is already being used by cellphone companies, according to the official responsible for the currency, Fausto Valencia. The country’s President Rafael Correa declared that the only issue with the plan is that it has taken so long, defending it against “pseudo-analysts who have appeared in the media trying to smear (it).” Correa denied any plan to replace the US dollar. Last month, other digital currencies like Bitcoin which are not approved by the state were prohibited in Ecuador by the country’s National Assembly.
The European Union picked Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as president and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as chief diplomat in a bitterly fought contest that reflected the bloc’s divisions over the handling of Russia. Tusk, 57, who will run EU summits, has called for a tough response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine; Mogherini, 41, faced criticism in eastern Europe for seeking an accommodation with the Kremlin. The 28-nation EU sent the mixed message late yesterday as the war in eastern Ukraine intensified, indicating that — as in the euro debt crisis — clashing national interests will determine European policies while the Brussels-based central leadership plays at best a coordinating role.
“That’s what Europe is like: various politicians have various levels of sensitivity and various points of view regarding various conflicts,” Tusk told reporters. He vowed to strive for an “intelligent compromise” on the array of crises confronting the EU. Balancing geography and political party affiliation was a prime consideration in the appointments. Tusk is a conservative from the east, Mogherini a socialist from the south. Together they will form a “dynamic duo,” said Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb. “The goal hasn’t been to find a hard-hitting individual: the process is aimed at finding people who have no political enemies,” said Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy in Brussels.
The European Union has warned that the apparent incursion of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil pushes the conflict closer to a point of no return, with new economic sanctions being drawn up to make Moscow reconsider its position. The Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, who briefed a summit of the 28-nation EU’s leaders in Brussels, said a strong response was needed to the “military aggression and terror” facing his country. “Thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine,” Poroshenko told reporters in English. “There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole peace and stability of Europe.” However, because several EU nations fear the fallout of sanctions on their own economies, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the required unanimity would be reached for immediate punitive measures, or whether the leaders would set Russia another ultimatum.
Lithuanian leader Dalia Grybauskaite insisted Russia’s meddling in Ukraine, which seeks closer ties with the EU, amounts to a direct confrontation that requires stronger sanctions. “Russia is practically at war against Europe,” she said, also in English. Calling on EU countries to supply Kiev with military equipment, she went on: “That means we need to help Ukraine to … defend its territory and its people and to help militarily, especially with the military materials to help Ukraine defend itself because today Ukraine is fighting a war on behalf of all Europe.”
Nato estimates that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine even though Russia denies any military involvement in the fighting that has according to the UN claimed 2,600 lives. David Cameron also warned that Europe cannot be complacent about Russian troops on Ukrainian soil. “Countries in Europe shouldn’t have to think long before realising just how unacceptable that is,” he said. “We know that from our history. So consequences must follow.” Poroshenko told reporters that he believed efforts to halt the violence were “very close to a point of no return,” warning that failure could lead to a “full-scale war.”
European Union leaders agreed to impose tougher sanctions on Russia, possibly targeting energy and finance, if the conflict in Ukraine worsens. Leaders early today gave the European Commission a week to deliver proposals for the penalties. The EU left open the precise trigger for further sanctions, contrasting with a four-point ultimatum issued to Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 27 that preceded the latest curbs. “The situation has very much escalated over the last two days and if this continues we will decide on further sanctions within the week,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the summit in Brussels. The meeting took place as Ukraine’s armed forces are retreating in some areas after NATO said Russia deployed troops and advanced equipment in Ukraine. “We have many places where the situation is difficult now,” Oleksandr Danylyuk, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, told reporters in Kiev yesterday. Russia denies that it’s involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
“We are close to the point of no return,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters at the EU summit. “Thousands of foreign troops and hundreds of foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine.” Earlier, EU leaders selected Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as the bloc’s next president and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as chief diplomat after a bitter contest that showed the 28-nation EU’s divisions on how to deal with the Kremlin. Tusk has pushed for tougher sanctions on Russia while Mogherini has favored diplomacy. Leaders also met with Poroshenko. The EU and the U.S. have already slapped visa bans and asset freezes on Russian individuals and companies, and since July have imposed steadily tougher sanctions targeting the country’s energy, finance and defense industries.
Merkel said the EU is looking at more measures to target Russia’s energy and finance industry. Leaders disagreed about possible military assistance to Ukraine, with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite telling reporters before the meeting: “We need militarily to support and send military materials to Ukraine.” Merkel said she opposes sending arms to Ukraine because it would be a signal the conflict has a military solution. “But I don’t think that,” she said. Ukraine’s Poroshenko called for military and technical assistance from the EU. He said there will be a trilateral contact group meeting tomorrow with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Ukrainian ex-President Leonid Kuchma and Russian ambassador Mikhail Zurabov.
Talks will focus on Ukrainian “hostages” held in Russia, the OSCE monitoring mission, and “I cross my fingers, I hope it will be a cease-fire,” he said, adding that he expects to publish a draft peace plan next week.
European Commission President Jose Barroso said that more than 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) in loans could be released to Ukraine in the coming months. This is part of the 11 billion euro package announced earlier.
“We are ready to consider further financial assistance should additional needs be identified by the International Monetary Fund during its next review mission,” he said.
Russia is not waging war in Ukraine’s east, and is not supplying rebels with military equipment, according to Russian deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov. The anti-Kiev forces get their arms at old Soviet storages – same as government troops do. “Surely, Russia doesn’t wage any war. Vladimir Putin’s policy is aimed at not allowing the situation to develop according to the worst-case scenario. There are, unfortunately, forces that try to push two peoples against each other to start a real war between Russia and Ukraine,” Antonov said, speaking with journalists in Slovakia. Addressing the claims that Russia supplies weapons to the eastern Ukrainian self-defense forces, he explained where the militia may get their weaponry from. “First, one shouldn’t forget that Ukraine used to be a part of the Soviet Union. There were many weapon storages on the territory of the Soviet Union, so when Ukraine and Russia became independent states, clearly some storages remained on Ukrainian territory.
“Currently, in the region engulfed by this disaster, by the bloodshed, where the “punishment” operation is being carried out by Kiev against its own people, some of these storages have been seized by the self-defense forces. That’s why saying that Russians supplied the weapons to Lugansk and Donetsk is simply incorrect. Look at the Ukrainian army’s weaponry. It’s fighting with the Russian weapons – or, more precisely, with Soviet weapons,” Antonov said. Ukrainian servicemen ride in an armoured vehicle near Debaltseve, Donetsk region, August 29, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich)Ukrainian servicemen ride in an armoured vehicle near Debaltseve, Donetsk region, August 29, 2014. (Reuters/Gleb Garanich) Another source is operational trophies, the deputy defense minister said. “The self-defense forces seize large amounts of National Guard’s and the Ukrainian army’s weapons. Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers fled into Russia, leaving the weapons they used to own,” he added.
The cost of the war – be it “anti-terrorist operation” as Kiev puts it or a “military operation for protecting East Ukraine civilians” as the rebel forces have it – comes at a cost. To Russia, it is a stream of refugees, who “didn’t enter our territory just to “visit their grannies”,” Antonov said. More than 130,000 Ukrainians have asked for either refugee status or temporary asylum in Russia since the conflict in the country’s east started in April, according to the Federal Migration Service, while some 820,000 Ukrainian citizens have moved to Russia. “Those who come to Russia need to be given medical aid, provided with a job… There is no lighting, morgues and the sewage doesn’t function, there is no water, the people choke because of the unbelievable damage that the Kiev government has done. In this situation, we couldn’t be uninvolved…” Antonov said.
Blacklisting Russian individuals and targeting the country’s economy is but an emotional step the EU took after an apparent instruction from the US, Russian State Duma speaker Sergey Naryshkin told RT. But Moscow hasn’t sought to even the score, he added. Naryshkin called the personalized sanctions imposed on Russian MPs, including Naryshkin himself, by European counterparts “strange, or even absurd” since Europeans “have always prided themselves on their democratic tradition,” while the personalized sanctions are “absolutely at odds” with that. “Our partners keep saying that it’s very important to hear Russia’s stance on this highly complex situation that presents a threat to Europe. But then they go ahead and limit their own ability to maintain contact and dialogue with the Russian side, and specifically Russian MPs,” Naryshkin said, adding that sanctions are not the “end of the world.”
“We should convey our point of view to the European public and our colleagues – the MPs – through every possible means, including the media and the contacts we MPs – and I – personally have,” the speaker said. No sanctions or restrictions could possibly isolate Russia, Naryshkin said, recalling American President Barack Obama proudly reporting that he had “isolated Russia” while addressing officers at West Point Military Academy. “But just a few weeks after that Moscow hosted a conference, the International Parliamentary Forum, attended by MPs, experts, researchers and NGO representatives from 71 countries,” Naryshkin said. “An extensive and open dialogue is our response and our strategy.”
Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said that Vladimir Putin is trying to build a new Russian empire for Moscow and that the region now had to choose whether it wanted “a Cossack Europe or a democratic one”. “Russia has carried out an invasion in Ukraine,” the Polish head of state told German public radio, according to excerpts of an interview to be broadcast later on Saturday. Komorowski said Putin was quite open about his ambitions to “rebuild the empire”. The Cossacks long served Russian czars in military and security roles on the borders of the empire and their brand of Russian Orthodox patriotism is admired by Putin.
The Polish president, whose post is largely ceremonial but does give him a say in foreign policy, is an ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk from the centrist Civic Platform (PO). “I hope Germans are sufficiently mindful of what a Soviet empire meant for Europe,” Komorowski told Deutschlandradio Kultur and Deutschlandfunk, warning against any reprise of the pre-World War Two “appeasement policy of yielding to Hitler”. “First the challenge was Crimea, now it is about further regions of Ukraine and everyone is asking where it will end,” he said, reiterating a call from Poland and the Baltic states in particular for NATO’s eastern flank to be reinforced. NATO member Poland is one of the most outspoken critics of Putin’s support for pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine. This week the rebels opened a new front against government forces, a reversal Kiev blames on the arrival of Russian troops.
China’s parliament said on Sunday it will tightly control the nomination of candidates for a landmark election in Hong Kong in 2017, a move likely to trigger mass protests in the city’s Central business district by disappointed democracy activists. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) said it had endorsed a framework to let only two or three candidates run in a 2017 vote for Hong Kong’s next leader. All candidates must first obtain majority backing from a nominating committee likely to be stacked with Beijing loyalists.
The relatively tough decision by the NPC – China’s final arbiter on the city’s democratic affairs – makes it almost impossible for opposition democrats to get on the ballot. “This is a legal, fair and reasonable decision. It is a dignified, prudent decision, and its legal effect is beyond doubt,” Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the NPC standing committee, told reporters after the decision. Hundreds of “Occupy Central” activists, who demand Beijing allow a real, free election, will this evening hold a small protest to formally launch their campaign of civil disobedience, that will climax with a blockade the city’s business district.
The extremists who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq have riveted the world’s attention with their military prowess and unrestrained brutality. But Western intelligence services are also worried about their extraordinary command of seemingly less lethal weapons: state-of-the-art videos, ground images shot from drones and multilingual Twitter messages. ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is using every contemporary mode of messaging to recruit fighters, intimidate enemies and promote its claim to have established a caliphate, a unified Muslim state run according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. If its bigotry and beheadings seem to come from a distant century, its use of media is up to the moment. A review of its prodigious output in print and online reveals a number of surprises.
ISIS propaganda, for instance, has strikingly few calls for attacks on the West, even though its most notorious video, among Americans, released 12 days ago, showed the beheading of the American journalist James Foley, threatened another American hostage, and said that American attacks on ISIS “would result in the bloodshed” of Americans. This diverged from nearly all of ISIS’s varied output, which promotes its paramount goal: to secure and expand the Islamic state. Experts say that could change overnight, but for now it sharply distinguishes ISIS from Al Qaeda, which has long made attacks on the West its top priority. And while ISIS may be built on bloodshed, it seems intent on demonstrating the bureaucratic acumen of the state that it claims to be building. Its two annual reports so far are replete with a sort of jihadist-style bookkeeping, tracking statistics on everything from “cities taken over” and “knife murders” committed by ISIS forces to “checkpoints set up” and even “apostates repented.”
Iceland has raised its aviation warning level after a fresh eruption from a fissure near the Bardarbunga volcano. However, Iceland’s Met Office described the eruption as “a very calm lava eruption” which could “hardly be seen on seismometers”. The warning means planes will be banned from flying within 6,000 feet of the volcano peak. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, producing ash that disrupted air travel across Europe. Sunday’s eruption in the Holuhraun lava field area was “calm but continuous”, authorities said. It happened in roughly the same place as an earlier eruption on Friday morning, and is the third to happen in the area in the last week. The latest eruption is more intense than Friday’s with around 10 times more lava said Armann Hoskuldssonk, a geologist from the University of Iceland.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on Kiev to start substantial talks on deescalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine. He added that it’s an illusion to expect that the rebels would calmly watch their homes being destroyed. “We have agreed on a plan, so its realization must be pursued,” Putin told Channel 1 TV, adding that the Ukrainian government “must immediately start substantial talks – not a technical discussion – on the political organization of society and the state in southeast Ukraine so that the interests of people who live there are protected.” The plan, according to Russia’s leader, puts negotiations at the center of the peace process. In a clear reference to the toppling of Viktor Yanukovich by the Maidan movement in February, Putin said that mistakes such as a power takeover should be avoided and called it the main cause of today’s crisis. The Russian president called on Kiev to consider the upcoming autumn and winter period and think about the heating season.
The devastated infrastructure of the southeast requires full repair otherwise people might just freeze to death, he said. “It looks as if only Russia cares about that. The first most essential condition is to stop combat operations and begin reconstruction of the infrastructure, replenish inventories, do the necessary repairs and scheduled maintenance to be ready for the cold season.” Putin said that, while the resolution of the crisis now mostly depends on Kiev, it is impossible to say when it may end. He said it could be explained by the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dismissed the country’s parliament on August 25 and called parliamentary elections for October 26. “All the participants in the electoral race will want to show how cool they are,” Putin said. “Everyone will want to show they are strongmen or strongwomen, and as the political struggle sharpens it is hard to expect anyone to seek a peaceful resolution and not a military one.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin today sharply raised the stakes in the Ukraine conflict by calling for the first time for statehood to be considered for the restive east of the former Soviet state. Mr Putin’s defiant remarks came just hours after the EU gave Moscow — which the bloc accuses of direct involvement in the insurgency — a week to change course or face new sanctions. “We need to immediately begin substantive talks… on questions of the political organisation of society and statehood in southeastern Ukraine,” the Russian leader was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying. Moscow has previously called only for greater rights under a decentralised federal system to be accorded to the eastern regions of Ukraine, where predominantly Russian-speakers live.
Mr Putin has sparked renewed speculation that he may be seeking to create a statelet in southeast Ukraine, after he employed a loaded Tsarist-era name, “Novorossiya”, to refer to the region. Mr Putin’s tough talk also comes as rebels turned the tide on advancing Ukrainian troops, by snatching a series of towns and trapping the army in some. Kiev has warned that it was on the brink of “full-scale war” with Moscow that Europe fears would put all of the continent at risk of conflict. The EU agreed to take “further significant steps” if Moscow did not rein in its support for the rebels, with new sanctions to be drawn up within a week. Kiev said the invigorated rebel push of the past days has included substantial numbers of Russian regular army contingents who are concentrating forces in big towns across the region.