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  • Russian-backed militants seize young women as sex trafficking business grows
    UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan 2, 2016

    Ukrainian military reports on more crimes in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk

    Gangs of Russian-backed terrorist forces kidnap young girls and earn money trading them abroad, the press center of Ukrainian Anti-Terrorist Operation headquarters reports on its Facebook page on Saturday.

    According to local people, the militants, who are stationed near the village of Ozeryanovka in Donetsk region, abduct young women aged 25-26 years. The abductees are held in tents, almost in the open air, and recently the terrorists have established a channel to traffic the girls abroad.

    A father of one of the girls, who came to release his daughter, was shot in the legs by a gunman of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, which Ukraine considers to be a terrorist organization.

    Ukrainian intelligence also reported about a reshuffle in the command of a unit of Kremlin-backed militant forces stationed near the city of Mariupol. Russian commanding officers' decision to suspend a local commander sparked indignation among militants, who are now, according to Ukrainian military sources, ready to stage a revolt against its Russian bosses.
    Russian-backed militants seize young women as sex trafficking business grows - read on - uatoday.tv

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    • REUTERS MOSCOW Vladimir Soldatkin Jan 2, 2016
      Putin names United States among threats in new Russian security strategy

      A new appraisal names the United States as one of the threats to Russia's national security for the first time, a sign of how relations with the west have deteriorated in recent years.

      The document, "About the Strategy of National Security of Russian Federation", was signed by President Vladimir Putin on New Year's Eve. It replaces a 2009 version, endorsed by then- President Dmitry Medvedev, the current prime minister, which mentioned neither the United States not NATO.

      It says Russia has managed to heighten its role in solving global problems and international conflicts. That heightened role has caused a reaction by the West, it says.

      "The strengthening of Russia happens against the background of new threats to the national security, which has complex and interrelated nature," the document says.

      Conducting an independent policy, "both international and domestic" has caused "counteraction from the USA and its allies, which are striving to retain their dominance in global affairs."

      That in turn is likely to lead to "political, economical, military and informational pressure" on Russia, the document says."

      Relations between Russia and the West reached a low after Russian forces annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014, after protests in Ukraine forced its pro-Moscow president to flee to Russia.

      Since then, the West has accused Russia of aiding insurgents in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies actively assisting the rebels.

      The United States and the European Union have since imposed wide-ranging sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. Moscow has reacted by restricting food and other goods from the EU.

      The document says that the United States and the EU have supported an "anti-constitutional coup d'etat in Ukraine", which led to a deep divide in Ukrainian society and a military conflict.

      It also names the expansion of NATO as a threat to Russia's national security and said that the United States has expanded its network of military-biological laboratories in neighbouring to Russia countries.

      The document, which serves as a basis for planning strategy related to national security by different state bodies, does not mention Syria. On Sept. 30, Russia began air strikes against anti-government rebels opposed to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally. Putin names United States among threats in new Russian security strategy | Reuters

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      • Daily chart - 2016’s global wealth forecast
        Dec 30th 2015, 12:51 by The Data Team THE ECONOMIST

        http://cdn.static-economist.com/site...5_woc663_1.png

        EMERGING markets have given the global economy most of its muscle since the recession ended in 2009. But in 2016 rich countries will account for their largest share of global growth this decade. The BRICs are in a sorry state. Brazil’s government has been both incompetent and corrupt. Russia’s has been no better, with a dose of military malevolence thrown in. China will perform reasonably well in 2016—if you believe the government’s numbers. By that reckoning, its GDP will rise by around 6.5%. The reality almost certainly will be lower. China is mired in debt and has mismanaged its currency and stockmarkets, sending shocks through the global economy. India looks perkier: it will grow by more than 7%. But that is worse than its average of 8.5% growth between 2005 and 2010. All said, the BRICs will make up only 16% of worldwide growth in 2016.

        Against all this, the rich world will look solid, if unspectacular. America’s economy will expand by around 2.5%, and the American jobs machine will crank out at least 2m new positions for a sixth straight year—the first time that has happened since the 1990s. Europe will no longer be threatened by recession or deflation, and the euro zone’s most obvious time-bomb, Greece, has been defused for now.

        The world economy as a whole is forecast to grow by 2.7% in 2016, and it hasn’t managed an increase of more than 3% since 2011. Save for America, 2016 will be another year of repair, recovery, reform and risk for most countries.

        http://cdn.static-economist.com/site...2_wom000_0.png

        Daily chart: 2016’s global wealth forecast | The Economist
        Last edited by Hannia; 2nd January 2016, 21:09.

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        • First U.S. Oil Export Leaves Port; Marks End to 40-Year Ban
          BLOOMBERG Joe Carroll - Sheela Tobben Updated on Jan 1, 2016

          - Swiss trader Vitol Group secured first two post-ban cargos
          - ConocoPhillips supplied crude from Eagle Ford Shale wells

          The first U.S. shipment of crude oil to an overseas buyer departed a Texas port on Thursday, just weeks after a 40-year ban on most such exports was lifted.

          The Theo T tanker has left NuStar Energy LP’s dockside facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, along the western shore of the Gulf of Mexico, Mary Rose Brown, a spokeswoman for NuStar, said in an e-mail. The ship is carrying a cargo of oil and condensate to Italy from ConocoPhillips’s wells in south Texas that was sold to Swiss trading house Vitol Group.

          A campaign by oil explorers including Continental Resources Inc., Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp. to lift the 1970s-era export prohibition culminated in a Dec. 18 congressional decision to end the ban.

          Vitol, which owns stakes in refineries from northern Europe to Australia, has a second cargo of U.S.-sourced crude scheduled to depart a Houston port within days. First U.S. Oil Export Leaves Port; Marks End to 40-Year Ban - Bloomberg Business

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          • Russia’s ‘right to be forgotten’ takes effect today
            MEDUZA 09:19, 1 January 2016 Kommersant

            Beginning today, the “right to be forgotten” takes effect in Russia, allowing Internet users to demand that search engines remove hyperlinks to “unverified or irrelevant” personal information. Individuals can request the takedown of links to content about anything that happened more than three years ago. The only exceptions apply to data about criminal offenses for which the statute of limitations hasn't yet expired, and information about criminal convictions that haven't been reversed or prison sentences that haven't been fully served.

            Under the new regulations, Internet search engines have 10 days to execute or reject an individual's request to remove a particular hyperlink. The burden of determining the legality of these requests falls on the search engines, and getting the call wrong can result in stiff penalties.

            Search engines will be fined between 80,000 and 100,000 rubles ($1,090 and $1,365), if they ignore a takedown request that a court later designates to be legal. If the search engine ignores a court order to remove hyperlinks under the right to be forgotten, the fines grow tenfold, ranging from 800,000 to 100,000 rubles ($10,900 to $13,650). https://meduza.io/en/news/2016/01/01...s-effect-today

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            • Following New Year’s survey in Crimea, Kremlin says no to more electricity from Kiev
              MEDUZA 13:46, 1 January 2016 Facebook

              Valery Fyodorov, the general director of VTsIOM, Russia's state-owned and government-operated polling agency, defended against criticism a new survey conducted in Crimea on New Year's Eve. According to Fyodorov, the results would have been no different, if the poll had been conducted before or after Russia's biggest holiday celebration of the year.

              “The important thing isn't the time the survey was conducted, but the dilemma facing Crimea: put up with power blackouts until May 1, until the energy bridge is fully completed, or agree to recognize Crimea as Ukrainian. And the Crimeans have made their choice clear,” Fyodorov said, alluding to Kiev's insistence that Crimean officials agree to call the peninsula Ukrainian territory, in order to gain access to Ukrainian electricity in 2016.

              According to VTsIOM, 93 percent of people surveyed in Crimea said that they oppose any energy deal with Kiev that refers to their peninsula as a part of Ukraine. The poll also says 94 percent of people in Crimea are willing to endure temporary hardships until May, while construction workers finish the energy bridge from the mainland, if Russia refuses to sign an agreement with Kiev.

              After the announcement of the poll's results, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin's official spokesperson, told reporters that Moscow will not likely be renewed. VTsIOM conducted the New Year's Eve survey in Crimea on Putin's orders.

              «Can we believe surveys of people sitting around the New Yearʼs table, some of whom have passed out in their potato salads? I donʼt know. Our poll was conducted between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on December 31, and between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on January 1. Thereʼs no record of any drunk or mumbling respondents, » Fyodorov wrote on Facebook.
              → Facebook

              https://meduza.io/en/news/2016/01/01...city-from-kiev

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              • RADIO FREE EUROPE Scott Looney January 02, 2016
                Communications / Kudos & Awards
                Ukrainian Service Reporter Wins Kryvenko Journalism Award

                LVIV, Ukraine -- Levko Stek, a freelance journalist for Radio Svoboda, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, was presented the Oleksandr Kryvenko Award for "Progress in Journalism" during the Lviv Media Forum on May 29. The award is accompanied by a €1,000 cash prize.

                Stek has worked for the Ukrainian Service since November of 2013, covering the Euromaidan protests that began in Independence Square in Kyiv that same month. Since then, Stek has continued to report on the several crises that have engulfed Ukraine, covering the fall of embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, as well as the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Stek has been harassed and detained as a result of his journalistic work, but has consistently produced compelling news reports, feature stories and video packages as both a civilian and as a journalist embedded with Ukrainian army units on the front lines.

                The Oleksandr Kryvenko Award for Progress in Journalism is given annually to a journalist that most embodies the ideals of its namesake. Before his untimely death in 2003, Kryvenko led the burgeoning Ukrainian independent media and news industry following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Kryvenko, who was both a prominent editor and an essayist, established Postup, the first popular newspaper to ascribe to an independent, Western style of reporting, and infused the publication with his biting wit, satire, and irony. At the time of his death in 2003, Kryvenko was the founding director of the newly established Ukrainian Public Radio. Ukrainian Service Reporter Wins Kryvenko Journalism Award

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                • REUTERS Dec 29, 2015 10:22am EST
                  MAYKOP/GVARDEYSKOYE, Russia Maria Tsvetkova
                  The double life of a Russian 'spy' beheaded by Islamic State

                  In the video, a man in an orange jump suit kneels beside a lake in Syria and confesses in Russian to spying on Islamic State militants. Another Russian speaker, this one in camouflage fatigues, then uses a hunting knife to hack off the kneeling man's head.

                  When Islamic State posted this footage online on Dec. 2, it brought the distant Syria conflict home to ordinary Russians. Here, in high-definition video, appeared to be one young Russian killing another for reasons few people could understand.

                  It also opened up another mystery.

                  The prisoner and alleged spy in the video said his name was Magomed Khasiev, that he was from Russia's mainly Muslim region of Chechnya, and that he worked for Russian intelligence.

                  Pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov quickly denied Khasiev was a spy.

                  But interviews with more than a dozen people who knew Khasiev in Russia suggest the 23-year-old man had connections to both Muslim groups and Russian security and seemed to live a double life.

                  An ethnic Russian born to a non-Muslim family in Russia's industrial heartland, Khasiev spent his teenage years among Chechens who knew him as a devout Muslim and a fluent Chechen speaker. Some of his Chechen friends went off to fight for Islamist militants in the Middle East, and encouraged him to join them.

                  In his other life he associated with non-Muslims, had a friend in the police, and had a licence from the Interior Ministry to work as a security guard, according to a former teacher, a friend, and staff of several security companies. For some purposes, including his work, Khasiev used the name he was given at birth: Yevgeny Yudin.

                  If his testimony on the video is to be believed, Khasiev ended up caught in the murky world between official Russian involvement in the conflict in Syria and the jihad that several thousand citizens of Russia and other former Soviet republics have joined.

                  Neither Russia's Federal Security Service – the intelligence agency Khasiev claimed he was working for – or Russia's Interior Ministry responded to requests for comment on the case.

                  ORPHANAGE

                  According to his file at an orphanage in Chechnya, Khasiev was raised for the first decade of his life by his mother, an ethnic Russian. When he was 10, she handed him to the orphanage for reasons the file does not make clear. Soon after, the documents show, his mother died of tuberculosis.

                  In the orphanage, Khasiev, or Yudin at that time, learnt Chechen, gave himself the Muslim first name Magomed and converted to Islam.

                  The former head of the orphanage, Ruslan Yusupov, remembers Khasiev playing with his own children and grandchildren. "He was soft as a kitten. He loved attention and care so much."

                  After three years, Khasiev was adopted by a Chechen family and took the last name of his adoptive mother Markha Khasieva. But she returned him to the orphanage a year later because of tensions between her and other relatives. Khasieva told Reuters she had nevertheless stayed in touch with the boy and cared for him.

                  In 2008, Russia's then Interior Minister, Rashid Nurgaliev, visited the orphanage to talk to potential new recruits for the Suvorov academy, an new elite military school.

                  According to orphanage staff, Khasiev, then 16, was keen to enrol but was rejected as too old. His best friend at the orphanage, Minkail Temiev, did qualify.

                  TRUE CHECHEN?

                  Khasiev was sent to a college in Maykop, capital of the predominantly Muslim Russian region of Adygeya, some 500 km (310 miles) from the Chechen capital Grozny.

                  There, according to friends and family, Khasiev moved in two sets of social circles.

                  In one, he maintained his Chechen identity and stayed in touch with his adoptive family and old friends, including Temiev. According to orphanage staff, Temiev in fact followed Khasiev to Maykop.

                  At college, Khasiev was registered by his Russian name. But he told teachers he wanted to be called Magomed. "At first, he corrected his teachers," his supervisor Tatiana Maystrevskaya recalled. "I told him: Once you change your documents, I will call you Magomed. He didn't object to that."

                  Acquaintances outside college, many of them Chechens, always knew him as Magomed. "He wasn't any different from us, he spoke pure Chechen. Many people didn't even know he was Russian," said one of Khasiev's Chechen friends.

                  Khasiev eventually changed his name officially to Magomed Khasiev by applying for a new passport, according to Viktor Zyzin, a close friend and an ethnic Russian.

                  But despite his insistence on using a Muslim name, Khasiev did not appear to be a Chechen nationalist or radical, Zyzin said. A 2011 posting on Khasiev's account on Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, shows him posing next to a poster of Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. The Chechen leader helped the Kremlin defeat a Muslim insurgency in the North Caucasus and is considered by Muslim militants to be an infidel.

                  And Khasiev had plenty of non-Muslim friends, including Zyzin and an ethnic Armenian called Grant.

                  In the video of his beheading, Khasiev describes Grant as an old acquaintance and the conduit to Russian special services through which he passed the intelligence he collected on Islamic State militants.

                  A Chechen friend of Khasiev told Reuters Grant served in the police. Two other people who knew Khasiev, including Zyzin, said they had met Grant but did not know where he worked.

                  Reuters has not been able to establish Grant's family name or other details about him. Officers in the regional police department of Adygea and the city police of Maykop said nobody of that name worked for them. The Interior Ministry in Moscow did not reply to a request for comment.

                  RADICAL FRIEND?

                  At the end of 2013, Khasiev was hired by Sherif M, a security company in Maykop. According to Anzor Takhumov, head of a local security guard school, Khasiev had applied for an Interior Ministry licence to work as a guard a few years earlier using the name Yudin. That was also the name he used to get his job.

                  Just a few months after he began working, Zyzin said, Khasiev sold an apartment he had bought under a Russian government scheme designed to help orphans.

                  It is not clear how he ended up in Islamic State territory in Syria, but members of Khasiev's adoptive family in Chechnya suspect his old friend Temiev may have played a role.

                  They believe Temiev had become radicalised. Markha Khasieva said her adoptive son had told her that Temiev had tried to recruit him to join Islamist fighters, but that Khasiev had rejected the offer. She remembers Temiev showing up at a funeral wearing a long beard, a style often associated with followers of hardline Islam. Family members joked that he looked like Karl Marx.

                  According to people who knew him, Khasiev enjoyed drinking and dating girls and showed no sign of Islamist sympathies. "He did not have any extremist views," said Ruslan, Markha Khasieva's nephew.

                  Nevertheless, Khasiev left Russia at some point last year. His adoptive family in Chechnya had little idea where he had gone. "We thought he was off working somewhere," said Malika Khasieva, his adoptive aunt.

                  Khasiev did keep in touch with his Russian friend Viktor Zyzin, sending him messages from the outskirts of Kobani, a Syrian town near the border with Turkey that was the centre of a battle between Islamic State and Kurdish forces.

                  Zyzin said he believed his friend went there to follow Temiev. But he quickly discovered that Temiev had been killed, Zyzin said, citing messages Khasiev had sent him.

                  In his messages, Khasiev referred to his fellow fighters as "brothers" and started using common Islamic expressions more and more often. Zyzin said his friend told him "he simply collected dead bodies ... He told me he was tired of picking up pieces."

                  The last message from Khasiev was in February. Zyzin had asked his friend to come home.

                  "He said that he may come to visit. But at the end he wrote that he got tired. He sent voice messages. Back then I realised already, that he would not come back. There is simply no way back from there."
                  The double life of a Russian 'spy' beheaded by Islamic State  | Reuters

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                  • Don’t you relax!
                    31.12.2015 | 11:00 UNIAN Mykhail Gannitsky Editor-in-Chief at UNIAN

                    Another year has passed. Another one is beginning. However, we see little change for the better in our lives. Well, not all of us, in fact. Someone sees criminal cases against them being closed, as the diamonds have miraculously turned into glass; someone sees their network of candy stores grow at a record pace; someone has a half-nude pop star perform at their private party; someone puts their hands on another project’s budget, which is nothing but a pork barrel for them; while someone, instead of going to jail, gets successfully recertified and is set to “protect” those whom they tried to kill or maim just a few years ago...

                    But all these “someones” are a happy minority. Meanwhile, the majority, who struggle to pay gigantic bills and gets by with the cheapest food, feel like they have been left without a well-deserved gift.

                    Alas, Did Moroz aka Santa Claus has failed to make this wish come true. So, the fiscal authorities dig into the already empty pockets of those who have been freezing for so many nights in the Maidan, while the prosecution is not able to designate as crime the actions of fugitive Yanukovych’s entourage, the courts acquit the bad guys (but regularly convict the real Patriots), MPs and mayors are as thuggish as conventional criminals, the company from the aggressor state opens up a restaurant in a building which is a de-facto mass grave… In general, we still fall behind on justice…

                    And it’s not the first year when it’s all like this. It’s like Santa Claus is actually giving us a hint: “Guys, it’s not me you should address!” In other words, it is impossible to rely on some higher power or mythical creatures in this difficult task of searching and finding justice. We’ve got work to do. There’s no other way, people.

                    You might ask, how exactly we should work. Just like we have already learned to, that is, responsibly. We did it in the tents in the Maidan, from our coaches on Facebook, in grocery stores (closely studying the barcodes finding out the country of origin), in gear shops (purchasing body armor for the troops), at the ATMs (transferring money to the volunteers). And no one had any questions, what to do and why: everyone decided for themselves what their contribution to the future will be.

                    But we made the mistake of thinking that a single manifestation of responsibility, a one-time responsible voting one and a half years ago will provide quality outsourcing in the issue of modernization of the state we live in, the state which defines our tempo, our rhythm, and affects our comfort and quality of life. We have relaxed and no longer control the authorities, deciding that there is no need to exert pressure on "these ones." For some reason, we decided that it’s not so important to show up on the elections, so many of them in the past year and a half, in fact. We let the government convince us that their promises and vows can easily be forgotten...

                    And even a year ago, it was already clear. But we have relaxed, deciding that we just need to wait a little longer, and then it will all go smooth. And so, the events of 2015 (or the absence of the events we expected), ruthlessly highlighted this mistake to us.

                    The blame is more or less on all of us.

                    Everyone has their own mistakes. Someone needs to finally stop giving bribes and kickbacks (to just stop!), someone should get up from the cozy couch and go to the rally, someone will have to make an extra effort and make it to the polling station, someone is bound to stop hiding and show up at the conscription station... So there are many things to be done, many ways to change. The main thing is to start.

                    At least, we should start to realize that, despite our good deeds, the global life principle will never change: no one will do anything for us. We can’t assign someone to be responsible for our own lives. We can’t choose the Messiah. We can’t just ask for justice. We still need to pursue it.

                    We are facing yet another difficult year. But we have grown accustomed to challenges. It’s important in this regard not expect these challenges will soon be over. More precisely, that they’ll miraculously disappear.

                    So I suggest asking Santa Claus for energy and perseverance to change ourselves and those who surround us. Because the brand new people, even without the assistance of the brand new police, will be able to create a brand new country.

                    Think about it.

                    Happy New Year!

                    Don’t you relax!
                    Don’t you relax! : UNIAN news
                    Last edited by Hannia; 3rd January 2016, 19:19.

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                    • How Serhiy Kvit is reforming Ukraine’s archaic higher education system - The former university rector has been praised as one of the country’s most effective politicians for driving his ambitious reform programme forward
                      KYIV POST Jack Grove January 3, 2016

                      Serhiy Kvit is perhaps Ukraine’s most successful minister, but he became a politician only by chance.

                      Almost two years ago, Kvit was rector of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. He agreed to visit student protesters barricaded inside Ukraine’s Education Ministry during the country’s Maidan revolution, which led to the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

                      “Students asked us to present our vision of higher education and research, and they approved of our concept,” Kvit told Times Higher Education on a visit to London last month.

                      Within a few days, the 48-year-old had been appointed education and science minister and was then asked to stay on after elections in October 2014.

                      Last year, Kvit was named Ukraine’s most successful minister by the magazine Vlast Deneg in recognition of his achievement in pushing through more than half his reform programme in little under two years.

                      One highlight was the passing of Ukraine’s first higher education law since 2002, which aims to sweep away the top-down Soviet model of university management by giving students and staff more say in campus affairs.

                      Other initiatives under way include efforts to improve university quality assurance, a crackdown on plagiarism and academic fraud and reform of the country’s vocational education system.

                      A new law on research funding, which was approved last month, will give universities more independence and financial autonomy, Kvit says.

                      For example, institutions will be allowed for the first time to have their own bank accounts, which will make it far easier to access international research funds, with Ukraine now part of the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research programme.

                      “Universities used to have to negotiate every transaction with the state,” Kvit explains.

                      The research law also requires Ukraine’s national research centres, which receive more than 90 per cent of the country’s research funds, to work more closely with universities.

                      That restructuring aims to raise the standard of research in a sector dominated by Ukraine’s National Academy of Sciences, which, Kvit believes, has become something of a law unto itself.

                      “It has a very special autonomy, and it does what it wants – the state doesn’t know what its plans are,” he explains.

                      That the academy is run by a 97-year-old scientist, Borys Paton, who has been president since 1962 clearly bothers Kvit, who is keen for the organisation to “produce more science that Ukraine needs”.

                      “It is incredible that the current president was born in 1918 on the same day that the academy’s board met for the first time,” he says.

                      For higher education to prosper, the dominance of individuals within Ukraine’s academy, and indeed its wider political landscape, must be reduced, argues Kvit.

                      “The old Soviet model was about a charismatic leader from whom all ideas and laws will flow and everyone will follow him,” he explains.

                      “We need a new post-Soviet model of leadership, in which teams in universities play a larger part and different levels of management involve many more people in decisions.” https://www.timeshighereducation.com...ucation-system

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                      • Cold snap grips Ukraine
                        UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan. 3, 2016 VIDEO

                        Abnormally low temperatures chill country during holiday season

                        Freezing temperatures and light snow are in the extended forecast for most regions of Ukraine.

                        Cold weather arrived for New Year's Eve in 2015 and light snowfall clogged streets in the capital Kyiv.

                        Some power outages have been reported in villages outside Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities located in the north and east.

                        Western Ukraine is also expected to see sizeable snow accumulations. The holiday season for most workers this year lasts until Monday, January 11. Cold snap grips Ukraine - watch on - uatoday.tv

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                        • Year in numbers
                          03.01.2016 | 11:40 UNIAN Margarita Andreyeva

                          One Russian combat aircraft was destroyed by the army of a NATO member state; three former MPs from the Party of Regions committed suicide; 177 countries voted to elect Ukraine as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council; 900,300 Ukrainians chose to move to other countries.

                          Zero – that’s how many deputies of the Opposition Bloc voted to recognize Russia an aggressor state. The statement was supported by 271 MPs of the Verkhovna Rada MP the eighth convocation. However, 71.8% of the Ukrainians believe that Russia is the aggressor state. 60% citizens from eight EU member states believe that the conflict in Ukraine was inspired by Russia.

                          One Russian Su-24 combat aircraft was shot down by the Turkish Air Force on the border with Syria. This was the first ever incident in history when the army of a NATO member state attacked and destroyed the Russian jet.

                          One new currency - the Chinese yuan - was included in the basket of key international reserve currencies, which already includes the U.S. dollar, euro, yen and pound sterling.

                          Two citizens of Ukraine – filmmaker Oleh Sentsov and activist Oleksandr Kolchenko - were sentenced by a Russian court to 20 and 10 years of imprisonment, respectively. Another Ukrainian prisoner, Nadia Savchenko, which is tried in Russia, faces 25 years in prison. At the end of 2015 the Russian court extended her arrest until April 16, 2016. In general, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, 11 Ukrainian citizens remain in custody in the Russian Federation as political prisoners.

                          Two Russian soldiers from the 3rd special purpose brigade of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces (military unit No. 21208, stationed in Togliatti), Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were captured in Luhansk region, and are now tried in the Ukrainian court. At the end of 2015 the court extended their arrest until February 25, 2016. The troops from the Russian special forces can be prosecuted under Art. 258 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine ("terrorism or participation in a terrorist organization").

                          A string of corruption scandals led to two top football officials, FIFA President Joseph Blatter and head of UEFA Michel Platini, being banned from football activities for an eight-year term.

                          Three ex-MPs from the pro-Yanukovych Party of Regions, Stanislav Melnyk, Oleksandr Peklushenko and Mykhailo Chechetov, committed suicide. Another MP from the said party, Oleh Kalashnikov, was shot dead just outside his apartment.

                          Three roads, leading to Kalanchak, Chaplynka and Chongar, were blocked by activists in September 2015, who started a so-called blockade of the Russian-occupied Crimea.

                          Four fatal shots took the life of the Russian opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov.

                          Five countries - Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine – mull the establishment of an independent international tribunal to persecute those responsible for the downing of the MH17 Malaysia Airlines passenger aircraft over Donbas on July 17, 2014, killing 298 people. Russia strongly opposes the idea.

                          It took six days for the Ukrainians to collect the necessary 25,000 signatures under the first e-petition to the president of Ukraine after the launch of this type of communication. The petition asked the Ukrainian head of state to give the citizens the right to personal protection [right to carry and use firearms for personal protection].

                          Ukraine has fulfilled ten of the 16 recommendations in the fight against corruption, according to a report by GRECO, a group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe.

                          12 countries - the U.S., Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Chile and Mexico - have signed a Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty. It is the largest trade agreement signed over the past 20 years, providing for a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific region (which is 40% of world trade).

                          13% of Ukrainians were engaged in volunteer activities during 2015.

                          17 former Ukrainian officials from the entourage of the ousted ex-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych will remain under sanctions of the European Union at least until March 2016.

                          34 out of 422 people's deputies of the eighth convocation of the Verkhovna Rada did not miss a single meeting of their parliamentary committees in 2015.

                          Brent crude traded at $36.2 per barrel. The price is the lowest since July, 2004.

                          48 so-called "humanitarian convoys" illegally entered the Ukrainian territory beyond Kyiv government’s control from Russia in the past year.

                          57 countries, including China, India, Russia and Germany, signed the act on the establishment of the Asian Bank of infrastructure investment. The U.S. and Japan have refused to participate in this project.

                          The approval rating of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin among the Russian citizens reached 89.9%. 74% said they would re-elect Putin as head of state.

                          128 journalists were killed in 2015 in 31 countries, according to a report by Press Emblem Campaign. The Middle East remains the most dangerous region for the reporters.

                          A 153-page report was published by the Polish deputy from the Law and Justice party on the crimes of Russian troops and pro-Russian militants in the east of Ukraine. A notice will be submitted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague based on the evidence included in the document.

                          177 countries supported Ukraine’s election as non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the period of 2016-2017.

                          263 MPs voted in favor of the State Budget for 2016 with a deficit at 3.7% of GDP and revenues at UAH 595 billion.

                          The Ukrainian troops have held defense at the Donetsk airport for 242 days, but fierce hostilities with the attacking enemy led to the collapse of the terminals, and the Ukrainian fighters were forced to withdraw from their positions.

                          270 persons are suspects in the crimes against the Maidan protesters. Of these, 43 are senior officials.

                          309 MPs voted for the extension of the moratorium on the sale of farmlands for another year, until January 1, 2017.

                          382 individuals and 105 legal persons came under the Ukrainian sanctions against Russia.

                          409.3 kilometers of the border with Russia in the temporarily occupied areas of Donbas are beyond Ukraine’s control.

                          At least 600 Ukrainians remain in captivity of the pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine.

                          7,500 Russian military servicemen are reported to have been deployed in the Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

                          9,098 people have been killed in the east of Ukraine since the beginning of hostilities and 20,732 people were wounded, according to the report of the UN Monitoring Mission on human rights to Ukraine.

                          11,117 people died in 2015 from Ebola. The number of infected people has exceeded 25,000.

                          92,446 applications for land plots were filed by the members of the Anti-Terrorist Operation and the families of fallen soldiers.

                          900,300 Ukrainians chose to move to other countries in 2015, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

                          Over 1.341 million internally displaced persons (about 1.1 million families from Donbas and Crimea) were registered in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government.

                          UAH 131.33 million has been blocked in 2015 by the State Service for Financial Monitoring of Ukraine and the Security Service of Ukraine in the framework of measures to prevent and counter the financing of terrorism and separatism.

                          UAH 136.9 million came to the Ukrainian budget from the privatization, which is just 0.8% of the planned amount.

                          A package of financial assistance to Ukraine in the coming years should amount to $40 billion. This includes $17.5 billion within the IMF lending program.

                          $97 billion and 10 years may be needed to for the overhaul Ukraine’s infrastructure, as estimated by UNIAN.

                          Ukraine will have to pay UAH 135.2 billion in 2016 on its external and internal debts. At the same time, the volume of external debt payments will amount to only UAH 13.8 billion. Year in numbers : UNIAN news

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                          • Russian-backed militants shell Ukrainian positions 20 times in last day
                            UT UKRAINE TODAY Jan. 3, 2016

                            Minsk agreement violations continue in Donbas region

                            During the last 24 hours the Russian-backed militants shelled the positions of the Ukrainian army 20 times, according to the ATO (anti-terrorist operation) Press Centre Facebook page.

                            The area near the villages of Myronivskyi and Troitske came under shelling from heavy machine guns.

                            The militants have fired at the Ukrainian positions near the village of Kamyanka in Donetsk region using small arms. They also used heavy machine guns and light anti-tank grenade launchers near the village of Opytne to fire at the Ukrainian forces' positions.
                            Russian-backed militants shell Ukrainian positions 20 times in last day - read on - uatoday.tv

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                            • In Wartime: Stories From Ukraine by Tim Judah review – humane and haunting - Sensitive interviews with civilians, poets and political scientists shed new light on a bitter conflict
                              THE GUARDIAN Alexander Larman 3 January 2016 08.00 EST

                              While military matters in Syria have been distracting politicians and pundits alike, Tim Judah’s grim, timely salvo from Ukraine is a reminder that not every war has to revolve around the Middle East. Interviewing a wide range of people who have been caught up in the recent conflict, from travel journalist and poet Olena Maksymenko to political scientist-cum-Putin supporter Sergei Baryshnikov, Judah concentrates skilfully and affectingly on the human cost of manoeuvres in Ukraine. He seldom makes his own thoughts and opinions seem intrusive, instead letting his eloquent and compassionate subjects give a far greater insight into the horror and privations suffered by the citizens of Ukraine. Yet there are occasional glimpses of hope and decency amid the slaughter and squalor and Judah’s account of what is really happening is lifted by these haunting touches.

                              In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine is published by Allen Lane (£20)
                              In Wartime: Stories From Ukraine by Tim Judah review – humane and haunting | Books | The Guardian

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                              Very limited availablility thru Amazon !

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                              • Executions in Saudi Arabia - Reactions to a Shia cleric’s death, from the furious to the thoughtful
                                THE ECONOMIST Jan 3rd 2016, 10:40 by ERASMUS

                                AT LEAST by their own lenient standards, Western governments issued a blunt rebuke to the Saudi authorities over the execution of a cleric who was revered among the Shia minority in the kingdom's eastern region. Both America and the European Union said the death sentence was not only a violation of free speech and due process; it was also likely to fuel sectarian (ie Sunni-Shia) tension across the region.

                                The latter prediction came true almost immediately. Tensions flared between Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively the standard-bearers of Sunni and Shia Islam in their most hard-line and theocratic forms. The two countries are already at loggerheads over the civil wars of Syria and Yemen, where they support opposing sides. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared that the Sunni kingdom would face “divine revenge” for putting to death a peaceful cleric. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, one of 47 people whose execution was announced at the weekend, had “neither invited people to [an] armed movement nor was involved in covert plots,” the ayatollah thundered. Demonstrators attacked Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran on Saturday evening, setting the building ablaze before police pushed them back.

                                There were also demonstrations in the Saudi city of Qatif, a Shia stronghold (see picture); in Lebanon, homeland of the Shia militia Hizbullah; in Bahrain, where a Shia majority lives resentfully under a Sunni-dominated regime; in Iraq, where a Shia-led government is battling the Sunni jihadists of Islamic State; and in Pakistan, where a Shia minority has suffered deadly bomb attacks by Sunni extremists.

                                Vali Nasr, an American international-affairs professor, former diplomat and authority on Shia Islam, suggested that in carrying out the sentence, the Saudi authorities were knowingly sending a harsh sectarian signal to all comers. “Sectarian narrative helps Saudi rulers at tough times: rally Sunnis at home and in region against Shia challenge”, he tweeted.

                                Among activists from the Gulf region, some of the more thoughtful responses insisted that the sheikh saw himself as a campaigner for human rights, not as a lobbyist for any sectarian cause; it was therefore wrong to respond in sectarian terms. It was pointed out that the sheikh himself had never confined his criticism to his own Sunni overlords; he also had critical words for the non-Sunni rulers of Syria, who are aligned with the Shia camp. The sheikh’s own family issued a statement which insisted that he was a man of peace.

                                "He rejected sectarianism for more than four decades. We...condemn and denounce this unjust sentence. We consider it a method of executing wisdom and moderation...it was a stab in the back which sought to assassinate [his] peaceful methodology...as he condemned and rejected the use of weapons and violence."

                                Meanwhile Maryam al-Khawaja, a courageous human-rights campaigner from Bahrain, implored people not to fall into the trap of tit-for-tat sectarianism. “Fighting for justice, rights and freedom? If you are sectarian, you've already lost. Regimes’ best weapon is sectarianism and you're the ammunition,” she tweeted. She did not say which regimes she had in mind, but the word was clearly in the plural. Unfortunately, though, already-simmering sectarian tensions are a very handy weapon—and there is plenty of human ammunition willing to be used. Executions in Saudi Arabia: Reactions to a Shia cleric’s death, from the furious to the thoughtful | The Economist
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                                The Haj Pilgrimage to Mecca is a last rite and preparation for death that will never be denied to a Moslem if he is pious and chooses to do the holy pilgrimage.

                                Saudi Arabia keeps a tight comprehensive information data base on all visitors to Mecca. Visitors must be Moslem. They must be certified by imans. They must be vaccinated. They must get VISAs. They must adhere to strict behavior codes. They must be fingerprinted. They must be photographed. Collected data is more comprehensive than normal passport controls: contacts, home addresses, phone numbers, email, mosque clerics, education, historical contacts.

                                By screening Haj pilgrims, and focusing on atypical lone young men from high risk countries, a significant number of suicide bombers can be identified, tracked, questioned, detained AND TERROR MISSIONS CAN BE DERAILED.


                                Last edited by Hannia; 3rd January 2016, 19:27.

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