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  • RADIO FREE EUROPE February 09, 2016
    Merkel 'Horrified' At Russia's Syria Campaign As HRW Reports Cluster-Bomb Use

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is "horrified" by the suffering being caused by Russian and Syrian air strikes.

    Merkel, who was in Ankara for talks with Turkish officials, said on February 8 that "tens of thousands" of people are being affected by the bombing campaign that is coming "primarily from the Russian side."

    She added that Germany and Turkey will insist on compliance with a UN resolution passed in December that calls for an end to the bombing of civilians.

    Western nations have repeatedly accused Russia -- which began its Syria bombing campaign in September -- of targeting moderate opposition groups instead of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS) fighters, and of killing hundreds of civilians in the western and northern parts of Syria.

    The Kremlin denies the charges and says it is only bombing terrorist groups.

    Russian air strikes have helped Syrian forces recapture some territory lost to extremist groups and other opposition fighters in central and western Syria.

    Syrian forces in recent days have made gains in areas surrounding Aleppo, the country's largest city that has been divided between government forces and opposition fighters.

    The growing siege of the city -- which had a prewar population of more than 2 million people -- has forced tens of thousands of civilians to flee north toward the Turkish border, about 40 kilometers away.

    Merkel's comments came the same day that Human Rights Watch said the Russian-Syrian military operation has used cluster munitions in at least 14 attacks since January 26.

    It said those attacks had killed 37 civilians -- including six women and nine children -- and wounded dozens of others.

    The use of cluster bombs has been banned by 118 countries, but not by Russia or Syria.

    Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman for the Russian military, said in December that there are no cluster munitions "at the Russian air base in Syria."

    HRW says cluster munitions have been identified in photos and video taken at Russian's Hmeymim Air Base in Syria.

    Nadim Houry, the deputy director of HRW's Middle East division, said that "any solution of the Syrian crisis needs to address ongoing indiscriminate attacks. A good place to start would be a commitment by Russia and Syria to stop using cluster munitions."

    Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said after meeting with Merkel on February 8 that some 30,000 Syrians from Aleppo are waiting at the border and would be allowed in "when necessary."

    Davutoglu also blamed Russia for the new wave of refugees to Turkey, which has already taken in some 2.5 million Syrians since the civil war began in 2011.

    At least 250,000 people have died in the conflict, and several million have fled their homes.

    Davutoglu added that Turkey and Germany have agreed on a joint diplomatic initiative to end the Russian-Syrian offensive against Aleppo.

    The EU has agreed to give Turkey 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in exchange for its efforts in stemming the tide of migrants coming to Europe.

    Meanwhile, Davutoglu said Turkey and Germany will ask NATO at a February 11 meeting of the alliance’s defense ministers to become involved with "the flow of refugees from Syria."

    "We will make a joint effort on the effective use of NATO's observation and monitoring mechanisms on the border and in the Aegean," he said.

    More than 900,000 refugees and migrants crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece last year, with hundreds of others drowning during the attempt.
    Merkel 'Horrified' At Russia's Syria Campaign As HRW Reports Cluster-Bomb Use

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    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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    • RADIO FREE EUROPE Russia February 09, 2016
      Hospital Closure Spells Panic For Siberian Mothers-To-Be

      BOGRAD, Russia -- Obstetrician Vladimir Vinter has been delivering babies in this small Siberian town for more than four decades.

      Today, his maternity ward, once echoing with the clamor of crying newborns, is eerily silent. Authorities in the southeastern Siberian republic of Khakassia shut down the facility on January 1 despite angry protests by local residents.

      "I am barred from practicing my profession," Vinter sighs as he strides down the hospital's empty corridors.

      Women in Bograd, a town of 15,000 inhabitants, are equally distressed.

      To give birth they must now travel to the city of Chernogorsk, 76 kilometers away. Some villages in the Bograd district lie as far as 150 kilometers from Chernogorsk, although expectant mothers can in certain cases request to give birth in another, closer city in a neighboring district.

      Those are considerable distances for a woman in labor, especially during Siberia's harsh winters when snow and ice can slow traffic or make stretches of road impassable.

      While most pregnant women in Russia don't have to travel this far to reach a maternity hospital, the demise of Bograd's ward is not an isolated case.

      "This is Russia," cautions Aleksandr Saversky, the head of Russia's League for the Protection of Patients' Rights. "Traveling 150 kilometers in winter there is not the same as on European roads."

      In recent years, Russian health workers have been denouncing a controversial reform to "optimize" health care that has dramatically slashed the number of state-run medical facilities across the country, particularly in rural areas, and left thousands of doctors without a job.

      According to government statistics, the number of health facilities in rural areas fell by 75 percent from 2005 to 2013, from 8,249 to 2,085.

      Health experts say patients are paying the price.

      "In 2015, the mortality rate in Russia rose for the first time in 10 years," says Saversky. "In the absence of any new factors that could affect people's health, we see this as a result of the health-care system's optimization."

      Bograd residents have fought hard to preserve their maternity ward.

      Protests began as soon as the decision to close it was announced last summer.

      In January, about 200 residents of Bograd again took to the streets to protest the closure, holding banners with slogans such as "The maternity ward's optimization is an affront to women," or "Don't touch rural medicine!"

      Raisa Frolova, the driving force behind the rallies, says the town's administration simply chose to ignore the protests. Pointing to a thick pile of papers, she says a petition to the Russian government in Moscow signed by more than 1,000 residents has also gone unanswered.

      "No one pays heed to the population's opinion nowadays," she says gloomily. "There are spheres of medicine where no one should be counting money and deciding whether or not it's unprofitable -- otherwise we simply become biological waste."

      Bograd is not a wealthy town.

      Many women there work throughout their pregnancies, and few can afford to wait for their baby's arrival at a hospital in Chernogorsk.

      Vinter warns that expectant mothers living in villages around Bograd are particularly unlikely to travel all the way to Chernogorsk to give birth.

      "They don't even come to our district hospital for their scheduled checkups," he says. "When we ask them why they don't come, they say they have no means of transportation or no money. As a rule, they arrive here only once labor has begun."

      Vinter says some of the women who risk the trip to Chernogorsk may not get there in time, especially those who have already had children and can expect a quicker childbirth.

      Doctors can still examine patients and follow their pregnancies at Bograd's gynecological ward, which remains open, but they can only deliver the babies in emergency cases when the life of the mother or child is at risk.

      Vinter worries that women will endanger themselves trying to obtain emergency births in Bograd. He and his team have already performed three emergency deliveries since the maternity ward's closure.

      "They will find ways to give birth here, they will wait until the last moment," he says. "This will end badly."

      According to Vinter, the hospital has not actually been paid for January's emergency deliveries. He says officials have told the doctors that from now on they should regard deliveries in Borad as "humanitarian help to women."

      Vinter is also concerned that he and his colleagues in Bograd could be held responsible if a woman in labor comes to harm on her way to Chernogorsk.

      "Let's say that I examine a woman, that it looks like I shouldn't send her there because she might not make it in time but that I do so anyway, and something happens," he says. "In the criminal code, this is called leaving a patient in danger or failure to render assistance to a person in danger."

      There are currently three pregnant women on bedrest at the Bograd hospital.

      One of them, Tatyana Azhirevich, gave birth to both her sons here. She says she has no intention of trusting the life of her third child to anonymous doctors in Chernogorsk.

      Azhirevich is determined: She won't trade "her Vinter" for any other obstetrician.

      "I will wait until the last moment at home," she pledges. "I don't care if they bring me in an ambulance and if I have to lie on some couch, I want to give birth in our Bograd hospital."

      Like Azhirevich, many of Vinter's patients are wary of giving birth in Chernogorsk's maternity ward, where they believe doctors will be too busy to offer them quality care.

      The Bograd hospital, in contrast, used to deliver an average of two babies per week.

      "A lot depends on the situation, if you are alone or if there's someone to support you," she explains. "Here, the doctor pats us on the back and reassures us."

      The quiet pace at Bograd's maternity ward is precisely the reason cited by Khakassia authorities for its closure. Officials have branded the ward "unprofitable." Others have pointed to its higher-than-average infant mortality rates.

      This claim riles local doctors, who say the rates include babies up to 12 months of age who die at home, as a rule in underprivileged rural families.

      As an inspector for juvenile welfare, Azhirevich knows about the situation firsthand and hotly defends Vinter and his team.

      "I see how these doctors chase alcoholic pregnant women," she explains. "They bring them to the maternity ward so they can sober up a little before giving birth."

      With the maternity ward now officially closed, she fears Bograd's obstetricians will leave the town for good.

      "Women will give birth at home," she warns. "And then you just watch what kind of infant mortality rates we will have." Hospital Closure Spells Panic For Siberian Mothers-To-Be

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      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp

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      • 09:44 09.02.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
        Kyiv reports 45 strikes at Ukrainian military positions in Donbas in past 24 hours

        Checkpoints of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in Donbas have come under fire 45 times in the past 24 hours, the press center of Kyiv's army operation in Ukraine's south-eastern regions reported on its Facebook account on Tuesday morning.

        Grenade launchers and small arms were fired at Ukrainian military positions in Opytne, Avdiyivka, Luhanske, Troitske, Zaitseve, Mayorsk and at the Butivka mine, the press center said.

        Ukrainian fortifications in Pisky, Maryinka, Hnutove and Troitske came under mortar fire, it said.

        According to the press center's reports, 82mm mortars, an anti-aircraft system and infantry fighting vehicles, as well as grenade launchers, large-caliber submachine guns and small arms were used against Ukrainian army checkpoints near Krasnohorivka.

        Small arms were fired at Ukrainian military positions in Shyrokyne, near the city of Mariupol, the press center said.

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        • 11:33 09.02.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
          Flu death toll rises to 246 in Ukraine – Health Ministry

          As many as 246 people have died from flu and its complications in Ukraine since the onset of the flu outbreak in the country, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said in a report published on its website on Tuesday.

          "The latest information available indicates that 246 flu-related deaths confirmed by laboratory test results have been recorded, including three children under the age of 17. The highest flu mortality rates have been recorded in the Odesa region – 40 cases, Kyiv 29 cases, the Kharkiv region 15, the Cherkasy region 14, and the Rivne region 14," the ministry said.

          On Monday, the Ukrainian Health Ministry put the number of deaths caused by flu and its complications at 220.

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          • Kremlin: No reliable proof to allegations about civilian casualties of Russian air strikes in Syria
            09.02.2016 | 15:21 UNIAN

            Despite a great number of allegations about civilian casualties of Russian air strikes in Syria, no one has ever produced any reliable proof to such word, Russian Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media on Tuesday, according to Russian news agency TASS.

            "As for the German chancellor's words about alleged human casualties caused by Russian air strikes in Syria, it should be noted in this respect that despite a great number of such allegations, no one has ever produced any reliable proof to such words," Peskov commented on Monday's statements by German Chancellor Angela Merkel about alleged sufferings caused to civilians by Russian air strikes in Syria, TASS reported.

            He recalled the situation of two-three years ago, when "regrettably, we heard no such assessments to the barbarous actions of terrorists who were advancing on the Syrian territory actually encircling Syria's armed forces and legitimate authorities." "We heard no such statements from any one back then," Peskov underscored.

            "Once again, we call on everyone to be very careful and very responsible in his or her interpretations in the current fragile situation in Syria and around the Syrian settlement," he said.

            At a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was shocked by the sufferings of tens of thousands of people caused by Russian air strikes. She called to observe the United Nations Security Council resolution obliging the parties to immediately stop bombardments of civilian population and civilian facilities.
            Kremlin: No reliable proof to allegations about civilian casualties of Russian air strikes in Syria : UNIAN news

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            • Chechen leader says his special ops have infiltrated ISIL and discovered ‘NATO trainers’ Meanwhile in Russia, on Monday, February 8, 2016
              08:40, 8 February 2016 MEDUZA

              ---Alexey Navalny is taking aim at another official in the Attorney General's Office, and he's appealed to his old arch enemy, the head of the Investigative Committee, to open a case. (Lucky for Navalny, the Attorney General and Investigative Committee have been at loggerheads for years.)
              ---The ruler of Chechnya went on national TV and talked up Chechen special troops operating on the ground in Syria. He says they've built an “extensive network” inside Syria's extremist groups, where they've discovered “trainers from NATO countries.”
              ---Federal police have detained seven suspected terrorists, along with their guns and bombs. It's said they wanted to attack Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg.
              ---Overdue loans spiked 30-percent last year. Banks have supposedly become more conservative with lending, though debtors' protests are becoming more common in Russia today.
              ---The Russian teenerager who ran away from Moscow and allegedly tried to join ISIL now says she never intended to become a terrorist.

              A new target for Russia's anti-corruption crusader
              Alexey Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) has a new target: Krasnodar District Attorney Leonid Korzhinek. In an appeal to Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin (once one of Navalny's arch nemeses), Navalny's group is asking federal police to investigate Korzhinek for illegally closing a criminal case against Sergei Tsapok, the leader of the “Kushchevskaya mob,” who was suspected of using violence against police officers. (In 2010, Tsapok's gang massacred 12 people in Kushchevskaya, including four children.)

              Navalny says Korzhinek is a protege of Attorney General Yuri Chaika, at whom FBK has leveled a massive campaign, including a documentary film with more than 4.5 million views on YouTube (and 35,000 views in English).

              Chechen leader says his special ops have infiltrated ISIL and discovered ‘NATO trainers’
              The ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, appeared on national television on Sunday, February 7, and declared that Chechen special forces are active in Syria. A whole news segment about Chechnya's special forces is scheduled to air on TV on February 10. Kadyrov says his soldiers have managed to build an “extensive network of agents directly inside” ISIL. He also claimed that Chechnya has had undercover agents in extremist training camps since the beginning of Syria's civil war, saying, “The instructors there were from NATO-member countries.”

              Russia has denied that it's waging a ground war in Syria, though the Kremlin's spokesman refused to comment directly on information about Chechen special forces operating in Syria.

              7 ISIL agents detained in plot to attack Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Yekaterinburg
              Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) says it's detained seven suspects in a terrorist plot that targeted sites in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Sverdlovsk region. The suspects were detained in Yekaterinburg, and all seven are members of ISIL, according to police. The leader of the group is said to be an ISIL member who came to Russia from Turkey. According to the FSB, the group was planning to use improvised bombs in their attacks. In searches of the suspects' homes, police found explosives, firearms, grenades, detonators, and “extremist literature.”
              Overdue loans in Russia spiked 30 percent last year

              The number of overdue loans in Russia spiked 30 percent last year, according to Vladimir Shikin, the deputy director of development at the National Bureau of Credit Histories. The total amount of past-due loans in Russia is now greater than 1 trillion rubles ($13 billion). Shikin notes that a relatively small portion of home mortgages are going unpaid (just 3-4 percent). Almost a fifth of the overdue loans in Russia are in the area of unsecured debt, which includes credit cards and consumer loans. According to Shikin, banks are, however, becoming more conservative about issuing this type of credit.

              Russian teen arrested at Syrian-Turkish border now says she wasn't headed for ISIL

              Varvara Karaulova, the Russian teenager who ran away from home and allegedly tried to join ISIL is recanting her confession, according to her lawyer, who says the confession was given when Karaulova was still being represented by a public defender. Karaulova now insists that she never intended to join ISIL.

              Karaulova was captured in June 2015 at the Syrian-Turkish border, after running away from home in Moscow.

              https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/02...-nato-trainers

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              • What’s Behind the Resignation of Minister Abromavicius?
                B.A. Kalymon, O. Havrylyshyn HUMAN RIGHTS IN UKRAINE 10.02.16

                Atlantic Council

                The resignation of Aivaras Abromavicius from the position of Minister of Economic Development and Trade is another nail in the coffin for the hopes for serious reform in Ukraine. In resigning, he follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Pavlo Sheremeta, who was also unwilling to serve in a government that was more interested in personal gain than true reform.

                A smear campaign has once again been started by political factions for whom the truth is inconvenient. “The Minister was incompetent, the Minister moved too slowly, the Minister was inexperienced, the Minister had ulterior motives, ” etc. The chorus is both familiar and pathetic. It hails from the best Soviet practice of disinformation, which is still well-practiced in Putin’s Russia and too often echoed in Ukraine.

                It cannot go unnoticed that one by one, Ukraine’s finest reformers are being pushed to resign from the cabinet. These include Oleksiy Pavlenko, Minister of Agriculture; Andrei Pivovarsky, Minister of Infrastructure; and Alexander Kvitashvili, Minister of Health. All have resigned but have since retracted under pressure. Rumor even has it that Serhiy Kvit, Minister of Education, is under threat.

                These ministers, together with Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, came into the government with the goal of achieving breakthrough reforms under the impetus provided by the Euromaidan against the kleptocracy of former President Viktor Yanukovych’s regime. However, they quickly found themselves surrounded by the people of the past: the bureaucrats, the politicians, and the oligarchs who have for too long formed a triangle of corruption. For these groups, reform is undesirable. This repeats situations in Ukraine’s history when, for example, a reformer like Viktor Pynzenyk was repeatedly pushed out of government.

                When Sheremeta was appointed to the cabinet in 2014, we were invited to be part of a group acting as economic advisors to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. Joined by a number of other economic experts with international experience in reform, we attempted to provide input. Working with Sheremeta and then Abromavicius, we found in both a sincere desire to implement reforms which would lift the economy from the bog of post-Soviet decline.

                These individuals represented the spirit of the Euromaidan and were willing to make personal sacrifices to serve their country. They had excellent training and understood what steps would be required to fulfil the dream of bringing Ukraine into a European style of governance and economy. We observed that they were joined by a number of young and energetic volunteers from civil society who also wanted to make a difference.

                Unfortunately, as time progressed, it became more and more obvious that there was little political will to support true reform within the top leadership and ruling cabal. We observed the level of frustration rising as meaningful reform proposals were sidelined due to corruption and greed. It became clear that only those reforms which were deemed absolutely necessary to meet the requirements of international funding sources, mainly the International Monetary Fund (IMF), were reluctantly adopted. Reform, as in all previous regimes, was cloaked with fine councils and agencies, which served only to mislead outside observers.

                As an example, the Rada Anticorruption Committee’s head, reformist Tetiana Chornovil, resigned in frustration soon after her appointment. The parliamentary coalition agreement developed on the basis of the reform plan Strategy 2020was then quickly emasculated by a variety of special interests represented in the Rada.

                And once again, the use of obfuscation in place of meaningful action is apparent. The allegations of corruption which have been surfacing throughout the year involving key political figures such as Mykola Martynenko, Ihor Kononenko, Borys Lyozkhin, and Arsen Avakov have not been pursued by Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. The explanation is that these matters are awaiting the investigation of the newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau. While this body may prove itself capable of the task, it is likely to simply be overwhelmed by the controlling powers, for whom prosecution of their inner circle of political allies is undesirable. In any event, this deferral provides a temporary cover that permits inaction. In the meantime, the campaign of discrediting corruption fighters such as Oblast Governor Mikheil Saakashvili, Rada Deputy Sergii Leshchenko, or former head of the SBU Valentyn Nalyvaichenko proceeds at full pace.

                The façade of reform continues with the constant refrain that progress is gradually being made and patience is needed. But the well-established axiom guiding successful reforms undertaken in countries such as Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia is that reforms need to be swift and comprehensive if they are to be effective. The patience of Western ambassadors and the managing director of the IMF has worn out, as indicated by their public statements. Responsibility for this state of affairs can only lie with the President and prime minister. Only a totally new government with the political will to implement real reforms offers any hope for a change for the better. Whats Behind the Resignation of Minister Abromavicius? :: khpg.org

                Basil A. Kalymon is Professor Emeritus at Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario, Canada. Oleh Havrylyshyn is a visiting scholar in the Munk School of Global Affairs/CERES at the University of Toronto.

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                • Ukraine needs alternatives to the Minsk II “time bomb” — analyst
                  EUROMAIDAN PRESS Anton Borkovskyi 2016/02/10

                  Political analyst Taras Stetskiv analyzes the threats represented by the Minsk agreements and discusses possible alternatives in an interview with Anton Borkovskyi on Espreso TV, February 8. Stetskiv is a former member of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Parliament), development director at the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, and one of the authors of the August 13, 2015, appeal to President Poroshenko not to change Ukraine’s Constitution in order to provide special status for Russian occupied territories in the Donbas.

                  – We understand that the Minsk agreements have reached the so-called “0 hour” and that everything is to be resolved sooner or later. What are the results of President Poroshenko’s meeting with Chancellor Merkel?

                  Most likely Ukraine’s president was forced to explain to the German chancellor why Ukraine has not complied with paragraph 11 of the Minsk II agreement dealing with changes to the Constitution which provide for special status of the Donbas. Why do I say that? Because all the rhetoric of the Normandy 4, members, especially Putin, Merkel and Hollande, leaves no room for doubt. It is obvious this is a question of forcing Ukraine unilaterally, once again, to implement this point of the Minsk agreement.

                  It is enough to see what Hollande said when he spoke to the French diplomatic corps and to pay attention to Putin’s statements and the rhetoric that was adopted by Gryzlov, Putin’s new representative in the negotiating group. What is obvious is that three out of four participants want to force the president of Ukraine and through him the Ukrainian parliament to humiliate themselves again and to cooperate with Russia. In turn, Russia will promise to fulfill the Minsk agreements sometime in the future.

                  – Well, we understand this was confirmed by signature.

                  Yes this presents a problem, even though in reality the Minsk agreement does not have international legal standing; this is not a document …

                  … this is not even the Budapest Memorandum

                  But, unfortunately, there is Kuchma’s signature. Kuchma apparently was authorized by Poroshenko, but to this day we cannot determine how this authorization came about? Generally, to sign international agreements the directive of the head of state is required. Here there are no such directives.

                  We saw the document authorizing Kuchma. It only indicates that the president of Ukraine has delegated his representative Leonid Kuchma to take part in the negotiations in Minsk. There are no other documents that grant Kuchma the right to sign. And this is why we are currently being held hostage by this piece of paper. I look at it as an informal agreement between four people. Specifically, four people who have signed a packet of measures.

                  The presidents of Ukraine, Russia, France, and the German chancellor signed a memorandum that endorses a packet of measures. This is some kind of abracadabra that is probably unique in modern diplomacy — abracadabra of two documents that is now being used to pin Ukraine against the wall.

                  – Well they have already pushed Ukraine against the wall because at one time (Ukraine) signed and accepted (Minsk II), and later everyone began to understand and discover that this is really a time bomb.Perhaps Poroshenko hoped that in a year something would happen, either the mighty (Russian) ruler would croak, or the situation would change. But Russia still stands and Putin now brings up the Minsk agreements and thrusts them in Poroshenko’s face: “Look, you signed the commitment and signed that you would change the Constitution! Is it written here that the Donbas must have special status? Yes it is. Is it written that these changes to the Constitution must be approved by the DNR LNR militants? Written. Then execute!” And the president of Ukraine has no choice, in fact. He made a promise to Putin, he made a promise to the West, and now they’re demanding it.

                  But, fortunately, there is a so-so Verkhovna Rada in this country on which everything depended really: provide 300 votes for the Constitution and secure the special status of the Donbas or not. Since the Verkhovna Rada did not muster the 300 votes and the president ended up in an impasse, he had to call on judges to get him out of the fix twice. First he turned to the Constitutional Court to figure out if it is the next session, or the one that follows the previous one, or simply the subsequent one. This is ridiculous in terms of common sense. Because if today is Wednesday, for example, then tomorrow will be Thursday and not Friday. And the problem is that neither the president nor the speaker of Verkhovna Rada noticed that there is already a Constitutional Court decision on the matter. It was already there in 2002. ( refers to the requirement that a draft law on introducing amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine, which are considered by the Verkhovna Rada and not adopted, cannot be revisited sooner than in a year. –Ed.)

                  – But if Verkhovna Rada removes it from the agenda or does not vote, then that is it — the issue fails. Then how would Ukraine look in international eyes?

                  Well if that happens I would consider this a manifestation of the sovereign position of the Ukrainian Parliament. I am convinced that regardless of the reaction in the East or the West, the Ukrainian Parliament is obligated to act that way. It must reject these amendments to the Constitution. And why should the Ukrainian position on the issue of the war in the Donbas need to depend on whether there are sanctions or not and the price of oil is $25 or $50 or $70?!

                  Well, if the Ukrainian side is hoping only for this, then that is to its shame. I think the Ukrainian side should have an option as to when the sanctions are imposed and when they are lifted. And most important, every Ukrainian politician must remember that no adverse external situation, no support or lack of support of the West can force us to give up our national interests. We have no right to integrate the Donbas into Ukraine on Russia’s terms.

                  – I agree with you, but what if the Verkhovna Rad
                  a does accept these changes?

                  Well, there are not enough votes now and I don’t think they will be there. But if that suddenly happens then there will be people in Ukraine who will put this issue to a referendum. I believe that no parliament or president can decide that kind of question without taking into account the views of the Ukrainian people. And then we will go to a referendum. And I assure you that this referendum will be won by the opponents of special status (for the Donbas).

                  – Even if Ukraine regains control of the border, I don’t know how Ukraine will be able to control all these gangs of thugs.

                  It won’t be able to. There are several dangers. The greatest danger is if there is a special status in the Donbas. It won’t be difficult to guess that other regions will also demand special status for themselves. For example, Zakarpattia, Bessarabia and possibly even Halychyna will also begin to demand autonomy.

                  Second, if we legalize special status, then it is clear who will be chosen in the occupied territories. And these thugs will begin traveling around in Ukraine with the badges of local council deputies. And these thugs will have immunity. And this bacteria, this gangrene, will begin to spread throughout Ukraine.

                  Yes, this was discussed even then. But at that time Poroshenko reassured everybody that this would bring peace for Ukraine, that the militants were advancing and it was necessary to prevent the killing of civilians and that (the agreement) had to be signed. But we can see now, a year later, that peace has not arrived. Our people continue to die as before.

                  – It would be similar to 2006, after the Maidan victory, when they allowed the former Regionals (members of the Party of Regions, the party of Yanukovych and company — Ed.) to receive the badges that provide immunity. >>>>>>>

                  continue read
                  Ukraine needs alternatives to the Minsk II "time bomb" - analyst -Euromaidan Press |

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                  • Economics
                    First Ukrainian bank withdrawn from market for nontransparent ownership
                    10.02.2016 | 15:02 UNIAN

                    The National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) has decided to include TK Credit, a small-sized bank in terms of assets, in the category of insolvent banks, having for the first time withdrawn a bank from the market for the nontransparent structure of its ownership, the regulator reported on its website.

                    Starting from the middle of 2014 the NBU has repeatedly brought to the attention of the bank that its ownership structure did not meet the transparency requirements, but the financial institution is said to have disregarded the warnings. What is more, the bank did not submit the requested documents and the bank owners did not take necessary measures to bring the bank's structure in line with legislation requirements.

                    According to NBU estimates, 98.9% of the bank's depositors will be entitled to compensation through the Individual Deposit Guarantee Fund in full, estimated at about UAH 0.6 million.

                    The NBU said that all Ukrainian banks should have confirmed transparency of their ownership by the end of 2015, facing the risk of being withdrawn from the market.

                    The NBU also said it intended to complete the process of ensuring transparency of Ukrainian banks' ownership by the end of the first quarter of 2016.

                    As part of the banking system's purge, which started in 2014, the NBU designated 63 financial institutions as insolvent.

                    In October last year, 48 banks were designated by the NBU as having non-transparent ownership structures. The regulator obliged those banks to provide documents showing actual owners and affiliated persons as requested by the law becoming effective in March on amendments to certain legislative acts of Ukraine on liability of persons affiliated with banks.

                    According to the NBU, the disclosure of information about real owners of the Ukrainian banks will enable the Individual Deposit Guarantee Fund and law enforcement agencies to identify defendants under the claims against banks and hold them accountable for forcing the banks into bankruptcy.

                    Later, the regulator reported that a number of banks had settled the transparency issues and therefore had been excluded from the list of the "non-transparent" banks. According to the NBU's website, the list of such banks that are still in the process of legalizing their ownership structure comprises 30 financial institutions.
                    First Ukrainian bank withdrawn from market for nontransparent ownership : UNIAN news

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                    • 09:43 10.02.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                      Political crisis threatens Ukraine's economic growth – chief banker

                      The political crisis in Ukraine poses a threat to economic growth in 2016, Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine Valeriya Gontareva said at a meeting with heads of the country's 40 largest banks on Tuesday.

                      "Unfortunately we see the political crisis unfolding now. It makes the situation on the financial market more uncertain, affects relations between Ukraine and international partners, and poses a threat to economic growth this year. We hope very much that politicians will be able to resolve this crisis in the near future," the NBU's press service quoted Gontareva as saying.

                      In this connection, the NBU was forced to downgrade its real GDP growth forecast for 2016 to 1.1% from 2.4%, she said. What is more, the balance of payments is also expected worse than earlier – its deficit is projected at $2.5 billion instead of last year's balanced current account. However, the NBU did not change its forecast for inflation in 2016.

                      "Our forecasts did not foresee growing political instability, therefore our expectations will coincide with actual indicators only in case the political situation becomes stable," she said.

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                      • 15:44 10.02.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                        Rozenko won't reinstate former State Employment Service head on his office

                        Ukrainian Social Policy Minister Pavlo Rozenko has said that he doesn't intend to comply with the court ruling to reinstate head of the State Employment Service Yaroslav Kashuba in his post.

                        "As far as I know, the investigation into allegations of bribery regarding the former State Employment Service head has not yet been completed; the case has not been transferred to court. Therefore, I do not see any grounds to restore Kashuba without a final court ruling per se," the press service of the Social Policy Ministry quoted Rozenko as saying.

                        Thus, in the words of the minister, there won't be an order to reinstate Kashuba in his previous post. "I do not intend to cancel my resolution dismissing Kashuba from the post of the State Employment Service head. … It is clear that we should soon expect the ex-head of the State Employment Service to appeal to court with a request to restore him in office," Rozenko added.

                        As reported, Kyiv's Pechersky District Court ruled to reinstate Yaroslav Kashuba as a head of the State Employment Service.

                        In September 2015, Kahuba was arrested in his official car in Kyiv city center, while receiving a bribe in the amount of UAH 622,000. Ukraine's Security Service jointly with the Prosecutor General's Office carried out the operation. Law enforcers also found a shotgun with ammunition in Kashuba's car, besides a large sum of money in foreign and national currencies.

                        What is more, the head of the tender committee of Ukraine's State Employment Service was also detained following a receipt of unlawful advantage.

                        The Kyiv's Pechersky District Court chose an identical restraint measure – detention permitting bail – for both the detained officials of the employment service.

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                        • 10:08 10.02.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                          NATO secretary general reiterates support to Ukraine, sees no need for frequent NATO-Ukraine Commission meetings

                          Ukraine is constantly present on the agenda of NATO, but it does not mean that the NATO-Ukraine Commission should meet at each of the ministerial sessions of the North Atlantic Alliance, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

                          "We provide political support for Ukraine, we provide practical support both as an alliance with different trust funds, where we help Ukraine with command and control logistics and many other areas. But in addition to that NATO allies provide training and help and support for Ukraine," Stoltenberg said at a press conference held prior to the NATO ministerial meeting scheduled for February 10-11, the program of which has no meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.

                          "Then we have had many meetings in the NATO-Ukraine Commission but we don't [have a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine commission on February 10-11], but we are not able to have commission meetings on all our ministerials. We had a NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting as of just last fall, we will have it again I'm certain, but we, we are not in a position where we can have all the different commissions we have established at all our ministerials," he said.

                          Stoltenberg said he has met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently, said that there will be new meetings and that NATO will continue to provide strong support for Ukraine.

                          When asked about NATO's stand on the situation in Ukraine's east, Stoltenberg said that the Alliance supports Ukraine.

                          "We give strong political support for Ukraine, their independence, their territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine but of course we then also support the efforts to find and to implement a negotiated peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine," he said.

                          The NATO secretary general said that it is extremely important that the Minsk Agreements are fully implemented meaning a ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and that the international monitors have full access so they can monitor and make sure that the agreement is fully implemented.

                          "And that's what we are doing, we will continue to do so and we will do so in close cooperation with the government of Ukraine," he added.

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                          • 15:53 10.02.2016 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                            U.S. ambassador calls IMF statement further argument for reload of Ukraine's government, zero tolerance for corruption

                            U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt has said the recent statement by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the threat to the program of assistance to Ukraine was another argument for the need to implement reforms.

                            "Further argument here for completing reload of Ukraine's reformer-led government and zero tolerance for corruption," he wrote on his Twitter account on Wednesday, commenting on the relevant IMF statement published in the media.

                            As reported, on Wednesday IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde stated that it was hard for the IMF to continue its cooperation with Ukraine under the Extended Fund Facility program without a substantial effort to fight corruption.

                            "I am concerned about Ukraine’s slow progress in improving governance and fighting corruption, and reducing the influence of vested interests in policymaking. Without a substantial new effort to invigorate governance reforms and fight corruption, it is hard to see how the IMF-supported program can continue and be successful," she said in a statement published on Wednesday.

                            "Ukraine risks a return to the pattern of failed economic policies that has plagued its recent history. It is vital that Ukraine's leadership acts now to put the country back on a promising path of reform," Lagarde said.

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                            • The Great Debate - Russia having success in hybrid war against Germany
                              REUTERS Lucian Kim February 7, 2016 Part 1

                              The attack came in the form of a Saturday evening newscast from Moscow. It would take days before the German government realized what was happening, but by that time the damage was already done. Germany’s sizable Russian-speaking community –made up of migrants from the former Soviet Union — was up in arms about a report that refugees from the Middle East had gang-raped a 13-year-old Russian girl in Berlin — and that the local police was covering up the crime.
                              ----------------------
                              Until recently, Germany had largely been spared the wrath of Russia’s state propaganda machine. Germans, in their eagerness to be conscientious world citizens and reliable business partners, were seen in the Kremlin as allies to coddle and co-opt. That view changed abruptly in 2014, when Angela Merkel led the drive for European Union sanctions to punish Russia for its war against Ukraine. Now, as the German chancellor flounders domestically because of her open-door refugee policy, she has made herself vulnerable to attack. “I’ve never seen so much glee from the Russians as during Germany’s refugee crisis,” said a diplomat in Berlin.

                              On Jan. 16, Russia’s state-run Channel One led the 9 o’clock evening news with a shocking report from Berlin. “Evidence has emerged that migrants in Germany have started raping children,” presenter Yekaterina Andreyeva said in the intro. That evidence came in the form of testimony by the “Aunt Marina” of a teenage girl, identified as Lisa, who claimed she had been abducted on her way to school and raped by migrants for more than a day. More proof that Germany is going to hell in a hand basket was a blurry video of a supposed recent arrival who bragged about raping a “virgin” with five other men. (Germany’s Bild newspaper later reported that the video had appeared on YouTube more than six years ago.)

                              Lisa’s relatives told Channel One that the police was refusing to find the perpetrators. The Berlin police was unavailable for comment over the weekend. Frightened neighbors, mostly members of the Russian diaspora in Germany, gathered for a “spontaneous” protest in the Marzahn district in eastern Berlin, Channel One reported. One woman tearfully recounted how her 14-year-old child was terrified of passing a refugee shelter on the way to school. It later turned out that the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party had organized the protest.

                              Coming just weeks after widespread sexual assaults by migrants in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, Lisa’s story was incendiary — and spread like wildfire through social media. The Berlin police finally addressed the case in a press release posted on Facebook. While the girl had indeed been reported as missing, the police said, she had not been abducted or raped.

                              Yet to those who believe that German authorities have lost control over the country, the police statement sounded like a cover-up. The following weekend, Russian speakers held rallies across Germany. In Berlin, 700 protesters, backed by the anti-Islam movement PEGIDA, gathered in front of the Federal Chancery holding smiley-face balloons with their mouths taped over and signs reading “Our children are in danger.”

                              What should have been a case for family counselors and detectives blew up into a diplomatic scandal. As Lisa holds both German and Russian citizenship, the Kremlin entered the fray. In late January the Russian embassy in Berlin sent an “aggressive” protest note to the German Foreign Office demanding a full investigation, according to Der Spiegel. Then Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov brought up “our girl Lisa” in his annual press conference in Moscow. “I really hope that the migration problems won’t lead to an attempt to whitewash reality with political correctness for domestic political reasons,” Lavrov said. “That wouldn’t be right.”

                              The German government could no longer ignore that it was the target of a full-on propaganda attack, including very public trolling by the Russian foreign minister. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, denounced the “political instrumentalization” of the case. Even Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister who never tires of “dialogue” with the Kremlin, lost his patience, saying there was no justification for using a 13-year-old girl for “political propaganda.”

                              In the meantime, the Berlin police were getting to the bottom of what happened to Lisa in the 30 hours she had gone missing. Her accounts of the supposed kidnapping were contradictory, and a medical examination showed that she had been neither raped nor beaten. The trail finally led to the apartment of a 19-year-old German acquaintance, where Lisa had temporarily hidden from her parents because of problems at school. What confused the story was the discovery by investigators that long before her disappearance, the girl had in fact had sexual contact with two men, both of Turkish origin, and neither a refugee. State prosecutors have since opened an investigation into child molestation.

                              The truth doesn’t matter, because it’s already mission accomplished for the Kremlin. By mentioning the case of Lisa publicly, Lavrov pulled off a common trick in Russia’s self-declared “information war” against its enemies: a government official picks up on a report in state media, leading to its legitimation and further dissemination. Fake news is essentially laundered and enters the public consciousness as fact.

                              Two years ago, it was hard for people in the West to imagine how Russian state media used half-truths and blatant lies to distort the pro-EU Maidan protest in Kiev into a fascist conspiracy. When Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled to Russia and a provisional government took power, the Kremlin news channels spread reports of armed gangs of Ukrainian nationalists terrorizing Russian speakers in southeastern Ukraine. Having been inculcated for months about the threat of Ukrainian revanchism, large parts of the Russian-speaking population were genuinely scared — and supported an intervention by Russia on their behalf. Viewers at home and abroad had been well primed for the coming conflict. The news was fake; the fear was real.

                              As shown on Russian state TV, the hysteria among Germany’s Russian speakers toward refugees was identical to the panic of Ukraine’s Russian speakers about fascist gangs. The main message of the inflammatory reports from Berlin was that Merkel was finished, Germany was on the decline, and Western liberal democracies were undoing themselves via foolhardy multiculturalism and misplaced tolerance.

                              It’s no small irony that the principal actors in this apocalyptic view of Europe’s refugee crisis are former migrants themselves. After reunification in 1990, Germany opened its borders to migrants from the former Soviet Union: more than 2 million ethnic Germans and some 215,000 Jews, according to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. Integration into German society was not always successful, however, and much of the older generation still gets its news from Russia thanks to satellite channels and the Internet.

                              For TV viewers in Russia, the plight of Russian speakers in Germany — allegedly victimized by refugees and ignored by the police — fits into the larger narrative of “compatriots” in neighboring countries who are subjected to discrimination and violence. Half a million of these “Russian Germans” are ready to move back to Russia because of the flood of refugees, state news agency RIA Novosti reported last week, citing the leader of an obscure Russian immigrant party in Germany.

                              Stoking outrage in Germany’s Russian-speaking community is not an end in itself, but a means to exploiting cracks in German society exposed by the refugee crisis. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who served as a KGB agent in Soviet-occupied East Germany and speaks fluent German, believes that Berlin and Moscow can form a strategic axis based on Russian natural resources and German technology. Merkel, in her insistence that Russia do more to bring peace to Ukraine, is getting in the way.

                              In March 2014, Putin appealed directly to Germans for their support, drawing parallels between the annexation of Crimea and German reunification. Winning over German public opinion became a priority, and the state-owned network RT, formerly known as Russia Today, opened a German channel, RT Deutsch, later that year. The Kremlin was exploiting a growing distrust among Germans toward traditional news outlets, expressed in the far-right PEGIDA protests. A poll conducted in October found that 44 percent of Germans agreed with PEGIDA that mainstream media distorted the news to suit the elites.

                              Propaganda was only one element in the so-called “hybrid warfare” that Russia directed against Ukraine. Long before the Kremlin deployed “little green men” — Russian troops without insignia — to Crimea, it had used other non-military measures such as playing pipeline politics, buying politicians, and backing fringe parties with radical agendas. Those same measures are being used in Germany and other European countries.

                              Contrarians on the left and right are enthusiastic about the support from Moscow.

                              Alexej Dankwardt, a Leipzig city councilman, was kicked out of the Left Party caucus last month after writing on Facebook that he wished Merkel would be toppled in a “German Maidan” and forced to “sprint half-naked to save herself from the angry masses.” Dankwardt, who represents Lisa and her family as a lawyer, has become a frequent commentator on Russian state TV.


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                              • The Great Debate - Russia having success in hybrid war against Germany
                                REUTERS Lucian Kim February 7, 2016 Part 2

                                In a November 2014 meeting with Alexander Gauland, one of the founders of the far-right Alternative for Germany, Russian diplomats offered “strategic advice” to the upstart, euroskeptic party. Last March, Udo Voigt, a leader of the National Democratic Party, attended a gathering of European rightwing extremist parties in St. Petersburg.

                                The standard Kremlin response to charges that it’s waging a hybrid war against Europe is that Russia is simply defending itself against similar methods employed by Western powers. In a speech to Russia’s Academy of Military Sciences in January 2013, Chief-of-Staff Valery Gerasimov complained that Russian knowledge of asymmetric warfare was “superficial.” The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the United States in particular, had demonstrated their mastery of non-military campaigns in the Arab Spring and Ukraine’s pro-Western Orange Revolution in 2004, Gerasimov said.

                                Such modesty is disingenuous. Disinformation and subversion as weapons of war are as old as catapults and cavalry. The Kremlin’s advantage in the information age is that all of Russia’s major media outlets are under its control, allowing it to hammer its audience with one, unified message. The Kremlin claim that it’s in an “information war” with the West implies that there is vast conspiracy among myriad media in the United States and Europe, public and private, to produce the same lies about Russia.

                                In fact, Western diplomats are at a loss about how to counter the effects of Kremlin propaganda on Russian speakers in EU countries. In March, the European Union established the East StratCom Task Force “to address Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaigns.” Despite its important-sounding name, the bureaucratic unit has no budget, 10 employees, and barely 4,000 Twitter followers.

                                A year ago, Germany’s domestic intelligence service warned that Russia was widening its espionage activity in Europe with the goal of destabilizing its neighbors and influencing decision-makers. A cyber-attack on the main server of the German parliament last spring has since been traced back to Russian military intelligence, Der Spiegel reported, quoting a high-ranking security official. There have reportedly been similar attacks on other NATO states and German arms companies.

                                A legion of useful idiots is ready to do the Kremlin’s bidding. Horst Seehofer, the head of Merkel’s Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union, has been haranguing the chancellor for months to tighten her refugee policy. On Wednesday, Seehofer met Putin outside Moscow, where the Bavarian premier expressed his hope that sanctions against Russia would soon be lifted.

                                Afterwards, Seehofer told journalists it was “classy” of Putin to say he wouldn’t meddle in Germany’s refugee policy. Meanwhile, the Rossiya TV channel trumpeted the “commotion” that the visit had caused back in Berlin.
                                Russia having success in hybrid war against Germany

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