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  • RADIO FREE EUROPE April 12, 2016
    EU Commission To Push Ahead With Ukraine Visa Liberalization

    BRUSSELS -- EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn says the European Commission plans to go ahead with its proposal for visa liberalization for Ukraine -- despite a Dutch referendum last week that rejected Ukraine’s Association Agreement with Kyiv.

    Hahn told RFE/RL on April 12 that it would be “unfair” not to go ahead with visa liberalization for Ukraine because Brussels has “always asked certain conditions” from Kyiv.

    Hahn told RFE/RL: “We have worked on this issue for some years. We have always argued that we are following a certain methodology. They have accepted it. They have delivered. Now I think it is a question of fairness to fulfill what we have promised.”

    Sources in Brussels say the visa liberalization proposal for Ukraine is likely to come by the end of April and will allay fears in Kyiv that the nonbinding Dutch referendum will slow down the establishment of visa-free rules for Ukrainian citizens.

    But it remains unclear when EU member states and the European Parliament would vote on the proposal.

    The EU's 27 other members have ratified Ukraine’s EU Association Agreement and it went into effect in January.
    EU Commission To Push Ahead With Ukraine Visa Liberalization

    æ, !

    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


    • RADIO FREE EUROPE April 12, 2016
      Afghan Lawmaker Appears To Threaten Female Journalist With Rape

      A new documentary that explores the rights of women in Afghanistan features a clip in which a member of parliament appears to threaten his female interviewer with rape. Now, he is demanding an apology.

      The apparent threat from leading cleric and lawmaker Nazir Ahmad Hanafi is made during a testy interview conducted by Isobel Yeung, a reporter for the documentary series Vice on HBO.

      "What if a husband rapes his wife, is that domestic abuse?" Yeung asks Hanafi while querying him about his opposition to Afghan legislation that would eliminate violence against women. "Should the man be punished or should the woman be punished for that, in your opinion?"

      Speaking through an interpreter, the two debate the definition of rape, culminating with the parliament member from Herat saying, "There is a kind of rape you have and another we have in Islam."

      Yeung begins to ask a follow-up question, "Do you think women should be allowed...", but is abruptly cut off by Hanafi, who tells someone off-camera that "I think you should stop it now."

      The clip then shows Yeung sitting silently as a conversation in Dari plays out. The cleric is then captured on film suggesting that she should be raped. "Hand her over to an Afghan man so he can give it to her so hard it'll come out her nose," he says under his breath.

      The exchange was revealed in a promotional video for the documentary Afghan Women's Rights And Floating Armories, which aired on HBO on April 10.

      Hanafi, however, when queried by RFE/RL about his comments, initially denied having ever spoken to Yeung. "I haven't met such a person, I have no idea about this, and have not said anything," Hanafi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on April 9, a day after the promotional clip emerged. "No one has spoken with me."

      He continued to deny having participated in the interview, suggesting that someone made a fake video featuring his likeness. "It's very simple to make a video," he said. "There are people who put together a head, a beard, and a body in a video that would look more authentic than the real person."

      Under further questioning, Hanafi eventually admitted to having participated in an interview. "When we were talking about marriage issues," he recalled, "I told her, 'If you want to know about it, you can marry an Afghan man.'"

      When asked if he would apologize if it was determined that he had, in fact, made the remarks, Hanafi struck a defiant tone. "What else do you want? There is a person who fabricated this [video] and I should ask that person why they did it," he said. "Who should apologize? Me or those who distributed [videos] against me? They are plotting against a person who is minding his own business."

      RFE/RL has yet to view the full documentary, or the unedited version of Yeung's exchange with Hanafi, to determine the precise sequence of events. In the case of his rape comment, for instance, a man is seen in the background who does not appear in different camera angles during Hanafi and Young's exchange.

      But there is no question that Hanafi made the rape comment during the session, translated by Vice/HBO as "Maybe I should give you to an Afghan man to take your nose off," and that it has caused a stir.

      Responding to a tweet noting that Hanafi had denied participating in the interview, Yeung replied, "Perhaps it was more memorable for me than it was for him."

      In a separate "debrief" video promoting the documentary in which Yeung spoke about her work in Afghanistan, she described her interview with Hanafi as "incredibly awkward and very frustrating."

      The documentary seeks to highlight the plight of women in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Hanafi, a lawmaker from the western Herat Province, has opposed the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act, which was decreed by former President Hamid Karzai in 2009 to much fanfare, but has yet to be passed by parliament.

      Hanafi appears uncomfortable with the questioning at various points of the interview, and at times seems to be avoiding eye contact with Yeung. "He refused to look at me, he talked to my translator, he talked over me, he didn't listen to my questions," the reporter said.

      The reporter explained that she thought it was understood by everyone that "Hanafi felt rather hostile toward me being a woman," and that she believes the translator "thought it wise not to translate everything that he was saying."

      This, Yeung said, meant she didn't "actually realize a lot of the abuse that he [Hanafi] was throwing my way."
      Afghan Lawmaker Appears To Threaten Female Journalist With Rape

      æ, !

      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


      • The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore April 11, 2016
        The Daily Vertical: Is Putin Turning Inward?

        The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore April 12, 2016
        The Daily Vertical: Putin's Crisis Menu
        The Daily Vertical: Putin's Crisis Menu
        The Power Vertical Brian Whitmore April 12, 2016
        Corruption Is The New Communism

        Soviet tanks roll into Budapest and Prague.

        Russian banks set up secretive offshore accounts and shady shell companies that stealthily buy influence and gobble up strategic assets across Europe.

        Quislings in the East and fellow travelers in the West toe the Leninist line.

        Business and industrial lobbies in both East and West parrot Putinist talking points.

        A network of Communist parties and front groups advance Moscow's interests.

        A web of opaque front corporations, murky energy deals, and complex money-laundering schemes ensnare foreign elites and form a ready-made Kremlin lobby.

        Past, meet present.
        In many ways, Russian corruption is the new Soviet Communism. Kremlin-sponsored graft is the new Red Menace.

        In the East, an alliance of satellite states with Soviet-style socialist command economies and authoritarian political systems has been replaced with a loose grouping of kleptocracies with Russian-style crony-capitalist economies and dysfunctional governance.

        And the Soviet Union's attempts to subvert the West with the power of an idea has given way to Vladimir Putin's Russia seeking to corrupt it with the lure of easy money.

        The more things change, the more they stay the same.
        "The Kremlin does not need to be the outright leader of a bloc of nations a la Warsaw Pact; instead, it can exacerbate existing divides, subvert international institutions and help create a world where its own form of corrupt authoritarianism flourishes," Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss wrote in their widely circulated report, The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture, and Money.

        Capturing Elites
        The Soviet Union sought to spread Communism and establish a bloc of nations loyal to Moscow. Vladimir Putin's Russia seeks to spread its corrupt business model to establish a bloc of nations dependent upon the Kremlin.

        The Soviet Union was primarily concerned with its immediate neighborhood, Eastern Europe, but also sought to spread its socialist model outward.

        Putin's Russia is also concentrating on its immediate neighborhood, the ex-USSR, but has also set its sights on pushing kleptocracy farther afield.

        It has used murky energy schemes with opaque ownership structures like RosUkrEnergo, EuralTransGas, and Moldovagaz as carrots to capture and control elites in former Soviet states like Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

        Farther West, the Kremlin has deployed shifty shell companies like Vemex, an energy trading company with a mindbogglingly opaque ownership structure ultimately leading to Gazprom, which has captured between 10-12 percent of the Czech energy market.

        The Kremlin has indeed mastered the art of the corrupt deal to create patron-client relations well beyond Russia's borders.

        "Gazprom, with the silent support of the Kremlin has set up 50 or so middleman companies, silently linked to Gazprom and scattered throughout Europe," the late energy analyst Roman Kupchinsky, former director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, said in testimony before the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee in June 2008.

        Kupchinsky cited the Vienna-based Centrex group, owned by a Cyprus-based Holding company and RN Privatstiftung in Austria, as well as the Gazprom Germania network.

        Such fronts, he added, "do not add any value to the price of Russian gas being sold on European markets; yet they earn enormous sums of money which appears to simply vanish through shell companies in Cyprus and in Liechtenstein."

        Kupchinsky also told the committee that "in Hungary, shady companies with suspected links to organized crime and to Gazprom seek to control large segments of the domestic gas distribution and power generation business."

        'This Is The Story Of An Invasion'
        There is also evidence that Putin has recruited some members of his old intelligence network in the East German Stasi to set up front companies throughout Europe.

        A September 2007 investigative report by German journalist Hans-Martin Tillack uncovered how Gazprom Germania was "something of a club for former members of the East German security services."

        "This is the story of an invasion. A massive campaign, planned well in advance. The General Staff is located far away in the east, in Moscow, the capital of Russia. The target area is Germany -- and the rest of Western Europe," Tillack wrote.

        "But the story of this invasion is teeming with ex-Stasi officers and shady figures. It is a story of letterbox companies that do not even have a letterbox, of companies nestled within companies. The overriding impression? That they are concealing the flow of funds."

        But it is an invasion in which many elites in the West are either willing -- or unwitting -- participants.

        "Acquiescence to Russian corruption, with illicit funds regularly laundered throughout the West, works to the Kremlin’s advantage both domestically and internationally," Pomerantsev and Weiss wrote.

        "If the premise of the neoliberal idea of globalization is that money is politically neutral, that interdependence will be an impulse towards rapprochement, and that international commerce sublimates violence into harmony, the Russian view remains at best mercantilist, with money and trade used as weapons and interdependence a mechanism for aggression."

        Communism, despite its faults, attempted to appeal to universal human ideals and aspirations. But in practice, it cut against human nature.

        Corruption appeals to the most universal and basest human instinct -- greed. And sadly, it is often in sync with human nature -- which makes the new Red Menace potentially more dangerous and insidious than the old one.

        Corruption isn't just a matter of good governance anymore. It's now a national security issue and needs to be treated as such. Corruption Is The New Communism

        æ, !

        Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


        • RADIO FREE EUROPE Antoine Blua April 12, 2016
          Freedom House: Economic Troubles Threaten Stability In Ex-Soviet 'Dictatorships'

          In a new report, Freedom House warns that economic woes are threatening the stability of "entrenched dictatorships" in the former Soviet Union, the migration crisis is fueling populism in Eastern Europe, and reforms in the Balkans are in retreat.

          Russian President Vladimir Putin's "naked embrace of autocracy" deepened in 2015, the U.S.-based human rights group says.

          Freedom House made the assessments in its annual Nations In Transit report, which monitors the democratic development of 29 countries in the former Soviet Union, the Balkans, and Central Europe. It was published on April 12.

          The report assigns each country a score to measure democratic progress. Weighted for population, the average Democracy Score in the 29 countries covered has declined for 12 years in a row.

          On The Brink
          The situation is particularly grim in the former Soviet Union, where seven countries are led by "dictators" who have been in power for at least 10 years -- Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

          Freedom House says the collapse in global commodity prices, especially oil, combined with U.S. and European sanctions on Russia and Russian countersanctions, has driven economies of the region "to the brink."

          Economic troubles have pushed Russia into recession and triggered similar currency crises and budget shortfalls in other oil- and gas-producing countries including Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan.

          The crisis has also rippled through non-energy-based economies that are dependent on Russia through subsidies and migrant labor, with Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan "also facing possible recession in 2016," the report says.

          Nate Schenkkan, project director of Nations In Transit, told RFE/RL that these states now have to face the consequences after years of failing to diversify their economies or create transparent and accountable systems of government.

          "It's certainly likely that there's going to be considerably more social protest in this year," he said. "There was probably more in 2015 already."

          "Anecdotally, we know that there are large numbers of labor migrants returning, especially to Tajikistan," Schenkkan added. "This then creates a large class of unemployed young men…and that of course is a very potent potential protest group."

          Harsher Crackdown
          Schenkkan said that leaders in the region had responded with measures intended to "reaffirm their control."

          In Russia, the report says, Putin's "naked embrace of autocracy since his return to the presidency in 2012 deepened in 2015 with an ever-harsher crackdown on civil society and political organizing."

          It says Russian "innovations in authoritarianism," such as restrictions on nongovernmental organizations, spread further within the region.

          "One of the foremost among those [new tactics] is the 'foreign agents' law, the branding of NGOs as foreign agents which in Russia has been frankly very effective in driving NGOs underground or forcing them to leave the country or to cease their activities," Schenkkan said. "And you've seen this imitated in a number of countries in Eurasia.

          "You have in Tajikistan quite similar legislation that's been applied somewhat arbitrarily and unevenly -- but has been applied," he said. "In Kazakhstan, you have a different kind of NGO restriction…that's also having very, very pernicious effects now that it's being applied in 2016. And in Kyrgyzstan, a 'foreign agents' law has been debated in parliament now for over a year."

          The report says Tajikistan's government pursued "one of the harshest crackdowns the region has seen in years," banning the main opposition party and imprisoning its leaders.

          The country "began prosecuting lots and lots of civil society activists as well as people like the lawyers of those members who were arrested as well as the lawyers of the lawyers," Schenkkan said.

          Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev held early elections to reaffirm his mandate while signing a new law to "increase control over civil society," he said.

          Schenkkan also said that governments were increasingly prosecuting people for speech on online platforms, and that the "charge of inciting ethnic or social hatred is now being applied more widely."

          In Kyrgyzstan, he said, the government had been "using the tools of the state, especially the security services, to blacken the names of the opposition and to put its opponents on the back foot and try to prevent them from organizing rallies or organizing expressions of discontent."

          The Nations In Transit report says Azerbaijan "continued a crackdown that began in the summer of 2014," citing last year's sentencing of investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova to 7 1/2 years in prison.

          In Belarus, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka freed political prisoners and allowed "mild criticism" ahead of a presidential election in October, in an effort to "court the EU and replace the patronage that Russia can no longer provide," the report says.

          Ukraine "remains the single most important opportunity for establishing democracy" in the region, it adds.

          The government achieved "some progress" in reforms in 2015, but continuing Russian occupation of Crimea, the separatist conflict in the country's east, widespread corruption, and impunity for crimes during the political upheaval of 2014 are holding back further progress."

          "Ukraine is really at a pivot point where they have to go forward," Schenkkan warned. "And if they don't, there's a real significant threat that Ukraine falls back and continues a tradition of very, very corrupt governance."

          Balkan Retreat
          In the Balkans, Serbia and Montenegro have begun the EU accession process, Albania and Macedonia are official candidates, while Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo are potential candidates.

          But Freedom House says reform "has slowed and now retreated," with the region's average Democracy Score back to where it was in 2004, as the EU struggled to find a balance between ensuring short-term stability in the Balkans and pressing for convergence with European norms.

          There has been modest movement "backward," Schenkkan said. In part, he said, that is because some leaders who have dominated their countries' political systems have been "eroding checks and balances and eroding independent institutions that might push back against them."

          "That's certainly the case that we see in Serbia, it's very much what we saw in Macedonia, and to another degree in Montenegro," Schenkkan added.

          The report says that state-building in Kosovo and Bosnia has reached an "impasse," with governmental structures built to keep the peace preventing progress, and political and economic stagnation fueling popular frustration.

          It also describes "gradual success in functionalizing local governance and protecting media" in Kosovo.

          These developments risk being compounded by European border closings to prevent migrants from reaching the EU, the report notes.

          With crippling youth-unemployment rates, turning the Balkans "into an island inside Europe would be catastrophic for the region's development," Schenkkan warned.

          Rising Populism
          Meanwhile, Freedom House warns that the EU's "disjointed response" to the migration crisis has left the door open to xenophobia and nationalism in Central Europe.

          It says several leading politicians in the region joined Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in using xenophobic rhetoric to denounce migrants, positioning themselves as protectors of their countries' Christian identity against a Muslim "invasion."

          Schenkkan said that renewed nationalism, as well as the erosion of freedom of movement and other fundamental principles, were threatening the consolidation of democracy in Eastern Europe and the entire European project.

          "The European Union is a project that requires countries to give up some sovereignty in exchange for other benefits. So this very aggressive, nationalist approach to politics and to policy challenges the values of the EU but it also challenges the policies of the EU," he said.

          "And as we are seeing, the EU is having a very hard time now transforming and finding new policies in part because of this kind of rejectionist approach by leaders who are not necessarily interested in finding a solution within the EU."
          Freedom House: Economic Troubles Threaten Stability In Ex-Soviet 'Dictatorships'

          æ, !

          Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


          • RADIO FREE EUROPE James Miller April 12, 2016
            Tracking Islamic State - If The Goal Is To Defeat Islamic State, Don't Rely On Russia To Help

            Three historic developments have taken place in Syria in the last month and a half. The first was the declaration of a nationwide cease-fire, agreed upon by President Bashar al-Assad as well as most nonjihadist factions of the Syrian opposition. The second, Russian President Vladimir Putin's announcement that Russian forces would begin a partial withdrawal from Syria. The latest historic moment was the Assad government's recapture of the central city of Palmyra, which had been occupied by Islamic State (IS) extremists for most of the past year.

            Any of these events could have substantial impact on the collective efforts to combat IS, but each of them is clouded in myth, distortion, and broken promises. While world leaders debate the next steps to resolve the Syrian crisis, and while public focus on IS may be fading as the group's March 22 attacks in Brussels recede from short memories, a considerable amount of disinformation about Syria's current events could mean that the best efforts of the international community are just castles made of sand.

            The promise made in Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran is that a successful cease-fire in Syria will allow Assad's forces to concentrate their efforts on IS.

            It is not a coincidence that after the cease-fire took effect, the first targets of the pro-Assad coalition -- which includes Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commandos, Lebanese Hizballah fighters, Iraqi Shi'ite militias, Russian private military contractors, and of course Russian air and ground units -- were IS targets in Aleppo, followed soon thereafter by a ground campaign, supported by Russia's air power as well as mercenaries, against Palmyra.

            These efforts had the appearance of being the first wave of a new anti-IS campaign. The reality, however, is that Russia and Assad have already moved on to other goals that have nothing to do with defeating Islamic extremism and may in fact empower the terrorists.

            Immediately following the Syrian government's victory over IS in Palmyra, I conducted a thorough analysis of Russia's actions in Syria that shows that the facts on the ground dispel the narrative that Russia is fighting terrorism.

            Before Putin declared mission accomplished in Syria, Russia's bombing campaign had broken the backs of Western-supported rebel groups. Somewhere between 80 percent and 90 percent of Russia's air strikes hit areas where IS is not in control. Those air strikes worked, and right before Putin declared the partial withdrawal, he drove the major nonjihadist rebel groups to accept a cease-fire.

            But during the period of intense Russian bombardment, IS fighters took advantage of the weakened rebels and launched their own offensives, particularly near Aleppo. While Assad and the Kremlin benefited from IS gains north of Aleppo, this had consequences as IS gains south of Aleppo threatened the government's supply lines to its key bases near the city, particularly the Kweres airport. The very first targets Russia bombed once the cease-fire was in place were IS positions near Kweres, not in northern Aleppo, followed quickly by the assault on Palmyra.

            I discussed how Palmyra was geographically and economically significant for the Assad regime, since it lies on a key road between Iraq and the Syrian capital, Damascus, and since it is the only large populated area close to Syria's most important natural gas and (to a lesser degree) oil fields. My colleague Hassan Hassan argued that Assad's primary motive for attacking Palmyra was political, since the quest for a political solution to the Syrian crisis has begun again in earnest and Putin and Assad were trying to position themselves within the international community as leaders in the war on terror.

            The belief that Assad and Putin conducted this campaign to help ensure the survival of the Assad government, not to fight terrorism, is one that stems from five years of observing the actions of both the Syrian regime and its ally in Moscow. If that seemed a bold statement to make immediately after a successful campaign to retake territory from IS, events which have taken place since suggest that we were right.

            Since their recapture of Palmyra, instead of advancing deeper into IS territory the pro-Assad coalition launched an offensive against rebel groups around Damascus that were party to the cease-fire. In the last week and a half, air strikes have taken place in five regions, leading some rebels to conclude that there is so much fighting it is almost as if the cease-fire had never been signed.

            A bigger concern, however, is that the Al-Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria that was also not party to the cease-fire, is on the offensive but is not being bombed by Russian aircraft -- or by any aircraft, for that matter.

            Once again we see a familiar pattern: With world attention shifted away from Syria, the pro-Assad alliance is allowing Syria's most radical elements to advance while it is fighting some of the rebel groups who have been enemies of IS and could help restore order to the country in the future.

            We will probably continue to see fighting between Assad's forces and IS in the near future, as IS still controls territory between Damascus and Palmyra that is crucial for the government's supply lines. IS fighters have captured a cement factory about 48 kilometers northeast of Syria's capital and have reportedly kidnapped more than 100 workers there. But like Palmyra, these are battles of convenience in territory that is not central to the IS extremist group's operations. The IS heartland in northeastern Syria has largely been ignored by both Russia and Assad.

            All of this is coming at a time when new opportunities for fighting extremism have taken root.

            Since 2013, as Assad's brutal campaign against the Syrian people was reaching its apex, pro-democracy activists and nonjihadist rebel groups have had an ugly choice to make -- either fight both Assad and religious extremism, or make some sort of acknowledgement that such a position is completely untenable. Uneasy and morally challenging alliances are hardly anything new, but for the Syrians who are making these decisions, the enemy of their enemy is often the one who is now imposing its will on the people within territory they control. In parts of Idlib and Aleppo provinces in particular, even in areas where IS had been militarily ejected by the locals in 2014, the Al-Nusra Front has a major presence.

            But that dynamic may be changing. Soon after the cease-fire in Syria took hold, activists once again took to the streets to protest against Assad. In Ma'arrat al-Nouman, a key crossroad where Idlib Province meets Hama Province, supporters of the secular Free Syrian Army clashed with the Al-Nusra Front, who appear to think that now is a good time for them to accelerate the imposing of order on the territory they control, a process which started in 2014.

            Since those clashes, there has been significant backlash against the Al-Nusra Front as even some prominent figures have openly criticized the group. Ideological struggles that were shelved as the fight for survival took priority are now emerging once again, but as stated before, Russia and Assad are already voting with their bombs for their candidate in this race.

            In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Paris, Brussels, and beyond, worldwide there is considerable urgency in the discussion about how to best combat the black flag of Islamic State. But in a world that is still weary from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, global powers are looking to back foreign champions to bear the brunt of this fight.

            The Obama administration, for instance, has backed Kurdish militia groups in northern Syria as its own proxies in the battle against IS, and is providing them with air support and weapons. This has its own geopolitical consequences beyond just the fight against terrorism, but so far it has been effective in regaining at least some territory from IS extremists.

            There are also voices calling for different powers to spearhead the fight against IS. Some think more support of non-IS Syrian rebels will be most effective. On April 7, rebel groups seized the northern town of Al-Rai from IS, but on April 11, IS fighters pushed back and recaptured the town -- a key supply line between Turkey and the rebels. Others believe Turkey or Jordan could take a leading role, while still more are skeptical about any of these choices and believe that Western intervention is the only sure way to defeat terrorism that springs from Syria. Still others believe that Assad and its allies in Russia, Iran, Lebanon and Iraq are the only ones who can restore order to Syria.

            But many of these options are mutually exclusive, and too many of these conversations are detached from the realities on the ground in Syria. Nowhere is this more obvious than the discussion about the role the Syrian regime plays in this conflict. The facts are clear -- the violence brought to Syria by the Syrian government, violence that started more than two years before IS had a presence in Syria, has created the environment in which radicalism has thrived.

            At best, the defeat of IS is not the goal of Assad and his allies, though they fight terrorist groups when it's convenient. At worst, the actions of the government and its allies have enabled groups like IS and the Al-Nusra Front, while dealing a serious blow to forces that have fought against IS in the past. Any strategy to defeat Islamic State that does not accept these facts is a castle made of sand. If The Goal Is To Defeat Islamic State, Don't Rely On Russia To Help

            æ, !

            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


            • Time is running out for rule of law in Ukraine.
              13.04.16 | Luc Vancraen HUMAN RIGHTS IN UKRAINE

              Ukraine has made extraordinary reforms in the past two years. It made unprecedented structural reforms in its energy and banking sector. Government procurement became more transparent than ever before. The war and the unsustainable levels of corruption president Yanukovych left behind made substantial reforms unavoidable. Ukraine is rapidly reaching financial stability now and the current political crisis in part reflects that it is at a stage where it can afford this again.

              The country is at a crucial junction in its development now. Reforms in rule of law are paltry compared to other sectors. There is a real risk that reforms will stall now that the country has moved from the unsustainable Yanukovych corruption levels to the sustainable Kuchma levels that allowed some to become extremely rich while the vast majority remained structurally poor. A playground for oligarchs in other words.

              Reform failed to gain traction in the justice department in spite of huge efforts by civic organisations to get that rule of law going. The president by appointing first Yarema as prosecutor general (lustrated in 2006) and then Shokin (famous for never prosecuting anybody famous) has effectively sabotaged the introduction of the Rule of Law. It has signaled to everyone else corrupt that they should/could hold onto their place. This has harmed Ukraine at a time when others made extraordinary sacrifices. The soldiers, volunteers but also all the retired people that now have to survive on an average €44 a month pension deserve better.

              The oligarch rule that you should not go after your peers when in power has been maintained by the current president. To date not even Yanukovych has been prosecuted and as he had to escape to Russia this could easily have been done to appease both the population and the west. Yet it seems that it is still deemed safer not to set dangerous precedents.

              Ukraine needs a working justice system to become attractive to foreign investors and to grow more than a few percentages a year. Even if this threatens vested interests. It would be really stupid for the west to provide further financing without strong guarantees that the rule of law is established in Ukraine. If Ukraine becomes again financially independent it might become as belligerent as it did after it could do without IMF aid in 2009.

              Poroshenko is the richest pro-European leader ruling the poorest country of Europe. With his popularity at an all-time low and without having shed a single of his businesses to date there is a real chance that he will protect his personal wealth by never starting real and substantial justice reforms. He can then join a long list of pro-western leaders that knew how to say the right words to appease the west while never practising what they preached.

              Further western financial aid should be tied directly to substantial rule of law reforms. This inevitably entails a massive sacking of current prosecutors and judges together with substantial wage increases for those who step into their shoes. A fiscal amnesty can only take place after the justice system starts working credibly if not it would fall far short of potential revenue and just be an undeserved gift to those that do not need it in the first place.

              Ukraine’s oligarchy suffered huge financial losses in the past two years. Only the rule of law can prevent that they try to make up for these losses. Expect political instability and orchestrated violence as those who pull the strings of power position themselves as the only possible providers of stability for Ukraine. We should take that instability as temporary and stay the course on the rule of law as this is what sets western democracies apart from other systems.
              Time is running out for rule of law in Ukraine. ::

              æ, !

              Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


              • Book details Kremlin’s influence networks in France
                EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul A. Goble 2016/04/13

                A new book by French scholar Cecile Vaissie of the University of Rennes 2 describes the ways Moscow has used the media, political lobbying and hidden financing to develop an influence network in France, a network that has been very effective in certain parts of the political spectrum but not on the French population as a whole.

                Vaissie discussed her book, “Les Reseaux du Kremlin en France” (ISBN 978-2-36383-212-2), with Anna Stroganova of the Russian Service of Radio France International.

                The author points out that “some of these networks have existed already for a very long time.” Some had continued to function right along, while others have been “reactivated” by the Putin regime. Still others, including those involving the extreme French right are relatively new and not surprisingly, these have attracted the most attention.

                One can understand this network only by putting it in the context of the fact, Vaissie observes, that “in France Russia has always been admired as a mysterious country and the subject of various kinds of fantasies which are easy to use to attract new supporters” in specific contexts.

                One of these notions widespread among the French is that “Russia and its leaders are a single whole.” That is not true as the Kremlin does not represent the Russian people now or at many points in the past. But the willingness of the French to accept this equivalence makes it easier for Moscow to organize support networks.

                Lenin did so after 1917. Stalin and his successors followed this up and ensured that the French would ignore reports about Soviet crimes and justify or at least not condemn actions like the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 or the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the French scholar continues.

                "…While politicians and business people are often attracted to Moscow’s messages, very few French intellectuals are, at least in comparison with the 1930s and 1970s, and “85 percent of the French have a negative opinion about the Russian authorities and Vladimir Putin.”

                Prior to the end of the USSR, Moscow relied on the French Communist Party, but now it seeks support “above all on the extreme right flank” of the French political system by providing loans or other aid to the National Front – although, Vaissie notes, Russian agents of influence have not forgotten the extreme left.

                All countries seek to promote their interests abroad. The problem of Russia’s efforts in this regard lies in the fact that “many of the Russians assigned by the Kremlin for the development of Franco-Russian relations are ‘former’ KGB officers. But as Vladimir Putin has said, in this profession, there are no ‘former’ people.”

                Moscow has used money to advance its interests, but “one should not think that all of the supporters of the Kremlin in France have been purchased. People sincerely support the policy of the Russian authorities” because of the way Moscow’s agents present Russian goals, as ‘defenders of tradition‘ for the right, as ‘anti-American‘ for the left, and so on.

                Vaissie describes the three major public organizations Moscow uses to spread its influence within French elites: the Coordination Council of Russian Compatriots in France, the Franco-Russia Dialogue which is headed by a Russian security officer, and the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation headed by Natalya Narochnitskaya.

                The French scholar says she was pleased to discover in the course of writing her book that, while politicians and business people are often attracted to Moscow’s messages, very few French intellectuals are, at least in comparison with the 1930s and 1970s, and that “85 percent of the French have a negative opinion about the Russian authorities and Vladimir Putin.” Book details Kremlin's influence networks in France -- EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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                • THE ATLANIC COUNCIL Hanna Hopko April 12, 2016
                  Ukraine, Let’s Build a Country that the Dutch and All of Europe Will Embrace

                  Shall we live the old way? What are the lessons for the government of Ukraine from the referendum in the Netherlands?

                  Let’s begin with gratitude to the hundreds of colleagues and friends who in recent days worked to urge the people of the Netherlands to support Ukraine in the referendum.

                  We lost and Holland lost too. The strength and the unity of the EU after the failed referendum are threatened. This is not only a question about Ukraine and Euroskepticism, it is a question about the ability of the EU to be effective. Especially on the eve of a referendum in Britain.

                  Simultaneously, we need to move from pseudo Eurointegration to making real changes.

                  First, we choose Yanukovych types, then we throw our youth into the Maidan under the fire of grenades and snipers. We could have won, were it not for the pseudo-led policy on Eurointegration.

                  Europe is already exhausted by our demands to introduce a visa-free regime, whereas we should have astonished it by our success stories with the adoption and implementation of a large number of European legislation and actions to combat corruption rather than attempts to go after those who expose corruption. We had to surprise it by the quick formation of a capable coalition, not by a three-month tug of war over the empty budget coffers.

                  Do you think that Europe and the world doesn’t see this? Do you think the Dutch are unaware of our kickbacks and deals? It is all well known, especially from their many investors and journalists.

                  And aren’t our people—the voters —ashamed to keep on electing deputies who are and have become wealthy beyond imagination while the aggressor is destroying the country, spending too much time vacationing in the Bahamas, and underreporting their tax declarations?

                  Let's correct the situation in the country and do the task ourselves. Join a movement for the creation of the kind of Ukraine that Holland will unanimously support!

                  The work to correct errors should begin with a simple analysis of a survey of the Dutch people who voted against it. Some just do not want to hear about the EU. This is a problem for the Dutch government. Some are fooled by Russian propaganda. This is a common problem for the EU and our own civil society. Some only hear the negatives about us and don’t hear the positive accomplishments. This is a problem for the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The former needs to develop a product, and the latter needs to send the message through its own efforts and its communication with civil society.

                  For this to happen, there is a need to be in contact with society, not just through individual diplomats, but through the personnel of all diplomatic missions (through the Ukrainian diplomatic corps). Diplomats need to learn to live and understand the pulse of their nation, not just follow instructions from the ministry.

                  Timely appointments of ambassadors are needed! This applies not only to the EU. If there is such a low level of knowledge about Ukraine in educated Holland, what do we expect in Asia or Africa? It is up to us to communicate! It is in our own interest, but instead of strengthening the effectiveness of our diplomatic corps, we are cutting diplomatic posts and reducing salaries of embassy personnel and diplomats. Soon they will ride bikes and will attend meetings with colleagues in jeans.

                  Will we use the experience of this referendum within an environment of Euroskepticism in the EU to our advantage? Or, as is our habit, are we going to forget about our mistakes and the fear of defeat, and continue to live the old way as before? Until the next referendum or revolution?

                  Join us! It is time to live responsibly!
                  Ukraine, Let’s Build a Country that the Dutch and All of Europe Will Embrace

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                  • Separatist Commander: We are in a difficult situation in Avdiivka
                    UA WIRE.ORG April 12, 2016 10:24:58 AM

                    Alexander Khodakovsky, the commander of the separatist Vostok battalion, says that in many ways the fighting in the Avdiivka industrial zone can be compared to the battle for the Donetsk Airport*, though the current situation is unique.

                    "The strategic difference between the fight in Avdiivka and the Airport is that then we had to only even the curve of the front in a more favorable way for us. We had to push the enemy further from the city," Khodakovsky wrote on his LiveJournal page.

                    "Here, on the other hand, our movement deeper into the Avdiivka industrial zone can lead to our units being dragged into an encirclement. So to be successful and avoid being cut off from our troops we have to push the enemy on all other directions of the front line. This is possible only with a full scale offensive,“ the separatist commander noted.

                    “Now in the Avdiivka industrial zone we are in stalemate situation with the Ukrainians. This is a situation when a rapid movement of each side deeper into the other's territory can lead to encirclement.”

                    He noted that the Avdiivka industrial zone has some wooded areas, cottages and some taller industrial buildings. Most of these building are situated closer to Avdiivka, and they are under the direct control of the Ukrainian forces. “From there [these industrial buildings], they [the Ukrainians] have a great visibility of the terrain. They are effective in bringing down mortar and sniper fire on our positions."

                    Alexander Khodakovsky worked at the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) but defected at the beginning of the conflict in the Donbas. He became a prominent separatist commander and the founder of the Vostok Battalion. He vehemently supports the annexation of the Donbas by Russia. UAWire - Separatist Commander: We are in a difficult situation in Avdiivka

                    *The Donetsk Airport is where the heaviest fighting took place last year between Ukrainian forces and the pro-Russian separatists.

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                    • Russia sees a 33% increase in charges of 'extremism'
                      UA WIRE.ORG April 13, 2016 12:13:00 AM

                      The number of those convicted of extremism in Russia last year has increased by about a third, according to the website of the Judicial Department of the Supreme Court, as reported by Current Time.

                      According to the "Main statistical indicators of activity of courts of general jurisdiction in 2015," (Articles 280, 282, 282.1, 282.2 of the Criminal Code) 544 people were convicted of extremism in 2015. In accordance with the same articles, 414 sentences were handed down in 2014.

                      The Central and Volga Federal Districts are leading regions, with 122 individuals convicted in each. The regions with least number of convicted individuals are the Far Eastern District (29 people) and the Crimean Federal District (5 people).

                      On April 7th, the Head of the Parliamentary Committee for Security and Anti-Corruption, Irina Yarovaya, and the Chairman of the Security and Defense Committee of the Federation Council, Viktor Ozerov, proposed a new package of anti-terrorism laws.

                      The deputies proposed to amend the minimum term that an offender is sentenced to for committing a terrorist act. Instead of eight years in prison, they want the sentence to be changed to ten. Criminal liability for terrorism under the new law will start from the age of 14.

                      The bill also proposes to deny a person the right to leave the country for five years, if he has a criminal record for at least one of the following offenses: the infringement on life of an official or public figure, violent seizure of power, forcible retention of power, armed riots or extremism that wasn't expunged. UAWire - Russia sees a 33% increase in charges of 'extremism'

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                      • Groisman says he is willing to become next Prime Minister of Ukraine
                        UA WIRE.ORG April 13, 2016 1:18:00 PM

                        The Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Vladimir Groisman, expressed his willingness to head the next cabinet, and announced that the coalition had reached a compromise on the format of the forthcoming government, Interfax-Ukraine reported.

                        "We discussed an acceptable format [of government], which will emerge from the crisis in which we find ourselves today,” Groisman said, opening the morning session of the Verkhovna Rada on Wednesday.

                        On Wednesday morning, Groisman announced that he is willing to head the new government on his Facebook page, and stressed that significant support is required to guide the country out of its current crisis.

                        "I understand that we are in an extremely dire condition, I understand that the responsibility is huge, but the task and challenges to the government are simply catastrophic. But I know that with your support, the support of Ukrainian citizens, we will work honestly and will do everything to bring the country out of the crisis in which it is now, and to do this we need the support of the parliamentary factions ‘Block Petro Poroshenko’ and ‘People's Front’,” Groisman wrote. UAWire - Groisman says he is willing to become next Prime Minister of Ukraine

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                        • Aksyonov: Crimea will take dismantled Soviet monuments from Poland
                          UA WIRE.ORG April 12, 2016 9:10:00 PM

                          The Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Crimea controlled by Russia, Sergey Aksyonov, was outraged by the demolition of Soviet monuments in Poland. He believes that a place for these dismounted monuments can be found in annexed Crimea.

                          “Crimeans are insulted and outraged by the campaign launched in Poland to dismantle monuments to Soviet soldiers, who liberated their country from fascism. In fact, it isn’t a fight against communism or the Soviet past; it is a fight against history, in particular with Polish history,” Aksyonov wrote on his Facebook page on the 11th of April. Aksyonov pointed out that monuments to fallen soldiers, regardless of their nationality, remain untouched in Crimea.

                          “We are ready to take the monuments to Soviet soldiers – the liberators of Poland that have no place in the country they liberated - and install them on the Crimean peninsula. We ask the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to assist us in dealing with this issue,” Aksyonov wrote. There was no information on Poland's or Russia's reaction to this initiative.

                          On the 17th of September 2015, Polish authorities dismantled the monument to Soviet General Ivan Chernyakhovsky that was located in Pieniężno in northern Poland. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly condemned the dismantling of this monument. After that, negotiations on the transfer of demolished monuments to Russia lasted for several months.UAWire - Aksyonov: Crimea will take dismantled Soviet monuments from Poland

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                          • Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: We will not discuss an exchange for Savchenko until a verdict has been reached
                            UA WIRE.ORG March 13, 2016 12:10:00 PM

                            On Saturday, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that the question of transferring Nadiya Savchenko to Ukraine will not be discussed until after the court has made its decision.

                            On the program "Vesti on Saturday with Sergey Brylev" on the TV channel Russia 1, Zakharova was asked to comment on the issue of a potential deal with Ukraine that would see the transfer of Savchenko and several other political prisoners currently being held in Russia.

                            “This is not an issue for now and it won't be until the court has made its decision,” Zakharovna responded.

                            According to her, "despite any pressure exerted on the Russian judiciary and Russian public opinion, the court proceedings will be finished and the sentence will be announced… Now it's court's turn to act.”

                            Commenting on the words from Washington that Savchenko's detention by the Russian Federation violates the Minsk Agreements, which stipulates that prisoners detained in the course of the conflict must be released, Zakharova said that "the Minsk Agreements concern only two parties of the conflict in the Ukrainian crisis… Those agreements apply only to Kiev and the Donbas. That's all.”

                            On March 9th, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he was willing to use his constitutional right to make an exchange for Savchenko.

                            Last Friday, the press service of the Russian Ministry of Justice reported that the agency will respond to the request of Kiev within one month.

                            Nadiya Savchenko has been charged with the murder of two Russian journalists. It is widely believed that Savchenko was in fact captured by Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) separatists in eastern Ukraine and was illegally transported to Russia, where the case was fabricated against her.

                            On March 2nd, the prosecutor’s office requested that she be sentenced to 23 years in a penal colony plus a fine of 100,000 rubles ($1,400).

                            Savchenko declared a dry hunger strike on March 3rd after the Donetsk City Court in the Rostov region announced that she would not be given a chance to make her final closing statement during a court hearing.
                            UAWire - Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: We will not discuss an exchange for Savchenko until a verdict has been reached

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                            • FBI paid professional hackers one-time fee to crack San Bernardino iPhone
                              THE WASHINGTON POST Ellen Nakashima April 12 at 7:30 PM

                              The FBI cracked a San Bernardino terrorist’s phone with the help of professional hackers who discovered and brought to the bureau at least one previously unknown software flaw, according to people familiar with the matter.

                              The new information was then used to create a piece of hardware that helped the FBI to crack the iPhone’s four-digit personal identification number without triggering a security feature that would have erased all the data, the individuals said.

                              The researchers, who typically keep a low profile, specialize in hunting for vulnerabilities in software and then in some cases selling them to the U.S. government. They were paid a one-time flat fee for the solution.

                              Cracking the four-digit PIN, which the FBI had estimated would take 26 minutes, was not the hard part for the bureau. The challenge from the beginning was disabling a feature on the phone that wipes data stored on the device after 10 incorrect tries at guessing the code. A second feature also steadily increases the time allowed between attempts.

                              The bureau in this case did not need the services of the Israeli firm Cellebrite, as some earlier reports had suggested, people familiar with the matter said.

                              The U.S. government now has to weigh whether to disclose the flaws to Apple, a decision that probably will be made by a White House-led group.

                              The people who helped the U.S. government come from the sometimes shadowy world of hackers and security researchers who profit from finding flaws in companies’ software or systems.

                              Some hackers, known as “white hats,” disclose the vulnerabilities to the firms responsible for the software or to the public so they can be fixed and are generally regarded as ethical. Others, called “black hats,” use the information to hack networks and steal people’s personal information.

                              At least one of the people who helped the FBI in the San Bernardino case falls into a third category, often considered ethically murky: researchers who sell flaws — for instance, to governments or to companies that make surveillance tools.

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                              • Ex-prosecutor Kasko says PGO eager to "lock him up"
                                13.04.2016 | 14:51 UNIAN

                                Former Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine Vitaliy Kasko claims that the Prosecutor General's Office (PGO) is set to submit to Kyiv Pechersk District Court a motion for his arrest as a preventive measure, according to an UNIAN correspondent.

                                The Prosecutor General's Office continues to adhere to the illicit position that he is a suspect in a criminal case, Kasko told journalists after his interrogation in the PGO.

                                "The only purpose of today's call, which was also carried out in violation of the law, was the serving of the actual petition for arrest. That means that the PGO really wants to lock me up. This petition will be submitted to Kyiv Pechersk Court today. We are preparing defense against this motion," Kasko said.

                                According to him, at first, the prosecutor in the criminal proceedings was the then Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, and now there are Deputies Prosecutor General Yuriy Sevruk and Roman Govda.

                                "They are leading these criminal proceedings, and immediately after leaving the investigator's office, I was handed over another summons on other criminal proceedings to appear in the Prosecutor General's Office on April 18," Kasko said.
                                Ex-prosecutor Kasko says PGO eager to "lock him up" : UNIAN news

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