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  • A Trump-Putin deal on Crimea could trigger a much bigger war, Israeli analyst says
    EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul A. Goble 2017/01/04

    Avraam Shmulyevich, a leading Israeli specialist on ethnic issues in the former Soviet space, says that Kyiv might be forced to agree to a Trump-Putin deal on Crimea but that such a deal would “only convince the Russian dictator that he can invade other countries without being punished” and thus lead him to launch new wars.

    “Putin himself has acknowledged,” the head of the Israeli Institute for an Eastern Partnership told Kseniya Kirillova in an interview published today by Radio Liberty, “that the Syrian war is a training ground for his army and that the state of his army has really improved.”

    The Kremlin leader is “evidently preparing his country for war” in order, among other things, to preserve his own power by launching aggression abroad. The rest of Ukraine is less likely to be in his sights than the Baltic countries, Poland, or “some countries in the South Caucasus such as Azerbaijan.”

    And in the current environment, Shmulyevich says, it is possible that Putin will reach an agreement with Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan “about the participation of the Middle East or a dash into Central Asia,” a region Ankara has long coveted and one that Moscow would like to rebuild its power in.

    With regard to a settlement on Crimea, he continues, “the return of Crimea is even more important for some representatives of the West than it is for the ruling Ukrainian elite.” That is because Kyiv wants to end the conflict as soon as possible, while some in the West want to maintain the principle of the inviolability of international borders by force alone.

    That commitment explains the recent UN General Assembly resolution on Crimea, but Shmulyevich says,

    “it is important to understand that for the majority of the Western establishment, returning Crimea to Ukraine is not as important as simply finding a way to resolve it in a legal fashion.”

    Putin clearly understand this, the Israeli analyst argues, and that explains why he bases his actions on what he says was Khrushchev’s illegal transfer of Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR and on the fact that the Budapest Memorandum is null and void because none of its signatories has lived up to its provisions.

    Putin’s people are also arguing that “the Helsinki Accords fixed inter-state and not intra-state borders, and that the state which signed them was not Russia or Ukraine but the Soviet Union.” Indeed, they point out, the only high-level international agreement both Russia and Ukraine have signed was the one creating the UN.

    But from the point of view of Ukraine and the West, that too is a legal argument that undermines their case, Putin thinks, according to Shmulyevich. That is because when the Ukrainian SSR signed the UN treaty, it did not have Crimea within its borders, something other UN members may take note of.

    What is thus likely to happen, he says, is a willingness in Kyiv to accept a deal if it formally keeps Crimea as part of Ukraine even if it does nothing to end Russian occupation, an arrangement unlikely to spark massive protests by Ukrainians given their reluctance so far even to declare war on Russia following Russia’s invasion and seizure of their territory.

    In exchange, if such a deal were to be arranged, Russia would fulfill the Minsk agreements, returning the Donbas de jure but in fact retaining control there through the pro-Russian separatists on the ground who “redressed in Ukrainian uniforms” and with power remaining “in the hands of the local oligarchs.”

    That would be a tragedy for Ukraine, Shmulyevich says; but a far greater tragedy would likely emerge from how Putin would read such a deal, as an indication that the West is not ready to stand up to him and that he can engage in more aggression with impunity. A Trump-Putin deal on Crimea could trigger a much bigger war, Israeli analyst says | EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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    • Trump and Russian sanctions
      EUROMAIDAN PRESS ( Vitaliy Portnikov 2017/01/04

      The visit to Ukraine of American congressmen who promised not to cancel but to strengthen sanctions against the Russian regime encouraged those who fear the clumsy first steps of the new US administration on the international stage. However, should one be confident that the positions of a few senators will be crucial for the Republican majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives? That an absolutely unprecedented alliance will be formed between Republicans and Democrats in an attempt to oppose the possible conciliatory position of the Donald Trump administration?

      If such an alliance is indeed formed — not in intentions but in actual voting — this could become as newsworthy in the political life of the United States as the selection as head of state of a businessman without government experience and with no previous participation in any elected government body. For that reason, one should not discount anything. The election of Trump is a terrible unbalancing of the entire US system of government and an automatic crisis for the institutions. And no one, including Trump himself, knows how this crisis will be surmounted.

      And, most importantly, no one can determine the dimensions of this crisis just as no one, including Trump himself, knows the true intentions of the American president. And that includes the question of sanctions against Russia.

      The new sanctions, which have been imposed by outgoing President Barack Obama in response to Moscow’s interference in the election processes in the United States, could concern Trump not so much because of his desire to improve relations with Putin as because of doubts cast on his own legitimacy. If one agrees that Moscow interfered in the elections process — and did so successfully — then one has to recognize that American citizens voted for the Republican candidate under the influence of Russian actions and “revelations.” Who would like that? Not Trump! But when it becomes a question about other sanctions tied to the war against Ukraine, their cancellation can no longer be tied simply to the desire to eliminate unpleasant complications in bilateral relations.

      The lifting of these sanctions is a matter for agreements. The same agreement that Trump may intend to conclude with Putin and the details of which are often discussed today in international media. But when the agreement that Trump wants to conclude with Putin is discussed, people never think about the answer to another question. Does Putin want to make a deal with Trump?

      Perhaps, from our point of view or even the point of view of the new American president, Putin needs such an agreement to stabilize the situation in his own country and to strengthen his authority on the international arena. But Putin himself may consider Trump as someone who owes his election victory to him. Who should not be negotiating agreements but who, instead, should be giving thanks. Who should not be imposing conditions but who, instead, should be making attractive offers. For Putin, Trump is simply the first secretary of the Washington Municipal Party Committee. His party. And if the elected American president still does not realize it, he will soon.

      The most interesting question is what he will do when he confronts reality and not just his own image of the world. We are discussing a possible confrontation between Trump and an outraged Congress. However, an alliance between the president and Congress against Putin is also possible, not to a lesser but to a greater degree.

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      • Report links Kremlin cyber unit to Ukraine conflict and US election hacking

        The hack into a Ukraine military app has reinforced claims the cyber unit known as "Fancy Bear" has a direct Kremlin link. It also reinforces US intelligence reports linking the Kremlin to cyber attacks in the US.
        DEUTSCHE WELLE 22.12.2016

        New evidence the Russian military targeted Ukrainian artillery units in eastern Ukraine by using an infected Ukrainian Android smartphone app has reinforced US intelligence conclusions that Russian security units also hacked into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in the run-up to last month's US presidential election.

        The connection was made in report released Thursday that describes how a smartphone application created by a Ukrainian officer in 2013, which was used to quickly carry out artillery strikes against Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, appears to have become the means by which Russian intelligence pinpointed the location of Ukraine's military units.

        The app was distributed over social media but was ultimately hacked and redistributed on a Ukrainian military forum by the Russian military intelligence agency (GRU), according to the report released by CrowdStrike. At least one of the GRU's cyber-operations units is known by the moniker "Fancy Bear."

        Ukrainian military units using the infected app inadvertently gave away valuable strategic information, including troop location, access to contacts, text messages, call logs and internet data, to the Russian military, according to the report.

        Fancy Bear hacked DNC
        US intelligence and the FBI believe Fancy Bear hacked into the email system of the DNC over many months and then released the contents through third parties with the intent of creating controversy around the Democratic Party and helping Republican candidate Donald Trump win the election.

        The malicious software that was used to help turn the Russian-backed rebels clash with Ukrainian forces to Russia's advantage is the same as that used to hack the DNC, according to Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder and chief technology officer of CrowdStrike. He said the software was known as X-Agent.

        His company was also hired to investigate the DNC hack attack and during the summer publicly attributed it to Fancy Bear.

        Alperovitch said the Ukrainian example demonstrates an even stronger connection between Fancy Bear operators and the Russian military.

        "For them to use this on the battlefield they need a closely integrated connection," Alperovitch said. "It's exactly the mission of the GRU...We think this is very convincing evidence that links [Fancy Bear and the GRU] together."

        Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly rejected claims by the US President Barack Obama's administration that the highest levels of the Russian government were involved in trying to influence the US presidential election.

        President-elect Donald Trump has called the intelligence assessment blaming Russia ridiculous. Obama has ordered US intelligence officials to conduct a broad review of election-season cyberattacks and present its report before he leaves office in mid-January. Report links Kremlin cyber unit to Ukraine conflict and US election hacking | News | DW.COM | 22.12.2016
        (AP, Reuters)

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        • The Russian Federation’s disintegration won’t be like the USSR’s, Zhordan says
          EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul A. Goble 2017/01/05

          most impressive image by Alexander Petrosyn

          One of the most superficially compelling arguments of those who insist that the Russian Federation will never fall apart is that no one can imagine a scenario for such a development like that which led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union a quarter of a century ago.

          Unlike the USSR, those who make these arguments say, the non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation lack the resources, including in many cases an external border, and the constitutional right that allowed the Soviet union republics to go their own way as independent countries.

          But such arguments, however correct they may be if one accepts their assumptions that only Soviet arrangements made the collapse of the USSR possible, miss the point because the disintegration of the Russian Federation if and when it occurs will take place on a very different basis and with very different factors in play than was the case with the USSR in 1991.

          Igor Zhordan, an Israel-based Russian commentator, argues in an essay on the portal that although the number of possible variants for the demise of the Russian Federation is incalculably large, the basic features of such a scenario are quite clear.

          He first presents an outline of the factors he sees being involved and then discusses some of the ways in which this process could develop. His basic outline is as follows:

          “Moscow runs out of money and the central powers are made ever more powerless;

          The weakening of the central powers reveals the extraordinary diversity in the development and way of life of the regions;

          On this basis, some event occurs which interrupts the gradual nature of the process and leads to a qualitative leap toward the disintegration of the Russian Federation;

          The disintegration proceeds on the basis of two equal but mutually dependent processes: the rise of inter-regional conflicts, the goal of which is the subordination of the weak regions by the strong and the rise of inter-regional unions intended to stand up against their neighbors.

          These unions will be the basis of future independent states on the former territory of the Russian Federation, and their formation will be affected by the following factors: geographic propinquity, the presence of at least one region, ‘the economic locomotive,’ which will serve as the core of the unified area, a common religious faith, and ethnic commonality, although this last will be less important than other factors.”

          On the former territory of the Russian Federation will gradually be formed new states, including several ‘ethnically Russian’ ones.”

          Zhordan devotes most of his essay to discussing the various possible modalities of this process. Many of his specific ideas will strike Russians and others as fantastic. But he has provided a real service by outlining how the Russian Federation could disintegrate and in a very different but nonetheless fateful way than the demise of the USSR. The Russian Federation’s disintegration won’t be like the USSR’s, Zhordan says | EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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          • The Soul of Ukraine
            TRAVEL WEEKLY Arnie Weissmann January 04, 2017

            The country is at war with neighboring Russia, but there's no evidence of that in the streets of Kiev -- no soldiers or obvious security presence. The main boulevard is closed off, but that's to make space for Father's Day activities. And despite a 65% devaluation of the hryvnia, Ukraine's currency, over the past few years, there are still some residents who shop at the Gucci and Ferragamo stores on Kheshchatyk Passage, the city's answer to Rodeo Drive.

            In the evening, laborers and their bosses sit side by side in $7 seats at the city's acclaimed philharmonic orchestra or the opera, or perhaps at Olimpiyskiy Stadium, home to the national soccer club, where the most expensive ticket costs $16.

            "Kiev may be the least-known European capital other than Tirana [Albania]," said Jean Baptiste Pigeon, the general manager of the city's InterContinental hotel. A Frenchman born in Mexico, he has worked in 11 countries, from Portugal to Japan, and said Ukraine can hold its own against any of them.

            "It has everything," Pigeon continued. "Rich culture, architecture, interesting landscape, the sea, skiing, historic areas, gastronomy, good rooms, great service, safe streets."

            But as 2017 dawns, its residents are also going through a period that is trying the soul of Ukraine. It's a complex soul that has become accustomed to trials, located culturally, spiritually, intellectually and literally between Russian and European capitals. Its current challenges began when, having deposed a pro-Russia president in its 2014 revolution, the Crimea region of Ukraine was annexed by its superpower next-door neighbor. Ukraine's army is currently battling to prevent a similar fate in its Donbass region, more than 400 miles east of Kiev.

            The war is costly and has taken a toll on the economy. Tourism has taken a double hit: Russians used to make up its largest source market, and Westerners are wary of visiting a country that has been in the headlines due to conflict, no matter how far from the capital the conflict is occurring.

            But, as is often the case when a country faces challenges, those who do visit find that its residents will readily engage in deep conversation with visitors.

            Pigeon, who was present during the revolution, said his bonds with the Ukrainians immediately became stronger afterward. "We became a family in the seven days of the revolution," he said.

            The gastronomic underground

            All of the above is not to suggest that Kievans' focus on historical and current events means that the atmosphere is somber. Perhaps the best example of Ukrainian esprit de la resistance is found in the restaurant OB.

            The name OB comes from the first letters of the Ukrainian words for "last barricade." There is no signage for the restaurant, which is located in a shopping complex beneath centrally located Independence Square, a site of political protests over the past 25 years. A prospective diner must first find the one elevator which has a button for OB, then, upon entering the restaurant lobby, give the password, a Ukrainian phrase meaning, "You fight, and you will win." (The transliteration: Boree'teesa ee-poboreteh.)

            Once a diner gets this far, he or she faces a wall with 72 silver-colored hands attached to it (each represents one year when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union). The correct one must be pulled to get into the restaurant proper.

            Once inside, the atmosphere is lively. On the walls of each room hang paraphernalia from a different Ukrainian revolution. The bar stocks only Ukrainian spirits and 22 varieties of local beer, including, we noticed, Obama Stout.

            Perhaps this is as good a time as any to insert a word or two about Ukrainian cuisine. In most city restaurants, one can find borscht (always served warm), varenyky (a dumpling similar to pierogi) and, yes, chicken Kiev.

            Vodka is ubiquitous, and often flavored in ways that will be unfamiliar to Western palates. To my surprise, I developed a taste for horseradish vodka.

            There are some unfamiliar traditional dishes I quite liked, such as chestnut soup with chopped, fried buckwheat kernels, and a mushroom-based dish called pine bolete.

            The chefs at OB bring a nouvelle touch to traditional ingredients which, regardless of preparation, might give even Anthony Bourdain pause. On their menu, listed one after the other, were "brains with greens and hemp sauce," "bovine eggs with burnt butter and cranberries" and "internal parts of a goose."

            (Prairie oysters and organ meat aside, the menu is quite varied, and even a picky American will find something that will please.)

            OB presents one aspect of the Ukrainian soul: cheerful defiance.

            But the Ukrainian ability to both embrace its history and interpret it with objectivity, rationality and even touches of ironic humor is sorely tested when presenting a site 60 miles north, one of its -- and the world's -- greatest catastrophes: Chernobyl.

            Continue read w/photos:
            --Welcome to Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
            --Habitable? 'Not in a million years
            --A sarcophagus, with a side of borscht
            --An opulent exhibition of corruption
            The soul of Ukraine: Travel Weekly

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            • Russian proxies attack Ukraine 52 times in last day, 1 WIA Combined Russian-separatist forces attacked Ukrainian army positions in eastern Ukraine 52 times in the past 24 hours, one Ukrainian soldier was wounded in action (WIA), according to the press service of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) Headquarters.
              UNIAN 05 Jan 2017

              In the Mariupol sector, the militants repeatedly fired mortars of different calibers on the villages of Vodiane, Lebedynske and Shyrokyne, as well as rocket-propelled grenades and small arms on the villages of Hnutove, Shyrokyne, Talakivka and Pavlopil. The occupiers also repeatedly used infantry fighting vehicles in Shyrokyne.

              In the Luhansk sector, the enemy fired 120mm mortars on the villages of Novozvanivka and Bohuslavske, and grenade launchers on the villages of Novo-Oleksandrivka and Stanytsia Luhanska.

              In the Donetsk sector, Russia's hybrid military force fired 152mm artillery systems on the Ukrainian positions near the village of Troyitske. They also shelled 120mm and 82mm mortars on Troyitske, and the villages of Zaitseve and Luhanske. Additionally, the militants repeatedly fired from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms on the town of Avdiyivka, and the villages of Luhanske and Kruta Balka.

              Russian proxies attack Ukraine 52 times in last day, 1 WIA

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              • Law on High Council of Justice comes into force in Ukraine On January 5, the law on the High Council of Justice (HCJ) came into force in Ukraine.
                UNIAN 05 Jan 2017

                As UNIAN reported earlier, the law was published in the official newspaper of the Verkhovna Rada "Holos Ukrainy" on January 4.

                Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on January 3 signed the law "On the High Council of Justice" which was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on December 21, 2016.
                The document defines that the High Council of Justice is a collegial, independent constitutional authority of the government and the judicial self-administration, operating on a permanent basis in Ukraine. The High Council of Justice is a legal entity, and its maintenance costs are determined by a separate line in the state budget of Ukraine.

                The High Council of Justice submits the appointment of judges to the position; ensures the implementation of disciplinary proceedings against a judge by a disciplinary body; takes the decision to dismiss the judge from office; consents to the arrest of a judge or his detention, or arrest; performs the functions of the chief administrator of the state budget funds for financial support of its activities; takes part in determining the state budget expenditures for the maintenance of courts, as well as juridical bodies and institutions.

                The High Council of Justice consists of 21 members:10 are elected by the Congress of Judges of Ukraine from among the judges or retired judges; two appointed by President, two elected by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, two by the Congress of Advocates of Ukraine, two by Ukrainian Conference of Prosecutors, and two more by congress of representatives of law schools and academic institutions. The post of Chairman of the Supreme Court provides for the membership in the High Council of Justice as well.

                The size of the HCJ's member remuneration is set at the level of the Supreme Court judge salary with a coefficient of 1.5.

                Law on High Council of Justice comes into force in Ukraine

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                • 11:04 05.01.2017 INTERFAX-UKRAINE
                  SBU identifies suspects in illegal agroholding seizure

                  Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has raided an enterprise and notified five persons that they are suspected of seizing the property of the holding. The raid was part of an investigation into a criminal case related to the illegal seizure of one of the agroholding companies.

                  "SBU raided several enterprises in a criminal case under Part 4 of Article 190 of the Criminal Code. A managing partner of one of the largest agroholdings seized some assets belonged to another partner," the press service of SBU reported on Wednesday.

                  Offices of enterprises incorporated into the holding and houses of officials implicated into illegal activities were raided. During the raids law enforcers sized almost $390,000 in cash, 60 kg of gold ingots, certificates for 400 kg of gold ingots and documents and materials confirming unlawful operations of the suspected persons.

                  "Five managers of the agroholding are suspected under Part 5 of Article 191 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine [Misappropriation, embezzlement or conversion of property by abuse of official post]. Investigation is underway," SBU said.
                  SBU identifies suspects in illegal agroholding seizure

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                  • Le Pen's office reacts to possible ban on entry to Ukraine After Ukraine indicated on Wednesday it would bar French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen from entering the country after comments she made that appeared to legitimize Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, her office dismissed the threat, saying she had no intention of visiting Ukraine, according to Reuters.
                    UNIAN 05 Jan 2017

                    "Marine Le Pen had no intention of going there (to Ukraine) anyway. This issue will be solved via diplomatic channels when she becomes president of the (French) Republic," a spokesman for Le Pen said in an emailed response to Reuters.

                    As UNIAN reported earlier, Marine Le Pen, the National Front's presidential candidate, said on Tuesday that the annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea by Russia was "not illegal", contrary to the position of the EU and U.S.

                    Le Pen's office reacts to possible ban on entry to Ukraine

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                    • U.S. senators are preparing a bill on new sanctions against Russia
                      UAWIRE ORG January 5, 2017 11:29:00 AM

                      United States senators are preparing a bipartisan draft bill about additional sanctions against Russia in connection with its hacker attacks on American political institutions and its activities in Ukraine and Syria. The Voice of America reported that the lawmakers confirmed this information when the Senate convened for a new session of Congress.

                      Senator Ben Cardin, the leading Democrat of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters in Capitol Hill on January 3 that he was working on the draft bill together with a large group of senators, which includes both Democrats and Republicans. He expressed hope that the bill would be made public this week. "It is going to be a comprehensive bill that will contain the permission of Congress to impose additional sanctions against Russia,” Cardin said.

                      The White House and the U.S. intelligence community believe that Moscow tried to interfere in the election process in the United States with the help of hacker attacks on political organizations of the Democratic Party and that it attempted to sow distrust of the U.S. government.

                      In response to these actions as well as “inappropriate treatment” of the U.S. diplomats abroad, the White House expelled 35 Russian diplomats last week.

                      Cardin said that the bill will be partially focused on Russia’s actions in Eastern Europe, including the annexation of the Crimea, as well as its role in the Middle East where Moscow supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

                      Cardin did not specify whether the bill will force President-elect Donald Trump to make a decision about the sanctions, or whether it will consolidate the sanctions announced by the White House last week, which Trump will be able to cancel after taking office if he so wishes.

                      "It will complement the actions of the White House and progress further,” Cardin explained. “It is a complement, but there exists a principle of separation of powers." UAWire - U.S. senators are preparing a bill on new sanctions against Russia

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                      • Ukraine issues an arrest warrant for a businessman from Yanukovych's circle
                        UAWIRE ORG January 5, 2017 8:37:32 AM

                        The Pechesrky District Court in Kyiv has issued an arrest warrant for businessman Serhiy Kurchenko. The court has satisfied the request of the Prosecutor's General of Ukraine to issue an arrest warrant for the fugitive businessman.

                        “This decision of the court lets us proceed with the criminal investigation and ensure the international search warrant. Thus, in case Serhiy Kurchenko is apprehended abroad, the necessary steps to arrest him and bring him over to Ukraine can be taken,” Adrian Lupu, a prosecutor from the Prosecutor’s General office, stated.

                        The prosecutor also stated that, according to available information, Kurchenko is now residing in the territory of Russia, although his exact location is not known.

                        This is the third such arrest warrant issued for Kurchenko. On December 28, 2016, the Appeal Court of Kyiv denied a request to arrest and put Kurchenko under custody.

                        Following the Pechesrky District Court's decision, the defense of the former Ukrainian oligarch is planning to submit an appeal.

                        Serhiy Kurchenko is a businessman from the so-called Yanukovych’s circle. He is suspected of inflicting financial losses to Ukraine in the amount of 7 billion hryvnia (approximately 262.67 million US dollars).

                        After the Ukrainian Revolution Of Dignity (Maidan) in 2014, Kurchenko fled from Ukraine to Russia. In April 2014, an international search warrant was issued for him. Kurchenko is implicated in heading a criminal group involved in the so-called “liquefied gas” case.

                        The Prosecution states that in 2010-2014 his company received liquefied gas from the Ukrdobicha and Ukrnanfa enterprises at artificially reduced prices, and was selling it at the higher market prices. In May 2016, Kurchenko’s property was seized at the request of the Chief Investigator from the Prosecutor’s General Office. UAWire - Ukraine issues an arrest warrant for a businessman from Yanukovych's circle

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                        • Some 95 rare books went missing in Lviv Art Gallery Some 95 unique editions, tens of millions of dollars-worth, have disappeared from the Lviv Art Gallery, according to the gallery Director General Taras Vozniak, as reported by
                          UNIAN 05 Jan 2017

                          The cost of the manuscripts on the "black market" can reach tens of millions of dollars. According to Vozniak, only Cyrillic old-printed books have been inspected. "Obviously, all these books were plundered for decades. We have not yet checked the black letter books in German, Polish and other languages. They are even more import-attractive," he said.

                          The management of the gallery has already filed an application to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the police. "We want to make this public in order the fact not to be hushed up," Vozniak said. However, according to news agency, there have been no reports of the disappearance of rare books submitted to the Lviv National Police Headquarters by the art gallery, but they also noted that this could be a decade old case.

                          Some 95 rare books went missing in Lviv Art Gallery | UNIAN

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                          • Trump Presidency Adds to Uncertainty Over NATO-Russia Tensions
                            VOICE OF AMERICA Henry Ridgwell Jan 5, 2016

                            LONDON —

                            Since Russia’s forceful takeover of Crimea in 2014, both Moscow and NATO have deployed troops and weapons along old lines as tensions have grown to their highest since the end of the Cold War.

                            Analysts warn the dangers of a military confrontation are growing.

                            Russia has deployed nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to its westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

                            Moscow’s S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries have also been stationed along its western frontiers. The Kremlin has staged regular military exercises along its western flank.

                            In response, NATO has put 300,000 troops on high alert and made so-called tripwire deployments in frontline states.

                            Communication was largely severed following Russia’s invasion of Crimea – and that raises the prospect of an accidental escalation, warns NATO’s former information officer in Moscow, John Lough, now of the Chatham House research organization.

                            “It seems to me that it is actually very important to have mechanisms in place that allow the military establishments to communicate when needed. Both sides should see that there is the capacity here for some sort of accident,” he said.

                            NATO is deploying an extra 4,000 multinational troops to the Baltic states and Poland in the coming months. The core NATO principle of collective defense is being revitalized, said Lough.

                            “NATO is starting if you like from a low base in terms of rebuilding this defensive capability. It’s not the sort of thing that happens overnight; but, I would argue that the evidence of political will here in fact is probably more important,” he said.

                            Donald Trump’s victory in the November U.S. election has triggered uncertainty over the future commitment of NATO’s primary force.

                            The U.S. spent $66 billion on defense in 2016; second-placed Britain spent less than a tenth of that figure. President-elect Trump has questioned the U.S. financial burden – and Russia analyst Sarah Lain of the Royal United Services Institute says Moscow is watching with interest.

                            “Collective defense has actually I think psychologically at least been a huge deterrent for Russia. Trump may change that calculation, if he certainly pledges not to come to NATO allies’ help in a situation of need if they haven’t paid their 2 percent defense spending,” said Lain.

                            President-elect Trump’s praise for Russian leader Vladimir Putin has rattled Ukraine, which is battling pro-Kremlin rebels in the east.

                            “That will allow or embolden Russia to maybe test the boundaries of NATO and test the unity of NATO even further,” she said.

                            John Lough argues it is premature to assume that Trump’s early overtures to Moscow will translate into improved relations that will last.

                            “There are going to be areas where they will disagree. The perception of Iran, for example, is one of them and I think that will come to the fore quickly,” he said.

                            Trump also faces divisions at home within his own Republican party. U.S. senators, including former presidential candidate John McCain, visited Estonia and Georgia recently to reassure them of U.S. support in the face of Russian aggression.

                            Analysts say the rapid rearmament on both sides has raised the stakes – and the new U.S. administration will likely herald yet more uncertainty in an increasingly tense environment. Trump Presidency Adds to Uncertainty Over NATO-Russia Tensions

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                            • US Democrats, Citing Russia, Exxon, Want Tillerson Hearing Delay
                              VOICE OF AMERICA (Source: Reuters) Jan 4, 2017

                              WASHINGTON —

                              Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, won over Republicans during meetings at the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, but Democrats want more time to consider his record, especially his ties to Russia.

                              Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described Tillerson as “very much in the mainstream” of U.S. foreign policy thinking.

                              Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's former chairman and chief executive, drove the company's expansion in Russia and opposed sanctions imposed over its annexation of Crimea.

                              McCain has concerns

                              Many lawmakers, including Republicans, have expressed concerns about Tillerson's relationship with Moscow, given its differences with Washington not only over Ukraine but the civil war in Syria.

                              Asked on Wednesday if he could support Tillerson, Republican Senator John McCain, a leading U.S. critic of Russia, told reporters: “Sure. There's also a realistic scenario that pigs fly,” the Houston Chronicle reported.

                              U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help the Republican Trump.

                              Corker, whose committee will conduct Tillerson's confirmation hearing, which is expected to start on January 11, told reporters he was comfortable Tillerson would lead a robust U.S. policy toward Russia.

                              Cardin undecided

                              Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the foreign relations panel, said after his meeting with Tillerson that he had not reached any conclusion on him.

                              “We're just at the beginning of the process,” Cardin told reporters after spending about an hour with the nominee.

                              Tillerson did not speak to reporters.

                              Russia and Tillerson's view of sanctions are expected to be a focus of Tillerson's confirmation hearing, which could last for two days next week.

                              Democrats have called for a delay before Tillerson's hearing, given the complexity of his financial records and ties to Exxon after spending decades at the oil giant.

                              Cardin said it was too soon to discuss Tillerson's agreement announced late on Tuesday to sever all ties to Exxon Mobil to comply with conflict-of-interest requirements.

                              Coons 'encouraged'

                              Senator Chris Coons, another Democrat on the foreign relations panel, said next week may be too soon for the hearing, given Republicans' plans to vote at the same time to repeal Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare law.

                              “It strikes me as trying to get too many things done at the same time,” he said. Coons said he was “generally encouraged” by some of Tillerson's answers during their 1-1/2-hour meeting but had not decided whether to support his nomination.
                              Coons 'encouraged'

                              Senator Chris Coons, another Democrat on the foreign relations panel, said next week may be too soon for the hearing, given Republicans' plans to vote at the same time to repeal Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare law.

                              “It strikes me as trying to get too many things done at the same time,” he said. Coons said he was “generally encouraged” by some of Tillerson's answers during their 1-1/2-hour meeting but had not decided whether to support his nomination.

                              æ, !

                              Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                              • please delete

                                Last edited by Hannia; 6th January 2017, 16:00.

                                æ, !

                                Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp