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  • The Power Vertical VIDEO 3/22/2017
    Putin's Plan B In Ukraine
    The Daily Vertical: Putin's Plan B In Ukraine

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    • Chornobyl 2: Another chemical disaster looms in Eastern Ukraine, warn experts – Express A whole host of experts on eastern Europe have lined up to warn that the conflict in the eastern Ukraine could spark a widespread chemical disaster if industrial storage units of chlorine gas are damaged and the contents released into the environment, according to
      UNIAN 22 March 2017

      The threat is not just hypothetical. On February 24 a stray artillery shell hit the Donetsk Filter Station's chlorine gas depot, which stores around 7,000kg of the gas, reported.

      Fortunately, none of the storage units were damaged.

      Before conflict broke out in the area three years ago, Donbas region in the country was home to 5,300 operational industrial enterprises, although not all of those will have been processing hazardous materials.

      Robert Amsterdam, Russian political expert and lawyer at international law firm Amsterdam & Partners, said: "If one of those uncontrolled sites containing chemicals were to detonate, tens of thousands of people could be poisoned. It is a potential disaster on the scale of Chornobyl."

      Rudy Richardson, Professor of toxicology at the University of Michigan backed up that view. He said: "In a situation like this, where a war zone is near a concentration of industrial facilities where toxic and explosive chemicals are manufactured and stored, it is possible that massive releases of toxic chemicals could be released."

      "And that would result in high levels of civilian casualties."

      The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances Basket Tuncak indicated that damage to just one chlorine-filled, 2,000-pound container has the potential to kill anyone within a 600-foot distance and poses dire health risks to the tens of thousands of surrounding residents.

      In case of extensive damage, people living within 4.5 miles downwind of the facility would need to be moved away within 24 hours.

      Mr. Tuncak told the UN: "Large chemical and industrial facilities are in areas where fighting is ongoing."

      "Battles are now being fought in cities, close to industrial centers with factories increasingly at risk of being hit: The consequences for anyone living close by would be severe."

      He added: "All parties to the conflict need to be aware of the risks that continuous insecurity brings, including for a chemical disaster. Ultimately, it is about ensuring that all precautions are being taken to prevent such catastrophe to occur, and mainly for the fighting to stop."

      John Gilbert, a senior science fellow with the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation's Chemical and Biological Arms Control Working Group – who previously conducted inspections in Russia and the Ukraine as a U.S. military officer – concurred that a chlorine release would result in significant injuries and would be fatal to most. He also said that steps should be put in place now to minimize potential fallout.

      "The fact that there are many large industrial facilities and water treatment plants in the conflict zone is cause for concern. Ensuring that workers in the vicinity of toxic stockpiles have immediate access to protective equipment (such as masks) is important."

      Mr. Gilbert also cautioned that safety equipment is both costly and requires training to don and wear properly, in addition to having a limited shelf life.

      He added: "Collateral – or even intentional – chemical casualties from the Ukraine conflict is a real possibility."

      Mr. Gilbert stressed that there are precautions that industrial facilities can take, such as dispersing chemical storage containers rather than clustering them and looking at outside storage rather than inside a building. However, it is unknown if any such precautions are being implemented.

      James Kirchick, author of The End of Europe, said: "Russian forces have been accused of using chemical weapons in the Ukraine already, during the 2015 battle over the Donetsk airport in which 80 Ukrainian soldiers showed symptoms of being exposed to nerve agents."

      "The Ukraine transferred its chemical weapons stockpiles to Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is not known to be in possession of any chemical weapons while Russia maintains stockpiles of VR, Sarin and mustard gas."

      The Chornobyl nuclear disaster occurred on April 26, 1986 and is one of only two level seven nuclear accidents, the other being in Fukushima.

      The initial graphite 'fire' blast killed two people at the time with a further 29 later dying due to acute radiation syndrome.

      The long-term effects of the disaster are still being assessed.

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      • INTERFAX-UKRAINE 13:51 22.03.2017
        Rada ratifies agreement with Norway on technical and financial cooperation

        The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has ratified an agreement between the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine and the government of the Kingdom of Norway on technical and financial cooperation. Some 233 people's deputies voted for relevant law No. 0127 on Wednesday.

        As reported in an explanatory note to the law, the agreement was signed on October 18, 2016 in Oslo. The purpose of the agreement is to create legal norms and procedures for supporting and simplifying the implementation of programs and projects that fall within the scope of this agreement.

        The agreement extends to all programs and projects of technical and/or financial assistance that are implemented in Ukraine and are financed in whole or in part from the Norwegian side. This concerns the existing programs and projects, which are being prepared and promising ones.

        Technical assistance, in accordance with the agreement, includes the transfer of know-how, trainings, consultations, the supply of equipment and materials, assistance related to the introduction of new technologies necessary for the successful implementation of programs and projects.
        Rada ratifies agreement with Norway on technical and financial cooperation

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        • PACE President Agramunt brought a delegation from the Russian State Duma to Syria
          UAWIRE ORG March 22, 2017

          A delegation of deputies from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the State Duma of Russia headed by PACE President Pedro Agramunt arrived in Syria, despite the fact that Agramunt was not authorized to carry out such a visit by the Assembly or its bodies.

          This was reported by Russian "Channel One".

          According to the Russian channel, deputies from the Czech Republic, Belgium, Serbia and Italy, as well as deputies of the State Duma of Russia, arrived with Agramunt in Syria on March 20.

          It was the Russian deputies who organized this visit.

          "Russia has not left PACE, and the best indicator is that together with us here today in Syria is the President of the Parliamentary Assembly. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is slowly but surely filling with common sense with regard to what is happening to Russia, the role of Russia in Europe, and Russia's role in confronting international terrorism here in Syria; and that is why our colleagues are here,” said Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs.

          At the same time, it should be noted that in fact the Russian delegates are not members of PACE, because they, avoiding sanctions, have refused to submit a list of their delegation to Strasbourg.

          Also, the status of Agramunt as the head of the delegation remains unclear, because neither the Assembly nor its bodies authorized him to do so.

          In 2014, PACE adopted a resolution that deprived the Russian delegation of the right to vote for a year due to the annexation of the Crimea. In response, the Russian delegation suspended its participation in the work of PACE. In 2016 and 2017, Russia did not send a list of its delegation to Strasbourg, thus avoiding a vote at which the question of prolonging the suspension of the right to vote was to be decided.

          Last year, the President of the PACE, Pedro Agramunt, launched an initiative to return Russia to the Assembly.

          Already this year, the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has demanded to change the rules so that it could return to work in the Assembly.
          UAWire - PACE President Agramunt brought a delegation from the Russian State Duma to Syria

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          • EU fears Moscow's increasing influence in Serbia
            UAWIRE ORG March 21, 2017 7:34:46 PM

            Moscow is increasing its influence in Serbia, which is a candidate for joining the European Union.

            This was stated by David McAllister, German politician and Chair of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, reports Die Welt.

            "Russia is deliberately pursuing a strategy of destabilization in Serbia. This is a cause for serious concern," he told Die Welt in an interview.

            According to McAllister, who represents the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, "Moscow is trying to exert a massive influence on the media, certain politicians, and civil society in Serbia." Despite the fact that the EU - the largest investor in Serbia - intends to invest about € 1.5 billion in financial assistance through 2020 in the development of reforms and the Serbian economy, "at the same time, Russia is perceived by the Serbian community as its most important ally," stressed the Member of the European Parliament.

            "The Balkans is a region of heightened explosiveness where, as a result of irresponsible actions, conflicts that have long been considered overcome may in no time be revived once more," said McAllister.

            In his opinion, Brussels needs "to make its useful activities even more visible with the help of Serbian politicians and civil society." The question remains open as to how extensively Belgrade can negotiate with Moscow. In May 2014, Russia signed an agreement on a "strategic partnership", including points on the exchange of intelligence information and joint military exercises. Serbia has been an official candidate for EU membership since 2012.
            UAWire - EU fears Moscow's increasing influence in Serbia

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            • Crimean Tatar Leader Likely To Face Trial Soon On Separatism Charge
              RADIO FREE EUROPE 3/22/2017

              A Crimean Tatar leader who has criticized Russia's seizure of the Black Sea peninsula appears likely to face trial soon on what he says are spurious charges of separatism.

              Ilmi Umerov, deputy chairman of the Crimean Tatars' self-governing body, the Mejlis, said he and his lawyer were informed on March 21 that the case against him had been sent to a court in Russia-controlled Crimea.

              He also said he has received the final written charges, a step that is often followed within days or weeks by a trial.

              Umerov, 59, was charged with separatism in May 2016 after he made public statements opposing Russia's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.

              He denies the charges, saying he has the right to express his opinions freely.

              Russia took control of Crimea after sending in troops and staging a referendum considered by most countries worldwide as illegitimate.

              After the takeover, Russia adopted a law making it a criminal offense to question Russia's territorial integrity within what the government considers its borders.

              RFE/RL contributor Mykola Semena went on trial in Crimea on March 20 on separatism charges he says are unfounded.
              Crimean Tatar Leader Likely To Face Trial Soon On Separatism Charge

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              • Magnitsky Lawyer Falls Several Stories, Seriously Injured Ahead Of Court Date
                RADIO FREE EUROPE March 21, 2017

                A lawyer representing the family of the deceased Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky has been hospitalized in Moscow with serious injuries after falling several stories.

                The incident on March 21 happened one day before he was to appear in court in connection with the Magnitsky case.

                Magnitsky's former employer, U.S.-born British investor Bill Browder, said in a statement on March 21 that lawyer Nikolai Gorokhov was "thrown from the fourth floor of his apartment building."

                Russian news reports suggested his fall may have been an accident.

                Magnitsky's death in November 2009 while in pretrial detention in Moscow was the catalyst for a 2012 U.S. law, which Browder lobbied for, allowing sanctions against alleged Russian rights abusers.

                Magnitsky's family and friends say he was jailed, tortured, and denied medical treatment that could have saved his life as retribution for accusing law-enforcement and tax officials of stealing $230 million from Russian coffers.

                Browder said in his March 21 statement that Gorokhov was set to appear before a Moscow appeals court on March 22.

                Browder said Gorokhov planned to argue against a lower court's refusal to consider a new criminal complaint from Magnitsky's mother in connection with the fraud that her son uncovered.

                Two Kremlin-loyal news outlets reported on March 21 that Gorokhov fell while trying to move a Jacuzzi up to his apartment together with two movers.

                Those reports included photos and a video of a shattered tub outside a building. The news outlets claimed it was the Jacuzzi that was being moved.

                The respected independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta cited a representative of Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital, as saying Gorokhov was trying to bring a bathtub up to his apartment.

                But it said the circumstances behind his fall remain murky.
                Magnitsky Lawyer Falls Several Stories, Seriously Injured Ahead Of Court Date

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                • Nearly 80 Years Later, One Russian Family Learns Painful Truth About Executed Relative
                  RADIO FREE EUROPE Dmitriy Volchek March 21, 2017

                  Tamara Grechukhina was 15 years old in 1938 when her father was locked up by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's secret police. Soon afterward, her mother died of tuberculosis. The family's property was confiscated.

                  Nearly three decades later, under Nikita Khrushchev's partial de-Stalinization known as The Thaw, an adult Grechukhina wrote to Soviet authorities from her home in Poland to request rehabilitation for her father and information about his fate.

                  In response, she learned only that Dmitry Grechukhin had been executed in February 1939 for what the government described tersely as "violating socialist legality" while working as an officer in the secret police, then known as the NKVD.

                  A generation later, at the peak of the perestroika initiative in 1988 of yet another Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, Grechukhina inquired again for details -- and again, her request was refused.

                  'Who Was My Great-Grandfather?'

                  After Grechukhina died, her granddaughter, Agatha Opyrchal, quietly hoped someday to learn the truth about her great-grandfather.

                  "My grandmother died when I was 12," Opyrchal tells RFE/RL's Russian Service. "She never knew what her father did or why he was arrested. She didn't know why he was executed. I never doubted that sooner or later I would get to the bottom of what happened with my great-grandfather."

                  Her family, she says, knew that Dmitry Grechukhin worked for the NKVD, but they rarely talked about him or his fate.

                  Opyrchal was born in Poland, but has lived for many years in Britain. She doesn't speak Russian and has lost contact with her Russian relatives. But in November, she read an article in The Guardian by RFE/RL journalists that told the story of Denis Karagodin, a resident of the Siberian city of Tomsk who successfully investigated the 1938 execution of his great-grandfather and even found out the names of the NKVD officers who shot him.

                  So Opyrchal decided to write to Karagodin to ask if he had any information about Dmitry Grechukhin. Karagodin's answer was painful for her to read.

                  "Your great-grandfather was a mass murderer," he wrote. In fact, Grechukhin appears in a database of Stalinist secret-police agents that was put online last year by the Memorial human rights group.

                  A Celebrated Killer

                  In the shadowy world of the NKVD, which is still concealed by closed archives, Grechukhin's name and brutality stand out. He was born to a peasant family in 1903 and completed just four years of school. Before his arrest, he worked in "the organs" for 15 years.

                  Things moved fast for him toward the end. In 1937, he became head of the NKVD's branch in the Krasnoyarsk region. Under his watch, the local NKVD sent a letter to Moscow asking that its quota for executions of enemies of the state be raised from 750 to 6,600, a request that was approved.

                  As a reward for his diligence, Grechukhin was given an Order of the Red Star and transferred to head the NKVD branch in Ukraine's Odesa region and then to serve as acting deputy head of Ukraine's NKVD section in Kyiv.

                  "Just a few months after his arrival in Odesa, Dmitry Grechukhin reported to Kyiv about his successes in removing some 7,691 representatives of 'unwelcome elements' from the border regions to Kazakhstan," Ukrainian historian Oleh Bazhan, who is researching NKVD executioners who were active in Ukraine, tells RFE/RL.

                  At the time, Bazhan explains, Stalin was interested in repressing ethnic groups associated with territories of the Russian Empire that had been lost after World War I, including Romanians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and Finns.

                  Grechukhin was a member of the Odesa region's so-called "troika," a panel of three officials that served as a rubber-stamp court for Stalin's repressions.

                  "The Odesa troika of the NKVD in the first half of 1930 authorized more than 3,000 executions," Bazhan says. "On Grechukhin's personal order [after he had been transferred to Kyiv], a wave of mass arrests of former Red Army soldiers swept over the entire republic in July and August 1938."

                  A Persecution Too Far

                  In September 1938, Grechukhin was transferred to the Rostov region, a move that marked the beginning of the end for him. For unknown reasons, he launched a drive to implicate famed novelist Mikhail Sholokhov, who won the 1965 Nobel Prize for literature largely for works he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s, in a supposed Cossack plot to overthrow the Soviet Union. Much of Grechukhin's story is known now because of his involvement in this ill-fated intrigue.

                  Grechukhin sent a former security agent named Ivan Pogorelov to infiltrate Sholokhov's inner circle and develop "evidence" of the plot. Pogorelov, however, betrayed Grechukhin and revealed his mission to Sholokhov. Sholokhov complained to Stalin directly, who took the legendary writer's side.

                  Grechukhin, like many of the NKVD killers who rose to prominence under NKVD head Nikolai Yezhov, who was himself arrested in 1938 and executed in 1940, was arrested in December 1938, and executed less than three months later.

                  Closing The Past

                  "I was shaken when I read that he was guilty of so much evil," Agatha Opyrchal tells RFE/RL. "But I want to know everything down to the last detail. I want to find my relatives in Russia."

                  "I think it is time for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the victims and of the organizers of the Great Terror to begin to speak about the past," she adds.

                  Karagodin, the man from Tomsk who has investigated the execution of his great-grandfather, tells RFE/RL that he gets many comments from descendants of NKVD agents on his website, which aggregates documents about his investigation.

                  "They generally use swear words and say things like 'this is all a lie' or 'this guy was really a good guy and you shouldn't write about him here,'" he adds.

                  He says that correspondence such as his exchange with Opyrchal is practically unique -- "humanitarian exceptions," he calls them.

                  Karagodin adds that he does not believe Opyrchal will be granted access to her great-grandfather's file. The state does not release such information on people who were rejected for rehabilitation, a policy that helps conceal the crimes of Soviet government agents to this day.

                  "Dmitry Grechukhin is a mass murderer -- that is an established fact," Karagodin says. "It has been confirmed repeatedly by the government itself, the same government that in fact hired him to carry out that work. Therefore, access to Grechukhin's execution file will likely be refused for this formal reason. That's the law."

                  This year, Russia is marking the 80th anniversary of Stalin's Great Terror and the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik coup. President Vladimir Putin, himself a former communist and KGB agent, has stressed the importance of not allowing these events to increase divisions or dissension in society.
                  Nearly 80 Years Later, One Russian Family Learns Painful Truth About Executed Relative

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                  • Fears Of Mass Property Confiscation In Donbas
                    RADIO FREE EUROPE 3/22/2017 VIDEO

                    A new regulation approved by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has sparked fears that apartments abandoned by people who fled the fighting in the region could be seized on a mass scale. (RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)
                    Fears Of Mass Property Confiscation In Donbas

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                    • INTERFAX-UKRAINE 10:15 22.03.2017
                      Ukrainian-German business forum to be held in Berlin in H2 2017

                      Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman and Chairman of German Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations Wolfgang Buchele at a meeting in Kyiv on Tuesday agreed to hold a Ukrainian-German business forum in Berlin in the second half of this year.

                      "It would be good to start preparations for this important forum as soon as possible. I think this is a very good idea that will bring a good overall result," the press service of the Cabinet of Ministers quoted Groysman as saying.

                      The parties agreed on the creation of a working group that will prepare the forum and practical issues of implementing joint projects.

                      Discussing the practical issues of attracting investments from Germany, the premier noted that the Ukrainian government is interested in improving the business and investment climate in the country and is making the necessary efforts for this.

                      "We are working hard to create added value in Ukraine, to restructure the current model of the economy, and we are interested in deepening cooperation with German partners, which will enable us to increase production for domestic needs and strengthen export opportunities," Groysman said.

                      He pointed out that Germany is one of Ukraine's main trading partners in the European market. "Our bilateral trade and economic relations have achieved positive dynamics, but their potential has not been fully utilized," the prime minister said.

                      He also praised the opening of the German-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which will contribute to deepening economic cooperation between Ukraine and Germany. Ukrainian-German business forum to be held in Berlin in H2 2017

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                      • Ukraine conducted another test of its new Vilha missile
                        UAWIRE ORG March 22, 2017 12:27:36 PM

                        On Tuesday, March 21, Ukraine conducted another test of its new missile, reported the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksandr Turchynov.

                        "Today, planned launches of Ukrainian missiles were held that were manufactured by the enterprises of Ukroboronprom in the cooperation with the State Space Agency of Ukraine. During the tests, the missile control system was tested, as well as accuracy at maximum range. I want to emphasize that all launches were successful and that the missiles hit their designated targets," he said.

                        Ukraine has been holding similar tests since spring of last year. A year ago, on March 22, 2016, the high-precision Vilha missile for the Smerch multiple rocket launcher system underwent its first successful fire test. The 300mm Vilha shell is being developed by the Yuzhnoye Design Office in Dnipro while the State Design Bureau Luch in Kyiv is in charge of the missile’s control system with inertial guidance and GPS correction.

                        Ukraine’s current missile program enables full production of its tested armaments. UAWire - Ukraine conducted another test of its new Vilha missile

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                        • U.S. Says Tillerson Could Attend Rescheduled NATO Meeting
                          RADIO FREE EUROPE March 21, 2017

                          The United States has left open the possibility that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could attend a NATO foreign ministers meeting if it was rescheduled to another date.

                          The announcement came less than a day after the State Department said Tillerson would skip an early April NATO gathering but would still make his first visit to Russia as part of a European trip later in the same month.

                          State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on March 21 that Washington had offered possible dates for rescheduling the April 5-6 NATO meeting in Brussels that would fit into Tillerson's schedule.

                          The State Department revealed Tillerson's plan to skip the gathering of foreign ministers from the other 27 NATO countries late on March 20 but did not explain why.

                          A NATO official told RFE/RL following Toner's comments that the alliance was "in contact with the State Department on scheduling."

                          "All decisions concerning the date of a ministerial [meeting] are taken by consensus by all 28 allies," the official said.

                          Meanwhile, NATO has confirmed that Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will go to Washington for his first meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on April 12.

                          A NATO spokeswoman said they would discuss "the importance of a strong NATO in providing collective defense and projecting stability beyond the alliances borders."

                          The leaders of NATO countries will then gather in Brussels on May 25 for their first summit since Trump won the U.S. presidential election in November 2016.

                          NATO says the agenda of the summit includes "the alliance’s role in the fight against terrorism, and the importance of increased defense spending and fairer burden-sharing."

                          Trump's administration has been pressing NATO allies to meet a pledge to spend 2 percent of their GDP each year on defense by 2024.

                          The announcement that Tillerson would miss the April 5-6 meeting in Brussels triggered criticism from the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and from two former U.S. ambassadors. It also raised concerns among alliance members about Washington's commitment to NATO by Trump's administration.

                          During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, NATO members were rattled by Trump's characterization of the alliance as "obsolete" and his suggestion that the United States might not come to the aid of other NATO members in the event of an attack by Russia.

                          'Inviolable' Defense Guarantee

                          NATO has a mutual-defense guarantee that calls for a response by all members if there is an attack against one member. At his confirmation hearings in January, Tillerson called the guarantee inviolable.

                          However, Trump administration officials have also said members must honor military-spending pledges to ensure the United States does not "moderate" its support for the alliance.

                          Toner told reporters on March 21 that the United States remained "100 percent committed to NATO" and that Tillerson would have an opportunity to speak with NATO counterparts this week at a Washington meeting on combating Islamic State (IS) extremists.

                          Citing unnamed current and former U.S. officials, the Reuters news agency first reported that Tillerson would miss the semiannual meeting in Brussels in order to attend talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which are expected on April 6-7.

                          Asked by reporters about the plans for the Russian trip -- including a possible meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- Toner declined to provide details, saying he was "not ready to make a formal announcement."

                          In response to questions about reports of Tillerson's trip to Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on March 21 that the ministry was "not prepared to confirm or deny this information."

                          "But we are certainly surprised by the regular leak of sensitive information from Washington," Zakharova said on Facebook.

                          The Russian news agency Interfax quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying that he "knows nothing" about Tillerson's trip.

                          Presidential Campaign Probe

                          Information about the Moscow visit comes amid an investigation by U.S. authorities over allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential campaign and meetings between Russian officials and several Trump campaign officials.

                          Trump repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian President Putin during the U.S. presidential campaign and has said he hopes relations between the two countries, which are badly strained, will improve.

                          But despite initial expectations of a meeting with Putin early in Trump's presidency, no date has been set for face-to-face talks, and senior administration officials including Tillerson have taken a tough stance on Russia in public statements.

                          Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil CEO who interacted with Russian officials for years in his job with the oil giant, was given a friendship medal by Putin in 2013.

                          He also has criticized sanctions imposed against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and its support for pro-Russia separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.

                          A NATO official told RFE/RL that Stoltenberg was meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on March 21 and would "discuss progress in the fight against terrorism with Secretary Tillerson" and others at a meeting on March 22.

                          The official said that Stoltenberg "will continue his regular contacts with the U.S. administration, which has confirmed its strong commitment to NATO, both in words and in deeds."

                          "It's up to allies to decide at what level they are represented" at NATO ministerial meetings, the official said.

                          Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and former deputy secretary-general of NATO, said there was concern about Tillerson's decision to skip the meeting.

                          "I would say as a NATO veteran, 'a NATO junkie,' that the presence of a U.S. secretary of state, particularly at his first opportunity to join his counterparts at a ministerial [meeting], is something that shouldn't be passed up, especially when we face so many challenges," Vershbow told a Senate committee on March 21.

                          "But I think the more basic question is first consulting with your allies, before consulting with the Russians," Vershbow said.
                          U.S. Says Tillerson Could Attend Rescheduled NATO Meeting

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                          • INTERFAX-UKRAINE 12:26 22.03.2017
                            Ukrainians ready to vote for women, parties must take this into account before election – Swedish ambassador

                            Political parties in Ukraine should pay attention to the fact that Ukrainians are ready to vote for women, Swedish Ambassador to Ukraine Martin Hagstrom has said.

                            "What is interesting and can be strange for someone: people are ready to vote for strong and professional women. This gives us faith in the future. Now there are not very many women in the parliament, but people are ready to vote for them, and I think, that parties should take this into consideration during the next election," the Ambassador of Sweden told journalists in Kyiv on Wednesday.

                            According to him, the female half of the country should be taken into account.

                            He also noted that it is necessary to strive to ensure gender equality in Ukraine. "Of course, if you look at the parliament, the percentage of women is low there, one of the lowest in Europe," the diplomat said. Ukrainians ready to vote for women, parties must take this into account before election – Swedish ambassador

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                            • Warning to Russia’s neighbors: Moscow started to undermine Ukraine in Crimea already in 2008
                              EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul A. Goble 2017/03/23

                              It has become an article of faith that Vladimir Putin acted suddenly in annexing Ukraine’s Crimea that many have ignored something that Leonid Grach, the former leader of the Communist Party on the peninsula, knows well: Russia was actively preparing the groundwork in Crimea for such actions six years before it pounced.

                              In an interview given to the Meduza news agency, Grach, who headed the Crimean Supreme Soviet from 1998 to 2002 said that Moscow was involved in political and economic life in Crimea at least as early as 2008 – just after Putin’s notorious Munich Security Conference speech.

                              The former communist leader says that while a Ukrainian peoples deputy, he never concealed his “pro-Russian attitudes” and took “definite actions intended to promote the rapprochement of Crimea and Russia … I openly professed pro-Russian sentiments. More than that, I realized them.”

                              “In particular,” he says, he and his people seized NATO equipment that was put in Crimea for a NATO-Ukrainian exercise in 2008 and did so on the orders of Nikolay Patrushev, then director of Russia’s FSB and now the secretary of the Russian Security Council. Patrushev understood clearly what was at stake in Crimea, Grach says.

                              Grach’s remarks are far from matters of historical interest only. They are an indication that Moscow is playing a long game and that it is putting in place in various parts of the former Soviet space people and institutions that it can use if and when it chooses to subvert or annex part of them.

                              On the one hand, of course, such statements are intended to further poison political life in these countries and thus promote precisely that outcome. But on the other, Grach’s words should serve as a warning to all the countries in Russia’s neighborhood and those who support it of the real nature of the dangers they face given Putin’s intelligence operative style of foreign policy.
                              Warning to Russia’s neighbors: Moscow started to undermine Ukraine in Crimea already in 2008 | EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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                              • Putin’s ‘secret weapon’ against the West – massive illegal cash hordes in foreign countries
                                EUROMAIDAN PRESS Paul A. Goble 2017/03/23

                                The Russian economy is small relative to that of Europe or the United States. It military is hardly capable of competing with NATO. But “the Kremlin has a secret weapon which no one else in the world has: enormous criminal financial resources” that Vladimir Putin can deploy to promote his goals, according to Igor Eidman.

                                During the time of Putin’s rule, “trillions of dollars” have flowed out of Russia abroad, a trend that is “not simply a criminal affair” but rather “the story about the struggle for rule in the world” designed to promote the goals of the FSB and its master in the Kremlin, the Russian analyst says.

                                Eidman doesn’t mention it, but the size of these cash hordes outside of Russia is now so large that some banks and countries are afraid to go after Putin’s holdings because of the enormous profits that they are making from holding or laundering this money.

                                This “criminal money is the main weapon of the secret war which Putin is conducting against democracy. It is used for buying off Western elites. Financing propaganda, and manipulating public opinion as well as for supporting destructive political forces, organizing hacker attacks, and collecting compromising information and blackmail of influential people.”

                                “The goal of all this is a sharp strengthening of Putin’s influence in the world, splitting the EU and NATO, destroying the union between Europe and the US, and destabilizing the situation in democratic countries,” Eidman says. “Now, the most important tasks are sparking hysteria about the refugee crisis in the EU and unleashing a new conflict in the Balkans.

                                Eidman surveys the way Russian money has been used in Montenegro, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Poland, Sweden, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Italy, and the US. “In addition,” he says, “the Kremlin also supports ultra-right, separatist and isolationist forces in the UK, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece and other European countries.”

                                The way in which Moscow is using its illegal cash hordes to destabilize the situation in the former Soviet republics is “particularly dangerous,” Eidman says, and thus requires “a separate discussion.”

                                In many ways, Eidman suggests, “the situation is like the development of cancer. The tumor (the Putin corporation) is so large that it is impossible to remove without harm to the healthy part of the organism. The infected (the West) is afraid of this and is refusing to have an operation.”

                                “But if the surgery is put off forever, the tumor will spread to the point that the life of the victim will be at risk. And then those ill from it will simply die.” The West needs to recognize this and to recognize that Putin is using his “dirty money” not only to affect the political systems of Western countries but also their economies.

                                Moreover, the West needs to recognize something else: Even in those relatively few cases where the Russian money involved is not dirty to begin with – it may have flowed out in completely legal ways – it has been hijacked by the Kremlin and put to criminally dangerous political use.

                                Consequently, Eidman concludes, “the capital and influence of Russian bureaucrats and oligarchs must be surgically removed from Western society. Otherwise, the metastasizing of Putinism will not stop.”Putin’s ‘secret weapon’ against the West – massive illegal cash hordes in foreign countries | EUROMAIDAN PRESSEuromaidan Press |

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