Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is and will be Ukrainian soil. Yesterday in the course of the meeting in Normandy, I told this to President Putin: Crimea is Ukraine soil. Period. There can be no compromise on the issues of Crimea, European choice and state structure.”
Among the dignitaries in attendance was Vice President Joe Biden, which is where the story gets interesting. It hardly seems noteworthy that, given the scope of the crisis, Biden took his second trip to Ukraine in the past six weeks.However, Biden’s trip also coincided with a story about his youngest son. Hunter Biden was tapped last month to join the board of Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private gas producer. At the time, The Guardian wryly explained the oddity of Biden-spawn’s new gig. Isn’t that a bit fishy? Why do you say that?Because he’s the vice-president’s son! That’s a coincidence. „This is totally based on merit,” said Burisma’s chairman, Alan Apter.He doesn’t sound very Ukrainian. He’s American, as is the other new board member, Devon Archer.Who? Devon Archer, who works with Hunter Biden at Rosemont Seneca partners, which is half owned by Rosemont Capital, a private equity firm founded by Archer and Christopher Heinz.Who? Christopher Heinz … John Kerry’s stepson.As the Associated Press reports today, there is more fishiness yet. While Hunter Biden’s new company is said to be working to get Ukraine off its dependence on Russia for energy, Burisma also reportedly „leases natural gas fields in the breakaway Russian-backed state of Crimea.”RELATED: Rising Sea Levels Are Exposing Bodies of Buried WWII SoldiersThe company is also owned by Nikolai Zlochevskyi, whose „ties to Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian president” include serving as a senior minister in several government posts under Viktor Yanukovych.At the time of the appointment, Hunter Biden said this:As a new member of the Board, I believe that my assistance in consulting the Company on matters of transparency, corporate governance and responsibility, international expansion and other priorities will contribute to the economy and benefit the people of Ukraine.”Said transparency seems to be elusive on the American side of this deal.Beltway ethicists seems to be mixed about whether this arrangement is kosher or not. What is clear is that relatives of high-level American political figures have benefited from their ties for generations now. It’s practically a tradition at this point. This article was originally published at http://www.thewire.com/global/2014/06/its-totally-normal-that-joe-bidens-son-works-for-a-ukrainian-energy-company/372385/
Ukraine’s new leader stands up to Moscow over Crimea and Europe
KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s new president Petro Poroshenko said his country would never give up Crimea and would not compromise on its path towards closer ties with Europe, spelling out a defiant message to Russia in his inaugural speech on Saturday.The 48-year-old billionaire took the oath of office before parliament, buoyed by Western support but facing a crisis in relations with Russia as a separatist uprising seethes in the east of his country.Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March, weeks after street protests ousted Poroshenko’s pro-Moscow predecessor Viktor Yanukovich, in a move that has provoked the deepest crisis in relations with the West since the Cold War.”Citizens of Ukraine will never enjoy the beauty of peace unless we settle our relations with Russia. Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is, and will be, Ukrainian soil,” Poroshenko said in a speech that drew a standing ovation.He said he had delivered that message to Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two met on Friday at a World War Two anniversary ceremony in France.There is no prospect of Russia reversing its takeover of Crimea, but in what could be a positive signal from Moscow, Russian news agencies reported Putin had ordered the Federal Security Service to strengthen protection of the border with Ukraine and prevent people crossing illegally.The move was potentially significant because Ukraine and Western governments have been pressing Moscow to stop what they say is a flow of Russian arms and fighters into eastern Ukraine.Russia denies it is backing the uprising but journalists have encountered Russian nationals among the separatist ranks.View galleryPetro Poroshenko (L) arrives for his inauguration ceremony as Ukraine’s new president in Kiev Ju …„NOT TRADE-OFF” Poroshenko, who earned his fortune as a confectionery entrepreneur and is known locally as the „Chocolate King”, said he intended to sign the economic part of an association deal with the European Union as a step towards full membership.That idea is anathema to Moscow, which wants to keep Ukraine in its own post-Soviet sphere of influence.His voice swelling with emotion, Poroshenko stressed the need for a united Ukraine and the importance of ending the conflict that threatens to further split the country of 45 million people. He said it would not become a looser federalised state, as advocated by Russia.”There can be no trade-off about Crimea and about the European choice and about the governmental system. All other things can be negotiated and discussed at the negotiation table. Any attempts at internal or external enslavement of Ukraine will meet with resolute resistance,” he said.Since Poroshenko’s election, government forces have stepped up their operations against the separatists who want to split with Kiev and join Russia. The rebels have fought back, turning parts of the Russian-speaking east into a war zone.Poroshenko offered to provide a safe corridor for Russian fighters to go home. „Please, lay down the guns and I guarantee immunity to all those who don’t have bloodshed on their hands.”Switching from Ukrainian into Russian, he promised to visit the east with guarantees of Russian-language rights and proposals for decentralisation that would give its regions a bigger say in running their own affairs.View galleryHonor guards hold a Ukrainian national flag during the rehearsal for the inauguration of Petro Poros …But a scornful response from the rebels, who have declared their own „people’s republics”, spelled out the scale of the separatist challenge facing him.”What they (Kiev’s leaders) really want is one-sided disarmament and for us to surrender. That will never happen in the Donetsk People’s Republic,” a top separatist official, Fyodor Berezin, said by telephone from Donetsk, an industrial hub where rebels have occupied strategic points.”As long as Ukrainian troops are on our soil, I can see that all Poroshenko wants is subjugation. The fight will continue.”AT ODDS WITH MOSCOW Poroshenko won a landslide election on May 25 after promising to bridge the east-west divide that has split the country and thrust it into a battle for survival.Many Ukrainians hope the election of the former government minister, who is married with four children, will bring an end to the most tumultuous period in their post-Soviet history.More than 100 people were shot dead by police in Kiev by police in the street protests that eventually brought Yanukovich down. In the east, scores of people, including separatist fighters and government forces, have been killed since April.The uprising is not the only challenge facing Poroshenko, who inherits a country on the verge of bankruptcy and rated by watchdogs as one of the most corrupt and ill-governed in Europe.Kiev is also at odds with Moscow over Russian gas. Russia is threatening to cut supplies as early as next week unless Ukraine settles its debt, the amount of which is disputed.Poroshenko’s speech drew an ovation from guests at a ceremony attended by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and senior EU officials.Cheering crowds later greeted him on a walk in blazing sunshine on the square in front of Kiev’s St Sophia’s Cathedral, which was decked out with the blue and yellow national flags.On a visit to France, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington hoped for a reduction in Russia-Ukraine tensions in the next few days, including a possible ceasefire.Russia’s foreign ministry, in its first comments after Poroshenko’s swearing-in, acknowledged his inauguration but did not comment on his speech, calling instead for the release of two Russian journalists detained in Ukraine.But reaction was hostile in eastern Ukraine, where government forces shelled rebel positions in Slaviansk and manned checkpoints on roads into the city. In another eastern city, Luhansk, separatist leader Valery Bolotov was emphatic in his rejection of Poroshenko and Ukrainian rule.”The Ukrainians have made their choice and they must live with it. As for our republic, we have no diplomatic relations with Ukraine,” he told journalists, wearing combat fatigues in a conference room hung with crystal chandeliers.”Today Ukraine got a new president and now the blood of our people and of Ukrainians will lie on his conscience.”(Additional reporting by Lidia Kelly in Moscow, Thomas Grove in Slaviansk and Alissa de Carbonnel in Luhansk; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by David Holmes)
Politics left behind as Mideast rivals head to Vatican
Israeli President Shimon Peres and his Palestinian counterpart Mahmud Abbas have been acquaintances for years and held peace talks together, and have their separate reasons for honouring the pope’s desire to keep the weekend event as free of controversy as possible.”This prayer meeting will not be for mediation or to find solutions. We are just meeting up to pray. Then everyone goes home,” Francis said after issuing the invitations during a pilgrimage to the Middle East last month.Under Israel’s political system, Peres’s role as president is largely ceremonial. Real power lies with the much more hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Netanyahu did allow Peres to open a secret back channel of peace negotiations with Abbas in 2011. The two men held four rounds of talks in which Peres has said they finalised a draft agreement that the rightwing premier then rejected.A new, US-led, peace push launched last July collapsed amid acrimony earlier this year to the dismay of Peres, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his part in launching the process decades ago.But all the president, now 90 and due to step down at the end of July, has been able to do is voice hope that talks may one day resume.In the Vatican Gardens on Sunday, he, Abbas and Francis will „issue a joint call for peace to people across the world,” his office said.View galleryPope Francis (L) and Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas sit during a welcome ceremony on M …”President Peres will place particular emphasis on the importance of inter-religious dialogue,” it added.- ‘Committed to pope’s request’ -The Palestinians too are keen that the joint prayers go ahead, despite Netanyahu’s decision to boycott a new unity government sworn in by Abbas on Monday with the support of Israel’s Islamist foe Hamas.”We are committed to the pope’s request. Nothing new has happened that would change the commitment,” said foreign minister Riyad al-Malki.While some Palestinians expressed dissatisfaction that Francis did not explicitly condemn Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank during last month’s pilgrimage, Abbas welcomed the pope’s „historic” visit.And a silent prayer that Francis held at Israel’s West Bank separation barrier in Bethlehem was widely seen as a publicity coup for the Palestinians.”The pope saw the occupation with his eyes, he saw the wall in Palestine,” Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told AFP.That perception was shared in Israel to the anger of the nationalist right.Jerusalem Post commentator Caroline Glick wrote of an „unfriendly” visit and accused Francis of „leading the Catholic Church in a distressingly anti-Jewish direction.””Alas, the Golden Age of Catholic-Jewish relations seems to have come to an end during Francis’s visit to the Promised Land”, she wrote.Peres has been at pains to assuage Jewish religious sensibilities about the joint prayers he will hold at the Vatican.”The event will take place in a location in the garden without religious symbols and which is not a place of prayer to ensure that it would be in accordance with Jewish tradition,” his office said.Ahead of the visit, Peres spoke with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who blessed him for his work towards peace and wished him luck, it added.
Saudi shouts support for Egypt’s new anti-Islamist leader
DUBAI (Reuters) – As new Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi prepares for his inauguration on Sunday, his most powerful Arab ally is deploying both threats and promises to ensure the Arab Spring cannot upset a new anti-Islamist front in the Middle East.King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia urged Egyptians this week to embrace Sisi, the military man who drove Islamists from power in Cairo a year ago, and said they should to disown the „strange chaos” of the Arab uprisings.It was Riyadh’s starkest message of support yet for Sisi, who won an election last month thanks to support from Egyptians hoping that a strong, military-backed government will bring an end to three years of political instability in the most populous Arab country. Sisi’s win was undoubtedly a boost for Saudi Arabia, which had watched with horror as the Arab revolts toppled authoritarian leaders and brought President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt. For Saudi Arabia, Sisi’s win sealed the end, for now, of the rise of the Brotherhood, the international standard-bearer of mainstream Sunni political Islam since it was founded in Egypt in 1928. Since the movement has a following in every Arab and Muslim society, the example set by the Egyptian Brotherhood’s embrace of the ballot box poses a threat to the hereditary dynasties that hold sway in wealthy Gulf Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.The movement enjoys substantial support from Islamist-friendly countries like Qatar and Turkey and its influence appears to have grown in countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Libya since 2011.The blunt, emotional language in the king’s message – which described troublemakers in the region as „the helpers of Satan and its troops on the ground” – laid bare an underlying power struggle in the region pitting conservative, anti-Islamist governments, represented by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt against countries such as Qatar and Turkey who appear to believe that Brotherhood represents the future of Arab politics.Sisi, like Saudi Arabia, is no admirer of the Shi’ite Muslim clerical rulers of Iran, whose administration is seen by Riyadh as a expansionist power bent on exporting its Islamic revolution to the Arab world and interferings in the affairs if neighbouring Gulf Arab states. Iran denies any such interference.Senior Saudi and Gulf officials are expected to turn out in force at Sisi’s elaborate inauguration to show the Egyptian army filed marshall has the backing of a new regional order that applauded his bloody removal of a Brotherhood-led government in 2013.Qatar, which poured billions into Egypt during Mursi’s one year in power, was not invited. And in a sign that Western allies are not entirely comfortable with the state of Egyptian democracy since then, they only plan to send low-level representatives to the event.Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, was livid when autocratic Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak was toppled following popular demonstrations in 2011 which eventually led to the Muslim Brotherhood, long mistrusted by Riyadh, coming to office.Riyadh and the UAE have joined Sisi in clamping down hard on the Brotherhood, seen by them as ‘terrorists’, in an effort to quell regional instability wrought by the Arab Spring.Their overriding goal is to prevent the Islamist movement leading the Arab world’s most populous country once more.„UGLINESS OF EVIL”The message seemed meticulously orchestrated.Less than 15 minutes after Sisi was officially declared Egypt’s president on Tuesday, Saudi King Abdullah issued his ringing statement of support. He also called for a donor conference to help the new president fend off economic collapse.The statement went beyond the usual, terse messages of congratulation. From his holiday home in Morocco, the king went a step further: he said the „infringement” in Egypt’s affairs would be considered an infringement of Saudi’s affairs.In a thinly-veiled reference to the Brotherhood, and perhaps also to Qatar, the king said: „I warn you all against the ugliness of evil, for it has a very dark face and only works for its personal interests.”Saudi Arabia regards the Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist movement in Egypt, as an existential threat since their embrace of elections challenges the Gulf tradition of dynastic rule.The king, who has long been infuriated by the support shown to the Brotherhood by Qatar, demanded non-interference in Egypt’s affairs.”It is a non-bargainable and non-negotiatable position under any circumstances,” the royal statement read.In an unusually public spat, Riyadh punished Qatar for its pro-Brotherhood stance by taking the unprecedented step of recalling its ambassador from Doha earlier this year.The message also signalled that Riyadh, long seen as the ‘big brother’ in the Gulf, expects Egypt’s allies to step in and provide Sisi with the resources he needs to rescue an economy damaged by three years of tumultuous politics.Cairo’s European allies, however, appear to be less amenable to the message. The EU said on Thursday it was concerned with the detention of political opponents, activists and journalists. A Western diplomatic source said there had therefore been a „collective decision” to send only ambassadors to the inauguration.„NO PLACE AMONG US”The king said that anyone who did not use their resources to help Sisi „would have no place among us tomorrow, if ever they were to suffer from ordeals and crises”.Saudi Arabia could barely contain its glee when Sisi toppled Mursi, a veteran Brotherhood Islamist, after Egyptians demonstrated against his rule.It has since pumped billions of dollars, along with the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, to shore up the economy.The United States, however, which has considered Egypt a close Middle East ally for decades, suspended some aid after the overthrow.While Doha was snubbed for the inauguration, the president of Iran, Saudi’s regional archrival, received an invite.”I think the Saudis said that was fine because they trust Sisi. They didn’t trust the Brotherhood…Sisi will clearly tell (Iranian President Hassan) Rouhani that the security of the Gulf is our (Egypt’s) security,” said Sultan al-Qassemi, an Emirati commentator on political affairs.”So the Saudis will be very reassured by the meeting, rather than be more alarmed by it.”