Obama says Russia adopting ‘increasingly aggressive posture’ – 10 hours agoAn Ukrainian serviceman stands at a position as workers dig trenches on the frontline of fighting against pro-Russian separatist in eastern Ukraine on May 26, 2015 (AFP Photo/Genya Savilov)Related Stories
Washington (AFP) – US President Barack Obama accused Russia of toughening its battlefield stance Tuesday, as he met with the NATO secretary general to discuss the rolling crisis in Ukraine.”We had a chance to discuss the situation in Ukraine and the increasingly aggressive posture that Russia has taken,” Obama said, after Oval Office talks with Jens Stoltenberg.Both men stressed the need for parties to respect a largely-ignored February ceasefire agreement, which Stoltenberg said could still be a „path to peace.”The deal, between European powers, Russia and Ukraine was aimed at ending a 13-month war that has claimed nearly 6,300 lives and left well over a million people homeless.In recent days there has been particularly heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists near the strategic port city of Mariupol.At the same time there has been an uptick in tensions as Russia aircraft and submarines have made provocative forays into European airspace and waters.Obama said this was a „challenging and important time for NATO.”
Appeals court rules with states challenging Obama’s immigration action By Julia Edwards5 hours agoU.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery … By Julia Edwards Related Stories
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s plan to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation was dealt another setback on Tuesday when a U.S. appeals court refused to lift a block put in place by 26 states that argued Obama overstepped his authority.By a 2-1 vote that could pave the way to a Supreme Court ruling, the judges from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that Obama’s executive action should remain on hold pending further judicial proceedings.The decision further delays Obama’s immigration order, which was first blocked by a Brownsville, Texas lower court judge in February.The plaintiffs, all states led by Republican governors, said the federal government exceeded its authority in demanding whole categories of immigrants be protected.Democrat Obama’s administration has said it is within its rights to ask the Department of Homeland Security to use discretion before deporting nonviolent migrants with U.S. family ties.But the judges’ opinion said the approval rate of Obama’s earlier executive action on immigration, aimed at people brought into the United States as children, was too high to reflect true discretion.The case has become the focal point of Obama’s efforts to change U.S. immigration policy.Seeing no progress on legislative reform in Congress, Obama announced in November he would take executive action to help immigrants. He has since faced criticism from Republicans who say the program grants amnesty to lawbreakers.On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement, „The President’s attempt to bypass the will of the American people was successfully checked again today.”The White House said the two appeals court judges who ruled against the administration chose to „misinterpret the facts and the law.””The president’s actions… are squarely within the bounds of his authority and they are the right thing to do for the country,” White House spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine said.The U.S. Department of Justice was evaluating the ruling and considering next steps, a U.S. official said.The 5th Circuit will rule again in the coming months on whether the Obama administration can appeal the block to the executive order. That decision may be made by a new panel of judges and will take into account more evidence.Immigration advocates have been wary of the prospect that the 5th Circuit, known as one of the most conservative in the nation, would rule with the administration.”We are disappointed, but this is not unexpected at all,” Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said on a conference call with reporters.Hincapie said immigration advocates were still optimistic that the executive order would prevail.If the Obama administration is denied an appeal it may ask the Supreme Court to consider the case, potentially delaying the start of the immigration programs until June 2016, a politically sensitive time in the run-up to the November presidential election.”If the programs go into effect next June, there will be real electoral consequences,” said Marshall Fitz, vice president of immigration policy at left-leaning Washington think tank Center for American Progress. „There is a clear contrast between (Democratic front-runner Hillary) Clinton and any Republican in the current field.”Clinton has said she would like to see Obama’s action expanded to shield even more immigrants from deportation.(Writing and editing by Sandra Maler, Eric Beech, Dan Grebler, Grant McCool)
Moldovan president: We prefer European Union orbit to Russia By AMER COHADZIC9 hours agoMoldovo President Nicolae Timofti, left, talks with Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, center, and …TIRANA, Albania (AP) — Moldova’s 4 million citizens would prefer to join the European Union rather than stay in the Russian orbit, its president said Tuesday.President Nicolae Timofti told The Associated Press that Moldovans are reaping economic benefits from closer ties and visa-free travel with the 28-nation EU, but added that Russia’s presence is still a factor in the former Soviet republic, 24 years after it declared independence when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991.”We can’t deny the realities that exist in Moldova. We were part of a union where Russia predominated,” he said.”(But) we are a European country and our people have European aspirations,” Timofti said. „It has been understood that we can live much better in the European family than in any other political conjunction.”Moldova’s pro-European government, however, relies on the support of the Communist Party, which does not favor fast reforms moving the nation closer to the EU.Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest nations. Some 600,000 Moldovans work abroad, in Russia and EU countries, and send home remittances. The Russian-speaking separatist region of Trans-Dniester in eastern Moldova, which borders Ukraine, broke away in 1990 and wants to join Russia. There are some 1,500 Russian troops stationed there.Since Russia imposed an embargo on Moldovan fruit and some vegetables after the country signed an association agreement with the EU last June, some 54.5 percent of all Moldovan trade now goes to the bloc, more than before, Timofti told The AP.In addition, more than half a million Moldovans have traveled to EU countries after the bloc lifted visa restrictions for Moldovan citizens in April 2014, he said.Timofti spoke to The AP as he attended a meeting of southeast European nations._Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.
Caught on camera: Russian waitress fights off customer after he gropes her By Gwen Breitstein8 hours ago Talk about getting served! A video of an unidentified Russian waitress giving a grabby customer exactly what he deserves has gone viral.The security footage shows a customer in a Russian restaurant trying to stuff money down the waitress’s shirt. To say she doesn’t take it well would be an understatement. She slaps him, knocking him off his chair, and when he follows her and grabs her butt, she hits him with the menu so hard that he falls to the floor. The waitress then walks away as the groper is picked up off the floor by some other customers and leaves the restaurant.According to the Daily Mirror, some people are speculating that this instance of girl power may have been a setup, but that whack sure looks real.
State Department proposes next Clinton email release on June 30 57 minutes agoDemocratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks to the media after a campaign appearance at the …WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The State Department is proposing to release the second batch of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails on June 30, with additional releases every 60 days, according to court documents released on Tuesday.But Ryan James, a lawyer for the plaintiff who sued for release of the emails under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, said the State Department should release new batches of them every two weeks.A federal judge ordered the State Department to produce a plan by this week to release batches of Clinton’s emails that were kept on her private server while she was secretary of state.Clinton, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, has come under criticism for using a private email account, hosted on a private server, instead of a government one for messages she sent and received as secretary of state.The first batch of roughly 850 pages of emails was released on Friday and showed Clinton, who left the State Department in 2013, fretted over how she would be portrayed after the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.In the filing on Tuesday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the State Department said it expected to complete the release of all 55,000 pages of Clinton emails by January 2016.(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Merkel, Hollande to discuss future of EU as Brexit looms 10 hours agoPresident Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands after a joint press conference following their meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on May 19, 2015 (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)Brussels (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s Francois Hollande will likely meet next week to finalise plans for a more integrated eurozone as the threat of a British exit from the EU looms, European sources said.Related Stories
The Berlin meeting, which will also include European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker, was „almost certain”, the sources said, in a move that will cause tremors in a eurosceptic London suspicious of a two-speed Europe dividing euro and non-euro nations.The official subject of the discussion will be a joint Franco-German roadmap for the future of the 19-member single currency in response to a request by Juncker for member states to brainstorm a better governance for the eurozone hit hard by the debt crisis.But the talks land just weeks after British premier David Cameron won a second term in office on the promise of an in-out EU referendum by 2017, amid speculation that British voters will vote against staying in the bloc.”The deepening of the European economic and monetary union is a process that is in its final stages while Cameron is only beginning his,” a European source told AFP in confirming the Berlin meeting.Cameron argues that the EU should be retreating from further integration instead of embracing it, and that Europe risks a no vote in Britain by failing to change.But the Berlin and Paris proposal for the summit, which was seen by AFP, not only mentions tightening ties in the eurozone, but doing so without changing the existing treaties that govern the EU.But re-opening the treaties in order to reform them is a key demand of non-euro Britain as it heads to a referendum.Kickstarting his own diplomatic efforts to secure EU reforms, Cameron hosted Juncker at his country residence on Monday.”The Prime Minister underlined that the British people are not happy with the status quo and believe that the EU needs to change in order to better address their concerns,” a spokesman for Cameron’s office said after the talks.
Hamas executed Palestinians during Israel war: Amnesty 2 hours agoPalestinian men sit amid the rubble of houses which were destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the summer of 2014, in the Eastern Gaza City Shujaiya neighbourhood, on May 23, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)Jerusalem (AFP) – The Islamist group Hamas used its 2014 Gaza war with Israel to „settle scores” with rival Palestinians, executing at least 23 in possible war crimes, Amnesty International said Wednesday.Related Stories
A report by the London-based rights group detailed the „brutal campaign of abductions, torture and unlawful killings against Palestinians accused of ‘collaborating’ with Israel” by Hamas, de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip enclave.The report details the „extrajudicial execution of at least 23 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of dozens of others”.”It is absolutely appalling that, while Israeli forces were inflicting massive death and destruction upon the people in Gaza, Hamas forces took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses,” Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther said.Around 2,200 Palestinians were killed during last year’s 50-day conflict with Israel, with 73 killed on the Israeli side.The Jewish state went to war against Hamas to stamp out cross-border rocket and mortar fire.A March report by Amnesty found that rockets fired during the war by Gaza militants killed more Palestinians than Israelis.According to the new Amnesty report, „Hamas forces also abducted, tortured or attacked members and supporters of Fatah, their main rival political organisation within Gaza, including former members of the Palestinian Authority security forces”.”Not a single person has been held accountable for the crimes committed by Hamas forces against Palestinians during the 2014 conflict, indicating that these crimes were either ordered or condoned by the authorities,” it said.Luther accused Hamas of „appalling crimes against powerless individuals”, which in some cases constitute war crimes.He said the militant movement displayed „a disregard for the most fundamental rules of international humanitarian law”.Amnesty called on the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and Hamas to „cooperate with independent and impartial international investigative mechanisms”, and to bring „suspected perpetrators” to justice.The Palestinians are preparing to sue Israeli officials through the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes committed during last year’s Gaza conflict.Israel’s military has opened investigations into deadly incidents that took place during the war.Amnesty accused Israel in a December report of committing war crimes in its Gaza campaign.
Russia just made another agreement with Iran that will raise eyebrows in the West By Elena Holodny11 hours ago(REUTERS/Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin) Six Iranian food companies are now allowed to export their goods to Russia.”We gave permission for the delivery of food products from six Iranian companies: four dairy producers, and two poultry producers,” Federal Veterinary and Phytosanitary Inspection Service press secretary Yulia Melano said on Monday, according to RIA Novosti.”Deliveries can begin only after the completion of an additional set of requirements, which will guarantee complete safety,” she added.Meanwhile, imports of meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and fish from various Western countries are still banned by Russia.This news is just the latest in the highly publicized, heavily scrutinized Russia-Iran deals and cooperation over the last year.Most notably, we saw the massive oil-for-goods deal, and Russia lifting its own ban on the delivery of the S-300 immediately following the interim nuclear deal in April.(Reuters) Analysts have interpreted all of this Russo-Iranian collaboration in several different ways.There’s a certain camp, including Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College, who see the Moscow-Tehran relationship as a sign that US policy is having little impact on global affairs — especially on Russia and Iran.Nichols told Business Insider back in April that the transfer of the S-300s is „yet another moment where Russia and Iran underscore the reality that they can do whatever they like, unconstrained by a disengaged United States.”On the flip side, others see Russia’s quick pounce on Iran immediately after the nuclear deal as a sign that the Kremlin is afraid that its already isolated position on the global stage will further weaken if Tehran and Washington’s relations improve following the real deal.As Russian Middle East expert Georgy Mirsky told the Washington Post:”A few years back, I heard one of our diplomats say: ‘A pro-American Iran is more dangerous for us than a nuclear Iran.’ … If you look at this as a zero-sum game, Iran getting closer to the West is a weakening of the Russian position.”“And for this it is necessary to bring a preventative blow, before the implementation of this nuclear agreement, to show Iran that we are the most reliable partner and the only great power you can rely on.”(REUTERS/Viktor Korotayev CVI/MA) In any case, it’s unclear what will come out of the flurry of activity.Despite all the deals and the fact that „Tehran may … consider ties with Russia to be a plan B in case negotiations over its nuclear program fail or do not lead to the results it desires,” Russo-Iranian relations are probably far from the beginnings of a deep poli-economic integration, according to Carnegie Moscow Center’s nonresident scholar Nikolay Kozhanov.Various political and economic hurdles, such as Russia’s dialogue with Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, could prevent Moscow and Tehran from forming any sort of „comprehensive strategic alliance,” Kozhanov argues in a report on the revitalization of Russo-Iranian relations.(REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov) „Russia and Iran must determine in which political spheres their collaboration makes sense and can be effective— in other words, where they can go beyond mere consultations,” he writes. „On certain issues, the Russian and Iranian positions are close, but it is not certain that the two will agree.”Without clear answers to these economic and political questions, further progress on the dialogue between Moscow and Tehran is unlikely.”To summarize, Kozhanov writes: „The intensity of Moscow’s current contact with Tehran is unprecedented in Russia’s post-Soviet history. Yet despite the potential for improvement, there are serious obstacles that may hamper or even halt cooperation.”NOW WATCH: Forget the Apple Watch — here’s the new watch everyone on Wall Street wants
Hungarian Catholic university makes Holocaust education compulsory 6 hours agoA view of Budapest, seen on February 8, 2010 (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)Budapest (AFP) – A Catholic university in Hungary has made a course in Holocaust education mandatory for all its students, the first initiative of its kind in Europe according to Israel’s envoy to Budapest.From September, students at the Pazmany Peter Catholic University in Budapest, Hungary’s main religious higher educational institution, must take a course titled „The Holocaust and its memory”.”Anti-Semitism in any form is incompatible with Catholicism,” the university’s rector Szabolcs Szuromi said at a press conference to announce the move Tuesday.The course content has been compiled by professors at a Tel Aviv university, he added.Szuromi said the idea was sparked by recent remarks by Israel’s ambassador to Budapest Ilan Mor that Holocaust education was the key to preventing anti-Semitism.The initiative was „unique on a European level”, said Mor, who was also in attendance.As many as 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished in the Holocaust, almost all in 1944.According to surveys anti-Semitic attitudes have risen in recent years in EU member Hungary, which is home to Central Europe’s largest Jewish community of around 100,000.Members of the country’s second most popular political party, Jobbik, have made regular anti-Semitic statements.
China, Updating Military Strategy, Puts Focus on Projecting Naval Power CreditUnited States NavyBEIJING — China intends to project naval power in the open ocean in coming years, and not just defend the country’s coastal waters, according to a strategy paper released on Tuesday.The paper, the first policy document issued by the Chinese military in two years, comes at a time of growing Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. China’s efforts to enforce its disputed claims to vast stretches of the sea by building up artificial islands and structures on reefs and outcroppings have drawn the Philippines and its ally the United States into a test of wills in the region.The dispute between Beijing and Washington escalated last week when an American military surveillance plane flew near Fiery Cross Reef, a contested atoll in the Spratly Islands that has been the site of frenetic dredging work in recent months. Chinese forces repeatedly ordered the American plane to leave the area, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman later called the flight “irresponsible and dangerous.”The Pentagon said earlier this month that it was weighing whether to send warships and aircraft into what it says are international waters, but China says are within its zone of control.On Tuesday, in an act of defiance likely to further inflame tensions in the region, China’s state news media announced that construction work had begun on two lighthouses in the Spratlys, adding to a growing array of Chinese-built structures that have been identified in satellite photos, including radar facilities and a runway capable of handling military aircraft.The policy document, released by the State Council, lays out China’s military ambitions, referred to as “national rejuvenation,” as Beijing moves to counter what it sees as American efforts to contain its rise.It extends beyond naval policy to emphasize the continued modernization of the Chinese military in general, and it describes cyberwarfare as a “grave security threat” that requires the development of a cybermilitary force. But Western analysts said the document’s emphasis on improving naval capabilities and projecting force far from China’s coastline was the most striking facet of the paper.Col. Steve Warren, a Defense Department spokesman, said that the Chinese government had informed the United States about the strategic paper almost a year ago.“We have repeatedly called on the Chinese for transparency, and frankly, this is an example of transparency,” Colonel Warren told reporters on Tuesday.“Their strategy is their strategy,” he added. “What we want to focus on is the fact that they released the strategy publicly, which is exactly the type of thing that we’ve been calling for.”Jeff Rathke, a State Department spokesman, said on Tuesday that the Obama administration would “continue to monitor China’s military developments carefully.”Dennis J. Blasko, an Asia analyst at CNA Corporation who studies China’s armed forces, said the paper formally enunciated a transformation that the military had been going through for some time, and that had gained pace in recent years.“This basically confirms everything that the vast majority of analysts have seen developing: the trends toward a greater maritime force, a stronger air force and improved missile forces,” said Mr. Blasko, a former Army attaché at the United States Embassy in Beijing. “Still, even if it’s something we’ve been expecting, it’s a new statement and a big statement.”Although the strategy paper mentions the United States only in passing, it leaves little doubt about whom China perceives as its opponent, blaming “some external countries” for “meddling in South China Sea affairs.”At a news conference discussing the strategy paper, Yang Yujun, a Defense Ministry spokesman, made clear that China regards those affairs as no one’s business but its own. “Looking from the angle of sovereignty, China’s development of construction on its islands is no different at all from all the other types of construction going on around the country,” he said.Chinese military strategists have long signaled their intention to improve the nation’s naval strength and reduce its reliance on its land forces, which have been dominant since the 1940s. In recent years, the People’s Liberation Army, which takes in all branches of the military including the navy, has invested in new submarines, launched the nation’s first aircraft carrier and announced plans to restructure the armed forces, although it has released few details.According to Mr. Blasko, the navy accounts for about 10 percent of the P.L.A.’s 2.3 million members, while about 17 percent serve in the air force; nearly all the rest are in the army.Analysts said the tensions in the South China Sea were one factor accelerating Beijing’s efforts to build up its naval and air strength. But events elsewhere have also played a role, prompting Chinese leaders to abandon long-held policies discouraging overseas military engagement.In 2008, during the height of Somali piracy in the Gulf of Aden, China sent two destroyers and a supply ship to the region, the first time it had dispatched battle-ready warships beyond the Pacific. In April, it sent three naval vessels to Yemen, where it evacuated hundreds of Chinese and other foreign nationals from the conflict-torn country.“The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests,” the strategy paper said. “It is necessary for China to develop a modern maritime military force structure commensurate with its national security and development interests.”Xu Guangyu, a retired major general who is now a senior counselor with the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, said the emphasis on “open sea protection” was a sign of China’s spreading economic and diplomatic footprint abroad.“As China continues to rise, it has enormous interests around the globe that need protection,” he said, “including investments, trade, energy, imports and the surging presence of Chinese living abroad.”Still, he noted that the document stressed Beijing’s determination to deter foreign aggression and its resolve to win a war started by others.“China will actively build up its military capability and deterrence, just to make sure no one dares fight with us,” said General Xu, whose institute advises the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “The United States cannot expect China to back off under pressure. It needs to know that the consequences would be unthinkable if it pushes China into a corner.”The United States has not taken a position on the overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, parts of which are claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei as well as by China. Washington says the disputes should be resolved through diplomacy.But the Obama administration says none of the claimants should interfere with international navigation in the area, and in recent days, Pentagon officials have said they have no intention of halting American reconnaissance flights near the contested islets.Bernard D. Cole, a professor at the National War College in Washington, said the strategy paper suggested that there was little chance that China would relinquish its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, which is rich in oil, gas and fishing resources.“I think China has been feeling pretty confident as it pushed ahead, trying to feel the threshold where the U.S. reaction would be,” Dr. Cole said. “We may be seeing that threshold now, but I see absolutely no evidence that China is going to stop its island construction.”Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Washington. Yufan Huang contributed research.
Putin’s dream of reuniting the Russian empire is falling apart TOMAS HIRST MAY 26, 2015, 10:39 AM
REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/PoolRussian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of uniting the self-declared separatist republics in eastern Ukraine under the banner of Novorossiya, or New Russia, was put on hold indefinitely last week as Moscow moved to abide by the terms of February’s cease-fire deal.Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Russian state-owned newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that „we say that we want [these republics] to become part of Ukraine.”His comments echo those of Alexander Kofman, the defence minister of the separatist-run Donetsk People’s Republic, who told the Vechernyaya Makeevka newspaper: „The Novorossiya project is frozen until a new political elite emerges in all these regions that will be able to head the movement. We don’t have the right to impose our opinion on [the Ukrainian cities of] Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Odessa.”The move is most likely aimed to ensure the Russian side lives up to the commitments made in the second Minsk cease-fire agreement signed with Germany and France earlier this year. The deal called for local elections to be held in each of the separatist-held regions of Lugansk and Donetsk under Ukrainian law to decide on „local self-government” — a condition that could have been put under threat by the Novorossiya project.Wiki CommonsSince the onset of fighting in eastern Ukraine following the collapse of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, suspicions of Russian involvement both militarily and politically have been repeatedly raised. NATO command has openly accused Moscow of sending troops and equipment (including tanks and heavy artillery) across the border to support the Russian-speaking rebels against the government in Kiev.Yet the end goal for many in the Kremlin has always been grander: the reformation of a large part of the former Russian empire through the unification of Russian-speaking people across the region.Putin said as much in his annual televised Q&A session last year, recalling that the breakaway territories in Ukraine had a long, shared history with Russia:I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya (New Russia) back in the tsarist days — Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa — were not part of Ukraine back then. These territories were given to Ukraine in the 1920s by the Soviet government. Why? Who knows. They were won by Potyomkin and Catherine the Great in a series of well-known wars. The centre of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained.At the time, effectively laying claim to regions that are formally part of Ukraine was seen as a quite extraordinary statement to make. But it is in keeping with the Kremlin’s broader strategic positioning over recent years.Moscow has spent the past decade trying to rebuild economic and political ties with its former Soviet neighbours under the auspices of the Eurasian Union. Yet international sanctions against Russia and the collapse in the oil price over the past year have put serious strains on its ambitions.In March, Putin attended a Eurasian Union conference with his Kazakh and Belorussian counterparts in Astana, the Kazakh capital. Tensions were higher than usual, with the government in Astana having to dip into its gold and foreign-currency reserves to defend its currency and rein in rampant inflation over recent months.In July last year, the Kazakh government passed a new law increasing the sentence for separatist activity in a possible hint that the Kazakh authorities were becoming concerned about a possible Russian landgrab, not dissimilar to what has been seen in the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine. The government had previously refused to sign up to Moscow’s tit-for-tat sanctions imposed on Western goods imports, making clear that it viewed the Eurasian Union as a purely economic undertaking and not political.The apparent success of the Novorossiya project in Ukraine provided some welcome relief from these setbacks.Channel 1In August, Putin directly addressed the „Novorossiya militia” in Ukraine following the establishment of a so-called Union of People’s Republics between the rebel administrations in Lugansk and Donetsk. In effect, the Russian president appeared to be recognising the separatist republics as a unified political bloc — something Kiev’s western allies have long refused to do.Moreover, in February of this year the Russian TV station Channel 1 filmed the flag of Novorossiya flying over the key railway town of Debaltseve a day after rebels claimed to have captured the town after weeks of fierce fighting between the two sides.The decision by separatist forces to raise the Novorossiya flag rather than that of their own Donetsk People’s Republic flag is itself interesting and potentially highly symbolic. Raising the flag could be seen as playing into the Kremlin’s narrative of the crisis, which is that the government in Kiev is trying to undermine the right of ethnic Russians in the east of the country to self-determination — albeit within Moscow’s sphere of influence.That dream, however, has now been paused indefinitely. Russia’s domestic economy has suffered from a combination of international sanctions and the collapse in global oil prices and, it seems, there now seems to be little appetite left to further the standoff over Ukraine.How that will play with separatist leaders is an open question.Last year, separatist leader Oleg Tsarov ruled out the possibility that the rebel-held regions could find a mutually acceptable compromise with Kiev, saying „the reattachment of Novorossiya to Ukraine is not possible … it is not possible given the current government in Kiev.” He said those who had „experienced artillery bombardments, and who have lost comrades, who have lost relatives, whose homes have been destroyed,” would never accept the current administration.The two sides remain a long way apart, but without Moscow’s backing the People’s Republics would struggle to continue as independent entities. It seems the first step toward a dialogue on the future of Ukraine might just have been taken.SEE ALSO: Ukrainian rebels just handed a big victory to Russia ;NOW WATCH: 11 Facts That Show How Different Russia Is From The Rest Of The World
China to extend military reach, build lighthouses in disputed waters By Megha Rajagopalan8 hours ago Reuters Videos China to build two lighthouses in the South China SeaNews China to build two lighthouses in the South China SeaBy Megha Rajagopalan Related Stories
BEIJING (Reuters) – China outlined a strategy to boost its naval reach on Tuesday and announced plans for the construction of two lighthouses in disputed waters, developments likely to escalate tensions in a region already jittery about Beijing’s maritime ambitions.In a policy document issued by the State Council, the Communist-ruled country’s cabinet, China vowed to increase its „open seas protection”, switching from air defence to both offence and defence, and criticised neighbours who take „provocative actions” on its reefs and islands.China has been taking an increasingly assertive posture over recent years in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, where it has engaged in extensive land reclamation in the Spratly archipelago.China claims most of the South China Sea and criticised Washington last week after a U.S. spy plane flew over areas near the reefs. Both sides accused each other of stoking instability.A U.S. State Department spokesman declined to make a specific comment on the Chinese strategy paper, but said Washington urged Beijing „to use its military capabilities in a manner that is conducive to maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”Jeff Rathke reiterated the U.S. view that China’s reclamation work had contributed to rising tensions and said building up of underwater features did not confer a right to a territorial sea or an exclusive economic zone.White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama considered the South China Sea security situation „critically important” to U.S. national security and the global economy and said Washington was committed to working with other Asia-Pacific states to protect the free flow of commerce there.Chinese navy sailors stand in formation as they attend a send-off ceremony before departing for the …While also declining to comment on the content of China’s policy paper, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said its publication was „a step in the right direction” in terms of transparency and „exactly the type of thing that we’ve been calling for” in that respect.China has overlapping claims with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei in the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year.Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said China’s reclamation in the Spratlys was comparable with construction of homes and roads on the mainland.”From the perspective of sovereignty, there is absolutely no difference,” he told reporters.Some countries with „ulterior motives” had unfairly characterized China’s military presence and sensationalised the issue, he said. Surveillance in the region was increasingly common and China would continue to take „necessary measures” to respond.”Some external countries are also busy meddling in South China Sea affairs. A tiny few maintain constant close-in air and sea surveillance and reconnaissance against China,” the strategy paper said in a thinly veiled reference to the United States.OFFENCE AND DEFENCESpokesperson of Chinese Ministry of National Defense Senior Colonel Yang Yujun holds a copy of the a …It said China’s air force would shift its focus from territorial air defence to both offence and defence, and building airspace defences with stronger military capabilities.China also announced plans for the building of two lighthouses in the South China Sea on Tuesday and broadcast a groundbreaking ceremony on state television, defying calls from the United States and the Philippines for a freeze on such activity.Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the construction was to help maritime search and rescue, disaster relief, environmental protection and navigational security.Wu Shicun, president of the government-affiliated National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said the lighthouses were among the first of planned civilian-use facilities in the region.”The reefs are located near an important commercial shipping route, so there will be continued development to maintain the security of those shipping lanes,” he told Reuters.The strategy paper also said the People’s Liberation Army’s nuclear force, known as the Second Artillery Corps, would strengthen its capabilities for deterrence and nuclear counterattack as well as medium- and long-range precision strikes.”China faces many complex maritime security threats and challenges and requires a navy that can carry out multifaceted missions and protect its sovereignty,” Wang Jin, a senior colonel, told reporters.The paper also cited „grave threats” to China’s cyber infrastructure, adding that China would hasten development of a cyber military force.Self-ruled Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province, called on all South China Sea claimants to shelve their disagreements to enable talks on sharing resources before a conflict breaks out.Japan meanwhile will join a major U.S.-Australian military exercise for the first time in a sign of growing security links between the three countries as tensions fester over China’s moves.All three nations have said they are concerned about freedom of movement through the South China Sea and air space.China’s Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday it had carried out military training for party cadres from border and coastal areas on border defence, among other topics.The trainees, who visited military combat units, developed a better understanding of the „national security situation”, said a statement on the ministry’s website.(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee and Michael Martina in Beijing, Matt Siegel in Sydney and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)