Saturday, June 27, 2015

Russia And NATO Prepare For Possible War

Tensions continues to ramp up between Russia and the United States, as geopolitical manoeuvers unfold. The uneasy peace between the Eastern and Western superpowers seems to be deteriorating further, with both sides taking action which has resulted in distrust increasing further.
Russia Nuclear Weapons Iskander missile launcher

Putin increases nuclear warhead haul

Just last week, the Russian supremo Vladimir Putin announced that Russia intended to expand its existing nuclear arsenal. This move would see the nation establishing forty new intercontinental ballistic missiles to add to its existing quota. Considering that Russia and the United States collectively have in the region of 15,000 nuclear warheads, one might not unreasonably wonder what is the point of Russia acquiring another forty. There is no doubt that should the United States or Russia ever fire a nuclear weapon at one another, the ultimate result would be unprecedented and unimaginable global devastation.
Unfortunately, both Russia and the United States have engaged in actions in recent months which have resulted in the diplomatic situation between the two nations deteriorating. The latest increase in nuclear weapons announced by Russia seems to have led to a new phase of posturing and military manoeuvres, which is the latest in a phase of rising tensions that began with the Ukraine conflict back in 2013.

Geopolitical conflict

As has been reported previously by ValueWalk, the existing situation must be seen in the slightly geopolitical context. Russia and the US are historical rivals anyway, but the pairing of Russia with China in the new BRICS power bloc places pressure on the traditional US-led hierarchy. The old world order of the Anglo-American and EU / NATO-driven institutions is being challenged by the BRICS, and the powerful organization has already made it a stated goal to play a greater role in existing economic institutions, or if this is not achievable to set up a central bank of its own.
ValueWalk reported sometime ago that the BRICS nations have been scheming to create their own central bank, as the major political and business figures from the Eastern world continue to be frozen out of the existing global economic infrastructure. Whether this is a serious intention, or rather a bargaining chip in an ongoing debate and struggle, remains to be seen. But what is certain is that the existing tension between the United States and Russia should be seen as a symptom of this situation.

Russia’s replacement strategy

According to Adam Mount, a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the announcement which has recently been made by Putin does not actually signifying a significant change in Russian nuclear policy. Mount suggests that Russia is fully compliant with the New START treaty, which limits strategic launches such as ICBMs.
Russia’s existing nuclear capability is indeed dating owing to its Soviet-Europe vintage. Russia must continue to take delivery of forty new weapons every year simply to replicate the existing capability. This is essentially the explanation for the extra warheads which have been ordered by the Russian president, and doesn't really represent an increase in the nation's nuclear capabilities.
Regardless of the realities of this announcement, it still presents an opportunity for NATO to ramp up the rhetoric against the nation. Indeed, NATO officials have already expressed concern over the announcement made by Putin, with The Guardian newspaper reporting concern within the military organization of the extent to which such weapons are being utilized in Russian military exercises.
US Building Defense System Against Russia Cruise Missile
Image Source: Defense One

NATO responds in kind

NATO has also taken explicitly aggressive steps of its own, by beefing up its Response Force. There are already thousands of soldiers and advanced military technology and weaponry stationed near Russia's borders in response to the Ukrainian situation, and this fighting force has recently been further increased. It already consists of 13,000 troops, but according to reports that emerged this week, NATO may now increase this to as much as 40,000.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has specifically stated that the move isn't intended to increase tensions, and NATO’s official policy is to seek neither confrontation nor a new arms race.
Naturally, Russia has been criticized for its policy in the Ukraine, but it is also notable that the United States and its allies have destabilized this relationship and region by directly supporting the overthrow of the Ukrainian government. The subsequent encircling of the nation with a large quotient of military force was only likely to ramp up tensions further.
And despite what has been stated about NATO's intentions by the organization itself, it seems that the military alliance that it represents is absolutely prepared to implement a more aggressive nuclear weapons strategy. NATO considers this to be a response to Russian aggression rather than a pre-emptive policy, but this will only serve to diminish the diplomatic relations between the Western and Eastern superpowers.

Nuclear response reported

It was reported again by The World Socialist Website that NATO is even planning to respond to any attempt by Russia to counter the United States with an even more aggressive military strategy. This could even include nuclear weapons.
While this is an extremely alarming prospect, and the continuing tensions between Russia and the United States are worrying, it is also important to understand the historical context of this conflict. While no-one wants to believe that either side is capable of utilizing nuclear weapons, as ValueWalk as reported previously, this in fact came incredibly close to occurring during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
As the two big beasts in world geopolitics continue to saber rattle, one can only hope that ultimately a peaceful solution is sort to these inevitable tensions. In the iconic 1997 publication “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”, Zbigniew Brzezinski outlined a shifting in the world order and power base which is unfolding before our very eyes now. Although Brzezinski is, not unreasonably, a reviled figure to many, it is notable that he didn't predict that it would end with armed conflict between Russia, China, the United States and the Western world.
With both power blocs continuing to behave with intransigence, one can only hope that this verdict turns out to be accurate.

Greeks give mixed reaction to referendum - Euronews VIDEO

First entry: 27 June 2015 - 13:33 Athens, 10:33 GMT
Last update: 13:33 Athens, 10:33 GMTBusiness
Greeks give mixed reaction to referendum - Euronews VIDEO
News of the impending referendum has caused alarm for some in Greece. The country’s Central Bank says deposits are now at their lowest level since May 2004.
But while there is concern for some, for others there is resignation and relief:
“I don’t think a referendum is such a bad idea,” said one woman to Euronews, “at last we have a prime minister who is asking our opinion. There is no need to be so upset about it.”
For some, there is a sense of irony about the decision to call a referendum.“Syriza did not support calls for a referendum in 2012,” one man pointed out, “now, all of a sudden, it is the right thing to do. It is logical that people are upset by the decision, it is not unusual.”
Others are realistic about the situation:“If we had the power on our own, as the Greek nation, to resist then I would say let’s do that. But we don’t have that power. There must be a real negotiation, a real conversation in order to stay in the Eurozone and in the EU.”

Greece to Ask Eurogroup to Extend Bailout Program Due to Referendum

© AP Photo/ Yorgos Karahalis
Athens will ask the Eurogroup to prolong the Greek bailout program for several weeks as the country has to prepare for a referendum on the conditions of the debt deal with international creditors, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Saturday.
MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Athens will ask the Eurogroup to prolong the Greek bailout program for several weeks as the country has to prepare for a referendum on the conditions of the debt deal with international creditors, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said Saturday. The minister added that whether Greece would meet the June 30 deadline for its $1.7-billion debt payment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) depends on the flexibility of the country’s creditors, Reuters news agency reported.



Greek PM Alexis Tsipras calls referendum on bailout terms

Prime minister returns from Brussels and tells Greece that terms offered by creditors ‘clearly violate the European rules’
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras returns to his office at the Maximos Mansion in Athens. Photograph: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters
In a dramatic move that will put Europe on tenterhooks, the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras told his fellow citizens last night he would call a referendum on the bailout accord that international creditors have proposed to keep the debt-stricken country afloat.
Following an emergency meeting of his cabinet, Tsipras said his leftist-led government had decided a package of austerity measures proposed by the country’s creditors – made in a last-ditch effort to avert default – would be put to popular vote. The referendum will take place on Sunday 5 July.
“After five months of hard negotiations our partners, unfortunately, ended up making a proposal that was an ultimatum towards Greek democracy and the Greek people,” he said in a national address, “an ultimatum at odds with the founding principles and values of Europe, the values of our common European construction.”
The leader, who only hours earlier had rejected the proposed reforms after several days of high-stakes talks in Brussels, said Greeks now faced a “historic responsibility” to respond to the ultimatum.
He said the reforms were “blackmail for the acceptance on our part of severe and humiliating austerity without end and without the prospect of ever prospering socially and economically”.
Describing the vote as a “historic decision”, Tsipras said he had informed the leaders of France, Germany and Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank about the decision. “I asked them to extend our current bailout by a few days so this democratic process could take place,” he said.
Greeks would be asked whether they wanted to accept or reject excoriating tax hikes and pension cuts that the EU, ECB and International Monetary Fund have set as a condition to release desperately needed bailout funds. Greece’s current rescue programme, already extended once, expires on 30 June.
Panic-stricken depositors, worried that capital controls may only be hours away, rushed to ATMs to withdraw savings. Queues quickly formed outside banks around the capital.
Prompted by the response, the government spokesman, Gavriel Sakellarides, insisted the plebiscite would not endanger Greece’s place in Europe. “The question is not whether we will remain in the eurozone. The Greek people should not be afraid,” he said in the early hours.
But Tsipras, whose radical-left Syriza party was catapulted into power five months ago on a platform of eradicating austerity, did not hide his own feelings for the accord.
Greeks, he said, were being subjected to “humiliation and blackmail”. “These proposals, which clearly violate the European rules and the basic rights to work, equality and dignity, show the purpose of some of the partners and institutions was not a viable agreement for all parties, but possibly the humiliation of an entire people,” he said.
“But I personally pledge that I will respect the result of your democratic choice, whatever that may be.” The Greek parliament, in an emergency step, would convene on Saturday so that the referendum could be called in line with the constitution. Several ministers emerging from the cabinet session said they would not support the “barbaric measures” being demanded of Athens by foreign lenders.
The energy minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads Syriza’s militant wing known as the Left Platform, said he would support a no vote against measures that had resulted in the widespread “misery and pillaging” of the country since its debt crisis exploded five years ago.
The recipient of €240bn in bailout funds – the biggest rescue programme in global financial history – Greece has seen its economy contract by more than a quarter, unemployment soar and poverty levels rise precipitously under the weight of draconian budget cuts and tax increased demanded by creditors.
“It is a democratic decision and the Greek people are being called to give a democratic answer. And that answer is going to be a resounding no,” Lafazanis told Kontra TV.
“If the Greek people say a big no, it is going to be impossible for those who wield power not to take note unless democracy no longer exists.”
Echoing that sentiment, the Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, tweeted: “Democracy deserved a boost in euro-related matters. We just delivered it. Let the people decide. (Funny how radical this concept sounds!).”
Konstantinos Chrysogonos, a Syriza MEP, told BBC 2’s Newsnight: “It’s obvious that the deal creditors are proposing to the Greek government is beyond the popular mandate this government has.”
He added: “There was probably no other way but to submit the demands of the creditors to a referendum.”
Chrysogonos said it was not clear yet what recommendation the government would make in the runup to the vote. “I don’t know what the suggestion of the government will be, whether it will be to accept or to withdraw or to refuse the demands of the creditors. This remains to be seen. It remains to be seen what the verdict of the Greek people will be.”

Friday, June 26, 2015

Touching Base: Putin and Obama Talk Ukraine, Iran Nuke Deal, Syrian Crisis

US President Barack Obama (R) listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin

© AFP 2015/ Jewel Samad
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Barack Obama held a telephone conversation Thursday evening discussing the implementation of the Minsk peace agreements on Ukraine, countering the self-proclaimed Islamic State terror group, the current situation in Syria and the ongoing Iran nuclear negotiations.
BAKAN (Sputnik) – According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama touched upon a number of issues in their phone conversation.
"The heads of state discussed the Ukrainian crisis, in particular the implementation of the Minsk agreements… in this context the presidents agreed that in the near future US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin will meet to discuss the implementation of these agreements."
The Minsk deal was reached in February after talks between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine in the Belarusian capital. The agreement was signed by members of the Contact Group on Ukraine, comprising representatives from Kiev, the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk (DPR and LPR), Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
The peace deal stipulates a ceasefire between DPR and LPR independence fighters and Kiev forces, which launched a military operation in Ukraine’s southeast in April 2014 in response to local residents’ refusal to recognize the new coup-installed government.
The Minsk agreement also contains provisions on an all-for-all prisoner exchange between the conflicting sides, withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact and the decentralization of power in Ukraine.
The OSCE, which is tasked with monitoring the situation in Ukraine, has reported ceasefire violations in the country's southeastern regions despite the Minsk truce.
Obama: Russia Needs to Fulfill Minsk Agreements
Obama urged Moscow to fulfill the Minsk agreements during the conversation, the White House said in a release.
“President Obama reiterated the need for Russia to fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements, including the removal of all Russian troops and equipment from Ukrainian territory.”
Leaders Focus on Fight Against Terrorism, Islamic State Threat
According to spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin and Obama also raised the issue of terrorism during the conversation, including the threat of the Islamic State extremist organization in Syria.
“There was a detailed exchange of opinions on the situation in Syria… particular attention was paid to a range of issues pertaining to the fight against terrorism, especially the spread of the influence of Islamic State in the Middle East.”
According to Peskov, Putin and Obama agreed that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would hold a meeting to discuss terrorism-related issues in the near future.
Iran Nuclear Issue as P5+1 Talks With Tehran Continue
The leaders also touched upon the ongoing talks between the P5+1 group and Iran that are being conducted with the aim of ensuring the peaceful nature of Tehran’s nuclear activities, Peskov added.
The White House said in a Thursday statement that Obama and Putin stressed the importance of unity among P5+1 mediators, which include Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany.
"The leaders…underscored the importance of continued P5+1 unity in ongoing negotiations to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon."
The P5+1 group and Iranian officials are meeting in Vienna ahead of the June 30 deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement on Tehran's nuclear program. According to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, a number of stumbling blocks remain in the talks and negotiators have so far been unable to narrow the disputed issues down to just a few that could be discussed at the ministerial level.
In April, Iran and the P5+1 agreed on a framework for a deal ensuring the peaceful nature of Tehran’s nuclear activities. The agreement, reached in the the Swiss city of Lausanne, stipulates that Iran cut back uranium enrichment activities and decrease the number of centrifuges in exchange for Western sanctions relief.
The West has long suspected that Iran is developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program. Tehran has stressed that its nuclear activities are aimed at meeting Iran’s growing energy needs.

Albania makes headway in battle to beat corruption and improve its image

Prime Minister Edi Rama making good on post-electoral pledge to address culture of bribery and improve Albania’s international standing
Democrats have done a banknote which claims that the Socialists had bought votes from the poor Albanian people, Tirana
A banknote produced by the Democratic Party of Albania infers that the ruling socialist government bought votes during the 2013 election process. Photograph: Vedat Xhymshit/Alamy
In Albania, corruption has long been part of everyday life. People talk of taking a loved one to hospital and having to pay the doctor to get the best treatment, or of going to a property registration office and being asked to pay an extra “fee” to speed things up.
This culture of bribery has not only kept society’s most vulnerable from accessing vital services but has also damaged Albania’s international image. In a 2011 study, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said Albanian citizens ranked corruption as the second most important problem after unemployment.
Since emerging from the decades-long dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, who turned Albania into one of the world’s most isolated states, the Balkan country of 2.8 million people has struggled to deal with corruption and organised crime.
When he took office in 2013, Prime Minister Edi Rama, the one-time flamboyant mayor who oversaw the repainting of Tirana’s communist-era grey buildings, made it a priority to tackle corruption and improve Albania’s international standing.
The centre-left coalition government’s reforms have focused on improving administrative systems, enforcing the rule of law, and making it easier for people to report corruption.
Last February, the government launched an online anti-corruption portal to allow citizens to anonymously record instances of unscrupulous practices. The website covers 12 key areas, including police, health and customs.
Since then, 6,840 reports have been logged. Many of these involve complaints about poor service, but 777 cases directly relate to accusations of corruption, with 35 reports referred to prosecutors.
Rama insists Albania’s poor international reputation is based on exaggerated stereotypes rather than reality, but admits that combating corruption is key to changing perceptions. “To improve the image of a country, first you have to change the country itself,” he said. “I believe corruption becomes the alternative when a government is not able to serve its citizens in a transparent and efficient way. So we have to modernise, and modernisation is about reforms.”
Another anti-corruption programme involves text messages being sent to citizens to ask whether they had to pay a bribe when receiving treatment at state-run hospitals.
The scheme, run by the ministry of state for local issues and anti-corruption, and supported by the World Bank, was launched in March and has reached more than 33,000 people, about 20% of whom have provided feedback.
“The doctors are always late and the corruption continues as always. Without giving away money, no one takes care of you,” said one person. Another person, who had gone to a hospital in the city of Durres, was more positive: “I have been in hospital before, but this time you could feel the change. No one asked for a bribe.”
The World Bank has previously supported a similar programme in Pakistan.
“Low trust in government leads not only to informal means of obtaining services and less willingness to pay taxes, it also leads to lower resources for the government to provide public services, thus completing a vicious cycle of mistrust and corruption,” Jana Kunicova and Zubair Bhatti, public sector experts at the World Bank, wrote in a blog. “By proactively collecting citizen feedback and using it for management actions, this vicious cycle can be broken.”
In its 2011 survey, the UNODC said on average 28.3% of Albanians aged between 18 and 64 had been exposed, either directly or indirectly, to a bribery experience with a public official in the previous year. But it noted that about 30% of bribes paid were actually offered by citizens themselves.
Albania, which ranks 110th out of 175 countries in Transparency International’s 2014 corruption perceptions index, joins a list of other countries using the internet to crack down on corruption, either through “naming and shaming” or by bringing bribery and other corrupt practices into the open.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting Albania’s anti-corruption drive. The country, which was given a ninth millennium development goal on good governance, is now piloting the governance indicator of the new sustainable development goals, which will frame development priorities until 2030.
Albanians enjoy their morning in the main Green City Park in Tirana, Albania
People in the Albanian capital Tirana enjoy their morning in Green City Park. Photograph: Vedat Xhymshiti/Alamy
Between June and December 2014, the project focused on identifying indicators relevant to Albania. The second phase, which ends in September, will implement systems to measure the indicators.
The UNDP says Albania recognises that reforms in good governance are essential if the country wants to achieve European Union membership. Many Albanians are optimistic that acceptance last year as an official membership candidate signals a new start for the former communist country.
“The governance indicators are very important for Albania’s EU integration and for strengthening the rule of law,” said the UN’s resident coordinator, Zineb Touimi-Benjelloun. “Controlling corruption and improving good governance remain a challenge here, but being a pilot country has proved to serve as a catalyst for the government to set up appropriate systems and improve service delivery.”
After the first phase of the pilot, about 20 indicators were proposed and grouped into three target areas: improvement in governance to meet EU standards by 2030; better service delivery, with a focus on water, electricity and land; and improved economic performance, using foreign direct investment as a measure.
Rama believes his government is moving in the right direction. “Albania suffered for many years from lack of reforms and badly made policies,” he said. “We have shown we can make positive changes but, of course, we have not solved all the country’s problems yet. Every month, we have something important scheduled to happen and, less than two years in, we are definitely where I hoped we would be.”

Dozens killed in Tunisia beach resort attack!!

At least 27 people, including foreigners, are killed in a hotel attack in the coastal resort city of Sousse.

At least 27 people have been killed after a hotel in the Tunisian coastal city of Sousse came under attack by unidentified gunmen. 

An interior ministry official said that tourists were among those who had been killed in Friday's attack.
One attacker had been killed by police and a search operation was ongoing, with reports that another attacker was involved.
Ongoing exchanges of gunfire had earlier been reported between the attackers and security forces, sources told Al Jazeera. 
The attack was on the Imperial Marhaba hotel, local radio said, according to the Reuters news agency. Other reports indicated that two hotels may have been attacked.
Al Jazeera's Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from Tunis, said that local reports indicated that gunmen may have specifically targeted tourists at the resort - but that the reports have not yet been confirmed.
She said that the death toll was expected to rise.
There were no other details immediately available.
Tunisia has been on high alert since March when gunmen attacked the Bardo museum in Tunis, killing a group of foreign tourists in one of the worst attacks in a decade in the North African country.
Our correspondent said that the new attack would be another blow to the country's economy, which relies heavily on tourism. 

The attack was on the Imperial Marhaba hotel, local radio said, according to the Reuters news agency

Some 60,000 Troops Take Part in Special Operation in Eastern Ukraine

© Sputnik/ Mikhail Palinchak
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that number of government troops deployed in eastern Ukraine has reached 60,000 servicemen.
KIEV (Sputnik) The number of government troops deployed in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine has reached 60,000 servicemen, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Friday. Kiev has launched a military operation against eastern Ukraine's independence supporters in April 2014. Despite the signing of a ceasefire deal in February, the sides have since been reporting violations on a daily basis.
"We have increased the number of our troops in the zone of special anti-terrorism operation to 60,000 servicemen," Poroshenko said in an interview with the Inter television.
Poroshenko stressed that the Ukrainian authorities have made strong efforts to arm the units with new or repaired military equipment, to train the personnel in line with Western experience, and to improve logistics and financial support of Ukrainian soldiers.
According to UN estimates, over 6,400 people were killed in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine since the fighting broke out.

Tsipras told Saturday’s Eurogroup meeting is 'decisive' - PHOTOS

First entry: 26 June 2015 - 13:31 Athens, 10:31 GMT
Last update: 13:31 Athens, 10:31 GMTPolitics
Tsipras told Saturday’s Eurogroup meeting is 'decisive' - PHOTOS
Reuters reports on the Tsipras, Merkel and Hollande meeting this morning, which lasted 45 minutes. A French source told the news agency:
On the substance, the gap is not so wide. They discussed what has to be done today and tomorrow to conclude on issues still to be settled relating to reforms, the extension of the programme and the question of financing.
Both Merkel and Hollande stressed that Saturday’s Eurogroup meeting was the decisive moment in the negotiations and saw no need for another eurozone leaders’ summit.
According to Athens News Agency, Tsipras briefed the two leaders on the Greek proposal and underlined that the Greek side does not understand the institutions' insistence on so harsh measures.
If necessary, they will hold further talks with Tsipras before the finance ministers’ meeting.
ANA, Reuters via Guardian

Over 34,000 migrants now seeking asylum in Serbia

The number of migrants passing through Serbia has increased significantly since the beginning of the year, Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic has said.
Source: Tanjug
Over 34,000 people have expressed the intent to request asylum in Serbia, he revealed on Friday during a meeting in Belgrade of Serbian, German, Austrian, Hungarian and Bulgarian police officials dedicated to the problem of irregular migration.
Stefanovic noted that most of those people have not requested asylum because, to them, Serbia is a transit country on their way to Germany, France, as well as Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

"For the problems of illegal migrants, a practical solution and specific methods must be found that will help us to protect the state borders and, at the same time, act lawfully and provide the right to asylum to people who come from war-affected regions and meet the requirements," Stefanovic said.

He asked his German, Austrian, Hungarian and Bulgarian colleagues for help and support in the form of technical equipment - thermal vision cameras, vehicles and sensors - as well as staff capable of providing assistance in registration and control of irregular migrants.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hollande: still time for a deal

First entry: 25 June 2015
Hollande: still time for a deal
French President Francois Hollande held out the prospect of a deal for Greece even as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said negotiations looked to be going backward.
The contrast in tone from the heads of Europe’s two biggest economies reflected the frustration among leaders and finance ministers after days of talks in Brussels failed to yield a breakthrough. Finance chiefs will reconvene on Saturday for their fifth session on Greece in just over a week.
“We don’t yet have the necessary progress,” Merkel told reporters as she arrived for a two-day summit of European Union leaders on Thursday. “One even has the impression that we’ve regressed a bit.”
Differences over pensions, sales-tax rates, debt relief and corporate taxes have left Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government and his country’s creditors grappling for common ground before the June 30 expiry of Greece’s euro-area bailout. With no follow-on financing in place, Greece may struggle to make a payment due that day to the International Monetary Fund.
Tsipras Confidence
“European history is full of disagreements, negotiations and then compromises,” Tsipras said in Brussels. “So after the comprehensive Greek proposals, I’m confident that we will reach a compromise that will help the euro zone and Greece to overcome the crisis.”
The Athens Stock Exchange Index closed little changed, gaining 0.1 percent after whipsawing through most of the day. The index is still nearly 14 percent up this week, having rallied on hopes of a deal earlier. Prices in the government bond market, where liquidity is thin, were mixed: the yield on the two-year bond fell 88 basis points to 21.5 percent from more than 30 percent a week ago as some investors remain hopeful an accord will be reached.
Merkel said that EU leaders won’t “interfere” in the negotiations, leaving it to finance ministers and Greece’s three creditor institutions -- the European Central Bank, the IMF and the European Commission -- to resolve the impasse.
Heading into Saturday’s meeting, the two sides are “worlds apart,” Maltese Finance Minister Edward Scicluna said in an interview. “We either have an agreed document or we haven’t, in which case we will start looking at what’s next,” he said. “In other words, Plan B.”
A separate EU official said that without a deal by Saturday, ministers would turn their attention to managing the potential consequences of a default for Greece and the wider euro region.
Hollande, speaking as he arrived in Brussels, said an agreement was “possible and is necessary,” and urged Greece and creditors to work for a conclusion.
“Let me say this: the earlier the better,” Hollande said. “Not just because it’s useful, but because there is nothing to gain in taking much more time. Greece doesn’t have any left.”

"Kosovo to get calling code, Telekom to get license"

Belgrade insists in the dialogue with Pristina that as Kosovo is given a calling code Telekom should get a fixed and mobile telephony license in Kosovo.
Source: Tanjug
(Beta, file)
(Beta, file)
This was stated by Serbian Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunication Minister Rasim Ljajic.
"The license is important, because otherwise Telekom would operate illegally. We want to ensure that Telekom operates legally on the territory of Kosovo," Ljajic said.

He said that the proposal of Serbia is to, until Kosovo gets the calling code,, the license for Telekom is deposited in the EU, which would be activated when Kosovo gets the calling code and that Serbia does not want to cheat anyone.

"We want Telekom to get the license to operate mobile and fixed telephony on the territory of Kosovo and that calling codes from Kosovo and Metohija to central Serbia are treated as a local, not international. For this there is a solution and I do not think there can be big problems," Ljajic told RTV.

What is disputed, he added, is the procedure of obtaining the calling code, as Pristina wants Austria applied for that number, "something we even agree to, but along with Serbia giving its consent."

"It is important how that number will be registered. We asked that it be 'Kosovo, Serbia' or 'Kosovo' without Serbia, but with a footnote that says it is a geographical code, and that the telephone number is practically given with the consent of Serbia. Therefore, Serbia must be mentioned in the document," said Ljajic and reminded that Kosovo without Serbia's consent cannot get a calling code, because it is not a UN member.

He said that Pristina was criticized by the EU for statements that do not correspond with reality.

"Pristina is constantly coming up with new demands, and each subsequent text always has some changes, and the goal is to create an allusion to Kosovo being independent, while we want an agreement which is status-neutral," said Ljajic.

When it comes to negotiations on energy and Serbia's property in Kosovo, Ljajic said that the Albanian side is pursuing a policy of double standards.

"We asked that Telekom and Posta assets be a topic when we talk about telecommunications, but the EU and Pristina believe that this is a separate problem, and then over energy they introduce by the back door the issue of property in order to get hold of EPS' valuable assets," Ljajic said.

Commenting on the criticism of the Albanian side that they were not compensated for the social and state property in Serbia, Ljajic said it was not a problem to put everything on the table, but pointed out that there was a huge disparity with regard to what Serbia invested in Kosovo, and what Kosovo claims to have the right to in other parts of Serbia.

Regarding the progress in negotiations concerning a future community of Serb municipalities, Ljajic said he "knows nothing about that" - but that the state does not agree to the community to be reduced to a non-governmental organization, wanting it instead to be "an institution that would protect the rights of people living in Kosovo."

Greek PM Tsipras invited to visit Belgrade

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday invited his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras to visit Serbia.
Source: Tanjug
Vucic, who received Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Belgrade, also thanked the Greek government for its unchanged position on Kosovo. Greece does not recognize ethnic Albanians' unilateral proclamation of independence of the province.
Vucic stressed during the conversation that Serbia sees Greece as a sincere friend, "and follows with great attention the goings on" in the economy sphere.

The two officials discussed cooperation in the fields of energy and trade, the government's media relations office said.

Kotzias said he arrived to Serbia as a friend, and that his country wants to help Serbia become an EU member state, and offers full support for the first negotiation chapters to be opened as soon as possible.

"Our experience in negotiations with the EU is good and we will be glad to share it. If we work together, we can help Europe be better in negotiations with Serbia," Kotzias said, adding that Tsipras could visit Serbia in July or September this year.

During the meeting, the officials concluded that the two countries will step up the cooperation in all fields, and agreed to form a joint technical group that will deal with economic issues.

It was also announced that Greece would support the holding of a Balkans conference on migration that should give the region an opportunity to find a common solution to the problem.

Earlier in the day, Kotzias met with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic.

Turkey Accused of 'Supporting ISIL' as Jihadists Launch Kobane 'Massacre'

Smoke billow from the Syrian town of Kobane, as seen from the Turkish side of the border in Suruc in Sanliurfa province on June 25, 2015. Turkey denied baseless claims that Islamic State (IS) militants reentered the Syrian town of Kobane through the Turkish border crossing to detonate a suicide bomb,

© AFP 2015
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A leader of one of Turkey's pro-Kurdish parties has accused the Turkish state of aiding and supporting ISIL following a fresh attack on the Syrian city of Kobane, which has been described as a "massacre".
Figen Yuksekdag, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), reacted angrily to the news that ISIL fighters had entered Kobane and started attacking civilians, saying that there was a "high probability" that the attackers had traveled to the city from Turkey, as it lies just a couple of kilometers from the Turkish border.
"The Turkish government has supported ISIL for years. Today's massacre is a part of this support," she said.
The accusations that Turkish border officials may have let the attackers into Syria is set to stir more animosity among Turkey's large Kurdish minority, who have had longstanding criticisms of their treatment by Ankara.
The Turkish government strongly rejected the claims, with the country's foreign ministry spokesperson labeling the allegations as "lies."
The attack also comes at a crucial time for incumbent Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after his AK Party failed to secure enough seats in Turkey's recent elections to form government, with negotiations continuing to try and create a coalition agreement with minor parties.
Turkey 'Must Prove' it Doesn't Support ISIL

Yuksekdag stepped up the attack on Erdogan, saying that the Turkish establishment was suffering from a lack of credibility over the manner in which the ISIL saga has been managed.
"The remarks of Turkish politicians are null and void for us. It is up to the Turkish government to prove it does not support ISIL."
Although Turkey is part of the US-led coalition against ISIL, the country has come under fierce criticism for its perceived lack of involvement in trying to stop the threat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, drawing the ire of US officials in the process.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Albanian police again take on marijuana-growing village, after gunmen shoot officers

Albania Cannabis Village-1.jpg

LAZARAT, Albania — About 400 Albanian police officers, backed up by two army helicopters, started to move late Wednesday into a major illegal marijuana-growing village after gunmen there fatally shot one policeman and wounded two others.
Local media said gunfire was heard coming from the southern village of Lazarat throughout the day, but an Associated Press photographer heard no shooting in the evening.
Police spokesman Gentian Mullai said officers had identified 21 suspects and called on them to surrender, also asking residents and authorities to cooperate.
"If the armed group responds by shooting, police will eliminate them," a police statement said.
Police "are keeping under control an isolated armed group in the village," said Enerjeta Camani, police spokeswoman in nearby Gjirokastra.
Police officers said they were targeting a couple of houses near the place where their colleagues were shot early Wednesday, believing the suspects were there.
Lazarat, which is 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of the capital, Tirana, has been cordoned off, with checkpoints set up for everyone going in or out, while journalists have been kept outside the village.
Police spokesman Ardi Bita said the shots were fired by a suspected criminal gang from a house in Lazarat, which has about 5,000 residents.
Lazarat came to prominence in 2014 after a five-day police siege in which special police forces with armored personnel carriers came under intense fire with automatic weapons and rocket launchers from local homes. The raid destroyed 102 tons of marijuana and 530,000 marijuana plants with an estimated market value at the time of 6.4 billion euros ($8.2 billion) — more than 60 percent of the country's annual gross domestic product.
Wednesday's shootout came after police stationed in the village stopped a car transporting weapons, seizing two rifles and one automatic rifle and arresting the driver. Police had launched an operation in the morning to arrest suspects who had shot at but did not injure policemen stationed in the village overnight.
Seven people have been questioned.
Prime Minister Edi Rama, along with his interior and health ministers, visited the injured police officers in a hospital in Tirana, where they had been airlifted by helicopter. Both had non-life threatening injuries.
Police identified the dead policeman as Ibrahim Basha.
"We are in mourning ... and I believe every Albanian who values the honesty, courage and service of the state police is in mourning too," Rama told journalists.
The U.S. Embassy in Tirana also condemned the violence against police and expressed condolences over the death of Basha, who had been deployed with NATO forces in Afghanistan.
The Delegation of the European Union to Albania also saluted "the courage of the Albanian police officers who are serving their country by taking forward the fight against drug trafficking."

NATO Response Force, reinforce collective defence

24 Jun. 2015

Defence Ministers on Wednesday (24 June 2015) took key decisions on strengthening the Alliance’s collective defence, including by increasing the strength and capability of the NATO Response Force. “We have just taken another step forward in adapting NATO to our changed and more challenging security environment,” said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, adding “we are clearly making a lot of progress”.
General view
NATO Defence Ministers decided on air, maritime, and special forces components of the enhanced NATO Response Force (NRF). The NRF will now consist of up to 40,000 personnel – a major increase from the previous level of 13,000. Ministers further took measures to speed up political and military decision-making, including authority for NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe to prepare troops for action as soon as a political decision is made. Allies also approved a new concept of advance planning.

Allies finalized details on the six small headquarters being set up in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. “They will each consist of around 40 people, and will play a key role in planning, exercises, and assisting potential reinforcement,” the Secretary General explained. In addition, ministers decided to establish a new Joint Logistics Headquarters, to facilitate the rapid movement of forces when necessary.
We are carefully assessing the implications of what Russia is doing, including its nuclear activities,” the Secretary General said. He added that NATO is working on how to deal with hybrid threats, including through close cooperation with the European Union. “We do not seek confrontation, and we do not want a new arms race,” Mr. Stoltenberg said. He stressed, “we want to keep our countries safe... this is our job.”
The Secretary General welcomed that NATO’s very high readiness force “is now operational”, and that next year, it “will available to respond rapidly to any contingency.” He further welcomed the announcement by US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the pre-positioning of equipment and enablers in Europe, calling it proof of “a truly transatlantic effort to reinforce our collective defence.”
Ministers reviewed defence spending figures, in light of the commitment made by Allied leaders last September to increase defence spending over the coming decade. “The picture is mixed,” the Secretary General said, adding that “while some progress has been made, we need to see more.” 
The defence ministers also endorsed a defence capacity building package for Moldova. The Secretary General noted that Allies look forward to finalizing a defence capacity building package for Iraq “as soon as possible.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

EU and Greece: Tyranny of Strong States Over Weak Ones

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis attends an emergency Parliament session in Athens, on Friday, June 5, 2015

© AP Photo/ Petros Giannakouris
As Greece squares off with its creditors one episode more than any other explains the nature of the crisis.
According to what might be an apocryphal story, just after the election that brought Syriza to power, the finance ministers of Greece and Germany, Yanis Varoufakis and Wolfgang Schauble, had a meeting.
I am elected,” Varoufakis told Schauble, as he demanded that Schauble accept his demands. So am I, Schauble fired back.
The EU presents itself as a democratic union of equal democracies, underpinned by solidarity between its members. 
The preamble of the Treaty of the European Union speaks of the EU states confirming their attachment to the principles of liberty, democracy and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and of the rule of law.
Article 4 (2) of the Treaty says:
The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in their fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-governmentPursuant to the principle of sincere cooperation, the Union and the Member States shall, in full mutual respect, assist each other in carrying out tasks which flow from the Treaties.
The reality, as the exchange between Varoufakis and Schauble shows, is that the EU is no such thing.
Far from being a democratic union of equal democracies in which each helps the other, the EU is in reality a layered cake, with some democracies above the others.
The Greek crisis is a case in point. German political imperatives have prevailed over economic rationality and the interests of Greece and the eurozone.
When the Greek crisis began back in 2010 the representatives of the non-Western states on the IMFs board spoke out strongly against what the EU led by Germany proposed — an imposition of austerity coupled with more debt. They all said that this would cause an economic crisis in Greece whilst saddling the country with debts it could never repay.
The problem was that what made economic sense did not make political sense in Germany. 
The Germans were not prepared to write-off Greeces debts. That would have set a bad example that might have led to more debt write-offs in other EU states.  
That could have hit Germanys banks — with politically unacceptable consequences in Germany. However since Greece had to be bailed out to save Germanys banks, austerity had to be imposed to win political support for the bailout from the German public.
Though this formula made no sense since it has locked Greece into perpetual recession, because Germanys democracy is more equal than that of Greece, its view prevailed.
What is not sustainable economically is not sustainable politically. So it has proved. However despite the failure of the policy, the political imperatives that led to it in Germany are unchanged. That is why Germany insists on continuing with it.
The same has been true on other issues. 
Many EU states are known to disagree with the EUs sanctions policy against Russia. Other EU states are known to have supported Russias South Stream project. The more powerful EU states support the one and opposed the other. Predictably their view has prevailed.
So far from being a democratic union of equal democracies the EU looks increasingly like the tyranny of the stronger over the weaker. 
One is reminded of the words of Thucydides, the great ancient Greek historian:
Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
(Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, 5:89).
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.