Saturday, February 27, 2016

First NATO Ships Sail in the Aegean


By Evgenia Choros -  Feb 26, 2016

Greek Reporter
The NATO mission commenced its operation in the Aegean in order to stop the migrant flows incited by illegal traders.

More specifically, the Canadian frigate HMCS-Fredericton is close to Lesbos. The German frigate fgs-bonn, which the NATO mission is under command, was supplied in Souda and will sail towards the Central Aegean, whereas the Turkish frigate TCG-Barbaros-(F-244) and the Greek SALAMIS have returned for refilling in order to continue their mission in the next days.

Note that in the handling of the refugee and migrant flows, 11 ships of the Navy are operating, while doing their national mission.

Commander of the mission is the commandant of the Joint Force Command – JFC of NATO, Mark E. Ferguson of the U.S. Navy.

US Deploys 3 B-52 Nuclear Bombers to NATO Exercise in Europe

US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers based at Barksdale Air Force Base in the state of Louisiana have been redeployed to Moron Air Base, Spain.
A US Air Force B-52 bomber

An American B-52 bomber

US Air Force Upgrades Aging B-52 Nuclear Bombers for New Smart Weapons
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Three US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers based at Barksdale Air Force Base in the state of Louisiana have been redeployed to Moron Air Base, Spain, the US Strategic Command announced in a statement.

“The multi-role heavy bombers will integrate and train with US European Command components and regional allies and partners by participating in the Norwegian exercise Cold Response during this short-term deployment,” the statement said on Friday.
The exercise is part of a build-up of US nuclear and regular forces in Europe that has been announced by the Obama administration.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Ashton carter announced that US military spending on Europe would be more than quadrupled from $689 million in fiscal year 2016 to $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2017.
Strategic Command chief Admiral Cecil Haney said the B-52 bombers provided a unique and complementary capability to the intercontinental ballistic missile as well as ballistic missile submarine legs of the US nuclear triad, which underpin America’s capabilities for strategic deterrence.

State Department: Every Country Has the Right to Control its Grounds

By Evgenia Choros -  Feb 27, 2016

Greek Repory

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon highlighted on Friday that the borders must remain open because “such border restrictions do not apply with the Convention of 1951 for the Status of refugees and the 1967 Protocol, because the individual definition of the status of the refugee and the evaluation of the personal need for protection are not possible.”

However the State Department does not appear to share the same worries as the secretary-general of the United Nations regarding the refugee and migrant crisis, as it avoided directly asking the rest of the European countries to open their borders.

The deputy representative of State Department, Mark Toner, said that “every nation has the right to control its grounds;” however he asked from the nations to keep on showing generosity.

Toner also expressed his fondness towards Greece for the heavy load that the country is carrying regarding the refugee and migrant flows. “We have said many times that we would like to see the European Union approaching the refugee crisis in a cohesive and complete way, because, as it is noted, different countries take different measures in order to manage the crisis. We would like to see a more united approach.”

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Greece Turns Down Request by Austrian Interior Minister to Visit Athens

Greek Report

By Philip Chrysopoulos -  Feb 26, 2016

maxresdefaultGreece has turned down a request by Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner to visit Athens for explanations over the recall of Greece’s ambassador to Vienna.

According to an Athens Macedonia News Agency report citing diplomatic sources, the Greek side turned down the visitation request unless measures against Greece are lifted.

The same sources said that Austria has taken a step back after the tough stance of the Greek foreign ministry, which on Thursday called the Greek ambassador to Vienna Chryssoula Aliferi for consultations in Athens.

Austria has repeatedly accused Greece of failing to protect its borders properly and allowing an excessively high number of migrants to continue their journey towards north Europe through the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

“If it is really the case that the Greek external border cannot be protected, can it be still a Schengen external border?” Mikl-Leitner wondered during a meeting of European Union interior ministers on Thursday.

Austria’s initiative to call a meeting of Balkan states to discuss the refugee influx crisis excluding Greece has angered Athens. Greek Deputy Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas retorted that Mikl-Leitner was “falsifying the truth” and “dragging Austria into increasingly hostile acts towards Greece and the EU.”

Mouzalas said that the European Commission and Frontex have confirmed that Greece is doing its job in protecting Europe’s border in the best possible way. Athens has also expressed its discontent in the belief that Austria has encouraged a series of border restrictions by Balkan states, causing thousands of migrants to be stranded in Greece.

Hashim Thaci Appointed President Of Kosovo, Thanked Serbs For Support


BELGRADE – The Kosovar parliament on Friday voted in former prime minister Hashim Thaci as the president of the self-proclaimed republic, Serbian media reported.


He was elected after three rounds of voting marred by protests in the Kosovar capital of Pristina, the Kossev news website said. Opposition lawmakers released tear gas inside the parliament in an attempt to disrupt the voting.

In the first round, Thaci received 50 votes in the 120-seat parliament. He improved the result by 14 votes in the second round, before emerging victorious with 71 votes.

Among those voting for Taci were the Serb list MPs, and the new president, in his first address in parliament after the vote, voiced a special appreciation for the support.

The 47-year-old will be president of the Serbian breakaway republic for five years. He served as Kosovo’s first-ever prime minister between 2008 and 2014.

In 2008, the Albanian government in Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia. Belgrade does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

The survey of SManalysis: Himariotes are skeptical for a dignity solution from USA.

The Law 7501 for property, as in Burundi, would not accept, and not for Albanian NATO Membership and an UE Candidate Country

"SManalysis" Survey results for Conference Himarioton in Maryland USA, 19-21 February.

Dozens of messages associated voting for cardinal issues that is facing the Himara Region, especially the attitude of the properties, shows a deeply disappointing results.

Some questions related to territorial division, which is done in the most unscrupulous by the Parliament and the government of Albania. As is known, the joined arbitrarily of the Region of Himara voting in the Parliament of Albania in July 2014, with another area, without the desire of its inhabitants, is the violation of the Albanian Constitution, the article 108.

Interesting questions were in relation of the Human Rights and freedoms. How is it possible the question, that Albania's NATO members, so openly violates a series of issues that have to do with the chapter of freedom and human rights, ranging from property, territorial division and ethnic identity?

But questions coming from Himariotes citizens in Albania, had to do with the attitude of Washington, in connection with matters of Himara Region. What prevents USA, bind to the Albanian Government to implement the country's constitution and international obligations for freedoms and human rights, to The Himara Community, they were looted properties and are thus favor the nationalist policies in the country, to assimilate history, culture and heritage of Himara?

Another question has to do with the oligarchs, who are staying on the government and parliament of Albania. Fascist methods that are legal and the government undertakes, to build tourist resorts on the property of the people of Himara, which are supported by the Soros policy in USA, why not apply Albanian Constitution, article 181 and 41 of the properties?

Many questions were directed around the Protocol of Corfu, an international obligation that Albania does not apply, many citizens are skeptical about "double standards", the other for Albanians to demand the rights in the Balkans withful support of USA, and another for the Greeks of Albania, particularly for people of Himara, still not known the old Greek origin, which the CENSUS, 2011 also has given results, with false methods, and not transparent.

Friday, February 26, 2016

NATO Aegean Patrols Expose Deep Divisions Between Athens and Ankara

NATO's ship Bonn en route to the Aegean Sea.
19:05 26.02.2016

In an effort to step up sea patrols to stem the flow of migrants making their way across from Turkey to Greece, pressure has been put on NATO to deploy ships to the Aegean Sea, which has now put it on a collision course with both Athens and Ankara.

Neither Turkey nor Greece have been able to contain their extensive sea borders and pressure was put on NATO to begin patrols. However, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has admitted the move puts it at the center of a diplomatically sensitive issue.

There is considerable animosity between Greece and Turkey dating back centuries, but most recently centered on Cyprus, where — in 1974 — Turkey occupied a third of the island in response to an Athens-backed coup aimed at annexing Cyprus to Greece.

Turkey refuses to acknowledge the Republic of Cyprus (an EU member since 2004) as the sole authority on the island, and recognizes the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since its establishment in 1983.

This has been a major sticking point in the question of the accession of Turkey into the EU as a full member. Another is a dispute over territorial sea limits between the two nations. Erdogan's position on the Kurds — as well as the continuing crises in neighboring Syria and Iraq are exacerbating the situation.

Reconnaissance Only

"Our ships will be providing information to the coastguards and other national authorities of Greece and Turkey. This will help them carry out their duties even more effectively to deal with the illegal trafficking networks," Stoltenberg said in a statement.

"We are also establishing direct links with Frontex, the European Union's border agency. We will conduct our activities in the Aegean Sea. Our commanders will decide the area where they will be operating, in coordination with Greece and Turkey. NATO vessels can deploy in the territorial waters of Greece and Turkey.

"Greek and Turkish forces will not operate in each other's territorial waters and airspace. NATO's task is not to turn back the boats. We will provide critical information. To enable the Greek and Turkish coastguards, as well as Frontex, to do their job even more effectively," Stoltenberg said.

The details of his words are important. Since the NATO operation will not involve turning back migrant boats and Turkish vessels will not cross into Greek sea areas and Greece will not operate in Turkish waters, the situation is stalemate. Migrants know no boundaries.

A Syrian refugee child looks on, moments after arriving on a raft with other Syrian refugees on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, January 4, 2016.

Europe Threatens Travel Restrictions Unless Turkey Halts Flow of Refugees

With Greece loudly complaining about a lack of EU assistance in dealing with its growing migrant problem — and the closing off of its northern borders — with little ability to actually patrol the whole Aegean Sea on its own, the situation for Athens is impossible.

Turkey has come under severe criticism for failing to impose border controls under a US$3.35 billion EU program and has seemed unwilling — so far — to strengthen its land or sea military assets, it too looks likely to be unable to stem the maritime migrant flow.

If neither Athens nor Ankara have the capability to deploy assets into the Aegean and NATO declaring it will not turn boats back, it is highly likely the Aegean will continue to be a free-for-all.

'Large number' of Syrian refugees waiting to enter Albania

February 26, 2016, 2:41 pm


TIRANA - A ‘large number’ of Syrian refugees are waiting to cross into Albania, the Balkan nation's integration minister said on Thursday, as migrants begin to seek out new routes into northern Europe following a series of border clampdowns.
Integration minister Klajda Gjosha said the buildup on Albania's frontier appeared to be in response to neighboring Macedonia's decision at the weekend to deny entry to Afghan migrants coming from Greece and impose tougher checks for Syrians and Iraqis.
"I was informed that a large number of Syrians are waiting to enter Albania," said Gjosha, without providing an exact number.
Although both Macedonia and Albania share a border with Greece, the latter has so far not been a main transit country on the migrant trail into northern and western Europe.
More than a million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe since last year, most entering via Greece. Since July, Albanian police have stopped several hundred migrants from crossing over from the Greek side of the border.
On Thursday, police said they had forced back a dozen Pakistanis who had tried to enter Albania illegally.
According to local media, Albanian authorities have drawn up plans to provide reception centers for 10,000 Syrian migrants in the southern town of Korca and Gjirokastra, near the border with Greece.
Faced with becoming the latest country to be caught up in Europe's biggest migration crisis since World War II, Gjosha stressed the importance of "close collaboration with all our neighboring countries, with Greece and the other members of EU".

After throwing eggs at the Prime Minister, opposition MPs have threatened to boycott parliament in a row over politicians with criminal records.

Fatjona Mejdini

Prime Minister Edi Rama heading out of the Parliament after opposition's MPs throw eggs to him | Photo: LSA/Malton Dibra
Albania's parliament is again in deadlock over judicial reforms because of an angry dispute between the parties over ridding parliament of people with criminal records.
Opposition MPs tried to stop the parliamentary session on Thursday by throwing eggs towards Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader Edi Rama.
Protests started when Armando Prenga, a government MP, was returned to parliament despite his involvement in a brawl in September 2015 with a 66-year-old fisherman in which he used a handgun.
Prenga was later expelled from Rama's Socialist Party but voted in line with other Socialist MPs during a parliamentary commission on Tuesday after the Supreme Court released him on bail.
His return to parliament angered the centre-right opposition MPs who demanded the prompt amendment of a newly approved law that bans people with convictions from public office.
They want the law to demand "the immediate removal of every individual from politics who was involved in injuring or threatening of another individual".
The leader of the Democratic Party parliamentary group, Edi Paloka, on Thursday said his party would not attend parliament if the majority did not accept the amendment.
"Otherwise, this parlament is not going to function any longer. It will close right here, right now," Paloka said.
However, Taulant Balla, a Socialist MP and the vice-chair of the cross-party parliamentary commission on cleaning up political life, said the opposition request could not be met.
"We cannot amendment the law for a single person... We can work together only on issues that we have already agreed," he said.
Because of the dispute, the opposition is expected formalize its boycott, making it difficult for Albania to conclude EU-mandated judicial reforms and implement the law on cleaning up politics and ridding the administration of people with a criminal past.
Progress on the judicial reforms is essential if Albania wishes to open negotiations on joining the EU.
Consensus between the parties is also required for the establishment of the National Bureau of Investigation, an agency modelled on the FBI that aims to tackle corruption in high places
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Albania Opposition to Boycott Parliament Over 'Criminal' MPs

After throwing eggs at the Prime Minister, opposition MPs have threatened to boycott parliament in a row over politicians with criminal records.

Fatjona Mejdini

Prime Minister Edi Rama heading out of the Parliament after opposition's MPs throw eggs to him | Photo: LSA/Malton Dibra
Albania's parliament is again in deadlock over judicial reforms because of an angry dispute between the parties over ridding parliament of people with criminal records.
Opposition MPs tried to stop the parliamentary session on Thursday by throwing eggs towards Prime Minister and Socialist Party leader Edi Rama.
Protests started when Armando Prenga, a government MP, was returned to parliament despite his involvement in a brawl in September 2015 with a 66-year-old fisherman in which he used a handgun.
Prenga was later expelled from Rama's Socialist Party but voted in line with other Socialist MPs during a parliamentary commission on Tuesday after the Supreme Court released him on bail.
His return to parliament angered the centre-right opposition MPs who demanded the prompt amendment of a newly approved law that bans people with convictions from public office.
They want the law to demand "the immediate removal of every individual from politics who was involved in injuring or threatening of another individual".
The leader of the Democratic Party parliamentary group, Edi Paloka, on Thursday said his party would not attend parliament if the majority did not accept the amendment.
"Otherwise, this parlament is not going to function any longer. It will close right here, right now," Paloka said.
However, Taulant Balla, a Socialist MP and the vice-chair of the cross-party parliamentary commission on cleaning up political life, said the opposition request could not be met.
"We cannot amendment the law for a single person... We can work together only on issues that we have already agreed," he said.
Because of the dispute, the opposition is expected formalize its boycott, making it difficult for Albania to conclude EU-mandated judicial reforms and implement the law on cleaning up politics and ridding the administration of people with a criminal past.
Progress on the judicial reforms is essential if Albania wishes to open negotiations on joining the EU.
Consensus between the parties is also required for the establishment of the National Bureau of Investigation, an agency modelled on the FBI that aims to tackle corruption in high places
- See more at:

Albania will not become the new route for migrants, Rama says


Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has said that Albania will not become the new route for migrants headed for western Europe "because we have neither the conditions nor the strength nor the enthusiasm to save the world while others close their borders."

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) has all but closed its border with Greece, blocking the path for migrants who are continuing to arrive at the rate of thousands daily, leading some to wonder whether a route through Albania would be viable.

Speaking on a talk show late Thursday Rama contradicted a statement made earlier by the integration minister in which she said Albania would not build a wall to prevent refugees and other migrants from entering.

Rama said Albania could not hold "the entire burden. ... I have said that in case of a distribution of the burden we shall take our part."

He added that Albania has for six months been in negotiation with the Italian government about what to do if the migrants came to his country, "because normally they would not come to stay in Albania but would target Italy" – across the Adriatic Sea. [AP]

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Closing the Balkan Route: Will Greece Become a Refugee Bottleneck?

Photo Gallery: Greece's Migrant Crisis

By Giorgos Christides, Juliane von Mittelstaedt, Peter Müller and Maximilian Popp

With EU officials considering border closures along the Balkan refugee route, Greece is worried that it will become overwhelmed by migrants. The EU has chastised Greece for not securing its external border, but failings can be found in Brussels too.

At five o'clock in the morning last Tuesday: Macedonia has once again closed its border, and just a few hours later, chaos reigns. Eighty buses with 4,000 refugees have been stopped by the Greek police 20 kilometers from the frontier and they are now waiting in a gas-station parking lot. Bus drivers argue, refugees jostle on the overfilled lot and overwhelmed police officers yell orders. "Macedonia, Macedonia," the people waiting scream, "open the border!"

But today, the border remains closed to most people. And if it were up to Brussels and the Germans, it would remain that way -- that is, to anyone not from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan. Since mid-November, Macedonia has tightened its border controls and whoever isn't from one these three countries is turned away. Now, many people's dreams of Europe come to an end here, in Idomene.
For it has recently become clear that Turkey is both unable and unwilling to stop the flow of refugees. As a result, the EU is placing its bets on Macedonia, with a plan that has the support of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Last year, the majority of the over 850,000 refugees traveling along the Balkan route went through Macedonia. If authorities have their way, that will come to an end. "Macedonia is our second line of defense," says a high-ranking EU official. Several EU states have approved the deployment of 82 officers in Macedonia with the task of improving border protection. Financial support is to follow.

If Macedonia reduces the number of people it allows into the country, it will lessen the pressure on Germany and Austria. It will also mean that more people will stay in Greece -- and, Brussels hopes, place additional pressure on Greece to better protect its borders.

Map: Greece's refugee conundrum.Zoom

Idomene is a case study of what would happen were Europe to seal its borders and shut down the Balkan Route, the path most migrants take on their way to Germany and the rest of Europe. The result would be a massive backup of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Greece.
And this in a country that is in a deep recession, and where every fourth citizen is unemployed. It is a country where angry farmers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, taxi drivers and ferry workers -- actually everyone -- is opposed to the government's austerity measures. And it is a country that is once again in danger of sliding into its next big political crisis. The country will face big problems if Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras can't find a compromise with the country's international creditors, who are pushing for tough reforms. Or if Greece is made to bear the burden of the refugee crisis.

'Greece is Like Afghanistan'

When Macedonia closes its border for even just a few hours, thousands of people accumulate: including children, the elderly, pregnant women, sick people. There may be a reception center, with tents, blankets and toilets, directly next to the border fence with a capacity of 1,200 people, but when it's full, most people spend their nights outside, often for days at a time.

At the same time, thousands of people are arriving on the Greek islands every day -- over 67,000 in January alone. And according to UNICEF, more than a third of the arrivals are minors; almost two thirds of the people who are passing the Macedonian border are women and children. They are making the risky crossing in winter out of fear that the route to the north will soon be shut off. Some 400 people have already drowned this year, including many children. For now, the impending closure of the border is more of a draw than a deterrent.

Mukhtar from Herat, Afghanistan intends to wait at the border until it is open again, no matter how long it takes. He is 18 years old and travelling alone. He fled his country's poverty and hopelessness and almost drowned shortly before before reaching the Greek island of Chios, he says, but the Greek coast guard saved him. Like almost all of the other people here, he wants to go to Germany, "the only country where refugees are being helped." Apply for asylum in Greece? Mukhtar laughs. "Greece is like Afghanistan, there is nothing here for us refugees."

Mukhtar has the right passport and will likely ultimately be allowed to cross. But what happens to those who are not allowed to continue their journey? What does it mean for Greece if Europe is drawing its "second line of defense" here?

Many will try to cross into Europe anyway, illegally via the Macedonian border with the help of fake documents or by following the new routes through Albania and Croatia -- or by boat to Italy. But all others are stuck in Greece.

This despite the fact that since 2011, Germany has declined to send refugees back to Greece, which the Dublin Regulation stipulates, out of human rights considerations. The German Interior Ministry just extended the pause in deportations until June. According to a report by the Gemeinsames Analyse- und Strategiezentrum illegale Migration (Joint Analysis and Strategy Center on Illegal Immigration), many refugees in Greece live on the streets, even children and neo-nazis periodically hunt them down. The conditions for many refugees in Greece are described by the German authorities as "inhumane." And still, the country is potentially being turned into a giant refugee camp.

According to a confidential memo from the German Foreign Office, a backup of refugees would "inevitably lead to uncontrollable humanitarian conditions and security problems within days." Migration researcher Franck Düvell from Oxford University warns that it would lead to "downright apocalyptic scenarios": Greece would collapse within a few weeks, he believes.

Criticism of Athens

Officials in Brussels are seemingly aware of this, which is why they are currently trying to balance partial border closings, the imposition of better controls in Greece and the public admonishing of Athens.

In a confidential, but perhaps not entirely accidentally leaked, report, the EU Commission describes the findings of its inspectors on the islands of Chios and Samos and on the land border with Turkey in November. Their conclusion: Greece has "seriously neglected" its duty to control its outer borders.

The list of shortcomings, the report claims, is long: The registration of the refugees isn't working, because there aren't devices for taking fingerprints and the Internet sometimes stops working; there aren't enough officials; there are too few boats to guard the coast; passports are not being compared with databases, including those of Interpol.

"The major culprit isn't Greece," Greek Minister of Immigration Policy Ioannis Mouzalas says. He admits that registration in the initial reception centers known as "hotspots" is going slowly, and that things are behind schedule. But he claims the EU report is exaggerated, and that, either way, it is now outdated. Additionally, he claims, the EU has only sent Greece 800 of the 1,800 requested Frontex officials, and financial help for the purchase of fingerprint readers only came the previous week. He argues that the delays are a "convenient excuse" for the EU.

Mouzalas is furious that Greece is being pilloried while the most important mechanism to solve the problem is not being implemented: the distribution quota. Last fall, European leaders agreed to redistribute 66,400 refugees from Greece. So far, nine countries have only offered up 305 spots. Only 157 people have been relocated, a mere 10 to Germany. "Instead of chastising Greece ..., it would be more productive to do something about those states that sabotage the relocation scheme," says Mouzalas.

Migration researcher Düvell also finds the EU's accusations "deeply unfair, cynical and shameful." He has conducted research himself in Greece and in Turkey -- and has come to the conclusion that it is impossible for Athens to stop migration to Europe, or even slow it down, on its own. "The EU member states are needed. They need to find a way to fairly distribute asylum-seekers across Europe," says Düvell. Brussel's criticism, he argues, is a "cheap trick," in order to "distract people from the failures of the EU states in the refugee crisis."

Misplaced Anger

A confidential report by the German parliament administration from January 29 likewise suggests that the EU redistribution program is in danger of falling apart due to the lack in willingness by member states to take in refugees.

The criticism of Greece also seems unfair because international law makes it illegal to simply send refugees back to Turkey. In the past, the Greeks were reprimanded for pushing away boats with refugees and Alexis Tsipras' government has mostly stopped these "push-backs." Now it is being criticized for doing the opposite. The German government is aware of this dilemma: According to an internal report by the "hotspot" commissioner of the German government from December, Turkey is the "central player in the reduction" of the numbers of refugees. "The Greeks can only save the refugees, but not stop the smugglers."

For this reason, the Netherlands government has pushed for a plan in which refugees would be directly sent back from the Greek islands to Turkey on ferries. In return, the EU member states should then be willing to accept a contingent of 250,000 refugees every year from Turkey. But that is unrealistic as long as the Europe-wide distribution doesn't work.

And regardless, the suggestion is legally problematic for two reasons: For one, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights stipulates that asylum applications must be individually evaluated. And although Greece just declared Turkey to be a "secure third country" to which refugees may be deported, mass returns are unlikely, Düvell believes.

He asks, "Why should Erdogan act as Europe's bouncer?" The memo by the European Commission therefore exists to justify the upcoming extension of the temporary border controls, like those that have been introduced in Germany and Austria. According to the Schengen Border Code, there needs to be a lack in supervision of the outer borders for the closure of the interior borders to be allowable. The ultimate goal is that of saving Schengen: An end to the free movement of goods and people would be especially damaging to Germany and the northern countries.

Mouzalas, the Greek Minister of Immigration Policy, also believes that Brussel's threats to kick his country out of the Schengen Zone amount to fear-mongering and, legally speaking, nonsense. Anyways: "Whatever happens with Schengen, the migrant flows will not be affected."

He is much more afraid that the countries on the Balkan route will close down their borders -- all the way to the north. For this reason, he is putting his faith in the most hated woman in his homeland: the German chancellor. "Angela Merkel is under pressure, so I fear that at some point the German border will close." And then he says something that is very unusual for a Greek. "Germany is right now the voice of reason in Europe."

Eroded Trust

In order to avoid giving the Europeans a reason to shut the borders, Tsipras has now decreed that, by mid-February, all five "hotspots" and two new reception centers shall be operational. In order for that to happen quickly, he has assigned the task to the army. One of the reception centers is to be built west of Thessaloniki, on Military Base 1090. A ghost town, with roofless barracks, covered in garbage and weeds, the only living things are a couple of growling, snarling guard dogs. In fewer than two weeks, 4,000 refugees are to be housed here.
The Delta municipality, in which the military base is located, is poor, there are drug dealers and criminals. "The government didn't even ask us in advance," complains Delta's mayor, Mimis Fotopoulos. "The people here aren't so concerned about the refugees themselves," he says. "They are concerned because they don't trust the government to enforce law and order. And they don't trust Europe, which seems to want to unload its problems onto Greece."

Only on one point are the citizens of Delta optimistic: They think it's completely unrealistic that the military base will be ready to house refugees in two weeks.

NATO overcomes Greek-Turkish tensions to agree Aegean mission

TAGS: Migration, EU, Defense
NATO allies have agreed to a plan for their ships in the Aegean Sea to help Turkey and Greece counter criminal networks smuggling refugees into Europe, NATO's chief said on Thursday, overcoming territorial sensitivities between Greece and Turkey.

After late night talks in Brussels, NATO envoys set out how ships sent to the Aegean in early February can work with Turkish and Greek coastguards and the European Union border agency Frontex to rescue refugees at sea and return them to Turkey.

“Greek and Turkish forces will not operate in each other's territorial waters and airspace,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement following.

Relations between Greece and Turkey have traditionally been tense and since the Feb. 11 deal by NATO defence ministers to deploy ships to the Aegean, Greece's defence minister has accused Turkey of trying to undermine the deal.

NATO diplomats said one of the issues was where Greek and Turkish ships should patrol and whether that would set a precedent for claims over disputed territorial waters.

Stoltenberg said other NATO vessels will be able to sail in the territorial waters of Greece and Turkey.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sought the NATO mission to help tackle Europe's worst migration crisis since World War Two. More than a million asylum-seekers arrived last year.

The European Union is relying on Turkey to help stem the flows of Syrians fleeing civil war, giving Ankara 3 billion euros to set up camps and help take in more refugees, although progress in implementing the deal has been slow.

Germany hopes that unlike the EU's mission off the Italian coast, which brings rescued migrants to Europe's shores, NATO will return migrants to Turkey even if they are picked up in Greek waters, effectively sealing the border.

“In case of rescue of persons coming via Turkey, they will be taken back to Turkey,” Stoltenberg said.

Beware of NATO bearing gifts

Greece, Turkey, the Aegean, and NATO never mixed in a positive, fruitful manner.
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Greece, since 2015 when the Tsipras administration came to power, was quickly undermined and subverted by untold masses of “irregular” undocumented entries. Europe’s “core,” under the incomprehensible “leadership” of Ms. Merkel, was quickly immersed in a vituperative war of words with the European “Union’s” eastern members demanding, in no uncertain terms, an active defense against the Muslim deluge. Greece, in the far corner of Europe, simply encouraged such an influx by having as Minister of Immigration Policy Ms. Tasia Christodolopoulou, an old (ex)-Communist Party member, who welcomed: “anyone wanting shelter.”
The implications for Greece were severe. Various estimates put the illegal population in Greece at anywhere from 1.4 to 1.8 million in early 2016. Despite the fact that the Greek government agreed on establishing Hotspots within its territory, the future looks worrisome since most Eastern European countries are hastily concocting plans to turn Greece into an open air storage of unwanted migrants by blocking one of its members’ northern border with a non-EU member, (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), that is to be supported and augmented by EU resources to isolate Greece.
Let’s have a deeper insight on what the prospects are right now.  Summer 2016 is closing and the collapse of tourism in the eastern Greek Aegean islands - a vital foreign exchange earner for Greece - is around the corner. For example, in Castelorizo, a small Greek Island of 200 permanent residents, the number immigrants and refugees reached around 1,000 within one month. Furthermore, we are already facing serious risks of violent migrant protests on the islands, with the Greek population facing severe security and personal safety threats. Moreover, the rapid increase of already swelling Muslim illegal migrant populations in mainland Greece, especially thanks to the Greek government’s established tactic of transport-turn-loose-and-forget that is overwhelming Athens, has already proved catastrophic. As analyzed in other pieces for GIA, many arms’ smugglers and jihadists take advantage of this situation to develop their plans.
Most recently, a half-baked decision of the Tsipras administration to bring NATO into the desperate effort to stem the migrant flow into Western Europe was taken. “Isn’t it a good thing for NATO, a military organization that gets things done, to get directly involved in battling the human smugglers and save lives, not to mention help Greece with its humanitarian impasse?”
Unfortunately, well-intentioned queries such as these miss critical questions associated with such a hurried decision and the long-term implications for Greece. Let us set aside for the moment all the confident words of Greece’s “partners” who are happy to see a NATO naval force coming in to “help,” and let us look at the facts.
Greece, Turkey, the Aegean, and NATO never mixed in a positive, fruitful manner. Turkey’s demands for the abrogation of the Lausanne Treaty, and the apportioning of the Archipelago to its benefit, have occupied only sub-footnotes in the Alliance’s deliberations – especially since Lausanne specifically provides that Turkey has no claims to anything that lies past three nautical miles from its shores. In practice and definition, therefore, any step that involves NATO operating on issues related to national sovereignty, rights of innocent passage, and Turkish claims upon Greek island territories could, and, most likely will, become hazardous to Greece’s sovereignty.
Since this NATO decision was formed on the spur of the moment, nobody knows what exactly has been agreed – or not agreed – on the mission profile, the rules of engagement, and other “details” that could turn into major issues. Predictably, of course, the Western press is already in self-congratulatory mode expounding on the positive load of this maritime patrol which, however, “is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” as the NATO Secretary General warned.  This impeccably politically correct statement alone is enough to tell the weary observer that NATO in the Aegean will be wearing exclusively its “humanitarian” cloak with all the implications of such a move this involves. (The Italians, through their 2013-14 Mare Nostrum operation, have already enough experience on how any such maritime mission can easily turn into ‘a transport company for migrants,’ who see naval ships as the surest means of entering Europe illegally. Mare Nostrum brought an estimated 150,000 African and Middle Eastern illegals into Italy).
Turkey has supposedly agreed to take back illegals caught at the beginning of their journey to the Greek islands. Nevertheless, trusting erratic and increasingly combative Islamic president Erdogan is not the wisest choice. Turkey’s subversive behavior and collusion with Islamic fanatics battling the Syrian regime is naked for all to see, if, of course, those who can, have the courage to observe.
The announced NATO deployment includes three warships. These are fleet assets designed for completely different purposes, namely combat in the open seas, anti-air operations, fleet defense, etc. One cannot but ask the obvious question of what these ships can accomplish better than the already deployed coast guard vessels and Frontex resources, both of which are vastly more capable in operational, maneuvering, and mission-specific terms. The claim that the NATO ships would provide “better intelligence” is a poorly designed. However, Turkish human smugglers are experts in their waters, well connected with Turkish authorities who make a bundle in bribes, and know the coastline like the back of their hand. Three warships and some aircraft interdicting dozens of minuscule targets in ways that can cut the migrant flow down to acceptable levels (if there is such a thing,) may be a nice tabletop game but, in real maritime terms, is as money thrown directly into the sea to appease the masses.
This is the worst possible time for Greece to get involved in the inevitable, renewed “negotiations” with NATO and Turkey over jurisdiction, the Aegean, and how to approach constant Turkish challenges and “near war” violations of Greek territorial zones in both the air and the sea. These are issues on which NATO and the EU are silent for obvious reasons. But, like a thorn waiting to stab, these questions will surface the minute Turkey begins to object on this or that aspect of the NATO operation claiming that its “interests” are harmed, as it will certainly do.
With its economy broken, its banks all but extinguished, its people in uproar over increasing pressures from the creditors, its society in an uncontrolled downward spiral, its cities and towns soon to be overwhelmed by despairing Muslim aliens, its political “elites” involved in partisan cockfights and irrelevant personal squabbling, and the country’s administration moronic and dysfunctional, Greece now has to deal with NATO’s latest “stability” gift.

Montenegro, ‘a pawn in the Great Powers’ games’

Does NATO need Montenegro?
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In December 2015, NATO officially invited Montenegro to become its 29th member state. Montenegro is a tiny country with a population of 620,000 and armed forces that barely number 2,000. In spite of the small size of Montenegro’s military Philip Breedlove appraised very positively the performance of Montenegro’s troops in Afghanistan, even suggesting that their good performance is one of the reasons for potentially placing Montenegro on the fast-track towards NATO membership. But while Montenegrin elites have pushed relentlessly forward with the membership application, the country has been shaken by mass protests against the prospect of membership in the Alliance. Those Montenegrins, who still remember the 1999 NATO bombing, would prefer neutrality, yet, as soon as ‘the beginning of a beautiful alliance’ - if to quote Jens Stoltenberg – will be put in motion, there is hardly a chance to avert the course.
Back in 1999
NATO bombed Montenegro in 1999. The bombing destroyed a military airfield and damaged the civilian airfield in Podgorica; it also destroyed the transportation hub Murino, a military base in Danilovgrad, and a radar device on the coast. Ten Montenegrins were killed, three of whom were children. Still, today after 16 years, nobody has been held responsible.
One Montenegran recollects the event: “I remember watching from the balcony how Podgorica airport was burning. That day I went to [the city of] Niksic and on the way there I met just two cars. I remember that the bus attendant did not want to take the money for the tickets and just kept saying, “Children, who know what will happen tomorrow? You see that bombs are falling, better drink some juice somewhere with the money””.
But today, the Montenegrin government does not use any negative words in regards to NATO both in the media and in official negotiations. Italian naval carriers and US destroyers are frequently moored in the ports of Bar and Tivat.
The change is exemplified by the fate of the underground military airport Shipchanik. The airport housed 26 military aircraft. NATO’s bombs struck a hole in the hill and the Yugoslav military aviation in Montenegro was in flames in an instant. Now, the Shipchanik tunnel has been converted into a tasting room for the Montenegrin winery Plantage. The winery produces the wine Vranac, a favourite with tourists. No memento reminds the tourists of the former airport and its fate. Right after the NATO membership invitation was issued, thousands of Montenegrins gathered to protest the prospect of NATO entry.
“This is the beginning of a very beautiful alliance.”
With these words NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg officially invited Montenegro into the Alliance. The man who undoubtedly played a key role in securing this invitation is Milo Djukanović, the current Montenegrin Prime Minister (inaugurated in 2012). Critical voices point out that the invitation will have flattered his already over-inflated ego as well as that of his ruling clique. Djukanović also bears responsibility for the decision not to hold a public referendum on NATO membership, opting for parliamentarian approval only. Even though 84% of the citizens want a referendum on this issue, once again the defence of the public is firmly taken outside the realm of public politics and into the dark corridors of parliamentary politicking.
Thus, to understand the militarization of yet another Balkan ‘democracy’, it is necessary to shed light on the political path of the man who has been at the helm of the country’s politics for the past 20 years. Milo Djukanovic, hailed by Radio Free Europe (RFE) as “the smartest man in the Balkans” was inaugurated in 2012 as the Montenegrin Prime Minister. Radio Free Europe describes Djukanovic admiringly: “А person doesn't remain at the pinnacle of power in a country in a volatile region like the Balkans for two decades - as the Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has done -- without knowing how to determine which way the wind is blowing and how to reinvent oneself”.
This laudatory attitude is hardly shared by many of his compatriots. In October 2015, the Montenegrin capital Podgorica was paralyzed by three-week long protests. The protests were launched by a demonstration demanding the creation of an interim government to organise Montenegro’s ‘first ever free and fair elections’. Raso, a 30-year old protester, told the AFP news agency that: “More than 25 years in power would be too much even if Milo Djukanovic was Mahatma Gandhi and not such thief”.
Djukanovic was first elected as prime minister in 1991 at the age of 29. This was the first paid job he has ever held. Since then, he has served five terms as prime minister and one term as Montenegro's president (1998-2002). Since 1998, Djukanovic has been the unchangeable president of the biggest Montenegrin party, the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro (DPSM); DPSM was originally the Montenegrin branch of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. When Djukanovic first emerged on the political scene, he was a close ally of Slobodan Milošević. In 1996 however, he turned against Milošević, abandoning the traditional joint Serbian and Montenegrin vision for an independent Montenegro instead. RFE describes Djukanovic’s transformation by saying: “At the first opportune moment, in 1998, he dumped Milosevic and remade himself as a pro-Western reformer”. Paradoxically, this ‘laudatory’ characteristic of Djukanović by RFE completely coincides with the way he is described by his critics: “The Prime Minister Milo Djukanović, a corrupt opportunist well-connected to the shadowy networks of organized crime and intelligence services, in power since the Fall of the Berlin Wall, even called those who are against NATO membership ‘the enemies of the state’”.
Critical analyses also point out that during his time on the top, Djukanovic has cemented his power through his control over state institutions. “Djukanovic’s longevity in power can be attributed mainly to his absolute control over the police-intelligence apparatus in the country”, says Filip Kovacevic, chairman of the Movement for Neutrality of Montenegro (MNM). “Since the early 1990s, he has had the ultimate power to reward and punish and was brutal in destroying all political opponents”.
Brutality marked the suppression of the latest anti-government protest in October 2015. Those who protested and opposed Djukanovic have been condemned as pro-Russian and pro-Serbian. At least three opposition leaders and several MPs were injured and two journalists were arrested during the violence, which erupted when protesters tried to march toward the Parliament in Podgorica. A group of 125 prominent intellectuals, independent journalists and civil society activists announced a ‘Protest Memorandum’, which condemned the violent dispersal of the peaceful demonstration.
‘A pawn in the great power games.'
But in spite of the moral character of Montenegro’s Prime Minister, or maybe precisely because of it, in December 2015 the mood at NATO’s headquarters was celebratory – Montenegro was officially invited to join the alliance.
Two questions emerge with regards to Montenegro’s invitation to the Alliance. First of all: does NATO need Montenegro? NATO hardly needs another military base along the Adriatic coast, even though some have argued that “Montenegro’s inclusion plugs a gap along the coastline and turns the Adriatic, finally, into NATO’s private pool”. The second question is whether Montenegro needs NATO’s collective security assurance. Other analysts point out that “surrounded by much more powerful neighbours, with a growing share of the Albanian population, Montenegro can guarantee its sovereignty and territorial integrity perhaps only in this way [by joining NATO]”.  However, Montenegro is surrounded by NATO member-states and attack from its neighbours seems extremely unlikely.
The discussion in the American press and the statements of NATO officials eschew any possible justification discussed above. Only one theme dominates the discourse: Montenegro’s inclusion in NATO is a message to Russia that NATO’s eastwards expansion will continue. Reuters reports that NATO diplomats have stated that the inclusion will send an unequivocal message to Moscow that Russia does not have a veto on the alliance's eastward expansion, even if Georgia's membership bid has been complicated by its 2008 war. The message from the White House is that Montenegro’s membership would “demonstrate the credibility of NATO’s Open Door policy”.
The focus of the Atlantic West on Russia’s reaction has been so strong so as to prompt the question if anybody of the geopolitical players cares for Montenegro. The civil organization MNM draws attention exactly to the ‘missing Montenegrin’ in this highly geopolitical drama. MNM points out that Montenegro is hardly mentioned in the discussion of the implications of its membership. Thus, the current alliance discussions are an example of the haughty disregard with which the desires of the Montenegrins are held in the Atlantic headquarters. The Montenegrins are indignant at the state of affairs in which ‘Montenegro is a mere pawn in the Great Powers’ geopolitical chess game’ and ‘all that matters is that NATO is on track in implementing its plans’ and that Russia reacted not only negatively, but ‘in fury’.
You can enter, but you can never leave...
In December 2015 Montenegro has been shaken by mass protests against the prospect of NATO membership. The powers that be would much prefer a situation, in which militant Montenegrin crowds demand a NATO entry, rather than the current state of affairs, where only corrupt Montenegrin elites wave the pro-NATO banners. Stoltenberg had to admit that Montenegro has “to continue to make progress in demonstrating public support for Montenegro's NATO membership”. CNN grudgingly cites Sputnik News, referring to the “ongoing anti-government protests with thousands of citizens gathering in ... the country's capital, Podgorica, to demand that Montenegro stays out of the U.S.-led NATO military bloc”.
 The majority of people in Montenegro prefer the option of military neutrality, argues MNM, citing a survey conducted by the IPSOS agency.  
Could Montenegro stay neutral, when faced with such overwhelming pressure to join NATO? Some analysts claim that Montenegro’s NATO entry is ‘not a foregone conclusion’. The harsh answer is that currently it is beyond the power of the civil society to stop the process. Counterfire argues that had Montenegro been issued an invitation, its rejection could have an impact on the Balkans in inverse proportion to the country’s size to the disadvantage of the US. “This would then be the very first such rejection by a membership invitee in the history of NATO’s otherwise unblemished expansion eastwards”. It seems that not only the process is unstoppable, but that it could not even be slowed down. Reuters reports that Stoltenberg expects accession talks to proceed quickly, suggesting that the small Balkan state may become a member at the July summit of NATO leaders in Warsaw.
Overshadowed by the grand geopolitical interests, nobody quite cares about what political directions the Montenegrins would rather take.
An award instead of an ‘happy’ ending
If this little geopolitical drama would be an Oscar-nominated movie, this is the time in which the credits will be showing, and of course Milo Djukanovic ought to receive a prize. The man is lauded by RFE as “the smartest man in the Balkans”, “the embodiment of Montenegro’s wild beauty” and as the “modern leader”. Everybody who has Facebook can become his friend, and therefore he surely deserves an international recognition. His talents were duly and favourably noted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). Consequently, OCCRP recognized Mr. Djukanovic as the “2015 man of the year in organized crime”.
Vanja Calovic, Director of the Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector (MANS), a civil society organization based in Montenegro, justified the award in this way: “This is a deserved award. Djukanovic, the last European dictator, has captured our country for his own private interests and turned it into safe haven for criminals. While he, his family and friends enriched themselves, ordinary people suffer from poverty, injustice and lawlessness, while those who dare to talk about the corruption become his targets”.
Yet as deserved as his award may be, in this drama Djukanovic has been a supporting actor. This is due to the fact that throughout the NATO membership application process, Montenegro has only been “a mere pawn in the Great Powers’ geopolitical chess game”.  

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Infighting? Turkey's General Staff Concerned with Erdogan's Syria Policies

 Turkish soldiers stand guar near the Turkey-Syrian border post in Sanliurfa (file photo)


The former head of the General Staff of the Turkish Intelligence Agency told Sputnik that the Armed Forces have been growing discontent with the Syrian policy of the Turkish leadership.

Thick smoke rises following an airstrike by the US-led coalition in Kobani, Syria as fighting intensified between Syrian Kurds and the militants of Islamic State group, as seen from Mursitpinar in the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014.

Balance of Power: ‘Turkey, Saudi Arabia Try to Justify Their Own Imperialism’ in Syria
Ankara's policy towards Syria, in particularly, the statements by the Turkish leadership, indicating the intention to conduct a ground operation in Syria, directly affects the Turkish Armed Forces.
The former head of the Intelligence Department of the General Staff of Turkey, Ismail Hakki Pekin, spoke to Sputnik in an exclusive interview saying that he was sure that the Turkish Armed Forces in Syria do not have those aspirations that guide Ankara.

“Naturally, they are obliged to follow orders. But I can say with confidence that the Turkish Armed Forces have never supported the idea of a military operation against a neighboring state.”

Pekin further said that there is considerable opposition in the Turkish ranks towards the current situation. “There is an understanding that the overthrow of Assad, in fact, will not solve the problem. On the contrary, this step can cause more serious long-term instability in the region. In fact, it is in the interests of Turkey that Damascus strengthens its positions and establishes effective control and security at the border.”

According to the former head, stability in the region would help Turkey provide its own security. “For many it is clear that instead of getting involved in a useless, very expensive and protracted war it makes more sense and is much more profitable to strengthen the Syrian regime and move military operations away from Turkish borders.”

The former head of the Office of Intelligence stressed that Turkey's invasion of Afrin or Azaz can have very dangerous consequences.

“The slightest move into Syria’s inland threatens us with a clash with Russia. Even a small-scale ground operation will lead Turkey into a deadlock. Meanwhile, there are signs that preparations for such an operation are being carried out.”

Pekin said that the security measures inside the country are rising, and there are new methods being introduced in order to respond to external threats.

“I think that if Turkey still dares to take this step and invade the territory of Syria, the consequences will be irreversible,” the head concluded.

Albania calls Bosnia to Recognize Kosovo

 And Tirana, we'll support ro NATO membership  

Igor Crnadak dhe Ditmir Bushati

Albania follows the open-door policy for countries seeking NATO membership, and this is true also for Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the meeting with his Bosnian counterpart Igor Crnadak, foreign minister Bushati urged the country to recognize Kosovo as an independent state.

Bushati asked his Bosnian counterpart to support Kosovo's membership in regional initiatives A5 and RACVIAC and its recognition as an independent state.

Both top diplomats also pledged to strengthen cooperation and relations between the two countries.

During the meeting, the two foreign ministers discussed bilateral cooperation with particular focus on economy and trade. They stressed the need to strengthen this cooperation and expansion of the legal framework with a new set of bilateral agreements.

Both ministers signed the "Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Albania and the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina on mutual movement of citizens with ID-es."

Just Back: caught in the crossfire in Albania

Tirana, Albania's capital

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 Dominic Hipkins
24 FEBRUARY 2016 • 10:22AM

I was greeted with a machinegun-burst of babble from my excitable taxi-driver at Tirana’s Mother Teresa international airport.

The weather was biblical, with red streaks of lightning and punishing torrents of icy rain. The first cab would do just fine.

I had missed the fireworks by 15 minutes. There had been a shooting farther up the road to Shkoder, the northern town that acts as self-styled “gateway to the Albanian Alps”.

Albania: the best-kept secret in the Med?
Two neighbours, the worse for wear for Balkan firewater and nursing a hangover-inflated, decade-long grudge, had got out the Kalashnikovs. Our road was sealed off, the crime scene lit by the burning cigarette tips of local traffic cops who defiantly puffed away in the downpour.

Albania - the Med before tourism took over

Communist-era concrete bunkers cropped up like molehills by the side of the road, recalling the fear of an invasion that never came. I was struck by the sight of a purple neon-piped church clinging to a nearby hillside. Tastefully done. Well, more so than the five metre mini-Big Ben we had passed earlier.

We took a diversion to the nearest town, which is host to what is possibly the world’s only George W Bush Museum. He came here once, and nobody knows why. But people remember him fondly.

11 unlikely locations tipped for a tourist boom
I had stumbled into a surreal otherworld and was not entirely sure how I would leave. Or, indeed, why I had come in the first place.

Someone had told me Albania was the Mediterranean before tourism transformed the character of southern Europe into a theme park for visitors from colder climates. True, Albania had character all right. It was just someone you would rather not run into at night, a gun-for-hire extra from The Godfather recreated in the age of Hieronymus Bosch.

Two nerve-racking hours later, minus one wing-mirror, and after a close call with a horse and cart, I arrived at my hotel, which stood beneath a crumbling hilltop castle. A surging nearby river seemed to be moving ever closer to the hotel front-desk.

In my room a complimentary bottle of the local Skanderbeg brandy lay in wait: the evil spirit which I held responsible for my torrid journey. Curious to discover more, I took a deep draught. It tasted of treacle soaked in turpentine and sent me into a dreamless slumber.

I woke to a breakfast whose memory makes my mouth water to this day. A fluffy feta-cheese omelette, olives the size of small plums, with homemade fig jam. And free brandy, naturally.

From my window I watched as fishermen cast nets from wooden canoes into a milky lake without horizon, dwarfed by mountains from the Land of Mordor. A scene from a vanished Europe, I thought. Centuries ago, this must have been a wild, lawless place. While today...

Enter the next round

Serbia: "All security services in state of full preparedness"

The Bureau for the Coordination of Security Services, chaired by Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, met on Wednesday afternoon in Belgrade.


All security services are in a state of preparedness due to the migrant crisis, it was said after the meeting.

Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic confirmed this for B92, and said the conclusion from the meeting today was to propose to President Tomislav Nikolic the holding of a meeting of the Council for National Security.

Selakovic said the state of full preparedness relates to all security services, intelligence services, the Serbian Army and the police, "that are tasked with protecting Serbia's borders."

He added that "an increasing number of economic migrants are appearing" and that Serbia "will continue with its humane approach toward all refugees and migrants."

As for speculation that the country might raise walls and fences on its borders, Selakovic said, "Serbia will not do that."

The meeting today, called by Vucic, was attended by representatives of ministries of interior and foreign affairs and of the army.

Meanwhile in Vienna, Austria, 18 ministers from the Western Balkans gathered at the initiative of Austria's ministers of interior and foreign affairs.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic, who was in attendance, said that the migrant crisis will last a long time, while "the current solutions are not long-term."

It was also said during the meeting that Balkan route countries, "Serbia in particular," cannot be a hostage to the missing common European solution.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Turkey to CLOSE THE BOSPORUS STRAIT to all Russian Military Vessels!

URGENT: Turkey to CLOSE THE BOSPORUS STRAIT to all Russian Military Vessels! | International | News | Qatar Day
  | International | News | Qatar Day

Turkey intends to CLOSE the Bosporus Strait to Russian Naval Vessels, sealing them in (or out) of the Black Sea, claiming Russia is aiding "Kurd Terrorists" in Syria.

"Russia strengthens and supports PYD organization of Syria, (Kurds) which Ankara considers to be terrorists, and also responsible for the recent car Bombing in the Turkish Captial which left 28 dead.

 According to the pro-government Turkish daily "Sabah" Turkey complained that Russia, with its warships passing through the Straits toward the eastern Mediterranean, are carrying weapons and ammunition to supply the Kurds for "terrorist operations."

For this reason, Turkey says, it has the right to close the strait to the Russian Fleet.

In the past, Russia has publicly and specifically stated "Closing the Turkey Strait would automatically mean war."

Some are speculating that Turkish President Erdogan is simply bluffing, but others think he should be committed into a "madhouse" because his actions will destroy Turkey

Greece Offers Russia the Use of Its Port to Bypass the Dardanelles and Bosporus

22th February, 2016


The administration of Simferopol and the chamber of Commerce of the Greek region of Evros have signed a cooperation agreement. It aims to develop socio-economic and trade relations between Crimea and the Greek region. This was stated by the mayor of the city of Alexandroupolis - Evangelos Lambakis.

"The interest of our chamber of Commerce is very serious. We could cooperate in many areas, considering that the city has one of the largest ports, which allows the exchange of goods to bypass the Dardanelles and Bosporus. Alexandroupolis becomes an energy link which passes through about three oil pipelines and one LNG station. Our region is one of the largest producers of wind energy. We could share these technologies with Crimea. Furthermore, the Evros is a region with highly developed agriculture and animal husbandry.

Russia and US Agree on Steps to Stop Fighting in Syria

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin prior to a working session at the Group of 20 (G20) leaders summit in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey, November 16, 2015
22:04 22.02.2016
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Syrian ceasefire agreement is a "real step that can stop the bloodshed."

On Monday, the Kremlin released details of the Syrian ceasefire plan the US and Russia agreed upon. The two countries had to conduct several rounds of secret negotiations before settling all details and making them public. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the plan of ceasing hostilities presents a "real step that can stop the bloodshed."

Before releasing details of the peace plan, Putin and Obama held a private telephone conversation, in which Putin stressed that the cooperation between Moscow and Washington should serve as an example of efforts against terrorism.

Breakthrough: US, Russia Agree on Syria Ceasefire Starting February 27
"The Russian-American agreements on a ceasefire in Syria, and their joint implementation in coordination with all participant countries of the International Syria Support Group [ISSG] can serve as an example of responsible policy, based on international law and UN principles, actions of the international community against the threat of terrorism," Putin said.

He said that Russia will do everything to ensure that the ceasefire is implemented, working closely with the Syrian government, and expects the US to convince Syrian opposition groups to respect the agreement.

"We will do whatever is necessary with Damascus, with the legitimate Syrian authorities," Putin said. "We are counting on the United States to do the same with its allies and the groups that it supports."

The two countries will work jointly to determine which groups the ceasefire applies to.

"The main objective now that the Russian and US sides set in their joint statement is to end unnecessary bloodshed in Syria and continue the war on terror, thus facilitating the political settlement in this country," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Six batteries of NATO-backed missile defense systems have been set up in southeastern Turkey to protect against aerial attacks from war-torn Syria (File)

Syrian Ceasefire: Prospect of Situation ‘Spinning Out of Control is Significant’
Putin also said he expects Middle Eastern countries to support the plan.

"I would like to hope that the Syrian leadership and all our partners in the region and beyond it, will support the algorithm of actions selected by representatives of Russia and the United States," Putin said.

Speaking to reporters, White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed that the White House contacted the Kremlin on Monday.

"This is a moment of opportunity and we are hopeful that all the parties will capitalize on it," Earnest said. He cautioned, however, that "this is going to be difficult to implement."

Moscow plans to continue "intensive dialogue" with all parties involved in the conflict.

The ceasefire agreement was reached after several rounds of talks behind closed doors.

"There were a few rounds of closed consultations, not public consultations," Peskov said.

The ceasefire is set to take effect on Saturday.

"Blind eye being turned to growing nationalism in region"

(Tanjug, file)
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic says there is the growing problem of "nationalisms" in the Balkans - and that "a blind eye" is turned to this problem.


"The fact is that it can be felt everywhere in the region, and only a politically blind person could pretend not to see it," Vucic said in London, where he is on Monday attending an investment summit of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Vucic said that the region, facing also the migrant crisis, is in for a difficult year both in economic and political terms.

He said that all regional countries aspire to EU membership and take serious steps to move closer to it, but added that the EU had lost "the magical power" it once had.

"We want to become a part of the EU and are committed to it, but it's no longer a big dream as it was in the past. We still have a lot to do, especially in the judiciary, the fight against crime and corruption and for this we need the support of the EBRD and the EU," said the prime minister.

Vucic added that the Nis-Pristina road should be built as soon as possible - "because if trucks wait two or three days on the administrative line with Kosovo and on the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia due to bad roads, there will be problems."

"We do not expect merely that someone gives us money, but to help us in reforms, in education, with political support.... Only by creating a single market and customs will we be able to achieve significant result," Vucic told the EBRD investment event dedicated to the Balkans, according to Beta agency.

"Best possible relations"

"We want the best possible relations with Balkan nations - despite the doubts about the future of the region we come from, I am confident that it is good that we are meeting and talking and that we cooperate and respect each other," Aleksandar Vucic said in London on Monday, Tanjug reported.

The migrant crisis has convinced us that we have to cooperate even more and try to overcome problems together, he added.

The migrant crisis has resulted in growing nationalist tensions in the Balkans and everyone is turning a blind eye to this, he said.

However, we are moving on, with the intent of being part of the EU, he said, noting that the EU has lost some of its magic power in the Balkans.

Serbian and Albanian PMs trade barbs at EBRD event in London

(Image made from video)

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama suggested on Monday Serbia was advancing more quickly along the EU path "because of the Russia factor."


His Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic replied to the remark - which Tanjug said was "a digression from the topic of the EBRD (regional investment) summit in London" they both attended - by saying he was "not aware there was an election campaign in Albania."

"The EU is more favorably disposed to Serbia than to us, as we do not have Russia. They keep Albanians in Kosovo without visa liberalization, keep telling us that we are doing fine, but that there is more to be done. And then, he flies to Russia - and gets the start of EU entry talks," Rama said "humorously," Tanjug reported.

Continuing in the same vein, Rama added this was "not a criticism" and that what he described was “well-played" - advising Vucic that there was "no need to justify himself for it."

To this, Vucic replied: "There's an election campaign in Serbia... I was not aware a campaign had also started in Albania."

Rama then said he was "merely supporting" Vucic in his campaign.

Rama's initial remarks came as Vucic was replying to a question from the audience about Serbia's ties with Russia in the context of EU integration.

Vucic said that despite Serbia's strategic goal of continuing EU integration, the country wants to preserve its traditionally good relations with Russia, "to which it exports agricultural products the most, and will continue to."

"I see no problem with that," said the prime minister, adding that he "leaves no doubt in all meetings from Washington to Moscow regarding the fact EU membership is Serbia's strategic goal."

Vucic also stressed that Serbia's "trade, that is, export" with regional countries was "three, four, five times" greater than with Russia - "which speaks for itself."

As the meeting in London was starting earlier in the day, the cameras caught Rama, who was seated next to Vucic, peering into the papers held by the Serbian prime minister.

Not Russia, After All: Americans Believe Terrorism is Primary Threat for US

The Pile Test

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Obama with its latest statement that Russia is the biggest threat to the US seems to be a far cry from what the rest of his country believes. According to a recent Gallup survey, Americans consider international terrorism and not any particular country as the most critical menace for their nation.

In fact, Russia ranks 12 in the list of the US threats after China's military and economic power, refugee influx and global warming.
American adults were asked what they saw as possible threats to US vital interests over the next decade and 79 percent agreed that international terrorism possesses a crucial threat.
Iran's nuclear deal that — touted as a victory for the Obama Administration — doesn't appear to have helped ease fears as Americans still consider nuclear proliferation by Iran as the second most dangerous event that could put the country in turmoil.
Cyberterrorism with its 73 percent response rate has been named for the first time in the list of threats to American, surprisingly ranking third.
The global spread of viruses follow cyberterrorism at 63 percent as respondents believe that Ebola and Zika infectious diseases represent a significant danger for the US.
The conflict in Syria is still in the top five among menaces for the US as 58 percent believe that regional conflict could endanger the position of the country over the upcoming ten years.

Americans Cite Cyberterrorism Among Top Three Threats to U.S.


Americans Cite Cyberterrorism Among Top Three Threats to U.S.
by Justin McCarthy

Story Highlights

  • International terrorism, nuclear weapons in Iran also top list
  • Democrats far more likely to view global warming as "critical"
  • Dems, GOP about equally likely to view cyberterrorism as "critical"
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As President Barack Obama rolls out a proposal to increase U.S. cybersecurity funding, Americans view cyberterrorism as a leading threat to U.S. vital interests in the next 10 years. U.S. adults rank cyberterrorism (73%) along with international terrorism (79%) and development of nuclear weapons by Iran (75%) as the highest of a dozen potential threats.
Critical Threats to the United States, February 2016
In prior years, Americans have been most likely to identify international terrorism, which is down slightly from last year's 84%, and development of nuclear weapons by Iran as critical threats to the U.S. This is the first year Gallup has asked about cyberterrorism, defined in the poll as "the use of computers to cause disruption or fear in society."
In the Feb. 3-7 Gallup poll, 63% of U.S. adults consider the spread of infectious diseases throughout the world a critical threat. This comes as the first known case of Zika virus transmission in the U.S. was discovered in Texas, after many confirmed infections throughout the world. After this poll was conducted, Obama announced his intention to request additional emergency funding to combat Zika in the U.S.
The majority of Americans also see the military power of North Korea (58%) as a critical threat. On Sunday, the last day of the poll's field period, North Korea launched a rocket that illustrated the country's improvements in its missile technology.
Similarly, 58% of Americans name the conflict in Syria as a critical threat to the U.S., and a majority (52%) express concern over the potential of large numbers of refugees attempting to enter Europe and North America. Views of these threats as "critical" come as the conflict in Syria rages on, and the question of whether the U.S. would take in Syrian refugees has been hotly discussed in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Some of the issues perceived as less threatening are global warming or climate change (50% say it is a critical threat), the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (45%), the military power and, separately, the economic power of China (both 41%), and the military power of Russia (39%). The percentage rating Russia's military power as a critical threat is down 10 points from last year as the Russia-Ukraine conflict has become less of a U.S. flashpoint.
Partisan Differences Small on Cyberterrorism, Infectious Diseases
Republicans and Democrats, including independents who lean toward each party, differ considerably in their assessments of what constitutes a critical threat to the vital interests of the U.S. Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are much more likely to categorize most issues as a "critical threat."
The largest gap exists on the issue of global warming or climate change, which three in four Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents describe as a "critical threat," while only one in four Republicans and GOP leaners agree. Conversely, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (70%) are nearly twice as likely as Democrats and Democratic leaners (37%) to view the issue of refugees entering Europe and North America in large numbers as a "critical threat."
On a couple of issues, however, the differences between the two groups are negligible. When asked about cyberterrorism, about three-quarters of both Democrats and Republicans view the issue as a "critical threat." Similarly, seven percentage points separate the views of the two party groups on the issue of infectious diseases.
Critical Threats to the United States -- According to Democrats, Republicans, February 2016
Bottom Line
Given the spate of news on the fronts of international terrorism, cyberterrorism and nuclear weapons negotiations with Iran, it's perhaps unsurprising that these issues are at the forefront of Americans' concerns about potential threats to the U.S. over the next 10 years. And the president's high-profile efforts -- for example, his Wall Street Journal op-ed on cyberterrorism Tuesday -- align with the importance Americans place on such issues.
But an issue's prominence might be less of a factor in Americans' assessments than the seriousness of its consequences if it should happen. In the past year alone, Americans have seen the ramifications of the Paris terrorist attacks and of Chinese hackers' infiltration of U.S. federal government data.
Of course, Republicans and Democrats often don't agree about what constitutes a "critical" threat to the vital interests of the U.S. Still, for lawmakers, Americans' widespread agreement on issues such as cyberterrorism and infectious diseases may provide a welcome opening for bipartisan agreement and progress on issues whose importance has broad public consensus.
Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.
Survey Methods
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 3-7, 2016, with a random sample of 1,021 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.
Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.