Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Obama Calls Putin To Urge Peaceful Solution In Ukraine: "...we are not looking for Russia to fail. We are not looking for Russia to be surrounded and contained and weakened. Our preference is for a strong, prosperous, vibrant, confident Russia that can be a partner with us on a whole host of global challenges."

Remarks by President Obama and Chancellor Merkel in Joint Press Conference | The White House

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And I just want to emphasize here once again for the benefit not just of the American people but for the German people, we are not looking for Russia to fail.  We are not looking for Russia to be surrounded and contained and weakened.  Our preference is for a strong, prosperous, vibrant, confident Russia that can be a partner with us on a whole host of global challenges.  And that’s how I operated throughout my first term in office.
Unfortunately, Russia has made a decision that I think is bad for them strategically, bad for Europe, bad for the world.  And in the face of this aggression and these bad decisions, we can’t simply try to talk them out of it.  We have to show them that the world is unified in imposing a cost for this aggression. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.

Obama Calls Putin To Urge Peaceful Solution In Ukraine

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The White House says U.S. President Barack Obama called Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine, urging him ahead of major talks in Minsk to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Controversy Over Netanyahu Speech to Congress Grows

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Since U.S. House Speaker John Boehner invited Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress next month about nuclear talks with Iran — without first consulting the White House — the list of Democrats who have said they'll boycott the prime minister's address has grown. The controversy has created some turmoil in both Washington and Jerusalem. VOA's Jeff Swicord reports.

ON THE SCENE: VOA Correspondent Sees Carnage, Frightened Residents in Ukrainian City

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Editor's note: On the eve of planned peace talks in Minsk, at least 15 people died amid battles in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk Tuesday. Most of the victims were hit by rockets that apparently were fired by separatist rebels trying to dislodge Ukrainian government forces. The rockets were aimed at Kramatorsk's airport and military targets, but some went astray. Some fell in civilian neighborhoods, among ordinary people trying to carry on with some form of everyday life. VOA correspondent Daniel Schearf was on the scene and filed this report. "So, who is shelling Donetsk now?" asked the man in a blue jacket and black winter cap. "Who's living there? Terrorists?" He apparently supported the separatist in Ukraine's prolonged and bloody conflict. "This guy is a provocateur!" shouted an old man with thick glasses. "I see him everywhere." "Hey old man, I'll bite your ear off," the man in blue replied. The older man's wife stepped between them to avoid a confrontation and cried out to the man in blue, "I won't let you do that." She pushed him away as a crowd angrily denounced the blue-jacketed man as a "provocateur" - someone trying to instigate a fight, or worse. The crowd, which grew smaller as militiamen warned of the danger, favored the Ukraine central government in the conflict between Kyiv and the separatists holding Donetsk and other parts of eastern Ukraine. "Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!" one women shouted - a familiar cry on the sidelines of the battle. This kind of argument has been repeated over and over again in Ukraine since April, when intense fighting began between the pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainians loyal to Kyiv. This, however, was a particularly surreal encounter. The "provocateur" and his detractors were arguing just across the street from a rocket that narrowly missed an apartment complex, ending up instead poking out of the ground. The symbol of violence reminded some of the ordnance that gets tossed around in cartoons, where "BOOM!" is just a word on the screen, or on a page of a comic book. This rocket, though, was real. And there was nothing funny about the death that rained down on residential neighborhoods in Kramatorsk Tuesday, one day before statesmen from France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine are due to meet in Belarus for another try to end the fighting. The deputy chief of police, Lieutenant Colonel Kiva Il'ya, told VOA that about 20 rockets hit the city, but almost half failed to explode. He said they were fired from Horlovka, a rebel-controlled town, but he thinks the blame lies elsewhere. The direction the rockets came from, the police officer said, "honestly is from Moscow." He said the attack was "initiated by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin,” Russia's president. The airport and Ukraine's military headquarters in the area were the rebels' main targets. But most of the casualties were civilians: at least seven civilians and five soldiers killed and 63 people wounded. One woman, who gave her name as Miroslava, was at her apartment in Kramatorsk with her newborn daughter. “My daughter and I were at home," Miroslava said, still distraught. "We live on the fifth floor. We heard the 'boom' far away, then 'boom' again - closer. "'Boom, boom,' then everything started to blow up,” she said. “Everything started to blow up! Everything started to explode. We were in the hall closet. Everything started to fall down on us.” The young mother was packing her belongings, hoping to leave Kramatorsk, because she and her child no longer feel safe. Others in the apartment complex are also leaving Krasmatorsk, hoping to escape the violence. When the first tweets appeared saying there was an explosion we tried to get information from military spokesmen. A press officer said he was in a bunker, and was not able yet to confirm what had happened. He told us by telephone, “if you can, hide!” Then he hung up. It was difficult to confirm the airport had been attacked without driving out to the scene. We were barred from reaching the military portion of the airport, but word spread of another possible rocket barrage, so we left quickly. Rebels are trying to advance on Kramatorsk after gaining ground in their effort to reach Debaltseve, a strategic city that stands between the two main rebel-controlled cities, Donetsk and Luhansk. If Debaltseve falls, Kramatorsk could be next. But that is the big picture. Some observers say Tuesday's shower of rockets was more likely a move by the separatists and their supporters to gain leverage ahead of the talks in Minsk. There are hopes for a new cease-fire, and a demilitarized line of control separating the two sides, But if that line is drawn it will be determined by where the rebels are tomorrow, and by who blinks first.

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France still respects Dominique Strauss-Kahn but new trial will destroy him - Telegraph.co.uk

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Telegraph.co.uk



France still respects Dominique Strauss-Kahn but new trial will destroy him
Telegraph.co.uk
The sheer tawdriness of the New York case was already a turn-off, but at the time, the effect was blunted by the kneejerk anti-Americanism natural to the French: DSK's much-photographed Manhattan perp walk made him a bit of a martyr in a country ...

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Why Obama Thinks All Muslim Terror Attacks Are 'Random' - Breitbart News

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Breitbart News



Why Obama Thinks All Muslim Terror Attacks Are 'Random'
Breitbart News
There are strains of extremism, and anti-Americanism, and anti-Western sentiment. And you know can be tapped into by demagogues. There will probably be some times where we bump up against some of these countries and have strong disagreements, but ...

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Life under shelling in eastern Ukraine: a battle to survive

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At the Trudovskoi bus station in Donetsk, the gossip these days focuses on whose house has been hit by shelling and where you can get food handouts.
     
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GOP continues push for more defense spending

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The Senate Armed Services Committee under John McCain continued its push Tuesday to reverse a decline in U.S. defense spending since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
     

2,273,1052,273,105Mike Nova

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» 'Russia's growing threat': The West faces a very dangerous crisis – and it's ... - The Independent 09/02/15 15:39 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks
Mike Nova's Shared NewsLinks Review   From The Major News Sources »   'Russia's growing threat': The West faces a very dangerous crisis – and it's ... - The Independent 09/02/15 15:39 from  Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks mikenova shared this story from Russia...
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Mike Nova's Shared NewsLinks Review   From The Major News Sources » 'Russia's growing threat': The West faces a very dangerous crisis – and it's ... - The Independent 09/02/15 15:39 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks m...
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» Ukraine crisis talks: Angela Merkel takes peace plan to Washington - latest 09/02/15 10:44 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks
Mike Nova's Shared NewsLinks Review   From The Major News Sources »   Ukraine crisis talks: Angela Merkel takes peace plan to Washington - latest 09/02/15 10:44 from  Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks mikenova shared this story from Russian news, all the latest ...
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Mike Nova's Shared NewsLinks Review   From The Major News Sources » Ukraine crisis talks: Angela Merkel takes peace plan to Washington - latest 09/02/15 10:44 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks mikenova shared this sto...
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Ukraine Peace Talks Gather Momentum as 4-Way Summit Planned | 'Last Chance' Ukraine-Russia Peace Deal To Be Decided Upon Next Week - Forbes | "Who is Mr. Putin?" The ongoing Ukraine conflict has breathed new life into a question that has long stumped Western policymakers and analysts. | Putin's reported distance-diagnosis as having Asperger's syndrome makes him the latest in a long line of Russian rulers whose actions the world has sought to explain as being the result of an ailment.
How the U.S. Struggles to Crack Putin Code by By Ivan Nechepurenko Sunday February 8 th , 2015  at  4:45 PM The Moscow Times Top Stories 1 Share "Who is Mr. Putin?" The ongoing Ukraine conflict has breathed new life into a question that has long stumped Wes...
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Russia, Western Powers Trade Accusations Over Ukraine | Putin Rejects Attempts to Contain Russia After Peace Talks Fail - Bloomberg | «Неужели это мы все сделали?». Но это действительно так: это мы сделали... | » НАТО не будет отправлять в Украину солдат - Day.Az 07/02/15 20:53 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks
«Неужели это мы все сделали?». Но это действительно так: это мы сделали... Voice of America Russia, Western Powers Trade Accusations Over Ukraine   webdesk@voanews.com (Pamela Dockins) 7:24pm Voice of America Russia, Western Powers Trade Accusations Over Uk...
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Blue October - The Answer - Lyrics | Bruce Jenner in Horrible Car Crash -- 1 Person Dead | Hollande: Peace Deal 'One of Last Chances' to End Ukraine Crisis
Blue October - The Answer - Lyrics Bruce Jenner in Horrible Car Crash -- 1 Person Dead Saturday February 7 th , 2015  at  7:01 PM 1 Share In Horrible Car Crash One Person Dead 50 minutes ago BY TMZ STAFF EXCLUSIVE 1:45 PM PST  -- Several eyewitnesses say th...
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Blue October - The Answer - Lyrics Bruce Jenner in Horrible Car Crash -- 1 Person Dead Saturday February 7th, 2015 at 7:01 PM 1 Share In Horrible Car Crash One Person Dead 50 minutes ago BY TM...
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Breedlove also said proposals put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine were "completely unacceptable"
Breedlove also said proposals put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in eastern  Ukraine  were "completely unacceptable".    "The situation is worsening and we need to address the worsening situation," Breedlove said. "It is imp...
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Breedlove also said proposals put forward by Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine were "completely unacceptable".    "The situation is worsening and we need to address the worsening situati...
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Watch live: Barack Obama and Angela Merkel's press conference on Ukraine by Telegraph Video | ДНР: "Дебальцевский котел" замкнут - Правда.Ру | U.S. Military Aid to Ukraine Would Be Declaration of Proxy War - Analysts by By Matthew Bodner | Obama and Merkel Express Unity in Seeking Diplomatic Solution to Russia ... - New York Times | Over 30 Romanian TV presenters and models arrested by police investigating prostitution ring
Watch live: Barack Obama and Angela Merkel's press conference on Ukraine   by Telegraph Video
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"What no defense budget or military strategist can provide, however, is political will. If Europe cannot regain enough self-confidence to resist Putin, it will lose everything, sooner than you think." | » Ukraine crisis talks: Angela Merkel takes peace plan to Washington - latest 09/02/15 10:44 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks
Ukraine crisis talks: Angela Merkel takes peace plan to Washington - latest   by Andrew Marszal Monday February 9 th , 2015  at  11:44 AM Russian News, All The Latest And Breaking Russia News 1 Share Live updates on diplomatic attempts to solve the Ukraine ...
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Leaders Aim to Hold Ukraine Summit in Minsk Wednesday | 4-way summit on Ukraine crisis could herald breakthrough on peace deal | "The weakness of the president’s foreign policy is painfully obvious... In his State of the Union speech, Obama claimed to be connecting “military power with strong diplomacy.” The truth is that the president is weakening our military and failing at diplomacy." - Doug Lamborn | » FACT CHECK: What happens if Homeland Security shuts down? 08/02/15 13:39 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks
"The weakness of the president’s foreign policy is painfully obvious...  In his State of the Union speech, Obama claimed to be connecting “military power with strong diplomacy.” The truth is that the president is weakening our military and failing at diplom...
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Ukraine crisis: Political wrangles in Munich dash hopes of a rapid peace deal
Ukraine crisis: Political wrangles in Munich dash hopes of a rapid peace deal Saturday February 7 th , 2015  at  9:32 PM - Europe RSS Feed 1 Share The hopes raised by the rush to Moscow by European leaders Angela Merkel and François Hollande on Friday to sp...
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Ukraine crisis: Political wrangles in Munich dash hopes of a rapid peace deal Saturday February 7th, 2015 at 9:32 PM - Europe RSS Feed 1 Share The hopes raised by the rush to Moscow by European leade...
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Volcano Shiveluch: Come Together! Stay tuned.
Pullman-Moscow News:  Milky Chance - Stolen Dance (Lyric Video)   Doppel Bänger Published on Jun 2, 2014 BUY 'STOLEN DANCE' HERE: https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/sto... This is not an official video and I do not own the song or rights. Footage taken from ...
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Pullman-Moscow News:  Milky Chance - Stolen Dance (Lyric Video)   Doppel Bänger Published on Jun 2, 2014 BUY 'STOLEN DANCE' HERE: https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/sto... This is not an official video and I do not...
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"If we don't manage to find not just a compromise but a lasting peace agreement, we know perfectly well what the scenario will be. It has a name, it's called war," Hollande told reporters... | » Paul Gauguin's When Will You Marry? becomes most expensive artwork ever 07/02/15 10:00 from Mike Nova's Shared Newslinks
Merkel rules out arming Ukraine government but unsure peace push will work Saturday February 7 th , 2015  at  12:11 PM Reuters: World News 1 Share MUNICH (Reuters) - Germany's Angela Merkel on Saturday ruled out sending weapons to the Ukrainian government t...
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2,273,1042,273,1042015-02-09Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn: “You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit

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Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn: “You cannot defeat an enemy you do not admit exists.”Lt Gen Michael Flynn Fox News Sunday Published on Feb 8, 2015 We’ll discuss the latest in the war on ISIS exclusively with retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn , former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who recently criticized the Obama admin...
Lt Gen Michael Flynn Fox News Sunday Published on Feb 8, 2015 We’ll discuss the latest in the war on ISIS exclusively with retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who r...
Why Putin is a danger to Europe | "The notion that Putin displays reptilian qualities, however, is not as odd as it may sound... Why is Putin more reptilian than any of the rest of us? Didn’t we all grow from embryos?" | "...criminals likely post their crimes to social media sites as a part of self-importance. “Perpetrators in need of validating their power and sense of self-importance have used all kinds of communications to ‘brag’ about criminal activities..." | Putin Warns Europe: Total War If Obama Arms Ukraine | Merkel and Obama United on UkraineThe Dubious Science Behind Putin's Asperger's Diagnosis Monday February 9 th , 2015  at  9:41 PM 1 Share Last week USA Today seemed so proud of acquiring a report diagnosing  Vladimir Putin  with Asperger’s Syndrome that the reporter and editors apparently ...
Say Hello to My Little FriendSay Hello to My Little Friend - Scarface (8/8) Movie CLIP (1983) HD Published on Jun 16, 2011 Scarface Movie Clip - watch all clips  http://j.mp/yFtoj3 click to subscribe http://j.mp/sNDUs5 max well marry on morte - YT Search
Say Hello to My Little Friend - Scarface (8/8) Movie CLIP (1983) HD Published on Jun 16, 2011 Scarface Movie Clip - watch all clips http://j.mp/yFtoj3 click to subscribe http://j.mp/sNDUs5 max well marry on morte - Y...
'Russia's growing threat': The West faces a very dangerous crisis: The problem with Russia now is not its strength, but its weakness. The massive energy revenues of the good times were not invested in modernizing Russia, but either squandered at home or shipped abroad by the Oligarchs to buy yachts'Russia's growing threat': The West faces a very dangerous crisis – and it's ... - The Independent Monday February 9 th , 2015  at  4:39 PM Russia - Google News 1 Share The Independent ' Russia's  growing threat': The West faces a very dangerous crisis – an...
'Russia's growing threat': The West faces a very dangerous crisis – and it's ... - The Independent Monday February 9th, 2015 at 4:39 PM Russia - Google News 1 Share The Independent 'Russia's growi...

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Maureen Dowd: NBC News Knew Brian Williams was ‘Pathological’

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Maureen Dowd: NBC News Knew Brian Williams was ‘Pathological’

According to Maureen Dowd in the New York Times, NBC News executives knew Brian Williams had a problem with the truth but the infrastructure wasn't in place to do anything about it. Per Dowd, things were so bad with Williams that his "flourishes to puff himself up" became "a joke in the news division."



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    Islamist Assassination Attempt on Pope Francis Thwarted

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    Islamist Assassination Attempt on Pope Francis Thwarted

    The Southeast Asian Jihadist terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah reportedly planned to kill Pope Francis during his recent trip to the Philippines by detonating a bomb along the route of the papal motorcade, but the attempt was prevented by adjustments to the Pope’s program.

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    Obama Awaits Outcome of Ukraine Peace Talks Before Deciding on Arms

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    WASHINGTON — President Obama said Monday that he would wait for the outcome of peace talks before deciding whether to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine. Such assistance would represent a striking break with European allies who say that arming the country against Russian aggression would make the conflict worse.
    In a joint White House news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Mr. Obama said he was hopeful that economic sanctions would persuade President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to seize a diplomatic solution. But he said the United States would consider sending defensive weapons to Ukraine if European-led talks scheduled for this week did not produce peace.
    “If, in fact, diplomacy fails, what I’ve asked my team to do is to look at all options,” Mr. Obama said. “What other means can we put in place to change Mr. Putin’s calculus? And the possibility of lethal defensive weapons is one of those options that’s being examined.”
    Many leaders in European capitals share the Obama administration’s deep distrust of Mr. Putin, but they continue to hope that the pressure of economic sanctions will lead him to accept some sort of settlement. But the major Western European countries, including Britain, Germany and France, oppose sending arms.
    “We continue to pursue a diplomatic solution, although we have suffered a lot of setbacks,” Ms. Merkel said during her White House visit.
    The potential disagreement between the American president and his European counterparts was on stark display as Ms. Merkel said, “I don’t see a military solution to this conflict.” But she appeared to suggest that an American decision to send arms despite Berlin’s objections would not lead to a major break in American-German relations, noting that “on certain issues we may not always agree.”
    After a meeting with Ms. Merkel early Monday evening in Ottawa, Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, echoed Mr. Obama’s words from earlier in the day. Although he expressed his hope that diplomacy would resolve the situation in Ukraine, Mr. Harper repeatedly noted that Russia continued to pursue a military approach.
    Asked if Canada will supply weapons to Ukraine’s government, he said, “We’ll look at all options, but obviously, we will proceed with caution and in collaboration with all our allies.”
    The issue of whether to provide more than nonlethal military aid to Ukraine’s army has threatened to cleave what has until now been a united front among the United States and some of its major European allies over how to respond to the Ukrainian conflict, which has been stoked by a steady supply of weapons and soldiers from Russia. But both Ms. Merkel and Mr. Obama sought to play down the impact of a disagreement, saying the international coalition that has backed economic sanctions against Russia would survive such a dispute.
    “Russian aggression has only reinforced the unity between the United States, Germany and other European allies,” the president said. “There’s going to continue to be a strong, unified response between the United States and Europe; that’s not going to change.”
    Ms. Merkel said the alliance would remain “solid” and added that “this trans-Atlantic partnership for Germany and for Europe is indispensable.”
    Mr. Obama signaled his willingness to wait for Ms. Merkel, Mr. Putin and the leaders of Ukraine and France to seek a negotiated cease-fire at a meeting scheduled for Wednesday in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. But Mr. Obama hinted at the potential rift over providing weapons, saying there “may be some areas where there are tactical disagreements.”
    The president’s comments suggested that arguments in favor of lethal aid by some of his senior advisers have made their way to his desk.
    NATO’s military commander, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, said at a security conference in Munich on Saturday that if economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure failed to persuade Mr. Putin to remove his forces from Ukraine and to stop helping the separatists, then sending defensive arms should not be ruled out. On Capitol Hill last week, Mr. Obama’s choice to be the next defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, said he would be inclined to support Ukraine with defensive weapons.
    In a speech on Saturday at the Munich conference, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said that “the Ukrainian people have a right to defend themselves.” But he stopped short of saying that the United States would provide lethal weapons.
    Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Monday accused Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel of a “ ‘more of the same’ diplomatic strategy” and urged them to provide defensive weapons immediately.
    Mr. McCain said that providing such arms to Ukraine was “an essential component to achieving” a political solution because it would intensify the pressure on Mr. Putin to come to the negotiating table.
    “As Russian soldiers fail to return home from Ukraine, Putin will be challenged to sustain a war that he has told his people is not happening,” Mr. McCain said.
    Mr. Obama and Ms. Merkel spoke after European foreign ministers agreed to postpone imposing a new round of sanctions against Russia, hoping to avert a rift with the United States over sending arms.
    European governments decided late last month to expand the list of people under sanctions — those who face the freezing of their assets and travel bans — after pro-Russian rebels mounted a rocket attack on Mariupol, a Ukrainian port city, killing about 30 Ukrainian civilians.
    The sanctions apply currently to more than 130 Russians and Ukrainian separatist leaders supported by Russia.
    Speaking to reporters early Monday in Brussels, the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, expressed uncertainty over what he called the “hopefully possible summit in Minsk.”
    In Berlin, Mr. Steinmeier’s spokesman, Martin Schäfer, said: “We can only reiterate that we do not know whether this will go well. We don’t know whether it’s possible to reach a political deal.”
    Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said any future settlement must be based “as far as possible” on the terms of a truce reached last September in Minsk, which fell apart immediately. But he acknowledged that “there have been certain evolutions on the ground” that make a settlement difficult. Russian-backed separatists have captured more territory since September and have said they will never agree to retreat to their previous positions.
    The sanctions delay will give the 28 nations of the European Union time to review Russia’s willingness to work toward a peaceful solution, Mr. Fabius said. He said a critical issue was whether a firm agreement could be reached to withdraw heavy weapons behind specified lines. Previous agreements have all collapsed.
    More hawkish countries, notably Britain, have argued against a delay in sanctions. “Until we see Russia complying on the ground, we can’t relieve the pressure,” the British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said Monday. “We need not just words but deeds on the ground.”
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    Battered Ukrainian City of Mariupol Braces for Worst as Rebels Close in Again

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    MARIUPOL, Ukraine — The morning routine begins promptly at 8:05 at Public School 68, with a round of calisthenics followed immediately by the daily shelling drill.
    A bell clangs on the loudspeaker, and unsmiling children pour out of classrooms in perfect formation, knees bent, heads down, squatting along the thick corridor walls far from any windows, hands clamped over their ears.
    “They don’t think it’s something funny,” said Elena Klemanchuk, whose fourth graders huddled in the gloomy hallway near a mural of a girl skipping rope. “They take it very seriously. You need only look around to understand why.”
    With the battle for control of the crucial railroad town of Debaltseve nearing what seems to be its climax, the focus of the conflict in eastern Ukraine is shifting southward to Mariupol, an industrial port in government hands where the pro-Russian rebels are massing their forces.
    “You can feel a fear and anxiety in the air,” said Yuri Hotlubey, the mayor. “People are coming up to me all the time, especially elderly people. They are worried that Mariupol is next to be attacked.”
    While rebel rocket attacks on Tuesday killed at least seven civilians in Kramatorsk, about 30 miles north of the front lines, the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine were scrambling to arrange a summit meeting in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, on Wednesday to try to halt the fighting and establish a demilitarized zone.
    In the months after a shaky cease-fire was declared in September, Public School 68 had 745 students. Then on Jan. 24, a salvo of Grad rockets hit the school’s crowded neighborhood on Mariupol’s east side, battering a market teeming with Saturday morning shoppers and leaving 31 people dead and dozens more wounded. Many frightened residents fled, leaving the school’s enrollment at 432.
    “Before it happened, everybody told us we had three lines of defense and we were perfectly safe,” said Victor Perkov, the head of the school. “But then we were shown that we were not as well protected as we believed.”
    Ukrainian military officials said on Tuesday that national guard units had begun an offensive against rebel positions near Mariupol. A spokesman for one volunteer unit, the Azov Battalion, claimed that it had captured the small towns of Shirokino and Pavlopol just outside the city.
    The fighting continued around Debaltseve as well, with the rebels claiming that they had surrounded the city while the Ukrainian Army insisted that the battle was not over. In a new wrinkle, artillery shells fell 50 miles to the north at Kramatorsk, which had not seen any fighting in months but where the government has a sizable military base.
    Mariupol is a bustling port in a strategic location on the Sea of Azov, near the Russian border. The rebels control the territory to the north and east, and Russia controls the Crimean Peninsula to the southwest. Mariupol is the only major obstacle to their realizing a long-held goal of opening a land route between Russia and Crimea and take complete control of the Sea of Azov, and its rich industrial infrastructure. Russia, which denies playing any role in the conflict here, says it has no such intention.
    Even so, Mariupol has been a target almost since the fighting began early last year. The rebelsbriefly took control of it in the spring, and it was the scene of fierce fighting in the late summer, when the rebels drove to within 10 miles of the city limits.
    “In September, Mariupol was very weak and poorly defended,” said Andrey Dzyndzya, who was a prominent activist during the protests that toppled Ukraine’s previous pro-Russia government and is now a fighter with the Azov Battalion. “There was a kind of panic in the city,” he recalled. “In September, we managed to stop them only by luck.”
    But he and other local military and government leaders said the situation was different now, with a complete ring of defensive lines, rather than just positions on the main roads.
    “I feel confident that we have enough troops and enough weaponry in place to successfully protect the city now,” Mr. Dzyndzya said.
    On an icy stretch of beach just east of the city center, another volunteer group, the St. Mary’s Battalion, was holding training exercises, teaching new recruits to move in group formation.
    The recruits were in crisp combat gear, but had no rifles. They moved along the beach holding imaginary weapons, like a military version of air guitar. One by one, the fighters jumped over a seaside bench and somersaulted into a prone position on the wet sand, pointing their invisible guns toward a thatched cabana.
    The young soldier leading the exercise played a battle theme from “The Lord of the Rings” on his smartphone. A half-dozen black puppies scampered alongside the crawling troops. A trio of civilians watched from nearby, smoking and chewing on sunflower seeds.
    “It is a public beach,” Vitaly Filipchuk, the headquarters commander for the battalion, said with a shrug.
    At a jam-packed meeting at City Hall that morning, civil defense leaders and police officials discussed how they might alert residents in case of a rebel assault in a particular area. The city’s siren system, built in Soviet times to warn of a nuclear attack, can be used only citywide, not neighborhood by neighborhood. Suggestions were sought.
    Could they use online social networks? What about loudspeakers on cars? Perhaps instructions on what to do could be printed on the backs of utility bills? No decision was reached, and the question was put aside for further consideration.
    “We do not have a practice on what to do in the event of an attack,” said Mr. Hotlubey, the mayor, after the meeting. “So we have to try to create something.”
    North of the city, at the last checkpoint before the front lines, Grigory Logvinenko, the checkpoint’s commander, stood in deep mud and pointed out the rebel positions about four miles away. He ticked off a shopping list of matériel he hopes the United States will give to Ukraine — updated equipment, more accurate artillery, anti-tank weapons.
    “And we would not mind a couple of drones,” he said.
    At that moment, a woman drove up in a silver Subaru station wagon and waved to the troops. Natalya Radkevich said she came out to the checkpoint once a week. She began unloading containers of homemade borscht, vegetable salad, cookies and candies, sponges, and wet wipes for the soldiers.
    “They are our heroes,” she explained. “They are the best men in the world.”
    At the Denis Market on the city’s east side, named for the owner’s son, the crowds were sparse. This was the market that was hit in January, and signs of the shelling are still evident in the battered roof, the piles of broken glass and the new bricks shoring up the hammered walls.
    More than 70 percent of the shops in the marketplace remain closed, according to Vadim Yedvokimov, the owner. At least half the neighborhood’s residents have fled.
    Will the market come back? “Of course,” he said with a sad smile. “We are going to join Europe.”
    Across the street, a crew of sign painters was refreshing the markers that point the way to the nearest bomb shelter.
    Ms. Klemanchuk, the fourth-grade teacher, said she was at the school on the Saturday morning the market was hit, leading an orientation group of preschoolers, all 5 years old.
    “They were very scared,” she remembered. “Many of them were crying. I tried to calm them down. I said, ‘No, it’s not real, it’s just a game.’  ”
    She paused and took a deep breath, looking down the dark hallway at the children squatting on the floor with their ears covered.
    “But they said, no, they did not believe me,” Ms. Klemanchuk continued. “They said it was not a game. They knew. You see, it was not their first shelling.”
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    · · · · ·

    Once Friendly With Putin, German Goes to Court Over Seized Assets

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    MUNICH, Germany — For anyone looking for insight on how to deal with President Vladimir V. Putinof Russia and the Kremlin as negotiations over Ukraine intensify, Franz J. Sedelmayer has some advice.
    Russia’s tactics “are always the same — drag things out so long that everyone gives up,” Mr. Sedelmayer, a German security consultant and entrepreneur, said over a meal of Bavarian liver soup and pork in Munich, his hometown, where Western leaders ended a security conference Sundaydivided over how to stall Russian aggression in Ukraine.
    “You cannot give in,” he added. “Russia only respects the language of strength. Nothing else works.”
    Mr. Sedelmayer, 51, speaks from experience. He has known Mr. Putin, 62, since the Russian president was an obscure municipal bureaucrat in St. Petersburg in the 1990s, when the Kremlin seized the newly renovated offices there of a security company headed by Mr. Sedelmayer.
    Today, Mr. Sedelmayer is the rarest of victors against strong-arm Kremlin tactics, having recently wrested millions of dollars in compensation after a 20-year legal fight that he said was replete with trumped-up charges of tax evasion, veiled threats and repeated warnings to back off.
    “I think this is the first time the Russians have been forced to pay up to a private claimant,” Mr. Sedelmayer said, savoring his success in extracting from Russia more than twice the compensation he sought when his struggle began in the 1990s.
    Moscow’s dogged, and ultimately very costly, battle to avoid bowing to a lone but persistent German businessman — detailed in numerous court documents — shows the extent to which the Kremlin will stubbornly pursue even a seemingly counterproductive strategy in the name of defending its national interests.
    Still, after fighting about 140 different cases with Russia since 1996, Mr. Sedelmayer believes that over the long run, sustained pressure can work against the Kremlin.
    He and Mr. Putin were friendly in their St. Petersburg days. Under an arrangement brokered by Mr. Putin, Mr. Sedelmayer’s now defunct security company, SGC International, equipped and helped train a SWAT team for the St. Petersburg branch of the post-Soviet K.G.B.
    On Mr. Putin’s 42nd birthday in 1994, the German even sent Mr. Putin a gag gift of four electronic listening devices, and received a note back expressing thanks “from one professional to another.”
    But in December 1994, the Kremlin issued a decree that ordered Mr. Sedelmayer to hand over his company offices on Kamenny Ostrov, an island in St. Petersburg, for which he had a 25-year lease.
    After the decree, Mr. Putin, then the city’s deputy mayor, promised to do what he could to smooth the conflict, but left no doubt that his ultimate loyalty was to the Russian state and the opportunities it offered for his own career advancement, the businessman said.
    “He told me: ‘I cannot go against the government. I still want to make a career in Russia,’ ” Mr. Sedelmayer recalled.
    Mr. Putin’s stance paid off handsomely. Pavel P. Borodin, the head of President Boris N. Yeltsin’s property department and the driving force behind the expropriation, hired Mr. Putin in 1996 to help manage a vast portfolio of assets, including Mr. Sedelmayer’s seized compound, which was turned into a state guesthouse.
    At the time he got the job, Mr. Putin was out of work, having left the city government following elections that unseated his boss, Mayor Anatoly A. Sobchak, and he looked set to fade into oblivion. Instead, Mr. Borodin put Mr. Putin on a career fast track that would take him to the Kremlin.
    Mr. Putin has not commented publicly on the case, one of dozens involving jilted foreign investors who have gone to court since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union to try to receive compensation for deals gone awry.
    But he has quietly dismissed two officials involved in dealing with Mr. Sedelmayer’s claims, including the head of the presidential property department, Vladimir Kozhin, who was fired last year. Another was dismissed and placed under investigation.
    In a written response to questions, Viktor Khrekov, the property department’s spokesman, said he could not comment on whether the shake-up was related to Mr. Sedelmayer’s case. He acknowledged that the German businessman “had managed to get his demands satisfied in part,” but added that Russia had “from the start considered and still considers the actions of F. Sedelmayer as unlawful” and would keep fighting against his “judicial blackmail.”
    From the beginning, Mr. Sedelmayer said, he tried arbitration and negotiation. Rebuffed in his demands for compensation, he took his case to courts across Europe. Russia in turn put up ferocious resistance, court documents show.
    It took nearly two decades, but as a result, instead of getting $2.3 million from Russia in accordance with a 1998 ruling in his favor by a Stockholm arbitration panel, Mr. Sedelmayer has received around $6.8 million. (Moscow agreed to arbitration under a 1989 investment treaty between the Soviet Union and West Germany that mandated compensation for expropriated assets.) The money, which includes $2.3 million paid in December, came from the sale of six Russian-owned buildings in Cologne, Germany, that a German court ordered put up for auction to cover the Stockholm award, plus hefty interest, that Moscow had for years refused to honor.
    Mr. Sedelmayer, who now runs an asset recovery company that advises clients on how to settle international disputes, also forced the sale of a Russian trade mission building in Sweden for $1.5 million but Moscow filed a complaint claiming that the sale violated international law, delaying distribution of part of the proceeds to Mr. Sedelmayer.
    “It makes no sense, but they just don’t give up, even if it only hurts them more,” Mr. Sedelmayer said, referring to a blizzard of countersuits by Moscow in an effort to reverse its losses. “They are still going now.”
    Russia’s efforts to avoid paying have backfired so badly that even some Russian media outlets usually loyal to the Kremlin have voiced dismay over Moscow’s handling of the case.
    Mr. Sedelmayer said that even as he was baffled by Russia’s counterproductive approach, he had often doubted whether he would prevail.
    When Mr. Sedelmayer first told Moscow that he would go to court in Germany to enforce the 1998 Stockholm ruling, an official at the Kremlin’s property department phoned his Russian-born wife at their Munich home and warned that Russia would “deal with” her husband if he did not stop demanding payment.
    Mr. Sedelmayer complained that this amounted to a physical threat, an accusation that drew a tart response from another property department official, Sergei N. Bolkhovitin. In a July 2003 letter, Mr. Bolkhovitin derided the accusation of threats as “unethical” and explained that the official who had called Mr. Sedelmayer’s wife merely wanted to make clear that “the Russian Federation will take all necessary steps to protect its interests, using absolutely lawful and legal means.”
    Mr. Bolkhovitin insisted in the letter that Russia had never refused to pay compensation and had issues only with how much to pay and how to pay it. This assurance was followed by more than a decade of legal trench warfare to avoid paying anything.
    When a German court in 2006 first ordered the sale of Russian property in Cologne to enforce payment of the 1998 Stockholm award, Moscow responded by accusing Mr. Sedelmayer of bilking Russia out of $65 million through unpaid taxes from his long-defunct St. Petersburg business. It offered to drop the claim if he relented.
    Mr. Khrekov, the Kremlin property department spokesman, said last week that Russia had already won a case against Mr. Sedelmayer for $65 million in St. Petersburg and was now pressing the claim before a French court. Mr. Sedelmayer dismissed the suit as “frivolous.”
    Many other businesses, creditors and investors have been down this road, including Western banks that tried to recover the billions they lost after Russia defaulted on a big chunk of its debt in 1998, and the shareholders of Yukos, a private oil company taken over by the state in 2004.
    Some have managed to get court or arbitration rulings in their favor, but none have had much luck forcing Russia to obey these judgments.
    Despite his travails, Mr. Sedelmayer said he still had a soft spot for the Vladimir V. Putin he thought he knew back in the early 1990s — a conscientious and clean bureaucrat who, unlike many of his colleagues, did not ask for bribes.
    “Perhaps it was his K.G.B. training or his character, but he could be very likable,” Mr. Sedelmayer said. “But he was always like a mirror. He would basically reflect what you wanted to see.”
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    · · · · · · ·

    Putin security aide warns US over arms for Ukraine

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    A key security adviser to Russian president Vladimir Putin has accused the US of seeking to drag Russia directly into war in Ukraine through a possible plan to arm Kiev, underlining the seriousness with which Moscow would greet such a move.
    “The Americans are trying to draw the Russian Federation into an interstate military conflict, to achieve regime change through the events in Ukraine and to ultimately dismember our country,” said Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Kremlin’s security council.

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    The warning represented Moscow’s first high-level comments on the intensifying debate in Washington about supplying lethal weapons to a Ukrainian military at war with Russia-backed separatists.
    The start of such arms supplies would be “one more confirmation that the US is a direct participant in the conflict,” Mr Patrushev added, warning that if Washington took this step, the conflict would “escalate only further”.
    Mr Patrushev is one of Mr Putin’s closest associates — a former head of the FSB intelligence agency that succeeded the KGB, and one of the security officials with whose help the president runs the country.
    His comments add to an accelerating drumbeat of bellicose warnings that have convinced many in Moscow the Russian leadership is preparing the country for a wider war. But others interpret the ratcheting up of rhetoric as a bluff to strengthen Moscow’s hand in ongoing peace talks.
    Dmitri Trenin, head of the Moscow Carnegie Center, an arm of the US think-tank, is in the former camp. A move by the US to supply the Ukrainian army with lethal weapons would be viewed as “a real game changer” by the Russian government, he said.
    Last weekend, Dmitry Kiselev, one of Mr Putin’s chief propaganda managers, once again invoked the threat of nuclear warfare. Commenting on the US debate about arming Ukraine on his news show on state television, Mr Kiselev read out the paragraph in Russia’s military doctrine which states that the country reserves the right to use nuclear weapons not only in response to a nuclear weapons attack but also if in a conventional weapons conflict “the very existence of the state is under threat.”
    Mr Kiselev shocked the world 11 months ago when he warned that Russia was still the only country capable of “turning the US into radioactive dust”. Since then, dire warnings about war have become standard fare in Moscow. As relations with the west have soured during the Ukraine crisis, foreign policy officials have repeatedly asked western counterparts if they really wanted to risk a third world war, or “the unthinkable” event of a nuclear stand-off.
    At the same time, Russia has increased the frequency of what foreign military officials call “nuclear signalling’” - testing missiles and the readiness of its nuclear arsenal infrastructure. “It is a fact that any theoretical conflict between Russia and Nato would have to turn nuclear very quickly, because that’s the only sphere where they can still match Nato,” said one foreign defence official in Moscow.
    The Moscow Times, an English-language independent newspaper, on Tuesday quoted an unnamed adviser to the defence ministry as saying that US weapons supplies to Ukraine could provoke Russia to take its stand-off with the west beyond the region.
    Yet even as Moscow toughens its rhetoric, it is still pursuing a deal with Kiev to stop the fighting. At a summit in Minsk on Wednesday with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande, Mr Putin will try to revive the collapsed ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk last September.
    “The most important thing that supplying Ukraine with lethal arms would do is make the war more bloody,” said a Russian defence expert who asked not to be named. “You cannot turn the battle around because no matter how many weapons you put in there for Kiev, Russia can put in more, and faster,” he said.
    The government defence adviser said that Washington’s calculus was to drive up the number of dead Russian soldiers and thus make it harder for Mr Putin to secure political backing for his course at home.
    Defence experts said the main difficulty for Moscow would be that a drawn-out, larger war in Ukraine makes it more vulnerable on other flanks, such as the restive North Caucasus and Central Asia. “There are just not enough Russian soldiers to fight a war of attrition in Ukraine,” said one foreign defence expert in Moscow.
    At the same time, Russian analysts also warn that western guns for Ukrainian soldiers would give Mr Putin a new weapon. “It would help him win his propaganda war, because finally the US would indeed be what he has claimed it to be: a party in the conflict,” says Alexander Golts, an independent defence analyst.
    Russian analysts add that Washington would have to send military officers along to train Ukrainian soldiers on the weapons. “Otherwise it will be just a waste,” said Ruslan Pukhov, head of the defence think-tank CAST.
    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
    Please don't cut articles from <a href="http://FT.com" rel="nofollow">FT.com</a> and redistribute by email or post to the web.
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    · · · ·

    Moscow’s Afghan Endgame | The Diplomat

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    Few will have been watching the troubled Afghan presidential elections with greater attention than Russia. Although Moscow has not shown a strong preference for either candidate, and has managed to develop a good working relationship with outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Russian policymakers have been seeing nightmares in Kabul for years. Now the Iraq breakdown, coming after the years of civil strife in Syria, has deepened Russian anxieties about social and economic chaos along its vulnerable southern front at a time when relations with NATO remain strained over Ukraine.
    Despite its public complaints, Russians have viewed the Obama administration’s initial surge into Afghanistan and its subsequent military drawdown with unease. Although Russian President Vladimir Putin acquiesced to the U.S. and then NATO interventions in Afghanistan, he did so reluctantly, with a fearful eye on potential threats to Russia’s regional influence. An initial Russian fear was that the United States planned to established permanent bases in Afghanistan and neighboring countries to dilute Moscow’s primacy in a region of vital Russian interest. Moscow likely encouraged Uzbekistan to order the Pentagon to stop using its territory in 2005. Putin later claimed that the United States had provoked Tashkent by acting as “a bull in a China shop.” For years, Russian representatives encouraged the Kyrgyz government to end the Pentagon’s lease at its other major base in Central Asia, at Manas International Airport near the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek.
    More recently, Russian leaders have expressed growing anxiety that NATO was withdrawing prematurely from the region, dumping a massive regional security vacuum into Moscow’s unwelcoming arms. Russia still exercises military primacy in Central Asia but is threatened already by religious militants in the North Caucasus and other Russian regions with large Muslim populations. Russian officials expressed dissatisfaction with NATO’s decision to remove most if not all its forcesfrom Afghanistan while the Taliban insurgency remains severe, believing the withdrawal would contribute to terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and instability throughout Central Asia. Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov has said that ISAF “has been too hasty about making the final decision to pull out.”
    In response to the sharp drawdown in the Western military presence in Afghanistan and neighboring countries in recent years, and the expectation that most if not all NATO forces will leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, Moscow has adopted several policies as its Afghan endgame.
    First, Russia has been increasing its economic and military ties with Afghanistan, such as by helping reconstruct or re-launch some projects that were started during the Soviet military occupation. As the withdrawal has proceeded over the past two years, Russians have resumed large-scale investments in Afghanistan by modernizing factories, rebuilding cultural centers, and restoring other vestiges of the Soviet occupation era. With their memories of that painful period increasingly overshadowed by more recent tragedies, Afghans have generally welcomed the assistance.
    Meanwhile, the Russians have stressed their support for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and joined Karzai and other Afghan officials in denouncing NATO whenever the alliance was seen as violating it. For example, although persistently skeptical of the inter-Afghan peace talks, Russian diplomats backed an Afghan-led peace process with the Taliban, in which Western governments would play a subordinate supporting role. Russians’ growing influence in Kabul has already brought dividends; Karzai’s government was one of the few to support Moscow’s Crimean annexation.
    Second, the Russian armed forces have been expanding their bases in Central Asia and been providing Central Asian militaries with subsidized training and equipment. In September 2013, Russia negotiated a 15-year extension of the lease to its base at Kant in Kyrgyzstan to 2032. The Russian military has announced plans to approximately double the number of planes based there,  which in early 2014 had at least two Mi-8 transport helicopters and eight Su-25 ground-attack planes. The Russian military also retains a seismic station in southern Kyrgyzstan and a communications post and a torpedo testing range in northern part of the country.
    Russia is also providing Kyrgyzstan with a billion-dollar military aid package and is modernizing the equipment at its military bases in Tajikistan and providing that country’s armed forces with substantial aid to fortify its border with Afghanistan. Russia’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu explained that “In the atmosphere when the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan is planned for 2014, we must do everything to assure maximum security of our allies, our partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization.” Russia sells weapons to Kazakhstan, which has more wealth than Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan, at subsidized prices. Many Central Asian leaders have joined Russian officials in expressing alarm that the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and Pakistan could increase the threat from Islamist militants to their own countries. With the exception of Uzbekistan, whose leaders do not welcome a Russian military presence in their region and have sought to balance defense ties with Russia with military exchanges with China and the West, most recently by opening a NATO liaison office in Tashkent, these Central Asian leaders have generally welcomed an increased Russian military presence in their region.
    Third, Russia has also taken the lead in constructing a regional military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), and has worked with China to develop a regional economic and security structure in the form of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Since 2003, the intelligence, law enforcement, and defense agencies of the member governments have jointly conducted annual “Kanal” (“Channel”) operations to intercept drug shipments from Afghanistan through the region’s porous borders to markets in the former Soviet Union and Western Europe. In recent years, observers from Iran, Ukraine, the United States, and several European countries have attended these exercises. The CSTO has also established a working group on Afghanistan and has initiated several programs to strengthen the Afghan government’s law enforcement and counter-narcotics agencies. CSTO officials, strongly supported by the Russian government, have tried to establish formal cooperative programs with NATO to manage regional security issues, especially narcoterrorism.
    Thus far, NATO officials have been reluctant to agree to formalize relations with the CSTO as an institution. The NATO staff and member governments generally perceive the CSTO as a Moscow-dominated institution and worry about reinforcing Russian preeminence in Central Asia by strengthening the CSTO through formal dialogue. They believe that Russian policymakers are trying to establish formal ties between the two organizations to enhance the CSTO’s international legitimacy by equating it with a more powerful regional security organization. As a result, NATO officials have continued to deal with the member governments directly rather than through the CSTO.
    Moscow backed the SCO’s decision to grant Afghanistan “observer” status at its June 2012 summit in Beijing. In May 2013, Putin called on the SCO to assume a greater role in defending its members from the extremist violence emanating from Afghanistan. At their summit meeting in Bishkek later that year, the SCO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to stabilize Afghanistan. Karzai said that continued support from SCO member states for his country would be vital as NATO downsizes its military presence in Afghanistan. In terms of concrete action, however, the SCO governments merely decided to convene another international conference on Afghanistan, in Bishkek in October 2013. Thus far, the SCO’s activities regarding Afghanistan have been limited essentially to issuing joint declarations and sharing information about drug trafficking and Afghan terrorists. Not only are its collective security institutions weak, but the members are divided in how they aim to manage Afghanistan, which presents a problem given the organization’s consensus decision-making principle.
    Fourth, Russia is working with the other great powers to manage Afghan-related events. This policy has yielded mixed results. Relations with the United States and NATO remain strained over Ukraine and other issues. Although NATO leaders have tried to compartmentalize Afghan-related issues, the U.S. regional commanders have indicated that the Pentagon will rely less on Russian logistical help in the future and, due to cost considerations, aim to remove most U.S. equipment from Afghanistan via Pakistan rather than through Russian territory. Despite the Pentagon’s wishes, the U.S. Congress has demanded that the U.S. government stop buying Russian helicopters for the Afghan air force after the current contracts expire.
    China has resisted efforts by Russia, the West, and the Afghan government to encourage Beijing to provide greater assistance to the Kabul government. China has only recently begun training a few hundred Afghan police officers inside China, and has declined U.S. and Afghan requests to allow ISAF members to send supplies to their military contingents in Afghanistan through its territory. Beijing’s stance is partly due to a desire to not antagonize Muslim militants, but it may also reflect Beijing’s calculations that China might be able to work out a deal with the Taliban, in which the insurgents would avoid attacking Chinese workers or assets in Afghanistan, or support anti-Beijing terrorists in Xinjiang or elsewhere, in return for revenue from these projects as well as Beijing’s tacit acceptance of any Taliban-led regime in Kabul. Like Western governments, Russia has been encouraging China to provide economic and other help to Afghanistan, but the growing Chinese investment in the country that occurred a few years ago has since subsided as Beijing, like everyone else, has balanced exploiting Afghanistan’s great economic potential with the country’s persistent security dangers.
    India has proven a more receptive partner to Moscow’s overtures. The two countries recently reached a new arms transfer arrangement that will see India buying weapons from Russia that Moscow will send to the Afghan military. The announced plan is to start with small arms and ammunition, but there have been indications that the parties may soon consider shipping heavier weapons, such as infantry vehicles and helicopters. Russia and India also agreed to share the costs of restoring Afghanistan’s Soviet-built arms industry. The new deal provides benefits to both countries. India can purchase new weapons for Afghanistan rather than draw on its own limited supplies, arrange for Russia to transport the arms directly to Afghanistan, and follow a practice already established by NATO, which has paid Russia to provide helicopters and training to Afghanistan government forces. Meanwhile, Moscow can substitute Indian support for weapons deliveries now that NATO is reducing its purchases due to the Crimea annexation. Russia also benefits from renewing its regional security ties with New Delhi at a time when other countries are shunning Moscow over Ukraine.
    Yet, the recent Russian decision to resume selling weapons to Pakistan could antagonize New Delhi, which still buys most of its arms from Russia. Russia’s decision to provide Pakistan with Mi-25 helicopter gunships designed to kill insurgents is another manifestation of Moscow’s policy of strengthening the capacity of Afghanistan’s neighbors to fight local militants that could also threaten Russian interests.
    More broadly, in all these engagement efforts, Moscow has proved unable to overcome divisions among these foreign governments regarding how best to deal with Afghanistan, even among its closest allies. For example, while Russia is trying to beef up its CSTO alliance, Uzbekistan has quit that organization and is promoting a distinct 6+3 plan based on an expanded U.N. role. Meanwhile, China is hedging its bets by preparing to deal with the Taliban through the mediation of its close ally Pakistan. Even though each Central Asian state shares a deep history of political, economic, social, and cultural ties with Kabul (including a multitude of co-ethnics within the nations’ borders), each Central Asian government handles its relationship with Afghanistan primarily bilaterally, and often by pursuing  diverging policies. India and Pakistan both treat Afghanistan as an arena in which to compete for regional influence against the other. Iran, which partnered with Russia and India in the 1990s to strengthen the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, has also stood aloof from more recent Russian and other joint foreign initiatives in dealing with Afghanistan.
    Finally, Russian officials are prudently hedging against a failure of these strategies by developing options to support the re-creation of ethnically based mini-states in northern Afghanistan designed, as in the 1990s, to serve as a buffer between the Taliban, whose strength is in the Pashtun regions of southern Afghanistan, and neighboring Central Asian countries. For example, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has suggested creating “territorial formations” within Afghanistan to bolster CSTO border security. In May 2014, Igor Sergun, director of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian General Staff, has said that the Russian military estimates the possibility of Afghanistan breaking up into ethnic enclaves backed by foreign powers at 31 percent.
    Russian officials have responded skeptically to President Barack Obama’s decision, announced last month, to request that almost 10,000 U.S. soldiers remain in Afghanistan in 2015 and 5,000 the following year, with perhaps half as many NATO troops accompanying them. Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, has complained that the new withdrawal timetable was schedule- rather than conditions-based, with U.S. forces ending their Afghan mission in 2015 regardless of the situation on the ground. Yet Russian officials have called on Afghan politicians to renew their Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States so that American troops can remain in Afghanistan after this year. At the May 23- 24 Moscow International Security Conference, the Russian speakers criticized the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan but also reluctantly wanted the Western military campaign against the Taliban to continue beyond 2014. Perhaps the Kremlin is waiting to see whether the next Afghan president will sign the BSA, and whether the Obama administration will actually carry through on its troop proposal or, as with Syria and Iran, dilute it in the face of Afghan or congressional resistance.
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    · · · · · · · ·

    Photos and roses for GRU’s ‘spetsnaz’ casualties

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    ITAR-TASS 88: MOSCOW, RUSSIA. NOVEMBER 8. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, L-R, visit a new headquarters of the Main Intelligence Agency (GRU) of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff. (Photo ITAR-TASS / Dmitry Astakhov)©ITAR TASS
    President Vladimir Putin, left, and Sergei Ivanov, defence minister, visit Russia's GRU (main intelligence agency)
    In an anonymous military classroom somewhere in Moscow, 12 portraits in identical tortoiseshell frames stand on a metal bench placed on a dais. In front of each picture is a bunch of six roses, red and pink.
    The dead, according to a source who showed the Financial Times photographs of last month’s quiet memorial – an individual with intimate knowledge of the Kremlin’s intelligence community – were operatives of Russian special forces. All 12 died in Ukraine in recent weeks. Officially, they were all on holiday.

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    The provenance of the photographs cannot be precisely verified. However, three of the deceased can be independently identified, using separate, open-source images of their training and uniforms, as serving military intelligence commandos.
    Two bodies were also among those photographed by a Russian journalist for Novaya Gazeta crossing the Ukrainian border in June. Their truck was labelled “Cargo 200” – the Russian military code word for a transport of dead soldiers being repatriated.
    It is a compelling, if circumstantial, fragment of evidence to back up claims Kiev has been making since April. Russia, Ukraine’s military chiefs allege, is not just arming separatist rebels in their country’s east but is waging an active, covert military campaign there using its own elite special forces and intelligence agents.
    The Kremlin has consistently denied all such charges. Now, however, as Kiev’s military continues to push back rebels in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, the evidence is mounting – and the involvement of Russian operatives will become more crucial to the way the conflict plays out.
    Western intelligence chiefs agree with Kiev’s assessment of Russian undercover activity, sanctioned by President Vladimir Putin. Serving Russian operatives and special forces are “undoubtedly” operating extensively in eastern Ukraine, one senior UK security official said.
    As to who is directing them – and what it may indicate about Russia’s intentions – that is also becoming easier to answer.
    The individuals concerned are distinct from groups of Russian mercenaries, former Russian service personnel and Chechens who have been identified previously as fighting alongside separatists in the pro-Moscow insurgency.
    A handful of pictures gleaned from social media indicate their identity: they show individuals wearingratnik combat gear – sophisticated equipment only introduced by the Russian military this year and available so far only to crack units, or spetsnaz.
    “[They are] the sort of characters who work with precision, quickly, and then disappear,” said a senior Nato military intelligence officer. “It is very difficult to pinpoint where they have been. These are specialist troops. It is a small number of them, a very small number.”
    [They are] the sort of characters who work with precision, quickly, and then disappear. It is very difficult to pinpoint where they have been. These are specialist troops. It is a small number of them, a very small number
    - Nato officer
    Indeed, while spetsnaz forces were quite visibly deployed in Crimea before it was annexed, in eastern Ukraine – perhaps because of lessons learned from Crimea – they have been more discreet.
    Spetsnaz are like a cross between US Rangers and the British SAS,” says Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military and intelligence expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “They have a range of uses. They can fight but they are also trained for intelligence work. To establish insurgencies. To control them. To smuggle arms. To wage guerrilla wars.”
    Mr Sutyagin has documented spetsnaz activities in eastern Ukraine using dozens of open-source images and data to build up a picture of their positions and operations.
    The use of spetsnaz points to one Russian military organisation in particular as running the operation: the GRU, the main intelligence directorate of the general staff. The GRU – a vast security apparatus housed in a building known as the “aquarium” in Moscow and whose logo is a bat, wings stretched over the globe – is emerging as Russia’s key agency in its handling of the Ukraine crisis.
    The GRU suffered a significant decline in prestige and importance in the early years of Mr Putin’s presidency. Russia’s other intelligence services, particularly the FSB, were his preferred levers of power. But with the conflict in Russia’s “near abroad”, GRU’s strong-arm tactics have returned to favour. Its director, Lt Gen Igor Sergun – a personal Putin appointee – was among the first individuals targeted by western sanctions.
    The GRU runs eight ground spetsnaz brigades. It also controls a spetsnaz unit of paratroopers, the 45th regiment of the VDV – an elite-within-an-elite squad of 700 “blue berets”. Two of those pictured in the Moscow funeral service were serving members of the 45th.

    In depth


    Pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine have escalated the political turmoil that threatens to tear the country apart
    Kiev spy chiefs have compiled numerous other pieces of evidence suggesting the GRU has been the puppet master behind the insurgency. Wiretaps by the Ukrainian security service, the SBU, purport to have recorded numerous calls being made by separatist commanders to GRU handlers.
    Igor Strelkov, the military commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, is a GRU colonel, according to the SBU.
    Most compellingly of all, military analysts say Russian activities in eastern Ukraine are a textbook example of a GRU operation.
    Assassinations, arms smuggling, the creation of guerrilla movements led by stooges (known in GRU parlance as konservy – canned foods) and the use of special forces operations to support them: these are all well-rehearsed elements of the GRU’s covert warfare doctrine.
    The agency is almost certainly behind the huge supplies of arms that are making their way into rebel hands, according to one western intelligence official. Many of those arms come from GRU stockpiles of “deniable” weapons, such as Polish-made GROM shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. GRU operatives seized those in Georgia in 2008 and have been stockpiling them.
    “It is about subversion, it is about espionage with limited use of deniable special forces and the use of deniable proxies,” says Nigel Inkster, former director of operations and intelligence for MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service, and now the director of transnational threats at the think-tank IISS. “It is a war that is never really declared.”
    Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
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    This spy agency is Putin's secret weapon

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    There are two ways an espionage agency can prove its worth to the government it serves. Either it can be truly useful (think: locating a most-wanted terrorist), or it can engender fear, dislike, and vilification from its rivals (think: being named a major threat in congressional testimony). But when a spy agency does both, its worth is beyond question.
    Since the Ukraine crisis began, the Kremlin has few doubts about the importance of the GRU, Russia's military intelligence apparatus. The agency has not only demonstrated how the Kremlin can employ it as an important foreign-policy tool, by ripping a country apart with just a handful of agents and a lot of guns. The GRU has also shown the rest of the world how Russia expects to fight its future wars: with a mix of stealth, deniability, subversion, and surgical violence. Even as GRU-backed rebel groups in eastern Ukraine lose ground in the face of Kiev's advancing forces, the geopolitical landscape has changed. The GRU is back in the global spook game and with a new playbook that will be a challenge for the West for years to come.
    Recent years had not been kind to the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, the Glavnoe razvedyvatelnoe upravlenie (GRU). Once, it had been arguably Russia's largest intelligence agency, with self-contained stations — known as "residencies" — in embassies around the world, extensive networks of undercover agents, and nine brigades of special forces known as Spetsnaz.
    By the start of 2013, the GRU was on the ropes. Since 1992, the agency had been in charge of operations in the post-Soviet countries, Russia's "near abroad." But Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to have seen it as increasingly unfit for that purpose. When the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia's domestic security agency, was allowed to run operations abroad openly in 2003, one insider told me that this was because "the GRU doesn't seem to know how to do anything in our neighborhood except count tanks." (It may not even have done that very well. Putin regarded the GRU as partly responsible for Russia's lackluster performance in the 2008 invasion of Georgia.) There was a prevailing view in Moscow that the GRU's focus on gung-ho "kinetic operations" like paramilitary hit squads seemed less relevant in an age of cyberwar and oil politics.
    Political missteps also contributed to the GRU's diminished role. Valentin Korabelnikov, the agency's chief from 1997 to 2009, seemed more comfortable accompanying Spetsnaz assassination teams in Chechnya than playing palace politics in Moscow. His criticisms of Putin's military reforms put him on the Kremlin's bad side too. Korabelnikov was sacked in 2009 and replaced with soon-to-be-retired Col. Gen. Alexander Shlyakhturov, who, within two years, was rarely seen in the GRU's headquarters due to his bad health. In December 2011 the GRU welcomed its third head in nearly three years,Maj. Gen. Igor Sergun, a former attaché and intelligence officer with no combat experience and the lowest-ranking head of the service in decades. By the end of 2013, the Kremlin seemed to be entertaining the suggestion that the agency be demoted from a "main directorate" to a mere directorate, which would have been a massive blow to the service's prestige and political access.
    In many ways, a demotion for the GRU seemed inevitable. Since 2008, the GRU had suffered asavage round of cuts during a period when most of Russia's security and intelligence agencies' budgets enjoyed steady increases. Eighty of its hundred general-rank officers had been sacked, retired, or transferred. Most of the Spetsnaz were reassigned to the regular army. Residencies were downsized, sometimes even to a single officer working undercover as a military attaché.
    What a difference a few months can make. What the Kremlin had once seen as the GRU's limitations — a focus on the "near abroad," a concentration onviolence over subtlety, a more swashbuckling style (including a willingness to conduct assassinations abroad) — have become assets.
    The near-bloodless seizure of Crimea in March was based on plans drawn up by the General Staff's Main Operations Directorate that relied heavily on GRU intelligence. The GRU had comprehensively surveyed the region, was watching Ukrainian forces based there, and was listening to their communications. The GRU didn't only provide cover for the "little green men" who moved so quickly to seize strategic points on the peninsula before revealing themselves to be Russian troops. Many of those operatives were current or former GRU Spetsnaz.
    (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
    There is an increasing body of evidence that the so-called defense minister of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic, Igor Strelkov, whose real name is Igor Girkin, is a serving or reserve GRU officer, who likely takes at the very least guidance, if not orders, from the agency's headquarters. As a result, the European Union has identified him as GRU "staff" and has placed him on its sanctions list. Although the bulk of the insurgents in eastern Ukraine appear to be Ukrainians or Russian "war tourists" — encouraged, armed, and facilitated by Moscow — there also appear to be GRU operators on the groundhelping to bring guns and people across the border.
    It was only when the Vostok Battalion appeared in eastern Ukraine at the end of May that the GRU's full re-emergence became clear. This separatist group bears the same name as a GRU-sponsored Chechen unit that was disbanded in 2008. This new brigade — composed largely of the same fighters from Chechnya — seemed to spring from nowhere, uniformly armed and mounted in armored personnel carriers. Its first act was to seize the administration buildingin Donetsk, turfing out the motley insurgents who had made it their headquarters. Having established its credentials as the biggest dog in the pack, Vostok began recruiting Ukrainian volunteers to make up for Chechens who quietly drifted home.
    Alexander Khodakovsky, a defector from the Security Service of Ukraine, subsequently announced that he was the battalion's commander. But this only happened a few days after the seizure of the Donetsk headquarters. The implication is that the battalion was originally commanded by GRU representatives. Vostok appears intended not so much to fight the regular Ukrainian forces — though it has — but rather to serve as a skilled and disciplined enforcer of Moscow's authority over the militias if need be.
    The Vostok Battalion makes Moscow's strategy clear: The Kremlin has no desire for outright military conflict in its neighbors. Instead, the kind of "non-linear war" being waged in Ukraine, which blends outright force, misinformation, political and economic pressure, and covert operations, will likely be its means of choice in the future. These are the kinds of operations in which the GRU excels.
    After all, while Moscow is not going to abandon its claims to being a global power, in the immediate future Russia's foreign-policy focus will clearly be building and maintaining its hegemony in Eurasia. These are also the areas where the GRU is strongest. For example, in Kazakhstan, whose Russian-heavy northern regions are a potential future target for similar political pressure through local minorities, the GRU is the lead intelligence provider, as its civilian counterpart, the SVR, is technically barred from operating in Kazakhstan or any of the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States by the 1992 Alma-Ata Declaration.
    The combination of these factors means that the GRU now looks far more comfortable and confident than it did a year ago. Kiev outed and expelled a naval attaché from the Russian Embassy as a GRU officer, and Sergun, the GRU's head, made it onto the list of officials under Western sanctions. But neither of these actions has done the agency any harm. If anything, they have increased the GRU's prestige.
    (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
    Talk of downgrading the GRU's status is conspicuously absent in Moscow circles. The agency's restored status means it is again a player in the perennial turf wars within the Russian intelligence community. More importantly, it means that GRU operations elsewhere in the world are likely to be expanded again and to regain some of their old aggression.
    The GRU's revival also demonstrates that the doctrine of "non-linear war" is not just an ad hoc response to the particularities of Ukraine. This is how Moscow plans to drive forward its interests in today's world. The rest of the world has not realized this now, even though Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov spelled it out in an obscure Russian military journal last year. He wrote that the new way of war involves "the broad use of political, economic, informational, humanitarian, and other nonmilitary measures … supplemented by military means of a covert nature character," not least with the use of special forces.
    This kind of conflict will be fought by spies, commandos, hackers, dupes, and mercenaries — exactly the kind of operatives at the GRU's disposal. Even after the transfer of most Spetsnaz out of the GRU's direct chain of command, the agency still commands elite special forces trained for assassination, sabotage, and misdirection, as Ukraine shows. The GRU has also demonstrated a willingness to work with a wide range of mavericks. In Chechnya, it raised not just the Vostok Battalion but other units of defectors from guerrillas and bandits. The convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout is generally accepted to have been a part-time GRU asset too. The GRU is less picky than most intelligence agencies about who is cooperates with, which also means that it is harder to be sure who is working for them.
    NATO and the West still have no effective response to this development. NATO, a military alliance built to respond to direct and overt aggression, has already found itself at a loss on how to deal with virtual attacks, such as the 2007 cyberattack on Estonia. The revival of the GRU's fortunes promises a future in which the Cold War threat of tanks spilling across the border is replaced by a new kind of war, combining subterfuge, careful cultivation of local allies, and covert Spetsnaz strikes to achieve the Kremlin's political aims. NATO may be stronger in strictly military terms, but if Russia can open political divisions in the West, carry out deniable operations using third-party combatants, and target strategic individuals and facilities, it doesn't really matter who has more tanks and better fighter jets. This is exactly what the GRU is tooling up to do.
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    Page 4

    From Russia With Love: Vladimir Putin Gives Sissi AK-47

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    While Ukraine continues to sink deeper into chaos by the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin has skipped town for a two-day visit to Cairo, Egypt. And with him, he brought a special token of his appreciation for his host, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi: a Russian-made Kalashnikov.
    As the heartwarming picture circulated this morning, social media was quick to note both the symbolism of the gesture, but also how thrilled Sissi appeared.
    The Russians have been courting the Egyptians on arms sales aggressively since former President Hosni Mubarak’s fall in 2011, and the Egyptians have been eager customers. A preliminary arms deal worth $3.5 billion was reached between the two countries in September, according to the Kremlin, which included MiG-29 fighters and attack helicopters.
    Before his arrival, according to the Kremlin, Putin told Egyptian state media, "The volume of bilateral trade has increased significantly over the past years: in 2014, it has increased by almost half compared to the previous year and amounted to more than $4.5 billion. Clearly, this trend needs to be strengthened.”
    He added that Egypt has become one of the most popular vacation destination for Russians and, as the tourism industry at large continues to struggle in Egypt, more than 3 million Russians flocked to Egyptian resorts, nearly 50 percent more than in 2013.
    Egypt’s government Press Office said President Sissi personally met Putin at the airport Monday night along with his entourage of high-level ministers and officials. It’s his first visit to Cairo since 2005, although Sissi was spotted twice last year at the Kremlin.
    PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meet at the Cairo International Airport in Egypt, Feb. 9, 2015.
    Ahmed Fouad, Egyptian Presidency/AP Photo
    PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meet at the Cairo International Airport in Egypt, Feb. 9, 2015.
    The two had dinner together Monday night and later attended a cultural performance “illustrating Egyptian-Russian relations,” according to the government media office.
    PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi are seen at the Cairo Opera House in Egypt, Feb. 9, 2015.
    Egyptian Presidency/AP Photo
    PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi are seen at the Cairo Opera House in Egypt, Feb. 9, 2015.
    In the same interview with state media, Putin described Egypt as Russia's "old and trusted partner,” adding, "We have once again affirmed that Russia and Egypt share the same determination to further expand relations of friendship and equal cooperation.”
    PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visit Cairo Tower on Feb. 9, 2015, in Cairo.
    MENA /Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
    PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi visit Cairo Tower on Feb. 9, 2015, in Cairo.
    The city has been eagerly awaiting Putin’s arrival, and posters of the Russian strongman lined Cairo’s streets this week.
    Before the official meetings today in which the two leaders are expected to sign “a number of agreements,” according to the government press office, Putin was feted on the streets with a huge welcome parade.
    Read the whole story

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    costa concordia - Google Search

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    In the news



  • Costa Concordia Captain's Defense Asks for Mercy as Verdict Looms
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    ... for the shipwreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner and the deaths of 32 people has app.

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    In the story of the Costa Concordia, carrying nearly twice the number of people as Titanic, Bryan Burrough tracks down heroic rescuers and traumatized ...
  • Remains of final Costa Concordia victim recovered - CNN.com

    <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/03/world/.../" rel="nofollow">www.cnn.com/2014/11/03/world/.../</a>costa-concordia-last-remains/
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    Nov 4, 2014 - Nearly three years after the Costa Concordia cruise ship ran aground off Italy's Giglio Island, the remains of the final victim have been ...




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  • The Costa Concordia Sinking: Inside the Epic Fight ...

    Vanity Fair‎ - May 2012
    In the story of the Costa Concordia, carrying nearly twice the number of people as Titanic, Bryan Burrough tracks down heroic rescuers and traumatized survivors to re-create that fatal ...
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    Giglio, Italy (CNN) -- Engineers succeeded Tuesday in righting the Costa Concordiacruise liner off the Italian island of Giglio, where it had capsized when it ran aground in January ...
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    Costa Concordia captain's actions - YouTube

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    Published on Feb 10, 2015
    On the night of 13th January, at around nine o'clock, the Costa Concordia approached Giglio, sounding its horn in a salute to the Tuscan island's 800 inhabitants.

    Captain Francesco Schettino at the helm gave the order that took the vessel outside its authorised course.

    At just after twenty to ten, the ship struck rock, tearing open the hull, and a power system failed.

    More than 4,200 people were on board. Through the public address system they were told the blackout was due to an electrical…
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