Ukraine says 2 soldiers killed in east amid Russia tensions

Ukraine says 2 soldiers killed in east amid Russia tensions

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Left to right, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Belgium’s Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn and Foreign Minister of Netherlands Stephanus Blok lay flowers at the Memorial Wall of Fallen Defenders of Ukraine in Russian-Ukrainian War in … more >

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By YURAS KARMANAU

Associated Press

Friday, May 7, 2021

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – The Ukrainian military said Friday two soldiers were killed and another was wounded under fire from Russia-backed separatist rebels in the country’s east, where hostilities have increased sharply in recent months.

According to Ukraine‘s military, 36 soldiers have been killed in the east this year. Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014. More than 14,000 people have died in the conflict and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

Russia, which claims it has no military presence in eastern Ukraine, fueled new tensions this year by massing troops and conducting large-scale military exercises near its border with Ukraine. The Russian troop buildup raised alarms in the West.

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On Thursday, foreign ministers from Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg visited the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine in a show of support and on Friday met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.

“Dialogue is a way forward because nobody has any interest to see … the situation escalating in Donbas. And the Benelux and the EU are convinced that dialogue are the way to a solution and conflict resolution,” Sophie Wilmes, Belgium’s deputy prime minister, told a news conference after the meeting with Kuleba.

Zelenskyy, according to a statement released by his office, thanked the foreign ministers for starting their visit to Ukraine with a trip to the east.

“I think it’s important not to know what is happening there in words, but to see everything with your own eyes. I know that you were in the town of Shchastya in the Luhansk region. You saw for yourself our attitude towards Donbas. We are investing in infrastructure,” Zelenskyy was quoted as saying.

The foreign ministers’ meeting with Zelenskyy comes a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the Ukraine president in Kyiv and reaffirmed Washington’s support for Ukraine in the wake of the heightened tensions with Russia.

Both Zelenskyy and Blinken noted that while Russia has pulled back some of its forces from the border with Ukraine, a significant number of troops and equipment is still there, posing a threat.

Joe Biden still planning June meeting with Vladimir Putin

Biden still planning June meeting with Putin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova via video conference at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via … more >

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By Seth McLaughlin

The Washington Times

Friday, May 7, 2021

President Biden said Friday he still plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite the recent buildup of his troops on the Ukrainian border.

Mr. Biden said there are still “significantly less” Russian troops amassed on the Ukrainian border than a month ago.

“It does not impact my desire to have a one-on-one meeting,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House.

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Mr. Biden said he is “confident” that he will meet Mr. Putin in June, but they have yet to settle on a time and place.

Russia has stationed nearly 80,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, according to The New York Times, which reported it to be the largest Russian force amassed since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Mr. Putin’s show of force is shaping up as an early test of Mr. Biden’s approach to foreign policy and has fed concerns over Russia’s influence in the region.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week that the United States could increase assistance to Ukraine.

“I can tell you, Mr. President, that we stand strongly with you. Partners do as well. I heard the same thing when I was at NATO a couple of weeks ago, and we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions,” Mr. Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a visit to Kyiv.

• This story is based in part on wire reports.

US and UK reject reports of imminent prisoner deal with Iran

US and UK reject reports of imminent prisoner deal with Iran

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Japan’s Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19, sits at a table during bilateral talks with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers meeting, at … more >

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By PAN PYLAS

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

LONDON (AP) – The U.S. and the U.K. dismissed reports coming out of Iran that they are thrashing out a prisoner exchange deal with Tehran that could see the imminent release of a British-Iranian woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and four Americans, among others.

Iran was a key topic of discussions Monday between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his host in London, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Their meeting took place a day before the first face-to-face meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrial nations in two years, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic. Iran, Ukraine, China, Russia, climate change and COVD-19 are expected to dominate the talks.

Blinken’s visit to London, his first since being appointed by President Joe Biden, comes amid mounting speculation of a prisoner swap deal with Iran. Such exchanges are not uncommon and were a feature of the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and the world’s leading powers. Biden has indicated he is looking to restart nuclear talks with Tehran after his predecessor, Donald Trump, pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018.

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“The reports coming out of Tehran are not accurate,” Blinken said at a press briefing after their meeting, adding that he had “no higher priority” than bringing all detained Americans home.

“More broadly on this, we have to take a stand against the arbitrary detention of citizens for political purposes,” he said.

Raab also dismissed the prospects of an imminent breakthrough amid reports in Iran that Britain would pay a 400 million-pound ($550 million) debt to secure Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s release. He insisted that the British government was working “very intensively” on the release of detained British citizens in Iran.

“I would say it’s incumbent on Iran unconditionally to release those who are held arbitrarily and in our view unlawfully,” Raab said.

In Britain, there’s particular interest in the well-being of Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was last week sentenced to an additional year in prison on charges of spreading “propaganda against the system.”

The two diplomats discussed an array of subjects, such as sanctions on Russian citizens, climate change and Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan later this year, a process that began in earnest over the weekend. Russia and its aggressive actions toward Ukraine were also on the agenda, with Blinken set to travel to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Wednesday.

Biden is also set to take a new approach with regard to North Korea following a policy review completed last week. Blinken, who met in London with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts earlier Monday, said the new approach will be “practical and calibrated” and urged the leadership in Pyongyang to “take the opportunity to engage diplomatically.”

On Tuesday, the top diplomats from the full G-7 – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. – will meet along with their foreign minister colleagues from selected other countries, including Australia, India and South Africa.

Ahead of the gathering, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that “authoritarian states” around the world are “trying to play us against each other” and that breaches of international law have become commonplace.

“It is important that we hold our values of democracy, state of law, human rights and a global order based on rules against them, united and credibly,” he said.

Britain’s Foreign Office said the G-7 ministers will invest $15 billion in development finance over the next two years to help women in developing countries access jobs, build resilient businesses and recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

They are also expected to pledge to get 40 million more girls into school and 20 million more girls reading by the age of 10 in poorer nations by 2026.

___

Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

Ukraine, Baltics, Poland leaders meet on Polish holiday

Ukraine, Baltics, Poland leaders meet on Polish holiday

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By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA

Associated Press

Monday, May 3, 2021

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Lithuania‘s president said Monday that his country will never accept Russia‘s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and Moscow’s military pressure on eastern Ukraine, or the Kremlin’s attempts to influence Belarus.

President Gitanas Nauseda was in Warsaw addressing a remote session of Poland‘s and Lithuania‘s parliaments marking the 230th anniversary of their joint constitution, Europe’s first such written democratic document.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the presidents of Latvia and Estonia – countries on the European Union’s border with Russia and Belarus – were also among the guests at the ceremonies in Warsaw.

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Lithuania will never recognize the illegal annexation of Crimea and will be taking steps toward ending the actual occupation of part of eastern Ukraine,” Nauseda said. “Whatever happens, we cannot allow Ukraine to slide back into the past.”

He also said Lithuania backs the freedom drive in neighboring Belarus and will never allow it to be influenced by Moscow.

“There is no room in the Europe of the 21st century for new areas of influence that negate the sovereignty of independent countries,” Nauseda said.

During a later televised debate among the presidents, Poland‘s Andrzej Duda assured Zelenskyy it was also Warsaw’s view that Russia‘s actions in Ukraine “must not be accepted.”

Zelenskyy, who is to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week in Kyiv, said that the war against Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine means that “there is war in Europe.”

“No one today will give up our sovereignty. We are fighting … because we want to be free,” Zelenskyy said.

Following one-on-one talks with Duda, Zelenskyy thanked Poland for its strong support for Ukraine‘s territorial integrity and condemnation of Crimea’s annexation.

Zelenskyy said he invited Duda to ceremonies in August marking 30 years of Ukraine‘s independence and to the accompanying meeting of state leaders that is to discuss the “de-occupation of Crimea.”

During the presidents’ debate Monday on the European Union and the pandemic, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine, which is aspiring to one day join the club, said it has not yet received any of the promised COVID-19 vaccines from the EU.

He said only 1 million people in his nation of more than 44 million have been immunized.

The five presidents signed a declaration stressing that solidarity among nations is the basis for peace, stability and development in today’s world.

Poland’s 1791 Constitution was intended to strengthen its political system and rule of law and protect it against aggression from neighboring powers, including Russia. Historians say the effort came too late, and failed to avert annexations by the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires that in 1795 wiped Poland from maps for more than a century.

Poland and neighboring Lithuania were one state at the time of the 18th-century constitution.

Giuliani probe includes look at move to oust ambassador

Giuliani probe includes look at move to oust ambassador

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In this Nov. 19, 2020, file photo, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington. Federal agents raided Giuliani’s Manhattan home and office on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, seizing … more >

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By ERIC TUCKER

Associated Press

Friday, April 30, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal authorities investigating Rudy Giuliani are seeking information related to a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was ousted from her job two years ago on orders of then-President Donald Trump, a lawyer for Giuliani said Friday.

Robert Costello confirmed via text message that a search warrant served this week on Giuliani made reference to Marie Yovanovitch, who as a central player in the first impeachment case against Trump detailed a smear campaign by Giuliani and other Trump allies that preceded her 2019 removal from the job. Costello said the warrant also referenced Ukraine‘s former top prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko, who met with Giuliani and was also part of efforts to remove Yovanovitch from her position.

The fact that the warrant makes mention of Yovanovitch, and that it seeks communication between Giuliani and several Ukrainians, suggests authorities are attempting to determine whether Giuliani’s efforts to remove the ambassador were being done at the behest of Trump or of Ukrainians. That distinction matters because federal law requires anyone lobbying the U.S. on behalf of a foreign country or entity to register their work with the Justice Department.

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Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing. The New York Times was first to report on the warrant’s reference to Yovanovitch.

The May 2019 ouster of Yovanovitch was one of the pivotal episodes of the Trump impeachment case, coming just months before a phone call in which Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Giuliani advanced those same efforts in his own discussions with Ukrainian officials, meeting with a Ukrainian lawmaker who released audio recordings during the 2020 presidential campaign in an effort to discredit Biden’s candidacy.

Yovanovitch, a career diplomat who served for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents and was first appointed by Ronald Reagan, testified in chilling detail during the impeachment trial about a “smear campaign” against her by Giuliani and others before her firing.

Yovanovitch also told House impeachment investigators that she’d been told by Ukrainian officials that Giuliani was in touch with Ukraine’s former top prosecutor Lutsenko “and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me.”

She said she was told Lutsenko “was looking to hurt me in the U.S.”

A lawyer for Yovanovitch declined to comment Friday.

Blinken off to London, Kyiv as Ukraine questions resurface

Blinken off to London, Kyiv as Ukraine questions resurface

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Friday, April 30, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to Europe next week for critical talks on Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan and frayed transatlantic ties that the Biden administration hopes to repair, the State Department said Friday.

The department said Blinken will visit London starting on Monday for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of 7 industrialized democracies and will then travel on to Kyiv amid a burst of concern over U.S. relations with Ukraine, including an FBI raid on former President Donald Trump‘s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and new questions about Russia’s intentions there.

Blinken’s London trip is mainly designed to prepare President Joe Biden’s participation in a G7 leaders summit that Britain will host in June. But it’s also aimed at presenting a united front to address global challenges posed by China, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

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In Kyiv, Blinken plans to reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine against the ongoing challenge of Russian support for separatists in the country’s east and its recent buildup of troops along the border. But, he’ll also raise persistent U.S. concerns about corruption, a significant irritant in relations for years.

On Wednesday, federal investigators executed a search warrant on Giuliani’s home as part of a probe into his interactions with Ukrainian figures and whether he violated a federal law that governs lobbying on behalf of foreign countries or entities. Giuliani had led a campaign to press Ukraine for an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter, but has insisted all of his activities were on Trump‘s behalf.

The G7 meeting in London is being held against the backdrop of the Biden administration’s desire to restore close, cooperative ties with U.S. allies, notably on confronting China, Russia and climate change. Yet it also comes at a time of widespread unease about Biden’s decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September.

Blinken “is looking forward to discussing the democratic values that we share with our partners and allies within the G7,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “The United States will discuss how we can work with other countries to address the key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic.”

Blinken’s discussions in London, which will include separate meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, will also focus on economic growth, human rights, food security, gender equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment, Price said.

After the G7 meetings on Monday and Tuesday, Blinken will visit Kyiv on Wednesday and Thursday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials. He will “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” Price said.

But while Russian aggression will top the agenda, several other issues are likely to be addressed.

The first of those is rampant corruption, notably in Ukraine‘s energy sector, which has been a perennial problem and was at the center of Trump‘s first impeachment and Republican attacks on the Bidens. The issue resurfaced just this week with the State Department expressing “deep concern” over the government’s replacement of the board of Ukraine‘s leading energy company.

“This calculated move using a procedural loophole to oust well-regarded experts from the boards of several key state-owned enterprises reflects a disregard for fair and transparent corporate governance practices and complicates long-standing efforts to reform Ukraine’s energy sector and improve its investment climate,” Price said on Thursday.

EXPLAINER: What to know about the Giuliani investigation

EXPLAINER: What to know about the Giuliani investigation

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FILE – This photo from Friday Sept. 11, 2020, shows former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, right, and former New York City police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, left, during the Tunnel to Towers ceremony in New York. Kerik, a longtime Giuliani … more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, April 29, 2021

NEW YORK (AP) – The long-running federal investigation into Rudy Giuliani‘s dealings in Ukraine moved back into public view Wednesday when federal agents seized electronic devices from the former mayor’s home and office.

The search was the latest development in an inquiry that overlapped with the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, who was accused of pressuring the leaders of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son.

The probe involves a complex web of international characters who dealt with Giuliani as he tried to stir up support for a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens.

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Federal prosecutors haven’t disclosed which elements of Giuliani‘s work are the focus of their probe, currently being led by Audrey Strauss, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

But at least one part is an examination of whether Giuliani failed to disclose to the U.S. government work he did on behalf of foreign entities.

WHY IS GIULIANI UNDER INVESTIGATION?

Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, said the search warrants involved an allegation that Giuliani failed to register as a foreign agent.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, originally passed before World War II to expose Nazi propaganda, requires people to disclose to the Justice Department when they have been hired to lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments, figures or political entities.

Criminal prosecutions under the law were once rare, but there have been a number of high-profile cases in recent years, including during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. Trump‘s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted of failing to register work he’d done for a political party in Ukraine. Trump‘s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, admitted making false statements about work he’d done for Turkey.

In addition, Imaad Zuberi, a political fundraiser who attracted attention for large donations to Trump‘s inaugural committee, was sentenced in February to 12 years in prison for a violation of the foreign agents’ act and other crimes.

WHAT WORK DID GIULIANI DO ON BEHALF OF UKRANIAN INTERESTS?

In numerous interviews, Giuliani has said that his work in Ukraine was intended to benefit only one person: Trump.

His goal, he has said, was to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden‘s son, Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

However, at least some of the Ukrainian characters dealing with Giuliani as he tried to dig up dirt on the Bidens have said they also wanted his help with matters related to the U.S. government.

They included Ukraine’s then-prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko. In interviews, Lutsenko has said he asked for Giuliani‘s help arranging a meeting with the U.S. attorney general to discuss efforts to recover looted national assets. He also spoke with Giuliani about his clashes with the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. The Trump administration later removed Yovanovitch from her post.

If Giuliani lobbied the Trump administration on behalf of Ukrainian figures, he might have been obligated to disclose that work.

WHAT HAS GIULIANI SAID?

Costello, Giuliani‘s lawyer, castigated Wednesday’s FBI raid as corrupt and said he can demonstrate that the former New York mayor did no work as a foreign agent.

Giuliani previously told The Associated Press he “never represented a foreign anything before the U.S. government.”

In the past, Giuliani has acknowledged that he considered taking on some Ukrainian figures and the Ukrainian government as paying clients, including Lutsenko, but said he ultimately decided not to do so.

That included deals that would have paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to a New York Times report in 2019.

“I thought that would be too complicated,” Giuliani told the newspaper at the time. “I never received a penny.”

HAVE GIULIANI OR HIS ASSOCIATES BEEN CHARGED WITH ANYTHING?

Giuliani has not been charged with any crime and federal prosecutors have not publicly accused him of any misconduct.

Some of Giuliani‘s associates in his campaign to dig up dirt on the Bidens have, however, been indicted.

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who helped arrange Giuliani‘s meetings with Ukrainian figures, face federal charges that they helped foreigners make illegal campaign contributions to American politicians, including a pro-Trump political action committee, while trying to gain influence in government.

Initially, prosecutors had accused them of also secretly working on behalf of an unnamed Ukrainian official who wanted the removal of the U.S. ambassador, but that allegation was subsequently quietly erased from a superseding indictment.

It isn’t part of the criminal case, but Parnas in 2019 also helped arrange for an Ukrainian tycoon, Dmitry Firtash, to hire lawyers to lobby the U.S. Justice Department to drop an international bribery charge pending against him in Chicago.

Firtash has said in interviews that at one time he was paying $300,000 per month to those lawyers, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, who were also involved in Giuliani‘s campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

The FBI also executed a search warrant Wednesday on a phone belonging to Toensing, who has said she is not a target of the investigation.

Some documents that Toensing or diGenova gathered, ostensibly as part of Firtash’s attempts to fight extradition from Austria, wound up being the basis of conservative media reports that Joe Biden had tried to block a Ukrainian prosecutor from investigating the gas company that had put Hunter Biden on its board.

Biden did press for the prosecutor’s firing, but that’s because he was reflecting the official position of not only the Obama administration but many Western countries that the prosecutor was perceived as soft on corruption.

Russia rejects Ukraine’s push to revise 2015 peace deal

Russia rejects Ukraine’s push to revise 2015 peace deal

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a joint news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard following their talks in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, April 28, 2021. Lavrov said in an interview published Wednesday that relations with the United States … more >

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By Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia‘s foreign minister sternly warned Ukrainian officials Wednesday that Moscow would not accept their push to revise a peace deal for eastern Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s comments followed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling Tuesday for a modification of the 2015 agreement and inviting other nations to help mediate the stalled talks on a political settlement of the conflict in Ukraine‘s east.

Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists erupted in Ukraine‘s eastern industrial heartland, called Donbas, shortly after Moscow‘s 2014 annexation of Ukraine‘s Crimean Peninsula. More than 14,000 people have been killed during the seven-year conflict. 

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In recent weeks, increasing violations of a shaky cease-fire in eastern Ukraine a Russian troop buildup across the border drew Ukrainian and Western concerns about the potential for large-scale hostilities. Tensions eased last week after Moscow announced a pullback of its forces following massive drills.

The 2015 deal, which was brokered by France and Germany, marked a diplomatic coup for Russia, obliging Ukraine to offer broad autonomy to the separatist regions and amnesty for the rebels. It also stipulated that Ukraine would regain full control of its border with Russia in the rebel-held territories only after the election of local leaders and legislatures, the provisions resented by many Ukrainians as a betrayal of national interests.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of backing the separatist rebels in the east with troops and weapons, claims Moscow has denied. The Kremlin has insisted that Russia isn’t a party to what it described as an internal Ukrainian conflict.

Speaking in an interview with a Russian state TV host, Lavrov criticized the West for turning a blind eye to the failure of Ukrainian authorities to meet their obligations under the 2015 document that was signed in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, by then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

“The West either can’t or doesn’t want to encourage compliance with the Minsk agreement,” he said.

Lavrov categorically rejected the push by Ukrainian officials to reverse the sequence of steps stipulated by the Minsk deal and to make reclaiming control of the border with Russia in the rebel-controlled regions the first step.

“Control of the border is the very last move that comes only after those territories get a special status fixed in the Ukrainian Constitution and hold free elections acknowledged as such by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” the Russian minister said. “I believe that we mustn’t let Mr. Zelensky and his team get off the hook, even though they are trying hard to wriggle out.”

Zelensky has pushed for a meeting with Putin, but the Russian leader responded last week that Ukrainian authorities need to speak to the rebels to settle the conflict in Donbas. He added that if the Ukrainian president wants to discuss the normalization of ties with Russia, he’s welcome to come to Moscow.

Russian defense chief scoffs at Western warnings on Ukraine

Russian defense chief scoffs at Western warnings on Ukraine

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This handout photo released on Thursday, April 22, 2021 by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service shows, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu watches drills form a board of military helicopter in Crimea. The Russian military is conducting massive drills in … more >

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s defense chief said Tuesday that a troop pullback from areas near Ukraine had nothing to do with Western pressure, adding that Moscow will continue doing what is necessary to protect itself.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also voiced concern about NATO forces’ presence near Russia.

The recent Russian troop buildup near Ukraine worried the West, which strongly urged the Kremlin to withdraw its forces. Shoigu, who ordered the drawdown on Thursday after massive drills, scoffed at the Western calls as inappropriate.

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“Some even warned us that our activities on our own territory will have consequences,” Shoigu said. “I would like to emphasize that we don’t see such warnings as acceptable and will do everything that is necessary to ensure the security of our borders.”

He pointed to the deployment of NATO troops near Russia as a cause for Moscow’s concern.

“The U.S. and NATO activities to increase combat readiness and build up their presence have contributed to an increase in military threats,” Shoigu said, noting that Moscow was closely monitoring the deployment of U.S. troops and weapons in Europe as part of NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 drills.

The Russian troop buildup came amid a rise in cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, stoking fears of large-scale hostilities. The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine‘s eastern industrial heartland, called Donbas, erupted shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine‘s Crimean Peninsula. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting.

In 2015, France and Germany helped broker a peace deal that was signed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. The agreement helped end large-scale battles, but skirmishes have continued and a peace settlement has stalled.

The deal obliged Ukraine to grant broad autonomy to the rebel regions and declare an amnesty for the rebels, and stipulated that Ukraine would regain full control of its border with Russia in the rebel-held territories only after they elect local leaders and legislatures. Many in Ukraine saw the deal as a betrayal of national interests and opposed it.

The latest round of the so-called “Normandy Format” talks between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in December 2019 brought no progress.

Ukrainian officials have continuously pushed for revising the Minsk agreement and inviting the U.S. and other powers to join the peace talks, ideas Russia has rejected.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reaffirmed a call for modifying the Minsk agreement and inviting other countries to help broker peace talks.

“I believe that the Minsk agreement should be flexible,” Zelenskyy said. “The ”Normandy format” could be extended to involve other serious, powerful players on a parallel track,” Zelenskyy added, without specifying what other nations could be invited to help broker peace talks.

Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited Ukrainian troops near Crimea.

He welcomed the Russian troop pullback, saying it helped de-escalate tensions. At the same time, he noted that “we don’t have a 100% guarantee that the Russian troops won’t return.”

Zelenskyy voiced hope that an agreement could be reached quickly to secure a cease-fire in the east during the celebration of Orthodox Easter this coming Sunday.

___

Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report.

France’s Macron presses Putin over Navalny, Ukraine

France’s Macron presses Putin over Navalny, Ukraine

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Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to cool tensions with Ukraine, and expressed “grave concern” about the health of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

In a conversation with Putin, the French president insisted on the need to respect Navalny’s “fundamental rights,” according to Macron’s office. Russian authorities on Monday ordered Navalny’s offices to halt their activities, as part of a legal battle amid a sweeping crackdown on Putin’s chief domestic foe.

Macron also urged Putin to “commit in good faith and in a sustainable way toward reducing tensions with Ukraine,” notably by withdrawing troops and heavy weaponry from the Ukrainian border. A Russian troop buildup in recent weeks has fueled fears of renewed hostilities and worried Ukraine and the West.

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The Russian defense ministry has said it’s started to withdraw the troops to their permanent bases, after completing sweeping maneuvers.

Macron sought to reach out to Putin earlier in his presidency and hosted Ukrainian peace talks in 2019 with Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But tensions have risen again recently between Russia and Europe.

Macron also expressed his support Monday for fellow European countries whose diplomats have been targeted by Russia in a series of tit-for-tat expulsions, according to Macron’s office.

Ukrainian president hopes for meeting with Putin

Ukrainian president hopes for meeting with Putin

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By YURAS KARMANAU

Associated Press

Monday, April 26, 2021

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy voiced hope Monday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to help defuse tensions in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskyy said he directed his chief of staff to contact the Kremlin to reach agreement on the time and venue for a possible meeting.

“It seems to me that everything indicates the meeting is going to be held,” said Zelenskyy, who previously met the Russian leader during December 2019 talks in Paris that involved France and Germany.

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Increasingly frequent cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been battling Russia-backed separatists for seven years, and a Russian troop buildup across the border in recent weeks have fueled fears of renewed hostilities and caused Ukrainian and Western worries.

The U.S. and NATO have said the troop buildup was the largest since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and threw its support behind separatists in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian troops and the Russia-backed separatists.

Russia rejected the complaints, arguing that it’s free to deploy its forces anywhere it needs on its territory, but it finally announced Thursday that it would pull them back to their permanent bases by May 1 after completing sweeping maneuvers. The Russian Defense Ministry said the drawdown began on Friday.

Amid the tensions, Zelenskyy has offered the Russian leader to meet anywhere in Donbas.

Putin argued Thursday that to settle the conflict in the east, the Ukrainian leadership should first engage in talks with separatist leaders and only then discuss it with Russia. At the same time, he added that if the Ukrainian president wants to discuss normalizing ties with Russia, he’s welcome to come to Moscow.

“It’s the substance of the meeting that matters,” Zelenskyy said, adding that the venue of the meeting is of secondary importance.

The Ukrainian leader also voiced hope that the parties could quickly agree to observe a cease-fire during Orthodox Easter, celebrated on Sunday.

Biden to make first overseas trip in office to UK, EU

Biden to make first overseas trip in office to UK, EU

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President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) more >

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By ZEKE MILLER

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden will embark on his first overseas trip in office in June, the White House announced Friday, with the aim of demonstrating his administration’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance and reengagement with key allies.

Biden will attend the Group of Seven summit in Cornwall, England, set for June 11-13, followed by a visit to Brussels, where he will hold meetings with European Union leadership and attend the June 14 summit of leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The meetings with the United States’ closest allies come as Biden has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit in the coming months in a third country, though no date has yet been set.

Most recent American presidents have selected North American neighbors for their first cross-border trips, though former President Donald Trump, whose penchant for unilateral action and open skepticism of the NATO alliance unsettled American allies, made his first overseas stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For Biden, the first trip is meant to turn the page from Trump’s approach to alliances.

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“It’s both a practical chance to connect with key allies and partners on shared opportunities and challenges,” said Yohannes Abraham, the chief of staff and executive secretary of the National Security Council, in an interview with the AP. “But also it’s an illustration of something that the president has been clear about that the transatlantic alliance is back, that revitalizing it is a key priority of his, and that the transatlantic relationship is a strong foundation on which our collective security and shared prosperity are built.”

Biden, for his part, held “virtual bilateral” meetings with the leaders of Canada and Mexico in February and March, respectively. The June trip will follow after Biden‘s first in-person bilateral meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the White House last week and next month’s planned visit by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.

In Cornwall, Biden will hold bilateral meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders. He will hold additional one-on-one meetings in Brussels with NATO allies, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

“This trip will highlight his commitment to restoring our alliances, revitalizing the Transatlantic relationship, and working in close cooperation with our allies and multilateral partners to address global challenges and better secure America’s interests,” she said in a statement.

The announcement comes shortly after the conclusion of Biden’s two-day virtual climate summit, in which he received praise from leaders, particularly those in Europe, for returning the U.S. to the Paris Climate Agreement and reengaging on a host of other issues of shared concern.

The trip will mark the most ambitious travel schedule yet for Biden since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, as the president has sought to model safe behavior for the nation.

It comes as the U.S. has stepped up its travel warnings for much of the world due to the virus. Both the U.K. and Belgium are listed by the State Department under level four, the highest, “do not travel” advisory, and are the subject of specific prohibitions preventing most travel to the U.S. by noncitizens.

The White House said it is working closely with host countries to ensure the safety of all attendees at the summits.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month lifted quarantine guidance for international travel for those fully vaccinated for COVID-19, but still recommends that vaccinated individuals returning from overseas monitor their symptoms and take a test 3-5 days after returning to the U.S.

Russian troops start pulling back from Ukrainian border

Russian troops start pulling back from Ukrainian border

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This handout photo taken from a video released on Friday, April 23, 2021, by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service shows the Russian military’s armored vehicles roll into landing vessels after drills in Crimea. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Thursday … more >

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By Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

Friday, April 23, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian troops began pulling back to their permanent bases Friday after a massive buildup that has caused Ukrainian and Western concerns.

On Thursday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared the sweeping maneuvers in Crimea and wide swaths of western Russia over, and ordered the military to bring the troops that took part in them back to their permanent bases by May 1.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the announcement.

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The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday that its forces that took part in the massive drills in Crimea were moving to board trains, transport aircraft and landing vessels en route to their permanent bases.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would await confirmation from Ukrainian and NATO intelligence.

“We want to see that Russian deeds match Russian words,” Kuleba said Friday during a visit to Romania.

While ordering the pullback of military personnel, Shoigu ordered their heavy weapons kept in western Russia for a massive exercise called Zapad (West) 2021 later this year. The weapons were to be stored at the Pogonovo firing range in the southwestern Voronezh region, 160 kilometers (100 miles) east of Russia‘s border with Ukraine.

The U.S. and NATO have said the troop buildup was the largest since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and threw its support behind separatists in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. More than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting between Ukrainian troops and the Russia-backed separatists.

The concentration of Russian troops amid increasing violations of a cease-fire in the conflict in eastern Ukraine raised concerns in the West, which urged the Kremlin to pull its forces back.

Moscow rejected the Ukrainian and Western concerns, arguing that it is free to deploy its forces anywhere on Russian territory. But the Kremlin also sternly warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to retake control of the rebel east, saying it could intervene to protect civilians there.

Asked if the Kremlin thinks that the Russian troop pullback could help ease tensions with the United States, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the issues were not connected.

“It’s not an issue for Russia-U.S. relations,” Peskov said in a call with reporters. “We have said that any movement of Russian troops on Russian territory doesn’t pose any threat and doesn’t represent an escalation. Russia does what it thinks is necessary for its military organization and training of troops.”

Russia orders troop pullback, but keeps weapons near Ukraine

Russia orders troop pullback, but keeps weapons near Ukraine

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This photo released on Thursday, April 22, 2021, by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, shows Russian military vehicles preparing for loading into a plane for airborne drills during maneuvers in Crimea. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP) ** FILE … more >

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By Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

Thursday, April 22, 2021

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia‘s defense minister on Thursday ordered troops back to their permanent bases following massive drills amid tensions with Ukraine, but said that they should leave their weapons behind in western Russia for another exercise later this year.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the Russian pullback.

After watching the drills, Russian Defense Minister Shoigu declared the maneuvers in Crimea and wide swathes of western Russia over and ordered the military to pull the troops that took part in them back to their permanent bases.

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“I consider the goals of the snap check of readiness fulfilled,” Shoigu said. “The troops have shown their capability to defend the country and I decided to complete the drills in the South and Western military districts.”

Shoigu said the troops should return to their bases by May 1, but he ordered to keep the heavy weapons deployed to western Russia as part of the drills for another massive military exercise later this year.

Shoigu said they should remain at the Pogonovo firing range in the southwestern Voronezh region. The sprawling range is located 160 kilometers (about 100 miles) east of the border with Ukraine.

The Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that came amid increasing violations of a cease-fire in Ukraine’s east has raised concerns in the West, which urged the Kremlin to pull its forces back.

The U.S. and NATO have said that the Russian buildup near Ukraine was the largest since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and threw its support behind separatists in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland called Donbas.

Ukraine’s president said the Russian troops’ pullback will help ease tensions and thanked international partners for their support.

“The reduction of troops on our border proportionally reduces tension,” Zelensky said on Twitter. He noted that Ukraine remains vigilant, but “welcomes any steps to decrease the military presence and deescalate the situation in Donbas.”

The Russian military hasn’t reported the number of additional troops that have been moved to Crimea and parts of southwestern Russia near Ukraine, and it wasn’t immediately clear from Shoigu‘s statement if all of them will now be pulled back.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the maneuvers in Crimea involved more than 60 ships, over 10,000 troops, around 200 aircraft and about 1,200 military vehicles.

The exercise featured the landing of more than 2,000 paratroopers and 60 military vehicles on Thursday. Fighter jets covered the airborne operation.

Shoigu flew in a helicopter over the Opuk firing range in Crimea to oversee the exercise. He later declared the drills over, but ordered the military to stand ready to respond to any “adverse developments” during NATO’s Defender Europe 2021 exercise. The NATO drills began in March and are to last until June.

“NATO has significantly intensified its military activities in the region,” Shoigu said. “Intelligence gathering has increased and the intensity and scope of operational training has been growing. One of the alliance’s main coalition groups is being deployed in the Black Sea region.”

Russia long has bristled at the deployment of NATO’s forces near its borders and stepped up its drills as relations with the West have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the annexation of Crimea, Russian meddling in elections, hacking attacks and other issues.

Last week, Russia has announced that it would close broad areas of the Black Sea near Crimea to foreign navy ships and state vessels until November, a move that drew Ukrainian protests and raised Western concerns. Russia also announced restrictions on flights near Crimea this week, arguing that they fully conform with the international law.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned Tuesday that the Russian buildup across the border is continuing and is “expected to reach a combined force of over 120,000 troops” in about a week and urged the West to beef up sanctions against Moscow.

Moscow has rejected Ukrainian and Western concerns about the buildup, arguing that it’s free to deploy its forces anywhere on the Russian territory and charging that they don’t threaten anyone. But at the same time, the Kremlin sternly warned Ukrainian authorities against trying to use force to retake control of the rebel east, where seven years of fighting have killed more than 14,000, saying that Russia could be forced to intervene to protect civilians in the region.

Amid the tensions, Ukraine‘s president on Wednesday signed a law allowing the call-up of reservists for military service without announcing a mobilization. The new law will allow to quickly equip the military with reservists, “significantly increasing their combat effectiveness during military aggression,” Zelensky’s office said in a statement.

Ukrainian tycoon banned from entering US for corruption

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Associated Press

Friday, March 5, 2021

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – The United States has banned a Ukrainian tycoon and former regional governor, who was also a key supporter of Ukraine’s president, from entering the country.

A Friday statement by Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the ban on Ihor Kolomoyskyi, as well as his wife, son and daughter, stemmed from corruption during his 2014-15 term as governor of Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk region.

The statement did not give details, but said Kolomoyskyi was “involved in corrupt acts that undermined rule of law and the Ukrainian public’s faith in their government’s democratic institutions and public processes, including using his political influence and official power for his personal benefit.“

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Blinken also said Kolomoyskyi is continuing actions that undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes.

Kolomoyskyi’s assets include the television station that broadcast the situation comedy starring Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected Ukrainian president in 2019; he supported Zelenskiy in the campaign.

Zelenskiy did not comment on the ban.

Russia clashes with US and West over conflict in Ukraine

Russia clashes with US and West over conflict in Ukraine

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In this photo provided by the United Nations, Vassily Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation and President of the Security Council for the month of October, briefs reporters on the work of the Security Council for the month, at … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, February 11, 2021

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Russia clashed with the United States and its Western allies Thursday over the nearly seven-year conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the U.N. warned that the current fragile cease-fire risks being reversed if peace negotiations become deadlocked.

Russia called the Security Council meeting to mark Friday’s sixth anniversary of the signing of the Minsk peace plan brokered by France and Germany. It aimed to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists that flared in April 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists in the mostly Russian-speaking industrial east called Donbass.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Ukraine of failing to implement the 2015 Minsk agreement saying: “Over those six years, we still haven’t gotten an answer to two very important questions: How exactly does Ukraine intend to peacefully resolve the conflict, and how does Kiev envisage special status of Donbass within Ukraine?”

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“The answers to those questions will entirely determine any prospects for a settlement because after the beginning in 2014 of Kiev’s use of force and the ongoing shellings of residential areas by the Ukrainian army, which continue to this day, the people of Donbass have not felt any connection with Ukraine,” he said.

The United States and European allies France, Germany, Estonia, Ireland, Norway, Belgium and the United Kingdom blamed Russia for fueling the conflict, which has killed more than 14,000 people, by providing financial and military support to the separatists.

U.S. political coordinator Rodney Hunter, speaking on behalf of the Biden administration, said Russia instigated the conflict in Donbass and “has blocked meaningful progress in diplomatic negotiations while arming, training, funding, and leading its proxy forces and supporting the self-proclaimed `authorities’ on the ground.”

“The United States reaffirms its unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said, accusing Russia of escalating “its oppression of any dissent to its brutal occupation of Crimea.”

“We will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea,” Hunter said. “As a result, U.S. sanctions on Russia in response to its aggression in eastern Ukraine and occupation of Crimea will remain in place unless — and until — Russia reverses course.”

The Minsk agreements envisage that Ukraine can regain control over its border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections.

The accord helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but Ukrainian forces continued to exchange artillery salvos and gunfire.

While the July 2020 cease-fire “has largely held up,” U.N. political chief Rosemary DiCarlo said there has been an increase in security incidents in several hotspots in recent months.

“This dangerous trend needs to be quickly reversed,” she said.

The cease-fire deal was reached by members of the Tripartite Contact Group that includes representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe known as the OSCE. It followed a meeting in Paris in December 2019 of the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany — the so-called Normandy group — who expressed support for the Minsk deal and agreed to revive the peace process.

DiCarlo told the council that continuing discussions in these groups are “no reason for complacency” and no substitute “for meaningful progress.”

“The risk of backsliding is real if negotiations become deadlocked,” she warned.

Russia’s Nebenzia said the Minsk agreement didn’t say anything about direct dialogue with the two separatist governments of Donetsk and Luhansk in Donbass, or about agreeing on any special status for the region.

“Instead of that, fantasies about establishing some sort of international administration and holding elections only two years after that are in the document,” he said. “Do you really think the people of Donbass will really agree to this international form of occupation?”

In response, a statement from the seven European countries strongly condemned “the continued destabilization of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions” and again called on Russia “to immediately stop fueling the conflict“ by supporting the separatists.

Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen went further, telling the Security Council how Russia violated key paragraphs in the Minsk agreements — including the initial 2015 cease-fire, failing to withdraw heavy weapons and foreign forces, and blocking free access for OSCE monitors to observe areas of the Russian-Ukrainian border not controlled by the Ukrainian government.

“Until today, there are Russian forces in eastern Ukraine,” Heusgen said. “They may not have the official stamp of the Russian army, but the Russians continue to be there, and without Russia, Luhansk and Donetsk could not survive.”

Halit Cevik, chief monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, saw “a window of opportunity for the sides to find a way towards lasting de-escalation, but we also see that it is narrowing.”

Cevik said the July 2020 cease-fire led to “the longest-lasting reduction in violence” since the mission began recording cease-fire violations. But he said, “adherence has frayed over time.”

Hungarian FM in Ukraine to push for ethnic minority rights

Hungarian FM in Ukraine to push for ethnic minority rights

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By YURAS KARMANAU

Associated Press

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Hungary’s top diplomat visited Kyiv Wednesday to try and defuse a rift over the rights of Ukraine‘s Hungarian minority, which has clouded bilateral relations for years.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto suggested that the two countries set up a working group to solve a dispute over Ukraine‘s education law approved in 2017, which effectively eliminated the use of Hungarian and other minority languages in schools after 4th grade

Hungary saw the law as discriminatory against the 120,000-strong ethnic Hungarian community in Transcarpathia, part of western Ukraine that once belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which disintegrated after World War I. Tensions also have arisen over the legality of the ethnic Hungarians acquiring Hungarian, as well as Ukrainian, citizenship.

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Ukraine, which has faced a Russia-backed separatist insurgency in its east for nearly seven years, has argued that the education law was necessary to protect its language and culture.

Hungary says Ukraine‘s policies on ethnic minorities are overly restrictive, and has blocked talks on deepening ties between Ukraine and the European Union.

Szijjarto said after Wednesday’s talks that the two countries must move to reduce tensions and engage in talks to settle their differences. He added that he received promises regarding Hungarian classes at schools.

“There is no reason to think that the Ukrainian state wants to harm ethnic Hungarians in Transcarpathia,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

TurkStream, Russia pipeline bypassing Ukraine, advances

Russian pipeline bypassing Ukraine advances

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In this Jan. 8, 2020, file photo, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, talk during a ceremony in Istanbul for the inauguration of the TurkStream pipeline. A summit meeting between the Turkish and Russian … more >

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By David R. Sands

The Washington Times

Friday, January 1, 2021

A major new Russian pipeline designed to bypass Ukraine to supply southeastern Europe got a major symbolic boost on New Year’s Day as Serbian President Alexandar Vucic officially proclaimed the first nearly 250 miles of the Balkan Stream natural gas pipeline to be open for business.

Mr. Vucic called the event “a big day” for his country on Instagram, as Russia’s ambassador to Serbia and officials from the Russian construction firm looked on, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported Friday.

The Serbian segment is a piece of the larger, 580-mile TurkStream pipeline, which crosses under the Black Sea and is designed to deliver Russian natural gas directly to customers in Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Turkey. The TurkStream project complements the Russian-German NordStream pipeline project, now nearing completion in the Baltic Sea.

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The Trump administration and many Central European countries have fiercely opposed the Russian pipelines, fearing they will give the Kremlin effective control of a large chunk of the European energy market.

The pipelines also would severely weaken the leverage of Ukraine, a U.S. ally, which has long been the dominant route for pipelines bringing Russian oil and natural gas to Western markets.

The U.S. government placed sanctions on both pipelines in 2019 and has pressured the government of Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel not to go through with the completion of the project.

Bosnian Serbs say icon given to Russian minister not stolen

Bosnian Serbs say icon given to Russian minister not stolen

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Bosnian Serb member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia Milorad Dodik, right, welcomes Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the start of their meeting in the capital Sarajevo, Bosnia, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Lavrov is on a two-day visit to … more >

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) – An Orthodox icon presented to Russia’s foreign minister had not been stolen from the Ukraine, the office of Bosnia’s Serb leader said Tuesday, amid an international diplomatic spat over its origins.

The presiding Serb member of Bosnia’s three-member presidency, Milorad Dodik, gifted the gilded icon to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when he visited Bosnia on Dec. 14.

The icon, which was said to be 300 years old, is believed to have originated from eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian troops in a six-year conflict. Dozens of Serbs have fought alongside the pro-Russia rebels in the conflict.

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The Ukrainian Embassy in Sarajevo has requested information on how the Bosnian Serb leader came to possess the icon, noting that the failure to provide the information would mean Bosnia is supporting Russia’s “aggressive policy and military actions” in eastern Ukraine.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Saturday it would return the icon to the Bosnian Serbs for an international police investigation about its origin.

After more than a week’s silence, Dodik’s office said in a statement that the icon was not stolen and that it not a piece of “cultural heritage or national treasure.” It said it is “a church-blessed icon” that ordinary Orthodox faithful keep in their homes.

The statement did not say how Dodik came to possess the religious artwork or how it was brought to Bosnia. Instead, it condemned rival Bosnian politicians and media of spreading lies aiming to harm Serb-Russian relations.

“Hideous lies cannot hurt the brotherly ties between the two Orthodox nations,” the statement said.

Dodik, a staunch pro-Russian politician, also tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday.

Russia to give icon that sparked controversy back to Bosnia

Russia to give icon that sparked controversy back to Bosnia

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Saturday, December 19, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia said Saturday it will return an Orthodox icon presented to the Russian foreign minister in Bosnia, a gift that has triggered a protest from Ukraine.

The presiding Serb member of Bosnia’s three-member presidency, Milorad Dodik, gave the icon to Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when he visited Sarajevo earlier this week. The icon, which was said to be 300 years old, is believed to originate from eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels have fought Ukrainian troops in a six-year conflict.

The Ukrainian Embassy in Sarajevo has requested information on how the Bosnian Serb leader came to possess the icon, noting that the failure to provide the information would mean Bosnia is supporting Russia’s “aggressive policy and military actions’’ in eastern Ukraine. Dozens of Serbs have fought alongside the pro-Russia rebels in the conflict, which started in 2014.

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On Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the icon would be returned to Bosnia pending an Interpol probe to clarify its origins.

ICC prosecutor ready to open investigation into Ukraine

ICC prosecutor ready to open investigation into Ukraine

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By MIKE CORDER

Associated Press

Friday, December 11, 2020

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The International Criminal Court‘s prosecutor said Friday that a preliminary probe has found “a reasonable basis at this time to believe” that crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed in Ukraine which merit a full-scale investigation.

The six-year preliminary probe by prosecutors at the global court looked at allegations of crimes starting with the brutal crackdown on pro-European Union protests in 2013-14, the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the drawn-out conflict in eastern Ukraine. Fighting there between Ukrainian forces and separatist rebels has killed more than 14,000 people in the last six years.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said the suspected crimes and the failure of courts in Ukraine and Russia to successfully prosecute them mean that the next step for ICC prosecutors will be to request authorization from judges to open a formal investigation. She did not give a timeframe for that to happen.

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Ukraine is not a member of the court but has twice accepted its jurisdiction, asking it first to investigate the crackdown on protesters in 2013-2014 under former president Viktor Yanukovych and later extending the jurisdiction to cover conflicts in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russia is not a member of the court and does not accept its jurisdiction.

Without going into details of the alleged crimes, Bensouda said in a statement that her preliminary investigation found three “clusters of victimization;” crimes committed during hostilities, during detentions and crimes committed in Crimea.

“My Office furthermore found that these crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were also sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by my Office, both in quantitative and qualitative terms,” Bensouda said.

The ICC is a court of last resort that only takes cases when member states do not or cannot prosecute them in domestic courts.

Earlier Friday, Bensouda whose term as prosecutor at the ICC is drawing to a close, said she also was ready to seek authorization for a full-scale investigation into the conflict between Nigerian forces and the Boko Haram extremist group.

She said that with her office stretched financially and facing the challenge of working amid the global coronavirus pandemic “we will need to take several strategic and operational decisions on the prioritization of the Office’s workload, which also duly take into account the legitimate expectations of victims and affected communities as well as other stakeholders.”

Russia waits — warily — for Joe Biden to chart course on relations

Russia waits — warily — for Biden to chart course on relations

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President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster) more >

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By Lauren Toms

The Washington Times

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

There may be more head-scratching in the Kremlin than anywhere else in the world right now as Russian leaders try to get used to the idea of a President Biden.

President Trump was accused of being too close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but his administration also saw a major U.S. military buildup, stepped-up offensive arms sales to Ukraine and the scrapping of major multilateral agreements on nuclear arms, surveillance flights and Iran’s nuclear programs.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his team are talking about taking a tougher line on Russia but also of quickly negotiating an extension of a major arms control deal that Mr. Trump has left dangling. Mr. Putin is one of the most prominent international holdouts among world leaders who have yet to formally congratulate the Democrat a full month after the U.S. election.

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Mr. Trump spoke repeatedly about the desirability of better U.S.-Russian relations. Mr. Biden, whose experience dealing with Moscow dates back to the days of the Soviet Union and who once referred to Mr. Putin as a “KGB thug,” and his top aides have sounded a far more skeptical note, particularly on human rights and the state of democracy in Mr. Putin’s Russia.

Mr. Putin, “like most autocratic rulers, attributes pivotal importance to personal ties, yet he apparently cannot find a way to connect with Biden,” Pavel K. Baev, a senior researcher at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo, and longtime analyst of the Russian political system, wrote this week in an analysis for the Jamestown Foundation.

In some of his most extensive public remarks since the election, Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov told a Brookings Institution forum Wednesday that Moscow is seeking “to have pragmatic relations, friendly relations with the United States” under the new administration.

“We are two great powers,” he said. “The whole world depends upon the relations between the United States and Russia.”

Although Mr. Antonov sidestepped questions about Russia’s acknowledgment of Mr. Biden’s victory, Mr. Putin has tacitly appeared to welcome a Biden administration over a second Trump administration. The former vice president has appeared more open to striking a deal to extend the New START arms control treaty, set to expire barely two weeks after Mr. Biden takes office.

Mr. Biden said last year that if elected, he would pursue an extension of the 2010 treaty, which he called “an anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia, and use that as a foundation for new arms control agreements.”

The last remaining arms deal between the two nuclear powers, New START limits the number of deployable U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons at 1,550.

“Our country needs New START as much as the United States,” Mr. Antonov said. “We have time,” he said.

Wary of Biden

Mr. Putin isn’t the only Russian wary of what the change in power at the White House will bring. A poll by Russia’s Levada Center this week found that a majority of Russians don’t believe that bilateral relations will improve under a Biden administration.

A mere 12% of Russians who responded to the poll said they believe relations will improve during Mr. Biden’s tenure. The results paint a stark contrast to a 2016 poll when 46% of respondents said ties would improve during the Trump administration.

By contrast, 45% of Russian respondents polled in November said relations would not change materially under Mr. Biden, while 30% predicted they would get worse.

The recent presidential battle hasn’t helped the U.S. image in Russia, either: 51% of those polled in November said they view the U.S. in a “bad” or “very bad” light, up from 46% in the summer.

As the U.S. and Russia navigate their ever-changing relationship, the secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization urged both parties to continue renewed talks.

“We welcome the dialogue between [the] U.S. and Russia to find a way forward because we should not want to find ourselves in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads,” Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

During a meeting this week of the foreign ministers of the NATO alliance, the pact discussed “Russia’s continued military buildup in our neighborhood, as well as arms control,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

“We should not find ourselves in a situation where there is no agreement regulating the number of nuclear warheads,” he said, referencing New START.

Mr. Trump’s team has been notably skeptical of arms accords, ending the Cold War-era INF Treaty on intermediate-range nuclear weapons with Russia and pulling out of the multilateral Open Skies Agreement on oversight surveillance flights.

Mr. Antonov said such resistance has led to a “further degradation of arms control.”

He said the U.S. pullout from the Open Skies Treaty put the entire agreement “on the brink of collapse” and that the White House made “erroneous steps” with regard to the INF Treaty. U.S. officials counter that Mr. Trump acted because Russia failed to meet its obligations under both accords.

In October, the U.S. and Russia appeared to be on the verge of a short-term deal to preserve New START after Moscow offered to freeze part of its nuclear arsenal in exchange for an extension. But the negotiations appeared to have stalled after Mr. Biden’s victory as Moscow waits to attempt to quickly ratify a new agreement.

“We see that the United States does not intend to ratify the treaty, at least for now,” said Mr. Antonov, expressing optimism with a new administration.

Mr. Biden and many of his top advisers are veterans of the Obama administration’s ill-fated “reset” of U.S.-Russian relations that ended definitively with Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Mr. Baev said Mr. Biden’s foreign policy team will likely be more predictable and unified than Mr. Trump‘s, but perhaps no easier for Mr. Putin to deal with in the long run.

“The last four years saw a deep deterioration in Russian-U.S. relations and plenty of frustration in Moscow regarding the setbacks in the much-anticipated high-level bilateral dialogue,” he wrote.

“The incoming Biden administration only adds to this frustration because its promise of a coherent and predictable foreign policy is set to reduce Russia’s space for maverick maneuvering in a disorganized international arena.”

Newly released text messages show Joe Biden had involvement in son Hunter’s business dealings

Texts from Hunter Biden’s business partner show Joe Biden involved in China deal talks

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Tony Bobulinski, center seated, who says he is a former associate of Hunter Biden, waits for the start of the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) more >

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By Rowan Scarborough

The Washington Times

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Hunter Biden’s former business partner is releasing a trove of text messages that show that former Vice President Joseph Biden was brought into discussions on his son’s China business ventures.

The texts from whistleblower Tony Bobulinski show Hunter talked of the “family brand” when discussing investments. Another partner warned Mr. Bobulinski “don’t mention Joe being involved. It’s only when u are face to face.”

Mr. Bobulinski suddenly emerged in the Hunter Biden financial scandal on Wednesday when he issued a statement saying he met with Mr. Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, to discuss Hunter’s business ventures.

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This adds to evidence casting doubt on Mr. Biden’s categorical statement that he has never discussed Hunter’s foreign businesses. They include being on the payrolls of Russian and Ukraine oligarchs and doing deals with wealthy Chinese close to the communist party and military.

The Hunter Biden scandal erupted earlier this month when Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s attorney, began releasing emails and texts from Hunter Biden’s discarded MacBook Pro laptop. The messages show that an executive of Burisma Group, a Ukraine energy firm for which Hunter sat on the board of directors, thanked Hunter for setting up a meeting with the vice president in 2015.

Also, Devon Archer, Hunter’s principal business partner, arranged for a delegation in 2011 of top Chinese business leaders and communist party members to visit the Obama White House and meet with Mr. Biden, according to emails reported by Breitbart.

The Bobulinski texts, first reported by Fox News, show that Hunter Biden went on a tirade in a June 2017 message to partner James Gilliar with complaints about Mr. Bobulinski.

“Explain to me one thing Tony brings to MY table that I so desperately need that I’m willing to sign over my family’s brand and pretty much the rest of my business life,” Hunter Biden says. “Why in gods name would I give this marginal bully the keys my family’s only asset? Why?”

The “only asset” appears to be a reference to the Biden name, or Joseph Biden himself.

Mr. Bobulinski entered into partnership as CEO of Sinohawk Holdings with Hunter Biden and a Chinese billionaire, Ye Jianming, then chairman of CEFC or China Energy Co.

Two Republicans, Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Chairman Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa issued a Step. 23 report outlining Hunter’s deep financial ties to Mr. Ye.

The report detailed million-dollar payments based on committee-acquired Treasury Department suspicious activity reports (SARS).

Mr. Bobulinski said the Senate report opened his eyes to the fact Hunter was secretly withdrawing huge sums of money from the partnership.

“I just saw behind the Biden curtain and I grew concerned with what I saw,” he said. “The Biden family aggressively leveraged the Biden family name to make millions of dollars from foreign entities even though some were from communist controlled China.”

Hunter Biden left his computer at a Wilmington, Del., repair shop in April 2019. With the computer abandoned, the shop owner became alarmed by its contents and notified the FBI, which took possession. He also provided a hard drive copy to Mr. Giuliani.

One email showed Hunter Biden demanding $10 million annually from Mr. Ye for “introductions alone.”

Another was a May 2017 email from Mr. Gilliar to Hunter Biden and Mr. Bobulinski on a new venture with Mr. Ye in which 10 percent stake would be “held by H for the big guy?”

Mr. Bobulinski says the “big guy” is the former vice president.

The FBI interviewed Mr. Bobulinski on Friday.

Joseph Biden said at Thursday night’s debate with President Trump that Hunter has taken no money from China–––an assertion disproven by the Senate report.

The campaign says there are no Chinese proceeds on his tax returns.

A business partner informed Mr. Bobulinski that Hunter referred to his dad as “the chairman.”

Mr. Bobulinski wrote to Mr. Gilliar, “U need to stress to H, does he want to be the reason or factor that blows up his dad’s campaign, things need to be done right and protective of that fact.”

Bolton: Trump lacks strategic vision, historical knowledge

Bolton: Trump lacks strategic vision, historical knowledge

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FILE – In this Sept. 30, 2019, file photo, former National security adviser John Bolton gestures while speakings at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Bolton said Monday, July 20, 2020 he believes President Donald Trump committed … more >

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By TERRY SPENCER

Associated Press

Monday, July 20, 2020

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Former national security adviser John Bolton said Monday he believes President Donald Trump committed several impeachable offenses, but Democratic congressional leaders doomed their effort to remove him from office by rushing the process for partisan purposes.

Bolton told a Florida group in an online presentation that Trump’s business and re-election concerns drive not only his dealings with Ukraine, which led to his impeachment by the House, but also with China, Turkey and other countries.

He said he would have voted to remove the president for his Ukraine dealings, but did not delve into specifics. Bolton, a longtime adviser to Republican presidents, told the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches, a nonpartisan organization that meets monthly to hear from prominent newsmakers, that life inside Trump’s White House was like “living in a pinball machine.”

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“You need to have strategic vision. It certainly helps to have philosophical foundations and you have to think through pros and cons of different policies. Almost none of that happened with President Trump,” said Bolton, who was promoting his book, “The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir.”

Trump “does not have a basic philosophy. He is not a conservative Republican. I don’t mean to say he is a liberal Democrat. He is just not anything,” said Bolton, who served as Trump’s national security adviser from April 2018 to September 2019. The president says he fired Bolton; Bolton says he resigned.

Bolton, who was being interviewed by local TV anchorman Michael Williams, gave his most searing critiques regarding impeachment for congressional Democrats, saying they pushed their effort in a “rushed, inadequate, excessively partisan way.” The Democrats weren’t interested in learning the full truth, Bolton said, they just wanted to harm Trump’s re-election chances, making it impossible to get any significant Republican support.

Bolton said the Democrats’ claim that they plowed ahead knowing their effort was doomed in the Senate because it would curtail Trump’s future actions is wrong. He said Trump’s acquittal will make him less circumspect if he wins in November.

“The whole thing ended up completely backward of where the Democrats said they wanted,” Bolton said,

Bolton, 71, is a longtime foreign policy hardliner who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and has called for U.S. military action against Iran, North Korea and other countries over their attempts to build or procure nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. He was President George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador for 16 months after serving as a State Department arms negotiator and in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Bolton said Trump does not read the national security briefing presidents receive daily and during the two or three weekly in-person briefings he receives from security and military officials, Trump spends most of his time talking rather than listening and asking questions.

Bolton compared that to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he said comes to meetings well-briefed, with a deep knowledge of history and a clear vision of his goals. He said Putin believes he can play Trump, who Bolton said knows little history.

“You put somebody like that on one side of the table and Donald Trump … on the other side of the table and it is not a fair fight,” Bolton said.

Bolton criticized Trump’s dealings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying their face-to-face meetings gave legitimacy to Kim’s rule without the United States getting any concessions on that country’s nuclear weapons program. Instead, it gave Kim two years to make his weapons program stronger, he said.

“This was not a cost-free exercise,” Bolton said of the meetings.

Bolton fired back at Republicans who criticize him for releasing his book just before the election.

“If you can’t talk about the character or incompetence of a president during a presidential election, when can you talk about it?” Bolton said.

When asked about the election, Bolton said no matter who wins, Trump or his presumed Democratic opponent Joe Biden, the U.S. will be less safe for different reasons. He did not elaborate.

He said he plans to cast a write-in vote for an undetermined Republican conservative.

Russian prankster acts as UN chief, reaches Polish president

Russian prankster acts as UN chief, reaches Polish president

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Candidate in Poland’s tight presidential election runoff, incumbent President Andrzej Duda talks to reporters after having cast his ballot at a polling station in his hometown of Krakow, Poland, on Sunday, July 12, 2020. Conservative Duda is running against liberal … more >

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By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

WARSAW, Poland (AP) – A Russian prankster posing as the U.N. secretary-general managed to reach Poland’s president on the telephone and rendered him speechless with questions about Ukraine, Russia and his reelection on Sunday.

The prankster, Vladimir Kuznetsov, known as Vovan, posted a recording of the 11-minute call on YouTube. President Andrzej Duda’s office confirmed Wednesday that it was authentic.

At various points in the conversation, conducted in English, Duda sounds surprised at the line of questioning but still refers to the impostor as “Your Excellency.”

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Duda tweeted Wednesday that he realized “something was not right” during the conversation, which took place Monday afternoon while the president awaited official word of his election victory.

Duda said he was suspicious because the real United Nations chief, Antonio Guterres does not pronounce the name of Polish vodka brand Zubrowka as well as the caller did. But he conceded that the “voice was very similar.” The president ended his tweet an emoticon of tears of laughter.

Polish state security is investigating how the prankster got through to the president and whether Russia’s secret services were involved.

The Internal Security Agency said in a statement the call had been authorized by an official with Poland’s mission to the United Nations and that his actions are under investigation.

Poland’s relations with Russia are tense, especially over Poland’s support for Ukraine’s drive for closer links with the European Union.

The caller congratulated Duda on his reelection but took the president to task for his hostile campaign comments about the LGBT community, drawing Duda’s assurance that he has “huge respect for every human being.”

Duda also rejected a provocative suggestion that Poland would seek to claim back the Ukrainian city of Lviv, which was part of Poland before World War II.

“No! No! This is Ukraine,” Duda emphasized, adding that no political group in Poland harbored such an idea.

The president also said that Poland has a “discussion about history” with Russian President Vladimir Putin about World War II and the Soviet “occupation” of Poland after the war.

Kuznetsov, and the Russian prankster Alexei Stolyarov, who is known as Lexus, have previously embarrassed European politicians including French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as Elton John and Prince Harry with similar hoax calls.

Russia skeptical about nuclear pact extension prospects

Russia skeptical about nuclear pact extension prospects

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FILE – In this Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020 file photo, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, attends a meeting with Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde in Moscow, Russia. Lavrov said Friday, July 10 that contacts with the U.S. negotiators leave little … more >

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Friday, July 10, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s top diplomat said Friday he’s not very optimistic about prospects for an extension of the last remaining U.S.-Russia arms control agreement because of Washington’s focus on making China sign up to the pact.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that Russia only wants to keep the New START treaty as much as the U.S. does and will protect its security regardless of the pact’s fate.

“We only need the extension as much as the Americans do,” Lavrov said during a conference call with foreign policy experts. “If they categorically refuse, we will not try to persuade them.”

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The New START treaty was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The pact limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance.

After both Moscow and Washington withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty last year, the New START is the only remaining nuclear arms control deal between the two countries. It’s set to expire in February 2021 unless the parties agree to extend it for another five years.

Russia has offered its extension without any conditions, while the Trump administration has pushed for a new arms control agreement that would also include China. Moscow has described that idea as unfeasible, pointing at Beijing’s refusal to negotiate any deal that would reduce its much smaller nuclear arsenal.

Lavrov dismissed the U.S. suggestions that Russia help convince Beijing to join nuclear arms cuts, saying that Moscow respects the Chinese position and considers it “undiplomatic” to push it on the issue. He reaffirmed that Russia would welcome other nuclear powers, including Britain, France and China to join nuclear arms cuts, but emphasized that it should be their own decision.

The minister noted that American and Russian negotiators last month held a round of nuclear arms control talks in Vienna and are poised to continue the discussions, but added that the U.S. insistence on having China join the talks leaves little hope for their success.

“I’m not particularly optimistic about the New START in view of the course taken by U.S. negotiators,” he said.

Lavrov emphasized that Russia is ready for the treaty to expire in February, adding that “we are absolutely confident that we can guarantee our security for a long perspective, even in the absence of this treaty.”

He noted that Russia hasn’t decided yet whether to remain in the Open Skies Treaty allowing observation flights over military facilities after the U.S. pullout.

Trump declared an intention to pull out of the agreement in May, citing Russian violations. Russia denied breaching the pact, which came into force in 2002, and the European Union has urged the U.S. to reconsider.

“We will make a final decision on whether to stay in it after we weigh all the consequences of the U.S. withdrawal,” Lavrov said.

Asked whether global stability could benefit if Democrat Joe Biden wins the U.S. election, Lavrov refrained from comment.

“It’s the American people’s business, a U.S. domestic affair,” he said. “I wouldn’t engage in guesswork. The situation is unpredictable.”

He noted that while the Democrats traditionally have shown more interest in arms control deals, Russia-U.S. ties went into a quick tailspin under President Barack Obama’s administration.

Russia-U.S. relations have plunged to the lowest levels since Cold War times after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, its support for pro-Russia insurgents in eastern Ukraine and Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Commenting further on U.S.-China tensions, Lavrov voiced concern about their impact on global stability, noting that Russia isn’t going to benefit from them in any way.

Asked if Russia could be a broker in U.S.-China relations, he said it could do so if asked.

“If they ask us, if they show such interest, we won’t refuse to do so,” Lavrov said. “We’ve established contact with both parties. We are always ready to try to help, but, of course, we won’t push our services on anyone.”

Dutch government to take Russia to European court over MH17

Dutch government to take Russia to European court over MH17

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FILE – In this Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 file photo, Australian and Dutch investigators examine a piece of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 plane, near the village of Hrabove, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine. The Dutch government is taking to Russia … more >

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By MIKE CORDER

Associated Press

Friday, July 10, 2020

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The Dutch government is taking Russia to the European Court of Human Rights for its alleged role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine six years ago, the foreign minister announced Friday.

The move is intended to support individual cases being brought to the European court by relatives of some of the 298 people who were killed when a Buk surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels blew the Amsterdam-to-Kuala Lumpur flight out of the sky on July 17, 2014.

“Achieving justice for 298 victims of the downing of Flight MH17 is and will remain the government’s highest priority,” Foreign Minister Stef Blok said. “By taking this step today … we are moving closer to this goal.”

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By launching the case against Russia, the Dutch authorities can share evidence with the Strasbourg-based European court so it can be considered in individual relatives’ cases.

“As a government, we have information, evidence, that leads us to the conclusion of the involvement of the Russian Federation,” Blok told The Associated Press. “Of course, the relatives themselves do not have all this information so we can help them by starting this procedure.”

Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement in the downing of the Boeing 777. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia sees Friday’s announcement “in connection with the disaster of the Malaysian Boeing as another blow to Russian-Dutch relations.”

Throughout the case, the Netherlands has acted “exclusively within the framework of anti-Russian logic, to which both technical and criminal investigations were subordinated,” Zakharova said.

However, an international team of prosecutors investigating the case has, however, charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with involvement in bringing down the plane and the murder of all on board. The men are on trial in a Dutch court, although none have been extradited to the Netherlands to face justice.

Blok said much of the evidence the government will submit to the human rights court also is part of that criminal case.

Prosecutors say they have evidence the missile that blew MH17 out of the sky was trucked into Ukraine from a Russian military base and the mobile launcher was later returned to Russia.

The Russian foreign ministry didn’t immediately react. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, called the Dutch move “a strange initiative from every aspect” in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency.

“The investigation isn’t over yet, there have been no court verdicts on the national level yet and, finally, what does the European Court for Human Rights have to do with it?” Kosachev said.

Friday’s move is the latest legal maneuver by the Dutch government, which has long vowed to secure justice for victims and their loved ones. Separately, the government is pursuing Russia for state responsibility in the downing.

“The government attaches importance to continuing the meetings with Russia on the matter of state responsibility,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “The purpose of these meetings is to find a solution that does justice to the enormous suffering and damage caused by the downing of Flight MH17.”

Blok said the twin legal tracks are headed toward the same goal.

“From the onset, we have made clear that the downing of an airplane, civilian airplane, and 298 innocent casualties is such a severe breach of international law that we will pursue any venue to find the truth and bring justice to the relatives,” he said.

Putin, Macron discuss closer cooperation in video call

Putin, Macron discuss closer cooperation in video call

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Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to French President Emmanuel Macron during a via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Friday, June 26, 2020. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP) more >

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By ANGELA CHARLTON and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Friday, June 26, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed international crises during a video call Friday and vowed to cooperate more closely to tackle global challenges.

Putin, noting that it was the 75th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations’ charter, spoke of the need to pool efforts to combat common threats such as the coronavirus pandemic, international terrorism and climate change.

He said the call with his French counterpart offered an opportunity to discuss the crises in Ukraine, Syria and Libya, and unresolved tensions in the Balkans, among other issues.

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“If we want to achieve positive results, we need to combine our efforts,” the Russian leader said during the conversation in which he and Macron addressed each other by their first names. “I know about your intention to organize joint work on many of those issues. We will fully support your proposals.”

Putin mentioned a Red Square parade held in Moscow on Wednesday to belatedly commemorate the 75th anniversary of World War II’s end in Europe to hail France’s contribution to defeating the Nazis.

“We in Russia will never forget the French people who fought alongside our soldiers on the Eastern Front,” Putin said.

Macron, who was due to attend the parade on May 9 before it was postponed due to the pandemic, voiced regret that the virus prevented him from visiting Moscow. The French president paid tribute to the Soviet Union’s role in World War II.

“The crisis that we have just been through, like all regional crises we’ve experienced, shows the importance of making the European space, in a broad sense, from Lisbon to Vladivostok, a real space of cooperation and peace,” Macron said.

Responding to an invitation from Putin to come to Russia, Macron said he’d be happy to visit “so we could spend a lot more time together,” but only “if health conditions allow,” possibly at the end of summer.

Macron’s office said the meeting was part of an outreach effort launched in August to try to thaw France’s relations with Russia, which were damaged by Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

The French presidency said that during the call with Putin, Macron noted the need to put an end to the “dangerous cycle of foreign interference” in Libya and the need for a quick ceasefire and the revival of political dialogue.

A French presidential official said that the two leaders spent most of the conversation discussing the situation in Libya and voiced a shared interest in the stabilization of the country and reunifying its institutions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to make public comment, noted that Macron expressed France’s anger at foreign interference, including by Russian private military contractor Wagner.

In conflict-stricken Libya, Russia, France, Egypt and several other countries back the east-based forces led by commander Khalifa Hifter, who has been waging war against the U.N.-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, which is mainly backed by Turkey.

During the call, the French leader also stressed his concern over the humanitarian situation in Syria, which the pandemic has worsened. The French presidential official said Macron pushed for a humanitarian corridor in the country’s northwest, arguing that a long route for aid deliveries via Damascus was not an option.

Turning to Ukraine, where Russia-backed rebels have been fighting Ukrainian troops in the country’s east for more than six years, Macron emphasized quickly relaunching the implementation of a road map toward peace that was agreed to during a December meeting in Paris of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

The Kremlin said in its readout of the call that Putin emphasized the need for Ukraine to fulfill its obligations on political settlement under a 2015 deal brokered by France and Germany. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014.

The two leaders also emphasized the importance of preserving existing arms control agreements and the need to improve trust and predictability in the military sphere, the Kremlin said.

__

Charlton reported from Paris.

Adam Schiff: Bolton book exposes Trump’s ‘betrayal of American values’

Schiff: Bolton book exposes Trump’s ‘betrayal of American values’

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In this May 22, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, meets with South Korean President Moon Jae-In in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, as then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, right, watches. Trump says he … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Thursday, June 18, 2020

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said Thursday that former White House National Security Advisor John Bolton’s new book provides further evidence that President Trump has misused his powers as president for personal and political gain.

In his forthcoming book, Mr. Bolton said Mr. Trump stressed the electoral importance of trade policy to Chinese President Xi Jinping and that Mr. Trump praised Mr. Xi’s plan to build “concentration camps” in Xinjiang for China’s Uighur minority population.

“Whether such a despicable statement was designed to curry election help, trade concessions or just owing to Trump’s fondness for dictatorship, his statement is a betrayal of American values,” Mr. Schiff said in a statement Thursday.

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The White House has fiercely rejected the claims made in Mr. Bolton’s book and Mr. Trump said Wednesday night that his former confidant “broke the law” by publishing an expose containing classified information from his tenure inside the Trump White House.

Mr. Schiff, a California Democrat who led the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump, said that the allegations detailed in Mr. Bolton’s book “are very serious.”

“They further demonstrate what we proved at trial, not only regarding his Ukraine misconduct, but more consequentially, that he has a pattern and practice of abusing his power for personal and political gain,” Mr. Schiff said.

In December, the House voted to impeach Mr. Trump on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress charges stemming from allegations that he, along with a handful of senior administration members and lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, pressured Ukraine into opening investigations into his political rival Joesph R. Biden.

The Senate later rejected a key vote on including witnesses in its own impeachment trial.

“If these new allegations are accurate, it is further proof that Trump’s coercion of Ukraine, for which he was impeached, is part of a persistent pattern by Trump of abusing his position and misusing the powers of the U.S. government to seek personal and political benefits from foreign governments,” Mr. Schiff’s statement read.

He vowed to “continue to hold Trump accountable,” and said he would be consulting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other chairs on “next steps.”

Such next steps could include subpoenaing Mr. Bolton, House Majority Whip James Clyburn suggested Thursday.

“I really believe that we may need to get to the bottom of this,” Mr. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, said on CNN, adding that Democrats “ought to consider” subpoenaing Mr. Bolton.

“Not so much for impeachment — I don’t care about impeachment. It’s for preserving this electoral process that we have because this president is doing everything he can to undermine fair and unfettered elections in this country.”

“I believe John Bolton can do a great service if he were to come now and let the American people know that this election, this year is under threat of being invaded once again by a foreign power,” he said.

• David Sherfinski contributed to this story.

On WWI treaty’s centenary, Hungary says its ‘curse’ must go

On WWI treaty’s centenary, Hungary says its ‘curse’ must go

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Lawmakers attend the commemorative parliamentary session marking the centenary of the Trianon Peace Treaty in Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Hungary is commemorating the 100th anniversary of a post-World War I peace treaty which led to the loss of … more >

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By PABLO GORONDI

Associated Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) – Hungary’s president on Thursday stressed the need for mutual respect between Hungary and neighboring countries where some 2 million ethnic Hungarians live following a post-World War I peace treaty signed exactly 100 years ago.

At the same time, Janos Ader spoke of Hungarians’ “right” to keep unaltered their “spiritual borders,” despite the changes on the real map, and stressed the need to “rectify” the damage from the treaty.

Hungary was on the losing side in the war and was stripped of over two-thirds of its territory, populated by some 3.3 million ethnic Hungarians, after the June 4, 1920, Treaty of Trianon – signed in the Grand Trianon Palace in Versailles, France.

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The fate of the ethnic Hungarian minorities in countries like Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine was a taboo issue during the roughly four decades of Hungary’s communist regime that ended in 1990, when it regained attention. Since his return to power in 2010, right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban has prioritized support and advocacy for the roughly 2 million ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries, and for the rest of the Hungarian diaspora around the world.

“No one can dispute our right to work, given that the nation’s geographical borders have changed, for the nation’s spiritual borders to remain unchanged,” Ader said during a special parliamentary session.

In separate speeches, Ader and parliament speaker Laszlo Kover also talked about the 100-year-old grievances felt by Hungarians because of Trianon, especially the perceived anti-Hungarian bias during negotiations leading to the treaty and the disproportionately large number of Hungarians who suddenly found themselves as minorities in other countries.

Hungary, then a kingdom in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was one of the Central Powers led by Germany which lost the 1914-1918 war to an alliance led by Britain and France, and joined later by the United States.

“We respect our neighbors but we ask them to also respect us and the Hungarians living in their countries,” Ader said. “We have to work for each other, not against each other.”

“We have to rectify what the (WWI victors) damaged,” he added. “If we do so, the curse of Trianon will be removed from us.”

At the same time, Ader said Hungarians “will not be partners in suppression, in falsifying history, in the denial of Hungarians living outside the motherland.”

Long-standing disputes about the Hungarian minorities’ rights,mostly regarding education and the use of their mother tongue, have flared up in recent years, especially with Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.

“On the other hand, we will be partners in candid talk, in taking advantage of the historical opportunities, in strengthening ties between Hungarians and Hungarians and between Hungarians and those of other nationalities,” Ader said.

Thanks to legal changes promoted by Orban’s government, since 2011 some 1.1 million ethnic Hungarians, mostly living in neighboring countries, have received Hungarian citizenship, including the right to vote in Hungary’s national elections.

In the 2018 parliamentary election, over 95% of the votes from neighboring countries were for Orban’s Fidesz party.

In Budapest, public transport will halt for one minute Thursday afternoon to mark the Trianon anniversary.