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.

Trudeau says Russia won’t be included in the G7

Trudeau says Russia won’t be included in the G7

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Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill for a meeting of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ottawa, Ontario on Wednesday, May 27, 2020. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press … more >

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By ROB GILLIES

Associated Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

TORONTO (AP) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Russia will not be included in the Group of 7 nations, disagreeing with U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he plans to invite Russia.

Trudeau noted Russia was excluded from the group after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

“Its continued disrespect and flaunting of international rules and norms is why it remains outside of the G7 and why it will continue to remain out,” Trudeau said.

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Trump, meanwhile, called Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday to tell him about his proposal to convene an international summit that would involve Russia, the Kremlin said.

Trump said Saturday he will postpone until the fall a meeting of the G7 leading industrialized nations that he had planned to hold next month, and plans to invite Russia, Australia, South Korea and India. Trump told reporters that he feels the current makeup of the group is “very outdated” and doesn’t properly represent “what’s going on in the world.”’

The G7 members are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. The group’s presidency rotates annually among member countries. Trump has repeatedly advocated for expanding the group to again include Russia.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution in December 2019 that supported Russia’s previous expulsion from the annual gathering. Russia had been included in the gathering of the world’s most advanced economies since 1997, but was suspended in 2014 following its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.

Trudeau said countries in the larger Group of 20 don’t always agree but that the G7 is for like minded countries and he hopes that continues.

Russian general chafes at “provocative” NATO drills

Russian general chafes at “provocative” NATO drills

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In this photo taken from undated footage distributed by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, an intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off from a truck-mounted launcher somewhere in Russia. The Russian military said the Avangard hypersonic weapon entered combat duty. Little on … more >

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By BY VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – The Russian military on Monday accused the U.S. and its NATO allies of conducting “provocative” military drills near the nation’s borders, a statement that reflected simmering RussiaNATO tensions.

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian General Staff said Russia has sent a formal letter to NATO proposing to scale down each other’s military activities for the period of the coronavirus outbreak, but the alliance has stonewalled the offer.

Rudskoi particularly mentioned recent NATO maneuvers in the Barents Sea, charging that they emulated strikes on Russian territory and the intercept of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Rudskoi said the drills were the first of the kind by NATO since the Cold War.

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Rudskoi also pointed at an increased number of flights by U.S. nuclear-capable strategic bombers near Russia’s frontiers last month. He said U.S. B-1B strategic bombers last week flew over Ukraine for the first time ever, prompting Russia to scramble fighter jets and put air defense forces on alert.

Russia-West relations have sunk to post-Cold War lows after the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Moscow’s support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern over the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders, describing it as a threat to its security. Russia and the alliance also have blamed each other for conducting destabilizing military exercises near the borders.

“The U.S,. and its allies are continuing to destroy Europe’s security system under the guise of a perceived ”Russian aggression,’” Rudskoi said.

He said that despite NATO’s refusal to agree on reduction of military activities, Russia has decided not to conduct any big drills near the borders with NATO members this year.

U.S. and its NATO allies have repeatedly said that Russian fighter jets have performed unsafe maneuvers while shadowing their planes – accusations that the Russian military has rejected.

In the latest such incident last week, the U.S. military complained that Russian Su-35 fighter jets flew dangerously close to a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon intelligence plane over the eastern Mediterranean, restricting its ability to maneuver safely.

Rudskoi charged that increasingly often U.S. intelligence flights near Russian bases in Syria violated previous agreements between Moscow and Washington on avoiding mid-air incidents.

He said Moscow is open for talks to negotiate minimal distances and rules of communications during encounters of naval ships and military aircraft belonging to Russia and the alliance.

Democrats to interview ousted State Department watchdog

Democrats to interview ousted State Department watchdog

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FILE – In this Dec. 10, 2014, file photo Steve Linick, State Department Inspector General, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. A senior department official said President Donald Trump removed Linick from his job as State Department’s inspector general on … more >

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By MARY CLARE JALONICK and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Saturday, May 30, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Members of three House and Senate committees will interview former State Department Inspector General Steve Linick on Wednesday as part of an investigation by House Democrats into his abrupt firing by President Donald Trump.

Linick will speak to members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to two congressional aides working on the investigation who requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.

Democrats announced Friday that they are expanding their probe into Linick’s firing earlier this month with a series of interviews. The investigation is part of a larger effort by Democrats and some Republicans to find out more about Trump’s recent moves to sideline several independent government watchdogs.

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The Democrats plan to interview multiple officials in the administration who may have more information about Linick’s dismissal on May 15, including whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the firing for retaliatory reasons. Pompeo has denied Linick’s firing was retaliatory but has not given specific reasons for his dismissal.

The investigation is being led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Republicans on those panels will also be invited to question Linick and other witnesses.

“If Secretary Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick’s dismissal to cover up his own misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear attempt to avoid accountability,” the Democrats said in a joint statement Friday.

The committees said they will release transcripts shortly after each interview.

It’s unclear whether Linick will come to Capitol Hill in person or appear virtually for the transcribed interviews. The House will be out of session over the coming week as lawmakers work from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The committee has asked several other State Department officials to sit for interviews in the probe, including Undersecretary of State for Management Brian Bulatao, Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Clarke Cooper, Pompeo’s executive secretary Lisa Kenna and acting State Department legal adviser Marik String, according to the congressional aides.

Democrats and some Republicans have pushed the administration for more answers about the firings, but the White House has provided few, simply stating the dismissals were well within Trump’s authority.

Pompeo said after the firing that he had been concerned about the inspector general’s work for some time and that he regretted not calling for his dismissal earlier. He said he recommended to Trump that Linick be terminated.

Pompeo told reporters that he was unaware of any investigation into allegations that he may have mistreated staffers by instructing them to run personal errands for him and his wife such as walking his dog and picking up dry cleaning and takeout food. Thus, Pompeo said, the move could not have been retaliatory.

Pompeo did acknowledge that he was aware of an investigation into his decision last year to bypass congressional objections to approve a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia because he had answered written questions about it posed by Linick’s office. He maintained he did not know the scope or scale of the investigation.

Engel and Menendez have been demanding answers and documents from the State Department and Pompeo personally for months on a variety of topics that goes far beyond Linick’s dismissal.

After complaining for more than a year that Pompeo and his staff have either refused to respond or provided only perfunctory answers to questions posed on personnel and policy matters, the two Democrats and their Democratic committee colleagues have teamed up to try to force a complete explanation from Pompeo and the White House as to why Trump fired Linick.

Engel and Menendez earlier demanded that administration officials preserve and turn over all records related to Linick’s dismissal. They said they have received no information so far.

Linick is one of several inspectors general whom Trump has removed from office, sparking outrage among Democrats who say the administration is undermining government accountability. Linick was an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department’s current management but had also taken issue with Democratic appointees.

He played a small role in Trump’s impeachment last year. In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a close Pompeo associate that contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats were probing Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

Linick is the second inspector general to be fired who was involved with the impeachment process. Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community, triggered the impeachment probe when he alerted Congress about a whistleblower complaint that described a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president last summer. Trump fired Atkinson in April, saying he had lost confidence in him.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said the White House is legally required to provide more answers to Congress about the firings and gave Trump a deadline to give them. But in a letter to Grassley this week, the administration offered no new details about why they were let go.

The response from White House counsel Pat Cipollone said that Trump has the authority to remove inspectors general, that he appropriately alerted Congress and that he selected qualified officials as replacements.

The president also moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified that her office was moving ahead with new reports and audits on the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic despite Trump’s public criticism of her.

In addition, Trump demoted acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee auditing of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine later resigned.

Democrats expand probe into firing of State Dept. watchdog

Democrats expand probe into firing of State Dept. watchdog

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FILE – In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo State Department Inspector General Steve Linick leaves a meeting in a secure area at the Capitol in Washington. A senior department official said President Donald Trump removed Linick from his job … more >

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By MARY CLARE JALONICK

Associated Press

Friday, May 29, 2020

WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats announced Friday that they are expanding their investigation into the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, part of an effort to find out more about President Donald Trump’s moves to sideline several independent government watchdogs.

The Democrats plan to interview officials in the administration who may have more information about Linick’s abrupt dismissal on May 15, including about whether Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recommended the firing for retaliatory reasons. Pompeo has denied Linick’s firing was retaliatory but has not given specific reasons for his dismissal.

“If Secretary Pompeo pushed for Mr. Linick’s dismissal to cover up his own misconduct, that would constitute an egregious abuse of power and a clear attempt to avoid accountability,” the Democrats said in a joint statement.

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The investigation is being led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They said they will release transcripts shortly after each interview.

Democrats and some Republicans have pushed the administration for more answers about the firings, but the White House has provided few, simply stating the dismissals were well within Trump’s authority.

Pompeo said after the firing that he had been concerned about the inspector general’s work for some time and that he regretted not calling for his dismissal earlier. He said he recommended to Trump that Linick be terminated.

Linick is one of several inspectors general whom Trump has removed from office, sparking outrage among Democrats who say the administration is undermining government accountability. Linick was an Obama administration appointee whose office was critical of what it saw as political bias in the State Department’s current management but had also taken issue with Democratic appointees.

He also played a small role in Trump’s impeachment last year. In October, Linick turned over documents to House investigators that he had received from a close Pompeo associate that contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. Democrats were probing Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

Linick is the second inspector general to be fired who was involved with the impeachment process. Michael Atkinson, the former inspector general for the intelligence community, triggered the impeachment probe when he alerted Congress about a whistleblower complaint that described a call between Trump and Ukraine’s president last summer. Trump fired Atkinson in April, saying he had lost confidence in him.

Engel and Menendez earlier demanded that administration officials preserve and turn over all records related to Linick’s dismissal. They said they have received no information so far.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said the White House is legally required to provide more answers to Congress about the firings and gave Trump a deadline to give them. But in a letter to Grassley this week, the administration offered no new details about why they were let go.

The response from White House counsel Pat Cipollone said that Trump has the authority to remove inspectors general, that he appropriately alerted Congress and that he selected qualified officials as replacements.

“When the President loses confidence in an inspector general, he will exercise his constitutional right and duty to remove that officer – as did President Reagan when he removed inspectors general upon taking office and as did President Obama when he was in office,” Cipollone wrote.

The president also moved to replace the chief watchdog at the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who testified that her office was moving ahead with new reports and audits on the department’s response to the coronavirus pandemic despite Trump’s public criticism of her.

In addition, Trump demoted acting Defense Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, effectively removing him as head of a special board to oversee auditing of the coronavirus economic relief package. Fine later resigned.

Georgia recalls its ambassador in Ukraine over ex-president

Georgia recalls its ambassador in Ukraine over ex-president

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FILE – In this Wednesday, May 29, 2019 file photo, Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, greets his supporters upon his arrival at Boryspil Airport, outside Kyiv, Ukraine. Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Saakashvili said he has accepted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s offer … more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, May 8, 2020

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) – Georgia’s Foreign Ministry on Friday recalled its ambassador in Kyiv after the former Georgian president was appointed to lead an advisory body in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday put Mikheil Saakashvili in charge of the executive committee of the National Reform Council.

The move angered Georgia, where Saakashvili was president from 2004-2013. In a statement Friday, Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani pointed out that Saakashvili has been convicted by a Georgian court and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

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“That is why we have made the decision to recall Georgia’s ambassador in Ukraine, Temuraz Sharashenidze, for consultations in Tbilisi. I want to emphasize that despite this regrettable decision, we are not considering termination of diplomatic relations between our countries or overlooking our strategic partnership,” Zalkaliani said.

A Georgian court in 2018 convicted Saakashvili on abuse of power charges that he and his allies described as politically motivated. Saakashvili was initially hailed for streamlining the government and fighting corruption, but his popularity was eroded by a crackdown on protests and the 2008 war with Russia that led to the loss of two separatist provinces.

Zelenskiy on Friday said Georgia’s decision to recall the ambassador was “a mistake” and vowed not to reciprocate.

“We have great relations with Georgia, with the Georgian nation. No matter what, we will not recall our ambassador back to Ukraine for any consultations,” Zelenskiy said.

Saakashvili’s appointment marks a remarkable political comeback for the former Georgian leader.

He started a new political career in Ukraine in 2015 when then-President Petro Poroshenko appointed him governor of the Odessa region. The two fell out a year later, and the president stripped Saakashvili, who led anti-government protests, of Ukrainian citizenship.

Zelenskiy, the comedian who unseated Poroshenko in last year’s election, quickly restored Ukrainian citizenship for Saakashvili.

UN chief:16 armed groups have responded to cease-fire appeal

UN chief:16 armed groups have responded to cease-fire appeal

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Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General displayed on a screen at the Environment Ministry as he delivers his speech at the Petersberg Climate Dialogue, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, April 28, 2020. Due to the coronavirus crisis, the conference will only be held … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Thursday, April 30, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Sixteen armed groups have responded positively to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ appeal for a global cease-fire to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, but the U.N. chief said Thursday that mistrust remains high and turning intentions into an end to hostilities is difficult.

He said at a news conference that his March 23 call “has resonated widely, with endorsements from 114 governments, diverse regional organizations, religious leaders and more than 200 civil society groups spanning all regions.”

According to an informal tally kept by the U.N. based on various sources, the 16 armed groups that responded positively are from Yemen, Myanmar, Ukraine, Philippines, Colombia, Angola, Libya, Senegal, Sudan, Syria, Indonesia and Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Guterres said his special representatives and envoys are working, with his own involvement when necessary, “to turn expressed intentions into effective cease-fires.”

The secretary-general said he believes “there is an opportunity for peace in Yemen.” He said a cease-fire negotiated by Turkey and Russia in Syria’s northwest Idlib region, the last major opposition stronghold, is holding “but we are still hopeful for a country-wide end to hostilities.”

In Afghanistan, Guterres said, “we are pushing hard for a humanitarian cease-fire between the government and the Taliban.” But “in Libya, regrettably, we have seen an escalation despite all our efforts and those of many others in the international community,” he said.

Guterres stressed that all of the U.N.’s efforts “depend on strong political backing,” and he singled out divisions in the Security Council among its five veto-wielding members as an obstacle.

Diplomats say a draft Security Council resolution voicing support for the secretary-general’s cease-fire call is being held up by a dispute between the United States and China over a reference to the World Health Organization. If adopted, it would be the council’s first resolution related to the pandemic.

The Chinese insist the text mention the WHO and its role in the global fight against the virus. That is opposed by the U.S., where President Donald Trump suspended funding for the U.N. agency in early April, accusing it of failing to stop the virus from spreading and saying it “must be held accountable.” Washington is insisting instead on a reference to “transparency” in information about the virus, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private.

Guterres told reporters, “It is my hope the Security Council will be able to find unity and adopt decisions that can help to make cease-fires meaningful and real.”

According to the U.N.’s informal tally, the groups that have responded positively to Guterres’ cease-fire appeal include Houthi rebels who control Yemen’s capital of Sanaa and the country’s separatist Southern Transitional Council; Myanmar’s Arakan Army and Brotherhood Alliance; the Communist Party of the Philippines and its rebel New People’s Army; Colombia’s National Liberation Army; and Angola’s separatist Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda.

The others are the rebel Libyan National Army; Senegal’s Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance; the Sudan Liberation Army/Abdul Wahid, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (Al-Hilu) and the Sudan Revolutionary Front; the Syrian Opposition Coalition; Indonesia’s West Papua National Liberation Army; de facto “authorities” in disputed Nagorno-Karabakh; and entities in control of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Top diplomats discuss peace plans for eastern Ukraine

Top diplomats discuss peace plans for eastern Ukraine

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FILE – In this March 29, 2019 file photo, a Ukrainian solder checks his weapon as he guards on the contact line in the village of Zolote 4, eastern Ukraine. Top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany discussed ways … more >

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Thursday, April 30, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – Top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany discussed ways to advance the peace process for eastern Ukraine in Thursday’s call, but failed to achieve any tangible progress.

The call follows a December summit in Paris where the leaders of the four nations agreed to make additional steps toward ending the fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels. The six-year conflict that erupted after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea has killed more than 14,000 people.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a briefing after the call that the four ministers agreed that negotiators from Russia, Ukraine and the rebels should quickly discuss specifics of a new cease-fire. Numerous previous attempts to establish a lasting truce have failed amid mutual accusations.

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Kuleba added that he called for speeding up efforts to ensure the release of remaining prisoners.

Speaking to reporters after the call, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also voiced hope for more prisoner exchanges, but accused Ukraine of dragging its feet on selecting new areas for troop withdrawal from the line of contact.

Lavrov also noted that the Ukrainian authorities have continued to shun direct dialogue with the rebels, stymieing peace efforts. He emphasized that such negotiations are essential for implementing earlier agreements that envisaged a broad autonomy for the rebel regions.

Kuleba rejected Lavrov’s arguments, insisting that Ukraine will not talk to the “illegal formations.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who was elected a year ago, has made settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine his top priority. Ukraine and the rebels have exchanged prisoners and pulled back their troops from several sections of the front line as part of confidence-building measures, but sporadic clashes have continued and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled.

During their talks in December, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany scheduled their next meeting for April in Berlin, but the coronavirus pandemic scuttled those plans.

Asked about the difficulties of holding talks by video conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that “the biggest problem probably lies in the fact that everyone sits in a different room and has control over their own microphone.” While Thursday’s call resulted in a discussion and a compromise “in many areas … I still clearly prefer physical meetings,” he observed.

The four-way talks focused on the implementation of a 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine that was signed in Minsk and brokered by France and Germany.

Maas said that many of the elements agreed in Minsk and Paris have yet to be implemented. “These compromises, which are the result of long and hard negotiations, mustn’t be destroyed, including through inaction,” the minister added.

He said that the ministers agreed that representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the rebels in the so-called Contact group should focus on providing more humanitarian crossings across the line of contact and taking other steps to help the residents of the region ravaged by the six-year conflict.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement that participants agreed to call for a cease-fire.

Le Drian and his German counterpart insisted that humanitarian organizations’ access must be eased to help the local population and urged for rapid progress of de-mining efforts in areas most frequented by civilians, the statement said.

The four ministers agreed to have another such meeting in a month to review progress, rather than aim for a leaders summit, Maas said.

___

Frank Jordans in Berlin, Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, contributed to this report.

Development bank to allocate $15 bln to tackle virus fallout

Development bank to allocate $15 bln to tackle virus fallout

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In this photo taken on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaks during a news conference in Moscow, Russia. Russia’s foreign minister has angrily rejected Western claims that Moscow is using the coronavirus crisis to expand its … more >

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Associated Press

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – The New Development Bank will allocate up to $15 billion for loans to help the so-called BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – boost their economies amid the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s foreign minister said Tuesday.

“We believe that it should become a very good reinforcement for our countries’ economies when they’re coming out of the crisis stage and resume economic operations,” Sergey Lavrov told reporters after a meeting of BRICS foreign ministers dedicated to the virus outbreak.

The pandemic has dealt a shock to the global economy, with governments all over the world taking measures to soften the blow.

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The international community should unite to “ensure the most positive outcome of our efforts for our countries and our citizens,” Lavrov said Tuesday. He said these efforts are being undermined by sanctions imposed on countries and that the sanctions should be lifted.

“We support the plea of the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights to, at least suspend, and at best lift, these unilateral sanctions, imposed in contravention of the UN,” Lavrov said.

The U.S. and EU sanctions, imposed in response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, have limited Russia’s access to global financial markets and blocked transfers of Western technologies. Russia responded by banning imports of most Western agricultural products.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi echoed Lavrov’s call for unity. In a statement released by the ministry, Wang said that the BRICS nations should “stand firm by multilateralism, by the UN-centered international system” and “champion the approach of consultation and cooperation.”

“Through joint efforts, we will safeguard the legitimate rights and interests and space for development not just for ourselves but also for all other emerging market and developing countries,” the minister said.

Ex-president of Georgia accepts top Cabinet job in Ukraine

Ex-president of Georgia accepts top Cabinet job in Ukraine

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Georgia’s former president on Friday accepted a top Cabinet job in Ukraine – a move that angered his home country.

Mikheil Saakashvili, who served as Georgia’s president from 2004-2013, told reporters that he accepted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s offer to become a deputy prime minister in charge of reforms. He said that Zelenskiy specifically asked him to conduct talks with the International Monetary Fund.

Ukraine desperately needs IMF loans to shore up its economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Ukraine is to face the most difficult social and economic test since it won independence,” Saakashvili said, describing the nation’s economic situation as “catastrophic.”

The job offer to Saakashvili angered the government of Georgia led by his political foes. “Saakashvili’s appointment by the country that is our strategic partner is categorically unacceptable for us,” said Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia.

Gakharia noted that Saakashvili has been convicted by a Georgian court and a warrant has been issued for his arrest, adding that Georgia will recall its ambassador from Kyiv if the appointment is made.

In 2018, a Georgian court convicted Saakashvili on abuse of power charges that he and his allies described as politically motivated. Saakashvili was hailed for streamlining the government and fighting corruption, but his popularity was eroded by a crackdown on protests and the 2008 war with Russia that led to the loss of two separatist provinces.

Saakashvili’s appointment, which is expected to be approved next week by the parliament dominated by Zelenskiy’s party, marks a remarkable political comeback for the former Georgian leader.

Saakashvili started a new political career in Ukraine in 2015 when then-President Petro Poroshenko appointed him governor of the Odessa region. The two fell out a year later, and the president stripped Saakashvili, who led anti-government protests, of the Ukrainian citizenship.

Zelenskiy, the comedian who unseated Poroshenko in last year’s election, quickly restored Ukrainian citizenship for Saakashvili.

Putin’s approval rating sinks as Russia readies to vote on measure to extend presidential term

Putin’s approval rating sinks as Russia readies to vote on measure to extend presidential term

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Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 14, 2020. Putin is calling for action to shore up the Moscow-led economic alliance of ex-Soviet nations amid the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has declined for the third year in a row, new polling from the independent Levada Center showed Tuesday.

Just 29% of those surveyed said they have a positive outlook on Mr. Putin, according to the latest poll — down from 32% in October and 42% at this time in 2017.

The number of Russian respondents who would describe Mr. Putin as “a true leader who can lead the people” sank this year to just 13%, down from 17% two years prior.

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The latest data comes just weeks after Russia’s constitutional court approved an amendment effectively reset the number of presidential terms served for former presidents, allowing Mr. Putin to reign until 2036. The measure was expected to see a nationwide vote in April, but coronavirus concerns have pushed the vote back to an undisclosed date.

Mr. Putin’s approval rating hit an all-time high in 2014 at 84%, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, the Moscow Times reported.

The latest drop in the Russian leader’s approval rating is believed to be linked to Mr. Putin’s alleged relationships to corporations associated with the plummeting oil prices and subsequent devaluation of the ruble.

Levada Center Director Lev Gudkov told Russian news outlet Vedomosti business daily that “this issue was widely discussed online, and the events themselves affected the most informed segments of the population and young people.”

“Sympathies for the president have fallen the most among young people, and for the first time, it has been through social media, where these events were widely discussed, that such a reaction to political and economic events happened,” Mr. Gudkov said.

Forest fires rage near Chernobyl nuclear plant

Forest fires rage near Chernobyl nuclear plant

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In this photo taken from the roof of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant late Friday April 10, 2020, a forest fire is seen burning near the plant inside the exclusion zone. Ukrainian firefighters are labouring to put out two forest … more >

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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Forest fires raged Tuesday in the contaminated area near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, but officials insisted there is no radiation threat.

Hundreds of firefighters backed by aircraft have been battling several forest fires around Chernobyl since last week. They managed to contain the initial blazes, but new fires are now raging close to the decommissioned plant.

Volodymyr Demchuk of Ukraine’s state Emergencies Service insisted that the situation is under control.

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“There is no threat to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, waste fuel storage or other critical facilities,” he said.

The emergencies service said radiation levels in the capital, Kyiv, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the plant, were within norms.

Activists warned, however, that the blazes were getting dangerously close to waste storage facilities.

Yaroslav Yemelyanenko, a member of the public council under the state agency in charge of the closed zone around the plant, said one fire was raging within 2 kilometers (about 1.2 miles) from one of the radioactive waste depots.

“The situation is critical,” he said on Facebook.

Last week, officials said they tracked down a person suspected of triggering the blaze by setting dry grass on fire in the area. The 27-year-old man said he burned grass “for fun” and then failed to extinguish the fire when the wind caused it to expand quickly.

On Monday, police said that another local resident burned waste and accidentally set dry grass ablaze, triggering another devastating forest fire. They said he failed to report the fire to the authorities.

The 2,600-square-kilometer (1,000-square-mile) Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was established after the April 1986 disaster at the plant that sent a cloud of radioactive fallout over much of Europe. The zone is largely unpopulated, although about 200 people have remained despite orders to leave.

Blazes in the area have been a regular occurrence. They often start when residents set dry grass on fire in the early spring – a widespread practice in Ukraine, Russia and some other ex-Soviet nations that often leads to devastating forest fires.