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Global Government Introduction:


      The move toward a global government received a big boost this summer by the introduction of a proposal for an International Criminal Court. Over U.S. objections, the United Nations Diplomatic Conference voted 120 to 7 in favor of establishing an international criminal court to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.










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With the wealth of information at our fingertips, it is sometimes hard to see the ‘’forest for the trees’’. In this Strategic Briefing, we will give you a current perspective on many of the trends that shape our world and their relevance to Biblical Prophecy. Now, more than ever, we need to stay informed about what is really going on.

What is REALLY going on in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt?
Who is going to deal with the nuclear Iran?
Will Israel go it alone?
What about America’s political future and what is on its' 2013 horizon?

Most Americans are totally unaware that the sacred Bill of Rights has been essentially
eliminated; how, when and by whom?

Europe - The State of Dis-Union and its Islamization.

Join Dr. Chuck Missler and Ron Matsen in the Executive Brie fing Room of
The River Lodge, New Zealand, in an intensive summary of some of the
Strategic Trends that will impact all of us.

© 2012 Koinonia House Inc.

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Russia flexes muscles with Arctic military drills

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) March 16, 2015 - Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered a drill of some 38,000 troops in the Arctic as part of a major show of strength amid tensions with the West over Ukraine.

Putin put the Northern Fleet on full combat readiness in a snap inspection of Moscow's military power in the strategic region.

"New challenges and threats to our military security demand a further raising of the military capabilities of our armed forces," Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said.

A military spokesmen said that some 5,000 troops were also being drilled in Russia's far-east and a further 500 close to the volatile southern Caucasus region, news agencies reported.

The drills are the latest in a succession of large-scale military manoeuvres that Moscow has ordered around the vast nation with relations with the West at a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine.

Ukraine and its Western allies have accused Moscow of pouring thousands of troops over the border to spearhead a pro-Russian uprising aimed at halting Kiev's pivot towards Europe and the United States. Moscow denies the allegations.

The start of the drill came as Putin appeared in public at a meeting with the leader of ex-Soviet Kyrgyzstan after a 10-day absence that had sparked a flurry of rumours about his health.

Moscow has made its frozen Arctic north a key strategic region as global warming spurs international jostling for the spoils of the area's vast natural resources.

Norway is currently conducting some of its largest military exercises in decades not far away from its border with Russia.

That exercise, called "Joint Viking", involves over 5,000 personnel and is presented by Oslo as the largest drill in that part of the country since 1967.




China, Japan, SKorea to hold first FM talks in three years

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) March 17, 2015 - China, Japan and South Korea will this week hold the first meeting of their foreign ministers for three years, Tokyo said Tuesday, the latest sign of a gradual thaw in East Asian relations.

The three men will meet in Seoul on Saturday, a Japanese foreign ministry official said.

"Cooperation among the three countries is important for Japan and we naturally hope this foreign ministers' meeting will lead to a summit in the future," the official said.

He added no date had been set yet for a three-way leaders' summit, which was last held in May 2012.

The upcoming Seoul meeting will be the first among foreign ministers of the three countries since April 2012.

While relations between China and South Korea are strong, both have strained ties with Japan, chiefly because of historical and territorial disputes.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has held two summits with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but only sat down with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the three-way summit under pressure from Washington.

Seoul-Tokyo ties have always been problematic given the bitter legacy of Japan's 1910-45 rule over the Korean peninsula.

As well as a dispute over some South Korea-controlled islets, Seoul feels Tokyo has yet to fully atone for the excesses of its colonial rule and the forced recruitment of South Korean women to wartime military brothels.

Abe and Xi staged a frosty handshake on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November, but relations also remain strained.

Japan and China have long been at odds over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which Japan administers and calls the Senkakus, but which China claims as the Diaoyus.

Relations soured further in 2012 when the Japanese government angered China by nationalising some of the islands.

Since then, Tokyo and Beijing have routinely clashed over the issue, with official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.



China boosts Africa diplomacy

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Addis Ababa (AFP) March 13, 2015 - China boosted its diplomatic presence in Africa on Friday, becoming only the second country after the United States to have a dedicated ambassador to the African Union.

"China needs to devote more attention and resources to Africa," said Kuang Weilin, Beijing's new ambassador to the Addis Ababa-based, 54-member pan-African bloc.

"For many years, China has mainly relied on bilateral cooperation. China wants to demonstrate to Africa and to the world that China is ready to do more with Africa," he said after presenting his credentials to AU Commission Chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Prior to the appointment, China's representative to the AU also held the position of ambassador to Ethiopia, a set-up shared by most other countries -- although the new envoy said China wanted to "expand and strengthen our relationship with Africa".

The nomination underscores resource-rich Africa's importance to the world's second-largest economy -- as China's economic growth has been partially fuelled by African natural resources, including oil, minerals and other raw materials.

Zuma also said it "marks a very historic point in our relations with the People's Republic of China".



Chinese premier offers Japan improved ties -- with conditions

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 15, 2015 - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Sunday offered Japan a chance of improved relations -- but only if Tokyo's leadership honestly confronts the country's World War II aggression against China.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, and amid strained ties Beijing frequently calls on Tokyo to take a "correct" view of the conflict and avoid glossing over responsibilities for atrocities during its invasion and occupation of large swathes of the country in the 1930s and 1940s.

"It is true that the current China-Japan relationship is in difficulty," Li told reporters, calling perceptions of the war the "crux" of the problem.

"At such a critical moment this year there is both a test and an opportunity for the China-Japan relationship," he added, speaking at his annual press conference after the close of the country's Communist-controlled National People's Congress legislature.

"If leaders of Japan face history squarely and maintain consistency in how they view that part of history there will be a new opportunity for improvement and further growth of China-Japan relations," he added.

He also said that such a stance would "create favourable conditions" to expand business relations between the world's second- and third-largest economies.

Li's comments and wording were in line with Beijing's standard position, but were not as bombastic as the salvos of criticism frequently lobbed by Chinese foreign ministry officials at regular briefings and commentaries in state media.

He also took care to mention that the Japanese had also experienced pain during the conflict.

"The war of aggression imposed on the Chinese people by the Japanese militarists brought untold sufferings and the average people in Japan were also victims of that war," he said.

China has in the past emphasised it has no quarrel with the Japanese people.

But Beijing -- which regularly exploits nationalism as part of the Communist Party's claim to a right to rule -- is planning a major military parade to commemorate the end of the war.

Li did not address the impact the event might have on Japanese sentiments, but said it was intended to "bear in mind the hard lessons gained from the past and ensure that that kind of history will never repeat itself".

"The purpose is to uphold the outcomes of the Second World War and the post-war international order and international laws to maintain enduring peace of mankind," he added.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a staunch nationalist who has questioned how far Tokyo should continue atoning for the conflict while calling it to beef up its military might.

In comments seemingly aimed at his Japanese counterpart, Li said: "For leaders of a country, while inheriting the historical achievements made by their predecessors, also need to show the historical responsibilities for crimes committed in the past."

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said at a press conference a week ago that Abe will only be welcome at Beijing's commemorations if he is "sincere" about history.



Myanmar expresses 'sorrow' for China border deaths

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Yangon (AFP) March 16, 2015 - Myanmar expressed "sorrow" Monday after a bomb dropped across the border during clashes with rebel forces killed five farm workers on Chinese territory in an incident sharply condemned by Beijing.

It announced a probe into the blast, which went off in China's southwestern Yunnan province and prompted Beijing to send fighter jets to patrol the frontier, but stopped short of admitting responsibility for the incident after weeks of clashes between the Myanmar army and ethnic Kokang rebels.

"We would like to express our deep sorrow for death and injuries of Chinese nationals living in border areas," Myanmar's government said in a statement published in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

It added that a joint investigation would be conducted into the incident with Beijing, which has blamed the blast on a Myanmar warplane.

The probe will also look into whether Kokang rebels were involved to "create instability along the border", the report said, adding that the military had been instructed to maintain its operations within the territory of Myanmar.

The conflict in Myanmar's remote Kokang region in northeastern Shan state sparked suddenly last month after six years of relative calm, causing tens of thousands of civilians to flee their homes, including at least 30,000 who have poured into Yunnan.

China has sent its jets to patrol the border to "warn and chase away" its neighbour's warplanes following the deadly blast in the sugarcane field during which a further eight people were injured.

On Sunday Chinese Premier Li Keqiang vowed to "resolutely" protect citizens near its Myanmar border in his once-a-year meeting with journalists.

Beijing has provided a crucial economic and political shield for the former Myanmar junta during its years of isolation.

But while Chinese investment remains paramount, Myanmar's new quasi-civilian government has sought to build greater ties with other countries including the United States since launching political reforms in 2011.



'Pathetic, shameful, corrupt' Chinese general dies: media

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 16, 2015 - The highest-ranking Chinese military officer to fall victim to President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption drive has died of cancer, official media reported Monday, heaping opprobrium on his memory.

Xu Caihou rose to become the second most senior officer in the 2.3 million-strong People's Liberation Army as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, and a member of the Communist Party's 25-strong Politburo.

He retired from the military in 2013 but was put under investigation last year and later expelled from the ruling party, stripped of his general's rank and handed to judicial authorities for prosecution, although his death forestalls the possibility of a lurid trial.

Xu died of bladder cancer on Sunday, the official news agency Xinhua said. He was 71.

"Xu Caihou, the once-celebrated general who because of corruption lost both fortune and honour, ended his pathetic and shameful life on a sickbed under supervision," the PLA Daily wrote in a bylined commentary.

Xinhua said he had taken advantage of his position to assist others and accepted a "huge amount of bribes personally and through his family".

Military prosecutors will "deal with his illegal gains according to law", it cited a statement as saying.

Since coming to power more than two years ago Xi Jinping has sought to impose himself on China's military, one of the targets of his wide-ranging anti-corruption drive.

Xu was the highest-ranking military "tiger" to be brought down, although critics say that without systemic reforms the campaign risks being used for political faction-fighting.

The deputy Communist chief of Yunnan province, Qiu He, was put under investigation at the weekend, the ruling party's internal watchdog said after the close of the annual session of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament.

Xu Jianyi, the chairman and party secretary of one of the country's biggest automakers FAW, was also placed under investigation Sunday.

The founding father of Communist China, Mao Zedong, said that power comes from the barrel of a gun, and senior officials and state-run media frequently exhort the military to follow the Party's leadership.

Questions over whether the PLA should become an army of the country rather than of the party have mounted in recent years.

But Xi made it clear last November that such a change was off the agenda, stressing the "important role of political work" at a meeting in Gutian, a former revolutionary base where Mao imposed himself on the party's "Fourth Army" in 1929.

- 'Beyond cure' -

As well as being the world's largest active military, a vast network of businesses are linked to China's armed forces -- so extensive that academics have dubbed it "PLA Inc".

Beijing unveiled the latest annual double-digit increase in its military budget this month, taking the official figure to 887 billion yuan ($142 billion), although analysts believe spending is significantly higher than publicised.

Experts say the money has brought with it more opportunities for corruption.

Since Xu's fall there have been multiple reports of his wrongdoing, including allegations of promotions being sold for tens of millions of yuan.

When an anti-graft team investigated the basement of Xu's 2,000-square-metre mansion in central Beijing, they discovered "a mountain of cash", jewels, paintings and antiques, according to Hong Kong-based magazine Phoenix Weekly.

Hong Kong- and Taiwan-based media have speculated that Xu -- along with disgraced former officials Zhou Yongkang, Bo Xilai and Ling Jihua -- had formed a political faction opposed to Xi.

The alleged cabal has been dubbed the "New Gang of Four", a reference to the infamous quartet including Mao's widow who were put on trial in 1980.

In a commentary last October, the PLA Daily hailed authorities' move to investigate Xu in spite of his illness, and it maintained Monday that the army "actively carried out Xu's medical treatment and care" while he was under investigation.

"But, faced with a patient who was beyond cure, medicine could not save his body, and morality could not save his life," it wrote.



China's powerful Xi defies expectations two years on

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 13, 2015 - Two years into his presidency China's Xi Jinping has overturned his image as a consensus-builder, with some analysts questioning whether the Communist Party would have chosen him as leader if the full scope of his ambitions and his signature anti-corruption drive had been known.

Xi, who is also general secretary of the Communist Party, was widely viewed as a compromise candidate between rival factions when he took office two years ago Saturday, winning approval from both influential former president Jiang Zemin and Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao.

At the helm of a party whose prime goal is ensuring its own continued rule, Xi was expected to continue the leadership's risk-averse approach -- but instead, experts say he has confounded expectations by presiding over a far-reaching anti-graft campaign and a harsh crackdown on activists, sending shockwaves through the ranks of the party elite and civil society alike.

"If anybody had had any inkling of what was going to happen, he would not have been picked," said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College who has written two books on contemporary Chinese politics.

After the death in 1976 of Communist China's founding father Mao Zedong -- who was at the centre of a huge personality cult -- the party became deeply conservative politically, Pei said, with its innermost circle selecting top leaders who would respect a new set of norms.

There was to be a consensus-based decision-making process, a respect for the physical safety of other party members and -- crucially -- no strong leaders.

"Both Jiang and Hu were in that mould," Pei said, noting that other than Xi, the six remaining members of the party's elite Politburo Standing Committee "are people who will not rock the boat".

But Pei added: "In the case of Xi, they've got the mother of all boat-rockers. The people who picked him must be regretting bitterly that they picked somebody who turned out to be completely different."

- 'A broad revivalist effort' -

Xi's anti-corruption sweep has been the signature of his first two years in office.

While critics say the absence of systemic reforms means it can be used for factional political purposes, the campaign has extended through government, military and state-owned enterprises' ranks, felling officials as powerful as former internal security chief Zhou Yongkang and former Central Military Commission vice-chairman Xu Caihou.

In another departure from his predecessors, Xi has positioned himself as the head of a half-dozen core leadership groups within the party.

He also recently unveiled a new theory, the "Four Comprehensives", that underscores the breadth of his agenda. Its goals: "Comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepen reform, comprehensively govern the nation according to law, and comprehensively strictly govern the Party".

At the same time, China under Xi has clamped down on dissent, with hundreds of activists, lawyers, journalists and others rounded up in what rights groups have called the most alarming such crackdown in decades.

That campaign took its latest turn last week, when five women's rights campaigners were detained in Beijing for planning protests against sexual harassment on International Women's Day. Amnesty International decried the detentions as "chilling" and the European Union has demanded their release.

Barry Naughton, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, said that Xi has been changing China in fundamental and diverse ways, and the extent of his ambitions signals "a broad revivalist effort to make himself a more powerful leader than others have been and to revive the whole Communist Party system".

Xi has proved "much more dynamic and formidable" than many had expected, added Naughton, an expert on China's economy. "We really need to take him very seriously."

Scholars are divided, however, on whether the successes of Xi's campaign outweigh the actual and potential costs.

- 'More scalps' -

Some say the anti-graft drive is clogging up the wheels of government by stripping away the oil that kept them turning.

"There is a kind of wait-and-see attitude -- a lack of lubricants on the one hand, and a sense of insecurity," said Joseph Cheng, a politics professor at the City University of Hong Kong. "And so, there is a tendency not to start important projects, not to start important initiatives, and this has affected economic growth and party morale."

In a commentary Thursday, China's official Xinhua news agency insisted: "Instead of derailing China's economic and political train, the storm is revitalising a country long plagued by corruption."

Xi and other top Chinese leaders are determined to avoid the fate of the Soviet Union, where Communist leader Mikhail Gorbachev "was seen to destroy the party in order to introduce reforms", Cheng noted.

"So the emphasis on the power of Xi Jinping now is that they must maintain the integrity of the leadership of the party, strengthen the ideological line and discourage Western thinking."

Steve Tsang, a China politics expert at the University of Nottingham, said the lack of a clear end in sight for Xi's anti-graft drive "is causing much concern and discomfort among some of his colleagues" -- but that if the momentum stops, Xi's dissenters within the establishment could be emboldened to push back.

"It may or may not require ever bigger scalps, but more scalps will certainly be needed," Tsang said. "He has now put himself in a position by which he has to keep going to avoid falling off."



US to send Patriot missiles for drill in Poland

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) March 13, 2015 - A US Patriot missile battery will take part in a joint exercise this month with Poland designed to reassure NATO allies anxious over a resurgent Russia, the Pentagon said Friday.

The Patriot systems, used to take out incoming missiles, will be deployed for the drill along with 100 US soldiers and about 30 vehicles, spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.

"This planned exercise is part of Operation Atlantic Resolve which aims to reassure allies, demonstrate freedom of movement and deter regional aggression on the eastern flank of NATO," Warren told reporters.

The American forces will exercise with a Polish air defense missile brigade, he said.

Poland is expected to make a decision on new missile defenses later this year and the Patriot system -- manufactured by US-based Raytheon -- is competing against another system by the Eurosam consortium that includes MBDA France, MBDA Italy and France's Thales Group.

If Poland opts for the Patriot batteries, it would mean more US troops would be deployed on the country's territory, which would be in Warsaw's interest, US Ambassador to Poland Stephen Mull said last month.

Poland has launched a major increase in military spending in the wake of Russia's intervention in Ukraine, with plans to invest in anti-aircraft defenses, an anti-missile shield, submarines, new helicopters and drones.



China will 'resolutely' protect lives near Myanmar border: premier

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 15, 2015 - Beijing will "resolutely" protect citizens near its southwestern border, Premier Li Keqiang said Sunday after a bomb dropped by a Myanmar warplane killed five people on Chinese territory.

China has sent fighter jets to patrol the border after the incident, in which a bomb hit a sugarcane field in Lincang in Yunnan province on Friday, killing five workers and injuring eight others.

It came days after Beijing warned of escalating violence near the border following a surge in ethnic conflict in the remote Kokang region in Myanmar's northeastern Shan state.

Beijing was a key backer of Myanmar's military junta while it was under Western sanctions, but President Thein Sein has increased ties with other countries including the United States since launching political reforms in 2011.

Li expressed "condolences and deep sympathies to the victims and their families" at his once-a-year meeting with journalists.

"At the same time, our government, the ministry of foreign affairs and the military have made solemn representations to the Myanmar side," he said.

"We have the responsibility and the ability to resolutely safeguard the security and stability of the China-Myanmar border, and we will resolutely protect the lives and property of our people," he said.

China's People's Liberation Army Air Force on Friday sent several fighter jets to "track, monitor, warn and chase away" Myanmar military planes flying close to the border, air force spokesman Shen Jinke was quoted by China's official news agency Xinhua as saying.

It cited Fan Changlong, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, as telling the commander of Myanmar's military that Beijing will take "firm and decisive action" in the event of any repetition.

Chinese deputy foreign minister Liu Zhenmin summoned the Myanmar ambassador to Beijing, Thit Linn Ohn, on Friday night to protest against the deaths, the agency added.

Last month, Myanmar declared a state of emergency in Kokang in response to the conflict, which began on February 9.

The unrest has virtually emptied the main Kokang town of Laukkai, the epicentre of the fighting, with streets in the once-bustling frontier community transformed into a battleground.

More than 30,000 people have fled from Myanmar into Yunnan province, according to Xinhua.



Sweden raises military spending amid concerns over Russia

‎17 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎03:31:55 AMGo to full article
Stockholm (AFP) March 12, 2015 - Sweden said on Thursday it would raise defence spending by 6.2 billion kronor (677 million euros, $720 million) and bring back troops to a "strategic" Baltic island amid concerns over Russia's military resurgence.

The country's left-wing government said most of the money, to be spent between 2016 and 2020, would go towards modernising ships that could detect and intercept submarines.

"We want to strengthen our ability to hunt submarines," Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist said at a press conference.

The announcement came a few months after a week-long search for a suspected Russian submarine in the waters off Stockholm was called off despite members of the public reporting five sightings of suspicious vessels in a week.

The Swedish military's failure in October to find what it would only refer to as "a foreign vessel" -- but which was believed by most experts to be Russian -- raised questions over the country's military spending after years of cutbacks in the post-Cold War era.

The extra funds would also be used to re-establish a permanent military presence on the island of Gotland, between southern Sweden and Latvia, for the first time in 10 years.

The country's largest island "is of high strategic value for Sweden and all of the Baltic Sea," Hultqvist said.

The government wants 150 troops to be stationed on Gotland, Swedish media reported.

The United States on Monday began to deploy 3,000 troops on a three-month exercise in the Baltic to reassure Russia's nervous neighbours.

Operation Atlantic Resolve would see major NATO forces working alongside their allies in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia -- former Soviet republics now members of the Western alliance, military officials said.

The search last year in Stockholm's archipelago, involving battleships, minesweepers and helicopters, stirred up Swedes' memories of Cold War cat-and-mouse games with suspected Soviet submarines along Sweden's long, rugged coastline.

Together with a series of alleged airspace violations by Russian jets over the last year, it helped bolster public support for NATO membership in the non-aligned country.



Modi in landmark visit to steer Sri Lanka away from China

‎15 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:24:43 AMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) March 13, 2015 - Narendra Modi began the first official visit by an Indian premier to Sri Lanka in nearly three decades Friday, looking to reassert New Delhi's influence over Colombo after its drift towards China.

Modi will hold talks with Sri Lanka's new President Maithripala Sirisena, who has promised to repair international ties damaged under his predecessor Mahinda Rajapakse's China-friendly regime, after a ceremonial welcome in Colombo.

The Indian prime minister will also address parliament and visit the Tamil-dominated northern Jaffna region on a visit that comes just weeks after Sirisena made India his first foreign port of call since his election in January.

While observers don't expect major policy initiatives so soon after the neighbouring leaders' last meeting, it is seen as an important signal of a desire to reset ties.

"I am sure together we are going to script a golden chapter in the history of India-Sri Lanka relations," Modi said this week as he set off on a three-nation Indian Ocean island tour that has already taken him to the Seychelles and Mauritius.

He travels north on Saturday for a landmark visit to the Jaffna peninsula, home to the island's Tamil minority and which bore the brunt of a 37-year separatist war in which India was intricately involved.

Modi is expected to push for demilitarisation in the former war zone and more autonomy for minority Tamils who share close cultural and religious ties with those across the Palk Strait in Tamil Nadu.

Modi will be the first Indian prime minister to hold bilateral talks in Colombo since 1987, although several predecessors attended regional summits.

- Rifle assault -

When Rajiv Gandhi visited in 1987, the then premier was famously assaulted with a rifle butt by a Sri Lankan naval rating while inspecting a guard of honour.

Gandhi had gone to sign a bilateral pact that sought to end a guerrilla war by Tamil separatist rebels who had effectively enjoyed a safe haven in India since the mid 1980s.

The main rebel group, the Tamil Tigers, repudiated the peace accord and India ended up fighting the militants they had once trained and armed.

Around 1,140 Indian soldiers lost their lives during the 32-month deployment in Sri Lanka and Gandhi himself was assassinated in 1991 by a female Tiger suicide bomber while campaigning in Tamil Nadu.

After the war ended in 2009, relations remained strained and Sirisena's predecessor Rajapakse caused unease in New Delhi by forging close ties with Beijing.

India, which traditionally regarded Sri Lanka as within its sphere of influence, was furious last year when Rajapakse allowed two Chinese submarines to dock in Colombo.

Under Rajapakse, Sri Lanka built up steady debts as Beijing funded a string of major construction projects.

Since his loss to Sirisena in a January election, the pendulum has swung back towards India with the new president making attempts to renegotiate the terms of some loans.

Sri Lanka's new rulers last month also ordered a suspension of China's biggest investment project, a $1.4 billion new city on reclaimed land just next to Colombo's main sea port.

- 'Diplomatic recalibration' -

Mangala Samaraweera, Sirisena's foreign minister, has said that while Colombo wants to retain good relations with China, "we will not go overboard like the Rajapakse regime".

Charu Lata Hogg, a Sri Lanka expert at London's Chatham House think-tank, said there were signs of "a recalibration in its previous relationships with China in favour of improved ties with the West and India".

Modi is expected to finalise energy and construction deals, including funding for Sri Lanka's creaking railways.

He will also lay the foundation stone for a cultural centre in battle-scarred Jaffna where he is expected to receive a rapturous reception.

He will be only the second foreign leader since independence to visit the region, where India is seen by locals as a crucial protector against the dominance of the ethnic Sinhalese majority.

Beijing was a key defender of Sri Lanka at international forums when Rajapakse came under criticism over its rights record and allegations that 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed at the end of the war.

Modi's predecessor, Manmohan Singh, pointedly shunned a Commonwealth summit hosted by Rajapakse in 2013 over the treatment of Tamils.



Russian troops launch mass drills close to Ukraine

‎15 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:24:43 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) March 12, 2015 - Russia launched major military exercises Thursday, with thousands of troops taking part in war games across the country, including in the annexed Crimean peninsula and southern regions near Ukraine.

More than 8,000 ground troops began drills set to last until early April in regions including southern Russia, Crimea, Armenia and the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, defence ministry officials said.

The exercises are among the largest in recent times, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Russia's Black Sea fleet based in Crimea also began separate drills, using military planes to simulate an attack on its missile-carrying ships.

The navy also held exercises in the far eastern Sea of Japan and the far northern Barents Sea.

Around 200 Russian troops in central Russia underwent training to simulate urban warfare, using tanks and armed personnel carriers to "storm a city," defence officials said.

In February, Russia launched massive drills involving several thousand soldiers close to its borders with Baltic states already jittery over their former Soviet master's actions in Ukraine.

The United States then launched a three-month military exercise in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, deploying some 3,000 frontline troops to take part in drills in what officials said was meant to "demonstrate resolve to President (Vladimir) Putin and Russia that collectively we can come together."

Putin last year ordered a series of snap drills in regions bordering Ukraine, and Moscow massed up to 40,000 troops along Ukraine's eastern border, according to NATO.

He has since been accused by the West of backing and arming separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has left some 6,000 dead. The Kremlin denies this.

NATO is countering Russia by boosting its defenses on Europe's eastern flank with a spearhead force of 5,000 troops and command centres in the Baltic states, Bulgaria, Poland and Romania.



Germany warns of 'dangerous' consequences to arming Ukraine

‎15 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:24:43 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) March 12, 2015 - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Thursday argued against arming Ukraine during a trip to Washington where support is growing for delivering weapons to help Kiev battle pro-Russian separatists.

"I understand that many of you are calling for a more rapid, therefore determined, therefore military-based solution," Steinmeier said at an event organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank.

But providing Kiev with lethal military aid could "catapult the conflict into a next phase" and trigger a "dangerous permanent escalation" between Ukraine and Russia, he warned.

"This can be in nobody's interest."

His visit comes as US President Barack Obama is under pressure not just from hawks in Congress but also from within his own administration to supply the outmatched Ukrainian army with weapons to shore up its faltering defenses.

Obama's new defense secretary Ashton Carter told the Senate in his confirmation hearing last month that he was "very much inclined" towards providing weapons to Kiev.

The US military's top-ranking officer, General Martin Dempsey, said last week that "we should absolutely consider lethal aid and it ought to be in the context of NATO allies."

Germany and many European nations believe Western arms would not offset the military advantage enjoyed by pro-Russian forces allegedly backed by Moscow, and instead would simply fuel a conflict that has claimed an estimated 6,000 lives.

The White House on Wednesday also played down the idea of sending lethal military assistance, stressing that this would "lead to greater bloodshed."



Russia Grows Maritime Potential, Returns to Global Geopolitics

‎15 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:24:43 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Mar 13, 2015 - Russia returns to global politics, signaling of intention to regain its geopolitical positions as a naval power.

Ekaterina Blinova - Russia is growing its maritime potential, signaling its intention to regain geopolitical power as a naval force, according to experts.

In the midst of withstanding NATO expansion in Eastern Europe and closely observing its national interests in the Middle East, Russia is also strengthening its military presence off its eastern coasts - in the Pacific region - where the geopolitical interests of Moscow and Beijing are overlapping.

Experts point out that for Russia and China the American pivot to East Asia and the Asia-Pacific poses a serious challenge. At the same time both Moscow and Beijing are in territorial disputes with Tokyo; with the balance of power in the Korean peninsula also viewed by the two global players as a guarantee for stability in the region.

So far, Moscow has been upgrading and modernizing its Pacific Fleet units, and holding joint naval drills with China on a regular basis for the last five years. Additionally, Russia's Pacific Fleet is participating in multi-national anti-piracy operations off Northeast Africa's coasts and expanding its Arctic missions.

Military analysts point out that over the last two years the Pacific Fleet has obtained new Borei-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) and Dyugon-class landing craft; Russia's second-biggest fleet will also receive the multipurpose Steregushchy-class corvettes and Yasen-class multipurpose attack nuclear submarines (SSGN) as a part of 20-year naval re-armament program.

It is also worth mentioning that Russia expects eight Borei-class vessels to enter service by 2020, while the missile-carrying nuclear submarines "Vladimir Monomakh" and "Alexander Nevskiy" will join Russia's Navy Force in the Far East this year.

Each Borei-class submarine can carry up to 16 Bulava ballistic missiles (SLBM) which are reportedly capable of overcomng US missile defense systems, making the Pacific Fleet an effective military "shield" of Russia in the Far East and bolstering its retaliatory capacity.

Meanwhile, in 2014 Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced of an ambitious plan to expand Russia's naval presence overseas, setting up access rights for Russia to foreign ports.

Remarkably, during his last visit to Latin America in February 2015, Sergei Shoigu signed a number of important deals strengthening military collaboration between Russia and Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, including agreements, allowing Russian warships to enter the countries' ports.

According to experts, Russia's naval visits to overseas havens have increased substantially over the last three years, including ports of Vietnam, the Seychelles and Singapore.

Russia's gradual naval expansion demonstrates the country's intention to regain its global position as an influential naval power, experts noted, marking Russia's return to classic geopolitics backed up by strong military fleet.

Source: Sputnik News



Moscow Will Respond to NATO Military Buildup Near Russia's Border

‎15 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:24:43 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Mar 13, 2015 - NATO military buildup near Russia's border does not contribute to the restoration of trust in the Euroatlantic space, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday.

"We have confirmed our stance that military buildup near our border does not contribute to the restoration of trust in the Euroatlantic," the Russian foreign minister said during a news conference with his Spanish counterpart.

Lavrov added that "we are forced to react in an adequate way, but we are sure that these problems need to be solved through an equal dialog based on mutual respect."

Following Crimea's reunification with Russia in March 2014 and the start of an internal armed conflict in Ukraine's southeast in April, NATO has been boosting its military presence near Russia's borders, including in the Baltic states.

On February 5, NATO defense ministers agreed to set up a new high-readiness force dubbed Spearhead Force as part of the NATO Response Force. Altogether, the enhanced Response Force will be increased and count up to around 30,000 troops.

The ministers also decided to establish six command and control units in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania tasked with "ensuring that national and NATO forces from across the Alliance are able to act as one from the start" if a crisis arises.

Source: Sputnik News



NATO exercises to test readiness upgrade

‎15 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:24:43 AMGo to full article
Mons, Belgium (AFP) March 11, 2015 - NATO exercises in April and June will test progress of a new rapid reaction force created in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, alliance officials said Wednesday.

"This will be the first opportunity to see the interim Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in action," a NATO official told a briefing at the alliance's military HQ in the Belgian city of Mons.

Stung into action as the Ukraine crisis deepened, NATO leaders agreed in September to create a new "spearhead" force of about 5,000 troops able to deploy anywhere within a couple of days.

This VJTF unit is due to be operational by 2016, with command centres being set up in NATO's east European members -- many once ruled from Moscow -- so that the troops hit the ground running.

They would be followed by the rest of the NATO Response Force, expected to number up to 30,000 soldiers in all, to make sure that the alliance, born in the Cold War to deter the Soviet Union, can meet modern-day threats.

"The first exercise will focus on rapid preparation and deployment," said the NATO official who asked not to be named.

"In the second exercise, they will be tested on their ability to deploy from Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the Czech Republic to the Zagan training area in western Poland ... to respond to an unfolding crisis," the official said.

"It will be a very dynamic exercise, the first time that the VTJF will actually train live," the official added.

NATO officials stressed that the exercises did not target any specific country and were part of alliance efforts to meet a broad spectrum of threats, in the east but also in the Middle East and North Africa.

Announcing the Readiness Action Plan at the September summit, then NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: "This decision sends a clear message -- NATO protects all allies at all times."

"This is a demonstration of our solidarity and our resolve," Rasmussen said.



China asserts its clout as diplomatic heavyweight

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 8, 2015 - China asserted its place on the global diplomatic stage Sunday, pledging to steadfastly support Russia in the face of Western sanctions, scolding regional rival Japan, and making clear it sees the US as an equal.

Foreign minister Wang Yi, speaking to reporters at a packed annual press conference, staunchly defended China's national interests, while proclaiming that its rise is no threat to the international order.

He stressed that Beijing would not abandon old friends and allies such as Moscow, which is beleaguered under sanctions and international opprobrium, and Pyongyang, in recent years more often than not a headache for China's leaders rather than an asset.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to visit the US, the world's only superpower, later this year and Wang emphasised that the two countries are equals that must work to overcome tensions.

The two presidents were expected to "inject new momentum into efforts to build a new model of major country relations between China and the United States", Wang said, using Beijing's favoured description of their ties, suggesting they are on the same footing.

"China and the United States are two large countries," he added. "It's impossible for there not to be any disagreements between us."

Wang vowed to deepen economic and diplomatic cooperation with Russia, even as it faces Western sanctions over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Ukraine.

Beijing and Moscow have regularly used their veto power on the UN Security Council to thwart Western initiatives such as on Syria's civil war, and Wang said they would "continue to carry out strategic coordination and cooperation to maintain international peace and security".

Sino-Russian relations were based on "mutual need", he said, and they would work to increase trade to an annual $100 billion a year while intensifying cooperation in sectors including finance and energy.

Oil and gas are crucial to Russia, which has suffered from the plunge in global crude prices, and Wang's comments suggest President Vladimir Putin -- with whom Xi has a strong personal relationship -- can count on Beijing's support.

- Weight of history -

Wang stuck largely to Beijing's script, reserving his theatrics for traditional bete noire Japan, which received a finger-wagging denunciation over what Beijing sees as its recalcitrance over World War II history.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will only be welcome at commemorations Beijing plans for the 70th anniversary of the war's end if he is "sincere" about history, Wang said.

China-Japan relations have plunged over issues including territorial disputes and Japan's 19th- and 20th-century invasions, while China's Communist Party regularly stokes nationalism as part of its claim to a right to rule.

Abe is a nationalist who feels Japan has apologised enough and that after seven decades of peace has earned a right to be more assertive of its interests, including defence and sovereignty, as well as how it sees its own history.

"This issue has been haunting the China-Japan relationship," Wang said, pointing his index finger in the air and referring to the conflict, in which China says more than 20 million of its citizens died.

"Those in power in Japan should first ask themselves, what they have done on this score," he said.

He was also defiant over Beijing's interests in the South China Sea, almost of all which it regards as its territory amid disputes with Southeast Asian countries.

Asked about reports Beijing was reclaiming land in the area, he said China was "carrying out necessary construction on its own islands and reefs".

"We have every right to do things that are lawful and justified," he added.

A career diplomat and expert on Japan, Wang assumed his position in March 2013 and is the face of Chinese foreign policy, the counterpart of officials such as US Secretary of State John Kerry.

He was speaking on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's Communist-controlled parliament.

China's most influential foreign policy official, however, is Yang Jiechi, a member of the State Council, or Cabinet, who was Wang's predecessor as foreign minister.

Wang also stressed Beijing's close historical ties with Pyongyang, which go back to the Korean War when Chinese forces guaranteed its survival.

But he also illustrated the challenge of dealing with the nuclear-armed neighbour and its youthful, often unpredictable leader Kim Jong-Un, the third generation in his family to helm the country.

Three years after coming to power Kim has yet to meet Xi, but Moscow said in January that the North Korean leader would be among those attending ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany.

"As to when our leaders will meet it will have to suit the schedule of both sides," he said, implicitly acknowledging that no such encounter was likely soon.



China vows cooperation with Russia despite West's sanctions

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 8, 2015 - China vowed Sunday to plough ahead on economic and diplomatic cooperation with Russia despite Western sanctions against Moscow over the conflict in Ukraine, stressing their relations are based on "mutual need".

"The practical cooperation between China and Russia is based on mutual need, it seeks win-win results and has enormous internal impetus and room for expansion," said Beijing's foreign minister Wang Yi.

As well as sanctions, Vladimir Putin's Russia is facing a sharp decline in its ruble currency amid an economic crisis fuelled largely by plunging oil prices.

Both countries are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, where they have in the past jointly used their veto power against Western-backed moves such as in the civil war in Syria.

Wang told reporters on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's Communist-controlled parliament, that Beijing and Moscow will "continue to carry out strategic coordination and cooperation to maintain international peace and security".

Wang's comments signal that Putin, assailed by the West over the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, can count on continued Chinese economic and diplomatic support.

Beijing and Moscow, allies and then adversaries during the Cold War, have over the past quarter century often found common ground internationally, frequently taking similar stands at the UN.

They have also forged increasingly closer economic ties, with China hungry for Russia's vast hydrocarbon resources. Western sanctions have made seeking stable markets an urgent need for Putin, whose economy has been hit hard by the fall in prices for oil, a major source of revenue.

Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who met five times last year, have a close personal relationship.

Xi told visiting Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in February that the two countries' "cooperation grows ever deeper".

In the economic arena, the two sides will "work hard" to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion, while intensifying cooperation in the financial, oil and gas and nuclear power sectors, Wang said, after China-Russia trade totalled $95.3 billion last year.

Among other results, he said they would begin "full construction" of an eastern natural gas pipeline and also sign an agreement on the western route.

Wang added that they would "accelerate joint development and research" on long-range wide body passenger jets, begin working together to develop Russia's far eastern region and step up cooperation on high speed railways.



Abe welcome to China war parade if 'sincere': Beijing

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 8, 2015 - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will only be welcome at Beijing's commemorations of the end of the Second World War if he is "sincere" about history, China's foreign minister said Sunday in a finger-wagging denunciation.

Relations between the Asian powers have plunged over issues including territorial disputes and Japan's 19th- and 20th-century invasions, with China's Communist Party regularly stoking nationalism as part of its claim to a right to rule.

Unlike the former Soviet Union, China does not hold major annual military parades, but has announced plans for one to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.

Beijing has not given a specific date for the parade, but it regards September 3, the day after Japan signed its formal surrender to Allied forces on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, as victory day.

Asked whether Abe would be invited, foreign minister Wang Yi told a press conference on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp parliament: "We will extend invitations to the leaders of all relevant countries and international organisations."

But he added: "We welcome the participation of anyone who is sincere about coming."

China's foreign ministry regularly urges Japan to "show sincerity" over history, signalling that it does not believe Tokyo does so.

The wider conflict is known in China as the World Anti-Fascist War, with the struggle against Tokyo's Imperial forces officially called the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.

"This issue has been haunting the China-Japan relationship," Wang said, pointing his index finger in the air and recalling the words of an elder Chinese diplomat: "The more the victimiser is conscious of his guilt, the easier the victimised can recover from their suffering."

"Those in power in Japan should first ask themselves, what they have done on this score," he went on. "Of course the people of the world will reach their own conclusion. 70 years ago, Japan lost the war, 70 years afterwards, Japan must not lose its conscience.

"Will it continue to carry the baggage of history, or will it make a clean break with past aggression? Ultimately, the choice is Japan's."

- Past apologies -

A meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Abe after an Asia-Pacific summit in Beijing in November was meant to clear the air but was instead marked by the brevity of the two men's handshake and their disdainful body language.

Abe has said he will release a fresh statement on World War II this year, but will "in general" stand by previous apologies for wartime misdeeds.

An official 1995 apology by then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama said Japan "through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations", adding the premier felt "deep remorse" and offered a "heartfelt apology".

Japanese right-wingers would like the statement revoked, something that Abe is under huge international pressure to avoid.

But the nationalist premier has equivocated on Japan's guilt for its formalised system of sex slavery.

The commemorations for the end of the war were "perfectly natural and normal", Wang said.

"Our goal is to remember history, commemorate the martyrs, cherish peace and look to the future," he said.



Merkel says honesty, generosity key in postwar reconciliation

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) March 9, 2015 - German Chancellor Angela Merkel waded into the fraught area of wartime forgiveness during a visit to Japan on Monday, saying that "facing history squarely" and "generous gestures" are necessary to mend ties.

Merkel was speaking in Tokyo ahead of the 70th anniversary of Japan's defeat in World War II, in which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative views on Tokyo's war crimes are under scrutiny, and as China and South Korea continue to call for ever more contrition.

"Germany was lucky to be accepted in the community of nations after the horrible experience that the world had to meet with Germany during the period of National Socialism (Nazism) and the Holocaust," she said in a public lecture hosted by the left-leaning Asahi newspaper.

"This was possible first because Germany did face its past squarely, but also because the Allied Powers who controlled Germany after the Second World War would attach great importance to Germany coming to grips with its past."

"One of the great achievements of the time certainly was reconciliation between Germany and France... The French have given just as valuable a contribution as the Germans have," she said.

Relations between Japan and its wartime victims, China and South Korea, are at a low point, with Beijing and Seoul both demanding Tokyo does more to atone for its past. Both countries suffered from Japan's militarism in the first half of the 20th century.

But Japanese nationalists say Tokyo has apologised enough, and that the constant references to WWII are covering flak for governments in China and South Korea who are seeking to direct popular anger elsewhere.

There were "great minds and great personalities who said we ought to adopt a policy of rapprochement... and without these generous gestures by our neighbours this would not have been possible," Merkel told her audience.

- Reconciliation -

The German leader's comments came on the first day of a two-day trip to Tokyo, her first in seven years. Abe visited Germany last year.

China's foreign minister Wang Yi on Sunday said Abe would be welcome at Beijing's commemorations of the end of WWII if he is "sincere" about history.

Beijing has not given a specific date for the parade, but it regards September 3, the day after Japan signed its formal surrender to Allied forces on board the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, as victory day.

"It's difficult for me as the German chancellor to give you advice on how to deal with part of your neighbourhood," Merkel said in response to questions.

"But I think history and experience tells us also that peaceful means of reconciliation have to be found," she said.

Merkel's visit to Japan is part of her swing through G7 member nations before Germany hosts the group's next summit in June. She has already visited the other five nations.

The visit, her third to Japan in almost 10 years in office, is seen as a balancing act between Germany's ties with Beijing and Tokyo. She has been to China seven times during the same period.

Thanking Japan for joining Western powers in imposing sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine, Merkel said: "Japan and Germany share common interests whenever the strengthening of the international rule of law is to be brought about."

Issues "such as the sea and trade routes in the East and South China Sea", where safety is seen threatened by territorial rows between China and its neighbours, "will also link Europe with your part of the world," she said.

Abe replied to questions about further sanctions against Russia by saying that Japan would "respond appropriately" in coordination with other G7 members.

But "we are not in an environment where the G8 including Russia can hold meaningful discussions", Abe told reporters.

"I think Russia recognises this. But at the same time, it's important to continue pursuing dialogue with Russia. Together with Chancellor Merkel, we will strongly call on Russia to play a constructive role in achieving a diplomatic and peaceful resolution of the Ukraine issue."



Pakistan test-fires nuclear capable ballistic missile

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Islamabad (AFP) March 9, 2015 - Pakistan test-fired a nuclear-capable ballistic missile on Monday, the military said, less than a week after the first high-level talks with arch-rivals India for nearly a year.

The militay said the Shaheen III surface-to-surface missile had a range of 2,750 kilometres (1,700 miles) and can carry nuclear and conventional warheads.

"The test launch, with its impact point in the Arabian Sea, was aimed at validating various design and technical parameters of the weapon system at maximum range," the military said in a statement.

India and Pakistan -- which have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 -- have routinely carried out missile tests since both demonstrated nuclear weapons capability in 1998.

Pakistan's most recent missile test came last month with the launch of a low-flying, terrain-hugging cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Islamabad last week for talks with his Pakistani counterpart.

It was the first senior-level dialogue between the nuclear-armed rivals since their prime ministers met in New Delhi last May.

Relations between the two countries, always fraught, soured further last August amid a rise in clashes along their borders and a row over a Pakistani diplomat meeting Kashmiri separatists.



Russia massing sophisticated weapons in Crimea: NATO

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) March 9, 2015 - Russia has vastly enhanced its military capabilities in Crimea since annexing the peninsula, turning it into a "power projection platform," a senior NATO general was reported Monday as saying.

"What we've seen is easy to describe as the militarisation of Crimea," the alliance's top commander for Europe, General Philip Breedlove, said in an interview with Ukrainian channel 1+1.

"They've brought an air capability, they've increased their capability to project sea power from there," he said.

"We see very capable surface-to-air defense systems that range about 40 percent of the Black Sea and we've seen very sophisticated missile defense systems that range almost the entire Black Sea."

"Crimea has become very much a power projection platform," he said in an interview broadcast in Ukrainian on Sunday evening, of which AFP has obtained the original English version.

Russia annexed Crimea after deploying soldiers to the peninsula in late February 2014. The troops took control of the territory, seizing Ukrainian ships and military bases, while the authorities organised a referendum that demonstrated overwhelming support for the province joining Russia.

Although Putin initially denied that any Russian troops were involved in the takeover, he later conceded their presence.

On Sunday, in a preview of a film about Crimea on state channel Rossiya-1 Putin revealed that he ordered his security chiefs to "return" the peninsula to Russian rule as early as February 23.

Ukraine's government, which has also been battling a bloody pro-Russian insurgency in the east of the country, accuses Moscow of massing forces in Crimea across the de-facto border from its Kherson region.



Commission chief Juncker calls for EU army

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Berlin (AFP) March 8, 2015 - European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Sunday called for the creation of an EU army in the wake of rising tensions with Russia.

Juncker said the force could help counter new threats beyond the bloc's borders and defend European "values", in an interview with Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

"You would not create a European army to use it immediately," he was quoted as saying.

"But a common army among the Europeans would convey to Russia that we are serious about defending the values of the European Union."

He said a joint EU force would also lead to more efficient spending on military equipment and drive further integration of the bloc's 28 member states.

"Such an army would help us design a common foreign and security policy," the former Luxembourg prime minister said, but added that the force should not challenge NATO's defence role.

"Europe's image has suffered dramatically and also in terms of foreign policy, we don't seem to be taken entirely seriously."

The proposal is likely to rile opponents of deeper EU integration such as Britain but won some support from Germany.

Welt am Sonntag quoted the head of the German parliament's foreign policy committee, Norbert Roettgen, as saying that an EU army "is a European vision whose time has come".

Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that "our future as Europeans will one day be a European army" although she added "not in the short term".

She said such a move would "strengthen Europe's security" and "strengthen a European pillar in the transatlantic alliance".

The newspaper said that former NATO secretary general Javier Solana would present a report on Monday in Brussels entitled "More Union in European Defence" calling for a new European security strategy including military capability to intervene beyond EU borders.



Poland will host training of Ukrainian troops: government

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Warsaw (AFP) March 6, 2015 - NATO member Poland will train Ukrainian military instructors as it has better facilities than those of its non-allied eastern neighbour, a Polish government spokesperson said Friday.

The announcement came on the heels of a meeting Friday in Warsaw between Polish Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz and Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council chief Oleksandr Turchynov.

"Our bases and training facilities are better prepared and this is why they (the Ukrainian military instructors) will be trained in Poland," government spokeswoman Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska was quoted as saying by Polish commercial broadcaster TVN24.

Warsaw had said last week it would likely send a small contingent of troops to Ukraine to help train Kiev's military officers, echoing a similar deployment from Britain.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that his country will send up to 75 soldiers to Ukraine on a "training mission" of about six months.

Cameron said they would not be sent to the conflict zone.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was upbeat on Friday about the sputtering so-called Minsk II ceasefire between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the eastern regions of Ukraine bordering Russia.

"For sure the trend is a positive one, even if not perfect," she said in the Latvian capital Riga.

Both Ukrainian government forces and rebels claim to be withdrawing heavy weapons as called for in the truce.

But international monitors say they need greater access to their weapons inventories in order to verify the pullback.

Russian officials on Thursday dismissed claims by the United States and NATO that Moscow has sent "thousands" of troops to fight alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

NATO deputy secretary-general Alexander Vershbow, speaking at a conference in the Latvian capital Riga on Thursday, said: "Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting and dying in large numbers in Eastern Ukraine."

Swiss firm sells camouflage nets to sanctions-hit Russia
Geneva (AFP) March 8, 2015 - Russia has acquired high-tech camouflage netting from Switzerland for a record 85 million euros, having placed the order before Bern imposed sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine conflict, reports said Sunday.

The netting is designed to escape detection by radar and infra-red captors.

The contract was signed in August 2014, before Bern decided to mirror EU sanctions against Russia, Swiss economic policy spokesman Fabian Maienfisch told the ATS news agency, confirming press reports.

Maienfisch declined to name either the civilian Russian buyer or the Swiss supplier.

The United States and the European Union applied a first round of sanctions against Moscow for its alleged military role in Ukraine in March 2014, followed by further penalties as the conflict has dragged on.

The Swiss supplier shipped a first batch of the camouflage netting worth 54 million Swiss francs (50.5 million euros, $54.7 million) in October 2014, and the rest two months later, the Sunday weeklies Le Matin Dimanche and SonntagsZeitung reported.

It was the largest ever sale of Swiss military materiel to a Russian company.



Russia denies US claim of 'thousands' of troops in Ukraine

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) March 5, 2015 - Russian officials on Thursday dismissed a claim by the United States that Moscow has sent "thousands" of troops to fight alongside pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

"These figures, which are plucked out of the air, of course demoralise and disorientate the international community," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland on Wednesday told a congressional foreign affairs committee that Russia had deployed "thousands and thousands" of troops to Ukraine, although she said she could not give a precise number.

She also accused Russia of sending hundreds of pieces of military equipment to the rebel-controlled zone since December, including tanks and rocket systems.

Russia's deputy defence minister Anatoly Antonov also denied the allegation.

He also rejected a claim by the head of US Army forces in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, who said there were 12,000 troops in Ukraine.

"I know about the statements by Victoria Nuland and the general about those thousands of Russian servicemen allegedly in Ukraine. But why 12,000. Why are they thinking small? Why didn't they say 20,000, why didn't they say 25,000?" Antonov said caustically at a briefing, according to the RIA Novosti news agency.

NATO deputy secretary-general Alexander Vershbow on Thursday, speaking at a conference in the Latvian capital Riga, said: "Russian leaders are less and less able to conceal the fact that Russian soldiers are fighting and dying in large numbers in Eastern Ukraine."

He said that "Putin's aim seems to be to turn Ukraine into a failed state and to suppress and discredit alternative voices in Russia so as to prevent a Russian Maidan."

Moscow denies any involvement in the conflict, which the UN says has left about 6,000 dead in the past year, although it admits some Russian troops may have volunteered to fight with the rebels while on leave from their regular units.

Both Kiev and the separatist rebels have said they are withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontline as per a February 15 ceasefire agreement which is being closely watched by Western countries after repeated violations.

Western leaders including US President Barack Obama on Tuesday called for a "strong reaction" from the international community to any major violation of the ceasefire, hinting at the possibility of further sanctions on Russia.

The UN Security Council will meet Friday to take stock of the latest efforts to prop up the EU-mediated ceasefire signed in Minsk which aims to end the 10-month conflict, diplomats said.



'Thousands' of Russian troops in east Ukraine: US envoy

‎10 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎09:50:46 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) March 4, 2015 - The United States' senior envoy to Europe alleged Wednesday that Russia had deployed "thousands and thousands" of troops to neighboring Ukraine.

Speaking to a congressional foreign affairs committee, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland also told US lawmakers that Russia was flooding eastern Ukraine with military hardware.

"Since December, Russia has transferred hundreds of pieces of military equipment, including tanks, armored vehicles, rocket systems, heavy artillery," Nuland said.

"The Russian military has its own robust command structure in eastern Ukraine... they are funding this war, they are fueling it and commanding and controlling it."

Nuland was not able to say exactly how many Russian troops were in eastern Ukraine -- where pro-Russian rebels are battling loyalist security forces -- but estimated the number to be "in the thousands and thousands."

On Tuesday, Western leaders, including US President Barack Obama, called for a "strong reaction" from the international community to any major violation of a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine as they sought to further pressure Russia over the conflict.

The leaders did not specify what a "major" break from the accord might be, nor what response it would provoke, but hinted at the possibility of further sanctions on Moscow.

But, in her testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Nuland suggested that Washington and its partners were ready to further tighten economic sanctions on Russia.

She also accused the Kremlin of violating the terms of a ceasefire deal agreed in Minsk.

"We have already begun consultations with our European partners on further sanctions pressure should Russia continue fueling the fire in the east or other parts of Ukraine, fail to implement Minsk or grab more land as we've seen in Debaltseve," she said.

Moscow denies any involvement in the conflict, which has cost some 6,000 lives over the past year, although it admits some Russian troops may have volunteered to fight with the rebels while on leave from their regular units.



Top US military officer backs arming Ukraine

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) March 3, 2015 - The US military's top-ranking officer on Tuesday added to a growing clamor for Washington to arm Ukraine in its battle with pro-Russian forces, saying he favors doing so through NATO.

It was the first time General Martin Dempsey had spoken out in support of arming Ukraine's army against the separatists and follows similar comments by the Pentagon's new chief, Ashton Carter, and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

"I think we should absolutely consider lethal aid and it ought to be in the context of NATO allies because (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's ultimate objective is to fracture NATO," Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

President Barack Obama is weighing a possible move to provide weapons to Kiev but some NATO members -- including France and Germany -- are opposed to arming Ukraine over fears it could further escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Western powers on Tuesday suggested Moscow could face more punitive sanctions if Russia violates a February 12 truce between Kiev government troops and the pro-Russian rebels.

Both sides in the conflict claim to be upholding the ceasefire and pulling their artillery back from the frontline.

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany also have agreed to send observers to flashpoints in eastern Ukraine to monitor the truce, officials in Kiev said.

Leaders in Ukraine fear the port city of Mariupol will be the next target of separatists because it could offer a land bridge to the Crimea peninsula -- annexed by Russia a year ago.

The conflict, which has dragged on for 11 months, has left 6,000 dead, according to a UN tally.



China's wealthiest to take part in key political meetings

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 2, 2015 - Five of the 10 wealthiest people in Communist-ruled China are due to take part in two major political meetings starting this week, government websites show, highlighting the influence of the country's mega-rich.

Super-wealthy delegates to the "two sessions" are often the focus of public attention, with some criticised for showing off their influence or lobbying for favourable policies for their own industries.

The website of the National People's Congress (parliament) shows that among the top 10 of publisher Hurun's 2014 China rich list, third-place drinks tycoon Zong Qinghou, fifth-placed Pony Ma of Internet giant Tencent, and Lei Jun, the head of mobile phone upstart Xiaomi, who took tenth spot, are all delegates.

Solar energy tycoon Li Hejun -- listed in joint third place last year but now described by Hurun as China's richest man -- and sixth-ranked Robin Li of Chinese search engine giant Baidu, are both in the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a parallel debating body, the latest membership list showed.

Both chambers are part of the Communist-controlled machinery of government.

Capitalists and landowners were persecuted in the early days of the Peoples' Republic of China, with entrepreneurs only officially allowed to join the Communist Party during the 1990s leadership of Jiang Zemin under his "Three Represents" theory, which called for more open membership.

Membership of either the NPC or CPPCC is a sign of political approval in China, with fallen officials regularly expelled before they are formally prosecuted.

Ling Jihua, who was once a protege of former president Hu Jintao but is now under investigation for corruption after his son was killed in a Ferrari crash in Beijing, was removed as a vice chairman of the CPPCC National Committee and stripped of his membership on Saturday along with two other disgraced cadres, the official Xinhua news agency reported earlier.

The New Culture newspaper, based in Jilin province, reported that among China's 100 richest people, 15 were NPC delegates and 21 CPPCC members.

The total fortune of the 36 was more than 1.2 trillion yuan ($191 billion), it added -- more than the gross domestic product of Vietnam.

China's unprecedented economic boom has raised hundreds of millions out of poverty but also created huge income disparities and rampant corruption, with only a relative few accruing vast wealth.

At previous NPC and CPPCC sessions the government has repeatedly vowed to help the poor and narrow the wealth gap.

This year's CPPCC session starts on Tuesday and the NPC opens on Thursday.



Arms removal... or relocation? Ukraine ceasefire observers in the dark

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Donetsk, Ukraine (AFP) March 2, 2015 - Government forces in Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists they have been battling for 10 months insist they are withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontline, as called for by a February ceasefire deal.

But confirming that the big guns are really being pulled back is proving difficult, creating frustration among residents trapped by the fighting.

"These weapons have to be withdrawn on both sides. I've lived through seven months of bombardments so I can tell you it's very important," Tamara Slivinskaya told AFP.

The 61-year-old was queueing for food aid on Lenin Square in Debaltseve, a strategic transport hub that fell to the rebels after the ceasefire was supposed to have taken effect.

"They say the rebels are withdrawing them and that the Ukrainians are doing nothing."

"As long as I haven't seen it with my own eyes, I don't know if it's true," Slivinskaya said, echoing the doubts that have shrouded reports of the arms withdrawal.

The European-brokered ceasefire deal signed in the Belarussian capital Minsk on February 12 calls for tanks and artillery to be withdrawn from a buffer zone of between 50 and 140 kilometres (around 30 to 90 miles).

Both sides initially dragged their feet, but now say the process is well under way as fighting abates in most areas.

Ukrainian military spokesman Anatoliy Stelmakh said Saturday that government forces had completed the first stage of the withdrawal, which calls for the pullback of guns with a calibre of 100 mm or more. "The second stage can commence as soon as we receive the order."

Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, declared the separatists had already withdrawn 90 percent of their heavy weapons.

Kiev accused the separatists of merely shuffling the equipment around the frontline, or removing it only to smuggle it back into position after dark.

- OSCE demands inventory -

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is tasked with monitoring the ceasefire, said Monday it was "not yet in a position to provide verification of withdrawals."

Doing so, said the monitoring mission, would require the parties to detail "where the weapons are based at the moment, on what routes they will be withdrawn, and the places the heavy weapons will be concentrated/stored."

For several days now, the OSCE has chronicled weapons movements.

On some days the account is very specific. On February 27, observers saw a convoy transporting five Grad multiple-launch rocket systems east of the city of Donetsk in the direction "away from the contact line".

In other cases, however, it was hard to say whether the weapons were being withdrawn -- or just relocated.

In the town of Ilovaisk, about 30 kilometres east of Donetsk, the OSCE said it saw "eight military-style trucks and three buses... moving south", without being able to provide further clarification.

Elsewhere, observers tracking two convoys of equipment near the second main rebel-held city of Lugansk were barred by the separatists from following them to their final destination.

- 'Delicate mission' -

"It's extremely delicate for these observers," an independent source in Donetsk, who is familiar with the OSCE's work but who did not wish to be identified, said.

"No-one knows them and suddenly you have to give them ultra-confidential information: the number, the location and the type of weapons you have. Every soldier fears falling foul of spies."

Journalists have also been unable to corroborate the parties' compliance with the accord.

Last week, the separatists showed the press what they presented as the withdrawal of 14 howitzers.

But the column of trucks that AFP saw towing the cannon away from the frontline, about 20 kilometres south of Donetsk, was later seen by other Western journalists doubling back a few hours later.



Nemtsov assassination 'heavy blow' to Russia: Chinese media

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) March 2, 2015 - A Chinese newspaper with close ties to the ruling Communist Party on Monday condemned the assassination of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, saying it severely damaged that country's body politic.

"This incident has dealt a heavy blow to Russia's national unity and added pressure to the Russian government in dealing with thorny issues," the Global Times tabloid said in an editorial.

Nemtsov, a 55-year-old anti-corruption crusader, government critic and deputy premier in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin, was shot in the back shortly before midnight Friday near the Kremlin, sparking anti-government protests.

The delicately worded Global Times editorial, in parts fiercely critical of the killing while in others sympathetic to Moscow, reflected Beijing's position as an ally of Russia. President Vladimir Putin has a close relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

"The murder of Nemtsov runs counter to common political logic and people feel odd about it," the editorial said, while careful to stress that Putin had condemned the killing even as it mentioned Western media reports "implying that Putin was behind this murder".

"Chinese society is eager to see a stable Russia under Putin's reign and is shocked to see such cruel behaviour in Moscow," said the paper, which is affiliated to the People's Daily newspaper, the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece.

"We hope it is just an isolated case and not as grievous as has been depicted in the Western discourse."

Separately, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing "strongly condemns" the assassination.

It was a "domestic matter" for Russia, she told a regular briefing.

Asked whether China was concerned the killing could lead to political instability harmful to Beijing-Moscow relations, she expressed confidence that Russian authorities would "maintain their domestic stability".

The Global Times editorial also condemned political assassination in general, calling it "the most shameful act" and "an outdated strategy" seldom used in civilised society.

"Assassination of opposition leaders is especially senseless because the outrage triggered by such an act can only enhance cohesion of the opposition, rather than weakening it."

High-ranking Chinese Communists who have fallen from favour have sometimes met untimely ends, and Beijing last year expressed sympathy for a Korean national hero's 1909 killing of a Japanese official on Chinese soil.



US flies advanced spy plane over disputed sea: officials

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) Feb 27, 2015 - The United States has flown its most advanced surveillance plane from a military base in the Philippines over flashpoint areas of the South China Sea, Filipino authorities said Friday.

With Filipino soldiers on board, the US Navy flew the P-8A Poseidon from a former American airbase about 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Manila and over the disputed sea on February 17, they said.

The Philippines is in the midst of a bitter row with China over competing claims to parts of the South China Sea that are close to the Philippine coastline.

"The objective is to patrol the South China Sea, to ensure freedom of navigation," Philippine military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla told reporters as he discussed the flight.

Philippine Navy spokesman Commander Lued Lincuna said the flight was a "familiarisation trip".

"They showed to us the surveillance capability of their aircraft, something that we do not have," Lincuna told AFP.

A US Navy statement also said the flight was meant to "increase understanding and showcase the capabilities" of what it said was its most advanced, long-range, anti-submarine, anti-surface warfare and surveillance aircraft.

"Sharing this aircraft's capabilities with our allies only strengthens our bonds," US Navy Lieutenant Matthew Pool, Combat Air Crew 4 patrol plane commander, said in the statement.

The Poseidon is "significantly quieter" and requires less maintenance compared with the older P-3 Orion surveillance plane, the statement said.

The Poseidon logged 180 flight hours while in the Philippines, from February 1 to 21, according to the statement.

It gave no further details about the flights, except for the single flight referred to by the Philippine military of the coast of Luzon island, which faces the South China Sea from its western coast.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, which holds major sea lanes and is believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves.

Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan also have competing claims to parts of the sea.

The rivalries have for decades made the sea a potential military flashpoint, and tensions have risen significantly in recent years as China has sought to expand its presence in the region.

China has ramped up construction on reefs and islets, deployed more patrol vessels and taken control of a shoal within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

The Philippines, outmuscled by China, has sought military and diplomatic protection from the United States, its long-time ally.

It has also angered the Chinese government by asking a United Nations tribunal to rule on its dispute with China.



US spy chief predicts spring attack on Ukraine port

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Feb 26, 2015 - Russia wants to secure a land corridor in eastern Ukraine that could include Mariupol but pro-Moscow rebels may wait until the spring to attack the strategic port city, the US spy chief said Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's aim was not to seize all of Ukraine but to carve out territory linking up with the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow last year after the fall of a pro-Moscow leader in Kiev, James Clapper told lawmakers.

"It is not our assessment that he is bent on capturing or conquering all of Ukraine," Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"He wants a whole entity composed of the two oblasts (regions) in eastern Ukraine which would include a land bridge to Crimea and perhaps a port in specifically Mariupol.

"We do not believe that an attack on Mariupol is imminent. I believe they will wait until the spring before they attack."

Since a ceasefire brokered by European leaders went into effect on February 15, the rebels have captured the key rail hub of Debaltseve and were reported to be massing forces around Mariupol, a key port on the Sea of Azov.

Clapper said he favored sending weapons to Kiev to help the Ukrainian army in its fight against the separatists but made clear that was his "personal view" and not necessarily the position of US intelligence agencies.

President Barack Obama is weighing the idea of arming Ukraine but has yet to announce a final decision. European allies have warned such a move would escalate the conflict without preventing Russia from achieving its aims.

US spy agencies believed that arming Kiev "would evoke a negative reaction from Putin and the Russians" and could prompt Moscow to send more advanced weapons to the rebels, Clapper said.

At the same hearing, the head of military intelligence, Lieutenant General Vincent Stewart, declined to offer his personal opinion.

But he said the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded lethal aid could not be delivered quickly enough to counter the pro-Russian forces and would not "change the military balance of power on the ground."

Russia -- which denies it is backing the rebels -- placed a top priority on preventing Ukraine from joining the European Union or NATO and "they will up the ante if we do any lethal aid or take any actions to bolster the equation," Stewart said.

The Obama administration so far has stopped short of sending weapons to Ukraine, but has provided radios, body armor, medical equipment and counter-mortar radar to the government army.



China trumpets Xi's 'Four Comprehensives' theory

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Feb 25, 2015 - Chinese state-run media gave wall-to-wall coverage Wednesday to President Xi Jinping's newly declared "Four Comprehensives" political theory as he consolidates power and advances his own brand of Communist thought.

The People's Daily, the ruling party's official mouthpiece, devoted a front-page editorial to the quartet: "Comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society, comprehensively deepen reform, comprehensively govern the nation according to law, comprehensively strictly govern the Party".

The concepts would be the lead item on state broadcaster China Central Television's nightly news programme, it said, and the official Xinhua news agency was to disseminate Xi's political theory -- to be republished by news outlets around the country.

Xi first mentioned the idea during a trip to Jiangsu province in December, and a party journal carried an introduction to it last week. But Wednesday was the first time it was promoted on a mass scale.

The Communist Party has had a penchant for numbered catchphrases ever since revolutionary leader Mao Zedong. In the 1960s Mao railed against "the four olds" -- old customs, culture, habits and ideas -- in his quest to remake society, and the trend has continued ever since.

Former president Jiang Zemin's somewhat intangible "Three Represents" theory was a call for more open membership of the ruling party, which has "Eight Immortals" among its elite revolutionaries.

In its editorial the People's Daily said the Four Comprehensives would "lead the way for strategic layout for national renewal".

But such political pronouncements are often catchphrases with little precise definition or impact on policy.

The first step in the strategy was "achieving the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people through the Chinese Dream" -- a phrase that has so far been the catchphrase of Xi's administration.

Despite the Communist Party moving away from its Marxist-Leninist roots to embrace a more market economy -- "socialism with Chinese characteristics" -- propaganda output and official communications remain awash with jargon.

Jiang's theory and his successor Hu Jintao's own "scientific outlook on development" -- a call for sustainable economic growth that has little to do with science -- were invoked regularly by cadres at all levels to support the party's policies, and have been enshrined in the national constitution.

Nearly five years ago Xi himself, then vice president, gave a speech at the central party school decrying the use of political jargon that walled the ruling party off from the country's more plain-spoken citizens.

He gave no examples in his attack on "empty words".



Russian paratroopers in drills on border with Estonia, Latvia

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) Feb 25, 2015 - Up to 2,000 Russian soldiers took part in drills in the country's west on Wednesday as Moscow conducted an inspection of its paratrooper units in the latest show of strength likely to alarm its neighbours.

Some 500 units of equipment were also to be included in drills in the western Pskov region which borders EU members Estonia and Latvia, defence ministry spokeswoman Irina Kruglova told AFP.

The drills, which will see some 1,500 paratroopers parachute en masse, were to continue until Saturday, she said, adding that soldiers would also capture and destroy a fictional enemy's airfield.

Since the start of the Ukraine crisis, Russia has staged a series of drills that have alarmed its post-Soviet neighbours and the West.

"It's an unpleasant surprise to learn of these sudden exercises but not something we're worried about," Normunds Stafeckis, spokesman for Latvia's defence ministry, told AFP.

"Nevertheless, when you have an airborne division and attack helicopters operating near the border, it isn't pleasant."

Lithuania said on Tuesday it would return to limited conscription later this year.

Estonia marked its independence day on Tuesday with a military parade featuring NATO hardware and troops on its eastern border with Russia.

Last week NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Adrian Bradshaw, said that Russia could try to seize territory from NATO states off the back of fighting in Ukraine.

The Russian drills came amid a faltering truce in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have been battling government troops since April.



Russia could target Moldova: NATO commander

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Feb 25, 2015 - Russia could set its sights on Moldova to prevent it from "leaning to the West," following the conflict with Ukraine, the top NATO commander warned Wednesday.

Speaking to US lawmakers at a Capitol Hill hearing, General Philip Breedlove said Moldova could be a target for Moscow.

"What we should do is watch first where we see a strong information campaign picking up, and that is happening in Moldova and other places," he said, in answer to a question on what country Russia might target after Ukraine.

"Russian troops in Transnistria are there to keep Moldova from leaning to the West," Breedlove told the House Armed Services Committee, referring to the breakaway state between Moldova and Ukraine.

The commander also said the conflicts between Russia and separatist rebels in Ukraine could continue.

"I don't think any of us can be sure that Putin has accomplished his objectives inside Ukraine," he said.

The Republic of Moldova, which lies between Ukraine and Romania, has a population of 3.5 million people.

Pro-European parties triumphed in the last elections over pro-Russian rivals.



Estonia shows off NATO ties at celebrations on Russian border

‎04 ‎March ‎2015, ‏‎07:10:04 AMGo to full article
Narva, Estonia (AFP) Feb 24, 2015 - Estonia marked its independence day Tuesday with a military parade featuring NATO hardware and troops on its eastern border with Russia amid heightened east-west tensions over Ukraine.

Around 100 British, Dutch, Spanish, Latvian and Lithuanian troops marched in the snow alongside some 1,300 Estonian soldiers to mark the independence of the formerly Soviet-ruled republic, now a member of the European Union and NATO.

"History has taught us that if we do not defend ourselves, nobody else will," General Riho Teras, Estonia's chief of staff, said at the parade.

"The events in Ukraine that have kept the entire world awake, demonstrate very clearly that we ourselves must maintain security," he added.

Two US Stryker armoured personnel carriers and a number of Dutch CV90 tanks were also on parade, equipment NATO has brought into the Baltics for a wave of exercises on the heels of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and subsequent meddling in that country's east.

The annual parade has taken on particular importance this year in the context of jitters in the Baltic countries.

Holding the parade in Narva on the Russian border, where a majority of residents are ethnic Russian, was seen by commentators as sending a strong signal to Moscow about NATO's committment to collective defence.

General Adrian Bradshaw, NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, said last week that Russia could try to seize territory from the alliance's states off the back of fighting in Ukraine.

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon reportedly also told journalists last week that there was a "real and present danger" to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

However, few ethnic-Russian Narva locals who came to the parade seemed to echo fears of a Russian intervention.

"In my opinion national security is blown up by the press, it's nothing serious, everything is okay, no one is going to attack anyone," said 55-year-old Yuri Melnikov.

Elvira Neimann, 77, said she's been living in Narva since the end of the Second World War in 1945: "I feel part of Estonia, not Russia."

"We're all tolerant people, Russia is our friendly neighbour," she told AFP.

Lithuania said Tuesday it would return to limited conscription later this year as concern mounts over Russian military exercises near NATO Baltic states.

The Soviet Union annexed the three small states during World War II. They won independence in 1991 and have had rocky ties with Moscow ever since.




Britain will not send arms to Ukraine: minister

‎26 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎04:07:24 AMGo to full article
London (AFP) Feb 22, 2015 - A senior British minister ruled out sending arms to Ukraine Sunday as the United States and European nations sought ways to pressure Russia over the conflict in the ex-Soviet republic's east.

William Hague, who was foreign secretary until last year and is still a minister seen as close to Prime Minister David Cameron, said governments should think "very, very carefully" about such a move.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said earlier this month that, while Britain was not currently planning to supply "lethal aid" to Ukraine, "we reserve the right to keep this position under review".

Britain is already sending non-lethal equipment such as light armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine.

"We are not planning, as the UK, to send arms to Ukraine. It has not been our approach in any of the conflicts in recent years to send arms into those conflicts," Hague told BBC television.

He stressed that a "diplomatic solution" was the way forward and warned: "You have to think very, very carefully" before sending in additional arms to a conflict.

Opponents of sending arms have argued that it could result in a proxy war between Russia and the West.

US President Barack Obama said this month that he had not yet made a decision on whether to send weapons to Ukraine, where Kiev's forces are pitched against pro-Russian separatists.

Secretary of State John Kerry warned in London Saturday that new "serious sanctions" against Russia were being considered in the conflict after breaches to a ceasefire brokered in Minsk this month.

Russia's repeated denials that it is providing military backing for the separatists have been dismissed by the West.



China protests after India PM visits frontier region

‎26 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎04:07:24 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Feb 22, 2015 - China has expressed "strong dissatisfaction and staunch opposition" after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited a frontier area controlled by New Delhi but claimed by Beijing, state media reported.

Modi's visit Friday to Arunachal Pradesh state, to inaugurate rail and infrastructure projects, swiftly attracted Beijing's annoyance and Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin Saturday called in the Indian ambassador to lodge a "stern representation".

During his meeting with ambassador Ashok Kantha, Liu said the act "undermined China's territorial sovereignty, rights and interests", the Xinhua news agency reported.

Modi's visit "artificially amplified differences between the two countries on the border issue and thus went against the principles and consensus that the two sides reached on properly addressing the issue", Liu added.

Ahead of their meeting, China said it "has never recognised the so-called 'Arunachal Pradesh' unilaterally set up by the Indian side", Xinhua reported.

Liu also called on India "not to take any action that may complicate the border issue".

India and China disagree on where their border should run in two areas, including the northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh. They were integrated into India when the country was a British colony but are claimed by China.

China defeated India in a brief but bloody war in 1962 and their border dispute remains unresolved, with both sides regularly accusing soldiers of crossing over into the other's territory.



Serbia hires ex-foe Blair as advisor

‎26 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎04:07:24 AMGo to full article
Belgrade (AFP) Feb 19, 2015 - Serbia has hired Tony Blair to work for Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who once served in the same regime that was targeted by NATO air strikes advocated by the then British leader in 1999.

Tony Blair Associates "is helping the Serbian government to set up a delivery unit" to advise Vucic on carrying out reforms, according to a statement from the former British prime minister's consultancy.

"This project was directly negotiated and agreed between Serbia and TBA following meetings between Tony Blair and the Serbia prime minister and was not part of any wider agreement," the statement said.

Blair was a leading promoter of a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia over its repressive policy in Kosovo under Slobodan Milosevic's regime, in which Vucic was information minister.

A former top official of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, Vucic is listed as an editor of a 2005 book entitled Engleski pederski isprdak Toni Bler (English Gay Fart Tony Blair) written by party leader and war crimes suspect Vojislav Seselj.

Vucic broke ranks with Seselj in 2008 and formed the Serbian Progressive Party. The pro-EU party is the dominant political force in Serbia.

As part of his agreement with Blair, the ex-premier's former top media strategist Alastair Campbell last month held a communications seminar for the Serbian government.

"At the government's request I was asked to meet government ministers and officials and to discuss strategic and communications challenges," Campbell wrote on his blog, adding that he "received a warm welcome and found the short trip fascinating."

Neither TBA nor the Serbian government have disclosed the cost and source of funding of the consultancy deal, but a source in Belgrade said it was allegedly paid by the United Arab Emirates.

"We (in the government) were told that it was funded by our Abu Dhabi friends," a Serbian government source told AFP.

Since returning to government in 2012 Vucic has promoted the UAE as a "close friend" and a top future investor in Serbia. UAE's investment plans include a multi-billion-euro plan to redevelop Belgrade's waterfront.

Serbia's links with Abu Dhabi have been facilitated by exiled Palestinian strongman Mohammed Dahlan, who lives in UAE and is a fierce rival of President Mahmoud Abbas.

In return for acting as go-between Dahlan and his family have been granted Serbian citizenship.

"The work of the delivery unit has no bearing on Tony Blair's role in the Middle East for the Palestinian economy," the TBA spokesperson said.

Blair is Middle East envoy of the Quartet, a diplomatic alliance established to further the Middle East peace process, which consists of the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia.



Japan, China to resume security talks: report

‎26 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎04:07:24 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 19, 2015 - Japan and China plan to resume security talks as early as April after a four-year hiatus amid simmering tensions over territorial disputes, a report said Thursday.

A meeting planned for Tokyo, which would be the first since January 2011 in Beijing, will likely focus on maritime issues, Kyodo News reported, citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

The talks will involve top officials from each country's foreign and defence ministries, including Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama, it said.

Tokyo and Beijing are at loggerheads over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which Japan administers as the Senkakus, but which China claims as the Diaoyus.

Relations soured in 2012 when the Japanese government angered China by nationalising some of the islands, and Beijing has refused most high-level talks with Tokyo since, including on building a maritime crisis-management mechanism.

But the two sides broke the ice in November when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping had a frosty handshake on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

Asked about the report, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters "there is nothing decided at this point".

"It's important that both countries exchange communications in various fields... as Japan and China are neighbours, whom the global community is watching closely," he added.

Japan is expected to ask China to make its growing defence spending more transparent and explain the reasons behind its military expansion, Kyodo said.

Beijing will likely want to talk about moves by Abe to relax the restrictions on Japan's military to allow it to come to the aid of allies under attack.





Ukraine calls for peacekeepers after rebels take key town

‎26 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎04:07:24 AMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) Feb 19, 2015 - Ukrainian President Poroshenko on Wednesday called for European peacekeepers to enforce a shattered ceasefire deal in east Ukraine after a flashpoint strategic town fell to a fierce assault by pro-Russian rebels.

Some 2,500 exhausted government troops retreated from Debaltseve -- a key railway hub linking the main separatist-held cities of Donetsk and Lugansk -- after rebels ignored a supposed truce to seize control of the town.

The loss was a bitter blow to the Ukrainian army and left a last-ditch peace plan hammered out by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France hanging by a thread.

Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council approved a decision to invite UN-mandated peacekeepers into the country to monitor the frontline with the rebels and Ukraine's porous border with Russia.

"We see the best format would be a police mission from the European Union. We are sure this would be the most effective and best guarantee for security," Poroshenko said, adding that he hoped consultations on the force would start quickly once the decision is approved by parliament.

Ukraine and the US have accused Russia of piling troops and weapons in to spearhead the devastating assault on Debaltseve. Moscow denies the claims.

Poroshenko said six soldiers were killed and more than 100 wounded in what he earlier described as "a planned and organised withdrawal" he ordered from Debaltseve.

But haggard soldiers seen arriving in the neighbouring town of Artemivsk on tanks and other vehicles, or on foot, contested that characterisation.

"We didn't hear anything about an order to pull out. We only found out about it when our heavy armour started leaving," one soldier told AFP, declining to give his name or unit.

"We should have pulled out earlier," another said bitterly.

- Soldiers taken prisoner -

There was no official casualty toll from the ferocious street-to-street battles that had taken place in the town since the rebels stormed it on Tuesday, but the bodies of at least 13 soldiers were seen delivered to the local morgue.

A row of makeshift coffins stood in the snow outside waiting to transport the corpses, still in camouflage uniform.

A spokesman for the rebels' military, Eduard Basurin, said the town was "completely under the control" of the insurgents, with just "scattered" pockets of resistance that were being neutralised.

Basurin claimed more than 300 government soldiers had been taken prisoner. Ukrainian officials conceded some were in rebel hands but would not say how many.

Amnesty International expressed concern about the treatment of the prisoners, noting evidence of brutality by both sides towards captives.

The situation in Debaltseve -- and the status of an estimated 5,000 civilians trapped there -- was impossible to verify. Journalists and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were unable to get into the town.

- Blow to truce -

Debaltseve's fall dealt a heavy blow to the European-brokered truce agreed by all sides in the Belarus capital Minsk last week and endorsed by the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

The ceasefire was meant to be the first step towards quelling a conflict that has killed more than 5,600 people since erupting in April 2014.

France has insisted the truce is "not dead", a view echoed by the US State Department on Wednesday, pointing to reports of the withdrawal of certain types of heavy weapons in Donetsk and Lugansk.

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki added that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and pressed him "to stop Russian and separatist attacks on Ukrainian positions in Debaltseve and other violations of the ceasefire."

No details had yet emerged early Thursday of a planned phone call between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko.

Ukraine and Western countries blame the relentless violence on Russia, which annexed Crimea in March last year and is accused of sending in troops and heavy weapons across the border to back the eastern insurgency.

They say Moscow is playing a double game of insincere diplomacy and covert support to the separatists to keep Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, destabilised and stymied in its ambitions to edge closer towards the EU and NATO.

- Russian denial -

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon warned Wednesday that NATO should be prepared for "any kind of aggression from Russia" to Baltic members of NATO -- eurozone members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania -- using the tactics it is accused of employing in Ukraine.

Fallon referred to the interception of Russian bombers flying close to British airspace, and Russia's detention of an Estonian policeman that sent tensions soaring between Moscow and Tallinn, describing the threat to the eastern states as a "very real and present danger" in comments to British media.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg earlier called on Russia to "withdraw all its forces from eastern Ukraine, to stop its support for separatists and to respect the Minsk agreement".

The West has already imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia for its perceived role in Ukraine, and the EU and Canada ratcheted their measures up further this week.

Russia denies involvement in the insurgency, though President Vladimir Putin had urged the surrender of the Ukrainian troops in Debaltseve before their withdrawal.



NATO urges Russia to 'withdraw all its forces' from eastern Ukraine

‎26 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎04:07:24 AMGo to full article
Riga (AFP) Feb 18, 2015 - NATO on Wednesday urged Russia to withdraw all forces from eastern Ukraine and to end its support for the pro-Moscow separatists as a ceasefire appeared to unravel.

"I urge Russia to withdraw all its forces from eastern Ukraine, to stop all its support for the separatists and to respect the Minsk agreement," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in the Latvian capital Riga.

"The ceasefire has not been respected," he told reporters before meeting with EU defence ministers and said he was "deeply concerned by the deteriorating situation" in eastern Ukraine.

"Russian forces, artillery and air defence units as well as command and control elements are still active in Ukraine," he said, adding that "there has been a steady buildup of tanks and armoured vehicles across the border from Russia to Ukraine."

"The refusal of the separatists to respect the ceasefire threatens the agreement as does the denial of access to the area for OSCE monitors."

Stoltenberg urged Moscow to "use all its influence on the separatists to make them respect the ceasefire".

"We will provide practical support for Ukraine, with modernising and reforming the defence army and of course we are also adapting our own defence posture to the fact that we see that the security environment in Europe is changing because of the actions of Russia in Ukraine."

NATO agreed earlier this month to dramatically boost its defences with six command centres in eastern Europe and a spearhead force of 5,000 troops, to counter what the alliance called Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain have agreed to take the lead in forming the spearhead rapid reaction force, which would be available to deploy within a week in a crisis.

The six "command and control" centres that will help the deployment of the force will be in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, with a corps headquarters in Szczecin, Poland.

All six countries were once in the Soviet Union's orbit and have voiced deep concern about Russia's actions in Ukraine.



Suppose America retrenches: A thought experiment

‎24 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎08:32:43 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Feb 17, 2015 - Critics accuse President Barack Obama of being a foreign policy minimalist seeking to do the least harm -- or no stupid "stuff" -- rather than choosing more effective if riskier solutions.

In fairness, the president was dealt the most horrible hand on taking office dating back to FDR in 1933. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were disasters. And the financial meltdown of 2007-2008 was the worst since 1929.

While no existential danger (excepting an unpredictable catastrophe) threatens the United States, the world is confronted with more complex, complicated and often intermingled regional and local crises than during the Cold War. The overriding causes of these crises and challenges are failed and failing government; economic despair, disparity and dislocation; rapid and ultra-violent ideological driven non-state actors; and environmental calamities. In these circumstances, a Washington, Lincoln, both Roosevelts and Churchill would find the going quite heavy.

What should be the role of the United States? It cannot be the world's policeman or even a regional cop and expect to succeed without the help of the locals. As wars in Afghanistan and Iraq painfully revealed, the best military in the world cannot defeat an adversary that lacks a coherent army, navy or air force and is armed with an idea and a movement. And the other tools for promoting governance, development and long-term stability from the outside have usually failed.

Responding to these realities, consider this thought experiment. Suppose the United States downsized its current international role reducing its overseas commitments and force posture. America would still be vitally engaged in commerce, business, finance, diplomacy, humanitarian and trade matters. And America would keep a measure of military presence abroad to protect its citizens and if necessary defend its larger security interests.

What might this new design be? First, assume change would occur over time. Second, assume it would be accomplished through discussions with friends, allies and adversaries to make certain any potential vacuums would not be filled by the wrong people. Third, a diminished security posture would be compensated for by greater diplomatic, business and trade presence and greater involvement by local states.

NATO, the most successful military alliance in history, is a starting point. Suppose any arrangement with Russia began along the lines of a substantial U.S. military withdrawal from Europe that in turn would require Moscow to take equivalent actions to reduce its military posture and aggressive behavior in Ukraine and other frozen conflicts. As strategic arms agreements demonstrated, these types of reductions would be in the mutual interest and verifiable.

The United States would not leave the military structure of the alliance as France did nearly fifty years ago. It would mean that U.S. presence would shrink, and possibly a European -- instead of the traditional American -- would become Supreme Allied Commander Europe. Obviously, Russia has a powerful voice and no such steps would occur without strict verification.

In the Middle East, the Unite States would offer alternative security arrangements to regional states. A NATO-type alliance for the Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) to include Turkey, Jordan and possibly Iraq might be created and underwritten by U.S. strategic guarantees. Regional powers would take the lead in defeating the Islamic State, meaning less American involvement.

A similar arrangement could apply to Korea. Treaty commitments would be maintained. U.S. forces would still be stationed on the peninsula but at lower levels. And the ability to reinforce would continue.

The spread of al-Qaida, IS and other Islamist terrorist organizations elsewhere makes empowering local states essential. Drones and other remote-type weapons might be transferred with proper safeguards. Information, intelligence and law enforcement sharing would be continued with great intensity and interaction.

The response to this experiment is predictable. Even an implied reduction of this "indispensible" nation's commitments abroad would provoke a tsunami of criticism and anguish. Many will howl that China and Russia would seize this opportunity to expand their influence with gusto and swiftness.

Others would predict that one or more Gulf States would obtain nuclear weapons. Jordan or Iraq could fall under the control of radicals or implode in civil war as befell Libya. Iran would become even more aggressive. Chaos could follow.

Such fears and concerns cannot be discarded. The risks and possible dangers are unmistakable. It is also clear that current American policies and strategies are not working either. Because an American withdrawal would likely worsen conditions and because American policies today are not yielding good results, one conclusion is self-evident.

A new approach is vitally needed. Yet, who will heed this logic and lead in crafting effective rather than "sound-bite" driven strategies? No thought experiment can resolve this dilemma.


Dr. Harlan Ullman is Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security. His latest book is "A Handful of Bullets: How The Murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand Still Menaces the Peace."



Patriotism and fear as Ukraine draftees train for front

‎24 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎08:32:43 PMGo to full article
Desna, Ukraine (AFP) Feb 17, 2015 - Vitaliy Karpunets crawls under barbed wire before jumping over a smoking bonfire into a trench as he fires off his Kalashnikov at an imaginary enemy.

At a military training centre some 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Kiev, Karpunets, 40, and some 5,000 other recruits are being put through their paces.

The men are part of the latest wave of mobilisation that Ukraine is carrying out, calling up some 100,000 men to bolster its struggling armed forces locked in a 10-month conflict with pro-Russian rebels in the east.

Karpunets, who did his compulsory military service in the early 1990s, is one of roughly 4,000 who signed up voluntarily.

He left his wife and two-year-old daughter at home convinced that he needed to enlist to fight an insurgency that Kiev says is armed by Moscow and often made up of regular Russian troops.

"You need to be a man and fight back the enemy if needs be," Karpunets, his face black with soot and breathing heavily, tells AFP.

For the vast majority of those now entering the army the decision was made for them when they received their call-up papers.

Senior Ukrainian official Oleksiy Pokotylo says that since the fresh draft -- the fourth wave so far -- began in mid-January some 105,000 men with military experience have been sent summons.

Of them, he says, some 70,000, or roughly 66 percent, have headed to their local recruitment office and over 22,000 are already undergoing training.

- 'Only idiots aren't scared' -

Taxi driver Sergiy Prokopchuk says there were no second thoughts about answering the call but admits that the idea he could be on the frontline is a few weeks is scary.

"Only an idiot isn't afraid," the well-built 30-year-old says.

"But the brave must overcome their fear and go to defend their motherland."

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said on February 9 that 1,432 troops have been killed since April. Some of the fiercest fighting has raged since he announced that toll.

Faced with the danger, reactions to the latest call-up have by no means been unanimous.

Earlier this month, Ukrainian authorities in the western region of Ivano-Frankivsk arrested journalist Ruslan Kotsaba on suspicion of treason after he posted a video online urging people to dodge the draft.

"I would prefer to go to prison than to participate in this fratricidal war," Kotsaba said in the footage, which was viewed more than 300,000 times.

"I refuse to be drafted and call on everyone who is called up to refuse," he said in the video posted January 17.

Kotsaba was ordered held in jail for 60 days as the security services probed the allegations. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

But among those undergoing training ahead of a possible deployment to the east there appeared to be no such doubts.

Oleksandr Grabovsky's wife saw him off with tears in her eyes when he left for training two weeks ago.

The newly-enlisted soldier, who has been assigned to a mechanised division, is now trying to forget the emotion of parting and focus on preparing for the war.

"They're feeding us well and we've got everything we need for our training," Grabovsky says.

Grabovsky did his military service only a few years back and said he now felt he owed it to his country to serve.

"If you've got to go to defend your homeland, then you've got to go," he said.



Ukraine rebels say no arms pull-back until 'full ceasefire'

‎24 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎08:32:43 PMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) Feb 16, 2015 - Pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine said Monday they will only start pulling back weapons from the frontline under a peace deal once there is a "full ceasefire".

"In accordance with the Minsk agreement, the withdrawal of military hardware can only happen under certain conditions and one of them is a full ceasefire," Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the defence ministry of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic was quoted as saying by the rebels' official news agency.

Under a peace plan inked by the rebels and Kiev both sides were meant to start withdrawing heavy weaponry from the frontline no later than two days after the start of a truce that was meant to come into effect from 2200 GMT Saturday.

However fighting still persists around the key government-held town of Debaltseve and both sides accuse each other of continuing firing.

"If the Ukrainian army does not stop shooting and violating the Minsk agreement then the forces of the Donetsk People's Republic will not withdraw their arms," Basurin said.

The last-ditch peace deal signed in Minsk afer tortuous talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany was seen as the best hope of ending 10 months of conflict that has cost over 5,480 lives.

Ukrainian military spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov told AFP that there was "no question" at the moment of Ukraine withdrawing its heavy arms to create a buffer zone that was intended to stretch up to 140 kilometres (87 miles).



'No question at the moment' of Ukraine pulling back heavy weapons

‎24 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎08:32:43 PMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) Feb 16, 2015 - Ukraine's army is not planning to pull its heavy weapons back from the frontline late Monday, as it is meant to do under a nascent truce, because of continued attacks by pro-Russian rebels, a military spokesman told AFP.

"There is no question at the moment of us withdrawing heavy weapons," spokesman Vladyslav Seleznyov said. "How can we pull back weapons if the rebels are trying to attack us with tanks, and are constantly firing at us?"

Another military spokesman, Dmytro Chaly, separately told AFP that at least five Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 22 wounded in the town of Shyrokine by rebel fire since the ceasefire started early Sunday. The town is near the coastal city of Mariupol.

Ukrainian government officials said the rebels were keeping up shelling of Debaltseve, a strategic town that serves as a railway hub linking the main insurgent-held cities of Donetsk and Lugansk in the east. Thousands of government troops are in the town, which is mostly surrounded by rebels.

New EU sanctions hit two Russian deputy defence ministers: official
Brussels (AFP) Feb 16, 2015 - The European Union included two Russian deputy defence ministers in its latest Ukraine sanctions list Monday, hitting them with travel bans and asset freezes for their role in the conflict.

The EU's Official Journal named Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov and first Deputy Minister of Defence Arkady Bakhin for supporting Russian troop deployments in Ukraine.

Among three other Russians named were Joseph Kobzon and Valery Rashkin, members of the Duma (parliament).

The EU listed 14 Ukrainians, all military or political figures in the self-declared republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, alongside nine entities.

EU foreign ministers agreed the sanctions late last month after deadly attacks on the key port city of Mariupol killed more than 30 civilians but suspended their application as France and German led last ditch efforts to secure a Ukraine ceasefire.

EU leaders then decided at a summit Thursday to go ahead with the sanctions because, irregardless of the new peace effort, they were meant to punish those implicated in the Mariupol attacks.

Publication of the names in the Official Journal puts the sanctions into effect.

The latest additions bring the total to 151 individuals and 37 entities.

Brussels first imposed targeted sanctions on individuals after Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 but adopted tougher economic measures after the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in July.



A journalist's journalist - Arnaud de Borchgrave

‎18 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎06:20:59 AMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Feb 15, 2015 - This morning, a legend and giant in journalism died. There will be no more like him. Arnaud de Borchgrave would have been 89 this fall.

His career was the stuff of Hollywood movies, not the least of which was marrying his stunning and glamorous wife Alexandra, who has had more than enough of the "right stuff" to keep pace with her formidable and much-admired husband and his extraordinary wit and sense of humor.

Born in Brussels in 1926 to Belgian aristocrats Countess Audrey Dorothy Louise Townshend, daughter of Major General Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, KGB, DSO, and Belgian Count Baudouin de Borchgrave d'Altena, head of Belgium's military intelligence for the government-in-exile during World War II, de Borchgrave would renounce his title in 1951 for American citizenship.

His exploits in life and in journalism represent a long-gone era. His Rolodex was encyclopedic in length, including presidents, prime ministers, kings, princes, movie stars and many of the global elite. But he never forgot who he was and despite his intimate involvement in much of post-war history and a streak of irreverence that could only have been God given, he knew how to keep his ego in check.

On June 19, 1940, fleeing Belgium, he, his mother and sister escaped on the last freighter from La Gironde as the Germans occupied Bordeaux. Through a harrowing journey that nearly led to capture by the Nazis, his family finally arrived on the south coast of England rescued by a British Royal Navy destroyer -- an adventure that caused him to join the Royal Navy in 1942. Under aged at 15 and a half, he enlisted only because his grandmother, Lady Townshend, fibbed by certifying he was 17 and a half years old.

At Normandy as a junior rating on June 6, 1944, his landing craft offloaded three-dozen Canadian soldiers on Juno Beach where he was twice wounded in action. His heroism on D-Day presaged the beginning of an exceptional career in which he would cover countless wars and crises from Algeria and the battle for Dien Bien Phu to climbing the mountains of Afghanistan to meet Mullah Omar after September 11, already well into his '70's. And his uncanny ability to get to the battlefield was never on better display than during the October 1973, when he wore the uniform of an Egyptian general.

After World War II, de Borchgrave joined United Press and in 1947 was sent to Brussels as Benelux bureau chief, succeeding Walter Cronkite. His scoops led Newsweek to hire de Borchgrave as chief correspondent and bureau chief in Paris. 
And at 27 he became the magazine's senior editor, a position he held for a quarter of a century.

His exclusive and insightful interviews with key foreign leaders over five decades from Charles de Gaulle, Gamal Abdul Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Van Dong among others led me to tease Arnaud to title his memoir "People Who Knew Me." The bedside visits during the final week before he died included senators, secretaries of state, generals and many of Washington's elite who knew and admired him, as well as his many close friends.

Following a brilliant career at Newsweek, in 1985 de Borchgrave was named editor-in-chief of the Washington Times and then served as President and CEO of United Press International from 1991-2001.

It was rumored that President Ronald Reagan wanted de Borchgrave to head the CIA where he would have been an ideal director given his vast knowledge and experience in the worlds of foreign policy, intrigue and intelligence. That did not happen.

De Borchgrave later joined the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as a senior adviser first heading the Global Organized Crime Project and after the attacks of September 11th, the Transnational Threats Project. Beyond running a very successful program, his larger legacy will be in those he mentored and inspired.

I recall meeting Arnaud first in the Caravelle rooftop bar in Saigon in late 1966 or 1967. Dressed in a bush jacket and desert boots and despite his relatively short stature, he was an impressive figure often surrounded by other newsmen anxious to know how and where he got his latest story. It would take another few decades for our friendship to flourish.

He was, I would argue, one of America's best, if not the best, columnist. His knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs and history, as well as his intimate involvement, were worth dozens of PhDs. His writing was brilliant, concise, often wicked in wit and prose and always on point. And his sense of humor was unmatched -- even the gallows part of it. He once joked with me that his tombstone would read: "I knew this would happen."

If asked what should be on that tombstone, I would steal from Thomas Jefferson's brevity. "Husband of Alexandra, Veteran of Normandy and 70 years a Journalist."

Dr. Harlan Ullman is Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council and Business Executives for National Security and a current columnist for UPI and in the past for the Washington Times.



Poland to spend billions on defence amid rumblings of war in Europe

‎18 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎06:20:59 AMGo to full article
Warsaw (AFP) Feb 15, 2015 - Looking east to the bloody conflict gripping Ukraine, NATO-member Poland has kicked off an unprecedented military spending spree worth billions to overhaul its forces as Warsaw believes peace in Europe is no longer a given.

The escalation of tensions with Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and subsequent role in the crisis in that country's east has sounded the alarm on NATO's eastern flank in countries that were under Moscow's thumb during the Cold War.

Russia has also rattled its neighbours by repeatedly testing their air defences. NATO intercepted nuclear-capable Russian bombers and other warplanes in European airspace on more than 100 occasions last year, three times more than in 2013.

Even though a Ukraine ceasefire deal was hammered out this past week in Minsk by Paris, Berlin, Moscow and Kiev, the risk of the conflict heating up remains, Polish officials believe.

"The key to a political and military solution lies in Moscow," Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski told reporters Thursday in Warsaw.

"The possibility of a lasting peace still isn't close," he said, insisting that the previous Minsk accord failed due to the "Russian separatists in Donbas."

- Missiles, choppers, drones -

Poland has earmarked 33.6 billion euros ($42 billion) on the upgrade over a decade, which includes a missile shield and anti-aircraft systems, armoured personnel carriers and submarines as well as combat drones.

The plans bring Warsaw in line with NATO's recommended defence spending level of 2.0 percent of gross domestic product.

Its long shopping list is full of pricey items including multi-role and combat helicopters, an anti-missile system and cruise missiles for submarines and drones.

Seventy multi-role helicopters top the list, a contract worth 2.5 billion euros.

The defence ministry is expected to name the winner of the lucrative tender soon and will ensure that Polish sub-contractors also reap benefits.

Aeronautics firms from both sides of the Atlantic have thrown their hats into the ring. The US-based Sikorsky is up against Airbus Helicopters -- formerly Eurocopter Group -- and the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland.

"The Airbus offer is the only one that fully meets the specifications," a Western expert told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"It's proposing a single platform while the Americans are offering two -- Black Hawk and SeaHawk -- while the Italians have proposed an unarmed device."

Airbus helicopters are more pricey. But having a single platform would cut maintenance costs that account for up to 80 percent of the total expenditures over the lifetime of the unit.

According to the expert, this factor will prove decisive in awarding the contract.

- Geopolitical considerations -

But strategic alliances will also play a role in Warsaw's choice of manufacturers; it regards the United States as a better bet in case of a conflict in Europe.

European bidders are therefore sweetening the pot by offering partnerships.

Airbus is opening a research and development centre in Poland's industrial hub of Lodz on February 19 in the hopes of swaying Warsaw.

The web of considerations in awarding contracts for anti-aircraft and medium range missile systems valued at up to ten billion euros is also complex.

Earlier this month, ten Polish state-owned defence manufacturers formed the PGZ consortium to work as subcontractors with a future foreign partner.

US-based Raytheon, makers of the Patriot surface-to-air missile systems, appear to be the favourites in a tender in which the Eurosam consortium comprising MBDA France, MBDA Italy and France's Thales Group have also bid.

Raytheon's units dovetail perfectly with NATO equipment already installed in Germany, observed Poland's Chief of Staff, General Mieczyslaw Gocul, according to Poland's leading Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

But doubts cropped up whether Patriots will still be a perfect fit in the future after the US announced a review of their anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.

Those doubts have boosted the chances for the Eurosam consortium, according to Pawel Wronski, a defence analyst with Gazeta Wyborcza.

Its Aster 30s have a 360 degree radar capability while the current generation of Raytheon's Patriots is limited to 90-degree capability.



Main stumbling blocks for Ukraine peace plan

‎18 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎06:20:59 AMGo to full article
Kiev (AFP) Feb 14, 2015 - A ceasefire signed by Kiev and pro-Russian rebels after marathon talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France comes into force Sunday, the first step in a peace deal aimed at ending 10 months of conflict.

The fragile agreement reached in Minsk Thursday is seen as the best hope to end fighting but scepticism runs high after the collapse of a similar deal and the plan is fraught with potential sticking points.

Here are some of the most likely obstacles to peace:


Both sides have agreed to stop fighting from 00:00 Sunday Ukraine time (2200 GMT Saturday) but surging violence in the run-up to the deadline has cast doubt on whether this will hold. Previous ceasefire deals have failed to stop the clashes.

Ukrainian troops were clinging on to the railway hub of Debaltseve but were nearly encircled by rebel forces. Other potential hotspots are around the airport in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk and the key Kiev-held port city of Mariupol.

Withdrawal of heavy weapons

Following the start of the ceasefire both sides have two days to begin pulling back heavy weapons from the frontline. The ambitious aim is to create a buffer zone of between 50-140 kilometres (31-87 miles) within two weeks depending on the range of the weapons.


The mammoth task of monitoring the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons falls to some 350 civilian Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. The monitors however lack any concrete powers to enforce the truce and have failed to ensure earlier ceasefires.

Status of rebel regions

Thrashing out the long-term status of the rebel regions is set to be a major source of contention. Under the Minsk agreement, discussions should start on holding local elections under Ukrainian law the day after heavy weapons are withdrawn.

By mid-march Ukraine must adopt a law demarcating the territories to be granted special status and is obliged to adopt a new constiution by the end of 2015 that includes the "decentralisation" of powers to the regions.

Meanwhile, Ukraine will have to ressume social welfare payments to those living in the separatist areas and reestablish the banking system.


Under the deal, Ukraine is obliged to implement an amnesty for those involved in the uprising. However, this has raised fears abroad that those behind the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 will be let off. Ukraine has insisted that those guilty of crimes against humanity will not be eligible for amnesty.

Border control

Ukraine sees re-establishing its control over some 400 kilometres (250 miles) of its border with Russia as crucial to stopping arms and fighters flooding its territory. The agreement however only foresees Kiev taking charge by the end of 2015 after local elections are held.


Ukraine and the rebels are expected to exchange all the prisoners they hold five days after heavy weapons are pulled back. One stumbling block is the fate of Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko who is currently on hunger strike in detention in Moscow, after Kiev says she was illegally spirited into Russia.

Withdrawal of foreign forces

The Minsk agreement only has one line about the withdrawal of foreign troops from Ukraine. Kiev says Russia has sent thousands of soldiers onto its territory but Moscow denies this.



Japan calls for laws to be obeyed in sea dispute with China

‎18 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎06:20:59 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Feb 12, 2015 - Japan called Thursday for international laws to be respected in territorial disputes, as it hosted a symposium in the latest bid to corral global opinion over its rows with China.

"In recent years, we have seen an increase in the frictions and tensions in the seas of Asia," Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a keynote speech at the start of the two-day conference, attended by embassy officials and scholars.

"What's required now for peace and stability in Asian waters is a stricter implementation of rule of law," he said.

The symposium, which involves scholars from China, Vietnam and some Western countries, comes as Beijing is embroiled in a number of disagreements over territory in region.

Beijing and Tokyo are at odds over the sovereignty of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, which Japan administers and calls the Senkakus but which China claims as the Diaoyus.

Since 2012, Tokyo and Beijing have butted diplomatic heads over the issue, with official Chinese ships and aircraft regularly testing Japanese forces.

On Friday, two Chinese ships entered the Japanese territorial waters of the islands.

The conference is part of Japanese efforts to present its position in the dispute as in line with academic thinking.

On Thursday, Shigeki Sakamoto of Doshisha University in Kyoto, said China needed to be clearer over its claims to a large part of the South China Sea, where it says a "Nine-Dash Line" delineates its "historic waters".

"The questions regarding the legality of the nine-dash line claim should be judged in light of the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea and general international law," Sakamoto said.

So far "China has never provided any explanations," he said.

The Philippines and Vietnam have been the most outspoken countries in the region in criticising China's claims to the sea, which contains major transport routes and fishing grounds and is believed to hold vast mineral resources.

Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have conflicting claims to the waters.






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The History of the House of Rothschild

by Andrew Hitchcock



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The Rothschilds have been in control of the world for a very long time, their tentacles reaching into many aspects of our daily lives, as is documented in the following timeline.  However, before you jump to the timeline, please read this invaluable introduction which will tell you who the Rothschilds are as oppose to who they claim to be.

The Rothschilds claim that they are Jewish, when in fact they are Khazars.  They are from a country called Khazaria, which occupied the land locked between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea which is now predominantly occupied by Georgia.  The reason the Rothschilds claim to be Jewish is that the Khazars under the instruction of the King, converted to the Jewish faith in 740 A.D., but of course that did not include converting their Asiatic Mongolian genes to the genes of the Jewish people.

You will find that approximately 90% of people in the world today who call themselves Jews are actually Khazars, or as they like to be known, Ashkenazi Jews.  These people knowingly lie to the world with their claims that the land of Israel is theirs by birthright, when in actual fact their real homeland is over 800 miles away in Georgia.

So, next time you hear an Israeli Prime Minister bleating about the so-called persecution of the Jews, consider this, every Prime Minister of Israel has been an Ashkenazi Jew.  Therefore when all these Prime Ministers have curried favour with the West for their re-establishment of a Jewish homeland, they have knowingly and deliberately lied to you, as they were never from that region, and they well know it, because it is they who call themselves Ashkenazi Jews.

The Book of Revelation, Chapter 2, Verse 9, states the following which would appear to be about these Ashkenazi Jews:

"I know thy works, and tribulation and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan."
The most wealthy bloodline in the world bar none and the leader of the Ashkenazi Jews in the world today is the Rothschild family.  As you will see in the timeline, the Rothschilds have obtained this position through lies, manipulation and murder.  Their bloodline also extends into the Royal Families of Europe, and the following family names:  Astor; Bundy; Collins; duPont; Freeman; Kennedy; Morgan; Oppenheimer; Rockefeller; Sassoon; Schiff; Taft; and Van Duyn.

However, these are not the only bloodlines to worry about.  You are probably aware of the centuries old pratice undertaken by many Ashkenazi Jews whereby they would change their name, in order for them to appear part of the dominant race of the country in which they lived, so as they could obtain influential positions in that country, which they would then exploit to serve their real masters elsewhere.  There is plenty of evidence to prove the Rothschilds continue that deceptive tradition.

Furthermore the Rothschilds are known to sire many children secretly that they can put into positions of power when required.  This started with the very first man who took the name Rothschild, who had a secret sixth son.  Finally, remember the world is a diverse place, I could if I wanted change my name to Rothschild, or any of the names listed above, and that would not make me part of this family anymore than converting to Judaism in 740 A.D. will make these Ashkenazis Jewish.

Please, therefore, do not automatically assume someone you see with the name Rothschild or any of the names listed above are part of the Rothschild criminal network.  Furthermore and most importantly, the majority of Ashkenazi Jews are innocent and not part of this network.  Check the facts out for yourself first, this article is designed to inform people who the enemy is, not single out people of a particular race or people with a particular surname, who may have nothing to do with this Rothschild criminal network.

1743: Mayer Amschel Bauer, an Ashkenazi Jew, is born in Frankfurt, Germany, the son of Moses Amschel Bauer, a money lender and the proprietor of a counting house.


Moses Amschel Bauer places a red sign above the entrance door to his counting house. This sign is a red hexagram (which geometrically and numerically translates into the number 666) which under Rothschild instruction will end up on the Israeli flag some two centuries later.


1753: Gutle Schnaper, an Ashkenazi Jew (future wife of Mayer Amschel Bauer), born to respected merchant, Wolf Salomon Schnaper.

1760: During this decade Mayer Amschel Bauer works for a bank owned by the Oppenheimers' in Hanover, Germany.  He is highly successful and becomes a junior partner. Whilst working at the bank he becomes acquainted with General von Estorff.

Following his father's death, Bauer returns to Frankfurt to take over his father's business. Bauer recognises the significance of the red hexagram and changes his name from Bauer to Rothschild, after the red hexagram or sign signifying 666 hanging over the entrance door ("Rot," is German for, "Red," "Schild," is German for, "Sign").


Now Mayer Amschel Rothschild, he discovers that General von Estorff is now attached to the court of Prince William IX of Hesse-Hanau, one of the richest royal houses in Europe, which gained its' wealth by the hiring out of Hessian soldiers to foreign countries for vast profits (a practice that continues today in the form of exporting, "peacekeeping," troops throughout the world).
















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South Sudan must sustain efforts to protect human rights, says UN official

Conflict in Darfur
Date 2003–2009 /2010


Location Darfur, Sudan
Sudan JEM factions
Bandera Darfur.svg SLM (Minnawi faction)
Sudan LJM
Allegedly supported by:
Sudan Janjaweed
Sudan Sudanese Armed Forces
Sudan Sudanese Police
Foreign Mercenaries
African Union
United Nations
Commanders and leaders
Sudan Khalil Ibrahim
Sudan Ahmed Diraige
Bandera Darfur.svg Minni Minnawi
Sudan Abdul Wahid al Nur
Sudan Omar al-Bashir
Sudan Musa Hilal
Sudan Hamid Dawai
Sudan Ali Kushayb
Sudan Ahmed Haroun
Rodolphe Adada
United Nations
Martin Luther Agwai
NRF/JEM: Unknown N/A 9,065
Casualties and losses
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  • 2,850,000 Displaced (UN estimate)
  • 450,000 Displaced (Sudanese estimate)
unknown 51 peacekeepers killed

















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