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Syrian refugees test tolerance in Turkish cities

The first Syrian refugees to enter Turkey started to cross the border in April 2011. Their plight was not fully known back then, but the expectations were that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime would be deposed in six months to a year, and that the refugees would all soon go back to their homes. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised them the borders would remain open for those who escaped to safety in Turkey without taking into consideration whether they had their passports or proof of identification with them. Since then it has been three years, and the number of Syrians in Turkey is now estimated to be around 1,500,000. Although Turkey set up 22 camps for them, these were not adequate to accommodate the growing numbers of refugees. Many refugees also chose to live outside the camps. Day by day, the problems of these refugees only grow more chronic and complicated in a foreign land. There are no reliable demographics of how many of them have moved into bigger cities in the western part of the country away from the border, like Ankara and Istanbul, but what is visible is the growing number of Syrians begging on the streets near the parks, in the shopping malls and at traffic lights. Turks had been generous with the Syrian refugees — giving them money, food or clothing. “We do a lot for the Syrian families in my neighborhood,” Ayse told Al-Monitor. “But it is really difficult for them to start a new life here — in a country where language is also foreign to them. We use body language to communicate most of the times” (Source: Al-Monitorhttp://almon.co/25c7).

Turkey, Qatar seek foothold in Gaza talks

Having been largely isolated so far, Turkey and Qatar are trying to gain a foothold in the talks over Gaza. Working closely, the two countries and aiming for a cease-fire that includes Hamas in the negotiations and also eases the Israeli siege of Gaza. The United States has shown some readiness to support the Turkish-Qatari endeavor, reportedly because of the influence it believes the two countries have over Hamas. But Washington’s involving Ankara and Doha in the talks has not been welcomed by everyone. Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and Egypt are angry with US Secretary of State John Kerry for pushing a cease-fire plan they believe was influenced by Turkey and Qatar. This reaction shows again Ankara and Doha’s unwelcome position in the region because of their unqualified support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has made the plight of Gaza a central theme in his campaign for the coming presidential elections, is not hiding his anger at Arab countries because of this. He is accusing Arab countries of looking on while Israel kills Palestinians. The Turkish-Qatari cease-fire proposals that angered Israel, the PA and Egypt were worked out in Doha between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah when they met on July 25. The two foreign ministers met up with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris the next day to promote the proposals in meetings with their French, British and German counterparts (Source: Al-Monitorhttp://almon.co/25dx).

EU backs words with actions on Russia sanctions

Finally, the European Union has acted. After hesitating and wavering for months, Brussels has imposed tough economic sanctions against Russia. It wasn’t easy for the 28 member states, which by nature are focused on their own economic interests, to forge a common position. But they have now succeeded in doing just that. After all of the threats made against Moscow, the EU had to follow through on its word. If Brussels had failed to act, then it would have lost its credibility. Despite the tragic deaths of 298 completely innocent airline passengers and crew, the Kremlin continues to play a risky game in Eastern Ukraine and refuses to call back the separatists that it unleashed. Brussels acquiesced when Russia annexed Crimea; watched while an armed uprising in Eastern Ukraine escalated into a civil war; and let itself be humiliated and harassed by Moscow. Only after Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down did the bloc come to the conclusion that enough is enough. The EU unfortunately neglected to tell its citizens that they will also have to pay for the sanctions. In the worst case scenario, Putin – feeling backed into a corner – could restrict energy deliveries to Europe. The EU has moved closer to the White House’s tougher position. It’s the right decision – only a united front still has the chance of making an impression on Putin. But the Russian president is not as isolated as the EU would like to think (Source: The Guardianhttp://dw.de/p/1Cm6W).

Why Russia's Putin was in Latin America

As speculation has continued over what role Russian support might have played in the alleged shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines flight by pro-Russian rebels, one question has inevitably arisen: Is Russia becoming isolated? But while international attention is focused on Washington and European capitals as they mull whether to impose tougher sanctions, it is worth remembering that Russian interests and influence extend far beyond Europe’s borders. Indeed, despite U.S. President Barack Obama’s suggestion earlier this year that Russia is merely a “regional power,” a recent visit to Latin America underscored that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s interests don’t end in Europe’s backyard. Vladimir Davydov, director of Russia’s Academy of Sciences Latin America Institute, is no doubt accurate when noting that “Russia wants to counterbalance the United States, but it want to do so together with China and other BRIC countries. Russia positions itself as a separate pole of power, but not as a single alternative.” Moscow is making a concerted effort to win friends, friends whose votes and support he will likely have to rely on in international venues like the U.N. General Assembly, when Russia is expected to come under renewed pressure over the annexation of Crimea as well as its alleged role in providing arms and other assistance to rebels in Ukraine who are widely blamed for downing flight MH17 last week. And with the U.S. Treasury Department tightening sanctions still further, Putin will also no doubt be keen to bolster the number of options for Russia’s economic interests (Source: CNNhttp://goo.gl/wr3pF0).

The Lessons of Russia's Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

On September 11, 2013, Vladimir Putin penned an op-ed in the New York Times, objecting to possible intervention in Syria on the principled basis of international law and sovereignty: “The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not.” Months later, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea and continues to sponsor rebel forces in eastern Ukraine. This of course contravenes Russia’s international law treaty obligations under the UN Charter, as well as its political obligations under the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. A formal letter to Putin from President Obama now confirms what Congress has been saying for years: that Russia has also been violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which prohibits all ground-launched missiles with ranges from 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Reports of alleged Russian violations have long been filtering out in both the Russian and American press. INF accomplished something that had never been done before. Some 2,692 intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles were destroyed, including the multiwarhead Soviet SS-20, the American Pershing II, and an American ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM). By reducing threats of surprise and preemptive attack, the treaty defused tension, helped reassure NATO allies, and improved strategic stability. “Whether [they] like it or not,” to use Putin’s phrase, Russia is obligated to honor its international agreements. The now-acknowledged INF violations, however, are the latest in Russia’s long pattern of dishonoring treaties (Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies http://goo.gl/2DMK8e).

Belgium calls for clear labelling of goods from Israel's settlements

Belgium has advised retailers to label clearly the origin of products made in Israeli settlements that are in occupied Palestinian territories. The non-binding recommendation has nothing to do with the escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, the economics ministry said, noting that Britain and Denmark already had similar labelling guidelines in place. “It’s a non-binding advice to state on labels that products originating from occupied territories come from there,” a spokeswoman said. “We don’t see this as a sanction against Israel, but EU rules stipulate that consumers have to be informed of the origins of products.” The ministry planned to send a letter to retail federations on Tuesday recommending the use of such labels. Neither Belgium’s national retail federation, Comeos, nor the Israeli embassy in Brussels would comment before the letter was issued. Israel has been critical of any move to label produce from Jewish settlements clearly or distinguish them from goods produced by Palestinians, arguing that the distinction is part of a larger effort to impose a Palestinian state on Israel. The labels Belgium has in mind would mainly apply to fruit and vegetables grown in the West Bank’s Jordan valley, but they could also include products such as sparkling water made by SodaStream and cosmetics by Ahava, both of which have production facilities in the West Bank (Source: The Guardianhttp://gu.com/p/4vb3b/tw).

Obama Joins Europe in Expanding Sanctions on Russia

President Obama announced expanded sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, just hours after the European Union imposed its most sweeping measures yet penalizing Moscow for its role in supporting separatists in neighboring Ukraine. The latest American actions took aim at more Russian banks and a large defense firm, but they also went further than past moves by blocking future technology sales to Russia’s lucrative oil industry in an effort to inhibit its ability to develop future resources. The measures were meant to largely match those unveiled earlier in the day in Europe. “Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world,” Mr. Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House. Mr. Obama said the government of President Vladimir V. Putin had gone beyond past support for pro-Russian separatists fighting the central Ukrainian government in Kiev and was now directly participating in the civil war by firing artillery across the border, transporting more military equipment to the rebels and massing its own troops. “In other words, today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community setting back decades of genuine progress,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to come to this. It didn’t have to come to this. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is a choice that Russia and President Putin in particular has made” (Source: The New York Timeshttp://nyti.ms/1nYJc95).

EU urges 'war crimes' trial of Kosovo ex-commanders

An EU war crimes prosecutor says that some former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) should face charges of crimes against humanity. Clint Williamson has spent three years investigating allegations of atrocities in the late 1990s, when Kosovo Albanian guerrillas were fighting Serb forces. He said elements in the KLA murdered ethnic Serbs and other minorities. There was also evidence of human organ harvesting and trafficking on a very limited scale, he said (Source: BBChttp://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28541560).

Russia Is Pregnant with Ukraine

The Ukrainian revolution that took place on Kiev’s Independence Square in February unleashed a chain of irreversible events for Ukraine, and in some mystical fashion also facilitated an irreversible event of even greater scale for its neighbor: Russia became pregnant with Ukraine. The yellow-and-blue sperm of Independence Square did its manly job under the colorful fireworks of grenades, the flares of Molotov cocktails, and the whistle of snipers’ bullets. During that hot month, sitting in front of an overheated television set, Russia conceived. A new life stirred in her enormous womb: Free Ukraine. The authorities were horrified, the liberals were jealous, and the nationalists were filled with hatred. Neither the Kremlin nor the people had anticipated such a rapid development of events. The embryo began to grow, occupying more and more media space every day. The Kievan revolution transfixed and terrified Russia. As happens during a pregnancy, the mother’s body succumbed to the inevitability of the physiological process: as women often say, “My life is divided into ‘before’ and ‘now.’” All manner of events in Russia’s life—internal politics, the economy, criminal activity—everything suddenly halted, like a freeze-frame. Russia’s rich, multifaceted life seemed to recede into the background and becаme a failed past. The future was over there—in Ukraine. Ukrainian words and the names of Kiev’s politicians came spilling from the population’s tongue. Putin’s Russia had spoken of Ukraine disdainfully—it was a backwater, dull and provincial. Suddenly, Ukraine became incredibly fashionable and modern, while enormous Russia seemed hopelessly backward, cumbersome, and provincial (Source: The New York Review of Books – http://goo.gl/uiGD3C).

Cold War Strategies Are Back in Russia's Playbook

The theory that history unfolds first as a tragedy and then repeats itself as a farce is not always true. Sometimes, history repeats its tragedy all over again, and with the same terrible consequences. Thirty years ago, a Soviet fighter jet shot down a South Korean airliner that had strayed into Soviet airspace. U.S. intelligence presented incontrovertible evidence to then-President Ronald Reagan: a recording of the conversation between the pilots. Russia has become a rogue state in the eyes of the West. The European Union and the United States see no reason to build a relationship with it and even feel they must restrain the country by all possible means, much like the Soviet Union before it. The U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, has said that NATO member states must take major steps to ensure their national security. In practice, that probably means that the United States will have to be ready to quickly deploy troops to Europe to respond to potential crises. So, even if U.S. troops do not appear at Russia’s doorstep, U.S. military bases for the storage and deployment of heavy weaponry will likely begin dotting the map. The U.S. administration is discussing the possibility of providing Kiev with intelligence on the exact location of the separatists’ anti-aircraft installations and of supplying Ukraine with U.S. weapons (Source: The Moscow Timeshttp://goo.gl/Eb3L1H).