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EU court orders Hamas removed from terrorist list

The European Union’s second highest court annulled on Wednesday the bloc’s decision to keep Hamas on a list of terrorist organizations, but temporarily maintained the measures for a period of three months or until an appeal was closed. The General Court of the European Union said the contested measures were not based on an examination of Hamas’s acts but on imputations derived from the media and the Internet. The court said it was nevertheless maintaining the effects of the measures in order to ensure that any possible future freezing of funds would be effective (Source: The Globe & Mail).

Ukraine in new push for NATO membership

Ukraine aims to get NATO membership “as quickly as conditions permit”, according to Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “And I would do that tomorrow if it was at all possible.” Speaking to reporters at a joint press conference after his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on 15 December, Yatsenyuk said his country’s security strategy is crystal clear. “Nine months ago NATO membership was not on our radar. But what’s on our radar today? Russian tanks, Russian howitzers, and Russian soldiers and bullets on the ground. The best solution to our conflict would be for Russia to seal the border, pull back its soldiers, pull back its agents, and stop the illegal flow of weapons to the rebels,” he said. “We urge Russia’s president and authorities to start a real peace process. The more quickly Russia implements the Minsk [ceasefire] agreement, the more quickly there will be peace in Ukraine.” Stoltenberg said: “We strongly believe the Minsk talks are the best way to achieve a peaceful solution. A strong and democratic Ukraine is key to European stability.” So far, however, the ceasefire laid down by the Minsk agreement and signed by Moscow on 5 September with Kiev, has been violated repeatedly, with Russia continuing to support to the rebel groups in east Ukraine. Yatsenyuk said there is a common view across his office, that of Ukraine’s president and other national authorities on the steps the country should take regarding its national defence and security. Asked what is the soonest that Ukraine could be in position to request membership in the alliance, Yatsenyuk said: “I would be happy to have this as soon as possible. But even if we were to send a request tomorrow, I’m not sure everyone [among the allies], would be happy with this” (Source: IHS).

The Battle For German Public Opinion: The Russia/Ukraine Narrative

Putin’s propaganda machine is fighting a desperate PR battle—at home and abroad—for control of the narrative of its war against Ukraine. The Republican victory in the U.S. midterms has consolidated America’s anti-Russian narrative as evidenced by the Senate’s passage of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which supplies lethal weapons to Ukraine. Even more ominous is the findings of the Levada Center that only 5-6 percent of Russians are prepared to sacrifice for Putin’s Ukraine ventures. Russians say, if anyone is to shoulder a burden, it should be Putin and company. These setbacks make the battle for German public opinion even more crucial, a battle that is now being conducted on the front pages of the German press. As someone who follows German TV news and talk shows regularly, I can attest that the German media bends over backwards to be neutral (except in bringing negative news about America). German state television routinely interviews representatives of all the parties in parliament, among them persuasive and vocal Putin Vesteher, such as the head of die Linke party, the irascible Gregor Gysi, who makes Putin’s case better than Putin himself. Germany’s Channel 1 (ARD) carried a softball interview with Putin on his way back from Australia in which he did his best to frighten Germany with WWIII rhetoric. That the Putin coalition of Versteher, celebrities from the arts, pacifists, theologians, and industrialists with financial interests in Russia feel it necessary to make front page news with their “Not in Our Name” appeal suggests that the Kremlin considers it is losing the battle for the German soul (Source: Forbes).

Obama to sign new Russia sanctions bill by end of week

U.S. President Barack Obama will sign legislation authorizing new sanctions on Russia over its activities in Ukraine and providing weapons to the Kiev government by the end of the week, the White House said on Tuesday. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House had continuing concerns about the legislation, because it “includes some sanctions language that does not reflect the consultations that are ongoing.” “That said, because it does preserve the president’s flexibility to carry out the strategy, he does intend to sign the bill,” Earnest said at a daily news briefing. In London, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia had made constructive moves toward possibly reducing tensions in Ukraine, and said the United States and Europe were ready to ease sanctions if Putin took more steps in that direction. Congress passed the bill on Saturday, piling more pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin by authorizing new sanctions on weapons companies and investors in its high-tech oil projects, and to boost the Kiev government with both lethal and non-lethal military aid. At the White House’s request, the “Ukraine Freedom Support Act” does not make sanctions mandatory, giving Obama leeway over what would actually be in force. But it passed both the Senate and House of Representatives unanimously, a rare sign of bipartisanship in the bitterly divided legislature and a clear indication of Congress’ strong support for tougher action against Moscow. Both Republicans and Democrats called on Obama to sign the bill quickly (Source: Reuters).

There’s a battle looming for control of the north pole, with the US, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway all thinking they have a right to it

How do you carve up a big block of ice? Argumentatively, seems to be the answer. Denmark is the latest country to lay claim to the north pole, jostling with the US, Canada, Russia and Norway for a huge chunk of the Arctic Ocean. What was once dismissed as a frozen wasteland is now a lucrative prize: the US Geological Survey estimates there is about 22% of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable oil and natural gas in the Arctic. Global warming could also open up previously inaccessible shipping routes. A swath of the Arctic including the north pole currently lies beyond every nation’s 200 nautical-mile limit, which, under the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, can form a coastal country’s “exclusive economic zone”. So nations are making claims to the UN to extend their territories, although Russia infuriated its rivals in 2007 by placing a rust-proof titanium flag on the ocean floor beneath the Arctic. Denmark’s bid for 895,000 sq km of the Arctic Ocean sounds particularly audacious given that this is 20 times the size of Denmark (or 43 times the size of Wales – the country, not the ocean-loving mammal) and the country lies on the same latitude as Britain – more than 2,000 miles from the north pole. But Denmark’s interest is derived from its colony, Greenland, and Danish geologists say Greenland’s continental shelf naturally continues to form the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater mountain range which traverses the pole. According to Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, assistant professor at the University of Southern Denmark, the economic dimension of this dispute is overstated because this part of the vast Arctic “probably has no resources whatsoever” (Source: The Guardian).

US torture report puts Romania's role under scrutiny

The lawyer for a man tortured by the CIA said Romania’s authorities should acknowledge the role they played after a U.S. Senate report pointed to Romania as the site of the secret CIA jail where the man was interrogated. The report did not name countries that hosted CIA jails, but it gave details of prisoners being transferred to and from “detention center BLACK” which matched air traffic records of CIA-chartered planes passing through Romanian airports between 2003 and 2005. Some of these records were independently reviewed by Reuters while others were cited in court documents. According to the Senate report, the CIA gave the government that hosted the secret jail at least $1 million to thank it for supporting the agency’s detention program. The report cited the un-named CIA officer in charge of the jail telling his superiors that, despite harsh interrogation techniques, the intelligence produced was often useless. Ioan Talpes, who was national security adviser for Romania’s president from 2000 to 2004, told Reuters Romania had allowed U.S. intelligence to operate a facility in Romania, but Romanian officials were unaware people were detained there and did not receive money in exchange for hosting any jail. Of the facility used by the CIA, he said “it was clearly established by the Romanian side that Romanians do not participate in this, and so it was agreed with the Americans.” “We even did not know what would be there. In such situations it is better not to interfere.. We facilitated, we put at their disposal materials they had been asking for, but not with Romanian participation” (Source: Reuters).

Norway Sells Warships, Combat Boats to Ex-Militant Leader in Nigeria

In a shocking move, the Norwegian government has sold a fleet of its decommissioned, but still sophisticated, battleships and combat boats to a former Niger Delta militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, who for years led a devastating insurgency against the Nigerian government in the oil-rich region, a Norwegian newspaper reported Saturday. As a leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Mr. Ekpemupolo, well known as Tompolo, confronted the Nigerian military, killing many and disrupting oil and gas production. An amnesty deal announced by the Nigerian government, by former President Umaru Yar’adua, in 2009, ended the fighting. Tompolo has since emerged a close ally of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government, winning luceative government contracts and becoming very rich. But after giving up fighting, surrendering his arms, and leading his men to hand over their weapons, Dagbladet, the Norwegian newspaper, said Tompolo in 2012 received at least six decommissioned Norwegian battleships. Among them were six fast-speed Hauk-class guided missile boats, now re-armed with new weapons. The most recent hardware, according to the report, is the KNM Horten, a fast-attack craft now allegedly used for anti-piracy patrol in the Nigerian waters. The report said the deal was implemented through a shell maritime Security Company based in the United Kingdom, CAS Global. CAS Global was used to evade a requirement by Norway that arms dealers obtain export license from their country’s foreign affairs ministry, the report adds (Source: The Premium Times).

Russia promises to take counter measures if US imposes new sanctions over the Ukraine crisis

Russia will take counter measures if Washington imposes new sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Saturday. The U.S. Congress has readied new sanctions on Russian weapons companies and investors in the country’s high-tech oil projects, but U.S. President Barack Obama has yet to sign a corresponding bill into law.  “We will not be able to leave that without an answer,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying. He did not say what form of counter-measure Moscow might take. Relations between Russia and the United States are at their lowest since the Cold War because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March and its support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.  The West says it has firm evidence that Russia has armed the rebels — an accusation that Moscow rejects — and has, together with the European Union, imposed several rounds of economic sanctions on Russian individuals and large companies.  Russia retaliated to the earlier sanctions by restricting food imports from a range of Western countries.  Russia on Friday criticized the Ukraine Freedom Support Act, which foresees further sanctions, saying Washington was doing its utmost to “destroy the carcass of cooperation” between the two countries (Source: The Moscow Times).

Russia's Putin took another sharp turn away from the West in India

It seems Russian President Vladimir Putin just found an ally. On Thursday, Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in New Delhi to improve the energy, military, and trade alliances between their two nations. For starters, Russia and India will be exploring a stronger relationship in the energy sector. The two countries will build at least 10 nuclear power plants in India over the next 20 years, and will have a joint venture in exploring hydroelectric power projects in Asia. Additionally, Russia’s state-owned Rosneft signed a preliminary agreement to supply India with 10 million tons of oil over the next 10 years. And the most eyebrow-raising move of all is that Russia invited India to “work on projects” in the Arctic. “Rosneft and Gazprom, our biggest companies, together with their Indian colleagues, are preparing projects for the development of Russian-Arctic shelf [and] the expansion of liquefied gas,” Putin said. Why is this point important, exactly? In September, Rosneft discovered a huge amount of oil in the Arctic — an amount that’s comparable to the resource base of Saudi Arabia. But there was also a huge problem: Russia doesn’t have the ability to drill in cold offshore conditions without Exxon’s expertise. But because of the ongoing sanctions, Exxon can’t drill there anymore. And “as Russia’s existing fields in Siberia run dry, the country needs to develop new reserves as it vies with the US to be the world’s largest oil and gas producer,” Bloomberg reported in September. So Russia really needs that oil in the Arctic (Source: Business Insider).

Russia's Spies Return to Europe in 'New Cold War'

Earlier this month, experts convened in Brussels for a conference titled ‘The Second Cold War: Heating Up?’ Even among the plethora of current ‘New Cold War’ themed events, this one stood out: the organiser, Latvian MEP Tatjana Zdanoka, has been accused of being a Russian agent of influence – a spy. Zdanoka, who is also chair of the EU Russian-­Speakers Alliance, insists there is no truth to the allegations, adding that the accusation was part of a ‘dirty tricks’ operation against her at home by domestic opponents – a tactic familiar from the Cold War days to those who remember them. In any event, the criminal investigation against her has been closed, Latvia’s DP intelligence service says. Yet the allegations point to the new – or revived – espionage game that is now playing out in Europe. Intelligence agencies everywhere are upping their games, with Western agencies putting particular efforts into data collection – “snooping”. The West’s efforts, though, pale into insignificance compared to those of Russia. Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution reports growing instances of Russian espionage, and a spokesman for Sweden’s Säpo intelligence agency says that Russia has increased its intelligence agencies’ activities in Sweden since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis. A senior European intelligence official estimates that intelligence agency employees now account for one third of Russia’s diplomats (Source: Newsweek).