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Soldiers’ Graves Bear Witness to Russia’s Role in Ukraine

n a far corner of a small cemetery outside this tiny village by the Oka River, a black flag proclaiming the military might of Russia’s tank forces ripples in the wind above the recently dug grave of Sgt. Vladislav A. Barakov. A photograph of the baby-faced soldier in full dress uniform sits propped against a wooden cross with a small plaque that says he died on Aug. 24. He was 21. What the plaque does not say — and what no one wants to talk about — is how and where the young sergeant died: blown up in a tank while sent to fight in eastern Ukraine, where Russia’s leaders have denied any role other than as facilitators of peace. Sergeant Barakov, who served in Russia’s Sixth Tank Brigade, was one of dozens — some say hundreds — of Russian soldiers killed in action this summer. Their bodies have been returned in recent weeks to loved ones who in many cases had no idea where they were sent to fight, have received little information about how they died and, in any event, are being pressured not to talk about it. Some families have even been threatened with losing any compensation if they do. “We are just ordinary people,” Sergeant Barakov’s uncle, who declined to give his name, said in a clipped reply when asked for details of his nephew’s death. “You have more ways of finding out than we do.” Much of the information about regular Russian troops in Ukraine has come from soldiers themselves — posting about their deployments on social media, as well as about the deaths of comrades fighting there. Yet even as the Kremlin’s official line has crumbled, with at least three online databases charting Russian soldiers killed or wounded in Ukraine, efforts to sustain the cover-up have persisted (Source: The New York Times).

More Evidence of Russia Supplying the Buk Linked to the Downing of MH17

Earlier this month, Bellingcat looked at new evidence that the Buk used to down MH17 belonged to the Russian military. The Buk photographed by Paris Match in rebel controlled Donetsk on the morning of July 17th and tracked travelling though rebel territory throughout the day by Bellingcat and others also appeared to be part of a convoy filmed in Russia in late June heading toward the Ukrainian border.  Using markings visible on the side of the Buk photographed by Paris Match and stills from the convoy in Russia it was possible to find elements that matched despite attempts to paint over some of the markings on the vehicle Other elements matched, including the lack of rails present on many other Buks in the same convoy in Russia, also missing from the Buk in Ukraine As part of our investigation we examined footage of other Buk missiles launchers to find any with similar markings, and also invited Bellingcat readers to contribute to our Checkdesk investigation into the launchers by sending us any images of Buk missile launchers they might have come across. As of yet, we’ve not found any with similar markings, but one eagle-eyed reader found a detail that we had previously overlooked (Source: Bellingcat).

US and France propose UN sanctions on foreign Islamist fighters

A United Nations Security Council committee is considering requests by the United States and France to blacklist more than a dozen foreign extremist fighters, fundraisers and recruiters linked to Islamist militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia and Yemen. The bid to sanction people from France, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Senegal and Kuwait coincides with the expected adoption on Wednesday of a Security Council resolution to suppress foreign extremist fighters. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to chair the meeting. According to the confidential requests made to the Security Council’s al Qaeda sanctions committee, and obtained by Reuters on Monday, 15 names will be designated on Tuesday afternoon if no objections are raised. The listings could also be delayed for administrative reasons if a member needs more review time. The action by the council also coincides with Obama’s call to build an international coalition to fight Islamic State militants, who have captured swaths of territory in Syria and Iraq, proclaimed a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East and urged followers to attack citizens of various countries. Among the people being considered for U.N. sanctions, which include a global travel ban, asset freeze and arms embargo, is Abd al-Rahman Muhammad Mustafa al-Qaduli, an Iraqi who is a senior Islamic State leader in Syria and previously served as a deputy to al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Source: Reuters).

The truth about Turkey and Islamic State oil

Where exactly does Turkey stand on IS? This has become a matter of controversy in the country and in the West. The Turkish government has been criticized on three main points: that it has not done enough to close its borders to the flow of foreign fighters joining IS; that it has not done enough to curb radical groups at home that recruit for IS; and that IS makes money by selling oil via Turkey. In response, one could note on the first point that Turkey’s southern border is indeed too porous, but this is because of its length, some 750 miles, the tough terrain, and Ankara’s “open border” policy, which has saved 1.5 million refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war. On the second point, regarding IS recruits, Ankara certainly needs to be more cautious, but it is also worth reminding that the number of recruits from France, the United Kingdom, and Russia exceed those from Turkey. To understand why and how this happens, one should know that smuggling is a well-established tradition across Turkey’s southeastern borders with Iraq and Syria. Oil is expensive in most of Turkey, but cheap in the south. This has created an illegal but widespread south-north trade route. The smuggling economy is not just about oil, however, but also includes other popular items and commodities, such as tea. If one orders tea in southeastern Turkey, the servers often ask, “Do you want normal tea or smuggled tea?” (Source: Al-Monitor).

Russia suggests reconstructing Crimea together with Turkey

Turkish companies could play an important role in Russia’s plans to reconstruct Crimea and invest in the fields of agriculture and tourism, the Russian ambassador to Turkey has said, stressing that this business relationship would also help to improve the lives of Crimean Tatars. “Russia is planning to make infrastructure and superstructure investments in this region as well as in the fields of tourism and transportation. We’ll provide financing for investment but we also have to find companies that can carry out these projects. We are discussing the opening of Crimea to foreign companies for regional reconstruction. Why should Turkish companies not be involved?” Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrey Karlov told the Hürriyet Daily News. Crimea was separated from Ukraine and annexed to Russia in early 2014 after a referendum. Turkey said it could not approve this annexation and criticized Russia’s treatment of its kin, the Crimean Tatars, who make up nearly 15 percent of the Crimean population. Karlov sought to assure Turkey that the life conditions of Crimean Tatars would be improved under Russian rule, accusing Ukraine of not caring for Crimea during its 23 years of rule there after the fall of the Soviet Union. He said the region’s agriculture revenues had decreased by nearly 40 percent in this period. “We, however, have important investment plans. One example is that investments worth around $7 to 8 billion are envisaged for the construction of a bridge to link Crimea to Russia via Azak,” he said.Karlov recalled that Turkish construction companies had done a good job in Sochi’s bid to host the winter Olympic Games and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for their contribution (Source: Hurriyet Daily News).

Without France, Germany is on its own in Europe

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ visit to Germany this Monday won’t be an easy one given that Franco-German relations are strained to say the least. Ulrike Guerot calls for more understanding from Berlin. If you look at it from a historic point of view the relationship wasn’t always easy. We sometimes have a romanticized vision of, say, the 1990s when we said “we did the euro thing together,” but if you look more closely, there has always been fierce competition. At the moment, we are simply seeing very different developments in Germany and France, especially economically speaking. Germany has been able to be an integral part of the global market in the last few years, which has enabled it to implement reforms, bring its economy up to speed and reinvent itself politically, too. That didn’t happen in France. So, you can reprimand them for that or not – at any rate, it’s tearing the Franco-German relationship apart. France, for its part, is slowly realizing that it has become the lame duck of Europe and that the world is watching it closely. It’s, of course, at the heart of Franco-German relations, and we in Germany can’t afford for France to fall behind. The last five years of the eurozone crisis have shown that we can’t do Europe on our own. Even if we wanted to call the shots, it doesn’t work if other countries revolt against the “German dictate.” We need the French. If they sulk and refuse to cooperate with the Germans, everything gets blocked. The two countries have to work in tandem, it’s in Germany’s interest. If France is not our partner anymore, we’re on our own in Europe. Germany should think about that next time it casts a critical eye on France. I just wish Germany had more psychological empathy for France and its cultural, historical and political issues (Source: Deutsche Welle).

Poland Is Ready to Sell Arms to Ukraine

NATO member Poland is ready to sell arms to Ukraine if there is demand, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said Monday. “I confirm that the Polish defense industry is interested in this direction,” Siemoniak told private radio station Zet. “There are several products that may be interesting for Ukraine.” “If only there is a will and a readiness to purchase any elements of armaments in Poland, then Polish factories dream of nothing else but exports,” he also said. NATO officials have said the alliance will not send weapons to Ukraine, which is not a member state, but they have also said individual allies may choose to do so. Russia is fiercely opposed to closer ties between Ukraine and the NATO alliance. The Ukrainian military accused separatists and Russian troops on Sunday of continuing to shoot at government forces despite a Sept. 5 ceasefire. The rebels have blamed Kiev’s forces for the outbreaks of fighting (Source: The Moscow Times).

Germany will not get involved in US and French airstrikes against ISIS

Berlin’s decision, backed in parliament early this month to help arm and equip Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq to help them fight off IS advances would not be expanded, Steinmeier told German public broadcaster ARD late on Sunday. He said the international alliance, including the US, France, Britain and Italy, formed to fight the IS and its brutalities, foresaw a division of work. “We have taken our part .. of the responsibility,” Steinmeier (pictured) said, adding that Germany was not under pressure to join the US and French airstrike operations. “No, the coalition doesn’t work that way, ” he told ARD’s weekly broadcast “Report from Berlin.” On September 1, Germany broke with its rule of not exporting weapons into war zones by deciding to send the Kurdish force anti-tank missiles, assault rifles as well as items such as tents and helmets, in a three-stage delivery from German Bundeswehr stocks. It also decided to send 40 soldiers to train the Kurdish fighters. Most parliamentary members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrat-led coalition backed her cabinet’s decision to send arms during a non-binding Bundestag assembly vote. Merkel said Germany should help stop the “further spread of mass killings” by IS jihadists, who she said had committed “unbelievable atrocities” against ethnic communities. “We have a chance to prevent terrorists from creating another safe haven for themselves. We must take this chance,” Merkel said. The delivery was opposed by some Social Democrat members of Merkel’s broad coalition and rejected by the opposition Left party and a majority of the opposition Greens (Source: Deutsche Welle).

Turkey clamps down on Syria border after Kurdish unrest

Turkey has begun to close some of its border crossings with Syria after about 100,000 Kurdish refugees entered the country over the past two days. On Sunday Turkish security forces clashed with Kurds protesting in solidarity with the refugees. Some protesters were reportedly trying to go to Syria to fight Islamic State (IS). Most refugees are from Kobane, a town threatened by the advancing militants. IS has taken over large swathes of Iraq and Syria in recent months. Before the latest influx, there were already more than one million Syrian refugees in Turkey. They have fled since the start of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad three years ago. Some of the new arrivals are being sheltered in overcrowded schools, as Turkey struggles to cope with the influx. On Friday Turkey opened a 30km (19-mile) section of the border to Syrians fleeing the town of Kobane, also known as Ayn al-Arab. But on Monday only two out of nine border posts in the area remained open, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said. Clashes broke out on Sunday after a demonstration by Kurds on the Turkish side of the border. Some protesters threw stones at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannon. There were no reports of serious injuries. Turkish security forces were trying to stop Kurdish fighters from entering Syria to take part in the defence of Kobane, says the BBC’s Mark Lowen at the scene. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a banned militant group that fought a civil war for autonomy within Turkey for decades, has called on Kurds to join the fight against IS (Source: BBC).

Release of Turkish Hostages Opens Door For Turkey's Role in Coalition

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that the release of 49 hostages held by Islamic State had removed the main obstacle to joining a U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group, spurring hopes that Ankara would take a more robust role. Asked if Turkey might now commit more strongly to the coalition, Mr. Erdogan gave no direct reply but said he and the government would evaluate the issue on his return from the United Nations General Assembly, which convenes this week. “We said we could only give logistical support and humanitarian assistance within this framework. The issue about the next process is a different matter,” he said. “It’s time to determine our stance.” News of the hostage release prompted an outpouring of public celebration in Turkey. It also raised questions over why the militant group relinquished such a big bargaining chip without a shot being fired or ransom being paid. Mr. Erdogan declined to provide many details on the hostages’ release, other than to say that Turkey hadn’t paid a ransom. “There are things we cannot talk about…We have to protect sensitive issues. If you don’t, there would be a price to pay,” he told a gathering of some of the hostages and their families. The 101-day hostage crisis had left Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, constrained in its response to the Sunni insurgents, who have carved out a self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of eastern Syria and western Iraq, just over the Turkish border (Source: The Wall Street Journal).